Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Venice on Cherwell

Having got back from our friend's funeral yesterday, it was getting dark along the tramway moorings here in Banbury. Dusty had just passed us on his coal boat and out of the murk, from the direction of the town centre came an odd looking boat with what looked, from a distance, like somebody punting. I stood on Herbie's counter and waited for it to approach. Well you could have knocked me down with a feather.

Can you make that out? The light was so poor that it shows up best in back and white. Yes, it was a genuine proper kosher pukka authentic Venetian Gondola. No he hadn't taken a wrong turn out of Venice. The gondolier, it turns out, was an Italian gondola enthusiast propelling the boat all the way from Stratford-upon-Avon to London, raising money for a gondola restoration project. At the speed he was going, he isn't going to reach London any time soon. I estimate he was doing about one mile an hour. I bet his shoulders are sore.

Today we took the train into Brum to visit the jewellery quarter to get Kath an engagement ring. Well we were too skint to afford a proper one forty one years ago, (I did buy her a proper wedding ring) so I thought I had better get round to it at last. It's a great place to buy a ring but a bit bewildering because there are over a hundred jewellers within a few streets. The one we picked on seemed very good anyhow, and it was nice to be able to pick an individual sparkler with all its certifications etc and have it mounted in the setting and on the band of choice, and if the bloke who sold it to us was telling the truth, about two thirds of the high street price.

We went off to his recommended pub, the Lord Clifden (a cracker!) for. a leisurely lunch and when we got back the ring was built and ready. Does that mean we're engaged now? You can all buy us a toast rack.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

This way / that way up

Why did nobody tell me? All these years I've been squinting, blind as a bat without my specs, at bottles in the shower, trying to see which was shampoo and which was conditioner. Then today, in Banbury Morrisons, Kath revealed that the shampoos all have their lids at the top and the conditioners have them at the bottom. Well blow me down, so they do! Well at least she told me before I lose all my hair I suppose.

We've moved up to near the tramway moorings ready to catch a train home tomorrow to go to (yet another) funeral. While I'm home I can pick up some more tools to attack some of the rust spots on Herbie's roof. It's always the roof of a boat that's first to need repainting - all that exposure to the elements and then the influence of roof "furniture" like the feet of our solar panel. Speaking of which, even though it is late September, were still getting quite a few amp hours from our one panel, probably between thirty five and forty five today. However, we have signalled the start of Autumn by lighting the coal stove for the first time tonight. But I still hold that September is one of the best months to go boating. The weather is generally good and the canals are not too busy.

Last night we walked up to the Reindeer Inn, which as far as I remember was recommended to us by Oakie, who never lets us down in that respect. A fine old Inn it is too, incorporating the famous Globe Room where Ollie Cromwell is said to have planned the battle of Edgehill. We got chatting to a chap who was celebrating the arrival of his Decree Absolute with a bottle of bubbly. The start of a new life for him I suppose, and he did have a lovely new girlfriend (fiancée?) who seemed to suit him fine. Apparently his ex wife was quite happy about it all too. It's a funny old world.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Painting in Banbury

Well hello dear Reader. Long time no blog! Well we've been busy at home with this and that, and then we came out for some time on Herbie in the Land the Internet Forgot aka Cropredy. But now we're in the great metrollops of Banbury with bandwidth coming out of our ears, so can tell you what we've been up to.

Close observers of the above photo might notice my little footstool adjacent to the Good Ship. "Aha, "you say , "he's been working on his gunnels. "

Well sort of. In the six years(!) since we painted Herbie, the paintwork on the cabin sides has stood up pretty well, except for one thing. Observe closely.

Yes, at the foot of the cabin sides where they meet the gunnels the paint has peeled a bit, revealing the old dark blue paint beneath. I could speculate on reasons for this, and I have, but whatever the cause is, I have to remedy it. Rub down, mask up a one inch strip above the gunnels and repaint.

Over a few days at Cropredy I did the port side and now it looks like this.

We can only get at that side on our mooring in the marina. We have a rule that we have to have the boat bows into the bank to protect the reeds. This bit of towpath at Banbury lets me get at the starboard side at a good height so I'm making a start here. I won't get it all done here cos it's four coats of paint and I only have two days. I'll find somewhere else later in the week to finish off.

You can't see it in the photo, but the old paint has changed colour considerably over six years in all weathers, so you can see where I have applied the new paint. It'll weather in, and anyway the boat already looks miles better.

