Monday, October 31, 2016

Fire and rescue

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

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


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


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

The next demo was possibly of more interest to boaters.


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

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


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

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

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

I hope you found that interesting. We did.

Drive safely folks.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Quietways, busy days

Coo, I’m cream crackered.  Having retired from work eleven years ago I had forgotten how tiring commuting was. Helping out with the CRT Quietways consultation cruise on just four days this week was fun, but I’m glad it’s over.  All that sitting on rush hour trains to get to the boat and back is not my idea of fun.

I haven’t seen the final figures but we might well have spoken to a thousand towpath users and had proper conversations over the details with a couple of hundred of them.  Our boat Jena stopped at West Drayton, Hayes, Southall, Greenford, Alperton, Ealing, Meanwhile gardens (near Ladbroke Grove) and Paddington.  On the bank we gave out maps, leaflets, free bicycle bells, poop bags for dog walkers and more leaflets.   On board we had photos of key improvement sites, maps, schedules, and even engineering drawings of the planned towpath improvements.  People came to see the information and ask questions, support the plans, express concerns about the effect on wild life, complain about encouraging speeding cyclists, check there would be space to drive in mooring stakes, eat free biscuits, ask unrelated questions about what it costs to live on a boat, or how to walk to the zoo – we had all sorts. The lady from Towpath Talk came over yesterday and took notes and photos, so you’ll see that after Christmas. In general, the reaction was pretty positive.

By the end of each day we were surprisingly tired. Here’s volunteer Ken, still keeping vigil in the dark while luckier folk across the canal were enjoying the pub.


We did have some friends under the bridge to keep us company.  By that time of the evening the spiders under the bridge were doing rather better at ensnaring their prey than we were.  I suppose they benefit from the lights brining in the insects.


Over at Paddington yesterday we were a tad more comfortable


So what were we telling people about?  (Please note that I am writing here only what I have observed and learned and that this does not in any way constitute official CRT information.) That between Ladbroke Grove-ish and West Drayton (that’s about 15 miles) over a two year period the towpath will be improved to a new standard creating a new path surface between 1.8 and 2 metres wide, plus a 500mm strip of level grass either side and the hedgerow vegetation trimmed back ( not in the nesting season) and overhead to create more space.  No more muddy puddles, no more cycle ruts, no uneven surfaces, and more space for people to get past each other.  There will also be a significant number of access points (already identified) where improvements are needed where current steps and ramps are unsuitable or in poor condition. Finally there will be improved signs. (I think CRT might call it signage GRRRR!!)

I had a look at the cross section drawings for the new towpath surface which is to the latest spec. I didn’t understand all the details of the materials, so don’t quote me on this but it looks like a sub structure of aggregate, smaller in the middle and larger at the edges for lateral stability (not under the grass verges), then a layer of some sort of bituminous material (that might not be the right word but you get the idea) on top of which is sprayed and stuck a top layer of a much finer stones to give a smooth but grippy surface. It will of course have a gentle slope towards the canal (1:50 I think) to drain off surface water.

The sample pictures make the towpath look much lighter and more spacious, and the benefits claimed are a safer, cleaner environment for towpath users.  You never know, the more open environment might even discourage some of the oiks from littering and vandalism. (I’m an incurable optimist) The downside could be that cyclists see it as a race track.  Increased efforts will be made to calm them down and those wishing to get somewhere in a hurry will be advised to choose another route. Well, we’ll have to see about that one, it won’t be easy, but at least there will be more space to overtake walkers.

The money is coming largely from Transport for London and the London Boroughs although CRT will meet some of the costs.

To be frank, there isn’t a lot in this for boaters, but this is London folks, where the towpaths are really heavily used by other people.  The evidence of my own eyes and ears this week is that lots of Londoners and visitors really do value the canal environment so that’s no bad thing. At Paddington yesterday we were joined by the “Chuggers” recruiting “Friends” who sign up to make regular donations to CRT, and I was surprised to see that they signed up quite a few.

I don’t see this type of towpath environment being at all suitable for non urban or suburban areas, so I wouldn’t worry that your local stretch of grassy bank is likely to suffer the same fate, but I’m sure that it would be welcomed in some popular but notoriously muddy areas. Braunston locks springs to mind.

