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.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Water level info – a great new site for river levels

It looks like we’re in a wettish spell weather wise, but of course we needed it after the dry April.  I took a look at the CRT Reservoir site and as expected, the reservoirs took quite a hit last month, what with the dry weather and the start of the boating season.  Down south the typical drop in levels was around 10% over the month, which isn’t too serious but not an ideal start to the season. Further north, on the Leeds and Liverpool, levels fell by 18% and the poor old Lancaster went down by 24% although some of that was due to a draw down for engineering works.  The report says that “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 recent dry weather continues through the late spring and into the summer.”

Well it looks like bad weather might come to the rescue, but what then for those of us who have to negotiate rivers.  Of course, most boaters know about how to check on the Thames (http://riverconditions.environment-agency.gov.uk/) , but what about the smaller  rivers . Where do we check on them before setting out? Down on the jolly old Oxford we have to join the cheery little Cherwell on a couple of stretches, above Aynho, and between Enslow and Thrupp.  We are not supposed to continue if the level on the indicator boards go into the red.  Little rivers like this can go up and down like yo-yos.  Others like the Stort, the Soar and the notorious Nene spring to mind. 

So today is asked Mr Google for help and lo and behold he came up with the goods, pointing me to a site called

www.riverlevels.uk

Apologies if you already knew about this site, but I didn’t, and it is exactly what we want. It appears to be quite a new site, and they say it is still under development, but already it looks great.  Bear in mind though that it is primarily designed to indicate river levels from a flood warning point of view rather than a navigation one.

It seems to have precise monitoring levels for all the English navigable rivers I could think of and it looks like they may be updated at least  daily.  I’m sure they wont mind me showing you a couple of screen shots as I now find myself plugging their site:

levels2

levels1

You’ll notice from the top one that it might also be handy for those times when you want to buy a Porsche, I’m fresh out of them myself as it happens.  Anyhow I think it’s a brilliant site and I’ll certainly be consulting it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Posh Broads and an exploding rocket

I’m alive!!  Yes I’ve survived another year of the dreaded Norfolk Sailing Weekend.  I only got whacked on the head once by the boom and no-one fell in or got stranded on a mud bank this year.  Amazing.

The winner of the Bowsprit Award for the helmsman inflicting most damage on his boat was Rick.  The citation reads: “For not looking up and noticing the overhanging tree and so demolishing the mast top burgee(little pennant that indicates wind direction)”.  Admittedly a minor offence, but somebody has to take the trophy home.  Well done Rick.

This year we were forced to try a new base since our usual holiday let at Thurne is due for demolition, so we relocated to some very nice barn conversion cottages near Ludham on the river Ant.  Consequently, we were able to explore waters that we hadn’t seen for many a long year.  Probably not since our famous week aboard the Wherry Albion in 1973 where I fell backwards into Salhouse broad in  spectacular fashion just as a big pleasure boat full of tourists with cameras was passing.  It says something for the longevity of friendships that five of us sailing this weekend were on that trip 44 years ago.

Passing through Horning, I realised that I had forgotten that this is the posh end of the Broads.  The riverside houses are large and expensive looking, many of them thatched

horning (1 of 1)

Some have expensive looking statuary like this magnificent looking wooden horse and foal

horning horse (1 of 1)

All this is a far cry from the humble little chalets that adorn the banks of the Thurne up at Potter Heigham.  I can just imagine the conversation between residents of each at a party.  “Oh, you have a riverside property too.  Where is it?” - “Potter Heigham” – “Oh,” sniff, “how, um, quaint.”

We managed to sail all the way to Salhouse to revisit the scene of my historic backflip and moored up for lunch on Salhouse island where our boats lay empty like the Mary Celeste while everyone paid a visit to admire the bushes (or something like that).  Here you see the very tree that won the award for Rick.

salhouse (1 of 1)

Probably the best bit of the weekend was the launch of the vinegar and baking soda Coke bottle rocket launched by Frank, who should stop smelling of vinegar after a month or two after his first attempt sprayed all over him before he could retire to a safe distance.  It might be 44 years on but we’re still big kids at heart.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Impending doom?

Tomorrow we set off for our annual group sailing fracas on the Norfolk B Roads Broads.  Once again we have checked our wills and made our confessions before setting off for this terrifying annual ritual.  It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew anything about sailing, but even then zig zagging in a little sailing boat down rivers full of drunken holiday makers who only picked up their huge plastic megacruiser that morning doesn’t seem to get any easier.  Some of these cruisers are approximately the size of an aircraft carrier. Generally I refrain from taking the helm unless we find ourselves in some quiet backwater, preferring to rub my cold wet hands raw with heaving on the jib sheet whist trying not to be tipped overboard.  On the plus side we will be spending the weekend with old and dear friends (most of whom are more skilled than I at sailing), so if we perish, we’ll all go together.

