Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Where's the Hawaiian Ballroom


Pat says it’s like being in a floating Holiday Camp. I can’t say I can quite agree with her. It’s certainly not like any holiday camp I’ve experienced. Nobody shouts out “Good Morning Boaters” for a start. And where’s the “Hawaiian Ballroom”?

Yes, welcome my friends, to life pottering around the pontoon. The brakes have been applied (if you can do that on a narrowboat) and we lie serenely on Jay 22 here at the very picturesque Mercia Marina. They advertise the Marina as being in the Peak District, which is a bit short of the mark if you look at a map of the area, but it is very pleasant and pastoral round here, with Burton-On-Trent a few miles to the south west and Derby lying to the north.
Jay Pontoon. We are about half way up, on the right
We have spent the week experimenting with the buses, free and otherwise, trains, paths and roads to get acclimatised to the area. They even through a firework party for us... well, they said it was for the Marina, but we know better!

Firework Night at Mercia Marina

Our next door neighbours, Ian and Sarah, on NB Thomas, have made us welcome. Ian is the Marina Rep for our pontoon, so is a handy bloke to know and last Wednesday night we invited them on to TCW for a drink and what must have seen by Ian as a bit of a “grilling” as I asked question after question about the place and its facilities. They have an elderly cat on board: in fact their boat is named after the cat – “Thomas”, who is very friendly, and we hope to welcome him on board as well as time goes on.

We haven’t adopted a routine yet, but I have no doubt that will evolve after another week or so. It’s very quiet, which is quite unusual for the canal, as the railway line is not far from us, and the A38, which is a busy road, runs just to the north, and though you can hear both from time to time, neither is obtrusive.

Pat has spent much of her time on her latest creation. She bought the wool in the Rag Market in Birmingham and launched it to the unsuspecting public this morning.

Pat's latest Arran creation
As far as our two closest conurbations are concerned, Pat prefers Derby to Burton, but I favour Burton. That might have something to do with the fact that I can catch a bus from outside the marina,  that takes me directly outside the door of the Wetherspoons in the town centre. Just around the corner are the library, leisure centre and The Burton Bridge Brewery. Its Brewery Tap, has crashed into my top ten pubs and may well climb further, If their locally-produced pork pies continue to delight.

I want to investigate the leisure centre further this week. Our days on the move were quite physical, and now we are sitting around a lot, watching the rain beating on the surface of the water, we need to get some exercise, so when we visit this week we will check out what’s on offer. I used to do Water Aerobics when I was recovering from my broken back, and I noticed they do that there, though I don’t think Pat is too keen. I was always the only man in the class.

The weather has been very changeable – very autumnal in fact, so it’s been a real mix of everything over the last week, but we have found opportunities to clean out the engine bay and do some essential painting. Willington village is about a 20-minute walk, or a five-minute ride on my bike, so we are able to get any supplies that the marina shop cannot supply.

Meeting people in and around the marina has not been a problem. Everyone seems to have at least one dog, though it’s generally just a few minutes small talk. I have registered on the Marina Forum, and will start posting this week, to see if there is a ukulele underground cell here, which I hear might exist. It seems though that the forum is not used much these days, but it’s worth a punt.

I know there is definitely a Uke club in Derby that meets twice a month. There are a lot of winter moorers who came in on 1 November, and some are probably in exactly in the same boat as us – “know nobody but want to”. Then there is Christmas to consider. Ian tells me that there is a bit of battle around the marina for the best show of Christmas lights. Evidently our neighbour on the other side sports a huge reindeer on the roof of his boat, so we need to plan a strategy. We intend to stay on the boat over Christmas and hope there are opportunities for a party or two.
One aggravation is our mobile phone signal. Both of us are having making and receiving calls on the boat, so if you are trying to contact us, leave a voice mail, and we will get back to you ASAP. Alternatively send us an e mail. Evidently the only provider with a decent signal around here is Vodaphone.

Finally, we were watching the regional East Midlands news last week and the programme featured Google who are extending their “Street View” mapping option, to include tow paths and Google employees have been traipsing around the country with a special camera array on a backpack taking the snaps required. They were filming at Trent Lock, our old stamping ground, where TCW was built, and blow me down, they interviewed our pal Irene, off “Free Spirit” who was moored up there. You just can’t keep that gal out of the media.

Toodaloo chums.