PS I can confirm that you can turn a big boat like Jena at the closed off bridge hole just past Sainsbury’s near Kensal Green. Just!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Towpath Idiot of the Year Award

Should the Towpath Idiot of Year Award go to the bloke who drove a motor bike straight at me yesterday, or should it go to me for deliberately standing in his way ?  Read on.

There we were, at West Drayton, doing our bit for the Trust. Our big boat Jena was moored just by the bridge, on board an exhibition showing the plans for towpath improvements


lots of charts, maps, leaflets etc and a few of us on hand to explain and answer questions.  Outside the boat we were accosting passers by and generally having a sociable time.


Then from under the bridge a young man appeared riding a trials type motor bike.  A couple of the CRT staff stopped him and asked him to take his bike off the towpath, it being illegal and unsafe.  The young man wasn’t at all impressed by this advice(surprise surprise) and forced his way through.  I was standing on the path pretty much exactly where I stood to take the above photo, so I thought I’d have a go at stopping him, standing in his path with my arms spread.  So what did he do?  Open the throttle and drive straight at me.  I thought he would stop when got to me, but he didn’t.  Luckily I remembered my matador’s training (OK that bit might not be true) and just got out of his way at the last millisecond.  We collided, but not heavily and he broke through and escaped. You might (or might not) be glad to know I was unhurt physically or psychologically, although I did spill the coffee cup I was holding, but it could have been much worse.  I’m sorry to say  although this was the first time I have been charged down by a motor bike, I have on a few other occasions been charged by nasty pedal cyclists refusing to stop.

Well, we thought we’d better alert Mr Plod so we dialled 999 and twenty minutes later two very nice constables arrived in a squad car and took down the details.  Naturally we couldn’t agree on how old the miscreant was, or what colour his clothes were etc etc. because it all happened very quickly and he was gone.  The policemen told us that motor bike towpath complaints were frequent in the area, a fact we already know because we did a little investigation of our own a year or two back.

It was all a bit poignant because only a week or so ago a couple of CRT guys who I know but will not name, were attacked by cyclists on the towpath near Southall.  That was much much worse and knives and bike chains were used against the staff.  Luckily no serious physical injuries were involved although as you would expect they guys were badly shaken up and are now understandably nervous about being out on the towpath in such places.

The official CRT advice (especially to volunteers) is of course not to get involved in confrontations, just walk away, but in the heat of the moment it’s hard not to try and stop people who are being complete bastards.

You’ll be glad to know that the rest of the day was fine even though we moved on to the notoriously dodgy area by Hayes bridge. and all in all we had discussions with about 120 towpath users virtually all of which were pleased about the improvement plans.  Today Jena moves (without me) to Uxbridge Rd moorings and then to the Black Horse.  Should you be passing by, do stop and learn about the coming improvements and give your views. You might get a sweetie and a cup of coffee.  Yesterday they even had Jaffa Cakes.  I’ll be back on board on Friday as we move ever closer to Paddington.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The devil in the detail – planning a CRT travelling event.

Next week sees a week of CRT led drop in events in West London

Here is what their official announcement says.

London towpaths are more popular and being enjoyed more than ever before. We are transforming over 16 miles of towpath between Paddington and West Drayton with work beginning at the end of 2016.

Supported by Transport for London’s Quietways programme, and building on previous improvements between Paddington and West Drayton, we will be providing:

  • - better quality surfaces
  • - wider paths
  • - improved access points
  • - new signs

bringing huge benefits to everyone visiting and enjoying West London canals.

Join us for drop-in events on the towpath!

Our widebeam, Jena, will be travelling along the canal this October half-term – come along to learn more about the proposed improvements, give us your feedback and find out how to get involved!

Please see our website for more information:

I can already hear the groans of boaters will complaining about the cost of it all – well most of the cash for the improvements is not from CRT, so that’s not such a big issue.  Others will of course sigh and complain that there is enough towpath traffic already without encouraging any more.  That is probably a bigger issue, which is part of the reason for the events, which will focus on responsible and considerate use of the towpath.  I’m saying nothing, except that I’m doing my bit in joining in with public education.

Anyhow, I’m involved in it in a couple of ways, first in helping out with the talking to the public, and also with moving Jena from place to place.  This latter job has caused a quite bit of head scratching and the guys at CRT probably groan as my next email pops into their in tray, cos I’ve been a bit of a thorn in their flesh .(splendid people all and good friends of mine, but they are sometimes unaware of some of the issues in moving big boats about).

