Sunday, 31 July 2016

Halibut (by Carl)

Tricky's in charge
You may recall that last Sunday we were moored on the river Weaver, on the new pontoon near the bottom of the Anderton boat lift. We left the pontoon the next day and headed for Northwich, where we stopped for supplies. The more times I visit Northwich the more I like this small town. The town centre has all the usual high street shops, most of the supermarket chains are represented, and there is even a post office, complete with the obligatory long queues. Due to extensive salt mining, parts of the town have suffered from serious subsidence. Serious enough to cause some houses to disappear without warning towards the end of the 19th century!

 While we were shopping in one of the well known supermarkets, I saw what I first thought was a brilliant impersonator. Somehow, a young man was conveying the illusion that he was a “not too bright” halibut. I was tempted to ask him how he had mastered this brilliant technique, particularly as he was clearly finless, and was in vertical mode, whereas halibut tend to orient themselves horizontally, when in their normal environment. Sadly, before I got near enough to ask the question, the truth presented itself to me. He was merely chewing some gum, with a very fish-like up and down, up and down motion of his lower jaw, lips opening and closing regularly, in the fashion of the aforementioned aquatic resident. Corrective underwear? Revolving cardboard socks? One hair passed a freckle? I don't know.

After Northwich, we set off towards Winsford and the first lock of the day with our friends on Naga Queen. All the locks on the Weaver are manned and it's normal practise to ring the lock-keepers before you get there so that they can set the lock for you or advise you of any delays. Linda rang the keeper at Hunts lock, who advised us to “hang around for a bit” as the lock was set for a boat coming from the other direction. We didn't have to 'hang around for a bit' for too long before the gates swung open and the other boats left the lock. As we left Hunt's lock the keeper advised us that he'd contact the “guy” at the next lock . He also told us to use the right hand lock (the locks on the Weaver are in pairs), and that one of the gates wasn't working. The approach to the next lock (Royal Vale) is around a long, slow curve of the river. Ominously, there is a warning sign at this bend, warning boaters to keep left, due to the weir. As the locks come into view, the boater is confronted by the massive,
closed, lock on the left. In order to enter the right hand lock one has to keep to the right, in defiance of the warning sign. Fortunately, the lock was ready for us and the gate open, so no harm done. The weather had been cloudy and cool, with occasional showers, so we were glad to tie up for the day on the Royal Vale moorings, just downstream from the lock of the same name.

Extension required to get Tricky ashore
Due to the unsettled weather, and the dedication of the grass-cutters, the inside of our well deck (where the cratch is) had started to transmogrify into a prairie. Another day or so and we'd be invaded by homeless buffalo and prairie dogs. So I decided to deal with it. Linda worked on the inside of the boat, and I got to work in the cratch. The Dyson took one look and pleaded a flat battery, so it was down to the dustpan and brush. It was slow work. The grass seemed to have taken root. In the end I carefully placed the dustpan and brush down (or I might have flung them down impatiently) and started to move everything out of the cratch. Once cleared of stuff (including one of Tricky's toys, a withered carrot, and a Twix wrapper with a grudge) I lifted the carpet and carried it onto the bank. To my absolute joy I found that a few hefty shakes removed 99.9% of all known grass. To my utter dismay, I then noticed that I had been transformed into a distant relative of Wurzel Gummidge. I was covered in the stuff. Eventually though I was clear of grass, the carpet was refitted, the stuff replaced (but not the carrot or Twix wrapper) and we were, once more, shipshape.
Over the course of the next few days we cruised down to Winsford, turned and travelled back the way we came, passed Northwich, and on to Sutton swing bridge via Saltersford lock and Dutton lock. Whilst moored at Sutton swing bridge we walked up into Frodsham for more supplies, where there were further variations on what I like to call “the halibut affair”. While we were at Frodsham we stopped at The Bear's Paw pub for a little liquid refreshment. Nice pub, friendly service. We didn't try the food but it looked nice.
Yesterday (Saturday) we booked our passage on the boat lift and took off at ten past noon. Then followed a leisurely cruise back along the Trent and Mersey canal to that afternoon's mooring. There was one moment I'd like to record here. The sun was shining and it was quite warm. As we rounded a bend in the canal the waterway opened up into a “flash” (where salt minings have collapsed, causing the ground to sink and water to flood the area). A family of ducks leisurely swam by our boat. Across the water were a dozen or so geese watching our passage with interest. We saw a heron standing further back, who seemed to be listening to the wren singing from a tree nearby. We drifted through this wonderful scene and in a few short minutes had left it behind. Just magic.

