Saturday, 25 October 2014

Veteran and the Vet (2)

Continued from Veteran and the Vet (1) 

 Abbey is at a low ebb, once again. The recent bout of sickness has certainly taken its toll. So we looked on line and found a vet close by to where we are moored at Burton upon Trent. We rang them and got an emergency appointment.  We described her symptoms and what we had been doing - re dosing her with Pepto Bismol and getting regular amounts fluids into her.  The vet said that we had done the right thing and that her fluid level was not to bad.    

Test for fluids by pinching the skin on the back of the neck and pull it up, it should quickly settle back in place when let go.)  

Does my bum look big in this?
So it was an anti-biotic injection - plus a five day course of anti-biotic tablets. A rehydration pack and a course of steroids were also prescribed. Cost £41 which when compared to the other veterinary practice estimate of (£320) we thought very reasonable. Since the visit to the Glenthorne practice, she has improved once again.  She is much more lively and alert in a lazy, laid-back sort of way. I'm pleased to say that she is back to enjoying her walks and maintaining a set level of mayhem aboard the boat. So we think that Glenthorne Veterinary Group (Burton upon Trent) as a practice are wonderful.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Hobby Horse (2)

Continued from part 1

Should we as pedestrians be taking more care walking on the towpath and does he have a valid point. I don't know about you, but I never seem to hear cycles arriving behind me.  I always make sure that if a cycle passes from the front, it has to go past on the water side of me.  I find that cyclist slow when they realise that they are going to have to go closer to the edge. If we moor up on a bit of towpath that is being used as a velodrome - I put out a couple of folding chairs where we step on and off as a first line of defence.

There was a small electronic gadget box on the handlebar of his bike. I thought it was some sort of a light at first. It turns out that it was some sort of GPS but only used for measuring his pace between set points. The route along the towpath was a sort of personal 'time trial' He could download the data out of the gadget when he got home to see how well he had done. Where well is measured in the speed of route completion and the elapsed time taken!  

I said that there were set speed limits on the towpath.  To which he says - 'There are no horses to worry about today, old rules are just ignored by everyone.' That's when it struck home, today cyclists look at the towpath in the same way that they look at bridleways. 

Off he went and was soon travelling at a good speed - obviously above the (lack of a signposted) speed limit. He will continue to pass people on foot without slowing down. Boaters will be grumpy and point the finger. But there is the rub, its a bit don't do as I do, just do as I say. I say can boaters as a group actually complain! Because its the same out on the water, we see boats travelling in excess of the speed limit. The inconsiderate don't slow down if they have a breaking wash. Many don't slow for moored boats. So it is a bit like the pot calling the kettle.

So is there a problem - well yes there is - its obvious that there is a growing safety issue mainly through lack of awareness. Is the trust proactive in addressing the issue - frankly the answer is no - I don't think so. Will the problem be resolved any-time soon - no - not before there is a fatality. Then at that point some coroner will set the agenda. (Earlier this year in Nottingham, when complaining about the speed of cyclists. A group of us were assured by a trust employee that nothing will be done unless there is a fatality)

I will be surprised if in this world of, no win - no fee litigation that the trust does not get embroiled in 'investing' maintenance money, in some more costly court cases. Defending a situation, entirely of its own making. One final but interesting point - CaRT does not have a 'requirement' for a warning device to be fitted to a cycle used on the towpath - but it does 'recommend' having one. So next time you hear a shouted 'coming through' its perfectly acceptable to the trust if cyclists don't have a warning device. I bet it was a cyclist who wrote those recommendations!

So what of the 'Waterways Partnerships' which a friend of mine refers to ironically as the 'brains trust of the inland waterways.'  Have they come up with a solution. Well from a cursory glance at various meeting notes published. I could not find one that was even aware of the issue. I could not find one that had any basic policy of addressing the issue on their own patch. 

The trust meanwhile has published a good selection of web pages for cyclists. Including hints and tips as well as the canal route of the month for cyclists. One towpath conversion project will see the eventual creation of four new 'cycleways' from towpaths along the canals leading into the Peak District. The project is being funded through the Government's National Park Cycle Fund, with the Peak District National Park receiving £5 million. An additional £2.5 million will be provided by local authorities.

Birmingham City Council was awarded £17 million from the Department for Transport, which has been topped up to £24million after their successful bid to the Cycle City Ambition Grant Fund which aims to make cycling easier and safer. The money will be used to improve around 15 miles of canal towpaths turning them from towpaths into cycleways. The work will take place along the Birmingham Main Line, Birmingham and Fazeley, Grand Union and Worcester and Birmingham canals. With all this conversion from towpath to cycleway, is the trust selling out the towpaths to cycling lobby - that's certainly a moot point.

Well we have done getting on for 500 miles cruising this year. I have seen one cyclists dismount sign. That was where some building works were being done and the towpath was temporarily narrowed at that point. Surprisingly, the upgrading of the towpath to cycleways does not appear to include signs for speed limits. I wonder why?

I have a couple of question for you: When was the last time you saw a cycle speed limit sign on an entry or exit point on the towpath. and When was the last time you saw a cyclist dismount sign on a narrow bridge hole?

