Another bit of Ashton history goes up in smoke.

For ages we've had such a poor turnout for weekday evening recycling trips that we've had to do them by road. I was pleased on Monday 4th to find that we had plenty of volunteers.

Aaron took the tiller and we had a pleasant journey down to Fairfield.

On Monday evenings we collect on Fairfield Road and Gorsey Fields.  This time most of our crew were youngsters who were shy about knocking on doors, so they did the barrowing back. We had a reasonable haul to take to the charity shop.

On Tuesday afternoon we had a trip on "Hazel" with a really nice couple with an autistic child. The mother seemed interested in the canalside history. As we passed Oxford Mills

I told her about their history   and about Hugh Mason who had them built

As we passed the old mills on the returned trip I noticed a strong smell of burning plastic. I checked in the engine room to make sure that nothing had fallen on to the exhaust manifold, but that was fine.

I went home for my tea. While I was there my friend Bev Ackford rang to tell me there was a fire in a laundry near the canal.

On my return to Portland Basin I found that there was an even better turn out for the Tuesday evening trip. Ominous black smoke was billowing from a big fire close to our intended route.  I was unsure if it would be safe to run the trip but Debbie Leach told me that she had just cycled up the towpath to join us and there was no problem.

After a bit of boat shunting we set off, rather later than usual. As we approached the burning area we were enveloped in smoke but I could see that the fire was well back from the canal so we would be able to pass safely.

Fire persons were busy working between the fire and the canal, pumping water out to spray on to the burning buildings. There was some banter with the fire crews about them stealing our water.

Oxford Mill was an E shaped building. One wing had been largely demolished before it was listed. As we passed I saw that the fire had spread from the relatively modern buildings where it started into the upright and middle stroke of the E. The remaining wing remained untouched, though shrouded in smoke, so I hoped that this at least could be saved. I had noted previously that it was used for storing stuff in cardboard boxes.

At Brewery bridge tape had just been put up to close the towpath. A smart young firefighter was just climbing the steps on to the bridge. Debbie, who never misses the opportunity for a bit of banter, asked him if he was touting for business. I chipped in by offering him a lift to Canal St (Canal St is the heart of Manchesters gay village). He took it in the spirit intended.

We had another good collection in the Ashton Hill Road area of Droylsden. By the time we were ready to return it was nearly dark, so I turned on the headlight. At Brewery Bridge, at the South end of Pottinger St, we got a good view of the fire. The brigade's efforts had seemingly been in vain. The whole area was now blazing well, particularly the top of the E, presumably turbocharged by whatever was in all those boxes. The gable end of this wing was close to the canal and it was clear that parts of the building had already collapsed. If the gable were to fall outward as we passed we would be toast.

We backed up into the bridgehole and I managed to get a pin into the tarmacced towpath (grrrr) to tie to.

I left the boat guarded by Aaron and walked rather a long way round to Portland Basin to collect the van. Kids had removed the tape on the towpath and were whizzing up and down on bikes despite the danger. I chose not to go that way.

The streets had a carnival atmosphere, like a huge free  bonfire party for the whole community. As I walked I heard a rumble as anothe bit of historic mill tumbled.

Returning with the van I had to take an even longer route as the main Stockport Road was closed. Luckily I know the back streets well. We unloaded the goods from the boat into the van. I parked it up for the night then, after taking a few photos,

I retired to "Forget me Not"s cabin for the night.

In the morning I woke at about 5 AM and made coffee. As i lay in bed enjoying my first brew of the day I could hear intermittent bursts of police radio. I hoped they wouldn't try to stop me returning the boat to her home, as I clearly couldn't leave her there. I felt the boat move as though someone had stepped aboard, then heard a rat tat tat on the cabinside. I stuck me head out and saw a man and a boat. He had made an early start to go to Manchester but "Forget me Not" was blocking the bridgehole. I explained that I wasn't dressed yet. He offered to move the boat. I agreed and, as I dressed, I could feel the hull grinding against the copings as he pulled her backwards.

He tied the boat to the railings of the high level footpath that leads to Guide Bridge Station, at just the right height to decapitate passing cyclists. Luckily there were none and I was soon untied and on my way, kicking up lots of froth, presumably from chemicals washed into the waterway.

