Sunday, October 19, 2014

BSS time

Yes the old anno domini has caught up with Herbie again and we’re due for the four yearly Safety Inspection.  Reading through the latest edition of the BSS manual I don’t think we have too much to worry about, but you never know what a keen inspector might find.  Time to spend a bit of money on the old gal.  Never mind, Herbie’s “sinking fund” has a bit put by for such things.  The fund is due for a bit of use in any case because now the fuel lift pump is leaking.  That’s a simple enough job and even a new pump is only £22 or so.  We also seem to be collecting water in the engine bay bilges (not the oily bit) and it took me ages to realise that it wasn’t coming from the stern gland, but from somewhere in the calorifier plumbing.  The calorifier isn’t the easiest thing to get to, being in a corner of the engine bay. I really can’t be bothered with contortionist acts these days, I’ll get a man to fix it.

Six people have paid good money (99p each or the dollar or euro equivalent) for my book this month!!  I feel quite buoyed up.  I also got another good reader review (thanks Chris) which is worth more to me than any meagre royalties.  I’ve at last got round to doing a page about the book which you can see from the blog.  See the link under pages on the right hand side of the blog screen.  In it you will find a synopsis (otherwise know as publisher’s blurb), an unexpurgated copy of all the reviews the book has received and a little bit about how I came to write the book.  Plus of course a link for anyone wishing to get a copy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

How CRT does health checks

Well I went for my CRT volunteer medical exam the other day and I was impressed. The tests are carried out by a hired in contractor, Working on Wellbeing Ltd. and I suppose are the sort of health MoT you might have to pay quite a bit for on the open market.

I suppose that these are the standard tests that all CRT manual staff undergo. Here's what they do.

Mine was at Adelaide dock in Southall. It wasn't hard to find the man when I arrived, the specially equipped test van was in the yard.

After the usual form filling and questions about the last time I saw a doctor and any serious known conditions etc. we set to work on the tests. First of course was to weigh and measure. No surprise to find I need to lose weight (either that or gain height)!

Next pulse and blood pressure which found me to be OK ish. Had I remembered to take my prescribed beta blocker that morning and not had a stressful journey in I would probably have been quite good.

Next a blood sample for cholesterol and blood sugars. This goes into a little hand held machine that prints out a result in seconds. My results were in the DESIRABLE category. Not often I get called desirable!

After that the computer calculated my cardiovascular risk which put me as moderate. Apparently if I were in a queue of 100 similarly aged men waiting for their heart attack I would be 85th, so that' s not so bad.

Then came the fun bits. First the lung function where you play blowing through what looks like the cardboard tube from a loo roll. A machine measures your lung capacity and what force you can exhale at. After crunching the numbers it tells me that I have the lungs of a man two years younger than me. Sorry mate, I thought they were mine.

Then into a booth for the hearing tests. Listening for beeps at a range of volumes and frequencies. A bit of a joke because someone just outside the van was operating some heavy machinery making all kinds of whirring noises. However, the results when I saw them were a close match to those I got when I had tests at our local audiometry clinic a few years ago. I have high frequency loss in one ear. If you want to whisper sweet nothings to me, then you'd better do it on my right hand side. Because of that, the computer automatically printed out a letter which I could take to my GP if I wanted. The letter showed the frequency graphs. No need for me 'cos I already had that looked at.

Eye tests next. Not like you get at spec savers because here they are only interested in what you can see with your glasses on. I had to peer into a machine and read tiny writing. Far vision, near vision and the standard Ishihara colour blindness test. All acceptable for me. With my glasses off I'm as blind as a bat.

At the end you get a full printed report with all the detailed facts and figures and explanations of what they mean. Eleven pages in all. A copy is sent to CRT. The man said he could see no reason why they shouldn't take advantage of my body, if you see what I mean.

It took about an hour all told. Is this OTT for a volunteer? Maybe not. If they are using old codgers like me to climb about on boats and locks then I guess they ought to check us out. Anyway, personally I was more than happy to have the kind of checkup I might normally have to pay for. Another perk of being a volunteer.

