Narrowboat AREandARE

From the 2009 & 2010 tantalising tales, traumas and stunning photographs of Barry (photographer) and Sandra (writer) from New Zealand aboard NB 'Northern Pride', to the stories of their 2013 return journey, purchase of 'AREandARE', progress on sustaining their live aboard continuous cruiser lifestyle, and Barry's quest to gain residency and 'Indefinite Leave to Remain' in UK ...

Sunday 14 July 2013

Red light, spells danger! Family, friends (new and 'old'), frugality and a false economy …

"It's good to have money, and the things that money can buy, but it's good too to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven't lost the things that money can't buy."  George Lorimer
We continue to be blessed with an abundance of lovely people – mostly expected, but also a few surprises!

 A statue of James Brindley stands justifiably proudly, overlooking the junction of the Trent and Mersey and Caldon Canals - he did after all build the T & M!

Last Sunday, as arranged, Kath, Viv and Ray met us at The Holly Bush on the Caldon Canal – spookily enough the feature photo on page three of August’s ‘Canal Boat’ magazine which I splashed out on a few days ago – sadly just days too late for our trip on the delightful waterway.  Lucky it was though, as we forgot to take a photo of the pub!

The kilns used to dominate the skyline of Stoke-on-Trent when the pottery industry was blooming - some still stand majestically, though sadly many are quite derelict and run-down

The sharp right turn to the Caldon Canal

Etruria Junction - there's a museum here on the left, but we've yet to find it open!

Up the Etruria Staircase Locks on another sunny day

Past the dilapidated but still delightful factory buildings

The kilns, daubed with graffiti, stand side-by-side with modern-day canalside developments

Kath stayed overnight on Sunday after kindly bringing Ray and Viv to us. We had a trip up the Leek Branch and back on Monday, then dropped her off mid-afternoon at the Holly Bush, to drive back to Lichfield, and we meandered on Consall Forge.

Snug in the cratch and spreading across the towpath!

Ray takes the Captain's spot at the stern - he looks very comfortable there!

The first of three locks on the Leek Branch - Kath jumps ship to lend a hand

The three locking ladies - Kath, Viv and Sandra - dressed for the warm weather

Ray practices his portrait pose 

 And here's the finished product

Loving the colours here at Hazlehurst Locks!

Stunning in black and white too when the master's in charge

We continued up to the Black Lion at Consall Forge, where we moored in 2009 (click here to read about it) and watched the boat behind us catch buckets full of Signal Crayfish. This time we planned to dine there for Ray’s birthday – if only we’d known previously (i.e. if I’d done a bit of research!), that booking a table in advance would've scored us a 20% discount!  

So for anyone who may be heading that way – phone and book in to save money.  Makes sense really as they then have an idea of how many to cater for.  Maybe they need to publicise it a bit more though, as they said they’d only taken two booking but done around 35 meals by the time we got there around 7.30pm.  Such a unique setting, and absolutely packed out on a Monday night - the pub isn’t even on a road.

The Black Lion

A rare photo of the two us us - at The Black Lion.  Cheers Ray!

We managed to get all the way to Froghall Basin on Tuesday - though chose not to attempt the very low tunnel.  You'll understand why below (the red and white plastic gauge the height of your boat for the tunnel) ... 

I don't think so!

The water's so clear in the basin and there's an abundance of marine life to be seen - instead of the usual murkiness of the canal water with the occasional splash to show there's a fish under the water.  

How clear is this?!

Stunning shot of a dragonfly - by Mr Ray Burns

Sadly we couldn't linger, as we needed to get Viv and Ray back to Stoke for their train home on Wednesday afternoon, but we're pleased we returned here, it's such a pleasant place to walk around.  And we saw something you rarely see on the canal - the launch of a frigate!

Slowly does it ...

Off she goes!

Returning to to our mooring, I spotted a boat called 'Waitangi'.  There seems to be a lot of New Zealand/Maori named boats around, and this one intrigued me.  I asked the nice man if he was from New Zealand.  The tale he told amused me.  February, as those who live in UK are aware, is a rather bleak month here, and he and a few friends decided some years ago to brighten it up a bit by travelling to different places each year. Looking around for a suitable memorable date in February, they happened upon Waitangi Day - the founding (often controversially) document of present-day New Zealand, celebrated on 6th February. So they called themselves 'The Waitangi Day Wanderers'.  Well fancy that!  He even had a t-shirt on with the name on the back and the dates and places they'd visited - one of which, though I forget which year, was actually Aotearoa herself.  What a small world.

Heading back, Ray and Barry jumped ship to shoot the very photogenic buildings, and waterwheel,  around Cheddleton Flint Mill ...

Mooring up at Stockton Brook on our way back to Stoke-on-Trent, I heard a lady calling to ask “Are you Barry?”  Lesley and Howard hailed from Melbourne, and have been reading our blog for some time.  We didn’t get to chat to them very much as it was late when we stopped, then had dinner, and by the time we were up and about the following morning they’d already pulled their pins.  We hope to meet you again on the cut sometime, as we know you’re here for a while.

