Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Blackbird in the snow

... and my dog pretending that yellow streak across the snowman had nothing to do with him at all.

Merry Christmas, boaters and landlubbers alike x

Thursday, 10 December 2009


Lydia, who wrote the play I went to see last week, has been taken away to a detention centre this morning. She's due to be deported before Christmas (she's being separated from her husband). Wish I could put all our shitty politicians on a boat and send em off somewhere, but I can't think of any country that quite deserves them.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A play

I don't go to see many plays but I like live performances of most kinds and tonight's was great. It was performed by a group of Manchester-based women asylum-seekers and written by Lydia, who is currently threatend by deportation. Her case is here..
Their group is called WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together)and they got together to try and combat the stressful isolation and humiliation of being an asylum-seeker in this country. Although from different countries, they have a shared understanding of what it is like to have left family and homeland behind out of fear and persecution and what it's like to face daily harrassment and mistrust as a result of fleeing their countries. Most have to travel to 'sign in' each week at Dallas Court - some have been doing this for 7 years! They never know if they will come out of that building by the front door or whether they will be removed by the back gate, and onto a plane. It's hard to imagine living with that kind of uncertainty.
They are not allowed to work and live off vouchers worth £35 a week. Anyway, to see this feisty, cheerful and mutually supportive group creating something lovely on stage, was wonderful. The singing was beautiful. The theatre was packed. I had a good night :-)

Sunday, 29 November 2009

My stove

It's turned pretty cold and I was enjoying the warmth from my stove this morning when I noticed just how much I depend on it.

There's my coat drying out from yesterday's downpour and my gloves hanging to the right after handling wet ropes. There are my muddy boots crisping up nicely on the step.
My endlessly congealing salt is drying out - yet again! Does everyone else afloat suffer from wet salt?! I'm doing my breakfast toast on the top, yum. And a towel from washing my hair is drying out under the window. Needless to say, my wet hair is also steaming away, this side of the camera :-)
Of course, I know that all that moisture is rising up and making its way to my bedroom at the far end of the boat and also creeping into the cupboard, awaiting the salt that lives there in-between stove lightings!

Friday, 27 November 2009

John Craxton

It wasn't until I heard 'Last Word' on the radio that I knew John Craxton had died. I loved his work. This is called 'Dreamer in a landscape' (1942)

Friday, 20 November 2009


I don't much like the small strip lighting I have on the boat, preferring candlelight. Now I've also bought a paraffin lamp and really like its warm glow and the fact that it generates heat too. Not as lovely as Sarah's lamp on Warrior but still useful :-)
I was looking at burning a more environmentally-friendly oil than paraffin and saw a website called Judy of the woods where it shows you how to make a veg-oil lamp. You can burn used cooking oil or olive oil, so I had a go with the second, just to see if it worked. Well, I think I need a proper wick rather than string as it's more like a match than a lamp! My next question is, could I burn olive oil in my new paraffin lamp.

I'm enjoying being on the move. The wind has been a bit of a challenge but the rain has been very considerate and held off until I moored up for lunch, then it stopped and the sun re-emerged just as I finished my coffee.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Letting loose

It's fun being on the move again - just a trip down the Macclesfield canal for a couple of weeks but feels good to be travelling.
I came across this loose boat this morning...

It's the third boat I've found wandering in the last couple of months and each time, I suspect it may be other boaters letting them loose. The reason I think that is because the mooring pins are carefully laid on the bow and stern deck and the centre rope, held by a chain, was unclipped and that placed on the roof. Also, each time, the boats have been moored in fairly inconvenient places - where the canal is narrow and shallow (in today's case) or perched on the end of permanent moorings.
Trouble is, if you have a problem with where a boat is moored, I guess there's nothing stopping you from moving it along but just letting it loose gives other boaters a hard time. Maybe it's just me, but I find it hard to go past a loose boat without at least trying to get it back to the bank. After all, the returning owner won't be able to access it at all.
Lovely sunshine yesterday, wild, wet and windy today. The nice thing about boating is that you never quite know what you're going to get next!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Ashby canal & UK Coal

This photo is a couple of years old, when I was on the Ashby canal. Back then I remember reading about hopes of restoring/extending the canal up to Measham but as usual, money was the problem.
Now I see that UK Coal is planning on developing an open cast mine near the village of Measham. One of the sweeteners? Extension of the canal! There is strong local opposition as can be seen on their protest website even though it seems that people do generally want the canal to reach their village. Much as I'd like to be able to continue a little further along that pleasant stretch of water, knowing I'd be heading towards the envionmental nightmare of an open cast mine would put me right off. Good luck to the people of Measham in their fight.

