Friday 5 March 2010

Bandit country!

Trudging along a well worn track; Trailing a barge and pole;
Off to the end of the world and back; Never a rest at the goal;

Up to the hills;  and down to the sea;
Whose for a trip with a sleepy barge;

By wharf and by quayside; On Mersey or Deeside;
I’m strolling but rolling; with dusty black loads;

Along by the lock-side; and down by the dockside;
My smokey, old pokey; old dirty back roads;

The grey mare I’m leading; Her burden unheading;
Is nodding and plodding; While pulling her charge;

I drift down a slow path; My life is the towpath;
I’m only a lonely old man; With a barge;

Out from the town to the open fields; Where all the yokels dwell;
Watching the crops that the country yields; Waving to milkmaids as well;

Baccy a day, that Brown bread and cheese;
Where is a banquet the equal of these;

By Gloucester or Devon; Through Avon or Severn;
I ponder and wander; To heaven knows where;

Where green willow tinges; The brown water fringes;
I look on a new pound; I’m following there;

By fenland and good land; Past windmill and woodland;
My riches were bridges; Bloom lightly or large;

My job where I take it; My life what I make it;
I’m only a lonely old man; With a barge.

A 1937 performance by Gerald Nodin can be viewed on the British Pathé website.

Day four of our cruise.

I was up by 6:30am after another good nights sleep. I did the usual tea for two, a quick plunge in the shower and take Pops for a morning constitutional. It's surprising the number of dogs we have seen on board - but we have seen very few cats. The plan for today is to cruise the 5½ mile stretch of canal between Hawkesbury and the Coventry basin and then to return back to Hawkesbury for the night. But first we would have to wait for Steph to arrive.

Steph arrived early after doing a run to the supermarket for extra crew provisions. She even nipped off to a marina and got a couple of bags of coal to keep us going. We were soon ship shape and Bristol fashion and on our way by 10:00. All this after eating a good traditional breakfast of bacon eggs and tomato, hot coffee with several rounds of toast smeared with a good layer of honey. Real boating food!

We started off at an easy pace and we were soon passing the Ricoh stadium. There is a great deal of building work taking place along side the canal. Dr Steph who works for an environmental consultancy had done monitoring and sampling work on some of the building sites along the canal. Part of her job, being to help in the monitoring and preparation of environmental impact documentation. It's good to have her on board to catch up on what's been happening since our last get together. 

Some demolition of various old industrial sites along side the canal was taking place. Including the old Courtaulds complex in Foleshill Road. However, there will only be the remains of an old wharf, complete with rusted mooring rings left behind as a reminder.

The now-demolished Courtaulds chimney was reputed to be the tallest in England when it was erected in 1924. It stood 365 feet tall. Courtaulds dominated the man-made fibre industry in Europe. However, by the late 1980s, the manufacture of clothing was quickly moving to South East Asia, and China. Courtaulds had shut many of its UK based factories and moved production to new Asian based sites.

Tower Court, formerly one of the Courtaulds buildings, is now used as offices.

In a curious paradox Foleshill is now considered the ethnic centre of Coventry, it was the centre for many famous people including, Amanvir Kalkat a legend in Bollywood films. So whilst the work at Courtaulds went east - people from the east came to Foleshill.

Chris off nb Faulknor had alerted us the night before to look out for coconuts in the canal? We saw quite a few. However, we found out later that they are used as part of ethnic marriage rituals along the canal side.

One or two days before the wedding, both the bride’s family and the bride-groom’s family would build a frame in front of their houses. They usually use coconut leaves and branches to create this frame. Traditionally the bride would also carry a coconut to the alter and signifies fertility and happiness in married life.

The coconuts it seems are as close to the original ritual as they get in the UK today.

We noticed as we made our way along the canal, new buildings named after canal engineers or even canals systems themselves. We even came across a couple of people from the Canal Ranger service who regularly patrol and clean the canal towpath. They were armed with picking tools and black plastic bags. Another group were in a small bucket boat clearing floating debris as well as a good crop of bikes and supermarket trolly and a brilliant job they were making. All this being done on a cold freezing day..... Well done!

Britain's first production car was built at the Daimler Motor Company in 1897. The factory workshops were next to the canal. The Daimler Power House can still be found on the last bend of the canal, just north of the Canal Basin.

We arrived in the Coventry basin in the early afternoon, where we winded and then moored for an hour to eat. The bridge at the entrance to the basin required me to remove the funnel and the dog from the roof as it was a very tight squeeze. The basin has still got some of the old warehouses that have been re-furbished in the past and still hold a lot of character. This is the point in Coventry where old canal buildings meet new businesses.

We moored outside "Ruby Tuesday" a hairdresser. The sign said closed on Monday - so that helps to explain the name I suppose.

We were visited by the "man who can" from the council, who's first and only question was wanting to know how long we would be! They certainly know how to make you feel welcome in Coventry. Steph used to live within 100 metres of the canal basin and used the towpath everyday for her regular jogging exercise. So it was something of a home coming for her.

After lunch we started a slow return back to Hawkesbury junction. We came across a new canal object for us, a television set, floating in the centre of the canal! No doubt it will be recovered by the canal rangers at some point. I hope it has a good picture! I don't understand the reason why someone would take a television to the canal when they could just as easily take it to the local "dump-it" recycling centre.

Entering Bandit Country.

As we made our return journey and were close to the Stoke Heath basin.  We were targeted by a couple of the local youth who were on their way home from school. From the bridge they began spitting and throwing stones. These I suppose are representative and two of the finest examples of what Coventry has to offer.  I have no doubt that they were the apple of their mother and absent fathers eye. They were both a shining example to their individual parenting skills.

Now I remember talking to a friend who was into fishing, who had a technique for dealing with this kind of loutish children. He kept in his tackle box a small plastic bag which contained a special ground bait mixture! This was made from several sorts of evil smelling oil. The concoction is an incredible combination of herring, anchovy and other fish oils. That over time takes on a certain pungent aroma!  It stinks to high heaven and is almost impossible to clean off without a bath.  He said that a couple of catapult loads that hit them or any object nearby was usually enough to splatter or cover them with the corrective ointment. The smelly vile result, is more than good enough to move them on. Though, I suspect there might also have been some lead shot included in the mix. Now, maybe I have just found a good use for all the spare dog shit left behind on the towpath.

I had a friend who went to work in a notorious inner city school. On her first day in the staff room, she was asked "are you carrying any sharp objects?" "No" she said - the staff member replied "then you better have one of these!" and produced from his pocket a sharpened pencil and said "it's no use taking chances!"

The rest of our trip was uneventful, and we moored just below the Hawkesbury basin entrance. It has been decided, that we are all off for an Indian meal tonight. The Nashaa, comes well recommended and it is not far from the basin. So it's Onion Bargies and Chicken Biryani with several chipaties for me. I also expect to have an extra pint of larger to wash it down.

The canals I have decided are a body of water that needs locking up and down.

Tomorrow - back to the Oxford canal.

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