Wednesday 30 May 2012

Black and white

Cheshire, says Lonely Planet, is a black and white county. Tudor architecture; rebuilt Tudor architecture; mock Tudor architecture; Friesian cows. All of which we can now verify from personal experience.

It was also in Cheshire (Nantwich, to be precise) that we met our first black and white boaters. She is from Nigeria, though she's lived in London from age 15. He's a white Brit. I got chatting to her at the water tap, as they filled up before starting off for Gloucester. We talked about there not being many black people on the cut, and why that was. She was still a relative newbie, like ourselves, but enjoying it.

Black and white is also the realm of the silhouette. Trees against an evening sky. I love them. In a tandem of contrast, they create something special. You need them both.

My world isn't often black and white. You have to live with the greys. But there is black and white, and it matters.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Olympic torch

The streets of Chester were very happy today as the torch came through. Lots of smiling, chatting, cheering, waving. One of those occasions which bring people together.

Remarkable for being neither the winning of a trophy by this team or that, nor a royal event such as next week will see. More like Proms in the Park.

We loved it.

Monday 28 May 2012

Bus Pass

We've had them for a couple of years, but today was the first time we'd used them. Would I feel a bit ancient presenting mine? Not at all – just smug! The 41A stops just outside Tattenhall marina, and drops you off in the middle of Chester. If you miss it you wait two hours for the next one, but that's more frequent than the service to our own village – which is why the passes have remained unused until now.

We'll use them again tomorrow, as we want to see the Olympic torch coming through Chester. And the city is such a bus-hub, we might use them later on in the week to get to some interesting places. All this on a pass obtained for free from New Forest District Council (I know – my taxes).

So, whoever thought up the concessionary bus pass system deserves a medal. Just a shame the last bus home leaves at 6.40 p.m. Perhaps they imagined that, for those using the system, this would be not long before bed-time.

Saturday 26 May 2012

The unexpected

Mo left a comment yesterday about the unexpected. Today I unexpectedly found myself on the side of the Iron lock at Beeston, with Erin Mae's centre line in my hand to steady her (following the instructions on the board) only to find, once the lock had emptied, that there was no ladder to climb back down. Pulling her through was the only option, but I was on the side away from the tow-path, with nowhere to go below the lock, and no simple way of taking the rope to the other side – it wasn't long enough. It needed help from some friendly fellow-boaters to pass and catch the rope as we manoeuvred the boat. If my best beloved and I been on our own, the only option might have been to re-fill the lock and start again – criminal waste of water. I have enormous admiration for single boaters who mostly manage these things without fuss.

Metaphor for the help we all need, really. Mo had also commented earlier about a friend of theirs with cancer they are supporting through a difficult phase. We don't always know what to expect. It's always good to have someone to share it with.

Friday 25 May 2012

Harry, Wendy and Nantwich

Harry and Wendy spent 18 years aboard NB Water Lupin, before selling her 5 years ago. I met them outside the Wright almshouses, where Wendy was resting on a bench, while Harry was tending the garden.

The lupins in the garden descend from those they grew on their boat

This particular almshouse was originally built in 1638 on a different site, but was moved to its present location, stone by stone, in 1974.

We had coffee in the bookshop. Oak panelling, leather chairs and very helpful staff. 

Nantwich has certainly grown to appreciate some of its architecture. The Rotary Club has put up plaques noting some of the people and occasions.

The Cheshire Cat was also an almshouse, before becoming an alehouse.

The church is mostly 14th century. Some earlier, some later. Typical detail in the stonework.

Overall we found Nantwich unexpectedly pleasing. We've left feeling we might well return for another saunter.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Cheshire cheese, Cheshire cat

As a lad, I never did like Cheshire cheese much, on the odd occasion it appeared on the table. Nor did I particularly care for Lewis Carroll's Chesire cat, one of the wierder characters that Alice encountered. Today has put them both in context, as we've drifted through the Cheshire plains. Rich grazing country, and I have discovered that Cheshire cats pre-date Carroll. Wikipedia says their grins are documented from the end of the 18th century, and that the explanation most favoured in this county is "the abundance of milk and cream".

