... 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.

Monday 30 April 2012


I was just about to cross the plank from the bank to Bakewell's stern earlier, when I saw this floating in the water under the willow tree.

Some houseproud little bird's pride and joy, blown out of the tree, presumably. I wonder if it would have had eggs in it, and what the birds will do now.

Any idea what sort of bird would have built it?

It is quite touching the way they have woven the blue plastic strips in along with the more natural materials, and how lovely and cosy that down-lined interior looks.

Sunday 29 April 2012

Things to do on a wet Sunday in Wolverhampton

Help Alan and Cath on Sickle up the Wolverhampton 21 locks, of course. We parked in the Broad Street car park (free on Sunday!), walked down to Aldersley junction, noting with relief that no one else was coming up.

It wasn't long before Sickle appeared, and with Jim setting the locks ahead, and Cath and I working them like a (reasonably) well oiled machine, we were at the top in an hour and fifty minutes. I reckon this could be bettered, but not by much. But what's your best time? (Blossom in particular....?)

We were well wrapped up and waterproofed but the weather wasn't quite as wet and windy as the Cassandras predicted, although it got quite fierce again once we got back to the yard, so I hope Sickle makes it to the Black Country Museum soon!

Saturday 28 April 2012

On having a social life

It's a bit of a shock to the system I must say. We never had so many people dropping by and dropping in when we lived in the house - and I must say I am enjoying the new experience of being sociable. There is a lot of truth in the cliche that the canal system is a linear village, and even when in practice you only see people three or four times in a year, it still feels as if they are just around the corner.

Today Alan and Cath came back to Stretton to collect Sickle. They brought beer and I cooked up a big pot of lentils to this excellent recipe, while Jim made a batch of his splendid home made bread. Just as  started cooking, Cath came over to say that Stanton was approaching. We'd said hello to Peter and Laura as they passed on their way up to High Offley last week, so I ran out to see if they would like to stop for a cup of tea this time. They would, and tied up to Chertsey, and everyone had a chat while I cooked the lentils.

This in itself would be amazing enough, but tomorrow both Hairy Neil and Starcross Jim have promised to drop by, so I can foresee a fine evening in the Swan. Alan and Cath might well be back by then too as they are taking Sickle to the Black Country Museum and will be coming back for the car.

I think we might have volunteered to help them up the Wolverhampton 21 tomorrow morning too...

As I said of the Droitwich gathering, if you told me that  would be going on holiday with two other couples, to what amounts to a holiday camp (club house, daily events and activities...) I would either have hit you, or shot myself. But guess what? Entirely due to the splendid people involved, and the overriding bond of boats and boating, I am really rather enjoying it all.

Curtain call

Not before time, you might think.



Friday 27 April 2012

A nice cup of tea

It seems that there is one more thing that Jim of Starcross and I agree on - the importance of a nice cup of tea. I am mortified for having offered him teabag tea when he visited, although he was  too polite to mention it. I do therefore confess to frequently succumbing to the convenience of a teabag (to be fair, you can get a decent cup of tea from decent tea bags, it's just that most of them are the sweepings off the floor... of which more later), but aside from that, I am probably as fussy a tea drinker as you could dread meeting.

When asked how I like my tea, I do not say 'as it comes'. How could anyone be so insultingly indiscriminating when someone is offering to go to the trouble of preparing them a hot beverage? I say 'strong, no sugar, medium amount of milk, please, thank you very much, lovely.'

And there are some things I would like to put on record here. Important things.

1. The strength of a cup of tea has nothing to do with the amount of milk in it. Milk does not make tea weaker; it makes it milkier. It is perfectly possible to enjoy strong milky tea, as I believe was fashionable in the Army, in my father's day at least.

2. The strength of a cup of tea has nothing (well, OK, very little) to do with how long it has been brewed. It is perfectly possible (and frequently achieved) to make stewed, weak tea. This is the Devil's piss, and is quite possibly the worst of all possible worlds.

3. The overriding factor in how strong a cup of tea is, is, surprise surprise, how much tea you put in.

4. A frequently overlooked factor is that the tea must have room to move around. This is why those little individual teapots you get in the cafes of trendy art galleries with a sort of inbuilt tea strainer submerged inside, are worse than useless (and worse than teabags, despite the supposed cachet and financial premium attached to using loose tea). They are packed full of tea leaves and trendy bits of twig and only the outer layer even gets wet. When given one of these the only thing to do is to tip the contents of the strainer into the pot, give it a good stir, let it brew, then pour it through the strainer into the cup. And don't forget to demand a jug of hot water to top it up.

