Imagine me sitting quietly in a meeting listening to the gentle burbling of those around me when the antennae picked up warning signals such as ‘Glyn’, ‘van’, ‘shed’ and ‘Sheet Stores’! The good news was that money was now available for doing lots of work on Python, but the not-so-appealing news was that someone now had to go and clear everything out of the boat so that various persons could prepare to take out the engine and, indeed, take everything out. After all, no other course of action is realistic if you are going to cut the bottom off the boat.
My shed must have had something of an interesting life. It started out as a ‘pre-fab’. If you are not very old, you may wonder what such a thing could be. Well, it is short for ‘Pre-fabricated Building’. Pre-fabs date back to the 1940s and 50s, when the country was desperate for housing to replace the bomb-damaged stock and had to provide a decent standard of mass housing in order to allow the massive programmes of slum clearance. They were made ready-assembled, complete with bathroom, indoor w/c and hot water which shows what a good standard they were, because many of us had to wait until the 60s to live in such luxury!
Alas, I don’t have the full pre-fab so the shed isn’t very big. It has all sorts of valuable and useful stores in it, which provide spare parts and usable material from time to time. We had already put a load of stuff in there to form a wobbly pile about head-high, which threatened to fall down if touched. Now we were faced with having to bring a lot more stuff up to put in there; some of it likely to be quite big, maybe six feet long. So there was only one thing to do - dig it all out again for a major re-arrange! My hand wasn’t in good condition so I was very glad that George, Eddie and Jan were there to do the work. (I always feel that I am at my best when acting in an advisory and decorative capacity.)
It’s no bad thing to have a good sort out at intervals. Boring, yes, the sort of thing which brings forth creative excuses, no doubt, but worthwhile in the end, if only for a sense of righteous endeavour. Plus, I was to discover that a Good Angel was present! But not yet; first George, Eddie and Jan dragged everything out while I offered advice and light assistance. It’s amazing how many odd-shaped things can be shoe-horned into cuboidal boxes given the application of intelligence and the exercise of care. Once all the Python stuff was out, it became obvious that continuing the sorting out process on the resident junk would more or less double the storage available. And this is where the Good Angel bit came in! Quite a lot of my stuff was occupying floor space and was of the old bike type of junk, i.e. takes up more space than you think because of all the sticking-out bits. This is when I discovered that Ms Warsop is of the interesting display school of gardening and that she was thrilled to bits to get her hands on - believe it or not - a very rusty bike and a tarmac fork. “Ah!” I thought, “This is my chance to foist some stuff on to her!” So I found her a Belfast sink, a Valor paraffin stove, a 1912 fireplace surround, ye olde trouser press and plenty of smaller stuff. (To be fair, she’ll get a few pennies for a lot of it, which will go into the Python Fund!). The end result of all this is that we now have a space something like ten feet long by three feet wide by seven feet high to take things that come from Python, whenever needed.
After another cup of summat in the kitchen, so that Barbara could be kept informed of developments, we went off, via the tip, to take Jan’s spoils to her house. Thanks to George, Jan & Eddie, we are ready for the next load of stuff to be brought up from the Sheet Stores. Bring it on!!
My day was planned out. I had several hours of admin to catch up on (and some ironing) and even though the warmth of the late summer sunshine was beaming through my window I knew I was likely to be stuck at that desk for most of the day if I were to make progress. Then I became aware of a new message notification flashing in the corner of my screen. “Can I borrow Python?” it said.
Further investigation revealed that while Python was sitting quietly at Paul Barber Boat Builders, awaiting her survey, there was another boat called Danny with engine problems in Nottingham that needed towing in. With Paul’s own boat Whitby out attending events and various other boats that might usually be commissioned for the job all at various stages of repair, there was no boat available to tow Danny in. David Goode, who owns the historic boat Ling, realised the potential in Python for the job and decided to ask if he could borrow her. Well of course Paul has been so good to the Chesterfield Canal Trust by looking after Python for us, that it seemed a great opportunity for Python to return the favour…. but nothing is quite that straightforward! There were some issues that needed ironing out to make sure that Python was properly insured for the trip and the easiest way of doing that was for Python crew to join David on the trip.
It was with very deep reluctance and a heavy heart that I allowed myself to be dragged away from my desk and the myriad of fascinating administrative tasks I had planned, to spend a blissfully warm and sunny day out on the River Trent. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
During the hasty arrangements that morning, I had called Eddie to see if he was free to help. Like the true dependable crew member that Eddie is, he also fearlessly discarded his arrangements for the day without a second thought to the consequences and David, Eddie and I all arrived at Sheet Stores Basin within a few minutes of each other. Within moments the Lister fired into life, the ropes were untied and we were on our way.
