Monday, October 11, 2021

Off topic ramblings

 I have nothing Herbievourous to tell you today so purists might wish not to read on.  For those who are left, here is some irrelevant news.

Twice in the last week we have been visited by grandchildren who within hours of seeing us tested positive for Covid.  I mentioned Grace in my previous post.  Now it's the turn of her big brother Jacob. He came to stay the night at our house so as not to mix with Grace.  He had been routinely tested at work and got an email next morning to say he was positive, so he's gone back home with Grace.  Mercifully Kath and I seem OK so far.

Someone out there might know of Stanley Accrington ( a popular entertainer and master of puns and anagrams m'lud).  I wrote to him four years ago asking for the words of a song which included the immortal words "Why must I be a dyslexic in vole?" Another line had something about a tin leg running down his spine. This week, out of the blue, he emailed back. How's that for a quick reply?! Cunningly he invited be to buy his DVD with 180 of his songs on it, warning me not to listen to them all at once.  I succumbed.  I have thoughts of sitting through them as a sponsored marathon listen for a dyslexic charity.  Apparently Stanley had to stop singing that particular song in public due to objections that is was unkind to dyslexic folk.  Draw your own conclusions.

My friend Steve, a keen amateur naturalist saw a great white egret at a local lake last week - there are only 35 in Britain so he was chuffed.  Little egrets have become much more common of course. and occasionally visit our canals.  In France they have a lot of egrets although as you all know, Edith Piaf famously claimed so have seen none.

I can't understand what is going on with my novels.  I put them up for free on Kindle the other day, expecting a few dozen to be taken as usual. (Over the last six months actual paid sales at a quid or so have been zero.) This time, after three free days it's up to 1700 and counting! That's never happened before.  Of course how many takers actually read the books is another matter, but it's puzzling.  As Harry Worth used to say "I don't know why but there it is" . I thought maybe there were not many free ones out this week on Kindle, but I checked and there are tens of thousands of them.  Apparently my second book "A Good Hiding" is ranked number 3972 in the best free seller lists and number 51 in General Humourous Fiction.  Result!  The other one is ranked 10,044. Booker prize judges please note.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Seizing opportunities to get knotted

 If you read my previous post you will know that I had a go at doing eye splices at the end of a bit of rope.  Rope work, as anyone who has tried it will tell you, is strangely therapeutic.  With me it all started when I was a young whippersnapper making my own fishing rods.  This required doing a lot of whipping to secure the rings that the line goes through onto the rods.

Nowadays a quick look at youtube will reveal any number of people showing you how to do knots and spices and various types of whipping.  I found that they all look helpful until you try to do it, then somehow it doesn't seem so simple in reality.  However I have found one youtuber that has the knack of clarity, probably because he is slow and long winded and tells you everything at least twice.  Now in normal circumstances such a person might be construed as a bit tedious, but in this case it's a real blessing because you get time to absorb the information properly.  Sadly I didn't find his video until after I'd done my eye splices, so I'm going to do some more now and get them right this time.

So if you fancy a go at splicing something like this:

or putting a really neat end to your ropes like this:

or doing something fancy like this:

The chap I would recommend is  youtuber Johnny Debt.  

Have a go, I bet you enjoy it.

Here are the links to the three I've shown above (there are several more)

Eye splice:

Sailmakers whipping:

Ring splice:

As I said, he is charmingly long winded which for my money is exactly what you want. If you are a complete beginner then start with the sailmakers whipping which is easy and very satisfying.

In other news:

Kath and I are awaiting results of a PCR test after having had a visit last weekend from our Grace who later that day tested positive for Covid  and is rather poorly but not dangerously so.  We have no symptoms so I suspect we're in the clear.

In yet more news, if there is anyone out there who has inexplicably failed to have read either of my blockbuster novels Jobs for the Boys and A Good Hiding, they are completely free on Kindle from 8 -12 October. I re read them myself recently as if after all this time they were written by someone else and they made me chuckle. Not a totally unbiased opinion I admit. Or for traditionalists they are still cheap (as cheap as Amazon allows) as paperbacks.  Search for on Amazon for Herbie Neil.

Or should you ever bump into us on the cut, I'll happily give you a paperback copy.  Got to get rid of them somehow:-) 

VIRUS UPDATE: Our PCR tests came back negative, so that, if you get my meaning, is a positive result :-)

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Uptight alright

 Bob, who moors a couple of boats along from us, passed on a trick he'd learned from another boater -reportedly an elderly lady single hander.

Picture this.  You bring your boat in alongside some sheet piling and want to quickly tie up.  Maybe there are passing boats which are pulling your boat around as they pass.  Time is of the essence. What you need to so is to tie off one end of the boat very quickly, then run up to the other end to secure that. Well here's the trick.

Today I made up a rope like this.

Just a short length with a loop on each end.  Don't look too closely at my splicing, I'm not sure it's quite right, but it is strong.

One end drops over the dolly at the back of the boat, the other end goes through your piling clip or chain which has been dropped through the piling beam, then back over the dolly. This should be quicker than having to tie off with a knot at the dolly.  Then you nip up to the front of the boat and tie off there in the normal way pulling the boat forward  so as to tighten the short rope at the rear.

I'm not sure what is the ideal length of rope, at six feet mine will give a reach of three feet  from dolly to clip.   I think that'll be about right in most places.

Well I haven't tried it yet of course but that's the theory.  Bob says it works for him.

I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has tried this.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

HS2 Monster Munch

Strange munching and graunching noises came from over the hedge as we came back up past Wood lock on the way back from Leamington. It didn't take us long to spot the reason.

Yes it's the dreaded HS2, munching its way through the countryside courtesy of gert big yellow tractory things. .  You can see the big cutting in the distance, while over on the other side of the canal is a man made mountain of mud, presumably ready to lift the line over the canal, and some sort of plant works, perhaps to make concrete or whatever.  

