Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Roofbox part 8–now the come-uppance for my incompetence.

I told you I was no good at woodwork.  Now that the roof box is nearing completion I can see the mistakes I made.  It may astonish you to find that my box is less than perfect.  It doesn’t surprise me, just like any software I write, it doesn’t have faults, I prefer to call them features. Read on below to learn how to include the same features yourself so your work can look home made like mine. No-one could possibly think mine was professionally made. What would be the point of that?  First though, lets look at where I’m at.  Here is the box minus its floor and the “gable ends” (more of which later).


The picture shows the box turned upside down.  Just like an insect, it now has six feet.  Here’s a close up of one of the feet the right way up.


Such exquisite joinery.  I put one piece of wood against another with a dob of glue, then drive in a screw. This time I used Gorilla glue, I figured that if it’ll glue gorillas together it must be strong. So what you see here is a corner of the box, where the grey leg is glued and screwed (from the outside) to the cream side planks, and there’s end of the (new design)  rail which will support the loose laid floor boards. At least i hope it will.  Believe me, if I can do it, anybody can.  I doubt very much if it is mega strong, but it only has to sit there rather than being hoiked about and stressed.  The feet are cut off at a cunning angle to allow for the curve / slope of the boat roof.

So what incompetencies can you learn from me?

1. Buying wood.  I get mine from Wickes, which I dare say is no worse than anywhere else.  I know by now that wood is never flat and straight.  It might be when they cut and plane it, but wood of this quality is not stable.  if you’re as useless as me, you’ll grab a pack off the shelf and find out how bad it is when you get home.  That’s why the plank at one of the box ends is charmingly dished so that it doesn’t lie flat against the leg, thus weakening the corner.  i had to resort to making little wooden wedges to fill the gaps.  Smart people take a good look at the wood in the shop and sort through to find the good bits. Bah!  Boring.

2. Precision. Why not be like me and measure to the nearest millimetre before casually sawing somewhere near the line?  It makes it so much more fun trying to make the corners of the box meet, especially when your right angles are anywhere between 86 and 94 degrees.  The charming little gaps so produced in the joints are ideal as homes for spiders and the like  (doing my bit for the environment. I might designate the box as organic.)  and the rain can get in to keep the wood from drying out.

I am however, very proud to say that i did remember to measure my car boot before I glued the box together, and the assembled box will fit in for taking the box up to Herbie. At least I think it will.

Well we’re near the end of this project.  Just the gable ends and the ridge pole for the cover to complete.  I have cunning plans /new designs for both items so stay tuned.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Magical History Tour

Here, demonstrated by my lovely assistant Rick, is a boat battery. A bit bigger than yours and mine eh? What if I told you that this week we were on a boat powered by 300 tons of these batteries? Yes I did check that figure, 300 tons! Then what if i told you that the boat could recharge the all the batteries from its diesel engines in two or three hours? Then what if I told you that at maximum speed the batteries would only power the boat for about half an hour, or at canal speeds, 3 or 4 knots, the batteries might last a day and a half? Have you guessed what boat this is? Answer towards the end of this post.

Here's another picture of Rick at the same site.

Can you see him? If you follow the right hand white line on the floor and enlarge the photo, he's there with his arms outstretched. This is half the floor of the upstairs part of a shed. Some shed huh? All made from timber using construction methods used in building timber ships in the early nineteenth century. Well it would be, because this is where wooden warships were built and fitted out. Downstairs is now crammed full of all sorts of old machinery including some made by the firm that Rick and I used to work for when we first met in the dark ages.

Then, on the same site, we took a look at this machine in operation.

This is in the longest brick built building in Europe, and the machine is making something nearly a quarter of a mile long. Rope. An amazing thing to watch. Here's looking down the building. We never ot to see the other end - too far away.  The workers use a bike to go up and down.

They made two such lengths together in about fifteen minutes. The machinery and method are unchanged since Victorian times.

