Friday, April 20, 2018

Magical History Tour

Here, demonstrated by my lovely assistant Rick, is a boat battery. A bit bigger than yours and mine eh? What if I told you that this week we were on a boat powered by 300 tons of these batteries? Yes I did check that figure, 300 tons! Then what if i told you that the boat could recharge the all the batteries from its diesel engines in two or three hours? Then what if I told you that at maximum speed the batteries would only power the boat for about half an hour, or at canal speeds, 3 or 4 knots, the batteries might last a day and a half? Have you guessed what boat this is? Answer towards the end of this post.

Here's another picture of Rick at the same site.

Can you see him? If you follow the right hand white line on the floor and enlarge the photo, he's there with his arms outstretched. This is half the floor of the upstairs part of a shed. Some shed huh? All made from timber using construction methods used in building timber ships in the early nineteenth century. Well it would be, because this is where wooden warships were built and fitted out. Downstairs is now crammed full of all sorts of old machinery including some made by the firm that Rick and I used to work for when we first met in the dark ages.

Then, on the same site, we took a look at this machine in operation.

This is in the longest brick built building in Europe, and the machine is making something nearly a quarter of a mile long. Rope. An amazing thing to watch. Here's looking down the building. We never ot to see the other end - too far away.  The workers use a bike to go up and down.

They made two such lengths together in about fifteen minutes. The machinery and method are unchanged since Victorian times.

If you think all this, and a lot more, is worth seeing, take yourself down to Chatham Historic Dockyard,

where you can see how they built ships like HMS Victory, as well as 20th Century Naval ships and fitted them out. It's a vast site with beautifully kept buildings and  it's a totally brilliant museum with so much to see, including HM Submarine Ocelot, which is of course where all those batteries belong. You get a full bow to stern tour of Ocelot, and if you do, you'll never again complain about lack of space on a narrowboat!

The whole site is immaculately set out and truly fascinating. (You'll gather I quite liked it!) For me, one of the special bits was to stand in the mould loft where they showed us how the shapes of the hull of Victory were laid out, but unless you don't like boats or rope, or beautiful buildings, or history, or Victorian engineering, you'll find something to enjoy.

PS. We also visited Winston Churchill's house, William Morris's house and the National Trust's most daring and expensive(and amazing) house restoration, Ightam Mote, while we were at it. Every one a gem. Four days well spent.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Roofbox part 7 - Man versus paint

Make no mistake, paint is out to get you. All week the weather has been pretty cold, making the paint slow to dry. So on Saturday I came to the final colour, the Hempel(formerly Blakes) Bordeaux Red.  This is good quality coach paint and as you might expect, free flowing even if it does cover fairly well.  So Saturday, out comes the sun, warming up our conservatory so that the paint turns the consistency of semi skimmed milk ready to seep beneath even the best of masking takes on a wooden surface.  That’s the problem you see, the better paint flows, the more it seeps.  You can’t win against the flippin’ stuff.

Undaunted I pressed on.  One coat Saturday and one Sunday.  Nervously I pull off the masking to reveal this.


Baaah! Similar damage on all four planks.  Well I had sort of expected it. Sometimes the red had bled over the white as you see above , and sometimes it was on the cream.

I take a deep breath and get out the tiny artists brush.  Best get on with the touching up rather than weep and wail. 

Now this goes to show why it’s worth keeping your cool and soldiering on. In well under an hour I had got all four planks looking like this.



That’ll do nicely. It just demonstrates that no matter how incompetent you are and no matter how inconsiderate your paint can be, you can get an acceptable result, so don’t let my tales of troubles put you off.

That just leaves the probable debacle of the assembly of the box next weekend.  Hopefully the paint will have hardened off quite a bit by then.

Just after I had finished, we had a visitor in the garden.  I suppose he or she  might have looked at my painting efforts before giving his /her opinion thus:


Sorry for the poor photo quality, it was taken through two sets of double glazing and their associated reflections.

I leave that corner of the garden as a wildlife area, so perhaps I should be pleased, but I had never envisaged it as a fox latrine!

Friday, April 13, 2018

How not to make a roofbox–part 6 disaster narrowly averted

The next time I see an Old English Sheepdog I’m going to bust him on the nose.  That flippin’ Dulux paint (barely the consistency of single cream) weedled its way under my masking tape in n places, (where n is a large positive integer).  You expect a bit of bleed here and there, but not that much. “Never mind,” I thought to myself,”take the rag away from your face, now ain’t the time for your tears.” (a few brownie points are available for anyone who can tell me who wrote those lines).

The offending leaks were largely onto the dark grey gloss, so out came my tiniest artists brush and the tin of grey paint.  Cursing that mop top dog, I spent ages trying to steady my shaking hands as I touched up all the mini splodges and runs of cream paint. It’s a wonder I didn’t pass out, what with holding my breath most of the time. Then, just as I was about to finish the last plank I got demob happy and lost concentration. Dipping my brush in the grey paint I forgot to wipe off the excess paint and drawing the brush out of the can, ran a huge run of dark grey paint all over two yellow and white triangles. “Oh woe is me” I cried (or something which means the same but is somewhat less printable).  Fortunately, being and old hand at painting mistakes, I knew what to do and quickly soaking a kitchen towel in white spirit I managed to wipe off the grey before it took hold. Phew!

So now the planks look like this:


a closer look:


All that’s left to do is the painting of the red diamonds in between the grey ones and to seal the bottom edge of each plank, which for no good reason I have so far neglected to do.  In the words of my unfavourite American President, “It’s gonna be great”.

With luck I might have finished the painting by Sunday, then the dreaded assembly of the box will have to wait a few days.  We’re off with Rick and Marilyn to darkest Kent on a mini break of our own devising.  More about that when we get there.  There may well be some boaty stuff.

