Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Toilet communications

In a move entirely unrelated (honest) with the uproar caused by the draconian imposition of 48-hr moorings on most of the handful of mooring spots on the Lancaster Canal the Canal and River Trust has suddenly decided to communicate with boaters.
Their chosen method is a single sheet of A4 paper stapled to the inside of the toilet door at Garstang services.
And the message comes not from the Waterways Manager but from the unelected members of the Waterways Partnership who have been behind the whole ill-considered, unresearched plot from the beginning.
The note also announces that the moorings will be monitored by volunteers, who will also 'greet' visitors. I assume these are the ones taking pictures of moored boats yesterday, and I assume they have been advised to wear lifejackets as they poke and pry into the privacy of boaters.
The vigilante volunteers, armed with cameras, were conveniently unmentioned when I asked Waterways Manager Chantelle Seaborn about policing her new mooring strategy. She assured me she couldn't do that.
Meanwhile, on the overcrowded visitor moorings at Garstang, CRT has decided it is perfectly acceptable to take up space with a large workboat - you couldn't make it up.

Monday, 21 July 2014

48-hour moorings fiasco

This is the resolution passed, nearly unanimously, by a well-attended meeting of boaters at the Tithe Barn at Garstang on the Lancaster Canal last night. It is being sent to Chantelle Seaborn, the NW Waterways Manager and copied to Richard Parry.

This meeting of resident and visiting boaters on the Lancaster Canal calls on the Canal and River Trust's NW Waterways Manager Chantelle Seaborn to immediately reverse the imposition of 48-hour moorings on the Lancaster Canal, removing all signage and reverting to the previous situation.
We do so because:
1. The restrictions have been introduced without proper research or consultation, with either local or visiting boaters;
2. The restrictions will not achieve their stated objective of 'fairness' as there is insufficient usable mooring space for the number of boats wanting it, so moorings will remain first-come-first-served regardless of timing restrictions;
3. CRT has failed to measure and establish an existing problem and therefore has no means of measuring the failure or success of the 48-hour mooring experiment;
4. CRT has admitted it has no prospect of enforcing a 48-hour mooring restriction and it is pointless to make rules which cannot be enforced;
5. Introducing 48-hour moorings destroys the relaxed nature of the Lancaster canal and is already deterring visiting boats from returning, to the detriment of canalside businesses;
6. These restrictions have clearly been made at the urging of unelected members of the waterways partnership who should have no role in boating issues.
Instead, this meeting urges Chantelle Seaborn to focus on the creation of many additional mooring spaces around the most popular parts of the canal, along with a programme of dredging throughout the length of the canal as this will do most to enable resident and visiting boats to enjoy the Lancaster Canal.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A personal appeal to Canal and River Trust Trustee John Dodwell.

