Category Archives: History

The Menace. 15th February

BUMingham

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!!!

Up into the library

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.

822.9 AYC

A few of the 84 plays Alan has written

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’m not alone in my opinion of Schoenberg!

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.

Shhhhh!!!!!

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.

Titford Pump House during storm Dennis

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.

BCNS HQ

‘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.

Heather and Kate at the end of tonights show

A very fun evening in an historic setting during Storm Dennis. If you fancy seeing the show then head to Tipton Green Methodist Church Hall on the 25th February after you’ve had your pancakes. They will be touring the show more, but in small chunks.

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.

What I’d come to read, Communicating Doors

Mystery Tickets. 13th February

BUMingham

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.

Crossing the bridge to the ICC

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.

Plenty of leg room, just not so much elbow room

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!

Quite a colossal room.

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.

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

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

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.

Post

Coconut Record. 24th January

Wolverhampton Tunnel to Pelsall Junction

Back to the junction

The alarm was set this morning. Once it had gone off we were up to have our cuppa with breakfast instead of in bed. You would think mooring right next to a ring road would be noisy, but last night and the last time we moored here we got a reasonable nights sleep.

The last bit of reasonably arty grafitti

Last night Mick had been reading his Pearsons Guide on The Black Country Rings, it had suggested that the first mooring we’d have come across on the Wyrley and Essington Canal would have been a secure one, we’d see what we thought as we passed this morning.

A nice place to moor

We pootled back up to Horseley Field Junction where we turned left onto new water. A short distance on we passed the Urban Moorings, some facebook friends of ours have just spent a few months moored here. A nice little community, they have just started selling coal and gas at reasonable prices.

Hello!

Where once an old railway bridge spanned the canal there is now an arc of mirror. This catches you as you pass underneath. On a sunny day I suspect our reflection would have been brighter. A shame the other side faces upwards and has turned green.

Wednesfield Junction

At what once was Wednesfield Junction a short arm sits next to a pub, mooring rings on both sides. One side against the pub, the other a car park, Tilly would not have been allowed out on either side. Who knows how noisy the pub would have been last night, but we might have treated ourselves to the pictures which is right next door.

A handy barrier

We carried on a touch before squeezing ourselves onto some bollards. A quick top up shop of veg and milk was required and this was the closest we could get to Sainsburys. Mick stayed with Oleanna and I headed to do the shopping returning with a little bit more than intended!

Knight’s Bridge

No stopping for long today, we wanted to cover some miles, so we pushed off again. After three miles we had reached Knight’s Bridge. Here a solitary boat sits on it’s home mooring, one we’ve shared the Wolverhampton mooring with before. We could hear the pack of Pekingese from inside the house.

Could this be where Gran lived

This bridge is also where Vernons (the production Manager in Vienna) Gran used to live, one of the houses by the bridge. Two were visible, another hid behind fencing.

Short Heathe Branch, once filled with sunken boats

Then we passed the disused Short Heath Branch, this is where Vernon and his mates used to play on sunken boats in his youth. None were visible today, maybe they have been cleared away, we didn’t want to find out so continued on our course.

The secure spot already taken

At Lane Head Bridge moorings a boat was on the secure section, there would have been space for us should we have wanted to stop, but we had a better place in mind.

Builders vehicles

The going was slow, Mick not wanting to churn the bottom of the canal up too much and collect things on the prop. There was plenty down there that we could see, some large items, trolleys and barriers, others more pliable. Yesterday a boat had reported on picking up several items on their prop including a horse duvet, curtains and the like. Luckily we managed to avoid having to visit the weedhatch for such things.

The human race really is disgusting

We’d been expecting light industry by the side of the canal, but houses backed up to it on both sides for much of our journey north. Nothing much of interest other than plenty of rubbish! I suppose once you’ve tipped your rubbish over the garden fence it vanishes into thin air! Plastic kids umbrellas will degrade rapidly once out of sight and mind. We humans are disgusting!!

M6

Along the side of the M6 for a while which gradually rose to cross the canal. At Sneyd Junction a set of locks used to rise up to Essington and Norton Cannock Collieries, the bottom lock now filled in with a culvert for drainage.

Once the bottom of Sneyd Locks

The water tank was topped up at Sneyd services and the weed hatch checked, nothing much but a couple of bits of plastic. I made lunch whilst the tank filled and then we were off again with cuppas in insulated cups.

Now we came across the light industrial units. G4S with what looked like armoured vans, is gold bullion moved in these with their escape hatches on the roof?

Scummy scum scum

Along with the industry came scummy water. Was this dead duckweed, some other weed or what happens to coconuts once the water breaks them down. Today the coconut count was nearly at two per mile, by far a record.

Watching us from on high

The scum went on for an age, both of us hopping it would diminish before our mooring for the day, if not then Tilly’s shore leave was likely to be suspended as she would think it a solid surface to walk on.

The old Brass works site

At Birchills Junction we passed the end of the Walsall Canal, we’ll venture down there at some point. The Wyrley and Essington Canal is known as the Curlywurly (or is it the Curlywyrley?) as it follows the 473ft contour doubling back on itself several times. One big bend now has a cleared site to one side where once the Elkington Brass Works used to stand. The area is earmarked for 263 houses.

The canal would head off between the trees here

Once through little Bloxwich the scum started to dissipate and the surroundings became far more rural. At what was Fishley Junction you can see the line where once the Lord Hayes Branch used to head off. This could be the start of the proposed new route of the Hatherton Canal which would gradually drop towards Hatherton Junction on the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. Would this bring more boats this way? A new ring always attracts boaters.

