Saturday, 22 December 2012


Well tiz the season to be jolly, so as I am not going to be doing any boating, I thought I would wish all those followers a very merry Christmas, and for a bit of fun I thought I would post a Christmas canal picture quiz. So get your thinking hats on and take a look at the following photos and see how many you get right.  























There are 23 altogether so best of luck and I will post the answers in the new year. So till then, hope you enjoyed the fun, and as always,
Don’t bang ‘em about

Thursday, 6 December 2012


I have decided to continue with my ‘growing up in the 1950’s theme’ (mainly because I have nothing to blog about boating this time of the year, but plenty of time on my hands) I will start by stating the following, Jack on the mopstick, Tickey light, Tickey ball, Statues, Kick the can, Stretch, Tipcat, Leg cricket, Jacks, Chuckin arras, Bombers, May I, Killer marbles, Follaron marbles, Flickers.  If you haven’t a clue what I’m on about then the rest of this blog probably won’t mean anything either.  Of cause I am talking about how we used to entertain ourselves back in the day with ‘street games’.  Mind you the streets were much safer back in those days.  Main roads still had a fair share of traffic, but the side streets where we lived were really quiet apart from the occasional car (quite rare) an electric milk float, horse and carts  carts, delivery vans (bread, wet fish, vegetables, etc.). This made them an ideal place for us kids to play, getting you out of the house and from under your mother’s feet.  The other think being, because of living in such close knit communities everybody knew everybody else and all kept an eye on ‘the kids’ shouting at you if you got a little rowdy or out of hand “I know who you are ‘your name’ I’ll tell your father” or “get down your own end of the street” As well as all the usual games like cricket or football in the street,  we also played a wide range of street games handed down from generation to generation.  So here goes, firstly as with all the street games, either two teams would be chosen or someone had to be ‘it’ and this was always decided by ‘dipping’. Everyone who was playing stood in a circle facing inward with both hands in front of them with clenched fists. The person picking ‘it’ who also had two fists out in front would hit each person’s two fists in turn with their fist while chanting a short ditty such as “one potato, two potato, three potato, four. Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more. Whichever fist was hit with ‘more’ would be held behind that persons back then the cycle would continue until there was only one fist left and so they would be ‘it’. Another ditty that was regularly used in the same way was “Ip dip sky blue, it is not you” we used a more popular version which went “Ip dip dog shit, you are not it” I think this one was the most popular as well as the shortest, but I think it was just an excuse to swear! Picking teams would usually be by the person who’s game it was and he would choose the other ‘captain’ the rest would line up against the wall and each captain would take it in turns o pick a team member.  Jack on the mop stick, his was quite a brutal game and was banned in most school playgrounds.  One team would start by being ‘on’ and one member of this team, the pillar’ would stand with their back against the wall, the next team member would face them, bend down and put their head between the pillars legs then wrap their arms around the pillars thighs, followed in turn by each member of the team joining on the end until all team members were bent and locked together.  The second team would then run at the ‘mop stick’ and leapfrog onto their backs, followed by the rest of the team in turn until all the second team were sat on top of the first team (like jumping onto a horse back) the idea of the game was to make the ‘on’ team collapse from the weight in which case they would be ‘on again until they managed to withstand the weight then the teams reversed their roles.  Tickey light played in the dark with a torch.  The person who was ‘it’ would count to 100 while everybody else ran off, then they would go in search and if they saw someone would shine the torch at them, killing them until all persons were killed. Tickey ball, basically the same except the person who was ‘it’ had a ball which when they went in search and found someone they threw the ball and had to hit them to kill them.
Statues, The person who was ‘it’ would stand on one side of the road with their back to the rest who would be standing on the other side of the street, you would creep towards the person who was ‘it’ and when they turned round you had to stand still like a statue, if you moved and they saw you the would send you back across the street to the opposite wall and start again.  The idea of the game was to reach the person who was ‘it’ and touch them without being caught out.
Kick the can,   for this game all you needed was an old tin can which would be stood on the floor at a given spot.  One of the players would kick the can as far as they could and everyone ran off to hide.  The person who was ‘it’ would then walk to the can, pick it up and then walk backwards to place the can back on its spot.  With this achieved they would then go searching for everybody in hiding.  If they spotted you they would run back to the can and bang it on the floor three times shouting your name and “Tin can a lerky 1,2,3” you were then dead and had to stand by the can.  This process continued until everybody was dead, however at any time one of those hiding could sneak up to the can and kick it again which would release all those dead and the person who was ‘it’ hat to walk and pick the can up and place it back on its spot and start all over again.
Stretch, This game was played by two and required the use of a knife (most young lads carried a pocket knife of some description in those days, but unlike today was never used as a weapon but for carving pieces of wood or cutting branches etc.) Standing on a grass patch facing each other about a yard apart with your feet together, the first player threw the knife and tried to stick it blade first in the ground by the side of the opponent foot.  They would have to put their foot up to the knife then have their turn. Gradually your feet became further and further apart until you could not stretch any further and would fall over losing the game.
Tipcat, This game involve the use of two pieces of wood, usually made from a council beech fencing pale cut into two one about 8 inches long with each end whittled to a point (like a pencil) with your pocket knife, this was known as the cat, the remaining pale becoming the bat.  The cat would be placed on the floor and the end hit with the bat causing it to flick up in the air, as it was in the air it would be hit again with the bat(like baseball) and knocked as far as possible.  The distance was then measured in strides to the cat which would be your score, with each member of your team’s scores being added up at the end.  You could increase your score by, when the cat is first flicked into the air, if you could hit it up in the air a second time your score wound be doubled, trebled etc., however if you failed and the cat fell to the floor you scored a duck! Flickers, Picture cards could be collected for free from all sorts of different sources such as Bazooka Joe bubble gum packs, cigarette packets usually kings & queens or footballers etc., Brooke Bond PG Tips tea also contained picture cards of butterfly’s, fish and birds.. The game was played to win more cards (more usually to lose the lot!)  The game was played ‘up the wall’. You each took turns to flick your card towards a wall and try to get as close as possible to it. The person with the card nearest the wall took all the others.  However if your card landed on top of another card you won that card. Leg cricket, required a cricket bat, usually cut out of an old floor board or similar.  The ‘it’ would stand in the middle of the road and everybody else stood round in a circle.  The ball would be bowled underarm in an attempt to hit the batsman’s legs and the batsman would play a defensive shot.  As the ball came back out, or if missed went past the batsman it would be picked up by whoever it went to who would then try and get the batsman out.  Speed was essential in this game to defeat the batsman.  Jacks, this required six pebbles of equal size or a favourite was a clay roof tile broken into pieces then rubbed on the concrete to shape the pieces to the size of a postage stamp and smooth the edges, having one jack slightly larger, ‘the catcher’ (taking several hours to make a good set) five of the ‘jacks’ were held in the hand, thrown up and caught on the back of the hand.  The number of jacks you managed to catch on the back of your hand decided how many you had to pick up at a time.  The five jacks were then all gathered up and thrown to the ground

