Monday 28 June 2010


This is the weather for bimbling, and bimbling was what I did on Saturday, after handing Katie over at Checkpoint Chav, deep in the West Midlands motorway network.

So I headed for the Malvern Hills, which manage to look even more dramatic in close up than they do from the M5, whence I usually hail them in passing. I didn't try going up and over the top, though, as I'm being kind to my gearbox. It is surprisingly easy to get along without using third gear, but even so, you can't be too careful...

...and then through Herefordshire, and to the flanks of the Black Mountains, and Llangua, on the bank of the Monnow. Unusually, the village is on the east bank but is in Wales, with Herefordshire and England on the West bank. The border follows the river, and the river, in these parts, follows its inclinations. As far as Monmouth, anyway.

The church stands on its own, some distance from the village. It's very small, but, on this hot summer afternoon, bustling with activity; there was a wasps' nest on the bellcote, and the wasps were zooming to and fro in a piratical manner.

A buzzard drifted by. I walked along the river, admiring the big brown trout that glid silently through the brown water in the shadow of the trees. Sand martins flitted in and out of their nests in the sandy bank at the river's bend. A kingfisher swooped away from its branch as I approached. A train passed invisibly, on its way to Abergavenny from Hereford. There was an outbreak of bleating from the local sheep.

I slid into the river and swam gently against the current for a while. The water was just cool enough to be refreshing and welcome after the heat of the afternoon. Then I got my camera and balanced gingerly back into the water for the photograph up there at the top. Then I splashed out onto the opposite bank, inadvertently trapping a huge shoal of tiny trout in the shallows; the water frothed furiously as they tried to evade me. So I circled round, and shooed them back out into the deep water.

Thursday 24 June 2010

what larks

Here's a skylark, doing what skylarks do, over Ashton Court, which is just over the Avon Gorge from here in Bristol. And that, I'm pretty sure, is the last picture for The Case Of The Curious Crow.

I've been worrying about what to do about the Traveller's gearbox. At least I have a better idea of what the problem is; I drained the gearbox oil and found this.

It's a broken gear tooth. And I know that you should be careful about accepting an answer to a problem if it is handed to you on a plate, just in case it is either the wrong answer or not entirely the right one. But it seems to work, in this case.
So I am driving the car (when I have to) carefully, and avoiding using third gear. And I've rung around several companies who deal with Moggies, and found that there is a bit of a shortage of gearboxes at the moment; I guess it is all those Mogs that spend their winters indoors, coming out to play in the sunshine and then breaking down.... anyway, someone who rebuilds gearboxes in Hampshire is going to send me a reconditioned one, and a mobile mechanic in Bristol, who specialises in Moggies, is going to change the gearboxes over. Which may not be very Zen, and is the first job I've not been able to do myself; but it's a bit of a relief too.

The Case Of The Curious Crow

The Case Of The Curious Crow, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

Here are the illustrations for the book that Geraldine Taylor has written. It's going to be published in the autumn.

Monday 21 June 2010

variable damselflies

Out and about for Midsummer, we rumbled through Bath and down to Farleigh Hungerford, to go swimming in the river. There's been a swimming club there for some time, and there are some nicely rudimentary changing cubicles into which we entered, brushing through the overhanging branches, to find an owl pellet on the bench inside. We were the only ones using the changing facility; lots of people were dressed as for swimming, but were industriously stoking away at barbecues and gaz stoves, cooking Sunday lunches of singed meat, the smell of which hung in the air. A large party of East Europeans threw a beach ball around, and managed to carry off that singular look which I had thought only the British can really manage- looking pallid and unhealthy in bathing gear.

In the river, though, all was peaceful, apart from the wild insect sex that was happening among the variable damselflies. I went and fetched my camera, wading in up to my neck to get this picture and hoping to heck that I didn't fall over.

The Traveller's gearbox made horrid noises in third gear all the way there and all the way back, so I tried not to use third gear. Today I must look into replacing the gearbox. Oh dear.

Friday 18 June 2010

Gays In Ties

Gay Pride reception at No.10, originally uploaded by The Prime Minister's Office.

Here's an LGBT reception , or, as the PM's Flickr page describes it, a 'Gay Pride' reception,
at 10 Downing Street . It's nice to know that the Prime Minister embraces diversity.

...just the zeitgeist, I guess...

Wednesday 16 June 2010

putting out more flags

They're mad for football in Henleaze, let me tell you. The supermarionation fisherman, in the window at the fishmongers on North View, is now waving a shiny new Engerland flag (rather more stolidly than enthusiastically, though, it has to be said). The fishmonger explained that he had been presented with the flag by his neighbour, the Portuguese hairdresser.

And here is a recreation of Montgomery's triumphal advance into Benghazi.

can you see what's wrong in this picture?

..after I had taken this photo, I saw that I was being observed by a man of indeterminate age, sitting on a bench behind me. According to the insignia on his baseball cap, he was an Admiral of the United States Navy. Perhaps he was on shore leave.

"Do you often take photos of phone boxes?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," I replied. "Do you?"

"Oh, I take pictures of the usual things," he said, without explaining what they were.

I congratulated him.

Another vuvuzela limerick, and then it'll be out of my system.

A young man blew his vuvuzela
Too loud and too close to a sailor.
His come-uppance, it's reckoned,
Was like Edward the Second's,
Or a victim of Vlad the Impaler.

Monday 14 June 2010

another dance to the music of time

Here at Upside Down In Cloud, we are not at home to the World Cup.


