Wednesday, 31 July 2013


I wrote this for the canal press last year. It was edited down to about 300/400 words. This is the full 1500 words article.

On being alone

People come to the canal for a variety of reasons. Some, like me, come on their own whilst others come to enjoy life on the water with a husband, wife or partner. A wonderful life is to be had together enjoying all that the waterways have to offer.

Husband/wife/partner teams tend to have their own particular jobs on the boat, which are normally based on gender stereotypes. The men tend do the mechanical stuff like steering and fixing the ‘complex’ machinery that is a narrowboat. The women do the hard work like lock wheeling, bridge lifting and cooking although I have observed a few notable exceptions.

The ‘dominant’ partner usually, but not always, male, spends his life steering the boat and complaining that his female partner is not doing it right, whatever it is she is doing. He also doubles up as stern end ballast. For some this works wonderfully well and life on the canal is idyllic.

Life on the canal putters along. The trials and tribulations of every day life on dry land are exchanged for a different set of trials and tribulations on the water but overall life seems to have more meaning.

Then one day the idyll is upset and a set of trials and tribulations, very common on dry land, rears its ugly head. Neither people nor relationships last forever as much as we would want it to be otherwise love can grow cold, as do the deceased.

What happens next depends almost entirely on who is left. If it is the chap that survives, if he chooses to stay on the boat, he will probably muddle through; albeit with a rather drastic change in his diet, but little else. There won’t be anybody to shout orders at any more and eventually he becomes less ballast-like and a little more svelte; exercise does that to people. The boat will be run in much the same way as before (single handing can be as quick as with crewed boating apart from only one does all the work) and life goes on! Greater periods of time may be devoted to sport.

But what happens when the ‘boating’ partner, the steersman/mechanic leaves or shuffles off this mortal coil? The sudden impact of the aloneness of the single boater hits home and the realisation that plans for this eventuality were never ‘planned’ and this weighs heavy on the day to day running of a narrowboat.

Last year two members of the boating community here at Thrupp prematurely became solo boaters. Mel, of nbMerlin, was abandoned by her partner Debs after four years of sharing her 57 ft Liverpool boat. Gilly and Ian had been together for fifteen years, the last five of which were on the water, aboard nbStrumpet. Their boat was yet another Liverpool creation. Ian, 493/4, had been ill on and off for some time, but nothing can prepare a girl for the moment when the doctor says, “I’m very sorry, there is nothing else I can do.”

Fortunately for Mel she owned the boat outright so when her partner left she left with only her belongings, but Debs being ex-military had always dealt with the boating. Mel is a professional gardener. Mechanical things such as chainsaws, mowers were within her comfort zone; driving a 15-ton boat was not. Whilst recovering from the effects of a broken relationship Mel had to come to terms with the fact that the ‘captain’ of the ship was now herself and she need to learn quickly in order to maintain water supplies and discharge waste; etc jobs that her partner Deb has always done, as well as steer the boat.

Like Mel, Gilly owned the boat outright, but not being married could have made things difficult had they both not got their affairs in order. Wills are very important. What you want to happen takes second place to what the law says should happen if you don’t get it written down.

Gilly had the added disadvantage that Ian was a superb cook and the kitchen was also his domain. As good fortune would have it both Ian and Gilly had worked for Oxfordshire Narrowboats for three seasons. If you work for a boat yard basic boating skills are a necessity, so moving a boat reversing and turning were accomplishments that Gilly already possessed. Not so for Mel who had always been a lock wheeler.

It was the engine that scared Gilly, “The engine was a big bluey blocky thingy in a black hole at the back of the boat under the deck plates.” It went chugga chugga chug and the boat moved, apart from one time it just went pfffffttt and ……. nothing, soon after Ian’s demise. Panic!

Mel knew where the engine was. In fact she did the oil changes, but she didn’t have the advantage of any time at the boatyard and was completely lacking in all skills related to moving the boat and single-handing. I think the best thing would have been to take the boat to the top end of the Oxford Canal and then return. By the time she got back there would have been few things basic Mel didn’t know and her confidence would have soared, but Mel isn’t that kind of girl and with a job and commitments to hold down not everyone has the time for that. Many members of the local boating community were able to help by explaining things and taking her out on the canal, helping with advice on locking single handed, turning and general boat handling (or generally being there for moral support). Whilst this is a good thing it takes longer than a round trip.

