Saturday, 17 May 2008

Safety Second on the Thames
Whilst BW are considering selling off all their property in order to spend it on monitoring the behaviour of Stockton fish and the like the Environment Agency (EA for short) which manages the River Thames amongst others has a more frightening idea.
They have just announced that they are to sell off 22 lock cottages to the public and rehouse the lock keepers somewhere cheaper. I have no statistics to hand and have done no research but I would hazard a guess that this will have an impact on safety at the Thames locks. EA assures us that lock keepers will still be on duty during their normal working hours but accidents do not keep office hours and many boaters have reason to be thankful that the lock keepers to date have not felt so restricted either.
So now it's Money First, Safety Second on the Thames.
Being a sceptical bod I can foresee the day when the new resident of a lock cottage, having no experience of rivers but having fallen in love with the idea of this utopia, will have a rude awakening one day when their barbecue is disturbed by boats of all things making a noise outside their front door and will apply for the nuisance to be abated.
Oh boy what fun we can look forward to!

Friday, 16 May 2008

Five Miles High
Well, not really.
When we were in Peru during the first week of January we travelled by minibus up into the Colca Canyon to see the Condors. Unfortunately the condors had not been prepared for our visit and so most of them were having a lie-in. However the trip was no less exciting and interesting. As we climbed we we consumed Coca tea, sometimes with another herb added, to stave off the symptoms of altitude sickness. Whether it worked or just kept the local trade in Coca leaves thriving I am not sure. Before descending to Chivay for an overnight stay. (More about that some day) we achieved an altitude of 5000m which is high in any scale of measurement.

This was brought home to me on our return flight to the UK via the dreadful services of Delta Airlines. Our first landfall of England was over the Isle of Wight and through the clear day the land looked just like a satellite picture. On the aircraft TV screen I learned that our altitude at that time was 5000m.

It's much more fun getting that high in a minibus with Coca tea!
Giant Coathooks and Miniature Cars

Everything on the Lee Navigation is larger than we are accustomed to - locks in particular. Bu even we were surprised by the size of the coathooks provided for boaters of a previous age.

In my quest to work only for companies in trouble I found Lesney (Matchbox Toys) in 1980. During my two years there until its demise as an independent company a gentleman by the name of Arthur Scargil was stiring up considerable trouble and at one time we were threatened with a road haulage strike. My solution which, in fact I never needed to employ, was to move our toys from the factory in Lea Bridge Road, Hackney down the Lee Navigation and across the channel to our subsidiaries in France and Belgium
I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago as we passed the building again.

Soon after this, of course, production was transferred to the Far East by the new owners. Whether this site still belongs to Lesney I do not know.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Where are the Ovaltinies?
One of the attractions of the rail journey into Euston used to be passing the Ovaltine farm and Art Deco factory in Kings Langley. Opened in 1913 by Wander Products of Switzerland, it was closed in 2002 with the loss of 245 jobs. The malted milk drink was invented in 1904 by - wait for it - Dr Wander. It achieved popularity with the Ovaltinies programme on Radio Luxemburg. Sir. Edmund Hilary took it on his Everest expedition in 1953 and it was the official Olympics drink during the 1930s and 1940s. When the transfer of production to Switzerland was announced in 2001 the Product Supply Director, Richard Whall, sair: "so far as the Ovaltine brand is concerned the consumer will not notice the difference" I expect the redundant staff noticed and certainly those passing the site by road, rail or canal might notice too.

It seems a shame to me that the 10 million jars of Ovaltine sold in the UK each year do not constitute a viable production volume and the result is more ribbon development along the English canals.
Monsters of the Deep
As regular readers will know, the flora and fauna of the canal system can be surprising at times.(see Ninja Turtles of Alperton)
However Harefield and Hunton Bridge are somewhat more scarry.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

How not to spend our money
Dear BW
I share your concern at the continual reduction in your grant in aid and understand your misguided attempts to rectify the current account by selling off all the land and property you own to satisfy the demands of the cappuccino culture which values appearance so much more that function.
I agree that the disaster on the Mon & Brec was not totally due to the lack of maintenance - you were not to know that it might rain in Wales: I also think it reprehensible that DEFRA should seek to recover from their inept handling of the Farm Payments Scheme by cutting your grant.
BUT WHY ? WHY/ WHY? are you spending £500,000 on an electronic survey of the fish in the Tees esturary? What has it to do with the Inland Waterways? How will it benefit any waterway user - boater, angler, cyclist,or walker - to know what the fish of Stockton get up to?
On a lesser matter, I am very pleased to see how many lock bollards have been painted and how many nice seats are being provided for people to sit on to watch the boaters injuring themselves on unmaintained lock gear. Are you trying to compete with formula one racing where it is estimated that a large proportion of the supporters are just waiting for an accident to happen?
I must apologise for not sharing your idea of spending priorities or financial management but I am a mere customer and you are the great BW.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Dead Reckoning
It is not uncommon to see animal carcases in the canal. Today on our way from Berko to Marsworth we were surprised by first a dead otter and then a muntjac in addition to the more common duck, mouse and badger.

