Friday 28 February 2014

Garbage Patch

As its the centennial year of the outbreak of the first world war. Which was a conflict described as 'the war to end all wars.' I was minded of the poem we had read to us each year (in assembly at School on Armistice day) by Rupert Brooke titled 'Soldier.' The line that is most often quoted is 'That there's some corner of a foreign field, that is for ever England.' Brooke was born at number 5 Hillmorton Road, in Rugby. Each time we pass through Hillmorton on the Oxford Canal, I can't help but think back to Brooke's poem, my days at school and the firing of the Armistice gun.

But on another tack, and in a parody of the words of the poem by Brooke. There is another corner of a CaRT canal this is forever an English rubbish tip. But the problem does not end on our rivers and canals. The Great Pacific garbage patch was predicted in a 1988 paper published by NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) of the United States. The prediction was based on results obtained by several Alaska-based researchers between 1985 and 1988 that measured plastic in the North Pacific Ocean. This research found high concentrations of marine debris accumulating in regions governed by ocean currents.
We should not comfort ourselves in thinking that the pacific rim countries are responsible for the condition of the oceans. We have one giant garbage patch of our own making. The North Atlantic garbage patch is an area of man-made marine debris found floating within the North Atlantic. It was first documented in 1972. The patch is estimated to be hundreds of kilometres across in size, with a density of over 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre.

The primary source of marine accumulated debris is the improper waste disposal or management of household rubbish. Including manufacturing products made of plastics. Debris is generated on land at marinas, ports, rivers, harbours, docks, rivers and other waterways. Pollutants range in size from abandoned fishing nets to micro-pellets used in those household abrasive cleaners.

Thursday 27 February 2014

Poll Tax for Boats

Here we are, enjoying our cruise and life has slowed down its pace, we are loving every moment. A slow chug along the River Thames as we make our way to who knows where. Life was proceeding all calm and serene, then we heard on the radio today that the Con-a-Lib government is toying with the old Thatcher idea of bringing back the poll tax.

It is over twenty years since Thatcher’s Tory government tried to impose the Poll Tax. Officially termed the Community Charge. The much hated Poll Tax amounted to a flat rate tax that individuals had to pay to their Local Councils regardless of their income. In an effort to bring the Cameron Big Society one step closer, it has been announced that council tax is to go through a re-evaluation process for each house and this will also apply to every live-aboard boat in the UK administered for boaters under the new Inland Waterways charity. The Cycling Angling Rambling Trust (CART)

All current house and boat values will be reassessed and one of the main criteria for the assessment will be the quality of the area in which you live or have a mooring. How this move back to the poll tax will square with the big society I am not altogether sure. Will they will charge us more if we live or moor in a nice area and charge us less if we live or moor in a rough area. Your guess is as good as mine about how the quality will be assessed. I suppose it will have something to do with the crime figures and the numbers of families living on state benefits.

Just down the road from where we are moored at the moment, there is a huge house. It would seem that there is an extended English, Greek and German family living in it. The owner "Vinegar Liz" is a grumpy old woman who always wears a head scarf. She also has a large pack of irritable little noisy dogs which have been allowed to run free in her garden. To the best of my knowledge her car isn't taxed or insured and doesn't even have a number plate, but the local police do nothing. I know she lives on state benefits and she has never held down a real job. Yet they seem to be able to afford to spend months away on holiday every year.

Her ill-tempered husband known as "Phil the Greek" and is notorious for his occasional racist comments. A local Asian shopkeeper blamed him for arranging the murder of his son and his son's girl-friend, but still nothing has been proved.

All their kids have broken marriages except the youngest, who everyone thought was gay anyway. Two grandsons are meant to be in the armed forces but are always out partying in nightclubs although one has recently married and has a child and may be expected to quieten down. The other is a ginger, so there is no chance there then. It is also suspected that they may not be from the same stable so to speak. To be honest the family are totally dysfunctional and to a certain extent out of control. I feel sorry for the families living near Buckingham Palace, maybe they can qualify and get a poll tax rebate.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Smartphone Sky High Bills

No matter which genre of smartphone you own or are thinking to buy. The apps that are available will have an influence on how happy you are with the phone. There are plenty of top quality apps that you can download. But you will also have to think about your service provider. Once you are bound into a contract there is little that you can do about increased charges during the life of the contract.

For instance, what can you do if your phone is stolen and used by the thief to run up a huge bill. Nothing at  the moment, however all that is about to change. Mobile phone users will be protected from "sky-high bills" if their phones are stolen under an agreement between the government and four operators. EE, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone. The big four providers have agreed to a new cap on the maximum customers would be expected to pay.

The firms will also tell people of mid-contract price rises and phone users will then have the option of breaking off the contract without any penalty. Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the deal would avoid "shock bills". It follows her meeting with phone companies to discuss how to protect consumers.

Announcing the agreement Miller said: "Families can be left struggling if carefully planned budgets are blown away by unexpected bills from a stolen mobile or a mid-contract price rise. This agreement with the Telecoms companies will deliver real benefits to consumers and help ensure people are not hit with shock bills."

It is thought the cap, which is expected to be in place from spring 2014, will be set at a similar level to the £50 liability cap on stolen credit and debit cards. Consumer affairs minister Jo Swinson said "The last thing you need after the hassle of a stolen mobile is to find that someone has used it and landed you with a sky-high bill too. Phone companies have listened to government and to their customers and I welcome their agreement to protect them from unexpected costs."

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Solar Wood Drying on a Boat

Wood is usually dried or seasoned to a specific moisture content prior to use as fuel for a boat stove. With the exception of Ash all wood needs to be pre-dried.  Wood can be air-dried on the roof of your boat. However the humidity in the United Kingdom prevents the wood from reducing the moisture content within a reasonable time frame.