If you think all this, and a lot more, is worth seeing, take yourself down to Chatham Historic Dockyard,

where you can see how they built ships like HMS Victory, as well as 20th Century Naval ships and fitted them out. It's a vast site with beautifully kept buildings and  it's a totally brilliant museum with so much to see, including HM Submarine Ocelot, which is of course where all those batteries belong. You get a full bow to stern tour of Ocelot, and if you do, you'll never again complain about lack of space on a narrowboat!

The whole site is immaculately set out and truly fascinating. (You'll gather I quite liked it!) For me, one of the special bits was to stand in the mould loft where they showed us how the shapes of the hull of Victory were laid out, but unless you don't like boats or rope, or beautiful buildings, or history, or Victorian engineering, you'll find something to enjoy.

PS. We also visited Winston Churchill's house, William Morris's house and the National Trust's most daring and expensive(and amazing) house restoration, Ightam Mote, while we were at it. Every one a gem. Four days well spent.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Roofbox part 7 - Man versus paint

Make no mistake, paint is out to get you. All week the weather has been pretty cold, making the paint slow to dry. So on Saturday I came to the final colour, the Hempel(formerly Blakes) Bordeaux Red.  This is good quality coach paint and as you might expect, free flowing even if it does cover fairly well.  So Saturday, out comes the sun, warming up our conservatory so that the paint turns the consistency of semi skimmed milk ready to seep beneath even the best of masking takes on a wooden surface.  That’s the problem you see, the better paint flows, the more it seeps.  You can’t win against the flippin’ stuff.

Undaunted I pressed on.  One coat Saturday and one Sunday.  Nervously I pull off the masking to reveal this.


Baaah! Similar damage on all four planks.  Well I had sort of expected it. Sometimes the red had bled over the white as you see above , and sometimes it was on the cream.

I take a deep breath and get out the tiny artists brush.  Best get on with the touching up rather than weep and wail. 

Now this goes to show why it’s worth keeping your cool and soldiering on. In well under an hour I had got all four planks looking like this.



That’ll do nicely. It just demonstrates that no matter how incompetent you are and no matter how inconsiderate your paint can be, you can get an acceptable result, so don’t let my tales of troubles put you off.

That just leaves the probable debacle of the assembly of the box next weekend.  Hopefully the paint will have hardened off quite a bit by then.

Just after I had finished, we had a visitor in the garden.  I suppose he or she  might have looked at my painting efforts before giving his /her opinion thus:


Sorry for the poor photo quality, it was taken through two sets of double glazing and their associated reflections.

I leave that corner of the garden as a wildlife area, so perhaps I should be pleased, but I had never envisaged it as a fox latrine!

Friday, April 13, 2018

How not to make a roofbox–part 6 disaster narrowly averted

The next time I see an Old English Sheepdog I’m going to bust him on the nose.  That flippin’ Dulux paint (barely the consistency of single cream) weedled its way under my masking tape in n places, (where n is a large positive integer).  You expect a bit of bleed here and there, but not that much. “Never mind,” I thought to myself,”take the rag away from your face, now ain’t the time for your tears.” (a few brownie points are available for anyone who can tell me who wrote those lines).

The offending leaks were largely onto the dark grey gloss, so out came my tiniest artists brush and the tin of grey paint.  Cursing that mop top dog, I spent ages trying to steady my shaking hands as I touched up all the mini splodges and runs of cream paint. It’s a wonder I didn’t pass out, what with holding my breath most of the time. Then, just as I was about to finish the last plank I got demob happy and lost concentration. Dipping my brush in the grey paint I forgot to wipe off the excess paint and drawing the brush out of the can, ran a huge run of dark grey paint all over two yellow and white triangles. “Oh woe is me” I cried (or something which means the same but is somewhat less printable).  Fortunately, being and old hand at painting mistakes, I knew what to do and quickly soaking a kitchen towel in white spirit I managed to wipe off the grey before it took hold. Phew!

