Thursday, August 27, 2015

The best laid plans . .

Nice to start off with a Shakespearean quote for the heading as we went last night to see a live broadcast of Othello at the cinema.  These live theatre broadcasts are good and we can recommend them.  Anyway, back to the plot. 

Sod’s Law strikes again. And again. Yes a double whammy this week.  First our over winter mooring plans.  Just like two years ago we are leaving Crick* at the end of September to migrate south for the winter along with the Icelandic redwings, although to be fair I don’t suppose a lot of the redwings will be heading for Slough.  The idea was to take up a mooring at High Line Yachting on the Slough Arm for the winter, from where we will make sorties into Paddington for our winter breaks.  Having fixed all that up, we now learn that from early January until mid March, our sorties will not be possible because the canal at Hayes will be closed while they do brickwork repairs on an aqueduct I never even knew was there. Doh!

There is a glimmer of hope however, because High Line also have a base at Northolt on the Paddington Arm so we have asked if it might be possible to transfer there.

Speaking of the dear old Slough Arm brings us to whammy number two.  The end of next week is the Slough Canal Festival.  A jolly affair to which we have been two or three times. A couple of weeks ago the folks at CRT contacted me to see if I was available to move their widebeam Jena from Adelaide dock to Slough for the festival (on the assumption that the refurb of Jena is completed by then.  Aah, I hear you say, Jena won’t be ready.  Well don’t jump to conclusions ‘cos that’s not the problem. To see the real problem follow this link to Nb Freespirit’s blog and scroll down to Irene’s twelfth photo on her Wednesday’s post.  Yes, the dreaded pennywort has gone berserk down the arm.  Getting a widebeamer down there is quite bad enough without having to plough through that lot.  I have alerted CRT and hope they can send someone down there to clear the weed or I fear attendance at the festival will suffer.

* Not only are we leaving Crick for the winter, we won’t be returning next spring, opting instead to transfer to Cropredy marina for a year. Much as we love Crick, and we do, we fancy a break from endless trips through Braunston et al.  Being based at Cropredy, we can perhaps get in a few trips on the Thames, and enjoy short outings to Banbury/ Aynho /Thrupp etc. and we’ll be no further from the likes of Wigram’s turn for other routes.  Cropredy marina is of course run by the same folks as Crick, so arranging to transfer is simple.  That’s the theory at any rate, but as we can see from the above, the best laid plans . . .

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Airheads

Last week we came third in the Wheatsheaf Quiz at Crick under our new team name of the Airheads.  Not many quiz teams get named after a composting toilet.  Well we thought it was appropriate for our team of me, Kath, Rick and Marilyn since Rick and I had spend a good part of the day solving the smelly Airhead problem.  Regular reader will recall that I previously reported a leak of fumes around the fan housing.  Here, in case anyone else is considering fitting an air head to their boat is how we think we have fixed it.

First let me describe the setup.  A hose about two inches in diameter leads from the toilet to an extractor fan which draws the air from the toilet and exhausts it to the outside of the boat either through a hole in the roof, or in our case, through the side of the hull.  Of course the inside of the boat is lined with panelling behind which is an insulation gap, so a plastic tube takes the fumes across the gap to the hull or roof.  The fan housing, which is flanged  is screwed to the cabin lining so it exhausts through the aforementioned tube. Simples.

Air is, as you know, naturally leaky stuff and will creep out anywhere where there is not a good seal.  We found a couple of problems with the original installation.

1. Where the hole in the lining had been cut to take the plastic tube it was not a perfect fit to the tube and tiny gaps allowed the air to escape into the boats insulation space and thence down to the bilges and up through ventilation holes in the bottom of the washbasin cupboard.  Using an all weather acrylic sealant (Wickes) looking extraordinarily like Nutella chocolate spread, we sealed off those tiny gaps, and also put an extra layer of sealant where the tube met the hull at the other end.

