Wednesday, 26 June 2019

a surly hireboater

I moved the boat up to Bradford on Avon ready for the launch of Poets Afloat, of which more in the next post. And then I spent the weekend on the wharf, with my pictures and cards books set out, and the weather was hot (and rather uncomfortably humid), and everyone seemed to be out of sorts. So I made a few sales and met some nice people, but not very many. 

And then a hireboat moored next to me came adrift when the pin holding the stern line was tugged out by the pull of a passing boat; so I scrambled onto the bow, made my way aft and prepared to throw the line to Rustic Mark, who was passing. 

And as I swung it, I slipped and fell down the stairwell, and falling forward, narrowly avoided going overboard.

Hey ho. We got the boat secured anyway. 

The bloke who'd hired it returned some while later, and I happened to be out painting my bike. He gave me a very surly hello, so, not to be slighted, I said "Your boat came adrift; we repinned it."

"The ground's really loose here" he said, and that was his sole acknowledgement. 

He then went and pulled out the pin and hammered it in somewhere else. 

The next morning he set off, ordering his partner about in a very surly way indeed. She and I exchanged a few friendly remarks as she untied the bow rope; they're spending over a week more cruising. Sounds like hell for her.

An aching in my side got progressively worse. I guess I've gone and cracked a rib again. Bloody nuisance, because I'm due into dry dock in less than a fortnight, and was intending to do the blacking myself; but going by how I feel now and how I felt for ages last time this cracked rib business happened, I was seriously worried that I'd be able to do it, and it seems unfair to ask others to help when I'm not able to do much myself.

So I went and talked with Ted at the dry dock, and they'll be doing the job for me. 

The pics are from last year, and not my boat, by the way!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

the Forbury Loop, Reading

I was asked to map the Kennet navigation in Reading, by Graham Puddephatt of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, to coincide with the advent of the KACT's new trip boat Matilda, and the Reading Water Fest. So I did, and here it is. There's a lot of history buried or otherwise hidden away in that bit of Reading. You can get a copy of the map from my Etsy shop here

...mind you, sometimes it seems like a Berkshire or Hampshire town that can't claim a connection with Jane Austen is the unusual one...

the old Simonds Brewery stables are still there, next to the County Lock

Sir John Knill was one of those awkward types who kept the navigation open in the dark days of British Waterways trying to run them down. His son Jenkyn is still highly active on the West End of the canal, here he is on Lady Lena, in Bathampton

...poor old Captain Scott. By the way, Burberry, who also feature on the map because they made trench coats for the British Army during the First World War, supplied Scott's successful rival Roald Amundsen. 

Friday, 14 June 2019

Poets Afloat - book launch

Thursday 20th June
The Lock Inn, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1LE

We'll be launching Poets Afloat, the new collection of canal poetry, on Thursday evening. There'll be readings from the poets (of course) and musical interludes from acclaimed duo Devil's Doorbell. The Lock Inn is a very congenial spot next to the Kennet and Avon Canal, and we'll be out in the garden (or under the pergolas if the weather's iffy). 

Free entry, of course. 

20% of profits from the book go to the Floaty Boat Fund

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

warbling in the night

work in progress

I was cruising up to Semington last month, and as I approached Marsh Farm near Hilperton I heard a sudden burst of birdsong. "A Cetti's warbler?" I wondered, and slipped the engine into neutral and coasted, listening intently. There was no repeat performance though.

Next morning I cycled down to Bradford on Avon to pick up the car, and paused for a while at Marsh Farm, but no Cetti's did I hear. Discussing it on the canal Facebook page, though, a friend moored at Whaddon, half a mile or so on from Marsh Farm, sent me a recording he'd made, and lo! It was a Cetti's warbler. The song is very distinctive; hugely emphatic, with an initial introductory note and a pause, like the HWAET that precedes an Old English poem, then a sudden quickfire burst of notes, repeated a few times.

Now I'm back down below Bradford, at one of my favourite spots; Horse Field, looking up from my desk at the hillside where at this moment two crows are swaggering about like Wild West gunslingers who've just done ridden into town, and the rabbits are keeping a wary eye on them; a few months ago I saw a crow attack and kill a rabbit over there, though the long grass spared me the gory details. Two mornings ago I glanced up to see a roebuck trotting down the hill towards me. 

It stepped into the copse at the bottom of the field and presumably stayed there all day. Unless you see where deer have holed up, you'll almost certainly be entirely unaware of their presence; three roe deer spent the day in the woods opposite the boat a while ago, and it was only because I saw them arrive that I could recognise the white tails and the occasional flicker of movement.

Last time I was here I'd heard a mysterious bird in the middle of the night (or at least it felt like that), and wondered for a while, then forgot about it. But I heard it again a few nights ago, and made a recording of it. It's quite far away, so you'll have to listen carefully. It's a Cetti's warbler. Two things stopped me identifying it the first time round; one was that the song is much shorter than the usual song, and the bigger one was that I had got used to the idea that there are no Cetti's warblers around here. Over the last few summers I'd only ever heard them east of the Bruce Tunnel, between Pewsey and Hungerford. Anyway, have a quick listen.

I do try not to make assumptions, but often fail, and the assumptions can get in the way of learning something new. Hence my failure to recognise this bird the first time I heard it. I did get annoyed when someone else did it to me a while ago on Twitter; when they mentioned the rarity of water voles I remarked on the number of times I've seen them on the canal, and she replied "lots of people think they've seen water voles when they're actually rats." Uh huh.

