Thursday, 29 December 2016

Sleighing Dragons

Yesterday morning we awoke to a slightly drained canal. To cut a medium length story slightly shorter, someone had thought it a good idea to open all the paddles on Dallow Lock. Fortunately the boater parked up in front of us had noticed this at 10 o’clock the evening before – his boat partly sat on the bottom and listing a bit. He closed the paddles that night.
 
Shobnall Visitor Moorings
The following morning the canal was still about a foot off where it should have been, but we set off and all seemed well. At the first lock – Branston Lock – a boat was aground just at the exit of the lock. Another boat then came down and tried to flush him out. At least I think that was what was happening. Then I think the second boat got stuck, I think. We got passed him and were up and away by then, and never hit the bottom once.

I recently discussed the reduction in events like this, and the almost absence of any working “handcuff locks.” My neighbour proposed that this because the youth of today - who were, in my day, much more adventurous and happy to open gate paddles - are now sat indoors in front of their screens slaying dragons (or should that be, as it is Christmas - sleighing dragons?) Anyway he suggested that slaying dragons was much more fun. Perhaps on this occasion, the dragons had won?

The biggest problem we had, both yesterday and today, was the fog. Looking for boats coming towards us was hard work and whereas most had their tunnel lights on, we didn’t. Captain had thought it a good idea to wire the Christmas tree into the tunnel light plug/socket. Oh well!



Saturday, 24 December 2016

Battered by Barbara

River Trent with weir to the right
We stayed in Alrewas for two nights. We like this village stop-over. It seems to have everything a boater could need. A Coop with a fresh bakery, a pharmacy/post office, several pubs, a chippy, a Chinese takeaway and a smart Indian restaurant. The wetlands surrounding the Trent tributaries attract hundreds of fowl. It's both wild and civilised at the same time. We were well battened down as Storm Barbara hurled its gale force winds at us. The plan to be tucked up inside worked.

But where does time go to? A whole extra day off, and we are still struggling to fit anything extra around the normal routines of sleeping eating and walking Mr. Jones.

Shobnall Rec'
Barbara came and went, but left us with some serious towpath lakes, muddying our boots on the five minute walk to the quite splendid Delhi Divan for dinner.

We crossed the Trent without careering sideways down the weir and had a pleasant cruise into Burton. Jones has reacquainted himself with the myriad sniffs of Shobnall rec'. The next 4 days will be spent stationary and seeing family. 


The biggest challenge now, is whether we can keep up our considerable mince pie consumption.




Thursday, 22 December 2016

On the Move

Today is Thursday 22nd, as far as we know, and that means we left Kings Orchard Marina a day ahead of schedule. After a top up of diesel, and a bag of coal, we were cruising out into winter sunshine.

It was about noon then, and we are now safely tied up, as planned, in the pretty village of Alrewas. 
Even the chip shop is guarded by hand knitted polar bears placed on the pavement bollards. At first glance, we thought some toddler had lost their hat, but their quantity reminded us that this is the village with a radical group of knitters (the knitwits).

The reason for our early departure is that there are 45mph winds,with up to 60mph gusts forecast for Friday and we thought it best to miss out boating that day.

Instead we will spend the day in Alrewas, strapped to our Christmas tree to prevent it blowing away. Captain thought we needed to put wax in our ears too, but I think that's a slightly different story.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Birthday Boy Back on the Cut


We settled in just in time for the Captain’s birthday yesterday. It was fun celebrating with Chrissie and Chris who joined us on the towpath. We had moved the boat down to The Plough at Huddlesford in the light. It is still immensely satisfying to drive up to a nice gastro pub in your boat. A hop across the car park and you are at your table. We had cocktails aboard, then a good and diverse set of burgers and back to the boat for coffee, liqueur chocolates and warm mince pies. Very civilised indeed.

It seems feeble but we haven’t been out of the marina since our Birmingham trip and that was in August. This bit of the canal doesn’t seem to inspire us to go out for a night or two as we so often did on the Peak Forest. We loved our short winter jaunts to Whaley Bridge, Marple or Macclesfield and we will take this boat back up there at some point. That said, it was very nice to back on the cut and remind ourselves of why we are living on a six foot seven wide craft. 

It was also good to see quite a few boats moving around. There was sun on the way back to the marina and Jones positively soaked up the winter rays. Since we arrived two days ago, it has been full on – decorating the boat inside and out, walking in the few hours of daylight and lots of eating, drinking and napping as usual. All of this leaves little time for blogging or reading but who cares? 

We are off to Qmin in Lichfield to meet Elaine and David for a curry very shortly and will then have a quieter few days on board to relax before we set off for Burton on Trent. There are storms ahead and we have a river to cross but we are fairly intrepid when necessary. Jones has a full set of coats including a Barbour and a faux sheepskin (Arthur Daley style?) that he loves.


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Mice and Men

When we are at home, away from the boat – we worry about the boat. When we are on the boat, away from home – we worry about home. Not a lot, but a little.

