Friday, 28 February 2014


After whinging about Birmingham's chuggers a couple of blogs ago I can't quite decide what should be in my list about what makes this city centre great. There are just so many things, which I really never thought I would say.

When we first visited in 2012 it was just for the free entertainment of the arts fest and to at least cruise a few miles of the BCN. Now not a lot of people know this but we don't actually cover many lock miles (compared to other liveaboard boaters... or retired people using their boat for leisure...... OK or working people with very limited holiday time) but we do like to spend a lot of time walking the villages or backstreets of cities.

So rather than a long protracted list of my likes in Birmingham, just one that pleases me virtually every time I'm off the boat. Its how Birmingham has managed to develop whilst keeping some of its stunning and architecturally important buildings. 

We've been to loads of towns where centre's have been redeveloped over the decades and you can see influences of the 50's 60's and 70's, and Birmingham hasn't completely escaped but it has managed to keep some great property and still uses it.

Of course there are the greats - Birmingham Town Hall 1834, Britain's first great concert hall.


Council House 1874

Museum and art gallery 1885

Hall of Memory 1922

Even the old Midland Bank 1836 (currently for sale)

The old and new in harmony.

There's even some modern sculpture as well, this one, our winter mooring neighbour reliably informs us is known locally as 'the floozie in the jacuzzi' (link) - maybe it will be the humour of the locals that I'll miss the most.

Thursday, 27 February 2014


I think Deb was quite brave yesterday. 

We were invited along with some fellow winter and residential moorers for an end of season drink aboard Artlingberg (think that's spelt right) by the delightful Sylvia. Sylvia is the perfect host and along with a smörgåsbord of tasty nibbles came copious amounts of booze in cross section of all varieties. On board LJ the options are usually wine, homebrew or squash!

Thanks for a lovely evening Sylvia!

Nothing inherently heroic there by Deb but she does have trouble refusing a refill and she had to be up by 06.00 for an horrendously protracted day at work doing a job that you need a clear head and settled stomach to do. Not that she should have been going anywhere, earlier yesterday we had taken her company car back to the office and Deb had said her goodbyes for another year. Within a few hours they were calling asking for 'just a couple more shifts' - but Sunday will definitely be her last day.

Just across from Sylvia's boat is the cycle chain work boat. 'Carina' is a Yarwoods 1935 star class butty that is now workshop and training area for Cycle Chain. The guys seem to be getting busier as the days lengthen. They are moving home at some point though, relocating to a mooring just beside the bridge next to the sealife centre. Although they will benefit from an electric hook-up its not as nice a location, they've got a nice sunny spot at the moment.

On the subject of sunshine, wow what a difference a couple of weeks make. Still not exactly warm but light past 6pm. The longer days are having a huge effect on our solar charging. Our (rather decreased capacity) battery bank has reached 100% SoC for the last two days and we have only run the engine for 30 minutes in the last four days (oh and no geni either). Its a massive financial saving when geni and boat engine charging would have averaged about £2.50 a day over January. I think mooring orientation once we are out on the cut will definitely prioritise solar charging.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014


There are many things that I love about Birmingham and will miss, but there are a couple of things that I won't.

One of Jess's favorite TV programs when she was a tiny tot was Gladiators. Or announced on a Saturday evening as 'TTHHHEEE GLADIATOORRRRRS'. Who can't remember the 'DUEL', a grown up version of pillow fighting on the top of pedestals. Jess even had the foam pointy finger hand thingy - 'DO, DO, DO ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST...' luckily Freddie had passed away the year before Gladiators started so didn't see his music desecrated. And we all watched with bated breath to see if the winner would make it up the travelator in the eliminator round - 'Contestant, you will go on my furst whustle (yes John Anderson is Scottish - as well as being the ref he was also an Olympic and commonwealth coach), Gladiator you will go on my second whustle'. 

What's this got to do with Birmingham? Well there was another round of Gladiators that I have been minded of recently - Gauntlett - where the contestant would have to battle through a half pipe against armed gladiators. 

