All the boats around us moved off this morning, some that way others the other, they were all getting or going to get a touch damp as the rain came and went for most of the day.
I spent much of the day taking photos of the model for The Garden and persuading our new printer/scanner to actually scan my costume drawings. Not just part of them, but the whole drawing and in the format I wanted. It took forever, maybe I need to read the instructions! Or maybe it is just contrary!!
Tonight is our last night in the centre of Birmingham for this visit, so we decided to head out for a curry. It would have been rude not to.
Having done a little bit of research before venturing out we looked at the menu in one restaurant on Broad Street and decided that our boaty shoes would show us up, even if the lighting was subdued, also our bank balance would appreciate us going elsewhere.
In the end we chose to climb the stairs up to Barajee which sits on top of the canal. We’ve had a takeaway from here before. Their website has a legend for allergy symbols, although no symbols showed against any of their dishes. But inside the restaurant the menu had the reverse, so I knew I’d be avoiding anything that wouldn’t agree with me. We’d chosen Indian as I knew I’d have a lot to choose from rather than just Hunters chicken, steak or gammon all of which get a touch boring.
We chose a Murgh-e Achari and a Lamb Pista Badami, both of which we’ve never had before along with a sag bhaji. They were all very tasty, good choices and we only just ate a touch too much whilst being able to look down onto the canal. A good way to end our visit.
0 locks, 0 miles, 1 last smiley man, 38 photos edited to 12, 1.5 hours scanning! 10 days early for white card, 1st pay cheque, 1 agent prod, 2 glasses wine, 2 new currys, 1 bowl of sag, 2 full contented boaters, 1 last night in BUMingham.
Last Friday Mick had tweeted C&RT regarding the Figure of Three Locks on the Calder and Hebble. The stoppage notice for that stretch of canal after Storm Ciara was that the towpath was closed. Was the damage really as bad as it looked in the photos and video we’d been seeing on Facebook? This morning they tweeted back the following.
Hi Mick thanks for getting in touch. Sadly Figure of Three Locks won’t be open for your visit in summer. It was badly damaged during the recent storms and flooding. We estimate it will be 12-18 months before it reopens. Please get in touch if you have any more queries and we look forward to welcoming you in Yorkshire this summer. Naomi
Later in the day a stoppage notice was sent out too. At least 12 months before the lock will reopen. We’ll have to put plan B or C into operation.
Waiting for it to stop raining took a while this morning. But we were ready for it when it stopped. Outside covers rolled up and folded down, ropes untied. ‘Hang on! There’s a boat!!!!!’ ‘What? A boat?????’ We waited for them to come past before we pushed off. That’s not happened for months.
As we made our way towards Hopwood very dark storm clouds were gathering, we wondered if we’d make it into Wast Hill Tunnel in time before it started to rain again. No was the answer. A strong gust of wind coincided with us winding meaning the engine had to work hard to get the stern round, then the heavens opened. Oh well!
We could tell it was half term, plenty of hire boats were about. The boat ahead of us could still be seen in the tunnel and by the time we’d got three quarters of the way through ourselves another boat was following. Was it drier in the tunnel than out in the rain was debatable!
Popping back out into day light all signs of the crime scene had gone, apart from one length of plastic Police tape attached to branches.
Despite there being a boat moored on the bollards at the water point there was enough room for us so we pulled in and topped up the tank another load of washing was just finishing. We then pulled along a touch further for some lunch before carrying on retracing our steps back into Birmingham.
The aroma passing Cadburys today was more caramel than chocolate, or was it salted caramel, or fudge? We decided that it must be fudge and both started to sing the song from the advert. Link. ‘It’s full of Cadbury’s goodness’! No way would you be able to suggest fudge is good for you in adverts today.
What a jingle though, we both remembered it, well Mick forgot the bit about ‘it’s very small and neat’. It was written by Mike d’Abo based on the folk song The Lincolnshire Poacher. Mike d’Abo was more famous for being the lead singer of Manfred Mann and ‘The Mighty Quinn’.
