Sunday 31 August 2008


A few days holidaying. I went down to South Devon and met up with some Bristol friends. Somewhere west of Start Point, where I've not been before. So before I left I looked at Google Earth and peered down on the area from high up, to get an idea of where I was heading.

And I saw a field with bell tents in it and thought, "That must be the place".

I was right.

There were several of them, which had survived the storms surprisingly well. In the corner of the field was a pile of mangled aluminium and heaps of nylon, where wrecked tents had been dumped. Other tents had simply disappeared in the direction of Dorset, never to be seen again.

Here's M with her van. I encamped with her and A. They are seasoned outdoors types and I felt extremely minimal by comparison.

I noted happily that they are not averse to using make-up in the field, as it were, as a few people had expressed amusement that I was described as doing so in "Becoming...". So there. Real campers (or is that "glampers", as A described herself?) use make-up.

Walked, swam, ate, socialised. Holidayed.

Monday 25 August 2008

wonders and monsters

I was sitting in Brendagh's garden yesterday afternoon, drinking tea and munching hummous on crackers and chatting and watching the birds. A high flight of swallows, swirling slowly westward. A sparrow landing on the gutter.

It gives a little sparrowy chirp.

A sparrowhawk clunks against the gutter, its wings beat against the roof slates, and it's off, away along the front of the house with a little sparrow-sized bundle in its claws.

Gosh. I am really rather shocked. Never seen that happen before. Although I saw a hawk snatch a fish from the harbour in Colombo once. But this was sudden death in a Somerset garden, where that sort of thing seems slightly outrageous.

But the sparrowhawk isn't a monster, it's just a sparrowhawk doing what sparrowhawks do.

I was talking with Geraldine about the funny stuff you see at sea., not that sort of funny, silly

Or as the Bible sort of put it,

They that go down to the sea in ships,
that do business in great waters;
these see the works of the Lord,
and His wonders in the deep.

My first trip to sea, rounding Land's End in December 1981; there was a hurricane going on, and I was wedged by the compass on the bridge to stop me from going flying. The wind was howling in the superstructure, and the sea was mixing itself with the sky as though we were in a very large food mixer. The captain was faintly illuminated by the lights of the instruments. He was listening to the radio. "Some ship in trouble to the west," he said. That was the Union Star, about to be lost along with the Penlee lifeboat.

A winter's evening in the Bay of Biscay, a long low swell running and a washed feel to the twilight. Gannets were sitting stilly on the water, as far as you could see the sea was punctuated with gannets, uncountable numbers of them.

Thundering across the Arabian Sea on Condor 10 at night, watching silent fireworks flashing under the water around the keels, as the plankton fired off its flashbulbs. Photoluminescence, it's called apparently. Looks very impressive anyway.

Loitering on deck in hopes of catching the Green Flash, when the sun just disappears behind the horizon. Not seen it yet. But there was one sunset when a column of light stood in the sky over the place where the sun had set, for quite some time.

Which was not a patch on what I saw in the Indian Ocean, sometime towards midnight, a thousand miles from the nearest land, out on the back deck and seeing a very bright vertical column of white light way off on the port beam. I went up to the bridge and asked if anyone had seen it. They thought I was being silly There was nothing on the radars, nothing at all. Then there was a terrific flash of white light, from horizon to horizon. We exchanged "Well I never saw anything like that" looks, and continued with our business.

And then there was my sea monster.

It was not a hugely monstrous sea monster, but it was the one I saw. We were chugging along southwards across the Bay of Biscay. It was a flat calm summer's day, nothing but the occasional distant splashings of tuna shoals 'hitting' mackerel shoals. Away ahead, I saw a dark object get closer and closer. It was a long eel-shaped creature swimming along in the opposite direction to us, with its head sticking out of the water. It passed down our port side, gave me a cursory glance and continued its indifferent way.

I looked around the bridge, where the watch were doing what the watch does best, chatting, drinking tea, gasconading. "Did I really see that?" I wondered.

