Friday, 31 August 2007

The rest...

Yes – I know.. but this time I have the excuse of very little reception – and also struggling to overcome the floods. So things have been a little busy, and the last thing on my mind was writing a blog! When I left – we were having a beautiful evening by the reservoirs – and the following morning I got up and moved the boat to Alvechurch Marina. It was a lovely morning – and I think it is about the best time of day to boat – at least when the sun is out…

The show at Alvechurch was a great success. I had been a little bit worried, because with a venue that we haven’t done for years, there is always a risk that the audience turnout won’t be that great – it takes a while for things to register with people, and it often takes a couple of years to build up an audience. But I needn’t have bothered, because the landlord had obviously been doing his stuff – the audience was so good that we ran out of chairs! Once we had emptied the boat of all our sitting implements, we just had to get people to improvise. And the evening was great fun. The guys from the mooring that we had stayed on the night before even turned up, which was a nice surprise. Unfortunately, the landlord is moving on next year – so we will have to try and persuade whoever takes over that we are a good idea, if we are to carry on going there. Which I hope we will…

The only problem was that we discovered a lot of water in the front bilges. It is always slightly damp – but ever since Tardebigge, there has been more than I would have expected. And 3 of our lights decided to blow. Which is really unheard of.

And then we went on to Worcester. And avoided getting stuck in the lock that seems to catch us most years – I wonder if we have finally managed to remove enough bits of brickwork to let us get through properly…

The Commandery has been closed for the last few years – so it was a new venue to me. Because the weather had been threatening, they had arranged that we would perform in the Great Hall, which was a proper Tudor hall, complete with minstrel’s gallery. It wa a stunning venue. Unfortunately, it had suffered from the loss of awareness caused by a prolonged absence, and despite a few die hard Mikronites arriving an hour and a half before the show in order to get good seats, the turnout was not very encouraging. The show went well, though, and I think that those that were there appreciated it, and the setting. Let’s hope that next year we can get a few more people in…

And there was more water in the bows. In fact, there was so much that I needed to have a look at it while it was still light – and it was just as well I did, because, once all the set had been removed, I found a quite considerable leak. Which is never a good thing to find. So out it was with the greasy rags, and a make shift arrangement of stage weights and sticks to try and keep some pressure applied. It seemed to stem the flow a little, at least.

The next morning, we were due to set off to Tewkesbury. But, of course, the show had had to be cancelled due to the venue having been swept away. Which is about as conclusive a reason as you can get. The next show had had to be cancelled too, and I had also been told at the lock office that the Severn would not be open for at least a week, as there was so much debris floating about that they were sending boats down to clear it before anyone was allowed on. So the others all went off to have an extra four days holiday, while I hung around to pump the bows out morning and night. I didn’t fancy leaving Tyseley by the Commandery, as it is rather exposed, so I claimed safe haven from BW Marinas, and was allowed to moor in Diglis Basin, which is much safer. Of course, the next morning, the lock keeper turned up, not having been told that I was allowed to be there – but it is just as well that he did, as he informed me that the river was open. And had been for a day or so. Communication is a great thing.

Anyway – the the prospect of getting back on track with the rest of the boating was good enough to swing the Mikron gears into motion, in order to try and get some crew to move Tyseley to Pershore for the return of the rest of the cast.

By the next morning, I had managed to coral my friend Ian, who has a boat, and I hadn’t seen for ages, and also Steve and Mandy – of washing fame, if you remember – so that we could do the move in 2 days. Easy, short days. In theory.

But as these things are wont to turn out, nothing was going to be as easy at it seemed. The first problem was that Ian was delayed in getting here by an unexpected call at work. So what had been an 11 o’clock start turned into a 6pm one. And what was going to be a leisurely potter up the Severn to Tewkesbury turned into a race against sunset. Which was made more entertaining by the knowledge that we had had to sign a disclaimer before setting out saying that if we hit any debris, it was our own stupid fault, as we had jolly well been warned. Evidently, the boat had not been down to clear it yet. As the sun got lower in the sky, we started to try and work out our groundspeed in order to see whether we would make it to Avon lock in time. The trouble is that there are not a lot of places to moor on the Severn, and once you have gone past one, you are really committed to at least 6 miles of further boating before you are likely to find another place to hole up. Having calculated that were probably making about 9 mph ground speed, we decided to risk it. And we made it, just. Although we obviously missed the lock hours by a long way, and stopped off beneath the lock to wait for the morning to go up and onto the Avon proper.

Tewkesbury was not as devastated as I had expected it to be – most places seemed to be reopening, and we found a restaurant and a pub that were open for business without any difficulty. Which was a pleasant surprise.

