Wednesday, 21 November 2018


incoming! -there's a lot of red kites over Kintbury way
A message arrived from Jenny Maxwell. 'Some traders have dropped out of the Kintbury floating market. Would you like to come over?' 

I would, as it happened. So first thing on Saturday morning (first thing in this case being about 4:00; I do tend to get antsy about not being late for things) I filled the bike trailer with maps, calendars and seasonal greetings cards, and cycled to the Moggy. It was dark, cold and a light rain was falling, and I hoped the weather forecast on the Met Office app was true, and it would cheer up before too very long. 

It did. Bang on schedule, the sun burned away the mist, and by ten o'clock all was bright and sunny. Jumping cold, mind, and I cursed my choice of thin socks and hippy boots, rather than the two pairs of thick woolies and para boots that would have kept my feet warm. Oh well, you live and learn. It was a good weekend, and I got to meet some good friends and some new faces.

Jenny rocks the Tibetan coat look
Sam of Cake on the Cut. Her mulled wine took the edge off the cold.
Ziggy and Toni, of Shine on the Water and Wyre Witch respectively

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

K&A Canal Calendar 2019

The new Kennet and Avon Canal Calendar 2019 is just back from the printers! It's full of paintings by me of life on the canal, as you can see. It costs £6.50, and 20% of the profits go to the Floaty Boat Fund, a crisis fund for distressed boaters. You can get it from my Etsy shop by clicking here, or hunt me down on the canal. I'll also be at the Floating Market in Bradford on Avon at the beginning of December.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

early up the flight

It was cold enough to wear my old motorbike gauntlets, when I set off on my bike in the early dawn. Not that dawn is particularly early at this time of the year; it was already 7:20. My boat's moored at Sells Green, in the wide basin of the Avon between Devizes and Trowbridge, and days like this start chilly and foggy. I was off to help Jenny on Black Cat, and Victoria on Aquilon (the coal boat) up the Caen Hill locks. We'd got up as far as the Rowde basin the night before, and were doing the final staircase this morning, eight o'clock sharp.

A kingfisher flew close past me, its colours deepened to indigo and deep viridian in this light. Early fishermen were setting up their little nylon igloos and computerised fish monitors, or still trundling along the towpath with great cartloads of tackle and legged boxes like lunar landing modules, for perching on.

Jenny and Victoria were up and about, and there was just time to dump my bag on Black Cat and decline a cup of tea before they cast off and were into the first lock just as Chris the CRT man arrived from the top compound on his quad bike to unlock the ground paddles, without which you can't fill the lock. They took to locking the flight overnight a few years ago, after someone stole a boat in Devizes and tried to make a getaway down the flight... giving up some way down, they'd torched the boat. Not the shiniest of apples in the fruit bowl...

Everyone knew what they were doing, and Jenny and Victoria zipped the two boats into each successive lock side by side and barely touching the brickwork. It was a joy to behold.

The mist ahead of us was glowing in the early sunlight, and presently there came a distant honking, and skeins of Canada geese appeared from their night quarters, wheeled round us a couple of times, and dropped into the adjacent pound, with a great splashing and quarrelling.

Jenny tries not to be distracted by the geese
here they come again!
 ...and then we were at the top, and in brilliant sunshine. And it was time for a late breakfast in a Devizes cafe, and a goodbye to Jenny, in whose company I've been cruising these last couple of months and who is now heading off to that wider world beyond the Vale of Pewsey, while I'm still down in the Shire.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

riding out the storm

what I did in the storm (drawing this picture, not hanging out at a pub)

Two nights ago, Storm Callum blew in. I listened to the rain rattle on the roof above my bunk, and the flapping of the lightweight tarpaulin I’d got stretched over the foredeck as a temporary cratch cover, after the old one finally fell to bits. I got up in the small hours, to check that nothing had come adrift; the windward side was battened down with a hefty lump of wood, round which I’d wound the lower end of the cover, and then weighted it down with a plank athwart the gunwales, with my big heavy toolboxes sitting on it.

A quick aside about terminology here; the cratch cover is something that shelters the welldeck at the front end of a narrowboat, and gets its name from a feeding trough; it would once have protected the fodder for the draught animal that pulled the boat. I don’t know if there’s a continuity of use there, or if it was dredged up to re-traditionalise new boats after the canal revival of the 70s and 80s. There’s lots of canal terms that are strange to someone coming from a seafaring background, as they are two distinct cultures with no great overlap.

Anyway, there’s nothing like the first proper storm of autumn to probe the weaknesses of your boat after a calm summer. And at five o’clock, there was a great crashing and flapping as the pile of plywood on the roof, draped over with another tarp and ballasted with a folded-down table, a workmate and a bicycle, was blown over the side and down between the boat and the bank. Good job the wind was southerly, I reflected as I hauled on my wellies and went out to contain the damage.

Couldn’t find the damn torch in the kerfuffle. There was a little before-dawn-lightening of the sky, enough to see to haul the bike and bits and pieces onto the bank and weight then down; in the lee of the boat, they were relatively protected. Then up onto the roof, carefully picking my way round the odds and sods scattered all over it, and I plonked a car wheel on top of the timber that hadn’t yet been blown off.