One of the ideas is to fit a device to the boat to remotely control the heating. This can be controlled from home – or from anywhere. The EZTEXT unit is particularly attractive as it provides both control of systems on the boat, and can be set to send information back from the boat (such as the temperature). I will no doubt post more on this if I fit one - and at about a hundred quid, it is very tempting.

Home is a little simpler, we already have moderately sophisticated systems and good neighbours so the worry is less. But one of the regular jobs is to keep check on the mice that frequent the loft space. This is a job that cannot be done when we are away.

At the moment I have 4 traps down in the loft, and provide fresh cheese at least every fortnight. Sometimes the cunning little mice get the cheese without the trap going off, sometimes they don’t. The mice are most prevalent in the autumn when they come looking for warmth. Yesterday it was time to check the traps and as I put my head into the loft, I could see that I had company.

One dead mouse, one trap missing, but another mouse was sat quite still, looking at me!

‘Hello you,’ I said. ‘Don’t you want to run away?’
He didn’t run away, seemingly relaxed with my company, he just carried on chewing up a BHS carrier bag.
‘Suit yourself,’ I said.
‘I can’t move,’ the mouse piped up.
‘Why not?’ I asked.
‘Because my arse is caught in your bloody trap. It only just missed my bits.’
‘There’s no need to use potty language,’ I said. ‘Anyway have you seen the fourth trap anywhere? It’s gone.’
‘Maurice ran off with it. It was stuck on his arse, sorry bottom. Marvin wasn’t so lucky. That’s him there.’ 
He nodded in the direction of the dead mouse.
‘Oh, sorry about Marvin,’ I said. ‘It looks like he died happy.’ I was looking at the squashed nose all mixed up with cheese and blood.
The trapped mouse, I never did ask his name, gave me a sideways look, although most of his looks had been fairly sideways.
‘I’ll get you free in a minute,’ I said, dropping the late Marvin into my Tesco bag.
‘Do you remember our agreement?’ the trapped mouse asked.
I didn’t answer. I knew the conversation was going to get awkward.
‘I will remind you,’ he continued. ‘You agreed to provide us with seed in that old bird feeder on the outside wall, and we, in return would keep out of your house.’
‘Yes I know,’ I replied, ‘but one day there was a great big rat on the feeder, and I thought maybe it had to go.’
‘It’s your choice,’ the trapped mouse replied.
‘Hey don’t get arsey with me,’ I said.
‘I can’t feel my arse actually,’
‘I’ll have a think. OK? Now, will you be alright if I throw you out of the bedroom window? It’s fairly soft down there.’
‘It'll be fine,’ the mouse said.
He looked back at me from the ground, and I thought I was in for another dressing down, but it was short.
‘So long, and thanks for all the cheese.’




Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Tree is Up

This Christmas we plan a relatively modest cruise. We will be on the boat for almost a fortnight, but will only cruise for a couple of days (each way) from Kings Orchard Marina to Burton on Trent. There we will catch up with family. Last year was much braver, threading our way on a much longer journey through winter stoppages on the Peak Forest, Macclesfield and Trent & Mersey canals. This took us from Furness Vale to Mercia Marina. Perhaps we should have been braver this year and given ourselves a greater challenge?

Anyway, the boat is being prepared with the usual provisions (mainly wine) and decorated for Christmas. 

This week the tree has ‘gone up’ and Captain (he’s very excited about this) has sourced some 12 volt LED lights, which are a little like rocking horse poo, although slightly more attractive. 

Previously, and nervous of running the mains inverter most of the day, we have used dry battery powered LED lights, but found ourselves changing those AA batteries pretty much daily. 

The lights are now wired in (to the tunnel light socket) and we wait to see how they perform and how reliable they are. They are from e-bay so we don’t know what to expect, but last year’s lights, from B&Q, all failed and went back for a hard fought for refund in the New Year.

We are not the grandest decorated boat on the marina, but the 'grand' boats are unlikely to move away from the shore power. So maybe ... we are being brave?




Thursday, 3 November 2016

Work Work Work (and then some fun )



We have been very poor at blogging lately, and it is true that we have done no boating since our August Birmingham trip - unless you count a hop over to the pump out. We have been enjoying our new marina at Kings Orchard. We have been there regularly exploring our Staffordshire roots in the flat arable countryside that surrounds the canal. We have also had a few credit-card busting jaunts over to the massive Ventura shopping Park at Tamworth and taken Princess Lucy (and her mum and dad) to Qmin our new favourite Indian restaurant in Lichfield. Whilst Captain will tell you it's been all work work work, this is slightly misleading.

The time where we might have been cruising has been spent labouring both at home - plastering and decorating, and on the boat -  where Captain has made a determined effort to reduce the length of the job list.It is true to say that he is definitely running out of steam in this department and has had to dig deep. The  whole point of buying a newer boat (she's five years old) was to cut down on the need for restoration work but it's amazing how much 'adjustment' and 'correction' have been necessary to make her as warm and comfortable as our old boat.

The first jobs tackled was those snagging matters that should have been dealt with on, or shortly after, handover by the boat builder five years ago! 

