Sunday 30 June 2013


In view of the successful transition from the old British Waterways Board into the Canal and River Trust it would be fitting if one or more of the transitional team were to be recognised for their outstanding achievements.   It's well known that anybody can recommend a British national for an honour, which could consist of an appointment to the Order of the British Empire. Nominations, can be sent either by government ministers or by members of the public. The recommendations are divided into subject areas and assessed by eight other committees comprising both senior civil servants and independent experts. 
Their assessments and deliberations are then passed to a selection committee that produces the list that is then submitted to the Queen through the office of the prime minister. The Queen formally approves the list of recipients. The honours are published in the official Crown newspaper, the London Gazette. 
Private nominations, made by individuals or by representatives of organisations to the Cabinet Office, traditionally make up about a quarter of all recommendations. There are those amongst the Canal and River Trust trustees who have been given an award in recognition for their work. including Tony Hales CBE, Lynne Berry OBE, John Bridgeman CBE and Steve Shine OBE.
Orders of the British Empire were created by King George V during the first World War to reward service by civilians at home and servicemen in support positions. The orders are now awarded mainly to civilians for public service or other distinctions and has a military and a civil division. Ranks in the Order are Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GBE), Knight or Dame Commander (KBE or DBE), Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE) and Member (MBE).

Nominations could include:-
  • Robin Evans, (ex Chief Executive Officer) 
  • Nigel Johnson (Corporate services director and secretary) 
  • Stuart Mills, (Property and enterprise director) 
  • Vincent Moran, (Operations director) 
  • Philip Ridal, (Finance director) 
  • Simon Salem, (Marketing and fundraising director)
Which members of Canal and River Trust transitional team would you support, for the award of an MBE. It would be useful to have a list of their outstanding individual achievements to draw upon.  It would be sad if the people responsible for the change from a quango to a self funding charity was to pass unmarked. Who knows maybe someone in the team might get the tap on the shoulder.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Bleak Times

We are now living in bleak times. Our present is haunted by uncertainty and a growing feeling of hopelessness. It seems like Britain future is looking like a return to Victorian England. The poor have their support taken away one by one. While the rich get even richer through advantageous tax breaks. 

Now even our bedrooms are being taxed. The welfare state that we created to protect ourselves in times of need is being slashed to the core. Even the most vulnerable in society, the disabled are losing their benefits. While we sit and watch as more and more of the essential public services are cut. We are now living once more under the rule of a Victorian capitalist aristocracy. Welcome to our “broken big society” where Cameron did much of the slashing and burning. 

Yet the ultra rich multinational corporations are allowed to evade paying tax which is treated almost like a perk of the system. The people who brought about the banking crisis still enjoy huge salaries and even bigger bonuses. MP's fiddle their expenses and flip second homes. Where the people we elected to represent us, get huge cash bungs just for asking questions. Now MP's are seeking a huge pay rise because they think themselves to be under paid and under valued for what they do.

You can't make it up!


Friday 28 June 2013

No U turning for CaRT

Dear Bill.

Not a great deal to report I'm afraid from the front deck on Nb Dulwich Dishwasher.

More trouble has hove into view on the horizon for the denizens of the CaRT inner sanctum. It seems that their latest plan to nitpick and annoy the punters so to speak has hit the rocks. CaRT apparently does not have the specific powers to introduce the 'no return' mooring rules. It would seem that the former British Waterways was refused any such powers. It looks to me, that CaRT is still going to continue along the path of attaining the title of the 'least loved charity' in the sector. It requires a very special talent to reach such giddy heights.

I ran into our old friend Glenda Knuckles today in the tap room of the Tug and Buttie. 'Gripper' was saying that she has been made redundant from the slaughter house. Because of the major down turn in the horse flavoured beefburger market. Since then she has gained employment as a mechanic at the Cinque Marina. There was not much in the way of work in the repairs shop and she said I'm running out of unproductive things to do. I have been allocated a work experience  assistant called John who has been nicknamed 'creepy' because his surname is Crawley. However, to break his and my boredom, there are only so many long stands, tins of chequered paint and packets of spirit level bubbles you can send him for.

However it seems that things are also very quiet elsewhere in the marina. Not only after the repair, mooring and electricity charges were increased, the business is now at an all time low. When gripper arrived bright and early this afternoon for work. 'Frosty' Coalhouse was her usual grumpy self, complete with a face like a slapped arse. She has discovered that ramping up the mooring prices had started a major exodus of boaters all going constant cruising. Things look a bit dire and there is not much boating traffic coming in. Frosty as usual was giving her whipping boy, young 'creepy' a bad time as if it was creepy who was to blame.

I ran into Marina Clout in the public bar of the Floral and Hardy. You will certainly know her, she was the one who had a good command of swear words, you'll remember her as the office cleaner who works down at the Inner Sanctum.  Marina or as she was better known 'nails' was telling me that she keeps having reoccurring bouts of kleptomania. I enquired of her, if she had consulted with her doctor. Apparently the doctor advised her that when the kleptomania gets bad, you'll just have to take something for it.'

I fell over our old friend Paddy O'Shey laid in the toilet of the snug of the Ferret and Finger.  Paddy the transgender bender said that he was out recruiting volunteers for the trust. I thought he looked a bit spooky with the false beard. The old fart asked if I would like to do some charity work. I assured him that I most certainly would do volunteer work for the trust, after all I volunteer my opinion of them almost every day. He had a chuckle and went to convert some chuggers.

