Friday, 22 June 2012

Goodbye and Good Riddance!

One of the most popular question I get asked about my life on the canals is "what do you do with your car?"  The answer, in a nutshell, is that the boat and the car move independently of one another - and I either go on ahead of the boat with the car, waiting for Drew to catch me up, or after a day's cruising, I cycle back to get the car.  Often arrangements are a little more complicated - and can depend on if there is parking where we hope to moor, if there is any public transport that I can use, or if the towpath is suitable for cycling.  Some people live aboard their boats without having a car - but for our work it's pretty much essential.  When we first moved onto the boat we tried life without a car, but after 3 months we gave up.

Our trusty Fiesta gave up the ghost in February and she was replaced by a not-so-trusty Escort.  Ugly, rusty, but cheap, we took a risk - and were burned (in more ways than one - the one thing the car COULD be depended on was to overheat!).  She lasted just over two months before dying in a blaze (almost) of glory. 

...and so we've welcomed a new member of the family - a lovely blue van - great for lugging stuff around - and hopefully a bit more dependable.  We also learned a valuable lesson - you need to spend more than £350 on a car if you expect it to last more than 2 months.  Clever mechanics amongst you might disagree, but I'm not clever and I'm not a mechanic and I'll be damned if I'm ever going to make the same mistake again!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Not feeling "charitable" just yet...but getting a bit closer!

After having decided not to run in the recent Canal and River Trust elections, I decided that I would try to keep up to date better with what's going on with the waterways. My aborted run did demonstrate to me that there is a lot that British Waterways has tried to hide in the past (bonus payments, failed investments, etc) and I decided that I would do my best to make sure that I knew what was going on with the Canal and River Trust, which will replace British Waterways in.... erm.... well, at some point to be determined.

Having had to reconcile myself to the fact that my quaint old idea that our Country's Assets (hospitals, schools, railways, and now waterways) should be publically owned is now hopelessly out of date and anything not nailed to the floor is likely to be privatised, I am also doing my best not to moan all the time about how horrible the future of the waterways is going to be, and how everything is doomed.

I do want to get behind the new charity - hell, if it fails, then my way of life will be in serious danger. Establishing a new charity does present a once in a generation opportunity for those of us who love the waterways to effect some change - but it's an opportunity we're in danger of squandering.

The transition from quango has been poorly managed - the only people who will say otherwise are those who managed it from BW's end. The new charity is late (it was due to be up and running now), has been subjected to further Parliamentary Scrutiny, and, at the moment, is not even registered with the Charities' Commission.

However, a transition of this nature from the public to the private charitable sector is pretty much unprecendented, so, if I'm in a charitable mood, I can forgive the odd delay or hiccup - particularly if it's going to make the end result better.

What I can't forgive, though, and won't forgive, is if the new charity turns out to be British Waterways 2.0 - and there is a real chance that this might happen.

True, the new Trustees seem to be "making the right noises", saying in public that they are seeking to engage stakeholders, and talking about what an opportunity this is for the waterways. What's worrying, though, is that the same people who managed the day-to-day affairs of BW will manage the day-to-day affairs of the new charity. Given their track record, this is something that should worry anyone afloat.

A bright spot, though, is that there seem to be more forums through which the management of the new charity can be held to account - or if not held to account, at least get a pretty cleark rebuke. Waterways Boards, a new Council elected from boaters, boating business, employees, and other stakeholders, and the Trustees themselves should do this. What remains to be seen is whether the new Boards, Councils, and Commitees will be filled with "yes" men and women, and/or whether they will have the desire, will, or strength to stand up when it's important.

So, I may not be feeling "charitable" towards the new charity, but I'm warming to the idea. It had better deliver, though, or there will be one hell of a backlash.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Spring is in the air...!

