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


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.