Mel’s partner Debs packed her things and left so life aboard was automatically tidy. All Mel had to do was tidy up her emotions. Not so with Gilly. Soon after Ian’s demise Gilly set to de-cluttering the boat. Ian was a collector of ‘stuff’. Odd bits of wood that‘might come in handy’; the odd pole, broom handle odd shelves and such like. His tool kit was legend, six toolboxes (although whether any of it was useful was a mystery). He also collected hats. He had dozens of hats and it all had to go! His ukulele was re-homed aboard the Good Ship Bones. And even Mel helped distributing his clothes amongst the local charity shops. By this time Mel was gaining in confidence and occasionally ventured out in convoy with others along the canal.

Previously Mel was always expected to put her things away to keep the boat tidy. Her art materials were stored out of sight and into disuse. Now finally she was allowed to leave her stuff out instead of having to put it away every night. If she chose she could make a mess and no one would complain. She began enjoying a different life.

So there are two people who have dealt with the problem of personal loss. Mel has just set of on her longest journey yet for a week’s holiday with her new partner Jan. She is now tutoring Jan. Neither Gilly nor Mel has ever thought about giving up their boats. The draw of the water is compelling; they both have good memories here on the cut.

But what would you do? What plans have you and your partner made should one or the other of you be left alone? It happens to us all and it is our responsibility to make sure our loved ones know how the whole boat works from the kitchen and a good diet, all the way back to the engine!. Mel and Gilly never expected it to happen to them so soon. Ian was not quite 50 when he died. Mel was 40 when Debs suddenly left.

Unfortunately sexism on the canal means that it is often the male, or dominant partner, that does the steering and maintenance work on a narrowboat. I wonder how many of you ladies are proficient at steering the boat? If you partner has to be airlifted off the canal could you move you boat to a more accessible location on your own? While you were visiting the hospital everyday would you know when to run the engine? How often? How long for? Do you have a log of what work needs to be carried on the engine? When will the oil need changing? What about replacing oil and fuel filters, fan belts etc? Is there any outstanding work required that would need attention soon? These are all questions you as a survivor need to ask. Boating isn’t just about enjoying the countryside; sharing all of the duties of boating is not only fundamental but it should be great fun too.

Duck Soup

When the winter comes and natural food is scarce for the wildlife you might like to make an effort to put out some wild bird food or go feed the ducks.

Currently it is summer and wildlife food is plentiful. There is no need to feed the wildlife. Feeding the wildlife at this time of year make them lazy. They may not survive the onset of winter.

Feeding ducks bread is pointless it fills them up but has no nutritional value, hence they could suffer from malnutrition. Mouldy bread carries botulism a duck killer. If the botulism doesn’t get them they could get a condition called Angel Wings from the bleach in the flour, this stops them from flying and makes them fox food. Feeding bread makes ducks tame. I can take a tame duck and wring its neck in the blink of an eye. In two blinks I can unzip it, take its coat off and stick it in the cooking pot. Ducks are part of the food chain. You will kill them with your misplaced kindness.

Of course when you have fed the ducks and buggered off they assume all boats will feed them and they wake me up at 5 in the morning tapping on the hull expecting to get fed. I will be pissed off at this and will get them ready for the pot irrespective of a recent Sainsbury’s trip.

I don’t mind if you feed ducks it saves me trips to the supermarket, but how many ducks do you kill?


Here at Thrupp I will help anyone who needs it. I am however not too happy about helping single handers who ask. “Can you get the bridge I’m singlehanded” is a common phrase here. If you want to be a single hander you have to ‘learn’ and you wont learn by getting others to do it for you. We single handers have chosen a difficult way to do our boating. It is however our choice and as such we should not only plan more than other boaters, but we should also learn faster and with greater accuracy. The day a single hander steps on to his boat he is saying “I can do this on my own’ and it is his responsibility to learn everything in a short space of time. This is not always possible, but what he does learn has to be learned well so that when approaching a new situation he can assess and plan what to do (using previously learned skills) with minimal risk to other boaters or other sundry ‘civilians’ on the tow path.

