Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My cup runneth over

Yesterday (Monday) was more lovely than I had a right to expect. Despite earlier poor weather forecasts we left Norton Junction in dry weather and pottered back towards Watford Locks along what is always a pretty stretch with lambs gambolling in the meadows and birds chortling in the hedges. Then we arrived at the staircase locks and were allowed immediately up the flight. Hooray.

It was just as well we were passing Crick Marina again as I had left my phone in the car, so I did a rather fine swing into the marina service pontoon, ran over to retrieve the phone and then did a spectacularly good reverse over to the exit and back out onto the canal all in a couple of minutes. Of course no one was watching. Typical.

Then the sun ignored met office instructions and broke out to give us a fine afternoon on the lonely winding stretch to the pretty Welford arm where we moored for the night.

What a good day, and to cap it all my book by six o'clock last night had been downloaded by a total of 110 people! Of course over 100 of them had done so for free, so I am not rich. It goes to show that people will buy any old tat if they don't have to pay. It's still free today but back to a price tomorrow. If I can work out how to do it I'll put the UK price to 99p. Interestingly the stats tell me that one copy has gone to Canada, one to Germany and another to Japan.

The book has however received on review giving it four stars, but I have a very strong feeling it was not from a stranger. Thanks S.

Today we're off to Foxton.

It seems we just missed the Indigo Dreamers passing through Buckby top. Sorry guys, that would have been nice. Next time maybe.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Refuge–Herbie retraces steps–plus FREE book

We’re back on Herbie tomorrow for a week so I can hide from the hordes of journalists from Radio 4 and the Times Literary Supplement and the like who will want interviews now my book is published.  Well OK, it’s really that our Peter asked us to give him a week’s holiday from his labours writing Chemistry software. We’re going to do Crick > Norton Junction > back past Crick to Welford> Foxton >Market Harborough and back to Crick.  Yes I know we did much of that last week, but it’s very pretty along there at the moment, even in the drizzle like here when we were following NbElizabeth home.


And of course we’ll be able to revisit the rather wonderful  Bridge 61 pub, seen here with Sarah trying not to demolish it with Chertsey

sarah b61

And for those of you who would like to see the back of Sarah, here’s one more of her ascending the Foxton flight.  Chertsey is looking very smart these days.

chertsey foxton

Now then, I have now sorted out how to make my book free for a short period, so you can get it free from :


or through the kindle bookstore from sometime tomorrow (not exactly sure when, based on eastern pacific time or some such), for Three days, after which it’ll revert to £1.23.  See yesterday’s post for more details.  Apologies to those few people who have already paid good money. Thank you so much. I hope it was worth it.

We have just noticed that a couple of things which appear as typos in the kindle version do not appear in our original.  A couple of places where words have no spaces between them. It must be something to do with the conversion process, so please forgive anything like that you find. When the dust settles I’ll have a go at correcting it.

If anyone does read it then I would be grateful if you rated it on the amazon / kindle site.  It looks a bit bare without any ratings.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Wahooo!  My book is published in Kindle. Next time I fill in a form asking my occupation I might put Writer!  I’m excited.  My first ambitious target is to shift ten copies.  Then after that for someone to write a review saying it wasn’t too awful. After that, everything will be a bonus.

Here’s the cover

book cover

If you want to read it and don’t have a Kindle, there are free Kindle reader apps for Windows, Android, Ipad / iphone and Mac. 

That’s the good news, now for the “buts”. 

1. I’m hoping to make it free for a little while, but just at the moment I can’t get to the bit where I do it because something or other at their end  is being updated, so if you really can’t wait to read it, it’ll cost you the exorbitant sum of  £1.23 or whatever your equivalent currency is.  If you buy it and don’t like it, I’ll buy you a pint, so you’ll be in profit. I’ll let you know when I can set up a proper free period. It’s all a bit complicated, this Kindle publishing lark.  At the moment though you can read the first four chapters as a free sample using the Look Inside feature  I think that’s normal Kindle practice.

2. Despite hours and hours and hours of proof reading, I just spotted a small error in the second paragraph.  Would you believe it? Just a missing “close quotes”.  I’ll correct it later but don’t want to interrupt whatever updating it is doing right now.

