Thursday, February 23, 2017


Ooh Er! Hang on to yer hats. My wheelie bins at home have blown over twice this morning, so now I've had to rope them up. It all seems a bit violent for someone called Doris doesn't it? The Beeb weather app tells me that the wind will get up to 62 mph in Cropredy today. I fear for Herbie's solar panel whose tilting frame is only held down by magnets. It is also attached by a cycle security cable, so it won't blow completely away but it could I suppose flap about and get damaged. The goodish news is that I think the wind will be blowing along the length of the boat from the stern end rather than across. Anyhow I'm glad I've already removed the poles and planks and stowed them inside.

No doubt if any harm comes to her, the exceptionally kind and helpful staff at the marina will let me know.

Monday, February 20, 2017

RCR problems in London and yet another CanalOmeter version

Nearly time to renew our River Canal Rescue membership. I notice from their web site that they are having all sorts of problems dealing with live-aboard boats in London, due largely to the poor condition of many of the boats and the lack of knowledge/experience of their owners.  RCR even hints that they might have to insist on an inspection (presumably at a cost) before they agree to a contract with boats inside the M25!  You can read about it here.  Thinking back, I don’t think we’ve had to call them out since 2010.  Touch wood we don’t have to in 2017, but you never know.

Speaking of London, I am reliably informed by Oakie that my ugly mug appears twice in the latest issue of Towpath Talk in an article about CRTs “consultation” on London towpath improvements where I was helping out.  I advise those of a nervous disposition not to look, although I have lost a stone in weight (really!) since then and intend to lose another stone by the summer.  Daily walks, portion control, and reduction in alcohol is how I’m doing it. If anyone has any will power going spare, please bung it over here.

Whilst marooned at home, I have been avoiding any proper jobs by making robot buggys and doing some computer programming.  In order to test my skills in the Python language I have created yet another sort of CanalOmeter.  You can’t really beat the old cardboard ones for quickly estimating journey times from A to B, but my new version, which works on a smart phone or tablet does all that but also has a useful feature in that it contains every feature along the canal, bridge numbers, water points, winding holes etc, such that you an just type in “water” and up pops a list of water points, then you can choose one and it’ll tell you how far away and how long to get there.  Similarly “winding” or “sanitary” or “PH” (for pub).  I’ve just done this for the S Oxford so far.  I would happily give this away to anyone who’d like one but sadly it would mean that you’d have to install a copy of Python on your Android phone/tablet first and install the data file (which requires a certain level of know how), which is perhaps more than a lot of people would want to do.  If anyone would like to be a guinea pig I’d be happy to oblige with the files and instructions.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

This and that

I promised to reveal the name of the object which the Ashmolean museum claimed to be the most significant archaeological object in the UK, (or some such words).  Clever old Rainman got it right when he suggested it was an aestel.  No, I didn’t know what that was either, I told you he was clever.  Anyhow, the precious object is an aestel or more specifically, The Alfred Jewel

Image result for alfred jewel

More vibrant in real life than it looks here, it is worth seeing.  As I said before it’s not much bigger than my thumb, but the detail is amazing and it looks as good as new. It was dug up in 1693, by which time it was already 800 years old.  Of course the frame is made of gold, which is why it hasn’t corroded and the enamel picture is sealed under a piece of beautifully clear rock crystal.  I wonder if stuff being made today would last as long.  The inscription around the edge says Aelfred mec heht gewyrcan which as we all know (not) means Alfred had me made. Presumably he was too busy burning cakes to make it himself. Anyhow, there it is. Never say I don’t bring you the odd bit of culture.  Now you can casually drop the word Aestel into conversation and look erudite. Should you find yourself in Oxford, by boat or otherwise, take half an hour to go and have a look.  It won’t cost you a penny.

The canal was still pretty high on our return from Banbury. It’s mucky out there and some top gate footplanks are still under water.  Sometimes I have the nerve to jump across an open bottom gate on narrow locks, but not this time. Even with my new grippy soled walking shoes it was very slippy everywhere.

I can’t put my finger on it, but coming along the canal you get the feeling that although Spring has not started, it’s getting ready to. Maybe it’s the light, or maybe it’s the increase in bird activity in the hedgerows, but there’s a distinct feeling that life is returning. All the winter leaves and twigs have blown out of the bushes and they stand clean and bare and just waiting to come into bud.  Of course, there’s plenty of time for a cold snap yet, so I did still drain down the plumbing on leaving the boat.

