Tuesday, 31 August 2010

First new part for Harry

It might look like a workbench but under all that paper and paint is our first serious purchase for Harry's rebuilding - £900 worth of stainless steel water tank. It's shaped to slide under the front deck and up into the bow and was beautifully fabricated (in double quick time) by Mark Littler's Marine Fabrications.
It looks odd and lost in the bare shell of Harry but it had to be bought first because once the new side panels are welded in place there won't be any way to get it into the boat.

Back in the black

How about that? After anti-rust treatment, repainting and stove blacking - plus serious elbow grease from Vicky our back cabin Epping range looks good as new.
And it works really well, lighting in an instant and boiling a kettle nearly as fast as the gas hob.

Too busy to blog

Engine back together and partially painted in smart new Lister green
I don't know how some people do it. Blog, tweet, Facebook...and still find time to work. We've been too busy to even think about blogging these past few days.
So, a quick update. Having finished all the hard-core ballast cleaning we've moved on. Vicky has been rubbing down and painting ceilings and walls in the back cabin and engine room - as well as starting to paint the engine,
Me, I decided to have a go at replacing the blown head gasket of No1 cylinder. This was a job I wasn't anticipating having to do but having seen the way oil and water had emulsified into a mess I realised it was a must before we could even think about moving - not that we'll be moving for a while since all the recent heavy rain has wreaked havoc with the Streethay welding schedules - boats have been sitting out on the hard standing for a couple of weeks now waiting for the rain to stop so the welders can get started. It's a pain but it can't be helped.
Dismantling the JP3 made our little Petter seem like Mecanno. Every piece I took off seemed almost too heavy to lift. The cylinder head itself is a six inch cube of steel - and you don't want to drop that on your finger.
But it all came apart reasonably well apart from a couple of those nightmares all users of workshop manuals are familiar with. "Remove the valve rockers by removing the shaft". Er, how? Took me an hour to fathom that out. Or "remove exhaust manifold" - except it wouldn't remove so I had to work around that little snag.
Anyway, it all came apart and, more importantly, today it all went back together and fired up! I can't tell you how relieved I was.
By the way, big engines use big quantities of oil. The dry-sumped Lister needs six gallons - yes GALLONS - every oil change. That's eighty quid a pop. But at least the oil drum makes a tea break seat.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


In the same Tesco carpark where I lost my tooth the other day Starwoman found a £20 note! It was lying on the ground with a Tesco receipt.
After the "woo hoo, twenty quid!" reaction we had a brief pang not so much of guilt but of sympathy for the loser who maybe could ill afford to be without the cash. But there wouldn't have been any point in handing it in - or would there? Should we have given it to the police or to Tesco customer service?
I don't think so: I'm pretty honest about this sort of thing - I saw someone drop a twenty once and ran after them to give it back. If I found a wallet I'd hand it in. But an unidentifiable note; no. On the other hand, if it had been a wad of twenties what would I have done? I honestly don't know. Probably kept it and reckoned that if the person was that casual with their cash they could afford to lose it.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Crazy paving

A concrete slab weighs about 80 - 90lbs. And over the past week or so we've moved about 70 of them. Several times.
The slabs are the ballast in project tug Harry. And they were all filthy with soot and dirt from the fire that gutted it. So first we had to clear them out from under the tug deck, stack them further down the boat, scrape out and jetwash that area, jetwash off the slabs, move them back and re-lay them.
Then we had to progressively work our way through the boat doing the same thing. But you can get slabs up faster than you can clean and prepare the area to re-lay them so we soon had slabs everywhere. Those building up at the back were in the way of clearing that end so they had to be moved to the front – then moved back to the back to be laid. And so it went on.
We left the boat tonight with just three rows of slabs left to lay - 18 slabs and then we'll be finished. Trouble is I think we'll be walking bent double for several weeks.

