Friday, December 02, 2016

Herbie Awards: first Award Awarded – plus a mystery dead cert.

Ladies and gentleman here I stand

A golden envelope in my hand

Today’s decision was really hard

I open it up and read the card

And the winner of the Herbie Award for Best Gadget 2016 is . . .

the Hausen 12v fluid extractor pump


Hoorya!!  It wins because although you might not need one very often, it makes a difficult and horrible job easy and pleasant.  It works just like you’d want it to, and I couldn’t find anything else nearly as good at anything like the price. I wish I had found it years ago.  Great piece of kit.

Moving on, now I have a problem because today I’m supposed to nominate candidates for our Best Day’s Cruise this year. 

I can recall a lovely day in October when we pootled back up the Oxford canal on out way back to Banbury.  The air was fresh, the sun was warm, the canal was peaceful and the birds were flocking in the hedgerows.  There weren’t even any queues at the locks.

But it wasn’t that day.

It could be the day in February when we set off up the Slough Arm after not having cruised for three months – probably our longest ever lay off.  Sometimes I’m apprehensive after a long break. Will the boat be OK?  Will we still enjoy it? Well I can tell you that it was really good to be cruising again, even though it was only from Slough towards Uxbridge.  Yep that was a good cruise. But not THE one.

Whichever way you look at it there can really only be one candidate this year because that particular day was one we’ll never forget.  The answer is in the next golden envelope waiting for tomorrow.

Plenty more awards to come.  Coming soon, Best Rural Mooring, Best Urban Visitor Mooring, Best Pint of Beer and more.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Herbie Awards begins with Best Gadget nominations

Ladieees and gentlemen.  Welcome to the tenth, yes it’s true,  the Tenth Herbie Awards (pause for rapturous applause).  Alarmingly it’s already that time again, when the members of the Herbie Academy (me and Kath) bestow our coveted plaudits and brickbats on the best and worst things we have discovered on our travels on the waterways this year.  So charge your glasses with Prosecco (we couldn’t run to champers this year but Prosecco is so fashionable right now), sit back and prepare to be enlightened and perhaps mildly amused.

And so we move on to our first category for 2016.  Best Gadget for use on a boat.  Mundane they might be, but they do a great job for us. As with all the awards, this relates to things we have seen, experienced or acquired during the past year.  Sadly I have to report that being boring old stick in the muds we have not acquired glamorous gadgets like a selfie stick or a radio controlled drone camera, or perhaps surprisingly, too many solutions looking for problems.

So this year’s nominations are actually solutions to real problems that we had and you might have too.  And, even more surprisingly, they worked!

Our first nomination is for a solution for getting oily fluids out of awkward places. Ever changed your boat’s gearbox oil?  The drain plug is underneath and you have to catch the oil in something then wriggle that something up and out.  This gubbins would do it easily, but that’s not what we bought it for.  We used it to get rid of a problem that had been urking us for a while.   Our trusty old BMC 1.8 had been leaking diesel.  A steady drip drip from the fuel filter that I couldn’t seem to fix.  Ahaa, I hear you say, a drip stopper.  Well no.  The drip was actually stopped by the wonderful Ian at Calcutt boats and much as I would like to have him in a box in the cupboard, he is not really a gadget.  No, the problem we had, was how to get rid of all the diesel in the drip tray.  Mopping it up is slow, messy and ineffective; scooping it out is difficult and back breaking in the confined space, and hoovering it up with a wet and dry vacuum works, but is messy and last year led to me spilling some into the canal, not a good idea at all.  Then, on ebay I found this


It’s quite a substantial piece of kit – bigger than I expected, and solid and well made, and comes with all the hoses and leads you need and has a nice on off switch. We attached the hoses, bunged the sucky end in the drip tray, stuck the squirty end in an empty oil can, attached the battery clips and switched on.  It self primed beautifully and made short work of getting all the diesel out – several litres.  You could use it for draining your oil instead of using the old plunger pump fitted to the engine or like I said earlier to change the gearbox oil.  It’s a surprisingly robust pump for the price and I recommend it highly.  Sadly, it ought not to be used for pumping water. I guess because it would corrode internally.

Our second nomination is a simple enough thing, but again it has solved a problem for us.  We don’t often watch the telly on Herbie, but there are times when we really really want to -  Wimbledon, Grands Prix, etc.  Now that we are down on the South Oxford, TV reception is, how shall I put it? PATHETIC! Now there are all sorts of fancy gubbinses you can get to boost TV signals but a lot of them are sizeable objects that need cabling in and aren’t cheap if they don’t work. So, with low expectations I thought I’d gamble a mere thirteen quid at Argos on a basic aerial booster like this.