I had to walk back from Portland Basin to collect the van. On my way I took some pictures of the smouldering remains being damped down.

Transpennine Canal Adventure

I Advertised "Forget me Not" and "Hazel"s journey to across the Pennines on the Rochdale Canal as a Transpennine Canal Adventure, hoping that we could earn some money taking some intrepid waterway enthusiasts along with us. Sadly, there were no takers, so it turned into a Well Being trip instead. My nightmare was that we might not be able to find enough crew, but a lot of time on the 'phone brought in enough to see us through. The first day out from Manchester we had the ambitious target of the Rose of Lancaster at Mills Hill. We were following "Pensax", "Bream" and "The Earl" though the difficult climb out of Manchester. Ian Mac and Chris Kelly,working as volunteers for CRT were shepherding the boats through.

We caught up with the others at Newton Heath where "Pensax"had suffered an epic bladeful, including a mattress.

We had to wait below the lock for ages as she laboured through the next pound whilst Mac went in search of more water. Eventually we got moving and, after dragging our way through Failsworth, spent the night at Middleton lift  bridge, which wouldn't lift. We had to get CRT out in the morning to get it functioning again so only got to Clegg Hall that evening.

Once through the gritty grimness of Castleton and Rochdale we were up up and away up the final flight to the summit above Littleborough.

The railway disappears through a tunnel here, but the canal keeps on striding upwards through huge deep locks, some of whiche we had to work twice because the lock walls had moved, to breast the summit, crossing via a short pound through a narrow pass, then down ,down, down through Walsden and Gauxholme to the lovely town of Todmorden.

I'll finish this later as my computer is running out of battery.

High Dose Rate Brachiotherapy, the gory details.

Some people may find this post distasteful but I think it useful to record my experience. Don't read it whilst eating your breakfast and if you wish to avoid references to peeing, pooing and bleeding, stop here.

After a pleasant early tram and bus ride I arrived at the Christie a little after 7AM for my 7.30 appointment. I was annoyed that I had forgotten my reading glasses and I had brought 2 books to while away the hours. I found the correct ward but it was still locked up. A couple a little older than me were sitting on some easy chairs nearby. I decided to go for a stroll along the hospital corridors. When I returned they had opened up and the couple were sitting waiting inside the reception area of the ward. I joined them and we exchanged nervous smiles. After a short while the wife left and me and Bob introduced ourselves. He was there for the same treatment. Apparently they do 4 a day, 2 in the morning and 2 after lunch. After a while we were led down a corridor and shown into a room with two high tech beds.

We were introduced to our dedicated nurse, Karolina. She was I would guess in her late twenties, slim and beautiful but much more important, cheerful, chatty and amusing. Her Polish accent was not strong and we discovered later in conversation that she had spent perhaps half her life in Britain as her parents had moved to Morecambe when she was much younger. Bob and I chose beds and he kindly lent me his reading glasses. He had to take out his contact lenses for the operation, which meant that he could read without glasses. We were asked to undress and put on back to front hospital gowns. We did this and got into bed.

The anaethsetist came to interview me. He was concerned that I had used St Johns Wort to control my depression and clearly disapproved of the practise, of which he doubted the efficacy. I begged to differ but assured him that, on advice, I'd had none for a week.

I was selected to go in first and a nice mixed race nurse, I didn't register her name, only that her only experience of Ashton was Ikea. came to check me over, blood pressure, temperature. She then asked me to turn on my side so that she could give me an enema.

This is where things start getting messy, so, if you want to stop reading now I'll understand.

This was a first for me. My nearest previous experience was when my mum administered laxative chocolate when I was a kid. The nurse produced a scarily huge syringe full of liquid which she proceeded to insert and empty. I had a huge feeling of fullness but was advised to hold on for as long as possible. Eventually it all got too much and I ran into the bathroom and deposited loads of unpleasant liquid into the toilet, not a moment too soon.

Soon afterwards I was led down long corridors to the operating theatre. After checking my identity and that I'd signed a consent form in an ante room  I was taken in and asked to climb on to the operating table, positioning myself precisely where they wanted me. The anaethsetist arrived and, after a scratch on my hand I was out.

