... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Things I will miss about Newhaven no. 2

The station.

Or rather, not so much the station, although admittedly it has provided a pretty good service over the years in getting me away from Newhaven, but, again, it's a person I shall miss: Angela in the ticket office, who is always cheerful and friendly and helpful and patient, even when dozens of French students descend upon her each wanting to buy a ticket to London, individually.

The station building is nice too, with its napped flint walls and wooden canopy. Many, many is the train I've waited for here; 99% of the time on Platform 1, to take me to Lewes and thence to London, and the world, but yesterday I was on Platform 2, en route to Seaford, for a change.

I'm sure I shall be pasing through here a few more times in the future though, albeit with a return ticket to somewhere else in my pocket.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Willow: will he or won't he?

This is Willow. I'm typing this perched uncomfortably on the arm of the chair as he is curled up on the cushion and it would take a braver soul than me to try to move him.

We are trying to decide whether to take Willow to live on the boats with us. I have just checked and it would be OK with regard to the mooring, so now we really have to make a decision. Willow has form with boats. We found him, lonely and hungry, at Floods Ferry, gosh, it must be six years ago now. He happily came on board Helyn and settled down (leaving behind a good crop of fleas for us to discover next time). When we had to go home, and no one else showed any interest in looking out for him, we popped him on the car and took him home. With no basket or restraint, he sat on the back of the back seat and looked out of the window all the way. When we noticed him getting into any vehicle that left its doors open for more than a minute, we reckoned that he must have stowed away to Floods Ferry in someone's caravan, so could have been miles away from his home.

We already had three cats, thanks to a very persuasive (and slightly less than truthful) 'sales' woman at the local cat rescue centre; we still have those three, and they are going to move in with Sebastian. Willow is a very different creature though, and part of me thinks that he would take well to boat life. He would certainly enjoy the undivided attention of his humans, and curling up by the stove. He might also, however, enjoy catching small mammals, running away, and scratching the back cabin to shreds.

I would like to have him with us; I have a soft spot for his take-no-prisoners attitude. Unlike the female cats, he doesn't want to be liked and doesn't try to ingratiate himself. He's probably the most intelligent cat I've ever met (and I've known a few; when I was a child we had nine at one point - and I've hardly ever been without one either).

I know lots of cats do successfully live on boats, even while travelling - but also experienced second hand with Nick on Aldgate and Kat the problems they can cause by refusing to come home. Madcat I know thinks that he should stay at home and be one of the lads with Baz, but he's outnumbered by the girls, and four is a lot of cats in a small space - he's about as big as the rest of them put together.

So, I am still torn. I would like to have him with us, in an ideal world, but am concerned that it might just be a lot of trouble for all concerned. Any experiences and insights would be most welcome.

By the way, I ought to explain about his highly inappropriately soppy name. When we found him he was very thin and delicate looking, and wiothout wishing to pry too closely, we assumed that he was female. Even once we realised he was a he, he still seemed a gentle, delicate soul. It was only after getting home and eating non stop for a week that he revealed himself to be a bruiser of a tomcat in an admittedly handsome and graceful, but now far more muscular form. I did briefly try to change his name to the far more fitting 'Woolwich', but it refused to stick.

Monday 28 November 2011

On books

As you might imagine, we're doing a fair bit of downsizing at the moment and one of the things I did this morning was pack up another load of books for Oxfam. I was thinking of including the set of Children's Britannica encyclopaedias that my father bought for my sister and me in the 1970s. In the end though I couldn't do it. It was for sentimental reasons, but not the most immediately obvious ones. As I picked up a random volume, letnit fall open, and read an article about caterpillars, I realised that I wanted to be able to show this to my granddaughter; to show her how once upon a time information was found in books, rather than pulled via a computer from the ether... And then I thought, she'll have the last laugh when there's a power cut and she has homework about caterpillars to complete... I'm not a luddite, but I am a bit of a pessimist and I'm not convinced the internet will be around forever - all that electricity it needs - whereas books last for centuries with no maintenance and minimal care. I know what my money would be on for long term data storage.

I also packed away a basket full of sparkly scarves and pretty beads and bracelets, so that one day I can show her that you don't need a bubblegum pink Barbie dress and a plastic tiara to dress up as a princess.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Chertsey loading at Gopsall Wharf

photo: Richard Pearson
Following that picture I posted a couple of days ago of Chertsey unloading at Croxley Mill (and the comments I made at the end) Richard Pearson has sent another wonderful photo of Chertsey loading at Gopsall - no copyright issues here, it's one he took himself (that's more than likely Harry Arnold snapping away on the bridge) and he's very generously happy for me to post it.

I feel very lucky to have so many good photos of Chertsey at various stages of her life, and particularly from this exciting time. I think this is an absolutelt brilliant picture, in the thick of the action, and better than the longer distance shots taken from the bridge.

What I find interesting here (following on from my musings about the paint scheme in the unloading picture) is that judging by the stands, mast, back end beam and tiller, Chertsey seems to have been painted to match the other boats, belonging to Tony (I think) Jones. Could this have been done deliberately, bearing in mind that this is early in the days of Richard Barnett's ownership, and he later changed the colour scheme completely, or is it just a lucky coincidence of traditional colours?

