Saturday, October 20, 2018

Oh no! He’s at it again

In my relentless quest for displacement activities, I’ve been back at the coding keyboard.  I know, I can’t help it. This time putting together a phone / tablet  App that tells me where I am (as if I didn’t already know!).  Actually it does a bit more than that.  Here, take a look.

Assume I am chugging along the canal, maybe seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Whipping out my trusty phone and opening this this app ‘wot I have writ’ (no internet or phone connection required), I see a screen like this.


The phone uses its location ability to get the latitude and longitude and it looks that up in my file of places along the canal, so I get some idea of where we are and how far etc it  is to the next five upcoming places we may like to stop.   I tested the “find me” bit last time out and much to my surprise it works!  The GPS seems to be accurate to within three metres or so most of the time.

See the button marked feature search?  I tap that and  get this list from which I can pick any feature I may wish to find “down the road”


It might be the next lock or the next pub etc.  This time I tap Water (sorry for the unintended pun there) and up comes this:


Actually I tapped it once to get Thrupp, then the “further” button to see the next two.  It all works pretty instantaneously despite my probably inefficient coding style.  Cruising times are, as ever, only estimates and assume 2.7mph (which experience suggests is a good overall average on this canal) and ten minutes per lock,  The answer you get seems to be about right unless you get held up.

What does that tell me that Nicholson’s doesn’t, you may ask.  Well not a lot really although it does do the sums for you and it is pretty fast.  You may also ponder why I should bother as by now I know the South Oxford canal rather better than the back of my hand. Hmm, the only way I can answer that is to say I enjoyed the challenge of doing it. Imagine it as a fascinating logic puzzle.  I did have problems in a couple of places where the canal doubles back on itself.  Did you know, for instance,  that when travelling south past Enslow, the canal turns briefly North and also think of all that wiggling around up on the Wormleighton summit.  Up there it’s hard to know whether you’re coming or going half the time.   I had to think up a complicated bit of “ifs”, “ands” and “ors” to get round places like that.  That’s the fun of doing this stuff.

As you would expect, a lot of the canal data was extracted from Canalplan (thanks again Nick), but this time  I have added in my own data about water points, pubs etc as well as including some nice remote mooring spots not specifically identified in Canalplan (Kirtlington Quarry for example).  My idea is that eventually I’ll do versions for canals that I am not so familiar with, then of course I might find it a lot more useful.  Sadly I have no idea how to create this app for an iphone, this version is for Android only.  It can be installed as a standalone Android app, requiring no other software, so it can be transferred to any Android phone / tablet. Using it requires absolutely no keyboard input what ever, just tapping stuff already on screen, so even your granny could do it.    In the nature of things I can still think of ways to improve it and I still have to tidy up tiny things like what happens when you get to the end of the canal, or press a button at the wrong time, but I’m nearly there.  Actually, I have just this minute noticed that I haven’t added ‘Water’ at Heyford Bridge. See, there’s always something to fix.  Software is never finished. I don’t want to finish too soon or I’ll have to do some real jobs around the house/ garden/ boat.  Actually, inspired by Oakie I have started on a padded steerers seat for Herbie.  More of that later.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Making life wetter by water.

I think the people of Banbury must be amphibians. It rained so hard this morning that no normal person in his right mind would come out to wander round a food and craft market. The stall holders at Banbury Canal Day were looking rather forlorn early on, but they soon cheered up when the locals showed up in reasonable numbers. I've never seen so many umbrellas in one place.

I don't suppose any of the traders had a bumper day, but they were selling. We took ruthless advantage of those selling perishable goods who were all doing deals to clear the stock. Sourdough bread, meat pies, veggy quiches,(and I saw Kath sneakily buying Turkish delight). We shall eat like kings for the next few days.

Despite fearing the worst because of the weather, we had a pleasant weekend, and I would think the organisers were, in the circumstances, grateful for the hardiness of the Banburyites.

Not only that, Herbie has had a real good wash:-)

Friday, October 12, 2018

FMC in another world

In a parallel universe where Fellows Morton and Clayton were still operating on the canals:

"Dad, Dad," the grimy faced boy peered onto the engine room where a moustachio'd man was vociferously cursing at a corroded nut on the gearbox housing. "Bloody FMC, how do they expect us to keep goin' when they don't spend no money on maintaining the boats, it's all goin' on extra bleedin' managers pokin' their noses in where they don't belong and 'sustainable development' whatever that is. What is it boy? Can't yer see I'm busy?"

"Dad, I got a letter for yer, off that bloke in the office. Here, look." He held out the white envelope, already smudged with the lad's coaly thumbprints.

