Monday, 30 September 2013

Landmark Trust Wins RIBA Stirling Prize

 The RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture in UK has been won this year by 
The Landmark Trust
for the restoration of Astley Castle in Warwickshire

The Landmark Trust rescues properties of architectural and/or historical importance which are under threat of demolition or unsympathetic development.  It restores them as closely to the original design as possible, adding modern facilities, and makes them available for holidays. 
A few years ago Astley Castle would have been left to collapse as it was too dilapidated to accomplish a restoration but a bold decision was made to make the remaining structure safe and build a modern house into its fabric .  This has been accomplished so wonderfully as to impress the judges at the Royal Institute of British Architects. 
(all photographs are from The Landmark Trust)


For more information aboout 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

A Busy Busy Busy Day

Two weeks ago we packed away our summer clothes and put the heating on.
Today the sun was shining again and we went out for the day.

Our first stop was the Balsall Heath Library which is an impressive Victorian structure  with equally impressive helpful staff. My mission was to borrow some books on the contemporaneous Moseley Road Baths next door. These were opened in 1907 and share many design features with the Victoria Baths in Manchester. See my blog from 2010

There are three doors for 
1st Class Men 
2nd Class Men

Second class pool is the only one in use since 2003
Unlike Victoria Baths in Manchester where there were three pools, Moseley Road only has two. Women, both first and second class, shared one entrance but went their separate ways once inside the building. As with the men, slipper baths were provided for each class.

Next stop was Birmingham city centre to visit the first floating market comprising roving traders from the canals.
No cheese boat or fudge boat but Pam's fused glass jewellery appeared popular

After a coffee and sandwich we took the train to Tipton (£2.95 return!) where we popped into the library to view all the photographs entered  for the John Whitehouse Memorial Competition before walking along the canal to the Black Country Living Museum. We had two reasons for visiting the museum for the fourth time this year.  Firstly we won a voucher for free entry to the Dudley Tunnel Trip and secondly the Historic Boats Gathering was taking place there.
About a dozen boats were moored outside the museum  in the Dudley Tunnel arm.

For other boats to enter the museum wharf and lime kiln arm the lift bridge had to be raised which I have not seen before.

This also allowed boats to escape too.

John Pattle executed a remarkable turn  in his tug Pacific towing a butty of passengers which drew applause from the onlooking visitors.

Tunnels under Dudley Castle were dug to extract lime for the iron smelters before they were linked up to form a canal link between Tipton and Netherton

Originally 13 construction shafts were sunk but all but three have now been filled in.  Water percolating through the limestone creates colourful deposits in these shafts and down the tunnel walls.  

By the time we had taken the last tunnel tour of the day we were getting tired and we walked back to Tipton Station for the train to Birmingham New Street.

The station entrance for platform two  is spanned by an arch depicting local industries.

Platform one - for Birmingham - is approached under a similar arch where the sculptures recount the life of William Perry, the Tipton Slasher.

Once we arrived at New Street we decided to eat out as we would arrive back at Gecko rather late for cooking.

Behind New Street station is Chinatown where we have eaten a few times.  On this occasion we did not fancy the buffet and chose instead to try a little noodle shop which was half full of Chinese diners which we felt augured well for the food. If you have eaten in China, as we have, the usual fare of sweet sauces is rather jading.  The Cafe Soya  on Cathay Street is quite unlike this. The food is simple, authentic and served with quiet competence. Quite a revelation and a splendid close to our busy day.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Gecko v BT 1:0 to Gecko

Yes.............I won!
BT withdrew the ridiculous charge as related on Sept 15

Aylesbury Lock Reapir Postponed Again

For some of you this will be no surprise.  The lock which collapsed in March due to the lack of maintenance by BW and now C&RT over many years was due to be open for August (sorry, Late Summer) Bank Holiday. 
Then it was delayed to late October.
C&RT has just delayed completion again to November 25. 
As we have a winter mooring booked in the new Aylesbury Canal Society basin at Circus Field starting November 1 it looks like we will be completing the last part of this journey by road courtesy of C&RT. As this is likely to take place before the end of October at Willowbridge in Milton Keynes we will  not be able to attend the AGM of Wendover Arm Trust as planned.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

John Whitehouse Memorial Photo Competition

John Whitehouse Memorial
 Photography Comeptition
Camera on the Cut
Winner's Medal

The Winners 2013
Gordon Payton was on holiday so the First Prize of £75
and medal were collected by a pround grand-daughter
Second proze of £25 -Melvynn Dodd
Third Prizewent to John White for this lovely B&W picture
(This was my favourite)

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Tipton Festival

Last weekend it was the turn of Tipton to hold its Community and Canal Festival.

