Saturday, 23 November 2013


Erin Mae has become a Heisenberg zone. There are some things that cannot be known with certainty, said the clever man, thinking specifically of the position and velocity of fundamental particles. However, his Uncertainty Principle is not supposed to apply to everyday-sized objects, where Newtonian Physics and Normal Chemistry reign supreme. Erin Mae appears to be an exception.

As I wrote on Monday, arriving late last Saturday night we found the boat's leisure batteries reading 0.5 volts on my hand-held meter. All the domestic circuits were off, even though the mains land-line was attached. The Victron inverter / charger / mains manager was apparently charging the starter battery but not the domestic bank, and providing no 240v supply to the fridge – I'm told it needs to have functioning batteries in place to work properly.

We called Clive the electrician, since he'd been the last to have anything to do with the circuitry. The workshop couldn't find Erin Mae's keys when he called (obviously another position / velocity conundrum), so nothing was done for a couple of days until we were told and were able to make other arrangements. Clive got back to us last night with the news that when he finally got into the boat, the indicator lights were all on, the circuits were working normally and the domestic batteries charging at the usual level. He doesn't have a clue what's been going on. Now I know this is the 50th anniversary both of Dr Who and of the start of everybody's favourite conspiracy theory (JFK), but that doesn't seem to be any excuse for Erin Mae to start exhibiting signs of  an Alternative Scientific Framework (such as: batteries drop to 0.5 volts at weekends, but carry normal charge at other times; keys may acquire invisibility without warning).

So, with no answers to the most recent issue, it looks as though it's back to Plan A – get the batteries out and down to Evesham for testing. This is when it would be convenient to live at less of a distance from Great Haywood. Perhaps Erin Mae could summon up a wormhole to whisk us there before you can go da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum.

But I do wish I knew what was happening.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Changing all Erin Mae's halogen bulbs for LEDs was not cheap, but a no-brainer for saving those batteries (and the planet). The old ceiling fittings limited the size of the replacements, but an 8-blob unit was just out, and did the job very well, if slightly less brightly than before. We feel very worthy at using just 10% of the current.

So, needing to replace the light fitting in our kitchen at home, we decided to go for an LED solution, and found one on the internet. I wasn't sure how the LEDs would be fitted, but tended to assume there'd be three or four bright bulbs inside. When I removed the cover, this is what I found.

Rather more than the 8 blobs of Erin Mae's units! I haven't counted them properly – I'm not sure I can stand the anticipation of losing track about two-thirds of the way through. They're not in rows, but a little bit of geometry suggests there are in the region of 144π, about 450.

The fitting of this item has certain challenges. Electrically I'm going to use a Wagobox connector – new to me, but straightforward, I think. But fixing the whole thing to the ceiling is slightly complicated by having to support the screws on the screwdriver as you pass them through those holes in the light-plate, while holding the whole thing in position with the other hand. The manufacturer appears to be well aware of the issue – I quote from the instructions:

"6. Screw the Screws Through the Fitting into the Pre-placed Anchors.
This step is a little hard because the screws are shorter than the fitting. We are so sorry that we do not find so a long screws. 2 people working together are much easier."

Says it all, really. But I don't remember the last time an instruction manual apologised for the design of the item in question!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Window gasket

Last summer, the engineering people at Mercia marina took out one of Erin Mae's window, and fixed it properly so it wouldn't leak. Then Rich at Great Haywood did the paintwork the job necessitated. All a great success – we had a nice shiny, dry boat. This summer, at various points, A. Nonymous removed one or two items. At the safe Piccadilly Village mooring in Manchester, some well-heeled resident decided we'd be better off without one of our fenders. And at another, unknown point earlier in the year, someone removed a black rubber gasket covering the screws holding in the window that Mercia had fixed.

I rang the New and Used Boat company who make the Aqualine boats, and they promised to look into how I could get a replacement. A couple of emails later, however, they said they no longer used the same window supplier, and couldn't help me. What a pain! As we travelled around, someone suggested that the windows looked as though they'd been made by Channel Glaze, so I gave them a ring. Dave was very helpful, but his take on the matter was that the NandUBC had ripped off the design of his windows, and got a somewhat inferior imitation made by the Polish manufacturer. I could certainly agree with him that the windows are about the least impressive part of Erin Mae's construction.