Brian's Revenge

We got back to Star from a long, hard day working on Harry to find the water pump whirring away and...no water in the tank.
Neither of us had left a tap on so where had all the water gone? A few spots on the work top and some damp doggy paw marks gave a pretty strong clue – Brian had jumped up on the work surface (as he can) and somehow knocked the tap on. (I think we'll accept that he didn't do it on purpose because he was feeling a bit thirsty.) Result: about 50 gallons of water into the cut and a quick trip to the water point to refill.
And I can say is it's a good job we hadn't left the plug in the sink or we'd have two boats to refit not just one.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Lost - one tooth

I lost a tooth yesterday - twice.

I came back to Streethay after a few days' grandparent duties in London nursing a howling toothache and a dental appointment two days' away.
A pleading - change that to begging - phone call changed that to two hours' time. This time the dentist did manage to numb it which I thought was good news. It wasn't. Turns out the tooth was terminally ill - cracked in two and not savable. It had to come out.
And ten minutes later there it was - gone. I'll spare you the details though you ought to know that it was a bit uncomfortable but certainly not painful.
Anyway I thought I'd take it home as a gory souvenir but when I got back to the boat the tooth and the little envelope it was in were gone. I'd parked in the Tesco carpark next door to the dentist (sorry Mr T) to make a call and all I can think is I pulled it out of my pocket with my phone and it fell on the ground.
I wonder if someone picked up the little white envelope thinking it had something good in it?
Bet they got a surprise!
I wonder if they handed it in to the police station?!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Wild Bunch

We've got our own gang of Hell's Angels up at Streethay. First thing in the morning they come roaring into town, waking us up by banging on the hullsides and then shouting at the windows.
But our Wild Bunch are wild fowl - a gang of local ducks that patrol the stretch of canal, noisily demanding food from us boaters.
They always arrive mob handed - and a mixed mob they are too; white, brown, brown and white, all sorts and sizes. A frothing mass of bread catchers and snatchers.
But there are always exactly 13 of them in the Streethay Mob. And if the day ever comes when only 12 turn up we shall feel just a little bit sad.

Gothic charmer

On the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at Drayton Bassett, once the home of Sir Robert Peel, the canal is crossed by this curious Gothic style footbridge.Even more curious is that no-one seems to know why the pretty little oddity was built.

Rubber solution

If you watch Formula One you'll know how effective tyre barriers are at slowing down errant F1 cars if they spear off the track. Well they've been putting old rubber to the same sort of use on a remarkable diversion of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal on the edge of Brum.
The whole canal has been diverted into a new channel whose sides are constructed of scaffolding and tyres so that a new acqueduct can be built as part of multi-million Selly Oak New Road project below.
It's quite a feat - even if the shallow water did mean we could only edge through at crawling pace.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Before and after

This was the state of the engine after the fire!And this is how it looks now after many hours of work by Vicky with Gunk, sugar soap, Flash, Mr Muscle, Brillo pads, the steam cleaner and lots of elbow grease. Still a way to go but at least the engine's starting to look tidy and the engine room is closer to its original cream than 'smoke brown'.

Our own sauna & turkish bath

My own personal sauna - hacking away the old, burnt sprayfoam under the tug deck on a hot day.And inside the Turkish bath is one of Ray's 'spotties' giving the under deck space its steam clean.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

And more agony

Over the past few weeks one of my back top teeth has become increasingly sensitive to hot and cold foods, to the point at which a misplaced drop of ice-cream now has me writhing.
So, as we're in Streethay for a week or so, I decided to try pot-luck with one of Lichfield's many dentists. The dentist was a friendly young woman (why are so many dentists these days women?) and said it was simply a loose filling that needed replacing. She would do it there and then. Great.
Well, three doses of local anaesthetic later - one of them so painful it made me let out an involuntary curse - and she had to admit defeat. Six hours later and my mouth has finally more or less resumed its normal size and shape and I can drink without drooling.
Problem is, apparently, that the root may be dying. I would have thought that made it less sensitive but seemingly not. A week of smearing layers of Sensodyne on it might help, she reckoned, but most likely it would have to come out. I'm not sure I can spare many more of them!


