Wednesday 24 July 2013


Today, as we came back to base with our friends Iain and Glenys, we passed NB Lóthlórien. I've come across other Tolkien inspired narrowboat names. The list now is:

Arwen Evenstar

I wondered what others there might be out there.

Monday 22 July 2013


No, not the cricket lot this time! It's our friends Iain and Glenys from Edinburgh days. Glenys was doing the world tour, captured Iain's heart and ran with him back to Australia. We've seen them about once since.

It's great to have them on Erin Mae for a couple of days. Their last experience of the cut was in the mid-70s, hiring a boat with friends in the Chester area for a week. Iain's done boating of a different sort, so took to Erin Mae's tiller very easily.

We've come down the Staffs and Worcs on a very muggy evening. Hard to summon up the energy to cook tea. But what a good, relaxed way to catch up. Some friendships last very well.

Sunday 21 July 2013

One thing leads to another – again

Back at Great Haywood after a visit to the IWA festival on Friday, I found the inconsistent TV signal at the marina wouldn't bring in Channel 5 + 1 for the highlights of the second day of the Test match. This was really annoying, given the events of the day. I got on the internet and waited for the programme to be posted on Demand5. And waited… After 10 p.m. it seemed to promise something, and then gave just a blank window. So on Saturday morning I tried again, putting the dongle directly into the computer to cut out a stage of transmission. Success! – all those wickets falling were a great start to the day, though they've found a way to stop Firefox cutting out the adverts.

With a smug sense of fulfilment I detached the dongle, re-attached it to the lead that connects it to the Zoom WiFi box, and hung it in the window. Then I realised the hopper was open and I'd put it through the window. I pulled the lead back through, heard a splash, resisted all the decidedly non-Christian expletives that appeared unasked in my head, and spent the next 15 minutes trying to lift it from the marina floor with my recovery magnet. To no avail.

Oops. If only… (…I didn't like cricket, …GH had a better TV signal, …Erin Mae had a better aerial, …the highlights had been easier to get at on the internet, …I hadn't been so clumsy)! So on our shopping trip to Stafford I called at the Three shop, where a very nice young man sold me a replacement dongle for the only price he could, and linked it and the new SIM card to my account. I could have got it considerably cheaper from Amazon, but for that I needed the internet… And not to be in a hurry.

Unfortunately the young man didn't know that this new, updated dongle wasn't going to work with the software the old one had installed. The dongle knew, but wasn't telling. My past experience of ringing Three support has not been very good, so it was back into Stafford. Various conversations eventually identified the issue, and we got it working with the MacBook. Back on Erin Mae, it still wouldn't work with the Zoom WiFi box. Two hours of diagnosis and fiddly work later, I eventually got it going. I'm not quite sure how anyone would have managed who wasn't used to working with computers and networks.

Intriguing to observe the effects of a shortage of information – is it an addiction? Not only no cricket, but no emails, no news or weather forecast on demand, no browsing interesting topics, no blog-reading – and no posting to my own. We felt very isolated – much more so than when simply moored down the cut somewhere, well away from anyone else. Must keep an eye on this one.

Friday 19 July 2013


It was quite strange being back at Great Haywood yesterday, not travelling on, not locking up or down, not wondering who we'd meet through the next bridge. Getting up late, washing sheets, working on some IT stuff, listening to the Test Match.

So today we headed off to Cassiobury Park in Watford for the first day of the IWA festival. Just over two hours in the car for what would have taken a good many long days in Erin Mae! It was hot and suitably festive.

There were boats galore, new ones to tempt you to buy, and a lots of ex-working boats with their enthusiasts enthusing. I stood on the deck of NB Chertsey (a 1937 Grand Union Woolwich class boat), courtesy of the ever-welcoming Sarah, to take a shot of a very heavily laden Josher that looks as though it's almost ready to sink.

There was entertainment from various musicians.

Life and Times' set included one great unaccompanied song about the decline of the waterways before the restoration movement of recent decades.

And there were things to buy. We wanted to complete the installation of LED lighting in Erin Mae, so we paid a visit to JMG.

Paul, as ever, was very helpful and, on this occasion, appropriately embarrassed at being caught with his lunch in his mouth.

We'd seen the Brolly Mate, so when we found them at the Miracle booth, we took the plunge. Given the atmospheric conditions at Great Haywood, it might find itself supporting a very high TV aerial if I'm to see any of the Test Match highlights.

