Sunday, 28 December 2014


Sunday 28th December 2014

Dear Futurest,

We are now drawing near the end of our memorable stay in Western Australia. We flew in last Tuesday afternoon from Sydney, after leaving the  fantastic ‘Voyager of the Seas’. A quick revictualling was all she needed  before she disappeared over the horizon again, towards Fiji on her next whirlwind trip with another four thousand excited passengers aboard.

At Perth airport we met Sharon, Janis’s sister and battled through a wall of heat outside the air conditioned airport buildings to find a taxi. This was no trouble as there were hundreds available.



Agapanthus and Pine in Perth


Exotic Frangipani….


….and Hibiscus


Soon we met Leonard, Janis’s Dad at his home. He lives on a retirement development similar in style to the McCarthy and Stone idea we have in UK, except here in Perth the dwellings are laid out as tasteful small bungalows instead of a block of flats. There are also one or two flats furnished for visitors and we are happily staying in one of these while we are here.

Everything is amazing here in Western Australia, especially the weather. Each morning we have woken to cloudless skies of crushed emerald with temperatures well into the thirties. The weather never varies apparently and can be guaranteed throughout the year. Rain, what little there is, conveniently falls only during darkness hours.



Sunset over the Indian Ocean at Scarborough, Perth


Janis’s eldest sister Raeleen, arrived on Christmas Eve and though we had a memorable and very happy Christmas, I have to say that it didn’t quite feel the same as it does with the air temperature hovering around freezing point or worse and with the possibility of having real snow outside.

Here in the shopping malls little children dressed in festive tinsel are greeted by Santa Claus looking most uncomfortable and almost incongruous in white woolly beard and scarlet fur coat sitting amongst cotton wool snow. Somehow I feel it doesn’t fit in with the azure skies and searing heat outside.

Every day we have been out visiting or shopping somewhere with Leonard insisting in doing all the chauffeuring though with plenty of positive help from the back seat. I think he and his girls are particularly happy being together at this time of the year; a rare happening these days since all four live so far apart.

Leonard has two brothers living in Perth and with them and their families we spent Christmas Day at one of the cousin’s homes. There were thirty four in the party altogether and I was made to feel very welcome by uncles, cousins, both once and twice removed together with spouses. The hospitality was  typically generous and Australian.

Leonard has took us to Fremantle one day and it was great to be able to see the port that I used to visit, so many years ago. After forty or fifty years the place has obviously changed but the wharves where our ships tied up are still there, even though they are not used now as they were originally intended. There are expensive yachts and ferry boats tied up there now and the adjoining sheds have been turned into classy tourist shops and restaurants. We spent a long time at the Maritime Museum along the quay which painted a vivid history of all the different immigrants that have passed through Fremantle over the years.

We  have walked in the city and sunbathed on beach at Scarborough and Rockingham and Some of us have actually plunged and frolicked in the warm Indian Ocean.

But tomorrow morning early Janis and I have to leave this wonderful paradise. We fly to Christchurch in New Zealand on the next phase of our trip to begin five weeks of exploration in the land where Janis was brought up; Aeotearoa, the land of the long white cloud; the land where Hobbits now reside.

I think of you often old Friend and recount all the stories of you and and me together to the locals here. They are most interested always. I hope all is well with you and the weather is not too cold so as to cause drastic catastrophes aboard.

Be assured that I shall write again soon.


Old Salt (the Ancient Mariner)


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Sydney Bound

Thursday 18th December 2014

Dear ‘Futurest’

Here we are in the Tasman Sea again, having in the meantime circumnavigated the the North Island of New Zealand. We are heading back to Sydney now, the port from which we left ten days ago and our estimated time of arrival is on Saturday 20th December.



Our luxurious cabin aboard the ship


The cruise aboard this magnificent ship has been wonderful and though it has rained occasionally, as I remember it was always prone to do in New Zealand fifty years ago, this hasn’t spoiled our experience too much, as it has thoughtfully only commenced during our shore leaves just as we were returning aboard.



The ‘Voyager of the Seas’ berthed at Auckland


There was only one occasion when the weather was a little less discriminatory and that was on the day we docked at Tauranga when the rain began soon after we berthed and continued throughout the day till we sailed.Janis and I arrived back at the ship in this case thoroughly wet through having climbed to the seven hundred feet or so summit of the local Mount Maunganui.

Of the five ports visited in five consecutive days only Auckland, our first port and Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, were of any size. The others, Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, Napier in Hawke’s Bay and  Picton our only port in the South Island, were really not much larger than villages.

