Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hail and farewell and get ready for the Big Decision

Yes I’m still here.  No boating, and a busy life at home have got in the way of blogging, but now it’s nearly Christmas so I know the Great British Public awaits the greatest decision of the year.  No I don’t mean how to do Brexit, far more important than that.  It’s time to decide who and what and where get the annual Herbie Awards. Yay!!

But before I start on that I have to pay tribute to one of my most loyal blog readers and one of my most treasured old friends.  I’ve known Roy for fifty years since we were young engineering students together, along with Rick  and a few more lads  who have stayed lifetime friends.  A more lovely, kind, honest and wonderfully eccentric bloke you couldn’t wish to meet.  After defying the prognosis of the doctors by living on for an extra six months, holding music sessions round his bed, even performing at the local folk club via an on line link, Roy finally went to rest a week ago.  Despite being a regular reader of this blog (and he claims my latest novel was one of the few fiction books he had ever read), Roy only cruised board Herbie the once when he and wife Paula joined us from Bedford to somewhere or other (Great Barford?) in 2009.  Here is the photo of the day with Roy and Paula on the left.  On the far right is the (in)famous Rainman, who has featured rather more often on these pages.

Roy will be sadly missed but I know he would be most upset if I didn’t get on with the Herbie Awards, so the first one will come tomorrow when we shall consider the award for the Best Town Mooring of 2018.  Book your table, get down to Moss Bros and tart yourself up for the big night.  See you there.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Facts about Foraging for the Front in the Great War

Lots of us canal boaters enjoy a bit of foraging from the towpath hedgerow, blackberries especially, but also crab apples, occasional damsons, maybe some elderflowers or elderberries if we’re wine makers.  On our September cruises we have blackberries in our breakfast cereals most days and often some blackberry and apple for pud in the evening. So for all you foragers out there, here’s some stuff you didn't know about foraging in WW1, and it emanates from the Worcestershire village of Badsey where I was “dragged up” as my mum used to say.

Apparently such were shortages of fruit and veg  etc at the Western Front that the government encouraged the enlistment of child labour (over 12 years old) to help on the land, exempting them from school if their agricultural parents so wished. Even younger children were utilised in collecting wild fruit and plants.  Children from Badsey school( despite having a “Town Class” narrowboat named after it, Badsey is merely a village,so the school isn’t big) collected 500lb of dandelion roots for medicinal purposes in 1917 and somewhat more the following year. Also in 1917 the children of the school collected a quarter of a ton of chestnuts which were send off to produce acetone which was needed in order to make cordite for ammunition and artillery shells.Then 1918 the kids picked over half a hundred weight of wild blackberries(for which they got paid 3d a pound) to send to the local jam factory.  The total weight of blackberries foraged by Worcestershire schools in that year was a staggering 53 tons! Good effort kids!

There were growing areas where the kids had to be kept well away. Here the villagers were growing the highly poisonous plants Belladonna (deadly nightshade) and Henbane, both needed for medicinal purposes at the front. In 1916, the village’s land devoted to growing belladonna was no less than 11 acres and by the end of the war the village was supplying a fifth of the country’s requirement for belladonna and a quarter of that for henbane. A bit scary when you consider that all parts of these plant are highly toxic and that swallowing as little as three belladonna berries could prove fatal. One of the ladies employed in picking the leaves was my grandmother Emma. She lived on for another 27 years after that so it looks like it didn’t harm her any.  The leaves were dried in disused hop kilns in the adjacent hamlet of Aldington.

“How do you know all this stuff?”, you ask.  Well it’s all in a wonderful book called Peace,War and Remembrance – The Great War in Badsey Aldington and Wickhamford.

The author, historian Maureen Spinks sent out a request for village people to send in any photos, documents etc about the time of the war and from it she has compiled this very impressive work. A finer description of a village in war time you will never find.

PeaceWarandRemembranceFrontandSpine (2)[8208]

My big bro Graham and I sent in some bits that found their way into the book, but from old records, Maureen has uncovered other family bits that we didn’t know about including the bit about Granny picking belladonna.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Exam nerves

How long can you hold your breath? When I was a lot younger I could swim the length of a 50 metre swimming pool under water, but not now of course.  however, today I held my breath for what seemed half a lifetime while the BSS(Boat Safety Scheme) examiner checked Herbie’s gas system for leaks.  In the previous two BSS’s we had had problems with a tiny weeny leak somewhere around the pigtail lead in the gas locker.  Almost impossible to locate and hence almost impossible to fix, except by  tightening and retightening joints.

