Tuesday, 30 June 2009

One of The Longest Words

One of the longest words that I know is Anthropomorphism.

I'm not trying to be clever by using long words - honest.

I was once told to never use words that I cannot spell.

My answer was "well, if I don't use them, how will I ever learn to spell them ?"

However, Anthropomorphism, apart from being a great word, is a subject very close to my heart.

In its simplest sense, the dictionary defines the word as being the attribution of uniquely human characteristics to non-human creatures.

Now, is it only me, or do you get irritated by reading blog articles supposedly written by animals e.g. I laid in my basket near the fire and my mummy and daddy gave me a bone, etc.

Just recently, I've read several accounts of boating life according to various dogs. There is even a regular article in one of the boating mags, written through the eyes of a dog about the exploits of its owners and their narrowboat.

I'm not biased against dogs - it's equally sick-inducing when written by a cat, goldfish or parrot.

The first time I read such an account, I found it interesting, as it was a fresh and original perspective of boating.

However, the concept gets "worn out" and "old hat" very quickly.

I love animals. Although we have cats, I am equally fond of dogs, rabbits, aardvarks - any mammal really.

Only today, I picked up a book at the airport bookstore which was the story of Dewey the library cat.

About 30 years ago, the librarian of Spencer, Iowa found a tiny, bedraggled kitten almost frozen to death in the night drop box.

The townspeople of Spencer named that cat, Dewey (after the Dewey Decimal Classification system) and that cat spent the rest of its life helping out in the library.

A true story, but I always flip to the last page of any book, as I can't stand the suspense and the story of the final chapters of Dewey, surprisingly brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye - I felt a right chump in W.H.Smiths.

Anyway, Dewey is another story, but if you are interested, you can read more here:


The point is, even though we might choose to see animals as humans, they ain't.

Quite why we do it, I've no idea.

Maybe we find it easier to relate to them that way or alternatively, we are just too lazy to understand their true psychology.

After all, my cat, Moo, will lay in the crook of my right arm while I'm typing, hanging one paw over, as if she's on a log. Cuteness personified.

She then goes out at night and tears the head off a harmless mouse.

Being an animal lover and a great believer in karma, I felt very bad when she killed all the chicks of a pair of local blackbirds, just for kicks.

As an atonement for her bad behaviour, I had to share my fresh cherries with the parents, before we could pull the pins and move on.

I guess that's a different type of Anthropomorphism on my part.

Cats are hardwired from birth, to chase.

Cats like Moo can be skillful mouse killers, yet never eat a single mouse.

The mother cat teaches her young to kill from the very beginning.
She will bring home dead prey and eat it in front of the kittens, to demonstrate the point .

Soon they learn to help. Eventually, she brings dead things home and lets the kittens eat them on their own. In adulthood, it is quite common for spayed queens to do the same for their human owners.

Enter Moo - stage left.

Ah yes, but thats the spooky world of cats, I hear you say.

When you take your dog for a walk, how many of you let him walk out in front of you.

We think we are being kind, letting him take us where he wants, giving him some freedom by extending the lead.

In fact, dogs see it differently.

Instinctively, they expect the leader of the pack to go ahead - they follow the leader.
You are just confirming that you are not their leader, which confuses them.

Of course, once they get used to taking the lead in their daily walks, they will naturally assume that position, but it is confusing because you are giving mixed signals - being submissive one minute and dominant the next.
The correct position is with the dog walking beside you or behind you, to underline the fact that you are the top dog in your little family pack.

So, by all means love them, respect them and treat them well, but they are domesticated animals, not human babies.

Now, I must go as it's time for Moo to get dressed in her velvet suit and party hat, for her birthday party. All her catty friends are arriving with wrapped presents for her.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Barking Mad

Barking is where I was brought up and my family lived for several generations.

Its a small estuary running into the tidal Thames below Woolwich.
Originally, it was wilderness and marshland - reknowned for smuggling.
In 1320, local fishermen had their nets burned publicly because the mesh was too small. 

It doesn't look much now but it was once the home of a large herring fishing fleet called the "Short Blue" fleet, run by a family called Hewett.
By the mid-nineteenth century, over one hundred and fifty smacks sailed from the creek, many of them over fifty tons. 

It was considered the largest trawler station in the Kingdom – if not in the world.

Barking men claim to have been the first to make use of the trawl.

Rather than each vessel worrying her way up the winding Thames with her own catch, special flyers, setting clouds of canvas, hurried the fish to London, while the rest of the fleet stayed at sea for weeks at a time. 

This is the "Ranger", probably built in Barking in 1864. At 73 feet, these fast cutters in the Hewett fleet excelled at sailing to windward and would bring fish to London from the North Sea fishing boats.

Then came the railways. The fish could be delivered faster from Lowestoft or Grimsby and the fleets stayed at the railhead bringing fame and prosperity to hitherto unknown coastal hamlets.

There is still a pub in Great Yarmouth called the "Barking Smack". 


All other commerce on the Thames palls almost to insignificance against the sheet volume of the trade in coal. 

Collier brigs slipped into Barking Creek and by the mid-17th century lock gates had been built to maintain a navigable depth as far as a small village called Ilford, which went on to become a prosperous port with a gas works, for 200 years. 

A Whitby collier captain, James Cook, married in our local church, St.Margarets, which is a short walk from the quay.
Of course, we all know where he went from there.

On 21 December 1762, James Cook married Miss Elizabeth Batts at St Margaret's Church at Barking, Essex. 

Elizabeth was born in Wapping, London where her father was a publican. 

Following his death when she was very young, she came to live in Ilford with a Mr and Mrs Sheppard whose large house named 'Crouchers' stood in Clements Road. 
Although her mother re-married and Elizabeth went back to live with her at Wapping, Elizabeth continued to visit and stay with the Sheppards over the years and, in fact, spent the mandatory four weeks required residency period with them at Ilford (then a part of Barking), prior to the wedding - hence Elizabeth stating as being 'of Barking, Essex'.