2. The cabin lining panel is not really thick enough to take strong screws, so they could never be tightened enough to get a proper seal to the fan housing.  So we decided to thicken up the wall in that area. Rick made a small panel about 9mm thick which we glued and sealed to the lining using “I can’t believe it’s not nails” or some such brand plus a ring of the aforementioned chocolate spread.  So now we had  a much stronger surface to screw on to. This little panel had of course the requisite hole in it to allow the passage of the fumes from the fan.  Once the glue had set, we were able then to use some more beefy screws and really clamp the fan housing to the panel, using more chocolate spread as well.

3. The hose from the toilet looks corrugated. In fact the corrugations are a left hand thread which allows it to be screwed into a similar thread in the back of the fan housing.  This is not a naturally tight fit and maybe that shouldn't matter much as it is on the suction side of the fan, but we were taking no chances.  The ever brilliant Rick realised that by winding some thinnish electrical cable in the thread of the hose allowed us to get a much tighter fit of hose to fan.  More acrylic Nutella made matters even better.

The result?  Well short term it seems good.  No pongs at all.  It remains to be seen how well it endures the inevitable stresses and strains of the movement of the boat under power, but I’m quietly optimistic.  If you’re worried about all that chocolate spread making things look messy, well in our case it’s all hidden in the cupboard under the washbasin, but we did it reasonably neatly anyway.

The Airhead it self operates very well and is easy to use.  Here I must mention the heroism of Kath who braved the first emptying of the solids bin after some weeks of use. Her comment was that whist it wasn’t anything you’d do for fun, it was far preferable to emptying cassettes every couple of days.

As to the Airheads quiz team, we were delighted to get third prize, especially since we had our customary disaster in the music round.  These quizmasters always seem to assume that everyone listens to radio one.  I feel like one of those old High Court judges asking  “What are the Rolling Stones?” – “ A popular beat combo m’lud.”

Friday, August 14, 2015

VLKs aplenty but a stretch for VTRs.

“What’s a VLK?” I hear you ask.  A Volunteer Lock Keeper of course.   I met a load of them last night at a BBQ put on by CRT as a thank you to all London region volunteers.  Judging by their numbers, lock keeping seems to be the most popular volunteering job.  I wouldn’t mind it myself if I could commit to a regular day, which I can’t.  I heard someone at Braunston this year refer to VLKs as Professional Gongoozlers, implying I suppose that they often don’t seem to help when you need them. 

Down on the Hanwell flight at the bottom of the GU, you are likely to get good service by the sound of it.  I met a couple of the Hanwell guys last night. As you may know it’s a pleasant enough flight but quite hard work and many a prop gets fouled by the large numbers of plastic bags that seem to gather under the water thereabouts.  I was amazed to find out that the VLK team at Hanwell now numbers about 13!  Not all on duty at the same time of course, but you should always find a couple there.  I’m told that they display mobile numbers by the top and bottom locks so you can call them if you can’t see them when you arrive.  The ones I met were the Wednesday team and they said they work the year round, so I look forward to calling on their services next winter when we may well take a trip down to Brentford.

Us Volunteer Towpath Rangers are much more thinly spread.  Due to changes in roles at CRT we have now been divided up into five teams in the London Region and I have been appointed as Obergruppenfuhrer (well, Lead Ranger they actually call it) of the West team. This gives me no power whatsoever, but a few extra organising and co-ordinating duties.  Including  me there are but four of us covering the GU between Brentford and Ricky, the Slough arm and a bit of the Paddington arm too.  The good news is that shortly we will be released to run our own affairs and hold our own meetings and recruit further volunteers etc.  CRT have been somewhat tardy in supplying us with some of the kit and the final Risk Assessment training we need, but after bending someone’s ear last night I think we may be back on course soon.  Nuff said.

I think I wrote before about the Share the Space campaign going National.  Dick Vincent, who has up until now been in charge of us has been seconded to the national campaign with what sounds like a reasonable budget to try to do something about getting towpath users to be considerate to each other.  He will be training staff and towpath volunteers in the regions. The main culprits as we all know, are speeding cyclists and irresponsible dog owners, and I’m glad to report that they both problems are referred to on the back of the redesigned maplet cards we give out at Share the Space events.  Better still, there is an encouragement to give way to waterway users, i.e. boaters at locks and bridges etc.


