Category Archives: Architecture

Mud Weight. 7th April

Lockdown Mooring 3

The gardeners were about this morning

Mick put the oven on first thing with our cast iron pot inside to warm up good and hot to bake the loaf. I didn’t hold out much hope when I unveiled it. When everything was heated up I lowered it into the pot on some greaseproof paper, put the lid on and slide it into the oven. Twenty five minutes later the lid came off, not the best view, but another twenty five minutes before it could sit on the shelf to finish cooking. I already knew it wouldn’t be the most appetising loaf I’ve ever made! Oh well I knew it was an experiment.

Not the most appetising loaf!

Mick spent some of the morning linking my phone to Zoom so that I could use it as a hand held camera to show my model better at my production meeting today. A cuppa was made and I sat down to see what changes to The Garden were going to happen.

Come play with me!

Dark Horse Theatre Company work with learning disabled actors, they have an Ensemble of qualified actors and students. The Garden was to be this years graduation show, sadly Lynda and Amy had made the decision to cancel all live performances last week. Rescheduling the show was getting more and more complicated, affecting their next production which is a big tour for them. However they had come up with an idea which would mean the play could still be heard and still involve everyone who’d been contracted.

A zoom meeting taken from a bad angle

Five of us discussed the possibilities of the play becoming a radio play. How could the actors record themselves? How different would the recordings sound as they got edited together? Posting out a recording device wouldn’t be possible as the actors are not that tech savvy and not everyone has help from family members where they live. So the play would need to be recorded onto phones, sound effects and atmosphere added. We actually decided that the quality of the recording would reflect the times we’re living in rather than sound as if it was done in a recording studio.

But what of my part? I know how the show was going to look, how would it look now. The play will be illustrated by me, eight or so drawings depicting moments from the play, then portraits of the actors for the credits (my own idea!). The hope is that we’ll produce something that can go onto YouTube, therefore reaching a larger audience and be accessible for all. So I’ve not as much work to do, no sewing, but a lot of drawing and painting, all of which can be done on the boat. The hope is that when people can be together again Dark Horse will put together an immersive exhibition of The Garden, we may even realise part of the design, so my model needs to be kept.

A smaller meeting followed between myself and Amy (the Director) regarding the show that will tour next year. They currently have a computer games animator working on the show and it’s getting to the point where he will need to know what people will look like, what costumes they will wear etc.

We chatted through the show in detail, a play about Adulting, set in a 1984 type world where you have to pass tasks to be allowed into the adult world. It is a highly technical show and I will need to seek advice from those more ofay with serious digital projection.

View by our mooring

Mick and Tilly kept quiet whilst my two hour meeting was happening. Mick had headed out to find milk whilst Tilly search for friends.

Late afternoon I headed out on my own again for a walk. This time I took the OS map with me and I headed out to walk in the opposite direction to yesterday. First walking along the canal to Bunbury. I passed a few boats moored along the cut, a tent in amongst the trees where a chap was collecting fire wood and a whirligig drying a bit of washing nowhere near a boat!

Bunbury

Bunbury staircase had both chambers empty, nobody had gone through, the walls were dry. Well we’d been the only boat along here to move yesterday so that wasn’t a surprise. In the window of the AngloWelsh office there were signs up trying to discourage people from walking the towpath. Below the lock the towpath is narrower than above so boaters who live there are getting twitchy.

Walking on water

Here I followed the road to the South. Lock Farm was readying itself for the cattle to cross the road for milking, the farm house a very fine looking building set back a touch from the road, all immaculate.

What a lovely farm house

I continued onwards to where Bird’s Lane headed off to the left. Here hedges have been carved into long wide triangular divides between road and fields.

Triangular hedges

At the righthand bend I came across a couple of ladies out for their daily walk. They moved with precision keeping at least two meters apart from each other and did a red arrows manoeuvre when I came into view to give me space too. Thank you ladies.

What’s that mid shot

Then across the fields, over stiles and little bridges to where I’d gone wrong yesterday. I’d turned left instead of keeping going straight, the kissing gate in a little dip so it had been out of view. Over the last bridge into the field below Oleanna and the canal. A black shape was just visible above the friendly cover, Tilly.

Is it?

Well, there I was minding my own friends when a She appeared in MY field! How dare She!! I’d just detected a friend and then got distracted. She seemed to know me, She called my name. Hang on how come She was in my field!? Hello!!! My friend could wait.

It is!

When Tilly became convinced it was me her tail lifted above the grass and she trotted her way over to say hello. That tail is such a welcoming sight.

Hello!