I also found out that Fingers of Fudge are no longer produced in England, production moved from Keysham to Poland in 2010. So what was it we could smell today?
Talk turned to our cruising plans.
Plan A. Go over the Pennines via the Huddersfield Narrow through Standedge Tunnel for me to work at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Then cruise the Huddersfield Broad, Calder Hebble, Aire and Calder then the tidal Ouse to get to York. This is now out of the window.
Plan B. Cruise over the Huddersfield Narrow so that I can go to work with ease, but then have to retrace our cruise and not head to York to meet friends and family with one days work at York Theatre Royal. Maybe.
Plan C. Cross the Pennines via the Leeds Liverpool Canal then Aire Calder and Ouse to York. This would mean having to commute to work on and off, then find somewhere handy to do this from for production week, or paying to stay in Huddersfield when needed, my expenses come out of my fee or the production budget. But then we’d be able to carry on to York, so long as the Ouse behaves itself! This is looking the most favourable plan.
Back in BUMingham we turned back towards Sheepcote Street Bridge. Loads more boats moored here today, but still three familiar ones from yesterday. We pulled in.
If looks could kill! Tilly was so not impressed.
0 locks, 8.99 miles, 1 wind, 1 straight, 1 left, 2 tunnels, 2 mysterons, 1 damp soggy cruise, 1 load washing, 1 full water tank, 1 very disappointed cat.
BUMingham to Bridge 68, Worcester and Birmingham Canal, most definitely not BUMingham!
I’d made a promise to Tilly that today we would move the outside just for her, so that is what we did. There was a touch of rain in the air, and the air was still moving quite a lot at times but we kept my promise and moved.
An earlyish start for us saw us going right at Old Turn Junction at around 9:30am. Passing under Broad Street Tunnel I noticed a new looking sign, ‘Black Sabbath Bridge’. Last summer a bench was unveiled for the 50th anniversary of Black Sabbath on the bridge/tunnel. We’ll have to have a look at the information board by the canal when we’re back again. As we approached The Mailbox the wind whipped up, blowing a right hoolie it was, we were glad we’d dressed suitably.
Onwards we forged along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Through Edgbaston Tunnel. Past the hydrogen boat where someone is having a go at developing zero carbon emission propulsion, pedal power.
The new footbridge by Selly Oak Sainsburys now has large columns of concrete on either side of the cut, wonder how long before the bridge spans the water?
Then the smell of childhood. Cocoa. My childhood in York was filled with the smell of Matchmakers, a slightly minty chocolate smell. Today the air smelt of Flakes, Cadburys Flakes. It soon blew away as we neared the secure moorings on the off side. Plenty of boats here, one jolly chap said hello from the comfort of his pram cover as we passed on by.
Behind the covers of the Toll House at Kings Norton we could hear people at work as we carried on straight past towards Wast Hill Tunnel.
We were being followed. Now most Herons you see on the canals get all upperty as you approach them and as you get close they fly off a hundred yards ahead to fish, only having to do the same again and again. Well today we met a Heron who had very different ideas. He obviously knows something that the others don’t as he followed us time and time again, waiting for us to pass and churn up any fish.
Approaching the water point there was a lady in a lot of high-vis yellow, she made a phone call and then walked towards us. The Policewoman asked us to pull in as they had a crime scene ahead, a length of police tape closed off the towpath.
Being right by a water point we would quite happily tie up and replenish the water tank as the washing machine had been put into use since we filled up yesterday. She explained that if we carried on we might compromise the crime scene. Mick replied, ‘We watch Vera, we know all about such things!’ She laughed.
She knew what to do with pedestrians but hadn’t thought she’d have any boats coming past. Just as we stepped off to tie up she had a call back, we were good to go. Up ahead on Friday night a man had been assaulted, he had ‘significant facial injuries’ and then had been thrown into the canal where a passerby spotted his body on Saturday morning.
