Tuesday 31 March 2015

CaRT's Soviet Ten Year Plan

There is a belief that living aboard a boat can provide a close approximation to an aspirational and idyllic style of life. But like many things viewed from a distance – when you get in close, you come to realise that idyllic is not the right word.

Hopes and Aspirations
Though to be fair, many people still harbour their hopes and aspirations for the future of the inland waterways. I even count myself amongst their number. However, in the current financial and political climate, the state of the inland waterways will test the resolve of every boat owner over the next few years. As the years tick off the government funding clock. We only need to look at the performance of the Waterways Partnerships. Which were the flagship of the 'new regime' have failed miserably to even cover their own costs. This does not bode well as an experiment. Neither does it bode well as being a fully fledged funding stream by the start of the current year.

Living your life on a boat is not for everyone, especially if you want to enjoy a cosseted life. One that comes with all the creature comforts. However, if you are the sort who would enjoy living in a caravan, then boating on the canals and rivers has much to offer. As you move around, you will make acquaintances and friends. Though you may only meet up again by chance from time to time in passing. Most of your friendships will be quite loose. If you enjoy solitude or you are quite comfortable with your own company. Then living on a boat can be a nice experience. For some, with the right sort of expectations, a boat can provide a home.

Life on the inland waterways has its own very specific problems, which can be much harder to manage than you might think. The first is that if you wish to lead a sedentary life you will need a mooring. Without a mooring the Canal and River Trust can and will pursue you to keep moving. If you have a mooring the Canal and River Trust will still pursue you to keep moving when away from your mooring. Therefore you are unlikely to be able to stay in one place, while away from your home mooring for long periods. If you have a medical condition or similar issue requiring access to the NHS or other such services a marina mooring is going to be a necessity.

Two Extremes
The environment of the inland waterways has two extremes. The countryside can provide a pleasant vista for those harbouring idyllic pipe dreams. With sunny days, dappled shade and the sounds of the birds. However as seasons change so does the environment. In what was a carpet of flowers in summer can become a soggy morass of mud in another season. The weather will vary and so will the waterway. The best times will therefore by the unpredictable variation in climate change and the nature of the weather, be very short.

The other end of the spectrum can be surprisingly grim. Its not the weather that's the main issue now. Its the way that the waterways are treated by those living alongside the canal. Generally those living on the waterways try to maintain some semblance tidiness. The closer you get to conurbations the greater the change will become. As you leave the countryside and approach a conurbation the very nature of the canal changes. For some people the canal is a place to flytip rubbish. Its been this way for many years. There is an association in the mind of the public of the canal being dirty, dangerous and a dumping ground. The usual marker being a rusting shopping trolley. The idyllic view being enhanced by the gaily coloured plastic bottles and bags. These are amongst the 'friends the trust are seemingly encouraging to use the canals. 

Canal Myopia
I think that boaters are blessed with a form of 'minds eye myopia', especially when it comes to the canal. We can all recall those wonderful idyllic days that we enjoyed in our minds eye. We grumble and then largely forget about the times we have to clear collected rubbish of the boats propeller. We grumble to ourselves about the poor maintenance that creates operational difficulties. Difficulties which tend to add an extra dimension to those short conversations about the weather. That we enjoy when boater meets boater at a lock in passing. The more visible element of the towpath telegraph.

Most of all, if you ask a boater about life on the canal, you will generally get a jaundiced opinion. It will not necessarily be a negative opinion. This is because boaters who spend time or live on the canal accept, all the canals short comings. Accepting the life on the canal, warts and all, because it might be the solitude, that floats their boat so to speak. It might equally be those occasional idyllic days. Most of all, its because of the stoicism in their character. I usually sum this up as “I'm going to enjoy this, even if it kills me” attitude. Which is a much better trait than the much more mythical “stiff upper lip” character. best enjoyed as another heavy downpour, finds the gap betwixt head and shoulder and runs down their back.

Pachyderm Sized Problems
There is the nub of the problem, the general state of play on the canals. Which would not be tolerated in the same way elsewhere. The boat licence is for a year, but for a significant portion of the year, canal locations can be closed for planned maintenance. The poor maintenance means that throughout the cruising season there will be other unplanned closures which might be for just a few days or in the worst cases even a few months. When a lock is closed the whole section of canal is effectively closed. Next year the same canal will be closed again, as yet another lock is closed.

Over a decade of deliberate underspending on maintenance. Which was started by British Waterways and continued by the Canal and River Trust, has brought the situation to a head. presumably the underspend will continue for the foreseeable future. So has the change from a quango into a charity with the same quango mentality, actually brought any benefits. The rhetorical question is certainly a moot point. General acceptance of their lot has changed for many boaters as they have become increasingly sceptical about the future and the direction of the trust. The politics of the waterways has certainly grown in line with the general level of disenchantment.

It will be interesting to cogitate over what's being described already as CaRT's 'Soviet Ten Year Plan'. Nothing to do with massaged figures for maintaining a false claim about tractor production output.  But you can bet austerity will continue for the foreseeable future. The plan is going to be delivered by Richard Parry in April. I can only hope that all the major concerns will be reflected in the commissars plan. However, I suspect that there will be some notable pachyderm sized exceptions. Just like Chancellor Osborne's recent budget ignored the largest elephant in the room, the NHS. I wonder if the Canal and River Trust will ignore the major issues.

