Sunday 15 April 2018

Church and Home

Today we were due to return home but we decided to attend the service at the nearby Wootton Wawen parish church before we hit the road. This meant an early rising (well, 7.30 anyway!) so that we could pack the car in time to get to church for 11 am. We managed this although it was nearly a problem when Mike sat down to finish a mug of coffee and suddenly time evaporated! It took 4 or 5 trips up to the car - even though we were now moored on the far side of the marina with a shallower slope to the car park, it was still quite an exercise.

The church had a number of unusual features, including these 'cages' for the choir. We learnt later that they were originally small vestries which were then adapted for this purpose but it did feel a bit of a reaction to 'naughty' West Gallery choirs who tended to slope off to the nearby pub during lengthy sermons!

The service was conducted by a hospital chaplain helping out for the second time as the vicar is unwell at the moment although hoping to return to work  gradually in the near future. There was a modest congregation - around 19 including 4 visitors plus a choir of seven and a pretty competent organist.

Afterwards we enjoyed a mug of coffee and a slice of cake (although the latter we wrapped to have with our lunch in the car . . .) We took a look at a small exhibition of the history of the development of the village since medieval times. There was once a priory but that has long since disappeared.

The main chancel and sanctuary are all but hidden by the choir stalls an then, behind a set of doors, is another chapel.

By the time we left it was around 12:45 but, with an uneventful and unimpeded grip back (although rain and sunshine - mainly the former - sometimes made driving a little challenging).

Saturday 14 April 2018

Girls Return

Today, Jess and Alice were due to be collected for their trip back back home at the end of the Easter holidays. However, Joanna and Adrian planned a largely off-road bike ride south of Stratford (they have recently bought two new bikes for this sort of activity) and we expected them to arrive at the marina late afternoon. The weather was brilliant - blue skies, sun and warmth! Such a change from the past few weeks and in the afternoon we were able to open the side hatch for the first time this year.

Although we planned a trip into town for this morning, we did not rush things so it was after eleven by the time we had driven to the Park and Ride and then taken the bus into town. (Again, we arrived just as one was ready to depart).

The main feature was to visit Shakespeare's School and Guildhall, a visitor attraction that only opened a couple of years ago. The Guildhall was originally constructed around 1420 by the Guild of the Holy Cross, an organisation that was initially founded to employ priests to says prayers on behalf of its members. Over time, the Guild gained in influence, wealth and importance and, effectively by Elizabethan times, became the town council, overseeing both justice and administration.

Shakespeare's father was not only a prominent member, rising to be the Bailiff for a year (the equivalent of Mayor today), but also fell foul of its laws on four occasions when he was fined for various misdemeanors!

In the 1560's King Edward VI School (often referred to as KES) moved into the Guildhall. At first this was the only building they had but has gradually developed as a modern school on the adjoining site, still using the old building from time to time, mostly for dramatic productions. Right from the outset the school was noted for its attention to drama and it is thought that his seven years at this school laid the foundations for the rest of Shakespeare's career.

The first part of our visit was downstairs where the original Guild gathered for prayers - a recent conservation discovered a hitherto unknown wall painting in what was the private chapel section, where the priests gathered. We watched a couple of video presentations about the Guild and the influence of the school as well as a reconstruction of how the wall painting might have looked. The original is only shown for 45 seconds as it needs to be protected from light to avoid even further deterioration. During the Reformation, instructions were given to deface the painting as being of Catholic origins - as it happened, John Shakespeare was responsible for organising this by having it whitewashed over so at least some indistinct parts remain.

Upstairs we learnt rather more in detail about the way schooling developed. A current pupil of KES introduced us to the Master's Room and also talked about some of the more famous former pupils.

This was followed by the more dramatic part of the visit - where a Schoolmaster (lat: Magister) pretended to give us a taste of life of a schoolboy in Shakespeare's time. We had to recite latin (amor, amo, amas, amamus) and also feel how rote learning and drama were considered the best basis for learning. At least none of us had to suffer the indignity of the birch!

Another part of the upper floor was set out as a later school room - Alice and Jess had the opportunity to try writing with a quill pen and ink - harder then it looks but Jess was especially pleased that she only ended up with just a dab of black on one finger.

Jess had diligently been completing a quiz as we went around and as we left she was awarded a prize, along with Alice!

We made a brief visit to the Guild Chapel next door to the Guildhall. Unlike the rooms we had been in earlier, this had a light and airy feel to it.