Another Policewoman stood by a tent a touch further on and by Kings Norton Bridge there was a chap with some apparatus on a tripod, it could have been a 360 degree camera. The towpath slope up over the tunnel was being searched by a team of officers whilst plain clothed police stood by the canal. As we passed we were asked how long the tunnel was, ‘2493m’. I wonder if they were considering if the poor chap might have been pushed in at the other end of the tunnel?
Once in the tunnel we pootled along, hang on, someone was coming! Just after half way we pulled right over and just about stopped, their tunnel light quite bright. The chap at the helm asked if we were alright as we’d stopped, we were and carried onwards as soon as they’d passed.
No Police presence on the other side of the tunnel. We carried on a short distance and pulled in where Mick and Tilly had spent a night whilst I was in Vienna. Just as we were sorting out ropes the heavens opened and gusts of wind sent it sideways at us.
Inside, Tilly had already been surveying the outside and was sat waiting for me in the bathroom, SHOUTING!!!!!!
Four and a half hours!!! Bloomin brilliant!! But hang on. I’m not going out in that! Not for all the Dreamies in the world! The door closed, then opened again. It hadn’t changed! Several more attempts and eventually the outside was dry. See you!
Today the C&RT National Council Elections results have been announced. Only one of the people we voted for has been elected, the others came very close, but at least we voted. Out of around 34,000 boats on the network only 2040 people voted in the elections, that is 6%. Congratulations to those who got elected, please report back in some form for those of us who are interested .
0 locks, 8.47 miles, 2 straights, 1 right, 3 tunnels, 12 police, 1 graffiti tree, 1 load washing, 1 keen heron, 4.5 hours spent well, 1 white card finished, 1 set of costume designs finished, 2 panto award nominations, 1 photo from Frank, Thank you.
For days, weeks, years, a lifetime, we have been in BUMingham. Some days I’m allowed to come and go as I like, which isn’t very much now, and others I am confined to quarters. They aren’t though!
This morning Tom popped out to get them extra yummy things for their morning DingDing despite it still being blowy. He didn’t bother getting me anything special did he! No smoked salmon, or any of that smelly stinky yummy stuff She came home with. Then they just sat around not letting me out.
Then they sat around some more, but I could go out. Then they sat around even more and said I couldn’t go out! Can’t they make their minds up!!
When I went out though it hadn’t changed so there was next to no point.
A flurry of activity. They were getting ready to untie this blustery BUMingham outside. About bloomin time. Dennis had left us lots of stuff, but they didn’t want any of it. As soon as the ropes were undone the outside made a bid for freedom. They soon caught another and pulled it in, this one has a fast tap so they filled the tank.
With the tank full again, they let the outside go again. Woho!!! What would we catch next?
Tom span the outside round and for a little while I thought we’d be heading back to the outside we’d come from, passing Paul’s boat and bipping the horn before pulling back in. But no, not today. This was exciting
She soon hopped off and caught the outside. Hurry Uppp!! But as they were securing the outside another boat came by, they looked at each other and deceided to nudge up the outside. This boat has form, they run their engine for hours and hours and hours, quite often stopping it when we all go to bed, so we didn’t want to be too close to them.
Once all was secure the back doors were opened. At last!!!! This outside was on the otherside, I’d already sussed this out. I jumped off…..
Here hang on. Now wait a minute!
This was just the same outside except they’d swung it round! We are still in BUMingham. She says they’ll move the outside just for me tomorrow if Dennis has gone, but you know what I don’t believe her.
0 locks, 0.8 miles, 1 wind, 2 straights, 2 waves to Paul, 4 sausages, 2 poached eggs, 4 tomatoes, 7 painted costumes, 1 patch of blue sky, 3 moving boats, 1 tap open, 1 water tank full, 1 pesky boat, 1 new roast chicken recipe, 2 lemons, 5 tsp oregano, 2 full tummies, 1 confused and disappointed cat.
