Wishbone Ash – Kidlington

Oh no – not another non canal post!

Wishbone Ash, Kidlington Football Club
Wishbone Ash, Kidlington Football Club

I’ll keep it quick then. By total coincidence I decided yesterday to check the spring tour dates for Wishbone Ash – a few years ago I used to go to up to ten gigs per year, including following them to Europe, so I guess I could have been considered something of a fan.  That is until guitarist Ben Granfelt left in October 2004.   Ben’s guitar playing was simply brilliant and I would stand in awe watching every move he made.   I haven’t seen them since his replacement Muddy Manninen joined the band, who brought a new bluesy guitar style which I simply did not like at the time.

What coincidence?  Well the band were playing that very night (Tuesday) at Kidlington Football Club, so I couldn’t resist the chance to see them again in such a local venue.  How out of touchI felt though – I didn’t even know the first couple of tracks but as they settled in and played some of the old classics I still felt that the magic has gone.  Andy Powell is still guitarist supreme – there is absolutely no doubting his ability, nor Bob Skeat on bass – who still punches out superb rhythm with powerful new drummer Joe.  But sorry, I feel that Muddy just doesn’t gel with the band’s style and – only in my opinion – his interpretation of classics such as King Will Come and Phoenix is just not what the twin lead guitar style of Wishbone Ash is all about, and to bring in a tabletop slide guitar was simply wrong.  In fact I was just as disappointed with him as I feared I may be.

Muddy Manninen (left) and Andy Powell, Wishbone Ash
Muddy Manninen (left) and Andy Powell, Wishbone Ash

So on the plus side it was still a great gig in a lovely little venue – and Andy joked that due to the overwhelming success of this 40th Anniversary tour they may even play in some bigger places in the future.  But for me, this lineup of the band is not my favourite and I think I may wait until Muddy moves on before going out of my way to see them again.  The crowd seemed to be enjoying it though – all is not lost – in his 40th year of touring with Wishbone Ash, Andy Powell still knows how to entertain.

Holiday report – no canals this time!

Riga
Riga

What an anticlimax coming home to lashing rain and colder temperatures this morning than we had in a week of travelling through Latvia, Estonia and Finland.

Looking outside at the rain I can’t get inspired to write anything about canals today so here’s a few jottings about our holiday instead.  Personally I can’t see the attraction of sitting on the same beach for a week, so we tend to do the opposite and sit on buses and trains instead, which I can understand will not appeal to many especially those who prefer to relax on hols!

However we had the most marvellous time, starting in Riga, thanks to Ryanair.  I find Ryaniar’s use of technology to be superb and rather than complain about being charged extra for using their automatic check-in terminals at Stansted (as opposed to free online check-in)  I will actually praise them for thinking out a radical new solution to preventing check-in queues.  It took no more than 2 minutes to find a free terminal, collect our boarding passes and hand a bag in to the baggage drop desk.

Riga was wonderful but surprisingly desserted.  There was no traffic, no noise, no pedestrians in many streets – altogether a little bit eerie.   The old town centre is very attractive with a mixture of quaint and very grand buildings.  Every corner has a coffee shop – no queues – and free wifi is the norm.  The cheaper restaurants offer self service menus till late  into the night and we especially liked the Pelmeni – self service bowls of different flavoured ravioli style dumplings – a great feed for a couple of quid.  You are charged by weight, which is a very common feature in Latvia – pile it onto the plate and pay only for what you take, weighed at the till.

The day’s highlight for total relaxation turned out to be a tea shop with hundreds of teas to choose from and a first floor piled with cushions to lie on with a view of the park, all within a couple of minutes of the town centre.

The river Daugava was perhaps 400 yards wide through Riga and with at least a three foot swell I was pleased to be visiting by land and not arriving by boat on a river with breaking waves.  A narrowboat here would have no chance of staying upright but boat trips do exist, although like so much aimed at tourists here, the operating season will only be May to September.  Continue reading Holiday report – no canals this time!

Wifi in Finland and Estonia

Helsinki trams - wifi enabled
Helsinki trams - wifi enabled

Changing the subject from life on board slightly, this week I have been on holiday.  Not quite as exciting as our last trip to Moldova and Ukraine, but still off the beaten tourist track.  We flew last week to Riga, capital of Latvia, travelled overland to Tallin in Estonia and flew back yesterday from Helsinki, Finland.

