Category Archives: Birmingham

3000! 10th February

BUMingham

Mick had his eyes tested a couple of weeks ago and today it was my turn. We always go to Boots, hoping that there will be some link to previous tests, but their systems still haven’t been sorted so that they can compare digital photos of the back of your eyes with previous ones. Certainly at the High Street branch of Boots they look like they keep everyone’s details on cards in a long line of filing cabinets.

I had all the normal tests, had difficulty with the periphery vision test as I did last time and had to redo it. The usual comment about high blood pressure came up, apparently I have wiggly veins in my eye which suggests this. The optician wanted me to get this checked out ASAP along with referring me through my GP for another test.

Needless

This is one of those moments as a boater that you don’t fit into the normal sized and shaped box. So you spend sometime explaining.

My GP is in Scarborough, I’m not likely to be there until the summer, maybe, unless I need to go there. My address is London, this is a correspondence address and I may not go there until December. I have also got a medical address in Scarborough, but my GP seems to have been able to work with my London address recently. I however do not live in any of these places as I live on a boat and constantly move around the country. I am currently in Birmingham, I refrained from calling it BUMingham as I didn’t want to cause offence.

Naturally I really don’t want to head all the way to Scarborough for my GP to do a blood pressure test which was likely to be normal, as it has been before. This was quite an easy one to solve as this Boots has all sorts of clinics in its basement, one being a Walk-in Centre. So I promised to go there. The referral, well we’ll have to wait and see. She asked where I might be next week, suggesting I may get an appointment in Birmingham, bingo! However when this happened to Mick a couple of years ago in Chester his refferal didn’t come through for weeks by which time we’d made it to Gloucester. So we’ll wait and see what happens with that.

No new glasses required, but my next test will be in 12 months not 48.

With a letter in hand I walked straight over to the Walk-in Centre, filled out the form and sat down expecting to have quite a long wait. After about twenty minutes my name was called, pressure checked in all of five minutes. Verdict all normal as I thought. But better to be sure, just glad I hadn’t booked a train ticket to go to Scarborough.

The day has been blustery and wet. At times it has been trying to snow, but not succeeding.

Back at Oleanna, Tilly had been allowed out today, not that she’s that keen.

At 17:44 I wrapped up warm and headed out to sit in the pram cover. Oleanna was about to hit a milestone. At 17:45 the digital engine hours clicked/flashed from 2999.9 to 3000.0.

3000!!!!

0 locks, 0 miles, 0 straights, 0 lefts, 0 reverses,1 needless alley, 2 tortuous eyes tested, 1 needless blood pressure test, 2 discs, 1 lucky dip referral, 1 sleety day, 2 late to work, 2 wishes of a speedy recovery for Paul, 3000 engine hours.

Sitting Out The Storm. 9th February

BUMingham

A wet and windy BUMingham

Mick did venture out today in full waterproofs. He was convinced that the level of the canal had risen so walked down with some rubbish to the bins and then onto the top of the Farmers Bridge flight to see if the water was flowing over the top of the gates.

The wind and rain for much of the day wasn’t as horrendous as we’d been expecting. The occasional squally shower and big gust of wind, but certainly nothing as rocky as we had last summer when we were moored in Marlow. That storm made me a touch seasick, but today was nothing of the sort. I think we had chosen our spot well.

WET!!!!

Mick thought he’d chosen well for his little walk, a lull in the rain. But of course things can change very quickly and he was very glad he’d put all his waterproofs on when the heavens opened. The level was up but nowhere near going over the top gates.

Model bits

Tilly resigned herself to checking the insides of her eye lids for much of the day and I got on with some more model making. I made the main part of the set, I just need to think out how to change the seasons easily and how I want my sideways trees to look.

Snoozy day

Late afternoon the boat in front of us started up their engine, turned on some load music and proceeded to untie. The wind did seem to have calmed down somewhat, but still it was a strange time to be heading off just as it was getting dark. A few days ago they arrived just after a comment was made on a Facebook boating group about a boat coming up Farmers Bridge with the crew pissed and leaving gates open. Maybe it was a coincidence them arriving twenty minutes later, but maybe not.