So now the planks look like this:


a closer look:


All that’s left to do is the painting of the red diamonds in between the grey ones and to seal the bottom edge of each plank, which for no good reason I have so far neglected to do.  In the words of my unfavourite American President, “It’s gonna be great”.

With luck I might have finished the painting by Sunday, then the dreaded assembly of the box will have to wait a few days.  We’re off with Rick and Marilyn to darkest Kent on a mini break of our own devising.  More about that when we get there.  There may well be some boaty stuff.

Today i am mostly listening to Bix Beiderbeck an artist of whom I know little, but recommended to me by my friend Stephen and also by Ry Cooder who played some of his tunes on his “Jazz” album.  It is very easy to like ( and I am known for being a bit picky over these things). If you have access to a streaming service give him a try.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How not to make a roof box– too much paint and not enough concentration.

It is possible I might have acquired a bit too much white paint.  I think all the white bits are now done and dusted and here’s what’s left in the tin.


Well the rest will come in handy should I ever decide to paint the whole house (or possibly the street) at home.  This is Wickes Liquid Gloss.  I can’t remember when and why I bought it but I must have been in an optimistic mood. I’m happy to report that it is possibly the nicest paint to use of the lot. It goes on well and , for white paint, covers well.  Anyway when you’re doing a job with all these paints, you need to use what you have or else spend a fortune.

My enemy at this point is concentration, or rather the lack of it. How easy it is, dear reader, to mask the wrong side of a line.  I know because I have done it twice.  I did spot it in time however so I didn’t paint in the wrong place. Such is my general bewilderment over what I’m supposed to be doing that I have taken to putting dabs of masking tape on areas I’m not supposed to paint.  Like this. 


The dabs are on bits that will later be cream.  This is the masking for the white triangles which alternate with cream between the larger red and grey diamonds.  It all gets a bit frustrating at this stage.  A few minutes masking, a few minutes painting then a 24 hour wait for the paint to dry before you can move on to the next bit.

This idea of using a layer of white gloss is all very well, but after I’d done it I realised I’d covered up all my marking out, so I had to do it all again.  However after the four planks and the double marking I now have all the dimensions in my head, no doubt crowding out more useful information like which side of a line to mask.

Looking closely at the planks, I see one has quite a bow across it’s face, so I’m not looking forward to finding out how well it will  (or more probably will not) fit against the corner post.  That’s the beauty of all this painting before building, you get the excitement of not knowing if you had wasted your time.

Today’s cliff hanger: The dreaded Dulux cream on top of white gloss next.  That’s bound to go well I keep telling myself.

Monday, April 09, 2018

How not to make a roof box part 4– sloppy precision

People have looked at my previous roof boxes and commented on the precision of the painting. Little do they know that my painting is very sloppy, it’s the masking that has to be done carefully.  here’s the proof:

Careful Masking



Slapdash Painting


See what I mean?  A chimpanzee could have slapped that white on.  It took quite a while to do the masking and no time at all to do the painting.  I’m using good low tack Craftmaster plastic masking tape which I trim carefully with a craft knife at places like the diamond points. The Craftmaster tape nearly always comes off cleanly which is why I like it. Now I juts have to hope that I don’t get much bleed under the tape.  A little bit of bleed is inevitable in some places because of the grain of the wood, but I’ll touch that up at the end with an artist’s brush.

As you can see I’ve decided to use white as a base topcoat underneath what will be the white, red and cream paints, but, I hope understandably, I’ve painted the grey border and diamonds directly onto the grey undercoat.  After two cost of grey topcoat the grey is actually finished now – hooray. Only three more colours to go.  I reckon that’ll take about another week though, to allow drying between coats. Not quick is it?  However it rarely takes me more than an hour each day –often mush less.

At the weekend we snuck out to Herbie and cruised all the way from Cropredy Marina to Cropredy Lock – less than ten minutes!  That was because we had arranged to meet up with the Moomins who were passing through on Nb Melaleuca. We all spend a jolly evening together and shared a meal, me doing a pasta dish and Simon making a crumble for pud.  next morning they went on their way south and we turned back to the marina then home.  Time well spent. And – our solar panels once again made more electricity than we used.  Very rewarding.