I dropped by Mr Khan's canal street corner shop this morning. He usually has a huge pile of the 'Towpath News' Which I think he uses for wrapping purchases. I managed to sneak a copy of the latest edition off the top of the pile. He had a new line in cheap multi-fuel offerings for the boat stove. Apparently its made of mulched paper mixed with leftover fat from the Taj Mahal. Apparently it burns with a feint aroma of gussets and mustard gas mixed with fiery jack.

By the way I tried sending this from one of Mr Khans refurbished iPhone 4's. I'v got it on loan to try it out. I think that the autocorreckt funktion is stoopid. You hall ways end up po sting some thong you didn't Nintendo.

The Memsahib was twittering on this morning. She mumbled and grumbled at bit and then stormed off down the towpath. Having had a look on-line at the current bank balance. Next time she asks me, "What do I think?" I think, that I will think, I really should have been listening.

Well I must run, toodle pip old boy.

Cap't Bob

"The events depicted in this series of letters are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental. No person should without the prior permission of the author assume the identity of any character. These letters are a story that could be based on actual events. In certain cases incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes. Certain characters may be accidental composites, or entirely fictitious. I was helped in my creative endeavour by my friend's telepathic cat named Huxley. Huxley assumes all responsibility for any mistakes and errors."

Thursday 27 June 2013

My hero!

Everyone has a hero and for me its an easy list to create. So I thought I would start out my list with world politicians. Well, politicians who were also visionaries. Plus two visionary people who should have been a politicians. I know what you are thinking, but fortunately there are a few politicians that can meet the criteria.

I have managed to meet only two on this list. but that is hardly surprising. I met Tony Benn in Sheffield when he was performing on stage with an old friend and work colleague. Roy Bailey.

Tony Benn is formerly Viscount Stansgate, and a retired British Labour Party politician. Benn's campaign to renounce his hereditary peerage was instrumental in the creation of the Peerage Act. He held the position of Postmaster General, Minister of Technology then Secretary of State for Industry, before being made Secretary of State for Energy. Benn has topped several polls as the most popular politician in Britain. Since leaving Parliament, Benn has become involved in the grass-roots politics, and has been the President of the Stop the War Coalition for the last decade. I have written about Tony Benn before. Click Here

Roy Bailey, is a socialist folk singerIn the 2000 Honours List, he received the MBE for services to folk music. In 2006, he returned the MBE in protest at the government's foreign policy with regard to Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. In 2003, Bailey together with Tony Benn were awarded "Best Live Act" at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for their programme Writing on the Wall. Tony Benn cites Roy Bailey as "the greatest socialist folk singer of his generation." Roy Bailey is an Emeritus Professor of Social Studies at Sheffield Hallam University where we worked together.

Christopher Hitchens a British-American author and journalist. A noted critic of religion. He said that a person "could be an atheist and wish that belief in God were correct". According to Hitchens, the concept of a God or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization. His anti-religion polemic, God Is Not Great, sold over half a million copies. This should be on everyone's reading list.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese opposition politician. In the 1990 general election, her party won 59% of the national votes and 81% of the seats in Parliament. She had, however, already been detained under house arrest before the elections. She remained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the 21 years from 20 July 1989 until her most recent release in 2010, becoming one of the world's most prominent political prisoners. Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Aung San Suu Kyi was also presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, which is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States. She has received nothing from Great Britain.

Aneurin "Nye" Bevan, a Welsh Labour Party politician who was the Minister for Health in the post-war Attlee government. The son of a coal miner, Bevan was a lifelong champion of social justice and the rights of working people. His most famous accomplishment came when, as Minister of Health in the post-war Atlee government, he spearheaded the establishment of the National Health Service, which was to provide medical care free at point-of-need to all Britons.

Mohandas Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi or Bapu, was the pre-eminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India. Employing non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom across the world. I have written about Gandhi before Click Here

Nelson Mandela a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office, and the first elected in a fully representative, multiracial election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality. For me the most important achievement of Mandela while in office, was the fostering of racial reconciliation.

I also have a top ten list of people I would like to invite to dinner to view the list Click Here


Wednesday 26 June 2013

A Poem for Richard

The new CaRT CEO Richard Parry is on the point of arrival. However, I give credit where credit is due. Richard has not been letting the grass grow under his feet. He has been out and about enjoying a customer facing experience. Learning what the inland waterways are about. Now it could be just a ploy. However, when you start your day out and the first thing you meet is an emergency  stoppage. That should be a real eye opener.

Using the time honoured system of consulting first of all with the paying people. Those who will know from the blunt end what the inland waterways are all about. That's the boaters and other users of the Inland waterways system. 

Contrast this with his predecessor who sailed off into the sunset without leaving even a ripple on his last days. I thought I should mark his passage and the arrival of a new man. However, on reflection he did leave behind the gathering tsunami of a well planned and implemented underfunding of maintenance and significant backlog. Maybe the prospect of what the future held in store was the driver to move away.

Canal Knowledge

Will we still have a place, for our wooden boat plank;
in putrid water, where birds build a plastic bag nest;
green and blue algae, with an overgrown leafy bank;
where a discarded shopping trolley, lay rusting at rest.

Where discarded plastic bottles' of a myriad colours;
vie with everlasting, plastic bags in hue's to match;
festooned dog poo trees and a rainbow oil slick cover;
attract the millions of flies to make you scratch.

