Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Geek week - a scientific brain teaser

I've been having a geeky week. if you are a technophobe, I would look away now if I were you. Our son Peter is home for Christmas and the two of us have been having a loads of fun  playing with microcontrollers and electronic bits and pieces, doing daft things like making his simple little bluetooth powered temperature monitor and putting it in the freezer and plotting temperature graphs with data arriving on the PC.

We could knock up a version of this a couple of inches square if necessary. Using this sort of stuff it wouldn't be all that hard to build monitoring devices to keep an eye on Herbie while she is moored up and we are at home.  For instance we could monitor the state of the batteries and keep an eye on the temperature in the boat and get daily results on our mobile phones.  But here we come to catch 22.  Keeping the technology running on the boat would probably use up more battery power than we could afford to waste.  Although these things take very little power, when they are on for 24 hours a day for weeks on end, it adds up, especially keeping a dongle charged up to send phone messages or to keep a little web server charged up..  Of course in the summer the solar panel would easily take care of that, but in the short gloomy days of winter, I'm not so sure, and of course that is precisely the time of year when we might need the data from the boat.

Anyhow, just for fun, here's a little puzzle for you if you are scientifically inclined.  This is our graph of temperatures against time.

Don't worry too much about the detail.  It starts off at the left with a little kink where Peter handled the temperature sensor - ignore that. Then we put the device into the freezer and as you can see the temperature slowly dropped to about -20 deg C in a reasonably smooth curve.  Then, and this is the interesting bit, we took the gubbins out of the freezer and the temperature at first shot up much faster than it had fallen before resuming a more normal curve.  This seemed very strange until Peter worked out why.  Where did that sudden boost of heat come from?  Nothing to do with our handling, or where we put the gubbins really.  Peter realised what caused it, but can anyone out there think it through?  A clue - we could see the cause.  Answers next time.

We paid a quick visit to Herbie yesterday just to check that she was OK (she was) and that her batteries were not getting run down by the Airhead loo extractor fan.  We haven't had much daylight over the last month what with the days being so short and the skies being so gloomy, so I was wondering if the solar panel had been doing anything. Doing a quick sum based on the toilet fan requiring 60 milliamps and running 24 hours a day, it should have used up about 72 amp hours since we last ran the engine which is suppose is about 25% of our total battery capacity, so I was relieved when the old Smartgauge showed we had used only about 9%.  The solar panel was making about 0.2 amps at about mid day yesterday.  It would have been making more if we had it raised to the optimum angle, but with this stormy weather it wold probably blow away if we left it like that.  Anyhow as we hadn't "made a donation" into the loo for several weeks we felt it safe to turn off the fan now and let it get on with composting.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

And the Herbie Special Award for 2015 goes to . . .

Charge your champagne flutes folks and stand by to toast a special person. We've been honouring good people with our Herbie Special Awards for quite a few years now, originally for being a valued crew member then later for selfless acts of Fortitude, Hospitality, and wotnot.  Sometimes these are awarded because of our admiration, and sometimes for our gratitude, like when we gave it to the gang of pals who helped us paint Herbie.

This years winner certainly deserves my gratitude.  Although I have no proof I also strongly suspect that a number of other boat bloggers feel the same.  "Why bloggers?", you may ask.  Let me start at the beginning.  

It being very nearly ten years since I embarked on this malarkey, I've been looking back at the stats that Mr Google kindly supplies about the blog and its visitors. This tells me that this is the 1400th time I have sat at a keyboard  (or a tablet) wondering what to write. After all, why do I do it?  It started off a s a sort of diary, but now it is a way of communicating ideas and information I suppose, and sometimes it's just a bit of fun, trying to amuse or entertain a few people.

What keeps me, and probably other bloggers, going is knowing that people out there read this stuff and like it.  We can look atthe stats for reassurance(179 people dropped in to have a look yesterday, half of them probably searching for Herbie the Volkswagen on Google), but what inspires me a lot more is when kind people take the time and trouble to comment on what I have written.  It also makes me feel incredibly guilty that I don't often do the same. The stats tell me that this blog has collected 2682 comments over the ten years, everyone precious.  

Now we come to the crunch.  One lovely person has contributed no less than 561 of those comments - a staggering number you'll agree. I know because I have just counted them, and each and every time those comments have been warm, friendly and supportive.  It means so much.  I'm sure this same person does a similar service to other bloggers out there as I can't imagine that I have been singled out.  So it is with deep gratitude and affection that we give this years Herbie Special Award to someone we have never actually met.  

She is a boater, a writer (about boats among other things), a blogger, and we like to think, a good friend over the water(in the Netherlands).  She is

Val Poore

(aka Vallypee
aka VallyP)
See her blog here

Thank you so much Val, on behalf of all of those you so generously (and frequently) support with your kind comments.

Huge round of applause as the bloggers rise to their feet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

One last look back beforewe present the Big Award

I am so looking forward to Herbie's Special Award tomorrow as it goes to a deserving winner who has given me a lot of pleasure, and it will give me a lot of pleasure to bestow our (admittedly valueless) award on this lovely person. However until then, please indulge me by letting me reprise an old blog post which gave not only me a lot of fun in writing it, but judging by the comments I got at the time, some others enjoyed it too.

I wrote this one in July 2010. Looking back on it now, I think it still holds true.
Judging a boat and its owner by the roof

Can you tell a boater by his roof, or the inside of his boat from the outside.? I reckon you often can. Let's look at some types - well outrageous stereotypes really.

1. The working boat roof.

It will of course have a short roof, behind a large hold, and the roof layout is non negotiable . Stern rope coiled on the rear hatch cover, mop stick raised (I estimate at 27 degrees) at the handle end to rest on the decorated water can (don't call it a Buckby can because it might not be and you will risk looking foolish), then just a pigeon box and of course a tall narrow engine exhaust chimney with brass rings and a chain. Nothing else.