Ship repair was once a thriving business in Barking due to the eighteen-foot range of tide and the ease of careening. 

My great grandmother lived at the "Rushing Waters", which is just by the side of the surviving Granary Mill shown in the modern photograph below. 
She had neither gas nor electricity.
In those days, the quay would completely drain and the river flowing out of the small gap by the mill on the ebb tide, gave the area its name.

Now it has been dammed with a barrage half-lock and there is also a flood barrier at Creekmouth, two miles downstream. The former keeps the pool in water on the ebb and the Barrier keeps the Thames out on the flood. 

You can still explore the area with a narrowboat, but its a shadow of its former self.

I'm going back to Barking Creek,
The place where I was born,
I'm going back to Barking Creek,
Where I left one sunny morn,
I long to see that dear old home,
and waters flowing blue,
I'm going back to Barking Creek
but it will be a long time before I do. 

Joe Mott 1923

I think he must have had a big grin on his face when he penned this song !!

The waters are far from blue :-)

but more about that another day..

The Hewett family grave in Barking

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Water, Water, Everywhere, Yet Not a Drop To Shower In

Boating has the ability to reduce life to its basic ingredients.

Food, shelter, toilets and water.

We can raid the cupboards for tins of 7-year old baked beans for sustenance and we can walk to the nearest pub to use their toilet when the needle on the waste tank gauge is hard over and there are strange smells emanating from the toilet vent.

However, when your water tank is on its last legs, there is not much else for it, but to pull the pins and find the nearest tap, so we can suck up another 1000 litres of life juice.

We use lots of water.

We have tried to be frugal, but life on ships with watermakers or on land, connected to the local water board, has made us splash happy.

The celebration of our attempt at liquid parsimony is the boaters shower.

The Boaters Shower Dance

1. You wet yourself all over with just a few litres from the shower head and turn the supply off at the tap.

2. Soap all the important places and shampoo whatever hair you can find.

3. Stand there, naked, in a dry shower, covered in patches of soap with a white foamy head and pray that the big boater in the sky doesn't deem this, the very moment, for your head-on collision with a passing hire boater, who is steaming past at 600mph.

Even if he misses you, his wake will slam dunk your head on each bulkhead, before leaving you unconscious in the shower tray, while the drain pump sucks your noise down the drain hole.

4. Content that the moment for doom has passed, fire up the water again, do the freezing jig as the water initially comes out cold and then change tempo, to the scalding samba as the hot water turns your skin lobster red. This solo is be accompanied by frenzied running on the spot and waving your free arm around while you try to grip the wet tap to stop the torture (it burns, it burns).

5. Once frozen, scalded and soap-free, turn the water off to avoid wasting any more

6. Emerge naked and wet from the shower, just as the first mate slams open the thru-door to pass through the boat from the stern, as she has just seen the damned cat bring another headless blackbird chick into the saloon through the front doors.

7. Towel dry in the draft and in full view of the towpath, before emerging on deck, triumphant, that it's all over until the same time tomorrow.

Water deprivation does strange things to you.

We finally moored and I hallucinated that there was an odd assortment of adults standing on the grass, badly playing an equally strange assortment of brass instruments.

I must take more water with it.


Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Ten Ways To Get It Wrong !!

It occured to me that many newbie boaters, whether they are first-time hire boaters or people that buy their first boat without prior boating experience, make much the same common mistakes when cruising the inland waterways.

It is said that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and I'm the first to admit to making many of these mistakes myself (some more than once !!).

It has further occured to me that these could probably be listed out in some form of top ten.

After all, if the more common potentials for disaster can be identified, then solutions can be given and hopefully, newbie boaters won't appear, well, so new !!

So here goes.

At this point, I could really do with an Alan Freeman "Pop-Pickers" type voice giving the run down in true "Top of the Pops" style. 

Asterisks indicate past events that I may have been associated with.

No.1 - Fitting Piling Hooks round the wrong way (on the outside of the piling). *

No.2 - Leaving a windlass on a stationary raised paddle - if the rachet goes, its broken arm time.

No.3 - Having both sets of paddles open (top and bottom) at the same time and then wondering why the boat wasn't going up or down. *

No.4 - Laying the windlass on the balance beam while you close the gate and then hurrying to get on the boat and be off (leaving the windlass behind). *

No.5 - Not banging the mooring pins in far enough and having them ripped out in the night by a fast moving trip boat. *

No.6 - Opening gate paddles before the ground paddles of a lock and filling the cratch with canal.

No.7 - Tying the boat with so many knots, (in case a hurricane should pass through Wolverhampton), you can't get it undone in the morning.

No.8 - Going down a lock, with the boat so far back in the chamber, the rudder catches on the cill as the water rushes out.

No.9 - Rushing into a close quarters situation with another boat, only to go full astern and end up with the stern, paddle-wheeling itself across the canal, so you end up blocking the waterway or swinging your stern into the oncoming boat.

No.10 - Not tightening the weedhatch properly after clearing the propeller, thus flooding the bilge. Not usually spotted until the bow rises out of the water and the stern sits low, like a planing speedboat.


Sunday, 21 June 2009

I See No Ships; Only Hardships

The Admiral Nelson public house at Braunston is open again.

It would seem that the pub is now run by the same people that run the Braunston Manor Hotel and the Plough pub.

We went for a morning walk up the locks and I fancied a coffee in there, but unfortunately, it didn't open until midday, so they missed our trade.  

This is more than can be said for the "Navigation" at bridge 14 on the Coventry Canal.

This pub was well known on the cut, but is now very visibly closed.

The flowers in their now wild and overgrown garden are truly beautiful.



It seems that a combination of rising pub prices and no smoking rules are forcing many drinking institutions into liquidation.

