Monday, August 20, 2018

DiY - all you need to know

Some people have the knack of reducing complex problems down to simple solutions. We loved this T shirt we saw in a Cambridge shop window. Designed by a man after my own heart.

how to fix stuff-1

Nice reflection of Kath taking the photo tooSmile

BTW I have now cornered the entire remaining global stock of the paperback version of my latest book. Look:


Yes, all ten paperback copies*.  With that kind of exclusivity I could make millions. On the other hand I could give one away to anyone who wants one.  Free to a good home. I’ll keep a couple on Herbie, so if you see us you can stop me and not buy one i.e. ask for a freebie. I’ll need to get rid of them somehow.

* As Amazon prints on demand, there could be an infinite number more of course. And on Kindle (99p)

PS Blow up the picture and get a sneaky look at my bizarre taste in CDs and marvel at the only things in the world I keep in alphabetical order (plus my vinyl albums), in this case Mendelssohn  via Randy Newman etc. to Martin Simpson as it turns out.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reservoir watch

The latest CRT reservoir figures are out, so I thought I’d do a quick summary graph from their data.  The figures on the left indicate the percentage fullness of the reservoirs for each canal.


As you can see, I‘ve focussed on he southern half of the network, but added in the Leeds and Liverpool for comparison. The first thing to say is that things aren’t as bad as they were in 2011, because we started the season with reservoirs nearly full.  However it’s mostly heading fast in the wrong direction.  These figures always raise more questions than answers e.g why is the GU south doing so well?  Aah maybe it’s because like the K&A, the reservoirs are spring fed and therefore some weeks or months behind the others.  Strange also that the L&L is doing so badly.  Bill, a boater from up there who I met this week said that they didn’t have enough reservoirs up that way.  Could be.  On the Staffs and Worcs, I have no idea.

At the moment I’m most interested in the Oxford, being our home canal right now.  That’s getting worse at a more rapid rate than most, even though the reservoirs are still over half full.  I suspect that the volume of boat traffic might have a lot to do with it.  Well we’re still hoping to undertake our customary September cruise  Fingers crossed.

last September we feasted on blackberries every day, and I was fearing that this year they all might be dried up, but this evening I went out with Grace and within a couple of hundred yards from our house we gathered a big bowl of juicy ones.  That’s tonight’s pud sorted.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Raising the Hardy

This morning I had an unexpected adventure on a historic working boat.  Being out of stern tube grease, I popped into Tooley’s boatyard to buy fresh supplies as we were on our way home in the car.  On the path leading to the yard was an unusual lot of clobber including a sizable petrol driven pump.  I thought nothing of it, Tooleys is a bit like that,  and picked my way through the usual piles of old artefacts in the yard and entered the little chandlery shop only to find there was no-one there.  Well that was because all hands were in the dry dock, so I poked my head in through the door of the dock.

“Aah” said one of the men, eyeing my portly figure, “Would you mind clambering on the bow of this boat we need to shift the weight forward ‘cos the back end is aground.”  Not surprising really as the water level in the canal was well down, apparently on account of CRT letting water down to Twyford Wharf where the bottom was too near the top to allow navigation.

Getting on board wasn’t easy. Swinging on one of the ancient roof beams I took my place on the somewhat fragile but elegantly shaped bow of the old barque  and quickly realised I was on board the wooden hull of Nb Hardy the old boat that has been undergoing restoration by Tooleys this summer.  Hardy was built  in 1940 and was the last boat, they say, ever built for the Samuel Barlow carrying fleet, so she’s a bit special.

Three of us stood precariously on the bow and attempted a co-ordinated jumping up and down to shift the boat, hoping the planking beneath our feet wouldn’t give way.  She was well afloat at the bow, but the stern was resolutely stuck on the bottom, and was sticking outside the back of the dock.  What I didn’t know until later was that Hardy, which has been moored afloat outside the dock for some months (after being raised from under the water at Braunston for four years and towed to Banbury), had been holed and sunk again last Sunday morning, by an unidentified passing boat.  So that pump on the bank was what they had used to raise her.

Sadly at that point  I had to get my grease and depart as our car park ticket was due to expire.  As I left they were shifting some of the ballast sacks forward.  I hope that worked.  Anyhow it was more fun than buying Stern Tube Grease on-line, and a lot cheaper too. £4.50 at Tooley’s, typically £8+ on-line.

There is talk of Cherwell Council trying to get rid of Tooleys so they can redevelop the site.  I sincerely hope they fail.

Hardy’s restoration is being funded by charitable donations.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Getting a shine

Whenever Herbie's paintwork starts to look shabby, I feel guilty. In my head I can hear the tutting of the kind friends who put in so much time and effort when we repainted her in 2010. The paint had got pretty flat lately and a sort of bloom had settled upon it. Washing made no difference and I feared that trying to polish it away might not be very successful. Desperate measures were called for so I decided to try it with T Cut.

T Cut, like WD40 and 3 in 1 Oil has been around forever but despite owning a few old bangers in my younger days, I've never used it. You probably know what it's like, but in case you don't, it looks suspiciously like Brasso.

I was scared it might take off too much paint or leave scouring marks. Narrowboat paint is a lot softer than car paint. Anyway after a short trial on the side hatch lid, I decide to risk it.

The first thing that struck me was how easy it was to rub on, you don't have to rub very hard. Then the bigger surprise was how little paint came off on the rag. I don't think I'm exaggerating by saying that my usual Craftmaster polish takes off as much pigment. However, the results were a delight. The bloom disappeared in a flash. Then, after the T Cut was rubbed on and then off I thought I'd have a go with a spray bottle of Bullet carnauba wax that I bought some years ago. I never had any success with it before, but now that the paint had a new surface it was worth a go, especially as I remember Adam saying it worked for him.

Well they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's the result.

Now I've stopped feeling guilty.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Tombstone Blues

You might think the good parishioners of Cropredy would get upset by people using the church graveyard as a beer garden, but apparently not. Even the church's own guide book has such a photo on the back cover. Well, it's the festival.

Across the road is the Red Lion which in the crowded back garden had live bands. Just up the road, the Brasenose Arms had more bands, and across the canal the main Fairport festival stage had even more. I have to say that listening to three bands at once is not really my cup of tea, especially when I found one of them really annoying. Don't get me started on why. I must be getting old.

I did feel sorry for the punters at the main stage last night, shivering out in the rain while Fairport were playing. We were in our warm dry boat watching our box set of The Detectorists.

This morning people will be packing up wet tents and saying their goodbyes for another year. I remember it well. We went to Towersey festival for nineteen consecutive years. As they look around, they might be astonished to see how the grass has greened up in just a couple of wet days.

Tomorrow we're going to venture out onto the canal after all the festival boats have gone. I'm going to carry on with my experiment with using T Cut on Herbie's faded cabin sides. Preliminary tests are unexpectedly interesting. Next time I'll tell you more.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Running the Gauntlet

Blimey ! The canal through Cropredy is pandemonium this week as every nook and cranny along the canal bank is occupied by boaters attending the Cropredy Festival. Passing through the next bridge below the village was particularly entertaining with boats moored on both banks and traffic coming the other way on a narrow bend. We didn't hit anything but we were only the thickness of a cigarette paper away at several points.