I have hopes for an announcement of a real change of heart by the Canal and River Trust. In embracing an open and transparent future. I have hopes for the demise of the Waterways Partnerships which have proved thus far to have the same effectiveness as a chocolate fire-guard in a conflagration. I have hopes for a real plan of action to improve the public's safety from high speed cyclists on the redeveloped canal towpaths. I have hopes for a real financial plan, delivered without the pie in the sky aspirations, setting even more unachievable targets. I have hopes for an improvement in the allocation, pricing and letting of self managed moorings. But most of all, I hope an opportunity will be taken to announce the immediate departure of the lack lustre chairman of the trustees. “Taxi for Hales” But them I am easily satisfied.

Monday 30 March 2015

Freedom of Information Request (2)

I don't know about you - but the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring is confounding and confusing many people. So I decided that first of all I would need to clarify a few things for myself first of all.  This is the second requests that I have submitted as things develop the confusion grows even more.
The problem with emailing directly to the trust is that you can't guarantee to get a reply after the email is passed on internally. At the NABO annual general meeting.  Dean Davis remarked that he was finding it difficult to get people internally within CaRT to realise that customer service and customer expectations also applied to everyone within the trust. So I have decided to submit a second freedom of information request.

I will report back on any developments.

Dear Canal and River Trust.

This freedom of information request is being submitted as a boat licence holder and mooring holder. I have read the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring. However I understand that the guidance is equally applicable to boats with a home mooring.

From my reading of the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring. The Canal and River Trust has not not published, what the trust considers to be a system or methodology by which a boat owner can keep an acceptable record their movements. Such that the records would be unambiguous and in a form that would be perfectly acceptable to the trust.


Notwithstanding the preamble above. To enable me to satisfy myself and yourself that I am fully compliant with the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring.
1) Can you describe a system or methodology whereby a boat owner can record their boat movements that conforms with the requirements that the Canal and River Trust Guidance for boaters without a home mooring. So that the records would be unambiguous and in a form that would be perfectly acceptable to the trust.

2) Can you describe a system or methodology whereby a boat owner can check their individual boat movements against the records held by the Canal and River Trust. So that the records would continue to be unambiguous and in a form that would be perfectly acceptable to the trust.

3) Can you describe a system or methodology whereby a boat owner can correct any errors highlighted in the records of their individual boat movements. When checked against the records held by the Canal and River Trust. So that the records would continue to be unambiguous and in a form that would be perfectly acceptable to the trust.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Smartphone Apps for Boaters (34)

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. However for me There's always a remarkable sub-selection of apps that are totally free. 

The wonderfully named 'Android' phone seems to have cornered the market in the same way that VHS did with tape systems. Android's open source strategy is the main factor for its success. Being a free platform has expanded the Android device install base, which in turn has driven growth in the number of third party multi-platform and mobile operator apps available.
It has been quite a while since I last did a Smartphone Apps for Boaters.

I have come across an amazing little gadget – its called 'Tile'. We all lose or misplace items such as a wallet or keys which are almost impossible to replace without great expense. More than everything else its the not knowing. Do you need to report all your credit cards as lost – and just where are the keys for the car.

Tile is like a car key fob and the tile is water resistant. A spilled drink or a rainy day won't pose a problem. Tile works by using Bluetooth. The Tile fob casts a Bluetooth signal up to 100 feet. You attach Tile to an item such as your keys, you're really tethering the keys to your phone. There is a smartphone Android application that you can use on your smartphone. Which uses Android 4.4 or higher. The app supports up to 8 Tiles, so you don't need to make any hard choices about what you'll Tile and what you won't. The best bit is – the Tile app installed on any phone helps find your Tile, so your search range is potentially limitless.

The Tile doesn't have GPS built in, however the app does automatically record the last place your phone saw your Tile. Because if you have to retrace your steps, it's good to know where to start from. As you begin searching for a lost item, your phone tracks the Bluetooth signal strength of your Tile. As you get closer, the app's tracking system provides a clear indication of your progress. As the Bluetooth signal draws you closer, Tile will even play a tune to help you locate your keys.

If your keys are lost and the tile is out of range. Just open up the app and then tap the 'Mark as Lost' button to automatically report your lost Tile. Other applications will report instances of detecting the lost tile. Once your Tile has been found by either by you or another Tile community member, you will be notified of the item's location.

Every Tile is built to be lost in the most unforgiving of places. So while they're small, they're also made from durable materials and designed to withstand the environment. The quality components in your Tile will run for a year with zero upkeep. No batteries, no charging, no anything. After a year, you can recycle your old Tiles and replace them with the latest model.

Saturday 28 March 2015

CaRT Council Elections.

I am of the mind that its never to early to plan for the next round of CaRT elections. It's also time to learn from the past and find 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 and get elected four 'independent' individual boaters.  