In a couple of years or so people will be hurtling over the canal at what I calculate to be mach 0.3 while we cruise beneath at 3 mph. How strange is that. I'm not sure how many times HS2 will cross a canal, at least four I think.  I should think the trains will be going too fast for the passengers to wave at us.  All presuming of course that it ever gets finished and that the trains actually work.

We did our own bit of munching by the canal on our last night, courtesy of our trusty Cobb barbecue thingy which takes its time but doesn't incinerate your food like a normal barbecue can.  This time it was a veggie meal, peppers, courgettes, baby leeks, mushrooms and halloumi. All tucked into tortilla flatbreads and washed down with a swig of malbec.  Yum!

Don't tell me you don't fancy a bite of that.  

I don't suppose we'll get many more such balmy evenings this year.

When we first bought Herbie we earned ourselves a reputation for picking the worst weeks to go boating.  Many was the soaking we got, much to the amusement of our fellow moorers.  Since then we seem to have got either wiser or luckier.  This last week has been absolutely perfect.  The sun shines on the righteous.

Friday, September 24, 2021


 Flights of locks always look a bit daunting when you come to them don't they? Once you get going though, especially if you have crew to set the lock ahead it all becomes quite fun. Here we are at the bottom of the Stockton flight, big locks but not too heavy, I'll take them over Buckby any day. Half way up we caught up with Nb Zola who we met earlier in the week and are our newest good friends. Locks can be like that.  Tomorrow Zola's skipper is booked in to Willow Wrens very smart looking trading centre near the top of the locks for an engine maintenance course.

Also half way up the locks I chatted to a volunteer lockie about our practice of only using one top paddle to fill these locks. The boat sits nice and still, and according to the lockie, his mate at Hatton locks reckons  you only save about a minute over using two paddles. I suppose that mostly applies when a single person is doing it.

Last night we moored at The Cuttle pub to give it a try. A good mooring (if a tad shallow) right opposite The Two Boats.

 Between them they would make a good pub. As it is the Cuttle has the better beer and the Two Boats the better food. The two boats seems to be winning on the popularity front though, being very busy on the benches canal side. It looks proper nice after dark. I think it gets my vote.

Keen photographers will see I missed a trick there. I should have captured more of the pub' s reflection in the canal. Doh!

Now we're moored barely a half mile from our marina enjoying a final afternoon and evening on the towpath before finishing our short holiday. I admit I was a bit reluctant to agree to go down to Leamington just to turn and come back, but it's turned out to be a lovely trip.  Typical Grand Union, hard work but well worth it.

PS for a change I thought I'd do this post on my phone. It seems to work ok.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Fun and sun on the descent to Leamington

 I've always said that September is a good month for cruising - much more reliable weather wise than the earlier summer months. The weathermen were over pessimistic to start with this week.  Here we are at Ventnor on Saturday night when it was supposed to be raining.

And so now we are enjoying a lovely sunny week tootling down to Leamington and back.  It's been so long since we last came down here that I'd forgotten what most of it looked like, and it's a pleasant surprise.  Mind you, with all those big locks it needs to be. Sunday got us from Ventnor down the ten locks to Long Itchington with a quick stop for a swift half (OK, pint) of shandy to cool us down at the Blue Lias

 where the garden is somewhat better than the pub IMHO.  Then off down the last two locks to Itchington where we were amply and tastily fed  at the Two Boats.  Here I note that the beer pump clips are headed "Charlie Wells" - I wonder if he's turning in his grave at such familiarity.

Our Peter who is travelling with us was a bit distracted on day one, feeling a bit guilty having left his cat Bella at home to be fed daily by friends.  Then the little videos started coming in showing she was perfectly happy and he cheered up considerably.  Bless.

Monday was fun, still sunny and travelling along side by side with a merry crew on Andrew one of Calcutt's boats they hire out to ex Navy people.  At the Bascote staircase locks we performed the famous double shuffle with boats top and bottom changing places mid lock.  The crew coming uphill were a bit reluctant at first until I persuaded them that I'd done it dozens of times (actually it's only twice and  many many years ago). Everybody was slightly amazed that it worked. Here we are safely tucked up in the bottom half having completed the sliding puzzle trick.

Lunch was a rather longer affair than we had planned because just as we were finishing our sandwiches on the towpath, a passing boat yelled "Oi Herbie", and who should it be but that old rascal Maffi and the lovely Susan.  So that took care of the next hour.  I can't tell you how many times we've been ambushed by old Maffi (actually he's younger than me) but it's a few.  There's no escape. So now we're up to date with all the canal gossip of course.

Then on to a quiet mooring where we had a barbie in our trusty cobb after which we filled it with sticks 

and sat in the dark warming ourselves in the wood smoke so that our clothes this morning smelled like kippers -aah well, it was worth it.

Now having shopped at Morrisons by the canal in Leamington, we're heading back.  I was surprised how much mooring there is in Leamington.  How safe it is I don't know, but there's lots of it.  Right now we're tied up at Radford which is very pretty.

I don't think we would have considered coming down here this week had we not taken up our mooring at Ventnor, but it's been lovely - if somewhat hard work. All this canal needs is a couple more pubs in strategic spots and it'd be a winner.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Slow burner

I fancy I might have just broken a world record.  I mean, how long does it take you to light a fire?  Can you beat 18 months?  Thought not.

We had Herbie's new stove fitted last March on the very day that the first Covid lockdown was announced.  The same day we rang up Wigrams Turn marina and asked "Can you take us in for a few weeks until all this blows over?"

Well our stay at Wigrams turned out to be 18 months and all that time we weren't near Herbie in weather cold enough to light the new fire.  And here we are today barely a hundred yards from where they fitted the stove in Braunston and it's just about cold enough so I dug out the old kindling and some coal  and after three attempts we have a fire going.  It always takes a little while to learn the foibles of a new stove.

