Monday, December 09, 2019

Herbie Awards 2019 - first category prize

Before I announce the winner of Worst Piece of Canal Infrastructure (along the S Oxford), I realise I left another disastrous piece of kit out of the nominees.  Roundham lock bottom gate.  "Ah yes", say all those who have encountered it this year, "The one where the balance beam broke so they pinned it up with a length of arnco rail."  Well despite the (I hope) temporary repair - several months later it was still in that state, it does little to assuage the fears of those who use it, let alone anyone who dares to try and cross it.  Another accident waiting to happen I fear.  How I wish I had taken a photo of this glorious bodge up so you could all see it.

Nevertheless, dreadful though Roundham lock is, users of the S Oxford will I am sure agree that there can be only one winner in this hotly fought contest.  It is the calamitous

Bridge 233, below Wolvercote junction

inoperable by single handers and terrifying to all others.

I take no pleasure in making this award.  Regular readers of this blog (all three or four of them) will know that I am not usually one to grumble, especially at CRT, but this bridge takes the proverbial biscuit.

And so, on to more pleasant and delightful topics, and we start with

Best Boating gadget 2019

For this prize we're looking for something making life better or easier for the skipper or crew whilst cruising, and for our first nomination I'm putting up something we made for ourselves this year.  Quite a lot of other boaters already have something that fulfils this function, but until now Herbie has been lacking.

It's a comfy steerer's seat.
Bolting securely through the steel sheet that goes across the rear corner, it's a piece of plywood (with umpteen coats of varnish) topped by a thick chunk of foam and wrapped in vinyl.  Sitting up there we can see a long way in front and reach the tiller to steer.  My bum is eternally grateful because I used to try and sit on the bare steel which is only half the size it needs to be for comfort.
Some years ago our good friend Rick made us a wooden seat that hung outside the handrail.  That works for a passenger, but is too far over for the helmsman.

I claim no patent on this gubbins because it was flagrantly copied from one on Nb Stronghold and created by the lovely Oakie.

Cost ?- less than a fiver.  Faults?  As a right hander I would prefer it on the port side, but sadly the morse control is in the way. 

Our second nomination cost us considerably more and we had no hand in its development.  It is the Go-Windlass - seen here alongside its more conventional counterparts.

Apparently these were selling like hot cakes at the Crick show this year, which when you consider the eye watering price, must say something.  I think we paid something in the region of £90 for ours.  As you can probably see, it has a ratchet mechanism which is a big help on the very stiff paddles found on a few of the S Oxford locks..  Compared with the other commercial ratchet windlass you sometimes see, it's quite neat and light, hardly any heavier than the one in the middle of the picture. I'm happy to use it all the time, even when I don't need to set the ratchet.  Lastly, an important feature considering the price, is that it is magnetic so there's a chance of retrieving it if you drop it in the water.

Lastly I'd like to nominate something we've had for a very long time, but is always very welcome when we need it.  I deployed it quite recently and reminded myself what a good thing it is. (I may have nominated it in years gone by, but it deserves another mention if so.) It's cheap, easy to use, and it works splendidly.  I can well remember years ago when cruising in very cold weather, the agony of groping round a fouled prop with numb fingers and a forearm blue with cold.  That was before I bought a pair of Pond Gloves.  Aah deep joy - no more rolling up your sleeves or taking off you jumper on a freezing day, no more dread of what you are putting your hand into and no more painful numb fingers.  Just pull on the elbow length (plus) rubber glove - it's not tight and stretchy like a Marigold so goes on and off easily, and dabble away.  We keep ours on top of the weedhatch cover ready for use. So simple, so cheap, so good.

Not sure how to choose a winner here - sophistication at a price, or simplicity at low cost.  Any thoughts?

Decision tomorrow along with nominations for an old favourite - Best Pub Grub.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Most Important Decisions of the Year.

Well folks, here we are in decision week.  Where shall we put that X? I could decide not to decide, but that wouldn't be right, so without further ado I announce the opening of  . . .
The Annual Herbie Awards.  

Yes folks, it's time for the decisions that really matter - forget the B word, never mind the TV debates, let's get on to the serious stuff.  I mean what can be more important than the Best Cheap Pub Meal, or the Most Useful Boater's Gadget? Well we need something to cheer us up don't we? So tart up your tuxedo, slip into your slinky silk, break open the Bollinger, and we'll make a start.

This year, I thought we ought to get our grumbles out of the way first, so I'm introducing a new category -

the award for the Worst Piece of Canal Infrastructure.

Sadly, this year we have a number to choose from (bear in mind that to qualify for these awards, it has to be something seen or experienced on Herbie's travels this year.)

I don't know whether it's just the South Oxford that is falling to bits lately, but the list of things that need fixing down there seems to grow and grow.  However two particular objects are way out in front when it comes to sheer awfulness.

1. The top paddles at Somerton Deep Lock

These must be the stiffest ground paddles on the system - any stiffer and they would be impossible to shift.  I genuinely fear for my windlass handle on this lock, in fact one of them now looks decidedly bent.  One of these days these paddles are going to defeat me, and I wouldn't mind betting lots of other people feel the same.

