Wednesday 18 March 2009



(this post mentions the Downs in Bristol. I've put in a bit of context stuff in the post before this one, if you don't know the area and want to know)

I popped in to Bristol Central Library the other day to pick up the latest issue of the Bristol Review of Books. I also picked up a copy of a large pamphlet, issued by the Council, called Lesbian Gay and Bisexual People: FAQs, Myths, ...and the Facts.

I like to keep up with what the Council is up to regarding equalities, or possibly Equalities. I've watched the T fade away from LGBT in Bristol over the last couple of years. It's popped up in the gender section now, where they are apparently working on it. Good show. It's nice to know that someone's thinking about us, even though trans people are excluded from the legislation regarding the provision of goods and services, which means that it's still OK to discriminate on the grounds of being transgendered. Apparently.

Anyway, in the new pamphlet there is a section on media representation and sensationalism. It cites a headline from the Bristol Evening Post- "Scrubland cleared... at an area known as 'Fairyland'"

I wonder if it is the Evening Post or the Council Equalities folk who missed the point (actually, I think it's the Evening Post). Fairyland has been called that since the 19th century, and, while there has been sexual activity on the Downs for as long as there have been people in Bristol, and presumably some of it gay sex, the name of this particular area owes more to a fanciful connection with the Little People than to gay men. Does anyone call them 'fairies' any more?

I mention it because I've been over that way a few times recently, getting pictures for a design I'm working on. Very nice it is too. And the rustlings in the bushes? -they were blackbirds, actually.

the Bristol Downs: geology and history

I live right next to the Downs in Bristol, and I was going to write something about them in my blog, but thought that, if you didn't know the area, a bit of explanation might be useful. So here is the introduction to the geology and history of the Bristol Downs that I wrote for this book

The Bristol Downs: Geology and History

The Bristol Downs are part of a limestone ridge which extends north-eastwards from Clevedon. It was formed by sedimentation and deposition when a tropical sea spread over the area during the early Carboniferous period, 354 million years ago. Fossils of marine creatures can be seen where the rock is exposed. During the Hercynian period (about 290 million years ago), when the ancient continents of Laurasia and Gondwana collided, this rock was folded and pushed up into mountains. It was then eroded, deposited upon, uplifted and again eroded until the present surface was once more exposed.

The Gorge was created during the Ice Ages which have come and gone over the last two million years. The Bristol area wasn’t glaciated, but an ice sheet advanced from Ireland up into the Bristol Channel, and it is probable that the Avon cut its way through the Downs because it had been impeded in its original westward flow through Ashton Vale and beyond by this advancing ice front. In the interglacial periods, animals such as bears, elephants, horses, rhinos and hyaenas inhabited the area. Remains of these animals were found in a quarry in Durdham Down in 1842; today part of this discovery (hyaena and elephant bones) can be seen at the City Museum, along with some stone tools of our ancestors, showing that they too were present. The Downs would have been covered with mixed woodland, except in the steeper and rockier areas which would have been colonised by grasses and scrub, much as they are today.

Tree felling began as long as 4000 years ago, and there are field systems evident between Ladies Mile and the Zoo Banks. During the Iron Age, the Dobunni tribe built a hill fort on Observatory Hill, which, together with the two forts on the Leigh Woods side of the Gorge, dominated the river. The Romans in turn built villas in the area, and the road which they built, linking Bath with the port of Abonae (Sea Mills), can still be traced near Stoke Road. The Saxons established grazing rights on the Downs and left boundary stones from Walcombe Slade (Black Rock Gully) to the Water Tower. By the time of William the Conqueror, The Domesday Book of 1086 records the Manor of Clifton as having a population of thirty, of whom half were farm labourers. The Downs provided grazing for the commoners of Clifton and Henbury, and land was leased by the Lords of the Manors for quarrying, lead mining, and limekilns.