Sadly Wednesday was back to Stoke and farewell to Viv and Ray - what a jam-packed full few days and a great way to celebrate Ray's birthday ...

Spot the odd one out

Viv gets stranded at the lift bridge!

Thank you for coming! Do come again next year ...

Despite not bagging the 20% off at The Black Lion, we did manage to grab a bargain with the cheapest diesel this year at Stoke Boat services – 85p a litre.  We’d stopped at the boatyard before (no names mentioned), and when Barry told me the price I suggested we move on – luckily they were just breaking for lunch so we were able to slink away quietly, once I’d phoned Stoke and discovered there’s was so much cheaper.

We were then delighted to discover it was even less at 82p/litre, as we needed (well) over 100 gallons! This may sound girly, but why don’t they have a fuel gauge on narrowboats? I know Barry puts a stick down the hole to check on the level – but isn’t that a terribly crude way of monitoring, and prone to disasters?  I find myself wondering how frequently boaters don’t quite guess the levels timely and correctly, run out at an inconvenient place, and have to walk to the nearest place can in hand as one would on the road?

Saving money has become a bit of a passion of mine now we have extremely limited incomings, but our my recent attempt at frugality was almost disastrous. Whilst filling up with diesel, Barry suggested we also pump out the toilet.  We hadn’t yet got a ‘red light’ to show a full toilet tank, so I suggested we could wait and last another day or so – not taking the time or trouble (or even thinking about it to be fair!) to ask where the next available pump out would be found.  That night, moored at Westport Lake, Longport, guess what happened?  Well it doesn’t take a genius to work it out really.  Looking at the Nicholson’s Guide (bit late really!), we discovered there wasn’t another one for many miles – and in between was a rather large number of locks known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’!  So the next day we sheepishly went to the next winding hole, turned around (just before the Harecastle Tunnel), and returned to Stoke. 

It was around 1500hrs on a Friday afternoon when we arrived – we’d started out late because Barry had travelled to visit the home brew store for supplies in Stoke that morning, unfortunately got a puncture, hadn’t taken the repair kit, and had to walk back!  Then we were aghast to be informed by the lovely lady at the boatyard, that there was no-one to perform said pump out as he’d already gone home – it is Friday she said!  Our hearts sunk at the challenge ahead.  She assured us there was another pump out at Etruria, which we knew, but it’s a BW card operated one and of course it’s nigh on impossible to buy those anywhere – actually you can buy them on-line!  Hilarious!  As a live-aboard, how are you supposed to buy them on line and get them delivered?

Thankfully, there was a young man hanging around the boatyard who used to work there are she persuaded him to do the dirty deed for us.  He vocalised how unhappy he was, informing us how much it made him heave to do it (bless him!), consequently we weren’t convinced he did the best job of emptying the tank.  We’ll see how long it lasts.  Our halfway light bulb has gone, so it’s either green for empty or red for full with little warning of the impending predicament!

 Barry the bird man after our stroll around the lake

We travelled back to the lovely lake, whereupon that evening we hooked up with a couple of fairly novice hire boaters from Lewes, not far from my daughter in Brighton.  Katie, David and Lucas had just collected the boat from Stoke-on-Trent Boatbuilding at Longport Wharf and Barry helped them moor up.  We soon got chatting and ended up frequenting a very friendly and homely pub called 'The Pack Horse Inn'.  Just a couple of rounds, our budget doesn’t run to much more than that once a week sadly, but the drinks were very cheap and the company was delightful.  Great to meet you all and enjoy your holiday up the Macclesfield.

Our next guests will be Kerry and Tony from Gisborne, New Zealand, who arrive on Wednesday evening for six or seven nights.  Actually, that’s a lie!  We heard today we have an extra to itinerary visitor on Tuesday evening, from Sheffield.  Fred visited us a few times in 2009 (twice) and 2010, and he’s been trying to get to see us since we’ve been back without success – until now we hope.

Once Kerry and Tony leave, we have two more lovely kiwis coming for two nights initially.  Rivka and Richard have been touring around USA and Europe for the past couple of months so it’ll be fabulous to hear about all their adventures.

And then, we may have another surprise guest from Gisborne.  But I shan’t mention whom until/unless I hear from them, as it may not eventuate.

So, although this is a boating blog, featured on the ‘Waterways Ranking Site’, I have to admit it’s often a challenge to write anything terribly ‘boaty’! But how wonderful that our beautiful ‘AreandAre’ is, and has been, very much a ‘Rest and Relaxation’ retreat for lots of people we’re proud to have the pleasure and privilege of knowing.

However, ending on a positive note, we may have an opportunity to get our writing and photography in print in the near future - and with it the possibility of a bit of extra income (we hope!).