Certainly, sales of liquor at the Mugmarkets are on the increase, so it would seem that drinkers are preferring to stay home and have friends round.

On our little pre-noon perambulation through Braunston, we passed the boatyard and saw the working pair "Argus" and "Bletchley".

Like the pubs, these coal boats also rely on custom from canal users.

There is a lot to be said for spending your English Pounds on and around the canals, if only to keep the canals from becoming plastic museum pieces.  


Friday, 19 June 2009

BiBi Braunston, so Long..

We got out of Braunston,  pronto !

There is a boat rally to be held there, this weekend and signs have been put up, warning of visitor mooring closures.

The working boats are on their way in, closely followed by the modern narrowboats that want to also attend the event.

Not being "crowd" kind of people, we high-tailed it outta there, as fast as our hull would carry us.

Braunston is a funny old kind of place.

It seems like it should be the centre of the canal universe, but it somehow lacks a heart.

Something always seemed to be missing in Braunston.

It has the chandlers, the marina, the Nelson pub, the boaty odds'n'sods shop down by the locks, the drydock - all the main ingredients, but it kind of lacks a core.

A little like a lovely Thorntons chocolate, but with the soft centre missing.

To be honest, we've never really found the people that friendly there, on the whole.

There are only a few places to eat and the town itself, is not by the canal.

Even the church is up the hill.

I think we prefer to nominate Stoke Bruerne as the prime candidate, for centre of the UK canal universe.

On a separate subject, we have just breathed a breath of fresh air into our Facebook account.

We subscribed to Facebook some time ago, when there was a lot of hype about it.

We are quite keen on modern communications and media networking (= gadgets), so we Skype, Twitter, Blog and Facebook.

Facebook seemed a bit overwhelming at first, which is why we initially deserted it.

However, there are so many boaters on there now, it makes even Twitter look a bit quiet.

Anyway, NB Willawaw is in there somewhere - look us up - say hello.

I remember many years ago (c. 1980's), I got involved in fitting an SSB Radio and radiotelex terminal on a yacht, which was going to sail across the Atlantic in a race.

There was no satellite systems available for such a small boat then and HF radio was the only way - the yacht was sponsored by BT.

There were three things that I clearly remember about that boat:

1. It was crewed by two very nice ladies

2. We had to fit the fridge sized SSB  into one of the spare bunks

3. The boat was called "Hello World"

Such a nice name and very fitting for the world we have now, which is a skyping, twittering, off your facebook kind of world.

So through the medium of a blogger (a word that would have drawn blank stares in the 1980's)


Edited to add:

I've just found this in the You Tube vaults - spooky - do you remember Busby ?

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Nicked Up The Junction

Hawkesbury Junction, also known as Sutton Stop is one of those iconic canal destinations.

Interestingly, it is shaped like the letter "H" (for Hawkesbury) if viewed by a circling seagull.

It has a tight turn through the centre of the "H" and if you screw it up, the drinkers sitting outside the "Greyhound" Pub, give you scores out of ten. I can just imagine them all putting their beers down in perfect unison and each raising a score card with both hands, above their heads, like "Come Dancing".

Sutton Stop is named after the original lock keeper (A certain Mr.Stop).

All joking aside, it forms the junction of the Oxford Canal and the Coventry Canal.

The stop lock shown in the photo above separates the water levels of the two original canal companies, with the Oxford being a few inches higher.

The disused engine house housed the "Earl of Mercia" steam engine that pumped water from a deep well, into the canal, from 1837 until 1913.

This worked opposite a Newcomen steam engine called "Lady Godiva".

This is how the Earl of Mercia and Lady Godiva came to be in the engine shed together (I can feel a Trivial Pursuit question coming on for the next pub quiz).

The best thing about Sutton Stop is that it has it's own police station - possibly the smallest on the canals.

I even saw the "bobby" keeping an eye on the drinkers with their scorecards, keeping an eye on the Valley Cruises boat, Colne Valley, attempting to negotiate the "H" bend.

We moored slightly out of the centre, as we don't mind stretching our legs and it can get a bit boisterous up the junction.

A boater was bemoaning the rise in crime at Hawkesbury the other day, as some bits had been nicked off their moored roof.

If they catch them, maybe they will make them sit on the blue naughty chair in the photo.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

There's Always Something To See...

One of the things that I like about our canals and rivers, is that there is always something to see.

If you just chug along, something always pops up round the next bend.

This very intriguing cak-mobile at Ashby Boats at Stoke Golding Wharf can make your usual routine monthly pumpout, something worthy of note.

Unfortunately, we never got to see the vehicle moved. It would be worth additional "fun" points just to see a large boatyard worker climb into the tiny cab and drive it round the yard.

Round another bend, we passed this rather fine working boat.

The owner (well I presumed he was) was vacuuming the roof - now that's boat care for you.

Don't often see a boatowner hoovering the outside, do you ?

Cassiopeia, No 23, defined as a small Woolwich motor, was built in 1935 by Harland & Wolff at their yard in Woolwich.

She was operated by the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company and was originally intended to be paired with the butty, Crux. 

So, now you know.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Some Truth, Some Truth, My Kingdom for the Truth

We struggled on up the Ashby Canal, weaving our way round oncoming boats and reversing our way off shallow silt banks.

It truly is a beautiful waterway and is completely lock-less.

Our only regret is that we did not have the time to reach it's terminus.

Our objective this trip, was to reach the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field.

I have a penchant for history, but am no anorak.

We located Bridge 34A - this makes me smile because it reminds me of platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter.

Quite appropriate really and this is a subcutaneous link, because the bridge used to carry an old railway and there are still visible signs of this, even though the tracks have long gone.

The bridge is important because it now carries a footpath across the canal and there is a pleasant light-dappled walk to the Bosworth Visitors Centre.

