Monday, February 29, 2016

Only just here - London observations

Herbie is moored six inches from a demolition site!


We arrived in Paddngton at lunchtime to find the basin fully occupied, which was a tad disappointing since we have had a lot of reports of spaces there lately. There was just one space round the corner under the footbridge so we grabbed that although there are steel barriers close to us on the bank. A few inches in front of us is where an office block extends across the canal and that is all scaffolded and sheeted up in preparation for demolition. Another foot further on and I am sure we would be asked to leave. Mercifully the submerged bubble jets are switched off at the moment else we would be sitting in the effervescence.

London really is just about full boat wise. There were a few spaces at Kensal Green but that's just about it.

Anyway, here we are for a city break and the sun is shining so we'll enjoy it while we can. Hopefully we can nip into the basin if we see someone leave.

Yesterday afternoon we had a towpath rangers meeting at the Black Horse at Greenford to try and work out what to do about the middle bit of the Paddington Arm which is not really covered as it falls between two teams. We have decided to call our team the WOWboys as we operate Way Out West.

Coming along that stretch this morning, I think the biggest problem is the canal, not the towpath. There are quite a few places where there is a proliferation of prop fodder in the water. I know CRT sends boats down there to clear it now and then, but I reckon a couple of volunteers in a little open boat with an outboard would get to the rubbish more easily and quickly and more often. That's exactly what my pal Richard does on the Regents Canal and the Limehouse cut. I'm going to consult him and put a proposal to CRT to do something similar based around Alperton or thereabouts I think.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

That'll learn 'em

Excuse my grammar. Today we've been out in what turned out to be a nasty cold wind taking Herbie out on the first day of a jolly into our fair capital city. Grace (8) is with us for the first 24 hours, so we tootled up the Cowley for the night, dined out at the Shovel and tomorrow we'll take her to the Black Horse where her mum will collect her.

As some of you will already know Grace is a dab hand at lock wheeling where her limited strength permits, and she has done a bit of helming in the past, usually with me shouting "pull" or "push" to indicate which way to shove the tiller. This time I tried a new approach slightly reminiscent of the advice I once got which was to point the tiller handle at whatever thing you don't want you to hit. This time I just said that whenever the boat wanders off course, which it does very ten seconds, move the tiller handle in the same way that the front of the boat is moving. Well it worked. Grace drove us up three miles of the Slough Arm and then up under the bridges to Cowley lock with hardly a word from me. (I was of course next to her in case of any problems, but I wasn't needed,) Over aqueducts, under bridges and past many a moored boat, she kept a perfect line. Admittedly I took over for the turn out of the arm onto the GU, but that was it. What a star!

I look forward to the day when I am too old and knackered to work the boat and Grace can do it for me.




Friday, February 19, 2016

Crime report

I reported last week on the, I suppose, relatively minor crime of graffiti on CRT signs in Uxbridge. I say minor because worse things have happened by the canal since. While I was at the clean up task force the other day, one of the CRT guys got a call about a car driven into the canal nearby, so he walked off to take a look. It was half in and half out of the canal. Stolen of course by local yoofs no doubt. It'll be craned out at some cost to you and me.

In the same hour, a cyclist stopped to talk to one of the WPCs in our work party. Apparently just along the towpath he had been accosted by a man demanding he handed over his phone. Luckily, the intended victim wasn't the kind to be scared so he told the would be thief to bugger off.

Sadly I have also learned that a boater on the Regents Canal wasn't so lucky a couple of days ago. He was returning from dropping off his rubbish at Old Ford Lock when he was set upon by three oiks who gave him quite a beating to steal his phone. He suffered broken ribs and a messed up face. When he got back to his boat after several hours in A&E, his bike had been stolen.

Be careful out there, but don't blame the canal. These things can happen anywhere, and for most of us they never do.

PS While we're on the subject of crime, my book has been downloaded from Amazon at the incredible rate of three copies per hour today!! As you have probably guessed we have come round to another five days when people can get it for free. Some people will have any old rubbish as long as it's free. If I have any blog readers left who might like it but haven't yet got it, now's yer chance. To find it, you can Google Amazon Herbie Neil. You can even read the first umpteen pages right there without downloading or having an Amazon account.

