Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I love/ hate maple trees

We're all suppose to love trees. Where we live there are many thousands of trees and I am quite fond of them. Maples and sycamores (same family) are nice to look at, especially when their leaves turn red. You get maple syrup too.

In a stringed musical instrument, a maple back gives a bright clean sound. Most of the finest violins are made with maple backs, giving that lovely flamed effect. Guitars too can have maple backs giving them a light crisp sound.
So what's not to like?

The pesky maple or sycamore that stands alongside Lady Elgar and Herbie, I do not like. It has dropped its slimy wet leaves all over Herbie's roof leaving black leaf imprints (that I can't entirely get off) all over the roof that I (sorry Rick & Marilyn and Kath, WE) took so much care over painting last spring. Lady Elgar's roof, being more under the tree, is nearly all black.
I think the only real remedy, come next spring, will be to clean it down and put on another coat of paint. Now we have a good surface I suppose I could probably do it in an afternoon.
I wonder how well maple burns?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Seeing ourselves as others see us

We received our first Christmas card yesterday! Inside was a note asking how we were getting on with our "Long Boat". I've lost count of how many times I've had to gently explain that it's a narrow boat. I'd rather they called it a barge!

People are always curious about boaters. Quite often we get questioned by bystanders at locks. One Indian family up the Lee navigation were amazed that people could actually live on a boat. "You mean you sleep on it? Out here on the river? At night? Do you have a bed?" We gave them a guided tour and they were amazed. "Look, a toilet. Look, a cooker and a sink!" Kath is now getting quite good at guided tours of Herbie. Sometimes we give rides between locks and occasionally let them steer. I think BW should pay us PR money.

Then we get the questions about where the canal goes to, why they put in all these locks to slow us down, how much it costs to moor up overnight, etc etc. The one comment we nearly always get is "Oh it looks such a lovely relaxing way to travel". Well it can be, but I wouldn't exactly call a day working 15 Grand Union locks relaxing. Actually, I see it more as a way to keep fit!

A picture of me "relaxing" at Stonebridge Lock. My back still aches at the memory!

It really does seem though that a lot of people envy us in our "long boats and barges". And so they should.

It is rather nice being envied. Although I sometimes add "You could have one too if you work hard for thirty odd years and save up." Anyway, it's all a question of priorities. I expect they have newer cars and nicer houses than we do. Half of the cars on Top Gear cost as much or more than Herbie.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Winter checks

This weekend we hope to stay on Herbie for a couple of days. Hooray -let's burn some coal.

I don't think we'll be going anywhere but it'll be nice to get some respite from family duties. One thing I will try to do is to check that the plumbing on the boat is as frost protected as we can get it. When we leave the boat we always turn of the water and open all the taps, and drain down the heat exchanger in the gas water heater, but that only offers limited protection.

This time I want to look at the plumbing to and from the hot water tank. Ideally I'd like to be able to drain the tank itself if we ever get a really cold spell. I know there's a drain tap on the floor of the cupboard by the back steps. That is probably the lowest point on the boat so that might do it if it's in the hot water circuit. Even if it is, collecting several gallons of water from a tap an inch off the floor might be fun!

We'll also reinstall our removable secondary double glazing which Roy, the previous owner made. It really works well, especially at eliminating condensation on the windows.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Signwriting - second attempt

This time I tried it freehand - albeit with a strip of masking tape top and bottom to get clean top and bottom lines. Yes I know Herbie has an E on the end, and No Ididn't run out of space by mistake. I sacrificed the final E so that I could do larger letters.

The paint I used was a bit of a disaster really which made it quite a bit harder. Hence the blotchy colour and the raggy edges because it was clogging and drying on the brush. I used some old emulsion for the main lettering because it was all I had in a creamy colour, and mixed up that with some pink and grey undercoat for the blocking. Remember his is only practice. The blocking paint was useless, a bit like trying to paint with polyfilla! For the dark shading I used some grey undercoat. All in all I reckon I could do a much nicer job with proper paint.

When I first started (on the H) I was convinced the whole thing was going to be a disaster and I was wondering how to get out of my promise to put a picture of it on the blog. But I kept going, and whilst the end result doesn't stand up to close scrutiny I'm not too ashamed of it. Think of it as a sketch. I think I put the letters a bit too close together which put me off making the blocking wide enough on the top half of the letters, so they all look base heavy.