Monday, 19 October 2009


I was getting the train from Stockport today and met up with a primary school group, not in uniform but all looking somehow old-fashioned and sweet. Boys in short trousers and flat caps; girls with plaited hair and cardigans. Then I noticed they all carried brown paper parcels marked 'Gas Mask'. They'd been on a visit to the Stockport air-raid shelters. I'd never heard of them before but the kids told me about a huge maze of underground tunnels and hard hats and bunk beds. They were learning about wartime Britain - what a great way of bringing that to life!
What made me laugh though was the eager description (it obviously left the deepest impression) of a sixteen-seater toilet. Seems most suitable for an evacuation ;-)

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Bugsworth basin & Bunty

I took the boat to the end of the canal for a couple of nights at Bugsworth basin and practically had the place to myself. Only a couple of other boats that looked to be shared boats were there for a while. I was wondering that there weren't any local liveabords as it's a lovely green spot, away from the road and surrounded with trees but I guess the rather aggressive red sign threatening a £10 a night overstay charge on the 48hr limit was a bit off-putting.
As anyone who's been there knows, it's a warren of canal arms where boats loaded up with limestone and has been lovingly restored. There's also a 3D model of the way the basin used to look, along with old buildings, now long gone. Funnily enough, it only has a couple of little boat models in the whole basin, whereas I think the place was heaving with them at one time. Thing is, like some other canal restoration projects, I get the feeling that it's been restored more for the benefit of walkers/historians rather than boaters. It's maintained within an inch of its life! The very short grass was being shorn again while I was there; there are dog-bins every few yards and I didn't feel I could even chop wood alongside my boat for fear of getting messy splinters on the ground. I thought I was being paranoid until I came to fill up with water again before leaving. My hosepipe isn't very long so I had to start the tap running and dash onto the boat, holding it into the water tank and once it was full, dashed back out with it to stop the tap. Of course I left a watery trail behind me and an officious-looking character said "oh dear, you have made a mess"!
I did laugh though when some anarchic geese flew in and pooed the towpath up in 5 minutes. Childish, I know ;-)

Speaking of childish things, last week I came across a 'Bunty' magazine from 1972. I pounced on it, as I was 9 back then and remember reading Bunty sometimes and wanted to see if I recalled any of the characters, etc. I was horrified to see what sexist rubbish I was exposed to! It was all about 'straightening out' tom-boys, knowing how to behave in a ladylike way, cleaning a home. One story, involves a husband wanting to buy a new fridge. He says he'll dump the old one in the countryside and the wife gently reprimands him for being a 'litter-bug'. We later see it piled into a landfill. Ah - the dawning of environmental awareness in the world of Bunty!
A few pages later and my spirits rise as I see a quiz page where a girl is walking out in the countryside, with things that need identifying. Is this where I found my interest in nature perhaps? No! The quiz is titled 'Dangers in the countryside' and explains how a simple walk can result in disaster. You have to identify all the bad things that can happen, like an insect bite or nettle sting. It even had 'storm cloud' listed! It's a wonder girls ever ventured outside of their well-ordered homes.
Luckily, it doesn't look as though any of it has rubbed off on me ;-)

Friday, 9 October 2009

Leave it in the ground!

