Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Swanning Around Stone

Greetings landlubbers and pals with webbed feet, from the glorious Staffs and Worcester canal as we drift south, for a change, and I write this from a very pleasant spot, about a mile north of Stafford city centre, adjacent to a park on one side and leafy residential properties on the other.

After a very blustery few days, which were not too pleasurable, we pitched up in Stone in Staffordshire - a small canal town, which the Trent & Mersey dissects, last Thursday. There are three town centre locks, a hire fleet, chandlery and a large boating community. It promotes itself as a “canal town”, and lives  up that claim. It also has, some reason, half a narrow boat on display!

Wonder where the other half went to?

The best pub in town, about a minute from the tow path, is The Swan, which is always busy and rightly so, and while we were moored in the town The Cat’s Whiskers befriended, though I am not sure if that is the right word: terrorised might be a better description, our own swan, who the locals call Psycho!
His mate was on her nest, opposite us, and we assumed Psycho was doing the macho thing and his aggressive behaviour was based on his paternal instincts. No, say the locals. He is always like it and is a bit of a local personality with an seemingly appropriate name.
Psycho attacks my shoes

He liked to hang around the back of the boat, and went for your feet as you get on and off, and if you opened the side hatch you had to check first where Psycho was, otherwise he was likely to rise up and attempt an entry. However, in the three days we were in Stone, we saw him chase and attack dogs, and pursue and hiss at passing boats, pecking at the rear fenders, so he is not bothered who he stalks. Altogether there was a great deal of hissing and fluffing up feathers to make him look more menacing than he was.

While we were in Stone, Pat celebrated her 60th birthday. She spent a good chunk of the day at the local launderette. The previous day she had also fallen down the steps into the boat and bruised her lower back, and that has slowed her down a bit. Ever generous, and as a birthday treat, I gave her a crisp ten pound note and pointed her in the direction of the local charity shops. She only spent £2.50 on a headscarf - that’s my gal!

Pat models her birthday present

Birthday girl (and Psycho)

And before you all make comments on this blog that I am a penny pinching, cheap skate, tight wad, there will be a spa weekend happening soon, when we are in Birmingham.

Our good pals Vic and Liz drove down from Crewe to join us Saturday night and we had a very enjoyable Thai meal in a little restaurant just off the tow path. Vic has caught the boating bug and I am expecting a call any day to tell me he is afloat.

The weather continues to dominate how far we travel each day - if at all. Generally, apart from the wind, its been OK for cruising: coldish until around eleven, then less cold in the afternoon with the odd sunny spell. We still light a fire each evening, but lighting up time is getting later and later.

We have experienced only a few April showers, unlike this time last year when we were holed up at Trent Lock, waiting for it to stop raining and for the river levels to drop.

All being well, we will be in Penkridge this coming weekend. It is possible that we might have some American Couchsurfers joining us for a couple of days. We are still waiting to hear from them - then we skirt Wolverhampton and continue south for Worcester.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

All In A Pickle

Hello folks. We are now well into our second week of cruising and it’s like we have never been away and we have slipped right back into the groove, without any problem at all.
I think we have covered around 30 miles since we left Trent Lock Monday before last, and we are exactly where I had planned we would be, when I mapped out our planned route before we left, and we are currently in the town of Rugeley.
It continues to be pretty cold first thing, but over the last two days we have only lit the fire in the evenings and we are seeing two digit temperatures now, thank goodness. Fashionistas please note that I am no longer wearing socks in bed - so last winter don't you think! But the hat stays on for the time being. Pat threatened me with shorts this morning. I think she needs a check-up, from the neck up! And although the temperatures have picked up today it's been gusting up to 40mph, which puts great demands on my tiller skills.
So we have swapped Derbyshire for Staffordshire and we are currently on a bit of detour to the town of Stone.

Pat checks out a new boat (can see a problem with the sleeping arrangements though)

My waterways pals will know we should turn left at Great Haywood junction if we are heading for Worcester, but we are carrying on another 10 miles or so, so we have a base for this weekend, when the first mate celebrates a landmark birthday.
It’s possible that our pals from Nantwich, Vic and Liz, might join us for a bit of a celebration on Friday or Saturday evenings. Lots of good pubs and restaurants in Stone, so Pat will have plenty to choose from.
We spent much of last weekend in the village of Willington where we investigated Mercia Marina as a possible winter mooring option for later this year and bought a chimney brush and other boating essentials in the Chandlers. Pat also wanted to have a look at the lodges that sit beside the waters edge, as did I, but  I don’t think they are for us.
As the weather had picked up a bit I polished one side of the boat and Pat fitted some matting at the decking at the stern.
Then it was on to the capital of British brewing, Burton On Trent, where we didn’t stop, (don't ask) and took this picture just beyond Burton, at Branston Lock. Evidently Crossse & Blackwell had a factory in the village close by and named the pickle after it. They sold the brand in the 1990s and a passing boater  told us its now made in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

