Off again

We’re off boating again Brum-wards at the weekend. Good planning or bad planning to be back to it so soon after our Easter outing? Well I’m in the ‘good’ corner, Andy is chuntering in the ‘bad’, but it’s actually neither, more down to necessity. This is a change boat week, the mission to relocate Henry from Cheshire to the South West in the only window available, and to be strictly accurate we’ll be swerving Brum, hanging a right at Autherley and hey ho for Stourport and the Severn. It’s an easy trip in the timeframe even given my need to weave in work, and Henry has the distinct advantage over Enceladus of allowing one to have a phone conversation while you’re ambling along and having a better than evens chance of hearing what the other person is saying.

If we could only bottle moments like this

The road is also familiar to us, with both the Shroppie and Staffs and Worcester travelled in the last 18 months so we know where we fit and where we don’t, which should spare us the ‘mooring up maritals’ that seem to afflict us on occasion. We’re heading back to the region for the summer and maybe beyond because, quite frankly, it’s fab with a capital, Thunderbirds-esque FAB. I had been on the Worcester & Birmingham with dad many years before, one of those sunny, dreamy afternoon descents of Tardebigge that gets etched into your soul – I was lucky to see it at all to be honest as I’d lost my left contact lens the day before and by magic found it on the back deck glinting in the sun 24 hours later. A couple of hours’ rehydration and I was squinting happily across field and orchard…

Doric, not Ionic, in Gloucester

Strange that as of 2014 I had not yet returned, given my happy recollections and given that there was new ground to be broken too, always an extra incentive for us. So come July that year we finally pointed our bows westwards and enjoyed an excellent time on the Gloucester & Sharpness, W&B, Severn, Avon and southern Stratford. It didn’t disappoint, not a jot of it. Indeed it pleased and delighted at that very visceral level, where it just feels ‘right’ and you form that comfortable connection, inexplicable as it is, that just pings you back like an umbilical chord.

We enjoyed a veritable cornucopia of highlights and it would be invidious to pick out one, although Andy’s serendipitous finding of the Handmade Scotch Egg shop (Egg’cetera) in Worcester and our so-beautiful-it-hurts mooring at Splat would certainly make it onto a shortlist (never underestimate the importance of a good Scotch egg to a man “who hath an excellent stomach” – thanks Will S). It was also the location for another corker of a domestic, and let’s face it, no trip is complete without a good old-fashioned ruck and petulant after-sulk. We can’t be the only couple who remember a certain lock or VM by the MOAB-style domestic that ensues? We are? Oh…

Splatt Bridge…I coveted that fat boat for a bit

It was all Wyre Lock’s fault, that and it’s daft diamond shape. Even if we had been minded to tie up (and yes, I know it’s an ANT diktat to tie off fore and aft but we rarely deploy ropes in locks and it hadn’t caused an issue up to now) it wasn’t exactly clear how best to do so, so I just sat in the middle and waited for Andy to raise the paddles. It’s only got a 3 ½ foot rise so I wasn’t expecting any issues at all…except that the pesky flows and eddies of the filling lock took the bow of my short boat and span it all the way until I was broadside in the chamber, wedged firmly by rear and front fenders. Andy thought I was a total div for losing control, I returned the compliment by denigrating his paddle raising technique. It was all low level taunts, with a bit of sweary abuse for colour and texture, but it hadn’t gone nuclear. Then I realised that wedged actually meant stuck and the water level was still rising. Now in the moment – given that I am permanently on the edge of neurosis and disaster is always just seconds away from paying us a social call – I declared DefCon 1. We would be engulfed by a rising tide, not, as most likely would happen and most sane, normal people would realise, just eventually bob up and come free – but where’s the drama in that? Now, reader, I would so like, in developing situations like these, to adopt the calm assurance and measured tones of the commercial airline pilot, but truth is, I turn into a panicky, screaming harpie of a fishwife. What can I say?

My angry bellowed shout to Andy, whose insouciance and ignorance of the impending calamity only dialed up the gob factor, to drop the ‘beep’ ‘beep’ ‘beepity beep’ paddles was met with a stare and a truculent slowness to react. I explained the scenario, relying on simple four-letter words for clarity. Agonisingly he finally wound them down, his body language signifying that he thought that I could just sod off, which I would have done if I’d not still been inconveniently wedged across the lock. Take the rope, I shouted, thinking that he could pull me free and have me facing more or less straight before finding somewhere to tie off to. So he takes the rope and then proceeds to pull me round – the other way, so I’m about to face the way that we’ve just come! Well, you can imagine the polite discourse that followed what I deemed to be an act of either wilful disobedience or crass idiocy…merchant bankers came into it somewhere, I forget where, possibly the same place where the sun doesn’t shine. Eventually, after much huffing and puffing and questioning of parentage we were facing forward, tied off and going up. Gates opened, first mate hopped on and then we had about two hours of concentrated, venomous silence that was only broken by me, in the spirit of penitence and because I was bloody hungry, offering him a conciliatory Scotch egg to share. After twenty years, I know all his weak spots…

 

 

