Monday, November 30, 2015

Yes it’s that time again. The Ninth Annual Herbie Awards about to start.

Where has this year gone?  In three weeks the days will be lengthening again (hooray!).  So I look at the old calendar on the wall and I notice it’s time for the annual Herbie Awards.  Yes, time to dust off your glad rags and polish up your jewels, the ceremony of the year is imminent.  This, unbelievably will be the Ninth year of the awards, and as we will have had Herbie for ten years soon after Christmas, we’ll be celebrating some old times, old photos and old friends along the way.  I had of course lined up Terry Wogan to act as MC, but as you know the poor old geezer has a bad back, so I have bravely stepped into his place. 

As to this year’s award categories, we have many old favourites and one or two new ones and of course at the end , we’ll announce the Herbie Special Award, bestowing instant fame and fortune, well fame anyway, well a sketchy picture of a shield anyway, on the worthy recipient.  A number of previous winners still proudly display their award shields on their blogs, so they must be worth something I suppose.

In addition to the usual awards for hostelries and canalside dining establishments, best moorings, useful boaty bits etc. we’ll be adding our choice of best pub quizzes near the canal, best and worst maintained locks and best and worst boats I have had the good/bad fortune to skipper over the year.  I can hardly wait. 

Providing I’m spared until tomorrow, we’ll start off the extravaganza with the ever popular Best Canalside Meal of 2015.  So book your seats, chill the champagne, remember how to tie that dickie bow, and enjoy.  See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Have you heard?

A couple of bits of interesting news have reached my shell like ears.

The first is that the EA have lost a court case against boaters in a couple of marinas on the Thames, to the effect that the judge says that the EA has no right to charge them a licence fee as long as they stay in the marina. That sets the cat amongst the pigeons, at least it would if it set a precedent for CRT. There must be lots of boats that never venture out, and I suspect there would be a lot more if it was licence free to stay put.

Actually, thinking about it, the EA does more for boats in marinas than CRT do because they do a lot more to control water levels. Hmmm watch this space. It would be funny wouldn't it if all those boats moored on the towpath suddenly headed into marinas.

The other bit of news floating around is about the poor landlady on the Shroppie who has lost a lot of business because ecanalmaps has her pub down as CLOSED. It's the Anchor at High Offley. It's very many years since we were there but I remember it as a nice pub, so do pop in if you pass. They are open for business.

Herbie lies resting at Iver while we potter about at home. I have started painting another Buckby can, but it's only in undercoat right now so you don't need a photo yet.

Off topic culture warning. People only interests in boats can stop reading here.

Yesterday we went to the cinema see a recording of the National Theatre's Hamlet with Cumberditch Bendyback or whatever he's called. I like a lot of Shakespeare plays but I have always found Hamlet hard work. Not long ago we went to see Maxine Peake doing it and much as I like her, it didn't work for me. This NT version however was miles and miles better - in fact, BRILLIANT!!

I was a bit alarmed at first when I saw that Polonius was played by the bloke who plays the bishop in Father Ted, but he was plenty good enough to let me forget that. Sherlock Holmes himself was of course wonderful too. Some of those long speeches are hard to follow if the actor doesn't do it right, but he made it easy. Perhaps the biggest ghasps of the night (or the afternoon actually) came from the fantastic set changes and lighting effects. Quite quite brilliant. Eleven out of ten. Go see it if you have a chance.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The joys of being a Volunteer Towpath Ranger

I did a ranger walk yesterday with our new Boss Darren.  He let me choose where we should go so I chose Cowley Peachey and some of the Slough Arm. One of the first things we noticed was this broken fence near Packet Boat bridge.

broken fence

then just as we walked away, a respectable looking middle aged couple walked off the towpath, through the hole in the fence and round the back of the building.  It leads through to a little industrial estate.  People will use whatever shortcuts they can I suppose. I wonder who cut the fence in the first place.

The down the Slough Arm I had been telling Darren about the nuisance of kids on motor bikes on the towpath.  Just then as if to prove my point, one appeared some distance away. We walked towards him but of course as soon as he spotted us he turned around and drove off into one of the many little footpaths that lead off.  Then as luck would have it, just as we got to the footbridge where the arm meets the GU, he appeared again right in front of us.  Before we could shout “Oi” he nipped past and disappeared over the bridge and drove off through another “unofficial” gate into the yard behind Argos, and then out into the main road and away.  Of course he had no number plate or anything to identify him. The surprising this though, was that he was not a young whippersnapper, but a guy of perhaps twenty five years old.  We’ve got signs up saying motor bikes are not legal along there but of course these people take no notice.  The problem is not just the safety aspect, but also the noise these bikes make especially at night.