(I've not reduced the photo so you can click on it to get a bigger version and home in on the marvellous detail)

Saturday 26 November 2011

Croxley Script, rewritten

One of my favourite words is palimpsest. A palimpsest is not just a blank sheet; it is a piece of writing material, usually vellum, from which the previous writing has been erased, the surface scraped off, so that it can be used again.

Thanks to Alan for pointing me towards this photo (on Geograph) of the site of Croxley Mill as it is today.

© Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

And here again, as it was in the early sixties
(thanks again to Diamond Geezer for this photo)

Not a trace of the original script remains.

Friday 25 November 2011

Croxley postscript

I got a lovely surprise today in the form of an email from Richard Pearson. He'd seen this post from last June, and was prompted to send me this photo, of Chertsey unloading (or preparing to unload) at Croxley Mill.

This would be in August 1970, the loading note showing that they'd loaded at Gopsall on the Ashby on the 18th, and had been checked off (presumably in arrival?) on the 24th. It was, I believe, on the 28th that the very last load arrived here from the Ashby.

In earlier times, there would have been a mechanical conveyor, known as a 'jigger', for unloading the coal, but by 1970 this had been replaced by the mobile grab shown in the photo. Gerald Box (p. 5)* describes how members of the Ashby Canal Association had to manufacture and adapt the unloading equipment themselves, unhampered by their lack of metalwork expertise, as part of proving the traffic was viable and thus securing the contract.

Interesting to note Chertsey's colour scheme at this time; most photos I have from the seventies show her in dark blue, red and black, which continued well into the eighties.

Another postscript: There is a set of photos taken by Harry Arnold of Chertsey et al loading at Gopsall, but I can't afford his prices and even if I could I wouldn't be allowed to post them on the internet, but you can see two of them on page 27 of the 2009/4 HNBOC newsletter, should you be able to lay your hands on one.

*Clinging on: The Moira Cut, Coal, and the Last Days of Carrying, Ambion Publishing, 2003

Thursday 24 November 2011

Things I will miss about Newhaven no. 1

Number one of what might, I fear, be destined to be rather a short list, is...

Geoff and Col (the two in the middle), purveyors of fine vegetables to the people of Newhaven every Thursday and Saturday.

Newhaven's street market, such as it is, was set up more than a decade ago now. At first it was quite busy, with a variety of stalls - hippy clothes, French foodstuffs, posh deli... Different stalls have come and gone over the years, but mostly gone. Not only can Newhaven's 11,000 population no longer sustain any shops to speak of, against the pincer movement of local supermarkets and the respective retail delights of Lewes to the north and Brighton to the west, but there was clearly no demand from the locals for anything more than cheap bags and fishing gear. Even these most basic and saddest of market staples tend only to be there on Saturdays, and not even always then.

But Geoff and Col, and their vegetables, collected from the wholesale market that morning, are there almost without fail. Good quality, cheap and seasonal, and you can always select your own produce too, unlike many market stalls. I go nearly every week and take inspriation for the week's meals from what's available. Today I came away with some bramleys (comforting apple crumble), celery, parsnips, mushrooms, onions (a nice winter vegetable stew, to be served with mashed...) swede, greens, sprouts... sweet potatoes (a creamy curry with coconut milk, perhaps), tiny little cooking tomatoes, too ripe to ever be sold in the supermarkets but perfect for a pasta sauce; a bag of mixed peppers and a tray of fresh chillies, again something I've never seen in a supermarket, not this many for £1.50, (for a chilli, served with...) two lovely ripe avocados. Plus bananas for Jim's porridge and a bag of potatoes... The basis of five meals, plus some chestnuts for fun, all for less than twenty quid.

Yes, there are other market stalls, and farm shops, selling more local, more exotic, more organic, (and more expensive) produce that we will come across on out travels, but this is one thing I will miss about Newhaven.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Primus inter pares

Here is my new collection of stoves, picked up from David Schweizer at Braunston on Saturday. To add to my 1956 Monitor, I now have a Primus No. 1, a Primus No. 54, and a Svea No. 106. The Svea is a bit of a mystery - calling itself the 'King of Stoves', it has writing on it which appears to be Arabic or something similar. Also, you will note, two windproof boxes - not official Primus ones, but carefully hand made from bulk biscuit tins, which happen to be the perfect size.

I'm told that two of the stoves are in working order, and one needs a little attention. First of all I shall try out the Monitor in one of the boxes - its main disadvantage being the difficulty of lighting it in the slightest draught. I believe that there may be good homes waiting for one or even two of the stoves if I decide that it would be too greedy to keep them all - but they are so beautiful!

Tuesday 22 November 2011

It really is made of wood

Of course I knew it (she) was really, Singapore that is, built of pitch pine on oak... but it's one thing knowing what's under the paint; quite another actually seeing it. I didn't actually see it in person, Jim went over to Walton on the Naze on his own, by train (have Senior Railcard, will travel - just wait til his bus pass arrives!) to see how things are progressing and decide on the next moves. No nasty surprises, that's the good thing, and all the bits of rot now exposed and the wet bits drying.

The (semi) wheelhouse has come off - this was a kind of bastard hybrid of wheelhouse and windscreen - a raised screen with a canvas cover over the whole cockpit. The canvas is still in very good condition so we are loath to change anything while that it still useable, buit it has to be said that while most of the screen/wheelhouse is beautifully made in good solid materials, at some time in the recent past the whole lot was raised, to accomodate a tall person, by inserting a new lower section of far inferior quality. So we need to decide long term whether to go for a fully fledged, solid wheelhouse, which certainly could look nice and would be useful in adverse weather, or revert to a simple screen, which would certainly look nice (and original), and would be useful in sunny weather.

