Wednesday 29 February 2012

The last 29 days

I have been messing around with NeoCounter to record visitor numbers to the blog. In the last month the blog has had visitors from 69 different countries. As you might expect English speaking countries top the actual visitor numbers. A question I ask myself is why people from such a wide variety of countries are interested in a boating blog based upon on the UK's Inland Waterways.

The visitors list of countries includes:

Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa-Rica, Czech-Republic, Denmark, Dominican-Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Macedonia, Netherlands, New-Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Saudi-Arabia, South-Africa, Spain, Sri-Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United-Arab-Emirates, United-Kingdom, United-States and Vietnam. The strangest and longest abbreviated country name was F.Y.R.O.M. or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Some of the countries are completely land locked and so have no coastal maritime interest. Some do use inland waterways in the form of major navigable rivers. I wonder how many people turn up here by accident as a result of a google search.

But, no matter how anyone arrived here in this the last outpost of civilisation, on a backwater of the internet - without a paddle - welcome to the blog  feel free to post a comment.


Leap Year

Its a leap year - a time when the girls decide in a more forceful way who they might choose to settle down with. But, (there is always a but) I have a bit of advice to share before you set your jib on the stormy waters of life. I thought about remaining a bachelor - bringing up my kids with the same ethos. But (I told you there is always a but) I relented in the end. Well to be honest I sort of agreed whilst watching football. I can remember the score, I can't remember saying yes!

I have been cogitating again. I know its not good for me, anything that is in my opinion good - is always described as bad - by some spoilsport anyway. I find that life reflects the seasons in so many ways. Whereas with good luck and good health we might see a good few physical seasons. Life seasons are however a one time event.

Deciding where I am on the seasonal cycle is not easy.

I know that I have done the spring season of life, and we all know what a young mans thoughts turn to in spring. (any remaining twinkle in my eye is only a reflection off my bifocals, I have discovered that I can get by without nookie but not without my glasses) So I have moved on from here.

I have now completed the summer season of life, the crops have been sown, nurtured, ripened and gathered in. But there is a price to pay for all this time spent on the seeds. I know that I am a bit frayed around the edges, well OK maybe a bit tatted and torn is a better description. (but when you wake up, look in the bathroom mirror and see your driver's license picture, you know its a bad day) So I have moved on from here.

I think I am in the latter bit of the autumnal part of the life cycle. The combine has been and our seeds have been collected and then scattered to the four winds. So far - some of our seed has fallen on stony ground but others have found foreign soil to set down roots. With this change of season also comes the memory problems. (I can't even remember the time when my wild oats turned to shredded wheat)

Suddenly comes the realisation that with all your life experiences, you actually know all the answers, but now being seen by others as an old curmudgeon, nobody bothers to ask you the questions.

For me - Happy Hour - is taking a nap!


Tuesday 28 February 2012

Do Not Give Them Your Votes

Don't forget NO voting for
the Inland Waterways Association candidates
to the Canal and River Trust. 
Remember that it was the IWA in association with British Waterways that tried to ban the
Freedom of Information Act applying to the
Canal and River Trust.

Do Not Give Them Your Votes

Pig In Muck

The Snooty Toff Prime Minister, Dave Cameron and his chauffeur are driving back to his country retreat at Chequers late one night. Whilst scooting along a country road the PM's car hits a pig, that has wandered onto the road. The pig is killed instantly. The Prime Minister instructs his driver, "Go up to the farm driver, explain to the plebs the circumstances of what has just happened. Fob them off with some sort of story and hurry back here."

An hour later, Dave Cameron sees his driver staggering back from the farm, his clothes are all wrinkled, bright red lipstick is smeared on his face, a half drunk bottle of the finest whiskey in one hand and a top of the range Cuban cigar in the other.

"Where have you been all this time driver?" asks the Prime Minister.
The driver replied "Well, Prime Minister, the farmer gave me a bottle of whiskey, his wife gave me a Cuban cigar, and their very attractive 19-year-old daughter made wild passionate love to me."

The prime minister enquired "What exactly did you tell them had happened?" The driver answers, I said "Good evening, I am the Prime Minister David Cameron's chauffeur and I have just killed the pig."


Monday 27 February 2012


Being on the boat, make us think that we should either sell up or downsize our home. Chateau Wits End is a bit of a large empty space now that our family have grown up and flown the nest. I suppose it comes with age and is highlighted when you come to realise you have too much room in the house and not enough room in the medicine cabinet.

I am a bit sentimental about leaving the house behind and moving on. Not because of the memories that a home usually embodies for many people. For me its the thought of leaving behind all our various animal family who now have their own quiet space in the garden. I look around and a Hybrid Tea Rose bush reminds me of a family cat. A late flowering Magnolia that reminds me of a very special family dog. Whilst time on the boat brings new experiences, escapades and adventures - old animal memories are often triggered just by the sight of a flower.

To days tasks, I'm busy with fitting the solar panels - I might have been much further on had it not been for the rain. So, I have had to keep myself occupied with modifying one door lock and replacing another. One of the internal doors has a bottom bolt lock which can only be used when inside the boat. I purchased a metre of brass rod and added a long tail to the bolt mechanism. Now the lock can be used from the back cabin.

Not much time to witter on today.


Sunday 26 February 2012

I don't enjoy surprises.

Nothing surprises me anymore, because I have witnessed some significant changes in everyday life. Few have been more disappointing than the WWW. I'm not talking about the World Wide Web, I'm talking about things that really mattered.When I was young my favourite biscuit of choice was a Westons Wagon Wheel. The real WWW was the size of a small tea plate and just enough to take away the pangs of hunger on your way home from school. Now a Wagon Wheel is tiny in comparison, you need four of the latest ones to match the quantity of my childhood ones. The new Wagon Wheel are so thin that you can almost see through them. Wagon Wheels now feature a simulated "Raspberry Jam", filling made from plums.

The ingredients of the Wagon Wheel are as follows: sugar, enriched flour, glucose, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, glucose-fructose, vegetable oil shortening, cocoa, apple pulp (apples, sulphites, potassium sorbate), gelatin, modified milk ingredients, fancy molasses, salt, sorbitan tristearate, sodium bicarbonate, pectin, soya lecithin, citric acid, ammonium bicarbonate, sodium benzoate, monocalcium phosphate, nutmeg, natural and artificial flavour, colour (contains tartrazine).

