Sunday, March 01, 2015

My other boat

It was a long long time ago, but I did own another boat, and to prove it, here I am in it.

rubber dinghy

Aah I remember those pink flares.  I found these pictures again today when browsing through my old stuff.  The dinghy I bought from Millets maybe.  It was quite a decent one, being made out of strong rubberised fabric and lasted many years. In fact it might still be at the back of the garage now..  Being a law abiding chap I bought a proper Thames licence for it, about £4 if memory serves me right. In the picture I am rowing in a backwater close to Sonning lock.  I guess it must be about 1973 so I would have been 26 and single at the time.

I was always drawn to water even as a kid, and the attraction has never left me.  A few years earlier some friends and I hired our first boat on the Norfolk broads, and nearly half a century later I am still going back.  In fact Pete (on the left below) is still coming with us.  In fact I’m glad to say that I am in contact with the others in the picture too. I suppose you can work out which is me. (?)

lads

Here is the boat we hired.  I doubt she still exists, but you never know.  Some of these old Broads boats have been lovingly kept going.

tranquil

A couple of years later (1974 I think) we had a week sailing Albion the famous Norfolk Wherry. 

albion 1

She still had her proper black sails then and didn’t suffer the indignity of having an outboard motor strapped to her rudder as she does now.  That sail is so heavy. After two of us hoisted it we had to go and have a lie down.

albion

I sat in the tender on tow to take this picture.  The handsome young chap holding the tow rope is Rick believe it or not.  When the wind didn’t blow we had to either push or pull the huge boat along.  Here’s Pete with his shoulder to the quant pole.

pds

When it was to deep to quant, parties rowed ashore and pulled us along with a rope.  Those were the days..

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Canals of Britain–a Comprehensive Guide

There seem to be quite a few “coffee table” canal books around at the moment with lots of pictures to look at but not too much written detail, but in our local public library I picked up this one which is probably the best I have seen.

outside book

Maybe you know it, but I didn’t.  Stuart Fisher, the author has put a huge amount of work into this book, containing as it does, details of virtually all of the British canals including those not navigable by narrowboat or cruiser.  Not only has he travelled along all these waterways by canoe, but he has obviously done his homework too because there is a wealth of information about local history and geography along the way.  Naturally I looked up some places I thought I knew about and in every case I learned something new. I didn’t know that Crick tunnel had had three roof collapses in the past, ooh er.  He even writes about how you find your way across the top. I suppose he would, being a canoodler.

There are of course lots of good photos and some strip maps to show you where the waterway goes – not of course as detailed as a Nicholsons Guide, that’s not its purpose.

 

inside book

I particularly enjoyed browsing the sections on some of the non navigable waterways such as the Royal Military canal in Kent which is a bit of water I have often wanted to know more about.  Here’s a picture I took of it last time we were there.

rmc

You wouldn’t get a narrowboat under those bridges.  I suspect his canoe wouldn’t go under either.

No book is perfect of course and I was rather peeved that he obviously didn’t bother to canoodle down the dear old Slough Arm ‘cos he only gave it a couple of sentences. and of course like all books some facts have changed since it was last revised in 2012 but that’s to be expected.  The level of detail about canal history isn’t up to the level of Charles Hadfield or people like that, but there is plenty there for the general reader.  I reckon it’s a very good book.

The book is published by Adlard Coles Nautical and costs £19.99 from Amazon which is not bad for a full colour A4 book of 335 pages.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Unfortunate ebook, or Cheaper from Charleston

I wonder if Amazon have alerted the national grid suppliers to put another lump of coal in the firebox tomorrow.  I fully expect Amazon's mighty mega servers to be running white hot, since tomorrow I have invoked my contractual right to give away my novel for free.  They let me do this for 5 days in every 90.  The Kindle version that is. The paperback is still the normal price I'm afraid, Amazon are more hard hearted when it comes to giving away paper.

The Kindle version is now updated to get rid of misplaced full stops and spaces etc that crept into the first release, so you might say the book is now reKindled. (How do I think 'em up?). Another thing I noticed on the Amazon site is that they have incorporated a word from the book's subtitle (The Saga of Eric the Unfortunate) into the URL so it now reads

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jobs-For-The-Boys-Unfortunate-ebook/dp/B00JXQKHP0.