Another job is to remove parts of the interior and the mahogany tongued and grooved lining to enable access to the new planks as they are fitted. We are also going to remove the vinyl head linings that have been recently fitted. Although these are well done (and I have seen some horribly botched ones on other boats we've looked at) they look out of place, and more importantly, are trapping moisture. The key thing with a wooden boat, we have learnt, is to maximise the circulation of fresh air - this is the biggest preventative against rot.

Jim had a very pleasant journey, he informs me, but I am slightly peturbed by the behaviour of the National Rail website. Asked for journeys between Newhaven and Walton, it claimed there were only two available a day - at eight thirty and one thirty, and the same coming back. but when I asked it for trains from Liverpool Street, it turned out that there is one an hour throughout the day in both directions. Given that there are two trains an hour from Newhaven to Victoria, and no problem getting across London, there were far more available trains than originally suggested. It's a good thing I was incredulous and double checked - but as far as I know, the National Rail site has always been accurate and complete before, so I am wondering what happened this time.

Monday 21 November 2011

Runner up!

I had my acceptance speech all written, suitably modest of course, thanking everyone who made it possible from Leslie Morton down... My designer frock and my Jimmy Choos all laid out (this isn't ringing true is it... You know as well as I do that I wouldn't know a Jimmy Choo if you hit me over the head with one), champagne on ice... Because we had been nominated for a Herbie award. Can you imagine the joy and surprise when I looked at Neil's blog lastvweek and saw that our epic parade at Braunston had been nominated in the category of 'Best day out on someone else's boat', along with two very different, but exciting, trips on the Thames. Now the cynical might of course wonder whether Neil and Kath actually had any more than three outings in total on other people's boats in 2011, but I prefer to believe that the final three were whittled down from a highly competitive longlist.

The Chertsey trip certainly offered a contrast to the ups and downs, speed and stunning scenery of the Thames. A not very good runner could have completed a marathon in the time it took us to move from Braunston Marina to Braunston Turn and back. The only excitement was wondering whether we would get back before the beer ran out in the beer tent. Oh, and the engine stalling just as we were turning into the marina, by which time we were all catatonic, including, clearly, the engine.

So I never really expected to hear Chertsey's name announced when Neil tore open the envelope. All I can say is, what an honour it was to be nominated for so prestigious award.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Boater gets a social life

Before I started boating, I never had much of what you might call a social life. I was shy and unadventurous, hating the thought of forcing my company on people, and in their turn, naturally, people didn't go out of their way to seek it.

But what a difference a boat makes, and a historic boat in particular. Immediately there are people all over the country who have a shared interest and shared experiences, and who don't (unlike the rest of the population) consider one slightly unhinged. Canalworld forum is a two-edged sword - I've wasted too much time getting involved in pointless arguments and getting cross because, in that lovely phrase, 'someone is wrong on the internet'. But that is more than outweighed by the friends I've made - some of whom I have met and some I still haven't yet, and might never do, but who have still been there for me. It's a great way for shy people to break the ice too and make the first move towards meeting new people.

Some of my CWF friends were at Braunston yesterday, and many more old boat acquaintances, as we convened for the bi-annual members' social meeting. The spring get together is preceded by the AGM, but the autumn one is just for fun, except for those of us on the committee, who had a committee meeting at ten! I sneaked out of that early though as I had arranged to meet David Schweizer for the handover of three Primus stoves, and two windproof boxes, which I had arranged to buy through the good offices of CWF. Whilst we were doing this, Alan Fincher turned up, and we all repaired to the Old Plough, where we met lots of other people including Dave and Izzie (Bath) and Annie and Colin who we met last year at Audlen and Ellesmere Port.

Now, I have to say something about the Old Plough. It's a perfectly OK pub with OK beer and OK food. As long as there are no more than about half a dozen customers, that is. Back in the spring, we waited so long (over an hour) for our lunch we were late getting back for the afternoon session. Sympathetically, we asked the landlady whether they hadn't been warned to expect extra people because of our meeting. Oh yes, she replied, very shortly, she'd been warned, but what did we expect her to do about it?

Yesterday, I was in the pub when they opened at 12. By the time I came to order lunch at about half past, maybe four other people had already placed orders - and even at this early stage I was told that there would be a delay. As it was still early, this didn't matter. Then, straight after me, they stopped taking orders for food at all, telling people they would have to wait half an hour before even being allowed to order, without any regard to how long people had been waiting. I had to wait about ten minutes before I could even place my order at the bar, as there was only one barmaid on duty (no sign of the landlady this time) and she was incredibly slow and inefficient. And at this stage the pub still wasn't even busy! Is it any wonder that for all its faults, the Boathouse, a Marstons chain pub, is the most popular with the Braunston crowds. The Nelson closes every winter for lack of trade while the Plough seem happy to turn trade away rather than get an extra member of staff in for a couple of hours to make the most of a guaranteed influx of customers. The AGM is being held in Napton next year, and the local pub will be forewarned - let's see if they can do any better.