We looked for a ratchet windlass, but no one seems to be producing or selling them. And then we took out membership with the IWA. It's a small move towards seeing whether we can put something back into the environment that has given us so much, so far, and whether this is a good way to do so.

Last, but not least, we found Halfie and Jan at the BCF booth – one of the few boating bloggers we've actually met.

It was great to meet you, guys. Hope you have a good time at the festival, and hope to meet up again sometime.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Music at Gailey

Got out my guitar on the towpath last night at Gailey. After a while Terry, on NB Josiah, moored behind us, opened their side hatch, heard the music, got out his guitar and we played happily together for an hour and a half or so.

His wife Pat and a couple from the next boat along provided an appreciative audience.

We had a good time discovering which songs we both knew, and which we could learn, and complementing each other's style. Terry has a great voice!

Pat was lamenting the fact that impromptu sessions on the towpath like this seem to be getting rarer. Hope we (and others – any musicians out there?) can do something about that – and to meet you both again sometime.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Knowing your noises

When we returned after some years working in Brazil I would be doing something in the garden (for example) and suddenly become aware of a noise coming from a distance, a repeating sort of whistle. It would be impossible to tell the direction and I could only guess at what it was – electricity cable perhaps, or some strange burglar alarm. It was really annoying and frustrating not to be able to identify it. It was only months later that I discovered that the legislation had been introduced requiring large vehicles to have an alarm when they are reversing. The sound would come across the summer evening air from many roads away. It's all about knowing your noises.

Philip from Oxley Marine knows his noises. As we did a test run on Erin Mae a couple of days ago he was commenting on nuances from the engine and drive gear that I couldn't even distinguish. But when we tied up last night I could hear a whistle in the air. It wasn't our fridge. I thought it might be the guy in the boat moored thirty yards away doing some DIY. Then I thought it might be some farm machinery – this was a really rural mooring. I ignored it while I played my guitar on the towpath, and we got our evening meal and watched a fascinating programme about Stradivari. As I began to shut up Erin Mae for the night I realised I could still hear the noise, especially when standing on the cruiser stern.

So I lifted up one of the deck boards over the engine, and the noise got louder. It definitely seemed electrical – a cross between a kettle whistle and humming from a dodgy piece of solder. It didn't sound at all healthy. So I turned off the starter battery isolator – no change. Turned off the domestic battery isolator – no change (except that all the lights and the fridge went off). Checked the battery bank for a short circuit, but it didn't seem to be coming from there, and I couldn't see any sparking in the dark.

It was when I went to the main electrical control panel to see if there was a switch for the diesel central heating unit that I found the answer. The bilge pump was turned on, instead of to "auto".

It's the sort of thing a boater who knows his noises would have thought of immediately. It implies that the bilge pump is wired to be connected even when the battery isolator switches are off, which makes sense and is probably in Erin Mae's manual. It's the sort of thing I should have guessed, ever since we turned off the water pump by mistake during an early cruise, with a hand misplaced as we came down the steps.

Well, that's one more noise identified, to be filed away for future reference, along with the reminder to be careful where you put your hands. Glad we got it before we completely drained our new batteries.

Monday 15 July 2013

Traffic and the times

When we started up the Avon last month, Bob the lock keeper in Tewkesbury was bemoaning the lack of traffic. We'd seen very few boats on the Severn, and the pattern continued. Bob put it down to the economic climate taking its toll – with the holiday-boat trade being hit especially hard.

Over the last few days we've begun to see signs of more movement. At Wheaton Aston lock today there was actually a queue of boats waiting to go down!

But we've also passed a couple of hire-boat centres, with half their fleet lying idle. It's not quite school holiday time in England, but it still seems significant that so much capacity is not being used. You'd think they could get the boats earning their keep somehow.

It's not that I necessarily want to encounter more hirers coming too fast through a bridge on a bend! But the hirers of today are the owners of tomorrow. The canal network needs both a thriving user base and a healthy wider economy if it is to develop. The times show their signs in surprising places.

Hmm… bit of a heavy post today! That's because we went up to Wheaton Aston and back to get diesel at the best price on the network, and nothing much happened apart from that. Hot day!

Sunday 14 July 2013

Bearing up

Side effect of bending and mending the tiller's swan neck was recognising the sad state of the upper tiller bearing. This bar is rocking backwards and forwards like Erin Mae on the Shroppie shelf in a Force 5.

