Thursday, 28 May 2009

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

I have more than a passing interest in natural power - power provided by the wind, sea or sun.

We have a wind generator on Willawaw - a monster of a thing. The problem we have found is that the wind strength on the cut is rarely strong enough to generate a lot of electricity.

While the tops of the trees can bend over double in a gale, the water surface will only have ripples. The blades of the windgen tend to be too low down to pick up the gusts.

Although there are exceptions to all rules, most canals are pretty sheltered !! 

Solar power seems more practical on the inland waterways - power is produced even in quite mediocre light conditions.

I believe there is still some way to go with solar panel technology, but things are improving in leaps and bounds.

The owner of Harvest was quite adamant that he wanted solar panels on his boat.

They would never provide enough power to replenish the power taken by the drive motor, but as Paul intended to spend a lot of time moored to the bank in remote spots, it did seem practical for panels to provide enough power for lighting, TV and laptop use and so on.

Solar panels generate a lot more power when their flat panel surface is at right angles to the rays of the sun. As the sun moves across the sky, this means that fixed, horizontal panels bolted on the roof of a narrowboat, are not in an optimum position for very long.

The original plan was to fit a little device that I designed with a friend, called the Gizmo.

Basically, it senses the strength of the sunlight and rotates the panel by use of a motor drive, to track the sun. Although the design was proven technically, the cost of production was prohibitive and we decided not to pursue it further than the prototype stage.

The movie below, shows it strutting its stuff, whilst fitted with a small test panel and tracking the light from a moving electric light.

In the end, Paul decided that he would mount the panels mechanically, so they could be rotated manually and their elevation altered by means of extendable, telescopic arms.

To assist with the setting up of the two independent panels, I produced this solar meter.

It simply clips on to the output of each panel and the panel is then manually moved around until the needle on the meter shows maximum. It cost only a few pounds to make and is simplicity itself. 

We couldn't understand why Paul was reporting that even in quite dull conditions, the needle was over at the stops. At first I thought there was a fault in the design or components.

Then, Paul mentioned in an e-mail that he was measuring about 50 Volts.

50 Volts from a 12V solar panel ?? impossible...

It didn't take long for the penny to drop.

Despite a circuit diagram that says 2 x 12V Kyocera panels, Paul purchased two 24V models and the bombshell had lain undetected for two years in a barn, until the panels were connected up last week to give 50V !!!

Anyhow, now we know why, the problem has been resolved.

Back to the drawing board with the solar meter, though - it will need a bit of a component tweak to work with a 24V panel instead of the anticipated 12V panel !!! C'est La Vie.

3 Years in the Making

About three years ago, I met a man on the Internet called Paul.

Paul lived in Germany and had a dream.

He wanted to build an eco-boat.

We corresponded by e-mail and he was quite clearly insane.

He didn't know anything about inland waterways craft, he wanted a boat that didn't use diesel at all and he planned to live off solar power and rain water.

The man was obviously barking mad.

However, there was a single minded, dogged clarity about his vision.

The details slowly unfolded.

Paul was retired, he wanted to come back to the UK to live and had drawn up a blueprint of his dream boat.

He wanted the boat to be propelled by an electric motor, have its batteries charged by the sun and an LPG generator and be steered by a flap rudder that worked like the ailerons of an aeroplane.

My area of speciality happens to be marine electrics and electronics.

For fun, I designed the 230VAC mains, 48VDC and 24VDC electrical systems for him.

It was all done at distance - he in Germany and myself on Willawaw in the UK.

In about 2006, he went to Crick and placed the order for a 58 foot hull with Mel Davis Boatbuilders.

Paul placed orders for all the vessels' equipment including the drive motor, motor controller, battery chargers, an inverter, some very expensive traction batteries, a bow thruster and so on, in accordance with my designs.

Slowly, the boat began to take shape.

Paul kept me up to speed with the build by sending me regular e-mails and photographs.

He moved across to the UK to oversee the construction of his beloved boat, which became known as "Harvest".

The "go faster" stick shown left was a complete indulgence - taken from a big ship supplier, it cost more than the Lynch motor.

As the project began to progress, I met Paul for the first time.

Harvest became reality - not a beautiful baby - in fact, quite an ugly duckling to any boat lover, used to curved lines and form.

However, Harvest is functional.

Inside, she is a veritable tardis.

She has underfloor heating, beautiful woodwork and has been virtually handbuilt by Paul, within the Mel Davis expertly-constructed shell.

A month or two ago, Harvest was lifted on to a truck and taken to Mercia Marina, where she kissed the murky, brown water for the first time.

The running up of propulsion, steering and other systems revealed various small teething problems that had to be resolved.

The motor was overheating due to incorrect gearing, the Honda genset was overheating as its water cooling had been modified to work on a keel cooler and some boaty things still needed to be installed, but Harvest finally got there.

A lot is being written about hybrid drives at the moment. Several hybrid boats have just been shown at the Crick Show.

Harvest is an all-electric boat. In line with Paul's original brief, she is diesel free.

Today, Paul set off from Mercia Marina to start his electric voyage of the U.K.

She has taken over 3 years to build.

Bon Voyage Paul.   

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Bite Me

I'm nursing some beautiful bites on my legs.

Its a consequence of wearing shorts on the river. Once we are past Easter and the weather starts to warm-up, I tend to wear shorts until September (not the same pair, you understand !!).

Blackfly (Diptera Simuliidae)  are those very black, moth-like flies that hover close to the water surface. There are apparently 40 or so different types in the UK alone, with some 1500 species worldwide.

In Africa, they can cause river blindness, but here in Blighty, they're just a bloody nuisance.

Their bites are very, very itchy and they often end up bringing your skin up in lumps.

The male flies collect in huge swarms which, on calm sunny days, dance in the air near trees, awaiting the arrival of the females.

The female flies enter these swarms and are seized by a male before the mating pair falls to the ground.

Before or after mating the female flies frequently seek a meal of blood to supplement their diet and assist in the production of eggs. They like human blood especially. 

In terms of treatment, victims are advised to clean the bite wound with soap and water and dry gently. 

Creams that contain camomile lotion, steroid cream, or anaesthetic can soothe the pain of the bite, as can an antihistamine tablet.

Do not apply cream or ointment to broken skin and always follow the instructions on the packet.

Try to avoid scratching the bite- although it may be very itchy - because you may damage the skin and allow bacteria to get in.

Alternatively, don't wear shorts.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Taking the Wii

Its been a bit of a slack day today.

Torrential rain in the morning and high winds all day, we decided to stay put and get some work done. My satellite link enabled me to get lots done, even though the Vodafone 3G was non-existent. 

