Thursday, December 24, 2020

Bloomin zoomin Christmas

 Raymond Briggs's Father Christmas was often heard saying "Bloomin Christmas", well it's Zoomin' Christmas here, what with our Peter stranded with his cat in Cambridge.  Good old Zoom has been our saviour this year, in fact we've undoubtedly spent more time in conversation with Peter than the last five years put together.  A pity we can't Zoom with Herbie, incarcerated in Wigrams Turn for the time being.

In the news:

CRT sent us our licence renewal reminder and they have indeed given us an extra month, so that's nice.  I wonder what the impact is on them. They lose 8.5% of their licence income if I'm right.  Have they perhaps been over generous?

It looks like Boris might announce a Brexit deal later today.  Will I still be allowed to take Herbie into the North Sea for a bit of trawling?

Mr Trump is issuing pardons right left and centre, so can I be let off for not yet finishing the wall insulation round the back of Herbie's stove.  The poor little stove was installed new in March and has still never been lit.

A couple of our senior friends have already had their Covid jab.  Waitrose have donated use of their social club premises at their HQ down the road from us for the jabathon.  Perhaps we'll get a free mince pie when it's our turn.

Quiz answers:

If you would like more time to try our Christmas picture quiz, look away now and come back later  'cos here are the answers.  

Thanks to those who sent in their guesses.  Very interesting they were, especially as they suggested some waterways we have yet to visit, so it might give us some incentive for future trips.

Here are the real answers:

1. S Oxford near Wormleighton, the radio mast is the giveaway. A popular mooring spot in the middle of nowhere.

2. Grand Union, on the high embankment at Weedon Bec, where those white railings lead down steps to the village and the Royal Ordnance depot museum.

3.  N Oxford opposite the Waterside pub at Hillmorton Wharf. Cheap food and average beer.

4. Upper Avon navigation  near Stratford.  Lovely spot where I crossed the lock to take pictures of a heron catching a fish by the weir.

5.  S Oxford Thrupp visitor moorings (the sneaky narrow angle telephoto shot made it harder to spot)

6.  R Thames at Eton, nice little mooring with the bridge over to Windsor visible just upstream

7.  River Soar (or is it the Leicester Arm just there?).  Centre of Leicester anyhow, where these moorings lead through to a city centre park which is locked at night, so quite secure.

8.  Lea navigation The lock near Waltham  Abbey, also near the Lee Valley White Water Centre ( no we didn't put Herbie in the white water), also near the Gunpowder factory.

9. Grand Union not far north of Brentford.  That's the tube train line going overhead.

10. Grand Union alongside Harefield Marina, where it is tempting to steer right through the gap but you'd soon run aground.  Timothy Spall used to keep his narrowboat there.

Well done to anybody who got more than a couple.  I did say they weren't easy.

Wherever you are, whatever tier you're in, thanks for joining us at the Herbie blog and have A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS - and stay safe!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Picture Quiz - Where's Herbie?

 How about a little quiz to cheer us up? Everybody likes a picture quiz. Let's do a Where's Wally Herbie.  Over the fifteen years we've been the lucky owners of Herbie, we've been to quite a few places.  How many of them can you recognise.  I haven't picked easy ones, except perhaps the first.  Click 'em up big if it helps.

1. From 2017 Don't let that shaft of sunlight distract you.  The easy clue is in the picture.

2. Also for 2017.  A lofty mooring, but where?

3. Now 2015 There's Herbie across the canal from a pub with cheap grub

4. Back to 2013 and we're moored near a lock close to which famous town?

5. 2012 now and we're moored(not for the first time) in a very popular spot

6. In 2011 we were lucky to find this mooring vacant in another famous town

7. Also 2011 but a long long way from the above.  A secure visitor mooring in a city

8. 2010 and we sit below a distinctive looking lock in which historic town?

9. 2007 found us passing under this high bridge just outside which town?

10 last but not least, we go all the way back to 2006 and here's our old friend Rob steering us past where?

I wonder if anyone can get them all.  If you do, it must be because you've been about a bit because there are four different rivers and four canals represented here.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Anything good about 2020??

 Greetings from Tier 4. We're frantically packing up presents to send by courier to family who now can't join us.  Aah Well.

So the plan was, and still is, to remind us all that one or two good things might have come out of this traumatic year. There must be something. Boating wise, I suppose much depends on whether you live aboard or, like us, cruise purely for the fun of doing it.  I'll have to leave it to the residentials to speak for themselves, but for us this year has brought about a couple of good things.

1. Giving nature a break.  All that reduction in human activity must have been good for mother nature.  less air pollution, less disturbance to nesting birds.  Fish too maybe enjoyed having the water to themselves for a change.  Maybe boating should have a close season likes shooting and fishing.  Hmmm  maybe not.

2. Seizing the day.  Normally we like to do some longer cruises, but this year we've had to grab what time was allowed to us, even if it was only a couple of days pottering up Napton and back.  And did we enjoy it?  Oh yes. Even our main boating trip was less than a week and we savoured it.

3. Slowing down.  Our September trip -all the way from Wigrams to Braunston and back took us a week and we loved it.  We'd normally do that in a day or even half a day if we needed to.  We did actually move every day.  I think one day we cruised for less than fifteen  minutes, just from one mooring space to another for a change of scene. I've generally regarded that stretch of canal as something to push on through but in fact a lot of it is perfect for a short stay.  The sun shone and we found nice wide grassy banks to sit out on.  Kath did her art work, I, um, can't remember doing anything in particular except polishing one side of the boat.  The canal was actually very busy with all sorts of craft enjoying their last fling of summer, but we just sat and enjoyed being out in the sticks.  I think in future we might do a bit more of that, rather than always trying to get somewhere, especially as we get older I suppose.

4. Finally, the kindness of strangers.  Boaters are mostly a friendly lot, but this year I think the shared experience of the lockdowns and all that produced an extra bond and people were looking out for each other in a good way. We could all have a little grumble together, then we'd share our stories and wish each other well and safe.  When we were being a nuisance to our marinas, forever changing our plans, they couldn't have been kinder or more understanding. 

Of course we were lucky in what we should probably now refer to as Lockdown1 because the weather was beautiful for the most part, so sitting on a sofa in the garden all day wasn't exactly a hardship.

