Thursday 27 January 2011

Magic Moment

As I drift towards retirement from a life of slaving over sleeping students. I seem to find myself spending more time finding opportunities to go and visit the boat. Today for lunch in stead of walking around the city centre, I jumped on the Sheffield SuperTram and paid a visit to the Marina where Rosie is moored.

As I walked up the towpath, I saw a small flock of birds fluttering along in the hedgerow. I saw the odd flash of what looked like a faded red colour. 

At first I thought it was a group of Chaffinch. The Chaffinch is a very attractive and colourful member of the finch family.

I noticed that one or two of the birds had a white rump. So I slowed my pace and proceeded to creep forward into a better position. I knew that it was not Chaffinch when I saw the bird had a jet-black cap to the head.

It took me a while to realise it was a large group of female Bullfinch. I held my breath when a couple of male Bullfinch came into view. Just about 20 ft away from where I was standing. I have never seem more than six in a group before. I estimate that there were around twenty females and four males.

Creeping closer, I was spellbound. After a while something disturbed them and they flew off over the marina and disappeared into a good sized thicket of trees and scrub. 

Going back to work later, my thoughts were full of these amazing birds. They are a very rare find just a few miles from a city centre location. The recent hard weather must have driven them along the canal in search of seeds that are their primary food source.

I was reminded of the last small group of Bullfinch that I saw was also along the canal bank. That was in February last year whilst cruising on the North Oxford close to Hillmorton. Click Link


Monday 24 January 2011

Useful books for the boaters bookshelf

I have started to read more and more book with a boating theme to them. I tend to buy a few books from Amazon from time to time. I came across these two by the same author a few weeks ago. Others boaters with an interest in the history of canals may find them of interest.

Canal Boatmen 1760-1914 The author is Harry Hansen
ISBN-10: 0719005752 292 pages 1975.

The book was researched during Harry's study for a degree in the 1970's. It calls upon a wealth of records (including census returns, canal company papers, local government board reports and many other contemporary documents) that were then carefully analysed. This book challenges many of the anecdotal claims made about English canal life. Including research on the origins of the people, their morality, causes of violence, their economic activities, their living conditions and educational standards. Starting from 1760 and ending with the serious decline in the canals that came around prior to the first world war. There is a great deal of information available on the construction and operation of the canal infrastructure. However, this book shines a light onto the people and their way of life. In particular the book comments on the do-gooders like George Smith and casts doubt on the credibility of some of Smith's claims. It calls question to the real impact of the railways upon the canals. It also dispels forever some of the anecdotal evidence about the importance of the owner operator or "number ones" and their impact on canal trade.

This book should be on every canal historians bookshelf.

Canal People, Again the author is Harry Hansen ISBN-10: 0715375598  224 pages  1978.

The much of the original material for this book was researched during Harry Hansen's study for a degree in the 1970's. It is a follow up to his previous book (Canal Boatmen 1760-1914). The original research examined a plethora of records including census returns, canal company papers, local government board reports and many other contemporary documents. This book shines a light onto the people and their way of life on the canals. The fresh air and healthy living lifestyle of the canal people is dispelled forever. There are many anecdotal claims made about English canal life. Many claims are unfounded and have been perpetuated again and again in other publications. This book casts doubt on the credibility of much of the anecdotal evidence. It is however a softer read with less of the dry statistical evidence of the previous book. There are some wonderful period photographs.

This book should be on every canal historians bookshelf.

There are also some other books that have turned up during my search. Which, whilst intended as a serious publications have for one reason or another attracted a great deal of reviewer comment on Amazon. The comments are often quite humorous.

The book is called How To Avoid Huge Ships The author is John Trimmer.

This book will be treasured by most boaters operating on the canals and rivers. Full of hints and tips of ways of avoiding coming into conflict with large ships whilst out boating. However, for best benefit you must read the readers reviews for the book.

I have found another book on Amazon with witty comments attached by various reviewers.

The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. The author is Julian Montague.

This book will be treasured by most boaters operating on the canals and rivers of the UK. It will help with species identification of those shopping trolleys to be found gracing the canals, rivers, towpath and other waterside habitats. Again, for best benefit you must read the readers reviews for the book.

Is there anything that you can't buy on Amazon?

The JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser is an Amazon reviewer, must read.


Friday 21 January 2011

Canal Boat Anarchist.