Dennis to us is an inconvenience, to others a very serious worry. Whilst others around the country today have been preparing for their houses to flood for the second time this month, boat owners are wondering if their homes will remain floating and the army are out extending incomplete flood defences, we can’t head off to where we’d planned. Well we could but Dennis has brought stronger winds and more rain than Ciara last weekend.
So today was a perfect day to head to the Library for me. I stood in line on the escalators behind some Japanese tourists who were obviously there for the views, following them up to Level 2. Here I headed in a different direction, I was actually going to use the library for what it was intended, reading!!!
Last night I’d had a look on the internet to check that the book I wanted was held by the library and was on the shelves. I was in luck, they had two copies. The website also gave me the Level of the library and the Dewey Number. When I was at school I was a librarian, a good way of not having to go outside when it was raining, so I understood how to find the book I was after.
A line of Ayckbourn scripts ready for the reading. I picked up the play I was after and took a seat in the window looking in the approximate direction of the Farmers Bridge flight. Outside it was miserable, inside a touch damp along the way from my seat where a line of buckets caught drips.
A couple of weeks ago I’d been asked if I thought one of Sir Alan’s plays would fit on the stage in Vienna. Other designers have said the stage is too small as the said play requires quite a few doors, a balcony and a bathroom to be in view. If you know your Ayckbourn then you may be able to narrow the play down. A few more clues, a dominatrix, 2 wives and time travel.
I’ve seen the play at the SJT after I finished working there full time and it was in rehearsals for it’s London premiere when I was asked to go along to meet Alan in 1995, he was getting a bit twitchy about all the new staff coming to work at the new theatre. So I was aware of the basic story and how it had been staged in the round, today I took notes and got to know the play better, hearing the actresses I’d seen in Scarborough speaking the words in my head.
First thoughts, maybe it’ll fit. But I’ll need to get a scale rule out and look at their plans before I add my verdict to those given previously and I’m sure I know one of those designers, so I’m not holding my breath.
Our plan for today had been to head out along the new main line, hang a right at Smethwick Junction, up the three locks, then a left at Spon Lane followed by another left and up the six Oldbury Locks to find a mooring at Tat Bank so that we could go to the theatre this evening. But due to the Menace we caught the number 13 bus instead, which only took around half an hour and dropped us off at the end of Engine Street.
At the far end a group of cars then a C&RT sign signalled that we were in the right place. Through the car park we then wondered where to go. A large door was open as the rain came at us sideways, but this was the C&RT services. We tried up some stairs, no joy there. Then a group of people came who looked like they knew where they were heading, the far end of the building, Titford Pump House.
Tonight we had come to see Alarum Theatre Company and their show Acts of Abandon. Alarum is made up of Kate Saffin a playwright, performer and amongst may other things a doyen of waterless toilets (composting toilets) and Heather Wastie, a poet, song writer and performer. Back in 2017 they toured their Idle Women show around the network with NB Tench recreating the journeys of the women who worked the boats did during WW2.
Tonights show had limited numbers (about 50) so we’d had to reserve our place during the week, this was due to the size of the room inside the pump house. This is where the Birmingham Canal Navigation Society meets, it used to house an old beam engine but now an electric pump does the job of pumping water back up the flight. We hope to get here during daylight hours soon and when it isn’t blowing a hoolie to be able to look round properly.
‘The Muck and Shovel Brigade‘ is a mixture of poetry, song and the history of the Droitwich Canals. How an act of parliament closed the navigation and a team of volunteers dug the canal back into life again after it had been abandoned. A programme is essential so that you can join in with the songs.
After a glass of wine in the interval, Kate took to the stage to recount the tale of ‘The Mary Rose, a boat of ill-repute’. A one woman show she plays all the parts from the two ladies who move onto an old work boat in Wolvercote on the Oxford Canal to the local landowners, police and punters following WW2. No-one had got round to repealing an 18th Century law that allowed a brothel to be on a boat. Armed with her trusty tea chest and an armful of costumes Kate tells a lively tale.