Now, what tea to buy? Jim favours Co-op Indian Prince, which is interesting because I nearly bought some of that the other day. We had been managing fine on Asda red label, buying it in 80-bag boxes because it worked out cheapest that way. Then when that offer ended we bought a 160 bag box. Well, it was horrible; a completely different tea. Devil's piss whatever you did with it. So much so that last weekend I gave up on it and started drinking peppermint tea instead. On the Sunday evening I couldn't keep my eyes open, and slept for eleven solid hours. By Monday the nagging headache which I had expected had entrenched itself, and also seemed to have spread to every part of my body. So much so that I was reduced to looking up the incubation period for Weil's disease to see if it could possible be more than the sixteen days since  fell in the canal... Then I looked up the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, and realised that's what the problem was. By then it was too late to go shopping so I had not choice but to swallow three cups of the appalling Asda tea, followed by some black spiced Indian tea that was lurking in the back of the cupboard. The cure was almost instantaneous, although the medicine was nasty.

Thus the next morning found me scanning the relatively well-stocked tea shelf of the otherwise very small Co-op in Brewood, and giving serious consideration to Starcross Jim's favourite Indian Prince, although in the end, as it came in smaller boxes, I plumped for Co-op English Breakfast blend. I have to say even this didn't seem particularly robust (maybe there was a low pressure front affecting the boiling temperature of the water?), so when we went shopping yesterday we threw caution to the winds and splashed out on Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold. And at last, as I write this, I have at my elbow a nice cup of tea.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Can the can

This afternoon Jim set about painting a couple of cans. The one on the left is for Chertsey and was very kindly given to us by Dave and Izzie on Bath when we first got Chertsey. The one on the right came with Bakewell (whence it will return), and was, amazingly, originally painted by Phil Speight. You can just see the remains of one bunch of roses; the rest of the paint has completely fallen off. Hopefully this will not happen so easily next time as Jim is priming the galvanised can with Blackfriars etch primer. Both of these are going to be painted simply (nay austerely) in bands of red and blue, separated with cream lines. Eventually I shall get them written with the respective boats' names.

We do now have quite a collection of cans.

This was the first one. Jim bought it from the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust shop at Newbury as a boat warming present for Andante. It rather looks as if it might have been done by a student of Phil Speight. It's little, at, I would guess, one gallon, and probably wasn't intended to be used - but actually it's the one that gets used most for something near its proper purpose; it's ideal for filling up from the tank in Chertsey's hold and keeping in the cabin.

This one was bought in a junk shop in, of all places, Lewes. It cost £27, and one of my few regrets in life is that we didn't buy the full size milk churn that was on sale for £48.

And then there is the accidental Phil Speight can I had done for Warrior, for Jim's Christmas present. That's in hiding at home at present, following a rather too close encounter with a bridge. The can has been repaired, but still needs repainting.

And no, I don't like the new bloody Blogger interface either, except, I think it may let you insert a photo wherever you choose rather than having to move them around afterwards.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Off to Audlem

We haven't really planned a big boating trip this year, but there are a few events we're planning to get to instead. One of these was the Droitwich gathering, which was a great success, and there's something to be said for the idea of short trips, in good company, to interesting events and gatherings, as opposed to a solo marathon. We're still hoping to go to Braunston, water levels permitting. A lot of people are planning to give it a miss this year - either because of the hassle of getting there, or because they feel that last year it really had got too big. It hasn't yet lost its magic for me though, and I'll get there if I possibly can.

Another definite though is the Audlem Festival of Transport at the end of July. Just up the Shroppie from us, so not hard to get to. I've not been before but it sounds a great event. We were invited to go last year, but couldn't because Chertsey was being painted - and anyway, wasn't really fit to be put on display at that stage.

Anyway, in case anyone is interested, here is the potted history of Chertsey that I've written for the festival organisers:


Chertsey was built for the Grand union Canal Carrying Company (GUCCCo) by Harland and Wolff at their North Woolwich shipyard, and delivered in January 1937. This was as part of the last big expansion of the Grand Union fleet, eighty-six pairs of boats, built at Woolwich, Northwich and Rickmansworth, with a deeper (4'9”) hold than their predecessors, and Chertsey is therefore known as a Large Woolwich motor boat. The names for these boats were, legend has it, selected from a railway gazetteer, and they are sometimes referred to today as 'Town Class' boats.

