5th January 2010 A Cold Christmas for Captain Kit Crewbucket

2010-01-05 @ 13:52:18 by ashtonboatman

A Cold Christmas for Captain Kit Crewbucket.

Captain Kit Crewbucket is a lucky black tomcat. In February 2003 he appeared under a tarpaulin in the hold of "Forget me Not". He was lost, terrified and wouldn't come near anyone. We estimated his age as about 6 months. Gradually as we put food out he learned to trust us. When I brought his food at dusk I would look under the tarpaulin and just see his two eyes shining in the dark. I thought it looked a bit ghostly, so I named him Kit Crewbucket after a spirit that is said to haunt Harecastle canal tunnel. One of the museum staff took a particular interest in our new arrival, but he called the cat Captain. As all readers of T.S. Eliot will know, a cat has three names, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXkLgtusza4 so he became Captain Kit Crewbucket.

Soon Captain Kit realised that he was on to a good thing on the boats with plenty of admirers to give him titbits and make fuss of him. He has become something of a celebrity at Portland Basin, with a regular column in the WCBS newsletter and occasional appearances in the local paper. Fans would visit from foreign places (like Yorkshire) in the hope of a glimpse of our celebrity pussycat.

It must be said that Captain Kit has always enjoyed the summer more than the winter. Basking in the sun has always been more his style than sheltering from the dreich drizzle and, his particular bette noir, snow.

When it began to snow, just before the Solstice, the Captain began to show a marked reluctance to come outside. When he did he would carefully hop between my footprints to avoid his paws sinking into the white stuff. After New Year the temperature dropped more and everywhere became covered in an 8 inch freezing white duvet. Kit had made himself a nest aboard "Hazel" and refused to leave it even for his favourite cat treats. It seemed like the time had come for the Captain to be given a holiday from the boats.

My partner, Emuna, loves cats. She used to have a wonderful black and white cat called Oedipuss who lived to be a grand old lady of 20. After Oedi died, Emuna decided not to have another cat. For several years, As Oedipuss got older, she had been reluctant to go away because she would not trust anyone else with the precious puss. She felt that having a cat was too much of a tie.

Emuna enthusiastically offered to look after Captain Kit for a while at her little house in Ashton, so we drove through the deep snow to park the van as near the basin as we dared, then trudged down to collect him. Cats generally don't like leaving their territories, and Kit was no exception. He struggled and yowled as I carried him through the deep snow to the van (which by then looked like a mobile ice cream).

Soon we were at Emuna's house and, after spending about an hour hiding under the bed, Captain Kit realised that lying on top of the bed was much more comfortable, and he's hardly moved from there since. He seems to be taking quite nicely to being a house cat. Now my concern is whether I'll be able to prise Emuna and Captain Kit apart when the time comes for him to resume command of the boats.

A Wintry Week 20th December 2009

2009-12-20 @ 22:08:36 by ashtonboatman

A wintry week

Oh the joys of looking after old boats in the winter. For a while I've been putting off searching "Elton" to find where she was leaking. Steadily the leak got worse until last Sunday she virtually sank and I had to start the 2" pump to bring here up again. I kept changing batteries for the bilge pumps, which were running constantly, sometimes getting up at 3 AM, until on Wednesday I decided I would have to drop everything else I was supposed to be doing to trawl through piles of useful items in her hold and try to find it. My delay in dealing with this was partly because I was feeling rotten with a virus that just won't go away. Paddling about in freezing water is not a recommended cure for the flu!

I was all day shifting stuff around and lifting shutts ( floor sections) until it was getting dark. I was on the verge of giving up when I spotted a commotion in the bilge under the back cabin. I lifted the shutt to reveal a little fountain where a knot in the elm bottom had dropped out. A quick squirt of expanding foam plugged the leak and I headed thankfully home. An evening inspection showed that she was still taking a lot of water. My theory about this was that moving stuff around had altered her trim and put a leaky seam under water. Early on Thursday, before starting my day's gardening work, I re-trimmed the boat, changed the bilge pump battery and hoped for the best.

A quick check after work showed that she was OK, but on the way to Latihan it started to snow. Frost and snow themselves cause problems with frozen up bilge pumps and snow weighing down float switches so that they don't work. The last couple of days have seen me running round with blowlamps and kettles of hot water to keep the pumps working while the scene has become steadily more christmas cardy.

Tomorrow is the Solstice and I plan a celebration with a bonfire to remind the Sun to come back. The winter weather is causing a few logistical problems in setting this up though.

The End of The Flea Market Stall 15th December 2009

2009-12-14 @ 19:24:59 by ashtonboatman

The end of the Flea Market stall.

We started doing recycling trips with the boats in August 1996. At first we collected metal and clothes/bric a brac. We thought that we would develop it by starting to collect waste paper, glass etc, but the bottom fell out of the market for these commodities and, when it started to recover, the council started collecting them. However, a successful jumble sale or two showed that there was money in clothes and nick nacks, so we decided to give car boots a try. These went well, so we decided to have a go at council run markets, settling down on the Tuesday flea market in Ashton market place. To begin with the returns on this were marginal, but we were so broke in those days that we stuck at it for lack of any other income.

The big turn round came when we invested £40 in a secondhand stall that was advertised in Loot, and asked for a pitch, ie an area where you can erect your own stall rather than renting a stall from the council. We got our investment back the first day we used our own stall.

Our pitch was in front of the town hall steps. An excellent location, but we were forced to return to a ready made stall after a councillor complained about it being untidy. (He'd be untidy if he had to stand in that wind all day). After one time when we failed to make our stall money I approached the market management again and they let us have a pitch opposite Kwik Save alongside the market hall. At first this didn't do too well, but after a while our customers found us and soon other traders started to join us.