We all know what's inside this boat. A traditional boatman's cabin with roses and castles and crochet and all that, and a big (sometimes huge) engine in the engine 'ole (note no H's allowed here.) If the engine does more than 200 rpm it can't be right. As for the boater, we can even have a good guess at his attire. Corduroy trousers, collarless shirt, maybe a red neckerchief and a trilby or a cap. Strangely this is the only type of boater that may not want to talk about toilets or batteries much.

2. The Feng Shui roof

This long minimalist roof will have merely it's fixed furniture of mushroom vents, a neat rack bearing poles and gangplank and perhaps a pigeon box and then just two rather expensive ropes trailing from the centre stud to the rear.

Inside, all will be spacious and calm. Either light oak or ash. Gentle curves will describe outlines of the granite worktops and sage green dralon will cover the comfortable seating. There will be a wine rack. Miscellaneous belongings of any type will not be seen. Near the rear entrance will be a large instrument panel with LED displays and winking lights. Below this will be a cupboard with lots of bottles of brasso, boat shampoo and all types of polish. The boat will probably have gas central heating, but if there is a stove, it will be diesel fired, for there is nowhere to keep firewood.

The owners, a recently retired couple will almost certainly wear smart fleeces, or if wet, Berghaus waterproofs. They will be pleasant but reserved. On muddy days they may choose not to cruise. A gambler might do well to bet on the boat being built by Braidbar boats.

3. The Garden roof

This has two sub groups

a) the Britain in Bloom roof - a long row of large pots of petunias.

b) the Bob Flowerdew roof - miscellaneous tubs, boxes and growbags festooned with tomatoes, courgettes, and the like. ( I was going to call this the Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall roof, but to be fair, that would have to have pigs and chickens).

Inside the boat will be homely and probably cottagey and in the case of b) probably a bit untidy. The owners of a) and b) are likely to be quite different from each other. a) being fairly conventional folk of at least middle age, and b) in their thirties and much more Bohemian and very possibly vegetarian. They will be happy. At locks and landing places they will get their ropes tangled.

4. The Eco warrior roof

This roof functions primarily as a power station. Older installations will be crowned by a wind generator on a pole. The guy ropes for the pole will prevent any sensible use of centre ropes for boat handling, but this is not important for owner of the boat will almost certainly live aboard and not move much. He or she will not have a television because the noise caused by vibrations of the pole will render the TV inaudible. He or she will either be young and go out a lot, or old and deaf.

Later Eco installations will of course have solar panels on the roof. The more the merrier. The annual mileage travelled by the boat will be inversely proportional to the square footage of solar panel. The owner will have no fear of electrical gubbins and will spend all of his spare time on the internet or in attempting failed DIY projects.

Both types will of course have a roof area dedicated to stacks of logs for firewood.

Eco warriors are , or like to think they are, good at DIY. The inside of their boat will have lots of wire and pliers and a stack of bits of plywood.

5. The Steptoe roof

This is very common on the Southern Grand Union. This roof looks like a local waste amenity only not so tidy. The majority of the objects placed there are either broken or rotten and are piled so deep that there is not the remotest chance that those on the bottom can be retrieved. There will be many spent leisure batteries. Interesting gems of bric a brac, a marble statue or a rare item of militaria nestle among the rubbish, waiting for Antiques Roadshow the make the owner rich.

Rich is the last thing this boater will be. Little does he know he is sitting on a fortune in scrap lead from all the old batteries. Any money he does have is spent on feeding his six Staffordshire Bull Terriers. As the boat will not have a functioning engine, it will never move from its towpath position, so the owner will have claimed a nice piece of ground alongside the towpath where he will light fires and sit through the long evenings with his fellow moorers. He will be friendly to all who pass and call out merrily to passing boats in language that no one can understand. The inside of the boat will be exactly like the roof, only damper.

6. The family roof

This roof will have separate areas. One for sunbathing, one for bicycles and wheelbarrows, one for vegetables (see Garden roof) and one for firewood. Inside the boat will be homely and a touch spartan but will have books and jigsaws. The crew will be large and they will travel the waterways like romanies of old. The children will be home educated and fit, able and intelligent but have no GCSE's. They will posses the rare attribute of being able to entertain themselves without electronic aids. When they grow up they will be entrepreneurs.

As for Herbie's roof, like most others it is a mixture of the above. A compromise between the needs of rope handling and storage, and soon I hope, solar panel. That's what started all this roof stuff off. How can I fit in a solar panel, a roof box (for coal, camping chairs etc), a gangplank and boat poles, Buckby cans and a flower pot in a tidy enough way to allow for good rope handling?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A couple of unforgettable days.

Before the 2015 Herbie Awards reaches their thrilling climax, we look back once again over our ten years with our trusty boat.

Possibly our most magical night on Herbie was on June 13th 2009, at least that's what the blog record tells me.

We were moored on the Great Ouse not far from Earith on a tiny GOBA mooring just big enough for our boat.  We had already been away from home for some weeks and we were really getting settled into life by the water. As dusk fell, we sat quietly just watching the scene.

 The night was warm and sultry and we sat out on the bank in a tiny clearing with bushes behind and either side of us.  As we looked out over the river, a barn owl flapped silently back and forth over the opposite bank, and unknown creatures made strange noises in the bankside vegetation.  The river itself was still, like a mill pond and the odd fish plopped at the surface taking the evening rise of flies.

Just as the sun was disappearing here was a loud swirl in the water, right under Herbie's rear end, only a couple of feet from us.  Another swirl, bigger this time, and a beautiful seal poked his head out of  the water, looked lazily at us for several seconds, and then just as quickly was gone.  There's a lot to be said for just sitting still in the countryside.  Sooner or later you become a natural part of the scene and the wildlife goes about its business as if you weren't there.  Magic.

