Come and join us…

I haven’t updated this page for a long time now…mainly because we sold the boat (see posting below) and I couldn’t honestly see the point any more.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy though. These days I’m still in Lancashire, albeit as a common landlubber, making short films about the county’s rich tapestry of history, folklore and other associated rubbish. If you haven’t already, then you might like to join me over at our Lancashire Footnotes page. Go on…it’s quiet enough over there. because virtually nobody ever visits, but I’ve always got some hot buttered crumpets and a pot of coffee ready for visitors.

Just follow the link and give us a wave…

Second Star to the Right and Straight On ‘Til Morning

A lot can happen in a week. A tsunami of the plague could gather its second wind. A Thetford could explode in the heat. A boat could be sold. A dream could finally end.

And sometimes dreams need to end, because, from a financial perspective, sometimes we need to wake up.

Memories of summer evenings that now seem so long ago…

We sold the boat – our Mouse Boat – to an extremely pleasant girl and her equally extremely pleasant parents from Gloucester, at almost half the price we’d originally intended, because sometimes a bandage is best torn off quickly to minimise the distress.

Back when the World was young…

There were a lot of interested viewers, and for a couple of days the towpath at the apostrophe-less Potters Brook had never been so busy. But it was Debra who got it in the end. (Sorry Max. I know I’ve apologised repeatedly, but I always feel guilty about these matters. If we hear of any other bargain basement boats going we will definitely let you know.)

Those were the days my friend…

The boat needed a clean. The spiders needed evicting. The Thetford needed emptying. But it all happened so quickly. The end often does. It seemed so strange leaving the boat this afternoon with the back doors open and people we barely knew still onboard.

…we thought they’d never end…

But that’s how it goes. I don’t think we could have sold it to nicer people if we’d tried and I hope it all goes well for them.

Memories, from the corners of my mind…

Now we stuck in the Spinney, landlubbers again. It’s not so bad in the Spinney. There are lots of trees and hedges and squirrels and foxes and hedgehogs and stuff. It’s its own self-contained village, a bit like the one in the 1960’s television series ‘The Prisoner’ in many respects, only without the psychotic weather balloon. It’s quiet here, almost comatose, and what neighbours we do see are friendly enough – not too friendly, not the sort who are in and out of your house all day long when you just want to get on with something else, but the sort who say ‘Hello’, tell you the latest local gossip (within a range of three or four houses) and then quietly continue with whatever they were doing before you interrupted their day. Which is how I like it.

…all those dusty, fading memor(FOR GOD’S SAKE, GET A GRIP! ED)

It’s going to take some time before I get used to not worrying about the weather, the ropes, the bilges, the spiders, the licence fee, the Thetford…but time is something we appear to have in copious amounts here. I might go mad. Everybody needs a hobby. The Spinney isn’t a place where people embark on exciting new lives. It’s the sort of place where people quietly fade away…

The Return to Lancaster

We went to Lancaster, Carol and me. The sun was shining, but the afternoon was chilly, which made the sky shimmer like a pond full of crystals overhead.

Our first port of call was the old corner shop at Galgate, where we stocked up on brown bread and bacon. There’s nothing so grand as a proper pan-fried bacon butty – a rare occurrence nowadays as my hob is generally occupied by cats. I ate my butty in the bows for added boating ambience.

For some reason I’m reminded of the 60’s cult television series ‘The Prisoner’.

Earlier in the day, at Potters Brook (there’s no possessive apostrophe in Potters Brook, so please don’t send me letters of complaint) we saw the umbrella above parading along. I just remembered that bit. Apologies for the lack of chronological continuity.

We went for a stroll to the best-kept bridge in Britain (or something like that) at the Glasson turn-off. Then we returned to the boat for another bacon butty.

Carol gets the hump. (I’ll get my hat.)

After which we headed to Lancaster with every intention of mooring up outside the Water Witch pub for the night. It took us all week to get there.