The canals are a little bit quieter now the schools have gone back but the hire boat companies are still doing well.  Kate Boats seems to have a Monday start.  Loads of them came past last night as we moored up just a spit from Wigrams Turn.  Most seem to be doing well but one poor chap really hadn't got the hang of the tiller at all and was paying frequent visits to the bushes.  I helped out when he ran aground just past Herbie and then he got going only to repeat his error another twice.  Bless!

Kath popped in to Calcutt Boats to buy a couple of ice creams while the top lock was filling.  The lady in there said that this year had been their best ever for hiring and quite a few punters immediately re-booked for next year when they got back.  Staycations rule OK.

Our new mooring at Ventnor Marina continues to be a delight. Over the weekend they held the annual moorers' barbecue 

which was a good chance to make new friends, and next morning the Moorers' Association breakfast with as many bacon rolls as you could manage to eat and more new friends made. 

We took a stroll round both basins, picking blackberries as we went.  All nicely landscaped with lots of attractive sitting out areas on the banks.  We were surprised to find that the walk was over a mile when we got back, so that gives some idea of the scale of the marina.

We're just out for a few days before our Peter joins us at the weekend when I fear we will tackle the run down to Warwick and back if the 44 big heavy locks (22 each way) don't kill us.  I hope my pacemaker keeps working.

Speaking of which, I went in for a pacemaker check last Wednesday.  Very straighforward now I'm bluetooth enabled. All was fine.  The man asked how I'd been and I said fine apart from just a couple of occasions when I felt breathless after exertion and my pulse dropped to 60 bpm.  (pre pacemaker I was running at 38!).  "Aah yes", he said, peering at his computer screen,  "I see you had a couple of episodes, one on August 27th and one on September 4th.  Nothing to worry about. Mild fibrillation which the pacemaker dealt with."  Clever or what?

Sunday, September 05, 2021

In the pink


Somebody once told me there's only one day a year when the weather is right for painting a boat. Well it certainly ain't today.  Too flippin' hot.

Nevertheless after yesterday's rubbing down and crack filling and rubbing down again and sweeping and mopping up the dust, then seeing bits I missed and filling, rubbing and sweeping and mopping again, this morning I managed to slap on a coat of alarmingly pink primer undercoat.

Now in the heat of the afternoon I think that coat has dried, but it's far too hot to start on the top coat. Any way first I need a gentle rub over the undercoat and another sweep and mop first.

I'm exhausted already, and this is only the starboard side handrail I'm doing. I'm currently staring at a nice bottle of (alcohol free)  cider which I would happily drink if only I hadn't lost the bottle opener.

Naturally I couldn't make all that noise and mess in the marina so I'm parked on the towpath outside and very nice it is too. If anyone wants about two tons of crab apples, this is yer spot.

Will I get a top coat on today? Only if it cools down early enough. Don't want to have wet paint exposed to dew in the night.

Sod's law prevails.

A couple of hours later it cooled down enough

" Job's an ok 'un", 
but far from perfect. The wood is too old and worn, so still a bit lumpy despite all the sanding and filling. Still it looks a lot better than it did.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Caught red handed?

 Having wooden handrails on a narrowboat is a bit of a mixed blessing.  On the one hand (forgive the pun), they never get too hot/cold to touch in summer/winter.  Plus when in good nick they look dead smart.

On the other hand they seem to need painting a lot more often.  I've actually lost count of how many times I've done it now.  Last time, rubbing down and painting in the evenings during a boat trip I made something of a botch job.  It's all in the prep as they say, and I rushed it, plus I painted on quite hot days and it's peeling and lifting all over the place.

So this time I have to get serious about the prep, getting off as much old paint as I can and doing a proper job with wood filler in scarf joints, cracks and screw holes, then using a good exterior wood primer etc etc.  A non trivial task - especially in the groove where the wood meets the metal on the side of the boat. And of course there's about 80 feet of it.

So this weekend you'll see me out on the towpath somewhere between Ventnor marina and Calcutt locks, away from other boats who may not wish to be red,  and covered in red paint dust.  I might even have red hair.  Won't that be nice?

Friday, August 20, 2021


1. Written on Thursday evening:

Here we sit, on the back of Herbie at our new Ventnor berth, gazing out across the still water to the reeds beyond.

The only sound is the gentle plop of our neighbour Bob's car keys as he drops them in the water, followed by the inevitable clunk of his Sea Searcher magnet as it clamps to the side of his boat’s hull instead of lowering to the lost keys below. This is the life.

Miraculously, he did retrieve them and despite being the electronic variety, they still worked.  Ventnor is indeed a magical place.

When we pulled into the marina this afternoon, Karen the marina manager was waiting to greet us on our pontoon and swiftly offered a lift in her car back to Wigrams Turn to collect our car. How nice was that? We've been made to feel very welcome.

The boat next to us is called Tranquility, when we pulled in I had to restrain myself from shouting "Tranquility base - the Herbie has landed".

Before dinner we took a walk to view the other basin. Ours is called Sunset, the other being Sunrise . Sunrise is nice enough, but I'm happy to say that there's hardly a spot in the whole marina that I would swap for the one we have. How lucky are we?

In other news, yesterday I managed without difficulty to climb the steep footpath from Braunston marina up to the village. This photo doesn't do it justice.

Those familiar with that path will testify to the fact that it takes a bit of puff at the best of times. A month ago I could never have managed even a half of it. Thank you NHS.

Down at the marina entrance the dear old Gongoozlers Rest cafe was doing a brisk trade.

At the moment service is outside and people eat in the adjacent little tea garden. Miraculously we resisted temptation and passed by opting instead to visit the Aladdins Cave of Tradline Fenders to buy some shiny stainless steel shackles for our fender ropes and some nice whipping cord to tidy up the ends of our mooring ropes. I love doing whipping - a skill I learned in my youth when I used to build my own fishing rods.

