Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Andy Capp

As children we would sometimes be packed off to our cousins in Derby for part of the summer holiday. I think this was as much a holiday for our parents as it was for us. Coming from a village in the Chilterns the Big City held many wonders for us - department stores, cinemas and  trolley buses. All were within walking distance.  This walk into town was always a marvel to me involving, as it did, the negotiation of the multiple loading bays of the Burrows and Sturgess bottling plant . (I think this may once have been part of the Stretton Brewery Company) Perhaps my later involvement in logistics was initiated here because I would stand and watch lorries of all sizes coming and going.  

Scammmel Scarab always fascinated me.

Other wonders included toast - apparently made by burning bread under the grill and scraping off the black bits; creamy sterilised (homogenised) milk in bottles with Crown caps; and home-made ice cream from the little shop along the road.There were also the newspapers: whilst my father had progressed from the Daily Express to the Financial Times via the Daily Mail, here we discovered The Daily Mirror and evening papers! And so we, too, progressed from cartoons of Rupert the Bear to Andy Capp.
This example of the comic strip is typical: it features Andy and his neighbour, Chalkie White, presumably on their way home from the pub........and mentions canals!!

Reg Smythe, who created Andy Capp, came from Hartlepool and after his death in 1998 a statue was erected in that town to commemorate  Andy

Andy Capp was very much a working-class character.
During a recent visit to the East end of London, which used to be a working-class are but is now being gentrified, we discovered this picture  on a pub wall which could be titled Andy Caps

Friday, 26 December 2014

Eye to Eye

One of my first jobs in commerce was as book-keeper  for a small coach-builder and body shop.
VPR was Nevilles's first Minisprint
The glamorous side of the business was building custom Mini-Sprints for Neville Trickett  whom I met at the time.  These amazing cars were about 3" lower than the original mini and with Neville's engine and transmission modifications were spectacular to drive.   I recall one vehicle we built for a customer in Paris on which we achieved a 7" reduction in roof line. In addition to cutting down the bodywork we lowered the suspension and spaced the wheels adding spats to the wheel arches.  As a passenger on a test drive from Berkhamstead to Hemel Hempstead we hit 130mph  on the old A41. The owner was particularly concerned about driving such a low car in Paris that we had to arrange for the headlights to flash in unison with the direction indicators.
This work, whilst profitable , was irregular and crash repair work provided the bread and butter income.  The company developed a niche in replacing windscreens.  In the 1960s toughened glass was used for the majority of windscreens which shattered into small hexagonal fragments on impact.  In the days before seat belts this  was preferable to laminated glass which, if your head penetrated it, would close up onto the neck. This work was also irregular, peaking during the road-surfacing season. I suggested that we could even out these demand fluctuations by siting an air rifle locally. This suggestion was not adopted.

On my last visit to Moorfields Eye Hospital I noticed that they had adopted a similar approach wit this art installation deigned to poke your eye out as you approach the corner.

At this time of year this kind of work creation is not necessary. When I spent Xmas in Moorfileds some years ago A&E was kept very busy over the holiday period with one particular problem - Champagne corks hitting the eye.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Wrong Way

Prince Charles recently added his voice to the call for fewer road signs.

The sentiment is obviously not share by Vancouver where they feel the international No Entry sign is not sufficient  and requires further explanation

This sign we discovered in Te Anau in the south island of New Zealand a few years ago, on the other hand, is quite justifiable

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Top Gear

We saw this car at the Fosse Manor Hotel near Stow on the Wold
Eat your heart out Clarkson!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

1647 days

This is not the number of days to Christmas: this is the number of unplanned days of closure on the canals in the last year. This is in addition to the planned closures and much of it is the result of lack of maintenance.. What will the number be next year when the Dutton breach has been repaired again?
Why is planned maintenance such a dirty concept nowadays?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Here we go again