Today i am mostly listening to Bix Beiderbeck an artist of whom I know little, but recommended to me by my friend Stephen and also by Ry Cooder who played some of his tunes on his “Jazz” album.  It is very easy to like ( and I am known for being a bit picky over these things). If you have access to a streaming service give him a try.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How not to make a roof box– too much paint and not enough concentration.

It is possible I might have acquired a bit too much white paint.  I think all the white bits are now done and dusted and here’s what’s left in the tin.


Well the rest will come in handy should I ever decide to paint the whole house (or possibly the street) at home.  This is Wickes Liquid Gloss.  I can’t remember when and why I bought it but I must have been in an optimistic mood. I’m happy to report that it is possibly the nicest paint to use of the lot. It goes on well and , for white paint, covers well.  Anyway when you’re doing a job with all these paints, you need to use what you have or else spend a fortune.

My enemy at this point is concentration, or rather the lack of it. How easy it is, dear reader, to mask the wrong side of a line.  I know because I have done it twice.  I did spot it in time however so I didn’t paint in the wrong place. Such is my general bewilderment over what I’m supposed to be doing that I have taken to putting dabs of masking tape on areas I’m not supposed to paint.  Like this. 


The dabs are on bits that will later be cream.  This is the masking for the white triangles which alternate with cream between the larger red and grey diamonds.  It all gets a bit frustrating at this stage.  A few minutes masking, a few minutes painting then a 24 hour wait for the paint to dry before you can move on to the next bit.

This idea of using a layer of white gloss is all very well, but after I’d done it I realised I’d covered up all my marking out, so I had to do it all again.  However after the four planks and the double marking I now have all the dimensions in my head, no doubt crowding out more useful information like which side of a line to mask.

Looking closely at the planks, I see one has quite a bow across it’s face, so I’m not looking forward to finding out how well it will  (or more probably will not) fit against the corner post.  That’s the beauty of all this painting before building, you get the excitement of not knowing if you had wasted your time.

Today’s cliff hanger: The dreaded Dulux cream on top of white gloss next.  That’s bound to go well I keep telling myself.

Monday, April 09, 2018

How not to make a roof box part 4– sloppy precision

People have looked at my previous roof boxes and commented on the precision of the painting. Little do they know that my painting is very sloppy, it’s the masking that has to be done carefully.  here’s the proof:

Careful Masking



Slapdash Painting


See what I mean?  A chimpanzee could have slapped that white on.  It took quite a while to do the masking and no time at all to do the painting.  I’m using good low tack Craftmaster plastic masking tape which I trim carefully with a craft knife at places like the diamond points. The Craftmaster tape nearly always comes off cleanly which is why I like it. Now I juts have to hope that I don’t get much bleed under the tape.  A little bit of bleed is inevitable in some places because of the grain of the wood, but I’ll touch that up at the end with an artist’s brush.

As you can see I’ve decided to use white as a base topcoat underneath what will be the white, red and cream paints, but, I hope understandably, I’ve painted the grey border and diamonds directly onto the grey undercoat.  After two cost of grey topcoat the grey is actually finished now – hooray. Only three more colours to go.  I reckon that’ll take about another week though, to allow drying between coats. Not quick is it?  However it rarely takes me more than an hour each day –often mush less.

At the weekend we snuck out to Herbie and cruised all the way from Cropredy Marina to Cropredy Lock – less than ten minutes!  That was because we had arranged to meet up with the Moomins who were passing through on Nb Melaleuca. We all spend a jolly evening together and shared a meal, me doing a pasta dish and Simon making a crumble for pud.  next morning they went on their way south and we turned back to the marina then home.  Time well spent. And – our solar panels once again made more electricity than we used.  Very rewarding.

Must stop now, I’m off to do some more painting.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

How not to make a roof box - part 3- painting nigtmares

Only an idiot would design a roof box using six different tins of paint, which makes me well qualified as it would appear that I am indeed an idiot. Not only have I used an undercoat colour that is most difficult to cover with my chosen top colours, but my design also requires each colour to be bordered with two or even three other colours. This effectively means that I have to keep masking and re-masking different sections and also that I spend half my time cleaning paint brushes to move on to another colour. It is not for the faint hearted i.e. me, but I am sort of committed. I should know better because I went through all this last time. I remember now how each different paint had different flow and covering characteristics and of course I'm using the same stuff again. Can't waste old unused paint.

Here is the basic pattern as seen on the old box.

As you can see, you don't need a lot of the creamy colour, so I decided to make use of the spare paint by using it for the inside surfaces of the box, amply demonstrating how it fails to cover the undercoat.

This is Dulux weathercoat, without doubt the least pigmented paint I have had the misfortune to use. Not only is the pigment thin (yes I did give it a good stir), but the fluid is hyper thin too. No worry about brush marks, it runs out like water off a duck's back. I could probably have just poured it on and let it flow out into place!

'What's so hard about masking up diamonds and triangles?', you might say. Well it's nice straight lines alright, but every time you move from a diamond to a triangle you have to re-mask on the other side of the line. By the time I've done all four sides of the box, I've used enough tape to do a lane on the M6. No I'm not offering. Here's the masking for just the grey bits on one side. It's the fiddly bits at the diamond points that need a steady hand and a lot of concentration, neither of which are my forte.

Note once again my feng shui tidy workbench - like an operating theatre.

If ever I finish all this painting, I'll tell you about the flaws in theoretical wooden box geometry. If that doesn't put you off, nothing will.

I'm enjoying it all immensely.

Monday, April 02, 2018

How not to make a roof box - part 2

What's that saying you use when you've done some painting and you're watching it, waiting for it to dry and it's boring? "It's like," um something or other. Note the scrupulous tidiness of my work bench by the way. Anyone who as been aboard Herbie will know that we are renowned for our feng shui-like clutter free tidiness. (Not.) No wonder I'm always losing bits and pieces.

