Sparrowfart O’Clock on a lightly frozen canal #england #narrowboat #winter

This damnable canal water seems apt to turn crusty at the slightest provocation.

According to Her Majesty’s Meteorological Office it was a balmy barely zero last night (and how else would I know, snug in my Captain Pugwash onesie?) but it’s still solid enough for mice to ice-skate upon this morning, and they are doing so with abandon in tartan trousers and little red scarves.

The ice looks broken, but it’s really just lightly frozen in lumps, solid right across.

The dawn sky has that curiously unpleasant nicotine-yellow horizon, the one that according to folklore means that several early-morning farm-diddlers are smoking their pipes, just over the horizon. In fact, I can vouch for that, being moored next to what passes for a dairy farm these days, where the moo-cows (what am I, thirteen going on eight?) live indoors and hugely noisy tractors and wotnots move their poo about all night, every night. Tis more akin to a factory than a farm.

Really, they would do better to farm sparrows, although I suspect that milking would be more of a palaver.

Have you ever tried milking a sparrow? No, nor have I.

I am still where I am, which is exactly where I was, but needs must mooch on again in a couple of days. This is why I don’t want the canal to freeze, thank you very much indeed, Noleen.

Yesterday was another day for an appointment with the fuel boat, Messrs Halsall. After doubtless a long day they arrived Chez Cardinal soon after winter-dark, and we exchanged goods. They gave me a bottle of LP gas and some sacks of modern coal-substitute, and I gave them quids from Baby’s First Bank Account (by Tomy™). I don’t know what I do with the stuff, really I don’t, I might as well burn it for all that it just goes up in smoke and flame.

It is, I am certain, gobsmackingly hard work running the fuel boats. Long days ploughing up and down the canals, oiking sacks of coal and bottles of LPG about – all while dancing on the gunwales of two loosely-tethered boats. I don’t know how they do it, but I am certain glad that they do. Thank you, chaps.

The Silly-Silly Season (yonder christmas and the new year) have largely shown us their backsides, thanks and praise be to the Greek and Roman gods. We may now resume more ordinary levels of insanity, and we may get on with the business of Messrs January and Messrs February.

Captain Pugwash (that’s me) finally – and herein I refer to the nonsense of the aforesaid Silly Season – finally found a pharmacy run by a pharmacist qualified and willing to administer an Influenza vaccination (yes, yes, I know, but needs must, we live in a world of compromise). Have to laugh at folk on the Facebook &etc who are “off with flu” or “have had flu for a few days”. No. No, what you have or had is not flu! I had flu when I was thirty-one years old, and it damned near killed me. I lost weeks upon weeks, two of which were spent thoroughly disconscious and hoping (at the time) for a swift death. Thus: had proper flu once, never ever want it again (not sure that I could handle it again, these decades later).

The Cardinal’s holds are once again stocked against the weather with comestibles. I may not always fancy what I have aboard, but I shan’t suffer rickets or scurvy or sail-trimmer’s foot except by choice.

The next items of urgency on the constantly-rolling agenda are the refilling the main water tank and the emptying of the gazunders. We are about to hit “Red light on cassette number three, Captain”. I have no idea where it all comes from, but it does.

Enough, I say, enough!

Get a grip, man, get a grip.

Panic over, I just got a grip. Phew, that was close.

The wildlife hereabouts is not quite up to Longleat standards. Sparrows, certainly, and there is some nocturnal towpath-commuter that sounds like a cross between a fox and a goose. Perhaps he has flu? Perhaps it is a cross between a fox and a goose? Anything’s possible. There is a deceased fox up by the next lock. I suspect that he fell in and drowned and has been fished out by some passer-by. He looked to be a lean and hungry young chap.

Speaking of wildlife, the dog-walkers and joggers are going back to their more usual pattern. The sudden Silly Season rush of “christmas guilt” joggers and “new year’s resolutioners” has evaporated, and only the usual die-hards are left. A couple of these sport respectable shorts, the others eschewing simple good taste and any respect for their fellow man by wearing that invention of Mr The Devil, Lycra tights. Who knew that so many of England’s men (“men“) harboured such desires to dress in similar fashion to pre-school and primary-school girls, and ballerinas? It’s very sad.

Talking of sad, some twonk has just forced his way past through the ice, clattering, clonking and generally saying yah boo sucks to your blacking coat as well as mine, sir. There’s always, well – I was going to say one, but there’s usually many more than that.

The day has puffed itself up to a blue sky and a low winter sun, so I ventured out for a sniff around. One of the regular passers-by here on the towpath is a creature who walks each day. Since we chanced upon proximity I ventured the required gentlemanly “good morning”. Jebus H., you would have thought that I’d asked for the contents of his wallet and suggested that I had pictorial evidence that his wife had serviced the Coldstream Guards and the regimental mascot. What a miserable cove he is, if you’ll pardon my French. Up yours too, Doris. May your thighs forever chafe*.

[*An old Chinese curse.]

The Bro has also independently recorded and commented upon this, the over-generous numbers of rude, miserable, disconnected and damaged people wandering freely about these days. The quarter or perhaps, just, only just, the bare third who are nice are very, very nice, but the rest need a monumental kick up the Arsenal Villa and a slap around the nose with a hardback copy of “Basic Manners, Volumes 1 to 27”.

When exactly did even rural Englishmen cease acknowledging and greeting one another with a swift hello? Is it any wonder that dogs are more popular than are people?

Frost on my ropes, and a chill in my gas-locker.
Cardinal Wolsey, gradually defrosting.