So has it been a good year?  Of course not, but at least we survived it and maybe when we get our freedom back we'll all enjoy it a bit more.

Anybody had their jab yet?  My big bro has had his.  I can't wait.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

First ever Triple Award - One human, Two others

As we look forward to the new normal after this strangest of years, it's time to break with tradition and do the unthinkable.  Yes, were giving our first shared award - not only shared, but across species! No I'm not giving an award to a virus. read on.

We like having guests on board Herbie, not only for the social pleasures but occasionally so they can help with the work on lock flights.  This year we were blessed with company with most of our locking all apart from the first day up the Claydon flight.  For the rest of it (mostly up and down Napton like a yo-yo) we had help, which as just as well as I have had exertion difficulties this year.

So thanks go to old pal Rick, grand daughter Grace, and daughter and son Claire and Peter for helping out.  All were enthusiastic, but one stood out for sheer enthusiasm, willingness and determination. So our  winner of 

The winner of the 2020 HerbieAward for Best Crew Member (Human category) 


 Our lovely Grace

Yes, now a teenager, we started her early. Here she is at nearly 4 years old , already hands on the tiller

then at 5, opening lock gates

then at 8, flying solo

Now at 13  she does everything at a lock without needing instruction, including steering the boat into it.  What a star. She's as good or better a skipper as many afloat. Here she is this year (not so keen on being photographed) ready to do a death defying leap on to the pontoon with a rope to pull us in. What a star she is (taught by the master of course).

Aah but who's that acting as lookouts?  Yes it's our Canine winners, the surprisingly well behaved pair of scamps Rosie and Ronnie who kept out of trouble (and out of the water) all the way up Napton Locks and back. And they're even younger than Grace when she started.

And so as we slip silently into Tier 3 at home and wonder what to do at Christmas, we near the end of this years Herbie Awards.  I can't say it's been the best of years, but one or two good things came out of it, so as a finale, next time we'll think about The Best Thing That Happened Because of Covid - all in a canal boating context of course.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Grave humour interrupts Herbie Awards + plus a boat licence question?

Before we get to the Best Crew Members  and all that stuff, I thought  I might share with you a sight that managed to coax a smile out of me even in this dark days of winter /Covid/Brexit etc etc. In the graveyard behind our house I spotted this tombstone  of the unfortunate Mr Pierre Cartal.

I pass no comment and leave you to make up your own. It cheered me up anyhow.

Moving on swiftly, I have a question.

Earlier this year I remember reading that CRT was going to grant a licence extension of a month(?) because of the canals being shut in the spring.  Have I got that right?Does anyone know how they are doing this.? Our licence is due at the end of December.  Will they defer the demand until the end of January?  I can't see anything of the CRT website.  Any info gratefully received.

Herbie Awards approach their thrilling end soon.  Who will be best guest crew member?  Plus, in this Covid year, what is the Best Thing That Happened Because of Covid?

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Best Boat Name for 2020?

Funny old things boat names.  No matter how many boats we cruise past, I can never resist looking at their names. Maybe it's in case it's someone we know, but more often it's to perhaps give some idea of the people who chose its name.  We didn't choose Herbie's name, she came to us with it. Oven ready as some idiot might say,(oh now I'm getting depressed again).  Nevertheless we've got used to Herbie's name despite the odd remark about Volkswagens.  I always think it's a friendly cheery name anyhow although I get bit conflicted about calling Herbie a 'she'.

I've written before about good and not so good names.  Some are downright filthy (I won't even quote the worst and I imagine their owners must be creepy at least), some are yucky- how about Our Destiny? Some are witty like the lovely spoonerised Sailbad the Sinner, or  the naughty but fun  little Jolly Todger we used to see down the GU years ago .  Some are right for the boat and some are not, I mean a big old tug covered in rivets called Titan is good but it would hardly work on a plastic cruiser would it?  I like the tiny plastic cruiser down the Oxford simply called Yoghurt.  Then of course there's the lovely Bones owned by the lovely Bones just to confuse us. And as for all the Dreamcatchers and Narrow Escapes, well they're hardly original are they? And of course there's the quaintly named scruffy old CRT boat called Pride of Slough. And finally as I have said before if I had another boat I might call it AXE, so I could easily manage the sign writing.

All that said, we saw a boat this year with a new slant -  a name that raised a smile because it's super appropriate for the times we are living through.  It couldn't have been planned that way because it wasn't a new boat, but anyway here's a little Herbie Award for it. 

Best Name for a Boat in 2020

Anybody seen a Zoom this year or a Circuit Break?  They'd be good. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Herbie Awards resume - Best Locks

 After our two day "comfort break", well I've been busy, we resume our glittering ceremony with an item of interest to all of us canal boaters.  Best Locks.

Due to this year's extraordinary circumstances we're picking from a pretty limited field here as we've only covered the ground between Cropredy and  Stretton Stop with a brief detour up and down the three Calcutt Locks.

Well let's get Calcutt out of the way shall we?  It's fair to say that that's one set of locks I have learned to dread if the weather is at all windy.  Actually the locks themselves aren't the problem, big and heavy as they are, it's the pounds between them.  The flippin' wind howls across the canal pushing the boat into the concrete bank on the towpath side and it's a real pig to get off again.  Just below the bottom lock we had to do a sharp left to get into the narrow marina entrance (to get our engine mount fitted).  So strong was the wind that we had to use full revs and whizzed through the entrance at such a speed that a poor chap on the pontoon just inside appear to be horror struck as we swerved to narrowly miss his boat.  At that's not the only time we've had to do that.  Rick will well remember an almost identical occasion on a previous visit.

So that leaves us with North and South Oxford canal locks.  After a few years pottering up and down between Cropredy and Oxford, you forget how easy some locks can be.  Much as I love it down through Banbury and beyond it is fair to say that for heavy or broken paddles, and gates that won't fully open, they take some beating.

Hang on, this is sounding like a Worst Locks Award.  Sorry it's just for contrast to explain our delight at travelling through better maintained ones at last.

One of my favourite locks is Broadmoor lock the first one above Cropredy marina, the one where the man sells windlasses and fenders and there is a nice little lawn where he puts out apples for sale.  I'm always glad to be there even when there is one paddle out of action (well this is the South Oxford).  Nice one.