Not much bigger than a packet of cigarettes (probably not much more expensive either, although as a non smoker I’m not sure), its called a Total Control Aerial Booster and it works.  You plug it into a 240v socket near the telly, connect up the aerial leads, and switch on.  Our number of channels at Cropredy marina went up from zero to oh, I cant remember now, but lots and lots.  The only downside when out on the canal is you need your inverter on to provide the 240v.   It cant make something out of nothing however, and there are lots of places in the Banbury area for instance, where we still can’t get a signal, but neither can most other folk, no matter what gubbinses they have. I like it because its dead simple, needs no clambering about to fit, it’s cheap and given half a chance, it works.  Oh that all gadgets were like that.

So they are our two nominees.  Tune in tomorrow to see who wins and to see our nominations for something completely different – Best Day’s Cruise of 2016.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Spot the difference – plus Vitriol poured on CRT

Some people seem to need a bit of help with my technical “What’s missing?” photo yesterday.  How about a before and after picture to help?  BTW they are both pictures of Herbie.

before                                                                    after

bay                 engine2

I know it’s tough to spot but something is there in the second picture that isn’t in the first.  Here’s another clue, it begins with E.

Nice to see that people are interested in Jim’s shiny shoes in my other photo yesterday.


Still no offers of captions.  As far as I recall he was trying to remember where he’d put the missing bit, (beginning with E).

I see that Steve Heywood has written a critical piece in Canal Boat about the CRT London plan to improve the towpaths.  I can’t say I’m surprised, a) because Steve makes his living by having a grumble and CRT are a soft target and b) because I suspect a lot of boaters share his views.  His vitriol is equally shared between speeding cyclists and CRT for aiding them.  You may draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Coming soon to a blog near you

Well the old calendar on the wall tells me that it’s nearly December, and you know what that means.  Yes, time to book your Tux hire at Moss Bros,or dust off the old tiara, because it wont be long till the 2016 Herbie Awards.  I’ve already been consulting the boss on suitable categories for this year.  Old favourites like Best Pub (of course), best moorings, best boating gadgets, this year’s scariest moment, and more, including the prestigious Herbie Award to someone deserving.  (Deserving what, I’m not sure.) 

I might fling in the odd old picture quiz to leaven the proceedings.  How about something like this for those with a razor sharp technical brain.  What is missing in this picture?


or maybe a caption quiz e.g. what is the man in this picture saying?


Stay tuned. The ceremony opens on December 1st.  Bring your own bottle.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Boater wrestles with Python as speeding debate rages amongst volunteers

Ok I’ll explain the attention grabbing headline later, but first a burning question. How fast is too fast? 

Following some recent criticism of excessive passing speed by wb Jena, the big CRT display boat I and others helm around the London area,  I wrote round to fellow volunteers, not all of whom are experienced boaters, reminding of our obligation to pass moored boats at a slow pace.  Now you have to bear in mind that Jena is not normally used for pleasure or leisure cruising.  Usually she has to be delivered somewhere by a certain time, and at this time of year, with it getting dark early, the schedule can be quite challenging. Add to that the proliferation of moored boats around London and you can begin to see the problem.One volunteer went as far as to say that because Jena was on a job and on a deadline, she had the right to keep a move on.

Well I don’t know about you but I can’t agree with that.  Passing another boat at such a speed that it may cause it to bang about, or pull out the mooring pins is to me unacceptable at any time, working or no.  “Well how fast is too fast?”, asks my frustrated friend.  Aah well, that all depends doesn’t it? If the canal is shallow or narrow, then it might be tick over.  If the canal is wide and deep then a couple of mph might be ok. My answer was to say that you have to watch the boats you are passing and you adjust your speed so that you don’t pull them about as you pass.  So I don’t always agree with the common signs telling you to pass at tick over as that is sometimes unnecessarily slow. Tickover on Herbie is barely a crawl. Any comments for me to pass on to my volunteer colleagues would be interesting and welcome.

Now then, what’s all this python business?  Well really it’s because I can’t resist an attention grabbing headline.  No I have not been wrestling snakes, but I have recently been teaching myself Python which is a popular computer language.  I confess that over the years I have done a fair bit of programming in other languages too, but one I’ve not used before and I quite like it. In this instance I’ve been using it to program the BBC Microbit, which must be the coolest little gadget I’ve seen in years.  I bought one for Grace to play with, which she does, but I liked it so much I bought another one for me.  If you have two of them they can talk to each other.