I woke as they were putting me back into my bed. I was in great distress. I had a drip putting saline solution into a vein in my left hand and a catheter leading from my penis through a very red tube to a very red plastic bag on a stand on the floor. I felt like I was about to burst, perhaps how waterboarding victims feel, being full of liquid that can't get out. I expressed my concerns loudly and was assured that it would soon get better.

The procedure that I had undergone, high dose rate brachiotherapy, has similarities with the mediaeval torture method of shoving a red hot poker up the arse.

Let me explain some of the biology, of which I was ignorant until this business started. The prostate is involved in making sperm, so if you don't want more babies (and, for goodness sake, there's enough of us on this planet already) then you don't need it. It surrounds the urethra, which is the tube connecting the bladder to the (in men) penis. As men get older it tends to expand which can cause the tube to get constricted. If it develops a tumour, one of the most common forms of cancer, then this exacerbates the situation. Many tumours are relatively benign and can be controlled with hormone therapy which depletes the body of the testosterone on which they feed. This has side effects similar to the female menopause. I believe that something like 1 in 3  eighty year old men have some form of prostate tumour. I'm pleased to say that it's a problem of living well beyond our design life.

Mine, of course, is one of the most aggressive variety. I don't do things by halves!

Back to mediaeval torture. There are differences of course. The ancient procedure resulted in a protracted and agonising death. The modern one will, I hope, prevent that. The modern procedure does not enter via the anus but is a fine hollow needle inserted nearby. The heat in the middle ages was provided by preheating the poker in a fire, nowadays it is a highly radioactive isotope which is moved about inside the needle, which is inside the prostate, with the object of searing away the cells that are misbehaving. The body however, reacts in a similar way, by going into panic mode.

The needle and the radiation don't just zap the tumour. Like the mediaeval procedure they damage surrounding tissue. The modern method causes a lot of blood to leak into the bladder. Just to complicate matters, the body's natural repair mechanisms cause swelling in the area, restricting the ability of the unwanted liquid to escape. That's how I understand it anyway. Some of the details may be wrong.

The discomfort (a mild word for it) that I was suffering was because my bladder was bloated with blood which was having difficulty finding a way out. The catheter was to drain it out in a controlled way, rather than me peeing blood all over the place, and the drip was to keep my body over supplied with water so that large amounts of urine would dilute the blood and flush it out. We were also encouraged to keep drinking water and sometimes offered hot drinks. The panic inducing feeling did gradually subside but it took a long time.

While I was still getting used to my situation, Bob was brought in. He suffered similar problems as he woke up. We soon struck up a conversation and an instant friendship, perhaps akin to what, so I'm told, soldiers thrown together under fire experience. Bob is very different from me. I think he gave his birth date as 1947, which would make him 72. Apparently pretty fit, he loves sport, a keen golfer, and cars. I didn't feel it was the time or place to point out how much damage his huge 4X4 was doing to our planet. He is a retired taxman and ended his career doing detective work to unearth those who were avoiding their rightful contributions. We eased our difficulties by swapping entertaining anecdotes. From time to time Karolina popped in to have a chat and check on our progress and our blood pressures and temperatures were regularly checked. I was constantly setting off the alarm chimes on my drip by waving my left hand about too much and stopping the flow. Each time a nurse would come to reset it.

We were given a menu for our tea. I was appalled to see that the only option for pudding was bonoffee pie. Don't they know that cancer feeds on sugar. As I'm on an anti cancer diet set by Emuna (she's researched it very carefully) I was a bit stumped by the choices. I decided to have vegetable soup followed by shepherds pie with green beans with no pudding. Bob chose the same. This was as close as I could get to staying on the diet. The food was welcome (note to readers in other countries, it was also free) but hardly cordon bleu.

We carried on chatting. Every now and then I would read a couple of pages of my book but I couldn't concentrate for too long. This all sounds very pleasant, but we were both experiencing pain and discomfort. This was alleviated occasionally by paracetamol, but there's a limit to how much of this you can have. The flow down the tube from my willy stayed very red. The beds were very adjustable, using a control panel that was in easy reach, but I struggled to find a comfortable position.