"Well that's no good to me is it, yer daft bugger. You knows damn well I can't read. You'll have to do it. You went to that school last week didn't yer? Didn't they teach yer no readin'?"

"No, they was doin' summat called Topic that day, but I couldn't see no chocolate bars wiv peanuts nowhere, so I come back 'ome at break time."

"Well give to yer Mam then. Er'll 'ave to read it. 'Ere, 'elp me out of this engine 'ole."

The man clambered out and he and the boy walked to the back of the boat, squeezing into the boatman's cabin where in the already cramped and overcrowded space, Mam was struggling to fit the now compulsory life jackets onto her six small children.

"Damn this bloody 'elf and safety rubbish. It takes 'alf the bloody mornin' to kit out this lot, it's 'alf past seven and I ain't even started on today's risk assessment forms yet. What's that you got? Another letter off FMC by the look of it. Give us it 'ere."

She snatched the envelope off the boy and sighing wearily, tore it open.

"Wossit say then?" Dad looked anxious, letters from FMC lately usually spelled trouble, what with new rules and regulations and stupid paperwork to fill in.

Mam unfolded the letter, her brow furrowed as she slowly deciphered the text.

"Ooh, we'm 'avin the boat repainted Bert."

"What?" It ain't five minutes since they done it before, after the paint was s'posed to 'ave too much lead in it. Daft buggers, it's these old engines and gearboxes what needs fixin' . We broke down three times last week."

Mam continued. " 'Ere listen to this." She cleared her throat and commenced reading out loud.

"In order to better promote the business to the twenty first century customer, the FMC board has decided to rename the company, which will henceforth be known as Aquatic Logistics Solutions, and our new bright blue livery will support a symbolic new logo (a thick straight line ) representing our commitment to . ."

"Sounds like a load of old symbolics to me," said Dad

"Oh bugger, it says 'ere the planned programme of boat engine refurbishments has been deferred to allow for the cost of the rebranding. Ooh but we're going to 'ave a new strapline"

"Ooh, new straps for tyin' on the butty," said Dad, "At least they got summat right for once, them old uns is frayed bad."

"Aah no, this ain't that sort of strap line Bert, it means a sort of sentence writ under the company name describin' the business. It says 'Sustainably fulfilling customer expectations by water."

"What the f. . do that mean?'"

"Ang on, 'ang on, there's more. Oh lor! You'm gonna have to take yer coaly boots off when you walks along the top plank in future."


"Well it says 'ere we got to cut our carbon footprints. Coal's carbon ain't it. We'll 'ave to get a new doormat at least."

"Hmmph," said Dad, "The sooner this lot is nationalised the better. They wouldn't do anything so stupid then."

Monday, October 08, 2018

Kath’s Botanical Art

Anyone who has been down to Oxford on the canal will be familiar with close encounters with weeping willows. Quite often they completely obstruct your view forwards and you just have to close your eyes and hope nothing is coming the other wayas you push on through.  Was it me who suggested it might be an ideal subject for Kath’s sketchbook? Maybe.  Anyway she got to work and produced a couple like this:


Then once on the Thames she reverted to grabbing twigs from ordinary (non weeping) willows as we passed and produced this:


and this


Kath is one of those people who’ve always said they can’t paint or draw but over the last year or two, often encouraged by our peter, she’s found that she can.  Good innit?

Another canalside plant that has grabbed her attention is the butterbur that proliferates on the South oxford.  She’s been taken with the weird shapes the leaves take on as they die off at the end of summer.

bbuphoto1       bburrphoto2

This time she produced drawings using an iPad app called Procreate

bburr1 Art_Template

A lot more of her artwork can be seen Instagram where she goes by the name of #sewgran.  What a clever old stick.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vital Statistics

Last night being our last night we pushed the boat out before we pushed the boat in. Which is to say we treated ourselves to a final meal out before we put Herbie to bed back at Cropredy. Actually that's not true, because this morning we gave ourselves an extra treat of breakfast at Wetherspoons before leaving Banbury. Very nice is was too, but not as nice as the superb nosh we got at The Three Pigeons last night. That had to be the meal of the trip for me. Pork medallions in a brandy cream sauce with some perfect veg. Their beer is excellent too. It even looks good.

Purity Gold that is.

Now you all know I love a good statistic or two, so here goes with the facts and figures from our trip. They might be of interest to anyone planning a Thames trip

Miles cruised: 204
Locks locked: 96
Hours cruising: 87

That works out at an average 2.35 mph, or if you discount time stationary at locks (say average 15min per lock) it comes to 3.2 mph. That sounds about right. I reckon we were doing a smidge under 4mph on the Thames and our canal average is usually about 2.7.

