Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Have you heard?

A couple of bits of interesting news have reached my shell like ears.

The first is that the EA have lost a court case against boaters in a couple of marinas on the Thames, to the effect that the judge says that the EA has no right to charge them a licence fee as long as they stay in the marina. That sets the cat amongst the pigeons, at least it would if it set a precedent for CRT. There must be lots of boats that never venture out, and I suspect there would be a lot more if it was licence free to stay put.

Actually, thinking about it, the EA does more for boats in marinas than CRT do because they do a lot more to control water levels. Hmmm watch this space. It would be funny wouldn't it if all those boats moored on the towpath suddenly headed into marinas.

The other bit of news floating around is about the poor landlady on the Shroppie who has lost a lot of business because ecanalmaps has her pub down as CLOSED. It's the Anchor at High Offley. It's very many years since we were there but I remember it as a nice pub, so do pop in if you pass. They are open for business.

Herbie lies resting at Iver while we potter about at home. I have started painting another Buckby can, but it's only in undercoat right now so you don't need a photo yet.

Off topic culture warning. People only interests in boats can stop reading here.

Yesterday we went to the cinema see a recording of the National Theatre's Hamlet with Cumberditch Bendyback or whatever he's called. I like a lot of Shakespeare plays but I have always found Hamlet hard work. Not long ago we went to see Maxine Peake doing it and much as I like her, it didn't work for me. This NT version however was miles and miles better - in fact, BRILLIANT!!

I was a bit alarmed at first when I saw that Polonius was played by the bloke who plays the bishop in Father Ted, but he was plenty good enough to let me forget that. Sherlock Holmes himself was of course wonderful too. Some of those long speeches are hard to follow if the actor doesn't do it right, but he made it easy. Perhaps the biggest ghasps of the night (or the afternoon actually) came from the fantastic set changes and lighting effects. Quite quite brilliant. Eleven out of ten. Go see it if you have a chance.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The joys of being a Volunteer Towpath Ranger

I did a ranger walk yesterday with our new Boss Darren.  He let me choose where we should go so I chose Cowley Peachey and some of the Slough Arm. One of the first things we noticed was this broken fence near Packet Boat bridge.

broken fence

then just as we walked away, a respectable looking middle aged couple walked off the towpath, through the hole in the fence and round the back of the building.  It leads through to a little industrial estate.  People will use whatever shortcuts they can I suppose. I wonder who cut the fence in the first place.

The down the Slough Arm I had been telling Darren about the nuisance of kids on motor bikes on the towpath.  Just then as if to prove my point, one appeared some distance away. We walked towards him but of course as soon as he spotted us he turned around and drove off into one of the many little footpaths that lead off.  Then as luck would have it, just as we got to the footbridge where the arm meets the GU, he appeared again right in front of us.  Before we could shout “Oi” he nipped past and disappeared over the bridge and drove off through another “unofficial” gate into the yard behind Argos, and then out into the main road and away.  Of course he had no number plate or anything to identify him. The surprising this though, was that he was not a young whippersnapper, but a guy of perhaps twenty five years old.  We’ve got signs up saying motor bikes are not legal along there but of course these people take no notice.  The problem is not just the safety aspect, but also the noise these bikes make especially at night.

Further down the arm, we detected signs that someone is sleeping rough under Bridge 1, and we think that at least one of the WWII pill boxes down there are occupied too.  That’s something for Darren to address.  We volunteers deal with the more mundane matters like reporting this impassable (without risk of wet socks) bit of towpath.  I’ll send in a photo and no doubt it will be added to a job list, but at a low priority.


At last I have been given a key which opens up CRT lockups like this little shed at Cowley lock.


at the moment it’s used by the volunteer lock keepers, but we will be commandeering a shelf to keep a bit of Ranger stuff, now that we have keys.  We need to find more lock ups like this on our very long patch from Ricky to Brentford.  I think the next one might be at Norwood top lock.

