Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sshhh! A question, a secret and a song

Here’s a little quiz question for you.  Where do you think this is?


On the subject of Sshhh, here’s a little secret.  Don’t tell anybody but I used to be a Morris dancer.  That was in the 1970s and I danced for Kennet Morris for a few years until my knee cartilage got dodgy.  Here is the somewhat embarrassing procession through the centre of Bracknell when Kath and I got married.  That’s me in civvies with my face partially obscured in front and of course Kath.


That was 39 years ago!

Why should I tell you this after all that time?  Because yesterday evening Kennet Morris were performing at the Retreat pub in Reading which is where Kath goes for her Uke group, so I went along to see how the lads were doing.  Amazingly there were still six of them that were dancing in my day.  I noticed they don’t jump quite so high now!  In fact Brian who features in the picture above, he with the beard in the front of the left hand row as you look at it, is still at it and is the current squire (captain) of the Morris side.  His beard is still there but is now, unsurprisingly grey.

Here they are doing a spot inside the pub. You can’t stop them even when the show is supposed to be finished.

morris 1

And here after all those years is Brian wearing his badge of office.

morris 2

See the dancer furthest away on the right?  That’s John.  He has been dancing Morris for well over fifty years!  Blimey.

For old time’s sake I joined Brian in a rendering of a song he taught me all those years ago, and it’s one I still sing to the grandchildren now and then.   Try it. All you have to do is keep singing “Danger men at work” to the tune of Knees up Mother Brown.  A good party piece.

Danger men at work

Danger men at work

Danger men at work danger men

At work danger men


At work danger men

At work danger men

At work danger men at work dan-

Ger men at work dane


Ger men at work dane

Ger men at work dane

Ger men at work danger men at

Work danger men at


Work danger men at

Work danger men at

Work danger men at work danger

Men at work danger


Men at work danger

Men at work danger

Men at work danger men at work

Danger men at work


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Free best seller.

50 people downloaded my best selling* book Jobs For The Boys from Amazon / Kindle yesterday!! "Blimey," I hear you exclaim, "I thought everyone on the planet had read it by now. The Herbies must be filthy rich on the royalties."

Well not exactly, but if you are one of those people who inexplicably failed to get a copy, it's free on Kindle until Saturday ( hence the 50 downloads yesterday.) just go to Amazon and search for Herbie Neil.

BTW if you are one of those lovely people who have read it, and perhaps even enjoyed it, I could do with a couple more reviews on Amazon. I'm up to 18**, and 20 has been tantalisingly close for some months.

If you didn't like it, my name is Jeffrey Archer.

Ta very much.

End of commercial break.

* well it is the best selling book I have written, as it is the only one. I suppose that also makes it the worst seller.

** ooh, much excitement, I just checked back and found I got another review on14 July, so now only only need one more for my twenty. My cup runneth over.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ashby Images

Just to be contrary, I’ll start at the end.


This is as far up the Ashby canal as most boats get, but as you can see there is a further restored bit in water beyond the gate. Here’s what it says on the last bridge


The Ashby seems to divide opinion between those who find it “too rural and boring without locks” and those who told us we would find it “lovely”.  I guess fine weather helps but we enjoyed it and found plenty to look at. In hot weather the shady bits were a joy.


Moorings were, we thought, very good.  Lots of the bank is inaccessible because of plant growth, but they had provided a good number of well kept stopping places, often with wide grassy banks and we never had trouble finding a space.  This one at Stoke Golding was, unusually, on the offside and allowed good access across the field up to the village which has three pubs including the rather wonderful George and Dragon, plus an Indian Restaurant and a little grocery shop.  We tried out the pub (of course) and then the Indian where after looking at the menu I gave the waiter a challenge.  The menu had all the usual stuff plus things like “Chef’s special wotsit with a spicy sauce” which of course tells you nowt.  So I said I wanted some lamb, meduim hot, in a rich sauce containing a vegetable. He said “OK we’ll cook you something like that.  Do you like garlic and spinach?” and came back with a nameless concoction that was actually pretty nice.