2. Lift Bridge 233 Oxford Canal

This bridge (the one under the bypass flyover) did well to earn its nomination because the ones either side of it are bloody awful as well.  This bridge is a serious accident waiting to happen. It's surely only a matter of time before some poor boater does himself or herself an injury here.  The lock that should hold it down is bust so the balance weights have been taken off and it requires a superhuman effort to lift it, then of course it wont stay up.  Some boater has left a wooden post there to use as a prop, but since you require both hands to lift the bridge, you can't grab the post, and anyway it's too short. What really beggars belief is the little sign on it that says it's safe to use.  I think we should get Richard Parry to come and demonstrate. Or maybe we should invite Andrew Neil to interview him.

Well it's a tough choice and I'll sleep on it.  In Strictly fashion we'll announce the result tomorrow , no dance -off needed.  If you'd like to cast a vote for either -feel free to add a comment.

Plus tomorrow on a more cheerful note well take a look at nominations for Best Boating Gadget 2019.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Black Friday /Cyber Monday outshone by special offer from Herbie Neil

Looking for that elusive Christmas present for someone you love?
Need something to inflict on someone you hate?
Want to cheer yourself up by reading of someone else's misfortune?
Can you really get something for nothing these days?

Yes folks all these problems and more can be solved this week without paying a penny, because it's time for another Herbie Neil freebie.  I can't go on forever feeling guilty about the riches I have acquired from my book royalties (over £30 and counting in four years), so for one week only (Mon to Fri)  you can follow this link get ebook copies* of my blockbuster novels "Jobs for the Boys" and "A Good Hiding", both starring the loveable Eric the Unfortunate  (bearing a strange resemblance to the author as a young man).   Try untangling the truth from the fiction  (did he really spend time as a spy in prison?)  as you follow Eric stumbling through his young adulthood in pursuit of justice and a girl friend  and wallow in affectionate  nostalgia for the 1970s.


Absolutely no charge now or ever if you download a copy this week.  Your kindle, tablet, whatever will be delighted.  It's even readable on a phone.  What's more if you are not thrilled and delighted by your cost-free purchase you can get your money back - all £0.00 of it.  Not sure if the books  are any good?  Follow the link anyway and read the reviews.

Will there be a third novel?  Who knows?  I don't.  Anybody seen a muse?

* Proper paperback copies  are available, but sadly are not free (but still cheap).

End of advertising feature.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Herbie goes luxury

I'm thinking of inviting Rob Bryden for a cruise on Herbie, then he can go on telly to advertise  the pleasures of our our new luxury on board swimming pool like he does for P&O.  Here I am emptying it out for the end of season clear up.

If you look closely, you can see the high watermark from before I started baling (or baleing?).  I calculated that the tonneau cover (which suffered a split seam and some broken bungees) was holding over a hundredweight of rain water when we visited last week.  Herbie's private flood in sympathy with the poor folk in Yorkshire I suppose.  The ageing tonneau was already in a somewhat delapidated state but I fear it'll now need replacing, being stretched out of shape and saggy - just waiting to catch more rain.  Next time I'll build in a ridge pole.

We were out at Herbie draining her plumbing down for winter in case we get deep frosts before our next cruise.  I can't see us getting any done now until the new year. 

Talking about next year, we're seriously contemplating a move to a different marina, having done the dear old South Oxford to death really.  Top of our list at the moment is Kings Bromley (near Rugeley, Staffs) which although further from home would give us access to waters we haven't cruised much if at all. We'd have Trent & Mersey  (in both directions), Staffs and Worcs, Birmingham, and more all within reasonable reach.  Watch this space.

Looking at the old calendar on the wall I notice it won't be long until the Herbie Awards season.  Time to brush off the old tuxedos and posh frocks folks.  Kath is in her sewing room  applying sequins to her kagoul as I write. Earlier in the year I had some great ideas for new categories of award.  Of course I never wrote them down so now I can't remember what they were but rest assured I'll be working on it.  Any suggestions welcome.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A good time to go boating?

It doesn't seem five minutes since Claydon locks were on short hours in order to save water and we were worried about running aground down at Twyford wharf.  Well folks those worries are over and we have huge amounts of new waterway available. 

Why stick to the canal when you can pull over onto the fields and even the streets in some places?  You could moor up right outside a corner shop and save all that carrying back to the boat -if it wasn't for the fact that all the goods in the shop are a bit soggy.  Come to think of it, why go under Evesham bridge when you could probably cruise round the side of it and then carry on down the Avon.  You'd be in Tewkesbury in half an hour with your crew enjoying the waterskiing on the end of your mooring rope.   Endless fun.