However, one of the issues that was not immediately evident at the time of the previous election. Was the hijacking by the IWA of the vacancies. The issue only became something of a concern in the discussion after the election was concluded. The problem that was forefront in the mind of the electorate was that the 'Canal World Forum' were pitching two of their own 'unofficial' candidates. I am now more than ever convinced that because of the poor reputation that precedes the Canal World Forum. It would be best to find suitable fresh faces that come without the baggage created by such alliances.

The individuals deserving of our support in the CaRT council elections will need to be of good standing within the wider boating community. They will need to have previous experience in a similar role or bring a broad ranging  knowledge of the Inland Waterways. One of the concerns expressed from the previous election is that those elected have been almost invisible to the majority of the electorate. 

The 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 a minority.

The 'independent' representative will need to be truly independent of all affiliations or be seen as trying to do the same as the IWA with their membership three line whip. Candidates for various offices traditionally only get one chance of standing for election. If they are rejected once by the electorate they are already seen as rejects in the mind of the electorate and will be rejected again in the future. 

New blood is needed.

Friday 27 March 2015

Cycle Petition

Cycles are now playing a bigger part in our everyday lives. Many boaters own a cycle for ease of access along the towpath. However, there is a gradual upward trend for more and more people to cycle to their places of work. We are all encouraged to get our children to cycle to school or just for exercise and pleasure. This in itself is a good thing and should be welcomed and encouraged. However, cyclists frequently come into conflict with pedestrians when the cycle is being ridden along the pavement. Cyclists can come into conflict with other vehicles when used on the roads.  So for their own safety, its not uncommon to find cyclists riding on the pavement. Cyclists who ride on the footway ‘pavement’ is not the technically correct term are unequivically breaking the law. Bicycles are, in law, carriages (Taylor v Goodwin judgement from way back in 1879) and should be on the road not on the footway.

One issue for everyone is that cyclists who use the roads, footpaths or other public land do not have a requirement to have any third party liability insurance. In the case of an accident involving a cyclist, there can be expensive medical and property damage
claims as well as litigation costs. Yet, at the same time there is third party insurance for cyclists widely available. It can be used to provide cover in defending a claim and any resulting damages that may be awarded. 

Most cyclists with insurance cover, choose to indemnify themselves through inexpensive cover available through cycling organisations. The organisations negotiate the best deals which could include all family cover and pass on the savings to their members. Third Party liability should not be an option for cyclists, but should be a requirement.

An Association of British Insurers spokesman said: 'If you are a cyclist and you are involved in an accident the chance of you being injured are quite high. Some 230 cyclists a month are killed or seriously injured on the roads so there is a good chance you are going to be off work for weeks, if not months, so some sort of insurance to cover you for loss of income makes sense. Many people make the assumption that their home contents insurance policy will provide them with public liability cover if a claim is brought against you in the event of an accident.'
The Association of British Insurers also said "Even if you do have public liability cover with your home contents insurance policy. You should check with your insurance provider to see if your particular policy covers cycling accidents and who is covered by the policy, which may be the policy holder only and not all members of the family.'

A second issue is that cyclists do not need to have any form of awareness or basic riding skills training before venturing onto the roads. Motorcyclist for instance have complete a simple one day course of instruction 'Compulsory Bike Training' which helps all new riders to recognise danger and to use and practice certain basic road skills. There is even a National Standard for Cycle Training. However, it is a programme which is only voluntary. It is approved by the Department for Transport, RoSPA, Road Safety GB, British Cycling, CTC, Sustrans and Cycling England. 
Basic riding skills should not be an option, but should be a requirement.

107 cyclists were killed on our roads in 2011. A further 3,085 cyclists were seriously injured, the greatest number this century. Cycle training is an excellent way to improve basic skills and to inspire confidence. Many councils offer access to free or subsidised training. While the National Cyclists' Organisation such as CTC also offer access to the National Standards for cycle training and bike-ability tests.
The third and last issue is that there is no instant identification system for cycles ownership.  A simple identification plate could be displayed in a prominent position which would allow easier recognition and foster a climate of better behaviour. It would allow the police to more easily identify stolen cycles as well as identify and confiscate cycles that are being ridden in an irresponsible way. An additional action would be to allow police to require cycles be maintained to a satisfactory level. Cycle identification should not be an option, but should be a requirement.

MS Money discovered that 27% of cyclists have had at least one bicycle stolen in the last two years. With the average bike valued at £240, they are instant cash on wheels for bike thieves.
These three requirements would help to encourage road safety and awareness, responsible cycle riding and help to establish ownership of a cycle. They would also go some way towards ensuring that cycles are maintained in a road worthy condition. 

ABI spokesman said: 'If you are a cyclist and you are involved in an accident the chance of you being injured are quite high. Some 230 cyclists a month are killed or seriously injured on the roads so there is a good chance you are going to be off work for weeks, if not months, so some sort of insurance to cover you for loss of income makes sense.'

It's the same with the Inland Waterway towpaths or to use the new name that's being bandied about the 'Greenway' and The canal and River Trust greenway code for cyclists. 'A much better description for the upgraded towpath would be urban clearway, where wheeled traffic is not expected to stop.' In many places the towpath is in the process of being upgraded, but rather than what has happened where available space allowed on the public roads. No separate cycle lane is being created. 

