Monday 29 March 2010

chiffchaff revisited

I went out looking for a robin to photograph this morning, but the robins were being shy. This chiffchaff just happened to be in the way, though. Life, eh? -go out for a robin, come back with a chiffchaff.

That sounds vaguely smutty. I have obviously spent too much time among literary types....

more Idris Davies

A Victorian Portrait

You stood behind your Bible
And thundered lie on lie,
And your roaring shook your beard
And the brow above your eye.

There was squalor all around you
And disaster far ahead,
And you roared the fall of Adam
To the dying and the dead.

You built your slums, and fastened
Your hand upon your heart
And warned the drab illiterate
Against all useless art.

And you died upon the Sabbath
In bitterness and gloom,
And your lies were all repeated
Above your gaudy tomb.

I got an e-mail from Bernie, who wondered if I could find this poem (at least, I hope it was this one you meant, Bernie...) -and I couldn't, but I know someone who can (thank you, John!). It reminded me a bit of Alabaster Thomas , at least in the gaudy tomb sense.

Sunday 28 March 2010

some people are cyclists, some people wish they were

More Advanced Stop Zone fun in Bristol, this time on the Gloucester Road.

Saturday 27 March 2010


summer wind
a sparrow re-rights itself
at the peanut cage

Alan Summers

I did this pic to accompany Alan's haiku, for one of the events he's organising in Bath. You can find out more if you follow the link above...

This morning I was sure that I heard a chiffchaff as I wandered around making my first cup of tea. So I took the tea and sat at the open window in the front room.

I heard:

a green woodpecker
wood pigeons
a wren
blue tits
a starling
...and the chiffchaff.

I spotted it a few times, as it flitted from tree to tree; it landed in the plane tree outside the house, the tree that the magpies nested in last year; and gave a burst of song, then came to a branch very close to the window.

I kept perfectly still.

But it decided not to risk it anyway, and bobbed off to the next tree.

At one of my early morning wildlife-related meet-ups at the Downs cafe with Geraldine, Keith and Nick, recently, I met Myles Lucas, who was looking into why birdwatchers watch birds. My explanation was, or would be, something along the lines of 'because they are wild creatures whose space overlaps with ours, and it's interesting to get to know their characters and habits'. There is a lot of wildness going on close by, and it's just as wild as what you see on an African safari (and less likely to eat you too...). And the more you look, the more you see.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

that's ASL, you A*S***L*

Here's an Advanced Stop Line. The idea behind it is that it gives cyclists space to wait at the traffic light, and gives them a head start on the cars waiting at their stop line. This greatly reduces the risk that a cyclist will be knocked over by a car turning left at the junction, as quite often happens when a cyclist is cycling alongside a car, or the car simply overtakes and swings left without warning.

Here's a useful guide to how they are designed and marked. As you see, it is usual practice to paint the box red and have a big picture of a bicycle on it, to give a clue to the motorist as to what it's all about.

But this ASL is on Whiteladies Road, one of the main routes into the centre of Bristol, renowned as a Cycling City, where motorists respect cyclists and share the road with them on equal terms; not only that but it's on the National Cycle Network, part of the prestigious Route 4 (London to Fishguard).

So obviously it doesn't really need the visual aids, as everyone knows what to do.

Everyone, that is, apart from the occasional simple country folk who have come up to the city for the first time, and aren't used to our fancy ways. Like these chaps in the van, who managed to occupy half the cycle lane and stop right on the ASL. I banged their mirror with my shoulder as I squeezed past (it wasn't deliberate, but hey), and they honked their horn at me, drove alongside, wound down the window and shouted that I ought to have to take a test.

They didn't specify what sort of test, though. Name the root vegetable, perhaps. After all, I've already taken tests in driving, motorcycling, flying aeroplanes and steering ships.

I in turn caught up with them at the next junction, and knocked on the window.

It was wound down.

"You were in the advanced stop box", I said. "It's for bicycles."

It helps to be polite. It's a hearts and minds thing.

"No, t'aint!" said the driver, incredulous that I should be so ignorant of the rules of the road as applied to White Vans.

And off they went, in haste for whatever it is that they get up to. Delivering sheep or something.

It was a normal sort of day in town. Here are some students stepping out into the traffic to avoid this van, whose driver had had a sudden urge to eat a sarnie and have a scratch.

And here's someone.... well, work it out for yourself...

Chris Hutt

I was sorry to hear that Chris Hutt, cycling activist and Green Bristol blogger, has died. He offered me support and advice when I was knocked off my bike last year, and I am grateful. Thank you, Chris, and goodbye.

Saturday 20 March 2010


it's all about willies, apparently

I don't usually worry myself about what the christians get up to, as long as it makes them happy. But sometimes I wish they'd just stop their silly nonsense. Recently a Catholic adoption agency was given official approval to discriminate against gay couples. As a spokesperson said, "the ruling supports Christian groups which want to operate freely and according to traditional values with regard to the nature of family".

And, while we're talking about traditional values, this week the Pope has been apologising to the Irish people for the sexual abuse of children by the clergy. Though people implicated in the abuse, by doing their best to keep it covered up, are still in positions of power in the church.