Time then to look for somewhere for lunch. Whilst the others would have been quite happy to return to Husskins (although in once case that was because she expected lunch to consist of a chocolate brownie!) but Mike insisted that we check out the options. We ended up in the Emporium Tea Room, part of a small antique arcade. He enjoyed his soup and the others opted for sandwiches. Although the fare was perfectly adequate, it might perhaps (to adapt a well used phrase) 'should have gone to Husskins' . . . Still, Jess was pleased to try out a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich, a new experience having only previously had that combination on tiny crackers.

After lunch we wandered through the town centre to the market although it was not the most interesting set of stalls.Time then to catch the bus back to the car and return to the boat, stopping briefly at a supermarket for some food for tonight, in case they all wanted to eat before returning home.

As it turned out, the parents arrived just after 4 and left before 6. We later moved the boat across the marina to one of the pontoons further away from the entrance as we had been asked to do when we arrived.

Friday 13 April 2018

MAD and cakes

After yesterday's extensive activity and late return to the boat, needless to say no-one was in any hurry to get going today. Apart from breakfast and reading, nothing much happened until it was lunch time.

In the afternoon, we headed, as yesterday, tpo the Park and Ride for Stratford. A convenient service every 15 minutes and we were lucky that we hopped aboard just as the next bus was ready to leave.

First, we visited the MAD Museum, just around the corner from where the bus dropped us. MAD = Mechanical Art and Design and is an amazing collection of mechanical exhibits.

The  commonest format was that of ball rolling devices. In most cases the balls can take various paths downwards - either right from the top or in some cases there were stages that changed direction every time a ball passed through. Occasionally there  were quite random choices. Sometimes it took quite a bit of time to watch and work out just what was happening.

This exhibit showed how interlocking gears do not have to be circular to work perfectly well. A press of a button and all of them rotate.

Here, the mechanism marks patterns in the fine sand on the base - the cone impresses a short message whilst it is followed by a set of furrows that wipes it out again.

This orrery illustrates the way in which the moon goes around the earth whilst the latter also circulates the sun. The central face opens and closes its eyes for the time of day.

This machine is called a Spirograph Drawing Machine but uses strange gears and mechanisms rather than the simple gear shapes of the commercial toy from the 1960's.

Someone had a very steady hand and managed  a lot further than many of the adults giving it a go. Even these old ideas still hold an attraction.

After we had tried pressing every button and been mystified by all the puzzles we walked down the  main street and ended up at Huffkins, the same cafe as yesterday for afternoon tea and a chance to try out more of their delicious cakes. Millionaire's Shortbread has never been as extravagant as this.

Christine wanted to visit a couple of shops whilst the others had some store items to buy in Boots or Sainsbury. We met as arranged by the river alongside the canal basin. Jess wanted a picture of this pigeon that she felt looked majestic. Others of us saw it as a pest!

Time then to head back to the P&R bus stop - we just missed one but it was not too long a wait. Unlike earlier, the bus was empty apart from us and one other passenger. The car park was similarly desolate and spotting our car rather straightforward.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Macbeth and Wicked

(as if Macbeth was not wicked!)

Today was theatre day - this visit was really planned around Alice's wish to take the opportunity of the boat being near Stratford to take her Granny to a proper Shakespeare play. Not to be outdone, Mike and Jess had tickets booked for Wicked at the Hippodrome in Birmingham. All of this meant that there was quite a logistical exercise, one which eventually led us to staying in the marina these few days before we return home,

We left the marina by car late morning and drove to the Park and Ride at Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway railway station. We were in plenty of time for the planned train into Birmingham, only just missing the earlier one as a result of people ahead of us having problems with the ticket machine in the rain! The wind and rain swept station platform, with the simplest of shelters was not really the best place to have to wait but there was not much alternative.

Meanwhile, Christine and Alice caught the next bus into town where they set about deciding how to spend the next few hours as their tickets were for an evening performance.

It was still a bit early for lunch but because it was quite wet and cold they didn't want to be outside. They walked in the direction of the theatre but passed this large commercial modern art gallery and stopped to look. Alice was especially taken with these paintings in the window. They ventured inside, met by a very friendly staff member who was quite happy to explain about the different mediums and styles. There was a commendable range; Christine was particularly impressed by the paintings on glass and also the cityscapes painted on aluminum sheets.
Then down to the theatre where they found they could book for an afternoon 'Behind the Scenes' tour.

