Sunday 31 July 2011

Harp-ing on again.

I have been watching with some interest the developing story about Ben and Kelly Harp of Harp Narrow-Boats. It is a heart chilling story that is being recounted step by step by the owners of Narrowboat Waiouru. It is also at the same time a damning indictment of the British system of justice. A system that runs under closed shop rules, is still operating in a 18th century time warp. If you had a time machine and brought back an advocate or judge from 200 years ago, they would not feel out of place today.

The sheer stupidity of maintaining a system of law that holds back the speedy implementation justice beggars belief. A system that is used by the guilty to defer and delay the outcome with total impunity. A self policed and archaic system of role playing where the delivery of justice is apparently a side issue.

For years I worked in a University where "dressing up" in academic regalia was only used for graduation. The University had moved with the times. Modernising everything including teaching methods and the dress code for staff.

The law in the UK proceeds in the way it always has, at a funeral pace. Yes I know, there have been changes to try and improve matters. But the improvements are not as tangible as you might think, expect or want. Some countries have modernised their systems root and branch and have night courts so that access to justice is a 24 hour fast track process. The UK has done away with the flea powder for wigs!

There is a second problem, where rights of the complainant go right out of the window. This is on access to legal aid. The Harps as defendants will get it no problem. The complainant will not get it at all. They will have to hope that their considerable costs will be met by the defendants. There is no real justice in such a system and there is no will in the system for change. This is, because of the money made by the lower practitioners and big wigs in the judiciary at all levels and the reverse kudos of not being elevated if they rock the boat.

You can bet your life that the "rights" of the defendant will be observed at all times. I'm not so sure about the rights of the complainant. Do I believe that justice will be seen to be done, in a word no. The reason is because the act of a public birching and flogging has been abolished.

Traditionally, the birches were soaked in brine before use, which greatly increased the weight, flexibility and strength of the twigs, making the punishment more severe both in terms of pain, and in terms of damage to the victim's flesh in the form of cuts and weals. Re-offending rates for those who were subjected to such punishment was remarkably low. 

Today an ASBO is almost a requirement and a badge of honour for any self respecting street urchin. There are other sanctions that include reprimands. (if you do that again you will get another reprimand)  fixed penalty fines (that you can now pay online so no need to get out of bed) and restorative justice projects (like being a pressed version of a BW volunteer).

In the UK birching as a judicial penalty, was abolished in 1948, although it was retained until 1962 as a punishment for violent breaches of prison discipline. Maybe we should have a time machine that would let today's miscreants be transported back to a time when the punishment would fit the crime. We could of course set up an arrangement to hand off justice to the Saudi government for implementation. 
Justice in the UK today is a politically correct process, protecting the rights of miscreants and intended to placate the Hyacinth Bucket do-gooders in our society. 


Saturday 30 July 2011

Department of Works and Pensions

Most of you will know by now that I have retired. I say retired, but not in the traditional way. I have a while to go before I actually qualify to get my state pension. However, my works pension allows me to leave work earlier and to live a comfortable retired life, if a bit on the frugal side.

The Memsahib also took leave of her job yesterday and retired early. So all that remains now is to organise a bit of a joint barbecue for our old work colleagues to celebrate the change in status from net contributor to state scrounger.

So, this morning having nothing else to do I went to the Department of Works and Pensions. I thought I could have a look on the jobs board and see if there was any part time work that might interest me or the Memsahib. I was soon disappointed as most of the jobs on offer were not suitable for me. I did see a job at the Robin Hood airport that might have suited the Memsahib. They were looking for someone to kick start the jumbos.

Most of you will know that we have a couple of dependants. So I thought I would wonder into the  Benefits Office and enquire if either or both of the dogs could sign on. After an interview with one of the helpful benefits assistants who I think had recently learned English as a third language. She carefully explained that "I believe that dogs are not eligible to draw state benefit".

I explained that as an Irish Wolf Hound (they are actually Wire Haired Fox Terriers but who's splitting hairs) and being Irish they are therefore part of the EU. Also, that both are long term unemployed, can't speak English and neither has a clue about who their dad was. The helpful benefits assistant checked her policy book again to ascertain the exact criteria it takes to qualify for state benefits. They both get their first cheque next Friday. Damn, this is a great country! So we are now preparing to leave on our late summer into autumn cruise in a couple of weeks time.


Thursday 28 July 2011

Bland answers.

I put up another of my motorcycles for sale. A Honda CB250N Superdream. This was the first big seller amongst the bikes arriving from the far east. They are almost a cult symbol today.

Within four hours, the bike was sold. I think that a lot of people are using bikes for cheap commuting to and from their place of work. The bike will be 32 years old in September and has now gone to someone who will cherish her the same as I did. You have to be a biker to understand the sentiment.

The bike had been stripped down and a full restore / rebuild carried out. The condition was as good as new, with the exception of a small amount of pitted chrome on the passenger grab handles.

So enough of the biker twaddle - today's topic is... Mooring using a centre line.

On a canal forum in a galaxy far far away. Someone new to boating asked the question "What's wrong with using a centre line to moor a boat?". The real answer to the question is, "There is no problem with using a centre line to moor a boat".

Circumstances will change the mooring options that you use and you might find that the centre line is the better option.  Generally the centre line is only used for short periods on a boat. My take is, if there is a centre line fitted on a boat - then its there to be used. Saying that I would never use a centre line on a boat that was going to be left unattended. Unless your BW mooring like ours is on a short pontoon and you can only use the front and centre or back and centre line at the same time.

The answers given to many questions on forums are often are quite bland. Bland statements can cause problems and confusion for someone new to boating that a detailed statement might avoid. 

