Everyone is unique on the cut

We meet so many different people when we are out in our narrowboat on the canals – “on the cut”. There are the first time boaters on a day boat or a one week hire. There are live-aboard boaters who move up and down a canal but broadly stay in the same place. And the liveaboards who moor in a marina. Then there are the continuous cruisers like us that travel around the UK throughout the year, and the cruisers that travel just every few weeks. We meet hippies and families, engineers and accountants, solo boaters and people squeezing ten onto a boat. I love them all.

I think one of the things I love best is that I meet all of these boaters every day, in a lock , on a mooring, as we pass. And the mutual respect is palpable. We may bitch about the Canal and River Trust, who regulate what we do. We may bitch about hire boaters if we are live-aboard, or about the “owners” if we are hiring. But day to day we rub along just fine. I have never met such a diverse group of people who get along as on the cut.

Good luck to Mark. It is a special kind of person who can live with a narrow-boater. I hope you find someone special.

When is too much too much?

When it comes to food and drink I have to admit I love excess. Perhaps it comes from my childhood when we did not have a lot of money and I was often hungry. There were four of us brothers and sister and we would share one small tin of beans for our tea. Perhaps it come from my love of cooking for others – there is a generosity I love in providing more food and drink than is needed. I am very happy to eat keftovers so ‘too much” is not wasteful for me – just a kindness to my guests.

So when this milkshake was provided for one of my birthday treats last week, I could really appreciate it. Vanilla milkshake with Nutella, chocolate shavings, chocolate brownie, two ice cream sandwiches, and covered in chocolate sauce. I love milkshakes. I love ice-cream. I love chocolate. It is outstanding.

I knew it would be a challenge when my waiter told me “good luck”. But I like a challenge. And 30 minutes later my glass was empty.

I have to admit that after finishing, I felt a little unwell. The sugar rush was great but the come down afterwards left me slightly nauseous and drained of energy. Was this finally the occasion when too much was actually too much?

Well no. I loved the milkshake and in retrospect do not regret a single calorie. Probably once a year is enough but it was delicious.

Just call me Augustus Gloop.

It’s my birthday and the engine bay is full of smoke

It was my birthday on Wednesday and it was planned to be a very special day. My younger son Martin had joined us on the narrowboat, we had a lovely cruise expected through Stoke on Trent from the lake at Westport down to the village of Barlaston, where we would have dinner in the pub owned by actor Neil Morrisey. It should have been perfect.


About an hour after we set off, the engine suddenly cut out and smoke started to appear around the boards above the engine bay. The picture does not really show how bad it was – when I took the boards up I could not even see the engine for smoke. Taking photographs was the last thing on my mind.

Fortunately there were no flames and nothing was alight but the oil cap had blown off, everything was massively hot, and we were stuck, next to a recycling centre in not the best part of Stoke. And of course, a three hour thunderstorm had just begun.

Even more fortunately we recently renewed our membership of River Canal Rescue (RCR), which is like a car recovery service for boats. I called them and told them my engine had blown up. They calmed me down and convinced me that was not the case, and within 30 minutes they had an engineer with me at the boat.

It took some diagnosis but we eventually realised what had happened. Through simple wear and tear, the bearings in the engine water pump had begun to fail, and caused a vibration. That had “thrown” the drive belt off, which meant that the engine was no longer operating the water pump, and so the engine was no longer being cooled, and simply got hotter and hotter till eventually it boiled off the coolant and everything gave up.

This could have been a massive issue, The cylinder head might have seized, or a major gasket blown. But when it all cooled down and we turned the engine on, everything still worked.

So we moored up properly, RCR ordered a new water pump, and found a local engineer who could fit it the following morning. It did take a lot of work with a mallet and a crowbar to get the old pump off, but by 1130 the following morning we were all fixed and on our way.

So what have I learnt? Nothing new but some lessons reinforced.

  • Living on a narrowboat s**t happens. It will be OK. Get over it.
  • Expert help is invaluable, even just to reassure. Well worth paying for,
  • Planning is great, but the unexpected is always just around the corner.

So what about my birthday? Well using taxis we still had that delicious meal. And we have planned an alternative birthday on Sunday, when we should be moored in a marina, with access to a car. That should be a very special day. And I do not regret my birthday. It was an adventure. Retirement is all about adventures,.

Hatching week

We have been travelling the Peak Forest Canal this week, a sidearm off the Macclesfield, that was used originally for transporting limestone from the Peak District quarries. These days the industry has gone and it is very beautiful as it clings to the sides of steep hills, with far views across the national park. As we travelled towards the end at Bugsworth Basin, we noticed a number of ducks and geese sitting on their nests. We also saw one goose with four new baby goslings, which were cute.

Just a few days later we returned along the canal and were astonished to find maybe fifty families of geese and ducks with goslings and ducklings. It made me wonder how they all hatch at once. I understand the principle that hatching in late spring gives the best chance of survival, but for so many to arrive within a few days is pretty incredible.

It reminds me of a holiday we once had at a house in Islay, an island off the West Coast of Scotland. When we arrived we asked if there would be many midges, the infamous biting insects of that part of the world. The property owner said that they would come the following Thursday, which we guessed was a random date, plucked from the air. But no, we had no insects till the Thursday, when clouds of them suddenly arrived.

Nature is a wonderful thing.

Not a bad way to spend our retirement.

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