There's a community near Lanark in Scotland that has been opposing plans for an opencast mine at Mainshill Wood for the last few years. With four other mines in the area, I read that it's one of the heaviest mined areas in Europe and also happens to have the highest rates of cancer in Scotland.
In solidarity with the local people, anti-coal protesters have been camping on the proposed site since the summer. (http://coalactionscotland.noflag.org.uk/?page_id=415)
As well as the wonderful wildlife here that will be wiped out: deer, badgers, rabbits, bats, owls, pheasants, and some stoat-like creatures I couldn't identify (!), there's also a large lake at the bottom of the site. When you read up on opencast mining pollution and how sulphur in coal gets exposed to the air and rainwater, leaching a toxic mix into waterways, it seems unbelievable that the plans could even get permission.
Another sad thing is to look at the horizon. The hills rise and fall gently in the distance, until you suddenly see a flat table-top where a mine has been made and there's nothing but grey, stepped rubble. More lovely hills, then the next dead space
But what is lovely to see here, is the great relationship between local people and those camping in the tree-houses, tents and tunnels. As many local people are elderly or have children, they are only too glad to support people willing to sleep rough in the woods! They bring donated food, warm clothes, tarpaulins, tools for building defences against the excavators. They also fill water containers since Scottish Water closed off the mains pipe across the land.
At the moment, efforts are being made to stop or at least slow the tree-felling there as once this is completed, the way is open to the bulldozers and then mining can begin. (Didn't have my camera, so here's a sketch of the site being cleared)
People (that i think are amazingly brave!) are prepared to stay high up in the trees and down in tunnels to stop this going ahead. It's all about costing the company enough money to mean it's no longer economically viable as a project.
It's easy to get despondent about facing up to powerful corporations (in this case, Scottish Coal) but when you see how E-ON has backed down from expanding Kingsnorth power station, that's a real inspiration to environmental protesters to keep up the pressure. Sure, E-ON claim it's the recession that has put their plans on hold, but the huge and expensive disruption to their operations over the last couple of years must have taken their toll. They haven't been able to attend a single trade fair without actions taking place, a sustained campaign of protests and, thanks to Climate Camp, a raised awareness of their environmentally damaging plans. I had my doubts about the effectiveness of the coming Climate Swoop at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, but now I'm pretty damn sure this may have helped their decision to drop Kingsnorth - for the time being at least.
I hope the people of Mainshill take heart from this and see that ordinary people can take on giant corporations - and win!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Narrowboat cafes

I was thinking about how it might be fun to run a little cafe, a sort-of pot luck place with one set meal. Then I was day-dreaming about having that on a narrowboat and was remembering the couple of boats I've come across that are floating cafes - one popular place at Braunston called Gongoozler's Rest and another somewhere up the Oxford canal, above Great Heywood i think it was. I didn't try the first because it was all non-vegan fry-ups, but the second was lovely, moored next to a little orchard and garden with the fruit from the trees piled in glass bowls on the deck.. wish I could remember the name. Anyway, I was thinking about this when along came 'Dr Bradley's Linctus' - a boat belonging to Colin, a much-appreciated ally from Canal World Forum ;-) It was great to meet him in person and see inside the boat he is fitting out to be ......a cafe!!
One end is also to be a bookshop - how perfect is that!

Monday, 21 September 2009

My new feller

I'm pleased with my new axe. Splits logs in one swoooop! (Probably splits feet too, so I'd better watch out.)
The woman in the shop insisted I have a plastic bag over the axe head as "it's an offensive weapon and you might meet a policeman". Ha - that didn't save Harry Stanley, carrying a chair leg in a plastic bag.
Now all I need is a tree stump or something to chop logs on. I seem to come across them all the time until the day I actually want one!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Damn pump!

Grrr.. been trying to fix my pump all morning. For months there's been a long delay between turning on the tap and the water pump kicking in. I just slowly got used to it so it took my daughter coming to stay to make me realise it's not normal to wait two minutes for water from a tap! Remembering I have a boat guest next weekend, I was determined to sort it out.
I found a pressure switch thing at the end that needed an allen key size I didn't have (of course), but eventually dug out a mini-screwdriver that seemed to have done the trick. Just when it appeared to be working properly and I put everything away in the cupboard above the pump, the water delay started again. Twice. So now I've got it sort-of working fine, with coats and boots from the cupboard strewn around just in case it all goes wrong again!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Hanging onto summer

I made some jam today. Blackberry, damson and apple. I was thinking that it's a way of trying to keep something of the Summer as the season changes (too quickly!). So, I put a few of my photos here to remember where I went and things I did and people I met, even if they aren't in the pictures. They're just for me - the jam, I'm willing to share if anyone's passing!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Falling out

It's a good idea to try and stay friendly with people on the canals as you see them again and again on your travels! But I'm afraid I've had a falling out with a boat moored not far away, which is annoying.
I was standing looking out of the side hatch as a little lad came slowly past in his small canoe. A narrowboat then came shooting by us both, pinning him to the side of my boat! I shouted to them to slow down and pointed out the little canoe sandwiched there but they just sped on, shouting back insults and one showing me his bum (ok, why DO men do this?!). Another bloke on board shouted "Slapper!" which cheered me up instantly as I'm sadly lacking in the slapper gene ;-) Although having said this, I realise I had automatically given the arse a rating of 2/10 (white, saggy & distinctly unappealing) and mentally compared it unfavourably with more lovely ones, so maybe they do have a point!

