Thursday, December 22, 2016

Herbie's Video Christmas card -MkII

Doh, after yesterday's video proved invisible to iPad users, I consulted a certain Mr Google to find a solution and in doing so I inadvertently deleted the original post.  These things are sent to try us:-)

So here it is all over again including the preamble but, having failed to embed it in the blog,  this time please can you follow the link to the video which now resides on youtube for all the world to admire:

Roll over Steven Spielberg, I'm on the case.  yes, it's the Herbie Christmas Video again. I don't do these very year because I get too busy and forget how to do it, but I've been hard at it in Herbie Studios, sorting through old archives and playing guitar with an iPad on my knee ( a non trivial feat) to record the sound track.

So what have I come up with?  Well in honour of what many people consider a pretty depressing 2016, I've dug up some reminders of past events which seemed hard or challenging at the time, but now we look back on and laugh.  Life moves on and things don't seem so bad in retrospect, so to allow you a bit of cheery schadenfreude at our expense, here's our Christmas slide show, set to the music of Stephen Foster's Hard Times Come Again No More.

Thanks for visiting our blog in 2016 and a very happy Christmas form me and kath (and herbie).

Please follow this link to see the video

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Herbie Special Award for 2016 goes to . .

Only a few days until Christmas, so I think it’s time.  Every year the Herbie Special Award Committee (me and Kath) sits down over a steaming mug of tea and debates who we would like to congratulate/ recognise for something they have done this year.  The list of winners in the Herbie Award Roll of Honour contains many admirable folk, the Mother Theresas/ Nelson Mandelas/ Albert Einsteins (take your pick) of the canal. Suffice it to say, we are in awe of their fortitude and ever grateful of their company when we get the chance. The Herbie Award has no value, except to say it’s holders can be proud that their names list among some other very fine people who have been awarded in the past.

This year, we’ve decided to break with tradition and make two awards bearing the same citation.  Note: not one shared award, for that wouldn’t be fair, so just like Pointless Trophies, they get one each.

Our Award this year is inscribed For Indefatigability (thank heavens for spell checkers).

              AWARD SHIELD 20146                                                    AWARD SHIELD 20146

and it goes to two lovely people, who have soldiered on when others would have given up. We might have called them “The Hipsters” for both of them have been suffering from hip problems, one from a bad break and one because we has worn his out.  They have both not only borne their discomfort bravely, but have got on with life, doing what they do best and contributing generously as they always have done to the canal community.  Apart from being indefatigable of course, we only give the award to very very nice people.

Most of you will by now have guessed at least one of our pair, so without further ado, let’s present  Herbie Special Awards to our very good friends

Oakie (aka Ray on Nb Stronghold)

who has battled cheerfully on through a long single handed cruise whilst waiting for his shiny new hip


 Kathryn Doddington

Back in harness after shattering her hip and once again keeping Stoke Bruerne on its toes and doing her bit for Nb Sculptor

We’re sure that these awards will be heartily approved  by the many friends Ray and Kathryn have made up and down the canal.

Hip Hip . . .

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Picture Quiz Answers plus a teaser on the big award.

Well, or course dear old Adam got ‘em all right as usual.  Well done Adam, you’re a star. I will resist the temptation to carry on until I catch you out.  Here are the answers. 

The first picture of the boat chimneys was a heavily cropped section of this photo:


taken at the Little Venice Canal Cavalcade one year. Here’s another view:


and of course it’s on the famous Brownings Pool which some say (and others dispute) is named after the poet Robert Browning.

Question 2 was pretty tough, but it shows Yelvertoft marina from the viewpoint of the beacon on nearby Crack’s Hill

Question 3 showed a snowy scene at Cowroast lock in 2009, perhaps more recognisable from this:


and the nearby Cowroast Inn is well known for serving Thai food, which is the answer I was looking for.

and finally question 4 showed the parapet of the wonderful Grapes pub at Limehouse, looking down towards Canary Wharf.

Here’s the pub seen from the river.


and as many folk know, the Grapes is owned by Sir Ian McKellen, who, as it happens I saw only this week performing in Harold Pinter’s No man’s Land.  The hardest question of all might have been “what the hell was that play about?”.  Search me, but it was entertaining and Sir Ian was eminently watchable alongside Sir Patrick Stewart.

And so, we’re on the run up towards Christmas and the main award, the Annual Herbie Award, to someone who has inspired us for what they have done this year. In fact this year, we have a mind to award it twice, to two entirely separate individuals who have something in common.  You might like to guess, but I don’t think you could.  Stay tuned.

I’m off now to attempt to make a Herbie video Christmas card for you all.  Wish me luck.

Friday, December 16, 2016

More Picture Quiz , plus an unplanned Surprise Award.

Well blow me down!  There it was, staring me in the face and I never saw it until now.  An unplanned and unexpected category for the Herbie Awards and as much a surprise to me as it is to you.

Yesterdays picture quiz was the trigger.  As usual the first  correct answers came from the ever dependable Adam.  is there nothing on the canals he doesn’t know?  Maybe one of today’s pictures might catch him out, although I doubt it.  See if you can beat him to it.  