But could Dave solve my gasket problem? Having looked at my photos he thought they had one that might do, and sent me a sample. It's not quite the same profile as what came with the boat, but it works well and, if anything, is easier to tuck in than the original. So we are re-gasketed!

If any other 2007 Aqualine owners are needing some – it's called "Single & Double Glazed Deluxe Concealed Fixing Gasket".

Monday, 18 November 2013

Delights and calamities

900 year old Christchurch Priory must be one of the most delightful settings in the whole of the country for a graduation ceremony. Grand enough to inspire a bit of awe, small enough to ensure that those at the back can see those at the front as hands are shaken and awards conferred, and to allow eye contact between the leaders and the led. We had a good time on Friday evening as the last of the Moorlands students to whom I had been personal tutor (with the single exception of the one who is, shall we say, delaying completion till next year) donned their robes and graduated. We sang some good stuff, ably led by the Priory organist for a couple of hymns, and by the college band for the rest – and the acoustics respond well to enthusiasm. The Rev Jonathan Woodhouse QHC, chaplain-general of the British army, was the preacher – a seemingly unlikely choice until we found out that he played football with the college's principal when they were both doing their own theological training!

Saturday started early as we were due in Alfreton, 4 hours away, by 11 a.m. for the annual get-together of the Boaters' Christian Fellowship. This year we'd decided to join the BCF, so thought we'd go and see how they did things. It was a fun day with 100–150 people there. Time for an efficiently-conducted AGM, some excellent country singing by a publican from (I think) the Erewash, plenty of shared food, lots of time to chat with other boaters; and finished off with a service at which the singing was led by a bunch of musicians who thoroughly enjoyed getting together as a scratch band for the occasion (yours truly on the keyboard).

Then it was across country to spend the night on Erin Mae, and put together some final data on overnight battery voltage loss before taking the batteries back to the supplier for checking. But when I opened up the rear doors it was clear that something was amiss. The electrical panel on the left is usually full of light, but only one of the indicators was on, the one for the starter battery. In the cupboard, the Victron charger was on, but the leisure batteries were not doing anything. By torchlight I got to the battery compartment, and found that they were registering just 0.5 volts on my voltmeter. I lit a fire while we considered our options – we had no water, no central heating, but I didn't wanted us succumbing to hypothermia while we pondered. The duvet is wonderful, but the temperature in the boat was about 6 degrees, and only crept up 2 or 3 over the next twenty minutes. In the end the thought of light, a hot shower and a cosy bed won out, and I managed to book us into the Stafford Central Travelodge.

By the time we checked in it was about 11 p.m. Chris, the amiable chappie on the desk, found us the best room he could, and up we went. The door was opened by a card key, but we were a bit loaded. I had visions of dropping the card inside the room, and then allowing the door to shut while I reached back to pick up the case. However, we made it inside without mishap, and began to unpack. Then my best beloved called out that there was just a single bath towel in the bathroom. So we went downstairs again to see Chris. We both had to go, because the key-card was also the light-switch. We needed the card to get around the building, but that would have left the one remaining in the room in the dark. Chris invited us to follow him to the laundry room, and supplied the necessary towels. Back in the room, my best beloved called out that there was no soap in the bathroom. Ah – this was beginning to sound like Gerrard Hoffnung's story of the bricks. Down we went to see Chris, and back to the laundry room. He enquired whether we had enough mugs and plastic cups, and decided to furnish those as well, just in case.

We had a good if somewhat over-heated night, went across to Frankie and Benny's for breakfast, and rang Clive the electrician, even though it was Sunday. He was elsewhere and we exchanged messages but had no voice contact. In the end we decided that the fuel to come home was cheaper than another night in the Travelodge, so back home we are. So much for all those plans to get the batteries to Evesham. We need to find out what's going on before we even think of taking them back.

Isn't life fun!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Times and seasons

I loved the academic working pattern. Always ready for the vacation when it arrived. Always looking forward to term-time. Being a half-year boater has a similar feel. Last year, when we shut down Erin Mae for the winter, it was at the end of three weeks of miserable weather and I was ready for the months at home. So ready, in fact, that posts to this blog came to a sudden halt, with not even an explanation. This year, having done a daily post virtually right through the summer, I decided it wouldn't happen that way. But it's come pretty close to it!

