Monday, 30 May 2011

Sublime to Ridiculous
About a year ago the single lever control on Gecko jammed whilst maneuvering at Reedley Marina in Burnley and it was repaired by a local marine engineer.  A couple of weeks ago it jammed in neutral whilst I was winding  in Padddington Basin. (for the non-canal folk, winding is turning the boat around and does not rhyme with binding)
A little alarming and inconvenient.  Fortunately we were able to drift across to rest against a moored boat and more fortunately I eventually managed to get it working again.  As we are planning to go down the Thames and K&A sometime soon I was very nervous of any recurrence in less peaceful waters.  And so dig into the bank account again for a new control.
Bought the control from Denham Yacht Station who offered a very good price and benefit from being on a bus route.  We arranged for Ed Boden to meet us at Winkwell on Thursday and the deed was done.
What joy!
I now have a level of control  not experienced hitherto on Gecko.  The old control was always very clunky and impossible to execute anything subtle in the way of boat handling.  No more will I have to enter a lock in a series of jerks!

Talking  of jerks, we shared the locks between Berko and Cowroast with a hire boat from Lower Heyford on the Oxford canal. Crewed by two retired engineers and three ladies of a certain age they were demonstrating a remarkable level of inefficiency in operating the locks and the boat. When they explained that they had to get to Fenny Stratford that night in order to return the boat in time I wondered whether they were on holiday or a punishment of some kind.  We logged 16.7 hours between Winkwell and Fenny Stratford which was their intended journey for the day.
Bletchley Park
We rarely stop at Fenny Stratford without visiting Bletchley Park at least once during our stay. This time we were surprised to find a 1940s weekend in progress which meant we had no need to dress up. the weather was drizzly all day but the events were very good. 
After a brief look at the mansion we listened to a lady talking about her experiences of being evacuated. Very moving., particularly as she was sent away without any explanation and she assumed it was because she had been naughty.  In many ways this was similar to the current exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London. In the basement until October is an exhibition with audio and video recordings of people who were brought up by the Foundling  Hospital.

Other special events today included a 1940s disco with expert dancers.......


.....a most remarkable re-enactment of the plotting room during an air raid .....


.....and a fashion show where there was a surprise appearance of Sir Winston Churchill.
The Things We See

On the canal side at Berkhamsted, the Crystal Palace helpfully informs anyone on the canal that it can offer canal views. I wonder if it offers road views on the other side.

Yes this is a real heron

Cyclists in Westbourne Green are required to vault or limbo at this point.

A proud mum with ducklings just getting their adult plumage

A multi-storey approach to mooring is being trialled in Stoke Hammond

This is seen as a more cost-effective solution for those boat owners who never take their boats out of the marina.

Major crime bust by The Sweeney at Bulls Bridge

So what is all the fuss about water-boarding?
It seems quite harmless to me.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Where are all the boats?
When we crossed the Tring Summit from Cowroast to Bulbourne on Saturday we met about a dozen boats and determined that the half-term must have started. This is more boats than we have met before of this stretch of the Grand Union and so we were surprised when we passed numerous mooring spaces at Bulbourne where we usually have problems getting moored.  In fact on one occasion a few years ago we were looking for a space when  a fellow boater - Martin - offered to move his  boat Tegu and another to make room for us.   We have an affinity with Martin as Tegu is a South American gecko. Last  summer we saw him up on the Macclesfield but when we saw him at Marsworth two months ago he was on a smaller boat - Rascal. He finds this mush easier to manage as a single-hander. Throughout the rest of our cruise yesterday we saw very few boats on the move and equally few moored in the spots where we usually find crowded. Perhaps they are all at the Crick show or the Wendover Arm Trust festival on Boxmoor.
The boats we have seen over the weekend, however, have included quite a few familiar ones. Wolverley which shared our rescue of the gosling at Kings Langley was having lunch at Bulbourne when we passed. After we moored for the night they passed us and we have  have played leap-frog today too.  Mary Russel who gave us a lift down the Thames to Brentford were at Marsworth but we could not stop. I expect they will catch up with us at Fenny Stratford where we have to wait for a few days. We have been fighting strong winds all day today which were especially troublesome between Grove Church and Grove locks (where there is a new marina)
Despite this battle we still managed to see the recently sold Tegu and Talarina from Aylesbury basin which may have been sold by now both near Houghton.  Robin and Carole who sold their boat Inanda last year found they could not manage without  one and have bought another, smaller, one which they are refurbishing.  Inanda, we saw heading south at Kings Langley

The new one is called Marmite and like its namesake the boat's new colour scheme you will like or dislike.  We spied it in the boatyard just below Stoke Hammond lock.

