Sunday 19 December 2010

the transsexual agenda

Normally I admire the Christian Institute (one bloke and his cat, in Brentwood) for their commitment to spreading the message of truth, sweetness and reason. But I feel a bit left out after reading one of their recent posts about LGBT liaison officers in the Gwent police force, who are (says our correspondent (or maybe the cat)) tasked with "promoting the homosexual agenda to other officers".

I am disappointed that they are not promoting the transsexual agenda too, I must say. Still, I'm working on it. Well, it is an agenda, after all. My cunning plan is to turn everyone transsexual, by putting stuff in the water supply. But it's a bit of a secret, so don't tell, will you?

Another cunning plan I've been trying out, inspired by James Russell, author of a very good book on all things cider-related, is mulled cider. As you see from the picture above, I'm not the only one; this was in the Cotham Porter Stores on a cold and frosty evening a few days ago.

At home, I have been heating up cider with brown sugar, rum, cinnamon and ginger, nutmeg and cloves (a musical combination, there ). Very warming, on these cold winter nights, let me tell you. But be careful, it might turn you transsexual. Or something.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Shout Out

Here's a link to Bristol Community FM's Shout Out show, a weekly LGBT slot. And this show features me, as a guest!

On Our Show - 09-12-2010

Friday 26 November 2010


Whoops, a book meme, thanks Anne. A good way to avoid getting out of a warm bed on a cold morning....

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.

• Copy this list.
• Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.
• Italicise the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.
• Tag other book nerds.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Emma -Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road - Jack Kerouak
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

....hmm, a bit of a lightweight, I guess

Saturday 20 November 2010

oh deer

This is my favourite giant Irish deer.

I'm busy framing prints of the pics from the new book. Some are hanging up in the Downs cafe, which is nice. Look, there's one now!

Today is Transgender Day Of Remembrance. I've been writing about other things trending to the point of TDOR, hopefully.

Monday 8 November 2010

will the real Julie Bindel stand up?

As regular readers of Upside Down In Cloud will know, Julie Bindel and I don't always see eye to eye on things. But I have always admired her activism in furtherance of the cause of Julie Bindel.

Which is why I thought I should publicise this evident attempt to discredit her, over on Twitter. Shame on you, the pretend Julie Bindel!

Monday 1 November 2010


I was going to go deep into the Forest of Dean for the night, but got sidetracked and ended up exploring the Downs just before dawn. On Samhain you might fear to meet the Wild Hunt, but I was more concerned about encountering people with dodgy sexual appetites.

There was a fox, and a lone student swigging from a bottle as he wobbled back to Halls, and a homegoing couple swaying from excess of nightclub.

And then a vic of geese flew over, silent and ghostly in the light of the city.

I was going to write more about this stuff but Scrabble got in the way

Sunday 31 October 2010

ferne halwes

Friday saw me in South Wales, visiting the shrine and well at Ffynnon Fair, Penrhys, above the Rhondda valley.

I'll write more about it soon, but today's blogging was over at Being Drusilla, which may prove to be the main focus of my blogging activity.

Time will tell.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

work in progress

A project that Richard and I have been working on for a while now, is a new collaborative web presence that combines blogging and information. I've started to get the hang of Word Press, but there's still a way to go yet. Anyway, here it is, rather like a not-quite-finished ship on the slips. Comments, crit and suggestions welcomed, of course, as always!

Monday 25 October 2010


Great news for Bristol's prestigious Harbourside! The American restaurant chain, Todgers, has been give the go-ahead to open a branch here, in premises formerly occupied by Marks and Spencer. This should help to raise the tone in an area already popular with the sort of people who like to drink themselves stupid and shout a lot.

Todgers will be selling chicken wings and beer until midnight every night, but what makes Todgers extra special is its waiters, all specially chosen for having big penises, which will be prominently displayed in the tight Speedos that constitute most of their uniform. This will help to create a relaxed and stylish, family-friendly environment.

There have been protests from some killjoys, who claim that this sort of thing objectifies men. At a meeting of the City Council on Tuesday, a member of the campaigning group MMANLY (Many Men Are Not Lecherous, Yeah?) invited the councillors to imagine how they would feel if a restaurant called, say, Hooters were opened in Bristol, where potential waitresses might not be given a job if their breasts were not big enough.