The brevity of its song here seems to be characteristic of it singing in the dark; it begins between 0230 and 0300, long before any other bird around here (though sedge warblers can and will sing all night). There's a handy site called xeno-canto, where you can hear all sorts of bird sounds, and a night-singing Cetti's in a recording there sounds just like the one I heard. In the daytime, by the way, it goes back to the full song, but it's so far away (down by the river) and so short and episodic, that it tends to get drowned out by the noise and bustle of the daytime canal.

On the mystery bird front, here's something that Liz Williamson heard at Stourhead. Had me flummoxed, but I wondered if it was a jay, because jays often mimic other birds; I've heard them do a convincing buzzard, heron, and even (in Bristol, near the zoo) howler monkeys. Behold, xeno-canto turned up a recording of a jay sounding just like this. What is it mimicking, though? -sounds like a Scops owl?

Monday, 20 May 2019

dropping a key down a grating

From Seend, it's an easy cycle ride into Devizes. And an even easier cycle ride back, as it's a long downhill past the Caen Hill locks. And as long as you can ride your bike back.

I was market day, so I browsed through the bric a brac at the Corn Exchange, then locked the bike outside the Shaw Trust charity shop. Coming back to it, I fumbled with the key, and dropped it down the grating that was in exactly the right place to accept it neatly.

I stared down the hole. There was a cone of nondescript grey stuff reaching nearly the top of a quite small space. I lifted the grating and lowered my foot gingerly, in case the grey stuff turned out to be guano.

It was solid concrete. I guess a builder had emptied their leftovers down there.

So I squeezed down into the hole, and reached around, feeling through the litter that had found its way down there. Couldn't find the key.

Tried getting back out. Couldn't get out.

By now a small but increasing crowd had gathered. A practical and helpful woman took my arm and heaved. She was joined on the other arm by a kindly polish chap. 

Eventually I emerged.

Smiles all round, except for an Elderly and Very Proper Lady who scowled at the inconvenience as she walked by.

Oh dear, how to get the bike and me back to the boat, a couple of miles away?

I'd passed the Wessex Rose hotel boat at the top of the Caen Flight about to descend it, and had an idea that I might be able to hitch a lift for the bike if I asked nicely. So I hitched the bike onto my shoulder and set off.

It got heavier and heavier by the yard, and the stops to change shoulders got more and more frequent.

Reaching the flight, I met an ex-boater I vaguely knew, who kindly offered a lift for me and the bike in his van, which was parked at the bottom of the flight. So we carried it between us. 

And so I got home, thankful for the kindness of strangers.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Poets Afloat - an anthology of canal poetry

On Tuesday I picked up the first edition of Poets Afloat, the collection of poems by people living on or otherwise connected to the canals, and most particularly the Kennet and Avon Canal. They offer an insider's perspective on life on the cut, its wildlife, people, and misadventures. 

There's some terrific stuff in there, from poets both known and previously unpublished; Michelle Smith, Audrey Nailor, Christine Rigden, Jinny Peberday, Georgina Beazeley, Fanny Gorman, Emma Whitcombe, Simon Kirby, Sarah Jean Bush, Gail Foster, Sarah Kitcatt, Ann Drysdale, Louise Tickner, Jo Stait, and me.

20% of profits from the sale of this book go to the Floaty Boat Fund, helping keep vulnerable boaters in their homes.

As usual, you can get it directly from my boat (if you can find it!) or in Devizes Bookshop and Ex Libris in Bradford on Avon. 

Thursday, 28 March 2019

per ardua

Jim was sitting next to the stove, on the steps down from the foredeck, nursing a glass of rum. After the usual inconsequential talk about this and that, he casually mentioned that he'd got the bug that was going round. Bug? What kind of bug? 

A nasty kind, as it turned out. Ta, Jim. 

So the weekend was mostly spent staunching rivers of snot, and feeling like my eyes were full of grit and my head full of cotton wool.

Most of the rest of the canal folk have had it, or are in the middle of having it, too. It is a bit medieval along here when it comes to plagues and mud. Jim got off quite lightly, cheerfully carrying about his business of whizzing around being helpful and spreading germs. He reminded me of Humphrey Bogart and John Huston on the set of The African Queen, who'd shun the local water and go off to drink whisky in their tent. And they were the only ones on the set not to come down with the fever.

Hey ho. On Tuesday I was recovered enough to ride over to Bradford on Avon and post off some work, and catch up with some folk. Everyone who could be, was out enjoying the weather.

And yesterday I was off on another errand. There was a small pool of damp under the Traveller's engine, so I lifted the bonnet to check the cooling system. Nothing too obviously amiss, but I notcied that the fan belt was coming to bits. Oh dear! So I headed towards Charlie Ware's Morris Centre in Brislington, watching for the signs of complete failure (red battery light, temperature gauge).

Then on the Keynsham bypass, the car started slowing down. What? No battery light showing - has it failed? Bumpity bumpity. Aha, flat tyre. Great, on a dual carriageway with nowhere to pull in. Have to keep going. Some folk I know broke down on this very same dual carriageway and were badly injured when a lorry ploughed into them. I tried not to let the thought bother me excessively as I trundled along like a tank stumbling over breezeblocks. At last, somewhere to pull in!

The flat tyre was totally trashed by now, but the spare had some air in it, even if it was bald as a coot, and Charlie Ware's was only a quarter of a mile away. I fitted the new fan belt as they replaced the tyre, then swapped out the spare, and started up. Let out the clutch, and... funny noises from below, and no movement. Oh no! Not the clutch as well?

No, just me forgetting to drop the rear axle off the jack.

Oh well, it entertained Laurence, watching from the spares section. 

the fan belt that got me there

and the tyre that didn't