CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO – "To Liverpool and an Eldonians Welcome"
The morning of 18th August broke fine and clear and, despite dire warnings, Jayne and I were off to Liverpool. We were away by just before 10.00 o’clock and through Appley Single Lock, lock 91 soon thereafter. There used to be an option to take two smaller locks at Appley which Nicholson refers to as having been restored. Maybe there were, although I doubt it for they are moribund now. Rather sad looking, actually. I took some photographs of the top one and the dry pound beyond it, but the decay and dereliction made me feel rather glum, so I fixed a smile upon my face and got back on board FRILFORD for the trip to Mughull where we were to meet British Waterways staff for the final push into Liverpool.
We negotiated our first swing bridge of the day by 11.30 am and were helped through the next one by a tourist boat taking pensioners out for a few hours on the cut. They turned out to be a bit of a boon because, later on after Jayne and I had taken on drinking water at Junction Bridge at Burcough and we’d pushed on a bit, we found the tourist boat coming the other way and negotiating another swing bridge, bridge 32 next to the Slipway pub! With cries of “Blimey, you again…?!” and “We’ll all have pints, mate…!” Jayne, me and the crew of the tourist boat enjoyed the badinage of the cut.
The swing bridges in this area are all of the stopping-traffic type. One or two of them carry quite big roads so one has to be efficient about opening and closing them. The are electro-hydraulic in operation and need a British Waterways waterman’s key to operate them. Jayne and I worked the swing bridges together, when we couldn’t get a trip boat to do them! She’d open them and I’d go through, tie FRILFORD to something then close the bridge after Jayne had been through. This meant I’d be holding Jayne’s key and on one occasion she said I should hang on to it for the time being. Quite why I am not sure. Later on Jayne pulled over and said she was going to pause for a while. It was mid afternoon and I think she was going to make a cup of tea and relax for a bit. I suspect, also, that being a singlehander like me, she is not altogether comfortable with travelling in convoy. Anyway, I am not of the stopping kind and pressed on.
After about an hour I came to another swing bridge, Coxhead’s Swing Bridge (20), a new highly-efficient affair which carried a small agricultural road over the cut. There I was entertained for some time by a couple of combine harvesters and attendant contractors. They wanted to cross the canal on the bridge. As I arrived there was much scratching of heads and discussion. They might make it but it was going to be tight. The bridge was a good size but the combine harvesters were huge! “You in a hurry, mate?” they asked me. “No,” I replied, “I’ll see what you make of this.” “A bit of a bloody mess if we’re not careful,” was the nervous reply!
In the event one combine got across, its huge tyres millimetres from the bridge on either side; a bridge that groaned a bit with the effort. The second machine didn’t get across. To all intents and purposes it was identical to the first machine, but for some reason it was just too big to make it. With much revving and in a haze of blue diesel fumes the thing set off across the fields to find the next bridge. Adopting a good-job-someone-around-here-can-operate-the-machines attitude the chap who’d made it across the bridge consulted with his foreman and with a slight swagger set off for the adjacent field. By the time the other machine arrived the first was well into harvesting. The second quickly took on its header and powered into the crop. Shortly thereafter the first stopped and was attended by various support vehicles. Again there was much scratching of heads and no harvesting! The second combine powered on, passing the first without so much as a backward look. I don’t know how the contractors work, but there is obviously some competition between the various combines. Later the first machine got going again and it seemed no time at all before the crop was in and the combines were charging towards the next field. Time is money…
I had a chance to do all this because I was waiting for Jayne. I didn’t know if I was supposed to wait for her, but I had her British Waterways key which operates the powered swing bridges and I didn’t know if she had another one to operate this bridge. She appeared after about forty minutes and I swung the bridge for her. She was pleased. It seems she’d not spotted this bridge in her guide and had been wondering how she was going to get through it, given that I had her key.
We were tied up on the line just above bridge 16 at Maghull by a few minutes after five o’clock. The British Waterways people were due to meet us at eight o’clock the following morning to escort us through to Liverpool. In fact what they were going to do is operate the swing bridges for us. All of them carry proper roads, and one or two of them are big bridges. To have them do that for us was going to be a big help. I didn’t know at that stage quite how busy both Jayne and I would be with other things. Jayne came on board FRILFORD for a drink but soon left to be on her boat. We both seemed easy with that.
In the morning, bang on time, John and Bob appeared; the British Waterways team. Delightful people who, it seems, had worked for British Waterways for years and were keen to do all they could to assist us getting to Liverpool. “You need to know that the canal is rather weeded up in places on the way to Liverpool,” advised John, rather seriously. “Yes,” I replied, it’s rather weedy here,” waving in the general direction of the middle of the canal, “but we got through it okay…” “Ah, yes,” replied John, “but it gets worse later, I’m afraid. Then it gets better again,” he added, brightening up.
