Sneaking past Barad-dûr and on towards Ricketty, Racketty and Ruddy Rodbaston #narrowboat #England

The day of yester dawned with only the mildest of breezes, so the Cardinal and I mooched on. First port of call was about three hundred yards from our bow; the water taps and wotnots of Gailey.

The “Water Taps & Wotnots of Gailey” are an interesting exercise in wide domestic variety. There are two water-points, one of which actually has “tap” taps, and is thus but microscopically useful for boats looking to hook up their hosepipes to fill their main tanks, the other waterpoint has been swathed by …one of the locals… (nuff said) in the remains of an old seat cushion, presumably the better to stop it freezing. I moored us near the latter, and made good, if discreet use of that wonderful invention of mankind, the anti-septic wipe (and a damned good run-through) before hooking up the hosepipe.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the”gazunder” facilities at Gailey don’t appear to be an actual “sluice room” type Elsan device, but more of, well – a Victorian hospital toilet with the seat removed. Still, with some allowance for limitations and with careful use, it served its purpose. Please add to the list of “first world problems” that the soap dispenser is empty and the hand drier is in non-functional mode. 😉

The rubbish and recycling bin compound had suffered, by the looks of it, from the same lack of accuracy as had a certain local, long-term boat. At the boat it seemed that whenever they had thrown anything aboard (and they had thrown much) it had, in fact, landed on the towpath. At the rubbish compound it seemed that someone had tried and tried and tried too, but had mostly missed the wheelie bins. Still, they too served their porpoise.

The services at Gailey are slap-bang on the lock, it is impossible to separate service landing from lock landing, so I didn’t bother. The lock, of course, is directly under the round tower of Sauron, the tower that used to be the toll-keeper’s look-out in the days when tolls were paid in occasional coin of the realm, and not by constant high-velocity direct-debit, standing order, PAYE, VAT, tariff and fiscal nasal drip.

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Preparing to ring for “Full Ahead Both” in order to leave Gailey Lock.

Watling Street or, as the Romans termed it, the A5(T), runs right over the end of the lock (this is the lock with two drainpipes to sluice out of, one for boats, one for tow-horses pedestrians and cyclists seeking “wellness by water”), so the lower lock gates are a stubby adaptation, there being no room for the usual long lever and necessary human room to open and close. These gates creaked and groaned as I filled and emptied the lock, and they creaked and groaned in that unhappy way that says “I am at the end of my tether and about to loose my grip on this mortal coil, please replace me”. They did not inspire hydraulic confidence.

We cruised just two and a half miles yesterday morning, spending our time instead on the five locks (and every ruddy one set against me, meaning that I had to fill it before I could move the boat in and empty it). These locks come in swift succession, but are spaced just that little bit too far for any hope of walking ahead to prepare – it’s all whine, whine, whine with me, isn’t it? 🙂 Well, let me continue. None of the locks are exactly in the first flushes of lock-youth!

The gates rattle and moan, the paddles rattle and jam (and a few of them damned nearly defeated me and my windlass, I need more muscles) and the general infrastructure is showing signs of its considerable age – brickwork and brick-don’t-work alike.

Rodbaston Lock was the most fun of all. Everything there was knackered – including me by that stage – services, two and a half miles and five locks and I’m done in, pathetic or what? I need repair as much as does England’s canal system! One of the paddles seemed about to part company with the ensemble, the lower gates jammed together interestingly and the lower lock landing… just isn’t.

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Future repairs? Have CaRT invented some technique of performing currently-needed repairs in the past, or is it simply that no-one cares about the English language anymore?

To add charm to the Rodbaston experience, this is where the canal meets and runs alongside Her Majesty’s M6 Motorway. Eight lanes of traffic, everyone commuting in the opposite direction to everyone else to work, then home again, all accompanied by the HGV movement of goods on some wildly random basis. What an alien world that all seems to be to me now – thanks be to the Greek and Roman gods! I had my fill of that over the years, and I see it now for the insanity that it is.

Human society took an entirely wrong turn somewhere around about the Middle Ages, and has developed into a business banking system rather than a human living system. Never more carelessly was a portion of it re-named than when “Personnel Departments” become “Human Resources”. Hang the lawyers, hang the accountants and hang anyone who doesn’t understand that “merchant banker” and “stockbroker” are the names of diseases, not professions. I have yet to set a firm date for Global “Stuff your politician into your septic tank and hold her head under with a garden rake” day, but no-one will be penalised for celebrating early.

Damn, I’ve rattled on at a tangent again, haven’t I?

Anyway. So, Rodbaston Locks eh?

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Rodbaston Lock landing, all fenced off and awaiting.

Rodbastard Locks [SIC} are graced, thanks be &etc., with access steps and a little vestigial step-off area, presumably where Dobbin used to be re-attached.

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In the absence of the more usual facility, once I’d got the Cardinal down the lock I left his stern-end (and it is very stern) tucked in, tied a rope off on what looked to be some conduit for high-voltage cables (the upper of the two) and left him dangling while I went back up top to close the gates.

