Sunday, 11 October 2020

Poets Afloat, and Floaty Boat

Poets Afloat is a collection of poetry by boaters and other people associated with the Kennet and Avon Canal, and it is really rather good. What's more, it only costs £5, all of which goes to the Floaty Boat Fund, to help boaters keep afloat and keep their homes; and there's been several occasions over the last few weeks where FBF have assisted when boats have been sunk. 

Order your copy here, unless you happen to be passing my boat in which case drop in! 

some poems, look! There's pictures too

Friday, 18 September 2020

sunken boats on the river Avon in Bath

At Twerton, on the north side of Bath, there's a flood defence barrier across the River Avon, between the west bank and Dutch Island; the navigable channel passes down the other side of the island to Weston Lock.

The barrier is there to alleviate flooding. When the river is in spate, it can be raised to let the flood waters escape downstream. In normal river conditions, it remains closed and acts as a weir.

On Wednesday evening, the barrier spontaneously raised itself, in what the Environment Agency subsequently described as a software failure.

The immediate consequence of that was that the river level between Weston Lock and Pulteney Weir in the centre of Bath, dropped almost 2 meters very rapidly.

About 40 boats are moored on that stretch. Some were crewed at the time, and their owners attempted to move their boats out into deeper water; several were already caught on the steeply shelving sides, and rolled over, taking on water. A few sank as a result. 

Fortunately, there were no injuries.

The EA, CRT, Bath Council, and all interested parties are liaising to minimise further damage before raising the water level again. To clarify this point, it was that falling water level that coused the boats to roll over and take on water; it is because the boats are in danger of being fully submerged if the level were to rise without remedial action being taken first, that there is a delay in raising the level again.

Julian House outreach workers are also on the case looking out for the welfare of those boaters whose homes are uninhabitable; the Floaty Boat folk are helping, too, and donations to the Floaty Boat Fund right now will go to help those folk affected. Here's a link

Meanwhile, the knock-on effect is being felt up on the summit of the canal, towards Crofton, where the top pound has been closed to navigation because the water resources are just not there.

I took a ride along the river yesterday to observe. Here are some pictures.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

not a showhome

"Some are beautiful inside, like little showhomes" said the Lady Cyclist to her companion as they pedalled by; glancing at my boat, she added "...some not so much".
This is quite true of course. My Aunt Mary (actually my great aunt) was the only member of my family who might have thought that living in a showhome was something to aspire to; she had glass cases of objets, and voses, not vases. Uncle George was the model of a Northern businessman, with his Jag and sheepskin coat and cigars, and they lived together in a hacienda style bungalow called Eden Vale. 

Anyway, I quite agree with William Morris that  you should 'have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.' And evidently I've got quite a lot of useful and beautiful things, if only I can find them in the clutter.

My neighbours Sebastiene and Louise are finalising their book of photos of canal life and folk. I lent them my Datacolor Spyder yesterday, so they could be sure that what they were seeing on their computer screen was exactly what would come out of the printers. It's a little device you hang over the screen and which calibrates the colour and brightness settings. Jolly handy. I got it after a printing disaster once, when the picture looked fine on my screen but came back gloomy and dark when it had been printed.

There are several ways of exactly defining what colour you mean when you say, say, Snot Green or Badger Poo Brown. They rely on RGB, or CMYK, or Pantone numbers. I've got a reproduction of an old book, Werner's Nomenclature of Colours,  which preceded these things by a longtime, and which defines colours by reference to animal, vegetable and mineral analogues. Thus Dutch Orange is the crest of a golden crested wren, a common marigold, or a streak of red orpiment.


So RGB values are a bit handier for the artist on the go, or at least the artist with a computer.

Friday, 11 September 2020

dégonflages et montgolfières

The mornings are decidedly chilly now, with the suggestion of imminent frost. I've moved to Bathampton, and here's the view across the valley to Bathford Hill, where the road ascends to Sally in the Woods on its way to Bradford on Avon. On the other side of the canal from my boat is this wild boar, who reminds me of Twrch Trwyth.

I drove up to Bristol to collect my mail. A huge pile of boxes was waiting for me; almost all bike spares. A real treat was the pumps. After that puncture I got last week, when my pump failed to inflate the repaired tyre, I decided to take a Long Hard Look at pumps. I've usually got a ragbag of them lying around on the boat, either really old traditional type ones or one of those nifty miniaturised shiny ones that look so cute and.... are about as much use as if they were made of chocolate.

So now I've got a new SKS workshop pump, and an extra long Zefal pump for taking with me on the bike. And they are well-engineered, and work like a dream, if what you dream of is having properly inflated tyres, and let's face it, who doesn't dream of that?

Home on the boat I unpacked and tinkered with a neighbour's bike and drank rum and ginger beer while the evening grew still, and the hot air balloon hung almost stationary over the valley. 