At home, we have a wood burning stove and I cut the fresh logs to size and I then stack them in a small wood store built from old pallets which I keep behind the garden shed to air dry. I also stack the logs in the greenhouse where the sun provides a bit of additional heat to aid the drying process. Its not practical to build a green house for wood drying on a boat. But as they say, need is the mother of invention.

I tried a different approach on Rosie a couple of years ago. I managed to get hold of a large clear plastic sack. It was about 6 feet in length and about 3 feet wide. We came across a load of cut wood left over from a fallen tree. I soon crated a pile of logs that I split in half. I careful filled the plastic bag with the logs. Stacking the logs to leave space for the air to circulate. The bag was laid across the roof of the boat. Due to the curve in the roof the outer edges were the lowest point. I made a couple of holes in each corner of the bag to let the moisture run off.

On most days the bag would quickly warm up. The condensation on the inside built up and then ran down the inside of the bag to the outer edges. The water would collect and it would soon mount up to several pints of water at each edge each day. After about two weeks of sunny weather the amount of water collecting would start to noticeably reduce each day. After a month there was little moisture collecting and the logs had a much lighter feel. The bag only lasted about three or four months as sunlight has the effect of weakening the bag.

I have found some 7 foot by 3 foot clear plastic bags that should do the trick advertised on ebay. Click Here to View

Monday 24 February 2014

Ripped Off

The proposal to get rid of paper tax discs from October 2014  will carry a sting in the tail for everyone buying a used vehicle after that date: they will have to tax it immediately instead of being able to take on the vehicle’s existing unexpired tax. While intended as a move to stop fraudsters, the tweak to the rules would occidentally lead to a windfall for the Treasury.

The ‘Draft Clauses and Explanatory Notes’ for the proposed Finance Bill 2014 say: It will no longer be possible to transfer the benefit of a vehicle licence when there is a change of registered keeper. As a consequence of this, where there is a new registered keeper he/she will be obliged to take out a new vehicle licence when the vehicle to which the vehicle licence relates is transferred to him/her. The reason for now preventing vehicle licences being transferred from registered keeper to registered keeper is to avoid a new registered keeper unknowingly keeping an unlicensed vehicle. For example, in the absence of a paper licence a vehicle may be purchased supposedly with the benefit of a vehicle licence. The new keeper would believe that the vehicle was licensed, but the former keeper could apply for a refund of VED without the knowledge of the new keeper resulting on the new keeper having an unlicensed vehicle.”

The reasoning makes no sense, at all as the ability to instantly check any vehicle’s tax status online at the website rather blows a hole in the idea that there’s no way the new keeper could tell whether his vehicle was taxed or not.

An old cynic like me, might say that since you can only get refunded for complete remaining months of VED, (Vehicle Excise Duty) the government stands to scrape up a lot of part-months of extra tax revenue. Official figures show that around 7 million used vehicles get a change of ownership each year. If, on average, each has half a month’s worth of VED remaining, that’s 3.5 million extra months of VED being paid each year. The equivalent of 291,666 years’ worth. If we estimate that the average annual VED cost per vehicle is £200 (a fair guess given the spread of rates), then that’s somewhere in the region of £58.3 million pounds windfall to the tax man. Year on year that's not a bad haul, really.

Sunday 23 February 2014

National Archive Podcasts (8)

I love history at a local, national and world levels. The National Archives contain some interesting records of British Imperialism around the world. There are also important records relating to life in the united kingdom. These records can also be used by anyone who is interested in genealogy. The documents come in all forms. I like to listen to the research outcomes in the form of lectures as the archives come under greater and greater scrutiny. The files are captured in MP3 format. There is obviously a bias towards history and family history in my choices.
At the age of 12, the delicate and genteelly brought up Charles Dickens was plunged into employment in a boot-blacking factory, while his father was incarcerated in Marshalsea debtors' prison. These events traumatised the young Dickens, and greatly influenced his future work. However, as an adult this difficult period was never discussed, and only after his death did his account come out. That account has never been corroborated or challenged, but author Michael Allen has discovered that Dickens' employers at Warren's Blacking were fighting each other in the Chancery Court, revealing a great deal of new information. Click Here to listen.
Professor Peter Hennessy, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History, Queen Mary, London University, and author of The Secret State, examines the 'particles and patterns of the past' to peer into the part of the post-war British state kept under wraps for the duration of the Cold War. Click Here to listen.
Census returns are among the most popular records used by family historians and other researchers, but many of us give little thought as to what went on behind the scenes every time a census was taken. This talk explores the creation of the census, with the mass organisation of enumerators, temporary clerks, permanent civil service clerks and registrars, as well as the fascinating stories that lie behind each census, to help us better understand the records we think we know so well. Click Here to listen.
The famous Boulting Brothers film 'I'm All Right Jack!' was released just over 50 years ago. The film, in which a blundering innocent causes a nationwide strike, was a satire - but did it also reflect social realities in 1959? Were trade unions and government on a collision course at this time? Does it reflect other trends in post-war Britain? This talk analyses the film and examines related material in the public record of the late 1950s - some of the results may seem surprising from today's perspective. Click Here to listen.

Saturday 22 February 2014

You can't make it up!

On the 1st of January, I wrote bit about the future elections to the CaRT council. (Has the change arrived) I note that Peter Ponting in (IWA should not hijack elections again) has also picked up on the same subject. (note Peter had a slip of the fingers and typed 'trustee' instead of 'council' in his contribution.) I must admit I have been thinking about the subject. At a personal level, I have no interest whatsoever in standing as a candidate. I feel that my activities as a 'critical friend' of the trust are much more rewarding and effective. However, I feel that getting truly proactive and independent members on council to represent boaters interests is very necessary.  I'm not surprised as the top heavy and unwieldy 'management structure' is already confusing enough. It continues to grow out of all recognition, with the notable exception of any real independent boater representatives.