Further down the canal there were a couple of good farm shops near the canal.  Kath bought a cracking meat pie at one of them.

Nicholson’s goes on about the Ashby with it’s distinctive stone bridges, and I was telling Rick about them as he joined us at the top of the canal.  Then on the journey back down, we noticed that the vast majority were brick!  However there are indeed some nice stone ones at the southern end.



I would definitely consider going again.  Actually it wouldn’t be a bad spot for a base mooring.  There are some good marinas and boatyards up there and it gives ready access to a choice of routes once you get back on the main system.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Storm

And it came to pass that two travellers came to the Keeper of the Locks. "Travellers, what seekest thou?" enquired the Keeper.

"We desire to ascend to a higher plane." Spake the travellers. "Yea even unto the Watford summit. " Then the Keeper opened The Book and spake thus.

"Yea verily thou mayest ascend the mighty staircase, but know thou that it is written that if thou turnest the White key before the Red, a fearful fate awaits thee." And so saying the Keeper opened the mighty gate and the travellers entered, whereupon the Heavens did open and a dreadful storm descended upon the great staircase.

Fearing naught, the travellers struggled on although the deluge from the skies was terrible. For full Forty minutes the storm continued. The bodies of those that were clad in the cloth of the prophet Rohan were dry within, but those whose legs were clad in the cloth of the prophet Levi did suffer mightily from the weight of the water, yea even down to their supposedly waterproof shoes.

And so the travellers journeyed on ever upwards until they reached the lofty heights, where they stopped to rest and watch the tennis but the TV couldn't get a signal so they pushed on to Crick where they could.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Scary encounters

You know those films where the nose of a submarine suddenly surfaces from a featureless ocean? Well it was a it like that today as we were tootling down the North Oxford between Hillmorton and Braunston. The little day boat in front of us had been going frustratingly slowly for an hour, virtually coming to a halt at every obstacle. Coming to a narrow bridge, offset so we couldn't see the canal beyond, they crawled through and were were just about to follow through when an enormous black prow emerged through the bridge hole, just like the submarine I was referring to. Slamming Herbie into reverse I backed off and who should come through the bridge but Sarah and Jim on Chertsey. Oh well, if Herbie was to be demolished and sunk in a collision with a leviathon, I suppose I would rather it was them than a stranger. Greetings were briefly exchanged and we motored on the Braunston where we now rest near the Admiral Nelson for the final night of our cruise. On the way through we spotted NbValerie and would have stopped to say hello to Les and Jaq, but sadly NbV was padlocked up so they must have been out somewhere.

Two days ago we had another startling encounter. Rick had been with us since we got to the top of the Ashby, and since we made good time on the way back we decided to detour into Coventry. The day was hot and sunny and everything was going swimmingly until we came to an overhanging weeping willow on a narrow part of the canal.

There being no way to avoid this green curtain we ploughed on through like you do, little realising what was hidden on the other side.

Yes, a whopping gert elder tree growing half way across the canal. By the time we were able to see it, it was too late and we couldn't avoid it scraping all along Herbie's starboard side. Some of the branches were pretty thick and now Herbie's paintwork bears the scars. I need to take advice on how to get rid of them, they might come out with some T Cut perhaps. I have a good mind to sue CRT for damages for not dealing with this hidden obstacle.

All is not running as smoothly with our new loo as we he hoped. The loo itself is fine but the "exhaust" hose where it exits the boat seems to be leaking fumes back into the cupboard it passes through. This morning we stopped off at Hillmorton where the loo was fitted and Richard re-sealed it. Unfortunately, in doing so he unavoidably released a fair bit of pong inside the cupboard until he refitted the fan. Now we have to wait to see if the pong in the cupboard disperses. If not we will have to get him to look at it again.