Further down the arm, we detected signs that someone is sleeping rough under Bridge 1, and we think that at least one of the WWII pill boxes down there are occupied too.  That’s something for Darren to address.  We volunteers deal with the more mundane matters like reporting this impassable (without risk of wet socks) bit of towpath.  I’ll send in a photo and no doubt it will be added to a job list, but at a low priority.


At last I have been given a key which opens up CRT lockups like this little shed at Cowley lock.


at the moment it’s used by the volunteer lock keepers, but we will be commandeering a shelf to keep a bit of Ranger stuff, now that we have keys.  We need to find more lock ups like this on our very long patch from Ricky to Brentford.  I think the next one might be at Norwood top lock.

Another of our duties is talking to towpath users, boaters, cyclists, walkers, anglers etc.  Sometimes to listen to their concerns, which we report back at meetings, and sometimes to try to persuade them to be a good towpath citizen if they are being a nuisance in some way.  Yesterday we were chatting to a couple of anglers. Interestingly one of them said he had given up living on a boat in London because of the pressure to keep moving all the time.  So for those who think CRT is doing nothing to deal with overstayers, it seems that some boaters don’t feel that way.

Being a ranger is not all about walking about, (I did about five miles yesterday, and now my plantar fasciitis is playing up) at least is isn’t for me as a lead ranger.  Today I have spend an hour or so sorting out bundles of uniform and bits and pieces that have arrived for my team, trying to remember who is size  L and who is XXL etc. Then another hour sorting photos and composing emails. It’s all good fun.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I win a bet and go for a walk

Well those who guessed it guessed it right.  The pictures of DI Lewis by the canal were indeed shot at Uxbridge opposite the boatyard.  And I won my private bet which was that Adam would be the first one with the right answer.  I can’t believe he does anything at work except read blogs because he is always so quick to answer, but I admit he is good at canal location spotting, in fact he is the only person I know who seems to know a lot of bridge numbers.

Today I’m al dressed up in my volunteer finery and going for a walk in the general area of the Slough Arm junction with my new boss Darren who has taken over as CRT London Towpath Ranger now that our previous boss Dick has been seconded to get ranger teams going nationwide.  No doubt I will be bending Darren’s ear about motorbikes on the towpath, unemptied rubbish bins


and, down the arm,  uneven muddy footpaths. 


That should cheer him up no end.  Later this month a gang of us rangers will be doing the annual Light Scout, which is basically a walk in the dark along bits of the Regents canal to check if lights under bridges etc. are working.    I can hear people outside of London saying “Lights under bridges?  Hmmph. They don’t know they’re born.  We have to find a glow worm or eat a bag of carrots before we go out at night.”  Well these Londoners are soft, you have to take pity on them.

My free book offer is closed now for another 90 days.  This time I got rid of another 30 odd.  I think the market is getting a bit saturated.  Book 2 is picking up speed and I’m now up to 18244 words!

Monday, November 09, 2015

Lewis is at it again

Cor, these Oxford students don’t half jog a long way.  We just watched an episode of Lewis where a student pops out of her Oxford college for a quick run and gets murdered by the canal.   I wonder if you can spot where it is.  Here Lewis and Hathaway walk along towards where the body was found.  Apologies for the blurry picture.

lewis 1

Over on the far bank through the bridge is the garden of a canalside pub, and it definitely ain’t anywhere within a short jog from Oxford.  This next picture gives away the game completely if you know the area.

lewis 2

DI Lewis, as often happens, is some way off his “Oxford City police” patch.

Now you can show off your canal knowledge and tell me where it is.  I have a private bet on who gets it first.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Grand Union, changes down south

Being back down at the South of the Grand Union has felt like coming home. Not only is it the area we most cruised when we first got Herbie, and Herbie’s home for five years, but its also my Towpath Ranger patch.  But you know what they say, the only thing that stays the same is that things keep changing.  A few things have changed since we were last down here.  First, rather sadly,  the aroma. Coming down to Hayes, we no longer enjoy the delicious smells of roasting coffee since the Nescafe factory has closed.  With the wind in the right direction, you used to savour it for miles. Now the factory lies empty and waiting for some one to knock it down and no doubt turn the site into “dwelling units” or whatever they call them these days.