Well that's kind of where I'm at with the roof box. So while we're waiting for several coats of primer and undercoat to dry, let's look at what was wrong with the old roof box.

Here's the worst bit.

As well as de-laminating, the plywood has worn away where the cover bungee pulled over the edge. A testament to the poor quality of the plywood. Just below, the wood had also rotted where the bungee button was screwed in.

So despite the box lasting seven years, I'm deciding against plywood this time and thinking of putting a protective edging where the bungees stretch over. Maybe a bit of aluminium angle.

Speaking of aluminium, look at these brackets I made last time.

They screw to the centre front of the box and support Herbie's tv aerial pole. A flawed design. Why? Because the pole can, and sure does, turn too easily in the wind, so losing tv signal. You can't have it in a single fixed posotion because the boat moves from place to place so the signal direction changes. So this time I've modified it with a pole clamping screw. Line it up and clamp it down.

I knew that cheap tap and die set from Aldi would come in handy one day. Cutting an M5 thread in the bracket was easy.

I've decided to complete the bulk of the paintwork before assembling the box. Easier that way. I just hope after all that work the flippin' thing fits together. So the next job is the decorative painting. Stay tuned to see what goes wrong with that.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

How not to build a narrowboat roof box – part one

Way back in the last century when mars bars were fourpence,  I was a pupil at Prince Henry’s Grammar School, Evesham.  It was a very good school and quite academic, so although I was fairly bright  I spend most years in the middle  B stream.  The kids in the A stream were all bound for Oxbridge and the like.  I ended up scraping my degree at the less distinguished  Portsmouth Polytechnic.  Nevertheless in that grammar school B stream I held my own pretty well and kept clear of the bottom of the class in all subjects bar one – woodwork.  (Aah, now you see where this is going.)  At woodwork (and football now I come to think of it) I was exceptionally un-gifted.  My teapot stand, perhaps the only thing I ever finished, didn’t get a lot of use at home as the tea poured out of the teapot spout all by itself  because of the slope of the stand. My annual place at the bottom of the carpentry class was, i suspect, regarded as a given by my unfortunate teacher. Nevertheless, in my old age I have managed to cobble together a few wooden structures which have found their place aboard Herbie.  While none bear close scrutiny, they function in an endearingly crude fashion.

So now as I embark upon my mark II roof box, I thought it might be useful to reveal my construction techniques and their shortcomings in order that others may avoid them.  Here are the findings thus far.

The roof box is a simple rectangular frame consisting of four planks arranged in a rectangle and screwed and glued to square section corner posts which also act as legs to lift the box clear of the roof.  The floor of the box I will come on to in a later episode.

So to these planks.  Roof box mark one which did a reasonable 7 years service was made with plywood which eventually began to delaminate, so this time I’m having a go with tongue and groove floorboard which will probably rot but not delaminate.   In order to get the correct box height (low enough to get under bridges but high enough to store stuff), the planks have to be one and two thirds floorboard width.  So half the planks have to have their width reduced by a third. Sawing across the ends of the board by hand to get the right length I don’t mind, but for ripping along the length I resorted to my terrifying electric circular saw.  Here’s where i come to my first bit of ‘how not to’ advice.

Tip 1:

When working indoors with a circular saw, you can achieve pleasant decorative effects in your workshop by failing to connect any sort of sawdust gathering device to your saw.  As well as revealing any cobwebs there might be, your workbench and surroundings will take on a charming snow scene type effect and you will be surprised at how cleverly the dust finds its way into he smallest nooks and crannies.  Should you wish to find any tools later on, please allow approximately twenty times the amount of time actually spend sawing, to hoovering up afterwards.

Tip 2:

Once your planks are sawn to size,  on the ‘inside’ faces of the box, carefully mark out the fixing point for the corner legs and drill pilot holes for the screws then paint primer over that side, leaving a gap where the legs will be so that the glue will work directly on the wood.  After you have done this you can check whether you have the plank the right way up so that the T&G groove is at the lower edge ( so as not to collect rain) – the same as the box feet. I found it prolongs the fun of marking out as you turn the plank the proper way up and do the marking all over again. Only then can you turn over the plank to check if there are any large knot holes or other disfigurements  on the other face which would marr the appearance of the outside of the box.  The advantage of this method is that you have yet another go at everything as you re-measure and re-mark the face you should have used in the first place.  By now you should be good at marking up.

Tip 3:

Applying primer paint.  I like to paint fast (keep a wet edge and all that.) Load the brush generously and splish splosh vigorously on the wood.  Work fast – dip, splish splosh, dip, splish splosh. It soon becomes automatic, and if you have carefully placed your cup of tea next to the paint tin, you may find some dips come out an interesting brownish colour.  Drinking the tea afterwards is optional.

Well that’s as far as I have got.  Stay tuned for more handy hints on how not to make a roof box.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Deep joy! On Saturday night we decided to disconnect ourselves ( well Herbie really) from the marina's shore power and test out what our the new solar panel arrangement could do for us.

In the dark overnight, the batteries fell from 100% full to 89% in the morning. That's rather less fall than usual with the fridge running and our use of lights, radio etc. Also the Eberspacher ran for an hour in that time. So the early morning light must have done its bit before we rose and checked the readings. That's when we started to get excited. The fridge was running, we were charging various ipads and phones and the inverter was on running my electric sander and the battery levels were rising! Never done that before.

By the end of the day the batteries were back at 99%. So in spite of our use of various electrical bits we had charged the batteries back up. Profit! With our original panel the best we were able to do was hold the batteries steady during daylight. It looks like in the summer months we ought to be able to dispense with engine running altogether given fair weather and an open location. It's safe to say we are delighted.