This evening I sliced into the loaf. Heavy, thick, zero crumb, just as I thought. We tried a little taste each, very sour from having been left overnight. I finely cut some up to sprinkle on top of my Shepherdness pie. Too heavy to feed to the ducks, but not quite heavy enough to become a mud weight, it went in the bin.

My little thug

April is full of anniversaries for us. Today three years ago we hired a van, loaded it with essential possessions and bundled Tilly into her escape pod to drive to Sheffield. That day we moved onto Oleanna and Tilly claimed the bottom shelf of the bookcase as hers. Since then Oleanna has served us well, travelling over 3500 miles of canals and rivers and ascending and descending around 2300 locks. This year our travels will be much reduced, but one day we will be able to cruise again.

Staking her claim three years ago

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 towpath trimmed, 2 hours talking to Yorkshire, 2 shows, 8 illustrations, 1 box set, 1 animator chomping at the bit, 9th April milk, 0 water, 9 hours, 2.3 miles walked, 2 boats, 1 failed loaf, 3 years of Oleanna life.

Hop, Skip And Slip. 15th March

Beeton Wood Bridge to Coxbank Visitor Moorings.

Turnover bridge Shropie style

A touch of shore leave for Tilly whilst we had our breakfast. Three boats came past, two heading towards the locks, oh well, we’d have to reset them for ourselves. As we made ready to push off the cows could be heard in the distance, at least they hadn’t been audible all night.

Top of the flight

The Adderley flight is an easy one. I’d expected all the locks to be empty, but the second one down was full due to a paddle that had been left halfway up, good job there’s plenty of water coming down!

How did someone miss this?

We passed boats coming up hill in the bottom two locks of the flight, one a familiar boat from a couple of years ago. They have a cat, Tilly had had a stand off over whose territory the benches were in at Nantwich.

One coming up

At Hawksmoor Bridge a boat we’d been following was just settling onto the visitors mooring. New stop planks all numbered up had been left by the bridge. There was a stoppage here until recently which caused a shortage of water down into Audlem. But today the levels are back to normal, just a shame that the canal under the bridge is very shallow. Oleanna made a big lean as we came through, it was like being back at Ryders Green!

Labelled stop planks

On to the top of the Audlem flight. There’s a handy mooring just two locks down which is where we planned to moor for the day.

It’s a bit lumpy through that bridge hole

Works at the top lock cottage are all completed now. The lower half of the very big extension is brick with the upper half timer clad that has had time to silver. Mick wasn’t too keen and I think it swamps the original cottage somewhat, the silvering timber will never make it fade into the background.

The lock cottage

No goodies for sale, here today. I didn’t bother checking in the fridges as I didn’t fancy a chilled medication.

I hitched a lift back on Oleanna to get round a muddy patch on the towpath on the way to the next lock. Down the lock and then we had a choice of where to stop as the moorings were empty.

Our first lamb this spring, certainly not a new born

We chose the first stretch just before a very very muddy length of towpath. It was just long enough for Oleanna and neither of us would have to wade through any mud. Just after we’d tied up it started to rain, perfectly timed.

Tilly came and went during the afternoon and I had a catch up phone call with my brother. Jac my sister-in-law had been planning to fly to Melbourne last Wednesday for the rest of the month to visit her Mum and family. I’d wondered if she’d gone, she had. My brother is quite calm about what is happening, he just hopes he gets his wife back sometime. It was good to have a catch up and hear news from London.

New tyre fitted

A few days ago Oleanna had caught a tyre whilst we were moored, so Mick set about replacing one on our wheels that has had a puncture for ages now. It fitted, we just need Oleanna to catch another one sometime and not around her prop!

As the tyre was pumped up a boat came past up the locks. I could hear Mick talking to a lady asking if she was alright. I bobbed out to see what was happening. The lady was walking between the locks windlass in hand and had come across the quagmire on the towpath. She’d tried to get round it, only a mountain goat or Tilly could do this up the steep bank, and had slipped onto her hand. Nothing broken thank goodness as her husband sailed away up to the next lock.

The ladies boat by the next lock

Only one thing for it, we’d give her a lift. Shoes back on, cratch rolled up, Tilly back onboard as their dog ran to find Mum on the towpath, we untied and got the bow just past the muddy section where the lady could hop on the bow with me. She was very apologetic about her muddy shoes, but really that didn’t matter, we’re muddy as anything at the moment! Mick reversed us back up and the lady could hop off and walk on up to the next lock. Her husband was closing the bottom gates at the lock about to start filling the chamber, wonder if he got an ear full?

