The flying pig flu, Winter Solstice etc 28th December 2009

Is this the Flying Pig Flu

I seem to have had some sort of orrible virus for weeks. It's been a blasted nuisance as I've had no choice but to keep showing up at the boats to at least keep the bilge pumps working through the ice and keep Captain Kit fed.

I had a Solstice celebration planned. Originally I was going to take "Southam" for a trip down the canal to a place in Audenshaw where we could build a fire. Come the Solstice the cut was frozen. It was breakable, but "Southam" is 73 years old and feeling her age. I decided to build a fire near Portland Basin on a site where some scallies had been camping and so there was already a scorched patch.

Luckily a new volunteer called Gary offered to help build the fire. we had to drag all the incendiary materials, including parts of "Hazel"s interior, over 2 bridges and a field in snow and slippery ice. I was flagging as the lurgi had gone on to my chest and any exertion left me puffing like a steam train. Largely thanks to Emuna's imaginative input, and, of course Steve the Viking and his wassail bowl, the whole thing was a lot of fun.

We had a really nice latihan
in Manchester on Christmas Eve, and a really pleasant Christmas day, me and Emuna shut out the rest of the world for a couple of days. She gave me a digibole camelode which i am learning to use. I was still feeling rotten though, and on Boxing Day Emuna started to feel ill. We had to cancel a trip to Rugby to see my brother on 27th.

I've begun to feel better at last, and I'm becoming BOOOWAD!

I've started catching up with things. Near Portland Basin there's an area of woodland that I look after. It was a sludge lagoon for dredgings from the Ashton Canal between Portland Basin and Eli Whalleys. The council let us plant oak trees on it and they're doing nicely. In one part I planted a Yew surrounded by a ring of oaks from acorns of a tree that grows near my son's grave. It is a kind of memorial to him. Every now and then it's necessary to go and cut back the invasive sycamores etc. Today I decided to relieve the boowadome by doing that for a couple of hours. Sadly the main use that the public seem to have for the woodland is to shoot up drogs or drink cheap alcohol. The area is littered with the detritus of these activities. I wish I had more time to keep it clean.

It's amazing how big the pile of wood is that you create when cutting down a few sycamores. We have an excellent woodcutting volunteer who has joined recently. I'll have to get him involved in turning this lot into firewood. When I've worked out how to download pictures from my digibole camelode I'll show you a picture of the Yew tree.

Building the wood shelter 25th November 2009

2009-11-25 @ 20:41:45 by ashtonboatman

Building the wood shelter.

Today was my day at the Heritage Boatyard in Stalybridge. It was raining on and off but I enjoyed working on the wood shelter. It's nice to be getting the useful timber into some kind of order, so that we can find it when we want it, and out of the rain, so that it lasts until we need it.

Ken Lee was there dismantling the big pallets that we're building the shelter from. Laurence Sullivan repaired the lights on the market trailer.

There's been a hold up on sorting the slipway area out. We were digging out clay and delivering it to The Mount where they were building a demonstration straw bale building. The clay was needed to plaster over the bales. It was nearly finished when some nasty person set fire to it. I'm waiting to hear from Deramore who is the main man there to see what they're going to do next and whether they will need more clay.

Pumps, Bilges and Bolinders 25th October 2009

2009-10-25 @ 20:23:12 by ashtonboatman

Pumps, Bolinders and Bilges

Friday morning I arrived at Portland basin to get the usual working party on the boats started. As I looked through the gates I immediately knew something was different, but it took me a few seconds to realise that "Elton" had sunk. "Elton" has always been the Cinderella of our little fleet. She is currently mainly used for sorting out recyclable metals. She really needs a Prince Charming to come along and start tidying her up. To some extent that has started, as Andy Smethurst and Terry James have made a good job of painting her back cabin in Grand Union colours.

For a while I'd been concerned about her increasingly sieve like qualities, but kept putting off the unpleasant task of moving all the useful items in her hold to search for porous bits of the bottom. My failure to make a stitch in time had led to the current situation.

