Thursday, August 30, 2018

A narrow escape

We got lucky (just) going up Claydon locks on Tuesday.  Recently they’ve been closing them from 5pm until 9am or something like that, but it was only two o’clock so we were OK, or so we thought until a nice CRT man came into view carrying a ”Locks Closed” board ready to lock up Claydon bottom lock.  Apparently they decided on that very morning to reduce hours still further so that you can only pass through from 10 am until 2.30pm.  We were OK because we were half way up the flight so they let us through, but had we been half an hour later our two day out and back trip would have been stymied.  The nice man said that the reservoir that feeds that area was getting perilously low.  How long before a total stoppage we wonder?

The reason for our jaunt was to take Jacob and his girlfriend Abby for a short trip before they disappear back off to university.  Grace, who is keen as mustard about boating these days came along too.

Up on the summit pound the water levels were OK if pretty low at the edges, but we got to Fenny Compton without trouble.  Boats coming the other way were all unaware of the change in stoppage times, and CRT seemed to have failed to update their stoppage notifications, even next morning.  A bit naughty that.

The last time we went to the Wharf Inn at Fenny we were disappointed at the state of the beer, but this time it was very good, and their legendary gut busting pies were as gut busting as ever.  A real big  piece of pie with shortcrust pastry top bottom and sides and lots of meat inside.  Not exactly health food, but Proper.

We retired to the garden and Jacob and Grace decided to share a Cookie Monster dessert.  The menu says it’s enough for two, but it came with four spoons and no wonder!


No, it’s not all squirty cream, that’s just the coating. It’s mainly cookie dough Ice cream and little marshmallows.  We all had a go at it and still only managed to eat about half of it.  I suppose the moral of the story is to go to eat at the wharf only if you are extremely hungry.

Grace is turning into a fine little boater.  On Wednesday morning with barely any instruction and largely silent supervision, she tightened the stern gland, started the engine, untied the boat, steered us gently past all the other moored boats up to the winding hole, turned the boat and brought her neatly into the side at the water point.  How about that for a ten year old!  Not only that she is always the first one to have a go at the lock paddles, refusing to give in when they are really tough as quite a few of them are.

Coming back down Claydon locks, the CRT plan was I suppose working as the compressed queue of boats did mean that it was one up, one down, so every emptying and filling had a boat in it.  Apparently there were fourteen boats queueing at the bottom at ten o’clock so the waits were long.  Half way down we were a bit taken aback to meet Leslie ( Ex Nb Yarwood) who we thought as off somewhere in a camper van having given up boating.  She and Joe were moving a boat for a friend.  She did assure us though that they had no thoughts of getting another boat for themselves, but it was good to see that they can enjoy a quick fix now and again.

Next week we’re off on out extended September cruise. I think our route has been decided for us by the stoppages, but that’s OK, we were sort of planning to go down onto the Thames anyway, so that’s what we’ll do.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

London's Docklands

I don't read a lot of books, but here's a good 'un for you.

Those of us who have ever boated on the often lumpy and strongly tidal waters of the Thames down to Limehouse and, if we're brave and lucky, down through the barrier to Tilbury and beyond, can't have failed to be impressed by the enormity of what remains of London's docklands. Yet, that which does remain is but a tiny fraction of what used to exist. Now covered by giant tower blocks, entertainment complexes and often expensive residential properties on both sides of the river, once lay a vast complex of docks and wharves, teeming with workers while hundreds of ships were loaded and unloaded while many more sat mid river waiting their turn. The story of how it came about and how, over the centuries it developed and endured piracy, invasion, plague and fire, bombing and redevelopment is all told in the book I have just finished reading. London's Docklands by Fiona Rule.

It's a monumental work tracing the history of the area and its people from pre Roman times until almost the present day. Although it centres on the docks and the river, you'll find a good account of the building of the early city, the life of the Romans, the story of the Norman invasion, wars with just about everybody and how England's Kings and Queens steered the developments. It's all there and littered with fascinating details and stories.

I probably learned more about English history from this book than ever I knew before. I even see the relevance of the Treaty of Utrecht now! (That was the point at school when I lost heart and dropped History O level in favour of Art.)

Anyway, there it is. If that kind of thing interests you enough to turn 324 pages, I recommend it.

Monday, August 20, 2018

DiY - all you need to know

Some people have the knack of reducing complex problems down to simple solutions. We loved this T shirt we saw in a Cambridge shop window. Designed by a man after my own heart.

how to fix stuff-1

Nice reflection of Kath taking the photo tooSmile

BTW I have now cornered the entire remaining global stock of the paperback version of my latest book. Look:


Yes, all ten paperback copies*.  With that kind of exclusivity I could make millions. On the other hand I could give one away to anyone who wants one.  Free to a good home. I’ll keep a couple on Herbie, so if you see us you can stop me and not buy one i.e. ask for a freebie. I’ll need to get rid of them somehow.