The old roof box has been duly demolished and the wood for the new one bought and cut to length at home, so tomorrow I hope to start building it. I've got a new plan for construction this time and I'll try to remember to do some pictures so you can see. Then when it all falls to bits you'll know how not to do it.

Tonight I am mostly listening to a CD by Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman, rather easier to listen to than pronounce. It used to be fun seeing them in folk clubs and hearing the compere's attempts at introducing Maire. Anyway, they are blisteringly good. I'm a bit shocked to see the CD dates from 1995. Where did all those years go?

Monday, March 26, 2018

In with the new and out with the old.

Wahoo! Mid morning, low-ish March sun and were still making nearly seven amps thanks to Herbie's newly augmented solar array. At one time yesterday afternoon we were making 11 amps. I'm very pleased with the new all black Midsummer Energy 120w panel which is very compact.

Here we see the new and the old panels together on the roof. They're connected in parallel.

My newly made stands appear to do the job too.

This is the first time I have had to use MC4 connectors for the cabling and I am already a fan of them. They're very easy to attach and look as though they'll make a good waterproof connection. If you're contemplating a solar job using them do get the little plastic tightening spanners, only a pound or so and really effective.

I have yet to fix the frame feet in their permanent position. I'm going to glue them down with Sikaflex which people seem to recommend.

Later today comes a rather more poignant task, dismantling the roof box, which has come to the end of its days. It looks OK but the wood is rotting through, so I'll have to make another one.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Canal pub landlord foils Russian spy ring

With all the hoo hah going on about Russian spies, it was purely by coincidence that yesterday I came across this story whilst idly skimming through stuff at The National Archives.  Kath sits there digging up old ancestors and I potter about amongst old previously secret cabinet papers for a laugh.  The story concerns a one time landlord of the Dolphin pub that many of you will know sits by the canal in Uxbridge (although if you are a watcher of "Lewis" on telly, you could be forgiven for thinking the pub was in Oxford, because they use it in their Oxford canal scenes.)

In 1927 the new Dolphin landlord was Edward Langston, a disgruntled ex employee of ARCOS the All-Russian Co-operative Society Ltd, ostensibly a trading organisation operating in Moorgate, London.  Edward had been recently sacked from his photostat operator job at ARCOS in one of the organisation's periodic "Loyalty Test" purges despite his good employment record there.  That turned out to be a big mistake on ARCOS's part because while he was there, a senior staff member had asked Edward to make a copy of a British Army training manual.  Thinking it improper that the Russians should have stuff like this, Edward had kept a second copy for himself as evidence and after he was sacked he took his revenge by reporting the incident to British intelligence. This was just the sort of evidence Special Branch needed to get the Home Secretary to authorise a raid on ARCOS (about which they had deep suspicions) and in May of that year, 200 police officers together with teams of civil servants and intelligent agents broke into the building and spent five days turning the place over for further evidence, removing several lorry loads of papers and setting about several heavily defended safes and rooms with pneumatic drills.

The eventual upshot was not ideal.  Despite not much of import being found, the UK severed all diplomatic relations with Russia and expelled 400  Soviet citizens. The whole episode became a major topic of debate and set the frosty tone of Anglo Russian relations for many years.  The Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in justifying the actions to parliament foolishly read out Russian communications that had been intercepted and decoded by our boys, thus causing the Russians to adopt a much more indecipherable code which were subsequently unable to crack.  Doh!

As to Edward Langston, he spent his life in fear of Russian reprisal and wrote to MI5 asking them for a pistol to defend himself.  one source says that the Russians did track him down, but I don't know if they ever did anything to him.  Mr Google has some links to all this stuff if you want to read more.  I leave you to decide if this story has a moral or not, but you have to admit that it is sort of topical.

Interestingly, the Dolphin's website makes no mention of this claim to fame, preferring to mention its four plasma TV screens although it does say "All parties catered for".  UKIP?  Monster Raving Looney?

Saturday, March 17, 2018


What a difference a day makes.  Yesterday we were cruising back up form Banbury to Cropredy with the warm sun on our backs and then as we settled in for the evening we switched on the wireless to hear the 5 to 6 weather forecast on the Home Service.  It didn’t sound good for our necessary journey home next day – snow over the Chilterns, so we hastily changed plans and within an hour had re-winterised the boat, packed our bags and hit the road. Still we’ve had a lovely few days afloat to break our 2018 duck and Herbie seems in fine fettle so that’s good.

Since we’ve been stationed on the Oxford canal, I seem to have been more aware of the subtle changes in season, particularly as regards wild flowers and blossoms.  Maybe it’s because the canal largely keeps away from houses and gardens and the wildlife is allowed to do it’s own thing.  The majority of the canal passes through very old pasture land, unchanged for centuries probably like this meadow with it’s wonderful saw tooth edge where the rise and fall of ancient strip farming ridges and furrows meet the level water.


Emerging in the towpath grass yesterday we saw celandines, coltsfoot, speedwell, and by a lock paddle post a patch of teeny tiny white flowers which we later identified as probably shadflower or common whitlow grass, so small as to be easy to miss, but very pretty.  In a couple of weeks time, we’ll be seeing the blackthorn blossom I expect, and then the hawthorne and then . . and so on.

One thing that I’m pleased to say doesn’t seem to change so much is the old part of Banbury.  Yesterday as a rare treat, we strolled up to Wetherspoons for a cooked breakfast (probably the best thing ‘spoons does and it makes a change from my normal muesli and prunes – vegetarians look away now)


anyhow, next to us I noticed this photo from 1907 of Parsons Street in the town ( please excuse the reflections from the cover glass)


on the way back to the boat I took this next photo from the same spot.


