Friday, July 29, 2016

London canals – this and that

In the course of my volunteering duties I’ve been up to “the smoke” a couple of times in the last week, once to Little Venice and once to Enfield Lock.

The whole LV area is suffering with duckweed infestation to a level I haven’t seen before. The actual leaves of the weed seemed to have grown to more than  twice their normal size too. The worst bit is under the bridge at the entrance to the arm up to Paddington basin.  Here they’ve installed one of those bubble lines like they use up the other end.  It does form a barrier to the weed , but the stiff sure does pile up behind it. Yukk!


When we emerged from our ranger meeting at the LV office, (we meet in a basement room five feet below the level of the canal outside!) we were confronted by this scene:


At first, we thought “Ooh that's clever, they're clearing the weed with a hose”.  But when they stopped shortly afterwards, it was clear that it was just some sort of Fire Service training exercise.  I was impressed with how that long cantilevered arm kept straight under the load. 

Up on the arm towards the basin, a weedcutter boat was doing its bit, but I fear that in this warm weather it’s a losing battle.

“What were you discussing in the bowels of the CRT office?” I hear you ask.  What else, dear reader but flippin’ cyclists.  We were reporting back on our towpath experiences of an inconsiderate few who seemed determined not to take notice of our “now then, be nice to each other” approach. Not all of our suggestions seem acceptable to CRT. Apparently tasers are not standard issue to volunteers for some reason. Next year we may see another relaunch of the Share the Space campaign with a stronger emphasis on cyclist speed reduction.  Us Volunteer Towpath Rangers would like to have some physical impediments to speed at danger points and more explicit guidance to cyclists about safety behaviour around pedestrians and boats.  Watch this space.

Yesterday up at Enfield Lock I had a jollier time in my volunteer Boat Mover capacity, being given a familiarisation session on a type of CRT boat we hadn’t used before.   There are so many different types of boat used by CRT, I might suggest that anyone who has finished train spotting might turn to CRT workboat spotting.  I wonder if there’s a catalogue of them all somewhere. I might even take it up myself.

While I was there I picked up a little bit of info about plans for boating round the Olympic Park.  At present this loop of water is only opened to boaters on organised occasions with special permission.  Recognising the interest in taking a boat around the loop, there is some consideration of having more frequent opening for general enjoyment without pre arrangement at some time in future, but not allowing mooring, and clearing the area of all boats at the end of the day.  No decisions have been made yet, these are just current thinking.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Loitering within tent

You don't need me to tell you it's been hot. We've been toiling up over the South Oxford summit where shady spots are as rare as air stewardesses on a hang glider. Despite the heat, we had to keep battling on for we were on a mission, to arrive at Calcutt in time for early Wednesday morning so that they could give Herbie's engine a tweak -more of which later.

Having stopped for the night somewhere on the Wormleighton wiggle on Monday, we rose early on Tuesday to attack the Napton flight before it got too busy and too flippin' hot. It all looked very pretty in the sunshine. The old song sums it up perfectly.

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam

And the skies are not cloudy all day

The poor old Buffaloes looked hot, a lot of them look heavily pregnant, poor things. Take a trip up the locks in a few weeks time and you might see a lot of buffalo calves.

Our strategy worked out well and we were down the locks by late morning, in time for lunch at the Folly where (and I am not exaggerating) I had easily the best chips I have had in the thirty five years since we got rid of our deep fry pan at home and gave up double frying. Don't take my word for it, ask Rick who was with us.

"Ain't that right Rick?"


There, told you.

By now Herbie was hotter than Tim Peake's re-entry capsule as we soldiered on to the top of Calcutt locks where as luck wouldn't have it there was no shade. By now the air temperature was hot enough to cook a Fray Bentos boater's pie. Undaunted, Kath and Rick set about erecting a Ray Mears style tarp using some sleeping bag liners, some string, a boat hook and a brick. I of course assured them it wouldn't work and that they were wasting their time, ( it's seldom they've heard a discouraging word) but against all the odds it did, and we spent the rest of the afternoon loitering within tent. Later, Marilyn came to rescue Rick leaving me and Kath to struggle on this morning through the whole fifty yards and one lock to the boatyard.