So now you don't need the corridor lights on to be able to put the bathroom lights on. And whilst you are in there you can get your hand under the basin tap - which was practically touching the side of the basin. And you can fill the water tank without it leaking from the breather pipe connections (which had never been connected properly). 

New 12 volt wall lights, lamps and kitchen down-lighters have been added, as most of the original lighting was just rows of LED ceiling lights, which felt a bit like sitting in a railway station waiting room with the only alternative being to sit in the dark. .

This last week Captain has been busy dragging the Webasto heater into the 20th Century. It was fitted with a basic on/off switch and a crude timer that was of little use. Now it has a programmable thermostat that can be set to do nearly anything!

First Mate has not been idle: she has overseen the re-covering of the fixed seating cushions, and following our July purchase of a full set of boat curtains from John Lewis (which were rather poorly finished), a short letter of complaint resulted in John Lewis putting the matter right, and First Mate recently collected a complete new set. So we now, by chance, have a wash and wear opportunity because boat curtains do get grubby.  By removing the entire cratch, we somehow squeezed a new white leather IKEA sofa into the saloon and added a new rug. It's looks quite different to when we bought her. Next year we might have her name repainted to Princess Lucy No.2 and maybe shift some radiators around and move the TV. For now we are very happy with how she's shaping up. 

Mr Jones, the terrier, has been enjoying more freedom as we slowly grow in confidence with him. We have been letting him off his lead a little more, taking the risk that he might bolt at any point. Last weekend, he heard a shot and left his ball, shooting off to investigate, but he did stop and come back when called so this must be progress.  However, in other areas his rehabilitation has gone backwards.He took a violent objection to another dog in the local pub at Kings Orchard (The Plough) and barked the place down. Whilst other finished their meals, Captain had no choice but to sit outside with him - in the dark and the fog. It is certainly seems like  few steps forward and then nearly as many back again.

So we have been very busy, (I haven't even mentioned replacing the cracked stove glass, the sump pump, and the main batteries), but the list is thinning out, and we plan to get out onto the cut in November and again for a week or so over Christmas. 

Here is a picture of Mr Jones doing his
impression of an adorable little puppy - and
not the monster that he can be
,
And we will wake up nice and cosy thanks to the clever thermostat. 

That makes me think... does anyone make a 12 volt teasmaid?







Saturday, 27 August 2016

Rainy Night in K.O

There is a whiff of melancholy about the boat tonight. It's the end of our trip and judging by the dark skies, it feels like the end of summer too.

We are back in our home marina (Kings Orchard) after a night moored quite alone in Hopwas Wood. Perhaps the fact that it's a military firing range accounts for our solitude. We set up the BBQ for dinner last night on a stretch of canal that snakes through ancient woodland. This setting with its enormous trees is reminiscent of scenes from Lord of the Rings, magical and creepy at the same time. During Jonesy's bedtime walk, under torch light, the trees seem to move on their own.

It is such a contrast to the bright lights of Birmingham's Brindley Place but that's one of the joys of being on the tiller. It has been a fabulous trip and full of surprises, not least how quiet it can be in heart of a city.

The weather has been biblical since we tied up this afternoon, and with wet coats and jeans on every radiator.

It feels like time to pack up and head home to the tumble dryer. However not before a thorough fettle of the boat and a final visit from from family.


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Blowin' in the Wind

Yesterday we stayed put. The night before we had dinner on the terrace of The Cuttle Bridge Inn, Curdworth, just as the sun set over the cornfields. The food was mediocre but the evening was gorgeous.

We had another sunny day so we got out the portable twin tub for the first time. After 2 weeks away it was high time to do some laundry. The experience is likely to receive contradictory reviews from each of us. I thought it was just too much trouble filling and draining, filling and draining, spinning then more filling and draining followed by more spinning. Boring and fiddly compared with the much missed Candy Automatic. The Captain, however, seemed to enjoy all this messing about and gave it the thumbs up.

The washing is still drying in the cratch, as it started to rain as soon as the operation was completed.

We are now moored peacefully outside The Dog and Doublet having done 8 locks today in the rain (rain that was not forecast).

Dinner is booked for 7 and at least we are inside with Mr Jones allowed in the pub. 


Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Dreamed a Dream, by the Old Canal

On Monday afternoon, assisted by our neighbours from home, Sue and Rod, we left Birmingham Centre and headed off down the 13 locks in the Farmers' Bridge flight. Sue and Rod had stayed over in the city the night before, and clearly had far too much fun, so we thought a flight of locks would be good therapy.

We took our time down the flight, chatted to passers by, and gawped about at the layers of history. We met only one boat, and just made it past them in one of those very short pounds, and despite not rushing, we were still down in 90 minutes.

We tied up (again) in Aston Science Park, where First Mate served dinner on board, before Sue and Rod went off for their train.

This morning, with temperatures of 27 forecast, we set of first thing (10.05). Before that, Captain walked Jonesy around Aston University where there is a fair amount of green space for him to sniff.

Aston was buzzing with students, although not the normal ones as they are not there yet. But they looked young and keen, and Captain remembered the hope and excitement that education can give people, as it did him. Sadly a First Degree now guarantees nothing and those that do get jobs must (like the Captain) become quickly disillusioned with the bullying and aggressive culture of many workplaces.