It all seems easy enough, start here, move along a bit each day to the next busy spot, get to Paddington, then pop back to a popular spot for a second session towards the end and return to  Little Venice for a finale.  Simples.

In the way of these things, a few matters got overlooked. For instance when I thought to check on sunset times it showed us that some of the planned moves would be in the dark,( do you fancy steering a 65ft widebeam past lines of moored boats in the dark?)  or be so early next morning that I’d have to be up at 5am to do them. Next time I think I’ll suggest moving the boat each midday, which would still give the team a morning and an evening slot at each place.  Now I’ve just spotted that on the penultimate day Jena will be facing the wrong way and will need quite a trip to find somewhere to turn, but insufficient time has been planned to allow for this.  Does anyone know if a 65 footer can turn on the bend at Kensal Green? Or perhaps by Car Giant? I’d be glad of any advice. That might be our only hope, otherwise we’ll have to trudge out to Acton winding hole and back.

Never mind, we shall overcome, and it’s all being handled perfectly amicably.  Let’s just call it a learning experience for us all.  I wont be involved every day, but it looks like I’ll be involved for the first few moves.  If you’re in the West London area, look out for us, or better still come on board at one of our stops.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Things to see and do in Banbury

Having spend quite a bit of time exploring Banbury on our recent cruise, I thought I’d pass on a few things to look out for, all within walking distance from the canal.

First the stuff you already half know about.

Well of course there’s Banbury Cross.  Not having a cock horse we walked up that way. Some people never get that far, but if you can manage to walk past Wetherspoons in High Street without going in, you’ll be at the cross in half a minute.  Banbury used to have three crosses, used as places of pilgrimage until 1600 when the puritans demolished them.  The current one is Victorian and is a typical Victorian gothic edifice.  Perhaps a bit more exciting is the statue of “A fine lady on her cock horse” just over the road.

Another place rescued from architectural vandalism is the Globe Room at the back of the Reine Deer Inn.  Perhaps the most amazing thing about this lovely old room where Olly Cromwell is said to have planned the battle of Edgehill is that it survives at all!  In 1810 the brewery tried to flog it off to Americans or whoever, but a campaign, which seems to have gone national, fought the sale, then some of the oak panels and windows were sold, only to be bought back again.  It’s a good yarn and you can read the story here. Or you can visit the pub and have your meal in there.

Then of course there are Banbury cakes which you can buy in some of the bakery shops. Pretty much like Eccles cakes but more oval and having a touch more spice.  The recipe goes back to 1586 they say.

Now stuff you might not know about.

Turn right (North) at Banbury cross and walk a couple of hundred yards up Horsefair (A361) and have a butchers at St Mary’s Church, it’s well worth it.

Image result for st mary's banbury

We’ve walked past it a few times before, but this time, we went in.  Wow!




Not yer typically English church is it? Does it look Italian or am I wrong? Except perhaps for those lovely box pews According to the two ladies who were looking after the place when we went in, the organ is a belter and when the place is full at Christmas the atmosphere and the sound is great.  Well, not quite full, because the Fire regulations won’t let anyone  sit forward of that pillar you can see in the middle of the upper seats.  It’s the same the other side.We thought it was perhaps because of the weight, but no, it’s because there is only one small exit door to the stairs.  Anyhow, well worth looking in.

Then lastly, right next to the canal to the south of the town centre, comes a smell familiar and evocative to anyone who has ever been involved in iron casting. Mmmm I love it. The Swan Foundry.  You can’t go in for a look so you just have to peer across the canal at the moulding cases and smell the burnt sand.  Foundries are fascinating places but a health and safety nightmare I would think.  The interesting thing is that although this foundry is primarily involved in iron mouldings, they also have a facility (whether here in Banbury or not, I can’t tell) for making propellers. 

Standard Scale

But don’t get excited folks, look closely and you’ll see these wouldn’t fit a narrowboat, for it seems these propellers are for model boats only.  High precision things made by the lost wax process. However, if you’re thinking of making a working model boat, look ‘em up here. It looks like they’re the biz.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

A Perfect cruise before watching paint dry

We’re back home now after what must be a record breaking cruise for us.  In just over two weeks we covered only 20 miles (10 miles each way). Not exactly pushing ourselves you might say.  However we had a good time, meeting friends in Banbury, generally mooching about and doing a bit of painting.  The furthest we got was The Pig Place, just North of Nell Bridge lock where we managed to find a spot with a TV signal to watch the Grand Prix. 