Anyway, I got my OK lunch eventually, and fortunately Jim had escaped from the committee meeting just as I was ordering, so he got one too, after which we wended our way back to the village hall for the second part of Malcolm Braine's slide show, begun in March and curtailed owing to it being time to be turfed out of the hall. Some of the slides were fantastic, and Malcolm's reminisces were fascinating if occasionally tantalising... I could tell you a story about that.. I'll tell you about that later... And later never came. There were also bills and letters, one fascinating snippet being the cost of building a wooden joey boat (only slightly marred by my not noting the date): £175, of which £50 was the cost of the labour.

Part way through we had a break for cake and the strange grey-green liquid that is passed off as tea at HNBOC events. To be fair, although my first cup was undrinkable, I picked up another later which did actually look and taste like tea, and was much needed. Nonetheless, once I am on the committee proper I shall demand an investigation! I was tapped on the shoulder by Rex Wain, who handed me a CD of photos of Bakewell; Nick Hill then came and told me that he had a new photo of Chertsey on the Ashby coal traffic for me, and we talked to Pete Boyce about fitting the planks and cloths which he has respectively made and ordered for Chertsey.

I can see why people join gangs or religious sects. It is nice to have a group of people to which you can comfortably belong. I may have come to it late, but I'm enjoying having a social life.

Saturday 19 November 2011

And a morsel of Tarporley?

You could eat a real slice of this one... A rather splendid cake which was made for Tarporley's annual social gathering which we went to at the Pirate Castle last night. I went along to say hello to some the old gang (it was great to see Penny again, after her travels) which I have rather guiltily abandoned, and goodbye to others (Bob Wakely is greatly missed)

Friday 18 November 2011

A Flickr of interest

I came back from the boat moving odyssey to find a thread in full flood on Canalworld regarding old photos and obscure locations, which led to these two photos on Flickr.

It didn't take long to establish that these are indeed pictures of Chertsey in Birmingham - albeit both the place and date are not quite right. The place is nearer Old Turn than Gas Street, and apparently Chertsey was kept here for a while before being moved to Les Allen's yard at Oldbury where she remained until 2009. The date is not 1970s, but some time after 1980 - how could I tell this from the photo?

(CWF readers are, I'm afraid, ineligible to enter, as I have already given the answer away there.)

Thursday 17 November 2011

A slice of Bakewell's past

Here is some of what I know so far...

Bakewell was delivered to the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company on October 30th 1936, almost 76 years to the day before I bought her (I'm going to revert to saying 'her' rather than it because it's easier and does actually feel more natural). She was half of one of 24 pairs ordered from Harland and Wolff; the 'Big Woolwiches'. While there were 48 large Woolwich motor boats built (and 38 large Northwiches), all in steel, all but 24 of the 86 were destined to have wooden butties from Walkers of Rickmansworth; the 'Big Rickies' of which few remain. Of the 24 large Woolwich butties, 21 are still extant in some form; three having been scrapped by British Waterways in the late 1970s (one under a false name; the butty currently called Berkhamsted is widely believed to actually be Ayr)

Bakewell was intended to be paired with Bletchley (which is currently carrying coal on the GU paired with small Woolwich Argus). Bletchley's fleet number was 119, and Bakewell's original fleet number, following GUCCCo's convention at the time, was 119B. This was later changed to 224. Bakewell's earliest recorded pairing was with Tyseley (now home to the Mikron Theatre Company) in 1944. That wonderful book of photos, A Canal People, has two stunning photos of Bakewell, on page 111 and 118, looking newly painted in BW blue and yellow, complete with fleur-de-lys style embellishments.

Following nationalisation in 1948, Bakewell remained in the BW carrying fleet, and was in fact one of the very last boats carrying for BW - as part of one of three pairs 'on the Lime Juice', a short run bringing imported concentrate in barrels from Brentford to Roses factory at Boxmoor. This traffic continued under BW until the early seventies, when BW withdrew on the grounds that the boats were beyond economic repair, although it (along with some of the boats, but not Bakewell) was taken over by independent carriers who continued until 1980 (I think - I must check with Tam and Di!). There are some fantastic photos of Bakewell on the Lime Juice in 1967 in this month's Waterways World (and thank you to everyone who has brought this to my attention).

Alan Fincher took these photos of Bakewell in the summer of 1974, probably just after she finished the lime juice traffic and prior to being sold to UCC.

photo: Alan Fincher

That's Halsall in the background... (Madcat, you never did give me your email address!)photo: Alan Fincher

In August 1974 Bakewell was sold by BW to Union Canal Carriers of Braunston, to become a camping boat - it would be great to see some photos from this period. She remained with UCC until 1983, when she was sold to the first of many private owners, who converted her to a houseboat with a cabin for much of her length.

Not any old private owner though; one Rex Wain. Yep, I have a boat (probably the only boat) with a Rex Wain steel cabin, and still with the solid and meticulously executed lining of douglas fir T&G and elm that he put in (albeit painted over now). Much of his fit out was removed when the boat was rebottomed, but part of a kitchen dresser remains, in the living room. (This alone makes it so much better a boat than Bodmin; what a lucky escape we had there.) Another illustrious previous owner was the writer and waterways historian Euan Corrie. In contrast to Chertsey, Bakewell has been through a large number of owners since leaving carrying service, none keeping her for more than four years, until last owner before me, who had her for eight, had her rebottomed and extended the conversion with a new kitchen. I wonder whether this a natural fate of butties, and whether I will buck the trend.

