Feature: Blocked loo and a perplexed cat

This is the third and final extract from the diary of MARY and RAY LAMBERT from Earith, who sold their home, wound up their catering business and decided to take to life afloat, on board their narrowboat, Brecon. This week, both he and the cat Smeagle fa

This is the third and final extract from the diary of MARY and RAY

LAMBERT from Earith, who sold their home, wound up their catering business and decided to take to life afloat, on board their narrowboat, Brecon. This week, both he and the cat Smeagle face an unexpected challenge.

BLOCKED loo. One thing imperative on a boat is having a practical can-do mentality, because you never know what you are going to face.

Now, changing a piston on a car engine and being up to my armpits in grease, I'm in heaven but the loo and the prospect of being up to my armpits in something else did not appeal to me.

You can't do the normal thing like call out the emergency plumber and faced with the prospect of a five- mile drive for a call of nature I decided to tackle the job myself. After making all the disconnections and transferring the loo into the bath I started dismantling it and was quite impressed by the design and how it worked. After removing all the major components (it was not as messy as I though it would be) I got to the macerator.

This has an electric motor that is supposed to spin freely but was firmly stuck, so with great trepidation I decided to dismantle it not knowing what I might find. Imagine my surprise on finding a sheet (not a misspelling) of Bounty kitchen towel firmly wedged in one of the blades. Mary admitted being responsible but couldn't understand why something that looks like loo paper could cause the problem - until I pointed out that it is advertised as not disintegrating when wet.

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When Mary first set eyes on Brecon, she said: "It's perfect, just how I wanted the boat to be."

I think what she meant was that it had a blunt end and a pointy end, because what started as "I can't be doing with the dark woodwork" has turned into a major refit.

The only place to work effectively is on deck, which sways. So far, I have lost two tape measures, a spanner, a number of screwdrivers - and while diving for a 50p screwdriver, I knocked off a really good bottle of wine.

One problem we have is the floor, the walls and roof are well insulated but the floor isn't and as we are only six inches from the river it is permanently freezing. This results in us having to take measures to stop frost bitten feet. We are installing some high tech insulation covered by oak planking and although this costs a small fortune, unlike a house, a few square metres goes a long way.

A major amount of work has been to bring Brecon's primitive electrics up to date. We can now use any domestic appliance from a 800 amp/hour (forty cars worth) bank of batteries using an inverter. This includes the washing machine.

Boat electrics are quite complex and due to the close proximity to water, have many safety cut-outs and alarms. This can be pretty scary when the battery voltage drops below its minimum as this sets the whole lot off and it's a bit like a scene from the power station on The Simpsons.

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