Turn your blog into a printed book!

Well here I am three years after buying Zulu so what to do with the blog now that I am no longer the owner?   Well one option is to print it out as a hardback book; I have just discovered that for a fairly modest fee, your blog can be printed into a book online, with just  a couple of clicks.  So for posterity, printing it as a book certainly sounds worthwhile.

Zulu's book preview

Admittedly the blog has not been updated much in the last year, but there are still a good 150 or so posts in the archive, many of which I have totally forgotton about.  I actually think there is a major flaw in almost all blogging software, in that all but the last few posts get confined to the archives, so flicking through previous pages requires quite a lot of persistence and luck before chancing upon an interesting article.

I have in fact just realised that something I wrote about the Hotel Boat African Queen a couple of years ago has actually been published on their own website, following articles from the Mail, Mirror and Daily Telegraph.  I a quite flattered and not intending to raise the copyright issues – it was just nice to read it again after this reminder.   (Apologies, by the way, to anyone who has found this page while searching for Zulu Warrior and African Queen.  Im afraid this may not be be what you expected!)

If the blog was a book, it would be so much easier to flick through the earlier entries and remember things like this, not to mention the advantages of having a permanent record of your writings, just in case the online copy should ever self-destruct.

There seem to be several online services which can print your blog with minimal effort – Sharedbook.com is one option – I have done a quick trial and found the results on screen to be excellent – and the cost likely to be about £50 for a full colour hardback printed book, which I don’t consider to be too expensive for such a wonderful memento.  This service is US based, so postage will be additional, but there may well be a UK supplier.

My first Apple iPhoto book

I have already used Apple’s iPhoto to print a book of a recent holiday in Iceland and the results were fantastic – if you have an Apple computer and haven’t yet explored this option then I can thoroughly recommend it – you simply assemble some photos in iPhoto, select the option to make a book and choose a theme – spend as long as you want adding text, captions, automated maps and then re-arranging the pictures and pages before clicking to pay.  The cost for about 70 pages containing 300 photos was about £60, not bad when considering the cost of printing 300 photos and sticking them into a 10 pound photo album.  This book will last for ever, unlike some of my old photo albums which are really showing signs of their age.  I was also delighted with the service – on the fifth day after ordering the book it was delivered, with a Holland postmark – so it must literally have been printed and despatched within a couple of days.

If a blog to book service is anything like as good as this, then I can’t wait to try it.


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.

Lost in the post

Digressing from canals for a minute, I need to vent some steam after a seemingly endless dialog between me, two guys who bought something from me on Ebay, a guy I bought something from on Ebay and the DVLA.

To cut a long story short I sold my old car to someone in Poland. I wanted to retain the number for my new car and although I put this in the advert I found myself apologising day after day that he couldn’t pick the car up until the DVLA had sent the replacement tax, MOT and Log Book.  Apparently the first two normally come within 7 days but the latter can take a further 4 weeks.  Without it the car can’t realistically be sold.  However after 14 days DVLA decided that because my old car was itself an import it had to be referred to Swansea causing even more delay.  Many boring bits later the paperwork all arrived, I had new number plates made, signed all the forms in the right places and waved it goodbye as it went off to Poland.

I looked forward to getting 10 months tax back, so duly wrote to the DVLA as required to do when a car is sold for export, enclosed the right bit of the V5C form and a V15 application for tax refund, together with the licence disk.  Sent first class recorded delivery, just for safety’s sake.

Today 3 weeks later they wrote back saying this had been rejected as I was not the previous keeper of the car, nor had I told them it was sold to someone else.  15 agitated minutes of holding on the phone I was put through to the refunds section who acknowledged that they had received my letter, and had marked the car as exported but they denied receiving a tax refund request, which of course was in the same envelope.  They admitted they must have received it, being as they had written to me to reject it, and so rather than sort it out by phone my only recourse is to write something on the back of the rejection notice and send it back for them to reconsider.

Concurrrently I sold an item on Ebay – I couldn’t believe how excited the purchaser was getting, but it turned out this car amplifier was a long lost match for his current one, and to have two is seemingly so much better.  He texted me to tell me every step of his journey to the post office, the postal order being put in an envelope, stamped and despatched.  And yes it came the very next day, so I called DH a well known parcel carrier and personally handed the well wrapped parcel, all labelled up and paid for, to the collection driver.