Even so. On Saturday I was out and about on the bicycle, dropping in on the Harbourside, where the Festival of Nature was in full swing-a-go-go. Pleasure mad, they were, as you can tell from the photograph. I caught up with some old friends, and narrowly avoided being signed up for several causes- "I 'ave recruited 6,000 people," said the french chap at the Wildlife Trust stand, and I could well believe it, as I found it very hard to escape the glittering eye that he'd fixed me with.

On Park Street there were young men clutching cans of beer and festooned with St George flags, shouting at each other. I smiled at a bunch of them sprawling out of a bar, and one instantly called to another, "Yer in there!"

"Not a solitary chance, maggot," I thought as I carried on.

I have now learned what a vuvuzela is, and heard one... well, heard several, actually... on the radio. What a horrid sound. I wrote this.

A clarinettinst from far Venezuela
Loathed the tootings of the vuvuzela.
"You can't play baroque on it;
Please put a sock in it.
I'd far rather hear a zarzuela."

Saturday 12 June 2010

a bit of Kipling

"Mr Kipling's gorn and written us a poem!"

There was a donkeyman on a ferry I used to work on, who got very enthusiastic when he saw my volume of the Collected Poems of Kipling, and borrowed it forthwith. And, in gratitude, he graciously presented me with a bottle of J-Lo perfume. It was a touching moment. I'm pretty sure he'd nicked it from the Duty Free shop. And it smelled like toilet cleaner. But the thought was there, and a v noble thought it was too. Kipling would, I feel sure, have approved.

There's lots of people in far-flung places, reading or reciting Kipling for pleasure, even now. Which is probably how things should be.

Back in the day, though, his poetry enjoyed a success probably undreamed-of by a modern poet. His Absent-Minded Beggar, written to raise funds for the families of soldiers fighting in the Boer War, raised between £250,000 and £300,000 (equivalent to £14-17 million today). As John Lee puts it, 'it has claims to have been the most practically effective poem in English.'

And on Saturday 19th June, in Bristol, there will be a Study Day, 'Following The Absent-Minded Beggar', which proposes to look at the hows and whys of it all. Be there!

Friday 11 June 2010

Yootility vehicle

questing forth

Every other time I go to see Prof Levy, my favourite endocrinologist, I have an adventure. Two years ago, it was the Drongo Bike Thieves. Before that, it was the Cat Litter Chavs. This year, it was the Yoots In Dad's Car.

Down in Broadmead, having a quick look round before my appointment, I was about to cross Horsefair, a road through central Broadmead that has for some time been closed to general traffic. A prohibition which has revealed a startling epidemic of disabilities among the owners of Range Rovers and similar prestige vehicles, which can often be spotted carrying their evidently infirm owners along this thoroughfare.

A little red car was coming as I prepared to cross the road; I think the throttle linkage must have been sticky, because it was going VROOOM BRRRUUUMMM in a quite snarly way. Perhaps it was intended to impress the shoppers at Primark.

I carried on anyway. One mustn't be deterred by these things.

The car slows. There are three Yoots in it. The driver calls out "Did you see a zebra-crossing there?" He waves a finger at the zebra-crossing free place where I had crossed.

I point back the way he came. "Did you see the No Entry sign back there?"

He mutters some vaguely obscene things and drives off...

It was nice seeing Prof Levy again. And good to see that my blood is doing what well-regulated blood should be doing.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

job's an orange tapered root vegetable

Busy, busy. I went along to a meeting to discuss Bristol's contribution to LGBT History Month next year, to see if there was anything useful I could do, after pointing out the shortcomings in the LGBTHM reading list earlier this year- more an inadvertent omission rather than an active exclusion. So that's one thing. Ideas for other stuff gratefully accepted.

And then to the Harbour. I was hunting cormorants, as I have an idea for a picture involving them. They're often sitting around on pontoons or buoys, wings spread in benediction. But there weren't any today. Though there was a nice crop of poppies on Phoenix Quay.

Heading for St Nicholas Market, I saw a peregrine falcon spiralling up in a thermal, high above the spire of Christ Church. I tried, and failed, to get a good photo of it, by which time it was a tiny dot in the sky. A chap with a stall full of very fresh carrots asked if the photography was a hobby.

"It's more a project," I said.

"Would you like some carrots?" he asked, brandishing a bunch.

"I'm afraid I've already got some at home," I said.

He wordlessly handed me a single carrot anyway. I was charmed. It's not often that sort of thing happens to me. It was very cheerful, the carrot, with its green frondy stuff waving out of my bike pannier.

So I wrote a crap poem. Which can be more fun than writing a good one.

What profits it the peregrine, if, lofting on the summer breeze,
Above the busy Bristol street where veg is sold and people fret,
And farmers proudly hand out carrots fresh from Somerset,
With green fronds on the top... and higher still he goes, so high that he's
Now almost lost in cloud, become a dot?
I've got the carrot; he has not.

Friday 4 June 2010

World Cup Chicken

With the World Cup almost upon us, there is a mass outbreak of St George's flags on cars ; driving round the prolier parts of town is a bit like sailing through a Fleet Review, but without the royal family in the back seat, getting sloshed.

I saw a picture of someone face-painted with a flag, and it reminded me of an oven-ready chicken. So I did this picture, which I humbly offer as a contender for England's mascot.

As someone commented on a Guardian feature,

As a member of the "straight" community (and I really don't subscribe to the idea of us being different "communities", but I can't find a better word), events like "The World Cup" and "the FA Cup" are just ways for the footballing "community" to scream out to the rest of us "Hey - look at us - we're different!". Surely this just builds barriers. My point is that we should strive, as a society, for football-loving people to blend in with the rest of society...

Actually, they were talking about trans people, but obviously the principle works just as well with any other group, doesn't it?