Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Perils of Planning

When I was a working man, for twenty three years I did the same 25 mile journey into work every day. Over the years, the duration of the journey became less and less predictable, sometimes 50 minutes, sometimes nearly two hours. It didn't, take much to cause a delay, a burst water main in Teddington, a burst lorry tyre on the M3, road works in Kingston, whatever. In the end I resorted to leaving home before 7 am to avoid the main part of the rush hour, but still the journey home after work was totally unpredictable.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it's getting a bit like that on some canals and I've been thinking about it while playing around with programming new CanalOmeters. Every day, I think of improvements to make it easier to use, but in the end anything that estimates a journey time has to be taken with a big pinch of salt, even on a canal.

My first cardboard Canal0meter, way back when, was based on journeys into London from the Slough area. At that time, you could keep up a steady speed and with there being no locks until Camden, the journey times were pretty consistent. Even heading north up the GU, the traffic was so light that queueing at locks was rare and there weren't that many moored boats to slow you down. These days, with all the moored boats, it's a different story.

Then I've been thinking about other unpredictable places. Take Watford locks for example. On a good day, you might arrive and go straight in, passing through in forty minutes. On a bad day you might have to wait a couple of hours to be let in.

Or how about the Oxford canal which gets very busy in high season. A lock taking less than fifteen minutes in the spring, might take an hour in the school holidays.

Or how about a river which might slow you down to one mph against a strong flow or sweep you along at 7 mph the other way?

Then there's your crew. When we went up the Hatton flight alongside Nb Chertsey, good old Jim went ahead on his bike and every lock was open and waiting when we got there. We probably shaved a minimum of an hour off the ascent that day. Probably more.

So any calculating system for predicting journey times is fraught with difficulty. Nick Atty's wonderful Canalplan gets closest if you can be bothered to set the defaults. He lets you choose different speeds for wide and narrow canals, wide and narrow locks, and locks in flights. Maybe he should also set it for areas with moored boats, although that would be a non trivial and ever changing exercise to keep the data current.

In the back of my mind I can hear dear old Maffi saying "Why the hell do you want to do all that anyway? Why not just set off and see how far you get?" He has a point, but then again, he's a continuous cruiser and usually not on a schedule. Lots of other folk have a finite time for a trip and they want to plan how far they can get in the time available, or perhaps to plan stopping places overnight, or to check whether to stop at this pub, or risk reaching the next one in time. I think I'm right in saying that Canalplan is the number one visited canal related website for those very reasons, plus of course sometimes to compare different routes to the same place.  It's also worth being aware before you decide to set off from,say, Banbury that the journey to Stratford-upon-Avon, about 36 minutes in a car,  involves 101 locks each way!

So despite all the 'if's and 'but's I'm still fooling around with making myself CanalOmeters because , being a bit of a Nerd, (or should that be Geek?) I enjoy doing it, and sometimes they come in really handy. The latest Python version I knocked up only yesterday is dead whizzy, but I have some ideas on how to make it even better.

I think they call it displacement activity.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Ooh Er! Hang on to yer hats. My wheelie bins at home have blown over twice this morning, so now I've had to rope them up. It all seems a bit violent for someone called Doris doesn't it? The Beeb weather app tells me that the wind will get up to 62 mph in Cropredy today. I fear for Herbie's solar panel whose tilting frame is only held down by magnets. It is also attached by a cycle security cable, so it won't blow completely away but it could I suppose flap about and get damaged. The goodish news is that I think the wind will be blowing along the length of the boat from the stern end rather than across. Anyhow I'm glad I've already removed the poles and planks and stowed them inside.

No doubt if any harm comes to her, the exceptionally kind and helpful staff at the marina will let me know.

Monday, February 20, 2017

RCR problems in London and yet another CanalOmeter version

Nearly time to renew our River Canal Rescue membership. I notice from their web site that they are having all sorts of problems dealing with live-aboard boats in London, due largely to the poor condition of many of the boats and the lack of knowledge/experience of their owners.  RCR even hints that they might have to insist on an inspection (presumably at a cost) before they agree to a contract with boats inside the M25!  You can read about it here.  Thinking back, I don’t think we’ve had to call them out since 2010.  Touch wood we don’t have to in 2017, but you never know.