We were soon at Trent Lock, where we worked Python through and into the deeper water of the Trent. Python always enjoys having some depth of water under her. It was a good job Python was having fun because David, Eddie and I were having to grit our teeth and get on with the job in hand. This day was not about having fun, we were there to do our duty. The sun shone and we fairly quickly discarded any of the layers of clothing we had put on thinking there would be a cool breeze out on the river. The beautiful late summer landscape gently passed us by as Python chugged along. We observed the cows coming down from the fields to drink, a huge flock of Brent geese, many of which took flight as Python chugged past. A kestrel flew low across the field and a heron stood tall as he watched out for his lunch swimming past. The first signs of autumnal colours in the trees were highlighted by the late summer sunshine.
Before we knew it, we had arrived at the marina where the stricken Danny was waiting. Her owners were pleased to see us. Python was very soon in place and the rope secured to take Danny with us. Then we were off again. This time Python had to work a little harder as she was running against the flow of the river and was towing Danny. She didn’t miss a beat. That old Lister engine was easily capable of the job with power left to spare. As we travelled along the river we all pondered on Python’s role in this rescue mission. Clearly Eddie, David and I were easily able to align ourselves with International Rescue’s best agents. We had all selflessly left our homes, our families and our daily commitments behind to head off into the breach and do our duty for King & Country a favour for Paul Barber. We tried to work out which of International Rescue’s fleet Python was most like. After her most recent episode of trying to sink, her bilge is mercifully dry and so we could not compare her to Thunderbird 4 (the submarine). Thunderbirds 3 & 5 are for space travel and we could hardly describe the Trent as outer space! Thunderbird 1 is a rocket plane. Python is not generally considered to be as fast as a rocket. That leaves Thunderbird 2, a heavy duty transporter. That sounds a little more fitting. So Python is not green and cannot fly either but in the wonderful world of fiction those small facts do not matter. It could seem like that day was fictional but it was not. It was just a totally splendid day for messing about on the river. Of course we were not actually messing about at all. We were all totally professional but it was fun. I hope David enjoyed it as much as Eddie and I did. We think he did. We think he has a soft spot for Python. We hope he will join our little team. He has a wealth of experience that Python could benefit from, and if any other reason for him to become a Pythoneer was required - he plays a brilliant Virgil Tracy!
As the sun went down and we watched a hot air balloon drift across the horizon, Python arrived back at Sheet Stores Basin with Danny in tow. Python was once again secured to her temporary mooring; her unexpected adventure over. Her crew had big smiles on their faces to match the glow that a day out on the river in late summer sunshine had caused. We could catch up on those chores tomorrow. Today we proved how quickly crew can be mobilised when necessary.
Pythoneers are GO!
10th to 12th September Grendon Dock to Sheet Stores Basin
As you may know, Python has been poorly and in need of some TLC. This meant that our proposed trip of taking Python to West Stockwith had changed. Instead, we were to take her to Paul Barber’s yard on the Erewash Canal.
A few days before Dave Kiddy and I were due to set off, the air suspension on his car gave up the ghost. This put a spanner in our plans. Fortunately my better half, Laura, agreed to drop us off, as well as pick us up as planned.
On Tuesday, as soon as we had closed Laura’s Coffee Shop, we dashed off from Shireoaks to pick up Dave and drive down to Grendon Dock near Tamworth. It became apparent that Dave’s home isn’t as easy to find as he had made out. Luckily, once we had picked Dave up, we had a steady drive down and arrived with only one minor “Which way should we be going?” moment.
We arrived in good time, so we loaded up and had a nosy round Python. We quickly realised that some ballast seemed to have been removed as she was sitting higher in the water than usual (although it didn’t seem like it later on). When we stuck our heads in the engine bay, we saw there was stuff all over the place so we had a little tidy up.
There was no sign of the gentleman from whom we were supposed to collect some keys for Jan, so Dave suggested that we set off and get a couple of hours in before it was dark. The only question was “Do we know where we are going?” The answer was “We’re not sure!” Was Python pointing in the correct direction? We asked the chaps making use of the dry dock. Unfortunately they weren’t sure; however one gentleman pointed out that Python shouldn’t have the yellow squiggles on her bow. Neither Dave nor I knew why we had them. Dave was confident that they wouldn’t take Python out of dry dock and point her the wrong way (would they?). We set off noting the first bridge number (49) knowing that they should be rising in number.
After about 20 minutes or so we came to the next bridge, hoping it would be Bridge 50. Argh! Lo and behold it was Bridge 48. Frantic checking of the directions followed, luckily we had just passed a winding hole, so we put her in reverse and turned round.