Pat's in a pickle at Branston

For most of Sunday we accompanied Brendan and Sophie. They were brand new to boating - had picked up their boat that day from Mercia Marina, and were taking it to Birmingham. I was amazed that the brokerage there did not advise them about essential equipment. They had one windlass, no BW keys and no handcuff keys, so they were pretty stuck if they wanted water, empty their loo or go through city centre locks. We heard from them them the day later, they did, indeed get stuck.
It’s going to be a sharp learning curve for them, but they were keen and not at phased by it all.
I shouldn’t say this, but everything is working well on the boat, though I am still struggling to get the boiler to give us hot water, when it has been on overnight. I’ve tried all sorts of settings to no avail - turned off the rads and the thermostat. Luckily, now the weather has picked up its not so much of an issue.
Pat’s not a big fan of the Trent & Mersey, but I think its got a lot going for it - lots of towns and junctions and has a lot of facilities - a lot more water and sanitary points that many other canals.

The "Cat", at rest at Fradley

Yesterday we stayed over at Fradley Junction and I had to have a pint in the Swan, or “Mucky Duck” as it is often called. It’s one of the most popular canal-side pubs on the system, so it would have been rude not to patronise it for a pint, at least.
Toodaloo chums

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Still Cold On The Cut

It’s just past ten in the morning and on the trees that overhang TCW the birds are singing for England. It's Tuesday morning and we are moored in the delightful canal-side village of Shardlow. So, has Spring finally arrived in this part of Derbyshire? Well the daffs are finally taking a chance. I just cycled up to the post office to get a paper and some milk and an awful lot of them are exposing their yellow petals to the whims of the elements.
We have also seen a couple of swans bedded down on their nests as they await this year’s off-spring to arrive, but it is still cold - currently 3 degrees, but as we only have plans to be cruising a couple of hours a day over the next week of so that shouldn't present a problem.

We spent the weekend down in Hertfordshire. I had booked to have an ECG done at my local GP’s when we returned to the UK mid-March, but when I got to the surgery on Friday afternoon, the receptionist told me, “Sorry, the machine has broken down, can you come back next week?”. “No”, I thought, “I bloody well can’t”, but I kept calm and was polite.
The main reason for our visit home was to attend a party for Mike, one of my best pals at John Lewis Welwyn, who was celebrating his 50th birthday. It was good to see all my work chums again, but not so good hearing about all the insecurities they feel with the giant restructuring that is going on at the moment in John Lewis, I really did jump ship at the right time.
In our trusty hired Peugeot, we were back at Trent Lock by Sunday lunchtime and drove into Nottingham to pick up a new fireside rug they had reserved for us. I can’t see the point of it, but Pat thinks it is cosy: we’ll see how it shapes up when I am charging through the cabin with muddy boots on.

Our new John Lewis rug
We left our home of the last five weeks mid-day Monday. Our neighbours in “Free Spirit” were also leaving the same day, so we shared the lock and let Ian and Irene out on to the Trent first as Ian was keen to try out the new propeller he fitted over Easter. He had bought a gizmo, that connects via a GPS signal and gives the boat’s speed in mph and they were both keen to see what their boat could achieve. Even cruising against the current, they literally shot off and within five minutes were round the bend and out of sight, so it looks like the prop has made a big difference. We didn't attempt to  try and catch them, arriving some 20 minutes later at Sawley lock, where they were waiting in the pound for us. They were staying at Sawley, but we moved on, after getting a new gas bottle and putting some diesel into the fuel tank.

Irene captures TCW as we brave the elements on the Trent

Joining Ian and Irene in Sawley Lock

I expect we will see them again soon on our travels. It’s amazing how often you meet up with boats you know,  We will keep up to date, and keep an eye of Ian’s condition, via our respective blogs, on which Irene is prolific.
So we are now a couple of miles on from Sawley, in one of the prettiest canal-side villages on the system. Well, I think so anyway. We had a wander around the Wharf here last night and a four-bedroomed conversion of two small cottages is a staggering £300,000. There is a fair sprinkling of Porches, flash Audi’s and Beemers about, which confirms it’s all about “Location, Location” in these here parts.
Of course, we have all the benefits of the location on board TCW, without this cost, and we are both looking forward to this year’s adventures.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), we should be in Willington, and I am giving the Derby Ukulele Club a visit, after enjoying my experience last week in Nottingham. It’s only 10 minutes to Derby from Willington station, so it should be an easier journey than last week’s slog, on the bus.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Still Nice & Cosy

Well another week has gone by and we are still here at Trent Lock. So is the ice that forms a crispy greeny-brown layer over the cut and greets us most mornings when we raise the curtains. It hangs around until mid-morning but it is now 11.30am and it is still evident as this photo shows.

