Wednesday, 13 February 2019

the cartography of deer

This snow has let the deer redraw the map.
Now waymarked paths lie buried in the drifts,
and hoofprints thread the beechwoods to the rifts
of new-scraped valleys where they sought the sleeping sap. 
The lichen and the moss, the leaves of the discarded year,
those olive greens and russets of the old
are scattered on the snow. It's cold.
The nuthatch's bleak note is all I hear. 
But downhill, where the stream is whispering unseen,
I find the snowdrops; lanterns raised against the snow
on arms that seem so slender, but have grown
with all the force of spring's first instinct to be green.        
And sudden from the ivy there, the wren's song is a flood
of notes that sound the reveille down through the sleeping woods.

Last week's snow was good old-fashioned snow; it lay deep, and didn't stick around to overstay its welcome. I remembered a walk on Great Doward, overlooking the Wye, on Christmas Day a few years ago, when mine were the only human footprints in the snow, and the first line of this poem suggested itself. So finally it's got some more lines to go with it.

The snowdrops are abundant right now, along with crocuses. Nights are still chilly, though, with frost on the ropes in the mornings. On really cold mornings, the birdsong is subdued, and the nuthatches are indeed about all you'll hear. On warmer mornings, the song thrushes start larging it, and I heard an early morning blackbird in Bristol a few days ago, a fine sound  full of spring.

Shepton Mallett, by the way, have a Snowdrop Festival this coming weekend. They're big on snowdrops in Shepton Mallett. They also have a lovely Portuguese cafe. Or at least they did when I was last there a few years back.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

small victories

I had an abscess in my gum last week, and tried lancing it and keeping it clean by gargling with salt water (urk) and whiskey (yes!). Sherry Jim suggested applying mouldy bread, for its penicillin effects, but I didn't, because I don't have any mouldy bread, and because, well, just because.

But it didn't go away, so I  took myself off to the dental hospital in Bristol where you can go if you don't have a dentist of your own and it constitutes an emergency; and while I didn't think it was quite an emergency, I'd read up enough to know that you should tke these things quite seriously, and it was getting worse...

So I got to be looked at by some dental students, under the supervision of more senior folk, and they pulled out the problematic tooth and made a very good job of it too, and the whole thing was as cheerful and friendly as you could ever hope for. Thank you, Bristol dental hospital!

I was fit for nothing much but bed by the time I got back to the boat, and the next morning was still extremely lacking in get up and go. So it seemed like an ideal time to try a jigsaw.

Some friends had seen my picture of the badger at Avoncliff, and asked if they could use it for a jigsaw, as a present for somebody. I was happy for them to do that, and as a thank you, they gave me one of the jigsaws. I felt rather daunted by the prospect of 500 pieces of mostly blue, and I gave it to Mal, who likes this sort of thing.

Then I got thinking about what someone was incredibly active as Mal gets out of doing a jigsaw, which I always rather thought of as a good picture spoiled. Is it a hygge thing? Mindfulness? Obviously I loathe and detest both these terms, and so would she, I'm sure, if asked, but you know what I mean.

I have an old Victory jigsaw, found in my favourite charity shop in Bath (the women's refuge shop, opposite the Bell on Walcot Street). I like it because it's a nice picture and especially because of those flying boats rumbling over Queen Mary, presumably in the Solent.

Finding enough space on my desk to start with meant a fair bit of reshuffling. I picked out the most distinctive bits and made headway with the ship's bridge and foredeck area.
Mental state: moving from o fuck, there's pieces everywhere to ha! It's starting to come together!

I put the flying boat together, and examined it closely. Three engines, RAF, a single tailfin (as far as I can make out). Perhaps a Short Rangoon? - though those engine nacelles look rather long and boxy. 
Mental state: a bit excited about the flying boat, but frustrated that I can't identify it with certainty. But I must accept this inability with fortitude. Life doesn't always turn up the answers.

Presently, I was cracking on at a great pace, and all the foreground was coming together at a rate of knots. It felt good.
Mental state: positive and enthusiastic. I think this is the stage of the jigsaw that corresponds to The Magician in the Tarot's major arcana. With hindsight, I was setting myself up for a tumble.

O god, this sky took for ever. I selected all the obvious edge pieces and juggled them until they formed a border. It was a bit of a slog, to be honest. 
Mental state: resignation and fortitude. Like being in the middle of Dartmoor when it's blowing a hooley and has just started to rain. It's not exactly fun, but what can you do but keep on doing?

Look! A vic of three more flying boats, Short Rangoons or whatever they may be.
Mental state: rather chirpy. I do like the thought of a formation of flying boats rumbling overhead. Concentrate, Dru, concentrate.

In time, the holes shrank, and it became progressively easier to locate each new piece by matching it with the holes. The end was in sight.
Mental state: you're finally coming down off the moor, and the sun's broken through, and there's a pub just down the lane.