The next morning, with Ian gone, and Steve and Mandy on their way, I went off to the chandlery to by some stuff to fix the leak, which seemed to be getting worse. The rag was holding I back – but not very convincingly.

This time, though, we managed to set off in plenty of time – so we were expecting to arrive in Pershore for lunchtime. How na├»ve. We had been warned that Pershore lock was a bit silted, but that it was being dredged that day – so the plan was to get there, and, if it was not quite ready, just wait until it was. Afterall, we were in no hurry.

The first entertainment of the day came Around Strensham lock. Everything was going fine. Steve was on the back – he has years of experience, mostly on rivers. It all started when I decided to remove some debris from the lock gates which was threatening to catch in the gear. So Steve hovered in the lock mouth to wait for me. Which was a mistake, as he was hovering close to the grumpiest man in the world, who didn’t like “dirty coal barges” on his river. You see, he was 80 next week and had been on the river for 32 years. So I guess it was only right that he owned it. The stream of abuse was unbelieveable. He even had an oar, and was threatening physical abuse if we came any closer to his boat. I think it flapped Steve a bit, who, rather than sit tight, in the perfectly sensible place that he had positioned himself, decided to get away from the old git, and then come back for me. Unfortunately, that was the moment that the wind started to gust across the stream, blowing him towards some other moored boats. I decided that the best thing to do was to act as a smokescreen to give Steve a chance to extricate himself from the bank, and engaged the bloke in the argument that he obviously wanted. I was very polite indeed. And it was all I could do to keep from laughing. Here was a guy that was giving us abuse for being a metal boat that should never be on a river, and what was he on? A metal SHIP’s lifeboat. I asked him whether his boat had been designed for use on the river or at sea – and he was quiet for a bit. But not for long. Anyway – it distracted him for long enough that Steve could get back his composure – and off we set again.

Anyway – after negotiating the weirs and tight bends at Nafford lock – we were relieved to find ourselves approaching Pershore. And in pretty good time, too. But on arrival – it was apparent that the lock had not been dredged. On emptying it, there was a large island visible in the lock. Probably enough room there to get a shorter boat in – but Tyseley? No chance. What then became apparent was that there was also no way off the lock island itself. A weir stream on both sides – and no way across. Simple. Wind the boat round, and head off back to Pershore bridges, where there is a nice mooring that is not far from the town. Except that there is also nowhere to wind a 72ft boat. We tried. For hours. Part of the problem was that the stream was still running fast – so once you got anywhere near the river itself, there was no way that you could just turn. The only solution – and we had to find one, because a phonecall revealed that the lock was not going to be dreged for a while, and Steve and Mandy had to get back at some point, and I had to do a show the next day… - was to reverse down the stream towards the bridges, and try and wind in the entrance to the lower weir stream. If that failed, we were going to have fun being swept towards the narrow arches of the two Pershore bridges. Which are on a bend, just to make things even more interesting. Well, to cut the beginning of a long story short, we did manage to wind round – and it must be the fastest turn I have ever made in a boat – I managed to get the stern in the calmer water by the entrance to the weir stream – and the current did the rest!

And so we are now staying at Pershore Bridges picnic site, from where we are taking to van to the village halls that we are performing at for the next week or so.

Pershore is quite a nice place. But there is not a lot to do. However, the leisure centre provides a respite from the tedium of coffee shops. Except that, unfortunately, it had been flooded – and so the swimming pool that I swum the channel in last summer was closed. Ruth and Adrian ran – but I can’t bear it (I am not fit enough, probably…) so I just spent a lot of time wandering around the woods where we were moored. There is a horticultural college, or something similar, just up the road – and the woods are full of exotic trees, so it makes for interesting wandering. The college also played host to the Pershore Jazz festival, which Adrian and I investigated. It was a very strange experience – sitting around not drinking because we had a show to do in the evening – and feeling terribly out of place because, if it was not for me, Adrian would have been the youngest person there by about 20 years. Still – it was a fine way to spend a few hours, sitting in the sun with a glass of lemonade, and listening to the strains of Trad Jazz drifting out from the bar.

There didn’t seem to be much point in moving the boat up Pershore lock – without the lure of the swimming pool, and with the prospect of a flooded car park, it seemed better to stay on the mooring below the lock – which was much prettier than the park. It did make the morning toilet trip a bit more of an effort – but that was a small price to pay for the scenery.

