Saturday, 28 March 2015

Going, Going, Gone

Historic Boat Club auction
March 2015

Going, Going, Gone pretty much sums up our lives at the moment.

Just over a week ago we said goodbye to our home of 25 years and decamped to the boats for an undefined but hopefully short period, whilst our new home comes available. After a week afloat things have moved on and with contracts signed it looks like we will be moving in within two weeks.

On a slightly more mundane level we attended the Historic Boat Club's auction in Weston last week, accompanied by Sandra and Barry (Home Brew Boat) as I had spotted a couple of items I fancied I could use. Sandra, Barry and Helen dutifully joined me in the auction room but I could sense their despair as, after and hour, we crawled to lot 50 out of 200! I took pity on them and suggested that they may like to suss out the local pub and see if there was any chance of seeing the end of the Six Nations Rugby Tournament.

The Woolpack turned out out to be a triumph with two screens and good beer as well. So I stayed with the auction as the Three Amigos supped ale and provided a steady stream of score updates by text.

Of course, the items I wanted were in the final quartile of the event and in any case, all items purchased had to be paid for at the end. I did cats a covetous eye over a couple of rather nice Buckby Cans, particularly the one marked Autherley. I gamely cast my bids through to about £120 when I dropped out only to see the bidding roar away to over £400 - far to rich for my pockets.

One of my targets was a BCN Gauging Plate for Montgomery (The Jam Butty) and there were several on offer. The going rate was £45 to £60 a plate, but I had my heart set on lot 157 - a pair of plates bearing the number 229 which once graced John Toole's boat Albert. Plates were often displayed as a pair and rather than bid for the early ones I decided to bide my time. As in all actions, I set myself a price limit and given the individual prices seemed to be over £50, I figured the pair would  go for over £100 - but as others may be using the same round  sum target I set my limit at £110. As it turned out  the last competing bid was £100 so I won them dead on my limit. Now they need a good clean up and repaint (black with white lettering) after which they will be applied to the exposed bulkhead of the butty.

The second item targeted was an old decorated cupboard door from a motor boat. Its an original door from an unknown boat which has been repainted in recent years and by the screws in the back has been a decoration which has been hung on the wall. Given the price being fetched by the decorated Buckby Cans and Masthead Lights I feared that the bidding for this item would soon go way beyond my grasp, but no. There was just one opening bid at £40 and it was mine for £50 - a bargain. 

Fortunately, I was sat next to the table set aside for payment so I settled within 10 mins and was in  the pub in 15 and able to watch the bulk of the hugely exciting England France game with the outcome of the tournament hanging in the balance right up to the final whistle. Even Sandra found herself applauding England in the final minutes.

Now what  am I going to to with a door from a boatman's cabin I hear you ask?. Its true that I already have one painter door in the butty, so its not for there. No, my intention for this item is completely practical and in keeping with its given purpose. I want to use it as a table in our cratch.

One of my winter jobs has been to build lockers in the cratch and only yesterday we visit ed Elite Furnishings with a pattern to have some seat covers made to fit. One of Mrs Ahabs long held wishes is to have the cratch usable to eat in, and that includes a table of some sort. The item in question looked to be exactly the size we want, and comes with authentic working boat history.

To be versatile the table had to hinge up and down and with a bit of giggery pokerey I managed to get it set at a hight which is comfortable to use and will fold up neatly within the dimension of the cratch windows. The challenge was the other end and a post underneath would damage the artwork - which was unacceptable. If you cant prop it up why not try suspension? A trip to the chandlers saw me rooting through their fittings and before long I has the items necessary to construct a removable chain.

The whole assemble need a bit of fettling after the cushions arrive but it works perfectly and most importantly, its carries Mrs Ahab's seal of approval.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Celestial Portents

The sun sets on an era
March 2015

If you happen to read this post as it goes live you cant fail to be aware that it has suddenly gone dark outside, as the UK experiences a near total eclipse of the sun.

Its a fitting day for the two great heavenly bodies which influence us most to come into alignment and cast a shadow over us, a celestial portent if ever there was one. You see, as the sun has been setting the completion of the sale of our home of 25 years has been completed and so in a few minutes the sun will rise for the second time today and mark a fresh beginning in lives.

I cant say that I believe that the two events are in any way connected but in the same way that I know exactly where I was during the last eclipse on 11th August 1999 (sitting with my family on the tip of Portland Bill) I will always know where I was today - sitting on our boat in Calf Heath waiting for the guys from Kinver Canopies to come and measure up for a new cratch cover. 

