Monday, October 11, 2021

Off topic ramblings

 I have nothing Herbievourous to tell you today so purists might wish not to read on.  For those who are left, here is some irrelevant news.

Twice in the last week we have been visited by grandchildren who within hours of seeing us tested positive for Covid.  I mentioned Grace in my previous post.  Now it's the turn of her big brother Jacob. He came to stay the night at our house so as not to mix with Grace.  He had been routinely tested at work and got an email next morning to say he was positive, so he's gone back home with Grace.  Mercifully Kath and I seem OK so far.

Someone out there might know of Stanley Accrington ( a popular entertainer and master of puns and anagrams m'lud).  I wrote to him four years ago asking for the words of a song which included the immortal words "Why must I be a dyslexic in vole?" Another line had something about a tin leg running down his spine. This week, out of the blue, he emailed back. How's that for a quick reply?! Cunningly he invited be to buy his DVD with 180 of his songs on it, warning me not to listen to them all at once.  I succumbed.  I have thoughts of sitting through them as a sponsored marathon listen for a dyslexic charity.  Apparently Stanley had to stop singing that particular song in public due to objections that is was unkind to dyslexic folk.  Draw your own conclusions.

My friend Steve, a keen amateur naturalist saw a great white egret at a local lake last week - there are only 35 in Britain so he was chuffed.  Little egrets have become much more common of course. and occasionally visit our canals.  In France they have a lot of egrets although as you all know, Edith Piaf famously claimed so have seen none.

I can't understand what is going on with my novels.  I put them up for free on Kindle the other day, expecting a few dozen to be taken as usual. (Over the last six months actual paid sales at a quid or so have been zero.) This time, after three free days it's up to 1700 and counting! That's never happened before.  Of course how many takers actually read the books is another matter, but it's puzzling.  As Harry Worth used to say "I don't know why but there it is" . I thought maybe there were not many free ones out this week on Kindle, but I checked and there are tens of thousands of them.  Apparently my second book "A Good Hiding" is ranked number 3972 in the best free seller lists and number 51 in General Humourous Fiction.  Result!  The other one is ranked 10,044. Booker prize judges please note.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Seizing opportunities to get knotted

 If you read my previous post you will know that I had a go at doing eye splices at the end of a bit of rope.  Rope work, as anyone who has tried it will tell you, is strangely therapeutic.  With me it all started when I was a young whippersnapper making my own fishing rods.  This required doing a lot of whipping to secure the rings that the line goes through onto the rods.

Nowadays a quick look at youtube will reveal any number of people showing you how to do knots and spices and various types of whipping.  I found that they all look helpful until you try to do it, then somehow it doesn't seem so simple in reality.  However I have found one youtuber that has the knack of clarity, probably because he is slow and long winded and tells you everything at least twice.  Now in normal circumstances such a person might be construed as a bit tedious, but in this case it's a real blessing because you get time to absorb the information properly.  Sadly I didn't find his video until after I'd done my eye splices, so I'm going to do some more now and get them right this time.

So if you fancy a go at splicing something like this:

or putting a really neat end to your ropes like this:

or doing something fancy like this:

The chap I would recommend is  youtuber Johnny Debt.  

Have a go, I bet you enjoy it.

Here are the links to the three I've shown above (there are several more)

Eye splice:

Sailmakers whipping:

Ring splice:

As I said, he is charmingly long winded which for my money is exactly what you want. If you are a complete beginner then start with the sailmakers whipping which is easy and very satisfying.

In other news:

Kath and I are awaiting results of a PCR test after having had a visit last weekend from our Grace who later that day tested positive for Covid  and is rather poorly but not dangerously so.  We have no symptoms so I suspect we're in the clear.