I think if you follow this link   http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00JXQKHP0  it is supposed to take you direct to the book. If you are not in the uk, then you have to change the country code. Or failing that, you can find it in the Kindle bookstore.  Title: Jobs for the Boys, Author: Herbie Neil

Should anyone be kind enough to download and read it, I would of course find it useful if you rated it and wrote a little review on the Kindle store.  It would be anonymous so you can be as uncomplimentary as you like.

Just one thing more-


(I needed that).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Herbies in the news

According to the Leicester Mercury, Kath and I are the owners of a certain historic large Woolwich narrowboat! Well if it’s in the paper, it must be true, so I have written to Sarah asking when she intends to hand over Chertsey to us.  So far she is making excuses.  Ah well, the paper did a good photo of me and Kath and Grace even if they did get their facts a bit askew.  You can see the article and the photo here. If all you see are some boats, then click on the arrow at the side of the photo and you’ll see the one of us.

Chertsey might be a big butch boat, but Sarah lends it a woman’s touch as you can see from a photo I took.


More news – I am in the final throes of preparing my book for publication on Kindle.  Why Kindle?  Because I don’t suppose I would sell enough paper copies to pay for the printing! Kath is having a last read through, picking up the final syntax errors (full stops and commas out of place etc.).  I think we have settled on a title, which will be Jobs for the Boys. When I do publish it, I’ll try to set it up so it is free on Kindle for a while (or any device that can download and read Kindle – PC, Tablet etc.)  Just to whet your appetite, here is the blurb.

Eric is not your average Careers Officer. Not for him the discussions on the relative merits of a life in architecture versus civil engineering or ophthalmology versus physiotherapy . Quite a few of his clients have already made a start on their careers – in crime.  As to the others, they range from boys who failed the selection test to be milkmen, to a girl who wants to embalm corpses. Eric loves it.

If only he could manage his own life better. The only career that Eric would swap for would be that of an old blues guitarist, but not being old or black or blind or from the Mississippi delta he is unqualified. Nevertheless he plays his guitar when and where he can in the hope of attracting women. He is marginally more adept at guitar than he is at women, which is to say, not very.

Dealing with women is his weakest point. While he struggles to avoid the advances of Doreen, a predatory older woman, the girl he really wants keeps catching him in embarrassing situations. Worse still, Eric does nothing to encourage her when he stumbles upon a criminal conspiracy and foolishly decides to do the police’s job for them. Lurching from one disaster to another in his battered old motor, he digs himself deeper and deeper in trouble with the police, the criminals, and most of all his would be girlfriend.

When he finally does dig himself out of trouble, help comes from the most unlikely quarters.

As you may have gathered from the above, it is not a work of great gravity, although I like to think there is a strong social conscience  running through it.

Sorry, not a single mention of canals or boats in the whole work.  I suppose I could have called the policeman Inspector Caldon and the headmaster Mr Bridgewater and the prison governor Mr Trent and so on. Next time maybe. How about a villain called Mr Buckby?

Another thing. In order firstly that I might remain semi anonymous and more importantly to make it less likely that anyone suspects, wrongly, that they recognise themselves in the book, I have have decided to adopt a nom de plume – or should I call it a nom de keyboard?  So the author’s name will be Herbie Neil. Easy enough for you lot to recognise but hard for anyone from the 1970s which is when the book is set.

I’m hoping I might publish later this week.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Busking at Foxton

Not much of a view out of Herbie's window at the moment! We are hiding under the mighty bulk of NbChertsey, nicely out of view of all the folk who are here to see the historic boats at Foxton. Despite us being a pathetic little modern boat, people here have been very friendly and welcoming to us. The HNBC seem a nice lot.

We have been earning our stay by doing a bit of busking, helped no end by the fact that Sarah and Jim have kindly lent us the use of Chertsey's built-in performance stage from which we have been able to attract occasional gaggles of onlookers who all want to know what Kath's hammer dulcimer is, or failing that, what my smallpipes are. So the good folk of Leicestershire are that little bit wiser this Easter. Yesterday a man from the Leicester Mercury took our photo and our names and wrote down what a hammer dulcimer was, so maybe next week even more people will know.