Some day's are memorable for rather different reasons, like the day in November 2010 when we were tootling up the River Stort and this happened.

Pretty spectacular don't you think? That'll teach me to keep the water and oil topped up.  The thing that our passenger, Rainman, found amusing was that the first thing I did was to reach for the camera to take this picture. Blog before boat, that's my motto. At the time I had a sneaking feeling that it might turn out for the best because I could get a new engine. Luckily although the engine had temporarily seized, it was under no other stress and the time and once it had cooled down and we'd topped up the fluids, there seemed no harm done.  Well, it's still going nicely five years later at any rate.

I think it was possibly the during previous evening that something happened that we still laugh about today.  We went into a pub for a meal. Possibly the Moorhen pub near Harlow.  Nothing special there, just a chain pub doing cheap food.  After perusing the menu I opted for fish and chips and Rainman the same.  I don't recall what Kath had.  I offered to order at the bar, which was only two or three paces from where we sat.

" A flagon of your finest ale and two fish and chips please."quoth I.

"Very well my liege, would that be with ye garden peas or ye mushy peas?" enquired our host.

"I don't know," I replied, "I'll go and ask."

I took the two or three steps back to our table and asked Rainman to make his choice, which he did with commendable decisiveness, asking for garden peas.  I did a smart about turn and returned back to the bar, the whole round trip not exceeding ten seconds quite possibly less.

"What did he say?" asked the man at the bar, finger poised over the computer touch pad.

"Um, er, I can't remember!" I was forced to admit, while all around indulged in fits of the giggles.

Aah the old Alzheimers is on its way. How come I can remember that after five years, but I couldn't remember Rainman's answer for five seconds?

Tomorrow, I'll put down a few words about ten years of blogging, including a favourite post before we announce the big award on Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Locks- Awards for the best and the worst

I know I am not alone in my identification of the worst lock, on the Grand Union at least.  By the worst, I mean the one which although just about passable is most nearly impassable.  Some frustrated boater had scrawled on one of the lock beams "THIS LOCK IS A DISGRACE"  . We were heading downhill and arrived at the lock in its empty state.  Nothing unusual about that in locks in the general area of the Chilterns because so many of them have signs requiring you to leave them empty because the lock walls leak into the surrounding land.

So we closed the paddle which had been left up to drain the lock and proceeded to fill at the other end while Herbie waited patiently to be let in. During this time we sometimes put the kettle on to make a cuppa.  This time we had time to cook a Christmas turkey if we had wanted to.  The bottom gates leaked faster than the top gates could fill.  It took ages and some brute force from both of us to eventually shift the top gate.  In a way it would have been better if this lock was totally impossible to operate because then CRT would have had to come out and fix it.  So where is this Award winning lock?  On the run down towards Winkwell.

The Herbie Award for 2015's Worst Canal Lock
goes to the charmingly named

Sewer Lock

Maybe it was the contrast with Sewer lock which only a couple of days later made me recognise the  smoothness and ease of operation of our winner for Best Lock.  I mentioned it at the time and pre-empting the proper award ceremony here's what I wrote.

You don't get down to this lovely neck of the woods without paying the price in terms of hard graft lock wheeling. I suppose it might be doing me good, but sometimes it feels more like it's finishing me off. The prize though for Best Lock (maybe I should save this for the Herbie awards but what the heck) goes to Lady Capels. It was such a nice change to find gates that don't swing open after you have shut them, and paddles that wind smoothly and lightly and balance beams that don't require full on brute force. And as a treat, you get to cruise through the elegant Grove Park afterwards with it's lovely turnover bridge.

So that's it.  

Best Lock Award 2015 goes to 

Lady Capel's Lock

Strange ain't it how the worst one had an unattractive name and the best one had a pretty name.  Pure coincidence I assure you,  I don't have photos of either of these locks, but here's that lovely turnover bridge I mentioned just round the bend from Lady Capel's.  What a cracker.

Well Christmas is drawing ever nearer I need to get on and draw us towards this year's special award which will honour someone for something or other.  Not much of a clue is it? Suffice it to say that the recipient is totally unaware and that in accordance the The Rules, it is someone who hasn't won it before.  If things go according to plan I'll make that announcement on Christmas Eve.  In the meantime I'll try to keep us amused with some tales from our ten years on Herbie.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Interlude - A few Memorable Photos

While you sup your half time drinks, I'll show you a small handful of the thousands of pictures (mostly terrible) that I've taken during our ten years on Herbie. Perhaps I should say our first ten years!?  This pictures may or may not have much photographic merit but they sure bring back memories.

I remember the evening when I took this.  We were tied up outside the Rushden and Diamonds place at Irthlingborough on the Nene.  The internet signal was useless and I was trying to post a blog entry so the old laptop sat on the roof struggling to get a signal.  Down below, Kath and Marilyn were relaxing and Rick I suppose was off somewhere inventing something or fixing something like he does.

This next picture is a family favourite, showing a very young Jacob (our Grandson now 18) doing his most important cabin boy duty as we cruise out of Little Venice on a summers day.

with this exceptionally mild winter we seem to be having, we could easily forget it isn't always like this, as this next picture shows.  Herbie was down at the Fox at Hanwell.

I had to include this next one, which I took as we cruised alongside Nb Leo on a rehearsal for the Queens Jubilee flotilla thingy.  Katherine, who owned Leo at the time, immediately asked for a copy which she had enlarged and printed to hang on her wall.  She didn't realise a how deep under water her bow was dipping.

(By the way, Katherine is currently recovering from a broken hip, and we send our best wishes for a speedy recovery).

Here's another favourite picture showing a certain gentleman who has not only put lots of time, effort and skill into Herbie, but also taking risks like this.