What??  How can they do this to me? I fear that means it'll hereafter be known as "my unfortunate ebook".  Some gnome at Amazon probably had a good laugh in allocating that.

Anyway, there it is, free, gratis and for nothing from Tuesday to Friday, so if you are one of the seven billion or so humans that have not realised that they desperately need a copy, now's yer chance.  Yes I know Tue-Fri is only four days not five.  That's because I've cunningly sussed that I get more takers on a Friday, so I'm keeping one day back for another Friday. Meanwhile I'll stoically put up with the loss of income,  (amounting to over a pound last month!), just so that my hours at the keyboard weren't in vain.  With a bit of luck I might collect a couple more reviews. I got another 5 star one yesterday (Thanks Monkey, whoever you are).  That makes the UK total 9 five stars and 6 four stars and none less than four.

As a matter of interest, for anyone thinking of having a book printed, I have been trying to source paperback copies at a cheaper price, but it's hard to beat the Amazon price, except I can buy them in direct from Createspace, Charleston, North Carolina at just over £4 including postage!  A bit cheaper if I wait for them to come by the slowest carrier. No British company seems to be able to get near that unless I order them in large quantity.  I'm getting just a few in from Charleston to inflict upon unfortunate friends and relatives who need door stops.

Get your freebie from Tuesday by following this link.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lightroom trial report.

You might remember a month or so back I was exploring a trail version of Lightroom software.  Well my trial period has run out, and after a pretty through go at it I have decided to stump up the cash and buy a copy.  I was previously using Photoshop elements which I never really got on with and anyway it kept hanging my computer.  I like Lightroom much more because it makes it quick and easy to rescue wrongly exposed pictures and it is very good at finding old photos from my alarmingly huge collection.

Here’s a before and after example of a picture that was badly in need of rescue -  a really difficult one

image

OK it’s still far from perfect, but you get the point.  Here’s another from the same set

image

Actually these blog pictures don’t do it justice, it loses a bit in the transfer to the blog, but again you can see the difference.  What I like about Lightroom is that it doesn’t just correct the overall exposure, but it makes it easy to bring out one particular colour or to adjust blacks separately from whites.  hence above it was easy to darken the outside rock while leaving the inside of the cave clear. It also has several different types of what you might think of as sharpening, in particular something they call Clarity which seems to work really well in scenes with water.  This one below took about ten seconds to fix. Notice the difference in the surface of the water.  That’s the Clarity adjustment. I also dropped the brightness of the sky and introduced a bit of vignetting in the corners, all in a few seconds.

image

I suspect quite a few photo apps can do similar things, but I’ve never found one as versatile easy to learn and use as Lightroom.  Anyway, there it is.  Of course there are tons more fancy things it can do like graduated filters and whatnot, but I thought I’d show you the basics.  Lots of videos on YouTube show what it can do.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Music in a water tower

I’ve been assaulting people’s ears with my “performances” of songs and tunes since I first clambered nervously on the stage in the back room of the Star pub (long since demolished) in Portsmouth in 1967, but I can’t recall singing and playing in a more unusual venue than we did on Monday night.  Some of you might know Christine on Nb Ketura, a very busy lady.  We first met her in Hopwas when I was noodling away on my mandola on the back of Herbie and she popped her head over the side to say hello.  These days I’m more likely to meet her at towpath ranger meetings.  Anyway I digress.

In the winter months, Christine runs a monthly folk session at St Pancras Cruising Club and she has been sending me and Kath and  invites and info for some time, so we thought we had better put in an appearance this time. Here is the good bit, the session itself takes place in the lovely old Victorian water tower behind St Pancras lock.  I should show you a photo at this point, but I don’t have one of my own. If you don’t know the tower, see it on Google images. It’s a fine thing.  They have a little bar in there and a metal helical staircase leading up to the top of the tower where I imagine the views would be splendid.