Another of our duties is talking to towpath users, boaters, cyclists, walkers, anglers etc.  Sometimes to listen to their concerns, which we report back at meetings, and sometimes to try to persuade them to be a good towpath citizen if they are being a nuisance in some way.  Yesterday we were chatting to a couple of anglers. Interestingly one of them said he had given up living on a boat in London because of the pressure to keep moving all the time.  So for those who think CRT is doing nothing to deal with overstayers, it seems that some boaters don’t feel that way.

Being a ranger is not all about walking about, (I did about five miles yesterday, and now my plantar fasciitis is playing up) at least is isn’t for me as a lead ranger.  Today I have spend an hour or so sorting out bundles of uniform and bits and pieces that have arrived for my team, trying to remember who is size  L and who is XXL etc. Then another hour sorting photos and composing emails. It’s all good fun.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I win a bet and go for a walk

Well those who guessed it guessed it right.  The pictures of DI Lewis by the canal were indeed shot at Uxbridge opposite the boatyard.  And I won my private bet which was that Adam would be the first one with the right answer.  I can’t believe he does anything at work except read blogs because he is always so quick to answer, but I admit he is good at canal location spotting, in fact he is the only person I know who seems to know a lot of bridge numbers.

Today I’m al dressed up in my volunteer finery and going for a walk in the general area of the Slough Arm junction with my new boss Darren who has taken over as CRT London Towpath Ranger now that our previous boss Dick has been seconded to get ranger teams going nationwide.  No doubt I will be bending Darren’s ear about motorbikes on the towpath, unemptied rubbish bins


and, down the arm,  uneven muddy footpaths. 


That should cheer him up no end.  Later this month a gang of us rangers will be doing the annual Light Scout, which is basically a walk in the dark along bits of the Regents canal to check if lights under bridges etc. are working.    I can hear people outside of London saying “Lights under bridges?  Hmmph. They don’t know they’re born.  We have to find a glow worm or eat a bag of carrots before we go out at night.”  Well these Londoners are soft, you have to take pity on them.

My free book offer is closed now for another 90 days.  This time I got rid of another 30 odd.  I think the market is getting a bit saturated.  Book 2 is picking up speed and I’m now up to 18244 words!

Monday, November 09, 2015

Lewis is at it again

Cor, these Oxford students don’t half jog a long way.  We just watched an episode of Lewis where a student pops out of her Oxford college for a quick run and gets murdered by the canal.   I wonder if you can spot where it is.  Here Lewis and Hathaway walk along towards where the body was found.  Apologies for the blurry picture.

lewis 1

Over on the far bank through the bridge is the garden of a canalside pub, and it definitely ain’t anywhere within a short jog from Oxford.  This next picture gives away the game completely if you know the area.

lewis 2

DI Lewis, as often happens, is some way off his “Oxford City police” patch.

Now you can show off your canal knowledge and tell me where it is.  I have a private bet on who gets it first.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Grand Union, changes down south

Being back down at the South of the Grand Union has felt like coming home. Not only is it the area we most cruised when we first got Herbie, and Herbie’s home for five years, but its also my Towpath Ranger patch.  But you know what they say, the only thing that stays the same is that things keep changing.  A few things have changed since we were last down here.  First, rather sadly,  the aroma. Coming down to Hayes, we no longer enjoy the delicious smells of roasting coffee since the Nescafe factory has closed.  With the wind in the right direction, you used to savour it for miles. Now the factory lies empty and waiting for some one to knock it down and no doubt turn the site into “dwelling units” or whatever they call them these days.


I heard a rumour that the John Guest (Speedfit plumbing fittings) factory might be moving away because they need a bigger site.  That would be a pity because they have always kept it looking smart and tidy along there, although the once pristine white canal bridge is getting a bit grubby lately.

j guest

Now look again at the picture above and see the new green footbridge on the left.  That’s all to do with Crossrail I believe. It’ll run right alongside the canal here. The bridge stands near where John Guest used to have buildings of their own.  And talking of rail projects . .

