Monday, 24 August 2009


A lovely day's boating down the river Soar to Loughborough, setting off at 7am with sunshine sparkling on the water and willows waving against a clear blue sky. We passed the busy preparations for the IWA festival at Redhill in the shadow of the power station and then up the Soar - one of the most beautiful stretches of river I have ever seen - nearly as good as the Avon :-) Strange to be back in Loughborough which is where I started with Mikron two and a half years ago. The dent is still there on the bridge where I crashed into it during my first go on the tiller. I remember the first time we winded round in the entrance to the Grand Union and realised that Tyseley was not quite as manoeuvrable as more modern smaller boats. Now the BW Basin is fully operational with excellent shower, toilets, water, nice pontoon moorings and a good winding hole. Hoping that we can stay here for the rest of this week while we travel out by van to our various performances. The al fresco drinkers are still shouting over their cans of special brew and the little apple tree by the Nottingham Road Bridge is still there, this time covered in brightly coloured crab apples whereas when I first saw it, it was in full blossom. The beer in the 'Swan in the Rushes' is still great and the kebabs in 'Saleh' as good as ever.
Thanks to Liz and Colin Wicks for moving the van down from Shardlow for us and to Sophie at the Rose in Hose for stepping in at the last minute when the Black Horse closed down. Let's hope that the the Rose will become as successful a Mikron venue in future years as the Black Horse has been in the past.

Thursday, 20 August 2009


As hoped the three shows on the Shropshire Union were very enjoyable and successful. Luckily we winded before mooring at High Offley as there was a breach shortly afterwards at Shebden which closed the canal. Despite heavy clouds all day and probably because we had collected the marquee from the Witts at Gnosall, the sky cleared and we had a lovely evening show with the usual huge appreciative crowd and a good sing song in the bar afterwards.
With a very threatening sky at Gnosall we set up the marquee, our gazebo and another gazebo - covering the Witts tiny garden in canvas - in expectation of a downpour which never materialised and again we had a great evening. Thanks to Mary and Barry and the boys for looking after us, doing our washing and feeding us.
We had another lovely clear but cold evening at the Junction Inn in Norbury and our third well attended show.
Then Gandalf (Mr Tuplin) arrived to take Tyseley up to Shardlow while we went off by van to the independent republic of Doxey where we once more enjoyed the marvellous Doxey hospitality. Thanks Jane and Jill and all the Doxey tribe. Then to Market Harborough to the lovely little theatre right in the town centre and finally to the rural paradise of Appelby Magna where we once again performed in the beautiful old school hall, enjoying the great hospitality and good company of Mr Gerald Box, patron saint of red wine, cheese and crackers.
Thanks to everyone for making our journey and visits so much fun. Finally we return to find Tyseley safe and sound and clean as a new pin, tucked up under a huge willow tree right outside the Clock Warehouse in Shardlow. So thanks once again to Ian and Ruth for all their help.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Sadly we are now on the last page of the summer tour schedule. The Coal House wasn’t flooded this year but the rain did it’s best to raise the level of the Severn and so we had a cramped but enjoyable show in the bar. Then two of the village halls that have remained with us over the years and now have a sizeable following. At Bishampton we went outdoors for the first time in a while and at Randwick we were in the packed village hall. We had many nice comments and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Including us. After that the Haw Bridge, which was cancelled two years ago because it was under water and a van job last year because of the high water levels. This year it was a perfect evening and we performed in the garden to a packed and appreciative house.
With so many easy shows you can sometimes get complacent but Grimley was a wake up call to what pub theatre can be all about. The Camp House at Grimley is an independent republic where scrumpy is god and misrules his subjects with an iron will. It started with a group of teenage lads jumping off our boat into the water having medicated themselves heavily with the amber liquid and some other less legal additives. When I suggested to one that although you could swim in the river, it might be better to do it sober, he replied - “Nah..I’m stronger when I’m drunk”. I thought I was in the opening scene of Casualty for a moment.
I went for a walk up the river but got a text from Rachel – “Gang of lads climbing on boat, would you mind coming back”. In all fairness they obliged politely when asked to keep on the jetty.
The sun was baking and the scrumpy was flowing as we set up in the garden for the show. Politely moving picnic benches crammed with drinkers who had little thought of watching a play about the co-operative movement. By the time we started at 8 o’clock, there was a hen party and two large groups of young people enjoying a noisy evening out sharing the garden with us, a crowd of Mikron supporters, numerous extremely sociable turkeys and the ever raucous peacocks. We battled through the show, shouting above the din and finally reached the end of the play to much applause from our supporters, a crowd of abandoned children and the few who had been won over to our cause from the various parties of hedonists who whooped, screamed, argued and laughed around us.
Best ad lib of the tour in my opinion was from George as he was chased across the ‘stage’ by the largest turkey I have ever seen shouting - “Where’s Bernard Matthews when you need him!”. We were kindly helped to reload all our gear by a gentleman with incredibly hairy arms and who insisted in tottering dangerously with our boxes across the unlit jetty elbowing his way through the equally well oiled night fishermen who were by now making a party of it in front of our boat. He then kindly brought us all a drink and firmly lectured George on the perils of drinking bitter. Supporting himself by leaning with both hands on the end of the picnic table where we were sitting he solemnly declared – “A real man will drink beer....(long pause)...but he prefers to drink cider!” It was a discussion that was never concluded.
By contrast our journey up the river Severn the next day was wonderfully beautiful and serene, the sun shone, the kingfishers sped through the shadows with a glint of bright turquoise and the dense woods fringing the river could have been unchanged since time began. I would not have been surprised to see a herd of brontosaurus grazing in the shallows or a Viking long boat appear round the corner.
A couple of long day’s boating on Sunday and Monday and a damp and cold evening at the Fieldhouse Inn at Wightwick. But big thanks to Mike, the landlord for all his help and kindness in ferrying us and our gear up the hill in his pick-up and feeding us with marvellous pig roast.
Now here we are on the Shroppie at last, moored up at Norbury Junction with three potentially great Mikron venues coming up next week – The Anchor, Gnosall and Norbury Junction. I hope the lovely weather we had most of yesterday will return. Above – a picture of the Waterloo sunset from the decks of HMS President and Tyseley moored at the Haw Bridge on the Severn.