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There’s more

Oooh funny how the memory works. I think I must have buried this deep on account of the trauma but all this toilet talk has brought it..er..floating to the surface. You’ll recall how last time I related the tale of the Old Faithful poo geyser, and the fact that I ran for my life, being just a poor, defenceless child? Well, I’ve just remembered another incident, an adulthood one this, but seemingly submerged for nigh on twenty years. The thing about Old Faithful was that, horrific an explosion as it was, I think deep down I always knew we could get some startling show of jetting feculence because, well, it looked me in the eye most mornings. It was just that the final excreta eruption was so Krakatoan in its intensity as to leave one in no doubt as to the importance of putting a good distance between you and the liquid clagma

The calm before the storm

So fast forward to the year 2000-ish…and the first two-week holiday trip with Andy ergo the first time we’d need to organise a pump out. Correction, that I’d need to organise a pump out. Now I’m my father’s daughter in many respects but not when it comes to playing fast and loose with fuel reserves or cack tank capacity…Unsurprisingly I was hyper-aware of the dump through’s status, and mindful too of the first mate’s ever generous contributions. But despite my assiduity I’m afraid we were verging on ‘high tide’ by the time we hoved to at the Water Travel base at Autherley. Thankfully, the pump out machine was working – I always imagine the worst – and a nice chap set his poo pipe gurgling away. Twenty minutes later, we were in that happy boaters’ place – full of water and diesel, empty of domestic and black waste. Off we toddled towards Great Haywood, and a couple of hours later I left Andy at the helm to pay a visit.

A visit to a hire boat loo, mounted as they always were on a pedestal block atop the tank, was never a pleasant experience, legs all a dangle and cheeks compressed – a far cry from today’s reading room environment. So I was very focused on just getting in and out, thinking how relieved I was that our pump out mission had been successful..and I was relaxed, off-guard, thinking about doing the cliched spin on Tixall Wide, wondering if Andy would like a Spam sandwich for lunch, no lavatorial black dog on my shoulder. I pressed the foot pedal and oh my god, oh my good god, a poo mouse!! No, not a crap-covered rodent (now that would have been something!) but a poop of micro mammalian proportions: shaped and sized like a mouse, nosing, nay, bobbing through the flap, shrilling ‘hallooo, it’s me, I’m still here, I didn’t get vacuumed up, none of us did, your tank is jammed full of us, what are you going to do now’?

To say it caught me unawares is an understatement. I fell back in horror, prompting a fight with the shower curtain which was damp and clingy in a way that only boat shower curtains can be. But still the perky plop loomed upwards, taunting me…well half of it did as the flap had pinged back severing its tail. I didn’t wait for it to call up reinforcements though and with heart rate returning to normal I went to consult with the first mate. Andy, being a paragon of fairness and justice, immediately branded the yard useless shysters who had sucked air and suckered us out of 15 quid; I, on the other hand, always wanting to see good in people, was ready to attribute it to mechanical failure.But regardless of blame, we were still in the shit as the tank was overtopping and we were a way away from assistance. Thinking back now, I have a vague memory that we finally got emptied by Anglo Welsh at Great Haywood. But that’s quite a way to keep your legs crossed and your buttocks clenched so I may be wrong…

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Do not read while eating

Boaters will be familiar with the wisdom that holds that they are never able to congregate and converse without the subject matter of toilets coming up in the first five minutes. But why, when there is so much humour to be had in said subject, do the resultant confabs merely content themselves with an earnest dissection of the merits/demerits of the cassette over the pump out and vice versa, with occasional but-ins from the arriviste composting loo? A missed opportunity for laughs surely, but one which I am about to seize.

The wash-while-you-sleep feature was not appreciated

Let me take you way back, the very early 80s if I recall. An Easter time hire holiday, mum, dad, me, my brother John and his friend Milford (Incidentally, I have never before or since heard of or met another boy called Milford. Anyone?) We hired from Ian Goode Narrowboats which, possibly because one of the Old Union tunnels was on an extended stoppage, had relocated for the season to Weltonfield Narrowboats just up from Norton Junction. From memory, the boat was called Sandpiper and was white, orange and blue, which makes me think it was either an English County Cruisers hand-me-down or a loaner, as that livery and the bird naming convention usually adorned ECC boats. It was pretty hard-core, quite a far cry from the luxury we all enjoy today. To give you a flavour, I woke up the first morning (I’d been outrageously discriminated against, on account of my age, and ordered into the top bunk and to quit my wailing) and I kid you not, on my senses awakening and feeling the wet all over my body, I thought we had either sunk or someone had peeled the roof off. Apparently, this was just a bit of condensation! A bit? I was awash with the stuff, my sleeping bag felt like it had been slooshed through a bath. I doubt I’d last the fortnight, I’d be carried off with pneumonia or pleurisy or some other hard to spell bronchial ailment..

Besides, I was already carrying a heavy burden upon my young shoulders for I knew my beloved father far too well. And what I knew about him I also knew to be incompatible with the smooth running of a hire boat with five people aboard. You see, dad had a terribly low boredom threshold, the sort of LBT that would see him drive wilfully past a petrol station when the orange warning light was on his dashboard just to see if he could get to the next one before he ran out. It was childish really but bloody hell it was annoying…who wants to run out of gas in Hartlepool and have a mild seizure as you roll down the hill wondering if you’ll make the petrol station at the bottom?(We did because dad was also a lucky bugger).