And so starts a new era for the Ahabs. Hopefully in a few weeks we will have moved into our new home in Aldridge and be one big step closer to our plan to be spending six months afloat each year, travelling around picking wild fruit, making it into preserves and selling the end products at canal based events around the country. If all goes according to plan we will do a circuit of Midlands events at the beginning and end of each season and then spend the summer period making lazy explorations of the more distant sections we have never been able to reach.

And so as the sunlight returns to banish the short lived cold of the eclipse induced darkness, we raise a toast to the future, a new and exciting era where "the best is yet to come".

Saturday, 14 March 2015

D Day Looms

D Day Loom
March 2015

Well, the deed is done and the countdown has started.

Contracts on the sale of our house have been signed, exchanged and a completion date set for Friday 20th March - yes, in six days time!

Life is therefore a frantic whirl of packing boxes, bin bags and an overloaded Ford Mondeo. Perhaps the biggest fly in the ointment is all the business stuff which is being split between the storage container, the butty and the longer term removers storage facility. 

We are not sure how long we will have to decamp to the boat for, but the current guess is about a month which takes us close to the start of the 2015 trading season - hence the need to keep the stock accessible.Then there is the plant life which is stirring into life and there is wild garlic to be picked and turned into Wild Garlic Vinegar ready for the Spring Fair at the Bond - our first event of the year.

Its unclear exactly how much time we will be in Calf Heath Marina because we have several weekends away, Helen is away for a couple of extended midweek trips and to cap it all we have the boat out of the water in mid April for a DIY re blacking.

The one bit of sad news is that we wont be appearing the the first episode of Great Canal Journeys on Sunday. Sadly we didn't make the final cut so our moment in the spotlight will have to wait a while!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Stuck on You

Marmalade Awards 2015
March 2015

Its a long accepted fact that in the Wild Side production process I can claim a certain prowess in the fields of preparation and packaging, but in the the vital areas of cooking and the application of the fairy dust element I have remained uninitiated, till now.

But during a recent period of illness I became bored and spent several mornings preparing a mountain of Seville Oranges, over which Helen would then weave her magic. But then the inevitable happened and she succumbed to my lurgey - rendering her unable to make the planned marmalade.

Rather than abandon all my had won preparation I wondered "just how hard is this preserve making malarkey"? I have watched Helen working over steaming cauldrons so many time I decided to have a go myself. Whilst I did make several batches of Sloe Whisky Seville for sale, I also started to think about the Marmalade awards on my own account.

If she can do it, why cant I?

The various categories were reviewed and my eye was caught by the "First Timers" and the "Man Made" sections. I figured I will always be a man but I can only make marmalade for the first time once. And so a jar of "Andy's Succulent Seville Marmalade" was packaged and sent in for judging.

After several weeks when I had forgotten all about it, I received notification that my rookie marmalade had won a silver award! But I was in good company as all of Helen's five marmalade's had won Silver or Bronze Awards. Come to that, Sue Cook (Indigo Dream) also won a silver this year!

That is probably the end of my amateur marmalade career. By the time we get to next years awards I will be on the threshold of leaving work and, with Wild Side becoming a larger part of our lives, I guess I will be better described as an Artisan.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


March 2015

It wasn't a good time to discover a problem with the electrics on Wand'ring Bark.

Last weekend I decided to recharge the battery on the Jam Butty using a trickle charger but alas it wasn't to be. I plugged in my hookup and linked this to a trickle charge and then, after a few minutes it tripped the fuse. Not the fuse on the boat, or the fuse on the hook up pillar but rather the fuse to the whole marina. Suddenly the drills and grinders were stilled and a posse was dispatched to identify the guilty party.

We had a similar situation a few months ago and I managed to avoid the lynch mob but this time it was a fair cop - I was to blame.

With our imminent plans to move onto the boat, the need for a reliable power source had never been greater so rather than try and track down the offending element of the system I decided to tackle the problem head on. 

First there was a new 25m hook up cable. The old one was used on our camping trips 15 years ago and in recent years has fallen into the canal on several occasions (not when the power was turned on!). Although it looked OK, the ends were sealed on so it was out with the old and in with the new, having had my wallet lightened by £40 in Midland Chandlers.

Next in line was the changeover switch, which was limited to a quick inspection for loose wires but all was ok, so no work there.

Then there was the extension lean which had suffered crush injuries whilst fitting the new stove. Part of the plastic housing was broken so B&Q assisted with a new friction free replacement, which will always come in handy.

Finally there was the trickle charger. The old one was a Halfrods special from about 10 years ago. Its labels and instructions had come off so deciding which buttons to press was something of a lottery, and as it had been stored in the damp of the engine bay this unit was a likely suspect. Another £40 investment in Halfords saw me the proud owner of a shiny new charger which will also help keep the batteries topped up and the 12v Fridge running whilst we are aboard.

