I fought the floor but the floor won

It all seemed so simple at the time. Thursday night, Elaine was out, her hot water was on and Melissa was due home in half an hour. Plenty of time for a lovely hot bath. So I gathered up my smellies, grabbed some clean jeans and a top, and locked up. I had one foot on the collar barge and one foot still on Hendrik when it all went wrong.

The question everyone on the mooring wants to know is, was caused by the wake from a clipper? And honestly, from what I recall I don’t think it was. All I know is that as I went to step off Hendrik my foot slipped backwards and I was left with a stark choice: fall between the two boats and risk getting crushed between them, or make a herculean effort to get back onto Hendrik. The next thing I knew I was lying in a heap on Hendrik’s side deck, one arm still clinging to the railing, one leg still hanging over the side, and every bit of my body reporting in that Something Is Very Wrong.

I don’t think I’ve ever hurt so many bits of myself at once that it’s taken a few minutes just to work out which bits hurt. At the time I knew my right shoulder was in agony, my left side hurt, I’d scraped my left shin, bruised my right thumb, and my chin was probably in bad shape. But I still thought I’d get my bath.

Turns out not. I’d fallen like a sack of spuds and my chin had caught the edge of the deck, cutting a big triangular gash into it. I took one look in the mirror and the gaping wound had me grabbing my phone in a panic. Melissa heard the most pathetic voice in the world beg her to come home quick because I had to go to the hospital, and we arranged to meet at Guy’s. I somehow changed my cycling shorts for jeans with one arm holding a paper towel to my face and the other effectively paralysed, and went off to hail a cab.

At this point, I just want to say, fair play to the cab drivers of London. The first one had no problem stopping for a bloke covered in blood and waving frantically, and dropped me straight by the main entrance of Guy’s Hospital, which is less than a mile from the mooring. All very convenient. Then a security guard told me that Guy’s no longer had an Accident & Emergency department and I think I might have said some bad words. Call it mild concussion. Melissa came running up and when I saw her reaction to the gash, I began to think maybe things were even worse than I thought. Can they amputate chins? Do they do chin cosmetic surgery? Surely if they did Jay Leno could have afforded it by now?

The second taxi driver was a bit more chatty, not necessarily the best thing when you’re trying to determine whether your mouth even still works properly. But he did get us to St. Thomas’, all the way down at Westminster Bridge. I smiled my nicest smile (well, what was left of it) at the triage nurse but we still ended up with a two hour wait.

And what was the damage? Strong painkillers for the shoulder (it still hurts now on Sunday, and probably will for a few days to come), a tetanus shot, and five sutures in the beard area.

Click here for the gore

Friday was spent in a bit of a daze, trying to let the stitches bed in properly, and then yesterday we went out to a friend’s 30th – a fancy dress party on the theme of K. I pulled on my linen suit and gave out cakes all afternoon, and got lots of respect for showing up as Mr. Kipling. Except the hostess thought the surgical tape was part of the costume and pressed it back into a place a bit too firmly… OUCH.

Today we took things easy, exploring the Thames Path as far down as Rotherhithe village and discovering The Mayflower, the pub at the pier from which the Mayflower set off to collect the Pilgrims. This evening we fired up the grill and had some chicken legs in Sandy’s secret BBQ sauce. Then, because the coals were still hot, we grilled up some mango and pears. Then finally we gathered up digestive biscuits, chocolate and marshmallows. Sadly the marshmallows just fell off the skewers and the digestives crumbled when we tried to put everything together.

That’s right, I fought the s’mores but the s’mores won.

Comment - posted 8 July 2007, 23:29 in

Special Delivery

The parts for our broken water pump finally arrived last week (just as we were departing for Glastonbury, great timing there!). After waiting six weeks, it did seem like it should’ve been a bit bigger or something…

The pump parts we've waited 6 weeks for!

All that fuss, frustration, and headache over something that fits in the palm of my hand. It just doesn’t seem right!

Last night we had some friends over for dinner and they noticed that two families of geese with their goslings swam up beside the boat in the two foot gap between us and the other barge. The little goslings we watched hatch are looking so big these days!

