Monday 30 December 2013

Bedtime Story

Here's Alana Farrell, reading her poem 'Bedtime Story'. I've added the words.

This recording was made at the launch of Inking Bitterns, at Acoustic Night, Halo, Gloucester Road, Bristol. Thank you to David Bosankoe, who recorded the event!

Sunday 29 December 2013

Suzanne goes Electra

Suzanne's 'year in a paragraph' was read out on iPM ('the programme that starts with its listeners') on BBC Radio 4, yesterday. So I put a slideshow together to go with it, as it was a year that I was fortunate to have some share in, and in which I met lots of terrific people afloat, and elsewhere.

Here is the account of the trip up the Severn to Sharpness
Here is the trip from Bristol to Portishead

Friday 27 December 2013

I See You

Here's another recording. John Terry reads his poem 'I See You', and then tells the story behind how he wrote it.

The weather vane in the picture is a gudgeon, and it's on the little jail in the middle of the bridge at Bradford on Avon. I was looking at pictures of the bridge on the BBC website yesterday; with the recent floods, great trunks of trees had become wedged against the piers, and workers were doing their best to haul them up.

Thursday 26 December 2013


A recording of the poem, with accompanying picture.

As splash is bracing, so's the daffodil's yellow;
Salt-sharp, and waxy to the touch,
First lighthouse loom, that longed-for landfall after much
Wandering winter oceans.

Later, mellow on the Bristol train, my holdall stuffed
With Coptic crosses from Djibouti, buddhas from Colombo,
I watch the Wylye valley's willows roll
Slowly to the breeze's brush;
The roebuck stilled mid-field to watch our passing

And, on the bare bank, at last is such
A spray of primrose, petal pool of cream,
As glows against the stormcloud massing
Over the Plain, moment of grace

Warm as this sun now on my face,
Through the open window where I lean
To hear the evening-drowsy blackbird's song;
"Made it, though. Made it through another one."

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Christmasses past

1963. Brooklands, Long Moss Lane, New Longton, Lancashire. Aged 5. Too young and too far away to remember the day coherently, but almost certainly the year I got this jeep from auntie Enid and uncle Tony who were in Singapore (Tony was in the navy). It meandered around randomly bumping into things, then reversing back and firing its machine gun, swinging wildly with crackling noises and flashing lights. US foreign policy in toy form...

Big front room with the Rousseau jungle picture on the wall, the jaguar I thought was a frog. The rug where we played with our lego and Britains models (brother had farm animals, I had jungle animals). The telly in a wooden case. The couch we jumped behind for Dr Who. The warmth of a happy family.


1973, Ty Celyn, Newbridge, Gwent. Presents in the billiard room. We'd moved into the old colliery manager's house, and this biggest room had a billiards table in it when we arrived. We needed a bigger house when father remarried, and extra children came ready-made with the deal. Almost certainly spent ages building a model aeroplane. The Christmas sack that I woke to would have contained, among heaps of other silly things, a bottle of aftershave, which I would burn on the windowledge of my attic room. This became an annual ritual; the last one I got was an aerosol, and I built a fire round it then blasted it with a shotgun. It put the fire out. I'd hoped for a fireball.

1983, Karen Bravo, North Sea. Working on a seismic survey ship. The weather was too choppy for working, so we partied instead. It was an American company and officially a dry ship. But not at Christmas. I think the booze was on the manifest as potatoes.

 1993. On board the ferry Havelet. Can't recall whether this was the year we did the dramatic run to the Channel Islands on Christmas Eve, and were the only ferry running, and did a BIG roll as we rounded Corbiere so that, on the return trip, lots of folk, myself included, went on deck so that if we went over, they'd have a better chance- I'd been down in the engine room and suddenly found myself standing on the bulkhead with a cylinder block rolling across the deckplates towards me..... I do recall New Year's Eve when Weymouth went into party mode, and my partner came down from Bristol, and, to join in the mass fancy dress theme, we swapped clothes.... a bit of a lightbulb moment. On New Year's Day I picked up a scallop shell on the beach and thought of a journey that I was overdue to make.

2003. On board the ferry Pride of Bilbao. (I seem to have spent a lot of Christmasses at sea, eh?) -here is my account, written at the time....

 Christmas at sea… since we were taking 1300 minicruisers to Spain for the occasion, the crew had their main celebration in advance, on Christmas Eve. We anchored up in the Solent, ate a huge lunch, and then partied on down in the main bar, with a discotheque, as you youngsters say, and FREE FANTA AND CRISPS. …. Hey, we were just wild childs… and tried not to be resentful of the other P+O boats alongside in Portsmouth, which had relaxed their “no alcohol” rule for the occasion… it rather reminded me of those uneasy social occasions of my youth, when the local Air Cadets and Girl Guides would meet up in the church hall, and eye each other mistrustfully.