Must stop now, I’m off to do some more painting.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

How not to make a roof box - part 3- painting nigtmares

Only an idiot would design a roof box using six different tins of paint, which makes me well qualified as it would appear that I am indeed an idiot. Not only have I used an undercoat colour that is most difficult to cover with my chosen top colours, but my design also requires each colour to be bordered with two or even three other colours. This effectively means that I have to keep masking and re-masking different sections and also that I spend half my time cleaning paint brushes to move on to another colour. It is not for the faint hearted i.e. me, but I am sort of committed. I should know better because I went through all this last time. I remember now how each different paint had different flow and covering characteristics and of course I'm using the same stuff again. Can't waste old unused paint.

Here is the basic pattern as seen on the old box.

As you can see, you don't need a lot of the creamy colour, so I decided to make use of the spare paint by using it for the inside surfaces of the box, amply demonstrating how it fails to cover the undercoat.

This is Dulux weathercoat, without doubt the least pigmented paint I have had the misfortune to use. Not only is the pigment thin (yes I did give it a good stir), but the fluid is hyper thin too. No worry about brush marks, it runs out like water off a duck's back. I could probably have just poured it on and let it flow out into place!

'What's so hard about masking up diamonds and triangles?', you might say. Well it's nice straight lines alright, but every time you move from a diamond to a triangle you have to re-mask on the other side of the line. By the time I've done all four sides of the box, I've used enough tape to do a lane on the M6. No I'm not offering. Here's the masking for just the grey bits on one side. It's the fiddly bits at the diamond points that need a steady hand and a lot of concentration, neither of which are my forte.

Note once again my feng shui tidy workbench - like an operating theatre.

If ever I finish all this painting, I'll tell you about the flaws in theoretical wooden box geometry. If that doesn't put you off, nothing will.

I'm enjoying it all immensely.

Monday, April 02, 2018

How not to make a roof box - part 2

What's that saying you use when you've done some painting and you're watching it, waiting for it to dry and it's boring? "It's like," um something or other. Note the scrupulous tidiness of my work bench by the way. Anyone who as been aboard Herbie will know that we are renowned for our feng shui-like clutter free tidiness. (Not.) No wonder I'm always losing bits and pieces.

Well that's kind of where I'm at with the roof box. So while we're waiting for several coats of primer and undercoat to dry, let's look at what was wrong with the old roof box.

Here's the worst bit.

As well as de-laminating, the plywood has worn away where the cover bungee pulled over the edge. A testament to the poor quality of the plywood. Just below, the wood had also rotted where the bungee button was screwed in.

So despite the box lasting seven years, I'm deciding against plywood this time and thinking of putting a protective edging where the bungees stretch over. Maybe a bit of aluminium angle.

Speaking of aluminium, look at these brackets I made last time.

They screw to the centre front of the box and support Herbie's tv aerial pole. A flawed design. Why? Because the pole can, and sure does, turn too easily in the wind, so losing tv signal. You can't have it in a single fixed posotion because the boat moves from place to place so the signal direction changes. So this time I've modified it with a pole clamping screw. Line it up and clamp it down.

I knew that cheap tap and die set from Aldi would come in handy one day. Cutting an M5 thread in the bracket was easy.

I've decided to complete the bulk of the paintwork before assembling the box. Easier that way. I just hope after all that work the flippin' thing fits together. So the next job is the decorative painting. Stay tuned to see what goes wrong with that.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