The graffiti on a bridge, bandit country is now close by; 
peopled with heavy drinkers, vandals and ne'er do well; 
a vista of today's canal heritage, to greet the boaters eye;
drunks lolling on corners, mixed with their urine smell.

Broken locks, now herald a much bleaker prospect;
none maintained bank, breeched at every turn;
our wasted money, is now an unwanted aspect;
millions lost on a gamble, and poor financial return.

The odd mugger and boat thief, all carrying knives;
the bridge lady from Nigeria,  who planted the seed;
endangering  the towpath, and  enriching our lives;
she is growing a cannabis crop,  just supplying a need;

But I don't want to brag, about each welcoming feature;
we're told now, the canal is much much better by far;
but then CaRT managers, are exaggerating creatures;
with their myopic claims, that prove quite bizarre.

To lead a trust, that's full of such forlorn managers;
a finished team that's bereft, of any worthwhile ideas;
a long drawn out list, of well pensioned passengers;
they're just treading water, since the end of BW years.

There is a new hand, now set upon CaRT's tiller;
shall we at last steer, a more steady course;
put in position as leader, not just another filler;
is there a real chance, of no more remorse.

Does he come with a mystic's, crystal ball;
his first challenge, to fix the leftover mess;
everyone hopes, it's not a quick CaRT curtain call;
tip their hat, to a very much wanted success.

Launched only a year and CaRT is already on it's second CEO. For some that would be a warning shot across the bows. However for me, its the real start of the long awaited beginning that I wanted a year ago. With the prospect of more ex BWB members leaving, I feel quite an uplift. Its not going to be an easy task. It's not the beginning of the end. It's the possibility of a whole new beginning. 


Tuesday 25 June 2013

Good Old McDonald’s

I just took action on this campaign, and I thought it was important enough to share with you.

When single mother Natalie Gunshannon went to get her first paycheck from her new job at McDonald’s, she was in for a shock. McDonald’s gave Natalie her salary on a debit card that came with hidden charges, like forcing her to pay every time she withdraws her money at her bank.

What’s more, when Natalie asked for a check, McDonald’s said she had to take the card -- and the charges or not take any money at all. This scheme allows her local franchise operator to save the cost of checks by making deals with big banks that force employees to use fee-ridden cards. In many cases, the high costs push workers below minimum wage.

Please join me in telling McDonald's to ban the practice of forcing employees into fee-laden debit cards.

Click Here


Monday 24 June 2013

Bonfire of the Quango's

You might remember that when the Con-a-Lib coalition came to power. There was a sort of knee jerk reaction by the government to save money to offset the financial meltdown in the banking industry. It was characterised by what became known as the 'Bonfire of the Quango's' basically the treasury took a pragmatic view and did a cost-benefit analysis of the quality of service provided by the large list of quangos.

In the UK, a QUANGO (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation) is an organisation to which the government has devolved certain powers. This term covered most executive agencies.

If a quango was seen to be cost effective and doing a good job. Then its demise was put on hold for the foreseeable future. There were even management buyouts. If it was considered to be a poor performing quango then it was ripe for what could have been described as the 'Son of Beeching' government axe. The British Waterways Board was considered by the government to be one such bit of dead quango land wood.  But why would and should the government consider the BWB Quango in such a poor regard?

The problem was that the metaphoric cat was now well and truly out of the bag. Complaints about the excesses of the management were rife. Often to be found on the more well read public forums such as Narrowboat World, Facebook, Twitter and various other forums. The towpath telegraph has always had an uncanny way of conveying bad news at rapid speed. While Hansard is recognised as the de facto reading for MP's. BWB had regular less than flattering appearances in Private Eye which is after all, the de facto reading for the mandarins and ministers with an eye on their future.

The government was well aware of the ill conceived British Waterways investment in a pub partnership that ultimately was destined to go into administration. Investing in pubs at a time when they were closing everywhere else in the UK was more than a small cock-up. After all costing the public purse a very cool £22 million was not small change. But there were also tiny instances of poor thinking. Take the installation of totally unnecessary metal bollards at narrow locks, that proved to be extremely dangerous. So at a cost of over £1,000 per lock to install the metal bollards. It then required a further £750 a lock to be spent to remove them. But this was very small fry to the later schemes of spending millions to purchase marinas that were described almost 'tongue in cheek' As providing 'money for essential maintenance' in the future. Promises and investments that have proved to be another stinging slap in the face.  However the 'Pièce de résistance' being the writing-off of £33 millions on the Gloucester precinct investment. 

But it does not end there, I think the one to watch for the future will be the well regarded moorings auction system. With the best will in the world jacking up even further the price on moorings that can't currently be let, is a further fiasco in the making. Not only that, but popular estimates currently cluster around the 900 million mark of our money that will be needed to bring the inland waterways back into an acceptable state. 

However, because of its statutory duties BWB would not have been so easy to just throw into the ever growing conflagration. The easy option would have been to draw it back into government as part of DEFRA. However, no minister in their right mind was going to accept this as a credible option. Profligate spending and poor performance that was richly rewarded to themselves by the management would have done little to endear the board to the minister.

DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is the governments ministerial led department responsible for environmental protection, food production and standards, agriculture, fisheries and rural communities in the United Kingdom.

The way out was seen to be to convert British Waterways into a charity. This also provided a cheap option to rid the government of this niggling thorn in its side. I regard it as a stroke of genius for which the Con-a-Lib government is to be noted for. Was to give the charity certain physical assets with which to make its way into a bright new future. A sort of dowry of the tawdry of sorts. 