Farmers Bridge top lock

They reversed out of their mooring in front if us. It was very obvious that they would hit us and it soon became very obvious that they would also hit the boat opposite us at the same time! We watched as they continued to reverse back to Old Turn Junction the wind helping them to wind even before they wanted to. A half hour later there was a comment on Facebook about a speeding boat going through Gas Street Basin. The boat across the way piped up, then someone else around the corner, then the boat even further ahead of us. Everyone was keeping an eye on social media. Hope the boat got to where they were hoping without causing too much upset, but what a day to be cruising!

Sunday tea, yum

We rounded off the day with roast chicken and watched the new episode of Endeavour. The scene of the murder was at Church Lock near Leighton Buzzard on the Grand Union Canal which is quite some distance away from Oxford where everything else was happening in the story. Also a boat was mentioned going through Braunston, then it arrived at a very rural Gas Street Basin just a day later! Some speedy boating there. Not sure they can use artistic licence as an excuse, but at least they were continuing on from Morse where the canals in Oxford were always broad ones.

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 blowy day, 1 wet day, 3 huge rain showers late in the evening, 1 soggy Mick, 1 bored Tilly, 12ft of garden fence, 3ft gate, 60 seats, 1 roast chicken, 2 speedy boats, 2 bumps.

Shore Leave Cancelled. 9th February

BUMingham

Tilly’s last bit of freedom for a while

Over the last couple of days we’ve watched boats come and go. People have been choosing where to sit out storm Ciara. We decided to stay put. The lack of trees here is appealing although there is Tilly’s giant climbing frame outside. Here’s hoping the chaps have secured it very well!

The white card model for The Garden has been started and will be continued today. The theatre it’s in is a cellar which has a vaulted roof and maybe I’ve got a touch carried away recreating a suggestion of this. It may have been a waste of time as the pillars may end up just being covered by a black serge curtain, but it’s more fun to make.

Model box coming together

Ballet shoes have arrived in Huddersfield for the actors, six months before the show. All fit apart from one actor who despite having size 6 feet in width they are around size 5 and 4 in length. This of course means his shoes are a touch dangerous as they are a bit like flippers. He has two pairs of shoes in normal life which have been made for him. Our budget will not spread to custom made shoes, so after asking various of my Costume friends for advice a few wider fitting pairs will be ordered in smaller sizes and maybe a combination of pairs will work for him.

Stormy view

Yesterday evening the winds began to build. Mick had tied all the planks and poles to the roof and brought the life buoy into the cratch to save it blowing away. We were then reminded about our ash can as we heard it’s lid blowning across the towpath! Thank goodness it wasn’t blown into the cut. It is now stowed under the pram cover.

I think we’ll stay in today!

Overnight the wind has blustered us on and off. The gusts increasing this morning. On Thursday we’d been to stock up on water and diesel at The Distillery and when we’d returned I’d used the fair leads on the bow to help us achieve ‘outies’ as the bollards are a touch too close together here.

Retying in the storm

There was concern for the fair leads this morning. So Mick has been out to brave the gusts and rain to retie us straight to the bollards. He’s also added a spring line with the hope that this will stop us from bumping around all day.

Watching Ciara from behind the curtains

Unless anything else outdoors requires attention we shall all be staying inside for the day. Especially Tilly as we really don’t want her to get blown away.

Stay safe my friends, stay safe.

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 boat remoored, 1 spring line, 1 model on it’s way, 2 pairs to make one, 3 years since broken ankle, 5 years since first contact from CID, 0 shore leave, 1 protesting cat, 1 flood siren sounding in Hebden Bridge, Aire and Calder closed, Calder Hebble closed, 1 boat under a tree on the Shroppie, 15 inches down on the Bridgewater level, 31 yellow 5 white reaches on the Thames yesterday, but will they survive the storm!

Back To Backs. 6th February

BUMingham

The other day we made a call to the National Trust to see if we could get on a tour around the Back to Backs in Birmingham. This is another thing we’ve been meaning to do for a while. Ringing them meant that we could slot onto a tour this week when space was available.

