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Monday, August 10, 2015

A new canal crime novel from Leo McNeir

Leonard Pearcey reviews the latest canal based book in the Marnie Walker series from the pen 
of Leo McNeir

I’ve just looked up my previous Leo McNeir writeup, which began like this: ‘The last time I reviewed one of Leo McNeir’s Marnie Walker books I wrote: I throughly enjoyed it and hope my review of the next adventure won’t be three years away. Well, that was published in Autumn 2009 and here I am writing about the latest in the Marnie Walker series in May 2011. So some hopes do come true.’

But now it’s Summer 2015 and the latest Marnie adventure has just landed on my desk for review, and not only is that over four years away, there’s been another Leo in between ‘Stick in the Mud’ and I didn’t get to review it which is a shame as I know Docklands well. The explanation is sadly a simple one: Leo has not been that well. The good news is that he’s now a great deal better and has already got several chapters of his latest under his belt.

You too can now visit his website www.leomcneir.com and read all about him and his books and his wife, the cookery writer Cassandra McNeir. He is we now learn a distinguished linguist and lexicographer and has edited twelve dictionaries, a thesaurus and a spell-checker over the last two decades (I could have done with his Catalan work during twenty-five years in Deià Mallorca).

And his latest book ‘Smoke without Fire’ — all I need say is that yet again it’s a great read as Marnie Walker learns that a man of considerable eminence has arrived in her village. Soon, inevitably, tragedy strikes, and I’m left wondering once more why nobody has yet picked up Marnie for TV… and yes - she solves that one as well while still carrying out the day job!

Published in paperback by Enigma Publishing
384 pages
ISBN 9780992964214

From airways to waterways

by Di Harris

A former head of customer operations for British Airways at Gatwick who joined the Canal and River Trust (CRT) earlier this year as Head of Business Boating will now take responsibility for all boating matters with his job now including the private boating role of Sally Ash until her recent retirement.

Mike Grimes: 
The new Head of Boating for the Canal & River Trust
Mike Grimes is no stranger to building and maintaining relationships with customers and his new team will work on plans that will meet the needs of the entire boating community — ensuring consistency in processes such as boat licensing and communications to all boaters.

Ian Rogers, executive head of customer services at CRT said: “Boaters, of all types, contribute so much to the waterways and it’s important that we listen to them and meet their needs. It makes sense to have both private and business boating under the same banner, so any improvements are for the general good for all.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Honour recognises a lifetime of canal work

Sally Ash
Former head of boating with CRT
Picture by Bob Naylor: WaterMarx©
by Di Harris

Sally Ash, who received the MBE in this year's Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to Britain's canals, has had a life-long passion for the waterways.

Whilst studying in Reading she became active in the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust’s battle to get the canal restored. She was involved in the Trust’s Reading Branch and she became the K&A Canal Trust’s sales officer, traveling to shows most weekends with a stall selling canal merchandise, recruiting new members and spreading the message that the canals should not be allowed to die. She was also busy raising money for the restoration by collecting and selling old newspapers — what she calls “grass roots stuff”.

A post-graduate research project introduced her to British Waterways (BW) and she applied for a researcher’s post when it became vacant in 1975, That was the beginning of a life-long career working with the waterways. Sally stayed with BW until she retired as Head of Boating for the newly formed Canal and River Trust (CRT) earlier this year. 

Sally’s love of canals began at a very young age. Her father had been in the Navy during WW2 and he retained a love of the water, which he passed on to his daughters. They took regular family boating holidays as soon she and her sister could swim. Sally was nine. For Sally, these family boating holidays were the highlight of the year – always an adventure because nothing ever worked and the canals were very run down. But they were having such a great time that she thought, we can’t let the canals die. So she and her sister got involved in the campaign to keep them open.

When she was 17 she read one of her father's books, written by Robert Aikman, where she saw an advertisement for the K&A Canal Trust, and she joined straight away.

After a life-time of enjoying the canals it is not surprising that Sally feels passionately that young people need to be introduced to the waterways or that she would do something about it, so when she retired she immediately started volunteering with a community boating organisation close to her home. 

And she still proudly owns the book by Robert Aikman that originally led her to the K&A at the tender age of 17.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Queen’s Birthday honour for K&A Canal restoration stalwart

by Di Harris

Mike Wyatt. Picture by Bob Naylor: WaterMarx©
Forty years of unstinting voluntary work on the restoration and promotion of the Kennet & Avon Canal by Mike Wyatt of Reading has been rewarded with the award of the BEM (British Empire Medal).

Mike, who is a member of the Reading Branch of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, caught the inland waterways bug in1969 when an army friend asked him to crew his boat to Worcester. The following year Mike hired a boat and he joined the K&A Canal Trust shortly afterwards at a time when the canal was in a very poor state – and the towpath no better.

He recalls numerous work parties clearing saplings from along the overgrown towpath — and sponsored walks that needed special signage for participants to navigate their way safely. He helped restore Bulls Lock near Newbury and Garston Lock (one of K&A’s two remaining turf-sided locks). More recently Mike has been Harbour Master for the Reading Water Fest, working with other Reading Branch members to plan and organise the water-based activities. 