I have decided that with the imminent arrival of early retirement that I should throw off the Mr Nice-Guy disguise and assume the identity of my alter-ego. So, I am about to become a canal boat anarchist. I shall endeavour to go where others fear to tread.

I realise that I might have left it a bit late in life to join in with the eco-warrior or anarchist life style. But no longer shall I be guided by the obviously self serving "keyboard captains". Who with oodles of negativity, sarcasm and one-up-manship, spend more time on the canal forums, than they ever do on the canals and rivers. I feel the need to get as far away from that oft espoused "purist claptrap" published to boost their ego deficient lives. Promulgated at great length as being the "correct way" of doing things on a canal.

My top tips for those like me who would like to become a canal anarchist!
  1. I am not going to be browbeaten into having my side fenders up whenever I'm on the move. No, I fully intend to have the best of both. So from now on, the front fenders will be down and the back fenders will be up.
  2. In future all exit lock gates will be left half open and if anyone should dare to make a complaint, then I will leave them half shut - out of pure malevolence and spite.
  3. I am not having a pump out toilet on my boat, No! I'm having one of those super-duper super-scooper pump-in toilets. I know a good thing when I see it!
  4. I am not even going to consider having a cassette toilet. I never did understand what that drivel was all about. If I have to choose, then it’s the full DVD version for me.
  5. Mooring pins -v- piling pins, what is that load of cack all about? I'm having none of this namby-pamby wishy-washy stuff. What's wrong with using trees and fences at the side of the towpath. There will also be somewhere to hang up my washing whist it dries.
  6. Who cares how long your mooring ropes are, just use bungee cords.
 It's not brain surgery after all.


Monday 17 January 2011

One year on

The milder weather has broken the vice like grip of the ice round the boat. So I imagine it will not be long before the first of the more hardy boaters start to make a move. Our first move with the boat will be a short trip up to the canal basin in Sheffield for a pump out of the toilet holding tank.

Looking back, around this time last year we were on the North Oxford, Ashby and Coventry canals. It was actually quite a good time to go cruising as there were very few boats moving and there was no waiting at locks or water points. Clicky-Link A few snow flurries and the sometimes biting cold wind could not put a damper on our enjoyment. We completed a comfortable 90 mile round trip on our hire boat "Dukes" all done within six days and without pushing to reach a particular point. The nice thing about the North Oxford, Ashby and Coventry canals is there are so few locks to contend with.

It was the last of our hire boat trips before going ahead and purchasing Rosie. I wanted the Memsahib to experience the winter on the canal before plunging into boat ownership. Plunging was quite a fortuitous word in this instance. Because the Memsahib decided to take a look at the boat from an unusual angle, by going over the side. Whilst, she was not the happiest soldier you have ever come across. Clicky-Link The Memsahib was actually on pretty good form that day. She went straight into the gold standard Anglo Saxon vernacular without batting an eyelid. She proved that she was a master and a craftswoman a weaver of words.  She was as one and truly in her element. Clicky-Link

Now its the walking through treacle time as I await my freedom from the drudgery of the salt mine. Ever growing anticipation as my leaving date draws nearer. So it will soon be time to plan our first cruise, but one without a return date in mind. That should keep me daydreaming for a while. Well, until I get the nudge at my elbow from she who must be obeyed.


Thursday 13 January 2011

Cyber world

I have for some time taken an interest in the effect of the Internet on  the connected world. There are several broad brush strokes that one can use to compartmentalise the Internet. However, even measured in broad brush strokes, the strokes would be a very large number. Then if you then take each broad brush stroke you can break that down much further into a myriad of smaller more specific areas. The granularity that one could achieve is almost infinite.

Some broad brush strokes.

  • Spam.
  • Porn.
  • eMail.
  • Business.
  • Issues.
  • Recreation.

Spam definition: The use of many and varied electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited messages indiscriminately.

Wiki says: Spamming remains economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, and it is difficult to hold senders accountable for their mass mailings. Because the barrier to entry is so low, spammers are numerous, and the volume of unsolicited mail has become very high. In the year 2011 the estimated figure for spam messages are around seven trillion. The costs, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge. Spamming has been the subject of legislation in many jurisdictions.
The problem is the same one as Pandora's box or the Genie and the bottle. Spam is out and it is now impossible to contain it again. Strangely enough, several big business have been created in what is an almost futile attempt mitigate the spam problem. The business in the main is built around identifying and removing spam messages before they enter your mailbox. The second thrust is to eradicate malicious software from your computer that is using your connection and bandwidth to propagate the spam problem.