Packing up Erin Mae this time we were rather sad to be going, but I'm enjoying the extra space at home, the piano, the longer shower, not having to worry about the sewage! There's lots of enjoyable stuff to do in the months ahead. Come April, however, we'll be getting itchy feet and looking forward to exploring new territory.

Meanwhile, the season hasn't actually quite turned. The last thing we did was to get the boat electrician to check out why the batteries seem to run down too much overnight. He said the inverter and the fridge are working within their normal limits, and they're the only things running. So the finger is firmly pointed (for the moment) at the new batteries we got in June, even though they shouldn't have a problem. So this weekend we're taking advantage of a trip to Alfreton to return via Great Haywood, spend a couple of nights on board, get some more data, and then take the batteries back to Evesham for checking. I would really like the guys to say they are (inexplicably) duff, and please would I accept a replacement. That would be the perfect end to a wonderful season, and the ideal preparation for the next.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Victoria surprise

Coming back to the car in Stafford this morning we popped down a short passageway to have a look at the bowling green we'd seen at the other end, and found ourselves in Victoria Park. It was unexpected, since our past visits to Stafford have generally been for shopping, and we've mostly seen either the shops or the sprawling housing estates. The park gives the impression of being quite small, though the council website says it is the largest of those under its care, and it wouldn't have been hard to find, but we never did until now. It lies alongside a stretch of the River Sow, over which a bridge built to commemorate the coronation of King George V takes the pedestrian to a riverside walk. My camera was in my bag, but I thought it would be difficult to take a photo worth publishing, so left it there – something I now regret. So a link to its community support group will have to suffice.

In addition to the bowling green, it has a sizeable glass house for temperate or tropical plants, and an octagonal (I think) aviary with an entertaining but somewhat bizarre mix of budgerigars, pheasants of one sort or another, and other flittery delights. There were faded, laminated sheets inside the cages, drooped beyond all possibility of being read to identify the species. But they didn't seem to mind, and continued to stalk and flitter, chatter and feed, variously ignoring or delighting in the human company.

In front of a tall hedge, supervising proceedings, was a statue of a man bearded suitably for the first decade of the 20th century, with a bowl in his hand. His somewhat faded appearance contrasted strongly with the colourful mass of begonias still displaying in the bedding areas. There were very few in the park on this mild October morning. Perhaps we'll return at a busier time and try to capture some of its essence with the camera.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Spit and polish

Taking an extra weekend on Erin Mae meant a slightly different schedule for getting her ready for winter. In spite of Captain Ahab's comment on the 17th about a "winterisation lite" (thank you, Cap'n!), we'll probably not be back until April, unless…

Anyway, we got the chance to give her a polish.

I like this photo. You can see the enhanced reflections in the sides of the boat, but you can't see the scratches and worn bits which are going to have to wait to next year! I was also pleased with the process. We took Erin Mae across to the service wharf for a final pump-out and to replenish the diesel lost from the drippy water separator. Returning to our birth I backed her in with nary a touch on either side, so we could wash and polish the right hand side. Then I backed out again, turned around and came back in bows first to do the left hand side. All that manoeuvring was done yesterday, in the calm, given the great improbability of accomplishing any of it half so neatly in today's wind.

Also yesterday Steve from Kings Lock Chandlery rang to check that all was now OK with the diesel leak, and to say that he would gladly supply me with the equivalent amount of fuel next time I was passing through Middlewich – no time limit. You're a gentleman, Steve!

I've never understood how the "spit" in spit and polish was meant to work. Did it soften up the leather or the polish a bit? Anyway, on the assumption that rain spitting down when you're polishing a boat is less than helpful, we kept an eye on the sky while we got the task done, and didn't take a coffee break until it was done. Whether the nanometer or so of polish that actually remains on the surface when you've finished stands any chance of surviving the storm we're promised for Monday is another thing altogether.

And Monday is the reason for the ellipsis at the end of the first paragraph above. Clive Penny is going to bring his device for doing a final check on the inverter. If he is still stumped, then we'll probably call it a day and spend the winter wondering what to do next. But if his diagnosis suggests an immediate course of action, then perhaps we won't be packing Erin Mae down for the winter just yet.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Diesel electric

No – I haven't installed diesel-electric propulsion, yet! But we've been having fun and games with both the diesel and the electric.