Yesterday was a different kettle of fish though.

The greyness in the sky cleared at about 3pm, so on the spur of the moment, we decided to go for a paddle. 

We unpacked the Grabner inflatable canoe we call "Shamu" (after the killer whale 'cos its large and black) from its valise, laid it out on the coachroof and began pumping with the stirrup pump supplied.

Ten minutes later, all was ready and we set off.

The late afternoon sun was warm, the wind was non-existent and all we needed to wear was T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. It's what boating is all about, really.

We couldn't find the first mates buoyancy aid (must have got shuttled home in one of our occasional tidiness binges). So, she wore one of the self-inflating lifejackets that we keep onboard for bad weather and tidal use.

We had a nice paddle (about 3 miles), got bitten by gnats and were ravenously hungry on our return.   

It got me thinking about inflatable canoes again and electric motors.

My recent discussion with another Mark on the Just Canals forum on the subject, got my cranial juices flowing again.

I keep telling myself that the act of paddling is keeping me fit and my waistline in trim.

However, my laziness and love of gadgets keeps telling me that it would be nice to have an electric motor on the canoe for such excursions.

You know how it is. The voice from the creature sitting on one shoulder says "it would help you get home if you get tired of paddling", "it would give you a chance to look at the scenery more", "it would be better for the first mates dodgy back".

The voice from the creature sitting on the other shoulder says "more crap to find a home for", "it's going to take longer to set up", "where is the battery going to go in a blow-up boat ?"

The logical part of my brain is saying that I don't really need an electric motor on the tender for Willawaw, but I was surprised at how cheap they are, when compared to petrol outboard motors.

The adaption kit for the canoe, which consists of two outrigger floats and a cross member (allowing the motor to clamp on, out-board of the gunwhale) is 75 Euro (about £75 these days) and the Minn Kota Endura 30 electric outboard is £189 at Ely Chandlers. 

By comparison, the Honda 2.3HP petrol outboard is about £500.

I know I have to fit a 100AH battery in a battery box, etc, but even so !!!!

Petrol is not an option - don't want to have to store it onboard, its not a green solution and the electric licensing option is cheaper.

On the licensing front, I might be able to get away with no additional cost on the grounds that it's a tender for Willawaw and she already has a gold licence ??? I seem to recall that there is something in the licencing small print about tenders being allowed ? 

Looking around the world wide webby, there are various movies of electric canoes and kayaks, but this one takes the biscuit or is it the Wii ?

Monday, 25 May 2009

Davy's On The Road Again

Remember this old Manfred Mann song ??

Manfred Mann and his Earth Band - quite appropriate really as we set off again, complete with tunes in our Sony boombox.

Pulled the pins and started cruising the Nene after a respite of several weeks due to work commitments.

We had forgotten quite how beautiful the river is.

We stopped at the Kings Head at Wadenhoe - one of my favourite places. The pub is fine, but the view is - wow.

The last time we stopped here on the way in to the Fens, we were overjoyed to see Jim Stead and his boat Lorna Ann.

Jim is a megastar in the canal and boating world and his website is the wikipedia of the waterways.

My own rules precludes me from linking to him, as he has the dratted Google ads, but I'm sure you'll find him if you're that interested...

Incidentally, a bit of canal tittle tattle or what was called Scuttlebutt in the navy.

I hear that Jim is selling (or has probably sold) Lorna Ann. Apparently, ill health (his wife rather than Jim, I recall) was forcing him to abandon the watery roving life.

The picture on the right shows two boats coming through Wadenhoe Lock.   

There is a lovely walk from the pub mooring, past the village school and up the hill to the old church.

Unfortunately, for such a beautiful place, it, like so many other beautiful places, suffers from vandalism and the church doors have to be locked.

We so much prefer the rivers to the canals.

The rivers have so much more life and are quite timeless.

As benign as they look in May, when the sun is shining, they can be beasts in times of heavy rainfall.

The levels and the rates of flow can pin you down for weeks, sheltering in marinas and off-line moorings while swollen, angry, brown waters rage past to find the sea.




So, as the sun goes down on Wadenhoe, we head westwards, to glory, greatness and the Carlsberg Brewery at Northampton. 

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Crick ? - No Thanks

We pondered whether it was worth us going to Crick yesterday.

Having experienced the bank holiday build-up traffic on Friday night, I was reluctant to venture out in the car again over the weekend. The queues and masses at the Crick Boat Show just didn't appeal somehow.

Crick is a fine show, if you want to look around with a view to buying a boat or hunt for a bargain.

However, we don't need anything. We are fully stocked with ropes, fenders, piling hooks and so on. We will just end up munching overpriced hog roasts and buying tat.

So, we took a mature and informed decision and decided to stay put.

Well, that's not quite true. We ventured out to the nearest retail park (and I mean nearest). The point of the exercise was to minmise car time, after all !!

If you know anything about me, you will know that I like gadgets. 

In saying that, I don't just buy any old gadget - it has to earn its keep and pull it's weight, in order to have it's own little corner of Willawaw.

Space is always at a premium on a narrowboat.

We have very few books on the boat (they are all at home - several thousand of them), all our manuals and photographs are stored electronically on a removable hard disc and backed up by several memory sticks and our music is stored digitally. We don't even possess a board game onboard.

Both myself and the first mate are committed iPod freaks and have quite a collection of iTunes music between us. We also tend to have an unlimited amount of brand loyalty to Mr.Sony.

Most of the entertainment equipment on board is Sony; laptop, PC, camera, TV, etc.

So instead of spending cash on Crick in the form of diesel, entrance tickets, food and tat from the stalls, we bought a Sony SRS-BT100 Bluetooth Speaker unit, which was probably a similar sum.

This enables us to play music from our Apple iPods and beam the music wirelessly by Bluetooth to the 30W stereo speakers in the BT100.  Either of our iPods can play music through it, by means of a Bluetooth dongle.

The basic speaker unit runs from 12VDC (even though we are using it off our inverter at 230VAC) and it also takes a wired input from the laptop as well. 

So, in true laziness, we can lay on the couch, lay in bed or sit at the dinette and control the sounds flowing through the boat, from the palm of our hand.

The unit only measures 400x160x175mm, so takes up a lot less space than a conventional hi-fi.




Saturday, 23 May 2009

Cover Up

We've been thinking for some time that it would be nice to have some form of shelter when steering our trad.

We are not traditionalists and the working boatmen and women may have got soaking wet when steering their traditional working narrowboats, but we don't really see the point if we don't have to.

For that reason, we have been considering for some time, how we could protect the stern from the wind, rain and even occasionally, sun.