Captain spent many days and nights at Aston, when studying for his OU degree. And a few hazy nights in the Sacks of Potatoes. He looked through the stained glass windows this morning.

Was that his old mate Sean, hungover and failing to tie his shoe laces? Was that Carol-Ann and Debbie C snogging on the sofa? Could that be Robin Wilson (Harold's son)  stood at the bar?

No it wasn't, not this day.

Time to cast off.


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Appointment with Mr C Lion

I have worked out why there are more sea gulls in the centre of Birmingham than in Whitby. It's because they are casing The National Sea Life Centre: working out how to break in.

We visited today and  there are more fish in there than a Blackpool fish bar. Big ones, little ones, frogs, star fish, rays and a pair of otters. Everything you might find in the Oceania of the world. It's brilliant fun and Princess Lucy couldn't have squealed any more if she'd tried.

The bonus for us grown ups was that we couldn't have been moored nearer to Sea Life, other than tying up actually in the building.  We literally were within spitting distance of a homely cup of tea and cake. 

Inspite of heavy rain earlier, another great day in the city, topped off with a  palatable take away curry from Blue Mango.


Friday, 19 August 2016

Style And Substance?

Today, well Thursday which may now be yesterday, Captain took a visit to the new flash Birmingham Central Library.

The revised plan is to stay in Birmingham for 6 nights, and the library is close to the boat. This was relevant as Captain is still suffering with knackered knees from chasing after Jonesy (our terrorist terrior.)

Flash the library certainly is: the much photographed outside is visually stunning, the less photographed interior is also impressive, with its jauntily positioned escalators raising you through the turrets of book shelves.

Millers Daughter is just visible in between the
centre and right tower blocks

The library is both functional and stylish. They have created the beauty without detriment to the function of the place. I initially thought the old library was fine, but having sat and thumbed through a couple of books that caught my eye (Patents granted from 1600 and something to 1852...  a must read!) I can vouch that it was a nice place to sit. 

The gift shop and the 7th floor Garden views of the city (and of our boat) were very popular. But is this what all libraries must aspire to?

Sadly our local library only has a ground floor (a seventh floor garden will be a tricky addition) and its backdrop is the graveyard.

Although, if you are a Goth and scared of heights, you may prefer it.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Birmingham Day 2

We are still in Cambrian Wharf tied up on an impossibly short finger jetty. The boat wobbles around and if there was any breeze at all, we would surely be nudging the neighbouring boat. We are under the Shadow of the new Birmingham Central Library, the old one now reduced to rubble. These are 14 day moorings, although it is a best kept secret with little to tell you that. Plus there is a smattering (of four) permanent moorers in the wharf. Like much of the mooring in Birmingham it is confusing: 24 hours, 48 hours, 2 days, 14 days, places with no signage. 

Millers Daughter (far right) below library
Although it is peaceful where we are, we may move a bit closer to the bustle of Brindley Place tomorrow.

No 5 Brindley Place used to be one of the main midlands offices for BT, and Captain, in a former life, spent many a dreary day there. You know - meetings that go on forever, being interviewed for your own job, that sort if thing. Last night we ate at "Bank," in view of that building which is now occupied by Deutsche Bank.

New St Station. Two points if you spot Captain
and Jonesy in the reflections
First Mate, with seemingly more energy than the captain, headed straight for the shops this morning. On a revisit this afternoon captain joined her and marvelled at the wonders. 

New Street Station is especially splendid, with its scary and confusing reflective facade. Money appears to be pouring in to the City Centre.

As we remarked on our journey here, the opposite is true once you are away from the Centre - and you don't need to go far - there, rubbish is everywhere, bins are unemptied, and there is a widespread feel of neglect. Perhaps this is just reality and it is the facade of the city centre that is not real. 

Anyway another day stationary (more or less) tomorrow. Maybe after checking the engine over, there will be time for some touristy things.


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Birmingham

A half hour cruise from Aston Science Park and an hour and a half up the Farmers Bridge flight of 13 locks saw us tied up in Cambrian Wharf by 2pm.

The journey was made much easier as all the locks were in our favour and our friends, David and Elaine were helping us too.

As we left the top lock a 70 foot (I'm guessing) hire boat arrived from Alvechurch. This was the first lock they had encountered, and they had absolutely no idea. Elaine helped them through the lock, and I imagine by lock 13, they had learned considerably more than when we saw them.

Tonight dinner in Brindley Place, and then a few days going nowhere. We can let our muscles and bones recover a bit.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Sunset boulevard

Moorings for the night on the Digbeth Branch
We are moored on an uncruised bit of the Digbeth branch line in the shadow of Aston University's Science Park. Again, we are the only boat and feeling a bit lonesome. We did the Aston flight today which did for us in the baking sun. No way could we have tackled another flight of 13 locks to get us into Gas Street.

