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.

Post

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.

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.

Elongated Arms. 1st February

Riddian Bridge to Lower Ocker Hill Branch, BCN

Sun straight ahead a touch blinding

With winds forecast to be over 40mph later today we aimed to get going, hopefully to miss the worst of it. Despite our aim we didn’t push off till 10am, would this give us enough time to moor up before the worst hit?

To the South
To the North

The sun was out, blue skies overhead as we pootled our way to the top of Rushall Locks. We could have moored above the locks last night but that wouldn’t have been half as good for Tilly. Signs on the outside of a building here tell you cruising times to both north and south. I think we’ve got plenty of time to get to York by mid July, via a lot of other places on the way.

Back to double gates

The bottom gates on the Rushall Flight are doubles, not singles as is common on most of the BCN. The top lock had a nice wide walkway over the top gate and a handy bridge at the bottom, but this wasn’t the case all the way down.

Eerrrk!

The top two locks are closish together and then only just visible in the distance was lock 3 over a straight mile away. The first stretch of the long pound was filled with reddened dead scum, a slight aroma wafting from it as we parted it around Oleanna’s hull.

I hopped off at Moat Bridge and walked to the next, Sutton Road Bridge, where I joined the road to visit the handy Co-op. Quite a few things I wanted had sad gits labels , so loaves of bread and tomatoes joined our Saturday newspaper in my basket.

Handy long bridge hole so you can go shopping

When I got back to the canal, Oleanna was taking shelter under the wide bridge. No other boat traffic so it didn’t matter that we were blocking the navigation.

Heading down, the rest of the flight through the bridge

Then the flight was upon us, some locks full others empty. We soon got into our rythmn I’d open up, then walk ahead to set the next lock whilst Mick brought Oleanna in above, closed the lock and lifted a bottom paddle. I’d be back in time to lift the second paddle and open the gates.

Mick bringing Oleanna down the lock above

I tried my usual trick of kicking the gates open, but decided that the gates looked too chunky, so reverted to walking round instead. If I remembered to drop the off side paddle then Mick could close it from below using the boat hook saving me crossing the gates again.

No anti vandal lock on the bottom paddle

Each paddle, bar one on the very bottom gate is locked with an anti-vandal mechanism which you get very used to around these parts, you just have to remember which pocket you put your handcuff key in to be able to unlock them!

The roofing felt may be new, but the wood underneath is showing that it’s been there 24 years

The lower down the flight we got the more and more spongy the walkways got on the gates. Underfelt is used as anti slip across these, but the surface below some of it was very rotten and decidedly wobbly, I made sure I always had hold of the hand rail should anything fail. One of the gates was allowing water to bubble up from the bottom cill, guaranteeing a quick descent.

At the bottom lock, new gates sealed both ends and with new walkways I was able to cross with confidence once again.

Urban Snake waiting to catch a prop

Straight on to Rushall Junction, well at a slight angle now, the wind was building. A very long urban snake sat waiting to catch us out where the stern needed to swing. If it hadn’t been so windy we’d most probably have stopped to pick it up, but instead the engine was taken out of gear at the last moment to let us glide past, then engaged again to force the bow round to the west. Time to cling onto possessions and boat hooks!

High on an embankment

The Tame Valley Canal sits high on an embankment and runs along the side of the M6 for a while to where the M5 joins it.

Loads of concrete

Roads intertwining high on concrete stilts, the River Tame curling it’s way slowly beneath.

Magnet fishing

Then once over the railway you are surrounded, the canal now in a cutting. A group were magnet fishing at one bridge, several items had been pulled out or just to the side. The chap said he was looking for mobile phones, so he’d most probably leave the trolleys where they had got dragged to.

Blimey it was windy, a touch more revs needed to keep us on our course, good job there are only a couple of moored boats about.

A rope swing distracted Mick at a bridge just for a second or two too long, the engine tone changed. A blast of reverse, still the same. Damn something round the prop. He managed to pull us almost in to the side and hopped off with a centre line. A spike was hammered in to help me keep hold of Oleanna against the wind whilst Mick delved into the murky waters of the weed hatch.

Quite Ghostly

The wind was tunneling it’s way along the canal and Oleanna’s bow was being forced across the cut. The spike was pulling out, should I just let go. No I clung on, forced the spike back into the ground. In a two second lull of wind I rearranged myself to stand on the rope once it was through the spike loop, then I could lean back remembering my windsurfing days when I was just a teenager. I lent back thinking of heavy things like lardy cakes all the time my arms gradually getting that little bit longer. Surely Mick must have finished by now!!!

A large wet something hit the deck, hopefully that was all there was going to be. My arms were now stinging like Alan’s in A Regular Little Houdini, then they burned, at least if I let go I wouldn’t end up feet first in a tunnel of mud with the tide coming in!

As soon as Mick stood up I called out to him and Oleanna was just pulled in enough for us to get back on again with a jump. Blimey my arms throbbed. We now just hoped that the mooring we were aiming for was free and sheltered enough to be able to moor up with an amount of ease.

Still a while to go before we got to Tame Valley Junction, we’d most certainly had enough by now. We turned left and I could see round through the hedge that there was space. Reversing in would be easier we hopped than winding as the entrance to the arm was at an acute angle.

Luck was with us, the wind had dropped. Mick brought us round and started to reverse and as he did so a gentle little breeze pushed the bow round to the right angle to clear the bridge at the entrance of the arm.

Now who can I find here?

Once tied up we could both breath again. A quick check round and the mooring was deemed suitable for Tilly. A late lunch was followed by a hair cut for Mick which was just interesting enough to bring Tilly out from the sideways trees to be picked up and returned inside just before dusk.

9 locks, 6.79 miles, 1 straight, 1 right, 1 left, 1 reverse, 1 newspaper, 2 sad gits loaves, 1 giant snake, 1 padded coat, M6, M5, 1 battle with the wind, 2 inches longer, 2 relieved boaters, grade 3, 1 key, 1.5 hours shore leave, 2 coconuts.

Thank you to Paul (Waterway Routes) we now know how many times the A5, Watling Street, crosses the navigable canal network. Fifteen times, more if you include the disused canals.