Anyhow, on getting Adam’s inevitable correct answers late at night, it occurred to us that it was worthy of greater recognition and so we have great pleasure in presenting the spontaneous


Herbie Award for always being the first to get my picture quizzes right


Adam Porter

(a well deserved and popular win)

The boat roofs were in Leighton Buzzard (the Wyvern shipping hire fleet), The tunnel was the horse tunnel at Shrewley on the GU north of Hatton, the lock beam was at Harlow on the Stort and the weir was the semi tidal weir at Thames lock at the start of the Grand Union.

So, just for fun, let’s do just one more sneaky picture quiz before we return to the Awards proper.  Just to test you I’ve made the questions a bit cryptic.  Some might say impossible, but I’m sure that many of you will know the answers when you see them.

1. Some say (and some say not) that the water underneath these chimneys is named after a poet.  Who is he?


2. From what landmark viewpoint is this picture taken? half a point if you just recognise the subject of the picture


3. What kind of food is served in the pub nearest this lock?


4. Which famous person owns this piece of wood?


Come on Adam, the gauntlet has been thrown down.  Come on the rest of you, can someone beat the canal egghead?

STOP PRESS  well folks, less than two hours after this post went up, I had a set of correct answers from you know who(although he confessed he did have to research one of them), so I have temporarily deleted his answers from the comments to let others have a go. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Herbie Awards–Best Pub result plus a picture quiz

Ooh it was a tough choice, but in the end we decided that this year’s Best Pub  of the three excellent nominations was the one which gave us a bit of excitement when we went in because we had no idea of what beers they would be selling, but we knew they would be good. \So the winner of

The Herbie 2016 Award for best Pub


The Rising Sun at Berkhamsted


To be frank, I can’t see many complaining about that!

Now, for a little break before the remaining categories, how about a little picture quiz.  How many of these places can you identify?

First, and possibly easiest– in what town is this?


This next one we visited a few years back, but it’s still the thinnest lock balance beam I have ever seen.  Any idea what waterway and what town?


Next, where’s this?  Easy if you know it.


And lastly, do you recognise this weir?  Again, what town?



Clue:  They’re all comfortably south of Birmingham

Answers next time. I have a private bet who might be first with the answers.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Herbie Awards–Best Pub nominations

It may surprise you, dear reader, that we don’t go in every pub we pass on Herbie, even when we know some of them to be good ones!  However there are certain pubs that are difficult not to visit when in the vicinity and some of the ones we have visited this year find their way on to our Best Pub 2016 shortlist.  Bear in mind that this year our cruising pattern has been a bit restricted so we’re basically talking about the canal between Paddington and Oxford via Braunston.

What makes a Good Pub? Well for this Award were judging them on the basis of ambience, friendliness, how well they keep and serve their booze.  Our winner would have to be somewhere we could happily spend an evening with or without friends, in comfort, and with good company from the locals.

We hear a lot about pub closures and landlords struggling under the burdens imposed by the PubCos. Whilst all that is true, our shortlist shows that a good pub, properly run can be very successful. So here we go.  We’ve whittled it down to three lovely pubs that have a great atmosphere and a strong following.  Follow the red links to their web sites.

We’ve already mentioned the Warwick Castle in Little Venice in respect of their food, but it’s here now because of the atmosphere.  It’s a proper pub where and wherever you look, people are enjoying being there.  The beer is well kept and the staff are efficient and friendly.  Also, it has a bit of character with its Victorian fittings.  Lots of boaters love it, partly because the beer is about a pound cheaper than the Bridge House across the canal.. In the summer people like to sit outside in the little narrow street.

Much further up the GU, we come to the Rising Sun at Berkhamsted, or should we say The Riser at Berko.  I recall one visit a few years back when we were disappointed, but on this year’s visit it was well back on form.  It’s small, it’s crowded, the hubub of conversation can be noisy, but that’s ‘cos it’s very popular.  People go there for the beer, which is varied and always good, and the atmosphere. Don’t dress up and don’t expect to lounge in an easy chair.  Don’t expect fancy period features, or nasty modern ones either. It’s a good old fashioned local, although frequented largely, I suppose, by people of age thirty plus. A proper pub, right on the canal side, where you can sit out in summer.

Well, I suppose we have to include Ye Olde Reine Deer in Banbury, even though it’s a five minute walk from the canal. It’s a lovely old building where the staff are particularly good and the beer is very well kept. It gets busy, but not over full and there are some lovely nooks and crannies to sit in. It’s cosy in the winter, or there’s a nice old courtyard for summer nights. I suppose they ought to be good at it by now, having first opened in 1560 something.

If you were taking an overseas friend to have their first experience of a proper English pub, all of these would do very nicely.  I also think I’m right in saying they all do quiz nights if, like us, you enjoy them.

May I also give a special mention to the Old Bookbinders in Oxford.  The only reason we haven’t short listed them is that we have only been there once, and then only for a quick meal.  I strongly suspect that had we spent more time there and sat in the bar, it would have been a very strong contender.