I reckon we've averaged about 1.4 litres of diesel an hour, which according to other BMC 1.8 owners is just about spot on.

In 28 days we have:
Visited 13 pubs
Moored away from habitation ( mostly on meadowland) on thirteen nights usually all by ourselves.
Paid for a mooring four times ( out of 17 nights on the Thames)at an average cost of £7
Been to a supermarket or food shop five times which is about as often as we have found one.

And had a very nice time.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Gossip and ink.

Just imagine it, three boaters spent a whole evening in the pub together without ever once discussing batteries or toilets. Is this a record?

Ray (aka Oakie) joined us for a night of gossip and yarning(plus a bit of eating and drinking) in the Great Western at Aynho, and with well over 200 years of life on this planet between us, we had plenty to talk about, some of it suitably salacious of course but I'd better not take that any further. For our delectation, he produced a phone app listing all the canalside pubs he had visited and we compared notes. I thought we held our end up well, but we're not in Ray's class when it comes to such things. A jolly evening was enjoyed by all.

Now Herbie rests for the night in Banbury, just a couple of hours cruising from our berth in Cropredy so our September adventure is all but over. What ever shall we do then?

Well one thing I might have a bash at, alongside trying to rescue our garden from the ravages of our neglect, is Inktober.

Inktober can be read about on the web. It's merely a personal challenge to do a drawing, in ink, each day throughout the month. As inspiration, they give you a list of 31 words (the first few are: poisonous, tranquil, roasted, spell, chicken!). Then you're supposed to do your sketch each day (or you can just do one a week if you're busy) and post a photo of it on instagram and wait for plaudits, constructive criticism, or presumably in my case derision, from your friends and family and other Inktoberists. Our Peter did it last year and found that it helped with his technique, creativity and confidence (sketchingwise). You don't have to produce a Leonardo cartoon, just a little sketch. Peter did all his in a little sketchbook about the size of a smartphone. Well I'll give it a go, I need some displacement activity or I'll end up doing something useful. Can't have that.

If anyone else cares to join in, that could be fun. I dare you.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Just in time

Is it autumn yet? The setting sun makes it look that way here at Allen's lock and tonight we could well mark the beginning of autumn by lighting the stove for the first time in several months.

Yesterday we couldn't have done it because the stove door rope I bought was too thick for the door to shut, but the wonderful Alex fixed all that today as well as unjamming our seized on chimney and sealing up a crack in the stove top. He even did a smoke test for us to make sure the stove was fume tight. Top man !

I'm already getting used to the canal again, the sticking gates and rattly paddles. Don't you just love 'em?

Last night's mooring spot was not a good choice in hindsight. Now Herbie is coated in a film of dust from the cement quarry. If I wash the roof will it turn to concrete I wonder? Oo er!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

All change

Phew, back on the canal and having to work again. We're not used to winding paddle gears and pushing gates. People on the Thames don't know how molly coddled they are. When we're even older and more decrepit than we are now, I can see us in a cruiser with driving seats tootling up and down and letting Thames lockies do the work. Some nice old wooden Broads cruiser might be acceptable.

Actually tonight we're still moored on the river, only it's the Cherwell between Thrupp and Enslow. In the peace and quiet of the countryside, if you discount the helicopters, the nearby cement works, the tractor spraying goodness knows what on the adjacent field and the railway trains every few minutes. Aah well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Swan song

Our last night on the Thames ( or I suppose it might be the Isis right here) and we're at East Street in Oxford. Tomorrow we head back up Port Meadow and onto the canal via Duke's cut. On someone's (Bones maybe?) recommendation we celebrated our river adventure with a meal and a drinky at The Punter at Osney ( now we know it's pronounced Oasney. Nice place The Punter.

And it has a very original menu. I had goat curry pie!

East Street moorings :

How good it would be to show people the beauty of Port Meadow, but being so vast and flat, it doesn't photograph easily, so how about this:

We've enjoyed the Thames more than we expected. I'll do a post about what we learned when we get back home. Right now we have to get used again to flexing our muscles on the canal locks and worrying about water levels. Surprisingly, the river has been at normal levels throughout. Amazing after the hot dry summer.

Look out CRT, here we come.

