On The Move…

January 19th, 2012

I’ve decided to start a new blog so that I can move all the election stuff off to its own home. This one has so many quirky little bits of code that may or may not work that I really can’t be sure it will work if I start using it to make the number and variety of posts I’m going to have to do in the near future.

When I started this blog, I think I imagined that I’d be spending all my time writing wonderful little bits of code to add interesting effects all over the place, then writing wonderful little bits of text to tell everyone what’s going on. Of course the reality is that I created a few little tweaks that make things work slightly differently, then promptly forgot how they worked and had to struggle to get them not to fall over.

So it’s probably much safer to keep the posts relating to the election somewhere safe, with a nice clean blog that isn’t going to keep misbehaving. I’ll still keep this blog going, at its usual sub-snail’s pace, but I’ll be keeping the election-based posts to a minimum over here.

Election Time

January 18th, 2012

About a month ago, I discovered that there is a real risk of the IWA using its size to grab all four of the seats available to boaters on the Council of the Canal and River Trust, the charity that is set to replace BW as the custodian of Britain’s inland waterways.

As I was hardly thrilled at this prospect, I raised it with London Boaters in the hope of developing a strategy to keep some of these seats out of the hands of the IWA. Well, to cut a long story short, I’ve actually ended up getting myself nominated as a candidate.

So, what is the Council?

The Council is one of the bodies that will be in charge of running the new charity. Specific duties it will have include appointing (and possibly dismissing) the Trustees, who are the people directly responsible for ensuring that the charity does its job. Beyond this, the role of the Council is to be the “guardian of the long-term values and spirit of the Trust”. It will have “an important role in helping to shape policy, raising and debating issues, providing guidance, perspective and be a sounding board for Trustees”.

And what does that mean? It appears that the Council does not have a great deal of actual power, but is intended to exert some kind of influence on the Trustees to ensure that they don’t lose sight of the need to retain and preserve this important part of the fabric of our society.

As the CRT hasn’t even come into existence yet, the way that this works in practice has yet to be established. It is possible that the Council could be little more than a talking shop. However, it is also possible that it could become the forum through which various diverse groups of canal users come together to develop the network to provide the maximum benefit to everybody and thus to ensure its long-term survival. Which it turns out to be will depend on who is involved. If independent boaters allow the corporate representative bodies to pack the Council with their chosen candidates, it will be a talking shop. For the Council to achieve anything meaningful will require new people, people capable of doing things differently.

I’ll be using this space over the coming weeks to flesh things out and explain in more detail what I hope to achieve if elected to the Council. In the meantime, here is my obligatory 150 or so words of election address:

I am a 51-year-old CC liveaboard and have been an active member of London Boaters for the past year or so.

London Boaters is becoming a pioneer of community-based provision of services and facilities for boaters (e.g. moorings, boaters' credit union). I believe that this could serve as a template for use in other areas, and fits in well with the local partnership model embodied in the CaRT structure.

There is a view that the canal network is a scarce commodity with competition for resources between leisure and residential users. Our research showed this not to be the case, and that a vibrant residential community actually encourages leisure users to make better use of the canals. I will work to promote the use of the waterways to maximise the benefit for all users.

I am independent of all organisations representing boaters.

Any questions, please leave a comment, or email me at election at floatinguniverse dot org dot uk.


Cat trap

October 22nd, 2011

opposite Springfield Marina

A couple of days ago we arrived at Springfield Marina. A popular spot, it had always been quite crowded when I’d been passing, so we’d never actually stopped before. But that day there was a spot, just about the right length, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’m getting a bit bored with the same old spots now, so any change of scenery is welcome. Plus, with a London Boaters meeting on Sunday only 100 yards away, it couldn’t be better.

Tigs seemed to like it too. Most of the dogs and cyclists walk through the park, making the towpath more or less free of the kind of things that are likely to scare an elderly (but still young at heart) moggy. The only drawback was the slight bend which meant that there was a bit of a gap between the boat and the bank around the middle. Still, you can’t have everything.

All was fine until last night. At around 10pm I was standing on the towpath trying to read my emails (the internet connection here isn’t brilliant) when I heard a splashing sound in the water, near the front of the boat. I realised that Tigs must have fallen in, so I went to help her out of the water. She’s been overboard before, and she’s normally pretty good at getting herself out – normally I just push the boat away from the bank to make sure she’s got room to climb out.

But this time it was different. The water was a good couple of feet down, so there was no way she could get out. Also, the piling formed a cage around her. She had steel all around her and had no idea how to get away.

Tigs has never seemed to be able to miaow like most cats, but last night she somehow found the ability to scream. I think I did too. It was pitch black, and there was no way I could see anything in the water. I had to feel my way along the length of the boat, and finally grabbed hold of something and yanked it upwards. It wrestled free of my grip, shook itself briefly and then disappeared back on to the boat. She grumbled as I wrapped her in a towel and tried to stop her dripping everywhere, but she forgave me as soon as I got the fire going.