When WiFi was in its infancy in 1994, Estonia was reported by the BBC as being the most advanced nation in the provision of wireless hotspots for everyone. WiFi.ee still maintains a huge wireless network for public access, and absolutely everywhere we travelled almost every bar, restaurant and even shops also provided completely free wifi access to the public. 

WiFi.ee currenly runs 1164 hotspots covering 45,000 square kilometers and almost all of them are free.   Using my iPhone I was able to connect within a few yards of first trying without any problems at all.

So it was actually even more refreshing to discover that, after taking the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki (free WiFi on board of course) , virtually the whole city is WiFi enabled.  Hotels try to make their money by charging but over most of the city is a combination of official free WiFi hotspots, an even bigger network of shops and bars providing access and best of all, the number 4 tram from the ferry port to the city centre also provides free WiFi.  Other tram and bus routes may also be covered, under a trial scheme. 

How cool to be able to log on for an email check on the way to town on the tram, but it doesn’t stop there.  Trams are fitted with GPS devices which as well as updating the “next tram” signs at the tram stops, even show their location on Google Maps.

Back to Middlewich then looking for missing narrowboat Que Sera Sera

Stanthorne to Winding Hole – Middlewich Branch – 2 miles 0 locks
Winding Hole to Wardle Lock – Middlewich Branch – 4 miles 1 lock

Zulu on a Misty Morning on the Middlewich Branch
Zulu on a Misty Morning on the Middlewich Branch

A foggy start to the day and a bit colder than yesterday but still marvellous sunny weather for much of the day.  The canal was incredibly busy today – we set of at lunchtime to turn around and by the time we got back to Stanthorne lock we had to join a queue in sixth position.

Still, looking on the bright side, as long as people talk to each other then this is actually quite good quality time while waiting.

The same again at Wardle lock – so I tied up for late lunch and had a look online only to find that the missing/stolen boat Que Sera Sera had been reported right here on the Middlewich Branch yesterday.  I certainly didn’t see it go past but felt that I could still play a part in the search, so spent the rest of the afternoon chatting to boats coming down the Branch to see if they could remember seeing it earlier in the day.  With the choice of north towards Chester, south towards Nantwich or west towards Llangollen this boat could be anywhere in a 35 mile circle right now.

I then drove to Cholmondeston Lock which always has the biggest queue – and got some very positive feedback about a couple of guys on a badly painted cruiser stern boat asking for a lift at Christleton back towards Waverton, near where the boat was sighted yesterday.  This from one of the Historic Narrowboats which had left the Easter Gathering at Ellesmere Port this morning.

So if you are on the Shroppie, between Barbridge Junction and Ellesmere Port please double your effort in looking out for Que Sera Sera.  It seems the rear side panel bearing the name has been overpainted in purple and there is now no registration number or licence on the boat.

Today I have walked miles of towpath and chatted to many boaters.  What a pity this has not led to a conclusion but I have a feeling that if my new sighting at Christleton is accurate, then the net is tightening, as the top of the Shroppie is a dead end.

So tonight we still didn’t make it down Wardle lock, still have a pane of glass missing in the bedroom and still feel determined that if there’s anything more we can do to help find the missing boat then we will do so tomorrow.

Right now its definitely bed time.

LINK to details of Que Sera Sera, the missing/stolen narrowboat.

LINK to my previous posting about the missing/stolen narrowboat.

ps. to the lady at Cholmondeston lock who leapt a mile when my dog came near you, I hope you have now managed to remove the invisible hair from your trousers.  He was on the lead and did not touch you, so could not have left any real hair behind.  You should perhaps be more concerned with the way your husband smashed your new shiny boat into the stonework at the lock and stop criticising others before him.  Or maybe accept with a smile that paint will get scratched and trousers will get far worse than a dog hair on them while boating.

Middlewich to Middleofnowhere

Middlewich to Middle of Nowhere, Middlewich Branch 3 miles 6 locks

Evening departure from Middlewich
Evening departure from Middlewich

I realise to today how lucky we have been with the Easter weather compared to the South and East and today has been no exception – 10 hours of warm sunshine again.  Moored up below the Big Lock I gave up counting the number of boats coming through and at 5pm I decided to join them, so turned around and lined up with the umpteenth boat of the day to entertain the crowds at the pub.  It is so nice to see the Big Lock pub all lively and full of diners and drinkers again.