As I blogged back on the 11th October, my calculations about Erin Mae's electrical usage have thrown up some oddities that I find hard to understand. In particular, using the inverter to power the fridge overnight seems to drain the batteries far more than it should. So I called in the services of a boat electrician to do some diagnostics, and so far he's stumped. The fridge appears fine, but I think he's agreed with me that the Victron Phoenix MultiPlus (grand name) is inexplicably taking too much juice when under load. He's got a piece of kit attached to another boat at the moment that he's going to bring across after the weekend which will provide some more data. If it really is the Victron then (a) that would be very unusual, and (b) unfortunately, if you want to run complete tests, it seems they have to go  back to Holland! So we shall wait and see.

It was when we lifted the engine cover to get at the batteries that I realised the floor of the engine compartment was flooded. That has never happened before. Then I realised that (tut-tut) I hadn't opened the compartment to do any routine checks since we had the engine service done in Middlewich at the start of the month (and fitted the charger gizmo), so it could have been there, or growing, for three weeks. But what had happened? Coolant / anti-freeze leak? No, that was OK. Water from the canal? No, wrong consistency. Ingress from the horrendous rain we've been getting? No, the drainage channels were clear. It was only when I reflected on why the flood was pink that I thought of diesel. Horrors! Leaking tank?

Anyway, I got onto Kings Lock Chandlers on the assumption that it had to have something to do with the service. Steve was very helpful, and today Keith drove down to sort it out. First he sucked out the diesel (20 litres, at a guess – ouch!).

Then it became apparent that this was the culprit:

It's a separator that allows any water in the fuel to sink to the bottom and be removed. The drain plug at the bottom was dripping fuel. So we sorted it out (that is, Keith sorted it out) and we shall keep an eye on it to check it remains sorted.

Some people buy a boat in order to have a project.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Delaying the inevitable

I was quite glad when NB Two Jays overtook us just as we were getting ready to go this morning. It meant we wouldn't get back to Great Haywood quite so quickly. But these last two locks of the Staffs and Worcs don't hold you up very much anyway. So we meandered slowly past Baswich and Milford, so slowly in fact that the boat behind caught us up as we got near to Tixall lock.

It was lunch-time, so we called a halt at Tixall Wide. Perhaps we could stay the night. Mo and Mike on NB The Great Escape hooted as they went by, just as we had done to them a little earlier. In the end, we decided just to do it, so we crept at snail's pace past the multitude of moored boats on the cut into and away from Great Haywood junction, and turned very slowly into the marina and around to our mooring.

Connected the hook-up. Now there's a novelty: no electric problems to worry about for a little while. In fact, first thing this morning we rang a boat electrician recommended by the chandlers, and will probably meet up on Monday to see if we can work out what's taking all the juice. Meanwhile it's autumn spring-clean time. Spruce up everything we can in preparation for six months away.

Perhaps there might be time for just one more little excursion before winterisation…

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Happiness is a journey…

…not a destination

So says the birthday card my best beloved blessed me with on Monday.

But at the start of today, journeying was the last thing on our mind. It was a day for getting up late, putting the heating on, having toast and marmalade as well as muesli for breakfast, and then moving quickly on to coffee time. The Met Office had promised us heavy rain, and that was what Penkridge delivered. The MO had held out hope of a less wet afternoon, but we weren't holding our breath.

And then it came – blue skies and even some sunshine. So we said our farewells to Penkridge and moved to the lock. Underfoot was evidence of the massive acorn harvest there's been.

When we opened the bottom gates I tried to say farewell to Penkridge properly, but had to do some serious engine work just to get Erin Mae out of the lock. As we emerged, the reason became apparent. The water level in the pound was way down, judging by the marks.

I can't think there's been a water shortage after this morning! Perhaps someone had left all the paddles open at the next lock.

So the journey continued, to somewhere in the middle of very little. We've seen a pair of large birds of prey in the field opposite, and my best beloved thinks they might be marsh harriers. If they are, that's a first for us, but the bird book is inconclusive about whether their distribution makes this identification unlikely.

I suspect we will finally reach our home mooring at Great Haywood tomorrow. Happiness probably entails being content with destinations as well.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


I've always loved October. Partly because it's my birthday month (the rationale for our rather pricey food at the Fox and Anchor last night), and partly because it generally signalled the start of the hockey season (no longer, alas). Less tangibly, the mix of autumn in the air, the colours, the smells and the continuation of the hedgerow harvest resonated with more philosophical thoughts and feelings about how fruitful suffering and even death can be. Even wrote a poem about it once!