Doing it freehand is not that hard if you use the brush decisively, and on the curved bits I found that if I started a bit inside the width and got the curve right, then I could extend it to full width afterwards. The first curve strokes were inevitably misjudged.

Thanks to those who suggested chalk for marking out. I'll have a go to see if it works next time.

I think that for attempt 3 I'll make sure I have some paint that flows. It's too hard to keep the brush in control and get clean edges otherwise.

I'd welcome any comments and advice.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Signwriter's block

Completing my second attempt at signwritng is proving much more challenging than my earlier attempt.

This time I started by gloss painting a dark red background, which is probably what I would use on Herbie. Actually I was very pleased with the finish I got considering the painting only took a minute or two and the fact that I was onlt using some old Wickes gloss paint. I remembered what I had learned on Phil Speight's painting course this summer. Use a long bristled synthetic brush, put plenty of paint on it, quickly spread the paint in all directions then lay off with straight vertical strokes. So far so good.
The bit which is not so easy is laying out the lines for the letters. I tried a white crayon, but I couldn't really see it. Painting the letters will have to be done without clear marking out lines, and I reckon that will be harder. However I'm going to have a go in the next day or two, this time with a font copied from the signwriting on Saltyspash's Lady Elgar. However bad, I'll let you see it when it's done.

I've also been studying close ups of Phil Speight's signwriting which I photographed on the course. He does it all freehand. The close ups give some interesting insights into how he does it. Take a look below.
I love the little gap left between the cream letter and the orange blocking, and also the little white highlights that give the letter a sparkle. Incidentally you can see the great man's reflection in the background.
Then on this one I love the black shadow to the right of the letters. It really enhances the 3D effect. You can hardly believe he does it all freehand and very quickly too.

For now, however I'll be concentrating on basic shapes, proportions and neat brushwork. I reckon that will be challenge enough.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Signwriting practice - first attempt

I thought I might as well be brave and reveal to you my first practice attempt at signwriting - warts and all. There are more things wrong with it than I can list, but here are a few.

1. I don't like the font - next time I'll use something with more exaggerated serifs and wider uprights
2. I forgot to use masking tape at top and bottom of the red lettering to get nice sharp edges
3. My vertical lines are wonky - next time I'll use a marl stick (one of those sticks with a cloth knob on the end) to steady my hand
4. I used whatever paint had to hand so the pale shadowing on the uprights doesn't stand out well enough against the background (a piece of painted hardboard)

Never mind, it's only a first practice, and I've already learned a lot of lessons. I was generally pleased that I took trouble to work out letter spacing OK, and I liked the long hair chisel tip brush I used.

In real life the signwriting would need to be about twice the size which I suspect might make it a bit easier. However the big disadvantage of doing it for real is that you have to work vertically sitting or kneeling on the canal or dock bank. I aim to do a lot more practice before I would dare try. Anyway, I'm enjoying it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Best Pub, Best Pint

Herbie sits patiently waiting for our next visit which ought to be soon if only to clean the roof of rotting leaves and top up the batteries. In the meantime , and after deep soul searching, I can now announced the 2008 Herbie Award for Best Pub, and it goes to . .. . . . .

The Grapes at Limehouse - a unanimous decision. It's a pub you want to take your friends to, and it scores on character, location and quality of food and beer. What else is there to say?

The Best Pint Award is always going to be more contentious, so the Award will be based on my personal choice, although I suspect Phil would back me up as he waxed lyrical about it on our recent trip. There are lots of good beers, but occasionally you get a pint of a generally good beer that is in absolutely tip top form, and such was the case this time. Even one of the local regulars in the pub was singing the praises of this particular barrel. So the big prize goes to a pint (well more than one actually) of Fullers ESB served at the Black Horse at Greenford in October. Stunning.

A really really good pint like this must surely rank alongside the very finest of wines. The difference is I can afford to buy the beer whereas a bottle of wine of that quality would cost about twenty times as much.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fear and trepidation

Have I got the nerve to paint Herbie’s cabin sides next year? They could do with it, and they’ll have to be done some time. The trouble is it’s a non trivial task in terms of time and money and anything less than a good result would be a big waste. I’ve been going over it again and again in my mind and now I have a cunning plan.