I remember in 2006 being in Skipton on the L&L. Up to then I’d had a companion who caught her bus home, to Wiltshire, in the town. The first obstacle encountered when I moved on was a swing bridge. I stood on that bridge for a while pondering how to get Milly from one side to t’other whilst having to operate the bridge from the offside. I stood at the control box, or was it just a locking mechanism, I opened the bridge, I closed the bridge. as the bridge closed the lamp came on in my head and the answer arrived. Following that day I have approached all engineering on the canals in the same way. Stop Look work it out. All things are doable on your own, but you have to think clearly and use previously learned info to help you. Muddling through is just not good enough. The damaged caused by unknowledgeable newbies is costly, though not immediately apparent. It is simply not good enough to be able to say ‘Oh I can operate a retractable ball point pen so I should be able to cope’. This is not a game.

Now here at Thrupp the lift bridge as it was (pre mechanisation) was not difficult to operate or traverse on your own.  However  following “hundreds of complaints from single handers” (BWs words not mine) received by BW they decided to change the status quo. They spent £40,000 making it a key operated bridge that was single hander friendly. Irrespective of the damage done to the social aspect of the bridge the design is a cock-up. Of the two control panels only one can be clearly seen. The other is tucked away behind a garage and leaves the single hander wondering how he is to lift the bridge and then get back to his boat. Well it is a relatively easy thing to moor up and go look at the bridge. Few do. No they see the obvious control panel and put their nose up to it then climb the safety fence, some even walk over the flower beds (criminal damage).

Mooring up and reading the instructions would tell them how to do the bridge but no people do not want to learn. They are quite happy bumbling along causing damage.

If you are coming to Thrupp there are two control panels MOOR up and go look at the bridge. It wont take long and may prevent you from making a dick of yourself. Should you fall off the safety fence a very large box of steel is waiting for you to crack your skull. Don’t be an arse do it properly and save someone else the grief of having to mop up your blood!


Friday, 26 July 2013

From my little London trip

Looks to me like this continuous moorer was determined to stick a pin in here.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Horse in McDonald's: Rider fined after 'drive-thru' refusal

Horses outside McDonald's A woman has been fined for taking her horse into a McDonald's restaurant in Greater Manchester.

Police said the woman, who has not been named, was in the saddle when she was initially turned away from the drive-through kiosk on Bury New Road.

The woman then led the animal inside, where it "ended up doing his business on the floor", a Greater Manchester Police (GMP) spokesman said.

McDonald's said it was unable to serve customers on horseback.

A girl riding a pony also went through the McDonald's 'drive-thru' with the woman.

'Distress to customers'

A spokeswoman for the company said: "On 20 July a woman allowed her pony to enter our restaurant in Whitefield after being refused service in the drive-thru lane.

Horse manure in McDonald's A McDonald's spokeswoman said customers were distressed. The incident caused distress to customers and disruption for the restaurant, and the police issued the woman with a fixed penalty notice."

She added: "The health and safety of our customers and staff is our top priority, and for this reason we are unable to serve pedestrians, bicycle riders or customers on horseback through the drive-thru."

Greater Manchester Police said: "The sight and smell of this caused obvious distress and upset to customers trying to eat, as well as staff members.

"Officers arrived at the location and the woman was issued [with] a fixed penalty notice for causing alarm and distress to other customers and staff."

Why were  they unable to serve someone on horse back? I’m sorry but i would bet a pinch of salt to a pound of horse shit that, prior to this incident Mackey Dee’s had no policy on serving horse riders. And there never existed any risk assessment that included horse riders at the drive thru. That the horse droppings caused ‘distress and upset’ to diners has more to do with them being townies than with the horse.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Seize the day

This evening I sat talking to Martin (PUBH). As we chatted, nearing ten o’clock a boat hove into view. Eventually we decided it was Ken on Carpe Diem. It being nearly dark we wondered where he was going. I thought I would phone and ask so  could open the bridge if required. I spent the next 10 mins talking to my brother Ken. The other Ken is listed as Carpe Diem.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Shipton Lock

Yesterday evening I made my way to a favourite mooring spot on the river (the location of which will remain secret). It’s secluded, quiet and has a pool five to nine feet deep. On the way I had to work through Shipton Lock. As usual I aim to gently put my button on the gate, walk the gunnel and operate the lock. I did this the night before without a hitch

This time, due to the position of the sun, I misjudged my speed and distance and was less than gentle with the button. I gave it a bit of a bang! Of course as you may guess just at the point of contact another boater was riding across the bridge. He was not best pleased and said so mumbling about buggering it up for others and why didn’t  I do it manually like everyone else. Well that was the plan. He obviously thought that bashing into lock gates was my normal practice. What he didn’t see, or didn’t want to see, was the engine was in reverse.