It rose another inch before it went back in the fridge

My sourdough starter had come out of the fridge earlier with the aim of waking it up to make some pasta for a lasagne tomorrow. It warmed up and after a feed sat on the dinette table slowly growing all afternoon. Just a shame it ended up back in the fridge as we have sausages that will need eating tomorrow. Oh well it can come out and be woken up again tomorrow, I might make a loaf too.

As a joint of pork cooked away in the oven the sun set in the cloudless sky. What a wonderful sight.

Wonderful

7 locks, 2.82 miles, 3 uphill boats, 0 baked goods, 1 starter woken, 1 sister-in-law out of the country, 1 starter put to sleep, 1 new tyre, 4.5 hours shore leave, 1 muddy lady rescued, 1 joint pork, 3 year old balls of yarn, 1 bag of socks I really must update my etsy shop.

Three Types Of Each. 4th March

The Black Country Living Museum

The back gate

With our entrance tickets bought from the Dudley Canal Trust we walked up through the buildings towards the bus stop in the museum. Despite the time tabel suggesting there would be a bus every 15 minutes we decided to walk up the hill to the main entrance. We soon saw the bus and an old car bipping it’s horn at everyone it saw, both were heading to where we’d come from.

Beep beep!

First thing was to change our paper receipt for an annual pass. We can now visit as many times as we like for no extra cost. This may only end up being once more, but you never know.

Quick catch that bus!

It was a touch damp now outside so we caught the double decker back down the hill to have a walk round. We first visited the museum about eight years ago when we were moving our shareboat NB Winding Down down the country. We had a very good day, but wished we’d had longer. This time we’d go down the mine and have fish and chips!

Hobbs and Sons or the Chippy

Once the chippy opened we checked out the claims from the website. The claims were correct and we could place an order for later, but we were expecting company and had no idea what time we’d like our lunch, so we would risk there being a long queue.

Still fills up with petrol on the main road once a week

As midday got closer we caught the bus back up the hill to meet up with Marion (Mick’s sister) and John who were coming for a day trip from Eastbourne. As they had train tickets they could do the Days out two for one.

One of the houses

With winter hours being a little bit tight we chose to head back down the hill again, by bus to the thick of the buildings. There is a large area being redeveloped, if that’s what you can call it when the buildings will all be 1940’s to 60’s that already exist. Sadly this means the mine and funfair are closed at the moment.

Fires blazing away in kitchens

Lines of school kids zigzagged through the streets following their period dressed guides. Huddles of them stood in dimly lit shops listening to the proprietors talking about what they sold and what it would have been like there in the 20’s and 30’s, some even earlier.

The radio workshop kept John busy for a while and ladies sat in their kitchens kept warm by their ranges, no cooking going on today. A school mistress taught a class speaking very slowly and awarding two pupils a certificate.

The Gentleman’s Outfitters

The tailor didn’t have quite what John was after but was very well stocked with Peeky Blinder caps and waistcoats.

Mum’s chosen
brands

The tobacconists would have kept my Mum stocked up with her favourite brands and I’m sure my Dad would have found suitable tobacco to make his own mix from.

1920’s living room with fantastic wallpaper

A 1920’s living room with very smart fan wallpaper had a rug on the floor. I was asked why I thought there were two round marks on it. Was it because something had been placed there and the pile had flattened. No it was a fashion to have rugs which had a pattern, not in colour but in the texture, shag pile and short pile. I’d once aimed to shave one from some carpet for a show, but had run out of time.

Frying full time

By now we were a little bit peckish so joined the queue in Hobbs. Luckily it wasn’t too long, there’s a sign outside where you can sit to while away the half hour before getting served! Our orders were placed. 2 vegetarian, cooked in sunflower oil. 1 gluten free. 1 standard, everything cooked in beef dripping. We found a space to sit and wait, jumping whenever any of the ladies said anything. It didn’t take long, lashings of salt and vinegar were poured into the cones of paper. I have to say it’s the first time I’ve not noticed a difference with gluten free fish. The batter was wonderful and crisp with chunky cod inside. We all wolfed them up whilst inhaling the vinegar fumes.

They were very very good

Lower down on the site a chap demonstrated a beetle Demon and talked about the wallpaper trimming machine in the hardware shop.

Wallpaper was sold with edges that needed trimming, either with scissors or on one of these, at a cost!!

The greengrocers was manned by a lady who told us the history of the shop and the lady who’d run it whilst her husband was away in the 1st world war, he had to retrain when he got home as she wasn’t going to hand it back over to him.

Hardware shop front

The cinema sat silent awaiting the next showing. A chap hammered away in the dark of his workshop whilst it rained outside, presumably making nails.