This time the man connected his digital manometer (I think that might be a contradiction in terms if I‘m being picky) to the test point and we waited for what was supposed to be five minutes but was in fact nearer ten because he was nattering about ventilation.  I was sure we’d have the same problem this time, but, hey, whaddya know?  The pressure held rock steady and we passed the gas bit. Hooray.  I breathed again.

The ventilation rules are interesting.  You’re supposed to have enough air vents (that includes ceiling mushrooms) to allow the ingress of sufficient oxygen to keep up with all gas rings, oven, grill, gas water heater if you have one, your wood/coal burning stove plus one person for each berth on board(that’s four for us) – all at the same time. I think if we had all that on, we’d be opening doors and windows because it would be so hot! We’re a bit marginal on vents but in real life we always open hatches etc when it gets stuffy. and anyway the ventilation specs are only advisory.  What we do have is two carbon monoxide (or as Kath likes to call them, monosodium glutamate) detectors, which we reckon is more important.

Anyhow after checking that lot and the fire extinguishers and diesel fuel lines and electrical wiring and gubbinses etc. it seems we are deemed  safe again, so now we’re 170 quid poorer but certified for another four years.  As it happens, a lot of people think I ought to have been certified a long time ago.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Art of the Deal – Kath’s way.

“Oh botheration!” said Kath ( or words to that effect).  En route to Cropredy, we had detoured into Bicester to get some Cobblestone fuel bricks for our Cobb barbecue thingy.  They sell them at Lakeland, at least they are supposed to, but when we got there they had none and wouldn’t be getting any more until spring.  Feeling disgruntled, we were walking back towards the car when we passed an outdoor/camping shop with a sale on.  We didn’t need anything but we wandered in to mooch about.( It’s for reasons like that that we have at least six tents at home.)

In a corner we spotted a nice little picnic table.  I prodded it.  “Looks odd,  very sturdy, I wonder how it folds.” We squatted down to investigate.

The eagle eyed shop assistant smelled a sale and was upon us in a flash.  “Nice little job that.  Very clever.” 

He did a little demo of how the table folded up, and we were impressed.  It’d take up no space on the boat.

“It’s in the sale.” said the man.

We looked at the sale ticket. £77 reduced from £110.  "

“Blimey that’s a lot for a little table.  Too much for us anyway.” We turned to walk away.

“Aah, hang on,” the shop man said, sure he was about to play his ace card,”today were taking an extra 15% off, so that’s, um, er, just a minute.” Maths was obviously not his speciality.  He walked over to the till and pressed some buttons. “That’s £65 today, You won’t beat a price like that anywhere.”

We were tempted because it was such a good table.  I knew what would happen next, and stood back while Kath demonstrated the Art of the Deal (Trump, eat your heart out).  “No it’s lovely but that’s more than we can afford.  How about £55?”

The shop manager had by now wandered over to supervise the negotiation. Sensing the steely glint in Kath’s eye and seeing that it was her final offer he sighed.  “Oh go on then, £55”

Well it still ain’t cheap for a camping table but we’re really pleased with it.  Here’s why.  Here it is in it’s bag, about the size of  a youth’s cricket bat


Open the bag.


Pull it out and unfold the hinges


Erect the legs and fold across the braces

. cody4-1

It all feels very rigid.

Here is the finished article


The legs are adjustable to three different heights and the feet screw up and down to cope with uneven ground.  It sits very steady and the top is much flatter than the side light makes it look in the photo.  The wood is bamboo, so very hard and sustainable too. The metal is all aluminium and the hinges and whatnot are all really firm and strong.  In short we think it’s a damn good table. We used it during our September cruise and it was perfect.  Quick to put up and down, and easy to adjust so it stands level on uneven ground.

If you can get one at what we paid, go for it.  Sadly they seem to be going for around £90 on line. It’s an Outwell Cody M.

A freak of nature??

Pulling apart a bit of splitting tongue and groove planking left over from making my roof box, I got a surprise.

Here’s the split.


and when I pulled it apart:


Well did you ever!  A fully formed little branch growing inside the plank.  Note the groove where it sat in the lower piece, the whole thing over a foot long.  Is this common?  I never came across it before. Do branches grow inside trees?  Feel free to educate me if you know more about these things.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Oh no! He’s at it again

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Making life wetter by water.

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

FMC in another world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, October 08, 2018

Kath’s Botanical Art

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


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


and this


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

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

bbuphoto1       bburrphoto2

This time she produced drawings using an iPad app called Procreate

bburr1 Art_Template

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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vital Statistics

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

Purity Gold that is.

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

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

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

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

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

And had a very nice time.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Gossip and ink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Just in time

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

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

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

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