I think the lovely guys at our marina have been going round lengthening the mooring ropes in case boats are pulled under by the rise in level.  I would think large parts of the S Oxford canal are un-navigable.  Apparently a lot of the towpath is submerged below Banbury and I wouldn't mind betting that  top lock gates are overflowing all over the place down that way.  I've had to paddle across some of them in the past when the canal wasn't nearly so high as it is now.  Here's a link to the Banbury Guardian showing the flood waters pouring over the path and into the canal.  Apparently a few of the villages on the Cherwell flood plain are in trouble. 

Joking apart, is anybody out there actually doing any boating?

Friday, October 18, 2019

Making a dash for it.

8am and the Herbies are still lying in bed wondering if we'd get through Nells Bridge today.  Suddenly we hear the sound of an approaching boat from the direction of Aynho weir.  Kath leapt to her feet and into some clothes (although I fear not the full set) and stuck her head outside.

"Have you just come through Nells Bridge?"
"How much clearance is there?"
"Plenty, you'll get through."

Yippee!  In no time flat we were dressed, mooring ropes untied and on our way, eager to beat any queue.

Arriving at Aynho lock, we were behind just one other boat, another was following behind us.  I went forward to have a look at the river gauge.

Oooh! Half an inch of yellow.  The river must have dropped several inches overnight.  Let's go for it.

Through the lock and on to the offending low bridge into the lock and we were indeed OK.

It was even sunny on the other side.  Forget plans B and C (which included accepting kind  offer from Bones Taxis Inc.) on how we were going to get to Cambridge this weekend (not by boat of course), we were back on Plan A.*

Well to cut a long story short, we're now home and dry. in Cropredy.  Well not exactly dry because it was a wet afternoon, so we're home and er drying.

And so ends the Autumn 2019 cruise of the Herbies.  We didn't quite get to Reading, but Pangbourne was pretty near and we got to meet up with George and Carol, and Bones and Maffi and Alex.  So all in all it was eventful, sociable, and above all lucky in so far as we were stranded for only one and a half days and only got a soaking twice in three weeks.  But for a few hours we could still be stuck on the Thames.

What's next?  Who knows, except some new engine mounts for Herbie as one of 'em has started to delaminate at the rubbery bit.  There's always something.  Stay tuned.

*Apologies for all the brackets, I seem to be in BODMAS mode.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Topping up the canal

This morning we attempted to walk down to Aynho lock to assess the level situation but we couldn't get there (no wellies) because of this (best seen if you hit the full screen button bottom right)

The fields on the towpath side are flooded to a level higher than the canal, so at this point the floods have broken through.  From reading the river level reports, it looks like the peak levels are moving downstream and that things are slowly getting better up here.  One fellow boater squelched up to Nell Bridge and reported back that the clearance was 1.7 metres.  That's about nine inches too little for us (sorry for mixed units).  Even if we removed the roof box I fear we might get stuck, so we're resigned to another night here at least.  Never mind, the sun is shining and the Great Western Arms is only a ten minute walk away.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Greetings from Aynho du Lac, or should I call it Aynho sur Mer.  Either way, there's a hell of a lot of water everywhere.  The Cherwell would pass easily for the Thames in some places .

Here's what used to be Somerton meadow.

The lock bypass weirs are running fast too.  We got stuck against the cill of the one at the top of Allen's lock.  No amount of tiller waggling and rope hauling could pull us sideways and off.  In the end we just drove hard forward into the bushes until we were clear.  Our lovely new blacking is really taking a pasting.

It all looks rather pretty though and we could enjoy it a lot if it wasn't for the fact that we are stuck above Aynho lock with food and coal for only two or three days, and that we are supposed to drive to Cambridge on Saturday.   Maybe some of those Chinooks we keep seeing overhead could drop us UN food parcels and the odd bottle of whisky to keep us going.  We might have to resort to the old tin of corned beef that has been at the back of the cupboard since time began.  There are some tasty looking mallards outside if we get really stuck.

Well, we are where we are and it is what it is.  We just have to wait until all this water moves away and Nell bridge becomes passable.  By all accounts we could be here for a few days. We haven't been right down to Aynho weir but we're told the water is right at the top of the 'red' and that nothing can get under Nell Bridge. Tomorrow should tell us if things are getting better or worse.

This morning we paused en route at Heyford to supply Bones and Maffi with tea and bikkies while enjoying watching Bones refitting a boat window to cure a leak.  She has an interesting technique, which seems to be that of supervising Maffi while he does it.

We could all learn something here. 

When it got to the technical bit though, i.e. screwing the retaining nut on the angle grinder, she took charge like the expert she is.  We know our place.

With hindsight we perhaps ought to have stayed with them at Heyford and admired the full process, then we would be now be stranded near  a railway station  and supplies of coal and water instead of here in the fields at Belchers Bridge, and we would have had some jolly fine company too.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

That's better.

Wow! Sitting in the sun!  A bit different from yesterday's soaking.  That's British weather for ya.  Here we are at Kirtlington quarry, enjoying one of the best moorings on the Oxford canal.

Early this evening we climbed up to the top of the old quarry to watch the sunset.

Not bad is it?

Signs of the weekend's rain still abound.