How not to build a narrowboat roof box – part one

Way back in the last century when mars bars were fourpence,  I was a pupil at Prince Henry’s Grammar School, Evesham.  It was a very good school and quite academic, so although I was fairly bright  I spend most years in the middle  B stream.  The kids in the A stream were all bound for Oxbridge and the like.  I ended up scraping my degree at the less distinguished  Portsmouth Polytechnic.  Nevertheless in that grammar school B stream I held my own pretty well and kept clear of the bottom of the class in all subjects bar one – woodwork.  (Aah, now you see where this is going.)  At woodwork (and football now I come to think of it) I was exceptionally un-gifted.  My teapot stand, perhaps the only thing I ever finished, didn’t get a lot of use at home as the tea poured out of the teapot spout all by itself  because of the slope of the stand. My annual place at the bottom of the carpentry class was, i suspect, regarded as a given by my unfortunate teacher. Nevertheless, in my old age I have managed to cobble together a few wooden structures which have found their place aboard Herbie.  While none bear close scrutiny, they function in an endearingly crude fashion.

So now as I embark upon my mark II roof box, I thought it might be useful to reveal my construction techniques and their shortcomings in order that others may avoid them.  Here are the findings thus far.

The roof box is a simple rectangular frame consisting of four planks arranged in a rectangle and screwed and glued to square section corner posts which also act as legs to lift the box clear of the roof.  The floor of the box I will come on to in a later episode.

So to these planks.  Roof box mark one which did a reasonable 7 years service was made with plywood which eventually began to delaminate, so this time I’m having a go with tongue and groove floorboard which will probably rot but not delaminate.   In order to get the correct box height (low enough to get under bridges but high enough to store stuff), the planks have to be one and two thirds floorboard width.  So half the planks have to have their width reduced by a third. Sawing across the ends of the board by hand to get the right length I don’t mind, but for ripping along the length I resorted to my terrifying electric circular saw.  Here’s where i come to my first bit of ‘how not to’ advice.

Tip 1:

When working indoors with a circular saw, you can achieve pleasant decorative effects in your workshop by failing to connect any sort of sawdust gathering device to your saw.  As well as revealing any cobwebs there might be, your workbench and surroundings will take on a charming snow scene type effect and you will be surprised at how cleverly the dust finds its way into he smallest nooks and crannies.  Should you wish to find any tools later on, please allow approximately twenty times the amount of time actually spend sawing, to hoovering up afterwards.

Tip 2:

Once your planks are sawn to size,  on the ‘inside’ faces of the box, carefully mark out the fixing point for the corner legs and drill pilot holes for the screws then paint primer over that side, leaving a gap where the legs will be so that the glue will work directly on the wood.  After you have done this you can check whether you have the plank the right way up so that the T&G groove is at the lower edge ( so as not to collect rain) – the same as the box feet. I found it prolongs the fun of marking out as you turn the plank the proper way up and do the marking all over again. Only then can you turn over the plank to check if there are any large knot holes or other disfigurements  on the other face which would marr the appearance of the outside of the box.  The advantage of this method is that you have yet another go at everything as you re-measure and re-mark the face you should have used in the first place.  By now you should be good at marking up.

Tip 3:

Applying primer paint.  I like to paint fast (keep a wet edge and all that.) Load the brush generously and splish splosh vigorously on the wood.  Work fast – dip, splish splosh, dip, splish splosh. It soon becomes automatic, and if you have carefully placed your cup of tea next to the paint tin, you may find some dips come out an interesting brownish colour.  Drinking the tea afterwards is optional.

Well that’s as far as I have got.  Stay tuned for more handy hints on how not to make a roof box.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Deep joy! On Saturday night we decided to disconnect ourselves ( well Herbie really) from the marina's shore power and test out what our the new solar panel arrangement could do for us.

In the dark overnight, the batteries fell from 100% full to 89% in the morning. That's rather less fall than usual with the fridge running and our use of lights, radio etc. Also the Eberspacher ran for an hour in that time. So the early morning light must have done its bit before we rose and checked the readings. That's when we started to get excited. The fridge was running, we were charging various ipads and phones and the inverter was on running my electric sander and the battery levels were rising! Never done that before.

By the end of the day the batteries were back at 99%. So in spite of our use of various electrical bits we had charged the batteries back up. Profit! With our original panel the best we were able to do was hold the batteries steady during daylight. It looks like in the summer months we ought to be able to dispense with engine running altogether given fair weather and an open location. It's safe to say we are delighted.