Auckland and Wellington are graced still by much of the Victorian architecture that displays their early British heritage and Napier, which unfortunately was completely destroyed by an earthquake in the early 1930’s, was rebuilt completely in the Art Nouveau style popular at that time. This is now listed and the town looked very spruce since the exterior paintwork has been maintained so well ever since. During the ship’s stay there the passengers were rightly entertained in the streets by musicians and singers imitating that Gatsby style period. Many fine pre-war motor cars were there as well waiting to be hired with suitably dressed chauffeurs.



Art Nouveau street in Napier



Statue of ‘Pania of the Reef’ today

52  Some of the lads on a Sunday walk at Napier

The same spot in May 1958 with crew of MV‘Imperial Star’

Of course I took my camera ashore on all occasions as there was many strange birds and flowers to record.

During our shore leave in the last port of call Picton, Janis and I boarded a small aeroplane on floats and were treated to a thirty minute flight around the creeks and islands in the area.

Flying a bit bumpily at an altitude of 1000 feet the thick tree covered promontories and sandy bays, mostly untouched by Human hand and the water so clear that one could see beneath the surface to great depths, could be appreciated so much more. It was magnificent.

But now we are on our way back to Australia, for Sydney Airport on Saturday afternoon, to catch a plane to Perth in Western Australia, where we have been invited to stay with Janis’s father till after Christmas. That will be wonderful too as it was 1968 when I was last in this city.

So how are you old friend? Looking at the BBC weather forecasts in your area over the last few days, it doesn't seem that you would have suffered too much from the freezing cold as temperatures seem to have hovered above freezing point day and night. Long may it continue.

I think of you a lot and miss you of course. This is the longest that you and I have ever been apart. I know your leisure batteries are suspect and I have arranged for Rob the engineer to come aboard a bit later on to change them ready for next year’s cruising. So when he clumps aboard don’t worry old girl and you will feel so much better when he’s done the job.



The midships shopping area etc of ship


In the meantime I’ll sign off and write again probably from Perth. Since there is no economical wi-fi aboard the ‘Voyager of the Seas’ it is not likely that this letter will be forwarded till we arrive in Sydney. But the date shown at the top is the date of writing.

Goodbye for now old friend


Old Salt the Ancient Mariner

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A Letter to ‘Futurest’

Friday 12 December 2014

Dear ‘Futurest’,

I hope this doesn’t shock you as everything has happened so quickly but Janis and I are currently in the Southern Hemisphere, in the middle of the Tasman Sea on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship ‘Voyager of the Seas’ bound for the port of Auckland in New Zealand. We were standing on the platform at Warwick Station only as recently as last Sunday morning. 



Terminal 5 Heathrow Airport



At Hong Kong awaiting our aeroplane to be loaded up


Patiently waiting at Hong Kong

It’s something we have been planning for most of the year now and I am sure you must have noticed in the meantime that something unusual was afoot.

Other people will probably call me stupid and wonder why I should be nuts enough to write to a boat, but you are my little ship and I am responsible for you. Therefore I have considerable guilt at leaving you for what in fact will be the whole of the winter.



Departure Sydney on ‘Voyager of the Seas’



Looking aft towards the Bridge



Looking along Deck 5, the shopping mall


In our life together over the years it is the first time that I’ve ever left you for more than just a few days so I am naturally feeling a bit apprehensive at being away for so long, even though you are well protected and winterised while Janis and I are away on our adventure.

But let me tell you of that planned adventure in a bit more detail. Currently We are on a course of 096 degrees true heading for the Cape Reinga, the northernmost  tip of New Zealand which the ship should round during the night. However our speed has been reduced to 13 knots so as not to arrive at Auckland before  0830 tomorrow morning. We shall be spending the day there before continuing our journey south to Tauranga, Napier, Wellington and Picton  and then travelling back across the Tasman Sea to Sydney, from where we set off last Tuesday evening 9th December. We shall arrive back on the 2oth.

It’s really a voyage of rediscovery for me as the last time I passed this way was back in 1967 and the above mentioned ports were all those in the North Island that my shipping company Blue Star Line used to call at. I have many happy memories of good times past while associated with these ports.

After we arrive back at Sydney we fly on the same day across to Perth in Western Australia to spend Christmas with Janis’ dad, before returning to Sydney en route for Christchurch, to stay for a while with Janis’ mum, during the period while we explore New Zealand’s South Island.