I’ve now got into the habit of taking anything I can off the roof when we leave Herbie, which means stowing the poles /shafts and gangplank inside the cabin.  I remember Phil Speight advising this long ago and he was right. I wish I had taken heed at the time because the trapped moisture under these things has led to paint damage and rust.    This year I will complete the repainting of the roof, but I’m not going to start until average daily temperatures are comfortably above ten degrees.  Someone once told me there’s usually only one day a year when the weather is right for painting a boat.  I suspect that they were right.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Floods, a trolley, the Kinks, precious objects and a good cafe.

The waters are slowly subsiding. I'm thinking of sending out a dove to see if it comes back with a twig in its mouth. (See, despite being an atheist, I do know a bit of scripture). Anyhow the colour of the canal is toning down a little bit, although the top gates of Banbury lock are still overflowing.

On Friday we caught the train to Oxford and looking out of the window at flooded fields and catching glimpses of the Rivel Cherwell in full flow, we decided not to take Herbie any further south this week. We might be daft, but we're not suicidal. So today we tootled down to the tramway winding hole and back, and now Herbie is back in the town centre but this time facing North. Choosing a spot to tie up in Banbury, you have to get your head around the complicated mooring limits. There are three different zones (four if you include the permanent moorings and five if you include the winter moorings). Each zone has its own rules regarding length of stay, and these are different in summer and winter. It's just as well I'm a genius or we might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Actually there's plenty of space here at the minute, but on returning from the tramway we did pick the only no go spot in town. The boat just wouldn't come into the side. Kath prodded around with a boat hook and located a submerged shopping trolley. I don't know if you have ever tried to lift a shopping trolley with a boat hook, but I don't recommend it. Suffice it to say the trolley is still there.

The reason we went to Oxford was that we had booked tickets to see the "hit" musical Sunny Afternoon at the theatre. I'm not a fan of musical theatre, but I thought we'd give it a go as it was the story of the Kinks with a lot of their hit songs in it. Well, it was fine. Musical theatre was not my cup of tea, and still isn't but it was fine. Not great, but fine. Others in the audience clearly thought is was a lot more than fine and gave the show a big ovation, so what do I know? I think I would better have enjoyed going to see a Kinks tribute band. But it was fine.

Oxford has many attractions of course and in the afternoon (which was anything but Sunny) we continued our exploration of the Ashmolean Museum, this time getting as far as the musical instrument section where you can see some priceless old fiddles and viols and whatnot in glass cases. Violins are in my experience very hard to tell apart. The Stradivari "Messiah" on display, presumably worth millions, looked like a lovely piece of work, but could I tell it from one worth a couple of thousand? Sadly not. Maybe if I heard it being played, but these instruments in their glass cases don't get played because they would get worn and in the end they wouldn't survive for future generations to see. Sad ain't It? Apparently most of the instruments in the collection are not in their original condition anyway, most having been repaired or modified in the past. I bought a little book to read all about the instruments in the collection and now I want to go back and look more closely.

Also in the museum we came upon an object claiming to be the most important archaeological find in Britain, but I'd never heard of it. It was indeed extremely pretty and not much bigger than my thumb. Can anyone guess what it Is? I'll tell you next time, perhaps with a picture if I can find one.

We found one more good thing in Oxford that I must pass on. In George street, only a short walk from the canal, is the Crisis Cafe. Almost opposite the Wetherspoons Four Candles pub. We just went in for a cuppa and a bacon roll, for lunch but watching the food coming out to customers we were impressed. Big portions of healthy and wholesome food at very reasonable prices, filled jacket spuds, salads, nice looking soup, and all profits going to the Crisis homelessness charity. Our bacon rolls were huge. I don't think Kath finished hers, well not the bread bit anyway. It gets a four star Herbie recommendation.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Coffee and diy

Herbie currently floats on a sea of milky coffee. Admittexly more white Americano than Latte ,but that's how the canal looks anyway, after a lot of recent rain.

Yes, we're out afloat again. Hooray.

If anyone needs some water, there's plenty spare down here on the Oxford. Here and there the canal has spilled over onto the towpath and the footways across the top gates of the locks are under water. Where did I put my wellies?