I‘ve decided not to commit yet to the full job until we’ve practiced on a relatively inconspicuous bit. When we get a spell of decent weather I’m going to have a go at the rear doors and the inside of the semi trad stern walls. I reckon the painting is relatively easy once you get good surface, but it’s the rubbing down and levelling that will be hardest. I don’t suppose we’ll get the right weather for it for a while but that’s the plan.

Meanwhile I’m going to practice sign writing. Oddly enough I’m less scared of that than the plain painting of the flat surfaces. The people next door at home have just had their kitchen ripped out so I’m off to scrounge some cupboard carcase offcuts for something to practice paintng "HERBIE" on.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Most scenic days cruise award , and nominations for Best Pub

For some unknown reason, Blogger is removing my blank lines between paragraphs today and I can't seem to fix it, so this is all a bit of a slab. - sorry.
Having considered and discussed our nominations for the Herbie Award 2008 for Most Scenic Day's Cruise, the winner is . . The Wey Navigation fron Send to Godalming. A really pretty stretch full of rustic charm, gentle meanders, lush countryside and variety too. I'm sure we'll be back before long.
Now we come to the agonising one, choosing Best Pub. Well, you can't say we haven't done some serious research in this department. A good pub should have character, friendly locals and staff, good beer, good food if they serve food, and preferably a bit of a buzz in the evening. A quiz gets it extra points. For a Herbie award I suppose the pub should also be close to the canal or river (say under 5 minutes walk).
So what do we have to choose from this year? Let's start with the long list.
1.The Fox at Hanwell (last year's winner) - great beer, great food, good moorings, quiz .
2. The Warwick Castle at Little Venice - a new find for us. One minute walk from Brownings Pool, this pub is busy, but you can generally get a table. The decor is Victorian or Edwardian I suppose - lots of decorated ground glass panels and carved woodwork. The beer is good - Doom Bar, Tongham TEA, Deuchars etc and the food is modestly priced and innovative. Quiz
3. The Grapes at Limehouse. Tiny, old Victorian pub, two minutes walk from the basin. Always packed, but people will move up to give you a seat. Good beer -Timothy Taylors. Good food - mostly fish. Efficient and helpful staff. Packed with history and character and mentioned by Charles Dickens in (I think) Our Mutual Friend. It has a tiny veranda at the back overlooking the river.
4. The Old Barge at Hertford. Biggish pub right on the riverside. Numerous well kept real ales always available, and even the young barmaids seem to know what each one is like so they can advise!! We have never eaten there but the bar manu looks OK. Their Sunday night quiz is excellent.
5. The Magpie and Crown at Brentford. A locals pub, very friendly and good for conversation. Interesting real ales all kept with care and enthusiasm. I don't know about food, as we've only been there mid afternoon. One minute walk from the gauging lock.
6. The Anchor and Hope - Tiny tiny pub alongside the Lee navigation at Clapton, south of Tottenham. Good beer, very friendly staff. A real gem. Sadly, we've only used it for a quick lunchtime pint in passing.
7. The Black Horse at Greenford - Right by the canal, this big pub has excellent Fuller's beers (the ESB was cause of us overstaying and having to cruise home in the dark recently), good food, newpapers, football on the TV, comfy seats, friendly staff, a big garden, an upstairs room with big windows overlooking the canal. Its just about half way between our moorings and Paddington. Very convenient.
Phew that's more than enough to choose from. Even then I have ommitted the excellent Star Inn at Godalming (CAMRA regional pub of the year -several real ales, 8 real ciders), because it's a ten minute walk from the river.
So how about a shortlist of nominees. I'll eliminate the Fox as they won it last year.
1. The Warwick Castle
2. The Grapes
3. The Anchor and Hope
4. The Black Horse
Stay tuned while we agonise for a few days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Slough Arm news - faint glimmers of hope

If the Slough Arm had a tunnel there might just be a chink of light at the end of it. This summer I paid a tenner to join the Friends of Slough Canal and the minutes of recent committee meetings bear interesting news.