He was interrupted by the Lord Mayor of Bristol, Colin Smith, who said, "Excuse me Mr Chesney, I think you are stepping over the bounds of decency."

Quite right too. It is one thing for a healthy, red-blooded man to ogle the willy on a fit young feller. And, as has been pointed out, Todgers is not asking its staff to wear anything more skimpy than can be seen any night of the week, if you happen to be on certain parts of the Clifton Downs. You know, like if you just, like, happened to be passing. In a fire engine with the searchlight on, or something.

But suggesting an establishment where women are objectified? That's just wrong, and we would not stand for it in Bristol. Well done, Mayor!

(this post re-posted from September, as previous one had gone off the radar)

Saturday 23 October 2010


I was snug in my bed this morning, listening to the tawny owls hooting at each other and thinking of the people queuing up to go onto the pier at Weston Super Mare for the official reopening today.

And then I made myself some tea.

This is what I wrote two years or so ago when the pier burned down. Repeated here, and why not?

Though my trips have been quite rare
To Weston Super Mare
Because I think it's drear,
I wouldn't diss a pier.

Thursday 21 October 2010

not Fit for purpose

That's not a lion, that's a tired old donkey

Following on from last week's publication of the shortlist for the Stonewall Awards, we find that the nomination for Journalist of the Year has been withdrawn from Bill Leckie, a columnist on the Scottish Sun whose work has been cited by Stonewall Scotland as an example of bad journalism.

Bill seems a little peeved at this, claiming that he had been dropped from the list without having been told. "I'd have thought they might have had a bit more backbone than that, but hey ho," he said. A sentiment with which I'd have to agree.

Irrespective of any possible merit or otherwise in Bill Leckie's writing, there is a conversation which might be worth having here, between Bill Leckie and Ben Summerskill of Stonewall. Like, whether either of them take on board Stonewall Scotland's analysis of Bill's work, and if so, how much time they think has to pass before a writer can be dissociated from what he has written, if he has not modified his tone in the meantime.

But I doubt if it will happen.

More fun and games with Stonewall today; they are promoting a video for use in schools. It's called Fit. It's about challenging homophobia, as far as I can make out. It also seems to think that it's OK to call transgender people 'trannies'. Well, yes, Stonewall. Just like 'homos' is an acceptable term for gay people. Innit.

And these people have apparently been advising government ministers on trans issues relating to marriage and Gender Recognition certificates. Despite there being perfectly good organisations and people within the trans community. We don't need to be spoken for by someone without a mandate, and who has explicitly stated that they do not represent trans people.

Then again, they don't appear to want to represent lesbians or bisexuals either. In their press release for the Stonewall Awards, they describe it as a celebration of 'champions of gay equality'. On having this erasure of the L and B part of their corporate identity pointed out to them over on Facebook, they responded that "We sometimes shorten it to 'gay equality' to be concise and acronym-free for the media...". Fair play. In the same way that use of 'he' as a pronoun should be taken to mean 'he or she', of course.

And then there was the rebuke put to Stonewall by Stephen Gilbert at the Lib Dem conference- "It should not be for me as an MP to lobby Stonewall to support gay equality, it should be for Stonewall to lobby me".

Something seems to be a bit wonky over at Stonewall. I'm sure they used to be a useful organisation. I'm not so sure they are now.

Still, they do wear ties. That counts for something.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Dundry church

Here's Dundry church, up on the top of Dundry Hill and appropriately dedicated to St Michael. The tower was built by Bristol's Merchant Venturers 'as a beacon for sailors', as Pevsner says. It would be of doubtful use as a navigation beacon; but it is certainly a landmark, being visible for miles and miles from its high position, a hundred feet up the hill. Pevsner's a bit snooty about the aesthetics of the tower, reckoning that there's too little relation between the four stages and the parapet. As for the Victorian church attached to the tower, that is described simply as 'without merit'.

Fair enough. I suppose that in its way, this is a folly; something intended more to be viewed from Bristol and the Avon than to be worshipped in. An exercise in ostentation rather than piety.

In the foreground is a great block of Dundry stone. The local oolitic limestone was highly-regarded as a building material, and it was widely used; for St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol, and, further afield, in places including Cardiff Castle and Dublin Cathedral. This block in the churchyard was for display purposes, presumably, so that prospective clients could be shown what was on offer, just as the adjacent church was an example of what you could do with it.