I must be feeling better because I've made a start on some badly needed jobs on Herbie. The wooden hand rails are in a terrible state, presumably because I did poor prep last time I painted them. Now paint is peeling everywhere.  This time I'm being more thorough and have discovered that an abrasive flap wheel on my drill gets the old paint off nicely. It won't be quick but I'll get there.

I've been giving Herbie a wash and polish too and that's only half done as you can easily see in this next photo. Eighteen months of lockdown neglect has taken its toll on the paintwork.

My magnetic letters have been a hit with passers by this week. I've had lots of comments of approval and amusement. Everybody should get some.

2. Friday:

Now back home for a bit. What a joy it was not to have to trek half way round the marina to pack the car.

We hope to be back to Herbie very soon, those jobs won't finish themselves.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Transfer news shock!

 As the excitement of Lionel Messi’s transfer to PSG dies down in the world’s press, news is coming in of an even more dramatic and unexpected transfer, this time suprising all parties involved.

“Only a week ago we had no thoughts of such a move,” explained bewildered elderly couple Neil and Kath Corbett,  “and now it’s practically done and dusted. Job’s a good ‘un as they say”

The Story unfolds - as told by the aged couple

It all started when we had a couple of days to kill while we waited for our daughter Claire to join us on the boat for a short cruise  Where could we go to keep young Grace amused without straying too far from our base at Wigrams Turn? Grace wanted to do some locks, so no good heading up to Braunston and back.  No good either going up and down Napton because that’s what was planned for when Claire joined us.  OK, we thought, that just leaves Calcutt locks.  But they’re only ten minutes away, what do we do after that?  Hmm well we could go and turn round at Ventnor marina, but that’s only another ten minutes.

“Ah haa”, quoth the skipper, “ Ventnor is a Castle Marinas marina, same as Wigrams.  We have the right to moor there free for a short period.  Let’s stay the night there and have a look around.”

A quick phone call set it up and we duly pulled in to Ventnor to be greeted by harbour master Chris who gave us a super warm welcome and a tour round.  It’s a lovely marina, well landscaped, tranquil, plenty of wild life, car parking near your boat, easy to get in and out, excellent facilities.  What’s not to like? “Blimey, this is much nicer than Wigrams”, we said, “ In fact it’s probably better than any marina we’ve been in until now. We ought to come here after our contract with Wigrams runs out They need three months notice.”

“Why wait?” said Chris, “I’m pretty sure you could transfer now and we can sort out the arrangements with Wigrams. We’re all the same company after all.”

And that dear reader is what seems to have happened. 



Just like that. I think we'll be just to the left or the red and blue boat in this picture. So instead of returning to Wigrams later this week, we’ll be pulling into our new berth in this sheltered corner of  Ventnor where we’ll sign on for twelve months.

Wigrams is not a bad marina, not at all. It’s well run by good people, but it’s more of a bustling boatyard.  Lots of boats packed into a small space, a busy hire fleet on site, lots of liveaboard boaters and a long haul from the car park to your boat with all your gear. Well located, yes, but tranquil it ain’t.

So virtually by accident Herbie suddenly has a new home in spacious green calm surroundings and only a mile or so away from her previous berth.  We’re in shock!

Monday, August 02, 2021

Watch my stats

 Well it's nearly a week since they fitted my pacemaker, so I'm beginning to get an idea of how I'm doing.  The dressings are all off and I'm left with a neat two and a half inch scar just below my collar bone.  Still a bit tender and I'm supposed to be going carefully for a while.

Thanks to my trusty smart watch I'm getting loads of stats to ponder over. Just over a week ago my average pulse rate was 38 bpm and my ECG trace was an intermittent scramble of random squiggles.  Here's how it looks today after a short walk down"Dingly Dell" near our house.


So that's amazingly regular and a lot quicker.  I must be getting double the blood flow to my muscles and brain.

I get lots of exercise stats from the watch  too.  Here are a few from our short walk.

This first one shows pulse rate and walking speed over the walk.  You can see from the blue line see we stopped frequently to look at butterflies and (as it happens) wild raspberries. I don't think this app has a feature showing gps elevation so you can't see that there is a steep path towards the end.

So as you can see here we only did 15 minutes of aerobic exercise in a 20 odd minutes walk.  Enough for me just now, I'm not supposed to stress the wound while the pacemaker and the wires settle in.

Here are overall figures.  The watch keeps a record on my phone so I can watch my progress.  Good innit?

In general I'm feeling quite a bit better.  Of course I'm outrageously unfit because for the last few months my condition has prevented me from doing much exercise beyond very gentle strolls and no hills. So  for now, so far, so good.

On the downside, if you would like me to umpire your next cricket match, I can only oblige if you promise not to hit a six because for the time being I am forbidden to lift my left arm above my head so I couldn't signal the six to the scorer.
 Furthermore, anyone planning to exploit the long odds on me getting the taekwondo gold at the Paris Olympics had better put their money elsewhere as I am advised to give up contact sports.  As for my cage fighting career, that has been cruelly snatched away before I ever got going.  Well, you can't have everything.

Talking about contact sports, isn't that what people call boating when the bump into your boat? I'm not giving that up (I mean the boating not the bashing). We seem to be getting an alarming number of email alerts from CRT about damage to locks and gates lately.  There must be some right idiots bashing about out there. I see yesterday someone managed to sink a boat in Cassiobridge lock.  I hope it didn't belong to some unfortunate hire boat co.  The lost deposit wouldn't cover much of the cost would it?

Toodle pip.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Bionic Man

 Thanks to those who sent messages of support about my pacemaker appointment and those who just thought it.

Now I am at home after a successful fitting today. A bit sore but otherwise fine. It took three attempts to attach the ventral lead in a place where it got a good signal, but apart from that everything went smoothly.  It's too early to tell but the early signs that my symptoms are much improved and my pulse is now well in the normal range.