When someone asks what's wrong with using a centre line to moor a boat. The answer will vary depending on the purpose you mooring the boat for. Whether it is good practice to moor a boat using the centre line will depend on many factors.

The first thing to note is the difference in height between the fore and aft lines where they are tied off on the boat. The centre line is quite high on the roof, whilst the fore and aft lines are at gunwale level. This is where problems can arise. Lines are more secure if they are pulling in a straight line towards the gunwale. Because the centre line is tied off to the roof it will tend to tighten, angled down towards the bank. This tightening of the centre line can cause the boat to lean in towards the bank.  Due to the angle of dangle, this will also place extra strain on any mooring pins used.

Mooring using a centre line only.
Generally speaking you would never moor up for long periods, just using a centre line. If you are using a lock that can hold more than one boat, then the centre line is good for giving additional control over the boat as the water rises or falls.  If the rope is tied off, as the water level changes, the rope is at risk of pulling tight due to the upward or downward movement of the boat. In a lock the boat is going to be moored only for a short time, the centre line passed round a bollard (not tied off) and back to the helmsman. The line can be used to help control boat movement within the lock.

If you are on a lock pontoon waiting your turn to go into the lock, then the centre line is probably the better option to use as you edge your way along towards the front of the queue.

If you are mooring up over night.
It would be better to use the fore and aft lines and if there is some movement in the water you might also need to deploy a spring to moor the boat. If there is likely to be some rise or fall in the water level. Then the deployment of the mooring lines will have to take into account, that movement and to allow some slack to be taken up by the movement.

The centre line is your friend.
I always trail the centre line back along the roof, with the tail end close to the steering position. As I come in to moor, I take off as much forward movement of the boat as possible. I get off the boat with the stern and centre line. I drop the stern rope in the clear as I get off. I then use the centre line to pull the boat in close. If there is a bollard or other anchoring point available I tie off the centre line. The Memsahib will then deploy the front or stern line. Depending on circumstances such as water movement we will tie-up the front or back first. The trick is to tie off the upstream line first. Any water movement will then help to hold the boat into the bank.

So the answer is "there is no problem with using a centre line to moor a boat, as long as you understand the issues".


Wednesday 27 July 2011


Ever lost your car or door keys, I do it all the time. I then do a concerted search all three floors of the house only to find them in my pocket. Its a talent that only comes with experience.  Now that we are down to a single key for the car and we have been for some time this started me thinking about recovering lost items. Then I thought, what if we are ever burgled how could I give a description of say the Flat screen TV or my Laptop computer to the police.

So I decided I should make an itinerary of all of our valuable items at home and on the boat. Item type, make, value and serial number would be a good place to start. It would be easy to create a database on my laptop and.... Ah! but what if my laptop is stolen... No, I need a much better system than that.

After sulking in the naughty corner for a while, cogitating and scheming on various ideas about dissuading burglars by use of a Klingon death ray. I decided to do a quick search of the web for something to make a contents inventory. Someone somewhere must have a way of addressing my issues. Bingo! I came across Immobilise an online site where useful details of all of your property can be recorded. Somewhere safe from my absent mindedness and the doings of the local scrotes. Its also free to use.

So what is Immobilise exactly?

From the Immobilise website "Immobilise is the world's largest FREE register of possession ownership details and together with its sister sites the Police's NMPR and CheckMEND, forms a very effective tool in helping to reduce crime and repatriate recovered personal property to its rightful owners.

Immobilise can be used by members of the public and businesses to register their valued possessions or company assets, and exclusive to Immobilise all account holders registered items and ownership details are viewable on the Police national property database the NMPR.

This online checking service is used by all UK Police forces to trace owners of lost and stolen property. In addition Immobilise is checked daily by a huge range of recovery agencies and lost property offices including the Transport For London Lost Property Office.

As a direct result of Immobilise there are over 250 cases a week where property is returned or information collected that assists the Police in investigating criminal activity involving stolen goods. Immobilise is also the only ownership registration service supported by all UK Police forces, the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and the Mobile Phone Industry.

Immobilise is a free service with over 24 million members and is promoted by Police forces throughout the UK. That sounds like a good idea to me, so I have registered for an account and started to upload our inventory.


Tuesday 26 July 2011

Caveat Emptor

Two posts in one day is a bit unusual for me, but today I am motivated again.

My big thing is wildlife, because I love nature in all her different guises. But there is one form of nature that I don't enjoy and it is the one we call the dark side of human nature. The phrase "human nature" is bandied around to  excuse  all sorts of misdemeanour and disservice that is done by one human to another.  Almost like a get out of jail card, human nature is used to explain away almost in a flippant way the deliberate and calculating actions of others.

We all work long and hard in life, each contributing in our own way. In the main, there is a natural balance maintained. Each of us has a talent for doing one thing or another. Unfortunately with some people the talent they posses is not limited to doing good but used for doing evil. I have never shied away from stating my view and confronting any issue. Today is no different to any other day.

You may well be wondering what I am harping on about. There are a couple of blogs that I follow, not so much because of the nature of the content. I am following the blogs more because of a feeling of kinship and wanting to lend support in the time of need of another fellow boater and blogger. A fellow blogger who is not benefiting from the good side of human nature but exactly the opposite. They are being subjected to the cowboys of the boat building business. So I am supporting the underdog in their endeavours to get things put right and for natural justice to be served.

A boat in build.
© Granny Buttons
It takes real courage and backbone to stand up and admit that you have been conned. No one wants to admit that they were fooled, it hurts their pride as well as their pocket. This is one facet of human nature that protects the cowboy conman. The other is the poor facilities and feet dragging that "going to law" brings when looking for satisfaction and natural justice.