These little fold-out cards have cute maps of the local canals, so may well be held on to by towpath users of all types.  At the moment they only exist for the London region, but Dick’s budget allows for other regional versions to be designed and produced.  Click on this one to see it bigger:


And the BBQ last night?  Very good actually.  Some people failed to show up because the Met Office was warning of Thunderbolts and Lightning, Very Very Frightening, and a dluge, but in the end we didn’t get a drop or rain or electrocuted.  The upshot of the slightly lower numbers was an excess provision of food and booze.  I did my best to help out and woke with a slightly fuzzy head this morning.  Always keen to assist, that's me.

If you fancy doing a bit of towpath rangering they’ll be recruiting all over the network before long.  Either go via the website, or if you like, I’ll pass your details on.  The time commitment is quite small.

Toodle pip.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Stars, organs and livestock, but no boats

Just back from our dry land holiday in our traditional spot in deepest Shropshire.  I think if we didn’t go one year they’d be sending out search parties for us.  By now we know Pam the campsite owner so well, she greets us with a hug, and this year she came over with four bottles of wine for a drink and a natter with us and a couple of other “regulars” we have got to know over the years.

Our Peter brought along his telescope and one night we drove up the scary road to the top of the Long Mynd to one of their designated Dark Sky sites.  Here is the view just as the sun was going down.


That’s the lights of Church Stretton down there.  Actually although the sky was clear, it was a rotten night for star gazing because the wind was ripping across the hill and the telescope was shaking about.  We did get a glimpse of the rings of Saturn for about half a second but that was about it.  So we crept down the hill, our hearts in our mouths as we drove through the darkness next to the precipitous drop and back to the campsite where lo and behold the air was still and plenty dark enough to see hundreds of stars and to make out the milky way.

It was the second week of the Church Stretton Arts festival, so we got in a bit of culture for good measure.  Three lunchtime organ recitals in local churches and a world class violin duo in the school.  Follow this link to see a short video of them if you like.  The last organ concert was brill, as we sat right behind the organist and could see his feet as he did a Michael Flatley on the pedals.  How do they do that at the same time as playing really flash two handed stuff on the keyboards?  Not only that they have to read three lines of music at the same time. These people are not human.

Our other highlight was a visit to the Burwarton Show, a big agricultural affair with all the usual livestock judging and show jumping and motor cycle display team etc.  I could have stood all day and watched the cattle. I have never seen such magnificent beasts.  people are wary of huge bulls but those bred for beef are generally so docile despite their huge muscular frames.  Just keep away from dairy bulls. Apparently Jerseys are amongst the worst.

In another week we are back up to Stretton again, but only to deliver Jacob and his girlfriend who will be camping.  Then we are straight back on Herbie to have another go at sealing the loo fan.  Rick has a plan, so knowing him, we will prevail.

I’d rather you didn’t tell anyone else what a brilliant place the Stretton hills is.  I like it like it is – unspoilt.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Paddington news

As you might have guessed the photo of the Sshh label in my last post was taken in Paddington basin, just below St Mary’s hospital. There’s always something to see in Paddington.  Last time I was up there this fine fellow was attempting to shovel up the duckweed in his special boat, but it seemed to me it was growing faster than he was clearing!


Round the corner in the basin the moorings were all full and the odd disappointed boat(er) was still arriving.  I sat in the Little Venice office waiting for a meeting to start and a lady came in asking where she could tie up for the night.  They couldn’t really help her apart from telling her to go back towards the west and see what she could find.  Hmmm.

At the meeting, there was some better news.  This winter, they will not be renting out winter mooring permits for central London, so the (more than) half of Paddington basin that is usually let out will be freed up for visiting boats, as will a few more spaces in Little Venice.  As long as the enforcement team keep boats from overstaying, we might have a chance of tying up there when we visit this winter.  We are once again moving Herbie south for the winter just so we can do stuff like that.

