Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tiger to Die Before Xmas
For the last couple of years we have been riding the Tiger Line (or tiger-lion as I heard a young lad call it recently)
This bus service between Aylesbury and Chesham has built a strong and regular passenger base of workers and twirlies. (Those with bus passes who enquire of the driver of any bus around 9.30am  Are we twirly?)

The operating company has recently sold the Tiger Line routes and they are to cease on Friday Dec 23.  They have provided a sterling service with a smile and it is a shame to see their demise....

....Even if some of the passengers were a little unusual.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Horace Foster R.I.P
We leaned today that Horace Foster sadly died yesterday.
We were privileged to spend a week cruising the BCN in the company of H, as he was known, in 2009. As one of the last commercial boatmen on the BCN, he was a real gentleman. We joined the BCNS Explorer Cruise in June 2009 along with 24 other boats and H, as he was known, was steering nb Jjinad with his friend  Trisha Higgs.  Each morning H would be set off before some of us were out of bed travelling the canals he had worked on day-boats in the past. Each evening we caught him up and enjoyed a relaxed chat with him and Trish. I always marvelled at his tolerance of us who only play at canal boating but I don't think he ever thought of us in that way. He was so generous with his time we shall miss him. 
The only photograph I have of H is this one from the 2009 Explorer Cruise of him at the tiller of Jjinad - a typical and memorable stance.
Winter is coming?
Woke this morning to the first ice of this winter.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Smaller Staples
You might think, as She who must be obeyed does, that I spend all my time on the Internet. That is not true, as my spend at Staples for paper and ink jet cartridges  illustrates.  Over the past three years I have, according to the company itself, spent about £350 in various of their stores around the country. I thought the other day that it was about time to check the status of my Rewards.  Dreaming how I could spend my 2% cashback I called Staples Rewards office and was informed that I had not spent enough to qualify for anything at all.  Apparently in the small print there are conditions which I had not read regarding the level of spend in each calendar quarter.  They have recently changed the scheme reducing the spend level and changing the discount to 10% but only on paper and ink jet cartridges. That sound like good news until you see how they are financing it -
By a 13% reduction in the contents of the ink cartridge

Sunday, 4 December 2011

I agree with de Gaule
Every year since UK has been in the Common Market we have paid more into the organisation than we have taken out.  Some years this has been in a ration of 2:1.  Mrs Thatcher clawed some of this back but Mr. Blair partially relinquished this rebate.

When the Euro was created we, wisely, declined the invitation to join. Events recently have demonstrated the great weakness of this arrangement: it has always been run by politicians rather than economists.  When it was established the applicants were set financial and economic convergence criteria to achieve in order to join. Italy did not meet the criteria but as a founding member of the EU it was politically unthinkable to exclude it.  France then insisted that Greece should be admitted as it was philosophically unthinkable for a European organisation  to exclude  the country of Socrates. A single currency area by definition must behave as a single economic area: funds must flow from the strong to the weak area within the zone. If not, the individual countries remain individuals.  Germany has a strong economy: if it left the Eruo its currency would strengthen significantly reducing its economic competitiveness. so why is it reluctant to pay the debts of its weaker members?

I have always been a strong supporter of a well-planned and executed customs union. However, when we were given the opportunity to vote in a referendum 35 years ago I read through the Treaty of Rome and concluded that I could not agree with the political implications  of joining what was then called the Common Market but which has morphed through the European Economic Community to the European Union. Next stop is United States of Europe.
During our recent visit to Lille I was reminded of how Chales de Gaule kept the UK out of the organisation and the newspaper headlines
- NON! 
Charles de Gaule was born in Lille

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Every Little Bit Helps
Ten years ago the major museums and galleries removed the entry charges for permanent exhibitions.  In London alone there are 46m visitors each year to these establishments. If a charge of £1/head were introduced the exchequer could pocket £46m/year without causing hardship to anyone. Perhaps even £2 at peak times. For the cost of a few turnstiles the museums woould benefit considerably. If they used the Oyster card it could be made even  more painless.
It is not much of a vote winner though, is it?