It's relatively quiet in Banbury. Loads of mooring spaces. It'll be full next weekend for the canal day. We decided not to attend this year, partly because the Theme is '"bubbles" and we couldn't think of how we would work with that. I hope people don't blow soap bubbles all over the place, they're not very good for your paintwork. Perhaps they should install one of those underwater air bubble pipes like they have at Paddington or shovel a lot of methane containing detritus in the water like at the bottom of the Hanwell flight where it bloops under your boat all night.

Sometime on this trip we're going to catch a train into Birmingham so we can visit the jewellery quarter where I have promised to buy Kath a posh ring for our recent 40th(!!!) wedding anniversary. Forty years. You don't, as they say, get that for murder.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Battling through to Slough

Jena was about an hour late arriving at her spot at the Slough festival today, but in the event I was pretty happy she got there at all.   Apparently the canal only became passable  day or two ago after CRT cleared a long fallen tree, coned off a sunken boat,


and cleared a bit of weed. 

That however, was not the worst of our worries, for Jena decided to become a steam vessel when she boiled off her engine coolant after only a couple of hundred yards, despite me having topped her up before we started.  Buzzers were sounding and red lights were flashing somewhat alarmingly, so of course we stopped. While we were sitting in a cloud of steam Nb Ketura AKA Christine’s boat, passed us on their way to the festival promising to warn those it may concern of our late, or possibly, non arrival. How ignominious would that be? After cooling her (Jena, not Christine of course) down and refilling about four litres of water I let the engine run for a bit with the pressure cap off and squeezed the hoses to try to get rid of any airlocks.  Well that seemed to work and we set off again down the arm anxiously watching the temperature gauge.  My guest crew today was our little Jacob (now six feet tall and built like a brick wassname), and he had a go at the tiller showing that he has not forgotten all I taught him when he was a little ‘un.

Word had obviously spread of our troubles, ‘cos when we got within half a mile of the festival  we met a scout sent out to look for us, asking how hot we, well Jena, was. Further on down, everyone seemed to have heard of our troubles and seemed pleased to see us. 

Jena has a big gangplank to allow the public to come safely on board so she has to moor with the starboard side to the bank, which meant that we had to plod on to the infamous (“Is this all there is?”) Slough Basin to turn round then make our way back to our designated mooring at the festival site.  On the way down, a boat, obviously in difficulties, came in to view. getting closer we could see it was Ketura with poor Christine lying face down on the deck with her head in the weed hatch.  The water sure was getting weedy with huge clouds of blanket weed and what looked like Elodea floating just below the surface.  In some trepidation we pressed on and passed another boat with it’s skipper also down the weed hatch.  It didn’t look good.

So you can guess what happened next.


So good of Jacob to “volunteer” to clear Jena’s prop.  You can see a small percentage of the spoils on the right of the picture.

Having done that we managed, just, to keep going to the basin, turned and headed back towards the weed bank, probably now worth calling the Slough Sargasso Section, where Ketura was tying up to the other boat which would attempt to tow her backwards to the festival.  We had to press on because Sam Thomas of CRT was anxiously awaiting our arrival so we squeezed past cheekily asking what all the fuss was about.  I’m not sure that Christine was amused.

Well we made it.  Better late than never I suppose. Richard Parry was also there enjoying the rain and showed some interest in our woes, although in fairness I think it ought to be below his worry line.  Having tied up we set off in search of the famous Slough Festival samosas which were as good as ever, had a peek at the stationary engines and the birds of prey and then headed off home to calm down.

I didn’t count the number of visiting boats but it was a fair old few.  If and when the rain stops the festival should be very jolly as usual, before we go back to rescue Jena on Monday to take her back to Adelaide dock where I hope they will try to further investigate her coolant problems.  It’s never dull being a volunteer!

Friday, September 09, 2016

Squeezing into Slough

This weekend is the moderately , OK partially, OK not very famous, Slough Canal Festival. It’s quite possibly the smallest of all our canal festivals but none the worse for that.  Even as I write, people are planning midnight break-ins into ferret farms to nobble the favourites in the ferret racing, and the good people of the local residents association are preparing the ingredients of their truly scrummy samosas.  Cheery old buffers in boiler suits are oiling and polishing their stationary steam engines and the Dulux dog is having a shampoo and a comb. 

For my part, it looks like I’ll be steering CRT’s mega boat Jena down the arm on Saturday morning ready to welcome the steady flow of curious visitors and their inevitable questions about boating and canal life.  I hope they get her innards tidied up a bit before the public come on board. With all that space, people do tend to just dump stuff.


