A new-ish Alternator and Slippery Crew

After the crushing disappointment of Sunday, this has been the longest week I can remember.  The Owl has been working hell for leather to get the engine part we needed in time to leave Barking on Monday, when our skipper and crew have said they’re next free. 
It turns out our lovely Volvo Penta engine is not as doddery as initially suspected – thankfully the ‘dodgy’ fuel pump is in fact fine, it was just an air lock.  After two hours of expert tinkering on Sunday night by our friend T and engine man P however, the alternator was still screwed: putting out waaaay too much voltage.  Something needed doing.  To be fair, it is over 30 years old.  
As such, they don’t make them like they used to, so Plan B of getting it reconditioned wasn’t going to work out as the parts were likely to be so hard to get hold of, so back to Plan A we went to find a replacement. 

By Tuesday, the Owl had found a knowledgeable man called Steve from London Essex Auto Electrics who had another more recent Penta alternator that would probably do. 

By Thursday night, he’d been to Steve’s (armed with photos of all the connections to make sure the new one would fit and he’d know how to reconnect it), swapped the alternators, and run the engine for the requisite 2 hours without stalling. What a hero – we were ready to go, two days early. 

Here is what success looked like from the outside: 

And from the inside: 

Sadly our jubilation was short lived – precisely two hours in fact – before we checked our email to discover that our skipper had decided he could not now afford us 24 hours on Monday/ Tuesday after all.  He might be able to manage Friday… Or maybe (we’re away on Friday) mid July…?
I deleted the email quickly to prevent myself from causing an unfortunate occurrence.  First thing Friday morning we started looking for a new skipper. 
We have now found a skipper who will not only get us where we need to go when we need to get there, but will also teach us how to drive her so that we don’t find ourselves in this pickle again. All we need then is a VHF radio and license, and we’ll be golden.  Maybe being let down (twice) by our original crew is no bad thing in the end…  



Bye bye, Barking

And we’re off! In approximately 2 hours, aiming to document our progress as we go on Instagram, if anyone is interested: @minkypink.
But first, a word on Barking, our home for the last 2 years, before we leave it behind forever.  (Dumper’s remorse? Maybe).

If we had the money, we’d buy a place in Barking. Somewhere nice near the river to rent out and hold onto until we decide to retire and live either off it or in it. In a few years’ time, my bet is that Barking is going to be smoking hot property – Dalston East, if you will. They’re thinking Big, and all those stupid Fresh Wharf shenanigans aside, I kind of love it.   It’s got a fantastic sense of community, and aspirations in the creative industries that I wish I could be a part of.   

A few things I appreciate, in no particular order: 

– the crazy-good history! Barking Abbey was built in the 10th century by Saint Erkenwald for his sister Saint Ethelburga (evidently a family of high achievers). It was so rich and beautiful that William the Conqueror couldn’t shoot Harold’s eye out fast enough, so keen was he to move in and made all the kings of England eat humble pie off the nuns’ flagstones.

– Captain Cook got married in St Margaret’s church.  Fact. 


– The new Abbey Leisure Centre’s soft play area The Idol received £100,000 Arts Council funding (of an annual £0.5million Barking/ Arts Council pot) and was designed by Turner prize nominee Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. 

Admittedly it’s all black, but conceptually it’s great. And apparently the black is to create a sense of danger, which is rare in council soft play areas, so I applaud it. 

Also it was designed by a Turner prize nominee, which is super cool and inspiring, so who cares.  

– The Granary development right opposite our boat is positioning itself at the heart of a new “artistic quarter” which if the existing building is anything to go by will be really quite beautiful. Especially once someone gets around to sorting our poor, neglected river out. (Don’t all leap up at once – rumour has it that Ilford Film used to dump all their processing waste into the river, so the silt is full of nasties. If true, no self-respecting dredging company will want to touch it with a barge pole. This is hearsay incidentally, so hopefully  it’s not true. , because this river area deserves to be bloody lovely one of these days.

  The Ice House/ Granary development, from the road 

  And from our roof (riverside) when we first arrived in 2013, before they filled in all the blue with tower blocks  

 The turning pool at Town Quay; in need of a good dredging 

– The scraggy Fresh Wharf industrial estate that overlooks us has already been contracted to developers. I haven’t seen the plans but it can’t possibly be worse than it is already. And frankly the sooner the owners hand it over and the mooring residents can try to build a cordial new neighbourly relationship not riven with petty arguments and historical resentment, the better. (See: the arrival of Concrete Singh below). 

  Our next door plot two weeks ago


 Our next door plot now
– Barking has an arboretum! A proper one, with loads of different trees in it. It’s lush. Also next to it the Creative Square outside the beautiful Town Hall puts on occasional light shows and concerts. In two weeks there’s a Folk Festival with Dagenham son Billy Bragg headlining. 

   The arboretum

  Random ‘fake ruin’ art installation by the Town Hall   

  Barking Town Hall

   Creative Barking & Dagenham

– There are a couple of great little cafes, notably: 
1) EzO Bistro within the Barking station concourse, open since summer last year and lined with second hand books and original art. They serve great fresh coffee, crepes and sandwiches. The Owl gets his second caffeine hit there every morning (they remember how he takes it) and the owners work their butts off to make it a genuinely nice place to spend time, which if you’ve seen Barking station is something of an accomplishment. 