Although the evidence suggests that all other
boaters just plough on through these sequential flights and don't stop along the way. We just don't enjoy long gruelling days where you see little else but the top or bottom of a lock gate. So we tied up and enjoyed a sunny walk around the university and visited the historic Bull Pub in The Gun Quarter which is rare example of somewhere that allows dogs. However, with just a few locals dotted about, we felt every bit the outsiders on the wrong side of the tracks. So we just put our noses in and walked back down the canal to have dinner aboard.

We are struggling to find anywhere to eat with Jones but we are reluctant to leave him on his own especially on such a hot day. We are so accustomed to pubs which welcome dogs in the countryside but must accept that things are different in the city. Tomorrow we will receive our friends David and Elaine who'll spend a couple of days with us. They are primed to help with the final flight into Birmingham. 

It's all getting quite dramatic as the canal wriggles past and under some impressive metropolitan landmarks.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

See Gulls Over Graveley Interchange


As we sit here sipping wine, the sun is setting and the seagulls are crying. They couldn't be any further from the sea. It is difficult to imagine how the incessant roar of Spaghetti Junction might attract them.

The noise is irritating but less so than the worst case of litter/fly tipping that we've seen anywhere. The development around Cuckoo wharf consists of Princes Trust funded enterprises, no doubt part of some urban generation scheme. But there are no residential properties. Who would want to live in the literal shadow of The Aston Expressway? We are tied up in a peopleless landscape although judging by the 30 or so empty wine bottles, they have been here.

The forums said it was a haven but with no other boats, houses, flats or people, it doesn't feel that way. We'll overnight here but give it a miss on the way back. First mate's candlelit dinner of salmon and new potatoes seems incongruous.

Underneath Spaghetti Junction is Salford Junction. This is a crossroads of canals and in the gloom of the Graveley shadows Captain made a right pigs ear of the turn up towards Aston.

After a monumental (for us) 11 locks, and 5 hours at the tiller, we are tired, so these rough words and our weary bodies must tell the tale.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Kindness of Strangers

Dog and Doublet with Millers Daughter in the distance
The Metro free paper runs daily columns of thank-yous to the many unnamed strangers who have rushed to the aid of those in distress. Sadly you are more likely to encounter the exact opposite in the tabloids. Our perception of the world is coloured by the frightening and more newsworthy stories of mindless acts of death and destruction.

So this is our news of the last 24 hrs, where we, reached our target for the night: The Dog and Doublet.

First, there was the young lad (he was about 8). He lived at the lock keepers cottage at the first lock going up the Curdworth flight. He met us with his windlass in hand. He struggled like mad to wind up the paddles for us, but youth and enthusiasm saw them raised.
     "Don't you get bored doing this?" First Mate asked.
     "No, I've always got spare sherbert to keep me going."

We told him of the inimitable Rob the Lock from Stoke and how he had carved a career out of helping out weary boaters. We will get him some sherbert lemons for the return and check to see if he's got his business cards printed. He seemed very taken with the idea.

Second, at our last lock of the day (the third), a light and alarm came on the engine panel. Alternator 1. Hmmmm. Whilst First Made did the paddles (with no help this time) Captain found the remains of the fan belt. A still anonymous stranger enjoying a half outside the pub came to our aid. He drove the Captain to Halfords in Tamworth and subsequently to 2 further car shops to find a replacement. He would take nothing in the way of a reward for his kindness.

We are now fixed up thanks to him but he'd disappeared by the time we got to The Dog and Doublet for dinner and so couldn't even buy him a drink. And yes the Trip Advisor reviews were largely accurate about the 80s decor and general scruffiness but the pub was full of people eating and the food was wholesome. The lemon sponge was microwaved to perfection and delicious. Microwaving is a culinary art which many more pretentious establishments get wrong. It should be recognised as such.

Anyway, we love a wallpaper border.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Breaking News: Woman Loses Hat

Millers Daughter at Fazeley
Today, Friday that is, marked day one of our summer trip. A glorious sunny and breezy start to our three week sojourn has been marred by a tragic loss. No sooner had we pulled out of Kings Orchard marina when a chilling cry reverberated down the Coventry Canal.

"My hat! My absolute favourite hat!" This is the second occasion that the beloved hat has flown into the cut but alas this is the last. It sunk without a trace and First Mate is grief stricken and has taken to drink.

We made it (with one hat between us) to Fazeley for fish and chips (and wine).

Tomorrow Captain will rebag and position the necessary 50kg of coal bought today. Now The Sun newspaper is forecasting 35 degrees next week and so the coal's necessity is not for warmth, but to counterbalance the list caused by the overfull wine cellar.

After 3 hours cruising, we are too weary to write more.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Off for a Spin

Yesterday we, more or less, finished preparing the boat for its summer spin out. We have stashed the boat with provisions and tried to finish the little jobs we have been struggling to find the time to do. You know - the fripperies that don't really add much in terms of function but make a boat a home.

We eagerly anticipate our first decent length cruise since buying the boat and our summer holiday plan this year will be to get to Birmingham City Centre, with a couple of nostalgic visits along the way from the time when First Mate worked at The University of Birmingham. Her first office being in the glorious Arts and Crafts building called Winterbourne, a house and gardens so beautiful that they are now open to the public. On the other end of the spectrum, we will also take the real Princess Lucy to Cadbury World to discover how something that really doesn't qualify as chocolate has got away with calling itself chocolate since 1824.

