Yearly Archives: 2024


the boating bard


I've got boater's feet
And I think I know why
Mostly kept in moist conditions
Now they need to air dry

Flip flops are quite breezy
But I don't like them in wet grass
And sliders and boats don't mix
You end up on your ass

Rubber boots are not conducive
To keeping your digits dry
And tights pulled up to kingdom come
Just cause a rising tide

That sock and croc combo
Encourages sweating beneath
With athletes' foot and fungal toes
What I need is two webbed feet


muddy boots in mud

casual wanders on the caldon canal

casual wanderers on the caldon canal

Caldon Canal, Staffordshire

Mum and I had a wander on the Caldon Canal from Etruria Junction to Emma Bridgewater Factory in May 2022.

Hanley Park, Caldon Canal, Staffordshire

The Caldon Canal is 18 miles long and runs from Etruria, Stoke on Trent, to Froghall, near Uttoxeter. The canal also branches off to Leek, a town in Staffordshire. It originally was one of the branches of the Mersey Canal Company, at the time, and formed part of the said canal. Opened in 1779 and despite not being officially closed, the usage of the canal declined in the 20th Century and subsequent restoration took place. In 1974, the main line to Froghall was completed and the Leek branch soon after.

Bridgewater Factory, Caldon Canal, Staffordshire
We started on the Trent and Mersey Canal at Festival Park in Etruria, and we walked to towards the junction where the Caldon Canal begins. There we continued on until we reached the Bridgewater Factory Shop. It is a pleasant place to stop and have a drink, admire the grounds’ gardens and buy some earthenware.


The two miles or so stretch on the canal is calm and green with the canal running through Hanley Park and its cast iron bridges. This was enhanced by the sunny and warm weather we had that day. We walked back from the Bridgewater Factory shop to the park. The park is nice and spacious though lacking in facilities. The Pavilion, the main building at the park, was empty and there probably was a café in there but closed a long time ago. It is a pity as the Pavilion is a beautiful building and the current state sadly resemble the emptiness and its lifeless ambiance.

It was a pleasant walk along a small stretch of the Caldon Canal and we plan to explore more of this interesting waterway on a future trip.

The photographs in this article are of multiple exposure using the Snapseed App on my mobile device and the App enables double exposure of photographs and the use of filtering.

By Dawn Smallwood
Facebook: Dawn S Art
Instagram: artwithdawns
Etsy: artwithdawns

Paul Robert Watson

Paul Robert Watson Paul Robert Watson has been a journalist all his working life, and has now written his first novel. 'Cut to the Chase' is partially set on the canal system, in and around Braunston and the Tunnel.

The main character is an ex policeman who lives on a narrowboat, and is on the run from corrupt police and a gang of drug runners.  He makes his unlikely escape on his old narrowboat, Longfellow.

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paul robert watson

featured author of the season - spring 2024

paul robert watson

How it all came about is a little hazy. At some point, I must have agreed to the idea of a narrow boat holiday. Certainly, I was not the prime motivator and red wine was probably involved.

So it was that I found myself in a darkened room watching an instruction video on the basics of boat handling, how to negotiate a lock, mooring a vessel and the like.

That was Easter fourteen years ago at Market Harborough, then the base for hire company Canal Times, With me were my wife, Sue, and daughter, Rosie, her friend, Hannah, and her mum and dad, Linda and Dean.

Although we didn't know it at the time, we were about to embark on a journey that would lead us to travel, if not the length and breadth of the waterway network, then large sections in the north west and Midlands.

We emerged blinking into the daylight, were shown a model of a lock, then ushered aboard Hartley's Best, carrying our gear for a four-night trip. Briefly we were informed of the boat's operation. Push the throttle lever forward to go forward, back to go back; steer left to go right and visa versa. Oh, and reversing is tricky, but you'll get the hang of it. Honestly, to this day, I never really have.

Our instructor rather hastily stepped off at the entrance to the marina and we were left to our own devices.

The secret of happy cruising, at least in the early stages, is that you have to be prepared to leave your dignity on the quayside. Forget about looking nonchalantly professional like a seasoned boater and embrace the laughter you will inevitably hear from the gongoozling crowds, just like I did.

Yes, I was the first to get wet, left clinging to a top rail while my feet dangled in the water. Why did the girls draw the blind as my face appeared outside the kitchen window? All I could hear was the sound of embarrassed chortles.

A swing bridge? All right, we can manage that. But who's getting off to operate it? The sequence, so blindingly simple, had to be worked out for our first effort.

Turning for the first time was also a challenge and the bottom of Foxton Locks is hardly the ideal place to learn. After a display of cringeworthy ineptitude, we managed to moor.

Paul Watson - Foxton LocksEven for experienced boaters, Foxton can be the cause for some head-scratching. Long, steep, with staircase locks, your readers will be all too familiar with the scenario. We read the instructions and, with the aid of the lock-keepers on duty, we made it to the top. It felt as though we had scaled Everest, such was the sense of achievement.