Then after a couple more up the hill we get the Claydon flight.  Well they're quick to do but  that's about all.   Then quite a few hours later we come to the Napton flight. We went down them three times this year and up them twice (work that one out) The paddles and gates are mostly good (well, bloody marvellous in comparison to locks towards Oxford).  What are there - eight or nine of them? On the lower part of the flight, the locks come thick and fast and t all goes pretty smoothly and quickly, or it would do if there weren't queues.  Our grand daughter Grace actually chose to go up and down them twice this summer, just for the fun of it. However, this year because of water restrictions limiting lock hours there were queues of several hours at the top, so in spite of the locks themselves being fine and the chance to see the buffaloes on the way down, and the reward of the Folly pub at the bottom, it would be hard to give them the Award.

So that just leaves us with the Hillmorton locks, arranged neatly in side by side pairs and with their unusual paddle gear, they wind down the hill very nicely.  The paddles are light and the gates are fine.  At least one paddle was out of action this year, but at Hillmorton it really doesn't matter that much.  The duplicated locks not only speed things up, they make for  a nice bit of social interaction with other boaters too. There was a bit of a queue at the top, but considering that the stats regularly show Hillmorton bottom lock to be the busiest on the whole canal network, the delay was minimal. Always a pleasure.

So that's it folks, not many to choose from, but this is 2020, normal rules do not apply


for an Individual Lock  my vote goes to Broadmoor Lock

and for a flight, Hillmorton Locks.  

Hows that?

How about an Award for Best Boat Name?  See you next time.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Two Awards today Best Toy and Best Cruising Stretch

Deciding whether to give Best Toy award to our magnetic letters or to GPS speed trackers all comes down to what mood we're in I guess.  Well folks it's been a tough year for all of us, and in these grey days of winter we all need cheering up so for the sheer fun of it we're going for the Magnetic Letters.  Actually I thoroughly recommend everybody gets a set.  Wouldn't it be fun if we all cheered each other up next year by displaying a cheery message on our boats.  According to the label on the jar, we got ours from (actually Kath bought them for me last Christmas).  Go on, you know you want some.

Speaking of being cheered up, what can beat one of those moments when you say to yourself "How perfect is this? How lucky we are to be here."

 I have to admit there are odd moments when I think "Have we had enough boating?"  although funnily enough those moments rarely happen when we're actually aboard.  Set against that, there are times when I think "Wow, there's nowhere else I'd rather be right now" and this year I had such a moment on our Best Cruising Stretch.  It was a beautiful sunny morning in August and we reaching the furthest point of a leisurely weeks cruise, turning at Stretton Stop on the North Oxford. Before and after turning we chugged very slowly, taking in the peace and the wonderfully dappled sunlight as we passed through All Oaks Wood.  Looking back from the tiller I managed to snap this picture.

Later that day I walked back along there and took this photo of someone else enjoying the same experience which I think sums it up well.

Even at our crawling pace it only took about 20 minutes  each way to get through the wood, but it's lodged in my memory now as a moment when I knew why we go boating.

So the Award for Best Cruising Stretch 2020 goes to All Oaks Wood.

I'd really like to know other people's best moments too.  A bit of shared happiness spread amongst friends wouldn't go amiss. right now.

More awards next time - how about Best Locks - not all that many to choose from this year but there are good contenders.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Best Canal Business 2020 Award plus some toys for boaters

 So for our second Herbie Award winners announcement we decide on the Best Canal Business for 2020.  In this unique and troublesome year we considered the business who had solved problems for us in the most helpful and stress free way, and all things considered for sorting out the complete pig's ear we made of trying to transfer marinas in a sympathetic and trouble free way at virtually no notice:

The Herbie Award for Best Canal Business 

goes to 

Castle Marinas

When Castle Marinas took over ownership on Cropredy and Crick a year ago, we wondered if it would be a move for the better or the worse.  Well certainly for us it saved the day.  The help we have had from Cropredy, Wigrams Turn  and Kings Bromley has been friendly and supportive throughout the Covid cock up.  Thanks folks.

Nominations for Best Boater's Toy.

Now on to a bit of fun.  Usually we give an award for best gadget and of course the idea of a good gadget is that it should be useful for something.  Well folks, sometimes gadgets are allowed to be primarily for fun, so this year we've renamed in Best Boater's Toy.  You don't need any of these things but you might enjoy having them.  I certainly do anyway.

First off a low tech item.  In fact it is designed and sold as a sort of toy, albeit an educational one.  Typically we are not putting it to educational use but to perhaps raise a smile from other boaters.  Here it is.

and here it is put to use.

On our last trip we changed the message every day or two - anything from GRAND ONION CANAL' to ,on a very breezy day, ' BLOWIN IN THE WIND'.  The letters are just magnetic enough to stay put, but easy to move and not strong enough to scratch the paint, and here and there they did raised a smile or a laugh from passers by.  I really like 'em.

Next up, something marginally less frivolous.

The speed limit on English canals is supposed to be 4mph I believe.  Fat chance.  I suppose you could exceed it on a deep wide canal like bits of the Grand Union, but in most places you'd be hard put to even reach 3.5 mph.  So who needs a speedometer?  Nobody, but it is fun and interesting to have one and thanks to the wonders of GPS it's now easy to get.

First I made my own by coding an App for my Android phone. I called it SpeedO

here it is in action.

'but', I hear you ask,' I don't know how to do that'.

Fear not, there are better things you can get either free or very cheaply on your smart phone.  Here's a good one.

This is an app called Pacer that I use for recording my exercise walks.  I have no doubt it will work in recording your boat's movements - it does have a cycling setting so it doesn't have to count steps.  It really does encourage me to keep up the exercise routine, especially as it passes the data on to the Google Fit app as you see here

You get a map showing where you've been, a breakdown of your speeds over different sections of the trip and lots of other stuff.  There are lots of apps like this whether you've got an Android phone or an iPhone.  After collecting this data for a while you could be more realistic about putting in your average speed into CanalPlan if you are planning a trip or trying to work out whether you will reach the pub in time. Or maybe you like to walk the towpath to keep fit.  This will help you set and keep targets, or you could even use it to produce a map of a walk to pass on to a friend. I use another one called Biker for cycling and that gives you instant readouts of your speed.  

