Thursday, 27 August 2020

Stop! Thief! That's my bike!

Inspired by Jim's bus exploits on http://narrowboatstarcross.blogspot.com/ (Blogger has changed: I can seemingly no longer insert a link in the old way) I decided to use the bus as part of the journey to get our car from Fazeley where we had left it. I was starting from Market Drayton which, sadly, no longer has a railway line - let alone a station - leaving bus as an essential part of doing this by public transport. I started with the crazy idea of doing the whole trip by bus, but it would have entailed multiple changes and would have taken a long time. I decided, then, to use bus and train - and cycle where necessary. Jim would have relished the bus challenge, but agreed that my route was easier and more suited to a bus "novice" such as me. Having been assured that buses can take folding bicycles I waited at Market Drayton Bus Station for the 1111 bus to Hanley, i.e. Stoke-on-Trent. The bus arrived from Shrewsbury a few minutes early, giving me and three or four other passengers plenty of time to board. I really can't remember the previous time I used a bus. When it got under way it felt most odd not wearing a seat belt. Between Market Drayton and Newcastle-under-Lyme we went through a couple of villages off the main road, negotiating some rather narrow country lanes en route.
From Newcastle-under-Lyme the bus went near to Stoke-on-Trent railway station before finishing up at Hanley Bus Station. By the time I realised the proximity of the railway station it was too late to press the button to ring the bell to stop the bus, so I got off at the end of the run and cycled down the hill - crossing the Caldon Canal on the way - to get the train.
Here I made my first proper mistake. There was a queue at the ticket office so I used a machine to get a ticket for Stafford, forgetting to use my railcard and thus forgoing a discount of £2. This is the train I caught, here at Stafford Station at the end of this third leg of the journey (bus, bike and train 1).
At Stafford I bought my final train ticket, this time from the ticket office with my railcard, to take me on to Tamworth. I could have got a ticket from Stoke to Tamworth but splitting here, where I had to change anyway, saved £6 or so on the full price. This is where things got interesting. I boarded the train and leant my bike against the folding seats next to the loo, as I had done on the previous train. At Rugeley Trent Valley some passengers got off, and I glanced over towards the loo and saw NO BIKE! One of the passengers, a young man, was calmly pushing a bike across the platform to the exit. I grabbed by bag, leapt off the train and ran after him. Hey! Stop! That's my bike! I shouted as I charged past the two or three other people who had got off. The thief stopped and looked round at the lunatic who was running towards him. Only he wasn't a thief. It wasn't my bike. Oh no! What had I done? What an idiot! I raced back to the train, still stationary, but the doors were locked and unresponsive to my desperate jabbing at the button. As the train pulled away, with my bike heading to London, I looked around. Rugeley Trent Valley is an unmanned station. There was a help/information pillar, but it wasn't exactly a 999-type of emergency, and I didn't want train timetable information. As I stood there I noticed two workers in hi-viz just outside the station. One was Openreach - and the other was an Avanti West Coast (train company) person. I explained my predicament. He calmly went to his car, tapped away on his laptop for a bit, asked my to describe the bike and then made a phone call. In the heat of the moment I couldn't remember the make of my bike, so I phoned Jan - whose head was clearer than mine - and got the make and colour (!). The Avanti angel finished his call and told me that my bike would be taken off the train at Tamworth and would be waiting for me in the ticket office. Wow! All I had to do was get the next train and hope the bike would be looked after as promised. As I ate my sandwiches in the shelter on the platform, trying not to let the wind blow the rain on me too much, I mentally kicked myself for being so stupid. I worked out that the eight-coach train was two four-coach sets joined together, with the loo compartments next to each other. I had somehow got confused about which loo my bike was near. I also thanked the Lord that he had provided such an amazing means of resolving the problem. At last the hour was up, and the 1405 rolled into the station. No sooner had we got under way, though, than the next part of the saga started to manifest itself. The guard announced that it seemed that there was a problem ahead and that we should listen out for further announcements. It soon transpired that a person had been hit by a train in the Rugby area. We pulled in to Lichfield Trent Valley Station. The guard announced that there had been a fatality near Atherstone and that the train we were on might have to return to Crewe. How terrible, and it put my bike worries into context. After a few minutes the guard suggested that London-bound passengers might like to transfer to the high level platform where they could get a train to Birmingham and continue their journey from there. I went to the ticket office and asked how long it would take for me to get to Tamworth via Birmingham. Ooh - it could take an hour and a half. Better get the bus, love. Well, I reasoned that I was in no particular hurry, that a bus would cost me an extra fare, that continuing by train would not cost me anything and that I'd see some more bits of Birmingham. There was another option, which was to ring my friends in Fazeley, eight miles away, to see if they could pick me up. I knew they had gone out to lunch; by the time they returned my call I was already on the train to Birmingham. We stopped at stations I didn't know existed, including Gravelly Hill. Claim to fame? The motorway interchange known as Spaghetti Junction, of course!
So that was leg five completed, having stopped at just about every station between Lichfield Trent Valley and Birmingham New Street - here's the train about to continue to Redditch.
I didn't have long to wait for the train to Tamworth; once on board I wasn't expecting any further incidents. I was wrong. The train started to go really slowly, just creeping along for what seemed like ages. Then BANG! Some substantial branches of a "windblown tree" (as CRT sometimes puts it) crashed and thudded along the windows right where I was. The train wasn't merely brushing past foliage: that had already been ripped off. A few seconds later, when the driver had judged that the train was past the tree I suppose, we speeded up again. At last I was in Tamworth Station. I asked about the bike ... and YES! Hooray! They had it. I filled out a form to claim it and there we were, reunited. The staff there were very friendly, as, of course, had been the Avanti chap at Rugeley. So top marks to them all. The time was now 1650. I cycled to Fazeley where David and Mary gave me cups of tea and some food; just before 1900 I set off in the car for the hour and ten minute drive back to Market Drayton. Even this journey had "interest": the strong winds had blown plenty of debris from trees onto the road. At one point an oncoming car had to stop because of a large piece of tree in its way. I half expected the day to be rounded off with a branch through the windscreen but, fortunately, nothing further untoward happened. I arrived back in Market Drayton just after 2000. Cost of tickets: bus from Market Drayton to Hanley £3.60; train from Stoke-on-Trent to Stafford £6.00; train from Stafford to Tamworth £4.45. Total: £14.05 (but should have been £12.05 if I'd remembered the railcard earlier). Of course, I could have done it for nothing if I'd cycled the whole way, and it probably wouldn't have taken any longer! More posts will follow on our boating from Fazeley to Market Drayton, where we have a new mooring.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Using the macro setting on my camera