On we cruised. With no locks, this was easy. Through Husbands Bosworth tunnel, then a stride across the fields to the White Hart, all the while becoming more enamoured with this boating life.

A better executed turn and an excursion to Welford on the way home provided the crew with greater confidence and Foxton was negotiated without incident. After good food and drink at the Black Horse, we returned to Harborough.

The trip, as they say, had seemed like a good idea at the time. And it really was.

Within six months we had become shareholders in Sometimes, an Ownerships vessel. You'll be familiar with that particular sorry tale but the syndicate survived without incurring too many losses, unlike some less fortunate.

I had become a committed boater rather than an accidental one.

So why not employ some of the experiences, sights sounds and scenes in a story that I had long hoped to write?

And that's how Cut to the Chase became a reality.

the book

cut to the chase by Paul RobertsCut to the Chase, some of which is set on the canal network, is available as an e-book from the Kindle store.

It is an adventure story, in which the main character, John Clubb, finds himself at the centre of a web of police corruption and drug-running.

Part of the story is based in and around Braunston and the tunnel, of which I have personal experience, having been a canal boat owner for the last 13 or so years.

The basic premise is that Clubb is on the run from a gang of drug smugglers and a corrupt policeman. He escapes their attention but is pursued from Scotland to the south east of England and thence to the Midlands.

An ex-policeman himself, he is aided by a former colleague, Brian Digbeth.

He escapes on his old narrow boat, Longfellow, aboard which he attempts - very slowly, naturally - to evade his pursuers. The plot eventually takes him to Scotland, where he is able to assist the police in tracking down the drug-runners and corrupt officers. And, of course, there is a twist in the tale.

The novel is published as an e-book on amazon under the name of Robert Watson and will cost £2.35, although it will be available free for a limited period. A paperback version is planned if reaction is favourable.

Paul Robert Watson

Paul Robert Watson considers himself to be a Derby lad, as it was there that he spent his school days. Throughout his adult life, he worked as a journalist, working mainly as a sports journalist and editor.

He is a member of a syndicate which own NB Sometimes, currently moored at King’s Orchard marina, where she has undergone an extensive programme of renovation and repair.

He lives in Egginton, not far from Burton, with his wife Sue. They have a grown-up daughter, Rosie.

The novel is published as an e-book on amazon under the name of Robert Watson and will cost £2.35, although it will be available free for a limited period. A paperback version is planned if reaction is favourable.

Paul is happy for readers to contact him for more information.

Please call him on 01283 736383.

bob chase – barge fiodra

featured roving canal trader

bob chase - barge fiodra

Fiodra was carefully designed to be a flexible, floating, event platform and a place to live. We have been running a successful programme of our own events since 2018, as well as hosting a huge variety of events for hirers.

This project brought together my experience and several passions. I come from a maritime family, my father was a marine pilot and one of my brothers the skipper of a tug. I began living on my first boat in 1990. I have also had a career in community arts and in venue management. I have always found hosting shows, cinema and events to be great fun and rewarding.

I began designing Fiodra before I left my final full time job at the National Autistic Society in 2016. She was built in Poland, to my design, by the Viking Canal Boat Company. After delivery in 2017 we took her on a maiden voyage to Bristol and back. We launched our business in Spring 2018 with a residency in Paddington Basin. We hosted story telling with Kate Saffin, poetry from the Canal Laureate Nancy Campbell and classic canal films.

Since then we have travelled most of the waterways we have access to in a wide beam. We have made visits to Oxford, Guildford, Maidstone, Hertford and all points on the Grand Union. We used the opportunity to explore what worked and what didn't work onboard.

barge fiodra - mindfulness

Barge Fiodra - Art Gallery

By adding (removable) gallery panels and 12v gallery lighting we were able to create a beautiful gallery space for visual artists. Our first season in Little Venice was in partnership with the Guild of Waterway Artists. It was successful from the get go and we have since been able to host many exhibitions of paintings, illustrations and textile arts.

This Easter (2024) we will be hosting a textile art exhibition by Marissa Stoffer. Marissa stayed on Fiodra last summer on the River Lea where she collected the natural dyes she has used to create this work. Check out our website for details.

We also managed to install a micro-cinema in the boat using a digital projector and high quality sound system. Everyone loves the experience and we have been able to show several indie films including the launch of the film TIDES. However we quickly discovered that mainstream films were uneconomic for us to show in a cinema with only 24 seats.

We have also tried our hand as a Cafe and Jam Shop. Fiodra is designed with extra features that enabled us to register as a food business, with a 5 star hygiene rating. Selling home made cakes, coffee and tea on the back deck worked really well. My partner Moira also sold her gourmet jams. She usually delivers locally by bicycle under the banner of the Jam Pedlar.

barge fiodra - cinema barge

Our latest project, the Floating Camera Obscura, was inspired by another partner, Ben Nathan from Pinhole London. Photography is another string to my bow, having a diploma in photography and having worked, as a photographer, in London for several years.