As you can see, it’s tiny, but don’t let that fool you. I’ve used it to make a compass, an infrared burglar alarm, a messaging pager, a voltmeter, a scrolling Christmas message display, a light meter, a stopwatch, a thermostatic fan speed controller, a spirit level, a thermometer, a pogo stick bounce counter, a mobile phone finder and a lot more I can’t recall right now. What I need to do now is to think of things to use it for aboard Herbie. I’m sure there are loads of applications.

You don’t have to learn Python to do this stuff. Most of it can be done with a really simple lego block type approach which is literally child’s play.  Yes, and I do mean literally. You can pickup a Microbit for about £13. School kids aged 12 are getting them for free. For most of the things I have listed above, you don’t need anything else at all, except a home computer to programme it from. You can even program it with a smartphone or tablet. If you are Christmas shopping for cheap presents for your friendly Nerd or Geek, look no further.  If anyone lese out there is playing with Microbits and inventing boating gadgets with it I love to hear from them.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A hundred years today

Forgive me for going off topic, but today is a special day for me.  One of the great pleasures of my life has been being a Grandpa, and as many of you know, I enjoy having a close relationship with the grandkids.  I guess this is especially important to me because I never met either of my grandfathers who both died long before their time.  One of my great regrets is that I never knew them.

A hundred years ago today, just as the great battle of the Somme had drawn to a conclusion, in a field hospital in France, my paternal grandad James Corbett “died of wounds” aged 33.  He lies buried, along with hundreds of his comrades in this neat military cemetery in a little place called Puchevillers.

The burial records just says this:



I suppose that when this photo was taken, they realised it might be the last one of them all. My dad (bottom right) would have been four years old at the time, so he wouldn’t have remembered much of him either.  My Granny, Sarah, is the only one of my grandparents who lived long enough for me to know.  Looking back over her own history, she went through some very hard times. I was a tad scared of her.  I remember as a child knocking on her door once and she squinted at me and said “Which one be you?”

I might not have known you Grandad, but I remember you today with a real tear in my eye.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Neil is innocent!

I'm innocent despite Kath's cruel accusations. I did not pee all over the bathroom floor, something not easy to do on our airhead loo unless you fail to reinstall the pee bottle properly after emptying. Further investigations revealed the liquid to be water emanating from the main water pump and I was exonerated.

This last happened seven or eight years ago. The joint between the pump and the motor body loses its seal and the water drips out. Sometimes you can fix it by the application of some sealant round the join, which is what I have done in addition to retightening the fixing screws. At the moment I have left the pump in the warm by the stove while the sealant cures.

Meanwhile we're drinking and washing fro bottles and saucepans of water we drew off before disconnecting the pump. I once met a proper hill billy chap who lived in the Appalachian mountains where he got all his water from a well via an electric pump. I asked what he did if his generator failed and he said "We just have to drink whiskey." Interestingly the things that most amused him on his first visit to England were fields with (dry stone) walls round, and three wheeled cars!

The sealant may work and it may not. Thd pump pressure is quite high. If not, the next step is to split the two halves of the pump and smear some sealant on the joint faces. If that doesn't work it'll mean a new pump. I think they're in the region of £100 so I hope not.

Tomorrow we head back to Cropredy and then home. Once again it's been a good trip despite not really going very far. People ask if we're cold on the boat at this time if year. Blimey no, we're too warm sometimes. People who shut up their boat for the winter are missing out.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

MAD NURD PLOT Gunfight at the OK Canal

Could this be a new way of CRT dealing with overstayers in Banbury? Well there were a lot of spare mooring places so I guess it might have worked. If Donald Trump ever takes over CRT he might well adopt it as policy. These guys might have been re-enacting some civil war event, but it certainly never happened on the Oxford canal which didn't open until 140 years after the civil war.

Speaking of Mr Trump, I spent a pleasant half hour yesterday working out anagrams of his name. The best I have come up with so far are, LARD DON'T JUMP, DUMP DARN LOT, DROP TAN M"LUD, and MAD NURD PLOT.  A disappointingly near miss was DROP MAD NUT L. Maybe you can come up with some better ones.

