Sunday, 28 May 2017

little bobbing humbugs

Moving ever eastwards, we are now near Wootton Rivers, a fine spot with a good deep mooring - in the last couple of miles before the village we tried mooring a few times and couldn't get near the bank without running horribly aground on mud.

We're sheltered by ash and beech trees, which made the recent hot spell far more comfortable; living in a big steel box can get a bit difficult when the sun beats down on it. Along the side of the towpath is a ditch with a stream trickling along it; this is the Hampshire Avon in its early career. Down in  Pewsey you can stand on the bridge and look down into the clear water and see brown trout keeping station against the gentle current.


A pair of spotted flycatchers are nesting in an ivy-covered tree just opposite the boat. I watch then dart around the glade that is their hunting ground, then perch and wait for their next victim; they're very hard to catch on camera, but exciting to see; I've only ever seen them fleetingly in the past. They're quite distinctive with their upright posture and their big eyes.

And cuckoos! Never heard so many cuckoos. I'm trying to learn how to make that ocarina noise with my hands so that I can call them to me. No joy yet. "I'm learning a new life skill," I told Boat Teenager the other day when we Facetimed... it's never too late, after all.

Next weekend I'll be exhibiting at the house of my friend, artist and poet Hazel Hammond's house on the Easton Arts Trail in Bristol; Rebecca Swindells will be there too; there'll be my pics and Marietta's Wardrobe, a mixed media project about clothes, grief and loss, and poetry.

Jinny Peberday described ducklings as humbugs. Seemed a good description.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

sparrowhawk



I'm concentrating on finishing my bird alphabet now; each letter gets a poem and a picture. The poem always comes first, so I can plan ahead with how to fit the text onto the picture. The sparrowhawk poem was written after I saw one flashing through woods and disappearing so abruptly that I came up with the idea that, the less sure you are that you saw anything at all, let alone a sparrowhawk, the more likely it is that a sparrowhawk just went by.

Here's the untweaked painting; I first illustrated beech leaves like this for another picture of Leigh Woods at bluebell time, but I prefer the feel of the newer picture; it seems to work better as a picture and as a watercolour. Though the leaves are a bit too spiky for beech. Damn.



buzzard in the woods

Friday, 19 May 2017

when a tree falls on the towpath and you don't hear it, it's still there


It's no great inconvenience that you live out of earshot of most human activity and amenities, if you've got everything you need right there with you.

So when it poured and poured down on Wednesday, I philosophically commuted the ten paces from my bed to my desk, by way of the bathroom and the galley, and spent the day painting pictures and writing. 

It was a good day, and I was happy with the work. That night I slept the sound sleep of one who knows that they've done their best and it was fairly OK.

The morning started with a robin singing at 0415, followed rapidly by the blackbirds and song thrushes. The song thrushes here would give the heftiest coloratura opera diva in all of Milan a very serious run for her money.

It is really all very nice. 

So I got up and brewed some strong tea and finished the fiddly last bits of the painting.
And looked up to see the sun rising. As you see from the photo. 

After a shower and putting on city togs I was ready to go to Bristol to pick up some prints. But Chris from the boat next door called me out.

"Dru! Have you seen this?"

At abut nine o' clock last night, a very large tree had fallen over the towpath and into to canal. I'd heard something, but just assumed it was the Pongoes playing wargames over on Salisbury Plain. Chris and Jinny my neighbours had heard it and investigated. It had narrowly missed a hireboat, whose occupants had phoned the Canal and River Trust to inform them. 

Here it is look.


So I changed into my CHAINSAW TROUSERS, the wearing of which is like one of those dreams where you absolutely must escape from something but can hardly move. But it's probably better than accidentally cutting your own leg off. And we all got to work, cutting and splitting and carrying away. Because the towpath needed to be unblocked, and if you get a pile of firewood as a byproduct, then why ever not? This is enlightened self interest at work here.

This is a very quiet section of canal, but we were interrupted twice by local folk demanding to get by; one was a dog emptier (you can easily distinguish them from the similar dog walker by the way they are so anxious to precede their dogs on their walkies. In this manner, they can be unaware that their dog has a bowel that it is quite happy to void on the towpath, and preferably right outside your boat, on your mooring pins for maximum points. It's a neat trick if you're into that sort of thing, allowing you to be at once oblivious, supercilious and Always In The Right).

They squeezed by in the slowly widening gap.

The middle of the trunk was a rotted hollow, with a huge ants' nest and signs of several types of beetle, including what looked very much like lesser stag beetle burrowings, though we found no living ones. Out of season, probably.

Here's Chris, looking as cheerful as we all were. What better way to work up an appetite for breakfast?



Monday, 15 May 2017

rescuing a flooded boat


Little things like LED lights, mobile phones and internet are a hugely useful part of boaters' lives; plenty of folk are enabled to run international businesses while being in a lot of other ways off grid (the last book I published was put together on board and sent off as a print-ready file from a bale of straw in the Vale of Pewsey...) - and our very long, very thin village is its own information superhighway.

On Saturday, I was idly drawing cormorants, as you do, when I noticed a post from Penny on the canal Facebook group. Her boat was filling with water; she'd got out of bed to find herself standing in water. Not a good feeling, when it's your home. She had done what any sensible person would do, and made a slice of toast while considering the next move.

People swung into action; I have a handy little submersible water pump (rescued from the bins at Dundas, and repaired) which I bunged into the back of the car along with a big bag of tools, and set off.