Unfortunately, almost the entire wharf was taken up by a twelve-foot, badly parked yoghurt pot, so we were forced to turn back.

The winding hole outside the student accommodation turned out to be extremely shallow and full of plants. It was more like a tropical water garden than anything remotely practical. We found ourselves grounded over and over again, watched intently from the rear of the pub by an ensemble of non-socially distanced drinkers. It took us hours to wrestle ourselves free from the weeds.

There was nowhere to moor near Lancaster. Presumably there’s a breach somewhere. Every time we pulled over to within six feet of the towpath the boat would hit some underwater sill and tilt at an angle of forty-five degrees. This might explain why the banks that were crowded from end to end with boats a fortnight ago, now lay empty and forlorn despite the fine weather.

Cutting the duck weed rug.

To add to our struggles, a carpet of duck weed had been working its way south from Hest Bank. There have been a lot of complaints about this on the various canal-related websites. The CaRT are blaming the plague. Everybody else is blaming the CaRT.

I thought it looked pleasant. It doesn’t bother us narrowboaters. It only ruins the engines of badly-parked yoghurt pots.

We spent the night back at Galgate, talking until two about the decline of the British film industry and why the BBC should be made to go commercial. Then we crept away, back to Potters Brook, at first light (around ten-ish), forgetting to stock up first on tobacco at the last remaining store for hundreds of miles.

Back at Potters Brook, waiting for the Alpacas to start singing.

Jack and Jill…

It was boat moving day, and therefore predictably gloomy, windswept and grizzled. At Stony Lane Bridge the currents caught us in their grip and rammed the boat, chimney-pot first, into the bridge’s arch, where a BMW being hotly pursued by the police just last week, went through the railings and took a nose dive into the cut.

Didn’t I mention that in the last post? Oh well…it looked like this.

Fancy a swim, Callum?

What happened to the driver and his passenger nobody knows. They scarpered. The result of our own little accident has left a slight dent in my chimney pot.

We went to Lancaster, Jeanie McIntosh and me, ostensibly to find some new outlets for our Mouse Boat books before we go bankrupt, but in reality to behave like tourists and buy a cheese and onion pastie from Greggs.

We parked up in a secreted car park somewhere behind the castle, which I never knew was there. (The car park, that is. The castle’s fairly obvious.) As it turned out Lancaster Castle had its front gates open. This is something you don’t see that often. We had a quick look inside, but you’re not allowed to smoke anywhere on the premises at all, so I thought “Stuff that” and left again.

Welcome to two thousand years of history.

By way of a bit of education, Lancaster Castle is built over an earlier Roman fort, started life proper as a mott-and-bailey, was home to Henry IV and John-o-Gaunt (as written about in Shakespeare) and was used as the model for Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and for Terry Pratchett’s Lancre Castle.

It’s a right stately pile.

We also took a gander at the Priory behind the castle. I’ve always wanted to go inside the Priory, but until today I never have. Unfortunately, today was no different and I still haven’t. The door was locked. Sunday afternoon and the Priory was locked. Such is the modern world.

Some memorial outside had been the recipient of recent vandalism courtesy of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest. I didn’t read who the memorial was dedicated to. My specs were steamed up from wearing my plague mask.

Makes a change from the usual ‘Gavin is a nob’ graffiti.

We couldn’t find the car park again. It was hidden somewhere behind the ruins of the Roman bath house, but almost impossible to reach. We climbed Castle Hill again. We circled it three times. We went down. We went up. That hill is steep. We were totally knackered. We found it eventually, but because you have to pay by the minute it turned out to be quite an expensive stay. Next time we’ll probably take the boat, because it’s cheaper.

Lancaster and Back Again.

Congestion, both traffic and nasal, at Ratcliffe Wharf.

It was busy out there on the Lanky this weekend. The busiest I’ve ever seen it. Everything was full to bursting. The cut was full of boaters, the boat was full of spiders and my sinuses were full of snot.