Our nurse for the night was a pleasant Scot called David. I think it was him who suggested at some point that it was time for lights out. I was certainly tired but was dreading trying to sleep with my prick tethered like that. I was also concerned about what was happening to the food I had eaten. My stomach was undergoing uncomfortable gyrations. After a while I summoned a nurse and she helped me into the bathroom, complete with catheter and drip. I sat on the toilet and she left. I deposited another load of diarrheah into the pan, along with a drip of blood. I made my own way back and carefully climbed into bed.


After a little while the nurse returned, worried that I hadn't yet summoned her to help me back into bed. I'm obnoxiously independent sometimes. Bob, who was also still awake, warned me that i could cause myself some damage if I tripped over, which was very true. When David came to check on us I told him about the blood. He seemed worried about this and told me that if I went again he wanted a sample. He issued me with a papier mache pot to do it in.

My stomach gyrations got worse and turned into repetitive very painful cramps. I felt like I needed the bathroom again so  I carefully climbed out of bed. The drip machine had been plugged into the mains  to charge the battery and I struggled to reach the plug, knocking something over in the process. I dragged my anchors into the bathroom and squatted over the pot,  letting  forth the most enormous explosive fart of my life which sprayed diarreah all over the floor and my gown, very little landing in the pot. Embarrassed I pulled the red cord and soon David appeared. He said matter of factly that it must be the remains from the enema and it was OK as there was no blood (I now think that the drop of blood in the toilet had leaked out from my penis). He cleaned up and issued me with a clean gown then left.

 I felt like I still needed to go so I sat on the loo and strained. I was shocked to see a jet of blood squirt out past the catheter all over the floor. I pulled the red cord again and David reappeared. He said the catheter must be blocked and he would have to flush it out. He cleaned up and helped me back to bed then fetched a syringe of saline, took off the catheter tube and pumped the syringe full through the catheter, then drew it out again. This wasn't as horrible as it sounds, though I wouldn't do it for fun. He said that it was probably a blood clot that blocked it and this was a good sign.

With the catheter re-assembled I lay down and tried to sleep. Bob asked if I was OK. I said I was. The cramps continued but I decided that I wasn't moving again and if I messed the bed so be it. In fact they turned into a series of dry farts. After a while I heard Bob begin to snore. I envied him his sleep. I normally would toss and turn until I found a comfortable position but, restrained as I was, this was impossible.

One of my Facebook friends told me her husband had to spend a whole week with a catheter. It must have been torture.

Time passed, Bob snored. Every now and then I seemed to be drifting off until the discomfort, or somebody checking my blood pressure, brought me back to full wakefulness. I would look at the time and be dismayed about how little of it had passed since I last looked. I adjusted the bed to try to get more comfort and began the cycle once more.

I gave up at about 4AM and got out my book .Its called "Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older", or, as I sometimes put it, when you reach 35 why does some bugger go round speeding up all the clocks?  In fact it goes into all kinds of aspects of memory, something that fascinates me. I'm very aware that I'm struggling to accurately recount the events of the last few days. I may well have made some mistakes and have already had to go back and correct some errors (or was I perverting a true account!?)

I became very aware that my lower back was not happy about my posture (it continued to ache for the rest of the day). David checked my catheter and said he was pleased as it was running clear, though it still looked fairly bloody to me. He said he would remove it soon. I said I really wasn't looking forward to that. I would, of course, be pleased to be rid of it but the actual process of taking it out sounded like it would be unpleasant. He told me it was easier than putting it in, but I pointed out that I had been unconscious when that was done. It actually felt odd but not too bad when he did it.

The day shift took over and the wonderful Karolina came to check on us. We were offered breakfast. Trying to keep as close as possible to my diet I opted for porridge and dry toast. I don't recall what Bob had. With our impedimenta removed we were told that we should shower and dress. Before we left we both had to produce 300ml of urine and bottles were handed out to catch it in. I tried but could only muster a dribble. As I was in the bathroom trying to produce a flow there was a sudden jet of blood from my hand. I had accidentally knocked off the dressing where the drip had been attached. I pressed the blood soaked cotton wool back into place and summoned Karolina, who re-dressed it and cleaned up.

Bob marched confidently into the bathroom for his turn and I heard a sound like a tap turned on. He emerged beaming and handed his bottle to Karolina for measuring. He looked crestfallen when she returned to announce that it was only 70ml.