As for the taste, unsurprisingly from the above list, it has in my opinion deteriorated because a Wagon Wheel washed down without a glass of full cream milk is like eating fish and chips without mushy peas and on a plate.

Talking about milk, open your fridge door, look at the milk and it will be in a cardboard or plastic container. When I was a kid, home milk delivery only came in glass bottles, with silver foil stoppers. Now its a semi-skimmed, skimmed, pasteurised, homogenised, pulverised white water and you need twice as much to colour your tea! Do you remember the pre Thatcher days when a miniature milk bottle was part of every child's school life. A time when you had to pierce the thick ring of cream at the top of the bottle with your tongue, just to get at the milk.

Now it standardised in metricky units and the same has happened with yards feet and inches. Plastic replaces glass and the taste is now awful. Milk is now boiled and skimmed to remove every last vestige of nutritional value.

A time when your bike was a Raleigh, it had a Sturmy Archer three speed, the dynamo ran on the tyre wall and the seat had some comfort value. You had a saddle bag for your wet weather cape, your pump was fitted to the front down tube. Mudguards kept the mud off and you had a round red reflector at the back. Your toolkit consisted of a multi-spanner that fitted the three sizes of nuts that everything was attached with. Drop handle bars were for posers, cowbars were for prats and flat bars had a bell. A lollipop stick on the spokes gave an impression of speed and kudos for the uninitiated.

We rode our bikes with no helmets and our bikes were so much heavier and hard wearing. A time when leg clips for bicycles without a chain guard was de rigueur for those of us out of short pants. But your dad always tucked his right pant leg turn up into his sock.

Those were the days my friend, we thought they would never end. Or so goes the words to a song. As I look at my grand mothers old battered bible, leather bound, frayed and careworn. I can't help but think the bible looks a lot like grandma looked. Not only that, I'm sure that rainbows back then were in black and white.


Saturday 25 February 2012

38degrees and Which?

Dear friend.

Have a look at this:

I’ve joined together with over 130,000 people in Britain to get lower gas and electricity prices. Power companies have been ripping us off, but now 38 Degrees and Which? have teamed up to turn the tables on them. We’re going to bargain as one group with the gas and electricity companies for a cheaper deal.If more of us sign up, we’ll have more bargaining power to make sure we get the lowest prices. Use the link above to join in.

Could you also have a look at this:
I just asked my MP to vote to release a secret report on the risks of the government’s NHS changes. 38 Degrees members, doctors, nurses and academics have all been warning for ages that Lansley’s plans put our health service at risk. We need our MPs to have the full facts in front of them when voting on changes to the NHS.

Please e-mail your MP too, by clicking on the link below.

Could you also have a look at this:
It just took me two minutes to email my MP in support of putting voters in charge of MPs. This Friday, we have a chance to persuade MPs to back a new law that would give voters the power to sack MPs who don’t do their job properly.. At the moment, MPs who scrounge thousands on expenses or break their promises can stay in power for years until the next election. If this bill passes we can make sure that this time MPs put the interests of voters first. The more of us that contact our MPs, the more likely they are to vote the right way on Friday.

Please e-mail your MP too, by clicking on the link below.

Mick n Mags

You Know That You Are Getting Older When....

You know your getting old when.... At the start of a new day, those feelings you used to get as a teenager come back to haunt you all over again. You know, the feelings you used to get after a night out on the town with friends. Dancing, drinking and having a long walk home. The memories of the woozy head come flooding back, the unsteady walk feels so natural, the shaking hands as you try to eat a bacon sandwich which was the natural antidote and the ache from laying in a funny position. Often referred to as that morning-after feeling. I can't believe it was almost an everyday occurrence.

The problem was that I woke up this morning with the woozy head, the unsteady walk, the shaking hands and the ache from laying in a funny position. Deja vou of that oft fondly remembered morning-after feeling. The problem is that I didn't do anything the night before. With it comes the realisation of creeping physical frailty - I have just realised that that my back goes out more than I do these days!

You know your getting old when.... Your children purchase this book from Amazon: "The Baby Boomer's Guide to Caring for Ageing Parents" by Bart Astor. ISBN 0028616170. - The dilemma of caring for ageing parents is growing in importance, especially as a greater proportion of the population nears the age of 50. This thoughtfully developed guide is packed with practical information on facing legal issues, selecting long term care, determining the onset of conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's, and more.


Ice - What Ice?

We get ice on our canals and rivers from time to time. But as our weather is softened by the gulf stream we avoid the worst of it. Compare our conditions with our boating companions in Serbia. According to the BBC, a rapid thaw has brought chaos to the River Danube in the Serbian capital Belgrade, where large thick ice sheets that have broken free have damaged many boats, pontoons and floating restaurants. The thick ice has covered one of Europe's busiest waterways during the recent freeze, but it began to break up very quickly as temperatures rose.

Boat owner, Mihailo Svilaric said only a "handful" of boats remained intact out of about 100 moored in the capital's Kapetanija marina. One boat owner said the ice had moved so fast, boats could not be saved. Several floating restaurants, barges and boats were beached on river banks after the ice snapped anchor lines. Ice sheets more than 30cm (11in) thick in places broke up as temperatures rose.

There are some amazing pictures here.

I think I will add another log to the stove....


On Manoeuvres (10)

This is one of an occasional series of tips about manoeuvring a narrow-boat on the canals and rivers. There may be other ways to achieve the same result. However, the method has been devised or adapted by me using trial and error. (Trial and Error are two of my regular boating companions) Our boat is 50 feet long and has a keel depth of twenty five inches and weighs in at a tad over eighteen tons. The techniques described are intended to help new comers to boating.

How to securely moor your boat.

Once you have brought your boat into the point where you intend to moor for a short period of time. Where there is little wind or current you can secure your boat using only the centre rope. Places where you might only moor for a short period are on a lock mooring or lock pontoon. In moving water or if there are strong winds, you may need to secure an additional lines to the front and the rear of the boat. The additional lines will normally be deployed at the upstream or upwind end of the boat first.