The Back to Backs

Walking through Birmingham can be problematical at the moment with underpasses closed and not being able to walk along some of the tram tracks. So we took the usual route past the library and then joined Hill Street, walking through China Town onto Hurst Street. Modern buildings gave way to reveal a corner of red brick, an enticing sweet shop on the corner.

Our tour was for 2:30pm and we’d arrived in plenty of time to check in at reception and have a look around the exhibition upstairs. There is an amount of being able to be nimble at the National Trust property as there are plenty of steps involved on narrow winding staircases.

In Court 15

The exhibition gives you some of the back ground of the houses on the tour . In 1789 the land was leased by Sir Thomas Gooch to builder John Wilmore. By 1802 the first house was completed and during the 1820’s more houses were built and by 1831 court 15 was completed. Birmingham’s back to back houses were unique as they were all built around a courtyard which housed all the services for the houses on that court. Court 15 was possibly one of the smallest in the area.

The last shop

By the end of the 19th Century all the front facing houses on Hurst Street had become shops on their ground floors, the occupiers living on the top two floors. In 1966 the last family to live in the houses moved out after the courtyard was condemned for domestic use. Some shops continued to be run for some time, George Saunders tailors being the last to leave in 2002.

Court 15 with bay windows

The court became Grade 2 listed in the 80’s but the properties deteriorated rapidly. Restoration work began in 2003 and in 2004 they were handed over to the National Trust and opened to the public.

Tours are kept to a maximum of eight people and the route through the houses is tight. We were lucky as there were only six in our group so we could see a bit more in each room. Starting off in the street we were given the history of the houses and then we passed through a gate across the alleyway into the court.

The two wash houses

Court 15 had 11 houses and in 1851 there were 60 people living there. Three toilets and two wash houses between them, the nearest tap was across Hurst Street.

A Large scullery with one window and a candle for light mid afternoon

The first house we were shown into was the largest and laid out in the earliest period, 1840. A scullery added onto the front of the house, the main room all lit by candle light. The fire in the hearth just keeping the chill off.

Landlords had to redecorate between tenants, so they kept it as simple as possible

Our tour wound up the narrow flight of stairs into the main bedroom, where two beds and a wash stand filled the room, up another floor and three beds squashed together. A door led to the property at the front. This has been left so that you can see what the houses were like before being restored. Colour wash on the walls, the plaster barely hanging onto the ceilings. Torches were needed to look at photographs of the houses through the ages.

Wash stand
Very pretty lace bedspread

Down into the next house where a family with nine kids once lived. The children sleeping four to a bed, topping and tailing, a blanket hung between beds for some privacy. Next floor also two beds and a work bench. The chap who lived here made clock hands and many of the tools he’d have used would have been similar to those we’d seen in the Jewelry Quarter Museum the other day.

Old doors and frames kept in the top rooms

A bigger stove in the groundfloor room with two ovens. This house had gas lighting, but our guide said that this type of house in 1870 wouldn’t have had it, by the 1930’s then maybe.

A fancy range with two ovens

Back into the court and into the third house, 1930’s. Kitchen utensils more familiar to us all. Here a chap lived who made glass eyes, some for people but the majority for taxidermy. He wouldn’t have worked from home as the glass needed high temperatures to melt it. This house is laid out with electric light, our guide poo pood this also.

Eye eye!

Up more stairs and into the tailors house. This is where George Saunders worked through the 70’s and into 2002. Quite a few of his possessions, machines, off cuts of fabric and patterns are on show.

Great cowboy wallpaper

When he first came to the country he applied for tailoring jobs, one he was invited for an interview with the job being made for him. On arrival he was turned away, being told that the job had gone. George was very well qualified for the job, the colour of his skin his main problem!

Teddy coat

He worked in factories until he set up his own shop here. His firm prospered, he had regular clients and didn’t need to advertise. A Teddy coat with all the tailors stitches sat on a stand for all to see his craftmanship.