Here we are in the throes of some tune or other which, looking at my hands, has a Bminor chord in it. There's posh.

Then last night the club had a shindig in the village hall where we did another bit alongside other performers including Pete Boyce, better known for owning more old boats than you can shake a stick at. On the way over to Foxton we were very proud of Herbie when we encountered Pete run fast aground on NB Renfrew. Despite Renfrew being a proper boat and fifty percent bigger than Herbie we did manage to pull her off the mud with Herbie in reverse. How come Herbie can pull a gert big boat off the mud in reverse when she can't seem to stop herself in less than fifty yards?

It's a good spot here. I like Foxton very much. It's a pity though that all these lovely old boats are out of view of the hundreds of Gongoozlers who flock to see the locks and the remains of the inclined plane boat lift.

Tonight we are joining Sarah's team in the quiz which should give us ample opportunity to show how little we know about real boats and canals in the old days.





Monday, April 14, 2014

Unhistoric narrowboating

The weather is looking good for Easter weekend, which is nice because we’re taking Herbie to the Historic Narrowboat club gathering at Foxton.  Chertsey Jim persuaded us some months ago to come along and do a bit of busking to entertain the throng.  I’m a bit wary of parking Herbie amongst all the “proper boats”. I guess they’ll all have notices on them saying when they were built and what cargoes they carried over what route etc.  I’m very tempted to make up such a notice for Herbie saying she is the historic narrowboat of the future and describing her vintage Sherpa van engine and explaining she was built to carry a cargo of old fogies from pub to pub. Actually we’ll be about as near as we can get to the place where her shell was built – just round the corner at Debdale wharf, so we might not be historic but at least we’ll be local.

As to the busking, who knows how that will turn out.  I did some busking years ago at the Spalding tulip festival and we learned that the trick is to play in short bursts so that the onlookers move on every few minutes.  That way you can repeat the good tunes more often.

Yesterday Kath and I  played, along with the rest of our not very supergroup For Pete’s Sake at Winchester Guildhall in front of a crowd of about 500 people.  That might sound very grand until I tell you that half the audience was made up of the rest of the performers at the concert as there were three community choirs on the bill.  Then when I tell you that we were on at 3pm and the concert lasted until 9.30 pm, you can see how far down the bill we were!  Still, we just about got away with it which was a relief.  The do was a memorial for our friend and manic choir leader and singer Sarah Morgan who one or two of you might have heard of as part of the highly regarded Craig Morgan Robson trio and various other earlier singing groups.  We performed with Sarah on one or two occasions and as I pointed out, our band collectively had known Sarah for two hundred years.  We are promised photos of us on stage later this week.  If any of them don’t make us look too awful I may post one here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Things I never knew about the Slough Arm

I did some interesting towpath rangering yesterday, recording details of access points on and off the towpath at the eastern end of the Slough Arm.  CRT is working towards a national policy on design of signposts and boards to try to do something about the completely confusing jumble of way markers and walking route signs everywhere.  Lots of councils have devised pleasant walks and cycle rides that use a piece of the towpath and they give them names like Beeches Way, or Hillingdon Trail and so on.  I don’t know about you but when I see these by the canal, I don’t know what half of them are.

The Slough Arm has its share of these, and also a number of footpaths that aren’t signed at all, so should you moor up and want to get to, say, West Drayton. You wouldn’t know that some muddy little track of the towpath might take you there.  So I’ve been trying to identify what is what and photographing the paths where they enter or leave the towpath and filling in a form to record the path conditions and signs and all that stuff.  Now before you say why is CRT wasting valuable boater’s money on signs for walkers, I should tell you that they are not.  Some of the money for improvements comes from Boris through TfL and in this case some will come from Hillingdon council, including potentially some over bridge improvements and a general tidy up of various places.  One such spot is down near Bulls bridge / Hayes, where a few undesirable characters hanging around have made the towpath somewhat intimidating.  I don’t think I would want to stop my boat at Hayes, even though it would be handy for shops and a pub.  What they hope to do is to spend a bit of money making the area more attractive and less of a hidey hole for drug dealers.  Anyway I digress. back to the Slough Arm, which by the way is looking quite pretty at the minute.