The Cherwell between Shipton and Enslow was very high but  still 'on green lights' so that was OK. 

 Now we only have the other Cherwell bit between Aynho and Nell Bridge to get  past and we'll be home and er, probably not dry, but safe anyway.  What a good job we didn't start a week later, we'd be stuck on the Thames on red boards now.

Tonight we sit by the fire supping Jim Beam and coke and listening to one of my hand picked playlists featuring everything from Fleetwood Mac to Joni Mitchell via lots of other people you probably don't know.  It's an absolute belter.  Life could indeed be worse.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Come Uppance

That'll teach us for being smug about staying dry through all the changeable weather.  Up till now we seem to have managed to cruise when it was dry and finish for the day when the rain started.  No such luck today, we got a proper soaking when we arrived in Thrupp.  As we were roping up to the mooring rings the heavens opened full force and we were instantly drenched.  Once tied up, we squelched up to Annie's Tea Room where we peeled off our soaking clothes and dropped them on the floor (the puddle on carpet will probably dry in due course) and pretended it was high summer by defiantly ordering cream teas.  I think the phrase 'lashings of clotted cream' must have originated here.  They give you loads of the proper stuff, as stiff as clay and at least double the jam you get anywhere else. A heart attack on a plate.  Lovely.  And you get an old fart's discount.  What's not to like?

I was prepared for the lift bridges out of Oxford to be a pain, but today, one of them, the one near the flyover, nearly defeated me.  The locking mechanism has now been abandoned by CRT as the bridge is balanced shut which makes it almost impossible for a frail old gentleman like me to lift and hold open.  In the end I had to cross over then dangle my overweight frame on the balance beams to get the bridge to open.  A proper twerp I must have looked. Goodness knows how a single hander would manage because they'd be cut off from their boat.  A little blue sign on the bridge tells us that the bridge is perfectly safe to use.  Huh!  Well the bridge might be safe in itself but not for the operator.  It can only be a matter of time before somebody injures themselves in the struggle with the weight of lifting and holding the bridge open.

The word is that the Thames is on red and yellow boards all of a sudden and I'm wondering if we'll be able to get up the short bit of Cherwell below Enslow tomorrow.  I wonder if the water shortage lock restrictions have been lifted at Claydon and Napton.   I wouldn't bet on it.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Busy doing nothing

Busy busy, I've hardly stopped today.  I've de-gunged the u-bend under the sink, drunk lots of tea, watched the Japanese grand prix on Kath's ipad, watched episode 3.5 of the mega on line Guitar course I am following - diminished scales this time, um, drunk some more tea, um did the washing up . . .  anyway you get the idea of our exciting whirlwind of a day here at Jericho.  We're having our first non cruising day of our October trip, resting like an out of work actor.

There was one bit of excitement.  Just across the footpath outside the boat ,  there flows the little backwater leading down to the Sheepwash channel and this afternoon, not eight paces from Herbie, sat this cormorant.

I think he was having a rest day too.  He didn't even bother to move when I crept nearer wielding my phone to take the picture.  He just turned his head to see who it was, then seeing it was only boring old me, resumed his laconic pose.

Tomorrow we resume our odyssey and head on up to Thrupp.  I expect we'll be swearing at recalcitrant lift bridges and getting muddy.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Thames verdict

Cor, the current was strong under Osney bridge this morning.  I'm glad we didn't get more of that on the way up the Thames or we'd still be down at Abingdon thrashing along at one mile an hour.  As it is, we came up Sheepwash channel where the water stands still and here we are back on the canal at Jericho.  I'm glad they've finished the new development with the houses and boatyard at last.

Only joking folks.  Nothing at all has happened of course.  After years of nothing happening, we still await the delivery of the promised land.  Dream on.

After tying up, opposite this hoarding  we strolled into the mighty metrollops of Oxenford. . .

Neil wafts off into a dream.  Do you remember Daphne Oxenford?  When I was a tiny tot, she was the lady on the radio who read the stories on Listen with Mother on the BBC Home Service.  Are you sitting comfortably ?  Then I'll continue. .

 to purchase victuals for our journey back up the canal and staggered back with bags full of healthy sustenance to keep us going where there are no shops.  On the way back though, we diverted through the market and visited our favourite street food stall selling hot Goan food where we bought tonight's dinner which had names I can't recall but were generous and delicious.  Sitting here an hour after dinner I can barely move.

Thinking back over our Thames experience, I can report a number of observations.

1. Birds observed in order of frequency:

  • Red kites - hardly ever out of sight!
  • Mallards - of course
  • Herons - about one per mile
  • Cormorants - several each day
  • Kingfishers - a few each day
  • Buzzards - here an there.
  • Geese - surprisingly few, but always in gangs
  • Egyptian geese - an odd pair here or their

I imagine that ten years ago the list would have been hugely different. Astonishing how many red kites.  I like to see them and I think they like to see us, often flying low over the boat.   Top birds.  Of course there were also probably lots of small brown thingies, but with my eyesight and the distance to the bankside vegetation, they were invisible to me.