Above the Big lock, the new moorings look very smart and the playground was full of families enjoying themselves.  Suddenly bang crash and silence.  Oops – there went the bedroom window as a carelessly kicked football missed its target and scored a bullseye on Zulu – the kid that kicked it was in shock and I can’t believe this was anything but an amazingly bad time to be passing by.  A small queue at the next lock allowed time to pick the shards of broken glass out of the duvet thankful that it was only the top, opening pane of glass and not the main window itself.

So up the locks, keeping up with the hire boats despite being on my own, and turning right into the Middlewich Branch, greeted as always by Maureen in the lock cottage at Wardle lock then on into the setting sun to moor a couple of miles out of town in the middle of nowhere.  Lovely.

Three 3G – update

My new Three balance - enough to buy a Broadband Light Package at last
My new Three balance - enough to buy a Broadband Light Package at last

Yesterday I made public my dissatisfaction with Three for taking my 10 pounds but charging me £1 per megabyte before I could convert it into a month’s Mobile Broadband.

So it is only fair to tell you about their follow-up to a complaint I sent by email.

Last night – within 24 hours of my complaint, I had a voicemail asking me to call them regarding my email complaint, and shortly afterwards the phone rang again; Three customer service, very concerned that I was not satisfied and within a couple of minutes my £10 credit was reinstated with an explanation of how to use this to purchase the broadband add-on.  I can’t complain about this standard of service – and I have heard plenty of negatives about it, so congratulations Three, I am much happier now.

The remaining problem is that  their advice was to ensure that only internet explorer is active and that no other application is using the internet while purchasing future credits.  But all computers will attempt to make dozens of internet connections invisibly – ranging from checking email, updating windows, updating anti-virus, updating all manner of other programs, checking the time, Skype and so on – even viruses themselves!  It isn’t realistic to expect the home user to know how to disable all of this traffic – perhaps those who can “ban all internet traffic” with a firewall program will be best equipped to do this, but then access to the Three website would be blocked. 

I will therefore ensure in the future that I have a printed Three top-up voucher from a shop before attemting to use the online top-up service again.  This allows you to browse free of charge (as long as your three account has no credit at all) to the Three website and input the voucher code while at the same time converting it to Broadband.  Upon pressing the submit button the service will be activated.

One remaining question then.  How many people purchase a ten pound voucher and use it up with their first 10 megabytes?  I know someone who did this thrice before asking me why their 3G didn’t work apart from the first 2 minutes.  Another question then.  How much do Three make from this unnecessarily confusing system?  If you have fallen victim to this, then you may like to know that you can call Three customer service on a normal mobile number 07782 333333 and avoid the 12 pence per minute !! fee for dialing their 500 number.   (If you want to speak to someone on this number instead of listen to menu options, press 0 # in quick succession.)  Lets see if they are nice to you as they were to me last night.

Northwich to Middlewich

Northwich to Anderton, River Weaver – 2 miles, 0 locks
Anderton to Middlewich, Trent and Mersey Canal – 10 miles, 0 locks

Phoenix 58 waits to go up Anderton Lift
Phoenix 58 waits to go up Anderton Lift

What a gorgeous day this has been. Took the dog for an early morning walk up the river to Hunts lock which is a very pleasant area.  To reach it we cut through quite a smart new residential area which marks the site of Yarwoods boatyard, commemorated by a couple of information boards and includes, appropriately, Yarwood Close… handy for the satnav.

Back in town we waited in glorious sunshine for friends David and Christine to turn up for a promised ride back to Middlewich including the all important trip back up the Anderton Lift.

We travelled up in stylish company in the form of Phoenix 58, one of the most unusual narrowboats on the canals being built in the style of a luxury yacht rather than bitumened steel hull and wooden interior.  It was also one of the most expensive narrowboats on the canals when first offered for sale, and now has home moorings near Hunts Lock.

Being a bank holiday we were certainly in more than a few pictures today and there were also more than a few other boats out today including almost every boat from the Bridgewater canal who seem to travel in numbers – a dozen or so last night in Northwich and a couple of dozen gathered here in Middlewich tonight too.

My visitors enjoyed the trip up the lift – very smooth indeed today, as opposed to the jerky motion you can experience especially when going down.  The BW guys on duty were very helpful and informative, as always, and this all adds to making a trip on the lift into a memorable experience.  Today we learnt that the original lift was open topped and operated with a small steam engine with the majority of the power being provided by gravity.   “I sometimes tell people it used to have a thatched roof,” said the guy at the top with a glint in his eye.

