Taking the Pee on the Regents Canal

Running away when they saw the camera
Running away when they saw the camera

On Saturday I was moving a boat through London.  What a shame I didn’t have the camera easily to hand. The shadowy figures (there were 5 or 6 altogether) escaping in my picture were running away because they though it amusing to pee over the boat as we went under Lisson Grove just at the far end of Maida Hill Tunnel after leaving Little Venice.  I stopped before being in range, and of course seeing the camera they scarpered before I could get a good shot.  Next time you wont be so lucky!  In fact there may not be a next time as two police walked by shortly afterwards and recognised the description.

Lets hope this isn’t going to be a silly season with a start like that – and meanwhile if you are passing through Lisson Grove Estate you may like to carry an umbrella just in case!

Weedon to Milton Keynes

Sunday 29th March 2010

Zulu at Cosgrove Bridge
Zulu at Cosgrove Bridge

What a busy two weeks since I left Zulu at Weedon.  I did return to the boat once, to do some maintenance as I remember being amazed that after 3 days the fire was still smouldering away, but being away last weekend and working yesterday, this was the first chance to make some more progress.

Its never a smooth journey when travelling on a weekend, and I made a terrible mistake of taking a train to Northampton from Euston at 6:30pm.  I should have checked the football before boarding a train to Stoke, full of course of jubillant football supporters foul mouthed drunks after Stoke beat West Ham.  I wonder if these people will all be off to the office tomorrow or whether they are professional yobs.

By the time I was getting off the bus in Weedon it was very late, just time to light the fire, get a takeaway and prepare for an early start on Sunday morning, on the night the clocks go forward.

Sunday was dry and sunny for the most part, but surprisingly cold, and the canal was fairly quiet until Blisworth tunnel where suddenly there were 5 boats all inside at once!  I met three oncoming boats and a fourth was following me, so I was pleased to have the company going down the Stoke Bruerne locks, especially when a whole troop of family members turned up to work the locks.

After that its a lovely long lock free run through Cosgrove and Milton Keynes, which is such a nice place to pass through by boat.  I was heading for Fenny Stratford, but after realising there’s no trains on a Sunday I made a split second decision to stop a mile or so before, just outside the Plough, in the company of a good dozen other boats.

In a bit of a rush to get to the station before the last train home I made a huge mistake of following a main road, whereas in Milton Keynes roads are for cars, and pedestrians need to know their way through a maze of footpaths and tunnels to find the nearest bus stop.  For the first time the iPhone really did save the day, as the mapping application not only found me a way to the bus stop, but told me it was coming and would arrive at the station with 10 minutes to spare.  It was another public transport experience from hell though, as the little 7E mini bus was absolutely full and hurtled round bend after bend tipping push chairs over, squashing people together,  turning the floor into a river of spilt drinks and generally making getting off a total relief.

A mere four hour journey from leaving Zulu I finally got back home, and not without yet another encounter with drunks, who took over the buffet car on the train from Paddington to Reading.  This being after 10pm, these guys were so drunk they could hardly stand, and their attempts to talk or sing simply turned into the foulest of language.  I can’t help thinking there is something terribly wrong with this country when this behaviour has become the norm for a weekend, especially when they thought it amusing to get off at Reading and pee on the train.

So here endeth an eventful journey, a really boring post and a lovely day’s boating. 
Total today: 27 miles and 8 locks.

British Waterways Complaints – Freedom of Information Reply

A couple of weeks ago I was really annoyed with British Waterways as I felt that having raised complaints about various aspects of the information they were providing to boaters during my extended winter journey, they were failing to do anything but send a standard acknowledgement while the subject of my complaint had not been rectified.

Its not that any individual event was a huge issue but when the promised response didn’t arrive within 15 working days for the third time in a row, the tone of my fourth complaint was most definitely louder than before.

When I requested these to be raised to level 2 of the complaints process, I was not surprised by receiving an almost  immediate response to two of the three older issues, plus an instant response to my latest complaint.  In fact I was pleasantly with two of them which actually left me feeling like I had raised a genuine issue which was indeed being addressed by people who cared, while the third was more defensive, most likely as a result of viewing my final comments about the stoppage at Buckby Locks in isolation rather than as the fourth factor in a row.

The reasons for failing to respond within 15 days were given as guilty – an email response had been sent back to customer services instead of to me (by the IT department!), guilty – a second identical complaint to mine had been processed the same day and my reply had been overlooked and he jury is still out about the third.

