26 May 2010

It pays to advertise

So there we were, pootling along minding our own business, bemoaning the amount of traffic on the adjacent Keighley – Skipton road when what should we see but an A-board stood proudly on the towpath. ‘Bustys Baps’ it proclaimed. Now, while, yes, it could conceivably have been a mobile knocking shop, our money was on a snacks wagon so we chucked the boat in reverse, got about six feet away from the bank before we went aground and then leapt for it. It takes more than a bit of water-filled ditch to keep us away from a well-filled buttie. And we were rewarded for our athleticism/desperation as Bustys Baps was not your average layby snackateria. The proprietor proudly announced that all his fresh food was sourced from local farmers and he even had a bit of roast beef on the go with which he tried to tempt us. I’m afraid A failed completely to get into the spirit by ordering a spam sandwich so it was left to me to keep our end up (a bigger end each day) with a delicate sausage, egg and bacon breakfast bap. Well, I take my hat off to you Yorkshire farmers – it was as fine an assemblage of fried goodies as I’ve had in a very long while. So another happy, serendipitous moment in a cruise that seems to have been full of them.

I left you on Monday evening about to go for a pint and a packet of crisps. Well, that turned into two pints and a fearsome attack of the munchies so we walked into Bingley for an Indian. And yes, before you say it, we are having rather a lot of Indians this trip, but our route has been like one long curry alley and it would be foolish not to take the opportunity to sample the spicy wares on offer. The Shama was excellent, although I’m not sure about my peshwari naan featuring a liberal sprinkling of pineapple. I’m a conventional sultanas and coconut girl, and I wasn’t overly taken with the Hawaiian pizza approach. But friendly staff, sound cooking and great value means it gets a tick in our book - plus they gave us a doggy bag of uneaten naans, so extra points. (We sold them a sob story of five little mouths to feed at home...bet that had them looking up Childline's number). Oh, and I forgot to say the other day....if you've moored up in Clarence Dock and spotted lots of coconut on the jetty, I do offer a heartfelt apology. Five dogs and one peshwari leads to inevitable spillage...

As we left the Shama, we detoured onto the towpath to sneak a look at the three rise. To be honest, coming from Leeds means that you’re quite geared up for it as you’ve already done a fair few risers and got used to the cavernous proportions of the chambers. Even the five rise was not quite as forbidding as I expected and we popped up it the following day very sedately. Barry was keeping a paternalistic eye on things but letting his colleagues and A do the work – the pace is very measured and controlled, they rush nothing and keep a very close eye on how you’re doing. There are a few sticky outy bits in the odd chamber that can catch a gunwale sometimes and a few studs on the gates that you have to watch for, but the feeling is of a very thorough, professional operation that’s leaving nothing to chance from a boater’s safety perspective. That suited me fine and we waved our thanks to everyone as we set off for that evening’s objective, Riddlesden.

And now tonight, we’re in the Yorkshire Dales proper, having passed through the self-proclaimed Gateway to the Dales, Skipton. We’re moored a couple of miles past the town as it was a little incompatible with our doggy needs – instead we’re in the middle of nowhere looking out onto sheep dappled hillsides. Doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Actually, it started to look a bit dales-y as soon as we rounded the first corner this morning. We’d found ourselves a lovely little out of the way spot just past Riddlesden and as soon as set off, we could see the countryside start to swell and roll for miles, blighted only by the sound and sight of traffic carving through the middle of the greenery. The road noise is a fairly constant companion for this section but the knock-out views and the clusters of bluebell flooded woodland more than make up for it. Ever since we got on the L&L, low water levels/dredging issues aside, we’ve thought this a simply stunning canal and one that we are already committed to return to – but why is it so underused? If we were down at Great Haywood or Fradley at the moment, I’m sure we’d easily be seeing four boats an hour – not a day. Where’s the problem? Okay, it is perhaps not the easiest road as the locks are big and heavy and the swing bridges are so many and so frequent that you need to ease up on the coffee or have a big bladder to be comfortable. But like so much on the cut, if you take it steadily and slowly, you can achieve anything – and it would be a terrible shame to miss out as it is truly god’s own country up here. And you can get a mouthful of Bustys Baps too – that’s worth the trip alone.

