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 Since the demise of the Harbutt company the factory has been replaced by housing.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.
Lock Stuck Embarrassment
When we arrived at the bottom lock  which releases us from the K&A to the mercy of the River Avon we found a pair of hotel boats - a motor and butty - stuck half in the lock.

It transpired that one gate - on the left in this picture - would not open fully and a piece of timber had become wedged between the two boats.   As the boats had entered the lock breasted  up they became jammed.

(breasted up = next to each other - and is nothing to do with the next picture)

When we arrived the crew had exhausted their usual repertoire of techniques and appeared to be trying anything they could lay their hands on to clear the blockage.


The breakthrough came when they managed to waylay a hire boat passing on the river and persuade them to take a tow rope from the motor boat.

The successful team comprised two guests from the hotel boat, crew from Gecko and L'Attitude Adjustment and hotel boat crew.

With the hire boat pulling the motor boat backwards, three people pulling and pushing the butty forwards, two of us rocking the recalcitrant lock gate and one lady flushing water through the top gates........

.........we separated the boats so that they could recommence their lock procedures.

And progress to the deep lock in confidence.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Off-Side Rule
As we are waiting for a friend to call this morning I took a stroll down to the recycling bins half way down Widcombe (Bath) Locks.
I was pleased to see that BW's original proposal to spend £100k+ on a sculpture to commemorate the canal's 200th birthday, and which was shouted down in the meeting in Bath, did not go ahead.

Instead we have this rather tasteful sundial which is actually operable today

When we ascended these locks on Thursday a squad of men were trimming up the grass edges around the locks, thus demonstrating the current BW ethos - appearance is all.

They could have been better employed repairing the lock gates to save water and improve safety.

Or even repairing the paddle on this lock which they have covered with netting.  You cannot mend a broken arm with a sticking plaster!  The water bubling up in the lock is coming through the sluice which the broken paddle is meant to control. The lock is now half full (20,000 gals) and all paddles are "shut"

At the deep lock (19'5" and the second deepest in the country) someone has damaged one gate and it is inoperable.
As the towpath changes sides here identifying the gate by reference to the towpath is pointless as there is a towpath both sides.  And changing the references is even more pointless.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Steam Bath
About 9.30 this morning our reverie was disturbed by the slap and chug of SR Light Pacific 4-6-2 loco No 34067 Tangmere hauling nine carriages of assorted enthusiasts from Bristol to Weymouth for the day.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Gecko in Bath
On July 27 we left the River Thames in the company of Norman and Margaret on L'Attitude Adjustment.  And now Gecko is in Bath for the first time.
Last year the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust surveyed new visitors to the canal and one common response was "lovely canal, but never again"  This is our first time on the K&A and I am not surprised by this response. Until this year the canal did not have Cruiseway status and so British Waterways' were only required to keep it safe but not necessarily navigable. Perhaps this is why it can be so difficult to travel on.  On the eastern section, which is predominantly river, access to the locks is at best difficult and at times hazardous.  Mooring anywhere other than the infrequent prepared sites is impossible for us as the banks are soft, the canal shallow and the vegetation impentrable.  Near Semmington we were stuck on the mud in the middle of the channel for 30 minutes because the waterpumps were out of actiion. When the western end was restored 30 years ago a concrete channel was built and for some reason it has a lip which is often three feet wide which grinds away at the hull if you are rash enough to venture that close to the bank. And when we arrived in Bath there is no facility for us to empty our toilet which limits the time (and money) we can spend here.

Friday, 12 August 2011

When will all this nonsense stop?
If you doubt the voracity of my reason for holding my complaining in check then just consider these facts as reported recently by
>BW spend on maintenance last year was 9% less than the two previous years yet the Chief Executive, Robin Evans, admitted to the Parliamentary Waterways Group that this was £39m less than was needed.
>Last year BW spent £9m  in a failed attempt to prevent its joint pub venture from going into liquidation. This figure, by co-incidence (?) is the same as the reduction in spend on maintenance.
>The BW corporate plan for 2007/8 forecast a profit over the last three years of £55m from joint ventures.  The actual result achieved was £53.4m LOSS
>The website link to this plan has been removed.  I wonder why?
>On a personal note, Robin Evans has a personal target to increase visitors to the waterways to 7.2m by 2012.  Achievement to date?  3.8m.  That makes eight years in succession he has missed his target. What a performance!
>Boat usage dropped last year by 7% over which time the NABO survey of boaters shows that costs have increased by something in the region of 30%