All BMC engines like Herbie's have one spot in the rev band where they hit a sort of resonant frequency and shake about a lot, normally you can easily throttle past it, but our shaky spot seemed to have decided lately to settle at tick over or thereabouts which is a right pain when idling in locks or creeping past moored boats. So that was Calcutt's challenge for the day. That and finding and curing an annoying diesel leak. On BMC engines, Ian at Calcutt is Da Man. After checking everything over he decided to advance the engine timing a smidge ( by rotating the injection pump a tad on its drive) and that seems to have done the trick. He also seems to have stopped the fuel filter from weeping. Oh that I had his magical powers. So we now seem (subject to putting a few miles in to prove it) to have a smoother drip free engine. Cleaner too as he washed it with degreaser and used Calcutt's megahoover to clean out the engine bilge. Deep joy.

Ian actually complimented Herbie on the cleanliness of her engine bay! Crumbs, I can't imagine what others are like.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wonders of vegetation

I enjoy flipping through  a wonderful old book at home called “The World of Wonders”, sadly not dated but clearly Victorian or Edwardian.  It contains a complete mish mash of “Wonders” in no discernable order. Opening one double page spread at random I get articles on St Vitus’s dance, The destructive power of worms, and The story of the Portland vase!  In it yesterday I came across the following advice which I thought best to pass on to you.  It might save your life, although I very much doubt it.

Wonders of vegetation - TREES STRUCK BY LIGHTNING

Fig trees and cedars are rarely struck by lightning; the beech, larch, fir, and chestnut are obnoxious to it; but the trees which attract it most are the oak, yew and Lombardy poplar whence it follows that the last are the trees most proper to be placed near a building, since they will act as so many lightning conductors to it.  Again, the electric fluid attacks in preference such trees as are verging to decay by reason of age or disease.

So now you know which trees to shelter under when a storm hits the towpath, or you would if you believed what the article says.  I should perhaps point out here that the book also extols the virtues of woven asbestos suits for firemen.  We have much to learn from our forebears.

I also can’t resist quoting a subsequent paragraph entitled CAOUTCHOUC, which is according to Google is another name for rubber.

There is no possibility of the demand exceeding the supply of this gum.  The belt of land around the globe 500 miles north and 500 miles south of the equator abounds in trees producing this gum and they can be tapped, it is said, for twenty successive seasons. . . Each tree yields an average of three tablespoons of sap daily.

That’s all very well, but what about the supply of tablespoons?

I continue to search through this indispensable tome for items on waterways or boats, but as it has no index and everything is in a completely random order, it may take some time.

PS I just checked up on this book and found it was first published in 1896

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Why we are not on Herbie today, plus the finished can and a comical Shakespearean tragedy

We should be out on Herbie now, en route for Calcutt to have them tweak our engine to cure low speed vibrations.  However we are at home instead and we’ve had to put the very nice people at Calcutt off for a week. I’ll explain why.

There was I yesterday at Cowley lock dressed in full CRT volunteer livery, hurling myself like a suffragette under the wheels of speeding cyclists(OK, slowing them down to give them a maplet and asking them to go steady, but I was ever so brave, a bit.)  Just round the corner, in a proper parking spot, well within the marked lines, our trusty Skoda Fabia estate stood patiently waiting for my return, when some person unknown, but equally unforgiven drove too close and smashed my drivers side electric wing mirror.  I don’t know if you have ever driven a car without a drivers side wing mirror, but I don’t recommend it.  Only when you don’t have one do you realise how often you really need one.  Driving without an offside wing mirror is illegal, and having tried it, I can understand why. Anyhow it was late Saturday afternoon and I can’t do anything about getting it replaced until Monday at least, so we can’t get out to Herbie with all our gear in time to make it to Calcutt.