Yes, it's Rick painting Herbie's tunnel bands.  Of course it would have been a more memorable picture if he had fallen in, but you can't have everything.

Perhaps our best trip in all the ten years was our cruise down the Nene, across the Middle Levels and down to Bedford on the Ouse.  The weather was mostly sublime and the countryside as good as anything else England has to offer.  Here's Kath and friend at Cogenhoe

and some typical scenery somewhere on the Nene.  If Mr Constable had been there he'd surely have whipped out his brushes and scored another hit.

and lastly a couple of photos to counter those people who still might think that canals are all grimy and full of supermarket trolleys.

The "road" out of Braunston

and the canal through Grove Park on the GU

Now that we know who won Strictly and SPOTY we are free to concentrate on the remainder of the Herbie Awards starting with our next post when I reveal the best and the worst individual locks we have encountered this year.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Beer of the year - Herbie Awards

Yes its time for the Herbie Awards beer break soon, so before you go to the bar, you might like to consider our award for the Best Pint of Beer we have consumed during our cruising year.  sadly, you may not find this beer where you are because, unsurprisingly it doesn't come from Greene King or  Charlie Wells or Fullers or Tetleys or any of the big brewers.  We had to venture up the Ashby canal to sample this one at rather wonderful George and Dragon at Stoke Golding, although if memory serves me right they had it on at the Wheatsheaf at Crick one week.

In my dim and distant youth when I could drink a lot more beer than I can now,  a "pint of bitter" was all you asked for at the bar.  You never hear that said now do you?  Beers were generally a mid brown colour and although they differed a fair amount in maltiness and strength we rather took the hops for granted.  Goldings and Fuggles were the main varieties.  Now of course the situation has practically reversed.  No-one thinks too much about types of malt, but the hops -well that has been a revolution.  It's quite possible to find a beer with five varieties of hop in it, and those hops may well not come from Kent or Hereford or Worcester, but from Canada or New Zealand or central Europe, lending flavours such as elderflower or grapefruit to the brew. The malts tend to be  lighter too. Look at the bottles in the supermarket, or the handpumps in the pub and you'll quickly notice all the brewers jumping on the Golden Ale band wagon.  You can get Golden Ales from Guinness, and even the dreaded John Smith's now. They're all at it and many of them don't do it at all well.

Time was when you knew the top selling beers and what they tasted like, so you could ask for a pint of Pedigree or Directors and know what you were going to get.  But now you stand at the bar gawping at a row of handpumps all bearing names like Nellie's Knockers, or Golden Garbage and you haven't got a clue what to order.  Kath has one solution, she asks for tastes of all of them.  If possible I look for a clue as to the hop variety.  If it mentions Cascade or Amarillo or New World hops, I'll generally give it a go.

And so it was when we went to the George and Dragon and were faced by a bewildering array of unknown beers from the local Church End Brewery.  We opted for Fallen Angel "A sharp, full flavoured pale bitter. Bucket fulls of American hops give it that lemony edge.  5%."  Ooh, a bit strong, but we weren't driving.  I cannot, dear reader describe the taste of this beer beyond the above description, but I can tell you that they got it absolutely slap bang on. It was absolutely gorgeous. I knew instantly this was going to be our beer of the year.  Taste is of course a personal thing so if you come across it and don't like it, don't blame me, but

the  Herbie Award for Best Pint of the Year 
goes unhesitatingly to

Fallen Angel

from the 
Church End Brewery

if you need an excuse to go up the Ashby, then this is it.

Right, off you go to the bar while I prepare another interlude featuring some of my favourite photos from our ten years of boating and blogging.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Best Visitor Mooring Quiz answers and winner

Did you spot my deliberate (not really) mistake in the last post.  There were two pictures bearing the number 3.  Ah well it juts shows I am not perfect.  The answers to the photo quiz are as follows.

Picture 1.  The Leicester arm just 150 yards or so north of Norton Junction.  Nice and quiet and leafy but only a short walk from the junction and the New Inn.

Picture 2. An old favourite mooring only two minutes walk from the one above but quite different in outlook it is just yards from Norton junction in the direction of Braunston.  A very popular spot because of the views I suppose.

First Picture 3.  If you can't find space at 1. or 2. just descend through Buckby top lock, cruise half a minute round the bend and there you are.  Its a great spot, and if you fancy an ice cream or a Buckby can, the little canal shop is in a cottage just half a minute away.

Second Picture 3. (sorry) We make the sudden leap to the Ashby canal and the moorings at Stoke Golding.  At the end of these moorings are a couple of picnic tables.  There is access to the road and the village is a couple of minutes walk away over the style.  Stoke Golding has three pubs and an Indian restaurant, so you won't go hungry or thirsty.  Unusually for visitor moorings, these are on the off side.

Picture 4. That muddy scene is below the Admiral Nelson at Braunston.  A nice place to tie up if you want to be out of the hustle and bustle of Braunston itself, but only a short walkover the bridge and across the fields to the village.  And of course you have the Admiral nearby. We use this mooring during the Braunston rally when the main moorings are choc a bloc with historic boats.

Picture 5.  You might recognise this from the swing bridge.  It's Winkwell, near the Three(?) Horseshoes pub.  The village is only short walk away.

Picture 6. This shows the visitor moorings at Berkhamsted, just outside Waitrose.  A very popular resting spot. The main street of the town is a minute's walk a way.

Picture 7.  Here we are in lovely rural surroundings below the village of Grafton Regis not far below Stoke Bruerne on the GU.  Hard to believe this tiny village was Henry VIIIs summer HQ for a number of years.

Picture 8.   This shows the view across the canal from our mooring at Great Linford on the edge of Milton Keynes.  We would have preferred to be on the visitor mooring on the other bank but a wide beam boat was there and definitely overstaying.  Grrrr.   Even so it was nice where we were.  Five minutes stroll to the shop further along the canal, and a short bus ride into central Milton Keynes where, amongst other things, they have a great street market.

