Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Internet Shopping

When pay as you go 3G USB modems were £99, I knew I didn't miss the internet that much. Now they're £49, I thought I'd give it a go.

They had them on sale in PC World - great - walk in, buy, get going...

The DVD boxes they use represent the product had minimal information, although they did say something about top-ups lasting 30 days... no data costs or anything. So I asked someone, Who asked someone else. Who went to find the most junior member of staff to deal with me, who still knew nothing. The 30 day thing is diabolical - if you don't use the data credit you've bought within 30 days, you lose it. Yes, lose it. If they did that on phones they'd never get away with it, and if grocers claimed back the food after a week, or a pub took back what's left of your pint after 20 mins - how can they justify this, other than being money grabbing? A letter to Ofcom should be written, but probably won't.

They also had no information ANYWHERE about data costs, and they actually had to ring '3' themselves to find out. So, if there's any PC World employees reading, £10 gets you 1Gb, £15 gets you 3Gb and £25 7Gb. Or rather, that's how much you can go up to within a month before paying more, before they grab it back after 30 days. Presumably the bulk discounts on higher amounts are to get as much money as they can upfront, whether you use it or not...

All hardly ideal, but since I mainly want to use it for August, I decided to get one anyway. At the till, they tried to charge me £69. Ah, we've brought the wrong one out, they said. The manager went to have a look, then told me there were two models, and they only had the more expensive one, although he couldn't tell me what the difference was, or what the other model was - so sounds like backpedalling bullshit to me, as he 'as a courtesy' overrode the till and sold it to me for the originally quoted price.

Of course I didn't dare say I was going to be using it on an Asus eee linux laptop, as it's not supported, even though PC World sell them. It works, after a bit of faffing, but since I'm not going to put any credit on it until next week to avoid being done over by the 30 day rule, all I can get get at so far on it is the three.co.uk website. Whether it continues to work, and I continue to fill up the internet with rubbish remains to be seen, let alone whether it was worth getting on for an hour of hassle in a tin shed on the Great West Road...

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Mon 21st - Armitage to Stone

The annrow stretch of 'Armitage Tunnel' - was a tunnel, now a glorified road bridge.

I woke up early, so left early, shortly after seven, so passed through & beyond Rugeley to the accompaniment of the Today programme and a John Shuttleworth show found on BBC7.

Swans that know their place (you might need to click for the big pic for this to make sense):

At Great Heywood I forsook the turning to Wolverhampton and a shorter trip home... For the rest of the day there were occasional locks, but when I got to Stone itself there were four deep locks, all requiring driving the boat in and climbing up the ladder - more of a trial due to mud on clothes than anything else. I avoid this in double locks as the boat tends to wander off from under you, so it at least feels safer in single locks. I couldn't pull the baot in after hopping off on the way in due to bridge across the mouth, and one one instance there wasn't anyhwere to get off. The other boaters were the usual mixture of very helpful people and people who didn't know what they're doing... the former included two women on the boat behind who kept on catching up with me, and would finish off the lock for me (then working another boat down or emptying it s they could use it), which was lovely of them.

I've moored at the top of the locks, in what hopefully are two week moorings, as that's what I'll need... heading back to London tomorrow to finish off a PA system, amongst other things. It's going to be a shock, after more than a week continously on the canal, and two weeks travelling in total. August should see at least three weeks on the water, if not more.

Stone's an interesting place, with a fiendish one way system and a station that trains don't stop at (frustratingly). They take their football (Stoke City, of course), seriously around here, though, even in the violin makers:

Once back, I'll head up to Stoke on Trent and branch off up the Caldon canal to Froghall, then back down, and on up to Harecastle tunnel (followed by a shedload of locks, according to the guide) and Middlewich, where I start heading south again on a section of the Shropshire Union. Then of course the Llangollen there & back, back on to the Shropshire, then Wolverhampton & Birmingham. After that back to Braunston, where I can choose to do the South Oxford & thames again - the upper Thames is tempting too, but I do need to see how time goes - I will be almost certainly be back at work by then, and whilst I'm happy to canal sections on long weekends, I'd rather do the Thames in one stint (cost of extra licence, and overnight mooring being significant). We'll see...

Sun 20th July Polesworth to Armitage (as in Shanks?)

Another lateish start and lateish finish - a shame, as I do like early mornings on the canal - thankfully evenings can be just as pretty, and I'm amazed that everyone seems to be moored up by six, mostly, anyway.