Bob went in for a shower and I changed into my nightgown as I wanted to cover my backside but didn't want to dress until I too had showered. When he emerged I went in with my bottle but, again, only managed a few drops.

Karolina arrived to announce that there had been a change of plan and we would have to move to another part of the hospital as our beds were needed for more patients. We would need to dress. I had a bright idea and asked for more paracetamol, which was quickly provided.

Some time ago I had begun to get concerned about the possibility of prostate trouble, partly because I was peeing a lot, but particularly because of an unpleasant night time phenomenon which was happening with increasing frequency. I would wake up in the night absolutely bursting, but when I got to the toilet I could hardly pass a drop and the feeling would get worse. The first time this happened I got quite panicky but I soon devised a strategy. I would go downstairs and find a suitable container such as an empty bottle or jar. I would then march in circles until the movement started a flow. Sometimes Emuna would awake and call "are you alright" to which I would reply "I'm fine, leave me alone". Sometimes this would happen more than once in the night but my morning coffee would stimulate a poo. After that I had the opposite problem as I started work of having to suddenly and frequently  rush to any place where I could discreetly have a pee. If this sounds familiar, dear reader, please go and see your doctor.

Now I know a bit about the male plumbing my theory is that the enlarged prostate was combining with extra pressure from a developing stool to completely close up the urethra. There simply wasn't enough room for everything in my pelvic area. The movement of walking about would briefly open it again allowing the urine to escape in dribs and drabs.

My pain was now not too bad, but I was aware that as well as relieving pain, paracetamol would reduce inflammation. I guessed that the radioactive assault on my prostate, though it would reduce its size in the long run, would have caused inflammation that could be  impeding my ability to pass water. I took my painkillers with coffee and dressed. I went into the bathroom with my bottle and produced 50ml. It felt like a competition. Bob was in the lead but I was now catching him up. We agreed that it was like peeing razor blades.

 We were then escorted down long corridors to a room where several people were sitting, bored, watching morning TV. I had missed my chance of a shower but, after the long walk I was able to produce a further 150ml, only 100 to go. Bob had another try and he was told he only had 80 to go. He was still in the lead but not by much. He went off to meet his wife in the coffee bar. I alternately watched rubbish on TV and marched up and down the corridor.

A man came round with a trolley offering sandwiches, snacks, parsnip soup and, amazingly, fruit. I asked for a banana and a big cup of soup. This appeared to be home made. It was lovely, but incredibly salty. I don't worry too much about salt as my blood pressure tends to be a bit on the low side, but many people are the opposite, especially in a stressful place like a hospital. Again, don't they know?

The nurse in charge of this department was a pleasant solid lady in her 50s or 60s called Sue. I went into the toilet to try some more and then handed her the bottle containing the result. After measuring it she sought me out in the television room and gave me a double thumbs up. I'd won and I was free to go. Shortly afterwards Bob returned and was also able to hit his target. We shook hands and wished each other well, then he left to join his wife for the drive home to Bury. I hope he didn't have the problems that cropped up later on my journey home.

Plan A had been that Emuna would come to collect me in a taxi. When I mentioned this to Karolina she said she could arrange transport home for me. I thought this would be better as Emuna suffers from M E (or CFS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and it seemed a bad idea for her to be making unnecessary journeys. I asked about this and eventually found that it had been booked for 2PM. It was now about half eleven. Sue did her best to get it speeded up but pointed out that as it was snowing outside there may be delays.

I had drunk far more than 300ml in my efforts to win the peeing race. It was now building up inside me but the paracetamol had worn off and I was unable to get more than the occasional dribble out. I continued marching up and down, then sitting watching TV for a while.

In the corner sat a tall, thin, grey, lugubrious man in his sixties. He started a conversation about the quality of television programmes. It turned out that we were both keen radio 4 listeners. He asked me what kind of cancer I had. I told him. He ventured that his was pancreatic, "incurable". "Oh dear" I said. He continued that he was on so called palliative care, but really it was just torture. I felt sorry for him. I don't know how I'd cope with that situation but I did have a feeling that his eeyore like mindset was doing him no favours. He then explained that he was in for some experimental treatment but first he had to have a blood transfusion to prepare him. Shortly afterwards Sue came in to start setting up his transfusion.