Picture 9.  Unmistakable to those who know it.  Rembrandt Gardens at Little Venice.  The only place in London where you can book a visitor mooring.  They need more!

How many did you spot?

All these moorings are worth aiming for. If i was at any of them right now, I would be a happy bunny.  nevertheless we can only pick one, so our favourite this year for the

Herbie Award for Best Visitor Mooring
has to be
Rembrandt Gardens

because if you manage to book it, you can head into Little Venice knowing that you will have a prime spot with great views and all in the centre of London.

Next time I will announce our best Pint of Beer near the canal.  We had one that was so good that I can't even bring myself to build a shortlist around it!  I knew when I tasted it that it was the winner.  What will it be?  Tune in next time to find out.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Nominations Picture Quiz - Best Visitor Mooring

I thought this time I’d make the Herbie Award nominations for Best Visitor Mooring more fun by having the nominations as a picture quiz. To be just a little helpful, I will define a Visitor Mooring as an overnight  mooring spot within a short walk of an amenity such as a pub, a village, a shop, or maybe a boaters facilities station.

So here are pictures of some favourite places we stayed at in the last year, although some of the photos were taken in previous years.  They are all on either the Grand Union or an arm of it, except for number 3.  How many can you identify, and which will win as our favourite of the year?

1. Just round the corner from the official moorings

2. Not far from 1. but looking so different

3. Another not far away from 2. but in the other direction

3. Close to a village with three pubs and an Indian restaurant


4.  Often this muddy, but it was dry this summer

5. Easy surely  - pub and village close by

6. I took this picture in 2006  Herbie is the second boat down.  Maybe what you see in the gap between the boats is the best clue

7. This picture taken from the village – a place of historical significance

8. A view across the canal from a mooring in a major conurbation

9. Obviously urban

Friday, December 11, 2015

An emotional acceptance speech plus Best Pub Quiz winner

After yesterday's shock announcement of the Tachomatic Revmaster in the Best Boat Equipment category, I have received the following acceptance speech from the Revmaster’s creator Mr. Rick Bunnage C. Eng. of long Buckby. Sadly he was not able to attend the presentation in person, or even on video but in true awards ceremony fashion he is clearly overwhelmed with emotion, and quite possibly by drink.
I am so happy to be presented with this prestigious award. It is thoroughly deserved because of all the hard work that I have put in over the years.
But this is not just about me:
I would first of all like to thank my mother who brought me into this world, and taught me that nothing should be wasted – if you have twelve old cookers in the back yard then you can always make one good one from the parts.
I must also thank Mr Wheelwright, my woodwork teacher who taught me the important lesson that you should cut twice then measure once.
And then there is my daughter Vicky who toiled selflessly to find jobs for me in her house so that I could hone my handicraft skills.

And of course, there’s my wife Marilyn who sacrificed her favourite palette knife to provide the material for the Revmaster®.
There is also Peter John Alain del Strother who instilled in me my love of boats, mainly by capsizing his dinghy with me in it.
It is easy to have grand schemes, but not so easy to make every part of them work, so I must thank Martin Bryce for showing me the importance of atenttion to detale.
(Sob Sob)
I must mention two people who sadly I never met, but who had a great influence on my career. The first is James Brindley without whose pioneering work on canals none of this would be possible. The second is Mr Tab Qwerty whose brilliant invention of the keyboard made what it is today.
(Sob Sob Sob)
And last, but by no means least, my heartfelt thanks to Neil and Kath for persisting with me when all was going wrong; and most of all for pretending to enjoy having me on board Herbie when this was obviously not the case.
(Sob Sob Sob Sob)
I love you all.
(Floods of tears, rapturous applause, exit stage left)
Thank you Rick. I will gloss over the fact that the above script is perilously close to a previous speech from the same source used on another occasion, since I accept that it is important these days to recycle as much as possible.

Well, with not  dry eye in the house, we must bravely carry on to open the golden envelope that reveals which pub near the canal put on the best pub quiz this year.  All the contenders are to be congratulated, but our winner this year for originality, atmosphere and a general good night out has to be:

Andy’s Pub Quiz
The Wheatsheaf  at Crick
(tumultuous applause)
NB : every Tuesday at 8pm, not Wednesday as I erroneously wrote yesterday.

Tomorrow we move onwards and upwards to list contenders for our Favourite Visitor Mooring of 2015.  A long shortlist perhaps?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Herbie Awards–best boat equipment 2015 plus Best Pub Quiz shortlist

Oh dear, I have to decide whether to give the Best Boat Equipment Award to my deck seat box, our Airhead composting loo or the Tachomatic Revmaster.  Marilyn MacDonald argued very persuasively in favour of the box, but in the end I had to listen to Kath’s undeniable logic.  We could live without the box, we could live with another type of loo, but without the Revmaster we would have to keep our hand on the Morse lever all the time we are going along, which would be a real pain.  So the simplest and smallest item gets the cigar.


The Award for

Herbie Best Boat Equipment 2015

goes to

The Tachomatic Revmaster

Congratulations go to the Revmaster’s inventor and manufacturer Rick Bunnage C Eng. (Loud applause).  I shall expect a victory speech from him shortly.

Now after all that excitement, on to our next category.  Best Pub Quiz.

We like to have a go at pub quizzes whenever we find one, and whilst we never win a) because there are often only the two of us to make up a team against teams of six, and b) because we are not up to date on the inevitable popular music or soaps round, we always enjoy them.  Our usual aim is not to come last, and we generally achieve that at least.  We have found some really great quizzes near the canal over the years, the one at the Old Barge in Hertford and the fiendishly difficult one at the Brewery Tap in Brentford especially spring to mind.  This year however we haven’t been near either of them so our choices are (in alphabetical order):

1. The Black Horse at Greenford – canalside

Here they have a regularly Thursday night quiz with questions supplied by a professional quiz company.  This is no bad thing because the answers are properly researched and the questions are interesting and surprisingly topical. Sometimes the poor person reading out the questions doesn’t understand what they are reading out, but that just adds to the fun.  As far as I recall, the quiz is free to enter.