I am not going to name and shame the builder in question. I am hoping that you will be inquisitive enough to read the actual blogs. The blogs I am following are Nb Trudy Ann (David and Karen) and Nb Waiouru (Tom and Jan). Please visit and read and take heed of the very serious message that is being given about the dark side of human nature. The fact that you read their offerings, give them some sense of hope that others will not fall into the trap that they have fallen into. That you will benefit from their experiences. That you will pass on to others the message of "Caveat Emptor" buyer beware, in light of their on going experience.

I also found another blog page about a lack of build quality of certain narrowboats. Nb Net Profit (Sally and John) is another case in question.

The Internet and blogging is a good leveler when it comes to bringing about some natural justice. Even the courts now recognise that Blogging about injustice is fair game. See Haynes -v- Puddick. But it does not stop there. The Internet has become an arbitrator of someones unacceptable behavior, providing people with an opportunity for total revenge, a feeling of vengeance or to administer a mild scolding. Some sites in this new and exciting use of technology are the Web site Caught Ya  who publishes photographs of cars parked in handicapped spots. Cheaters might join the ranks of thousands of men who's details are posted on the popular Web site Don't Date Him.

Anyone can be creative in getting their revenge. Readers Digest have an interesting article on people seeking their revenge and ultimately gaining satisfaction against large multinational companies and smaller companies also fared no better.  But revenge it is not limited to companies, a number of classic individuals have become pariahs in their own time. Amir Tofangsazan is a name in question. If you are wondering what it's all about, in a nutshell it's about this eBay scammer called Amir Tofangsazan who sold a broken laptop and thought he got away with it. Google Amir Tofangsazan to see what happened.

It seems that the Internet is now becoming the new "Dissatisfied  Customer Service Department" for all businesses large or small throughout the world. The web has no boundaries and lives on forever (Amir Tofangsazan  can confirm just that some 6 years later). I note that now, some of the top Google hits when searching on this boat builder are from boating blogs carrying negative comments. This type of Internet graffiti takes a long time to clear away. People have long memories and no matter which way your turn there will always be someone to blow the whistle loud and long. Ignore it at your peril.


Monday 25 July 2011

A new form of honey trap!

The earliest form of transport of goods to be used by man would have been over your shoulder in a pack. With just the necessities needed to ensure your day to day survival. Essentials like food, clothing, weapons and tools. The landscape in those far off days would be traversed following animal trails through the forest and by following river courses. Rivers courses would have been surrounded by flood meadows and would not have been restricted other than by the natural contours of the land. It has long be thought that the rivers were the main routes to the interior.

The Neolithic or New Stone Age (6000 years ago)  can be defined as the time when people took up agriculture as a way of life, and stopped being nomadic hunter-gatherers. This lifestyle required our ancestors to use slash and burn tactics to clear trees and scrub to provide clear areas where the crop could grow. The soils created by slash and burn were impoverished and so new areas would be constantly opened up. Changing the landscape of forests and flood meadow forever. As the land converted over to dry meadow, so the soil would improve over time providing fodder for the farming of larger numbers of animals.

Simple stone tools were in use for thousands of years as technology change moved at a very slow pace in those far off days. Simple boats like rafts and the dugout canoe would have evolved into coracle style boats. Their main purpose would have been used for fishing. The coracle could also have been used to aid the transport of goods. The coracle is light and easy to move around. Good for getting around restriction and blockages on rivers. (a bit like the stoppages of today) The first actual record of coracle construction goes back to early Roman times but the technology was already an ancient one even by then.

You might imagine that at that time there would have been little need for transportation of bulky or heavy items. But some magnificent transport achievements were made by our ancestors. Stonehenge is a case in question, the first stage of building started around 5,100 years ago. (the first stone circles may have been erected as early as 5400 years ago)

Modern techniques of “experimental archaeology” have used a variety of methods to test archaeological hypotheses about how things in the past were used, moved or worked based on archaeological material evidence. The general consensus is that water transport by raft for some of the heavy stones for part of the journey, from Wales is a distinct possibility.

When our ancestors moved into the more sedentary localised lifestyle. Certain items such would have had to be moved to them rather, than they moved to it. The new transport technology would then become the string of packhorse.

About 4,500 years ago, the Beaker Folk introduced a pastoral pattern to the agricultural lifestyle. As population grew, more marginal land was brought into cultivation, and was farmed successfully for hundreds of years, until climate changes forced its abandonment. Communities were small, but they were communities, so people could and did indulge in large projects requiring group participation, such as the building of communal graves.

We know that our ancestors were a resilient lot because of some of the large earthwork structures they built, using just antler and bone tools. The significant difference between us and them is one of cost and time. In those days time was measured by the seasons and cost had no real meaning in a society built upon barter and exchange. Like worker bees, each person would have been working for the common good. The motivation to provide the manpower was possibly based on religion or superstition rather than volunteering.

One theoretical piece of experimental archaeology proposes the idea that rafts could be moved along sections of the shallow rivers by the creation of temporary dam structures to allow water levels to be raised. A lesson possibly learned by our ancestors by observing Beavers who are also adept at building such structures. The forerunner of today’s weirs used to back up the water and maintain depth. Simple weirs or dams were known to be used to make pools where fish could be corralled for later capture. Eel traps were also commonly placed in the vicinity of such structures.

Under the Romans the rudimentary trackways evolved so the technology would move on to wagon and horse. As the hamlets and villages evolved, so would trade. Markets would develop and transport between the countryside and the village would develop further. The Romans were the first to seriously use the idea of improving rivers for the transport of materials. Sections of rivers were deepened, straightened and canalised through the use of slave labour. This led to the use of rudimentary locks on tidal sections of rivers. Where the water was held in or held out depending on the tide. But at times when water levels were equal, boats could be moved between the two waterways. After the Romans departed the technology of canal building, water management and road construction was lost in the dark ages for hundreds of years.