The rest of the trip back to Middlewich was really beautiful with our first ducklings (12+) of the year (at Rudheath) loads of blosson, bluebells and spring flowers and very spectacularly, a massive bird of prey at Marston.  I know Christine got a picture of it so will post it here when I get  a copy.

Kings Lock pub at Middlewich re-opens

Kings Lock, Middlewich, Trent and Mersey Canal
Kings Lock, Middlewich, Trent and Mersey Canal

Good news!  Middlewich’s Kings Lock pub re-opened on Thursday after a closure of about 3 months.

This pub has a marvellous lockside location, and overlooks the junction between the Trent & Mersey and the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union which can provide hours worth of gongoozling on a summers afternoon as boats of all shapes and sizes take their turn to negotiate the tight turn into the branch only to find they get flushed back out again when someone drops Wardle Lock.  The 20 or so yards from the junction to the lock  is the Wardle Canal, claimed to be Britain’s shortest canal.

I wish the new tenants every success in making this pub into the great canalside pub which it deserves to be.

Three 3G? Don’t do what I did!

Three 3G only £1,024 per Gigabyte
Three 3G only £1,024 per Gigabyte

No T-Mobile coverage today so I decided to activate my Three 3G PAYG service. Plugged it in, connected it up and as expected no websites are available except the Three website itself, where you can pay your ten pounds and get a months worth of internet access, or so I thought.

I hadn’t registered a card with Three, but no worries – it said the first time you do so a ten pound charge would be applied to the account which could then be converted into a 1 month mobile broadband service, and so I paid up.

The thank you screen included a link to click to convert the purchase into broadband but when I did so the internet services all sprung into life before I was able to convert my purchase into broadband, and I was being charged an unbelievable £1 per MEGABYTE – thats £1,024 per Gigabyte.  This is totally unfair and totally out of order Three.

So after 30 seconds of retrying I was clearly on the verge of spending all my credit. It had cost me something betweem 94p and £1.46 (their website contradicted iteslf) to discover I no longer had enough credit to convert my £10 to broadband, and so the only option was to pull the 3G connection before it spent all my money.  I couldn’t go back to pay more as they need 7 days to re-use the newly registered card.

Normally I praise Three for their network coverage and 3G speed especially where other providers fail.  But this time I am absolutely disgusted with forcing me to waste ten quid – so please be warned – don’t try this at home!  And to rub salt into the wound, T-Mobile works perfectly here in Northwich after all.

Middlewich to Northwich

Middlewich to Anderton, Trent and Mersey Canal 10 miles, 0 locks
Anderton to Northwich, River Weaver 2 miles, 0 locks
 

Middlewich Tip
Middlewich Tip

The forecast was awful but the day has been fairly nice despite a couple of light showers along the way and almost perfect for cruising.

Zulu’s first port of call was the local tip Public Amenity Site – very conveniently situated canalside at Croxton on the outskirts of Middlewich, and it has its own mooring too, albeit permanently occupied by a CM.  I offloaded oil, oily water, batteries, duvets, blinds, plates and much more too and Zulu’s slight list to port has now been cured.  It strikes me that it would be very useful to know where other canalside tips are, so I will start a new page adding the few I know and hoping you will tell me where the rest are!

Anderton Boat Lift linking Trent & Mersey to the River Weaver
Anderton Boat Lift linking Trent & Mersey to the River Weaver

The canal was getting very busy when we moored up at Marbury Country Park, just before Anderton and had a lovely walk through the woods to the Mere and back.  Curiousity led me to walk the extra mile up the towpath to Anderton lift, expecting to find it fully booked over easter, but having expressed an interest in going down I found myself added to the booking list and due at 17:00 for the 17:30 slot.

Zulu Warrior on the Anderton Lift
Zulu Warrior on the Anderton Lift

Events moved quickly after that and being the only boat going down the whole thing was over in minutes.  Last time I came down the boat lift it took hours of waiting while a technical problem was investigated, followed by a horrendous time on the Weaver in driving rain and such strong wind that when it came to turning round nothing at all happened with full tiller and full power.

Today is much nicer with no wind and no current so here we are down on the River Weaver, moored in Northwich town opposite the boatyard, overlooking the sad boarded up remains of the unique Floatel which closed earlier this year.  I suppose this is the end of the Floatel, which I have to admit was in a bit of a state when we stayed there last year – yet another victim of these strange financial times and probably too costly to renovate for re-opening.#

Northwich Town Bridge
Northwich Town Bridge