Tamworth was fairly long and tedious (as were the indecisive showers), lots of bog standard houses backing on to the canal - nice for them, obviously. The new flats alongside the two Glascote locks are built on the site, of the Reliant car factory, I was told by an oldish guy, who used to make deliveries to Brentford in his working days. A little further on, just before the Tame viaduct, I passed Andrew Denny on Granny Buttons, optimistically in shorts and t-shirt whilst I was still in wet weather gear after the morning's rain. On up through the Coventry canal (or was it Birmingham & Fazeley - there's a certain amount of identity crisis around here), stopping off in Whittington for food at the co-op, then passing Streethay boatyward without anyone suggesting I stretch my boat, despite their reputation.

All I remember about Hopwas (great name) was a line of shiny canal boats all occupied by people doing jigsaws. Whether this is or isn't representive of the place, I'm not sure.

Somewhere in a line of moored boats was this one - a recurring nightmare for us all:

Fradley Junction took me on to the Trent & Mersey canal - still an 'old' single lock canal - and a very bizzare experience. There's three locks going up out of the junction, and a bit of a queue, especially by the top one. I was third, and helped two hire boats up and one down (one of the hirers attempted to sink their boat by opening the gate paddles on to the bow, but confounded by the fact that it was a 'Canaltime' one with no front deck). As I was finally working my own boat through (another hire boat waiting behind) an old guy who had been hanging around started issuing orders to the kids from the hire boat. 'Sorry mate, it's my boat in the lock' I said, ansd which point he turned on me, told me I was a 'very selfish man' and how I was holding 'everyone' up. I couldn't quite believe this, especially when he then warned me not to go too fast past his boat, which had been sitting moored above the lock showing no inclinations of wanting to come down at any point. I'm 'selfish', and yet worked through three other boats, and he'd helped nobody.

I suppose my point is that people on the canals are generally so great, that behaviour which might not get a second glance in a city is completely out of place here. He's the kind of guy who isn't going to see anyone's viewpoint but his own, he's got a right to enjoy the canals just as much as, say, the Daily Mail has to exist or Westlife have to make records, sadly - but it's the old liberal conundrum. I just wish he chose to enjoy canals 'his' way somewhere else.

More generally, I'm finding I'm surprised how many people don't have clear in their mind the concept that the crew of the boat in the lock are in control, say when paddles are raised etc (and which ones as well) etc. I suspect this is more crystallised for single handed boaters than others (who won't ncessarily see what's important to us and what isn't), but it's still a fairly fundamental rule in my book, even for hire boats - who I'm trying very hard not to get bigotted about. ;-)

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Sat 19th july Hinckley to Polesworth

With a little sadness I left the Ashby canal behind me...

... and bypassed Nuneaton, alhough I did finally meet a boat called 'Hare' - sadly charging out of a bridge on a blind bend, I'd sounded my horn but hadn't heard theirs - we got away with it, wind notwithstanding.

Atherstone is a sweet little market town full of charity shops (four lovely carpentry books for a pound, in my case) and pound shops in all but name, and a one way main street. Not having studied the journey ahead in great detail, I hadn't realised the Atherstone flight consisted of 11 locks in approx 2 miles - for the last few I knew there was a boat behind me so I was backsetting them as I left, which of course made my steady single-handed lock progress even slower, but they never really caught up. I'm reluctant to backset a lock (start refilling it after leaving it, leaving a paddle or two up as I go) without knowing they're definitely behind me and no-one is coming the other way, but it does help if it works out.

Half way down I passed a lovely 70 year old woman bringing her new pride & joy - a 26' Springer - home, and loving every minute of it. Whilst most people are friendly on the canals, some are distinctly po-faced, and some are loving every second. But that's another post, one day...

Gratuitous evening swan shot:

I moored for the night in Polesworth where a mention of music 'in church', turned out to be a stage behind the church, complete with bar & food stall - and very happy vicar (very sweetly called 'Phil' by all & sundry). Got there, they told me the box office was closed but let me in anyway. Didn't take camera, but I saw the 'Polesworth Rythm and Blues band' - must have been 12 piece plus, all apparently local musicians put together for the event every year. Chatting to the viacr I suggested he put up a banner or poster for passing boaters to see - so many must have passed through or moored up that weekend without knowing anything about the weekend festival.

I walked back to the boat (past the fire station hosting a quiz night, apparently being taken very seriously from what I could see) still appreciating that full moon, lighting up canal from the clear sky - there's something quite magical about moonlight shadows (and the Mike Oldfield soing isn't that bad, either).