Often at recognised long term mooring places, mooring bollards and rings are provided for mooring your boat.
Tip :1 It is OK to share a mooring bollard or mooring ring with another boat. Bollards and rings are not exclusive to each boat. This will also ensure in areas with restricted amounts of mooring space that the available space is maximised and used to best effect.

Securing your boat can be one of the more difficult tasks to accomplish if there are no mooring bollards or mooring rings available. When the ground is wet and soft it can be hard to ensure that your boat is securely moored. You need to prepare yourself for mooring in advance of arriving and to have all the bits and pieces to hand ready for action. You will need two or more mooring pins and a heavy mooring mallet to set the pins securely into the bank.

The mooring pin is a steel bar about two feet long or longer that we knock into the bank with the heavy steel mallet.  The mooring lines are then attached to the mooring pins to secure the boat.

Whenever mooring in out of the way places you will need to use mooring pins. Do not knock the mooring pin in vertical as it is easier for a rope to slip off the pin. By driving the mooring pin in at at an angle away from the boat the rope is less likely to slip off the pin. Mooring pins sometimes have a small loop welded on, so that a mooring line can be passed through to improve the security.

In soft earth be prepared to deploy extra mooring pins. You can daisy chain several pins to a single line. In this way the load on the line is shared by two or more pins. Alternatively you can deploy extra lines and pins to share the load. Don’t forget to look around for additional "natural mooring pins" like substantial trees and posts.
Tip :2 Try and place the mooring pins in such a way that the mooring lines are kept level with the gunwale. This will reduce the angle of pull on the pins which in turn will help to stop the pins being dislodged by any boat movement.

In some places the bank side will have steel pilings and the mooring pin can be driven down behind the piling to give additional stability. Some pilings have a steel rail attached and the space between the rail and the piling can be used to moor your boat. I prefer to use a mooring chain in this circumstances as there can be sharp cutting edges on the rail that will chafe at a mooring line.

A mooring chain is a short length of chain with a large ring and a small ring (eyes) attached at the ends. You pass the chain round the piling rail passing the small ring or eye through the big ring or eye. In this way a very secure link is made to the piling rail. The mooring line is then attached in the usual way to the small ring or eye.
Tip :3 Be prepared to use a mixture of mooring pins, anchors, mooring chains, bollards, rings and trees to secure your boat. Each method of mooring is not exclusive.

You must only use the banking between the tow path and the water to place your pins. Mooring lines and mooring pins are tripping hazards. A trip in the dark, maybe a trip into the canal. Never place a line across a tow path. Walkers, fishermen, cyclist and other boaters may use the footpath at any time of day or night.

Mark you lines and pins in a way that they can be seen in the dark. I use a small strips of white cloth that can wave around in the breeze. I have seen small lights, day-glo pennants, balloons and even white plastic milk bottles used to make lines and pins more visible. If you are stuck for something to use, then a loop of newspaper can be an effective way of marking out the position of your lines and pins.
Tip :4 Small led keyring lights attached to lines and pins will let you check your mooring at night without having to leave your boat.

Another alternative is to anchor your boat. If your boat is going to be used on a river then an anchor is an essential item. There are a large number of anchor types. Categorised by design and weight. If you are not physically strong enough to deploy or recover an anchor, after use. Then use two or more smaller lighter ones. The anchor should have a chain fitted to help the line sink to the bottom as the anchor bites by being drawn at a shallow angle along the bottom.

Mud anchors are another option that can be used in still water. I use two 56 pound Avery weigh scale weights as mud anchors. Each is attached to a short line for deployment. They work surprisingly well and can be easily retrieved.

There is a further anchor item available called a "Rhond Anchor". Which technically is not an anchor at all, as you use it to secure to the bank. (Rhond apparently is a Norfolk colloquial name for the bit of bank between the river and the flood bank) Shaped like a fishing hook with an eye and ring to attach a mooring line. The construction of the rhond anchor actually pulls the anchor deeper into the ground as the mooring line pulls tight.


Friday 24 February 2012

Collective Insanity

One of my many habitual thoughts is ”It's a funny old world” as I observe some facet or other of life. In the main the thought is triggered by some imbalance between what I consider to be acceptable and unacceptable. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not espousing some personal moralistic attitude. Its more of a generalisation than a crusade about what some people will accept with blind indifference and what boundaries some people are prepared to exceed.

If you are like me, you believe the oft quoted mantra “The world is essentially corrupt and each person is out for whatever they can get.” Then whatever life throws up is acceptable and you are never going to be disappointed. But there is another group that behaves is a similar way. However, its hard to understand what they gain from what they do. Generally we think of them as being morally corrupt, selfish and spiteful.

There is this inbuilt checksum in our personal “I’m morally outraged” gauge. It seems to work on some inbuilt complex formula that I find difficult to even begin to comprehend. Let me provide you with an example. Its the sport or pastime we call Angling, that’s it. That is all you need to know.

Now you may or may not take issue with Angling for any number of reasons. For some its seen as a relaxation where a man enters into a battle of wits to outsmart a fish. It says more for the metal faculties of the fish! Now as a sport I find this battle of wits is a bit biased towards the bipeds.

As we bipeds come in first position in the food web, I can see why we might want to catch and eat a fish. Seemingly done just because we think we are smart enough and we can. What I find difficult to understand is why we would we want to catch and then release the fish again and again.

That’s my position on Angling. Now the live-and-let-live checksum for me is that where fishing is conducted the water habitat and quality is generally well maintained. Fishermen have a vested interest in maintaining water quality and depth. Wildlife gets a boost and all is generally well with the world.

I know that fishermen are a bit lackadaisical when it comes to keeping the towpath clean and tidy after one of their events. On a scale of one to ten, Fishermen come in at around the three mark. In mitigation the Memsahib says that my personal tidiness quotient come in at around the three mark as well. We have an untidy roof and I tend to keep my tools close at hand at all times on the boat!

