Tuesday, 24 December 2013


It appears to be something of a tradition to decorate something innapropriate in these parts, and what's more inappropriate than a large brass instrument, albeit a slightly beaten up one from a car boot sale. Long hours at work, and intolerant neighbours mean that I haven't mastered it in the way that I'd hoped (it's only an octave lower than the trumpet), but in the mean time - it is just as useful covered in fairy lights.

It is, however, lacking the traditional figure at the top, but perhaps anyone who feels that should be rectified, Carrie has a picture of one....

So, anyway, happy Saturnalia, Solstice or Malkh, and see some of you on the other side...

Monday, 9 December 2013

Daybreak in Holland

We went to see Fabian Holland after hearing him played on t'radio, and a local gig being plugged... a mention of him being a boatdweller (Tottenham, doing up a canal boat) got our attention, admittedly. We bumbled down to Twickenham Folk Club, to find we knew half the people there, including being pounced upon by people who recognised me from work, very scarily.

Anyway, nice gig, I neglected to think of taking any pictures, so borrowed one under a creative commons license from Pete Grubb's Flickr account. Good voice & guitar, reminded me a lot of Chris Wood - although still very young, so more of a Chris Sapling...

Inevitable boat chat happened, and it turned out that the couple next to us - Tom & Sally, I think - live on Daybreak, a Humber Keel built in 1934 and thought to be the last cargo vessel built for sail in the UK. They've had it since the seventies on the Thames, and their children now live on boats either side of them - although not for log as they intend to take it round the UK, initially up to the Humber where it started out. A blog is being 'set up', so should be interesting, although we never did quite understand why people want to muck about on the lumpy stuff...

In passing, we discussed Dylan Winter, who's sailing around the coast too and making videos as he goes, available as DVDs but also uploaded to youtube. Whilst briefly known for his 'heat a room with two tealights' video (the physics don't really add up, but there's so many variables..), I remembered him from some lovely radio work such as A hack in the borders.

Speaking of lovely radio work, RIP Ray Gosling, who's radio documentary work I haven't known bettered.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Good Mooring Guide

Anywhere but under this tree! This was after a week.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Ottery St Mary*

* not really, although this might help a little, although only if you don't watch the pictures, which will confuse you even more. We were at the recording of this show - it is a shame that this clip doesn't include Roger Allam singing 'magnificent men in their flying machines. Here's the script of the whole thing, but of course still doesn't include singing. The title, though, does refer to what Carrie called the place when we were planning the trip. Anyway...

We didn't go to Devon, we went to the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey. Once a dairy farm, it's been turned into a kind of zoo/educational centre - it is closed to the general public school term time, concentrating on school visits and special bookings, including photography days.

I have misgivings about zoos, but this seems a reasonable compromise between animal welfare & allowing us to get closer to animals that, whilst native, we rarely - if ever see otherwise. Most of the animals are, if not tame, used to people being around, but seem to be handled minimally, as far as I could see, at least. Most animals have 'keeper talks' that include a bit of feeding, ensuring the animals come out of hiding - with very impressive body clocks, the deer came over on the dot of 12.30 for their feeding, even though the keeper was actually a little late.

It was a real privilege to see otters & badgers especially, fairly close up, and be able to take photos - more of which follow after the 'read more', and a bonus otter video. We got there at lunchtime and could have done with more time - we barely looked at the birds and snakes (not in the same enclosure) at all. Recommended to all, especially those with granddaughters and new zoom lenses ;-)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Names & numbers only

In a determined bid for blog obscurity, I'm following up a commentless post with an equally tedious one...

We met the (same?) boat spotting guy again, this time on Tortoise, and I had a better look at the book, remembering the publisher, so if anyone wants a spiral bound book containing only boat reg numbers & names, you can buy one from ST Publications here (note the excited observation that some boats have names derived from railways...).

I much prefer the extra detail the Jim Shead site provides.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Canadian Canoe

No, I'm not still lurking at the end of the Wendover, I'm just making the most of it, blog-wise...

Whilst there, though, an amazing two-seater open canoe arrived. A lovely, hand-made beast, built in about five months by Phil from plans from Bear Mountain Boats, a Bob's Special.

It is made from individual strips of wood laminated together - can't recall what, although he did say some of the edging was from old school desks, and then protected with a virtually invisible glass fibre layer. Light enough to be lifted on & off a car roof by one person. it's difficult to contemplate the patience and accuray required to build this.

here's Phil & Neil, about to head off again...

I'd never been sure of the distinction between canoe & kayak, and I was told that canoes have single ended paddles, and kayaks double... not sure if that's the whole story, but it's a start.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Wendover arm by night

The basin at the end of the Wendover Arm is as good a place as any to watch shooting stars, in the south east, anyway. Daytime too, there's various small birds* diving in the water for fish, must more satisfying to watch than the omnipresent human fish-torturers, certainly.

I had hoped to lie on the roof, but an earlier shower (when I was walking back from the reservoir, of course) left it wet and unwelcoming. Also, me being me, a tripod & decent camera weren't to hand; I didn't get any meteorite pictures, but did turn the camera around a little (Perseids meteor shower from the east, as any fule geek knows) to take a badly composed picture of the plough:

* terns, apparently

Monday, 12 August 2013

Locks & stuff

I must admit the thirty locks from Watford up to Cowroast aren't my favourite stretch - perhaps familiarity breeds contempt, or it is just the boring bit to get past before the nice bits start. Pleasant enough, obviously, but the state of the locks don't help.

Many of the locks have to be left empty, presumably due to the perilous state of the bottom gates - I'd worry if it was a barn door let alone something that's supposed to be holding back all that water. I don't see them being replaced in a hurry, either; a lot of the signs still have BW, not CRT on them.