Chuckin arras, (Throwing arrows) required a 2’-0” length of bamboo cane (pinched out the garden) a 3” oval nail, a 10 cigarette packet, stickey tape, a 2’-0” length of string and your trusty pocket knife.  Push the head of the oval nail up the one end of the cane leaving about half showing then tape into position.  Now sharpen the point on the pavement concrete Use pocket knife to split other end of cane into four splits about 3” long.  Rip the front & back panel out of the cigarette packet and slide them into the cane end splits (like dart flights) leaving about 1” of the cane protruding.  Hold four splits together and wrap in stickey tape.  Tie a double knot in one end of the string – job done.  Knot end of string wrapped round shank of arrow just below the flights then loop the string over itself to trap the knot (works similar to ‘thumblining’ bottom gates open) Wrap other end of string around fore finger of throwing hand so that the string is just short of the length of the arrow shaft.  Hold arrow shaft like throwing a dart with the string held taught to the knot.  Lean back with arm outstretched behind you and throw the arrow Loose the arrow at the ultimate point and off it is launched.  Used for aiming at targets, garage/shed door, tree etc. or to see who could throw theirs the furthest distance or the most dangerous who could throw theirs the highest (don’t forget they come back down)
Bombers, Two matching bolts and a nut (about 1/4 “) a box of mothers kitchen matches.  The nut is screwed half on the end of one of the bolts, the head of a match is shaved off with your pocket knife and put into the end of the nut.  The second bolt is fastened in the opposite side of the nut and tightened, trapping the match head between the two bolts.  The ‘bomber’ is then thrown at a hard object like the wall, road and pavement causing the match head to explode with a very loud bang and usually blowing the ‘bomber’ apart.  After finding all the parts the ‘bomber’ would be re armed and used again and again.
May I, a player is " it" and they stand on one pavement, whilst the rest line up on the pavement opposite. The person who is ‘it’ shouts to the others, one at a time, what is shouted makes them do different actions, that will move them across the road and toward the other side of the road.  When given a command, you must remember to ask "May I", if you don’t you have to go back to the start. The first person to reach the person who is ‘it’ wins and becomes ‘it’ for the next game. The commands used were: Pigeon Steps, Bunny Hops, Cartwheels, Watering Cans, Lampposts, Giant Steps, Rolley Polley's. Most of these are obvious, pigeon steps – small steps, bunny hops – hop like a bunny, cartwheels – cartwheels, but a couple may need explaining.
A Watering Can is where the player spits as far ahead as they can and then moves to the spot where their "gob" landed. A Lamp-Post is an action in which the player lies down on their front, reaching out their arms ahead as far as possible. Then stands on the spot to which they reached. And a Rolley Polley is simply a forward roll. The commands may contain multiples such as 3 bunny hops or 2 lampposts etc. Or even a mixture “do a bunny hop and a lamp-post" And don’t forget the reverse tactic such as "Take 3 Bunny Hops and 6 backward pigeon steps! A licence for all sorts of mayhem and fights.! 