I did, you know.

Sunday 24 August 2008

pretty vacances

Balmoral coming up the Avon yesterday

I'm always reading Blaise Pascal, me*. When I'm not reading Ulysses, of course. The special edition of Ulysses, that is, with the extra words**. So on a day like today, when I hear the rain pattering on the roof and think of Bank Holidays, those wise words of the slightly-dead French philosopher come to mind. In french, naturellement.

Tout le malheur des hommes vient d'un seul chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

Sounds like a good reason to put t' kettle on.

....dips Hobnob into tea, continues.

The tidy-up continues. I hoovered up a few hundredweight of dust from under the bed, and took up a few floorboards to try to find some of the ear-rings that I've lost over the years. It's funny how it happens, that; something falls onto the floor and you reach down to pick it up, only to realise that it is nowhere in sight. And no amount of scrabbling around with a torch does any good at all.

Didn't find anything, apart from an ancient Bakelite light switch deposited there by a casual electrician sometime long ago.

This reminded me of a time down on Ashridge Farm in Devon, when I was doing some work on the place. I took up some floorboards in one of the upstairs rooms, and found.... well, a long-dead rat for one thing, and the skeletons of lots of little mice which had been electrocuted in the top of a light fitting which, presumably, their mother had thought would be a nice warm nursery. And, in one corner of the room, piles of ancient buttons and sewing things. It had evidently been the place where someone had sat and done the needlework over a long period of time.

In the same room, when I stripped off the wallpaper around the window, I found some lines written on the exposed plaster. Tantalisingly, the words were indecipherable, but I could read the signature, Jane Lakeman. I found her grave in Modbury churchyard; she'd died in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was odd, sitting in the window seat where she'd sat as a young woman thinking poetic thoughts, and looking out onto the same wooded and rainswept hillside. I do wish I could have read what she wrote; those words had been waiting for such a long time under the wallpaper.

Back to the present... so I made a pile of videos-that-are-probably-worth-something, and checked that they still played. I was amazed to discover how rare this one is:

...and transported back in my mind to the early 1980s, when it also seemed to be raining a lot. Driving up the motorway through the night on my way to Newcastle, past endless police convoys during the miners' strike, listening to Everything But The Girl and trying to stay awake. Here's a nice track from the compilation: Working Week, with Tracey Thorn and Robert Wyatt...

**all fibs

Saturday 23 August 2008


wishful thinking

It's a Bank Holiday, apparently. I am always taken by surprise when they come along, as they have never featured particularly in my working life, which has either been at sea, where they don't count, or self-employed, where they don't count. I know they're going on because supermarkets get horribly crowded as people panic buy the essentials to keep them going during the one day that the shops will be closed, except that shops don't tend to close on Bank Holidays these days.... and there will be queues on the M5 heading into the West Country, followed by queues on the M5 heading out of the West Country.

All in all, a good time to stay at home. Going out and about on a Bank Holiday provokes in me the feeling, described by Evelyn Waugh, that Basil Seal experiences at the outbreak of the Second World War, in, I think, Put Out More Flags: "like being in the middle of a South American revolution, but being oneself a South American."

I may have paraphrased.

K is away with the Other Parent, on her Other Hols. I texted the OP yesterday: There is something odd going on the sun is shining in Bristol. She replied There is something even odder going on- it is pissing with rain and freezing cold in the south of france.

I continue to get the flat tidy, or at least less messy, in readiness for K's return in time to start school in September. She will be living with me after some years of living in the Other Place, and we're all treading cautiously into the new order of things.

I have a friend who has three children and an estranged partner, and they arrange things such that the children live in the same house and the parents alternate staying with them. K is very struck by the felicity of the solution. I can, of course, think of all sorts of reasons why it wouldn't or couldn't work in our case, but then I would, wouldn't I?