In September 2012 we were heading up the Trent & Mersey Canal on our way to Reedley Marina for the winter when there was a massive breach at Dutton. Had we been one day earlier we would have passed the site before the breach occurred. In the event we had to turn round and make a detour via the Macclesfield and Peak forest canals before rejoining our route at Manchester.  an extra 21 miles and 82 locks!
Dutton breach 2012
The repairs took 8 months and cost £2.5m.  C&RT, enjoying its new charitable status exhorted the public to donate money for this repair. The appeal yielded less than 1% of the require sum.
Since the repair there have been reports from local residents that water was still leaking from where the repair met the original canal bed indicating a poor completion of the job
Now the repair has breached again and the canal will be closed until the spring.
When will business organisations learn that outsourcing is only as good as the supervision of it. Short term savings are easily to achieve but can come back to bite you if control of the contractors is inadequate.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Lucy's Cats

December is a month full of festivals, many pagan in origin but long ago absorbed by religions.
One which has fascinated me and which I have never experienced is celebrated in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, in  Dalmatia and in Syracuse where St. Lucia was born. Although she is venerated in most countries there are few places where her day - December 13 - is celebrated so enthusiastically as in Sweden. The celebration comes from stories that were told by monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.
St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, by the Romans for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things.  Lucy  comes from the Latin Lux meaning light so this is a very appropriate name. December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old Julian calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia's Day.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head.
The crown is made of Lingonberry branches or holly which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter. The red sash arond the waist  symbolises martyrdom. Schools normally have their own St. Lucia's and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung. A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and old people's homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out Pepparkakor, ginger snap biscuits.

A popular food eaten at St. Lucia's day are Lussekatts (Lucy's Cat) , St Lucia's day buns flavoured with saffron and dotted with raisins which are eaten for breakfast

There are a number of video clips available to view on the subject of St. Lucia and I would commend the follwoing to you
This is a charming film explaining St Lucia Festival

This is an amateur but entertaining film  - wait for the rendedring of Rudolf

A Recipe for Lussekatts, the cat,-shaped saffron buns

Ingredients (for 8cats)
1oz fresh yeast or 1 tbs of dried yeast           

4 tbs warm water
6 fl oz milk
1 tsp  saffron threads
4oz butter, softened
4oz sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1lb plain flour
4oz sultanas

another egg beaten
and 4 raisins per cat for decoration

To a small bowl, add the yeast to the warm water and leave to stand for 5mins  (fresh) or 15mins (dried)
Add saffron to milk in pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the milk is golden brown.
Strain the milk into a large bowl , stir in the butter and sugar
Cool to lukewarm then stir in the yeast mixture and  beaten eggs
Add the flour (with a little salt) to this mixture and work into smooth dough
Add the sultanas and knead
Cover with a cloth and leave in warm area for 90mins until it had doubled in size
Pre-heat oven to 375F  / 109C / gas 5
Knead dough on floured board and divide in 16 pieces
Roll each piece into a sausage about 10in long
Form 8 pieces into an  shape with one loop smaller than the other
Form 8 pieces into reverse  S  shape in the same way
Cross one piece diagonally over one of the other pieses and poress gently together
Press raisins into place for eyes and nose then leave for 20 mons to prove
Brush beaten egg over cats and bake for 20 mins when they should sound hollow when tapped