The next major change was when William the Conqueror arrived on the scene. He built a strong centralized administration to control the newly conquered English. Towns would grow and fledgling industry would come with that growth. Weaving, milling, mining, pottery, metal working and a whole host of other trades would develop over time.

About 500 years later, with George I on the throne the very nature of English society and the political face of the realm changed. This was the age of the grand country house, when many of the great stately homes that we can visit today were built. Rather than being conquered, we were out there doing a bit of conquering on our own account. We acquired more and more territory overseas through conquest and settlement, lands that would eventually make up an Empire stretching to every corner of the globe. This was the catalyst for the industrial revolution.

The first modern canals were an answer to the age old problem of moving coal in sufficient quantities, between the mines and towns and cities. The Bridgewater canal was the re-birth of an already ancient technology. Horses stopped carrying a pack or hauling a cart full of coal. The horses provided the motive power to haul the boats which were now filled with many different kinds of goods.

Queen Victoria came to the throne, Victoria oversaw England at the height of its overseas power. The British Empire was established in her reign, and it reached its greatest expanse under her. For the first time, speed as well as the cost of delivery became one of the deciding factors. Technology moved on, rails replaced the roads. Steam replaced the horse and larger amounts of coal and other goods could be moved, but now with shorter journey times.

During the 1800s the Industrial Revolution spread throughout Britain. The use of steam-powered machines, led to a massive increase in the number of factories. People from the countryside began to move into the towns looking for better paid work. The wages of a farm worker were very low and there were less jobs working on farms because of the invention and use of new technology such as threshers. Also thousands of new workers were needed to work machines in mills and foundries.

For years the canals and railways competed side by side, new technology in the form of the internal combustion engine modernised the canals boats for a time. But as the rail network grew, the canal network stood still. The time came when the railway was the much more cost effective medium for moving large quantities of goods. The canals started their long slow decline.

Then it was the turn of the railways to come under attack from the roads. Improvements in road building allowed for point to point delivery of goods. The motorways reduced the point to point times. The era of road building had comprehensively replaced the era of railway building. Which in turn had replaced the era of canal building. The railways went into decline, Beeching wielded his axe and road transport was king. Our roads are now full far beyond their built for capacity. People oppose the construction of more and more roads. A single accident can force a stoppage on our motorways. Time is such an expensive commodity in the road haulage business.

Where will the next technological breakthrough come from. I have no idea! Technology foresight holds no clues. As a nation we need to change back from a service industry to a manufacturing industry. People still want to live in the country side or in the outer fringe of suburbia and at the same time have the transport infrastructure to commute to and from their place of work. Our major cities are unable to cope with the numbers of people commuting in an out. Congestion charging and exorbitant parking fees as well as the spiraling cost of rail fares have not stemmed the tide.

Our ancestors lives sprouted technological innovation over the millennia. The innovations made their and our life easier and safer. Now the tables are turned and technology leads our life and we are expected to conform to its stringent requirements. The future is as uncertain for the canals as it is uncertain for everything else.

Now, the canals are more a place of leisure, a place to enjoy the slow speed years of retirement. People, governments and perceptions have changed towards the canals. The canals are now viewed by some as part of our cultural history. They are viewed by others as a linear theme park. For others they provide a cycleway away from our crowded roads. For the first time in a long time we are seeing their worth as places of peace and quiet solitude. There is a future for the rivers and canals, but will it be a cost effective one. The inland waterways are looking for a role to fulfil one that will give them some tangible worth. Their worth cannot be measured in financial terms alone. But in this time of financial feast and famine that's the criteria that will be used to measure everything.

Bee Wally
One thing I am certain of is the proposal by British Waterways to return to the ancient worker bee culture, for the common good. As British Waterways seeks an army of volunteer bee's for its continued future. What will be the motivator for this new breed of worker bee? Will it be  religion, superstition, crossed fingers or more smoke and mirrors. We all know who is sat at the top and who gets all the honey and takes all the plaudits.

When I see the top echelon at BeeW down at the bottom of a lock digging out the dredging's, I will also believe in the tooth fairy and porcine avionics. Click the link to listen to Arthur Askey sing the BW anthem "Oh, what a glorious thing to be, A healthy grown up BW busy busy bee."


Saturday 23 July 2011

Meldrew Moment

The last instalment of the British Waterways, Annual Report and Accounts has been published. Sub plot title "Alice in Wonderland back in a hole." This is a tale of everyday folk on large remuneration and pension packages, telling it like it is.

Lets start by taking a look at the Chairman's Statement given at the front of the Annual Report and Accounts.

Chairman Hales blandly stated "Nearly thirteen million people visited our waterways in 2010 despite the poor summer weather." 
Call me old and cynical, but I don't believe that one in person in every five of the population of the UK visited the canals last year. That would be 35,616 different people visiting each and every day.  If this information is true, what the report fails to make clear is why the visits were made. More importantly the report fails to make clear how the evidence in support if this dubious statistic was collated. Note Chairman Hales says people - not visitors who could be the same people visiting more than once.

Smoke and Mirrors alarm: "We measure our customers’ experience by asking them about their ‘propensity to recommend’ and, in line with our desire to ‘delight’ our customers, we have chosen to measure ourselves against the very high rating of ‘definitely’ recommending. In 2010, 59% of towpath users (2009: 56%) and 65% of destination visitors (2008: 67%) said they would ‘definitely’ recommend our waterways to others. If we also take into account ‘probably’ and ‘possibly’, which is more comparable to other industries, we score a very respectable 95% for towpath visitors (2009: 95%) and 96% for destination visitors (2008: 96%)."