I had not been into my weed hatch since the incident in Leeds. My logbook for Friday 19th August 2005 reads like this:
That’s what the day looks like in my logbook but it does not tell the story. It was a frustrating day, but the British Waterways people did all they possibly could to assist us and to achieve our goal of getting to Liverpool drove us on. There were times, however, when things did seem a bit hopeless.
The weed was so thick in places there were Moorhen walking on top of it! Weed catches round the propeller and forms a tightly-packed ball. At most one is left with just the tips of the propeller blades sticking out of it. The engine labours, the prop wash is a maelstrom and progress is nil. There is no easy answer to the problem. At one stage I tried to use more power, to go faster and push my way through the weed. This could work if there were places where there was no weed, where one could power on and get a bit of speed up. However, there are few such places; hardly any in fact. What actually happens is that the faster-spinning prop is grabbed yet harder and more quickly by the weed and the boat goes nowhere. If one starts slowly and tries to build up speed gently a bit of progress is made, but the moment one opens the throttle to push through a thicker patch of weed, the prop is caught again.
Jayne adopted the softly-softly approach. Her boat is lighter displacement to mine and draws less water. I had noticed this when following her the day before. She was able to move faster through the shallow places than I could. If I tried to follow her my prop wash quickly became a series of breaking quarter waves and that is frowned upon. It is bad for the canal and, anyway, is a highly inefficient way to proceed. None of this was helping her this day and she seemed to get stuck even more than me. She is better off than me in one regard, however. Her boat has a cruiser-style stern which means she has an open deck at the back, large enough for several people to stand comfortably. FRILFORD has a traditional-style stern which gives room for the steerer and, maybe, one other to stand at the stern. The advantage that Jayne has is that her weed hatch is easily accessible through her after deck. Lift a board and there it is. No lifting out al sorts of gear then crawling over a hot engine to get into a tight place where it is difficult to see anything, never mind work, which is what I have to do. The time I waited for her I felt very sorry for her. I seemed to be moving better than her at that stage. However my time was to come and, as can be seen from my logbook entries above between 11.00 am and noon I was in and out of my weedhatch constantly. At one stage I cleared the prop three times to go ten yards….! Each time I cleared the prop I saw tall fronds of weed growing up from the canal bottom and wafting around the prop and I knew that the moment I got everything back in place, started the engine and put the boat in gear, the prop would grab the fronds and I’d go nowhere. Which is exactly what kept happening. At one stage John came by with a long ash pole which he’d borrowed from Jayne, who was now right behind me. “Use this to push yourself off, then go into gear once you are moving,” he suggested. I have a couple of boat hooks on FRILFORD, rather than an ash pole, and I had already tried to do just that. It was hopeless, but it was about the only suggestion John could make; I knew that. “Tried it, John,” I called back, “doesn’t work. I’ll stick with this – we’ll be okay in a minute.” I didn’t know how it could be better in a minute but it could not get any worse and I refused to believe that it wouldn’t get a bit better soon. If I could only get FRILFORD actually moving.
Then I did get her moving. With delicate little movements on the throttle and steering as efficiently as I could I got FRILFORD edging forward. After a few moments I looked at the GPS. We were holding a steady 1.1 miles per hour! The prop was clearly weeded up again but the engine was holding its own and not too rough, and we were moving. Jayne followed behind. Round the corner an elderly couple were hanging over their garden fence, enjoying the sunshine. “Hello, love,” they called out, “grand day for a boat trip – are you really from Henley on Thames…?” Yes,” I called back, and it is a grand day for a boat trip…” It was; it is just that I wasn’t having a grand day…!
Eventually we did get through. There were three other boats in Eldonian Village Basin and we veterans of the Liverpool approach stood about making small talk and swapping ever-taller stories. On reflection the most disappointing thing about it had been the racecourse at Aintree. Aintree… Like Silverstone, Twickenham, Lords, St. Andrews: the names are enough to conjure up images of sporting vigour, of triumph and defeat. I was looking forward to passing Aintree. “The Canal Turn.” How many times has one heard that on Grand National Day? I was on that very canal and would see it! My GEOProjects chart says this “As the canal reaches the outskirts of Liverpool it runs alongside the famous Aintree Race Course. During the Grand National weekend, in April, boats congregate at the Canal Turn.” The weed problem had not got as bad as it was to get so I was in the mood to be delighted. The silks, the thundering hooves, the pony each way on the pony etc. etc. etc. It was not to be. You can make out the race course from the canal but it is hidden behind a tall chain-link fence and the trees and bushes get in the way. There is not much sign of the stands. Maybe there is some fun to be had there on Grand National Day, but there was none to be had this day. Ah well.
