Sola Gratia

Birmingham & Black Country Life.

Dear [FNAME]

This update is coming from Birmingham. We got here having not so much cruised as crunched our way along the Tame Valley canal, breaking ice all the way through sleet, rain and snow: Not the nicest of boating conditions, but we soon moored up cozy aboard with a lovely fire glowing in the stove. Since then, we have gone down the “Perry Barr” lock flight (nearly flooding the area in the process) and stopped at Aston. Our eldest daughter (Debbi), husband (Ryan) and one of their friends (also Ryan) joined us on our cruise up the 24 locks back to Cambrian Wharf in the heart of Birmingham.

We have recent spent a week in Bournemouth trying to make progress with the clearance of Tim’s parents’ belongings. This is proving to be a remarkably challenging process. Charity shops are very picky when it comes to accepting donations! Still, we have managed to get Tim’s sister’s consignment packed and on its way to her in Dublin, and another vanload has been taken away by an auctioneer. We are hoping these items will raise some funds for Guide Dogs, as per Mum’s wishes. We were also able to spend some time with the new renovations team who are doing sterling work to put right and finish the job started by the previous “Bodgit and Scarper” merchants.

During our time away it was a great blessing to be able to leave our home on a secure mooring in Tipton, in the Black Country, under the care of some friends, met via Guide Dog Oakley’s fan club! They were even kind enough to light a fire for us on our return day so that the Good Ship was already warm inside when we got home. God is so good and He uses all sorts of means to look after us.

Our journey from Rugby to the Birmingham area was ‘interesting’. We were in Leamington Spa when the heavy snow came down. There are many worse places we could have been ‘trapped’! The mooring was pleasant and only a very short walk from the town centre. The only problem was the lack of boaters’ facilities in the town. Tim had to walk a 4 mile round trip to empty the toilet cassettes! There was a lovely park just along the towpath for Oakley to enjoy the fun of the snow, along with about a dozen doggy-pals that he met up with there! It is arguable that dogs are even more excited about the white stuff than human children! The sheer joy and exuberance they exhibit never fails to raise many smiles!

The canal thawed sufficiently to allow us to attempt to continue our coddiwomple. However, we only got part way up the Hatton flight of locks before we had to surrender and moor up again for a few more days. The ice, in patches, was simply too thick to allow us safe and sensible cruising. Also, inch-and-a-half thick ice behind lock gates makes for difficult and dangerous work in trying to open them. We hunkered down and enjoyed the beautiful peace for a few more days!

A thaw came and released us and we made it into central Birmingham where we found a mooring at Cambrian Wharf. Despite recommendations to this location, we found it an ‘interesting’ place to stay. A fellow boater decided that 1.30am was a good time to begin a huge bonfire in an old oildrum – adjacent to his boat, which was moored immediately in front of us! Being woken at that time of night by the sound of crackling fire was, to say the least, a tad alarming! The Fire Brigade arrived but must have been satisfied that all was well, because they left again. The bonfire was going all night! Indeed, the following morning began with Fire Fighters emptying the abandoned drum and dowsing the embers! The following night, we had unwelcome visitors attempting to break into our back deck in the early hours. A loud ‘Oi!’ from Tracey soon sent them on their way.

We spent Christmas and New Year there and, thankfully, it was largely quiet and pleasant. There was some revelry from the wharfside pub, but this didn’t cause us any disturbance.

This was our first ever Christmas to ourselves in 30 years of marriage. We enjoyed the quiet time, but it was also lovely to journey to Hounslow to spend a day with both daughters, their respective men and, of course, our darling little granddaughter. That was a very precious and special day. Birmingham City Church was just a short walk away and provided a superb evening of worship and celebration to welcome in the New Year, starting around 9pm and continuing until the early hours of New Year’s Day.

We have just had our annual retreat weekend with the rest of the Canal Ministries team, plus trustees. This is always a wonderful time of fellowship and learning. This year was certainly no exception and was especially good for us after our first few months of properly living aboard and cruising the waterways.

On our journeying so far, we have had the privilege of meeting, befriending and helping a few people. Sometimes this can be nothing more than simply a friendly chat, or buying a meal for a homeless person. Other times it can take the form of being able to donate some warm clothing, or offer a cuppa and a chat. One particular coupl, that the Lord has brought us into contact with, remain in our thoughts, prayers and cares at the moment. (We will call them Anne and John for confidentiality reasons). They just happen to be fellow boaters who have recently fallen into difficult times. We have had the privilege of sharing their woes with them, from our perspective of ‘we know what it is like because we have been there’. Our practical assistance has simply taken the form of provision of a couple of food shops for them. Perhaps more poignant though, is our ability to ‘get alongside them’ with the empathy that comes from personal experience and to begin to steer them towards the right help. Even more importantly, we have been able to invite ‘Anne’ to church with us. She gladly accepted and is promising to keep going even when we are not there to escort her. She has found blessings, love and friendship, plus inspiring teaching there! Praise God! Please continue to pray for them both (our Lord knows their real identity).

We are now back in Birmingham City Centre again. This is primarily because we desperately needed more coal and diesel. We enjoyed welcoming our eldest daughter and son-in-law aboard for the weekend. We haven’t seen Debbi and Ryan since the end of December, so it was great to spend some time with them. They both now have heavy work schedules and so this was a rare opportunity for them to get away for a couple of days. It was great for us to have so many pairs of hands to help with the locks, too!

Rosie, our youngest, is busy being a fantastic Mum to little Hallie (now almost 2!), and James is coming to the very end of his 5 months away on the initial residential part of his apprenticeship with Network Rail. It will be wonderful for them all to be back together again, and for James’s actual work-based apprenticeship to begin.

As for us: We intend to continue to explore the Birmingham area for a while longer. There is a great network of canals around here and we would like to explore it all. We are beginning to settle into our life once again and so to getting on with things like writing Oakley’s book (Tracey), and website building and maintenance work and, of course, photography (Tim). Tracey’s reputation as an Inspirational Speaker seems to be spreading, as there is an increasing number of bookings coming in.

We have found some fantastic churches and fellowship along our way. We sensed a great feeling of emptiness as we cruised into and around Birmingham and the Black Country area. The Waterways Chaplains are building a good presence and reputation around here. We believe there are exciting times ahead as these fields become ripe.

We pray that God will direct our path and introduce us to the people He wants us to meet and help in whatever way is needed.