Back out into the court we were shown a wash house. When you moved into a house on the court you would be told which day was your wash day. Originally water was brought from across the street to be heated up, then a tap was brought into the yard and in later years each house was provided with a cold tap.

The toilets started off being just earth closets, these were upgraded to buckets which the night soil man would take away and then upgraded further to flush toilets.

Sweeties

What an interesting hour and a half. We had to finish it off in the 1930s sweet shop on the corner. But what to choose? 1/4lb bag of sweets but so much choice. Many I remembered from the School Shop when I was a kid, but the shelves here were much longer, so much more variety.

Pompom my Grandad would have been happy with some Frys Chocolate Cream. I opted for Raspberry and Blackcurrant chews, Mick a bag of dark chocolate ginger. Marvelous.

Fry’s Chocolate Cream, Pompom’s favourite

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 aborted smiley lady, 11 back to backs, 60 people, 3 toilets, 2 wash houses, 4 to a bed, 8 to a tour, 1 nimble tour guide, 80 eye balls, 1 fascinating afternoon, 1 tap on the roof, 1 visit from Paul.

Bowie now with eye bandages

One Shot Wonder. 5th February

BUMingham

Time to dig out the model making and paint box from under the dinette. With cushions off the corner of the dinette, top of the seat lifted and the freezer pulled out I could access the boxes below. As soon as there was any gap Tilly made sure she filled it and had a good explore.

I just need to check down here some more

Asking her to vacate such interesting places doesn’t work, but closing the door or putting the lid on for a few seconds usually works. The wood covering the storage has two large holes cut in it to aid air circulation, they are also used as hand holds. They are just about the right size for our mini cat to come through too!

Hello!
I think I’ve grown a touch

With my boxes out I was able to start on the next part of my design for The Garden. The auditorium layout. The Lawrence Batley Cellar Theatre has no fixed seating, they have different ways of laying the room out for performances, none of which quite meet our criteria. 60 seats with good sight lines to the floor, a playing area of 4.5 to 5m, wheelchair access for both performer and audience.

I then could start to draw up the basic set using pre-made fencing panels and a gate. I’m hoping this will keep the build costs to a minimum. Everything was looking like it fitted perfectly, but then I checked fencing posts dimensions, each an inch smaller. I decided to see what happens when it’s built.

Auditorium and fence details

By now it was time to high tail it to the cinema. The prices around here vary quite a bit. The Odeon Luxe £12.50 another £15 each, we opted for the dated Odeon at New Street £5 each if you don’t book in advance. With a late afternoon showing we hoped we wouldn’t be fighting for a seat.

How few people work in cinemas these days? You buy or collect your ticket from a screen and printer. Two people were on the concessions stand, 1 checking tickets, a cleaner and someone to keep an eye on the projectors. 5! It also seems almost impossible to see what films are on. If you know what film you want to see it’s easy, but if you just fancy going to the pictures, does anything take our fancy? Well that’s a hard one.

Today however we knew what we wanted to see, 1917.

Set, obviously in 1917 during WW1, two young British soldiers are tasked with delivering a message calling off an attack doomed to fail soon after the Germans had retreated to the Hindenburg Line. The retreating forces had cut the phone lines so the only way to get the message was by foot.

Co-written and directed by Sam Mendes, the film is based on an account his grandfather told him. Filming took place last year over three months, the film to be shot in what appears to be one continuous long shot. I was aware of the long shots before seeing the film and was amazed when the first shot just kept coming and coming and coming, in and out of dug outs along trenches, up over the top. To start with I was watching out for where a shot might end and the next one start, but the story of these two young soldiers took over.

The camera work is amazing, how did they get the camera up over obstacles, across mud that the actors were slipping and sliding in along trenches amongst hundreds of soldiers and it all to be seemless. If you are interested here’s a link to how it was done.

Two credits at the end surprised us, a Midwife and Weather Consultant. There is a baby hence the midwife. The weather also played an important part. With filming as if one continuous shot there had to be constant weather for continuity. With the camera able to swing to an angle no lights could be used, so natural light became even more important.

