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.