From behind a camera, cruising gently up the Staffs and Worcs, October presents its own challenges. This is a season for textures, rather than colours.

There is colour around, of course. Leaves turning from green…

the redness of hawthorne or rowan berries, and rose-hips.

And some of the ducks are splendid, even if this isn't really the season for impressing the ladies.

The warmth brought a number out to play – we passed Mike and Mo on NB The Great Escape (that's to say, they were coming the other way!) and then had a natter with Chris and Elizabeth on NB Kia Kaha,  tied up in front of us tonight in Penkridge, and enjoying reading in the afternoon sunshine. Nice to meet you, folks – hope it happens again.

Textures – it's got more than just visual connotations.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Eighty percent

To get a localised weather forecast, I've switched from the BBC weather section to the Met Office website. In either you can enter a location, and they seem know about most places – or you can enter another one in the area. Here's the top part of the page for Wolverhampton for tomorrow:

Quite a lot of detail, so I've zoomed in on a part.

This tells me that for the first hours of the day the "Precipitation Probablity" is 20%. For today, for a large part of the period we wanted to cruise, it said the "Precipitation Probability" was 80%. Worrying! But what exactly does it mean? That it would rain for 80% of the time? That we would get 80% of the rain we normally get, for 100% of the time? Or in total during the day? That it would be raining over 80% of the length of canal? Since this is statistics, it could presumably mean any, all or none of the above. It might have been a completely dry day (in fact, a 20% chance of that, I think – some people have a flutter on the Grand National with far worse odds).

It's the same when you get those cheery chappies on the BBC weather gallery, telling you about the chance of a shower. But they do also normally translate it into everyday terms – should you take your brolly? In our case today it meant that once breakfast was over it was straight into full-weather gear. It was bound to rain. Truth to tell, it already was.

As we came down past the Wolverhampton Boat Club, we passed another Tolkien-inspired name, and this time I was quick enough with camera and reverse gear to get the photo.

My problem is that I don't remember any such exact reference in The Lord of the Rings. They were the Horse Lords of Rohan, or the Riders of Rohan (as I recall). They also carried the name Eorlingas, after Eorl the Young who brought his people to Rohan. But perhaps this is just the boat-namer playing on ideas and words. If anyone can suggest any different, by all means do so. In the meantime, let's be generous, so that now the list reads:

Arwen Evenstar
Bilbo Baggins
Earls of Rohan
Many Meetings

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Brewood bombshells

The Brewood visitor moorings are very conveniently right by the steps leading up to the road into the village. They are in a cutting lined with tall, overhanging trees. Ideal, you would think, to provide shelter on a blustery, rainy night. But that's before you take account of what roosts in the trees. Fiona on NB Epiphany noted the geese at Westport Park Lake. I wonder whether half the gaggle flew over to us last night. But I've never yet seen a goose up a tree…

Poor Erin Mae was covered in the stuff this morning. It was either something pretty goose-like, or an avian entity with a very sick tummy. Or perhaps they weren't roosting at all, just unable to resist a nice green and maroon target for dive-bomber practice. It took us a good long time with the mop to wash it all off. Only to discover after we'd cruised down to Bridge 8 to avoid more special topcoat tonight that we'd missed what they'd deposited in the cratch / well-deck / space at the front. Ah well, happy days…

Actually, it has been a happy day. The other bombshell was when we walked up to Brewood parish church this morning, expecting (from the website) that there was to be an all-age service, and wondering what that would mean in this context. What we found was café church – the rear transformed with tables, chairs, croissants and the most delicious coffee I've had in a church for a long time. The bells had rung as usual as we'd walked up. We hadn't realised it was inviting us to breakfast.

So – thank you to Dave, Penny and Charmaine the vicar for making us feel so welcome. It was good to see a church experimenting with what it means in practice to work out its mission statement.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Things you see on the Shroppie

Most of the bridges in this part of the Shroppie have what I imagine are cast-iron protectors on their inner edges on the towpath side. They may be plastic – I haven't yet got off to examine one as we passed.

No idea whether these bridges are built from a softer stone than elsewhere, or if Shropshire cyclists, wheelbarrow-wheelers, joggers or dog-walkers are more clumsy or of more violent disposition than others. I can't think these objects have any other function than to protect the stonework. The fact that they are all on the towpath side means that whoever installed them was less concerned about boaters than other hazards.