The next book is now up to 31,000 words. One of the is Marmite, which is probably a metaphor for the book.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Pride of Uxbridge

I wonder who thinks up the names for CRT work boats.  "Pride of Slough" always raises a wry smile. Yesterday I was out driving Pride of Uxbridge for a towpath clear up volunteer task force.

After an early start, ploughing through the ice up to Bulls Bridge we arrived at the chosen spot where the volunteers were waiting. About eight or nine volunteers showed up, including three local women police officers.  They all worked very hard for several hours picking litter and rubbish from the verges and the hedgerows around Southall on the Paddington Arm.  All I had to do was get the boat there and follow them along as they chucked bags of rubbish into the hold.  By the end of the day, they had covered a mile of towpath and filled about three quarters of the large hold,

 mostly with litter, but also an interior sprung mattress, a couple of wooden doors and of course the obligatory supermarket trolley.  We also collected eight or ten hypodermic needles.  They get safely placed in a "sharps" box.

I suppose I had the easy job, except it wasn't.  To anyone used to steering a narrowboat with a tiller, boats like Pride of Uxbridge are a nightmare.  Here's a picture of the driving controls

A lever for the throttle, then one for forward and reverse and then the "steering" wheel.  The wheel has eight turns from lock to lock and no indication of which turn you are on, so you have to try and remember, or look back to see if you can see the propeller.  There is no rudder, the propeller itself swings from side to side.  The boat is heavy and very slow to respond, (in fact very slow in general) so you wind the wheel four times to the right and five seconds later the boat starts to turn right, but being heavy it over swings.  No good turning the wheel back to the middle, you have to spin the wheel several turns left to stop the boat swinging, and then of course ten seconds later it over swings the other way.  You get the idea.  I was following a slalom course down the canal half the time.

Of course I also had to manoeuvre the thing backwards and forwards on and off the bank to pick up the rubbish.  Not easy, because as soon as you put the boat in reverse, the boat steers the other way, making it very hard to come to a straight stop by the bank.  By the end of the day I was exhausted.

Still I would like to persevere and have another go soon.  I will master it if it kills me.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The art of Jam or Tam

I'll log another couple of hours ranger duties today, having counted passers by at going to work time and then walked down the canal above Uxbridge inspecting various items of random vandalism - a supermarket trolley dumped on the bank by whoever hoiked it out of the canal, and a trail of graffiti in silver paint. The latter is proudly signed by the miscreant but his handwriting is so bad I can't decipher it. It looks like TAM or JAM. The most annoying thing is his obliteration of notice boards. Perhaps he or she is envious of people who can read and write.

If you need cheering up at this point, I will allow you to spend five minutes imagining what you would like to do to Tam or Jam if we caught him or her. ( Let's face it, it is statistically likely to be a him.)

Next Tuesday I have my next CRT boat moving job which is to take a work boat from Adelaide dock up to a bridge on the Paddington arm in support of a towpath task force clear up day. Apparently one of the things on board will be a graffiti cleaning machine, so I will be interested to see how it works.

If CRT could equip and train us towpath rangers to erase graffiti by hand , it would be one of the most useful things we could do on our patrols in urban areas. I dare say it involves some nasty chemicals which would no doubt have health and safety implications and require going on a training course.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sunny morning, gloomy afternoon.

It was quite a surprise to emerge from a warm and cosy boat this morning to find frost on the handrails.
Despite that, it was a glorious morning and perfect for cruising and we set off early towards the exotic delights of Uxbridge. Just through the first bridge we spied George and Carol's leviathan vessel Stll Rockin'. We tooted our horn but either they were not in or they were still abed. Next time maybe.

We cruised just about as slowly as we could so as to get the batteries charged on what is after all only a short journey. The approaches to Uxbridge from the south could never be described as scenic, but in the sunshine it was lovely.

The afternoon in contrast, was pretty gloomy. Not meteorologically speaking though. We went to the cinema to see Suffragette. It's a very good film, well acted and all that, worth seeing, but don't go to see it to get cheered up. Those women sure had to suffer for their suffrage. Did you know that of the advanced European nations, the U.K was one of the last to give women the vote? Shame on us.
Coming out of the cinema there was something to cheer me up. Yesterday as part of my Ranger duties, I sent in a report of a fallen tree blocking the towpath on the Slough Arm, and this afternoon I got a message back to say Fountains had been called out and had cleared it. Now I bask in the warm glow of self satisfaction.