 More later.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Uncle Bert and the light at the end of the tunnel

 When I were a lad, we had a permanent lodger in our house.  Dear old Uncle Bert, my mum's bachelor brother.  Imagine the BFG in Steven Spielberg's film of that name.  That's my uncle Bert (well somewhat larger than Bert but just the same in all other respects, tall and broad, big nose, very rustic and kindly).  Bert used to take me to the pictures on Sunday afternoon and he would give me sweets and a bit of pocket money.  At home he did his best to be invisible, and every night he'd disappear down to the British Legion club for a pint or four of scrumpy. On Coronation day in 1953 after a few scrumpys he climbed the giant sequioia tree next to the village church to put a flag on the top.  I don't think he would have contemplated it sober.  Bert was a man of very few words and never complained about anything, except when he had a bad bout of flu or a 'bilious turn' when he would admit he felt "proper middlin' ".

Why am I telling you all this?  Well lately (actually for quite a long time) I've felt proper middlin' too, which is why we haven't been boating.  It's the old ticker not working properly.  For a long time my consultations with the doctor got no further than changes of blood pressure pills, plus aspirin and larger statins.  18 months ago I had an angiogram in the hope of a stent putting me right, but they found my coronary arteries weren't bad enough for that.  I even considered going to Steve at The Repair Shop, but it turns out he is an expert in the wrong sort of ticker. So, recently I had a good go at the doctor complaining that my lifestyle was heavily compromised because I couldn't do anything involving more than very mild exercise before getting breathless and dizzy.  Even a gentle stroll is a trial if I meet a tiny slope. I'm not sure what I said, but suddenly they started treating my problem with a lot more seriousness.  Maybe it was because my pulse had dropped to an average 39 bpm. Only a week or so later I got an appointment to have an "ambulatory ECG monitor " fitted.  I wore this gubbins for 24hrs then took it back to the hospital next day and had an echocardiogram (which is great fun, I wish they gave you the video afterwards).  That night I got a phone call from the consultant's secretary - he had seen the results and wanted to make sure I had come off the beta blockers (I had some while back, because even I knew they slowed the heart). She also said I would be getting a letter with an appointment to have a pacemaker fitted asap.  

At last! A light at the end of the tunnel (a tunnel as miserable and tortuous as that at Braunston where for long periods you can't see the other end ).  Apparently I am suffering from 2:1 heart block (Most of the time my heart is missing like a badly timed diesel engine) with occasional bursts of total heart block (I prefer not to think about that too much).  It's an electrical thing where the heart chambers are not properly triggering in sync.  Just the job for a pacemaker apparently.  According what I have read, they make a helluva difference.  If either of my readers has one, I'd be happy to hear how you got on.  So I get my new gubbins fitted on Tuesday week.  Hooray.  Then I have a shortish period of convalescence while the wires heal themselves into the surrounding tissue so they don't come loose (no waving my left arm in the air) and hopefully job's a good 'un.  So, it shouldn't be too long before we're back on the water.  Late August maybe, providing another lockdown isn't in the offing.

Downsides?  I'll have to keep away from our SeaSearcher magnet on the boat, and only use our Peter's induction hob at arms length.  Last night I panicked that I wouldn't be able to use my electric guitars because of the pickup magnets near my chest, but I looked it up and apparently it's ok. Thank you Google.

Updates for the curious will follow when it all happens.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Terms and conditions fun

 CRT's recent revision of terms and conditions for boat licences makes a fun read.  There's an awful lot of loophole filling regarding the shenanigans of 'continuous cruisers' who don't continuously cruise and overstayers on 14 day moorings.

So now we know what a 'place' or a 'neighbourhood' is.  They even quote the Oxford English dictionary definitions of a place and of navigation so as to clearly state what they mean by navigating from place to place.  Of course they've had to go to these rather ridiculous lengths to deal with the Smarty Alec barrack room lawyers who try to get around the obvious intent of the terms and conditions.   

And it's no good saying you can't move because you need to be near work etc.

Unacceptable  reasons  for  staying  longer than  14  days  in  a  neighbourhood  or  locality  include  a  need  to stay  within  commuting  distance  of  a  place  of  work  or of  study  (e.g.  a  school  or college).   

Here are a couple more titbits

Importantly,  short trips  within  the  same  neighbourhood,  and  shuttling  backwards  and  forwards  along  a small  part  of  the  network  do NOT  meet the  legal  requirement  for  navigation  throughout the  period  of the licence.

What the  law  requires  is  that,  if  14  days  ago the  boat was  in  neighbourhood  A,  by  day  15 it must  be in  neighbourhood  B  or  further afield.   Thereafter,  the  next movement  must  be  at  least to neighbourhood  C,  and  not  back  to  neighbourhood  A.

And there's an interesting bit about boats trying to avoid detection by not displaying it's name or licence number.

If,  at  any  time,  the  Boat  name,  index  number or  Licence  are  not  visible  as  per  condition  10.1  We may  place  a  sticker on  the  Boat or on  any  cover on  the  Boat showing  the  number,  which  must not be  removed  unless  the  number is  displayed  in  another way. 

There are also bits about CRT's legal entitlement to cross one boat to get to another moored alongside or to cross private land to access a boat.

Widebeams, now proliferating as floating homes, although not specifically identified are warned that they must not use parts of the system unsuitable for their navigation, or must not moor where they constitute an obstruction.

Interestingly CRT is obliged to admit in the text that

This  Guidance  does  not  have  the  force  of  law  but seeks  to interpret the  law as  set out in  s.17  of the  British  Waterways  Act 1995 .  