Taking Jena down the Slough arm is no small feat as space is tight here and there, not least at the entrance to the arm itself.  fellow volunteer Richard did that immaculately.


At the moment Jena lies snugly tied up in the off side brambles just outside Packet Boat marina.  Getting back on board might be the challenge of the day.  There are good opportunities for falling in in the process. Yesterday we moved her there from Paddington in warm sunshine.  I fear that Saturday's weather might not be so kind. Sunday looks better.  if you’re in the area, come on down, It’s a cute little festival and has a good atmosphere.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

YouTube DiY beats telly for fame

If Andy Warhol is right, I’ve still fourteen minutes and fifty six seconds of fame to come after my starring role in yesterday’s One Show.  Ooh hang on a minute, I’ve already used up twenty six seconds on my famous youtube video of me scabbling Herbie’s well deck floor.  That has had an amazing 3,354 views.  It just goes to show, if you want to be famous, do a bit of DiY.  The other benefit of the youtube one is that you cant see my ugly mug or hear my voiceSmile

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Fame at last – I get vox popped by Esther

Yesterday a group of us volunteers took CRT widebeam Jena from Adelaide dock up to Camden where she will be used this weekend as publicity support to the public open days at one of the pair of Kentish town locks next to the market.  The lock is undergoing a refurb.


Here you can see the lock on the right all ready to receive visitors.  This is quite possibly the most gongoozled pair of locks in the land and at a similar event last year, visitor numbers were huge. One of my colleagues had the pleasure(?) of escorting Jonathan Ross as he descended into the lock chamber to have a butchers at what was going on, so we accept allsorts.

Anyhow, having locked up Jena for the night next to the Dead Dogs basin entrance, I was off to the bus stop with my volunteer colleague Mike, when someone stuck a microphone under our noses, and who should it be but dear old Esther Rantzen recording a vox pop piece for Friday’s(?) One Show.  Quite why she selected two old farts like me and Mike I don’t know. Maybe she is one of those ladies who go for men in uniform  for we were clad in CRT volunteer livery.  Or maybe she is getting short sighted ‘cos the topic in question was whether we thought men had some sort of body clock telling them to have kids before they got too old.  Personally I can’t remember that far back.  Mike  has no kids and I have growing grandchildren, so quite what our opinions were worth I can’t imagine.  For that reason I strongly suspect that our responses are probably lying on the One Show cutting room floor as I write.  However I shall now have to watch to see if I am now famous or not.  I’m looking forward to being stopped for autographs on the street.   I hope Loudon Wainwright will forgive me (I am after all his greatest fan) for quoting from his fabulous song Harry’s Wall (look it up on YouTube, it’s wonderful) which sums up the situation

On the street the people stare
and I can hear them whisper,
"There he goes there's whats-his-name,
we saw him on TV"

Frustratingly I missed the chance to slip in a plug for my novel, which I am happy to say earned me another 33 pence in royalties last month.  Thank you, dear purchaser whoever you are. I may put the money towards a packet of crisps.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Twelve quid to see Mo Farah

It's been a bit frustrating on Herbie cos I love the Olympics and we haven't been able to watch in the marina due to a poor TV signal. Yesterday morning we popped into Banbury ( in the car) to get a couple of bits and bobs ( the fact that the bakery stall in the market sells Lardy cake was nothing to do with it - alright, a bit to do with it) and I bought a little aerial booster from Argos. I wasn't too hopeful, especially when we first tried it by pointing the aerial at Oxford and got no programmes at all. In desperation I pointed it at where I think Sutton Coldfield might be, and although it's twice as far away as Oxford we got 105 programmes! I only wanted BBC, but as that was one of the 105 we are now happy bunnies. £12 well spent. Total Control TV Booster if anyone is interested. Yippee! Olympics here we come.

The wind seems to have dropped and last night we could hardly hear the music from the festival site. On Friday night it was a lot better and we could clearly hear Steeleye Span and the Bootleg Beatles. Listening to it from here is a bit like sitting on Henman Hill, except we don't get a big screen. The BBs I thought were amazing. They charged through what seemed like dozens of Beatles hits sounding pretty much like the real thing, even on complicated arrangements like Penny Lane.