Friday, 18 July 2008

Fri 18th July Snarestone to Hinckley

Going back along a route already travelled is fine - familiar with the same landmarks, but different, like looking out of a train window backwards, you see different things. I also had more of a chance to get a picture of this ornamental boat quay, just before going back into the tunnel:

On the way down to Hinckley there's a railway bridge where they haven't restored the track for the steam railway - I tried to moor up against piling to walk up and have a look, but sat the boat on gravel a few feet out - the guide warns against this, I managed to shove off again but didn't get to go exploring.

I made it into Hinckley town in tiem to buy some small storage boxes (much needed) and some fresh veg (always welcome. The town centree I found frankly a bit dull, but that evening I met up with Lee, ex of Willowtree, who pointed out the only decent pub (the Wharf) and curry house (Simla) were next to each other and a short hop from the canal (and Trinity Marina). Lovely food, and a good old natter mainly about the problems of dealing with old-school bigotry, neatly rounded off by bumping into Graham I'd met in the pub in Stoke Golding, who neatly provided a few examples. ;-(

(38l diesel at Stoke Golding)

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Thurs 17th July Stoke Golding to Snarestone

Before heading off I walked back into the village to look at the Church. A sign on the locked door promised me I'd find the key outside No 4 of the cottages beside - it wasn't, but a jolly old chap I'd seen through the window listening to something on a huge hifi opened the door when I knoocked holding it. No pictures, as I used a proper old SLR with black an white film (as seemed only fitting) and they need chemicals, and time...

Once on the water I spotted a boat called No Problem, but not the famous one (and they're obviously elsewhere anyway). There'll be a post full of boat names to come at some point, I'm sure...

Speaking of which: here's 'Hare' hammering out of a blind bridge at a rate of knots, appropriately enough;

I was fascinated to see 'real' bullrushes in the banks, and wondered if I'd only ever seen them before in children's books. That can't be the case, surely?

They also seem to grow walkers in the fields round here:

Stopped at Market Bosworth for a breif explore; the road up into the old square seems to be mostly new houses being built. The steam railway passes through but there's no access to the (closed) station. Further up at Shackerstone the [steam railway] station wasn't technically open, but a guy working on carriages (also a director of the line, an ex BR railway fitter and owner of 5 shirehorses) showed me how to climb in and was quite happy for me to have a look around and peer in windows:

Life's hard for a volunteer run steam railway; they only really make money, he said from the 'Thomas' theme days, and they're run on such a tight franchise it's hardly worth doing. More exciting for me are the 'Ivor the Engine' days that happen occasionally, although they can surely only appeeal to the parents, not the children?

There's also this sign nearby, which I have no idea about, but I like the bitterness of it... The pub in the vollage, the Rising Sun, was closed weekday afternoons (takes me back, that does) so I took a photo of Tortoise through the trees, and carried on.

and then ran out of canal at Snarestone (dreadful flat picture, it was raining, but symbolic nevertheless):

In the evening I got to know a few of the 'residents' (which kind of explains why someone wopuld need to run a generator on a 48 hour mooring), and rewired my batteries with the new cables done for me at Midland Chandlers - much tidier now. Later I walked back along the towpath and over the tunnel to the Globe pub, walking back by the lane in the moonlight.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Weds 16th July Rugby (Newbold) to Stoke Golding

On the way into the library I'd spotted a proper picket line at a council depo, on the way out I got chatting to a good old fashioned reporter-with-notebook and photographer combo scouring the streets. I also found a few charity shops, inevitably.

Newbold tunnel is short, with a towpath - to make it more pedestrian friendly is was floodlit with coloured lights - difficult to photograph without going into manual settings, but I gaveit a go (it felt a lot more light than this, it's just that the floodlights were so bright and confused the camera):

On the way to Marston junction I passed a boatyward that looked like a pile of boats; this was spotted in a corner:

I turned on to the Ashby canal at Marston - it instantly felt slower, quieter - I was dithering whether to do this diversion, but I was soon glad I did.

There was even a boat which would be perhaps more in keeping with my political leanings...

I passed through Hinckley, knowing I was stopping there on the way back, and went on to Stoke Golding, where I continued my habit of wandering into the public bar of the local at 10.30 at night.

Weds 16th July

Still in Rugby, in town to find some internet to post the past few day's entries, some of which will get fleshed out a little more in the future. The ebay treo has complete crashed & wiped itself, even, so no more mobile internet, I'm afraid.

