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 as 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.