Now, with reference to this hiring lark, sadly he had the same LBT-inspired devilry about him when it came to the poo tank on board the boat. I know and he knew that we would need to get a pump out about half way through the holiday. But he kept passing suitable places despite my pecking at his head, and despite every lavatorial visitation revealing the sordid truth…I mean, he must have seen the incontrovertible evidence just staring him in the face. And for those of you familiar with the old hire boat dump through you know I speak truth – the level just came up and up and up and, approaching a code red scenario, was always clearly visible when you popped the little flap open. Dad simply couldn’t deny we were now in extremis – especially as we were a day or so out from a marina and a rescue pump out. But he absolutely reassured me that all would be fine, there was still room, I was fussing about nothing, he was my dad and would he lie to me? I wanted to believe him, I really did, never more so than when he and mum popped off to the shops leaving les enfants on board and I found myself needing to pay an urgent visit. Are you familiar with Caesar’s refrain veni, vidi, vici? Well, despite being a Classicist I don’t actually know the Latin for I came, I saw, I had a fit of the screaming abdabs and ran for my life…But that’s what happened on pressing the pedal and popping back the bowl flap because I, a small, innocent, defenceless child, experienced the most heinous dump through blowback, a veritable Old Faithful eruption of stewed doings. Looking back, I wonder why I was quite so traumatised at the time, screaming poo murder and feeling the need to put at least 100 metres between me and the offending area. But then, as a long-term multiple dog owner and probably the picker-upper of somewhere in the region of 50,000 pooch poops over the past 15 years, I have since become totally insensate and can look all faecal adversity in the face with nary a twitch of the nose.

I could smile about it later…about four years later

Actually, the desensitising process that I guess started back then by sheer accident has proved very useful as my toilet hijinks didn’t stop with the hire boats. Obviously there was no question when we had our boat built of what toilet type we would go for – I wanted minimal interaction so we specified a macerator/pump out. Slight concern that we might have called that wrong when it went kaput on the second morning of our shakedown cruise – something obviously hadn’t shaken down far enough! To his credit the builder did send someone the following morning to sort everything out, just not early enough to spare me a very embarrassing episode at the nearby Little Chef that had been eyed up as the emergency morning lavvie. You can picture the scene, furious hammering on the door, not quite opening time, clenched everything and staff that just sauntered over to open up a little too casually. They were crushed in the stampede.

But this was a mere amouse bouche of an incident compared to the splat du jour that followed the next day. We’d just pulled onto the lock mooring below Little Haywood and Andy was paying a swift visit before heading off to work me through. I was holding the centre line, adjacent to the bathroom, minding my own business, when a spurt of evil looking liquid shot out from the side of the boat over my trainers. Cue a few seconds of St Vitus dancing, trying to flick off the offending material but unbelievably not yet twigging the horrible truth. In fact, it wasn’t until I got onto the phone to the builder again – god, I must have come across as such a newb – that the truth dawned, unbelievable as it was. How on earth had our holding tank filled up so quickly? And how come I happened to be standing in exactly the wrong spot when it ejected its excess effluvium out of the breather pipe? With the benefit of hindsight I reckon that we just had too much water going through with the flush but even so, it transpired that we had the tiniest cack tank ever and one totally at odds with the needs of the crew, and the particularly productive first mate. So we changed the loo down the line, and went for a vacuum flush – this opened up a whole new chapter of, pardon the pun, inconveniences.

Nope, no idea either why I would want to snap my loo…

But it also gave me my finest marital ‘Aha’ moment, that moment when your accusation, so hotly denied by your husband, is proven with a damning exhibit A. So this little episode went something along the lines of ‘the toilet isn’t working, darling, are you sure you didn’t put that cleaning wipe down the loo instead of in the bin?’ ‘Oh no, I wouldn’t do a thing like that, don’t worry, I’ll look at it……right, it’s a bit banjaxed, we need to get a service kit…it’ll be here in three days’. Thankfully, this all took place while we were moored adjacent to Sainsbury’s in Huddersfield so we became practiced at the sprint from the VMs to the customer loos…I’d slashed about 20 seconds off my personal best by the afternoon of the third day. Now the Sainsbury’s security guards were just about to arrest me for suspicious behaviour (nine visits, alternating bandanas – pathetic disguise attempt – no purchases, except possibly guilt milk) when thankfully the service kit turned up. ‘Okay darling, I’ll have this fixed in a jiffy’ promises the first mate….fiddle, fiddle, spanner, spanner, swear, swear, ooh important mechanical bits finally apart and then me looking over his shoulder, seeing, realising the sordid truth…’What’s that, dearest hubby, wrapped around the pipe and bunging up the works…it looks suspiciously like a cleaning wipe….AHA!’ I knew it would be there as Andy is possibly the world’s worst fibber, and even though he got us all up and running again, I did make him suffer a bit – got my pound of flush you might say!