2. The Pennsylvanian (Wetherspoons) Rickmansworth – five minutes walk from the visitor moorings

I don’t think many Wetherspoons pubs have quizzes.  This one, which is every Monday, I think runs independently of the company and is led in an entertaining fashion by a transatlantic gentleman of advancing years (no more advanced than mine though) who can get amusingly confused at times.  There are some keen teams, one of which includes our good friend Rainman, inhabitant of that parish.  The questions are often quirky and you have to be good to win.  Happily the selection of topics is not weighted too strongly on popular culture although a round on Soap Opera characters did for us last time.

3. The Wheatsheaf at Crick – five minutes walk fro the visitor moorings

Here they have a weelky Wednesday night quiz and if you arrive early enough you can take advantage of their £5 quiz night meal offer which is always a bargain.  It gets pretty busy so you need to be in early to get a table for your team.  The quiz is always intelligent and entertaining and you have to be good to win, which we don’t because they have a music round aimed rather more at the younger generation (although they do usually play one classical type piece for you to identify).  There is sometimes a large group of youngsters sitting at one table making use of their mobile phones to look up answers, which is funny because they generally come last so no-one bothers.  I think it costs a pound each to enter and even though we don’t win, we usually seem to get some money back at the end.

We have had some fun nights at each of these quizzes.  Find out tomorrow which is best.  If you have a favourite quiz near the canal, then I’d love to hear where it is.



Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Herbie then and now

Hello. I’m back after being away for a couple of days in Lancashire.  Yes, Lancs where all the rain has been. It wasn’t flooded where we were but there we floods just up the road and looking at the Lancaster canal I don’t think it will require topping up for quite some time. In the B&B where were were staying there was a lady from Kendal who had popped down to Preston for a few hours and then couldn’t get back home for three days!  Anyway, on with the show.

While the Awards take a brief rest, it’s time to look back a bit, because in January it’ll be ten years (gosh) since made our first blog post saying we’d bought ourselves a narrowboat called Herbie.  Herbie looked a bit different then.

Come to think of it, so did we! I think that Herbie might have aged rather better than we have.

Herbie was up at Stanstead Abbots on the Lee navigation and I had to look up a map to make sure it was connected to the rest of the canal system.  For the first few weeks we were trapped up there waiting for a lock stoppage to finish so we tootled up and down the stretch between Stanstead Abbots and Hertford, which looking back, was a nice way to break ourselves in.  Here we are on our very first night out where we moored at the Saracen’s Head in Ware.

Our little Jacob, as he was then, was thrilled to bits that we had actually got a boat and was soon taking the tiller, standing on the rear deck seats to see over the top.

Now he is over six feet tall in bare feet with biceps like Sylvester Stalone.  Little Grace wasn’t even born.

I got the idea of keeping a blog from a chance meeting with Sue of No Problem when we were on the river Nene with our son on his boat.  So it’s all her fault that people have had to suffer 1387 of these posts and the number of visits to the Herbie blog are well in to the hundreds of thousands. I think it was Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons who first drew us to the attention of the wider blog reading public, he was very good at spotting new blogs and giving them a leg up. I didn’t dream then that we would make so many friends through doing it.  Some I still haven’t met in the flesh, some we have had very happy times boating with. Looking back at the early commenters from the blog, we see some familiar names still going strong today, but more of them in a later post.  Now that we are back home, the Herbie Awards resumes next time with the results of the Boat Equipment category and some proposals for Best Pub Quiz near the canal

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Herbie Awards–Best New Equipment shortlist

Hmmm, what have we bought (or otherwise obtained!) that has made a positive difference to our boating this year? I can think of three things. 

1. A Box!

This is something I made at the end of last year and I think it’s fair to say it has been a success.  Herbie as you know has a semi trad stern with lockers on either side of the rear deck which also serve as seats. These are OK, but (yes there’s always a but), but as seats they are a few inches low for best comfort and for seeing over the roof.  Furthermore, although the lockers are capacious, sometimes they are a bit too capacious, being full of all manner of odds and ends when you are quickly searching for a hammer and a stake or perhaps another windlass. So I devised a cunning plan.  I made a box with just the right depth to raise the sitter to a proper height and big enough to take hold our windlasses, hammer, stakes, and piling hooks and chains – just. To do this I had to measure the length of a mooring stake and then the  distance between Kath’s knees and her feet! Now we can sit more comfortably and grab a chain or whatever in seconds without having to bend down rummage in a much bigger locker with other things like tins of paint and bow saws in it.  It’s nothing fancy just a rectangular box with a hinged lid, painted with umpteen coats of varnish – and would you believe it(?), I don’t have a photo of it.  Still you know what a rectangular box looks like, just imagine it with the neatly arranged bits and pieces inside.  Magic.

2. A toilet

Regular reader will know that we installed an Airhead composting toilet into Herbie this year.  This was not without considerable expense (think an arm and a leg) and even more considerable faffing about.  The faffing about bit was all about making sure that the “exhaust” fumes went outside the boat and didn’t leak inside, not so easy as it turned out until I called in Rick, who as all his friends know is a DiY genius.  The benefits off these loos are that they use no chemicals – saving money, chemical smells, and the environment, and the “solids” only need clearing out every six weeks or so, by which time with the addition of some cocoa shells they have lost much of their unpleasantness.  So no emptying of cassettes every couple of days, which with the poor state of some of CRT’s sanitary stations is a blessing.  Here is the Airhead in situ.