I think this will be a tough one to pick.  The results show is tomorrow. Then maybe we’ll have a little break with a photo quiz.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Herbie Awards – decision on Best Pub Food + genius gets share in historic boat.

Ladies and Gents, after yesterday’s talk of pub grub, the Strictly Come Noshing judging panel, aka Kath and yours truly, have come to a decision.  I think the answer was there all along really, because we both voted for the one pub that offered good food of a type that you don’t find in all the other pubs.  So

 the 2016 Herbie Award for Best Pub Food

goes to

The Old Bookbinders Ale House in Jericho, Oxford

We’re really looking forward to going back there.

Tomorrow we’ll nominate some pubs for best pub.

Meanwhile life goes on and yesterday we learned an interesting snippet of news.  A certain Jim might be quite interested.

Last night we went along to see Topette – an Anglo French band.  Any band with a French bagpiper plus Andy Cutting gets my vote every time.  Andy is an old friend of ours and we delight in his success. He’s one of those geniuses adored by those who know his music and totally unknown to everyone else. Suffice it to say that he is the accompanist of choice for most of the top English folk artists ,not to mention having played with Sting and the Who!).  If you’re curious here’s a link to one of his many youtube clips.

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? Knowing that we were boaters, Andy was excited to tell us that he now has a share in a historic working narrowboat Nb Spey, and he has been having lessons in operating its Bolinder engine ( a non trivial task!).  Spey currently resides up North but they are hoping to bring her down south next year to attempt the K&A. So if you here the doink doink of a bolinder blended with some beautiful whistful melodeon music that’s who it’ll be.  He gets my vote for a guest at a Historic NarrowBoat Club rally.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Herbie Awards – nominations for Best Pub Food

Welcome to part two of the awards.  During the intermission we’ve been up to Lancashire and back and I can confirm that the Lancaster canal looks fine and that Lancashire hotpot still tastes good.

Now it’s time for nominations for one of the most coveted awards.  Our dedicated research team has once again been scouring the canalsides of the land to seek out the finest culinary delights that nearby hostelries can provide.  This year the team has focused on the Grand Union and South Oxford canals to identify candidates for The Herbie Award for  Best Pub Food 2016

We start our journey at The Warwick Castle, just round the corner from Little Venice on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union where you can sit near a log fire or in one of the several nooks and crannies and enjoy unpretentious but lovely grub at (for London) reasonable prices.  Even the humble burger is a joy at this pub, served with some very good chips (sweet potato if you like) and some excellent chutney.

On the subject of chips, have you noticed places now saying they do twice fried chips? Well, in the old days at home ( before we turned to healthier foods) when we used to deep fry chips, Kath would twice fry them, leaving the oil to reheat between fryings.  The result was a super light chip, often hollow in the middle and crunchy on the outside.  I am, dear reader, sorry to report that most of the “twice frieds” we have tried in certain pub chains are woefully below that standard.  I suspect some of them are bought in as frozen twice fried and then heated in the oven – treat them with caution.

Having said that, our next pub doesn’t claim double frying on its menu but I’m sure they are proper twice fried and they are extraordinarily good.  So much so that I can’t recall what meal I had there this summer, but I do remember the chips were fantastic.  I think that at the time I thought they might have been the best chips I had ever had.  It is, our old favourite pub , The Folly at Napton.  Their food is pretty simple, but always good, andthey deserve the nomination for the chips alone.

The chef at the Great Western in Aynho never lets us down and deserves nomination, the food is always excellent, but the prices seems to be creeping up. £13 for a burger? £22 for a steak? Best saved for a special treat methinks.

We ate well in Oxford, and a great find, just a couple of minutes stroll from the boat was the Old Bookbinders Alehouse in Jericho where they serve unpretentious French bistro style food at reasonable prices in cosy and quirky surroundings. 


Being French inspired, the menu here is refreshingly different – on the provincial rustic side rather than the haute cuisine side.  Kath had Coq au vin and I had a pork chop in a lovely sauce.

Not far away, still in Jericho is the Victoria where the simple menu consists principally of very good hot pies (three of which are vegetarian) How about mushroom hazelnut, spinach and truffle oil, or lamb, chickpea and chorizo? The pub gets very busy but it has bags of character and the staff are good.

Finally we have to consider the Ye Olde Reine Deer in Banbury ( I know, it keeps cropping up, but it’s good).  Where the meat comes from the excellent butcher opposite and you can have a yummy Venison burger and a pint  for £11 on Thursdays, or decent steak and chips for £6 on Saturdays, or a good choice of interesting stuff from the specials board on any night.  If you fancy a civil war banquet for a special occasion (min 20 souls), they do that too.

This might sound like we’re always eating out, but actually I think we’ve now mentioned nearly all the places we’ve tried this year.  Anyhow, all these are well worth a visit .  They all have web sites with menus, so look ‘em up. Choosing a winner will not be easy.  Come back next time to find out who gets the cigar.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Herbie Awards _Best Urban Mooring result plus a winning beer.

