Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Jam Butty update Late April

Jam Butty progress report
April 2014

Before I start this post a non boating reader recently asked me what the Jam Butty thing is all about. So, for the non boaters among you a short explanation. 

 Montgomery stern

A non powered canal boat which is towed is generally referred to as a butty. By contrast the craft which tows it is known simply as the motor. The plan is to use the butty Montgomery as a base to sell preserves and so whilst the craft will be registered as Montgomery, it will be sign written and referred to as The Jam Butty. Simple, memorable and with a twist of humour.

Over-plating on the bows

Its a month or so since my last update when some over-plating work was dictated by a hull survey. The hull was marked up by the surveyor and the sheet steel was ordered in - but inevitably this means that the delivery date has been pushed back a bit. This delay is no real hassle as we are not planning to move the boat till the summer and its far better to take delivery with the hull in tip top condition and good for decades more in the water than have expensive trouble a few years down the line.

Over-plating on the stern

A visit to a seemingly deserted Stretton yard revealed all the over-plating in place, some tacked into place and some fully welded into position. The steel for the knees is to hand so it wont be long before the whole thing is shot basted and painted.

 Doors onto the bows and cabin

With delivery getting closer my thoughts turned to stuff needed to connect the two craft. Of course some rope is needed for the cross straps which is easily sourced from Midland Chandlers - 16mm nylon rope at £2 per metre. But then we need fenders, a big one for the stern of Wand'ring Bark and a rounded one for the bows of Montgomery. Expensive items but necessary.

 The elum awaiting repair and the tiller handle in the workshop

My best guess it that we will take delivery in about a months time. There are a lot of people looking forward to seeing this curious craft afloat.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A bit more North Walsham and Dilham

North  Walsham and Dilham Canal - the Eastern bit
April 2014

I continued my review of the North Walsham and Dilham by tracing its course though to Dilham, pausing at Briggate along the way.

Briggate Lock April 2014

Briggate Mill was burned down in an arson attack in the 1970's, but the brick lower level survived and has been cleared out recently which provided access to the old wheel chamber for the first time.

Briggate waterwheel pit

Further down we drove through Dilham and whilst not canal related their curious little church caught my eye. It appeared to be in an unusually good condition which was explained by the fact that it was rebuilt in the 1930's.

 Dilham Church - Norfolk

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Watcher in the Shadows - book review

The Watcher in the Shadows
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
April 2014

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a quality writer and having previously read The Shadow of the Wind I found myself tempted by this book as I browsed the bookshop at Birmingham Airport en route to Armenia.

I like to have a good supply of reading matter for to occupy the long hours in the air and I bought this one with the return flight in mind (I already has The Bookshop that Floated away for the outbound leg).

This is a gripping, if slightly sinister tale set in 1937 which is one of Zafons early works. Its by no means as complex or as good as his later Shadow of the Wind, but it is aimed at a teen market which explains the less developed characters and the fact that I read through the 250 pages in less than four hours.

Its a dark and almost magical storyline where a mother and her two children find themselves deeply involved with a mysterious employer in his creepy gothic castle. Dark sinister going on's abound with a counterpoint love story to balance things out. Eventually good faced down evil and comes out victorious, but only after many skirmished and battles.

In some ways thew creeping darkness present in the book foretells the shadows the Second World War cast over Europe, a genie which cant be put back in its bottle.

All in all a good, fast moving book which works for an adult reader, but dont expect another Shadow on the Wind.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Yearning for Yerevan

A few images from Armenia
April 2014

Another month another country... 

I hate to think what my carbon footprint looks like at the moment, I fear I am doomed to a lifetime of tree planting to atone for the miles I have spent in the skies in recent months.

Central Yerevan, Armenia

This month's trip was to far flung Armenia, a destination which will probably have you reaching for your school atlas or if your are more technically minded clicking onto Google Maps. But for the rest of you Armenia is the next county beyond Turkey, just above Iran, next to Azerbaijan and just below Georgia - does that help?

As you would expect, its an ex Soviet country but one which has picked itself up, dusted itself down and with the aid of its massive diaspora (population which live abroad) it is in the process of rebuilding itself into a great little nation.  Its small - just 3m people and similar in size to Belgium and landlocked with pretty unsettled relations with three of its four neighbours.

Armeina has suffered more than its share of trials and tribulations over the centuries but even recently it suffered a Genocide at the hands of Turkey in 1905 with a million inhabitants killed and many more fleeing to safety elsewhere and so forming the hugely loyal Diaspora which now number more than the current population, and who faithfully plough huge amounts of cash back to the homeland (shades of the Jewish community). Even more recently they were at war with Azerbaijan following the collapse of the Soviet Union and today the country plays host to refugees from the troubles in the neighbouring middle eastern countries like Syria, whose number plates are a common sight among hoards of ageing Lada's which rattle over the rutted roads.