In yet more news, if there is anyone out there who has inexplicably failed to have read either of my blockbuster novels Jobs for the Boys and A Good Hiding, they are completely free on Kindle from 8 -12 October. I re read them myself recently as if after all this time they were written by someone else and they made me chuckle. Not a totally unbiased opinion I admit. Or for traditionalists they are still cheap (as cheap as Amazon allows) as paperbacks.  Search for on Amazon for Herbie Neil.

Or should you ever bump into us on the cut, I'll happily give you a paperback copy.  Got to get rid of them somehow:-) 

VIRUS UPDATE: Our PCR tests came back negative, so that, if you get my meaning, is a positive result :-)

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Uptight alright

 Bob, who moors a couple of boats along from us, passed on a trick he'd learned from another boater -reportedly an elderly lady single hander.

Picture this.  You bring your boat in alongside some sheet piling and want to quickly tie up.  Maybe there are passing boats which are pulling your boat around as they pass.  Time is of the essence. What you need to so is to tie off one end of the boat very quickly, then run up to the other end to secure that. Well here's the trick.

Today I made up a rope like this.

Just a short length with a loop on each end.  Don't look too closely at my splicing, I'm not sure it's quite right, but it is strong.

One end drops over the dolly at the back of the boat, the other end goes through your piling clip or chain which has been dropped through the piling beam, then back over the dolly. This should be quicker than having to tie off with a knot at the dolly.  Then you nip up to the front of the boat and tie off there in the normal way pulling the boat forward  so as to tighten the short rope at the rear.

I'm not sure what is the ideal length of rope, at six feet mine will give a reach of three feet  from dolly to clip.   I think that'll be about right in most places.

Well I haven't tried it yet of course but that's the theory.  Bob says it works for him.

I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has tried this.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

HS2 Monster Munch

Strange munching and graunching noises came from over the hedge as we came back up past Wood lock on the way back from Leamington. It didn't take us long to spot the reason.

Yes it's the dreaded HS2, munching its way through the countryside courtesy of gert big yellow tractory things. .  You can see the big cutting in the distance, while over on the other side of the canal is a man made mountain of mud, presumably ready to lift the line over the canal, and some sort of plant works, perhaps to make concrete or whatever.  

In a couple of years or so people will be hurtling over the canal at what I calculate to be mach 0.3 while we cruise beneath at 3 mph. How strange is that. I'm not sure how many times HS2 will cross a canal, at least four I think.  I should think the trains will be going too fast for the passengers to wave at us.  All presuming of course that it ever gets finished and that the trains actually work.

We did our own bit of munching by the canal on our last night, courtesy of our trusty Cobb barbecue thingy which takes its time but doesn't incinerate your food like a normal barbecue can.  This time it was a veggie meal, peppers, courgettes, baby leeks, mushrooms and halloumi. All tucked into tortilla flatbreads and washed down with a swig of malbec.  Yum!

Don't tell me you don't fancy a bite of that.  

I don't suppose we'll get many more such balmy evenings this year.

When we first bought Herbie we earned ourselves a reputation for picking the worst weeks to go boating.  Many was the soaking we got, much to the amusement of our fellow moorers.  Since then we seem to have got either wiser or luckier.  This last week has been absolutely perfect.  The sun shines on the righteous.

Friday, September 24, 2021


 Flights of locks always look a bit daunting when you come to them don't they? Once you get going though, especially if you have crew to set the lock ahead it all becomes quite fun. Here we are at the bottom of the Stockton flight, big locks but not too heavy, I'll take them over Buckby any day. Half way up we caught up with Nb Zola who we met earlier in the week and are our newest good friends. Locks can be like that.  Tomorrow Zola's skipper is booked in to Willow Wrens very smart looking trading centre near the top of the locks for an engine maintenance course.

Also half way up the locks I chatted to a volunteer lockie about our practice of only using one top paddle to fill these locks. The boat sits nice and still, and according to the lockie, his mate at Hatton locks reckons  you only save about a minute over using two paddles. I suppose that mostly applies when a single person is doing it.

