Wednesday 31 March 2010

The transport archive.

I don't know if you have ever had a look at the Canal Archive on the canals section of the Transport Archive. The Timeline has many old canal photographs dating back to the 1880's. here are a few from the Manchester Ship Canal opening.

Queen Victoria's visit in May 1894 marked the official opening of the Manchester Ship Canal. An earlier opening had taken place on New Year's Day of the same year, in which a procession of vessels had sailed the length of the Canal.

Samuel Platt was one of the directors of the Manchester Ship Canal Company. His steam yacht 'Norseman', carrying his fellow directors, led a procession of vessels along the Ship Canal on its opening on New Year's Day, 1894.

This invitation was issued to a 'Councillor Robinson and Lady' inviting them to the official opening of the Manchester Ship Canal by Queen Victoria in May 1894. The Queen's visit marked the official opening and her visit was met with great celebration.

The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal resulted in the need to build high level bridges which spanned the waterway. Warburton High Level Bridge was constructed to allow pedestrians and other users to cross the Canal. Here the centre girders are being lifted into place from Manchester Ship Canal barges. They were raised by large winches from the partially assembled bridge above.

Over 16,000 men and boys worked on the construction of the canal. Known as navvies, they worked in all weathers, often in difficult conditions, as shown here. This well known image also shows the use of a temporary railway network, which was laid along the Canal route, carrying men and material around the Works.

Dredging was an important activity in the Manchester Ship Canal's construction, with dredgers removing material from the bottom of the water filled sections. The dredger 'Bollin' was produced by Fleming and Fergusson of Paisley, and was constructed on site in the canal cutting ready for action.

This is just a small sample of the thousands of photographs and documents relating to canals that can be found on-line on the Transport Archive.


Tuesday 30 March 2010

It's just another day in the life.

It has been an interesting morning. Mags and myself ride a motorcycle into work each day. We do this because on the bike takes 40 mins. However, in the car takes an hour and a half. The time saving comes from filtering past long queues of traffic. People don't realise that it is perfectly legal for motorcycles to filter past standing and slow moving traffic. In fact it is in the highway code. But I suspect most people don't read that after passing their driving test.

  • The Highway Code - Online version. This version has been adapted for online use from the Department for Transport's current printed version of the Highway Code. In any proceedings, whether civil or criminal, only the Department for Transport's current printed version of the Code should be relied upon.

Today was one of those days, when someone coming the other way takes exception to us filtering. Normally we just take it in our stride. However, today a driver deliberately swerved into our path and we had to swerve to avoid a head-on collision. As he drove off I could clearly see him laughing. I turned the bike around and filtered through traffic to catch up with him a short distance down the road. I was able to get ahead of the car and we came to a stop in the heavy traffic. I got off the bike to go and have a word with the driver!

We both wear hi-vis clothing whenever we go out on the motorcycle and always ride with the headlamp on. The driver thought we were the police saying something about me not recognising me as being a member of SYP. At this point he was very apologetic, saying your lights dazzled me and I could not see where I was going. I said "do you always swerve towards any lights that dazzle?" he was lost for words and continued to apologise.

However, when I pointed out I was not a police officer - he immediately turned quite nasty and objectionable. Then he started to get very agitated and threatening. It was at this point when a traffic police officer turned up. I had a word with him, and told him what had just happened. The officer said would you like me to have a word with him. I answered yes. The officer took the details of the driver, and as I gave him my details the car driver said - "oh there from Barnsley that's where all the idiots come from". The officer asked him not to say any more.

Quick as a flash, he comes back saying - now I get it - it's racist - three white blokes and one Asian guy. (Mags said gender recognition was obviously not his strongest suit) The officer was somewhat less than impressed and cautioned him to think carefully about the accusations he was making. The officer then said I will deal with this, I presume you are you on your way to work? I said yes - we both work at the University where we work with thousands of Asian students. The Asian driver realised the game was up, so we were allowed on our way, leaving the officer to have a word with the driver.

As we made our way to work we realised how professional courteous and helpful the officer had been. So later, I wrote to SYP saying what a frightening experience it had been and pointing out the exemplary conduct of the officer.

It easy and seemingly expected for ethnic minorities to blame the police for anything these days. Accusations of racism must be a part of the everyday job. However, this officer stayed calm, collected and professional throughout. So next time you need a helping hand from the professionals remember our little tale. It's always a tightrope that they have to walk. I would not swap my job with theirs not even for a solid gold pig.

Time for a coffee....


Thursday 25 March 2010

Galvanic corrosion or cavitation problem?

I watched Richard Hammond (Hamster) on the goggle box the other night - This reminded me about a program transmitted last week. It was the first of Richard Hammonds - Invisible Worlds series on the BBC.

The series is built around an intriguing collection of high speed filming clips, which lets us see things we don't normally perceive. The clips detail things that happen way beyond our sight limitations. Letting us see for the first time secrets hidden in every element of our planet. A secret world where thin air can be seen to shatter rock and water can tear through metal.

There is a little section in the first program of interest to boaters. The clip is based on the cause of pitting found on propellers running at high speed for long periods.

Depending on the rotational speed of the propeller and the length to the blade tip, there is the possibility that the formation of super heated water vapour at a temperature exceeding 4000 degrees can occur. These vapour bubbles that are produced then immediately collapse, releasing their latent energy and this can cause a cavitation burn on propeller blades. Often called tip erosion.