As you can imagine, the bypass weirs at the locks are pretty fierce too.

Our original plan was to tootle down to Oxford, but I suspect we wouldn't get past Nell Bridge if the Cherwell stays this high.

So here we are safely tied up in Banbury and enjoying its delights after a double dry January. Dry 1 because I had a month without alcohol (save for a glass of wine on my 70th birthday -you wouldn't begrudge me that surely.) And Dry 2 because we haven't been on the boat, hence no blog posts.

Herbie was of course glad to see us but gave me a rap over the knuckles by springing a leak round the chimney collar and dripping rain onto the stove. I've been meaning to sort out the rust just there but I'm doing the roof refurb in sections starting at either end and the chimney is in the middle. So I've bodged a temporary seal with gorilla tape pending suitable weather for a proper job.

The other job I had to do was install our new water pump which I bought before Christmas. Well, it is in and working, but not without the usual DiY unplanned obstacles (it's not just me is it?). This modern plastic pipework is all very well, but unlike the old copper pipe you can't bend it round tight corners so you have to use elbow joints. When you need an S bend as I did, it soon turns into a dogs breakfast, especially when you lose one bit then go out to buy replacements but you can't because the design of the fittings has changed, so you buy a whole lot new bits to replace the whole kit and caboodle, then you find the bit you had lost in the first place. Mmm it probably is just me.

Tonight we plan to have a go at the quiz in the Reindeer. Our objective as usual will be to avoid coming last. Who said we weren't ambitious?

Monday, January 09, 2017

An old man posts

Long time no post. Sorry, its been Christmas and all that.

Today I have moved from being a sexy-genarian to a septic-genarian or something like that. Thanks to all those who wished me a happy birthday on Facebook and elsewhere. I don't do Facebook these days but I'm technically still up there so I got all the messages.

Now, this is supposed to be a boating related blog, so here is a picture of a boat.

This one was on the Lancaster canal when we were up there last week. It was flippin' cold I can tell you.

Later that day we went to see a man on the beach at Crosby. He didn't have a lot to say

Here's Kath asking him to say cheese.

Well worth a visit if you're up that way.

Herbie is OK, (thanks for asking). We dropped by yesterday to check she was still afloat and that recent cold snaps hadn't done any damage. Despite the low sun and a lot of dull weather, and the loo fan running 24x7, the solar panel had managed to keep the batteries full, so that was good. The engine started first kick and ran as sweet as a nut. Good old Herbs.

Next time at Herbie I have to fit our new fresh water pump. In the years since the boat was built, plastic water piping has gone from screw fit to push fit, which is a bit of a pain as I have to fit new into old and finding the right bits isn't easy. Ten to one I'll get what I think will work, then have to go back and change it. That's DiY for yer.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Herbie's Video Christmas card -MkII

Doh, after yesterday's video proved invisible to iPad users, I consulted a certain Mr Google to find a solution and in doing so I inadvertently deleted the original post.  These things are sent to try us:-)

So here it is all over again including the preamble but, having failed to embed it in the blog,  this time please can you follow the link to the video which now resides on youtube for all the world to admire:

Roll over Steven Spielberg, I'm on the case.  yes, it's the Herbie Christmas Video again. I don't do these very year because I get too busy and forget how to do it, but I've been hard at it in Herbie Studios, sorting through old archives and playing guitar with an iPad on my knee ( a non trivial feat) to record the sound track.

So what have I come up with?  Well in honour of what many people consider a pretty depressing 2016, I've dug up some reminders of past events which seemed hard or challenging at the time, but now we look back on and laugh.  Life moves on and things don't seem so bad in retrospect, so to allow you a bit of cheery schadenfreude at our expense, here's our Christmas slide show, set to the music of Stephen Foster's Hard Times Come Again No More.

Thanks for visiting our blog in 2016 and a very happy Christmas form me and kath (and herbie).

Please follow this link to see the video

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Herbie Special Award for 2016 goes to . .

Only a few days until Christmas, so I think it’s time.  Every year the Herbie Special Award Committee (me and Kath) sits down over a steaming mug of tea and debates who we would like to congratulate/ recognise for something they have done this year.  The list of winners in the Herbie Award Roll of Honour contains many admirable folk, the Mother Theresas/ Nelson Mandelas/ Albert Einsteins (take your pick) of the canal. Suffice it to say, we are in awe of their fortitude and ever grateful of their company when we get the chance. The Herbie Award has no value, except to say it’s holders can be proud that their names list among some other very fine people who have been awarded in the past.