Friday, 2 December 2011

Where are the men of vision?
When Lord Coe led the bid  by London to host the 2012 Olympics one of the elements which swayed the vote away from the rival bid from Paris was the plans by the Olympic Park legacy Company to morph the world-class facilities into local resources. Despite no Olympics since Los Angeles in 1984 having made a profit, the IOC believed them.
We are now less than one year from the 2012 Olympics, the budget of £2.4bn is now nearly £10bn and OPLC have not even been able to find a satisfactory customer for the main stadium - the most marketable property on the site.
Six months ago the Wellcome Trust made an offer of £1bn for the whole site - lock stock and barrel.  They have a 20 year plan to create a Global Hub  for research and innovation in the areas of health and sports science creating 7000 jobs with close liaison with Loughbrough University and UCL. But they want it all - good bits and bad bits.  The OPLC seem to think that because the houses will be attractive to builders that the whole site is equally attractive.  They have already disproved that premise. And why should we listen to the Wellcome Trust?  One good reason, in the current parlous state of our economy is this:  The Wellcome Trust is the only organisation in the country, outside our government, which has the AAA credit rating.  It is more financially sound than Greece, Italy and Eire put together.  They must have been doing something right over the last 75 years!
Why must people in public office be allowed to make short-term decisions regardless of the long term future of the country? When the swimming pool was being designed the local authority offered to buy it after the Olympics for the local community but they would need it to be easily adaptable to leisure use like the addition of flumes.  Their wishes were ignored and it will not be viable for local  use. If you are wondering why the Olympic housing stock will need the involvement of builders to sell it is because the units built for athletes do not have kitchens and all the other facilities expected by normal people.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Why should the Chief Executive of BW miss his targets six years in a row and still get a bonus greater than some of his staff's annual pay?

Why should any of the directors get a bonus when the BW remuneration committee has said there will not be a bonus this year?

If you share my concern over the fat cat rewards for incompetence and under-performance then click on the heading above and read the e-petition.
If you agree with it please sign it and see if we can put a stop to at least some of the nonsense at BW. 
If everyone who signed the petition to stop HS2 sign this one it will be debated in parliament.  So come on you land-lubbers - support the water gypsies for a change
Proud to be a NIMBY
The government is proposing to build a high speed railway - HS2- between London and Birmingham which will reduce the journey time by 20mins and will cost the equivalent of £1000 per head of population.  Whilst  discussing this recently I was called a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) because I do not support the idea. This was intended to be derogatory. It was, in fact, inaccurate on two points.  Firstly I no longer live on the intended route of HS2. Secondly my objection is to the rail link entirely regardless of any route it takes. I am not alone in this objection: there is even support within the  House of Commons.
The Stop HS2 movement summarise their opposition succinctly as:
No business case
No environmental case
No money to build it
Of course their case would receive much more support if the project was going to wipe out a national treasure - Blenheim or Stonehenge for example.  
All it will damage is :
The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
4 Wildlife Trust Reserves
10 Sites of Special Scientific Interest
50  areas of Ancient Woodland
Nothing very special, then.
In the National Trust Magazine recently Simon Barnes of The Times made the case for a Society for the Protection of Nothing Very Special.
Sing me up Simon.
If the NIMBYs don't fight for these kinds of minor treasures who will?

Some of the Not Very Special contryside which HS2 will destroy,

Saturday, 26 November 2011

William Sheller en Solitaire 20 Ans Deja
Twenty years ago this month I was working for an American company in Paris, moving mainframe computers around Europe and beyond. When I phoned the logistics company I used in Paris I often had to wait for the person I required.  During this period the phone system was linked to a local radio station - Cherie FM . By putting my phone on hands-free operation I  was treated to music while I worked. There was one song in particular which I took to but never caught enough of it to identify either the title or artist.  My solution was to pop down to the record department of the Samaritaines store near Pont Neuf and la-la the tune to an assistant who identified it successfully as Un Homme Heureux by William Sheller 
Earlier this week we made a trip to Lille and attended a rare concert by William Sheller. Even at twenty years older the performance was splendid. Here is a sample of that song.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Hello Again!
On our way up or down the Grand Union we often stop near the Tesco supermarket at Leighton Buzzard and take a walk around the town.