Unsurprisingly as a result, the new surface is allowing cycle speeds to increase dramatically. At the same time people of all ages are being encouraged onto the canals as a leisure activity. The members of the public are expected to take their lives into their own hands and share that same space. In a Kafkaesque twist of logic, cyclists are not allowed onto the high speed motorways but the reverse is happening on the towpath. Families with dogs and young children are expected to walk along, a specially prepared, high speed cycle clearway. This is a recipe for disaster - and the trust are well aware of the situation and seem to have abrogated themselves from responsibility for setting reasonable and appropriate set of rules.  

What is being done to mitigate the dramatic upswing in risk. The trust does not even see a need for cycles to have a set maximum speed. Cyclists can with impunity ride at high speed along the towpath. Public parks and other shared spaces around the country do have speed limitations in place. Yet the inland waterways which are a linear park. There is no requirement to even have a bell or other warning device fitted, which is symptomatic of the laissez-faire attitude towards public and boater safety.

There is a petition to the Trust asking then to look at curbing the speed of cycles on the towpath. Click Here

Thursday 26 March 2015

Is the CaRT fit for purpose.

Some people will know that a press release from the NBTA (National Bargee Travellers Association) has highlighted a court judgement that throws some doubt on the 'Guidelines for a boat without a home mooring'. Which begs the question is the CaRT fit for purpose or have the wheels fallen off.

As they say NarrowBoat World 'do not make a habit of running polls, in fact this is the first this year.' but we believe that Canal and River Trust, now firmly established and under a new leader should be told what boaters think of the way it is operating hence the poll. 

It is a very simple one, but we feel will give the Trust a very good idea of what boaters think of its operation. We do not include 'Don't know' in our polls, as we do not see the point, as all that is needed is that boaters register if they believe the Trust is fit for purpose or not.

To access the poll - Click Here


Wednesday 25 March 2015

India a personal view.

I have had a few memorable trips to India. There is no better place to see the sights and to enjoy the sounds and bustle of India, than to make a visit to the market. Though sometimes the 'market aroma' can be just a little bit overpowering for our European sense of smell. 

More than anything else its the people. I have found the Indians to be very friendly and welcoming - which is a surprise considering our attitude towards these wonderful people prior to gaining independence in 1947 from British rule.

You can get everything and anything in an Indian market. I like to think that you can also get things, you never knew you wanted as well. 

Colours that would look garish and out of place in our European light. Are used in mixtures that to our European tastes would seem to be unnatural. But when used together in India, they actually reflect the real vibrant and colourful side of India.

The monsoon every year ensures that India is very fertile place. On a visit to a market you soon find that fruit, herbs, spices and flowers are everywhere. The other thing is that very little goes to waste in India. Everything seems to be repaired and reused several times before its eventually discarded. 

One man's throwaway is another man's treasure. I purchased a new pair of shoes, because my ancient (but very comfortable) trainers had seen much better days. I put on my new shoes and threw the old pair in a nearby bin. The next day, I saw my old trainers on the feet of a man in a working party repairing a nearby road. 
Today we have turned a new corner in remembering Gandhi. With the unveiling in London of a bronze statue in parliament square. intended to acknowledge the peaceful protest that Gandhi organised. A peaceful, peoples, protest that overcame the British forces and the British government of the day.

This simple man, who changed the world for the better. Is still revered in India today. There are many statues to Gandhi to be found. I like this one, which I photographed in Panaji, Which is pronounced as Panjim by the locals.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Mapping English

If you have a bit of time to spare and have a passing interest in English. Then have a look at this very interesting website. Through the use of maps the development and spread of the English language are traced.

English is the language of Shakespeare and the language of Chaucer. It's spoken in dozens of countries around the world, from the United States to a tiny island named Tristan da Cunha. It reflects the influences of centuries of international exchange, including conquest and colonization, from the Vikings through the 21st century. There are 25 maps and charts that explain how English got started and how it has evolved into the differently accented languages spoken today. 

Monday 23 March 2015

Sitting with Nelly

In (symptom of a much larger malaise) Bill Ridgeway put his finger on the nub of one problem. Certainly when it comes to inexperienced new graduates. Who can talk the talk, but unfortunately can't walk he walk. This is because they are still finding their feet. But they are sharp enough to watch their line managers and learn from their examples good or bad. Writes Mick Fitzgibbons.

Sitting with Nelly.
We used to call this management technique 'Sitting with Nelly'. A pejorative term used because while it was intended to flatten the learning curve, by working alongside someone else. It is really a term used to describe poor-quality learning experience about how to do the job by observing someone who has been doing the job for years. Its not planned or systematic, but instead is haphazard and variable. Although the junior might glean much of Nellie's expertise, he or she will also pick up all of her bad habits.

But sometimes learning from Nelly is achieved through a form of passive work shadowing, as an unintended consequence. This happens when a new member of staff take their queues for approval from their 'Quango mentality' manager. We called that 'Monkey see – Monkey do'. This pejorative term refers to learning which is achieved without a basic understanding of why. Its an act of mimicry, usually carried out with limited knowledge and is delivered with no concern whatsoever for the consequences.