 

 

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Keeping it real

I was reading a Times leader article today questioning the necessity or merits of pursuing a life of busyness – Filling every second of the day is neither necessary or wise, opined the subhead. It was prompted by news of an app that wants to help people capitalise on micro-moments (like waiting for a lift or wifi signal to connect) by using the time to expand their foreign language vocab. Rather than expand their waistline by eating buns, which is a far better micro occupation in my opinion.

Big shout out for the super-talented Kev Maslin – no buns in shot sadly

One line stuck out for me, not for its originality (hardly) but because of my own extra sensitivity to its essential truth in the afterglow of the HNBC Easter gathering at Brownhills. “It may come as a surprise… but people are often more rewarding than screens”. Oh yes. A lot of my work sees me interact with a screen, and my days segue into evenings where I multi-task watching the latest box set while checking what’s happening online. Sad. Real-world exchanges tend to be limited to ‘Can you bring me the Ben and Jerrys?’, ‘Which dog has done THAT?’ and ‘Time for bed’. So how nice was it for the few days at Brownhills to abandon the virtual and the fictional and go into the real world and prosper? To meet strangers and leave with new friends? Chat animatedly with passers-by – so what if they thought I was a mad old dog lady? Live up to being a mad old dog lady by letting Rosie and Buzz cosy up to all and sundry and seeing them all fall prey to Rosie’s silky fur and yearning lean-ins for love? (Gets them every time!)Banter with boats going off for a wander this way and that? Share woes and swap war stories? Listen to learned talks from the likes of the legend that is Malcolm Braine? Watch arcane waterways films including the marvellous Play for Today ‘Atlantis’ (on screen, yes, but in sympatico company which made it a very different experience)? Get a touch of bidder’s fever and end up with more items than I could safely carry back to the boat after the tat auction? Participate in a testing, teasing quiz with aforementioned new friends and have a good old laugh, choke on a peanut and while I’m at it, volunteer to help with the cross-country carrying of some old boat top cloths to their new owner? Carry on riding the wave of feeling once home with mad cruising plans hatched with the new friends who happily didn’t excommunicate you after the quiz?

Another fantastic memory for me courtesy of Kev Maslin

Without spouting too much new age bollocks about it, it felt deep and real and exciting and joyful and meaningful..it gave me a buzz. And yet at the end of the day it was just people hanging out and having fun, something we’ve been doing successfully for centuries…I shouldn’t really be surprised should I? But the fact that I drank it in so readily suggests that there’s been a bit too much screen time lately, too much iPad-diction, too much valuable life being lost in flat 2D when there is this most amazing, vibrant, precious 3D – Brasso fingers and all – to throw oneself into, suck up and savour. Not forgetting to eat more buns.

EDITED TO ADD: I feel exactly the same way when executing my piratical forays onto boats domestic and foreign (despite iPads sometimes appearing at the breakfast table) They’re such great happenings – brilliant, lively, fun-filled socials – that I just want to do more – so, targets, you have been warned.

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The Valiant Years – Part 2

In my blog post The Valiant Years I shared my delight at having been contacted by Tony Shearwood, whose mum and dad owned Enceladus in Valiant guise throughout the 70s and into the 80s. Tony took the time and trouble to go back through the collective Shearwood memory rolodex and he shared some cracking stories, which I in turn will share with you.

Take it away, Tony.

BWB’s Water Valiant soon to become the Shearwoods’ Valiant

“Once we sold the old girl, we had no contact with the new owners or any knowledge of what had become of her. My next ‘contact’ with her was when watching the Narrow Boat TV show on one of the less well known TV channels and there she was in the background shots, sadly looking very tired and in need of some desperate work. To be honest it was too sad to see, my Dad had spent thousands of hours keeping her shipshape, and to see her looking so desperately in need of love was heart breaking.

Anyway, that’s all changed now.

Sad to see…but happy days ahead

From memory, it was a Lister LR2, which had a huge flywheel and a manual starting crank-handle. This was great if the main batteries were flat, all you needed was to release the 2 decompression leavers, give it a good cranking over to get the flywheel spinning (being careful not to get your thumbs in the wrong position) and then close the decompression levers, and away it went.

Mum and Dad are coming over next weekend, so I’ll try and get as much history as I can and perhaps some pictures.

I think we were the second owners after she was decommissioned by British Waterways, by then she’d lost the Water part of her name and was just Valiant. I basically grew-up around Valiant, most weekends and holidays between the ages of around 7 through to my late teens were spent around her. My uncle also owned a hire boat company in Northwich, so I also spent a good few of my weekends in my teens, moving boats around during ‘change-over’ weekends. As a 13~14 year old showing grown-ups the ropes (sometimes literally) it was quite a thrill! It certainly helped develop my self confidence.

Once I’ve had more of a chat with Mum & Dad, I’ll drop you a line.”

———-

“Mum and Dad were here yesterday and although I had my reservations, I showed them the images of the old girl, with her new stern and superstructure.

To put it mildly they were delighted she was back in the water and looking so great. They said that they always wanted to correct the stern and replace the whole superstructure, but sadly they just could not take-on such a huge task at that stage of their lives.

Dad said the engine was a Lister HA2, not as I had suggested.