The session itself was very friendly and catered for all levels of musical experience and ability from beginner upwards.  The only rule was that it is an all acoustic event, i.e completely unplugged, just the way we like it.  There would be no room for speaker cabinets and all of that guff, we only just squeezed in as it was.  Anyway, thanks Christine, it was fun and we picked up a couple of tunes to learn while we were at it.  It’s made me think that we should perhaps make a list of all the unusual places where we have played music.  This one would rank as one of the most unusual, perhaps alongside the deck of Nb Chertsey during last year’s Braunston rally.

Speaking of London’s canals, we’ll soon have to decide whether to come down south for next winter as our mooring renewal at Crick is due at the end of March.  I think if we can be reasonably confident of the visitor mooring in Paddington / Little Venice, we might do what we did over the 2013/4 winter and take up a mooring at High Line Yachting so we can get more winter cruising in and enjoy London by boat.

 

PS I just did a little quiz on the web. It was supposed to guess the car I drove after I answered ten questions about myself. It reckons I drive a Lamborghini Murcelago!!!!

I don’t even know what one of them is.  For the record I drive a diesel focus estate, so I guess they were close. Not.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Thames at Reading

Today we were babysitting Grace so we took a walk along the Thames at Reading.  What a glorious morning!   The light was amazing.  Of course I didn’t have my camera with me so I grabbed these photos with my phone camera.

A sunken boat on the moorings outside Tescos

sunken boat

The entrance to Thames and Kennet Marina looking across to the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing lake in the distance

t and k marina

The canoodlers were out paddling at Thames Valley Park

canoodlers

The river is running pretty high at the moment but not scarily so.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Reservoir watch–How is this year shaping up?

Remember just three years ago when our canal reservoirs were looking like this?

IMG_0946 (2)

 

IMG_1067 (1024x683)

We were all wondering if our boats would be left high and dry that summer.  Some poor folk high tailed it down onto the Ouse / Nene system for deeper water and then got stuck in floods for months on end.  That’s British weather for you.

I thought I’d have a butchers at CRT’s latest reservoir holding figures to compare now with then.

(Cruelly I have disregarded northern canals (apologies to folk in the north) as they have different weather up there it seems.)

Here’s my first chart doing a straight comparison of percentage reservoir holdings  between Jan 2012 and Jan 2015

image

That looks a bit better doesn’t it.  To quote CRT “Hydrologically speaking, for the UK, the year 2015 commences from a near-normal baseline, making for a favourable water resources situation.”  In case you are wondering, the Oxford GU designations covers the reservoirs at Boddington, Wormleighton, Clattercote, Naseby, Sulby, Welford, Drayton, Daventry, so the Oxford canal itself plus mainly the Leicester GU section.

Looking back to CRT’s September report, there was some concern then because September 2014 was a record breaking dry month, being the driest Sept since current records began in 1910.  Levels in the October report weren’t looking too good on the GU and the Oxford. However things have crept up nicely over the winter. The trend over recent winter months shows the improving situation.

 

image

 

The K&A is the odd one out as usual.  This is largely because it gets its water from Crofton which is spring fed and less dependent on actual weather, being able to refill itself even if it doesn’t rain.  People on the southern GU need not be alarmed by the graph showing their bit  languishing 20% below the rest. This area generally lags behind at this time of year.  It gets all its water from the group of reservoirs around Tring / Marsworth.  CRT says “These reservoirs are predominately groundwater fed and their refill often tends to be later in the winter period.”

Water management is a strange thing and in dry weather some of the actions of the hydrologists are counter intuitive.  For instance, in long dry periods they deliberately hold the canals at a lower level rather than topping them up.  This is because most of the water lost from a canal in dry weather is leakage through the sides into the dry ground towards the top.  This was particularly the case on the Tring summit in the last drought.

You can see CRT’s full report here

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The busiest locks on the system–official

Deep joy! I have stumbled upon some great stats to play with.  It’s the CRT Annual Lockage report for 2014.  All kinds of great stuff lie therein and some surprising figures. The report lists the number of lock usages at a number of monitored locks throughout the system, so in theory you can work out which locks are likely to be busiest if you are planning a route. 