Today, we announce not one, but two Herbie Awards.

I liked all of our urban mooring shortlist, but there was one that we all agreed on.  Whenever we arrive there and there’s room to moor we’re always delighted.  So the winner of the

Herbie Award for Best Urban Mooring 2016


Great Linford Visitor Mooring

A well deserved and popular win.  Handy for the city, but quiet and scenic and plenty of room to sit out.  The only downside is that, taking only two boats, you sometimes can’t get in.  We love it.  Yesterday’s pictures showed the environs.  Here’s the actual mooring.

lin3   lin4

Now we draw near to our first intermission because tomorrow and Friday we’re up and back to Lancashire to retrieve Jacob from college for his Christmas hols.  But in case you get thirsty during the interval, how about a cracking pint of beer?

Being out in the sticks a lot this year, we haven’t tried as many beers, but one was so outstanding that we revisited to pub three times in a week to sample some more. We had some other nice beers during our 2016 travels, notably in the Riser at Berko, but this one was in the Reine Deer in Banbury, but don’t all rush over there to try some, for it was a seasonal beer for August and September and we have no hesitation in declaring it this years winner of the

Herbie Award for Best Pint of Beer 2016

Hook Norton Summer Haze

Lion Clip

As you might just guess from the name, its a slightly hazy beer brewed with 42% wheat and 58% barley malt. It has none of the sourness that some wheat beers have, in fact it’s a bit on the sweet side, but I can promise you we’ll be down to Banbury next September to get some more.  Of course, we have to give full marks to the Reine Deer for keeping and serving it so well. 

Have a pleasant intermission and come back at the weekend for nominations for Best Pub Meal on our 2016 travels.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Herbie Awards–Rural Result and Urban shortlist


Let’s not beat about the bush about where we beat about in the bushes.  From yesterday’s nominations, one name made it into the Golden Envelope, and tearing it open we read the card and it says

The winner of the Herbie Award for best Rural Mooring 2015 is . . .

(annoying ten second pause)

Kirtlington Quarry

Apart from the rough rocky edge to the canal, it’s a lovely place to stop, and there are some fascinating short walks to be had right from the boat.  It’s a great place for a picnic or a BBQ too.

And so to the nominations for Best Urban Mooring

Well a previous winner, Paddington, won’t be getting it this year. This is where we ended up when we visited in February.

Still handy for all the amenities of course, but hardly the best spot in the area.

Two months later we were in the Great Metrollops of Milton Keynes and we were lucky to get in at our favourite spot in the town / city.  Great Linford visitor mooring


It doesn’t look very Urban but it is, and it has to be on anyone’s short list.  A bus stop a couple of minutes walk away get’s you into the centre in a few minutes.  Here’s the view from the boat.  That’s the Nag’s Head pub in the distance.


Then how about Banbury.  I suppose that’s our new local town now that Herbie is based in Cropredy.


Is that urban enough for you?  Right adjacent to the town centre.  The visitor mooring policy is tight but reasonable and it’s always kept clean and tidy.  I’ve heard tales of oiks being a nuisance, but after several visits, we haven’t been bothered by them. Here’s the same spot but looking the other way.  We’re more than happy to have it as our new local town.


Finally there’s Oxford, or Jericho to be more precise.


Less than ten minutes walk from the centre and handy for several good pubs and also the railway station should you need it.  Unlike previous visits, we found it easy to find a spot to tie up.  If your allotted 48 hours isn’t long enough, it’s not far back up the canal to where you can have another 48hrs.

Three good visitor moorings in three good towns / cities.  Yes I even like Milton Keynes, apart from the endless roundabouts.

I have a leaning towards one, but I’ll consult SWMBO before we write the name in the golden envelope.

Come back tomorrow for the result and for ideas for the Best Pint of Beer 2016.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Herbie Awards–Best Rural Mooring nominations

One of the joys of Herbie now being based on the South Oxford canal is the abundance of pretty spots to tie up for a day out in the sticks.  Lots of canals have pretty spots of course, but for some reason the powers that be seem to have made the effort to put in a bit of piling and dredge the edges so that you can pull in and tie up easily.  Not only that but the towpath in many of these places is flat, grassy and wide so it’s good for sitting out on. (I know, I know, never use a reposition to end a sentence with).

So here’s our shortlist for 2016.  Which would you choose?

One we like is just north of Aynho, just by a lift bridge about half way between the road bridge and the lozenge shaped lock.


You could I suppose walk back to the Great Western Arms from there if you so desired, but we just like to sit there and watch the rabbits in the field across the canal.  Like many S.Ox spots, you can’t claim that it is quiet because in the this case the railway is only a couple of hundred yards away, but the trains aren’t noisy at this point.

Another good one is just below Allen’s lock at Upper Heyford where it is actually very quiet even though the edge of the village is only just across the lock and round the corner. Seven minutes walk up the hill to the pub should you so desire.


