Shit Happens..

5 Jan

It’s a fact.

Put two or more boaters together and, in a flush (remember that whoosh of water that came with the pull of a chain as the flush fairy disappeared your bodily waste like magic?) they’ll be talking toilets/bantering about bogs. So put them all together in a facebook group…

For my land-based readers who believe that life on the water is all roses and castles: idyllic, blissful, one long holiday, a delicious escape from reality and one way to keep under the radar – I confirm this. It is.

But..

It does come with some less than desirable little jobs, so to speak, not least the emptying of the loo. A small price to pay, in my book, for the privileges this lifestyle affords but not one I look forward to – I’d have to be one seriously sad sicko if I did.

For those of us with a cassette type or porta-potti arrangement, the best one can expect is that a disposal point – or tip out as I call it – is within easy reach, clean and at the very least not full, overflowing or blocked. And for those with a pump-out system, I imagine they’d want similar – plenty of and in working order.

Sadly, this clearly isn’t the case.

Shite is the plight of the London boater it seems, as voiced by LB Jacqui..

“My lifestyle, that of a liveaboard boater, means that I have accepted certain challenges and inconveniences like emptying my own “heads” and limitations on weekly water consumption in accordance to the size of my fresh water tank. This I am ok with.

What strikes me as not “ok” is the fact that although my community is growing – 300% in London – over the five years I’ve been on the water, the powers in charge of maintaining the waterways for this country have, in that time, been allowed to close facilities in London. This means going further for water and elsan points and much greater strain on those facilities that are still in use. In real terms, over the past 4 -5 weeks it has meant three of the five elsan points (where one can safely dispose of toilet content) and get fresh water along the 20+kms of the Lea River have been “out of service”.

I live in Britain, the fifth wealthiest country in the world, yet must travel, sometimes hours, to obtain water and dispose of my loo.

Yesterday I was at fields weir elsan. I was there going through the lock. In the time it took me to moor, set the lock and enter it, four other boaters, two by car had been and used the elsan. The folks in the car, from two boats had three cassettes and had come from Broxbourne to empty them.”

And Jess, also a LB said..

“In ten years, this is the first time we’ve really been up shit creek (literally). We’ve now got three full cassettes. Send help.”

I’ve singled out just a couple  from many comments aired on the LB facebook page, often more graphic and occasionally accompanied by pictures but I’ll spare you that..

This is nothing short of criminal and, as a liveaboard boater myself for ten years, a subject very dear to my heart. Whilst I’m not a continuous cruiser (though will be when I can secure an income without having to commute) I do live on the London waterways, albeit a bit in the sticks and with a home mooring (and a reasonably acceptable ‘tip out’).

That said, I have cruised through the city a few times now and have also chugged around a fair bit of the rest of the network so am all too familiar with the problem. There was one rather epic journey when I moved my 47ft of loveliness from Cambridgeshire to Hertfordshire in 2010 – epic because of the time it took as we were jumping a van along with the aid of a bicycle in order for John to travel to work. I made many homes along the riverbank along the way, as work got in the way of boating, as it does.

This trip took in the River Ouse, Middle Levels, River Nene, GU, the London Canals and the Lea and Stort navigations. It was brilliant, with notable highlights – one being the tidal crossing from Denver to Salter’s Lode in order to access the Fen ditches from the Ouse – but that’s another story.

To keep on topic, it was the facilities at Denver Sluice I wanted to mention here. I’d been led to believe they were superior  as well as having plenty of mooring and a good pub. Perfect. Not..

Around 90% of the mooring space was cordoned off with that orange plastic stuff, presumably in readiness for some improvement or other, with no sign of actual work being carried out or offer of alternative tying up space. Eventually we located the Elsan point, first priority as ever, but struggled to find a suitable place to park while we (I) did the deed. We ended up having to tie to railings around the slipway, thereby blocking it, but needs must – we wouldn’t be long..