After five weeks we return to Sydney to fly to Brisbane in Queensland, where Janis’ sister Sharon lives. After a few days there we finally fly down to Hobart in Tasmania during the last weekend of February next year for a weekend’s Blue Star Line reunion before returning to UK during the first week of March.

We left Heathrow Airport on Sunday evening bound for Hong Kong. It took us eleven long tiring hours to get there after which we had to wait another nine equally tedious hours in the airport buildings till we could make our connecting flight onward to Sydney. This flight took us a further eight actual hours of flying before we touched down on Tuesday morning to join the ship the same afternoon for sailing in the evening. So after twenty eight hours of actual flying, across numerous time zones we were exhausted when we arrived and it has taken us until now to  set up new sleep patterns.

But so far the sea trip has been a wonderful experience. The weather is fine and the sea smooth and deep blue, just as I remember it from so many years ago. But the  ship is so different that it makes the ones I sailed on seem so primitive (which they were in comparison of course). Very sophisticated and automatic navigation systems abound on this ship that make the navigational bridge look more like the one on the Star ship ‘Enterprise’ than the traditional one that I was brought up with. The only piece of navigational equipment our ships had were the sextants that we navigating officers supplied ourselves and a lot of the vessels didn’t even have a radar set aboard. On my first trip as 2nd Mate for example I sailed on a ship whose only piece of equipment was a magnetic compass.

The food and entertainment here is plentiful though with four thousand passengers on board the effect is one that I associate rather negatively with our family holidays so many years ago at Butlin’s Holiday Camps. But the ship is enormous and good exercise when one can walk around the full circuit, which is getting on for half a mile.

But I’ll keep you informed of our continued progress later. It will soon be time for dinner and Janis and I feel like a little exercise before then.

I hope all is well with you and I’ll be back to report some more news later.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Motor Car


DSCN1467  Shakespeare's Birthplace, Henley Street

Shakespeare’s Birthplace without any tourists showing!


When I first moved aboard ‘Futurest’ in 2009 having sold my house and ninety per cent of my other ‘precious’ possessions so that I would be able to fit into this fifty seven foot long ‘cigar case’, the one thing I felt I could never do without was my car.

Two years before I had bought myself a brand new Smart ‘Fortwo’ two seater and with its sparkly and sporty burgundy and silver colour and light blue interior it was really something special. It was a wonderful little machine that was so cheap to run as well. It cost only thirty five pounds a year to tax and did eighty five miles per gallon I remember and yet it could pull away from the traffic lights quicker than most.

Thrilled to pieces I was. I thought with its quirky and hippy look as well It couldn't fail to be a real head turner and I had no doubt that it would ‘pull’ the girls as well. It was my real phallic symbol and I needed it …... to do all sorts of useful things. Well life wouldn’t be complete without a car would it?



My Smart ‘Fortwo’


So for the first year on ‘Futurest’ I trailed it behind me. Not literally of course but at the end of each day’s cruise, like so many other boaters do, I was prepared to go back by public transport to collect it (this was in the days before I owned a folding bike). However I soon found that this was tedious but it was worth it since I needed the car so much. I needed it to get down to ……the local shop at the end of the day and to empty my rubbish as well. And I needed it also toooo………… well you know what I mean. I needed it!

But at the end of the first year’s cruise I noticed that other heads seemed to have far more interesting things to do than ‘turn’ in my direction when I went past and certainly I had pulled no girls in the meantime so at last I asked myself the very important question. Was having the car at my disposal really worth all the effort?

The answer was certainly a  big NO.

So in the end my son relieved me of it. His need was really much more than mine having a two hour commute to work and back each day and I was sure with his young and handsome looks he would stand a much better chance anyway of ‘pulling’ the girls than I ever did.

And in fact I didn’t miss the car at all. I bought myself a bike but mostly I walked everywhere. At the end of the day I used to make sure I tied up within walking distance of any facilities I might need. If I was too far away then I was happy to use the bike.

It was all very good for my general fitness too. I became a different man, much better off psychologically as well as physically. I came to discover that walking is the only safe method of travelling while taking in one’s surroundings as well. In all other forms one has to concentrate so much on where one is going exclusively that everything else is missed.