Soon I had the 2" pump set up and gushing water from "Elton"s bow. As she gradually rose up in the water I went about my normal tasks, helping volunteers to get their jobs done. Ken was busy repairing "Forget me Not"s shutts and Gary busied himself cutting firewood to see us through the winter. Arfa kept "Forget me Not"s range going and showed visitors round the cabin.

Eventually the revving and slurping of the pump told me that "Elton" was nearly empty. I set up an electric pump to remove the dregs of the water and hoped for the best as it was fast approaching time for the afternoon's jaunt.

Some months ago we acquired a Bolinder semi diesel engine that had formerly powered a Grand canal barge in Ireland. When first motorised "Forget me Not" was fitted with a bolinder, sadly scrapped in 1959. It has always been our intention to re-fit one, but soaring prices had made it look unlikely that we would ever succeed. Happily, this one was affordable, though of a slightly different, earlier, design to most.

I had arranged for our engineering department to have a look at a functioning Bolinder in the FMC motor "Rudd", moored at Bedford Basin in Leigh. So it was that Ike Isherwood, Chris Duxbury and me climbed into the society's old Transit van for the trip to Leigh.

When we eventually found Bedford Basin I was surprised to see my old boat, Bridgewater packet "Parbella", tied up and looking a bit neglected. I recognised her by a dent in the bow. For two years in the 1980s I steered "Parbella" between Liverpool and Frodsham carrying grain.

Round in the basin we found "Rudd" and Tim Young, her owner, welcomed us aboard. Lester was already there. We all climbed into the engine room and admired the gleaming engine. Tim explained the principles on which the Bolinder operates. It is largely steam engine technology applied to internal combustion. He explained all the dreadful things that can go wrong. Lester looked increasingly worried.

The discussion turned to reversing. Bolinders reverse by injecting fuel at the wrong time and so reversing the rotation of the engine. this doesn't always work and sometimes the engine stops. You always need to have a strategy for dealing with this if it happens.

Our engine has no reversing mechanism. In Ireland they didn't bother with reverse, stopping the boat by running into something. For operation with a butty we need reverse, so the discussion moved to means of achieving this. One way would be to discreetly fit a gearbox under the cabin floor. The other way, which seems to be favourite at the moment, would be to assemble a reversing mechanism from spare parts and specially made parts.

The plan now is to arrange a viewing of our engine, which has an extra esoteric feature of water injection, by various Bolinder experts.

On return to portland Basin I was pleased to see that "Elton" was still floating. Closer inspection showed a problem though. The electric pump had been running continuously while I was away but the water level in the boat was higher than when I left. This meant that the water was leaking in faster than the pump could shift it out again. I rigged up a bigger pump but this just flattened the battery in no time. Evening was drawing on and I was fighting a losing battle. I decided to let her sink again and have another go in the morning.

Saturday Morning I met Anthony Benson on the wharf and started the 2" pump again. We rigged up a big electric pump in the stern end, connected directly to a generator. Overnight I had charged up a stack of batteries, so I was confident about using the big electric pump in the bow too. Soon the boat was afloat and the two of us got stuck in to moving things around until we had traced the source of the influx. In fact, there were two, Tony found one and I found the other, almost simultaneously. With the aid of that wonderful boat bodging material - expanding foam, both were soon plugged. With automatic pumps rigged up I could then retire for a much needed wash.

"Forget me Not"s Bolinder now masquerades under the name "Henry Grantham" on Facebook. He needs friends who can help to get him up and running again.

Digging at the Heritage Boatyard 18th October 2009

2009-10-18 @ 18:21:38 by ashtonboatman

Digging at the Heritage Boatyard

A good day today. It was a working party at Knowl St. Ike and Stan were re-organising boat ironwork etc, Gordon, returned after a long sojourn in Bacup, was building the wood store. Bex was busy denailing timber for Gordon to use. A new volunteer, Anthony, was working with me on digging out clay. About half a mile away there's a project to build straw houses which have to be sealed with clay. We have lots of clay that we don't want, so we're digging it out and taking it to them.