But it is the marks that are most intriguing. They are grooves of variable length, depth and spacing, centred down the centre-line of the protector but at an angle to it so as to be horizontal, generally starting at the top but continuing to an inconsistent height from the bottom. Every protector seems to have a different set, a different pattern.

So what are these markings? I don't think they can be code, or special runes devised by the admirable Shropshire Union Canal Society. They don't look as though they could be anything to do with marking the height of floodwater. Any knowledgeable person is welcome to leave an informed comment!

We'd been promised kingfishers in Woodseaves cutting yesterday, to no avail. But journeying on from Gnosall today we had two sightings, and then one perched in a bush on the bank. I was approaching a bridge, but cut the throttle, whipped out the camera, pointed it in the general direction of the bird and pressed the button. Twice. I don't think either picture is going to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year. But it's my photo of a kingfisher. Blurry – under today's weather conditions the automatic settings on my Lumix G2 were always going to struggle. But it's my photo. Cropped in iPhoto so you might actually be able to see that it really is a bird, and a blue one at that, so defensibly a kingfisher. But not cropped too much, otherwise it becomes completely pixelated.

You'll probably need to be viewing this blog on a 24" high-def screen to make anything of it. But it made our day in the wet.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Electrical conundrums

I'm very pleased with the Sterling gizmo installed by Kings Lock Chandlery – it seems to do a splendid job of fooling the alternators into delivering far more juice than they were hitherto inclined to do, and of charging up the battery bank much more efficiently. But there is still the issue of what happens overnight.

Following some comments on this blog and elsewhere, I've taken to switching off the inverter when we go to bed. That turns off the fridge, and since there seems to be nothing else drawing electrons, the battery voltage remains pretty stable overnight. One thread suggests that it's best to keep the batteries above 50% charge, so if I can get them to remain at 12.2 volts overnight, I'm happy.

This is in considerable contrast to when I left the inverter on overnight. The voltage would drop down to 11.6 or something, and I'd be running the engine as soon as I got up to restore it to that magical 50% figure. The voltage would drop, though not as much, even if I simply turned off the fridge, but left the inverter on. So it seemed that it was largely the actual running of the inverter that was to blame. But I've been puzzling over the maths. The Victron website says the unit (a 3 Kw Phoenix MultiPlus) should be consuming about 15 watts when it's on but not servicing any appliances. Let's say that converts into 1.5 amps from the batteries. After 8 hours thats still only 12 Amp-hours. Since the battery bank is nominally 440 Amp-hours, the inverter should make only a minimal impression running overnight. Even if you add in a fridge and assume it's pretty inefficient (let's say 3 amps when it's running), that's probably only another 12 Amp-hours, plus the inefficiency of the inverter. Let's say 20 Amp-hours maximum – that would be a total of 32 Amp-hours to run the fridge overnight. That's less than 10% of the battery capacity and should equate to less than 0.2 volts drop.

So what's happening? I went to the CanalWorld website, but a lot of the threads I followed ended either in nothing very helpful or in people hurling abuse at each other. I've been seriously considering getting a 12 volt fridge so I can do without the inverter much more. But it seems to me that the inverter shouldn't be taking this much toll on the batteries, and some of the comments in the threads I followed suggested people use them as much as I do, with far less penalty.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, 10 October 2013


It's all about timing. That's been the theme of BBC series "The Great British Year". They mean the timing of the events, the plants, the animals. You could equally apply it to the stunning success of their camera work. For myself, I'm often just too late to capture on film things that otherwise might make it onto this blog, and this is particularly true of the Tolkien-themed boats whose names I've been listing. However, for yesterday's example, Galadriel, that was probably no bad thing. It was rather small, unimpressive, and a sort of faded, rather blotchy mid-blue. The name on the side looked like it had been applied, somewhat unevenly, from a considerably under-sized eighties Letraset pack. Anything less like the ethereal vision in silky white from the books and films would be hard to imagine. However, Galadriel it was, so the owner has a soul after all and the list now reads:

Arwen Evenstar
Bilbo Baggins
Many Meetings

We did see a boat named "Precious", but I can't bring myself to think that had anything whatsoever to do with its homonym in Middle Earth, so it won't go in the list until someone shows otherwise!

As for today's timings, we have the lock (Tyrley bottom lock) where I got the timing of the approach totally wrong last year, and ended up trapped by the bywash against the opposite bank.

