Saturday 31 March 2012

The Secret Blackbird

The Secret Blackbird is hot off the press! More adventures in accidental ornithology, as Geraldine looks into the whys and wherefores of garden birds disappearing in the summer.
"Suddenly, every summer, there's an uncanny silence throughout the land, and I'm asked, where are the birds? Has my robin deserted me? Is it the global warming? Is the country going to the dogs? Have the blackbirds left the sinking ship?
This book explains what's going on; why our birds disappear in the summer, what they are up to, why they aren't singing, and when they will come back"

Available from Etsy (click on the link to go to my shop!) 

in the land of the headless chicken

It was a good day to cycle, yesterday; I avoided getting caught up in the queues of cars outside petrol stations that blocked the road and the pavement, after some fool in the government advocated hoarding petrol against the possibility of a tanker driver strike. Fortunately, I have no vital long journeys to make, and I've modified other journeys to avoid using the car. Picked up Katie from a party yesterday, and we rode home with her sitting on the rear carrier of the bicycle. It was a fine, warm evening for riding, and the streets smelled of blossom as we meandered around Westbury Park.

It is a worry, though; maybe it's the neighbourhood I live in, but there is a substantial stratum of the feral middle class, who descend upon available resources at the mere suggestion of any disruption to supplies of consumables. The Waitrose supermarket adjacent to the petrol station was also jam-packed. Down the road at the Co-Op, it was business as usual.

Thursday 29 March 2012


Phone call from House Teenager- "I left my maths homework at home....". I wandered over to Redland Green, picking my way past the sixth formers who lounged on the pavements outside the school, smoking cigarettes in that anxious way they do when the main object is to look mean and moody pour épater la bourgeoisie.

Dropping off the missing homework at the reception desk, I detoured in search of spring flowers on the Green, and saw someone hunched over with a camera. It was Julie, of the Redland Green Conservation Group, and just in front of her lens was one of the local snake's head fritillaries. So I joined her, and she told me that there were far fewer than last year, perhaps as a result of the council digging things up around the place. Certainly there was lots of recently-disturbed earth close by.

Home again, a blackcap was burbling away from the garden opposite. A raven circled high overhead, cronking out over all of Westbury Park.

Friday 23 March 2012

Bristol Review of Books

 The Bristol Review of Books, spring edition, is hot off the press! With Geraldine's crow-feeding expedition story, and my picture.

And lots of other good stuff, too.

Available free from all good bookshops and libraries. As long as they are in Bristol. If you see no copies, then you will know that you are not in a good bookshop. Or a good library. Or you're not in Bristol. Or they've all been taken.

How awful would that be? -well, fairly awful, obv. Fear not, gentle reader, for the magazine is also available by subscription from Tangent Books' website. And they'll throw in a couple of free books too.

Thursday 22 March 2012

soda bread

 I made soda bread yesterday. It turned out quite well.

  • 1lb flour (I used 4 oz Allinsons seed and grain mix, and 12 oz plain strong Canadian flour)
  • 1/2 pint buttermilk (cultured buttermilk from Waitrose: très cultured, dollink)
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • warm water

Preheat oven to 220C.

Add the bicarb and salt to the flour, then mix in the buttermilk, adding the warm water towards the end to help everything to bind, then give it a quick pummelling, make it into a ball, and put it onto a tray or, as I did, into a cast iron casserole that I'd oiled and dusted heavily with maize flour.

Bake at 220C for 30 mins, then turn it down to 200C and remove the pot lid for 15 mins to brown the crust.

Keeping the lid on keeps the cooking loaf in a moist atmosphere and helps it grow.

Turn it out onto a rack or a board, and cover with a tea towel as it cools, or leave off if you prefer it v crusty

Tuesday 20 March 2012

a sail leaving harbour

Coming round the corner onto the road between the seafront and the marine lake, I saw that we were being overtaken by a ship with a familiar name on the side. "Oh, can we pull over?" I asked Mal, reaching for my camera. Things then got complicated, with a confusion of pedestrians and a car right behind us, and a tangle of bags and microscooters around my legs. There was just time to see that a litter bin was in the way of the shot, as the Huelin Endeavour disappeared round Battery Point, inbound for Avonmouth.