 One boat we had expected to see either at the Msrsworth locks or below Cowroast was Pengelanty but in fact we found Alan relaxing  breasted up with Snowdrop opposite  The Globe near Leighton Buzzard.  On our first trip back from the Wendover Festival in 2006 we shared a number of locks  with Gordon and Becky on Alderbaran. They live aboard with three children near Fenny Stratford  and  we walked up to have tea with them  after we moored there this afternoon.
And this is where all the boats are!   Every slot bar one was occupied when we arrived.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Brave Little Fellow
Of all the water fowl the foulest in my book are the Canada Geese (no offence, Norman in Vancouver). Their call is in no way attractive they s**t all over the boat  and there are just too many of them. Yesterday afternoon as we were preparing to leave the last lock of the day a group of Canada geese with four goslings were subjected to an unprovoked attack by a male swan.  I assume they must have  encroached on his territory as the geese were a good 50 yards from the swan and just pottering around the top lock gates. The swan managed to grab one of the goslings and alternately held it under the water and then shook it around. We managed to chase the swan off with the boat hook and the gosling was dropped in the process.  We then opened the gates and let the geese into our lock, closing the gates after them. We were then stuck in the lock with with four goslings who were too small to get out onto the bank and did not have the aeronautical skills of their parents who joined them in this private pool. The parents were at a loss as to where to go. Occasionally they went to the  bottom gates and looked down to the raging water eight feet below but each time they chickened (?)out. Eventually I managed to catch three of the goslings in our fender and football recovery net and put them on the bank where the parents joined them.  The last little fellow now was more distressed and bravely jumped from the bottom gate where he instantly disappeared in the foaming whirlpool below.Fifteen seconds later he reappeared with the rest of his family  and they all swam away. 
I still don't like them but I dislike agression more.
WAT a Turnout!
The annual rally held by Wendover Arm Trust is the major fund-raising event of the year and jolly good fun, too. Last year it had to be cancelled as the landowner would not allow the use of the customary venue.
This year, however, it is back but has relocated to Boxmoor
We came up from Kings Langley to Winkwell this morning and the boats are arriving  at the site constantly.  So much so that we now have a list because the pound we are moored in is being drained of water by the succession of boats descending the locks.
We will not be attending this year as we have another costly job to be done on Gecko.
But we wish them well at the now location.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Two Down:  One to Go
After the excitement of  Ricky Festival M felt she should spend a month's income at the dentist on Monday.  So this morning we set off up the GU towards HemelHempstead.

We filled up with water before finding a boat to share  Batchworth lock with.  Just round the corner we encountered the first casualty from yesterday's high winds.

Near Hunton Bridge there was another tree down in the canal.
There are a lot of boats on the move today but we seem to have a different one with us at each lock.

As we approached The Grove and the sharp bend just after bridge 165 we found this idiot yogurt pot moored right at the bridge.
Where are the broadobeam boats when you need them? A gentle side-swipe with 30 tons of Dutch barge would have converted this to a neat pile of debris on the towpath.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Ricky Festival Under Threat
This is always the best organised of festivals.  It is also popular because of the wide range of music which emanates from the four stages throughout the two days. 

One of the highlights is always the Tug of War between consenting boats. This year was no exception with some justification.

Steam powered narrowboats are a rare beast on the canals but every year Swallow has attended and valiantly but unsuccessfully participated in the tug of war.  Unsuccessful, that is, until this year when she won her bout.

Some contestants introduced their own excitement!

The most exciting round for me was the matching of the tugs Atlantic and Pacific.
These are owned by Derek and John respectively who are the two halves of P & S Marine where we blacked Gecko's hull back in March.
Derek achieved a storming win  accompanied by an  impressive production of smoke.

John and his son seemed quite cheerful in defeat, however.

Transport for London carried visitors from the station to the festival on prototype Routemaster RM1 and an RMC.

A new feature was the BBQ where you selected your meat  on the hoof so to speak.
Here is my selection for a mixed grill.

The future of this festival is under threat because the local authority who part fund the event have decided to cut their contribution by 50% next year and withdraw completely the following year. 
So get your diary out and mark the penultimate weekend in May 2012

Thursday, 19 May 2011

River Thames from Teddington to Brentford
The Saturday after we arrived in Brentford we took the bus over to Teddington to visit some ex colleagues from the days when we lived in Teddington.. Knowing that Tony and Nolene were planning to make the passage from Teddington to Brentford in Mary Russell, we cadged a lift back home.

Soon after leaving Teddington Lock we passed Marble Hill on the left, standing serenely in the park.

Richmond bridge was busy, as always on a warm Saturday evening.

Through Nolene's flowers we spied the two bridges at Twickenham.  The railway has the more elegant structure in the foreground whist the A316 is a rather ponderous looking bridge.

To confuse things the next bridge after the Twickenhams is another Richmond.  this footbridge spans the Half-Tide Lock which we do not need today.

As we approached Ham House we met another boat heading upriver and as we did so the little passenger ferry shot across between us.

Ski-boarding is cheaper than boating but does lack passenger facilities.

Just before we start looking for Brentford Creek Syon House slides by.

So far we have been working against the incoming tide but now we are on dead water before it changes direction and our speed has increased noticeably.

The tide has now turned and we have to find the entrance to Brentford Creek which will take us through Thames Lock to the calm  waters beyond.

