Monday, June 19, 2017

Exceeding my authority – guilty!

In two hours at Denham deep lock yesterday afternoon three of us Towpath Rangers encountered approx 120 pedestrians and 55.  cyclists many of them went away clutching our little free canal maplets cyclists with tips on towpath etiquette.  I think it does more good for general canal PR than changing behaviour, but it feels like a nice thing to do.  The pedestrians in general are keen to chat and ask questions.  A good few of them popped into the adjacent Fran’s Tea Garden for a cuppa or an ice cream cos it was baking hot. 

frans (1 of 1)

For those of you who don’t know the spot, that’s the River Colne which flows under the canal adjacent to the lock.  The house is the former lock cottage.

The metal beams on the lock gates were barely touchable in the heat. I didn’t count the boats passing through but there were about seven or eight in the two hours, and an alarming number of them were clueless about how to work a lock.  Now I’m not a CRT trained lock keeper and although I was wearing CRT kit I had no life jacket so I assume that I was breaking rules if I assisted.  But if a couple of clueless lads were doing it all wrong, not knowing one end of a windlass from another, what would you do? There is a plastic cruiser waiting to go up  in the empty lock and the lads  open just the top gate paddles.  They seemed unaware of the ground paddles.   This is the deepest lock on the Grand Union. Quite apart from the fact that the lock would take an hour to fill that way, the boat was at risk from the wash from the gate paddles. I couldn’t resist. I helped “unofficially”, patiently showing them what to do in what order.  It wasn’t just the one clueless boat by the way, there were two or three more.  Goodness knows where they all came from.

I may well have averted a safety incident in this way, but no doubt because I was in uniform and not an authorised volunteer lockie, I had exceeded my brief and put CRT at risk of blame if anything went wrong.

Hey ho.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Boats aground, canal overflows.

It looks like we might be heading for an “interesting period” canal water wise.  The latest Reservoir Watch figures from CRT show levels being OKish for May but in their comments they are clearly fearing things will worsen if this warm weather keeps up.

“We are advising local operational staff on the optimum feed quantities to ensure efficient use of the water available and maximising use of back pumps (where they are installed) to recirculate water used by locks, in case the generally dry weather continues through the summer.
The Trust has carefully prepared contingency plans in place to manage if the situation worsens, and to ensure effective and timely communication to boaters and waterway businesses.”

Last week on the Oxford, it was really strange. People heading south as we were heading back north kept warning us of the low pound below Cropredy – boats aground etc.  The bottom is always too near the top along there at the best of times. Then at Kings Sutton (Tarvers) lock we see this.

tarvers (40 of 50)

Water pouring over the top of the gate.  I suppose CRT had let some more water in overnight.  But, two locks further up it was still pretty low .  I don’t quite get that, I thought they let the water in further up the hill.  I wonder how many times a day these locks are used in high season.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was twenty five or more.  That’s a lot of water when there’s been no rain.  I look forward to next month’s Reservoir figures with interest.

I’m off to Denham lock this afternoon to do a spot of rangering, handing out maplets and cycling advice to towpath users.  It’ll be busy up there today.  See you soon if I don’t melt.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Peace and quiet

Here we are at Somerton meadows, which is about as peaceful and pastoral setting as you could imagine. Well it would be if it weren't for the tractors hay making in the fields behind us and the pilot practising his airplane skills in the sky above us and the cows mooing and munching

and the trains on the nearby railway line. One of them this morning was a steam train with vintage coaches. At least the helicopter sitting in the field across the Cherwell is at rest.

Still, it is lovely here on a summer's afternoon. Mustn't grumble. It is a beautiful meadow.

Last night we tied up at another peaceful spot just below Allen's lock at Upper Heyford. Lovely. Out with the deck chairs, feet up. Aaah. Rest.

Then round the corner came a boat needing to go up the lock. And another and another, and another, and another and another. Six boats all within the space of fifteen minutes. So of course they were queuing down the canal, jumping on and off their boats, asking who was next, "were we waiting to go up?" etc. Most of the were from the hire base at Lower Heyford, all wanting to get away at the same time, so this was their first lock since boarding the boats fifteen minutes ago, so most of them didn't know what the procedure was. Luckily the boatyard had sent up a man to help them through. It was all quite jolly really, but the poor boaters at the back of the queue had to wait about an hour. I fear they were going to be late for their reserved table at the pub in Aynho.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bones, more bones and turf without grass.

