... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Pirate broadcast

This is a pirate transmission; this is not Sarah Hale. This is in fact no. 2 son, relaxing on the foredeck of Bakewell the butty. Mum is currently rearranging the kitchen so that Willow can sit where he pleases and those who are not cooking or blogging are having a nap.

It's my first time on a cruise since the last time I hijacked mum's blog (moving NB Shilling) and the first time that IzzI has set foot on a boat. I'm getting back into the swing of things and she's taken to steering both motorboat and butty like the mandarin duck we spotted earlier takes to water.

Hang on! Did I say 'butty'? Oh yes! Those wandering the towpath between the mooring and the Anchor (the pub that Willow has set aside for a special treat for his staff, and that they've been waiting to visit for some time now) were treated to seeing Bakewell on cross straps. The butty tiller succumbed to an old injury and snapped in half but did not hamper proceedings. Indeed the shortened pole meant that Jim and Bill, who'd boarded the moving vessel, were able to have a chat without the danger of being smacked in the face. Nevertheless, handyman that Jim is, I doubt it will stay in two pieces for long.

We're moored up for the eve now, winding and heading home tomorrow. Dinner's about to be served so I will leave those of you kind enough to read these ramblings to your evening and maybe write to you again soon.

I would post a piccy of Iz steering like a natural, but I'm not so sure she'd appreciate it.

Location:High Offley

Friday 25 May 2012

Don't eat it!!

As well as the comments on my recent posts about the wild plants growing on the mooring, I have had a couple of emails, both of which identify my photo number 14 as neither watercress nor wild celery (so close yet so very far) but as Hemlock Water Dropwort*, which just happens to be the most poisonous native British plant.

So don't eat it; don't pick it; don't even touch it if you should see it.

I don't think I've seen any along the towpath, but it is growing in profusion around the winding hole. I will keep an eye on it and post photos as it progresses throughout the year.

*Thanks to Izzy for the link.

Monday 21 May 2012

The first day of summer

The first day of what I would call summer anyway - able to sit outside in shorts all day, come in with a warm glow, slightly browned, and be able to leave the windows and hatches open until 10 pm (well, BST at least).

I think we deserve a bit more of this :-)

Sunday 20 May 2012

Hunting for Nightingales

The best steak pie in the world comes fro 19gales of Bentley, near Atherstone. It was these, back in 2007, that knocked us off the veggie wagon.They used to have a farm shop at the top of Atherstone High Street, which we would visit religiously whenever we passed through, but it closed last year because of a massive rent rise. This seemed to us to be a minor tragedy; the end of an era. Sure, they would still be selling their wares at farmers' markets in Staffordshire and Warwickshire, but what good was that to us, down in Sussex... So we tried to put it out of our minds.

Yesterday, we went to Penkridge Market to get some bedlinen for the impending visit of No. 2 Son and his girlfriend (or Baz 'n' Iz as I shall call them... he doesn't read this anyway). There was a sign up saying that being the third Saturday of the month, it incorporated a 'Fine Foods and Craft Market'. Still didn't click. But while we were enjoying a cup of tea at the market cafe, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a familiar, distinctive, yellow, 19gales carrier bag. Suddenly it all came back to me. We chased the carrier of the bag and asked her where she'd got it... following her directions didn't help however. Then I spotted a man weighed down with pies - two bagfuls. Jim asked him and this time the directions led us to a corner of the food hangar decked out with goods bearing that familiar yellow label.

Oh joy. We came away with a large (ahem, family size) steak pie which we have just had for a very special Sunday dinner, and I can report that they are as good as ever. The third Sunday of each month promises to be a special day from now on.

Thursday 17 May 2012

And now for the leaves...

More mystery foliage coming up - I'm relying on you to tell me what these plants are (and the flowers in yesterday's post).

I'll not post photos of the leafy things I have identified, which include dock, (common?) thistle, stinging nettle and blackberry bramble. But what about these?




