Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Good numbers at Norton junction.

Lovely overnight moorings at Norton junction. We often stop there as we did last night as the first night of our autumn cruise that we thought we would never get round to.

We're off to a good start I must say and the numbers prove it.

First of all we arrived at the top of Watford locks and were allowed straight in and with the help of the volunteer Lockie we got down all seven locks in 30 minutes. That's a record for us and I think would take some beating by anybody at this site. Any challengers?

Remember in a recent post I fear we had knackered our batteries by leaving the fridge door open for three days while we were off on a coach jolly? They were down to 0% when we got back. Anyway between our stop at five o clock last night and half past eight this morning they only dropped from 100% to 91% with said fridge on all night, so it looks like they might have survived the ordeal after all.

Then the most surprising number of all, since declaring my book free on kindle from yesterday morning, 104 people have downloaded it! Blimey. Everyone loves a freebie it seems.

This morning we got through Braunston tunnel only scraping the side once despite having to pass a boat with a headlight strong enough to pick out a bomber at 30000 feet. If I close my eyes I can still see it seven hours later. Now we have arrived beneath the windmill at Napton under more blue skies and moored up. I suppose it would be churlish of us not to check out the Folly later. I think we had better enjoy this weather while it lasts. Autumn they tell us is only a couple of days away.

Oh while I think of it, we strolled down to the New Inn at Buckby top lock last night for a jar with Rick and Marilyn who live nearby. We got to drinking Marston's New World, a very pale draught beer brewed with Australian hops. If you like your beer to have a floral taste (quite elderflowery) do give it a try. It's a cracker.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Someone else wrote my book?

Shameless Plug alert: free offer

It's not easy being wealthy. I'm wondering what to do with the 34p royalties I got from my book sales last month. Aah well it's not about money is it? I just love it when people enjoy reading my book.

"Jobs for the Boys" took off like a rocket when I first published it on Kindle. Altogether I think about 250 copies were downloaded in a week and the good reviews it got cheered me up a lot more than any royalties could. Some people actually seemed to care about the characters and wanted to know what happened to them after the story finished. Then over recent months I forgot all about it, apart from a stuttering attempt to begin a sequel to find out what happens next to Eric and Elaine and Doreen and the Mangler. I think that might be a project for the long winter nights.

Yesterday I was messing about on my iPad and accidentally tapped on an icon taking me to the middle of Jobs for the Boys. So I started reading. Very strange. At this distance it now reads like a book someone else wrote and I can turn over the page without knowing exactly what comes next. I'm somewhat startled to say it's still OK. I still like it. "More people should read this. They would like it too." I thought immodestly.

Having been cruelly ignored by the Man Booker prize committee, and inexplicably not picked up by Richard and Judy and the Times Literary Supplement, my undoubted masterpiece has been starved of the oxygen of publicity of late, so I have decided to forgo my huge royalty income for the maximum 5 days that Amazon allows and offer Jobs for the Boys absolutely free, gratis, and for nothing from Monday to Friday this week, complete with a money back guarantee if you are not thrilled.

So if you haven't already done it, and you have a Kindle or an iPad /Android Kindle app or a laptop or whatever but you didn't want to risk 99p on a copy, Now's your chance. I think you can read the first few pages free without even downloading it. You never know, you might even like it. Other people seem to.

On Amazon or Kindle search for "Jobs for the Boys" by Herbie Neil.

If you already read it and liked it. Tell a friend. It's free all week.

End of shameless plug.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Canal Boat shock horror–royalty ousts boater

Plop went the pile of mail on the doormat today.  “Aah good, Canal Boat mag.” said Kath as she tore off the plastic bag and sat down to read with her cup of tea.  Then, she gasped in shock, “Oh no, how can this be?  It’s the end of the world as we know it.” 

“Whatever is it?” quoth I. “Has Braunston been bought by the Chinese?”

“More shocking than that, “ said Kath, “there’s no picture of Adam on the cover!!!!”

I grabbed the mag and sure enough there was no sign of the customary, nay obligatory, tilley hat atop the head of our friend Mr Porter at the stern of a boat.  Now I’m all for innovation but there are some traditions that are sacrosanct and this is one of them.  Looking inside at this months boat review there was no picture of Adam either apart from the little by-line mugshot.  I turned back to the front cover to make a closer inspection and then I spotted her.  There, bold as brass, just about where Adam should be, was HRH Princess Anne.  Back inside the magazine was a clear shot of HRH at the tiller of a narrowboat.  Clearly she is after Adam’s job.

Should I cancel my subscription?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Inside a JABSCO water filter

I know what you are thinking. "Why doesn't he write a post about what there is inside a Jabsco water filter?  Oh alright then, just for you. Jabscos are one of the ones  the ones that come as a cartridge a bit like a big yoghurt pot and you install them in the line to the water tap. 

We’ve been using one for a couple of years now to filter the water to a separate drinking water tap aboard Herbie.  You may recall a long time ago I showed these photos of how well it dealt with the rust particles when our water tank was down to the last silty dregs at the bottom.