For those of you not acquainted with English history, Bosworth Field was fought on 22 August 1485 as the penultimate battle in the War of the Roses.

In the red corner, we had Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and in the white corner, we had Richard III, the last King of England from the House of York.

Richard III (AKA the Duke of Gloucester) was arguably, not a nice man.

He reputedly had his two young nephews murdered in the Tower of London as they posed a threat to his path to the throne and had he lived today, "dirty deeds done cheap" would probably have been his signature tune.

Bosworth Field saw the last charge of mounted knights in Britain and Richard III was the last English King to die in battle.  

Ironically, only 400 of Henry's men were English. Most of his 3000 troops were French or Welsh.

Richard had around 10,000 men and despite superior forces, decided to seek out Henry for single combat.

Henry was protected by his encircled loyal guard and Richard was cut down by a Welsh pikeman whilst trying to fight his way in.

Richard was stripped naked and thrown across a horse. His body was taken to Leicester and openly exhibited in a church to prove his death to the people of England.

After two days, the corpse was taken by the friars and interred in a plain unmarked tomb.

Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre is built on Ambion Hill, a five minute walk from the mooring.

There is a lot of controversy concerning whether the battle was actually fought at Ambion, although it is certain that the battle was fought in the local area somewhere.

King Dick's Well is located near the Centre.

According to legend, Richard III, supposedly drank from this spring on the day of the battle and a stone structure was later built over the location.

The inscription on the well reads:

"Near this spot, on August 22nd 1485, at the age of 32, King Richard III fell fighting gallantly in defence of his realm & his crown against the usurper Henry Tudor.

The Cairn was erected by Dr. Samuel Parr in 1813 to mark the well from which the king is said to have drunk during the battle.

It is maintained by the Fellowship of the White Boar."

It has the most beautiful and sweet-smelling white roses growing alongside it.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Trinity Marina - See No Boats; Hear No Boats; Hit No Boats

Passing Trinity Marina on the Ashby at Hinkley, (the marina is a grey and dour place, as well as wanting £5 a night for online moorings), we were struck by how many boaters just leave the marina basin without looking. Well, yes, we were nearly struck, quite literally.

We had a narrowboat pull out on us.

We could see him and he could see us. Well he would if he had been looking up.
He pulled straight out of the marina into the canal without slowing or sounding his horn.

There was no real problem in that I was going slow and was able to go astern and hold my position.

He suddenly realised that I was there and put on power to swing round in front of me.

I never even got a sorry. Just a sh*t eating grin as if to say, I'm more important than you, so you should have waited.

What is it with some people ?

Reminds me of the old joke about a young man in a Porsche Carrera sports car.

An older man in a battered old Ford was trying, slowly, to back into a space between two parked cars.

Suddenly, the Porsche driver zipped into the space, leaving the older man gaping, dumbfounded.

Seeing that the old man was staring in disbelief, the young man said "Porsche, 4 litre engine, 155 mph, limited edition".

The older man just reversed into the Porsche and barged it out of the way.

Seeing the look of horror on the Porsche drivers face, he said "Company car and I've just been made redundant, so I don't give a hoot" (or words to that effect). 


Saturday, 13 June 2009

Narrowboat Cut-Offs and Dressing Up

The Ashby is a beautiful canal. It has the same rural unspoilt charm as the Fens, but boy, is it shallow.

I lost count of the times we ran aground, passing boats coming the other way.

In addition, we don't cruise that fast and a few "speedy gonzales" wanted to get past us.

Rather than have them hassle me by sitting on my stern, I tend to pull to one side on a straight and wave them past.

I favour staying to starboard and letting them overtake on my port, big ship style, but every time I did it, we ran over a shoal and the boat tipped to port and we started to yaw.

I prefer this method, as it forces the overtaking boat on to the wrong side, so it's they who have the problem if anything comes the other way. This is a pretty normal nautical standpoint.

If they want to risk an overtaking manoeuvre, they have to bear the risk.  

Fed up with continually going aground, I tried another way, I went over to port, hugged the deep water of the towpath and waved the overtaking boat along my starboard side.

As soon as we did this, another boat, a hire boat this time, came towards us through a distant bridge hole. Seeing Willawaw on the wrong side, they were fazed. My two short blasts on the horn did nothing for them. In the end, we reverted to hand signals and they passed green-to-green looking confused until we were able to explain verbally. 

We passed through Charity Dock. I've never seen a crazier place.

Dressed mannequins, the cabin cut off a narrowboat, on the top of a pile of scrap at a strange angle and this old working boat.

She's all wood, but no sign of a name.

Any ideas ?  

Friday, 12 June 2009

Swing Low, Sweet Carriot

Today has been a surreal day.

We passed through Stretton Stop and met our first swing bridge for ages.

Stretton Stop is the home of Rose Narrowboats, a hire fleet and they have their very own swing bridge to allow their staff to cross between the office and their boat shed and slipway.

When we arrived, the bridge was closed, so we duly stopped and inspected said bridge.

The swing bridge at Stretton is a simple affair, but it is adorned by misleading notices, painted in a bright red and white colour.

One end has lots of counterweights.

The instructions didn't seem very clear to me, so rather than make a fool of myself, I asked one of the yard workers.

"It's very easy", he said. "Just hold the handle and swing".

Open sesame and it really was easy.

Like all things, easy when you know how.

It doesn't say that on the sign, I protested to defend my blushes.

"No, we have all sorts of problems with boaters coming through", he said.

"They stand on it, try to find somewhere to apply a windlass, all sorts".

"It's because the sign doesn't actually say hold the handle and swing it open", I protested again.

"No, you're right", he said, "I've never really looked at it like that !"

I don't know if he was humouring me or agreeing with me.

At that moment, the first mate came along - a guinea pig.

How would you open this swing bridge, we both chimed ??