Geese and goslings between the boats

And when we finished fussing over the goslings, we looked up to see the most beautiful sunset over Tower Bridge. We may still be washing dishes with bottles of water, but sights like this help remind us why we’re doing this at all…

Gorgeous sunset over Tower Bridge

Comment - posted 30 June 2007, 14:25 in

Washer and washing up

It’s been a momnth now since we blew the seal on our compressor, meaning even though we’ve got lots of water in the tanks, we can’t get any of it out of the taps. The replacement part must be being walked from The Netherlands at this rate…

So we’ve been having to fill our 20 or so 1.5 liter bottles from the mooring’s standpipe and do our washing up with those and the kettle. It is getting really old now.

The other water matter is that the previous owners took their washer with them, leaving us with a hookup in the kitchenette in the captain’s cabin. The 1930s sliding doors proved to be far too narrow for the standard UK size washing machines, though, so we ended up buying a compact, top-loading Hoover model, which was delivered on Thursday, just as James and I were both getting over this crappy cold/flu thing that’s been going around the moorings. So even though I hadn’t been at work all day, we had to haul a washing machine down to the boat (which was fine since we were lent a dolly), but then we were kinda stuck once we got it onto the garden barge next to us. Because it was low tide, our deck settles about 2 or 3 feet higher than that of the garden barge, but because of the placement of the access door to the captain’s cabin, we also had two taller bollards in the way, too. It worked out that we had to somehow raise the washer four feet off the ground, over about two and a half feet of muddy Thames water, and then into the open hatch door, all while being really weak from illness.

We waited around for a couple hours looking for a big burly man to come and help us, but we finally resigned ourselves to the fact that we had to do it alone. We finally ended up getting out our short metal gangplank so we wouldn’t have to worry so much about our £300 washer falling in the mud, and just “rolled” the washer up that with a series of grunts, and eventually the other could climb up on deck and shove it through the hatch from their end.

Now we only have to get it down the narrow captain’s cabin stairs and through two sliding doors to its final resting place (hmm, that sounds more ominous than I intended)!

Comment - posted 2 June 2007, 12:03 in

The Week in Pictures

Last time I checked in, we had just demolished the first wall in between the little hotel rooms. Shortly thereafter, we commandeered that room (now know as “bedroom 23”) to be our bedroom:

Bedroom 23

There’s enough room to have a double bed running lengthwise in the room, plus about 3-4 feet at the foot of the bed and one of the built in shelving units to the side of the bed. It sure beats climbing into bunkbeds every night!

Yesterday our friend Drew came over and we planned to tear down another wall to create a similar guest bedroom between bedrooms 4 and 5, which are also on the starboard side of the corridor (which now runs, from the saloon: single room full of oars, our bedroom, the guest bedroom, our wardrobe). Here’s the guest bedroom partially made up with a few bits of futon and random foam mattresses we still need to get rid of:

Bedroom 45

But with the three of us handling a power drill each, tearing down that wall went way faster than we anticipated so we decided to tear down the wall between James’s office and the next room so he’d have space for his massive 6 foot desk and to actually get stuff done. Only having accomplished that, we went a little crazy and decided to tear down the walls separating that now double-length room and the corridor! Apart from a few hanging fire alarm cables and some dangling light switches, it came down just as easily as the interior walls (and the ceiling didn’t cave in – a definite plus!).

So here’s James’s new open plan office (not cleaned or set up yet, sorry!), first facing towards the front of the boat, and then facing the back, looking towards the steps to the saloon:

New open-plan office facing forward New open-plan office facing back CEO James and his lovely assistant

So now on the port side of the boat from the saloon forward, the rooms run thusly: the single room full of kitchen stuff, a room full of our bits of wall and insulation (we need to get a skip to tear down any more!), my sewing room, James’s open-plan office, then the quad room full of furniture we need to get rid of.

And in other news, spring is officially here on the moorings! The goslings which were so carefully nested by the Canada goose on our rubbish barge have now hatched, and we’ve also spotted some Mallard ducklings, though the baby Coots (cootlings?) have not yet shown their faces.

Goslings and parents

Another sign that it’s coming into prime tourist season is that the cruise ships have started stopping by us again. We’ve had two giant cruise ships parked in the middle of the river by us already, with more to come, I’m sure! They don’t actually come near the shore, but instead have the PLA barge dock alongside the ship, where smaller charter boats then ferry the passengers back and forth to the shore. Much more exciting, however, was the arrival of HMS Exeter Saturday evening, being pulled/pushed by two tugs, and moving at an incredible speed up the Thames, through an opened Tower Bridge, to eventually dock alongside HMS Belfast.