Ben and I have now run several pinhole photography workshops onboard with young people. We convert the saloon into a darkroom where photographs can be developed. We also teach the history of photography and have installed three camera obscura onboard. Everyone is
amazed to see this fascinating technology on a boat!

Besides our own projects we have grown the hire side of the business. It took a knock during Covid but we now have to turn people away. Our partnership with Tag Venue has been very productive especially when they made us a SuperVenue because of our positive reviews.

It’s impossible to list all the events on the boat but they have included: Argentinian wine tasting, the launch of a music CD, meditation workshops, environmental talks, poetry evenings, pinhole photography, yoga, and of course lots of family parties.

barge fiodra - café barge

barge fiodra

What's next?

Well I'm the sort of person who loves a new idea and enjoys making it happen. I just don't have the stickability to carry on forever. So now I feel ready to let go of this project and look for a new challenge. Travelling all the canals, we have not been able to see, in a narrowboat, is one distinct possibility.

What would be lovely is to find someone who wants to build on what we have achieved or to take things in another direction altogether. It’s a fantastic opportunity for someone. Just by doing a few hires a year it is possible to cover the main costs of boating and live afloat for free.

If anyone wants to find out more about Fiodra they should go to

I’m really happy to discuss plans and ideas with any potential buyer.

Bob Chase 6/3/24

Bob Chase - Barge Fiodra

I've been around boats since a boy. My (late) father was a marine pilot, in the Wash, and from a local fishing family. My brother Bill was skipper of a tugboat. We built boats for ourselves large and small over the years and my family owned a few canal boats. I've lived on two narrow boats on the southern English canals. Fiodra is the newest and biggest vessel.

After careers in photography, arts management and technology, I am now a freelance mindfulness teacher and web-consultant. Oh! and I run Fiodra.

You can find out what is happening, where and when by visiting Fiodra's Website

cooking on the cut – spring 24

cooking on the cut

with Lisa Munday

spring 2024

spring blossomSpring for boaters is an optimistic season and a time when we emerge from our winter hibernation, looking forward to longer days and enjoyable cruising. Many of us will be planning our Summer travels and hoping for some drier weather at least, sunshine a bonus! Picture those days when the sunlight streams through the boat and the condensation disappears.

Once those double figure temperatures return we will soon be cooking outside again and our Cobb barbecue will be back to full use, not just for barbecuing but so much more! For now I am enjoying some wild garlic pickings and soon the hawthorn buds, dandelions, nettles and elderflowers will be abundant.

We are all much more conscious about cutting down on food waste, using every part of fresh produce where possible and packaging must always be minimal. I used to buy food bags for storing dry foods, baking and chilled items, now I recycle bakery produce bags and if anything should happen to be in a plastic carton I will use it to keep leftovers in the fridge, or seed trays for my Spring plantings.

Try to wash and scrub root vegetables instead of peeling, there are many nutrients in the outer skin, use the outer leaves of greens for soups, the inner part of the stalk end of a broccoli stem is tender and tasty too. If I do peel the veggies, the skins make lovely oven crisps, tossed in a little oil and seasoning and baked on tray in a hot oven.

freshly sprouting wild garlicIf bread looks a bit past it for a sandwich, make into breadcrumbs for stuffing, burgers and patties, they make a great topping for macaroni or cauliflower cheese. Fry slices in a little olive oil and seasoning and cut into croutons for a soup or casserole topping or toss in a salad, or make a simple bread and butter pudding.

With Easter coming soon I have a few favourite recipes to share, ideas using the whole chicken, a lovely lamb recipe, some gluten free polenta recipes and of course an Easter sweet treat. I’m a fan of chicken thigh meat in place of breast fillet but sometimes there is a larger fat/sinew content, thus more waste and less value for money, although Rosie our dog enjoys any chicken discard treats. If you buy skin on chicken thighs, the skins can be used to make chicken cracking based on the pork scratching.

Remove the skins from the thighs and pat dry with kitchen paper. Sprinkle them with sea salt and leave in the fridge overnight, this will help dry the skins and give a crispier crackling when cooking. Place on a tray lined with baking paper and season with black pepper. Place another sheet of baking paper on top and weigh down with another baking tray or tin to stop them curling during cooking. Bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes, remove the paper, turn them over, cover again and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove the paper and check on the skins, continue to bake until crispy and golden, about 30 minutes in total.

These are delicious with a chilli dipping sauce or tangy lemon mayonnaise, simply add a squeeze of fresh lemon and some fresh ground black pepper to the mayonnaise.

A whole chicken is a much more economical buy. As there isn’t much meat on the wings, cut them off beforehand and use them to make a broth by boiling in a lidded saucepan with a little water, this then becomes a flavourful stock or a base for soups by adding onion, garlic, celery, carrots, seasoning and herbs, then add pulses or grains such as pearl barley and some leafy greens.

Tarragon is a herb which compliments chicken perfectly and is readily available in the fresh herb section at larger supermarkets.

