Category Archives: The Garden

Wading Through Trolleys. 2nd February

Lower Ocker Hill Branch to Cast Iron Roving Bridge, Birmingham

Heading back out onto the canal

We popped back out onto the canal shortly before 11am, heading eastwards towards Birmingham. The hope was to get up Ryders Green Locks before too many people were about, the area has a reputation.

At the bottom of the locks

Below the locks had far less rubbish than I remembered when we came through in June 2018, it being earlier in the day might have had something to do with it. The bottom lock was empty waiting for us, a good sign, maybe.

The first pound on the flight is longer than the rest and goes under several bridges before reaching the next lock. Mick took it steady under them. The middle bridge is a foot bridge leading across to Poundland and Asda. Asda may have a shortage of trolleys at the moment as most of them seemed to be in the canal! A few more stood close to the bridge awaiting their turn.

Here we go!

Wheels and legs of trolleys appeared just below the surface a couple just rising far enough to grasp a gasp of air. The sedimental trolley layers seemed thicker towards Asda, deeper water could be found towards the centre. However the depth wasn’t quite enough for us to just glide over the tops with the occasional bump or scraping.

A few attempts of forwards and reverse were needed to help settle the metal wheeled cages below to give us just enough depth to pass on wards. It took a little while but we made it. C&RT will be well aware of what lies below the surface here, but we’ll double check with them when the office is open.

At the next lock I walked through the boat to reach the bow to get off, not wanting to risk getting stuck on more trolleys. Here the local drinking club had already convened. As I walked up I said a jolly ‘Morning!’ to them. One chap congratulated us for having got through the last pound, but wanted to show me something. He walked me to the top of the lock and pointed across to a low wall by Poundland. Here a fence had been broken and part of it was floating just above the lock. ‘When we left last night it was dark, but the fence was still there’. ‘I’ve tried to get the wood out of the canal, but not managed yet’.

The drinkers

He was very familiar from when we came through last time. Chatty, helpful and on at least his second can of Scrumpy Jack of the morning! As I opened the gate he and his two mates managed to pull the fencing to the side and lifted it out. ‘I’ve looked for the rest of it, but it’s nowhere. Just be careful’ as he put his rubbish in a bin bag by the bridge.

Back in 2018 the locks were locked by C&RT over night and we’d arrived at this lock heading downhill just as it was about to be padlocked. The boys in blue helped us down, they were playing an everlasting game with the local youths of cat and mouse. Lock beams being lifted, pounds drained, trolleys, general vandalism, so none of what we were encountering was unexpected.

The chaps insisted on closing the gates behind us, meaning I could walk on ahead to the next lock. Here I found some more of the fence, now burnt by the bottom gate. At least it hadn’t been used to try to burn a lock beam, a foot thick of oak beam takes a lot of fire to get it going thank goodness.

That’ll have been some of the fence

As I started to fill the lock I found more of the fence, sitting by our bow. Once the level rose we lifted it out. No doubt tomorrow it’ll be back in the cut, we just didn’t have enough space on the roof for so much fence.

There’s some more

Each lock now was empty, apart from the very top one. I signalled to Mick that I needed to empty it, a touch hard when there’s a bridge right over the bottom gates. He pulled back a touch and I lifted the one paddle I could unlocked. The surge of water was doing it’s best to drag Oleanna towards the gate, but Mick would engage reverse and keep her away…. wouldn’t he….?!

The flight behind us

I could hear the engine doing it’s best, but still Oleanna kept coming. I dropped the paddle as quickly as I could, but she’d got momentum behind her now. Luckily there was only a slight biff to the bottom gate, no damage done.

Oleanna had picked something up around her prop again, hence the prop not doing what was asked of it. Luckily the wind wasn’t going to affect us today as we were in a bridge hole. I held onto the centre rope to stop her from drifting back and forth too much whilst Mick got down and at one with the weed hatch.

Stopping her from drifting back to the lock below

The prop mate did it’s job, thankfully removing a length of twisted razor wire, the pond gloves would not have survived this. Plenty more came away from the prop and filled the stern deck. This was all put on the roof to dispose of later in a bin, if we’d just left it on the towpath it would only end up back on someone’s prop and they might not have a prop mate!

Rusty razor wire and a couple of shirts

Now with power restored I could empty the lock safely.

To Pudding Green Please

At the junction we resisted the temptation to go down the arm, we’ll save that for another day if we feel brave enough. On to Pudding Green Junction where we turned towards Birmingham City Centre.

There was work to be done and as all Mick had to do was continue in a straight line I bobbed down below to bake some sundried tomato bread and finish off my costume reference for The Garden.