The sun shone and we tootled down to Banbury for lunch at the Reindeer before turning back and mooring in the peace and quiet below Slat Mill lock, for a bbq, a 'spot the intro' music quiz and rather too much wine.

Next morning, feeling somewhat hung over, we set off for the mile or so return to base, as boats coming the other way warned us of the chaos ahead. The pound above Slat Mill had dropped several inches, which is not good news as the bottom is too near the top along there at the best of times. Along the crowded stretches the boats coming the other way were on the shallow side and I suspect a good few of them ran aground. I handed over the tiller to our old friend Phil who hadn't driven a narrowboat for a few years, but he brought us through without a scratch. Well done that man. Approaching the village we were flabbergasted at how much the scene had changed in just 24 hours. Farmers' fields that were empty only the day before were suddenly busy campsites and car parks, people were thronging the towpaths and the bridges and bunting had appeared on many of the boats and the little yard behind the winding hole had turned into a market. What a difference a day makes.

We scurried on to the safety of our marina berth and settled in to hopefully listen to the festival music carried on the wind across the fields. Sadly for the festival goers, after weeks of lovely warm weather, the skies greyed and the wind got up and by the time Brian Wilson and his Pet Sounds band were blasting out their Beach Boys hits at half past nine, it was pretty chilly. I sat in Herbie's cratch cupping my ears to hear the music come and go on the changing wind. They sounded pretty good to start with and they churned out some of their old surfing and car hits, then as the wind dropped, they were drowned out by the frequent trains on the line that passes behind the village, so I only caught snatches of God Only Knows, and never got to hear them do Good Vibrations.

Now on Friday morning it's cool and raining. I do feel sorry for the festival crowd, but I suppose we have endured similar and much worse in our past, notably the great Towersey festival hurricane in nineteen eighty something when even some of the marquees came to grief. Hundreds of tents were flattened or blown away. Miraculously ours stayed up, but only just. Aah those were the days.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Going backwards like Herbie, Google and Amazon

Not actually a post about steering a boat backwards, but come to mention it, I am getting a bit better at it, so I’ll briefly say what I know on that subject.  Someone much better at it than I told me this:

Go as fast as you dare.  (scary!) Greater flow over the rudder helps steer and greater flow along the sides of the boat helps keep it in line.

Don’t look where you are going (even more scary!!), keep looking at the bow of the boat.

When, inevitably, the bow goes off line, push the tiller over in the opposite direction to the movement of the bow.

That’s what I try to do these days and sometimes it works.  I think the depth and width of the canal make a big difference to how well it works.

Any further tips welcome.

Anyway, what I was really going to write about is how technology companies keep making stuff worse instead of better.

First, Blogger, part of the great Google empire and how this blog gets to you. Recently I find that the side panels on my blog don’t appear until I click on the heading of the post.  How bizzarre is that? Can anyone tell me what is happening? I’ve been through the layout setup and all that but I can’t find the reason

Second, reader Chris tells me that Amazon wouldn’t let him post a review of my book. (thanks for letting me know by the way) How dare they?  This is the message he got.

"To submit reviews, customers must make a minimum number of valid debit or credit card purchases. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don't qualify towards the purchase minimum. For more information, see our Customer Review Guidelines."

I checked that up and here is the relevant bit in the guidelines.

To contribute to Community Features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers), you must have spent at least £40 on using a valid payment card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don't qualify towards the £40 minimum.

Needless to say, I’m not happy about it.  It makes me think I should be looking elsewhere to publish the books.

Has anyone else had a review rejected? I’d love to know.  If so maybe you could send me a review in the comments bit on this blog.  I think you might be able to do it anonymously, so I don’t strangle you if the review is bad.  Any reviews, good or not good are a big help to me if I want to improve.

A Good Hiding is still free until Tuesday. Selling like warmish cakes.

Friday, August 03, 2018

How do night closures save water?

I must be a person of little brain. I see that CRT have introduced evening and night closures at a number of lock flights in order to conserve water. Well I can't argue with the need to save water. Everyday, boats are carrying hundreds of thousands of gallons of the stuff with them as they fill and empty locks. What I can't understand is how night closures make any difference apart from maybe putting off a very small number of boats from making journeys at all. Apart from those very few boats, the rest of us just wait till next morning and then go up or down the locks just the same. Now I don't think CRT is stupid, so I guess they have good reason, but I just don't understand what it is. Can anyone enlighten me?

This has been day one of the 'get my book for free' campaign, and I have already doubled my 'sales' figures. If you are mad at Amazon for paying so little tax, now's your chance to rob them of a wee bit of profit. Be my guest. Search Amazon for A Good Hiding by Herbie Neil. You know it makes sense.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Dodgy knees, cynicism and a freebie +date CORRECTION

We had a lovely French teacher at school called Mr M P Heathcote.  He was one of a couple of teachers who told us their nicknames at the start as they preferred their choice rather than ours.  That was probably wise; he didn’t want to end up like the teacher with two protruding front teeth whom we called Stonehenge.  Mr Heathcote’s nickname was Speedy (you ought to be able to work out why.) Anyhow, he often used to say that sarcasm wasn’t the lowest form of wit, but cynicism was. I was never sure if cynicism counted as wit but I see what he was getting at.

Why am I telling you all this?

I’ve no idea.

Oh yes, I remember.  I’m suffering a bit from dodgy knees, or one of them at any rate.  It started with a general stiffness at the rear and know it hurts on one side.  I know what the problem is, it’s my feet not holding my legs straight.  A podiatrist told me that years ago.  I must dig our my special insoles he made for me and start using them again.  I don’t fancy limping down the canal and wincing as I push lock gates.  Were off for a short trip with some friends next week.

Kath and I got married in September 1976 at the end of the great drought.  After months without rain, standpipes in the street and all that,  we tootled off to Dartmoor in a little tent (we were skint) for our honeymoon and after three days the heavens opened and we were flooded out. Typical.  I have a suspicion that something similar might happen on our traditional September canal cruise this year.

Yes, yes, but what was all that stuff about cynicism and dodgy knees?  Ah well, wasn’t there a Greek philosopher called  Diogenes the Cynic?

In the book sales world, things need a bit more marketing.  I am up to double figures, but no reviews yet.  I looked back at the stats for my first book to compare and discovered some interesting facts.  After an initial flurry, sales died down and I offered the book for free for 5 days at a time (all that Amazon allows in a 90 day period).  Naturally lots more people downloaded it, but what was interesting was that each time I did that, a few more people bought the book for money a week later.  I suppose they might have enjoyed it and paid up later -try before you buy and all that.  Free copies downloaded totalled nearly 1300!! As I hope you realise, I’m far more happy that people read and enjoy the book than I am bothered about the truly miniscule bit of cash I make. So from tomorrow 2nd August 3rd August until Tuesday 7th, you can get it for free.