Amongst the things it is noted for is the house where Mary Norton wrote the series of children's book The Borrowers.

It is now a school.

Note for younger readers -
these are telephone kiosks which we used before the cellular phone was invented

Almost next door is All Saints' Church which is famous for its medieval graffiti.

This depicts Simon and Nellie who fell out over whether to boil or bake some fruit and flour for the impending visit of their son and daughter-in-law. Nellie is seen here pulling Simon's ear before deciding to compromise by both first boiling and then baking the ingredients.  The resulting cake was well received and has led to the claim that SIMon and NELlie invented the SIMNEL cake which we traditional eat on Mothering Sunday.

Not far from the canal is this handy reminder of the commercial activities of Leighton Buzzard with graphic depictions on both sides of each disc.

Like the Canal

But perhaps these are the ones you were waiting for.

Leighton Buzzard was once a centre of bra and parachute manufacture.

And on the site where Tesco now stands, Morgan Coachworks applied the Weyman technique developed in Paris first to building car bodies and, when WWI broke out, to manufacturing the Vickers Vimy bomber.  Although it was too late to take part in the war it became famous  as the chosen plane for many successful world record attempts.

In 1994 a replica of the Vickers Vimy was built and successfully recreated the world record flights - England to Australia; England to South Africa and USA to England.  This machine was given to Brooklands Museum who have kept it airworthy and here is a film clip of it flying.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Hello Boys!
(This post is for Chris, Paul and Ivy who live on their narrowboat in northern France)
What do these pictures have in common?
If you recall my post  - Flying Boats -of 11 October 2009 (still available in the archive) the Vickers Vimy flown by Alcock and Brown on the first non-stop transatlantic  crossing was the source of much personal embarrassment. But that is no clue to the answer to my query as I have never knowingly been embarrassed by a Wonderbra.
A large element of the Vimy superstructure was wire  and fabric but that is not really a clue either.
Maybe I'll keep you guessing until tomorrow.
Meanwhile, enjoy th pictures

Friday, 28 October 2011

Survived the Invasion!
For the past four weeks we have been chaperoning tow American couples around Normandy beaches and bits of Bath and London before subjecting them to the Grand Union canal  aboard Gecko.
Promise more postings soon - when we arrive in Aylesbury basin for our winter mooring.
Thanks for not deserting me.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Busman's Holiday -1
Last Monday we took a day off for a trip on the paddle steamer Waverley. This is the only sea-going paddle steamer in the world and it divides its time between the Thames estuary, the Severn estuary and the Scottish islands.

We were not the only passengers waiting to board at Whitstable

The ship commenced its trip round the coast at Ramsgate and its last port of call was Soouthend on the northern shore.  
At over 1.25miles, Southend pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world. It has sufferred three fires in the last 20 years and several breaches. The last of these was repaired only three days ago after a maintenance vessel loosed its moorings and struck the pier.

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge which carries the clockwise traffic of the M25 over the river looks more elegant from the deck of a ship than from the front seat of a car.

The highlight, of course was passing through Tower Bridge -


And in the rush hour!

Even better than the swing bridge at Aldermaston

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Trap set with some smelly French cheese and three hours later the deed was done. Far from an instant death - really quite sad.  Have reset the trap in case there are others in the clan.
Uninvited Guest
Yesterday morning during our ablutions we both heard a scratching noise which seemed to come from above us. It did not last long. we were out all day, getting some jobs done at the house in Bath and only returned to Gecko at midnight. this morning the noise occurred again but now moved form bathroom to kitchen.  Still no visual clue to its origin. However, when we started preparing breakfast we discovered the Weetabix packet had been chewed. so we have a mouse somewhere.  It has managed to get into the roof between the steel shell and the wooden lining.  I hope he has not eaten too much of the insulation or taken a fancy to the wiring.
She who must be obeyed has now gone to Daventry in search of a mouse trap.
More news as it  unfolds.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Leaky Lock
This is only the gates and so the water will remain in the canal somewhere albeit not where it should be.  When the water leaks through the walls however, it leaves the canal system altogether

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Essential Maintenance?
After our day off yesterday we left Banbury this morning with the hope of passing through the locks at Claydon before they are chained up for the night.  The Oxford Canal is so short of water that the locks at either end of the summit pound are only open form 10am to 2pm each day.

