20p piece sold for £31 on ebay

The Royal Mint has made 200,000 20p coins without a date and a coin dealer has set up a very generous offer whereby the first 25,000 people to register online will be able to sell these coins for a profitable £50.00 . Their special website, www.undated20p.com, today says the first 10,000 places have gone with a further 15,000 places being made available now.  I have registered even though I haven’t got one of the coins as there’s still a chance I may find one and apparrently I will get a discount voucher and have the opportunity to be contacted by “carefully selected partners” if I forget to uncheck the box on the application form.  This seems very strange – almost like a stunt, but I can’t see the catch yet.

20p coin sold for £31 on ebay today
20p coin sold for £31 on ebay today

Some people are paying enormous sums for these coins on ebay where they are currently fetching several hundred pounds each.  But this one really takes the prize – someone has just (within the last 10 minutes of writing) paid £31 plus 50p postage for a perfectly ordinary 20p piece – complete with date.  Check it out on ebay here… http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270417730152.   The vendor has been very lucky with this and has confirmed at every question that this is not one of the undated coins, but still 11 bidders have been battling it out to become its new owner.

I guess eBay will be blamed with something in all of this, but lets face it – is this not just plain greed?

Update: Thanks to Adam below for pointing out that it is indeed a coin dealer trading as The London Mint who has set up the website and seems to be offering £50 for these coins, not the Royal Mint.  I suspect I am not the only one who has failed to see through this.

A glance at Gloucester

Gloucester Docks
Gloucester Docks

Continuing the theme of never passing a canal location without finding a excuse to take a closer look, I managed to get a couple of hours in Gloucester Docks last weekend.

I’ve been here before but never noticed the lock – one of the infamous “get it right or else…” locations, where you face the very unusual sight of going up an enormous lock into Gloucester Docks while being carried downstream on the current of the Severn.  Its best done when the lock is set in advance by the lock keeper so you dont have to moor against the wall on your left, as missing the wall is all too easy, ending up being carried past the lock entrance, which would not be much fun.

So today I was lucky enough to see two boats coming in off the river without incident, despite quite a strong flow. 

The docks have extensive moorings for visiting boats, both at the top of the lock and then through the Llantony lift bridge onto the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, and some of these are brand new including those outside the new Sainsburys.  There was plenty of room on this occasion.  The docks have been transformed this month which has seen the opening of the Gloucester Quays designer outlet in May now with dozens of new shops, and in comparison the old shopping centre is now rather run down and mostly closed.

The whole place is rather attractive though, centring around the National Waterways Museum which faces the Nielsen’s traditional boatyard across the water.  That side of the basin is lined with antique shops in the old canal warehouses.

Quite a pleasant place for a couple  of nights I think, but on this occasion it didnt take more than a couple of hours to take in the sights and have a quick look round the museum.  I passed on the option of adding a boat trip to my entry ticket, which was actually free as I have an annual pass to the three BW museums at Ellesemere Port, Gloucester and Stoke Bruerne.

Hotel Boat Oliver Cromwell
Hotel Boat Oliver Cromwell

A final look around, including the enormous paddle driver hotel boat “Oliver Cromwell”  – now permanently installed in the docks as a floating restaurant and event venue, but cruising the Severn until last year, brings home the fact that this is indeed a far cry from the narrow canals!  I wish I had been here for the Tall Ships Festival in May and there seems plenty of other events going on to make this a location worth returning to, hopefully next time with the boat.

Reading – is it really a “no go” area now?

Chestnut Walk moorings, Reading
Chestnut Walk moorings, Reading

I was introduced to Reading after buying my first narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon.  It was a rather mysterious place down at the Eastern end of the canal which added new challenges of flowing rivers and unusual locks.

I innocently popped down to Reading one February, before I realised that when the water level reached the level of the landing stage at Fobney Lock, the ride down to the Oracle would likely be quite fast.  I discovered a land of the ultra modern, passing through the Oracle and just squeezing through High Bridge, one of the lowest on the navigation, before venturing into the Forbury loop, the wonderfully attractive Chestnut Walk moorings in the shadow of Reading’s newly restored Abbey ruins and the sinister vertical walls of the jail.

I adopted this town centre mooring as a home from home, spending many nights there over the last 6 years, with occasional trips down to the Thames to fill up with water and at Tesco.  Owned by Reading council and falling, just, under the control of the Environment Agency, this was no longer British Waterways territory – adding to the mystery, as whilst I had a Gold Licence entitling me to use the Thames at any time, it was still like crossing the border to some strange new country.

Often the only boat moored at Forbury, apart from the occasional group of “local” boats, I would occasionally meet someone either on the way up the Kennet and Avon, or returning from the canal, usually dreading the horrors of boating through Reading which they had heard on the towpath telegraph.