Pat the skin dry with kitchen paper and smear a little butter over the thighs and breast to protect from drying. Stuff the cavity with ½ onion. ½ lemon, 3 garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, a small bunch of tarragon, sprig of thyme and a little butter. Roast for about 1 hour 20 mins, depending on size, if the leg is wobbly when pulled from the body and juices are clear, it is cooked. Allow to rest before serving. Don’t throw the juices away!

This is a recipe using those chicken cooking juices, once settled, skim off the top fatty layer. Par boil new season scrubbed potatoes for about ten minutes until just tender. Strain and then very slightly break up with a potato masher. Heat the fat from the roast chicken in the base of a baking tray in a hot oven, then toss the potatoes in the fat and return to the oven, roast for about 20 minutes until crisped up and finish with fresh ground black pepper and finely chopped spring onions to serve.

Perfect with roast chicken. This would serve 4, quantities can be easily halved.

1 small pack each of tarragon and flat leaf parsley
30g wild garlic (or 2 garlic cloves)
1 tsp sea salt
3 tsp Dijon mustard
40g capers (from a jar) drained, rinsed and chopped
200 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp cider vinegar or lemon juice.

Chop everything finely and gradually add the salt, oil, mustard and vinegar. Leftover chicken is perfect tossed in salsa verde, chopped salad ingredients and bulghur wheat or quinoa. Quinoa is nutritious and a good gluten free substitute for couscous or grains.

My rolled leg of lamb roast recipe does have quite a long list of ingredients, dried herbs instead of fresh and less fruit (such as the dates) and nuts can be used if ingredients are in sparce supply. It’s worth the time and effort of this dish for a special Easter Sunday roast. The stuffing ingredients are ample and make a perfect combination to use in stuffed aubergine and pepper for non-meat eaters, top with extra chopped onion and feta.

Leg of lamb, deboned and butterflied
Coarse sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp dried thyme
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
4 tbsp oil
4 tbsp butter
Handful finely chopped dates, about 10
Handful chopped wild garlic or baby spinach
4 tsp chopped spring onions
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1 cup chopped nuts, mixture of unsalted cashew nuts and walnuts works
well ½ block of feta
Handful, about 15 dried apricots, chopped
2 tsp finely chopped chillies
10 pitted black olives chopped

Score a diamond pattern on the fatty side of the lamb, then rub in the salt, pepper, dried thyme, half the garlic, lemon zest and oil. Turn the leg over and using a sharp knife make 10 slits of 1cm deep and stuff the date pieces into each slit. Melt 2tbsp of the butter in a frying pan and saute the wild garlic, spring onions, half the rosemary and fresh thyme, reduce the heat and stir in the nuts, feta, apricots, chillies and olives. Leave to cool then spread the filling over the meat, leaving a small border. Then toll it up and tie with string, just tight enough to keep together.
Wrap in clingfilm and rest in fridge for about 3 hours.
Remove from fridge and bring to room temperature for a few hours before cooking. Heat the remaining butter in a pan to brown the meat on all sides , adding the remaining rosemary, thyme and garlic while you do so. Place in an ovenproof dish, cover and roast in a hot oven for approximately 1 ½ hours, roast uncovered for the last 20 minutes.
Lift out of the oven, cover and leave the meat to rest before slicing.

rolled leg of lamb roast

rolled leg of lamb with vegetables

rolled leg of lamb

Polenta is a great store cupboard staple to keep in and is a useful substitute when short of fresh eggs, potatoes, butter etc. It’s made from cornmeal and is gluten free.

½ red onion
1 small pepper or two halves of different colours
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp vegetable oil
½ fresh finely chopped fresh chilli or ¼ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp each of salt, pepper, paprika
1 tsp dried or fresh mixed herbs
1 small tin sweetcorn
Handful spinach or wild garlic (optional)
155g (or 1 cup) polenta
750ml liquid comprising of 2 parts veg stock and 1 part non-dairy milk

Line a deep pie dish with baking paper.
Finely chop and fry the onion, peppers and garlic until turning golden.
Add the chilli, paprika, seasoning and herbs, followed by the spinach or wild garlic if using.
Finally add the tin of sweetcorn and set aside.

In a separate pan bring the vegetable stock to the boil, turn down to simmer and add the milk, then sprinkle the polenta into the liquid and whisk, keep stirring on a simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes until thickens.
Add the fried ingredients, stir well and pour into the lined dish.
Allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least an hour to fully set. Bring back to room temperature and bake in a hot oven for 30 minutes, until firm and golden on top.
When cooked, allow to rest before slicing into wedges.
Can be enjoyed hot or cold.