Sunday, 9 August 2009


Once you lie down in a place like this, you just want to drift off into flowery sleep.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Boy in 'the jungle'

K. is a small 14 yr old Afghan boy, living in the bleak scrub around Calais. He's been there a couple of months, having spent many more months travelling through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy and France, to wash up here, at this final border to his hopes of a new life. Along the way, he's taught himself enough English to communicate well.

He looks smaller than a 14 yr old, yet also a lot older. He's made friends with other unaccompanied children - a 13 yr old and another lad of 15 and they laugh and muck about with each other like any other kids would. Another boy emerges who can't be more than 10 but who comes to solemnly shake your hand like an old man.

K is wearing trainers donated by a local charity group. Like many there, his shoes don't fit, so he wears them with the heels folded down at the back but still spends ages arranging the laces in neat lines to look cool. His hands are covered with cuts and bruises, one thumb and palm distended from another failed attempt to throw himself onto a passing lorry heading to the UK. This is his life now.

He talks about the differences he has noticed between his own country and the cultures he has come across on his journey. He says his ideas have changed about women since travelling and seeing how different their roles are outside Afghanistan. Other freedoms have been noted and stored away as goals for his own life. This bright, sensitive lad longs to go to school.
Some dates and chocolate are passed round and hungry as they are, everyone at first politely refuses, then after encouragement, takes just one piece. As the night grows colder, he shuffles off, returning with a blanket for you, not himself. Someone else offers tea. An 18 yr old offers up their own sleeping place in the jungle, safe from where drunken locals sometimes come to attack them. K tells me that one thing he is proud of in Afghanistan is their hospitality. He says that if someone comes to the poorest house in the village, they will be welcomed and given the best food. Even your enemy cannot be turned away if in need.
He stays up all night, afraid of the rumoured raid on the encampment. At one point, he raises his head to sniff the air. "Smells of police" he says. It sounds like a joke until you sniff too and smell the CS gas. But this time, they haven't come for him and he relaxes and begins to sing quietly, joined by his young friends. They sing in Pashtu, a gentle undulating tune. Later, someone produces a walkman and shares one ear-piece with K and the two boys begin a beautiful, slow dance on the ends of their wires - eyes closed, humming, the graceful movements of hands and feet. You have to look away.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


I saw this dragonfly slowly opening its wings and stay motioness all afternoon, waiting for them to dry in the sunshine...

..because it had just emerged from this first nymphal skin, below. (looked that bit up in my book!).

You can see where it burst out of the back!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

'lost people'

Adie, a lovely guy I met through climate camp has been deported back to the UK from an Israeli jail. He was on another Free Gaza boat mission and got detained in an immigration prison. One comment he made has stuck in my head. He said, on seeing the terrible way immigrants were kept, sometimes for years on end “It was like dipping your toe in an enormous pool of lost people”.
A link to this: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/07/433971.html

Immigration prisons. Since when did migration become a crime? People, birds, animals, fish migrate and always have done. When you call it a prison, you criminalise everyone trapped inside and that makes it 'ok' to lock em up. Or you call it a Detention centre, that disgusting euphemism, as though the men, women and children in places like Yarlswood are not really being mistreated, humiliated and traumatised, only 'detained'. There are around 2000 children being 'detained' in the UK. And here's an interesting link to a report on the way they live:

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Well dressed

Off on a wander, I found a marquee where people were preparing for a well-dressing. Before I knew it, I was pressing dried camomile and parsley into a foam base! It's painstaking work. The woman doing the parsley was going quietly mad - I had the impression that anyone mentioning parsley sauce in the future, will be instantly punched ;-)