Solar panels capture the evening sun
What we saw a short while later made us smile, but for a completely different reason. We approached two CRT (Canal and River Trust) boats, moored side by side. As we passed them we noticed that someone had written in yellow paint on one of them “Front” and “Back”, with corresponding arrows. Obviously these must be for the new breed of canal workers/apprentices. Still, if you're not sure which end is which, those instructions would be useful. Anyway, this is a good place to finish, so that's about the size of it for this week.
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS Have you ever wondered about signs? There is one at a pub on the Coventry canal at Newbold on Avon. It reads “Food served 24 hours from 12.00”. Also why do Solicitors have such odd names? Names like “Fiddle, Catstropp and Ganderdropper”. Answers on a postcard. Prizes will not be awarded for the first correct answer.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Summer Madness

Alright you lovely people – how many of you are already moaning that it's too hot? It's been great to get the sun on our solar panels, if only to meet the demands of the fridge, which has been running constantly. Inside the boat it felt like Gas Mark 4! Luckily, our boating companions have found us some lovely spots to moor, where we can get the sun on the panels but with a shady tree for us ladies to sit under for our afternoon gossip. Even so, I've had to resort to putting my feet in a bowl of cold water and draping a wet towel over Tricky in an effort to keep cool. Tricky wasn't impressed and kept wandering off with the towel trailing along behind, leaving a wet dog aroma which mixed with the damp shoe odour leaking from the shoe step to create a bit of a pong. I may not have mentioned the shoe step before – it's a handy storage place that's been created in the steps by the bow doors and it holds our motley collection of sandals, wellies and trainers – you know what I mean, all the footwear that's required for a typical English summer. It's not usually smelly but a combination of the hot weather and damp sandals had my nose twitching. Luckily, I've recently discovered 'Lenor Unstoppables' which smell like clean washing and have completely solved the problem – I pour a few of the granules into a little pot and the shoe step smells of flowers and sunshine. Unfortunately, they don't work on Tricky - she's next to me on the sofa and I don't think a whole bottle of Chanel No 5 would sweeten the foxy pong that's rising up from Her Majesty. That's enough about my domestic cleaning arrangements – I'll try to entertain you with stories of the 'summer madness' that has set in now that the schools have broken up. Lots of hire boats are racing about loaded to the gunwales (pronounced gunnels) with kids and dogs – having fun if the sun is shining, looking miserable in the rain. In Middlewich, there was a party of young men playing some kind of swearing music at full volume, lobbing cans into gardens and using language that would make a pirate blush – I think they were having a good time but they left a trail of unhappy boaters in their wake. We passed a hen party earlier on the same day – they were much better behaved but their steerer seemed to have lost the plot and was bashing the boat against a bridge at full tilt. The engine was roaring and water flew up over the deck while the tiller thrashed frantically from side to side. I watched anxiously as they reversed up for another attempt – it took several go's before the little boat finally straightened up and started off on its zig zag course back up the canal with balloons and bunting flapping in the breeze. It's Summer – take cover!
We left Ellesmere Port last Monday morning, ascending the two locks up to the main canal in bright sunshine – they were just as weedy as ever, in spite of the best efforts of the volunteers on Sunday. There were two unpleasant tasks to tackle when we got to the top lock – I could either clear the weed hatch or empty the Elsan. I didn't fancy either of the jobs but I knew for certain that I couldn't possibly squeeze into the weed hatch so you can guess who got to make the walk of shame, lugging the despatch box through the boat museum, past the workmen who carefully averted their eyes in case I might ask them to help me. I won't spoil your morning coffee by going into further details – it's just one of those boaty jobs that has to be done (no pun intended)
It's not a long trip from Ellesmere Port to Chester and on a sunny morning, it should have been very enjoyable. If we could have chugged more than 200 yards without getting weed round the prop then it would have been memorable for all the right reasons. Instead, we shall forever remember that stretch for the number of times we had to moor under a bridge while Carl got down under the deck. I really wanted to visit Chester Zoo but it was too darned hot! We moored in the centre of Chester for shopping and sightseeing but again, it was too hot for me and Tricky, so we sat outside in the shade, watching the world go by. Tourists in shorts and tee shirts, smart ladies in floaty skirts and pretty sandals and every now and then someone in boots and a coat – there's always one! I really love people watching. Oh and of course, there's the new Pokemon Go! craze that is sweeping the country. We saw loads of young people walking along, arms outstretched, staring intently at their phones. I want a Pokemon for the boat – how do I go about getting one?
It was busy when we arrived at Bunbury staircase lock and we were called in by the lock-keeper to do the 'Staircase Shuffle.' Carl went in the bottom lock and there were a pair of boats in the top lock. Once we'd let the water out of the top into the bottom then the shuffling began. The first boat chugs forward into the space next to Carl and the second boat shuffles across the lock. Carl chugs forward into his space while the lock keeper pushes the first boat across into the space vacated by Carl leaving room for the second boat to get in beside the first one. If you didn't understand the 'Staircase Shuffle' then don't worry – there are lots of boaters who don't understand it either.
Today we paired up with the Naga Queen and came down the Anderton Boat Lift for a cruise along the River Weaver. I always think of of it a being a magical place and I'm looking forward to a peaceful week away from the busy canals. I hope you find time to relax this week and don't get caught up in the 'summer madness'
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS This week we have travelled 44 miles, 5 furlongs and 25 locks