The Downs witnessed some turbulence over the centuries. The Royalist army grouped here before taking the city in 1643, and then the Parliamentarians did the same thing two years later. For centuries this was not an area to cross after nightfall because of the footpads and highwaymen, who, if caught, were suspended from the gibbet at the top of Pembroke Road - or Gallows Acre Lane as it was known until the 1850s. With the advent of turnpikes, a tollbooth was installed at the top of Bridge Valley Road in 1727, and then attacked by rioting miners. More recently, troops were stationed here during both world wars, and the Second World War saw the erection of stone obstacles to prevent the landing of enemy aircraft, the tethering of barrage balloons, and the positioning of an anti-aircraft battery at the Dumps. With the arrival of American troops, the Downs were used as a vehicle assembly area in readiness for D Day, and wild flowers flourished between tanks in this temporary respite from mowing.

More of a threat to the Downs, though, was encroaching development. Clifton became a fashionable place of resort with the development of Hotwells as a spa in the late 17th century. John Evelyn described a hunt for Bristol Diamonds (quartz geodes) in 1654:

What was most stupendous to me, was the rock of St Vincent, a little distance from the Towne, the precipice whereof is equal to any thing of that nature I have seene in the most confragose cataracts of the Alpes: The river gliding between them after an extraordinary depth: Here we went searching for Diamonds, & to the hot Well at its foote….

Although development faltered with Hotwell’s decline, by the 19th century it had again revived with the expanding and affluent middle classes seeking to escape from the noxious industrial heart of the city in the valley of the Frome to the fresher air of the suburbs near the Downs. .Quarrying, mining, clay extraction and illicit enclosure all caused further public concern at the loss of the Downs as an amenity for all the citizens of Bristol. The City bought Durdham Down from the Lords of the Manor of Henbury and, along with the Merchant Venturers who owned the Clifton Downs, obtained an Act of Parliament to ensure free public access.

Plans were enacted for the ‘beautification’ of the Downs. The Circular Road was built, quarry workings were filled in, and avenues of trees planted. Change also came about by the decline in sheep grazing, which had hitherto kept in check the growth in trees and scrub; it died out on Clifton Down in the 19th century, and effectively ended in 1925 on Durdham Down, although the University of Bristol periodically exercise their commoners’ rights, last grazing their sheep here in 2007. Today, management of the Downs is the responsibility of the Downs Committee and Downs Ranger, and they remain a popular resort for nature watching, kite flying, sports, shows, fairs and the countless other pastimes engaged in by Bristolians.

Sunday 15 March 2009


So it was Red Nose Day, when people do funny things for charity. Katie's school had a 'dress in red and white' option for the day, so K put on white clothes and sprayed her hair white. White-ish, anyway. For red, she took along Munkeh, whom you may see here in his uber-Bristolian "Gert Lush" T-shirt.

She also did a sponsored animation, which you may find here

That evening, I met up with Sarah and we went round to the local primary school for a benefit gig. On the way we passed a couple locked in an embrace, though the woman lowered her thigh slightly from his waist as we passed.

"Gosh!" I said.

"Not very Westbury Park," Sarah commented.

The band were playing feelgood music. A few people were sort of half-dancing along to it, and a very enthusiastic woman was positively leaping and hopping, in a fairly large space all of her own. Maybe all gigs have someone like that at them. I remember at folk clubs there would always be a woman in a very long skirt who would do a sort-0f-Highland Fling if the band did a quicktime number. And this seemed to hold true whatever the folk club.

People were supposed to dress up as their favourite song. Not many had. I had a chat with Jack, who was dressed as Pierrot.

"Guess," he said.

"Tears of a clown?" I hazarded.

He nodded lugubriously.

Sue was rather stylishly dressed in black silk oriental pyjamas with one of those big Chinese straw hats.

"It's a Dead Kennedys song," she said.

"Ha, Holiday in Cambodia" I said. No flies on me (though I always thought that American punk bands were a bit dull, personally...)

We discussed our children and how they are getting on at school. Very punk.

I left early and wandered past the church. On the road outside were three hulking great lorries, and a generator belting along. There were floodlights everywhere. They were filming Songs Of Praise. I think the floodlights were there to simulate sunlight through the stained glass windows.

Some walkers paused to exchange Goodnights.

"They were at it till 10:30 last night" said one of them disapprovingly.