Like this, she said, taking the handle and swinging the bridge across - doh !

To add to the surrealism, my daughter sent me this photo.

She is at the house and has bought her rabbit, a carrot holder.

He is about 15 years old and will only eat a carrot if you stand and hold it for him.

I think it looks like a device for medieval torture of the private parts and told her so.

She wasn't impressed.. 

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Vintage Braunston

Seeing this old van outside the premises of Tony Redshaw Vintage Diesels, got me thinking about how narrowboaters always tend to be fond of vintage forms of transport.

It might be the typical age group of your average narrowboater, which makes them, well, a little nostalgic.

This old van, which I believe is a Ford Thames 400E, must date from between 1957 when the marque was launched by the maker, to 1963 when the first "A" plate was introduced.

As the name above the door suggests, Tony Redshaw and his son Paul, specialise in the restoring and marinising of quality vintage diesel engines, particularly Gardners. 

Their premises are located in Braunston, just before you get to Braunston Turn, where Midland Chandlers are located.

Braunston is really a mecca for narrowboating and is up there with Stoke Bruerne and the other biggies.

It's the antithesis of the Fens as a boating area. When we were in the Fens, we hardly saw another boat. When you did, it was an important moment. It was worth calling down to the First Mate in the cabin, to herald the arrival of another fellow traveller to the East Anglian wilderness.

However, in Braunston, it's like the M1 of the canals. A veritable stream of traffic passes you by. A boat is just another boat. 

Not being people who like crowds, we quickly passed through Braunston and entered the nice wide stretches of water just north of the town. They are more reminiscent of the rivers, being not at all canal-like. 


You can see Braunston Church for miles after you leave the turn. It's spire looms over the farmland, tall and gaunt. Quite apt really, when you consider how many working boat families are buried in it's churchyard.

Sorry, I failed to get a photograph of us leaving Braunston, mainly due to the fact that it was hammering it down. However, in true "Blue Peter" fashion, here's one I took earlier (several years earlier actually, on a previous cruise). We've actually been through Braunston quite a few times on Willawaw since she was built in 2003.


Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Braunston Boat Rally

There are signs up in Braunston for the forthcoming boat rally on the weekend of the 27th/28th June.

It's usually a briliant gathering of historic working boats and the ubiquitous 'President' will be there.

It will also have:

► Daily boat parades with commentary
► Trade exhibitors & canal societies 
► Live music entertainment - afternoons & evenings
► Beer tent with local real ales (opens Friday evening) 
► Morris dancing 
► Horse Boat Society demonstrations 
► Fast food
► The Day-Star Theatre Company performing "An Unpleasant Business" on Thursday night 

For more information, check out their website:



Not Such a Bright Idea !

We have very power hungry halogen lamps on our boat because we like the powerful, warm, cosy light that they put out.

I have resisted replacing them with LED's, because I believe that LED technology has a long way to go and the light output from most is pretty unimpressive.

Back in March, I saw and was sorely tempted by these:


They have the same MR16 fitting as our Halogens and would be a straight swop.

They will also resist battery voltage fluctuations up to 18V, expel a warm light tone and each light fitting will only draw about 0.250A from the batteries.

The only drawback and the main reason I didn't pursue it, was the price - £12 each. 

However, the owner of NB Duck N Dive was taken because I mentioned that they would last longer and use a lot less power !!!

He bought a unit to test, which cost him £14.57 by the time Packing, Postage and VAT were added.
He plugged it in at home and was impressed by the nice warm light.
However, it only lasted 9 weeks and the costing worked out at £1.62 per week - whoops !!!

He is e-mailing the supplier, Ultraleds, for an explanation.

I note from the boatowners comment that he was using them at home, so supposedly from the mains supply, via a transformer.

There is a comment on the suppliers website which says "Please note LED Bulbs have problems with some Electronic Transformers which include not switching on Flickering and Damaging the Bulb".

If it's not due to that, then the site also says that the LED fittings are covered by a one year warranty.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Pin The Tail On The Donkey..

Following my last blog on the subject of the intricacies of canal navigation, "there are two sides to every coin". 

It's not just a question of how to determine your location; it's also a matter of how to let everybody know where you are ??

My response is a little tongue-in-cheek !!!

What is it about boaters that makes them want to tell everybody their location ? :-)

Many boaty blogs and websites these days, have locator panels showing their readers the position of their boat.

Now, to be honest, I don't fit the mould.

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but the World-Wide bit is just that.

Anybody and everybody can look at it.

99.9% of us are 99.9% sane, but the 0.01% are 100% certifiable.

Willawaw is our home (well, second home) and the thought of every psycho knowing our exact location doesn't greatly appeal.

For this reason, we go to some lengths to not show detailed images of the boat or her exact position in real time.

However, the technology pertaining to boat locating fascinates me, so it's something of a conundrum, as I'm sure you can appreciate.

There appears to be two main ways of transmitting your location, for the World to see.

Water Explorer is a software devised by Stuart, owner of DuskTill Dawn. Stuart is involved with the writing of software for a living, but has been developing W.E in his spare time.

It has taken him a couple of years.

I tried it initially, but couldn't get on with it at first.

He is gradually ironing out bugs and improving it's features and ease of use.

Its quite clever in it's principle, because you don't need to have a GPS.

You can operate it from either a laptop with an internet connection or even a mobile phone with the ability to browse the Internet.

In essence, you tell the programme where you intend to start your journey (by clicking on a bridge or lock number). When you pass under or through subsequent bridges or locks, you click on a website link confirming their numbers.

This enables the programme to identify you progress and because you are actually telling it the elapsed time between each geographical point, it can calculate your average speed and distance run.

Water Explorer then plots your progress on the website in a nationwide boat plot.    

The boats are plotted against a Google Earth satellite image or Google Maps background and smoke trails show where they have been.

There is also a facility which allows bloggers to link this information to their blogs.

