Sunday, 29 March 2020


With the canal in sort-of-lockdown, the towpath is pretty quiet. The Canal and River Trust has issued a notice asking people not to use it unless absolutely necessary. This request has been unnoticed or ignored by lots of folk, and some local boaters have erected additional signage to draw folk's attention to the official notice. And this in turn has created hostility with some folk from the local town, Bradford on Avon, who resent our apparent freedom and what they see as a careless outdoor life - I see a commentator on a local press article criticises us for 'having barbecues' when the only outdoor cooking that I've seen has been by Sherry Jim, who's run out of gas and hasn't got a proper cooker, so is cooking on a fire at the side of his boat... but there we go, 'the worst are filled with a passionate intensity'. A neighbour reports that a local runner has taken to spitting at her boat as he passes. And on the other hand, some boaters have shouted at passers-by, boaters and non-boater alike. It has created upset.

On a more positive note, welfare systems are being set up in both formal and informal ways. The canal chaplains are busy distributing food and fuel. Julian House's boater outreach workers (who are themselves boaters) have been organising, with the canal divided into zones and coordinators for each of them, and local volunteers doing the footwork. Boats have been provided with coloured cards to put in the window. Green card, everything OK; amber card, please call; red card, assistance needed. 
My new map was done just in time to be useful!

Before the arctic winds blew up, having us run for shelter, we sat outside at a safe distance apart and duetted on our flutes. Helen Jenner is the good one, on the alto flute. My bum notes are due to the cider.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

la vraie liberté c’est le vagabondage

This is my latest painting. It's a view from the boatman's cabin of a narrowboat, looking out to the Vale of Pewsey. You can get a copy of it here in my Etsy shop.

It's inspired by a poster that a friend had on her wall about 40 years ago, with a view of the Pyrenees through a window. I put the poster in the painting, there on the bulkhead on the left. Here it is, look; you can still get a copy from Editions Fricker

...and here's the picture evolving, from the first inking onwards

Monday, 10 February 2020

a blackbird's song before the storm

The evening before the big storm hit us, the canal was placid, and we heard the first evening blackbird song of the year. Like finally breathing out, after the long-held breath of winter. Reminds me of coming home after a voyage this time.

The waypoints of the journey to summer are passing in increasing numbers; the woods are full of snowdrops now, and there was a single solitary celandine by the path as I cycled down to the river.

Last week I spent a few days moored at the top lock of the Widcombe Flight in Bath, a fine spot with a view across the city when it isn't misty. I watched one of the peregrines on the spire of St John the Evangelist, a spire so tall that it earned the disapproval of Nikolaus Pevsner - 'a demonstrative proof of how intensely the Gothicists hated the Georgian of Bath'. But the peregrines like it, and they've got a nesting box way up there.

This was the westernmost point of the last year's travelling; I'm now heading very slowly towards the summer lands up beyond the Vale of Pewsey. Before I set off again, though, I filled my water tank. Had to thaw out the water point with a kettle of boiling water first, though.

My new back garden looks up to Bathampton Down, across a field of sheep.

...but this was the view yesterday, when the storm was raging

Sunday, 26 January 2020

songs of spring

Coming out of hibernation here. For the last few days I've been working on this map of Dartmoor, and the route of the Archangel's Way that winds around its northern flank. It's good to be under way on a project; I've been getting up at about 4 in the morning to get started (mind you, I do go to bed at a time that most people would probably consider remarkably early). 

The days are stretching out. Yesterday, it was still fairly light at 5:00. There are crocuses and snowdrops in flower, and the daffodils are just about to burst open into flower. And the birds are starting to sing their spring songs. This morning I listened to a great tit producing a very mellow fluting note reminiscent of a bullfinch. "Where are the songs of spring? -aye, where are they?"

Right here, John.

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!