Have a look at the clip (Propeller cavitation - 37 mins in) or the whole program.

Call me old and cynical if you must.....

You would think that most people would be aware of personal safety issues. We teach our children how not to put themselves at risk by not making eye contact, not displaying valuable items, not talking with and not accepting sweets from strangers.

However, in this techno-savvy world that we live in today. The latest thing in "personal protection" being hawked is "KamAlert" an iPhone application.

[Nicked from their website]

Protect yourself

There are many areas of personal protection. The most obvious are at our homes or out in unsavoury neighbourhoods. There are particularly vulnerable times such as when we are on holidays or in unfamiliar situations - rushed or stressed or in crowds. Each example requires the same basics of personal awareness of the surroundings and ongoing events, and an adapted awareness for the individual circumstances. Too often, in the most relaxed and secure environments such as our homes, our antennae for recognizing danger is least active. It is therefore important to have additional security take over for us.

In the streets a lot depends on how familiar you are with the area, times of day and any particular danger spots. In any case always be vigilant, even if it is a daily routine. If you carry any self-defensive items such as KAMALERT, be sure to have them “at the ready”, and if you are in a danger area or a potentially vulnerable situation, have “your finger on the button”.

Be sure to have your KAMALERT “Contacts” and local emergency and police and numbers entered correctly.

Stay safe and well, Randolph von Gans

Randolph - I am going to give you a bit of daddies friendly advice usually shared with the little vulnerable ones…. First don't go out in unsavoury neighbourhoods. But, if you should ignore the advice and one day find yourself out in an unsavoury neighbourhood. One way to reduce the chance of a mugger taking interest is not to be seen to brandish your expensive iPhone in the first place. KamAlert is no match for a club, fist, gun or a knife.

Give me strength….


Wednesday 24 March 2010

Has spring sprung?

Another day dawns, so I take Poppy for an early morning stroll. We dodge the rain squalls and then get back in time to make a cup of tea. I now have to face up to the reality of another day of mind numbing tedium that I used to call a career. The one saving joy is I get to ride my motorcycle through the countryside on my way to the gulag!

At Wentworth the Rooks are busy repairing their winter ravaged nests from last year. The Pheasants have returned to the fields and their suicidal attraction to the local roads. A few more Lapwings have returned and can be seen doing a bit of that curious Lapwing display flying. The blackbirds have taken to collecting nesting materials.

Spring it would seem has finally arrived.

I also watched as a small group of Black Headed gulls succeeded in driving off a Grey Heron from the local lake. We encourage the Black headed Gulls to nest on the islands as they do not predate other chicks. But they will not allow any other predator such as Magpie, Crow or other Corvids to come anywhere near their nests.

The birds have had a bad time of it over the long, cold, icy winter, we have been doing our bit by feeding them fat soaked bread, mixed seed, apple and their favourite menu item - meal worms.

Our old friends the frogs and toads that breed every year in the back garden pond have put in an apperance.  As well as the first newt of the year found on the front drive.

Maybe spring has sprung?


I have just posted off the deposit on the new (well new to us) boat. I am ready for getting in some serious canal time. The Memsahib is also hoping to be joining me both on the canal and as a drain on the country. Yes we are about to become a fully fledged pensioner. I must remember to get a bus pass!

Tuesday 23 March 2010

The saga of the new bathroom continues.

I am having a grumpy Victor Meldrew moment!

As the saga of the refurbished bathroom continues.

The worlds wealthiest bathroom fitter seems to have done a good job and the transformation has gone on a pace. (I need to make a mental note to myself at this point about a change of career) I don't know why I spent years at University pursuing a higher degree when I should have been a bathroom fitter all along. I say this because, this one day fit-out job has cost the equivalent to my monthly salary.

At least Dick Turpin the highwayman had the good sense to wear a mask.

Rant over its safe to come out now!

Lets talk boating apparel.

I have noticed that there is a fashion on the cut for wearing a Breton hat, (the French peaked boatman's cap) when stood at the tiller. I imagine this is done so that boaters can recognise each other when off the cut.

So, being a typical gritty Yorkie and the strict stereotypical conformist that I am. I thought I should have a look around for one for me. Now, moving away from my flat cap makes me feel like I am selling the kids into slavery. Nevertheless I am consciously moving away from all of my talking about mining and cricket. Abandoning my cherished cobbled street sparking clogs, half starved whippet dog and being miserly which is after all, my comfort zone.

I am also giving up on the Yorkshire pudding (which is in reality a cheap form of a dumpling as 3/4 is missing)  I am about to enter the twilight world of the Breton hat, albeit one set at something of a jaunty angle. So maybe Yorkshire men being miserly is right and the kitchen fitters price was not so bad after all!

Did you hear about the Yorkshire man on a visit to the doctors surgery. He was prescribed an analgesic and he thought it was a suppository.


Monday 22 March 2010

What a weekend.

Not much on the boating front to report today. We did not get down to the boat club at all this weekend. However, on reflection this weekend has been a "memorable one" but for all the wrong reasons. The Memsahib has decided that I would like to help refurbish the family bathroom. This follows closely on behind her recent decision that I might also like to help refurbish the kitchen (which co-incidentally I just happen to have finished). So we have been very busy, knocking down walls and using a bolster chisel to remove tiles that were affixed with some sort of special adhesive that sets like rock.