 However it quotes legal precedent showing what a court is likely to think 

The  Guidelines  issued  in  2008  were  considered  by  the  court  in  the case of  British Waterways  v  Davies  in  the  County  Court  at Bristol.   The  Judge  expressly  found  that Mr Davies’ movement of  his  vessel  every  14  days  (whilst remaining  on  the  same  approximate  10  mile stretch  of  canal  between  Bath  and  Bradford  on  Avon)  was  not  bona fide  use of  the vessel  for navigation.   These Guidelines  have been  updated  and  refined  in  the light  of  that  Judgment.    

Of course all this comes a bit late.  I can't really see CRT breaking up the hundreds (or is it thousands?) of continuous moorers in London and other cities in the short or even medium term.  Having these rules is all very well but it would take a tremendous amount of effort and pain to enforce them rigorously in places like London.  The boaters there are well organised and vociferous in defence of their right to a floating home.  Of course my reply would be yes, you have a right to your home (boat), but not to any particular bit of public canal bank which other people may need to use.

I well recall an employee of CRT in London who had daily problems dealing with what he called 'the triangle of pain' around east London saying to me "well we can't be too hard on these people because we're a charity."  All I said was that the National Trust is a charity but can you ever imagine people being allowed to live in their car parks?

It's a really tough one because accommodation in London is so expensive.  Many  (not all) of these boaters would prefer a proper home rather than a leaky crumbling old boat.  If anyone has the answer to the problems.  I'd like to hear it.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Ebikes on the towpath?


Many many years ago, when I was a young engineering student, my housemates and I used to consume large amounts of unsweetened grapefruit juice from litre cans sold in Safeways.  Then when these cans seemed to disappear from the shelves we decided to enquire upon the reason.  It was odd that the sweetened version was still available.  On the shop manager's office door was a notice inviting customers to pop in if they had a problem.  Strangely after all these years I can still remember his name -Bill Fennessey (I may have spelt it wrong, but I have my doubts as to whether he reads this blog).  Anyhow we decided to take up the matter with Bill and knocked on his door.  Bill was very welcoming and asked us how he could help. We told him of our concern about the juice's disappearance.  "Ah well boys" said Bill, "Right now there's a world shortage of unsweetened grapefruit juice, we can only get the sweetened stuff."  We declined to offer the obvious solution.

You may well remember those days in the early 70s when we had all sorts of 'world shortages'.  Sugar was one I can remember - perhaps they'd used it all up sweetening grapefruit juice.  Anyhow I digress.


You may have read recently that there is a world shortage of e-bikes.  The people in the far east can't make them fast enough to meet the demand.  It's all these lockdowns wots done it. The people at Halfords are tearing their hair out at lost sales opportunities apparently.  Lots of people are turning instead to converting their existing push bikes using e-bike conversion kits, and now there is a world shortage of kits.  I know this because we recently decided to electrocute (that may not be the correct word) our rather nice old Dawes road bikes. Living half way up a hill in a surprisingly up and down town, we were getting out of puff in our old age. Lots of little companies advertise kits on the web, but not many have any in stock and a number of customer reviews complained about late delivery and unanswered calls to the suppliers. I was getting wary of going ahead.  In the end we found a supplier which makes the stuff here in the UK and that does answer emails and phone calls and can supply at short notice.  So now our bikes have shiny little motors pushing the back wheel round while we pedal.  Bliss.

The law on these things is interesting.  To be legal in the UK, the motor has to use no more than 250 watts (that's a third of a horsepower by my reckoning), it may only assist you while you pedal, and it may not assist you at all once you exceed 15.5 mph (25 kph).

Having used ours for a few weeks, I thought I might pass on our riding experience to anyone thinking about electrifying their boat bikes.  In short, I'm not sure it's a good idea.  Not because the motors aren't any good - they are a huge help, but  . . .

On nice smooth towpaths like the ones CRT have been laying in urban areas in recent years, you will a) almost certainly find yourself going too fast and b) hardly need it anyway as towpaths by and large don't have hills except on longer lock flights.

On lumpy rural towpaths I fancy the pedal assist mechanism might be a problem.  The bike motor responds to a sensor on the pedal crank and responds to the rate of pedalling.If you are not pedalling with a reasonably smooth regular action the motor will respond a bit erratically.  You might get a choppy ride. On roads and cycle paths it's absolutely fine but I have my doubts about rough ground. (although I admit I haven't tried it).

So if like many people you are thinking of going the e-bike route, make sure you do your homework and if you get a chance to try one on lumpy ground first, do that.

Conversion kits start at about £500.  If you already have a decent conventional bike it will get you a better job than a cheap ready built e-bike. Ready made e-bikes start from about £650 (not good quality) and on up into four figures.

There are basically four types of kit. 

a) a new front wheel with a hub motor - quite easy to fit as long as your wheels and front forks are in the range of standard sizes

b) a new back wheel with a hub motor - more complicated to fit because of the gears

c) a centre motor which drives the pedal crank directly (they look quite bulky, but I'm told they are powerful).  Probably not so easy to fit.

d) A friction motor which sits against the rear wheel tyre and pushes the tyre round. A bit like a caravan mover if you ever seen those. Very small and neat and fits almost any bike.   Easy to fit.

Virtually all the kits use the same pedal sensor which is easy to fit, and they all come with a rechargeable lithium battery and some sort of control circuitry usually built in to the battery holder.  According to the size of battery, expect to get something between 12 and 25 miles range depending on hills etc.

For a number of reasons including supplier availability and ease of fitting  to our old standard bikes we opted for d) a product called Revos from  Look 'em up on the web. They make 'em in Bristol and I can vouch for their great customer care.  Friction drives are not optimal in my opinion but they best suited us and well, they work!  Now we zip around the cycle paths around town and face hills without fear. The added weight is minimal, so we can still lift the bikes onto our car roof rack quite easily.

A popular front wheel drive kit that gets good press in Swytch bike.  They accept orders in batches every few weeks then they build the front wheels to order so you can't have one tomorrow.