In the pythonesque world of CaRT. It's even possible that at the next elections, other boating organisations will do an IWA style back door mutual deal amongst themselves. After all, if one can hijack the process so can others. 
I can see it now. Psssst, if you get your members to vote for our candidate, we will get our members to vote for yours. I can see the tapping of a digit to a proboscis followed by a "know what I mean, know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink wink, say no more squire."

I am of the mind that its never going to be to early to get organised for the next CaRT elections. It's also time to learn the lessons from the past and find four people who are actually truly electable. The previous CaRT Council Elections are now history. A great deal of time and effort went into trying to find four 'independent' boaters. The next representatives will need to be truly independent of all significant affiliations. I also think it would be best to find suitable fresh faces. Candidates for various offices traditionally only get one chance of standing for election. If they are rejected once by the electorate they are almost certainly seen as a reject in the mind of the electorate and will be rejected again in the future.

Under the current scheme the odds are heavily stacked against the truly independent wanting to stand for office. This is because the IWA, like large political parties is wielding their membership as a blunt instrument.  They can always triumph over the truly independent candidate with no affiliations to any other organisation.  As an election process the current system is on this basis alone flawed. Where we should be electing based upon the information in a candidates manifesto, the last election was hijacked and any resemblance of choice based upon a manifesto was a joke. A system that can be hijacked is utterly worthless. The lack of worth has proved to be the case with the last election. The candidates from the IWA being almost silent on all issues. But then if you have nothing to offer, you will have nothing to say. 

Everyone currently gets a 150 word election manifesto published at the time of the election by CaRT. But the IWA candidate will have the IWA website, in house magazine, newsletters and flyers going out in mailings. Once again the truly independent candidate is disadvantaged. Another issue is getting sufficient nominations which may be problematical for the independent, if as I expect the requirement for the number of nominees is raised significantly. Once again the truly independent candidate is disadvantaged. Any candidate in the IWA could go to a local meeting and get the required number of signatures all in one go.

So the really independent candidate is going to be seriously disadvantaged unless they become proactive now. The candidate will have to use a long term strategy. First to get to know the electorate and  secondly for the electorate to get to know them. Utilising on-line magazines like Narrowboat World, social media sites like Facebook. Newsprint like the Towpath. Going on the hustings by visiting boat clubs and marinas. Meet with various other waterways organisations and enlisting their support. More than anything else a candidate going to need a small election team of two or three individuals to help. 

You will need to identify the key issues that you think will be of importance to the electorate. A quick synopsis at this moment in time would be. The management of the property portfolio and the management of the huge backlog of repairs. The cost of boat licences and the cost of moorings as well as other fund raising are pretty obvious issues. There are the more indirect issues such as directors salaries, directors performance criteria for bonus payments. The amount of expensive litigation, the promise of openness and transparency. The poor public relations perception and the management of visitor moorings and enforcement. The ineffectual waterways partnerships, the falling number of boats on the inland waterways and value for money of ownership. The lack of a membership by subscription to the trust. The real value and number of visitors. Campaigning for an end to crude and clumsy management and to drive forward positive change.

There is a need for the small 150 word manifesto and an in depth personal description of skills, knowledge and experience. The individuals in the election will need to be of good standing within the wider boating community. They will need to have previous experience in a similar representational role or bring a broad ranging knowledge of the Inland Waterways.

One of the concerns expressed from the previous election, is that those elected last time have been silent and as good as invisible to the electorate. Take advantage of their silence by becoming a voice and of reason and start now.

Their continuing allegiance to the Inland Waterways Association has been almost palpable. To elect anyone with a similar allegiance, no matter how 'fleeting' would be to commit the same mistake again. For who would these individuals actually represent. All boaters or just a minority. Would their remit be set by the IWA. After all, the IWA have a memorandum of understanding with CaRT. The ex chair of the IWA was elected to council and will now be setting the ground rules for the next election. As they say, you can't make it up!

Friday 21 February 2014

Who has lost the plot!

In this time of austere finances and many people being forced out of work. There are some people in work, who obviously have far too much spare time on their hands. These people are it seems out of their comfort zone and have been responsible for making some amazing decisions. Decisions that should in reality make us all laugh our socks off - if it was not for the blindingly obvious serious intention. An intention that lies behind the monumental demonstration of a lack of common sense.

Take for instance, Warrington Bank Quay railway station. This was the first railway station to put up no-kissing signs on its concourse. Yes you read that right, no kissing signs. Why? Not only that, they even added the signs to the station platforms. As the common sense disappeared over the horizon, signs were then added to the taxi rank. Then in a Kafkaesque moment of stupidity they then designated a kissing zone in a corner of the car park. But it gets better. Another sign informing rail passengers that kissing is welcome has been put up at High Wycombe station. The notice in the entrance informs customers: "Kissing is welcome here!" It was put up after revelations that petting had been outlawed at Warrington Bank Quay Station.

As obesity grows out of control in our nation and we are all being warned and advised to monitor our weight and to avoid eating certain kinds of foodstuff. Over in the USA stupidity has hit a whole new level. GP Dr Terry Bennett was told by health bosses to write a letter of apology to a patient. The patient complained after Dr Bennett told her she was obese and that she ought to lose weight. Dr Bennett said "This woman walked out of my surgery and did not appear to be unhappy. She went to get her husband, who is also grossly obese.  I had talked about the future for the both of them to her. Then three weeks later, I get notice that I have got a complaint against me." Crass stupidity knows no bounds when it comes to our health!

