Wednesday, 1 January 2020

drawing maps





I looked through my photo album to see what I had been up to ten years ago, and the two pics I was happiest with in that year were my hailstone fox and badger in May.


 Crikey, ten years! My output has not been exactly prodigious in the intervening years, but heck, there have been distractions. I seem to have fallen into drawing maps, which is nice as I've always liked maps and drawing them, and if people like them as well then it's win-win.

It was a fairly quiet decade, relatively speaking. The preceding one had seen my old life fall to pieces as I began to transition; then things began to seem settled and successful, till the hassle I was getting at P&O Ferries became too much, and then I had almost two years working towards the tribunal that saw me vindicated and perhaps taught some companies that they needed to take equalities seriously. And then there was 'Becoming Drusilla', my collaboration with Richard Beard, intended to show what life is actually like when you're trans, rather than what you read about in the Sun. The book was very well received. Were we at last reaching the broad sunlit uplands?

Maybe not. This last decade has had much about it that has been low and dishonest, with pushback from the far right and from some folk who seem sincerely worried about cis women's rights being eroded by trans women; and, social media being what it is, those who fall down the TERF rabbit hole seem to end up going round in circles, affirming each others' misunderstandings. (Obv I am in my own set of confirmation bias, but at least I know the enemies' arguments, because it's hard to avoid them, seeing as how they're trumpeted in the press and on the radio... and so many people will not listen to trans people themselves, despite our being, you know, experts in our own field, because they view us as unreliable witnesses; we are seemingly infantilised by the simple fact of being trans. I have been lectured on gender by people who've seemingly read the Ladybird book on it 40 years ago and Know Everything)

So it goes. My own decade has had its own little stresses, like losing my old home, with the uncertainties that go with that; and finding a new one on the canal, and a community that I love and feel very lucky to be part of. Outsiders all...

And for all the losses along the way there've been good and steady old friends. And new friends. And my daughter who was always there.

Monday, 30 December 2019

the deer departed


Andy held the drowned deer in place with his boathook, while I lowered the rope noose into the water and slipped it under its hindlegs and up round its chest. It was easy to haul out; a muntjac buck, the size of a large dog. I laid it on the edge of the canal, its head lowered over the cill. Water pooled from its coat and dribbled from its mouth, pink-tinged. 

"It was thrashing about at the side of the boat, about six o'clock," said Andy. "Look at those fangs! I didn't want to get too close to it, you never know what it might do." 

It would still have been pitch dark at six, and it must have been hard for him to think of anything helpful to do. Sad, but so it goes. It was now half past eight, and the deer was very dead, but only very recently so. There were two good reasons to pull the body out. One is that a dead deer becomes a deerberg, which nobody likes floating by or, worse, wedging itself by your boat and stinking, as happened to me a couple of years back. The other is that it is potentially good eating. 

"Is Jim about?" I looked up to where Jim's big sailing boat is moored. 

"He went off down to Avoncliff a while ago"

Jim had been around to my boat earlier on, while it was still dark, and had a coffee. He's run out of gas again and I make good coffee. He'd been delivering firewood in his dinghy yesterday, and left the dinghy down by the aqueduct. He'd gone to fetch it back and scout for fallen timber. I tried his mobile. 

"Jim? We've just pulled a muntjac out of the canal. Any use to you?"

"Maybe James could stick it in his freezer.  I'll be along soon."

We laid the deer on the grass verge of the towpath, and I went back to fixing the brakes on my bike. Presently came the creaking of oars and Jim's little dinghy appeared. He wasn't entirely happy about the deer. "People get the wrong idea," he said. I know what he means. This stretch of the canal is very popular with folk walking their dogs or strolling down to the Cross Guns at Avoncliff, and to some of them, we boaters and our decidedly lived-in boats are unsightly and perhaps threatening. I do try not to be judgemental myself, and of course often fail; it can be funny overhearing the very wrong-headed things that Respectable Folk say about us as they teeter round the muddy puddles in their unsuitable footwear.

Jim bound the hindlegs and threw the rope over a convenient branch; we hauled the deer up to a convenient height, and tied it off. Then Jim ran the knife down the belly, and pulled out the guts with a crowbar. The stomach split, and a mass of cud oozed out, looking remarkably like pesto. The organs were vivid and shiny, and I felt a bit sick. Jim wasn't too happy either. "I'm sorry, mate" he told the deer as he scooped. "I blooming hate this," he told me. "James is much better at this stuff."


James is an arch-Freegan, and he and Jim are regular scourers of skips outside supermarkets; one is a particular favourite because the staff put the edibles on top to make it easier for them to forage. Sometimes the haul is so big that already fairly-ripe sausages get too high even for them before they've finished them.  But there was no sign of James. He's not an early riser.

The horrid business was done, and I got my stirrup pump and we sluiced the body cavity. Then Jim fetched a spade and scooped the guts and numbles down the slope, and tied a sack around the carcass so that it wasn't so obviously a deer hanging in a tree. But with the head sticking out at the bottom, it wasn't entirely successful, as the startled remarks I heard through the day demonstrated. The entrails were a sure hit with passing dogs, though; you could see them being suddenly galvanised by the enticing stink, and dashing off down the bank, utterly oblivious to the useless calls of their owners. 

Sadly, nobody asked me about the deer. I had my answer ready-made; "Oh yes, it's our midwinter offering to Cernunnos."

