Friday was the big day for the “Home Demo” but not until two o’clock. A nice day again, if not quite as good as Thursday, so we walked down the towpath and worked our way cross country to the other end of Long Itchington and back through the village via the Co-op and over the fields behind the church to where we had moored the boat by the Two Boats Inn. We still liked the village and looked forward to getting to know it more.
A quick lunch and it was time to go down to the house. Good news, it was definitely finished and included everything we expected. Now it is decorated it feels like the house we thought it would be and we only found a couple of things that still needed to be done.
While we were at the development we had asked them to chase their solicitor and when we got back to the boat we had a message to confirm that completion day was definitely set for 19th October. We just managed to get to the removers in time before the weekend to confirm they could do the dates to match so now we were all set for that. It seemed only right to visit the Two Boats and celebrate (again!) with a couple of drinks before dinner.
Saturday was a universal washout. The good news was that this had been accurately predicted for some time so we had no plans to go anywhere. I would like to be a better man but I’m afraid we couldn’t help a sneaking sense of smugness and a little schadenfreude as we watched drenched, unsmiling crews drive past having had to come down Stockton Locks in the pouring rain in order to meet whatever timetables were urging them on. Many were hire boats so it was also their holiday they were suffering through, presumably to get back to a base in time. Not very long ago that would have been us and it is good to be able to avoid it now.
For us this was a chance to catch up on the rainy day things we had put aside in favour of being outside in the sunshine. Particularly with news of the completion date we had a lot of things to think about. We needed to look into getting the services set up, finding a vet, some puppy classes, someone to care for the lawn when we are away for long periods, arrange insurance etc. etc. etc. We were never going to get through it all at once but we made a start.
As we would be in Aintree on Monday, looking at the progress on our new boat, I also went through the much procrastinated “power audit” to measure the power every electrical thing on the boat is using, over how much of the day, in order to work out how many batteries we need of what type. Not so important for “South Downs”, as we seem to have come to a wary understanding with her, but useful as input to a decision on the battery supply for the new boat. We also had to compile a list of all the items on the plans that were still marked as “TBD” so we could either “D” on the day or at least establish when the “D” would have to have been made.
Sunday was a contrast. Dawn has been noticeably tardy of late. When it did come, it was bright and sunny, once again striking mist off the water, following a cold night getting close to zero. The air was bitter at first and stayed cold in the shade but by nine o’clock it was already warm in the sun and the day heated up steadily through the afternoon. We had quite a few locks to tackle en route to Leamington Spa and that warms you up quite nicely too.
We moored up close to the centre, in easy walking distance of the railway station, after another unusually long cruise. We were between a brightly floodlit loading bay on the offside and a busy office building, working round the clock, on the quite busy towpath side. It doesn’t sound ideal but as we were leaving the boat overnight the next day we hoped it would offer some extra security around her.
Our trip to see the boat builders in Liverpool sounded straightforward, in principle, but actually involved four trains. Leamington to Birmingham New Street was half an hour late and then found itself hot on the heels of a local stopping train. Inevitably, the connection from Birmingham to Liverpool Lime Street was missed by a mile. At Lime Street we needed to change and take a train from Platform 1 to Liverpool Central, apparently with a train every 5 minutes. After scouring the departure boards in Lime Street station for any train to Liverpool Central and finding no mention of it we asked a porter, who told us we had to go downstairs to the underground and take any train from Platform 1 there. Liverpool has an underground railway – who knew! Finally, another local train for a few stops to Fazakerley, a name specifically designed to be spoken in a scouse accent. The station is tiny and completely unmanned. There was no taxi rank in evidence so, given that it was now a fairly fine afternoon, we chose to walk to Aintree Boats from there. It was actually not a bad walk with a lot of wide green verges and roads that, while busy, were not jammed as they would be in London. We did think it would be helpful if Aintree Boats decided to move somewhere closer – to almost anywhere.
The boat is taking shape. By the time we got there it had slipped a week from the progress we had been told to expect only a week previously but in canal time that translates to being bang on schedule. Our hard copy of the actual plans had been sent to Aintree for us to collect there and it was a little disconcerting to see that, in order to give them to us, Mark had to unseal the tube with all the copies in. It begs a question as to what they have been working from until we arrived but we decided it was a question we would be better not to ask. We have to hope they have had copies electronically, as we have, and are using them. We covered all the outstanding items, one way or another, in a couple of hours there and headed off to spend the night with Lenny Henry.
