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.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Fear and trepidation

 Tomorrow we take our first look at Herbie since November.  Will the engine 'ole be full of rainwater? Will the stern gland have leaked?  Have we had an infestation of mice or flies? Have any pipes burst? Will  it be damp and mouldy? Well, we'll soon find out wont we? Having a boat is a bit like having kids -always something to worry about.  It's always like this after a long break but this time the break is much longer.

It'll only be a fleeting visit en route to our Peter's place in Cambridge.  I'm imagining we'll come away from the boat with a list of things "that need doing" before we go aboard proper for our first cruise since September.  Maybe it'll be OK and we'll come away elated and eager to plan our first outing.

Tune in soon and I'll let you know.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Duckett's discoveries

If you're quick and take a look at the bottom of  today's BBC News site, there's an interesting set of photos of CRT volunteers clearing out the Hertford Union canal aka Duckett's Cut in east London.  The canal is currently drained, presumably for lock work and so they're taking the opportunity to clear out all the junk that's been chucked or dropped in over the years.  Unsurprisingly there's plenty of evidence of criminal activity, old safes, car number plates etc as well as some interesting curios.  Worth a look.

Our marina informs us that we can now visit our boat, but not yet stay on it.  Presumably we'll be able to go out on it from April 12th.  That's if she's still floating after all this time and the diesel hasn't turned to jelly etc. (ever the optimist, that's me).  We've decided to keep our mooring at Wigram's for the next six months, and then decide whether to move after that.  It should make for  an easy summer with long cruises up the north Oxford and perhaps to Coventry and/or up the Ashby with hardly any locks.  In previous times we would have scorned that, but I'm still not in the best of health so it makes sense and anyway I like that stretch and we haven't done it too many times.  Let's hope the sun shines.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Light at the end of the tunnel?

 We boaters know all about light at the end of tunnels.  It's often further away than it looks.  However CRT's latest update talks non specifically about the reopening of navigation in the not too distant future.  My guess is mid April.

The CRT update also has a large piece on composting toilets, or the disposal of the contents thereof.  There must be quite a few boats out there now with these toilets (we love ours), and so the question of disposal of the solid contents is becoming an issue.  To keep a long story short, CRT doesn't want our poo and is instructing us not to put the bagged compost into their waste bins.  Now for us, that's not a problem because we bag ours up and keep it in the gas locker until we go home, then take it home with us where it completes its composting safely and odorlessly in a corner of the garden.  Sometimes in warm weather it hardly needs it, having already broken down in situ ( or should that be in sit on?).  Liveaboards however are going to be scratching their heads.  I don't know what the answer is, but it's a pity that a home can't be found for this chemical free waste.  Ironically, we are still allowed to put used nappies in the waste bins, so perhaps liveaboard boaters will take to wearing  adult size nappies.  Maybe not. As it happens, we do keep a few nappies on board because they're brilliant for soaking up rainwater in the bilge.

I see Crick Boat Show is going virtual this year.  Tickets are free and there will be videos and talks and such like on line, and I suppose a large amount of advertising.  Will Adam be doing virtual boat reviews I wonder?

In other news, our patio gazebo fell prey to the gales this week.  I have a pile of canvas, poles and broken plastic joints to sort out in calmer weather.   Meanwhile . . 

Were you a fan of the Fast Show? I was, and I particularly liked the bit where Mark Williams would emerge from his shed and announce what he would be mostly wearing or eating this week. "This week I'll be mostly eating Yoggut."  You may or may not know that Mark (lately starring in Father Brown) was once a member of Mikron Theatre and travelled the canals as they do each year.  Anyway I digress.  It's just a way of introducing what I'm up to lately.

This week I have mostly been inventing a P Pod, or it might be a Pi Pod.  Anyhow I've made a little prototype  gubbins that plays abc tunes.  Abc is a format for notating simple tunes in text format, and is widely used by folk musicians in particular.  On the web you can find more than 160,000 such tunes,(!) looking a bit like this.

X: 1
T: Drowsy Maggie
R: reel

M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Edor
d2fd c2ec|defg afge|d2fd c2ec|BABc dAFA|
d2fd c2ec|defg afge|afge fdec|BABc dAFD|

You need a bit of software to translate and play it but it works really well.  I thought it would be fun to write my own player software and make a little IPod type device that could hold a collection of these tunes and play them, and it was a chance to make use of the amazing little Raspberry Pi Pico device (price £3.80) that was released a few weeks back.  So a mixture of electronics and coding for me to wrestle with.  Well it passes the time. 