* As Amazon prints on demand, there could be an infinite number more of course. And on Kindle (99p)

PS Blow up the picture and get a sneaky look at my bizarre taste in CDs and marvel at the only things in the world I keep in alphabetical order (plus my vinyl albums), in this case Mendelssohn  via Randy Newman etc. to Martin Simpson as it turns out.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reservoir watch

The latest CRT reservoir figures are out, so I thought I’d do a quick summary graph from their data.  The figures on the left indicate the percentage fullness of the reservoirs for each canal.


As you can see, I‘ve focussed on he southern half of the network, but added in the Leeds and Liverpool for comparison. The first thing to say is that things aren’t as bad as they were in 2011, because we started the season with reservoirs nearly full.  However it’s mostly heading fast in the wrong direction.  These figures always raise more questions than answers e.g why is the GU south doing so well?  Aah maybe it’s because like the K&A, the reservoirs are spring fed and therefore some weeks or months behind the others.  Strange also that the L&L is doing so badly.  Bill, a boater from up there who I met this week said that they didn’t have enough reservoirs up that way.  Could be.  On the Staffs and Worcs, I have no idea.

At the moment I’m most interested in the Oxford, being our home canal right now.  That’s getting worse at a more rapid rate than most, even though the reservoirs are still over half full.  I suspect that the volume of boat traffic might have a lot to do with it.  Well we’re still hoping to undertake our customary September cruise  Fingers crossed.

last September we feasted on blackberries every day, and I was fearing that this year they all might be dried up, but this evening I went out with Grace and within a couple of hundred yards from our house we gathered a big bowl of juicy ones.  That’s tonight’s pud sorted.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Raising the Hardy

This morning I had an unexpected adventure on a historic working boat.  Being out of stern tube grease, I popped into Tooley’s boatyard to buy fresh supplies as we were on our way home in the car.  On the path leading to the yard was an unusual lot of clobber including a sizable petrol driven pump.  I thought nothing of it, Tooleys is a bit like that,  and picked my way through the usual piles of old artefacts in the yard and entered the little chandlery shop only to find there was no-one there.  Well that was because all hands were in the dry dock, so I poked my head in through the door of the dock.

“Aah” said one of the men, eyeing my portly figure, “Would you mind clambering on the bow of this boat we need to shift the weight forward ‘cos the back end is aground.”  Not surprising really as the water level in the canal was well down, apparently on account of CRT letting water down to Twyford Wharf where the bottom was too near the top to allow navigation.

Getting on board wasn’t easy. Swinging on one of the ancient roof beams I took my place on the somewhat fragile but elegantly shaped bow of the old barque  and quickly realised I was on board the wooden hull of Nb Hardy the old boat that has been undergoing restoration by Tooleys this summer.  Hardy was built  in 1940 and was the last boat, they say, ever built for the Samuel Barlow carrying fleet, so she’s a bit special.

Three of us stood precariously on the bow and attempted a co-ordinated jumping up and down to shift the boat, hoping the planking beneath our feet wouldn’t give way.  She was well afloat at the bow, but the stern was resolutely stuck on the bottom, and was sticking outside the back of the dock.  What I didn’t know until later was that Hardy, which has been moored afloat outside the dock for some months (after being raised from under the water at Braunston for four years and towed to Banbury), had been holed and sunk again last Sunday morning, by an unidentified passing boat.  So that pump on the bank was what they had used to raise her.

Sadly at that point  I had to get my grease and depart as our car park ticket was due to expire.  As I left they were shifting some of the ballast sacks forward.  I hope that worked.  Anyhow it was more fun than buying Stern Tube Grease on-line, and a lot cheaper too. £4.50 at Tooley’s, typically £8+ on-line.

There is talk of Cherwell Council trying to get rid of Tooleys so they can redevelop the site.  I sincerely hope they fail.

Hardy’s restoration is being funded by charitable donations.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Getting a shine

Whenever Herbie's paintwork starts to look shabby, I feel guilty. In my head I can hear the tutting of the kind friends who put in so much time and effort when we repainted her in 2010. The paint had got pretty flat lately and a sort of bloom had settled upon it. Washing made no difference and I feared that trying to polish it away might not be very successful. Desperate measures were called for so I decided to try it with T Cut.

T Cut, like WD40 and 3 in 1 Oil has been around forever but despite owning a few old bangers in my younger days, I've never used it. You probably know what it's like, but in case you don't, it looks suspiciously like Brasso.

