Friday, 28 October 2011

Stretton Stirrings

Yesterday it rained all day.
After weeks of dry and sunny weather the base of the dark grey cloud that covered the sky leaned heavily upon us and the day was dank, misty and wet. The rain itself was very light; not too certain whether it should behave like a liquid or remain just a heavy mist.
Either way it was very wet and, after a long period of inactivity, not the ideal day to choose for removing the tarpaulin covers from my open roof in order to put an engine inside. But that’s just what happened when John arrived in the morning with the Russell Newbury lashed firmly down on his trailer.
The large crane was in use in another part of the boat yard when the engine arrived but quite soon it was clanking and trundling in our direction with a definite look of eagerness on its face so we had to make the most of it.  The big hook easily lifted the engine and the springs of the trailer heaved an audible sigh of relief as the weight was removed. 
At the last possible moment as the load edged its way towards ‘Futurest’, I whipped the tarpaulin off the roof as if enthusiastically throwing back a duvet and the machinery was slowly and carefully lowered into place onto its twin bearers in the engine room.

Immediately ‘Futurest’ adjusted herself to the new load and the trim settled back to its old state, slightly by the stern and the severe starboard list that I had never quite been able to live with happily over the last weeks, was removed effortlessly. The hook was disengaged and duvet-like once more, the covers were quickly replaced over the hole. We had managed to keep much of the rain out.
The Russell Newbury, though not connected in any way yet, looks splendid in her new home and since yesterday afternoon, on a regular basis, I keep wandering along to the Engine Room to admire the latest member of the family. It really does look superb and when fully operational it will be wonderful to hear her and experience her in action.  

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Stirrings in Autumn

We have now been at Stretton Wharf on the Shropshire Union Canal for just over a month and though the unseasonable sunny warm weather remains with us during the day (tantalisingly suitable for cruising under normal circumstances), with temperatures well into the teens, the nights draw in and the steady silent trickle of falling leaves around us, beginning to show the bare bones of their hosts above, once more remind us that winter is not far away.
And though for one reason or another up until now, nothing very significant has been happening regarding the impending mobility of ‘Futurest’ and myself, this week things definitely appear to be stirring again. Today with the help of John’s heavy duty vacuum cleaner, I have managed to get thoroughly dirty cleaning out the engine room bilge. Always very difficult to get at with an engine in situ, today I managed to clean out many years worth of ‘JP2’ drippings that had accumulated. The slow oil build up has kept the bottom plate in perfect condition. It never appears to have been painted and the bare steel is now clean and shiny. More than I can say for myself; though I have showered and washed thoroughly there is still a distinct smell of diesel about me.
Tomorrow John is bringing the Russell Newbury, now freshly serviced, to the yard and weather permitting I hope we shall have the covers off the roof and the engine inside the ship by the end of the day. Paul the engineer who is going to fit everything together inside, is still away on leave and I am not sure when he will be back. However with the engine in place the awkward trim will hopefully be sorted and life aboard at least should be more comfortable.
Last week, since it was another barren week here, I spent a lovely few days back in Newark-on-Trent. My friend Janis, though she was working for most of the time, invited me to stay aboard ‘Roots and Wings’ in the Kings Marina. Newark is a beautiful market town with a good sized market in the square, on most days of the week it would seem. I was able to do a lot of shopping and also sightseeing that I hadn’t managed to do on the last occasion that I was there.
Janis works very hard and also late so I saw very little of her in fact. I was always very much asleep by the time she arrived home at night and then she was up early the next morning to begin her treadmill again. But I enjoyed a lovely break there and what little time she and I did have together was most pleasant. She kindly brought me back to Stretton in her car on Saturday, stayed the night aboard ‘Futurest’ and returned home the following day.
It was lovely to see her again.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Back to the Ship