Marbles, games played with marbles were varied and numerous but some things were common.  Marbles came in two types and two materials.  You had glassen (glass) marbles and ironies (steel balls out of large ball bearings) and the two sizes were a normal playing marble was about 15mm diameter, while a larger aiming marble known as a fobber was about 20 -25 mm diameter some people would not  play against lads who had ‘an iron fobber’ for fear of them breaking their glassen marbles.  Follaron marbles, (Follow on) First player rolled their marble off as far and in whatever direction.  The second player then tried to roll their marble to hit their opponents.  If they did they won that marble if they missed the first player had a choice of either rolling away again or they could turn and try to hit their opponents marble.  I have known this game go from one end of our street and back again many times.
Killer marbles, There was another game played with marbles called killer which involved digging several small hollows out on a patch of dirt and throwing marbles in various of the hollows but for the life of me I can’t remember the details, boo hoo. I still have a little bag of glassen marbles somewhere, can’t find them though (So it’s true, I really have lost my marbles!)
British Bull Dogs, Ip dip a poor soul to be "it" they stand in the middle of the road.  All the rest line up against the garden wall.  When the person who is ‘it’ shouts "Bulldogs" everyone rushes head-long for the opposite wall on the far side of the street.  The person who is "it" has to try and stop one of the players and lift them off the ground.  If they succeed, the player caught joins the catcher in the middle.  As more players are caught and lifted off the floor, the number of catchers increases as the players dwindle away, until one is left, the winner.  Obviously this game can get a little rough with fight regularly breaking out.  As you can see from the above games, they bred tough kids in The Black country, as well as any areas where these sort of street games were played and the other point worth noting (parents of small children approaching Christmas) they cost nothing!  I am sure that most kids of today, if you tried to get them to play these games you would just receive a blank look, for if it isn’t hand held electronic has all singing and dancing lights, bells and whistles and the only exercise is through your two thumbs, then they would show no interest at all, and besides you would probably be stopped by mamby pamby rules of ‘non-competitive sports only’ ‘encourages violence’ etc. etc. instead of good old character building learning to be competitive in life, wanting to be a winner. Ok ok rant over,  well that’s it again, a bit of a long one but until next time .
Don’t bang ‘em about

Monday, 3 December 2012


I’ve started so I’ll finish.  Now I’m on a roll as far as the idyllic life in the 1950’s – 60’s when all was innocent.  Not really I’m sure, it just seemed that way but as always we tend to look back and only remember the good times/things and push to the back of our minds the bad things like no central heating which meant getting into a freezing cold bed at night and getting out of a warm bed into a freezing cold room in a morning, sat in front of a lovely coal fire watching the flames flickering, but forgetting that our fronts would burn while our backs would be cold from the drafts through the non-double glazed windows.  But enough I hear you say, get on with it.  I can clearly remember our first television, a huge thing with a tiny screen and as well as the programs, I clearly remember there must not have been enough programmes to fill the whole day and so there would be long gaps between the programmes which would be filled with ‘intervals, short films of such exciting things as ‘a kitten playing with a ball of wool’ or ‘the potter’s wheel’ being two I can vividly remember,

but the best one was ‘from London to Brighton in 4 minutes’ by steam train.  Then of cause there were the adverts, and these were before fair trading or advertising standards so advertisers could and did claim all sorts of non-sense such as Craven A cigarettes which stated “will not burn your throat” So I thought I would again perhaps prompt a few memories with the following.  Fruit gums,“Rowntres fruit gums yum yum yum, six fruity flavours for my tum, don’t forget the fruit gums mum”.

Rowntrees were made to change this ‘jingle’ for it was felt that it put too much pressure on mums, so they changed it to “don’t forget the fruit gums chum” but this never caught on.  As kids I remember we used to chant “fruit gums fruit gums yum yum yum, six fruity flavours up your bum” (snigger, snigger) - Murray mints, “Murray mints, Murray mints, the too good to hurry mints”. - Pepsodent tooth paste, “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”. - Esso blue paraffin, “Bum, bum, bum, bum, Esso blue”.

Coates cider, “Ohhhhh, Coates comes up from Summerset, where the cider apples grow”. – Polo, “The mint with the hole” the TV advert I remember most for Polo showed a flying saucer.

Rael Brook shirts, the advert was of animated shirts dancing with the lyric “Rael Brook, Rael Brook, the shirts you don’t iron”.  Who could forget the Brook Bond PG Tips chimpanzees tea party. - Horlicks malted milk drink which claimed to help you sleep “Horlicks, the drink of the night”.