Anyway, a genuine question; if old wooden boats are best preserved sunk, surely these gates would be better off wet? I assume that the leakiness of the lock gates takes precedence, and also the possible consequences of a gate failure - but I guess the top gates last a lot longer, due to always having water on at least one side (and also being shorter, I suppose.

Anyway, the general loveliness of the Tring cutting & Wendover arm more than make up for the tedious locking (and probably make the latter seem worse, in contrast).

Anyway - at Cowroast (now run by a friendly bloke called Darron) I got two new Yuasa batteries, and this morning I fitted a 50W solar panel - should hopefully last a while...

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Escape from the Slough Arm

We've made it out, although it felt like a cross between a ditch and the Sargasso sea for much of the arm's length. Tortoise is now pestering Blackbird in Cassiobury Park, although we're not shiny enough to stay for next weekend and will be moving ourselves on shortly.

When I chose red for Tortoise, everyone said 'it'll fade badly' - and they weren't wrong. So I'm been adding to the blissful woodland piece with a bit of wire brushing and sanding, patching up a few bubbles & scratches in the paintwork (making it a lot less shiny all round in the process). If I've got any red paint left that hasn't set hard, I'll probably top it up for now. But sooner or later it'll be time for a new top coat, and I'm thinking a nice gentle dark green might be nice...

Friday, 28 June 2013

Watford Wanderings*

* not really, but couldn't think of anything else that fitted. Perhaps Witterings, or Waffle?

We found ourselves handily local for Imagine Watford, a ten day street performance/art festival. We managed to enjoy a lot of the street art, but those photos are on a memory card twenty miles away (although Carrie may post some first anyway). What was decidedly off-street, though, was a strangely bisected performance called 'Tug' by the Dog Kennel Hill Project.

Bisected as the audience were split into two small groups; one on the boat (including us, naturally), and the other on the towpath. We got a oddly surreal mixture of mime/dance/rant, and the towpath people got some kind of medieval Midsomer Murder plot, with commentary on headphones. Speaking to people afterwards I think we had fairly different, yet still worthwhile, experiences.

The boat involved was Renfrew, a 1930-something Northwich (I think). Normally does coal runs in the midlands, but has provided the stage for the same performance in Nottingham, and will do so again in Kings Cross in October.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Morse Machinations

In amongst other fun things recently, I had to replace the gearbox control cable on the boat. Being me, I bought a standard cable. Being my boat, it didn't take a standard cable.

After much scratching of heads and trying to describe what I had over the phone (and even emailing photos) the supplier of the new cable sent me the wrong one and admitted they had no idea what I had. Odd that a company in Lowestoft didn't recognise an outboard control cable when they saw one, but hey, anyway. Mine had a long thread on the gearbox end; thankfully I was able to replace the cable fittings rather than the newly bought cable, and I can go forward - and reverse - again.

This was all a month or two ago; I was reminded of it today by this ebay ad for a dual lever control unit just like mine, sold for controlling an outboard setup.

This, along with Tortoise's chequered history does make me think that Tortoise is more or less a meatl version of a GRP boat than anything else...

Monday, 27 May 2013

I'm not making this up...

...but I haven't found anything on the internet about it, although not a thorough look.

On Blackbird the other week, a guy came past, checking BW reg numbers & writing them down. I said hello and asked if he was the local warden, volunteer or otherwise - and no. He wasn't anything to do with BW/C&RT/This Week's Name, but had a printed spiral bound book listing boat numbers and names (none of the more interesting stuff that you largely get on Jim Shead's listing). I don't remember the title, but there was something on it about being 'published by spotters for spotters' - very much like to old ABC train spotters guides (I used to buy from jumble sales when a young boy, honest).

Now, I can't find any traces on the internet - must be a very select group of canal boat spotters. Anyone else heard of these books?

Whilst I'm on the subject, I did think it would be good to have John Else down as builder of Tortoise, so just over a year ago I wrote it on the renewal form, despite there being no slot for it. Checking today, it seems to have gone in as 'John Elf'. It's a start, I suppose.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Slough Arm Bridge 2A

I headed down the arm - by bike - to check progress on bridge repair, although that doesn't seem the best word - they'll be removing the bridge span, which may or may mot be replaced at a later date. Sadly access is a little difficult - the towpath is blocked under the M25 by a huge great hoarding blocking the view, although the foreman told me the fences & signs are having to be replaced on an almost daily basis.

The work is being done by Greenfords, subcontracted from May Gurney, contracted by C&RT - as ever, two lots of profit to be skimmed off from that, then. So far all the important services - the mains & fibre optic cables which C&RT are being paid to carry - have been moved to the handy adjacent pipe bridge. The canal is completely blocked by gravel, to give a stable surface for the work to be continued. The bridge had dropped a metre, apparently.

The good news is that they expect to have finished by the published date of mid June.

It's started...

We hadn't wandered along the Brentford moorings for a while; the new flats are at least set back a little, but there's a nice new sales centre - undoubtedly destined to become a bar, or at least they hope it will.

To avoid any unsightly boats mooring outside, of course, there's a new floating deck outside it. Isis/C&RT (an inceasing dubious relationship, now that one is a charity) will insist it's for canoeoists, I'm sure, but that's at least two boat's worth of mooring gone there. I also fail to understand what needs an extra opontoon that can't be launched from the existing bank.

As far as I can tell, Brentford isn't included in the 14 day to 48 hr conversion proposals, but it can only be a matter of time - just a few complaints from people in their new posh flats will lead to changes, I'm sure...