This morning, she seemed to have put her little adventure behind her. Cats don’t have to worry about little problems like this – they have staff to do that for them. I was a little worried about mooring in Springfield as some friends had lost their cat there recently, but now I can see that this one particular spot has a combination of features that conspire to make life very dangerous for a moggy. The bend means there’s plenty of room to slip down between the boat and the bank, and the high piling makes it impossible to get out. To make matters worse, the contractors had just cut the grass before we moved, leaving cuttings all along the gunwales, which must have been like an ice rink to the poor girl.

Time to move on…

Strange Ships

September 25th, 2011

There’s a sort of agricultural show on at the marshes this weekend. The tents have been up for a few days now but, I must admit, it doesn’t exactly inspire me. I saw much more interesting shows at any one of the many French villages we visited over the Summer. I’ve got something else on today, anyway.

But earlier this week there were two preview days for schoolkids. As I opened up the back doors on Wednesday morning, I was greeted by a group of about a dozen kids peering at me through binoculars from the path. Fifty yards away was another group giving my neighbour the same thorough examination and across the fields a snake of children slithered between the cows, scanning the fields, sky, railway line and each other enthusiastically. “I can see your eyeball!”, I heard one kid shout to his friend as they squinted at each other from opposite ends of the same pair of binoculars. At intervals along the path were guides, each surrounded by a groups of kids, explaining about the birds, insects, flowers, etc.

While all this was going on, two distinctly unusual boats came up the river. The first, a steam-powered boat that turned out not to be associated with the land-based entertainment at all but nevertheless enhanced the scenery.


The other boat was a rather large rowing boat that was employed on both days carrying parties of children and teachers up and down the river as far as the Anchor and Hope and back to the footbridge.


As it made one of its frequent trips past my boat I happened to be climbing out of the rear hatch. A voice shouted out “Ooh, look – there’s a pirate on that boat!”. I duly stood on one leg, leaned on the tiller and shouted “Arrr!”, which gained a round of applause.

Later that day, I was returning to the boat just as the crew were packing up for the day, and we had a bit of a chat as I passed. They actually thanked me for getting into the spirit of things, and said that one of the groups of that had been on the boat were children with communication problems, and how much they had enjoyed their day out. One of the kids had even said it was the best day of their life! It was really heart-warming to hear the effect that a few hours out here had had on them, and a reminder that the things we take for granted as water dwellers are a foreign landscape to many people who live perhaps only a few miles from here. I hope the kids gained as much from their day out as I did from having them here.

Words fail me

September 5th, 2011

I took this picture yesterday afternoon on Ferry Lane, Tottenham, just next to the River Lea. The flowers mark the spot where mark Duggan was killed by the police.

Canal Angel

February 23rd, 2011

I recently received an email from one of the organisers of the Angel Canal Festival, an event I have enjoyed volunteering at over the past few years (I included an account of last year’s festival here).

It seems that Crystal Hale, who was the person behind the original festival, has been nominated for a People’s Plaque (like a blue plaque although, it seems, they could be any colour) by Islington Council. She’s made it as far as the shortlist, which means that she is one of ten people, five of whom will get a plaque.

The voting system hasn’t really been thought out very well. Each person is only allowed one vote, even though there are five of these plaques up for grabs. As one of the nominees is Douglas Adams, it is likely that he will mop up the vast majority of the votes, leaving the other nine to fight it out for the remaining four plaques. That suggests to me that the result will be somewhat random. For example, if you vote for Thomas Lipton, that means you don’t want Wat Tyler to get a plaque, which can’t be right.

Perhaps the only way to ensure a representative result would be for everyone who votes to get four of their relatives to vote as well, and each vote for a different person. So if you do vote for Crystal Hale, please be sure to get your nephews John, Paul George and Ringo to vote for four others just to make it fair. Voting is only open until 28th February (Monday), so they’ll need to be reasonably quick off the mark.

(I posted about this on Canal World recently, only to be told by the resident Guardian of the Public Morals that it was unethical, immoral and would lead to the downfall of civilised society if I even suggested that anybody might want to vote for anybody, so please examine your conscience closely before voting – you have been warned!)

Home Comforts

January 26th, 2011

This amusing use of an abandoned armchair made a welcome change from the “Banksy Sucks” school that seems to have dominated the Camden art scene recently.

Just a Little Post…

January 23rd, 2011

…about one of the most amazing people I have ever met.

Photo from Wikipedia - user:Thruxton

Rosie Swale Pope – photo from Wikipedia:user Thruxton

Christmas was a time when I met several unusual, interesting and inspiring people. People such as the one who was living in a tent in east London. I’d spent quite a few days this winter struggling to get the stove going in sub-zero temperatures but he had (at least partly) chosen to live with no heating at all and was a real treasure trove of information about how to keep warm and dry in the worst of weather.