As usual we will be attempting not to be the winner of the Bowsprit Trophy, awarded to the person who inflicts the most damage on his boat.  I myself am a proud past holder of this prestigious award after a sudden gust of wind whipped our barque into the side of a passing cruiser some years back.  I don’t think the boatyard realised the bowsprit was two inches shorter when we returned the boat so unusually, we kept our deposit that year.

On Saturday night we shall all share a meal cooked by the drawer of the short straw and undertake the customary quiz where each person donates ten questions.  In recent years I have provided the music round, playing intros, middle eights, classical snippets etc from a music player.  Having run out of ideas for this, I have instead this year recorded sound snippets of well known people laughing.  I don’t think it’s too difficult, but the questions do tend to be easier when you know the answers.  We’ll see. One of our party is from Yorkshire, so no doubt it will be lost on him.

(Two dour Yorkshire men converse in the pub. 

“Didst thee see that comedian feller on t’telly last night?”,

“Aye”

“What didst thee think on ‘im.”

“Alright, – - - if you like laughing.”)

Well that’s it.  On the assumption that I survive (about 50/50 I should think), I’ll see you next time.

Toodle pip.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Plenty happening where nothing ever happens



Look at this. Can you tell where I ran out of wax polish? Of course you can. It's quite striking isn't it? That's Craftmaster for ya.

We're back in Banbury having had a very good trip down to Heyford and back. We all know it's been cold this week, but during most of our cruising it's been sunny and the countryside is looking gorgeous. Funny how we set off, just the two of of us, and ended up having quite a social time. On Wednesday we caught the train from Heyford into Oxford to see Julius Caesar. Turns out we were 2050 years or so too late of course, but there was the Bill Spokeshave play about him being broadcast to the Odeon, so we satisfied ourselves with that. Typical Spokeshave play, dead bodies all over the stage at the end and I get distracted by wondering how they get all the bloody costumes washed and ironed before the next performance.

Earlier, while we were strolling among the dreaming spires a text came in from dear old / (young actually)Mort Bones simply saying "I spy a Herbie". Well we had left the boat just up the path from her famous barque. Sadly we were out cavorting until very late, so we agreed to meet up aboard Herbie for a breakfast cuppa at 8am next morning. Even at that early hour she arrived bearing cake. What a star! We do like Bones.

Sadly, we had to depart all too soon because Rick and Marilyn had arrived to crew us back to Banbury and we needed to get there in time to plan an assault on the Reindeer Inn quiz that night. Next time Bones we'll plan a proper do.

We did alright at the quiz, but not good enough to get in the prizes. Frustratingly, the quizmeister admitted that he had planned the music round to be on 50s and 60s stuff. We would have cleaned up! But he changed his mind that day and played 90s
Indie tracks instead. Bad oh. We managed to recognise Blur, Oasis and Pulp between us which might be more than you can expect of old farts like us, but anyway it wasn't enough.

Then today came a knock on the boat and auld acquaintances from home Bob and Fran off Nb Song and Dance appeared out of the blue and so we all had tea. So our quiet "just us two" cruise had turned out to be a lovely week meeting friends. Good innit?

Tonight I embarrassed myself by tripping over a kerb outside Tesco Express and falling flat on my face on the pavement. There was a loud bang as the big bag of Kettle crisps I had just bought burst under my prodigious weight. I'm comforted to tell you that several kind young folk emerged to help this poor old bugger to his feet. I suspect that they thought I might have had one too many sherberts, but I assure you that I had not. I just tripped. Honest. The crisps were still edible but somewhat crushed.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Packing

At last we've managed to sneak off to Herbie for a week while nobody at home was looking. Well amost nobody. Of course that Mr Schafernacker on the telly must have spotted us because the weather is due to turn cold on his instructions.

Days when we move out to the boat are always the same.

0800hrs. I lie in bed and wish I had got stuff to take ready yesterday.

0900hrs. Large piles of this and that accumulate in the hallway ready to load into the car. I look at it and doubt we'll ever get it all in.

1000hrs. I am amazed. It's all in the car and the boot isn't even full. Easy peasy. I feel good.

1005hrs. Kath reminds me of all the stuff we have to take from the fridge and appears down the stairs carrying bags of embroidery stuff, a laptop computer, and a lot of clothes on hangers. I remember we still haven't packed shoes, what seems like 50 different types of charging leads for all our gubbinses , our coats and raincoats, and two boxes of firewood. It'll never go in. I feel bad.

1015 hrs. I wedge the final item into the car's boot, sadly having to leave behind an Oxo cube we had no space for.

1030 hrs. We're on the road. Five miles from home, Kath says, "I know what we've forgotten." I turn the radio up and keep going.

1900 hrs. So here we are on Herbie. All is unpacked and stowed away. Kath is reheating the remnants of yesterday's spag bol. "What happened to that Oxo cube?" I turn up the radio and pretend to study a Nicholson's guide.

Tomorrow we head south first to Banbury, then next day to where the phone signal and the Internet and TV reception are a distant memory. They'll never catch us there. Never mind, we still have a box set of Broadchurch series 2 to watch.