As you can imagine, its reconstruction is a work in progress, with its capital Yerevan leading the way. Half the population live in Yerevan and its centre has been developed very tastefully, although the state of the roads is a shock absorber manufacturers wet dream! Beyond the central zone the picture is more varied with the brutal ex Soviet remains all around. A bit of a post industrial nightmare in places, but Rome wasn't built in a day and they are getting there with real gems emerging form the industrial ashes.

And then there is the culture. It was the first nation to adopt Christianity as their religion and there are many churches dating back to the third century - an orthodox strand of mainstream Christianity with subtle differences from Catholicism (but dont ask me to define them!).

Above and beyond that there is the underlying geography of the place. Yerevan sits next to a huge fertile plain in the shadow of Mount Ararat, a snow capped dormant volcano and source of potential seismic unrest. To the north there is a magnificent high altitude lake which forms a gateway to a spectacular area of tree clad mountains as you approach the Georgian border. This area is a popular holiday destination in the summer and not dissimilar to the Lake District.

Of all the "exotic" places I have visited on business Armenia is perhaps the one I would most like to revisit for a holiday. Certainly not a laze by the pool sort of destination, but a country with immense variety, culture, interest and perhaps most importantly, a welcoming population who embrace visitors and are wildly enthusiastic to share their passion for their country.

Oh, and before you ask - yes I did do some work whilst was there, but I took every opportunity I could to sample the country, and its most excellent Ararat Brandy!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Spring Market at The Bond, Digbeth

Spring Market at The Bond, Digbeth, Birmingham
April 2014

Last weekend saw the first Wild Side event of the 2014 trading season. This year we dusted down the show kit to attend the inaugural Spring Market at The Bond in Digbeth, Birmingham - the old canal warehouse which sits beside the northern end of the Grand Union, next to the old FMC warehouse and and Typhoo Basin.

Cafe culture at The Bond

Its a sympathetically redeveloped venue which includes a two berth loading bay for boats and whilst the event was not canal focused, it was fashionably "retro" and the Homebrew Boat and the Book Barge were invited to attend and offer some waterborne trading atmosphere. To give the event a heart the central courtyard was devoted to consumable foods (you know - foods you eat then and there!) with Waffles sold from a period caravan, coffee sold from the back of a Morris Minor and beer and cider sold from a lovingly restored 1966 Routemaster Bus, plus a range of more contemporary vendors under the glass canopy. 

How do I know it was a 1966 model? - well I used to drive one which was used as a mobile youth club in Lincolnshire many years ago so I know my classic buses.... Jim please correct me if I am wrong here.

Wild Side in set up mode (thanks for the photo Sandra)

The venue includes a good sized indoor exhibition space which was given over to artisan food and hand made crafts in equal measure. Whilst indoor events are a huge blessing this early in the season, they can also be a bit of a nightmare with too many stalls squashed in leaving too little space to display the goods, too little room for the stallholders to move and most crucially for not enough space for the public to circulate in comfort.

Not so with this event. The heated and well lit venue was generous in dimensions and the organisers delivered a good 10ft of sales space and comfortably wide aisles. All in all a pleasant trading environment which is crucial if we are to return another time.

A good vibe in the central courtyard

But the BIG question is attendance numbers and this is where the organisers seem to have struck gold. Why a mixture of media word had spread and thousands of people made their way to this obscure location. Perhaps the most refreshing dimension was the age profile - probably a good 20 years younger than at normal canal side events. The good humoured crowd milled around in the spring sunshine, eating freshly made food and supping unusual drinks. 

But everyone loves preserves and we were able to introduce Wild Side to a whole new audience, who were eager to sample our foraged flavours. As a result we returned home with a much lightened car and a correspondingly expanded wallet. But most importantly the event was fun - and it needed to be. You see it was my birthday so the day concluded with the crews of Wild Side, the Home Brew Boat and the Book Barge walking into town and enjoying a shared Indian meal at Nations on Bennett's Hill. 

I use the word "enjoyed" guardedly because whilst the company was exemplary, the service at Isaacs was atrocious - slow, inaccurate and at times downright offensive. A shame because the decor and ambiance is spot on but my advice would have to be: don't go there!

Nations in Bennetts Hill

Hopefully this Bond based event will become a regular feature of the Birmingham foodie scene. If it does we would love to participate. See you there in the summer (I hope) - maybe we could even get the Jam Butty into the basin.