13. I've a suspicion this may be rose bay willow herb...


15. The sticky one.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

My wild garden

The strip of land alongside our mooring has to be the best garden I've ever had. When we first saw it, thistles and nettles dominated, but since they were chopped down last year, all sorts of other plants have emerged - and the thistles and nettles are making a comeback too.

I went out yesterday and photographed all the different species I could find - when I added up the photos, I was amazed to discover that I had found forty different plants. Plus I am sure there are a lot more I have missed.

The trouble is, I have no idea what most of them are. The stage of life where you learn to identify plants and trees and birds and insects seems to have passed me by completely. So I am going to ask you, dear readers, to tell me what they are - I know there are at least one or two people out there who will be able to do just that. To make it easier, I'll number them; and to keep it manageable I will restrict this post to the ones that are currently in flower.

First of all, the ones I'm pretty sure I do know:

1. Forget-me-not. Truly wild, or a garden escapee?

2. Dandelion. There, I said I knew some of them!

3. Pretty sure this is a white dead nettle...

Now the ones I'm not so sure about:

4. Is this Queen Anne's Lace?

5. Some kind of nettle, but does this one with purple flowers have a special name? I think there is a second variety of stinging nettle here too which isn't in flower - a bit bigger. Does that sound likely?

Finally, the largest group - those I have no idea about. Over to you!





Thank you!

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Monday 14 May 2012

Olympic marathon

The twenty-one narrow locks of the Wolverhampton Flight are OK for a warm up, but for a real work out, you need to head south, as I did on Saturday. My friend Mike (previous owner of Andante, my first narrow boat) has a small trip boat business in London, and as he had rather a long day in prospect, I went down to give him a hand with the locks.

The plan was to take a stag party from Little Venice out to the Olympic site on the River Lee - the towpath is now closed down there, but you can still get a decent view of the ever-changing site from the river, and then to come back with some (unrelated) hens. There and back totalled about seventeen miles, and 22 big locks.

It was a lovely day for it and I was really pleased I went. Boating through London is a completely different experience. Not only are the locks bigger, but they are populated by boaters the ineptitude of whom Midlands navigators could barely dream of.  Come sunset, there seemed to be a barbecue set up at every lock as well. Everyone was very amiable though, and it was useful to have some extra bodies around for some of the bottom gates.

I went down by train and met Mike and Lady A at Hampstead Road lock, co-ordinating our arrival to within five minutes. I'd brought my own windlass, but thought I'd better not get it out on the tube.

I'd only been down the Hertford Union Canal once previously (on Warrior in 2008) so it was nice to revisit it. Once out on the river, we stopped short of Old Ford Lock - the electric lock is out of action for maintenance, and the manual one so hard to operate that BW assistance has to be called in. There was a brief moment of drama when we were told that there was a swan trapped in the empty lock - without a good run up for take off, there was no way it could fly out, and it was getting distressed. Mike made a call to the BW emergency line, and was quickly rung back by a local person who said that they would come and refill the lock so that the swan would be able to get out.

From the river we could see the Olympic stadium, and the top of the 'Orbit', as well as a container development in progress.

We also got a sight of some of the fabled Olympic Water Chariots - originally touted as a waterbus to the Olympic site, these are now being advertised to corporate clients at up to £75,000 a day. The boats are actually quite basic inside - you can see even on Water Chariots' own website that they are not insulated or lined out. Perhaps they are not officially finished - which would justify them displaying trade plate licences.
 It will be interesting too to see what becomes of these behemoths after the brief period of the games. With the best will in the world they could not be described as good looking boats... My money is on some new London hippy houseboats.

After dropping the happy hens off at City Road Lock we boated on into the dusk. It was dark by the time we went through Camden, and there were surprisingly few people around, given that it was such a pleasant evening - surely the mildest of the year so far. We got back to Lady A's fantastic mooring in Little Venice at eleven, having hit every point of the day's itinerary exactly on schedule. It was an excellent day and I'm looking forward to doing it again soon.