First, the idea of linking the Slough Arm through the town and out to the Thames near Windsor.
Should this ever come about it a big deal indeed and would shave 30 miles and 21 locks off the journey to the upper Thames from the Grand Union. That's about two days cruising, plus up to a day waiting for the tide at Brentford.

I think it fairly unlikely myself but the news is that Slough Borough Council plan to set aside money for a further feasibility study next year. The prospect for the Slough Arm would be major improvement as I don't suppose it could then keep its (unique?) status as a remaindered waterway, and maybe then it would be properly dredged and kept more clear of weed.

I was amused to read that councillors in Windsor were not impressed by the promise of increased tourism, saying they had more than enough already!

The second bit of news is that Slough Basin will be included in the target area for Slough's regeneration. This seems a lot more likely and is very good news, as the basin is the major let down on the Arm. If it provided a good place for boats to visit, then the Arm would get a lot more use. At the moment it looks like this.
In a previous set of Friends minutes they recorded a discussion of this year's Slough Canal Festival, and a determination to make improvements next year. Amen to that. One or two of us from High Line Yachting, our moorings, would give it our support.

Here we are at the festival mooring in 2007

and this is it in 2008*

Notice the subtle difference?
*PS Do my eyes deceive me or is that Saltysplash with a glass of beer? Surely not!

Monday, November 10, 2008

First award awarded - Best Overnight Mooring

After due deliberation, the 2008 Herbie Award for Best Overnight Mooring* goes to (drum roll while golden envelope is opened) - Hertford Visitor moorings. Loud applause.

I suspect Andrew on Granny Buttons might agree, as he wrote in praise of these moorings (and Hertford) only the other day. Our runner up was Limehouse Basin, which is a great play to stop over because of the surounding history and geography, but mooring up against a wall two feet higher than the boat, precludes bankside picnics etc. What is more, at Limehouse you are only supposed to stay for 24hrs (although a friendly word with the lockies will often secure an extension).

At Hertford, on the other hand you can stay for (I think) a fortnight, the grassy bank is well kept and has good mooring bollards. The river itself is very clear and the abundant ribbon weed looks pretty waving in the gentle current, and amazingly seems to avoid tangling round the prop. The people on the allotments and the locals out for a stroll along the bank all seem relaxed and sociable, and the nearby town centre still retains independent shops and a bit of character. As to pubs, there is the excellent Old Barge which I can reveal will be a nominee for Best Pub. (coming soon).

Well done Hertford.

*Of course, this applies only to places we have stayed this year.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Most scenic day's cruise -nominations

Whilst readers wait with bated breath for the result of the Herbie Award for Best Overnight Mooring we now turn to nominations for this year's Most Scenic day's Cruise. I checked back to last year to see what my criteria were when the award was won by Linslade to Fenny Stratford on the GU. Umm, well I didn't seem to have any criteria then! I suppose Most Scenic is self explanatory, although I should say I will include urban scenery alongside rural.
So the nominations are:
1. The Thames from Brentford to Weybridge - lots and lots to see, and from stately mansions to fascinating bridges to quirky boats and boathouses to channels around the numerous islands. We enjoyed it a lot.
Our first glimse of the Thames after entering at Brentford

Bridges at Richmond

The Desborough Cut between Walton and Weybridge

2. The Wey navigation from Send to Godalming. At times this looked like a Constable painting, with lush watermeadows and distant church spires. Even the centre of Guildford was a pleasant surprise. Some of the bridges too on this stretch are wonderfully rustic. No surprise it is all managed by the National Trust.
Near Godalming

Lush greenery everywhere on the Wey

The meadows at Guildford

3. The river Stort from Roydon to Bishops Stortford. Narrow, snakey, and largely rural, enhanced by its new sculpture trail, and marred only by the unattractive last mile into Bishops Stortford.
Breakfast time on the Stort near Harlow
Another bend on the Stort slalom!

Interesting that all three nominations this year are on rivers rather than canals.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Is this the thinnest balance beam on the waterways?

Not only does the Stort have the craziest footbridge (see previous post), I reckon it also has the thinnest balance beam on a full size lock. OK I know the Stort locks aren't as big as normal double width locks, but they're still bigger than the single locks found all over the midlands.