Strolling into Nantwich at the end of the day we passed the Cheshire cat hotel. It's worth a return visit tomorrow, not so much for the small glass of cold Strongbow we talked about but didn't stop for, but for the photo.  I'd never thought that Nantwich might be photogenic – lots of amazing Tudor or Tudor-style buildings in the centre. But if we do stop for some refreshment it's unlikely to be Cheshire cheese, even though they say it makes the best Welsh rarebit. I've never got used to the taste.

Wednesday 23 May 2012


Being on the cut reminds me a bit of walking to the shops in the village where we spend the rest of our time. You greet most of the people you meet, apart from those lost in a world of white ear-buds. You exchange a smile and a joke and, if you need help with something, most are pleased to oblige. On the cut, they tend to offer before you ask.

Except for occasional know-it-all. The ones who use the fact that some are still learning, to parade their know-it-all-ness. They stand out because they are the exception, very keen to tell you what you've done wrong or might have done better, with the arrogance of the already perfect. What a difference in style from those who also probably know it all, but whose advice, if offered, is gentle, with nary the slightest sense of criticism!

What is embarrassing for the self-analytical is to realise how easily you yourself can fall into the trap, principally with those nearest and dearest. Concern to protect Erin Mae from another scrape as she enters a lock leads to the offering of advice. Unfortunately the advice gets offered at extremely high volume, to be heard above the engine. Any advice offered at high volume tends to sound distinctly critical. I have yet to learn how to conduct a conversation about possible changes to speed or direction, and how to achieve them, that doesn't sound positively know-it-all.

Today I discovered there's a Royal Navy regulation: "No officer shall speak discouragingly to another officer in the discharge of his duties." I suspect whoever wrote it had probably just brought a narrowboat down the seventeen locks between Market Drayton and Audlem.

Tuesday 22 May 2012


We were in Market Drayton about five years ago, when we first looked at the possibility of owning a narrowboat. There was a canal festival that weekend so, for us, the town has conjured memories of fender-makers and Morris Men, of leather-workers and water-jug-painters, and of the scarecrows that were part of a competition for the children.

Today we stopped in Market Drayton for a DIY pump-out and so (as with Wolverhampton – see Saturday's post) its associations have changed for ever! Getting a bit close to your own bodily waste is just one of those things about boating, but this was the first time I'd done Erin Mae's pump-out myself – one more "first" to chalk up. I'd been walking down the tow-path to investigate prices, when I encountered Mike and Diane (NB Epitome Two) whom we know from Great Haywood. Mike sold me a British Waterways pre-payment card that worked the BW pump-out machine – a lot cheaper than the average boatyard or marina would charge. Result! I suspect that, the older you get, the shorter the interval between pump-outs (or should that be pumps-out?).

Monday 21 May 2012

Sunshine, Shroppie, seeds and silence

What a difference the sun makes – the first warm day of May. The Shrophire Union canal (the Shroppie) glides its way north-west through a rural landscape, interrupted by the occasional village. The air is full of gently blown seeds, birdsong and … nothing. Absolute silence as we had our usual soup and bread lunch. Tonight we've moored up on the edge of Knighton Wood, with a ploughed field through the hedge on one side, and the brilliant yellow of a field of rape on the other. As last night, the mobile has no signal. The birds are the only thing to be heard.

The day held its usual mix of contacts, of course. Helpful people at Norbury Junction to advise on a slipped fender and sell us some diesel and some solid fuel for the fire (the evenings are chilly). A couple with a pram hood cover on their cruiser stern to chat about the pros and cons of getting one for Erin Mae. A wave from those coming the other way and a greeting exchanged with the fishermen and the moored liveaboards. But very little moving traffic.

In fact, perfect conditions for listening to Test Match Special as England put the first one to bed.