About 2.30PM a small young woman ambulance driver appeared. She had short hair and a brisk no nonsense manner. I think she had been searching the hospital for me. She picked up my bag and told me to follow her. We marched smartly down the corridors. She told me that there was another patient in the ambulance who had to go to Stockport, which is pretty much on the way.

As soon as we started going over speed bumps and potholes I realised that I was going to have a problem. By the time we reached the other man's house down a little cul de sac I was absolutely bursting. I told the driver of my predicament. She said that she normally carried bottles for just such a problem but was sorry that she had none today. She gave me a pad to stuff down my pants. I really didn't want to pee myself, pad or no pad. I suggested stopping at a supermarket. We drove along the main A6 and she pulled into a petrol station so that I could ask if they had a toilet. They firmly told me that they had no public toilet and I couldn't use their staff toilet. Bastards! We have no public toilet in our charity shop but occasionally people who are in desperate  need are given access, sometimes with a sentry posted lest it be a ploy to get into our stockroom.

Back at the ambulance the driver had found a small bowl. I nearly filled it then she stuffed another incontinence pad in it and put it in a yellow biohazard bag. We set off again and were soon bowling along the M60. The same problem began to recur. By the time we reached the junction for Ashton I was desperate again. I suggested she pull over just after leaving the motorway as there is a fairly secluded footpath there between the motorway and the retail park. She didn't go for that but pulled off by Ashton Moss tram stop. By then I'd soaked my pad but had a bit left for the bowl once I'd got it out of the bag. Talk about undignified!

On the move again and the same problem again. Luckily we were nearly home and I started giving directions lest the satnav take us a stupid way. When we stopped outside our house I quickly unloaded myself, thanked the driver, unlocked the front door and rushed past Emuna and upstairs into the bathroom.

It was nearly teatime and Emuna brought me a wonderful, tasty cancer busting meal in bed. In discussing the situation she told me that anaesthetics tend to promote constipation. I was unaware of this but was already concerned about what was happening to the food that I had been eating. My first poo, in the early hours of the morning, was quite small but very painful. Later on Wednesday I had to go again. I will leave to your imagination the pain of passing a turd with the volume and viscosity of a house brick through a radiation singed rectum. It briefly blocked the toilet.

I'm writing this on Thursday evening, 3 and a bit days after the operation . My plumbing is gradually settling down but still quite painful. I don't usually write such earthy posts but I thought that being honest and straightforward about my experience would be instructive.

Beside the Mersey.

Em and I had a little holiday beside the Mersey, staying in a Home Away room in Wallasey. We visited New Brighton where her parents used to go on holiday many decades ago, Em was struggling with her chronic fatigue so we didn't get out and about as much as we'd have liked. I had hoped to find some old friends from the area. Took a few nice photos though and enjoyed watching ships coming and going on the tide.

The Black Pearl. A pirate Ship made from driftwood.

Hooray and Up She Rises

"Southam" took a dip whilst tied at the Heritage Boatyard. That was Friday morning. Now, Sunday, she's up again thanks to Kim, Stephan and a few pumps. She's not taking on a huge amount of water but one of her pumps has stopped working. I think that's what caused the problem. I got there just a bit too late on Friday to prevent her going down.

All in a Days Work

Sorry there are no pictures with this. I was too busy all day to take any. We were booked for a "giving back" trip for which we have some funding. The idea is to take local young people for a trip and give them each a go at steering, working locks etc (under close supervision). The trip is from Portland Basin, up 3 locks to Staley Wharf, wind and return. This should take about 4 hours.

The level on the Ashton pound was well down so we stemmed alongside Cavendish Mill (possibly on microwaves thrown from the flat windows). I had a phone call from Christine, our shop manager to say that someone had 'phoned to complain that they were bringing a boat down and it would be difficult to get past sunken "Southam" at Knowl st. The words bus, through and get spring to mind!

Working up the 3 locks was straightforward and our guests were enjoying getting involved. Above lock 3 is a long pound (well, long for the HNC) and I was dismayed to find this the best part of a foot down. It's tricky to get through even when full.