Take my local British Waterways marina. For years a small group of Anglers with varying degrees of disability have been using the secure car park to off load their wheelchairs and the occasional use of the disabled facilities provided in the sanitary station. Its a win-win situation for the disabled.

The marina has a boat club, its not a big boat club as boat clubs go, in fact its a tiddler. As the Marina has about 35 moorings its always going to be a small fish in the grand scheme of things. But as the majority of boat owners in the marina choose for whatever personal reason not to be members. The boat club has little cause to make any claim to represent the majority of boat owners within the marina. But the boat club membership has big pretensions to boxing above its weight.

Now operating under the guise of the marina boat club, a fishing section has been created. Ostensibly to manage the fishing within the marina boundaries. After being awarded the contract to manage the fishing. The fishing section take it upon themselves on behalf of all boat owners to ban all fishing including the fishing places that were used on a regular basis by the disabled. Who would benefit from such a change?

The reason given for banning disabled fishing – it might cause damage to boats. Now call me old and cynical but there is this belief on the canals and rivers that boating is something of a contact sport and that regular maintenance is expected to be carried out. Especially after cruising around for a while. With the best will in the world, I can't imagine a scenario where my boat is at threat from the normal activities of the fishing fraternity.

Then there was a change of heart, in a magnificent gesture. Boat owners in the marina would be allowed to fish from their own boats. There would be a day ticket charge, but you could fish off your own boat if you wished. The boat owners who do fish in the marina precincts, voted with a single finger salute. None of the self appointed boat club bailiffs has had the intestinal fortitude to demand payment so far.

The boat club bailiffs have however had the strength and fortitude to call out the police to eject a disabled fisherman in a wheelchair from the marina precincts. To their eternal credit the police washed their hands of the whole can of worms.

However, there is previous form leading up to this stand off position. The boat club had previously organised to change the locks on the Sanitary station. After a stink had been kicked up – so to speak, the sanitary station was returned to waterways key access once again. Now ask yourself why would anyone want to do that. Not only would it disadvantage any licensed boat owner from using the facility when passing through. But it would also prejudice any other legitimate inland waterways users from access to facilities. Who would benefit from such a change?

Other little boat club foibles have included the chopping down of magnificent mature trees until ordered to stop by British Waterways. That others would want to see and enjoy the trees and the wildlife they would attract does not enter into the timber felling equation. Who would benefit from such a change?

There is a compound “managed” by the marina boat club, that boat owners can use to store items. You only have to provide a small shed for yourself. Now, there is just about enough room for each berth in the marina to have a shed space allocation. Yet for some reason, some individuals have more than one shed and in some cases its two, in other cases its three and there are others with a coal bunker as well. I will leave to your imagination how the places are allocated and who has what. Who would benefit from such an arrangement?

Recently the boat of the boat club members have been moving around in the marina. A bit like musical chairs, with boats. They have now moved themselves collectively into a single location as close to the disabled fishing point as its possible to get. Its a waterways version of siege mentality – like the old wagon trains seen crossing the desert in cowboy films The few remaining boat club members have now drawn themselves into a metaphorical circle. Who would benefit from such a change?

British Waterways has not covered itself in glory – metaphorically British Waterways has covered itself in something of a soft beige consistency, that is normally distributed with the aid of a fan. Now we are at the point where most people would stand back – view the resulting aftermath – apply some common sense and Eau de Cologne - then restore the facilities for the disabled. Manage the compound to the benefit of all boat owners. Bring some sanity to a stupid situation. After all who would benefit from such a change?

It's a funny old world


Thursday 23 February 2012

Invite round for dinner.

In an idle moment I was listening to Radio Sheffield and the phone in topic was - who would you like to invite round for dinner. This started me mind musing about ten people who I would like to invite around the dinner table and why.

There would be several instant choices that I would make. The man I admire most of all in the World was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and he would be my first choice. Better known as 'Mahatma' (great soul), or Bapu the Hindi word for 'Father'. Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule. Gandhi is widely considered the father of his country. Gandhi's doctrine of non-violent protest to achieve political and social progress set him out above all others. I have always found him to be inspirational.

My next choice would be writer, poet, and playwright Wystan Hugh Auden a witty and technically accomplished writer. In the 1930's Auden married Erika Mann, the daughter of the German novelist Thomas Mann. It was a marriage of convenience to enable her to gain British citizenship and escape Nazi Germany - Auden was himself homosexual. Auden continued to publish his poetry including 'The Age of Anxiety' for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. From 1956 to 1961 Auden was professor of poetry at Oxford University. After his death, some of his poems, notably 'Funeral Blues' became widely known through films, broadcasts and popular media. Funeral Blues was the poem read by Matthew (played by John Hannah) at the funeral of his partner Gareth (played by Simon Callow) in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Arthur Conan Doyle trained as a doctor at  Edinburgh University. He worked as a surgeon on a whaling boat and also as a medical officer on a steamer. He then divided his time between medicine and writing. Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in 'A Study of Scarlet'. Its success encouraged Conan Doyle to write more stories involving Holmes. However, Conan Doyle killed off Holmes, hoping to concentrate on more serious writing. A public outcry later made him resurrect Holmes. In addition, Conan Doyle wrote a number of other novels, including 'The Lost World' and various non-fictional works.

I would also invite Charles John Huffam Dickens for his great contribution to English literature. He was the quintessential Victorian author. His epic stories, vivid characters and depiction of Victorian life are unforgettable. His own story is one of rags to riches. Dickens was sent to work in a blacking factory and endured appalling conditions as well as loneliness and despair. The experience was never forgotten and became fictionalised in two of his better-known novels 'David Copperfield' and 'Great Expectations'. As well as a huge list of novels he published autobiography, wrote travel books and administered charitable organisations. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

Nelson (Rolihlahla) Mandela led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy. He was imprisoned for 27 years and went on to become his country's first black president. Educated at the University of Fort Hare and later at the University of Witwatersrand, qualifying in law. He became increasingly involved with the African National Congress (ANC), a multi-racial nationalist movement trying to bring about political change in South Africa. In 1948, the National Party came to power and began to implement a policy of 'apartheid', or forced segregation on the basis of race. Mandela was tried for treason in 1956, but acquitted after a five-year trial. On his return he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. During his years in prison he became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid.. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

My next choice was famous for her work in the military hospitals of the Crimea. Florence Nightingale established nursing as a respectable profession for women. Sidney Herbert, the war minister asked her to oversee a team of nurses in the military hospitals in Turkey. In November 1854, she arrived in Scutari in Turkey. With her nurses, she greatly improved the conditions and substantially reduced the mortality rate. She established the Nightingale Training School for nurses at St Thomas' Hospital in London. Once the nurses were trained, they were sent to hospitals all over Britain, where they introduced the ideas they had learned, and established nursing training on the Nightingale model. Nightingale's theories, published in 'Notes on Nursing', were hugely influential and her concerns for sanitation and hospital planning established practises which are still in existence today.