I haven't yet mastered the playing of some of the more complex tune features, but simple ones like that one above I've got nailed and two little buttons  let you scroll through the tune list and select and play the tunes . The little Pico holds all the code and potentially hundreds of tunes and could run off three AA batteries.  Total cost about two cups of Costa Coffee plus whatever box  I can make to put it in.  I reckon I could fit it all into a Cooks Matches box. Ok I admit it, I'm an anorak, but it keeps me off the streets.

Next week I shall mostly be trying to work out why my code can't play triplets properly.  I'll get there.

Might see you soon on the canal.  Wouldn't that be nice?

Monday, March 08, 2021

Two boats on cardboard and in felt

 How are you off for cardboard boxes?  We've been collecting them at an alarming rate since lockdown has driven us to buying loads of stuff on line.  Our son Peter who seems to alight upon all sorts of weird things on You Tube led us to some mad person building a full size 3d replica of a Ferrari F1 car out of cardboard (that one has had 8 million views!), and another bloke making a working coin operated bubble gum dispenser out of cardboard.  Inspiring stuff.  So I looked at all our cardboard and decided to start simple, and I had the perfect project.

I'm a big fan of the Cornish artist, the late Alfred Wallis (put him into Google and select Images and you might see why). Dear old Alfred was a simple and humble man.  After a working life on fishing boats (many of them sailing boats) he spend his retirement in his little cottage in St Ives painting what he knew, boats, and harbours.  Alfred couldn't afford posh oil paints and canvases so he used what he had, tins of old household paint and bits of carboard.

Ah, you say, Neil's going to do a painting on cardboard with leftover boat paint.  Oh no I'm not, well not yet anyway. You see I already have a Wallis picture, or rather a super copy made not with paint but with felted wool courtesy of our Peter who is dab had at making objects and pictures from handfuls of wool which he jabs and punches with a barbed needle.  He's brilliant at it.  for Christmas he made me a computer  -  a good old Sinclair Spectrum

and for my birthday he made me this fab Wallis copy for which today I have made a frame, most appropriately for a Wallis, from several layers of carboard.

Here below is a picture of the Alfred Wallis original, it's called Two Ships.

Peter didn't do a bad job did he?  That's my boy!

My frame is alright as well - cardboard just like it ought to be.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Lockdown reading

 "Hauling by horses is still the system most used on the general body of the inland waterways, and in it must be including hauling by mules, which is rare, and by pairs of donkeys, or, as they are termed, 'animals.'"

So begins the section on Haulage in the 1904  Bradshaw's Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales.

On talking about towing along river banks, it goes on to complain about the use of stiles rather than farm gates along the Bedford Level"

". . . some of them as high as 2ft 7in, over which horses towing have to jump, giving themselves frequently nasty knocks in so doing."

This Bradshaw's publication, of which I have written before, is not of the Michael Portillo type, having no descriptions of local scenery or architecture, but I love it. This is not a history book, but a historical document, a snapshot in time and all the more vivid for it. As a handbook mainly for commercial canal fleet operators it contains nigh on 500 pages of detailed information on boats, locks, tunnels, distances, depth of canal and much else, all frozen in time in 1904.  What use it was to the actual boatmen is a matter for speculation, but as they knew the canal like the back of their hand and a lot of them couldn't read anyway, I don't suppose they valued it much. Whilst I have no inside knowledge, it seems highly probable that that is where the brilliant Nick Atty started compiling his data for the number one canal website Canalplan, the clue being that it gives distances in miles and furlongs as Canalplan does..

Interestingly, the book makes no mention (that I can find) of diesel or semi diesel engines, except to say "Oil engines have been tried but have never passed much beyond the experimental stage." So the section on mechanical propulsion focuses on steamers although in a somewhat derogatory fashion.

"The ordinary 'narrow' or 'monkey' boat with a capacity of about 30 tons . . .  is quite small enough already without further deduction on account of engine room space".