I was up at three o'clock, finishing off this picture while listening to God's Revolution on the radio; a really good dramatisation of the English Civil War. Cromwell is busily suppressing the Levellers just at the mo. Familiar stuff if you've read about the French or the Russian revolutions... but it happened here first...

Sunday 17 October 2010

another day begins

Frost underfoot up on the roof this morning; first time this autumn. Two tawny owls calling to each other in the trees across the road. A robin singing. Two contrails intersecting above the oncoming dawn.

Then all the lights went out for a few seconds. And then they came on again, followed by a swelling chorus of outraged house alarms, all across the city, chided by the blackbirds chipping in.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Summerskill, and the living is easy

Mr Summerskill finds his place in history

Upside Down In Cloud has been an occasional chronicler of the Gays In Ties phenomenon, and has watched the rise and apotheosis of Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, with the appalled fascination with which you might observe your neighbour's lurcher doing something you think it probably shouldn't and you didn't quite think possible anyway.

There was a bit of a hoo-ha two years back, when his tame organisation nominated Julie Bindel for their Journalist of the Year award, despite the rather unsavoury and somewhat partial nature of her writings about transsexual people. After all, as Ben takes pains to point out, Stonewall doesn't have anything to do with transsexual people.

Which didn't stop them, apparently, from consulting recently with government ministers on the matter of trans people, marriage, and GRCs. Fair enough, you might think. After all, I understand that they may have seen some trans people once. Standing outside the V&A in the rain, or something. So they know what they're talking about, I guess.

Latest wheeze in the 'let's piss off the trannies' game is one of this year's nominations for that prestigious Stonewall Journalist of the Year award. It's Bill Leckie, whose work has been cited by Stonewall Scotland (no relation- they embrace diversity up in Scotland, apparently) as an example of negative media portrayals. Here's an example of his work, from the Sun

EIGHT o’clock on Wednesday and an army of frighteningly ugly women are pouring into a boozer called Prism for bingo night. Or at least from a distance they LOOK like women. But then you see the poster on the door.
And you realise that this isn’t just any bingo night. It’s Drag Queen bingo night.
Now, I can’t pretend that my devotion to this column is such that I wiggled along to see how it went. Not when I got there and saw someone going in with the same frock.
However, my sources tell me it went a little bit like: “Two fat ladyboys… 88. Unlucky for some … unprotected sex. Five and two… Danny La Rue.” And someone shouted: “Really nicely-decorated house!

-hmmm. It's almost certainly a Good Thing that gay men are now far more socially acceptable than they used to be, at least in some quarters. But I sometimes get the feeling that some of them want to pull the drawbridge up after them. And in at least some cases, they remind me of the dominant pigs of Animal Farm, at the end of the story...

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Thanks to Zoe O'Connell for alerting me to this in her blog

Wednesday 13 October 2010

back to the Lush Places stuff

wrong season, but hey, it's a robin.... illustration from The Case of the Curious Crow

Shortly after my last post, Andrew Marr made a rather touchy criticism of ('some') bloggers, describing them as "socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting...". As opposed to proper journalists, who are knights in shining armour in a relentless quest for Truth, of course. Listening to him on the radio, he sounded quite peeved, and brought to mind a dinosaur blustering resentfully about the annoying mammals making a nuisance of themselves around the place.

As I said, blogging has given me a (fairly small) voice, in matters where I have felt misrepresented, marginalised or ignored by the mainstream media. And for that I am grateful. There will always be windmills that need a bit of tilting, after all.

And in between the windmills, a few Lush Places.

I was in Sarah's garden on Sunday, helping take the washing off the rotary dryer, and in the bush next to us was a robin, singing ever-so-quietly, scarcely audible from more than a few paces. It was a big contrast with the robin's usual song, loud and clear. I wonder if that was what Keats was describing in his Ode to Autumn-

...with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft

I thought the swallows had been long gone; but I did see two battling against a strong west wind at Portishead, a fortnight back, making their way along the coast. Last week we went down to Dorset, and stopped for breakfast at the airfield cafe at Compton Abbas, south of Shaftesbury. It had been a blowy, rainy night, and the rain was clearing away, and the day was looking promising.

And the row of beeches on the ridge behind the airfield was alive with swallows, swooping close around the trees, and spreading out over the ridge, flying around the parked aircraft. Like us, they'd stopped for breakfast on their way south.