Robertsons jam, “Look for the golly, the golly on the jar”. - Omo washing powder, “Omo adds brightness to cleaness and whiteness”.

How true it was I don't know but bored women were said to put a box of Omo in the window when their husband was at work to signify Old Man Out! - Daz washing powder “Daz washes so white you can see the difference”. The White knights advert showed knights on white horses who would travel round giving away five pounds to housewives who showed them a packet of Daz. – Strand cigarettes, “your never alone with a strand” this slogan cost them dearly as the advert showed a guy in a raincoat standing in the shadows of a dark alley, sales plummeted due to the scary advert

Fry’s Turkish delight, “From the fabulous east comes this wonderful feast, Fry’s Turkish delight” displayed by a group of young women dressed in belly dancers costumes. – Mars Bar, “A mars a day helps you work, rest and play” (but they never told you about the rotten teeth and obesity) - Fry’s five boys chocolate bar, “Five girls want five boys” in today’s lifestyles this advert would have a totally different meaning!

And just to end on how about, Barrs Irn Bru, “Made in Scotland from girders” – Tizer, “The appetiser”. - Jubbly orange drink (better frozen) the catch phrase was “Lovely Jubbly” before Del boy as well. – Well there you go that’s it, so to leave you with “tell em about the honey mommy”  so till next time,
Don’t bang ‘em about

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Writing that last blog made me think of other things about the 1950’s so here’s a mish mash of my thoughts:  Pasta had not been invented, a pizza was something to do with the leaning tower, curry was a surname,  Indian restaurants were only found in India and olive oil was kept in the medicine cabinet.  Spices were imported from the Middle East where they were used for embalming the dead, and herbs were used to make rather dodgy medicine and prunes were medicinal.  Seaweed was not a recognised food.  The only vegetables known to us were spuds, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broad & runner beans, parsnips, swede and cabbage. We had not heard of Butternut squash, sweet potato, artichoke and if dad had have caught mom picking baby corn cobs or unripe peas (mangetout) off the garden he would have gone mad.

All crisps were plain; the only choice we had was whether to put the salt (little blue bag) on or not, condiments consisted of salt, pepper, vinegar and brown sauce if we were lucky.  Soft drinks were called pop and Coke was something that we put on the fire.  A Chinese chippy was a foreign carpenter and rice was used in a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our dinner.  A takeaway was a mathematical problem, a Big Mac was what we wore when it was raining. A Pizza Hut was an Italian shed.  A microwave was something out of a science fiction movie.  Brown bread was something only poor people ate.  Oil was for lubricating, fat was for cooking.  Bread and jam was a treat, tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves.

Coffee was Camp, and came in a bottle and cubed sugar was regarded as posh.  Bananas and oranges only appeared at Christmas time along with Figs and dates, but no one ever ate them.  Coconuts only appeared when the fair came to town.  Only Black country folk ate scratchings and they were made from leaf fat not pork rinds.  Salad cream was a dressing for salads, mayonnaise did not exist
Hors d'oeuvre was a spelling mistake...The starter was our main meal, soup was a main meal.

Only Heinz made beans.  Leftovers went in the dog as special foods for dogs and cats was unheard of.  Fish was only eaten on a Friday and fish didn't have fingers in those days.  Eating raw fish would have been called poverty, not sushi.  The only ready meals came from the fish and chip shop, where for the best taste, they were cooked in lard or dripping and had to be eaten out of old newspapers.  Frozen food was called ice cream and it only came in one colour and one flavour,  nothing ever went off in the fridge because we never had one and none of us had ever heard of yoghurt.  Jelly and blancmange was only eaten at parties.  All foods were considered healthy, people who didn't peel potatoes were lazy.  Brunch was not a meal.  If we had eaten bacon lettuce and tomato in the same sandwich we would have been certified, and a bun was a small cake.  The word" Barbie" was not associated with anything to do with food as eating outside was a picnic, while cooking outside was called camping.  Pancakes were only eaten on Pancake Tuesday.  “Kebab" was not even a word never mind a food, hot dogs were a type of sausage that only Americans ate.  Cornflakes had also arrived from America but it was obvious they would never catch on.  The phrase "boil in the bag" would have been beyond comprehension.  The world had not heard of Pot Noodles, Instant Mash and Pop Tarts.