HMS Exeter being tugged up the Thames HMS Exeter going under Tower Bridge

All the sailors were on deck during the journey, but I’m not sure if that was because of the view, or whether they were that impatient to let loose in Soho for the night!

Comment [5] - posted 21 May 2007, 12:34 in

Hangmen and Mudlarks

On Monday night we finally got up the gumption to do something about the massive, 160kg reel of rope we had delivered to the entrance of the mooring a few weeks back. We only needed about 100m for ourselves, but at the thickness we require, you have to buy the entire 220m reel. And as it’s way too heavy for anyone to reasonably steal, we just let it sit in the entrance to the mooring for a while… Having measured myself and knowing that from one hand to the opposite shoulder was one metre, we measured off three lengths of 30m, cut through it with a hacksaw, duct-taped the ends, and hauled it down to the boat between us – one at a time. But we were still left with 120m that was still way too heavy to shift, even with the wheelbarrow, so we cut that into two lengths of 60m and between us got it down to the boat in the wheelbarrow. This took us way longer than expected, and once again we ended up eating dinner at 11pm (it’s becoming unusual for us to eat before 10, to be honest).

A portion of our rope

With the rope in place and the tides and sunset in the correct alignment, last night I pulled on my hot pink wellies (previously only worn for festivals) and rubber gloves and got down onto the Thames mud for a bit of fender retrieval. There are lots of tires on the mud, but most are tied together in huge groups, or filled with mud or concrete making them impossible to move. After a mid-calf squelch into a particularly deep patch of mud, I zeroed in on 5 tires that looked suitable, and James hoisted them up on deck with a rope.

Just in case you were thinking of coming down onto the Thames at low tide for a bit of mudlarking yourself – I don’t recommend it. The rocky bits weren’t bad, though I stepped on a lot of broken glass, but the silty muddy parts were disgusting. It had its own particular aroma somewhere between “dead fish” and “raw sewage” and coated my boots, and the smell followed me until properly hosed off.

This morning the BT engineer was here to install our BT line, so we should have broadband (8meg! ha!) by early next week! While he was around I took the opportunity to start sorting out my sewing room, and I managed to lay down a rug, rebuild the desk, and unpack all of my sewing things except the fabric, though I haven’t rationised my storage options just yet. I also screwed my new pattern hook rack onto the wall, though it was upside down on the first attempt (oops).

And in further news, a Canada goose has decided to place her nest less than an inch away from our walkway to the rubbish bins on one of the garden barges. I was surprised to find that geese are capable of hissing as agressively as any cat, and we’re now told via a sign to use the side decks to get to the rubbish bins instead. Anyone know how long the nesting period for a goose is?

Comment - posted 18 April 2007, 16:36 in

Little planets in the wire

I’m hopeful that we’ve solved the mystery of the tripping RCD. The cable we bought second-hand has a big frayed section about 3 metres from one end. It’s only the outer casing that’s been stripped off, and the armour is intact, but it doesn’t look great. When I first wired up the cable I took a punt on leaving it there – right now it’s sitting on the collar barge, insulated on a pile of rope. When I picked it up on Tuesday night to take a closer look, the breaker popped immediately. So now my working theory is that whatever cataclysm caused the fraying in the first place also damaged the core itself, and one of the lines is sufficiently broken that occasionally something moves just right and poof, out goes the power. Backing this up is the fact that after this test, I now can’t get the power to stay on at all. Whoops. This afternoon is my next opportunity to fix the problem.

Melissa went down to the mooring today to meet our rope delivery. 220 metres of 40mm rope is now ours to replace the shonky canal-strength ropes Hendrik came with. She had a few other things to do on board but had to abandon them because it was low tide and there was no way to get onto Hendrik – we’ve been stepping across our neighbours’ barge (who have been lovely about having us and assorted friends tramping over their roof and occasionally clattering it with our steel gangway) but they’ve now moved downstream another 20 feet or so, opening up our final berth alongside one of the collar barges. High tide is around 3:30pm so I’ll try and reel us in a bit then.

It’s particularly fortunate that we’re in our final berth for this weekend because this is when we’re moving aboard. Well, with no heat, almost no hot water, nowhere to put a double bed and no working showers it seemed like the ideal time. We’re anticipating a bank holiday zombie nightmare B&Q session to rectify the shower at least. We have a van for three days so we might take the chance to distribute a few canoes at the same time.