I do like Banbury, all those little streets interlinked by alleyways. Yesterday we found something to recommend (vegetarians look away now), in the little alley opposite the Reine Deer pub, the kind of butcher's shop you are always looking out for. Proper locally sourced meat and not at all expensive. You know it's a good'un when the queue of customers stretches out of the door and along the street.  Add that to the market stall where the man sells lovely lardy cake and that's enough reason to stop over in Banbury right there. Mm, perhaps not for healthy eaters though.

We moved off today in search of a TV signal to watch the grand prix. Telly reception down here is pretty bad. In the end we had to go all the way down to the Pig Place near Nell bridge where we knew there was a spot with a good signal. I hope after all that effort, the race will be worth it. As you'd expect with the stoppages and it being out of season,  the canal is very quiet. Lovely.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Well of course we are reeling from the shock of this week's news. It all makes me very depressed. How can people be so stupid? I mean who would think Toblerone would do a thing like that?

Well we all need cheering up, and nothing beats a bit of schadenfreude so feel free to read on and enjoy my misfortune.

Now that the weather has at last taken a turn for the worse and the nights have drawn in, we decided to spend a week or so on Herbie. On the first morning we looked out of the boat window and the gale lashing across the marina and decided to stay put. On the second morning it was cold but the wind had dropped so we disconnected the shore power, got out the ropes from their dry storage, took in the fenders, checked the oil and water, put on our hats and gloves and switched on the engine. Or tried to. The starter battery was dead despite having been on charge all night. Drat!

I wasn't too surprised as last time out I noticed it was struggling a bit and we have had it for several years. Anway, I jumped in the car and headed off to Halfords in Banbury, only fifteen minutes away where I bought a shiny new one that looked about the right size and the right number of Cold Cranking Amps. So, off back to the boat to remove the old battery and slide in the new one. Simples. Well the new battery fitted the space OK, but I hadn't noticed in the shop that the plus and minus connecting posts were the other way round. "Oh bother" I exclaimed (well words to that effect anyway). The cables in the battery compartment are thick and short and no way would they stretch to the right place. So back to the nice man at Halfords who found me a different battery with posts the right way round.

This one fitted, but not without some skinned knuckles trying to fit the clamps over the posts at fingertip length in the semi dark. By now we had gone off the idea of boating for the day so we retired to the cabin as several very heavy showers soaked my nice dry centre ropes. This is all beginning to sound like one of Bones's Tillergraph articles don't you think?

So this morning we awoke to blue skies and warmish sun and set off towards Banbury. Apart from moored boats, the canal is desolate. We soon realised the reason for this. We are cut off from the rest of the canal system by winter stoppages, a closed lock in the Napton flight and a bridge repair below Aynho. Even if the hire boat companies had any customers, they couldn't send them here, so we arrived in Banbury with oodles of free mooring space. At last something to cheer me up. I'm thinking of going into Poundland and buying their entire stock of £1 Toblerone before the new skinny ones arrive.

A leaflet dropped on the boat tells us there is to be a historical reenactment outside the library tomorrow. Apparently people will be firing muskets on the lift bridge outside the shopping centre. Things are looking up.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Reynard’s rest – a Fox near the Fox


I like foxes, and this one was a little sweetie, taking little notice of us yesterday as we piloted Jena past.  Connoisseurs of the canal might look at the nasty grey colour of the water and conclude that we were down near Brentford, and they would be right. This is the weir above Osterley lock.  All very appropriate as it’s not far from the Fox pub.

It took us ages to get down Hanwell locks because they were busy with boats in both directions.  Luckily we had some lovely volunteers to help us.  We had some interesting boats to gawp at while we were there.  This one grabbed my attention.


A 67 foot tug built by its owners using facilities at HMS Daedelus, hence its name.  I’ve often driven past there (we have good friends living nearby) and seen a narrowboat being built, but apparently it wasn’t this particular one that you could see from the road.  Anyhow, look along the gunnels to see its interesting shape.  I guess that step up is to raise the tug deck, which would make sense.  Here, he about to run aground, as we did, because the inexperienced crew in the boat above, you can just see it in the lock, had drained the pound by trying to fill a lock with one of the bottom paddles half open.  One mistake you don’t mind, but then they did it again in the very next lock. Doh!  Oh well, their boat, a whopping gert Piper widebeam barge thingy (very smart and no doubt palatial within, but not to my taste) was a mere seven days old, and had just come off the Thames that afternoon, so they weren’t used to canal locks.