As an alternative BW could have been handed over to the EA (Environment Agency) The problem was that no one wanted that poison chalice. A chalice that was an inland waterway that was crumbling apart. An inland waterway that had been under funded for essential maintenance for decades. The money 'saved' for shoddy investments. In an attempt to 'encourage' the EA into accepting BWB the government threatened to subsume the EA into the new charity at a later date. The EA called the governments bluff and it remains to be seen if the threat will ever be fulfilled.

Searching around for the leadership required to convert a quango into a charitable trust. The government discovered that the old board of British Waterways was by some 'miracle' found to be just the group to lead the inland waterways into a new era. Some might also call this discovery a form of sweet revenge by the mandarins and DEFRA.

Building upon their previous experience the transition team came up with a new plan. This was to continue with the under funding of the essential maintenance. No surprise there then. One requirement was to bring together a team of people to act as expendable fall guys and gals for the future. One problem has been that the more astute who were at first drawn in by the prospect. Have now spotted the humongous elephant in the room and headed off to address workable challenges elsewhere.

Now comes the slow treacle like exodus of the transitional management. All on their way to spend more time with their not inconsiderate salary, pensions and bonus.  You will have read about this, though the story might well have a different spin put upon it.


Sunday 23 June 2013

Rochdale Canal Scoop!

The towpath telegraph reports that the CaRT management are going to do their bit to clean up the shit. They are now working in conjunction with Keep Britain Tidy and the Dogs Trust to organise 'The Big Scoop campaign.' And like Oliver Hardy said to Stan Laurel 'that's another fine mess you got me into.'

However, as the more perceptive amongst you will have already gathered. The management will not be actually scooping the poo. That rewarding task is apparently down to the first battalion of the canal litter picker volunteers. So the volunteer pooper scoopers will be de-pooping the towpath along the Rochdale Canal between Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. A task that will no doubt draw in even more volunteers to help. After all, ten billion flies can't all be wrong!

Karen Jackson, environmental scientist at CaRT said: “Dog fouling is becoming a huge problem for us along this section of canal.” I can't help but think Karen should get out more and examine the other two and a half thousand miles of inland waterways. She would then soon come to realise that she now has a 'jobbie' for life, so to speak.


Saturday 22 June 2013

Popularity Contest

There are a few public relations items piling up on the desk, awaiting the arrival of CaRT's new CEO. CaRT would certainly not win a popularity contest with many boaters at this time. Which is in a way an unsurprising carry over from the previous BWB administration. I understand Richard Parry is due to arrive for his first day at ivory towers on the 6th of July. It will be interesting to see how well the new CEO fits in. Will it be more of the same old same old. Or will their be a genuine new ethos. He might not realise it yet, but there is a great deal resting on his shoulders. He will certainly have to address the direction and the boating public's concerns as items high on his agenda.

It will also be interesting to see if the ethos with regard to carrying out meaningful consultation with the punters changes. I'm beginning to think that CaRT are trying for the title 'Most disliked charity in the UK.' With all the recent poor publicity over the usurping of visitor moorings on the River Severn and a number of other knockabout circus issues. In particular the ones where the content of some communications contains very suspect statements. I have to admit that I can't yet see a successful outcome to the long term future for CaRT in the charitable community. I do live in hope that there will be a good outcome. As we come up to the first anniversary of CaRT's inception. I'm not filled with any real sense of occasion. I can't say that the prospects of a change in opinion will come any time soon. 

The honeymoon period in the public's perception is often the first year. After which people will want to see significant changes and improvements. So as the first candle on the cake is lit I wonder what the next year will hold in store. Well if the lock failure on the Wolverhampton 21 is anything to go by. you could not make it up. The lock wall failure couldn't have come at a worse time for the Canal and River Trust. Like scoring a home goal in a premiership championship football match. This week its new Chief Executive Richard Parry agreed to cruise up the locks to see the state of the waterways. He will have a much clearer idea of how parlous things are now.

Maybe we should remind him of some of the finest moments of his predecessor. Like the ill conceived British Waterways pub partnership that went into administration, costing us a very cool £22 million  - money that should have been spent on maintenance.

Remember the installation of totally unnecessary metal bollards at narrow locks, that were not only unnecessary, but proved to be extremely dangerous. So at a cost of over £1,000 per lock to install the metal bollards, a further £750 a lock had to be spent to remove them. Again costing us - money that should have been spent on maintenance.

But this was very small fry to the later schemes of spending millions to purchase marinas that would provide 'money for maintenance' that have proved to be another stinging slap in the face. Again costing us - money that should have been spent on maintenance.

The 'Pièce de résistance' being the writing-off of £33 millions on the Gloucester precinct fiasco. Again costing us - money that should have been spent on maintenance.


Friday 21 June 2013

Slug and Lettuce

Dear Bill.

Not a great deal to report from the porthole on Nb Dulwich Dishwasher.

I say old bean, it looks like we missed a fun weekend of glug, glug, glug followed by the usual bit of chug, chug, chug. Its been quite a while since our last opportunity to have an extended gargle. The towpath telegraph failed to pass on the details of a floating carnival on the Regents Canal. You may have seen on television the depleted police force raiding the alcohol fuelled event. It's called a rave and used to be organised a few years ago in an old warehouse or in the countryside. (I'm not talking about those organised by toffs at the family pile.) 