And if you're looking for a friendly and informal London canal boat trip for up to twelve people, do give Mike a call.
STOP PRESS: Diamond Geezer has been musing about the Water Chariots today too.

Sunday 13 May 2012

At grate expense

On Friday we'd let the fire go out in the Squirrel, as a few days of decent weather were forecast. We also got all our woollies washed and hung them out to dry, but that's a different story. Needless to say, it immediately began to rain, accompanied by a cold wind, so we thought we would light the stove again.

But first we decided to give it a good clean out, while it was cool. This revealed the reason why big lumps of red hot coals had been appearing in the ash pan:

The bottom grate was somewhat the worse for wear. Feeling rather chilly we decided to bite the bullet sooner rather than later and dashed off to Midland Chandlers for a replacement.

My guess of £40 wasn't far off the mark - £36.98, to be precise. Ouch.

Friday 11 May 2012

Celebratory Spaghetti supper

Spaghetti Junction (more properly known as Gravelly Hill Interchange) is 40 years old today, and the Guardian have marked the occasion with a nice BCN-y photo.

Our supper of spaghetti with Loyd Grossman puttanesca sauce gained a little extra piquancy from the sense of occasion.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Cans completed

Jim has finished painting Chertsey's (given by Dave and Izzie Turner) and Bakewell's (came with the boat) cans, austerely but in the lovely rich crimson and blue in which Chertsey is painted (and I suspect Bakewell eventually will be; we're kind of committed now). Just in time for Dave and Izzie to see when they visit tomorrow!

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Bullock update

Curiouser and curiouser. As I came back from the village this morning, along the cowpat-splattered towpath, I saw another bunch of bullocks - maybe the same ones, maybe other ones - seventeen of them this time. On the other side of the canal. So are there two canalside bovine farms, one on each side, whose inmates have simultaneously decided to go a-wandering (perhaps it was the full moon...). Or were they the same ones, in which case, how on earth did they get across the canal?

Monday 7 May 2012


I awoke this morning to the sound of mooing. When I emerged from Chertsey, I saw a gang of a dozen bovines making their way down the towpath.

Whom does one phone in the circumstances? Had I had the number for the local BW office, I would have rung them, but alas I fear it no longer exists. Jim suggested calling the police, but from experience, the chance of getting hold of anyone with local knowledge would have been zero, and it would just have caused frustration and hassle.

So I did what every good Brit does, and left it for someone else to deal with, whilst taking amusing photos.

I'm sure sooner or later someone will have noticed that they were missing their bullocks.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Tugs and tunnels

Today we had a day out to the Black Country Living Museum, to see the gathered tugs and also just because we enjoy visiting.

It's not cheap, but a day ticket does gain you readmission for the rest of the year - and,  contrary to what at least two people told us, this does not apply only if you 'gift aid' your entrance fee, although they clearly would like you to think that it does. At the very bottom of the entrance notice, however, the small print states that the same offer is available if you don't! Presumably they can't discriminate legally (it would be a bit harsh to discriminate against people who can't gift aid because they're not taxpayers, like less well off pensioners, and unemployed people).

Anyway, we bought our tickets online last night and printed them off, so were able to bypass the (quite impressively long) queues this morning. We headed straight for the tugs, and met some more CWFers for the first time, including Starcoaster, Mike the Boilerman, Cheshire Rose and Postcode. Alan and Cath were there too of course, so there was plenty of chatting to be done.

For the first time we got round to taking a trip into Dudley Tunnel - these trips are run by the Dudley Tunnel Trust and are separate from the Museum. It was very good and I do recommend it if you've not already been (You can do the tunnel trip without going to the museum).

Then it was back to the pub for more chatting, although we did also manage to fit in a wander around the shops - the hardware shop with its vast stocks of enamelware, galvanised baths and unused Beatrice stoves was my favourite; and of course to look into the cottages which I absolutely love.