From our mooring there are three distinct areas between us and the Bullring shopping center. The first is Centenary Square (outside the library) and Paradise Forum, Secondly is the two squares of Chamberlain Victoria before getting to the third, New Street which slopes down hill to the Bullring. It is just over mile from top to bottom. Regularly interspersed with muggers.

No not the nasty 'give us your phone' type. The charity mugger (CHUGGER) type. Normally I am not too fussed about this growing occupation but the layout of Birmingham centre and the shear number of chuggers has made the nearly daily strolls through town a real pain in the ar neck. There are usually four or five 'flavours' of chugger and about five or six of each - twenty or thirty gazes and advances to try and avoid.

There are a few preferred methods of avoidance. Popular is the 'I didn't hear you, I've got my headphones in'. Tried and with a fairly good success rate is my 'sorry very bad Ingleshs'. My favorite has to be the slip stream method of ducking in behind somebody, matching their pace and just as they realise that they are on collision course with a Chugger and veer off to one side you break away and go the other way.

Phew made it, now to plan the strategy for the return journey. I did genuinely wonder if this was a pedestrian traffic organisation method, if you look from a distance you can clearly see the places where chuggers lurk because the walking speed for everyone in that section increases as they race by.  I don't think I'm alone in finding the numbers of Chuggers an inconvenience, it looks like bylaws are on their way - Birmingham Mail

'No sorry very bad Ingleshs'

Gladiator looses his battering device. 

'If I can just take your debit card details please'

Of course if you glue them all together they can't get to you! 


Tuesday, 25 February 2014


Why is it that when you try and replace one loose tile, another half a dozen fall off. Cleaned, scraped, bulkhead prepared they seem to be holding their positions behind the stove.

I'd been putting this quick job off until the weather was mild enough to let the stove go out. It has felt crazy mild over the last few days so I let the fire go out over night, the first time it's been off this year. It died fighting thought with the few nuggets of coal put on in the early evening still managing enough heat to turn the Eco Fan at ten the next morning. 

Of course it will live on the roof not the breakfast bar

Other DIY jobs on Deb's work days have involved using copious amounts of varnish and a little bit of woodwork. Whilst the fire was cooling down I set about chimney cleaning, remarkably clear seeming as it hasn't been done for at least six months. Still a messy job taking all the internals apart and cleaning them all up. The very fragile (almost lace-like) old chimney pot came down and a new slightly taller one replaced it. The taller chimney will draw a little more efficiently but makes bridge holes even more tricky, so for when we are on the move I've made a little cradle and will cobble the old one into a short stubby traveling one.

The mild weather has brought a some boats out over the last few days but I think we'll have to rename the winding hole here as the wedging hole. Poor Peter and Heather on Blackberry Way took the brunt of the abuse.  As usual it seems to be the boaters who profess to the most experience being the ones who took an hour to sort themselves out, with the first of the 2014 pirates working the boat the sensible way and pulling the front around into the wind.

Quite early for pirate season

As per the general rule of thumb, hirers are a pleasure to come across. Though there are exceptions.

We had a fantastic evening with fellow boaters Bob and June Owen, and of course Jim the trainee guide dog (from Autumn Myst) at their beautiful home in the Birmingham 'burbs. June really spoiled us with a delicious three course meal and Bob's taxi service was most appreciated. Thanks again both, hopefully meet up again on our travels.

Under Snow Hill station

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Edgbaston and Back

Sunday 16th February
3.6 miles

Last Sunday was a lovely sunny day with little wind, we needed to top up the water and we had arranged with one of our fellow Cambrian winter moorers to leave our path sided mooring position and go onto one of the pontoons so he could take our space. The pontoons are short and he wanted to touch up his blacking, our spot was ideal for this and James had finished doing ours.

We decided to take another small trip out to remind us what this boating lark is all about. We moved across to the water point, topped up and got rid of the rubbish etc, etc. Then off back past Gas Street and onto the Worcester and Birmingham the short distance to Edgbaston, then back again. Not far, but enough to see a bit of greenery and remind ourselves how great it all is.

Passing by the entrance to the ICC

Lots of people about today

Getting out of the city 

Looking back through Edgbaston Tunnel

Only one and a half miles from Cambrian but feels like we're out in the country

Looks like the winds have been stronger than I thought

Heading back to Birmingham City
Once back at Cambrian Wharf James reversed LJ onto the pontoon opposite the winding hole, it's nice to have a change of scenery and we have a great view out the front for another couple of weeks.