But on my angry night two weeks ago I filed a Freedom of Information request to BW to ask “How many complaints are satisfactorily handled?” and duly received my response.  I used WhatdotheyKnow.com which makes the whole process very easy.

The answer was interesting and is shown below in full.  What intrigues me about the figures quoted is that if it is true that only 363 complaints have been handled in the last 12 month period, then having written 4 times I personally represent 1.1% of all complaints during this period, and possibly  yet apart from this series I have not made a written complaint to anyone else anywhere in the last 15 years (I tell a lie – I did write to BW last year to complain that I was unable to walk safely to my boat on my BW offside mooring due to mud churned up by hundreds of dog walkers a day, but they didn’t agree that the council should be taking action to repair the path!). 

Hmmmmmh.  I wonder if these figures are produced by the same counting methods as the number of waterways users which extend into the hundreds of millions!

British Waterways Answer:

Chris Gray
British Waterways Board17 March 2010

Further to my correspondence with you of 16^th March 2010 I am responding
to your request for information regarding:

1. How many complaints did you receive in the last 12 months.

2. how many have you responded within 15 working days

3.how many are resolved to the satisfaction of the originator?

2008-2009 level 2nd level
Apr-08 31 4
May-08 47 3
Jun-08 42 7
Jul-08 48 5
Aug-08 50 9
Sep-08 40 7
Oct-08 30 5
Nov-08 20 3
Dec-08 34 3
Jan-09 25 0
Feb-09 24 4
Mar-09 26 13
417 63

2009-2010 1st level 2nd level
Apr-09 43 3
May-09 30 7
Jun-09 43 8
Jul-09 48 11
Aug-09 29 4
Sep-09 23 7
Oct-09 33 8
Nov-09 20 4
Dec-09 24 5
Jan-10 25 6
Feb-10 19 1
337 64

The number of first level complaints responded to within the 15 days from
written acknowledgement – 94% (average response time is 11 days)

The number of second level complaints responded to within the 15 days from
written acknowledgement – 39%

The number of second level complaints responded to within the 15 days from
written acknowledgement or within an extension agreed by the customer 98%
(average response time is 25 days)

Do not keep info on satisfaction but this could be gauged by the number of
complaints progressing from one stage to the next. The number of
ombudsman accepted complaints in 2008/09 was 16 and so far this year is
22. Also to date (in the financial year 2009/10) the Waterway Ombudsman
has completed 18 investigations. The Ombudsman fully upheld three of these
complaints and she found partially against British Waterways on five
occasions. Ten were not upheld.

If we haven’t reasonably met your expectations in relation to a request
for information or you believe we may not have acted in accordance with
the above legislation you should write in the first instance to Caroline
Killeavy Head of Customer Relations, 64 Clarendon Road, Watford, Herts
WD17 1DA outlining your concerns and asking for a review to be
undertaken. Your correspondence will be acknowledged and a review of your
case will be undertaken. The review is usually undertaken by a director
and you should receive a response within 15 working days.

Should you remain unsatisfied by the response you receive you are able to
contact the Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF [1]www.ico.gov.uk/Global/contact_us.aspx.

Yours Sincerely

Chris Gray

Information Officer


Visible links
1. http://www.ico.gov.uk/Global/contact_us….

A day in the snow

Friday 19th – Monday 22nd March 2010

A quick holiday report but not canal related – sorry. The only link I can think of is snow, as for the last 4 days I have been in and around the Austrian and German Alps, while the UK is recovering from the most snowy winter in memory.

From the top of the Zugspitze - Germany's highest mountain
From the top of the Zugspitze - Germany's highest mountain

I have always wanted to fly into Innsbruck as it has a mountainous approach which requires the pilot to undergo specific training before operating there.  Friday’s weather was absolutely amazing and our Easyjet flight from Gatwick touched down perfectly out of the blue sky – the approach is certainly spectacular.  Innsbruck is a lovely little airport with a regular local bus service to town, although at a pinch it could even be walked.