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

By Appointment

We have seen a shift in shopping habits since the financial crash. The stagnation of income coupled with the increase in spare time has resulted in shoppers forsaking the weekly bonanza at the hypermarket in favour of more frequent and smaller shopping trips.  The winners in the high street have been Lidl and Aldi at the budget end of the market and Waitrose at the other end. All the major supermarkets are losing market share to these three companies who  never subscribed to the giant out-of-town craze.
We have noticed on our travels around the country that two retail businesses have survived the supermarket invasion - pharmacies and small hardware shops . An example of this is A H Hale, the pharmacy in Argyle Street  in Bath.. In addition to offering all the modern services, this shop has retained a range of products which my grandparents would remember. The hand-sawn combs of  Kent and the marvellous hair brushes of Mason Pearson are on display in their ever popular window.
Waitrose is well known for its Royal Warrant as grocer to the queen.  This system of royal patronage has been around for centuries and is awarded to companies who have provided an exceptional level of service to the queen, Prince Philip or Prince Charles for at least five years.  The Queen Mother, for whom that title was created, also awarded her Royal Warrant, notably for gin and ham. There are about 800 warrant holders at present and they cover every conceivable area of commerce.  When the Queen Mother died  a warrant holder I know was reminded that he could only use the "By appointment to..." for a further five years when the privilege would lapse. I assume this time limit applies to the other  royal warrant givers.
A H Hale displays a crest over the shop and below the window is the statement
by appointment to Queen Charlotte
Whatever the rules 300 years ago I can't help wondering how valid this claim is today.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Christmas Spirit?

I received my first Christmas card of the season last week.
It is from a hospital trust asking for money.
Christmas is regarded by many as a season of giving but does it have to be a season of begging?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Catching Up

Much has happened since my post of Sept 19, both in our life and the wider world
  • The ex Idle Woman - Sonia Rolt died aged 95. I only met her once, about ten years ago but she impressed me with her knowledge and understanding of waterways matters.
  • I had a birthday
  • Our younger son announced that they are expecting twins in the new year which will bring our complement of grandchildren up to six
  • We put our house in Bath up for sale. It has been very successful as a holiday let but we feel we need a land base we can call our own. Unfortunately Bath is too expensive for us so we will be heading north 
  • We came into Aylesbury for the winter at the end of August, two months early, as we had so many commitments the logistics were becoming unwieldy. Whenever we have to leave Gecko for a week or more we  need to leave it somewhere both safe and accessible. This is not always simple
  • The number of boats sink in locks seems to contiue unabated with the deep lock in Bath probably top of the list.
  • At the end of August we organised a walk along the Wendover Arm with a guided talk provided by Wendover Arm Trust.  The ladies of WAT provided refreshments and C&RT opened up the Tringford pumping station for us
  • We spent three weeks in Murvi shepherding some American friends around. We met them in Holyhead and progressed via Pont Cysylte to Wasdale in The Lakes. After hiking there we next visited Oxford and Bath before establishing a base in Chipping Campden from where they could hike the Cotswold Way. After depositing them at Fishguard we spent a couple of days in S.Wales before heading for Brixham
  • In Brixham we had a week with the grandchildren which.was great fun
  • About a week ago we managed a visit to The Travellers' Club in Pall Mall followed by our first ever lunch with friends at Simpsons in the Strand
  • Whilst in London we took a trip up The Shard for the phenomenal views
  • In between times we have moved Gecko three times as the winter moorers have arrived.
  • And finally, my twenty-year-old hip has now given up to I shall be going into hospital sometime soon for a revision.
Now we need to do some catching up