A tortuous and treacherous trek led to a building (locked and chained as if a nuclear facility) in a field. My EA key did, surprisingly, open the padlock and with John’s help I managed to unleash the fortifications and open the door. All this time we stood in a lake of liquid that looked and smelled disgusting and on entering the Stygian gloom – no lights thankfully – a leaking and decidedly unsanitary tip out was revealed. I’ve never seen anything as horrid – before or since – and I have seen some grim sights.

Needs must so the deed was done. I walked just around the corner, by way of taking in some fresh air, to discover the Environment Agency offices – state of the art building surrounded by a huge and very smart car park full of extremely swish motor cars, which no doubt belonged to the fat cats of the EA quango. Did they even know what was less than 100 yards from their plush suite of offices? Did they even care? I doubt it. Obvious where their priorities lie.

To the pub then, where we hoped we could moor, but no rings or other means of tying up. On asking a member of staff, handily clearing glasses outside, were told that mooring had been stopped for health and safety reasons. My fuse, already considerably shortened, had nearly burned out. But what can you do? We spun her round and trawled along the opposite bank, which looked decidedly private/club-like, until we found a Hobo-sized gap, where we smacked in the pins regardless, secured her and wandered off in search of the bridge that would take us to the pub.

All along the way there was a vast amount of new fencing adorned with EA health and safety notices. Not shy of spending money on that then.. of course not!

The London waterways come under the care of The Canal & River Trust but, other than in name, I see little difference between them and the Environment Agency when it comes to upkeep, maintenance and attitude towards the need of the boater. And given that a licence that allows navigation on these waterways, depending on the length of boat/waters navigated, can easily be in excess of £1000 per annum, I for one think it’s shocking that such low levels of maintenance and, in certain cases, total deterioration, are allowed and so little is forthcoming in return for our money.

I don’t rant without good reason or criticize without offering a possible solution. So how about this..?

What if those big old rusty barges we see about, some used for rubbish dumping, were converted to swallow our human waste? They could be moored on the offside, to discourage potential vandalism, boats could tie alongside and tip out… simple! And with a little ingenuity, some sort of hose and pump arrangement to facilitate the use of canal/river water for rinsing. Or even some simple structure – like a low lever water tower maybe – it doesn’t need to be high tech.

Then the (in my opinion) under-used C&RT/EA barges and workers could be adapted to empty these. Regularly.sunrise

 

 

4 Responses to “Shit Happens..”

  1. Alexlebrit January 5, 2016 at 9:52 pm #

    To do the old “we’ve suggested this before…” thing, we’ve suggested this before. Personally I think it’s a great idea, would solve a multitude of planning constraints and problems of connecting to water supplies and sewerage systems. And they could be towed about London to suit demand, winter moorings not selling due to poor facilities? Here’s a poo-barge.

    Undoubtedly it’s not quite as simple, how to stop it getting blocked and flowing into the canal for a start, how to know when it’s full and needs pumping out, where to pump it out even. But none of these are insurmountable with a dash of modern technology to communicate the levels and a couple of dedicated staff on towing and cleaning duty.
    So how do we get them? Do we just say “hey C&RT we’ve got an idea” or is it worth a few people sitting down and researching so that a concrete proposal could be submitted with an outline of costs and benefits?
    I know, we’re all busy and it perhaps shouldn’t be down to us, but when needs must isn’t it worth going the extra if something concrete came out of it? Anyone?

    • Boatbird January 7, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughts on this Alex. I do think that the answer could – indeed should – be simple, as simple concepts often work the best in my experience. I shall have to do a follow-up post to put forward a proposal and see if there’s any support for this type of scheme among us.
      I, for one, think that a little time spent on research in order to present C&RT with a firm proposal/costing/feasibility study would be well worth the effort and that it needn’t cost and arm and a leg to implement, especially as we no doubt have a wealth of caring, foraging and multi-talented folk in the community. Left to its own devices, C&RT could – and probably would – simply kick it into touch citing lack of funds/health & safety etc or simply lose it in its in tray due to lack of interest.

  2. Jo January 7, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    Perhaps dragging somebody from the Environment Agency to look at the offending article might help, or sending them this blog …

    • Boatbird January 7, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

      Quite. I have a plan…. watch this space.

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