Talking of stationary, it's a worrying word because you have to look carefully when you write it to make sure you don't mean stationery. The french for hot air balloon is montgolfière, which is rather sweet. Umbrellas were (and perhaps still are) called gamps, after a Dickens character. But with balloons, it was the brothers who came first. They also manufactured paper, and made their balloons out of it. Canson is still going, and I've use their paper to draw on. Only discovered the connection the other day, and was tickled by it. Easily pleased, me.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Ditch Witchery in Elder Season

The mornings are getting chilly, and the valley floods with mist first thing in the morning. It really was time to get out and pick elderberries. No self-respecting hedgewitch, or indeed ditchwitch, could fail to get a few bottles of elderberry syrup sorted ready for winter. It's a sovereign remedy against all diseases and viruses, and if you daub it on your boat hatch the Angel of Death will move on without stopping, probably.

A lot of the elderberries have already gone over, like this sad lot here.

But I'd spotted a few trees that were heavy with ripe fruit, two days ago when I cycled into Bath. So I went out with my bike and a carrier bag. I was only just in time.

Funny how some trees' fruit ripen sooner than others; so it can be green on one tree and fully ripe on the next one. It's like the conker trees that are ranked along the roads on the Bristol Downs where we used to live. When young K was much younger, we'd go out collecting conkers in her tricycle basket, and sometimes a tree would be so burdened with them that they'd rain down. "It's heavened with conkers," she remarked once as they showered down on us. It was like a slightly less perilous version of Gloucestershire Roulette, where you stand underneath a perry pear tree and hope not to get thumped on the bonce by a pear. Pear trees are tall, and pears are hard, right up until they're soft.

The two Bathampton ravens were cronking busily in the trees, then circled for a while watching me teetering on tiptoe to grab the elderberries.

The hairy willowherb's seed pods are splitting open to reveal the herringbone pattern of the seeds. Shame you can't see it particularly well in this picture, but they are rather nice to examine 

As the sun rose over the hill, the light came down into the valley, illuminating this little field and big tree and reminding me of RS Thomas' poem The Bright Field

The wild hops festoon the hedgerow here.

...and the Himalayan balsam is entirely unabashed at being an invasive foreigner. The seed pods explode when you touch them.

and suddenly all the hawthorn berries are ripe too

People talk about the slow pace of life on the canal. Here it is demonstrated; the reflections of the cows linger long after the cows have walked on.

The Old Man's Beard is flowering too. On frosty mornings it shines brilliantly in the sun, and is so plentiful along the Avon valley that it looks like a second May.

The sun reached me as I passed Warleigh, still peaceful this early in the morning. It gets heaving with daytrippers these days.

Passing Diggers, the boater community. Nearly home.


Home on Eve, and stripping the berries off the stalks. I made nearly two pints of syrup.


Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Raising Angel's boat

I'm moored at Horse Field, on the Kennet and Avon Canal between Bradford on Avon and Avoncliff. I arrived a few days ago after my post-lockdown cruise up to Pewsey. It's a nice spot.

Just after breakfast on Saturday morning, the alarm went out that Angel's boat had sunk. She's moored three boat lengths along from me so I went over to see what could be done. It seems that after the recent heavy rain, enough water had collected in the bilge to make the boat unstable, and she'd developed a list. When the engine bay ventilator grille reaches the waterline, a boat can sink in minutes if not seconds, when there isn't a bulkhead between the engine bay and the cabin. Fortunately, Angel had managed to get off.

 The boat was moored tight at the stern,  which was close to the side; but the bow had slid down the shelving bottom, and the water was above the foredeck gunwale.

There's a community pump ready for emergencies like this. I fetched it in my bike trailer; Jassy drove to a hire shop and brought back another super big pump too.

We cleared the stuff off the foredeck, enough to be able to get the front door clear; a brave soul went inside to move stuff out from there too. Then we could seal off the door with plywood, and start pumping.

But the water was still coming in. We stood down until Sunday; then tried again with the entire foredeck sealed off with timber, tarpaulin and sandbags.

And at last, Angel's boat started to come up!

Her home has been soaked in muddy water, as have all her possessions. There is a crowdfunder going to help her, which is here

...and the Floaty Boat Fund, which is there to help boaters in trouble (the community pump and the hire pump were provided by them, along with other logistic support) can be found here

the pumps in action

 the boat starts to float up, and Ted clears the sandbags from the foredeck

Monday, 6 July 2020

summer storms

Here's some foxes on Pickle Hill in the Vale of Pewsey. Artisitic licence was involved; the summit of the hill is bald except for the trig point, but there you go. This pic was for a friend who likes foxes. That's her boat down there.

I'm moored up in the Vale now, and it is lush in the 'lush places' sense as well as the Bristolian sense. I've been out sketching trees; they're very handy for life drawing exercises, because they don't need to take breaks. Though these last few days they hardly ever keep still. The gale that blew along the Vale yesterday had the grass and trees rolling like breakers at sea, and it was lively and all rather beautiful.

Played merry heck with the poor hireboats that have begun venturing out, though. They were being blown all over the place. This is the sort of weather for tying up and battening down.