Friday, June 1, 2012

Thames Barges, Movie.

I was hoping to have Sia McKye as a guest blogger today, but due to the vicissitudes of life, she was unable to be my guest. Later I hope.

Hilary Melton-Butcher wrote about the Diamond Jubilee Pageant which will be Thames Bargetaking place this weekend. It sounds as thought it will be absolutely fabulous. I would dearly love to be there, maybe as a spectator on a boat lining the river. I understand some of the anchors from Good Morning America will be there so we should get some good footage. Apparently a lot of barges will take part and it appears that Thames Barges will, also, be part of the pageant. I am particularly interested in Thames Barges as I lived on one for a number of years. My father bought one shortly after World War II from a company on the Medway which was specialising in converting them into very comfortable homes. Our barge was called the Iota and sadly I have heard reports that she has since been broken up. I guess it was a long time ago.

Thames Barges were quite a special vessel, they were built flat bottomed with Leeboardsvery shallow draughts and, as you can see in the picture above, they had leeboards on each side which were raised and lowered to act instead of a keel (which they didn’t have, or at least not extending under the base of the vessel) when sailing. This is not a barge leeboard, but it will give you the idea. They were managed with hand operated winches and once, when my father took part in the Thames Barge Match, a schoolfriend and I had the job of raising and lowering the leeboards as directed. Unfortunately my winch was somewhat damaged and the pawl, which was a little lever which stopped the winch by clicking into the cog wheel, had its lever broken. The leeboard ran away with me, and I put out my hand to stop it which was possible if you knew the trick, but somehow I ended up feeding my hand into the cog wheels. Not much fun. I had to be put into a dinghy with my mother to be shipped off to the nearest hospital. My father, meanwhile, carried on with the race.

The barges, in their working days, were usually handled by a man and a boy, seagullsometimes a man and his wife. Because of their shallow draughts they could tack (sail from side to side of the river and back if the wind was wrong) into very low waters. There is a joke about a newly hired boy who kept asking the skipper if they shouldn’t come about (turn round) and the skipper kept asking the boy if the seagulls were swimming or walking, the reply was ‘swimming’  so the skipper said to keep on, eventually the reply was walking so the skipper said “Come about”. I don’t know one gull from another, so this may not be the right one, but from the length of its legs, you can see the point.
Although barges did go to sea, the coasts of England, they were never designed to tea cakescope with crossing the English Channel or the North Sea. Iota did both with my father at the helm. I still remember the first time going to Belgium and going into a cafĂ© around tea time (4:30 ish) and being served a choice of small cakes full of fresh cream. My eyes were bigger than my stomach and I couldn’t finish what I had selected, but they were wonderful. One I drool over to this day was a chocolate spike filled with real cream. At that time I had never seen anything like it, rationing was still in force in the UK.  Another time we went to Denmark (different boat by then) and things were still stringent in the UK. We ordered breakfast of bacon and eggs for a bunch of us and ended up with a huge platter covered in fried potatoes, lots of fried eggs, and mounds of bacon. Our eyes popped out.

If you are interested, as I was, in seeing the types of boats which will be taking part in this pageant, you can go to this website where they have details of all the flotilla participants. In the section about sailing ships, there are at least a couple of barges with which I am familiar. I am astounded they are still sailing. It appears that the Edith May was extensively rebuilt, I am not sure about the Cambria. Nostalgia is running rife in my mind right now.

So I have to include a poem I wrote many years ago about Thames Barges. The picture is of the Iota. Sadly I do not have pictures of the inside which was lovely. In fact once, when I was very young, some magazine came and took pictures which they published. Funnily enough a friend who hadn’t seen my parent in years, recognised an ornament in the picture and got in touch with them.

A Skipper’s Lament

by Josephine Duttson

Ah, we used to know sailin’ in them days
Just the boy an’ me or sometimes the wife
T’were ‘ard work but very rewarding
I’d not ‘ave changed it for my life.
We’d ply the east coast and the rivers
With our mains’ls and mizzens well set
We’d manoeuvre in port with our tops’ls
They’d not installed engines as yet.
The leeboards we lowered with winches
An’ we’d mouse the main block to the horse
Then we’d up with the fores’l and tops’l
An’ if need be the mizzen o’ course.
Wi’ a strong wind we’d sail like a goods train
Our gunn’ls almost under the sea
But we’d batten the hatches and combings
An’ the scuppers’d keep the decks free.
Too much an’ we’d brail up the mains’l
It goes back like a curtain on stage
But wi’ the right wind, up the stays’l
An’ she’d sail like ‘er were freed from a cage.
We’d sail over sandbanks and shallows
Where most other boats couldn’t go
Feeling the way with our leeboards
If t’were a place that the skipper di’nt know.
We carried all manner of cargoes
Like bricks from the old Kentish fields
An’ our red sails were seen in most weathers
Our faces were tanned leather shields.
But the age of the barge is now over
‘Cos its cheaper by railway or road
But you still see ‘em racing the barge match
Tho’ now most’re tarted wi’ gold.
Not to mention the white an’ the crimson
Their sails are clean; white an’ new
But we couldn’t work barges so pretty
Pitch and red ochre their due
There’s only a few on ‘em left now
Some Ev’rards and one or two more
But up an’ down England’s east coastline
There are hulks rotting beached on the shore.
Besides which, the skippers are lonely
No barge moving under their feet
They’re beached like the hulls as I told you
Ne’er seeing no rudder nor cleat
What’s left ‘as mostly got engines
An’ their skippers ain’t got the skill
For the age of the sailing barge’s over
Their time ‘as passed over the hill.
But I’ll never see sunset on Medway
Wi’out thinking of how it would be
With the barges settin’ off with their cargoes
Their hulls spanking over the sea.

