Resuming at Tile Hill

Every now and then I take to my bike and ride as near as I can along a line drawn on the map. At night I sleep out at whatever discreet spot I can find. My last trip, 5 years ago, ended at Tile Hill near Coventry. Recently I resumed the trip, following the line previously drawn to Caen Hill locks near Devizes in Wiltshire.

My train wasn't until 12.07 from Piccadilly, so I spent the morning with the usual running about making sure everything was in place for me to go, then went home to say goodbye to Em. She's been quite poorly lately so she was in bed communicating electronically with friends around the world. I left most of my keys at home lest I should lose them, but took keys to the boats as there were a couple of things to pick up there on my way. What I forgot was that it was Monday, so the museum wasn't open and, without the gate key, I couldn't get in. I had to ring the bell on the museum door and ask one of the staff to let me through on to the wharf.  A couple of them came and they said they enjoyed the fresh air.

On my way at last, I pedalled off down the towpath with an hour to my train. I immediately began to wonder if this trip ws a good idea. A gusty North Westerly wind was impeding my progress and I was already finding it hard going despite the recently tarmacked towpath. My museum friends had remarked on the amount of stuff I was carrying and my rucksack was feeling mightily uncomfortable. Things got easier as I descended the locks and gained more shelter from the buildings, but I was still wondering what it would be like to pedal through the Cotswolds with all this weight as I arrived at Piccadilly with 20 minutes to spare.

My train was the 12.07 Cross Country to Exeter St Davids, a four car Voyager set.    It was already in the platform so I found the bike rack and hung my bike in it, then got stuck behind 2 old ladies faffing about with their luggage while I sought my reserved seat. The train was uncomfortably crammed, in fact one young passenger nearly got off again as she was suffering from claustrophobia.

The Voyagers are very fast and futuristic looking diesel trains. They can go faster round bends than traditional trains as they lean over like a motorbike. The drawback of this is that to allow for tilting within the restricted British loading gauge demands a very narrow body profile. Coupled with a commercial imperative to insert as many farepayers as you can into as few carriages as possible and you have a recipe for sardines.

Shortly after sitting down, the guard announced that “an item has been found”. I looked for and failed to find my camera. This was worrying as, though the camera isn't worth much, the SD card contains important photographs. I made my way to the end of the train and, after some carefully chosen security questions, the guard handed me my camera.

I had booked my ticket through Raileasy, which has the clever option of finding savings by booking your journey in several chunks rather than as a single trip. My tickets were separately Manchester to Stoke, Stoke to Birmingham and Birmingham to Tile Hill. I didn't have to get off at Stoke on Trent but my reservation from there to Brum was in a different carriage, so I said goodbye to the family I had been sitting with and moved to Coach F. Here another luggage drama took place. It was announced that we should all check our luggage as someone had left the train with the wrong bag. A middle aged punk lady started to panic when she couldn't find her suitcase and went to get the guard, only to have the embarrassment of discovering that she'd stowed it at the other end of the coach.

From a crowded New Street I got the London Midland local train and alighted at Tile Hill.    

Before setting out I adjusted my rucksack straps which made it much more comfortable, but my previous concerns returned as I struggled up the incline over the railway bridge.

My map, though old, was clear. I needed to take the second left, immediately before Burton Green and immediately after the abandoned Berkswell to Kenilworth railway. The second turn left was just before the sign announcing Burton Green, but i could see no sign of the old railway. As it was at the top of a hill I shrugged and turned. Perhaps the railway had tunnelled under. Sweating like a pig, I stopped to remove my coat and roll it up on the handlebars, then enjoyed some nice downhill freewheeling.

After a while I found myself in Warwick University, which is in Coventry (!?).

The road that I should have taken should have turned right, so I took the next available right tun and, once clear of the university, went through a pleasant undulating country of oak woods and fields. I came to a crossroads that shouldn't have been there. I realised that I was on completely the wrong road, but one direction was signposted to Kenilworth, so I went that way.

The Kenilworth that I first entered was unlike the place that I have been to before.          