Never mind, we had fun watching Andy Hamilton and Lewis Murray , or was it the other way round? winning their races/ matches today AND I had time to put the last coat of Craftmaster’s wonderful (really) super clear varnish on our repainted Buckby can.  Since I last showed it to you, I bit the bullet and decorated the lid with a picture of a heron and a traditional boaty type heart.  The art of art they say, is knowing when to stop.  In my case I decided to stop before it got any worse, so here is the final result.

fincan3  fincan4


You may notice from the lower picture that the lid surface is pretty lumpy.  That’s not my rotten painting m’lud it’s just that the galvanised surface of the can was pretty lumpy to start with and I didn’t fancy grinding or sanding off all the galvanising.

Anyhow, there it is.

On Thursday we went to our local Odeon who were doing a live showing of Romeo and Juliet from some London Theatre -  a Kenneth Branagh production. These things are beamed live from the theatre by the wonders of sputnik or telstar or one of them things.  There we sat waiting for the screen to start up and nothing happened. For quite some time.  Then just before the time when the real play was about to start the screen burst into life.  Horray! With Al Jazeera news channel.  Boo!  Then up popped a satellite dish configuration screen and we spent a happy fifteen minutes watching some poor soul in the back room frantically roam through all the menus trying to find the right settings.  By now, embarrassed staff were patrolling the aisles taking orders for complimentary soft drinks or coffee or whatever while we could hear the voice of the unfortunate tecchie on the phone to a help desk while various members of our audience shouted out helpful things like “Have you tried Control-Alt-Delete?”.

Then just as we were all about to give up and go home our brave tecchie accidentally pressed the right button and the play sprang into life.  Unfortunately, the actors in the London theatre had cruelly started without us, and we were well into the first act.  So although I know that the Montagues and the Capulets (aren’t they paracetamol tablets?) didn’t get on, I have no idea why.  Anyway we got through to the end without further bother and half the cast died happily ever after.  Not the best cast (by a long chalk) of a Shakespeare play but Derek Jacobi made us laugh with a very camp Mercutio and Meera Syal made a very good Brummie/ Indian/ Jewish nurse.  We got free ice creams in the interval and a free ticket to see a film of our choice any time in future, so we forgave the Odeon, whose staff at our local cinema are unfailingly kind and helpful.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Finding more good places

Next time we come down here we must bring our Cobb BBQ thingy. There are so many good stopping places for a barbecue. Tonight we rest at the offside moorings at Kirtlington quarry.

Up the steps is the quarry itself

Bristling with wild flowers including loads of orchids.

We left Oxford this morning after spending last evening in the Victoria pub which is wonderful if you like pies. If you don't like pies then eat somewhere else, then go to the Victoria anyway and have a pint of Banks's Sunbeam. My goodness me, as Blowers would say, it is a cracker. The Victoria, just a couple of minutes stroll from Walton Well road bridge is a super pub with an interesting policy. Small menu but really good, and only two real ales, so you are always drinking fresh. The only risk in this pub is that you might be dived upon by an old RAF biplane as those watching the Wales v Belgium match were last night.

Now of course is a good time to remind myself that my Great Grandad was Welsh so I can bask in the reflected glory from my football team who I knew were great all along.

Should you turn the wrong way at Walton Well road bridge, in a couple of minutes walk, you'll end up in Port Meadow, so in spite of going wrong you'll end up somewhere nice. Oxford's a bit like that.

There is good humour too in Oxford. I hear that the Jericho Tavern has a collecting jar on the bar for the Donald Trump assassination fund. And tonight we are moored up next to a boat you might have seen in Thrupp which always has a blackboard showing a quote of the day. Today's quote is "Sense and Sensibility 48%, Pride and Prejudice 52%"