We have seen this very simple idea, which would allow a large (golfing or patio) umbrella to be erected to keep us protected from the elements.

Simplicity itself, there is a hole in each seat, to allow the umbrella pole to go through the hole and a welded clamp arrangement below, to hold it rigid.

The alternative, is to have a cockpit bimini fabricated when we drydock.

I've looked around for inspiration, but not really seen anything that I like on other boats.

So, with a few ideas buzzing around my head, I got busy with Google Sketchup and designed my own.

It comprises of a wooden roof and windscreen, with a hinge between them.

When not in use, they hinge forwards and fold flat on to the hatch, out of the way.

When erected, fabric side screens and a zippable back screen can be added using press studs, to make a snug and watertight cockpit around the steerer.

There is even a windscreen wiper fitted above the front screen.

The wiper is a 12V straight line unit, with a quick release power connector and the motor hidden in the pelmet on the top of the front screen.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Roses are Red; The Thames is Brown

The one thing I like about the Mediterranean is the various shades of blue that it appears to be.

Of course, all water, apart from the stuff in your waste tank is transparent.

Seas and rivers take on all hues of colours from blue to brown, green, grey, etc depending on a variety of factors like the colour of the sky, sediment in the water and what the bottom is made of.

I can remember talking to a free diver in Croatia who could dive without scuba gear to a depth of 30m, just by holding his breath.

He maintained that the clarity of the water on the Croatian coast allowed you to see the bottom in that great depth.

In 2002, Nick Clark decided to make a journey from the estuary of the Thames to its source, a distance of some 215 miles.

Fascinated by the Thames, he refers to it as that "cloudy current of history that shrouds secrets, lives and untold treasures".

He hitched a ride on over 30 different types of boat.

Initially dropped on to a Thames sailing barge called Greta, by a Sea King helicopter, he ended up in a canoe in Gloucestershire.

London Weekend Televsion/Limeleaf Productions released a DVD of the journey.

The only constant, through the 133 minute movie, is that never still, muddy brown water.

I thought I knew all there was to know about the river of my birth, but Nick's film had a few surprises, even for me.

Probably one of the most unusual and surprising characters/boats was Dave who fishes for eels from his small boat "Bumble B" between the QE2 Bridge at Dartford and Tower Bridge.

He is (was) the only surviving eel fisherman in the area. It seems that eels have prospered due to the cleanliness and high oxygen levels of the river in the last 10-20 years.

Some interesting facts came out of the story as well.

Capt.Bligh of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame is buried in Lambeth Churchyard and Lambeth Bridge is decorated with stone breadfruits in commemoration of this.

Many people mistake them for pineapples, but now you know the truth.

Once Nick gets upstream of Teddington, he is in more familiar territory to your average narrowboater and ends up in Cliveden, kayaking (and capsizing) at Hurley with Sean Baker and on the narrowboat Ein Cariad at Pinkhill Lock.

The DVD is highly recommended and is called "Sea to Source"..

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Blue on Blue

My friends boat had been lifted out of the water for ten days, while it had its bottom cleaned and self-polishing anti-fouling added.

No drydocks or nasty blacking in the Med - they simply lift a nearly 60ft sailing yacht out of the water on a wheeled gantry, place it on the tarmac of the marina and get on with it.

Anyway, she went back into the water today (at 0800 this morning to be precise, as it's too hot to work on her later in the day).

I asked if they winterised the boat.
Wry smiles from all concerned - no they said, we don't really get winter.

She got plonked in the water, the engine started first time and they motored her to her berth.
Bit of varnish and she's ready for a sail to Turkey.

Men in this part of the world are men, or should that be Men.

Its all chest hair and medallions here.

I casually mentioned that a friends son must be under a lot of pressure from his family to have children, now that he has been married for a full year - they normally don't hang around in these parts.

Yes, he is, they replied. Mind you, she might be barren, they added.

No mention of any possibility of flaws in the male seed - Jaffa's are unheard of down here.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The easyJet Mating Hating Game

Yes it's that time of the month again.

Time to mount the big orange bird and head for the sunrise.

I've suddenly realised that the name of the airline is written with a small "e" and capital "J".

Obviously, less accent on the "easy", more accentuation on the "Jet" part.

Anyway, I've found a new game to pass the four hours flight time in lieu of anything substantial to do or eat.

It's called the easyJet Mating Hating Game.

This is how you play.

You pay the extra for Speedy boarding. If you've never flown EJ, this costs about £15 more for a round trip and allows you to check in quicker and get on the aircraft first.

What you do, is to be one of the first up the airstep and bag a window seat in an empty row.

As the lower classes in the easyJet social structure (SA, A, B and so on) board, they are forced to decide whether to sit next to you or not (its free-seating on easyJet - the only thing that is free).

I've found that you can influence people by body language. If you like the look of someone and feel they are suitably qualified to sit next to you, you can pretend to read a book and look inoffensive. If you really don't like the look of them, you can scowl, cross your arms (or alternatively just scratch like crazy with an insane look on your face).

If you are young, free and single (sorry, I don't qualify), you could try to attract a mate. Once you have managed to convince him/her to sit next to you, he/she is then captive for four hours while you launch an assault of your best, alluring charms (hence the mating part of the title).

Of course, this game can seriously work against you (a bit like the snakes in snakes and ladders). Unfortunately, this is what happened today.

I was stuck with my nose in a book and was obviously putting out my "I'm a bookworm and no threat to anybody" vibes, when the mild mannered Reg thought he would sit next to me.
He reminded me of the character on Monty Python (the one with the round rimless spectacles and the hanky on his head, usually played by Eric Idle).

Reg was no problem, but he brought his wife with him.

Luckily, he sat between me and her.

His wife was like a posh version of Blanche from Coronation Street, complete with big squareal glasses.

She told Reg off for saying "Ta" instead of "thank you", complained to the flight attendant that the Kit Kats were too cold, smacked poor old Reg's hands from time to time (every time he fiddled with anything actually) and then capped it all off by following the flight attendant down the aisle while she was serving hot drinks. As Blanche couldn't get past the attendant due to the trolley, she decided to assist said lady, by talking to everybody a little once the flight attendant had given them their change.

Lucky passengers - not only did they get a cup of coffee from the trolley dolly, they also got a few words of wisdom from Blanche, to help with their digestion.

So, you can see where the hating part of the game comes in.

Travelling with the British public is a real game of Russian Roulette.

A lot is heard about Terminal 5 at Heathrow, but I think Gatwick is hiding it's light under a bushel.

Pier 6 is an 11-pier aircraft stand attached to the North terminal by a state-of-the-art bridge. Finished in 2005, it cost £110m.