Dear John,

I have said elsewhere that I was disappointed that you decided to use your position of influence to support your Estates Department and Waterways Manager Wendy Capelle in their decision that it was right for the Canal and River Trust to deprive a young, hard-working man and his three children of their livelihood.
Even though very suspicious, many of us had hoped that CaRT would have a different approach, on a more human scale, to issues like this, yet we have seen canal traders and now canalside traders being pushed out of business and we don't really understand the motive. What's more we all worry about who you will target next.
What inspires a major charity to conduct a campaign to smear a young man, desperately trying to do his best for his three children and working hard?
OK, so he planted some vegetables without agreement, put up a lean-to and tried to expand his business. I dare say he wasn't very good at meetings and he was naïve enough to take the verbal assurances of CaRT officers without getting things in writing.
Despite the fact that you choose to portray him – without any proof that I can see – as 'aggressive' and difficult, Danny has massive support from boaters and local people, who see him as nothing but charming and hard-working. That is demonstrated by his popularity and the growth of his business, something we all ought to applaud.
And the mistakes here are hardly one-sided are they? A senior CaRT's manager gave Danny verbal assurances that she later refused to confirm, and went so far as to refuse to attend a meeting where she might have been questioned about them.
Your staff, whilst making much now of 'heritage value' have over the past year or more variously suggested knocking down the brick hut at the centre of the disagreement and putting a Portakabin up alongside it.
In fact, everyone thought we had agreement in December, but CaRT seems to have been pulled out because Danny George honestly explained he didn't currently have the cash to fund the building needed.
You could have helped him then, but you didn't. Instead he simply had the rug pulled from under him and a campaign mounted to blacken his reputation with those who protested on his behalf.
You make the excuse that everyone has to abide by the rules but the difficulty with that is that you change the rules according to circumstances. I know a marina on CaRT waterspace where the lessee was told five years ago to deal with coping stones that were falling in the water and a hazard to moorers. Today they are exactly the same. So much for equal treatment. I know hire firms who ignore mooring rules and obstruct the canal with nothing done – and these are firms that have the staff and knowledge to deal with CaRT.
Danny is a one-man band trying to keep his family afloat and CaRT's attitude to him is a touchstone of where the charity is heading.
I would ask you to stop this witch-hunt in its tracks. Rather than protect your senior estates manager, grab him by the ear and take him down to Audlem to discuss this with Danny and his many supporters - and sit down with him until you find a solution. That should be so much easier now that hundreds of pounds are pouring into the online fund to assist him to purchase the building needed.
CaRT would get kudos and support for acknowledging that part of the function of a charity like ours is to help small businesses that enhance and boost the waterways – and George's Pork and Poultry does that – everybody would be able to say CaRT are reasonable people after all, at least they stopped before they destroyed the income of this young family.
It would be even better for the reputation of the Canal and River Trust if you could assist Danny, perhaps, with some key issue like electricity supply?
The alternative is that CaRT's reputation gets dragged down again. Just imagine what would happen if you persist in this eviction. Danny, desperate to save his family, refuses to move. You bring in the bailiffs. The boaters and locals blockade the canal to turn them away – for make no mistake we are on his side, not that of your officials.
CaRT would be facing scenes similar to the protests against BW in the heyday of the young IWA. What an irony that the body those campaigners were trying to get set up is finally in place and finding itself the focus of boaters protesting against its lack of vision and inhumanity.
Everyone tells me you are one of the good guys, and I believe you are at least amenable to commonsense. CaRT's persecution of Danny George, for that is how it is widely regarded, needs to be wiped from the public perspective. You need to demonstrate some charity, understanding and compassion and lead your officials to a solution that does not involve this young family being made destitute at the behest of the Trust.
I would beg you to live up to that reputation as one of the good guys and use your influence to end the nastiness currently coming out of CaRT's PR department, halt the eviction and work to a solution that reflects some credit on the charity of which you are a trustee, rather than plunge it further into disrepute.