With the shortage of water so critical it was good to see that BW can spare two men and a boat for sweeping around the lock at Cropredy rather than such frivolous activities as repairing leaky lock gates which look like Niagara Falls

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Pump It Up
The Kennet and Avon  Canal is about 75 miles from Reading to Bath and a cross section of it shows the steady climb up from the east and the impact of the Caen Hill flight of locks at Devizes.
Water supply is always an important consideration when designing a canal. From Reading to Kintbury water is supplied primarily from the River Kennet: The western section of the canal draws water from the River Avon. At various poionts on the canal these fluvial sources are augmented by back-pumping, particularly at Caen Hill where the electric pump at Foxhanger can raise a lock full of water to the top of the flight every 11 minutes. In the past pumps were not electric.

Crofton was powered by steam supplied by two Lancashire boilers. These are run about once a month during the summer for tourists to view.
Last year, however, the modern electric pump failed and Crofton Steam Pumping Station came into its own by  fulfilling its original role.

Restoration of the Crofton pump was undertaken by the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust but these plaques remind us of the immense debt we owe to Sir John Smith and his Manifold Trust.
Sir John, who also foounded The Landmark Trust, was also instrumental in bringing Brunel's SS Great Britain hack to Bristol from the Falklands where it was rusting awy. A great man, who I had the priviledge of meeting, and who achieved much without seeking glory for himself.

At Claverton, near Bath, a very neat solution was employed which has overtones of the search for perpetual motion:

The water was lifted from the River Avon to the canal by a waterwheel powered by the River Avon itself.

This suffered from inundation whenever the river  was in flood and is no longer operational although the mechanism is run by electric power on open days.

About half way down the Widcombe flight of locks which take the canal down into the Avon at Bath is what many passersby think is a monument of some kind.  It is the remaning chimney  from a pumping station which used to porvide back-pumping for the flight.

Mea Culpa
I have been chastised by an American reader for using the word voracity when I intended to use veracity. After highlighting gramatical shortcommings of others in the past I have to hold my hand up and accept due humiliation.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Aquatic Audi
Left Newbury this morning headed for Woolhampton.

As we approached the first swing bridge (No 48) we encontered a failed attempt to drive underwater in an Audi.


It appeared to be new and unregistered.

Although it did not present a serious hazard to navigaing a narrowboat I suspect the broadbeam boats will find it somewhat challenging.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A Walk on the Wild Side
I have just returned from a day trip to London for a hospital appointment.
The train from Newbury takes about an hour to Paddington and I had time to walk around Paddington Basin before taking the 205 bus to Old Street.
Not many boats moored but a little activity on the opposite bank. By the road bridge there is a patch of undergrowth in which a man has been living for about seven years. I do not know the why or wherefore but we have seen evidence of his habitation on our visits.

Today, however, the council are clearing the area.
Apparently the previous occupant is in prison.

A BW employee told me that it is not BW land and she did not know why the council had not been able to remove the incumbent sooner.  She added that the workmen had found about 200 suitcases in the debris they were clearing. The suggestion is that he had been claiming lost property from Paddington Station.

Further down I discovered that on Tuesdays there is now a food market with about half a dozen stalls selling various foreign delights.

Not to be outdone by Bradford-upon-Avon the operators of Merchants' Square have their own Pea Soup.

The moorhens are entering into the spirit of competition and demonstrating how they cope with it.

When the residents of the surrounding property chose to exclude canal boats from the basin was this their preferred choice?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Banksy in Bath?