There's a council workers strike here - saw a cheery picket line near the station on the way in to town, takes me back. In other good news the Co-op are buying Somerfield - more fair trade stuff in Brentford, then, as my local supermarket - a smallish Somerfield - has always been decidedly lacking in this regard. I'm also fond of the random special offers they seem to do on electrcial goods - the big DAB radio I have on the boat was £20, for example.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

15th July - Weedon Bec to Rugby (Newbold)

Passing through Braunston Tunnel I got the trumpet out, it sounded great - this one you can see both ends, so I knew I had the tunnel to myself. Can't help wondering if it was audible either end, though. The idea of daily practice to see what lip I can get back hasn't happened, but it's fun to have along.

I shared Braunston locks with a friendly holidaying family from Nuneaton - various locals hanging around tried to yell instructions at the son, which was annoying - no-one gives instructions but those responsible for the boat in the lock, thank you very much. I ambled past the shiny 'replica' boats in Braunston, but stopped off at Midland Chandlers and had some battery cables made up before the turn onto the North Oxford - a significant moment as I'm now away from the route I've taken previously, where I carried on and headed on to the south Oxford instead. A few miles in there was a line of four or five boats all moored up a good few boat lengths apart, in the middle of nowhere - obviously not together, so why moor up near each other? If it's too save other boats slowing down so much for them, they could be a little closer... one woman pointed out there was a prison close by, but I'm not sure that in much of a reason. ;-)

I decided to carry on through Rugby - first single locks on the journey, too, with a little help from a local who was sitting on the beam as I arrived, and moored up weill after nine just before Newbold Tunnel.

Some more natural topiary - what do you see?

The guide book advertises two good pubs by Bridge 50 - 'The Boat' has closed down, so I went to the other one, who cliamed it had closed down due to the new management of their pub. ;-) very sweet locals in there - all chatting & debating sport quiz questions - where was the football world cup held in 1954, anyway? Various community singing of old hits, too, and from the accents I'm definitely in the midlands now. ;-)

Monday, 14 July 2008

Mon 14th July - Cosgrove to Weedon Bec

Stoke Bruene locks (pre-setting last one, grumpy lock keeper) Blisworth tunnel, Helen, Plume of Feathers food, Neil & wife doing up boat.

Topiary just before Weedon (I think it was there, anyway)

(more to add on this one)

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Sun 13th July - Wolverton to Cosgrove (!)

A useful morning of pottering & tidying, as Carol was coming up for the afternoon to Wolverton station, having worked late the previous night. Once collected, we did the short trip to Cosgrove and had a long lunch in the Barley Mow, before walking Carol back to Wolverton for the train, bring my bike for a quck journey back. In the evening Mike drove up from Milton keynes and we tried out the Navigation for more beer (for me) - very much a two miles, one lock and two pubs day. Good to do.

Before Mike arrived, I had time to mount the horn properly, and also temporarily wire in a headlight - essential for the tunnels coming up.

I'd spotted previously that the screws holding the centre line T had started to sheer and had stopped using it, so I was able to drill, tap & remount that. I tried mounting it futher forward, 1/3 along the boat as I'd read somewhere - as it turned out, a failed experiment, as it's far too far off centre to hold the boat securely with only one rope - nice to pull the boat along on, though. part of the reason for moving it in the first place is that I'd realise I'd put the stove more less at the same centre point, leaving the chimney in the way. I'll try remounting it a little forward of the original point, so it ends up wrapped around mushroom vents instead. ;-)

I moored up close (but not too close) to the stone bridge - pretty at night, too:

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Sat 12th July - Leighton Buzzard to Wolverton

Collected much beloved friend Shay from Acton Centralk station, and made the journey up to LB together. We were briefly tempted by the pleasures of the Leighton Buzzard Carnival, but Shay was only up for the day, and wanted a boat trip with access to as train back to London at the end, so we pressed on. Always a difficult balance for me - stay & explore, or get the distance covered. I am keen to see places and make the most of them, but also it seems a shame for the summer to be used this close to home.

I made sure Shay sat out on the front deck before we hit MK, and of course she loved it - it's an essential pleasure, I think, memorable from the first time I was ever on a boat. Otherwise we passed the day in lots of chat and a bit of fruit cider - I always find the bit around MK a bit tedious - all very nice, but not very interesting... we made it most of the way to Wolverton, so had time for a pint in the New Inn before the short walk to the station. I pulled up behind several other boats just before the bridge there, and found myself grounded on gravel. An odd night, as the boat didn't rock about gently as I moved around.