The new bridge arrangement saves around 50,000 unnecessary coach movements each year.

At 197m, the new Gatwick air bridge was the largest passenger bridge in the world to span a taxiway (Gatwick taxiway L). The fully enclosed (to minimise maintenance) bridge design was based on the human spine.

The bridge has to provide sufficient clearance for the 19.4m-tall Boeing 747-400 series.

Passengers can cross the taxiway using the bridge and there are moving walkways to take you up, across and down the other side.

Now, why didn't I hear about that before - much more interesting than T5.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Internet Police State

The Internet is a strange, borderless medium.

People often publish their most intimate thoughts on blogs and forums and probably have no conception of how widely these are read, or for how long.

Opinions, observations and gossip, ricochet around search engines and are picked up sometimes years later by a surfer looking for something totally unconnected.

A fellow blogger, Mort Bones writes a regular article in Canal Boat magazine, every month.

This has been going on for a while, but in the last edition, a reader wrote in with a scathing and quite rude attack on Ms.Bones. The magazine published the letter.

It's not clear whether Mort gets paid for the articles, but one often needs a thick skin to publish articles and be able to take the flak with a smile.

The Duke of Wellington once said "publish, and be damned" when informed of his lovers' plan to write her memoirs, which presumerably included details of him.

Pete A.K.A Pickles No.2, another blogger, was recently told by readers posting comments on his blog, that a photograph was out of date.

He replied "I have many detractors, least of all the bunch of interfering busybodies who read this blog. I've changed the picture on the top header thingy just to please the 'ne'er do wells' who seem to think that the previous picture was out of date. I will not be criticised on my own blog and only changed it out of good will and because I'm a nice person. Sod off back to Granny Buttons if you're not happy".

I was once told "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all". Good advice, but it wouldn't make for an interesting blog now, would it ??

Most people don't like to be criticised. Publishing your thoughts on an open medium like blogs or forums often encourages unwanted criticism.

As well as writing the "Revelations" blog, I also moderate on a waterways forum, Just Canals.

Forums are slightly different to blogs, in that they specifically encourage feedback and discussion.

It's usually the moderation in forums that sets the tone of the discussion. Little or no moderation often encourage forum dwellers to push the envelope to see how far they can go.

Spammers and trolls often inhabit forums to advertise products or just cause trouble.

Some canal forums allow quite a lot of latitude in the way that contributors are allowed talk to each other. Debates often gets quite up close and personal, before moderators close a topic or discussion thread down.

This usually incurs the wrath of forum members - not only do people not like being criticised; they don't like being edited or deleted either.

The canal forum, Canalworld recently deleted a whole topic because the moderators didn't like the way it was going. Their action received a wall of protest from certain members, who felt that they were being unfairly censored (and that the baby had been thrown out with the bath water as valuable information pertaining to a missing boat had been disgarded).

Other forums assume a more dictatorial line and react more like a landlord in a traditional British pub - leaping over the bar and in between the verbal pugilists before things flare up.

On "Revelations", I like things to be pink and fluffy.

For this reason, I vet all comments prior to them appearing on the blog.

I don't expect people to praise and be full of compliments about "Revelations", but to echo Pete of Pickles No.3, "I will not be criticised on my own blog".

I can get enough of that in daily life.

At least I'm up-front about it !!!

If the comments are not nice and friendly, I don't print them - just like any good internet police state.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Fenland Alchemy

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show opens on the 19th May.

One of the attractions will be the Giles Landscapes Fenland Alchemist Garden.

The Giles website says:

"This theatrical garden is a light-hearted look at the life of a traditional Fen Tiger who practices the ancient art of alchemy. It feeds off the myths and mystery which surround The Fens".

As I've said many times, the Fens is a very special place; a real wilderness in the back garden of English suburbia.

There are still many places in the Fens where you can live in peace and see very few people. Its an area of great isolation, but outstanding raw, wild beauty.

Its black peaty soil is full of nutrients and makes growing plants and vegetables a rewarding experience.

I believe that the creators of this temporary, show garden use the word "alchemy" in a loose sense.

The word basically means the "art of transformation" or "transmutation".

The garden has ordinary plants like green fennel and the more exotic transformed purple cultivar from the same family.

This particular garden has been shown before, at the 2008 Sandringham Flower Show.

Some photographs are visible at the following website:

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Don't Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs

This is a very compelling and funny book.

I don't sell books and have no affiliation with Amazon or the author - I just think it's a good read.

Paul Carter is an Anglo-German who was born in the U.K.

Christmas holidays consisted of watching the "Great Escape" war film on T.V.

His paternal English grandfather would cheer and clap and when it was over, would pull out his war medals. His maternal German grandfather would curse and cringe at every standard scene of the lone American G.I gunning down hordes of German soldiers without reloading.

Paul wanted to work on oil rigs and got his wish. His career took him all over the world including the Middle East, Borneo, Tunisia, Sumatra, Vietnam, Nigeria and Russia.

His book is full of his side-splitting anecdotes.

He also spent some time on the supply barge, Ismaya.

There is a 47-year old orangutan called Ah Meng who lives in Singapore Zoo.

If you check her out, the Zoo website will tell you:

"For many Singaporeans, the Singapore Zoo is synonymous with Ah Meng, the Sumatran orangutan. In 1971, Ah Meng was confiscated from a Chinese family which had illegally kept her as a pet. Subsequently, she found her home in the Singapore Zoo.

Ah Meng was the first to host our famous 'Breakfast With An Orang Utan' programme. She soon became a celebrity, both locally and internationally. She has been featured in over 30 travel films and 'interviewed' by more than 300 writers. In 1992, Ah Meng received a special award from the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board, in recognition of her contribution towards tourism in Singapore.

Ah Meng also contributed to the Singapore Zoo's captive breeding programme. She has had five children so far and became a grandmother in 1990".

Now, as far as I know from Paul, a Captain of a drillship called the "Ismaya" bought her in some South Asian seaport.

He let her live on the ship. That ship had a beautiful teak bar that was built by a skilled crew member who had nothing better to do in his spare time.

Ah Meng ran that bar for a number of years.

She made cocktails and there was never any trouble because the crew were scared of her - orangutans are much stronger than men.

The way I heard the story, she had her own bar stool.

NOBODY sat on her stool..

For fun, the crew would invite the new boy to sit on the empty stool of Ah Meng. She would then launch them across the room on to a soft couch on the opposite wall.

The lads used to take her on the town when the ship got into Singapore.

Eventually, the ship was sold and the new owners didn't want her - we dont have monkeys in our brave new world - no siree...