The Pig Place is probably not a good place for vegetarians, because you can go and scratch the piggie’s backs and then go to the shop and buy the pork chops, but at least you know you are getting meat from well looked after and happy pigs.

Then next day we tootled back to Banbury in what I can only describe as the perfect day for cruising.

The canal was quiet, the sky was blue, and the sun was on our backs, not too hot so the air was fresh. The hedgerows were bursting with hawthorn berries, rosehips and crab apples, and, the locks were all in our favour.  I can’t remember a more enjoyable cruise. Perfick!

I remember someone once telling me that in an average year, there is only one day when conditions are right for boat painting. Well, I must have missed that day this year.  It’s been too hot, or too cold, or too wet, or too windy, but some stuff just couldn’t wait another winter, so I had a go anyway.  The most urgent bits were the sides just above the gunnels, which I already told you about, so I got them done last week, and much worse, the front part of the cabin roof.  Too many times have I left bags of coal up there.  Don’t do it folks, the wet gets underneath and if you leave the bags there it eats the roof.  Gert big flakes of paint were coming off, the rest of the paint was blistering and the rusty bits beneath had got very rough, so despite unsuitable weather I set about sorting it.  First wire brushing and sanding, then Fertan rust treatment (easiest and best), then sweeping,  washing and degreasing, all of which can be done in any weather (except possibly snow), then painting.  I’d left it too late in the year really. In the morning there was a heavy dew all over the roof, and by the time that had dried off there wasn’t much time to paint so that it dried enough before dew returned in the evening.

Never mind, one thing I have learned about painting bits of boat is that it is best done at high speed in order to keep a wet edge.  I waited until about mid day, then used a nice big brush and went as fast as I could,  finishing with a top coat yesterday.  Actually painting large areas quickly is very therapeutic.  I’ll put some more top coats on next chance I get.  Stupidly I forgot to take pictures of the damage before I started, so all I can show you is during and after.

Imagine it all rusty and cratered, then after prep and primer and undercoats ready for the top coat

roofpaint 1

Then after about 15 minutes painting the top coat – voila!

roofpaint 2

Please ignore the missed bits under the hand rail, I’ll do them later with a smaller brush.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Many a slip. Man overboard.

Did you ever see that episode of The Likely Lads where they spent all day avoiding televisions so as not to see the football results before they watched a match? Well that was us today, except these days we have to avoid radio, tv, emails, and Internet notifications in order not to see the result of the Grand Prix which was being shown at five o'clock.

We headed out into the sticks south of Banbury searching for a spot with TV reception and eventually rested just opposite The Pig Place near Nell Bridge where the lady told us just where to tie up to get a signal. A few yards in either direction would have been sufficient to lose us the signal!

Switching on the internet after the race, we now discover that we have missed the chance to meet Marilyn and David from NB Waka Huia in Banbury. Bah! Very sorry folks. One day . . .

Anyhow it was a lovely day weather wise, which was nice for the crowds going to the Banbury canal day, which we had already decided not to attend this year, although we've enjoyed it in the past.

Friday night saw us in the ReineDeer again, this time with Maffi and Oakie and a real surprise -Gordon and Ann. Gordon is a real old friend of ours, going back well over forty years. He even came to my stag night all those years ago. If I recall correctly he was secretly spiking my beer with double vodkas. I wondered why I was getting drunk so quickly. Anyhow he now's lives in darkest Lancashire so we hadn't seen him in a long time.

They were on a Napton hire boat and just happened to be passing through. In fact we discovered later they were moored just yards from us. Poor Gordon has been through the wars this week. First he fell badly in the boat's well deck and bruised his back so badly that when he was in pain in the Great Western at Aynho, the pub staff called out an ambulance for him. He was taken to Banbury for a checkup, but other than bruising he was OK. Then when they got to Banbury on the boat Gordon slipped off the gunnels and fell in the canal, going right under the water, until he stood up of course, then it was only up to his chest. It took four people to haul him out! Interestingly, he declared that the water was quite warm:-)