On another day of torrential rain, I was driving along the side of the Downs where the roads are accompanied by avenues of conker trees, and the conkers are littering the ground and crushed on the road where they've been run over. And the gutters were running with great lumps of foam. I thought at first that someone had been careless with the detergent. But it was everywhere that the conker trees were. I wondered if there was a connection. And it seems that there is. "Conkers make wonderful foam!" -sounds like a rather nicer way of making foam than the stuff we used to use for firefighting at sea; that, apparently, had cow blood in it. And it ponged, something horrid.

Wonderful things, conkers. Apparently, they won the war for us too.

Friday 8 October 2010

getting heard

Before I started blogging, I'd had the rather odd experience of featuring in quite a few newspaper stories as a consequence of my prosecuting my former employers, P&O Ferries, in an Employment Tribunal. The papers seemed more interested in dwelling on the salacious (and unfounded) allegations made by the company, than with the actual facts of the case- the judgement in my favour was noted with apparent incredulity by, for instance, the Daily Mail- "Would you Adam and Eve it?" their headline asked.... my blog allows me, in however small a way, to make my own voice heard. When you've had nasty things said about you by people who don't know you and don't know the facts either, that sort of thing becomes important.

It is also, for me, a continuation of the story told in Becoming Drusilla, because, as the book notes, life doesn't end with transition, or surgery, or whatever; indeed, perhaps transition is a continual and on-going state, not just for people like me but for everyone.

I don't just write about trans stuff, because there is much more to my life than trans stuff. But sometimes a story comes along and I feel the need to comment on it.

a bit of subvertising

Like that business over the Nationwide Building Society advertisements that came out in May, using David Walliams and Matt Lucas of Little Britain. At that time, I wrote an open letter to David Walliams, suggesting that his characterisation of a 'rubbish transvestite' character furnished people with a model and a vocabulary for abuse, and that as a self-identified champion of transgendered people, it might be helpful if he desisted with that sort of thing.

I was wondering how things were going with the Little Britain chaps, so I had a look around this evening, and I see that they have just this minute finished making a new series of comedy programmes. I also checked with Google to see how visible my previous blog posts about the Nationwide ad campaign were.

Just at the moment, they seem to be practically invisible to Google*. Most odd, to the point of presuming they've been nobbled. Although at least I guess it shows that they got noticed. Perhaps David and Matt are actually ashamed of their work?

*try it for yourself, if you like- enter dru marland nationwide walliams an open letter into the Google search box, and see what turns up. You see? (postscript (Jan 2011) it has now reappeared....) ( link( here and here

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Dundry Hill

This is a view of Dundry Hill, south of Bristol. It is looking northwards, with the village and the church perched above the steep slope on the north face. The church was built by the city's Merchant Venturers, so that the crews of ships returning to Bristol up the Avon could see it. Apparently.

I'm glad I persisted; this version is much better than the first two attempts. I used Sennelier ink, diluted, on dampened paper, for the fields, and it was smoother than the watercolour washes I'd used previously, and I didn't need to mask out the details. So that was a lesson learned.

Thinking maps, John Lee, my rather professorial friend, tells me that his Map of Elizabethan and Jacobean Bristol (to which I have added a few modest contributions, though I was rather pleased with the Bristol eskimos story) has now had 5,500 views. He has added further sites and information. Why not have a look?

View Elizabethan and Jacobean Bristol in a larger map

Friday 1 October 2010


It's a pretty cider-y sort of place, Bristol. And James Russell and Richard Jones of Tangent Books have written a really good new book about the stuff. What it is, where it comes from, how to make it, and all sorts of stuff.

The book launch was down at the Arnolfini last night, and I was down there too, trying out the Thatchers cider samples.

That's James up in the top picture, and this is a chap who makes cider on his allotment, but I can't remember his name. Sorry. (edit: that's Dave, James tells me)

Thursday 30 September 2010

what's on the drawing board today

Just for a change... this is what I'm worrying away at, just now. Doing a pictorial map is a major exercise in deciding what to emphasise and what to leave out or simplify, so that the finished job is clear, usable and good-looking.

I'm on Version Three at the moment....

Version Two had a bunch of goofs on it and was too small. Here's a close-up of one way of correcting a mistake.