We removed a log and a huge plastic pallet from the paddle recess.

I asked Tony to go ahead and "find some water". A difficult task as the only source is the short, though relatively deep, pounds through Stalybridge. I warned him that there was a boat coming down, so he would need to make sure he left enough water for them to get through.

Right outside the lock "Forget me Not" stopped in mid channel. She would go neither forwards nor backwards (nor sideways for that matter. Tony rang to say that he'd let as much water as he dare out of 4-5 pound. Of course, its effect on the long pound was minimal. A lot of thrashing about and pulling on lines achieved a few yards progress, then we stuck fast again. Tony rang again to say that he couldn't get any water from the next pound up as it was already completely empty. I noticed it was like that earlier in the week, though it was getting a feed from above. He would have to top it up from the Armentierres Square pound.

I started emptying the ballast tanks and our guests decided to consume the buffet lunch that we had provided. Tony rang again very angry to say that the downhill boat had arrived and the people were very rude to him and accused him of stealing their water, oblivious of the fact that he was filling a pound that they needed to fill anyway. I think perhaps they imagined that he had emptied the pound, which he had not.

With lunch eaten and the ballast tanks completely empty I decided to have another go. I attached a long line to the back end rail and got all the young lads out of "Hazel" to join Aaron and Kim in pulling on it. When we finally got a co-ordinated pull the boat moved, initially for a short distance, but another effort got her moving properly. (just here the bottom is strewn with boulders from a section of washwall that collapsed and was rebuilt, leaving the original material in the cut).

Aaron carried on pulling on the line, which was fine as I didn't know when I might need more assistance. As we approached the Tame aqueduct Aaron was having trouble with his line catching in vegetation. I became pre-occupied with a couple of our young (and generally well behaved) guests who had climbed on to "Hazel"s roof. This is not allowed anyway, but I was particularly keen to coax them down before the aqueduct as a fall into the river would be very serious (and my fault). What I didn't notice, until the engine stopped, was that Aaron had let go of his line and it was trailing in the water. It had got itself wound round the propeller. Aaron has often badgered me to let him jump in to get rubbish off the blade. This time I let him, as the only alternative was me getting in.

With the rope successfully untangled and Aaron in the engine 'ole drying out we carried on, only to stick fast in the narrows, a favourite place for dumping as it's close to a secluded dead end road. Our tug o war team was deployed again and we were soon moving well, though bouncing over submerged bikes and trolleys.

We winded at Staley Wharf with some difficulty and immediately headed back. We stuck again at the narrows and just above lock 3 but, with the routine now established, were soon moving again.

Our guests had to leave as their time had run out. Despite (or perhaps because of) the difficulties it seemed they had enjoyed the trip

When the two arrogant men with windlasses appeared, strangely from the nearby road, "Forget me Not" was down lock 2, which was refilling for "Hazel", just being bowhauled out of No3. They complained that we had held them up for 2 hours, though I'm not sure how. I think they had some exchange with Tony, who was fuming. He has a short fuse. They asked me to stop and let them past, even though their boat wasn't even in sight yet. They headed off up the cut to join their boat.

It's not unusual to be asked to pass by speedy pleasure boaters. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to pass a deep draughted boat, especially one towing a butty. I usually  try to help, sometimes at the cost of a stemming up, because I don't like being tailed by a floating sulk,  but this request was ridiculous even if I had been well disposed towards these particular gentlemen.

We were soon through Whitelands Tunnel and working through lock 1. One of the aggrieved men arrived as we were hauling the butty into the lock. He sat down and started using his 'phone. When the lock was nearly empty he came over to me and asked me to talk to CRT. He had clearly given his distorted tale of woe about us terrible boaters to the duty manager, who was now telling me, via the 'phone, to let them past. So, presumably, we were being expected to wait below the lock for this boat to work through after us then go speeding ahead. Grrrr.

As we were closing the gates after the butty the fabled boat appeared at the far end of the tunnel. Despite getting stemmed on a shopping trolley behind Asda and making a pigs ear of breasting up, it was another 5 minutes after we were tied up and the engine stopped before the other boat arrived. On board was a well known local sourpuss.