You might recall, in the distant past those student drinking club things we used to get involved with. Good fun in-between occasional bouts of pious conciousness. Apparently they have now moved onto the canals. I bumped into Rodney in the public bar of the Slug and Lettuce he said there were complaints from the natives that the "glug and chug" had left a complete trail of devastation. However, after having a look around the area, it looked to Rodders to be on a par with the majority of the canal system. With lots of floating plastic, paper, glass and the towpath covered in all kinds of shit.

Talking about British eccentricity, the Memsahib has been to visit Mr Khan corner shop. She brought back a sample of Khan's latest culinary offerings. It seems that he has started a new range of 'boil in the bag' fodder for passing boaters. This special is on offer with a bottle of a popular Korean white called château "pisse de triton"  The curry we are trying out tonight is a rather unusual duck madras. Which reminds me, the problem I wrote you about that we were having with the early morning visits from the local ducks has now dwindled away. I am wondering if the migration might have started early.

Did you hear the story about the new CaRT Volunteer. It was told to me by Rodders in the bar of the 'Leaky Lock.' Apparently a new volunteer lock keeper spends the first week at her new job, training with the compulsory redundant lock keeper she is replacing. On the last day the departing lock keeper tells her, "I have left three numbered envelopes in the desk drawer. Open an envelope if you encounter a crisis you can't solve." Three months down the track there is a major drama, everything goes wrong - boaters are complaining about lots of things - and the volunteer lock keeper feels very threatened by it all. She remembers the parting words of the previous lock keeper and opens the envelope marked one. The message inside says "Blame your predecessor!" She does this and gets off the hook. About half a year later, the CaRT is experiencing a huge dip in volunteer recruitment, combined with a lot of volunteers resigning. The volunteer lock keeper who has by now been promoted to volunteer lock keeper/manager quickly opens the second envelope. The message reads, "Reorganize, Recognise and Rebuild!" This she does, and the volunteering numbers start to improve. Three months later, at her next crisis, she opens the third envelope. The message inside says. "Prepare three envelopes".

I ran into a couple of redundant ex BWB bank staff enjoying a day out walking the towpath between pubs. We shared a pint or three in the bar of the 'Old Gullible'.  However, with so much time on their hands they were thinking of returning to the fold and becoming CaRT volunteers. One of them said "If CaRT volunteers are not paid, its not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless." The other one proffered the sage advice "I think I know now why Robin Evens was paid £190,000 a year."

I can hear the grating of gears which is not bad for an automatic car. So I'm guessing that the Memsahib has returned from another shopping expedition.

Well I must run, toodle pip old boy.

Cap't Bob

"The events depicted in this series of letters are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental. No person should without the prior permission of the author assume the identity of any character. These letters are a story that could be based on actual events. In certain cases incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes. Certain characters may be accidental composites, or entirely fictitious. I was helped in my creative endeavour by my friend's telepathic cat named Huxley. Huxley assumes all responsibility for any mistakes and errors."

Thursday 20 June 2013

Smell the coffee (3)

Continued from 'Smell the Coffee (2)'

A different perspective

The Commode
I had a long conversation about this very topic with a very knowledgeable friend. With donkeys years of boating under his belt. I wanted to get a different perspective to my own. He said that he personally thought there was still a place for the larger associations. 

This prompted me to ask, where will the association members get their news and topical comment from. Who will keep their members informed and ultimately guide their opinions. The paid for recycled paper newsletter or in the free up-to-the-minute on line magazines and forums. In this age of falling membership numbers. What value in real terms do large boating associations actually provide for the paid membership beyond a brass plaque and a pennant. The recycled news printed on recycled paper is a tired format. 

Boat's for sale ads are covered in great depth on the Internet. Selling on old bits of unwanted kit is covered by eBay. Numbers attending at an organised rally or festival are now largely dictated by the weather and the lack of maintenance  With the best will in the world, the sight of people at the 'play group' with titles such as commodore are a bit passée and out dated.

Searching for a reply, he said "well there is still the members letters page where they can exchange views.I replied, "It might be better if it was the readers wife's pageYou could take it a bit further and have pictures on page three of a voluminous wide-beam with a name like Gladys. Complete with a write up that describes Gladys as being built for comfort and not for speed. Handles and responds well to the touch and will come at a price you can afford." 

Then he said, OK cleaver clogs - so what would you do about it then. I thought about it for awhile.  I said I honestly don't know, but I am sure that my footwear may not hold the answer. But I can clearly see the problem. Knowing what I know as an outsider. I had made my mind up a long time ago that the association was not one for me. I could see that they were been overtaken by technology change. Although fast overtaking retirement age myself, I recognise that the age demographic on the inland waterways is quite high. That in their present format and without embracing change, their future is under threat from being completely out of touch with younger people and their expectation of a fast, snappy on-line lifestyle. 

Pride and prejudice 

The only thing that could bring young people to the canals, is to be encouraged to have a live-aboard lifestyle. This sort of lifestyle must be enjoyed from an early age. The continued opposition towards people leading such a lifestyle is myopic and a self fulfilling prophesy for the future. Like people on the bank who own a holiday caravan, who choose to take their two week holiday in a caravan park. These are often the very same people who take exception to the gypsy culture, and those who have chosen to live all their lives in a caravan. Family holiday and weekend boat owners seem to have the same myopic NIMBY perspective. Especially to those who want to bring up their family afloat. Whilst at the same time living a bohemian lifestyle, working and not being yet another state funded statistic. The prejudiced NIMBY's want to set their take of the inland waterways lifestyle as being the norm.