Chairman Hales blandly stated in the Annual Report and Accounts "For the seventh year running, over 90% of the population rated canals as an important part of the nation’s heritage."

Call me old and cynical, but again I don't believe that 56,035,800 people out of a total population of 62,262,000 in the United Kingdom voted the inland waterways as an important part of our heritage. Once again if this information is true, what the report fails to make clear is why the the rating was established. The report also fails to make clear how the evidence in support if this dubious statistic was collated and verified. Note Chairman Hales says population - not a representative sample of the population. You can't make it up!

Smoke and Mirrors, that's what this statement to the report actually amounts to. I might just as well read out the text of Alice in Wonderland and then state unequivocally on this evidence 90% of the population, for the seventh year in a row, have rated the canals an important part of our national heritage.

It does not stack up and in a something of a regular Meldrew Moment for me, whenever BW is concerned  "I don't believe it"

Chairman Hales blandly states "We have achieved some significant milestones, including the long awaited completion of the Droitwich Canals."

There is no mention from Chairman Hales of the Droitwich Canals Trust who started the whole process back in 1973. Or the Droitwich Canals Restoration Partnership including BW which came together some 28 years later in July 2001. No it is obviously all down to the BW board and Chairman Hales! You can't make it up!

Chairman Hales blandly states "Reductions in income have forced tough decisions to be made within British Waterways resulting in changes to working practices, employee benefits and, regrettably, some redundancies. The Board is hugely grateful to all our colleagues in BW for their cooperation and positive support in delivering these changes."

This round of redundancies somehow missed out the very grateful British Waterways Board and fell onto the shoulders of the lower paid workforce. There were a couple of retirements from the board, but no redundancies, now there is a surprise. So whilst the workforce were thrown onto the sword, the board lives on for for another round of bonuses, pension contributions and large pay increases. You can't make it up!

The Annual Report and Accounts blandly states "We have also achieved significant growth (67%) in volunteering – a priority as we move to charitable status."
But not to worry, BW has a plan for the workforce! Made redundant on Friday and then the workforce will be most welcome to come back on Monday on their old job as an unpaid volunteer! I bet they flock back in droves.

The Transition Trustees for the new waterways charity have now been appointed by Defra. Guess who gets the top job - None other than the wiz kinder himself, Chairman Hales, you can't make it up. 

That's page one, only another ninety pages more of this make believe Smoke and Mirrors bedtime story!

As for value for money, you can make up your own mind!

Prime Minister £ 142,500 (comparator)

Robin Evans,   £ 234,050
Steve Dunlop   £ 153,845
Nigel Johnson  £ 179,151
Stuart Mills      £  157,750
Vince Moran    £ 162,114
Philip Ridal      £ 197,058
Simon Salem    £ 147,677
Jim Stirling       £ 167,605
BW total        £ 1,399,250


Thursday 21 July 2011

Electrics and Solar Panels.

I have been reading various bits of information about utilising solar panels with emphasis to building a solar system on board Rosie. Whilst it seems at first sight like a good idea there are many pitfalls to avoid. So first of all let me give you a tip. If you are thinking about solar panels, then you must read the "Solar Electricity Handbook" there is a new 2011 edition out. ISBN 978-1-907670-04-6 Author is Michael Boxwell and you can get a copy from Amazon for £9.49. 

Click on the above link to Amazon then click on the picture of the book, you can read the first 42 pages of the book on-line.

The author provides software from his website to help you to calculate your power budget. You can even contact the author directly if you have any questions. Whilst not targeting a boat directly one of the worked examples is a holiday cottage with no mains provision.

The book is very informative with essential information on designing and installing a system to suit your own requirements. Everything you need to know about this technology is covered. The full safety aspects are also covered. Anyone considering installing a solar system would get a good insight from reading the book. This book explains everything in fairly simple terms so you don't have to be an electrical/electronics wizard to understand it. 

Whilst we do not have any solar panels fitted on Rosie, I have started to make some changes to how we use the inverter / leisure battery bank. Lots of additional information was gleaned from useful tips given in the book. I intend fitting a solar system once we get to spend more time away from the marina. We are also looking at installing a system at home.

On another tack - I love Private Eye it should be on everyone's reading list. I am a long time subscriber just for the joy of reading about how the other half rip-us all off. Bankers, MP's, Media Magnates get short shrift form the acerbic eye!

My latest copy arrived today - what a hoot! see the front page - it says it all.


Tuesday 19 July 2011

Petunia Clarkson

It must be the season of slow news on the cut and on the street.  Unless all you want to read and hear about is the Dirty Digger and his News International toilet paper printing business.
Jemima Clarkson
Jemima (puddleduck) Clarkson is a man on a mission. Clarkson, the man who did for Motor Sport what Eric Pickles did for Hang Gliding. Also known as "The ego with a face for radio, and a voice for satnav." Jemima is an icon in his own mind.

Some say that he is a man of very little talent, others say he has no talent at all.  All I know is he's a twonk you either loath or can't abide and he's called the Stink!

Pickles the man, (not the dog who found the Jules Rimet Trophy) is the political heavyweight Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Petulant Clarkson  has been wittering on again in his Sunday Times column about quiting Top Gear. But before his bluff can be called. In a typical Clarkson way he reneges on the whole idea by conditionally tying his vaunted "I quit" into a BBC move to program production in Salford.

Fat Controller
Clarkson, took to his column like a duck to water, to protest a move to Salford, even though there are no plans to move Top Gear as of yet. Saying he would quit if the move ever did take place.

He blasted Salford, where he would have to move, as a "Small suburb with little to offer beyond a Starbucks and a canal with ducks on it.

