I shat the Sheriff (but I did not shoot the Deputy) #narrowboat #boating #boatsthattweet

Damned Otto Korekt. That was a Thai Poh. An alphabetical keyination finger bumble. I, of course, shot the Sheriff but have no idea who it was wot done in the Deputy.

This, it must be said, is a really crap post.

Apologies – I can resist everything except temptation. A good (bad) blog-post title just cannot be put down once it has been picked up.

Anyway. Whatever. Let us proceed with the matter at hand.

All service areas are equal, but some are far more equal than others.

Someone blocked the Elsan point at the freshly-renovated and freshly-re-opened Nantwich Services – and it wasn’t me! I was just the poor schmuck who found the problem (and who then had to report it to They Who (Must Be Obeyed), the Canal & River Trust chaps. As with that time when I was discovered standing over a body and holding a knife, the assumption of guilt that surrounds one in these circumstances is palpable.

As counterpoint to the usual scenic canal/cow/tree/sunrise/sunset the lead photograph is not just of a typical Elsan point – the sluice where cassettes may be emptied – but of a blocked Elsan point. Enjoy!

“Water” to the brim of the sluice (see lead photo) is not a favourable sign.

In homes of the bricksandmortar variety all services are generally laid on for you, piped and wired and delivered invisibly and automatically at the flush of a light-switch or the tug of a tap chain. Not so in boats. In boats what you use you bring aboard manually and then you take it away again manually. Coal sacks, rubbish and recycling bags (not many facilities for that at all), water hosepipes and toilet cassettes.

Service areas and especially Elsan points all vary in layout and design. Some are spotless, one or two make even a seasoned cassette-shaker recoil in horror. This one, because it has the tap in the wrong place and thus no way to rinse everything down, is sliding quickly into a state of daylight slummery. The tap ought to be over the sluice, and it ought to have a short length of hosepipe fitted to it, the better to direct water around the place and to reach the parts that the flush just doesn’t reach.

In answer to your unspoken question (your parents lied to you when you were a child; I can hear what you are thinking, and so can everyone else) – yes, I do need to have a long and hot shower as soon as possible after doing this job in order to feel respectable and vaguely humanoid again.

Nantwich Service Area – recently re-opened and just as recently re-closed.

There is a strict order in which I undertake my jobs at a service area.

First job is to get the hosepipe out and begin refilling the main tank – the water that I use for washing and showering and laundry and stuff. Passing Jobsworths and Resident Nosey-Buggers all like to see a hosepipe in use whenever a boat is moored on a service point. It’s the only sign that they understand, and the only way to forestall their reaching for the “the court of social media” upon which to castigate one. If you don’t have a hosepipe in use – and preferably a yellow hosepipe to make it obvious – then you must be eating raw puppies or strangling disabled, orphaned kittens or something.

Then I refill the water-carriers that I use to hold my potable water. The water in the main tank is perfectly fine, and I do drink it and cook with it on occasion if stretching the Cardinal’s endurance, but generally I keep about sixty litres in little food-grade water cans. This is for coffee and everything of that ilk.

No ilk were harmed during the writing of this blog post.

Then I walk any rubbish or – living more in hope than in reality – any recycling to the necessary skips and bins.

Then I deal with the Elsan (toilet) cassettes and then I scrub my little handy-pandies in the manner of a surgeon about to amputate someone’s head. The hosepipe at this stage is generally still filling the main tank, so using lots and lots and lots of hot water is not a problem on this job. Soap scrub wash rinse, soap scrub wash rinse and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Only then do I go back and deal with the water hosepipe, screwing the cap back on the tank and winding in and sometimes rinsing off the hose itself before plugging the ends and stowing it back on the well deck (at the front).

After visiting a service area there then follows a most pleasant but all too brief sense of well-being – all tanks that ought to be empty are empty (when the sluice isn’t blocked, at least) and all tanks that ought to be full are full.

It is difficult to describe the satisfaction of the sensation. The nearest that I think most of you will come to recognising the feeling is to remind you of the way that you always do your laundry stark naked, so that once it’s done there is nothing in or even to go in the laundry basket.

In summer there are often queues at service areas and it can on occasion take a certain amount of “Jog on, Doris” to stand your ground and take the time (albeit as brief a time as possible) to do all that a chap needs to do. As with wheeled vehicular transport so with boats; some folk think that they own not only the road but also the patch of tarmac (or water or towpath) that you are parked or moored on.

There are many, many fine conversational gambits that I use shamelessly if someone attempts to chivvy me at a service area.

Them: ‘Are you not done yet?’

Me: ‘Oh, near Basingstoke, I think, although most were destroyed during the war.’

Them: ‘Is your tank still not full? We want to get to Calais by noon today.’

Me: ‘You do know that Jesus loves you in spite of everything, don’t you? Shall we take a knee, hold hands and pray together?’

Them: ‘There’s only one of you and lots of us – get out of our way.’

Me: ‘I am a professional podiatric proctologist.’

Them: ‘Huh?’

Me: ‘Which means that if you don’t shut up, back off and wait quietly until I tell you when I am done I am fully  qualified, legally licensed and really quite liable to shove my booted foot right up your…’

I may not be officially certified in the martial arts, but I do know Berserk and how to use it.