Saturday 19 May 2012


Wolverhampton has mixed associations for me. In 1958, and again in 1959, Wolves were the English football league champions and as such were the first football team of which I was aware (apart from Ivanhoe who played in the park opposite our house). My friend Dave is still an ardent Wolves fan, but I was never any good at supporting a team that way, though I've retained a soft spot for this one. Later I began to think of Wolverhampton as simply part of the amorphous industrial spread of the Midlands, and close enough to the horror that is the M5/M6 junction to merit being avoided at all costs.

Then in 1987 I went with a team of students to do some field work in Wolverhampton. I was 18 months back from several years in Brazil, and missing it. In Wolverhampton I visited with a couple of Afro-Carribean families and, to my amazement, found that the welcome and some of the attitudes took me straight back to Brazil. At home. I've never forgotten it.

But I'd never been back, until today, when we dropped down the Staffs and Worcs to Autherley junction. I never realised, until seeing it in the canal guide, that this iconic junction is in Wolverhampton. The greener, more picturesque parts. Very impressive. My thoughts about Wolverhampton have changed once again.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Bloggers' boats

We've only run into a couple of other boating bloggers on our travels so far. We met Bruce and Sheila when they overwintered at Great Haywood a year and a bit ago, then again on the Trent and Mersey last Autumn. And we chatted with Bones at Annie's tea rooms last summer. But that's it.

Yesterday we missed two and a half opportunities as we came down to Penkridge. NB Rock 'n Roll and NB Bendigedig were tied up on opposite sides of the cut within a short distance of each other. I was too surprised to think to stop and say hello to either, though I checked out their blogs later to make sure it was them. I suppose I'm a bit diffident about this sort of thing – but I also know how much I've enjoyed it when people who've read this blog take the trouble to introduce themselves. It's a funny old thing, doing the self-analysis to understand the balance between the confidence and the shyness in yourself.

And the half? That was a narrowboat called Briar Rose. Checking out the blog, it was apparent this was a different Briar Rose. Just as well I didn't stop to greet them – they'd have wondered what on earth I was talking about!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Out of condition

Well, we made it. Water tank full, diesel tank full, poo tank empty (almost). Sun in the sky, wind not too cold, a day for tee-shirts, dark glasses and sun-hats. Off we sailed, down the Staffs and Worcs and have tied up just past the Midland Chandlers depot at Penkridge. Very convenient as we need to get an extra centre line in the morning. Only down side is the M6 rumbling along about a quarter of a mile away. But my best beloved has recently taken to using ear-plugs at night to cut out the sound of my snoring, and the M6 rumble pales into insignificance beside that. For my part, I can sleep through almost anything.

My principal issue is going to be neck and shoulders, which are putting up a steady complaint after about 5 hours at the tiller. You'd think they would have let me know earlier, and we could have stopped sooner. But no, they waited until the last lock gate was shut behind us and the mooring ropes neatly tied to begin their whining. Now they are having a competition to see which can scream the loudest. Never saw this coming – better start an appropriate exercise regime.

Meanwhile, I have to decide on the best medicine. A couple of paracetamol, or a nice glass of red wine. Hm… So I put it to the medically-trained member of the partnership. And she said: "Both!"

Tuesday 15 May 2012


A friend laughed at my joy over Erin Mae's TV/audio system when we were buying her 18 months ago. His father-in-law (a liveaboard at the time) would have reserved such enthusiasm for a vintage diesel engine requiring constant loving care. It wasn't so much the surround sound – haven't even got that at home. But there are certain things we enjoy watching together, and music has played a large part in our lives. Boating's rural idyll is all very well, but there are times when you want to watch some good Danish drama, or listen to whatever you listen to without the MacBook's speakers completely ruining it. Dolby 5.1 doesn't equal hi-fi, but it sounds pretty good to my somewhat impaired eardrums.