It was ancient and quaint but horribly overwhelmed with upmarket tweeness. Over the brow of the hill I came to Kenilworth Castle. I recall being unimpressed by this monument on a childhood visit and had no wish to repeat the experience. It was indeed one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about a bit.

Another dip and rise brought me to a different Kenilworth, a high street of normal shops and cafes selling stuff at normal prices. I stopped to buy vegetables. I needed coffee but I didn't want a jar that was heavy and might break. A refill pack would be better, but vulnerable to damp. When I was a kid coffee was unknown in our house. One day, probably prompted by my older siblings, mum brought home some coffee. It was Camp Coffee in a bottle. Sainsbury's still have it, still with the same colonial label but in a lightweight plastic bottle. I decided to buy some as I am camping. I don't know how much of a caffiene hit I'll get from it as it is mostly chicory.

Leaving Kenilworth, I soon found the little turning towards the village of Beausale, then kept an eye out for the track leading to the delightfully named Goodrest Farm. This turned out to be a good concrete road. From the farm a footpath is marked towards Hatton. I was pleased to find that this is a good well used and waymarked path through woods and wheatfields. Lovely Warwickshire as I remember it from my childhood. As I rode along a hawk hovered ahead of me, then suddenly dropped on some hapless mouse or vole, which it carried away in its claws as it flew off to enjoy its meal.

I grew up not 20 miles from here. All I knew about Hatton then was that it was the local "loonybin". Any strange behaviour would prompt a remark like 'you'll end up in Hatton if you're not careful'. One of the little jobs carried out by number one boaters was to deliver coal to Hatton for the asylum boilers. The footpath headed straight for the asylum but was marked as turning right to Turkey Farm. I could see some of the old buildings and wondered if it was still in use as a hospital. When I got there I found that the footpath led straight into a new estate of upmarket housing. At least one of the old buildings is still standing, though this turns out to be the Chest Hospital and appears to be being converted.

The old mental asylums had their drawbacks. There were some very bad practices in them which led to a movement to get them closed down, spurred on by films like “One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest”. Margaret Thatcher's government seemed to be doing something progressive when they brought in “Care in the Community”. In many ways it seemed a better idea, but the resources deployed are totally inadequate. The problem with the old asylums was not that the idea of asylum is inherently bad. In fact a lot of people need asylum, if only on a temporary basis. The problem was partly the moralistic attitudes of the time, but mainly the lack of resources and the perception that it was a cinderella service. Thatcher and her pals seized on the care in the community option as a way of saving money and as a result many mentally unwell people find themselves living in cardboard boxes or prisons.

Partway up the Hatton 21 lock flight my route crosses the Warwick and Birmingham canal.

I stopped here and found a camping site in the bushes beside a lock. There's plenty of dry brittle wood here so I lit a fire, cooked my tea, boiled a kettle to make a flask for the morning, then sat, leaning against a bollard to type this.

I've had a few funny looks from dogwalkers and a brief shower prompted me to put up my pop up tent, then it went sunny again. Shortly I'll be riding down the locks for a pint at the Cape of Good Hope in Warwick.

Book your tickets this way     https://wcbs.t

A Good Trip

Today we ran a short trip to Lumb Lane and back for a group called Just Life.  It was a really enjoyable trip on a nice sunny day. We had a few problems (as usual) with rubbish on the blade. One of our guests was from Africa and he was really interested in the plants that grow in Britain. He didn't know about brambles, stinging nettles, rosebay willowherb etc that we just take for granted. here's some photos.Yes I did point out to our crew member that dangling his foot over the side was not a good idea.

Make Beautiful Things from Fragments of Hazel.

When we removed the old planks from "Hazel" we didn't throw them away or burn them in the plank steaming boiler.  Instead We saved them for .making into nice things. Mosly these are rose or castle designs on sections of old planking. Ryan Hinds got a friend to make a little bit of "Hazel" into a special E cigarrette "mod" which he auctioned online and raised nearly £300 for the "Hazel" project. Most of the bits of bottom and side planking have so far been painted by Anne Riley and Maxine Bailey and they have now mostly been sold. We have a stack of further fragments prepared but there's a limit to how much Maxine and Anne can do. We need more painters, wood turners, carvers, sculptors etc to use these fragments to make interesting beautiful items to sell and raise more money for this worthwhile project. We specially need people who can do something with the more interesting fragments such as knees, stempost, sternpost etc. 

