Wednesday, 19 April 2017


“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!)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

sun pillar and swallows

Here's a sun pillar, at dawn over the Kennet and Avon Canal at Sells Green in Wiltshire. It's caused by the sunlight being reflected by falling ice crystals. We were moored here for a week or so, and ticked off the waypoints of the spring as they passed us; the first willow warbler a few days ago; yesterday the first sedge warbler. And two swallows which flitted past, heading north. They are evidently making a summer somewhere else, because we've seen no more, yet.

While we're thinking of odd and beautiful things in the sky, here's a circumzenithal arc, or possibly a parahelion, caused by the light refracting through a horizontal layer of ice crystals. This was at Avoncliff on May Day last year.

...and here's a pair of sundogs, either side of the setting sun, near Lympley Stoke last winter. You can see the flooded Avon down there in the valley.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

watching stone curlews

I drove to Pewsey to pick up some prints from the gallery; it's closing down, sadly. I commiserated with Sandra and Heloise; it had been a nice gallery, and they had been very generous with their showcasing of stuff.

Returning along the Vale of Pewsey, the tops of the downs were in cloud. Near Alton Barnes a great flock of birds circled above a ploughed field. They reminded me of the great peewit flocks we got in Lancashire in my youth, though these were not peewits. I didn't recognise them, so pulled over and took some photos on maximum zoom, as they didn't show any inclination either to land or to come closer.

Stone curlews, Peter Munt says, and how could I argue? 

As I looked through the books in the Devizes Oxfam shop, the two volunteers behind the counter discussed the signing of Article 50, which would be happening at about that time. "I gave my vote to my granddaughter" said one; "she's too young to vote, but it'll affect her for a lot longer than me." Granddaughter, 13 years old, is pro-european; so her grandma voted against her own preference. I congratulated her. 

Passing the estimable Devizes Bookshop while looking for a 12V socket (as you do) I was hailed by Jo, who's just been reading a proof copy of Richard Beard's new book and is very impressed. I said I was too (just finished reading it myself, and when I get a moment, I'll be writing a review). 

Back on the boat, I was just in tine to tune in to BBC Wiltshire to hear Richard not quite manage to plug his book. Still, he does good radio.

Back to the drawing board. This little picture at the top of the page is going to be a badge; I've just got a fresh batch of 'put the bunting out' ones done, and thought it'd be nice to have a new design.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Wiltshire wildlife

This is my weekend picture; some of the flowers and beasts around Caen Hill. In the top right corner, you can see some of the locks on the Caen Flight, the staircase of locks that takes the Kennet and Avon Canal up from the Avon valley to Devizes and the Vale of Pewsey. In the distance is Roundway Hill. Creatures included are grass snake, slow worm. wood mouse, hedgehog, badger, fox, roe deer, tawny owl, pipistrelle bat. The flowers are primrose, wild garlic, bluebell, thyme, lemon balm, and foxglove.

 Now it's done, I'm having a beer and contemplating a fry-up. 

It's three years now since I committed to buying my boat, and move onto the canal. Crikey! Now, excuse me, I've got BEER to drink. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Idle Women

Some of the women on the Kennet and Avon canal, for International Women's Day. Because they do stuff for themselves. And they rock. (if you click on the pic it'll probably get larger. Sorry)

Sunday, 5 March 2017

not seeing goldcrests

The longer hours of daylight are making a big difference to life on the canal. I look up from my desk after a quick bout of painting, and see that it's already dawn, and the tea isn't even finished brewing.

The blackbirds and thrushes are singing away in the rain, just as they were doing in yesterday's misty start. I was out looking for bullfinches and goldcrests.

It sort of goes against my ideal of birdwatching, accepting gratefully any bird that comes along, but not actively seeking them out. But it is so nice to see these birds. Particularly goldcrests. Until recently I'd only knowingly seen one once before, when it stopped to perch on the railing next to me on the Pride of Bilbao off Ushant. 

Then six weeks ago I watched a little bird flit across the canal up into an elder tree; I casually assumed it was a wren and wondered why it was behaving slightly differently to the usual wrens, who mostly stay low. So I watched and watched, and realised what it was.

And now I know to look for them, I do keep seeing them. One regularly visits the elder tree by my boat, hunting up and down it for insects; there were two together the other morning, piping and (I guess) canoodling. It's a useful reminder that even if I think I'm walking around with my eyes wide open, I'm still missing what's right there in front of me.