On a more positive note, our new domestic batteries which we also bought at Hillmorton have yet to drop below 92% charged overnight despite the fridge working hard in the hot weather and us watching a fair bit of tennis on TV.


Sunday, July 05, 2015

First impressions of the Ashby

It's been a long time since we took Herbie somewhere new, and now here we are at Market Bosworth about two thirds of the way up the Ashby Canal. I suppose we are doing it because it was there to do. A gap in our collection of canals visited. I wasn't sure I was going to find twenty odd miles of lock free rural canal too appealing, but having come this far I keep getting reminded that no number of guides and maps can tell you what a place is really like. In some ways the Ashby keeps reminding me of bits of the Wey navigation, although there are many differences, notably the lack of boats with punning names up here. So what have we noticed?

1. It's busier than I had imagined, especially with hire boats, but not frustratingly so, apart from the fact that a day boat forced us to run aground this afternoon. The poor guy forgot which way to turn the tiller and turned into us as we passed from opposite directions. No harm done.

2. It's not as remote as I expected. Much less so than, say, the Leicester line between Foxton and Watford, in fact we seemed to pass some form of habitation every half hour at least. I was worried that it might be boring, but I like it. The landscape is never the same for long, switching between wooded sections, grazing meadows and cornfields, and the odd wharf and it's all quite pretty. This is not wild countryside, or even a wide open agricultural landscape, it definitely smacks of Middle England.

3. Rather like the Wey it is at the same time, lush with waterside plants, but kept in trim so that the towpaths are good.

4. People warned us that because of the shallow canal, and it is in places, and because of the bankside the vegetation there are fewer places to moor. While this is true, there are enough mooring spots even at this busy period and the designated ones are very good.

5. The all important watering holes. Well on Oakie's advice we stopped last night at Stoke Golding and wandered across the field and up the village street to find the George and Dragon. Boy was that a good tip. I don't remember when I had a better pint of beer. Church End Fallen Angel in tippy top condition. Yumm. At Market Bosworth tonight we braved a longish walk up hill and found the Old Red Lion which was perfectly OK but not in the same class I'm afraid.

In summary, and so far, I like the Ashby more than I expected to. I've no idea what lies ahead in the final miles up to Snarestone, but I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Filling time

Here I am at Hillmorton filling time. Kath has popped home for an embroidery group exhibition planning meeting and I am awaiting a shiny new set of batteries which I am hoping will arrive this morning.

Last night I went out with the camera to see if I could photgraph the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. They have been closer over the last two days than they will be for another ten years. Actually not really close at all, but from our view standing on earth they appear so. Here is what I got.

OK, not spectacular, but I got it. Jupiter is the one that appears smaller and higher. It is of course about 90 times bigger than Venus but it's a lot further away. While I was at it, I had a go at the moon and got this.

Not too bad for an ordinary camera shot.

Herbies batteries really have collapsed. This morning they were down to 14% on the old Smartgauge. Still I've had them for five years so I'm not complaining. The new ones I'm getting today have a four year guarantee, so they ought to be good. They're a bit longer than the old ones so I'm guessing the plates might be thicker, which is a good thing.

Now for a toilet report. The new loo is very impressive so far. Halfie asked for the gory details. Perhaps I should therefore quote the passage from the rather amusing handbook where it describes how to use it

"Type two usage (solids) 1. Depress lever to open trap door. 2. Provide donation (reunited with mother terra via gravity). 3. Place toilet paper in hole. 4. Close trap door "

I think that providing donation is the euphemism I will use from now on. All I will add is that it seems to be completely odour free at all times, even when you are using it. (is that gory enough for you John?)