Goodness, things have evidently changed a bit since I appeared on Songs of Praise. This was back in 1967 or so, and my choir, All Saints Llanfrechfa, joined in with the throng in the school hall at Croesyceliog Grammar School for the occasion. It was filmed in real time, in one go. I think the cameraman had to crank a little handle at the side of the camera as he trundled up and down.

And now it's Anglican Hollywood. I wonder if the vicar has a retinue? -I'm not sure what a retinue is or does, but I gather that it is an essential accessory for a star.

I walked on home.

And the brass band played on and "Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven" belted out over the quiet suburb.

more Travelling

So yesterday I did the port side suspension too, and the Trav has recovered her bounce. I went for a drive and sought out the pot holes just to make sure. Bouncy bouncy.

Here is my new ball joint splitting tool, in the act of splitting a ball joint on the steering arm

...and this is the Armstrong damper, which links to the top of the kingpin. The bottom leg on the kingpin is held down by a torsion bar, which is spring loaded. The top end links to this damper. The damper arm is linked to a little piston which slides up and down a chamber full of oil, whose top and bottom ends are connected via a small orifice which regulates the movement of the oilk through it. This means that the damper arm moves slowly and smoothly up....and down.... and that's what evens out the bounciness of the wheel.

Unless the oil level drops way down, and it starts getting clunky.

Which doesn't happen in my case, of course. O dear no.

(Goes a bit red)

Friday 13 March 2009

know your trunnions

I hate specialised words, especially if I don't know what they mean. But I've had to expand my vocabulary recently, to account for the clunking I was getting in the front end of the car.

After taking the wheels off and poking around a bit, I found out where the problem lay. Let's try describing it without using special language. The front wheels are bolted onto vertical shafts which can swivel, allowing the wheels to turn left and right. The top and bottom end of the shaft goes into a cup arrangement which is swivel-connected to the bouncy-up-and-down bit of the suspension. So the wheel can go round and round, turn left and right, and bounce up and down when it goes over a bump.

The cup arrangement is called a trunnion.

Sometimes, I guess you just need special words.

Here it is, look. A trunnion, complete with rubber bushes that are completely worn away. Clunk, clunk.

...and here is the reassembled bit where the wheel goes. It took me about four hours to get this far.

The worst bit was the joints that haven't been apart since the car was built, and which needed a blowtorch, release oil, joint splitting tool, big copper mallets, and a nice cup of tea and a piece of chocolate before they finally gave in.

It can be a bit dispiriting, looking at something that you know you have to undo and yet which is refusing to undo. I suppose that strictly speaking, there is always someone else ready to take a job on, but I prefer not to give up on something. Back in the seafaring days, it sometimes really was a case of having to fix it there and then, no option. It could be quite a dreadful feeling, looking at something which is steadfastly refusing to do what you wanting to do and knowing that there is no-one else to do the job.

Here's someone fixing something on a boat (Condor 10, somewhere in the Mediterranean). The buck stopped somewhere else on that particular occasion.

Thursday 12 March 2009

you and whose origami?

Spring continues apace, and I saw celandines in flower yesterday. There is a blackbird singing even now on K's bedroom windowsill, where it is accustomed to perch. If you're careful, you can tweak the curtains apart and watch it, inches away.

Eventually I suppose I'll have to ditch the arrangement of last year's poppies and dried flowers from the kitchen, but it does look nice, and is extremely low-maintenance. K added some origami cranes, which go rather well.

I like origami, and used to do a lot of it. It is also a useful way of spending time in exams when you've run out of things to write, I have found, which is perhaps gives you some idea of my degree of academic attainment.

One thing I didn't do much of was the stuff in this book, Kokigami. It contains figures which are supposed to adorn penises, such as this squid:

...the book was a Christmas present from someone to whom I am sort-of-related, a few years back. She expressed a hope that I would be broad-minded about it.

My then partner and I looked at the book with incredulity, and ....burned it. Never mind what Heinrich Heine said, sometimes you've just got to burn something.

Thursday 5 March 2009

noisy neighbours

The tree at the front of the house is being nested in again. I saw the blue tits bobbing across to their hole in the lower trunk, last week, and was glad to see them again. They've been nesting there for several years now. Then a couple of days ago I saw that this magpie couple have started building their nest here too, just on a level with the front room window. There was a pigeon nest here last year, but the eggs were all lying smashed on the pavement one morning, possibly by these same magpies.