 "We got pranged by a Huelin Renouf boat, once", I told her, as we climbed the steps to the grassy bit by the headland, where the sign asked us to please be AWARE of OPEN badger holes. "It was in St Helier, and blowing a hoolie. The Huelin boat cast off and got blown across the harbour, right at us. We crash started the main engines so we could use the bow thrusters. They made a big dent in the side. I think their skipper was just about to retire, or something. Maybe he'd been partying."


Several blokes with sensible jackets and large cameras were coming down the steps. "Crikey, ship spotters!" We pursued Guy, May, Asher and Pig the dog, who had galloped far ahead, heedless of badger holes.


Returning a little later, we saw that the camera chaps had reconvened, so we went over to see what further excitement was on offer. Pierhead Pete was the most informative. He showed Mal his handheld device; "There's the City of Mumbai, see; she's in the lock at the moment, but... no, move your hand... when the colour changes, that means she's underway and should be here about five minutes after that."



As we waited, Mal and young Asher scrambled down through the lush Alexanders that grew around the meadow, onto the jagged rocks round which a flood tide was rushing furiously. "Don't go too near the edge," May called, unheeded. Presently, City of Mumbai came by. Asher waved; the deckhands, ascending from the forecastle winches and heading for a cup of tea in the mess, paused, and gave a big wave back. They were a long way from home.



I remembered the autumn of 2002, as we neared the end of a summer's working out of St Malo on Condor 10. It was an early morning departure, the sea was calm with a little smoky wisp of mist, an early autumn chill in the air. I'd come up from the engine room as we pulled out of the harbour, and watched Condor Vitesse coming in. The engine room chaps over on the Vitesse were leaning over the rail too, and we exchanged waves, too noisy to call across. It was good being there, being part of that loose floating community, sharing that dawn. 


Measure the days you have left. Do just that labour
Which marries your heart to your right hand: simplify
Your life to one emblem, a sail leaving harbour
And a sail coming in...

Derek Walcott, Omeros


Monday 19 March 2012

urbanity and the language police

 Here's a bit of a laugh from Urban Outfitters, purveyors of fine clothes to the people you can see being sick in bus shelters, if you should happen to be out and about in a city centre in the hours before dawn.

Jack and Jill,
Went up the hill,
So Jack could see Jill's fanny,
But Jack got a shock,
And an eyeful of cock,
Because Jill was a closet tranny.

I appreciated the humour so much that I registered with the website, so that I could write a review.

This card buys into the narrative that trans women are predatory deceivers, trying to trick men into sex. It's offensively stupid. Furthermore, if you don't own the term, you've no business calling people trannies. 

It's hard to imagine the circumstances when anyone would want to send this card to anyone else. What message  are you or the potential purchaser trying to put across, here? -that you're an idiot?

Sadly, the website encountered a problem with my review. As they explained (see below)

Your review text contains inappropriate language

Saturday 17 March 2012



Cil-lonydd, the farm next door on Marland Mountain, started doing pony treks. And they opened a bar. And they got a bit country and western, and called themselves the Double D, after the initials of the owners, Dennis and Dee. The local countryside ranger, a regular patron, added to the flavour by roaring around Mynydd Maen in an old Willys Jeep, while wearing aviator sunglasses and a Stetson at a jaunty angle.

Come the Queen's Jubilee in 1977, stepmother, who made a point of being proud to be English among the foreign Welsh of Gwent, expressed her national pride by running up a wobbly Union Jack on her sewing machine, and father draped it across the chimney for her, so that it was visible at least from the barn at the top of the track. 

I had not long since started reading the New Statesman in the school library, and had been surprised to discover that there were other interpretations of history and politics than the establishment one. It was a bit of a scales-from-the-eyes moment. I wanted to be a revolutionary, but settled for the moment with a Stuff The Jubilee badge and an air of teenage disaffection. I was a late starter.

The Double D announced a great Jubilee Rodeo. It was epic. Two hundred cowboys came down from Coventry in coaches, and camped out at Cil-lonydd. There was country and western music, and gunfights in the audience.

"I was first"
"No, I was first!"
"Would you please not fire your guns in the bar!"

Up on the big field were all sorts of events, including bucking broncos. I put my name down for that, because it sounded fun. Then I saw the ponies. They were wild ponies, rounded up off the mountains and stopping off en route to France where they were going to be eaten. One by one, they were herded into a high wooden press where the riders would scramble on to their backs before the gate was opened and out they charged into the ring. 