  • Place a piece of paper of the same sort as you used for the drawing, underneath the drawing.
  • Cut around the botched area with a scalpel.
  • Glue the new paper, which will now be a perfect fit, into place with some backing paper, and start again. Not quite invisible mending, but hey.

(here is the finished project) (and here is the map....)

Wednesday 29 September 2010

here come the gender police

What with talking about Cordelia Fine's book on gender, and the action of popular culture in reinforcing and policing gendered behaviour, here's something I just happened upon yesterday. When you've looked at it, try putting a date to it. And then look in the 'comments' section, where I'll post the date it was published.

Monday 27 September 2010

hiddener gender

Lots of people have got at least one opinion about gender, and some people may even manage three different ones before breakfast. As a Thing, it's come a long way since Fowler's Modern English Usage austerely noted

gender, n., is a grammatical term only. To talk of persons or creatures of the masculine or feminine g., meaning of the male or female sex, is either a jocularity (permissible or not according to context) or a blunder.
This opinion dates from 1926, of course. And grammarians may be good at charting the course of grammar, but they do sometimes forget that they are the servants of language, not its masters. It's people wot makes language. Those who attempt to condemn the use of a linguistic term that is both useful and widely understood, remind me of Samuel Johnson's astronomer in Rasselas, who came to believe that the stars turned at his behest. And 'gender' as a term is very useful. If only we can agree on what we mean by it.

So, what exactly is the difference between sex and gender? At the moment, my personal definition goes like this: my sex is what I am, and my gender is what I perform, in the sense of my social interaction; how I present to, interact with and am hopefully perceived by the world.

As someone who was identified and brought up as male, and yet who identified consistently as female, I have found it hard to come up with answers to questions like "Why do you think you are a woman?". Not least because I can't claim that it is because I like pink fluffy bunnies and Barbie dolls. For two reasons. One is that I don't like pink fluffy bunnies or Barbie dolls. The other and bigger reason is that I don't really think that pink fluffy bunnies or Barbie dolls are valid signifiers of either sex or gender.

The simplest answer to that question might be that it simply feels right for me; that it works. But that is perhaps a bit insubstantial, as a reason, for other people. No surprise if I, and others in a similar situation, would like to find hard scientific evidence that what our brains are telling us we are, is what we are.

This has led some people to seek validation in oddities like the COGIATI test, or that thing where you measure the length of your fingers, and if the middle one is longer than the next one, or something, then that shows that You Is A Gurl. Or possibly this video, which tells you that the way you hold your arms is gender-related.

There are other (and rather more sane) studies. But the body of hard evidence remains fairly light. Which is presumably why some people build large assumptions on small foundations.

Now Cordelia Fine brings out a book, Delusions of Gender, which makes pretty much this very point. As she says in this Guardian piece,

"There are sex differences in the brain. There are also large sex differences in who does what and who achieves what," she says. "It would make sense if these facts were connected in some way, and perhaps they are. But when we follow the trail of contemporary science we discover a surprising number of gaps, assumptions, inconsistencies, poor methodologies and leaps of faith."
Unfortunately, we can expect to find the same process taking place with what may well be a very good book (I shall try to read it some time soon, honestly). I bumped into the first example yesterday, while looking at a blog piece by writer Celia Rees-
I've got news - from the same newspaper. Men and women are not wired differently. Their brains are the same. All these supposed 'differences' are created by social conditioning and environment.
Did you see what happened there?

Thursday 23 September 2010

Uffington crab

Coming home from Richard's, I took my latest favourite road, between Wantage and Swindon along the foot of the Downs. Approaching Uffington, there was a row of crab apple trees, laden with fruit. So I stopped and picked a great pile of them, because the combination of crab apples and location was pretty irresistible.

I couldn't find my jelly bag anywhere, so I popped into Kitchens, our local cooking-stuff-shop, and they had a really nice-looking strainer there, and it cost ten pounds fifty. Ten pounds fifty!.... so I got a cotton pillowcase from the charity shop next door, and washed it and used it instead.

I ended up with four and a half pints of liquid, and added sugar and mace and cloves, and boiled for ages.

I started to think that the thermometer was broken, because it went up to 100C and stayed there. But then I remembered that this is what happens when you boil liquids, and what I was watching was the result of the latent heat of vapourisation...

