Gas Street Basin

We’ve heard a few people denigrate Birmingham over the years. Then there was the ridiculous person in USA who stated that there was no point visiting the city as no-one spoke English (boy did he have egg on his face!).

There’s narrow boaters who live in fear of mooring in the city centre because of horrific tales and rumour mongering.

Well we say rubbish! It’s one of the most buzzing, vibrant, historic, colourful, friendly, fun and fabulous places in the UK – it’s flourishing and undergoing all manner of renovations each time we have the pleasure of visiting.

Great choice of weekend RCTA!

As the final ‘Floating Market’ of the 2015 programme for the Roving Canal Traders Association, it’s hard to imagine they could’ve chosen a better weekend as far as footfall’s concerned.

Thousands of people flocked to the midlands to gaze at the new New Street Station and its shops and cafés; entertainment galore for the big ‘Birmingham Weekender‘; playing host to a number of Rugby World Cup games (at Villa Park); and of course around 20 trade boats lined up from the recently opened Barclaycard Arena and beyond Sheepcote Bridge.

Friday was rather full-on:

  • Before we’d even had breakfast (we’re not early risers!), Abi and Andy knocked on our roof for a chat. They’re a couple of roving TV documentary journalists from Bookhouse Media, a Zodiak Media company, who are “… producing a TV documentary that takes a glimpse into communities living, working and enjoying leisure time on canals across the UK. We’re looking to film with narrowboating enthusiasts – from first timers to marina residents, canal festival organisers through to keen holiday weekenders.” They listened to our stories about how we came to be living and trading on the Inland Waterways, and may come back when we’re in Stourbridge mid-October to film. The chose Sandra Willis and her doggie gifts boat (Golden Boyz), and Kit and Mike on their herbalist and knick-knacks boat for their Birmingham filming.
  • Sheila and Jim, from NBIslonian (aka ‘FlavoursAfloat’), organised a Macmillan Coffee Morning – and we all brought an offering of cake as our contribution. The grand sum of £167.47 was raised from that and a ‘guess the number of dots on the cake’ competition.
  • A couple from Tasmania (so sorry we’ve forgotten your names!) stopped by to chat with us – they’ve been loyal blog followers for years and we’ve met them previously. They spend around six-months each year on their narrowboat, missing winter in each hemisphere (oh I dream of being able to afford to do that!).
  • On the dot of 7.30pm a loud horn sounded, and we all switched on our illuminations – not quite to Blackpool’s standard, but still rather spectacular. Trading that day commenced around 10am and continued through to 10pm! A long day for Barry to be standing and talking to dozens of people about the benefits of home brewing.
The Home Brew Boat Birmingham

Open for trading – and glorious weather to boot

The Home Brew Boat Birmingham

A spectacular location – we were extremely fortunate to get our boat picked out of the hat at this awesome spot

RCTA floating market Birmingham 2015

Some of our fellow traders

RCTA floating market 2015

Looking back towards the new library (another spectacular experience in Birmingham)

RCTA floating market 2015

A few traders on the other side of the bridge (sadly shaded and rather chilly)

RCTA floating market Birmingham 2015

All lit up from 7.30pm onwards Friday evening

We even had our very own Busker, Linda Simpson, who serenaded us in the day-time, and also through the Friday evening (there’s actually a video of Barry and I ‘smooching’ outside our boat that was taken unbeknown to us which we’ll post a link to when we get it).


Saturday was our sixth wedding anniversary – well the first one anyway! 26th September 2009 was when we pledged our coupledom on the roof of NB Northern Pride outside the Dog and Doublet, Bodymoor Heath. My eldest daughter and our two gorgeous grandsons came for a few hours – and I even had a Maori moko (tattoo) stamped on my chin (traditional place for wahine/women) at The Rep:


A selfie in the library …

We didn’t exactly plan any sort of celebration – though we did go to Centenary Square to watch an incredible (free!) show called ‘Maudits Sonnants‘ (check out the photo on the site):

French performance company Transe Expresse bring this exhilirating, adrenaline-inducing, awe-inspiring production to Birmingham for the very first time.  Actors, trapezists, acrobats, bell ringers, dancers, percussionists, singers, string quartets, welders, technicians and forgers will fill Centenary Square with bewitching performances that are lifted skywards.

Breathtaking …

Then we were privileged to be taken to The Malt House (yes that one President Reagan Clinton (thanks Andy for correcting me) had a drink in once years ago …) and watched the closing minutes as Wales sneaked in a totally unexpected Rugby World Cup match victory against England – and a late tea of pizza – by Andrew Denny (of ‘Granny Buttons‘ fame), after I’d helped him up the Aston Lock Flight shortly before dusk.

Barry gave Andrew a hand on the final four of the Farmer’s Locks on Sunday evening, following which we rose in the early hours of Monday to watch an amazing spectacle – a full moon lunar eclipse. Last year Barry had a full moon on his birthday and we researched how many had fallen on our respective anniversaries. I couldn’t find any from 28th September since 1959 – so to have one in 2015 AND a full eclipse, was especially magical.