A cull in staff numbers
Old habits die hard and they can persevere for much longer when they are spread through the simple continuation of a bad example. So the responsibility can't be laid at the door of the new graduates. Who are after all, short of experience and knowledge. Its not their fault that they have not worked their way up through the ranks. Much of the hands on experience was abandoned as worthless with the cull in staff numbers. Unfortunately, the cull never reached the right level. The management ethos and style cascades down from the top and when led by poor example its difficult to get rid of. Like bad publicity that hangs around much longer than good news. So it is with poor attitudes that are passed on to be experienced or perceived by Joe Public.

For years BW's attitudes to boaters were at best dismissive. These attitudes had been tuned and honed over many years. In their lies the problem, its endemic and engrained. Though we have seen the steady haemorrhage of the old guard over the last year or so. We are still left with 'Sitting with Nelly and Monkey see – Monkey do. There is still the quango dinosaur mentality in the ranks of the trustees. It's time for the dinosaurs to be culled and to become extinct once and for all.

Sunday 22 March 2015

Philistines Guide to Nature (2)

The Philistines Guide are a series of occasional postings giving my sometimes jaundiced view on the many different issues of the day. Usually humorous, retold with the candour of a type that is typical of a 'Lad from Yorkshire'

Continued from the Philistines Guide to Nature (1)

Things have changed once again. Man is now messing with mother nature on a global scale. He has been doing this for the last 10,000 years, certainly since the last ice age. When he turned away from a nomadic life as a hunter gatherer. (which would have made him inclusive with nature) Now he started to compete with nature as a farmer. The rest as they say is in our recent history.

The growth of populations around the world is putting increasing amounts of pressure on ever dwindling resources. However, nature has a way of dealing with such things. Mother nature started making the changes to control populations hundreds of years ago.  And once again, we then and are still now unwittingly helping mother nature to find herself a solution.

Pandemics are nothing new and some species have disappeared completely from the earth,  believed to be as a result of a specific disease. Pandemics have already targeted the human species. The Black Death pathogen was one such human pandemic. Culminating in the deaths of an estimated 200 million people from an estimated population of 450 million. Recent research is pointing to a figure of half the European population dying during a four-year period. The plague is believed to be as a result of early trade around the world. The black death is thought to have originated in Asia. Where is was possibly carried along the silk road. Later the pathogen evolved and was hosted by fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships. Whole towns and villages were decimated in Britain and the ghost outlines are well documented. Sometime we see the odd church building stood in the middle of nowhere in the countryside. Often the church is the marker for such places. It took well over a hundred years for the population numbers to recover.

There have been other large pandemics which have swept through whole countries and continents. In some cases the pandemics have reduced the world population significantly. A more recent one was the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, which occurred in three distinct waves. Which spread quickly due to modern for the time transport. Killing in total an estimated 100 million people around the world. However, Influenza was nothing new - it was a well known condition - one that recovery from was the normal outcome. Relatively few people died from the small outbreaks of what was called seasonal influenza. However, mother nature had been at work This new and much deadlier flu strain acted very strangely. It seemed to target the young and healthy proving to be particularly deadly in the twenty to thirty five age group. This deadly strain of influenza spread quickly around the world. Infecting hundreds of millions of people and killing upwards of 5 percent of the world's population. The number of bodies from the victims of the Spanish flu quickly out paced available resources to deal with them. Morgues were forced to stack bodies, there weren't enough coffins for all the bodies. Neither were there enough people to dig individual graves. In many places, mass graves were dug to free the towns and cities of the masses of rotting corpses.

But even the nature of pandemics is changing - HIV has a long incubation period before becoming - full blown aids, which is a global pandemic. Approximately 35 million people are living with HIV globally. Of these, approximately 17 million are men, 16 million are women and 3 million are less than 15 years old. There were about 1.8 million deaths from AIDS in 2010, down from 2.2 million in 2005. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region most affected. In 2010, an estimated 68% or 22 million of all HIV cases and 66% of all deaths exceeding 1 million occurred in Africa. This means that about 5% of the adult population in this area is infected. Here, in contrast to other regions, women compose nearly 60% of cases. South Africa has the largest population of people with HIV of any country in the world, at 6 million. Now mother nature is preparing a new pandemic with a much shorted incubation period - Ebola is hitting the news. Extreme measures have to be taken to stop infection and the mortality rate is huge by comparison with many other pandemics.

 Continued in the Philistines Guide to Nature (3)

Saturday 21 March 2015

Mysterious Island

This is a photograph of a 'Mysterious Island'. Taken many years ago, in a distant place that time seemed to have forgotten. Well maybe I'm being a bit over melodramatic with the text. The image was captured on the Trent and Mersey canal – which I know some boaters might agree in places looks like a land that time forgot. 

Words can be used to set the scene and images can be used to add the fine detail and to deepen the mystery further. Short of adding the background sound effects of crickets chirping and the howls of some animal in the distance – so the words will have to do.

However, the image I posted is not quite what it would seem to be at first sight. In photography, there is no such thing as a bad image. The 'black cat photographed in a coal hole' is a good image if what you actually want to portray is 'a black cat in a coal hole'. I have included the original image, which as you can see is quite flat and quite lifeless. However, because mist is a wonderful medium for creating flat light. Plus we are all used to mist being used for dramatic effect, in those mystery films. So mist can also be used to add a bit of an atmosphere of mystery to the end result.