The Premier Inn experience is not quite as he portrays it in the adverts, we were expected to take breakfast at the Toby Inn next door, at extra cost, and we made up the set with an evening meal at a local Harvester in the Retail Park up the road. Adequate was the word coming most often to mind. This is one thing about not having a car with you. Your choices become severely limited, you can’t go somewhere and then just change your mind and move on somewhere else and when you are staying somewhere in the wild North West these restrictions are exaggerated.
We called a taxi to take us back to Lime Street, less than a tenner and a lot less hassle. At the station there was news of a derailment at Sheffield but it didn’t seem to affect our train to Birmingham which arrived in good time to get the connection back to Leamington Spa. Of course, this was affected and was eventually delayed by 35 minutes, although this time it was able to maintain a sensible speed. While we waited at New Street a nice lady from Network Rail, who was no doubt completely innocent, approached us and asked if we could spare a minute to answer a questionnaire. We were able to confirm that, unexpectedly, we could spare 35 minutes. What she did advise us was that if the delay was more than half an hour we could claim compensation, a fair return for the valuable feedback we were able to offer.
Leamington Spa was warm, absurdly warm for October but very pleasant all the same. The boat was apparently unharmed and we got on the move as soon as we could, moving down for a shopping trip at a Morrison’s just across the road from the canal before winding (turning round) and heading back the way we had come. It really was a beautiful evening for a cruise along the canal and we were able to get out of the town and moor up opposite the church at Radford Semele, on an aqueduct sitting above a lovely nature reserve and the River Leam, just in time for an aperitif in the sunset.
On Wednesday, another lovely summer’s October day, we retraced our route back up to Long Itchington where we couldn’t resist going back down to the house and pestering them for another look around. We then contacted the insurer we talked to in July, good old Saga, to arrange insurance for the property. It was a bit of a surprise to be told that, because their records had not been updated with the latest Postcode Address Files, their system couldn’t recognise the postcode and they couldn’t quote. They weren’t the only ones. We tried several insurers who all took the same approach. There was no question of an exception process to refer it to an actual underwriter. No postcode – no quote. This included the Post Office themselves! In despair and frustration we retired to the Two Boats to plan our movements over the next week or two.
The early completion means that we can’t really go anywhere, as we had planned, before needing to pick up the keys. We did want to have collected our car at that point, too, so would need to head south by train during that time as well. We ended up planning a very slow series of short hops to Rugby, where the service to London is more convenient, followed by a trip down to Purley to collect the car and hopefully meet some old friends there. We would return by car on the Friday, collect the house keys, pass them to the carpet fitters and then return to the boat at Rugby to bring it back down, a bit more energetically, over the weekend.
Thursday morning started fine but with a lot more cloud around. There is a small shop a couple of hundred yards from the canal in the houses off Stockton Road and a notice beside the first lock explains that by going through the alley between some garages, just a few yards down the towpath you can get straight there. As we had failed the shopping challenge in the Co-op the day before we needed some milk so I set off to find the shop. The notice by the lock is very old. The sturdy five barred gate that guards the street entrance to the garages and its impressive array of padlocks is very new. CCTV may well have captured footage of a man of advancing years forced to perform a commando roll under the gate in order to escape. I managed to find a more dignified route back with the milk but it was a long way round.
Although the weather forecast was poor and there was a lot more cloud around we had plenty of sunshine heading back up the Stockton Flight. We could see no-one else moving in either direction. Although that meant we didn’t get any help on any of the ten locks, their being so close together also meant that we could introduce our own system to speed things up by emptying the lock ahead while filling the one we were in. We were all done in much less than two hours. Arriving at the top we were greeted by the same uncommunicative volunteer lockkeeper who had watched us go down. This time, while he presented the same taciturn, grumpy demeanour when we arrived, he suddenly asked about having seen us go down last week. I explained where we had been and all of a sudden he became quite chatty and even helped to finish off the lock. Can’t wait to see how he behaves next time.
Having moored up for the day, just outside Ventnor Marina, before noon. We tackled the insurance question again. A couple of the companies we had contacted had suggested that if we used a comparison site they would have many more insurers on their panel and would return results from any of them that did have the postcode in their system. With a better mobile broadband signal we tried this and eventually got around seven quotes. Among the top three, along with two complete unknowns, was Saga. Quite a palaver to end up back where we started! The price is more expensive than they suggested in July but still the cheapest of the reputable companies. The first priority is to get cover in place now. We’ll tackle the ‘best value’ question next year when, presumably, they will all recognise the house’s existence and be able to vie for our business. In the meantime, we derived a mischievous satisfaction from forcing Saga to insure us after all. There was a lot more to look into and arrange which would be tedious and time-consuming at the best of times. It was now pretty clear that the issue of “computer says no” in relation to the postcode was going to keep coming up and make it doubly tiresome.