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Category: Miscellaneous

  1. Horses on the canals - a mystery solved.

    Posted on

    Since I've been buying and selling keyboards and pedalboards and other bits of organalia (and if there isn't such a word, there should be) on a regular basis, I've met some very interesting people. One such was Robert McKenzie, a volunteer at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. I met him there to collect a pair of organ keyboards I'd bought from him on Ebay. Having noticed that his Ebay screenname was boathorse, I guessed correctly that he had an interest in horse-drawn canal boats, and I hoped if he might be able to answer a question which had been bugging me for some time.

    In an earlier age, when a lot of freight was transported on the canal system, a horse and a rope was the usual means of propulsion. That's where the word "towpath" comes from, of course.  My question was this: what happened when a horse-drawn boat going in one direction met another one going in the opposite direction? Apart from avoiding collisions between the boats themselves, how did they prevent the one horse and its rope from getting horribly tangled up with the other?

    I knew exactly how I would have solved this problem, if I'd been designing the canal system. I would have provided towpaths on both sides of the canal, and had a clear understanding - just like on the roads - that boats going in one direction kept to one side, and boats going the other way kept to the other. But I also knew for a fact that this was not how it was done at the time. Near to where I live there are canal bridges which cantilever out from each side and have a gap in the middle. The idea was to allow the rope to pass through the gap when the towpath (singular) crossed from one side of the canal to the other.

    No, there was clear evidence that only one towpath was provided, so the problem remained. Boats must have needed to pass each other on a very regular basis, so how on earth did they manage it? Did they hold one rope up in the air with poles so the other boat and its horse could pass underneath? Or was it necessary to unhitch one horse from its boat completely, and only reconnect the rope when the other boat had gone past? Either way, it must have been a right pain in the butt!

    When Robert told me the correct answer to my question, it was surprisingly elegant and simple. The rope they used was quite a long one, and it was made of cotton, which happens to be denser than water. When two boats met, the one crew allowed their rope to go slack, causing it to sink to the bottom of the canal. The second horse stepped over the slack rope, the second boat floated over it, and then both boats continued on their way. Simples!

  2. To blog or not to blog .....?

    Posted on

    I've never owned (if that's the word) a blog before, and I wasn't really planning to own this one. It sort of came about by accident. I've been working on setting up this web site for the past few days and generally getting on rather well, if I do say so myself! This is my second attempt at web site creation. The first time (a few weeks ago) I tried using the WebEden system, and things didn't go at all smoothly. I couldn't get it to do what I wanted,  and I couldn't get it to look like I wanted it to look. I went off the whole idea for a while. Maybe I should pay someone to set one up for me? No - I decided it was worth having one more go, perhaps using a different system. I chose from the search results (more or less at random, it has to be said) and soon started making progress.

    This doesn't necessarily mean that the DoYourOwnSite system (known as Create) is vastly superior to the WebEden system, of course. Some of the difference could be down to me. My subconscious mind may have been grappling with the problems of web-site creation, all the time my conscious mind was off doing other things. This seems to be the way problem solving and invention work - you fill your conscious mind with all the details, then go off and play a round of golf or something, and let your subconscious get on with it. I remember one of my schoolteachers had a favourite saying which neatly summed up this phenomenon: You learn to skate in the summer.

    And I wouldn't say the DoYourOwnSite software is perfect, by any means. It's actually a bit rough round the edges in places but, by and large, it works more-or-less the same way my mind works and when I decide I need to do something, I soon find a way to do it. There has only been one exception. On my new Home Page there's this little box which says "Blog Posts". Now, I decided early on that I was not going to have a blog, so this little box was clearly surplus to requirements, but try as I might, I couldn't find a way to get rid of it. I managed to chase it all the way from the left hand side of the screen to the right, but never succeeded in striking the fatal blow which would kill it off completely. Finally, close to despair, I realised that there was only one solution to my problem. I would just have to write the flaming blog after all!

    So this is it. This is my blog and I'm stuck with it! But maybe it's no bad thing. I do rather enjoy writing, if the truth be told, and it will give me an opportunity to express my innermost thoughts from time to time, mostly (but not always) on organ-related matters. I hope you don't find it too tedious, but you can at least take comfort from knowing you don't have to read it.

    To my great annoyance, there's a second little box on my Home Page which also refuses to go quietly. I haven't got a clue what I'm going to do with that one. Maybe I could fill it with water and keep fish in it  ... ? No, I'm just being silly now.