Before I get onto that, here's one for Nev. Alice B tied up in front of us at All Oaks Wood a few days ago and looks like a very nice boat indeed. The names on the cabin are those of R A and G A Redshaw, who were the previous owners of Nev's boat Percy. Here they are just setting off towards Hillmorton.

Today we got the diesel and gas at Fazeley Mill Marina, winded at Fazeley Junction and moored up.

During the initial, strict, phase of lockdown I discovered how to take big close-ups with my camera. These next two photos are of dandelions on one of our lockdown walks near our home in Norfolk.



And this this bee was on a balance beam at Atherstone Bottom Lock.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Balance beam repair

I was slightly concerned last night that our choice of mooring perhaps wasn't the best, as a satellite image showed we were right next to Aldi's distribution centre in Atherstone. In the event it was absolutely fine.

At Atherstone Bottom Lock the towpath side bottom balance beam had been repaired with angle iron and bolts.

As we travelled vaguely west towards Fazeley I was aware that I had seen no trains at all on the line which runs approximately parallel to the canal. At the railway bridge (50B) I realised why. There were workers on the line.

We got to Fazeley Mill Marina at 1655 hoping to be able to get diesel and gas, expecting it to be open until 1800 as per the website, but were told that it shuts at 5. We are now outside ready to get topped up in the morning.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Something vulgar in Nuneaton?

After yesterday's excitement all we did today was about four hours of boating, including seven locks, and visiting Aldi and the Co-op in Atherstone. On the way I managed to get a photo of a curious fingerpost sign in a canalside garden.

Yes, Fradley is in the direction indicated, but "Vulgaria"? Is a Nuneaton resident having a swipe at Bedworth? or Coventry? (see below)

After tea I made a second foray to Aldi on my own, and got caught in a thunderstorm on the way back to the boat. We had tied up below Lock 7 so I had plenty of time to get pretty wet.

I've just looked up Vulgaria. It seems to be a Hong Kong comedy film from a couple of decades ago. The sign is still a mystery to me.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Replacing gearbox control cable after it broke (and suffering another breakdown)

At Brinklow CRT is getting round the landslip problem by literally getting round it. A temporary floating walkway has been constructed over the edge of the canal bypassing a not that huge pile of rock and earth on the towpath.

Everything was going swimmingly for us until Sutton Stop. As we entered the stop lock I suddenly found that I could not disengage astern gear. All I could do was kill the engine. We descended the lock and I pulled the boat out onto the lock landing on the right, where we would be out of the way. The Morse control lever felt most peculiar; it didn't take long for me to diagnose a broken cable. The photo below shows a short length of inner cable (running bottom left to centre), still connected to the gearbox lever on the left, and the outer cable (on the right) now hanging free.

Within three miles of where we were now stranded live two sets of friends. The first were on holiday in Suffolk. The second had gone to Baddesley Clinton, fortunately not by boat. Stephen drove back while we had lunch, then took me to Springwood Haven where I bought a replacement cable (having removed the old one and measured its length). Back at the boat I fitted the cable. It was two inches shorter than the original, but there was plenty of slack so that was not a problem.

I had not done this before, so I discovered that what holds the outer in position at each end is a toroidal channel in the metal part next to the black plastic sheathed flexible part. This channel at the gearbox end is held by a brass clip secured by two bolts, lock washers and nuts. The clip has a protruding ridge which engages in the channel. At the Morse control end the channel is held in position by a small brass U-shaped pin. The protruding parts of the U are of unequal lengths. This pin goes through holes in the hard plastic "socket"; the longer part of the pin is bent over to stop it falling out.