2) Relish, the council run community cafe in the Barking Learning Centre (home to the library, the Barking Bath House and a gallery, amongst others). The food comes in abundant portions and is really very good. The Bun and I take ourselves out for lunch there at any excuse really… Which is easy as the GP is right opposite and our Children’s Centre is just over the road. 


– the Gascoigne Childrens Centre is deservedly OFSTED rated Outstanding. I’m really going to miss it.
– they have sex ed posters like this hanging from the lampposts: 

  (This makes me giggle like a teenager every time I pass by)

– the Queen is coming to visit next month. Apparently it’s the 50th anniversary of the borough but whatever – THE QUEEN! I love the Queen.


– Finally: the transport infrastructure is really good. The C2C, the Overground and two underground lines run from Barking station so you can be at Kings Cross in half an hour. Not bad for zone 4…

So things are Happening in Barking. I like it.  And in a way – family proximity and a beautiful stretch of river notwithstanding – it’s more “us” than Kew is (which has a Society specifically dedicated to making sure NOTHING EVER CHANGES).

But we have no investment in the area; even once the development is completed (assuming there are any boats left), the mooring fees will just go up in line with the improved local area and facilities…  All hope lies with a few brave boaters and their community mooring aspirations.

In the meantime, the situation at Fresh Wharf is as precarious and frustrating as ever.  The latest word is that mooring licenses won’t be renewed after October, and in our immediate area, living conditions are actually worse since PMC Soil Solutions packed up all their lorries and left.  The estate managers in their eternal social compassion and wisdom moved the friendly but very noisy and excessively hardworking Concrete Singh into the plot next door.  (highlights so far have included clouds of cement dust billowing over our decks and through our portholes, and all-day Sundays and 10pm week night finishes, bless their grubby cotton socks.)

All in all we’re over it, and we’re off. We’ve met some truly lovely people who we hope we’ll see again, and we wish the best of luck and fair winds to all the friends and acquaintances who are staying on to fight another day.  If they can stay the course and emerge triumphant, it will be so worth it – Barking Riverside is truly a diamond in the rough. 

So, with a song in our hearts and smiles on our faces, we wave goodbye and turn our backs on Barking, heading south through the barrage and down the River Roding, to sail up through London Town and into the sunset. 
It’s the summer solstice, so with any luck it’ll be a good one. 

Progress update: Three weeks of dubious plumbing

I can’t believe we’ve only been here 2.5 weeks. I just double-checked and it’s definitely true: we arrived in Barking exactly 3 weeks ago yesterday. It feels like months!

We now have running water (just about: look!)

20130731-210901.jpg Although there’s not quite enough pressure to flush the loo yet. 24hr Tesco remains our intimate friend.

J is doing an amazing job of sorting out the plumbing but it’s a tangled job of deciphering and re-connecting pipe fittings with Dutch 16mm, British 15mm and, (my fave), garden hose pipe in the right order so as not to compromise what meagre pressure we have from the massive 1000litre IBC (“intermediate bulk container”) tank he bought last weekend on eBay for £70 to tide us over while we work out what in the name of Jehovah is going on with the inbuilt water system.

During a particularly entertaining exploratory mission which involved stomping about with a large torch in the pitch dark and sticking his whole upper torso into dark holes behind walls or in the bilges and muttering like a lunatic emitting the odd, loud, “AHAAAAA!” – the Owl found a massive grey water tank (P: “nope, definitely won’t be that, the Dutch don’t do grey water… Oh”), and a previously unnoticed but apparently perfectly functional electrical boiler under the bathroom floor. Why grey water but no black water, you may well ask? Why under the bathroom floor, indeed?! Your guess is as good as ours, it makes no sense to my Saxon mind. But it has a working pump AND a float switch, which we both got rather excited about. Even though we’re still not sure what it’s all doing there.

We’ve also had P back over to inspect the electrics and pleasingly it seems we’re already wired with the good stuff and it’s just the dodgy old ceramic fuse box and all the various euro plug sockets that need replacing for us to qualify for the electric bit of the BSSC. Result.

What all this means is that whoever this Mr. van den Dude was who owned it before us, he not only knew what he was doing, but he also took a fair amount of care in doing it. So for all there’s still masses to do: the engine room looks like an industrial graveyard, we have to rush about with saucepans every time the heavens sneeze and we still can’t flush the loo, we may have landed more squarely on our feet than we were expecting to.