We all know that the Huddersfield Narrow is a difficult and shallow canal. We also know that it is maintained on a shoestring. Wouldn't it be nice if boaters co-operated to help each other through such difficulties, listened to each other even, rather than jumping to conclusions and telling tales to CRT. I once got the cane in school because of that sort of behaviour. I still haven't forgiven Mandy Hough for telling those lies.

The Old ports of West Lancashire.

Em had a plan. She wanted to go and see Lancaster Castle and go on one of the witch tours. So, off we trolled to Lancaster on an overcrowded Northern train. Isn't privatisation wonderful? We stayed at the Sun Inn in Lancaster. Nice room, ridiculously expensive drinks. In the evening as Em rested I went for a walk. I was looking for the old railway track to Glasson Dock, but it seems to have disappeared under Barratt homes. Nice walk down the river though.

The square concrete things are Heysham Nuclear Power Station I think.

There was some sort of rescue going on from the other side of the river.

Another walk in the early morning took me to the Millenium Bridge.

The buildings in the distance are old warehouses from when ships from Ireland used to dock here.

Lancaster has some picturesque bits.

I'd like to show you a lovely picture of Em having a cup of coffee in a cafe but she won't let me.

Next day another crowded Northern train took us to Preston. Em went shopping while I went in search of the Ribble Steam railway, which runs trains at weekends on the former dock railway. The docks are now a pleasure boat marina, but I was surprised to learn how important they once were, handling ro ro ferries to Ireland as well as coal exports and imports of fruit, timber grain etc. Surprisingly large ships used to navigate the narrow Ribble. It all finished in 1981. The cost of constantly dredging the river had got too much for the dwindling traffic.

In steam for my visit was a lovely Hawthorn Leslie saddletank of 1930s vintage.

There's an excellent collection of mostly industrial locos on display. Many of them have come from the former Steamport museum that used to be housed in the old Southport loco shed. One engine I'd hoped to see was "Cecil Raikes", an 0-6-4 tank of the subterranean (and sub aqua) Mersey Railway. This used to be at Steamport but since its closure has been in store with its owners, Liverpool Museums.

I was just about to leave when I noticed a sign inviting me to look at inside the workshops, a rare treat in this age of elfin safety overkill. This was the best bit. There was no-one else about but in the gloomy interior I was surrounded by frames, boilers, cabs etc and locomotives part dismantled and part re-assembled.

There was the old Furness Railway 0-4-0 tender engine

And an old friend that used to be on the Keighley & Worth Valley, USA tank No 72.

As I trudged back towards the main line station and another Northern sardine tin I took some photos of the Hawthorn Leslie hauling its train up the line, then setting off for the return trip from the exchange loops.

Despite the docks having closed over 30 years ago the railway is still busy with freight traffic on weekdays. Trains of bitumen tankers arrive down the wobbly track from the main line and are handed over to a pair of Rolls Royce Sentinel diesels to be shunted into the discharge siding for the black stuff to be pumped out and refined.

The track on the Nework Rail operated part of the line looks a bit unloved.

Almost to Heaven

Someone said the Rochdale Canal was heaven one side and hell the other. I chose to charter "Hazel" for my boating holiday and invite some long unseen friends along. The original plan was to go up the Caldon but with various stoppages this became impossible, so I decided on the Rochdale instead. We had to go through the Hell bit to reach heaven. Unfortunately, the water shortages meant that we could only get to the edge of the celestial bit, just above Littleborough. We nearly got stranded there as CRT declared a stoppage at 07.30 (Having assured us that it would be fine to stay where we were for a few days) and immediately started locking up the locks. It took much whingeing on the 'phone from me to get them unlocked. It was great to see old friends Neesa, Dan, Eric, Stuart, Adeline and Eloise as well as some of our regular crew who came along to help work the many locks. Hard work but I enjoyed it. Thanks to Lesley and Mary for many of the pictures as I didn't take a lot.

Green scum on the Ashton Canal.

"Hazel" having her batteries charged.

At New Islington Marina.

A small amount of what we removed from the blade.

As far as we got. Lovely place to spend the weekend.


Early morning at Durn (Lock 47)
Waiting for CRT to let us out.

Rochdale in the morning.
Early morning at the Boat & Horses, Chadderton.