So we now have the grand total of 6.6 miles on the 2014 clock.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Dragons, Dumplings, Daimlers and Danny... pt 2


The weather continued to stay fair, and whilst Deb got a couple of work shifts in I started on a few of my winter outside jobs. Both gunwales now re sanded, primed and painted. Lord help the next person to clatter into the side of me and bare the steelwork again. I expect to at least get through the Smethwick locks in a few weeks time before any scratches are apparent. The one or two rust spots on the fore deck were one or two more than I expected once I got the electric file out and started work. A day of scrabbling around on the cold deck had it sorted though. Ground back to metal, rust converter on the biggest pits, primer, undercoat and topcoat (the older slightly off colour one) ready for final top colour in the Spring.

Take a bit out, sand it, varnish it and put it back in

A few more little rust spots than I thought

Primed, topped and ready to go

I had also arranged a coal delivery. Oh for the fallen trees on the side of the cut, its one of the very few down sides to winter mooring in the middle of the city with its first class local amenities, secure moorings and brick paviour pathways (gonna miss that when we're trudging through the mud in a few weeks time). Deb was working on coal delivery day, so I had my first solo trip out round Brum and back to the water-point between the NIA and the Wharf to await the delivery. I was glad of another dry wind free day. I wasn't going to get caught out by a potential early morning delivery so had finished my trip and moored up by 07.30. I watered up, did two loads of washing, watered up again and went to empty Nelson (long story) before Deb was back for a mid morning break and to help load the delivered coal.

See... Told you it was sunny

It was still very early when I went to the facility block to empty nelson. There was a smell of smoke in the loo's. When I went in it was obvious that someone had been sheltering there and had left a few of their bits and pieces. Its only a few degrees above freezing at night, not much more in the boaters loo block. You forget that Birmingham is such a large city and there must be a large contingent of homeless people looking for shelter at this time of year, they're doing no harm and these private facilities have got to be safer than the city centre underpasses. 

I popped back later in the day with some rubbish. Danny had written a note and left it in the loo's.

The following day I went back with a jumper that I had on it's way to a charity shop. I left it for Danny, someone had also left some food and a pint of milk. It does make you stop and think how lucky we are, even on the worst of our bad days

Thursday, 13 February 2014

You Do Get Some Funny Old Days Being A Boater...

The day before yesterday I was sat in the awesome library in Birmingham writing part one of a blog (this isn't pt2 by the way only a petit pause). I was in one of the large study areas, tables pushed together giving quiet (ish) work spaces for thirty or so people. 

I made everyone jump. A loud snort and a sharp FAHHH. I was glad I had had a pee before starting setting up the laptop. It was Peter's fault. Peter and Heather are our fantastic winter neighbours.  Peter had posted on his Facebook wall that he thought "we're being haunted by David Essex, he's in a play at the Birmingham Rep and wanders past the boat most days eating lunch, even in the snow". 

This is why I snorted. Let's just say that Deb was a bit of a fan when she was a teenager and David's was the only poster allowed to adorn her bedroom wall. Deb had pointed this guy out to me who was walking past every lunchtime saying she recognised him but didn't know what boat he was off. She had even tried to say hello when she was over at the water point and said he was a miserable old git. And the penny had finally dropped that the miserable old git was David Essex!!

So yesterday Deb decided that she would say hi if he passed by again today as it would be her last opportunity (she is working Friday and Saturday and Dave is off up north on his tour).

FFwd to today, a dry morning see's us touching up the blacking and chopping a barrel load of wood into kindling before heading down to the markets to get a few bits in for dinner. Fellow boaters/bloggers Emma and Nick (from Marpessa2) are popping over for a bite to eat later which we've been looking forward to. There are a couple of bits I need to forage (well nick from the library's herb garden, and my bay supply in Gas Street) so leave Deb to go back to LJ for her stalking. Ok we agreed not stalking but ambushing. 