I began to think there may be a problem when the tracking number suddenly stopped showing anything sensible.  For the record, when DHL tracking shows “Security Check” in the status it means they have lost it.  Phone call after phone call failed to make it reappear. The standard response of well make sure it is sent out in the morning begins to wear thin after a week has gone by.  My text inbox was almost full with the purchaser getting more and more despondant about where his irreplacable amp had gone, although he was very understanding, although this may be after having made the Ebay faux pas of giving me good feedback before he got the goods!

I refunded him in full, lost 8 pounds commission on the postal order (I thought they were free!!!), £12.99 paid to send the parcel, £2 for packaging bubble wrap and £80 pounds worth of equipment.  I was only covered for £50 loss, and have yet to see anything other than “we are still looking for it” emails. 

It really bugs me that a parcel carrier can lose something so large, so easily, and shrug it off as one of those things that happen.  In fact the agent through whom I booked the service claims they only lose 0.4 per cent of packages.  Looking at the number of parcel carrying vans on the road that sounds like a very large number of items to me!

So I wait with baited breath to see if I get a penny back.

To make it worse I ordered a pot of Captain Tolleys Creeping Crack Cure a couple of weeks ago, again from Ebay but from a very reputable looking marina.  It didn’t come.  I made a fuss after a week and they put it down to computer problems, but the promised replacement hasn’t arrived either.  With my own lost parcel I wasn’t at all surprised when the vendor told me he has lost over 200 pounds worth of stock in the mail last week alone.  Where are all these lost items going!  To his credit he has sent a replacement under recorded delivery, and this should come in the morning.   Its one thing me losing a box in a private sale, but when a mail order business loses so many items this has to be devastating for them.  “Just leave good feedback or no feedback” he asked.  At least I have waited for the product to turn up – and then I shall leave very good feedback, as this supplier is tearing his hair out trying to run a business and is now providing excellent customer service.  I can’t penalise him for the Royal Mail’s shortcomings. 

So hardly a day has gone by in the last three weeks without apologising to or being apologised to by someone with whom the only thing we have in common is Ebay, parcel firms and Royal Mail.  What an incredible waste of time and money.  I am currently at least two hundred and fifty pounds out of pocket through this, let alone the cost of phone calls and stamps.

Big Lock (pub) Middlewich reopens

Big Lock Middlewich
Big Lock Middlewich

When Zulu arrived in Middlewich I was pretty alarmed to find that the Big Lock pub was closed.  Apparently the pub chain which held the lease had gone bust in September the tenants had to leave.  A pub without lights is a terrible sight and with so many closing for good, this didn’t look a good omen.

Punch Taverns, the owners, were quick to react by putting in a temporary manager, but for the last couple of months it has only been open for beer lager and not much else, and then only when they felt like opening.  The ominous signs were plastered over the outside “You could manage this pub” and it didn’t look good.

So I am delighted to be able to report that the Big Lock has fully reopened for business as from the end of November.  Tonight I ventured in for the first time, dreading being the first customer to order bitter but far from the expected creamflow, I was offered draught Tetley, Spitfire, Bombardier and Black Sheep, all as guest beers and starting at two pounds a pint.  And very nice it was too.  So good in fact that I stayed for another, and since most of the customers (yes it was quite busy) seemed to be eating, I joined in and had the home made chilli.

Pickles Family Get Keys to Big Lock (Middlewich Guardian) 8-Dec – it even got a mention in the local press, which goes on to explain that a former local landlady (ex Narrowboat pub) and her son have taken the challenge, which is a good sign indeed.

“Would you like that mild, medium, hot or hotter?”  Now thats a first!  It was also extremely good home made chilli served with half and half, rice and chips and nachos and all for £5.50.  Most other dishes are from 5 to 9 pounds, and many come with a separate side salad or fresh vegetables and all I heard from other tables was how nice the food was; everything I could see appeared to be home made too, apart from my chips which had been frozen and then kept warm too long.