Sonia Rolt born 15 Apr 1919, died 22 Oct 2014

Sonia Rolt is known for being the widow of Tom, or LTC Rolt, the writer and engineer whose book 'Narrow Boat' is widely credited for saving the inland waterway network. She was also, however, a remarkable woman in her own right: a former Vice-President of the IWA, an author, campaigner and recipient of the OBE in 2010 for services to industrial archaeology and heritage.
Sonia Rolt was born Sonia South in New York. When World War 2 was declared, she abandoned her acting career and went to work in the Hoover factory installing electrical wiring in Lancaster bombers,  Whilst there she answered a Ministry of Transport advert in The Times seeking women volunteers of robust constitution and good health  to work on the waterways  replacing men  who had gone to war.  With her two flat-mates she was accepted . In 1944 they were given new badges to wear with the initials IW  (for Inland Waterways) This was soon changed to Idle Women by the men they came into contact with on the canals.The Idle Women took on the back-breaking labour of transporting essential cargoes by canal, when the boatmen who usually did this work were conscripted. When Sonia joined the Idle Women she had no knowledge of the canals, but her new venture led to a life-long love affair with our inland waterways.
Sonia married a working boatman, George Smith, and stayed on the canals after the war. She became increasingly politically active – campaigning for better conditions for the boat people – and eventually met Tom at a screening of Painted Boats in 1945.
Sonia and Tom spent much of their time campaigning for the future of the British canal system, and their efforts directly contributed to the formation of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) in 1946. They were actively involved with the IWA for many years, with Sonia going on to become Vice President. Her marriage to George Smith broke down in 1950 due to this relationship with Tom Rolt and the couple married.  When Sir John Smith founded the Landmark Trust in 1965 to preserve small buildings of historical or architectural importance Sonia worked for 20 years sourcing books and furniture . Later, she fulfilled a similar role for the National Trust, She was an active member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) for many years.
Through the publication of Narrow Boat, Sonia’s second husband Tom deservedly became the oft-quoted saviour of the inland waterways. However, it is clear that our treasured canals and rivers are better places thanks to the tireless efforts and dedication of Sonia Rolt herself.


Since returning to Gecko after our travels around UK we have been watching the first two series of Endeavour which we borrowed from friends here in Circus Field. These stories recount the early life of PC Morse, the fictional character created by Colin Dexter. They are set in Oxford in the mid-1960s. Whilst the tales build a back story for the eminent Chief Inspector they tend to wrap up all the loose ends, in the last three minutes of the show somewhat in the style of Miss Marple or Midsummer Murders. I have also noticed a few inconsistencies . For instance one character purchased a ten shilling postal order for ten shillings. He did not pay the poundage on it which I recall as either three or six pence. In another episode a neighbour asks him for a tanner for the gas.  My gas meter in the 1960s took only shilling pieces and I don't remember any working on tanners. When I was in hospital around that time nurses all had to change out of their uniforms before leaving the hospital to avoid spreading infection. Perhaps that was only in London.. Notwithstanding the above I found the series entertaining.

Boating with Grandchildren

I recently had a birthday and received this card from fellow boaters 

Aldi Maths

Aldi announced yesterday that they will be opening 500 stores in the next few years, creating 35,000 jobs. This represents an average of 70 jobs per store.  I have shopped at many Aldi stores around the country but never found one with a staff of 70: most appear to have more like seven staff. Presumably some additional staff will be required in the distribution channel but if Aldi need 35,000 additional staff to open 500 stores there is something seriously wrong with their business model. Furthermore, unless the store openings are accompanied by an upsurge in demand for groceries, the new customers must transfer their patronage from a competitor who will need to downsize to accommodate the reduction in sales. So how does Aldi arrive at this figure of 35,00 additional jobs?

Friday, 19 September 2014

Thank you Scotland

Throughout the campaigning for the referendum we were repaeatedly reminded of how much the Scots have contributed to Education, Science, Business and Medicine.  we can now thank them for raising the possibility of more devolved powers from the UK government to the constituent countires. Nothing we in England could have done would have been taken seriously.
Thank you from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Tall Ships Leave London

There has been a festival at Greenwich over the last few days with over 50 Tall Ships attending from all over the world.  This afternoon they left london and went out to sea. It is 40+ years since London has seen such a fleet that we dicided it should not be missed. We took the buses from Marylebone Station to North Greenwich so we could cross the Thames by cablecar.This gave us a seagull's eye view of a few ships sailing up the river to the assemby pint at Greenwich.

I cannot offer any commentary on the following pictures except to say that we took the  photographs from the north bank near Pontoon Dock DLR station. This is a favourite spot for us to watch the river and the traffice through the Thames Barrier.