Alan H. Faulkner The George and the Mary
Tim Wilkinson Hold on a Minute
Sonia Rolt A Canal People: The Photographs of Robert Longden
Waterways World, December 2011
and especial thanks to Pete Harrison and Alan Fincher.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Mostly plants

The short advice given by Michael Pollan is his various books (which I haven't read. Yet) is: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This is advice we have been trying to take to heart lately. Briefly, we were both long time vegetarians (me for fifteen odd years, Jim for more than 25) until a few years ago. I decided (or realised) that being a lacto-vegetarian - that is, not eating meat or fish, but eating dairy produce and eggs - was a cop out, at least from the animal welfare and environmental perspectives that were our primary motivation. There's more animal suffering and environmental damage in a conventionally produced omelette or pint of milk than in, say, a free range organic lamb chop. So I went vegan - that is, avoiding all animal products - and actually managed to keep it up for over a year despite being the only one in the household. It was getting the job in Huddersfield that did for me; cooking for one and sometimes needing to use convenience foods made it seem impossible at the time.

But eating humanely reared, organic meat didn't seem like the biggest crime either, when smug veggies were tucking into mass produced cheese, factory farmed milk and battery eggs. It was the discovery of the Nightingales Farm Shop in Atherstone (now sadly no longer there, although their produce is available at local farmers' markets) and their absolutely sublime locally reared steak pies that knocked Jim off the wagon - not only beautiful meat, but divine gravy and perfect pastry made these irresistible. The trouble with falling off any wagon is that you tend to land on a slippery slope... and before too long we were eating Fray Bentos pies. Obviously, this is not good. Nor even pleasant.

So, we decided to have another go. Not to be vegan; not, in fact, to 'be' anything rigid, but to try to eat mostly plants. The idea is for all the meals we cook at home to be plant based, but to allow ourselves some leeway when eating out or visiting others. Sometimes it used to be hard to think of something original or interesting to cook for dinner (tea for readers north of Watford), and we'd get involved in complex, expensive recipes. Now the aim is to base each day's dinner around fresh vegetables, pulses and grains - the last two between them containing all the amino acids required to provide protein as good as animal based. Hopefully this will be simpler, better for our health and our pocket, and doing what we can to promote animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Recent dinners have included:

Cauliflower and chick pea curry with brown rice

Lentil dahl with garlic and ginger (the only vegetables we had left on the boat one evening) and bread

Wholewheat spaghetti with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, canellini beans and white wine (all the stuff we found in the fridge when we got back from the boats)

Chilli (peppers, tomatoes, fresh chillis and kidney beans) with brown rice

Beetroot and lentil soup with horseradish, served with Jim's wonderful home made wholemeal bread

Winter vegetable stew with butter beans and dumplings, served with greens

Moussaka, made with fresh aubergines and green lentils in a rich tomato sauce, flavoured with cinnamon, and served with garlic bread

Leek and potato pie, with canellini beans, all in wholegrain mustard sauce under a shortcrust pastry lid.

The fact that I'm eating less, losing weight, and not feeling hungry but full of energy says to me that this is a healthy diet which is meeting all my nutritional needs - easily and cheaply too. The challenge will be in not reaching for the convenience food or the pub steak at the end of a hard day's boating.

I will try to post from time to time about how well we're managing to keep it up, and any new recipe ideas that emerge.

I started writing this ages ago, by the way, long before all the tired old arguments resurfaced again on CWF.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Dawn 'til dusk

We left Smethwick at seven on Sunday morning. Andrew and Andrea on Dove had already gone, of course, but we still beat the rush. The BCN on a misty morning makes for lovely atmospheric boating.

I learnt from a DVD about the BCN (from these people, but I can't find it on their list now) that the reason the motorway follows the canal like this, frequently not just crossing, but straddling it, is that this was the only land that was available when the motorway was built. It was salutary to be reminded that the red brick traditional arched bridges we went under were once in the countryside.

This of course was the day of the Wolverhampton 21, which I actually quite enjoyed. OK, I wasn't doing much of the bowhauling myself this time - I just gave Jim a carrot and a few sugarlumps - but I am still pretty sure that I would rather do Wolverhampton twice than Hatton once. I had also had the foresight to make some sandwiches in advance for lunch, so we neither had to stop, nor subsist on Mars bars/chips/thin air as on previous days. I can't recall how long it took us to get both boats down, but it was fairly respectable. Again most of the locks were against us, but not all, for a change, and Nick was a marvel, backsetting each lock as he worked the motor boat down, so it was ready for us when we arrived.

As we neared the bottom we met a quartet of (rather posh) students, who were doing a sponsored canoe trip. Some confusion ensued when they turned a lock that Nick had just made ready, but it was resolved amicably, and to make amends they decided to help us bowhauling the butty. Now picture an aeriel view of a lock with a single bottom gate... the recess in the side that the gate opens into. Now picture a canoeist walking backwards, without looking, along the edge of the lockside... and stepping straight back off the edge and into the lock - pursued by a very large butty with no brakes. Being in the gate recess would have saved him from being crushed of course, and as he was wearing his canoeing buoyancy jacket, and had three mates with him, he was quickly hauled out. By those of his mates who weren't busy taking photos anyway. When we left them he was rather folornly dismantling his mobile phone which had of course gone in with him. (Boating superstition no. 26: If you put your phone in your pocket, you will fall in.) They were hoping to get to Wolverhampton's Broad Street Basin for the night, as they had been promised safe storage there for the canoes. As this occurred at the second or third lock from the bottom, and at was already teatime, this seemed a trifle optimistic, but I didn't like to say. I suppose they could have made it easily if they walked, and carried the canoes.