Or how about Kirtlington Quarry, also very quiet, where a lovely offside mooring gives you access to the old quarry itself.  Perfect for picnics and barbeques, or just exploring.  Lots of wild orchids here too.




Finally there is plenty of room at the lush wide open spaces of Somerton meadows


Where the locals are friendly and bring their youngsters along to visit.


But which is our favourite?  Oooh, I don’t know.  We’ll sleep on it and award the prize tomorrow, when we’ll also look at our favourite Urban mooring for 2016

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Herbie Awards Best(?) Day’s Cruise 2016

Whoops, I’m a day late been very busy, sorry

This year we did the most extraordinary cruise we have ever experienced, or probably ever will again. You might have thought our choice for best cruise of the year involved balmy weather and  beautiful countryside, but it wasn’t at all like that, to put it mildly. For a start, we had to crawl out of bed at  five in the flippin’ morning.  Then not long after we got out on the river, and through the Thames tidal barrier,it poured with rain.


As we pushed on in grey weather down the Thames estuary the river got wider and wider, the ships got bigger and bigger and the swell got higher and higher until we and our “sister” boat Doris Katia were jumping up and down like bucking broncos.  Were we scared?  Well just a bit, ‘cos we were miles from dry land.


Soon afterwards we were dodging dangerous shoals and peering into the mist looking for seemingly non existent but vital marker buoys, some of which were guarding a shipwreck stuffed with high explosives! 


It’s fair to say that narrowboats aren’t really designed for this sort of stuff, but they coped remarkably well.  Then after weaving our way through a bewildering group of islands and dodging various dinghy races we eventually found our way in the river Medway and the sun eventually appeared as we passed fascinating places like Rochester and Chatham eventually to arrive just outside Maidstone eleven exhausting hours after we set off.

I don’t know about you, but if that’s not the cruise of the year, I don’t know what is – even though it wasn’t on board Herbie.  We were of course the guests of the wonderful Sue and Richard aboard Nb Indigo Dream.  Thanks guys.  So to complete the formalities I hereby declare the winner of Best Day’s Cruise 2016 as

The Bow to Medway Cruise on Indigo Dream

Well it couldn’t be anything else could it?

if you missed my original blog posts about it, visit our archives for last May,

but fasten your seat belts first

Next up is the award for Best (or favourite) rural mooring for 2016 where a couple of new favourites vie for the prize.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Herbie Awards: first Award Awarded – plus a mystery dead cert.

Ladies and gentleman here I stand

A golden envelope in my hand

Today’s decision was really hard

I open it up and read the card

And the winner of the Herbie Award for Best Gadget 2016 is . . .

the Hausen 12v fluid extractor pump


Hoorya!!  It wins because although you might not need one very often, it makes a difficult and horrible job easy and pleasant.  It works just like you’d want it to, and I couldn’t find anything else nearly as good at anything like the price. I wish I had found it years ago.  Great piece of kit.

Moving on, now I have a problem because today I’m supposed to nominate candidates for our Best Day’s Cruise this year. 

I can recall a lovely day in October when we pootled back up the Oxford canal on out way back to Banbury.  The air was fresh, the sun was warm, the canal was peaceful and the birds were flocking in the hedgerows.  There weren’t even any queues at the locks.

But it wasn’t that day.

It could be the day in February when we set off up the Slough Arm after not having cruised for three months – probably our longest ever lay off.  Sometimes I’m apprehensive after a long break. Will the boat be OK?  Will we still enjoy it? Well I can tell you that it was really good to be cruising again, even though it was only from Slough towards Uxbridge.  Yep that was a good cruise. But not THE one.

Whichever way you look at it there can really only be one candidate this year because that particular day was one we’ll never forget.  The answer is in the next golden envelope waiting for tomorrow.

Plenty more awards to come.  Coming soon, Best Rural Mooring, Best Urban Visitor Mooring, Best Pint of Beer and more.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Herbie Awards begins with Best Gadget nominations

Ladieees and gentlemen.  Welcome to the tenth, yes it’s true,  the Tenth Herbie Awards (pause for rapturous applause).  Alarmingly it’s already that time again, when the members of the Herbie Academy (me and Kath) bestow our coveted plaudits and brickbats on the best and worst things we have discovered on our travels on the waterways this year.  So charge your glasses with Prosecco (we couldn’t run to champers this year but Prosecco is so fashionable right now), sit back and prepare to be enlightened and perhaps mildly amused.

And so we move on to our first category for 2016.  Best Gadget for use on a boat.  Mundane they might be, but they do a great job for us. As with all the awards, this relates to things we have seen, experienced or acquired during the past year.  Sadly I have to report that being boring old stick in the muds we have not acquired glamorous gadgets like a selfie stick or a radio controlled drone camera, or perhaps surprisingly, too many solutions looking for problems.

So this year’s nominations are actually solutions to real problems that we had and you might have too.  And, even more surprisingly, they worked!