Peter Underwood

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Battle of Audlem Locks

A David and Goliath battle between one of the country's biggest and newest charities and a young father trying to establish his business and provide for his family seems about to be settled with the charity doing everything in its power to crush the young man.
The charity is the Canal and River Trust, the first and only fruit of David Cameron's Big Society, which was created to take over the former British Waterways and look after the UK's unique canal system.
The young family man is Danny George, father of two, who gained the former British Waterways' permission to establish a small shop beside a canal lock at Audlem to sell his local reared pork and poultry and to grow vegetables on the waste land by the lock.
From the start a couple of years ago passing boaters and people in the village were delighted at this innovative and sensible use of a piece of waste land and a tatty brick-built lock shed and Danny's business grew. He eventually needed more space and created a wooden lean-to addition to the lock shed and expanded his vegetable beds to take in more of the waste land.
And that was when he upset the mandarins of the Canal and River Trust (CaRT), who started to try to close him down.
A petition on the Internet, signed by hundreds of boaters, gave them some pause for thought and CaRT promised to do everything in their power to ensure Danny could remain by the lockside and keep his business.
According to boaters and others who have been giving their time to help Danny negotiate with CaRT, they exhibited little understanding of the fact that they were dealing with a young man starting out in business rather than a big company. However, just before Christmas everyone was convinced Danny and the CaRT had finally agreed a deal that would involve him replacing the the lean-to shed with something better.
CaRT had suggested a Portakabin, despite claiming to be concerned about the 'heritage value' of the lockside site. Danny wanted to put up a temporary building more in keeping with the wooden constructions used by CaRT itself to house canal stop planks.
However, he indicated that it would take some time to put the money together and that seems to be when CaRT lost patience and decided George's Pork and Poultry was the the chop.
The Trust obviously knew that the decision would bring the wrath of boaters and local people on their heads and briefed their public relations spin doctors who operate on Facebook and Twitter to make their case.
The CaRT decided to issue Danny George with notice to quit – a decision which will not only destroy his business but also make it even more difficult to care for his two children who, he says, are about to be formally diagnosed as autistic.
Despite this the Trust, led in this instance by Wendy Capelle the Waterway Manager for
North Wales and Borders,
decided to have a go at Danny, all guns blazing.
In special briefing document and in emails they asserted that not only had he not submitted plans for changes on time he had grown vegetables waste land not authorised by them and had gone outside the lease agreement.
CaRT complained Danny's lean-to and subsequent building designs were out of keeping with the heritage value of the existing hut.
They also played the health and safety card, claiming to be concerned about people having to cross the lock beams to buy their vegetables. That was laughed out of court as boaters from across the country pointed out that thousands of of them cross lock beams every year and that, within 200 yards of the business there are locks that have to be crossed from the towpath to reach moorings on the offside and there is another canal-side shop by the top lock at Adderley where buyers have to cross the lock beam to buy eggs and cakes.
Wendy Capelle first distanced herself from the heritage excuse for closing down Danny's business. In an email to me she said: “With respect to the suggestion of a Portacabin we were simply trying to put the point across to Mr George that any proposals would be considered, he simply did not provide anything up until the end of January, having been initially asked in May 2012. It was used in the context that there are some available which have water and WC facilities integrated which were one of Mr George’s requirements.”
So much for heritage then, but what about the flawed health and safety argument ?
I asked Wendy Capelle: “Just how is it safe for the public to cross locks on the same flight carrying their shopping back to CaRT offside moorings, or to carry food across from the shop on Adderley locks but not safe for Danny's customers?”
Ms Capelle's response was to back away from that argument and pass the buck to the estates department. She e-mailed back: “The decision to serve notice was due to the non-compliance of the terms of Mr George’s current licence, rather than any health and safety issues regarding people crossing the locks.”
So everything her PR people had been telling online protestors and the media about health and safety is now admitted to be a smokescreen and nothing to with their decision to evict Danny.
Then boaters in Facebook forums offered to crowd-fund Danny's new building. Would Ms Capelle halt the eviction to allow that to happen?
The only answer was more buck-passing: “I will forward your email onto my national colleagues who are dealing with the tenancy.”
Meanwhile the anti Danny George campaign by CaRT's online team had escalated a further step. One Anja – no surname supplied – had taken to sending private messages on Facebook that can only be described as part of a smear campaign.
She claimed: “You must understand that we have really tried to help him again and again, this is not our fault.”
Saying she didn't 'want to slander Danny' she went on to label him as abusive and aggressive claiming 'he is not an easy person to work with'.
She also claimed, in obvious outrage: 'he started planting vegetables all over the place without our permission.'
It is not clear whether this hate campaign was authorised not at what level permission was given to CaRT's spin doctors to destroy the reputation of a small businessman working hard to provide a living for his young family.
The fact that such tactics are being employed by a large and powerful national charity must be disturbing to everyone who loves the canals and wants to see them thrive and prosper with a wealth of innovative small businesses like Danny George's popping up everywhere.
I would suggest this shows an organisation out of control and the elected and non-elected members of the Canal and River Trusts' Council need to be asking some serious questions about the motives and tactics of their paid officials.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Don't Close George's Pork and Poultry at Audlem

To: Ms Wendy Capelle (
North Wales & Borders Waterways
Canal & River Trust
Navigation Road

Copies to:
Crewe Guardian (;
Crewe Chronicle (Editor: Michael Green;
Shropshire Star ( );
Audlem online (