In reality, it started last weekend. I was tasked by the Memsahib with removing a large zinc plated, steel cold water storage tank from the roof space. I have only one thing to say - Rockwool - you know that itchy scratchy insulation stuff you fill the roof void with. The stuff that gets into all your little corners and crevices and creates the feeling of being rolled on a porcupine. It took a week to get over the itchy scratchy and to get the millennium of gathered dust out of my nose and ears.

As it happens, we know a man who can, he's called Ken. He was duly summoned by the Memsahib for a consultation. So, I suppose that when the Memsahib also decided that it was time to install a lowered roof, it did not come as a total surprise. So Ken was "organised" to build the stud roof and prepare himself for some serious plastering work. After the roof was in place the Memsahib then decided that I should also install some additional recessed lighting and a new extractor fan. This had me busy re-wiring the electrics as well as laying a new run of ventilation tubing to the outside world. However, this all had to be done from the itchy scratchy rockwool playroom in the roof void.

The bathroom fitter has arrived this morning, all bright and cheerful. So I have left him in the capable hands of the Memsahib. He said "I will be done by Tuesday" Knowing the Memsahib it's just as well he did not specify which Tuesday! Had a call, it seems the bath panel wa not ordered by the supplier, so we now have an open plan bath for a week or two!

The upshot of all this is, I am in need of a rest. So if anyone has a hull they want blacking, then I am your man. Blacking a hull would provide me with a restful diversion!

The Memsahib was long-long ago, employed by the boys in blue to help them with their enquiries. Not that she had been arrested. She was on the job - so to speak. I know that there were many things that went over her desk that she still cannot talk about. But every now and then she lets slip with a bit of "police speak" from before the "politically correct" days were foisted upon them. It was a comment that really tickled my ribs.

This time we were sat watching Mastermind and some chap was answering question about the Ghurkhas. When she said, "I remember an old-time Sergeant called Smith (his name has been changed, just for anonymity) who was in charge of a specialist team, known locally as Smith's Ghurkhas. They gained this name because when ever they went out they did not take any prisoners". It took me a moment to realise that it was an ironic back-handed piece of praise." In fact I think it is the best bit of police humour I have heard for some time.


Friday 19 March 2010

Irish Inland Waterways.

As is my want - I have spent some time looking at other waterways. My reason for this is that maybe sometime in the future we might want to do a boat based holiday exchange. Just for a few weeks with a boat owner from somewhere else in Europe or maybe even further afield.

As I  perused through various places I found a link to the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland website. The IWAI website is full of very useful information for anyone thinking of hiring a boat in Ireland. Including many back copies of their publications all available for download as PDF files. The Irish waterways system seems to be very spectacular and is one that we would certainly want to visit.

Where to buy Diesel
Diesel - Click the link above to get a list of outlets that will or will not sell diesel to boaters on their own declaration. Where it has been reported, those marked 'Yes' will accept a boaters declaration on the amount of diesel used for propulsion. Those that will only sell at a fixed rate of 60/40% are marked 'No'.  The above is provided by Sue & Vic on their narrow boat blog "No Problem".

A friend at work has brought me a dual signed copy of "The Complete Guide to the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation" By Christine Richardson and John Lower. It is an edition published in 1995, thumbing through the book I can see in the photographs some things that I know have significantly changed. So, where we think change takes place very slowly on the cut - in reality - it depends on your interpretation of slow.


Thursday 18 March 2010

Down at the club

We finally got round to filling in the membership forms to join a boat club. As far as we can ascertain, its a good club as boat clubs go. We have been going down to the club house for a few months now and have been made most welcome by the members.  There is some good natured banter going on between river cruiser and narrow boat owners. Which is something of an enjoyable spectator sport (is there a word or collective noun for boat club gongoozeling?) and we have been joining in and enjoying the organised activities of an evening.

The club membership is made up of people from many different walks of life. The average age does tend to favour the upper end of the range. But that also brings with it a whole wealth of boating experience that we can draw upon. There is also one other significant trait that is demonstrated by everyone and that is the camaraderie that is enjoyed by all.

One thing that we will need some help with is taking the boat onto the River Trent for the first time. I am well aware of my knowledge limitations having been on the Trent in a boat that could only just make headway with the engine flat out. So I will do some reading of the various guides to the Trent and also offering some inducement to a more seasoned boater to act as pilot. But, first we thought a crew shakedown on a new boat could be done best by travelling the Fossdyke down to Boston and back.

Some feedback on Poppy the dogs, life preserver. As you will see the item we purchased on eBay has been canal tested by our dog Poppy. The device has not been tested beyond a quick ducking, but it stood up well to the mud and water. It has a small pocket where the poo bags fit, this is a bit awkward for the dog to reach, so I have been doing the poo bagging on her behalf. Here I am demonstrating the carrying handle and my multi-tasking skills by eating toast and honey at the same time. 

Poppy the dog is the one on the left.

At £14 including post and packaging. It has proved to be a very good buy. The item is machine washable, but it is best to remove the dog first.


Wednesday 17 March 2010

Mick and Mags for Towpath News at 10.


Mick and Mags for Towpath News, Barnsley.

Ground control, report M&M are go for lift-off.