Friday, 27 December 2019

the year of the sloth

you can see some of the desk, be fair
The weather turned wet and windy again and I skulked inside moving things around. I've been given a 12V fridge which has been occupying the forward welldeck for a few weeks now, making getting on and off the boat rather tricky. 

not my boat, Jim's boat
Sometimes accepting something daft and easily fixed as normal creeps up on you (me. I mean me) so rapidly that it becomes habitual. 

Thus the squeezing past the fridge. 

Anyway, I finally cleared enough space along the cabin to move it to its intended new home, under the counter in the galley. And lo, it fit in perfectly as though made for the job.

Next thing will be to wire it up and add a solar panel to keep it in electricity, in the summer months when there is both sunshine and a need for a fridge. You can often tell who doesn't have a fridge, or who at least doesn't run it in winter, by the containers of milk sitting on the gunwales as you pass their boat. 

Full of ideas for new pictures. Rather worried when I saw online that someone has painted a picture similar in intent to one I had recently sketched out. If I do paint my pic, hopefully it will be sufficiently my own not to be thought to be trespassing on someone else's territory. 

I know some artists and craftspeople whose work has been actively plagiarised, and know how bad that is, and how upsetting and annoying it is when it happens... then there are other ideas that come along and it's good and interesting to see what other people do with them too. I'm pretty sure when I did my Uffington Hare picture,

 I'd not seen anyone else do anything like it; and it in turn was a development of the idea behind the Questing Vole picture (the idea in question being that if animals look at the stars, they see things differently to us)


and I used it again in my newest pic... 
...Etsy, the online art shop I use, made *helpful marketing suggestions* in a post last week. Apparently sloths are going to be the next big thing. Get drawing then!

Thursday, 26 December 2019

braver notes; some early morning winter birdsong


Christmas morning began with a bright pass from the International Space Station just before 0700. The sky was clear and starry, and the valley was still as it ever gets, with only the sound of the weir at Avoncliff half a mile away. By 0715 the birds' day shift was beginning to clock on. In the first video there you can hear the robin, woodpigeon, crows and a moorhen. You can also hear the tawny owls, both early in the recording with a 'tuwhoo...... tut tuwhoo' and towards the end a 'keewick'.

Fifteen minutes later the song thrushes were singing, as they have been on most mornings here lately, unless it's really cold.


...which reminds me, here's Thomas Hardy' poem The Darkling Thrush, read by Deborah Harvey.



Tuesday, 24 December 2019

refloating a boat at Avoncliff


Alice and Emily, the Julian House traveller outreach workers, went by on the canal ministry boat Litania, handing out Christmas boxes as they went, and with Fairytale of New York blasting out to announce their passing. Presently the music receded into the distance and they crossed the Avoncliff Aqueduct on their way to Bath.

Then I got a message from Alice; there's a boat that had sunk on Saturday, just beyond Avoncliff, and the owner was back there trying to refloat it. Alice is one of the Floaty Boat group, whose aim is to keep people in their floating homes. There are boaters with experience in salvage work, and there's equipment to use on occasions like this. As I was not far away I cycled down to see if we could help.

Bob, whose boat it is, was there with some friends and a hired pump. They couldn't get the pump started, and had already phoned the hire company, who were sending someone out. With a bit of tweaking, we got the pump got going, but it was really not very effective, as you see in the video; it's a reciprocating diaphragm pump, and may well be good for moving slurry, but doesn't really push through the volume of water you want for a salvage job.

So I cycled up to the Wharf to collect the centrifugal pump and other odds and sods that I thought may be handy, in my bike trailer. It might not seem the fastest way of doing it, but along the canal sometimes can't beat a bike and trailer for speed and efficiency.

Even so, by the time I got back with all the gear, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the boat was thoroughly afloat and buoyant. Bob was pretty buoyant too, even though he was soaked through. The chap from the hire company had brought along a huge petrol driven pump of the correct sort, and that was that. 

Bob's still got to replace or hunt down the stuff like solar panels that either fell off or drifted off when the boat sank; and everything is wet through. 

But it's a start anyway.







Tuesday, 17 December 2019

distant orbits


If you're walking along a towpath on a cold, wet night and you see a boat moored up looking all remote and bleak and godforsaken, you may not realise that inside is warm and snug and there's somebody in there enjoying the peace and solitude. Which is what this new picture is about, I suppose. It's set in the Vale of Pewsey; there's the Alton Barnes white horse, and Woodborough Hill, and the church at All Cannings. The interior is not any particular boat, but the dog is Sam's dog Pirate, who's been a guest in Eve in the past, and the cat is Chris and Jinny's Secretary Cat. The fox is the fox's own.

I've been down with the flu, and am finally recovering, though it is remarkably persistent. At least I've got a decent boat. Sherry Jim's big seagoing thing lets the rain in, and he's run out of gas and was cooking something on a fire on the towpath when I passed him yesterday.


We're all a bit numb from the election results, and the general sentiment that canal people are expressing is that we must all look after each other. Which we already do, but I think that harder times are a-coming. But there we go, no point going on about it. I've already muted a few folk on Facebook who are still posting angry stuff about the injustice of it all, and the phrase 'and so it begins' is getting a bit overused, tbh.

I cleaned my specs the other day, and in the ensuing period of ultra-clarity of vision, was struck by how much a cream cracker looks like the moon looked like when we watched it on telly as the Apollo mission flew over it. Try it yourself; move the cream cracker past your nose while saying 'we come in peace for all mankind' 

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.

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