Sadly the straw houses were destroyed by vandals but here's some more projects by the same architect, Deramore Hutchcroft.

An Evening Recycling Trip with Incidents 11th October 2009

2009-10-11 @ 20:32:11 by ashtonboatman

Recycling trips

We do two recycling trips each month, normally on the first Sunday and the first Monday of each month. The Sunday one currently involves "Southam" towing "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" in an impressive 210 foot train along the canal. This is because "Forget me Not" is currently unpowered pending fitting of her 80 year old Bolinder engine. There are usually a fair number of volunteers and we collect from about 350 homes near Fairfield Junction, Droylsden.

The Monday trip is usually a more relaxed affair. A few volunteers meet at Portland Basin at 6 PM and take a single boat for a trip to collect from one street, Gorseyfields. In the winter the trip is entirely in the dark.

For a picture of "Southam" see -
Dukinfield JunctionShe's the blue and red one in the bottom right hand corner.

This month the trips took place on 4th and 5th October. The Sunday one was straightforward and very enjoyable. The Monday one was a bit difficult.

We met as usual at 6 PM. Only 3 turned up, myself, Mike Greenwood and Bex (Rebecca Morgan). That's Ok, We've done the trip with only two. We set off on "Southam" and all was going fine until the engine stalled at Guide Bridge. As it's a 3.8 Litre BMC Commodore it takes some stalling. A little poking around with the cabin shaft revealed an enormous tangle of wire on the blades. It turned out to be telephone wire, but tangled up in it were sticks, clothes, wire mesh fencing and part of a motorbike engine ( there used to be a motorbike workshop in the adjacent mill and they tended to throw unwanted components in the cut).

By the time this lot was stacked under the sterndeck it was dark and we were running late. Luckily "Southam" swims like a fish so we wound some power out of her huge engine and were soon at Fairfield. We winded and tied up at Fairfield Road bridge. Just as we were preparing to start collecting, a posse of hooded youths crossed the bridge and started pelting us with stones from the cover of a stone wall. This was not the first time that this has happened. I chased them off and we rang the police.

It was necessary to leave Mike and Bex guarding the boat. As expected, the miscreants made another attack up the towpath before retreating to cause mayhem elsewhere. I went collecting as I was the only one who knew the route.

Eventually I got the collection done, there wasn't too much, I think partly because it was getting too late for some people to answer their doors. The police still hadn't showed up so we started the engine and headed back towards Ashton. We'd only gone two bridges lengths when the engine stalled again. This time the problem was a huge cluster of stainless steel swarf jammed on the blade. The cabin shaft turned out to be insufficient to remove this, so I had to put some thick gloves on ( it's vicious stuff) support myself with one hand on the cavitation plate while I reached down to the propeller and pulled off handfuls of curly metal with the other.

While I was head down and soaking wet my 'phone rang. It was the police, wondering where we were. They had been delayed by a call to another incident which they thought was probably caused by the same group of toe rags.

With the blade clean (ish) again we got moving. At Guide Bridge the engine grunted and coughed as we passed the site of the telephone wire. An appeal to the gods of the cut and a quick blast of sterngear cleared the blade again and we carried on, chuntering into Portland Basin some time after 11 PM.

It was Mike's first recycling trip. Despite the problems he says he'll come again. Well, it would be boring if it all went smoothly every time wouldn't it?

On the Sunday trip we generally take a train of 3 boats with "Southam" towing "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" Audenshaw canal4

Oaken Clough, Ashton under Lyne 1th October 2009

2009-10-17 @ 06:28:14 by ashtonboatman

Another day.