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Mooring Fairy

Hello again,
Sunny morning on the Manchester Ship Canal
I can't believe it's Sunday already – where did that week go. Our week started with some surprise visitors on Monday morning – I did warn them that they would have a bit of a walk to find us but my daughter Claire and Reece (21 year old grandson – yes, I know I don't look old enough – why are you all laughing????) came anyway. We love our boating life but I really do miss my friends and family when we're away so if you're reading this, and we haven't spoken for a while, then send me a message so I know you miss me too.

We've been dodging the showers this week, not always successfully – we set off late on Monday afternoon for a short hop to Cool Pilate and when we woke on Tuesday, the rain was tapping on the roof and we were cold and gloomy so we lit the stove, which cheered us up. It brightened up after our usual cheese sandwich so we togged up ready to face the elements and followed the armada of boats going down towards Nantwich. I was a little worried that all the moorings would be taken but I should have had more faith in the mooring fairy which seems to accompany Pat and Malc wherever they go. We found space for both boats right by the pathway leading to town - it's such a treat to have them moored next door, especially for us ladies, who like to pop along for a natter about the days doings. Tricky likes nothing better than to go visiting too and if I don't watch her she'll be trotting off up the tow path and begging for leftovers.

We've had some longish days to get here from Nantwich and I have to confess that I was still in bed when Pat came knocking to say they were just setting off. I was still in my dressing gown and had to throw my clothes on and look sharpish while Carl threw off the lines and we set off under grey gloomy skies towards Chester. The rain started at the first lock and it rained steadily all the way down and didn't stop until we got through the staircase locks at the bottom. My lovely purple raincoat has lost all its waterproofing, it looks like it's had a really bad case of sunburn and the backing is peeling away from the material. Of course, I was soon soaking wet and we chugged through Chester without stopping. We took so long to get through the staircase locks that the gongoozlers got bored waiting for our pair of boats to come out and wandered of to watch paint dry. Carl and Pat got impatient and kept us entertained by singing 'why are we waiting' and tooting a hooter just to remind us that they were still down there. Meanwhile, several of us where heaving on the lock gates which were stubbornly refusing to open and the poor Volunteer, who was supposed to be in charge, was struggling to find a solution. Eventually, we got out of those locks and I was glad to get aboard and finally get into some dry clothes and make us both a hot cup of tea.