In a curious paradox, security experts are trying to work out why the amount of unsolicited bulk email distributed worldwide fell dramatically towards the end of 2010. That said, they also suspect it's a situation that won't last long. Security firm Symantec estimates that in August the number of bogus emails sent daily was around 200 billion. Surprisingly, that number slipped dramatically to 110 billion by October, was just 70 billion in late December, and collapsed after Christmas to around 30 billion. (Source:

If you're staggered by talk of tens or hundreds of billions, it's worth noting this isn't the number of messages that people actually receive. The vast majority of spam is filtered by email service providers, though the small percentage of spam that actually does get through certainly makes for a lot of junk email. It's not likely that the drop has to do with spammers taking time off to celebrate the holidays. And although it may make sense to avoid sending messages to businesses when they are shut down for seasonal breaks, that wouldn't seem a big enough factor to explain the pattern.
Ignoring Porn, eMail and Business use, because in my opinion they are all pretty self evident. We come to Issues. This is possibly one of the more interesting areas of the Internet. yet at the same time it is one of the least understood. The most famous issue at the moment is WikiLeaks. Julian Assange, like him or loath him has brought global issues to the forefront. Campaigns that are intended to bring issues into the global spotlight can highlight the shortcomings of individuals, companies and even Governments. I don't know of anyware that this is better illustrated than through the whole WikiLeaks issue.
Is it good to shine a light into the dark corners?
It will depend on your political leanings. If for instance the issues are those that might be addressing "political prisoners" and "prisoners of conscience" for instance. Sites such as Amnesty International are renowned for doing good work in this area. 
Greenpeace is well known around the world for many campaigns such as "save the whales". Greenpeace states that its goal is to "ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity" and focuses its work on world wide issues such as global warming, deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling and anti-nuclear issues.

One of my favourite sites is avaaz. Avaaz is an International Civic Organization that promotes activism on issues such as climate change, human rights, and religious conflicts. Its stated mission is to "ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making."

There are many others to choose from. I enjoy this type of indirect action, because I can choose to support each of their aims in a passive or reactive way. It might be that I learn more about the day-to-day issues or that I choose to sign an online petition.

At the same time, governments of the day also embrace the Internet to address the voting public issues. The UK prime ministers ePetitions is a typical one. So both sides of the WiliLeaks issues are avid users of the Internet.

Last of all is Recreation. The Internet is full of information on every subject matter under the sun. Some information is carefully researched and is subject to a form of peer review. Wikipedia is one such site. Which on balance the information contained is reasonably factual and unbiased.

Then there are the one trick pony or single issue sites. Which specialise in a whole plethora of single specific issues. Often taking the form of a forum where anything can be debated. Generally, there is much good that comes out of such sites. However, the downside often comes disguised as a set of conditions or rules which go some way to limiting the debate.  Or when the forum is not managed in such a way, where the users are guided back on to the main thrust whenever they drift off. There are often as many opinions on a subject topic as there are forum members.

Then there is blogging. Blogging is a curious pastime for the amateur, an all embracing technology for the professional and a place for individuals to leave their mark on the cyber world.  As I said in a previous post:- "Some people want others to read their blogs, because it allows them to build up a passive friendship. Friendships, which are at the same time, kept almost at arms length. Maybe the blogger is shy and retiring - just like me! Blogging for me is historical, I love history in all its flavours. The Internet is part of a digital technological revolution. - We might have missed the early part of the industrial revolution but we were around for the latter part of it. The Internet content is being chronicled already, it is being backed up and indexed. Personal blogs will have much more of an impact in the future."

So I write about whatever flickers through my fingers at a particular moment in time. I do try and keep to the blogs ethos and talk about narrow-boats, canals and my interaction with them. Sometimes I go off at a tangent - today is one such day.