It's the window on how things looked to people at the time that I like in addition to the little details, such as:

"A lock of water may cost anything from nothing upwards.   . . a lock of water pumped from the Artesian Well to the Tring summit of the Canal cost £1 4s 8d and a lock from the Cowroast Well 13s 7d. "

On the Birmingham canals where the locks are of the narrow type, the cost of water per lock was 2s 4d.

More sections describe bridges, tunnels, aqueducts and tides, before going on to set out the design,  dimensions  and carrying capacities of the many different types of boats in use, from sailing wherries to monkey boats.  And then we get into the main meat of the book which gives descriptions of every navigable waterway in the country, -Proprietors, distance table, locks and their dimensions, towing path, types of vessels in use and tidal information where appropriate.  What I like is that although this information is well over a hundred years old, the bulk of it is still accurate for today.  There are a couple of things that sadly don't translate so well, one being the listing of quite a number of waterways that have since been lost, and the information on maximum draught.  I doubt whether a boat with a draught of 4ft would make it down the Slough Arm today, but that's the depth Bradshaw quotes.

Here's a bit hat caught my eye:

"The ordinary traffic through both Braunston and Blisworth tunnels is worked by the Canal Company's tugs.  Gunpowder boats have to 'leg' through."

I bet they did! Gunpowder and boilers don't sit well together. I even wonder at the thought of sparks from the legger's hobnails against the bricks. And there would have been quite a few gunpowder boats through Blisworth en-route to the Royal Ordnance depot at Weedon. The entry of Blisworth goes on to give the Company Steamer daily timetable showing 8 steamer tug passages in each direction each day starting from alternate ends every hour from 5am to 8pm.  I suppose the gunpowder boats might slot in between or go outside of steamer hours.

And so it all goes on.  Fascinating stuff and even useful today.  Had I been able to consult it before towing a masted tender under Ludham Bridge on the River Ant many years ago, we might not have broken the mast and lost our damage deposit. While you can't go boating yet, it would make a super browse to fill in the time. You could even plan your cruises with it. It exists in a modern "exact facsimile" copy easily available today.  Amazon sells it for approx £12 (other suppliers are available).

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Looking Up

 A bit more cheery this week don't you think?  For a start, Kath and I have had our first jabs now.   Less than five minutes from home is the Waitrose HQ where they have kindly donated use of their staff sports hall for a vaccination centre.  We did have to sit in a big room full of people for an hour though waiting our turn.  To be fair, the hall was very large and well ventilated, the seats widely spaced and disinfected every time people moved on and of course everyone was masked and checked and temperature measured on the way in. We got the Astra Zenica jab.  Wouldn't it be a fun idea to have the letters after your name now e.g.Jojhn Smith (AZ) or Freda Jones (Pf)?

Over in the churchyard behind our hedge, spring is springing and a carpet of woodland crocuses (croci?) has appeared.

The daffodils over there look like they'll be in bloom in a day or two as well and we have a primrose out in our garden while we wait for the hellebores to do their stuff any time soon.

After many years of absence, a couple of collared doves have shown up in the garden.  Years ago we had loads of them, then they suddenly vanished.  I think they seem more refined than our usual woodpigeons.

On a more boaty note, some of you might care to have a listen to a long interview with CRT boss Richard Parry on the Waterways World podcast page.  It's interesting to hear his take on things, but don't expect any startling revelations.  Other interviewees there include Andy Tidy (aka Cap'n Ahab), Tim Coghlan of Braunston fame, and David Suchet.  All worth a listen.

Monday, January 25, 2021

How to enjoy winter lockdown.

How ya doin'?

Despite the cold and the isolation and the wait for the jab and poor old Herbie left alone in the cold and all that, there are things that cheer me up.  The kids in the square outside our house were having a whale of a time in the snow yesterday.  Well not just the kids actually, a number of the adult neighbours were having a jolly snowball fight. Last night, after they'd all gone to bed I snapped the results of their efforts before the snow had all gone.

On the other side of the house we look out over the church yard which like a secret garden has given me so much pleasure over lockdown.

The graves over at our end of the churchyard mostly date from the second half of the nineteenth century and it is now designated as a wildlife area.  The wildlife themselves seem to have read the notices too because they take good advantage of it.  Birds, insects, wild flowers, foxes, squirrels, we get them all, and being so close, they stray into our garden all the time.  Most of our hanging bird feeders are cunningly set up to be squirrel proof but I let the squirrels get at one of them and they don'r need asking twice.