23 May 2010

Toilet humour

I am writing this blog in the Ladies at Mumtaz. Yes, do read that again as it still won't make any sense. Let me explain. Mumtaz is a rather fab Indian (Kashmiri) restaurant in Clarence Dock. We went for dinner on Thursday night to celebrate our arrival in Leeds and the loos are so amazing that I've moved in. Never seen conveniences like them...there's even a bidet in here. I understand it's been blistering all weekend - wouldn't know, I've been chilling out surrounded by the finest porcelain and chowing down on a dustbin-sized peshwari naan I sneaked off a table. I wonder where A is? Are the dogs missing me? I wonder if I could nab some poppadums and a pickle tray?

Okay, okay, that's wishful thinking on my part. I've actually been melting all weekend at Apperley Bridge, where we stopped, hot, bothered and very tired on Friday evening. Mind, we had done our good deed for the day - cake rescue. Don't ask, because you'll only say I made it up. But where else other than the British canals could you be approached by a man on bike saying that he'd lobbed a bag of cream cakes at his friend's boat (moored on offside), they'd missed, landed in the cut and could we now please rescue them for him? Why would anyone want to throw cream cakes anywhere - they're quite delicate things aren't they? Now not only had they endured a lobbing, but they'd also had an unexpected immersion which probably wouldn't have done much good for them either, and now they were going to get speared by A as he hung off the side of the boat with the boat hook primed and ready. But by jove, he did it first go, and the cake bag was duly returned to its owner with his grateful thanks. Apparently, there was an apple inside the bag too. Don't you just love it? Cream cakes and an apple. That's like ordering half a dozen doughnuts and a diet Coke.

Now today, Monday, has been one of those little gems in the old cruising diary where everything has just plopped into place. After a weekend of total indolence and over patronisation of the wonderful Bridge Street CafĂ© (a classic Greek-run greasy spoon with a great line in lattes and bacon sandwiches), we finally set off this morning, still in bright sunshine, getting up the Dobson riser before stopping at the Apperley Bridge services for the always satisfying ‘empty, empty, full’ routine. I was even able to swap a duff BW credits card for a working one, and buy a spare – not sure the pump out machine there had the best suck as it was still going when we ran out of time but I think we’ve hoovered out enough to get us through the rest of the week. Then it was onward, ever onward, through the Field riser where a blueshirt helped us through, and then to Shipley. There we were helped out at swing bridge 209 by a lady from an adjacent snack wagon who was obviously used to lending a hand judging by the way she took charge – A just looked on like a spare part, eyeing up her menu (she was a pretty blond so it says a lot about A that he was fixed on the eats rather than the cook!) Whether it was a clever promotional gambit I don’t know as we’d been eyeing up her wares before she stepped in but her kindness sealed the deal, and we traded helping hands for bacon and sausage sandwiches. Then in Saltaire, we came upon the ice cream boat – ah, pudding! So another quick stop as I ordered two 99 cones and the race was on to eat them before a) they melted and b) we got to the next lock as there’s no windlass belt I know that can take a handle, a handcuff key and a cornet.

We decided to call it a day early and the final part of the jigsaw fell into place with some handy bollards and a decent depth under us for once just outside the Fisherman pub at Darley Gap. There’s no food on Monday evenings but a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor’s and a bag of crisps should hit the spot right enough. We’re pleased to get moored in a reasonably semi-rural spot to be honest – the VMs seem to be mostly in towns and the depth at the sides make casual mooring out in the country almost impossible. Despite some appealingly piled lengths and mown banks, there’s no way anything except the lightest plastic cruiser could get in – I’m assuming dredging has just been a casualty of the cash crisis but it makes you wonder what happens in busier times as there’s only so many VMs to go round and not everyone wants to be in a town. But that’s my only whinge about the L&L so far – everything else has been great. Plenty of facilities, plenty of blueshirts on the ground, fab scenery, hugely entertaining locks and swing bridges (entertaining for me watching A work up a sweat and humphing about this and that), it's been just swell.

The run out of Leeds city centre which we did on Friday was very surprising – attractively sylvan, the towpath well used by walkers, joggers and cyclists and no obvious reason why BW have an advisory on this stretch, to clear Leeds to Newlay in one go and not to moor overnight. I couldn’t resist asking and it seems that it’s no different to many urban stretches, so I’m curious as to why it’s picked out for special measures – apparently at weekends you get large congregations of youngsters and too often they cross the line, moving from plain old high spirits to something a little less savoury like harassing passing boaters. But during the week, especially in the morning, you shouldn’t have any problem at all so don’t let the rather dramatic BW advice put you off. There’s loads of BW help on the ground too – they’re in constant touch with one another, managing boats and water levels, and most of the risers will have seasonal blokes on to help you through so you won’t be wanting for assistance.