By the time I got there, things were looking less alarming; Penny and Sherry Jim, who was moored just down the way, had got a fair bit of water out using a bilge pump and aquavac, and she'd identified a leak from the gurgling of incoming water. There was a small hole in the bottom of the hull. Because the boat had been lifted onto the ledge (fairly gravelly here) by the passage of a speeding boat, the water was not actually rushing in, though lifting it off the ledge would increase the flow substantially.

As we pondered, more helpers were appearing along the towpath; at one point there was a small procession of folk carrying pumps and assorted Useful Things, trailing down from the swingbridge. There was no shortage of ideas for How To Fix It. We started by sealing the hole temporarily on the outside; as you see in the picture, Kev went in with a piece of rubber matting, which he slipped under the hull as other folk put their weight on the outboard side to lift it off.

Then we dried out the flooded section, and plonked a patch slathered in mastic onto the hole, wedged down with a bit of timber. It was kind of like this

...though obviously more pikey boater.

Meanwhile, a catsitter and cat basket appeared to take away the Boat Cat, and a welder and emergency dry dock arranged in Bradford on Avon. And there was cider and pizza too.

And away went Penny. Sorry, should have taken more photos.

Back to the cormorants for me. They're for my bird alphabet.


Saturday, 6 May 2017

K&A Floating Market, Bradford on Avon, June 29-30 2017

For the second year running, there'll be a floating market on the Kennet and Avon Canal at Bradford on Avon. It's on the weekend of the 29th-30th July. As last year, there will be art from me, fine leather work and art from Skyravenwolf, silverwork from Anna Berthon, body art from Hannah Southfield, Laura on the fender boat doing ropework, and much more stuff too. Also music and (quite possibly) poetry. 

I'll add further details as I get them, so this page will be useful as a source of info.

my new version of the canal map, which will be on sale
some work by Chris and Jinny of Skyravenwolf
wren pendants by Anna Berthon
Hannah Southfield's work!


Monday, 1 May 2017

meeting badgers





Sailing ever eastward, we fell off the edge of our map somewhere beyond Pewsey. A nearby track ascends to an old bridge, then drops down to the young Hampshire Avon, a clear chalk stream flowing through boggy woodland. Over the bridge, the track becomes a sunken lane, and then a regular holloway as it approaches the back of the town. 

By the bridge where the discreet badger ways intersect is one of their latrines, and a decent distance down the track is their sett, piles of old bedding heaped outside.

In the night I'd listened to the rain on the roof and huddled under the duvet. Waking at half light, all I could hear was blackbird song; so I dressed hurriedly and got out into the May morning. I'd hoped to catch the badgers still out and about, but the sett was all quiet. I dropped down the hill, treading softly. Coming down the track on the other side of the stream came two badgers; an adult, dragging a large cub along by the scruff of the neck. I slowly crouched and waited. What were they doing? Was the cub being dragged home against its will, after going out partying with the other young wild things? ...they got within a few paces before noticing me, then rearranged themselves in the other direction and retraced their steps across the bridge and off into the woods.
are we nearly there yet?

it's not fair

we'll go this way instead

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Widewater



“He tried to get the moorings there removed” said Julian off Bimble.
Julian cuts the grass for Wiltshire Council, shifts the roadkill;
“mostly you can chuck it through the hedge, but cats and dogs
get taken in, whatever state they’re in, and logged;
someone might be missing them.”

He sails the pounds
from Hungerford to Horton, more or less, stays round
the Vale of Pewsey where he works. 

We met at dawn.
A kingfisher bashed a minnow on the branch, then darted on,
a quick blue spark against Widewater’s reeds.
“Spent thousands on the legal fees, for all the good it did.
Still, he keeps the gate locked at the top of the track;
can’t keep folk out, there’s been a path since back
before King Alfred came and met his thanes,
there on the tump. They went and beat the Danes,
way up there on the Downs. See the lane?
The winter the canal froze hard,
they had to carry coal and water down from the end.”

A buzzard circled Pickle Hill; the stockman on his quad
moved the electric fence across the field a little way,
called out in Polish for the herd to graze.

We brushed the dew off meadowsweet
and butterbur, grown shoulder high,
through which the ways to moorings had been bashed
for boats at least half hidden from the track;
Eve, Netty, Bimble, Jessie, Arran; making home
here for a few more days, then moving on.

Below the big ash, where the ground is clear,
around last night’s fire circle lay empty cans of beer 
and smoke-blacked cooking pots on half a scaffold plank.
A small child’s bicycle leaned on the bank.

Across the bridge we passed the big new house
in whose walled gravel courtyard sat a Jag.
Along the drive’s wide closely-tended verge,
rebellious moles had tumped the smooth mown grass,
and grey hairs on a strand of wire showed how
the badger made its customary way
into the pasture where, above the grazing Jacobs flock,
the tilting billboard claimed ‘we want our country back’.


I began this poem last summer, shortly after the Brexit vote. We were moored in a part of Wiltshire that is pretty much the epicentre of the places namechecked in Edward Thomas' poem Lob, one of my absolute favourite poems both of his and indeed anyone's. I've changed the name of the character in the poem to Ed as a nod in that direction, as I'm not sure whether the original chap approves of finding himself in someone else's poetry. (postscript: Julian is perfectly OK with being named, so I've changed his and his boat's names back to the proper ones!)