Most people will have seen that bit of computer generated video of an HS2 train crossing over the Oxford canal – they nearly always use it on the news when HS2 is talked about, and we see signs by the canal there and other places too saying No To Crossrail.  Well I spotted another HS2 canal crossing.  See here,



This notice was pinned up at Springwell lock not far south of Ricky.  Sadly it was a bit more prominent than the Cyclist Slow Down sign we rangers put up which has been overtaken by vegetation.  It’s there somewhere.


We’re waiting to go on a vegetation trimming course before CRT will let us loose with saws and loppers.  I hope they hurry up before the sign disappears altogether.

One last thing.  In the last 24 hours or so 23 people have downloaded my novel from Amazon/Kindle.  That’s close to one an hour.  You’ve probably guessed why – they’re letting me give it away for free again (until Tuesday). Buy(take) now while stocks last.  I’m now up to 21 reviews, all four or five stars.  The latest one from someone I do not know (honest) simply says “Quite simply superb!.....Witty,clever and very funny!”  thank you Brendan Magee whoever you are! I’m too old to blush. Find it on Amazon /Kindle by looking for Herbie Neil – Jobs for the boys.  End of commercial break.

I’m still wrestling with book 2, currently at 15,780 words, so only about 65,000 words to go.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Busy busy, Three canals in three days–and a bit of inside info

. . or four if you count the Slough Arm separately.

On Saturday we arrived at our winter mooring on the Slough Arm, waving to old friends as we passed their boats and even getting an offer of a lift into town to get the bus home without us asking.  The outer end of the arm looks quite good in Autumn colours. 

Then next day we zoomed 230 odd miles north, by car this time, to take Jacob back to college at stayed in a B&B overnight at Bilsborrow.  It was dark and foggy overnight, but next morning we pulled back the curtains to see that once again we were next to the canal, this time the Lancaster Canal



and then we drove on to Chester to visit a friend who took us to lunch – by the canal of course, the Shroppie this time


and then today, a canal trip I had been a bit apprehensive about.  CRT needed a volunteer to drive their widebeam showboat Jena up and down the GU canal in the Hayes area carrying VIPs from Hillingdon Council and CRT London Waterway Manager John Guest , so that they could hold an on board meeting to discuss joint funding of canal related projects.  As I was the only qualified person available it fell to me to steer this big boat.  That’s OK, ‘cos Id driven her before, but this time I had to twice turn the boat round in places where there was no proper winding hole.  She could just turn without touching both banks.  Luckily I had two enthusiastic young CRT bank staff to assist as crew and it all went without a hitch. I also had the opportunity to quiz John about a few local issues and gleaned a bit of info about future works and other stuff.

In particular I asked about the take up of the new London Winter Moorings, which as some of you know, have been moved “out of town”.  As I suspected from observations along the canal, there has not yet been much of a take up of this facility. Thinking about it, why would someone pay for a mooring out of town, when they can moor on the towpath further in for free?  The winter moorings have apparently been chosen to be handy for rail stations etc, but most of them I think lack facilities such as nearby sanitary stations and water points.

John did confirm though that the bookable moorings at Rembrandt Gardens will be maintained now that they have returned to CRT management, although at some point they will have to consider making a charge for using these to cover extra admin and management costs.  He didn’t know how much that might be but he said that a number of boaters had indicated they would be willing to pay for an assured visitor mooring in that area.  If people were paying, they’d have to be very strict about protecting the moorings from unauthorised boaters pinching the spot and then refusing to move.

I also asked about the proposed Jan-March stoppage at the Crane aqueduct near Hayes which would prevent boats heading south to Bulls Bridge and on to London.  His thoughts were that, depending on preparatory surveys, they might do the job using a coffer dam, thus not fully closing the canal.  That would be handy for us at least.

On Thursday I’m back to Little Venice to take part in a Share The Space event, flinging ourselves in front of speeding cyclists like suffragettes under the King’s horse, and asking them to be more &*%$£y considerate.  Fat chance.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mystery poster poster says it all


I really like this poster that some mystery person has hung on the railings by the water point at the Black Horse at Greenford. Well done them.