As a result I soon became aware that there was more to life than the trappings of humanity that previously I had taken for granted for so long. Nature had so many beautiful magic stories to tell me now that I had never known before. I became more knowledgeable about the lives of all life around me be it fauna or flora; in the air, on the ground or in the water and I came to realise that my life was no more important to the World than the most humble animal and far less important than the life in a leaf of grass for example or a wooded coppice, on which it depended completely. Soon I came to realise that all life in Nature is a struggle, which all the participants take on without complaint. They just have to carry on; that’s what it’s all about. Only Humanity feels hard done by and feels the need to whinge about its sad life while blaming somebody else for it, thereby alleviating its need to do anything personally to make things better.

However I deviate somewhat from my story about the car.

After six years now getting along very cheerfully without a car one would think that I am well cured of the ‘automobilic’ affliction of my previous life. But I have to admit that this is not  quite the case.

My GP, who I like to see every year during the winter whilst I am at Warwick for my MOT, has his practice in an outlying village about ten miles away and difficult to reach without a car. Previously my brother has been kind enough to ferry me there and bring me back afterwards. However this time he has been unable to do so personally but was most happy to lend me his car. That was on Monday last and as we are meeting on Saturday for ‘Loves Labours Lost’ at the RSC at Stratford he generously said: “Why not keep it till then.”

Consequently not only did I keep my doctor’s ten minute appointment on Tuesday but I then went into Banbury to do some shopping and while I had the car I thought it would be a good nostalgic opportunity to see again the house in which I was born …… and my old school buildings of course (I had such a happy time there)…… and the house where I last lived (and I might as well do the one before that as well while I’m at it!) ……. and it would be a good thing to go to go to the cemetery to see my wife’s grave again while I have the means to do so. Then on the way back to Warwick at last, why don’t I drive up to Burton Dassett Hill, where as a family we all loved to go on a day out years ago? There’s a beautiful ancient church there too with well preserved remains of Medieval wall paintings.

Then yesterday I needed to go shopping to Morrison’s. Normally I would have been quite happy to walk the two miles there and back carrying the load, but yesterday, easily I persuaded myself that I needed to travel in the car. I managed to accomplish in fifteen minutes what otherwise would have been a morning or afternoon out. I convinced myself that by going in the car I would have lots of time left to do all the other things in my day. But what did I do after returning? I had lots of time to read a very exciting novel I’m into currently. Hooray!

In consequence I have to say that it appears I’ve missed the car, just like I would a drug, for all these years ….. and maybe l have lapsed this week. But I shall be very happy to return the machine on Saturday, thanking my brother nonetheless for his kind generosity and gratefully I shall return to my normal way of life.



Ancient, lichen covered Burton Dassett Church with its South Transept

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The End of the Voyage

Having been tied to the towpath opposite Kate Boats Yard for sometime Janis and I were quite ready when the time arrived to move our two little ships the short distance across the canal to take up winter moorings.

In the late low sunshine on the afternoon of 1st November we let go and they moved smoothly but eagerly on this last short leg of their 2014 voyage. Pretentiously I am calling it Voyage 6 for ‘Futurest’, since it’s the sixth year that  she and I have enjoyed life together.

Statistically during the year we have covered a total of 546.3 miles, passing through 352 locks, 14 tunnels, 11 lift bridges and 52 swing bridges. All this happened during a total cruising time of 314.5 hours which gives us an average speed of 1.74 miles per hour taking us through, again on average, one lock every 1.55 miles.

Though the voyage was most memorable and happy, especially as neither Janis or I had travelled across the Leeds and Liverpool Canal before, and generally the weather had been very kind to us, there is nothing quite like the expectation of winter moorings.

The thought that one can catch up with meeting family and friends again is very powerful, but the biggest joy, having been relying on the vagaries of 12 volt battery power for seven months, is the initial pleasure I receive from the benefits of connecting up to 240 volt power from ashore again. The feeling is absolute bliss.

The pleasure of hot water on tap without having to run the engine is heavenly or being able to use the washing machine without turning on the generator does make life so much easier. The pleasure of taking only a minute and a half to boil a kettle of water instead of the usual ten minutes on the gas hob or the decadent ease of making toast in an electric toaster instead of tediously under the gas grill is so rewarding. Whilst being able to switch on more than one light at a time if I so desire on these long dark nights, in total makes me feel almost guilty at my apparent lack of responsibility.

Things that were taken so much for granted when living ashore become so precious during one’s life on the water.

Kate Boats yard doesn’t change very much. They were busy sending hire boats out on Saturday, the day we arrived, while others were returning. It was good to see Nick, Cheryl and Rebecca again and as always they made us feel very welcome.

My winter friend the Robin was there as well welcoming us in with his loud distinctive song.



Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom ?