Thursday 21 August 2008

fly by night

I finished off my butterfly pictures this morning, breathed a sigh of relief as I hit the upload button, and went for a ride on my bicycle.

They're for the Bristol Downs wildlife book. I've very nearly finished all the pics now. I can then devote myself more single-mindedly to What The Heck To Do Next.

In the meeja.... I got some money from Neon, a German magazine, today, for use of my photos in a feature they did which was more or less the same as the one in the Guardian. Except in German. So hurrah, and I think I may have to buy a new pair of shoes. You know how it is.

I found this copy of the article on monanotlisa's LJ. Thanks for putting it up, Mona! It was nice to see some more of Neil Drabble's photos, too.

So I mail Richard, and he mails me and tells me that he likes the butterfly pictures and that the cricket balls that I posted to him last week have still not arrived. (They are hard to get hold of in Strasbourg, apparently. Maybe the French are still a bit prickly after that business with Henry V and the Dauphin.)

And Richard also mentions the Olympics.

I was going to try and get through this whole Olympics business without ever mentioning it. Damn.

No, that was me saying that. What Richard said was this:

I notice in the Olympics the swimming stroke 'the butterfly' no longer exists. Has been shortened for idiot sports-people, so we now have the 50 Metre Fly etc.

...and that in turn reminded me of a horrible incident from the 1970s. I was at RAF St Athan, for an Air Cadet swimming competition. God knows why I was there, as I only ever do a very slow breast stroke, although I could do the doggy paddle or even floating on my back at a pinch. OK, I know why I was there. Coercion. You know how it is with insanely sporty adults in charge of things.

So I get entered into something called Freestyle. Somehow I get the idea that this means that I have to swim using the butterfly stroke, something which I have never before attempted.

Gosh, you can swallow quite a lot of water doing that.

And take a long time to get to the other end.

Much longer than anyone else.

Oh well, it was probably character building.


I fulfilled a long-held ambition today, and managed to download the wailing call of the Great Northern Diver onto my mobile phone.

Next week I'll sort out world peace.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

One careful owner, or close the toiletgate door

The war is over, and we won. Well, someone did.

Enough with this story, already. But before moving on, here's a link to Commander Steve Allan's letter about the Trafalgar Square incident.

It seems to cover all the bases; the right noises are made; there's nothing much more to be said. I just picked up on

We have taken ownership of the issues at a very senior level...

...because I have watched this turn of phrase come out of nowhere in a very short space of time. Well, out of nowhere for me, anyway. It takes a little while for new buzzwords to alight in the rarely-frequented corner of the forest where I live.

Has it been around for ages? -it seems to be a useful way of admitting responsibility for something while making it seem like you've been in the right all along. I quite liked it when I first heard it; it sounded buzzy and refreshing. I woke up. I smelled the coffee.

Anyway, having read this letter, I get the feeling that "taking ownership" is dead in the water. It is an ex-parrot. It is no longer robust.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

hunting the deer

Summer's gone with calm days
Ungentle now is Biscay Bay
A cold fear claims my heart
God save all sailors from the cruel waves

Some years back there was a sailor who set off on a round the world race but didn't actually go round the world. He just sort of hung around the Atlantic for ages, sending off the occasional false position report relating to his imaginary voyage. I think he ended up killing himself, but I'm not sure about that bit.

Hum. As for my wonderful and adventurous summer holiday, it didn't exactly happen. A week after my falling-off-the-bicycle-while-reaching-for-a-conker incident, I got some quite severe pain in my chest, which was diagnosed as a broken rib. So we had a quiet time at home.

We had a little expedition to Warleigh Weir, one of K's absolute favourite places. But the rain we've been having lately had swollen the river to dangerous levels, and swimming was out of the question. When she saw this, K started crying. Sometimes life doesn't do what it says on the packet. I felt helpless.