After the delights of cruising the ecstasy has turned to agony. Big time. We've been at Streethay Wharf for the past few days checking on the status of our project tug Harry. This is being cleaned out by the yard's 'spotties' as owner Ray so delightfully terms his general labourers prior to the fire-damaged steelwork being repaired.
It's a horrible job -- as we soon discovered when we joined in to give a hand (and save ourselves some money!). All the ballast has to be shifted and the semi-melted sprayfoam scraped off before work can begin.
We're tackling it in a couple of stages - moving the ballast to the rear and cleaning up the front, then relaying the front ballast and doing the same at the back. Snag One is that the ballast is back-breakingly heavy concrete slabs either 24 x 18 ins or - worse - 24 x 24 ins. And snag two is that the sprayfoam is an abolute b*g*er to shift. We've been at it two two days solid now and are knackered.Last time I did such a horrible job was digging out the front room floors of our last project house and that was seven years ago. I swore then I'd never do something so heavy and horrible again. And here we are, at it again."But we're having fun" says Vicky. And as you can see in the photo, she is.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Queues and crowds

"All quiet on the Fazeley front" I said in the last entry. Hah! We'd only been reflecting on the fact that we had only had to queue once for a lock in our whole trip than we found ourselves on a day of constant queues and a succession of moored boats - each one having to be patiently slowed down for.
The day began badly when we ground to a halt on the third of the eleven Curdworth locks. Three boats ahead of us was a working boat which was struggling to get through the lock because there wasn't the depth of water. We patiently sat and waited while he flushed down more and more water until he could get through. It was a process that was repeated at almost every lock - and which left us, being pretty deep draughted ourselves, several times pretty much grounded in the pound. Fortunately once was outside the Dog & Doublet pub so I could enjoy a decent pint of brown beer - at last - while waiting.
I know working boats have problems like this; I know they need to keep in the middle of the channel on the cut etc etc but I have to say that some do take it as an inalienable right to do so. A small acknowledgement from this chap that he was causing a bit of a snarl up would have been nice.Or even opening a top paddle behind him so that the lock started to re-fill for the next boat. (Didn't help my mood that he left one bottom paddle partly open on leaving - something I only spotted after waiting interminably for the lock to completely fill so I could open the gate!)
Fortunately he was heading the other way at Fazeley and we turned north on the Coventry Canal.
And we couldn't believe the number of boats. We've been on some popular canals this summer but never seen so many. Coming towards us - inevitably at blind bridge holes or in narrow sections made narrower by moored boats. And there were plenty of those too - no sooner had we speeded up again after politely slowing down than another few came into view.
I know it's not a race and we only potter at the best of times but the constant speed changing and squeezing through gaps did make for a long, long day.
But finally we were at Streethay to take a look at project tug Harry. And after a 'two for a tenner' dinner at The Anchor just across the road we were feeling a whole lot better too.

Friday, 6 August 2010

All quiet on the Fazeley front

The canal network's contribution to Spaghetti Junction with the modern version above