Nail maker working away in the dark

We timed a visit to the more industrial end very well with a chain making demonstration about to happen. The metal was heated up to white hot, bent round and then bent further with a hammer. Linked to the previous link the ends were flattened and reheated. We were asked to move back, he them gave the two ends a very big whack to weld them together showering sparks. The link was then reshaped with the help of a hammer operated by his foot. The chain makers had to make so many links a day, 200 and something before they would get paid. For some it took six hours others a lot longer.

Chain making

We then took a walk up to the Workers Institute where a guided tour was due. The lady we’d seen in the schoolhouse was ready and waiting. Due to the rain we started off indoors. We were on a bit of a tight time frame due to return trains to the south coast, the lady imparted her knowledge, pointed out important people in the photographs, handed round photographs of chain makers, more photos of people, they just kept coming, was she going to give us the life history on everyone in the group photos?

So of it’s time

Time was ticking, there was still the tat in the shop to look at and still more photos were handed round. We made our excuses , did a quick flit up the stairs and back down as the tour were about to go that way. I’m sure the tour would have been very interesting, but we simply didn’t have the time.

They managed to get a better rate of pay through the unions

Up the hill in the rain for a purchase or two before heading back down to be through the bottom gates before they closed at 3:45pm. Time for a quick cuppa and warm up back at the boat before Marion and John headed off to return southwards. A very good day.

The Chemist waiting for customers

0 locks, 0 miles, 12 month passes, 40’s 50’s 60’s coming soon, 2 day trippers, 2 veggie of each, 1 gluten free of each, 1 full everything of each please, 1 school, 1 institute life time, 3 bus rides, 1 link, 0 horses, 17 radios, 1 rug, 1 cinema, 2 visitors, 1 living and breathing museum, 0 shore leave yet again!

Day 6, Morning

It’s been bubbling overnight and then deflated.

Day 6 Night

About three hours after feeding. There is hope of sour dough bread this weekend

Digging Around In The Deep. 1st March

Operational Mooring, Walsall to Lane Head Bridge, Wyrley and Essington Canal

We’d survived the night and got some sleep. Being moored up to a floating pontoon in a storm has it’s benefits, if the water level rises so do you. But it also has it’s down sides, even though securely moored to the cleats on the pontoon this doesn’t mean that you won’t move. Oleanna and the pontoon were as one in the gusts, bumping around.

The wind tunnel mooring

This morning the wind was still with us but the waves on the canal were half the size. Decision made we’d head for the locks and hope that we had been sat in a wind tunnel and just around the bend all would be calm or at least calmer.

Heading into Lock 8

The covers took a bit to roll back as they whipped round in the wind. I stayed at the bow ready to hop off once we had turned at the junction. It didn’t seem any less windy as Oleanna spun round to face north and the locks but at least the sun was out.

All bar one of the locks were in our favour, hooray! But the top gates gave us problems!

Eeerk!

The first lock was fine apart from the rubbish. I’d list the items in the lock to Mick and we’d see how many he could spot , hopefully not around the prop. Second lock by an old flour mill had a for sale sign in it plus plenty of other rubbish. Once up I opened the gate, except it stopped short. A few open and closes usually gets things dislodged or out of the way, but not this time. Mick brought Oleanna forward but there wasn’t enough room for her to get through. Time to prod about to see what could be moved in the murky deep.

Rather nice conversion

Boat hook didn’t do any good so the pole came out. The gate moved in and out and Mick tried to identify where the problem was. Poking and prodding, digging away at what ever lay down there. Eventually the gate moved just a few more inches, would it be enough? It was just.

Digging around

Paul (Waterway Routes) had told us to look out for a different gate arrangement on one of the locks. Here at Lock 6 there were double gates, the rest as on much of the BCN have single gates. Now why would this be?

Double gates, Hmmm?

A single gate means the lock has to be longer. Double gates save water and length. It had to be something to do with the pound below. There was an arched bridge to what had been the entrance to a wharf, could it be that for a full length boat 70ft 11″ to get in through the bridge the throat of the lock had to be further away from it so as to give enough room to be able to swing round. There is no widening of the pound here to assist with this. Maybe a double gate reduces the length of the lock throat too.

Entrance to a wharf under the bridge on the right

Looking at Google earth later it looked like a full length boat wouldn’t have been able to wind here, so if they’d come down the locks and gone under the bridge they would have to reverse out and remain facing downhill. If coming up the locks they would have to reverse through the bridge and remain facing uphill. Are we correct Paul?

Traffic cone after a tussle with a prop

The next few locks filled, emptying the pounds above from being on the weir to a good few inches below, we only had one pound that was shallow. This along with a traffic cone and a bread crate made for slow progress into the lock, but we got there in the end. Coasting in, steadily filling it and then coasting out. I don’t know whether it was us or another boat that had put a ragged hole in the traffic cone, at least it wasn’t around our prop.