Over on Radio 4 yesterday, Donal McKeown, Bishop of Down and Connor told the Today programme that people have become more conscious of the reality of abuse. But he added that "it's not more prevalent among Catholic clergy than any other part of the population."

How very wrong and insulting of him. Of course it's more prevalent among the Catholic clergy than any other part of the population.

I was sharing my sense of outrage at his presumption with a friend yesterday. She's a single mother, so presumably a bad parent in the eyes of the Catholic church. And of course, as both a single parent and a trans parent myself, I'm several days into unsuitable country; in fact, according to the Pope, I'm a threat to civilisation. Quite awesome, the power I evidently wield.

Back then when that story broke, I spent a while looking into what the Catholics were getting up to, and found my way to Joanna Bogle's blog, where this business was being discussed. It was quite unwholesome, I must say. Here's an excerpt from the discussion that was going on...

Malcolm McLean said...

Homosexuality is a bit like alcoholism. You cannot become an alcoholic without exposure to drink, and you can't become a homosexual without exposure to sexual activity with the same sex.

However some people won't become alcoholics despite fairly heavy drinking, whilst other will be addicted after only moderate exposure. Similarly some people are more disposed than others to act on homosexual stimuli. A lot of people engage in a bit of homosexual behaviour, say at boarding school, then drop it once they get access to the opposite sex, whilst for others the early sexual experiences set the pattern for later. In both alcoholism and homosexuality once the bahaviour is established it can become difficult to break, with steadily more extreme actions / higher does required to obtain the same effect. Actions and images that once repelled become desired. (This is also true of pornography, it is not unique to homosexuals by any means).

When someone says "I have a homosexual orientation" what he really means is "I am addicted". However that aspect of our psychology is God-given, if you like. It was He who chose that addiction should exist.

2:11 PM

Blogger Dru Marland said...

Presumably, then, the same is true for heterosexuality too? -this strikes me as a depressingly narrow (not to say jaundiced) interpretation of sexuality of any shade.

2:50 PM

Anonymous Don McGovern said...

Justin writes "but I don't feel it is". Fortunately, as a Catholic, I'm taught to deal in objective truth rather than subjective feelings. And buggery is about as natural as trying to feed oneself by poking food in one's ear. If you feel that's natural - fine - but it aint.

10:01 PM

See what I mean? They're obsessed, these poor folk; they can't seem to discuss things without bringing the physical act of sex into it. I came away feeling rather dirty, and gave up visiting Aunty Joanna's blog. I'm sure she's nice as pie herself, but it's the company she keeps.

And as for Donal McKeown, if you live on a dunghill it is a mistake to assume that everyone else lives on either a similar or a worse dunghill.

beware of the leopard

We like St Nicholas Market in Bristol. It's a pretty bustling place, with stalls selling tools, bike stuff, pet stuff, craft stuff, eco stuff, toys, fossils, clothes both old, new, kinky, hippy, gothy and Brizzly. And loads of places you can eat well and cheaply; Indian, Italian, Jamaican, Portuguese, Moroccan, and even English in a good way, thanks to PieMinister and a couple of greasy spoons. Though our favourite is Lello's Pure Pasta, where we get big plates of meatballs and pasta.

Anyway, I was down there yesterday and talked with David Jackson at Beware Of The Leopard Books. Indy bookshops are an endangered species in Bristol and elsewhere; even the big shops are closing down; we recently lost Borders, and Blackwells' Park Street shop is shrinking massively so that a Jamie Oliver restaurant can open in the upstairs bit.

Apparently the council want the stallholders at the market to keep the front of their shops clear of stuff, to make it 'as welcoming and as attractive as possible' . Which is odd, because I thought it was welcoming and attractive, even if it isn't like Bristol's 'prestigious' Cabot Circus (or Carboot Circus, as it is known locally). The trouble is, some people (like me for instance) go to the market because it isn't like Cabot Circus. It would be a shame if the place got tidied up. There's a petition asking them to think again. Here it is.

Friday 19 March 2010


Crikey, it seems only last week that it was freezing cold.

That's because it was freezing cold last week.

Yesterday morning, though, I was driving through Flax Bourton (a small village to the west of Bristol, for those of you not watching in colour) and I saw two swallows. So I had to screech to a halt (must squirt something on those brakes) and jump out and watch to make sure.

This is an ostrich, probably. You get them in Somerset, too.

And then I went round to Brendagh's, where I was servicing an Esse cooker. Which involved lots of scraping of soot and cinders, a lot of which ended up on me. This morning I have black snot. Urk. It was quite fun, though, as now I know how the stove works. And it is better than it was before I started. Which is very cheerful-making.

Saturday 13 March 2010

eating a pigeon

The local sparrowhawk has been busy. I put a pan of water on the stove because I was making penne al'arrabiata for dinner; then I peeped out of the window to see what was going on, and there it was, already eating its dinner. It was there for over half an hour; after it had eaten all the soft stuff it could get at from this stance, it rolled the pigeon over and resumed its eating. Then it flew heavily to the wall, carrying the remains with it; and after a short while it flew off to the local ash tree to relax, if sparrowhawks relax.