Small, tight knit communities are all well and good and a positive for the small, specialist association. But for a national association, as Mr Dylan sang "the times they are a changing" and it's now happening not on a daily basis but more like an hourly schedule.

Then realisation dawned, its because of the abrogation of any real semblance of  independence. No longer being in a position to be providing clear representation of the membership. Challenging and monitoring is a bit difficult when you are snuggled up in bed with the other side. The memorandum of understanding has like a vasectomy emasculated the association in a single snip. The one thing that brought the larger associations into existence, is the one thing that has been planned or carelessly thrown away. Their independence and action  without fear or favour.

Now, CaRT is being taken to task by individuals who are doing more than the associations to ensure that an effective oversight is being kept. The individuals can now easily question issues that need clarification. The same activists can join together in ad hoc groups on an individual issue by issue basis.


Wednesday 19 June 2013

Spontaneous Trouser Combustion III

Is it me, or has CaRT unilaterally declared war upon one section of its clientèle?

The Upton upon Severn moorings issue is a case in question. A long stretch of river with few places for boats on passage to safely moor. One might have expected that additional mooring might be introduced as an added safety measure - In mitigation of what has been for some time an obvious risk. The CaRT operational edict is issued - for that's what it was - with no question of any meaningful consultation from the Trust. 
Now this begs the question was there any additional safety audit carried out before the edict was issued? If not, then why not? If there was a safety audit made in connection with the major changes - on what grounds were the obviously compromised safety issues reconciled?
Various email exchanges between boaters and CaRT certainly call into question the whole process.  With people being concerned about CaRT being less than forthright with the content of their communication. The emails certainly suggest erroneously that CaRT had been in close consultation with Upton Council. The reason for the edict being issued was given as Upton Council doing a reorganisation of its local road layouts. Information from other sources seem to suggest that the last time any significant road improvement orders were made was over a decade ago. Add to this the benevolence of CaRT in giving up boaters safety to increase alleged visitor numbers to the town. If it looks like its wrong and it smells like its wrong then usually it is wrong.
Now this begs the question was the information provided by CaRT a true reflection of events? Or was someone within CaRT doing an Alan Clark and being "economical with the actualité"?
Another case in question is that CaRT apparently does not have the specific powers to introduce the much vaunted "no return mooring" rules. After concern was raised by boaters again over a non consultation - consultation.  (A consultation intended to seek approval for an already decided outcome) The silence surrounding various freedom of information requests is very worrying. But it becomes even more understandable when its noted that the former British Waterways was actually refused such powers.
Now this also begs the question, was someone within CaRT meddling in areas that they don't understand?  Does CaRT even have a copy of the relevant act? If so did anyone even bother to consult the act? Or was someone within CaRT being somewhat 'economical with the actuality'?
Not only is there now some lingering evidence of someone's smouldering pantaloons. But a very large dose of porcine avionics begins to comes to mind. I am sure that if someone in ivory towers was to look at their feet. They would see an increasing amount of pork pie crumbs. mmmm I smell bacon!

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Smell the Coffee (2)

Continued from 'Smell the Coffee (1)'

The real challenge

Providing what I see as an indifferent service for the many and varied groups of users on the inland waterways.  Or alternatively  providing a good service for one group is the real way forward. This is where the niche associations will succeed. The rivers and canals have a very wide following including volunteers, restoration groups, cyclists, walkers, fishermen, conservationists, boaters and many others. For the all encompassing associations, trying to represent every interested party is no longer appropriate. There are now far too many different agendas to be set, far too many different agendas to be represented and far too many different agendas to be managed. There has been a significant change in users requirements and the old 'one size no longer fits all.' Walkers have their own representative associations and its the same with cyclists. The angling fraternity are very vociferous in representing their one issue. Conservation groups abound almost on a species by species basis.

Their one time role of large associations being a valuable watchdog, driving change and being the eyes and ears of their members. Has now devolved down to the on-line forums and the on-line magazines. 

But the future is not only looking grim for the large all encompassing associations. 

Is this the end of print

I can also see that some of the high-profile, glossy, monthly, print magazines addressing boats and boating issues are now paying the price and shutting up shop. Their circulation figures having been gradually falling for some time. The long lead time to react to the fast changing news means that print is now more archival than news carrying. Especially now with the coming of age of the genre specific, on-line forums allowing for the sharing of ideas and information in real time. There is no limit to the amount and type of information available. From the most trivial through to the ground shaking news stories. 

Every member of an Internet forum is a reporter, investigator and can set their own agenda. Every reader of an on-line magazine is encouraged to question and contribute. Marshall McLuhan said "The medium is the message" it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled the scale and form of human association and action. This is a very true statement of fact. Content is essentially what binds together the user experience. It may include, among other things text, images, sounds, videos and animations. This may include documents, data, applications, e-services, personal web pages, e-mail messages, and much much more.

Now with the adoption of tablet devices on the rise. Allied with the rapid improvement in the quality of digital publications. The digital world now has its tweets, feeds, blogs and apps providing a never ending source of information that individuals can tailor to their own needs. There is a demand for on-line magazines to do more than merely replicate the content of print titles. On-line magazines can and do lead opinion. The on-line counterparts to the old print magazines are providing fresh news and informed commentaries on a broad range of waterways issues. The range of issues is now being dictated by the readership. The amount of advertising revenue needed in support of digital publication is minimal. Many carry no advertising at all. Their main strength coming from operating in an "Internet troll" free environment and once again, this is all done in real time. 