Thursday 6 February 1958 is the date of the Munich air disaster when a number of the Busby Babes lost their lives. My next dinner guest would be Duncan Edwards. As a ten year old ManU fan I wanted to be Duncan Edwards. A great deal has been written about the team and what might have been but it is all speculation. However United have gone on to create a football reputation that is second to none.

I have two other sporting legends that I would like to invite. William (Joey) Joseph Dunlop MBE OBE the greatest TT rider of all time. His spirit will live on at the TT for as long as there is a TT.  His achievements include a hat-trick of hat-tricks at the Isle of Man TT. Where he won a record 26 races in total. During his career he won the Ulster Grand Prix 24 times. In 1986 he won a fifth consecutive TT Formula One world title. He was awarded the MBE in 1986 for his services to the sport, and in 1996 he was awarded the OBE for his humanitarian work for children in Romanian orphanages. Joey would often load up his race transporter and deliver clothing and food to the trouble spots of Bosnia and Romania. His humanitarian work was done without ever drawing attention to himself.

John Surtees is truly unique in motorsport. Riding for the celebrated MV Agusta team, he won seven World Championships between 1956 and 1960. Then - with nothing left to prove - he made the transition from two wheels to four, winning the Formula One World Championship with Ferrari in 1964. To this day his feat of winning World Championships on two and four wheels remains unparalleled.

My next guest would be Dame Hellen MacArthur. Because of her attempt to break the solo record for sailing non-stop around the world in 2004. During her circumnavigation, she set records for the fastest solo voyage to the equator, past the Cape of Good Hope, past Cape Horn and back to the equator again. She crossed the finishing line near the French coast at Ushant beating the previous record by 1 day, 8 hours, 35 minutes, 49 seconds. Her time of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes 33 seconds is world record for the 27,354 nautical miles (50,660 km) covered. This is an average speed of 15.9 knots (29.4 km/h). On her return to England, it was announced that she was to be appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her achievement. It is believed that she is the youngest ever recipient of this honour. Coming immediately after the event being recognised, rather than appearing in due course in the New Year's or Birthday honours lists, this recognition was reminiscent of the knighthoods conferred upon Francis Drake and Francis Chichester upon arrival home after their respective circumnavigations in 1580 and 1967. MacArthur was also made an honorary Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve on the same day. In recognition of her achievement she was awarded the French L├ęgion d'Honneur Knight by Nicolas Sarkozy in March 2008. MacArthur was also the last record holder on Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car on the BBC's Top Gear television driving programme until the eighth series, when the car and rules were changed, and previous records were removed.

Which ten people would you invite?


Wednesday 22 February 2012

Olympic Pacemaker

I have had a pacemaker fitted for about the last 8 years or so. I participated in a research program by having a pacemaker fitted that would record extensive data that was downloaded every three months. Most modern pacemakers keep data for a period of a few weeks or months. At the time that I was to be fitted with the pacemaker and because I was a radio amateur. I asked my consultant if there was a device available that was not effected by electromagnetic fields. He consulted with a manufacture and a particular type of pacing device was prescribed.

Being that I also worked in a research area and huge magnetic fields were used to cold electroplate metal onto plastic materials for instance. I can say “hand on heart” that I have never had a problem. I eventually dropped out of the research program when my pacemaker was overtaken by the usual upgrade and operational improvements in pacing devices. What was cutting edge at the time - is now discounted or incorporated into the later devices.

I passed through border agency scanners many times for the first few years - they never did pick up the pacemaker. The later more modern detectors do pick up the pacemaker. So I have gone back to being submitted to the hand search. I had my annual MOT a few weeks ago and my battery was at 63% so I have been scheduled into the replacement list - in about another six years time! I want to get a large set of pacemaker batteries for my boat battery bank!

Magnetic fields and cellphones are not a problem for the normal operation of the more modern pacing devices. I have never noticed any unusual behaviour from my pacemaker over the years with one exception. I went up in a cable car whilst on holiday in Madeira. On emerging from the boarding shed (which was quite dark) and into daylight - over a steep drop - my sphincter and heart became acutely aware of the glass floor in the car!! The pacemaker paced me for the first twenty seconds or so!

I'm on a two wire version and my problem is that my heart rate is naturally quite slow. When I first noticed problems and was admitted to hospital. The staff changed the ECG and octopus wires several times because they thought the machine was not working. While I was being monitored at the nursing station - I would be laid in bed wide awake reading - even as the crash team would come in like Rambo through the door. However, what mystified them more than anything else was when - at a one of my slower heart rates - my blood pressure would be close to normal.

When it comes down to Pacemakers - your mileage may vary - There are thousands of urban legends still doing the rounds. Like - exploding/fire/running your heart backwards/causing static shocks and wind-up/clockwork/radio controlled pacemakers. One of the best tales is the headless corpse with a pacemaker that suddenly choose to sit up on the slab during an autopsy. The best story recounted was an April fool wheeze on radio about a solar powered pacemaker that was being recalled by the manufacturer for urgent repairs.

All in all the Pacemaker has been and still is - a miracle - for many people who would otherwise not be here today. The technology has improved over many years and development will continue to provide a much improved lifestyle for those less fortunate who have suffered from some serious health problems.


Tuesday 21 February 2012

Spring is just around the corner - maybe!