Right, I’m off for a pint and a packet of cheese & onion – Bingley tomorrow and A gets to be bossed around by Barry. Can’t wait.

19 May 2010

Don't mention the C word

My life flashed in front of my eyes this evening: we had a C-A-T incident. At this point Sue and Richard of Indigo Dream are doing that ‘sharp intake of breath’ thing, knowing exactly what we’ve experienced and now wondering whether the C-A-T in question made it. Well, I’m pleased to see that my lot, who are increasingly like the cast of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, couldn’t catch a bloody cold let alone a cat and all they got for their troubles was a load of scratches in intimate places as they ran around like lunatics in search of some feline fun. Serves them right, picking on a one-eyed moggy. But as I saw what was unfolding my heart missed several beats as it jumped into my mouth – I had stupidly (yes, this was my fault undoubtedly) let the dogs off once we’d moored up and I honestly thought that they’d be dying for a wee and I could just do my usual and clip their leads on as they cocked or crouched. Oh no. Tiddles decided to show himself and all hell broke loose but as I said, my lot are getting a bit past it now and simply couldn’t cope with the superior intelligence and agility of puss. The cat went to ground in some very thick bushes and my lot gave up the hunt as we all grabbed for their collars, me profusely apologizing to the cat owner (from the boat next door) who was, thankfully, pretty relaxed about the whole thing. It took a while for her to tempt the cat out again with some food, but we stayed as we were anxious to know whether the dogs had inflicted any damage; during this time, the husband appeared and rather than the 6’ 6” Graeco-Roman wrestler I was fearing (because that’s the sort of luck we have normally) he turned out to be a dead ringer for Ashley out of Coronation Street. Was our luck turning? A totally intact cat that was brought out of its hiding place minutes later would seem to suggest so. More than can be said for poor Arthur…somehow, despite the fact that he was last to the cat hunting party due to a five minute whizathon, he was the only one who sustained an injury with a little cut to his head. Bless.

Anyway, a quick glass of red soon steadied the nerves and I berated myself for being so foolish as not to have had them on their leads from the off. I can’t blame the dogs for following their instincts so it really is a case of bad mummy. We’ve had quite a day of it really…no-one stirred till 9am this morning, and when we finally decided to set off, we hit mechanical trouble. Something to do with the battery isolator switch which went on the wonk and isolated everything whether we wanted it to or not. A soon settled its hash by bypassing it and we’ll aim to fit a replacement as soon as we get to a decent chandlery. However, this unexpected delay in setting off meant we avoided bumping into the massive Fusedale H on a bend; we were still safely tied up on our mooring as it nosed its way out of the lock and carefully past us. We’d been passed earlier by Ferndale H loaded for Whitwood and so it seemed that meeting a really big bugger in a really awkward location wasn’t written in the stars for us. No….instead, I got to play chicken with the returning Ferndale H as it came down to Bulholme Lock unloaded. I was leaving the lock, he was coming towards it and I took the decision to keep left and head for the protection of the visitor moorings. Now we don’t have VHF radio (that’s the first purchase when we get back) and the BW man wasn’t there to tell so he could pass it on, so we had me giving it full wellie and heading left, trying to be as clear in my intentions as possible, and Ferndale H lining up for the lock and not really seeming to care if I was in the way. He kept coming, I gave it more throttle, the lee of the visitor moorings was getting closer, so was his huge bow, I was now at full chat and just in time slipped into the space behind a wide beam….before having to hit full reverse lest I bump him right up the bum. Well, it didn’t happen exactly like that but it had you going didn’t it? Seriously, there was never a moment’s concern, these barge guys really are the pros out there and very friendly with it. But I did have to move my ass out of that lock though…

The day had one last challenge for us – Lemonroyd Lock. I’m not sure why I found it so much more disconcerting than the others but…oh hang on, maybe it’s because it’s 10 miles long and 100 feet deep and has all the appeal of a wet crypt. I think it’s 13’ 6” if truth be told but it still makes for a really cavernous chamber and the modern brick construction makes it feel very clinical and oppressive. I stuck the centre line round one of the poles that run the length of the lock and clung on for grim death as A pressed his button but I needn’t have worried. BW have set these locks up perfectly for boater operation, the paddles going up very slowly to ensure you don’t get tossed about. In several we haven’t even bothered with any ropes going up, and we’ve been fine – can’t believe that I was a bit anxious about all these mechanized locks at the beginning of the hols.