We had had a wild dream of making it to Stretton that night, but it was not to be. It was still light when we went through the stop lock at Autherley and on to the Shropshire Union (home at last, we felt), but dusk was falling fast and we made it as far as Wolverhampton Boat Club where we tied up in the dark. A genuine dawn to dusk day's boating. Wonderful.

By the way, Captain Ahab had just come back from the BCN and has written some really fascinating posts about its geography and history. If you're reading this later, check out his archive for around this date.

Monday 14 November 2011

The delights of Smethwick

From the beer tent, I texted a friend from work: 'I am at a bonfire in Smethwick'. His reply was exactly as I had predicted: 'Where is Smethwick?'. Given that this was the same person who once asked me 'is Brighouse a real place, then', it wasn't a hard prediction to make. (Now, don't get me wrong, Dean is one of my absolutely favourite people, but he would be the first to admit to being a bit, well, southern.)

But how come I had heard of Smethwick? How had the place wormed its way into my consciousness? Was it from history lessons at school? (O level British Social and Economic History 1733-1935, and A level, for some reason reversed, British Economic and Social - perhaps it sounds harder that way round). Was it in the news when I was growing up, either through strikes, or industry closing down, or the notorious utterances of its erstwhile MP? One way or another, I had heard of Smethwick. But it wasn't until I looked up its Wikipedia entry that I realised just how massive a part it had played in the industrial revolution; just how many famous products had been manufactured there. And now? It's the saddest, deadest place - or at least certainly a contender for that title - that you could dread seeing.

We checked out the shops on Friday - a parade of mostly (possibly exclusively) Sikh owned cheap hardware shops, where we were able to meet all Bakewell's mop, broom and bucket type requirements - and if we had wanted cooking pots, why, I have never seen such a selection and at such low prices too. The shops all offered a wonderfully eclectic mix of Indian trinkets and cookware, British essentials and Christmas decorations. A splendly attired matriarch took us to task for selecting an inferior, flimsy bucket, and almost forced us to have a different model. I held firm though. I wanted a blue one. The anglicised second (or even third, maybe) generation directed us to a plumbers merchants (run by their nephew, it turned out) where we were able to buy what we needed to isolate the leaking Paloma, meaning that we could finally turn the water pump on and use the taps.

The following day we went into the town's shopping precinct - this was really sad; more shops shut than open, although there was a rather splendid and apparently thriving Punjabi music shop. There was a Tescos, tho, that provided another new experience. The first aisle, by the door, was dedicated to 'ethnic' foodstuffs. Indian first - massive bags of lentils and rice at a quarter the price of standard packs; 500g bags of spices - cumin, paprika - for £1.59 - the price of a 25g Schwartz jar; tins of unbranded chick peas at 29p... then West Indian - coconut milk for 78p a tin (really thick and creamy too); pepper sauces... then Polish... and maybe more. And the odd thing is, this branch of Tescos was still selling the Schwartz spices, and the little packs of lentils costing the same as the massive ones, in all the other aisles. And presumably people were buying them. We were like kids at Christmas and struggled back to Bakewell laden with tins and packets, which helped to even out the list a bit.

After shopping, we were visited by Madcat (as she is known on CWF) who joined us for a cup of tea, and then we strolled down to the New Main Line so that I could finally see and photograph Halsall. Now, at this stage I should be linking to the latest new entry in the Town Class Sticker Album, but disaster has struck! I have forgotten the password, or more likely the user name, and have a horrible feeling that it is linked to my old work email address which no longer exists. Hopefully it will come back to me, as I have photos of Alton and Aldgate to add, and probably others too. Anyway, Halsall was looking lovely and distinctive in a new green coat, and the cabin was so cosy, I am rethinking Chertsey's austerity look.
As we were half way there, we proceeded across the aqueduct to the beer tent and settled in for the evening. Beers were from the legendary Ma Pardoe's (aka the Old Swan at Netherton) and I must say tasted great from the barrel. I started with Bumblehole but although not extraordinarily strong it is what I call 'heady', volatile, like ESB say, and not my cup of tea, so I switched to Entire, and enjoyed that for the rest of the evening, whilst Jim stuck with Dark Swan mild.

The bonfire was lit at 7.30 and by the time we went outside was going well. We weren't bothered about getting close to the action, and watched the fireworks from the aqueduct. They were rather splendid, and while in the past I've tended to be a bit 'bah, humbug' about fireworks and the costs involved, this time I just gave myself up to the spectacle. The signs in the shops promoting Diwali remind us that there aren't many cultures that don't like a fiery celebration (or two) around this time of year, and it's not hard to see why it feels appropriate.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Looping the loop

Entering the Icknield Port Loop (unless Michelle tells me otherwise!)

Bakewell's journey: day 4 (because I didn't take any photos on day 3).