Speaking of London, I am reliably informed by Oakie that my ugly mug appears twice in the latest issue of Towpath Talk in an article about CRTs “consultation” on London towpath improvements where I was helping out.  I advise those of a nervous disposition not to look, although I have lost a stone in weight (really!) since then and intend to lose another stone by the summer.  Daily walks, portion control, and reduction in alcohol is how I’m doing it. If anyone has any will power going spare, please bung it over here.

Whilst marooned at home, I have been avoiding any proper jobs by making robot buggys and doing some computer programming.  In order to test my skills in the Python language I have created yet another sort of CanalOmeter.  You can’t really beat the old cardboard ones for quickly estimating journey times from A to B, but my new version, which works on a smart phone or tablet does all that but also has a useful feature in that it contains every feature along the canal, bridge numbers, water points, winding holes etc, such that you an just type in “water” and up pops a list of water points, then you can choose one and it’ll tell you how far away and how long to get there.  Similarly “winding” or “sanitary” or “PH” (for pub).  I’ve just done this for the S Oxford so far.  I would happily give this away to anyone who’d like one but sadly it would mean that you’d have to install a copy of Python on your Android phone/tablet first and install the data file (which requires a certain level of know how), which is perhaps more than a lot of people would want to do.  If anyone would like to be a guinea pig I’d be happy to oblige with the files and instructions.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

This and that

I promised to reveal the name of the object which the Ashmolean museum claimed to be the most significant archaeological object in the UK, (or some such words).  Clever old Rainman got it right when he suggested it was an aestel.  No, I didn’t know what that was either, I told you he was clever.  Anyhow, the precious object is an aestel or more specifically, The Alfred Jewel

Image result for alfred jewel

More vibrant in real life than it looks here, it is worth seeing.  As I said before it’s not much bigger than my thumb, but the detail is amazing and it looks as good as new. It was dug up in 1693, by which time it was already 800 years old.  Of course the frame is made of gold, which is why it hasn’t corroded and the enamel picture is sealed under a piece of beautifully clear rock crystal.  I wonder if stuff being made today would last as long.  The inscription around the edge says Aelfred mec heht gewyrcan which as we all know (not) means Alfred had me made. Presumably he was too busy burning cakes to make it himself. Anyhow, there it is. Never say I don’t bring you the odd bit of culture.  Now you can casually drop the word Aestel into conversation and look erudite. Should you find yourself in Oxford, by boat or otherwise, take half an hour to go and have a look.  It won’t cost you a penny.

The canal was still pretty high on our return from Banbury. It’s mucky out there and some top gate footplanks are still under water.  Sometimes I have the nerve to jump across an open bottom gate on narrow locks, but not this time. Even with my new grippy soled walking shoes it was very slippy everywhere.

I can’t put my finger on it, but coming along the canal you get the feeling that although Spring has not started, it’s getting ready to. Maybe it’s the light, or maybe it’s the increase in bird activity in the hedgerows, but there’s a distinct feeling that life is returning. All the winter leaves and twigs have blown out of the bushes and they stand clean and bare and just waiting to come into bud.  Of course, there’s plenty of time for a cold snap yet, so I did still drain down the plumbing on leaving the boat.

I’ve now got into the habit of taking anything I can off the roof when we leave Herbie, which means stowing the poles /shafts and gangplank inside the cabin.  I remember Phil Speight advising this long ago and he was right. I wish I had taken heed at the time because the trapped moisture under these things has led to paint damage and rust.    This year I will complete the repainting of the roof, but I’m not going to start until average daily temperatures are comfortably above ten degrees.  Someone once told me there’s usually only one day a year when the weather is right for painting a boat.  I suspect that they were right.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Floods, a trolley, the Kinks, precious objects and a good cafe.

The waters are slowly subsiding. I'm thinking of sending out a dove to see if it comes back with a twig in its mouth. (See, despite being an atheist, I do know a bit of scripture). Anyhow the colour of the canal is toning down a little bit, although the top gates of Banbury lock are still overflowing.

On Friday we caught the train to Oxford and looking out of the window at flooded fields and catching glimpses of the Rivel Cherwell in full flow, we decided not to take Herbie any further south this week. We might be daft, but we're not suicidal. So today we tootled down to the tramway winding hole and back, and now Herbie is back in the town centre but this time facing North. Choosing a spot to tie up in Banbury, you have to get your head around the complicated mooring limits. There are three different zones (four if you include the permanent moorings and five if you include the winter moorings). Each zone has its own rules regarding length of stay, and these are different in summer and winter. It's just as well I'm a genius or we might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Actually there's plenty of space here at the minute, but on returning from the tramway we did pick the only no go spot in town. The boat just wouldn't come into the side. Kath prodded around with a boat hook and located a submerged shopping trolley. I don't know if you have ever tried to lift a shopping trolley with a boat hook, but I don't recommend it. Suffice it to say the trolley is still there.