In the first half mile from the junction there are 5 places where you can enter or leave the towpath and none have a signpost actually visible from the path.  Sad really because a number of them lead to pleasant lakeside or riverside walks.  I wish I had known about these walks when we were Slough Arm regulars.  Take this one by Bridge 1

slarm 4w

The obelisk tells you nothing useful.  The only signpost is up at thee top of that little path where canal users can’t see it.  I never knew until yesterday that it would provide an attractive walk to Packet Boat Lane for the marina gate and the pub, not to mention the attractive  backwater of Little Britain.  Neither did I know that in the other direction it would lead me on a lakeside walk to West Drayton.  I hope that after this exercise is finished we can put that right.

As for this next one, anybody who has taken a boat down the arm will recognise this reclamation plant.


but I bet you never knew that that little path leading off would also take you to West Drayton. (another of my panorama shots that one).


Would you like to see a picture of my fingertip?


Sorry about that.  Did you know that this park is about two minutes walk from the junction bridge?  Neither did I.  If you were on the moorings just opposite the marina entrance you could use this park for a picnic or a barbecue.

The really odd thing though is this


As far as I can make out, these carefully constructed steps lead, er, nowhere!

In the afternoon I went up to the CRT office at Little Venice for a progress meeting and had a very quick stroll round Paddington Basin while I was there.  There were spaces for three or four boats, so not too bad.  Not all that much visible progress on the works at the end since I was last there, but I think it’ll be swanky when it’s finished. Someone commented on another blog that they won’t let us boaters up the far end.  No they won’t but there will be boats there as I understand it will be a floating market.

Cryptic note: Owners of a certain boat that I am very familiar with will be pleased to note that she looks untroubled.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Ladies who lock

Here’s a picture of Kath steering Herbie into a lock.  She thinks she is better at it than me.  I couldn’t possibly comment.


As usual on our last trip Kath was badgering all those ladies who never drive boats into locks and thus have to all the heavy paddle winding and gate shoving themselves.  While Kath is lecturing them about not being browbeaten by their husbands, the hubbies usually shuffle about looking guilty and say something like “ I tried to get her to but she won’t do it” a claim then usually hotly denied by the wife who says something like “Well you shout at me and tell me I’m not doing it right.”

What neither of them seem to understand is that both driving and lock wheeling are nice to do, but not all the time.  We take it in turns, changing over duties after every three locks.  That way we both get some exercise and some driving and if there are a lot of locks to do, the day is a lot less tiring. When Rick is with us we we all take turns and change after every two locks, so you get four locking then two driving. 

Kath lectures these poor couples so vigorously that one of these days some bloke is going to bust her on the nose.  I just keep my distance.  Kath can look after herself against most men.  She has on more than one occasion been described as formidable.  I couldn't possibly comment.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Bent canal picture straightened

Ooh I’m not sure how I did it, but here’s one of yesterday’s pictures straightened out as seen on my PC screen. You can see that it has also picked out the spot on the map.

whilton pano

All I need to do now is work out what I clicked to make that happen!  I can’t seem to repeat it.

Here it is again cropped to a rectangle.

whilton pano crop

  Anyway it raises some interesting possibilities. How often do you get frustrated because you can’t get all of a scene in the picture?  Or is it just me?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Weird phone camera canal shots

I’m still having fun with the photosphere shots on my phone.  In theory you can take a full spherical picture, butI haven’t tried one of them yet.  The pictures below are each made up of about six shots merged together.

Here’s one taken at the bottom lock at Whilton.


Ooh that’s a bit distorted, but on the phone it looks straight and I can pan across it.  I have yet to work out if I can do that on the PC.  

See that green plastic bag on the balance beam?  In there are goodies from the farm shop a hundred yards away including a brilliant steak pie. Yum.

Here’s another taken at night at Stoke Bruerne, looking across towards Kathryn’s cottage.  Not a bad place to live eh?


Not entirely successful that photo. The flagpole and the museum building have both suffered discontinuities. However for a phone shot at night, I think it was worth taking.  Certainly atmospheric don’t you think?.