In Britain we have over the years come to value people from other parts of the world.  It was not always like that, there were times when people were discriminated against on the colour of their skin. I like to think that we have mellowed and come to realise that the colour of anyone's skin has absolutely no correlation to their value as a person. In reality, the bigots and racist are now recognised as being of a lower order than an amoeba. So imagine the furore when a member of staff at a coffee shop in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow refused to serve a customer a 'black' coffee as they considered it to be racist. I wonder if he wanted brown or white sugar?

There are endless stories about young, inexperienced and gullible people being taken in by colleagues in the workplace. Usually by being sent to purchase tins of tartan paint or packets of spirit level bubbles. You could be forgiven for thinking this is another apocryphal story. It seems that Dudley Council has spent £5,300 on Braille signs. However, the Braille signs were intended for a local leisure centre’s doors into the squash court. Advising patrons of the need for wearing suitable footwear. I understand that the gentlemen's toilets have also been identified by gentleman symbol. The ladies toilets have been identified by a photograph of the full Dudley Council. 

The game of cricket is usually practised by people on warm summers days. However, the game is interrupted for lunch and interrupted later by tea. However the game can always be expected to be interrupted by the odd shower of rain! So you might be forgiven for thinking that  staff at the London Fields Lido in Hackney were also playing a game. However, this time it was not cricket, when it declared that it was unsafe to swim after there was a brief rain shower. Apparently the conditions could impair the vision of the lifeguards. Anyone heard of swimming goggles?

Britain is full of what we can only describe as heritage, which along with obvious castles, Beefeater and rolling cheese down a hill are most compelling reasons for being who we are. Our heritage comes in many different guises. Old buildings are protected for their glory or their age. Our canals are once again recognised as a national treasure. Aircraft are restored to their former glory. Our heritage is also built upon our history such as wars. One thing that we all like to celebrate is Bonfire night or Guy Fawkes night.  Personally, I admire Fawkes as being one of the few men to ever enter parliament with honourable intentions. However, Watford's annual bonfire which is held at Cassiobury Park was banned by the council after 38 years as it no longer complied with the town’s smoke-free policy. Someone should get a rocket!

Thursday 20 February 2014

Phrenology turned on its head!

Phrenology, or to give it a better description is the study of bumps on your head. Phrenology has long been thought of as of no value and that anyone who believed in it should have their own bumps felt!  A pseudo science mixed with snake oil. But now the science of Phrenology has been stood on its head (groan) so to speak as Pedology takes over. No longer is it the size shape and location of bumps, that gives an insight to your genetic disposition.  Though to cause confusion I also created a few bumps of my own over the years. Forget about plotting your individual DNA fingerprint, you are stood on your history! Now its the size and shape of the toes that gives us an indication of our lineage.

Me, I would seem to be a mixture of Roman with a touch of Greek, if you ignore the collapsed arch, bunions, verruca and corns!

So much for my DNA saying that my family history is south west European with a strong Gallic influence. 

C'est la vie

Wednesday 19 February 2014

The Antikythera device

About a hundred years ago while diving for sponges a weird mechanism was found by  fishermen at the bottom of the sea near the Greek island of Antikythera. It astonished the  then experts on the ancient world. They thought at first that it was an astrolabe. Then it was thought to be an Orrery or possibly an astronomical clock.

For the next fifty years, scientific investigation carried out on the object failed to find a solution and relied more on guesswork than anything else. However more recent research over the last half century has slowly begun to reveal its secrets. 

The device dates from around the end of the 2nd century B.C. so it is around 2200 years old. The device is with out any doubt the most sophisticated mechanism known from that time period in the ancient world. There has not been another device anything like as complex for another thousand years. 

The Antikythera device is now believed to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena. Operating as a complex mechanical "computer" which tracks the cycles of the Solar System.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Bat Information

For those like me who are interested in all things to do with our nocturnal wildlife to be found along the canal which in our case are bats.Some bats will hibernate for the whole of the winter whilst other bats will wake up from time to time in warmer spells before settling back to hibernate again. Here is some information about the individual species with pictures and ways to identify them. The document is made up in two parts and each part is a PDF file. 

The document is titled: 'Illustrated identification key to the bats of Europe' and is by by Christian Dietz and Otto von Helversen. Containing some 228 photographs and 14 drawings.

The first part of the identification key is written mainly for students and beginners in the studies of bats, as most of the groups can be identified quite easily. The separated keys to the more difficult groups are addressed mainly to the more experienced field workers to help them when faced with an unknown species or with the most difficult groups of very similar bats. 

Click Here for Pt 1     Click Here for Pt 2

Monday 17 February 2014

Extraordinary Football Match

Sometimes its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Reading old newspapers can throw up some interesting stories. In this instance if you have been up the Chesterfield Canal you will have passed close to the spot. Here is what we would call today a public interest story. 
Derby Daily Telegraph – Monday 18 April 1887

The Extraordinary Football Match

At a football match, played at Worksop on Saturday, between Beighton and Worksop, the ball was kicked over the hedge into the garden adjoining the football field, and was promptly seized by the wife of the owner of the garden and locked up in an outhouse. The players, bring without a ball, were unable to proceed with the game another ball having been seized by the same party just to before the match commenced and taken to the local police station. 

One of the players and a spectator went to the proprietor of the garden and his wife and asked for the ball, which was refused, where upon the two decided to help themselves and accordingly made for the door of the outhouse. The proprietor of the garden picked op his garden fork and ran at one of them with it, but the latter seeing his danger caught the gardener by the neck, and twisted him round, and took the fork from him. 