2. Conspicuous wealth is impossible to ignore with all the grand houses, stripey lawns and gothic boathouses.  A measure of our unequal society.

3. Boats on the move were conspicuously rare.  It seems that the tupperware cruisers in particular don't venture out in October.  Narrowboats , although few, outnumbered them easily.  We're a hardy lot.

4. Lock gates hardly leak!! The gates work!  These Thames folk don't know they're born.

All in all, we do like the Thames.  Now we're back to canal reality where the locks have broken paddles and leaky gates and the lift bridges are a bugger to unlock.  Deep joy.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Luxury living then back up the Thames

"Cargoes" revisited (with apologies to John Masefield)

Stately Still Rockin' from far off Hambleden
Gliding up the river with a soft sweet purr
With sofas and sideboards and parquet flooring
And bottles of wine for the connoisseur

Grubby little Herbie off the Oxford canal
Chugging down the Thames with a rattle and a clang
With camping chairs, cork tile floor and a plywood dining table
And beat up old guitars and beer in a can

We always love meeting up with Carol and George on Still Rockin'.  Quite apart from the luxury of sitting in their lovely boat (which for those unfamiliar, is about the size of a small, well appointed aircraft carrier), we always seem to have such an entertaining time, so much so this time that I have to admit to feeling rather delicate next morning.  Thanks again C&G. That was on Tuesday at Pangbourne when we also had an earlier visit from our daughter Claire and young Grace and not so young any more Jacob.

Jacob stayed on with us for Wednesday and Thursday, eating us out of house boat and home.  I don't know where he puts it all.  He's supposedly on a "reading week" at uni, but I didn't see much reading going on. 

Pangbourne was our turning point, so we headed back up current to Wallingford, then to Abingdon.  It's hard not to draw comparisons between the two towns. Wallingford, somewhat Dickensian in appearance, is clearly the less prosperous of the two, and sadly, as far as boaters go, the least welcoming.  I remarked in an earlier post that their £10 a night mooring fee finished at the end of September, but we learned that it is not as generous as it seems.  When we arrived and pulled in to moor, this is what we saw.

I'll gloss over their appalling use of the English language and get on with what happened.

We were one of three narrowboats who all arrived within minutes of each other, mooring nose to tail and taking up what space there was.  Kath read the sign and phoned up the number given asking politely if we were able to stay for one night.  "No," came the answer, "You may not."

"That's odd," said the chap on the boat in front, " I just phoned up and they told me I could stay if I went to the town hall and payed them a tenner."  Accordingly, Kath offered a tenner to the person on the phone, but was again refused.  Well, to cut a long story short it was agreed to send a posse down to the Town Hall to see if they would take three tenners for three boats.  I suppose I should add at this point that it was getting late in the afternoon and starting to rain, and the next moorings upstream were some hours away.  Well to cut a long story short, they buckled under the pressure of the posse and let us all stop for free for one night only.  Apparently the spaces were booked by long term winter moorers from next week, when the rules will be enforced without mercy.

Wallingford did have one very good thing though.  Following a consultation with Trip Adviser, (not always a reliable source), we risked a meal at the Dolphin pub and were more than satisfied with the beer, the service and the excellent home made pies.  Proper shortcrust pastry (all round) pies with plenty of filling with lovely buttery mashed spuds and peas for £8.  An automatic shortlist place for the Herbie Awards that is.

Despite changeable wind and the current against us, we got to Abingdon early next afternoon and had a choice of their super free moorings by the park  (Wallingford please note).

 Later, walking up to Waitrose in the dark I couldn't help noticing again what a gorgeous town it is.  So many lovely and beautifully preserved buildings, and looking in the windows of the pubs and restaurants, so many cosy eateries.  It being Jacob's last night with us we ate out again at the Nag's Head on the bridge, where the food cost more than twice that of the previous night, but you couldn't complain because it was very good and a lot posher. (No George, I didn't have the fish and chips).

It was a windy night and Herbie's little pipe fenders  couldn't stop us banging against the steel piling of our mooring every fifteen seconds, so I was forced to innovate.  Behold my new (patent applied for) fat fender.  It worked a treat.

My genius knows no bounds.  (Oh dear, that's a bit Trumpian isn't it?)

So here we are tonight at East Street in Oxford for our last night on the Thames.  Our licence runs out at midnight, but an EA officer we met at Sandford lock said we'd be alright next morning, and if anyone complained, mention his name.  I suspect he may be able to pull rank.

We were right up at the front end of Sandford lock (apparently the deepest of 'em all) and Kath remarked to the lockie that it was a bit like white water rafting when he opened the sluices.

He laughed "You should see it if I really opened 'em up.  Open the bottom gates and you'd be back in Abingdon in five minutes."

I like Thames lockies even though the way they operate is a mystery.  When the sign says they are there, they are often not, and when the sign says Self Service they often appear, and strangest of all, they are nearly always on the phone.  Whether they are chatting up their girl /boy friends or putting a bet on the three thirty at Doncaster, or receiving instructions from their bosses I know not.