You see – the toilet becomes an important issue for the section of tour around the Wychavon district. There is no elsan disposal in Pershore – and the next point that is marked on the map is no longer existent. So the only way to empty the Dubbya – and fill the water tank – is to take a trip back down Nafford lock. Now, this might not seem such a problem – after all it is not far, and the prospect of moving the boat is actually a real relief, as it alleviates the cabin fever that inevitably sets in after a few days of sitting still.

The problem is that Tyseley is rather too long to fit down the locks – so we have to go down them backwards. Which adds a certain amount of interest, and time, to the journey. Well – I enjoyed it, anyway! And the bemused looks from the other boaters – who were, after they had seen the amount of space left in the lock once we were in, fairly happy to have been warned off coming in with us. But with the build up of waiting traffic, winding back round was a bit of an obstacle course – but one that we negotiated with style, I like to think; performing something of a boat ballet. Even if some of the pirouettes were not necessarily intended.

And the destination? Possibly the smelliest Elsan disposal in the world. You can smell it for about a mile before you get to it, if the wind is in the right (or wrong) direction: it is situated by the sewage farm. But I believe the water from the water point is safe. At least, we are still alive…

This year, we should have had the prospect of another boat move – because we were planning to take Tyseley up to Cleeve Prior village wharf, where we intended to moor up, and perform in front of the boat. We had done it by van the year before, and it would have been an excellent venue to bring the boat to, but unfortunately we were unable to because we had to get to Apperley the next day.

However – it proved impossible yet again, because the field had been… yes… flooded, and was more of a marsh. So we had to play in the village hall, and travel by van. Next year…

So we were all looking forward to the prospect of a move when it came time to finally leave Pershore. And we were primed to reverse through the locks. But the night before we were due to move off…

It rained.

When we got back to the boat after our performance, we noticed that the level was getting higher. And when I got up the next morning – it was about a foot and a half up. You could tell, because the landing was under water. And the flow through Pershore bridges was frightening. Fortunately, we were the right side of them – but we still had to negotiate winding round at the locks – both above and below the weirs, the Swan’s Neck, and another narrow bridge, which is notorious in a strong current. I had been advised that if it was really strong that it was best to reverse through…

The journey to Tewksbury was fun. And I was glad of the beer that we had on the Tjalk – the trip boat that operates from there, and where the van had been taken so we could load up without having to trek everything across a field. I didn’t reverse through the bridge – but I understand why it would be a good idea, certainly in anything stronger than the current we had. I was glad that Adrian had put the short pipe on instead of the tall river pipe! At the speed we went through, if we had had anything left at all, it would have been 2 shorts!

Once we were back on the Severn, things were much calmer. Actually, they were calmer As soon as we had dropped down the last lock, the Avon is much wider there, and the extra water is much more easily absorbed. But even the Severn was high. And when we got to the Coal House at Apperley, I wondered why I could see the mooring. The reason was that it was under water – but at least I remembered where it had been – so we managed to find it, and tie up. But the get in looked as if it was going to be a bit wet. Fortunately, by the time that we came to set up, the level had begun to drop fast, and the landing stage was above the water. It is amazing how fast the river changes.

The Coal House had been very badly flooded. The mark at the bar was shoulder height, and they are up a considerable slope. But they had managed to reopen, with a keg on the bar, and boxes of cider. The place looked amazing. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have believed the state it had been in – but everyone had chipped in to clean it up and redecorate, and the result was fantastic. The weather was still looking a bit ominous, though – but we had the solution, at last… a new shelter had arrived, to replace the ancient gazebo that we had been using. This thing not only looks smart, but sets up with 2 people in about a minute. At least it does once you have figured it out. It took us considerably longer that first time. In the end, though, the weather was fine – and we had a good crowd. The pub was happy too – the barman said that it was like a celebratory reopening for them, and the atmosphere was great. I had a very enjoyable evening, not influenced at all by the perry, of course.

We were supposed to be performing at the Haw Bridge Inn the following night, but they had been unable to reopen after the flooding, and were facing the prospect of being closed until Christmas. So we decided to move up to the Camp House Inn at Grimley, which is one of my favourite pubs (something I think I share with Mike) a day early. This is not good for the liver, but it is good for the soul! I promised myself that I would not succumb to the Grimley Gorilla – and I managed for the first night. But the aftermath of the appalling weather that hit us on the day of our show meant that I was feeling a lot less resolute on the second night, and as we came to leave the next morning, I remembered why it was that I MUST avoid it next year…

Our next 2 shows were in Wightwick, which was too far for us to manage in a day from Grimley, so we met the van in Kidderminster, after a very slow day of boating back on the canals. It is a bit of a shock to the system to come off the Severn, through the basins at Stourport and onto the Staffs and Worcs, which is very shallow, and quite windy. All of a sudden, the boating gets back to normal, and you remember just how fast river boating is. Oh – and you have to work the locks again.