Do you really need this stuff? Well not really, but it's good for trying to keep up the exercise, and you can use it as a canal Speedo. I just think it's fun and interesting -a toy.

Is it more fun than magnetic letters?  Find out next time, when we'll also be looking at the most attractive stretch of canal from this year's cruises.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Best Pub Award and nominations for Best Canal Business

 It's not been the easiest of years, 

he may have struggled, 

he may have lost income

 but Mark, the landlord of the Folly Inn at Napton will know it was all worth it just to win

The Herbie Canal Pub of the Year Award. 

for providing a safe, welcoming service during a Covid stricken year

(Deep Joy - a well deserved and popular win)

We'd also like to give a "Highly Commended" to the ever friendly Olive Bush pub at Flecknoe.

Lots of business have struggled this year and lots of them have gone the extra mile to provide a service to their customers, which brings us to our second Herbie Award for 2020.

Best Canal Business.

Who has gone out of their way to help Herbie this year?  In chronological order, all, as it happens, in the same 48 hour period as the first Covid lockdown loomed during our planned trip to Kings Bromely.  Help in a stressful time.:

1. Calcutt Boats who as well as arranging a firm booking for a repair whilst we were en-route from Cropredy to Kings Bromley, gave us safe harbour in strong winds overnight before fitting us a new engine mount and giving the engine a service the next day, performing a job in a morning for which another boat yard had quoted us two days(and a lot more money).

2. Midland Chandlers - who reserved two stoves for us so that we could choose the better fitting one on our arrival with Herbie and allowing the fitting to be done on their customer mooring so that other items such as a new flue could be obtained at the time as needed.  We should also mention their recommended fitter Colin Rowe who was prompt, professional and quick working as well as being cheerful and tidy.  The whole job was a lot faster and cheaper than when we last had a stove fitted.  All this on the very day that lockdown was announced.

3. Later the same day, while we were still on the mooring at Midland Chandlers we reacted to the news of the lockdown by deciding to abandon our move to Kings Bromley marina and hastily contacted Wigrams Turn marina to see if they could accommodate us at short notice.  Two hours later we were safely moored up on a new(to us) berth at Wigrams Turn with nothing to pay as Wigrams and Kings Bromley are all part of the Castle Marinas group.  When the dust settled the moneys were transferred within the group without any palaver involving us.  Kings Bromley still held a place for us pending the lifting of lockdown, only letting it go when we once again abandoned the move in September fearing (rightly) further lockdowns. Despite us messing them about, both marinas have been accommodating and understanding and the £500 deposit that Kings Bromley were holding was knocked of our bill at Wigrams.

We are grateful to them all for making a complex set of problems easy for us at a stressful time.  Who would you give the award to?  The Herbie Award Academy (me and Kath) will meet later today to make our choice.

Meanwhile dear reader, ponder our next award Best Boaters Toy - we used to call this Best Boaters gadget, but let's face it, gadgets are all fun aren't the and this years short list are fun to use.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The 14th Annual Herbie Awards

Yes it's here at last, the moment that both my readers have been waiting for, 

The 14th Annual Herbie Awards

"What will the categories be in this strangest of years?" I hear you ask.  Is there anything to award when so little time has been spent boating?  You bet there is.  We've cruised for 20 days, had jobs done on the boat, been to the pub, faced scary moments, entertained helpful crew and spent happy days is lovely places, so many of the old award categories are ripe for recognition.

Your fully sequined hosts (me and Kath) are on the rostrum and a pile of Golden Envelopes lie ready on the table, so sit back, break out the cheap prosecco and get ready to applaud the illustrious winners.

First up is that old favourite;  Best Pub by the canal.

Despite the cruel but probably necessary temporary closure of so many pubs this year and despite the shortness of our cruises we made efforts to support  publicans where we could.  So we have three nominees for Best Pub (actually they could also technically be nominated for worst pubs visited because they were the only three we managed to find open)

Sadly the Wharf at Fenny Compton was closed the last time we were there in July, but they were still open in March when old friend Rick joined us to help us on our way to Calcutt.  We warned Rick about the huge portion sizes they dish up at the Wharf and he was not disappointed.

Down at Napton, the brilliant landlord mark at the Folly had done a brilliant job of moving the business out into the garden with lots of spaced out seating and a number of marquees to shelter from any bad weather.  

They had obviously put in loads of work to make the place safe and welcoming and I'm glad to say they were doing a roaring trade in the summer months.. The slightly shortened menu was still full of goodies and the excellent Shagweaver bitter was in tip top condition.   

Lastly thanks to a lift from Rick and Marilyn we managed to get up to the Olive Bush at Flecknoe (about a mile from the canal) for their quiz night in March.  Although mainly frequented by locals, this small village pub is very welcoming and they do very good food and drink and an excellent quiz. The locals are full of fun and we always have a good night there.  It was during the week of panic buying in the shops and one local gent came into the bar concealing a toilet roll under his coat joking "Psst , anyone want to buy supplies".  Later, in September we saw signs along the canal saying that the Olive Bush was offering to deliver hot meals down to the canal.  Now that's what I call enterprising.

So only three to choose from but all worthy contenders.  Come back next time for the opening of the Golden Envelope to reveal the winner and to read about nominations for Best Canal Business and how they supported is in difficult times.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Herbie Awards Defy Lockdown

 "Covid or no Covid, we're not letting that Boris kill our tradition," cried elderly boater Herbie Neil, "Our public needs a lift in these trying times.  Even if the year ends in tiers were not letting it end in tears, so the 14th Annual Herbie Awards are going ahead.  We've spaced out the virtual tables and ordered some sequined face masks and we're ready to go."

Asked how awards can be made when so little boating has gone on this year, the old gentleman replied "We'll think of something, we still managed to get in about twenty days of boating this year and we needed the help of quite a few people in one way or another so there's plenty of competition for awards."

This years Award series starts on December 1st, so book your socially distanced seats, wash your hands, slip on your face masks, and bring a substantial meal.  It's about to begin.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Lockdown entertainment -stunt men in the garden

We may not be boating, but we're still getting our kicks at home.  Read on.  Depending on what device you're viewing this on, you may or may not get a very short video.  The video shows on our tablets but not on our phones (no idea why) I'll put a photo as well just in case.