(40l diesel at Willowbridge)

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Thurs 10th July - Slapton to Leighton Buzzard

much sunnier day, but only a short run up to Leighton Buzzard to get a train back to London. Just pulling out of the mooring in the morning, I spotted the boat next door - attached to an intriguing looking workshop boat (welding boat pic)- was selling pots & braziers made from gas bottles. It wasn't easy to tie up again until I'd worked through the lock, so I walked back and bought one - a neat way of having a fire canalside or at home, and always good to support people making a living whilst living on the canal.

On the way into LB there's a couple of brick wharves, one of which has narrow gauge railway track on it. It remember finding this first years ago when I cycled up the Grand Union, and have always meant to find out whether it's a local transhipment thing, or part of the original network of lines that the current steam railway there forms part of.

No trip to the Wheatsheaf this time (it was 11am, after all) but had a quick & fruitful pillage of the charity shops. ;-)

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Weds 9th July - Berkamstead to Slapton

I left Berkhamstead in a period of lesser rain, let's say, and plodded on. A section of lots of locks, done with sun & company last time, so a bit dull in the rain on my own. I had a decent waterproof for my upper half but was stuck in shorts & deck shoes otherwise - once they were wet, I stayed wet until I finally moored up for the night at Slapton at 8.30 (I thought I may as well move on than cut the day short), lit the stove dried off and into dry clothes. What to bring on such a trip is a bit suck it and see, so obvious wateroproof boots & trousers, and also something easy to keep misc deck kit (guide book, camera, wallet etc) accessible and yet protected. The guide book ended up pretty much sodden on several days, and on drying out is a bit stuck together in places.

I found time for a late trip to the Carpenters Arms and got to meet the locals - nice pub, short walk from the canal but not nearly as far as I'd been told.
In Berkhamstead library, as the eBay treo I got for the trip is proving to be worth less than the postage I paid for it. Carrying on despite the rain; no curry out last night due to a mobile being locked out of a house and the house outside of it, but night pint (or two) in the Crystal Palace with Ledgie, long-time boating resident of B, who has a few stories to tell.

Boat etc going well - quite a few locks have been shared over the past couple of days (stories there for another day), but I've got into the habit of turning off the endine when working trhough alone, as I pull it in & out by hand anyway. This is nice & pecaeful, but I do wonder if the engine going on & off all the time (there's lots of locks round here) is doing it much good - the temperature guage is showing it's not reaching optimum a lot of the time.

I may as well just bung my phone number up here due to lack of nightly email - 0774 0625 073. Use it wisely, ideally to say 'I'm coming to visit'. ;-)

Monday, 7 July 2008

Moored up in Cassiobury Park, just after bridge 167 & Iron Bridge Lock.
Lovely be be travelling properly on the canals again, despite a lot of
showers, some of them pretty heavy. Now drying out by the stove, which I
didn't expect to be running. I should be somewhere near Berkhamstead
tomorrow night - will try to moor nearer a pub next time!

Friday, 4 July 2008

A test post by email from my phone... now have working gas - hot water and
cooker - which is a great relief. Now I finally get to install the nice
kitchen worktop. Still lots of jobs to do, but there'll be plenty of
evenings to get them done in...

(diesel & oil filters changed)

Thursday, 3 July 2008

After a weekend of Morris dancers at the Dent Folk Festival, they were really the last thing I expected at green drinks in Brentford on Tuesday night - and yet there they were, closely followed by Jim & Mary of Heebeejeebee. I still fail to understand why a melodeon player should sneer at a piano accordion player (me), but I guess you have to take your pride where you can. ;-)

Meanwhile back at the boat, Tortoise has a nice new instrument panel made out of a plastic junction box tucked under the starboard gunwhale (hence anything pointy being at the sides rather than front). A great improvement, as it was a good opportunity to rewire most of the engine electrics too. Relays for split charging & fridge (on same circuit, fridge only runs when boat is) are yet to be wired, but at least I've found a nice little slot for mounting such things, under the back door step.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

They're having a bit of a swap around at High Line, so my mooring was moved from the top end, near the station, to fairly close to the boatyard end. I['m now outside Benbulben, where I was moored for a few months before my 2006 trip. Travelling that 1/2 mile was pretty epic - this time of year the length of the Slough Arm where the moorings area gets pretty clocked with weed, although it's fine beyond each bridge. It's been suggested this is due to the amount of extra organic matter that goes out in sink waste from the boats, but whatever, it's a pain.

In an 'I'm blogging this' momemnt, one well known Iver boat got so clagged on the prop that they ended up being towed by another well known Iver boat blogger. 'This will end up on the internet, I know' is the reported comment - hence names witheld to protect the guilty...