Ice on the cut. Our "facilities" are opposite as is The Steamboat Inn, to the left of the cooling towers

Easter’s come and gone, the clocks moved forward Saturday night and although we lost an hour at least its started to get a bit lighter at nights which means we won’t have to be taking torches out with us, on our way back to the boat in the evening.
There was a bit of déjà vu going on around here at the weekend, for last Easter, which was a week later than this year, I was moored in exactly the same spot watching the world go by. Pat was in New Zealand visiting Erica, James and our new Granddaughter, while I was holed up at Trent Lock.

This year though, we are together and, rather amazingly, and considering that we have gone nowhere and been cooped up in our pencil box now for nearly four weeks, we are in good spirits, not particularly bored and have hardly argued at all.

Our cruising adventures have consisted of moving from one side of the cut to the other to get water and emptying our loos. I have been kept busy playing my uke, sorting out all the photos from our latest global adventure and re-acquainting myself with some old computer games such as “Civilization” and “Sim City“”, which I used to enjoy playing during the winter months back in Welwyn Garden City.
The pub across the cut, The Steamboat Inn, had a beer festival over the long weekend and there were a fine selection of local East Midlands beers.

Our pals from “Free Spirit” are in the dry dock, with their friends in Bracken and Icing respectively. They have taken over the dock for the Easter week - which they always do at this time of year, while the Kingfisher boys take off for a few days rest. We first met The Jameisons from Free Spirit this time last year when we were here, and I persuaded Ian and Irene to let me loose this year with a roller and blacking. I don’t think TCW will need any work “down under” for a couple of years yet, but it was a good opportunity to see what was involved. Ian was also replacing his propeller and you can see pix of him speaking “nicely” to it when it was a little reluctant to come off on their blog. Thanks for the pix Irene.

Getting down and dirty in the dry dock helping to black "Free Spirit"

The weather continues to be colder than the forecast suggests and the North-Easterly wind veritably rips across the open fields and hits us full on. It has not stopped us getting out and about though, and we have taking trips to Nottingham and Derby, therefore getting good use out of my Senior Railcard and bus pass.

However, yesterday’s bus run into Nottinghan was marred by the bus driver refusing my bus pass. It had expired on 31 March, and although I applied for a new one on-line to Herts County Council almost three weeks ago I haven’t had it through yet. As we were making a number of bus journeys yesterday it was particularly galling, and expensive.

Early evening we caught a bus out to Wilton, a leafy suburb of Nottingham, beside the River Trent and I had my first experience of a Ukulele Club.  My pal Vic, goes to one in Nelson, NZ, when he is in the country, and most large cities seem to have them.

"Let's rock this joint!". Rog tunes up at the Nottingham Ukulele Club

People of all abilities come along and just play together. If there are bits you are not sure of, then you leave those out. The words, chords and music are projected on to a big screen and the school hall we met in was jammed with ukes of all sizes. There was a good mix of ages there, though I must admit, most were  “middle-aged”. We whisked through “Iko Iko“, “Donald Where’s Your Troosers”, “Walking On Sunshine”, rather aptly “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, “Waterloo”, “Lady Madonna”, “Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa” and finished on a rowdy “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, with lots of whooping and yeh hahs!  I was a little nervous about whether I would keep up with them all, but it was no problem, thank goodness. They were very welcoming and as we travel around I will search out some more of these clubs. Oh yes, and more ukulele news. I took the George Formby classic “When I’m Cleaning Windows” and re-wrote the lyrics as a homage to my little granddaughter Livi in New Zealand. If you want to take a listen (and please do) search on You Tube for the righttrackrog channel and it should come up. It’s called “When I’m Being Livi”. Be good to get into double figures for hits by the weekend.

This weekend we are down in Welwyn Garden on Friday and Saturday. Got doctors, the hospital, a party and friends and relatives to visit. Got a great deal on a car for the weekend from Avis at East Midlands airport, £35 all in for three days, so we will be using it get wood, gas and go to Ikea, I would suspect.

And then, all being well next Tuesday morning we'll slip through the lock here, on to the Trent and head down, through Sawley on to the Trent & Mersey to start this year’s adventures. Hope we we are not ice breaking!

Toodaloo chums