You’ve just got to love some of the names round here

Familiar landmarks went past. Three central reservations and the round pillars holding the M5 above our heads. Then the Soho Loop and Oozells Street Loop, time to have a break and help moor up. We winded and returned to where we’d been a couple of weeks ago with the hatch on the towpath for Tilly to make a hasty return to the boat should she need to.

The bridges were full of people, plenty of youngsters all heading to the Arena to see Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live! Blimey they were a rowdy bunch, buying checker flags and horns. Think we preferred the Strictly Come Dancing Audience of a couple of weeks ago.

8 locks, 7.37 miles, 7 straights, 1 right, 1 left, 1 wind, 1 tunnel, 2 times under, 2 layers of trolleys, 2.3m razor wire, 2nd Scrumpy Jack by 11am, 1 coconut, 1 broken fence, 8 actors with reference, £20 over budget, 1 sundried tomato bread loaf, 1 pair socks finished.

A Very Tall Man. 31st January

Angelsey Basin to Riddian Bridge, Daw End Branch BCN

Mick and Oleanna on our mooring

Despite drizzle and a touch more wind than we’d expected we moved onwards today. Retracing ourselves back to Catshill Junction we passed the two Fountains men tidying up the towpath again. One trimming the hedge, the other cutting the grass and then blowing away the cuttings.

Looking much better

Along this stretch is a line of painted stones, done by the local school, I’d wondered what would happen when the chaps arrived at that stretch. It looks like the stones were just driven over by the first tractor which pushed them down so hopefully the second one will just skate over the top not affecting the painting.

Left please

At Catshill we turned left onto the Daw End Branch. For most of our miles today we seemed to be on an embankment above houses and light industry.

Bags of collected rubbish, they were doing a great job

At Walsall Wood Bridge a group of volunteers were hard at work picking up rubbish, scraping the moss of the edging tiles and cutting back trees that were trying to take hold in the brickwork. All the time a very tall fisherman looked down on them. The sculpture is by Luke Perry (the same chap who did the sculptures along the Dudley No2 canal) and is part of a sculpture trail through Walsall Wood. Originally the sculpture had a fish hanging from fishing line, a lucky catch but sadly the fish is long gone.

He’s a very tall man

There is also some heavier industry. Through the trees we could see what could only be a large mound of spoil, was it from the coal industry? Rubbish? A large hole alongside suggested something was being dug up. Further investigation suggests it was a clay quarry used for making bricks.

Spoil of some sort

The large McKechnie Metals Ltd building now stands empty, no glass in the windows, just distorted skeletal metal framework. McKechnie Brass was the last brass extrusion manufacturing company in the country. They used scrap brass to produce brass rods and profiles for alsorts of products including pins for plugs, padlocks, lift tracks and overhead conductive wire for the railway industry. Sadly the firm went out of business in 2013, having accrued millions in debts. The site is set for redevelopment, but the 116 page document I found was going to take too long to read to find out what exactly the site will be used for.

Twisted window frames at McKechnie Brass

We had our eyes set on mooring at Park Lime Pits Nature Reserve. If we found a space away from the car park and railway line Tilly would have a fine time. There are rings here, but there was also a cruiser tied to them. We tried a little further along with no luck.

Not enough space for us

I stood at the bow watching the depth of water as we went, hoping the bottom of the canal would drop out of view suggesting there was enough depth to pull in. We tried several times and eventually after half a mile found one spot that apart from the last foot was okay. Here we were surrounded by fields and not too many woofer walkers.

I really wanted someone to come out and play. I kept coming back to ask them, but they wanted to sit and finish off their smelly cheese!

Thousands of Catkins dripping from trees

A pot of butternut squash goulash was popped on the stove to bubble away all afternoon whilst I tried to do a bit of work collecting reference photos for costume designs for The Garden. Have to say emails from the Viennese English Theatre kept distracting me somewhat. Wonder if anything will come of them?

0 locks, 6.93 miles, 1 right, 1 left, 1 straight, 0 smelly cheese left, 4 Garden emails, 3 Viennese emails,1 very tall man, 6 volunteers, 1 muddy trolley, 1 mooring eventually, 4678354678254 aments, 1 ununderstandable explanation.

Aborted Delivery. 29th January

Brownhills

Being right next to a water point it made sense to get some washing done. Our bedding was first in the machine, followed by a load of clothes.

A block of butter was chopped up and left in a bowl on the proving shelf before breakfast to help soften it. Some baking was on the cards this morning. First a Dorset Apple Cake, this was then going to be followed by a Sundried Tomato and Parmesan Loaf, but a message came through putting that on hold.

Emma and Ted the other day had forgotten to hand over our latest post from my brothers, so they were going to call in on their way south. We’d be about half way so a good pit stop. But their time was going to be limited so no quick lunch just a cuppa and a wee break.

Dorset Apple Cake, yummy!