Zugspitze Cogwheel Railway
Zugspitze Cogwheel Railway

The highlight of the trip was a ride up the Zugspitze railway from Garmisch Partenkirchen, just over the Austrian border with Germany.  The cogwheel train is ultra modern, and powers its way up the steep gradient to within a short cable car ride from the summit of Germany’s highest mountain (2962m).  Suddenly we were amongst skiers and snow boarders and with a view across the hundreds of snow covered peaks stretching for miles and miles.  We had lunch in Austria by walking across the border on the top of the mountain, then took a different cable car straight down the mountain side to Eibsee in the steepest and longest single span I have ever ridden on.  With a third cable car down the Austrian side of the mountain to Erfurt, and the original lodge, the Munchner Haus still standing beside the weather station, this is undoubtedly one of the world’s engineering marvels – all in the aid of tourism and one I will remember for a long time – I hope.  The biggest regret was not being prepared in advance or we could have booked a night in the Iglu Ice Hotel close to the summit.  Sleeping in a room made entirely of snow, including the bed and toilet is one thing, but I can only try to imagine what it is like at night once all the tourists go home.

We also visited the incredible Bergisel ski jump in Innsbruck and the resort of Kandahar near Garmisch (not the other Kandahar which makes the news too often!), which will be the venue for the 2011 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, and this weekend was very busy with skiers of all ages, but there weren’t any beginners in sight so we didn’t try to join in.

The second highlight was Munich Hofbrauhaus, which allegedly can seat 5,000 drinkers, and whilst it is 100% tourist trap the general atmosphere was brilliant, serving beer by the litre (no halves!) and piles of excellent filling food to soak it up, all at inflated prices but what the hell… with the accompaniment of the Oompah band it was great fun!

Flying back to Gatwick from Munich, again with Easyjet, completed the round trip.  Its strange to be back in the UK where a pound buys a pounds worth of goods instead of buying a Euro’s worth.   Whatever happened to the exchange rate!

I’m in Towpath Talk!

Zulu gets a mention in March Towpath Talk
Zulu gets a mention in March Towpath Talk

Towpath Talk, the monthly free canal newspaper, has kindly given me a mention in the March Edition, issue 54.

Helen Gazeley writes “Wet Web” which this month focuses on canal bloggers, and several quotatins from yours truly and even a photo of a very cold snowy looking Zulu can be found on page 52 and 53.

When she asked me for my thoughts on blogging it struck me that blogging is one of the things I should have invented, way back in 1993 when I first used to have a personal website on which I rambled on about something or other, and people could comment by email.  Whilst it had a little bit of static content, regarding Cavendish Bridge – my old home next to Shardlow, the majority was “Mikes Fridge”, which opened up to reveal what I was thinking today.  My web log.  I was blogging but we didn’t have a word for it!    We watched the likes of blogger.com being launched in the late 1990’s, oblivious to the potential and fell off the chair when we realised how much the likes of Google were prepared to pay to catch up. Missed the boat I guess but nevertheless satisfying to know I was in at the very beginning.

In those early days of the internet a friend and I even wrote one of the very first HTML editors on the market, which we published as shareware.  We often used to joke about our “unique features” appearing in our competitor’s products, such as Hot Dog, Coffee Cup, Homesite way before Dreamweaver, wondering if we could have become the market leader and even become rich.  After all, we got reviewed in magazines more favourably than the mighty Microsoft’s earliest attempts at Frontpage, but that wasn’t necessarily a guarantee of instant fame.  Definitely another case of missing the boat, if there ever was one.

Digressing slightly, but in those days dial-up internet involved calling a modem on a London phone number and the resulting phone bill was hundreds of pounds a month, while downloading was a major operation of trial and error for hour after hour.  How things have changed.

So with two boats missed, I have lived on one ever since and once again am blogging whatever comes into my head.  As my life revolves around boats and computers, it is usually about one or other of these subjects. 

Unlike the early website which has now completely disappeared, one of the strongest benefits of blogging is that it continues to grow daily and much content will survive ad infinitum, forming the most incredible snapshot of life from the user’s point of view.  Imagine if we had the same from 100 years ago!  Having recently updated my list of other canal bloggers I have almost 200, some 40 of whom are updating several times a week!

So if you have followed a link here from Towpath Talk, I would love you to bookmark it for later, as you never know what you may find here next! 

Thanks for looking.

Braunston to Weedon

Sunday 14th March 2010

Braunston Tunnel Cutting repairs
Braunston Tunnel Cutting repairs

Hi from Weedon.  Buckby locks were definitely open and the trip from Braunston was very nice – a bit breezy at times but the weather has been very spring like today so no complaints there.

The Braunston tunnel cutting repairs are very extensive, with a new concrete wall where the landslip had occurred, and although the canal is now open to traffic since Thursday, the towpath is closed, as are two thirds of the moorings above the top lock, so walking over Braunston tunnel is not straightforward at present.