However , six feet away is someone who either can't or won't read it.


There she was, Nb Doris, moored right between the water point bollards and absolutely not taking on water. Not just her either, but we have seen other boats there too, and just down the canal, less than a minutes walk away are good moring spaces. Meanwhile we have to stretch our hose to its very limit and poke the front of our boat into the bridge hole in oreder to take on water. Grrrr.


I took those photos on our way into London, but now we are back at the Black Horse on our way back, for tonight is our last night of this cruise which started just a month ago at Crick. Tomorrow we take up our winter berth at High Line Yachting at Iver.

We've had a very good time, adopting a very gentle pace and of course finishing with a week in London, where we saw some noteworthy things, like these men, actually there were several of them, all roped and carabinered up, refreshing the aluminium paint on the millennium footbridge over the Thames.



We'd just been to Southwark cathedral


to listen to an organ recital during which I drifted off into thoughts about how to write the next bit of my book (Now up to 15,507 words). I decide to rewrite one of the female characters to give her a bit more strength. I'm sure any feminists among you would approve. Actually, what I really mean is that I was afraid that any feminists among you would have disapproved of her the way she was!

Yesterday, we went to London's best address - No 1 London, aka Apsley House aka The first Duke of Wellington's House. Having done their very good audio tour you begin to realise what a megastar he was in his day, showered with fabulous gifts from the crowned heads of Europe and constantly surrounded by all kinds of mementos of his Waterloo victory. I remarked to one of the guides that it was a wonder he retained any vestige of humility. "Well," she said, "he didn't." A good visit.



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pumpkins and fountains


Well the dark nights are now upon us, but it's still a pretty view across Brownings Pool. We've been baby sitting Grace for 24 hours and just about managed to keep her entertained, teaching her dominoes and card tricks and making a halloween pumpkin.

and yesterday afternoon playing in the new fountain in Paddington Basin

Different parts of it stop spouting at random times so you have to jump in and out of the two rings of spouts when you can. Grace enjoyed it anyway.

The Friday night news review at the Canal Cafe Theatre was nothing short of brilliant and extremely funny. I didn't count but I reckon they must have done a good twenty five sketches in the hour, a number of them having song and dance routines, all very clever parodies and all topical. I don't know how they do it. A tenner or so very well spent. They keep a cracking pint of beer in the pub below, but at four pounds forty five a pint it flippin' well ought to be. Welcome to London prices folks. We'll go over to the Warwick Castle over the canal while we're here and compare prices.

Boats have been coming and going to and from the basin, so it looks like there is a turnover, which is good, and of course it being a sunny Sunday, the tripboats between here and Camden have all been active, coming and going all day. There's always something to watch here.


Friday, October 23, 2015

A Capital Result

Here we are 101 miles and 91 locks after leaving Crick, having arrived to a warm welcome from Sarah at Rembrandt Gardens in Little Venice. Thanks to Kath for doing the (free) booking and to Sarah for being very helpful and good to communicate with. Sadly, at the beginning of November, Sarah is handing the operation back over to CRT. I find it hard to imagine that they will do it so well.

The mooring is great. It must be one of the best spots, if not THE, best spot in London



overlooking Brownings Pool, and handy for Paddington etc. Our mooring rings were duly labelled up with Herbie's name and the dates of our stay (7 days) and Sarah came along to settle us in and give us any info we needed. It's a small world, it turns out she was brought up in the same village as Kath!

London's canals are, as we all know, chock full of residential boaters and good moorings are hard to find. We crawled past miles of moored boats on the way in. Nevertheless we just took a stroll up to Paddngton Basin and there were three empty spots outside the station entrance plus a couple more over the jacuzzi bubbles (people who have been there will know what I mean).