At 8 am on Tuesday morning Alex gave me a lift to Bath from Malmesbury. He had to be at work at nine so I had to leave that early in order to get a free lift to where I was due to catch the train home.
I had time to buy breakfast first before I caught the train at ten thirty for Bristol Temple Meads on my way back to Wolverhampton. Then I caught the bus for the short journey to Brewood after which I had the two mile walk along the towpath, under the A5 Aqueduct and into the boat yard, where ‘Futurest’ was still waiting for me where I had left her, with her 240 volt umbilical cord still attached.
She looked most forlorn bless her, like a very patient dog awaiting its master’s return. If she could have spoken I’m sure she would have said something like “Welcome home Skipper. I’m so very pleased to see you!” She had that terrible hang dog look about her. I can’t really describe it, as it was just a feeling I had, prompted probably by my acute feeling of guilt at leaving her for so long with nothing positively decided.
Everything on board was exactly as I had left it over a week ago. The electricity was still on and the batteries well charged. A nice cup of tea was just what I needed after my long journey.
Later on I phoned John the engineer to let him know I was back and he invited me kindly to his home nearby and volunteered to collect me the following morning. I would then be able to see the poor state that he reckoned ‘JP2’ was in and be able to discuss what remedies were available to put things right.
However the following day the antidote that I chose for overcoming the engine problem was not one that I had even contemplated the day before.
John’s bungalow, where he lives with his wife Carol, was beautiful and set among trees (and falling leaves at this time of the year, much to his disgust) in the charming Staffordshire countryside. His adjoining workshop was like an Aladdin’s Cave of engineering delights of specialist tools and vintage marine engines all in various states of undress. And there, covered by an old piece of plastic tarpaulin was my ‘JP2’ looking miserable and most dejected on the cold stone floor.
John quietly pointed out that every moving part on the engine was badly worn, including the gearbox cogs, which were about to let me down at any moment. Every other part too that he showed me that was supposed to work exclusively in a vertical direction was also moving horizontally and conversely all those elements that were designed singularly to move with no play in an horizontal direction also were moving alarmingly up and down! It is a wonder that the dear old lady had kept going for so long. Since replacement parts were now in very short supply due to the engine’s age of eighty years or so, if I managed to find any suitable they would be at such an exorbitant price as to make the replacement impractical.
Bless her; my beloved ‘JP2’ was a virtual write-off and sadly suitable for spares only.
However adjacent to her, resplendent on a couple of railway sleepers and recently acquired by John, was a two cylinder Russell Newbury Engine, in marvellous condition which he started very promptly from cold for my benefit and it ran effortlessly and very beautifully for a few minutes with that very distinctive and appealing RN chug!
It was also for sale!
A few swift measurements and I had decided that this particular Russell Newbury would look first-rate in ‘Futurest’s engine room. I would need to speak to Keith the proprietor of the builder’s yard to see if he would fit it in for me, making the necessary alterations in order to do so.
It sounded a great idea and I quickly came to my decision. John and I worked out the terms of our deal and I now await the arrival of Keith to make arrangements for the transferral.
All that was yesterday but I feel so much better now that I’ve made the decision. I went ashore earlier today to buy provisions from Brewood and when I returned; you know, ‘Futurest’ seemed to me to be entirely different to how I had found her on Tuesday. Though it sounds silly (and it is a ridiculous speculation of course) I’m sure I imagined a broad smile emanating from her I-don’t-know-what!