Highly topical, Reading’s evening papers scored a double whammy  last week, when one reported River Trip Ended in Bloodbath while the other reported Body Pulled From River Kennet, prompting a discussion on Canal World Forums which seems to support the fact that many boaters experience something negative while passing through the town.  I would not however agree that is has become a No Go area, as implied in this article.

I was in Reading at the time these articles were written.  In fact I was first boat on the scene at Blakes Lock shortly after the body was discovered, and was held up about an hour before being let down the lock without being permitted to get off the boat.  It seems the body may have been there for some time, only coming to light when a boat moved off its moorings behind the lock cottages it was then spotted by a canoeist.

However this is exceptional – I really would like to try to redress the balance by saying that I have been through Fobney Lock dozens of times over the last 6 years, moored for countless nights in and around the Reading area and never once been involved in or seen any sort of trouble.  I know I am going to regret saying this, as something is now bound to happen, but if you find this article because you are researching for a trip through Reading please do come and don’t be put off.  Just take a sensible view about passing through Fobney Lock, which I will agree, is the most likely spot for an incident as it is well off the beaten track and forms a natural location for swimming and barbecues, which of course go with drinking.  As long as you pass through in the morning you should encounter nobody other than  dog walkers and fishermen, but on a hot afternoon and evening there may be literally dozens there.  However I do not connect the assembly with the recent incident with the canoeist who seemed to be unlucky enough to attract the attention of a group on the towpath rather than the lockside. 

Good luck with visiting Reading – it really is a town which deserves more visiting boats, and on the positive side is even about to launch a water bus service between Blakes Lock and the Oracle running until 8pm daily.  Maybe this will help to make the canal more approachable for the public, and I wish it well, although I can’t help thinking it may stuggle to attract business at the proposed £5 return fare.  More information about this online at “Catch a boat for day out in town!” 

And if you are unlucky enough to experience an incident between the Oracle and Fobney Lock, I agree that it should be reported to the police, or at least to British Waterways as it is essential that this becomes an officially recognised problem.

Jolly Anglers Pub in Reading closes suddenly

Spot the difference:

Jolly Anglers Reading 17th June 2009
Jolly Anglers Reading 17th June 2009
Jolly Anglers Reading 19th June 2009
Jolly Anglers Reading 19th June 2009

The two pictures were taken only days apart. The Jolly Anglers pub had recently held a beer festival to coincide with the official Reading Beer festival and looked better than it ever did before.  And now it is gone.

This really pisses me off – the new landlord was making a real go of this slightly off the beaten track, yet waterside pub.  He had been there 16 weeks when he discovered on 16th June that the pub was to close with immediate effect, having been sold by its owners, Enterprise Taverns, to a property developer.

Story in full on the Reading Post website – Homeless to Move into Jolly Anglers.

The location is not altogether attractive for passing boaters, despite being on the banks of the Kennet yards from its junction with the Thames, as ten feet out the water is only inches deep, but the point is that yet another community pub will be lost without trace. 

How much can change in a day.

UPDATE 24 June:

Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival

Middlewich Folk and Canal Festival
Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival

Reading or Middlewich?  The decision was easy and I had a pleasant drive up to Middlewich taking the long way round to avoid the Silverstone traffic on this British Grand Prix weekend.

I won’t attempt to write a review of the festival as I didn’t go to see any particular band, and anyway the main acts take place in the town centre, away from the canal.  However I did find the “Fringe” to be worth going for on its own – so many pubs put on a full program of free music anyway, not to mention numerous Morris Dancers and ad-hoc sessions, that the whole town was alive with music regardless of the main stages.

The boats take second place to the music, as this is really a music rather than a boaters festival but there was still a good turn out and lots to see for the visiting public.  The number of trading boats was particularly high.. The Cheese Boat, The Fudge Boat, Teila the floating shop, Mountbatten and Jellicoe, Constance Irene to name but a few.  The only problem, if that is the right word, is that with such a lot of trading boats (many of whom arrived up to two weeks ago and remained on 48 hour moorings throughout) there is no room for more than half a dozen visiting boats which mostly had to remain above the Kings Lock or below Big Lock.  Mmmhh….

Working boats at Middlewich Festival
Working boats at Middlewich Festival

The working boats on display included Saturn, Gifford, Sweden – of Middlewich ancestry, Shad, Thea, Anne, Bittell and Lindsay all looking very well turned out but sadly static, unlike say Braunston where this weekend coming there will be an ever moving carousel of boats.

In fact Middlewich through the day was comparatively devoid of passing boats – some crept through at first light and some braved the daytime crowds, but on a good day a hundred or more boats can pass through town and I would estimate only twenty or thirty came through today.