Last night we moored at The Cuttle pub to give it a try. A good mooring (if a tad shallow) right opposite The Two Boats.

 Between them they would make a good pub. As it is the Cuttle has the better beer and the Two Boats the better food. The two boats seems to be winning on the popularity front though, being very busy on the benches canal side. It looks proper nice after dark. I think it gets my vote.

Keen photographers will see I missed a trick there. I should have captured more of the pub' s reflection in the canal. Doh!

Now we're moored barely a half mile from our marina enjoying a final afternoon and evening on the towpath before finishing our short holiday. I admit I was a bit reluctant to agree to go down to Leamington just to turn and come back, but it's turned out to be a lovely trip.  Typical Grand Union, hard work but well worth it.

PS for a change I thought I'd do this post on my phone. It seems to work ok.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Fun and sun on the descent to Leamington

 I've always said that September is a good month for cruising - much more reliable weather wise than the earlier summer months. The weathermen were over pessimistic to start with this week.  Here we are at Ventnor on Saturday night when it was supposed to be raining.

And so now we are enjoying a lovely sunny week tootling down to Leamington and back.  It's been so long since we last came down here that I'd forgotten what most of it looked like, and it's a pleasant surprise.  Mind you, with all those big locks it needs to be. Sunday got us from Ventnor down the ten locks to Long Itchington with a quick stop for a swift half (OK, pint) of shandy to cool us down at the Blue Lias

 where the garden is somewhat better than the pub IMHO.  Then off down the last two locks to Itchington where we were amply and tastily fed  at the Two Boats.  Here I note that the beer pump clips are headed "Charlie Wells" - I wonder if he's turning in his grave at such familiarity.

Our Peter who is travelling with us was a bit distracted on day one, feeling a bit guilty having left his cat Bella at home to be fed daily by friends.  Then the little videos started coming in showing she was perfectly happy and he cheered up considerably.  Bless.

Monday was fun, still sunny and travelling along side by side with a merry crew on Andrew one of Calcutt's boats they hire out to ex Navy people.  At the Bascote staircase locks we performed the famous double shuffle with boats top and bottom changing places mid lock.  The crew coming uphill were a bit reluctant at first until I persuaded them that I'd done it dozens of times (actually it's only twice and  many many years ago). Everybody was slightly amazed that it worked. Here we are safely tucked up in the bottom half having completed the sliding puzzle trick.

Lunch was a rather longer affair than we had planned because just as we were finishing our sandwiches on the towpath, a passing boat yelled "Oi Herbie", and who should it be but that old rascal Maffi and the lovely Susan.  So that took care of the next hour.  I can't tell you how many times we've been ambushed by old Maffi (actually he's younger than me) but it's a few.  There's no escape. So now we're up to date with all the canal gossip of course.

Then on to a quiet mooring where we had a barbie in our trusty cobb after which we filled it with sticks 

and sat in the dark warming ourselves in the wood smoke so that our clothes this morning smelled like kippers -aah well, it was worth it.

Now having shopped at Morrisons by the canal in Leamington, we're heading back.  I was surprised how much mooring there is in Leamington.  How safe it is I don't know, but there's lots of it.  Right now we're tied up at Radford which is very pretty.

I don't think we would have considered coming down here this week had we not taken up our mooring at Ventnor, but it's been lovely - if somewhat hard work. All this canal needs is a couple more pubs in strategic spots and it'd be a winner.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Slow burner

I fancy I might have just broken a world record.  I mean, how long does it take you to light a fire?  Can you beat 18 months?  Thought not.

We had Herbie's new stove fitted last March on the very day that the first Covid lockdown was announced.  The same day we rang up Wigrams Turn marina and asked "Can you take us in for a few weeks until all this blows over?"