This was our third visit to the museum and we still haven't been on the trolleybus or the tram. To me the BCLM is an example of what a museum should be like - long on real artefacts and mercifully short on electronic gizmos and gimmicks (Ellesmere Port take note) but with lots of enthusiastic (and mostly well informed) volunteers to talk about them. I'm looking forward to going back again.

Meanwhile, this is my favourite photo of the day:

Saturday 5 May 2012

And sew to bed...

With Sebastian (No. 2 son) and his girlfriend due to visit at the end of the month (after he finishes his Philosophy Finals!) I was becoming increasingly aware that we still didn't have a spare bed on Bakewell. When Baz visited before, he had an air bed on the back cabin cross bed, and it went down. Now, he's a tough little chap but you can't knowingly ask someone to do that twice.

So I had measured up the bed and we were all set to go to Penkridge market this morning, where I had noticed the other week there was a stall specialising in boat and caravan upholstery. Given that I paid over £100 just for the foam for Chertsey's mattress, I wasn't expecting it to be a cheap turn out.

Then last night I was idly browsing Canalworld (my latest self-imposed exile having come to a decisive end) when I saw this (you'll need to click to enlarge it):

A few posts and emails were exchanged, and this morning we drove to Kenilworth where I was delighted to meet CWF stalwarts RLWP  and Mrs Tawny Owl (aka Richard and Sue), and to take possession of some very fine foam cushions. Tawny Owl is a former hire boat, and these were surplus to requirements, but, as you would expect, high quality, and very well upholstered in sage green Dralon.

As soon as we got back to the boat the tape measure came out, and then the knife

Closely followed by the needle and thread as I folded and stitched the Dralon, which I had deliberately cut about six inches longer than the foam, to make three new cushions exactly a metre (i.e. 3'3") wide which perfectly fit the cross bed. Stood on end, they all fit away into the bed cupboard as well. They were slightly tapered in shape, which I was able to use to advantage in getting the combined length of the three cushion mattress to fit that of the bed.

Not only a good deal cheaper, but a lot easier than making covers from scratch as well. And there is one more large cushion left unused (which I have a use in mind for) plus the other halves of the three we cut up (yes, they were 6'6" long) which might be useful on Chertsey or as further guest accomodation.

And on top of that we got to meet some CWFers as well. So thank you very much indeed Richard and Sue, and I hope you will be pleased to see that your cushions have been put to good use already. And I'm sure Sebastian and Izzi will be very pleased as well.

Friday 4 May 2012

Ashes to ashes

You might think that one smokeless fuel is very much like another. Certainly I used to find the in depth comparative discussions on Canalworld to be rather esoteric and obscure. I took it for granted that Taybrite was the best, and worth the extra pennies, and we stocked up on some. And it was OK, we were happy, we were warm, the fire ticked over, we filled the stove with coal and emptied the ash and would have thought nothing of it... Until one day we were running low, we were in Midland Chandlers, and they were selling some stuff called Stoveglow which was a bit cheaper than Taybrite, and right there under our noses, so we bought a couple of bags.

My first reaction was that it smelt nastier than Taybrite, when you first put it on and the fumes wafted back at you. But I quickly noticed too that it produced a different sort of ash, less dry and dusty; and gradually it dawned on me that it produced a lot less of it too. It lit easily, stayed in exceptionally well, and had remarkable powers in coming back from the dead if it ever was abandoned for too long.

Fetching a few bags at a time from MC in Penkridge was no hardship, although they could never predict when they would have it in, or how much, but we got through the winter fine like this. Then a couple of weeks ago, they didn't have any. We managed to get a bag or two of Taybrite, then were reduced to using Homefire, which was easily the worst of the lot. But now we were used to the Stoveglow, even Taybrite was unimpressive. I was removing a tray full of ash for every small bucket of coal on Chertsey's Epping, whereas with the Stoveglow it was more like one tray for every three buckets - that must surely mean it was burning more completely and so being better value, regardless of the extra convenience too. I noticed also that the fire kept going out, in circumstances it wouldn't previously have.