Furthermore, if we ran the show from Salford, we'd be employing people from Salford. People who were born there and thought, 'Yes, I like this. I see no reason to go anywhere else'. And in the world of television, that could be a genuine handicap. Every year we'd end up making a Christmas special from the Dog and Duck or the nearest Arndale Center."

Eccentric, passionate,
one-off human being.
To the rescue comes former It's A Knockout presenter Stuart Hall who wrote an astute observation of Jemima Clarkson in the Radio Times "Clarkson is deluded. Does he imagine that at the advance of effete southerners, we retreat to our outside lavatories with ripped-up copies of the News of the Screws?

That in our back-to-back terraces we ply uncle Fred with chitterlings, chunks, bangers and chips, sit him in a commode, chamberpot handy, an ashtray full of dog ends, a basketful of empty tinnies and pretend he's dying through lack of care?

Manchester is booming, the financial sector deals with the world. Our scientists lead. Manchester is a seat of knowledge, a breeding ground for brains."

Some say "You can't replicate an eccentric, passionate, one-off human being like Stuart Hall. All I know is that he makes much more sense than Jemima Clarkson".


Monday 18 July 2011

Bat Trilogy!

Following on from a previous postings "Batman and Dobbin" and "Detection of Squatters" here is the last part of the bat detector trilogy.

We went for a walk around the grounds of our local stately home (Wentworth Woodhouse) late on Saturday and Sunday night. A mixture of meadow, farm land, woodland and large lakes and streams provides a wonderful habitat for a wide variety of bats. We took the bat detector with us. The full moon was just rising over the horizon on Saturday, it was bright enough to cast our shadows.  We had a good view of a Barn Owl quartering a field and heard Tawney owls calling.  Sunday was cooler and overcast.

Amongst the bats we identified were Noctule, Pipistrelle (common and soprano) as well as Daubentons.

With bats most of their feeding is done around dusk and dawn when the majority of night-flying insects are active.  If you are up and around just before dawn, this is when the best views are available as many bats seem reluctant to call it a night and return to their roost, staying out into the morning light especially when food is abundant.

Bats are most active on warm, humid, windless nights. If there is shelter provided by trees you can find them on the lee side of the sheltering trees. They will tolerate a little light rain. Bats may be less active on bright moonlit nights because they are more vulnerable to predation by owls. The moonlight can make it much easier to observe them. Even very powerful torches do not appear to disturb bats on the wing and used in conjunction with a detector, can facilitate good views.

For thousands of years people have marvelled at the ability of bats to navigate in complete darkness. Many nocturnal animals and birds such as owls have large, super sensitive eyes and acute hearing to aid foraging for food. However most bats eyes are a bit on the small side, but contrary to the saying, their eyes are not "as blind as a proverbial bat".

How could they possibly navigate through tangled forests, in the pitch darkness of a cave or anywhere else on a moonless night, if not for ultrasound?

In the 18th century Lazarro Spallanzani, Bishop of Padua, first experimented by blindfolding bats and then he even physically blinded them before setting them free to fly round in a room strung with wires. The bats flew confidently around the room, proving that sight was not necessary for their navigation in the dark.

It was not until the late 1930s that Donald Griffin discovered that bats produce ultrasonic calls and use of what he described as echolocation to navigate. Griffin did seminal research in animal behavior, animal navigation, acoustic orientation and sensory biophysics. While an undergraduate at Harvard University, he began studying the ultrasound navigational methods of bats.

Echolocation, or biosonar, is used by animals, such as bats, whales and dolphins. Echo locating animals emit high pitched calls out into the environment and then listen to the echoes of those calls that return from various objects. They use these echoes to locate, range, and identify the objects. Echolocation is also used for navigation and contact between groups.

Individual bat species use specific frequency ranges that suit their environment and prey types. This can sometimes be used to identify bats flying in an area using a "bat detector". However calls are not always species specific and some bats overlap in the type of calls they use so ultrasonic calls cannot be used to identify all bats. The frequency, pitch, number and type of pulses plus the habitat and the flight pattern used during hunting can give additional identification pointers.

When searching for prey bats produce sounds at a low sound pulse rate typically 10 to 20 a second. After detecting a potential prey item, bats increase the rate of pulses, ending with the terminal buzz, at rates as high as 200 pulses a second. During approach to a detected target, the duration of the sounds is gradually decreased, as is the strength of the sound.

It is believed that some insects can actually detect the ultrasound frequency used by bats and to sense the direction that the bat is approaching from. This gives the insect time to take avoiding maneuvers.

The time interval between sound pulses determines the maximum range that a bat can detect an object. This is because bats can only keep track of the echoes from one call at a time. As soon as they make another call they stop listening for echoes from the previously made call. A pulse interval of 100 ms (typical of a bat searching for insects) allows sound to travel in air roughly 34 meters so a bat can only detect objects as far away as 17 meters (the sound has to travel out from and back to the bat). With a pulse interval of 5 ms (typical of a bat at the final moments of a capture), the bat can only detect objects up to 85 cm away.

Wonderful, sophisticated animals are bats!


Saturday 16 July 2011

I have been floored!

I recently completed the construction of a topbox for storing those items on board that are infrequently used. Now its the turn of the cream shag pile carpet to hit the skip. Cream shag pile is not a good idea on a narrow boat, especially one that has two dogs aboard. So the Memsahib issued an edict, now that I had been given the necessary authority I removed the carpet. I also at the same time removed the built in side fitting sofa/bed. I ended up with a blank canvas that was previously the saloon.

I purchased six metres of interlocking wood laminate flooring and the special silver sided heat/moisture membrane underlay. The floor proved to be a bit of a tricky job to fit, with lots of corners and odd shapes to take into account. The foldaway Black and Decker workmate is a godsend for jobs like this. Two days later, we have our new floor on Rosie.