Other kits are (supposedly) available.  The web is full of 'em.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Busy doing not much

Last day out in this all too short boating break and we celebrated by doing er, not much.  We stayed put at Napton and I sat in the sun and thought about doing jobs.  It was the best day of the cruise.  Well I did do one little DiY task but I won't bore you with that.  Mainly I just thought about the other jobs that need doing, like replacing the wood on the side hatch doors.  Now I have a plan for that, but more of that another time.

After Grace left for home we needed to eat up what food she didn't eat so for a change we had a burger this week, and some sausages.  To assuage our consciences we had plenty of nice veg to add to our trusty Cobb barbecue thingy and ended up with something like this

Onions, peppers,  courgettes, tenderstem broccoli and later some sparrowgrass (asparagus  to you I suppose) all nicely chargrilled. Yum.  I doubt a traditional BBQ would do them without burning, but the Cobb does.  The sausages cook through without burning too.  All on one big handful of charcoal.

As promised I strolled down to take a picture of the new mega pavilion in the Folly garden.

Coo, what a big one!  I expect landlord Mark has done his sums and reckons it will be profitable.  Since taking  over the pub some years back he hasn't put a foot wrong yet.  It should make for a long garden season at any rate.

This cruise has been to short, I'm only just getting the hang of it.  Hopefully we'll be back for more very soon.


Friday, June 04, 2021

May in June

 It's official - Chris Packham says spring is up to a month late this year.  Of course when it arrives all depends on where you live. Down home in the (ahem) Royal County, the may blossom has virtually all been and gone, but up here in what you might call the midlands (well Northants / Warwickshire anyway) it's still well out, although just on the turn I fancy.  

The yellow flags are also out, but that would be for us of course. 

Kath has taken on the role of cruise photographer this trip as her new handmedown iphone from grand daughter Grace takes nice pictures. 

Speaking of Grace, she crewed for us from Wigrams Turn to the bottom of Hillmorton locks and back and did the bulk of the steering.  Still only thirteen she is really competent at the tiller and took us round Braunston turn among heavy traffic from every direction without batting an eyelid.  Those who know that bit know how hairy it can get.  Of course she has had a wonderful teacher (whom modestly forbids me to mention) over the years since she first grabbed the tiller at about three years old.

Also impressive this week has been the accuracy with which the local pigeons aim their deposits.  Last night one hit the target on Kath's dinner plate as we sat round the barbie.  Luckily she only lost a little piece of her lamb steak.

Impressive eh? I was highly amused until the same bird successfully hit my phone ten minutes later. 

I would say we've been lucky with the weather, but the truth is we put off coming boating until the weather got better.  Sunsets have been good too.  Here's another of Kath's pictures, taken close to bridge 100  on the Oxford /GU bit (the one without a parapet if you know the area).

Currently we're moored up near the Folly pub.  I must pop along tomorrow and take a picture of the edifice landlord Mark has had built in the garden.  It's not quite finished, but imagine a large glass fronted timber framed cricked pavilion and you won't be far off.  We lunched there today in their big marquee with Rick and Marilyn who drove out specially to meet us.  As we were walking to the pub (even for pubs I don't run these days) we passed fellow boat bloggers Lisa and David on What a Lark.  Always nice to meet other bloggers and they did not disappoint, especially when they said they enjoyed my books!  Well I can't be responsible for their literary tastes.

One more day then we're back home, then off again to stay with our son Peter in Cambridge.  I fear he has a full itinerary of events for us, so we'll no doubt be knackered when we get home again.  And we'll have missed the fledging of the young Robins nested in the ivy on our garden fence.  You can't have it all I suppose.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Boxing again

 When I made a box to keep windlasses, mooring chains and stakes etc last time, I should have learned the lesson from my first roof box - don't use plywood.  No matter how many coats of paint or varnish you give it, the outdoor life will eventually cause the plys to delaminate.  So it was with the windlass box, so I've had to make a new one, and this time, just like I did with the last roof box, which is standing up well, I've used solid wood.

This time I even attempted crude corner joints - about the limit of my woodworking skills.  The box is shallow because it sits on top of the deck lockers at the back of the boat and the idea is that it can be sat upon without being so high your feet don't touch the floor.  'Where's the bottom of the box?' I hear you ask.  I have a bit of hardboard to do that. It just drops in and will no doubt need replacing every couple of years at best.  No big deal.  The box needs to be light as possible so I can lift it out of the way to get at the lockers beneath.  A few windlasses, chain, stakes and a lump hammer are quite heavy enough without the box being heavy.  And the lid?  That survives from the previous box, being made of a nice bit of 100 year old solid oak.  As you can see, I've whacked on a good few coats of Sadolin to keep the weather out of the wood.  As usual, the timber I bought from Wickes was somewhat lacking in the old straightness compartment, One piece being quite dishy across it's face, making a couple of the corner joints less than perfect.  I think it'll do the job though.

Now that the better weather seem to be on the horizon, we'll be off on our next boat trip next week.  I hope I can remember how to steer!

Monday, May 10, 2021

Yee Haah!

 Quite a number of my readers will have met my (very) old pal Rick and some of them know that he is officially a brilliant engineer.  What that's what his boss said at his retirement do anyway. Not only that but he can mend clocks, build walls, make a Stirling engine, make seedy cake and jam, and a host of other intantorium things I haven't got time to mention tonight.   However today he excelled himself.  I invited him over to Herbie to see if we could start her recalcitrant BMC engine.  All it was doing was coughing and spluttering and giving the starter battery too much stick.

"What shall we try then " said Rick.  "Are the glow plugs working?"  "I very much hope so" quoth I, remembering what a pig they were to install when I fitted new ones.  A glance at the voltmeter showed it drop when I turned the key, which is always the sign that the plugs are taking plenty of current.  I pronounced them fit and healthy.