Lunar eclipse 28th September 2016

Almost fully eclipsed – taken with my iPhone

lunar eclipse 28th September 2015

Lunar eclipse taken by Barry – wow!

Obviously we HAD to then have a lie-in, so had a little splurge on brunch at Ed’s Diner (well we were ‘parked’ right outside it!) which was interesting – but despite their promise on the wall we’re unlikely to ever repeat; then a delectable treat at Café Concerto in the new New Street; a drink with fellow traders at Weatherspoon’s ‘Figure of Eight’; and finally something we’ve been intending to do for a while – watching a movie, sitting on a comfy sofa with drinks and nibbles delivered to us at The Electric Cinema (one of its claims to fame being it’s the oldest working cinema in the country).

What a bliss-full birthday!

Ed's Diner Birmingham

Eat here once (and we’re unlikely to return!) – quaint and better than cereal and toast on board Areandare

Café Concerto New Street

Cappuccinos with an extra shot, plus a shared Millie Feuille (Barry got the small portion!)

Electric Cinema Birmingham

Sofa-service on ‘Davies’ – now that’s decadent!

A walk around town

Following a full-on trading weekend for Barry, I had a coaching client booked in for Tuesday morning, so Barry had a turn to chill, have a walk around town, and take a few photos …

Gas Street Basin from The Mailbox (with the NIA in the background)

Gas Street Basin from The Mailbox (with the NIA in the background)

Gas Street Basin

An artist’s impression of life in Gas Street Basin

The Cube, The Mailbox and Gas Street Basin

The Cube, The Mailbox and Gas Street Basin

Blindly Place

Brindley Place – the canal-side in Birmingham is amazing

 On to Bentley Bridge – and London!

We meandered to Tipton yesterday where I jumped on a train to mum’s. We’re on our trip to London tomorrow, to see the Frank Sinatra Show, staying in a posh hotel for my birthday present.

Barry’s trading with five other boats at Bentley Bridge. I’ll be back on board on Tuesday next week – not sure to which station yet!

When we mention to people that Barry’s engaged in a five-year process to gain ‘permission’ to stay with his wife in the country of her birth, the response frequently includes some reference to how ‘everyone else gets in without any problem’.

Whilst there may be an element of truth in this, we suspect it’s not as ‘simple’ as people imagine for anyone other than EU nationals to enter the UK (and we’re not even sure about the simplicity of that route to be honest).

Regardless of the facts or fiction, for us we accept we must tick boxes and follow the rules (and I freely admit to disliking rules a lot!) in order to obtain Barry’s ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ (ILR) in England.

Confusion abounds …

We’d been planning on returning to England to live long-term, since late 2010. At that time it seemed fairly simple – a two-year process for Barry to go through to get his ILR.

When the goalposts changed in July 2012, we were oblivious.

We were busy – running businesses as well as being employed, getting our house ready to sell, studying and gaining coaching experience as I was then over half way through my Life Coaching Diploma, and a whole heap of other pressures.

Fortunately Tom, from NBWaioru, messaged me in November 2012 to inform me the process had changed from two years to five – and ‘new rules’ had been added. By then we’d already sold our house and booked our tickets for March 2013.

I shan’t bore you with the details (or expense) from then to Barry successfully gaining his first UK visa, in October 2013.

We knew we’d have to successfully apply again half way through the five-year process, and of course at the end of it.

From what we’d read about a ‘Spousal Sponsored UK Visa’, the next round was two years after the first visa was granted, which was the end of October 2013. The official website information is extremely confusing and complex to say the very least. Our minds boggle at the intricacies of journeying through the process every time we investigate it – and we’re fairly intelligent people!

As it was our understanding that once again we’d need the requisite lump sum in an easily accessible account for six months prior to the application, we’d ensured it was duly deposited in April this year (not a small sum – £62,500).

Since then, we’ve been very conscious we need to earn at least enough to sustain us and pay the bills. We’ve been looking forward to a hint of release from that pressure next month – after Barry negotiated the next round of his visa (fingers crossed!).

Ahead of our time

A few months ago I’d seen that Birmingham library offer free legal advice for immigration processes, and we’d tried a couple of times to book an appointment when we’ve been in the second city – but to no avail until yesterday …

I finally managed to make an appointment with the legal adviser when I took mum to see the library on Wednesday.

Thinking we were just wanting to make sure we had all the correct information, we weren’t prepared for the news that we actually couldn’t apply until 28 days before 21st July 2016!!!


Totally dumbfounded.

And to cap it all, a further ‘rule’ has been introduced without our knowledge.

Barry now has to pay £200 per year, or part of, towards any NHS ‘care’ he could potentially receive. We must pay this, £500, and get a reference number, BEFORE he applies in June. The fact that he’s seen a doctor and consultant once, last year, when he had optic nerve shingles (the stress of making him leave the boat to holiday in Cornwall!) and is unlikely to visit one again, is irrelevant.

But then I guess we’re not earning enough to pay National Insurance at the moment, and in NZ he’d pay for any visit to the GP, so maybe it’s understandable to charge ‘just in case’.