This is a delicious light and moist wheat free cake made with polenta instead of flour, which helps prevent the berries from sinking during cooking. The raspberries can be substituted for blueberries.
100g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
100g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
100g ground almonds
90g polenta
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp baking powder
100ml natural yoghurt
100g raspberries or blueberries
Preheat the oven to 160 fan, grease a 2lb loaf tin and line with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and pale, gradually beat in the eggs adding 1 tbsp ground almonds with each egg.
Stir through the polenta, lemon zest and juice, baking powder and remaining ground almonds, then stir in the yoghurt and half the raspberries.
Pour into the loaf tin and scatter the remaining raspberries over the top, pressing slightly down into the mixture.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool and slice to serve.

polenta frittata

lemon and rasberry polenta cake

sliced lemon and raspberry polenta cake

200g digestive biscuits
100g rich tea biscuits
150g milk chocolate
150g dark chocolate
150g golden syrup
100g unsalted butter
175g dried soft fruit to your preference such as raisins, apricots, cranberries, glace cherries, I used Whitworths luxury fruit mix (for an extra bit of luxury soak in brandy first) 60g finely chopped nuts such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts...

Grease a shallow sided tin (I use 20cm square) and then line with cling film to hang over the sides for ease of lifting cake out later.
Melt the butter, chocolate and golden syrup gently in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stir occasionally to mix together.
Crush the biscuits in a bag with a rolling pin, a mix of crumb and small pieces is ideal. Add to the rest of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and combine well with the melted chocolate.
Spoon into the tin, pressing firmly into the sides and corners. You could use a potato masher to help press firmly down.
Leave to set in the fridge for 2 hours. Remove from the tin by lifting out with the overhanging clingfilm and cut into squares.

easter treat chocolate fridge cake

chocolate fridge cake

community among chaos in london

musings on community among chaos in london

Like most twenty-somethings, I spent the first portion of my adulthood searching for my place in the world, a nook where I would feel safe but challenged, where I would find balance. I found this increasingly difficult, for the first part because I wasn’t yet even sure who I was, and for the second part because I am a millennial in London. It is no great secret that London is becoming harder to live in, both socially and financially. I first moved to London in 2018 to do my degree, and was instantly sold the dream of endless opportunity, and felt like it was undoubtedly the place I needed to be. It turns out, as a freelance creative, London is the place I have to be to get any work in.

I grew up in a small seaside town in South Devon, where people know each other and you see the same faces out and about and there is a sense of belonging even when I just go back to visit. I believe that we need familiar faces around us because we see ourselves reflected back in other people, this is important to have a sense of who you are and how you fit in. I was always a bit of an oddball growing up, I wore stripy tights and pink patent Doc Martens, and I saw my difference reflected back to me in how people interacted with me. I didn’t really have a strong sense of self at that time, but this experience was important because it compelled me to follow my difference until I found a niche. So I did, I coasted around house shares and communal living situations, trying things on to see what fit. I think the whole time I have been in search of the small town community minded experience, but in one of the biggest cities in Europe.

I believe that London used to function as a mass of smaller communities, but in more recent years people have become atomised and alienated, particularly younger generations. I think the rise of smart phones and internet culture, working more hours for less money, and constant new builds and rising rent has left the city feeling oppressive and impersonal. This is my personal experience, and I know that a lot of people feel the same. It is sad to see how profit hungry industry has ravaged the country I grew up in, and this feeling of hopelessness and fatigue is hard to breach when climate change is more tangible and threatening, and the cost of living is ever increasing, while big conglomerates rake in more profit than ever. I think these feelings are the antithesis of belonging and community, and feed into alienation. These ideas set the backdrop against which I started thinking about buying a boat with my partner.

boating family

inside a narrowboat

Ours seems to be a common story among young people moving onto boats in London, certainly the group of friends we have gained through this lifestyle all seem to have similar values and experiences. One common theme is definitely the rising cost of living and ever increasing rent, although this is a contentious topic among boaters, so perhaps for another article another time. Another is the idea of self sufficiency, this is at the core of my own values, and at a time where we are so reliant on being plugged into the grid, moving not only off grid, but constantly travelling, seems like an escape from what feels bleak and hopeless. Closeness to nature is also something that comes up time after time, among blocks of flats and high rise buildings, little pockets of greenery and nature can feel grounding.

My demographic is one that is practical, motivated and attempting to escape the system in one way or another, but perhaps most importantly, we are community minded and take initiative to form meaningful connections with others. As I mentioned previously, I spent a long time feeling very alienated. The opposite of this for me is a sense of connectedness with a community, which is something I really struggled to find in London, until we got the boat. Something changed pretty much immediately, our neighbours talked to us, we started to see the same faces up and down the canal, people are so willing to help each other out in times of need. We have people round for coffee, we go for walks, share tools and exchange food, clothes, plants. This willingness to give to others is something I have not come across before, it is refreshing and makes me feel valued and able to contribute. We have our own space, and we are independent in that way, but share a unity. I think this balance between independence, our own space and integration with the community has been key to finding stability.