Anyway, this one is at Harlow, just by the railway station if my memory serves me right. I don't have a clue why it was made this thin. I suppose it was about four inches square. I thought balance beams were supposed to counteract the weight of the gate, and the gate was normal size. I remember the gates were easy to open and close, so it works OK.
If you've seen a slimmer one, I'd be interested to know of it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Is this the craziest bridge on the canals?

I don't mean crazy in the perjorative sense, just a bit zany I suppose. This footbridge is at Bishops Stortford, and it's virtually imposible to fully capture in a photograph because of its size and complexity. It has all sorts of angles and loops, partly I suppose to allow disabled access. Google Earth doesn't show it as far as I can tell, which is a pity, as an arial photo might make sense of it. Presumably, it's very new. Anyway, for your delectation here are some on the pics I took as we passed beneath it in September. Incidentally, there is a very good chinese buffet restaurant just at the side of the bridge.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Nominations for best overnight stop

Time to consider the first of the 2008 Herbie award nominations - Best Overnight Mooring

What makes a really good overnight mooring stop? Here are some ideas, although a couple are mutually exclusive

Attractive surroundings (whether rural or urban)
Safety and security
Nearby facilities - good shops, pub etc
Other boaters for company
Reverse gongoozling (people watching)
A good bank side to sit out on (no dog poo)
Good walks nearby

I like all these things at different times. Of the places we've stopped this year, favourites that spring to mind are:

Hertford visitor moorings - safe, quiet, but with a couple of other boaters and occasional passers by to chat to, attractive enough, a good grassy bank, a very good pub (the Old Barge) and handy shops

Limehouse basin - safe, spectacular city landscape with lots to look at, interesting walks around dockland, The Grapes pub, handy small shops

Paddington basin (not the Basin itself but just round the corner near the Station)- safe, loads of reverse gongoozling, more pubs and shops than you could shake a stick at, a "patio" to sit on, and easy access to the rest of London on public transport

Just outside Thames lock at the entry to the Wey navigation - like a private garden, safe and quiet, immaculately kept, but nothing much to see.

The bottom of Hanwell flight by the Fox is good but fails the dog poo test
Normally, we'd have had some more rural landscapes to draw on, but this year we seem to have been a bit more urban in our travels. The Stort was rural but no moorings took our fancy to a great degree. I think some spots on the Wey are beautiful, but not many of the really rural bits would make good places to tie up. Small rivers are beautiful, but often not that convenient for stopping.

Any Herbie crew reading this might like to add or respond before the decision is made.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Bio Magic trial report

Boaters (and possibly caravanners) will happily read this, because it's about toilets - a favourite subject. The rest of you can look away now if you are squeamish as some of the following is a tad graphic.

We've been trialling Bio Magic, and alternative to the usual bue formaldehide toilet fluids like Aqua kem and Elsan fluid. Bo Magic is clear and odourless and claims to work by supplying the natural bacteria in your poo with lots of oxygen so they can break it down quickly and without odour. I'm not sure what the chemical formula is. The bottle just says the contents are water, oxygen and nitrogen. Anyway it claims to be perfectly safe, non staining etc etc and it very probably is.

We tried it in an effort to be environmentally responsible and to get rid of the chemical smell of the blue stuff. Previously we had tried Aqua Kem green which was frankly disgusting.

We've now used Bio Magic a number of times and here are our conclusions. I should add that we are using it in a cassette toilet.

Does Bio Magic work?

Yes it seems to. Everything is odourless and it really does breakdown the tank contents in a matter of a couple of hours. Even the loo paper. All you get when you empty the tank is liquid, so the tank cleans out easily. For the foreseeable future, we'll keep using it.

The downside? Well the resulting liquid is brown and not pretty blue but I can live with that as it all pours away so easily. You need to thoroughly clean out your holding tanks before using the product so that the bacteria aren't killed by formaldehide residue. Our impression was that Bio Magic worked better after a few cycles. The bacteria run out of oxygen after three days so if you don't empty the tank before then, you need to add another dose. Bio Magic is quite a lot more expensive than blue stuff if you buy it in small quantities. We will be buying it in the larger sizes from now on as they are much cheaper and it claims to have an indefinite shelf life. You can get the cost down to below 10p a day this way.

Has anyone else out there tried it? I'd like to know how you got on.

Finally I should say that we have no connection whatever with whoever makes or sells the stuff.