Then about an hour later my phone rang. Leaving York had taken time and if there were any more hold ups on their journey south they would end up having to pay for the hire car for an extra day, an expense they didn’t want. So could they post our post onto us?

Some thought of where to post it to is needed, my first thought being my brothers! The envelopes were gone through to check for anything time sensitive, nothing urgent it could wait a little. But the biggest shame is not getting to see them again this trip.

As the washing did it’s thing the wind blew the scummy scum outside on the cut back to surround us. A number checker came past. Tilly watched all the geese and moorhens with great interest, following them from window to window. And I got on with sorting costume references for The Garden. One question I have is should I make my own combat trousers as there will be plenty of off cuts when I buy trousers for two of the men?

0 locks, 0 miles, 0 shore leave, 0 post, 4 costume references sorted, 42″ waist, 19.5″ inside leg, 1 alteration of plans, 2 loads of washing, 1 pooh bucket, 1 big cake just for the two of us, what a shame!

Antipodean Visitors. 27th January

Pelsall Junction

Mooring at Pelsall wasn’t just so that Tilly could have a run around and for me to do some work, it was also for us to be close to the road network.

A beautiful morning

With visitors due Oleanna had a tidy and a sweep through this morning. Then to encourage Tilly to have some outdoor time I finally got round to washing the port side windows. The cratch window is the best, I get to lie on the top by the horns and watch the cloth and newspaper go back and forth until the outside can be seen clearly again.

The travellers were delayed, there had been a crash on the M1 and they had stopped to help. So the stern or Oleanna got a good sweep down and a rinse off with canal water, followed by the gunnel. If they were held up any longer I might of got round to the flithy roof and cabin sides.

A check on progress and they were almost with us, time to smarten up a touch and head for the pub. The Fingerpost Pub was boasting a new menu, food served daily 12-3pm, we’d not bothered to check. But they had let one of their two chefs go, so no food on Mondays or Tuesdays! We loitered in the car park, there were several more pubs in Pelsall to choose from.

The bridge over the canal had a car drive into it a while ago and there is a contraflow of traffic over it. Will the bridge be mended or will a planned new bridge be built to replace it? Locals are not in favour of a new improved bridge as this would attract lorries to the area, the old canal bridge would remain but for pedestrians. But for now the towpath is closed and traffic takes turns to cross.

There was waving from the car at the front of the queue! They had arrived.

Emma and Ted doing well despite jetlag

Emma my Bestestest friend and her son (my Godson) Ted are over for a visit from Sydney for a few weeks. They had originally been coming to visit Teds Grandmother in Ireland, but sadly she passed away before Christmas. This means they are now hurtling around trying to catch up with as many friends as they can. Last night (their first) they had enjoyed the hospitality of my brother, then we were their lunch date/pit stop whilst en-route to the Peak District to see Emma’s Aunt.

The Fingerpost

Time was ticking so after big hugs all round we hopped into the car and headed in to Pensall. We passed The Fingerpost which as it’s name suggests has fingers pointing in four directions.

The first pub we came to was the Old House At Home, a Marstons pub, the car park was busy so it looked hopeful. Yes they were still serving food, phew! We settled down for a good catch up and some okay pub food. Having said that the Yorkshire stack with cheesy mash looked interesting.

An okay pub for a chain

It’s been over six years since we saw last Ted, he turned 21 late last year, what a handsome tall young man he is. In between labouring for a building firm (in 40+C recently) he is studying law. Emma we last saw when Oleanna was still spanking new and we loitered around London to meet up with her nearly three years ago. Lots has happened in that time and we only just managed to scratch the surface, a late night drink with Emma on our own was really needed, but sadly not this time.

Me and my Godson

After a couple of hours we got a lift back to the boat, well to the other side of the canal where a footbridge crosses. This was a much better way to approach Oleanna, sitting on her mooring in the middle of the common, viewed from the top of the arched footbridge, very romantic.

They didn’t want to play with fish, but I did

Ted had a guided tour and met Tilly, who was quite sociable for a change. Well I knew he was important and wouldn’t be staying long. I think Emma was a touch relieved to see that we live a cosy life in winter with our stove burning 24/7.

Bestestest friend

Far too soon it was time for them to head further north. We waved them goodbye as they crossed back over the bridge to the car. The only way to get to spend more time with them is to visit Australia, we haven’t been for over a decade, maybe my next design fees should be saved up for a trip!

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 broken bridge, 1 tidy boat, 6 clean windows, 1 cat assistant, 1 bestestest friend, 6ft+ of Godson, 2 Aussies enjoying our clean air, 2 chilly Aussies, 2 Yorkshire Stacks, 1 Hunters chicken, 1 steak and kidney pie, 2 glasses of wine, 3.5 pints, 2.5 hours so not enough, 1 thumbs up from Huddersfield, 3 envelopes forgotten.

