Sunday, August 14, 2016

Twelve quid to see Mo Farah

It's been a bit frustrating on Herbie cos I love the Olympics and we haven't been able to watch in the marina due to a poor TV signal. Yesterday morning we popped into Banbury ( in the car) to get a couple of bits and bobs ( the fact that the bakery stall in the market sells Lardy cake was nothing to do with it - alright, a bit to do with it) and I bought a little aerial booster from Argos. I wasn't too hopeful, especially when we first tried it by pointing the aerial at Oxford and got no programmes at all. In desperation I pointed it at where I think Sutton Coldfield might be, and although it's twice as far away as Oxford we got 105 programmes! I only wanted BBC, but as that was one of the 105 we are now happy bunnies. £12 well spent. Total Control TV Booster if anyone is interested. Yippee! Olympics here we come.

The wind seems to have dropped and last night we could hardly hear the music from the festival site. On Friday night it was a lot better and we could clearly hear Steeleye Span and the Bootleg Beatles. Listening to it from here is a bit like sitting on Henman Hill, except we don't get a big screen. The BBs I thought were amazing. They charged through what seemed like dozens of Beatles hits sounding pretty much like the real thing, even on complicated arrangements like Penny Lane.

In the afternoon we strolled into the Brasenose garden where the fringe event is held in a very pleasant atmosphere as I am told the main festival has. They had some very good bands on (depending on your taste in music, I liked one of 'em anyway.) Looking round the garden, I reckon the average age of the audience was well north of 45. For a change I didn't feel old :-). Everybody was relaxed and friendly. I can see why they come every year as lots of them do.

No pictures today, our internet signal is a little bit better, must be atmospherics I suppose - what I need now is an internet signal booster.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Madness on the wind

Here we are at our berth in Cropredy Marina in semi electronic isolation. This is how people live out in the sticks I suppose. The phones don't get a signal, the TV can't find a station (big Boo 'cos it's the Olympics) and the internet signal is pretty poor, so no photos in this blog. Actually, while typing this, I'm not at all sure I'm going to be able to post it.

Our entertainment this weekend comes on the breeze. The Cropredy festival is on, about a quarter of a mile away, perhaps a bit more. With the wind in the right direction we can hear the acts pretty well. Last night when Madness were on stage it was very gusty, so their music came and went, as if someone was trying to tune a radio. Most of the time it was OK, occasionally good reception. Anyhow, I thought they were really good (and I am pretty very picky when it comes to bands). I should have liked to have been closer. Tonight we get Steeleye Span (with mostly new members so I'm not too hopeful) and the Bootleg Beatles who I have seen before and I know they are excellent. Tomorrow we get Ralph McTell and of course Fairport Convention. Do you get the idea that this festival plays to an audience of a certain age? Let's hope the wind is in the right direction. We might stroll into the village today to take in "the fringe".

Our WOWBoys volunteer team has been receiving plaudits for the work we did at Batchworth last weekend. People are easily impressed it seems. Sometime soon the London Towpath Rangers will be holding an event showing one of the boating papers (I forget which) what we do, so look out for us, except I won't be there on that day, 'cos I'll be away.


Saturday, August 06, 2016

Foreign Service

Such is the reputation of our towpath ranger volunteer team the WoWBoys aka the Way out West London team, that we have been called upon to undertake a hazardous mission in foreign parts. Well Rickmansworth to be exact, which is outside of the CRT London region.  Here be dragons, says the map. Today the WoWboys set up camp just north of Batchworth lock by erecting a gazebo over the towpath at a spot where there have been “incidents” involving cyclists and boaters of late. 

I was a bit nervous because CRT appeared to have forgotten to order our kevlar suits and riot shields so we had to make do with our blue volunteer T shirts and black baseball caps comforted by the fact that I had some sticking plasters and antiseptic cream in my rucksack. Kick off was scheduled for 11am.  The whistle blew and wishing each other good luck we went over the top to face our first adversaries, two old ladies out for a stroll, then a young cyclist couple who dismounted and showed polite interest in our work.  Maybe it was just our charm offensive, but in the three hours we spent there, the approx 50 each of cyclists and pedestrians were virtually all friendly and well behaved.  We didn’t know whether to feel pleased or disappointed.