Providing all goes to plan today, we should resume our travels this evening. I think it will be in the rain :-(

PS Two hours later. new batteries arrived early and I already have them plumbed in and as a bonus our delayed wooden loo seat has been fitted this morning too. My cup runneth over - as long as my theory that the old batteries were defunct was correct. Fingers crossed.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Out with old and in with the new



Yes, our new composting loo is in. No more emptying cassettes. We are having a wooden seat, but they are still awaiting delivery so we can keep the white one till the new one comes. I'm glad I didn't fit the loo myself because it took the fitter several hours of working on this very hot day with his head in a cupboard to fit the draught hose and fan. One unsuspected bonus was that I can now confirm that our hull side really is 6mm thick because I have a piece of it, or three to be exact because they drilled three vent holes for the fan exhaust.

Here's one of the bits that came out

I don't know about the rest of the hull, but these bits have no pits in, but then, they are of course above the water line. The fan that extracts the air from the loo is virtually silent, so that's a relief. Now we just have to see how it goes I suppose. We'll let you know, but not in too much detail I promise!



Sunday, June 28, 2015

Braunston rally in the sun!!


Who is this handsome fellow reversing steamboat President into the arm at Braunston marina? Why, 'tis not other than our glorious leader Richard Parry (Chief Exec of CRT). I think he might have been getting a bit of instruction at the time, but he made a good fist of it. We'll make a boater of him yet.

I missed the other (human) stars of the show, Tim West and Pru Scales, on account of arriving late at the parade 'cos we had a problem on Herbie. We awoke to find our Smartgauge showing the batteries at a disastrous 20%, having gone to bed the previous night at 90%. 24 hours later after a few investigations and consultations with professionals (plenty of them here at Braunston) it looks like our five year old batteries, or one of them at least, have finally given up the ghost. Aah well, they are long, long past their guaranteed date. Everything else seems to be operating normally, so on a Monday morning we can pick up a new set as we pass Wharf House. Simples.

When we did arrive at the parade, the old boats were looking fab in the sunshine. Sarah and Jim are forever trying to persuade us that we should get one, and I nearly had my hand in my pocket, but luckily none were for sale.

The Braunston Rally is a wonderful thing on a fine day. The really excellent brass band plays stirring stuff as the man on the PA gets mixed up and talks about the wrong boat (not all the time), as the boats narrowly miss demolishing the Gongoozlers cafe and swing through the old iron marina bridge. As the years go by it seems more and more of them have lovingly restored paint jobs and the bright reds greens and blues look terrific in the sunshine. Not to mention of course the gleaming brassware.

Later we had a guided tour of the latest improvements Jim and Sarah had made to Chertsey below decks and in the evening had a jolly time in the dangerously near sold out beer tent, trying to hold a conversation above the rather good but rather too loud blues band.

What's not to like?


Friday, June 26, 2015

A Braunston travelogue

To be read in a sort of John Arlott voice:

And so, fellow travellers, we continue on our watery journey through the Northamptonshire countryside, deftly bypassing the disappointment that is Daventry and instead crossing the gentle sloping farmland that delights the eye to the north west of Norton junction. Black cows casually observe us as they munch on the lush pasture and the boat glides easily forward as the canal here is wide and deep. Plunging through a charming wooded thicket we then enter the famed Braunston tunnel.

Much praise has been poured on the efforts of nineteenth century engineers and their armies of navvies, but in the case of this tunnel one cannot help feeling that this praise has been misplaced. Whether it was the surveyors, the engineers or the navvies that had clearly been suffering from the effects of the demon drink when they built this tunnel I do not know. Whatever it was, it prevented the miscreants from doing anything in a straight line. Entering through the tunnel's gloomy portals it is not long before you have the strange sensation that you are not in a proper tunnel but in a subterranean country lane with all its customary twist and turns. The ceiling of the tunnels appears to rise and fall at will and the side walls display a series of baffling undulations as we forge ever deeper into the gloom. Woe betide any unfortunate skipper who meets another boat coming the other way at the apex of one of these bends. The tunnel walls at these points are black with the paint scraped from hundreds of damaged gunnels.