The day warmed up and the sun shone bright as you like, burning off the last of the mist in the valley. The crocuses growing by my mooring rope opened out wide. Cheerful walkers lugged their rucsacs along, and hireboaters chugged by in a leisurely way, on the beer already.

Then the wind got up enough to make a swell along the canal, all of an inch high, and the tarpaulin over the front of the boat flailed as though we were rounding the Horn, and a ferociously cold rain pelted us all.

But there was a rainbow afterwards.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

making cocoa for Saint David

When David lived in Ewyas, in a hut at Llanthony,
He’d sometimes pop to Partrishow for tea with Issui.
They’d sandwiches with watercress, and water for a brew,
and they’d discuss the sainthood lark for half the afternoon.
But with such steep tracks to walk before the setting of the sun,
They’d say their fond farewells and Dave would set off down the cwm;
And Issui said ruefully, “I’m a martyr to these hills, me”
and David held his hand a while and said “you certainly will be”.

Saint David lived for a while at Llanthony (Llandewi Nant Honddu). Issui, or Ishow, had his cell by a well above the Grwyne valley, at what is now called Partrishow. He was murdered there by a traveller, and his shrine in the church that was built there became a place of pilgrimage.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

on the various usefulnesses of trees

Come, carpenter, and make for me
A fine thing from an English tree;
A coffin from the wych elm, or
A rolling pin from sycamore,
Or blocks and stamps for butter patting;
Lime for blocks for felted hatting.

From conker trees, whose wood is white
A milk pail would be thought just right;
But from the ash (so profligate
its uses are) I’ve time to state
Just Morris Travellers, aeroplanes,
Policemen’s truncheons, hop field frames,
Hockey sticks and lifeboat oars,
And fork handles (not candles four).

The willow gives us cricket bats
And elevates the bearskin hat;
Alder for your piles and clogs;
Walnut branch for beating dogs.
Don’t dance around the maple tree
but steal its syrup stealthily.

And if this list’s too much for you
get MDF from B&Q

this is a found poem, in the sense that I found it when I was tidying up the not-yet-finished ones on my computer. I'd completely forgotten it. So here it is. I got the uses of the trees from my SR Badmin Puffin book of trees, which id put a picture of too. If I could find it.

Kev at work

Thursday, 16 February 2017

happy outcomes

another day at the office
As a fully paid up member of the all powerful Trans Cabal, I rarely trouble myself with the outraged squeakings of the oppressed and marginalised hacks who bravely fly the flag for the anti-trans resistance in such dark and unfrequented corners of the digital world as the pages of the Daily Mail. Take, for instance, Belinda Brown, author of 'The Private Revolution' and a number of well-cited academic papers. More recently, she has started writing and blogging for The Daily Mail and The Conservative Woman. She has a particular interest in men's issues and the damage caused by feminism. Her appearance in the magazine Student Voices ("independent journalism, news and comment from students on politics and more") may provoke surprise, but the sad, tired tropes will not, in a piece entitled "We Need to Talk About the Transgender Movement."

Hey where are all the social justice, no platforming, snowflakes I imagine I am arguing against?! she asks. Getting on with their lives, probably, Belinda. When you encounter a shouty drunk in a bus station, you just keep walking, after all.

Let's unpick one small item from this piece, though; for many children, Brown claims, gender confusion is a condition which resolves. And for those who go so far as to opt for surgery the outcomes are surprisingly poor. She is vague about the numbers here, and rightly so, because there are few quantitative studies - few reputable ones anyway - and those that exist run counter to this assertion. It is true that some children explore their gender identities and either revert to or continue to identify as that assigned them. Which is all fine and dandy; as are the cases of those who identify as the gender opposite that assigned them, and continue to do so, and those who just want to play fast and loose with the whole gender thang. But let's look at 'those who go so far as to opt for surgery'. How do we quantify that 'surprisingly poor' outcome? It is as woolly as fellow Daily Mail writer Julie Bindel's assertion that 'a number of transsexuals are beginning to admit that opting for surgery ruined their lives'. 

It is a regularly iterated claim, though, that there is a large and growing number of 'sex change survivors'. This claim has no basis in fact. Dr Stuart Lorimer recently took to Twitter to put some numbers out. In 15 years, he says, he has personally seen over 4000 gender dysphoric people; and he's personally seen 10-15 'regretters'. His colleagues report similar figures. As he points out, this is not a formal study, but these are far more reliable figures than any on offer elsewhere. (Further myths about transition regrets are debunked in this article by Brynn Tannehill). The clear inference being that medical intervention in cases of transsexuality is overwhelmingly successful.