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Arrival at Warwick

We are drawing towards the end of our voyage, moored now on the towpath opposite Kate Boats. During the week one lovely morning I brought ‘Futurest’ along the one and a half miles from the Lidl Mooring and then enjoyed the walk back in the bright but low sunshine to transfer ‘Roots and Wings’ as well. We hope to remain here till 1st November after which Kate Boats  can take us in for our winter moorings.



‘Futurest’ on her way to Warwick


Janis has been away for a fortnight weathering hurricane gales off Ireland on the ‘Stavros S Niarchos’ but arrived back here yesterday none the worse for her eventful voyage but filled nonetheless with exciting tales of derring do.

During the same period on another beautiful day (we really have been very blessed  with the weather this year) I set off for Stratford-upon-Avon on the bus to see my brother. Though there was no Shakespeare this time to which I could look forward Stratford Music Festival was in progress that week and we were treated to two wonderful lunchtime recitals at the Guild Hall on the first day by a talented pianist who played sonatas by Beethoven and Chopin as well as Debussy’s ‘Images’, while  on the second a cellist and pianist presented us very beautifully and artistically  with a programme which included Rachmaninov. On the evening in between I accompanied David and his two companions Patricia and Edmund to Carlucio’s Restaurant where we enjoyed a meal accompanied by a group of jazz musicians called, ‘The Swing Museum’, cleverly portraying the music favoured by Stephan Grappelli and his ‘Hot Club of France’.

Then on Saturday last I travelled down to Brighton by train to visit Millie and my grand daughter Delilah-Rose, staying the night with them. Rupert, Delilah’s dad was there as well and we had a great time together with the girls.



Brighton Pavilion



Rupert and Delilah-Rose on the pier



Brighton and Hove looking westward


Otherwise I’m living quietly at this time of the year simply awaiting our winter moorings. However last week I bought myself a new computer, an Asus T100  notebook (for anyone who’s interested), programmed with Windows 8.

‘Honestly it was there just begging me to buy it’.

Actually my old laptop is still quite serviceable except that it is rather heavy to carry around and only has a nominal battery endurance of two hours. However it had taken me six years to become completely familiar with ‘Vista’ on this one whereas now I have a much lighter and smaller version; easier to carry around, with a nominal battery time of eleven hours…. Wonderful. But hopefully I shan’t have to struggle for another six years becoming familiar with ‘Windows 8’.

We shall have to see. This is the first blog posting with the new machine so hoping that all goes well.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Autumn at Leamington Spa

Presently I am on my own.

On Saturday Janis left ‘Roots and Wings’ once more in my care, and caught the train to Southampton, where she joined the brig ‘Stavros S Niarchos’ for a fortnight’s cruise. She sails regularly on the ship and in spite of a mild ‘mal de mere’ she says she enjoys it. I am sure she does.


Stavros S Niarchos

The brig ‘Stavros S Niarchos’ of the Tall Ships Youth Trust


However on the previous evening my son Rupert paid us a visit from Bristol and meeting the National Express coach we were very pleased to see him. It was one of his rare visits and even though Janis had to leave the following day, Rupert and I nevertheless had a great time together on our own until he left on Monday morning on the coach back home.


Leamington Spa Station with Janis….


On Saturday morning he and I joined Janis on the train for one stop only, as far as Banbury, where we spent the day at my old home town and met up as arranged with my younger son Alex. He was visiting the family dentist for one of his annual check ups (I shall be going shortly as part of my annual health MOT at this time of the year) and it was a wonderful opportunity to see both my men at once. We reminisced a great deal as usual while we walked around the town but Banbury hadn’t really changed at all from a year ago when I was last there.


….with Rupert….

Alex had to return to his home in Bath later in the afternoon while Rupert and I returned to the two little ships at Leamington.



….and the three of us


As a result;

Presently I am on my own.

But I’m not alone. I am sitting in a busy pub called the ‘Benjamin Satchwell’ in the Parade at Leamington and yes, you’ll have guessed right; it is one of two Wetherspoon hostelries in town.

I am sitting here, with my back to the large but silent television screen, studying the clientele happily chatting, some loudly others more secretively, whilst eating their burgers and chips in great style and the two waitresses must sleep very well at the end of their shifts each day, as they walk for miles delivering non-stop, heavy plates of food.

At intervals between the study, I write this blog and in spite of this apparent distraction, I find the atmosphere of the pub very conducive to writing. But the real incentive I have to admit is the fact that I can publish to the internet on completion via the free Wi-Fi available. It is so much easier and quicker than on board ship using my mobile dongle.