Saturday, 1 August 2009


With 50 years of experience as a boat builder Mr Pinder fixes the cooling system with some grease and kitchen paper, even though we have to borrow a ladder to get him into the engine room. Thanks John. And so off to Pershore.

Thursday 30th July
Still in sunny Pershore, the view of Bredon Hill obscured by driving rain all day yesterday has raised the water level at Pershore lock to two feet into the red. The debris is pouring steadily down the river, the weirs are roaring the ducks are paddling hard and little groups of boaters gather on the shore discussing the latest information. People still leave in their boats but we head back to the moorings, the launderette, the market and the public toilets at the back of Asda and wait. Don’t want to wrap Tyseley round Eckington bridge on the way back to Tewkesbury.
A good show last night packed into the bar of the Rock of Gibraltar at Enslow Bridge, a very generous collection and great Greek food provided after the show by our hosts – Faith and Stamatis. Will ring the lockkeeper at Avon lock early afternoon and hope for good news.

No good news so we stay at Pershore another day. Up at six the next morning and paddle down to the lock to check the levels. Still on red but down a long way so back to bed for an hour and then paddle down to the lock again. The level is just a centimetre above the amber so ring the lock at Tewkesbury and the whole river is on amber so decide to go for it. The best day’s boating of my life. Went past the lock and back upstream to avoid crashing the gates and swung round on ropes to get in. Left the lock gates at 10.00am and powered through the swirling current at the two Pershore bridges passing the stranded boaters on the moorings and sped past the plastic boats, keeping the speed up to keep steerage. The river looks so beautiful, sparkling in the sunshine, Bredon Hill looking serenely down and the woods and fields speeding past. A few gentle curves and then Nafford lock. We get on the moorings easily but have to clear the lock of debris before entering backwards. The indicator is on red but this is the narrowest part of the river so after consulting the lock keeper again we carry on. The weir, which I thought would turn us round actually pulls us in and a few hairy moments before it pushes our nose slowly downstream and we are on our way to the swan’s neck. No problem here, just a quick burst of power out of the curve and we are on our way to the next obstacle, Eckington Bridge. Again the power of Tyseley puts us in exactly the right place and keeps control all the way through. We stop for water and sewage and then on to Strensham lock. Going in backward we have to stop a tiny punt with an outboard following us in as we have to straddle the lock. The wind is coming directly upstream so there is nothing to pull us round as we exit. Instead we reverse right across the stream and spin round to catch the current off the weir to bring us round. A straight run into Tewksbury where the river is on green by now, turn on a rope with the help of the lock keeper and back into our mooring on the weir stream.
Jumping straight into the van we motor to Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire for the night’s show and then back to Tyseley to catch a few hours sleep before setting off for London and HMS President on the banks of the Thames, where I am sitting now looking out on the now calm high tide waters and the lights of ‘Sea Containers House’ across the river.