It is unfortunate that these myths are trotted out in some feminist circles too, either by people with an anti-trans agenda, or by 'useful idiots' who take the words on trust because they come from Big Names. We all tend towards confirmation bias, I know, but laziness of thinking and a lack of intellectual curiosity can be damaging and discreditable. We should be on the same side, surely. 

Sunday, 5 February 2017

bog eyed fox

A fortnight on, and the ice is long gone from the canal. In the mornings, the valley is full of the sound of mistle thrushes singing. Over the last few days, the chaffinches have been warming up their songs, with a few faltering starts, and then finally the full repertoire, which is admittedly not a very large one in the case of chaffinches; still, it's their song, and good for them.

Boat Teenager came over for my birthday, and we popped over to Melksham to check out the charity shops. A junk shop had heaps of old galvanised iron farm gear out at the front. We went in for a look around. The shopkeeper told us that she gets her stuff from France, where they don't value old stuff like we do. I remembered a time in the Correze, when I was working for an architect feller on one of his houses there. We were there with his scouse building team, who were always good for a laugh, and always out of their depth in rural places; huddling together in one room to sleep, worried about cries in the night- "What the FUCCHHH was that!" "A fox, Jimmy, don't worry"

mind you, if it'd been this fox I'd've been startled too.
This was in the shop in Melksham
...on this farm in Correze they came scampering out of a cellar as fast as their little legs could carry them, having found a monster. I investigated; it was a salamander, and v striking its colours were too.
Anyway, we went to the farm next door where they were demolishing a 16th century cottage to make room for an extension to the cattle shed. We enthusiastically pulled antique stuff from the wreckage. The farmer thought we were potty, and he may well have been right.

Back then to Melksham. I bought an enamelled tin candle holder because I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.

Back on the canal, a call went out on the Facebook grapevine; a boat moored down on the river Avon in Bath had lost a couple of lines in the recent floods, and was in peril. So I cycled down to help out, stopping to photograph the Cormorant Tree near Bathampton. Where do they nest, I wonder?

Adrian was there on the same mission; we lassooed the tiller and hauled it over so that the boat came alongside the wall, and he went down the ladder and added some ropes.

Then Wes, whose boat it is, turned up and went down to bale out the water.... while we watched, a kingfisher flew across and landed right below us. 

...and flew away again in a bright blue flash, far too quickly for me to take a photo. But another one stopped for me as I cycled home.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

the Canal Ice Scale

It struck me, when we were bickering about whether it was OK to move your boat in the ice, over on the K&A Facebook group (as you do), that it would be handy to have a means of describing the thickness of the ice on the canal, in a manner similar to the Beaufort Scle for wind, or even the Bristol Scale for poo (but let's not go there, eh?)

So here we are; the Canal Ice Scale.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

walking in Westwood

Pity the poor boater, when the nor'westers hurl snow along the icy towpath and no comfort is to be found:

Calde geþrungen  wæron mine fet,
forste gebunden    calde clommum

Step inside, though, and you'll find that we're actually toasty warm, especially Miss P, who came to visit for a couple of days and was cheerfully settled in front of the stove.
Well, I say cheerfully....

can I help you with that bacon butty? Please?

But you can't spend all your time being cosy. So as the dawn began to make itself known, we crossed Smelly Bridge and headed up the hill. In the moonlight, the concrete lagoons of the sewage station looked like fresh-built raths, or possibly a ziggurat raised to a rather peculiar deity.

Up on the hill the glacial wind had sculpted and combed the tussocks into pale, transient roches moutonees. The moon was setting over Winsley, and as the morning sky lightened, the hills glowed with their powdering of snow. It was that perfect moment when everything is luminous and shining, just before the night abdicates the sky.

..but we were plunging back into the darkness of the woods, where fallen trees overhung the path and a grey squirrel screeched its alarm call. The ground is uneven and interspersed with hollows and sudden lumps of rock; like the Scowles in the Forest of Dean, though less emphatic. I guess that quarrying once took place here; there are underground quarries all around here. Somewhere beneath us was a former Royal Enfield factory...

As we emerged onto the lane and slid down the hill to the aqueduct, a robin thawed out its song and tried a few phrases.  

Presently, the sun rose and the joggers came by. Presently, generators were starting up on the moored boats. And it was time to chop some wood.

Monday, 2 January 2017

fox and bells

or the Baghdad cock to cruise,
the hillside fox is simply
joining in to hail the new.

(as videos go, it's a bit deficient on the visuals, but hey, I am moored in deep woodland...)

Dusk at Bradford on Avon