 

perhaps the first thing to say is that numbers of lockings across the land haven’t changed much in recent years.  Last year was up 2% over the previous year but that sort of variation might just be due to weather and the like.

So which is the busiest lock of them all?  Well you might be a bit surprised to know it was Cholmondeston Lock on the Middlewich branch of the Shroppie with 8424 lockings.  Thinking about it, it is on the four counties ring and close to the ever popular Llangollen canal so that would explain it.  Coming a very close second with 8346 was New Marton lock on the LLangollen itself, just on the English side of Chirk.

The bigger surprise to me was third place.  Colwich lock on the Trent and Mersey.  Here we are right there on Herbie

Yes, this sleepy little lock not far south of Great Haywood had 8239 lockings!  Just compare that to a known hotspot like Braunston lock which had 5403 lockings.  Admittedly Braunston locks can take two boats at a time, but they don’t always.  I’m amazed.

Looking more generally, if you want a quiet time and no queueing, then you should head for the north.  Anything north of Chester is very quiet by comparison.  The Leeds and Liverpool being not much over a thousand on average and the Lancaster being in the couple of hundred range.

Further south, here’s a list of ones that took my eye.

Atherstone 5151 – that’s quite a lot for what always seems a remote sort of canal (the Coventry), although come to think of it, that lock flight has been busy when we’ve passed through.

The Kennet and Avon varies along its length but averages out at only 2250, so relatively quiet for such a well known route.

The Shroppie is of course busy, but why does Audlem have 4808 and Wheaton Aston have 6236?  The Bermuda triangle of the canals?

Closer to Herbie’s mooring at Crick its pretty busy.

Watford locks 4984

Foxton 4131

Buckby top 4232

Welford 4139

That last one is quite a surprise, little ol’ Welford lock down the arm there having over four thousand lockings.  Aah maybe it’s because most people go down there for a night, then come back next day, thus doubling the numbers.

Now then here’s a puzzle.  If 5403 lockings go on at Braunston and Buckby has 4232, you might conclude that that leaves roughly 1200  locks worth going up the Leicester arm to Watford.  Well you could double that ‘cos Watford are single locks so that would make a maximum of 2400 boats, so how come Watford counts 4984?  Granted there are a couple of small marinas up there but still its a puzzle which might only be explained by people passing down Watford and then turning round at Norton junction and going back.  I can’t think of another reason.

Moving on we take a look at the South Oxford, where Marston Doles lock at the top of the Napton flight was very busy at 6215.  Well we all knew that was a popular route didn’t we?  Down the Grand Union though, the figures support my long held view that it is an unappreciated delight.  Cowroast only registered 2545 (half that of Braunston) and Batchworth down at Ricky gets a score of 2220.  People must be mad, its lovely down that way.

As for London, our capital city stuffed with boats, it seems not that many of them are moving. Hawley lock at Camden which on top of normal traffic gets some use by trip boats only manages to register 3052 and Commercial Road lock where you drop down into Limehouse Basin only gets 902.  Up the Lee and Stort it’s quiet too. 1942 at Stanstead lock and 2145 at Roydon.  These areas are crawling with boats but they ain’t going nowhere.

Now if you want a nice quiet cruise how about these?

Drop down the Northampton arm onto the Nene where Northampton lock only sees 943 movements per annum.

Nip down Farmers Bridge (1558) in the very centre of Birmingham and out down the B’ham and Fazeley via Minworth (1899) or exit Brum down the B’ham and Worcs where Tardebigge gets only 1788.  Or like I said, go North.

You can see the whole report Here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Canals in my blood?

No I don’t have Weil’s disease, I’m talking genetics here.  Yesterday we did one of our periodic trips to the National Archives at Kew to do a bit more genealogical digging.  Actually I’m getting to the stage where I can’t be bothered to go back much further in history. I do have a couple of ancestors I can find back in the 1660s but they’re only names.  I come from a long line of mostly agricultural labourers, very few of whom have anything written about them.  I find the slightly more recent ones a lot more interesting because a few more details of their lives emerge. My maternal granny’s family have some good stories I have unearthed and in exploring them I discover that I have ancestors who must have been very familiar with the heyday of the canals. 