Can you help? You don't even need to live local as I can usually arrange to have things transported around the country.

If you can help email me at

Here's some examples. What can you do?

Another Christmas (Christmas 2014)

Another Christmas

I'm back again to find that it's almost a year since my last post. In the circumstances it's amazing that the trend of my pageviews is inexorably upwards.

Apologies to all my fans for being so remiss. My excuse is that I've been busy tring to get "Hazel" finished. This wonderful project is turning into a nightmare as I continue to struggle with increasingly technical problems ages after the boat should have been in service. It's a case of so near yet so far away. Most of it is finished, but those things still to be completed, the gas system, the battery charging system and the shower are all being difficult to sort out.

Christmas has given me a couple of days much needed enforced rest. Last Sunday I went down to Rugby to drop off presents for my brother and my various nephews, great nephews etc. I hoped to see our electronics expert in the midlands on the same trip but he proved to be excessively elusive. I brought the van back on Monday morning, laden with lots of donations for the shop, and handed it over to Lee who was doing shop deliveries for the day. Wednesday was Christmas Eve and it's the tradition that I give our manager the day off and run the shop. I enjoy this and I was able to take the opportunity, between customers, to sort out part of our huge book section. The Wooden Canal Boat Society shop is the biggest secondhand bookshop for miles around but sorting out the books is not a popular job. We really need a bookworm volunteer to maintain it. I'd love to do it but I don't have the time. Bob was a great help, a really good willing volunteer. We packed up at 2PM as the customers had stopped coming in, then me and Em went home for tea and present wrapping, plus doing the rounds of battery changing and boat checking. I don't want anything sinking over Christmas.

Christmas morning I cooked us a breakfast then we had great fun unwrapping presents. People have given us some really nice things. Somehow I've managed to lose one of Emunas gifts! she'll have another Christmas when I find it.

A big hit with us are the head bands given by one of my nephews. He's been wearing one permanently for years and Emuna has been trying to persuade him to remove it because she says it makes him look odd. He's come up with a brilliant ruse to normalise his appearance, give them to everyone else so that the wearing of the band becomes normal. There's two small flaws in this strategy. There's about 70 million people in Britain and normalisation of headbands requires them to be supplied to a large proportion then, the other flaw, they have to be persuaded to wear them. Emuna and I have been showing willing over Christmas but I doubt if I will keep it up as it doesn't protect me from sun or rain and it's surprisingly hot, causing my brain to overheat. Apart from that, I look more like an American soldier in the Vietnam war than Indiana Jones.

After presents I had to go out and see to the boats again while Emuna had a rest. With that done I returned and lit the stove ready for Christmas lunch in the front room. I had a sudden bright idea. Why not postpone our Christmas meal until teatime and go out on to the moors as the sun was shining brightly after days of constant rain. Emuna liked the idea so I closed down the stove and we climbed aboard the van.

As we headed East into the Pennines the sky darkened ahead of us. We went via Oldham and eventually stopped beside a small reservoir high above Diggle. It was now dull and raining intermittently, but, looking back down the valley we could see Lancashire lit up by bright sunshine. Emuna was too tired to walk so she sat and enjoyed the view while I walked in a big circle around the bleak moorlands of sodden peat and grim stone. By the time I got back it was nearly dark so we drove home via Delph, Uppermill and Mossley.

I revived the fire and Emuna cooked the dinner. Captain Kit Crewbucket, who is staying with us as he was poorly and needed looking after, enjoyed offcuts of chicken. It was a nice quiet evening sitting reading and occassionally stuffing more wood into the stove.

Boxing day morning Emuna was slumbering so I went out to check the boats and plant some trees. Each year I plant a few oak trees to replace the ones that I've used in boatbuilding. The Ashton Canal is gradually becoming an oak corridor as I plant up the vacant bits of waterside land. Back home, Em was still feeling shattered, so we've spent most of the day in bed reading, watching films and stroking the cat. It's been a nice rest, though the nagging knowledge that the boat has to be finished doesn't go away.It's back to work tomorrow. A couple of days of just me working on the boat so I can get on with my jobs. It's not very exciting but I've enjoyed this midwinter pause.