Imminent jobs list looks like this:

– Get water pump sorted and pressure up so we can use the loo and start having friends over (fix pipe under sink in bathroom while we’re at it so it stops leaking into the bilge)
– Get (both) boilers serviced and working – hot water (electric) and central heating (diesel)
– Get electrics sorted
– Clear out engine room and see what space we can reassign for new water tanks etc to free up space in living area
– Re-seal leaking port-lights
– Replace and reseal leaking double-glazed roof units
– Decide on stove, washing machine (dish washer?), order and install

Most of these jobs already have the Owl’s name on them apart from the one involving white goods, so I’m currently mid- gender-crisis trying to work out what oily, spanner-wielding jobs I can take ownership of that might balance out the cooking, painting and cleaning I seem to have been defaulting to recently. Watch this space. The problem is I actually really like thinking about pretty colours… Must… Resist…

So when I’m not ordering vintage drawer handles on eBay and Etsy, plotting a trip to Kempton market for all the things we ‘need’ (dining chairs, several sets of steps, a hanging basket chair) or finishing my granny’s kitchen table restoration project off with copper tape detailing, you will hopefully find me stripping varnish from the wheelhouse or wielding a pressure hose on deck in a manly fashion.

You may note that they’re not on the imminent jobs list, but alas I just don’t have the physical strength or engineering knowledge to tackle most of those so what’s a girl to do?

Assuming I can tear myself away from the Little Green Paint Company website. That orange has GOT to go.

A word on: THE NATURE

This morning we woke up to the lovely sound of rain pattering on the steel roof above our heads. A soothing, cat-snuggly-on-my-feet, this-is-the-life moment for me; a frantic, leap-out-of-bed-for-the-nearest-saucepan moment for the Owl.

On my way to the station I passed a fleet of ducks, sheltering head beneath wing on a weed-float in the middle of the turning pool, and a scattering of small gulls sailing about industriously. They weren’t having as much success as after the catastrophic rains a few weeks ago, but more on that in a minute.

Dick and Liz occasionally pay us a visit on their way to the barrage and back – they live a little further up-stream.

20130809-195040.jpgMother Goose pops by regularly with her two teenagers for an overnighter on the orange tub. She knows her game and is right over for a biscuit (never mind the kids) the second she spots a likely biscuit-bet up on deck.

We have a host of commuter pigeons who come home (presumably from a hard day’s hustling in Trafalgar Square) to roost on the Grain Store every evening after a sociable pint or a dip at the folly. Inevitably, some individuals have more accomplished pro-flyer skills than the others who mostly skid, anxiously flapping, down the slope of the partially submerged metal tank in scant control, and reach the waterline all flustered and slightly embarrassed. But I saw one crazy gun actually hover, dip her fluffy undercarriage down and lift herself up again seconds from a major water-logging. I’ve never seen anything like it, foolhardy fowl (henceforth to be referred to as Maverick. Or maybe Goose.)

We even have the odd sight of a pair of these rare little beauties, who very occasionally alight on the folly to do a little waggle-tail dance and then disappear again…
20130809-200041.jpg At least I think <a href="http://this is what they are. It’s too far to really see let alone capture them on an iPhone, look, I tried:

20130809-201209.jpg (he’s the blob in the middle top right above the tank…) Whatever, just indulge me. The thought it might be brings a touch of magic to my life.

A Tribe Called Coot make a daily educational perambulation* down the gap between our boats and out around the edge of the river and back.

20130809-201605.jpgSo dangerous! Their obliviousness to the 60-odd tons of steel that could crush them at any point is humbling (it won’t, don’t worry – there are bollards holding us apart. Still).

(*I know they’re in water – but you should see their freaking feet)

And then these are some of the fishes.

20130809-202513.jpgOr at least, these were some of the fishes – until some bizarre, apparently ‘normal’ ecological crisis hit the night of the heavy storms, and they all woke up dead.

We initially thought it was because we were using too much soap, I’m not going to lie. But it quickly became too big for us.

The first sign (which I missed) that something was wrong was the sight of these dinky little flat fish kissing the surface when we woke up.

20130809-204846.jpg‘Cute!’ I thought as I left the boat. ‘Happy rainy fish!’. When I reached the weir however, this definitely didn’t look right.

20130809-205032.jpgAnd to the left, an outgoing tide of little white bellies heading relentlessly towards the weir (beyond which the gulls were having a field day) looked even wronger.

Almost immediately the Barking Community group email started pinging. One neighbour estimates he saw about two thousand dead fish float past on the outgoing tide. (The following morning these poor creatures were still anchored in the mud behind the barrage gates. The one in the middle was about a foot long and we reckon was a roach, if you’re interested.)
20130809-210321.jpgThe mooring managers called the Environment Agency who came down, did tests and found no chemicals, ruling out the ‘Beckton Sewage Works Bastards’ theory and reassuring us the seagulls at least would be ok. They did however find that there was no oxygen in the water. My little fish had been not waving but drowning.

Another neighbour circulated this link on the state of East London’s rivers from the charity Thames 21.

Toxic run-off from suburban driveways and roads, suddenly released from the banks into rivers by heavy rains. Which is as punchy and futile a conclusion about the terrors of inner-city Tarmac as I ever saw. He proposed a community clean up, which we pretty much all agreed with. It’s heartening how bothered everyone is, and how keen to do something.

But still. I feel weirdly frustrated, incompetent and dissatisfied. After a week’s holiday I’m working full time in town again, and most of these photos were taken during my week off, but still – I’ve not seen any more fish. The wagtails are absent.

Where are A Tribe Called Coot? And how can this be normal?