Meanwhile we’re off on Sunday, for our annual camping trip to Shropshire, but en route we’re dropping in at Herbie to see how the loo fan is doing and to pick up some bits we need for camping.  Normally I make it a rule to switch the batteries off at the isolators when we leave the boat, but this time I left the power on to keep the fan running.  At a current draw of 0.06 amps I assume the solar panel will keep pace without trouble.  We have resealed the exit tube from the fan to outside the boat, but I’m not yet convinced that a tiny amount isn’t still getting into the space between the hull and the lining.  Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sshhh! A question, a secret and a song

Here’s a little quiz question for you.  Where do you think this is?


On the subject of Sshhh, here’s a little secret.  Don’t tell anybody but I used to be a Morris dancer.  That was in the 1970s and I danced for Kennet Morris for a few years until my knee cartilage got dodgy.  Here is the somewhat embarrassing procession through the centre of Bracknell when Kath and I got married.  That’s me in civvies with my face partially obscured in front and of course Kath.


That was 39 years ago!

Why should I tell you this after all that time?  Because yesterday evening Kennet Morris were performing at the Retreat pub in Reading which is where Kath goes for her Uke group, so I went along to see how the lads were doing.  Amazingly there were still six of them that were dancing in my day.  I noticed they don’t jump quite so high now!  In fact Brian who features in the picture above, he with the beard in the front of the left hand row as you look at it, is still at it and is the current squire (captain) of the Morris side.  His beard is still there but is now, unsurprisingly grey.

Here they are doing a spot inside the pub. You can’t stop them even when the show is supposed to be finished.

morris 1

And here after all those years is Brian wearing his badge of office.

morris 2

See the dancer furthest away on the right?  That’s John.  He has been dancing Morris for well over fifty years!  Blimey.

For old time’s sake I joined Brian in a rendering of a song he taught me all those years ago, and it’s one I still sing to the grandchildren now and then.   Try it. All you have to do is keep singing “Danger men at work” to the tune of Knees up Mother Brown.  A good party piece.

Danger men at work

Danger men at work

Danger men at work danger men

At work danger men


At work danger men

At work danger men

At work danger men at work dan-

Ger men at work dane


Ger men at work dane

Ger men at work dane

Ger men at work danger men at

Work danger men at


Work danger men at

Work danger men at

Work danger men at work danger

Men at work danger


Men at work danger

Men at work danger

Men at work danger men at work

Danger men at work


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Free best seller.

50 people downloaded my best selling* book Jobs For The Boys from Amazon / Kindle yesterday!! "Blimey," I hear you exclaim, "I thought everyone on the planet had read it by now. The Herbies must be filthy rich on the royalties."

Well not exactly, but if you are one of those people who inexplicably failed to get a copy, it's free on Kindle until Saturday ( hence the 50 downloads yesterday.) just go to Amazon and search for Herbie Neil.

BTW if you are one of those lovely people who have read it, and perhaps even enjoyed it, I could do with a couple more reviews on Amazon. I'm up to 18**, and 20 has been tantalisingly close for some months.

If you didn't like it, my name is Jeffrey Archer.

Ta very much.

End of commercial break.

* well it is the best selling book I have written, as it is the only one. I suppose that also makes it the worst seller.

** ooh, much excitement, I just checked back and found I got another review on14 July, so now only only need one more for my twenty. My cup runneth over.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ashby Images

Just to be contrary, I’ll start at the end.


This is as far up the Ashby canal as most boats get, but as you can see there is a further restored bit in water beyond the gate. Here’s what it says on the last bridge


The Ashby seems to divide opinion between those who find it “too rural and boring without locks” and those who told us we would find it “lovely”.  I guess fine weather helps but we enjoyed it and found plenty to look at. In hot weather the shady bits were a joy.