We were led by Sarah from the Milton Keynes CRT office who had asked for our help and who brought along the South East region version of our little share the space maplets.  These were interesting to me because I hadn’t realised that the S.E region extended right up to Hawkesbury near Coventry and also over to Foxton.  Apparently the cyclist nuisance hot spot in the region right now is in Oxford where they come bowling down the towpath en route to the railway station, so if you are boating down there do look right and left before you step off your boat.  Sarah said there had also been botheration in Oxford from house owners by the canal trying to stop boaters from running their engines in the permitted hours of 8am to 8pm. Boaters will be well aware of similar situations where people buy canalside properties and then complain about canal activity. A bit like building a house next to a pig farm then complaining about the pong.

I also saw something today I hadn’t seen before (I’ve led a sheltered life).  We’ve often talked about getting a couple of mudweight anchors for Herbie.  How about a couple of these:


Of course we’d need to employ a Geoff Capes to fling ‘em overboard, but I reckon they’d hold the boat still.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Woking invasion Mark II

According to HG Wells, Woking was last invaded by Martians.  Well now it’s even more terrifying as the Historic NarowBoat Club (HNBC) have rolled up for the canal festival.  As we are unable to be at the festivities over the weekend, Kath and I drove over today to see the boats and say hello. 

Being well up the the Basingstoke canal Woking doesn’t usually see a lot of narrowboats and certainly not seventy footers.  Apparently the lady in the house by the winding hole where they all went to turn was somewhat alarmed by the bows of these leviathans nudging the garden plant pots.

Near the edge of the canal, the bottom is a bit too near the top, so nearly all the boats had to use long mooring ropes and make use of their top planks as extra long gangplanks to get ashore.

woking 2

It looks like it ought to be a good do over the weekend. The boats are in a very pleasant spot quite close to the town centre and there is a little park adjacent where there will be stalls and entertainment.  We can’t make it ‘cos I have volunteer duties tomorrow and a wedding to go to on Sunday.  (Yes I know Sunday weddings are a rarity, but this one has good reasons).

We walked the plank to get aboard Chertsey for tea and cakes with Sarah and Jim and with Pete and Irene who were alongside aboard Renfrew.  It was nice to meet up again.  The last time we met S&J was when they terrified the life out of us by suddenly looming through a bridge hole as we tootled on Herbie between Hillmorton to Braunston.  Chertsey can be a terrifying sight at the front end.  Sarah likes to say Chertsey is a Large Woolwich.  Large?  Pah!  This is what I call a large Woolwich:-

woking 3

As we left Pete and Irene were enjoying their ringside seat opposite a fishing heron.

woking 1

I hope the sun keeps shining for you folks.  Have a good one.

PS. Whoops, forgot to mention Rocky Ricky.  Woof woof me old mate.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Airhead toilet - 12 month review

It's now over a year since we replaced our old cassette toilet with the Airhead composting toilet. So how have we got on? Was it worth it? Might we consider going back to the cassette loo which is still stored in our shed at home just in case? This might get a tad explicit for some so those of a delicate disposition might like to go off to read someone else's blog at this point! Hold your nose and here we go.

Well it's been an interesting year. It certainly didn't start too well because the original Airhead installation wasn't airtight enough and leaked the "exhaust" gases back into the boat. Most unpleasant. The trick is to ensure that the exhaust fan housing is properly sealed where it fixes to the side ( or ceiling in some cases) of the cabin. We eventually got that right (thanks Rick) by gluing a thick board to the wall to give the fan housing retaining screws something strong to bite into. That and plenty of sealant.

The toilet itself operates well, easily keeping solids and liquids separate, and because the fan draws air inwards into the toilet and out through the exhaust, the toilet waste tank itself is remarkably odour free even when the lid is open. Considerably more odour free than a cassette toilet. It is easy to keep clean and is I think pretty hygienic.

The daily emptying of the liquid tank is easy and quick. It's a lot more portable than a cassette. If there is a sanitary station nearby we use that, if not, we tip it on waste land, not into the canal.

We've only had to empty the solids tank three or four times. When I say "we" I actually mean Kath, bless her.. She says that whilst it is not fair to describe it as pleasant, neither is it dreadful and she much prefers it to regular emptying of cassettes. We bag up the waste in plastic coal bags which can be safely deposited in a rubbish skip.