Photography today is much more than just point and press. Its become much more creative through what can be achieved through editing the digital image. So what I did was to load the image into my editor of choice (Corel X6) I then edited the image to 'improve' the look feel and atmosphere. I started by cropping out extraneous bits in the image, which the let me create the impression of a small island surrounded by water. Then I upped the contrast a bit. The mist itself was quite patchy and showed up quite well in the darker reflections of the water. Because of the flat calm, the water was providing a very good mirror and a neutral density filter. However, the final effect was created when I turned the image upside down. VoilĂ !

Friday 20 March 2015

The Philistines Guide to Nature (1)

The Philistines Guide are a series of occasional postings giving my sometimes jaundiced view on the many different issues of the day. Usually humorous, retold with the candour of a type that is typical of a 'Lad from Yorkshire'
Today's topic is nature.
If you search for a definition of nature. You will find that like nature there are a myriad of differing definitions. Nature is unconstrained and whenever you try to define something that is unconstrained. Its a rule of nature that you are bound to fail. However, (there is always a 'however' with me, its part of my nature) I like the Merriam-Webster definition:

the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.

Nature has many facets and has been worshipped for millennia as a god - 'the green man' is a typical representation. Nature is often given a female persona of being a 'mother'. I'm not sure that from experience that mother is always the best description. Unless we also include the American derivation of the word! We often just view a pretty flower or some landscape as a wonderful representation of mother nature. But we also have to recognise that nature is not always benign. View a stormy sea and the power of mother nature becomes quite obvious to behold. (thinking about it a bit like my mother when she was wound up) There is also the old anecdote - that nature is red in tooth and claw. Indicating at least a basic understanding of natures unpredictability, unreasoned danger and power, should be given some deference.

As far as man is concerned, we are finite, we have a life and then we are gone. Our life is organised and measured by a ticking clock. Man's lifetime is less than a heartbeat in the lifetime of nature. Mother nature has no such time constraints placed upon her. 

Man has this intrinsic belief that he can over come any thing that nature might have created. So we see the most inappropriate things done. Things that defy common logic and basic understanding, seemingly done just because we can. Take for instance flood water management - nature brings a variable amount of rainfall throughout the year. It falls into a catchment area that can be small or huge in area. Over the millennia nature has carved out rivers and created flood plains. Nature has created natural order. However, when it comes to man. Instead of working with nature, in a sympathetic way. In effect to collaborate with nature to provide the things we want and need. Like small scale hydro electric (renewable) generation on our rivers. We prefer to act in isolation creating an imbalance that nature will ultimately put right. 

So we attempt to contain flood water. So that we can allow the building of houses on flood plains. We effectively set nature a challenge. Then in a rather curious way - unintentionally we help nature to overcome the constraints that we have put in place. A water catchment area is a living breathing thing. On our scale its huge and hard for us to fully comprehend all the intricacy. So with our inbuilt myopia of understanding we make lots of small changes. rain deposits huge amounts of water across the UK every year.

Up on the hills that define the catchment area boarders. We pull up trees and farm the newly available land. To create the farm land we tore up trees which are able to transfer huge amounts of water into the soil. (one bit of research produced a figure which found that trees can soakaway 73%  more water, than short cropped grassland) The grass land is short cropped because we habitually roam sheep up there. Sheep can very quickly compact the soil even further. So when it rains instead of the landscape soaking up the water. Water will find its own level (nature at work again) and it runs down hill along the surface. But the land owner has seen the water forming into pools flooding the grass land. So he excavates drains to help the water run off. The drainage ditches are connected to small streams that normally meander down the hillside.  Even the heather moors fare no better as vast tracts of land are given over to grouse shooting. Heather is periodically burnt back to encourage new growth and the natures natural peat sponge, that takes many thousands of years to form is also damaged and destroyed.

But man (lowland farmer) has also straightened and built up the sides to encourage the water to move down even quicker. He does not want the water to flood onto his land. Small streams join into bigger streams that then meander quietly through the landscape. However, when there is a lot of water on the hillside. Flash flooding occurs, so once more man steps in. He takes out all the remaining meanders and tries to speed up the flow of water into the main river courses.  Along the valley bottom the main river has created rich flat meadow land (known for thousands of years as flood meadows) These were farmed for generations sympathetically as flood meadows. Now we encourage the farmer to change farming methods. By paying them to farm a flood meadow landscape unnaturally. Whenever the flood meadow floods we give him more money as compensation. 

However, the nature of the catchment has been changed by man. Instead of a natural regulated flow, controlled by nature even small downpours can create  flash flooding. The people who built houses on the flood meadow in the flood plain start to complain. In comes man once again. He throws up huge flood banks, in an attempt to control the flow. He takes out any remaining meanders. He even dredges in an attempt to contain an additional but tiny amount of the whole flash flood.  He fails spectacularly time and again because he believes he can beat nature rather than work with nature.