Meanwhile the gardener's wife had not been idle. She armed herself with the swill bucket and battered it about the head of the player who had ventured to seek the ball. This roused the ire of the spectators who rushed in scores over the hedge, into the garden, but seeing the player coming from the garden with the ball under his arms, they retired, otherwise the proprietor of the garden, might have fared badly. As it was, the spectators contented themselves by hooting at the two in the garden until the match terminated.


Sunday 16 February 2014

National Archive Podcasts (7)

I love history at a local, national and world levels. The National Archives contain some interesting records of British Imperialism around the world. There are also important records relating to life in the united kingdom. These records can also be used by anyone who is interested in genealogy. The documents come in all forms. I like to listen to the research outcomes in the form of lectures as the archives come under greater and greater scrutiny. The files are captured in MP3 format. There is obviously a bias towards history and family history in my choices.
This talk marked the ninety eighth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Using documents from The National Archives, James Cronan will take you through the history of the ship, from its construction and launch to its fateful end. James Cronan is a records specialist in diplomatic and colonial records. His interest in all things Titanic stems from the fact that his great-grandfather was a crewman on board the stricken ship. Click Here to listen.
Much has been written about RMS Titanic, but this has tended to concentrate on the ship and its passengers. Using sources such as crew lists, local newspapers, Titanic Fund minute books and the newly released 1911 census, this talk traces the lives of a crewmen and his family and seeks to answer the question: What was life like for families in Southampton in the aftermath of the tragedy? Click Here to listen.
On 17 June 1940, HMT Lancastria was sunk by a German bomber while evacuating troops from St Nazaire; over 9,000 troops were packed on board. This talk attempts to explain why so many who were lost will never be accounted for. Click Here to listen.
An overview of the essential finding aids and documents held by The National Archives which can be used to trace ancestors who served in Nelson's Navy. Click Here to listen.

Saturday 15 February 2014

Cam Con

I see that the problems down at the Cam Conservators continue a pace. Malcolm Schofield, one of 13 Conservators on the Board, has attacked the Conservators on the way they run the river and particularly causing the resignation of River Manager Dr Philippa Noon, who has held the position since 2006.  She has just handed in her resignation, with her office in such condition she is unable to work late due to health and safety reasons.

I recently did a bit of research on visitor numbers to the inland waterways. One of the contacts I made was with Philipa Noon of the Cam Conservators. I had made a freedom of information request looking for information on visitor numbers. Within four days I received an extensive and very helpful reply from Dr Noon.

My questions were: Could you supply annual visitor numbers to the inland waterways managed by the conservators. If possible can you provide figures for the number of individuals and a figure for total number of visits. If you collect data on visitor numbers. Could you also provide a description of the methodology that you use to collect the data.

Dr Noon gave a very comprehensive and refreshing reply. One which would be an ideal example for other waterways authorities to adopt.  Doctor Noon's comments included: 'I should say that the unpopularity of the current licensing arrangements has significantly reduced the number of visiting craft since 2011. I estimate the reduction may be as much as 50% although we have not undertaken a formal analysis of boat observations.'

For anyone intrested the full FoI request can be viewed here.

I imagine that the Conservators have now lost someone who was obviously a very valuable and commited member of staff.  I wish Dr Noon well for the future.

Friday 14 February 2014

Seaweed fuel source

Could seaweed replace fossil fuels as our primary fuel source?

Seaweed is a common, seemingly inexhaustible resource may be an answer to the impending decline in fossil fuel supplies. A report published in the journal 'Science' details how a team at the Bio Architecture Lab in Berkeley, California, modified the common gut bacteria E. Coli to breakdown seaweed and produce ethanol.

The potential of this untapped energy source is considerable. The United Kingdom, coastline, is in a good position to develop seaweed as a low-carbon fuel alternative. What makes seaweed special, is that when compare to land grown biofuels such as corn, sugar cane or palm oil it can produce up to four times as much ethanol per unit. 

More than anything else, it will  create an alternative crop to those grown in tropical regions where slash and burn of the forest is rife. Just to create sterile monoculture crops to the detriment of the forest animals. Because the crop will be easier and cheaper to process. The debate over ‘food-versus-fuel’ debate, will be rendered irelevant.

In a curious change of direction away from the more usual habitat destruction. Large scale seaweed farming could have a significant positive effect upon costal habitat creation.

Yong-Su Jin of the Institute for Genomic Biology has identified the use of arable land to produce biofuel as a cause of skyrocketing food prices and of extensive environmental damage. He said "We still face a technical gap for large-scale cultivation. Costs would have to come down before this process could become commercially competitive with ordinary fossil fuels. Though economies of scale should kick in as the scale of production ramps up."

Another factor to consider is how best to ensure a proper ecological balance in areas that could contain large-scale seaweed farming. However, if pilot projects already underway in the U.K. and in development off the coast of Chile prove successful, seaweed could well be a much needed stepping stone toward a multi-sourced sustainable energy economy.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Old Newspaper Stories.

I have a new hobby, its reading old newspapers. That's not the chip paper that is full of crap that are published today. Its newspapers that are at least a hundred years old. Its amazing the number of interesting stories that can be found. Some of the old stories are boat related. I have one that I will be publishing on my blog about a boating disaster on the River Yare. Another involves children coming into contact with a large Pike. Old newspapers offer insight into our history and events as they were unfolding at that time. In the past, the only way to get hold of an old newspaper was at your local library where the back issues might have been preserved. The Internet has now made finding digitised copies of old newspapers much easier to find. More than anything else the letters page shines a light on how the public perception on any issue stands. We are all aware of cyclists on the towpath velodrome and the 'two tings' load of baloney that British Waterways and CaRT asked cyclist to adopt to stop accidents. 

The Etiquette of Bicycling from The London Daily News’ in August 1887.