Floors 2 Go have an excellent selection at reasonable prices.

The Memsahib then issued the next edict. The heating and hot water pipework to and from the calorifier was previously left exposed under the sofa bed. We noticed that the hot water would cool in the calorifier over night. So my next woodworking/plumbing project is to lag all of the pipework and then to box in the exposed pipework in the saloon area. I will also be removing a radiator which is located next to the solid fuel stove. The pipework will then be reused later to pipe heating water through the stove back boiler.

Removing the sofa/bed highlighted that the wood colour in the saloon has darkened where it has been exposed to the sun. Now what was a previously hidden area is going to be exposed to view for the first time. So this calls for a bit of rubbing down and a coat of slightly darker varnish to be applied to bring as close a colour match as possible.

We have just purchased a couple of reclining/swivel chairs with foot stools as replacements for the sofa/bed. This will make watching TV and reading more comfortable of an evening. There are a large number of reclining/swivel chairs on the market. The key factor being to choose those with a width to make it easy to move between and around them.  I have also added a folding table into to the saloon area. Though we do tend to take most of our meals in the pram cover area.

Whilst I had everything stripped out, it was good to be able to check under the floor and view the inside of the hull, just for my peace of mind. The Waxoyl treatment is certainly doing a good job and is still in good condition after seven years. I was unable to find any sign of water ever having entered the bilge area. 

Waxoyl is superb at controlling established rust problems. Waxoyl soaks into rust and is capable of stopping it dead. In doing so even a boat with established rust can have its lifespan extended by many years. The last underfloor job was a squeaky area that was always annoying. After I shaved a small amount of wood off a joint, a rub with a bit of candle fat the squeak has now gone.

Another ongoing project (edict) is fitting a small washing machine. Small it might be, but a very heavy little beast it is. Zanussi make a physically smaller washing machine than normal. The ZWC1300W has a width of 495 mm and a depth of 515 mm and a height of 670 mm. The wash load capacity is only 3Kg, which is smaller than the more normal 4.5Kg or 5Kg machine,  Net weight 54Kg. The washing machine has been fitted onto a small plinth, just to raise it 6 inches above the galley floor level. This leaves room for a drawer underneath and allows the pipework to be routed back into the wet side of the kitchen more easily.

I took the opportunity to move some of the underfloor ballast to bring the trim level with the washing machine standing in its new position in the galley. I am now on the lookout for two or three of the old cast iron 56 pound movable weights to fit under the bed to help trim the level when the pump out tank is ready for emptying. If anyone knows where I can find some suitable weights I would be most interested to know.

The next planned project, will be to build a front cratch frame and then to add a waterproof cover. I will be recycling several solid framed redwood doors that we are replacing at chateau "Wits End". The front cratch area will be used to house our small Monkey Bike and so the dimensions of the cratch frame will have to make for ease of access as well as getting the bike on and off the boat.


Thursday 14 July 2011


Are you starting to think about moving off of your narrowboat and back onto the bank. Are you seeking that special bijou residence. A place where you can set up home without spending a small fortune on new furniture. Somewhere that you can still have that feeling of the snugness that comes with living aboard a narrow-boat.

Bijou property
I may have just the property for you. Complete with bedroom, lounge, bathroom and kitchen - is just under 60inches wide. This home could get you on the property ladder in more ways than one.  because it is so narrow that the builders have abandoned a traditional staircase in favour of a ladder to the upper 3 floors. Each of the four storeys goes back nearly 40ft with a room on each floor of the apartment. The property is shoehorned into an alley between a tenement block and a tower block in Warsaw, Poland.

OK, are you looking for a property nearer to home?

The world's official narrowest house, The Wedge, on the island of Great Cumbrae off Scotland’s North Ayrshire coast, measures just 47 inches at the front - but spreads to 22ft as it moves back from the road.

Another house lacking width can be found in Brighton. The house owned by Iain and Rachel Boyle is only 6ft wide and 21ft from front to back. The couple, who run a publishing business, bought the building in the Hollingdean area of the city 13 years ago.They spent £15,000 turning it into a stylish pi├Ęd-a-terre and now rent it out.


Wednesday 13 July 2011

ASDA are off their trollies.

According to the Daily Mail - Thieves have stolen more than 800 shopping trolleys from a supermarket - leaving the store with a bill for £64,000. The Asda store has seen row after row of trolleys go missing over 12 days and it is thought that they are being sold as scrap metal.  The store in the Eastgate centre in Essex has been left with empty bays until new trolleys are delivered.

You would have thought that someone would have noticed the available trolley numbers falling over the previous 12 days and that ASDA would have been keeping an eye out.

Asda spokesman Jo Newbould said "Large numbers of trolleys have been taken from our supermarket. Police are investigating why they were stolen, but they obviously weren't used by people to take their shopping home. They're expensive for us to replace too. While there are not as many trolleys as we would like at the Eastgate store at the moment, we have ordered replacements. We would urge everyone to keep an eye out for people stealing trolleys, as it causes a lot of inconvenience for customers if there are fewer available." A spokesman for Essex Police said "If anyone sees a trolley with Asda written on it which is nowhere near an Asda store please get in touch."
A walk along most canals would help ASDA to recover a fair few. We have pulled three out of the canal in the last year.
There are days when your faith in human nature is challenged. Today is one such day.
I hereby bestow a Honorary Degree in "Stating the Bleeding Obvious" to John Hayward.
John Hayward is a former senior officer with the Thames Valley police and has some important news to impart. There are, he says "Some nasty thieves at large. They may well be organised gangs. And they need apprehending before they strike again." 

You can see from the above astute summing up of the situation why John Hayward made it to the top as a senior officer.