Lizzie Jones

boat moored

cruising narrowboat

Of course we haven’t got on with everyone we have met, we have come across our fair share of a****holes, and maybe some people thought we were the a****holes, and it is important to acknowledge that. This community is in no way perfect, we are all human, and where there are humans, there is chaos and mess, that is just life. For me community doesn’t just mean friends, it means building solidarity across difference. Friendships provide a sounding board for our beliefs and values, which is one of many reasons they are important, but without a wider community we can become trapped in an echo chamber of people who think just like us. I find it important to be connected to people beyond our friendships because this is how our beliefs and values are challenged or consolidated, and we search for common ground. As boaters we have common ground and experiences to build upon, but also are a massively diverse group of people from all sorts of backgrounds, which can be frustrating and mind opening in equal measures. Building solidarity across difference is the only way that we will get ourselves out of this mess we are in globally. Joining the NBTA has definitely confirmed this belief, it is challenging and rewarding to organise such a geographically and socially diverse group of people to campaign together towards a common goal, but it is the only way to make any real changes.

Humans are social animals, we are designed to live in villages or communities, and therefore the world we live in can feel overwhelming and authoritarian, and lacking in the human connection we are hardwired to need. Choosing to live this lifestyle has offered me ownership of my life, a connection to nature, but what I have found most nourishing has been the interconnectedness I feel for the first time. I have found this to be an antidote to the detachment I felt unable to shake for years.

novel news

tales from the old cut

novel news

An occupational hazard of spending too much time rummaging through old newspapers is that you become somewhat de-sensitised to the macabre as, such is the nature of journalism, it’s the grim and the grisly that sells the most papers.

This time of year is miserable enough without me talking about death and destruction, so instead I’ve pulled a selection of the more amusing incidents that have occurred over the years on the water.

‘Amusing’ is of course a subjective word, and I don’t think the Wolverhampton policemen in 1906 were laughing when they were sent to arrest a chicken thief, tricked into climbing into a boat's cabin and locked in by their helpful informants.

We can presume that the boat, being unlocked, must have been a day boat, and we can also presume that she had a small stove on board that was probably lit, because the “jokers,” as the newspaper described them, poured a bucket of water down the chimney before pushing her out into the middle of the canal for good measure.

How long the policemen were stuck in the little cabin for we don’t know, but it was long enough for the merry pranksters to go to the pub and imbibe enough alcohol to think it was a good idea to tell everyone what they’d done, and eventually someone had the presence of mind to go and tell a different copper, who rescued his colleagues.

You’ll perhaps be unsurprised to hear that the police quite regularly participated in ‘amusing incidents’ that tickled the fancy of the newspapers and while it’s true that the boaters as a whole didn’t trust or respect their authority, neither did much of the rest of the population either. In 1878, the Manchester Evening News reported with ill-disguised glee of a policeman getting “belaboured…with great vigour” by a boatwoman and her children.

Emma Carter was steering a boat being pulled by a horse with collar sores on its shoulders, and she threw stones at it to try and make it go on. A policeman stopped her and took the horse away under the relatively new Cruelty to Animals Act and tried to make her come with him to the police station. She refused, arguing the boat needed to get ahead and took up the tow herself. The policeman came back with reinforcements so she jumped on and pushed the boat into the canal, forcing the policemen to grab what appears to have been a small coracle type of boat so they could get to her.

The newspaper delightedly added the that the little boat was half full of water so the policeman took off his shoes and socks before getting in.

The brave officers made it to the boat, where Emma picked up the cabin shaft and tried to fend them off while getting increasingly belligerent. The men managed to board the boat, at which point she and all the children “seized thick sticks” and started whacking them. The boat had drifted close enough to the bank during this so when Emma had her stick taken from her and she desperately grabbed the bread knife instead, someone managed to take it from her before things turned ugly. It perhaps says a lot about the hidden details of this incident however that Emma was only fined rather than being properly arrested.

naked boys bathe in canal

Violence wasn’t the only think that caused LOLZ; thinly camouflaged under a veneer of indignance, nudity was a hot topic. The Bridgewater canal served as both a transport route and the worlds biggest bathtub, and residents of Stockton Heath were subjected to the sight of men and boys in the canal “without proper bathing costumes” so often that they made a protest in 1913, demanding that the canal company enforce the ‘no bathing’ signs. The newspaper feigned horror as it described how the bathers didn’t bother with swimming costumes or even with towels, instead dying off by “racing up and down the canal bank naked”. History doesn’t relate how the bathers and the boats interacted, although given the nude condition of the bathers one would presume ‘carefully’, lest an irate boatwoman decided to take aim with a mopstick.

Nudity and sporting daring-do came together in one gem of a tale in 1909 when a telegram for Manchester United Football Grounds came through with only 15 minutes for the messenger to deliver it. Faced with an impossible task, he told his tale of woe to a fellow messenger who volunteered to strip off and swim the message across the canal with the telegram tied to his head like a hat, which he duly did. For some reason, quite probably to do with heroics, the original messenger also decided to strip off and go with the telegram across the water, and the bemused site manager was met with two nude boys dripping water in the foyer, proudly delivering the telegram with one minute to spare.