Well our stay at Wigrams turned out to be 18 months and all that time we weren't near Herbie in weather cold enough to light the new fire.  And here we are today barely a hundred yards from where they fitted the stove in Braunston and it's just about cold enough so I dug out the old kindling and some coal  and after three attempts we have a fire going.  It always takes a little while to learn the foibles of a new stove.

The canals are a little bit quieter now the schools have gone back but the hire boat companies are still doing well.  Kate Boats seems to have a Monday start.  Loads of them came past last night as we moored up just a spit from Wigrams Turn.  Most seem to be doing well but one poor chap really hadn't got the hang of the tiller at all and was paying frequent visits to the bushes.  I helped out when he ran aground just past Herbie and then he got going only to repeat his error another twice.  Bless!

Kath popped in to Calcutt Boats to buy a couple of ice creams while the top lock was filling.  The lady in there said that this year had been their best ever for hiring and quite a few punters immediately re-booked for next year when they got back.  Staycations rule OK.

Our new mooring at Ventnor Marina continues to be a delight. Over the weekend they held the annual moorers' barbecue 

which was a good chance to make new friends, and next morning the Moorers' Association breakfast with as many bacon rolls as you could manage to eat and more new friends made. 

We took a stroll round both basins, picking blackberries as we went.  All nicely landscaped with lots of attractive sitting out areas on the banks.  We were surprised to find that the walk was over a mile when we got back, so that gives some idea of the scale of the marina.

We're just out for a few days before our Peter joins us at the weekend when I fear we will tackle the run down to Warwick and back if the 44 big heavy locks (22 each way) don't kill us.  I hope my pacemaker keeps working.

Speaking of which, I went in for a pacemaker check last Wednesday.  Very straighforward now I'm bluetooth enabled. All was fine.  The man asked how I'd been and I said fine apart from just a couple of occasions when I felt breathless after exertion and my pulse dropped to 60 bpm.  (pre pacemaker I was running at 38!).  "Aah yes", he said, peering at his computer screen,  "I see you had a couple of episodes, one on August 27th and one on September 4th.  Nothing to worry about. Mild fibrillation which the pacemaker dealt with."  Clever or what?

Sunday, September 05, 2021

In the pink


Somebody once told me there's only one day a year when the weather is right for painting a boat. Well it certainly ain't today.  Too flippin' hot.

Nevertheless after yesterday's rubbing down and crack filling and rubbing down again and sweeping and mopping up the dust, then seeing bits I missed and filling, rubbing and sweeping and mopping again, this morning I managed to slap on a coat of alarmingly pink primer undercoat.

Now in the heat of the afternoon I think that coat has dried, but it's far too hot to start on the top coat. Any way first I need a gentle rub over the undercoat and another sweep and mop first.

I'm exhausted already, and this is only the starboard side handrail I'm doing. I'm currently staring at a nice bottle of (alcohol free)  cider which I would happily drink if only I hadn't lost the bottle opener.

Naturally I couldn't make all that noise and mess in the marina so I'm parked on the towpath outside and very nice it is too. If anyone wants about two tons of crab apples, this is yer spot.

Will I get a top coat on today? Only if it cools down early enough. Don't want to have wet paint exposed to dew in the night.

Sod's law prevails.

A couple of hours later it cooled down enough

" Job's an ok 'un", 
but far from perfect. The wood is too old and worn, so still a bit lumpy despite all the sanding and filling. Still it looks a lot better than it did.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Caught red handed?

 Having wooden handrails on a narrowboat is a bit of a mixed blessing.  On the one hand (forgive the pun), they never get too hot/cold to touch in summer/winter.  Plus when in good nick they look dead smart.

On the other hand they seem to need painting a lot more often.  I've actually lost count of how many times I've done it now.  Last time, rubbing down and painting in the evenings during a boat trip I made something of a botch job.  It's all in the prep as they say, and I rushed it, plus I painted on quite hot days and it's peeling and lifting all over the place.