We had a spell of déjà vu whilst we chugged our way back to Grendon Dock. When we got to the dock, the man with Jan's keys appeared, so, with the boat hook, we managed to retrieve them. Confident that we were now definitely going in the right direction, we made it as far as Polesworth and moored ready for some well-deserved food. The pub was just a quick walk, but unfortunately they weren’t serving food. Oh well! We decided to watch the England match and have a couple of pints before going back to the boat for a strange concoction of super noodles, peas and sausage.
Waking early on Wednesday, we decided to set off to try to make good progress. We were on our way at 7.30 with a couple of chocolate bars before we cooked breakfast; well Dave did. For the first half hour, a heron kept flying ahead of us before waiting for us to catch up. Each time we came close it would fly ahead again.
The day started off with fair weather, good progress and the occasional banter of “Are we going the right way?” We still didn’t trust ourselves. We passed Alvecote, a nice experience as I have never been there and there was a large number of historic boats to see. We did our first two locks of the day before we got to Fazeley Junction and had our next bout of “Which way do we go. The morning’s journey was going well with the occasional bump as Python decided to hit the bottom (or a rock jumped up). Dave went below to be Master Chef and cook breakfast whilst I steered. Then we swapped so that I could eat.
The day started to deteriorate as we were waiting for a couple of boats to come through a bridge. (You always meet boats at a bridge, it seems to be the law of canals!) Python got stuck on a shallow bank with a boat behind us. After a few choice words and several minutes of fighting, I managed to get her unstuck and we continued. The boat behind us came to our rescue a short time later. We went through a stretch of canal with plenty of reeds to each side but little depth. Python rode the canal up and down like a roller coaster as she dragged the bottom. Then we found a rather high point and we were aground again. This time we were well aground and no amount of choice words or boating skill would get us off in any hurry. The boat behind managed to squeeze past and kindly offered us a tow, which we eagerly accepted. With the combined power of two boats we got moving again. We were amazed how often we were touching the bottom given that she was higher in the water than normal with the reduced ballast.
Finally we reached Fradley Junction, where we made good use of the facilities. The toilet cassette had been left half full before we went on-board so it had a certain aroma to it! There was a bit of traffic waiting to use the lock causing some confusion between Dave and me about what was happening ahead, so we dug out the hand held radios that were to prove useful later on. We got through the next couple of locks only going aground once. We had the discussion “Is that rain?” Yes it was, and it just grew heavier and heavier. Dave made the fatal mistake of saying he was already wet, so I could hide in the hold whilst he steered. I bit his hand off (although I was kind enough to keep him supplied with coffee). This is where the radio came in handy - Dave could let me know when the next lock was coming up without me getting quite as wet.
The rain finally let up and became drizzle, but it was still miserable weather as we came into Burton-upon-Trent. We spotted a pub and decided that we’d had enough for the day. Half an hour later, after changing into some dry clothes, we made our way to the pub only to find they didn’t serve food. Fish and chips it was then.
On Thursday morning, we were up early again and set off in the same fashion with the chocolate bars. It wasn’t raining, but there was a chill in the air. About twenty minutes later, we found a nice restaurant that we could have visited last night, if only we had pushed on. Dave blamed me, and rightly so. It was a pleasant morning for boating and, as Dave had dried our jackets out by the fire, we were happy. We started on the wide locks, a new experience for me; I had only done narrow locks before.
Then Master Chef Dave rustled up breakfast whilst I steered and then he relieved me so I could eat, though he did decide to find a lock as I was sitting down (I think on purpose). The morning was going well, only occasionally hitting something on the bottom, until we reached Aston Lock. Everything was fine until Dave tried to take Python out of the lock. She wouldn’t budge. We tried everything we could think of, opening a ground paddle didn’t work. We opened the gate paddles and flushed her out of the lock. We later found out that it isn’t uncommon to go aground here, especially deep draughted vessels like Python.
We finally reached the River Trent and to say that Python loves the deep-water river sections is an understatement. She’s a dream on the river compared to the canals; you would have thought she was built for the rivers. We went through the lock on Sawley Cut and round the first bend when I saw a sign offering different directions, oops which way do I go? Dave pointed out the right way and we were onto the Erewash Canal. Now our only problem was that we had a couple of hours to kill, as Laura couldn’t pick us up until she’d shut the coffee shop. We decided to wait by the first lock since it was a nice day.
This gave us time to have a tidy up and catch up on the paperwork. Dave made sure that the cassette was empty and left the toilet disassembled to deter its use over the winter. I noted how remarkably clear the Erewash was. It was also my turn to cook - sausage sandwiches since they needed using up.