Awesome, as they’d say in New Zealand.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Breaking through the barriers, catching up on photos and carrying on up the Caldon ...

“WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep, 
And nodding by the fire, take down this book, 

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look 

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.” 
Breaking through the barriers
I find myself currently torn between gratitude my father is still alive, and sadness he's changed, and continues to, so much from the man I've known all my life. My mother is understandably finding it even more challenging, and wants back the man she married to look after her - rather than the other way around!  However, he's thankfully still there much of the time, with a cheeky sparkle in his eye and a wicked grin, even though he mistakenly introduced me as 'Sheila' to someone in their local pub.  Now that's a first!  He's often confused his four daughters names over the years, but I have no idea where Sheila came from.

Anyway, I digress. I had a very successful stay last weekend, culminating (I hope!) in succeeding to discover and start the wheels in motion for an array of possibilities to support them both. I was impressed by the General Practitioner and his patient, caring nature, along with the suggestions for assistance he made.  I'd written down a summary of concerns I have for my parents, especially my dad, and gave it to the receptionist prior to us going in to give to the GP - I didn't want to embarrass my father any more than he already would've been. I wanted the GP to have as much information as possible in the short appointment time, to help them the most.

My dad about ten years ago - a prize winning photo (of a photo) taken by a family friend

Before the appointment I discovered that my mum can register as his 'carer', and be supported in various ways due to this recognition - so we did!  I believe now my dad can now apply for 'Attendance Allowance', and my mum for some form of 'Carer's Allowance' depending upon what she already gets, which will help with all sorts of necessary expenses.

The diversity of opportunities and support packages I'm finding for people over 50 (I know, how can that be seen as old?!) through the GP, local council and Age UK are immense and most impressive. I'm slowly reading my way through Age UK's exhaustive list of publications to ensure everything possible is in place. I'm thankful Barry and I chose to return to UK at this time to enable me to share the support of my parents with my three sisters.

Catching up on photos
I promised on a previous blog I'd show the photo of the photo (!) that Barry and Gav were taking a couple of weeks ago. I've also managed to persuade Barry to edit some more shots of our time in Kinver with Jenny, and the 24 hours with Gav and Helen. So here they are ...

Jenny and I, on her final day's locking, at the cave by the side of a lock on the approach to Kinver

Barry can make even an old lock paddle look stunning

Barry and Jenny visited the Kinver Rock Houses while I was Life Coaching with a client via Skype on the boat.  Sadly the houses weren't open that day, but they still managed to be mesmerised by a look around the outside ...

And a beautiful black and white building in Kinver village

 This is the photo of the photo - note the heron and its reflection

The towpath BBQ!

Helen takes a turn to steer

A last drink before they leave for their holiday frantic but fabulous tour visiting family and friends!

Carrying on up the Caldon
So now it's back to AreandAre and the past week.  I returned by train Tuesday afternoon to Stafford, where Barry met me at the station.  It's a long walk to the canal from the railway there, and we diverted to B & Q to buy some MDF to subdivide the cupboard under the bed - just before the heavens opened!  So we were soaked through by the time we finally got to the boat, using a scarf I'd been wearing to cover it.

We also visited a lovely, thatched roof, fruit and veg shop so I could stock up and cure Barry of the scurvy he'd supposedly 'caught' since I'd been away.  Black pudding and beans I think was part of his staple diet - the salad I'd left remained intact, no surprise there.  What is it about most men that they avoid fruit and veg at all costs unless it's put in front of them?

Since then we've moved through Stone (what a delightful place that is), which was tremendously busy and lacking in moorings, and up to Stoke-on-Trent turning right onto the Caldon Canal.  

Barry's taken quite a few photos since Kinver - but they'll be on a future blog!

The first of our pre-booked July visitors join us tomorrow.  Two of my sisters and an almost brother-in-law will join us in the evening, at The Holly Bush.  It'll take them about one and a half hours to drive up from Lichfield, whereas it'll have taken us about twelve to travel a similar distance.  Don't you just love the slow pace of life on the waterways? We most certainly do.

Kath will come for a tootle with us up and down the three-mile Leek Branch, and enjoy a well-deserved chillax (I know, it's a made up word), before returning to the pub and her car to drive back for work on Tuesday.  Viv and Ray will stay until Wednesday. We'll travel along the canal to Froghall, with a pit-stop at The Black Lion at Consall Forge.  Ray's birthday is on Tuesday - and I suspect there'll be a celebration with a few drinks on board.  Last time Ray was with us in 2010 ( see here and here to read the gory details), he went a little overboard with the home brew and a 'lock-in' at The Great Western Arms, Aynho, that he retired fully clothed, never moving position all night, despite his phone and wallet being in his pocket.  We don't have nearly as much 'home brew' on the boat this time, so I'm hopeful there won't be a repeat performance!  We shall see ...