Some boaters like John and Fiona Slee on NB Epiphany are trialling a derivative of Water Explorer called Navvygator, which allows the position to be plotted automatically, with the use of a GPS and a laptop.

The movements of Epiphany using this method can be seen here:


The other method which is ideal for bloggers, is Google Latitude.

This is a general social-positioning software which allows friends to keep track of each other.

Google Latitude allows you to update your location from a mobile or laptop using an internet connection. This can then also be linked to a blog or website.

After playing with both methods, I decided to go with the latter.

Going back to my earlier dichotomy of not wanting to publish our exact position, but wanting to participate in the technology, I decided to use Google Latitude, but impose a time delay in the positions, so they don't represent our current position.

You can see the result on the left of this text.

Heady stuff and it makes a blog or cruising diary, a little more interesting for the reader when they can see the boat moving in real time (albeit in the case of Willawaw, historically).

Perhaps more bloggers will embrace the technology ?

Existing users of Google Latitude already include well known canal bloggers like Granny Buttons. 

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Spot On !!

I must admit to being something of a cartography fan.

I like maps - I like reading them and even making them.

It probably stems from having a cr*p sense of direction. I am infamous in my family for being able to get totally lost unless I am near water.

Technological leaps in satellite navigation for land and road use have lead to various discussions in the forums about using GPS on the canals.

Of course, everybody knows that you don't really need GPS on the canals. If you have a decent paper map guide like Nicholsons, Pearsons, etc, there are enough landmarks to find your position and look out for the next feature.

However, that would be no fun now, would it ?

and boys do like their toys !!

We use an old Magellan GPS (monochrome screen; no mapping) as a speedometer. It's useful to be able to see your speed-over-the-ground and compare it with the 4 mph speed limit rule, especially when challenged by some miserable old bugger for going too fast. 

4 mph is often referred to as a fast walking pace, but in actual fact, it's a very FAST walking pace and we certainly tend to average a much slower speed (2.5 - 3 mph).

Our GPS is also quite useful in that it displays the compass heading (Course-Over-Ground to be pedantic) that you are following.

As Nicholsons maps are aligned to North, on long stretches of feature-less rivers or canals, it will allow you to see roughly where you are. All you have to do is compare the heading on the GPS with the direction, the river/canal is following on the map.

If the GPS says you are travelling 090 degrees (East), then you look for the stretch of water that runs East-West and the chances are that you are somewhere on that stretch.

A few techno-freak boaters have said to me that it would be useful to have their canal maps on the screen of a handheld device instead of having to refer to a flapping, rain-specked, paper book that keeps trying to make suicidal leaps over the rail into the cut.

I can see their point, but due to the small map screen on any handheld device and bearing in mind the amount of detail needed, it must be like wall-papering your hall through the letterbox, from the front garden. Also, most screens don't like sunny days, when we try to do most of our boating.

We have a little GPS module that connects to the laptop by USB and which will enable us to pinpoint our position on a map background on the laptop. We have used this more on tidal passages like the Severn estuary, where we used proper electronic navigation charts (e.g. the British Admiralty charts provided by Memory Map or the RYA).

It will also work on the canals using an Ordnance Survey electronic map as a background (again, available from Memory Map), but who needs a laptop on the roof when you are cruising ?

EurEauWeb is a company based at Braunston who have developed a canal navigation software, which can run on a laptop or mobile device.

I've never used it, or met anybody who has, but it seems to hit the spot.

Their website proclaims that it is developed for boaters by boaters. It appears to do all the right things, contains all the Nicholsons information and when it runs on a laptop, offers full route planning.

River Canal Rescue use it and EEW have many sales agents around the marinas.

The only problem I can see, is the price.

It costs £129.99 just for the software plus £25 per annum for the updates.

Mind you, have you seen the cost for a full set of updated Nicholsons ??  

Personally, I would advise EurEauWeb to break down their maps into regions and sell them at a lower price, region by region.

Some boaters might spend £25 for just one region, where they are unlikely to fork out £130 for the whole of the UK waterways, which they might never get to explore in their own boat. 

As canal boaters tend to take pleasure from boating at the least possible cost, another way to tackle the issue is to make your own maps.

One of the things that irks me, is when I buy a new Nicholsons book for £13-14 and discover when I want to use it, that some things are out of date.

Online updating is something that has intrigued me for a while.

To test this, I produced my own waterways guides for the River Lee and Stort, an area I know well.

The maps were created on a Google Earth background as an overlay (in .KMZ format).

My idea was that if every boater produced a map guide for their own territory, roughly to a common list of symbols, then the resultant maps could be shared on a free exchange basis.

The map files are very small and therefore very easy to store on a website as a download or even e-mail between boats.

Google Earth is a great resource.

It is very easy to work with. 

Apart from being able to show your map overlay, it also has a great search facility.

If you are moored in a specific area and need, for example, a vet for one of your pets, you just have to type "vets" in the "fly to" box in the top left corner of Google Earth.

The programme will then list out all the local vets and more importantly, show their locations on the map, as well as give you the telephone number, etc.

We have used this search facility a number of times as we travel, especially for taxi's and it works well. 

In summary, narrowboating is so slow, I really can't see satnavs catching on, in the same way that they have for road users.

However, there are some great spin-off's from the technology and I feel that these can be harnessed, generally quite inexpensively, to make boating life a lot easier.


Saturday, 6 June 2009

Please Speak Clearly After the Tone

I had a conversation with a group at work the other day, about companies and how they use their own internal terminology and special trade-related terms, when they talk to their customers.

Have you ever phoned a bank or an insurance company and had them speak gobbledegook down the line at you. They talk to you as if they are talking to one of their colleagues, using all the jargon of their trade.

When you don't understand because you don't deal in their line of business every day and ask them to slow down and clarify certain words, you can sense their impatience - they almost sigh and tut at you.