Every marina along th’ Owd Lanky must have emptied on Friday at once, pouring their post-lockdown, hypnagogic, sun-worshipping congregations into the boiling ditch, leaving nowhere for us continuous cruisers to moor. Yoghurt pots and rusty bums alike were sausaged bow to stern along the pilings, from Garstang Aqueduct to Lancaster’s Penny Street, the towpaths punctuated every few feet with bulging stomachs, flip-flops and spirals of barbecue smoke twisting up into the summer’s blue haze like the joss sticks in Blackbeard’s dreadlocks.

Somebody grab a bucket, quick. This woman’s feet are on fire!

I’d planned to take Jeanie McIntosh (whose only experience of narrow boating so far had been the dark, frozen, gale-blown wastelands of the canal in mid-winter) to the Water Witch for Saturday teatime, where I was going to moor up and buy a KFC. I realised there might be problems when I reached the crowded outskirts of Galgate around dinner and it dawned on me that what I was witnessing was actually the queue from Lancaster.

The Thetford Station at Galgate; not somewhere to be experienced in tropical temperatures unless you have a very strong stomach.

With baking heat and boiling throngs (who’d apparently forgotten that Covid-19 was still running rampant) tempers naturally start to fray. A family of beetroot-faced narrowboaters emerged from the Glasson turnoff to a volley of shouts from the nearby clanking moorings of: “Slow down y’ fat bastards!” That’s what I love about the Lanky; the laid-back friendliness of the natives.

Lancaster Hospital. The KFC was at the end of the alley. The canal’s down there somewhere. I’m not sure why I took this photograph. It was extremely hot and part of my brain had melted.

We hit Lancaster that evening, but had to wind back at the student accommodations. The whole city-stretch of the cut was chocker with poached boaters, for about a mile and a half down Aldecliffe Road, through Lancaster’s seething rear end. Eventually we moored at Haverbreaks, a stretch of towpath that was burned indelibly into my cerebral cortex a couple of years ago when me and Carol experienced engine trouble in exactly the same spot and were stranded for two days. Watching the sheep. And the ponies. And the tree. This tree.

I never hoped that I would never see, this bloody, intransigent, blasted tree…again.


We’re back at Ratcliffe Wharf now, where a floating island of debris (God only knows where these things originate – somewhere part of the Lanky is losing its edges faster than the antarctic) drifted under the bridge, fooling several boaters into thinking the canal had been blocked off by the CaRT and forcing them to turn around and head home again, to whatever socially inept marina they’d emerged from.

I could hear buffalo grazing on there somewhere.


Jeanie and I spent the rest of the night reminiscing about the old times, when we didn’t resemble grotesque muppets or ache like all our bones were breaking every time we climbed the stairs, until a bloke from the CaRT turned up at dawn and told us to shut up.

A Bird in the Chandlers is Worth Replacing the Grease in the Bilge Pump…or something.

Today was ‘boat moving day’, one day earlier than originally planned. I’m not sure why, exactly. It goes like that sometimes. We’re a bit mad and spontaneous. Sometimes I stay up until ten o’clock at night and watch Rick and Morty. So lock me up! I’m an anarchist!

We passed the boat below en route. It was called Badger, I think. Actually we passed several boats, some of them reluctantly moving again after the comatose last few months, but this was the only one that I took a photograph of, because I’d forgotten that I was supposed to write a blog on ‘boat moving day’ for CaRT legal purposes.

There’s no caption with this photograph, because I’ve explained what it is already.

After I’d tied up near Nateby Hall Lane, I noticed that the usually glutinous grease filling our stern gland (the stuff required to prevent the prop shaft from leaking and thus sinking the boat) had gone a bit funny in the heat. What do you mean, “What heat?” We’ve had a few sporadic intervals of sunshine this summer. Coupled with the rain leaking through my Houdini hatch this has generated enough humidity in our engine room to result in a small forest of mushrooms sprouting from the floor. I’m not proud of this fact. I’m just saying, that’s all.