The neighbour's loo, which I had been wrestling with last week, is finally fixed, and I learned something new while doing it. But not before trawling the internet for an answer.

There are plenty of wrong answers available on the internet. Someone who evidently faced a similar problem to me posted up a cry for help on Yahoo Answers, and one of the suggestions was inadvertently brilliant:

you need a new Sistine, get them from any diy shop easy to fix too

Tuesday 3 March 2009

the welkin rings, but it's the wrong number -or, The Swimming Pool That Time Forgot

Welkin is one of those words I associate with Spenser and Milton, and with forest glades, snuffling deer and a distant hunting horn echoing through the dappled light. You know, as in making the welkin ring.

Wrongly, as it turns out; it means 'heaven', apparently. Another case of reality failing to live up to the brochure.

This is the picture for the nature piece in the latest edition of the Bristol Review of Books, soon to be available in all (hang on, make that 'some') good libraries. In the Bristol area.

So anyway, there are flash leisure centres around the city, including the one where I joined so that I could get horribly fit in the gym before setting off on the Big Welsh Walk two years back. Hated it all, including the huge swimming pool always full of fitness nazis swimming up and down and up and down and God help you if you got in their way.

And then, on the wrong side of the river, there is an old fashioned swimming pool, complete with a proper deep end where, despite the No Diving notices, you can dive. And there are very few people in it; we once even had it to ourselves. So obviously I'm not going to disclose the location.

I was down there with A and M on Sunday. Swim, chat, swim, chat. Then A got out and after a while M and I were going to get out as well, but we waited in the water for the two women in the shower to finish showering. (there are two double showers, one at either side of the deep end, one marked Male and the other Female, but otherwise identical, and open to the poolside)

And we waited.

And waited.

"I'm sure she'd already shampooed her hair," said M. "And it's not very environmental, is it? -Big people use more water. More surface area"

They were quite large. M has just started a weight-watching group and is on the look-out for recruits.

"I should get some cards printed. I could have given them one," she added.

And we waited some more.

"There should always be twice the number of facilities for women," M announced. I agreed. There should.

We carried on a-waiting.

"I'm going to use the Gents'", M announced.

I followed her. Safety in numbers. I would never have dared do it if I'd been on my own.

So we finally got out of the pool.


Here is Annie's account of her trip to the newly-refurbished Clifton Lido

Sunday 1 March 2009

bread and circuses

It's always possible to learn something new. Sometimes you can work it out for yourself (the answer to a vexing problem with someone's sanitary plumbing came to me in the shower yesterday, after I was cleaning off the Orrid Mess I'd got into while trying to fix their loo... I refrained, however, from dashing naked down the road with cries of "Eureka!" -this is a respectable suburb, you know) -sometimes it comes with a chance reading of something or other.

Thus, thirty years after I'd started making bread on a regular basis, I stumbled upon two new (to me) ideas.

  1. Putting the risen loaf into a really hot oven gives it chance to rise even more before the crust hardens and stops it
  2. Liberally coating it with flour (I use rice flour for the purpose) help keep the crust soft, as does wrapping it in a tea towel as soon as it comes out of the tin

The loaf in the picture there is called a Musket Loaf, by the way, although it has other names. (I am capitalising, as I think good bread deserves proper nouns.) Herberts Bakery, my fave Bristol bakery, calls them Concertina Loaves. And apparently, Oop North they are called Lodger Loaves. This is, or so the story goes, because they were favoured by niggardly landlords and landladies, who could count the corrugations and immediately tell if the lodger had been helping themself.

Although I would not describe myself as niggardly, I used to be annoyed when one of my young flatmates used to help herself to my bread (and all my other stuff, for that matter) because she was such a poor cutter of slices; so I would take the bread out of the bread bin and find that the active end of the loaf (for want of a better term) was jagged, and lying at a jaunty angle with respect to the rest of it, making it a real pig to cut a slice for the toaster. This can cast a shadow over your breakfast, as I need hardly say.

Bread slicing. An essential skill. Perhaps it should be taught at school, or something.