Fantastic Wall hanging made by Volunteers at the Ellesmere Boat Museum
This week we have travelled from the Moss Hall Aqueduct near Audlem to Ellesmere Port Museum and we're moored in the Lower basin bathed in the last rays of a setting sun– at last, the sun is here!Our arrival into Ellesmere Port didn't go smoothly - Pat had called ahead to make sure they could fit us in and they told us they had plenty of room. When we chugged into the top basin, it was raining and the entrance to the locks was blocked by the trip boat so we had to hang around in the rain until someone could shift it. Malc and Pat went in first and then it was our turn, except I couldn't open the gates as there was an island of weed blocking the entrance. I was so intent on clearing the weed that I left the top paddle up and flooded the lower levels - Malc was paddling around in soggy sandals wondering where all the flipping water was coming from. Once inside the lock, Carl immediately picked up a mass of weed on his prop and had to go down into the weed hatch to clear it and then the same thing happened in the next lock – I think that must be some kind of weedy record. 

Mooring on the car park
By now we're looking a bit bedraggled and we chugged around the basin looking for a space to moor and of course, we're out of luck. That's why we're hanging onto the edge of this car park and the Naga Queen is squatting on a private mooring in the shade of the Holiday Inn – on this occasion, the mooring fairy almost deserted us. It's not the most romantic place to moor – the Manchester Ship Canal is just beyond the Holiday Inn and we're surrounded by apartments. It's a far cry from the rural moorings that we have enjoyed all the way down the Shroppie but, in the end, it turned out that it could have been a lot worse. We slept soundly but our friends on Naga Queen were boarded by wedding party revellers from the hotel who thought it was great fun to jump up on their roof. Malc had other ideas and told them to be good chaps and clear 'orf or words to that effect and, thankfully, they did. Boaters have some strange implements in their lockers and some of them could easily be deployed to 'repel boarders' should the need arise. We have a particularly fierce implement called a 'Bargee Bill' which is essentially a meat cleaver on a long handle – it's used for clearing the prop, but it could clear roof revellers too, if the need arose.

Press Button B
We visited the Museum today and loved it, I'm glad we finally made the journey. If you're interested in working boats and their histories then put it on your list of 'things to do this summer'. OK Malc – where are we going now?

More next week

Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

PS The Volunteers have been busy today clearing the weed from the locks – someone must have told them about Carl!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Idle Women