Follow this link to get a free copy from 2-7 August – sorry that’s 3rd August start- my mistake

Now I feel guilty about those people who have bought it for real money.  Sorry folks, I’ll buy you a drink when I see you, or give you a free paperback.  I have discovered that I can buy the paperbacks myself, as author, for £3.60 each if I order a dozen at a time, so I’ll keep a stock on the boat to give away.

Thursday, July 26, 2018


I'm beginning to wonder if there will be enough water in the canals for our customary September cruise. CRT reservoir watch figures for the last month show quite big drops in levels.- a 19% drop over the month in the case of the Oxford. It's still at a higher level than the very bad 2011 season, but I reckon this heatwave might soon catch us up with that year.

Time was when we could make it rain by just setting of on a cruise but we seem to have lost the knack. I think we ought to invite our old friend Rainman out for a week or two.

Hey ho, not a lot we can do.

We did a short cruise earlier this week and arrived back absolutely knackered. Even the ducks were hiding under the lock beams for shade.

I tried to tell it that it was on the wrong side of the cill but to no avail. I don't think ducks can read.

Talking of reading, my new novel is selling like warmish cakes. More interesting for me is that a third of them have been the paperback version, so I'm pleased I went to the trouble of preparing that one. No reviews have appeared yet, but people need time to read it and think up suitable words of lavish praise so I'm trying to be patient.

I expect some people might be waiting until the film comes out, but that might be a rather long time, so get yours now and be the envy of your friends.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Shameless Commercial

Did you see on the news this week that less people are buying ebooks and more people are buying paperbacks? Well it’s a good job my new book A Good Hiding  is coming out in both formats then.  Yes, it’s out today!! Hurry to get yours while the (infinite) stocks last.


The paperback thing is an eye opener.  It takes a lot more work to get it print ready; everything has to be the right size and shape and all that, then Amazon convert it to a pdf which they can print on demand.  They still come post free  next day if you are a Prime member. The actual cost of printing is £3.26 they tell me, then there’s postage and Amazon’s profit margin, then my royalty.  Had I priced the book at £5.49 which is what I first tried, my royalty would have been £0.03.  Yes three measly pence!  Now I’m not aiming to get rich, but that did seem derisory, so I’ve upped the price to £5.99 of which I get 33 pence.  The Kindle version is £1.99 right now.

Anyhow, here’s the blurb.

Mild mannered Careers Officer Eric has a magnetic personality. Unfortunately for him, his magnet is the kind that attracts trouble. He’s in hiding so that he doesn’t get one – a hiding that is. He narrowly escaped a beating just before Christmas by fleeing his adversaries, falling down stairs and injuring himself instead. Eric is unlucky that way. Now, without so much as a phrase book, he’s been packed off up to Sunderland, ostensibly to find out how to do careers advice in a place where there are no jobs, but really to keep him safe from the murderous Hatton. Hatton is the last uncaptured member of the criminal gang accidentally discovered by poor Eric, and as the main witness for the prosecution, Eric is the man Hatton needs to silence.

Of course the police are on the case, but as they are led by the muttonheaded Chief Superintendent Cosgrove, that only makes matters worse.

Stranded in Sunderland without his beloved guitar to keep him sane, Eric remembers the advice his girlfriend gave him before he set off to the frozen North.

“Keep away from amorous older women and heavyweight wrestlers and find yourself a cheap car.”

Well one out of three wasn’t too bad. The car was a proper bargain. He used it to flee back south where it‘s warmer. Unfortunately for Eric, that’s when it all got much much too hot. Was he on a hiding to nothing?

As you can tell, it’s another intellectual psychodrama in the style of Tolstoy or Enid Blyton like the last book.  I think it’s fair to say that the women in it are superior to the men, so ladies might appreciate it.  Bits of it make me laugh anyway and my test readers have been kind enough to say it was a fun read.  For canal enthusiasts there’s a hidden  bonus theme which I will leave you to discover for yourselves. Should you be bold enough to give it a go, please think about leaving a review on Amazon especially if you liked it.

“How do I get one?”, I hear you ask.  Just follow this link.  or Google for Amazon Herbie Neil A Good Hiding.  I haven’t even got one myself yet, so you could be the first.

End of commercial break.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Moving options

We need to be thinking about where we want to moor next year.  Our berth at Cropredy is lovely, the marina is great and not too dear, the Oxford canal is one of the prettiest, and we can get to and from home easily.  But you can have too much of a good thing and the idea of a change in surroundings is tempting.  The problem is where to go if we moved?  Here are our limitations.

We don’t want to retrace our steps and go back to the lower Grand Union or to Crick.  Been there, done that.

We don’t want a long car journey from home (near Reading).

We’d like a good centre with a choice of new routes, but with some good local short cruises to a place worth visiting (like we have Banbury now)

We’d like access to public transport for one of us to get home sometimes.

We’d like a friendly, safe, and not too expensive (e.g.not BWML prices) marina, or maybe a good private on line mooring.

Ideas so far have included:

On the Nene (hoping for no floods)

Fazeley Mill marina (a bit of a drive but do-able)

Somewhere on the K&A – handy for home and transport

One of the marinas up the Ashby

I got quite keen on the K&A for the practical benefits, but I have yet to meet many boaters prepared to extol its virtues.  It all looks like quite hard work and offers little choice of routes except back and forth.

I think the favourite at the moment is Fazeley Mill, but if anyone out there has any suggestions I’m all ears.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the gruelling slog of proof reading and prepping my new book is in full swing.  Kath is finding dozens of places where I have extra spaces lurking in the text, sometimes causing the quote marks to reverse themselves (no idea why) and the odd missing or extraneous word.  My story readers have mostly reported back that the plot has no fundamental errors. (phew)  Perhaps the biggest headache is trying to format the text for the paperback version.  The Amazon KDP system is very fussy about layout.  I’ll be glad when I can push the ‘publish’ button.  If the total income from book sales amounts to more than 10p per hour of our work, I’ll be surprised.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Peace of mind

Picture the scene. There I am, half way down the M40 on the way home after a boating expedition when a nagging thought enters my mind. Did I tighten the stern gland before we left?  Did I turn off the inverter? Oh ‘eck, the boat will sink and /or the batteries will be flat.  I think we get more like that as we get older, at least I do.  Normally of course, I have done whatever it is, but I spend the next week afraid that I hadn’t.  So now we have a solution.


I printed off a stack of these and use one each time we leave.  It works! Peace of mind at last. Except there are a couple of things I mean to add to the list, but I can’t remember what they are.  Any further suggestions for the list are very welcome. Of course it’s important to take the completed list home with you, or else you’ll worry that you did actually tick this or that.