But end amid run-down industry and dereliction
Farmer's Bridge locks begin among smart new flats and offices
"Have you just come out of Birmingham?" asked an anxious sounding boater facing city-wards as we were finishing up for the day. "Was it all right?"
Well I wasn't expecting to meet Somali pirates at every lock which they clearly seemed to be but all the same we were pretty surprised to find ourselves on an almost deserted Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. No boats - and no scrotes!
I suppose the B&F isn't a natural favourite for the cruiser. Half its fifteen miles run through pretty squalid areas of Birmingham and they pack in 38 locks too, most of them in two substantial flights, before it reaches its junction with the Coventry Canal.
All the canals to Birmingham are equally heavily locked which illustrates just how high above the surrounding countryside the city lies - something you'd never grasp if arriving there by motorway or train of course.
The B&F leaves the centre of Brum down the closely packed 13 locks of the Farmers Bridge flight, a flight that starts amid the glamour of redeveloped glass fronted offices and towering modern flats and ends in industrial decay amid a smell of urine, heaps of rubbish and empty cider bottles. A familiar scenario.
The eleven Aston locks are slightly more spread out and begin in not unpleasant semi-industrial surroundings before the inevitable dereliction of dead and dying industries shows its face again.
For the boater, though, the highpoint is reaching our own canal Spaghetti Junction where the B&F meets the Tame Valley and Grand Union canals in a four way junction (with the River Tame tucked nearby as well) -- all of takes place right underneath the better known motorway Spaghetti Junction whose vast concrete columns are all around. The multiplicity of levels, ages and styles of construction is just bewildering (all of it decorated with the usual scrote markings of course.)
After the junction the canal passes a vast, almost endless electricity works and a stream of industrial buildings, accompanied by a torrent of noise from the A38 alongside before reaching the very trim and tidy three Minworth locks, immaculately looked after by the local lock-keeper. Between the first two locks is the massive Cincinnati Machine Company factory, famous for its architectural style and the way it faces and embraces the canal rather than turn a grubby backside on it as most do. Sadly the lathe and machine tool factory is now shut (another sign of the times) but is being converted to new uses by the adventurous Urban Splash group.
Gradually we leave Birmingham behind and the graffiti and rubbish diminishes. How sad it is that a canal that has been spruced up for most of its length with cycleways, route markers and plaques should be treated with such disrespect by some of the local people who appear oblivious and uncaring of its virtues.
But enough grumbling, we have finally left the last clutches of Birmingham and arrived at a pretty mooring in the village of Curdworth - a place that's still determinedly a village despite the M42/M6 toll junction being barely a mile away.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Avoncroft Museum

This fine museum doesn't need me to do any more than urge you to visit if you're nearby so I'll content myself with a couple of photos.
When they were young we used to threaten our children with a day out at a 'grass growing museum' or a 'brick museum'. A good job we didn't know that this one was around, eh.

And here's a shot of me meditating on the possibilities of a composting toilet for the boat - though I think this 18th century earth closet might be a little large...

Bombing raid

The triumph of Tardebigge was overshadowed yesterday when we were bombed with stones by a gang of children who were standing on a high bridge over the canal on the edge of Birmingham. (Bridge 70 - the one immediately north of Wasts Hill Tunnel.)
We suspected they were up to something by their antics and giggling as we approached and though we tried to defuse things with the familiar boaters' p.r. stuff - waving, calling hello etc etc, a fusillade of stones (some as big as golf balls) showered down as we went under the bridge.
Even shouting out that we had a dog on the roof didn't stop them.
They ran off when we pointed a camera at them but were too far above for any meaningful photos anyway.
Later on we were even more annoyed when we discovered the extent of the damage - a half dozen bad stone chips, right down to the metal, all around the boat. But at least it wasn't a stone on the head for us or Brian.
I'll try to be charitable and say they were little kids, probably 9 - 10 years old, and being silly rather than malicious oiks. But somebody should be telling them that silly tricks like throwing stones can have serious consequences and that somebody is their parents. Who probably neither knew nor cared where they were.
Today's mischievous little kids will grow up to be tomorrow's brick throwing yobs unless their parents take some more responsibility.