I mentioned during the summer how much pleasure we got from the history and the wildlife in the churchyard behind our house.  Well yesterday we got a another thrilling show from over there from some daring tree surgeons - or perhaps they were stunt men. They might as well have been.

All along the hedge behind our row of houses are a number of huge lime trees.  At a guess, they are seventy or eighty feet tall.  If our one should fall over on our house, that would be the end of our top storey.  

Yesterday afternoon we heard a lot of kerfuffle outside and on looking out of the bedroom window and saw a man high up in 'our' (actually it belongs to the church) tree.  Naturally he was roped up and had a harness and karabiners and all that, but you wouldn't have got me up there. At one point he was about 40 feet up and holding a saw on a telescopic pole as long as one of those fishing poles that men have to raise like tower bridge when we pass underneath aboard Herbie. It must be hard sawing with a thing like that, but branches from some sixty or more feet up were raining down.  Sadly the man at that point was hidden in a tangle of branches near the trunk and I couldn't get a clear photo.  Then, lower down but still much higher than I would have a head for, he emerged along a branch with a hand saw.   Here's the little video for those that can see it, plus a photo for anyone that can't. Would you do this?:  (Click the full screen thingy in the bottom corner of the video to see it big)

Here's the photo.

I'm hoping they'll be back today to do next door's tree.  Oddly, that one will afford us a clearer view.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Is something actually going to get done for Slough Basin??

 Well whaddaya know? It begins to look like CRT and some developers might at last actually be going to do something about the basin at the end of the Slough Arm.  A local newspaper report gives details of a £68m scheme to regenerate the area making an attractive waterfront area and building  in excess of 300 homes (mostly flats I suspect).  I dare say it would be a good long term investment for CRT. I know they've been looking at the idea for some years, so I'm happy to see that it is getting nearer to reality.  The dear old Sough Arm deserves it. 

I would show you the pretty architects' picture of the proposed development but for copyright reasons I'd better direct you with this link to see for yourself.

For those of you who've never ventured down there, and I could hardly blame you, here's what it looks like currently.

 Hardly worth the trip I admit , especially in the summer when the canal is usually choked with weed.  I've often remarked that the canal doesn't properly end, it just stops. 

Now the interesting question will be that if the development goes ahead, will CRT feel obliged to do more about the navigability of the arm?  They did dredge about half of it a couple of years back, but in what I thought was a crazy decision, they dredged the half at the far end.  What use was that when people can't get that far because the arm at the "open" end is mega shallow and weeded up?

It's a pity because despite its poor reputation, much of the arm is really very pleasant with abundant wildlife and beautiful clear (if shallow) water.   If you want to see dragonflies and kingfishers and fish then it's the place to go.

And the other question is will CRT ensure there are visitor moorings not permanently occupied by overstaying residential boats? The pretty picture in the article shows a few shiny boats and what looks like cafes and bars and people strolling in the sunshine.   Having got a "virgin" site, they would have a chance to properly police the place to keep it open to visiting boats.  Once the overstayers are allowed to creep in they are hard to shift.

Some readers may recall a past proposal to extend the canal right through Slough to join the Thames, creating what would be a very attractive route avoiding the problems of waiting for the tide at Brentford.  What a popular route that would make. Sadly there's no mention of that, and indeed it would be a mega  project involving knocking down streets and houses and all that. Having said than I bet it would be a lot more popular than cutting a swathe through a hundred miles of country to save a few minutes on a train trip from London to Birmingham.  The area concerned in Slough is unlikely to be fought over by environmentalists and the Wotsit for the Preservation of Rural England.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Would you like to visit London on your boat? Have your say on moorings.

Many boaters reading this will I'm sure be aware of the situation I'm about to describe.  It's not recent news but an ongoing problem which sees visiting boaters from up country actively discouraged from visiting one of the gems of the canal network.  Right now there's an opportunity to let CRT know how we feel about this.  First let me paint the picture.

In our first few years of having Herbie, we made frequent visits to London, mostly tying up in Paddington for a city break and sometimes continuing on down to Limehouse, or turning off for a trip up the Lee and Stort. It was a joy, and for the first time in our lives we were able to take regular advantage of what the city has to offer without expensive and tedious train journeys and even more expensive hotels.  Later, I joined the Towpath Ranger volunteer gang in London and spent many an hour talking to London boaters and towpath users and seeing from the inside some of the operations of CRT.

When we first started making these visits, we sometimes paused at Kensal Green  for a night or two before moving on in to Paddington.  On the stretch between the two, we saw no moored boats until we got to Little Venice, then on arrival in Paddington it was often fairly full, but we never failed to find a spot to tie up.  The Paddington security guards would pay us a polite visit reminding us that we would be expected to leave after seven (I think) days.

Skip forward ten years and I'll describe our more recent  experiences.   (It's been  a year or more probably since I last patrolled the area, but I'm pretty sure my recollections hold to this day). From the time you arrive anywhere past Acton, the bank will be lined with boats two or sometimes three abreast all the way into Paddington. That's four miles of nose to tail boats virtually all residential.  Your chances of finding a vacant spot are virtually nil.  There are of course moorings designated as Visitor Moorings throughout London, but those occupying them will not be visitors but mostly  boaters resident in London.  It is common to see boaters exchanging mooring spots late at night, so that they can fulfil their time limit obligations without losing a spot.

CRT knows the problem but thus far they have been unable or unwilling to protect the needs of visiting boaters to any proper extent.  There are a couple of spots on Rembrandt gardens which are bookable by visitors.  That's two or three moorings which you might be lucky enough to book in a huge city of thousands of boats.  I'm sure that places in Paddington basin can be found on some days, but they wouldn't be vacant for more than a few hours. Other spots at Camden and Victoria  Park have long since been virtually impossible to obtain.  I think I also read that Limehouse  was now a no no, but you may correct me on that.  How anyone who wishes to make the trip from the Grand Union to the Lee navigation can guarantee to do so defeats me, you cant't reasonably do it in one day, so you need somewhere to stop for the night.

The upshot of all this has been that the uncertainty of finding anywhere to moor has meant that anyone cruising into or through  London from further afield runs a high  risk of finding nowhere to stop.  So most of us, sadly, just don't go there even though we'd love to.  In practice we feel excluded.  Locked out.