The picture represents the Goyt valley with its reservoir and the celebration is in praise of water. It's all made of seeds, petals, flowers, stones, wood, leaves and it was like making miniature pictures in the garden when you're a child (only this was serious stuff ! ;-)
There's an interesting gender divide whereby the women make the picture, the men carry it out and assemble it. Bits drop off and the women blame the men. It's a tradition!
Anyway, I went along again today for the little ceremony where school children sang beautifully, the local band played and the vicar tried to lay church claim to this pagan custom.
I thought the final result looked great. I've been invited to help make it next year. That must mean I'm local now!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Statues & shrines

I set out to find the church whose spire I could see, poking out above trees. The sun had hardly gotten a look-in all day and it started raining just as I arrived but the church seemed like an exotic transplant from a warmer place. I suppose it's because I remember the Catholic churches and roadside shrines where I used to live in south west France.

It was the statue that started the memories coming. On this white figure, the only colour is some red paint to show blood at the nail wounds in hands and feet. I remember watching a very old lady in France, carefully refreshing the red paint done in exactly the same way. What struck me was that she was standing on some steps held in place by one man and the pot of paint was held by another. They could easily have done the job but I had the impression that this was her role and that she had done it for many years.
It made me think of the small elite group among Aboriginal people who maintain and refresh the rock paintings.

Then I came across this sort-of cave shrine which was pretty surreal, as it was made of concrete, built up over a breeze-block shed! It looked a bit strange in the Peak district but must be a comfort to the visiting Fathers who come regularly from abroad to stay in the new annex they've recently built. Apparently they come over to go walking in the hills around here.
I know this because I got chatting to a volunteer who was levelling out an area to accommodate cremation plaques. He was a very cheerful soul who said with great enthusiasm "We're hoping to squeeze 70 in here!"

Monday, 8 June 2009

Settling in

I'm getting to know the place now; where to find good bread, local veg, vegan goodies, etc.
In answer to David's question, I've registered with a GP and joined the library like anyone else would, though I gave my parent's home as a permanent address and they wrote 'narrowboat Blackbird, the Marina' on my file. I guess they wanted something more concrete than 'The Towpath'! The thing is though, no-one at the nearby marina has a clue who I am but it's consoling to know that in the event of my having an incurable disease or, more usefully, an overdue library book, the marina will be the first to know ;-)

Discovering the gorgeous footpaths around here is on-going fun, especially when you aren't sure where you'll end up. My dog loves leaping along the paths and rivers and there's also a nature reserve right alongside the towpath where I'm moored up. It's a bit tempting to spend all day outside, wandering in fields instead of doing purposeful things, which I must.
I've also met a few local boaters who are moored about 1/2 mile away and been along for a few drinks with them. Nothing nicer than sitting out by boats, chatting, playing with dogs. So far, I still have no neighbours along my stretch, just a couple of unoccupied boats.
oh yes - of vital importance! I've found three lime trees in the area, all about to burst out in blossom. I was worried I'd missed the short flowering time. It's my favourite tea.

Friday, 29 May 2009


This is Jim, though I think of him as Bird-Man. He was actually quite happy to be photographed but doesn't do 'camera smile'. Good for him!
Every morning for the last 10 years, he's done a circuit of the valley, feeding birds along the way. A group of pigeons meets him outside a pub for the first feed, then swoop across country to meet up with him as he rounds the towpath near my boat for a second feeding. Some perch on his arm.
Then futher on, the jackdaws gather and he carries different food for different birds. There's bread for ducks, pigeons and geese, seeds for little birds and dog biscuits for jackdaws, a couple of squirrels and ..er my dog. In fact it looks like every tow-path mutt knows Jim and he seems to have time for them all.

Sunday, 24 May 2009


A lovely moment on the water today.
I was heading back to my mooring after visiting the water-point when I came across a boy sailing his beautiful model boat. I suppose he was 'driving' it really as it was remote-controlled. There were no other boats around and I slowed, then stopped to watch and cut the engine too. His boat moved so quietly! He made it dance up and away from mine, overtaking me, then back down along my sides.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Still blethering...

