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.