Clearly we need a new one of these.

First thing is to get the tiller off with the help of a hydraulic extractor.

Then to the bearing itself. Will it come off by hand?

No chance. What about a crowbar?

Nothing doing. Resort to the angle grinder. Philip says he always ends up doing that.

Bearing casing is cut through. Use a chisel to complete the job.

Oops. Casing came off but the chisel broke in the process. Next up – the bearing itself, seized (naturally) on to the shaft of the rudder. Try the crowbar again.

No joy. It's back to the hydraulic extractor.

Which gave a big jump as it removed the bearing, and fell in the canal. Being a pretty heavy object, it needed the combined strength of my fishing magnet and Philip's to lift it from the bottom.

But thereafter it was was straightforward to clean up the shaft,

fit the new bearing and re-fit the tiller.

All sorted!

While he was at it, I asked to Philip to check out the drive train, so we took Erin Mae down to Aldersley junction and back, getting his opinion on the state of things down below. Very useful. Not the sort of wisdom you easily get out of books.

Strange way to spend a Sunday morning. Certainly a change from going to church!

Saturday 13 July 2013

Brother on board

Great day! Older brother Nº 1 and wife joined us for a few hours at Gailey, on their way from Somerset to the Lake District.

We relaxed and chatted and ate and made music and chatted. They had to move on all too soon.

First brother on Erin Mae. Two more to go!

Friday 12 July 2013


As you get under way from Autherley Junction to cruise to Gailey, you encounter a typical novice boater's nightmare – the canal equivalent of one of Scotland's "narrow road with passing places".

It's where the canal-makers had to make a cutting in the rock, and decided the trauma for future boaters was as nothing compared to the trauma for the navvies and / or their paymasters. So these narrows are where this happens…

All negotiated without mishap. At least there was a passing place.

Now "narrows" is also an apt description of what's been happening to my best beloved's waistline under the influence of some revised eating patterns. (I think it's also going to apply to our income / outgoings differential as trousers and skirts go beyond the point where they can be taken in and have to be replaced.) So it was highly fortuitous to come across Dave on NB Anon today, who had made her windlass holster. Extra holes, he said, come free!

The holster now sits securely with no danger of it's ending up round her ankles!

The last time we saw Dave he had talked about the butty he was having made for their other business – speciality home-made chocolates to sell on the towpath. After all, you can't manufacture chocolates in the same space as you do leather-work. The butty was there, duly attached to the front of the boat, and the business is up and running.

While we were chatting with Dave, two traditional boats passed, and we found ourselves following them all the way to Gailey. They weren't travelling as fast as I had anticipated when I gaily (ho-ho!) waved them through. So we had an extremely leisurely and enjoyable trip as time expanded to compensate for all the narrowing going on elsewhere.

Thursday 11 July 2013


Reading Bruce's blog about their recent trip up the Caldon canal reminded me of carrying large amounts of shopping from the supermarket at Leek along the towpath to Erin Mae during our first significant trip, in September 2011. At that point my best beloved decided we needed some sort of trolley, and had in mind the plastic type her medical colleagues used for toting stuff around. But in the end we concluded they were not sufficiently robust for the towpath, and didn't carry enough. Then, on a visit to Ikea, she spotted the solution. I required a considerable amount of persuasion, but eventually acquiesced. Since then we've been using it with great success whenever shopping has needed to be trolleyed.

While we were at the Lyons Boatyard getting the swan neck fixed, she walked up the hill with it to a Sainsbury's, and found herself pretty exhausted by the time she returned with a full load. That merited a FaceBook entry about the trolley, and since then our friend Una has wanted to see a picture. Because my best beloved's iPad still resists posting photos to FaceBook, and because today we used the thing again, today's post immortalises it (the internet is immortal, isn't it?). For Una, here it is.

You can see why I said she had "spotted" the solution, and perhaps sympathise with my initial reluctance to make this particular purchase. I wonder what style guru conceived it. Perhaps large polka dot is all the rage in Sweden.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Back through the Bratch

The new CEO of the Canal and River Trust, Richard Parry, decided to do a weekend's boating as one of his first undertakings. Brownie points! Boaters in general were very pleased. Problem: just before the appointed time, one of the locks in the flight known as the Wolverhampton 21 failed (think wall collapsing), and as a result the flight was closed until further notice. Guess where Richard Parry's cruise had been planned for!