We've been on a learning curve as regards the addition of a composting medium. This does seem to make a difference to the frequency of wafts of whiffs emerging from the exhaust port on the outside of the boat. This has on occasions caused us to worry that we were a little unpleasant to be near in confined spaces like locks despite being odour free inside the boat. After talking to other Airhead users, notably Adam and Adrian on Briar Rose, (more thanks) we are now using coco fibre ( compressed powdered coir from pet food shops). There needs to be sufficient so that the daily turning of the stirring handle stirs the "donations" into the coir. This seems to work well and now occasional nasty niffs outside the boat are largely avoided.

The final thing to mention is the electric fan itself. Although it draws only a tiny current it could drain the boats batteries over a few weeks if the boat were left unattended over the winter. For most of the year our solar panel takes care of this, but in December and January when daylight is short and low it doesn't. I decided to switch off the fan over this period, but this created another problem. After a period at rest in the cold and damp, the fan was reluctant to start again when switched back on. I solved this by spraying WD40 in through the exhaust hole outside the boat and giving the fan blades a flick with a stick poked in the same hole. I think next winter I may leave the fan on and just visit the boat now and then to recharge the batteries, or I could leave Herbie plugged into the shore power, although I would be reluctant to do this unless I get a galvanic isolator to prevent hull corrosion.

So what is our conclusion? Despite a few problems, most of which we have overcome now, we much prefer the Airhead to our previous cassette toilet. It is probably more hygienic, considerably more pleasant to use, uses no chemicals, and removes the need to seek out sanitary stations every few days, and of course, compared with a pump out loo, it costs nothing to empty.

Every boater has views on toilets, and these are just our views. Other makes of composting toilet are available.

Friday, July 29, 2016

London canals – this and that

In the course of my volunteering duties I’ve been up to “the smoke” a couple of times in the last week, once to Little Venice and once to Enfield Lock.

The whole LV area is suffering with duckweed infestation to a level I haven’t seen before. The actual leaves of the weed seemed to have grown to more than  twice their normal size too. The worst bit is under the bridge at the entrance to the arm up to Paddington basin.  Here they’ve installed one of those bubble lines like they use up the other end.  It does form a barrier to the weed , but the stiff sure does pile up behind it. Yukk!


When we emerged from our ranger meeting at the LV office, (we meet in a basement room five feet below the level of the canal outside!) we were confronted by this scene:


At first, we thought “Ooh that's clever, they're clearing the weed with a hose”.  But when they stopped shortly afterwards, it was clear that it was just some sort of Fire Service training exercise.  I was impressed with how that long cantilevered arm kept straight under the load. 

Up on the arm towards the basin, a weedcutter boat was doing its bit, but I fear that in this warm weather it’s a losing battle.

“What were you discussing in the bowels of the CRT office?” I hear you ask.  What else, dear reader but flippin’ cyclists.  We were reporting back on our towpath experiences of an inconsiderate few who seemed determined not to take notice of our “now then, be nice to each other” approach. Not all of our suggestions seem acceptable to CRT. Apparently tasers are not standard issue to volunteers for some reason. Next year we may see another relaunch of the Share the Space campaign with a stronger emphasis on cyclist speed reduction.  Us Volunteer Towpath Rangers would like to have some physical impediments to speed at danger points and more explicit guidance to cyclists about safety behaviour around pedestrians and boats.  Watch this space.

Yesterday up at Enfield Lock I had a jollier time in my volunteer Boat Mover capacity, being given a familiarisation session on a type of CRT boat we hadn’t used before.   There are so many different types of boat used by CRT, I might suggest that anyone who has finished train spotting might turn to CRT workboat spotting.  I wonder if there’s a catalogue of them all somewhere. I might even take it up myself.

While I was there I picked up a little bit of info about plans for boating round the Olympic Park.  At present this loop of water is only opened to boaters on organised occasions with special permission.  Recognising the interest in taking a boat around the loop, there is some consideration of having more frequent opening for general enjoyment without pre arrangement at some time in future, but not allowing mooring, and clearing the area of all boats at the end of the day.  No decisions have been made yet, these are just current thinking.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Loitering within tent

You don't need me to tell you it's been hot. We've been toiling up over the South Oxford summit where shady spots are as rare as air stewardesses on a hang glider. Despite the heat, we had to keep battling on for we were on a mission, to arrive at Calcutt in time for early Wednesday morning so that they could give Herbie's engine a tweak -more of which later.