This is us, moored up near Nateby Hall Lane. I told you so!

Anyhow, the stern gland grease had gone funny and separated into two distinct states; one crunchy, the other liquid. This is not good. I don’t fancy trying to raise the boat from the canal bed much. It weighs about sixteen tons as it is. Full of water it’d be impossible to lift on my own.

So I went to Glasson Dock, the closest chandlers to Nateby now that the one at Bridge House has sunk without a trace. (They obviously didn’t look after their stern gland properly.) I didn’t travel to Glasson by boat. That would have required operating six locks there and six locks back, plus parting with fourteen quid for the overnight charge for using the marina’s visitor moorings. (I could be wrong about that last bit. That’s what somebody told me. I’ve never actually checked. My enthusiasm tends to switch off after the bit about ‘six locks there…’)

Glasson Dock, or Glasson Basin, or somewhere with a lot of boats with masts in it anyhow.

In the chandlers I was busy hunting for the tins of stern gland grease when a fledgling interrupted me. I’m not sure what sort of bird it was – a small, fat thing with more erratic aviation skills than Woodstock out of Peanuts. It came tumbling in through the door at about a hundred miles an hour, then hurled itself all over the shop in spontaneous explosions of feathers and tiny fried eggs. Well, they looked like tiny fried eggs to me. The chandler’s going to have his work cut out scrubbing that lot off his stock this evening.


The Return of the Back of Jeanie Mcintosh’s Head

The BBC journalist reporting from the epicentre of some dreadful, covid-19-dismissive swarm outside a pub summed it up for me: “They’re all drunk and some of them are jigging up and down.” After two and a half months of putting up with self-centred ‘celebrities’ playing to the television news through laptop Zooms like annoying ten year olds desperate for their parents’ attention, the herds are back, screaming for haircuts and alcohol in plastic beakers, no longer giving a fig for the elderly and the infirm because the need to escape their own personalities by losing themselves in the thick of the crowd is overwhelming. So much for our hopes for the future. This is our brave new world.

Sans bobble hat at Dimples Lane

Not that I’m complaining. They’ve left the towpaths now, following each other blindly in some mythical giant conga-line to the nearest grey beach; hattifatteners drawn to an electrical storm of Ambre Solaire and camera phones, leaving th’ Owd Lanky privately owned by the anglers and license payers once more.

You can tell that the lockdown’s over. It’s raining again. We moved through the mist beneath bruised skies this afternoon, past the Tithe Barn (surprisingly cattle-free), pausing briefly at Moss Lane Thetford Station to send our ‘so long‘ message to Anchorsholme beach, before continuing on to Bridge House; one end of Garstang to the other, not quite beyond the parish boundaries as ‘recommended’ by the CaRT continuous cruising regulations, but far enough not to matter.

Social distancing between the boats at the Tithe Barn

Somewhere in another universe the President of Brazil, known to thousands for his lackadaisical, ‘it’s never goin to happen‘ approach to the plague (much like the idiots outside the pub on the news) has tested positive. Out there in the urban jungle, the Covid Rebellion is regrouping in the corners of pubs.

Well, let the tsunami come. For now the cut is ours again; weed clogged, drizzled, grey, and peeling its paint, but familiarly abandoned; our own personal shielding against the infected masses.

Lockdown with gale-bent nappy pins at Bridge House

Zen and the Art of Narrowboat Maintenance

So there I was, at Catterall winding hole, painting over the rust on that final boat panel, when I noticed a troll in my living room staring out at me through the recently washed window. Even more horrifying was the fact that it turned out to be my own reflection in the glass.

You know that you’ve probably been up and down the canal too many times when the most original thing you can find to photograph are your recently used paint pots.