Well, I thought, it's May now. I'll just let it out for the summer. But last night was pretty damn chilly and more cold weather is forecast. It's all right for me; I can snuggle up with Lionel*, but the condensation's no good for the cabin, and I don't like my boat to be a chill, unwelcoming place.

So after searching in vain for other suppliers of Stoveglow, we ascertained this morning that MC had two bags in stock, and Jim dashed off to get them straight away.

Meanwhile, with the Epping being cold, I thought I would take the opportunity to give it a good spring clean, and use the new flue brush for the first time. I didn't manage to take any photos of the work in progress, but I am pleased to report that the Epping is quite an easy stove to clean, with removable plates both in the smoke box and above the oven meaning that it's not difficult to get at all the crud and sweep it down into the firebox for removal via the ash pan. Having the luxury of 240v I finished the job off with the little hoover that came with Bakewell, but it would have been a perfectly effective job without that. I then gave the stove a polish, so that's its spring clean for the year!

The coal box is now restocked with Stoveglow, the fire lit, and the cabin airing. If anyone knows of a reliable or even better bulk supplier of Stoveglow in this area (Cannock-ish) we would of course love to know about it.

Meanwhile the Squirrel on Bakewell has to be kept warm for our new pet, who sits beside it and snuffles and gently snores. More about Ginge later....


Thursday 3 May 2012

A Star is reborn

Many years ago (the photographs now sadly buried under the bed of time) when we first started hanging around this yard with Warrior, there was a boat on the bank. It wasn't a whole boat, just the front end of a hull, with a recognisably Northwich stem post. Later it didn't even have a bottom either, but sat balanced on its bony knees, awaiting its turn to be restored to a new life, in a third reincarnation.

Enceladus was a 'Small Northwich' iron composite boat built by Yarwoods for the GUCCCo in 1935.  Its second incarnation was as a British Waterways hire boat, called Water Valiant.   It carried on being Valiant into private ownership, with a wooden cabin, and was clearly in pretty bad shape by the time it made its way onto the bank here.

But now it is a beautifully proportioned 50' tug, with a completely new stern end, tug foredeck and steel cabin, that I have been privileged to watch the development of over the past few months. The time and trouble that goes into something like this has to be seen to be believed.

And today, at last, Enceladus' new bottom felt the water for the first time. As I write, her new owners are shifting tons of ballast aboard, preparing for the journey to be fitted out at Brinklow.

Complete with rather lovely fenders, made by Brian on Alton.

(Why are my photos displaying so small now? Bloody blogger)

Wednesday 2 May 2012

The dangers of health and safety

Health and safety gets a bad press. There are many powerful vested interests who would like nothing better than to see health and safety legislation, and the powers of the Health and Safety Executive to enforce it, watered down or even abolished altogether, in order to increase their profits by putting others in danger. So nothing I say here should be taken as an attack on this aspect of health and safety as a concept.

At the other extreme, however, are those who would undermine this worthy cause by using 'health and safety' as a frivolous pretext for pursuing their own interests, avoiding doing things, and stopping others harmlessly enjoying themselves because they can't be bothered to work out if it's dangerous or not, and live in fear of the other villains of the piece, ambulance chasing lawyers and craven insurance companies.

Caught in the middle are those who have a duty to the public and are genuinely trying to do their best in a difficult situation; criticism of the outcomes of their efforts should in no way be taken as a criticism of the intentions. But when those outcomes arguably increase rather than decrease the level of danger, criticisms do need to be made.

Health and safety legislation exists primarily to protect employees from unscrupulous or careless employers. Employees are in a difficult position; they may know they're being asked to do something dangerous, but feel unable to refuse for fear of losing their job. Legislation like the Health and Safety at Work Act aims to prevent them being put in that position, and to give them back up if they are.

It also protects the general public from the carelessness or corner-cutting of others. You might not give it a lot of thought as you walk down the street, but you'd soon notice if a brick fell on your head from a building site, or you fell down an unprotected hole in the pavement.