Moorings were, we thought, very good.  Lots of the bank is inaccessible because of plant growth, but they had provided a good number of well kept stopping places, often with wide grassy banks and we never had trouble finding a space.  This one at Stoke Golding was, unusually, on the offside and allowed good access across the field up to the village which has three pubs including the rather wonderful George and Dragon, plus an Indian Restaurant and a little grocery shop.  We tried out the pub (of course) and then the Indian where after looking at the menu I gave the waiter a challenge.  The menu had all the usual stuff plus things like “Chef’s special wotsit with a spicy sauce” which of course tells you nowt.  So I said I wanted some lamb, meduim hot, in a rich sauce containing a vegetable. He said “OK we’ll cook you something like that.  Do you like garlic and spinach?” and came back with a nameless concoction that was actually pretty nice.


Further down the canal there were a couple of good farm shops near the canal.  Kath bought a cracking meat pie at one of them.

Nicholson’s goes on about the Ashby with it’s distinctive stone bridges, and I was telling Rick about them as he joined us at the top of the canal.  Then on the journey back down, we noticed that the vast majority were brick!  However there are indeed some nice stone ones at the southern end.



I would definitely consider going again.  Actually it wouldn’t be a bad spot for a base mooring.  There are some good marinas and boatyards up there and it gives ready access to a choice of routes once you get back on the main system.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Storm

And it came to pass that two travellers came to the Keeper of the Locks. "Travellers, what seekest thou?" enquired the Keeper.

"We desire to ascend to a higher plane." Spake the travellers. "Yea even unto the Watford summit. " Then the Keeper opened The Book and spake thus.

"Yea verily thou mayest ascend the mighty staircase, but know thou that it is written that if thou turnest the White key before the Red, a fearful fate awaits thee." And so saying the Keeper opened the mighty gate and the travellers entered, whereupon the Heavens did open and a dreadful storm descended upon the great staircase.

Fearing naught, the travellers struggled on although the deluge from the skies was terrible. For full Forty minutes the storm continued. The bodies of those that were clad in the cloth of the prophet Rohan were dry within, but those whose legs were clad in the cloth of the prophet Levi did suffer mightily from the weight of the water, yea even down to their supposedly waterproof shoes.

And so the travellers journeyed on ever upwards until they reached the lofty heights, where they stopped to rest and watch the tennis but the TV couldn't get a signal so they pushed on to Crick where they could.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Scary encounters

You know those films where the nose of a submarine suddenly surfaces from a featureless ocean? Well it was a it like that today as we were tootling down the North Oxford between Hillmorton and Braunston. The little day boat in front of us had been going frustratingly slowly for an hour, virtually coming to a halt at every obstacle. Coming to a narrow bridge, offset so we couldn't see the canal beyond, they crawled through and were were just about to follow through when an enormous black prow emerged through the bridge hole, just like the submarine I was referring to. Slamming Herbie into reverse I backed off and who should come through the bridge but Sarah and Jim on Chertsey. Oh well, if Herbie was to be demolished and sunk in a collision with a leviathon, I suppose I would rather it was them than a stranger. Greetings were briefly exchanged and we motored on the Braunston where we now rest near the Admiral Nelson for the final night of our cruise. On the way through we spotted NbValerie and would have stopped to say hello to Les and Jaq, but sadly NbV was padlocked up so they must have been out somewhere.

Two days ago we had another startling encounter. Rick had been with us since we got to the top of the Ashby, and since we made good time on the way back we decided to detour into Coventry. The day was hot and sunny and everything was going swimmingly until we came to an overhanging weeping willow on a narrow part of the canal.

There being no way to avoid this green curtain we ploughed on through like you do, little realising what was hidden on the other side.

Yes, a whopping gert elder tree growing half way across the canal. By the time we were able to see it, it was too late and we couldn't avoid it scraping all along Herbie's starboard side. Some of the branches were pretty thick and now Herbie's paintwork bears the scars. I need to take advice on how to get rid of them, they might come out with some T Cut perhaps. I have a good mind to sue CRT for damages for not dealing with this hidden obstacle.

All is not running as smoothly with our new loo as we he hoped. The loo itself is fine but the "exhaust" hose where it exits the boat seems to be leaking fumes back into the cupboard it passes through. This morning we stopped off at Hillmorton where the loo was fitted and Richard re-sealed it. Unfortunately, in doing so he unavoidably released a fair bit of pong inside the cupboard until he refitted the fan. Now we have to wait to see if the pong in the cupboard disperses. If not we will have to get him to look at it again.