Having stopped for the night somewhere on the Wormleighton wiggle on Monday, we rose early on Tuesday to attack the Napton flight before it got too busy and too flippin' hot. It all looked very pretty in the sunshine. The old song sums it up perfectly.

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam

And the skies are not cloudy all day

The poor old Buffaloes looked hot, a lot of them look heavily pregnant, poor things. Take a trip up the locks in a few weeks time and you might see a lot of buffalo calves.

Our strategy worked out well and we were down the locks by late morning, in time for lunch at the Folly where (and I am not exaggerating) I had easily the best chips I have had in the thirty five years since we got rid of our deep fry pan at home and gave up double frying. Don't take my word for it, ask Rick who was with us.

"Ain't that right Rick?"


There, told you.

By now Herbie was hotter than Tim Peake's re-entry capsule as we soldiered on to the top of Calcutt locks where as luck wouldn't have it there was no shade. By now the air temperature was hot enough to cook a Fray Bentos boater's pie. Undaunted, Kath and Rick set about erecting a Ray Mears style tarp using some sleeping bag liners, some string, a boat hook and a brick. I of course assured them it wouldn't work and that they were wasting their time, ( it's seldom they've heard a discouraging word) but against all the odds it did, and we spent the rest of the afternoon loitering within tent. Later, Marilyn came to rescue Rick leaving me and Kath to struggle on this morning through the whole fifty yards and one lock to the boatyard.

All BMC engines like Herbie's have one spot in the rev band where they hit a sort of resonant frequency and shake about a lot, normally you can easily throttle past it, but our shaky spot seemed to have decided lately to settle at tick over or thereabouts which is a right pain when idling in locks or creeping past moored boats. So that was Calcutt's challenge for the day. That and finding and curing an annoying diesel leak. On BMC engines, Ian at Calcutt is Da Man. After checking everything over he decided to advance the engine timing a smidge ( by rotating the injection pump a tad on its drive) and that seems to have done the trick. He also seems to have stopped the fuel filter from weeping. Oh that I had his magical powers. So we now seem (subject to putting a few miles in to prove it) to have a smoother drip free engine. Cleaner too as he washed it with degreaser and used Calcutt's megahoover to clean out the engine bilge. Deep joy.

Ian actually complimented Herbie on the cleanliness of her engine bay! Crumbs, I can't imagine what others are like.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wonders of vegetation

I enjoy flipping through  a wonderful old book at home called “The World of Wonders”, sadly not dated but clearly Victorian or Edwardian.  It contains a complete mish mash of “Wonders” in no discernable order. Opening one double page spread at random I get articles on St Vitus’s dance, The destructive power of worms, and The story of the Portland vase!  In it yesterday I came across the following advice which I thought best to pass on to you.  It might save your life, although I very much doubt it.

Wonders of vegetation - TREES STRUCK BY LIGHTNING

Fig trees and cedars are rarely struck by lightning; the beech, larch, fir, and chestnut are obnoxious to it; but the trees which attract it most are the oak, yew and Lombardy poplar whence it follows that the last are the trees most proper to be placed near a building, since they will act as so many lightning conductors to it.  Again, the electric fluid attacks in preference such trees as are verging to decay by reason of age or disease.

So now you know which trees to shelter under when a storm hits the towpath, or you would if you believed what the article says.  I should perhaps point out here that the book also extols the virtues of woven asbestos suits for firemen.  We have much to learn from our forebears.

I also can’t resist quoting a subsequent paragraph entitled CAOUTCHOUC, which is according to Google is another name for rubber.

There is no possibility of the demand exceeding the supply of this gum.  The belt of land around the globe 500 miles north and 500 miles south of the equator abounds in trees producing this gum and they can be tapped, it is said, for twenty successive seasons. . . Each tree yields an average of three tablespoons of sap daily.

That’s all very well, but what about the supply of tablespoons?

I continue to search through this indispensable tome for items on waterways or boats, but as it has no index and everything is in a completely random order, it may take some time.