Monday, 1 September 2014

WADIHS on the Wendover Arm

Last Saturday, Aug 30, about twenty members and friends ofWatford & District Industrial History Society (WADIHS) were treated to a guided walk & talk along the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal. This was organised by Wendover Canal Trust (WAT)and started from St. Mary's Church in Drayton Beauchamp. Before the guided visit to the restoration work, home-made cakes and coffee were provided by the ladies of WAT. In preparation for the walk  Ray Orth of WAT gave a short talk on the restoration work putting it into the historical context of the Grand Junction Canal.
Built originally to channel water from  the springs around Wendover to meet the main line of the Grand Junction Canal at Bulbourne, it follows the 391ft contour which is about 20ft higher than the top of  St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Soon after work started it was realised that for another £13000 it could be made navigable for which authority was granted in 1794. This water feed is critical for the GU Canal asTring Summit, which it supplies, is the main source of water  for all boat movements between Milton Keynes and the Thames. Every boat which crosses Tring Summit takes 100,000 gallons of water with it.
Soon after completion of the Wendover Canal it was found to leak and for over 100 years various measures were taken to remedy the situation. One method adopted was to lay asphalt. The coal tar, a by-product of the gas industy,  was brought in by boat and  mixed with ash on site. It was  layed across the bed of the canal but provided a very short-lived improvement before it failed. In some places remains of the asphalt are still visible amongst the weed growth on the banks.
A full history of the canal can be found on the WAT website
The restoration process involves laying a waterproof membrane of Bentomat. This comprises two sheets of a porous fabric with small granules of clay sandwiched between. When water comes into contact with the clay granules they expand  to form an impervious layer. Below the intended waterline concrete blocks are laid to stabilise the bank: above the waterline coir rolls are used to encourage vegetation. This provides a habitat for small animals and plants whilst softening the line of the canal bank.
In 1973 Little Tring bridge was demolished as the local council had decided it was too weak to carry modern traffic. Despite considerable local protest the wrecking ball was brought it. The first swing at the bridge bounced off so decisively that it could not be used safely and the bridge was dismantled brick by brick. Then, as now, it is not possible for  anyone in authority to admit they were wrong and an embankment was constructed cutting the canal off completely about a mile from the main line.

One of the major achievements of WAT has been this lovely replacement of this bridge.  (at a cost of £260,000)

A picture of the original bridge is available on the WAT site from which you can see how faithfully they have recreated it in solid concrete with brick facing and parapet.
Where did these columns come from?
From here it is but a short walk to Tringford Pumping Station where we were given a guided tour by John Kearsy, the southern region water resources manager for C&RT, who came off his holiday for us.
Once the canal was closed completely in 1904 the reservoirs, which had been built as boat traffic increased the demand for water in the summit pound, were able to do their job without water draining away down the Wendover Arm.  By this time the management of water had become quite complicated and other pumping stations, notably one at Whitehouses, were built to augment Tringford.
The smallest capacity pump has been operating since 1927.
Originally powered by a Boulton & Watt steam engines, all pumping is now electric. The annual electricity bill for this operation is £30,000.  When the Wendover Arm is restored completely this will all be saved. There seems to me to be an incentive for C&RT to assist in the restoration work.
Untill C&RT sees the sense in this, WAT  has to rely on cash donations and an ever ageing band of volunteers.

The remains of Whitehouses Pumping Station which C&RT will restore to working order.

As we walked round the end of the restored section a launch came up to wind.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Can You Believe It?

A couple hired a boat to cruise the Grand Union Canal. they have just posted on a canal forum that because of the poor weather they have abandeoned the boat in Milton Keynes and gone home and "the hire company can do what they like". In his posting, Patrick Fallows, says that they enjoyed a few days when the sun was shining but the troubel is our weather is gettin worse. I wonder how long this fellow has lived in UK.

Canals for Boats

Further to my tirade against natural England et al you must read this contribution from Mike Stone, the chairman of the Grantham Canal Society.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Aylesbury Arm to Close?