I do like both, though – and the locking was welcome, at least from my point of view!

The Fieldhouse is a new venue to us – although not a new landlord. He had had the Queen’s Head in Eynsham, but moved up the cut. The weather, again, was awful. But we had a good turnout, considering. Next year – I hope we will be able to bring the boat closer, although it will still involve a treck because, like the Queen’s Head, the pub is not actually on the canal. But we have been promised help with the transport, if we can’t get the van there easily. I personally feel that this is the way forward. I have no objection to performing in venues that are not immediately accessible to the water – but if we can get a lift from that end, rather than playing tag with the van, it makes the whole thing much more doable – and still feels like fun!

And so we came to the last of our days of proper boating: from Kidderminster to High Offley, and the Anchor. And what a great trip to end on – especially as the weather had decided to take a turn for the better. About time, too. We carried on through the wiggles and shallows as we left the vast shopping quarter of Kidderminster, and made our way, past the sight of the fallen tree incident of two years ago, to Wombourne where we stopped for the night. And then set off the next morning in glorious weather. There are all sorts of interesting bits, with the Bratch locks being one of my favourites, and then once you are onto the Shroppie, the boating gets easier, and you can really start to appreciate the countryside. We made very good time the second day, and the weather was so nice that we carried on into the evening, through Brewood, and stopped off near just before Wheaton Aston, and had dinner before walking to the pub in the sunset.

The last day saw another fine morning of boating up to the Anchor, where we were met by old friends from last year, when we had had a fine evening that turned into another fine morning after everyone came back to the boat…

And the weather was still wonderful – so much so that we didn’t bother putting up the shelter, for the first time since it arrived. And what an evening. People just didn’t stop coming – in the end there were almost 300, which was great to see. It was almost the first time that we had seen the sort of audiences that I remembered from last year, and the night was a complete success, with music afterwards in the bar, and then whisky once we had been kicked out of there! I was incredibly relieved that we had at least experienced one of the evenings that keep me wanting to do this job!

And it wasn’t the last – the next day, we went back to Norbury, to the Junction Inn, and we had an audience approaching 200, again, more than we are used to there, and another fine show.

The next morning I wandered up to George, a large Woolwich, having been invited by Tim, who knows Mikron of old, to play with the Bollinder engine. The whole alchemy of starting the thing has to be seen to be believed. I love the magic of it – but I’m not sure I’d want to have to go through it every day on Tyseley!

But that was it – really. Because we had a 45 minute trip to Gnosall, where the boating ended. And, although the Coton Mill is a fantastic venue, and the welcome we get from the Witts is incredible, with dinner, and washing, thrown in – I couldn’t help but wish that we weren’t actually ever going to arrive – because that was where we are leaving the boat before she is taken back to Leigh for the winter, and her paint job.

But it was worth it, again – because we had another great evening, with a bigger audience than I think has ever been seen there, and fine weather yet again. If only it could have been like that all summer, as it was last year…

Although it was the end of the boating, it was not the end of the summer tour. We still had 2 shows to do – by van. The first one was at the Clock Warehouse in Shardlow, which is a very impressive building. And one that I wish we could get Tyseley to. When we arrived there, it was obvious that a lot of people had been there all day, soaking up the sun – and the contents of the bar while they were at it, judging by the state of some of them. As the evening drew on, they became louder and louder, and it culminated in a drunken lob of a football into the crowd that had gathered to see us, narrowly missing any audience members, but causeing a deal of concern. It looked as if things might turn a bit ugly – but, fortunately, the family concerned had obviously had enough, and disappeared just before we started. But the thing that will stick in the mind about this show will be – the cold. It was freezing. It had been a clear sky all day, and the night fell with no cloud cover above us. Of course, we had a beautiful sunset across the fields looking over to the raised canal, but the temperature dropped suddenly, and didn’t really seem to stop. It is hard playing instruments when you can’t feel your fingers!

And our last show was not particularly warm, either – at the amphitheatre in Stone, which, again, is canal side, and somewhere where the boat seems to be missing… But it is a cracking venue for us, and one that I hope we will do again next year – we are already going back in the Autumn, but given the temperature this time, I wonder if we oughtn’t invest in some thermals! The show over, and the raffle drawn, I was dropped back to Tyseley to spend a night there on my own, tidying up what mess was left and getting her ready for the Tupplings to take to Leigh. She is a different boat, without the rest of the company, and unladen by the set. I suspect that the hole might even be above the waterline, almost!