Now I await the call for an actual bot moving duty, probably at first alongside regular CRT staff. I think they are going to use us to help with putting work boats in place for the upcoming winter stoppage work.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Another volunteer hurdle to jump

Congrats and many thanks to Chris who sent a link to my Cropredy rubbish post to CRT ands got a response saying they would do something about it.  Why didn’t I think of that instead of just complaining to you readers?

After my RYA helmsman training and the Health and Safety and life saving stuff, I thought I had jumped through all the hoops in becoming a CRT volunteer boat mover, but no, it goes on.  Tomorrow morning I have to attend Adelaide dock for a medical examination which is to last about an hour! Blimey, I wish I could get that long with my GP. What could be next I wonder?  A battery of psychometric tests? An outward bound course?  An audition?  Will they want to see my O level certificates? I’ll let you know.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A load of old rubbish in Cropredy


Here we are tonight ( I wrote this on Friday but the signal was too bad to post then, so ignore date so) in Cropredy opposite the canoodling club. Note the lone canoodler in the photo. We ha a good trip up from Aynho in about as nice weather as could be expected at this time of year. Tomorrow we do the short hop to Cropredy Marina, Herbie's temporary home for two weeks while we nip home. It'll be nice to have a little taster of what it's like there.

After arriving here and sorting ourselves out, I took a little stroll to take a couple of photos for the blog and the first place I visited was the CRT service yard just over(or under, depending which way you look at it) the bridge. The water tap was leaking copiously as usual, but at least it's one where you get really good pressure. The over at the refuse bay I saw this.

Overflowing bins, no surprise there and a full sized domestic cooker with eye level grill. I would wager a reasonable amount that that didn't come of a boat. In fact I would wager a similar amount that half of the rubbish there didn't come off boats either. This yard has very easy access from the road, and just across the bridge is a small campsite. Hmmm. As to the good folk of the village, I'm not sure where their nearest council tip is. Maybe someone thought this was more convenient.

Walking back over the bridge I spotted this sign which must have been there for many years on the side of the old wharf building which now houses the canoodlers. I had never spotted it before.

Does anyone know what it used to say?


Thursday, October 09, 2014

High society on the Oxford

Blimey it all happens down here on the South Oxford. Being so rural, you'd think you could get lonely, but far from it. Ever since we got to Banbury we've had good company.

We got to Aynho on Tuesday just before Oakie and Maffi arrived tooting and waving as they pulled in on their respective boats. Poor Oakie had got problems on Nb Stronghold, his alternator had packed up. I went over to take a look. Very interesting to get a good look at Stronghold, as the steelwork of his boat was built by the same person who built Herbie. Surprisingly, they are quite different in all sorts of ways. I expect Oakie prefers his, and naturally we prefer ours. Luckily for him there is a man at Aynho who could fix his alternator on Wednesday morning.

The three of us (me, Kath and Oakie) put on our best bibs abd tuckers and retired to the Great Western Arms for dinner, only to be joined by Maffi and Mollie, then three other boaters of his acquaintance, so we all ate round a big round table and swapped boating tales most of the evening. The food and service is always good at the GWA if it is a little pricier than most canal pubs.

Then on Wednesday a real treat. We moved on down to Lower Heyford where we found Maffi (again) and Bones and then a little later Simon and Ann (aka the Moomins) on Nb Melaleuca (not long off the Thames) for our planned evening meal. Bones roasted a juicy leg of lamb with garlic and anchovies tucked inside and we did a melange of roasted veg and we all gathered on the Moomins' boat for what turned out to be a real feast. Bones (who claims to be no cook but you could have fooled me) also cooked a yummy apple oaty crumble.

All in all we've had a splendidly sociable time, but now we need to get back home a bit earlier than planned as we have some family business to attend to. It's a long way back to Crick, but Kath had a better idea. After a quick couple of phone calls we've arranged to leave Herbie in Cropredy marina for a couple of weeks. This means we only have to retrace our steps for a day and a half rather than for four and a half days. As Crick and Cropredy are both owned by the same company we have permission to moor at either without further charge as long as there is room. In a couple of weeks time we'll pick up Herbie and wend our way back to Crick. Simples.