It always seems a bit odd to complain about cold weather when you are Canadian living in England. Here, the coldest it gets is maybe a few degrees below zero - whereas it can get pretty cold back home in Nova Scotia - but the English are right when they say "it's a different kind of cold". I always tell people that I was never cold until I moved to England.
But... the end is in sight!
It wasn't really a cold winter, compared with our first two winters on the boat. We were iced in for a week or so in Stoke Bruerne and about 10 days a bit further up the canal - but that was it. We got a bit of snow, but not too much and it didn't stay around too long.
Another thing that has changed is that, though we collected a lot of wood this year, we certainly treated ourselves to more coal then we did in our first two winters. This was partly out of necessity, as we had a lot of work on with Drew's puppet shows and a successful Arts Council grant, and so spending hours each day collected wood - there just wasn't time.
When you live on a boat like ours, you get a real idea of just how important labour saving devices were in the development of the idea of "leisure time!" Though, of course, drifting down the canal is "leisure" - the amount of time that those with central heating save not having to collect wood, build a fire, tend it, and build it again in the next day is, I promise, more than you think! You also take a different attitude towards a good fire when it's your only source of heating - not simply something pretty and cosy in the corner.
It's been a good winter - but spring is now definately showing it's face. We've seen our first daffodils, the farmer's fields that we cruise by have tiny lambs, and it certainly is warmer. Hard to believe we're now into our third year as liveaboards. That said, we're still learning plenty and by no means do I consider myself a "pro" - a failed attempt at changing my engine's fuel filter was a good reminder to me that I'm still pretty green behind the ears. Live and learn - and keep floating!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

What a difference a month makes

This time last month...
I was giving serious thought to running as a candidate in the upcoming Canal and River Trust election - and it was warm.

Now - I'm not standing - and it's as cold as - well, it's cold!

As you'll see from my post below, I had put a lot of energy into trying to put together a campaign for a seat on the Council of the Canal and River Trust. The Canal and River Trust - a charity - is supposed to replace British Waterways - a quango which currently manages most of the waterways in the UK.

The election itself has had its problems- confusing about who could run, who could vote, and when people would receive their ballot. It's the first time that an election like this has been run by British Waterways, so it is not surprising that there are teething problems - but there are rather a few of them!

After a week of trying very hard to gain support for my candidacy, I decided to withdraw when it became clear that it would take many, many hours a week to canvass the support I would need to be successful - and, not to point to fine a point on it - but I need to work to eat!

Many of those running are retired, or wealthy. I think this is a real shame - and part of the reason that I wanted to run. However, in point of fact, the real power in the new trust will be held by the management - who will remain the same despite the move into the third sector - and the Trustees. Some of the Trustees do seem impressive - others? Well, we'll see. The only real power the council of the new trust has is to appoint and dismiss Trustees - but the Trustees have the power to dismiss the council - so it's not really got "teeth. The Trustees will also "consult" the council on issues, but are under no requirement to follow the council's guidance.

And the weather? It's cold. Bloody cold. The canal has frozen, and keeping the boat warm is a full time job! Monty has found the best seat in the house - by the fire - and very rarely vacates it. We lesser beings (i.e. Andrew and I) make do....

So, those of you in your heated houses, bathrooms that are not, usually, at an average temperature of about 5c - have a hot bath and think of us.

...and when we're moored in a gorgeous rural idyll, with the doors of the boat wide open and the warm summer breezes gently blowing, we'll think of you!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Standing for Election!

Well, I've taken the leap and put my name forward to stand as a candidate for the Canal and River Trust Council.

What's that, I hear some of you ask?

In a nutshell, British Waterways controls most of the inland navigation in the UK. It is a quango responsible to DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs - but DEFRA sounds sinister, eh?). The quango is going to cease existance in April, to be replaced by a charity. Essentially, a charity is taking over the function of the former quango.

The new charity will have Trustees and a "Council". This Council consists of 35 people - some elected, some appointed - from various constituencies that use the waterways. 4 of this seats are available to boaters - and an election is being run to fill them.

If you would like to help me in my candidacy, or find out more, email me on or visit my webpage - (website still under construction though, so bear with me!) At the moment I'm looking for people to sponsor me - I need 10 - so if you've got a BW licence and fancy helping out, get in touch! If you've already sponsored someone, don't worry - you can sponsor as many as you like.

Wish me luck - off I go....!