Dear Ms Capelle
I was appalled to learn that, despite a petition of support from boaters and local people you have decided to pull the rug from under a thriving canalside business in Audlem.
George's Pork and Poultry, situated beside the bottom lock at Audlem has became a feature of the canal scene and is regarded as a valuable resource by boaters like myself and local people, having transformed the derelict lock-side land with beds of delicious vegetables as well as providing local meat. It is just the sort of local family business the modern canal system needs.
Despite that – and promises to ensure the business survived – you have decided to withdraw his lease and the clearly pre-prepared excuses in your press release and being made by your public relations staff in online forums are pathetically inadequate.
Your excuses for closure seem to centre around the modest shed Danny George has erected alongside the existing brick-built hut. You complain it is out of keeping with the heritage value of the hut yet you have suggested a larger, uglier, portacabin as an alternative.
As that clearly isn't adequate as an excuse to put a family out of business you also play the health and safety card, claiming to be concerned about people having to cross the lock beams to buy their vegetables.
This is, indeed, curious as tens of thousands of boaters cross lock beams like these every year. Within 200 yards of the business there are locks that have to be crossed from the towpath to reach moorings on the offside and there is another canalside shop by the top lock at Adderley where buyers have to cross the lock beam to buy eggs and cakes.
Overall your excuses for closing down this business are entirely inadequate and will damage the public and boaters' attitudes to the new Canal and River Trust as it attempts to persuade people to support it financially and by volunteering. Who would want to give cash or time to an organisation that acts in such a high-handed manner with an innovative waterside business, established with a great deal of hard work by Danny George and his family.
I ask you to rescind this nasty, short-sighted decision immediately and, instead of seeking reasons why this business should close, do everything in your considerable power to keep it open and demonstrate that the Canal and River Trust will support waterways businesses and help them top thrive.


Peter Underwood
nb Blackberry Way, 

Monday, 21 January 2013


Sometimes your perspective changes, snaps into a different view leaving you wondering why you hadn't seen things that way before.
It happened to me a few days ago when my youngest brother, Adrian, found some pictures in the Imperial War Museum archive of my home village, Orford on the Suffolk coast, in 1941. In a series called 'Invasion Village' they reflected life when Britain expected to be invaded by Hitler at any time and, because Orford was on an east coast estuary it would have been a prime landing site.
In fact, I recalled my mother explaining that the whole village spent the war under military control, with the coast for several miles inland playing host to our front-line defensive forces.
The pictures featured some of the people I had known as a child, but - as I was only born eight years after they were taken - I recall them as old, sometimes elderly, individuals.
Yet there they were on the front line of a genuine national effort to survive the Nazi threat - not some ersatz crisis with a PR catchphrase like "We're all in it together" which most recognise to be simply untrue.
My father would have been training as an RAF dispatch rider elsewhere, my mother a teenage girl soon to join the Land Army. One grandfather was in the Home Guard and another the village milkman.
All were in a way on the front line - genuinely expecting a landing just a few hundred yards from their village homes. Those pictures showed the District Nurse I later knew as a stern old lady on the village Invasion Committee, along with the old policeman who failed to catch us scrumping apples and plums from one of the big houses.
With all the arrogance of youth these were the people I regarded as boring old farts while growing up and had thought little about since.
Oh, I loved my family and was proud of my Dad doing his bit as a Despatch Rider in Europe after D-Day, even if I only learned about that many years later from his diaries, but all those old village inhabitants were boring, rural and unappreciative of the needs of my generation.
In a way, I became older and wiser but I moved away and my memories of the older Orford people I knew as a child became preserved in aspic, as did my attitude towards them.
Then I looked at those black and white pictures capturing those same people, 20 years younger, and facing the stark realities and choices of a country at war, currently losingthat war and under threat of invasion.
Theirs was not some fake, political, 'war on terror' but a genuine threat to their homes and lives. They dealt with it by co-operating with each other, volunteering to do what was needed and attempting to preserve as much of their own lives as possible.
And they saw it through to victory. Suddenly boring old farts have to be seen as something more, as ordinary heroes, working class and middle class people willing to go beyond their own concerns, stand up and be counted.
It was a salutary experience to have to rethink attitudes born 50 years ago, and very worthwhile.Thanks Adrian for finding that glimpse of Orford in 1941.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Death of a lovely man

We have only known Ken Maynard for a couple of years but we knew within days that he was going to be a real friend, a mate. When Chris told us of his tragically early death this morning we both sat and cried. But Ken was the perennial joker, always cheerful, always tolerant, a great family man and a great boozing mate at canal festivals all over the system.
Ken was a boater and he and Chris enjoyed exploring new waterways and living their lives on Blackbird, the boat they loved.
That we shared many a lock and travelled many miles with Ken and Chris was a privilege and a great pleasure. We will always remember joining him at a mooring on the Llangollen where he waved us into a spot with signs warning of wasps' nests. "It's OK I put them there to save you a space" he announced, with a beaming smile.
Ken would always help another boater, or anyone else for that matter. He was a loving, generous man who gave his friendship freely. He was open minded - I even managed to convert him from cider to real ale - and enthusiastic about life.
His loss leaves an empty space in our lives. Rest In Peace mate.