So this time I have to get serious about the prep, getting off as much old paint as I can and doing a proper job with wood filler in scarf joints, cracks and screw holes, then using a good exterior wood primer etc etc.  A non trivial task - especially in the groove where the wood meets the metal on the side of the boat. And of course there's about 80 feet of it.

So this weekend you'll see me out on the towpath somewhere between Ventnor marina and Calcutt locks, away from other boats who may not wish to be red,  and covered in red paint dust.  I might even have red hair.  Won't that be nice?

Friday, August 20, 2021


1. Written on Thursday evening:

Here we sit, on the back of Herbie at our new Ventnor berth, gazing out across the still water to the reeds beyond.

The only sound is the gentle plop of our neighbour Bob's car keys as he drops them in the water, followed by the inevitable clunk of his Sea Searcher magnet as it clamps to the side of his boat’s hull instead of lowering to the lost keys below. This is the life.

Miraculously, he did retrieve them and despite being the electronic variety, they still worked.  Ventnor is indeed a magical place.

When we pulled into the marina this afternoon, Karen the marina manager was waiting to greet us on our pontoon and swiftly offered a lift in her car back to Wigrams Turn to collect our car. How nice was that? We've been made to feel very welcome.

The boat next to us is called Tranquility, when we pulled in I had to restrain myself from shouting "Tranquility base - the Herbie has landed".

Before dinner we took a walk to view the other basin. Ours is called Sunset, the other being Sunrise . Sunrise is nice enough, but I'm happy to say that there's hardly a spot in the whole marina that I would swap for the one we have. How lucky are we?

In other news, yesterday I managed without difficulty to climb the steep footpath from Braunston marina up to the village. This photo doesn't do it justice.

Those familiar with that path will testify to the fact that it takes a bit of puff at the best of times. A month ago I could never have managed even a half of it. Thank you NHS.

Down at the marina entrance the dear old Gongoozlers Rest cafe was doing a brisk trade.

At the moment service is outside and people eat in the adjacent little tea garden. Miraculously we resisted temptation and passed by opting instead to visit the Aladdins Cave of Tradline Fenders to buy some shiny stainless steel shackles for our fender ropes and some nice whipping cord to tidy up the ends of our mooring ropes. I love doing whipping - a skill I learned in my youth when I used to build my own fishing rods.

I must be feeling better because I've made a start on some badly needed jobs on Herbie. The wooden hand rails are in a terrible state, presumably because I did poor prep last time I painted them. Now paint is peeling everywhere.  This time I'm being more thorough and have discovered that an abrasive flap wheel on my drill gets the old paint off nicely. It won't be quick but I'll get there.

I've been giving Herbie a wash and polish too and that's only half done as you can easily see in this next photo. Eighteen months of lockdown neglect has taken its toll on the paintwork.

My magnetic letters have been a hit with passers by this week. I've had lots of comments of approval and amusement. Everybody should get some.

2. Friday:

Now back home for a bit. What a joy it was not to have to trek half way round the marina to pack the car.

We hope to be back to Herbie very soon, those jobs won't finish themselves.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Transfer news shock!

 As the excitement of Lionel Messi’s transfer to PSG dies down in the world’s press, news is coming in of an even more dramatic and unexpected transfer, this time suprising all parties involved.

“Only a week ago we had no thoughts of such a move,” explained bewildered elderly couple Neil and Kath Corbett,  “and now it’s practically done and dusted. Job’s a good ‘un as they say”

The Story unfolds - as told by the aged couple

It all started when we had a couple of days to kill while we waited for our daughter Claire to join us on the boat for a short cruise  Where could we go to keep young Grace amused without straying too far from our base at Wigrams Turn? Grace wanted to do some locks, so no good heading up to Braunston and back.  No good either going up and down Napton because that’s what was planned for when Claire joined us.  OK, we thought, that just leaves Calcutt locks.  But they’re only ten minutes away, what do we do after that?  Hmm well we could go and turn round at Ventnor marina, but that’s only another ten minutes.

