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.