Hmm, this outside might just do

Not much further and we ducked under Pelsall Works Bridge. Now very rural but once busy with iron works, the common known locally as ‘The Cracker’ after one of the huge foundry machines. Pulling in proved a touch tricky, me stood at the bow checking for depth which didn’t seem to be enough. Then close to the junction I couldn’t see the bottom anymore, we tried and succeeded. Spikes in, tied up, time to let Tilly out.

Not quite enough friendly cover to keep me covered

Great! But which way to go? This outside has trees, but they are distant. Normally this would not be a problem, but here there are woofers walking their humans, lots of them. She came out and we had a bit of a walk around until Magpies complained about me. Anyhow it was just turning dark so we decided to go back and warm up in front of the stove, tomorrow I’ll venture further to find friends.

Pelsall Junction

0 locks, 12.84 miles, 2 lefts, 4 straights, 1 cuppa with breakfast, 1 cuppa on the go, 1 lunch on the go, 1 full water tank, 1 joint pork, 2 bags flour, 2 pints milk, 1 scummy canal, 21 coconuts, 35 minutes shore leave, 1 pair socks finished.

Vienna Postcard 4. 13th to 15th January 2020

31 hours

Real roses tend to loose their heads when used in magic tricks

Back to work Monday morning. Today we should have been doing some technical notes followed by a couple of dress rehearsals, the second one to be watched by Julia and Helene the Producers from the theatre. I spent the morning breaking down the water torture cabinet more. Then later I was able to add chains and padlocks.

Me on stage adding bits of dressing to the water torture cabinet

The afternoon was then spent going through sound and projection cues. Even though Sunday afternoon had been used as extra plotting time there were still issues. The projector was producing a distorted white rectangular light when we went into black out. One suggested solution was never go to black out! This didn’t go down well for obvious reasons.

Dan running through things out of costume

Then when the water torture cell came on (it has a tv screen inside it which runs footage) the projector also showed the footage! The projector wasn’t the right one for the job. This was the point that the projector was turned off never to be powered up again!

Even a Notfallplan wasn’t going to help

Everyone was getting nervous when sound cues were played back. This morning they had been finessed, this afternoon all that work had vanished and needed redoing. Poor Dan really needed to do a dress rehearsal but was thankful that he and Tim had done a run on stage on Sunday as there was no time left.

Dan with one of his tricks

So our first dress rehearsal was in front of the producers and photographer. My set still needed a few things doing to it, but there simply hadn’t been any time left after sorting the technical issues out. The dress went okay, but the producers had lots of questions afterwards.

A doughnut in action

Tuesday there was time to finish the cabinet, with bolts and breakdown the chain making it look older. Then Bruno, the Viennese Frank Matthews started work on what are known as the ‘Doughnuts’. These on the transporter bridge connect the cables from the dolly at the top of the bridge to the gondola below. I could hear quite a lot of German being muttering under his breath, but in the end he succeeded in getting the tension right on the ropes both upwards and down to the stage.

Das Lange the nearest pub

The dress rehearsal in the afternoon disappeared again, so in the evening we had a preview in front of local teachers. It went well but with a few little glitches. Most of us retired to Das Lange for a few glasses of beer and wine, we’d got through the show, but there was still work to be done.

Healthy fruit for breakfast was followed by some egg and bacon

Wednesday morning I was given instructions to head off and do some sight seeing. My jobs list was short but lighting, sound and a new projector needed to attention. Helga was sent out to track down more rivet heads that I could use on the bridge.

Second time lucky

So I headed into the city to the historical centre. Walking in again I wish I’d wrapped up better as the temperature was low, it even started to try to snow at one point, sadly not for long enough. Young trees were wrapped up to protect them in parks and a few mounds of old snow lingered near the ice skating ring.

St Peter’s

I walked through the palaces, not really knowing what was around me, the balcony where Hitler addressed the crowds in 1938. The butterfly house reminded me of Kew garden with a touch of Jules Verne added. St Stephan’s and St Peters churches both still with their Christmas displays.

At Julius Meinl I was pulled inside to marvel at the number of different caviars for sale. I hunted round for things to bring back. The cakes looked fabulous, the cheeses so tasty, twelve types of tomatoes, tins of baked beans for 2.49 euros! I spent my time smelling and absorbing and refrained from buying anything other than what the ladies at the theatre had said was the best Austrian chocolate Zotter, they certainly make strange flavours!

How much?!

Whilst having some lunch I got a phone call saying the rivets had arrived. So I walked back to give them a coat of paint before they were added to the set. I’d only managed 8 miles walking today!

Pre-rusted rivets

In the morning a new projector had been brought in, but the image couldn’t be made a suitable size to satisfy us. So after another morning of work the projection in the show was cut for good. I could then get on with riveting the bridge with the help of Vernon. we managed two sides but ran out of time. He’ll finish them without me tomorrow.

Finishing touches

Another preview night and then it was time to pack up my belongings. Julia and Helene seemed happy. The show is great, it’s just a shame the icing on the Sacher Torte was missing, your average punter wouldn’t know it wasn’t there. Farewells and big thank yous to all the chaps at the theatre. They are a great bunch and very welcoming. By the end of my time there it felt like I’d been working with them for ages, a very good team.

Top of Act 1
The bridge and Dan in action