The run up to Lemonroyd was interesting – it felt less like the environs of Leeds and more like the Mekong Delta with the river stretching smoothly and silently ahead, trees kissing the water and a preternatural quietness that had me looking out for the Viet Cong on one side and Rambo on the other. In the event, it was not Mr Stallone but Mr Swan who got me, hissing at my heels as he chased me off his territory. I was relieved to get moored up just past Woodlesford Lock…and then wished we hadn’t as the C-A-T incident kicked off. Tomorrow it’s Leeds – and leads.

18 May 2010

The dog and tanker

Picture the scene. You’re having a nice chat with your boating neighbours, the dogs are off-lead having a quiet mooch about, the sun is just nudging the yard-arm, all is right with the world. Then suddenly, one of your dogs decides he’s bored with all this and by way of a star turn falls head first between the wharf and your neighbour’s boat. Cue International Dog Rescue with Thunderbird 1 (bearing a striking resemblance to A) swinging into action FAB style…well, actually more dragging him out by the collar style really. No surprises that the dog in question was Arthur – he was okay, just four wet paws and the odd graze as thanks to the small ledge at the bottom of the wharf wall and the position of the boat, he saved himself from full immersion and just got wedged instead. Not very dignified though…I think all the excitement of the past couple of days must have finally caught up with him. I have never been able to let all five dogs off together for such extended periods of time but as there was nothing and no-one around, I took full advantage. It was useful to see how their recall is these days – Miffy, excellent. Arthur, excellent. Susie, pretty good. Monty, improving but still poor. Ranger, absolutely rubbish…well, it is until you wave food at him when his hearing miraculously returns.

So what have we been up to then? Well, yesterday we went down to Barnby Dun on the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigations to drop off some rubbish at the sani station. Oh, and to see what the New Junction canal was like…very straight is the answer. But for my power-mad man, it was also nirvana. Mechanised lift bridges, mechanised swing bridges, traffic lights, sirens, automatic barriers and even a mechanised lock with a swing bridge in the middle of it – top that! It meant that the 5.5 mile run to the junction with the S&SY and Stainforth & Keadby canals was a lot more exciting that it first looked…especially for me as I headed underneath these massive lift bridges with the demon keyholder in possession of the pedestal, getting a bit previous with the close button. We turned at Barnby Dun and came back to our mooring of the previous night, delighted that we’d made the effort and that we have kept some new territory in reserve for next time. Everything we have seen and everything we have heard has made us more determined to revisit this area and give some serious cruising time to both the S&SY and S&K canals.

And then just when we thought we’d had enough excitement for one day, at 10pm last night comes the unmistakeable sound of a big screw in the water and lo and behold, the loaded Humber Princess glides by en route to Rotherham. We could just about make out the tanker outline in the water but it was tricky gauging exactly how big she was. No such problem this afternoon when we encountered sister ship Humber Pride at Whitley Lock! She’d been following Princess last night but had carried on up the A&C to unload at Fleet – now she was running back empty to Immingham and we got a proper sense of scale as she squeezed into the upper lock and then went past us on the mooring. You know those little plastic boats in children’s baths? That was us, bobbing up and down in our insignificance. A wonderful sight, those Whittaker’s tankers, So much more edifying than a tubby trapped dog with his bum in the air ..

Aside from that, we’ve done flap all. We stopped at midday today, having taken the executive decision to have a lazy afternoon in the sun. As a result, we’ve eaten too much, drunk too much and absorbed too many rays, leaving us a tad queasy. Suspect it will be an early night, preferably without Ranger on the bed as it was all through last night. Not usual practice for him, but once he was on there, he wouldn’t be shifted. My legs lost feeling for about seven hours and A kept wondering why I was touching his bum all night. It worries me that my husband thinks I have furry hands with long sharp claws….