Our first nomination is for a solution for getting oily fluids out of awkward places. Ever changed your boat’s gearbox oil?  The drain plug is underneath and you have to catch the oil in something then wriggle that something up and out.  This gubbins would do it easily, but that’s not what we bought it for.  We used it to get rid of a problem that had been urking us for a while.   Our trusty old BMC 1.8 had been leaking diesel.  A steady drip drip from the fuel filter that I couldn’t seem to fix.  Ahaa, I hear you say, a drip stopper.  Well no.  The drip was actually stopped by the wonderful Ian at Calcutt boats and much as I would like to have him in a box in the cupboard, he is not really a gadget.  No, the problem we had, was how to get rid of all the diesel in the drip tray.  Mopping it up is slow, messy and ineffective; scooping it out is difficult and back breaking in the confined space, and hoovering it up with a wet and dry vacuum works, but is messy and last year led to me spilling some into the canal, not a good idea at all.  Then, on ebay I found this


It’s quite a substantial piece of kit – bigger than I expected, and solid and well made, and comes with all the hoses and leads you need and has a nice on off switch. We attached the hoses, bunged the sucky end in the drip tray, stuck the squirty end in an empty oil can, attached the battery clips and switched on.  It self primed beautifully and made short work of getting all the diesel out – several litres.  You could use it for draining your oil instead of using the old plunger pump fitted to the engine or like I said earlier to change the gearbox oil.  It’s a surprisingly robust pump for the price and I recommend it highly.  Sadly, it ought not to be used for pumping water. I guess because it would corrode internally.

Our second nomination is a simple enough thing, but again it has solved a problem for us.  We don’t often watch the telly on Herbie, but there are times when we really really want to -  Wimbledon, Grands Prix, etc.  Now that we are down on the South Oxford, TV reception is, how shall I put it? PATHETIC! Now there are all sorts of fancy gubbinses you can get to boost TV signals but a lot of them are sizeable objects that need cabling in and aren’t cheap if they don’t work. So, with low expectations I thought I’d gamble a mere thirteen quid at Argos on a basic aerial booster like this.


Not much bigger than a packet of cigarettes (probably not much more expensive either, although as a non smoker I’m not sure), its called a Total Control Aerial Booster and it works.  You plug it into a 240v socket near the telly, connect up the aerial leads, and switch on.  Our number of channels at Cropredy marina went up from zero to oh, I cant remember now, but lots and lots.  The only downside when out on the canal is you need your inverter on to provide the 240v.   It cant make something out of nothing however, and there are lots of places in the Banbury area for instance, where we still can’t get a signal, but neither can most other folk, no matter what gubbinses they have. I like it because its dead simple, needs no clambering about to fit, it’s cheap and given half a chance, it works.  Oh that all gadgets were like that.

So they are our two nominees.  Tune in tomorrow to see who wins and to see our nominations for something completely different – Best Day’s Cruise of 2016.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Spot the difference – plus Vitriol poured on CRT

Some people seem to need a bit of help with my technical “What’s missing?” photo yesterday.  How about a before and after picture to help?  BTW they are both pictures of Herbie.

before                                                                    after

bay                 engine2

I know it’s tough to spot but something is there in the second picture that isn’t in the first.  Here’s another clue, it begins with E.

Nice to see that people are interested in Jim’s shiny shoes in my other photo yesterday.


Still no offers of captions.  As far as I recall he was trying to remember where he’d put the missing bit, (beginning with E).

I see that Steve Heywood has written a critical piece in Canal Boat about the CRT London plan to improve the towpaths.  I can’t say I’m surprised, a) because Steve makes his living by having a grumble and CRT are a soft target and b) because I suspect a lot of boaters share his views.  His vitriol is equally shared between speeding cyclists and CRT for aiding them.  You may draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Coming soon to a blog near you

Well the old calendar on the wall tells me that it’s nearly December, and you know what that means.  Yes, time to book your Tux hire at Moss Bros,or dust off the old tiara, because it wont be long till the 2016 Herbie Awards.  I’ve already been consulting the boss on suitable categories for this year.  Old favourites like Best Pub (of course), best moorings, best boating gadgets, this year’s scariest moment, and more, including the prestigious Herbie Award to someone deserving.  (Deserving what, I’m not sure.) 

I might fling in the odd old picture quiz to leaven the proceedings.  How about something like this for those with a razor sharp technical brain.  What is missing in this picture?


or maybe a caption quiz e.g. what is the man in this picture saying?


Stay tuned. The ceremony opens on December 1st.  Bring your own bottle.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Boater wrestles with Python as speeding debate rages amongst volunteers

Ok I’ll explain the attention grabbing headline later, but first a burning question. How fast is too fast? 

Following some recent criticism of excessive passing speed by wb Jena, the big CRT display boat I and others helm around the London area,  I wrote round to fellow volunteers, not all of whom are experienced boaters, reminding of our obligation to pass moored boats at a slow pace.  Now you have to bear in mind that Jena is not normally used for pleasure or leisure cruising.  Usually she has to be delivered somewhere by a certain time, and at this time of year, with it getting dark early, the schedule can be quite challenging. Add to that the proliferation of moored boats around London and you can begin to see the problem.One volunteer went as far as to say that because Jena was on a job and on a deadline, she had the right to keep a move on.