It depends in part on what floats your technological boat. Ever since I wasted homework time drawing transistor radio circuit diagrams, I've loved the magic of electrical connections and the systems they generate. So the most recent challenge was to connect the MacBook to Erin Mae's AV system. Amazon came up with a range of leads and adaptors, while Great Haywood's wonderful poste restante service saw them delivered locally. Today's appalling weather meant it was a day for jobs indoors, so I finished adapting the support for the TV we had brought from home, connected all my new connectors, and now we can listen to the iTunes collection or watch something from iPlayer in proper style. Mind you, an AppleTV added to the setup would do it all with even more aplomb…

The rest of the world of connections goes up and down. We've mislaid the charger for my best beloved's phone, and it's so ancient that neither Carphone Warehouse nor the man with the trolley-load in Stafford's shopping centre stocked one. Calamity! The device that provides Erin Mae's wi-fi works pretty well for the most part, but will occasionally suddenly decide to stop talking to the MacBook. But on the more human front, yesterday we met Philip and Hazel (nb Matthew Flinders, also based at Great Haywood) and found that Philip reads this blog from time to time. Nice to meet you guys. A good connection!

Monday 14 May 2012

Fish and Chips

What is it about fish and chips, in the car, in a lay-by? It's a memory from childhood, six of us in a Morris Cowley coming back from holiday in North Wales. Don't know where the chippie was – don't even remember whether the newspaper contained fish to go with the chips. Just a moment of family togetherness two thirds of the way home. A pattern we often repeated, years later, with our own kids.

Coming back up to the Erin Mae on Saturday we thought we'd stop for food at the Harvester where the A446 splits from the A38. Should have known better.  They could seat us right away, but the food would be 40 minutes to an hour. Optimisitic, we thought. So we pushed on, thinking of a pub in Rugeley where we'd had some nice grub once. Then I said "What about fish and chips, if we can find any?" My best beloved's eyes sparkled like a Christmas tree and, yes, she thought she'd seen a chippie just by the traffic lights in Lichfield. Ten minutes later, armed with cod and chips and a couple of cans of diet Pepsi, we pulled over into a lay-by and tucked in. It felt like a midnight bean-feast. Who cares that it wouldn't quite have made Egon Ronay?

Thursday 3 May 2012

Losing it

So – about 3 grams lighter than I was yesterday, plus whatever was used up in nervous energy. It's slightly strange, one moment lying there, chatting about books with the man who's shortly to incise your incisor (well, molar in this case) and, the next thing you know, the magician's assistant is gently telling you the deed is done. While the magician himself is assuring you that the mouth won't hurt at all and to be sure to look up Ben Kane on Amazon.

Home we came, with my best beloved at the wheel and yours truly in less of a daze than expected. Being required to spend the day quietly has been a nice excuse to watch some snooker while doodling with database design on the laptop.

The blurb about the sedative said it could affect my memory today (don't sign any important documents, etc). Probably something I have to get used to, anyway! I know there's something I have to do now the tooth is out. Hm … oh yes, get up to Erin Mae as soon as possible, April having done its worst. Probably Saturday. Bring it on!

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Push, pull and paracetamol

So when the time came, did that tooth want to come out? After three shots of local anaesthetic, and a great deal of pushing, pulling and waggling with implements that might not have been out of place in a Victorian midwife’s kit, the tooth stayed put. Dentist Mike confessed himself defeated, smoothed over the battlefield and handed me a batch of Tylex capsules to be taken “as required”, which he clearly felt they would be. Then he rang up a local oral surgeon, who I went to see this afternoon for a 10-minute consultancy about the next step.

While he was taking my blood pressure, he asked me what I had lectured in, and that led, by some devious route, to a discussion of all the historical novels we had read between us. I think we spent the next 20 minutes comparing notes about books and authors and checking out new ideas on Amazon via his consulting room computer.

Somewhere near the start of the conversation he decided to rearrange tomorrow morning’s schedule so as to deal with the offending item rather sooner than the two weeks suggested by the receptionist. So at 9 a.m. I shall go under, first sedation and then the scalpel. Provided we don’t spend all the time talking about Edith Pargeter.