17 May 2010

Gooley hooley

A hundred years ago, when I was a teenager doing mad double ring holiday hell cruises with my dad, I had one main responsibility – plotting our course so meticulously that we’d always end up outside a pub for the night. My dad had no problem with the 6am starts and the 40 lock mile days as long as he had a pint or five to ease his aches and pains each evening. And I wasn’t complaining either as I would quite happily wile away the hours playing the fruit machines or the trivia machines, and surreptitiously pocketing the winnings as I went….I do, however, seem to remember paying the price for these intense stand-up sessions with regular bouts of the most agonising cramp you can imagine , so it wasn’t all beer and skittles. Anyway, the point of all this wittering is that I’m pleased to say that nowadays it’s all very different. A and I rarely set ourselves a specific daily timetable, instead choosing to call it a day either when we’ve simply had enough or when we see a seductive looking mooring spot giving us its siren call. And sometimes other delights are dangled in front of us that get reverse gear selected and centre lines chucked before you can say ‘big bollards’ – and among the dangliest delights are those signs that have the words Indian and restaurant in close proximity. And this, dear reader, is a very convoluted way of explaining how we came to be moored above Pollington Lock on a Saturday evening. To be fair, we’d been thinking of stopping there anyway but any doubts were immediately swept aside by the canalside notice informing us that ‘Simply Indian’ was 400 yards to the west. Well, we weren’t going to make the same dallying mistake twice and while it may not have been two steaks and a Vienetta for a tenner, a takeaway seemed like a pretty good substitute. Now in my experience, this serendipitous sort of event ends in one of two ways – on a ‘it keeps getting better and better’ high or on a ‘well that was a bit crap’ low. Sadly, this was very much the latter as the Indian, which promised so much, delivered little more than an oily gloop that had all the spicy sophistication of a cricket bat. It delivered a bit more the next morning but thankfully it was blowing a hooley so the effects were mitigated…

And talking of the hooley, wow….when I was making coffee down below, I was worried that A had ploughed on through Goole Docks and was heading out to sea…there was a fair old bit of pitch and toss, I can tell you, but it’s simply because the A&C is so damn wide and straight that the wind blows right up your bum and whips up the white horses….not to mention green dogs, poor things. Anyway, to paraphrase Caesar, we came, we saw, we turned around again – there wasn’t really anywhere very hospitable to stop so we hovered for a bit just by the Goole sani station, having a good look at all the boats, ships and tankers, and then headed back towards the junction with the New Junction canal. Coming down we’d espied a likely mooring just ahead of the aqueduct and we eventually tied up just after five. Now in the dog rummaging stakes, this has to take the gold medal – even Monty was allowed off! We’re effectively on the offside in the middle of nowhere, with hedges and dykes separating us from fields, so that’s about as secure as it gets for us. I did think there was no way round the aqueduct either – so my heart skipped a beat when I saw a big brindle greyhound sprinting along what was obviously a low level footpath along its length! However, as he has done a couple of times now, he came back to me before too long – now Monty’s never really done this before, always having to be chased and caught. So is he a reformed character? Or is age curbing his spirits at long last? I’m not convinced to be honest and will still be very choosy about where I let him off the lead.

Today’s plan is to go down the New Junction canal and back again to this same spot – no real reason, it’s that Mallory thing, ‘just because it’s there’. The power-crazed one will get to play with swing and lift bridges today – and god help us if there are traffic lights too. They send him into a frenzy.

14 May 2010

All quiet on the northern front

I think the Ouse should be rechristened the Ooze. I took one look at it today, a brown muddy torrent with slimy banks looking about as inviting as a French pissoir. Okay, I probably wasn’t seeing it at its best but I was so pleased that we were already facing the other way, back down the Selby Canal. Ah, the Selby canal, a surprising little number, fresh on the nose, long on the finish, a miniature Northern Ashby with the benefit of water. But this has been just one surprise of many, as the Yorkshire navigations continue to delight in all their languid splendour, their separateness and solitariness and…something else which I just can’t put my finger on….oh, and no boats, that’s it. In fact, at one point, as we sauntered down and around the River Aire en route to Selby, we did wonder whether we’d inadvertently taken a wrong turn – it wasn’t that there were no other boats around but more the fact that there was no hint whatsoever of any life on earth at all. Had Bank Dole lock actually thrown us into some bizarre parallel universe where my only other human contact for all time would be A?