At the bottom of the Widcombe flight of locks in Bath there is this graffiti which I have been told is by the great Bristol  artist - Banksy.   I have no way of checking the veracity of this claim but it is certainly very good.  What a pity some talentless twerps has added their pointless efforts.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A Hole in the Wall
Last week on BBC Radio 4's The Food Programme the impact of George Perry-Smith on post war dining was being extolled.  His first, and possible his greatest, restaurant was The Hole in the Wall in George Street,Bath. He only ever owned one restaurant at a time and would not have been happy with the current cult of celebrity chefs.  There is still an establishment of the same name  in the same place but it was sad to read this week in the local paper that an inspection by the Public Protection Service found the following:
>Mould covering the walls and ceilings of the washing up area
>Food debris, rubbish and dirty water in the kitchen
>Unclean chopping boards, bowl, mixer, microwave and freezer door seal
>Broken door seals on a fridge
>Ready-to-eat foods kept uncovered and exposed to mould
George Perry-Smith's kitchen was open for diners to view and hence was a spotless and polite environment at all times.
A whole different place!
Places to Go in Bath
There are many places to go in Bath and I cannot try to evaluate all of them. However the following I can personally recommend.
Bizarre Bath Walk
You won't learn anything about Bath but you will be thoroughly entertained
Café du Globe
Superb Morroccan food and wonderful service
Coeur de Lion
The best ale in Bath is Bellringer and the best place to drink it is in the city's smallest pub – a real local
Demuth's Vegetarian Restaurant
Imaginative veggie dishes – must book !
Eastern Eye
Award-winning Indian food in a marvelous setting
Guildhall Delicatessen
Quality local foods for your picnic or dinner
King William
Restaurant or bar meals – always a special treat
Peking Restaurant
Bath's oldest Chinese restaurant and for good reason
Riverside Café
Honest food and drink next to Pultney weir
Good value Thai food with friendly service
Tea House Emporium
Exquisite and extensive choice of tea (and coffee )to drink or buy
Authentic Nepalese food at reasonable prices

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Duck Soup
The river at Bradford-upon-Avon is fairly weedy

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Another one for Nick
If you are still out there Nick here is an examle of what can go wrong in the locks at Bath

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Courtesy on the Cut

Following a chat with a keen blog reader, Nick, about courtesy on the canals I thought I should show what can happen when this fails.

Wallace and Gromit in Bath
When I was at junior school one afternoon a week we had "art" and sometimes  this did not involve powder paints and sugar paper. On the rare forays into the third dimension Miss Howe produced packets of corrugated Plasticine in various colours accompanied by orange sticks and other implements.  At the end of the "lesson" the Plasticine would end up all rolled together producing something similar to  a Sorbo rubber ball.  
Whether Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit, underwent a similar introduction to Plasticine I do not know: His accomplishments would suggest that he may have been a little more creative in his youth than I. After a day of making films like The Wrong Trousers does he, I wonder, also end up with a giant amorphous lump of dull purple Plasticine and, if so, what on earth does he do with it?
Plasticine was invented by a bath art teacher, William Harbutt, as a modelling medium for his students which would not dry out. (the clay, not the students).
He was granted a patent in 1899 and started production in 1900.  

The original factory was in Bathampton, near the Kennet & Avon Canal.  This was destroyed by fire in 1863 but was rebuilt. Since the demise of the Harbutt company the factory has been replaced by housing.  The street is named Harbutts in commemoration of the man without whom Wallace & Gromit would not have been possible.

 William Harbutt's house in Alfred StreetBath has a fine example of an overthrow which I believe is original. This is the iron frame which held lanterns before the days of street lighting. At this time house owners were also responsible for the pavement in front of their property and this was often used by the owners to declare their wealth or status.  This particular overthrow has snuffers on the upright members. These would have been used by the lamp boys who preceded the sedan chairs lighting their way.  Sedan chairs would have been carried in through the front door to deposit their passenger in the clean and dry.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Letting the  Bath Water Out
The deep lock at Widcombe was created during a road widening about 30 odd years ago and at 19ft 5ins is about thrice the depth of many canal locks. it can be quite daunting when you are at the bottom and the water starts rushing in.  With a 2oft head it comes up under the boat with quite a rush. When we came up it felt like the boat was running over corrugated iron as the water made the boat vibrate.
From my calculations this lock must require 120,000 gallons of water each time it is used. the pound which it draws this from does not look adequate.

Here we see a hire boat that has found this indeed to be the case. It became  grounded in the pound and later could not get over the lock cill.

When the people operating the lock behind them would not let water through to refill the pound in case they
ran aground themselves we decided to leave them to it.