CRT has problems enough with managing all the residential boaters in London and that is where much of their energies are spent, but having worked alongside them for some time (admittedly not very recently) they do seem totally absorbed by the issues of London based boaters at the expense of those visiting or passing through the city.

This is not a rant against London residential boaters, it is a plea for the rights of the rest of us.

At the moment they are running another consultation on boating in London, and yesterday I filled in the survey.  If you feel like me, I urge you to do the same.  What I suggested is this.  CRT has a duty to enable navigation through the system and that must include maintaining places where visitors can stop.  Visitor moorings should be for visitors to the city, not for boaters already resident in the area to move back and forth.  It would not be difficult for CRT to issue a distinctive licence for boaters based in London, so that genuine visitors to the city could be identified as such.  In that way a reasonable number of spaces for visitors could be maintained for their sole use and barred to boaters with a London licence.

I get the feeling that CRT feels that very few 'genuine' visitor spaces are needed, and of course that's because so many of us have given up bothering to take the risk to visit or pass through the city.  Were the places available, the people would come - as we have every right to do. 

Rant over.  If you feel as strongly as I do about his issue then spare a few minutes to complete the CRT survey on Managing Boats on London's Busy Waterways.  If you feel so moved, then please encourage others to do so. You can be sure that the boaters from within the city will be eagerly protesting their own needs (as they have every right to do), but those of us who wish to exercise our right as visitors need to speak up.  I don't know about you, but I feel as though London is virtually a no go area for visitors which makes me very sad.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Oh no!? - Aah don't panic. Its OK.


What's that? A big scrape along Herbie's paintwork?  My heart skipped a beat when I arrived yesterday, until that is I realised it was just the reflection of the boat opposite.  Actually she was looking pretty good and all tidy and dry inside, batteries 100% charged (thanks Mr Sun), oh and there were the headphones Kath couldn't find at home.  Successful visit then.  The plumbing is now drained and the deck drains cleared.  There is about 3 or 4mm of rain water in the engine bay but that's nothing.  The best thing I noticed was that even though Wigrams Turn is pretty windswept, (down at the service key the water was very choppy), Herbie is quite sheltered from the prevailing breeze by the surrounding boats so I doubt he solar panels will blow away.    It was a four hour round trip just to check on her, but the peace of mind is worth it.

Wigrams has quite a few residential boaters in the senior citizen category and although a number of them were out and about, they all seemed very anxious to maintain a large social distance, especially from me as someone they don't recognise.  I think the local area of Southam and Rugby is one with a relatively high Covid prevalence so I suppose the marina residents are nervous of strangers.

Back at home, the locals are doing unusual things too.  Look at his picture I took a couple of hundred yards from our house.  

These cars stretching right back to a roundabout on onto a dual carriageway are the rear end of a crawling queue more than three times as long.  I counted forty vehicles in all. Road works?  An accident? Nope, just the queue for a McDonald's drive thru.  When we walked past the restaurant entrance (we pass it on our walk round the local lake) that was heaving with people.  Some lucky businesses seem to be doing well in lockdown, but you have to wonder about their effect on the spread of the virus.  I guess drive thru bit is pretty safe though, you may well get more ill from the dietary effect of eating too much fast food.

Finally, just to cheer you up, I mentioned in my previous post the steep learning curve of using digital recording software. Yesterday I downloaded the user guide to my chosen app (Reaper if anyone is interested). It is 438 pages long!  That should keep me quiet for a few weeks,  I'm currently on page eight, not counting the contents pages.  I don't think I'll be printing it off.  

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Be prepared

 When I were a young lad I rose to the dizzy heights of being a Sixer in the Cubs.  Being a somewhat timid boy, the responsibility weighed heavily upon me but I bore it bravely and tried not to cry when I fell over, or when one  (well five probably) of the cubs in my six questioned my authority.  It stood me in good stead for , erm, nothing in particular, but at least the cubs taught me two things.  The two fingered salute (of which I shall say no more) and the motto Be Prepared.

So with that famous motto in mind, Ive decided to rush  out to Herbie before Thursday's lockdown commencement to explain to her why I won't be able to visit for a while and to do an early winterisation.  Yes, the plumbing shall be drained, the bit in the Morco that can freeze shall be emptied of water, the shower mixer removed and emptied, the temporary double glazing re installed, the rear deck drains cleared of obstruction, the solar panels secured against hurricanes etc etc.  

From all that you may infer that we feel it is unlikely that we will be going boating during what's left of 2020, and you would be correct.  In the fifteen years we have owned Herbie this will be  far and away the year with the lowest number of days on board.  Ah well, can't be helped I suppose.  Something might come along to cheer us up, perhaps as soon as next Tuesday if the US elections go the right way.

Another boaty job has been under way in the meantime, and for lovers of schadenfraude  it amply demonstrates how my DiY inexperience almost invariably leads to folly. Last time we were out boating, the glazed tiles behind Herbie's stove decided to fall off the wall.  The first plan was to stick them back on ( a non trivial task bearing in mind the narrow space in which to work).  Then Kath mentioned that she had always worried about the fire risk of the heat getting through to the wooden bulkhead behind and shouldn't we now take the chance to  deal with that.  So from Midland Sw Chandlers, we got some insulating boards, a bit like plasterboard but less dense and thicker. They're pretty soft and easy to cut to size.  I asked about painting them and the man said that'd be fine, but to make sure to prime the boards first with PVA or else the boards would soak up the paint like a sponge.  We've got a squeezy bottle of PVA at home for Kath's craft work, but I assumed we'd need a larger quantity, so from Wickes I bought a five litre bottle of the stuff.  Only then did I look at some YouTube videos of how to apply PVA as a primer to discover that you need to dilute the PVA by about ten to one with water.  So if anyone needs about 4.75 litres of unused PVA, I'm your man.