Well I don’t know about you but I can’t agree with that.  Passing another boat at such a speed that it may cause it to bang about, or pull out the mooring pins is to me unacceptable at any time, working or no.  “Well how fast is too fast?”, asks my frustrated friend.  Aah well, that all depends doesn’t it? If the canal is shallow or narrow, then it might be tick over.  If the canal is wide and deep then a couple of mph might be ok. My answer was to say that you have to watch the boats you are passing and you adjust your speed so that you don’t pull them about as you pass.  So I don’t always agree with the common signs telling you to pass at tick over as that is sometimes unnecessarily slow. Tickover on Herbie is barely a crawl. Any comments for me to pass on to my volunteer colleagues would be interesting and welcome.

Now then, what’s all this python business?  Well really it’s because I can’t resist an attention grabbing headline.  No I have not been wrestling snakes, but I have recently been teaching myself Python which is a popular computer language.  I confess that over the years I have done a fair bit of programming in other languages too, but one I’ve not used before and I quite like it. In this instance I’ve been using it to program the BBC Microbit, which must be the coolest little gadget I’ve seen in years.  I bought one for Grace to play with, which she does, but I liked it so much I bought another one for me.  If you have two of them they can talk to each other.


As you can see, it’s tiny, but don’t let that fool you. I’ve used it to make a compass, an infrared burglar alarm, a messaging pager, a voltmeter, a scrolling Christmas message display, a light meter, a stopwatch, a thermostatic fan speed controller, a spirit level, a thermometer, a pogo stick bounce counter, a mobile phone finder and a lot more I can’t recall right now. What I need to do now is to think of things to use it for aboard Herbie. I’m sure there are loads of applications.

You don’t have to learn Python to do this stuff. Most of it can be done with a really simple lego block type approach which is literally child’s play.  Yes, and I do mean literally. You can pickup a Microbit for about £13. School kids aged 12 are getting them for free. For most of the things I have listed above, you don’t need anything else at all, except a home computer to programme it from. You can even program it with a smartphone or tablet. If you are Christmas shopping for cheap presents for your friendly Nerd or Geek, look no further.  If anyone lese out there is playing with Microbits and inventing boating gadgets with it I love to hear from them.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A hundred years today

Forgive me for going off topic, but today is a special day for me.  One of the great pleasures of my life has been being a Grandpa, and as many of you know, I enjoy having a close relationship with the grandkids.  I guess this is especially important to me because I never met either of my grandfathers who both died long before their time.  One of my great regrets is that I never knew them.

A hundred years ago today, just as the great battle of the Somme had drawn to a conclusion, in a field hospital in France, my paternal grandad James Corbett “died of wounds” aged 33.  He lies buried, along with hundreds of his comrades in this neat military cemetery in a little place called Puchevillers.

The burial records just says this:



I suppose that when this photo was taken, they realised it might be the last one of them all. My dad (bottom right) would have been four years old at the time, so he wouldn’t have remembered much of him either.  My Granny, Sarah, is the only one of my grandparents who lived long enough for me to know.  Looking back over her own history, she went through some very hard times. I was a tad scared of her.  I remember as a child knocking on her door once and she squinted at me and said “Which one be you?”

I might not have known you Grandad, but I remember you today with a real tear in my eye.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Neil is innocent!

I'm innocent despite Kath's cruel accusations. I did not pee all over the bathroom floor, something not easy to do on our airhead loo unless you fail to reinstall the pee bottle properly after emptying. Further investigations revealed the liquid to be water emanating from the main water pump and I was exonerated.

This last happened seven or eight years ago. The joint between the pump and the motor body loses its seal and the water drips out. Sometimes you can fix it by the application of some sealant round the join, which is what I have done in addition to retightening the fixing screws. At the moment I have left the pump in the warm by the stove while the sealant cures.

Meanwhile we're drinking and washing fro bottles and saucepans of water we drew off before disconnecting the pump. I once met a proper hill billy chap who lived in the Appalachian mountains where he got all his water from a well via an electric pump. I asked what he did if his generator failed and he said "We just have to drink whiskey." Interestingly the things that most amused him on his first visit to England were fields with (dry stone) walls round, and three wheeled cars!

The sealant may work and it may not. Thd pump pressure is quite high. If not, the next step is to split the two halves of the pump and smear some sealant on the joint faces. If that doesn't work it'll mean a new pump. I think they're in the region of £100 so I hope not.

Tomorrow we head back to Cropredy and then home. Once again it's been a good trip despite not really going very far. People ask if we're cold on the boat at this time if year. Blimey no, we're too warm sometimes. People who shut up their boat for the winter are missing out.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

MAD NURD PLOT Gunfight at the OK Canal

Could this be a new way of CRT dealing with overstayers in Banbury? Well there were a lot of spare mooring places so I guess it might have worked. If Donald Trump ever takes over CRT he might well adopt it as policy. These guys might have been re-enacting some civil war event, but it certainly never happened on the Oxford canal which didn't open until 140 years after the civil war.