In a failed attempt to remove a big fat smug smile from our face's. I can now announce the imminent arrival of a new narrow boat to the Wombwell Chapter of the Mafia. Our unconditional offer, (which they could not refuse) on a certain (but still for the time being) anonymous narrow boat (which is moored not un-adjacent to a towpath in Torksey) has been accepted.

This has come as something of a relief, having saved me the trouble of trying to remember what we did with Shergar's head! On the down side, our collective happiness is about to become inversely proportional to the bank balance.

More on this in our late bulletin.....

Saint Patrick's Day or Lá Fhéile Pádraig is a yearly holiday celebrated on the 17th of March

Found on the web:- "Canal-side pilgrimage recalls inspired piece of vandalism."

Irelands most famous mathematician was something of a vandal, scratching the formula for one of his greatest discoveries on to a bridge in Cabra. All was forgiven as Cabra Community Council helped to celebrate the miscreant, one William Rowan Hamilton, who committed that offence one day in 1843.  The structure, Broombridge, now bears no sign of the graffiti, but each year Hamilton's discovery is marked with a pilgrimage from his former home at Dunsink Observatory and along the Royal Canal.

Hamilton later described how, in a flash of inspiration upon reaching Broombridge, he created Quaternions. The term means little to most, but his maths is in widespread use today to create special effects in films.


Monday 15 March 2010

Why do I blog?

I have always been someting of a writer, not in the sense of someone who keeps a diary or someone who writes for a living. I write just for my own personal pleasure. I find that there is no better way for fixing incidents and issues into my memory, than describing my experiences in words. I take a great deal of pleasure from writing what are after all personal reminders. Reminders that I know I will look back with fond memories in years to come.

Some writers of bloggers do it for their own gratification and so the "Blogosphere" is I suppose just a technological extension to this pleasure. Now, with a blog I can let those with the inclination to be bothered, have a good long look over my shoulder at what I am doing. I suppose the Internet could now be described as the new techno confessional.  However, at the same time, I do write some articles that are published elsewhere. Mostly in support of my enjoyment and love of all wildlife, but especially birds. 

I don't have any particular “style” to my writing, I am probably the most un-stylish person you could meet. Neither do I have any specific themes to write about either. Ideas, when they happen, just come and go, the words flow at different rates, mainly depending on my passion or the importance for the subject at hand. I do have strong views and yet I am prepared (sometimes grudgingly) to accept another viewpoint. Sometimes I write to try and modify someone else's perspective. Or to give what I believe (rightly or wrongly) is a more balanced viewpoint.

Mostly I write just to put across my own personal view. My tastes are somewhat eclectic and I am interested in almost everything. Some issues are up close and personal so that I write with a real passion, whilst comments on other issues are little more than casual observation. There is some truth, that because I am new to boat ownership (if not new boating). That all the trials and tribulations of obtaining the wherewithal and selecting the "right" boat are all consuming ideas just now. This will ultimately be the key driver to my narrowboat blog.

Yet when I sit down at the keyboard, usually I don't have a particular subject in mind. Sometimes, I tend to reflect on the happenings of my day. However, when the juices do flow, so do the words. It has to be said however, that I do tend to go back over what I have written and tidy up a bit. But never with a fine tooth comb, and that's because I feel that a tidy and perfect text is so sterile. So, sometimes you will find the grammar is suspect and sometimes the odd “smelling pisstake” will creep in.

After twenty five years of working in Higher Education. I had grown a natural desire to avoid producing the stereotypical standard “undergraduate” essay or “post graduate” thesis type of text. So you will find that I chop and change subject, almost at random. But as I don't easily get bored, dear reader, you are granted the freedom to remind me whenever I do! Remember, you can agree with me or you can be wrong..... it's your choice.

I like to think that I have a good sense of humour, this does sometimes show through in my writing. As an inveterate “extractor of urine” which incidentally I find to be an excellent tool to counter official pomposity. It seems that I always seem to have the "smart arse" quip at the ready! I don't know where it comes from, but it's always on the tip of my tongue. However, most of the time I manage to keep it under control and too myself.

There are however, the odd occasions when a caustic comment does slip through. The reason for this is, I have had a lifetime working with fools who thought they were smart. (Never argue with a fool, the spectators after all can’t tell the difference) In reality, I have also worked with some clever and talented people, who knew they were smart. Very few of either, I found to be actually pompous, but there were notable exceptions. In reality, I actually like pompous people, that's because they are a good yard stick for self pomposity determination. Have you ever noticed that pompous people tend to be big, red faced individuals, who seem to have a beard and shout “rubbish, rubbish” all the time. Or is it just me!

So if you see me on the cut, (I am the rather tiresome grumpy middle-aged curmudgeon) do come and say hello. I love meeting people, and I will talk for as long as I like. When you get fed up, you can easily quieten me down by the very simple expedient of inviting me into a pub and putting a foaming glass of the amber coloured nectar in one hand and a piece of pork pie in the other. After two pints, I will be the one asleep in the corner. You can then get away!

Chaos, panic, pandemonium ahhh!  At last my work here is done.


Sunday 14 March 2010

Things that make tea come down your nose!

I have been wandering round on various canal history web pages at the same time enjoying a nice mug of Lady Grey tea. I enjoyed reading the history of the Wooden Canal Boat Society on their web page entitled "Where the Wooden Canal Boat Society came from". It's something of a poignant read about the last wooden canal vessels of our waterways industrial heritage. But I was sent into a "tea down my nose" chuckle by the throw away comment "By this time "Sarah" was stored underwater because of her reluctance to stay afloat." Sometimes people say things that I wish I had said. Have a look at the site - if you have not visited before, it's well worth the read.