In the afternoon we strolled into the Brasenose garden where the fringe event is held in a very pleasant atmosphere as I am told the main festival has. They had some very good bands on (depending on your taste in music, I liked one of 'em anyway.) Looking round the garden, I reckon the average age of the audience was well north of 45. For a change I didn't feel old :-). Everybody was relaxed and friendly. I can see why they come every year as lots of them do.

No pictures today, our internet signal is a little bit better, must be atmospherics I suppose - what I need now is an internet signal booster.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Madness on the wind

Here we are at our berth in Cropredy Marina in semi electronic isolation. This is how people live out in the sticks I suppose. The phones don't get a signal, the TV can't find a station (big Boo 'cos it's the Olympics) and the internet signal is pretty poor, so no photos in this blog. Actually, while typing this, I'm not at all sure I'm going to be able to post it.

Our entertainment this weekend comes on the breeze. The Cropredy festival is on, about a quarter of a mile away, perhaps a bit more. With the wind in the right direction we can hear the acts pretty well. Last night when Madness were on stage it was very gusty, so their music came and went, as if someone was trying to tune a radio. Most of the time it was OK, occasionally good reception. Anyhow, I thought they were really good (and I am pretty very picky when it comes to bands). I should have liked to have been closer. Tonight we get Steeleye Span (with mostly new members so I'm not too hopeful) and the Bootleg Beatles who I have seen before and I know they are excellent. Tomorrow we get Ralph McTell and of course Fairport Convention. Do you get the idea that this festival plays to an audience of a certain age? Let's hope the wind is in the right direction. We might stroll into the village today to take in "the fringe".

Our WOWBoys volunteer team has been receiving plaudits for the work we did at Batchworth last weekend. People are easily impressed it seems. Sometime soon the London Towpath Rangers will be holding an event showing one of the boating papers (I forget which) what we do, so look out for us, except I won't be there on that day, 'cos I'll be away.


Saturday, August 06, 2016

Foreign Service

Such is the reputation of our towpath ranger volunteer team the WoWBoys aka the Way out West London team, that we have been called upon to undertake a hazardous mission in foreign parts. Well Rickmansworth to be exact, which is outside of the CRT London region.  Here be dragons, says the map. Today the WoWboys set up camp just north of Batchworth lock by erecting a gazebo over the towpath at a spot where there have been “incidents” involving cyclists and boaters of late. 

I was a bit nervous because CRT appeared to have forgotten to order our kevlar suits and riot shields so we had to make do with our blue volunteer T shirts and black baseball caps comforted by the fact that I had some sticking plasters and antiseptic cream in my rucksack. Kick off was scheduled for 11am.  The whistle blew and wishing each other good luck we went over the top to face our first adversaries, two old ladies out for a stroll, then a young cyclist couple who dismounted and showed polite interest in our work.  Maybe it was just our charm offensive, but in the three hours we spent there, the approx 50 each of cyclists and pedestrians were virtually all friendly and well behaved.  We didn’t know whether to feel pleased or disappointed.

We were led by Sarah from the Milton Keynes CRT office who had asked for our help and who brought along the South East region version of our little share the space maplets.  These were interesting to me because I hadn’t realised that the S.E region extended right up to Hawkesbury near Coventry and also over to Foxton.  Apparently the cyclist nuisance hot spot in the region right now is in Oxford where they come bowling down the towpath en route to the railway station, so if you are boating down there do look right and left before you step off your boat.  Sarah said there had also been botheration in Oxford from house owners by the canal trying to stop boaters from running their engines in the permitted hours of 8am to 8pm. Boaters will be well aware of similar situations where people buy canalside properties and then complain about canal activity. A bit like building a house next to a pig farm then complaining about the pong.

I also saw something today I hadn’t seen before (I’ve led a sheltered life).  We’ve often talked about getting a couple of mudweight anchors for Herbie.  How about a couple of these:


Of course we’d need to employ a Geoff Capes to fling ‘em overboard, but I reckon they’d hold the boat still.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Woking invasion Mark II

According to HG Wells, Woking was last invaded by Martians.  Well now it’s even more terrifying as the Historic NarowBoat Club (HNBC) have rolled up for the canal festival.  As we are unable to be at the festivities over the weekend, Kath and I drove over today to see the boats and say hello. 

Being well up the the Basingstoke canal Woking doesn’t usually see a lot of narrowboats and certainly not seventy footers.  Apparently the lady in the house by the winding hole where they all went to turn was somewhat alarmed by the bows of these leviathans nudging the garden plant pots.