John Hayward also wants to know, how are you about offering a reward for rustled tortoises?

Tortoise John
Tortoises are at serious risk and John Hayward is particularly concerned about a theft that happened in the early hours of the morning in Sevenoaks, Kent. He said "There’s no doubt the victim was definitely targeted. If you’ve bought one of these tortoises, you want to come clean. Because if the police catch up with you, you can go to prison for five years."

He continued "An awful lot of these animals are becoming rare, so people look at tortoises and see pound signs. They see a little tortoise hatchling being sold legally at a pet shop for £100 or £120 and realise that something the size of a dinner plate is worth many times that amount."

I do hope the reference to a dinner plate is not some sort of premonition of the ultimate fate of these ancient reptiles. I wonder if he has thought about calling in the Ninja Turtles?

When he left the police 16 years ago, Hayward set up the National Theft Register For Exotic Animals. This makes him the nation’s foremost expert on stolen pets. His message is stark "Britain’s tortoise population is in peril. The gentle reptiles, many of whom can live to the age of 100, are being snatched from back gardens in unprecedented numbers. We need someone to come forward and offer a reward for their return. A wealthy tortoise lover maybe.

A family friend asked Jeremy Clarkson to put up some money. He’s got a tortoise himself. But I don’t think he’s answered."

I wonder if he has thought to ask Joanna Lumley, or do the Gurkha's eat tortoise?


Tuesday 12 July 2011

Soggy Summer and Lycra Louts!

Remember the spring and an Easter that included such a long hot dry spell. We all thought it might be the harbinger of a magnificent summer to follow. It was after all the hottest spring in 118 years. Many were looking forward to a spell of good weather to coincide with the school summer holiday break. Some families had made plans for a staying in the UK holiday. Hoping to enjoy a period of warm weather cruising on the canals. However, the Met Office forecasters are now predicting we are about to have the coolest summer in the last twenty years.

The Met Office reported that the average temperature in June only just reached 13.8C (57C) and this is now the coldest June since 1991. The increase in the spring temperatures was also accompanied by a reduced amount of rainfall. The April showers failed to materialise. Hosepipe bans were about to be implemented in some areas. Talk about the national water grid raised it head again.

Recently the summer weather has taken a turn for the worse and good amounts of rain have fallen since the drought ended at the start of June. The Met Office have recorded over 80mm average across the whole of Britain in June. June has been the worst month for summer sunshine since 2008, with only180 hours recorded, the lowest average for three years. More of the same sort of weather pattern is expected to follow in July. With only a little over four weeks until we start our late summer cruise, we are keeping our fingers crossed that the "Man at the Met" gets his long term predictions wrong.

I have a question...

What is the speed limit for pedal cyclists on a canal towpath, I am sure that British waterways will have one in place. I ask because I spotted a large group of cyclists (all wearing their pink and black lunch box Lycra) peddling well in excess of 30mph along the towpath this morning.


Monday 11 July 2011

Canal Dog.

I have just had a couple of days, crewing on a wide beam which has been good fun and the weather has been very good as well which always helps. A part of the crew was Sidney a Spaniel with a very friendly disposition. Sid, had a severe case of selective deafness - you know, ask him to do something and it was 50/50 as to whether it would be done first time. Make a noise like a sweet wrapper and by some miracle he could hear again and had a flare for instant single command obedience. Yes, Sid is a character and my kind of dog.

I have had a dog as a companion just about all my life. For a long period of time I would take on the old dogs that no one would be prepared to re-home. Often they would come with an illness of one kind or another and so present a challenge. The one thing I can say about taking on an older dog is that they seem to accept the change of environment more easily than a younger dog. I have had as many as three dogs at any one moment time. Over the years some 26 dogs were taken in and given a good home for their remaining time. There were one or two memorable dogs in that time. One such dog was Tess she was re homed because she had been ill treated by her previous owners and removed by the courts. It took two years to turn her around and re-build her confidence, but she was well worth the effort.

Other ancient dogs only lasted a few weeks or months and it gave me the opportunity to spoil their last days. Now, I have one dog that I have had from a puppy. Her name is "Lola" or it was, however, since she became my dog, she has been living under the pseudonym of "Poppy" though her posh name is "Sharrowcliffe Ace of Hearts".  A feisty female dog - living up to the name The Bitch!

Poppy was born at an early age into an instant family of five plus mum. She was visited and passed over by several prospective parents. However, she then decided that it was time to play the "sticky lick" card and when the next batch of prospects arrived it was all systems go. As soon as I picked her up, she went for the fastest face lick ever! Needless to say, it was an instant success. The point being proved when, I said to Memsahib "You can choose any puppy you like as long as it's this one" we were all instant friends.

On arrival at her new lodgings she was greeted by a cat called Jasper. Well she decided to give him the standard doggies introduction, by smelling at his rear. The monster insisted on giving her a boxing lesson. Not an auspicious start, I admit. Poppy feels that cats need to know their place in the hierarchy of life! In her opinion this one seemed to have delusions of grandeur about his exact place in the hierarchy.

The rest as they say is history. Now Poppy and Jasper are bed sharing friends.

Now its three years later, we have yet another re-home in the form of Abbey a delightful 12 year old Wire Haired Fox Terrier. Abbey has been a cat hater of some renown, however she is now a cat friendly companion to Poppy. Jasper has seen them come and go in his time (29 years and still counting) and he takes it all in his stride.

Jasper and Abbey recently shared their bed together for the first time. The rest as they say is history

So if you are looking for a companion, don't forget to visit the re-homing centres. There are always a few inmates looking for a new billet in life. Some of the older dogs are less demanding of exercise and would fit into a boating environment just fine. All they need is the second chance.