Yesterday, we had a visit to Fossdyke near Lincoln to look at a prospective boat purchase. We had looked online at the brochure, our only issue was, could a washer dryer be retrospectively fitted. We knew the boat had a large-ish bath fitted. So we thought we might remove the bath to put in a small shower and use the extra space for the washer dryer. 

Over the last few months, we have looked at a very large number of boats (some were real frogs) that were up for sale. The prices that were being asked for boats whose provenance was somewhat suspect was amazing.

We were both very impressed with the boat.  (if Mag's face is anything to go by - you will have to wait a week for the smile to fade) She gave me that certain look and mouthed "it's wonderful". On the way home, I asked the question, what would you change? The answer was an emphatic "nothing, I just love everything about the boat including the couple who own it." Now, I don't want to disappoint her. So I must try to speed up the retirement process so that the wherewithal to purchase the boat can be put in place.

We went out to a St Patrick night celebration at the Boat Club. It was a great "Irish craic" evening out. With girls and boys from a dance group, demonstrating "Céilí"  tap dancing or step-dancing as immortalised in riverdance. Which is full of rapid leg movements, whilst the body and arms are stationary. The evening was rounded off with a folk singer, doing a few Irish "fun" ballads and a sing-a-long. Including hilarious Irish drinking songs, poignant ballads about the Irish struggles.  And as is typical with the Irish, a party that ensues after a guy kicks the bucket. I love paddys night even if I have to go back three generations to find the ancestory.


Thursday 11 March 2010

Still Looking.

After our recent winter cruise, this weekend has been very slow in arriving. It's like walking through treacle. However, after our visit to ABNB last week, we have arranged on Saturday to have a look at a narrow boat on the Foss Dyke canal near Lincoln. More on this later....

I am still pursuing early retirement through voluntary redundancy from my employers. Phase two seems to be a bit more promising. I hope to be one of the early retirement "born again boater" by early May. With a bit of luck Mag's will also be "in the same boat" so to speak, by September at the latest. I have fingers and other appendages crossed...

Security on the canal. 
After our problem last week with people spitting and throwing stones at us from a bridge over the Coventry canal. It came as something of a non-surprise to hear today on the BBC radio and Television. That most Police forces stand accused of failures over dealing with and recording anti-social behaviour. The chief inspector of constabulary (Denis O'Connor) has been critical of the way the police in England and Wales deal with complaints of anti-social behaviour. O'Connor said "The failure to properly record and tackle incidents undermined confidence in the police" He also called for urgent improvements. His comments came as the inspectorate published "report cards" on the performance of all 43 of the UK forces. The inspectorate found the way police databases logged information about reports of harassment, vandalism and verbal abuse was "inadequate". Most police computer systems were unable to identify people who had been victims before or had previously been categorised as "vulnerable". Mr O'Connor said: "It is like going back to the doctors' surgery but you see a different doctor every time. The more times they suffer the less confidence people have. There are some heart-rending stories."

Prophetic words as it turned out. Later, news stories on radio and TV highlighted the fate of a disabled man who was found dead in his garden. This after suffering a decade of abuse at the hands of thuggish children. This has resolved me to report to the police, every instance of anti-social behaviour I become aware of. Enough is enough!

As boaters we are at more of a disadvantage when it comes to supplying the detail that the emergency services would need to record. More importantly, for them to be able to respond to "anti-social behaviour issues" on the canals.

I like the Police - they are an easy target whenever they get it wrong. It's easy to lay blame at their feet, but at the same time we are all very happy to see them in our moments of need.  Don't get me wrong, if there are failings in the way the Police conduct business. (it would seem that their attitude to anti-social behaviour could be called into question)  Then these matters should be highlighted and put right. However, I think that some of the responsibility for getting it righ,t should be shouldered by the members of the public. Typically of the blase joe public,  I did not report what happened. However, I have now resolved that any similar issues in the future will be reported.

What can we do when we want to report any anti-social behaviour that is aimed at us. The Police, Fire and Ambulance are in the main a reactive service. And what can we as boaters do that is proactive? 

We are happy to exchange our locations with each other by bridge numbers or distance from a recognisable point such as a winding hole, lock, marina, or junction.  (Have a few moments to think about how would you describe your boats location to the police, by telephone and in a way that they would understand) Experienced patrol officers have an intimate knowledge of their patch, but when it comes to canal towpaths - access points to the towpath and other such fine detail their knowledge might well be limited.

If I had reported last weeks incident to the police, giving my location as near "Stoke Heath Basin between bridge 4 and 5A". I can imagine many of the officers scratching their heads. It would be no good asking if they had a copy of the Nicholson Waterways Guide number 3 to hand either.

However, if on the other hand, I had said "my location is Stoke Heath Basin on Swan Lane, between Priestley's bridge at Stony Stanton road  and Red Lane bridge on Swancroft road. Located physically closer to Red Lane bridge". The emergency services would have a much better idea of my location.

It would help if we knew which bridge or entry point to the canal would give them best access to come to our aid. Some of the things we might be able to help with include:- Are there nearby access points you know of? Which direction should they go to get to you from such an access point? Is there a towpath? Are you moored on the towpath side? Could a vehicle use the towpath to get to you? How far will they need to travel? Can you move to meet them? If you don't know the answers how can you expect them to know.