My great grandad worked in the needlemaking industry in Redditch and I discover that he lived for a time in Tardebigge presumably not far from the famous lock flight.

His granny lived until she married at Hatton, right by another famous flight of locks.  In those days (1814) the Hatton flight was still narrow locks. 

On the other side of the family, another great grandad lived and worked for a time in Birmingham as a railway carriage maker and one census has him living within yards of the Garrison lock flight in Saltley. 

A pattern is emerging here.  No wonder we seem to spend a lot of our boating life around places with lock flights.  I was obviously born to it.  I often wondered what that windlass was doing in my pram. Sadly that Saltley great grandad can’t be traced back any further as he originally came from Montgomeryshire in Wales and his name was Edward Evans. That’s a bit like trying to find a particular Mr Patel in Gujarat.

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Commercial break

It looks like Amazon is now ready to sell the paperback version of my book Jobs for the Boys, by Herbie Neil.  This link takes you directly there. A bit cheaper than I anticipated, you can get it for 5.99 plus postage.  If you spend more than ten pounds it’s post free.  You could always buy two of mine I suppose, but I might be pushing my luck there, although two would make a better doorstop than one.  If you go via the Amazon home page you’ll first see the Kindle version, but look carefully and there is a link to the paperback.  Strangely, since announcing the paperback, I have sold three copies of the Kindle version.  Hey ho.

End of commercial break

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Best caption and exciting (for me) news

Thanks to those who had a go at sending in a caption for the CRT poster with me on it.  The one that made me and Kath laugh and we liked best was

vposter

Well done Alf. You obviously know a bit about my eyesight.  I‘ll send the £10million prize as soon as my Nigerian prince pal transfers it into my bank account.  He has the number. Oops, I just notice the cropped version now says “angers!” at the bottom. Entirely unintentional, honest guv.

See the other comments from two posts back to read the other good ideas.

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Now we go to a short commercial break.

Exciting news. I have in my hand (well next to it anyway) a printed copy of my book, complete with ISBN number and everything. I’m very happy with the quality of the print and the binding. It’s done through an Amazon service called Createspace and allows the book to be printed on demand.  Setting it up was a bit onerous but I have now jumped through all the hoops and we’re ready to go.

book_edited-1 

I’ve got rid of the old confusing cover design, and the text has had a mega proof read and correction.  It now has a subtitle  “The Saga of Eric the Unfortunate” intended to show that it is a light hearted affair. The book comes out at 256 pages.  Did I really write all that? The book is now ready for printing on demand, and in two or three days it should appear on Amazon, so anyone who missed out earlier because they like a proper book rather than an e-book can now get one.  I must admit that even though I like the idea of e-readers, it is really nice to have it as a proper book.  The downside of course is that it costs more.  I think the printed book will cost £6.49, whereas the Kindle version is £1.15.  The royalty I get though is about the same at 30 odd pence, so I’m not anticipating getting rich any time soon.  The upside is that I have no up front costs as it is printed on demand.

I accidentally discovered the other day that I have had two reviews on Amazon.com (as opposed to dot uk where there are already fourteen reviews) that I didn’t know about. One from Canada and one from someone called The Narrow Boat Man – presumably a blog reader, can’t be me, I’m not at all narrow these days. Hi folks and thanks.  That now brings my review total up to sixteen.  These latest ones say this.

  • This was a fun book. It has simple characters that at times make you laugh. If you are looking for some light reading but with a good plot and laugh out loud humour, then this is a book for you. Don't expect in depth, complicated plots but just open a bottle, sit back and enjoy some fun time. Well worth the price!

  • A wonderful book; with an endearing protagonist. I loved every word of it!

Counting up the star ratings now gives me an average of 4.56 stars out of 5.  I’m more than happy with that.

I’ll let you know when it goes live on Amazon so you can beat the rush. (Hollow laugh).

Now I need to go back and update the kindle version with all the corrections.