One of the great pleasures of arriving in Liverpool was all around us. Eldonian Village. To get the full story of the remarkable achievement which is Eldonian Village in Liverpool must go to their website at http://www.eldonians.org.uk/. To get a more academic account of their success go to http://www.bshf.org/en/about/whawards/projects.php?pID=00100.
From the Eldonians own website I quote the following:
FRILFORD and I were moored in the heart of their success and it felt good.
The run into Liverpool was hard but, significantly, was not marred by the things which I had been warned about. There were no incidents of vandalism of any kind. There were a couple of very minor incidents but nothing serious. At one stage two very hard-looking people walked down from a bridge and onto the towpath. As is normal on the cut I tried to make eye contact with a view to saying hello. They were striding along the towpath purposefully and looked a little menacing. Suddenly one of them turned to me and gave me just about the hardest and coldest look I have ever seen. Not threatening, as such, not hateful, just hard and cold; I felt quite glad to be on FRILFORD in the middle of the cut. They were two young, good-looking women. Shortly afterwards a group of youngsters were fishing under a bridge. One of the girls lifted her rod but let the hook trail along the top of FRILFORD until, had I not leaned away, it might have snagged my nose. I looked back and smiled at her. After a moment’s hesitation she smiled back then, not wanting to look soft in front of her peers, perhaps, demanded a lift into town. I’ve had this before. “No point,” I replied, “there’s so much stuff in the canal, this is as fast as I can go for now.” “F**kin’ ‘ell,” she called back, smiling again, “you’re kiddin’ ain’t ya?” and with a comment to the others to the effect that I was a sad git they moved rowdily away along the towpath.
In contrast under one of the bridges a group of young people, uniformally teeshirted, were pulling rubbish out of the canal and sweeping up litter all around. “Is Boris Johnson your MP?,” called a very non-Liverpool sounding young woman. “Yes,” I called back, somewhat surprised. “So you really are from Henley?” “Yes!” “So am I…!” “Are you? What on earth are you doing here today?” “Merseyfest – I’m doing a project with Merseyfest. There’s a big two day gathering in Croxteth Park starting tomorrow.” “I know,” I called back, “my cousin says he’ll take me.” “Maybe I’ll see you there,” she replied waving. At the entrance to Eldonian Village another Merseyfest group were dredging under the bridge. They had four bicycles and about half a dozen shopping trolleys on the bank behind them, and were doing well.
The British Waterways people, John and Bill, together with Robbie, who is the linesman for that part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, came into Eldonian Village to see that we were okay. They apologised for the trouble we’d had getting to Liverpool to which we replied that the arriving and the welcome we’d received quite made up for all of that. Phil gave us his telephone number and said he was there to help. He told us to ignore the 48 hour mooring signs; we could stay as long as we wanted! He also said that the Eldonian Village Hall just up the bank from where we were standing, was always open to visiting boaters and since it was a Friday night there’d be a singer on. “Actually,” he said, “there’s a wedding on there tonight – you’d be welcome to join in….!”
Jayne kindly cooked supper for us both on Sunrise, her boat, then, somewhat surprisingly, suggested we go check out the Village Hall and see if we could indeed join the wedding. We were smartly dressed so it might be okay. At the hall we could not find a way in, even though there were doors all along the wall next to the canal. Suddenly one opened and the full blast of hot, beery revelry hit us. “You off the boats? We saw a couple more had arrived today… Come in, come in... this is a wedding!”
Jayne and I had fun that night. Jayne is quite a ‘proper’ person, in the nicest possible way, but she knows how to enjoy a glass of wine and is an enthusiastic dancer. We found we were indeed in the middle of a large Liverpool wedding. Bride and groom were working the room, still in full wedding regalia and several hundred, it seemed, guests in various attires and states of dishevelment were tucking into a buffet and standing deep at the bar. On stage the archetypal wedding disco DJ was bashing out all the numbers you’d rather hoped you’d heard the last of, notwithstanding that Jayne and I were encouraging him by dancing to them all. We felt a bit awkward after a bit, however, so found our way to the Club Room down the corridor. There the Eldonian Village regulars were enjoying their Friday night. There was indeed a singer. Gerry. The wonderful Gerry. There he was with a PA system, a computer, some floppy disks on which he had the backing tracks of every song you could possibly imagine, and a voice that could sing everything, and sing it wonderfully! He could be, and was for instance, Frank Sinatra, Robbie Williams, Cliff Richard, Neil Sedaka and could summon up as much of the Liverpool Sound as anyone could want. I don’t know how he was on Cilla Black, or Nancy Sinatra, but I would not put it past him to try!