Normal tap:          Filtered tap:

We changed the cartridge this summer and just for fun I bust it open to see what was inside.  I don’t know what I expected but I assumed some sort of labyrinth with a paste or granules of carbon.  Well it did have granules, but no labyrinth.  See here:

water filter 1_edited-1

Ignore the rusty look of the  manky old washing up bowl, I use that for cleaning tools and stuff.  So you see what there is is just a bit of foam and a few handfuls of granules that actually look like plastic, but are probably not. Here’s a closer look.

water filter 2_edited-1

I also expected to find a lot of disgusting sludge, but there didn't seem to be any.  This was a cartridge that had been in use for about 150 or more “working” days. I suppose that might be the filling of about a thousand kettles and water for cooking which is all we use it for. Our non drinking / food water we just get from the ordinary tap.

Simple I suppose, but it seems to work.

Barring any unforeseens, we’re off on our first autumn cruise at the weekend.  Banbury and Oxford via a possible short detour to Rugby.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How the National Trust bust Herbie’s batteries

Kath and I are battery saving anoraks while we’re aboard Herbie.  Our current domestics have done very well, and I like to think it’s because we look after them, never letting the state of charge to get below 60% and getting it back up to 100 most days.  But now I fear I have delivered them a near fatal blow.  It all happened like this.

Last week we stayed on board for a couple of nights before going off on a weekend jolly with Rick and Marilyn doing a coach tour and hotel thingy exploring National Trust houses in Norfolk like the gorgeous Oxborough Hall snapped here by Kath.


It was fun watching the large shoals of rudd keeping their distance from this pike vainly trying to stalk them in the moat.


Before leaving the boat, I didn’t go through our normal shut down check list because we would be back on Monday evening. Well to cut a long story short, we left the batteries switched on and the fridge door open.  Doh!  I blame the National Trust.

When we got back on Monday evening there was an error light flashing on the Smartgauge and the batteries were down to 10 volts and the state of charge read as 0%.  “Eeh I am vexed” quoth I.  Well they weren’t the exact words but I’ll leave that to your imagination.  Well, I connected the shore line and switched on the mains charger and by the time we left for home on Tuesday morning I think they were back to 85% or so.  No doubt the solar panel will drag them back up to 100%, but I fear they may not hold their charge when we are out and about.  It’s a good job I suppose that we have had more than their guaranteed life out of them already.

This weekend all being well, we set off on our early autumn cruise to Oxford and back via Banbury Canal Day.  If the batteries are stuffed then we ought to know by the time we have spent a night in Braunston in which case I’ll have to flash the plastic in Midland Swindlers and get three new ones.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Elfin Safety the CRT way and how to treat a bad back

I’ve been on two training courses provided by CRT to teach us volunteers about Health and Safety and Basic Fire and Water Life Saving.  I know we all like to moan about the restrictions and delays and costs produced by compliance to H&S but if I’m honest the trainer made a pretty good case for it.  Our ancient canal environment is an accident waiting to happen and having seen some of the video nasties they showed us, and learned of the subsequent huge costs of accidents and draconian legal penalties, I have to admit it’s a bloody nuisance sometimes but you can’t ignore it.

I suppose that was the main substance of the course really.  There wasn’t a lot of practical stuff.  Looking after lifejackets and how to wear them properly, different kinds of fire extinguisher and what to use them for, handling throwing lines – all these were dealt with, but I also did them on the RYA helmsman course they put us through. I had been told we would get to use a fire extinguisher on a real fire, but apparently they don’t do that now. One thing I did enjoy was having a go at CPR resuscitation on a dummy.  No mouth to mouth these days, just compression and all that.  I would be a lot more confident to do it now.

As well as a few volunteers on the course there were also a few CRT lads, mostly in their twenties – the ones you see up and down the canal fixing stuff.  It was interesting to share with them.  They were larking around a bit and asking some daft questions, but underneath all that they were pretty serious about safety at work and a few of them could recall near misses.  I think the course worked on them too. 

As an aside a few of the lads remarked about the abuse they get from some boaters, although I pointed out that a lot of us boaters find the CRT workers pleasant and helpful.  I think most of them were working on the Regents and the Lee and Stort where there are a lot of boaters at war with officialdom.  I can’t see why these boaters should take it out on maintenance guys though.

A pity we didn’t do anything specific on safe manual lifting.  The other day I pulled a back muscle lifting a box of logs and it’s taking a while to settle down.  Now here’s a tip you might not know.  I mentioned my back to the doctor yesterday when I was in for a cholesterol medication review and a flu jab.  She said it was good practice to keep taking the pain killers for a muscular back problem.  A lot of people, including me, think that masking the pain might lead to bad movement and further injury, but she said that using pain killers relaxes the back and it heals better, without the associated stiffness caused by bracing the rest of the back against sudden movement.  I think she’s right, my back and shoulders have been very uncomfortable from me trying not to move too much.