Sugar enjoyed a good press, and was regarded as being good for you.  Lettuce and tomatoes were only available in Summer, but surprisingly muesli was readily available in those days, it was called cattle feed.  Turkeys were definitely seasonal and
Pineapples came in chunks in a tin.  We had never heard of Croissants and we thought that Baguettes were a problem the French needed to deal with.
Garlic was used to ward off vampires, but never used to flavour food.
Water came out of the tap, if someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than petrol for it they would have become a laughing stock.
Food hygiene was all about washing your hands before meals.  Campylobacter, Salmonella, E.coli, Listeria, and Botulism were all called "food poisoning." And finally, the one thing that we never ever had on our table in the fifties & Sixties were our elbows, otherwise our mothers would have
banged ‘em about

Thursday, 29 November 2012


I hate this time of the year! The days are short and the weather is cold and wet. I don’t get to go boating and so have very little to blog about, unlike the summer when the days are longer and dryer and I do a lot of boating but don’t have time to blog.  I am particularly down at the moment as I can’t shake off this damn cough and thick head/nose I have had for the last couple of months, in fact since I finished off the boating season so to speak. Everybody suddenly becomes a pharmacist at times like this giving free expert advice to try this cough mixture or that linctus, all to no avail.  I am a firm believer in the non-use of medications or visits to the doctors unless absolutely necessary.  Dawn goes mad at me when I complain of a toothache or headache and she says “take some pain killers” but I don’t stating “your body will cure it itself”  This has me thinking about the remedies that were used when I was a child in the 1950’s by parents and grandparents.  I have listed some of them I can remember just for your amusement perhaps. (I am not recommending any of them so if you’re daft enough to try them be it on your own head.)
1. If you banged your head and a bump appeared (known as a Coco) while out playing, my mother would rub the bump with a knob of butter.
2. If you got a bee sting, she would dab it with vinegar.
3. If you got a wasp sting however, it would be rubbed with either butter or half a fresh cut onion.                                                                            NO WONDER US KIDS ALL SMELT IN THE 1950’S
4. If you stung yourself with nettles the resulting ‘bumps’ would be rubbed with either dock leaves, if you were outside playing or if you were in the garden they would be rubbed with the ‘dolly blue’ bag used for washing whites.
5. Gran’s cure for a sore throat or a cough was a large dollop of Vaseline placed on the back of your tongue with her index finger, then being made to swallow it followed straight away by a table spoon of beetroot vinegar.  I never had a cough when I was young.
6. Neck boils were cured by applying a bread poultice to draw them. A clean man-size handkerchief would be folded on its diagonal to form a triangle, a piece of bread about 2” square would be placed on the centre and soaked with boiling water then this would be placed, bread side to the skin while as hot as could be stood then the handkerchief tied around the neck and worn until it went cold.  It would then be removed and re-soaked in boiling water and the whole process repeated until the boil came to a head and burst.
7. Another cure for boils, though I've never seen it used, was to fill a clean sterilised milk bottle with boiling water, then tip all the water out and hold the neck of the bottle over the boil, holding it in place while the bottle cools.  As the hot air in the bottle cools and contracts it causes a partial vacuum which sucks the puss out of the boil. I have heard of cases where the bottle was too hot to start with and the suction was so great that the bottle had to be smashed to get it off the neck!
8. If we came down with a cold or flu, you were put to bed with a glass of boiled lemonade with a Beechams powder whisked into it and told to drink it all down as hot as you could stand it.  This would really make you sweat all night and the cold/flu would be gone.
9. For mouth ulcers, a solution would be made by dropping a couple of crystals of Permanganate of potash in a cup of warm water which would be used as a mouth wash and gargle.
10. Ear ache would be cured by putting olive oil in a tea spoon then holding it over a low gas flame to warm it, then it would be poured down your ear while you held your head over.
11. If you complained of sore or tired eyes, they would be bathed with cold tea.
Well that’s it until I think of some other inane dribble to blog so until then,
Don’t bang ‘em about

Sunday, 18 November 2012


At just after 8.00am on Saturday I got up and prepared for another day doing jobs around the house.  Dawn has this agreement, I don’t, but Dawn does, which consists of: I can spend loads of time on the boat during the summer, but when it comes to this time of the year I am supposed to catch up with all those little jobs that need doing at home.  Simple straightforward jobs like fitting a new central heating boiler- building cupboard around said boiler- ripping up carpet in said room-stripping wallpaper-repaper/paint----you know the rest girls, curtains ornaments bed clothes etc.  I had just put all my painting/decorating clothes on when Dawn came in to me and said "Mike Askin has just put on Faceache he has just gone past the bridge at the bottom of our garden.  What he had actually put was “Wake up you old fart! :) — with James Bills at Blossom's Bridge”  Dawn says if you want to go with them for the day I’ll drop you off to meet them before I go to work.  Nuff said quick change of clothes and she was driving me off to find them.  We drove off following the canal away from Rugeley looking over bridges etc. but to no avail, so I phoned Mikey to see where he was and his reply was “ just going through the narrows just out of Rugeley.  That will be the narrows at Crown Bridge, I thought, as that’s the only set of narrows out of Rugeley and so off we went to bridge 57, Royles Bridge which is about 5 minutes from Crown Bridge.  Dawn stopped in the car, as she only had her slippers and PJ’s on and I stood on the parapet of the bridge.  The ten minutes came and went and so did another ten minutes and then I suddenly thought ‘I wonder if Mikes meant where the canal goes quite narrow between the railway bridge and  bridge 59, Kents Bridge.  So I got back in the car and Dawn drove round to Old road and I got out and looked up the cut but still no sign. Drive me back to Crown Bridge and l’ll text him.  ‘Where are you Mikey’  ‘At bridge 60, another 20 minutes away yet.  At this point Dawn had to go back to get ready for work leaving me at Crown bridge to wait for the boys.  Soon the imposing sight of Mikeys ‘Royalty’ GU boat, Victoria, was coming round the Handsacre turn and into the bridge ‘ole where I jumped on ready for a day out with the boys, coal boating.
My first question when I got aboard was to Mikey “what narrows were you on about when I asked where you were?”  His reply was “there’s only one narrows out of Rugeley, you know just before that bridge, where that pub is!”  I asked him if he meant the Ash Tree his reply was “no the next one down”. I then questioned, “You mean the Plumb Pudding” “Yes that’s the one”  “Mikey” I said “that’s not a narrows, that’s Armitage tunnel”!!!!  The one thing I hate about boating this time of year is the leaves on and in the cut.