PS I just checked up on this book and found it was first published in 1896

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Why we are not on Herbie today, plus the finished can and a comical Shakespearean tragedy

We should be out on Herbie now, en route for Calcutt to have them tweak our engine to cure low speed vibrations.  However we are at home instead and we’ve had to put the very nice people at Calcutt off for a week. I’ll explain why.

There was I yesterday at Cowley lock dressed in full CRT volunteer livery, hurling myself like a suffragette under the wheels of speeding cyclists(OK, slowing them down to give them a maplet and asking them to go steady, but I was ever so brave, a bit.)  Just round the corner, in a proper parking spot, well within the marked lines, our trusty Skoda Fabia estate stood patiently waiting for my return, when some person unknown, but equally unforgiven drove too close and smashed my drivers side electric wing mirror.  I don’t know if you have ever driven a car without a drivers side wing mirror, but I don’t recommend it.  Only when you don’t have one do you realise how often you really need one.  Driving without an offside wing mirror is illegal, and having tried it, I can understand why. Anyhow it was late Saturday afternoon and I can’t do anything about getting it replaced until Monday at least, so we can’t get out to Herbie with all our gear in time to make it to Calcutt.

Never mind, we had fun watching Andy Hamilton and Lewis Murray , or was it the other way round? winning their races/ matches today AND I had time to put the last coat of Craftmaster’s wonderful (really) super clear varnish on our repainted Buckby can.  Since I last showed it to you, I bit the bullet and decorated the lid with a picture of a heron and a traditional boaty type heart.  The art of art they say, is knowing when to stop.  In my case I decided to stop before it got any worse, so here is the final result.

fincan3  fincan4


You may notice from the lower picture that the lid surface is pretty lumpy.  That’s not my rotten painting m’lud it’s just that the galvanised surface of the can was pretty lumpy to start with and I didn’t fancy grinding or sanding off all the galvanising.

Anyhow, there it is.

On Thursday we went to our local Odeon who were doing a live showing of Romeo and Juliet from some London Theatre -  a Kenneth Branagh production. These things are beamed live from the theatre by the wonders of sputnik or telstar or one of them things.  There we sat waiting for the screen to start up and nothing happened. For quite some time.  Then just before the time when the real play was about to start the screen burst into life.  Horray! With Al Jazeera news channel.  Boo!  Then up popped a satellite dish configuration screen and we spent a happy fifteen minutes watching some poor soul in the back room frantically roam through all the menus trying to find the right settings.  By now, embarrassed staff were patrolling the aisles taking orders for complimentary soft drinks or coffee or whatever while we could hear the voice of the unfortunate tecchie on the phone to a help desk while various members of our audience shouted out helpful things like “Have you tried Control-Alt-Delete?”.

Then just as we were all about to give up and go home our brave tecchie accidentally pressed the right button and the play sprang into life.  Unfortunately, the actors in the London theatre had cruelly started without us, and we were well into the first act.  So although I know that the Montagues and the Capulets (aren’t they paracetamol tablets?) didn’t get on, I have no idea why.  Anyway we got through to the end without further bother and half the cast died happily ever after.  Not the best cast (by a long chalk) of a Shakespeare play but Derek Jacobi made us laugh with a very camp Mercutio and Meera Syal made a very good Brummie/ Indian/ Jewish nurse.  We got free ice creams in the interval and a free ticket to see a film of our choice any time in future, so we forgave the Odeon, whose staff at our local cinema are unfailingly kind and helpful.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Finding more good places

Next time we come down here we must bring our Cobb BBQ thingy. There are so many good stopping places for a barbecue. Tonight we rest at the offside moorings at Kirtlington quarry.

Up the steps is the quarry itself

Bristling with wild flowers including loads of orchids.

We left Oxford this morning after spending last evening in the Victoria pub which is wonderful if you like pies. If you don't like pies then eat somewhere else, then go to the Victoria anyway and have a pint of Banks's Sunbeam. My goodness me, as Blowers would say, it is a cracker. The Victoria, just a couple of minutes stroll from Walton Well road bridge is a super pub with an interesting policy. Small menu but really good, and only two real ales, so you are always drinking fresh. The only risk in this pub is that you might be dived upon by an old RAF biplane as those watching the Wales v Belgium match were last night.