In other news:

My new novel is in the hands of three kind friends who offered to endure a reading of it.  Hopefully they will confirm that it makes some sort of sense and that the story hangs together.  It’s no good reading through it yourself because your head is full of what you think you wrote.  Kath has been using her digital graphics skills to help with the front cover, a joint effort, which will look like this.

cover at

If it passes the reader test, I’m hoping to publish in a week or so. Exciting or what?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tales of the Unexpected

Things rarely turn out how you expect, and our trip down to Oxford and back was like that. The idea was to give our Peter a holiday break and a free bed while he attended a jolly in Oxford over the weekend, then to scuttle quickly back to Cropredy.  Bish bosh, job done.

We didn’t (or at least I didn’t) think I’d find time to rub down my starboard handrail, fill, undercoat and two top coats, but I did. (Adam, I’m still a big fan of that masking tape.)

I didn’t image for one minute that I’d find time to finish off my novel (bar the proofing etc.) but I did.

In all that hot weather, we thought we’d be overflowing with solar power, but sometimes we weren’t.

We thought we would be our own company on the return trip, but it was very sociable.

Instead of coming back in three days, we took six.

How did all that happen?  Well the weather had a lot to do with it.  Like most other people we elected for early starts to avoid the heat, so we were done and tied up by lunch time most days.  This gave us the afternoon off, which is when those jobs got done.  and like all the other boaters we headed for the shady spots to moor up, like here at Aristotle lane in Oxford.


Kath and Peter skulk in the bushes  Before long, the shade moved right over the boat, which is why the solar panels didn’t get a feed of sunlight.  They do seem to like a direct view of the sun. Also I have read that they are less efficient when they get very hot, and despite them having a good air gap underneath, they did get very hot.  Nevertheless they were a big help, even if not at their optimum.

As for sociability, our cup overflowed, the only disappointment was not being able to meet up with Bones as planned.  The diaries never seemed to fit.  Maffi was about and we had our usual natters with him of course.  Tying up early and sitting out, we got to know our neighbours each afternoon and spend many a happy hour swapping stories.  In particular, we spent three or four afternoons in the company of Ray and Lucille on Nb Lucy Lockett who we had not met before, but now know each others life stories intimately!

Another unexpected thing was to see how many of the CRT notices had already changed to the new livery.  Like most other boaters, we’re not at all sure it’s as good as the old although at least the blue does attract the eye more than the old white.  Time will tell. In principle, I’m generally against strap lines, especially ones with the first word ending in “-ing”. They always seem a bit naff to me.  I have in my career endured awaydays when such things are developed.  Like all things developed by committee, they tend to come out as bland or trite.  I shall say no more on the subject.


Here’s another thing I didn’t expect to see, especially on a pub wall:


This one was outside the Bell in Lower Heyford.  Maybe they should look at the cholesterol in their menu.

The reason we took twice as long to come back up the canal was simple.  The thing we had to get back home for was cancelled, so why hurry when we could just do two or three hours a day and spend the rest of the time sitting in the lovely countryside.

PS  My book is nearly ready. Kath is reading it through.  I think I might have thought of a good title.  Now I need to design a cover.  Once again, I’ll stick it on Amazon / Kindle.  I think these days it’s automatic that people can order a print version, so those out there who don’t like reading from a screen will have no excuse.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018


When it comes to a knowledge of Botany
I'm a person that has not Gotany
I've been searching through flowers
For hours and hours
But of rare ones I never did Spotany

Such is the standard of my poetry! Talking of such things, down here on the Oxford there are miles and miles and miles of wild flowers, currently mostly meadowsweet and rosebay willowherb, or on the shady bits, the big leaves of what I suppose are. Gunnera - giant rhubarb.

Now some boaters have said to me this week that they think the canal bank is too overgrown and there are not enough places to stop. Hmmph! That's a bit like complaining that all the paintings in the National Gallery are blocking the view of the wall. I counted the number of good mooring stops ( clear straight banks with piling and nice mown grassy bank to sit out) between Thrupp and Aynho, 10 miles, twenty good moorings, many big enough for a number of boats. That's fine isn't it?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Something very exciting has happened

Yes, it has, but before I get to that:

Here we are in sunny Jericho. I haven't seen any walls come tumbling down yet, but we live in hopes. Actually we're not all that sunny because we're moored under some sort of maple tree, which is stealing all our would be solar power and covering the boat in what might best be described as maple syrup. I haven't tasted it, but it sure is sticky. All week we have been busy going not very far, starting earlyish for us, and finishing by mid day to avoid the heat. I must say, it's a very pleasant way to go nowhere fast. We have dined very well, on barbecues and the odd treat such as a mid day cream tea at Annie's tea room in Thrupp. Maffi is loitering around Thrupp, so we had a natter with him. As we left on Thursday morning, we passed his boat and he rushed onto his back deck and shouted either "ice cream's empty" or "I've been tempted." I think. I wonder what that's all about.

Tonight we are dining on a street food takeaway from Gloucester Road market in Oxford, where foods of many nationalities can be had. Ours is Indian and I think its gonna be a hot one. It's in the oven as I write. I said to Kath that we should be washing it down with champagne because . . .

I have reached the end of my second novel !!!! Well, when I say reached the end, the story is done and dusted, but I still have tidying up to do, the odd scene trimming and a couple of bits to add in the middle, then a thousand and one typos and punctuation errors to correct, but the story is told. It's all these lazy afternoons that have done it, I've been going like a train, my fingers a blur over the keyboard of my little tablet, hence all the typos. A week ago I didn't know the story would end and how all the threads would come together, but they just did, and if I may say so, I think it might be fun to read. Of course it has all the gravitas, romance and sensuality of my first novel i.e. none, but I think I'm happier with it that I expected when half way through. A proper re read now will be the test and then I'll have to let someone else read it. That's the scary bit. I wouldn't start queuing outside Waterstones just yet.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


I think we ought to move Herbie to the South of France where it's not so flippin' hot.

It all got pretty noisy this morning as lots of boats set off early to beat the heat. Now in mid afternoon they're all moored up in shady spots like us. Here we are just north of Heyford lift bridge.

We had a long chat with a CRT canal inspector checking out the section between Aynho and Heyford. He showed us his list of things that needed attention, and it was huge! Fat chance of getting that lot done, I suppose they'll have some way of prioritising.

Always interesting talking to these guys and as ever you discover that things are never as simple as they seem, for instance, stop planks. Apparently they've tried a range of materials and designs, but nothing is as good as spruce. Problem is, it's a very buoyant wood and again despite all sorts of ways of holding them down in the water, a gang of chaps standing on them still works best. I bet elfin safety doesn't think much of that.

Yesterday a chap I met at Nell Bridge told me he'd accidentally trod on an adder at King's Sutton. Basking in the sun I suppose. Anyway it didn't try to bite him.

Funny the stuff you learn while doing not much on a hot day.

Monday, June 25, 2018


This can't be us on hols, it's not raining. Clearly no-one told the met office we were out cruising for a couple of weeks, because it's hot and sunny.