Morning All
You may recall that when I wrote to you last week we were moored at the bottom of the elegantly named Boggs Lock and our friends, Pat and Malc, were moored in a sunny spot at the top. On Monday morning we woke early and crept quietly through the lock and sneaked by them. Malc had warned us that our mooring spot would be in the shade in the morning and he was right. We decided to chase the sun up the locks and once we came out 'up top' it was a beautiful morning. Tricky and I skipped up the tow-path towards Gailey Top Lock and I was already anticipating the smell of my morning coffee and wondering what to have for breakfast when a big blue 'something' hove into view. In fact it was several 'somethings' completely blocking the canal - work boats, barges and men in Hi-Viz jackets, watching a floating digger bucket loading a barge. I called out to the fluorescent jacket hoping that we'd be allowed to squeeze through, but no such luck – we're told to moor up and wait. We're not in a hurry but the boat coming up behind us is a hire boat, due back in the boatyard beyond the lock at 9am. They were panicking in case they incurred a fine for being late back so when the coast was finally clear, we let them go first. I watched them inching carefully around the digger boat that was sitting fairly and squarely in the middle of the canal. I wondered how he managed to control his boat and why he wasn't being swept away by the fierce wash from the lock. It was still early in the morning and I hadn't properly got my brain in gear so I was daft enough to ask him the question. He smiled that supercilious smile that men use when dealing with female members of the public and informed me he had his 'legs' down. Well, of course he did, how stupid of me not to know that boats have legs. I walked off up to the lock, swinging my windlass and resolving not to bother my pretty little head with any more daft questions.
On Monday evening, we set off down the tow-path to the Fox and Anchor to watch a performance entitled 'Idle Women'. The story of a young woman 'doing her bit' on the working boats during war-time England was cleverly told with a tea chest, imagination and humour. There was poetry and a sing song accompanied by a piano accordion which we enjoyed immensely although it was a struggle to hear them at times over the noise of rattling cutlery and braying laughter from the bar area. Well done to the 'Idle Woman' Kate and Heather – I'm glad that, for once, we were in the right place at the right time to catch this show.
The Shroppie is dressed for summer and we've chugged along through deeply wooded cuttings with beautiful old bridges soaring high above the narrow waterway - this canal is famous for those bridges as well as the peaceful, rural scenery. I caught a glimpse of a Kingfisher this week, streaking along the sun dappled water, a breathtaking splash of turquoise against the dark green foliage. Foxgloves, Scabious and Ox-Eye Daisies flourish along the tow-path and in the fields that stretch away towards the Wreakin in the distance.
We moored in Brewood and wandered up to the butchers for one of their famous pies for tea. On the counter is a sign saying 'Gray Peas' together with bags of what look like pepper corns. The young butcher is grinning delightedly as Pat and I muse over what they could be used for and tells us that it's a 'Black Country Delicacy' and he pronounced it with a broad accent as 'gry pays n bercun' - apparently you soak them overnight and cook them up with bacon, onion and pearl barley and serve them up like mushy peas. I wasn't tempted to buy any and I doubt any of you will be either (except maybe Ruth, the original Lady Aberlour, who I believe is a Black Country girl.)
Most days we have managed to stay dry - there has been rain, sometimes heavy but also prolonged periods of sunshine. Today has been another such day, damp and cool when the clouds roll in and hot and sunny when the sky clears. Carl has been battling a leaky porthole armed with a substance called 'Creeping Crack Cure' which probably won't win any awards for subtlety but is one name you're likely to remember should you ever need to fix a leaky porthole.
The tow-paths are soggy and my summer shoes get soaked every morning as I follow Pat and Tricky up the tow-path for our morning amble. The boats chug along behind us in case of a mud alert – today we had to have an emergency pick up because the path suddenly became a bog which would have done credit to a 'Tough Mudder' course (you might need to Google that one Mum!)
I'd just made a pretty salad for our Sunday tea when Carl says 'shall we have an evening cruise?' It was a lovely sunny evening and I thought I would still have plenty of time to do the jottings even though we had 13 locks between us and any hope of getting a mooring space. This time, our luck was in, we met a stream of boats coming up the flight as we set off and by half past eight we were moored in a prime spot on the aqueduct with the most spectacular view over the Weaver Valley below. Maybe the early bird doesn't always catch the worm!
It's almost tomorrow as I type this, Tricky and Carl have gone to bed and I'm running out of battery as usual so I'll end by sending a hug a usual and I'll write again next week
Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

The distance covered this week is 41 miles, 5 ¼ furlongs and 29 locks.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Polishing The Mushrooms