Chertsey would have carried a variety of loads for GUCCCo, between London and Birmingham, the East Midlands, and also to Northampton and beyond onto the River Nene. When waterways transport was nationalised in 1948 Chertsey passed into the British Waterways South Eastern Fleet, and continued carrying into the early 1960s.

Chertsey was sold into private ownership in 1962, and for a while was registered as a houseboat, although there is no evidence that the boat has ever been converted. During this period she attended a number of rallies, and apparently had an organ in the hold, which was played at gatherings.

In 1969, Chertsey was purchased by Richard Barnett, who owned the boat until his death in 2009. Under his ownership, Chertsey undertook some short term carrying contracts, including being one of the last boats to bring coal from the Ashby Canal to John Dickinson's paper mill at Croxley on the Grand Union Canal. From the 1980s however, Chertsey was more or less abandoned at Valencia Wharf, Oldbury, although Richard Barnett was never willing to sell her.

It was following a chance conversation that the current owner, who had long been seeking a Large Woolwich, was able to buy Chertsey in July 2009. Since then, we have had repairs carried out to the steelwork, particularly the knees; fitted a rebuilt engine identical to the one she had, which was seized; had new oak gunnels, cants and other woodwork fitted, and had a new set of planks and cloths made, and had the boat painted and signwritten.

Chertsey's engine is an air cooled Petter PD2 as fitted by British Waterways in 1960 to replace the original raw water cooled National DM2. Chertsey's unusual livery represents the brief transitional period between British Waterways taking ownership of the Grand Union fleet, and the development of their own distinctive yellow and blue colour scheme a year or so later.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Well well well

Yesterday Jim started ripping out some of the woodwork and decking in Bakewell's front well deck so that we could see what lurks beneath. This was prompted by the fact that when we fill the water tank, if we're not careful, we get water overflowing into this space and emerging mysteriously from behind the boards. Hence the floors had already been taken up in the small remaining area that can truly be described as a well deck, revealing a rather rusty but sound baseplate and knees.

We could see that there was a newish stainless cylindrical tank towards the front of the boarded area, but didn't know what was behind it - the answer, two older water tanks, rectangular with removable lids - maybe 50 gallons apiece. We stuck the hose in the filler and and after a long while (it will only fill very slowly) our patience was rewarded by the sight of water overflowing one of these tanks, seeping out under the lid.

These are the original tanks, and the stainless one was presumably added later to increase capacity. The pipework had us very confused for a while but it seems that they all fill from the bottom, via the same pipe that runs to the water pump, making it interesting if you turn the tap on while it's filling (don't ask me to explain, but if you do, it behaves as if it's empty and just keeps running, making all sorts of air-type spurtling noises). All the uninsulated pipework is a complex network of breathers.

I am loath to take the tops off the old tanks, as they will no doubt be crying out for cleaning, blacking and whatever other unpleasant tasks can only be done by small people. Nonetheless, it will have to be done, if only to seal it properly.

Then we have to clean out underneath as best we can, and get some Vactan or Fertan down (I've never used that sort of thing before but I know people speak very highly of it, and given the nature of the space there's not a lot else we can do. Then the well bit at least will be blacked, as this is where any rainwater collects, and some smart new floors made, using the wood be bought to make temporary planks for Chertsey.

Monday 23 April 2012

Water to-do!

I may be exceptionally innocent, but while browsing a few blogs that I rarely read the other day, I came across something which genuinely surprised me. It seems, that while most of us have been worrying about how the winter drought and subsequent water shortages will affect our ability to go boating, there are some people out there whose primary concern is whether they will be able to continue using a hosepipe to wash their boat.

Now, as I say, I may have led a sheltered life, but in all the years I have owned a boat, sitting in a canal full of water, it has never occurred to me that I would need to used expensively processed drinking water to wash it with. Maybe, just maybe, for a final rinse of a shiny white little yogurt pot, but for a dirty great steel narrow boat? It beggars belief.

Keeping their boats clean and well presented was of the highest importance to working boatmen and women, but when all your water for drinking and washing had to be collected and stored in one or two two-gallon cans, no way would this be wasted on the boat when there was water in the canal (far more polluted and dirty than today's canals, too, it has to be said). They didn't spend hours or expensive products washing and polishing their pride and joy either - but still, in most cases, kept them immaculate.

Go to any gathering of historic boats and nearly all the boats will be gleaming - but I can almost guarantee you that none of them will have seen a drop of tap water.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Old bag

Some people, it seems, don't share my enthusiasm for one of my Droitwich tat auction treasures. I have shown it proudly to people (you know who you are) and been met with frank bafflement. But I am not deterred. It might look at first glance like a standard plastic holdall from the seventies/early eighties, in a particularly virulent shade of algae-green; spacious, hardly used and in good condition, but not something to get terribly excited about... But closer examination reveals it to be, in fact, a rare historical artefact; a PVC time capsule (and not only because it came complete with a pair of slightly worn but newly washed woollen socks).