This year, we’ve decided to break with tradition and make two awards bearing the same citation.  Note: not one shared award, for that wouldn’t be fair, so just like Pointless Trophies, they get one each.

Our Award this year is inscribed For Indefatigability (thank heavens for spell checkers).

              AWARD SHIELD 20146                                                    AWARD SHIELD 20146

and it goes to two lovely people, who have soldiered on when others would have given up. We might have called them “The Hipsters” for both of them have been suffering from hip problems, one from a bad break and one because we has worn his out.  They have both not only borne their discomfort bravely, but have got on with life, doing what they do best and contributing generously as they always have done to the canal community.  Apart from being indefatigable of course, we only give the award to very very nice people.

Most of you will by now have guessed at least one of our pair, so without further ado, let’s present  Herbie Special Awards to our very good friends

Oakie (aka Ray on Nb Stronghold)

who has battled cheerfully on through a long single handed cruise whilst waiting for his shiny new hip


 Kathryn Doddington

Back in harness after shattering her hip and once again keeping Stoke Bruerne on its toes and doing her bit for Nb Sculptor

We’re sure that these awards will be heartily approved  by the many friends Ray and Kathryn have made up and down the canal.

Hip Hip . . .

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Picture Quiz Answers plus a teaser on the big award.

Well, or course dear old Adam got ‘em all right as usual.  Well done Adam, you’re a star. I will resist the temptation to carry on until I catch you out.  Here are the answers. 

The first picture of the boat chimneys was a heavily cropped section of this photo:


taken at the Little Venice Canal Cavalcade one year. Here’s another view:


and of course it’s on the famous Brownings Pool which some say (and others dispute) is named after the poet Robert Browning.

Question 2 was pretty tough, but it shows Yelvertoft marina from the viewpoint of the beacon on nearby Crack’s Hill

Question 3 showed a snowy scene at Cowroast lock in 2009, perhaps more recognisable from this:


and the nearby Cowroast Inn is well known for serving Thai food, which is the answer I was looking for.

and finally question 4 showed the parapet of the wonderful Grapes pub at Limehouse, looking down towards Canary Wharf.

Here’s the pub seen from the river.


and as many folk know, the Grapes is owned by Sir Ian McKellen, who, as it happens I saw only this week performing in Harold Pinter’s No man’s Land.  The hardest question of all might have been “what the hell was that play about?”.  Search me, but it was entertaining and Sir Ian was eminently watchable alongside Sir Patrick Stewart.

And so, we’re on the run up towards Christmas and the main award, the Annual Herbie Award, to someone who has inspired us for what they have done this year. In fact this year, we have a mind to award it twice, to two entirely separate individuals who have something in common.  You might like to guess, but I don’t think you could.  Stay tuned.

I’m off now to attempt to make a Herbie video Christmas card for you all.  Wish me luck.

Friday, December 16, 2016

More Picture Quiz , plus an unplanned Surprise Award.

Well blow me down!  There it was, staring me in the face and I never saw it until now.  An unplanned and unexpected category for the Herbie Awards and as much a surprise to me as it is to you.

Yesterdays picture quiz was the trigger.  As usual the first  correct answers came from the ever dependable Adam.  is there nothing on the canals he doesn’t know?  Maybe one of today’s pictures might catch him out, although I doubt it.  See if you can beat him to it.  

Anyhow, on getting Adam’s inevitable correct answers late at night, it occurred to us that it was worthy of greater recognition and so we have great pleasure in presenting the spontaneous


Herbie Award for always being the first to get my picture quizzes right


Adam Porter

(a well deserved and popular win)

The boat roofs were in Leighton Buzzard (the Wyvern shipping hire fleet), The tunnel was the horse tunnel at Shrewley on the GU north of Hatton, the lock beam was at Harlow on the Stort and the weir was the semi tidal weir at Thames lock at the start of the Grand Union.

So, just for fun, let’s do just one more sneaky picture quiz before we return to the Awards proper.  Just to test you I’ve made the questions a bit cryptic.  Some might say impossible, but I’m sure that many of you will know the answers when you see them.