“Ah haa”, quoth the skipper, “ Ventnor is a Castle Marinas marina, same as Wigrams.  We have the right to moor there free for a short period.  Let’s stay the night there and have a look around.”

A quick phone call set it up and we duly pulled in to Ventnor to be greeted by harbour master Chris who gave us a super warm welcome and a tour round.  It’s a lovely marina, well landscaped, tranquil, plenty of wild life, car parking near your boat, easy to get in and out, excellent facilities.  What’s not to like? “Blimey, this is much nicer than Wigrams”, we said, “ In fact it’s probably better than any marina we’ve been in until now. We ought to come here after our contract with Wigrams runs out They need three months notice.”

“Why wait?” said Chris, “I’m pretty sure you could transfer now and we can sort out the arrangements with Wigrams. We’re all the same company after all.”

And that dear reader is what seems to have happened. 



Just like that. I think we'll be just to the left or the red and blue boat in this picture. So instead of returning to Wigrams later this week, we’ll be pulling into our new berth in this sheltered corner of  Ventnor where we’ll sign on for twelve months.

Wigrams is not a bad marina, not at all. It’s well run by good people, but it’s more of a bustling boatyard.  Lots of boats packed into a small space, a busy hire fleet on site, lots of liveaboard boaters and a long haul from the car park to your boat with all your gear. Well located, yes, but tranquil it ain’t.

So virtually by accident Herbie suddenly has a new home in spacious green calm surroundings and only a mile or so away from her previous berth.  We’re in shock!

Monday, August 02, 2021

Watch my stats

 Well it's nearly a week since they fitted my pacemaker, so I'm beginning to get an idea of how I'm doing.  The dressings are all off and I'm left with a neat two and a half inch scar just below my collar bone.  Still a bit tender and I'm supposed to be going carefully for a while.

Thanks to my trusty smart watch I'm getting loads of stats to ponder over. Just over a week ago my average pulse rate was 38 bpm and my ECG trace was an intermittent scramble of random squiggles.  Here's how it looks today after a short walk down"Dingly Dell" near our house.


So that's amazingly regular and a lot quicker.  I must be getting double the blood flow to my muscles and brain.

I get lots of exercise stats from the watch  too.  Here are a few from our short walk.

This first one shows pulse rate and walking speed over the walk.  You can see from the blue line see we stopped frequently to look at butterflies and (as it happens) wild raspberries. I don't think this app has a feature showing gps elevation so you can't see that there is a steep path towards the end.

So as you can see here we only did 15 minutes of aerobic exercise in a 20 odd minutes walk.  Enough for me just now, I'm not supposed to stress the wound while the pacemaker and the wires settle in.

Here are overall figures.  The watch keeps a record on my phone so I can watch my progress.  Good innit?

In general I'm feeling quite a bit better.  Of course I'm outrageously unfit because for the last few months my condition has prevented me from doing much exercise beyond very gentle strolls and no hills. So  for now, so far, so good.

On the downside, if you would like me to umpire your next cricket match, I can only oblige if you promise not to hit a six because for the time being I am forbidden to lift my left arm above my head so I couldn't signal the six to the scorer.
 Furthermore, anyone planning to exploit the long odds on me getting the taekwondo gold at the Paris Olympics had better put their money elsewhere as I am advised to give up contact sports.  As for my cage fighting career, that has been cruelly snatched away before I ever got going.  Well, you can't have everything.

Talking about contact sports, isn't that what people call boating when the bump into your boat? I'm not giving that up (I mean the boating not the bashing). We seem to be getting an alarming number of email alerts from CRT about damage to locks and gates lately.  There must be some right idiots bashing about out there. I see yesterday someone managed to sink a boat in Cassiobridge lock.  I hope it didn't belong to some unfortunate hire boat co.  The lost deposit wouldn't cover much of the cost would it?

Toodle pip.