Not much has changed in 110 years. Then on the other end of the old market square they’ve recently repainted this old building, faithfully reproducing the old advertising on the upper walls.  I fear there might have been an outcry had they not.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

This and that

Well we didn't come last in the Reindeer quiz last night, for the simple reason that when we got there we learned that the quiz is on Thursday, not Wednesday. Doh! Now we have to go to the Reindeer two nights running. Somehow I don't anticipate your pity.

My new MPPT solar panel controller seems to be working and I have a suspicion that it is tracking max power better than the old one, judging by the amp readings this morning. This new one is a Victron in case anyone is wondering.

A while ago we bought this nice flat bottomed enamel coffee pot with the idea of heating water on the top of the wood burner.

We've only just got round to trying it out, and while the water doesn't reach boiling point, it gets plenty hot enough for washing or washing up or filling hot water bottles. I like it a lot. Yes I know we have a calorifier and a Morco, but that's not the point. It's much more satisfying heated in this jug, a bit like making toast in front of the fire when i was a nipper. Aah those were the days.

I've been plugging on with my second blockbuster novel and we're up to 62098 words, probably including about 61000 typos. Predictive text is driving me mad because it keeps changing what I mean to say into entirely different words. I'll probably re read it and find I have written Gormenghast. Artificial intelligence has some way to go in my opinion. I have to start thinking about how the mess our hero Eric is in gets resolved. At present I don't have a clue. I hope the world is ready to tackle it when I've finished, it does have several hares running at once.

Soon I'll have to start thinking about how to spend all the money I will make from the book. With a bit of luck it might be enough to buy a new set of guitar strings although that might be a tad optimistic as the good ones (Elixir Nanos) are about £14 a set these days.( I only paid £4 for my first guitar as I recall). Well I can dream.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A soaking indoors

You know those farcical scenes where the man does something to the plumbing and a powerful jet of water shoots him in the eye, and he tries to hold his thumb over the leak and it sprays everywhere? Well that's me that is.

The little drain plug screw in our Morco water heater sheared off as I tried to remove it when we winterised the boat in November. Doing something about it has had to wait until we were back on board, ie. now. The plug has been dripping since we turned on the water and we've had to put a jug under it to catch the drips. So this afternoon, I attempted to fix it. I won't bore you with the details except to say that only a fool would remove that plug while the system was under pressure. The box of matches in the cutlery drawer will no doubt dry out eventually. Of course I didn't have the proper replacement screw to plug the hole again, but a 5mm stainless screw wrapped in PTFE tape seems to have done the trick.

I don't manage to cock up all of my diy jobs. In the last 24hrs I've installed my smart new solar panel tilting stand and replaced our old 100watt solar controller with an uprated one ready for the new second panel which lies waiting at home. It all seems to be working ok.

Tonight we renew our attempts not to come last in the Reindeer pub quiz in Banbury. The cruise down here from Cropredy was fine despite the canal being alarmingly high. At least the strong current of a couple of days ago has stopped. I guess CRT had all sorts of sluices open to dump the excess water, hence the current.

Unsurprisingly the canal is closed at Nell Bridge above Aynho because of the height of the Cherwell there. Boaters coming up from that direction have told us of ferocious currents through the narrow lift bridge holes. Luckily we don't plan to go that far.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Happy New Year

I don't think we've ever left Herbie alone for so long, but today we managed to sneak away from home while no-one was looking and come aboard for a few days. Other folk have recently posted about how scary it is to come back to your boat after all that freezing weather. Thoughts of burst pipes, broken water pumps, split calorifiers, have haunted our dreams, but as far as we can tell Herbie seems to have survived intact. I did do a perfunctory drain of the plumbing system before Christmas but unlike other years I didn't remove the water pump and the shower mixer, because we've had such mild winters recently. Doh!

Anyway here we are, starting our boating year at last. The Ecofan is spinning and we're warm and dry and enjoying our first cup of tea.

Outside it is raining tortoiseshells and whippets. I 've already stepped in a couple of poodles whilst loading the boat. The marina entrance was awash and the canal looks alarmingly high. We're hoping to tootle down to Banbury for a day or two, but like last year I'm sure that some of the top gates will be under water so I might get wet feet. We haven't seen any boats moving yet. Are we being foolhardy we wonder?

In other news, a couple of days ago I had my haircut. I went from two inches over the collar to a number 6 all over and now my hats fit again. If only I could do the same for my waist.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

An exciting (for me anyway) discovery

Well who’dathunkit!  A few days ago I tumbled across a spiffing App that has helped me to create what I think is my best yet CanalOmeter, which I will demonstrate for you further down the page..  For the non cognoscenti my canalOmeters are devices of my own invention that calculate distances and times from any points A to B along a canal.  The original low tech cardboard ones like this being held by my lovely assistant Simon Tortoise

are still handy , but they are fiddly to make and I’ve had a number of attempts to make a digital one – particularly ones which would work on a phone or a tablet.  First was  a spreadsheet version – a bit cumbersome, then one written in Python which worked very well but was unexciting in appearance and needed the Python language installed on the phone or tablet.  Now I’ve found out a way to create a user friendly Android app that does the job just the way I wanted.  Let me demonstrate with one I’ve done for the Grand Union stretching between Brentford and Braunston.  I call it GUSouth or GUS for short. Let’s imagine I am planning a trip from Fenny Stratford to Cassio Wharf

To the user it’s just an Android App like any other, it sits under an icon on your home screen or wherever and runs on native Android code.  Click the icon to launch it and and up pops this. (This is on my A5ish size Android tablet).  To save space I’ve cropped the screen shots just to show the essentials, just imagine the rest of he tablet /phone screen as blank.


Here I’ve just started typing in Fenny Stratford and got as far as ‘fen’.  That’s enough - I press OK.

