Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Learned Treatise on Dogs on Boats

There follows below, a Learned Treatise on Dogs on (Canal) Boats and Their Owners, and as the author of said Treatise I shall commence by describing my credentials as an expert on the subject.

Our first DogonaBoat was Treacle, our dear little Jack Russell Terrier who we had not long after we got married about forty years ago. Treacle was small even by Jack Russell standards and had little of the bravery supposedly attributed to the breed. She once attempted a confrontation with one of our Guinea Pigs and came off much the worse. Rick and Marilyn invited us for a day out aboard Nb Amos, a converted Ice Breaker kindly lent by a friend of theirs. We travelled from Blisworth and went a long way down the Northampton Arm before turning and going back. Treacle wasn't at all sure about the boat and was keen to join us on the bank while we worked down the many locks. At one of the locks the crew of us and our various children elected to reboard the boat to get to the next lock, which, knowing the flight, couldn't have been very far. Unfortunately we forgot to tell Treacle who was left stranded on the bank, so we called to her, intending that she should follow along the towpath. After a moment's thought she remembered her obedience training and decided she ought to follow us, so against all her instincts she plunged into the water and struck out after the disappearing boat. Her little dogy paddle swimming style was admirable and before long she caught us up and was scooped aboard, never to go near water again.

Our second DogonaBoat was ten years later. Jaz was our gentle and clever Sheltie who had an inbuilt dislike of water. Well with all that long hair I suppose she would. We hired a boat from Weltonfield and cruised down through Braunston and the Oxford canal, getting about as far as Enslow. I don't remember if we had a day without heavy rain, but I think not. Having a bedraggled Sheltie on a carpeted boat is not something I'd recommend, not that she was particularly bedraggled by the rain, more by frequent accidental plunges into the canal as she attempted to herd the ducks. She was a sheepdog after all. She fell off the deck, the roof, AND the gunnel (yes she was stupid enough to attempt that). Her first plunge actually took place before we had actually set off from the hire base, as we were loading our gear onto the boat. But her most spectacular plunge was off the footway across the bottom lock gates at I think maybe Cropredy. She decided to follow me across, then half way thought better of it and attempted to do an about turn. There being insufficient room of course she dived several feet into the canal below. Well she survived to tell the tale and on the return journey she did do something to impress us all. Coming back through Fenny Tunnel (which boaters will know is no longer a tunnel at all but a narrow cutting), we were so close to the bank that she assumed we we about to disembark so she jumped ashore. The boat and its crew continued on, leaving her stranded. Would she do a Treacle? Not Jaz. She thought for a minute then raced along the bank ahead of us and waited at the next bridge. Clever or what?

Moving on many years I won't dwell on the SomebodyelsesDogonsomebodyelsesBoat, except to say that we have survived a number of Thames Tideway thrillers in the company of a large number of large Greyhounds aboard Nb IndigoDream. I think I'm right in recalling there being five of them on board on the trip to Gravesend. More on Greyhounds later.

So we come right up to date with our dog sitting trip this week with Ronnie, our Claire's Chihuahua/ Yorkie cross. Rarely has a DogonaBoat attracted so much attention. I have completely lost count of the number of people who have come up to admire him. Despite never having been near a canal before, he has not fallen or jumped in once, although he has had many opportunities. If I walk between locks he follows me dutifully like a, um, er well like a little dog. Returning to the boat after a walk, once he sees it, he runs ahead to our boat and sits at the rear, waiting to be lifted aboard. What a sweetie. Kath won't want to give him back.

So you can see I am practically a world authority on dogs on boats and I await the call from the people who nominate the judges at Crufts. And so on to my Leaned Treatise on Dogs on(canal) Boats and their Owners, where I shall analyse the most popular breeds and the types of people who own them. However, looking back at the amount I have already written and being aware of the short attention span of readers these days, I'll save that for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Animal magnetism.



As the sunset falls over our peaceful mooring tonight at Kirtlington quarry, I ponder why I have suddenly become attractive to young women. Way back in the last century I seem to recall having my moments, but things have slowed down a bit over the last thirty years. Today however I have been approached by three or four attractive young ladies, and it was the same yesterday. Of course they all made the excuse that they were coming to stroke and admire little puppy Ronnie, but I think it's my animal magnetism.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Slow going

Having cruised down to Oxford in three days, we're now aiming to take seven days to get back. After two very short days we find ourselves at the Jolly Boatman at Thrupp. Luckily the old solar panel is helping out with the battery charging with the engine only running for an hour or so per day.

Our novice crew member Ronnie is taking to boating like a dog to water.


Although he's not too sure about his life jacket.



Sadly he appears not to have the strength to carry a windlass, but you can't have everything can you?