As well as towing Bakewell, Nick was also making a delivery, of some empty blue ballast drums. Thus we got to make a detour around the Icknield Port Loop, which certainly added to the interest of the trip.
Making the delivery

I really want to come back and explore the BCN over a longer period of time; it must be the most fascinating of Britain's waterways; the most tantalising and the most frustrating - all those lost wharves and arms and loops, and the ghosts and traces that remain. I can't say I fancy doing the BCN 24 hour challenge (we're SO slow! And I like my sleep too much), but I'd love to try to cover the ground over a week or a month.

More lovely BCN scenery

Saturday 12 November 2011

Tunnel vision

Bakewell's journey, day 2, in which we travelled from the top of Hatton to the Blue Bell Cider House at Hockley Heath.

On the whole, Jim and I took turns to steer the butty, and somehow it always seemed to be his turn when we got to a tunnel. By the last day I was insisting that I take a turn as a tunnel came up lest Nick think I was wimping out of them.

This one though gave me the opportunity of taking some nice moody photos.

By the way, do check out Paul's Chertsey photos again - I linked to them the other day but he keeps adding more!

Friday 11 November 2011

Bakewell's journey: day 1

The trouble with moving boats, leaping around, working locks etc - and having a decent camera, is that the camera tends not to get used. I can leap about and do locks with an old compact in my pocket, but not with four figures worth of SLR around my neck, so I have managed to take precious few action shots on recent trips.

However, on Tuesday morning, a couple on the towpath were taking photos and I thought, why not, it's my boat after all they're taking pictures of, and scribbled down my email address on a piece of paper, and as I dashed past, handed it to them and asked if they would mind emailing me a few of their photos. And they - or rather Sandra - did; seventeen pictures that put together show us leaving one lock, singling out along the pound, and starting to get ready to breast up for the next one. A marvellous record that we would otherwise not have; thank you Sandra. I think in future I shall keep some pre-written bits of paper in my pocket, to deploy whenever I see people taking photos!

Thursday 10 November 2011

Chertsey's odyssey, illustrated

Paul has uploaded some photos of his and Hairy Neil's journey with Chertsey here. In normal Photobucket fashion, they appear in reverse order.

Many thanks to Paul for the visual record of the adventure - and Neil tells me he filled in the log as well.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Normal service is resumed

For want of a plug, the ability to recharge the iPod was lost; for want of the iPod, the blog was lost...

We have completed our epic journey, and are now safely home. We includes me, Jim, Hairy Neil, Paul, Bakewell and Chertsey. The mad, impossible plan actually came off.

An enormous thank you to Hairy Neil and Paul for moving Chertsey, a stunning feat rendered only the more impressive by the fact that they managed to take in at least one (and up to five) selected real ale pub every night, and polish the brass to boot. Clearing (with Nev's help) Fradley with hours to spare before the stoppage began, they really got us out of a hole.

The itinerary went something like this...

Monday 31st - Jim and I arrive at Stockton and take possession of Bakewell. Jim cleans the porta potti. Nick arrives at the top of the locks with Aldgate.

Tuesday 1st - We stroll up to help Nick down the locks, and hitch Bakewell to Aldgate. We get a crash course in butty steering and breasting up while on the move to enter double locks. We realise that Bakewell is woefully undersupplied with ropes, and what we do have is green and slimey. Bakewell finishes the day at the top of Hatton with a very knackered crew.

Wednesday 2nd - Aldgate and Bakewell leave later than planned owing to having to rescue Kat from up a tree, but still manage to get to the other side of Lapworth to finish another exhausting day in the Blue Bell Cider House. Meanwhile Neil drives over to Torksey and sets Chertsey's timing, then takes her for a test run up to Saxilby and back, and then on to Dunham Bridge.

Thursday 3rd - No locks for us today, and we spend the night in Birmingham. Chertsey finally gets off the tidal Trent, although a malfunctioning lock means curtailing the day's journey at Fiskerton.

Friday 4th - A short run for us into Smethwick, where we tie up and go shopping. Chertsey on the other hand keeps going to Trent Lock, very nearly the end (or beginning) of the river, an epic day's travelling.

Saturday 5th - We visit Halsall and entertain Madcat, drink beer and watch fireworks. Neil and Paul on the other hand finish the night at Barton Turns, where they try five different pubs before deciding that the one at the marina might be the best bet after all.

Sunday 6th - our turn for an early(ish) start as we creep away from Smethwick at seven. It takes us around four hours to get both boats down the 21, and Jim starts answering to 'Dobbin' and demanding sugar lumps. We make it as far as Wolverhampton Boat Club before the light goes completely. This and Tuesday were our longest days, and around ten hours. Chertsey meanwhile makes it to Radford Bridge on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal - they have made it through Fradley before the locks close on Monday morning!

Monday 7th - We have another late start owing to the errant Kat, but with only a few miles to go, we are tied up at Stretton on our lovely new mooring well before lunch. Chertsey makes it to Brweood before the light fails, and after Jim has trained and taxi'd back to Stockton and collected the car, we drive over to join them for a few beers, and a have very expensive meal in the newly refurbished Lion Hotel (if Jim and I hadn't needed to eat we would have stayed in the Swan, where they had Directors).