Back on t'canal tomorrow, where all locks are self service.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Going with the flow.

In Goring
The weir was roaring
Quite near our mooring
The rain was pouring
All afternoon

It wasn't boring
Cos I was touring
And exploring
The local shops

I cannot for the life of me why I was overlooked for the Poet Laureate job, but there it is, we soldier on.

Wallingford (with which not much rhymes) was yesterday, Sunday.  Wallingford appears to close on a Sunday, except for Pizza Express.  It was quiet, virtually deserted, but the moorings were fine.  Maybe we'll investigate on the return trip and find the town humming with weekday activity.

Goring is pretty quiet too, but it's much smaller so I'll let them off.  The big news in the village is that they now have a fish and chip shop, only since last week.  We felt obliged to give it a try and it's fine.  Kath couldn't finish hers, so large was the portion.

Moored here below the weir, the current is a bit alarming.  In fact the strength of the current appears to have been increasing as we travel downstream.  Today we exceeded 5 mph, I nearly blacked out.

Despite the weather being decidedly iffy, we've managed to cruise in the dry periods so far, so the waterproofs have had little use. Here we are in fine weather yesterday - Shillingford if memory serves me right.  Is this the Thames's best bridge?

I think we've seen a few kingfishers every day so far, and lots of red kites of course, plus today rather a lot of cormorants, so there must be plenty of fish.  The old Thames seems in good health up this end.

Tomorrow it's Pangbourne, where we have not one but two assignations (!!), more of which when they have happened and then next day we turn round and head back.  I'm getting a bit concerned about how long it will take us to get back upstream to Oxford against the current.  We'll just have to ask Herbie to try harder I suppose, that and put in longer days.  It's a hard life being on holiday.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

High speed Herbie

I always wanted to own a listed property, and this morning I did.  The river had dropped some inches overnight and Herbie was grounded and listing 5 degrees to starboard.  I could tell we were askew even lying in bed, we must have some sort of internal spirit level I suppose. The mooring ropes were as tight as an Ernie Ball 0.016 guitar string tuned to high E - believe me that's tight.  In fact you could probably have played tunes on the mooring ropes.  Must try that next time.

Stepping outside to examine the problem, Kath and I went into a huddle and formulated a plan of escape which, highly unusually, worked.  I didn't even get stranded ashore with a gangplank.  Wonders will never cease.  It was all to do with which rope to let go first and how to get the current to help us.  Anyhow, we were soon heading back towards Oxford.  At some speed I must say.  With a good current behind us we achieved speeds hitherto unknown to Herbie.  At one point today we achieved four point nine miles per hour (as measured on my home coded Android Herbiesoft Speedo).  And they said the human body wouldn't survive such velocity.

Stopping only at locks, at one of them to buy a Thames visitor licence, we motored from Swinford to Abingdon, that's about 15 miles and 7 locks.  We don't often do that in a day.  Talking of Thames visitor licences, some of you will know that they give you a card to show in the boat window.  They used to give you two, one for each side, but now it's only one because naughty people used to pass one of them on to a friend (or customer I suppose).  Tut tut.

The majority of locks were on self service, but at Abingdon lock there was very cheery old gentleman (although come to think of it that could describe me except for the cheery bit , and the gentleman bit).  Anyway, he was saying how the proportion of narrowboats to plastic cruisers had changed over the years.  According to him they used to see three tupperware boats to every narrowboat, but now it's the other way round.

So here we are moored on the park in Abingdon, in a convenient spot for Waitrose.  It's good to know that anytime we want some quinoa, it's only a short walk away.

Tomorrow we plan to sample the delights of Wallingford.  I discover that after the end of September they stop charging a tenner a night for mooring.  Result!

By the way,  a couple of days ago we spotted this boat with a novel way of minimising anode wear.

Do you think someone should tell him?

Friday, October 04, 2019

Snakes, mice, and ladies of the night

If you're looking for a happy bunny, dear reader, I suggest you look elsewhere just at the minute.  I had just finished typing a rather long, and I hope scintillating account of our last two days and I pressed something (I know not what )and lost the flippn' lot.

Ah well, here's another go.

As I write we're inconveniently moored by Swinford meadows on the mighty Thames.  I say inconveniently, because we didn't want to come this far, and  the river won't let us get close to the bank.

Plan A was to moor up below Eynsham lock, visit the charming village, then head back downstream tomorrow for the dreaming spires of Oxford.  Unfortunately we had failed to communicate plan A to the boats that had already pinched all the moorings at the lock, so here we are.  At least we haven't got any mice on board eating our oven gloves unlike the crew of the boat we came up the lock with.  They had wanted to pop into the village too, to purchase fresh stocks of mousetraps.  They did get to do this, but only after joining us in a joint display of mooring incompetence against the wayward current, and then unfolding a Brompton and pedalling off to the hardware shop.  They're gone now leaving us with a little pet of our own.