Now of course is a good time to remind myself that my Great Grandad was Welsh so I can bask in the reflected glory from my football team who I knew were great all along.

Should you turn the wrong way at Walton Well road bridge, in a couple of minutes walk, you'll end up in Port Meadow, so in spite of going wrong you'll end up somewhere nice. Oxford's a bit like that.

There is good humour too in Oxford. I hear that the Jericho Tavern has a collecting jar on the bar for the Donald Trump assassination fund. And tonight we are moored up next to a boat you might have seen in Thrupp which always has a blackboard showing a quote of the day. Today's quote is "Sense and Sensibility 48%, Pride and Prejudice 52%"






Thursday, June 30, 2016


Well well. We got to Jericho in Oxford to find plenty of visitor mooring space. Hoodathunkit?

Apparently the mooring wardens or whatever they call 'em are pretty assiduous hereabouts and they keep people moving after their allotted time. I've got no problem with that if it means we can come here without fear of not finding a spot. It makes such a difference. After our two days are up, we can move back up the canal a couple of bridges and have another couple of days should we need them.

You have to do a bit of culture when in Oxford, so we did a bit of the Ashmolean to see some of the Ancient Egyptian stuff, then to assuage our dismay over the referendum result (we could always move to Scotland I suppose where people don't upset me so much) we went out for a French nosh last night. Not that that was difficult to do of course with the Bookbinders pub in canal street being two minutes from the boat and specialising in provincial French grub. What a cracking place it is!

Doh, keep your head still Kath!


Jericho has, I believe, a reputation for being Bohemian, and this little pub seemed to confirm that. Anyhow we really liked it. Any pub that has pictures of Bob Dylan and Paul Tortelier on the same wall gets my vote. I'm a big fan of both. I've never seen Bob Dylan live (although I'm told that might be a good thing), but we did go to see Paul Tortelier do the Dvorak Cello Concerto once and he was amazing. Sorry, I digress . .

So there we were tucking into our truly delicious (and cheap) rustic French grub, Kath had Coq au Vin and I had a pork chop thingy in a red wine sauce, then who should walk in but Diane (Nb Ferndale). She and Ray were in the other bar and had spotted us come in. What a surprise! Although, thinking about it, a pub, near the canal, what's the likelihood of either of us not being in it? We knew they were in Oxford somewhere. Anyway it was lovely to see their ever smiling faces, although Ray's smile was not quite so big as he had had a slip and badly bruised his shin. Ouch.

We will definately go to the Bookbinders again. The place has a great atmosphere, the food is good and not dear, the beer was excellent and the service was quick and friendly. Shortlisted for a Herbie Award at Christmas without doubt.

We'll drop down onto the Sheepwash channel for a few minutes today to turn round and then we'll be facing the right way for when we have to go back up to Cropredy. En route back up, we are due another surprise meeting. We got a message from old friends John and Irene on NB Rosie Piper to say they were heading South from Banbury on Monday, so we'll meet up somewhere. I don't think we've seen them since we met at March on the middle levels some years back.

You never know who you will meet on the canal. I like it!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Odds and ends

I've forgotten now how many bottom lock gates have failed to fully open on this trip. Four I think. Yesterday we were held up for quite a while when a boat with it's fenders down got stuck in the gate at Somerton deep lock. Each to his own I suppose but I'd rather pick up a few scratches than go around swaddled in fenders.

My feet hurt cos I didn't sit down for six and a half hours today while we travelled non stop to make progress before the forecast rain. The old policeman's heel aka plantar fasciitis is giving me gyp.

Does anybody else find the northern approaches to Enslow depressingly gloomy? I was glad to get past and on down to the river section which I really enjoy. Despite the fact that it started to pee with rain as soon as we got down on to it, I still. love the exhilaration of all those lovely twists and turns which you can take at quite a lick cos the river has the width.

By the time we got here at Thrupp, or Frupp as the cockneys call it, or Trupp as the Irish call it, or Srupp as the Germans call it, we were well soaked.

Tomorrow we strike out for Oxford. Having watched all episodes of Inspector Morse and also Lewis, I fully expect to find at least one corpse floating in the canal.