Up pops this list of matching places


I choose Fenny Stratford Visitor Moorings by tapping it with my finger.  The next screen then appears


Here I’ve again started typing in the place and after three letters (could be more or less) I hit OK and get another list


I tap Cassio Wharf and up pops my result:


Job’s a goodun.  I can then choose to go round again with other places or just stop.  I timed this whole exercise from clicking the App Icon to getting my result and it took 17 seconds.  There are a couple of other advantages.  For instance if you are passing under a bridge, just tap in it’s number eg. B167 or at a lock,say L75, as your from point.  Or how about this if I just type in Pub


or I could bring up a list of water points or winding holes.

So what are the downsides?

1. It only works on one canal at a time.  It can’t plan routes through junctions like CanalPlan can

2. Accuracy of route timing is necessarily approximate.  I’ve used an average of 3.5 mph and 15 minutes per lock on this canal.  These times are always a rough guide, but experience shows that they’re near enough for journey planning.

3.  It’s still work in progress.  It seems pretty robust but I’m certain a new user could make it fall over easily enough. 

4. I can’t let you have one right now.  I’d have to put it on the Google Play Store first and I haven’t even  looked up how that is done..  Also the source of the base canal data isn’t mine. It’s extracted from CanalPlan whose creator Nick Atty has been very generous in letting me use it in the past but it’s his in essence.  I’ve just added a couple of words here and there such as “Pub” so I can produce lists like the one above.

5. It won’t run on iphone / ipad.  It’s Android only.

5. I could/ would give you my source code and let you install and compile your own, but you’d need a tiny bit of tech savvy. e.g. installing files on your phone or tablet. If you fancy a go, please ask.

So how have I done it?  Well, for me this is the exciting bit because it was remarkably easy, given a bit of coding skill.  I know virtually nothing of Android code development, but I stumbled across two apps that enabled me to put my first App together in a couple of hours. I had to write about 100 lines of   code, which as any programmer knows is not much at all.

The code is written in BASIC!.  Yes, BASIC! That exclamation mark is not for emphasis although it might as well be, as normal Basic is hardly flavour of the month among programmers these days, being thought of as pretty Mickey Mouse.  BASIC! is a version that comes as an Android App available on the Play Store and is more correctly called RFO Basic! developed by the Richard Feynman Observatory and is freely available.  I hadn’t used BASIC for years but this version is pretty damn good and as well as all the usual  number and string stuff it can use all the clever tricks of your Android device such as speech recognition, speech synthesis, camera operation, sensor reading and all that how’s yer father.  BASIC! is free on the Play Store.

Now comes the really clever bit.  There is a companion app called BASIC! Compiler, costing the princely sum of £2.99 if memory serves me right.  This just takes the BASIC! code wot you have writ and compiles it into  Java and on to an APK which is your finished Android App.  Just like that, you just press the button and off it goes.  It takes less than a minute.  Astonishingly for this type of App it seems to work first time every time.  I’m truly amazed at the wonderfulness of it.  My mind is buzzing with possibilities. Watch this space.

PS Just tried installing the finished app on my phone and it works fine. = and eagle eyed spotters will have noticed the typo in the Dolphin Pub – That’s been put right in the App now.  These things happen.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Too many ideas! Plus fidgety birds.

I used to think I was indecisive but now I’m not so sure. Alf and Oakie have each pointed out different, more weatherproof materials which I could use to make a new roof box, and that sent me off browsing Mr Berners Lee’s interweb looking for more ideas.  Now instead of having a couple of things to choose from, I have lots.  Woe is me.  The problem is that in accordance with Sod’s Law, not one of them is without some sort of downside - cost, available sizes, ability to take paint, weight  -the list goes on.  I really must learn to accept that the perfect solution probably doesn’t exist and just get on with it.  Or I could just buy one ready made.  Those on sale look decent enough, but would they get under low bridges? What about delivery? etc.

Changing the subject to an off topic one, as the birds in my garden pay increasingly regular visits to the bird feeders, presumably for fuel to stop the little dears freezing to death, I’ve been wasting many hours at the back bedroom window, camera in hand to get some photos of the little darlings.  Here’s a nuthatch that came yesterday.


The photos are not as crisp as they ought to be because I’m shooting through a closed window (I’m not dedicated enough to leave it open in this weather!) and hand holding the camera with a long lens and the birds are thirty odd feet away.  I have got a wireless remote shutter release, so I could get better pictures by setting up the camera in the garden and click from the warm bedroom but I left the gubbins on board Herbie. Doh!  My success rate of shutter clicks to acceptable images is about twenty five to one. The flippin’ birds just wont sit still, or if they do, they’re looking the other way or sitting behind a twig.

Should you wish to see other birdie pictures (and who knows what else in future) I have taken / may take I’ve opened an Instagram account. (Ooh there’s posh).  I’m so inept at social media that I’m not sure if I’m called ncherbie or Herbie Neil but one or both names should get to me.  There’s a nice one of a blue tit to start off and I’m working on capturing a coal tit and a long tailed tit.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Rotten luck.

And so back another day to a week ago Wednesday when I drove out to Cropredy to collect anchor, chains and life jackets from Herbie in case disaster should befall us on Nb Bankside on the Friday.  Not that I’m a pessimist or anything!  Anyhow, upon arrival I noticed that the canvas cover over Herbie’s roof box had come loose along one side and was flapping in the breeze.  It hooks on via bungees over big black dome head screws stuck into the side of the box.  On closer inspection I saw that the screws had pulled right out so there must have been some strong winds.  On even closer inspection and poking with a screwdriver I discovered that the plywood had gone completely rotten, so no wonder the screws had fallen out.

“You can’t get the wood these days” is a common cry amongst DiYers, and I remember thinking at the time I built the box that the quality of the plywood I was able to obtain was pretty rubbish.  I had sealed the edges with umpteen coats of varnish but time and weather eventually has done it’s work and now I have to make a new box.  Still the last one, being built in 2011 has given nearly seven years service so I suppose that’s not too bad.  Here it is when I had just finished making it.