We took a steady chug up to Sheet Stores Basin and then I was confronted with its tight entrance - it’s probably worse than Shireoaks Marina entrance. With a bit of shunting, we were in nicely. We tied up just in the entrance as the basin was full. A gentleman in the yard he told us where to put her. The space indicated did not look big enough for Python to us. Dave volunteered me to put her in there. The bow was against a wall and the stern against the opposite wall and a newly painted boat to the left. I swore blind that she wouldn’t fit but low and behold she squeezed in. That bloke definitely knew the basin well!!!
All we had to do now was wait to be picked up and we were home.
24th to 26th August Alvecote Festival
We arrived on Friday evening looking forward to a lovely weekend in the company of the historic boating community. Knowing that Python had a leak was a big concern to us but she has a history of leaking and we knew we were in the best place to get advice because the people gathered at this event had all the combined knowledge and experience of historic boats that anyone could possibly need. I was also hoping to bring in some valuable funds towards Python’s upkeep by tombola and bric-a-brac sales. Friday evening in the bar, meeting old friends and making new ones with a pint or two of decent ale, was just what we needed to get us set up for the weekend.
Python was moored on a pontoon amid some wonderful old boats. What was to prove even more important on this particular weekend was that the owners of those boats had such a wealth of relevant experience. To her port side was Thea, owned by Sue Cawson, who is the Chair of the Shropshire Union Flyboat Restoration Society and has been boating since 1960. To the starboard was Elizabeth. Owned by Jim Macdonald since 1966 she is a fascinating boat with a very long history. Jim is retired now but was recognised as being one of the finest boat surveyors that anyone could employ during his working career. Although Python was leaking she was not taking on a significant amount of water and the combined opinions of the great and good suggested she would be fine to go out on parade.
We set up our fund raising gazebo and the time came for Dave to take Python out in the boat parade. The sun was shining and everyone was having a lovely day. It took Dave quite a while to return to me at the gazebo after the boat parade. It transpired that, since returning from parade, the leak had got worse. Although the bilge pump was keeping up with the ingress, it was operating constantly, which was a worry. Sue Cawson suggested we really needed to get all the water out of the bilge so that we could try to find the source of the leak. She offered us use of her wet vacuum cleaner for the job the next morning. It seemed we might have a plan. We went off to enjoy our evening meal and pick a few more people brains about the best way to get to grips with Python’s problem. Trying to sleep that night while listening to a bilge pump operating was not a great experience. Click here to find what happened next.
Fast forward to sometime on Sunday afternoon. Emotionally exhausted by the morning’s events. Now minus anywhere to sleep that night, we found a quiet corner of the bar to gather our sombre thoughts prior to saying our farewells to all our friends and heading home. We were not in the best of moods. Then Tracey & Rod, who had been looking for us, interrupted our peace. They dragged us out of the comfy sofa we had collapsed into and insisted we share a drink with them. We agreed explaining it would just be a small one as we were heading home. Then Tracey placed a set of keys onto the table. She explained that we did not need to go home, the back cabin on their boat was vacant and so we had a bed’ole for the night. She also explained that, if we went now, we would miss the band that night and they were brilliant. We chatted a while longer and somehow they managed to lift a corner of the blanket of gloom that had descended upon us allowing a glimpse of light to shine through. We accepted the keys and installed ourselves on Biddie. The band were indeed brilliant, as was the rest of the weekend.
The lasting impression we have of this event is the overwhelming camaraderie between the community of historic boat owners. Each and every one of them had a genuine concern, both for Python and for us and everyone was falling over each other to try to help in whatever way they could. There were so many heroes that weekend that I feel the need to close this blog entry with closing credits.
Chief Leak Seeker & Wardrobe: Richard (Paddy) Chamberlain
Senior Bung Fitter: Jim Macdonald
Chief Consultant to The Bung Fitter: Paul Barber
Technical Coordinator (Electricity): Sue Cawson
Chief Plot Advisor: Simon Wain
Consultant Advisor: Blossom Edge
Bung Suppliers: Nick Wolfe & Paul Barber.
Canal Carrying & Towing: Nick Scarcliffe & Alan Fincher
Dry Docking & Boatyard Services: Malcolm Burge.
Dry Docking Assistants: Ade & Matt.
Accommodation: Rod & Tracey
Incidental Music: Cath Fincher (Melodeon)
Sound: Last Highway / Time Trip
Photographer: Jan Warsop
Communications/ Support: Robin Stonebridge, Sandra Green, Cath Fincher & Jo Lodge.
Hospitality: Samuel Barlow
Narrated by: Jan Warsop
Elizabeth and Thea were both at our Gathering of Historic Boats in Retford in September 2011.