Sir your correspondent "Shanks's Mare" appears to have been peculiarly unfortunate in his experience of cyclist. I have been a cyclist now for for some fifteen years, and have not discovered. any "growing taste" for the sport of startling old ladies by suddenly springing the bell upon them. I very much doubt whether such practise ever existed to any such extent as to warrant its inclusion in the category of recognised sports. Nor, in fact, can I call to mind any single instance in which I have witnessed this objectionable proceeding. The instinct of self preservation (to put the matter on no higher ground) is strong, and a cyclist, such as is here described, would not travel very long before he would find retribution overtake him. The difficulty, as every cyclist knows is to get some pedestrians to take notice of the warning bell or horn in narrow thoroughfares. On several occasions after ringing my bell and slackening the very moderate speed I indulge in. I have been asked in angry tones "why I could not ring my bell" although but a moment before some other person had sarcastically complimented we upon the "pretty music" I had been indulging in. "Shanks's  Mare" appears to combine the peculiarities of the two classes of pedestrians I have described (both of whom, by the way, invariably prefer the carriage-way to the footpaths), for in another part of his letter he positively accuses us of a great deal of unnecessary excessive bell and horn blowing. I maintain that to prove a case against cyclists, it is necessary to show that in proportion to their number cyclists are the cause of a greater number of accidents than the drivers of vehicles drawn by horses. Now, this is notoriously not the case. I have not the figures by me, but I believe that over 400 persons a year, or more than one person a day, are run over on the streets of London. How many of these accidents are caused by cycles yet its certain that cycles form an appreciable proportion to the total number of wheeled conveyances, for the Cyclists' Touring Club alone has over '22,000 members. 
Yours very obediently. F. M. Thomas, National Liberal Club, August 31.

Sir, Although I have been a bicycle rider myself and am much interested in the sport and pastime of bicycle riding. I can not refrain from joining my protest with that of your other correspondent against the selfish and in some cases dangerous practices indulged in by many thoughtless young men when mounted on the glorious wheel. In addition to the methods of startling nervous pedestrians already mentioned. practice prevails of endeavouring to ride closely as possible to a person whom it is necessary to pass on the road. Upon many occasions I have seen ladies greatly alarmed in this way and when other vehicles are near it might only too readily prove a greater source of danger. Whilst condemning the practice in bicyclist. It is right to state that drivers of horses attached to vehicles are by no means free from blame for precisely similar conduct. 
I am, W.T.A. Beare.
Some things never change.... 


Wednesday 12 February 2014

Boat Stuff (2)

There are a very large number of books that have been written about all aspects of boats on the inland waterways. The thing that started me creating a list of hints and tips about narrowboats was that every few days I seem to learn something new.

In Boat Stuff  (1) we looked at establishing how low in the water the bottom or keel of your boat is. Placing a mark on the boat shaft equal to the draft of the lowest point.

We all know that operating a lock is something that needs a great deal of care. You can't allow yourself to lose your concentration even for a moment. It is important to understand how locks work. It's also important to have a ready plan of action in place if for any reason something does go wrong.

There are occasions when the water level between locks can be low. Low water levels can be caused by leakage in lock gates. As gates get older, wear and tear will cause them to leak water. Eventually the lock gates will be replaced. However, leakage through lock gates can create additional problems that you need to be aware of.

Typically when going up in a lock we have to be aware that the front or back of a boat can snag on worn or damaged gates. We need to be aware that water leaking through a lock gate can cause flooding on the front deck.
Typically when going down in a lock. The cill presents the biggest danger. Its possible for the skeg and or rudder to become snagged on the cill. As the water level continues to fall the front of bow of the boat can be forced below the water surface. This will flood the boat in a few seconds. 

There is a third problem that can occur when going up hill in a lock.  If there are two locks close enough together. Then leakage through a lock can cause the water level in the pound to fall. Then the clearance over the lock cill will be reduced. There is a genuine risk of grounding your boat on the lock cill. Then if the water level continues to fall in the lock the boat is at risk of sinking by the stern.  Measuring the depth of water over the cill from the bow of the boat can help to overcome the problem. (You will have worked out the draft of your boat from boat stuff  number one. ) Measure the depth of water with your boat shaft. If the water is below the mark on the boat shaft. Its not safe to continue.

If you find yourself in this dangerous predicament. You will need to flush water down from the lock above. This will bring up the level of water in the lock and pound above. When the boat floats move backwards into the lock. Don't waste valuable time pushing and pulling the boat. Go immediatly to the lock above and flush some water down.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Making a complaint.

If you are about to embark upon dealing with Canal and River Trust and their complaints procedure. Here are a few notes and observations for guidance. Like all large institutions the Canal and River Trust has a complaints procedure. It is a formal set of rules that governs how complaints are dealt with. However, I am minded that there are no checksums or balances to ensure a fair and equitable outcome. You might find on reflection that the scales are heavily weighted in one direction.

Like most rules it is up to whoever makes the complaint to ensure that the complaint is dealt with in the appropriate time scales. The Canal and River Trust is well known for being tardy in dealing with issues. Its only fair on you and the trust if the complainant ensures that the escalation to the various levels is done in a timely way.

What is a complaint. A complain is anything that you feel aggrieved about and is within the remit of the Canal and River Trust. Most important of all it's about how you 'feel' about the issue. Keep you complaint succinct and to the point. Only cover the issue in question. The next important step is to keep a log of you communications. As well as recording the time and date, record names and print out a copy of all correspondence.

The next section has been taken from the Canal and River Trust Website. My comments on each section are contained in italics.

How do I make a complaint?

It’s always best if you can let us know straight away as most complaints can be sorted out for you quickly by a member of staff. If it’s not possible to let us know at the time you can contact us by email, in writing or by telephone when it’s more convenient.