It is not just any old 1980s algae-green plastic holdall; it is a British Waterways 1980s algae-green plastic holdall, and I for one shall carry it with immense pride and affection, feeling the hand of history upon my shoulder (or perhaps the bag of history in my hand, which doesn't have quite the same ring to it). O, you sneering cynics, how you will yearn, in the bleak years to come, for an outdated, unfashionable, inefficient but solid and reliable, 20th century artefact to carry your boating hopes and dreams. We shall not see its like again.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Bongle bongle

I think it is fairly widely known that I hold the view that side fenders are, to put it mildly, much misused and greatly over-used (and I will not put it any less mildly in case you, dear reader, are a fan of them. See how diplomatic I'm getting?).

However, there is one situation in which the deployment of a bongler* can bring some benefit - when you are tying up for more than a few hours against another boat or a piled bank. This has nothing to do with protecting your blacking, let alone your paintwork, and everything to do with reducing irritating banging and grinding noises, especially when it's windy and you're trying to sleep.

So today I have finally got around to fixing up a couple of bonglers to go between Chertsey and Bakewell; go-cart tyres salvaged by Jim, to which I have spliced (yes, spliced. No untidy knots for us!) some bits of string, and Jim is tying them onto Bakewell's handrails as I write.

One of these tyres was very useful at Droitwich for hanging over a bolt protruding from the piling, where a wooden strake had rotted and fallen off; further along, where there were two more, I banged a couple of pins into the bank and hung a plank from them. A bit of scraping on the hull I don't mind, but I do draw the line at a puncture.

*Thanks to Izzie for that wonderfully descriptive word for them.

Friday 20 April 2012

Another one bites the dust

But at least I got to drown my sorrows in Kelham Island Pale Rider at the Fat Cat, in the excellect company of Adrian and Linda. The steak pie was good too... But they'll still have to keep us in Hendo's for the foreseeable...

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Beer necessities

Having a little trawl around blogs I look at from time to time (displacement activity as I have a presentation to write for another job interview on Friday) I see that Nev on Waterlily has foresworn the demon drink; the Beelzebub beer, in order to feel livelier and healthier. Following my fortnight's drinkathon (albeit a somewhat moderate one) this is a topic of interest to me. Nev has given up completely because, he says, he doesn't 'do' moderation. I, sadly, do little but...

Nonetheless, my reckoning was that if I want to average two beer-free days for each beer-enhanced one (which seems like a sensible and moderate position), then I too must relinquish the nectar of the gods for nigh on a month, which seems a bit extreme to me. It's three days now and counting - when do I start to feel livelier, become more witty etc etc?

I am certainly still recovering from the holiday; not only the beer (did I mention that my consumption was fairly modest), but the excitement, the fresh air, the diesel fumes, the late nights and early mornings, and the excess of white bread; in short, I am still knackered, and we weren't even boating hard. I have even taking to drinking coffee in the hope that it will make me alert, witty etc, but it is filthy stuff and so far has only made me feel slightly queasy.

The fact that in the course of the fortnight I spent about six months beer allowance can only aid my new found abstemiousness, of course. Unlike some people, I am very loath to go into a pub and not drink. I will not pay the inflated prices they charge for soft drinks that don't last five minutes (and contain so much sugar that they are almost certainly more unhealthy than beer). Also I would end up having to drive everybody home and I would get lost. But I think there is a way through this. I can simply add two more days to the remainder of that twenty eight each time I do nourish myself with the fermented grain, until eventually I will be back in credit; hopefully in time for Braunston.

Sunday 15 April 2012

My lost fortnight

Every day of the past fortnight, I have spent the evening on licenced premises, drinking beer. And some lunchtimes too, as well as the odd afternoon. This fourteen-days-in-a-row pub crawl is a feat I suspect I am unlikely ever to equal, let alone surpass (but we shall see).

So, as best as I can remember, here are the details of the pubs we visited between Stretton and Droitwich.

Day 1
The Mermaid, Wightwick
A Vintage Inns chain pub, with artfully distressed beams and mismatched furniture which matches the mismatched furniture in all their other pubs. I don't recall what the beer was, but odds-on it was Marstons. Excellent company though with Clair and Iain on Plover, and John and Sue Yates on Buckden joining us later.