Yesterday as we left Uxbridge, it was hard to imagine that by mid morning we had no more locks to do. That's it now for locks, we can put the windlasses away for a long time. You may recall that we stayed over in Uxbridge to see Henry V live from Stratford at the cinema. As usual in these Stratford things it was very good and well worth making an effort to see. I'm getting quite cultured in my old age.

Tonight we've got tickets for the little Canal Cafe Theatre just over the way, to see their weekly comedy news review. We've been there a few times and it's always good and if I recall correctly they keep a cracking pint of Windsor Brewery Guardsman downstairs.

Last night we rested at the Black Horse at Greenford, oft times shortlisted for a Herbie Award and still good. They have a Thursday quiz, which they buy in and its a good one not overburdened with questions about soaps, celebs and the like. I like questions like "who invented the aqualung?" and "who first had a hit with Magic Moments?" and "name the EU countiries whose name inlude 'LAND' " Good old general knowledage stuff. Do you know? Despite there being only the two of us, we came second.

Anyhow, here we are for a week in London before returning to High Line Yachting for our winter berth. Feel free to envy us.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A problem solved

Today is a rest day for the Herbies, which is just as well, cos it's peeing with rain outside. This gives me a chance to catch up with things I meant to blog about, particularly the story of the Tachomatic Revostat and its more successful successor. Regular sufferers of this blog may recall the stainless steel wavy washer that Rick made to slip behind the Morse control spindle on Herbie to stop it slipping backwards. Well that kind of worked but not all that well because the steel was too thin and just got squashed flat. Now people who know Rick know that he is a clever old stick and has a determination not to be beaten by an engineering problem. Accordingly he went of in search of a source of thicker stronger stainless steel, preferably of the springy variety.

So on his return to Herbie last week he presented us with (loud fanfare),


I would show you a picture of it, but it is installed invisibly within the Morse control, so here instead is a picture of the box



and the instruction leaflet

In the Amish tradition of leaving a small mistake in something you make to show that only God is perfect, you may notice Rick's leaflet refers quaintly at one point to the Morose lever.

That's all very well, you may say, but does the flippin' thing work? And the answer is . .Yes it does! The lever now stays where we put it, instead of slowly creeping back and dropping the engine revs. It took two goes to compress it to the right level, but we dunnit.

Any sufferers of the same problem may enquire as to where the correct grade of steel may be obtained and why Rick is unable to make any more Revmasters. Well, let's just say that Marilyn's kitchen pallette knife now looks an inch shorter than it used to. That woman is a Saint. The other reason that Rick won't be making any more is that all his drills are now blunt!

Tonight we are off to the cinema to see a live broadcast of Henry V from Stratford-upon-Avon. Just a little tip for you: Note the hyphens, some satnavs and web maps won't find it without!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why isn't everyone here? It's lovely

I'm a dope. I've been taking quite a few photos for the blog with my camera, but I forgot to bring with us the lead to get the flippin' photos out, and as you all know, Ipads don't have SD Card slots, so you'll have to manage with my deathless prose and a couple of not very good pics I took with my phone.

This first one like me, is poor but kind of interesting. It shows a bee or a wasp(I suspect the latter although it was rather small) flying towards a hole in a lock gate beam at Kings Langley lock.


The little darlings were coming and going all the time as I waited for the lock to empty, so there must be a nest within. No animals or humans were harmed during this photo shoot, although Kath nearly died of boredom while waiting for the lock to fill a few minutes earlier.

I know lots of boats never venture down to the southern GU, but they are making a big mistake. Even we had forgotten how lovely it is when you get past Ricky. Once again my phone failed to catch the beauty of the scene, but here it is anyway.

Today, we have arrived in Uxbridge in glorious autumnal weather. Yesterday was rather dull, but only weatherwise for we had a jolly evening with Mr and Mrs Rainman at the pub quiz at Wetherspoons. As is our usual custom in these events we were doing swimmingly until the round about soaps. No it is not Knights Castille and Imperial Leather to which I refer, nor indeed the humble Wright's Coal Tar, but something called Corrie and Brookside and stuff like that. We did however get one right referring to Dr Kildare, which I suppose shows our age.