It was looking like that until I saw a dog walker just as we made the turn at Haddlesey – he probably went home to his wife with tales of a mad old bat at the tiller smiling and waving at him like some maniacal witch on a day trip from Pendle. That was the measure of my relief, reader. Think, stuck with A forever, on my own and with no prospect of remission. It’s bad enough after six hours at the tiller. So, reassured that we were not alone, we pootled onto a mooring that a chap at Castleford had told us about. He was a lovely guy, put me in mind of Les Dawson with a beard. He’d bigged up this mooring, saying how nice it was to lay over there for a bit and how we wouldn’t be disturbed. Well, he must be deaf as he omitted to tell us the bit about the adjacent A19 and the artics that rattle the Perspex inserts every time they go over the bridge. Mind, this was the same guy who said Castleford town centre was a nice place. I’ve been to Castleford town centre – just the once, but that was enough. Nice isn’t the word I would use. I can think of another four letter word to describe it though…

So any plans for sitting out and enjoying the peace and quiet over the weekend have been scrubbed and instead we’re going to head back through the ‘land that time forgot’ and rejoin the Aire and Calder. We’ll take up where we left off and head Goole-wards, seeing what else this remarkable navigation has to offer us. Unusually for him, A is rather holding out for a pub. And so am I actually. It’s all the pub at Stanley Ferry’s fault. They were advertising two rump steaks and a Walls Vianetta for a tenner when we passed by earlier in the week. Sadly, we dallied and dithered too long about deciding to stop and we were across the aqueduct before you could say ‘hydrogenated fats’. Trouble is, it’s a prospect that’s lingered and we’ve really got the taste for a big old steak. And yes, I know I could griddle a couple up myself and they’d probably be a whole lot better than anything we’d get for a tenner, but it’s just the idea of toddling off to the pub and having it all served up on a plate, with a nice pint and pud to follow, that’s got us going. So the search is on. As I’m down to my last jar of pasta sauce (of dubious provenance) and last packet of penne (of uncertain age), I’m really hoping that we turn up trumps. Otherwise, the emergency Frosties may have to be opened…

11 May 2010

Hebble heaven

We have something severely hampering our choice of moorings. It’s called Arthur. I’m afraid the old boy is so aged and wonky these days that we’re having to find spots that have ‘doggy disabled access’ ie where the bank is preferably level with the gunwale of the boat. Like tonight. He’s in his element, just stepping on and off. Not like Wakefield, where he faffed about putting his paw up and down, up and down, deciding whether the leap up was manageable or presented a high risk of a ‘missed footing, wet bum’ incident. At one point we did consider putting the life jacket on him so we could lift him in by the handle – this extra disabled facility has been noted for future reference, mind.

So where are we then? Not sure, don’t care. Well, okay then, King’s Road Lock on the Aire & Calder, a nice open spot marred only by the thrum of the traffic on the M62.But I don’t care because it’s all so fab – more new territory, more new experiences, like exposing myself to the demon lock-keeper of old London town. As soon as we were in the first mechanized lock on the A&C, Birkwoods, I saw that glint in A’s eye. Then there was no mistaking his malevolent grin as he slipped the BW key into the control box….and bugger me if he didn’t try and close the gates before I’d even got through them. I was right, give him electricity and the boy becomes power mad! I suppose I should be thankful that I’m not still in there, going down for the 83rd time.

We bade a tearful farewell to the C&H at lunchtime, giving our trusty handspike one last loving caress before we tossed it carelessly in the back of the Narnia wardrobe aka the bedroom cupboard that swallows up seemingly endless tat. It certainly saved the best till last, the morning’s run from Dewsbury down to Wakefield most definitely ranking as one of our most pleasant pootles in a long, long time. Think Middlewich arm on a slightly larger scale and you’ll get the idea – amazing really when you think that we’re more or less skirting urban sprawl the whole time. But you’d never know and don't go telling everyone as it's secret....

Some idiot had set the alarm for six (oh, hang on, that would be me…) in a concerted effort to get some early morning cruising in. This is such a rare occurrence for us as a) we are genetically programmed to ignore all annoying beeping sounds and b) there’s too much of a to-do what with tea, ablutions, dogs and coffee to be away anytime before ten most days. But thanks to Miffy and her squeaky dance (her equivalent of the 4 minute warning and something that is simply too infuriating to ignore) I had to get up just ahead of the alarm unless I wanted the new sheepskin rugs baptized. And by the time she’d finished her crucial daily business and had a quick scamper back and forth, I was well awake and putting the kettle on. I took a cuppa to the creature from 50,000 fathoms who bore a passing resemblance to my husband and then managed to get everything squared away in time for a 7.30am departure. Now forget feeding the 5000, this was a genuine miracle. But we were rewarded for our superhuman efforts by one of those mornings that you just fantasize about when you’re stuck back at home – clear blue skies, sunshine, lush countryside, just you and your boat chugging quietly along in total solitude. Bliss, absolute perfect bliss.