Monday, 30 July 2007

Is anybody out there?

Ok – so it’s been a while. My excuse, such as it is, is that I have been on holiday. Yes – we are actually allowed to have some time off, occasionally! So – just to keep you up to date – we are now tied up ready to do a show at the Tom o’ Wood, back on the Grand Union. We came back to the boat at Cropredy, where Mike had dropped her off the week before (having removed anything that he deemed out of date. Including a load of spices which were in RECYCLED jars. Honestly… (I know he reads this – so I’m just teasing…) But the boat was immaculate, and several things that had been meaning to be mended for ages were, at last. And we had some nice flowers!). Of course, the floods were just beginning – and our proposed venue had been under water just before we arrived, as I discovered when I finally managed to turn my phone back on after a week in the woods. Fortunately, Auntie Shirl had managed to book the village hall as a precaution – and we were very grateful to have an indoor venue. After the difficulties involved in getting four cast members and a van together after a week off, with the transport system on its knees, the last thing we wanted was to have to cancel our first show.

But by the time we got to the Wharf in Fenny Compton, the weather was starting to show signs that almost suggested improvement. In other words, we actually managed to do a show outside without getting drenched. Another bonus was that they fed us – which was very kind indeed!

The next day was a bit grimmer. But it started well: going across the summit of the Oxford is one of the best ways to start any day – and at wasn’t actually raining when I set off. So I was in high spirits. But seven and a half hours boating through rain that was almost solid, with just enough sunny spells to let you start to dry out and remember what dry feet might feel like – and a wind that seemed to be competing with it for attention starts to get a little wearing. However, the excitement of getting stuck in the second to last lock at Napton added a little something. Actually it was rather exciting in the end. When we got stuck, I had a look at the situation, and given that we appeared to have clear air down both sides of the lock, I figured we were actually caught on something on the bottom. I tried flushing us through with one of the top paddles – and we had plenty of movement up and down, but nothing forward. Or indeed backward, as we were now jammed just to far out of the lock to shut the gates and try to fill it up and drain it again to get rid of whatever was there. We tried ropes. We tried just about everything that I could think of. And then the men in blue sweatshirts turned up. Apparently the lock has a slight curve to the sides under the water line. We were sitting on that – and they knew just what to do. They opened the paddles of the lock above to flood the pound above us – and then with people on the bow rope – and me on the tiller with the engine hammering away, they whacked open both top paddles on our lock. And Tyseley shot out like a cork from a bottle. And we did manage to stop before meeting the next lock! I enjoyed myself, at least…

But the Boat at Birdingbury Wharf is well worth the trouble, and there was the prospect of more food there too – so we ploughed on! When we arrived, it was still looking bleak. So we decided to go inside, where we would at least be warm, if slightly cramped. But with a shift of the tables, the space transformed itself into something that really resembled a fringe venue. And we had a cracking evening. The place was rammed – we completely took over the entire pub, but the landpeople were pleased – Almost everyone there was there to see us, and they ate and drank just as you would expect any self respecting Mikron audience to do. So the evening was exactly what it should be – a mutually beneficial collaboration between us and the pub. I think the audience picked up on the supportive atmosphere – they certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. Of course – the weather cleared. Sod’s law, I guess…

And even better – we were brought a very kind bag of supplies to keep us going through the dearth of supermarkets. People are incredibly kind to us. And we really appreciate it! Even kinder was the offer to do some washing – something that is well beyond the call of duty! Thanks Mandy!

The next day was a day off – yes I know, it wasn’t long since our holiday, but I think that there is a slight gap in the available venues around there. If anyone has any ideas….

Actually – it turned into a moving day, in reality, because we had to get the boat up to the top of the Hatton flight. Ruth and Adrian were staying on the boat anyway, so we had plenty of hands available – for another wet day of boating. But we stopped off in Leamington Spa – dried off and set off to sample the nightlife. Well, have dinner, at any rate. And then played pool and set the world to rights whilst listening to the worst comedy club in the world through a curtain. We only knew it was a comedy club because it said so on the door. We didn’t hear a single laugh…

And the next day took us up Hatton – which I enjoy, even if it is hard work. It was particularly fun this time, as Anna was away for her day off, and Adrian had to cycle into town to meet his son, who was coming aboard for a visit. And was supposed to be arriving as we set off, but had failed to get out of bed…