Phew, what a busy few days we've had. We arrived in Oxford on Thursday, mooring up at 'Arry Stottle's bridge where the good ships Milly M and Bones were already tied up. So that was Thursday evening sorted out, cleverly avoiding all the election kerfuffle by joining Bones and Maffi for a long chinwag and too much red wine. Jolly nice it was too.

Next morning we cruised on down to Jericho where there was plenty of space to tie up (more than could be said for 24 hours later when it was full up. Note to self and others:Try to arrive in Oxford before the weekend, and early ish in the day. Do that and you should get moored up with no problem.)

Then it was on with the walking shoes and a long march to and round the Natural History Museum where we saw a lot more bones. Rather older than Nb Bones or Mort Bones or Maffi 's old bones.

Then of course through the back to the Pitt Rivers museum which despite having very few bones is still excellent and highly eccentric.

Next morning for a change we visited a couple more museums starting with the truly excellent Museum of the History of Science where a very entertaining guide pointed out lots of stuff we would have otherwise missed. He also told us the story of the nasty Mr Ashmole who tricked the nice Mr and Mrs Tradascanth (of Tradascanthia fame) out of their lifetime collection. Anybody that likes instruments (not the musical type) exquisitely made of brass would love this place. (Note to Rick: a couple of clocks you need to see.) I can't imagine anybody not wanting one of the lovely little pocket sundials, of which they have a large number. Well, I do anyway. We should have also seen a blackboard still covered in calculations scribbled by Einstein, but it had gone off to be cleaned or something. I seriously hope not wiped anyway.

Peter had emailed his Cambridge pals to get recommendations of good pubs to try in Oxford. I'm not sure he has any pals in Oxford, nevertheless they came up with the goods and directed us to the Turf Tavern, which despite it's name has three gardens but no grass. Previously unknown to us, this is apparently a very famous pub, having been frequented by Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Bill Clinton among others. Sadly none of them were there at the time although hundreds of other people were. It is claimed that this is the place where Bill Clinton did not inhale. Anyhow we liked it a lot and drank some very nice apple and pear cider.

Then on to the Ashmolean museum having been told by the guide at the other place what a complete RAT Ashmole was! By now we were getting a bit over museumed, so we went on to another place recommended by Peter's pals which was George and Davis Ice Cream cafe. Once again the pals had turned up trumps and it was small, out of the way and full of delicious things. Probably some of the best made ice cream I have ever had.

Having been worn to a frazzle escorting Peter around we then forced him onto the X5 bus back to Cambridge and Kath and I crawled back to the boat exhausted having both doubled our daily steps targets.

So here we are tonight back at Thrupp, recuperating after doing all those flippin' lift bridges you have to do to escape from Oxford.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

In the eye of the storm

"Come on you scurvy shipmates," the captain cried, "we've got to get the good ship Herbie into harbour at Heyford before the tide turns."

"She'll never make it cap'n," shouted the first mate into the gale, "she'll go down with all hands in Somerton meadows. We'll never steer her through them lift bridge holes in this wind."

"Out of my way, ye lily livered scum," snarled the skipper. "Grab that bit of fender rope and lash me to the tiller."

Then winding up the mighty BMX 1.8 diesel motor to a terrifying 1400 revs, he swung the boat out of the safety of Aynho wharf and into the raging typhoon. On the canal bank frantic groups of boaters were trying to stop their boats from flying away as the propellers on their wind turbines reached take off velocity.

Once out in open water, the boat creaked and groaned as her decks and rigging threatened to buckle under the strain. From below decks came the anguished cries of the pressed men as great barrels of lime juice and salt pork broke free from their ties, and slid across the decks crushing everyone and everything in their path. Wooden cages that held the pigs and chickens burst open freeing their contents in a cacophony of grunts, squeals and squawks.

"Man the bilge pumps ye scurvy swine, " shouted the captain against the roar of the wind, "she's taking on too much water. Tighten the stern gland bosun, or we'll all be sleeping in Davy Jones ' locker tonight.

Then, over the shrieking of the storm came the sound of a great Bell, ringing again and again.

The captain opened one eye and glanced at his time piece. Crikey, eight o'clock already. He sat up and peered out of the window. "Blimey it looks a bit windy. I think we'll stay put today. " he said, turning to the first mate, "your turn to make tea. I've just had the strangest dream.

