Thursday, 5 December 2019

medieval brigands and robins

It's perishing cold on the canal, with freezing fog hanging in the steeply wooded Avon valley between Bradford on Avon and Bath. Everyone's got the canal lurgie that always spreads from boat to boat, as though it were carried by the foggy miasma through which we stumble, just as it used to be thought that the ague or malaria were spread by the damp air. What with that and the mud, it's all a bit medieval brigand, I can tell you.

Talking of medieval brigands, Sherry Jim's been wandering around looking cold and sorry for himself. His big seagoing boat had neither stove for heating nor stove for cooking, and a boat can get blooming cold without either, let me tell you. (I usually let my stove go out overnight, and it's a bit of a trial waiting for it to heat up again in the before-dawn dark). I lent him my little Primus stove to cook on, and he found a woodburner being sold remarkably cheaply, and trundled past with it in a wheelbarrow, so all is well.

A group of ramblers (they're like walkers but radiate self-righteousness) came by the other day; several of them fanned their hands before their faces and coughed theatrically, as they passed the smoke from my neighbour's boat. "It's supposed to be a SMOKELESS ZONE" said one. "It's smokeless fuel" I replied. But really, what the hell are we supposed to do to stay warm? -these entitled sods will no doubt drive their cars home to their centrally-heated houses... I guess they just don't like seeing liveaboards and our impolite lives.

I drove over to Bristol to pick up some new cards that Minuteman Press had been printing for me, including the one at the top there, of Caen Hill in the snow 

Driving up Brassknocker Hill I emerged briefly into sunlight. Funny to think that down there is the canal and everyone's huddled in the cold with no escape from it. I stopped to take photos; with only my phone, they don't look particularly wonderful, but so it goes. It was a magical sight.

I also picked up my post, which included a copy of Jane Russ' new Robin Book from Graffeg Press, which includes a couple of my pictures and my round robin poem, and some terrific work from some admirable poets and artists, including Deborah Harvey, Tamsin Abbott, Hannah Willow and Karin Celestine. Very seasonal! Makes an ideal Christmas present!

There is one small typo in my poem there, but what book comes without a typo? -when I took delivery of Drawn Chorus, I spotted the typo the moment I opened the first copy. It's just one of those immutable laws of publishing.


Saturday, 30 November 2019

boaters hey

Lorks its cold! Which made things very atmospheric along the canal as evening fell and we prepared for our great LIGHT SWITCHING ON and singing and partying, on the eve of the Winter Fayre. Up from the town rose the sound of their own official light switching on, officiated by someone who'd once been on the telly apparently. And they had mains electricity and amplifiers, so I'm sure it was all very bright. I stuck a light bulb in a 25L drum and hoist it up my bargepole where shortly beforehand the EU flag had been fluttering (or hanging limply, it wasn't very breezy) and lo, it were an the full moon had risen at the wrong time and the wrong place.

And as the night grew darker, the Cross Guns Singers belted out an assortment of trad seasonal songs and Jim Purry used his homemade bellows to get the forge roaring for warmth and metal bending; and there was hot chestnuts and mulled wine and curry from the Wolf Kitchen and lots of steaming breath and mud, and Sherry Jim was ratted, and just for the moment all was as it should be and well with the world.

We'll be here all weekend! On the Lower Wharf on Bradford on Avon.

Friday, 29 November 2019

in praise of the rigger boot

Let’s hear it for the rigger boot
The perfect place to stick your foot
When winter brings the endless rain
And towpaths turn to mud again.
They’re warm and dry and stylish eke
(Well, if we’re talking boater chic)
Go! Splash in puddles! Cause a nuisiance
With an air of insouciance

I'd been looking at rigger boots back in the autumn with an eye to getting a pair; "Don't be daft" said my sensible side (I do have one somewhere); "Your para boots are fine."

Then blow me if I didn't find a perfectly good-as-new pair by the bins in Bradford on Avon. It's a boater thing; if you've got something that you don't need but has some use in it, leave it by the bins for someone else. Sometimes you'll find treasure. Cacky old toilets covered in shite, maybe not so much. Some folk are rather naughty, to be quite honest.

Never  mind. Happy boots! Dry feet! Good morning!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

the Kennet and Avon Floating Fayre, Winter 2019

This year's canal winter fayre takes place on the Lower Wharf, Bradford on Avon, on the weekend of 30 Nov- 1 Dec. There'll also be a lighting-up on Friday evening, and probably some singing too.

There'll be artwork from me, silverwork from Anna Berthon, cool vinyl on sale from the Record Deck, weird stuff from the Goblyn Portal, mulled wine from the Dawdling Dairy, ace vegan takeaways from Wolf Kitchen, and all sorts of other arty crafty shit.

There'll also be the Buskers Stage, where some of the fine musicians of the canal will be performing.