You don't get down to this lovely neck of the woods without paying the price in terms of hard graft lock wheeling. I suppose it might be doing me good, but sometimes it feels more like it's finishing me off. The prize though for Best Lock (maybe I should save this for the Herbie awards but what the heck) goes to Lady Capels. It was such a nice change to find gates that don't swing open after you have shut them, and paddles that wind smoothly and lightly and balance beams that don't require full on brute force. And as a treat, you get to cruise through the elegant Grove Park afterwards with it's lovely turnover bridge.

At least with the GU's double locks, you get to meet new friends as you share locks. Today we have travelled with Nb Vox Stellarum, aka The Fender Trading Co, makers and purveyers of beautifully crafted thingies wot dangle under your tiller pin, and monkey's fists and stuff like that.

We have met some very nice people. Yesterday, near Cassiobury Bridge lock a boat was about to pull out in front of us as we approached the lock, but he stopped and waited. It was not a posh boat, in fact very much the opposite and the young man on board looked very much like many people do on such boats. I rather envied him his hair, which extended to not far short of his waist. Anyway, he enquired if we would be stopping at the water point, in which case he would let us go first because he needed to go from empty to full, (although he was in front of us and had every right to take it. ) He was well spoken, charming and polite. How nice. It just goes to show you should never judge a book by it's cover. By the way, we didn't need water, we were heading to go in the lock, so the young man got his water straight away.

Speaking of books, I am now up to 12598 words in my second novel. One or two of the words are quite good. One of the main characters speaks in a broad Geordie dialect, so it is in part a foreign language novel. I can't understand a word he is saying. I still have no idea of where the plot is going. I'll just have to keep writing to find out. All I will say is that it is still about Eric, who is still in trouble.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Winkwell Rocks (BURP)

The 16th century Three Horseshoes inn, by the swing bridge at Winkwell, with it's old fireplace and its flagstone floors is perhaps not the place you would expect to find a twenty five piece band busking covers from five decades of popular music, but last night that's what happened. Kath with her meticulous planning had arranged it so that we would be there on the night of the monthly meeting of BURP, the Berkhamsted Ukulele Random Players. Sadly we were unable to co-ordinate our earlier arrival in Leighton Buzzard with the meeting of the wonderfully named Ukes of Buzzard.

Kath has two ukes so taking one each we went over to the Horseshoes to see what happened. The place was packed and the enthusiasm palpable as we launched into everything from Everly Brothers to Coldplay. I must admit I am not over familiar with the works of the latter, being myself a bit like this:

Learned Judge: (Speaking in the tones of Dame Edith Evans talking about handbags) Mr Farquhar, would you enlighten me as to what is this Cold Play the plaintiff keeps referring to?

Mr Farquhar (Barrister): Certainly M'Lud. It is I beleve the name of what in your day might have been referred to as a a popular beat combo.

Learned judge: Ahh, I see.  Something akin to the Dave Clark Five perhaps

Mr Farquhar :  Precisely M'Lud

Learned Judge: I am obliged to you Mr Farquhar. Pray continue with your cross examination.

Anyway, using copies the group's mammoth shared songbook, we got along fine and a great time was had by all. Even a couple of blokes who called in for a pint and stayed to listen were applauding enthusiastically.

Earlier in the day, on our journey from Berko, we had quite a job getting through the quaintly named Sewer Lock where the leakage from the bottom gates exceeds the flow through the open paddles at the other end. It took the two of us every bit of strength we had to get the top gates open. I must check if it is on the winter stoppage programme. Someone had written in large letters on the bottom gate balance beam "THIS LOCK IS A DISGRACE". Nuff said.

This afternoon we have arrived at Apsley and seized the rare chance to get on the short offside 24hr mooring by Sainsbury's.

I'm not sure why that bollard is painted blue.

Over at the water point above the previous lock I notice that the notice board has a significant number of notices all talking about British Waterways. Now if they towpath rangers here like we do further south, that would have been sorted.