The reason we went to Oxford was that we had booked tickets to see the "hit" musical Sunny Afternoon at the theatre. I'm not a fan of musical theatre, but I thought we'd give it a go as it was the story of the Kinks with a lot of their hit songs in it. Well, it was fine. Musical theatre was not my cup of tea, and still isn't but it was fine. Not great, but fine. Others in the audience clearly thought is was a lot more than fine and gave the show a big ovation, so what do I know? I think I would better have enjoyed going to see a Kinks tribute band. But it was fine.

Oxford has many attractions of course and in the afternoon (which was anything but Sunny) we continued our exploration of the Ashmolean Museum, this time getting as far as the musical instrument section where you can see some priceless old fiddles and viols and whatnot in glass cases. Violins are in my experience very hard to tell apart. The Stradivari "Messiah" on display, presumably worth millions, looked like a lovely piece of work, but could I tell it from one worth a couple of thousand? Sadly not. Maybe if I heard it being played, but these instruments in their glass cases don't get played because they would get worn and in the end they wouldn't survive for future generations to see. Sad ain't It? Apparently most of the instruments in the collection are not in their original condition anyway, most having been repaired or modified in the past. I bought a little book to read all about the instruments in the collection and now I want to go back and look more closely.

Also in the museum we came upon an object claiming to be the most important archaeological find in Britain, but I'd never heard of it. It was indeed extremely pretty and not much bigger than my thumb. Can anyone guess what it Is? I'll tell you next time, perhaps with a picture if I can find one.

We found one more good thing in Oxford that I must pass on. In George street, only a short walk from the canal, is the Crisis Cafe. Almost opposite the Wetherspoons Four Candles pub. We just went in for a cuppa and a bacon roll, for lunch but watching the food coming out to customers we were impressed. Big portions of healthy and wholesome food at very reasonable prices, filled jacket spuds, salads, nice looking soup, and all profits going to the Crisis homelessness charity. Our bacon rolls were huge. I don't think Kath finished hers, well not the bread bit anyway. It gets a four star Herbie recommendation.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Coffee and diy

Herbie currently floats on a sea of milky coffee. Admittexly more white Americano than Latte ,but that's how the canal looks anyway, after a lot of recent rain.

Yes, we're out afloat again. Hooray.

If anyone needs some water, there's plenty spare down here on the Oxford. Here and there the canal has spilled over onto the towpath and the footways across the top gates of the locks are under water. Where did I put my wellies?

As you can imagine, the bypass weirs at the locks are pretty fierce too.

Our original plan was to tootle down to Oxford, but I suspect we wouldn't get past Nell Bridge if the Cherwell stays this high.

So here we are safely tied up in Banbury and enjoying its delights after a double dry January. Dry 1 because I had a month without alcohol (save for a glass of wine on my 70th birthday -you wouldn't begrudge me that surely.) And Dry 2 because we haven't been on the boat, hence no blog posts.

Herbie was of course glad to see us but gave me a rap over the knuckles by springing a leak round the chimney collar and dripping rain onto the stove. I've been meaning to sort out the rust just there but I'm doing the roof refurb in sections starting at either end and the chimney is in the middle. So I've bodged a temporary seal with gorilla tape pending suitable weather for a proper job.

The other job I had to do was install our new water pump which I bought before Christmas. Well, it is in and working, but not without the usual DiY unplanned obstacles (it's not just me is it?). This modern plastic pipework is all very well, but unlike the old copper pipe you can't bend it round tight corners so you have to use elbow joints. When you need an S bend as I did, it soon turns into a dogs breakfast, especially when you lose one bit then go out to buy replacements but you can't because the design of the fittings has changed, so you buy a whole lot new bits to replace the whole kit and caboodle, then you find the bit you had lost in the first place. Mmm it probably is just me.

Tonight we plan to have a go at the quiz in the Reindeer. Our objective as usual will be to avoid coming last. Who said we weren't ambitious?