Day 2
The Plough and Harrow, Kinver
Little did I realise at the time, but this was a mythical beast, a Bathams pub (coincidentally, Pete Brown blogged about Bathams just after our visit). Jim enjoyed the mild but I found the bitter very sweet. Apparently it grows on you. The pub however was very unwelcoming, so after sampling a pint we set off to find some dinner at...

Ye Olde White Harte, Kinver
... Where we had some halfway decent food and some unmemorable beer, but again, the company was all.

Day 3
The Hollybush, Stourport-on-Severn
This was one of the finds of the trip. Owned by the Black Country Ales Brewery (although a free house) and run by a splendid woman called Maggie, the Hollybush has a good range of local beers with descriptions on a chalkboard, knowledgeable and friendly bar staff, and wonderful chips (of which more later) - cheesy chips on this occasion.

Day 4
The Gardeners Arms, Droitwich
Yes, we've arrived at our destination already, and are directed to this pub just off the towpath. The best thing about it was how welcoming the landlord and landlady were, going out of their way to make us comfortable. The food menu was imaginative and well executed (meze on Wednesday), and the beer - Marstons, natch - well kept if unexciting (it's just as well the beer was mostly unexciting, or I would probably have found it hard to be as moderate in my consumption as I was, sticking at two to two and a half pints most nights). A very pleasant pub which was visited on many occasions over the weekend.

Day 5
The Gardeners Arms - Greek menu tonight, but I had a very reasonably priced fishcake.

Day 6
The Hop Pole, Droitwich
An interesting pub, serving Wye Valley beers, and they had the Enville ginger beer on as well, which I was quite partial to. At lunchtimes (12-2) they serve very cheap home cooked food. Not outstanding, but good, and excellent value. We came here for lunch on Friday and thought it very good, but...

Droitwich Working Mens Club
HNBC hired the main hall at the WMC as our base for the weekend, where film shows, auction, quiz etc could all take place, and the club shop was based. Especially given the somewhat changeable weather, this proved to be a very good move. Normally, the WMC doesn't offer real ale, but for us they got in six barrels (we'd only asked for four, but got through over five) from the Wye Valley Brewery - HPA and Butty Bach at £2.50 a pint. Served straight out of the barrel, this was one of the few places (even including the otherwise good ones) where we didn't consistently get short measure. Other than during events, people didn't tend to use the WMC much as the hall was functional rather than cosy, and there were other good pubs nearby - but we still managed to get through most of that beer. Nearly everyone in HNBC seems to be a real ale drinker (not all that surprising really I suppose).

Day 7
The Gardeners Arms
The Hop Pole
The WMC were hosting a disco on the Saturday evening, and the Gardeners Arms had a singer, so after a couple of pints there we reluctantly left as he started belting out hits of the sixties. The Hop Pole went down in my estimation a bit I have to say, with a member of staff being rather sniffy about our having moved the tables, despite this being to accomodate a Club member's wheelchair. The Gardeners, on the other hand, moved the furniture themselves to accomodate us. I boycotted the Hop Pole after this.

Day 8
Sunday was the day of the tat auction, so that was a marathon session - of spinning out a single pint as long as possible, in order to keep a reasonably clear head for the quiz, which was also held at the WMC that evening. By this point I had switched from HPA to Butty Bach, which has a bit more flavour. Nothing really so far to really grab you by the throat though.

Day 9
The Gardeners Arms
Back to the Gardeners Arms for those of us who hadn't yet left Droitwich, where they laid on a buffet for us at cost price or less, to thank us for our custom (and to get us drinking in there one more evening, although I suspect we would have done anyway); they had also got in some different beers for us. The landlord put a slideshow of his photos of the boat gathering on the big TV screen and by the end of the evening, he had paid his sub and joined the club! A real lesson on how to increase custom by making people welcome.

Day 10
The Hollybush, Stourport
Of course we had to go back to the Hollybush. This time we were travelling with Phil and Ros on Warbler and were joined by James on Marquis. We'd been told that Tuesday was the chef's day off so food might not be available. When we asked Maggie, she said that the chef was off, but what did we want. Just some chips, we said. I can do that, she replied, and immediately asked the barman to go and turn the fryer on. Ten minutes later four bowls of crisp golden chips appeared - wonderful. This place probably had the best choice of beers of anywhere we visited, including a 6% 'mild'.