It's Saturday and as usual I'm spoilt for choice as to which of my many tasks to tackle today, well, this morning anyway. This afternoon I will go to the AGM of the Medlock & Tame Valley Conservation Association. This is the charity that has taken charge of the wonderful wildlife garden created by Mildred Burlinson. It's situated about a mile from Ashton town centre just off the Oldham Road. I worked for Mildred looking after the garden for 12 years. Recently I've been trimming Sycamores in the garden, but I don't have a lot of time to devote to it. More volunteers urgently needed in this wonderful place. There's also a big old victorian house attached to the garden, which, unfortunately, seems to be being viewed as a liability rather than an asset. I wish I had time to help more. Have a look at the website

A Hazel Sponsors Trip

2009-09-27 @ 20:56:54 by ashtonboatman

Sponsors trip

On Saturday afternoon we took "Southam", "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" for a trip to the bottom of the Marple flight to be in position for today's trip for "Hazel" sponsors. We took all 3 functioning boats partly because we didn't know how many guests might turn up on Sunday, partly to provide extra cabin space for volunteers staying overnight and partly because I like towing trains of boats. On the trip out we had a lot of trouble with rubbish on the blades and this contributed to the overheating problems that we've been having with "Southam"s engine.

Bex, whose birthday it happened to be, brought a big pan of chicken stew, and a smaller pan of veggie stew for any veggies- much appreciated by Ike who eschews the eating of flesh. We stopped near Hyde to eat this. It was followed by birthday cake made by Emuna, who was too ill to come ( she has M E )

"Southam" only just fits through Woodley tunnel (she was once stuck in it for 7 hours) so we went through very gingerly. All was well and we reached Marple about 7 PM. The winding hole was full of BW boats and Ike had to shaft some of them out of the way so that we could wind the 3 boats. As we were doing this Neil Goodier's hireboat "Border Rose" arrived. We tied "Southam" and "Forget me Not" breasted, stem to stem with "Border Rose", with "Lilith" behind under the railway viaduct.

With the boats secure we walked up the locks to Marple in the dark and found a pub called, I think, The Bulls Head. I'm sure it was some part of a bull. I very rarely drink and had more than is good for me. Some very good discussions took place and Bex did much networking around the bar. I expect everyone there to turn up for the recycling trip next Sunday.

The return walk to the boats became a little tiresome, not least because of the amount of flavoured petrol, or something very like it, that some people had consumed! In an outbreak of religious fervour Bex tried full immersion baptism in the canal. Fiona bent my ear about formulating an alcohol policy for the society, probably a good idea, though I'm not sure how you get people to adhere to it when reason fails and it's too late or too far to send them home.

Sunday morning I awoke in "Lilith"s wonderful little forecabin, built last year by Tony Forward, and drank coffee to ease the dull ache in my brain. I dressed in my boatman costume and gave Bex my work clothes as hers were still drying over "Forget me Not"s range. Ike had been involved in discussions with nocturnal ramblers interested in the boats and had not slept for a second successive night. I don't know how he does it. Jim and Daniel Cocker made bacon butties and we busied ourselves cleaning and tidying the boats ready for our guests.

Lester and Janet Mayo arrived with Alan Crompton, the Lancashire coracle man. It was good to see him as he's been unwell for a while and unable to come on recycling trips. Pans of food were loaded on and "Southam"s range stoked up. Soon the Marple Lions arrived en-mass, a total of 19 "Hazel" sponsors in all.

With everyone arranged on the boats and numbers carefully checked, we set off, trying, and failing, to avoid nudging "Border Rose". Soon the convoy was snaking around the bends on the wooded approach to Hyde Bank Tunnel. Of course, someone fuelled up the range as we approached the tunnel and my eyes were stinging by the time we emerged from the low Northern portal.

We tied up for lunch at Gee Cross, oposite a luxurious house built with reclaimed bricks on the site of an old mill. Lester and Janet served up an excellent meal of meat and pasta. The sun had come out so we were able to dine al fresco on "Forget me Not"s temporary deck.

We had some difficulty getting going again as "Forget me Not" was well and truly stemmed. I pushed her off from the bank and had to walk to Captain Clarkes bridge while Lester steered "Southam" I enjoyed the sound of her chuntering engine and the sight of the train swinging round the tortuous curves of the canal. From Captain Clarkes I concentrated on washing up, boiling water in the big old copper kettle on "Southam"s huge ex army range. Chores done, I enjoyed chatting with our guests in the fore end.