It turns out that nothing is that simple though. We were planning to get back as far as Banbury today, but the wind this morning has been so scary in places, that we've decided to hunker down half way at Aynho and start a bit earlier tomorrow when the gales have blown over. I'm certain that had we been less experience boaters we would have had a few coming togethers with moored boats this morning when the wind was sideways on. Stopping the boat at lock landings we had to hang on to the ropes with all our strength to stop Herbie from blowing across to the far bank.

We should get back to Cropredy by tomorrow afternoon anyway.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Banbury not cross

Oh yeah oh yeah. Banbury town cryer is not a newspaper, it's a real bloke who woke us up on Sunday morning .


I should think that the good people of Banbury town council are pleased with how this year's canal day went. The towpaths and surroundings were packed and the stall holders selling food and crafts must have been very busy. The Welsh Cheese boat opposite us reportedly sold out. We dined splendidly on jerk chicken and my favourite curry goat, and in the evening ate probably the best French Brie I have ever enjoyed spread on fresh sourdough bread and washed down with a nice bottle of merlot. All, except the wine, bought from the market traders

We had a jolly time with Herbie looking good with her bunting flying. We seemed to spend a long time chatting to visitors like Maffi ( and Mollie), Bones, and Oakie popping their heads through the side hatch.


Across the canal CRT sported a working boat displaying the astonishing pile of supermarket trolleys and bikes they hauled out of the canal on Friday. Just as well they did because the canal itself was busy with canoes and trip boats threading the narrow lane between the moored boats.



On Friday night the boaters were treated to a bash in Tooleys dry dock with food and drink and a brilliant little show which included a lady playing O Sole Mio on the saw, a nostalgic tale of bath night for boating families in the old days, and another lady playing English bagpipes. What's not to like? If you want to see some very good photos of the day rather than the poor ones I grabbed with my phone, take a look at Captain Ahab's report which incidentally has a photo of a handsome chap aboard nbHerbie.

We stayed put on Monday to avoid the steady rain. Friend Christine who I often bump into at towpath ranger meetings came round for tea and cake Andre spent last night entertaining Maffi ( and Mollie of course) for dinner. It was not his fault that our wine cellar is now looking depleted. Kath led us astray in that direction. Our gourmet dinner was prepared earlier by our regular chef Lloyd Grossman, who was having a night off but kindly left us a jar of tomato and chilli sauce to pour on our chicken and pasta.

Of course both Maffi and I are both famous authors, so we spent a happy hour discussing the finer points of John Steinbeck and RL Delderfield both of whom are nearly as good as us. After that we worked on some chords for a song Maffi is writing. I could post the words here but I fear that a couple of them might not get through your ISP's profanity trap. Very good though. All in all a splendid evening.

Later in the week we have plans to share a meal at Great Heywood with Bones and the Moomins. My cup runneth over.



Friday, October 03, 2014

A near miss at Cropredy

We very nearly got caught on the lock cill just above Cropredy yesterday. Kath was at the tiller and I was busy chatting to some people at the bottom gates. I didn't notice that the current in the lock had drawn Herbie backwards and suddenly she was stuck. Luckily we reacted in time and dropped the gate paddles. No harm done, but a good reminder to stay vigilant.

Cropredy marina which was a muddy hole in the ground when we last passed here, is now looking quite smart and virtually full. So much for all the folk who said there was no call for it. We're supposed to be able to use it as we moor at Crick, the partner marina. It looks like a nice option.

Herbie's cabin sides are looking shiny after a wash and polish. Cooh it's flippin' hard graft! However, got to look respectable for the crowds at Banbury canal day on Sunday. We'll have the bunting out. Should you be at the scene, do give us a shout, we're open for tea and cake.

Last night after noshing one of the Brazenose Arms rather classy burgers (highly recommended), we repaired to the Red Lion for their Thursday quiz. Quite a good one as it turned out. We came equal second, which we thought was good as the team that beat us had five members to our two.