Day 11
The Anchor, Caunsall
On Phil's recommendation we stopped at lunchtime on Wednesday specifically to visit this family owned pub which he remembered from many years ago. It's a little walk from the canal but if you stop by Bridge 24 (which we didn't) there's a footpath that takes you almost to the front door. Once again the beer was unexciting, but the atmosphere was excellent, and this little pub in the middle of nowhere was packed. The reason - cobs. The Anchor doesn't have a fancy menu; it serves fresh white cobs (that's rolls for you southerners) filled with ham, beef, cheese or turkey. They come on a plate with a pile of salad, and there are jars of sauces for you to add as you wish. The beef was over a quarter of an inch thick; the cheese equally chunky, the ham plentiful, and all for £1.50 apiece. I ended up having two and everyone else had three or more. A brilliant example of succeeding by doing one simple thing and doing it well. We thought they only did the cobs at lunchtime, so Ros cooked us a wonderful lentil dhal before we set off again for an evening session in the Anchor - only to see the place still full of people happily stuffing their faces with cobs. Never mind, shouldn't have too mush white bread. Definitely a pub worth seeking out.

Day 12
We stopped in Swindon for apparently famously good fish and chips, which I found a bit disappointing (probably been spoiled by the Newhaven Fish Bar in its heyday, where the fish, fresh off the boats, was, I now realise, outstandingly good).
This was an evening of two dreadful pubs. First we tried...

The Old Bush, Swindon (Staffordshire)
Not very welcoming, although the (1930s roadhouse?) building was quite interesting. This was my first (and I sincerely hope last) opportunity to sample Martson's Me Duck, the most insipid beer I have ever had the misfortune to taste. As Ros said, the Milton-tainted water in their tank had more flavour. So we moved swiftly on to...

The Green Man, Swindon (Staffordshire)
This was marginally better, but it's all very relative. I still felt it had no warmth or atmosphere, and smelt of grubby curtains and stale beer, but no one else had the heart to move on - think we were by this stage all rather more anxious to get to bed. Nominally a Banks's pub, so yet another outpost of the Marstons/Wolverhampton and Dudley empire of blandness. By this point I was drinking cider, and so desperate that I really felt that the Marstons Heritage pub up the road would be an improvement (I don't even really like Hobgoblin, but at least it tastes of something).

Day 13
The Swan Hotel, Brewood
Back home now, and rounding off the holiday with Clair and Iain who have been such wonderful and helpful company throughout. First we tried the Bridge, but were told it would be a long wait for food. We asked how long; the girl disappeared into the kitchen to find out, and didn't emerge, so we left. I have a suspicion that this pub may just have changed hands yet again, but that's only a guess.

The Swan of course is a brilliant pub, but doesn't do food, so after a couple of pints of Directors (a regular feature at the Swan, hooray!) we went to eat at The Mess, the bistro opposite. This was an inspired choice - good food, a real change from your run of the mill pub grub. No beer but decent wine. We splashed out on three courses, and even with a couple of glasses of wine it came out under £20 a head. The service in particular was excellent, a proper old school waitress, efficient and without fuss.

Day 14
The Swan Hotel, Brewood
Iain and Clair had gone home by this point, but Alan and Cath on Sickle had arrived, so I couldn't resist the chance to make it a full fortnight but taking them to the Swan. Once again the Directors was lovely, and another good evening was had in this packed (but mercifully music-free) pub.

So, fourteen days, eleven pubs. Four hits: the Hollybush, the Gardeners, the Anchor and, of course, the Swan. Hon. Mensh. to the WMC for rolling the barrels out for us; a 'could do better' for the Hop Pole, and two serious misses: the Old Bush and the Green Man, with the Plough and Harrow also included in this category unless you're on a Bathams hunt. Favourite of all (discounting the Swan because it's our local) has to be the Hollybush, and the reason for that is the landlady. Nice one Maggie.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Tat teapot treasure

Whilst the organ recital was brilliant, for me, probably the most entertaining part of the weekend was the tat auction. It lasted about five hours, and around a hundred and fifty lots were sold, with much amusement along the way.

Whilst Amy and James went back to Cambridge with a lump of rock they paid fifty pee for the privilege of returning to its natural habitat, I spent £17.50 and came away with four purchases I was very pleased with. There was only one thing I wanted but didn't get, because the bidding went too high, some rugs, which would have been very nice on Bakewell but weren't vital.

This teapot is the perfect one I have been looking for for ages - not too big, and not too small (four mugfuls); aluminium, so it can sit on the stove to keep hot, but with a plastic handle so you don't need a cloth to pick it up, and a perfect period piece. It came with two nice little old aluminium frying pans, and all for fifty pence. Mine was the only bid, actually.