What the hell happened? I’ve become a caricature; a grotesque; a crinkle-jowled version of my former youth; muppetised – nothing short of a brown paper parcel full of liver tied with string and left for too long beneath the grill. It’s hard to play the romantic hero in your own life when you now resemble a cross between Albert Steptoe and the crow-man from Worzel Gummidge.

Catterall winding hole. There’s not much else to say about it, really.

Not that anybody else trampling the towpaths around Catterall seemed to care about their appearance. They’ve obviously never envisioned themselves as a Heathcliffe or a Rochester. Their apogee of romanticism appears to have been Mr Pipkin in some 1970’s sleazy sex-comedy, playing second fiddle to Robin Askwith. Most were content to display their mottled white and red duvets of flesh to the world without shame, flapping in their flip-flops and baseball caps amongst the rushes, their waistlines bound in shorts so tight and overhung with blemished stomachs that they looked more like thongs – Mr Blobbys dappled in sweat. There ought to be a law against it. At times, when the corona-virus crowds were gathering at the bottlenecks beneath the bridges, the towpath resembled a space-hoppers’ graveyard.

Don’t ask me. I haven’t got a clue.

This is what happens when winter ends suddenly in mid-June and the summer collapses onto the world like a badly secured circus tent. Last night it was so hot I could hear the fish around the hull gasping for breath. At half three in the morning, unable to sleep, I ventured out into the pitch-black bows, wearing nothing but my slippers and a very long granddad shirt. The chill on the edge of the breeze was sensually refreshing around my kneecaps. I watched the bats overhead for a while, making the most of the amputated midsummer night, but the sound of the post-lockdown traffic from somewhere not too distant seemed deafening now. I don’t remember it being so loud before, especially at half three in the morning. The lockdown has, unfortunately, destroyed my ability to block such unwelcome intrusions.

I think the heat’s done something weird to my brain.

This morning I span the boat around and headed for Dimples Lane on the outskirts of Garstang. En route I saw squirrels in their first nut-enthused throes of youth, dangerously leaping through the branches above, rabbits chasing each other between herons’ legs, and a cow on a bridge. I don’t know why, but I always enjoy seeing a cow on a bridge, behaving as though said bridge was built for its own personal access. For a short while it seemed as though the world was just about acceptable. Then another Jabba the Hutt emerged from the shadows, excessive and purulent, and the chip fat of humanity broke the illusion of isolation once more.




Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…

There’s been a lot of politics about lately; statues being torn down making pigeons homeless; angry protests about black lives mattering by people willing to rekindle a plague which disproportionately claims the lives of black minorities; people calling other people racists, with those being accused of being called racist calling their accusers racist back, because they’re calling them racists; it’s all getting a bit much.

As far as I can work out a large portion of the protesters filling the streets of London and Manchester and Birmingham didn’t really care what they were protesting about. They just wanted to illegally herd. After three months in lockdown the need to gather in large groups and chant is overwhelming for some people, I suspect. Possibly.

Somebody’s been garroting a tree at Guy’s Court.

There were thousands of people in Manchester and Liverpool attended raves yesterday. Presumably they don’t think any lives matter at all, regardless of colour. And thousands more were queuing for the reopening of Pri-Mart this morning. (I don’t even know what Pri-Mart is. I don’t care either.)

You watch…I’m going to be accused of being an ignorant so and so now. Perhaps I am. At least I’m still following the two-metre distancing rule. My preferred personal airspace is about half a mile, to be honest…with a sixteen-foot bramble hedge in the middle.

My flask has ambitions to be a chimney pot when it grows up.

The BBC is eager to show us how the world is slowly returning to normal, as if somehow that’s a good thing – slowly returning to its normal never-ending path of self-destruction.

The traffic’s back.

The contrails are back.

Brexit’s back.

All the screaming and shouting and arguing is back.

And the herons are back.

I don’t know where they go in the winter. (I’ve never seen a baby heron. It’s a bit of a puzzle.) But the full-sized ones are back by the dozen, haunting the towpath like grey tent poles and casting their shadows across the cut like gloomy cloaks.