Ok, the 'flight' moment has passed and I find I still want to blog. However, I don't think this will be a boat blog anymore, as I'm on a fixed mooring now and will have nothing to relate. But I still want to write up some of the things that happen to me and about people I meet and to keep a record for myself. (If I'm on your boat blog-roll, you may want to remove me, won't mind!)

I had great help in getting near my mooring, from Simon on nb Tortoise. Without his cheerful energy, I'd have still been languishing back at Sandbach, waiting for the wind to drop. Anyone else thinking of inviting him aboard, do ask to sample his excellent apple crumble!

I had been going to spend a second night at Marple junction but changed my mind after some lads chucked a half-eaten pack of jelly on my solar panels. I darted out and chucked the pack after the escaping gigglers which wasn't a good idea cos my dog leapt after it and ate the lot before I could rugby-tackle him to the ground. No adverse reactions to the high sugar content, thank goodness, although I was sorry to see his poo didn't emerge in a beautiful jelly-mould shape as I'd hoped.

Anyway, I continued up the canal, managing one lift bridge well, then making a ridiculous mistake with the second. The boat was hanging well back from the bridge as I tied up the bow and started winching up the bridge with the windlass. Then I noticed the boat drifting gently forwards and that I'd left too much slack in the rope. Faster and faster I turned the windlass but it winched only a few inches at each turn and the boat continued drifting forwards until it crunched into the half-open bridge. Having broken one half of the glass-fronted cratch cover a year or so ago (when the gear cable snapped and unable to slow and stop, I hit a tree), I've now done in the other half.

My mooring is pretty and the surrounding landscape exciting - all plunging ravines and rolling hills. Makes me want to paint. Here's the view I have in front of my boat.

It's what I wanted of course. To have a base. To not be burning diesel just for the pleasure of travelling. But knowing I'm here in one place is also a bit scary for me. I immediately set out on a five mile walk as though to reassure myself that I can escape if I want!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Last post

Hey gentle reader (yes, all 2 of you!).
I'm giving up this blog, but if anyone wants to get in touch for any reason, you can always contact me via my craft website (link over to the right).
If you're boating, keep an eye out for Blackbird. There are a couple of 'Blackbirds' out there so yell 'Carrie!' to make sure ;-)
If you're dreaming of boating, do it! It's lovely.
I sometimes add stuff to the L.I.L.O website (low impact life on board: link on the right) and if you're interested in 'greener' boating, check it out. It's been compiled by people finding practical solutions that don't wreck the waterways and is a good way of meeting other like-minded boaters too.
Love, rage, peace & solidarity
- Carrie x

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Spring fare

This month I have mostly been eating... (ok, not mostly, I've had SOME..;-)
nettles, ramsons, Jack-by-the hedge, hawthorn leaves and cleavers. Just taking some leaves from some plants where they're abundant.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Moving on & mooring up

So, I'm on the Shropshire Onion canal, watching Spring arriving as I head further north. My doggy friend has taken to kipping out on the back deck - a sure sign of raised temperature.

Even I, with all my rooftop tat can fit under these bridges.

The view outside my side hatch:

At Market Drayton, I changed the oil and filter and also the fuel filter and I do feel pleased with myself, even though I must admit to having excellent guidance in the form of John - ex-engineer off the P&O ferries! Without his help, the bleeding of the engine afterwards would have all gone horribly wrong. He was travelling in convoy with 2 boat buddies and I was glad to see them at Adderley locks to be able to return the favour and do a bit of lock-wheeling.
I've been sorting out my planters and seed boxes, anxious to put my rainwater roof to it's secondary springtime use: a greenhouse.
Here I am, coming down through Audlem's 15 locks -starting at dawn to avoid the Easter holiday-makers. How dare they use MY waterways?!

Oh yes, I've got a mooring! I'm so so glad. It's oop north, so I'm heading for the Macclesfield canal, via the Middlewich branch (no horrible Harecastle tunnel for me). I already feel as though things have changed. I'll have a base. I may even get to know people for longer than two days - aaaggghh!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


I had a good weekend in Hebden Bridge with the Callis boat community, learning how to maintain my engine and do some 12V electrics. Lovely laid-back people sharing their skills for free. I'm looking forward to changing the fuel and oil filters now, something I'm ashamed to say I've always paid someone else to do!