While we've been moored here outside the Swan and bottle I've had one eye on the towpath to see how busy it gets here. It doesn't. We had earmarked it as a potential spot to run a Share the Space event, but I think I'll unrecommend it. I think tonight we might pop into the pub to sample their wares, being moored right outside it would seem rude not to. Also there's something especially pleasing about turning out of a pub and only having to walk ten yards to get home.

Oh one more thing. My book is now up to just over 30,000 words. A milestone! I have put poor Eric into a right old pickle. I just hope I can dig him out in the next 50,000 words.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

At last we're out!

Herbie rides again. Yesterday morning we slipped our moorings and set off on our first Herbie outing since November. Rotten weather and family stuff has enforced this disgraceful lack of boating and after Sunday's storms we wondered if we would be OK but the weather has been remarkably kind. Poor old Herbie is probably very glad to see us after all this time. Boats don't like being left alone.

We needed to do one or two jobs to get her going properly. Not the engine, which started first time, but most notably the loo fan which refused to spin when we switched it on. The volts were there, so I figured the fan and seized after being left in the cold and damp so long. I was beginning to think this was a non trivial problem, I really didn't fancy having to dismantle the fan housing after all the trouble we had in sealing it when we first got it. Eventually a squirt of WD40 into the exhaust did the trick and it fine now.

The next near disaster was when I nearly flooded the boat. I remembered to refit the shower mixer which we had removed in case of heavy frost, but I omitted to close its tap, so when I switched the water back on the shower came on at full bore. I didn't revisit the bathroom to check and by the time I realised that it was on about ten gallons of warm water was lying in the bath. A good job we don't have a shallow shower tray or it would have gone all over the floor.

The final issue is one I can't work out. The top of the coal stove is splattered with rust. Looking at the ceiling above there is no sign at all of leakage or damp. Maybe the cold metal of the stove itself creates condensation. It's a very very thin coat of rust, like a thin layer of dust, and most of it washed off, but why is is there. Now the stove is hot and I can't get at it to finish off the job and re black it so it looks a bit scruffy until I do.

It's very good to get back out. The dear old Slough arm is remarkable cruise le at the moment, although I notice the floating penny wort is already starting to encroach. This trip is a bit of business mixed with pleasure. Because we are on my ranger patch I'm monitoring the towpath as we go, sending in a report on a fallen tree on the Slough arm yesterday, and when we get to Uxbridge tomorrow I'm going to do a cyclist count and perhaps dish out a few Share the Space maplets.

Right now we're moored up opposite Packet Boat Marina. Up by the bridge is Elsdale II, the boat CRT uses to run day trips for school kids.

It's about as big a boat as the canal can take hereabouts. What is interesting about it is that since finding that GU website I told you about, I now know that the original Elsdale was the boat used at Bulls Bridge in the old days to give the children of working boatmen an education, so the name of the new boat is very appropriate.



Monday, February 08, 2016

Either end of the liveaboard market

I don't know why I am a subscriber to The Week magazine.  It's full of adverts for investment banks, posh cars and heirloom quality wrist watches, so I am clearly not their intended demographic.  One of their regular features is a double page picture spread of "Best Properties on the Market", this week featuring "Fantastic London Pads" one of which is an apartment just over the river from the London Eye and costing £5.5 million.  Why am I telling you this?

Because one of the featured "Pads" this week is a 57ft "Dutch barge" (not a real one but an unremarkable modern interpretation - you'll have seen a few like it) moored at Imperial Wharf on the Thames.  The price? £395,000.  I think this may be the first time The Week has put a liveaboard boat (rather than a houseboat) on it's pages but I have a feeling it might not be the last.

If you can't afford that, how about this boat I spotted recently amongst the houseboats just down the canal from Bull's Bridge.

I fear the only reason that it has not sunk deeper is that it is already sitting on the bottom.   Should the unfortunate owner wish to place it on the market they may do better than they think if they follow my suggested wording:-

"Ideal opportunity for DiY enthusiast.  Sitting immediately adjacent to attractive pine wood, near to Airport, a historic waterway site, and convenient supermarket.  This charming narrowboat sits steady as a rock in all weathers.  Offers in the region of £100,000 (well, this is technically still London.)"