Currently (Monday breakfast) we're at camp 1, aka Spiceball Park in Banbury, before continuing on towards the dreaming spires of ye olde Oxenford. Saturday night at Base Camp, aka Cropredy, gave us this spectacular sunset over the marina

In an effort not to be boring, last night we thought we'd give the Three Pigeons Pub a try (the Reindeer was probably sending out search parties). Anyhow it was very good in all ways, food, beer and service. Kath had a burger that was taller than Ronnie!Recommended. They keep a lovely pint of Purity Gold.

Young Ronnie, now mostly recovered from his horrific encounter with a car ten days ago, is with us as far as Heyford, and he's well enough to get back to his crisp stealing habits.

Wor lad Peter is also on the crew this week so he can use us as cheap(free) accommodation while he is on some jolly in Oxford next weekend. That's what mums and dads are for, we are told.

We'll send our sherpas out to Morrisons on the way out of Banbury, so we have enough grub to allow us to dine in the wilds. Probable Camp 2 is Belcher's lift bridge just before Aynho, cunningly chosen because it should offer us the shade of the hedge, and we love it there anyway.

Yesterday despite the canal being busy, all the locks were in our favour. Fingers crossed that might continue.
Stay tuned.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Near disaster but all's well

You all remember our little Ronnie the Chorkie

Grace's dog I suppose you would call him, but he's a family pet anyway and a regular boat crew member. Well on Thursday last he got run over by a car. He was getting out of our car outside the house, saw a cat and gave chase across the road. The car's wheel went right over him. You can imagine our horror, but after two separate thorough vet examinations, one at the nearest vet within ten minutes of being hit, and a second examination next day by his regular vet, it looks like he got away with it!! He's been somewhat subdued for a few days and no doubt he's got bruises and an abrasion on his thigh, but yesterday he was quite perky and trotting about and wagging his tail. I'm not sure who was more traumatised, him or us.

We bumped into Maffi on Saturday. As we were baby sitting Grace over the weekend she requested a boat trip so we took Herbie down to Banbury which is where we saw Milly M and the man himself sporting an alarmingly neat haircut. He hopped on board for a trip down to the winding hole and back and was impressed by Grace's driving skills. For the first time she has this weekend been steering the boat into locks, both up and down and doing it really well. Not bad for a ten year old.

Next week we're cruising down to Oxford with our Peter, who although nearly four times Grace's age would freely admit to being less good at the tiller.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


First an apology.  I have just discovered that a number of comments that kind readers have put on my posts have not been finding their way through to me.  Blogger is supposed to be sending comments to me by email, so I know they are there, but I just discovered that in over forty cases over the last few months, the comments never got through to me in this way. So in a lot of cases I didn’t know they were there. So if you made a comment without a reply or response from me where needed, that’s the reason why.  Very sorry folks, I’ll try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Now what might be a useful tip to someone.  Like us you might have a Cobb barbecue on your boat, or perhaps at home.  I think Oakie has one at any rate.  We like to use their Cobblestones as fuel.  At a couple of quid a time, they are not cheap, but they do give a good heat very quickly and maintain the heat steadily for up to two hours.  As I may have written before, these Cobblestones (sort of compressed coir wheels) are real pigs to light.  I used to end up using half a box of matches to get one going.  Well folks, I have found the answer to the problem.  For my birthday last January I asked Kath to buy me a chef’s blowtorch so I could fool about making creme brulees or charring peppers and the like. Last week I used it to light the Cobb and hey presto, the Cobblestone was fully lit in seconds.  It was hot enough to start cooking in barely a couple of minutes.  These little blowtorches don’t cost a lot.  They might even be good for getting charcoal briquettes or whatever to light.  If I were you I’d get one.

I don’t know if it was the late spring and then all this warm weather or what, but our garden has exploded in the last couple of weeks. I’m going to have to buy a machete if this keeps up. I hesitate to complain when things are growing too well, but we’re in danger of being overwhelmed by greenery.  Anyone else with the same problem?  Maybe I should get a goat.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

A week not wasted

I may not have written a blog post for a week or more, but I have not, dear reader, been idle. Well, not all the time anyway.  We have been on Herbie trying to get her more spick and span.  When we arrived at Herbie in the marina a week ago we were pleased to see that the flags were out for us.  That’s yellow flag irises of course.  Moon daisies, dog roses and all sorts of other stuff was out too.  The marina surroundings are looking very lush and pretty.


Down our end of the marina, away from the car park and the office etc, we get all the wildlife, song birds especially, including, I am happy to report, skylarks twittering away up in the sky. Down in the water, apart from the ducks and swans there are some proper big carp that will come up and eat your scraps of bread if the ducks don’t get there first.  And, best of all, about an hour after sundown, we got spectacular displays of bats swooping low over the water at speeds that would put swallows to shame.  I’m no bat expert but I guess they are daubenton bats since they are supposed to feed over water and seem about the right size. The light reflected over the water surface gives you a better view than you would normally get of bats in flight, but they were much too fast to photograph.  Suffice it to say there were lots of them. Just look at this picture and fill in your imaginary bats.

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Just to finish off this wildlife section, here are a couple of  the little fellows that came to see us when we sat out in our deck chairs.


There are five cygnets in all, and like all swans they have little fear of us humans.

Despite weather varying from too misty to too hot to too breezy, I did manage to get a bit of painting done.  The section of Herbie’s roof where the roof box sits now has three fresh top coats and the box is at long long last installed.


I also managed to do the other roof areas that needed repainting, although I suspect that having done it in sections at different times some bit of it will need seeing to before very long, a bit like the Forth bridge.

Our wooden handrails need regular attention as the wood expands and contracts in the weather and the ropes drag over them etc.  I feel guilty when I let them get scruffy after all the hard work Marilyn put in on them when we did the big Herbie repaint.  This time they needed more than a touch up so on the port side I sanded almost all of the rail back to bare wood and filled a lot of the cracks and screw holes before putting on a thick undercoat and three gloss coats and now it looks like this.


The first of the top coats didn’t go too well, I painted it too late in the day and  an evening mist came down and gave it a frosted finish.  That’ll learn me.  Note to self:  Don’t paint outdoors after 2pm.  I hope the finished job will pass Marilyn's inspection next time she comes to visit. Hopefully her eyesight might not be what it was. The starboard side will have to wait until we can get that against the bank or the pontoon. 

I have a tip to pass on.  Having left my best masking tape at home, I despatched Kath down to Wickes in Banbury to get “the best she could” and she came back with this stuff.


It’s made by the Duck tape people and I like it very much.  The photo is a bit misleading, it’s about 2cm wide, normal sort of masking tape width.  The outside in plastic and the sticky side seems to have some sort of fine webbing.  That’s the sticky side in the photo.  It sticks well, comes off well (no bleeds at all) and is not as stretchy as a lot of tapes.  I found it easy to apply it all along one side of the boat in one straight strip – something other tapes wouldn’t let me do as they tended to pull into a curve.  It’s not cheap, I think Kath paid about £8 but don’t quote me, but there is a lot of tape on the reel.  I shall be using it for similar jobs in future.

I suppose I should just add for the record that during the week I managed to get the aft deck cants painted as well.