1. Some say (and some say not) that the water underneath these chimneys is named after a poet.  Who is he?


2. From what landmark viewpoint is this picture taken? half a point if you just recognise the subject of the picture


3. What kind of food is served in the pub nearest this lock?


4. Which famous person owns this piece of wood?


Come on Adam, the gauntlet has been thrown down.  Come on the rest of you, can someone beat the canal egghead?

STOP PRESS  well folks, less than two hours after this post went up, I had a set of correct answers from you know who(although he confessed he did have to research one of them), so I have temporarily deleted his answers from the comments to let others have a go. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Herbie Awards–Best Pub result plus a picture quiz

Ooh it was a tough choice, but in the end we decided that this year’s Best Pub  of the three excellent nominations was the one which gave us a bit of excitement when we went in because we had no idea of what beers they would be selling, but we knew they would be good. \So the winner of

The Herbie 2016 Award for best Pub


The Rising Sun at Berkhamsted


To be frank, I can’t see many complaining about that!

Now, for a little break before the remaining categories, how about a little picture quiz.  How many of these places can you identify?

First, and possibly easiest– in what town is this?


This next one we visited a few years back, but it’s still the thinnest lock balance beam I have ever seen.  Any idea what waterway and what town?


Next, where’s this?  Easy if you know it.


And lastly, do you recognise this weir?  Again, what town?



Clue:  They’re all comfortably south of Birmingham

Answers next time. I have a private bet who might be first with the answers.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Herbie Awards–Best Pub nominations

It may surprise you, dear reader, that we don’t go in every pub we pass on Herbie, even when we know some of them to be good ones!  However there are certain pubs that are difficult not to visit when in the vicinity and some of the ones we have visited this year find their way on to our Best Pub 2016 shortlist.  Bear in mind that this year our cruising pattern has been a bit restricted so we’re basically talking about the canal between Paddington and Oxford via Braunston.

What makes a Good Pub? Well for this Award were judging them on the basis of ambience, friendliness, how well they keep and serve their booze.  Our winner would have to be somewhere we could happily spend an evening with or without friends, in comfort, and with good company from the locals.

We hear a lot about pub closures and landlords struggling under the burdens imposed by the PubCos. Whilst all that is true, our shortlist shows that a good pub, properly run can be very successful. So here we go.  We’ve whittled it down to three lovely pubs that have a great atmosphere and a strong following.  Follow the red links to their web sites.

We’ve already mentioned the Warwick Castle in Little Venice in respect of their food, but it’s here now because of the atmosphere.  It’s a proper pub where and wherever you look, people are enjoying being there.  The beer is well kept and the staff are efficient and friendly.  Also, it has a bit of character with its Victorian fittings.  Lots of boaters love it, partly because the beer is about a pound cheaper than the Bridge House across the canal.. In the summer people like to sit outside in the little narrow street.

Much further up the GU, we come to the Rising Sun at Berkhamsted, or should we say The Riser at Berko.  I recall one visit a few years back when we were disappointed, but on this year’s visit it was well back on form.  It’s small, it’s crowded, the hubub of conversation can be noisy, but that’s ‘cos it’s very popular.  People go there for the beer, which is varied and always good, and the atmosphere. Don’t dress up and don’t expect to lounge in an easy chair.  Don’t expect fancy period features, or nasty modern ones either. It’s a good old fashioned local, although frequented largely, I suppose, by people of age thirty plus. A proper pub, right on the canal side, where you can sit out in summer.

Well, I suppose we have to include Ye Olde Reine Deer in Banbury, even though it’s a five minute walk from the canal. It’s a lovely old building where the staff are particularly good and the beer is very well kept. It gets busy, but not over full and there are some lovely nooks and crannies to sit in. It’s cosy in the winter, or there’s a nice old courtyard for summer nights. I suppose they ought to be good at it by now, having first opened in 1560 something.

If you were taking an overseas friend to have their first experience of a proper English pub, all of these would do very nicely.  I also think I’m right in saying they all do quiz nights if, like us, you enjoy them.

May I also give a special mention to the Old Bookbinders in Oxford.  The only reason we haven’t short listed them is that we have only been there once, and then only for a quick meal.  I strongly suspect that had we spent more time there and sat in the bar, it would have been a very strong contender.

I think this will be a tough one to pick.  The results show is tomorrow. Then maybe we’ll have a little break with a photo quiz.