But this could hardly compete with one woman I met over the Christmas week. Rosie told me that she’d driven down to London and was spending the week sleeping in her car (“because it’s cheaper than getting a hotel”). “Isn’t it a bit cold and uncomfortable?”, I asked rather obviously. “Oh, I can sleep anywhere”, she replied – “I learned to do that when I ran around the world”.

Quite something to drop casually into a conversation, that one. “I ran around the world”. Apparently she had mentioned this to other people and seemed to assume that it was common knowledge (either that or she just thought it was something everyone did). But I hadn’t spoken to her very much before as she’d had a bit of a sore throat, so this was the first I’d heard of it and my jaw practically fell through the floor.

It turned out that she was Rosie Swale Pope MBE, and that running around the world was hardly a one-off adventure. She also told me that she had run 27 marathons in 27 days earlier in the year, travelling to a different city for each one.

She decided to do the run to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Charity after her husband had died from prostate cancer. She also raised money for a number of children’s hospices, both through that run and other events since. She has written a book about her epic adventure, called “Just a Little Run Around the World” and I understand that a portion of the profits will be donated to the charities. At the time of writing this, I’m still working my way through the book – she’s reached Lithuania so far – but it is already turning out to be a delightful and uplifting read. It’s more a book about all the kind, generous and hospitable people she meets on her travels, and the experiences she lives through on the way, with the actual “running around the world” bit taking a definite back seat.

I found out later that she had also sailed across the Atlantic single-handed and sailed around the world (apparently she’s the only person ever to have circumnavigated the globe on both land and sea), to say nothing of countless other achievements, any of which would put most of us to shame.

I think that one of the most important things I got out of meeting Rosie was the sense that, whilst there may be very few people in the world capable of the kind of extraordinary feats with which she has filled her life, we all have the capacity to achieve amazing things that exceed our own expectations, and those of the people around us. It doesn’t matter whether that is running around the world or just surviving outdoors in winter without dying. That sounds like some trashy American self-help book, but it’s true.


January 4th, 2011

(They say that if you can’t think of something nice to say, then don’t say anything. I usually make at least a perfunctory attempt to bear that in mind when I’m posting, but this is going to be an exception).

On Sunday afternoon I came home to the boat after a few days away. The first thing I noticed was a box floating in the water at the back of the boat. Then I noticed there was no padlock on the rear hatch. As soon as I got close enough to see that the box was from my boat, I realised what must have happened.

Literally everything inside the boat had been tipped out of the crates they were stored in and left in a pile along the length of the boat. It was immediately obvious that all the power tools had been stolen, as one crate that had been full of tools was empty except for a single disc from an angle grinder. I could see the handle from the angle grinder was still on the floor of the boat, so I’m hoping that the thief will plug it in and get an immediate demonstration of the the conservation of angular momentum – I just wish I could be there to watch the gory spectacle.

The most annoying thing about this was that most of the things that were stolen would have been relatively easy to find without wrecking everything in sight, and the burglar has achieved practically nothing from the carnage they have caused. One single item, the inverter, is worth more than everything else put together. They could have left with just that and saved almost all the resulting chaos which, no doubt, will take me weeks to sort out.

Burglary is a particularly unpleasant crime, committed by particularly unpleasant people. But there’s no reason why burglars should be any more stupid than the rest of the population. And yet the one characteristic of this burglar that stood out more than anything was their stupidity. For example, along with the box I’d seen floating was another that had previously held my socket set. It was a pretty decent socket set but without the box it’s just a jumble of bits of metal that are no use to anybody, and worth nothing.

Fortunately, the burglar was neither a musician nor an art lover, leaving behind two guitars and a painting (although this did suffer some damage). These are now all safely away from the boat.

I don’t know why this person chose to rob my boat, and I don’t care. Some people think that they can get happy if they take material possessions from somebody else, and it’s not my responsibility to understand why that is. I can replace what was taken and carry on with my life, but they will still be stuck in the same miserable existence, wondering why everything around them is shit and not realising that they make it that way. All that matters to me is that they don’t spread any of it my way.

Incidentally, the inverter is about the only thing that is liable to be recognisable. It’s a Sinergex 2kw pure sinewave model, still boxed. It’s the sort of thing that is quite likely to be of interest to boaters, so it’s possible that it might be offered for sale by the thief or someone who bought it from them. Please bear this in mind if a stranger offers you a cheap inverter that sounds too good to be true – thanks.

Sorry this has been such a nasty, angry post – I’ll make a point of posting something especially nice and jolly next time to make up for it – I promise!


December 26th, 2010

(with apologies to the original author, whoever that may be…)



One night I dreamed I was walking along the towpath with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

In each scene I noticed footprints in the snow. Usually there were two sets of footprints, but once there was one only.

This bothered me, so I said to the Lord,

“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying period of my life there was one set of footprints along the towpath. Why, when I needed you most, were you not there for me?”

The Lord replied, “Let me see… Oh yes, that’ll be the time you went walking across the ice and I had to fish your half-frozen body out of the cut.”