Braunston tunnel - looking back at the repairs
Braunston tunnel - looking back at the repairs

Buckby locks are in pretty good shape after the winter stoppage (which still finishes tomorrow officially), and the gates are as heavy as ever, but all the paddle gear seemed well serviced.  I was lucky enough to meet coal boat Towcester for an impromptu diesel top up in  mid flight (I keep forgetting that Zulu needs fuel every now and then), and tonight we are in Weedon, where once again I will have to part with Zulu and head back south in the car tomorrow. 

Todays fun mostly took place before the boating – first of all a lovely breakfast at the Gongoozler floating cafe at Braunston, and suitably refreshed, I tackled a job which I had been dreading.  Zulu had a domestic fridge which no longer works but is too big to go through the doors.  The previous owner must have had it lowered in when repairing the cabin sides, and theres no way I was going to get it out by hacking the walls apart.

fridgeSo throwing caution to the wind I went back and literally cut it in half – using tin snips rather than a chainsaw as someone suggested (somewhat tongue in check I think!).  The resulting bits, while keeping the pipework and condenser intact, all fitted nicely into the car and are now in Daventry tip.  I had a slight dizzy moment when I jolted the fridge as I put it into the boot of the car, and removed a lump off my thumb, luckily just a small bit though and a dozen plasters later it is fine now.  It just shows how life can change withing a second, and in the heat of the moment I couldn’t even think where the first aid kit is on Zulu while wrapping myself up in kitchen towel.  It is now more prominent to ensure that it can be reached one handed, should any further call be made upon its contents in the future.

So here I am at Weedon instead of Milton Keynes due to wasting most of yesterday, but its a good enough place to leave the boat, and the delay has certainly enabled me to tick off yet another task from the list of rainy day jobs, so this has been an altogether useful and constructive weekend after all.

8 Miles and 13 Locks

Braunston – Chinese at the Wheatsheaf

Sweet & Sour Chicken with Beef and Green Pepper in Blackbean Sauce with Egg Fried Rice.  £8.00
Sweet & Sour Chicken with Beef and Green Pepper in Blackbean Sauce with Egg Fried Rice. £8.00

Now let me share a much happier experience. I have just had a most fantastic chinese takeaway from the Grace Chinese takeaway (and eat in) which is run independently of, but within, the Wheatsheaf pub.  I had a good pint while waiting too.

There’s no sign outside, and orders are placed at a sort of sideboard in a side room of the pub.  But it was doing a roaring trade and my food was absolutely excellent quality.  I had the meal for one  – how sad, but it came with fortune cookie (the first I ever had with a takeway) with the message “Your wisdom will find a way” . However I am still no wiser as to what this might mean.

They dont have a website, so here’s their phone number and address.  I highly recommend them.
Grace Chinese Takeway
The Wheatsheaf
10 The Green
01788 890503
Open: Daily at 5pm.  Closing at 10:30pm on Sundays, midnight on Saturday and 11pm every other day.

Stoke Bruerne – Google Streetview style

Thursday 11th March 2010

Braunston Tunnel should be opening today and Zulu was supposed to be on the move tomorrow but I just heard that yet another stoppage has been extended, this time Buckby Locks, which will not now be open until mid-day on Monday, so although we can get through Braunston Tunnel as of today (can anyone confirm that it did actually reopen today as scheduled) then the furthest I can get this weekend is the other end of Braunston Tunnel so its simply not worth moving from Braunston.  I imagine a lot of boats will be trying to get through and they will all end up at Norton Junction 4 miles from Braunston, where mooring will not be easy.

I had hoped to reach Stoke Bruerne by Saturday and then Milton Keynes area by Sunday so I can leave Zulu for one last stopover before we get a home run to Uxbridge.

So today I will have to do with a virtual tour of Stoke Bruerne, thanks to  Google StreetView which has just been extended to cover virtually everywhere in the country – even rural lanes can now be viewed – and there’s bound to be some other excellent canal scenes.  Here’s the one I just found showing  Stoke Bruerne!

Stoke Bruerne as seen in Google Streetview
Stoke Bruerne as seen in Google Streetview

The world has become even smaller as a result of this amazing technology.

Click to link to this location in Google Streetview.

I may even get to see this for real, on Zulu, in a week or two’s time but not next weekend – its holiday time again!


Today I have at long last updated my rather poor list of other canal blogs, from 3 to 165 give or take a few.

So if I have in any way missed your own site, or made any sort of error with your own link, don’t hesitate to get in touch and I will fix it immediately.

The list order is chronological but due to the number of entries, it may take a few seconds to settle down while loading.