This Saturday I have the privilege to be singing with the City of Birmingham Orchestra!
No, not as a soloist, but as a humble chorus bass (and you can't get much lower than that!) We're performing the world premiere of "There Was a Child" by Jonathan Dove in the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. It's been a challenge, but I'm feeling much more confident now we've had the penultimate rehearsal. I just hope that we'll manage with the orchestra: so far we've been rehearsing with piano accompaniment.
No, I hadn't heard of Jonathan Dove before, either, but my ears pricked up while listening to Radio 3 last Sunday: two of his smaller scale choral works were played on The Choir.
You may remember our little episode with the gearbox oil deciding to dump itself in the bilge. It happened not long into our cruise from Stockton to Chester. After it had been fixed I bailed out the engine bilge into milk containers. As can be seen, there was a large amount of antifreezy water there too.
There was more in the bilge, but I ran out of empty milk containers. By now it should have all been pumped out properly.
I was reminded of this just this evening, when I helped a friend get his car running after three months of sitting in the rain (the P1800, not the friend): we had to drain a lot of water out of the petrol tank - twice - before it would run consistently. We siphoned the water, then water/petrol, then petrol into a plastic measuring jug. The petrol and water separated out exactly like the oil and water above, only the colours were different. My hands still stink of petrol.
How do you remember when and where your photos were taken? OK, I don't have to remember the "when", as the time and date are kept as metadata with my photos (but I have to remember the times are BST), but the "where" is sometimes difficult. Take this pair of pictures. Before using the lock I had to extricate this large muddy branch (I should have included something for scale).
The time and date: 10:17 on 1st April 2009, the location: somewhere on the southern approach to Leicester on the Grand Union Canal (Leicester Section).
There's no lock name or number in the image, so I don't know exactly where it is.
How do others keep records? A notebook? What about when it's raining? Some people manage to record the names of all boats encountered on their cruises, or that's how it seems. I don't know how they do it.
Here is this week's snapshot of Tony Blews's chart of the most popular UK waterways websites. I've noticed that he also compiles separate lists of the top canal blogs; and top waterways sites which aren't blogs. I shall continue to take snapshots of just the overall chart.
There's one new entry this week: Narrowboat Starcross, in at number 23. The biggest mover within the top thirty is Takey Tezey, with a leap of ten places. The top ten websites have stayed exactly where they were last week. There are 72 websites listed.
The conclusion of the write-up of the move of Willow from Buckby to Northolt in five days (yes, it's taken considerably more time to write about it than actually to do it).
Shortly after leaving Cowley Lock we arrived at Cowley Peachey Junction, although we'd gone past it before I realised. Before the junction is High Line Yachting on the right; the Slough Arm is indicated only by another sign to the HLY marina. There's no fingerpost pointing to Slough. Why not?
A little further on more canalside work was in progress: mowing the grass.
Very good, but where do the grass cuttings go?
Yup, in the cut.
Along this stretch are many willow trees - in fact, willows are all over the place here: Willow Avenue is a famous old road in Uxbridge; Willowtree Marina is just round the corner on the Paddington arm; there are the trees, and, of course, NB Willow cruising past them all.
The cottage on the Paddington Arm near Bulls Bridge Junction is in a terrible state; and what are those poles on the trailer for? Perhaps that's a marquee below.
Not too long after this photo was taken we arrived at the other High Line Yachting base at Northolt. This was it: the end of the journey. We'd made it, and well within the five days we'd given ourselves. I phoned Willow's owner, and he came and reimbursed me for the diesel, and took my dad to the underground station. Then he drove me back to my car, which was where I'd left it in a lay-by on the A5 at Buckby; and I drove home.
It had been an excellent cruise, despite the lack of time for stopping to explore much en route. And we'd had superb warm and sunny weather. The boat performed well too.
Next I'll continue posting photos of our cruise of Shadow from Stockton to Tattenhall.
Our recent trip down the Grand Union took us past Denham, and the Land and Water gravel terminal.
The sign on the side of the conveyor reads, "British Waterways Board Partnership apologise (sic) for any inconvenience caused by the movement of freight".
BW apologising for using the canals as they were intended? Something not quite right here!
A little further on we met two barges, loaded with water for ballast, on their way from West Drayton to Denham. In the pictures of the first boat you can see the ballast being pumped out ready for the next load of gravel.
Here is the much delayed last instalment of the account of the moving of NB Willow from Buckby to Northolt. I ran out of time to write this up before my next chunk of boating, for which I had the new (to me) technology of mobile broadband, and thus was more concerned with daily updates of that cruise than finishing off the telling of the previous one. I've just looked through the photos to remind me of that last day of the trip - and there was lots of interest. I'm going to have to split this day into two or more posts to make it more palatable.
We got up at 05:30, the earliest of the cruise, as I wanted to be absolutely sure of getting to Northolt in good time. We set off at 06:00. The Grand Union Canal was covered in mist, but that was soon blasted away by the sun. The Nicholson's Guide drew our attention to the "underground" line passing overhead, so I had my camera ready. A train came by heading for Watford at just the right time.
At Batchworth there are at least three locks. One on the main line, one locking up to the River Chess, and one on the Little Union Canal. You haven't heard of the Little Union Canal? Neither had I, until I came across it while waiting for Willow to descend the (big boys') lock next door.