So as boaters, we could easily be more proactive. I do hope that no one on the canal ever needs to call out the emergency services. But if and when we need to, we should not start trying to look up our position on Google Earth or in a copy of a well thumbed canal guide. We should establish that information in advance.

So what do you need, to look after yourself and your loved ones?

Mobile Phone. If you happen to have one each, why not chose different service providers. Coverage from providers can vary so you improve your chances of being able to contact the emergency services through different providers.

Police contact numbers. At this Narrowboat World link, you can find telephone numbers of the various county police forces, and should be used in cases where a 999 call would seem inappropriate. Download and print off the list in readiness.

Sat Nav, GPS. I use one in the car, so I often take it with me on the boat. I can also use it to identify road names in my locality. It's also good for locating nearby petrol stations and supermarkets if the right POI files are loaded..

Canal Guide. A good tool to help you find your way along new routes and to get an overview of exactly where you are on the canal.

Mooring Points. It is always a good idea to moor in the vicinity of other boats where possible. There is an element of watching out for each other. In times of need a fellow boater might be able to render some assistance.

Check List. Some years ago I lived on a busy road junction. There were frequent accidents at this point. So I created a little note which I kept by the phone. I had the details of my location, including both road names, A road and B road numbers written down. You could create a simple check-list for your locationwhenever you moor up.

Digital Camera. Have a camera to hand at all times. More so if you suspect that any anti-social behaviour is likely to occur. Use your mobile phone camera as an alternative. Being seen to take photographs before anything kicks off is one line of defence.


Wednesday 10 March 2010

Huston the eagle has landed.

The Hard working Boater
By David Blagrove

I’m a hard working boater and sharp as a knife
I’ve worked on the Junction for most of me life,
Wi’ a pair of steel boats, seven kids and a wife,
I fancy I’ll carry on boating.

I’ve fought with me windlass and taken some knocks
From the Brummagem wharves to the Weston Point Docks,
And I’ve fought for me turn on the Camden Town Locks
When I’m wanted in Limehouse for loading.

Meself and me missis have nearly been drowned
When working by night on the fifteen mile pound,
Wi’ a big load of spelter for Birmingham bound,
And the weather has been pretty bloody.

I’ve been down to Oxford with a load of D.S,
Fifty-five tons out of Griff Arm, no less,
And I’ve boated to Wellingbro’, two boats abreast,
When the water’s been coming down floody.

You can talk of your rail and your old Highway Code,
But there’s nowt like a pair wi’ a fifty ton load,
When your butty swims well and you get a good road
Right over the Cowroast to Leighton.

So wind up your motor and let your blades churn,
Keep a sharp eye on the oil that you burn,
And feel for the snatch from the butty astern,
And don’t keep the company waiting.
Day six - the last day and the sun has come out at last.

After a very peaceful night at the Hillmorton. I awoke bright and early and two cups of tea were soon ready. It was something of an anti-climax that our weeks holiday was coming to an end. But it had been an enjoyable if cold winter cruise. I wandered up to the locks at Hillmoreton in time to see the Cheese Boat exiting the bottom lock.

Our cruise consisted of a trip along the northern section of the Oxford canal, (Hillmorton - Hawkesbury) the whole of the Ashby canal and southern part of the Coventry canal (Marston - Coventry basin).

6 days, 4 locks, 90 miles and 40 litres of fuel.

On our way back we paid a visit to Braunston then Crick and even called into Sawley Marina.

Back to work on tomorrow... Ugh!


Tuesday 9 March 2010

Steph's Last day.

A thanks to James Brindley and John Rennie too;
To Telford and others of fame;
Without their bold vision for transport, it’s true,
Our landscape would not be the same.


We’ll hire us a narrowboat, we’ll go in style;
And we’ll travel the countryside, mile after mile.
We’ll cruise over England from Yorkshire to Kent;
As we travel the cut where the working boats went.

A thanks to the navvies, a thanks to the Duke,
To Jessop and all of his pals.
These are the people we must thank the most;
For they gave us all the canals.

Two hundred years on and the boatmen had gone;
And abandoned their boats in the mud;
But with boats run aground there were many still found;
They’d the waterways still in their blood.

Their boats they refitted to cruise the canals;
Right from the south up to the north;.
With derision and scorn was the pleasure boat born;
As upon the canals they set forth.

There’s holidaymakers where once there was coal;
With all of their friends in the crew.
Would Brindley and Jessop both turn in their graves;
If the use of their labours they knew?

Or perhaps they’d rejoice in the waterways’ life;
So long after many great men;
Foretold of their downfall to railway and road;
In judgement again and again.

But what of the future upon our canals?
How can we expect them to be?
Pollution and traffic upon all our roads;
May yet be the obvious key.

To launch a renaissance of waterways, old,
And those that are still to be made.
With bold inspiration and vision that’s sound;
We soon could return them to trade.

Where the Working Boats Went

© Graeme Meek 2008

Day five of our cruise.  Overcast and cold.

Hawkesbury to the Rugby visitor moorings.

Up at about 7am. Made tea for three before doing my morning ritual ablutions. Then took Pops for her morning constitutional. Came back in time for a good traditional breakfast of bacon eggs and tomato, hot coffee with several rounds of toast smeared with a good layer of honey. As prepared by the Memsahib. Real boating food!

