A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I sailed his narrowboat from the centre of Birmingham where it’s moored to the boatyard at Alvechurch, for some maintenance work.
Gas Street Basin towards The Mailbox
Cube in progress
The Cube is a 17 storey tower, under construction and the final phase of The Mailbox development. Designed by Ken Shuttleworth of MAKE Architects, the mixed use development will contain 135 flats, offices, shops, a hotel and a ‘skyline’ restaurant. The building’s name come from its cubic dimensions. However, the building is more than a cuboid, as it floats on a glass first floor with the atrium twisting up through the centre. The building is topped with a two story angular crown which will house the hotel and restaurant. Inside, an open courtyard will contain shops which will act as a hub as people pass through from surrounding streets and the canal at Gas Street Basin. The outside will be clad in a golden anodised aluminium framework with windows cleverly placed for the best views and sunlight, but giving an impression of randomness.
Birmingham-born Shuttleworth has stated that the design evokes the city’s industrial heritage:
“The cladding for me tries to reflect the heavy industries of Birmingham which I remember as a kid, the metal plate works and the car plants – and the inside is very crystalline, all glass; that to me is like the jewellery side of Birmingham, the lightbulbs and delicate stuff – it tries to reflect the essence of Birmingham in the building itself.”
I didn’t take many photos, maybe because of being in motion, but I did shoot lots of video which is streaming before my mind’s eye. Just thinking of a narrative and a soundtrack . . . . . .
We navigated the Birmingham and Worcester Canal which was completed in 1815 and is 29 miles long. The journey from Birmingham to Alvechurch is about 11 miles, plus a 4 mile round trip to Tardebigge Wharf in order to turn the boat around in a winding hole.
A winding hole is a widened area of a canal, used for turning a canal boat such as a narrowboat. The term winding is correctly pronounced with a short “i” as in something that makes you out of breath, rather than to rhyme with finding. The word derives from the practice of using the prevailing wind to assist with the turn. Or as the case may be, an un-prevailing wind can botch up the turn, resulting in running aground on a concrete lump, breaking the barge pole and having to be unstuck by a passing canal boat.
Travelling by narrowboat is a stately method of conveyance. At about 4 miles per hour, you’re not going to get anywhere quick. So dinner that evening was a long, slow-cooking stew. Life afloat a narrowboat is a little bit like camping in that one doesn’t have the wide range of ingredients or batterie de cuisine that one has at home. So one makes do with what is at hand.
Birmingham and Worcester Canal Beef Stew
- Brasing beef, cut into cubes
- 1 ½ onions, chopped
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- Two handfuls of mushrooms, sliced
- Good olive oil
- Dried oregano
- A couple of potatoes, peeled and cubed
- A couple of carrots, peeled and sliced
- One parsnip, peeled and sliced
- A handful of haricot verts, trimmed
- Two under-ripe tomatoes from a dodgy corner shop on Pershore Road in King’s Norton, cubed
- Red wine
- Fresh peppercorns, crushed with an oregano bottle
- Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
- Beef broth made from an Oxo cube
At Selly Oak, sweat the onions and garlic in some olive oil. Add the meat, mushroms and a generous pinch of oregano after about a mile and brown over medium heat for another mile.
Just past the junction with the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, turn the meat mixture into an ovenproof casserole. Stir in the remaining vegetables.
Preheat the oven to pretty hot.
On the approach to the Wast Hill Tunnel, make enough beef broth to just about cover the stew ingredients, top it up with red wine and add a liberal splash of Worcestershire Sauce. Stir in the crushed peppercorns to taste.
Cover the casserole dish and place on a middle shelf in the oven. Go and sit on the bow, beneath an umbrella and experience the journey through the tunnel (1.5 miles). Take lots of video footage for next project.
Let the stew stew, periodically checking it for stewiness for the next four to five miles.
Once the turn at Tardebigge has been negotiated and at the east end of the Shortwood Tunnel, put a baguette in the oven to crisp, set the table and by the time the boat is moored at Alvechurch, Voila! – dinnertime.