Outside the late Summer has departed and Autumn has arrived; yesterday high winds battered ‘Futurest’ and heavy rain pelted the roof and drummed volubly on my cratch cover. I stayed huddled inside all day with just a quick dash ashore to buy some milk at Lidl. But during the weekend it was still fine and Rupert and I enjoyed our numerous walks around the town.

The distinctive architecture of Leamington New Town remains the same and though the beautiful villas that used to house the wealthier middle class are now shop fronts and offices, the captivating Regency charm is still present.

The grey squirrels in the Jephson Gardens were as tame as ever and eagerly took offered acorns from our hands to dash off immediately to bury them furtively in the well manicured flower beds. How the gardeners must curse them, especially if the acorns germinate. 

The large Victoria Park alongside the gently moving River Leam is also pleasurable to the senses. The damp fragrance of Autumn is stimulating enough and while the numerous trees have not yet shed completely their golden leaves there are enough on the ground beneath the branches to give a substantial depth of cover. 

And there is nothing quite so pleasurable at this magical time as swishing noisily through a deep carpet of fallen leaves in the Autumn.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

In Contemplation of City and Country Life

City life is wonderful and whenever Janis and I are in touch with it we seem to have great difficulty in dragging ourselves away. The theatres, the concerts, the museums, the art galleries, all breath-taking in their artistry; the architecture, both simple and grand but all beautifully planned, the parades, the street buskers and the myriad of people in general, each with their unique behaviour and dress; the beautiful products in the shops making it so easy to spend money, which has been hard earned and saved (or maybe borrowed). All this draws Janis and I like moths to a light and makes it extremely hard to leave this complicated decadence of civilization.


DSCN1351  Outside Cathedral

Birmingham’s Cathedral…..


….with its Pre-Raphaelite Eastern Window


In contrast, the Hyatt Regency Hotel


But after a few days of this concentrated culture, the stress of it all begins to tell as well. The lonely impersonality of it and the continuous hubbub and selfish clamour all day and night of loud traffic and noisy people, the stress of rushing from one place to another (and yes Janis and I, when we are there, like two pieces of helpless flotsam, are caught up in this whirlpool of anxiety too) is so unrelenting and overwhelming that in the end one needs to move on almost for sanity’s sake itself. 

In particular Birmingham suffers from a distinct lack of animal life, any of which which would make life more relaxed. That is apart from Sapiens, animal enough on his own I dare say; he has really made it his own domain. There are no birds; even the faithful Mallards, normally always present whatever the threat, have given up here, as well as the hardy grey squirrels. Unusually domestic cats and dogs we saw nothing of and even the more unpleasant rodents appear to have deserted the city.

Birmingham with little litter appears to be clean, clinically tidy and entirely civilized.

We enjoyed it for a time and had visitors while we were there which made our life even more fulfilled. Ray came to see us again and we were delighted to see my friend Nushara and her friend Benchamas briefly while they were over here from Thailand. My good friend Robin and his wife Jan, visiting from Australia called on us as well, alas for too short a time. He and I sailed together on a trip to Australia and back, more than fifty years ago and still we reminisce about this special voyage on the ‘Gladstone Star’.



Nearly in the country again. The guillotine stop lock at Kings Norton


But in the end we dragged ourselves away and finally we let go our mooring ropes in the morning of Sunday 28th September. But we had only moved a few yards, as far as Old Turn Junction by Brindley Place when we encountered a police barrier. For a few minutes I had the delightful company on board of a police officer called Sarah just to make certain that I didn’t attempt to get off the boat anywhere in the vicinity of the International Convention Centre where the Conservative Party Conference had just begun that day. Alas all too soon I put her safely ashore on the other side of the Gas Street Basin and I was able to carry on. My little New Zealand companion on ‘Roots and Wings’ was equally impressed I think with her company in the form of a handsome hulking great policeman, built like an ‘All Black’ forward, which was very appropriate.

Shortly, in the vicinity of the Edgbaston Tunnel, my attention was drawn towards the towpath when ‘Futurest’ was overtaken by three burly joggers in line. The one in the centre looked familiar and then he smiled (or was it grimaced) at me and managed cheerily to say ‘Good morning’.

I said ‘Hi’ to him in return or something as similarly eloquent and  it wasn’t till he’d passed that I realised that I had been exchanging greetings with our Prime Minister David Cameron.

I nearly shouted after him ‘Go, go, go Dave’ but thought better of it in the end thinking he or his men might not appreciate my erudite but doubtful advice.