Speaking of Mr Trump, I spent a pleasant half hour yesterday working out anagrams of his name. The best I have come up with so far are, LARD DON'T JUMP, DUMP DARN LOT, DROP TAN M"LUD, and MAD NURD PLOT.  A disappointingly near miss was DROP MAD NUT L. Maybe you can come up with some better ones.

I do like Banbury, all those little streets interlinked by alleyways. Yesterday we found something to recommend (vegetarians look away now), in the little alley opposite the Reine Deer pub, the kind of butcher's shop you are always looking out for. Proper locally sourced meat and not at all expensive. You know it's a good'un when the queue of customers stretches out of the door and along the street.  Add that to the market stall where the man sells lovely lardy cake and that's enough reason to stop over in Banbury right there. Mm, perhaps not for healthy eaters though.

We moved off today in search of a TV signal to watch the grand prix. Telly reception down here is pretty bad. In the end we had to go all the way down to the Pig Place near Nell bridge where we knew there was a spot with a good signal. I hope after all that effort, the race will be worth it. As you'd expect with the stoppages and it being out of season,  the canal is very quiet. Lovely.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Well of course we are reeling from the shock of this week's news. It all makes me very depressed. How can people be so stupid? I mean who would think Toblerone would do a thing like that?

Well we all need cheering up, and nothing beats a bit of schadenfreude so feel free to read on and enjoy my misfortune.

Now that the weather has at last taken a turn for the worse and the nights have drawn in, we decided to spend a week or so on Herbie. On the first morning we looked out of the boat window and the gale lashing across the marina and decided to stay put. On the second morning it was cold but the wind had dropped so we disconnected the shore power, got out the ropes from their dry storage, took in the fenders, checked the oil and water, put on our hats and gloves and switched on the engine. Or tried to. The starter battery was dead despite having been on charge all night. Drat!

I wasn't too surprised as last time out I noticed it was struggling a bit and we have had it for several years. Anway, I jumped in the car and headed off to Halfords in Banbury, only fifteen minutes away where I bought a shiny new one that looked about the right size and the right number of Cold Cranking Amps. So, off back to the boat to remove the old battery and slide in the new one. Simples. Well the new battery fitted the space OK, but I hadn't noticed in the shop that the plus and minus connecting posts were the other way round. "Oh bother" I exclaimed (well words to that effect anyway). The cables in the battery compartment are thick and short and no way would they stretch to the right place. So back to the nice man at Halfords who found me a different battery with posts the right way round.

This one fitted, but not without some skinned knuckles trying to fit the clamps over the posts at fingertip length in the semi dark. By now we had gone off the idea of boating for the day so we retired to the cabin as several very heavy showers soaked my nice dry centre ropes. This is all beginning to sound like one of Bones's Tillergraph articles don't you think?

So this morning we awoke to blue skies and warmish sun and set off towards Banbury. Apart from moored boats, the canal is desolate. We soon realised the reason for this. We are cut off from the rest of the canal system by winter stoppages, a closed lock in the Napton flight and a bridge repair below Aynho. Even if the hire boat companies had any customers, they couldn't send them here, so we arrived in Banbury with oodles of free mooring space. At last something to cheer me up. I'm thinking of going into Poundland and buying their entire stock of £1 Toblerone before the new skinny ones arrive.

A leaflet dropped on the boat tells us there is to be a historical reenactment outside the library tomorrow. Apparently people will be firing muskets on the lift bridge outside the shopping centre. Things are looking up.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Reynard’s rest – a Fox near the Fox


I like foxes, and this one was a little sweetie, taking little notice of us yesterday as we piloted Jena past.  Connoisseurs of the canal might look at the nasty grey colour of the water and conclude that we were down near Brentford, and they would be right. This is the weir above Osterley lock.  All very appropriate as it’s not far from the Fox pub.

It took us ages to get down Hanwell locks because they were busy with boats in both directions.  Luckily we had some lovely volunteers to help us.  We had some interesting boats to gawp at while we were there.  This one grabbed my attention.


A 67 foot tug built by its owners using facilities at HMS Daedelus, hence its name.  I’ve often driven past there (we have good friends living nearby) and seen a narrowboat being built, but apparently it wasn’t this particular one that you could see from the road.  Anyhow, look along the gunnels to see its interesting shape.  I guess that step up is to raise the tug deck, which would make sense.  Here, he about to run aground, as we did, because the inexperienced crew in the boat above, you can just see it in the lock, had drained the pound by trying to fill a lock with one of the bottom paddles half open.  One mistake you don’t mind, but then they did it again in the very next lock. Doh!  Oh well, their boat, a whopping gert Piper widebeam barge thingy (very smart and no doubt palatial within, but not to my taste) was a mere seven days old, and had just come off the Thames that afternoon, so they weren’t used to canal locks.

Jena now rests at Brentford ready for a steady trip back up to Ricky next week when CRT staff on board will be looking at mooring sites.