Marigold HotelI finally got to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which turned out to be a quite different movie to what I had been expecting. I was expecting comedy from end to end, but it wasn’t like that at all, it was a delightful story about a bunch of seniors who decide to take up a new life in an exotic country, most of whom, once they learn to dive in head first, thoroughly enjoy themselves and adapt to a vibrant and colourful, if extremely noisy, existence. I actually felt quite envious. The friend who went with me said she wouldn’t like to pull up her roots that way, I on the other hand, and I am sure Matt would feel the same way, would love to do just that. One thing I was very surprised about was the camels in the streets. Camels and India? I assume it was filmed there and so they must have camels, but I certainly don’t associate the two. The actors were all brilliant, particularly Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.

I love Blueberry Muffins and I saw a picture in my inbox which made my mouth water. However, when I checked out the recipe it was full of odd ingredients which most of us do not keep in our pantries. So, having decided on the muffin recipe, I went and looked for another, this one seemed good.

To Die For Blueberry Muffins

Submitted By: Colleen

Photo By: NeeterBug

"Big blueberry flavor warrants big muffins, so fill the cups right up for oversized muffins that will please everyone. The cinnamon-sugar streusel is the crowning glory."

Ingredients:Blueberry Muffins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400° F (200°C). Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.

To Make Crumb Topping:
Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix with fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until done.

Have a great day


  1. "vicissitudes of life" lol! An apt description. Later, for sure Jo.

    What a grand idea with the barges being made into homes. Sounds like your family had some great adventures.

    When we were kids, my parents took us to visit some friends of my dad who had a barge made into a house on the Potomac. The owner had even made a small section for a garden-flowers, tomatoes, and a few other veggies. She had two barrels with Roses. It was amazing.

    What a lovely poem. I quite enjoyed reading it.


    1. I'll look forward to it Sia. Your blog is on Facebook today as I wanted Glenda Larke to see it.

      Sadly many of the barges are not around any longer. I suspect they spent a fortune on the Edith May. What she is like down below I don't know.

      I wasn't very old, by today's standards, when I wrote that poem, I always considered it one of my best.

  2. That film is called Indian Hotel here. A friend of mine went to see it. Not sure if I will.

    1. It was a good movie Marilyn, I enjoyed it very much, I just wasn't expecting what I got. I hope you can see it in English, I don't think some of the things would translate very well into French, or any other language come to that.

  3. I think I would rather be on one of the boats floating down the Thames then on the shore. Maybe one day we will!

    1. I think, with something over 1,000 boats taking part, that it would be way too crowded. Not only that you wouldn't get to see the whole pageant, only your own bit. Never did sail up the Thames - or not up to London - but we did sail up the Seine to Paris one year. Had a room in central Paris for a couple of weeks, didn't cost much at all. What could be better?

  4. Hi Jo .. great post and memoir filled days - you should do a post for Arlee on his Memoir blog ... I'm looking forward to see the Pageant on Sunday .. should be so much fun .. except I have to be in three places at once - haven't worked that out yet .. well two - as I don't really need to be here!

    I'm not quite sure Best Exotic was quite what I was expecting .. but I did love it and it just had so much charm ..

    Cheers Hilary

  5. Hilary Melton-Butcher posted, but for some reason it doesn't turn up here so decided to copy it over.

    Hi Jo .. great post and memoir filled days - you should do a post for Arlee on his Memoir blog ... I'm looking forward to see the Pageant on Sunday .. should be so much fun .. except I have to be in three places at once - haven't worked that out yet .. well two - as I don't really need to be here!

    I'm not quite sure Best Exotic was quite what I was expecting .. but I did love it and it just had so much charm ..

    Cheers Hilary

    1. As you say, Best Exotic wasn't quite as expected, but a lovely movie just the same. I envy you being able to watch the pageant, hopefully we will get to see some of it on TV.

      Didn't even know Lee did memoir blogs.

  6. A lovely evocative post and a great poem, Jo! Thank-you:-)))

  7. A good many years ago 38 in fact, I responded to an advert in exchange and mart for the sailing barge Iota, it was for sale in old Windsor if I remember correctly, the price was £900 sadly it in very poor condition barely afloat, an almost total wreck in fact, I would have loved to taken her on, but it was far to big a task,and I walked away much to my dismay. ..Ian

    1. How very sad that you couldn't do anything with her. I had some wonderful years living on her and was very sorry to hear of her eventual demise. My father bought her shortly after World War 2 so she was getting on a bit even then. Did you ever buy another barge?