It is when it comes to protecting people from their own idiocy that the issue becomes a bit murkier. As a liberal, of course I believe that people should be allowed to put themselves in danger if they want – rock climbing, surfing, boating, driving a car – people should be allowed to weigh up the risks and make their own decision. But what when the risks are maybe not clearly apparent, or we are talking about people too stupid or too impulsive to be aware of them? If they haven't made an informed choice, can it be said to be a genuine choice at all?

The trouble with going down this road, is the more you take such choices away from people, by removing the risks, the less able people become to make them; the less aware they become of the potential dangers. An unforeseen consequence of well intentioned risk reduction measures is that people now have a tendency to believe that everything is safe unless otherwise stated, because 'they' (the powers that be) wouldn't allow it to be otherwise. So people don't even consider the risks for themselves. More accidents happen, risks are reduced even further and a vicious spiral ensues – with the massive side effect that many activities and opportunities are then denied to people who would have been prepared to weigh up the dangers and take responsibility for minimising their own risk, and would have benefited enormously from undertaking them. There are other arguments as well, too complex to go into here – for example, that if children don't learn to deal with danger as they grow up they are ill prepared for behaving safely in adult life, and that this risk aversion (on the part of parents as much as the authorities) is in large part to blame for the generation of obese couch potatoes we seem to have bred recently.
 British Waterways are in a uniquely difficult position when it comes to the safety of the public. They are responsible for a system which unavoidably offers unparallelled opportunities for people to be drowned, squashed, crushed or otherwise mangled, and this is an inherent part of the system: without water, locks, swing bridges and paddle gear, the system could not function; in fact, it would not exist. But unlike, say, Network Rail, BW cannot simply exclude the general public from the vast majority of its land and its operations. Public access has become part of its raison d'etre. They are treading a difficult line in balancing the needs of waterways users with the safety of the general public, and on the whole, they do it well – or at least, in other words, things could be a great deal worse. When, however, a measure intended to protect the general public – or rather, the tiny minority of the public sufficiently reckless to get themselves killed – actually introduces new dangers for the system's core users, then something needs to be said.

Last summer, a boy tried to ride a bike across a narrow bridge (which was not in fact a lock tail bridge but an access bridge that the public would have no cause to use) at Stourport. He lost his balance, fell in and drowned.* Following this, BW have been fitting new handrails to a number of similar bridges which do cross lock tails, mainly on the Staffs and Worcs. The exact chain of decision-making and responsibility that led to this is something HNBC are still trying to clarify. The general view was that the Health and Safety Executive demanded that BW take action, but now it seems to be emerging that BW voluntarily undertook a review of tail bridges and found that there were many which did not comply with its existing policy, prior to any judgement by the HSE, who did however subsequently approve BW's proposed actions, of installing handrails where there were none, and bringing others up to a certain height.

It is easy to accuse BW of a knee-jerk reaction (and I think the jury is still out on whether such an accusation would be fair in this case), but they were probably mindful of a recent case in which Network Rail were fined very heavily following the death of two teenagers on a level crossing, for failing to foresee the potential dangers and take 'reasonable actions' to mitigate them. I am pretty sure licence payers would be up in arms if BW had been hit with a similar fine. On the other hand, a lot of trouble and expense, let alone additional danger, could have been saved if BW had had informed discussions with the HSE, and proper consultations with canal users, before leaping into action.

So BW's actions might be largely understandable. Unfortunately, however, the result does little if anything to improve safety for the general public (for example, the handrails wouldn't stop a cyclist trying to use the bridge, and would probably increase the chances of them falling off) who in most cases have no need to use the lock tail bridge anyway, as there is a road bridge only a few yards away. It does however significantly increase dangers for boaters.