Comment - posted 5 April 2007, 11:35 in

Meeting the neighbours

Look who waddled into our path last night…

Comment - posted 2 April 2007, 18:01 in

Our connection with the shore

I had an interesting run-in with the tide when I got to the mooring after work last night. Our berth is half-mud, so when it’s low tide, we sit on the bank at a slight angle, and lift into the water at about half tide. Last night was the first time we’d seen her on the mud since we arrived, and since we’re not in our final spot yet, we still have to climb over the back of another boat to get to ours. And apparently when the boats settled on the mud, they settled slightly too far apart for me to attempt to jump in my heeled boots (I change into wellies and old jeans when I get there, but I was just arriving). So I decamped to a pub to wait for the tide to come in… Usually when the boats are a bit too far apart you can just pull on the rope and move them close enough to leap, but even my beefy arms can’t move a boat that’s sat on the bottom!

So after an hour or so we returned with a few friends who took away the first two canoes (two canoes between three people meant they walked in a line with the middle man holding an end of each!) and then James finished his work on the shore power lead with most of the work occurring inside the collar barge where the lead plugs in on the shore end (the plug’s too big for the hole so you have to feed the cable through and attach the plug once inside). Since the connection on our boat was 3 phase and the shore power was one phase, we had only a 30% chance of picking the right “live” cable, so there was a bit of a drumroll as we moved the main power switch inside to “shore”.... and then the hum of the fridge came on! Jubilation and victory cups of tea from the electric kettle! I’m so proud of James, though he’s still muttering that his wiring isn’t top-notch and he should redo parts of it…

The tide is such that we’d have to wait until 9pm to get on the boat tonight and since we have to leave around 10:30ish to get back to Upminster, we’re just crashing and having an early night tonight, and we’ll go down early on Saturday now that we have power to run the angle grinder and charge the power drill, so fingers crossed for completely unboarded windows soon!

Comment - posted 30 March 2007, 12:19 in

And so it begins...

We’re waiting for our black water (ie: sewage) tank to be delivered and installed so this week we’ve only been able to be down at the moorings for as long as our bladders can hold. Which works out to be most evenings, arriving after work, changing into wellies, old jeans and a weatherproof jacket, and getting straight into work.

On Monday the mooring owner helped us move a bit closer into our official position – another boat was in our spot but couldn’t move up the full length of our boat because other boats in the line would have to move further first. So for the meantime we need to walk across the back of their boat to jump onto the front of ours, which is fine until we need to move furniture! This pulling, tying, and knotting also taught us that we have a lot to learn about ropes. Mostly, that we need to buy a huge quantity of thicker ropes (about 100m of 1.5” thick), and that we really need to learn some sailor’s knots because our attempts, frankly, were pathetic.

On Tuesday James was late getting back from work so I set out alone with the cordless drill to remove the boards over the captain’s cabin windows (being put there to protect the glass during the crossing). I cut quite the figure – balancing on a foot wide walkway with quite a bit of movement from a passing clipper (grrr, going too fast, giving us huge wakes!), hanging on with one arm, power drill poised in the other taking the boards off our windows! James has got a similar task with an angle grinder on the saloon windows at the weekend when we’ll actually be around during noisy hours (M-F 8-6, Sat 8-1).

Last night’s task was to sort out our mains electricity, as the fittings and cabling that came with the boat were a weird Dutch, 5-prong plug with 3-phase unguarded cabling (our mooring and every one else here uses 3-pronged, 1 phases guarded cables). We ended up buying some spare cabling off one of our neighbours, and after a lunch hour trip to Machine Mart, we had all the correct plugs. James was able to attach the boat-side connection and the plug for our end of the cable before it got too dark and we both got too frustrated to go any further.

While he was fiddling with pliers and wire cutters, I investigated the canoe situation – we’ve got 17 canoes (having lost one in Volendam when we gained some “Boot?” garffiti), 15 paddles, and 6 rubber skirts. Six canoes are already spoken for, so that leaves 11 canoes, 9 paddles, and 3 skirts left to the first people who come and get them this evening. We seem to be known as the “canoe peopple” on the mooring, but we quite like that as we’re getting to meet absolutely everyone as they come arond inquiring about our prominant deck ornaments!

Comment - posted 29 March 2007, 13:38 in