Now it was time for lunch. Alice fancied soup. Huffkins proved very satisfactory.
As they left the drizzle was clearing but visibility still poor.
Before the theatre tour they had time to take the trip up the theatre Tower, eight storeys up, for a great view of the theatre complex - buildings dating from four different periods. From the land side it was pointed out that the row of cottages were those made available to the actors for the period of their contract.
They walked down to the river, water level still very high but the trip boat was able to go out of the canal basin for a short trip down the river

Then the tour, which they found most interesting. Right to the top of the theatre to see the control desks for audio descriptions and the Deputy Stage Manager, who gives timing directives to actors and staff. Back down to view the auditorium, remodelled just a couple of years ago, now with a thrust stage with audience surrounding three sides, very steep seating, a bit more what the original Globe layout would have been. From the corridors behind the seating there were thick velvet curtains and they were shown where these covered changing spaces (complete with washbasins for washing off the fake blood!) for the actors when a quick change of costume was needed. On then back stage: they were surprised to find how spartan the main changing facilities were, all actors sharing. Their costumes were lined up on a rail in the order they would be required. There was a large area for assembling scenery, including they were told a 7m deep space underneath the stage which can be used for scenery and for trap doors if a performance requires it. The theatre also has 600 separate lights for different effects. We saw where the Stage Manager has a small desk and monitors back stage; his job is to trouble-shoot if things go wrong in a performance. Our tour ended with a visit to the costume dept. to see the extensive laundry facilities with e.g an oxygen cabinet to clean items that cannot be washed. Finally we were shown the boxes of human hair used to make wigs - and yak hair to make mustaches and bushy eyebrows! Also not to be forgotten the false blood, Problood, so much better than the animal blood that was used since it washed out of clothes and does not stain. It is packed in pouches of cling film ready to be squashed at the right moment to make a realistic squirt!

Now to fill in the time before the performance: energy levels were replenished by a take away cake acquired at Huffkins. Next a walk down to the river and over the bridge to the grassy park area opposite, before returning to a quiet space in the theatre foyer for a brief rest. At 5.30 they set off in search of a pre-performance meal; Pizza Express proved perfectly able to provide for their requirements..

Back at the theatre with half an hour to go. Their seats proved to be on the front row high up at the very top in the Upper Circle where they looked directly down on the stage. Fortunately neither worry about heights!

The performance was quite amazing. Scenery was very limited the aim being to focus on the words and actions. A large digital clock intrigued Alice: it was to show the countdown to Macbeth's death.
The doorman marked on the wall the deaths as they occurred, a shower of ash descended from the ceiling. The performance was in modern costume to emphasize that the story of the lust for power and the consequences that can have, continues to be relevant today. However, as Alice pointed out, the text demanded that the actors still had to use swords, and armies advanced on foot! It was certainly a performance they will not forget.

The train which Mike and Jess caught was one of the fast services into Birmingham, via Hatton Junction and they alighted at Moor Street Station. They found their bearings and walked up to the entrance to the Bullring Shopping Centre. The plan had been to walk through the undercover mall and emerge not far from the theatre.

However, they soon found that there was a lack of meaningful signs once inside and they had to come back outside - not where they stated - to find a walking route! Even so, it was not far but by the time they reached sight of the Hippodrome they were ready to go inside for warm and dry. In the Middle Circle foyer there were plenty of comfortable seats and Mike treated himself to a coffee whilst they waited.

In good time they moved into the auditorium - Alice spotted a pile of extra seat cushions and collected one so that she could make sure that she was both comfortable and able to see all of the action on stage. Once settled, she took time to take a good look at the architecture - which they chatted about during the interval.

As with the Stratford theatre, there were dire warning about switching off mobile phones and not taking any photos during the performance. However, along with most other people we did sneak in a shot of the stage before the lights went out!

Wicked is a musical re-telling of the story of the Witches of Oz, very different from the classic Hollywood movie but using the characters of the Good and Wicked Witches, The Wizard of Oz (who could not work any real magic at all and not at all scary) and a brief appearance of the Tin Man. Other characters included the winged monkeys (a large version of which hung above the proscenium arch and lit up and flapped its wings at one point in the action), the principal of the University where the girls were enrolled and the last remaining Animal Professor who was cruelly discriminated against when his post was taken away from him, despite his popularity with his students. Whilst the musical was first performed in 2003, many of its sub-plots have a contemporary social and political import)

The singing, dancing, costumes and the band accompaniment were all most impressive - sometimes it was hard to work out how characters changed so quickly!

An interval gave us a chancre to stretch our legs and Jess preferred a packet of Minstrels to the conventional ice cream! We also tried to work out whether the highly ornate ceiling in the auditorium was meant to look gold or silver - but Jess had already conclude that it would have been far to expensive to have been solid either.

The second part was slightly shorter but no less entertaining and by the time the final scene arrived, the various strands to the story had woven together satisfactorily. There was tremendous applause from the audience - some of whom stood in admiration for what was indeed a most impressive production. As we joined the lines to leave we realised that, even though a matinee, most of the audience were adults and only a modest proportion under 18.