This is the third day back on the boat, still moored up for now, whilst I attack a backlog of repairs and updates. Sunday was a warm day and everyone was out on the wharf chattering and having a good time. Monday brought with it another cold overcast day. Today broken cloud with the sun peeping through and already its warmer than yesterday.

There is a Robin singing in the bushes next to the boat. he's busy trying to attract a mate as he starts out on another breeding year. The bird feeders are busy with Sparrow, Greenfinch and three different Tits. A Blackthorn is starting with its first snow white flowers. Catkins are hanging with their gold and green tails. The first of the furry leaf buds are starting to swell towards opening. Hold your breath, I think we are seeing the first flush of spring.

I have a few more external jobs to do on the boat including a small rust patch that I discovered hiding away under the top box. So if the slightly milder weather continues to hold out, the rust spot will be my priority for today. There are however quite a few jobs still left to do on the Topsy like to-do-list.


I'm in a Beer Daze

Now, I'm a careful person when it comes to money. I am in particular very careful about who gets to put their hand in my pocket. Fagin and his crew of pick pockets have however, nothing on the landlord of a pub that I recently visited. Now the Government is looking at making a minimum charge per unit of alcohol. Its doing this in a bid to stop binge drinkers getting trashed and then appearing up before the beak the next morning.

In the case of this landlord, he was charging £3.40 for a pint of beer. Now call me old and cynical but even Dick Turpin the highway man at least had the will to wear a mask. But it gets worse, he was charging  £1.99 for a half pint of the same beer. When I challenged him about the price (an extra 29p) of a half when compared to a pint. He said "Its down to basic running costs, serving up two glasses of beer was more of a overhead then serving a single pint in one glass!" As I was mulling over his remark, he went on to say "The number of people visiting the pub has been diminishing and I still have to try and make a living".

I may have an inkling of an idea why his clientele has dropped off.

So being the understanding person that I am, you know me. I enquired about his thoughts on the minimum charge per unit of alcohol that the government was looking to bring in. He said "Personally he could not wait for the numbers of people who are currently buying beer at the supermarket for consumption at home, being priced back into his pub." I said, for me your current pricing regime was forcing me and everyone else into the supermarket. To which he answered. "You will be back, I've heard it all before!"

The one thing I am sure about is that we will not be going back, ever again. Give me strength!

So I did a look up on prices across the area. I used one of those beer price comparison sites. A bit like compare the Meerkat but comparing the beer instead. Now in first place (Guildford £6.8) came as no surprise. However, casting my net round the area I came up with the following. Barnsley  £2.45, Bolsover  £2.6, Bradford  £2.78, Dewsbury  £2.15, Doncaster  £2.5, Grimsby  £2.3, Holmfirth  £3.5, Huddersfield  £2.52, Hull  £2.3, Leeds  £2.55, Mansfield  £3.3, Newark  £2.75, Selby  £2.55, Sheffield  £2.7, Tadcaster  £1.54, Todmorden  £2, Wakefield  £2.87, York  £4.25.

The average price across the UK was £2.90 a pint. The landlord was charging 50p per pint or £1.08 per half pint more than the national average. But the average price in Barnsley is £2.45 which is 95p per pint more and £1.53 per half pint more than the Barnsley average.

Then I went on the Compare the Supermarket website and did a quick trawl of the price of Beer and Lager in Tesco. At £5.39 which we were charged for a pint and a half. (1.5 pint = 0.8523922275 litres.) There are many (half litre per can) four pack (2 litre) available for less than £5.39 there are a few where the charge is less than £4! There were several special offers at £1.99! There were bottles of wine that cost less than £5.39!

I wonder why people choose to drink at home...


Monday 20 February 2012

More Solar Thoughts

Solar panels are a great way to make some "free" power for the boat. The initial solar installation is expensive and the peak wattage produced is not guaranteed. Fluctuations in the amount of direct sunlight cause by cloud or other forms of shading can reduce the output. The output of a solar panel is given in watts. So a 100 watt solar panel rated at 12 volts should give us 8.3A output. However, solar panels often give more voltage output that the nominal 12v that we are looking for. Lets say that the solar panel can reach an output of 18 volts. The maximum ampage would be 5.5 A. That calculation is also in perfect conditions with the maximum amount of unobstructed sunlight falling on to the panel. You need to read the documentation for the solar panel to see what figures are being used for calculating the output wattage.

It also helps if you can track the sun's direction and the angle of the sun to improve the wattage output. The angle of the sun can vary over the course of the year but the adjustments would be infrequent. The suns direction can be estimated from nearby shadows (don't look directly at the sun). However, if you can increase the amount of sunlight falling onto a solar panel this should improve the output on hazy days when the panel is working but not as efficiently as it could be. There are two ways to do this. One is by using a lens system to concentrate light (impractical on a boat). The other is by reflecting sunlight onto the solar panel. My thoughts had been based on using a mirror or other device to reflect sunlight onto the panel.

© Geo-Dome

In the above illustration, the mirror is laid on the floor. My idea had been to lay the solar panel flat on the narrowboat roof and then to angle the reflective device above the solar panel. The reflector would also fold flat onto the panel when the boat was moving.

Whilst I was pondering on how to achieve the enhanced output I came across a website (Geo Dome) where someone had already done some basic experimentation using a mirror.
Quote "Most of the time a solar panel is working well below peak power, on hazy days and when the sun is lower in the sky, early morning, late afternoon for example. The light levels are just not high enough, so to boost the light level I tried aligning a mirror to reflect more light onto my solar panel. It worked really well and after a bit of experimentation I found that placing a mirror at least twice the size of the solar panel on the ground in front of the panel could boost the output by as much as 75%."

There are a few caveats to using a mirror and that is when on a hot sunny day the solar device can overheat if the reflective mirror is concentrating too much sunlight of the solar panel. I came across another site (CleanInventors.Org) with a variation on the solar panel and reflector idea. Which I think may be a bit more practical for a narrowboat system. Because the panel and reflector needs to be folded down when moving.

© SolarRib

I now have three 80 watt solar panels for the boat. Including a good quality regulator.  The theoretical maximum will be around 20amps output. I hope to be able to get between 5 and 10 amps under average conditions.


Sunday 19 February 2012

Installing Solar Equipment.