"I reckon she's not getting the fuel through", I suggested, and reached for the little ring pull on the fuel lift pump giving it a dozen or so tugs.  A tiny bit of diesel wept out of the top joint of the fuel filter.  "Well there's some there now, let's try her again"

The engine coughed and spluttered, hiccuped , coughed some more then hey presto she burst into song.  Ta daa!  So I suppose it was some air in the fuel line, probably caused by a weeping leak somewhere.  BMC engines, just like old British motorbike engines are not the best at keeping fluids securely inside.

I'm convinced that it was Rick's mere presence at the scene that made the engine decide to co-operate.  He didn't even lay hands upon her, but she knew she was in the presence of engineering genius.  Mind over matter.

Earlier in the day I had a miraculous result in fixing a water tap.  We have a little tap that dispenses filtered water and after a long winter's lack of use it had stuck open.  What a potential disaster that was.  As soon as I switched on Herbie's electric water pump, the little tap let forth a stream of  the precious fluid but the pesky thing wouldn't turn off.  You can hardly go boating with a water tap on all day can you?

I removed the knob from the top of the tap and set about trying to loosen the nut which gives access to the washer.  Would it move?  No. Hmmm. I supposed I would have to remove the tap and take it home to have a better go at it, or else buy a new tap.  Dejectedly I replaced the tap knob and gave it a twist and suddenly it worked. In fact it worked rather more smoothly than it has done for a year or two. Ours not to reason why, dear reader, but it's fixed anyway.  Job's a good 'un.

So a good result all in all.  Herbie is now reasonably fit to go cruising.  As soon as we get some half decent weather, we'll be off.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Slowing down to speed up

It was fun watching that ship stuck in the Suez canal wasn't it?  I expect that other canal boaters were like me and Kath shouting "Stand on the back or on the floating side and rock the boat." We could teach 'em a thing or two.  I don't suppose they had a shaft or pole long enough to give her a push.  

Anyhow I watched an interesting video about how she got stuck and it was interesting to see how the physics of it applies equally to our little boats and that great monster. In a narrow or shallow canal , the water has a job getting out of the way of the boat.  We've all been there, or anybody who has been down the Slough Arm or bits of the South Oxford has at any rate.  In order to get out of the way of the boat, the water has to speed up and when the bottom or side of the boat is near to the bottom or edge of the canal, that speeding up of the water reduces the pressure (something to do with a Mr Bernoulli if I recall correctly , but as it's been over fifty years since I was an engineering student, I may well not) and the boat get sucked down or into the bank accordingly, thus making matters worse.  So if you feel it starting to happen the best thing to do is to slow down and the suction lessens.  In the end you'll make better progress.

Boating is often counter intuitive ain't it?  Push the tiller right to go left and all that.  How often have we seen novice boaters (bless 'em - we were all novices once) come too fast round a corner, see another boat coming and slam on the (practically non- existing) brakes, thus losing all steering.  It took me a while to have the confidence to slam on the power to get more steering to avoid a fast approaching obstacle, but it works.

In other news, I came across this somewhat dilapidated gate last Friday:

In need of a bit of TLC, but it won't get it.  I don't suppose it's been closed for many a long year.  This is what all our lock gates might be like if the canals weren't rescued by volunteers up to their necks in mud in the middle of the last century. (In my mind I hear people saying it looks no worse than some of the locks on the Oxford).  Actually this one isn't on a canal, it's at the exit of a fen drain into the Great Ouse. See below, you can see a tupperware boat on the Ouse in the distance).

The drain cuts through the RSPB reserve at Fen Drayton near Cambridge.  The reserve is worth a look if you're out that way.  Lots of water fowl to look at and some good walks. Oyster catchers, egrets (of which Edith Piaf nearly had none) and wotnot all easy to see.  A pair of bino's helps of course.

I must get back out to Herbie soon and find out why the engine wouldn't start last week.  I don't suppose I could have turned off the diesel cock when we left her last autumn could I?  I think I might be grasping at straws there.

Toodle pip.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Old Herbie's Almanac 2021

Looking into Herbie's crystal ball, what do I see for the coming season?

Yay verily, I see hordes of stay-cation boaters merrily chugging along our beloved waterways, using lots of lock water, and I see said water getting very short.

Yesterday, en route by car from Wigram's turn to Cambridge we did a short detour to have a butchers at Welford Reservoir that feeds the Leicester line.  Here's how it looks.

Not ideal for the start of a busy season is it?  The lower photo shows the overspill slipway.  I foresee some lock restrictions before the summer is out.

Luckily our vague cruising plans for the summer include hardly any locks as were thinking about the North Oxford to Coventry and then up the Ashby, only three proper locks and one little stop lock each way.

That's always assuming we get going.  Yesterday we popped in to say hello to Herbie and were pleased to see that she was looking ok and  inside, she was just as we left her apart from a very fine rust coating on the lower part of the stove flue, probably from condensation.  That'll rub off easily, then we'll black it.  Otherwise no sign of frost damage or pest infestation or damp.  Domestic batteries 100% charged.

Now the down side.  I tried to start the engine, and for the first time in 15 years, failed.  The starter battery (which doesn't get charged by the solar panels) was low, but turned over the engine quite a few times before it gave up. Had we got the dreaded diesel bug?  I dipped the tank and it looked fine.  We didn't have time to investigate further, so we'll have to sort it out when we next visit.  Maybe the fuel in the lines had dissipated over the long lay off.  Re bleeding (I hate doing it) will be the first thing to do I guess.  An overnight charge from the land line charger should get the battery back enough to turn her over again.  If none of that works, at least there are 'engineers' on site, so help is at hand.  I doubt very much it is anything serious.

As ever,  there is a bit of  roof paint repair to see to, but I'm beginning to realise that's just normal, and I can deal with it.

Otherwise, all systems go.  I'm not sure where to hope for a warm dry summer fro pleasant cruising, or some decent rain to fill the reservoirs.