The other three things I will post about as I use them, because they will all get used, but in short they were a length of fat cotton (I'm reasonably sure) line just right for making cross straps, a holdall (but wait til you see it!), and a set of window cloths - at four pounds probably the biggest bargain of all (I say probably because I've not unfolded them yet, but the look pretty sound, if a trifle smelly, and are reputed to be ex-Union Canal Carriers camping boats.

Monday 9 April 2012

The Reasonably Mighty Pipe Organ

I am ashamed to say that, despite years on listening in fascination to 'The Organist Entertains', I had been unaware until this week that one of our number, David Lowe, the owner of Swallow, is a very highly respected organist who has featured on the programme many times.

The world of the cinema organ is one that I find thrillingly incomprehensible, having no musical talent or skill at all, and I am awestruck by the complexity of those behemoths - in the building, restoring and maintaining, as well as the playing, of them. The sound, and the kind of music associated with them, transport you into another world as no other kind of music can - not to the same sort of other world, at any rate. A big part of the pleasure of listening to 'The Organist Entertains' (Tuesdays, Radio 2, 9.30 pm - give it a try) is entering into another world of arcana and expertise with its own language and its own gods... It feels like a glimpse into a hidden world, a bit like that of the canals, a land of mystery known only to the elect, but available to those who are prepared to dedicate themselves to learning its ways.

Anyway, this morning, to round off our weekend's festivities, David gave a recital in Droitwich's St Andrew's Church, on what he referred to as its 'reasonably mighty pipe organ' meaning, presumably, not the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer which I guess qualifies for true mightiness. It was marvellous. I shall get in a right mess if I try to be any more specific, but I did enjoy the opening piece, Paean, by the splendidly named Oliphant Chuckerbutty (I really should have heard of him too shouldn't I), and David, having swapped his overalls for blazer and flannels, fitted the image of the entertaining organist perfectly.

I took the opportunity the other day to consult David about the apocryphal organ that apparently lived, and was played, in Chertsey's hold in the 1960s. I have now heard this from two independent sources, so I asked David whether it was really possible. He thought that it could well have been a harmonium, a small (well, domestic scale) reed organ with foot operated bellows, which would not have required an electrical supply. A quick bit of Wikipedia research suggests that these came in varying degrees of size and complexity, and we being built for the British market into the fifties, when they were supplanted by the Hammond organ and other electrical instruments. They continue to be made for a large Indian market, but have eveloved to reflect the different style of music and are now quite different from what Chertsey may once have had. That's a shame, as it seems also that they are very difficult to maintain and restore, so the chances of replacing Chertsey's are pretty slim. I shall continue to look into this fascinating aspect of the boat's history nonetheless.

Friday 6 April 2012

Cat up tree; woman in cut

Well, if it hasn't got half way round the world already you can read it here first - yesterday I fell in for the first time. Quite neatly and inexplicably, having been on and off the boat dozens of times, there was one time I went to get on and it wasn't quite where I'd thought it was. As we had just dragged the boat back to take advantage of some deeper water, I got a proper dunking, although it wasn't too deep to stand up, about chest height, once I found my feet. I was very pleased that I hadn't had my phone in my pocket or been carrying anything fragile (although I note that I did keep hold of the Brasso rag I'd gone back for). Luckily it wasn't even too cold, and I retired to the back cabin from whence I amusingly threw a succession of sodden garments before having a good wash and digging out my spare boots, followed by a large prophylactic dose of coca cola. Let's hope I can get through another ten years' boating before doing it again.

Willow has taken very well indeed to being a boat cat; we couldn't really have hoped for it to go any better. He complains at being shut in, but when we let him out he wanders round, inspects his new domain, pays his visits to other boats, and - so far at least - always comes back. I shut him in when we go out and also at night, for our peace of mind largely. Right now he is curled up on his cushion next to me in the back cabin, having just provided today's amusement (I was yesterday's), by pretending to be stuck up a tree until someone went and fetched a ladder, and then leaping down effortlessly, from a height of at least fifteen feet.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Droitwich is SO bracing!

Day 4 - Stourport-on-Severn to Droitwich

Having had a great evening in the splendid Hollybush, we were up bright and early to set off onto the river. The weather was freezing, blowing a gale, with sleet and the occasional flurry of snow for good measure. So we all got soaked and frozen in the course of the journey, but nothing actually went wrong. The river was well behaved and scenically rather dull, but then we only saw a small stretch of it. The Droitwich Barge Canal is of course a miracle of restoration and one mustn't be churlish, but I really do wish they hadn't seen fit to surface the towpath with coarse, sharp grit, that gets walked all over the boat and worst of all gets into the ropes making them horrible to handle.