The rest as they say is pure conjecture.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hobby Horse (1)

Walking or cruising along the canals and rivers is a pleasurable pass time, much enjoyed but with a certain amount of risk attached to it.  A forgetful moment while stepping ashore from a boat can find you stepping into trouble.  Its the same for people walking the towpath the hazards are plentiful and are not limited to mud, hole or even the obligatory dog poo. 

There is one ever increasing danger which is starting to dominate the towpath. Its a danger that is being encouraged and at the same time ignored as an issue by CaRT in the search for ever increasing visitor numbers. This quest is being pursued relentlessly because continued funding is dependent upon reaching target numbers of visitors. To me this does not make any sense as a worthwhile and meaningful target. If the target has been set at reaching a certain level of 'customer satisfaction' then a whole new management ethos would prevail.

The real danger for anyone on foot started a while ago when the requirement to have a permit to cycle on the towpath was removed. Seemingly at the same time any no cycling and cyclists dismount signs were removed as were the few speed limit signs. More recently cyclists have been encouraged to use the towpath by the trust.  The trust boasts that canals and rivers attract over 21 million visits from cyclists. The trust appears to use the name 'greenway' for its designated towpath cycle route and also publishes a 'route of the month' for cyclists.

Gone is the slightly compacted, foot worn, narrow path that joined canal side areas together. Which also provided a pleasant place to meander on a nice sunny day. Partnership with sustrans to bring funding for towpath upgrades also brings with it serious problems. Now the emphasis seems to be on creating all weather high speed cycle routes. Paved area are becoming more common place in towns and cities.  Gravel strips are starting provide rapid transit routes between adjacent areas. The towpath is fast becoming a cycle path where those on foot or fishing are barely tolerated by cyclists. The priority is turning into one for cyclist by cyclists.

Now you can encounter long sections of deep continuous wheel ruts which make excellent tripping hazards. Which in turn with the ever changing weather are rapidly turned into a quagmire of sloppy cloying mud when it rains. Gone is the traditional sit-up and beg cycle. Its been replaced by an 'all terrain' bike complete with a sophisticated suspension system. Which comes complete with tractor tread tyres, multi-geared and even disk braked, but apparently delivered without a bell. Now named 'Mountain Bike' this is the equivalent of a 4 by 4 on the towpath. Specially designed and built for speed and endurance.

Now, I'm not anti-bike we have a folding electric bike on board whenever we go out on on the boat. At 12mph the electrical assistance cuts out. So there is no way that I could keep up with the average speed of the cycling wizz kids along the towpath. The difference is created because these are specially designed and intended for hill climbing. Plus the 4 X 4 bikes need somewhere to go. It looks like the towpath is the designated place for the future. Because mountain bikes have already been banned on some footpath routes in national parks. This is because of the amount damage to the footpaths that this type of bike create. And as if on schedule, mountain bikes are making their way onto the towpath in ever increasing numbers.

I sometimes feel that boaters, walkers and fisher folk are expendable 'collateral damage' for the trust. Which is preoccupied in the headlong rush to worship at the alter of visitor numbers.  The reason for this is that the Canal and River Trust is funded by a combination of Government funding and its own revenue streams. The financial arrangements agreed by Government with CRT guarantee £800 million over a 15 year term. The condition on this funding is based on CRT's performance relating visitor numbers as well as asset condition, towpath condition and flood risk management. With regard to the canal infrastructure. The stand still figure, (no improvement and no  degeneration) as given in a statement to the high court was £130 million a year.  There is a big chasm between income and the much needed expenditure. 

I may have a few answers to the above imponderable and one or two observations of interest. A few days ago, I had a word with a pleasant young fellow who passed me at a good speed. He did not ring a bell. Afterwards I found out that he did not even have one on the bike. He shouted 'coming through' which was less of a warning and more the issuing of an order.  I eventually caught up with him, he was stood a bit further along the towpath consulting a Nicholson's boaters guide. Apparently, as he assures me, they are very good for cyclists as well. 

One of the things I enjoy most of all is to engage people on the towpath in conversation. It provides an endless source for the sort of stuff I write about. I learned a great deal from our short conversation with my new acquaintance. It started when I said with a smile - 'You were going at some speed when you passed me. 'No speed limits on here, no sign - no limit' he says a bit defensively. To which end he was factually correct as there were no signs.  'Why did you not ring your bell when you came up behind me.' I said. 'Bell! There are none of them on a bike now.' Seeing that I was not being hostile he added. 'Bells are for sissies and don't work very well, only add an extra bit of weight.' (The bikes are of amazing light weight construction and he let me try its weight, it was certainly a great deal lighter then the Raleigh blue streak 5 speed I had as a kid in 1960) I said 'Well it would save you shouting if you had a bell.' He says 'If I shout loud and startle people, they move aside and stand still. I'm past before they even know it.'  I said 'Not everyone has good hearing.'  His next comment made me think. He said 'Deaf people are more aware of cyclists, they are always looking round.'  

Continued in part 2