We talked for quite a few hours about our lovely old boat, and to see Mum and Dad so enthusiastic was lovely. Mum’s 79 and Dad’s 77. They’re both very active and are now heavily into old Austin cars, they have a pre-war Austin 7 and a pre-war Austin 10 that they take all over the UK and over to Europe. But hearing Dad’s boating stories brought-back so many ‘locked-away’ memories. They also said they understood your enthusiasm as they would love to know more of the personal stories of their cars.

He couldn’t remember which side of the hull had a really big dent; he thought it was the starboard side. He recalled trying to bash it out with a lump hammer. From the inside of the hull, taking a big swing of the lump-hammer, the lump-hammer just bounced-off, throwing him across the whole width of the hull. After that, he just put up with the dent.

This could be the dent…but she has so many

He also reminded me of the time we took the locks down from the Bridgewater canal onto the River Irwell in Central Manchester. As the Irwell was in fast-flow, the decision was made to lash 4 narrowboats together, side by side and to use the combined power of the engines to push against the river’s flow. It worked really well with all 4 boats being steered in unison. They even managed to turn all 4 boats by adjusting each boat’s engine, some increasing the power, and one of the outer boats being put into reverse. Teamwork was the winner that day. As you can appreciate, it drew quite a crowd as it was not a sight often seen in central Manchester.

There is also a lovely little bit of history about her. When Mum and Dad bought the boat, Dad wasn’t able to bring her back to Lymm in Cheshire as he was working, so Charlie Atkins brought her back for us. Charlie Atkins is more widely remembered as ‘Chocolate’ Charlie. I knew that Dad always stopped and chatted with Charlie whenever we went through the Preston Brook Tunnel, I just didn’t know how far back they went.”

——–

“When BW converted her, they cut rectangular ventilator holes in the side of her hull, this was to allow the engine to cool, as at the time she had a large steel rear deck above the engine. Our moorings were on a very straight and wide stretch of The Bridgewater Canal and on a windy day, with the wind in the right direction, it could whip-up some waves. After a particularly windy spell we got the phone call that everyone dreads, Valiant had sunk. The waves had slowly over-topped the air vents and flooded her. Being in the middle of the Cheshire countryside, there was no access for a crane to lift her, so my Dad went to the local Fire Station and spoke with the station commander. As a training exercise, they agreed to get a portable pump down to her. This alone was an ordeal, as the fireman had to hand transport this huge pump many hundreds of yards. Once all the open underwater orifices were sealed, the pump went to work. Lots of water was shifted from her, but she didn’t start to rise. As you know, her bottom was very flat, and she had settled into the mud, creating a sort of suction. It was only when a large amount of buoyancy was achieved that this suction was defeated. As my Dad said, she rose nose first, majestically, like a breaching whale.

The fire service would not take any payment as they treated it as a training exercise, but of course a donation was made to the Firemen’s Benevolence Fund. Dad said he drained and replaced the oil and diesel from the engine, then hand-cranked it, and it started straight away, of course the batteries were ruined.

Obviously, once the deck had been cut-out and the engine room was built, the side vents were no longer needed and were sealed.”

—-

I’m hoping that Tony’s mum might be able to dig out some photos of Valiant at play but I’m already hugely indebted to them all for making such a valuable, colourful and joyful contribution to the Enceladus story. Thank you, Shearwood family! If we get to the Lymm Historic Transport Festival one year, I hope you’ll come to see us in your cars!

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It’s au revoir, not adieu

Well the party is over…but what a party! That was our first HNBC boat gathering but it certainly won’t be the last, especially as there are rumblings afoot that next year we might make an assault on the mighty Rochdale and muster at Hebden Bridge (being short, I may just sneak round the back the long way round, as our up and over Pennine trip on Henry is still a way too lurid memory).

Hebden Bridge 2018 anyone?

Now I’m not a particularly ‘clubby’ person but I didn’t hesitate to join the Historic Narrow Boat Club because what’s the point of having a historic boat if you’re not going to throw yourself into it with a passion, supporting and participating, chatting with fellow boaters, learning about their boats and their stories, or just general bantering with nice people who have a common interest. And what the HNBC does really, really well – apart from phenomenal organising of events – is make you feel welcome, really genuinely a part of things, however much of a historic neophyte you are. Although I’ve been boating for a long time, Andy and I have owned Enceladus for less than two years; some people have owned their piece of history for longer than I’ve been alive but it doesn’t matter, once you’re in, you’re in and made to feel very much at home.

And the Brownhills weekend has afforded the perfect relaxed occasion to put names to faces, faces to boats, boats to names, and to strike up new friendships and empty my wallet at Sunday’s tat auction. No-one warned me I’d succumb to auction fever! I struggled back to the boat with my eclectic haul, including a Norman Mitchell-donated horn with working ‘parp’ bulb (I gave Norman a personal rendition as I left this morning). Tat, eclectic or otherwise, wasn’t the word that Andy used when he saw it…although, in his defence, he did think the horn a very fine thing and parped it a few times for good measure. I just had time for some polishing of my (now rebranded) curated treasures before joining Chertsey Sarah and her fellow team mates for the big quiz, the fiendish finale to our time at Brownhills. This involved dropping Andy and Rosie and Buzz off with Jim and Ricky dog on Chertsey, where the blokes could indulge their hermitic tendencies – and their dipsomaniac ones too, judging by the state of Andy when we returned several hours later. I should have left a note round his neck – “Please send me to bed after three pints”. I managed to roll him home and into the back cabin, delighted that he’d had such a lovely evening and had found a new chum to hang out with, rocking (as in forwards and backwards geriatrically not headbanging youthfully) to 78s and getting all excited at changing gramophone needles. There may be a few trips together in the future given our bonding over Grand Unions, greyhounds, blogs and now seemingly shellac…