The rest of the time I just loafed about tightening crews and stuff like that, but mostly watching paint dry.  Oh and I wrote another episode or two of my number two novel.  I will finish it this year.  I think. I still have no idea how it ends.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The tale of a piece of wood

This little history does finish up with something about Herbie, so bear with me.

Many many years ago when I was young and slim I had a friend called Paul who was moving out of his flat.  In this flat was an old pedal organ which he had rescued from a skip when a church or chapel was being demolished in Henley-on-Thames.  Not having room for it in his next place, Paul was getting rid of the organ, So I bought it off him for £4 plus some other bartered object I now forget.

It was a fine old instrument, made by the Bell Organ Co of Canada. I can’t find a photo of it, but it looked very similar to this one which I saw for sale on the net at one time.


The carcass was of the finest solid oak, some of it an inch and a half thick! It had fine panels and quite a lot of intricate carving.  Complete with it's ornate cast iron rimmed Patent Mouseproof Pedals, it was a joy to behold –maybe not in a modern Habitat furnished house, but it was a fine thing in itself.  Inside the organ however was a somewhat different story and it appeared to have been made out of clothes pegs, lollipop sticks and coat hanger wire!  It did however have several rows of tuned brass reeds, most of which were intact.  The webbing that attached the big plywood bellows to the Patent Mouseproof Pedals needed replacing in order to make it play, so I set about fixing it.  Luckily, the majority of the carcass was held together by gert big dome headed screws, so it was easy to pull to bits.  Once inside, I recall a great deal of head scratching, because it looked to me as if the things was built back to front.  All the air valves were on the wrong side. A quick phone call to Paul solved the problem. “That’s because it’s an American Organ, not a harmonium.  Harmoniums blow, American Organs suck!”  Not a lot of people know that. Well you learn something every day.

Well I got the thing working after a fashion and spent many a happy hour getting most of the stops to work and fixing dodgy keys. Despite not being a pianist I managed to learn a tiny bit of Bach and a passable rendition of the folk song “The Lark in the Clear Air”. However, modern central heating took its toll and over the years the innards started to fall to bits as the glue dried out and lost its stick.  Had I not has a busy career and three kids and a wife to keep me occupied I might have restored it, but I didn’t.  The time came when It had to make room for proper furniture in our living room.  I took the whole thing to bits, removed the two hundred and odd brass reeds (I still have them in a box, can’t bear to part with them) and took the rest of the crumbing mechanical  innards and the keyboard to the tip.  But that oak was just too good to throw away, so I had a brainwave.  We needed a bench seat in our conservatory so reassembling the carcass in a different order, I made this.


There it stood for many years, while the organ stop drawers long the bottom gradually got broken off by wayward feet, until the day came when we decided to take it to bits and install something more comfortable, but still I couldn’t bear to throw away that lovely oak and much of it stands in my shed as I write.

So why am I telling you all this?   Well I’ve found a use for a small bit of it.  On Herbie’s rear deck seats we keep a box for windlasses, stakes, mooring chains and the like.  In spite of several coats of varnish the plywood box lid has delaminated, so we need a new one.  Now do you remember a couple of posts back that picture of the lovely old sailing boat? That’s what inspired me to make a new lid out of some of the old oak.  If that boat can last a hundred years under lots of coats of varnish, then my hundred year old oak can do the same, and look good into the bargain.  So here is my new hundred year old box lid, cut to size, rubbed down and given four coats of exterior varnish – and I managed to include some of that lovely edging.


The photo makes it look bigger than it is. I purposely left a couple of small dings in it to show its age, but what a lovely old bit of wood eh?  That’s a bit of history that is.


PS while I’m doing stuff like this, our conservatory is slowly falling down.  I seem to have an issue with priorities Smile

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Art and (not much) alcohol in Cambridge - and a ghost B&B

No boats or canals this time, but you could visit Cambridge by boat, so that’s my excuse.  We left the paint on Herbie’s roof drying and drove there.

Well I left you with that picture of steel bars in my last post, so let’s take a few steps back to reveal what it is.


Yes, dear old Anthony Gormley is at it again, this time in kettles yard n Cambridge.  Those people in the background are real by the way.  His theme in this exhibition is objects built on the three axes, X,Y and Z if you’re familiar with that kind of thing.  In another room is a glass cube about three feet across containing 10x10x10 LEDs all very neatly soldered on a 3d grid of what look like thin brass wire.  No doubt he got his assistant to do all the donkey work.  Anyway, when you get up close and peer in, the effect is one of staring into infinity.


Some modern art I don’t like. I recall getting a bit annoyed at one or two exhibits in Tate Modern, for example an exact replica of a domestic radiator, or a square of red paint, but Gormley I do like.

Kettles Yard also has The House, oh and what a house it is.  The “creator” Jim Eade converted it from three old cottages in the 1960s and set about making it a home full of lovely simple things, all set out with immaculate care and precision to delight the eye.  If you like pebbles and paintings of fishing boats and traditional English chairs, you’re in for a treat.  Best of all you are encouraged to sit in the chairs and take in the light and the atmosphere. I’m tempted to say that of all the many houses we have visited over the years, this is my favourite.  I would move in tomorrow.  It’s light and airy and cosy all at the same time.  And the house and the exhibition are both free to enter and come and go as often as you like.

Earlier we had to drop in to Nova, an upmarket coffee bar I suppose you would call it, to see another art exhibition, this time displaying the work of the Cambridge Urban Sketchers Group, of which our son Peter is a member.  Peter, although a scientist and computer geek is getting quite arty in his old age and works in all sorts of media.  In the exhibition was Peter’s needle felt picture of knitters in  Cambridge pub.  Not for sale as he has promised it to Kath.  The sketchers draw/ paint/ etc from life, in situ, picking a different venue for each monthly meeting.  I suppose Peter sat there with his wool and felting needles and bashed away. I don’t know if he finished it off at home, I forgot to ask.


Sorry about the reflected white line across the middle.

Then, on to our real reason for going to Cambridge, our annual sortie to the Cambridge Beer Festival.  You probably won’t believe me when I say that in a total of ten hours at the festival (over two days), I drank three and a half pints in total.  Seven halves to be exact, one cider, two perrys and four beers.  It’s all about quality rather than quantity although I did eat two monster curries and some pork scratchings.

Well while I’m indulging in a post not about Herbie or canals (sorry), I might as well tell you about one more thing.  B&B’s in Cambridge are frighteningly expensive, so we searched for a cheap alternative to our usual.  What Kath found was a B&B with no-one there.  Really.  You book in on line and they email you a key code for the door locks.  You let yourself in, the room, with en-suite bathroom, is clean and comfortable but basic.  In the morning you go downstairs to the silent kitchen where you help yourself to cereal, toast and jam/marmalade, eggs if you want them, tea, orange juice etc.  Then you wash up your dishes and that’s it.  Over the two days and nights we didn’t see a soul except for a fleeting glimpse of another guest as she went out the door.  It saved us £60. It worked for us although I did miss my B&B treat of a Full English .