Friday, 1 November 2013

Storm!.. Call that a Storm

Hello pals and bloggers. As some of you will know both of our families have lived in the south of England for many, many years. My descendants have lived in and around Hertfordshire for at least 300 years, and while Pat can’t quite match that, having Irish and Italian roots, both her parents and grandparents came from the south. I guess we are then, pretty died-in-the-wool “Southern Softies”, and no doubt display all the traits of an upbringing in and around the metropolis.
I mention this at the start of this blog, as here we are, back in the East Midlands, and we both feel very much at home here. True, we can’t navigate our way around the area like we can back in Hertfordshire, but neither of us misses our life-style on the fringes of London, and although it may be 2-3 degrees cooler up here, it is more than made up for with the general warmth of welcome you get wherever you go. We are rapidly regarding this area as our home turf.
A wet Tuesday evening at Brindley Place, Central Birmingham

The last few days have been pretty quiet. No comings or goings on board and we have made steady progress north from Birmingham, and arrived at our winter moorings this morning, in Mercia Marina, Willington, Derbyshire, between Derby and Burton-On-Trent, which will be our home now until next spring.

Tackling The Farmers Bridge flight "By Any Means"

We finally left Birmingham last Wednesday after nearly a week in the city and dropped down the long Farmers Bridge flight during the morning in glorious sunshine. Half way down you encounter the sight above and if you have been watching the TV series “By Any Means” on a Sunday evening, you might recognise it as the team’s lair in the series. It’s supposed to be in London!
Wednesday was quite a day 21 locks but only around 9 miles. It doesn’t sound that much but we set off just after nine in the morning and moored at 5.15pm, without a stop. Towards the end of the journey I snagged, what I believe is my first shopping trolley on the way out of a lock. I dragged it out and then had no control over the boat at all. Luckily a boat was coming the other way, and dragged me off it. We tried to locate it with boat hooks but it’s still at the top of the Minworth flight, so beware if you in that part of the West Midlands.
Just some of the rubbish being retrieved from the Birmingham & Fazeley. Shame they missed my shopping trolley!

From there to Fazely Junction and on to the Coventry I was constantly having to clear my prop of leaves. The boat just did not feel right though I must admit that seems  to have sorted itself out once we were on the Trent & Mersey again.
Hearing that a big storm was brewing over the weekend lead to us to make the dash north, getting on the Trent & Mersey at Fradley, and mooring for the weekend in Alrewas. This village is a hot bed of ukulele action, and on Sunday afternoon over 50 uke players descended on the village hall for a “Strumathon”. Great noise!  Some came from as far as Stoke. We preceded the playing with a very good Sunday lunch in one of the village pubs, which also offered some sensibly-priced beer for a change. Once back we cleared the roof of all the paraphernalia we have collected, doubled up the ropes and sat tight. We thought we were in for a battering, which never came. Lots of rain bashing on the roof, but no wind.
We stayed in Alrewas until Tuesday morning, after filling our freezer up from the excellent village butcher and our next overnight stop was in Burton-On-Trent, the centre of British brewing, in case you didn’t know. We have travelled this stretch a few times now, and I have visited the National Brewing Museum on a previous visit, but not Marston’s Brewery, which is about 100 metres from  the cut and has its own moorings. I pitched up for the 11am visit, which was cancelled, and later that day, a very nice sounding lady called Meryl left a message to say I was welcome the next day, but we had to move on. There will be other opportunities I am sure.

Marston's Brewery moorings in Burton-On-Trent

Last night we moored in Willington and this morning made the short journey into the marina here. I think we feared that we would get a poor position, coming into the marina so late in the season, but we have a great spot, close to everything we need.
It’s a real novelty to have shore line power again. The last time we had that luxury was in Gloucester Docks back in May. The previous moorer here has also left a fiver credit on the meter, so that should keep this laptop going for a good while.
The Cat's Whiskers approaches the end of it's 2013 adventures
Our mooring is next to the grey boat on the left
Easing her onto her pontoon at Mercia
We have not been idle since arriving a few hours ago. We are now registered at the local GP’s, I have joined the local library, we have booked in for the marina quiz on 20 November and are looking forward to the Marina Firework Party on Sunday night. Sorted out the buses and trains and booked our daily paper at the marina shop. By the way, If anybody fancies a visit we will be pleased to see you.
I guess now the blogs will slow down a bit, but keep popping by.
I have just done some calculations and we have travelled 1035 miles this season and Pat has opened and closed 975 locks. Here’s to next year when we head north.

Toodaloo chums