Well worth the money – cost me more in polish

Now about this quiz, set by the avuncular Peter Oates (owner of Stanton, who we have casually adopted as Enceladus’s big brother). Well, he may look avuncular but don’t be fooled, he is a demon in disguise – those questions were bloody hard! It was an absolutely brilliant production though, and typical of the sterling and selfless efforts members make for the enjoyment of others. I will have to do some serious swatting up and dust down my Ray Shill Through Time books if I’m to get a podium finish next time. My defence for falling woefully short of secret weapon status is that I am a Jill of all trades, mistress of none; I have a passing acquaintance with facts across a lot of areas (Ed. I think they call that bluffing) whereas Uncle Peter’s quiz called for a real depth of expert knowledge; it was beyond anorak standard, it was at the anorak-with-a-zip-on-hood-and-plastic-lunchbox-and-thermos-and spotter’s-notebook level. At least we didn’t come last and while I can applaud the perennial winners, Mike Harrison and co, I do think they’re a bit rubbish in getting a whole eight questions wrong. Must have had an off night.

One last thought. The proceeds from the tat auction will be donated to the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust – an excellent use of my wallet’s contents! Many of us took the opportunity to head up to Anglesey Basin over the weekend, passing Ogley Junction and thinking that maybe one day we’ll have the chance to go straight on, destination Huddlesford. The restoration would be a triumph in itself but I also think it has huge strategic importance, and consequently it’s something that CRT should back with its full weight. To ultimately connect the northern BCN via the east from the Coventry and via the west from the Staffs and Worcs could, if not necessarily transform it, then certainly provide a stonking shot in the arm. A through route, taking in a fair bit of the Wyrley and hopefully encouraging people down either the Walsall or the Rushall as well, surely there’s some major potential in that? More boats means…well, just more…more engagement, more facilities, more interest, more upkeep, more money, more good things spreading outward into communities that we’ve found over the years to be friendly and welcoming, if sometimes a little challenged in the Keep Britain Tidy department. This is the restoration I’d most like to see in my lifetime, no doubt about it. The Cotswold Canals will be remarkable, I’m sure, but the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals could be real game-changers. If I ever get to go over the M6 Toll aqueduct in Enceladus, I will parp my horn all the way and parp it loud!

Time to take our leave – thank you and goodbye

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Short and smug

Siren call of the real deal

Ever since the Braunston Historic Show last June I’ve been harbouring naughty thoughts, insidious and insistent, like Sirens calling me to my financial and marital doom. Yes, you need a full length unconverted motor, they chant, you do, you do, you dooooo! No, I bloody well do not and having witnessed firsthand the travails of my doughty chums as they manhandled their 70 ft beasts round the twisty turny bends of the shallow, silty Wyrley & Essington, I am, a la Mrs Slocombe, unanimous in that. Am I pleased or what that I am a short-arse at just 48 feet; more than pleased, I am Mrs Smug of Smugsville. Before I go any further let me refer you to the Flamingo blog and Alan’s cracking post about the Yarwoods’ convoy from Walsall to Brownhills that stuttered round on Good Friday – for a taste of what it’s all about when you’ve had no bits chopped off, this is an essential read. Having spent most of the trip directly behind either Swallow or Flamingo, I really did get a full appreciation of the skill and effort it takes to be a boatman in these circumstances, and I doff my piratical bandana to both captains for wrestling their charges into submission.

Alan on Flamingo earned his pint

We ran as tail-end Charlie for the trip, a decision driven partly by gallantry (if everyone got stuck, I could come to the rescue given that my bottom is slightly smaller than their bottoms) and partly by sheer self-interest (if there were obstacles to find or ram someone else could have the pleasure.) Actually, it was more down to simple commonsense. Nick on Beatty’s weapon of choice is the keb so sending him as pathfinder seemed logical; Flamingo went second so Cath with her sore back could get some help up the Walsall locks; Swallow had a bike so could lockwheel with abandon, so we basically decided that peeling out of the basin in mooring order from left to right was the way to go. After a bit of a bunched start, we got into a good rhythm and we popped up onto the top stretch to Brownhills junction thinking we’d gone through a time whorl and floated into Moxley tip…an agglomeration of crud, a grimy potage of cut reeds and flotsam which I suppose was an almost inevitable punctuating exclamation mark on our Walsall passage. But this is just my aesthetic sensibilities being hurt, it’s no biggie.