Global warming is changing the weather patterns mainly into longer spells of dry weather. Which are followed by short periods of intense rainfall. Those once in 100 years flood occurrences are beginning to surprise us. Because they are occurring much more frequently. The reaction is to grow the flood defences ever higher and longer. Up on the hills improvements are made to get the extra water off quicker. The cycle continues and the issue is now compounded by rising water levels and sea surges which effectively are bringing more water back in to the estuary and backing up the rivers. The floods grow increasingly higher and over top the defences. The answer is to build them higher.

Continued in  The Philistines Guide to Nature (2)

Thursday 19 March 2015

El Djem or El Jem

I took this photo while on a visit to North Africa. It was before all the recent political motivated 'Arab Spring' uprisings took place. I enjoyed a day return rail journey from Sousse to visit El Djem or El Jem as both spellings seem to be acceptable. El Djem is a small, almost nondescript Arab town, which is located some distance out in the Sahel desert. El Djem however, attracts many thousands of visitors each year. This is because in the third century AD the Romans built a magnificent 'Amphitheatre'.

The El Djem amphitheatre today is like the pyramids in Egypt, included on the UNESCO world heritage list. Most tourists come here just to see the remarkably well preserved 2000 year old remains. You can wander around at will and as well as the remains, you can see graffiti inscribed into the brick work. Some of it dates from around 1600 and is Arabic. However the majority of graffiti is from 1939-45 the period of WWII. When during the north African campaign the town changed hands several times.

I sat for a while just drinking in the atmosphere of the place when a very ethereal event happened. It started with the feint sound of voices singing, which gradually over time got louder and louder. Until eventually a group of German tourists emerged from the underground tunnels and out into the sunshine in the centre of the amphitheatre. As they emerged they were in a line, one behind the other. Each had a hand on the shoulder of the person in front. They were singing 'silent night' a hymn/carol that has connections with the first world war. This year being the 100th anniversary of the 'Great War' makes that memory even more powerful.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Real or faux boaters

There is some good old British clap trap written from time to time. I know its in the run up to a general election and its only what I should come to expect. But I'm on about social media and some of the opinion shared in the various boating forums. Let me give you an example by way of an illustration. An oft tossed out phrase is 'real boaters'. This nonsense is typical of what I am on about. Simply because if there are real boaters then there must be, by direct implication, a second group of unreal or faux boaters. To be honest I've yet to meet either real or faux, but I have met plenty of boaters.

Then there is the 'constant cruiser' denigrated by some, because they feel that such individuals are somehow cheating the system. Cheating because its assumed – wrongfully – that its somehow against the spirit of the waterways not to have a home mooring. Parliament went to great lengths to create and enshrine this 'class' of boater. Despite the deep protestations at the time of the British Waterways Board. Worst of all, this oft used misconception is claimed on the false pretext of a boaters choice of lifestyle.

Turn it on its head and assume – wrongfully – that its somehow against the spirit of the waterways and to be a live aboard you must be a constant cruiser. Therefore there is no need to have residential moorings. Because if you choose to live aboard your boat in a marina – you made your lifestyle choice. It makes no sense either way round. It does however, highlight peoples prejudices – often a prejudice that they would believe they do not to hold. In a demonstration of logic that rivals Lilliput and the absurdity of which end of an egg should be opened. The same mantra is trotted out time and again. 

We have cruising rings that people like to enjoy and could choose to go round again and again. And much of the waterways are linear with the waterway utilising a single entry and exit point. We don't mind people with a home mooring going up and down the same length of canal, or round and round the same ring. So why should we object to anyone doing the same thing whether the have a home mooring or not. After all, when out on the cut we are all cruising.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Mantra -v- Ethic

I like to think that the Inland Waterways are not only for the boater but for people with a genuine interest in the inland waterways. Whether its watching boats, fishing, cruising, volunteering or just walking the banks and towpath observing the wildlife. Some people are river orientated and other are more interested in the canal system. There is a rich tapestry of our industrial and social heritage encompassed in the canal system. After all the canals provided the seeds of the industrial revolution which in turn inspired feats of amazing engineering. Most surprising of all being that many were completed with only hand tools. 

All in all, it should in a way be a very close knit community with a common interest of maintaining and improving what we have. You might think that the above is a fair reflection on the inland waterways as you see it. However, like the duck gliding along on the surface, there is a lot of other activity going on underneath. The close knit community - such as it is. Is in reality quite fractious, with different ideological standpoints that seem to be completely at odds with each other. 

First there is the misplaced vanity of some people that a charity could ever run such an operation. If a government quango could not efficiently run the system. What logic could inspire the confidence that a charitable trust would fare any better. If the senior management of the quango had failed to run the quango - then why import the same people into managing the inland waterways, as it became a charity and moved into the third sector. The third sector being a place that the senior management had little or no experience of engaging with. With little if any understanding of all the nuances of such an enterprise in the first place. Why employ a plumber to repair an electrical fault.

The management team under the guise of British Waterways had long refused to engage with the boating public. The same mantra and ethic was then imported into the trust and continues today. However, its worth having a look at what happened as the quango burnt burnt on the bonfire and the charity came about.