Clotted Cream Mouse. 26th January

Pelsall Junction

Pelsall morning view

Me again!

She is too busy and Tom, well I think Tom has lost the ability to write!

Today started off well. They had their cuppa in bed with the papers whilst I dreamed of Ottiwhatsits latest recipe, it does sound nice. Just have to collect the ingredients together to give it a go.

Clotted Cream Mouse, yummy!

Then I was told I had 6.5 hours! Blimey!! At first this seemed great, but then I realised they hadn’t changed the outside from yesterday. Boo.

However today it was raining for much of the time, so not many woofers were around which gave me the chance to explore a touch more. I had a bit of a look for a friend in the cover, even pounced once or twice, but nobody was coming out to play. So the stove called me back inside.

Preparing to pounce

She has been busy with more numbers today. These ones are different, she’s been making them up. She says they make up a budget and it’s very tight. I wonder if it’s as tight as the opening at the bottom of the bathroom door?

Then She did some sketches. These sketches had what looked like trees or maybe sideways trees in them and they changed colour. I think I’m going to like this set.

The Garden with trees!

That special little biscuit from yesterday? Well it has been in my biscuit bowl all day, with very few other biscuits. I very nearly ate it at one point, but it tasted funny so I spat it out. Apparently because I’d spat it out they had to force me to eat it. Being manhandled in such a way is very unbecoming and I showed my displeasure with them by wriggling and showing my teeth off, Lots!

Whilst they enjoy their roast pork, I’m studying my recipe. Now where can I find Rooibos and Rhubarb?

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 wet day, 6.5 hours, 1.5 taken, 5 pounces, 0 friends, 11 sketches, £1500 to spend, 1 little biscuit, 9.75 digits still.

Back To Work. 3rd January

The Giraffe, Birmingham

Tilly has resigned herself to being in Birmingham. This morning she didn’t even stir from her sleep to play pen before we got up. Then she took to her day bed without even a look at the back door, There’s just no point!

There are now four award winning Damascena Coffee Houses in Birmingham

At lunchtime I put my designers head on and walked into town for a meeting with a new director. Amy had suggested meeting up at Damascena, she’d arrived before me and secured a table in the back room. Just as well as the place got very full. Serving Middle Eastern food, hummus, falafels, flat breads etc, it all looked very tasty.

The picture doesn’t do it justice, it was yummy

We quickly ordered, Amy a falafal wrap with haloumi, myself crispy falafels with gluten free flatbreads and avocado hummus. All very tasty, I just wished I’d eaten my flat breads a bit quicker as they soon became brittle, but that tends to be the nature of such things.

A wonderful room

Amy is the Artistic Lead at Dark Horse Theatre Company in Huddersfield. A few years ago they started to run AcT a course for people with learning disabilities to train to become professional actors. This summer the first of their students will graduate by putting on a performance at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield and I have been asked to be their designer.

Bowie down by the Bullring

Work has already started on the piece with much of the physical movement already having been blocked. Set in a garden, based on a poem we will need to work our way through the seasons. We talked practicalities and then moved on to more arty stuff. Captioning of the script on the set and wheelchair access along with giving the audience the best sight lines will take a bit of working out.

Dusk

We chatted away for a couple of hours, worked out a time scale for the design deadlines. Working with Dark Horse means everything needs to be ready far earlier so that the actors can rehearse with the set and props for as long as possible. A very good first meeting with lots to think about.

I didn’t fancy Mask or Neck

A walk down to the Bullring Markets to see what took my fancy for our evening meal. Plenty on offer, maybe the fish with red dots? But nothing really took my fancy, so in the end I opted for a stir fry from M&S.

Moon’s up

Back at Oleanna Tilly had ventured out and Mick had had the opportunity to chat to a man setting bait in rat boxes. These have always worried us as Tilly so likes to stick her arm down holes. But the man assured Mick that they were safe as she wouldn’t be able to reach the poison and was too big to get inside to where it lurks.

Kingfisher with Turmeric toe

The first pair of new year socks are coming along nicely. I’ve started off with the Kingfisher yarn and a matching colour for the toes and heel. It’s knitting up quite stripy as you can see. By the end of the evening I’d turned the heel and was working up the leg. I hope I can find the right place in the yarn to start knitting the second sock so that the orange meets with the heel like it has done with the first one.

0 locks, 0 miles, 6 crispy falafel, 1 brand new director, 8 actors, 1 wheel chair, 4 seasons, 9 foot head height, 0 fish, 40 minutes shore leave, 1 old friend found again, 1 underwhelming video, 0.75 of a sock, 8pm you should stop your engine matey across the way!!!