So Ruth and I had to start us up the flight. And once we worked out a decent system, we made fairly light work of it. And it is fun; stepping off the back counter with the boat still moving forward, but the engine in reverse, to close the gates – and hoping that you have judged it right and she will come back to you to allow you to get back on again! It was much easier, though, when Adrian and Matthew turned up – and we also gathered another boat as we caught them up – and two are faster than one. So we weren’t too knackered when we got to the top. Actually – we never made it quite that far, because the Waterman pub is not accessible from the top. Fortunately, I realised this as we were passing the BW workshops. Unfortunately, there did not seem to be much access there either. SO a quick call to the lovely people that own the dry dock there, and we were trying to manoeuvre ourselves in. Which was difficult, as there was an enormous amount of silt – as well as what appeared to be concrete blocks (which I imagine is what the boats that are dry docked sit on?) in the way. And with the pound likely to fill and drain randomly with passing boats using the lock, I didn’t fancy getting us jammed. So we had to come back out and go in nose first.

Even though we had a mooring – the get in for the pub was up an enormous hill. Which is not easy with all our stuff. But again, it was absolutely worth the effort. Although the night turned cold – the weather held – and we had a beautiful evening in a stunning setting. The audience was great, especially for a new venue, and the show went down very well, I think. The venue seemed to be happy, too – and hopefully it will become a regular addition to our schedule.

So, off again the next afternoon for the short trip to Rowington – which was a lovely boat: the sun was out, and it started to really feel like the tour that it should be: boating in fine weather, through beautiful scenery, a good show behind you, and the prospect of a great venue ahead. However, first of all we had to get out of the dry dock, which seemed to have silted up all over again….

The worst thing was that the silt had not only silted up the canal – it had also filled up our impellor. This I realised when black smoke started to belch from the water outtake. Fortunately, a short swim and a coathanger later, we were on our way again none the worse for weat.

We arrived at the Tom o’ the Wood, and the weather was promising a fine evening. Faye, who’s garden we tie up in (or by, I suppose, really) came out to meet us with her two dogs – and introduced us to her show goats. And we settled ourselves down for a wonderful time.

Of course – just as we had finished setting up in the garden, the clouds started to gather.

By the time that we had had our dinner – and people were starting to arrive for the show, it was really and truly raining – and appeared to be set to continue for the rest of the evening. Fortunately, some of the first people to arrive were the Wurgies (I don’t know how you spell that – you know, the Waterways Recovery lot…). So we enlisted their support, and moved the show to the outside smoking area. Which was under cover.

The show was very damp – but great fun none the less, and with the help again of the Wurgies, we did one of the fastest get outs in history. Which gave us all the more time to sample the delights of the Tom, which has changed hands again – and for the better, I think. It’s less of a wine bar now.

And then back for port and cheese with the Wurgies. What a fantastic day.

The next morning I had arranged to milk the goats – and the idea of port seemed like slightly less of a sensible proposition than it had the night before. But I got up – and Ruth and I had a great time learning to milk. The things you get up to on a Mikron tour…

Come lunchtime, Adrian, Matthew and I started to take the boat up Lapworth locks – Anna and Ruth had gone off to a spa to celebrate yet another day off. Lapworth locks are fantastic – they are not to heavy, they are in a beautiful setting – and they are wonderfully bendy. So much so that you can’t get two full length boats past eachother on some of them – as we discovered last year when we had to help crowbar apart two wedged trip boats!

We moored up at the top, and walked back down to the pub for dinner – and met Rob who has come to visit for a few days. Another fine evening! And a wonderful moonlit walk back to the boat afterwards.

So, today we are making our way slowly along the very shallow Stratford – blowing all manner of bends, and narrowly missing the boat that we hit two years ago. How the memories come flooding back!

Well – since I wrote that last bit, we have removed several jumpers, yards of rope and about a dozen plastic bags from our prop, frightened some hire boaters in Wast Hills Tunnel and arrived at our mooring for the night. We were going to go on to Alvechurch – but we decided to stop for dinner at one of the most beautiful spots on the canal that I know – just by Lower Bittel Reservoir – and watch the start of the sunset. As we were struggling to get our stern in to the bank on the towpath side – someone from the private moorings asked if we wanted to stop off in an empty space there. So here we are – and after the offer of a lift to the village to restock our wine cellar, we are going to stay the night. I love this job.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Bye, Bye, Boat

This morning I said goodbye to Tyseley. Mike is moving her to Cropredy for the start of the second leg of the tour, and we are now in Camberly, at a very odd guest house, before we troop off to Fleet to do our show this evening.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We have had two very successful shows at Thrupp – excellent turnouts for both, at last. The weather the first day was a bit of a worry, and we set up in a smaller corner of the garden, in order that the audience could have some shelter. It had been raining all day, and we were not expecting there to be a great deal of interest, judging by the attendance in previous venues when the weather had been inclement. We needn’t have worried – though the audience was smaller than last year. And we definitely made the right choice not to go indoors, where we would never have fitted everyone in. Mike had come down early to see his show – and give us notes… But, fortunately, he did not have much for us to change. I wonder if he has just given up trying to get us to do it right? There followed a pleasant night aboard Tyseley with lovely people and wine.