Prior to its inception there were long discussions about what the new trust should look and be shaped like. It was discussed on social media at great length. In its plans for 'A New Era for the Waterways' published in March 2011. The Government proposed that a new Waterways charity be established that would 'protect and care for the Waterways on behalf of the nation'. [1]

Unfortunately it also described links and comparisons with the now discredited 'Big  Society Network' which has, almost like a portent for the future of CaRT. Big Society has become a poison chalice that everyone including the government has quietly reversed away from. The charity commission however has an ongoing investigation, over allegations that BS misused government funding and made inappropriate payments to its directors including a Tory donor. The organisation, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2010, was given at least £2.5 million of National Lottery funding and public-sector grants despite having no record of charitable activity. [2]

It was announced by the then Environment Minister Richard Benyon when he said 'The Canal and River Trust will be a national trust for the waterways, maintaining and restoring 2,000 miles of heritage sites, wildlife habitats and open spaces so that we can all enjoy them for generations to come.'

It was discussed at the APPWG. (All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group) Where the new trust was envisioned as being 'The National Trust for the Inland Waterways'. [3] Many recommendation were made by a list of invited professionals and experts working in the third sector. Almost every recommendation from the experts were ignored.  One of the more prophetic warnings came from Cliff Mills, a charitable consultant. In what looks like at this distance to be some form of second sight or through the use of a crystal ball. Which was in fact exercising his expert knowledge. He told the APPWG about his experience in setting up mutuals and membership-based organisations. [3]

He said that he was struck by the potential for engagement with the wider community. He believed that the statement of intentions in the consultation document – with membership as an option for the new body to consider later on – was wrong.
The new body needed to start as a membership based organisation to generate engagement – membership was the point at which the public could become engaged leading to a sense of ownership. Unless membership was built in from the start of an organisation it could be very hard to move to membership later on. Membership empowered the community but empowerment required power to be given away and there could well be a disinclination for the trustees of a Charity to give power away at a later stage.
He said If the design of the organisation was right from the outset it need not be incompatible with a charity but accountability would be undoubtedly improved through membership. Under the currently proposed constitution arrangements, it seemed that preservation was fundamental to the purposes. But the opportunity to challenge, change and evolve would be lost with this model and there was a danger of preserving something in aspic. Membership would allow more freedom to direct evolution of the waterways in a positive manner.
Mr Mills continued, 'That in his opinion there was a danger that failing to adopt a membership structure - at least in the sense of identifying clear stakeholder representative constituencies that could generate elected representatives to Council - could result in bad publicity and be seen as a device to cling on to power.' In effect it would hold at arm’s-length those who might benefit the new organisation most through their enthusiasm and potential financial contributions. Cliff Mills Consultant.
The APPGW did not leave it there, but added 'In the light of the evidence we conclude that following the route outlined in the consultation document (setting up a governance structure which initially does not allow for membership) is likely to foster a perception of a lack of democracy and public engagement and to engender a concern amongst stakeholders that the new organisation is British Waterways under another name. This is a concern that we note that the Waterways Minister is on the public record as being keen to wish to avoid.' [3] 

The APPWG stated in its Governance - Conclusions and Recommendations. 'We accept the practicality that the New Waterways Charity should begin life with fair representation of stakeholders but we believe that a membership model of democratic stakeholder representation to Council should be developed, with representatives elected by their organisations rather than appointed by the New Waterways Charity'.
'We believe that membership has so much to offer the new organisation in terms of engaging the public and developing a sense of ownership that there should be a clear timetable for moving to a full membership model. We recommend that the Charity should begin life with a Council that comprises members that are elected by the relevant organisations where that is possible, and with representatives of other interest groups provided for through nomination in the first instance; and that the process and timetable for achieving a fully elected Council, and moving the Charity to a full membership organisation, should be incorporated into the articles for the New Waterways Charity and be a required milestone in the Government contract with the Charity.' [3]
The APPWG stated in its section on Finance. 'Projections by British Waterways of the expected New Waterways Charity voluntary income indicated a gain of £5.5 - £6million by year ten of the Charity. We queried this figure as being optimistic, given the altruistic nature of the covenant between the charity and the giver, but were pleased to see that it was significantly reduced from the figures published in the consultation, that had projected the figures at £8million. Many charities see revenue from donations flat-line at some point in their growth. 
We were informed by British Waterways’ own charity consultant that the marketing and fund raising costs were substantial and likely to require sustained large amounts of investment to generate the indicated returns, with a return of £2 for each £1 invested at year ten, and making a loss in the first years, breaking even only in year four.' 
Breaking even in year four? Uh! 

As you might imagine selling the dream was not short of puff pieces around misplaced vanity projects such as that by Chairman of trustees Tony Hales who said 'The public funding was not to be used for restoration purposes and the Trust did not intend diverting any monies towards the costs of restoration. Its contribution on restoration would be to provide technical support and fund raising support. The Waterways Partnerships would play a role.' [4]

In an amazing and totally bewildering statement that beggars belief. Vice Chair of trustees Lynne Berry said 'The Trust was aiming to achieve, in less than a year, a process and status that had taken the National Trust 150 years. She thought that whilst the industrial revolution had been important for the waterways in the 18th century, the 21st century would deliver a “social revolution” for the waterways.' [4]

The APPWG for Waterways published a report on the Waterway Partnerships in April 2013 that raised concerns over the lack of clarity of the Waterway Partnership's financial role. with an aim to be self funded in all their activities by the end of 2014.