Thursday, 15 March 2018

a new pictorial map of the West of England

...just finished. This was a commission for Harvest wholefoods in Bath, and was great fun to do but took aaages. And then I had to find a way to scan it; the painting is about A2 size, which is as big as I can reasonably manage in the limited space on my cramped and crowded boat. After a couple of failed attempts to get it done elsewhere, I bit the bullet and used my A4 flatbed scanner, and then stitched the 10 scans together. Which took even more aaages. 

The dernier cri in desktop publishing, hem hem.
Observe the pile of books squashing the drawing flat in the scanner

You may need to click on the picture to get a clearer view of it. There are several boaty types in there; and my Morris Traveller, doubling as a Glastonbury chicken shack. And a Vincent motorbike rorting past Silbury Hill. Slightly wishful thinking; last time I rode along that road on a motorbike, it was on my old MZ 250 with my flatmate Corrine on the back, and we were going back to Bristol after the Poll Tax riot. (We'd missed the riot, as it happens; we were at the very back of the march and it was going so slowly that we sloped off to the Tate. Bloody arty types eh?)

poets afloat at Seend

normally, a poetry audience looks really miserable in photos. This must have been a funny poem

On Saturday, the Poets Afloat group had its first public airing, as part of the Seend Lock open day organised by the Canal and River Trust. The poetry event in the Barge Inn, next to the lock, was organised by Helen Wuscher, who, when she isn't working in the CRT Devizes office is busy putting on her one-woman show about Emily Dickinson, or writing and doing other stuff. She kindly suggested we might like to join in, and sifted through poems to make an appropriately canal-themed set list, comprising old and good work from Shakespeare, Kenneth Grahame, Patrick Kavanagh and the like, to modern and good stuff from folk such as Jo Bell,  former Canal Laureate and continual Good Egg; and us lot too. 

And Nancy Campbell, the new Canal Laureate, showed up as well; not in the canoe that she's touring the network in, as it was probably a bit far to paddle from Oxford on a Saturday morning. But it was nice to meet her.

here's Nancy! She doesn't really have a blue quiff, that's the overhead projector
Gail Foster took some rather good photos in so unobtrusive a manner that we never knew about it, and here they are. Gail is another Poet Afloat, as she lives next to the canal in Devizes and has a special affinity with Bridge 140. Here's her blog. Go to her for photos, occasional verse and reviews in the Devizes area.

Helen Wuscher got to read her own poem too
Jinny Peberday with a found poem
Emma Whitcombe's poem was about the stankie. The what? aha...
Simon Kirby, a CRT customer services manager who turns out to be a poet too!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

towpath conversations


As TH White observed in The Goshawk, if you sit up in a tree, birds don't consider you to be a human, and cheerfully go about their business around you.

You get a similar effect living on a boat...

I've been collecting those towpath conversations that have come along, those thirty seconds of story that you get as the walker pass by. And here is a found poem from them. 

You're being a snob
I'll tell you that

you're being ungodly

and you're being like Lauren

she takes a lot of recreational drugs

like a lot

there’s kids in her class

an island on the Loire


wasn’t it Limonge?

we were going down the Danube

it was in France. Let’s see, there’s the Loire

there’s kids in her class make £300

fifteen hours

I worked like a Trojan horse

Mum, how did you fall out with dad?

we were going down the Danube

what do you need a map for

it’s a canal

before they go to school in the morning


it was in France and

we were going down the Danube

do people live on these boats

there ought to be

that’s all that I can say

there ought to be rules and regs

there are but

not one of these go to work

not one of them

I worked like a Trojan horse

they’re marginalised

because they haven’t adapted to

the modern world

Thursday, 8 March 2018

a Clerihew for Frida Kahlo for International Women's Day, which is today.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

falling into spring

Katie on Jessie sails past Eli's dockyard
We got as far west along the K&A canal as we wanted to go; closer to the city is very busy with boats now, and it's time to start heading towards the broad sunlit (though sometimes foggy) uplands of the Vale of Pewsey and beyond. There's an open day at Seend lock on March 10th, and we wanted to be close for that, as I may be doing some poetry stuff there.

So we chugged down to Dundas basin to empty the shit tanks and fill up with water. Eli's navy is moored up there on the garden spot; Eli and his friends are building rafts from oil drums with shelters on top like tents or benders; it's an anarchic response to homelessness, and interesting stuff, with some nice people involved in it. It's also cocking a snook at the CRT's rules and regs, and no-one seems to know quite what to do about it, as we all tumble in slow motion into our own national dystopia. Still, it annoys the folk who would prefer a Rosie and Jim on every boat, so it's got something going for it.

Chris and Jinny had to breast up on the boat that's been sat on the waterpoint for a week or two. As I passed to and fro across its foredeck, a dreadlocked head appeared from below, and told me that it was really early. I didn't think 11 o'clock too desperately early, and suggested that if he wanted peace and quiet there were plenty of places to moor a little way along the canal. He told me how unfair it was that CRT were on his case, and how nice it would be if they'd just let him stay wherever he likes. He seemed a nice enough chap, but his world view seemed myopic in the extreme, and centred pretty closely on himself...