…and Christmas Day in the Bay of Biscay. In honour of the occasion, I wore my festive flashing Christmas tree earrings, as I loped around fixing air conditioning and vacuum toilets.

“There’s something wrong with your ears,” said a passenger; “They’re flashing”

“It’s the radiation sensors,” I said. “They must’ve had another meltdown in the engine room.”

…and, in the evening, to the bar again, to see the special Christmas show that the entertainment team had come up with, and to see if Santa’s podium, constructed for the occasion by the repair shop, would collapse. At one point late in the evening, young Tim the singer bounded through the audience distributing rather unconvincing plastic imitation mistletoe; he rather gallantly proffered me a sprig; I looked around for a suitable snogee, and gave up on it. And so a day of mass self-indulgence, gluttony and drunkenness ended with a rendition of “Feed the world”, with audience participation and a complete lack of irony.

2013. At home. A quiet day; getting over a lurgie, so no mountain climbing this year. House Teenager and I will be starting on our traditional Christmas cake later. The tradition being that it's made of chocolate and is soaked in alcohol, and has our robin, alarmed-looking angel and solitary tree on. Happy days. And happy Christmas to you, dear reader!

Monday 23 December 2013

a caganer for Bristol
 Here's Bristol mayor George Ferguson as a caganer, a figure used in Nativity scenes in Spain but not so much over here... at least, not yet.

I've been occupied with rebuilding the engine on the Traveller, after that blown head gasket last week. House Teenager was unimpressed, of course.

"Why don't we just get a modern car?"
"Because I couldn't fix it if it went wrong"
"They don't go wrong."
"Oh yes they do, and if the head gasket blew on a modern car it would cost hundreds of pounds to fix. And this cost me fifteen pounds to fix. And the Traveller nearly always gets us where we want to go....."

...and so on.

Oh, and the winter lurgie. Yuk, snotty and norrible, and a voice as growly as a bear whose pint you've just spilled.

Still, it's passing. And the car is now running sweetly. Touch wood.

Friday 20 December 2013

Inking Bitterns on BBC Radio Bristol with Steve Yabsley

Deborah Harvey, John Terry and I were on Steve Yabsley's afternoon show on BBC Radio Bristol, talking about our book Inking Bitterns - poems and pictures for wild places. We talked for half an hour, and each read two of our poems. We also managed to discuss Morris Minors, skip-diving, seafaring, gender transitioning, and poetry in general. It was quite a wide-ranging discussion!

Radio has been described as a very visual medium, but even so, you would not have been able to see the pictures that went with the poems, just by listening to the interview - which you can hear as a podcast HERE (We are on about 30 minutes into the programme, just after the Beatles track!)

So here are the pictures and the poems that we read, together as they are in the book. Click on the images to see them larger. By the way, as I said on the programme, we are not selling through Amazon; but you can get it at Gert Macky, and all (well, some. Not many yet TBH) good book shops.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

blowing a head gasket

I was out fossicking in skips on Sunday, because I'd spotted some good pieces of plywood that a friend would find useful for their tree house. Plywood duly delivered, I set off home, which involved driving up one of those VERY STEEP streets with which Bristol is littered. (We do have the steepest street open to traffic in Europe, or the world, or something, you know).

Shortly after getting to the top, in low gear, at high revs, the engine started making a  TOCK TOCK TOCK noise when it was under load. Take foot off accelerator, noise disappeared.

Worry worry. Oh no it's the big end. Paranoia.

Get home, calm down, post a message on the Morris Minor Owners Club messageboard describing the symptoms as best I can. It is suggested that it may be the head gasket blowing.

Well, you've got to start somewhere. Yesterday it rained, so I did nothing. I hate strippping engines down in the rain, in winter.

After a late (for me) night out at Bradford on Avon, living the wild life of a poet, I was brain dead, snotty and sore-throated today. But the engine had to be done. So I got stuck in.

Phew, it is indeed the head gasket. Can you see, it's blown between the front two cylinders.

So while it is a bloody nuisance having to do it, it could have been a lot worse. I tell myself.

Now ordering up replacement gasket, and getting ready to grind the valves and all that stuff.

Thursday 5 December 2013

activity monitor

I've been wearing an activity monitor for the last week. It's part of a study by Biobank into the state of health of the nation. So while wearing it I kept feeling guilty if I wasn't around cycling and being active. Though  in practice I haven't been any more active or inactive than usual.