Laplander being rescued from canal

Laplander horse being rescued from canal

Staying in the sporting realms, the newspapers chuckled away to themselves in 1935 when two rider-less racehorses failed to make canal turn at Aintree and ended up going straight into the canal. Aureate Earth and Top Toi refused to come into the towpath and swam on for nearly half a mile before finally being brought to a stop at the next swing bridge. This wasn’t the first time a horse had made an error at canal turn, with Command trying to jump the canal 1919 and Holoscope doing the same in 1905. Laplander did things a little differently in 1902 however, making canal turn well enough before going off the course, up the slope and jumping straight into the canal, apparently to his own surprise as he swam to the towpath and awaited rescue.

It wasn’t just horses in the canal that the newspapers picked up on; in 1936 the local papers reported incredulously that a dog had been witnessed committing suicide in the Manchester Ship Canal at the aptly named No Mans Land, which led to a couple of papers publishing editorials on the concept.

Aureate Earth

newspaper report of dog committing suicide

Ship canals seemed to produce excellent material for incredulity; 1892 the local paper reported on the inquest of a man who’d died after being tipped out of his pony cart, after the pony had been spooked by a group of men in the nearby meadow yelling and trying to recapture an escaped pig that had been obtained by said men with the concept of making the animal swim for a mile in the Chichester Ship Canal. No one appeared to know exactly why anyone thought this was a great idea, and history doesn’t relate as to whether the pig was ever made to complete its swim.

a cast iron thingy before lunch

a cast iron thingy before lunch

from 'a pause for thought' by Michael Nye

“You look like you’ve just sat in a pool of duck poo,” Jim broke the silence as the pair sat in the cockpit of what must have been the smallest working boat on the canal system.
“I can’t quite get round what I’m thinking Jim, but well, it’s almost like we’re sort of part of the boat, like she owns us almost. You rescue her, and somehow she drags me aboard, like she has a bit of a hold on us. Does that make any sense?” Amanda said.
“No, but nothing much does. It was there, and I guess I felt a bit like she needed help. I mean, it would be firewood by now if...”
“Oh! Jim! Don’t say that,” Amanda had tears forming as she spoke.
“Sorry, but that may have been the case only it wasn’t,” Jim replied quickly. “So we’re here. That’s where we are so far.”

Again, Amanda’s reply was checked by her thoughts. How could she suddenly have felt such a strong emotion for something that was no more than an assemblage of plywood and copper rivets.

Eventually she answered. “It is, and thanks,” she smiled warmly. “I guess we need to think of practical things too though. I mean we’ll need some shopping, and there’s another package to drop off at the maintenance yard.”
“Yes, that one was a bit strange,” Jim half frowned. “I was told that the guys there are cool about what we’re doing. You know like old Lou was when we first came on the canals.”
“Yes,” Amanda smiled at the memory of the man they’d met within hours of turning off the river only a few weeks previously. “Lou may work for the board but he’s no way a part of it.”

canal lock

canal lock

The waterways festival they’d just attended, although part of the project, had been a welcome break, but they were on the canal system to travel and to prove it was possible to run a working boat. Despite her diminutive size, Mayfly, at just fifteen foot six inches long, was that boat. The gesture, however futile it seemed, had to be made and the goods they carried had to be delivered on time. The package, containing a casting of some kind, was pretty heavy. Unlike their original consignment of watches there was no good place to secrete it, so it sat just behind the centre thwart in an ideal place for both Jim and Amanda to repeatedly stub their toes on the thing. They’d teamed up for part of the run north with the theatre company who had also been at the festival. Because of the shared journey, their progress was much quicker and they’d arrived at the the maintenance yard with more than half a day to spare, which was convenient as they needed supplies.

“I was told you two were a pretty slick operation,” Harry, from the yard said as they came alongside the wharf. “Like the old fly boats.”
“Shorter, and no horse, but thanks,” Amanda smiled.
“Same thing though,” Harry continued, handing the lines to her as she disembarked. “Anyone with a brain can see you two ain’t playing at it. You said you’d be here and here you are. And the way you’re tying up shows you know what you’re doing.”
“Something I learned as a Girl Guide,” Amanda smiled. “We’ve got a cast iron thingy for you,” she added, feeling a little embarrassed at not knowing quite what the item was.
“Just when we wanted it too,” Harry smiled through generous stubble. “I’ll get a couple of the lads to lift it for you.”
“We’re fine,” Amanda insisted, feeling that even if she didn’t know its purpose, she, despite her size, was capable of helping to manhandle the thing onto the wharf edge.
Jim looked across at her and, seeing the determination in her expression, decided not to say anything. In a little over five minutes they had got the casting onto a trolley for it to be wheeled off for whatever purpose it was to serve.
“It’s about lunchtime,” Harry said. “We were going over to the pub for a bite and a pint. If you’d like to join us.”

canal bridge

rural canal

With the agreement made, it was less than ten minutes before Jim and Amanda set off along the road with their new friends.
“Always seems a bit off going to a pub that served the opposition,” Harry said, pointing to the nearby railway station. “But it’s a good place all the same.”