A bombshell hit when pitches were suddenly banned completely because they made the place look untidy (councillors again, or one particular one). A load of traders, including me, went to a meeting in the council offices and got it reversed.

On the morning of 25th May 2004 I drove, towing the market trailer, into town to set up our stall. I could see a big plume of smoke in the town centre and thought I hope that isn't the market hall. It was! If you have pyromaniac tendencies have a look at

The fire actually helped us. We were given a new pitch on a busy corner right in front of MacDonalds.

I should have mentioned the market trailer. This excellent box trailer was built for us using part of an old caravan chassis by Benchmaster Engineering of Mossley. It was a great boost when we got that as it meant that market stock no longer had to be unloaded from a boat in the early hours of the morning, then put back at the end of the day.

Anyway, things went well for the last 5 years, though sometimes it's been a struggle to find enough volunteers to keep it running. The stalwart for many years was David Lloyd, but, sadly, he was taken away by a heart attack.

Just lately I've been concerned about the amount of my time that the stall has been taking. Now that we have a huge shop on Stamford St in Ashton the income from the stall is not so crucial, and I keep thinking about all the other things that I could be doing on the boats with the 15 hours of my time that it takes each week. I was thinking of ways that we could carry on running the stall with less of my involvement when the powers that be dropped another bombshell. Our pitch was to increase in price from £10 to £90! We could reduce this by trimming down the area, but this would mean trimming down on takings too. I asked about moving back to our old pitch alongside the (rebuilt) market hall, but they aren't allowing pitches there now. Probably because they are so terribly untidy.

So, that's it. I've enjoyed 12 years market trading and, for a lot of that time, it was a lifeline to the Wooden Canal Boat Society. Now we have the problem of what to do with shop rejects as we all hate dumping them. The market stall kept down our landfill contributions considerably. I think it's sad that the tidier uppers of this world are steadily destroying our wonderful markets. They did it to Tommyfield Market in Oldham, which is now a shadow of it's former self.

Have a look at our untidy stall at market13

Living in Fear 29th November 2009

2009-11-29 @ 20:36:52 by ashtonboatman

Living in fear

Today I tried to distribute leaflets for the recycling trip. This is a job that I'd really like to delegate, but it looks like I'm stuck with doing it for ever. To be honest it's a bit of a chore, but it has to be done every month to remind residents in our collection area of the date of the next recycling trip. Sunday December 6th in this case.

Today my task was complicated by the fact that I've managed to stab myself in the heel with a nail, so I'm limping, and I've contracted some sort of virus, so I'm wheezing. I only managed to get about half the area leafleted.

Most people are very welcoming of our recycling efforts, but occasionally I meet with hostility. I try to do the leafleting in the morning as troublesome children are less likely to be active then. I am used to being insulted by them- "yer f_____g tramp" etc and have sometimes had objects thrown at me, once being hit on the shin by a half brick. On another occasion a child of about 5 or 6 repeatedly collided with me on his little bike. I think it was his big brother who told me "we don't recycle" with an air of moral superiority.

Today I was waved away from the living room window by someone as I approached a letterbox. On another occasion a man opened his door as I pushed a leaflet through his door and said "scuse me mate, I'm not trying to be funny, but I don't want people I don't know coming on my land. I said OK and moved towards the next house. He said"I own that one as well". For someone not trying, he was being very funny.

When I was a kid there were many knocks on the door. My Mum dealt pleasantly with all kinds of people. In those days there were many tramps, probably mostly people who couldn't cope with life after World War 2. They always got a sandwich and a cup of tea. My parents didn't give lifts to people who they thought were beatniks, but they would often stop for soldiers, who, in those days, would wear their uniform to hitch hike home on leave. I think the IRA put a stop to that tradition.

As I got older I found that hitch hiking was a good way to get around the country. I met many interesting people that way, and I hope that meeting me made their journeys more enjoyable. When I started driving, both privately and for a job, I enjoyed many interesting conversations with hitch hikers. If driving alone on a motorway I would often drop off at a services to see if anyone needed a lift.

Try hitch hiking nowadays- you'll starve to death before you get a lift.

I remember in the 1980s standing at a junction near Luton until eventually a Jamaican man in a big Ford Granada stopped for me. As we rolled up the M1 he asked "how long you bin waitin there". "About 3 hours" I replied. "No-one got no sense of community here" he said. "In Jamaica you wouldn't even need to lift your thumb, you just start walkin and somebody would stop to ask if you needed a lift"

Never having visited Jamaica I can't vouch for his assertion, but I do think we've become a particularly mean spirited nation during my lifetime. People seem to live more and more in their own anaesthetic bubbles and resent any disturbance from outside. The track Comfortably Numb from Pink Floyd's The Wall springs to mind.  

The media have had a lot to do with it. The way that they report exceptional events such as murders is calculated to increase fear. Be afraid, be very afraid of strangers is their constant refrain. As people absorb this subliminal message they steadily cut themselves off from the outside world, and so the sense of community dies a death of a thousand cuts. As they are brought up to consider outsiders as hostile, children learn to have no respect for them, hence the slings and arrows of outrageous youngsters that I sometimes suffer whilst leafletting. This process is wonderfully described in Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine.

So, how do we start to reverse this? Well, you could start by coming on one of our recycling trips and meet a lot of friendly strangers ( they don't come much stranger). Generally though, stop being so fearful. Strangers are often very interesting people

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 http://www.web.net/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