PS. The reason for Emuna's constant tiredness is that she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME.

Landscape with Landlords (1st January 2014)

Landscape with Landlords

My nephew gave me a copy of "The Landscape Trilogy" for Christmas, the three part autobiography of Tom Rolt. An excellent present. I've particularly enjoyed reading the final part, "Landscape with Figures" as I've not had a chance to read that before.

Rolt was an extremely good writer and had a big influence on me, along with many other boaters and people who are generally dissatisfied with modern materialistic culture. Nevertheless, I've always been a bit uneasy about where he was coming from. Like everyone else, Rolt had no choice about the circumstances of his birth, in his case into an Edwardian family sufficiently wealthy to not need to soil their hands with work. To his credit, young LTC trained as an engineer and took relatively menial jobs in the years between the wars. He clearly admired people who lived simply, and, in particular, those who pursued the perfection of a craft that relied on the rack o th ee more than intricate computational skills.

Rolt had a key role in starting both the waterway movement and the railway preservation movement in postwar Britain, motivating people to volunteer to keep these things, threatened by the ever onward drive towards the mundane, in being for all to enjoy. It is partly thanks to Rolt that we have a canal network and that I can go and enjoy a ride on a steam train whenever i feel the urge.

Like Rolt, I despair of the constant drive to generate money at the expense of all else, constantly making the world a duller, greyer, more predictable place. I love to see land, buildings, machines etc lovingly hand made and cared for. Without resuming this direction of having a spiritual bond with our surroundings, our community and our technology, learning to live more simply, I don't quite see how we can hope to survive on this little planet. However, a crucial part of this for me is that it has to be fair. While there are still masters and servants then the servants will always envy the masters.

Rolt somehow partially inverted this, being of the master's class but often envying the servants, deploring the sad decline in subsistence agriculture for example. Tolstoy was similar, and Ghandhi, but both these men sought to live the simple life of a peasant rather than just idealise it from a lofty eminence.

My disappointment with the later Rolt really surfaced when I read about his very valuable tenure at the Tal y Llyn Railway in 1951/52. He claimed that it was a financial disaster for him as he was only paid £30 a month. That's about £7 a week. In 1950 the average wage for a factory worker was about £5.70, and often this had to support a family. My first wage as late as 1971 was only £10 a week. £7 a week was simply not enough for an upper middle class lifestyle.

I am interested in building a better, more human, more democratic world where communities make their own decisions, use their own resources and people work for each other. This is not possible if some people think they're so much better than others that their children have to be privately educated. I hate to say it, but Rolt was a snob who thought himself better than the riff raff on the council estate.

War and Freedom (6th December 2013)

War and Freedom

I have lots of confusion around the business of armed conflict. Part of me is a pacifist hippy, hating all war, but another part of me challenges this as naive. I have a fascination with military hardware, especially aircraft, but I am saddened by the fact that so much human ingenuity goes into machines of destruction.

Is it just me or do other people see military aircraft differently depending on their origin. To me a Mescherschmidt has a nasty malevolent look, whereas a Spitfire, though a very similar aircraft, looks beautiful. I remember seeing B52s flying into Britain ready to begin operations against Iraq. To me they were like invaders from Mordor.

I've always been a great admirer of Ghandhi, but I once read his opinions of how Hitler should be resisted, non violently. Non violent resistance depends for its success on the humanity of your opponents. If you are dealing with psychopaths, who are incapable of compassion, it will not work. Sadly, there was no alternative to the second world war. Had my parents generation not fought then the whole world would probably be living under oppressive regimes. The freedoms that we have are easily eroded though, the main threat now coming not from governments but from corporations.