I didn't get that mooring I tendered for and feel more disappointed than I thought I would. Someone swooped in, paying £500 above the guide price, which presumably then pushes up the 'guide price' on all the other moorings in the area afterwards? Oh well, I'll just have to keep an eye out for other places.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


It was lovely to meet up with Bill again yesterday. He's 85 and has been travelling on the canals for nearly 30 years now. What I like about Bill is that he's open-hearted. He's particularly friendly with solo boaters, sharing the pleasures and pitfalls of that lifestyle.
You get chatting to him and within 5 minutes you're in his boat having coffee and talking about everything under the sun.
I like going on his boat which is quirky and homely and I steal ideas for my own boat.
He also insists on giving presents! We'd been talking about Spain (he's learnt Spanish so he can be his friendly self over there too!) and I came away with a fine Alfonso XII bottle opener which I am currently putting to good use on a bottle of Westons cider - yum.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Naming things

I'm moored by a copse of mature trees and woke to the lovely sound of woodpeckers. The canal is quite narrow here so I have a good view of the trees on the other side of the water, that has escaped the chainsaw massacre thank goodness and where there is loads going on!
As well as the the squirrel hanging on to too-small twigs over the water, I watch a beautiful rat swimming efortlessly to the tree roots, then clamber about, looking into holes, rummaging among leaves, pausing to chew. I drop a spoon in the sink and they both stop still for a moment and stare back. I imagine them, bearing their various persecutions well in the knowledge that one day, we humans will mess up big time and they'll be ready!

I can see treecreepers skittering up the trunks like Spiderman, digging into the bark with long sharp beaks; a robin perches for a moment and is seen off by a great tit, then I'm filled with nerdish joy as I recognise a female great spotted woodpecker (just about see-able in the photo).

I remind mysef that it's only called a great spotted woodpecker in this country and in this century and that names are fluid, changing things. I'm wondering why I need to have names at all. I know there's a group understanding reason, so that when someone says "Ooh look, there are 2 magpies" we know what to look at. Perhaps there's a showing-off reason ("It was a female great spotted woodpecker, doncha know!").
But why do I hurry to find the right name when I'm alone, with no-one to share it with? Perhaps it's a replacement for holding or touching the bird/animal etc. I don't want to dig up that plant but I can carry its name home. Then I recognise and name it when I see it again, like happily greeting a friend ( in my head that is, I don't want to be named as 'that mad woman'). Perhaps it's simply a way of making the world familiar and unthreatening. I don't know. I think about my friend still in Gaza who is getting to grips with Arabic and wonder if she has an urge to learn the names of the birds and animals and plants around her. I'll ask when she comes home and isn't taken up with the small matter of saving lives!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

This mooring business

As I mentioned in a previous post, after three years of boating, I'm now looking for a mooring. I want to be able to leave the boat for weeks at a time and go gallivanting. Also, having failed in my attempts to run the boat on used veg oil, I don't feel able to keep travelling around on diesel while cursing car drivers.
So, I'm now knee-deep in the 'sealed tender' process of BW's mooring system. To some of my boaty associates (who consider BW stands for Brutish Waterways), this involvement will seem a betrayal, but speaking personally, I have far greater ethical problems with enriching a livestock farmer for a 'farmer's field' mooring. Where I see exploitation and abuse of animals seen as commodities to be thrown away unless profitable, I just couldn't bear to hand over cash to further that system. But every boater has to find their own solution to the mooring problem and I don't knock anyone but the profiteers.
I'd much prefer a farmer's field mooring, for the peace and informality they seem to offer and I've seen some that have a lively community feel that makes me very envious!
Anyway, so far I've made one tender and failed to get the mooring. I was only second in line and offered £200 under the guide price, but the successful bidder paid £600 more than my offer! That means they're tied into that price for 3 years if they stay. It does seem a harsh process and you just don't know how to pitch it, especially as some moorings have gone for less than expected. I'm trying for another mooring now but am just as uncertain how to play it.