Social networks

A lot of people have discovered the ease of sharing their opinions and on-line voices from writing blogs and sharing in and on social networks. Removing forever the "short on-line attention span" myth. Now the on-line magazines have tapped into this source. Encouraging regular columnists, to give their informed opinion. Encouraging occasional contributors to fly a kite and stimulate discussion.  

There is the readers almost instant email replacing the old readers letters page. There is no interest in creating printed throwaway media any longer. There are no editions, its a continuous, rolling publication - that varies its output almost on the hour - depending on current waterways affairs. An additional function of digital media is the search function, which is providing a time line perspective of change.  Where old stories can be retrieved in chronological order, in an instant. Long gone are the days of back copies of newsletters on coffee tables. Today people want it either on their Kindle or on their multifunctional mobile phone.

Internet Forum

At the same time Internet forums are also a specialised niche  The two ends of the forum spectrum can easily be found. Some are closely monitored to filter out any objectionable content. Others are the equivalent to the wild west and provide a children's sandpit for the trolls to play. I find it edifying to see any innocuous question turned into a battle of supremacy of one troll over another. Providing an instant, handy relief for their angst, prejudice and spleen. With nothing to offer these keyboard warrior become a legend in their own mind.

Paper or electrons

Age demographics and a willingness to take up new technology even by the wrinkled generation is a significant driver. A recent on-line survey has highlighted that UK print magazines are finding that the cost of product remains a significant issue for buyers. Overall 60% of UK magazine buyers now prefer digital to print. Men have taken to on-line options with significantly greater enthusiasm than women. Men are three times as likely to read on-line compared with women. The on-line world is a fast changing place and it you can't run with the pack, you will soon be left far behind.

There is still room for the small specialist associations that address a specific niche, to continue to prosper in the world of the inland waterways. Especially where the rate of change is relatively slow, as you might find with the restoration groups. However, even the role of small niche groups has changed over recent years. Utilising the Internet allows for faster responses to changes that still raise issues for their slower way of life.

Blogs and lists

Blogs are however a slightly different case. They are generally based around one man or woman's opinion. A sounding board where people can just do their own thing. The content is deliberately tailored to a niche audience. Usually made up of like minded individuals. Ranging from dear diary to open letters, tonight's menu or today's cruise. Each represents the individuals viewpoint and in their own way each play a vital role. People can if they wish post their thoughts and pose questions, just to continue a one sided discussion. 

One of the strong points of blogs is that an individual dialogue can be created between the blogger and the reader. By the simple step of posting a comment. However, at the same time there is an inherent weakness and that is, blogs can and do, come and go. 

There are wonderfully written blogs that really do entertain. yet even they can sometimes fall by the wayside, because the blogger has a personal reason to abandon the blog. However, they still contribute long afterwards because they are generally available for posterity. If you believe that blogging and blogs are only successful if they are widely read. You fail to see the true value and to take on-board the wider perspective. Blogs provide an ever changing viewpoint on any given topic. The topic of the inland waterways is not a unique one. Every waterways blogger has an opinion, every blogger has their own prejudice. However, when the content from many blogs is amalgamated together, they actually provide great insight on the day to day waterways life. 

Maybe the last to look at are the closed mailing lists. I am on a few closed mailing lists. One is a small niche organisation and is the way the membership who are in boating terms constantly on the move, and provides a way of keeping in touch. This mailing list works very well because a large number of the small membership add content on a frequent basis. It is used for conducting all the group business as well as day to day chatter. It's fit for purpose and a good example of the digital future.

Continued in 'Smell the Coffee (3)'

Monday 17 June 2013

Ducks on the Mersey

Have you like me always wanted to experience a flight in some of the iconic WW II equipment. Who could turn down the chance of a flight in a spitfire or hurricane. I admit that I might turn my nose up at trying out a flight in one of the old WW II parachutes. Whilst I don't exactly have a bucket list of things to do. I have over the years done a few things that might well have been included on a list. One of my most enjoyable experiences was going to see the Tall Ships on the River Mersey whilst stood outside the iconic Liver building. The City of Liverpool, has its historic waterfront built around some of the most famous dockland buildings in the world. Liverpool is steeped in maritime tradition and was the port of entry and departure for countless numbers of people. 

One thing that I had intended experiencing in Liverpool was the 'Duckmarines' that operate in the docks. Consisting of authentic World War II amphibious landing vehicles. (I remember coming across one that had been abandoned, floating along in the middle of the sea many years ago) The ducks are used to provide the visitor with a unique and unforgeable experience. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were passengers in one of them during their Diamond Jubilee tour.

The Yellow Duckmarine website prophetically says. 'Your hour-long trip begins on the road, taking in the historic waterfront, touring the famous sights of the City, then making a dramatic 'SPLASHDOWN' in the Salthouse Dock. It's the start of an amazing dockland adventure, ending at the Albert Dock. It's a trip you'll never forget!'
Narrowboats come to the rescue

A recent incident where one of the 'ducks' sank has certainly provided for some unfortunate visitors 'a trip that they will never forget.' The sudden sinking left people in the water and I am pleased to say that there were no lives lost. With both narrowboats and dockside staff swiftly coming to the passengers aid and in typical maritime tradition rendering their assistance. Everyone was safely rescued from the water. In all 28 people were led to safety from the vessel, including a baby whose mother held her above the water on the roof of the sinking craft.