Does it work?  Yes.  Does it pong?  No. Does it really go for weeks without needing to be emptied?  Yes the solids do.  The liquid collects in that tank at the front and needs emptying daily, but that’s easy.

3. A steady hand on the throttle

Pardon? Well alright, a throttle steadier.  Herbie’s morse lever needed stiffening up to stop it creeping back once set.  We tried installing an O ring on the lever spindle and that worked a bit.  Rick reckoned it needed a “wavy” washer, sort of crinkled.  You can buy wavy washers, but not singly.  I wasn’t going to buy a hundred for fifteen quid and then find I had 100 washers that don’t work, so Rick made one.  He called it the Tachomatic Revostat –well he would wouldn’t he?  Here it is.

It sort of worked, but not well enough because it was too flimsy, so Rick ruthlessy stole Marylin’s Prestige stainless steel kitchen spatula (a wedding or engagement present over forty years ago), sawed off the end, and using the offcut made another, stouter version called the Tachomatic Revmaster which looks exactly the same only thicker (and tastes faintly of cake icing).  I am happy to say that it works and now Herbie can hold a steady speed on her own.

So there you have it.  Three things that have changed our life on board this year.  Only one can get the Herbie Award.  What would your choice be?  You have a day or two to send in your thoughts while we have a short diversion next time to look back at an aspect of our ten years on Herbie.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Herbie Awards - Best Lock flight , and Best and Worst Boat

Well you can’t please all of the people all of the time!  Amy says she likes the Buckby flight – there’s no accounting for taste is there?

I like all  three flights I nominated in the pervious post. In fact I’d go so far as to say I look forward to working through them.  The Watford flight goes like a dream once you are in it, but a couple of times this year we’ve had to wait up to two hours to get to the front of the queue, so this year it gets no prizes.  That leaves us with Marsworth and Hillmorton.  Apparently Hillmorton locks are the busiest in the country, but we’ve never been held up for long there, I suppose because they are in parallel pairs.  The paddle gear is unusual and light to operate and the approaches in either direction are easy for the steerer.  Marsworth locks are of course twice as big and hence heavier but not at all bad for locks of their type.  I don’t recall having been seriously held up there.  What I like about them is the setting as it wriggles up the hill with wide sweeping bends, nice grassy banks on the offside and pretty houses near the top.  No wonder lots of people use them for a pleasant stroll or sit by them for a picnic.

So the

 Herbie Award for

Best Lock Flight 2015

goes to

The Marsworth Flight


PS. Is that Kath wearing Adam’s famous hat??

Now for some boats. Some much worse than others.

I have driven four boats this year.  Herbie of course, plus three CRT boats which I have skippered in my capacity as one of the volunteer boat movers for CRT London Region.   First the cute little narrrowboat Griffin.  He she is as we did the annual engineers inspection of the Slough Arm.


Griffin ( or The Griffin and CRT seem to call her), is about as near as a normal cruiser narrowboat as CRT has in their fleet.  Downstairs inside, it gets a tad different. 


Not much room for entertaining!

I had to do a loop the loop in each winding hole on the arm and push her deep into the bankside vegetation to get at culverts and the like, but she managed fine.

The next boat I drove was at the other end of the scale, at least in scale. 


It was the newly repainted Jena, no used by CRT as an “events” boat. 60 odd feet long and about 12ft wide.




I had never driven a wide beam before and having one fresh out of the paint shop so that every scratch I might make would show up I was a bit apprehensive, especially as we had to take her down the Slough Arm.  Jena was built by Liverpool boats and actually she handles quite well for her size.  You just have to be careful to stay over to the towpath side going through bridge holes.  It looks like I might have to drive her a few times next year, so I had better not be too rude about her.

Then the piece de resistance.  CRT boat Enfield.  What a wreck!!



The floor was awash with water, the hull was clogged with pennywort, nothing electrical worked (particularly the bilge pump) and the poor old thing had trouble making one mile per hour.  She had lain unused for ages and we were supposed to take her from Bow all the way to Uxbridge so that she could be repaired and refurbed. It was fun but very very hard work. In hindsight CRT were very over optimistic in thinking she could survive the journey, and sure enough she didn’t.  A hydraulic drive pipe burst at St Pancras and that was the last straw.  We gave up.  After that they sent out a tug and towed her.

So by now I suppose you can guess which was the worst. So I wont make you wait until tomorrow. 

The Herbie Award for

Worst Boat I have Driven this Year (or ever if it comes to that!)

goes to

CRT workboat Enfield

as for the

Best Boat I have Driven this Year

Well of course there is no contest. It has to be


Coming up next:

Adam prompts me to move on to the Boat Equipment category, so tomorrow we’ll have a couple of interesting contenders at enormously different price ranges.  It’s a belter!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Herbie Awards - first winner, plus favourite flights listed

Welcome back. So having read about the five best places we ate food at this year, we have to decide on the winner.  This years winning meal was so good that I knew it would win as soon as I finished eating it, and that was way back in the summer.  Not that the others weren’t excellent, but the name inside the golden envelope for

The 2015 Herbie Award for

Best Pub  /restaurant for food

near the canal

goes to (drum roll)

The Admiral Nelson at Braunston


Yep, the old Admiral takes the biscuit.  Their perfect “Black and Gold” steak (to be honest I can’t remember if I had rump or sirloin) with the gorgeous tasting trimmings was the absolute biz.  I challenge you to get a better steak anywhere.  It might cost a couple of quid more than some cheaper places, but the difference is money well spent.  Well done them.