Mercifully, after twenty five minutes or so we emerge into the daylight and make our way through the alarmingly subsiding banks of the cutting to the top of Braunston locks where if we are extraordinarily fortunate we find enough water in the system to make the descent into the steeply sided valley below.

Braunston village with its famed butchers shop and stone cottages complete with hollyhocks sits sleepily atop the hill seemingly unaware of the pandemonium beneath. Angle grinders and oxy acetylene torches merrily carve steel boats in twain while queues of eager boaters struggle to pick a route through the parked hire boat fleet in their approach to the bottom lock. Their reward comes on entering the lock where they can nip into the little shop to buy a Walls Magnum as the lock fills.

We have arrived at this Mecca of the waterways at a special weekend, for in addition to the usual heavy boat traffic, we come upon the annual gathering of Historic working narrowboats, lying three abreast along the canalside leaving a narrow channel for terrified hire boat skippers to negotiate. An overwhelming scent of Brasso fills the air.Peering through the open engine room doors of these leviathons we see a wonderful selection of old engines glinting in any sunlight that filters through to these depths. Thse ponderous machines have been ruthlessly torn from the ruins of defunct lighthouses or paper mills and pressed into service turning the mighty propellers of their venerable vessels. The enthusastic owners of these smartly attired boats sit on the bankside and talk about ballast and bits of machinery and how they got stuck in a lock, and it is all extremely sociable and jolly. Later in the weekend they will embark on a jaunt up to the turn and back when the canal will look something like the Hammersmith flyover on a bad traffic day. It is all quite wonderful.

Anyone looking to find a mooring in or near Braunston will either have had to arrive early or get very lucky. Our own trusty vessel grabbed the last remaining spot, convenently close to the Admiral Nelson pub but sadly putting our solar panel in the shade of a large ash tree. I don't know whether I want the sun to shine or not.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

the waiting game

Being in a two hour queue at the top of Watford locks would be more pleasant if it wasn't right under the M1. Oh well, it gave us time to prepare and eat lunch and for me to write this little blog post. Actually we can't complain, we have to do these locks quite regularly and it is pretty rare for us to have to wait for more than half an hour. Of course today there are not only the hire boats and the regular traffic, but also boats going down towards the Braunston rally as we are. Working boats with buttys naturally take a bit longer in the staircase too.

It's lovely to be out at last though. We have done a lot less cruising this year than normal, although we hope to rectify that from now on. After the historic boat rally were off to Hillmorton to have our new composting loo installed and then we are heading off towards the Ashby canal, which is somewhere we have never been. Any tips on good stopping places and pubs on the Ashby would be welcome.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Power to the people

Sometimes being a CRT volunteer is a bit like being back at work.  It’s all emails and frustration and nothing actually gets done.  I’ve just spent a number of hours communicating with other rangers about various annoyances. I feel I may have stirred up a tiny weeny revolt on the shop floor, and it might do the trick. I’ll say no more – just having a busy day with it. 

On the other hand, I found a read of the latest CRT boaters update interesting, including a revealing piece on exactly how many boats on the K&A are and are not moving – an issue raised by the recent go slow TV film which many of us watched.  There is also a link to the London Boating Bulletin which amongst other things refers to the recent Duck lanes publicity.  Now that is something I do know about because I was told of the plans before they happened.  Some people have muttered about how daft it was, but in reality it cost zilch and it was only a temporary marking put there by some volunteers in order to attract the attention of the news media to the national launch of the Share the Space campaign which aims to get towpath users to slow down and have consideration for others using the space.  It certainly did the trick of getting in the news, both nationally and internationally.  You should begin to see posters ( not showing ducks) and events in other parts of the country from now on urging cyclists in particular to take more care. And we wouldn’t argue with that would we?

We didn't buy a boat yesterday.  Well we might have, cos we went to view a nice looking BCN style tug for sale.  Lovely boat and a good Lister engine, but you know how it is with tug decks. They do force a number of compromises, especially in the accommodation and storage field.  In this case it was one compromise too many. Doh.