No bywash today, approach perfect and no alarms whatsoever. However, the timing of the encounter with almost the only boat we met coming the way left a lot to be desired.

Right in the middle of Woodseaves cutting, where the narrowness is compounded by the rocky shelf on the towpath side and the landslips and vegetation on the other. But a bit of boater's art meant we passed without incident.

As did the rest of the day. We're 2 miles north of Norbury Junction, not another soul in sight. It's a cold, cold night, but the fire is lit, we're snug, and we're not bashing too heavily on the Shroppie shelf.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013


Market day in Market Drayton, with the usual collection of stalls. The most memorable, for me, was the Adderley Top Lock farm shop – from whose proprietor I'd bought some sausages as we came through the lock yesterday. I accused her of selling them cheaper at the market ;-) but she assured me my pack must have been heavier than the ones on display. I'm sure she was right – but then what I got was what she pulled out of the chiller for me. Anyway, they're cooking at the moment and I'm sure they'll be delicious (if not – we know where to find you!).

After a roast-pork-in-a-bap lunch from one of the stalls while we sheltered from a shower, we ended up in Wetherspoon's, downloading last week's episode of "The Great British Year". Wanted to watch it before the second one screens tonight, and did so over a cuppa this afternoon. I suppose we've all grown used to seeing the stunning quality of the work that goes into nature programmes these days, but it was massively impressive for all that. So was Wetherspoon's! Not that I spend a lot of time there (really), but it was yet another older, larger building (in this case, "The Hippodrome") that they've taken over and remodelled in their own image. Masses of space, coffee with no frills and a minimal price-tag should you want one, and no pressure on you as you use the free WiFi to avoid gobbling up your mobile broadband allowance from Three. So I also downloaded the first of Brian Cox's Science Britannica series, and the latest updates for the MacBook. It's good to see the BBC have finally sorted out the issues with the iPlayer app for the Mac.

The CanalPlan website says it's quite a bit over 5 hours to Norbury Junction from here, so there was never any way we were moving today, especially with some heavy rain this afternoon. So we've stayed put and lit a fire, and are enjoying the fact that our new gizmo charges the batteries in far less engine-running time than the alternator used to do on its own.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

What's the plural of hurdy-gurdy?

The session at the Bridge Inn in Audlem last night was something else! At one point I was singing "Erin's Isle", a song where I often put a guitar instrumental verse in the middle. On this occasion one of the hurdy-gurdy players brought out the tune, while I picked some harmonies underneath. It was a first - I can honestly say I've never played with a hurdy-gurdy before! The balance of the two instruments was amazingly pleasing.

You'll notice I said one of the hurdy-gurdy players.

For those who don't know, the player turns a handle gently with the right hand. This turns a wheel which vibrates the strings. Meanwhile he reaches over with the left hand to press the stops or keys which select the actual notes.

I'm used to seeing the occasional esoteric instrument at a folk session, but I don't think I've often seen such a collection as we had last night.

You should be able to make out a guitar (boring!), a concertina, a fiddle, a bow psaltery, a bodhran and a Cassio keyboard. The psaltery brought out melodies with a plaintive sound.

On the other side of the room were the two hurry-gurdies (that must surely be the plural), another guitar, another fiddle,  an unaccompanied voice, a recorder (mostly Irish and Scottish tunes, and fast!) and a man who had an exquisite mandolin and two sets of Northumbrian pipes. One set was in D, the other in F, but I discovered that music for the F instrument is written in G. I had no idea there were even varieties of tuning, let alone that one would be a transposing instrument, and the other not. Sorry about the low-light quality of the photo, but I wanted to include him.

Last but not least, my best beloved borrowed a wooden frog with a serrated spine, and contentedly made rhythmic sounds with the help of a short stick.

We had a great evening.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Fly is dead: Long live the Fly

We were intending to do a good many lock-miles today. We got to the Audlem flight, and were helped up the first three locks by volunteer Brian. Thanks, Brian! He also found time to educate a troop of visitors in the wonders of the lock system.

First disappointment was that George the butcher was not serving at his makeshift shop by Lock 1. Brian said he hadn't been there for a few weeks, and had heard he'd been ill. We hope he gets better and that normal service is resumed. His range of sausages and jumbo eggs is really something.