If I pile it high enough and keeping pushing it’ll just disapear

Bright sunshine was intermixed with gusts of wind and hail. Flying high in a garden was a sheet attached to a tree. At the back of someone’s garden the wall had collapsed due tothe amount of rubbish piled up against it. Maybe they think that if they give the pile just a little push every now and then that the contents will eventually become someone elses problem.

Hang on a ,minute!!!

As I walked up to Lock 2, I spied a cat in the friendly cover. It soon turned it’s head so I could see that it wasn’t Tilly. A Tuxedo cat with a white nose. But not just any Tuxedo cat, this was a member of the Tilly Tail Gang, it’s white tip flicked round in annoyance at being disturbed looking for friends. I left it to it and carried on up hill to fill the next lock.

Hello pretty
A member of the Tilly Tail Gang

Deja Vu. The top gate stopped short of opening fully. The gap not wide enough. More digging around in the depths with the pole, gate swung open and closed, more digging. This felt like something really solid down there and it wasn’t shifting. If only we had a long handled Keb, but we didn’t. Only one thing for it call C&RT out.

It took a while for the person on the end of the phone to work out where we were, ‘not Ryders Green, Walsall Locks’, ‘No 2, second from the top’. Could we reverse out of the flight, yes, but that seemed pointless to us when we just needed someone to clear one gate and we were better off just sitting in the lock.

Eventually Mick got put through to a chap called Keith. Ahh! His Sunday team were out helping a stuck boat at Hatton, they wouldn’t be free for at least a couple of hours. He chatted through about what it might be, not the collar the gate was otherwise moving freely.

We nudged Oleanna back so that she was clear of the cill and Mick continued digging away. Keith rang back, his team would be at Hatton for another three to four hours, but he had called someone in who wasn’t working today to come out to us, they’d be an hour.

More digging. Maybe if both of us pushed on the gate? The combination of all our efforts and most probably our joint body weight on the beam got it to open just a few more inches. Was it enough? Mick brought Oleanna forward and managed to clear the gates, we were free.

A call to Keith before we got to the top lock, he said they’d still send someone to clear behind the gate.

The pretty Toll House at the top lock

The top lock was full with a paddle up and gate wide open. Up we rose and some eager gongoozlers loitered to open the gate for us. We then realised we’d need to be in the lock to top up the water tank, so their help wasn’t needed just yet.

The Boatman’s Rest which used to be a museum, it may be converted into a home for someone now

Two hoses and poor water pressure. So I walked up to see what the moorings ahead were like compared to the Visitors Mooring above the lock. I also wanted to see if Sainsburys had any arrowroot. I returned as Mick was packing away after chatting to the C&RT chaps, no arrowroot but a possible mooring where Tilly could stretch her legs and climb trees.

We pushed on and pulled into the side, well not quite. The rings were awkwardly placed and there was something keeping us from getting into the edge. Sorry Tilly. Pah!!!!

Another hour or so cruise to the next mooring. Back onto the Curley Wurley we compared notes on rubbish levels. Both the Walsall and Curley Wurley have a long way to go before reaching Green Flag status! Both are revolting in parts. Vandelism is worst on the Walsall with trolleys, trees and graffiti.

Someone’s pushed the railings out to dump their rubbish

But wanton fly tipping on parts of the Curley and Wurley look more like landfill than a place to relax and enjoy. You wonder what the people in the house right alongside think, or maybe it is caused by them. However Walsall itself has been worth the trip.

Just fling your rubbish over too!

Soon we arrived at The United Kingdom Inn, here the kids playground was busy as adults watched sport and drank. Not suitable for Tilly sadly and she may be cabin bound for a few more days yet, we will make it up to her soon.

Sat behind our locked gate I slow cooked a breast of lamb, braised the remainder of the red cabbage and we listened to people come and go from the pubs either side of the bridge until late.

8 locks, 4.25 miles, 2 canals, 2 coconuts, 1 fire extinguisher, 2 problematic gates, 2 spoons less, 1 cup more, 1 less successful day, 0 arrowroot, 1 full water tank, 6 hail storms, 1 less windy day.

Day 3 Morning.

Before feeding, risen with a dome.

2 spoons discarded then fed

Day 3 Evening.

Before feeding, just about no rise, did it peek far too soon?

2 spoons discarded, then fed.