Excited as we were to drop down onto the A&C, it was not without regret that we took our leave of a canal that should surely be better known and used – and invested in. A little TLC and a pot of money wouldn’t go amiss here, that’s for sure. The locks have got more holes in than my socks, which is saying something. You know the state of my pants, so the parlous state of my socks can easily be guessed at. Let’s hope there’s a decent programme of winter works coming its way…it may not be a fashionable canal, but it’s a pretty fantastic one in my book and we will certainly be back. And did I learn to use a handspike before we left? Yes, indeedy. I know exactly where to stick it now.

10 May 2010

And we're off!

Well, I’m amazed that we’ve got anywhere to be honest. I’m tapping this post out moored just below the Double Locks by the entrance to the Dewsbury Town Arm so the Great Trip has begun – but the number of lovely people we’ve met who’ve either a) wanted to regale us with their complete life story b) impersonate a complete set of Baedecker Guides or c) demonstrate their quite remarkable encyclopaedic knowledge of the world (a single conversation contained the words ‘ dumper truck’, ‘Sebastopol’ and ‘Smith & Wesson’) has meant that progress has been a tad steadier than anticipated. A good job there’s never a queue for any of the locks on the Calder & Hebble – we were stuck in one for 40 minutes yesterday. Or rather, I was stuck at the bottom of the lock trying to lip-read while A was nodding politely while trying to think up some excuse to get away. Dusk was coming on…

But to be fair, a big contented sigh went up last night as we tied up. It was a great weekend all round – good cruising, good weather, good banter, the only downer being a rather excessive intake of double gloucester on my part which led to some rather vivid and unnerving dreams. Oh, and one of our new Thermos mugs fell in the river. That must be some sort of record as it had only been on board for a day and a half. I was in the bow with the dogs at the time so only have A’s word that it decided to throw itself lemming-like into the water…personally I think he knocked it in and is not fessin’ up. And I particularly liked the way he said ‘your mug fell in’ when they were identical and neither of us had yet carved our initials proprietorially into the soft touch casing.

Technically speaking, this is a working cruise week ahead of the fortnight’s holiday – a working cruise week is where we’re supposed to give priority to work, and cruise if time permits, but to be honest we are more influenced by the weather. If it’s stinky grey and wet, we hunker down and crash out the emails; if it’s sunny and blue, we stick our iPhones in our pockets and remember to put the boat in neutral before we answer them. Either way, it’s fab to be back on board. I’ve just rustled up an improvised fire as we didn’t have any coal on board, opting instead to maraud along the towpath, Spear & Jackson Predator saw in hand, leaping upon anything that looked remotely combustible. It’s now the wrong side of 90 degrees in the boat and Miffy is once again trying to get intimate with the Squirrel. But it is so nice to have that chilly edge taken off…bugger the dirt.

At some point this week we’ll take our leave of the C&H, dropping down onto the Aire & Calder. It’ll be a teary goodbye as this canal has really grown on me. Okay, it can be a tight squeeze in places (notably Salterhebble middle and top) but once you have an effective strategy for getting yourself into and out of the shorter locks, it’s just a case of keeping your eyes open and your shoes dry (oh yes, those top gates do spurt rather….) And whatever you do, don’t be influenced too much by the Pearsons guide – he likes the C&H in parts but his praise is quite grudging…and his damning of the stretch between Mirfield and Dewsbury is totally uncalled for. Maybe things have changed a lot in the last 10 years or maybe he was just having a bad hair day but there’s no way that I’d put these few miles in my Top 5 Worst Stretches of Cut list as he effectively does. The constant interchange of river and canal and the totally inoffensive environs make this as enjoyable a semi-urban route as any other…or was it because the sun was shining and I had a bottle of vintage cider inside me?

06 May 2010

Mafeking is relieved

Hurrah! Panic over. A stash of old abandoned pants has been recovered from the back of the chest of drawers. Okay, so they are emblazoned with various legends (I suspect 'I'm luscious' contravenes some sort of Trades Description Act) but what the heck? They are whole, they are clean and they are in my case. I also found A some ancient boxers...trouble is, they're more like trunks now as he's gained a few pounds over the years and everything is a tad... 'snug'. Is that a handspike in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

Pants update

You couldn't make this up...the washing machine has malfunctioned and shredded my pants. There is total devastation in the drum. Gussets have become wedged in the workings. I am reduced to wearing bits of string. This does not augur well.