Steph would have to leave us at Rugby to return home by train. It is only a 15 minute walk from the moorings to the railway station. But first, we would enjoy a gentle cruise along the northern section of the Oxford canal.

We were underway by 10am, at a slow pace as we did not want to arrive at Rugby to early. Shortly we arrived at Whitings bridge (5)  and passed what looked like an old branch arm.  The towpath looked to be in reasonable condition (part of the Coventry way) so Steph took Pops for a jog along the bank, whilst we plodded along in their wake. After a half mile the towpath turned very muddy so they both came back on board.

As we approached Anstey we spotted moorings with a watering point so we pulled over to fill our tank. There were several aqueducts along this section where we could see that the recent rains and the melting snow had filled them with swift moving water. We had seen few Gray Heron on the cut but the aqueduct streams seemed to harbour many more of them.

Off, in the distance, we could see the M6 road bridge and the traffic noise was very loud. We had a chance to show Steph where we had moored up on our first night out on the cut. There was a large amount of Phragmites growing at this point. So the water must be quite shallow here.

In daylight, it was easy to see how close the railway line and the M6 bridge actually was to where we had moored up on our first night. That's another lesson learned!

Then on to Stretton Stop. There were many hire boats in the area some of them breasted up and it did not leave much room to manoeuvre past. It was at this point where the girls had fun trying to manhandle the "swinging" foot bridge by pushing it the wrong way. However, working as a pair they eventually moved the bridge out of the way. I paused the boat at the bridge exit whilst they reset the bridge closed and they were both easily able to step aboard.

After a while we were passing Brinklow Marina. We saw a boat quite a way off in the distance coming the other way. The boat was creating a large wake. When the boat passed, we saw that it was an old boy at the tiller who should have known better. I don't understand why people treat the cut this way? When I next looked back, he was some 500 yards behind and busy winding in the gateway to Brinklow marina. We then had to slow down a bit for some moored boats. One of the owners was up in arms about the boat that had just passed going the other way. I told him that the boat was winding at Brinklow, he said he would be having a word when it came back....

Then it was a steady bimble along the cut to All Oaks Corner, the woodland at this point is full of mature trees and is an haven for the Green Woodpecker. We also saw a couple of boaters liberating fallen branches for their log stores. Green Woodpeckers and Green Boaters!

Passing through Hungerford, Caithron and the end of the Newbold Loop. Over the River swift aqueduct and the old Brownsover arm (disused) 

In no time at all we were back at Newbold Tunnel. This time because it was a bright sunny day, the coloured lights did not seem as effective as they had been last time (it was just before sunset) we passed through. It was also at this time that I noticed a coot for the first time... We had seen plenty of moorhens, mallards etc on the cut. But I had not realised that we had not seen a single coot all week.

All to soon we were at the Rugby visitor moorings the place that Steph would disembark..  We moored up on the delightfull moorings next to the park carpark  We had a meal and Mags helped Steph to pack her things. Then the two of them toddled off to the Railway station whilst I was left in charge of the boat and Pops.

On Mag's return we set off to make our way steadily to the winding hole at Hillmorton. Somehow the boat seemed quite empty after Steph had left. But the crock pot was ready with our evening meal. As we were close to Hillmorton we went through the lock and started to moor up for the night.

For some reason Mags was not comfortable with the boats position. So we decided to move into the Hillmorton marina. It was at this point that Mags gained her spurs and became an official member of the boating fraternity. Whilst poling off the bow, she slipped and went over the side and into the canal.

I was proud of her reaction - she took it all in her stride.

Hopefully it will be a quiet night.


Friday 5 March 2010

Bandit country!

Trudging along a well worn track; Trailing a barge and pole;
Off to the end of the world and back; Never a rest at the goal;

Up to the hills;  and down to the sea;
Whose for a trip with a sleepy barge;

By wharf and by quayside; On Mersey or Deeside;
I’m strolling but rolling; with dusty black loads;

Along by the lock-side; and down by the dockside;
My smokey, old pokey; old dirty back roads;

The grey mare I’m leading; Her burden unheading;
Is nodding and plodding; While pulling her charge;

I drift down a slow path; My life is the towpath;
I’m only a lonely old man; With a barge;

Out from the town to the open fields; Where all the yokels dwell;
Watching the crops that the country yields; Waving to milkmaids as well;

Baccy a day, that Brown bread and cheese;
Where is a banquet the equal of these;

By Gloucester or Devon; Through Avon or Severn;
I ponder and wander; To heaven knows where;

Where green willow tinges; The brown water fringes;
I look on a new pound; I’m following there;

By fenland and good land; Past windmill and woodland;
My riches were bridges; Bloom lightly or large;

My job where I take it; My life what I make it;
I’m only a lonely old man; With a barge.

A 1937 performance by Gerald Nodin can be viewed on the British Pathé website.

Day four of our cruise.

I was up by 6:30am after another good nights sleep. I did the usual tea for two, a quick plunge in the shower and take Pops for a morning constitutional. It's surprising the number of dogs we have seen on board - but we have seen very few cats. The plan for today is to cruise the 5½ mile stretch of canal between Hawkesbury and the Coventry basin and then to return back to Hawkesbury for the night. But first we would have to wait for Steph to arrive.