Today is the last day to get my book Jobs For The Boys by Herbie Neil free from Amazon /Kindle. It looks like we're on target for 200 giveaways this week. Hurry while stocks last, and if you do read it and like it, please send in a review. If you don't like it, my name's J K Rowling.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Good numbers at Norton junction.

Lovely overnight moorings at Norton junction. We often stop there as we did last night as the first night of our autumn cruise that we thought we would never get round to.

We're off to a good start I must say and the numbers prove it.

First of all we arrived at the top of Watford locks and were allowed straight in and with the help of the volunteer Lockie we got down all seven locks in 30 minutes. That's a record for us and I think would take some beating by anybody at this site. Any challengers?

Remember in a recent post I fear we had knackered our batteries by leaving the fridge door open for three days while we were off on a coach jolly? They were down to 0% when we got back. Anyway between our stop at five o clock last night and half past eight this morning they only dropped from 100% to 91% with said fridge on all night, so it looks like they might have survived the ordeal after all.

Then the most surprising number of all, since declaring my book free on kindle from yesterday morning, 104 people have downloaded it! Blimey. Everyone loves a freebie it seems.

This morning we got through Braunston tunnel only scraping the side once despite having to pass a boat with a headlight strong enough to pick out a bomber at 30000 feet. If I close my eyes I can still see it seven hours later. Now we have arrived beneath the windmill at Napton under more blue skies and moored up. I suppose it would be churlish of us not to check out the Folly later. I think we had better enjoy this weather while it lasts. Autumn they tell us is only a couple of days away.

Oh while I think of it, we strolled down to the New Inn at Buckby top lock last night for a jar with Rick and Marilyn who live nearby. We got to drinking Marston's New World, a very pale draught beer brewed with Australian hops. If you like your beer to have a floral taste (quite elderflowery) do give it a try. It's a cracker.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Someone else wrote my book?

Shameless Plug alert: free offer

It's not easy being wealthy. I'm wondering what to do with the 34p royalties I got from my book sales last month. Aah well it's not about money is it? I just love it when people enjoy reading my book.

"Jobs for the Boys" took off like a rocket when I first published it on Kindle. Altogether I think about 250 copies were downloaded in a week and the good reviews it got cheered me up a lot more than any royalties could. Some people actually seemed to care about the characters and wanted to know what happened to them after the story finished. Then over recent months I forgot all about it, apart from a stuttering attempt to begin a sequel to find out what happens next to Eric and Elaine and Doreen and the Mangler. I think that might be a project for the long winter nights.

Yesterday I was messing about on my iPad and accidentally tapped on an icon taking me to the middle of Jobs for the Boys. So I started reading. Very strange. At this distance it now reads like a book someone else wrote and I can turn over the page without knowing exactly what comes next. I'm somewhat startled to say it's still OK. I still like it. "More people should read this. They would like it too." I thought immodestly.

Having been cruelly ignored by the Man Booker prize committee, and inexplicably not picked up by Richard and Judy and the Times Literary Supplement, my undoubted masterpiece has been starved of the oxygen of publicity of late, so I have decided to forgo my huge royalty income for the maximum 5 days that Amazon allows and offer Jobs for the Boys absolutely free, gratis, and for nothing from Monday to Friday this week, complete with a money back guarantee if you are not thrilled.

So if you haven't already done it, and you have a Kindle or an iPad /Android Kindle app or a laptop or whatever but you didn't want to risk 99p on a copy, Now's your chance. I think you can read the first few pages free without even downloading it. You never know, you might even like it. Other people seem to.

On Amazon or Kindle search for "Jobs for the Boys" by Herbie Neil.

If you already read it and liked it. Tell a friend. It's free all week.

End of shameless plug.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Canal Boat shock horror–royalty ousts boater

Plop went the pile of mail on the doormat today.  “Aah good, Canal Boat mag.” said Kath as she tore off the plastic bag and sat down to read with her cup of tea.  Then, she gasped in shock, “Oh no, how can this be?  It’s the end of the world as we know it.” 