Hole In The Wall. 27th February

Walsall Town Basin

The nearest building to us was the first to be built in the basin regeneration. At first it looks like a Costa, well it is, but if you walk just a little bit round the building you find that it is a whole lot more. The New Art Gallery Walsall with it’s four floors of artworks and activities.

Designed by Peter St John and Adam Caruso the building opened it’s doors in February 2000. Built from concrete with exposed joists, clad with pale terracotta tiles and blocks of stainless steel. Douglas Fir clads many walls inside and leather wraps itself around handrails, a reference to the leather trade of the area, all leads to a very warm welcoming building.

Garman Ryan Collection

It was built to house the Garman Ryan Collection which takes up the first and second floors in small rooms replicating a house. The feel of these rooms reminded me very much of my family home in York, designed and built by my Dad. Wood and large windows, exposed brick and render. I felt at home here. The other exhibition spaces tower above the viewer with much larger rooms in every direction.

Garman and Ryan both by Epstein

The Garman Ryan Collection was put together by Lady Kathleen Epstein (nee Garman), widow of sculptor Jacob Epstein, and her very close friend Sally Ryan a sculpture in her own right. After Epsteins death in 1959 the two ladies collected 365 works of art. Some by friends and family (Lucian Freud, Epstein, Theo Garman) others in the collection by renowned artists such as Constable, Degas, Picasso, Matisse and Monet, which all sit alongside artefacts from around the world. The collection, donated in 1973 to the Borough of Walsall, is laid out thematically in rooms.

Children, Trees, Occupations, each room a selection through art history.

Nathaniel

Many of Epstein’s sculptures sit on wooden plinths and watch you as you peruse the art works, but I have to say I preferred Sally Ryan’s pieces, my favourite of a young lad Nathaniel with his head slightly bowed.

Men with Mice and Birds

Epstein’s Men with Mice and Birds had a somewhat comic feel to it.

Renoir

Elaborate frames twice the size of a Renoir landscape was just as interesting as the painting.

Theo Garman

Thoedore Garman’s flower paintings reminded me somewhat of a certain boater, Kath from NB Herbie, and her watercolours and embroidery.

Guides were on hand to talk to you about the collection and the family connections that hung around the rooms. They were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

Epstein Archiev gallery

One room was being a touch noisy in the calm of the collection. This was Bob and Roberta Smith‘s Epstein Archive Gallery. Between 2009 and 2011 the two artists worked their way through the Epstein archive which had laid hidden away in the basement and they breathed new life into it. It holds papers of Epstein’s life, about his two wives and three children, two (Theo and Ester) who both died in their 20’s in 1954. Short films have been made about the stories uncovered in the archive which shout out across the gallery along with visual shouts of painted quotes. A fun room to spend sometime in ad I think Epstein was partial to jam.

On the top floor is an exhibition, Too Rich a Soil bringing three photographers together exploring cultural identity.

Top floor gallery

The other exhibition marks the twentieth anniversary of the gallery with a collection of works from the last two decades. Those that stood out were drawings by Andrew Tift who’s detailed drawings astound in their detail.

Andrew Tift

Jungle Queen II by Hew Locke, made from toys, feather marabou, all sorts.

A fluffy Queen

Then my particular favourite Hole in the Wall by Mark Power. This photograph of a Walsall urban landscape has texture, painting, human interest, nature, decay and a mural which blurs into the building it was painted on. The mural is now hidden behind a new building.

My favourite

Back at the boat for lunch I was looking out charity shops in the area. on the map I came across Hole in the Wall a haberdashery fabric shop. So on my way round town I made a beeline to see what they might have to offer.

What colour would you like?

Walking in through the door there were ribbons, yarn, buttons all sorts, then a room of dress fabrics. Nothing hugely exciting but I did find some fabric that might be useful in my costume for a Jay, as in the bird.

Perfect for a Jay costume

An arrow pointed upstairs to Upholstery fabric. A long corridor of a room where you coud select fabric and have made to measure curtains led to another room. Here plain upholstery fabric rolls stood by the walls along with about 30 different types of leatherette. Another doorway led through to a room filled with tassles and tie backs. Now hang on what was in the next room? Hundreds of rolls all in colour order!

I was asked if I needed any help. Maybe a chair to sit down, I hadn’t expected so much fabric in one place, it’s a long time since I’ve seen so much all in one building, or should I say buildings as it seems to me that they’ve knocked shops together and created a block of a shop.

Blues

The Garden set could most probably do with some of this fabric, but right now without having coloured my model up I’m not sure what I would want.

How much braid?

Linings and braid filled two more rooms and another lady asked if she could help. All she did was add to my astoundedness and point me in the direction of their bargain basement! Here the walls were lined with racks full of fabric. Piles four, five, six foot high filled the floor. Just what did I need? I walked round in a textile daze.