This boat is called ‘Spider’s Web’. Our boat is just covered by them.

I picked up two kids shortly after I set off from White Horse Lane today. Not literally. I’m not Fred Talbot. I mean they ran along the towpath beside the boat, whooping and shrieking and screaming, all the way to Bilsborrow, where I took a sharp right to the Thetford Station and picked up two drinkers on a bench instead. (I’ve no idea what the beer garden at the White Bull is like, but it doesn’t bode well if the customers feel the need to stray to the Thetford Station.)

Thetford emptied – tick.

Water tank filled – tick.

Three months’ worth of bin bags chucked – tick.

Large mounds of spiders’ webs and rotten leaves uncovered by the aforementioned bin bags being moved from the bows, brushed and cleared away – well, not tick actually. I travelled down to Skull Bridge once I’d finished with Bilsborrow, planning to sort the mess out after I’d moored up, but the glorious sunshine that had brought the mouth-breathers and towpath shriekers out suddenly broke with an ominous crack and the heavens’ poured through.

There’s always some silly cow wants a paddle.

So, everything’s more or less back to normal it seems. Except that it isn’t, really. I have one last panel to paint on the boat, before I start on the interior. Then it’s back to repainting the roof. It’s like the Forth Bridge, except it’s not red, and it’s a boat.

Back at Skull Bridge, just before the storm belched.



Back to the Same Old, Same Old…

It rained this morning.

Of course it did! It rained and then the wind just smeared it all over the place.

The sky was one enormous monochrome blood clot as I stood there on the stern with my hood flapping noisily round my ears, struggling to reverse the boat into the winding hole at Moon’s Bridge (it’s impossible to steer backwards at the best of times, let alone when there’s a gale rising); juxtaposed against yesterday’s endless blue horizon and yesterday’s short-sighted weather forecast (sunshine with occasional showers).

It rained this morning. And it blew. But I kind of figured it would. The CaRT (despite the evidence to the contrary) seem to think that the plague has upped its mooring pins and gone off to explore alternative possibilities somewhere, and that, by way of consequence, us continuous cruisers must now do the same.

Travel as normal.

Weather likewise.

Back to the same old, same old.

I’m using the rubbish camera again – rubbish camera, rubbish weather.

There are several months’ worth of swollen bin-bags in the bows; there’s a Thetford cassette creaking with internal pressure tucked under the bench, and a water tank beneath the floor that’s almost down to its last skein of bilge rust. The boat is sick, rolling despondently – emptily buoyant yet leaden with garbage, both at once.

Our rear end is stuck right out. You can’t really see it in the photograph, but it is.

It’s all very well, I thought, but there’s going to be a second spike, I’m sure of it. You could see the lack of hope in the doleful eyes of the cows sliding past in the gloom. Only it won’t be a second wave, I thought, so much as a tsunami. I saw the crowds at Southend on the news yesterday; the ‘tomb-stoning’ lemmings plummeting from the heights of Durdle Door, having ‘fun in the sun’; the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in London. I’m all for showing solidarity in such matters, but given the circumstances perhaps they could have organised a more ‘socially distanced’ rally.

Yes, I thought, Covid-20’s on its way (in Britain, at any rate, where Boris’s optimism for the common man runs deeper than Dominic Cummings’s spin drier); bigger; more explosive; more deadly than ever before! It’s the franchise that just keeps giving!

Or am I being pessimistic?

We’ll find out in a couple of weeks, I guess. You watch – the sun’ll come out and the wind will drop when it returns, just as the CaRT are reintroducing lockdown. And rather than the pleasant, pastoral surroundings of Moon’s Bridge, the boat’ll be stuck beneath a pylon in some scrubby, un-dredged mire somewhere…nowhere…next to an overflowing midden, surrounded by angry, hissing swans.

You wait and see, I thought.