I've recently been reading some books about military leaders. Their psychology fascinates me. The first was Field Marshal Montgomery's autobiography. Though he was known for blowing his own trumpet, I think there is little doubt that his appointment in 1942 was crucial to turning the war around. I hadn't realised that his predecessor's only plan was to retreat when Rommel attacked at El Alemein. The question in my mind is what would have happened in the modern world. It seems to be widely accepted now that Monty was a paedophile. Some say that this only went as far as getting boys to strip naked to be inspected. My partner, who has dealt professionally with paedophiles, tells me that if he was doing this there is little doubt that he was going further. This, apparently was generally known about at the time and seen as an eccentricity. Today he would have been arrested, probably long before he rose to the rank of General. Would it be right to turn a blind eye to his predelictions in order to get the best man in the crucial position?

I'm now reading about Garibaldi. I never knew much about him, just that he founded Italy and had a biscuit named after him. He must have got a buzz out of battle. Beginning as a pirate off the South American coast he fought for liberation movements in Brazil and Uruguay before returning to his native Italy, then a hotch potch of monarchies, dukedoms, Papal states and parts of the Austrian empire. With a ragtag volunteer army, fiercely loyal to him, he frequently defeated bigger, better armed and more conventional forces until, eventually Italy became a constitutional monarchy with reasonable freedoms for its people. Garibaldi was obviously a brilliant and charismatic leader, but he also seems to have been a decent man who cared about others. He would not put up with maltreatment of prisoners and only fought for liberation causes, eschewing honours and money and with little time for politicians. Though he didn't go himself, some Garibaldinis fought on the Union side in the American civil war, but Garibaldi would not give his support until he was sure that a Northern victory would definitely mean emancipation for the slaves.

It worries me that the freedoms achieved at such great cost in the past by people like the Garibaldinis, trades unionists, mass trespassers etc can so easily be lost in an era when most information is controlled by a handful of wealthy people and the population seems to be taken in by bread, circuses and shopping.

Concerning Subud (18th November 2013)

Concerning Subud

This blog is mainly about my work on the wooden boats but, consistently, by far the most common keywords used to find it are "Subud Cult". This is strange as I've only made a couple of references to Subud and the Latihan. However, as I've been saying on the Subud Facebook page that we need to stop hiding our lights under bushels, I thought I'd better try to explain it a bit.

Let me begin by pointing out that I do not do cults or gurus and have never joined any religion (Subud is very clear about being an adjunct to faith, not a religion in it's own right).

The problem is, where to begin. Subud is weird. It is very weird, but it's also very real. My lifelong search has been for reality among all the illusions of the World and in Subud I think I've found it.

Now for the weird bit. Subud began in the mid 1920s when a young railway booking clerk was out for a walk and saw a light in the sky. This came down to engulf him and he had an intense spiritual experience that went on for months.

Have I lost you yet?

The man realised that he could and should pass a little bit of what he had experienced to others, so he did. A little group of people were "opened" to it in his homeland of Indonesia (then a Dutch colony). Those who had been 'opened' were able to experience at will, normally in 30 minute sessions, a spiritual exercise called the Latihan, which is Indonesian for 'Exercise', An organisation was formed to administer it which was called Subud, short for Susila Buddhi Dharma,

Susila Budhi Dharma is a book written by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, the founder of the World Subud Association, in the city of Jogjakarta, Indonesia, in 1952. Its name corresponds to the three main qualities that are to be developed through the training in the Subud path. The name "Subud" is a contraction of these three Javanese words of Sanskrit derivation.

In the 1950s the practise of the Latihan was spread Worldwide, reaching Britain in 1957. Here it was taken up enthusiastically by many people who had been involved in Gurdjieff work. and particularly J G Bennett

I joined in 2006 as a result of a strange combination of events. I feel like I was led to it. Joining Subud is not easy. They make you wait 3 months to make sure that you are serious. Subud is not eager to recruit spiritual tourists but only those who are genuinely interested in growing their spirits.

After my 3 month wait I was opened. This is when the ability to experience the Latihan is passed on. After answering a simple series of questions satisfactorily one of the more senior members said the words "I open you" * and the Latihan began. I stood there with my eyes closed wondering what on earth I'd got myself into. People around me were calling out "Allah" or stomping round like a native American war dance. This is nonsense I thought, then my hands became as heavy as lead and I had to lower myself to the floor. When my hands touched the floor the weight went away, but as soon as I lifted away they became heavy again. When the Latihan was over we all went to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Emuna, my partner (then known as Marilyn) told me that i had gone as red as a beetroot. Something had happened that was extraordinary, but I didn't know what.