First impressions of Droitwich... Well it probably isn't fair, but here goes anyway. We are currently on the (gritty) towpath outside the basin, four feet out from the bank, awaiting Harbourmasterly organisation. The town centre is theoretically not far away, but it looks it. It is, on first viewing, all a bit bleak. The weather is not going to help as it is forecast to be dull, windy and bloody cold up to and through the weekend. The rain might stop though, so maybe that will feel better.

We do actually have quite a busy programme of events to amuse us, once the weekend starts, and access to the Working Men's Club which is standing in for a beer tent (just as well as it might be a bit warmer). On Friday we have a talk about the restoration of the Droitwich canals, with two different guided walks on Saturday (neither of which I have signed up for); film shows, 'tat' auction, quiz, and an organ recital at a local church. I shall probably go to all of them except the walk.

Right now though, I think I had better clean up some grit.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

A good pub at last

Day 3 - Kinver to Stourport-on-Severn

The last couple of nights have seen us find a couple of disappointing pubs, but we have hit the jackpot tonight - the Hollybush in Stourport. Only just in the Good Beer Guide, but one of those places you can tell is right as soon as you walk in the door. As that is where I am sitting now, this will be brief, as I need to get back to my beer - very local, from Bromsgrove.

Disaster level reduced

Day 2 - Wightwick to Kinver

I think we're doing quite well. Both the number and severity of disasters seems (touch wood) to be decreasing, whilst our ability to cope with them grows. Famous last words of course.

Yesterday started with us getting very slightly stuck on the bottom shortly after leaving Wightwick - by the first lock I think. Jim got off to try and push from the bank with the long shaft, but just him getting off the back of the boat was enough to enable me to reverse off and the shaft wasn't needed. Which was a shame in a way, because in the excitement, we managed to leave the shaft on the bank after going through the lock. It was only later in the afternoon, when we got properly stuck, by bridge 36 and on the outside of two moored boats on the offside, that we realised. Later at Stewponey we met the BW mpan who had picked it up. He now reaslised it was ours but at the time he had, for some reason I wasn't quite able to follow, decided to give it to a group of hire boaters who were following behind us. So, if you are a Morris dancer travelling in a group of three Black Prince boats, I would really like to hear from you. Or indeed if you're not, but think you may have Chertsey's shaft (it's 14' long, made of ash, and has 'Chertsey' written on it in marker pen).

Willow is so far behaving very well. He complains very loudly at being shut in while we travel but I think it would be far too stressful than if he weren't. I tell him it's no worse than being in a cattery. When we stop and let him out, he sniffs the air, strolls up and down, catches a mouse... and, so far, comes back to the boat. This morning he has been out since quarter past six and hasn't strayed far - perhaps because he hasn't had breakfast yet!

Iain and Clair on Plover are being very kind and helpful to us, last night starting to move boats to organise us a mooring space before we arrived at Kinver. I am coming to agree with Jim that Chertsey is a slow boat, notwithstanding the skill or otherwise of the crew. There are times now when I can tell wesimply can't go any faster because of the depth of the water, whilst other deep drafted boats race ahead, and I wonder whether reducing or moving the ballast might be the next thing to try.

Better have breakfast now, got the brass to do and the anchor to fix before we set off today.

Monday 2 April 2012

Travels with my cat

Day 1: Stretton to Wightwick

So far, so good. Left Stretton with Plover at lunchtime and put in a short afternoon to arrive in Wightwick at about quarter to six. Willow was shut up safely in the cat containment facility he wasn't distressed or worried, but he made his feelings plain. When we stopped, we let him out and he wandered about, hissing at dogs and ingratiating himself with people, but on the whole behaved very well. Buckden came along in the opposite direction, en route to Ellesmere Port and tied up with us, and after eating (our dinner included the baked potato that wasn't quite done at lunchtime, plus some splendid purple sprouting broccoli from Iain and Clair's garden) we popped Willow back in the back cabin and went off to the Mermaid (a pub very much in the same vein as the Swan and Bottle at Uxbridge and numerous others, with matching olde beams and chamingly mismatched furniture, but there was nothing wrong with the Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted and we had a nice evening. I am now writing this on the table flap whilst Willow, having finished his supper, sits on his special cushion and has a wash, but I shan't be able to post it until I can open the hatches in the morning and get a signal.