One more lock after that saw us in the throbbing metropolis of Penkridge, whereupon I nabbed the first moorings that I found and fell into some of yesterday’s curry, and a warm-up by the stove. Job done. The weather (the wind) for the next few days is set to be dis-encouraging, with Storm Fiddlesticks meeting a Russian Depression, or some such, head on over the nearby village of Acton Trussell. I probably won’t be going anywhere for a day or three. There’s time yet to beat the closures.

For one thing, I must also determine the movements of Halsall, the fuel boat, and plan for a rendezvous and a purchase of a bottle of LPG and some sacks of coal.

Now, I hear you all ask (both of you), having opened with a photograph of what a lock looks like to forwards having gorn dine (gone down) and preparing to cruise out, what does the view behind look like at such times? Well, looking back, all that a cove can see is the upper lock gate – and visions of all of the water held behind it. Empty locks are alien, Klaus Trophobic places.

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Lock gates are remarkable devices.

That concrete and/or stone to the bottom is the beginning of the cill arrangement, just above the bottom of the canal above. It becomes a hazard of dire proportions as the lock empties to the level of the canal below, and it is whereupon a boat’s stem or stern must not find itself perched either by design or by neglect. Getting caught on that thing – and it extends forward of what is shown here above – is how nice narrowboats come to sticky ends in locks. Well, that and getting jammed when the sides are slumping inwards.

Here endeth today’s lesson.

I am off to see if Penkridge has, within ambling pedestrian distance, anywhere that a chap may purchase black-market broccoli and other assorted psychedelics, and whether there is somewhere around the bend or just beyond where I might prefer to be moored today while the moving is possible, before Storm Fiddlesticks meets the Jet Stream or whatever it is. The trouble with mooring in towns is that all of town is town, if you see what I mean. I am not one of Father Nature’s natural “urban moorers”.

Chin-chin for the mo, Ian H., and Cardinal W.

14 Comments

  1. Not so idyllic this time as the Winter rushes up to grab you I see. Keep on reporting though. May I suggest a giant tube of Anusol to ease the falling edge. “piles,” and allow access once more.

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  2. All lock as not created equal, it seems. (The second picture is impressive with the perspective, the tiny sight pass the arch – and nature’s artistic decoration of rock, wood, and wall all along the way.) Step outs are to be cherished. Running along side major roads quite jarring (like here I have to get the dog out early before the traffic noises smother everything else)
    Love that paragraph starting with “Human society…” So true

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    1. Part of the charm – and part of the problem – is that no two parts of the canal system are alike. Every lock is different, each lock gate has to be built bespoke to fit. That was fine in Victorian times, but no-one these days has a clue about “hand made” or the application of common sense and lots of individuals to look after the network. The “modern” world is too “One size fits all, minimum cost, maximum return soonest” to be able to save a Victorian infrastructure like the canals. Tis tragic.

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      1. Sounds like the ones here who wish to stop flooding by digging up all the green belts/wetlands along the bayous and pour concrete down them. Slow down and understand what it is before ripping into it. Commonsense has left

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  3. It occurs to me that the cost of all these fancy, if not Gailey, signs could be better spent on a refurbishment programme for the locks, although disruption to traffic along the way would be sorely hampered by it. Given how long they have stood and the craftmanshiip that went into them, they do appear to last much longer than the roads that now run over them, although the road system in our country is a poor comparison to others. I wonder if there are any statistics available re accidents caused by road conditions or even deaths? Probably somewhere in the archives of Whitehall eh?

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    1. One of the worries I have about the canals as a long-term living solution (!!!) is that the “powers”-that-be are engaged in a very quiet but very energetic campaign to rid themselves of any and all responsibility for things such as service areas… they probably imagine that we boaters aren’t noticing, either that or they just don’t care, but it is happening. A closure here, a reduction there. Tis time that the Nation realised that the canals are a national asset deserving of national funding, just like national parks and wotnot – perhaps if we stopped the incredibly expensive refurbishment of the politicans’ nest in London, and spent the money instead on something that more than six hundred and fifty arseh… people can enjoy… End of rant, steps down off soap-box! 🙂

      p.s., I believe that the tipping point with roads and potholes, repairs and compensation for damage done to cars/lorries/etc was reached a couple of years ago – more is now paid out in compensation than would be needed to repair the roads… but because it’s being paid out in compensation etc etc it can’t be used to repair the roads so more is paid out each year in compensation. I suspect that the response will be not to repair the roads but to change the law to allow councils to refuse damage and injury claims! They will then spend the money “twinning” themselves with Caribbean islands.

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  4. One would have thought, that will all the signs and the fines that Gailey would offer the very best of services and the very neatest of service areas. They certain made every attempt to make themselves SEEM exclusive. I would send a very personal email to the prig in charge.

    I think you have every right to be exhausted after that. It strikes me that locks aren’t just physically hard, but also just very stressful. The stress is probably the most exhausting part of the procedure.

    I hope you get some good vegies and/or psychedelics and cook up a soothing curry.

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    1. Success! Penkridge has a very large Co-op shop. Crinkly dark-green cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, spuds, onions, and uber-posh orange juice squeezed from the living orange as a treat. Splendid stuff. 😉

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