This reminded me of a story told to me only a few weeks ago, but I can’t remember who by.  The teller had risen early to set off on their way. They filled their first lock and entered. They were somewhat obscured from the lower pound and didn’t see the ‘working’ boat coming. As they were about half way down there was a god almighty bang as the working boat hit the gates of a half full lock. The ‘working’ boater came up to the lock and demanded to know what they were doing in his lock at that time of the morning! An argument ensued during which he insisted that the teller should refill the lock and reverse out of his way. It transpired that the ‘working’ boater did this every morning, just drove his boat straight in through the closed gate. The lock had always been empty. My story teller had inadvertently buggered up his routine and he was one pissed off bunny. This was the way he always approached that lock and no one had ever been in the lock before. Well he got a bit of a shock this time!!! In reality it doesn’t matter if someone was in the lock or not crashing through a closed gate is not only dangerous, but gate consuming. A gate has a life of about 25-30 years and this continuous pounding would reduce that considerably.

There is a good reason why I do Shipton as I do (not the banging bit). It is a cross over lock, the towpath changes sides and you have to go over to the other side to operate the lock. We are not talking a normal little lock tail bridge.  The bridge snakes across the bottom of the lock. The end of the bridge on the other side takes you away from the lock gate. No excuses I know.



Photo0386[1]Five years ago this boat was really nice. Now, seemingly abandoned, it is being towed away for sale. Odd that it should have a 2014 mooring permit in the window. Odder still that it took three crew to move it!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Hat Trick!!!

This morning I set off to reverse the mile up to the sanitary station. I hadn’t gone 100 feet when Mr Antipodean (nb Elsinore) came under the bridge on the wrong side of the canal and came to a stop behind me. I could go nowhere. I indicated for him go to the right of the canal, there was more than enough room for him. He didn’t understand. I shouted “Follow the rules and go to the right of the canal.” Still nothing. I vacated my lungs telling him to “feck off over the other side.” He said “Have some patience” (So now its my fault) “I am lost.”

Lost! Lost! there was only one way to go how could he be feckin’  lost?

At the sanitary station nb Shandorelle was there. I know he had been there some time because I had not seen him go under the bridge while I was reversing up the long straight. It was only as I reversed up the wide and then came alongside that he decided to get his hose out. He said, “I will be sometime its a 400 litre tank”

“How much?”

“400 litres”

Then he looked at his water gauge and said it was about half full. I threw my centre line across his boat to the mooring bollard unfortunately it nearly hit him, so he was pissed off. Then he complained that my rope was across his boat and threaded it through those sharp edged little fairleads that chafe your rope. He tied it up as I said, “That’s the way it is here.” And then with his 200 litres to go, on a very slow filling tap, he packed up and went. Well that was good for me. Was it something I said?

I suppose in reality he expected me to bugger orf and come back when he had finished, but I don’t play those games. On the side of my boat it says WELCOME TO MOOR  ALONGSIDE so I do.

Then tonight after 10 o’clock an unlicensed boat zig zagged along the canal. No headlight. Drunk as a skunk and rude. I opened the bridge for him but he got stuck on the off side so I closed the bridge. It took him a while to sort it out, he didn’t have a pole. Of course it was my fault because I opened the bridge and confused him. Then he moored for the bridge. He asked if we, there were four of us, had a key as he didn’t have one. No license no pole no key, no understanding of the rules, and no fecking brains. Not to mention he threw his empty beer can in the canal. I let him through the bridge and closed it. He turned around and wanted to come back through no way was i going to open it again for him to come by all our boats in that state. I walked off.