Banks and insurers are not the only culprits. My original discussion was sparked off by technical support people talking to some of my customers in part numbers.

I caught them doing it and challenged them. 

I would say that 9 times out of 10, they don't even realise they are doing it.

Office-based staff are so used to communicating like this, they just naturally assume that people outside of their work environment, will follow their conversation.

This inability to empathise is one of the biggest enemies of industry.

It's not confined to verbal communication either.

I received my new American Express credit card the other day (the cheap green one, not the gold or platinum one !!)

There was a little white sticker on the new credit card telling me to go to their website and activate now.

So, being the good, obedient little boy that I am, I did.

I dutifully filled in all the online card numbers and passwords to get through their security protection. It then asked me to enter the 4-digit identification number.

This confused me as I wasn't sure what number they meant.

I tried the number on the card after the account number - Amex.co.uk didn't like it

I tried my password number - Amex.co.uk didn't like it

I tried another number that might fit - Amex.co.uk didn't like it

I got locked out, for my own protection, of course.

Frustrated, I tore the stupid bit of white paper off the card and lo and behold, beneath it, was a little, barely visible, 4-digit number that I'd never seen on the old card before.

I tried to enter that, but the website very clearly and positively said that I had been locked out and should phone them up instead.

I called...

and spoke to a machine.

I dutifully keyed in my account number and a few other things that it asked for.

Eventually, the recorded voice in a pleasant Edinburgh accent, told me to call back when my old card had expired (another 3 weeks away).

What a complete waste of 30 minutes.

Ironically, the bill came the next day, asking me to pay them another £37.50

Now, it was quite clear to me that the person(s) who had written those instructions, had never actually tried to follow them with the knowledge base of a typical customer.

Of course, THEY, would know where the mystery 4-digit number was hiding.

It could all be avoided with a little bit of empathy. 

An old friend of mine used to write instruction manuals for the Marconi company.

In my opinion, Marconi manuals were one of the most concise and clearly written instruction books of all time.

His secret ?

When he had written a section, he used to get somebody like his long suffering wife, to read what he had written and see if there was any room for confusion or misunderstanding.

I pull an example of how not to do it, from the handbook for my new Blackberry:

Question. How to turn on the Speakerphone

Answer. During a call, press the Speakerphone key   

Thank goodness for that, I'd never have guessed.

It took me a full five minutes to find a key that passed for the speakerphone key (it had a little red speaker as a secondary function on the top of the tiny key cap)..

Speaking clearly is big business.

Companies have been formed to teach clear English to other companies.

The Plain Language Commission say:

"Every organization knows that customers and service users value clarity. So if you are making the effort to write your leaflets, forms, sales brochures and legal agreements in plain English, why not tell people?

Displaying the Clear English Standard helps you do this. It shows customers that your documents have passed a rigorous check of clarity, grammar and layout by experts in the field.

The Clear English Standard also gives you a competitive edge and a public-relations boost by reassuring customers that you've taken extra care to be clear.

Some of our accredited documents have gone to ten million UK households — probably the widest distribution of such material anywhere in the world. More than 10,000 documents bear the mark, so it probably appears on about 100 million printed items.

For many organizations, gaining the Clear English Standard for all their major public documents has become an essential part of customer care.

Its users include Standard Life, Financial Services Authority, Places For People, Companies House, The Insolvency Service, Zurich Financial Services, Birmingham City Council, Scottish Court Service, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office".

Interesting, Standard Life and Zurich - both insurance companies..

Remember this the next time you need to make a claim.... 


Friday, 5 June 2009

Grembles and BW World

Today started off badly.

I was woken at dark o'clock by a cat doing a merengue on my head.

"Blue" wanted petting, then he wanted to go a'hunting.

After having ushered him out of the cratch door into the thinning blackness, I went back to bed and tried to get to sleep.

Then the Grembles came. 

Grembles are a cross between Gremblins and brain rumbles.

They are the thoughts of doom that race across your head in the early hours, when you are trying to get to sleep.

Is the boat now leaning at a slight angle, what is that dripping noise, did I remember to lock the back doors ??

If they're not about the boat, they're work thoughts - did I do this, did I do that, I wonder what will happen about those and so on. 

The brain races bravely on, while all you want to do is to shut it down and return to the warm, cosy world of SLEEP.

On a different note, we've ARRIVED.....

We are back in British Waterways world.

A few things have changed of course.

There seems a lot more moored boats along the canal, although that could be because, we have got used to not seeing that many.

One of the characteristics of the Fens, Middle Level and Nene is that there is no towpath and therefore, its quite hard to just moor anywhere.

Mooring has to be planned and there are little communities every few miles, which entertain tying up alongside. It gives you the feeling of little boaty journeys between civilisations.

Canals are more like a linear village with non-stop boats and people.

Just being moored and being passed by lots of boaters is a an experience that we've not seen for a while. On the Grand Union, it can be a bit like picnic'cing on the side of the M1. 

Cruising underneath the M1 Motorway between Northampton and Gayton Junction (the Rothersthorpe flight of locks).

Back to Black and White Locks at Rothersthorpe (is the licence cheaper ?)

Gayton Junction and the entrance to the "proper" Grand Union. Now, we just have to decide where to go next.

We have a few weeks before our drydocking slot, so we will just need to bimble around without going too far.

After drydocking, we have no idea where we are going.

That's the beauty of continuous cruising really !!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Wave Hello

You might be seeing this logo a lot more as the year progresses.

Last week, Google launched the concept of their new Google Wave product at their I/O conference in San Franscisco.

In many respects, "Wave" is groundbreaking stuff.

Developed by a start-up team in Google Sydney, "Wave" is in its simplest form, an integrated combination of e-mail, instant messaging and other component parts like social networking, blogs, etc.