....that was a memorable lesson in the school physics lab, when I got a steam generator boiling furiously over a Bunsen burner and then the teacher noticed that I hadn't added a safety valve, and he evacuated the lab and then sent me back in to defuse the apparatus....

Anyway, it turned out lovely! -just had some on my breakfast toast. Apple-y and spicy.

Happy equinox!

Wednesday 22 September 2010

the call of the nuthatch

I was up in London a few days ago, with Richard, doing book stuff for Becoming Drusilla. And then I stopped over in deepest Oxfordshire.

As you can see, Richard is taking his recovery from the recent cricket injury very seriously.

Very keen on their cricket stuff, them Beards. I took some time out to admire the dawn over the Thames. The sun burning off the wisps of mist on the water, the occasional splash and quack of a duck, a squirrel crashing around in a hazel bush, and the clear calling of the nuthatches, whose song I am trying to think of a word to describe. Vaguely like the Clangers?

Still wondering, I popped into the village shop where the bread for breakfast was just coming out of the oven. I bought some liquorice wheels too. This is my kind of shop.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

swimming towards the equinox

ready for the off, at the Dundas Aqueduct

It's been two months now since our first go at swimming along the Avon, when Mal ended up being the only swimmer. And it was getting to feel a bit late in the season. Still, you never know, do you? So I set up a Facebook group and sent out invites, and most people responded with regret that they couldn't make it, and expressing the opinion that we were brave.

It's always worrying when they say that sort of thing.

And Mal got on the grapevine too, and got some rather more enthusiastic responses.

-and suddenly it was Sunday morning, and I was looking out of the window at a grey and windy dawn and thinking how cold the water was going to be.

Still, you've just got to get on with it, haven't you?

I'd already collected the canoe from Long Ashton when Mal phoned.

"I've got a huge picnic," she said. "We've got absolutely everything. From vaseline to vodka."

"Good. I've picked up the canoe, and I'm heading down there now," I said.

I like to be early.

View Larger Map

The little lane down to the Claverton Pumping Station was parked up with hippy wagons from the canal boat people, and with the cars of visitors to the pumping station. Still, I managed to park next to the canal, and got the canoe ready. I think that the canoe is an essential part of the swim, to carry the swimmers' gear and to provide support in case something goes wrong. I hoped to get the chance to do at least some of the swim (it didn't turn out that way, but so it goes).

And then I had a coffee and spent a while shaking hazel nuts down from the trees along the lane. They were big and ripe and surprisingly uneaten by squirrels, and I wanted to make the most of them.

Then Mal and Adrian arrived, and then Barbara and Mike with their canoe. And then more and more people appeared, until there was quite a party on the towpath and cyclists had to ping their bells to get past.

gathering by the K&A at Claverton

And the wind had dropped and the sun looked very much as though it was likely to come out too.

So off we went, along the canal towpath to the Dundas aqueduct. There is a useful flight of steps there, dropping down to the river bank, and a pontoon next to the Monkton Combe School boat house.
Barbara and Mike bring their canoe down the steps

Paul prepares to dive in

And the people who were going to swim got changed, and Shanti and I got the canoe into the water. She had offered to help with the paddling.

And away we went. A party set off along the river bank, where a footpath is indicated on the map. The footpath parts company with the river just before the weir at Warleigh, but we hoped to sort out that problem when we got there, maybe by ferrying them in the canoes.

The water was indeed a bit cold. Or so I was assured by the swimmers. I was quite comfortable in the canoe. And it was a lovely afternoon. The surrounding woods were becoming deeply autumnal; conker trees drooped over the water laden with conkers; a kingfisher darted ahead of us; buzzards soared high above, and occasional mobs of rooks and jackdaws tumbled by.

The distance along the river is about a mile and a quarter. The current is barely noticeable, unless you are going against it in which case you realise that it is actually quite strong. The swim takes about an hour.

A little over half way there, Katie was getting too cold and tired to carry on swimming, so we helped her to a place where she could scramble up the river bank, and she got into some warm clothes and the Useful Blanket, and carried on along the bank, looking vaguely Middle Earth-ish.

...and then we were there!

...the walkers turned up a little while later; they'd ended up by the old ferry steps below the weir, but someone had kindly allowed them to go through their garden to get to it. They seemed a little wary about walking across it, not having seen it before. But Mary got the hang of it pretty quickly...

And it was time for that picnic.

...there are some more pictures here