Monday, September 24, 2018


That's more like it. Not a ripple on the water tonight. We're out in the sticks above Swinford toll bridge. You may recall that that bridge, which has been privately owned since it was built in 1796, was sold at auction about ten years back for over a million quid. The toll of 5p for cars and 10p per axle for lorries should have got them most of their money back by now because they get over 10,000 vehicles a day crossing. Locals wanted the council to buy the bridge to get rid of the long queues at the toll, but apparently they didn't have the money to buy and maintain it.

This morning we passed once again through the much prettier Newbridge bridge, probably my favourite on the Thames.

You can easily see where it has been patched up over the years.

And then this footbridge which looks wooden from a distance but is in fact disappointingly concrete.

If you read yesterday's post you recall the taciturn lock keeper. Well he was on duty at another lock today and he was quite cheerful and chatty and kind to his dog. Ours not to reason why.

Oxford again tomorrow. I'll try and get some photos this time.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Saving money on the Thames

I've suddenly learned to appreciate the Thames Visitor Licence charging system. We had to buy more time today as our original 2x1 week licence had expired. We reckoned we needed at least a couple extra days. Well for us, 2x1 day would be £67, or 7 days would be £54.90. so naturally we thought we'd get the 7 day option. But no!! We give grateful thanks to the lockie at Shifford who said, as we had already had two weeks we could upgrade that to a month for just £44.50, thus extending our possible stay for two more weeks for less than the cost of two days. Crazy but good.

This means that when taking out a visitor licence, it's best not to buy extra time at the outset just in case, because you can upgrade later if you need to and still get the full discount. Good innit?

A one day licence works out at £33.50 a day, a seven day licence at £7.84 a day, and a one month (31 day) licence at £4.97 a day. That's some discount.

Tonight we rest near the Maybush at Newbridge. That's another off the bucket list.

The river bank here is a bit high for comfort, we'll have to leap or scramble up to the pub.
Better not drink much or we'll end up IN the drink coming home.

The pub has been radically altered with a new extension. Traditionalists won't like it, but the tourists might as it capitalises on the views of the bridge and the river.

Dare I mention that the forecasters tell us that we're in for a long spell of fine weather from tomorrow? Better not tempt fate, so forget I mentioned it.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Making the best of it.

When, years ago, all keen to enjoy the delights of the waterways, I signed up to be a narrowboater, days like today were not what I had in mind! Much as I love the river and the rushy bends and the herons and the odd kingfisher and all that, it's hard to enjoy it with a face full of rain.

Luckily we had a cunning plan to alleviate the suffering and after an hour or so we stopped off at Kelmscott to pop round to William Morris's place at the manor. Sadly, he was not in on account of having died in 1896, but after greasing the attendant's palm with silver we were let in to admire the wallpaper and tapestries and the like. The gardens were cute too. Morris was a great advocate of keeping old buildings going by maintaining and "mending" them sympathetically. Well as it turns out, the building was in such a poor structural state when the current owners ( a charity) took it over that it was a wonder it hadn't fallen down. I think it was a good job he put up all that thick wallpaper or maybe it would have.

We couldn't resist wandering on to find the old Plough pub in the village. Forty or so years ago we used to camp for weekends across the river at Eaton Hastings and we'd cross the little wooden footbridge and walk to the Plough, which was small and rustic and had bantams wandering in and out. The beer was served through a hatch. Now of course it has a restaurant and wifi and sandwiches cost £8.50. I confess we were weak with hunger so we splashed out. My hot roast pork baguette with apple sauce and onions and a decent helping of chips was very good so I'll let them off.

Returning across the field to where Herbie was clinging nervously to the crumbling river bank we set off again in the rain. At Grafton lock we were (not ) entertained by the most taciturn lock keeper we have ever encountered. Saying nothing to us,he only emerged from his hut for seconds at a time, to wind up a sluice or close a gate, then scuttled back inside each time to shout angrily at his unfortunate dog. I doubt he'll make the shortlist for the current vacancy in the Chuckle Brothers.

Pressing on in the increasing rain we eventually reached the meadow above Rushey weir and called it a day. A nice little herd of, I think, Dexter cattle came over to inspect us and seemed to give us the ok, so we're here for the night. Little do they know that at midnight we shall become outlaws because our Thames Visitor Licence will have expired. We can buy an extension at the next attended lock.

Second confession of the day: We have resorted to heating the boat. Goodbye summer. Our stove is put of action because I pulled out the old rope door seal then bought the wrong size replacement. Doh! So it was back to the dear old Eberspacher to try to dry our wet gear for tomorrow and to warm us through. Tomorrow morning the weather is supposed to be worse, so the plan is to set off after lunch and make a dash for the Maybush moorings at Newbridge.

Until then, as the French say, "Reservoir".