I was scared it might take off too much paint or leave scouring marks. Narrowboat paint is a lot softer than car paint. Anyway after a short trial on the side hatch lid, I decide to risk it.

The first thing that struck me was how easy it was to rub on, you don't have to rub very hard. Then the bigger surprise was how little paint came off on the rag. I don't think I'm exaggerating by saying that my usual Craftmaster polish takes off as much pigment. However, the results were a delight. The bloom disappeared in a flash. Then, after the T Cut was rubbed on and then off I thought I'd have a go with a spray bottle of Bullet carnauba wax that I bought some years ago. I never had any success with it before, but now that the paint had a new surface it was worth a go, especially as I remember Adam saying it worked for him.

Well they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's the result.

Now I've stopped feeling guilty.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Tombstone Blues

You might think the good parishioners of Cropredy would get upset by people using the church graveyard as a beer garden, but apparently not. Even the church's own guide book has such a photo on the back cover. Well, it's the festival.

Across the road is the Red Lion which in the crowded back garden had live bands. Just up the road, the Brasenose Arms had more bands, and across the canal the main Fairport festival stage had even more. I have to say that listening to three bands at once is not really my cup of tea, especially when I found one of them really annoying. Don't get me started on why. I must be getting old.

I did feel sorry for the punters at the main stage last night, shivering out in the rain while Fairport were playing. We were in our warm dry boat watching our box set of The Detectorists.

This morning people will be packing up wet tents and saying their goodbyes for another year. I remember it well. We went to Towersey festival for nineteen consecutive years. As they look around, they might be astonished to see how the grass has greened up in just a couple of wet days.

Tomorrow we're going to venture out onto the canal after all the festival boats have gone. I'm going to carry on with my experiment with using T Cut on Herbie's faded cabin sides. Preliminary tests are unexpectedly interesting. Next time I'll tell you more.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Running the Gauntlet

Blimey ! The canal through Cropredy is pandemonium this week as every nook and cranny along the canal bank is occupied by boaters attending the Cropredy Festival. Passing through the next bridge below the village was particularly entertaining with boats moored on both banks and traffic coming the other way on a narrow bend. We didn't hit anything but we were only the thickness of a cigarette paper away at several points.

The sun shone and we tootled down to Banbury for lunch at the Reindeer before turning back and mooring in the peace and quiet below Slat Mill lock, for a bbq, a 'spot the intro' music quiz and rather too much wine.

Next morning, feeling somewhat hung over, we set off for the mile or so return to base, as boats coming the other way warned us of the chaos ahead. The pound above Slat Mill had dropped several inches, which is not good news as the bottom is too near the top along there at the best of times. Along the crowded stretches the boats coming the other way were on the shallow side and I suspect a good few of them ran aground. I handed over the tiller to our old friend Phil who hadn't driven a narrowboat for a few years, but he brought us through without a scratch. Well done that man. Approaching the village we were flabbergasted at how much the scene had changed in just 24 hours. Farmers' fields that were empty only the day before were suddenly busy campsites and car parks, people were thronging the towpaths and the bridges and bunting had appeared on many of the boats and the little yard behind the winding hole had turned into a market. What a difference a day makes.

We scurried on to the safety of our marina berth and settled in to hopefully listen to the festival music carried on the wind across the fields. Sadly for the festival goers, after weeks of lovely warm weather, the skies greyed and the wind got up and by the time Brian Wilson and his Pet Sounds band were blasting out their Beach Boys hits at half past nine, it was pretty chilly. I sat in Herbie's cratch cupping my ears to hear the music come and go on the changing wind. They sounded pretty good to start with and they churned out some of their old surfing and car hits, then as the wind dropped, they were drowned out by the frequent trains on the line that passes behind the village, so I only caught snatches of God Only Knows, and never got to hear them do Good Vibrations.

Now on Friday morning it's cool and raining. I do feel sorry for the festival crowd, but I suppose we have endured similar and much worse in our past, notably the great Towersey festival hurricane in nineteen eighty something when even some of the marquees came to grief. Hundreds of tents were flattened or blown away. Miraculously ours stayed up, but only just. Aah those were the days.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Going backwards like Herbie, Google and Amazon

Not actually a post about steering a boat backwards, but come to mention it, I am getting a bit better at it, so I’ll briefly say what I know on that subject.  Someone much better at it than I told me this:

Go as fast as you dare.  (scary!) Greater flow over the rudder helps steer and greater flow along the sides of the boat helps keep it in line.

Don’t look where you are going (even more scary!!), keep looking at the bow of the boat.

When, inevitably, the bow goes off line, push the tiller over in the opposite direction to the movement of the bow.

That’s what I try to do these days and sometimes it works.  I think the depth and width of the canal make a big difference to how well it works.

Any further tips welcome.