There you are.  Don’t say I don’t teach you anything.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Training and sleuthing

I popped into Morrisons this morning for a loaf of bread and spotted their ad outside inviting you to ask advice from their “Fully Trained Fishmongers”.  Have you ever seen a sign that says “our partially trained staff”?  I haven’t.  All trained staff appear to be “fully” trained these days.  Well I am not yet fully trained as a CRT volunteer boat mover, but I will be another step on the way next week after I have attended the obligatory courses on Basic Fire Water Save A Life and Health & Safety Foundation.  Should be fun ‘cos I hear we get to discharge a real fire extinguisher at a real fire – something I have never done.  I suppose the life saving bit might be handy too.  I don’t mind doing these courses but I wish they wouldn’t start them at 8.30 am at Enfield Lock, sixty miles from my house.  About 45 of those miles will be round the M25 in the rush hour.  I’ve decided to go up the night before and camp.

In my other volunteering role as Towpath Ranger, my mate Alan and I donned our deerstalkers last week and went off tracking motorcyclists on the towpath.  These young oiks have been a nuisance for sometime in the Slough Arm and Cowley Peachey area.  Recently they got over the problem of a gate in the towpath by removing it and bunging it in the cut.  One of CRT’s ideas was to find out where these young whizz kids were getting on to the towpath so suitable barriers could be provided.  Well we soon discovered that was a non starter, because along the Slough Arm, the towpath is accessible from the surrounding waste land in loads of places.  There is a network of footpaths and byways all over the area as well as some disused metalled roads.  Absolutely ideal for bombing around on a motor bike as long as you don’t mind annoying the neighbouring properties and the boaters resident on the canal, and risking the lives of the walkers and joggers and cyclists on the towpath.  Some of the locals we interviewed on our rounds reported that there was a lot of motor bike activity in the area round the lakes which hide behind the bushes thereabouts.

Peering through the smoke of the Old Holborn from my briar pipe at the image beyond my sliver rimmed spyglass I spotted the fresh prints of the miscreants on the towpath



“Aha, an unlicenced Kawasaki kt250  Watson” I cried, “clearly ridden by a dyslexic youth of 16 or 17 years with a lisp and who dined earlier on a Kebab from Joe’s hot food van if I’m not mistaken.”  Then we remembered it was time for lunch and decided to call it a day and return to the scene of the crimes later.

On the way back to our carriage we spotted an interesting thing or two.  Firstly this.


A gang of yoofs clearing rushes from a flood relief channel.  I suppose they might have been volunteers, or they might be naughty boys and girls doing their bit to repay the community for their misdemeanours.

Then back on the GU mainline opposite Packet Boat Marina, this

former gate

Clearly a spot where CRT themselves have removed a former barrier.  In fact I think I remember it being there. It might be said they only have themselves to blame.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

A listed building on the Slough Arm?

Adam is obviously a lot more observant than me. On only his second passage of the Slough Arm on Briar Rose he spotted the white obelisk on the towpath not far from the river Colne aqueduct.  I only noticed it for the first time this April when I was doing some ranger work.  I must have driven Herbie past it thirty or more times before that.


Adam’s Pearson’s guide informed him it was a coal tax marker.  “What is that?” I asked myself, then I asked Mr Google and his answer was interesting.  It seems that there are  Coal tax posts surviving today at over 200 points a 20mile radius from the old general post office in the city of London.  Erected in the late 1860s they mark the boundary where the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act was enforced.  A bit like the Congestion Charge areas in London today.  Apparently many of these posts are now registered as listed buildings.

Most of these posts are alongside roads and there are only three alongside canals and two more along the river Thames.  The canal and Thames ones are granite obelisks a bit more than a meter high, whereas those by roadsides are of cast iron.  Some bridges have iron plates or boxes as boundary markers markers and railways have tall posts. You may be able to make out in my picture the shield which is the badge of the Corporation of the City of London. You see this shield on lots of posts around the city itself.

City of London logo

The canal side ones to look out for are:

  • On the Slough Arm 75 metres east of the Colne Aqueduct
  • North bank of Grand Union Canal 500 m NE of Springwell Lock (I must have passed that one lots of times too.  Doh.
  • West side of Lee Navigation 120 m South of Kings Weir at end of Slipe Lane ( Must have passed that one five times!)

On the Thames they are at

  • On S bank of River Thames 730 m E of Sunbury Lock, opposite W end of Sunbury Court Island
  • On S shore of River Thames, W of mouth of Darent

Should you wish to look out for roadside ones if you live down that way, you can find the list here.

There you are then. Don’t say I never tell you anything.

Monday, September 01, 2014

More roses and a name


Well here it is.  I thought I’d have a lot of trouble with the name, but Kath suggested I try lower case and so I had a bash on a practice board and found it quite easy.  I suppose it didn’t take any more than five or six minutes when I did it for real on the can.

The bottom row of roses on the other hand were a pig.  I couldn’t seem to get the colours or the paint consistency right, particularly the latter.  It’s a good job you can’t see the finished job too close ‘cos it doesn’t bear close scrutiny.  I think it’ll look OK on the boat though.  Now I understand I have to varnish over the decoration and I’m reading up on varnishes.