A cute little grass snake, only about eight inches long.  Fortunately I don't think grass snakes have a penchant for oven gloves, so we're probably ok.

Despite the good Doctor Bones using her project fear on us with tales of strong stream horrors on the Thames, and despite the very swollen River Cherwell putting the wind up us all the way down, it's not too bad despite all the rain we've been having.  We did have a plan B, which was to chicken out of the Thames and head down into the dreaming spires via the canal, but in the end we put a brave face on it and turned into Dukes Cut, up the silly little lock that doesn't know whether to take you up or down (up today), and out onto the mighty river.

Yesterday was a lot more fun than today, starting off with us boarding the good ship Bones in Lower Heyford in search of free coffee and pearls of wisdom from lady Bones herself.  We just nattered about all the usual stuff, circadian rhythms of blind veterans, cats, dogs, stuffed barn owls, composting toilets (of course), and Queen Anne's law on permitting brothels on boats, nothing out of the ordinary for conversations with Bones.  This latter topic was the subject of a play written by, and starring, Kate Saffin who was performing same at the Rock of Gibraltar (that's the pub in Enslow, not the place near Spain) that very evening.  Bones persuaded us to abandon our plan to hit the bright lights of Thrupp and to head for Enslow instead, which was what we did.

Mooring up on the pub garden we thought it would be churlish not to go in for a lunchtime pint, so we went in to find the ever cheery Alex who made Herbie's nice chimney a couple of years back (he does after sales service too!).  Pints were followed by tea aboard Herbie and it was soon time to go back into the pub for the play, or plays actually, there being a second one about the restoration of the Droitwich canal.  It was all very sociable and we drank rather too much cider which may have something to do with us not being on top form today.

Tomorrow we head back downstream, which by the look of the current will be somewhat faster than upstream.  I hope that mouse didn't transfer over to us when the other boat breasted up.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Brave or foolhardy?

Much better weather today, so we set off with joy in our hearts and the sun in our eyes (I knew it was a mistake to leave our sunglasses at home).We were soon passing the Pig Place, which seems to be breeding sofas as well as pigs, then on past the CRT yard at Nell Bridge and up to the lock, which was set against us.  Not wishing to steal anyone's lock I peered under the bridge to see a boat waiting not far back.  So I took my life in my hands and crossed the road on the bridge (people who know the bridge will know what I mean by that, it's tantamount to crossing the start straight at Silverstone and the beginning of a Grand Prix).  I waved to the guy on the waiting boat. "Are you coming up the lock?"  quoth I.  "Well I would," quoth he, "but there's this tree in the way." 

It shows how unobservant I am.  There was this ruddy great willow lying across most of the canal. 

"Oh lor!" quoth I.

The man on the boat said he had alerted CRT and they were on the case.  "Well that shouldn't take long", I advised merrily,"the CRT yard is only 50 yards away."  I was of course pathetically mistaken in my optimism.  Apparently the job of clearing the obstruction had been passed to their "contractor".  The man phoned again for an update and was told it would be between two and four hours before anyone would show up.  Would you Adam and Eve it, 50 yards from a depot and a four hour wait for help.

This news concentrated our minds somewhat.  We examined the tree and found that it might be possible to scrape past the somewhat bendy branch tips thereon.  Nervous of our new blacking I persuaded the man to try it first, after all he was only on a hire boat which was not exactly pristine in the blacking department (sorry Anglo Welsh).  Well he scraped (literally) past and came up the lock, so Kath and I had to decide whether to risk it in the opposite direction.  The choice was a possible four hour wait or inevitable scratches on our lovely new blacking.  I was not a happy bunny.

"To hell with it," quoth I, flinging caution and probably common sense to the wind, "let's go for it."  After all, the guys may roll up in four hours and then take another two hours to dismember the tree. We descended the lock and I stood on Herbie's bow with a boat hook to somewhat ineffectual attempt to persuade away the tree's branches.  Well we got through with some scratching, but fortunately nothing that a touch up shouldn't repair.  Fortune favours the brave, but it could very easily have been a lot worse, so if anyone thinks we should have waited , they could well be right.

As for the rest of the day, it was OK, and tonight we rest at Allen's lock at Upper Heyford having treated ourselves to fresh blackberries from the local hedgerow.  I had been lamenting that we were to late in the season to get any.  I'm not often wrong but I'm wrong again.

Thrupp tomorrow - if we're spared.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Right now, dear reader, it is hissing down with rain outside and thunder storms are rumbling all around.  I'm not sure how the Met boys saw that coming a few days back, but they did.  When we arrived here, all was serene (even if it was looking a bit black over Will's mum's.

Now look at it.

Never mind, we got tied up and snug inside before the deluge arrived.  So now I can relax and ponder the mysteries of life.