Total pants

It’s a disaster. We’re into the early hours of Thursday morning and my ‘washed knickers’ count is at zero. Ditto washed boxers. In fact, the only things that are washed are the dogs, as they all had a shower on Sunday. Which has left A with a dodgy back, incidentally….not good with locks coming up and me not knowing where to shove my handspike. And please, no suggestions…Seems like he tweaked it (his back, not the handspike) when he was lifting Monty into the bath. And of course, it’s man’s backache…which is akin to man flu, so I’ve had to put up with all these amazingly dramatic oohs and ahhs and sharp intakes of breath. Funny how he sits up in bed of a morning, slurps down his tea and only puts on his ‘agony face’ when I politely ask him how his back is feeling…And just when I should be getting a grip on our smalls, I’ve been tempted into a little bit of plan tweaking and map studying instead…the result of which could well be a little foray onto the Selby Canal. A ‘going commando’ sort of foray if I don’t have any pants available. Now I know how Flash Gordon felt when he only had 24 hours to save the universe...Can I rescue this holiday? Can I find the little string bag to put the Persil tablets in? Can I launder 24 pairs of underwear - 21 for me, 3 for him? Oh and there's my poor blessed mother! What about her knickers? She can't go commando, there's the postman to consider. I think I may have to be sneaky and break the apartheid system just this once - whites and colours in together and then run to the hills! Sowerby Bridge, here we come...trailing our damp grey smalls behind us...

04 May 2010

A mother's pride

I am composing this post with a tear in my eye, reader. No, my mother has not confirmed a six month booking at the Daughter Hotel (5*, dinner, bed and breakfast, pants washed for a small consideration). No, mine are not tears of mortification but of joy, of pride, of joyful pride, of joyful mother’s pride in fact. My baby boy is a star!! I’m so happy….

You’ll recall that I was off to Baldock Services to join the Greyhound Rescue West of England fundraisers in their quest to relieve Bank Holiday motorists of their change. Now I had elected Miffy to be my representative, as she met the essential ‘bombproof’ criterion, but this morning I changed my mind. I was concerned that she might be a little timid or even diffident in the circs – lots of people, hustle and bustle, children poking her in the ear, that sort of thing – and thought that a more confident, demonstrative sort might be a better ‘advert’ for the breed. So I looked around the subs’ bench and decided to give Ranger his first team debut. He’s not ‘gone solo’ before and not done a lot of dog socialization either, if I’m honest, but thought he was worth taking a punt on. He’s incredibly patient with his pack mates, despite amazing provocation, especially from Arthur who incessantly seeks ‘licky winkle’ favours from him, so I thought he’d bear up pretty well. But I couldn’t be sure so I was a little nervous as I approached my fellow volunteers and their dogs….here was the first test…would Ranger be the perfect gent and go ‘round the back’ to make his introductions in the proper way? Well, blow me, he did! I was half expecting a couple of air snaps or even a growl (I’m not pessimistic by nature, I think it’s just the destabilizing effect of motorway service stations) but he sniffed up the collective rears with delicacy and respect – and there’s a delicate balance between a gently nudged hello and rampant rectal ‘WOTCHA COCK’.

And he just went from strength to strength. There was a human tide ebbing and flowing through the quite constricted foyer (constricted because Ranger thought standing in the middle of the doorway was strategically sound – clever boy) and he just soaked up the fuss, the pats, the strokes, the baby kisses and the prepubescent pokes (Is it legal to poke the prepubescents back?) Now he may have been loving all this attention….but I suspect he was actually focused on something else...like the 24 piece KFC bargain buckets….or the Pepperoni Pizza Hut pizza, large, with cheese crust…or the quarter pounder deluxe meal with bacon….of course, if he had a bit more class, he would have been eyeing up the beef stifado from M&S, but you can’t have everything….at least he had manners, and didn’t whiz up the ‘Greyhounds Make Great Pets’ poster. We raised nearly £400 on the day and just as importantly raised a lot of very positive awareness about the breed amongst the Great British public. And they lived up to their name today, thank you everyone. Some might question your fashion sense, others your choice of nutrition, but there’s no faulting your generosity.

And what did the boy get for his fundraising achievements? Well, virtue should be its own reward but this is Ranger we’re talking about so I’ve negotiated a contract with his agent - one Polish kabanos per appearance, rising to a Cumberland sausage if the takings top £500. Not surprisingly, they’ve accepted – well, they know and I know that Arthur is just waiting to step up to the (dinner) plate and take over: he’s a complete tart and will do anything for a chipolata.