I have recently purchased three twelve volt eighty watt solar panels as part of our boat upgrade. Now I have to first of all figure out how to mount them and the controller on the boat.

Wiring Diagram

Solar Regulator

So I was thinking of making some sort of hinged bracket arrangement - which would allow me to angle them towards the sun for improved performance. (The solar panels would need to be laid flat when we were on the move.) I have seen a number of different options that people have come up with but I want one where the panels are as close to the boat roof as possible when in the collapsed position.

Triangular Mount
I started off with a simple design of a triangular adjustable base, made out of  aluminium sheet. With an angle on the bottom. A slot cut in the side would allow the panels to pivot to the left or right. This would require a certain amount of messing around with spanners whenever we were moored up just to angle the solar panels towards the sun. But in this case it would work both ways. However the highpoint of the mountings would restrict headroom room as it can't easily be lowered.

UPVC Window Runners
Later, I realised that it would be a much easier job if I used a couple of UPVC window runners instead. It would be as easy as opening and closing a window. A quick look on eBay and I was able to purchase a pair of window runners for £3.50.

The drawback to this method is that the panels will only open in one direction. So care would need to be taken when mooring up to ensure the sun was on the "right" side of the boat. However, I also need a system that will be quickly detachable for any time when we are away from the boat. As a theft or anti-vandal security precaution.

Clamping Magnet
I could do this by using some suitable lengths of  3" X 2" X 1/4" inch aluminium angle stock to mount the UPVC window runners to the solar panels and then mount the panels to the boat roof.

Then I had another idea, why not use some Neodymium Clamping Magnets to hold the panels in place. With a pull of around 12kg (26lbs) for each magnet, it would allow for mounting the panels and for being able to make fine adjustments to the panels for the correct orientation at any location. This would also make it easy to store the panels off the roof if leaving the boat unattended for any period of time.

The magnet has a metric thread and the hook screws out of the magnet. I could then use a metric threaded bolt in its place. To fasten the magnet to the base plate and to allow adjustment to the frame height to take in the roof curvature.

This is still a work in process.

I'm open to ideas and suggestions.


Saturday 18 February 2012

Curry, Kebabs and a Big Mac

In an act of mercy that only the caring people in this world are capable of doing. An icon of our fast food life, Ronald McDonald, has been kidnapped and is being threatened with execution, unless the demands of the terrorists are met. What is wrong with these do gooder "caring" people. Don’t they understand that Ronald McDonald represents the pinnacle of a fast food culture. You can’t get much more British than a Ronald McDonald.

Is nothing sacred. Who are these Finnish do gooders that have committed this heinous act. Little is known about them, except that they go by the name of the "Food Liberation Army" and their leader is Osama Bin Worrell-Thompson.

The perpetrators led by Jamie the Jackal marched into a restaurant posing as maintenance personnel, and then kidnapped the statue of Ronald McDonald. Since committing this reprehensible act, the group has posted a video on YouTube Wearing hoods over their heads and the statue, they demand that the world’s largest food chain answer questions about its corporate responsibility and food production.

The thing about food terrorists such as Delia Qatada is that they can make a reasonable case. But what are we as a nation without the British staple of a McDonalds. What would happen to our whole way of life without Curry, Kebabs and a Big Mac. I hope that Ronald McDonald is saved before the execution date. We can never give in to the demands of Cordon Bleu terrorists. If they get their way, they’ll be making demands that we have to eat things like brown rice and organic vegetables and locally produced foods. If that were to happen, it would be devastating to all the businesses that make mega-amounts of profits off the unhealthy living habits of people. Spread the Word!


Friday 17 February 2012


We have just joined The Cutweb Internet Boating Club. The advantage of joining an AWCC registered club, is in order to make our extended 8/9 month cruises easier, where possible leaving one's boat at visitor moorings at AWCC clubs. CIBC is a 'virtual' boating club, with no moorings, club house, etc. But still affiliated to the AWCC. Thus, the 'virtual', Internet based, CIBC became a good option for us. The only requirement for membership is an Internet Account and a subscription to the Cutweb Internet Boating Club. The subscription is £10 per year.

I have been catching up with some of my backlog of maintainance chores.

I have replaced all of our lights (22) with LED replacements. The system seems to be working just fine. Measuring the current drawn with the previous bulbs gave a figure of 17.7 amps. Measured with using the LED lights gives a total of 1.9 amps. Quite a saving!

I am also fitting a voltage regulator into the lighting circuit. Because LED's are sensitive to over voltage - their working life can be shortened by a big margin if the voltage is much more than 12v. The regulator input range is 8-40v DC the Output voltage is 12V DC Output current at 3A (Max) or 36W You can find these regulators advertised on eBay for about £20

Well I have been working on my winter maintenance list which I started at the end on November. Some things have moved on a bit, but I still have a few outstanding jobs to complete. The Memsahib has started to spring clean the boat and we expect to be on board by the weekend. We should be ready to start our cruise in a couple of weeks time.

Managed to do a good deal with a couple of suppliers for three 80watt solar panels. Complete with 20amp MPPS solar panel regulator, all for less than £300 in total.