Up to now, each of these parts run independently in separate programmes and to some extent, it has been, never the twain shall meet.

Google have announced this product exceptionally early because they want other organisations to get involved. Google have already announced that this will be opensource code.

To achieve true integration, they need other developers to play along.

I can see some method in this digital madness. Google are now huge - they even operate the blog upon which I type.

If you are a big user of e-mail, have you ever noticed that if you send an e-mail covering a number of different topics in one mail, the person at the other end, will sometimes reply in red underneath each subject line, within the body of YOUR e-mail.

"Wave" follows through on this and e-mails become threads that are a cross between instant messaging and forum responses. E-mails can now occur in real time, with instant responses, people being added as the theme develops and so on.

If you want to know more, click on the You Tube movie above, but be warned, it runs for over an hour.

Google themselves say a "wave" is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more. 

To my way of thinking, a "Wave" starts small and then builds up (as people add content) until it culminates in a crash on a beach somewhere.

The Internet never ceases to amaze me - it just keeps on building - whatever next ? 

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Defending Blueberries

The Blackberry revolution has been amongst us for some time.

I work in shipping and I've noticed that shipping company executives have had them for quite a few years.

It's easy to spot as their eyes are always looking down at their little screens and the fingers are working feverishly, while you are trying to talk to them.

The makers are a US company called RIM (Research in Motion), founded by two U.S students in 1984. They specialised in wireless systems and started off making point-of-sale equipment before launching their first Blackberry product in 1999.

I used to send the design guys in the office into fits of laughter by absent mindedly referring to them as "blueberries".

Then it happened...

I got one.

The company I'm contracted to, announced that they are not happy having me trapseing around without them knowing where I am and how to get hold of me. Here, have one of these, they said.

I'm sure some of you don't know what I'm talking about.

What on earth is a Blackberry or a Blueberry, or whatever the hell it is.

Well the makers blurb says

"BlackBerry smartphones allow you to stay in touch with everything that matters to you while you’re on the go.

Email, phone, maps, organizer, applications, games, the Internet and more.

Some smartphones even include a media player and/or camera so you really have everything you need in one stylish device".

So, now you know. Mine even has a very good GPS with Blackberry maps.

The crew of the good ship Willawaw are already confirmed technofreaks and we are staunch supporters of the team Apple. 

We have an iPod Touch and an iPhone between us and think that the iPod touch screen user interface is the dogs doo-dahs.

Blackberry, in our humble opinion is not as good, but it IS bigger in the business world, so there you go - no wonder.

My problem is how to stop said piece of delicate and sophisticated electronics from getting damaged in my rough and tumble life.

Any phone that I use will get thrown around, dropped, etc.

Then, I discovered Otterbox.

Another US company (from Colorado I think), Otterbox make great, tough cases for phones, PDA's and the such like.

To cut a long blog short, I bought one - the Otterbox Defender, actually.

As you can see below, it protects your valuable iPod, Blackberry or whatever from rain, dust, impact and so on. It does this by surrounding it in three layers of protection.

I bought my Defender case from Ebay and fitted it today.

It took about 5 minutes and was simplicity itself. None of the original phone is exposed once it's fitted. The three layers of protection completely surround it.


* The phone is VERY protected by the case

* All the buttons still work through the silicon casing

* The audio quality through the case is good

* You don't have to take it out of the case ever - there is even a built in charge aperture


* The price - £25

* It's a bit clunky - fine if you like looking like a contender for a SWAT team

* The first layer doesn't lay completely flat on the screen (bubbles can be smoothed off with a credit card and some soapy water) 


In all, I'm very impressed. I can't speak for the iPod version, but my Blueberry one is good.

I just need to make sure I don't leave it somewhere now - no case in the world can protect against absent minded-ness.

Mind you, they do have a bright yellow and black version to make it harder to ignore !!!

Otterbox take advantage of all the latest technology and have a blog here:


You can also follow them on Twitter - @otterbox

After fitting the case, I sent them a twitter just thanking them for some info they had given me and confirming that I had made a purchase and all was well.

They replied via Twitter from Colorado, within 20 minutes.

Twitter does really work in business, as well as socially. 

Monday, 1 June 2009

Probably The Last Brewery on the Nene

The good thing about this time of the year is the amount of daylight that we get, as we approach the summer solstice on the 21st.

If you want to cover some distance, this is the best time of the year.

With the good weather and light evenings, we have put in some very long days and really made progress.

After what seemed like a never-ending horizon of guillotine locks, we finally pulled into Northampton.

We saw "Northamptonshire Crusader", which is a St.Johns Ambulance Community Trip Boat and weighs an amazing 42 tonnes.

Becket's Park Lock is the first lock of the Nene (or the last lock, depending on which way you are cruising).

When we cruised from BW country last year, it was our first sight of Environmental Agency land and it seemed very alien.

We were struck by the different paddle gear and what seemed like great investment at the time, compared to British Waterways.

They even had a canoe portaging jetty - What foresight !!

Last year, we quickly learnt that Becket's was a show lock - the locks that followed after, had their fair share of imperfections.

However, what's the saying ?

A change is as good as a rest !!

Anyway, on leaving the Nene on our way back to the canals, we were sorry to see all the electric locks go - a bit like saying goodbye to old friends.

We haven't boated on BW waters for quite a while and to be honest, we would have been quite happy to stay in the land of big skies.

However, boatyards and drydocking facilities for longish narrowboats are not that common in the Fens. Everything is really geared up to plastic boats there.

The old girl needs some T.L.C, so we have to go back.

We did a sharp left at the Carlsberg Brewery and entered the Northampton Lock, which is also known as Cotton End Lock and is the first/last lock of the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union.

I hear that Tetleys, whose parent company is now owned by Carlsberg, will have their production moved here in 2011.


So, this is goodbye to the Nene, the Middle Levels and the Fens for quite a while - probably...