Anyway, what I was really going to write about is how technology companies keep making stuff worse instead of better.

First, Blogger, part of the great Google empire and how this blog gets to you. Recently I find that the side panels on my blog don’t appear until I click on the heading of the post.  How bizzarre is that? Can anyone tell me what is happening? I’ve been through the layout setup and all that but I can’t find the reason

Second, reader Chris tells me that Amazon wouldn’t let him post a review of my book. (thanks for letting me know by the way) How dare they?  This is the message he got.

"To submit reviews, customers must make a minimum number of valid debit or credit card purchases. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don't qualify towards the purchase minimum. For more information, see our Customer Review Guidelines."

I checked that up and here is the relevant bit in the guidelines.

To contribute to Community Features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers), you must have spent at least £40 on using a valid payment card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don't qualify towards the £40 minimum.

Needless to say, I’m not happy about it.  It makes me think I should be looking elsewhere to publish the books.

Has anyone else had a review rejected? I’d love to know.  If so maybe you could send me a review in the comments bit on this blog.  I think you might be able to do it anonymously, so I don’t strangle you if the review is bad.  Any reviews, good or not good are a big help to me if I want to improve.

A Good Hiding is still free until Tuesday. Selling like warmish cakes.

Friday, August 03, 2018

How do night closures save water?

I must be a person of little brain. I see that CRT have introduced evening and night closures at a number of lock flights in order to conserve water. Well I can't argue with the need to save water. Everyday, boats are carrying hundreds of thousands of gallons of the stuff with them as they fill and empty locks. What I can't understand is how night closures make any difference apart from maybe putting off a very small number of boats from making journeys at all. Apart from those very few boats, the rest of us just wait till next morning and then go up or down the locks just the same. Now I don't think CRT is stupid, so I guess they have good reason, but I just don't understand what it is. Can anyone enlighten me?

This has been day one of the 'get my book for free' campaign, and I have already doubled my 'sales' figures. If you are mad at Amazon for paying so little tax, now's your chance to rob them of a wee bit of profit. Be my guest. Search Amazon for A Good Hiding by Herbie Neil. You know it makes sense.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Dodgy knees, cynicism and a freebie +date CORRECTION

We had a lovely French teacher at school called Mr M P Heathcote.  He was one of a couple of teachers who told us their nicknames at the start as they preferred their choice rather than ours.  That was probably wise; he didn’t want to end up like the teacher with two protruding front teeth whom we called Stonehenge.  Mr Heathcote’s nickname was Speedy (you ought to be able to work out why.) Anyhow, he often used to say that sarcasm wasn’t the lowest form of wit, but cynicism was. I was never sure if cynicism counted as wit but I see what he was getting at.

Why am I telling you all this?

I’ve no idea.

Oh yes, I remember.  I’m suffering a bit from dodgy knees, or one of them at any rate.  It started with a general stiffness at the rear and know it hurts on one side.  I know what the problem is, it’s my feet not holding my legs straight.  A podiatrist told me that years ago.  I must dig our my special insoles he made for me and start using them again.  I don’t fancy limping down the canal and wincing as I push lock gates.  Were off for a short trip with some friends next week.

Kath and I got married in September 1976 at the end of the great drought.  After months without rain, standpipes in the street and all that,  we tootled off to Dartmoor in a little tent (we were skint) for our honeymoon and after three days the heavens opened and we were flooded out. Typical.  I have a suspicion that something similar might happen on our traditional September canal cruise this year.

Yes, yes, but what was all that stuff about cynicism and dodgy knees?  Ah well, wasn’t there a Greek philosopher called  Diogenes the Cynic?

In the book sales world, things need a bit more marketing.  I am up to double figures, but no reviews yet.  I looked back at the stats for my first book to compare and discovered some interesting facts.  After an initial flurry, sales died down and I offered the book for free for 5 days at a time (all that Amazon allows in a 90 day period).  Naturally lots more people downloaded it, but what was interesting was that each time I did that, a few more people bought the book for money a week later.  I suppose they might have enjoyed it and paid up later -try before you buy and all that.  Free copies downloaded totalled nearly 1300!! As I hope you realise, I’m far more happy that people read and enjoy the book than I am bothered about the truly miniscule bit of cash I make. So from tomorrow 2nd August 3rd August until Tuesday 7th, you can get it for free.

Follow this link to get a free copy from 2-7 August – sorry that’s 3rd August start- my mistake

Now I feel guilty about those people who have bought it for real money.  Sorry folks, I’ll buy you a drink when I see you, or give you a free paperback.  I have discovered that I can buy the paperbacks myself, as author, for £3.60 each if I order a dozen at a time, so I’ll keep a stock on the boat to give away.