Thursday, 26 April 2007

The centre of the universe
To some this may be considered a bold claim but to those who have grown up with the various campaigns to retain our canal heritage Gas Street Basin in Birmingham is a strong contender for this title.
On the run in to Birmingham we were accompanied by Virgin trains from Bristol racing us and narrowly beating us. As Margaret drove us through the 2726 yard long Wast Hill Tunnel I comforted her with tales of previous passages. Around 1980, I recalled, Dave Franklin was driving a hire boat from Stratford-upon-Avon through this tunnel whilst Dirk and I sheltered from the dripping roof and ignored his complaints about the engine losing power. Until, that is, we emerged from the north portal in an all- enveloping cloud of steam and smoke. Somewhere under the deck where things technical reside a gasket had blown. The resulting visual and aural emissions matched the environmental pollution of the Torey Canyon. When the hire company asked us if we would be prepared to nurse the boa talong on until they could meet us with a replacement we did not realise that the deck would get so hot that our shoes stuck to it and that the management of local industrial plants would complain about the noise.

Margaret has long craved a visit to Cadbury World at Bournville. However when we parked Gecko alongside the factory and discovered the entry fee was £13 she decided there were better things to spend that sort of money on - chocolate, for instance. Further on we drove through the University of Birmingham where Marcus studied and we waved to Big Tom or whatever the tower is called. It did not acknowledge us despite having paid for a large slice of its upkeep through the tuition fees.

To those who remember the warehouses of Gas Street, the new pretty version does not have the same atmosphere. However, it has been revived quite spectacularly and now is awash with people and boats at all hours of the day. We moored directly outside the NIA as we had done in June last year.

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