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

Monday 20 September 2010

The Case Of The Curious Crow

The new book is back from the printers, and very nice it looks too!

It's the second book of true bird stories from Geraldine Taylor, illustrated by me. Our previous one was The Coffee Thrush, published last year. It proved very popular, and we have high hopes for this one too. Plenty of good, closely-observed stories. And I'm very happy with my pictures too.

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

If you would like a copy, then you can order one for £5 (P&P included) from

Geraldine Taylor
Eyeon Books
28 Berkeley Rd

tel. 0117 9732787

...and I've listed the book on ebay, which is handy if you have a PayPal account.

...or you will be able to get it on the Bristol Books and Publishers website (click on the link to the right of my blog page there, or follow this link here and hunt around a bit; it's not yet been listed there, but when it does I'll edit out this sentence...)

Friday 17 September 2010

on the transience of beauty, and conkers too

Don't hold on too long to conkers
By next day the sheen is gone.
Just enjoy them while you....(errrrr) con....
Holding on is simply bonkers.

I've been cleaning up some tree images for a booklet thing, and I thought these two looked much improved by the process. Here at the Schloss, we're waiting for the new book to come back from the printers. Exciting times.

Thursday 16 September 2010

not Adlestrop

Another Halo poetry evening; Monday was Instant Anthology night, where everyone brought along 50 copies of a poem and then they all got made into anthologies and everyone went home with one. This is the one I read out. The picture is a jackdaw, of course, because I don't have a good picture of a crow.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

a creme de menthe with the Pope

Upside Down In Cloud is happy to welcome Pope Benedict to the UK. Our very own official poet has composed a clerihew for the occasion, and it will be recited by a choir of schoolchildren while His Holiness sips a creme de menthe with the editor, in the wigwam.

Pope Joseph Ratzinger
Has a belfry with all sorts of bats in there
He doesn't mind priests who are paedo
But being female, trans or gay is a bit of a no no

Friday 10 September 2010

Todgers (part 1)

This post has been moved here, as it had become invisible to Google

Thursday 9 September 2010


Bristol Poetry Festival is about to kick off. Which reminds me that it's about time I wrote something new. Or at least finished writing someting. There are odd scraps of paper lying around with things that may eventually become poems, and things that changed into something else along the way.

Monday I was at Halo in Bristol for Acoustic Night. It was a quiet evening, though in a good way. And Susan Taylor was passing through on her way down to Devon, and did some poems about sheep which came to life for me. The poems that is. So I did a couple of rural-ish haiku, which you can hear on the clip above, thanks to David Bosankoe who looks after the PA and records everything. The chap doing the MC ing is Julian Ramsay-Wade, who is at least as nice as he sounds. Does this all sound a bit lovey? -hey, it was that sort of an evening, OK?

...I listen to my voice and wince. Practice. Practice.

Monday 6 September 2010


Funny. You wait ages for a space station, and then three come along at once.

Or at least... I saw the International Space Station for the first time a fortnight ago, and now I keep seeing it. Like a few days back, when Louise and I were trying out her telescope on what may possibly have been Jupiter (we never did quite find out. Telescopes are evidently more complicated than they look), and the ISS appeared out of the blue and went a-swinging by overhead. "Oh look, there goes the International Space Station," I said. Which is one up on Concorde, possibly.

Here in the photo is a 30 second excerpt of one of its journeys across the Bristol night sky, just before it descended into the Earth's shadow, by which time it was probably over Poland.

I've been thinking about people being stuck in places like that, lately. It's a bit like being at sea; you can't get off, and you all trundle along, all stuck in a big container together until it comes time for you to get off. The crew changes on space stations are a bit more dramatic than the ones I'm used to, of course, though I did nearly crash when I was driving home from Poole once.

I suppose it's a bit like that for those chaps who are stuck down the mine in Chile, too, though the view is not nearly as good.

It can be quite handy to have an element like that in your life; getting on with whatever it is that needs doing, having the occasional adventure, and planning what to do with your free time when it finally comes along. It gives you a sense of ending and beginning. Right now, I feel very unfocussed, and am trying to get things in order and come up with something approximating to a Big Plan. Or even a Medium-Sized Plan.

And there are of course disadvantages to being on board something with no chance of getting off. I've been covering old ground occasionally lately, referencing the nastinesses I experienced at P&O. And I've been having a run of nightmares, involving being trapped in that environment again. In one dream in particular, I managed to be stuck in a hospital that was also an RAF base that was also on a ferry. Funny things, dreams. Maybe it's better to just blank off that old stuff after all; obviously I'm not as over it as I thought.