That was our last excitement in Birmingham. Soon the two little ships were in the country again. We turned left at King’s Norton Junction on to the very rural North Stratford Canal.

It was good to be surrounded by hedgerows again colourful still with Blackberries, Sloes, Crab-apple  and Rose-hips; to breath the fresh air and smell the heady fragrance of Nature. The trees were still luxuriant with their summer growth though it was now changing colour. Once more, as happens every year at this time, I was amazed that there could be so many variations of green, brown and gold in our spectrum of light. We were treated more extravagantly than ever on this occasion for even though the colours were of Autumn the weather remained steadfastly, day after day in late Summer. Though darkness approached so much sooner now, the resulting sunsets and evenings were splendid.



Peaceful mooring at Lapworth Locks


We forgot our hell for leather dash in the city and were able to relax again. To witness totally natural events around us carry on the same as they had for centuries was a revisited pleasure. The Mallards and Canada Geese still conversed in their pairs or groups assiduously in the language that only they understand but which we often guess at and the cattle grazing so contentedly soon put us at our ease. Even the pungent farmyard smells were what we needed to relax after the total pollution of the city.

We took our time and in the middle of the Lapworth Locks Janis and I loosened up even more for a couple of days. Following well used footpaths, we walked cross-country, in perfect weather, to the National Trust properties of first Packwood House and then on the second day to Baddesley Clinton House. The extensive gardens at each especially were filled, even at this late time of the year, with a riot of colour and we felt physically caressed by the heady fragrances all around.



Gorgeous Dahlia at Packwood House…..


DSCN1377  A bee at work

…… and a riot of bright colours


DSCN1400  Baddesley Clinton House

Baddesley Clinton House


DSCN1403  Another bed of gorgeous Dahlias

Dahlias at Baddesley Clinton too


Janis through the Lock gate


DSCN1417  Looking down the flight

Looking down the Hatton Flight


By the time we reached the Lidl moorings at Leamington on Sunday last for provisions our composure was back to normal. Our lives had been rewarded yet again.

We were back however in civilization.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


We remained at the moorings at Trent Bridge in Nottingham for a whole week with our solar panels happy to soak up the almost continuous sunshine. We never had to run our engines at all in order to charge the batteries.

We were lucky enough to have visits from numerous friends. Ray arrived one evening complete with dinner for us all, which we enjoyed enormously. Thank you for your kind and generous gesture Ray. 

On a further evening we spent a very pleasant few hours with Mel and her friends Ann and Sharon in a noisy and absolutely heaving West Bridgeford pub called ‘The Stratford’ (I think).

On four other separate evenings we had visits from Neil, Jane, Pina and Ken, Peter, Jay and Andy so we did very well for friends thinking of us. During the daytime we went on many walks and on one occasion biked as far as the Attenborough Nature Reserve which was most rewarding.


A Lapwing at Attenborough Nature Reserve


In the end we dragged ourselves away from Nottingham on Wednesday 10th September and whizzzzzed down to Birmingham in eight days. It was fast for us; well… I call an average speed of 1.61 mph almost speeding anyway and with a total of sixty locks, I think we did marvellously well. We didn’t do our usual dawdling trick either and spent only one night at each of our moorings.


DSCN1285  Approaching Trent Bridge

Departure from Trent Bridge


So we fled up the River Trent and then onto the Trent and Mersey Canal to frenzied Fradley Junction without batting an eyelid. Here we joined the Coventry Canal as far as Fazeley Junction, turning finally onto the very quiet Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.


DSCN1312  Entering Keeper's Lock on the Fradley Flight

The tiny Bridge 50 at Keeper’s Lock Fradley Junction


DSCN1313  The Swan at Fradley Junction

The ‘Swan’ at Fradley Junction


DSCN1314  Quiet mooring at Fradley Bridge on the Coventry Canal

Quiet mooring near Fradley Village


Nearing Birmingham we passed beneath busy ‘Spaghetti Junction’ at Salford Junction where the traffic noise was deafening and navigated with care onto the Aston Branch of the Birmingham Canal System.



Disney-like Tolson’s Footbridge on the Birmingham & Fazeley canal


This was on the last day’s passage up to Old Turn Junction in the centre of the city, right by the National Indoor Arena. It meant that we worked a total of twenty seven locks in that period of eight and a half hours, including the eleven of the Aston Flight and immediately afterwards, another thirteen up the almost subterranean Farmers Bridge Flight, beneath closely packed and built, high multi-storey buildings.