This is where it turned into a 'funny old day'. Got back to LJ with pockets full of herbs and there is only DAVID BLOOMIN ESSEX sat in my chair drinking coffee. And if that wasn't unusual enough he insisted in staying in character (eastern/central European we think)  throughout. Most entertaining, we think we all agreed to meet up in a week or so ☺

Deb and her new friend Dave

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Dragons, Dumplings, Daimlers and Danny... pt1

Oops, should have posted this one a while back. 

The weather this week has been awful, you can't look at a paper or turn the TV on without being bombarded by tales of woe from flood effected communities. I am looking out of the polished windows of Birmingham Library as the weather changes from horizontal rain to a thick belt of snow obscuring the view of the Cube, and turning the heads of Boulton, Watt and Murdock (of steam train fame) white. Before this week though we did have a couple of dry spells, no seriously, I've got a picture later to prove it. 

Also known as 'the carpet salesmen'

Not going out in that

Sunday the 2nd of Feb was a calm cool day, ok there was the odd early shower but by the time we left LJ to head into town (city) the skies had cleared a little and the breeze was slight. We expected a few people crowded outside the ICC and Symphony hall because Britain's Got Talent was filming a round of their live auditions. On Saturday I had asked one of the event crew if there were any available tickets, he had said that it was doubtful but we would have to register on line anyway. We walked 100 yards to the library to log on to one of their time limited PC's (no booking times needed but time is limited to 20 minutes) and registered for free tickets that still had some limited availability for Sunday. The problem was, however, that the process said we would be notified four days in advance of the event so we weren't too hopeful. 

Not only were there crowds today but barriers as well, oh how exciting.  Bodies heaved five deep at the barriers but just behind were the raised plinths for the street lighting. As I nosed around Deb secured a vantage point from the raised square and had an outlook across everyone's heads to see that the barriers led to an opening to the road on Broad Street. A car was expected. 

Who was it going to be? Ant'n'Dec (are they one person??), Simon Cowel, the woman who was married to Les Dennis before she had an affair with Bob the builder; the singer (or is that the X Factor), or David Lucas-Walliams.

OK Rolls not Daimler but I like alliterations 

Ohh, its not the singer, or Bob the Builders bit on the side or the non identical twins or the funny one... its................THE OTHER ONE

Even the press were there

Very busy inside

The anticipation, fever-pitch, the raw talent of a nearly silver man and a slightly gold man... BGT!

The excitement over we continued into town pondering how long the assembled crowds had been queueing, we'd been there less than five minutes start to finish! We were heading East and then to lower Southside, destination Chinatown (ohh sounds very Manhattan doesn't it - where's me trilby and trench-coat). Birmingham has got a thriving little Chinese quarter and the planned New Years celebrations were reported to bring in quite a crowd, The little street market was heaving, far too many people and too small a street to have stalls on both sides. Fairground rides and big screens led to the Arcadian Centre where restaurants and elevated walkways look down over a central courtyard perfect for the entertainment stage. We stood a while watching the frequent acts before the finale.

Busy Chinese stalls

Main Stage

A good turn out

Enter the Dragon

They had to wait for a bit whilst the previous act finished

It was all very clever
Leaving the Arcadian centre I suggested popping in to the Chinese supermarket and getting some supplies to head back to LJ and have a quick noodle supper. There were a good few street stalls selling grilled meats and boxes of noodles but as expected they were a little on the pricey side and I reckoned I could do similar for about one tenth of the price. There was one restaurant that intrigued me though, from the outside it looked like a Chinese version of a McDonald's, bright and simply furnished but displaying back-lit menu displays of everything from turbot and lobster to Dim Sum. A quick scan through the glass frontage showed a clientele virtually exclusively of young Chinese diners - always a god sign. The Steamed Pork Bun looked too good to pass up. 

The pomegranate sized dumplings arrived lily white with their smooth doughy surfaces evaporating the last of the steam. Pork, garlic, sweet spices and Chinese leaves filled the centre - yum. To accompany our dumplings we ordered steaming bowls of soup to fortify us for the chilly mile or so walk up the hill back to the boat; hot and sour for me and sweetcorn for Deb. We left satisfied and full enough not to need any noodles when we got back, all for the princely sum of £6.38 - bargain.