Suddenly we realise that the strange sculpture on our left may be the substitute for a sign.  Another  example of appearance being considered more important than boaters' safety.

Here we enter a Dickensian world of quiet boats and taciturn people where the usual boater's bonhomie is likely to be met by a glare and maybe a shrug.

Tony has timed our arrival well and the lock has only an inch or two  to adjust for us to enter the most welcome approach to Brentford Gauging Lock.

After a couple of pints of London Pride and a home made pizza at the Six Bells in what I thought was Brentford High Street I begin to question our navigation skills when we get the bill.
The Great Escape
After about six weeks in and around London we have now made  it to Ricky in time for the festival. We left Paddington Basin on Tuesday with Tony and Nolene on Mary Russell.  (I think she was the aviator/artist Duchess of Bedford) We first encountered Mary Russell in October 2009 when we climbed the Wigan  flight with them on our way to Reedley Marina. Tony is RYA approved boating instructor so when travelling with him I always feel my boating skills are being assessed with lots of black marks appearing on my card.  A week previously we travelled up from Brentford to Bulls Bridge with them too. On this occasion there had been a few boats on the move and we were all held up by a BW inspection team which checked every lock before passing through it. Consequently the journey took an hour longer with two crews than it had done on our own.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

"When you're tired of London...."
There has been a change of plan and we are back in London for a few days. The original plan was to go to Ricky so M could undertake some gainful employment for the week prior to the Ricky Festival.   Just as we arrived at Bulls Bridge we received a call from the company to say her CRB was out of date and so the work was cancelled. At the risk of upsetting residents of Rickmansworth we considered a week in London was marginally preferable to one in Ricky. So here we are.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Where is Gecko?
We have been unable to load Googlemaps for a couple of weeks and so our map is out of date.
We are at Bulls Bridge at present but are travelling down to Brentford to arrive evening of Friday May 6.  Should be there until May 10 before returning up the GU for the Ricky Festival in two weeks time.
Landmark  Properties   Close  to  Canals
For my choice today I have selected properties which we have visited from the canal system.  
Clicking on the name of any of these properties will take you to the full details on the Landmark Trust site.

Ingestre hall, stables and church which Wren designed are walking distance from the Trent and Mersey canal, Ingestre Pavilion, however,  is more easily accessed by bus from Great Haywood.

There are lovely views of this from Tixall Wide on the Staffs & Worcs near Great Haywood Jct and the bus from there to Stafford passes the property

Tixall Gatehouse viewed through the morning mist from Gecko moored overnight on the Wide which was constructed for the benefit of the landowner.

A very easy walk up from the Trent & Mersey canal where the Derby Canal used to join it, Swarkestone Pavilion is impressive in any light.

Leave the T&M canal for a while and take a stroll up or down the Tardebigge locks on the Worcs & Birmingham. Here the Landmark Trust have rescued one of the lock cottages

One canalside property which we have yet to visit is a barrel-roofed Lengthsman's Cottage  on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Smoke a Black Cat!
Something over 45 years ago I had a spell in Moorfields Eye Hospital in High Holborn (long since redeveloped).  I was in Bernhard Baron ward which, I was informed, had been endowed by a cigarette magnate. It meant nothing to me at the time - there were certainly other things on my mind. My surgeon - J.R.Hudson - was a pioneer in the use of lasers in eye surgery and performed the same operation on the Duke of Windsor at the London Clinic within days of my op. He used to visit me after calling on the Duke which he did in  full morning attire. It was a shame that I was not really in a position to appreciate it. 
Bernhard Baron was of Jewish descent, born in France and moved to USA as a teenager where he worked in a cigarette factory.  He developed a cigarette-making machine which he eventually brought to UK and sold to Carreras who were based in London at that time. Around this time, the late 19th century, most of the tobacco trade in UK had merged into the Imperial Tobacco Co. with notable exceptions of Carreras and Rothmans. Imperial had secured sole rights to an American cigarette making machine capable of producing 200 cigarettes per minute.  So when Bernhard Baron arrived with a machine capable of twice that production rate a new factory in City Road was set up in 1907 to produce such brands at Black Cat, launched in 1904, the first UK brand to include coupons which could be collected for gifts. Another notable achievement in 1921 was the first machine made cork-tipped cigarette - Craven A.  Collecting coupons caught on but go so our of hand the cigarette companies all withdrew by agreement this kind of promotion on 1st January 1934. With the launch of Craven A Carreras outgrew the Arcadia Works in City Road and built a new factory in Mornington Crescent which opened in 1928. Also named Arcadia, the building is a beautiful example of Art Deco style. It still exists and is in fine condition as these pictures illustrate.

Arcadia Works in Mornington Crescent
The first factory in Britain to use pre-stressed concrete

Also the first to incorportate air-conditioning
Black Cat was Carrera's first strong brand
The two bronze cats which stand either side of the front steps may be replicas as I believe that the originals were moved in 1959- one to the new factory in Basildon and one to somewhere in the Caribean.