I heard a rumour recently that C&RT are considering closing the Aylesbury Arm for five months over the winter in order to tackle the leakage problems. The leakage problems are not new: most of the sixteen locks have notices on them instructing boaters to empty them after use because the walls leak.  As anyone with a swimming pool will tell you, such structures are less sound when empty. Winter is not the most conducive weather for canal maintenance but stoppages in summer inconvenience boaters.  So why didn;'t C&RT carry out maintenance on the arm last year when it was closed for eight months over the summer?

Un-Natural England

Two years ago the whole world was impressed by the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.  A key element of this spectacular was a celebration  of the Industrial Revolution.
If Natural England, The Health and Safety Executive and English Heritage had existed 250 years ago there would never have been an Industrial Revolution: Britain would still be in the dark ages.
Once again ecologists in the form of Natural England are demanding that canals should not be used by canal boats. This time they want to close the Ashby Canal to boats because they damage the ecology. Don't these dunderheads  understand the word Natural?  Canals are man-made for the use of boats. By definition they are not the natural habitat of anything. Restoration work on the Montgommery Canal has been delayed by 20 years to meet the demands of Natural England for the creation of wetlands  which were never there before the canal was built.
New marina being built on the Ashby Canal. For what?
When we were on the Ashby Canal earlier this year we saw water-voles, a grass snake and many other small creatures.  The area is rich in flora and fauna which survive quite readily with other canal users such as boats and anglers.  Wild animals and plants are much more adaptable than Natural England gives them credit for. If they really need to stop some development then why not put their efforts into stopping the ridiculous HS2 from London to Birmingham. Alternatively, how about doing something positive for a change? They could start by eradicating Japanese Knot weed, Himalayan Balsam and the red-clawed crayfish which are killing off the native species.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Hillmorton & Astley

We have been hanging about the Foxton area for a while: waiting for a cousin from S. Africa to arrive and for other members of the family to join us.  A good opportunity to update the blog but I lost track of the photos I wanted to use so nothing got done.
All family and friends have departed and I have found the pictures, safely archived.
Last year The Landmark Trust won the RIBA Stirling  Prize for its bold and imaginative restoration of Astley Castle
I was reminded of this as we passed through Nuneaton recently because a few years ago, before the Trust had started work on it, we walked up from the canal to take a look at Astley.  I remember it was a very hot day and the walk seemed to be all uphill.  I recall also seeing a rag and bone man for the first time in decades. If you are in the area a visit to the church which is next to Astley Castle is very rewarding.
We recently spent a few nights at Hillmorton, taking the bus into Rugby a couple of times. The Church of St John the Baptist is not far from the canal on a knoll in what was once a boggy moor - hence the derivation - Hill-moor-town . There has been a church here since the 12th century. Although nothing of the original structure exists some of the stones were used in the rebuilding of 1240.  It was first endowed by the Astley family. (of Astley Castle).

There are two stone effigies in the south aisle: one is thought to be Sir Thomas de Astley who died along with Simon de Montford in 1265 at the battle of Evesham .

It  was severely cut when the box pews were installed in ther 1770s and probably suffered some damage during the civil war. Roundheads did not care for 'graven images' and sometimes sharpened their swords on such things.

The other forms the lid to the tomb set into the floor of Edith, Sir Thomas's second wife.   Her maiden name was Constable and her family came from Norfolk.
There are traces of colour in the folds of the gown, although my photograph does not show it, which indicates that this effigy was highly decorated. This may have been the case also with her husband's effigy.

There is still one complete box pew, number 17. In an unheated church these must have provided some protection from the winter draught.

This was made from Norwegian oak with a narrow deal seat.

Many of them lost their doors over the years, possibly when the seats were enlarged to make them  more comfortable.
There are many charity boards around the church.

Just inside the door are these shelves upon which were placed twelve tuppenny loaves each week. At the end of divine worship these were distributed to those poor parishioners who had attended church or were prevented by sickness from attending as deemed appropriate by the vicar and churchwardens.