And yesterday I was at Clevedon with Jules, dropping off some books at Sealey's, the excellent bookshop on Hill Road. Then we took a walk around Poets Walk, looking for somewhere to eat our ham and bread roll, while rain storms swept by to the east. It was a dramatic scene.

There was a sound unlike one that I'd heard before; if you put a cat and a bolshy baby into a tumble dryer together and turned it on (don't try this at home, gentle reader) wouldn't sound like that either, but it would have the flavour of it.

I gazed around, and saw that a peregrine falcon had 'bounced' a black-backed gull.

They sailed off to the east, circling each other, the gull looking pretty annoyed and the falcon radiating insouciance. Then the falcon caught an updraft and spiralled swiftly up and away.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

International Women's Day

I was invited to participate in a special evening celebrating International Women's Day, at Acoustic Night, the fortnightly event at Halo in Bristol. I felt honoured, and more than a bit daunted; I've been trying to write something new for a while now, and as the evening approached, it was obvious that it wasn't going to be ready.

That wasn't the main cause of the dauntedness, though. That was more to do with the nature of my identity as a woman, and (to a lesser degree) as a poet. On the first of those, my position has been elegantly described by someone else (who prefers to remain anonymous, but thank you!) as 'like someone who has defected from one regime and has taken up residence in another. Figuratively, I now live quietly in my chosen state, bear its nationality, pay its taxes, carry its passport, perform any civic duty it requires of me, I am utterly loyal to it and will defend it to the last.' I do not take acceptance of my identity for granted, and it is nice, and affirming, to experience it in this way.

Anyway. It was a good evening, and there was lots of energy and positivity. I read a haiku, after describing my evolving relationship with my daughter, as she learns to be an adolescent and I learn to be a parent...

Rainy day, new school
Under two separate brollies
But still holding hands.

I wondered later if I should have read the poem I wrote about my mother. I have a bit of difficulty with this poem, and describe it as poetry-as-therapy, and therefore possibly best left alone. But then it also appeared in Becoming Drusilla. Though that is not the same as me introducing it. Anyway, it means something to me. Here it is.

I did not know it then, of course, but it was the last time I saw you.
It was just after my birthday, and I brought my model aeroplane to show you.
It was a Bristol Britannia.
It wasn’t the aeroplane I would have chosen, but I suppose father was preoccupied.
I should have preferred to bring you a Spitfire, a purer flying machine,
So that you would recognize the fighter ace in me.

You were pale and tired, in the hospital bed,
But you gave me a brave smile
As any fighter ace should,
Preparing for a sortie.

Now I think of those days out on the Moss,
Me sitting behind you on the bicycle
Afraid that my feet might get caught in the wheel,
But mostly happy and safe so close to you
While big brother rode on ahead.

And above the flat Lancashire countryside,
With its sudden smells of ditches and chicken manure and cabbage,
A vast world of sky
Made brilliant by the ascending skylark.

Thursday 4 March 2010


Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed.
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.

Edward Thomas

No pictures of rooks, unfortunately.

Nor any pictures of what I saw over at the edge of the Gorge the other morning,when I paused there on my way over to Clifton with some books that I'm touting around the shops, including the new pirate one.

It was a glorious day, calm and clear, with a bit of warmth in the sun. Very high up and to the west, a raven was circling in an updraft. It was so far up that I only thought that it might be a raven, until it dropped into a vertical dive, throwing in the occasional swoop and flick-roll, until it dropped into the quarry opposite and landed on a tree. That's a raven, all right.

Then there was a kerfuffle from the peregrines that nest below the viewpoint, and one appeared, circling in the Gorge until it too caught an updraft and spiralled up until it had gained enough height to drop down into the trees of Leigh Woods, where it flicked around the branches and out of sight. Ravens and peregrines are a bit Jocks and Geordies. I wonder if it had gone over there to irritate the raven?

Tuesday 2 March 2010

springing on

It's beautiful weather, and I pop up onto the roof every now and then to witness the spring unwinding itself from the last of the winter.

Got a call last night from C. Her car's in the menders and she needs to get out into Somerset for work. Can she borrow the Morris?


We go out for a run so she can get the hang of things. It's quite funny when someone is not used to old cars.

"This is the choke..."

"The choke?"

We kangaroo up the hill, pause at a junction and go hippity-hop upward in second gear with the engine screaming and the clutch making a worryingly toasty smell...

Things get better soon. C is very adaptable. I wave goodbye as she and the Trav disappear into the night, with the faintest crunch of the gears.

Monday 1 March 2010

playing around with pictures

I'd been looking at the cover design for The Bald Blackbird, and not been happy with it but couldn't quite work out what to do. It just looked wrong, and lacking in something.

So I did this picture of hawthorn blossom
And then I removed the background from it, and copied and rotated and resized it a bit...

...and cleared some space behind the foreground things....

...and then stacked all the images up in layers, and ended up with the final version that I put at the top here. Fairly happy now. Paintshop Pro is really very useful.

On the other hand, it would be nice to create pictures that were finished entirely on paper, too. I was looking at some of David Inshaw's pictures the other day and thinking how nice they are. Bet he doesn't use PSP!