Occasionally I think about painting a slogan or strapline under Herbie's name on the side of the boat.  I was sorely tempted in the past to add "GRAND ONION CANAL".  I'm absolutely sure we could have fooled some gullible gongoozlers into thinking that the canal was built for the transport of onions. Once upon a time I was playing my mandola and eating an apple at the same time (no mean feat) and as I peeled the little sticker off the apple I stuck it on the headstock of the mandola  (it is still there to this day).  Sometime after that I was playing in a session in a pub and a chap said "That's a nice mandola, what make is it?".  Pointing to the little apple label I said "It's a Braeburn" that being the variety of the apple of course.  Well yer man said "Oh yeah, I've heard of them.  Nice instruments".  That memory has given me much pleasure in the succeeding years.  Anyhow, I digress. I still muse occasionally over a strapline for Herbie.  I had thought for a long time of something like "Geriatric Logistics Solutions."  yesterday I came up with a belter.  Bearing in mind the current weather and aligning myself with CRT's current strapline, how about. "Making Life Wetter by Water".  It could be a winner.

Day 2 of our Autumn cruise and we have exceeded our expectations and travelled all of 3.7 miles.  Well, the forecast was bad so we had planned just to stay put and have a lazy day doing nothing, but when we awoke this morning the weather was OK, so we decided to do a little bit before it rained.  We managed to squeeze in a visit to Tooley's Yard to buy some new mooring stakes and a long throw windlass to replace the one which catapulted itself into Kings Sutton lock last time we were out.  Then spotting Milly M below Banbury lock we pulled over for a quick chat to Maffi before popping over to Morrison's for groceries, then we motored on expecting to have to stop for the rain at any minute and got all the way to the bend before Kings Sutton where we now rest listening to the thunder outside.  So not too bad for a day supposedly doing nowt.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Getting it over with

How long after your boat is blacked is it ok to pick up the first scratch? My usual mantra is "As long as I can get out of the boatyard / marina unscathed, then what happens after that is just inevitable and not worth worrying about."  Well you'll be tickled to know that this time I didn't even get that far.


After admiring the spiffing job done on Herbie (the gunnels are a sight to behold, you could read a book in the reflections) by Andy at Cropredy dry dock we were feeling pretty smart as we tootled a hundred yards or so over to the service pontoon to fill up with diesel.  Now I've done that manoeuvre many times before and this time there was not even a puff of wind, but I managed to cock it up in fine style and nudged the corner of the pontoon and put a flippin' smudge on Herbie's pristine bow.  Is this a record?  Can anybody beat that? Ah well, at least that got scratch 1 over with, after that I could relax.  I've dug out a tin of Intertuf 16 touch up I've been saving for just such an occasion so when it stops raining I'll attempt a restoration.

So here we are on day 1 of our autumn cruise, having reached Banbury where we wait out the rain.   We've done four locks without losing a windlass and I only had to go down the weedhatch once, so I reckon that's pretty good going for starters. Banbury canalside currently has a big hole full of diggers and big bits of pipe where a multi storey car park used to be, and the green footbridge across the canal has disappeared.  Some mooring spaces have been lost in the process, but it's only temporary  and we still found somewhere so that's alright.

The canal is surprisingly busy for the time of year and the usual banter with fellow boaters using the locks made our first morning a pleasant one.  Our friends a slat mill lock popped their heads over the wall to say 'bon voyage'.

Malc of 'Malc and Dink' fame on the outskirts of Banbury gave us a cheery wave as we passed his cottage and all is well with the world.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Preparing for the worst

Where is Michael Gove when you need him?  We (that's me and Kath) need to prepare ourselves for stormy weather, shortages of supplies and all that stuff.  Unlike Michael's boss, our  alarmingly coiffured PM however,  we'll try to moderate our language as we negotiate the trials ahead.  Our deadline is rather shorter than his as we intend to raise anchor (Ok untie the mooring ropes) on Monday morning and head southwards.

Just like the B word however, the omens are not encouraging.  Never before have I hoped so much that the 'experts' aka the met office, have got it wrong, but we'll see.  Our strategy is to not worry about our destination, but to rest up and enjoy ourselves when the weather is against us.  Accordingly I intend to push on with some sketching and possibly painting.  Kath as made for me a lovely sketch book.  Here's the book with an alarmingly accurate portrayal of myself on the cover.  If you look closely you can see that the picture is entirely in stitch.  Kath often has me in stitches.

Inside the book, interspersed among the blank pages, all of nice bits of paper of various sorts are old scraps of this and that which may or may not act as inspiration, or more likely a distraction from my poor sketches.  This one's a bit of a tune we like to play.

This next one is a lino cut print by Kath.

It's all a bit daunting really because I don't want to spoil it all with crappy sketches, so I'm going to have to try hard.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The curse of the Herbies

When we used to moor down the Slough arm we got a reputation for always going out in bad weather  It was the cause of some amusement to the other moorers when the weather always changed for the worse as soon as we set off.  The curse of the Herbies they might have called it.

Well I fear the curse might be striking again.  Our usual practice is to have a few weeks cruise in September, but this time we've instead been helping our Peter to move into his new flat and all that that entails. Now that he's settled in and got himself a longed for cat, Bella, (cute or what?)