The old roof box has been duly demolished and the wood for the new one bought and cut to length at home, so tomorrow I hope to start building it. I've got a new plan for construction this time and I'll try to remember to do some pictures so you can see. Then when it all falls to bits you'll know how not to do it.

Tonight I am mostly listening to a CD by Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman, rather easier to listen to than pronounce. It used to be fun seeing them in folk clubs and hearing the compere's attempts at introducing Maire. Anyway, they are blisteringly good. I'm a bit shocked to see the CD dates from 1995. Where did all those years go?

Monday, March 26, 2018

In with the new and out with the old.

Wahoo! Mid morning, low-ish March sun and were still making nearly seven amps thanks to Herbie's newly augmented solar array. At one time yesterday afternoon we were making 11 amps. I'm very pleased with the new all black Midsummer Energy 120w panel which is very compact.

Here we see the new and the old panels together on the roof. They're connected in parallel.

My newly made stands appear to do the job too.

This is the first time I have had to use MC4 connectors for the cabling and I am already a fan of them. They're very easy to attach and look as though they'll make a good waterproof connection. If you're contemplating a solar job using them do get the little plastic tightening spanners, only a pound or so and really effective.

I have yet to fix the frame feet in their permanent position. I'm going to glue them down with Sikaflex which people seem to recommend.

Later today comes a rather more poignant task, dismantling the roof box, which has come to the end of its days. It looks OK but the wood is rotting through, so I'll have to make another one.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Canal pub landlord foils Russian spy ring

With all the hoo hah going on about Russian spies, it was purely by coincidence that yesterday I came across this story whilst idly skimming through stuff at The National Archives.  Kath sits there digging up old ancestors and I potter about amongst old previously secret cabinet papers for a laugh.  The story concerns a one time landlord of the Dolphin pub that many of you will know sits by the canal in Uxbridge (although if you are a watcher of "Lewis" on telly, you could be forgiven for thinking the pub was in Oxford, because they use it in their Oxford canal scenes.)

In 1927 the new Dolphin landlord was Edward Langston, a disgruntled ex employee of ARCOS the All-Russian Co-operative Society Ltd, ostensibly a trading organisation operating in Moorgate, London.  Edward had been recently sacked from his photostat operator job at ARCOS in one of the organisation's periodic "Loyalty Test" purges despite his good employment record there.  That turned out to be a big mistake on ARCOS's part because while he was there, a senior staff member had asked Edward to make a copy of a British Army training manual.  Thinking it improper that the Russians should have stuff like this, Edward had kept a second copy for himself as evidence and after he was sacked he took his revenge by reporting the incident to British intelligence. This was just the sort of evidence Special Branch needed to get the Home Secretary to authorise a raid on ARCOS (about which they had deep suspicions) and in May of that year, 200 police officers together with teams of civil servants and intelligent agents broke into the building and spent five days turning the place over for further evidence, removing several lorry loads of papers and setting about several heavily defended safes and rooms with pneumatic drills.

The eventual upshot was not ideal.  Despite not much of import being found, the UK severed all diplomatic relations with Russia and expelled 400  Soviet citizens. The whole episode became a major topic of debate and set the frosty tone of Anglo Russian relations for many years.  The Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in justifying the actions to parliament foolishly read out Russian communications that had been intercepted and decoded by our boys, thus causing the Russians to adopt a much more indecipherable code which were subsequently unable to crack.  Doh!

As to Edward Langston, he spent his life in fear of Russian reprisal and wrote to MI5 asking them for a pistol to defend himself.  one source says that the Russians did track him down, but I don't know if they ever did anything to him.  Mr Google has some links to all this stuff if you want to read more.  I leave you to decide if this story has a moral or not, but you have to admit that it is sort of topical.

Interestingly, the Dolphin's website makes no mention of this claim to fame, preferring to mention its four plasma TV screens although it does say "All parties catered for".  UKIP?  Monster Raving Looney?