Sunday 16 June 2013

Smell the Coffee (1)

Good morning, here is the news. 'The high street retailing giant 'MegaStores Inc' has gone into receivership.'  How many times have you listened to a news program, that started out with those sort of prophetic words.

Our high streets are visibly starting to resemble the ill-fated 'Marie Celeste' which it would seem characterises the rows and rows of empty shops. Empty properties are interspersed with the odd charity shop in a vain attempt to roll back time. All of this town centre desolation has been created mainly for the white goods outlets by the Internet based on-line shopping phenomenon.

Companies affected by the down turn in the last five years have included Comet, JJB Sports, Clinton Cards, Game, Borders, Barratts, Alexon, T J Hughes, Jane Norman, Habitat, Focus DIY, Floors-2-Go, the Officers Club, Oddbins, Ethel Austin, Faith Shoes, Adams Childrenswear, Thirst Quench, Stylo, Mosaic, Principles, Sofa Workshop, Allied Carpets, Viyella, Dewhursts, Woolworths, MFI, and Zavvi/Virgin Megastore.  Some of these companies recovered and came out of administration, some were bought by other businesses. Some were sold as going concerns but changed their name, for some the name was bought and this is still used under different ownership. And others ceased to exist. New on-line companies have been created for selling goods which are now delivered not from a shop but from a central distribution centre. Their overheads are low.

If you want to actually see the goods before you buy. You have to visit one of the few high street stores still in business. But in this time of austerity, you still make your purchase on line to make a saving. The digital world and new technology is funding this major change in our habits. Recent research has the number as high as 1 in 8 shops on the high street are now closed. There is a second significant cause which is the growth of out of town supermarkets which have also diversified into providing all manner of additional services. This is causing Joe Public to change the way that goods and services are obtained.  The increasing use of technology by customers, shopping by mobile/cellphone, virtual shopping, changes in payment systems and green retailing have all played a part.

If you want to know the time of a train do you go down to the railway station and consult the time table. If you want to know the route that a particular bus takes, do you go down to the bus station to check. Its now reached the point where if you want to buy your weekly shop, do you go to the supermarket or do you go on-line and use one of the supermarket home delivery services. No, to save time and money you use the internet. 

There are parallels to this more modern day Internet led exodus from the high street to be found everywhere. Including the inland waterways. This started me wondering, are the days now numbered for some of the larger boating associations. Is the instant communications capability of the Internet, also making some boating associations redundant or no longer fit for purpose. In its heyday any association would have been the catalyst that allowed groups of like minded people to join together. The associations strength came from having an independent viewpoint and would have provided the membership with a robust collective voice. Are they able to respond to the changes in peoples lifestyle or are they about to fade away, slowly towards an ignominious end. 

Have the local group meetings and the annual general meeting run their course. Are the associations as we know them now, about to become a thing of the past?

For some associations, its strength was once bound together by a small committee and a printed newsletter. In some cases, providing a fierce and independent opposition. This style of association is now too slow and far too archaic for today's instant news updates and reactions. 

Any boater can now espouse ideas and elicit support on-line for any waterways related subject. The recent visitor moorings issues at Upton upon Severn are a good example. Where a small group of boaters challenging and overturning a crazy CaRT decision. There were no time consuming delays. It started when instant emails were sent to CaRT raising their concerns. When that did not bear fruit, instant interaction with the local council brought about an almost instant resolution. All of which took place in a very short time frame. The issue did not drag on for months on end. 

No longer is there a need for committees and subcommittees. Tasked to discuss amongst themselves and report back at some time in the future on their deliberations on such issues. Everyone can now contribute. All done in a real time round robin discussion. In the digital era - 24 hours - is now a long long time in this sound-bite age.

It seems to me that one group has already capitulated by throwing in its lot with the Canal and River Trust. The appointed "independent" representatives have given away any semblance of real independence and are already assuming the positions that have been set aside for them.  Having already shot themselves in the foot and alienated many boaters and other waterways users. They then took careful aim and shot themselves in the other foot by then becoming clandestine waterways spies and reporting on their fellow boaters. The very people whose interests and welfare they should be protecting. This is a perfect illustration of a very myopic viewpoint. Someone somewhere has lost the plot.

Or have they? Maybe this is their way forward into the future. It was possibly a driver to the establishment of the "memorandum of understanding." The creation of an MoU often expresses a convergence of will between two or more parties. Setting out an intended common line of action. It is often used in cases where parties either do not imply a legal commitment or in situations where the parties cannot create a legally enforceable agreement. It is a slightly more formal alternative to a gentleman's agreement. CaRT also has similar MoU in place between itself and RBOA, ACE, DEFRA and others.

I have puzzled over what the association has to gain from this particular alliance. Other than the Canal and River Trust, by not having a paid membership, would help the association to continue to exist in some form or other. Which if a CaRT membership was to come about, would certainly sound the death knell. Memorandums of understanding are only worth the paper they are printed on. If that is the case, the vision of Neville Chamberlain waving a communique certainly comes to mind. I have no doubt that CaRT would burn the paper in the blink of an eye if needs must. One route to future funding if 'friends of the canal' fails, would certainly be a paid membership.

Continued in 'Smell the Coffee (2)'