How to lose customers - 2
Once again we have met up with the Floating Bankers. (see previous post - 10 July 2007)
This team were from Alliance and Leicester. They were using three hire boats and a support boat. As the locks are broad along here two boats can share a lock with the benefit of much speedier passage accomplished by additional crew for winding paddles and pushing gates. As we set off this morning one of these boats came past us and offered to share the lock with us. When we arrived a the lock, however, there was a boat already in it so we had to wait while the bankers took the vacant space. After they had departed we pulled in to the bank for Margaret to reset the lock for our passage but before she could do this two lads came running along the towpath and started the process. This is a good sign as it meant we had aboat behind to share the work with. But no! These ALLIANCE &LEICESTER bankers informed Margaret that theey had two boats and must travel together. And so we actually worked all the locks to Marsworth with the charming lads on the support boat.
I now have no A & L account.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

How to lose customers - 1
When the sun shines, as it is today, Berko High Street is bathed in a warm glow all day. There appears to be no shady side. Monday morning and after a gentle walk up and down the street like Burlington Bertie I popped into Simmons bread shop and bought a couple of Chelsea buns for Margaret's return from the launderette.
When we sat down for elevenses we found the buns to be stale. I returned to the shop - SIMMONS - with the merchandise and informed the young lady of the problem. Her response was "They're not stale: came in today" And then she refunded my money!
I have been eating Chelsea buns since before she was born and by now I can tell when they are stale. Being a Monday they must have been around since Saturday. So why did she not apologise and make some anodyne observation whilst refunding my money? Instead she lost a customer for all time. They are not the only baker in Berko and obviously not the best.

Friday, 9 May 2008

No Apologies
There is very little freight on the canals today. Despite their role in the Industrial Revolution the traffic nowadays is all pleasure craft. So we were pleasantly surprised last summer when we travelled down the GU to find two nice new barges transporting gravel from Denham to Stockley Park. (Owing to the partial collapse of the wharf at Stockley Park this has been suspended pending repairs)
So why does BW think it necessary or desirable to apologise for the freight traffic?
That is what the canals were built for.
To set the balance I would like to make the following statement:
The crew of nb Gecko apologise for any inconvenience we may cause to the freight traffic on the English canal system and hope it will continue and grow.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Ninja Turtles and Coconut Palms of Alperton

If you are interested in the flora and fauna of the waterways you should get over to Alperton to witness the effect of global warming. The colony of Ninja Turtles is thriving. Although we have not yet traced the coconut palms they can't be too far away judging by the number of coconuts floating in the Paddington Arm of the GU Canal.

Monday, 5 May 2008

You take the high load....
The Regents Canal has many attractive features - the Zoo, Camden market etc. In its heyday the traffic from the London docks which came up through Limehouse, Islington and Camden included lime juice for Rose's plant at Apsley (now B&Q) and paper from the John Dickinson mills. (now Sainsbury's) The canal was so busy that it was equipped with broad locks (14') to accept a narrowboat and the butty it towed. The locks were also paired to maximise the flow of freight and to conserve water. Today there is only one pair of locks in operation, the others having been reduced to the role of bywash back in the 1930's.

If you are using this pair at Camden it is wise to take the southern lock , furthest from the towpath, if possible. Because the locks are so close to each other the swing of the balance beams overlap and to avoid them colliding they are set at different heights. Those of the lock closest to the towpath favour dwarfs as they are only inches from the ground. Moving a lock gate at that level is far from easy.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

On 2nd October 1874 at around 5am one of six barges being towed though Regent's Park exploded whilst passing under Macclesfield Road Bridge. The barge was completely destroyed and the crew all died. All that was left of the bridge were the iron supporting columns. The explosion was so loud that it woke residents ten and twelve miles away. What caused the explosion is not certain but a spark from the steam tug is the most likely culprit. The cargo off the ill-fated barge, Tilbury, included nuts, tea, strawboards, petroleum and five tons of gunpowder from Waltham Abbey. (see blog of 26 April 2008). Since that date it has been customary to use the statement May contain nuts as a warning wherever appropriate.

The bridge was rebuilt on the original columns and is now known as Blow-up Bridge.
The ten iron pillars were cast at Coalbrookdale and in the rebuilding they were turned round so that the rope marks from before the explosion can be seen on the side away from the canal whilst those made subsequently are on the canalside as one would expect.