Sherlock Holmes and the mysterious trail of Strongbow cans

I was first made aware of this most vexing case when Mr Holmes and myself went for a walk from the canal where we had moored our inland waterways cruising craft to visit the nearby Avoncroft Museum of Old Buildings.
As we walked along the country road I felt bound to comment on the unseemly level of litter in the verges - most of it metal cans that today's young people prefer to drink from. "Indeed, Watson," replied Holmes, "but have you not noticed a most singular peculiarity with this detritus?"
I had to admit that I hadn't but Holmes had already turned on his heel and briskly retraced his footsteps to the start of our journey. "Strongbow cans, my dear Watson - see how many there are compared with other roadside waste matter. I feel obliged to count them. Follow me, Watson."
And we strode off up the steep hill at a rapid pace, Holmes pointing with his stick and barking "ten, eleven, twelve" and so on as we passed each can.
By the time we reached the museum we had counted 32. The next most common can was 'Scrumpy Jack' with only six. "What do you make of it, Holmes?" I enquired.
"Hush, Watson, we must count those on the other side of the road on our return before coming to any conclusion. Now, let us enter the museum and view these fascinating reminders of our architecture heritage."
Some hours later, after Holmes had finished debating with the curator on the accuracy of dendochronological dating of timber and the changes in design of shouldered dovetail joints during the 16th century, we re-traced our path and counted more cans.
"Ah, as I suspected, a mere 21 on this side. I think we have our answer, don't you agree Watson?" "Er, that litter louts drink cider and prefer Strongbow?" I ventured.
"Quite so, quite so but what sort of person are we looking for?" he responded.
"I really don't know, Holmes, I'm sure."
"We're looking for a right handed youth, no more than 16, he lives at home with his parents in a village south of the canal, he has no job, suffers from frequent headaches and when you examine him will betray the early stages of liver failure. He buys - or more likely is bought - his cider in an off-licence on the outskirts of Bromsgrove and drinks a can or possibly two before he gets home."
How can you possibly tell all that from scattered cans Holmes? "Simple, most cans are in the nearside downhill verge. That tells me they have been thrown out by a passenger who must be right handed - a left hander would find the throwing angle awkward. They have clearly been thrown out from a moving car on a journey, suggesting they must be consumed before arriving at the destination (implying an under age drinker consuming alchohol before arriving home) and the numbers suggest a regular journey. The smaller number on the right hand verge were possibly thrown by the driver or hit by other traffic. Bromsgrove is at the top of the hill and a town with many small off-licences. The youth's medical condition is the inevitable result of this level of drinking - many of the cans are in good condition, indicating they have not been there long."
"Remarkable, Holmes, but you haven't explained why they are al Strongbow."
"Oh, Watson. The price, the price! Surely you are aware that Strongbow is extremely cheap. It is in short the drink of choice for many scrotes."
Now let us return to our inland waterways craft where I will smoke a pipe and reach for my violin.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

My name is Michael Caine

Well actually it's Michael Cull - Micky to his mates - and a bona fide, diamond geezer with a Cockney sparkle in his eye and a line of London patter that would fit right in with Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins and Ray Winstone.
We met Micky when he was trying to moor up next to us at the bottom of Tardebigge and a fisherman was giving him "a right load of larynx". Micky's big tug ("71 and a half feet - I like to get me money's wurf!) wanted to get into a slot occupied by an angler with one of those gigantic carp rods who started f-ing and blinding at him. "I ain't talking to you if you're using language like that," said Micky but that didn't stop the ranting.
"I pay £28 f-ing pounds a year to fish here. Go and moor somewhere else." Finally, with all the boaters and all the occupants of the pub garden looking at him he gave up and settled back to his fishing, and Micky and his Missus moored.
"He ain't a proper angler sat on a mooring by a bridge. A proper angler walks into the middle of nowhere. If I see someone fishing by a bridge I don't bovver to slow down for them."
Anyway that's how we met Micky Cull, a larger than life Character. "I've been on boats 38 years," he told us. "I started on the river boats at Windsor when I was 13 - none of that nonsense abaht boatmasters then. I took the punters aht and gave 'em all the spiel too."
"We lived one boats and then I thought I'll 'ave a try at building one so I did; someone asked me to build them one so I did and carried on for abaht eight years. My mate come up with a slogan 'Get a quality 'ull from Michael Cull.' Nice eh?"
Micky's been there, done it, knows everyone and has a tale to tell about them. Trouble is that most of them aren't repeatable even in a blog. Look out for him and his big red and black tug. "It don't 'ave the name on it. There's no rule says you 'ave to and I don't want no anglers after me do I"

The summit conquered

Nearly there; the view from the reservoir with eight locks to go
A quick stop for r & r on a well placed bench
Going up - only 15 to go