Perhaps it is time for BW to try its hand at maintaining the waterways and stop  playing at pub landlords and housing developers

For more detailed information follow these links to Narrowboat World reports

Massive Drop in Maintenance

Down, down, down

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Signs of the Times 
Over the years I have been able to capture some of the odd signage which adorns our streets. Much of it reflects an educational shortcoming: some a lack of diligence. I apologise to regular readers who have seen these before but promise more original content in future.  

This is for TMW somewhere in USA who will  appreciate the American spelling which crept into this banner advertising a nursery school in Stone in Staffordshire. It does make one question where the teachers qualified (sic).


There was obviously more than one accident at this site outside Barden Mill in Burnley .


This arrangement for cyclists near Bayswater in London is an accident waiting to happen.


My opinion of the education level of BW staff has been aired here before, so no further comment is necessary.


This restriction is presumably for a very small section of the angling community.


Not having encountered this very singular word before I assume the offer is for one-legged people.

If you intend to get locked in Victoria Park in Bath make sure you note the telephone numbeer displayed on the outside of the gate before entry.

Solid or soiled? 
Why dispose of any nappies in the sanitary bin when a member of staff will assist you.

Banbury may be remembered by most for the Banbury cakes and the fine lady on a white horse but I shall always think of this sign and the lack of interest displayed by the perpetrators when I informed them.


Therre is an important road safety sign behind this willow tree but what?
Hillmorton likes to keep its drivers in the dark.

The town of Saltaire in Yorkshire has many points of interst bu the impossibilty of these opening hours caught my attention.
How can 12 oclock be pm (after midday)?
And how does the 12pm - 8pm thing work?

In Oxford they know what they want and make it quite clear.

As they do too in Aberdeen Harbour, Honk Kong. It might have been simpler to state what is permitted.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Do You Speak Black Country?
This council road sign was erected to warn of road works and illustrates that even council workers have a sense of humour. it is written in the dialect of the Black Country which is around Dudley, near Birmingham.  I think it translates as:
If you are soft enough to come down here going wrong, your tea will be spilt. 
Thank you Geoff for finding this for me. 


Sunday, 7 August 2011

Beware of Apostrophic Contagion

Despite repeated assurances from the medical profession it is now clear that Greengrocers' Apostrophe has jumped species as the first reported case of Contractors' Apostrophe has  been identified ,in Newbury.
Medical experts are particularly baffled as the likelihood of contractors coming into contact with vegetables was considered remote. Local residents are being advised to wear gloves when buying vegetables and to avoid holes in the road.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Where has the *GOM Gone?
I have been chastised recently for not being grumpy. The reason is that the target of most of my grumps has been British Waterways and that (dis)organisation has become so ridiculous that grumbling about them would be a full-time  activity and I have other things to do.
Here is just one example from this week.
To conserve water on the Oxford Canal BW made the following announcement.

North Oxford Canal Hillmorton Locks 2-7

Tuesday 2 August 2011 until further notice

In order to conserve reservoir stocks along the Oxford Canal the offside tandem locks 3, 5 and 7 will be locked for the rest of the summer at this location.

Boaters are asked to double up when using the towpath side locks 2,4 and 6.

BW apologises for any inconvenience this may cause.

Enquiries: Steve Morgan 01908 302500

So what is wrong with this eminently laudable proposal?
Well, let's ignore the error in describing locks paired next to each other as tandem.
Literacy is obviously not a requirement of employment at  BW.
But surely  a basic level of understanding and competence is required.
Perhaps Mr. Morgan could explain how boats are going to double up in these narrow locks. This is a practice which can be achieved when two narrowboats occupy a broad lock.
"Ah! "I hear you say, "it is not the boats which are being requested to double up but the boaters." So are we being asked to share boats? Now I understand.  My apologies to Mr. Morgan.