Its a Blue Sky Sunday here at the quaintly named Bogg's Lock – we often moor here as its the first quiet spot away from the roar of the M6. There's no peace for me today though as Carl is on the roof with his latest gadget from Aldi's – a cordless sander. I have to admire their marketing strategy - placing tools in amongst the cheese and toilet rolls is a great way of making sure that any money you save on groceries never leaves the shop. The task for Carl today is to find out why there is water coming in through one of the ventilation grills. We found out we had a leak during the last heavy rainstorm when I spotted a wet patch on the mat below the vent and blamed Tricky – she didn't deny it when I asked her and no doubt she would still be getting the blame if I hadn't caught a drip down the back of my neck! Carl found rust under the mushroom vent (its another one of those pesky boating terms, it's hard to describe but I'll do my best. It's a round brass thing shaped like a mushroom that's fits over a hole in the roof to allow air to circulate. If I talk about 'polishing my mushrooms', you'll know that I haven't suddenly started Mr Sheening the vegetable basket) The offending mushroom will be removed and the rusty bits sanded and treated with some expensive gunk that's supposed to stop rust and prevent further deterioration. Carl's very good at treating rust, which is a handy skill to have if you own a 57ft steel boat which is doing its very best to break out in rust 'measles'. According to Carl, he acquired his rust curing skills in his youth when cars often needed filler and fibre glass to get them through the MOT. Another useful skill that Carl has is being agile as he needs to get up and down from the roof several times a day – putting up the aerial, tinkering with the solar panels and rearranging the roof ornaments (bags of coal, mooring tyres, ladders, barge poles). Today, there was a bit of a clatter and I looked up to see a pair of feet coming in through the sidehatch, followed by a rather sheepish Carl, who ended up standing by the cooker. I asked him why he'd come in that way (or words to that effect) and he had to own up and say he'd been coming down from the roof and forgotten the hatch was open and accidentally swung into the galley. Living with Carl is never boring!

When Carl wrote to you last Sunday, he was home alone while I returned the car to the safety of Mum's drive. I caught the train back to Rugby on Monday morning and by early afternoon we were chugging along in the sunshine, heading for Fradley and hurrying to meet up with Naga Queen and our friends Pat and Malc for our 'Summer Cruise'. It's been a fairly soggy week, although we've managed to keep dry by getting up early (5.30am) and getting through the locks before the rain came. On Wednesday, we were so cold that I came below for gloves and a thick cardi and I was still shivering under the brolly as we chugged along through Polesworth and Hopwas. The cabin felt chilly and gloomy and the heavy showers showed no sign of letting up, so we lit the stove when we got to Whittington. I know some hardy boaters would throw their hands up in horror - they wouldn't dream of lighting the stove after April but I've got firelighters and I'm not afraid to use them!

Fradley Junction was busy and we found ourselves in a queue as we turned left towards Middle Lock. The Naga Queen went chugging by as we came through the swing bridge and we slotted in one boat behind them and hovered until the 5 boats in front of us had gone through and Carl could finally get in the lock – if we'd got up early like we normally do then we'd have been through Fradley and moored up in time for elevenses. It was nice to chat to the other boaters in the queue and we waved them off like old friends as one by one they chugged off towards the bright lights of Rugeley and the canal-side Tesco's. We tied up alongside the Naga Queen and we shared a bottle of fizz and some of Pat's French Nibbles – very ooh-lala . And so the 'Summer Cruise' has begun. I expect there will be much laughter and a fair bit of red wine and lots of boating tales to tell for the next few weeks and I shall be able to chatter away to Pat and give Captain Carl's ears a rest.

Later that day I was down in the galley making a cuppa, when I heard a terrible squealing noise and stuck my head out of the hatch to see what on earth was making such an awful racket. I could see something swimming in the water but couldn't make out what it was until we got closer. There were three mink kittens swimming around and yowling and screeching for their Mum to rescue them. I saw another adult mink the next day by Colwich Lock, it swam across the canal almost under our bows and disappeared into the undergrowth. Those mink will make short work of the new summer babies that are just hatching. I counted 6 bundles of black fluff in one brood of moor hen chicks. Nature can be very cruel.

This week we shall be turning up the Shroppie and we're looking forward to the delights of Nantwich and Audlem on the way to Chester and onward to Ellesmere Port. I wonder how far we'll get this week? The Countryfile forecast was encouraging so I've raked out the sunscreen which was lurking at the back of the cupboard and dusted off my sun hat, just in case we finally get some summer. We've had two days without rain so I'm hoping that there's more dry weather to come. I must hurry up and finish now as the sun is going down and I want to be up early to try and creep past Naga Queen to beat them to the locks in the morning – we do like a bit of friendly rivalry!
I hope you have a good week with wall-to-wall sunshine and gentle breezes and I'll be back next week with more tales from the tow path.

Love as Always
The Floating Chandlers

ps We've covered a fair distance since last Sunday – 69miles, 7 furlongs and 28 locks if anyone is interested.