“Whatever is it?” quoth I. “Has Braunston been bought by the Chinese?”

“More shocking than that, “ said Kath, “there’s no picture of Adam on the cover!!!!”

I grabbed the mag and sure enough there was no sign of the customary, nay obligatory, tilley hat atop the head of our friend Mr Porter at the stern of a boat.  Now I’m all for innovation but there are some traditions that are sacrosanct and this is one of them.  Looking inside at this months boat review there was no picture of Adam either apart from the little by-line mugshot.  I turned back to the front cover to make a closer inspection and then I spotted her.  There, bold as brass, just about where Adam should be, was HRH Princess Anne.  Back inside the magazine was a clear shot of HRH at the tiller of a narrowboat.  Clearly she is after Adam’s job.

Should I cancel my subscription?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Inside a JABSCO water filter

I know what you are thinking. "Why doesn't he write a post about what there is inside a Jabsco water filter?  Oh alright then, just for you. Jabscos are one of the ones  the ones that come as a cartridge a bit like a big yoghurt pot and you install them in the line to the water tap. 

We’ve been using one for a couple of years now to filter the water to a separate drinking water tap aboard Herbie.  You may recall a long time ago I showed these photos of how well it dealt with the rust particles when our water tank was down to the last silty dregs at the bottom.

Normal tap:          Filtered tap:

We changed the cartridge this summer and just for fun I bust it open to see what was inside.  I don’t know what I expected but I assumed some sort of labyrinth with a paste or granules of carbon.  Well it did have granules, but no labyrinth.  See here:

water filter 1_edited-1

Ignore the rusty look of the  manky old washing up bowl, I use that for cleaning tools and stuff.  So you see what there is is just a bit of foam and a few handfuls of granules that actually look like plastic, but are probably not. Here’s a closer look.

water filter 2_edited-1

I also expected to find a lot of disgusting sludge, but there didn't seem to be any.  This was a cartridge that had been in use for about 150 or more “working” days. I suppose that might be the filling of about a thousand kettles and water for cooking which is all we use it for. Our non drinking / food water we just get from the ordinary tap.

Simple I suppose, but it seems to work.

Barring any unforeseens, we’re off on our first autumn cruise at the weekend.  Banbury and Oxford via a possible short detour to Rugby.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How the National Trust bust Herbie’s batteries

Kath and I are battery saving anoraks while we’re aboard Herbie.  Our current domestics have done very well, and I like to think it’s because we look after them, never letting the state of charge to get below 60% and getting it back up to 100 most days.  But now I fear I have delivered them a near fatal blow.  It all happened like this.

Last week we stayed on board for a couple of nights before going off on a weekend jolly with Rick and Marilyn doing a coach tour and hotel thingy exploring National Trust houses in Norfolk like the gorgeous Oxborough Hall snapped here by Kath.


It was fun watching the large shoals of rudd keeping their distance from this pike vainly trying to stalk them in the moat.


Before leaving the boat, I didn’t go through our normal shut down check list because we would be back on Monday evening. Well to cut a long story short, we left the batteries switched on and the fridge door open.  Doh!  I blame the National Trust.

When we got back on Monday evening there was an error light flashing on the Smartgauge and the batteries were down to 10 volts and the state of charge read as 0%.  “Eeh I am vexed” quoth I.  Well they weren’t the exact words but I’ll leave that to your imagination.  Well, I connected the shore line and switched on the mains charger and by the time we left for home on Tuesday morning I think they were back to 85% or so.  No doubt the solar panel will drag them back up to 100%, but I fear they may not hold their charge when we are out and about.  It’s a good job I suppose that we have had more than their guaranteed life out of them already.

This weekend all being well, we set off on our early autumn cruise to Oxford and back via Banbury Canal Day.  If the batteries are stuffed then we ought to know by the time we have spent a night in Braunston in which case I’ll have to flash the plastic in Midland Swindlers and get three new ones.