Jess had plenty of ideas about where we should eat - she had checked out some of the options on Google Maps yesterday, but as we had plenty of time, we walked all the way along New Street. However, once Jess had spotted Bella Italia, all else was only second best - but it did mean that we had to go back to the start of New Street.

The restaurant was very busy but eventually a table was found for us. The menu was much to Jess's liking even though her first choice for mains turned out not to be available tonight. We both enjoyed our food and our drink - Jess ended with a personally escorted trip to the Gelato Cart - to be honest he service was somewhat overwhelmed by the numbers. However,. we did not mind as we had time to fill before we could catch a train back to Stratford. In Birmingham, Off Peak tickets Cannon be used until after 6.30. However, since they had cost us only just over £6 return for the two of us, who's complaining?

Mike thought that they would not make it to the station in time for the 7.30 departure so we ambled along but as we came to the Bullring entrance, Jess spotted the way down to Moor Street and we speeded up to arrive on Platform 1 with three minutes to spare. This time we were on a stopping train - the fast service does not seem to run in the evening - and we came back along the alternative route via Wootton Wawen and Wilmcote. Although several stations are 'by request' we actually stopped at each of them as passengers alighted.

Back at the car we thought about what to do until it was time for us to collect Christine and Alice from their theatre. There was about an hour and a half so it was decide to return to the boat - at least we could make sure that it was warmed up. Mike had his first chance to light the stove on this boat as normally this is Christine's province.

Time then to drive back into Stratford and just as they were reaching the town a phone call came through to say that the performance had just ended and we arranged where to meet.

It has to be said that at this stage, two of us were mightily relieved that all of the planning had worked out without major hiccup. So much so that we took a wrong turning in the back streets of Stratford as we left Waterside and had an extended tour of the other possible routes out of town! We were all still on a high as we swapped stories of our adventures and the many details of both productions.

Wednesday 11 April 2018


Mike left just about 8.45 to drive across to Windsor to collect Alice and Jess who are visiting for a few days. It was wet drizzle and grey skies so not overly pleasant for driving. Fortunately in neither direction was the traffic as heavy as had been indicated with no particular hold ups.

The girls were ready and packed and brought out their suitcases as soon as the car was ready for them. It was little over ten minutes before Mike was back on the road again, re-tracing his steps back to the marina. However, they did make a brief stop at Warwick Services in order to pickup a paper.

After the girls had checked out the boat and location they were ready for lunch, despite having had a packet of crisps from the service station! Meanwhile the two loadfs of washing that Chrsitine managed to complete before Mike returned went into the marina's drier.

Unpacking and lunch revealed that a trip to the shops was needed - also Mike found that a bolt had come adrift in one of the cabin chairs and he needed to find a replacement quickly.

Alice remained reading on the boat whilst the other three drove into Stratford. A call at Screwfix drew a blank but the suggestion of a specialist supplier on one of the industrial estates. However, we called first at the main retail park and whilst Mike went into B&Q (where he found almost the right item, close enough for an immediate repair) whilst Christine and Jess went to Next and TKMax in search of some pyjamas (the one item, plus jumper that she had forgotten to pack) They did find a t-short but not the main item. Well, they did have pyjamas in Next but somewhat expensive and in pairs.

Tesco store is one this site so that was the next stop for the particular food items that one or other would have liked us to have in stock.

We did track down the specialist fixings supplier but they, alas, had nothing like what we needed. Back then to the boat - the chair was put back together and it seemed only a short time before there was cry for when is dinner going to be ready?

Obviously, there was just no tome for boating today! Actually, with the weather as it is we have decided to extend our stay in the marina, unless a sudden improvement tempts us out on Friday.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Wootton Wawen

Today's Canal - Stratford

It was still raining when we awoke but by the time we were ready to set off it was quickly clearing. The day remained grey and chilly but at least it stayed dry.

We were not far from the next flight of three locks. At the second, Bucket, Lock, there is a short aqueduct just a metre or so above the top gate.

At the tail of the next lock is typical accommodation bridge intended to all farmers to have access to fields on both sides of the canal. When railways were developed, their companies often bought up the canals, sometimes with the intent of closing them down, The Stratford was bought by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway which later merged into the Great Western Railway Co. Although the continued to have a statutory duty to maintain the navigation, it was during this time that it declined and almost disappeared. During that period of ownership, it became necessary to put up signs giving the limit of vehicles that could use it - up until then it was only the lighter horse drawn carts for which the bridges were designed. this sign is very typical - the name of the company has been partially lost in the broken off bottom corner. ...ern Railway Co is still visible.