Monday, 10 October 2011


This beautiful little town sits atop a small but steep rise in the middle of the rural Wiltshire countryside. It is surrounded completely by the meandering River Avon and its tributaries and this has made it naturally a position that has been easily defended throughout history.
Its roots go back to before Roman times but the Saxons fortified the hill with walls and it was an important defensive position in King Alfred the Great’s campaigns against the Danes in the Ninth Century. Malmesbury was the capital of England in the reign of Alfred’s grandson, Athelstan and the layout of the town today is the same pattern as it was then; it’s just the wattle and daub building materials have been changed for more substantial stone ones now.
On the highest part of the hill is what remains of the monastic abbey which is visible all around. The abbey was inaugurated by King Alfred in the Ninth Century, abolished and partially sacked by Henry VIII in the 1530’s but given back to the townspeople as a parish church soon afterwards. It is now less than half the original size; but it is a marvellous example of early Norman architecture with its large bulky round columns surrounded above by numerous heavy but plain, semi-circular arches. The interior is still quite awe inspiring.
I have been here since last Wednesday, staying with my son Alex and his wife Catherine. They live in a lovely little grey stone cottage and altogether they are very cosy and happy. Consequently I’ve been very content being here too, even though for much of the time, since they have to work, I have had to keep myself occupied. This I have done most satisfactorily.
I’ve done a lot of walking in the area and recently I spent the whole day in Bath shopping and visiting the abbey. Alex commutes there every day to work so I cadged a lift with him in the morning and returned with him in the evening in the little Smart car.
The week before I caught a train from Wolverhampton after the two mile walk along the towpath and the half an hour bus from Brewood (Brood) into the city, to High Wykham where my daughter Eejay met me in her car and took me to the house that she shares with husband Steve on the side of the hill in the steep valley overlooking the M40 motorway.
The weather was perfect with wall to wall blue skies on every day that I was there, for the whole week. She is a child minder by profession and early each morning parents would arrive at her door and leave their little ones in her tender care. This enables her to earn a decent living and yet be with her own son whenever he is not at school.
My grandson George is seven now and it was a delight to see him again as well as all his little friends in Eejay’s charge. Because George calls me ‘Grampy’ I was quite flattered to hear all the other little ones calling me ‘Grampy’ as well. We were all quite sad when I had to leave to return to the ship a week later.

‘Red Kite’ above Eejay’s house

In the Chiltern area the RSPB have been re-introducing the ‘Red Kite’ over the last number of years and today the breed is very extensive. It has flourished most encouragingly. All the time in the skies above Eejay’s house these large raptors hover just like large Chinese kites and it is very easy to understand why they have their name.
Tomorrow I travel with Alex again to Bath to catch the train to Wolverhampton and the return journey back to the ship. It will be lovely to see her again but I hope that everything is as I left it. I need to phone engineer John when I arrive to try to arrange a visit to his workshop. I would understand a lot more about the engineering he keeps talking to me about over the phone if only I could see the application he means on the actual engine.
It’s a long journey back but the break has been very beneficial and I have enjoyed it enormously.

Sadness and neglect

I’m disappointed and feel let down with neglect and the almost total abandonment of me by the Skipper. He left and there has been no sign of him for a whole fortnight apart from a night and a day spent aboard about a week ago.
After arriving here, he’d gallivanted off to see his daughter Eejay and her husband Steve as soon as possible and only returned I think to change his underpants before shooting off again to visit his son and daughter-in-law down in Wiltshire.
I’ve no idea when he’s coming back, if at all. But I do hope he hasn’t jumped ship for good and left me to rot here for evermore among the other numerous rusting hulks that surround me.
Since I’ve arrived here, I’ve had my insides ripped out, which has altered my trim so that my bottom is sticking up untidily out of the water and I list to starboard; an ugly hole has been cut in my roof which is now covered with large baulks of timber and an ugly tarpaulin to keep the weather out and one of the other boats close by has been recently shot blasted throwing all its muck and dust in thick layers over my superstructure.
I am dying for him to return!
P l e a s e Skipper!
I do wish I could communicate with him in a way so that he could understand me easier!
I don't think he thinks of me at all.

Photos from Stoke Bardolph to Stretton


Showers and Sunshine

Cloud formations

Sunrise at Spode Cottage

The Ornate Avenue Bridge on the Shropshire Union

Dismantling ‘JP2’!

Engine disappearing through the roof......

.......and being swung across the hard