I would suggest that where possible you use eMail to serve your complaint. Letters can get lost in the post or misplaced internally even when sent recorded or registered. It would take some time before anyone would become aware that a letter is lost or misplaced. Telephone conversations if not recorded can be summarised in a way that you later find you do not agree with. The spirit and nature of your complaint might be lost in translation. My prefered method would be to email the complaint and if an acknowledgement is not forthcoming within 24 hours. I would submit the email again and follow this up with a phone call.

Sending a direct email to a member of staff of the Canal and River Trust and not receiving a reply or even a basic acknowledgement is not unusual, in fact it seems to be quite normal. The person dealing with your email may be very busy and it could have slipped their mind. I have heard many people say things like "I have been in touch with Joe Blogs and did not get a response. The problem here it that Joe Blogs may not realise you want a response and that as far as he or she knows the email is for information only. The correct email address to submit a complaint is:- The telephone number for follow up is 0303 040 4040

First Level

Initially your complaint will be investigated by one of our senior managers. They will have overall responsibility for the area of the Trust which your complaint relates to. For example, if your complaint relates to the maintenance of a section of towpath it will be investigated by the local waterway manager.

We will always acknowledge your complaint within five working days and do everything we can to resolve it within 15 working days of our acknowledgement. If, for some reason, this is not possible we will explain why and let you know when you can expect to receive a response.

From the above, you will note that there are two time scales published. Five days to acknowledge receipt of your complaint. That is a reasonable time frame when dealing with a complaint in writing. However, electronic mail should be almost instantaneous. A telephone call would be an instant acknowledgement in its own right.

The fifteen days to resolution is in the real world a best case scenario. Therefore the fifteen days should be the trigger point to consider moving the complaint to stage two. The longer any complaint is allowed to drag on the more ill feeling will fester. A speedy resolution is in the best interests of everyone.

Second Level

If we are unable to resolve your complaint you can ask us to review it at the second level. At this stage a senior manager or director without responsibility for the area of your complaint will investigate your concerns. This ensures that we take a fresh look at matters.

This is an issue that causes concern for people pursuing a complaint against the Trust. Is the employee of the trust who is chosen to deal with the issue going to be truly independent. Is one manager going to override the decisions of another manager. Many people will be understandably sceptical of this part of the resolution to an issue. As a complainant we have no knowledge of friendships and affiliations between trust employees. Could an employee be worried about their actions being a bar on future career progression. Is it actually fair on both the complainant and the employee.

You can ask us to do this for you by email or in writing to Kelly Radley, Internal Communications & Customer Services Manager, at our head office.

Again, we will acknowledge your complaint within five working days and do everything we can to resolve it within 15 working days of our acknowledgement. If, for some reason, this is not possible we will explain why and let you know when you can expect to receive a response.

From the above, you will note that once again there are two time scales published. Five days to acknowledge receipt of your complaint. That is a reasonable time frame when dealing with a complaint in writing. However, electronic mail should be almost instantaneous. A telephone call is not an option in stage two in this instance.

The fifteen days to resolution is in the real issue. Therefore the fifteen days should be the trigger point to consider moving the complaint to stage three. A speedy resolution is in the best interests of everyone.

Waterways Ombudsman
It might be that you still feel we have not fully resolved your complaint after receiving both first and second level responses. If this is the case then you can ask the Waterways Ombudsman to consider your complaint.
The Waterways Ombudsman is entirely impartial and independent and can consider complaints about injustice caused to you by maladministration or unfairness by the Trust or its subsidiaries (including BWML – British Waterways Marinas Limited). More information and details on how to contact the Waterways Ombudsman can be found on this website.

First of all, lets be absolutely clear, the Ombudsman is not your friend and neither should you ever for a moment consider that the Ombudsman will champion your cause. You should before referring an issue to the Ombudsman not have any expectation that a fair and equitable outcome will be found. The Ombudsman does not seek, gather or weigh any evidence or put any store in independent corroboration of the issue being complained about. 
In some recent correspondence on a complaint that I have been privy to. The ombudsman clearly states that he works on intuition. Wiki defines intuition as: "Acquiring beliefs in ways that bypass ordinary justification." In other words guess work, so you might just as well spin a coin to get an outcome.When the complainant realised how the complaint was being handled by the Ombudsman. The complainant withdrew the application. The complainant then sought to resolve the issue by other means. The complainant was successful and the matter was resolved. Had the issue been left with the Ombudsman or in the Canal and River Trust complaints system. Justice would not have been served.

This then begs the question is the Canal and River Trust complaints procedure fit for purpose. I would suggest that whilst there is no truly independent and conducted without fear or favour element in the investigation of complaints. Then the process will continue to be flawed. Whilst there is no truly independent investigation of issues the system will remain flawed. Essentially CaRT remains as master, judge and jury in many instances.

Whilst I was preparing the script, I was asked by a friend who picked up the bills for the running of the Waterways Ombudsman. I said that had no idea. He pointed me to a document on the Ombudsman web site.

British Waterways shall pay all proper costs of the Scheme, including the Waterways Ombudsman’s fees (or other remuneration) and expenses; all costs of publicising the Scheme; and all reasonable expenses and costs of the Committee.

My friend then made a wonderful and very entertaining remark. He said "Remember whoever pays for the meal always gets to choose the wine." A very sage observation.

Monday 10 February 2014

The Story of Bent's Green Lodge. (4)

Continued from part three. This article was lifted from the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. Dated 3rd March 1866



The following story is perfectly true. Bent's Green Lodge, near Ecclesall, formerly the public-house which was the scene of the events hereafter to be described, is now (having of course undergone sundry alterations and improvements) the residence of one of the best known and most highly respected of the inhabitants of Sheffield. Mr. Albert Smith. It was Mr. Smith's father, the Rev. George Smith, who, along with "Justice Wilkinson," the well known Vicar of Sheffield, received the dying confession of the unhappy murderer.