36 HOURS later, Herbie rests in Thrupp before the planned assault on Oxford tomorrow.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

New paint old paint

On the left, a bit of Herbie's roof I repainted this week, on the right, the old surface. Amazing how the rain water beads up on the new paint.

Tonight we pause once again in Banbury having collected Peter off the train. We thought we ought to introduce him to the delights of the Reindeer, but it was closed for a staff meeting! Never heard of a pub doing that before. Anyhow it turned out to be a good thing because we took someone's advice to try the White Horse which turns out to be a very nice pub with equally nice beer, although we only had the one pint each! I fear we shall have to return on another occasion. I recommend it.

Today has been a day of fierce competition between me and Kath to see which of us will put the first scratch on Herbie's newly repainted port side tunnel. Miraculously it survived unscathed. No doubt I will break my duck tomorrow. Perhaps we can persuade Peter to do it for us. He generally has a talent for such things. Despite not being the most practically gifted person, Peter is a very handy person to have around as it saves us looking up stuff on Wikipedia. This evening he gave us chapter and verse on various versions of the Old Testament as recognised by various religious groups (although he is not remotely religious) and later, on the principles of neural networking, something he has been playing around with at work. One day I will ask him about something about which he knows nothing, but so far I haven't been able to come up with such a question.

He did relate on more fun fact. When we were at the Cambridge beer festival recently, we were able to download and utilise phone apps listing the festival beers and their properties. The apps also showed you in real time how much of each beer remained available. According to Peter, the web server which lay at the centre of this system was a little Rasberry Pi no bigger than a fag packet. In my early computing days it would have needed an IBM mainframe in a big air conditioned room. Well actually it wouldn't because the www hadn't been invented. Blimey I'm getting old. Only this evening I was remembering that things like Tv sets and sofas were priced in guineas.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Thoughts and observations


Most of my life is wasted on useless thinking. For instance, I couldn't begin to count the hours and the sleepless nights I've expended in trying to decide which eight records to take to Desert Island Discs. It worries me still.

Lately though, other things have been on my mind

a)How come Theresa May has appropriated Peter Crouch's arms and legs? Has nobody else noticed? Is his limbless torso concealed in the cellar at number ten, waiting till she gets the boot and he can get his arms and legs back?

b)Why doesn't somebody punch Donald Trump on the nose (although M. Macron had a good go at breaking his fingers - good on yer monsieur) and how come people still refer to him as leader of the free world, when it is clearly (thank goodness) Angela Merkel?

c)More to the point, why did I think it was a good idea to paint a patch of Herbie's roof the other day when it was hot enough to fry an egg? (I kind of got away with it but the result is less than perfect.)


a) Water levels.
Last week we tootled up and down a bit of the Oxford and the water levels were up and down like yo yos. Down at Twyford Wharf, Herbie and two other boats all ran aground at the same time. It was quite comical. Then today the water outside Cropredy Marina is as high as I have ever seen it. We can only assume the CRT are releasing more water from the reservoirs. Don't they know it's supposed to rain a lot next week? Doesn't anybody listen to Thomasz Schaffernaker? (I probaly mis-spelt that, sorry Tom) Anyhow, all they need to do is to ask me if I'm taking the boat out for a couple of weeks and as the answer is yes, it's bound to rain.

b) The young uns are taking over
Last week the crew was Grandkids Grace and Jacob. Grace might only be 9 but she's turning into a really good helmsman, even negotiating the Oxford's notoriously narrow lift bridge holes with hardly a comment from me. It's good to know that when I'm old and incompetent (nearly there), she can take over the helm. Her helming is a bit better than Kath's selfie taking, but here we are anyhow.

Now we just need to buid up Grace's muscles for the stiff gate paddles down this way. She'd better hurry up before mine wither away.

Next week our son Peter takes her place on board as we endure the rain all the way down to Oxford. He's not nearly so good on the helm but then he's only about 38 and his mind is on higher things.

As we're away on the boat on June 8th I have already cast my postal vote. Once again my constituency has failed to attract the participation of the official Monster Raving Looney party. I am bereft.

Ours is a safe seat for the party I will never vote for. Nevertheless there's always the chance that UKIP will lose their deposit so all may not be lost.