“Why have one at all?” I hear you cry.  Well apart from the fact that it stores the anchor, the TV aerial (and has brackets to support the aerial mast), the camping chairs, a luggage trolley and various other bits and pieces, nicely out of the way, it has also become a sort of emblem of the boat.  I recall Bones telling me that she recognised Herbie going past Thrupp when she was out walking the dog and could only see the roof.

So I’m going to have to make another, but this time I’d like to make it stronger and more weatherproof.  I could either splash out on some nice marine ply, or it occurs to me that I could make it out of treated decking and then for the decoration attach pre painted panels on the sides (an idea I used last year on the cratch front).  I think I’ll keep the dimensions the same, so that the old cover will still fit.  I haven’t yet had a chance to get a good luck at the old box, but I may be able to reuse the underfloor slats and even the floor itself - recycle and save the planet and all that. I remember at the time I made the old one being particularly pleased with myself at setting the corner right angles by marking four equal spaces along the long side and three on the short side, then pulling the loosely screwed box into shape until a string 5 measures long formed the diagonal  (maths people know that 3,4,5, triangles have a right angle thanks to Pythagoras).  Watch this space when I embark on the construction.

Apologies to those of a sensitive disposition offended by my spelling of Gunwharf Quay (not key – duh!) in the last post.  Kath spotted the error.

In other news I read with dismay that the Gibson guitar company is on the verge of bankruptcy.  Yes Gibson!! What is the world coming to? Despite being a life long sufferer from GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome)  I have never owned a Gibson, but it was always nice to know that they were there.  As a callow youth I well recall standing at the feet- he was on the stage and I was leaning on it- of Peter Green , awestruck by what he could do with a Gibson Les Paul.  I did the same thing a couple of weeks later with Eric Clapton who played the same model.  That was in the days when you didn’t have to pay a weeks wages to see a famous musician and you could get up close.  Now the music charts are full of nice young guys and gals singing ballady stuff and the days of the guitar gods are fading.  This week a journalist wrote that what Gibson needs is a new guitar hero.  Well I stand ready for the call.  Hello Gibson?  Hello?  I’m here.  I’m younger than Mick Jagger.  Hello?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Stuff you might not (want to) know about ships

Ooh, before I forget, I must tell you what I forgot to mention last time.  On our trip up the Ouse we got a hello from the resident seal that swims up and down (mostly) between Hermitage and St Ives.  I expect he/she has a name, but I don’t know it so I was only able to shout ‘hello, um, seal’ as he/she swam past the boat and stared at us.  Anyway, there it is.  Worth a mention.

Now then, that was Friday.  On Thursday I went on a couple of other boats, the first being HMS Victory where because at this time of year they have no guided tours, I was able to make up all sorts of unlikely tales to tell Grace as we went round the ship.  Actually I’ve been shown round so many times in the past that I can practically remember the script. Square wooden mess plates being the origin of the phrase “a square meal”, the men having to make their own cat o’ nine tails before being flogged, Captain Hardy having a hatch built in the upper deck outside his cabin so he could stand up without banging his head as he was so tall etc etc.  Walking round the ship looking at all the cannons, rifles, pistols, and cutlasses that fill every spare corner, you realise she was built for one thing only –to fight like crazy.  She’s currently undergoing a multi million pound restoration and I fear that by the time they have finished there might not be much of the original ship left.  I think a lot of the decking is already not original and now they intend to replace the hull planking.

The modern Royal Navy has some interesting differences quite apart from the obvious advances in technology.  We took one of the harbour tours that take you round the bits of the dockyard you wouldn’t otherwise see and our guide showered us with stats, (ooh I love stats), about the ships tied up there. Sadly the new carrier was away annoying the Spanish as it visited Gibraltar so we’ll have to save that for another day. There are a couple of type 45 destroyers there at the moment and it occurred to me that most of the money (our money!) spent on these ships has gone into defending themselves from attack.  Maybe it would have been simpler and cheaper not to have the ship in the first place then nobody would attack it.  You and I own six of these ships.   Of course these days they get used for all sorts of stuff Lord Nelson might have scoffed at, providing humanitarian assistance after natural disasters and the like.  He might have approved of the anti piracy role I suppose, but I think he might have been a bit peeved that we can no longer swan around ruling the waves and bashing the French and Spanish like we used to.  So now the ships seemed designed primarily to defend themselves and the rest of the fleet.

Apparently the weird angles of the hull, the decks and the various turrets are all about confusing enemy radar such that they can’t make out the profile of the ship.  Then they have this big ball on the top that they say can simultaneously track a thousand objects the size of a cricket ball travelling at three times the speed of sound and prioritise which are most likely to hit the ship and somehow shoot them down.  Don’t ask me how. I wonder if they’ve ever proved it. Then on the bow they have this gun that can fire streams of big shells to hit targets so far away that they can’t see them, with pinpoint accuracy.  To loud cheers from a number of the passengers on the tour boat our guide suggested that it could be used to knock out Southampton’s football stadium from it’s current mooring at Portsmouth.  If Pompey residents love to hate anything, it’s Southampton.

Round the back of the harbour is where the cross channel ferries come in and the banana boats (‘Day O’ I hear you cry.).  Here’s another good stat, some of these ships bring in 28 million bananas at a time.  You’ve almost certainly eaten one of them. And I know you’ll be thrilled to know that the largest number of bananas ever carried on a ship at one time is 43,635,280.  Not a lot of people know that.

Grace and I hopped off the tour boat at Gunwharf key so I could take her up the Spinnaker tower, which is a lot less scary than I imagined. Kath and Jacob, who were with us, chickened out.  That was their loss as the views are spectacular. Grace has no fear of heights and happily strode onto the glass floor of the viewing deck oblivious to the 300 foot drop below her feet.