First Mate, always the diligent housewife, expressed concerns about washing laundry whilst on a fairly long trip. With only ten pairs of Sloggis to her name, she clearly is going to have to do some washing. Captain will retain  the practice of wearing undercrackers for a full five days - so not a problem for him. He only changes them when they become too stiff to manipulate. You may remember this being a sticking point when when we owned Princess Lucy and cruised for five weeks. On that occasion we managed to squeeze in a small Candy automatic washing machine and it was left for her new owners.

Fitting an automatic washing machine would be more difficult on the new boat, taking up far too much storage space. So we turned to my personal copy of the 'Aylesbury Canal Society Launderette list.' (£4.50 including postage see here) We concluded that (a) spending a day in a launderette is not much fun and (b) launderettes are now about as common as shops where you pay for fish to nibble at your feet. Some of them seemed to involve a trek to the Andes.

So, a quick and dirty solution was found... Enter the £99 compact Twin Tub.

Is that Audrey Hepburn?  Who knew she was
 such a role model, anorexia excepted. 
It is cheap, plastic, and basic. It has no heating element or even a drain pump, but we have gallons of hot water and it can drain into the shower tray. Also it is small and we can hide it in the corner void of the kitchen top (you know that space that is reserved only for finding loaves of green bread that were left 6 months previous).

She tested it at home and it washed and spun very efficiently (3.5kg load is its capacity). Yesterday we took it to the boat and tested it on the 'Modified Sine Wave Inverter' and it worked fine. Captain then, after some nifty work with a saw, stashed it under the sink.

The picture here shows the pure joy that can be experienced (and I'm sure First Mate will have that same experience) in owning and operating a twin tub.




Tuesday, 26 July 2016

It's heavy man

This weekend we took the boat for our first serious spin out. Boy is she heavy compared to our Princess Lucy and it is a matter of guessing where the front is. Still, we have to get to know her funny little ways and come to terms with a longer, faster and heftier boat. We can't enjoy the extra space on the inside without having to move it about on the outside. Alas she isn't a Tardis.

We had actually already been to the local pub on the boat, but that was a very short run, and this was a whole three nights away with a smattering of locks (four), a very bendy and busy canal, and a good chance to test our skills (or lack of) and to test the boat's systems properly.

On the first night we tied up in Fazeley and after deliberating about going for a curry and leaving Mr Jones in charge, we eventually settled on  the fish and chip takeaway option. We gave full marks to the Fazeley chippy. If you do go there don't be frightened by the long queues on the pavement as the army of staff shift the people through at a cracking rate. And don't be put off by the gongoozler's shouting across the canal from their balconies in the flats opposite the tow path. They are only curious as to whether you chose peas or curry sauce.

Chertsey heading in the direction of the South Pole
On night two we got to Alvecote to meet up with Jim, Sarah and Rocky our ex rescue greyhound. In the picture above, he is trying out our new rug. It was just wonderful to see what a special bond he has formed with Jim. They are quite inseparable but we still got a proper licking (from Rocky that is.) Although it's two years since he lived with us, he still seems to remember how to make himself at home. We had dinner in the Samuel Barton to begin a slightly premature birthday celebration for young Sarah. Last year we were together in Bugsworth Basin and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. On the Sunday morning they set off on Chertsey to the Basingstoke Canal. The Basingstoke Canal is a ridiculous distance away and would take us until Christmas. But Sarah and Jim (and Rocky) got 9 1/2 hours under their belts (and collar) on the very first day.

On the same day, we set off slowly back towards King's Orchard, mooring overnight along side the cool, refreshing and tranquil Hopwas Wood to get a few little boat jobs done.

We used to moor on the Peak Forest Canal and we were always slightly amused by the 'Danger Giant Hogweed' signs at New Mills, but as nasty as the Hogweed can be, the large red signs informing us that Hopwas wood was a military firing range added a different angle to the word 'Danger.'

We were fairly pleased with our first outing. We didn't hit anything despite not being able to see the bow, the batteries performed well, the calorifier surprised us - still delivering piping hot water at midnight and after a evening shower! The black water tank filled at an acceptable rate, and the fresh water tank lasted 4 days (despite being 120 litres smaller than the boat builder claimed.

Back in King's Orchard Marina, Jonesy was knackered and seemed more settled. So after a nice walk, a play session of fetch, and wolfing down his dinner, we put the radio on and crept out to Lichfield for a cheeky curry.

A bewildered Jonesy waking up
When we came back a bit later, we peeked in the bedroom porthole and Jonesy was sparked out on our bed (which he knows he his not supposed to do). He was so deeply asleep when we woke him that we decided to forgive him. Fortunately, our new bed survived as he had confined his furriness exactly to Captain's rather fragrant two day old tee shirt.



Monday, 18 July 2016

Toilet Matters

Those of a nervous disposition should look away now.

OK, So this is about the lovely shiny macerator loo our boat has (Tecma it is).