By the way I ought to mention at this point that the Boat pub at Stoke Bruerne, outside which this photo was taken, served us the cheapest pint on our trip. A good fifty or sixty pence cheaper than the next best.  And their beer is good too. 

Here’s one that worked a bit better.  Here we are somewhere on everyone’s unfavourite Buckby flight – a nice enough spot, but oh those locks give you backache.  The ultra wide angle certainly helps with a skyscape.



Changing the subject completely, I now think that my novel is finished.  I’m currently learning the process of what I have to do to publish it on Kindle where I hope you will be able to get it for free for a period (should you be brave or foolish enough to want to read it). For those who don’t have a Kindle, there is a free Kindle app for iPad and Android and also a free kindle reader for PC.  For the small number of readers I expect to get, I shan’t be going to print.  I’ll let you know when it’s ready and let you see the blurb so you can see what it is about.  Hang in there.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Social Cruising and a free boat wash

Herbie now rests in its old slot adjacent to our favourite grassy knoll in Crick marina. Its been such a good trip up from Iver via London, and so sociable. On board we have entertained Sheila Rob and Val from our occasional band For Pete’s Sake, Towpath ranger Alan, regulars Rick, Marilyn and Rainman, and old friends Maureen and Ray. Then we have spent happy hours with Richard and Sue for a day on Indigo Dream, Graham and Jill for dinner on Matilda Rose, Adam and Adrian for a dinner on Briar Rose, and last but not least Kathryn (Lady Stoke Bruerne) at her lovely cottage for breakfast cheese scones.  There, don’t you wish you were us?

On top of all the human kindness, the dear old met office has also been kind in sending us such good spring weather.  Since we left Iver on March 7, spring has come on in leaps and bounds. The towpaths have here and there been smothered in violets, coltsfoot, daffodils, celandines and daisies and there have been lots of lambs fooling about in the meadows and at Stoke Bruerne fourteen ducklings.  Quite a few swans are now sitting on nests, some surprisingly in amongst the oilseed rape. I hope they don’t get hay fever from it. Poor old Adrian was really suffering from it on Sunday evening.  I felt slightly less sorry for Adam, whose headache was I think the result of a good night at the Walnut Tree the previous evening.  I’ll let him off though as he left a big piece of his chocolate birthday cake on Herbie’s rear deck when they stole quietly away on Monday morning.  I’m sure he will be pleased to know we passed on a bit of it to Kathryn.

When you moor at Crick you get a free boat wash every time you bring the boat home.  This is not a marina service, but comes courtesy of the generous roof leakage in Crick tunnel where it rains 365 days a year.  This year however, the Crick Tunnel was soundly beaten in this respect by Blisworth tunnel.  It was like three thousand metres in a dark car wash.  Some waterfalls I managed to avoid by swerving the boat out of the way, but in one place there was a total curtain of pouring water from which there was no escape. It was a bit like passing through Niagara falls.  Luckily we had been forewarned and had our wet weather gear on. I also deployed the tactic of driving as fast as I dared, getting through the tunnel in a record (for us) twenty five minutes.

We got a friendly welcome back at Crick marina.  They’re a nice bunch.  Harbourmaster Noel was even kind enough not to dwell on the fact that we made a complete pig’s ear of getting into our mooring.  How do you turn right angles into a narrow slot when the wind is blowing down the slot.  Before you can turn the boat you are blown across the entrance sideways on across the backs of the adjacent boats.  The wind there usually blows up and down the marina, which is bad enough, but I lave learned how to deal with that. Yesterday it was blowing across. Something I had not seen before. Suffice it to say it took several very undignified attempts before we got in.

Oh one last thing.  Some who know him will be sorry to hear that our favourite lock keeper Terry who used to look after Watford staircase locks has hung up his windlass and taken a job on land.  He will be missed, not least by Kath for his aroma. No that is not a euphemism, he genuinely did smell nice using his own secret formula man perfume.  Apparently he is still living on a boat through, at Hillmorton.

I’ve got some more photos to post but that’ll have to wait.  I’ve just found out that the car MoT is out of date so I’m off to get that done before we get nicked.