Two things are on my mind: to commit to making a tender, I imagine myself in the new place and therefore start to lay all sorts of plans which I mustn't do because I probably won't get the mooring! Secondly, I wonder who's currently in that mooring. Is it a family who have put down roots for years, with kids in school, local jobs, friends etc? Are they desperately trying to hang onto their home spot, scraping together the most they can offer to keep it? Or am I up against wealthy boat-owners who normally keep their holiday boat in a marina, but are now looking to save a couple of grand by getting a linear mooring instead?
Oh well, if I'm not successful, at least I can't be evicted, lose my home or get sacked and in today's climate that's much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Love & rage in an English village

Waiting for a friend to arrive from Wolverhampton and mixing up the dates, I spent a week in Compton village, described in my canal guide as 'busy but uninteresting'. Bit damning eh!
It's busy because it's had the misfortune to be ripped through the middle by an A road but the cars don't simply roar through. They smog and clog up a big roundabout that was built on the site of the village square. The valiant residents semaphore to each other from different sides and schoolkids watch for the gap to dart across to their friends. What a plague cars are. I'd cheerfully see them all sledgehammered, especially when there's such an excellent bus service in and out of Wolverhampton. I'm filled with rage and want to scream "Get out of your bloody cars you selfish morons!"
I went to the nearest pub to the canal - The Oddfellows. It belongs to the road. I'm sure many people love it but the few people drinking in there seemed to be passing through to somewhere else. Two women clutching handbags stared at me throughout, as though they'd never seen a lone woman in a pub - BUYING A DRINK. I gulped down my cider, glad that I'd just bought a half. On the walls, among the standard pub chain pics were a couple of photos of old Compton that made me want to weep. Wide empty lanes with people walking in them. I wanted to find something, anything of that village and besides, I didn't feel I'd had 'a drink out' yet, so set off to the Swan pub further along. It's very old and from the moment I went in I could see these people weren't heading off anywhere else. On the walls were sepia photographs of people, smiling shyly, now long dead, which I always find incredibly moving. I fell in love with the picture of one young lad and the man he must have become and the old fellow I hope he lived to be. Apart from the charm of an old, quirky pub building with its warren-like rooms, the people inside were friendly, open and welcoming. I learnt about some of the history of the village, the posh hall up the road and how carriage wheels had to be covered to muffle the noise of deliveries to not disturb the gentry. I heard about the estate and farmland that were quarried for sandstone that has left the surrounding area with sudden valleys, but which are now covered in heathland and trees and allotments. The surrounding land has become a nature reserve and it's so uplifting to see young trees beginning a forest. I would love to come back in 50 years and walk among them then. I may need to be dug up first, but hey.
The old railways line has become a walker's trail and loads of people use it every day.

Here's just one section of the fantastic gates on the 'Wolverhampton Environment Centre'. I was dying to see what lay beyond but it seemed closed each time I passed, unfortunately.

One thing that makes me rage though (yes, I know, add it to the list) is the habit of nailing bits of plastic to cut-down trees. Talk about adding insult to injury. Worse still, is putting them on growing trees, a constant reminder that the hand of man is on every sodding thing. Ten long nails driven into healthy woody flesh. I suppose it's aimed at children but can't they be encouraged to look out for amazing map lichen and buds instead?

The fine folk of Compton don't just hang out in the Swan pub. People in the launderette, the chippy (very nice!), dog-walkers seem to be very friendly. It doesn't seem to be a place where folk are barricaded in or barricaded out like many English villages I visited.
And I haven't mentioned the Hospice which is an important place in Compton. It's in a big old mansion and in one of two nearby buildings (the stables perhaps) is the busiest charity shop I've ever visited. If you hang around for 10 minutes, half the stock seems to change with constant sales and replenishments! I found two beautiful/ugly cast iron candlesticks which I love.
The second building has a tea-room/cafe. From posters, I see that there are regular live music gigs and other events in the village pubs and nearby schools, all supporting this hospice. Here was a real sense of community that the canal guide and all those drivers passing through, had missed. There's a whole other hidden story to tell of boaters here (who one shiny boater near me dismissed as "scruffy overstayers") supporting each other by collecting gas and coal for their elderly and infirm neighbours, popping in just to check they're okay or bringing the paper. I hate people and the things they do. I love people and the things they do.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Where do birds go..

..when we cut down the trees?

With BW cutting down so many along the canals, perhaps they could get together with farmers, landowners, local communities, schools and Treesponsibility, to plant thousands of new trees, set further back from the canals?

No, apparently this is the way forward ....