Monday, 20 January 2014

Bon Voyage

Hello pals and fellow boaters. This will be the last post from “The Cat’s Whiskers” from our present home in the East Midlands for a while. On Wednesday morning we leave Mercia Marina, and fly out the following day to New Zealand for a spot of baby sitting. We are both looking forward to seeing our daughter and family again and the thought of temperatures in the 20s, is an added plus, though their home in Wellington is better known as the windiest place in New Zealand, rather than the warmest.
Now we are well into the new year, I have been planning the forthcoming boating season on the Waterways software on my laptop. The itinerary is quite ambitious (some 700 miles), which at around 2 mph, is clearly going to challenging, but we have easily exceeded that the last two seasons and the boat is now ready, having been fully serviced. I just need to touch in a few rust spots on our return and on 1st May we will be heading north for Liverpool, then crossing the country to York, before returning over the Pennines on the Rochdale Canal. On the way we have the delights of Rochdale, Leeds, Halifax, Wigan and Manchester to look forward to. If we have time, we will cruise the Llangollen again in September and return to Mercia via the Shopshire Union and the Staffs and Worcester canals through the autumn. We have reserved our space in the marina for next winter, so will be back here from 1 November, though we will be moored on the opposite side of the marina from where we are at the moment – “the posh side”, or so I have heard it called. It will be handy for the new run of shops and the pub that is opening in the marina during the summer.
Last Wednesday I finally got to visit Marston’s brewery, down the road in Burton On Trent. I had my own personal tour with Meryl, the tour guide, whose family have worked at the brewery for over 60 years. I must have been round 30 or 40 breweries over the years and was keen to visit Marstons as it has a unique way of brewing, one using the “Burton Union” system, which is unique now anywhere in the world. I won’t bore you with the details, but the trip did not disappoint, even though Marston’s is not generally one of my favourite tipples.
The Burton Union System at Marstons

The Burton Union Sets

In my “prime”, I used to drink a couple of their beers, now defunct. One, “Owd Rodger” was around 6%, so it need to be treated with a degree of respect and there was one night at “The Wicked Lady” in Wheathampstead when...... but that’s another story. I was delighted then, to see this mirror, which I pressed into service.

Owd Roger!

The Coal Man delivers

Pat’s been getting all East Midlands of late. The other day she asked me “Shall I light fire Roger?”. “Hang on”, I said, “Don’t you mean shall I light THE fire”.  Our fire is now on 24 hours a day unless I forget to top it up before turning in. We top up with a bag of coal per week that we buy from the marina shop, and supplement that with wood we have salvaged or purchased. I sit writing this very toasty, thankyou.
Toodaloo chums

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Twigging, Gigging and Tug O’ War

The festive season has been and gone and looking back now in the second week of the new year it seems a long time ago.
Not that we had a wild, reckless Christmas and New Year. In fact it was anything but, and very different to Christmases of late – just Pat and me – a large turkey and a boatful of booze, accompanied by the rocking of the boat as we endured the stormy conditions shared by most of the population.

Turkey time on The Cat's Whiskers
 I must say that considering how isolated and open we are here at Mercia, the recent spell of storms and windy weather has hardly troubled us at all. The only issue we have had has been that our TV aerial keeps getting blown off course and we lose the signal. I must invest in a digital magnetic option.
The water is up a bit, about an inch “in old money”, and the Trent down the road has flooded into the water meadows on each side, but no homes have been flooded around here, as far as we know.
I try to keep abreast of local news, and we are bombarded with the successes of Leicester FC and the fortunes of Derby and the Nottingham teams on the regional news. Last night we watched the BBC six-o-clock news and one of the features on “East Midlands Today” was.... Mercia Marina; its success and the investment it is making, which I have written about in previous blogs. Lots of shots of Robert, the Marina Manager, being interviewed floating around the marina on a hire boat, and I am hopeful of downloading it from i player, if the broadband signal stands up to the task.

The marina features on the BBC news programme "East Midlands Today"
All this rain, though, has really affected the towpaths, and they are very, very muddy. The marina about 100 yards from the canal, so we don’t have to use it to get anywhere, but on the 27th December we ventured down into the village via the towpath, to watch the annual Christmas tug o’ war, between two of the village pubs over the canal – the feature being, that somebody always gets a ducking. Amazingly, those who did go in did not seem to mind too much. It drew a big crowd and seems to be a bit of feature of village life over Christmas in these parts.
The teams get set to see why gets wet
Looks like an early bath
Last night we had our first “Mercia” acoustic evening in the Green Man, in the village. My uke was joined by Northumbrian pipes, banjo and guitar, for a bit of a get-together to see if this loose association of instruments would work. I have been really keen to get this going since we arrived, and now it looks like it has some legs, we are off to New Zealand in a couple of weeks.
The inaugural meeting of the Mercia Minstrels
The same is for the regular quiz nights they have each month. I have been asked to organise the next one at the end of the month, but we will be in the other side of the world by then.
Despite all the stormy conditions of late, we have kept nice and cosy. Our cratch cover, usually an area of rest and contemplation, in summer months, is now our fuel storage area and we are burning both logs and coal. It also houses the bird food. We have our own robin on this pontoon, various tits and finches, and the marina also has its own kingfisher, which we have seen flashing past us on a couple of occasions. Pat fills up all the feeders at the top of the pontoon, and she is kept busy.  There is no shortage of customers. In addition she also goes out “twigging” every 10 days or so, and brings back a bag of dead wood, that we dry out on the top of the stove and then use as kindling. The last two or three days have been quite mild though, so we are not igniting until mid-afternoon.
Our storage area for wood, coal, bird food (and my boots)
And I have finally got a brewery visit around Marstons. They have suggested that any imbiber worth his or her salt, should visit the place on a Wednesday when they brew their flagship beer “Pedigree”, so I have a tour booked for next Wednesday. I’m not their biggest fan, but they do have a unique way of brewing so it should be an interesting tour.

So that’s about it. We have really enjoyed our time here and grown fond of the area. I think we are agreed that Mercia will be our base again next winter – if they’ll have us.
Toodaloo folks