We reached the summit of our own personal Everest at 6.15 last night when we exited the top lock of the Tardebigge flight - exactly three and a half hours after we entered the bottom lock.
To be honest it wasn't as bad as we feared - but then again everything was in our favour. It was a pleasant, sunny afternoon for starters and every single lock was set our way - all we had to do was push the bottom doors open and go in.
Remarkably, the whole flight was virtually deserted: we met the Mikron Theatre narrowboat leaving the bottom lock, another boat leaving lock 2 and another coming down at about lock 10. After that, nothing. And yet, amazingly, the locks which must have been empty for up to a couple of hours hadn't leaked themselves tight shut, which says something for the condition of the flight. Sure, the top paddles were very heavy; one of the few times I've wished for a ratchet windlass to speed things up. But you can't have everything.
Unlike the Caen Hill locks, the vast extent of the flight is always hidden from view as it climbs in a series of gentle curves. That's a pity, maybe, or possibly some shrewd tactical planning hen the flight was built to avoid demoralising boaters with an awesome forward sight!
But as you get higher, the views become far reaching and there's no disguising how high one is now, seeing the Severn Valley way below. The view from the reservoir edge near the top is even more impressive.
At the top we voted ourselves a pub dinner to celebrate, which meant another hour's travelling and through two short tunnels to Alvechurch. Our new mate Micky Cull (more of him another time) had recommended missing the marina pub ("that 'orrible pale watery beer - when they said it was from Kinver I knew it would be rubbish") in favour of the next. We did, rushed in there and discovered they didn't do meals on Mondays and Tuesdays. Daft sods! We hurried back along the towpath to the marina which was full of people eating from the 'two meals for a tenner' menu. Result - even if the beer was rubbish and the puddings - £3.50 extra - well worth avoiding unless you like crunching through frozen food. But none of that could spoil a good day and a challenge overcome.

Interlude: the delightful Droitwich

Before the hard labour of Tardebigge, a few words about a delightful interlude a couple of days back when we took a stroll down the soon-to-be-reopened Droitwich Canal from Hanbury to the edge of Droitwich itself.
What an idyllic little canal this will be. It drops down through a cluster of the original locks and then travels through a reconstructed channel and a couple of brand new locks before ducking under the M5 motorway and on into the town.
But the charm is its surroundings; a carefully cultivated (or rather uncultivated) wildlife haven thick with wild flowers and, on the sunny day when we walked through, alive with a multiplicity of butterflies. This will not be a canal for the long term or even the short-term moorers; the banksides have been deliberately left unkempt. If you want to explore, moor at Hanbury and stroll, as we did. You'll be well rewarded.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Back to Birmingham

Fifty eight locks and four tunnels. That's what awaited us on the run back from Worcester to Birmingham on the eponymous canal. A challenge for boaters and pretty impressive tribute to the determination of the men who forged a canal up through the hills to link the two cities over two hundred years go. Not the least part of the challenge is the mighty Tardebigge flight which climbs through 30 locks in a smidge over two miles. That's for tomorrow: tonight we're sitting looking at the bottom lock of the flight with a slight sense of dread!
The Worcester & Birmingham is a complete contrast to the canal which brought us down from the Midlands. The Staffs & Worcs was wide, deep and bold, running almost river-like between sandstone cliffs or through heavily tree lined stretches. The W&B, on the other hand, climbs through rolling, open farmland, rarely touching a village. It charts a narrow, secretive path, often barely a boat's width between thick clumps of reeds. From 50 yards away you wouldn't know it was there. In places it feels more like a quiet canal arm than a main artery.
Yesterday we wound out of Worcester in the familiar way a canal leaves its urban roots - climbing through less salubrious industrial and residential districts before waving goodbye to the city at the canalside football stadium. After that it was all country, though the relentless background drone of M5 motorway traffic was almost ever-present.
Last night we moored at the quaintly named hamlet of Oddingley; tonight we're opposite the Queens Head - a large and somewhat flashy pub that contrives to charge city prices for its beer despite its rural situation.