The old man on the ship phoned the zoo for advice and they asked if they could have her. The master reluctantly agreed - he could hardly take her home or back to the ship.

The way I heard the story and it may have just been bartalk, but the Zoo tried to send a van over to the ship for her, but she was already in a taxi with the Captain on their way over from the docks .

So, if you ever go to Singapore Zoo, now you know...

Read the book if you get a chance. The ISBN is ISBN-13:978-1-85788-376-3

Cats With Boots

I read that the crew of NB Lucky Duck are considering adding to their complement with the signing on of a cat from the local Blue Cross rescue hospital.

Cats are very independent creatures and each has its own personality.

Some take to narrowboats like "ducks to water" (forgive the pun) and some don't.

A few years ago before we had our own, we found a cat in our open cratch one day.

The cat had no collar or other signs of ownership. She looked rather emaciated and dirty, so we fed her. She hung around for a few weeks and gradually got stronger. We named her Poppy.

Then one day she disappeared. We gave her a week, but she didn't come back, so we moved on.

Surprised at how much we enjoyed her company, we acquired our own full time crew member in the shape of Moo. Against all logic and commonsense, we felt so bad at leaving her brother behind as the last remaining member of the litter, we ended up going back and getting him too.

So, we ended up with two new crew.

Luckily, Moo and Boo both took to a watery life. Three years old now, they have become very adept at switching between life on the boat and life in the house. They have the jungle to play in at the house and the real jungle when we live onboard.

Its impossible to restrict the movements of cats. In summer, they like to sleep outside in the cratch as they enjoy the fresh air. In the morning, we often get breakfast gifts of mice or birds.

Moo has excelled herself occasionally and brought home larger prey (her record includes a grey squirrel, magpie and a very large rat).

They are normally back onboard by the time we want to sail, but every now and again, they get their boots on and go on extended shore leave. The pair normally swagger back up the gang plank in the afternoon after a long night and forenoon carousing ashore. They then look up and miaouw as if to say "come on, get those pins out"...  


Saturday, 16 May 2009

Narrowboat, narrow boat or nb

As I like to keep track of what everybody else is up to and I have to trawl round the blogsites to do it, I've decided to organise my own blogroll.

A large number of blogs from fellow boaters are now organised in chronological order of last post (those that blog most regularly come to the top) in the bottom left corner of Revelations.

They are identified by the name of the narrowboat which they concern and I've ignored any that haven't updated within the last month or carry the dreaded Google adverts.

Incidentally, what is the correct prefix abbreviation for a narrowboat ?

In my work, where I am in frequent contact with large ships, one uses prefix abbreviations like M/V for motor vessel, M/T for motor tanker, S/S for steamship (not used much anymore) and so on.

So, should narrowboat (or is it narrow boat) be abbreviated to NB, N/B, nb or n/b ??

Does it matter ??

Wikipedia lists all the abbreviations in use for floaty things and shows the prefix for narrow boat as nb.

I note that the blog for the steam vessel Emily-Anne is prefixed with SNB (steam narrow boat ?).

Most dictionaries show NB or N.B as an abbreviation for the latin expression "nota bene" which means note well and is "used to direct attention to something particularly important".

So maybe it should be NB then :-)

How about a name for a new narrowboat; NB Nota Bene ???

Interestingly and in my humble opinion, wrongly, the Merriam-Webster dictionary refers to the definition of narrow boat as being "a barge with a beam of less than seven feet (2.1 meters)".

A narrow boat should never be referred to as a barge. The working boaters of old would spin in their engine 'ole.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Vermuyden and the Van Man

Cornelius Vermuyden was a Dutch drainage engineer who was brought to England by a Dutch relative, to assist with the reclaimation of Canvey Island in the Thames estuary.

Born in 1590, he arrived in Canvey at the age of 31.  His brilliance soon came to the attention of the King at that time, Charles I.

After being involved with many projects, in 1640, he masterminded the widening of the River Nene below Horseshoe Sluice and the cutting of a new channel at the mouth of the Nene through the salt marshes to the sea. 

In 1650, Vermuyden, who was now a British citizen, spearheaded the digging of the New Bedford River and the Forty Foot Drain. This project also established Denver Sluice to stop tides and flood water from depositing silt into the Ouse to the east of Ely.

Vermuyden fathered 13 children, lived to the ripe old age of 87 and there is still a Vermuyden school at Canvey.

It is therefore, not that surprising to see a narrowboat bearing his name.

What IS surprising, is what is contained between the cabins on the boat.

Why is it there ?

How does it get on and off ???

The boat, which was seen at Oundle has markings saying Lynn Union Water Transport Ltd - Canal Carriers and Towage Services - registered in March, Middle Level Navigation.

I've no idea who Lynn Union are or what they do - nothing comes up if you google the name, but the boat was sure interesting.

The entrance to Oundle Marina is very narrow - there are narrowboats inside the basin, but there is no way we could get a decent swing in the narrow Nene, in order to get through this gap.

Oundle Mill is a pretty as a picture.

The lock alongside is typical of a lock in this part of the world.

The bottom gates are formed by a single guillotine door, which raises and lowers electro-hydraulically. The top gate consists of two conventionally mitred wooden gates with a rack and pinion paddle mechanism.

In times of heavy rain, the guillotine is left in the up-position and the swollen river flows over the top gate and right through the lock chamber, unchecked. 


Thursday, 14 May 2009

More Canoodling

Okay, still with me.

Psst - wanna go boating on the cheap ??

These are the ingredients you will need to make Canoodle Soup:

1 - Canoe - e.g. like a Mobile Adventure 16 Open Canoe (available on Ebay Uk for £276

      next bid price). Brand new boats range from £680 to several thousand.

2 - A Paddle - from £25

3 - A Buoyancy Aid - from £30

4 - A British Canoe Union membership - £32.75 (licence for 4500Km of UK water)

Take the ingedients, throw them into or onto the car, drive a short distance to the nearest water and add a picnic to taste. Paddle gently and soak up the summer sun.

So potentially, boating on our canals and rivers for £363.75

Compare that to the costs of owning and maintaining a narrowboat !!

Of course, I over simplify. In practice, you will need a car or similar way of getting your boat to the river or a canal (unless you are lucky enough to live next to an inland waterway).

Most people strap their canoe to a car roof rack - modern canoes are usually plastic and weigh something like 30Kg + .

Unless you are Hercules, you will need a friends help to lift the boat on and off the car and carry it around the locks (technically, you are not allowed to work through the locks and it would be a waste of water anyway).