So that was it three for three. Is it me? Do these people search me out? Is the canal system filling up with these people coz I’m getting pissed off with them. A man who gets lost in a straight line, a man who buys silk ropes for his boat, and a drunken river rat. There should be a law.

Thursday, 11 July 2013


I really do believe there are people in this world who should not be allowed on a boat. It not because they are black or yellow or blue or green, it's because they are stupid. Far too stupid to be allowed near water. Why do I say this? Well the following was posted on Facebook  by a decent sort of chap who nicked it from somewhere else.

"I'm moored near Teddington lock and want to take the boat past the weir in Richmond and moor in Brentford for work. But the river is drained entirely in Brentford every day, meaning the gate in Richmond is locked. I'm trying to find out the timings of when this happens every day so I can figure out when to come and go. Can anyone help?
If 'the river is drained entirely in Brentford every day' what do they do with all the water?

Now now stop laughing he may be only three years old in which case he will learn. Given that he is probably an adult I think he will be a danger to all other users on the river and should be physically restrained to prevent him ever going on a boat much less being in charge of one.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Help required

Anyone interested in helping to move a boat from Banbury to Thrupp then on to Brentford please let me know. Owner recently had a stroke. Wife is non driver. They want to move to Brentford to be near their son.

More details as soon as I have them.

Email interest. (email in profile)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Tut Tut

Narrowboat CALUM 10 pm running his engine. Obviously not a boater.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

This week

I seem to be too tired to write this week after the epic journey ended. Wednesday I moved a 69 foot hire boat from Heyford to Thrupp and Thursday I moved a 36 foot day boat the same journey. Of course yesterday I enjoyed the sun.

Sarah and the dogs at Windsor Molly and Buster had had a fight over a piece of mushroom neither of them wanted.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Its over Day 9

I moored at the Crown in Broxbourne last night. I moored on the trip boat mooring not realising there were 24 hour moorings around the corner. Although the boat that was occupying one of the mooring had moss on the knots.

I had three more locks on the Lea and a further three on the Stort or so I thought. It was a pleasant surprise to find the marina just after the first Stort lock. There is a lock down into the marina. I moored to find the office and was told where to go. A member of staff stood on the pontoon indicating the exact spot. It was windy. I was pointed into wind at right angles to the pontoon and kicked the tiller to the left. I held station while the wind turned the boat then reversed in one go, as it was coming round, straight in next to another narrow boat Mr Staff member was suitably impressed (he didn't see me moor up before I went to the office), although that had its merits. I tidied up and met with the new owner handing him the key. Then went into town to eat. No one was serving food. Pooh!

Helen came just after eight to take me home.

Total distance is 150 miles, 7 furlongs and 77 locks. There is one moveable bridge; 5 small aqueducts or under bridges and 2 tunnels (Maida Hill Tunnel (272 yards long) and Islington Tunnel (960 yards long)). In eight days.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Nearly there! Day 8

I woke up at seven. Listened to the radio while I drank my morning cuppa then took Molly for her morning constitutional. I set off about nine. I only have three inches of fuel in the tank to do twenty miles. It is a 360 litre tank that lies across the boat under  the floor so I should be OK. Today was a good penultimate day. I ran into a weird Irish man who helped me do the lock at Waltham Town. As I was going in he decided he would go up the lock too. Apparently it had taken him ten days to make that decision. We chatted and when I noticed the name on his boat I asked if he was an internet man. He said yes he was on FB. I thought so. I said I am Maffi. He was pleased to meet me and after much vigorous shaking of hands and said he was following in my foot steps with the rubbish collecting.

I  passed Peter’s boat Futurest (no one at home). At Stonebridge lock they have had a new operating mechanism installed What a clusterfuq! Who ever designed this system needs shooting. I arrived as two boats were entering the lock it was an hour later when I exited the lock.It takes so long they have had a to make up a tool (electric drill driving a through a specially made gear arrangement) to replace the standard windlass. There were electric cables running all over the lock side and crossing the lock on top of the sluice posts.

Who at CRT thinks it is appropriate that it should take an hour to get through a lock? I would fire his ass soonest! A chap I spoke to said he was in despair at some of the decisions CRT management were making. I would hate to have to do this lock with a windlass I don’t think I have enough puff!