If we’d have gone by boat we’d have stayed for a drink but with one bus back an hour we headed to the bus stop and waited in the rain. Back at Sheepcote Street Bridge the level looked like it had come up, but Tilly had been keeping an eye on everything and all was well on board.
0 locks, 1 spotted in the dark, 0 miles, 822.9, 46th play, 4 doors, 1 bathroom, 1 balcony, 3 times, 2 buses, 2 shows, 1 tea chest, 1 windlass, 1 squeeze box, 1 glass of wine, 50 including 2 dogs.
Since being around Birmingham we’ve been hoping to be able to go to the Symphony Hall. Mick tried to get a cheap ticket whilst I was in Vienna, but the cheapest one for that nights performance was around £45, not cheap in our book!
Occasionally we’ve given the website a glance. A couple of days ago Mick noticed tickets priced at £13 for Schuberts symphony in C major. Where were these tickets? Well they were ‘Mystery tickets’ so we wouldn’t find out until we picked them up which we could do from a couple of hours before the performance.
We jumped at the chance. Firstly we both wanted to go to the Symphony Hall having heard great things about the acoustics (thank you Dimitrios from NB Galene) and secondly because of something Mick’s Grandfather wrote on the 7th September 1943 in a letter to his brothers and sisters.
Philip Chignell was the organist at All Saints Church, Hessle near Hull during the Second World War. From 1939 to 1946 he wrote 128 ‘BS’ letters a copy of each he filed away. In 1989 Marion (Mick’s sister) decided that they should be seen by more than just the family as they were a record of life in Hessle during the war. She edited and collated the letters into a book “From Our Home Correspondent”.
Schubert’s ‘Great’ Symphony was obviously one of his favourites.
‘I am given to understand that in the day of resurrection everybody will be playing golden harps and there will be no call for organists. Well. They can have their golden harps, I don’t want anything to do with a harp. I intend to go in for a bass trombone. I shall be able to play it straight away and I shall immediately put in a request for Schubert’s Symphony in C. What a joy that would be. I can see myself, clothed in white, of course, and playing that bass trombone and ‘jiggers’ to your golden harp. I prefer brass, it gives out a stronger tone than anything made of gold.’
Philip Chignell, B.S.106 7th September 1943
So we crossed over the bridge and walked into the ICC where numerous people were quaffing bubbles at an evening do with What Car Magazine at the conference centre. We weren’t invited up the escalator but joined the shuffling masses heading into the Hall on the other side of the building.
Our Mystery Tickets were for row S in the stalls between seats of around £37 and £44. These were cheap tickets but not cheap seats.
The first half was Berg’s Violin Concerto, 27. The soloist Leila Josefowicz had had to pull out due to illness at short notice, so instead we had Ilya Gringolts. I suppose in such situations it’s a little bit like if an actor is taken ill and there is no understudy, people wrack their brains as to who played the part not so long ago and give them a call hoping that they are free and remember the lines.
The concerto was okay, I was never going to totally enjoy it as Berg was taught by Schoenberg, the twelve tone row master, have to say I’m not a fan. But at least this was mixed with more freer tonal passages.
At the interval we made sure we hunted out some chilled medication before returning to our seats. With several empty seats further along our row, we moved to a more central position giving everyone more arm room. Here we could relax more and listen out for those bass trombones!
Schubert did not disappoint, neither did the brass section. Juanjo Mena conducted accompanied by the chap in front of Mick, although he was very subtle about it. More tuneful and less discordant we both enjoyed it very much. I could understand Philips urge for the trombone.
One thing I did wonder though. All the men of the orchestra wore white tie and tails, most of the ladies wore black trousers and tops only one long frock was in view. Should their dress code be more universal? Either formal or less so for all sexes.
0 locks, 0 miles, 1 stand in, £13 mystery tickets, 2 conductors, 3 trombones, 2 chocolate medications, 1 very good evening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.