And there it was, finished! I'm not a quitter after all, and my life will be better from now on.
Mental state: Hmm, nice pic. Not going to do that again.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

the Barn Owl at Diggers

I'm moored near the Dundas aqueduct. A very sociable spot, with good folk all around (and the occasional miserable scrote, like the dogwalker who let his dog piss on my POETRY ART BIKE REPAIRS sign and on my bike trailer while I was standing there going OI! Some of the natives round here are not very nice, and dislike boaters. Hey ho). Ding Dong and Sherry Jim are moored next to each other, and Ding asked me to pick up some vodka and tomato juice from the shop at the garage, whither I was cycling to get some eggs. There was no tomato juice, so I got three tins of Heinz tomato soup, and joined the party for a nutritious Bloody Mary.

At night it can be so still that when a muntjac deer barks in the woods, it echoes all along the valley as though you were in a deep cave. Sometimes in the small hours I lean out of the hatch and watch the stars, failing to see any falling.

It's a good spot for wildlife watching. From here, we've often watched the barn owl hunting the scrubby slopes on the other side of the valley, perfect territory for voles. Sometimes you'll se a fox wandering up the hill, or a roe deer bound out of cover and then back into the woods at the far side of the field. 

I started this picture ages ago, based on a sighting of the owl on a September evening when the last of the sunlight was slanting across, lighting up the newly-blossoming Old Man's Beard so that it was like May come again. It's still bright now, with frost. But the colours of the valley have turned to olives and browns and russets. 

Sunday, 23 December 2018

a shared enthusiasm for Hardy's Dorset

I was rapidly running out of clean clothes, and yesterday's weather forecast suggested that it would be the driest day for a while, so I did the dhobi. As usual, this meant the usual routine of filling the two 25l jerry cans with water (I did that earlier in the week, when I filled up my main water tank at Avoncliff); putting my biggest pan full of water on top of the stove first thing in the morning (which in the case of yesterday, was 0300; this early to bed, early to rise malarkey is really getting out of hand round here); then, as 0800 approached (the time before which it is rude to run engines and generators) I had a shower, baled the water from the bathtub into the twin tub washing machine, topped it up with the piping hot water from the stovetop, and got on with it.

Other Usefuls included taking the rubbish to the bins, which also meant I got to see Bradford on Avon's Morning Jackulation, which is like a murmuration, but with jackdaws.

And then tidying up. Which is a never ending task on nb Eve. This is a normal scene for my desk, two days ago during a frenzy of printing.

Down at the post office counter in the Co-Op, I was queue jumped by a Very Middle Class woman, who held things up for ages while they fetched 300 euros for her. I was alarmed to hear that the pound/euro rate is pretty much 1:1; last time I went to mainland Europe the pound was worth better than €1.40. We exchanged long cold stares, and I quietly wished that she might get held up for several days at Gatwick by a rogue drone. 

Cycling back to the boat, I considered popping into the church to think more elevated thoughts, because life's too short. But then I thought that life right then was too short for tht, and dashed home to set out my pictures on the side of the towpath. Which meant I got to meet a few nice folk who stopped and bought things. I pointed out the Hardy poem The Oxen on the back of this card, to the chap who'd just bought it, and he told me that he'd spent some time walking round Hardy locations in Dorset. I used to do the same, when I was based in Weymouth on the Channel Island ferry, only I did it on my motorbike.

This is a picture I did in St Mary's, Puddletown, where the Hardys were in the quire; and very chilly it was too.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

a badger at Avoncliff

Here's a badger looking down on the canal from Westwood towards Avoncliff, on a snowy night. That's my boat there with the fire going. I used my artistic licence to clear the roof of bikes, firewood, spare toilet cassettes and general clutter. Very handy thing, that licence.

I was going to draw something to do with mud, to go with this poem I wrote earlier in the year, and which is very relevant right now
It is our medium of communication,
we wade through it, it clags our bikes
and is the topic of our conversation.

In the polite streets of towns we enter,
we hail each other at first sight
of clouty boots, dank hats, the scent

of woodsmoke that has browned and kippered us,
tallowing our clothes and coats
when skulking in the warmth of boats
that snugly through the winter skipper us.
...but I just couldn't come up with an image that worked, and then I thought this would make a nice pic. So we get the romantic view of the canal instead.

It is pretty romantic, of course. And it did look like this back in March when the mini ice age hit.

But right now it's raining, raining, and then raining some more. 

And muddy, of course.

It's been a busy few weeks selling canal calendars and Etsy orders for cards and pictures. As we get close to Christmas I look forward to getting on with paintings and poems, because I've not been doing enough lately, and that makes me antsy. Though it's extremely nice that people like my stuff enough to want to buy it! I haven't got over the happiness that gives me, and probably never will.

Boater life around Bradford on Avon continues to be lively. Much repairing going on on the wharf - it's good to see an active boatyard at work. And we had a big party in St Margaret's Hall last week, as a fundraiser for the Floaty Boat Fund.

And the week before that we had a gathering to remember a friend who drowned. There've been three deaths like that this year. 

Tidying up yesterday, I found the bottle of rum that this friend gave me as a thank you for helping him with his engine. Maybe I'll finish it on New Year's Eve.

Have a good Solstice, Christmas and all that!

By the way, as this picture has been so enthusiastically received, I've done some prints, and you can get them here in my Etsy shop

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.