Plans for lockdown II? Ideally I'd have a go at writing another book if only the muse would show up, but while I'm waiting I thought I ought to give my kids and grandchildren a present they don't want by making recordings of my musical ineptitude for posterity. For years and years I trod the boards of local folk clubs, singing and playing passable versions of songs I had nicked off records or dug out of books.  I think at one time I might have been able to knock out several dozen of them in the unlikely event that  nobody stopped me.  I've forgotten how to do a lot of them of course, but I can still have a stab at twenty or so.  So I have splashed out on a couple of bits of modest equipment to do the recordings. Who knew microphones were so expensive (even cheap ones!)? and am studying the bewildering world of Digital Audio Workstations aka home recording and mixing software.  Flippin' eck there's a lot to learn. If that wasn't challenging enough, I've discovered another problem.  Finding silence.  The whirr of the computer fan, the gentle hum of the freezer that stands in the spare bedroom where I work, the loud clunk (every thirty seconds) of our beloved Syncronome electro mechanical master clock downstairs, the splashing of the rain against the window pane.   I'll have to avoid Sunday mornings and Thursday evening because of the church bells. Now, even as I write this there's a flippin' helicopter flying around outside. It's not going to be easy folks.  

So that should while away a few days or weeks of winter. It might even last me until we can go boating again.

Stay safe dear readers, and hang in there for the Herbie Awards - they'll go ahead Covid or no Covid.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Lots to see while going hardly anywhere


Making good use of our magnetic letters

I wonder if we've just had the last gasp of summer.  Our few days on the boat ending yesterday were blessed with glorious warm sunshine (albeit at first tempered by a bit of  a breeze).  Sometimes, just occasionally, I wonder if we've had enough of boating, then we have an outing like we've just had and we remember why we love it so much.  The strange thing this time was that we hardly went anywhere, just between Wigrams Turn and Braunston and back.  Although we moved every day, some times our daily cruise was less than half an hour - just as far as the next attractive mooring spot.  For mooring spots we had a list of requirements.

1. A flat wide grassy towpath

2. Arnco piling to chain up to

3. Shelter from the prevailing breeze

4. Not overcrowded

6. An attractive landscape view across the canal

7.  Some blackberries in the hedge.

We didn't always succeed on the blackberries, but we managed the rest.  There are lots of good places along that it of canal.

The reason for going to Braunston at all was to get a new chimney from Midland Chandlers. Our stove replacement just before lockdown (we still haven't needed to light it yet), meant a flue replacement of a narrower bore which our lovely existing chimney made by Alex wouldn't fit. The new (double skinned) one fits well looks smart enough but it won't last as long.

Back on the canal, we've never seen it so busy. You'll hardly believe me but one morning (while we were stationary) I reckon fifty boats passed us in the space of an hour.  Is everyone out having a final fling we wonder.  Some surprising boats too. How about this one?

 These so-called Caribbean Cruisers are ten a penny on the Norfolk Broads, but a truly rare sight on a canal.  I politely pointed out to the driver that the Broads were in the other direction, thankfully he laughed.

And how about this for a boat name?

I bet they didn't know how prophetic that was when they named it.

Here's where I have to confess that we didn't only go to Braunston, we did manage to fit in a short detour to Napton when we set out.  Here we sampled the local produce

From the Napton cidery, and I can declare that it is a decent cut above yer normal bottled cider, as good as a good draft real cider.

We also put on our masks and braved the little Napton village store and succumbed to some lovely pork pies and some flapjacks.  On the way back we stopped to look at the tiny Christadelphian Church with this er, charming notice.

Ever the optimists, the Christadelphians.

On a more pragmatic and enterprising level we saw these little posters by various gates and bridges along the canal.

For those reading on a small screen, allow me to explain that the folks who run the splendid little Olive Bush pub in Flecknoe, a bit of a walk up the hill from the canal, are not only offering take-away meals and drinks but will also 'deliver to bridge 102 after 7.30.'  What a good idea.  We've eaten there two or three times and the food is always very good, so if you're along there, go for it.  There is good mooring at bridge 102.

A couple of final pictures to show we were not just loafing about all week.

I washed and polished Herbie's starboard side.  Here, just before I finished, you can see the before and after shot. Still got the other side to do though :-(

Meanwhile Kath had her sketchbook out recording the local flora with her pen and water colours.

Getting good ain't she?

Well I reckon that was a pretty good six day outing.  Here's to the next one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

September ramblings and some news

Well I can't say I've rambled far this week, but you know me, I do like to ramble on, so here's what I've been noticing in nature. September is a great month for it I must say.

Over in the graveyard behind our house the ground is littered with a bumper crop of acorns. Apparently this is probably what the Chris Packham's of this world call a 'mast' year when oaks produce so many acorns that the squirrels can't eat 'em all.  Oaks do this every few years.Oaks rely on the squirrel's habit of burying caches of acorns to eat later and then forgetting some, which can grow into mighty oaks on the future.  We have one such sapling in our garden. The mystery that remains is how the oaks seem to co-ordinate this effort, because it only really works if they all do it together.

Our resident squirrels live in this big oak that spreads over the graves of a number of illustrious personages.  Lucky them.

One such is George Shuldham Peard who wrote this book

George (we're on first name terms, him being a neighbour) wrote this first hand account describing his experiences in the Crimean war, including the battles of Alma and Inkermann and Balaclava where he witnessed the famous 'thin red line' and the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.  It's a very good read and you can find it easily on the net, including some free to read versions.  Recommended.  

Anyway, I digress.

Apart from crunching on acorns and staggering over the uneven ground cause by the older graves subsiding, you have to watch your feet to avoid the foxholes  which seem to be everywhere in the older part of the church yard.  Every time I go over there I manage to find a fresh one. You can also see bits of bones and abandoned dog's toys and bits of garden bric a brac presumably stolen by the foxes from the neighbouring gardens.

Also in the graveyard is this tree which I think is some sort of cherry although I daren't eat any. Can anyone enlighten me?

No doubt Rick might offer a Latin name for it.  Anyhow, it's fruiting well.  Not fruiting so well this year are the hedgerow blackberries.  There are plenty about but only a small proportion seem to have come to proper ripeness.  Dry summer to blame maybe. Where due out on Herbie this week (see below) so I hope we'll find enough to make us a nice pud.

I think it might have been a good year for bees and other insects.  As I write, sitting in the garden, the ivy which is in flowers on our fence is absolutely alive with bees . There must be over a hundred of them in the space of about eight feet.   Apparently so called Ivy Bees are a species that have arrived here since 2010 or so and are becoming very common in the south of England.  They seem extremely active, especially when the sun is out.  Here's a picture I got of one that obliged by staying still for half a second.