Tuesday 8th - Not at seven a.m. as threatened (I wonder why they might have slept in....), thank goodness, but later in the morning, Chertsey joins Bakewell at Stretton. Tea and buns are enjoyed, Neil and Paul have a tour of the yard, then pack all their gear into Fang the Volvo for the drive back to Torksey, whereupon their luggage is transferred to Neils ex London cab, and we regain the A1 and head for home, where we arrive at nine o'clock.

And that, in brief, is the epic journey of three boats and five people, to safely get Chertsey and Bakewell to their mooring for the winter. Many many thanks to all concerned.

Photos to follow.

Friday 4 November 2011

Smethwick stopover

Here we are in Smethwick, where we are staying for the BCNS bonfire rally.

Thursday 3 November 2011

On our knees

Tonight we're at Sherbourne Wharf in Birmingham, so I guess I had better rewind a bit to say how we got here, and why nothing got posted last night.

Today has been the easiest day yet with no - yea NO - locks. What a lovely change that made, even if we did have a soaking in a sudden downpour that we could have avoided by spending five minutes longer on our lunch. Lunch today was beans on toast, what luxury, tying up and sitting down at the dining table. Lunch on monday was a bag of chips, and lunch yesterday was a Mars bar. The toast was made possible by my finally figuring out what each of the knobs on the gas stove relates to. It's a very good cooker, but the diagrams have worn off.

Steering a butty turns out to be quite fun, even if we do keep getting told off for doing it wrong. Mostly we are being towed on a short line, which means that we need to steer, but if we do it wrong, it can throw the motor out of position. We do not have an ideal set up as the tiller bar has been broken at some point and is splinted up with metal straps screwed to it. A bigger problem is that where it slots into the elum, it is very loose, and unless wedged up with suitable bits of kindling, the end of the tiller fails to clear the cabin top which as you can imagine is quite detrimental to effective steering. Today was fine because we could hammer some wedges in and leave them there, but the butty tiller has to come out in every lock (failure to do this is probably how it got broken in the first place) and so the bits of wood fall out and fall in the canal every time.

In contrast to Hatton on Tuesday, yesterday we had the single locks of Lapworth, which meant bowhauling. I actually quite enjoy this, although it would have been a lot easier if we'd had a longer rope. The ropes that came with Bakewell are very minimal, and while we have (or possibly had) a lovely long one on Chertsey, we took that to move Singapore, never used it, and managed to leave it behind, along with Chertsey's spare tying up rope, at the boatyard at Walton on the Naze.

Yesterday should have been an easier day than Tuesday, despite the bowhauling, as it was shorter, for a start. But we were all still exhausted, and got off to a late start when Nick's cat, Kat, got chased up a tree, fell part of the way down, and hurt her leg, necessitating finishing the day within walking distance of a vets. Then I banged my knee leaping into the back of the butty, and Jim bashed his pulling the butty into a lock. Nothing serious but it all contributed to a rather fraught day. We tied up in the end, again just as it was getting dark, by the Blue Bell Cider House at Hockley Heath, and after Kat had visited the vet, we went and had a few pints there and spme rather ill advised pork scratchings.

Today was better though, as we seem to have recovered from Tuesday and have had an easier pace, which continues as tomorrow we go into Smethwick where we are staying over the weekend for the BCNS fireworks, which sounds rather fun and I might get to meet Madcat at last!

Tuesday 1 November 2011


Which is about all I am capable of saying at the moment.

We were out by seven, walking up the Stockton locks to get them ready for Nick - although he already had a helper, who actually helped us through to Bascote. Tonight we are at the top of the Hatton flight, and every single one was against us. Need I say more?

I also - this seems such a long time ago, being this morning - have had my first experience of steering a butty. The steering itself is great, even though the tiller has to be wedged intonthe elum with bits of kindling in order to clear the cabin top, but the breasting up coming into locks needs a bit more work.

First night on Bakewell

It doesn't feel like a boat. Mainly because it doesn't smell like a boat; i.e. it doesn't smell of diesel.

We arrived at lunchtime, and although sadly the last owner, marine engineer Ed Boden, was too overwhelmed with work to come and hand over in person, by a wonderful chance, another, earlier, owner turned up - Rex Wain, who had come to take Bakewell's wooden next door neighbour here at Stockton, Ian, back to Brinklow for some repairs, so we spent ages chatting with him. They bought Bakewell from Union Canal Carriers at the end of its camping boat career, and eventually sold it on to another well known owner, Euan Corrie. It's interesting to have a boat that has had more than one owner over the past forty years.

We are very pleased and impressed so far. The firstbthing we did was find the gas - two 13kg bottles - and have a cup of tea. Then I cleaned up the kitchen - no years of grime either, just a few months' worth of spiders and got everything put away in the numerous cupboards. The only downside is that the Paloma has sprung a leak - from a very similar experience on Andante I diagnose frost damage - so we can't switch the water pump on without water running put of the bottom of it. Never mind, running water is a luxury anyway, and Ed tells me he has a spare Paloma which we can either fit or cannibalise for the damaged part.

We have however lit the Squirrel, and heat is not only emanating from it, but coursing around the boat (and the calorifier) in 28mm copper pipe. Lovely.

Nick has been held up by a fuel pipe problem and has stopped at the top of the locks (we are at the bottom) and we have promised to be up there with our windlasses at some ungodly hour of the morning, oh, ok, half past six.