Jena now rests at Brentford ready for a steady trip back up to Ricky next week when CRT staff on board will be looking at mooring sites.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Solar perplexus

It’s an astonishing 5 years since we got our solar panel on Herbie.  Seems like only yesterday.  Anyhow we’re still very pleased with it although of course we could always do with more .  These days we don’t seem to be in such a hurry to get somewhere and it’s not uncommon for us to stay in one place for a couple of days or more.  So, I thought I’d have a look at what it would take to expand our solarosity. (or should that be solaraciousness?)  We could of course move to the South of France and get more sun more often, but the beer is terrible, so plan B is to get another panel. The idea is to up our power from 95W to 200 W. That’s where it gets difficult.

You can’t just go around connecting any old panel to your existing stuff. Oh no, because the panels have to match else one will drag the other down.  Apparently it’s not even a good idea to add a new one of the same make and spec as the old one as they gradually degrade and the old one pulls down the new one.  I’m told that there is clever trickery you can do with diodes  to alleviate the problem but diodes are inefficient things at the best of times. In any case our original Kyocera panel is hard to get these days and it is very expensive compared with more modern panels. I can buy two or three decent 100W panels for less than we paid for our 95W one.  Amazing!

So. If we can sort out a couple of new panels that will fit on what space we have on Herbie’s roof, I’ll find some lucky person to have our old one cheap.  We’ll have to sell our controller as well because we’ll need a bigger one. Then of course I’ll have to make or buy tilting mountings for each panel, and while I’m at it paint that bit of Herbie’s roof which has got a bit knocked about by the current frame feet.  Typical DiY, a simple job turns out to be more than you think.

First job is to get out to Herbie and re-measure our roof space, dodging chimneys and mushroom vents.  This could run and run.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fire and rescue

Last week we happened to be driving past our local fire station and noticed large crowds around it.  Yes, it was one of the open days they sometimes do at half term holidays.  Having Grace with us, we thought we’d take a look.  There was lots going on and some interesting demonstrations that might make you sit up and take notice.

The first was chip pan fires.  They lit a gas ring under a pan of oil and left it for about 15  or 20 minutes.  Eventually it began to smoke heavily and then spontaneously burst into flames. Time for a demo with the old fire blanket  which did the job nicely at first, but they took off the blanket deliberately too soon and the flames came straight back.  Leave the blanket on folks.


Then came the exciting bit when the Fireman turned a tap and sprayed the pan with a little bit of water.  Now we all know that’s not a good idea, but the results were spectacular.  This is one second later:


I don’t think Grace will be putting water on a chip pan any time soon!  When we got home I got her to do a bit of fire blanket practice – not using a real fire I hasten to add.

The next demo was possibly of more interest to boaters.


Can you see the little Lego man under the water?  He was dropped into the water at the right of our picture where he floated quite happily until the circulating undertow from the weir drew him upstream and then sucked him under where he stayed, just spinning round and round.  Don’t fall in in a weirpool!

Lastly they showed us what happens when they cut a driver out of a crashed car.  Nothing to do with boating, but most of us have got cars so I thought I’d share it with you.  This was quite an eye opener for me at any rate.  It’s not just a matter of getting the hydraulic cutters and snipping through the corner posts.


The first job is to try and get someone else, preferably a paramedic, into the car often through the rear window.  His / her job is to do the obvious injury checks, but equally importantly to protect and support the driver during the rest of the process.  In particular there is a risk that the trapped person may suffer a spinal injury by moving their head, so they sit behind and hold the head still while all the cutting is going on. They use boards to shield the occupants from the broken glass when they smash the windows, having first covered them with sticky film.  A special bag is placed over the steering wheel to restrain the driver’s airbag should it go off during the rescue, otherwise it can cause more injuries.  A lot of creaking and banging goes on whilst the door hinges are burst so they can remove the doors. Apparently the hydraulic cutters are very heavy and can’t be lifted for more than a couple of minutes before someone else has to take over. Having got the doors off, you might expect them to pull out the trapped driver, but no.  He might still have a neck injury so off comes the car roof, so they can lower in a long spinal board between the driver’s back and his seat.  Then they recline the seat if they can and slide the driver now flat on the board out through the rear screen.

The teamwork was very impressive.  They were keen to point out that complicated as it seemed, this was an easy example with the car upright and not crushed.  Speed is of the essence as the evidence is that getting the victim to hospital within an hour of the accident gives the best chance of recovery.

Unfortunately road traffic collisions are a lot more common than fires these days, so this is a key part of the job of the service.

I hope you found that interesting. We did.

Drive safely folks.