Now after all that excitement, back to the canal.  Everybody has their favourite lock flights.  Locks come and go but there’s something special about a ascending or descending a flight.  These spots become real landmarks on a canal trip.  They tend to be sociable too as folk help each other up and down to speed up the process.  I certainly don’t like ‘em all.  I have yet to meet anyone who really likes the Buckby flight for instance whereas the more physically demanding Hatton flight is somehow more enjoyable.  So of the most enjoyable flights we have done this year, which would you choose?



watf 3_thumb[1]

Yep,you got it.  First up is the beautifully kept Watford Staircase, often you have to queue, but once you get in you seems to ascend or descend as fast as an elevator and the locks are so easy a child can operate them as our little Grace demonstrated when only five years old

watf 2_thumb[2]


Next,  the serpentine Marsworth flight as it snakes up the hill past the reservoirs with each lock only just out of site from the previous one.

marsw 1_thumb[1]

Footpaths on both side of the water too, so teams can really get a move on.

And finally

The quick and easy Hillmorton flight with its pairs of side by side narrow locks, a welcome change after the many lock free miles from Hawkesbury.  Down near the bottom you can always stop for a break at Badsey’s cafe (nice for me ‘cos I was born and raised in Badsey – the village, not the boat!).


Bear in mind that we can only include flights we have done this year, so if you’re a fan of  Foxton or the Bratch of whatever, they don’t count.  Results tomorrow, plus the

nominees for best and worst boats I have driven this year.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Herbie Awards - first nominations

Welcome to the 2015 Herbie Awards.    As pub landlords and restaurateurs quake in their boots, we start off with the ever popular Best Pub or Restaurant for Food.  Like all the Herbie Awards this relates to experiences that Kath and I have had in our boating year, and this time I have given a bit of leeway geographically speaking to include places that are not necessarily canalside, but are within a few minutes walk of the canal.

I don’t think we ate out as much this year as we did in some previous years and we didn’t cover as much ground either, but nevertheless we found a couple of little gems.

so our nominations this year are (in alphabetical order) you can follow the links to see their websites

Admiral Nelson at Braunston

Most boaters know the Admiral. You can’t get more canalside than this old pub. A few years back it was a sorry place with landlords coming and going and periods when it was closed.  The present incumbents have worked hard and turned it into what to me looks like a very successful business.  We ate there after the Braunston rally I think and each of us opted for a steak.  Well you can get steaks anywhere and some are better than others, but this one was better than better.  The steak tasted like a great steak should, perfectly charred to give that beefy flavour, and so tender.  This was a very good piece of meat very well cooked. The vine tomatoes, the shallots, the chips, the salad, the dressing were all pretty much perfect with outstanding flavours.  So a seemingly ordinary meal made quite extraordinary.  Well done them.

Black Horse at Greenford

An old favourite of ours. Don’t go for a quiet night, this is a community pub with lively conversation and a big telly showing mostly football.  They serve fairly basic pub grub, but often manage to lift it to taste like the best home cooking.  In October I had a simple chicken and ham (and leek?) pie with buttery mashed spuds and cabbage.  yes folks, yer actual cabbage!!  I wish more eateries used a bit of this humble but lovely vegetable.  Anyway, it was all extremely good.  I don’t think the pie was made on the premises but it was none the worse for that.   Proper pieces of meat in it just like you might do at home, not reconstituted cubes. And of course it was a proper pie, not a flippin’ casserole with a bit of puff pastry floating on the top. So there’s another meal which doesn’t sound very adventurous on the menu, but if done really well, a lot better than many fancy sounding dish.

Warwick Castle at Little Venice

This lovely old pub is hidden round the corner from Little Venice, but seasoned boaters know it well enough.  In truth it is a comfortable boozer rather than an eatery, but we popped in there on a Tuesday when they have their hand made burgers at a few quid below normal price.  I don’t think you’d get a better one anywhere, especially at the price.  Chips were gorgeous as were the salad and relish.  Yet another simple meal done really well.

The Wheatsheaf at Crick

This is a bit of a hike from the canal, about ten minute walk from the bridge I suppose.  Resist the temptation to stop at the more popular Red Lion and carry on another fifty yards for better beer and better food and a good atmosphere.  This pub has had a refurb in recent years and it is now smart and comfortable.  The food is to my mind exceptionally reliable and often a bit adventurous and different.  Expect the unexpected.  Even a humble steak comes in a totally different shape, often a couple of inches thick.  Somebody in that kitchen can cook, because everything seems to turn out nice, even their £5 specials on a quiz night.  Whilst moored in Crick marina we ate at this pub a few times, always very good but this time I am remembering their crispy belly pork. Lots of pubs do belly pork, usually slow cooked and melting.  Lovely.  The Wheatsheaf version however looks different.  More chop shaped but thicker, and the crispiest crackling you could wish for.  Yum.  It comes with an apple caramel sauce and some black pudding as well as fresh veg.  Their sauces in particular are always lovely.  Follow the links to their menu but also note  that their specials board is ever changing and usually, um, special.

Woody’s cafe at Apsley

Finally, just to prove I don’t go round eating meat every day (I certainly don’t), we come to Woody’s vegetarian restaurant, canalside at Apsley on the Grand Union.  Here you a can get a wide variety of meat free meals.  To tell the truth, my favourite thing on their menu is their truly delicious rhubarb and apple juice.  The specials board is always interesting, but this time I opted for a simple Genovese pizza and a shared side salad. Fresh, healthy and satisfying.

So there you have it.  Looking back I see that these favourites have all done fairly simple food, but done it really well. I recommend all of them in their own way. Most of their menus a quite short, which is generally a good sign indicating freshly prepared food.  I find it so much better than fancy sounding meals which come out like they were boiled in the bag or warmed up in the microwave.  In each of these places you get the idea that whoever it is in the kitchen actually cares about what they put out.  The big question of course is, which one gets the award?  Come back tomorrow and find out.  Plus , we’ll give food and drink a rest for a while and get back to the canal with nominations for Best Lock Flight.