The entire combo was linked up, the power turned on and...... it all worked fine. Lots of power and no Marina Mafia lynch mobs.

Sunday, 8 March 2015


March 2015

I guess that after living in one house for over 25 years its not surprising that we have accumulated a lot of stuff.

Of course, you don't really notice the accumulation until you decide to move and start to weed out the good stuff from the rubbish. The last few weeks have seen many trips to the local tip and long lines of rubbish bags have adorned the pavement outside our house every Monday night.

But now things have got a whole lot more complicated. At long last the sale of our house has come to fruition and we only have about another 10 days in our Sutton Coldfield home, but the purchase of our new house in Aldridge have fallen behind so we have started to juggle our stuff.

The problem is that we don't know how long we will be in limbo so we are having to prepare for a prolonged period without a home base. Fortunately we have the boats to move onto, so at least we have somewhere warm and comfortable to move into - but there is no way the contents of the house can be fitted into the hold of the butty!

So we have arranged for the core items of our home to be stored by the removal company but this stuff will be completely inaccessible till its unpacked to our new house. But even then the new house does not have a workshop or garage yet so a couple of weeks ago we rented half a shipping container which now holds the contents of our garage and my shed. 

But that's not all. Helen needs to be able to access her Wild Side glassware after we move in to the new house but before we build a workshop, so all that stuff now fills the other end of the container. And then to make things more tricky, the jam trading season may well start before we move in, so all the hundreds of jars of preserve have to be moved to the container, along with all the stall and supporting paraphernalia.

And than, as a final twist there is all the stuff we need to take to the boat with us. including warm and cold weather clothes, suits, entertainment and enough fuel from the log pile to keep us warm. Its a good job we ave a dry hold to put it all in!

So Thursday 19th March will be our last day in the family home and the start of a new chapter of our lives.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Breaches and building

Breaches and Building
March 2015

Change is a constant factor of the canals in central Birmingham.

Worcester Birmingham Canal stoppage in Birmingham

Currently the start of the Worcester Birmingham canal is a muddy ditch, devoid of water from Worcester Bar to the turn at the Mailbox. This section of the canal is an extended aqueduct over Holiday Street and a disused railway tunnel. The base of the canal has failed flooding the old railway tunnel beneath so coffer dams have been constructed and diesel pumps are roaring away keeping the water at bay till repairs are completed at Easter. This is good news for the canal which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, but less good for the residents of the nearby swanky flats who will enjoy a diesel drone for the next six weeks.

The base of the canal offers a mouthwatering selection of detritus, rubbish which would delight the most discerning WRG clean up squad!

The new hotel extension to the NIA, Birmingham.

Curiosity satisfied we walked back to Old Turn Junction admiring the gleaming new addition to the NIA as we progressed down Farmers Bridge Locks and back to our car.  With the sun offering some real heat on our faces its good to know that we will soon be boating through these locks rather than slogging our way along the towpath.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Birmingham Library

Birmingham Library
February 2015

I think I must be just about the last person to visit Birmingham's controversial new library.

View from the Secret Garden viewing platform of Birmingham Library

The old Birmingham Library was a truly horrible bit of brutal 1960's architecture, slabs of grim concrete piled in top of each other like an inverted pyramid. Thankfully it didn't survive many decades and a new Francine Houben designed structure was opened in 2013 in centenary square adjoining the Rep Theatre - a strong addition to the contemporary gems which already surround Centenary Square.

Whilst its a bit boxy from the outside its the interior which offers the wow factor. The central atrium is built in a circle with galleries offering access to the rare reference books, rising up over several stories. We ascended the escalators and travelator which criss cross the atrium and to my delight we found ourselves in the map room. This room contains hundreds of maps of Birmingham and of course, I was soon throwing sheets over the desk and assembling a mosaic of the central section of the BCN. Sadly I had nowhere enough time to satisfy my curiosity but as Arnie said, "I'll be back"!

The reconstructed Shakespeare Memorial Room

With the serious bit of the library explored, we ventured up to the very top where an indoor viewing platform offered a great view of central Birmingham and then a real gem - the Shakespeare Memorial Room. Set inside a 21st century testament to modernity is a little 19th century shrine dedicated to Shakespeare. The old Shakespeare Room has been reassembled panel by panel and offering a tangible link between the past and the present.

Finally there is the secret garden - an outdoor viewing platform which offers views to the north and west, including the NIA and the Old Main Line from Cambrian Wharf to Old Turn Junction. The new library has an odd link to Brindley's original Birmingham Canal. The original terminus was into a wharf which extended beyond Cambrian Wharf and a basin which sits beneath the foundations of the new library building.