With a loaded boat it’s no different having to throw it astern every five minutes to clear the blades of their ball of leaves.  With Victoria being loaded with about 16 tons of various bagged coal and 2000litres of diesel, she was drawing about 3’ 3” at the counter and about 3’ at the bows, the result of this was that forward progress was quite slow and anything faster than just tick over just drew all the water and sat her on the bottom.  Well as a guide, last year I took Darley from Great Haywood to Alvecote single handed in about 10 ½ hours whereas today’s jolly from Rugeley town moorings (2 ½ hours less) to Alvecote took us about 9 ½ hours!  When once I was settled and we were underway I said to Mikey “where’s your brasso, your brasses are dirty”  Mikey tried to say he had done them yesterday (I don’t think) and so I set about polishing, Mikey disappeared in the back cabin and made a cup of tea, while Jay steered.  Tea made and we were treated to jam doughnuts as were plodded along the pound past Kings Bromley and arrived at Woodend lock, where, me and Mikey worked the boat down while Jay steered.  Luckily a boat was waiting below so we were able to jump for the pound down to shadehouse, where again me and Mikey worked the lock with me drawing and Mikey shutting the top gate.  When the lock emptied, we opened bottom gates and Victoria pulled out then we closed up behind him and we were off down the pound to Middle lock where we undertook the same routine.  When the lock emptied and the gates were opened, Mikey said I could get back on the boat and he would close the gates and walk down to the junction to open the little swing bridge.  I proceeded to cross the tail of the lock via the little wooden foot bridge and Mikey said “there’s steps that side Blossom, why did you not use them, I thought you would have known that!” my reply was simple” I never get off the boat Mikey, Dawn does all the locks”.  We soon made the turn at the junction and there were only two people standing outside the swan to watch.  As we swung round Wazza shouted over “What you jumped ship Blossom” seeing me on a different boat, I just turned back and smiled at him and gave him the ‘one for your dog’. In just over the hour we were approaching Streethay bridge 86 where I think I have moaned before about the state of the cut at this point as you pass the rear of a converted farm house/outbuildings and some mobile homes, and sure enough the engine started to labour as it stirred up the chocolate pudding throwing a column of rotting leaves out from the counter.  With that cleared we plodded down the straight to Streethay wharf, which seemed very quiet apart from someone in the painting tunnel rollering his cabin top.  As we made the turn at the end of the straight, a boat was just winding and as we slid past him he shouted across “How much is your coal” “Between £7.50 and £10.00” was the reply “why do you want some”

  And so we pulled over under Kings Orchard railway bridge and waited for him to wind and pull alongside.  Six bags were soon transferred to his cabin top and we were off again.  Within half hour we were tying up at Huddlesford Junction where Mikey’s mom and dad had their caravan while they blacked their boat at Lichfield cruising clubs yard.

 We were invited round for a cup of tea , a ham sandwich and a slice of fruit cake.  With this consumed we were off again as we still had a few hours boating left.  As we came through Hopwas, Jay jumped off armed with a pocket full of business cards and walked the towpath posting cards in every moored boat.

He kept this practice up all past Fazeley Junction even as the light was fading, posting cards and telling people about the coal service.  We came across the Junction and through the narrow bridge ‘ole where there were several moored boats on the towpath and a line of thick conifers on the offside behind the industrial units.  Half way past these conifers, there was also a tree with low branches and as we past Mikey grabbed one of the lowest branches and snapped it off to get rid of it.  As he did so, a second low branch took Mikey’s hat off and deposited it into the cut.  Mike chucked the JP into astern and we then continued for a further boats length before Victoria stopped.  “What you doing Mikey”.  “ I’m going back for me hat”.