Moving round through Goscote and Bloxwich on the Wyrley wasn’t much better, but at least we (meaning me) weren’t attacked by leviathans from the deeps…er..from the shallows. Beatty snagged a devil of a duvet while Alan added to his I-Spy Book of Bumper Bladefuls (he’s already got the duvet) with an impressive run of industrial carpeting. When I finally arrived at Brownhills and pulled off just a few plastic bags (my first of the whole trip) I felt even more like a fraud – not just short with a pert bum but lacking a mile of co-ax round the prop too! I fear I could get thrown out of the Club for such indiscretions…

On the way up to Anglesey Basin – and yes, still Birmingham

Other notes from today, Saturday. We had a little bimble up to Anglesey Basin and I’m thinking I may add that into my BCN Challenge route as I managed a decent turn of speed and it will be a pleasant little diversion for my crew, who’ll be new to the northern BCN. If you ever get the chance to go, do. Once back, I took the dogs to call on new friend Ricky on big Woolwich (hint, hint) Chertsey, and was promptly invited on board by Jim. The dogs had a quick sniff round but soon settled, Buzz appropriating Ricky’s bed and Rosie appropriating Jim’s lap. This was my first time on Chertsey and my word, what a marvellous thing it is, a glorious ‘home within a hold’ – dry, cosy, full of perfectly curated pieces drawn from all sorts of eras that yet manage to form a beautifully congruent, consonant – and now, newsflash, carpeted – whole. Embellished perfectly by three snoozing hounds…

Now about what I was saying earlier about full length unconverted motors like…ooh, I dunno, big Woolwiches? Unanimous I may have been, but it is also a woman’s prerogative to change her mind…

I do don’t do don’t do don’t need a big Woolwich

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It’s all too much

Yesterday (Tuesday as I write this) was just a day of surfeit. Too much money spent in the Ian Allan bookshop, too much dim sum consumed at lunchtime, much too close to the stage for The Who in concert at the Barclaycard Arena (I could feel the vibrations rearranging my skelington) and much too snoozy to want to get up promptly this morning. Previous experience of the passage to Walsall Basin encouraged me to leave plenty of time in hand so despite the protestations of the first mate, we were up and away by 8.30 – which is quite late when you think about it, so I don’t know why he’s groaning and moaning so much.

Proof that BCN bridge beauty is timeless

As it happened, a drained pound on the Ryder’s Green flight held us up by about an hour so depending on which way you look at it, I was right to leave extra time, or wrong to sacrifice precious snoozing time. It did however give me a chance to catch up with Barlows’ Gort and its owner, both of which were delightful – and notable for being one of the very few working boats to have had a Gardner fitted, and not the semi-diesel of the Cowburn & Cowper fleet but my favourite 2L2 no less. I have been promised a nosey at Brownhills.

Continuing on my theme of surfeit, something else there was way too much of – rubbish in and around the cut. It is such a shame because otherwise the Walsall canal would be a perfectly fine bit of urban canal – but the ubiquitous tut is painful to see, be it the deliberately dumped stuff or windblown detritus. Clear it up and spot dredge a couple of squidgy bits and you’re good to go – a stretch that has its interest, especially if you have your Waterway Routes map so you can see where all the stubs used to go; you won’t meet any other boats, probably, so you’ll be unhurried and unharried. And while it will never be gentrified or smartened up anytime soon, it’s a useful link up to the northern BCN, the natives are friendly, the winos super helpful and has a super end point in Walsall Town Basin. And most importantly, when you chug by all the arms and cuts that have long since been obliterated, you are very forcefully reminded that we do indeed need to use it or risk losing it.

Pretty fine, just needs a decent litter pick

The Walsall Canal fan club is very small, I think it’s me and two others, and they might be greyhounds. I suspect most people’s comments about it are repeated hearsay rather than (recent) experience-based, and while I cannot sit here and say it must be on your list of top five canals to do, I will happily report that we didn’t get stuck, didn’t get anything on the prop, didn’t get stoned, shot at or abducted by aliens…but we did get warned by the winos about the trolley reef under Wellington Bridge. And waved at by a four year old boy. And ‘hiya’ed’ by a group of schoolgirls. And completely ignored by a gang of teenage lads. Which was depressing as my girlish allure has obviously upped and left, leaving me facing the hideous reality of old bagdom.

We’re all tucked up for the night, four of Yarwoods’ finest in a row, as we were subsequently joined by Flamingo and Beatty, both manoeuvred and moored up by Alan and Nick respectively with some considerable aplomb. Onwards tomorrow, destination Brownhills, and a meeting up with lesser, non Norty types…

Beatty, Flamingo, Swallow, Enceladus making the Town Basin a Northwich stronghold. No Woolwiches admitted

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You have reached your (first) destination

First time we’ve ever managed to moor here – some obliging fellow was just moving off so we didn’t hesitate

So how did yesterday rate on my 1-10 Happy-ometer? I think a stonking big 11. A gentle pootle up to Brum central, a just vacated mooring on the Oozells Loop that I snuck into without demur, a bit of shopping, some overdue abluting, a simply wonderful meal at Lasan, and out like a light as soon as we crawled into the bed ‘ole. Simple pleasures, but the best ones.

Some extra notes. Wast Hill was remarkably clear for once; previous passages have always been through a ghoulish miasma, setting my imagination running and seeing Kit Crewbucket loom out of every brick. We didn’t meet any boats either, so no  mid-bore games of chicken. Shame.