However, some solo paddlers carry a little foldable wheeled trolley and are quite adept at getting the boat on and off the car roof alone and then using the trolley to wheel around the locks. Also, if you are on a busy stretch of canal, you can usually get through the locks with narrowboats (I didn't tell you this !!).

So, there you have it. If you get hooked, you will surround yourself with lots of kit and other canoeing paraphernalia.

Its like the old story of the guy who goes in the New York department store to buy a new fishing fly and ends up coming out with a canoe for him to fish from, as the salesman was so persuasive.

Once you have a canoe, you will want a real wooden paddle, a pair of salopette trousers to keep you dry, a silly floppy hat to keep the sun out of your eyes, paddling boots and so on.  

However, all joking aside, it is a cost effective way of getting afloat. If you have a garage or garden, most canoes, (which range from 14-17ft in length) can be kept there and are quite happy being stored outside all year round.

Although we have a narrowboat, we keep an inflatable canoe stored in a rucksack inside the boat.


This enables us to go for a paddle and explore quiet, little (read shallow) backwaters for a drift and a bottle of wine. We call the canoe Shamu, because it reminds us of a killer whale - note no hint of sexuality with canoes - none of that "doesn't she handle superbly, Rupert" with canoes.

Shamu can be inflated in ten minutes and rolled away when not in use - mmm..

Whatever your choice of canoe, the act of paddling your own canoe is a great way to relieve stress. Not physically demanding, there is a multitude of different strokes and with a little bit of practise, you can make the boat go, any which way you want.

See you on the water !!!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


When the weather starts to improve, many people gaze wistfully at the canals and rivers, from the towpath or even via the Internet from their office computer screen (when they should be working !).

A number of people have said to me that they would love to buy their own narrowboat, but the costs are prohibitive. This is then usually followed by some blue-sky thinking about Great Auntie Flo dying some time soon or the mathematical probabilities surrounding the National Lottery.

Of course, owning a boat isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Most people only see the "glass is half full" part of the equation.

Somebody once described boating, as "standing under a shower tearing up five pound notes".

That was a while ago, so its probably more like ten pound notes now.

If the average boater worked out how many hours they actually spend cruising in their boat and then divided it into the total amount of Pounds Sterling spent on the boat, its moorings and maintenance, in a year, they would probably need a quick lie down in a darkened room. 

It's not purely financial - boats are a bit of a worry. It's quite ironic that something bought for pleasure and as a stress reliever, can end up being a nagging concern when you can't get down to her that weekend to see if she's still floating or the jobs are piling up onboard.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying don't get a boat     - just that "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" , or should it be, that the "water is always cleaner on the other side of the marina".

I have tried many types of boating in my time, including GRP boats and coastal/estuary boating.

Being the worrying sort, I was always concerned about the latest scratch or gouge to my gel coat and I found that on the coast, I spent most of my boating life waiting for the tide to turn or the wind to drop, or both.

Inland boating in the UK is more accessible. It's not so weather dependent as coastal boating and it usually involves less road travel to get to the water. Apparently, over half of the UK population live within five miles of a canal or river !

However, there are lots of ways of enjoying the linear waterways that criss-cross this green and pleasant land of ours, like the lines on the face of an octogenarian.

AND - you don't have to sell your organs to get afloat.

People will tell you about the advantages of cycling and walking the towpaths.

Fair-do's    - do it myself now and then, but frankly, you can't beat getting out on the water itself.

As Kenneth Grahame once said in "Wind in the Willows", there's "absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats".

The other day, I was looking at Soham Lode in the Fens.

I knew it wasn't navigable in a narrowboat, but some time ago, I had seen an article in a magazine, concerning a group of people who had navigated a flotilla of small boats up it, to make some sort of statement to the local authorities.

I had it in the back of my mind to explore it using Shamu, our tender.

Nothing doing, it is a glorified ditch - sorry about that, Soham.

However, I did find a large block of polystyrene held together with wood and string.

This was obviously the remnants of a raft, fashioned by some local children.

What is it that drives so many of us, to want to get afloat ?

Is it that we emerge into this world from a sac of fluid ? - could it be because, our brains largely consist of water ?

Certainly, I swear that I feel different at the time of the full moon, when the man in the sky exerts his maximum pull on any expanse of earthbound water, like my head !!

One way of getting afloat, cheaply of course, is by canoe.

Howls of protest from the audience - "that sounds like hard work", "I'm too old for that", "I've got a bad back, you know !!" - yes, heard 'em all.

One of our kids could never prounounce the word "canoeing" and he always announced that he wanted to go "canoodling" which got us some funny looks in the butchers.

If I said that I get more pleasure from a gentle paddle (well, more of a float, really) down the river than I do from narrowboating, does that carry any weight ?

If I told you, I could get you afloat for a few hundred pounds, that you could spend the summer exploring the best waterways and enjoy a picnic/cup of tea from your very own craft, would you be interested ?

Better still, the licence is about 50p a week, its more fun than going to a gym, it will keep the kids busy (paddling you) and there are no mooring charges.

If you are still interested, tune in tomorrow, same channel, same time.

If you're not, tune in anyway - it could be a giggle and you can laugh at the others.




Twit, Who ?

People sometimes ask me where the name "Willawaw" comes from.

The official story is that's she's named after a type of katabatic wind.

It's caused by the descent of cold, dense air from the snow and ice fields of coastal mountains in high latitudes.

When I was at sea in the North Pacific, I used to hear Canadian pilots talk about winds that could knock a boat down, but with their accent, it sounded like "Willa", rather than "Willi" - just as well, really !!

To continue the vein of threads, I have more recently discovered that the Willawaw was a creepy character in the Hanna & Barbera childrens TV cartoon, Scooby Doo - quite apt really.

The script says "While making a visit to Velma's Uncle Dave, the kids hear of the Willawaw, a half man/half owl. According to legend if he hoots your name, you'll be the next one he claims"..

The Blind Steering The Blind

I was watching the TV film "Scent of a Woman" the other night. Al Pacino played a depressed, blind, retired army colonel.

Looking to experience the good things in life just one more time, before he blows his brains out with his service automatic, he takes a sighted youth with him to a Ferrari dealership in New York.

Convincing the hackneyed salesman that he is a man of means, Pacino gets a test drive for the boy, in a new open-topped, beast of Maranello.

It doesn't take long before a sightless Pacino is in the drivers seat instead, with the boy coaching him through the quiet backstreets of the Big Apple.

It took me back to an experience I once had, on a canal boat carrying blind school children.

Initially feeling awkward and full of pity for the children with their disability, I was astounded and impressed by their skills in other directions and their great sense of humor when it came to dealing with their loss of sight.