It is what it is

As a Life Coach I love to ‘reframe’ life’s challenges, put them in a different perspective, rather than dwell on them and see the dark side.

My reframe on this one is that by cocking up the time-frame, we’ve managed to keep hold of our savings and it’s provided the impetus to work hard to build up our businesses so they (just about!) keep our heads above water – excuse the pun!

In comparison to many people we know we’re extremely fortunate – and rich in an abundance of ways. We have choices. We could sit in a marina and both get ‘proper’ jobs. We could return to New Zealand and I could work as a midwife again (so long as I got back before March 2016!).

But we shan’t be doing any of those things.

Because we love what we’re doing. We love the freedom and flexibility of this lifestyle we’ve chosen. And we enjoy the businesses we’re working on and in currently.

Importantly I know time with my elderly mum is limited and that’s a priceless priority for me.

So we’ll engage a lawyer to steer us through the sticky, slimy, sludge of obstacles being put in our way – and we WILL make it to the finish line and proudly show Barry’s ILR at the end of this particular life journey.

We sort of understand the politics of the rationale of looking like the government is doing something about the ‘immigration crisis’ in UK, and being stuck in the middle of it. We know we’re powerless to change it …

And we wish others going through a similar process all the best – and we won’t get sucked into complaining about anyone else who’s perceived to be ‘getting into England easily’. Because actually we don’t know their story, and have no right to sit in judgement of them.

The Home Brew Boat at Huddlesford

Amongst the 2,000 miles of interconnected navigable canal and rivers in England and Wales, there remains sections in the process of restoration – some more actively than others.

Lichfield, a cathedral city (famous for it’s three spires), is a short distance north east of Sutton Coldfield, where I grew up and raised my two children. Since 1988, the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust has been actively working on restoring their section of the Inland Waterways to join up with the system.

One of their fund-raising activities is a bi-annual festival held at the Lichfield Cruising Club – The Huddlesford Heritage Gathering. Last weekend was our first experience of  the event. Ashamedly we hadn’t heard of it until we received a Facebook message from one of the organisers inviting The Home Brew Boat to trade there – and I fortunately also snuck in as a facepainter …

The weather was on her best behaviour for a change, enabling almost 5,000 people to enjoy all the activities on offer and rewarding those who’d worked so tirelessly to organise a fabulous event.

The Home Brew Boat

The Home Brew Boat arrives at dusk on Thursday evening

The Home Brew Boat at Huddlesford

A photo from the LHCRT website – the gentleman on the left is a long-time blog reader from Glasgow who came to say hi to us – it was really lovely to meet you and your wife


Funtastic Facepainting at the Huddlesford Heritage Gathering

Funtastic Facepainting’s pitch

Lichfield and Hitherto Restoration Trust logo

Two of the organisers with their LHCRT logo painted

Huddles ford Heritage Gathering

The music marquee and BBQ area

We had a wonderful weekend trading and socialising with lots of friendly folk. Thank you so much for inviting us – we’ll be back!

Canal Boat 20 Questions

A few weeks ago, Barry told me he’d had a second email from someone about an article asking him 20 questions. They’d been intrigued seeing Barry in his ‘Get your kit off the home brew crew’ T-shirt at Crick in May, and chatted to him briefly there. Barry wasn’t really sure what it was about – it turned out to be quite a privilege to be invited to contribute to this feature.

Luckily the publication had the good sense to send a reminder after their first attempt – and I realised what a great opportunity (and honour) this offer was.

We got our copy of the October edition of ‘Canal Boat‘ last week when my eldest sister visited us – she fortuitously lives in Lichfield.

Canal Boat 20 questions

The amusing thing about Barry becoming more well known, is he came to England to get away from everyone knowing him in Gisborne as the local school, wedding, portrait and commercial photographer!

Which leads me nicely onto another publication he’ll be featuring in – ‘Waterways World‘ November edition. He was invited to write a short piece on advice for budding waterways photographers, including three of his favourite images and we submitted said piece on Friday (phew! It’s all go on board Areandare).

Coming up …

I’ve been with my mum for a few days while Barry’s been returning to Birmingham for the Roving Canal Traders Floating Market this weekend.

It actually begins tomorrow at 10am and finishes at 10pm. In the evening the trading boats will be illuminated which promises to be a magical sight. We’ll be moored right beside the new Barclaycard Arena – previously known as the National Indoor Arena.

The following weekend I’m taking mum to London to see the Queen the Frank Sinatra Show – actually she’s paying for me for my birthday which is on Monday next week. We’re staying in a five-star hotel overlooking the River Thames. What a treat that will be!

Barry will be solo-boating once again, trading at Bentley Bridge with five other boats.

It’s a challenge to keep up with this blog as you can imagine, whilst trading, visiting family and writing articles. The lovely gentleman in the photo above, who said he’d been reading our blog I believe since it began in May 2009, said even if I blog infrequently to please not stop.

I shall endeavour to continue – and one day may even get the spectacular River Nene photo journey published here!!


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