Speaking of which, I did an epic cycle ride round Bristol yesterday, buying, posting and dropping things off, including a copy of inking bitterns that someone had ordered from Foyles Books. I knew that because she mentioned it on Twitter. "Oh dear, that's going to be problematic" I thought; and indeed, the order presently arrived in an email from Bertram Books, who supply to Foyles. It seemed silly to post the book to East Anglia, or wherever it is, so that they in turn could send it back to Bristol. And by the time everyone had taken their cuts, and the postage had been taken into account, it would have ended up with me paying people to buy the book, as it were... fortunately, Foyles in Bristol are happy to deal with local publishers. So that was sorted.

Oh, and Kathryn Atkins of the Durdham Down Bookshop was on BCfm (Bristol Community radio station) yesterday, talking about books for Christmas. And she said lots of nice things about inking bitterns. You can hear the show here, on the Roma Widger show. Click on the lower of the two 'play' icons, and it's about ten minutes in.

So I'll be dropping more books round there this morning!

Durdham Down Bookshop is a fine independent bookshop, and strongly recommended if you're in the Bristol area. And not just because they stock my books.

And if you're too far away to go there but still want a copy, there's my shiny new website where you can buy it. Just click on the Gert Macky button up there, or right HERE!

Monday 2 December 2013

guerrilla marketing

guerrilla marketing idea, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

The cosily leafy suburb of Bristol's Westbury Park is mostly untainted by manifestations of unsightly consumerism and the throwaway society. The huge new 4x4s parked on the pavements block the view, for one thing.

Cycling past Westmorland House yesterday, though, I saw this mattress (one careful owner, no obvious piss stains) and was struck by its potential. 

So, ever one for exploiting a business opportunity, I'm happy to offer a bespoke service to go-ahead Bristol businesses. Get your message to the heart of the comfortably affluent, with a catchy slogan! (custom graphics available, enquire for prices, terms and conditions may apply).

Friday 29 November 2013

inking bitterns - poems and pictures for wild places now published.

It's a collection of poems from Colin Brown, Liz Brownlee, Stewart Carswell, Alana Farrell, Deborah Harvey, Alan Summers, John Terry and Cathy Wilson;  and it's illustrated throughout by me.

It costs £5, and you can easily buy it online from the Gert Macky website. Or, if you have the good fortune to live in Bristol (and if not, then why not?) - you can get it in the Durdham Down Bookshop, or Stanfords in Corn Street.

After our quick jaunt round Wiltshire yesterday, it can also be found at Devizes Books and the Corsham Bookshop,  both fine shops worth a visit even without the prospect of this particular book.

We'll be reading from the book at Halo, Gloucester Rd, on Monday 2nd December, and at Foyles on Friday 6th December.

And I'll be at the Local History Book Fair at the Bristol Record Office on Saturday 7th December, which is very handy for the Create Centre, who have their Festive Fair at the same time.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

you know when you've been mansplained

This picture was retweeted into my feed yesterday. So I contributed my tweaked version of it.

...and instantly got told off my a couple of men, who pointed out that they were not like that. One of them said "bit harsh. I've built a bike from old parts & I just swoon if I see a girl with a bike" ....which strikes me as being a less than entirely helpful response... Another chap said that he had a history of challenging sexism in cycling and elsewhere, and that gross generalisations do not help.

To which Phoebe (*waves*) replied that there is a difference between a generalisation and a common experience. Which sums it up so neatly that I don't feel the need to add to it.

I'm writing this up because the last time something similar happened, I felt effectively stifled. On that occasion, I'd mentioned 'mansplaining', and an old friend complained that he felt offended by the term, and that the sort of people who do mansplain do it to him too. And I didn't want to argue with him and hurt his feelings so I shut up.

The thing is, that there are indeed men who get talked down to, and men who talk down to men. And that is bad.

And  there are men who don't treat women like idiots, and men who challenge men who treat women like idiots. And that is good.

But there is still a huge difference in experiences going on, based on gender. Which is why the term 'mansplaining' is so instantly recognisable to the women who've been on the receiving end of it.

 I gained something of an insight into this process when I transitioned, of course. Not that I was oblivious to sexism beforehand, obviously; but the great mass of sexist assumptions that underlies our lives, like that great bulk of the iceberg that you can't see because it's underwater? -maybe we're not as alert to that as we might be, simply because it is all-pervasive and has informed our lives from the very beginning.

Certainly, before I changed gender roles from male to female, I had a good work record and reputation (I worked as a mechanic in the Merchant Navy, if you didn't know). And I thought that it would stand me in good stead post-transition; that I had earned the right to be respected in my professional life. Hmmm. Up to a point, Dru, up to a point.