A slightly longer pound intervened before the three Preston Bagot locks. A small river alongside the canal was looking rather energetic following the rain of the past few days.

The bottom lock was almost overwhelmed by the amount of water running over the canal weirs. A boat came up just before we arrived and they reported that they had difficulty with the bottom gate. We too stuck at our first attempt to get out. After trying to clear from behind the gate - not sure if we really did much good - and then having some help in holding the gate as open as possible - we eventually scraped through.

At Wooton Wawen we enquired about an electrician to look at our fuel gauge but they currently do not do any 'private' work as they have enough to keep them busy with their hire fleet! So we just had to carry on over the next iron trough aqueduct.

Not much further and we reached the Hill Farm Marina. We originally planned to arrive here ion Saturday but with changes of plan, combined with the weather, meant that we brought forward our arrival date. We held open the possibility that we might go out for a further short trip but it is a receding possibility. See what the girls would like to do.

Although there is still quite a bit of work to be done, the marina is slowly filling up - some of the expected arrivals have been delayed by flooding on the way. In any event, they make up for that with their friendly welcome.

After lunch we drove into Stratford to visit Morrisons to top up the stores and also to check out where Mike might be able to pick up Christine and Alice after their theatre visit on Thursday evening.

4.0 Miles - 6 Locks

Monday 9 April 2018


Today's Canals - Grand Union, Stratford

A generally wet day - however it was misty but dry as Mike walked to the village shop close to the Junction where he was able to pick up both milk and a newspaper.

Lapworth is unusual - the parish church is well over a mile away from Kingswood Junction and is where the maps show the name. However, a road sign, close to the canal bridge, welcomes drivers to Lapworth! Lapworth Village Hall is just beyond the shops.

A century ago there were few buildings at this point, including these two half timbered houses.

After a very late start we moved around the corner, via the Lapworth Link arms to the service point above the first lock on the Southern Stratford. The triangular junction has undergone various alterations since its first construction. The Stratford Canal was begun at Kings Norton, the northern, Birmingham, end and by the time they had reached this point, the company was short of money and it was some time before the lower half was built(which helps to explain why its architecture is very different). A large basin was constructed and a guillotine stop lock, same as the one at Kings Norton, was built to control water flow between the new canal and the Birmingham and Warwick (now part of the Grand Union)

Somewhat later when the canal was completed southwards, the corner was cut across, with another lock parallel to the last original one, which simplified the navigation of boats from one canal to another. At the same time, the guillotine lock was taken out of action.

The southern Stratford was not as successful as the businessmen of the eponymous town expected and it nearly closed, becoming barely passable. However the National Trust purchased the canal when a road bridge scheme threatened to cut it off forever. Restoration followed and it opened to full navigation in 1964. However, it was subsequently transferred to British Waterways in 1988.

At this stage, boats coming up fro the Stratford direction and heading onto the Grand Union had to go up a lock from the original junction and back down the cut off lock, thus wasting a noticeable amount of water. As a result it was decided to re-open the short old cut, barely longer than a lock, but on a level so that no gate operation was needed. This was the way we came.

After completing the usual services - which took a little longer than normal because the washing machine was emptying the tank as quickly as we could fill it!

At Dick's Lane Lock 25 there is a bench dedicated to Doug Smith, creator of the Lockmaster Series of canal maps who died in 2007.

By now the rain had set in but it was not very heavy nor especially cold so we continued down six locks until it was time to take a lunch break.

At Lock 28 there was line of gongoozlers, including this fine, if craggy, specimen!

As often happens with a restoration project, the locks and gates can vary in construction. This one was especially difficult to operate - Mike found it impossible to climb back onto the gate to cross back to the towpath side as the end is so high above the ground. He then found that the top paddle would not close until the gate was closed.

At Lowsonford Lock there is another seat, with this inscription.

By the time we set off again, the rain was not only much heavier but also the temperature had distinctly fallen. As a result, once we had passed through Lowsonford, we succumbed to the temptation of a good bank (but no chance of tv) an stopped for the night.

This gave us time for one or two jobs that had been waiting for the right opportunity. With the fuel gauge still misbehaving, we have restored the old dipstick but the new tank is slightly shallower than the old one. In order to prevent the stick hitting the bottom every time it is used, the cross bar needed re-siting. Also, we are getting low on logs and coal so Mike cut up the few pieces of an old pallet that Christine had acquired from one of the Ryders Green locks a week ago.

We really did feel in need of lighting the stove when we stopped as the rain and cold had made us feel a tad uncomfortable. We soon warmed up!

3.6 Miles - 11 Locks