Then we got up to the Shroppie Fly, and found it closed for refurbishment. Brian said it was under new ownership. Judging from its state when we were last here, in May, that's no bad thing. Here's hoping!

While stopped in the pound outside the Fly, we got chatting to Peter and Frances on NB Poppy. In fact, we chatted to them for a good part of the afternoon! Nice to meet you folks.

We then found that the Bridge Inn hosts acoustic folk evenings on Mondays, so that was our mind made up to stay. All of three locks today – and those with Brian's help. But the weather was good enough for me to put a second undercoat on the swan-neck. Hope it looks as good when the gloss finally goes on!

The last time we came through Audlem we stopped for the music as well, and we're hoping for a good evening. Looks like Peter and Frances will join us. I'll take the guitar, and the penny whistles. But perhaps the accordion would be a bit overwhelming…

Sunday, 6 October 2013

You missed a bit

Whenever at the helm for the last few weeks and glancing backwards, as you do, to see what's following or to check that your wake / wash isn't destroying any of the bank, I've had pangs of guilt. I couldn't look back without the tiller's swan-neck accusing me of being uncaring. Not as loudly as it did in the interval between getting it straightened with the help of a blow-torch and covering the repair with red primer nearly a fortnight later, but loudly enough. That patch of dull red charged me with being content with a job half-done, of being more interested in what Erin Mae could do for me than in what I could do for her.

Well, that last bit is probably true. But the main issue is my total feeling of inadequacy when it comes to vehicular paintwork, my lack of instinct about what to do when, and my utter conviction that it will all go wrong anyway. Given my Myers-Briggs profile, that's a sure recipe for procrastination, especially with so many other interesting things to do, and the uncertainty of the weather. But I knew the stopover in Nantwich was going to provide an opportunity to sort out my conscience. A dry, even sunny, period, and a 24 hour break from cruising. So yesterday, out came the sandpaper, the de-greaser and the tin of primer, and I managed to rub down the swan-neck from top to toe and put primer on any bare metal exposed by the process. Then today, after a late coffee, the lid came off the CraftMaster mid green undercoat and I got busy working out how to put on enough while not allowing it to run.

It was as I neared the top that two boats came by, about five minutes apart, each with a crew member who thought it hilarious to say "You missed a bit", and expected me to join in the merriment. Now I don't think I'm a humourless so-and-so, but these passing wags completely failed to spot the pent-up angst that accompanied the paint-brush. To my shame, I completely ignored both of them, and left the cheery greetings to my best beloved, busily (and expertly) cleaning windows at the other end of the boat.

While the paint muse was active, I thought I might as well have a go at the new pole which had definitely lost its new look since July. I had some external wood primer, and followed up two coats of that with the same green undercoat, but I strongly suspect this particular project will indeed come to grief, courtesy of the heavy dew. Well, we shall see.

Then it was farewell to Nantwich. On the way to where we've tied up above the locks at Hack Green, we saw a buzzard very high up. It's amazing if they really can see their prey from that distance. But half a mile further on we had one circling us along the cut, only about 20 feet up. Then it went down behind the bushes and we saw it no more, but could imagine all sorts of crunchings and tearings from beyond the hedge. I doubt either of these two birds missed a bit.

So it's a quiet evening on the Shroppie again. I don't think we're missing anything.

Saturday, 5 October 2013


For some reason the flies were out in force today, covering many surfaces on the boats we passed as we walked to the Nantwich aqueduct to get into town. Some suggested it was the warmth, especially after a wet period, but I can't remember them in such numbers before.

Nantwich was in merry mood on this fine morning, with "Me and Bobby McGee" and the town crier competing with the bells of St Mary's announcing a wedding.

We had coffee and cake in Nantwich Bookshop, and had a great natter with Wyn and Lesley about books, boating, history, the New Forest, retirement and lots of other things. Really nice to meet you, folks – sorry the photo suffered a little from the low lighting conditions.

Nantwich was infested with Scouts as well as flies. We chatted with a group of them, from the 15th South West Cheshire troop.

They were in a competition with other troops, flying round Nantwich playing a sort of Monopoly game, and matching squares to items they located.

Notable in Welsh Row as we strolled home was the front garden of Malthouse Cottage, with a fine display of autumn colour.

It's houses like this that help to make Nantwich a place we've enjoyed coming back to. So we've stayed a whole day, and took the opportunity to tackle a painting job or two. I think I'll have to document that shortly.