At Portland Basin we stopped on the Tame Aqueduct to unload everyone. We couldn't hang about as a boat wanted to turn into the Peak Forest and we were blocking their way. Lester took "Southam round the turn and I used a long line from the T stud to strap her off the junction strapping post. I then started shafting "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" across to the wharf, only to find that I was in the way of the Huddersfield Canal Society trip boat which wanted to back out of the Warehouse arm. Soon the boats were in place and the trip boat away, pans loaded into vehicles and everyone on theirways home, except Chris and Kath who were boatsitting.

If you would like to become a "Hazel" Sponsor please click this link

A Sad Day 25th September 2009

2009-09-25 @ 08:17:38 by ashtonboatm

A sad day.

Thursday is normally my day for earning a crust by working in peoples gardens. At the moment I'm doing a lot for an elderly Austrian lady called Elsa who lives in Denton. I like Elsa, but I'm not so keen on the work as she wants all the trees and shrubs taking out of her garden. I'm finding good homes for as many as I can.

At about 11 AM I got a message from the shop to tell me that my friend John Taylor had died on Wednesday. John was about the same age as me and was taken by a sudden heart attack. As far as I know he'd not had any heart trouble before.

John was an excellent man. One of the most quietly helpful people around. I first met him when we were slipping "Forget me Not" for her rebuild in 1987. Things had gone wrong and everything had jammed up with the boat half out of the water. John just turned up, got stuck in and, with a combination of strength and practicality, helped us to get things moving again. Since then he's frequently done the same trick, turning up and helping out with just what's needed.

One day I was having a problem with teenagers who were causing havoc with an old car on the car park at Portland Basin. The police claimed to be powerless to do anything ( odd, if I had such an unroadworthy vehicle I'd be for the high jump). John turned up while the kids were away at Asda stocking up on cheap alcohol. We discussed the situation, scratched our heads, then exchanged mischievous grins as we both came up with the same solution. I found a length of line and we connected the troublesome car to Johns car, then we towed it, in the fading light of a late autumn evening, up to the police station. We pushed it into the compound at the back, next to a parked patrol car, then went to the front to hand it in as lost/stolen property. The police and civilians at the front desk were flummaxed. They had no paperwork for such an eventuality. Soon they were having quite a heated argument and treating me and John as suspects. After we had sat wondering what awaited us for 10 minutes or so they suddenly told us that we could go.

John will be sadly missed by a lot of people. He was one of the best.

On a lighter note. Later in the day I went to do some work in the wildlife friendly garden that I've created at the Ashton Chiropractic Centre. I was accused by a neighbour of polluting her garden! WITH FROGS!!!!

She's always hated the chiropractors and has been a thorn in their side ever since they started. She particularly dislikes my water feature made from old baths. We've had a big problem of vandalism . In the first year 4 of the 6 baths were smashed.

I was delighted to have frog spawn, then tadpoles and now frogs. She is obviously phobic about wildlife and is now claiming that her grandaughter won't visit her because she is scared of the frogs. Now, if I had a grandchild with frogophobia I would try to help them overcome it, but not this lady. She's demanding that I destroy the ponds to save her and her grandchild from the terrors of nature. As I won't co-operate she says she's going to take it further. That will be an interesting case for the environmental health department.

Southam Goes Backwards Again.

2009-09-23 @ 19:38:51 by ashtonboatma

"Southam" goes backwards again!

"Southam" is currently our only powered boat, even though she was originally a butty. This is because "Forget me Not" is awaiting the installation of her Bolinder. It may be a long wait!

Since Easter the reverse gear on "Southam"s gearbox has been out of bounds because the brake band was worn out. This made recycling trips towing both "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" quite interesting.

Ike and Lester, the engineering dept, dismantled the gearbox about 10 days ago and I had a nice train ride to Accrington to hand it over to a very strange company who were never there. In spite of being never there, they re-lined it and, after another nice train ride, I got it back and the engineering department re-assembled it yesterday. I gave it a try today. It's great to be able to go backwards and er, well, sort of, Stop, if you're going forwards.

There's a "Hazel" sponsors trip on Sunday so I hope it functions properly for that.