It was not long before Jayne and I were dancing to his music also. Just us. Everyone else was, sensibly, sitting and listening, but we’d just taken on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and won and were celebrating. Later Gerry took a bit of a break. He introduced himself and it was as if we’d all known each other for years. He took us to the bar and insisted on buying drinks: a glass of wine for Jayne and a large whisky for me. Actually two: “I got you two, Adrian; one won’t last long… Come and meet Tony!”
The hero of the Eldonian Village project is Tony McGann. He is much respected and admired throughout Liverpool. The Eldonians are very proud of him. He is an ex-forklift truck driver who took on Liverpool City Council, won his argument and then went on to turn his victory into an award-winning and much-praised housing development project. He has dined in Downing Street with Margaret Thatcher (he thought she was okay but didn’t like her politics!) and has been singled out for praise by the Prince of Wales. Most Fridays he can be found sitting at the end of the bar in the Eldonian Village Hall. Gerry introduced Jayne and me to him and straight away he was at pains to welcome us and to offer help if we needed it during our stay.
“That building over the way is the Tony McGann Centre,” Gerry cut in. I said I’d noticed it earlier. Using a line he must have used a thousand times, but still making it sound fresh, Tony quipped “Every time I see it I wonder if I’m dead! Who names things after people who are still alive?!” It was my round…
Later we went back to the wedding and introduced ourselves to the bride and groom. She was a picture of loveliness; he was not going to be much good to her later that night…! Both of them welcomed us to their wedding and insisted the cake be brought out again so we could each have a piece. After that we were sometimes back with Gerry and his music and sometimes at the wedding with the DJ. The DJ could have learned a thing or two off Gerry.
It was a fine evening and it was a couple of slightly unsteady boaters who weaved their way back to the basin that night. Jayne was only unsteady because she was helping me with navigation. I kept telling her I was fine – for I was fine: I just needed to find my land legs!
The following morning (or was it later the same morning?) Gerry came by the boats to see Jayne and me. “I really enjoyed meeting you last night and I’ve come down to say goodbye,” he said. “Oh – are you off somewhere?” we asked. “Er, no – you are, aren’t you? I thought you said you are leaving today…!” “No,” we laughed, “we only just got here – we’re staying a fortnight…!” “Oh,” Gerry exclaimed. Great. I got it all wrong. Will you be in the club again then?” “Definitely!” “Great! I’ll see you later then. Thought you were going today….!”
The day was to develop into a remarkable one. Jayne was off to explore Liverpool and I was to meet my cousin Christopher. He has lived in Liverpool, together with his wife and family, for some fifteen years and has, at times, worked at the centre of its corporate heart. He knows the place. We were indeed to go to Croxteth Park for Merseyfest. I was looking forward to it.
Liverpool- you must let it get to you.
Creating a Successful Long Term Future
The success of the Eldonian Village project over two and a half decades is testimony to its long term sustainability and it has deservedly become an internationally recognised model of community-led sustainable urban regeneration.
Built to the current building standards and upgraded to improve resource efficiency, the housing is designed to contribute to environmental sustainability. The development of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in the centre of the project has also made a contribution to the environment by encouraging wildlife into the area, providing opportunities for local children to experience nature first hand.
An emphasis upon training and the creation of local employment has provided a boost to the economy. Small and medium enterprises are thriving and encouraging major companies into the area, contributing to the local economy, employment and training opportunities.
A Neighbourhood Wardens Scheme, alongside careful design and management strategies has enabled crime and anti-social behaviour to be minimised in the area, creating safe and accessible spaces for all residents. New transport links that have been encouraged into the area are enabling residents to gain a wider access to the city.
A focus on the broader community has ensured that facilities and opportunities exist for all ages in the local community. From day care nurseries, community and sports facilities, to elderly care homes there is support at every level, ensuring the social inclusion of all. New supermarkets and other commercial enterprises attracted into the area are providing more choice and access to the community.
Having been established using a combination of grants, savings and private loans totalling around $18 million, the Eldonian Village has managed to become financially self-supporting. The costs of maintaining and running the housing and local facilities are met by tenant’s rents. Although all the facilities are self-financing (and in come cases income generating), rents continue to remain low. Crucially the attraction of outside investment, built through a strong relationship with the private sector, has helped to ensure that long-term financial sustainability is secured, by encouraging the development of a move diverse and mixed community.