First, and as mentioned in our last post, our surveyor pointed out that the pipes leading to and from the holding tank were old(ish) and letting out a bit of a pong.

Having trawled the forums (including the yachting one ... them yachting people know a thing or two) the consensus was that white plastic pipes are not so good and the more expensive butyl rubber ones are the ones to have. So £175 later and with a slightly conscripted neighbour, we set about changing them. Most yachting people suggested double jubilee clips, so given the nature of the fluid involved, I did as I was told. It was all done in around 3 hours, which considering the route of the pipes, was pretty good going.

Note the Tecma wiring colours: blue for the water solenoid
and brown for the macerator. What else would you choose?
The second toilet matter was the flush. Nothing wrong with the flush: very efficient in fact. The only problem was that it chucked about a gallon of water down (even for a wee wee). There is a way of tweaking the amount of water taken in, but that proved unsuccessful.

So armed with two 40 amp 12 volt car relays (ebay) and a two way rocker switch (RS Components)  I connected an extra switch which could manually control how much water went in, and how long the macerator was on.

I'm still not sure the holding tank is going to last as long as our old dump through, but it should be close.

Now that is a weight off my mind, and I promise the next post will be about roses, lavender, baking bread and grinding coffee.



Saturday, 9 July 2016

Pending Princess Lucy No. 2

Our blogging has been thin on the ground lately, and our excuse is that we have been mad busy buying a new boat, selling the old one, moving marinas, and all the other nonsense that goes with moving what was a monstrous amount of paraphernalia from the old boat to the new one.

I lost count of the number of car loads we moved, and this time last week we had keys, and heads full of codes, to three marinas. How this came about is a long story and rather like General Relativity, it is something I did understand, but probably best if I don't try and explain it to anyone else.

The news is that Princess Lucy, our trusty and slightly rusty 45' boat, faithfully restored over for the last four years, sold quickly so we must have got something right. We have been busy moving in to our new purchase that is both longer and newer and with a much more working class name: The Miller's Daughter. Perhaps this aligns better with our working class roots - maybe it's a class thing?

Scrum at wine bar
Although first mate is already uncomfortable with the name that has little or no personal significance for us. Apparently, it was named after a pub that the original owners had in Louth. Maybe next year or the year after, somewhere in the five year plan, it might get renamed Princess Lucy 2.

We are delighted with the new boat, but sad to see the old one go. We said bye bye to Princess Lucy last week as we moved the final car load. The sideways rain ensured our departure was hurried, and removed any opportunity of over emotional farewells.

We have now moved away from Mercia with its 600 and something berths to the much more tranquil King's Orchard. We found that we prefer rustling broad beans from the adjacent fields to the swish wine bars of Mercia - perhaps it's a class thing?


Hopefully regular updates will now resume. We are working towards our summer Birmingham/ Wolverhampton trip. That will be if the Captain has worked significantly further down his job list.

The list comprises dozens of fairly straightforward jobs, In fact the only nasty one is changing the plastic toilet piping which is permeating horrible odours. The surveyor kindly told us of this, pointing to the pipes passing through the back of the wardrobe.
         'you may find yourself standing alone in the bar,' he joked.
         'I won't be there,' I replied, 'I'll be in the broad bean field.'
          He looked puzzled.

Captain seems to find it amusing to call the pipes Sanitary Hose - but maybe that is a class thing.




Sunday, 8 May 2016

Wild flowers, recycle bins and woodland paths.

Can this really be the same town of our formative years? It seems to have gone all middle class on us. Apart from prevalence of dog faeces in Shobnall field recreation ground, you might be in Henley on Thames.

There is a wild flower meadow and a woodland trail that surely never existed when our chief entertainment was sliding down a 90 degree mud bank. It all looks rather lovely in the sunshine and with the park on tap, you'd have to conclude that it's a great mooring.

We didn't sample Burton's real claim to fame, pubs and beer, but stayed on board and had home made pizzas with family. It's now very hot on the boat snd we are all in repose in front of a fan before we move through Dallow lock, Horninglow Basin and back to Mercia tonight.

It was snowing at home in The Peak District last week and it's difficult to imagine we are in the same country.

Friday, 25 March 2016

On The Rocks



Menai Suspension Bridge
from our holiday cottage
Every now and then, probably every couple of years, the Captain becomes afflicted with what can only be described as ‘the call of the sea.’

The last time it happened was in 2014. We were holidaying on the Crinan Canal and staying in the lock keeper’s cottage next to the Crinan sea lock. On that occasion, he had too much sunshine and saw too many boats. And so we were soon drowning under piles of motorboat magazines.
After many cold baths back in the Peak District, he slowly returned to normal, and after a few weeks, the motorboat magazines were thrown out.
But we are now in the midst of a more serious attack. In fact we are in North Wales for the week looking at marinas, boats, tides, and goodness knows what.

Captain now has a whole new language and Cardinal buoys, high water slack, tidal streams and The Swellies (which our holiday cottage overlooks) are now all part of our everyday conversation.