The cast is made up of well known British actors, the bigger names having higher ranks in the army, but far smaller roles in the film than Dean Charles Chapman and George MacKay who play the two messengers. What a performance by MacKay. No wonder it’s getting lots of awards, highly recommended.

New fountains in front of The Rep

On our way back to the boat we popped into Tesco for some broccoli to accompany our meal, but then realised it was already quite late and mackerel bake takes getting on for an hour in the oven. So instead we took our head of broccoli for a Nandos, we know how to show greens a good time!

0 locks, 0 miles, 60 seats, 1 small off cut, 1 smiling man, 2 x 3ft, 1 x 6ft, 1 x 3ft x 6ft gate, £5 each, 4 annoying teens, 1917, 1 landline cut, 1 extraordinary length to deliver a letter, 61 plasterers, 60 carpenters, ????? computer animators (we lost count), 1 midwife, 1 Dr weather, 1 familiar face in the background, 1 broccoli head wined and dinned, 0 cats harmed in the taking of photos.

Smith And Pepper. 4th February

BUMingham

Breaky!

The Museum of the Jewelry Quarter has been on our list of things to do whilst around Birmingham for some time and finally today we walked down the first couple of locks of the Farmers Bridge flight then headed off northwards. Gradually the buildings turned from light industry and flats to small Victorian factories and then to houses. The houses are mostly shops, jewellers, bullion dealers, we’d entered the Jewelry Quarter.

The Jewelry Quarter

Here is where the FA cup was designed, whistles for the Titanic were made amongst many other things boasted about on brass plaques laid into the brickwork below your feet as you walk along.

Information plaques on the floor

The Chamberlain Clock stands proud as a roundabout, erected in 1903 to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain’s tour of South Africa in 1902/03 after the end of the Second Boer War.

Chamberlain Clock

A small group of people were stood taking photos by the bridge over the railway, a Council street cleaner was busy too. It took a couple of seconds to realise why. This is where about two weeks before last Christmas some graffiti appeared overnight right next to benches where the homeless tend to sleep. Banksy had been at work. (Link to footage from Banksy’s Instagram page). The artwork made it into a lot of the papers.

Cleaned up, but who added the red noses?

The two reindeer are now covered with sheets of perspex which un-skilled graffiti artists now leave their marks on most days. The council chap was busy removing the latest offering as he chatted away to us, I think he rather enjoys his job now. As the pink squiggles were wiped away we chatted about similar artworks in Birmingham, especially David Bowie by the Bull Ring.

The museum wasn’t too far away and we managed to get onto the next tour round the factory. Smith and Peppers was established in 1899 by Charles Smith and Edwin Pepper (his Uncle) at 77-78 Vyse Street, Charles and his wife lived at 77. By 1914 the business was doing well and they expanded, houses were demolished and a factory built at the back.

The admin office with a paper trail back to when the company was founded

In the twenties Eric and Olive Smith (son and daughter of Charles) both joined the company and by the time Charles retired in the 30’s another of his sons, Tom, had joined. Eric and Tom then ran the business with Olive as company secretary. The factory continued until the 70’s when the recession hit them. People had little if any money spare so luxuries like jewelry.

Post corner
Safe electrics!

In 1981, Eric, Olive and Tom were 81, 78 and 74 they decided to retire. With no heirs between them they tried to sell the company, but there were no takers. So after the factory summer holidays the staff were gathered on the Monday morning and told to finish off what work they were busy with and at the end of Friday the doors would be closed for the final time.

Hung where they’d been left in 1981

They tried to get Avoncroft Museum interested but they weren’t. So on that Friday afternoon when the last pieces were finished the workers downed tools and left for the last time, the doors closed behind them everything left just as they left it.

The engravers bench

It took quite some time before the Council (who owned the building) to realise what they had and what they could do with it. In the 1990’s someone came up with the idea to open it as a museum. Detailed photographs were taken of everything, the building was emptied so that work could be done to make it safe for the public. Once this was completed everything was returned to the exact position it had been left in in 1981 when the doors closed for the final time. A real snapshot frozen in time.