One memorable moment involved one of the teenagers, who was an accomplished trumpeter, playing "My heart will go on" from the Titanic film, as the vessel lowered in an emptying lock. 

It wasn't long before they convinced me to let them steer.

We devised a system where a lifting ring on the deck served as a "marker" for their foot.

If the tiller was above their foot, then the rudder was amidships.

With midships as 12 o'clock on an imaginary clock, they would respond to my instructions of 2 o'clock for 60 degrees of port helm and so on.

I will never, ever, forget their faces when we found an open stretch of waterway, which allowed us to open the throttle up or their sense of achievement when they managed to wind the boat without me having to touch tiller or throttle.

Nor will I forget the face of a passing boater. When hearing the sound of his approaching engine, one of the children shouted across to him "sorry about the wash - I'm blind"...  

This is the link to the Ferrari driving sequence:

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Cat and Mouse

We live on Willawaw for much of the year, with our cats Moo and Boo.

Boo hates cruising (8th May), but Moo doesn't mind, as you can see below.

Our blog has been christened with its own pet black cat - see bottom left of page.

I normally think most blog widgets are a bit gimmicky and a waste of space.

However, I liked this one as its big and bold and keeps me company when I type.

Feel free to tickle its ears with your mouse pointer or make it purr by touching its white spot.

It will even miaouw if you get it just right.

I know - I'm going soft in my dotage - its an overdose of Horlicks.

Seriously though, there is a loose thread that runs through the themes of our little voyage of discovery. Sometimes, its an obvious gold thread on a dark suit and sometimes its a harder-to-see gossamer spiders web on a dewy dawn.

Don't believe me ?  think I'm pulling your leg ?   - check out "Feed Me" 6th May.

Note 15th May: Black cat suddenly started sprouting those pesky Google adverts today , so it was put down.

Grand ? - What's Grand About It ?

Erik Eblana, that famous Irishman, is standing as the Independent Candidate for the Pembroke-Rathmines constituency in the forthcoming Dublin City Council elections on June 5th 2009.

Like many politicians, he is full of promises concerning what he will do if elected to power.

Unusually, his promises revolve around waterways.

He has been quoted as saying "I want to clean-up and dredge the Grand Canal, making a safer habitat for wildlife and also encourage narrowboat living as seen in other European cities like London and Paris".

Erik has been shocked by the condition and neglect on the Grand Canal in Dublin and has campaigned for a clean-up.

He says:

"I’ve been campaigning for a major dredging of the water and have written to the various bodies involved.

However like most things, I have come up against a barrage of apathetic officialdom and discovered a responsibility deficit in terms of who actually should be doing this.

Because of this inadequacy, and the quietly increased distance between responsibility and action, in authority, I decided to run as a candidate in this election.

I believe it is the duty of the City Council to clean-up and maintain the Grand Canal and there has been a dereliction of duty by outgoing councillors, who have overseen the disgraceful decline of the canal".

He continues:

"I’ve been trying to set-up a heritage tours business along the Grand Canal and use a narrowboat or barge as the hub, the meeting point for my literary walks.

I also plan to live-aboard the boat.

This is common practice in cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam and even Birmingham. But in Dublin I’ve come against a silent stone of opposition from the various bodies involved.

I have discovered that Waterways Ireland and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority intend to enact new byelaws preventing people from living aboard their boats.

From what I can gather, through the roaring silence of these bodies on this matter is that they plan to surreptitiously restrict narrowboat living to Grand Canal Dock.

This is fine, in theory, however the mooring fees will be astronomical as people will have no choice –it will be a monopoly of sorts, and a ‘land grab on the water’.

I believe this is plain wrong.

As a city we should be encouraging retirees, artists, creative people, boat and craft workers and their families to live on the water.

They will become the custodians of the canal, protecting it and keeping it a viable habitat for wildlife and adding a colourful strand to the fabric of city life.
We are an island Celtic nation, and Dublin a city founded on a watery heart".

A government preventing people living on their boats ??

In the UK, British Waterways are accused of trying to reduce online moorings and "corral" boaters into marinas. Not surprisingly, most marina rules prevent people living on their boats and the moorings on offer are non-residential. Is this a stealthy way of preventing boaters living on their craft ?

I must admit, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of liveaboards congregating in clusters on the towpath and in quiet bye-washes. Rightly or wrongly, I'm convinced that this is a by-product of high house prices in the UK, which prevent many young people getting on the housing ladder. I believe they see canal boats as a cheap home, usually tinged with a degree of romance and freedom.

So, is Erik right to fight his corner or is he steering his island to a Grand Canal full of shanty boats ?

Monday, 11 May 2009

Trains and Narrowboats - What a World

There is now a new visitors mooring pontoon at Wansford, right across the road from the Nene Valley Railway (NVR).

It's possible to moor on the pontoon, which is large enough for two narrowboats, for up to 48 hours.

The access jetty is secure and padlocked. There is also a picnic bench (seen in the photo) and good car parking access.

The NVR runs for seven and a half miles between Yarwell Junction and Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. Its headquarters are based here at Wansford.                                                                              

British Rail closed the line in 1972.

In 1974, the line was privately purchased and a decision was taken to operate the line to the International Transit or 'Berne' loading gauge.

The new Wansford station building was officially opened in late 1995. It houses the railway's booking office, together with the NVR shop, cafe and toilets.


From the mooring, its possible to see the signal box in action and watch the trains cross over the Nene using the bridge.

The signalbox at Wansford was built in 1907 by the London & North Western Railway to replace three smaller boxes. The signalbox was originally built with 60 levers and is one of the largest preserved signalboxes in its original location.

The signalbox controls the level crossing gates over the "Great North Road" and until 1959, when the A1 bypass was built, all the traffic along the A1 would have had to pass over this crossing.

The old Wansford station is a Grade 2 Listed Building which now needs urgent repairs. 

It stands beside platform 3 of the Nene Valley Railway (NVR) but does not belong to the railway. 

The Nene Valley Railway Heritage Centre Group was set up in 2003 to rescue the old Wansford station building and provide a home for the Nene Valley Railway's growing collection of historic objects and information.


Sunday, 10 May 2009

Doctor Go Home

Did you know that due to new EU legislation, Doctors are now to be restricted to working only 48 hours a week ?

Good, I hear you say. People shouldn't be forced to work excessive hours.

Will the NHS be able to cope with the restriction - after all, surely more doctors will be needed ?

Surprisingly, John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, has said that the new rules were "an impending disaster" which will "devastate" medical training because no surgeon will be able to work a shift long enough to gain proper experience. 

The multiple handovers of staff needed to comply with the rules will mean that patients do not see the same doctor for more than a few hours, he said. And he warned there could be "dangerous" lapses in patient care, especially at night.