As we reversed back, Victoria did what a lot of boats do in astern, the back end veered across the canal and into the conifers.  Mikey knocked it out of gear and lifted the cabin shaft, which he poked through the conifers, out of sight and on to what he thought was the bank.  He braced himself with a foot against the counter cants and proceeded to push.  The boat started to move, but so did whatever the shaft was resting on.  The rest was down to gravity and in a split second, Mikey was making a perfect forward dive with half pike, worthy of a gold medal at the recent Olympics!  Jay, who was still on the towpath shouted “Blossom, get your phone, take a picture”  By this point I was fighting back guffaws of laughter as the tears rolled down my cheeks.  As Mikey stood up in freezing water up to his chest, he put his hand in his pocket and removed his now failed I phone which he slammed down on the counter and for the next 60 seconds just shouted “Bast**d, Bast**d, bast**d.  I turned the tiller round towards him and he climbed back up it onto the counter. By now, as we realised he was unhurt, apart from pride, both Jay and I were both engulfed in uncontrollable laughter, in fact for the next couple of hours we would only have to look at each other and again burst into laughter to the point that by the time we reached Alvecote, my ribs were aching.  By now it was completely dark and we made the rest of the trip by headlight.  We were soon up Glascote two and on the final leg of the journey.  As we passed Amington road bridge, the smell of fish and chips was wafting over the canal from the chippy just off the bridge which reminded me that by now I was hungry, cold and had run out of cigarettes, and had no money with me (as I had left in quite an unprepared hurry this morning).  Frequently through the day Dawn had been texing me asking where we were and I had kept her up to speed with our progress.  She had asked earlier where we were heading for and I had told her Alvecote to which she asked me to text her when I got there and so I agreed to tell her when we were ½ hour away, and so I text her at Old Tamworth bridge and half hour later we were tying up at the layby at Alvecote.  Earlier in the day Mikey’s mom & dad had arranged to meet them there and they were all going for a carvery at The Pretty Pigs.  They soon turned up and they all climbed in the dad’s car and were off.  They asked if I wanted to go but I declined as Dawn would be here in about 10 minutes.  So off they went leaving me to go and stand on Victoria’s counter to wait for Dawn.  And wait I did for nearly two hours while unbeknown to me she had a shower and got herself ready to go out, but perhaps more of that another time.  All in all a very pleasant days boating in pleasant company and really good entertainment, so until next time,
Don’t splash ‘em about

Monday, 29 October 2012


As I said in yesterday’s blog, clothing up Darley for the Winter made me think I should write a blog on how to cloth up a working boat, so here it is.
 Before I even start, and before anybody contradicts what I write, I will point out that there is not just one way to cloth up a working boat as boatmen often had their own little ways that were individual so what follows is the way I was taught.  Right first things first and before we can even consider clothing up a working boat, a good understanding of the various bits and pieces is essential. Traditionally a working narrowboat would have carried a full set of cloths as well as all the running gear, which would have consisted of several individual types of cloths including: Deck cloth, Cratch cloth, side cloths, top cloths and a Tippet.  Along with this would be all the timber works, categorised as running gear including crossbeams, boxmast, topmast, 2 stands, deck board, false cratch and uprights Nowadays many working boats have dispensed with some of the cloths and only use side and top cloths as well as some of the rope work used such as girding strings..
Cross beams – Three lengths of timber the width of the hold which divide the hold into four ‘rooms’
Boxmast –  A wooden ‘box’ about 8” square and 7-8ft long which is used to support the top planks and the towing mast which fits into a recess cut into the mast beam.
Topmast  The towing mast which slots inside the boxmast and is adjustable to vary the height (loaded/empty)
Stand – A tapered timber about 7-8ft in length and 8” wide used to support the top planks
The cratch – The name given to the whole of the tent like structure at the front of the hold consisting of the deck board, the false cratch and the cratch boards.
Deck board – The triangular timber board that supports the front end of the top planks and is to stop the ingress of water into the hold when locking.
False cratch – A timber three piece ‘A’ frame which supports the top planks between the deck board and the boxmast.
Cratch boards – Short straight pieces of timber which joint the false cratch to the deck board, making the whole assembly more rigid.
Uprights. – Straight lengths of timber which have a vee cut into each end and fit diagonally over the inside of the gunnel and the underside of the top planks, again holding and supporting the top planks in a rigid manner. (I have heard some call these quarters)
Deck cloth – A triangular cloth fixed to the deck beam by a strip of timber forming the same shape as the deck board but larger
Cratch cloth – (This was a later addition becoming popular in the 1950’s onwards especially with the midlands to south coal traffic)the same width as a top cloth but only about 5foot in length and was used to permanently cover the cratch never being taken down and with no need to cloth the cargo up being coal.
Side cloth – Two cloths about a yard wide and running the whole length of the hold.  Fixed to each side of the hold along the gunnel by means of a strip of timber and having reinforced brass eyelets along its top edge at about every yard. One side has lengths of rope called side strings spliced into each of the eyelets.
Top cloth – Three or four rectangular cloths the width being from gunnel to gunnel over the top planks.  The length of them to cover the whole length of the hold plus enough for an overlap at each joint.
Tippet – A narrow strip the length of the hold, just wider than the top planks which ends in a triangular section. When used it is laid in top of the top planks with the triangular section butting up to the edge of the deck board.  Its purpose is to protect the top cloths from wear and tear from walking up and down and also from chaffing from the top strings.
Along each gunnel, starting from the engine ‘ole bulk head, are metal rings about 1 .5” diameter held in place by metal staples and fitted at 36” centres. There is one ring stapled near the outside top edge of the gunnel and one on the underside of the gunnel directly underneath.  Working 36” centres from the back end should leave the last pitch, by the cratch, about 32”.  A ring is positioned at the very end, one at 16” and a second at 32” these are for securing the decorative hose and rockets.
Knee strings. (Used to secure the side cloths when not in use and rolled up on top of the gunnel)
Short lengths of 8 -10 mm rope about 18” long, with a loop sliced in one end and a back splice on the other and fixed to the staple under the gunnel