The Current Job List:-

1. Sterilise the water system throughout the boat before draining down.
2. Fix problem with pump out tank level indicator. (waiting for replacement part)
3. Check the antifreeze level in the central heating system.
4. Checking the antifreeze level in the engine coolant.
5. Engine oil change and oil filter change.
6. Visual check of all engine belts.
7. Dose the fuel tank with diesel bug treatment.
8. Check the roof joint on the stove pipe and reseal.
9. Fill up the diesel tank.
10. Rust spot eradication on roof.
11. Cure small leak round saloon window.
12. Battery bank replacement.
13. Insulating the windows for the winter. (bubble wrap)
14. Front cratch cover fitted.
15. Rear cover fitted.
16. Gas bottle replaced.
17. Update lighting to LED
18. Repair to pram cover.
19. Fitting the washing machine. (Started)
20. Modify the saloon table.
21. Additional shelf space. (Started)
22. New boat pole.
23. Rope replacements. (parts ordered)
24. Side fender replacements.
25. Button fender shackle replacements. (parts ordered)
26. Modify the top box height.
27. Install and test new diesel generator.
28. Install and test new solar panels.
29. Prepare paintwork for re-painting. (delayed to spring 2013)
30. Install self pump out pump. (parts ordered)
31. Replace floor covering in bedroom.
32. Re-varnish saloon.
33. Fit finishing strips to saloon area.
34. Black the hull.
35. Replace water pump.
36. Pump out the toilet system and drain down for the winter.
37. Install Villager Puffin back boiler.
38. Fit 12v regulator into lighting circuit, to hold at 12v for LED lights.
39. Fit MPPS regulator for solar panels.
40. Fit tray to boat roof, for holding items.
41. Make and fit new curtains. (Memsahib)
42. Fit new carpet in saloon and kitchen area.
43. Make angle brackets for mounting solar panels.
44. Replace stove door seals. (parts ordered)
45. Test run ALDI central heating system.
46. Repair to back door panel.
47. Repair lock on boat outer doors.
48. Fit internal lock on inner doors.


Wednesday 15 February 2012

On Manoeuvers (9)

This is one of an occasional series of tips about manoeuvring a narrow-boat on the canals and rivers. There may be other ways to achieve the same result. However, the method has been devised or adapted by me using trial and error. (Trial and Error are two of my regular boating companions) Our boat is 50 feet long and has a keel depth of twenty five inches and weighs in at a tad over eighteen tons. The techniques described are intended to help new comers to boating.

Leaving a mooring.

We do this by first of all starting up the engine and leaving it for a short time to warm up. The first job will be to ensure that any power cables and other items are removed and stowed away. The engine must always be running before any mooring ropes are untied. You don't want to cast off and then find that the engine will not start. I always give the prop greaser a half turn at the start of the day.

Your boat could be moored up to a wharf, bank or even a lock mooring pontoon. The method of setting off will be much the same. You will want the bow of the boat pointing out towards the centre of the canal. You can after pushing off the bow, do the same at the stern. Centre the tiller and the engine power set to slowly drive the boat forward. When forward power is applied the back of the boat will sit down in the water. As the water is shallow close to the bank it is possible to foul the bottom. Only use enough power to get clear of the bank before increasing power to get under way.

If there is a flow of water, you can use this to your advantage. If the flow is from the front of the boat. Untie the stern line and coil it up. Then untie the bow line and coil it up. Now loosen the centre line to allow enough slack for the front of the boat to come clear of the bank. Once the bow is a few feet out quickly coil the centre line and trail the end towards the stern so it can be retrieved for later use. The stern should still be in contact with the bank and you should be able to easily push away and step on board. Have the tiller centred and the engine power set to slowly drive the boat forward against the flow of the water.

Stopping the boat.

This is achieved by placing the engine control into the reverse position. Then gradually applying reverse power. The boat will be slow to respond at first. But most boats can be made to stop in their own length. I prefer to slowly glide the boat to a stop when very close to the bank. If there is no flow of water or strong wind it is possible to pull the boat to a stop and into the bank at the same time.

Bringing the boat into a mooring.

As you approach the mooring point, move the boat closer towards the bank at a shallow angle. Let the speed drop off by putting the engine into reverse, but use a slow engine speed. When the boat is just creeping forward put the gear into neutral. At a very slow forward speed manoeuvre the nose of the boat until it is about three feet from the bank. Put the engine into forward gear and set the tiller to push the stern into  the bank. Just before you are parallel with the bank put the engine into reverse to kill any remaining forward movement. Step ashore and moor up.

Like all things in life, practise makes perfect - unless you are like SWMBO the Memsahib. In which case according to her, that was her starting position and she got better from there.


Boaters Alphabet (U)

This is one of an occasional series of entries into my blog. The "Boaters Alphabet" today's letter is U and is for Unbelievable. Last year we cruised the Leeds Liverpool canal and came across a U-boat inspired narrowboat.

U NarrowBoat

is for Unfortunate as was the choice to build a U boat whilst displaying  a taste equivalent to the canal water.

is for Unlikely that the owner would be able to get anything other than scrap value for the boat.

Cruising the canal is a hard life, someone has it to do, today unfortunately its my turn.

Underway - A boat in motion.


Tuesday 14 February 2012

Is your memory expired?

3 coffee's later!
Good Morning!
I awoke this morning in my usual grumpy old curmudgeon disposition. After a cup of hot coffee, life started to take on a slightly more acceptable view. After another coffee and a round of hot buttered toast things were looking marginally brighter. After a third cup of coffee thing were really improving and on the warm side of Arctic. Much as the weather is at the moment!

I had to replace my drivers licence recently as the photo-id part had just expired. It seems that we have to do this every ten years. In my case my visage seems to change each time I look in a mirror so there is no chance of keeping up with appearances!

So I wonder if I can get me an Arab Style drivers licence. It would be an obvious improvement on the one I have at the moment!

Apparently Sainsbury's Finance has found that more than 1.6 million British drivers are carrying out-of-date driving licence photocards. The photocard driving licence was introduced in 1998. So it's unsurprising that those issued with a licence around that time may not remember that they need to update their photograph. It costs just £20 to renew the photo on your driving licence, yet a hefty £1,000 fine if you are caught with an out-of-date one. Around 10 million motorists did not know when their photocards were due to run out. While one in every seven expired licences had been out of date for two years or more.

It's not only driving licence photos that can run out. Thinking of going on holiday? Have you checked the expiry date on your E111 European Health Insurance card? Yes, even that has an expiry date but no photo!

 Ah, its Valentines day again. Yet another day for tenderness and being wrong. I hope you remembered to send a card. Needles inserted under your nails is a very painful alternative option.Women you can't live with them and they're too big to flush.... I'm coming right now, yes dearest, what, no, I'm just looking for my ..... what, where, yes dear I'll get them from your handbag!

The Memsahib said this morning "I just had a dream that you gave me a pearl necklace for Valentine's day. What do you think it means?" I said I don't know. However, I've been out and purchased a book entitled "The meaning of dreams". I have wrapped it up in a small package, I'm sure she will be pleasantly surprised!