Turnout on Saturday when we attended was very good with a fine display of boats.

The Dudley Tunnel Trust electric boat was providing trips from the festival.

John was there with his Stewarts & Lloyds tug - Pacific. 
Here she is moored up with her sister tug - Bittel.
Both, I guess, will be at the Historic Boat Gathering at the Black Country Museum next weekend.

And, of course, the steam powered working boat President made a few passes through the festival site with the butty Kildare

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Intrepid Explorers

BCNS Explorer 2009 at Perry Bar
Back in 2009 we joined the BCNS Explorer Cruise and with about 20 other boats we made our way around some of the less popular stretches of the BCN for a week. It was such good fun that we joined the cruise in 2012 too.
At Longwood Boat Club

At the festival over the weekend we met up with nb Egerton who was on the 2009 cruise


and today we have Rypeck and Moonstone moored along with us.  

Blue Moon also passed through on their way home but we didn't have a chance to tak to them.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Festival Time in the Midlands

Due to the problems with our engine overheating we were too late to join the Cutweb Rally at the Blue Lias.
Instead we went through Netherton Tunnel to Bumblehole for the Black Country Boating Festival.  Saturday was sunny and  we enjoyed meeting so many boating acquaintances and the thousands of visitors.

Many of the boats had spent the previous weekend at the Withymoor Island Gathering.

Some were moving on to the Tipton Canal Festival next weekend which this year features a Canal Photography competition in memory of John Whitehouse.

We left early on Sunday as the weather was degenerating and we were still taking things easy with the engine.  As we arrived at Factory locks the BCN tug Bittel followed us up the short flight and into the Black Country Living Museum in preparation for the Historic Boat gathering in two weeks time.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

BT = a Bit Thick

My telephone bill is drawn up on the 8th of the month for all calls and broadband use over the preceding month.
On Aug 8 my bill was £6.05  for calls made.  I had not exceeded my 10gb/month allowance so no additional broadband charges were due.
On Aug 22 BT took this sum via the direct debit mandate.
On Aug 23 I received an email from BT saying that my  broadband usage in JULY was - -----wait for it ------ 318gb
Now, on the BT website there is a useful function which I view from time to time called My Broadband Monitor. This is updated at midnight each day and at no time has it shown broadband usage anything like this figure. As it happens I have printed evidence of this.
When I first contacted BT customer service to query this email, I spent two hours being passed from one department to another but achieving nothing.
Taking a different tack  I spoke to the accounts dept and they confirmed that my bill of £6.05 was correct and included all my phone and broadband use up to Aug 8.  When I mentioned the email I had received the gentleman burst out laughing and advised me that it was not genuine and I should ignore it.  Being a suspicious character I did not take his advice and wrote to BT asking for clarification.
Their response was that I really had used 318gb in July.
The saga goes on   and  on   and on   and on BUT
BT cannot explain whey their system was unable to show this amazing broadband use until three weeks after its occurrence.
They just say  "you used it and must pay for it" 

Red Diesel Petition

Our home is on the canals and at present we use red diesel for heating and lighting - just like we did when we lived in  a house.
The EU wants to stop this and force all 'pleasure craft' to pay fuel duty and full VAT as we currently do for propulsion. Since moving on to Gecko eight years ago propulsion fuel has TRIPLED in cost for us. We have no gas on Gecko and so 80% of our fuel is used for generating electricity and to heat the boat.When the EU proposed removing the red diesel allowance for propulsion a few year ago the government said they would fight it but they ended up horse-trading it for something to please more voters.
This time they must stand up to the EU.  I do not see why I should pay road fuel prices for heating my home because it is on the water not  on the land.
Please read the following petition and sign it if you agree.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Water Mail

Where do boaters post their mail?
Sonning on the River Thames have a solution:

To watch the BBC video click here

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Flights to Aylesbury

Some of you appear interested in the drama at Lock 12 on the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union canal.
The story so far.....
About six months ago the wall collapsed due to erosion of the soil behind the wall.  This occurred because the stonework  leaked and water washed back and forth between the bricks each time the lock was used.To my knowledge this situation had existed for eight years and BW was aware of the condition and risks but chose not to repair the wall or take any other preventative measures.
The wall collapse occurred just before the boating season and C&RT had to lift out 24 boats that were trapped in the basin and put them back into the canal at Willowbridge, near Milton Keynes.
We have winter moorings booked in Aylesbury starting November 1. The repair date was moved from August to the end of October with C&RT offering a return lift out next week.  This we could not make and intended to cruise down the arm when it reopens.
However we have just leaned that C&RT are no longer promising the completion of repairs by the end of October so it looks like we will be flying into Aylesbury courtesy of C&RT.
How much would it have cost eight years ago to repoint the lock wall?
I am only a grumpy old boater but BW/C&RT are experienced at the management of waterways so I presumably lifting boats out and into the canal and repairing a collapsed wall after negotiating access to the lock across private land  and keeping four men on security duty for six months is more cost effective. 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Hot Under the Collar

Gecko has been experiencing various menopausal symptoms recently - hot flushes and short temper. It all came to a head when I noticed that the temperature gauge on the engine was reading 100+ deg instead of 80.  We are now officially broken down and waiting for an engineer to sort us out.
This is a more complicated problem than I a car as the engine also heats our water for washing and charges our batteries for lighting.
Hence we will not get to the Cutweb rally at the Blue Lias - again!
I guess when we are running again we will take advantage of the forced delay and spend a few more days in Brum before moving south again.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Birmingham's New Library

Yesterday the largest lending library in Europe had its grand opening.
Yes Brum has at long last abandoned the Black Hole of Calcutta that used to be the city library.  It cost £180m and houses over 1,000,000 books.  To reflect Birmingham's industrial heritage it has been built wholly from bed springs.

Inside is a different story.

I would sum up the interior as a fusion of ancient and modern.

Blue strip lighting and travelators rise up through the centre of a rotunda around the walls of which are weighty tomes. These can only be accessed by negotiating steps from the floors above. 

I suspect these are  actually only available by appointment as the general lending books are on more utilitarian shelving.


Features of this new building are the outside terrace on Level 4 where there are seats and plants ,and the secret garden on Level 7

Access to Level 9 was restricted today to prevent overcrowding. This houses the Shakespeare Memorial Room which has been transferred from the old library and an enclosed viewing platform.  There is some very fine original woodwork and meticulously recreated plaster and glasswork.

Not forgetting the fine examples of Birmingham metalwork

One thing did puzzle me.  The ground floor is referred to as Level 1  rather than the customary British convention. This leads to an odd situation with the lifts.  The floors are displayed as  L1, L2 etc but the basement is LG.


In the event of an emergency evacuation might this lead to confusion??

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Wolverhampton 21

Half a mile from Autheley Jct where we left the Shropshire Union we leave the Staffs & Worcs canal to climb the Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks.  
Just before we make the inconspicuous turn there is a monumental bridge built in traditional engineering bricks with attractive corbelling.

This flight takes us on a journey from the leafy rural S&W to the industrial canals of Wolverhampton and Birmingham.
Lock 20, the second one we encounter, was added in 1784 as the bottom lock was very deep. It is the only one  with a single bottom gate which avoids the need to jump across the lock when closing the gates.
It is also the one which collapsed recently (see my previous posts) but is now repaired and fully functioning. In fact the workmen were packing up to leave as we passed through - off to Doncaster next, apparently.
This repair has been done fairly rapidly unlike the one on the Aylesbury arm which will have taken over six months when it is completed.  Throughout all that time, I understand, C&RT has had four men on duty at the lock full time to guard it and ensure the pump is working. This does not appear economically sound to me.   Speaking to contractors working nearby confirmed my view that this repair could have been achieved in a fraction of the time and, of course, at a fraction of the cost. Well, who cares? It's only money!
For the first three hours on the flight we met no other boats but that changed four locks from the top when we met five boats starting their descent. Here the locks are closer together with shorter pounds to pass in.
This was made more difficult by the reeds and weeds over-running the channel.
As I have said before, we have seen fewer boats out cruising this year and, in fact, followed another boat last week for the first time all year.  One consequence of this is that the weed growth which appears to be quite prolific this year is not being kept in check by the passage of boats.

In some places the reeds have been cut but are floating on the canal ready to wind round the prop.

We are moored inside the Black Country Museum tonight and taking a look around during the day.

In front of us is the reed cutter !

I understand it is out of order as it gets clogged up
- by weeds!