Next weekend we'll be doing the RSPB annual great garden birdwatch when all who want to are invited to watch and count the birds in their gardens for an hour and send in the results.  Luckily I can observe it all from a bedroom window. Last year we didn't get many but this year looks more promising.  Over the last week we have had pigeons, robins, great tits, long tailed tits, blue tits, coal tits, rooks, blackbirds, magpies, a dunnock, a nuthatch and yesterday our first ever blackcap.  It's a pity we're not allowed to count birds that fly over the garden without landing because we get a red kite most mornings and over at the church tower a neighbour assures me there is a peregrine falcon although I have yet to see him.  I have however heard all the other birds panicking when he is about.

I take a walk around the graveyard most days and am beginning to regard the people resting over there as friends.  I find my self giving a cheery  "Hello Willie" or "Morning Lord Arthur" as I pass their graves.  I have now built quite a large dossier of potted biographies of the more illustrious incumbents.  Spring is beginning to spring over there already, the daffs are about eight inches high and the crocuses are already out.

I was going for a longer exercise walk each day until a few days ago something 'went' at the back of my left knee so now I need to rest it I suppose.

Inside the house I've been trying to record a lot of the songs I know so I can leave something to annoy the kids after I'm gone.  I think I've done about ten songs so far. The longer I leave it and the older and more senile I get, the worse at it I will get so that's why I'm doing it now while I can still remember the words and all that.  Here's a sneak peak at my untidy 'recording studio' aka the back bedroom. No cat swinging here.

And if that wasn't enough, to keep me busy, the clever people at Raspberry Pi have just released a powerful little microcontroller  called a pico for a trifling £3.60 so I've ordered one of them to play with.  That'll keep me quiet for at least a month I should think.  One thing I'd like to build is a gubbins I could leave on the boat to keep a log of the inside temperature during the cold months of winter.

I hope you are managing to keep sane and well.  See you next time.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Insurance small print

Do you read your insurance policy details?  I thought I ought perhaps skim through them this time as I came to renew Herbie's insurance, especially as last year we changed insurer.  We're now with GJW if anyone's interested.  To cheer us all up, here are some of the more interesting exclusions.

Speed: Sadly they won't insure Herbie if she's capable of exceeding 17 knots.  Cor, I'd like to see that!  Maybe on the rip tide out of Denver sluice or something.  I think you might do 10 knots on the outgoing Thames tide through Barnes if memory of the Jubilee cruise rehearsal serves me right.

Accidental damage: We're covered if an aeroplane drops something on Herbie as long as it's not a bomb, or I suppose if the bomb were accidentally dropped in peace time, I think we might still be covered.  How reassuring.

Theft/ Burglary: If the boat is unoccupied for 60 or more consecutive days, any subsequent theft or burglary is not covered while the boat is still vacant.  Ooh I bet that would affect a lot of us this year. I'm pretty sure the marina wouldn't accept responsibility.

Sports:  Bang goes my chance of parascending ( or indulging in "similar aerial activities") off the back of Herbie - the personal injury cover forbids it.  Neither can we go scuba diving off her.  I'm not even allowed to be or become insane apparently! 

Age: Now here's an interesting one.  They won't pay for any personal injury if I'm 75 or older.  Next year that'll be me. Oh well I might as well go insane next year then.

Injury payouts: I get ten grand for every leg or arm permanently lost and the same for every eye. How can you temporarily lose a leg? Lord Nelson would have been quids in at any rate.

Third party damage:  Apparently I'm not allowed to launch a cyber attack from a computer on Herbie. Are we not allowed any fun?

Plumbing - a warning to us all.  To stay insured against damage from burst pipes you either have to have central heating set at 10 degrees or higher between November and April or turn your water off at the tank stop cock.  I'm OK there, just before the November lockdown I got out to Herbie, drained the plumbing as best I could and turned of the tank tap.  Any bit of water still lying in the pipes after that should be OK especially if you leave the sink and shower taps open.

Lastly  they wont pay if my gun barrel goes rusty and/or bursts.  Quite right too.

Well there you are, something to keep us amused while we wait for our jab letter.  Stay safe folks.