Steph arrived early after doing a run to the supermarket for extra crew provisions. She even nipped off to a marina and got a couple of bags of coal to keep us going. We were soon ship shape and Bristol fashion and on our way by 10:00. All this after eating a good traditional breakfast of bacon eggs and tomato, hot coffee with several rounds of toast smeared with a good layer of honey. Real boating food!

We started off at an easy pace and we were soon passing the Ricoh stadium. There is a great deal of building work taking place along side the canal. Dr Steph who works for an environmental consultancy had done monitoring and sampling work on some of the building sites along the canal. Part of her job, being to help in the monitoring and preparation of environmental impact documentation. It's good to have her on board to catch up on what's been happening since our last get together. 

Some demolition of various old industrial sites along side the canal was taking place. Including the old Courtaulds complex in Foleshill Road. However, there will only be the remains of an old wharf, complete with rusted mooring rings left behind as a reminder.

The now-demolished Courtaulds chimney was reputed to be the tallest in England when it was erected in 1924. It stood 365 feet tall. Courtaulds dominated the man-made fibre industry in Europe. However, by the late 1980s, the manufacture of clothing was quickly moving to South East Asia, and China. Courtaulds had shut many of its UK based factories and moved production to new Asian based sites.

Tower Court, formerly one of the Courtaulds buildings, is now used as offices.

In a curious paradox Foleshill is now considered the ethnic centre of Coventry, it was the centre for many famous people including, Amanvir Kalkat a legend in Bollywood films. So whilst the work at Courtaulds went east - people from the east came to Foleshill.

Chris off nb Faulknor had alerted us the night before to look out for coconuts in the canal? We saw quite a few. However, we found out later that they are used as part of ethnic marriage rituals along the canal side.

One or two days before the wedding, both the bride’s family and the bride-groom’s family would build a frame in front of their houses. They usually use coconut leaves and branches to create this frame. Traditionally the bride would also carry a coconut to the alter and signifies fertility and happiness in married life.

The coconuts it seems are as close to the original ritual as they get in the UK today.

We noticed as we made our way along the canal, new buildings named after canal engineers or even canals systems themselves. We even came across a couple of people from the Canal Ranger service who regularly patrol and clean the canal towpath. They were armed with picking tools and black plastic bags. Another group were in a small bucket boat clearing floating debris as well as a good crop of bikes and supermarket trolly and a brilliant job they were making. All this being done on a cold freezing day..... Well done!

Britain's first production car was built at the Daimler Motor Company in 1897. The factory workshops were next to the canal. The Daimler Power House can still be found on the last bend of the canal, just north of the Canal Basin.

We arrived in the Coventry basin in the early afternoon, where we winded and then moored for an hour to eat. The bridge at the entrance to the basin required me to remove the funnel and the dog from the roof as it was a very tight squeeze. The basin has still got some of the old warehouses that have been re-furbished in the past and still hold a lot of character. This is the point in Coventry where old canal buildings meet new businesses.

We moored outside "Ruby Tuesday" a hairdresser. The sign said closed on Monday - so that helps to explain the name I suppose.

We were visited by the "man who can" from the council, who's first and only question was wanting to know how long we would be! They certainly know how to make you feel welcome in Coventry. Steph used to live within 100 metres of the canal basin and used the towpath everyday for her regular jogging exercise. So it was something of a home coming for her.

After lunch we started a slow return back to Hawkesbury junction. We came across a new canal object for us, a television set, floating in the centre of the canal! No doubt it will be recovered by the canal rangers at some point. I hope it has a good picture! I don't understand the reason why someone would take a television to the canal when they could just as easily take it to the local "dump-it" recycling centre.

Entering Bandit Country.

As we made our return journey and were close to the Stoke Heath basin.  We were targeted by a couple of the local youth who were on their way home from school. From the bridge they began spitting and throwing stones. These I suppose are representative and two of the finest examples of what Coventry has to offer.  I have no doubt that they were the apple of their mother and absent fathers eye. They were both a shining example to their individual parenting skills.

Now I remember talking to a friend who was into fishing, who had a technique for dealing with this kind of loutish children. He kept in his tackle box a small plastic bag which contained a special ground bait mixture! This was made from several sorts of evil smelling oil. The concoction is an incredible combination of herring, anchovy and other fish oils. That over time takes on a certain pungent aroma!  It stinks to high heaven and is almost impossible to clean off without a bath.  He said that a couple of catapult loads that hit them or any object nearby was usually enough to splatter or cover them with the corrective ointment. The smelly vile result, is more than good enough to move them on. Though, I suspect there might also have been some lead shot included in the mix. Now, maybe I have just found a good use for all the spare dog shit left behind on the towpath.

I had a friend who went to work in a notorious inner city school. On her first day in the staff room, she was asked "are you carrying any sharp objects?" "No" she said - the staff member replied "then you better have one of these!" and produced from his pocket a sharpened pencil and said "it's no use taking chances!"

The rest of our trip was uneventful, and we moored just below the Hawkesbury basin entrance. It has been decided, that we are all off for an Indian meal tonight. The Nashaa, comes well recommended and it is not far from the basin. So it's Onion Bargies and Chicken Biryani with several chipaties for me. I also expect to have an extra pint of larger to wash it down.

The canals I have decided are a body of water that needs locking up and down.

Tomorrow - back to the Oxford canal.