Meanwhile, as our water tanks were filling, a couple of contractors were rodding through the sewage holding tank pipes, in an effort to alleviate the Nasty Pong that's been hanging round the basin for some time now. Then they hosed down the quay. It was a bit worrying, the proximity between the hosing and the fresh water with which we were filling our tanks. Still, we seem to have avoided any nasty bugs, so far at least. One of the workers told me that he came from Portugal, though he;s been in Bristol for six months now. 

"What part of Portugal?" I asked. 
"Oh, I was in Lisbon in 1969. It was full of soldiers, I remember"
"I'm 40..." 

I calculated rapidly that my trip there, on the P&O cruise ship Iberia, was some years before he was even born. And felt rather old.

We sailed on, passing through a long film of oil, with nasty looking white scum in it; diesel and paint? Waste oil from bilges? -don't know. It's been a recurrent problem between Avoncliff and Dundas over the last few weeks, and CRT don't seem to know what to do about it other than conclude that nothing can be done. To be fair, removing the pollutants would be a major and horrendously expensive job, and it would be hard to identify their source. It's a worry though, with the waterfowl and otters getting it on then, never mind the fish that have been seen dead in large numbers. And of course, it's a worry that someone is evidently throwing this stuff into the canal heedless of the consequences.

The woods of the Avon valley are bright with catkins and plum blossom, and there's colour in some branches as they come to life again. It was a good day for cruising; the air still and the sun shining.

Peter works at a walking stick
At Horse Field, we saw Peter on Grey Hare, and space to moor on either end of his boat. In perfect conditions, and with help from Peter and Jinny, I came alongside, took the painter, stepped ashore... and slipped on the edging stone and fell into the canal. It's impressive how heavy a duffle coat becomes when it's saturated. Fortunately, the underwater shelf is quite broad here, so I was saved from going right under my boat, and scrambling out was easy. I've fallen in three times before, and getting out again can prove surprisingly difficult even in ideal conditions.

Oh well, still alive. And my duffle coat is finally dry, after three days of airing in front of the stove.

Here's a new picture I've just done.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

mapping genderia

Yewtree posited gender as a scatterplot rather than a spectrum, and surveyed its topography briefly in this post. And, since I like drawing maps, I did one. My only contribution to the geography of Gendaria was Camp, and Classic Transsexual Island, lost in the Pink Mist up there in the top left corner. Not a very good name for the island, but there you go, couldn't think of a more succinct one. You know the sort though, the ones who think there's only one right way of being transsexual, based on old textbooks written by people who tell us what we are rather than those who listen to us... it's a Stockholm Syndrome thing, and unsurprisingly their island is located out in the Straits of Bigotry not far from Terfy Island.

It was a quick sketch... you can tell. Dashed yesterday afternoon when I should have been making pizza dough. Oh well, that can be today's treat.

The map is of course a work in progress, and if there are any other places you can suggest that should belong on it, do let me know in the comments. 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

travellers all

Here's Netty, with Chris, Jinny and Secretary Cat (the Skyravenwolf collective) on board, approaching the Dundas Aqueduct. I finished this picture this week. It was an interesting exercise; I used to do lots of pen and ink line drawings with hatching, but still have lots to learn. I was looking enviously at John Minton's illustrations in Elizabeth David's books; but then, just as in poetry, we all have our own styles, and must make the best of what we've got.

Mainstone Press have recently brought out a book of John Minton's work, by the way.

The days are lengthening by the day! It was still light at 5:30 yesterday. This is very welcome for us canal types, obviously. Still blooming cold though, and yesterday I was enticed out to service a bicycle for someone only to be rained, hailed, sleeted and snowed on in the space of half an hour. I really should have packed it in and gone back to it later, but there you go; sometimes when you get the bit between your teeth... I remember long ago back at Hafod Fach at haymaking, dad was baling when it started to rain, but kept on going, and I was wet and shivering and thinking PLEASE STOP WE'LL ONLY HAVE TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN ... but there you go, sometimes the bit gets between the teeth and the apple has only fallen a little way from the tree, evidently.

haymaking at Hafod Fach

Talking of things that fall from trees, there's been much activity along this stretch of canal over the last week, as contractors tidy up the trees along the railway that runs alongside us. Boaters have been swarming down and rescuing the cut timber and chopping it up for firewood. The less enterprising get theirs from Sherry Jim. Here he is. I was alerted to his presence by loud shoutings the other evening; he and Ding Dong and the Technicolour Bedlinton were delivering to a neighbour.

Ding Dong displayed his special facial skillz for the camera. He has, in his time, travelled to Cumbria to compete in the World Gurning Championships, but remains unrecognised on the world gurning stage, and continues to practice his art on the more humble one of the Kennet and Avon Canal.