Blimey!

The lady upstairs gave me a card and their website address so that I could look on line. But it may well be worth a return visit when I know what I’m after. All this from going to the art gallery and looking at one photograph, I like it even more now.

One major fabric shop

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 art gallery, 0 time for the museum, 1 homely house, 1 giant fluffy queen, 1 dribbling tattoo, 1 jolly lift, 1 bored cat, 1 photograph, 1 block of textiles, 245673543 fabrics, 1 charity shop visited, 0 costumes as yet.

What A Load Of Cr*p! 26th February

Ocker Hill to Walsall Town Basin

Opening up the side hatch Mick exclaimed, ‘What a load of crap!’ The gunnel was covered in white splatterings. Something hadn’t agreed with one of our feathered friends last night. It would get sorted the next time we could reach that side.

Blimey!

Oleanna had obviously been a good target as when we came outside the roof was covered in it too. We both looked over head, not an obvious tree branch or cable to shit from! The roof got a scrub down with canal water, well as much as I could reach. This would do for now.

Just as we untied ready to push off a lady from the nearby offices decided that it was a good time to come and have a chat. Mick had just got rid of his rope, luckily it wasn’t too windy! But when it started to sleet she headed back inside to leave us to get on with things.

Oh s….t!

Back out on the canal we pulled in at the services at the junction to top up the water tank. The tap took a bit of finding hidden away behind fencing. But one thing wasn’t so hard to find, more sh*t on the port side. More scrubbing down as the possible offender watched from on high.

Bet it was him!

Straight on to new water again and the Walsall Canal. Not the most pleasant day for cruising as sleet wind and rain managed to come and go in between the odd bit of sunshine.

We’d been warned that the Walsall Canal is the least respected in the country with the most amount of rubbish. So we were prepared for our two hour cruise to be a long one.

Nearer Ocker Hill
Nearer Walsall

Plenty of graffiti to look at, not much artistic flair in most, just tags. We were definitely in the area of Ghost EA though. A few weeks ago I’d taken a photo of his tag on a bridge on the Tame Valley Canal, just white spray paint. Today we’d see his progression through the years to silver, then a touch of orange, followed by an array of colours and far more intricate designs the closer we got to Walsall.

Holyhead and Darlaston Road Bridges

The rubbish in the most part clung to the edges in amongst the reeds. Plastic bottles, aerosol cans, beer cans. At most bridge holes the banks were covered with unwanted items just dropped over the wall and out of view. Every now and then a fire extinguisher would bob along. Why, where had they come from? Today the fire extinguishers way outnumbered the coconuts. Most probably stolen, set off and then thrown into the cut once the fun was over.

Two more

A chap walking his dog warned us that there were trees down ahead. Not unusual at the moment after all the storms. But he said that it had been kids chopping them down, right across the canal.

Would this impeded our progress? Was the chaps version of ‘right across the canal’ the same as ours would have been, we could only find out.

Ahh trees

A few miles on through Porket’s Bridge we knew this is where he’d meant, plenty of branches in the water, but it didn’t look too bad. Under the surface however lurked numerous shopping trolleys. Mick put the engine into neutral and with the wind behind us we coasted through very slowly.

Poor trees

The branches weren’t too bad, coasting meant they didn’t entangle themselves around the prop. A little bit of engine was needed at one point to realign Oleanna to avoid the next felled tree, then we could coast again. Those poor trees. Splintered stumps standing to three four foot the rest pushed into the cut.

Pes planus

A double take as two flat feet drifted past with jewels on their fallen arches. A doll no doubt.

More coasting to be done here

Where the canal narrowed crap would have collected, one such place with a steel overhanging edge and wind. Was the overhang such that it would get the cabin sides as we coasted through? The wind certainly didn’t help! But we managed it in the end.

Here we go!

By one bridge a group of four chatted, two lads ran up onto the bridge and hung over. Here we go! Time to be sitting ducks. No chance to say hello before we might have to duck. But then they dashed back off the bridge to join their mates again. Cheery Hellos, Phew!

Cemetery gardens

As we approached Walsall Junction new buildings rose from the ground, the chimney at Majorfax reminding the area of times gone by.

Nearly there

We followed the canal round to the right, the locks can wait for another day, and headed in towards the basin.

Buildings matching the sky

A narrowing with a yellow boom across it to stop the rubbish, as we’d been told the boom just pivoted out of the way and allowed us entrance.