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Breaking all the painting rules in an idyllic setting.

Yay, I’m back!  We’ve been boating without doing much boating, and boozing without much boozing.  I’d better explain.

Herbie’s roof underneath where the old roofbox lay, needed painting.  The box feet had wrought their terrible damage on the roof and patches of paint  had peeled off leaving scabby rust beneath.  I couldn’t put my shiny new box on top of that could I?  No way.

However, I’ve said before that the weather is never right for painting a boat and this time the problem was the warm sunshine.  After cruising down to Banbury to stock up at Morrisons with food to keep us going, we turned and headed back to this lovely spot below Slat Mill Lock and settled in for a the best part of three days.


I suppose that after the rain of the last two nights, a lot of that beautiful May blossom lies on the water like confetti, but we seemed to have hit it at its peak. The air was thick with the scent of it and I’ve never seen it so dense.


Lots of other wild flowers were out too including these Speedwell right next to the boat, again thicker than I had ever seen them.


Anyhow, I digress.  While the solar panels were busy knocking out lots of amps in the hot sun, I set to work with the electric sander powered from the inverter and soon had the rusty patches ready for a lick of Fertan rust converter, which on the already very warm roof set dry in about 20 seconds.  This didn’t augur well for the paint, but that was for the next day.  That evening we broke out the old barby and a nice bottle of plonk and watched the sun go down.


There was a huge hatch of insects on the water and clouds of millions of them swarmed over the canal.


Thankfully they didn’t seem to be of the biting sort, or if they were, they had their minds on other things.  It was Kath who first noticed that as they rose into the air they rapidly paired up, a larger one flying close behind and slightly below a smaller one.  They were all at it.  Then once the more skilled ones had manage to lock together they seemed to forget how to fly and spiralled back down towards the water. All very romantic.

Next morning I was up relatively early to get back to the roof before it got to hot.  After washing off the Fertan, out came the Isopon filler, which I have discovered is the best way to smooth out and level off the indentations where we have rubbed back to the metal. Some people express concern or disapproval about using filler, but Phil Speight says it’s OK so that’s more than good enough for me. If you’ve use Isopon, you’ll know that you have to work fast once you have mixed in the hardener.  Well this day fast wasn’t fast enough!  I had to work like flippin’ greased lightening, only mixing enough filler at a time to last three or four minutes before it set hard. I lost count of how many batches I did. You can normally sand down this filler after an hour, but I reckon fifteen minutes might have been enough.  Anyhow it sanded down to a lovely smooth finish, and after vacuuming the dust of the roof and giving it a wash with white spirit.  I was ready with the primer/undercoat.  The idea is not just to paint over the patches but the whole width of the roof for a section long enough to cover all the repairs. As well as the big spots under the boat feet, there were numerous small blemishes that had emerged over the eight years since that bit of the roof was painted. Mostly damage from poles, the gangplank and the like.

The aforementioned Mr Speight was now whispering in my ear that it was now far too hot for painting, and it was, so I pressed on and did it anyway because I’ll never get the flippin’ job done otherwise.  “Keep a wet edge” is the mantra.  Well with a roof that's too hot to kneel on (I suspect hot enough to fry an egg), I had to stand on the gunnel and paint as fast as I could.  Having broken one rule I now broke another.  On a roof you are supposed to lay off the paint with brush strokes across the roof.  Well from the gunnel I couldn’t reach that so I opted for a longitudinal approach, painting like a mad man with a nice four inch brush. Luckily the paint was very good stuff and went on thickly but flowed well. Whilst I was fast enough to stop the paint dragging, by the time I got to each subsequent pass the previous one was beginning to dry so a pleasing striped effect was beginning to emerge.  Never mind, it was only undercoat. Once half way across the roof I  had to brave the canal side gunnel to reach the other side, so not only was I splashing the paint on like a maniac, I was hanging on to the hand rail with the non brushing hand.  I would think any observers on passing boats found it all rather amusing.

By now I was getting paint all over my hands, so once finished I washed it all off with white spirit and now I smelled so much of the stuff I was scared to step into the sun for fear of spontaneously combusting!  I retired to the shade and did a couple of crosswords.  That evening another barby in this lovely spot.  Despite us using the sander and charging our plethora of phones, ipads, Dyson vacuum etc and running the fridge in the very hot weather, we ended the day with the batteries fuller than we started.  Solar rules OK.

I know a second undercoat should have been the job next day, but we had to get back to the marina and then shoot off to Cambridge (more of which in the next post). As this is only the roof under the rood box and I only had one day left so I opted to put on a top coat of raddle.  This I did after we arrived back at our berth in Cropredy.  The roof was warming fast so using a kneeling pad I climbed up and raddled away , this time using a proper transverse lay off.  I suppose the area I had to paint was about nine feet by six, and it took about half an hour.  Here and there the paint was grinning a tiny bit (undercoat showing through), but that’s what the next coat is for and you cant go back over drying paint.  No, really you can’t.  Anyhow it looks not too bad now.  Rather than put the new roof box in place we stowed it inside the boat before leaving for Cambridge (in the car of course). I’ll apply at least one more top coat next time I go back to Herbie.

If you plan to patch up a scabby boat roof, please do not follow my example. Take more time and choose cooler weather.  I only did it this way to get the job done in the time I had available.  No doubt it won’t last as long as it would have if painted in better conditions with more primer and undercoat.  It’s a risk I consciously took. Had this been the sides of the cabin, I would absolutely definitely never do it like this.  Roofs I regard as a bit more expendable and the finish required, especially in raddle which is matt(ish), is not so critical.  Nevertheless it looks OK, and with another coat or two and under the box, it’ll hold for a good while.

Here’s a little puzzle for next time.  Any idea what this steel structure is?


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Extremes of Norfolk.

I read somewhere that sailing is like long periods of boredom interspersed with short instances of abject terror.  Well i take the point. We’re just back from our annual Norfolk Broads sailing weekend and it was a bit like that. On Sunday, after dodging the stream of plastic cruisers as big as ocean liners crewed by hirers who had no idea how to anticipate the movement of a tacking sailing boat  and then several overloaded launches full of drunken oiks, we ground to a halt on Horning taking about an hour to do a couple of hundred yards in absolute flat calm.  (I have a soft spot for Horning, recalling one trip forty odd years ago when we overloaded a dinghy with inebriated comrades returning after a night in the Ferry Inn and sank it.  We all lived to tell the tale I’m happy to report.)

Next day the wind was 18mph gusting to 30 odd as we tore down the river Bure at a rate that would put jet skiers to shame.  Some thing of a white knuckle ride I can tell you.  The boat yard from which we had hired the boats did offer to come out and tow us back, such was the force of the wind, but we were made of sterner (or stupider depending the way you look at it) stuff.  Anyhow by some miracle we arrived back unscathed, which was just as well for the boats we had hired were much too beautiful to scratch or dent, or worse still, sink.

Here’s one of them.  Take a good look and guess how old it is.