The pool table is gone and the front room is now more of a bar than games room and whilst a little bland under a welcome fresh coat of paint, the place is quite nice considering it is in its first couple of weeks of opening.  However the huge industrial carvery unit plonked in the restaurant area looks like something beamed in from a 60s function room, although the prices seem equally dated, at only £3.95 for a carvery lunch.  I wonder if this is really going to pay?

But please let me be first to congratulate the new tenants online – and let me recommend to any passing boaters that they leave their past impressions behind and give it a try.  Value for money: 10/10.  Food Quality:8/10 (let down by the chips).  Beer: 9/10.  I will be asking if they can sort out wifi for customers (and boaters, since 3G is so bad in the area) and maybe turn down the music, although I have to say that the thumping disco beat was quite uplifting and certainly wasn’t lift music!

With Zulu’s moorings right outside I’m quite proud to be able to call it my local.

A quick peek at Portishead

I was in the Bristol area with a couple of hours to kill on Saturday and in such a situation I always try to visit somewhere new on the waterways.  So while the sun was shining I made a quick detour down to the Severn to check out Portishead Quay Marina, the overnight staging point for narrowboats making the upstream trip from Bristol to Sharpness.

Locking up from the Severn into Portishead Quay Marina
Locking up from the Severn into Portishead Quay Marina

It surprised me when I first learnt that when leaving the Avon at Avonmouth boats need to turn left and head downstream rather than the obvious upstream approach.  When you see the 15-20ft rise from low tide up to marina level at the entry lock to Portishead marina then it helps to understand why!  If the tide can rise this much then a poor narrowboat isn’t going to have a chance of making any headway while it is running in the wrong direction, and so doing a full run upsteam on a rising tide would make lots of sense.   Furthermore the approach to Sharpness lock can only be made an hour or so before either side of high tide so you need to time arrival fairly precisely.

Portishead Quays Marina
Portishead Quays Marina

Portishead marina is being rapidly developed in typical waterside style with more than enough new flats to choose from and several new waterside brasseries seem to be opening.  All of this within a few minutes walk of the quite pleasant town centre, and on the site of the old power station.  There are boats of all shapes and sizes but no narrowboats today.  I guess than even in the summer they are still fairly rare visitors.

The lock was however in full swing – operated from a modern control cabin, it has floating pontoons along each side and so boats have a steady mooring – the water looks quite turbulent as it enters the lock by cracking the gates open rather than by conventional sluices, and quite a Saturday afternoon crowd had assembled to watch the operations.  There’s even a mobile cafe at the lock, plus a much more sophisticated Lock House brasserie/restaurant in the old lockside buildings.  The lock is actually a shadow of its former self having been vastly reduced in size when the marina was built, allegedly saving some 4 million gallons per operation, and old Vickers of Newcastle hydraulic gear is pleasantly preserved along with some of the old lock gates.  Altogether quite an interesting place, and I look forward visiting by boat and spending a night here in the future, although I understand it will not be a cheap place to stay!

So now I know what to expect when we come down beyond Bristol.  Quite exciting really – I wonder if we will have time to do it this coming summer?

Fire extinguishers – a rant!

How, in this day and age, can it cost as much to refill a fire extinguisher as it does to buy a new one.

Surely it could be done for 50p. A bit of powder, screw the top on, pressurise – job done.

Today I am addressing some of the critical failure points for a new boat safety certificate. Zulu has a BSC valid for another two years, but there are a number of issues which would fail instantly if I had her retested today. Fire extinguishers is one of them, as not only does she not have enough (should have three) but the two which are installed are both empty.

It never struck me before as normally I am surrounded by serviceable fire extinguishers and don’t give them a second thought. Now I am sitting looking at a defunct empty one and am thinking how vulnerable I would be on a boat with which I am not yet totally familiarised, if I actually needed to tackle a fire, so today its off to the shop to have them refilled… no chance!

I therefore feel really aggrieved, not just that I have just had to pay out sixty quid for three brand new ones (yes I do know that Lidl occasionally do small ones for a fiver), but also that I now have two perfectly good looking empty ones which are destined for the bin, or ebay. Or maybe I will just have the boat tested then put them empties back for show (NOT!!!).

If anyone has any use for the two empties (1kg and 2kg), then I presume you will know how to get them refilled. Can you let me in on the secret?