Near the edge of the canal, the bottom is a bit too near the top, so nearly all the boats had to use long mooring ropes and make use of their top planks as extra long gangplanks to get ashore.

woking 2

It looks like it ought to be a good do over the weekend. The boats are in a very pleasant spot quite close to the town centre and there is a little park adjacent where there will be stalls and entertainment.  We can’t make it ‘cos I have volunteer duties tomorrow and a wedding to go to on Sunday.  (Yes I know Sunday weddings are a rarity, but this one has good reasons).

We walked the plank to get aboard Chertsey for tea and cakes with Sarah and Jim and with Pete and Irene who were alongside aboard Renfrew.  It was nice to meet up again.  The last time we met S&J was when they terrified the life out of us by suddenly looming through a bridge hole as we tootled on Herbie between Hillmorton to Braunston.  Chertsey can be a terrifying sight at the front end.  Sarah likes to say Chertsey is a Large Woolwich.  Large?  Pah!  This is what I call a large Woolwich:-

woking 3

As we left Pete and Irene were enjoying their ringside seat opposite a fishing heron.

woking 1

I hope the sun keeps shining for you folks.  Have a good one.

PS. Whoops, forgot to mention Rocky Ricky.  Woof woof me old mate.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Airhead toilet - 12 month review

It's now over a year since we replaced our old cassette toilet with the Airhead composting toilet. So how have we got on? Was it worth it? Might we consider going back to the cassette loo which is still stored in our shed at home just in case? This might get a tad explicit for some so those of a delicate disposition might like to go off to read someone else's blog at this point! Hold your nose and here we go.

Well it's been an interesting year. It certainly didn't start too well because the original Airhead installation wasn't airtight enough and leaked the "exhaust" gases back into the boat. Most unpleasant. The trick is to ensure that the exhaust fan housing is properly sealed where it fixes to the side ( or ceiling in some cases) of the cabin. We eventually got that right (thanks Rick) by gluing a thick board to the wall to give the fan housing retaining screws something strong to bite into. That and plenty of sealant.

The toilet itself operates well, easily keeping solids and liquids separate, and because the fan draws air inwards into the toilet and out through the exhaust, the toilet waste tank itself is remarkably odour free even when the lid is open. Considerably more odour free than a cassette toilet. It is easy to keep clean and is I think pretty hygienic.

The daily emptying of the liquid tank is easy and quick. It's a lot more portable than a cassette. If there is a sanitary station nearby we use that, if not, we tip it on waste land, not into the canal.

We've only had to empty the solids tank three or four times. When I say "we" I actually mean Kath, bless her.. She says that whilst it is not fair to describe it as pleasant, neither is it dreadful and she much prefers it to regular emptying of cassettes. We bag up the waste in plastic coal bags which can be safely deposited in a rubbish skip.

We've been on a learning curve as regards the addition of a composting medium. This does seem to make a difference to the frequency of wafts of whiffs emerging from the exhaust port on the outside of the boat. This has on occasions caused us to worry that we were a little unpleasant to be near in confined spaces like locks despite being odour free inside the boat. After talking to other Airhead users, notably Adam and Adrian on Briar Rose, (more thanks) we are now using coco fibre ( compressed powdered coir from pet food shops). There needs to be sufficient so that the daily turning of the stirring handle stirs the "donations" into the coir. This seems to work well and now occasional nasty niffs outside the boat are largely avoided.

The final thing to mention is the electric fan itself. Although it draws only a tiny current it could drain the boats batteries over a few weeks if the boat were left unattended over the winter. For most of the year our solar panel takes care of this, but in December and January when daylight is short and low it doesn't. I decided to switch off the fan over this period, but this created another problem. After a period at rest in the cold and damp, the fan was reluctant to start again when switched back on. I solved this by spraying WD40 in through the exhaust hole outside the boat and giving the fan blades a flick with a stick poked in the same hole. I think next winter I may leave the fan on and just visit the boat now and then to recharge the batteries, or I could leave Herbie plugged into the shore power, although I would be reluctant to do this unless I get a galvanic isolator to prevent hull corrosion.

So what is our conclusion? Despite a few problems, most of which we have overcome now, we much prefer the Airhead to our previous cassette toilet. It is probably more hygienic, considerably more pleasant to use, uses no chemicals, and removes the need to seek out sanitary stations every few days, and of course, compared with a pump out loo, it costs nothing to empty.

Every boater has views on toilets, and these are just our views. Other makes of composting toilet are available.