Since then I've done the Latihan regularly. In the Latihan you stand still and wait. Amazingly, things happen without you willing them. My Latihan developed from simple twitches through walking backwards and spinning to loud, sometimes operatic, singing. What's the point? I don't know, but I am now in many ways a better person. It's very hard to explain, but I wouldn't go back to my pre Latihan existence for all the tea in China. In 7 years I've only met a couple of people in Subud who I haven't liked and I've never been asked for money. I've only once felt slightly pressured to study the writings and talks of the founder, who is known as Bapak ( Indonesian for Grandfather) as his real name is quite a challenge to Westerners. There certainly are people who treat Bapak as a demigod and would like it to be a cult with strict rules, but, at least in Britain, it's a very free and democratic set up. Although Bapak was, like most Indonesians, a Muslim, I've never known any pressure to join that faith. Having joined describing myself as 'vaguely Pagan' I now call myself a Panentheist

Panentheism (meaning "all-in-God", from the Ancient Greek πᾶν pân, "all", ἐν en, "in" and Θεός Theós, "God") is the belief that the divine interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly (and, presumably, spacelessly) beyond it. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical,[1] panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.[2]

In pantheism, the universe and everything included in it is equal to the Divine, but in panentheism, the universe and the divine are not ontologically equivalent. God is viewed as the soul of the universe, the universal spirit present everywhere, in everything and everyone, at all times. Some versions suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifestation of God. In some forms of panentheism, the cosmos exists within God, who in turn "transcends", "pervades" or is "in" the cosmos. While pantheism asserts that 'All is God', panentheism goes further to claim that God is greater than the universe. In addition, some forms indicate that the universe is contained within God,[1] like in the concept of Tzimtzum. Much Hindu thought is highly characterized by panentheism and pantheism.[3][4]Hasidic Judaism merges the elite ideal of nullification to paradoxical transcendent Divine Panentheism, through intellectual articulation of inner dimensions of Kabbalah, with the populist emphasis on the panentheistic Divine immanence in everything.[5][further explanation needed]

There are members who come from most mainstream faiths, and many with no particular religious allegiance.

* Since writing this I've been told that is not the form of words used, though that is how I remember it. Possibly I remembered it wrong. Memory is an inexact tool at the best of times, though most people prefer not to believe the psychological research that proves this.

Recycling Trip 3rd July 2016

A really enjoyable trip for those who showed up. We were a bit low on numbers and struggled to get round the collecting area in a reasonable time, but all who came enjoyed it and we got a big pile of stuff for the charity shop. As well as new people there were long awaited re-appearances by old friends Martin Nestor and Adrian Glasgow.

This n That (9th November 2013)

This n that.

In my last post I hoped that "Southam" wouldn't get stuck in a lock. Of course, she did. We set off with a boatload of sponsors and everything went fine until we got to the first lock, where "Southam" jammed. We could probably have got her through with lots of flushing and pulling, but, with lots of elderly people in the fore end, this seemed unwise. Instead we unjammed her and unloaded our guests, then worked "Lilith", the butty, through and bowhauled her to Mossley and back, leaving a couple of volunteers to mind "Southam". On our way we met a former volunteer who I hadn't seen for years. He offered to pull the boat, and helped us to bowhaul all the way back to Stalybridge after we'd winded at Mossley.

One of the sponsors said it was the best sponsors trip ever. It's funny how people seem to enjoy things going wrong.

Stuart has now left for warmer climes in India. The Hughes family are going to travel all round India before going to Nepal to build an orphanage..

Martin is making a great job of building "Hazel"s back cabin. Her hull is being caulked and today Mike Carter, the surveyor, came to have a look. He seemed pleased with what he saw. I was busy for most of the morning dealing with visitors, some of them potential volunteers. We're going to need a lot more organisational help getting the project up and running once the boatbuilding side of things is finished.