Mike was Vice Chairman of Reading Branch for many years and he tried hard not to become Chairman, but the calling came in 2005 and he was Chair of Reading Branch for two and a half years, standing down in 2008 at the ripe age of 79.

It was Mike’s idea for the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust to celebrate the completion of the £29 million HLF canal restoration project by presenting the Queen with a Declaration of Gratitude, thanking her for her support in the past and reflecting the wording of the original petition sent to her 50 years before. 

Mike and his wife Audrey, along with Gerry and Maureen Thorne, took the framed Declaration of Gratitude by boat from Reading to Devizes collecting signatures to be bound into a book to present to the Queen. K&A Canal Trust President at the time Sir Anthony Durant, who had been Vice Chamberlain whilst he was MP for Reading and knew the Lord-Lieutenant of Berkshire, arranged a 15-minute audience with the Queen for himself, Mike and Peter Crawford, the Reading Branch Chair at the time. Mike remembers the Queen speaking easily and knowledgeably about the canal. He told her that the original petition appeared to have been lost by the National Archive and as they were leaving Mike recalls hearing a voice say “Don’t lose this one”. A royal command if ever there was one. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

New man at the top on the K&A

by Di Harris

The Kennet & Avon Canal now has a new manager in post — and following the recent re-organisation of the charity his role is now customer focussed and substantially different from that of the previous engineering-focussed waterway manager.

Kennet & Avaon Canal manager, Mark Evans. Picture by Bob Naylor:WaterMarx©

Mark Evans joined the Canal and River Trust as the new Waterway Manager for the Kennet and Avon and Bridgewater and Taunton Canals in April and he is responsible for the day-to-day running of the canal. He will be working with all users of the canal as well as the waterside communities and various other organisations that are concerned with the canal.

Mark said, “I’m set a strategy by CRT and I‘m working out how that strategy will work locally on the K&A as well as how I can deliver what I need to deliver to everyone who uses the canal.”

He added, “My responsibility as Waterway Manager is to make sure the canal and the towpath is there for everybody to use. The canal needs to have the right amount of water in it, all the locks working and all the pumps working. If there are problems, people need to know why and it’s my role to make sure they do.”

But in his first few weeks Mark has discovered that there is more to the job than just keeping a canal running. There are several other issues that need to be addressed and he is developing a strategy to deal with them.

Mark has an Estates Management background, but his experience covers much of what he expects to meet in his new job.  He has worked with Scheduled Ancient Monuments and managed restoration projects, including refurbishing a canal lock. His previous work has also included community-based environmental projects and engaging young and unemployed people.

Since arriving in Devizes, Mark has started to explore the canal and visited both Bristol and Reading, meeting people along the way. He plans to spend a weekend cruising on the K&A and has already been out meeting CRT volunteers in Bradford on Avon and on the Caen Hill Flight in Devizes.

CRT takes volunteering very seriously, and Mark says that his experience of watching volunteer lock keepers interacting with the public made him proud to be the Waterway Manager. “They are great PR and ambassadors for the canal itself and for CRT”, he said.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Waterways Marathon fundraiser

David Edwards-May 
by Di Harris

Veteran waterways enthusiast David Edwards-May will be running in his first marathon at the age of 65 to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Inlands Waterways Association and raise money for the Waterways Recovery Group.

David said: “Running in the London Marathon is also a celebration of my 50 years of involvement with inland waterways — and it will raise money to help to buy essential plant and machinery for the WRG.”

David’s enthusiasm for the waterways began at a young age. He was  16 when he went to the London Boat Show and bought Stanford’s Canoeing Map of England and Wales — which led to him exploring hundreds of miles of canals. He joined the IWA in 1968.

He volunteered with Operation Ashton to help restore the derelict Ashton and Lower Peak Forest Canals before moving to France in 1976 where he helped on the restoration of the Rivers Lot and Baïse, and the re-opening of the Canal de Roubaix.

Over the years David has been a researcher and consultant on many waterways restoration and protection projects. His maps have been a ‘must have’ for all users of mainland Europe’s navigations and his submission to UNESCO resulted in the Canal du Midi achieving World Heritage status in 1996.

David is a vice president of  Inland Waterways International (IWI)which runs the annual World Canals Conference — this year to be held in Ghent, Belgium and in 2016  Scotland’s five canals will be celebrated when the confernece is held in Inverness.

David aims raise £5,000 for the WRG and you can sponsor him by going to:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/davidedwardsmay 

or send a cheque payable to ‘The Inland Waterways Association’ to Toby Gomm, IWA Head Office, Island House, Moor Road, Chesham, HP5 1WA

Canal worker saved from drowning on Kennet & Avon Canal

A canal worker’s first day on the job almost ended in tragedy when he plunged into a lock on the the Devizes flight on the K&A Canal on a quad bike on Wednesday Evening.

The Caen Hill on the Devizes Flight of locks on the K&A Canal. Picture by Bob Naylor: WaterMarx 

An eye witness said that the man in his 60s was having problems with the quad bike and after being given advice by a colleague he careered off and crashed into the canal. 

He was rescued by Barry Reed who’s house overlooks the lock witnessed the incident and rushed to the canal and found the rider face down in the water. 

Sergeant Vince Logue of Devizes police said: "Barry was a real hero. The outcome could have been much worse if he had not been there."