The lockie's lot

First aider, p.r. man, handyman, shopping adviser and local historian - there's a whole lot more to being a lock keeper than you might think if Mike Thompson, one of the Diglis Basin lockies is anything to go by. In fact actually operating the locks is probably the smallest part of his job.
Mike's a quiet affable chap who's a mine of information about the basins and their history - as well as knowing the nearest shops and the best spots to moor.
He can also spin some hair raising tales of accidents - only the day before we arrived a woman slipped when jumping off her narrowboat on the river landing stages, cracked her head on a stanchion and fell into the river. Luckily she came up conscious - and even more luckily Mike was working nearby and able to haul her out.
"She had a massive gash on her head," he recalled."I told her it was only a little cut to keep her calm - and then the ambulancemen came and said 'ooh, look at that huge cut on your head!"
He's seen many similar accidents - often to kids who dangle arms or legs over the sides of the boat as it goes into the lock. Another happened to a boat on the river: a boat went too close to an overhanging branch and swept the helsman straight off the back -- two women were sitting on the front chatting and completely oblivious. When they looked round, he wasn't there: fortunately after they turned round they found him in the water clinging to the branch.
On Sunday afternoon we spotted Mike heading off on his bicycle - I thought he was going home for his lunch but later we ran into him higher up the locks. The levels had got low in the basin and he'd been up the locks shepherding extra water supplies through. His 'patch' goes right up to Lock 8 and he can get more water sent down from higher up if needed but he has to see it carefully down through his locks to avoid wasting any 0ver the weirs.
It's a complicated business - and Mike does it with tact and good humour. It's people at the sharp end like him who keep the waterways working.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Old Mother Blick's Mustard Poultice

A guaranteed and proven cure or many ailments!! Put it on your chest to cure a cough. Put it on an aching joint to ease rheumatics. Draw out pustules. Soothe bruises.
And...put it round your sink drain to cure a leak.

The waste from our sink has just started dripping and it's going to be tricky to fix. So while I gnashed my teeth Mrs B came up with the thought that "don't you put mustard in a car radiator to cure leaks? Why don't we try that?"
While I smirked and looked down my nose, she carefully smeared mustard paste round the plughole. And, now, several hours later, the leak has stopped.
Old wives' tales really do work sometimes.

A tale of two basins

Moored in Stourport basin with the famous clock warehouse in the distance
In Diglis amid the new and the few surviving old buildings
Compare and contrast - as they used to say in school exam questions - Stourport and Diglis canal basins. Well let's start with the obvious stuff: both started life as basins and wharves where canals met the River Severn. Stourport at, er, Stourport for the Staffs & Worcs interchange and Diglis at Worcester where the Worcester & Birmingham Canal arrived at the river.
Both have also been the subject of substantial regeneration programmes having fallen on considerably hard times in the last 20-30 years as the last of the commercial river traffic fizzled out.
But there the similarities end. The regeneration of the Stourport basins, with the exception of the impressive resurrection of one old basin which is now back in water and surrounded by apartments and houses, has essentially been a washing up the dishes, vacuuming the carpets and plumping up the cushions affair. What was there, in short, has been licked into shape: the huge Tontine Hotel is being converted into homes, there are new facilities, various slightly odd 'interpretation' features and a new Windlass Restaurant. (It's very good.)
The basins, though, are still active and busy. Long term moorings may dominate but boats still cross the basins to ply between the river and canal. Housing is peripheral.
Diglis is very different. Inevitably so, I guess, given that Worcester is a large and largely appealing city whose long river frontage is a key element of its aesthetic appeal. Cruising down the Severn past the huge riverside cathedral is a memorable boating experience.
Virtually nothing remains of the past in the Diglis basins, bar the old pub and a couple of heavily reworked wharf buildings. The rest has become the hub of a massive riverside redevelopment programme that is still going on, edging on down the side of the Severn. The boats are now an almost static exhibit since both basins are used solely for long term mooring and craft moving to and from the canal simply skirt up the side of the first basin.
For all that, I have to say I was surprised and impressed by the place. The flats and offices show some real architectural flair and genuine waterside feel. Before any canal traditionalists fire a broadside in outrage, much of the old industrial wharfage of Diglis was pulled down in the seventies. Unlike Stourport there was not so much to save.
I wouldn't want every city waterscape to be a Diglis but this one works. It's quiet, civilised, easy on the eye and interesting. I could almost live there!Striking modern townhouses at Diglis feature much clever detail - their rears have balconies that overlook the basin