Here are a couple of views from the top. First looking North, up the harbour.  There’s the destroyer in the middle with its pyramidal radar tower.


The looking west over Haslar / Gosport

IMG_20180215_150111 (1)

and finally over my favourite bit of Portsmouth, Spice Island, Camber Dock and along towards Southsea.  The modern white building in the middle is where Ben Ainsley and co built their Americas Cup racing boat.  I can’t say I like it there in the middle of all that historic stuff.

colour chart

Next time we’ll go back another day to Wednesday when I reveal a visit to Herbie and find a big job to do.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A push up the Ouse.

“Where have you been? “ you may ask.  No posts for ages.  Well I’ve been busy enough – too busy sometimes, but no boaty stuff  so nothing that belongs on a boat blog.  Then just like buses coming all at once,  I did boaty things on three consecutive days this week.  I’ll do one post for each in reverse order of how they happened.

First after waiting some weeks for Strong Stream conditions on the Ouse to subside, we got the go ahead to move our Richard’s boat Bankside back from Hermitage marina where it has been repainted, to his home mooring at Hartford marina at Huntingdon.  The boat had been up at Hermitage since September, while the painters failed to get on with the job.  Having seen the rather ramshackle appearance of the little marina and experienced all the delays, I was a tad worried that they might not have done a good job, but it looks like I was wrong in that.  The finished job looks smart and the attention to detail is a lot better than I had expected.  It’s all done in International 2 pack paint over a two pack rust preventing undercoat.  The new hull blacking looks very good too.  Apparently the hull which hadn’t been blacked for far too long was in good nick.  Richard doesn’t deserve to be so lucky! I don’t think Bankside looked this good when she was new.

Anyhow, not wishing to arrive at the other end after dark, we set off soon after I arrived, dropping down Hermitage lock onto the tidal section which looked benign enough.  Time was pretty tight as we expected the trip to take five hours or more and it was already approaching noon. There was a bit of a current against us but not too bad.


Bankside looking a hundred times smarter than when she last came through Brownshill Staunch

Then when we reached Brownhill Staunch I remembered the trouble with this river – these locks take ages to operate because of the timers on the guillotine gates.  The gate opens a crack and then you have to wait for anything up to five minutes before you can lift the gate further, which in itself is a frustratingly slow procedure.  A watched clock goes even slower and the count down display seemed to creep along.

IMG_20180216_144300Browshill has guillotines at both ends and is infuriatingly slow.  Time was looking tighter as we left the staunch and noticed the current against us getting stronger, and as the river narrowed through Holywell and approached St Ives the flow was getting really strong, I would think about four mph (I don’t think we should use knots on inland waters).  Our speed against the bank had slowed to hardly one mph.  After a brief debate we decided to crank up the old BMC diesel to higher revs, a bit scary because it has hardly been run in the last ten years.  I was glad I had brought along Herbie’s anchor in case the engine conked out and I was watching the temperature gauge like a hawk.  It wasn’t long before we realised that the engine actually sounded happier at higher revs and our speed picked up nicely although we were still running late when we got to St Ives Lock.  I feared we would be backing through the maze of moored boats and floating cabins in Richard’s home marina in the dark.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried because once through St Ives lock the current was a lot slacker and we were soon pushing towards the beautiful old town bridge – always a treat.


Well to cut a long story short we got moored up about fifteen minutes before sunset and all was well.  Bankside now rests back at her home jetty in Hartford marina waiting for my next visit when I have accepted Richard’s challenge to sign write her with her new name which, mysteriously, is Egnabod, apparently a random word one of Richard’s teacher’s came up with when he was at school.  Richard denies it has anything to do with the fact that it is also an anagram of Bondage!

In my next post I’ll tell you about another interesting boat trip on the previous day and show you some photos I took from an alarming height.

Monday, January 08, 2018

130 miles to find nothing

A belated Happy New Year to you all.  Now that the Christmas decorations and the yuletide coffee mugs are stowed away for another year, it’s time I posted something on the blog, although we haven’t been boating just lately. 

It’s always a bit of a concern leaving the boat unattended.  Will the stern gland drip and sink the boat? Will the solar panel or the plank and pole  get blown away in the gales? Will the loo fan and the Eberspacher timer clock drain the batteries if the dark days are insufficient to generate any solar energy from the panel?  Although I drained most of the plumbing water when we last left the boat and lagged the shower mixer, have the very low temperatures caused any plumbing damage?  It’s a wonder I can sleep at night, especially as I’m having a dry January so I don’t have any late night alcohol to knock me out.

There was only one thing for it. I jumped in the car and drove the 65 miles to the marina to look Herbie over.  Once there it took me five minutes to see that she was fine.  I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or annoyed that I had driven all that way for nothing. So I drove the 65 miles back home where Kath said “Didn’t you get my text?  I asked you to bring back some stuff I had left on Herbie.”  Doh!  That’ll have to wait, but not too long I hope, we do like to have a short cruise early in the year.

One or two of you will be glad to know I have resumed work on my second, as yet untitled,  novel.  Aware of the advice that sometimes you have to “kill your favourite children”, I have done some ruthless editing.  If it ain’t interesting, funny or essential to the plot, chuck it out.  The plot bit is a bit of a problem though, because like the previous book, it is developing organically and I haven’t got a clue how it’ll end.  Eric, our hero, is of course in dire trouble and I have no idea how to get him out of it. I am though having fun by realising you can get three different sets of characters going concurrently so you get three angles on the story and the reader knows what some of the characters don’t.  It makes it more fun to write because when you get blocked on one thread, you can hop across to another.  Anyhow I’m up to 55,019 words – every one a gem.  I should have the book finished within the decade.  The queues are already forming outside Waterstones, you could take along my first book to read in the queue.