The next day, the weather was much improved – indeed the sun was out, but it still seemed a little presumptuous to move away from the prospect of shelter – especially when the sky darkened to almost black about half an hour before we were due to start. But the evening cleared into a beautiful one, and the audience was even bigger than the night before. In fact, it was almost impossible to get everyone in – even with lots of people standing. It does, though, make for a better show, I think, to have the audience quite closely packed… there seems to be more of a sense that we are all part of one thing – and I really enjoyed the show. There followed a pleasant night aboard Tyseley with lovely people and wine. And whisky.

And I managed to get to a laundrette. Everyone is glad.

So Tyseley has gone – and we are on the road. Again. The only problem was that Mike left at 9.30 this morning, and the van needed to have its brakes fixed, and was not going to be ready ‘till 12, which left us homeless. Adrian took the van into the hospital at 8 – and after we had gone down and watered up with Mike, Anna, Ruth and I were to be found sitting by the side of the cut, reading. But the day was saved by a very kind boater who took pity on us, and plied us with tea and biscuits. And we all had a fine morning, in the end. Apart from Adrian, who was still stuck with the van. Sorry, Adrian. Anyway – the three of us were quite cheerful when the van arrived…

We had been given the most useless map in cartographical history to work with. The crowning glory if which was the Road That Does Not Exist. But we got here. And here is a ‘Guest House’ run by the Theosophical Society. Which I think is really an off duty retreat. But it has beds, and breakfasts (vegetarian), and it is home for the next couple of days. And the grounds are amazing!

Sunday, 8 July 2007

So this is what summer is..

Another day off… And instead of the planned move from Long Wittenham to Eynsham, we only had to go from Isis lock to Thrupp. Which is a lovely journey. It has a few locks, and a few lift bridges – just enough to make it interesting, but not enough to make it hard work. The day started off with an attempt to start another boater’s engine – which ultimately ended in failure, as it seems that our jump leads are not very healthy. I suppose it is good to know this before we need them ourselves…

Then Ruth and I – Ruth had decided to stay for the trip – set off, armed with plenty of liquid sustenance, as the sun was finally out, and we didn’t want to get too dehydrated. The fact that our choice of liquid was largely diuretic didn’t matter.

The sun stayed out – and the trip was fantastic. This is what the summer should be about! We only had one minor adventure, as we waited for a boat to come down a lock, and waited, and waited… The water was coming out of the bottom gates, but the boat was not coming down with it. And sure enough, a quick investigation revealed all four paddles up, and the pound steadily draining above. Oh well.

So now we are tied up at Thrupp, outside the Boat. Which does excellent food, if you are interested (neither of us could be bothered cooking last night…). And the sun is still out. So I am a happy man.

Friday, 6 July 2007

At last...

Bablock Hythe was not under water. And the lock was not open, so we had to traipse up and across the lock with all the stuff for Married to the Job, and then make our way to the Ferryman by van. At least this year we managed to end up on the right side of the Thames. Last time, we followed the instructions given by Multimap and ended up with 70ft of water between us and the venue – and a long drive to get on the other side.

The weather was inclement, to say the least – and so we decided to go inside. And had a fine evening, with an audience that more or less filled the room that we were playing in.

The next day – and the lock was… still on red boards. So another journey to Bablock Hythe by van. At least, by now, everything was in the van, so life was much easier. Unfortunately, for some reason, everyone had come to see the show last night. Perhaps they didn’t realise that we were doing two different shows, although I did mention it several times the night before. And – before you think it – we weren’t that dreadful the night before that they would all have been put off. Whatever the reason, there were only 4 people there. I think that that is the smallest audience I have ever encountered. But they had made the effort to come – and Adrian had sold them raffle tickets. So I felt that we ought to do the show, much to the irritation of some of the others. But it is very hard to make a decision to cancel when there are people there who really want to see the show.

Anyway – we did the show. And it was really rather good fun. Honestly!