Right, I must away. The stove must be stoked, and I mun skin some vegetables for boiling into a curry. The countryside shall echo to the screech of carrot and potato and swede and cabbage, my favourite kitchen knife knows no mercy.

Sparrow curry, perhaps?

Perhaps not.

Still, I have things to be, people to do.

Stay warm, and stay off the ice – and stay cheerful, if you can.


Ian H.


  1. Beautiful photographs, as always. I follow your blog with a mixture of awe and trepidation, as I plan that to be my life in a year or two! Stay warm!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How do, Missus! It is an interesting way of living, but it has been and still is a learning curve of unexpected dimensions. The enjoyable bits are as you would expect, but the inconvenient bits and the work come from areas that I hadn’t even considered. It is a constant rolling routine of jobs to be done, things to fill and things to empty! The good bits though make it quite fantastic. I will try to put together a blog post of the things that I didn’t think about but ought to have, what I got right and what I got wrong. Mayhap it will help in your own transition. 🙂


  2. So THAT’S what early mornings look like… I’m with you on the unfriendly sods business; I think it’s an low IQ thing… Happy New Year – seriously impressed that you managed to get those sparrows to fly at you like that. A Captain Pugwash Onesie??? Oh, nooooo!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The sparrows took an awful lot of training, but we got there in the end. I used the old lion tamer’s “whip and chair” method… 😉 p.s., the onesie is a secret, I haven’t told anyone but the internet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I must say that, being a regular canalside walker the drivers/helmsmen, whatever, are always ready with a hello and smile as are the majority of strollers, a trait that would encourage violence if practised on the streets of the towns. I have not yet noticed a decline but we shall see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do wonder if perhaps I am the problem. When I was born the midwife screamed and slapped my mother… I shall conduct an experiment, wearing a full-face visor helmet when I am out and about, to see if that makes a difference. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Was wondering what if the fuel boat can’t get through, do they try in icy conditions? Loved the sparrow picture, I’ve seen them swarm and it is amazing! Stay warm!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If it’s possible then they do plough through the ice, but just in case I like to keep a good stock of the old inflammables stashed on the boat. It’s a compromise in use of space, of course, but I reckon that I have about four week’s worth at the moment, and the fuel boat patrols roughly each fortnight, weather permitting. Oddly, I use less gas for cooking in winter than I do in summer, because I cook on the stove which is already fuelled and lit. Diesel has to be burned sometimes of course, to supplement winter’s meagre solar offerings! The golden rule is, as ever, whenever I get the chance to fuel or fill or empty, I take it… 😉

      Sparrows or starlings, whatever they were, the little … burgers… have pooped all over the Cardinal!


  5. Humans forget more and more to be polite – and friendliness one can find increasingly seldom – as if it would cost money to be polite and friendly, or as if being nice and kind to each other is like having a dangerous and deadly disease…
    Here in Munich the weather feels more like spring or autumn than winter, I don’t like that. Probably instead of having snow and ice now we’re gonna have a lot of them in springtime…
    Happy New Year, by the way. Best wishes to you and the Cardinal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My very best wishes to you and yours, too! It may be mild today, but we have of course January, February, March – and probably April and May yet of winter to get through! I never count my chickens until they’re sweltering in the sun… 🙂


  6. My goodness. There are weeds in that canal. Someone is NOT keeping the place up in a ship shape manner. Call someone.

    You terrify me with your stories of flu. I had some ass looking for direction to the Emergency Room COUGH IN MY FACE. He explained he had a horrible upper respiratory thing… I await my imminent fate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a malady to be avoided if at all possible, although avoiding it might be easier if the bugs were, perhaps, terrier dog-sized… although then, I suppose… Whatever we do, it’s pot luck. The next strain of the damn thing may be one that has not been included in the vaccine. Best thing is to avoid coughing people and not worry about it! My fingers are crossed for you that the coughing nutcase wasn’t infectious…;-)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Curry, like Marmite, is one of the foods of the gods! 😉 Seriously though, I am on the “cosmopolitan diet” – nothing to do with the magazine, I just don’t care where the food’s from so long as it doesn’t bite back, is tasty and easy to make!


    1. That’s brilliant, thank you – tis much appreciated! The day here has changed completely from the ice of this morning – so warm now that I have the hatches open while I cool off! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You’re right, there are a lot of miserable b*****ds wandering about – people who look at you like you’ve murdered their kids if you dare offer them a smile. I’ve all but given up smiling at people when I’m out with the dogs. I still smile at their dogs, though. You rarely get a dirty look off a dog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is tempting to give up. Just a quick nod is all that it takes, but no, most folk would prefer to avoid any and all eye-contact and just push past. No idea why, manners help make the civilised world go around. The people who are nice are generally fantastic though, and I try to concentrate on – and emulate – them instead of the grumpy ones. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Chris – Cheshire actually, unusually, quite bright at the moment – blue sky and (winter strength) sunshine. I am thoroughly enjoying it, sitting here with the hatches wide open today to keep cool! Four seasons in one day, sometimes twice each. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have had ‘flu three times in my long life and each time I would have been quite happy to have died, it truly is that bad. So I agree with your sentiment about the slackers who claim to have it.

    The birds flying over sounded like a flock of Starlings to me. I wonder why people are sometimes so very rude? It costs nothing to be polite.

    Enjoy your time as an ice-breaker…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wholly agree with you on the flu – as you say, had there been a “big red button” marked “Off” I would have hit it – had I been able to move! I understand that the Australians are sending us one of their flu strains this year. Given the nature of their wildlife, I imagine that their idea of flu will be stupendous too! 😉


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