The new rules come into force in August. There is one loophole - individuals may, at their own discretion, choose to opt-out of the arrangement.

I wonder how many health workers will be pressurised to opt out ? 

Wake Up and Smell The Coffee - Again !

Another side issue of this subject is that the use of loyalty cards like the Tesco Clubcard allows the supermarket to track your personal preferences. They know whether you have pets, what your dietary requirements are (diabetic, kosher, Polish, etc), the colour of your hair (if you buy hair dye) and so on. They will know a lot more about you if you have insurance, loans, etc with them.

These Clubcards are being changed shortly for Rewards cards - basically, you will be allowed to double the redemption value of your vouchers for specific products.

There is a very interesting programme coming back to BBC 3 called "Blood, Sweat and T-shirts".

This BBC Three series from May 2008 saw six young fashion addicts swap shopping on the high street with working in India‘s cotton fields and clothes factories. Find out whether they could handle a sewing machine and meet the target of two garments a minute and whether their experience changed their throwaway attitude to clothes shopping.

- you can see some details here: 

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee !!

Tesco has become a way of life in the UK - the name is now a household word and universally recognised by almost all in this country.

In many areas, it's difficult to avoid using them. Their stores seem to be everywhere and many smaller independent traders have succumbed.

Are Tesco becoming too big and too powerful ? Although they have competition in the form of the other supermarkets like Sainsbury, Asda and Waitrose, their stores are not usually positioned next to each other, so all have their strongholds.                                                                              

We have noticed that despite special offers like two-for-one schemes, supermarket prices do seem to be going up - at least the bill for our weekly shop appears to be increasing alarmingly. 

Many shoppers blindly tread the Tesco's path each week, but not everybody is a Tesco follower.

Tescopoly is effectively an anti-Tesco movement and their website reads:


"Tesco now controls over 30% of the grocery market in the UK. In 2009, the supermarket chain announced profits of over £3bn.

Growing evidence indicates that Tesco's success is partly based on trading practices that are having serious consequences for suppliers, farmers and workers worldwide, local shops and the environment".



"Having travelled to many countries to meet farmers it was very clear that supermarkets treated all farmers equally - unfortunately that is equally badly and it was the name of Tesco which came up time and time again. If we are to have a future as farmers and sustainable agriculture then we need to control supermarket power" - Michael Hart, chairman of Small and Family Farms Alliance


Many people in the UK complain about Tesco, as if they are Enemy No.1.

In fact, in my humble opinion, we, the consumer, are our own enemy.

If we didn't shop there, Tesco would have no customer base.

Tesco have given the average UK consumer what they want. A large range of products under one roof, with easy access, quick service and acceptable pricing.

Reading this, you could be forgiven for thinking that I am a Tesco fan.

Not at all.

However, you have to admit they have a slick marketing machine. They have worked out what shoppers want and have given it to them.

Personally, I do not enjoy shopping there, but I DO.

I'm sure that most of the shoppers who use the store couldn't care less about the farmers or the conditions of clothes workers in Bangladesh.

In fairness to supermarkets, they are only giving the consumer what they want.

Perhaps, the real problem is the selfishness of the UK shopper. I have noticed that they barge their trolleys around the store, just looking to get their provisions as fast as possible and be gone. They park their cars as close to the store doors as they can get and I'm sure if they could drive their car into the store, then they would.

How about a drive-in supermarket ?  You could then get all your weekly shopping without even having to get out of the driving seat. I'm surprised it's not happened already. 

Many supermarkets are now starting to sell household appliances like vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens,  mobile phones, even laptops. They compete head-to-head with other non-food retailers like Comet, B+Q, PC World and so on. Their prices are very competitive.

Where are we heading, retail-wise, in this country ?

If Tesco and their fellow superstores gain the upper hand in all these product groups, they will be in an ideal situation to name their own price in the future.

Isn't this what happened to your local greengrocer or butcher - where are they all now ?

For this reason, we have started to resist the lure of the "Big T" ranch and we spread our shopping around, giving business to several retailers rather than just one. We don't want to see our choice restricted in the future.

We believe that the quality of fresh meat, etc that is available to us these days, in supermarkets, has decreased. For this reason, we have exercised our right to the free economy and have started buying our fresh meat and vegetables from local farm shops.

We still use supermarkets, but mainly for products like washing powder, cleaning products, toiletries, etc.

We tend to go for organic products in farm shops, mainly sourced or grown locally.

Surprisingly enough, its not that much more expensive, but we feel we get a better quality and we actually enjoy the shopping experience.

We often have coffee and cake in the cafe part of the farm shop and the people there are genuinely friendly (we actually get eye contact without the robotic, emotionless incantations of "do you need help packing" that is so common nowadays in supermarkets).

We also make a point of walking or cycling into the villages that we pass on the river and we patronise their small shops - if they have a butchers, grocers, etc, still, then we use them.

Its more inconvenient - we actually have to visit more than one shop each week and we can't wheel our trolley to the car bumper, but hey, what have we become in this nation of ours ??     

The shopping experience in Britain in the next decade, could just become a drive-in experience, with only 5 different superstores to choose from and no small independent retailers.

Imagine that, just 5 superstore names and a plethora of antique shops...

In certain states in the USA, they actually have no sidewalks (pavements). Cycling is unheard of and they have drive-in ATM's and banks. Do we want to go the same way ?

Wake up and smell the Coffee - if you don't use it, you will most definitely lose it.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Clearly Round The Bend

One of the biggest hazards on the Middle Levels, (apart from Salters Lode that is) is the bend at Whittlesey.

It has other names like the Briggate Bend, but all the local boaters know it for what it is.

Its virtually a 90 degree, blind bend.

Not impossible, but difficult in a boat over 60 foot.

On the way to the Fens, we used the bow thruster (going from right to left in the photo).

However, on the way out, we didn't want to ingest vegetation from the bank, so the first mate fended the bow off with the pole. Anyway, we got round, slowly.

If a boat comes the other way, you're stuffed, but hopefully they would see your bow emerging from under the bridge.

We eventually got on to the River Nene after Stanground and stopped at Peterborough for water.

Peterborough is nice on a sunny day and good for shopping, but not the place you really want to spend the night. Graffiti and strange characters are everywhere.


Friday, 8 May 2009

Upwell, Outwell, March and Gone

Made good progress through the Middle Levels.

Some scenic shots which capture the mood of the place.

The Main Drain at Mullicourt Aqueduct..

The Mullicourt Aqueduct..


The Five Bells Pub

Ashline Lock

Blue doesn't like it when the engine's running..