We stopped for a newspaper at the convenient Rickmansworth Tesco. No fighting for a parking place here! (I think the hidden words on the sign must be "...overnight mooring".)
Have you ever wondered how the indications of the depth of retaining walls along the Grand Union were made? Neither had I; but Stocker's Lock cottage supplied the answer. Among the collection of canalia in the garden was a mould for concrete towpath edging, indicating "Foot of wall 9 ft 0 ins below water level".
As we approached Copper Mill Lock we came upon a house with an unusual glass extension.
That's all for now, in the next instalment we meet two real working boats.
I was given two boating books for Christmas: Narrow Dog to Indian River by Terry Darlington, and Narrowboat Dreams by Steve Haywood. I read Steve Haywood's book first, and it didn't take long. Not because it's short - with 319 pages it isn't - but because I found it difficult to put down. This was partly due to the author's easy style, and partly because I myself had recently cruised much of the route he describes. And, like him, I'd been single handed for some of it; reading his account rekindled in me some of the feeling of exhilaration that gave.
Steve Haywood's self-imposed mission is to find "the North". The reader accompanies Haywood as he gets his narrowboat Justice through the Boat Safety Certificate test and then steers it from Banbury on his quest. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal makes a deep impression on the author - as it did on me on my long cruise four years ago - a third of the book is given over to that recently restored trans-Pennine waterway. We eavesdrop on Haywood's conversations in pubs and on towpaths; and accompany him on his dashes across country to see his ill mother. It's not all action, though: along the way Steve Haywood lets us know what he thinks about the little things which irk him.
A good read, then. I'm looking forward to reading Haywood's latest book, One Man and a Narrowboat, a copy of which has been promised me by Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons when he's finished reading it. This is a rewrite of Steve Haywood's first canal book, Fruit Flies like a Banana, which I haven't yet read - and probably won't need to now.
Oh, and Terry Darlington's book? Almost finished - I'm making it last!
From last week there's been no movement in the positions of the top eight sites, and, apart from the new entries, the biggest change has been of just four places. I can't judge exactly how high the new entries have jumped as my weekly grab is only of the top thirty (I might have to change the title of these posts). There are now 72 sites registered.
My electric Flymo hover mower stopped working three weeks ago one minute after starting to give the lawn its first cut of the season. Since then, of course, we've been a-cruisin', so the grass has had plenty of time (and rain) to grow to a seriously untidy height. I took the machine apart as much as I could, but I knew that it wasn't worth spending more time or money on it. I'd already recently had to re-fibreglass the plastic hood (?), and that was now falling apart.
So today I bought a replacement: a Ransomes petrol rotary mower, on wheels, non-self-propelled. I haven't used a petrol mower for years, since the ancient Qualcast (it's about the same age as my car - and that's 40 this year) became too difficult to start. The "new" machine (it's second-hand) starts first pull and is a joy to use. No cables and extension leads and circuit breakers to worry about now! With its 18" cutting width it's made short work of the long grass: I've mown the whole lot - and the grass in the middle of the driveway - in an afternoon.
A boating connection: it has a Kubota engine, as do many modern narrowboats.
Market Harborough is a lovely town. We said to each other, "We could live here". We also said the same thing later on, about Alrewas and Chester. Returning along the Market Harborough arm on Tuesday 31st March 2009 some of the gardens looked like parkland - and the houses are huge!
There are good views to the north from the Market Harborough arm.
At Foxton we tied up next to Vingt Deux and had a look at the site of the inclined plane. People from BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers as was) were scraping the moss of some concrete remains.
After buying some second hand books in aid of the Foxton Inclined Plane Trust we boarded Shadow once more, and turned onto waters we hadn't cruised before: the Leicester Section going north from Foxton Junction. Almost immediately things were different. Even the ducks were not the usual ones. What are these orange-beaked creatures?
This part of the cruise is where my bicycle came into its own. We shared locks with a competent Canaltime couple, and I lockwheeled to make things quicker. Nearly every lock was against us, so I would cycle ahead to start filling a lock; then return to open the gates to let the boats out; then shut the gates; then cycle on to open the gates on the next lock and start locking the boats down... For several locks-worth of canal I must have cycled three times the distance the boats travelled.
Both the Canaltime boat and we tied up for the night at Kilby Bridge. This is the BW yard opposite our mooring.
Our aim on Monday 30th March 2009 was to get through Foxton Locks. Once down the flight we could make our leisurely way to Market Harborough. Every day of the first week of the cruise - and possibly after that, too - I heard the call of a woodpecker, but I never spotted it (pun intended). Shortly after setting off in the morning we passed under the A14 with its container lorries.
The lock keeper at Foxton asked if our Shadow was the one he knew from 1995. Yes, he had been an OwnerShips owner too. The lock tail bridges were being painted: there must be an easier way than this! (click on photo to enlarge)
Sheep and lambs number nine by the Market Harborough arm.
I was getting concerned that I had been taking too many photos, so this day I must have tried to cut down. This collection of farm machinery caught my eye, as did a pair of kingfishers darting about in front of the boat. The machinery didn't move so much, and was thus rather easier to photograph.