DSCN1321  Entering Aston Branch at Salford Junction

Entering the Aston Branch at Salford Junction


DSCN1326  Subterranean Lock on Farmer's Flight

A subterranean lock on the Farmer’s Bridge Flight


DSCN1329  The NIA in the far distance

At last! The roof of the NIA at the top in the background


All that happened last Wednesday, the 17th September and since then Janis and I have been enjoying Birmingham enormously. We have visited the Museum and Art Gallery and taken tea in the beautiful Edwardian Restaurant on most afternoons. We have spent a lot of money in the extensive outdoor and indoor markets.

On Friday Ray revisited us and after dinner we three went to the Crescent Theatre to see ‘The Lord of the Flies’, a chilling and thought provoking adaptation of William Golding’s novel.

On Saturday afternoon Janis and I ambled down to New Street Station to welcome my delightful friend Nushara who lives in Thailand, and her friend Benchamas. The two ladies earlier in the week had  visited London on business and before returning home I was thrilled to know that they wanted to come to see me. Neither lady had visited Birmingham before so they were very happy also to come all the way to see some of the city in the short time they had available. As well as their good will they brought lots of gifts with them too so the least Janis and I could do was to offer them a bed on board for the night, which they accepted and I hope enjoyed. The following morning after coffee at the Edwardian Restaurant they caught the train back to London for their return trip to Thailand.

Two hours later we had a quick visit from Peter and Rick, who had stopped off on their way to Liverpool from Stratford-upon-Avon, where they had been to see a play. Rick’s sister is a member of the RSC and had been in performance there. My brother David, who lives at Stratford and is a keen Shakespearean has told me that the lady is a very accomplished actor.

Today we’ve been on our own so we’ve been able to catch up with tasks that needed to be done, like blogging for example and this morning in cooler sunshine, we walked the four miles there and back to nearby Lidl in order to replenish our provisions that  were getting low.

That set us up quite nicely for the day and later this evening we are off to the Crescent Theatre once more; this time to see ‘My Boy Jack’ about the unfortunate World War I career of Rudyard Kipling’s son. It sounds moving but powerful.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

At Newark and Nottingham

We remained at Newark for nearly a fortnight but before we left finally, we allowed ourselves to drift astern from the Town Quay, downstream in the swift current, about fifty yards to tie up at the Pontoon Moorings on the other side of the river to top up our tanks with fresh water.


DSCN1241  Newark Castle

Newark Castle


IMG_1197  'Roots and Wings' passing through Newark Bridge

‘Roots and Wings’ beneath Newark Bridge

Also two forty volts electricity was available here and though the bright sunshine on our solar panels had kept our twelve volt batteries fully charged up till then, we celebrated for a few days in the sheer decadent pleasure of having the higher voltage on board with a water point alongside. We revelled in the luxury of having the immersion heater giving us continuous hot water which made the use of endless showers and washing machines so much more pleasurable. There was no feeling whatsoever of the anxiety or guilt that normally accompanies life aboard a twelve volt ship.

Since Newark is Janis’s adoptive hometown, we stayed here for so long in order to see all her old friends, of which there were many and all made me feel very welcome as well as their old friend.

Thank you to Lorna and Patrick; to Tina and Steve; Jenny and Shazz; Jane, Mel, Anne, Ray and Peter. It was lovely to see you again and thank you for your many kindnesses.

We wrenched ourselves away on a fine and calm last Tuesday morning and made our way up the wide glassy Trent through Newark Lock by the imposing ruin of King John’s Castle, past sleepy Farndon and through the large locks at Hazelford and Gunthorpe. We were happy to tie up for the night on the upper landing of the latter.

After a short walk up the village main street and back, we were happy to turn in early for a good start the following day. Though the street in which we walked contained only quiet residential properties with a small parish church at the inward end, many people were at the river side, where one pub and four posh looking restaurants, all neighbours, were vying for customers. This part of the river seemed so popular at this time of the day.


IMG_1203  The calm, flat, wide River Trent

The wide, calm and glassy River Trent


Egyptian Geese


IMG_1208  Approaching Trent Bridge prior to mooring at County Hall Steps

Aproaching Trent Bridge, Nottingham



The remains of old Trent Bridge, now on a busy traffic island


A fine looking visitor on my after deck


Wednesday dawned another calm day and we were able to make good progress up to Nottingham, tying up at the steps outside the County Council Offices at the wide and imposing Trent Bridge in the early afternoon.