Saturday 7 May 2011

BW is like Fawlty Towers

Tonight we are moored up at Ickles lock. (sounds like icicles without the ice) Early tomorrow, we have to make a dash up river before the heavy rain causes the levels to rise and put a stop on movement. The raised water levels are expected around 10 am. 

British Waterways is worth throwing a brickbat or two at, if only because BW is such an easy target. Easy, because reminds me of Fawlty Towers. Why at any moment I expect Basil to come goose stepping into view.

However, in all fairness BW still manages to maintain the huge payments to the top echelons for their "Basil like management" skills. 

I will give you an example.

On our recent trip out over Easter, we met up on the canal with a BW engineer. He was out inspecting a lock, where there had been a long history of complaints about its workings. (Think of a lock that includes a manual swing bridge and a set of manually operated road barriers) This lock takes half an hour or more to pass through. It has little in the way of meaningful instructions. (In reality, the instruction provided actually help to confuse first time users even more) All the various bits are interlocked and most people meeting the lock for the first time end up operating the lock by a process of trial and error. It's a much quicker option than trying to follow the instructions.

The Memsahib has only ever passed through this lock once before. But she had mastered most of the locks idiosyncrasy the first time. The inspection engineer says “I am glad you are here, I have been unable to figure out how the whole mechanism works” Now we are not aiming our brickbats at the engineer. It was a task that he had never taken on before. However, he did make notes of the way the structure and interlock system worked or in some cases did not work. Like a release catch on the swing bridge that had to be held open. Because the item could not be locked in the released position. We pointed out that, to the engineer that the water level could not be adjusted in the lock, unless the road barriers were in the closed to traffic position and the swing bridge was open.

Picture the scene, you come to the lock moorings and tie up. Close the road barriers, open the swing bridge then start to set the lock to favour your direction of travel. This is a very big lock, it takes quite some time to fill or empty and all this time the road is closed and traffic is building up.  Throughout this period nothing is moving on the road or on the canal. Irate drivers don't help by shouting “advice” and blowing their horn in frustration. When the level is eventually set some time later. You can begin to operate the lock in the normal way. Its a joyous sound of gurgling water, birdsong and shouted expletives all mixed in with a cacophony of car horns.

The lock keepers cottage which has been sold by BW in the past and now sports a sign saying the lock operation has nothing to do with the owners.

Now, imagine this scenario when you are single handed and managing your boat as well. You have left the BW key in one of the three control panels and the buttons are there for anyone to press. Like the driver who gets out of his car, then presses the button to close the gates. Swings the bridge into the closed position and opens the barriers to drive through. Whilst at the same time you are trying to move your boat into the lock. The driver is frustrated, he is self employed and time is money to him. Frustrated because the day before he was caught in the self same position for an hour. When a couple on a boat were as confused about the lock + road barrier + swing bridge interlock operation as the BW inspection engineer. At least the driver did not remove the key or break it off in the lock. I expect either one of the scenarios is only a matter of time.


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