The reality was rather more complicated than that. There were some good people in my workplace (a large ferry going between Portsmouth and Bilbao), and I was promoted out of the engine room to the repair team, which was both more interesting and a great relief, as it got me away from the more troglodyte elements of the crew, who looked on the engine room as a sort of floating Jurassic Park for sexist dinosaurs.

But at the same time there was a lot of doublethink going on; so I was doing a good job, but thought of as doing a bad one - at the employment tribunal that I ended up taking the company to, it was claimed that the quality of my work had gone right down (though they would say that, of course, wouldn't they!) -and I often felt invisible, as men talked right past me to get advice on things from other men rather less experienced than me.... nothing unusual in that, of course, but the contrast between that, and the way I used to be treated simply because I presented as male, was a visceral lesson in how different are men's and women's experiences.

So if you're one of the good guys, please be assured that you are valued, and all the more so because there are so many bad guys. And please don't feel got at when we talk of mansplaining. It's not about you.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

quite large

Over the still sea
a sudden cluster of clouds
just the sighs of whales

(I was reading tweets from that fine organisation The Size Of Wales yesterday, and remembered this incident from the Arabian Sea. The sketches are from my journal.)

Thursday 14 November 2013

Bristol Local History Book Fair

Again this December, a wide variety of Bristol's publishers and book people will be at the Record Office at 'B' Bond, that big building down next to the Create Centre, for a Local History Book Fair. With talks by Bill Fairney, Mark Steeds and Lucienne Boyce.

It's on Saturday 7th December, and there'll also be the Festive Fair in full swing at the Create Centre, so there's plenty to do and see! -and I'll be there with the new anthology, Inking Bitterns, the perfect Christmas gift for that special person who has everything except a beautiful anthology of wild things.

Just so's you know!

Sunday 10 November 2013

the proof of the bittern

The proof copies of inking bitterns, the new poetry anthology that we're about to publish, are back from the printers. They look very good, too. Minuteman in Bedminster have done a terrific job of them; I wanted a book that would be nice to handle as well as read, and this manages it.

The Gert Macky website is now pretty well set up, though I'll be adding further stuff as time goes by. And we've already taken some orders for the book! Shall be sending them out just as soon as the first copies roll off the press. Meantime, here's a preview of what the book looks like inside.

Friday 8 November 2013

autumn at Partrishow

What with painting and publishing and stuff, I needed a break. And where better than the Black Mountains, when it's pouring down and the lanes turn into rivers? Where indeed? So off I went to Crickhowell, and then, with Marta on board, onwards and upwards into the seriously hilly bits. The Trav faltered a little at the last steep hill up to Partrishow, but a second good run at it got us to the church at twilight.

The fine rain, the chill in the air, the mist, the wind and the tang of sheep conspired to remind me powerfully of Hafod Fach, where I once lived, and I was grateful that, these days, I've got a more comfortable means of transport at my disposal than a pair of old army boots.

It was flymageddon in the eglwys-y-bedd, where all the local flies appear to have congregated in hopes of living out the winter. Heaps of them lay dead below the window.

Marta was very impressed by the church, as who would not be? -and as the twilight deepened and we emerged onto the mountainside, a pair of ravens bounced up the wind across the valley.

Maybe they were the same ravens that we saw back in March, who inspired Deborah to poetry  

Tuesday 5 November 2013

An open letter to Councillor Simon Cook and Mayor George Ferguson from Bristol book publishers

Dear Councillor Cook and Mayor Ferguson,

In response to Latimer's suggestion that architect Charles Holden would be appalled at the thought of a primary school moving into his specifically designed book storage areas beneath Central Library (Post, October 8), we the undersigned would like to add our voices to the growing campaign to oppose the change of use.

Bristol Library service celebrates its 400th anniversary this year and during that time has amassed an important collection. The reference library is accessible to all the people of Bristol to benefit from that collection unlike the reference collections held within our universities.

It is our view that the entirely inappropriate change of use would make much of this collection inaccessible to the people of Bristol.

Former head librarian Anthony Beeson has previously pointed out in the Post that the basement houses the entire reference periodical collection with many thousands of often huge volumes and the majority of the art library reference collection, one of the largest such collections in Britain.

There is an entire room filled with valuable illustrated volumes, both private press and illustrated historic works. The same floor also has the local history library's illustrations collections and the entire lending library reserve of many thousands of volumes that are constantly drawn upon to supplement the open access stock.

In addition, of course, there are offices, meeting rooms and book-ordering and interlibrary loan departments on these floors and the library staff within them. 