Audrey at the jewellers bench

Today Audrey, a volunteer showed us round. From Eric’s office where orders were taken for wholesale trade, into the main office. Here box files contain every receipt the company ever had. Orders would be recorded and sent down in the dumbwaiter to the factory floor. Eric would have his breakfast, toast with homemade Blackcurrant jam or Marmite. Finished orders would return here by dumbwaiter and be boxed up, reusing packaging, then taken by the young office girl up to the Post Office in a string bag. The Jewelry Quarter was a safe place then, everyone was carrying high value goods about the place. The Post Office here was the busiest in the country outside London.

Line of cast iron patterns bow the shelves

Down below in the factory we were shown where the days gold was weighed into tin boxes for each worker, at the end of the day these would be returned and weighed, finished items accounted for and a 2% loss was allowed. Each day the floors were hoovered, each day the overalls were washed out, each day all the waste and water was drained through tanks of sawdust, the feet of the wooden stools would be cut back every now and then and below in the cellar this would all be burnt to recoup any gold. Over a period of two years this would amount to quite a chunk of gold.

Flame sat ready to have air added from a pipe that would sit in the jewellers mouth all day

We were shown round where engraving happened, walls covered in iron dyes for stamping out patterns into sheet gold.

Tools at the ready

A bench where nine jewellers sat soldering bracelets together had an army of angle poises illuminating the benches where soldering flames burnt at the ready, tools looped over string for easy access and leather pinnies fixed to the benches to catch any gold before it reached the floor.

Sqezy washing up liquid ( my mothers choice for many years)

3D relief shapes were stamped into sheets of gold. One chap who worked on this was quite elderly and was pulling almost his whole body weight each time he used the machines, so a motor was added to assist him, but being proud of his skill he refused to use the mechanised assistance.

Hand held sheets of gold
One stamped out Scottie dog

Other hand operated machines cut shapes out of sheet gold. Then a bank of polishing machines would be wurring round constantly with the ladies bringing the shine back to all the pieces.

Would you like sugar or something more sinister in your tea?

In a room to one side, tea making facilities sat next to the electroplating. Here the lady would make your tea, whilst handling deadly chemicals and putting items into a cabinet where the fumes would rise out of the factory, a form of health and safety.

Health and safety at it’s best, the cabinet to take fumes away with close fitting doors!

What a wonderful place, a must see.

White tiles on the building next door to reflect light into the factory

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 cooked breakfast, 2 reindeer, 1 sheet perspex, £7 twice, 2 floors of displays, 1981 stood still, 1 scottie on the floor, 2 adaptors, 1 toaster, 1 dumbwaiter, 3 siblings, 7 shades of overalls, 1 person to befriend, 1 tram, 1 package of post.

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Kiss Me! 3rd February

BUMingham

BUMingham

We’re here again! I’ve nearly finished mapping out all the good bits of the sideways trees around here, at least it isn’t the severe BUMingham with only bricks! She says we might be here for a little while so I shouldn’t use this outside all up at once. Well I’d nearly done that the last time we were here!

A neatly trimmed outside

But I do have extra bits to explore. This outside has grown a climbing frame, most unexpected.

Just look at that, with good places to sit as well!

There has been a group of Toms expanding it today. It’s going to take some calculations but I think it shouldn’t be beyond my abilities. The bottom bits have had nice spongy things added to them. These are not quite as good as tree trunks, but quite good to claw, a different texture. More importantly they should be able to give me good grip whilst I start my ascent up the poles.

My Feline Design Assistance is also going to be needed very soon. ‘The Garden’ is my kind of show, sideways trees and a fence to sit on. She has got the go ahead to make her model so I’m going to be busy helping. Apparently this model won’t have any poisonous chairs in it.

There is a song played in the play and I think the big giraffe across the way wrote it.

He just wants to snog everyone!

Give us a KISS!

0 locks, 0 miles, 0 straights, 2 smilers, 2.5 hrs, 1 thumbs up, 1 climbing frame, 41 trolleys reported, 2 extra levels, 1 snogging giraffe.