Follow the trade – canal carrying lives

We also had a quick ‘stop and collect’ to do on behalf of the first mate. One of his customers lives a minute from the cut at Bourneville so arrangements were made for him to hand his busted synthesizer over for Andy to fix – long live canal carrying. It’s a heavy beast too, quite useful as compensatory ballast for the cack tank in fact.

Unfortunately this rendezvous meant that we were unable to avail ourselves of an enterprising canal-side facility, the Barge-Thru Cafe; it also meant I had to politely refuse a gentleman boater’s kind invitation for a coffee, a cappuccino no less. This was offered while Andy was below, but I think he was more enamoured of the boat than its captain; a strong gambit though, you can’t fault a man for trying.

My sort of cafe

While watering at Holliday Wharf, a lovely couple who had just come into the city to give notice of their marriage got some snaps of themselves and the boat, and they were very interested in the whole subject, citing Great Canal Journeys and confirming once again Tim and Pru’s PR value. They thought initially I was a trip boat and asked how much…now there’s a thought.

So nice not to have to park the car

Once we’d moored, I took a wander with the hounds, spotting FMC Bream and Barlows’ Gort opposite one another on the main line (both looking very fine, I might add). I hear from Sarah on Chertsey that a further historic flotilla is coalescing from the east along the bottom road and I know that the Finchers on Flamingo are coming up the North Stratford. The clans are gathering!

Bream and Gort pit-stopping in Brum before presumably heading for Brownhills

Final note a propos of nothing but encouraging all the same for the Challenge in May….not one thing on the prop yet. FLW.

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On we go

(With apologies to Dinah Washington) What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours…but the difference wasn’t you…or Andy..or Rosie and Buzz, which leaves me I guess. Definitely a brighter demeanour after a good night’s sleep and return of perspective that told me (as it does every time) that my mooring worries of the previous evening were just a tad over the top. Lo, tonight we had a repeat performance and I didn’t even blow my stack at Andy’s remark (always uttered on these occasions and remarkably unhelpful) that maybe I’d like to get a boat that would actually fit somewhere. Is it my fault that the water seems to have gone missing, as it’s not just me saying it, we’re all mithering about it?!

A more rounded view of the world this morning

Besides, tonight’s tarradiddle gave us another example of why boaty folk are so often the best…even though I was reversing Enc down the side of their very smart trad in an attempt to get back to a place where I could do a bit of spot dredging against some armco, out the owners popped, all smiles, lamenting the state of the cut and wanting to help. So in order, I think we had Mrs on the back rope, Mr on the front with Andy, me dredging and then Rosie decided she had had enough of staying inside with all the horrible noises and did a standing jump out of our small Northwich proportioned hold. Pretty good going for nine years old! Anyway, she ran to the nearest human for fuss, which happened to be Mrs, who promptly fell in love, while Mr was asking Andy if we wanted to borrow his plank. As we’d got tied in the interim in no worse a state than last night, we thought we’d be okay, so we bade them a good evening with hearty thanks on the side as they repaired to the pub.

The last thing I expected to see as I trudged around the corner

So my good spirits remained intact, result. The reason for said good spirits? Twofold I think. First, the rest of the North Stratford wasn’t half as bad as I was expecting. It’s been a few years since we last came through and a lot of decades since my seminal dead dog passage, and today the cut seems a lot cleaner with just a few hot grot spots. It’s also benefitted greatly, to my eyes, from some redevelopment and new housing which has lifted the tone of the environs; and also, the existing houses now seem to present a far friendlier face, appreciating the water, connecting rather than contemning. It still does go on a bit longer than I’d like – its passage is a tad too shrouded and closed in for my liking – but better, definitely better.

Have BW key, will travel

Secondly, I’m happy because we have the thing we did need – a new BW key – and no longer have the thing we didn’t – oil leaks. Paul came over at lunchtime to relieve Mafeking on both fronts, for which we are truly grateful; plus we’ve also arranged for a bit of investigatory poking about after the Braunston show to tackle the mucky exhaust issue.

Because we have a concert to go to on Wednesday we didn’t want to head into the city today and spend two days and three nights tied up in Brum central. So we turned left at King’s Norton and beetled down to Hopwood for the night. We usually like to give it a bit of welly through tunnels, as you do, but the HR2 is so thunkingly loud and painfully percussive that my brain started to hurt, so we took it steadily through Wast Hill with a few bursts of extra speed now and again. The Napton Narrowboats boat behind was doing a good job of playing catch but a very loud clang as bow struck wall ended his pursuit, and even though he resumed his charge once outside, he was foiled by my unexpected (to me, I didn’t have a map!) winding pirouette, which proceeded the aforementioned tarradiddle.

I can’t wait to find out what tomorrow is like!

PS. I realise now that while I thought I was being very clever in turning this evening when I suddenly espied the opportunity, the joke is on me rather. If we’d carried on just a smidge further, we’d have found the formal VMs with rings (I shall never go mapless again) and while levels are such that we might still have struggled to lie straight alongside, I reckon my consequent tarradiddle might have been downgraded to a tarradoddle.

Another little spirit lifter

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