The most egregious example of this is at Falling Sands lock on the Staffs and Worcs. The new handrail (which can't be fixed to the tail bridge itself; whether for technical or heritage reasons I'm not sure) is, for some reason, not bolted to the ground either side of the lock, but to the vertical face of the lock wall, beyond the bridge as you approach the lock from below. This means that it is obscured by the bridge, and, when we were there, was painted in invisible grey primer (BW have promised they will be painted white soon). It reduces the headroom under the bridge by nearly a foot. We just managed to get Chertsey's engine pipe under, but that is six inches shorter than a standard one. Stanton had to stop and dismantle their cratch in order to get under. And, worst of all, it is easily low enough to catch a steerer's head, and knock them out and into the water.

When this was first brought to BW's attention, they retorted that the new lower height was still 'within the published minimum dimensions for the waterway', as if that were all that mattered. Later they mentioned the new lower level on Waterscape. But that really isn't good enough - people who are familiar with a particular waterway are not going to check the (unreliable at the best of times) website every time they set off just in case a bridge has been lowered. What was really needed was a simple sign at the lock 'Warning: Reduced Headroom' for example. Nipping round to remove a hot engine pipe unexpectedly while travelling into the mouth of a lock may well be within the capabilities of most of us, but it undeniably puts us at increased risk, while the danger of an unwary steerer – just as likely on a modern boat – banging their head on an unexpected and all but invisible bit of steel is a very real one.

From a historic/working boat point of view the new handrails have introduced other potential new dangers too, especially for towing. BW have on the whole been receptive to representations from HNBC on both this and on the issue of whether the new rails are in keeping with the historic environment – but they have had to balance this against their decision to have the handrails in place by the start of the cruising season. For example, curlicues on the ends on the handrails which could have snagged a rope were removed from an earlier proposed design.

Nearly everyone would agree that the canals need to be made as safe as possible for the people who use them, within the constraints posed by their very nature. We as boaters accept that we are undertaking an activity that has risks. We make ourselves aware of the risks and we take care to minimise the dangers. We are, by and large, pretty well informed about what we are doing. The general public it seems is increasingly less aware of the risks, and less willing to take responsibility for their own safety. This may apply only to a very small minority in actual fact, but that doesn't help when a member of that minority ends up dead and the finger of blame is pointed at BW.

The important lesson to be drawn from this, it seems to me, is that drastic measures should not be taken in a hurried fashion, reacting to any given incident. Rather, there should be detailed discussions with the HSE to decide whether any new measures really are necessary, with BW/CRT arguing as strongly as possible for minimum intervention; and secondly, if new measures are deemed necessary, they should not be undertaken until there has been extensive consultation with waterways users – boaters above all – to ensure that they do not make matters worse or increase the dangers to the people who actually use the canals. BW, whilst acting with the best of intentions in this case, has squandered a lot of goodwill, and potentially given just a little bit more ammunition to those who would seek to deride and undermine the very concept of health and safety.

As a postscript, while at Stourport last month, I watched a boy of about ten or twelve attempt to ride a scooter across a top gate walkway. What next I wonder?

*Interestingly, last year at least three teenagers died as a result of attempts to jump across locks, but this hasn't resulted in any additional safety measures, presumably because it isn't possible to do anything that is 'reasonable' and 'proportionate'.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Top tea tips

Thanks to everyone who commented on my tea post a few days ago - and especially to Starcross Jim who didn't just recommend Ridgeways Organic loose tea, but brought me a sample box when we met up on Sunday evening. It did indeed make an excellent cup of tea, and my 50p Droitwich auction teapot is very much getting into its stride now. I am still a fan of Yorkshire Gold though; I haven't done a blind tasting but I think I would be hard pushed to distinguish a bag-made cup of that from a loose-tea-in-a-pot cuppa. In any case, I have certainly learnt a valuable lesson and will never again be tempted to cut costs where the national beverage is concerned.

In other news, I have just posted off my registration form for Braunston. They are hoping for 75 boats this year - in contrast to the 100+ that were there last year. I know lots of people have decided to give it a miss but I hope that it still both goes ahead and is successful. The Braunston show was my introduction to working boats; the scene of my falling in love with them, and thus has a special place in my boating heart. Less loud music in the beer tent would be an improvement, though.