Swellies Rock (submerged) 
just before high water slack

Moving from the relative luxuries of a narrowboat to any sea boat is tricky. We are used to hot water, heating, a multifuel stove, being able to stop almost anywhere, with that anywhere, usually outside a pub.

On these sea boat things, even hot water is not guaranteed, which is why Captain has decided that we need an inboard shaft driven diesel powered boat as these quite often have hot water (and sometimes diesel fuelled heating).
Yesterday, he got very excited by a Merry Fisher 805 he saw at Doug Edwards boatyard near Beaumaris.
“It ticks most of our boxes,” he said, ticking most of the boxes.

This will all pass soon and he will be back to planning our August passage to Tamworth, Birmingham and Wolverhampton.







 
 

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The best Fish Supper I ever hud in ma life

Last Friday, or maybe it was the one before - doesn't time fly - we arrived at Princess Lucy, now signed up for twelve months in Mercia Marina. We planned to stay for a very long weekend as on the Wednesday the electric people back at home promised us no power all day.

We got the wine chilling and unpacked the ready meals planned for an easy first night dinner. We had a Prawn and Mango Masala, a Chicken Madras, a Spinach Dhal and a Perswari Nan. Quite a feast and we were looking forward our supermarket currys. But before that excitement, we took Mr Jones for his tea time walk.

Something blew us off course as we were walking past the romantically entitled Service Block 2, when First Mate stopped, and put her nose in the air.
"Probably the Elsan disposal point," Captain suggested.
"That looks like a chip van," First Mate said.
"That looks like a chip van to me too," said the Captain.
"Is it here every Friday?" First Mate asked.

The truth was, we were in shock and we needed time to process this information, so we carried on with Jonesy's walk. On the walk we hatched a plan. If the chip van was there on the way back, we would speak to them to find out what, when, how, and maybe why.

The plan worked like clockwork, except in the excitement some of the information was lost, but the gist is that the van stops at three places in the Marina between six and seven on a Friday. The important bit for us was that it would be quite near Princess Lucy for its 6:30pm stop. And the more important point was that it was - at the time of the conversation - only 6:15pm.

Can you guess what happened next?

Yes we did. First Mate was soon checking the dates on the curries, buttering bread and warming plates as Captain was despatched to the small queue forming in anticipation of its arrival. And then it came tooting its little horn all the way around the Marina. What joy as we unpacked the fragrant parcel of freshly fried fish and chips, mushy peas and, of course, Chip Shop Curry Sauce - a truly British invention and a work of genius.


PS. I didn't take any photos at the time, the above pictures are from the TV series 'Your Cheatin' Heart' by John Byrne. The top picture shows the late Tom Watson.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Black Swan and Green Kettle

We are getting used to being at Mercia and all that a 600 plus boat marina can offer. Mainly advantageous but, on a still night, the smog from hundreds of boat chimneys can be bronchially challenging.

Furness Vale - where we were until December - is small, picturesque and tranquil but it has no facilities.

Now on shore power for the first time in over 3 years, we have a lovely green electric kettle. Very sophisticated and many times quicker than our vintage French stove top. That vital mug of morning tea is soon ready.

The Marina has a nice wine bar, great cafe and a few expensive shops selling such things as Radley handbags and other labelled  fashionable nonsense. 

However, walk away from the Boardwalk and you are soon in a wildlife haven. There are many species of waterfowl including a black swan who knocks spots off Natalie Portman in the film of the same name.

We are unsure how unusual or rare a black swan is. But it seemed worth  juggling a camera phone whilst trying to calm a restless Mr Jones. He has had a few snipes from these aggressive birds and is rightly fearful.

Just wondering whether those lads we saw with a can of matt black spray paint had anything to do with it.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Wonder of Windlasses

"Wonder" may not be the correct collective noun for windlasses, but it will do for now.

On our December journey from Furness Vale down to Burton on Trent, we had the misfortune to lose two windlasses! The first was lost by the First Mate, and this was due to her negligence and incompetence. Two days later, the second one was lost by the Captain, but this was, well, just one of those things - it could happen to any Captain.

But then Captain actually got a bit panicky, as if this new rate of loss continued, we would be opening paddles with adjustable spanners by the time we got to Fradley!

We were in Rugeley, and whilst First Mate fought with the Christmas food shoppers in Tesco, Captain happened upon a wise man. He appeared on a boat in the mist (don't know his name - but he made fenders and that sort of thing.) Under his cratch cover he had gifts of frankincense, myrrh and windlasses. The windlasses were secondhand, as he had some secret for rescuing them from the deep, probably (I imagine) like trout tickling.

Two for a tenner seemed like a good deal, and Captain went away happy. Although to quote one of the many memorable lines from The Life of Brian: "don't worry too much about the myrrh next time."

But they were green! Now that just seemed wrong. Captain is someone who already spends too much time around locks looking whereabouts in the grass it was that he left the windlass, and green ones would make that even more challenging.

So, armed with some (slightly borrowed) British Rail Signal Red, Captain today set about putting this right. Note the inclusion of the lump hammer, as that too has a very annoying tendency to hide in the long grass.