Well it might have looked as good as new but it is 90 odd years old. The woodwork in these things is something to behold. No veneer in ‘ere.  I suppose it might be like Trigger’s broom that’s had 5 new heads and four new handles, but I’m pretty sure the hull and much of the other stuff was original.  Anyway, it was immaculately turned out and equipped and sailed very nicely.  Boats like this are called half deckers on the Broads and they were originally built for racing.  They’re 22 feet long so plenty big enough for four or even five people.

When it comes to skippering a sailing boat I am pretty slow in coming forward as my imagination of what might go wrong is a lot stronger than my ability at the helm, so a lot of the time I volunteer as ballast or if pressed, take over the jib sheets and do as I am told.  I know my place.

Overnight we (nine of us) stayed in a little complex of holiday cottages a short walk from the river Ant where we could keep the boats overnight and it was all very jolly as we are all old old friends going back well over forty years (except for the second generation who aren’t that old yet.) We wined and dined and had our annual quiz and a good time was had by all.

I like the Broads, but I’ll be happy enough to get back where boats don’t usually capsize.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


What a good weekend for boating it was over the bank holiday.  Except It was a bit too hot perhaps, and our Peter (our intended crew / lock wheeler) had taken a fall and hurt his wrist, and Grants lock (the first below Banbury on our intended route) was shut for a repair and our car was not working. So we stayed at home where we had to keep Peter amused, and baby sit Grace for two nights when her Mum was working very late, and we had to look after Ronnie the dog and Biscuit the mouse.  The joys of family life eh?

It was a busted alternator on the car.  First the battery warning light kept coming on, then as I was driving it to the garage the instrument panel lit up like a Christmas tree, ABS warning, brake warning, power steering failure, the lot.  You don’t realise how much power steering helps until it stops working.  Still alternators do fail sometimes and it’s an easy fix, or it would be if the car designers had left room to get at it.  In the end the garage undid the engine mounts and jacked the engine up until there was space to get the alternator out.  It makes you eternally grateful for how simple and spacious most boat engine bays are.

The roof box is finished and ready to ship back out to Herbie.  Here you see the final touches, first the TV aerial pole mount, shown from underneath so you can see the little rectangular bracket that supports the end of the pole. 


Then Kath kindly modelled the box with it’s cover attached.  Note that the bungee chords stretch over the dark grey paint so they are less visible and don’t spoil the pattern.  Amazingly I did think of that before I started painting!  This time I threaded dowels along the edge seams to help hold the fabric out straight. That scruffy old board leaning on the wall is one of the box floor boards which are straight off the old box.  It is stiffened with battens on the side you can’t see here.  Note the pleasing yellow and brown patches on what we laughingly like to call our lawn.  It takes a lot of hard neglect to get an effect like that in the lushness of early spring.


This coming weekend is our annual Norfolk Broads sailing fiasco.  This time we have boats from a different boatyard so we’ll probably make even more of a hash of it than usual.  For the first time we will not have the drama of passing through Potter Heigham bridge which will be a relief at least. We’ll have to find some other way of getting in a fearful tangle and collapsing with exhaustion and blind panic as the tide sweeps us towards the miniscule hole in the ancient stone work.  No doubt opportunities will present themselves elsewhere.  There has been talk of going up the river Ant where the wind comes and goes at random strength and direction and the river is too narrow to do much tacking.  Masochists R Us.

Monday, April 30, 2018

One swallow does not a summer make

Cruising below Bourton lock on Saturday we were treated to an aerial display by a gang of swallows swooping and skimming around us like jets round an aircraft carrier.  What with them and the cowslips along the banks and the hawthorne bushes all budded up ready to burst out the May blossom, you might expect it to have felt like spring.  Well if you’re reading this in the UK, you’ll know that it flippin’ well didn’t.  The only reason that we were out on Herbie was that we were baby sitting Grace for the weekend and her entertainment of choice was to go boating.  We didn’t feel so keen looking at the weather forecast and we did warn her that it would be cold and wet and that she would need to be out on the back of the boat etc. but she was adamant. So that’s what we did, and I have to say she was a real trooper.

Grace is only ten years old but she’s turning into a right good boater. She did her bit at every lock and did 90% of the helming too, even turning us nicely at the awkward Tramway winding hole below Banbury.  All I did was stand beside her offering the occasional word of advice or encouragement.  Hopefully when Kath and I get too old and frail to do all this stuff, Grace might be able to take us out for a trip. 

Some of the lock paddles down there are pretty heavy and stiff, but she wouldn’t give in, adopting a technique of hopping back and forth across the balance beam to get a good pull on the windlass.

           IMG_1829[5654]             IMG_1831[5653]

I did my bit of course


As we were returning after turning the boat a kind man on a boat whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, but it was something about a Wren, enquired after our roof box – he was obviously a blog reader.  Well there are still tiny bits to do. One thing we are thinking of is stiffening the edges of the canvass cover with a dowel to keep the edge straight.  It has tended to pucker up in the past, allowing rain puddles to collect on the canvass.  My expeditions to Wickes /Toolstation for bits and pieces are a bit restricted at the moment as our car has developed an electrical fault.  It goes in for (I hope) a fix tomorrow.

Having temporarily satisfied Grace’s boating desires we are now negotiating with Peter, our youngest son, over a break with him next weekend, so we might be out cruising again.  He is not nearly such a good helmsman as Grace, but you can’t be good at everything and he is amazing at lots of things.  I don’t know where he gets it from, I can’t be good at anything much.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Roofbox–the final solution

The final design problem solved!  Rummaging in my odds and ends box I found a bag of these


I can’t remember when I bought them or what job I used them on, but I seem to have hung on to a couple of dozen spare ones.  For scale, they have a six mm thread in the round end.  You screw them into a pre drilled hole with a hex key. (Sorry to insult the intelligence of DiYers, but some reader may not be familiar).Well, just the job for my roofbox ridge pole.  I sunk them into the ends of the pole like this. That’s a 28mm dia pole.


In my bits and bobs were some nice 6mm screws with wide domed heads and some washers, and hey presto:


Job’s a good ‘un as they say.  Rigid, but quickly.removable. I didn’t even have to splash out a couple of quid on a broom handle because my old ridge pole, although marginally too short for the old design, is fine for this one.

Kath has reinforced the sewing on the cover, and it fits (phew!), so apart from a few little cosmetic jobs ( e.g. screwing on some bungee cord buttons, ooh and mustn’t forget the tv aerial bracket)) we’re done and dusted.  The  floor board’s from the old box are a loose fit, but that’s fine, they’ll let any water out.

I got a gentle reminder (thanks) from Marilyin McD to slap three coats of paint on those bare wooden leg tops.  Little does she know I have already sneakily applied three coats of yacht varnish, which is better for that job and won’t be seen from the outside.

Is it straight out to Herbie to install the box then?.  “Would that it were” as a certain TV presenter might have said.  First I have to repaint the boat roof where the old box stood.  Not a quick job because inevitably the box feet took their toll on the paint.  When will it ever end?