As I watched, a pony, wild with fear or anger, jumped and scrambled out over the top of the press. It seemed very large, very powerful, very toothy, very wrong.

I went to help father and his friend David Williams, who were running the  clay pigeon shoot. I sat in the steel shelter forward of the shooting line, working the trap that flings the clay pigeons up into the air. Pull lever back, rest clay pigeon on the arm, press the trigger when the shooter calls "Pull!" Watch the clay pigeon burst with the shot, or skim away in the direction of the slag heap behind the beech trees. In time, the Tannoy in the main field called a familiar name. "Would Drew Marland come to the arena..." 

"No, I bloody won't", I thought, and put another clay in the trap.

The next day, I was passing over the common, and saw a coach departing in the direction of Coventry, bouncing down the track, a sea of Stetsons bobbing in time to the bumps.

Friday 16 March 2012

Bedmo graphic

Over in Bedminster, Minuteman Press have put up some of my pictures in the windows. I stopped off there this morning, as I had some business sarf of the river, and took some pics. Lucie and Peter and their team are nice people, and I can strongly recommend their services. And not just because they like my pictures!

Monday 12 March 2012



We were walking back from the Coronation Tap in Clifton, where we'd been experimenting with cider. In the light afternoon breeze, cherry blossom drifted down into the road, and a burst of song came from a hawthorn. 

"Listen!" I said.

"It's a bird," said Andrew.

 "It's a Blackcap," I said. "A migrant. One of those songs of spring."

"We only get Kookaburras and Galahs," he  said. He does live in Fremantle, which might explain it.

Spring is indeed coming on apace, though I've yet to see a swallow.  For now, here's one flying over Barbaryball, where I stayed last year at blackthorn blossom time. Two challenges in this picture- capturing the contrast between the patches of sunlight and the cloud shadows, and portraying trees when they are still not fully in leaf. It was fun to do, and I tried not to feel entirely outclassed when we looked at the Ravilious pictures in the RWA. Even though they were really brilliant. 

Friday 9 March 2012

sing spring


We had an errand to run, down to Cornwall. And, as the weather was fine and Deborah knows the area, we went across the moor. It was a revelation to me; I've seen Dartmoor from the south and from the north, looming like a big looming thing; and I've hovered over it and zoomed around it on Google Earth, to get a perspective for the map I drew for Deborah's novel. But now I was seeing the area I'd drawn, for the first time in  real life.

Patches of sunlight chased the shadows across the tors, which Deborah counted off as we meandered up the Dart to Dartmeet, then chugged up onto the wide open country south of Princetown, and walked out to Syward's Cross. 

A skylark hopped ahead of us, then flitted to a hummock and watched warily as I photographed it. Then it took flight, and sang as skylarks sing, filling the big sky.

"Richard and I climbed up the mountain where BS Johnson met God, up on Lleyn, once," I said. "We met a skylark at the top. It may have been a visitation, you never know". 

If God is speaking through skylarks, she may be using the wrong number, as the message comes across as a fax transmission. But you can get the gist of it, I think, even so.

The sun warms my face.
I squint and see, way up there
The skylark sing spring.

Sunday 4 March 2012

his nibs

"I've got an old pen and some nibs that I'm not using," said John Terry; "You're welcome to them, if you like."

I'm a sucker for pens on any day of the week; this one was a revelation, though, and I'd not seen anything like it before. It's a Pelikan Graphos, and it's about forty or fifty years old.The nibs slot onto the body of the pen, and are fed from a sort-of reservoir inside, into which you can drip ink through a slot. So, unlike dip pens, they hold a charge of ink for ages, and unlike a Rapidograph, you wash them out after every use, so they don't end up clogged up.

I would have taken a more detailed close-up photo, but I can't find my big lens. What with the problems on the Moggy lately (I changed out a tie-rod end yesterday, which, combined with the replacing upper trunnion bushes the other day, has hopefully cured the Trav of  its recently-developed tendency to try weaving around the motorway when I put the brakes on), and general business, things in Schloss Marland are more than usually chaotic.

Which is saying a mouthful.

This morning, I spent ages trying to find my memory stick (got a picture to take to the printers tomorrow). And then gave up. And started looking for the 300mm camera lens, so I could take the pen porn pics. 

And immediately found the memory stick.

Here's yesterday's picture. The weather's getting warmer, so I can get up at three in the morning and get on with stuff, instead of lying awake . This is Mal, in characteristic pose.