Big Lock during the festival
Big Lock during the festival

Back at Big Lock, where Zulu lives, was a major hive of activity around the newly redecorated pub.  Several bands played on the stage, as always located on the other side of the lock, while the Trent and Mersey Canal Society manned the lock throughout the weekend.  It was a pleasure to see that despite the dreaded words “health and safety” , the event still went ahead without anyone even being remotely in danger, or being forced to protect us from the lock with fencing or worse.

The sun shone for at least some of the time, and the rain mostly held off, making it a very pleasant weekend for wandering around from pub to pub taking in the atmosphere and I would certainly say it makes a very nice day out.

Middlewich so badly needs events like this to boost its image.  The Middlewich Guardian local paper churns out headline after headline relating to graffeti, stabbings, broken windows, dog poo, fights, robbery, car crime, accidents, the Incinerator, Tesco and so forth.  It paints a hugely negative view of the town.  So did they promote the festival atmosphere to compensate? Sadly not.  They carried a small online article just before the event and then nothing.  Come on guys – this is the biggest event of the year and you should be talking it up big time!!

OK so the Middlewich Guardian finally wrote Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival hailed a great success on the Wednesday, followed by the more predicatable Five arrests for disorder at Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival on the Friday.  I think this means it was an official success.

Reading on the other hand promoted the Waterfest to the fullest, with posters and banners all around the town and the local paper will print a souvenir this week.  Meanwhile the Mayor can be seen online, presenting the best dressed boat award and generally writing up a very good report of the event, the twentieth Waterfest since the reopening of the Kennet and Avon in 1990.  I’m still glad I drove 400 miles rather than staying local though.

Finally I was not the only blogger there.
Narrowboat Starcross wrote a very well written and objective report.  Its interesting to see what a visitor to the town observed – see their article At Middlewich Festival .

Famous last words

Low water in Reading
Low water in Reading

Well I can see the funny side but at the time….

In Reading is a low bridge at the old Gas Works.  I have been through dozens of times and normally drop the chimney to get through, however recently the level has been a bit low so it hasn’t been necessary.

I even remember saying “The level’s about 9inches up on yesterday” before setting off and crunching the chimney on the bridge.  Not hard enough to knock it off, but it now is disntinctly less round than it was before.  Its amazing how much dust and rust it disturbed though, and it has actually split the seam too, so its going to be a new chimney to add to the ever growing list of repairs.

It reminds me of a couple of years ago at the same spot when a boat came zooming past complete with a baby in a car seat on the roof…..  they didn’t half get the baby down quickly.

Water water everywhere – the pump’s broken

A visit to Zulu this week started badly.  She was definitely down at the stern more than normal, which immediately starts the heart racing, as the last thing I need is to find the engine bilge flooded.

But all was well in the engine department – an automatic bilge pump sees that the rain water is removed and so I relaxed for a moment, until putting the kettle on and finding no water in the taps.  I optimistically refilled the tank so I could check for leaks and have a cup of coffee.

It didn’t take a genius to work out that with an empty water tank and a tail heavy appearance, the contents must have moved from the front to the back – and indeed this was confirmed when I opened up the water pump cupboard and found the newly refilled tank pouring its contents back into the newly dry cabin bilge.  The Sureflow pump had failed spectacularly – how are these things constructed so badly that they can burst open and flood the boat (this is the third boat with a Sureflow pump and the third time I have had to mop up a leaking Sureflow pump).

I really don’t understand why I then went out and bought another one the same – at least it fitted back into the same space without replumbing too.  At least it has a three year guarantee.

So Zulu you well and truly got your revenge for being neglected last month.  I promise not to leave you so long again.

Herb garden

My new rooftop herb garden
My new rooftop herb garden

On impulse I have just spent £9.99 at Homebase on a ready to use herb garden.  Six well established varieties planted in a rustic box – at a price which compares favourably with buying a few packets at the supermarket.  Well done Homebase – if you are lucky they may have a few left.

A month on the Thames

Well a whole month has flown by and I do apologise for not posting anything recently.

If you know me you may know why I don’t blog about the boat I call home, and if you don’t then you will just have to wonder! 

Salters Steamer leaves Windsor
Salters Steamer leaves Windsor

Our month on the Thames has been absolutely wonderful – it makes a huge change from the canals and really comes alive on hot sunny days where every conceivable use of the river is being made. 

Coming back to the canal, I am seriously tempted to get another short term licence and go back next week.

Every year I normally buy a Gold Licence which adds unrestricted access to the Thames and other non BW rivers but the additional cost has now increased to over £360 per annum.  This year I took out a standard licence and regret the loss of flexibility which the Gold would have given.  With visitor fees starting at £35 per day its not easy to justify short trips onto the Thames, although 14 and 31 day licences are cheaper it still cost £156.50 for the month.  Making a mental note to convert back to Gold for next year!