At a time that Birmingham has invested £80 million in a new library and Liverpool has spent £55 million on revamping its Central Library, it is our view that the change of use would lead to a decline in services that could eventually lead to the closure and relocation of the Central Library. Surely it would be wiser to look at making Bristol’s own collection more accessible along the same lines as Birmingham and Liverpool, rather than lose Holden’s masterpiece to short-term opportunism.

We urge Post readers to lobby their councillors against the plan and to sign the online petition at

Libraries are places of the imagination. 


Clive Burlton, Martin Powell, Joe Burt (Bristol Books CIC)

Editorial Collective (Bristol Radical History Group)

William Fairney (Diesel Publishing)

Roy Gallop (Fiducia Press)

Mike Manson (Past & Present Press)

Dru Marland (Gert Macky Books)

Mark Steeds (Long John Silver Trust/Black Spot Publications)

John Adler (Pomegranate Books)

John Sansom (Redcliffe Press Ltd)

Philip de Bary (Rudi Thoemmes Rare Books)

Alastair Sawday (Sawday’s)

Richard Jones (Tangent Books)

(this letter appeared in the Bristol Post, paper edition)

Saturday 2 November 2013

The Railway Rabbits

Most of us rabbits who disappear don't come back, Mrs, said Little Woo Woo, her dark eyes trembling. Not ever...

So begins the desperate search for Mr Rabbit....

Fresh from the printers comes The Railway Rabbits, the latest book by Geraldine Taylor, with pictures by me. She describes it as 'a story for children, written for grown-ups as well. ... for children, it's about a brave little rabbit searching for her father, helped by Hairy Old Badger, a one-eyed owl and London taxi drivers.'

It's a limited edition of 100, and if you want one then it costs £5, and is available from Geraldine Taylor c/o 28 Berkeley Rd,, Westbury Park, Bristol BS6 7PJ,   email

Friday 1 November 2013

casting off

Medway Queen, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

With the poetry anthology just about ready for sending to the printers, I took some time out to pop down to the harbour for the monthly Bristol Books and Publishers meeting on the Grain Barge. And, as I'd taken down an old book about the Bristol Aircraft Company for Bill Fairney, the talk got onto aeroplanes. The Bristol book chaps are very knowledgeable about all sorts of things, and aeroplanes are one of them. At least three of them were present at Farnborough when the DH110 broke up while doing a high speed fly past...

Meanwhile, just along the quay, the Plymouth tug Christine and tug Bristolian were arranging the cables on the paddle steamer (and Dunkirk veteran) Medway Queen and getting under way down river, on her return journey ultimately to the Thames esturay whence she originally hailed. Medway Queen has been extensively rebuilt in dry dock in Bristol, and the next stage is completion of her engines, which I believe is happening in Plymouth. 

Later, walking on the Downs with Mal, we heard a loud explosion from the direction of Wills Hall. It turned out to be the sound of a giant pumpkin, dropped from a great height. We arrived in time to see another pumpkin explode.

  Mal rescued one.

Saturday 26 October 2013

two Bristol paddle steamers

Medway Queen, a Thames estuary pleasure steamer and Dunkirk veteran, was floated out of dry dock in Bristol yesterday, and is waiting for favourable weather for the tow back to her home waters. Here she is, from the same viewpoint as that used by John Nash in the 1930s, when he painted P&A Campbells's paddle steamer Britannia, when he was in Bristol in company with Eric Ravilious, on which occasion Rav almost came to a sticky end...

"...when Eric had decided to go on drawing outside after dark, and was working intently on his picture of a paddle steamer, he had suddenly heard a grinding noise and a voice calling out, 'lucky for you I saw you, old cock, or you'd have been a box of cold meat.' Eric had set up his easel, without noticing it was on the tracks of one of those light railways that are used in the docks." (Helen Binyon)

round robin

Fresh from Minuteman Press comes another Christmas card! You can get it over in my Etsy shop, or if you're in Bristol, you can pick up or I can deliver....

They're blank inside. This is the poem I wrote that got me thinking of painting the round robin. Or was it the other way round?

Not slim
And far from win-
some, the round robin sings
In unmelodious tones of things familial;
Who passed what exam, did well at work, had chil-
dren of rare beauty; feathers puffed with pride; but still
Behind the seeming gasconading, someone strove
To keep the distant bonds, with time worn thin,
In place, that complicated love
That families have

(coincidentally, Lynne Truss read a series of thoughts on round robins, on the Radio 4 Today programme. A bit unkind, I thought; it's easy to poke fun at the gaucheries of family bulletins to get clever points, after all. I've always been happy to get family newsletters; these days they tend to be from people I like anyway, and even the bad ones I used to get were good for a laugh. Let us yet be merciful....)