End of commercial break

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Monday, February 09, 2015

Paddington / Little Venice mooring update

Some pictures of the moorings at Paddington and Little Venice last Friday.  I hadn’t been up there for a while so I had a good mooch round and noticed one or two changes (if you already know this, forgive me).

Down at Little Venice visitor moorings, a revised policy is in place.  Starting from the rubbish/ toilet block, the spaces for the first seven or so boats are designation as 7 day moorings.

7day

On Friday there was one vacant slot and no-one was breasted up.

Then the remainder of the moorings are designated as 14 days.  This was full and most were breasted up.  Apparently, this regime has been in place since September last. The far end is presently designated as Winter Moorings until 31 March.

lvsign

Round by the side entrance to Paddington station, there were no trading boats!!  Right opposite the station entrance there was a vacant space of about 55ft.  I could hardly believe this was empty, but there were no signs saying it was reserved for anything so maybe it was really available.

The basin itself was fully occupied, the majority of berths were I think for winter mooring permits. 

basin

There was one occupied visitor mooring on the far end of the hospital side and a couple of boats moored beyond the pontoons on the other side. The last two mooring rings on that side were unoccupied but I have suspicions that you might be told to  move if you attempted to use them.

The pontoon on the hospital side now extends the full length of the main basin, so you can now walk out on that side at the far end to get to Tescos / Praed street etc.

Note there are no mooring rings on the extended walkway

pontoon

step

All of the work is now finished at the far end and looking very smart.

endbasin

You may notice that the security office  has disappeared. Plenty of the yellow coated guys walking round though, so they must be holed up somewhere. I wonder if this is now it :

security

So there you have it.  It remains to be seen how easy it is to get moored there after the winter moorers move out at the end of March.

We were told at our ranger meeting that CRT has beefed up the enforcement team in central and east London and that persistent overstayers will not get their licence renewed and will therefore be vulnerable to their boats being impounded. In such cases CRT will advise on rehoming in liaison with the many and various homeless charities in London.  CRT already has an outreach worker dealing with / helping people sleeping rough on the towpath.

We should be forgiven at this stage for being a trifle sceptical about how all this will turn out, but we’ll have to wait and see.

PS thank for caption competition entries. I’ll report back next time.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Caption competition - £10m prize

Fame at last!  Lots of people have wanted to see the back of me, and now you can.  Here I am on CRTs latest recruiting poster

vposter

Not quite Lord Kitchener I suppose.  Quite why Dick Vincent chose that photo I can’t imagine, except that it was him that took it when we were down the Slough Arm recently.  Anyway since the grandchildren took some delight in suggesting what I might be doing or saying in the picture. I thought it might be fun if anyone out there could suggest an amusing caption.  I think I’m saying “Hurry up I can’t hold this wall up much longer”  but you might have better ideas. Over to you.  In case you can’t read it, the poster I am putting up says “Thank you for slowing down”.  The winner will get ten million pounds as soon as I have the money to pass on from a contact in Nigeria. ( I once gave a friend a million pound cheque for his wedding present, he still has it many years later.)

Dick is trying to get active volunteer ranger numbers up to 30 this year in the greater London area.  That means all the way up to the top of the Lee and the Stort, all the Regents and the Paddington Arms, and the GU from Brentford to Rickmansworth.  You don’t have to do it all of course, just a little bit of it.  The good thing is that there is no fixed regular commitment.  Tasks get announced and you can choose which ones you want to help with.  Sometimes publicity events, sometimes putting up or taking down signs, sometimes taking photos of something that needs reporting or checking on, or just patrolling an area in your own time and notifying any necessary towpath improvements or repairs or vegetation problems.    There are monthly ranger meetings which you get to if you can. The job is its own reward really but you do get a high vis jacket and a sweatshirt etc to show off in.

CRT is about to publish a national Towpath Code, a bit like the well know Countryside Code I suppose.  We saw the final draft  at our meeting on Friday.  Don’t get excited, it’s sensible but pretty innocuous, just telling us all to be considerate to each other and reminding that the towpaths are for all to enjoy.

While I was up at Little Venice for the meeting I had a good scout around  the local mooring situation and the completed work in Paddington basin. I’ll report on that in the next post.