Generally though, the mood is more sociable. Boaters exchange views on toilets (cassette, pump-out, or composting), the best types of hosepipe (solid or expanding crinkly) and how common it is to see non-boating folk in large white Ford Transit vans abusing the rubbish skips by fly-tipping (and always followed immediately by boaters getting the blame as dispensed from official quarters). Those topics, and the weather, are the it of it for conversation generally. Oh – MiFi aerials and methods of heating sometimes get a look-in too. But that’s it. It’s enough. The canals aren’t usually very deep and one ought not to expect we canal boaters to be any deeper.

Service areas are quite literally “watering holes” although, like those on the Serengeti, they are also best avoided at dusk, when the real weirdos come out to play.

Now, enough of practicalities, let’s enter the “should you feed ducks and swans bread” fray by posting a photograph of a cygnet eating an apple. With just a beak and nothing with which to hold the apple while he took a bite, it was a bit of work. This one managed to eat two large apples that were floating in the canal, and it seemed to relish them.

The photo is a bit dodgy because it was taken through the glass of the Cardinal’s windows, I didn’t want to open the side-hatch and scare the beast off his meal.

An apple or two a day keeps the dentist at bay, even for swans.

Both apples were entirely whole when he began.

This will be one swan with healthy teeth.

I should mention at this point that I do not like swans one little bit and I never feed them. Swans are all very fine floating about at some distance on a Corporation Park pond, but if you’ve ever had to share a towpath with them for more than five seconds you’ll know that they are filthy (literally so), insanely territorial and violent with it. They also have no dignity or self-respect whatsoever, and are the biggest beggars on the canals.

No, give me a nice, self-reliant and independent moorhen any day.

For one thing, moorhens sound like stepped-upon squeaky dog-toys, and have ridiculously over-sized feet. I feel a certain aural and physical empathy where moorhens are concerned.

On that, less sluice-related note, chin-chin for the moment.

Ian H.


  1. I am the official cassette dumper, and sanitisation crew aboard our vessel… I tend to take a 6 litre bottle with me… When taps are in the wrong place or tend to spew water in all directions nearer to me than the hopper intended, it is a much better flusher for my humble ablutions box! It is a job that I hate, and like you… A hot shower and change of clothes, is a quick follow-on. I think it is more psychological than necessity (I am careful), but it feels so good to get the job finished. I wouldn’t have a pump out though! They really do smell evil, and we had a boat Moor next to one once, and the poor chap’s bed fell right into the holding tank as it collapsed. He moved out. We could not. The smell was horrendous… Took him weeks to get it sorted. Had to go live with his mother!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t want a pump-out either – and certainly not a “composting” nonsense! Cassettes are the simpler option and once a fortnight it’s just a question of turning off my brain while I do the necessary. 😉 Good idea about the water – I will take that up and carry some with me for the purpose. Thank’ee kindly!


  2. My son lives on a boar, albeit in Brighton Marina. He goes out occasionally for a sail up and down the coast, but he uses the marina facilities rather than having to empty tiolets. They are excellent, by the way–the facilities, not the toilets.
    But I guess when you are travelling up and down canals, the need for your own shower and toilet is essential.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are dotted around the canal system services with showers as well as the usual water and rubbish and wotnot, but there appears to be a general policy of getting rid of them by decay- the notion seems to be that all services ought to be bought from canal marinas (£££). Tis a shame, but then the whole planet is going to pot. 😉

      Anyone who casually sails up and down the coast has my admiration – I don’t even like rivers!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The great plains, where the ilk and the antelope groan. I’ve just watched a grebe surface in the canal near my boat, check that it was still raining in a most biblical manner – as it has been here for weeks – and then dive under again, back to where it’s dry.

      I like grebes, but still not as much as I like moorhens. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d rather not have to do it myself, but needs must when the Devil drives! There’s an obverse to everything in life. Probably in death, too. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well. That put me right off the idea of living on a boat. I’m fully in favor of the modern sewage systems and their various useful appliances. The most I am willing to do is to clean the toilet with a long sticked brush and various chemicals that are no doubt contributing to Gaia’s death but which make the porcelain shine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would be wonderful if a boat could be plumbed in directly to the mains system, although with solid pipework of a finite nature the cruising might be limited.

      Father Nature doesn’t really give a flying rodent’s rectum about the hooman species, he will do what he planned to do all along and step on us if that’s what the plan calls for. We can but cause the occasional sneeze. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of the jobs that I am not sure I could manage so you have my total admiration. The picture reminds me of a recurring nightmare I have. What deep-seated significance that might have has alluded me for all of my life and I shall not even try to search out the meaning of it. I do rather have a public toilet fixation and avoided a lot and have rated many out of ten. I do recommend the Royal Yacht Brittanica (to keep the boat theme) up at Edinburgh and would give it 10 with it’s vases of (real) flowers. The other being at Shin Falls (Scotland) in the coffee shop that used to belong to Mohamed Al-Fayed (the gift shop was a franchise of Harrods), the toilets are the best I’d ever seen and even had small, low sink basins so that children could reach and were so clean you could have eaten your lunch in there.

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    1. It is not so intrusive a job as may seem, the Cardinal has an endurance of between two and four weeks, and the job itself takes five Earth minutes. It does though take a spot of mental preparation… some pre-Elsan yoga and the building of a small altar to the Greek and Roman gods of Dumpus Maximus. 😉


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