There were brief lulls throughout the day, but then the wind would get up again and again I’d check the cover, and resecure the after hatch that would insist on blowing open. It was no day for doing home improvements; just sit out the storm and make pious vows to sort out the boat properly, just as soon as I was able. I got on with a picture I’d promised to paint, and sometimes in the lulls stepped out and said hello to the neighbours, who were taking advantage of the moment to exercise their dogs, and we’d all agree that it was a bit blowy. Just the very occasional hireboat would go by, all of them with a schedule to keep and so unable to do the sensible thing and tie up to wait out the storm. One went by so fast the it nealy pulled my extra-strong mooring pins out, and Jenny leaned out of her hatch and sternly shouted to them to SLOW DOWN.

And now it’s nearly the dawn of the second day, and still the cover is flapping and rattling, and the boat rocks in the wind.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

lifting the Lister

Down at Smelly Bridge, Bradford on Avon, there was more progress on George's boat. The venerable old Lister engine needed to come out for a jolly good overhaul after a week underwater; a hole was cut in the engine room deckhead, and the CRT workboat and crew kindly came along and used their crane to help lift it out. Hands across the ocean! It was good to see the local boaters and CRT folk working together.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

more on the sunken canal boat at Bradford on Avon

Nine days after George's boat sank at Smelly Bridge, Bradford on Avon, we heard yesterday that it had finally been refloated. 

In the meantime, there was a meeting last week at which boaters, local councillors, police, and other interested parties discussed the ongoing problem of antisocial behaviour on the canal.

It was pointed out that the company which hired the boats to the men who behaved so badly that weekend, use this image (above) on their website to promote stag parties; observe how all the people in the photo are holding a drink.

It is also a matter of major concern that the hire company appeared to have no robust system in place to deal rapidly and decisively with problems; it seems that complaints had to be referred to managers at the head office, who seemed to have gone home for the weekend and left their phones switched off. Local employees may have been aware of the problem - there were complaints enough, and the police attended the boats in question -  but their hands were tied; it took over 24 hours to get to the boat and remove the troublemakers. 

There is a general determination that Something Must Be Done; but that is behind the scenes for now.

It's been a rough couple of weeks on the water here; two people were badly injured in a gas explosion on the Avon in Bath. There is a crowdfunding effort to help them, here. And Jeff Green died after falling into the canal at Semington. 

Sunday, 23 September 2018

a sinking

The Kennet and Avon Canal can be a tricky place to moor your boat; often the sides are shallow, and you need to keep your distance from the bank and use a plank to get ashore. You also need to protect the boat against the pull and drag of passing boats, especially if they're going fast; which they shouldn't, especially past moored boats, but often do.

Where I'm moored near Avoncliff, there is a concrete cill below the surface; I space my boat from it with a floating car wheel, and brace it with a plank; then run a spring line in addition to the two mooring lines. That combination is usually proof against whatever the canal throws at it.

On Friday evening, the boat started sliding to and fro, and scraping violently against the cill. After the third time, I swung open the galley hatch to see what was going on; speeding boats will push water far ahead of them in the canal, rather like what happens to water in a syringe when you push down on it, and I wondered what was coming.

Two hireboats had just come at speed round the bend from Bradford on Avon. They lost control and went into the offside bank; careered off with the use of poles; and collided with Deb's boat, just up from mine.  George, whose boat is just around the corner they'd come round, was following them; their wake had thrown his boat around particularly badly; and they were shouting abuse at him, then at Jim and Deb, who had come out too, and Jenny, in the boat between us. "When was the last time you paid Council Tax? -Are you on drugs?" and so on. They were drunk, and obviously enjoying the fun. "Do you want to say anything to me?" asked the young bloke on the bow of the first boat. "No; I do not" I replied. I did, though, call the shouty fellow on the tiller a "fucking entitled shit". He, indeed they all, had that braying drawl that you associate with the feral middle classes and the arseoisie. He responded by calling me a "tranny". I suppose it was intended as an insult.

They carried on at speed, their shouting receding into the distance. Passing Laura's boat, they cause things to fall off the shelves in her kitchen; she asked them to slow down; they responded with "Oh shut up; not you as well; fuck off you cunt".

The canal social media was alive with reports of their progress, and of complaints made to the police and to the hire company. Apparently the police did come out and have a word with the young men. But the next morning there were further reports of drunkenness, speeding and abuse as they proceeded to Bathampton.

But the next morning also revealed that George's boat had been sufficiently damaged by the thumping it had received, to sink overnight. He'd been woken at 4:30 to find the cabin awash. By daylight, it was sitting firmly on the bottom of the canal.

The boaters swung into action, bringing the community emergency pump down from Bradford wharf, collecting dry clothes and Useful Stuff, brewing coffee, making bacon butties. The day was spent shoring up and pumping, in rain that varied from light to heavy, but always persistent.

And by dusk, we'd got absolutely nowhere. 

George is being put up on a friend's boat for now. There may be further attempts at salvage today. But he has lost his home, at least for now and possibly completely; and all he owns is soaked through or ruined.

And still the jolly young men are on the hireboats, partying, at Bathampton. Though I understand that the hire company will not be letting them steer the boats back to Hilperton themselves. So the canal continues to be a theme park where outsiders can come to act out vicious, drunken and antisocial behaviour with impunity, and then go home to their 'respectable' lives.

There's a Crowdfunder to help George, here 

back to it on Sunday afternoon