I'm pretty sure Ivy Bees don't sting, so that's a blessing.  Come to think of it, it seems like a good year for ivy blossom too. We've never had so much.  That'll be good for Christmas because I like to hang up bunches of holly and ivy  in the house and the berries look good.  Look how thick the blossom is.

In other news:

It's official.  Our plans to move on up to Kings Bromley marina are now officially on hold until next April.  Meanwhile Herbie will keep her base at Wigrams Turn.  We were thinking of making a dash for it in the next week or two, but we eventually decided against it on looking at the increase in Covid numbers. In particular we didn't fancy having to use public transport or share a car with anyone to get back to our car at Wigrams after reaching KB.  So there it is and here we are, closer to home at least.  The staff at both marinas have been very understanding and supportive  in spite of us messing them about.  The lady at KB did say that a good many boater's plans have gone awry this year. Thankfully they are nearly at full capacity, so they can use the space we were saving.  maybe a lot of boaters who would normally be out have headed into marinas.  Certainly Wigrams was looking fuller last time we were in.

Meanwhile we'll still be doing bits of cruising on Herbie, starting tomorrow with a few days out in the sticks and getting a couple of jobs done like re-tiling the stove surround, or to be more precise, replacing the tiles that have come unstuck and fallen off.  We searched for heat resistant tile adhesive and found some, but you have to order it so we can't get it until next Monday. Well that'll give me time to clean up the old tiles and prepare the surface won't it?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The lull between the storms


Excuse the smeary side of Herbie, I ran out of polish.  Anyhow I'm beginning to enjoy our plastic magnetic lettering.  I've taken to changing the message daily.  Above shows Sunday's message when we only got out of the marina by the skin of our teeth after backing out of our pontoon and doing a 180 and almost getting blown into a lee shore corner.  Yesterdays message was a more cheerful MAY CONTAIN NUTS.

Miraculously we managed to get two days of fair weather in between the storms.  We were planning to go out on the Saturday evening but the wind was far too strong to attempt the difficult reverse and turn out of our pontoon. We had also intended to return on Tuesday morning, but with storm Francis coming in I had visions of all manner of calamities as we attempted to get back into our marina slot, so we opted for Monday afternoon instead.

Not to worry though, in the hours we were out, the weather was fine and although I was fearful of Claire's dogs Ronnie and Rosie running amok they were as good as gold and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Grace (a glutton for punishment) had requested a run up Napton locks and back which in retrospect was perhaps not the best choice as they are getting short of water and there is restricted opening of 10 am to 5pm causing long queues, particularly up at Marston Doles top lock where we heard that people were waiting three hours.  It was just as well then that we stopped and turned at the old engine arm and moored there for the night before coming back down next day ahead of the pack.

These delays must be a nightmare for hire boat companies and their customers with delays like that, especially with days of severe wind causing boats to lie up.  Either boaters would not reach their intended goal or they would get back late and cause all sorts of problems for the boatyard.  Having said that, all the hirers we met were very cheery and having a good time.

Coming back down was a breeze, about as good as a descent of a flight of locks could be. I think we had a boat coming up at every lock so the work was easy,  and we arrived back at the Folly well before lunch.

Miraculously there was virtually no wind when we got back to Wigrams Turn, so it occurred to me that if ever there was a time to attempt the difficult turn and reverse into our pontoon, this was it.  The geometry of the place makes it really difficult with boats and pontoon posts close all round us, fore, aft and sideways, but I'm happy to say I did it.  Here we are almost back in with Grace preparing to leap to the pontoon with the rope while Ronnie and Rosie keep a close eye on my performance.  (No I wasn't holding a camera while doing that, I think Claire took the photo from her perch on the gunnel.)

Of course , in the time honoured manner, sod's law prevailed  and no one was watching, unlike when we made a pigs ear of getting out at the start of our cruise when we had a couple of horrified onlookers from the pontoon opposite..

So a short but happy cruise capped off nicely when Claire and Grace did all the hard work of loading the trolleys of stuff to taking all our gear back to the car and loading it up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Reservoir watching and general messing about

 Blimey, I just Googled 'canal reservoir watch' and this is what came up;

I don't know about you, but if I couldn't bring myself to spend three and a half grand on a watch, in fact I get a bit annoyed that anybody does.  Surely there are better things to spend it on.  

Anyhow, I digress.  Just below was the CRT page I was looking for and I'm happy to tell you that despite my garden at home looking pretty brown and shrivelled until the last few days, the July reservoir figures look pretty healthy for this time of year.  Most of them were above 80% and have not dropped much since the previous month.  Wait a minute though, when did we get the all clear to go boating again?  Hmm, the canals are very busy right now, so maybe next month's figures wont look so good. Although on third thoughts, we've had a lot of rain just recently (and in fact as I write), so maybe they may be so good.  Oh I don't know, let's wait and see shall we?

We've had another family request for a short cruising break so on Saturday, if we're spared, were taking Claire and Grace out for a couple of days.  Grace must be bonkers because she's asked to go up and down the Napton flight again.  I reckon the lockdown  and no school has addled her brain.  I blame that education secretary who looks suspiciously like Alan Partridge.

In a bid to keep get fit, I've been out cycling most days.  Sadly I seem to have been left out of the Tour de France pick yet again so I'm having to content myself with the Tour de South Bracknell - six miles amongst a maze of cycle paths where I frequently seem to get lost.  You don't realise how hilly your area might be until you get on a bike.  Admittedly we don't have huge hills but the town profile is very rolling so it's a constant up and down.  Anyway I'm pleased to report that it is helping to bring my blood pressure down, if not my weight.

In other news, I have made my second focaccia bread, this time not from a bread mix but from the basic ingredients and  I bunged in some olives and rosemary and it was about right I thought.  

 Ooh one other thing, I have found the optimum price to charge for my two block buster novels.  Last week I got rid of 132 copies which is brilliant.  The downside is that the optimum price I set was £0,00.  I wonder if anyone who downloads free books ever reads them.    I worked out that at the rate Amazon pays me if they sold for £1 a copy, I'd have to sell 1090 copies a week to earn the National Minimum Wage for a 35 hour week.

Next time I write, we'll probably be up to our neck in buffaloes.  Those familiar with Napton locks will know what I mean.