On a more positive note, our new domestic batteries which we also bought at Hillmorton have yet to drop below 92% charged overnight despite the fridge working hard in the hot weather and us watching a fair bit of tennis on TV.


Sunday, July 05, 2015

First impressions of the Ashby

It's been a long time since we took Herbie somewhere new, and now here we are at Market Bosworth about two thirds of the way up the Ashby Canal. I suppose we are doing it because it was there to do. A gap in our collection of canals visited. I wasn't sure I was going to find twenty odd miles of lock free rural canal too appealing, but having come this far I keep getting reminded that no number of guides and maps can tell you what a place is really like. In some ways the Ashby keeps reminding me of bits of the Wey navigation, although there are many differences, notably the lack of boats with punning names up here. So what have we noticed?

1. It's busier than I had imagined, especially with hire boats, but not frustratingly so, apart from the fact that a day boat forced us to run aground this afternoon. The poor guy forgot which way to turn the tiller and turned into us as we passed from opposite directions. No harm done.

2. It's not as remote as I expected. Much less so than, say, the Leicester line between Foxton and Watford, in fact we seemed to pass some form of habitation every half hour at least. I was worried that it might be boring, but I like it. The landscape is never the same for long, switching between wooded sections, grazing meadows and cornfields, and the odd wharf and it's all quite pretty. This is not wild countryside, or even a wide open agricultural landscape, it definitely smacks of Middle England.

3. Rather like the Wey it is at the same time, lush with waterside plants, but kept in trim so that the towpaths are good.

4. People warned us that because of the shallow canal, and it is in places, and because of the bankside the vegetation there are fewer places to moor. While this is true, there are enough mooring spots even at this busy period and the designated ones are very good.

5. The all important watering holes. Well on Oakie's advice we stopped last night at Stoke Golding and wandered across the field and up the village street to find the George and Dragon. Boy was that a good tip. I don't remember when I had a better pint of beer. Church End Fallen Angel in tippy top condition. Yumm. At Market Bosworth tonight we braved a longish walk up hill and found the Old Red Lion which was perfectly OK but not in the same class I'm afraid.

In summary, and so far, I like the Ashby more than I expected to. I've no idea what lies ahead in the final miles up to Snarestone, but I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Filling time

Here I am at Hillmorton filling time. Kath has popped home for an embroidery group exhibition planning meeting and I am awaiting a shiny new set of batteries which I am hoping will arrive this morning.

Last night I went out with the camera to see if I could photgraph the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. They have been closer over the last two days than they will be for another ten years. Actually not really close at all, but from our view standing on earth they appear so. Here is what I got.

OK, not spectacular, but I got it. Jupiter is the one that appears smaller and higher. It is of course about 90 times bigger than Venus but it's a lot further away. While I was at it, I had a go at the moon and got this.

Not too bad for an ordinary camera shot.

Herbies batteries really have collapsed. This morning they were down to 14% on the old Smartgauge. Still I've had them for five years so I'm not complaining. The new ones I'm getting today have a four year guarantee, so they ought to be good. They're a bit longer than the old ones so I'm guessing the plates might be thicker, which is a good thing.

Now for a toilet report. The new loo is very impressive so far. Halfie asked for the gory details. Perhaps I should therefore quote the passage from the rather amusing handbook where it describes how to use it

"Type two usage (solids) 1. Depress lever to open trap door. 2. Provide donation (reunited with mother terra via gravity). 3. Place toilet paper in hole. 4. Close trap door "

I think that providing donation is the euphemism I will use from now on. All I will add is that it seems to be completely odour free at all times, even when you are using it. (is that gory enough for you John?)

Providing all goes to plan today, we should resume our travels this evening. I think it will be in the rain :-(

PS Two hours later. new batteries arrived early and I already have them plumbed in and as a bonus our delayed wooden loo seat has been fitted this morning too. My cup runneth over - as long as my theory that the old batteries were defunct was correct. Fingers crossed.