Master Parry continued with his plan, but at a different location. A good many boaters are delighted that he has had early confirmation of the perilous state of the infrastructure of the waterways, which many have been warning of, but which the old guard of those in authority have a reputation for being in denial about.

We ourselves were due to come back from our Birmingham trip via the Wolverhampton flight, but had to change our own plans. So it was through the Netherton tunnel, down the Delph flight, down the Stourbridge flight, to Stourton junction on the Staffs and Worcs. And today we've started northwards, re-tracing the route we took in June, which has brought us again to the Bratch.

Coming up it is a slightly different experience to going down it – your perspective is different.

Up behind those gates is a wall of water, three storeys high, waiting to fall on you. But once you're up, there's a nice mooring, which we're sharing with some people who've been coming up the locks with us today.

There's a strong enough Three signal to make this post. Even more importantly, there's a good enough TV signal to watch the highlights of this most extraordinary first day of the Ashes.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Coot combinations

Among the water fowl chicks common on the canals, the ducklings must be the skittiest (just see them go when they can't find mum) and the moorhens the cutest, but the coots must take the prize for being the most dishevelled.

I'm sure she doesn't think they look like she's put them through the tumble dryer. In fact, coots are obviously so delighted with the thought of yet more of the little critters, that they are willing to prepare enthusiastically for the happy event even on a day as hot as today.

He'd bring a bit of flotsam, or something garnered from the bank, and pass it up to her.

She would give due consideration to where it might fit, presenting her best side to him (and to the camera) in the process.

Then she'd find a place for it, or discard it disparagingly. He didn't seem upset by the rejects, just went and got another from B&Q the bank.

So that was our entertainment for the day, shortly after we said farewell to our urban hideaway (just back round the corner to the left).

Then we did 20 locks at 90 in the shade. No doubt a canal connoisseur would have found lots to enthuse about, but we were just glad to be making progress down this interminable flight. The most interesting part was as we came through a couple of locks as close together as those at the Bratch. In the distance is an old glassworks – a bottle kiln that now houses a museum. We passed it later on, but it didn't look as though they encouraged visitors from the canal side.

So tonight we're back on the Staffs and Worcs, at Stourton Junction, where we came through on our journey down to Stourbridge. It seems a long time since we passed this way and then found ourselves stopping in Kinver and talking with Wilson's about the possibility of a pram cover for the stern. That's now done and dusted (see yesterday's post).

And, yes, I did find a way of folding it today so I could get up and down via the roof and help with the locks. If coots can combine, so can we.

Monday 8 July 2013

Pram cover

I don't remember being in our pram, but I remember younger brother in it.  Folding hood 'n' all. It's no surprise that the cover for a narrowboat's cruiser stern gets the "pram" label. And today Mark came to finish the job. We couldn't have stopped overnight in a better place for it – the Bumble Hole nature conservation area at the southern end of Netherton tunnel.

With volunteers Norman (hair) and John (six London marathons to his name) on site to serve teas and create a nice atmosphere.

So Mark got busy with the dodger.

Then it was the top cover.

On with the sides.

Still a bit to do.

Front window going in place.

Job done!

We're really pleased (a) that we decided to go ahead with it, seizing the opportunity presented by passing Wilson's in Kinver at the beginning of June – they've been brilliant; (b) that we opted for the maroon colour.

Cruising today down the eight locks of the Delph flight we discovered a complication. The cover folds forward so as not to interfere with the cruiser stern rail. That meant I could no longer easily get up to and down from the boat's roof, because the cover was just where I would be putting my feet. Now my best beloved and I had been developing a nice double act for doing the locks, which involved me being out of the boat and helping with the paddles and gates. Especially useful when there was no little bridge across the lock by the bottom gates. So my best beloved thinks we need to find a way to fold down the hood that leaves me able to scramble up and out (or down and in) with as great a felicity (read "feline elegance") as I have done heretofore. I, on the other hand, am extremely concerned about the new cover and think it is probably my duty to remain on deck to avoid trampling it. I know it involves me in a little less strenuous exercise, but sacrifices must be made.

Be that as it may, today we found an excellent young helper in Brandon, who decided that assisting with the gates was every bit as good as the fishing he'd been doing with his mates.

Thanks, Brandon. And thanks, Mark, for the work on the cover.