Here's a link to the Facebook page for the event, which will enable you to get more info.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

not a solicitor

I've moved westward. Now the view has widened out to the big field where you can sometimes see hares. There's a barn owl that patrols the sides of the canal here too, so a while after the sun had dropped below the horizon I went out to watch for it. I was just in time to see it wheel round in the air and drop onto something in the field, and I watched in vain for it to rise again; it was either happily eating the prey there on the ground or had flown away low so that I couldn't see it against the gloom of the hill.

But I did see the two deer who'd emerged from the hedge and were walking softly across the horizon.

My time at Sells Green was mostly peaceful, though I was interrupted on Sunday by a hireboat speeding past my window as I sat at my desk idly sketching out ideas. Knowing that at that speed, it was going to clout good and proper against the swingbridge a little further on, I went out just in time to see the helmsman go hard astern. Water boiling from the prop, the boat came back as fast as it had gone forward, clouting the stern of my boat as it came.

Before I had a chance to say anything, the bloke on the tiller shouted at me that I shouldn't be moored where I was, and that my boat was a tip. I started filming the incident, in case it turned even nastier. He objected loudly to having his picture taken, covering his face with his arm. "You can't take my picture, it's against the law!"

"Oh yes I can, and oh no it isn't"

"I'll report you!"

"Go ahead and welcome. I'll be reporting this to the hire company"

A man on the towpath, whom I assumed was one of the hireboat party, approached and reiterated that I was breaking the law by photographing the man on the boat.

"No I'm not"

"Are you a solicitor?"


"Well, I am. Is your boat damaged? I'd like to come on board and take photos of it"

"You are absolutely not coming onto my boat"

"Well, there you are then" he said, as though to prove something.

And off they all went. I was shaking by this time. So I went below and fired off my email. And then vented on the canal Facebook group, where a friend commented that they'd been pranged by the same boat earlier, down at Semington.

The next morning, I got an email back from the hire company; 
Our hirers are due back later this morning and I will personally be pointing out the error of their ways.
Approaching at bridge at such speed is unacceptable, apart from the fact they should have been going slowly past your boat. To then lose control and proceed to abuse you, just shows that they are not the sort of customers that we wish to build our business upon.
I am glad that no real damage has been inflicted and will update you on their response later on.

This is one of the better hire companies, so I trust this response.

Presently, a couple came by. It was the self-identified solicitor and his wife. 

He apologised; his wife had seen and heard the entire incident and told him that the hireboat was in the wrong. They'd been walking their dog on the hill and had been opening the swingbridge as a courtesy for the boat.

I accepted his apology, and failed to point out that he was wrong about the law on privacy.  Not to mention the underlying assumptions that went behind his actions... 

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

hot water bottles and Macs

We've had the first frosts, and the last of the ash leaves are settling on the roofs of boats that were rash enough to moor under them; ash trees seem to go for the big leaf dump all at once, and a boat can almost disappear under them. I think the cold got into my MacBook; it seemed to boot up, but there was no display, so I used my iPhone to research solutions to a broken screen, and got nowhere. Until after a week or so, it just came back to life again while I was trying a few random combinations of opening and closing the lid while pressing buttons. 

So now I'm treating it very gingerly, and making it hot water bottles on cold nights, while for own part I simply huddle under two duvets and a quilt, and wrap fleeces round my head to keep it warm.

Into Bristol yesterday to pick up the latest prints; now the Crofton barn owl has been added to the Christmas card designs in my shop, and I've got a couple of prints of it as well. They're in the Etsy shop whose link is there on the right hand side of this page, hopefully.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

blow the wind easterly

This is the latest picture from the drawing board. It's a night scene at Crofton, the pumping station that uses the original beam engines to lift water from Wilton Water to the summit of the Kennet and Avon Canal. It's wild country round there, with a remote feel to it that came as a surprise to me when I first went that way on the canal, having previously thought of Wiltshire as somewhere to the side of an A road or the M4 where London commuters lived. Ha. How very wrong I was!

I sort of recycled the owl from my previous picture. When barn owls are hunting, they usually do it close to the ground of course, where the voles are. But I've seen them sometimes go high high up, on their way from one place to another. 

The wind's been blowing from the east these last few days, and it's miserably chilly out there. But I've got the stove going and all is cosy on board Eve. The Army have been practicing with their big guns on Salisbury Plain, and this wind brings the sound right to us, making the boat rattle ever so gently. I'm moored in Devizes, at the top of the Caen Hill locks, and on misty damp mornings it's like being back in Wales, up on the mountain, except that these days I've got better clothes for keeping the weather out. And only five minutes away is the town, one of my favourite towns, with a particularly good bookshop. And I'm not just saying that because they've just put my Wiltshire White Horses map in a window display...