The appearance of desolation long prevailed. The signpost had fallen, the garden was a wilderness, the doors and fences were in ruin, green mow crept over the damp stone walls and grew luxuriantly on the crest of the house of Athol, which is the entrance. All around revived the memory of this sad story, and stamped upon the melancholy scene a character like that placed on the brow of the first murderer. 

It only remains to add that when the house did become again inhabited as a private residence, there were various traditions afloat arising out of the hold the tragedy there enacted had taken on the popular imagination It remained for the present owner of the house utterly to rout the ghost of Anak, which was said to have taken possession of one of the cellars. This was effected by very simple means the construction of a good drain. It my not be uninteresting if we give some account A the persons mentioned in the above tale, by way of calling to remembrance some of Sheffield's departed

The Rev. George Smith, M.A., was, as we have said, was the father of Mr. Albert Smith. He was one of the assistant ministers at the Parish Church, and curate of Eccleshall. Of him Hunter says. With the rational piety of divines of the old school in the English Church, he joined the zeal and ardour which distinguishes the members of the new. While his parishioners were edified instructed, and delighted by his public preaching his devout administration of the ordinances of the Church they found in him one who was ever ready to attend their private calls, and to assist them in every possible way with his advice and services. In his domestic relations he was most truly amiable, and his friends and acquaintance have long to regret the lively, and cheerful companion. Mr. Smith 1817, aged 53. 

Rev. James Wilkinson, M.A. of Broomhall, better known among his contemporaries as Justice Wilkinson, was in his time the most conspicuous and important man in the town. The position he held as Justice of the Peace contributed, perhaps, more to this, than the fact that he was vicar. He held the vicarage for fifty years, and his death, in 1805, was, says Hunter, "considered the greatest public loss the town  of Sheffield had been known to sustain, and all were inclined to hail him Father of the town of Sheffield and its neighbourhood.' To the influence arising from his office, were added the influence which the possession of magistracy gives; the influence of a noble income and of hereditary respect for he was the representative of the family of Jessops, of Broomhall, and resided in the house of his forefathers; and the influence of the most gentlemanly address, combined with a tall and graceful person, which could not fail of commanding respect.

There are not a few curious and characteristic stories concerning Mr. Wilkinson still current. He was a noted boxer, and it is recorded that on one occasion when a "bread riot" was taking place, the vicar was seen mowing his way through the crowd with his arms until he came to the stalwart ringleader, whom he collared and lodged securely in gaol. But a better anecdote as to his boxing power is this: At a public dinner one day, he received a message that two gentlemen wished to see him. Going out of the room, he found that they were professional boxers (from London, we believe) who, well knowing his fame, had travelled hither to put on the gloves with him. They begged as a special favour that he would gratify them in ths, and he consented to do so, relinquishing his dinner for the purpose. To make the story complete, we ought; to be able to add how thoroughly the Justice vanquished his opponents, but unfortunately history is silent on the remit of the encounter. Anecdotes relating to Mr. Wilkinson's magisterial duties are rather numerous. Being called upon on one occasion to arbitrate between a quarrelsome couple, husband and wife he ordered that they should be locked up together until they could agree. The discipline proved efficacious for after a show of obstinacy the refractory couple came to terms and announced their contrition by knocking against the walls as had been arranged. A lady who had quarrelled with one of her servants was. on complaint of the domestic, required to appear before; the Justice. She refused to go before "Old Niddlety Nod" (referring to an infirmity he had, caused by paralysis), and had to be fetched by a constable. Mr. Wilkinson, told of the name she had applied to him, treated the matter good-humouredly, and adopting the nick-name said, "You refused to come before old Niddlety Nod,' but you are before him now, and old Niddlety Nod' orders you to pay the servant her wages and the costs of the court.

A little girl in the street was incited by a mischievous fellow to go up to a gentleman walking along, and to say:-

They burnt his books,
and scared his rooks, 
and set his stacks on fire.

Alluding, of course, to the attack of rioters on Broomhall. The child innocently went in front of the gentleman and bobbing a curtsey lisped out the doggerel. What, my dear said the Justice. The child repeated the lines. Yes, my dear, said he, come along with me. And leading her by the hand he took her to the stocks and there incarcerated her, to her great distress. We can only hope that he did not keep the child, who thus suffered for another's fault, very long in that unhappy position. 

Mrs. Hofland, the author of the tale, was born in Sheffield in the year 1770, and was the daughter of a manufacturer named Wreaks. She became Mrs. T. B. Hoole but her husband died when they had been married about two year.. Her career as an authoress commenced with the publication of a volume of poems, by Barbara Hoole, issued for the purpose of enabling her to maintain herself and her son. It was published by subscription and was (pecuniary) very successful After the death of her husband Mrs. Hoole went to live at Harrogate, and there, when she had been a widow some ten years, she met with Mr. Hofland, an artist of great promise. After their marriage they resided in London. The union was not altogether a happy one. Mrs. Hofland contributed to their slender resources by the incessant use of her pen, and wrote a large number of tales, some of which attained to great popularity, though they have now passed somewhat out of date. She died at Richmond, November 9th, 1844, having survived her second husband. A tablet erected in Richmond Church records that "She endeavoured with Christian humility to recommend by her example the lessons inculcated by her writings.

Lord John Murray, of the house of Athol, came into possession of Banner Cross through his marriage with Mary Dalton, heiress of the family of Brights of that place. He spent much of his time there. The present house was built by Lieutenant-General Fox-Lowe who had assumed the name of Murray when he married the last of the descendants of the Brights, the daughter of Lord John, but he died before the work was finished. 

The End.