The photo below shows the back of the Morse control; the two thick black cables are the throttle (going into the red housing) and the gearbox (black). The U-pins are inserted from the left in both cases; I have already removed the gearbox cable one.

At the gearbox end the inner cable screws into a brass piece which pokes through a hole in the lever and is prevented from falling out by a split pin. The photo shows me inserting this split pin.

Here is the gearbox end of the cable all fitted. The brass clip with its d├ętente can be seen to the left.

I am very grateful to Stephen for his advice, especially on measuring the distance the inner extends from the outer at each end on the old cable, and making sure the new cable's measurements are the same. I did this and found everything worked perfectly when I started up again.

Interestingly - and could this be the cause of the failure? - the cable shows it has partially melted where it ran against the (fibreglass bandaged) exhaust. The new cable presses against the exhaust in the same way and cannot be rerouted as it is close to the gearbox clamp. I need to insert a thin piece of something heat resistant to protect it. Ideas, anyone?

We thought that was the end of the excitement for the day but, just an hour later, the engine began losing power. Yes, we had run out of diesel! We always have a full jerry can on board so in went 20 litres to get us out of trouble. We had stopped by a long stretch of piling just south of Marston Junction. Very handy again.

Before this emergency top-up (and I know, the jerry can is now empty) I sucked out a lot of crud and water from the bottom of the tank. It separates from the diesel immediately in the jam jars I put it in; I'll provide a photo later.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Contractors dump towpath vegetation in canal

We had no internet connection last night in Braunston, hence no post yesterday. We set off from Elkington in the morning and arrived at Watford Locks at about 1215. There were boats going down so we hoped we might be able to tag along, but we were asked to wait as there were five boats to come up who had been waiting a while. So we had lunch.

At about 1345 we were able to start down the locks. There was a delay before we could exit the bottom of the staircase: a hire boat had come up - unbidden - into the tricky pound and thought it could enter the staircase when we came out. Er, no, there are a few boats coming down behind me! Eventually the crew managed to get it tied up and we could then empty the lock and proceed. One crew member said she had read the notice detailing how the locks work but hadn't seen anyone. With all this going on I was surprised none of the three volunteer lockies came down to investigate.

After all that we had a fairly uneventful run down to Braunston, sharing the Braunston locks with a very pleasant single hander on Grand Hearn (or something like that). We ate at The Old Plough, taking advantage of their steak meal for two with a bottle of wine for £25.95.

This morning we were under way before 9 o'clock. We stopped for lunch and a Tesco shop (last maskless day!), then continued to All Oaks Wood where we tied up just as it was starting to rain.

At around the Armada Boats place there was suddenly a lot of foliage floating on the cut. Here are three people apparently responsible for it.

CRT's contractors had been cutting back the towpath vegetation and allowing it to fall into the water.

This wasn't just grass cuttings - this included tree saplings. I had to clear the bow of accumulated debris a few times, and shake off stuff from the prop as we went along. I was relieved when we left the cutting area. This cannot be the correct way of doing things.

On a lighter note … someone clearly has an unsinkable faith in a strong name for their boat.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Masking up on boats

As predicted, we were lowered back into the water this morning, having been out for less than 24 hours. When I went to pay it took a long time for the office staff to work out the bill, which had gone up a whopping 17% since two years ago.

I was going to clean the drips of bitumastic off the prop before it got wet, but I forgot, managing to snap this photo as the boat was being moved.

I don't suppose it will affect things too much before it wears off.

As I was reversing out of the lifting dock Gwendoline May came out of the marina. This boat is used for helmsman training. It looked very incongruous seeing the party on the back all wearing masks.

That's all of us in just three days, though (shops, not boats, I'm glad to say, but I'm not looking forward to it).

We were very quickly up Foxton Locks, arriving at the top at 1100 - coffee time. We carried on without stopping, tying up at Bridge 37 to rendezvous with Ally, Josiah and Micah who drove to see us.

Monday, 20 July 2020

Blacking

Today was B-Day: blacking day. The first - and slightly scary - step is to lift the boat out of the water.

Next, Dean pressure washes off the crud from being in the water for two and a third years.

The conditions were perfect for drying, so the first coat of the bitumastic blacking went on very soon.

We went for a walk across the fields to Gumley, where we ate our sandwiches, and then to Foxton, where we saw the gongoozlers crowding towards the top of the flight watching a boat make its ascent. The locks were otherwise very quiet, with no boats waiting at either end.

We walked into the village where we saw that the church was open for private prayer, so we went in. It was the first time we'd been into a church building since the start of lockdown in March. Continuing down Swingbridge Lane, over the canal, and through to the other side of the village, we took the footpath across the fields back to Debdale Wharf. Here the second coat was already being applied.

After tea I repainted the red tunnel band and treated some of the rust on the gunnels with Fertan. Painting these will have to wait until we're afloat again as I reckon we'll be put back in the water in the morning.