Side Strings (Used to secure the side cloths)
Lengths of 8 -10mm rope with a loop spliced in one end and a back splice in the other, approximately 12ft long.  The loop end is passed through the brass eyelet in the side cloths then the other end pulled through the loop to fix it to the side cloths.  When not in use the side strings are rolled up inside that side cloth.

Side strings are only fitted to one side cloth.  The actual length has to be sufficient to go over the top plank down to the opposite side cloth and back to the top plank then across the two side strings twice leaving enough to tie them off.

Top Strings (Used to secure the top cloths)
Lengths of 8 -10mm rope with a loop spliced in one end and a back splice in the other, approximately 20ft long.  Spliced onto the loop is a galvanised ‘S’ hook which is used to secure the top string to the ring stapled to the gunnel.
Rockets (Used to decorate the cratch)
Six lengths of natural cotton line  10 – 12 mm diameter, four about 18ft in length  and two about 25ft, with a loop spliced in one end and the other end whipped.

Girding strings Lengths of 12mm diameter line used for securing the top plank on top of the stands by lashing them to the cross beams 
Hose  (Used to decorate the cratch)
A length of rubberised cotton fire hose (getting hard to find nowadays) approximately 6ft in length with metal clasps and a spring fitted to each end, to secure it to the boat.
For the purpose of this I will assume that the boat’s running gear is all assembled and in position including beams, mast, stands, uprights and cratch.

Start by ensuring the tippet and top cloths are out of the hold somewhere accessible.  Undo all the knee strings to release both sets of side cloths and unroll them.
Side cloths.
Throw the side strings across the top of the top planks to the other side.

Thread the end of the side string through the brass eyelet in the side cloth.
Throw the side strings back over the top plank.

(you now have one strand one side and two strands the other)
Sit, or kneel on the top plank and work your way along each side string
Pull, alternately on each side of side string to tighten it.
When tight pass end under the top plank and around side strands from one to other and back to the side with two strands.
Pass end under the single strand.

Pass end across to other side (with two strands) and pass end under.
Pass end back to opposite side and under and finish off on side with two strands.
Pass one bite round the two strands, and hold tightly in position .
Pull the bight tight.
While holding the bight tightly in position  use other hand pull centre of remaining string between the two strands to form a loop.

Pull loop up tight against the bite

Pull string through from between two strands until end splice is trapped and a neat loop is formed.

Move along top plank to next side string and continue until all side strings are tied and the side cloths are taught.

(Incidentally, the method of moving along a plank by sitting on it and pendulating your bum along, instead of walking along it, due to uncertainty or alcohol, was know by boatmen as ‘Frogging the plank’.
 Top Cloths & Tippet
Starting from the back end lay the back top cloth out and adjust position to equal it out, then moving forward lay each top cloth out so it overlaps the previous cloth to give a waterproof joint to the hold, finishing off with the front cloth which has a square hole cut in it to go over the top mast.  Position triangular end of tippet in line with front edge of deck board and roll out along the length of the top cloths.

The triangular end of the tippet can be clearly seen in this photo
Hook the S hook into the ring on the one side gunnel and throw the remainder over to the other side.
Pass end through the opposite ring the throw back over to other side.
Repeat for all top strings.
Sitting /kneeling on top plank as for side cloths pull alternatively on each side to tighten top string.
Pass end of top string underneath the side string and pull tight across top of cloths, then pass under side string on opposite side then back again. Finish off on side with two strands then tie off end of top string in exactly the same way for side strings.

So that’s  it apart from fitting the decorative rockets and hose on the cratch which I will perhaps cover in another blog
So until then
Don’t bang ‘em about