I heard a rumour that the John Guest (Speedfit plumbing fittings) factory might be moving away because they need a bigger site.  That would be a pity because they have always kept it looking smart and tidy along there, although the once pristine white canal bridge is getting a bit grubby lately.

j guest

Now look again at the picture above and see the new green footbridge on the left.  That’s all to do with Crossrail I believe. It’ll run right alongside the canal here. The bridge stands near where John Guest used to have buildings of their own.  And talking of rail projects . .

Most people will have seen that bit of computer generated video of an HS2 train crossing over the Oxford canal – they nearly always use it on the news when HS2 is talked about, and we see signs by the canal there and other places too saying No To Crossrail.  Well I spotted another HS2 canal crossing.  See here,



This notice was pinned up at Springwell lock not far south of Ricky.  Sadly it was a bit more prominent than the Cyclist Slow Down sign we rangers put up which has been overtaken by vegetation.  It’s there somewhere.


We’re waiting to go on a vegetation trimming course before CRT will let us loose with saws and loppers.  I hope they hurry up before the sign disappears altogether.

One last thing.  In the last 24 hours or so 23 people have downloaded my novel from Amazon/Kindle.  That’s close to one an hour.  You’ve probably guessed why – they’re letting me give it away for free again (until Tuesday). Buy(take) now while stocks last.  I’m now up to 21 reviews, all four or five stars.  The latest one from someone I do not know (honest) simply says “Quite simply superb!.....Witty,clever and very funny!”  thank you Brendan Magee whoever you are! I’m too old to blush. Find it on Amazon /Kindle by looking for Herbie Neil – Jobs for the boys.  End of commercial break.

I’m still wrestling with book 2, currently at 15,780 words, so only about 65,000 words to go.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Busy busy, Three canals in three days–and a bit of inside info

. . or four if you count the Slough Arm separately.

On Saturday we arrived at our winter mooring on the Slough Arm, waving to old friends as we passed their boats and even getting an offer of a lift into town to get the bus home without us asking.  The outer end of the arm looks quite good in Autumn colours. 

Then next day we zoomed 230 odd miles north, by car this time, to take Jacob back to college at stayed in a B&B overnight at Bilsborrow.  It was dark and foggy overnight, but next morning we pulled back the curtains to see that once again we were next to the canal, this time the Lancaster Canal



and then we drove on to Chester to visit a friend who took us to lunch – by the canal of course, the Shroppie this time


and then today, a canal trip I had been a bit apprehensive about.  CRT needed a volunteer to drive their widebeam showboat Jena up and down the GU canal in the Hayes area carrying VIPs from Hillingdon Council and CRT London Waterway Manager John Guest , so that they could hold an on board meeting to discuss joint funding of canal related projects.  As I was the only qualified person available it fell to me to steer this big boat.  That’s OK, ‘cos Id driven her before, but this time I had to twice turn the boat round in places where there was no proper winding hole.  She could just turn without touching both banks.  Luckily I had two enthusiastic young CRT bank staff to assist as crew and it all went without a hitch. I also had the opportunity to quiz John about a few local issues and gleaned a bit of info about future works and other stuff.

In particular I asked about the take up of the new London Winter Moorings, which as some of you know, have been moved “out of town”.  As I suspected from observations along the canal, there has not yet been much of a take up of this facility. Thinking about it, why would someone pay for a mooring out of town, when they can moor on the towpath further in for free?  The winter moorings have apparently been chosen to be handy for rail stations etc, but most of them I think lack facilities such as nearby sanitary stations and water points.

John did confirm though that the bookable moorings at Rembrandt Gardens will be maintained now that they have returned to CRT management, although at some point they will have to consider making a charge for using these to cover extra admin and management costs.  He didn’t know how much that might be but he said that a number of boaters had indicated they would be willing to pay for an assured visitor mooring in that area.  If people were paying, they’d have to be very strict about protecting the moorings from unauthorised boaters pinching the spot and then refusing to move.

I also asked about the proposed Jan-March stoppage at the Crane aqueduct near Hayes which would prevent boats heading south to Bulls Bridge and on to London.  His thoughts were that, depending on preparatory surveys, they might do the job using a coffer dam, thus not fully closing the canal.  That would be handy for us at least.

On Thursday I’m back to Little Venice to take part in a Share The Space event, flinging ourselves in front of speeding cyclists like suffragettes under the King’s horse, and asking them to be more &*%$£y considerate.  Fat chance.