...and we went hunting the White Hart of Coppett Hill, up in the Wye Valley. We'd spotted this as we canoed down the river, painted on a rock face high up on the hill, and I wanted to see what it looked like close to.
...didn't make it to the rock; too wheezy. But it was a nice place to walk in, and we saw a couple of real life deer and observed the sociable pooing habits of the local badger population. So it was a good expedition, in that it contained serendipity and unexpected stuff. And it didn't rain until we were back in the car.

Friday 8 August 2008

getting on

I've been staying away from the blogosphere lately as I've been trying hard to finish the pictures for this book so that I can go off on hols. Last night I finished the main flower section. Phew.

0524, dark outside, Shipping Forecast on the radio, shoulder stiff and creaky. Feels like autumn already. Silence outside. Only six weeks ago it was midsummer and it would have been light by now and the blackbirds would have been singing for an hour or more. Apparently, this is the time of year when the birds moult, so they skulk away and abstain from singing. I learned that from Geraldine Taylor's nature slot on Radio Bristol the other day. She speaks to the city on Tuesday mornings at 0520ish. Another early riser.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Toiletgate 2: swishing the mop

You may be wondering what ever happened after that business with Roz Kaveney and the no-trannies-in-the ladies'-loos thing at Pride. Wonder no longer, for here is an update.

Here's how it went:

Roz Kaveney was refused access to the womens' loos at Trafalgar Square.

An impromptu protest was held.

Roz was allowed into the womens' loo.

The impromptu protest dispersed, believing that the "no trannies" policy had been reversed.

It wasn't reversed, and a short while later a transwoman was assaulted in the mens' toilets as a result of this policy.

Criticism has been levelled at the stewards in question, and the Metropolitan Police LGBT Liaison officer who was present, and at Pride London in general.

There has been much heated discussion about whether there is, or even should be, a T in LGBT.

Auntysarah was at the big meeting to discuss this stuff, and here's her write-up on LJ.

Saturday 2 August 2008

per ardua ad conker

So we're out cycling on Friday morning and we're riding across the grass under the conker trees and the conkers are looking quite big now so i stand up to try and clout one off the branch as I pass under the tree and.... the front wheel slips on the wet grass and I take a really heavy tumble.

I lie there for a while letting the waves of pain work their way through, while trying to reassure K, who's extremely worried. Heck, so am I. I can still move everything, though there's a lot of pain in my left hip area.

Worst fall I've had, that I recall (the motorbike accident when I was concussed doesn't count, as I lost my memory. Likewise the time I had my skull fractured by those nice football enthusiasts in Portsmouth...) And, as I realised later, it happened during the eclipse. Scary.

I hope the full moon hasn't got anything in store for me too.

Oh and the conker stayed in the tree. I've got little puncture marks in the palm of my hand from its spikes. Serves me right. I guess.

unforgiving minutes

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

...unless you're a woman, of course.

We're a bit short on unforgiving minutes at Schloss Marland. I am working hard at getting the illustrations finished for The Bristol Downs: A Wildlife Year, while trying to fit in more adventurous stuff as K is on hols now.

Well, we did go swimming at Warleigh, near Bath. We arrived in the evening just as everyone else was leaving, on what must have been the hottest day of the year so far. So it was nice and warm, even for me.

Catherine, at Broadcast Books, suggested the other day that I might like to exhibit some of my pictures at the book stall during Bristol Harbour Festival. So I had a frantic time finding timber and building display stands and getting frames and framing up and... realising that I'd
not really taken seriously the exhibiting of my pics before now. So it was about time.

And we got down there, to the Boathouse on Phoenix Wharf, yesterday evening, and set up the pics. Here they are...

...I could have done more but I ran out of frames. Maybe better go to IKEA.

The Boathouse is a scout and guide hut. It's a really old, wooden building, with the boats and workshop on the lower floor and this surprisingly light space reached by external steps. The window looks across the harbour to the amphitheatre where, a chap drinking a cup of tea explained, someone called Buoyancy is playing on Saturday. I think he meant Beyonce. But I like the sound of Buoyancy, especially for a Harbour Festival.