In we go

Two pontoons to choose from, no other boats. We pulled into the one furthest out and then battled against the wind to tie up. What should have been around a 2 hour cruise had turned into 3.5 hours. Time for a late lunch as Tilly quickly realised she preferred to explore the inside of her eye lids once more. Soon we’ll be back in the countryside Tilly, I promise.

Not a Ghost EA

0 locks, 6.1 miles, 1 reverse, 2 straights, 1 right, 1 boom, 2 lemons (no longer needed after Shrove Tuesday), 3 coconuts, 18 fire extinguishers, 6 broken trees, 5682 trolleys, etc, 1 near miss, 1 huge splattering, 1 resigned cat, 2 Walsall schnitzels.

Turkey Schnitzel

Keeping A Handle On The Dead. 13th February

BUMingham

Yoghurt descending Farmers Bridge

A walk down a few of the Farmers Bridge locks this morning and then across the arched footbridge. A familiar cruiser Yoghurt was making it’s way down the flight. We’ve seen the boat in Droitwich before and such a good name cannot be forgotten.

Newman Brothers

Just a couple of doors up the hill is Newman Brothers, a place more commonly known as The Coffin Works. This is another museum based around a factory where the workers laid down their equipment on the last day of employment and today it still lies there for visitors to see, a time capsule.

Ornate handles

Alfred and Edwin Newman established the works in 1882, originally brass founders they predominantly made cabinet furniture. In 1894 they moved to Fleet Street and started to specialise in the production of coffin furniture, there was more money in dead people than furniture. Edwin left the company leaving Alfred to be the sole owner in 1895. The company was doing well, the fashionable dead liked having ornately decorated coffins, even the poor would do their best for the deceased.

Stamped out
A stamp

Alfred left the business to his two sons, George and Horace. Shares were sold and handed out to employees. When Horace, the last surviving son died in 1952 the last direct link to the Newman family was cut. The company was then run by a small group of shareholder directors.

Wrapped and ready to go

Joyce Green started work as a secretary in 1949, she rose quickly to company secretary during the 50’s. As employees left or died she would buy up their shares until in 1989 she became the major shareholder of the company. Her association with the company had been for 50 years and when it was finally dissolved in 1999 she turned her attentions to saving the building with the hope that one day it would become a museum.

The office

The prime location was held onto for five years by Joyce, tower blocks now surrounding the three story building. In 2003 she sold the premises on the basis that the building would not be used for residential use for five years, hopefully giving enough time for funds to be raised for it to become a museum. Birmingham Conservation Trust then came on board, it took some time to raise the £1.5 million needed to transform the building, things were looking up.

David demonstrating one of the four stamps

Birmingham City Council put money into the kitty and by 2012 a new professional team were brought on board to manage the project. During 2013 and 2014 teams of conservationists moved in, photographed the collection and the building was restored and made safe for visitors. On the 24th October 2014, launch day, Joyce’s dream finally became a reality.

Locking up after us
Flywheel press

The old foundry no longer stands in the courtyard, a newer building takes it’s place, this now houses businesses that lease parts of the old factory taking advantage of a rather good address ‘The Coffin Works, Fleet Street’. David our guide showed us into the Stamp Room, here decorative panels where stamped out of tin. Then flywheel presses, bigger than those at the Jewelry Museum would cut out the shapes. These would then be polished up and passed up to the packing room ready for orders from Funeral Directors.

Shelves of handles and embelishments

The demise of the company was partly down to foreign imports, but also more people were getting cremated. Cremation brought with it a ban on using metal, wooden handles or plastic were used instead. Newman Brothers invested in machinery to be able to make plastic versions of all it’s metal coffin furniture, but they couldn’t compete with prices from abroad.

Boxes of plastic

The office was revamped in the 1950’s, a cupboard high up held the beer and cigars to help woo the funeral directors into placing large orders. Then David took us up more steep stairs to the Shroud room.

Worthington E or a sherry with your Castella?

Here 14 sewing machines were kept busy creating shrouds for people to be buried in. There was a big market in such things until it became the fashion to be buried or burnt in your best suit or favourite dress.

The Shroud Room

When we’d arrived we clocked in and as we left we were encouraged to clock back out. Another museum well worth a visit in Birmingham.

A safe place to have your tea made

Handy hint if you plan on visiting one or more of The Jewelry Quarter Museum, Coffin Works or Pen Museum, it’s worth trying to do them with a couple of days as you can get money off if you keep your tickets.

0 locks, 6 walked down, 0 miles, 1 yoghurt pot, 6.53 clocked in, 8.03 clocked out, 100 years of coffin handles, 1 undertaker, 8 on the tour, 1 determined Joyce, 1980 Joey Tempest Lion.

Next door the lead singer of Europe