Tuesday 11 January 2011

Retired - not out

Now, at long last - we feel that we have finally arrived at the end of our first journey.  So it is time for us to say goodbye! or "elalleqa" in Arabic, "khodaa haafez" in Persian, "aabar dekha hobey" in Bengali, "donadagohvi" in Cherokee, "hagoonea" in Navajo, "ahoj" in Czech, "sayonara" in Japanese, "auf wiedersehen" in German, "À bientôt" in French, "adios" in Spanish, "Hejdå" in Swedish, "aloha" in Hawaiian, "shalom" in Hebrew, "aavajo" in Gujarati, "sampai jumpa" in Indonesian, "paalam" in Filipino, "zai jian" in Mandarin, "Zoi Geen" in Chinese, "Farvel" in Danish, "Namaste" in Hindi, "Ayo" in Papiamentu, "Rub Rakha" in Punjabi, "Feri bhetaula" in Nepali, "Do zobaczenia" in Polish, "Tchau" in Portuguese, "Do svidan’ya" in Russian, "Selamat jalan" in Malay, "Ziens" in Dutch, "Yasou" in Greek, "Hwyl fawr" in Welsh, "Anyeonghi Gasyeo" in Korean, "Hyvästi" in Finnish, "Hasta La Vista" in Spanish, "Valete" Latin, "La revedere" in Romanian, "Veloma" in Malagasy, "Sige la" in Pangasinan, "Ha det bra" in Norwegian, "Ok maams" in Tamil, "Slan" in Irish, "Чао" in Macedonian, "Doviđenja" in Croatian and "Chao" in Serbian.

But wait.... It's not the end of our boating escapades - far from it - its the start of a whole new chapter.

The tenor and direction of the blog will change. To become more of a day-to-day travel log, including my personal observations on life in the witterings and ramblings called "The boating tales of a man, woman and a waggly tailed dog!"

I have finally been given a date when I will retire (28th February 2011) you could say "Mick and Maggie" have almost left the building that was for many years our place of work. The spring will now see us enjoying our time cruising the canals and rivers.

Yeeeeee  Haaaaaagh


Tuesday 4 January 2011

Resurrected again.

Well, like the proverbial bad penny, I am back again. After a bout of Christmas holiday inspired Influenza. Surfacing again just before the new year festivities began. However, I had a bit of a relapse and ended up in bed again for a couple of days. So at the moment I am the proud owner of a barking cough and a monumental headache. Both of which are looking for a new home.

I have had a friend John go down to the boat each day to tend to the stove, whilst I have been incapacitated. Rosie has stood up well the the frosts which peaked or bottomed depending on how you look at it, at an eye watering -13 Celsius. Now in old money that s about 8 degrees Fahrenheit which like feet and inches has much more of a meaning to me that metres ever will.

Yesterday, I managed to get to the marina, the stove was on the point of going out but the boat was still toasty warm. After cleaning out the grate and bagging up the ashes I managed to resurrect the dying embers back to life. The stove we have is a Villager Puffin and seems to go for 24 hours with the coals banked up and the stove well damped down. The stove is six years old and has been used for the first time this winter. The Puffin seems to work quiet well as is certainly good enough for providing a good level of background heat on a 50' ft open plan boat.

I thought that the thaw had started to ease the icy, iron hard grip on the boat. However, it proved to be an inch or two of ice melt water on top of the ice. The ice is still about 5 inches thick across the marina. I went for a walk along the canal, and came across a small group fishing. One of the lock gates has enough of a leak to stop a short section from icing up. Everyone was seemingly having a good time. Hardy or foolish lot are those fishermen.

BT has managed to lose the phone lines in the area. We have been without telephone access to friends and family as well as broadband for over two weeks. Dealing with BT was problematical - in the main because the command of English of the operator was very poor. I had to say several times - I'm sorry but I don't understand what you are saying. When we reported the fault we were given a repair time of three days. After three days we were advised that it would be another week. After a week we were given the 29th of December. On the 3rd of January we were given a date of the 5th of January.

So I decided to activate a "3" dongle that I had. After waiting for 10 Min's in a queue, to be told that I would be passed on to someone else to deal with my request. A further twenty minutes later, I gave up waiting and hung up. Now- my reasoning for this is - As new business, you would expect me to be fast tracked through their systems. But after half an hour wait on my mobile - I thought, I wonder how long the wait is for any support requests from their subscribers.

BT and 3 - Customer Service - what customer service is that exactly.

So I decided to try Virgin Media. Six minuets on the phone and everything is sorted and I am back on line again. So Virgin will also get the land line and the broadband business as well. Plusnet, who are part of BT have lost the broadband business, though in all fairness I have never had a single problem in six years with them.  But then as their latest adverts go to some length to point out, its all done in "Yorkshire". Maybe the BT call centre should be relocated to Bradford.