Shortly after arriving, Jim and Amanda were each presented with a Ploughman’s lunch and a pint of bitter.
“Are you sure that’s OK?” Amanda said, feeling that Harry and his friends probably knew hers and Jim’s age via the gossip network of the canal system.
“Boaters drink beer,” Keith, Harry’s workmate, said firmly. “And you don’t mess with tradition. They didn’t crown the Queen with a bobble hat now did they.”

canal lock winding gear

bridge over canal

There probably was some logic to the argument but Amanda was too hungry and thirsty for analysis. More than that, she was happy to just be accepted as part of what was going on. She’d arrived with her crew mate on a working boat so she was a boater in Keith and Harry’s eyes.
“I may be a posh kid with a plummy accent,” she thought. “But, well, what.” she couldn’t help smiling.

“Would it be OK for us to look round the yard?” she asked politely as she ate.
“What’s left of it,” Keith replied “They’ll close it down soon enough, best see it whilst its here. It’s odd for a lass to want to see a mess like that though,” he added, wondering if Amanda was simply trying to be polite.
“You’re probably right,” Amanda smiled, thinking of the starchy school uniform she’d been wearing only days before she’d decided to walk away and embark on the odyssey she was now on. “But I can lift lumps of cast iron,” she added with a smile.

(©2024 Michael Nye



a call for traders, troubadours and trouble makers

Your Canal Boat, a Community Interest Company whose mission is to activate underutilised canal side spaces, is organising a floating market with up to 8 boats to trade pop-up style, continuously, for two months across West London this Spring.

Brigadoon LogoWith CRT appproval of our final schedule pending, we anticipate space for five more traders beginning with our first market at Uxbridge 1 May.

Boats currently subscribed include 'Molly Anna', our main entertainment and broadcast centre, 'Shorewaters', serving delicious traditional Indian dishes and 'Winnimax', a state of the art recording studio offering demo recordings for performing artists.

With additional providers of food and services, we aim to create a festival-like atmosphere that generates new interest in overlooked locations, culminating in stakeholder engagement sessions that encourage residents to effectively “own” and manage them going forward.

If that sounds like your kind of “trouble”, organisers invite you to get on board.

The flotilla will rendezvous for the first week of May in Uxbridge before travelling to the Hanwell Hootie - UK´s biggest free music festival, where Molly Anna serves as the official ¨busking boat¨. The ‘’village’ then spends three weeks at two Brentford locations, before travelling back up the Hanwell Flight to the Hayes Festival where they will end two months of trading at Alperton.

What happens thereafter depends on public response and the collective decision of participants.

Jeet Bahal is one of the flotilla´s pioneers, a 70-year old marine engineer who has circumnavigated the globe 7 times, he passionately believes that a canal boat village is as appropriate for London as those he marvelled at in Thailand and Cambodia. Jeet brings his boat Shorewaters, his curry recipes, and deep connections with West London’s Sikh community to help achieve it as a reality.

But what should we call this experiment in perpetual canal boat festivity? A canal boat village that pops up, casts a magical spell and disappears again?
Jeet opined for the name “Brigadoon,” a nod to the Broadway play about a mythical Scottish Highland Village that materializes every 100 years. What better analogy for a floating ‘village’ that relocates, popping up from week to week along the canal?
Brigadoon suggests marvel, mystery and a fleeting presence. In Hollywood’s 1954 version, Gene Kelly is an American who stumbles into Brigadoon and falls in love.
- Does he stay with the woman he loves or should he return to his lived reality of a ‘real world’ in New York?

And will this canal boat village be similarly enchanting? Will people follow along to wherever it moves in accordance with continuous cruising requirements?

Woody Travis Walker believes they will. Woody, a classically trained actor, has sailed on tall ships and run music sessions on the Golden Hinde. He looks forward to hosting a podcast that promotes the project with music, theatre & interviews, or as he describes it, “the poetry of the waterways”.

With the help of the Punjabi Theatre Academy that poetry will likely include a South Asian accent. Recognised as the first thespians to bring the story of the Southall riots to the stage, the Punjabi Theatre Academy will utilise Brigadoon as a platform to solicit immigrant memories of the renovation of Heathrow Airport, from a wartime facility into London´s principal terminal.

Families are encouraged to bring their elders to be interviewed and photographed at public engagement sessions in Uxbridge, Hayes, Hanwell, Brentford, Southall and Alperton. Collected content will be transformed into a Bollywood style production for the following Year 2 village flotilla.

Sir Tony Robinson, England´s most beloved popular historian, has contributed a video encouraging people to get involved and bring the program into the heart of London.

To be a hit in the The Big Smoke, the village needs a coffee service and beverages, and services from massage to haircut to tattoo, are invited to consider joining.

Write to learn more..