Now we have to look out for dog friendly pubs. I'm pretty sure the Jolly B is ok as I recall Maffi taking Molly in there. Ronnie appeared to approve of Annie's Tea Rooms, as do we.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Here we are - with a new guest crew member and a posh extra for Herbie

I suppose you might be wondering where we are. (At our age we keep wondering that too.) Well we're down amid the dreaming spires mingling with the tourists. At least half the population of Oxford appears to be American if you go by the accents you hear as people walk by. Apart from the normal reasons for visiting the city, we had an extra two. The first was to attend a pre arranged collogue (look it up) with Bones and the Moomins to attempt a re-enactment of the splendid jointly prepared meal we had aboard Nb Melaleuca a couple of years back. It's always dangerous to try to recreate such a memorable evening, but with certain essential changes we managed it splendidly. The changes were that we ate al fresco, having a barbecue in the little park at Aristotle lane. I won't bore you with the menu but it was suitably sumptuous and a jolly time was had by all and a box of cider is now empty.

Part of the reason for the jollity was the inclusion of our special guest (the other reason we came down to Oxford). Meet our new temporary crew member Ronnie.



Ronnie is our daughter Claire's dog, half Yorkie and half Chihuahua and we have him on board for a week while Claire and family take a holiday in Portugal. He's quite a character and loved by all but I don't suppose he'll be much use at lock wheeling.

At our BBQ we had a flying visit from Alex who some of you will know as a maker of classy (and very sturdy) boat chimneys, so we asked about replacing ours which is falling to bits. To cut a long story short Alex bowled up this morning carrying one which proved to be a perfect fit so the deal was done and Herbie's roof looks instantly a lot smarter. His chimneys cost about double the tin ones you buy in the chandleries but are about five times as good. The steel is thick and the finish is powder coated and baked on. The old chimney was indeed on its last legs because as Alex twisted it to free it from the collar, the chimney disintegrated in his hands!

The old one, ready for the tip:



and the new one made by Alex:



The canal is looking spiffing at the moment, well, when the sun shines anyway. The yellow flag irises and the may flowers and the elder blossoms have all gone, to be replaced with lush sprays of Rosebay Willowherb, Meadowsweet, white Convolvulus and Purple Loosestrife. It all looks like a lovely cottage garden, miles and miles of it. I know, I know, I really must take some photos.

The other thing growing with abandon is the flippin' weeping Willows which hang in big green curtains over the canal so you can't see where you're going or if your're about to collide with a boat coming the other way. As you come into Oxford you hit loads of them. Something ought to be done . . .

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Something hidden but worth seeing on the Oxford Canal.

Here's a find you might not know about. It's one of those things right next to the canal, but you never know it's there until someone tips you off like someone did to us.

First, a bit of background, so bear with me.

The little old river Cherwell has been known to flood a bit around Banbury. In fact, a bit more than a bit. In 1998 even Banbury railway station had to be closed because of floods. That year, flood damage amounted to 12m pounds. When they had bad floods again in 2007, the town and the EA decided enough was enough and 14m quid was spent on developing and constructing a Flood Alleviation Scheme. A major piece of this was the creation of a large floodwater holding area in fields to the north of the town by building a retaining dam 2850 metres (that's over a mile and three quarters) long and up to 4.5m (nearly 15 feet) high.

Not only is this worth looking at, it's right next to the canal, and you can use it to walk through to the retail park next to the motorway where comfortably off shoppers can visit M&S or the less wealthy can go into Primark or Poundland or the less healthy can eat at MacDonalds.(healthy menu options are available).

So how do you see all this from the canal? Well you start at the motorway bridge just north of Hardwick lock (that's the last one before Banbury if you are coming from the North). There's plenty of room to tie up on the straight stretch down to the lock. Walk back through the bridge and you'll find this gate.



See it there on the left of the picture. Walk through the gate and you'll be looking at a bit of the dam.




Climb up onto the dam to see the vista beyond, where all the flood water will be held. There are a couple of socking great concrete sluices which I suppose are there to control the release of the water at the appropriate time.


If you fancy a bit of retail therapy, it's less than a ten minute walk from here. With your back to the canal, turn to your right and walk along the dam and across a second sluice to join a path going under the motorway.



As you can see, M&S and the rest are just the other side.

There is a good write up of the flood alleviation scheme with maps and pictures available as a pdf. Google the scheme (other search engines are available) and look for the entry from WaterProjectsOnline.com.

What worries me is how they will manage post Brexit when we can't get any little Dutch boys to stick their fingers in the dam if it leaks.

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

Thoughts

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.)

Observations

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.

c)Politics
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.