I don’t know why I do it, but every year or two I feel an urge to go to the IWA National boat festival and so with Wolverhampton in striking distance of Zulu I decided to go.
By the time Saturday arrived Zulu was in Polesworth, so after realising I had moored in a wasps nest last night I made a hasty departure followed by a nice leisurely run up to Tamworth where I believed there to be a station. Jolly nice is the approach to Tamworth, especially with so many lovely gardens along the canalside and there is literally miles of moorings to choose from. Obviously I chose the wrong one in terms of distance from the station but it couldnt be that far, could it?
I walked. It took 30 minutes after following town centre signs at the Arches instead of turning right.
And what a dump is Tamworth Station – being a weekend the main line was being disassembled by literally hundreds of orange clad workmen. No trains then? But yes – the Birmingham train would leave from the other level. Banging and crashing from the workmen, drilling and concrete breaking, dust and dirt. Local mums were holding a smoking competition outside the station cafe, and had totally blocked the entrance with their pushchairs. Naturally I had just missed the train so had to pass a very uninteresting 30 minutes before the next. What a dump!
Finally on the train and quickly through to Wolverhampton via Brum, I decided to walk down the 21 locks to Autherley and very nice it was too. That was, I’m afraid, the highlight of the day as the festival was, as always for me, a big anticlimax. Organisation seemed to be confused – there was for instance no obvious way in, which has to be a bit odd. Some attempts at controlling the mud had been made but the battle was lost for the time time being.
I was ushered to the far end of a queueing system, so I could approach the ticket office from and approved angle, even though there was nobody else waiting to buy tickets, which seemed even odder. £7.50 for a ticket was about normal, but I still don’t know whether any member of the public thought they got any value for this as once inside there was a mudbath surrounded by a few engines, a few boats, a few charity and waterways restoration type stalls, a boiling hot marquee with far too many people trying to shelter and the usual rheumatism cures and magic frying pan stalls which seems to appear at all similar events.
Never mind – there will be some food – and there was indeed a kind of food court with comparatively poor quality and poor value offerings after the marvels of Cropredy Festival a couple of weeks ago. I joined a short queue to spend six pounds on some dahl with pakora – quite nice but very bland – yet dozens were tucking into the same. When I think I got once of the nicest plates of half a dozen different curries at Cropredy for the same price, I know where I would rather have been. On to the beer tent where two – yes only TWO – girls were trying to work out what beers were on offer and possibly twenty anxious customers trying to work out how to be served. Especially anxious because they had just paid 50 pence for an empty plastic glass by queueing in a separate queue and were now obliged to either queue for beer or queue again for their deposit back.
Not impressed with this nonensense I obtained a pint for £3.20 which could have been mistaken for something out of the drains. Whilst I will enthuse about a nice pint, as I did for the wonderful dark mild at the Greyhound, I will also damn those who take good beer and serve it in a way which makes it an ordeal to even get half way through it. Totally horrible. And then join a queue of 20 to hand my glass back in. Not impressed.
Back out into the mud I searched for something other than boring stalls – there were a few slightly less boring, but far easier to find something interesting at a local chandlery than to persevere here – and without a focal point such as an arena and without any specific events to wait for I went home after an hour. Imagine going to a music festival where it turned out there was hardly anything on once you had got inside the gates. Many stalls sat in a small island within a muddy pool. I felt very sorry for those who had paid good money for their pitches, and sorry for those splodging around trying to find something to do. I can’t criticise arranging a get-together for boat owners, which of course the Festival does extremely well, but I am not sure what pleasure the general public would get from a day out in the mud.
The biggest queue was for the buses back to the car park, wherever it was. There were however plenty of buses and plenty of cars parked illegally at the roadside sporting “You have been warned” stickers from the police. At least they could go straight home. The public bus back to town was a nightmare with the dog – the driver drove like a lunatic throwing us all over the place and I was delighted to be back on the train to Tamworth. I never though I would say that!