And this morning, the boards came down. Even though there didn’t seem to be much improvement in the state of the river. In fact, the only thing that seemed to have changed was that the wind had started gusting hard. But we couldn’t stay at the foot of the lock any longer, even though it would have been convenient, seeing as everything was in the van. So off we went – Tyseley steaming at full power up past the weirs, and under the low bridge at Osney. And we made it with ease. In fact, the only real problem was the wind. I suspect that we could have made it just as easily on any of the previous days too, but you have to listen to the lock keepers, after all, they know much more about the river than I do. And even though you feel a little bit daft sitting still when you could have been moving – you would feel even more daft getting into trouble when you have been warned!

The turn into the Oxford was a bit fun though, in the stream, and the wind. But what made it really interesting was that the stream seemed to slacken off just as I was expecting it to push our bows round and into the channel. Oh well!

So now we are tied up in the relative calm of the Oxford, before moving up to Thrupp tomorrow.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Still stuck

Ummm… I suppose that the good news is that we managed to do the show. In fact, I think it was a rather good evening. But…

Tyseley is still tied up below Osney lock. The lock keeper was adamant that it was not sensible to go through. Even though a couple of boats have passed us – but the only one of them that was a narrowboat didn’t get far. As far as I am concerned at the moment, the lock keepers know more about the river than I do (I have only done this stretch twice before), and if they say stay, then I will. But it is very frustrating.

Anyway – we decided at about lunch time that there was no way that they were going to take the red boards down today, so Adrian set off to Woolhampton to fetch the van. 4 hours of negotiating the ridiculous public transport system later, he came back. In the mean time, we had been witness to the drama of another narrowboat being swept downstream, and returning rather shaken, and without much interior fittings unbroken, under the supervision of a pilot. Perhaps we made the right decision to stay put.

We enlisted the help of a very helpful (and bored) neighbouring boater and loaded up the van. Which we couldn’t get anywhere near the boat, of course – it was one of those days. And then we set off for Woolvercote Green. And the most amazing storm was set loose. Hailstones and all.

Of course, by the time that we had arrived at the Plough, the storm had passed, and it was all looking very beautiful, except that the field that we usually perform in was now a bit of a quagmire. And after much umming and ahhing, we decided to go inside, in the room that they called the Library. It is a great room, with a wall of bookshelves, and a fantastic atmosphere. We knew that we were never going to match the 100 plus that we had had last year, given the precipitation, but we had to keep our fingers crossed that there were going to be enough seats.

In the end, there were almost exactly the right number of seats for the audience – and it did indeed chuck it down again as we started, so the right decision was made. And the show was great fun. Even if the group of American students did decide to leave just as we were finishing. I was a little rude about that in my speech, but then had to eat my words as it turned out that they did, in fact, all pay – through their tutor. So if any of you are reading this, then I am sorry for poking fun at you!

So, now we are waiting to see what tomorrow will bring. I don’t hold out much hope that the lock will be open, and I can only hope that Bablock Hythe will not be under water. Let’s just see, eh?

Monday, 2 July 2007

Fingers Crossed

Which brings us to today. And what a day we have just had. The theory was that we would travel from Goring to somewhere around Abingdon, stop for the night, and then continue on up to Wolvercote Green tomorrow. That is what we have done in years past. Unfortunately, all the water that has been falling from the skies has found its way into the Thames, and the flow is ridiculous. All day we had been hearing that various locks were on red boards – the signal that passage is not advisable. Of course, they can’t stop you from going through, but my take on it is that they know more about these things than I do, so if they say ‘stay put,’ then I will. I am happy to brave the amber warnings, but not the red ones…

Anyway – as things were constantly changing, I reckoned it would be a good idea just to get as far as we could today, until we met something that made us stop – so we kept battling our way upstream, occasionally passing red warning boards for the downstream sections. This is not a problem just now – but it might be when we come back down to do Long Whittenham. We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

For the most part, the journey was not too bad. It makes you appreciate just what a good boat we have in Tyseley when you are ploughing past modern builds who are obviously struggling to make any headway against the stream. I am not sure whether they are under powered, or under propped. Whatever the case, they are going nowhere, whilst we can make pretty good time as long as the channel is not too narrow. The last stretch through the beginnings of Oxford was a bit of a nightmare, though. Not only are you sharing the water with a small flotilla of rowing boats, but the river gets narrow and windy. At points, even though the throttle was opened right out, we were only making about 2mph ground speed, and I wrenched all the muscles in my right arm trying to fight our way around the last few bends before Osney Lock. Which is where we are now tied up, along with several other narrow boats, waiting to find out it the red boards will come down tomorrow. Otherwise it looks like we will have to find a way of getting hold of the van. I do hope it won’t come to that! We have also had a phone call from Bablock Hythe suggesting that they may well be under water by the time we get there. Oh well.