Saturday 29 June 2013

incident on the K&A, May 1941

The word was out, and Home Defence was going frantic:
Bismarck must not break through to the Atlantic.”
We stood to at dawn. Lock keepers were alerted.
Spotters’ cards were issued to all local Scouts and Guides;
“Vessel, grey and rather long, and - this can’t too often be asserted-
If it’s marked ‘Kriegsmarine’, it’s probably the other side’s.”

Around mid-morning, bicycle patrols at Avoncliff
Saw a periscope, or so at least they reckoned.
Workboat Saucy Winston dropped a depth charge; then a second.
The two explosions echoed right round Sally in the Woods,
Startling the moorhens, setting rooks a-cawing; if
What Akela swore, that oil and wreckage had been seen, was true,
The convoy at Brass Knocker Basin, with its vital goods
Intended for Devizes Wharf, could now get safely through.

On Caen Flight’s WRVS refreshment stall
The woman with the tea urn sternly turned away
A chap she thought a ‘foreign-sounding bugger’
Who asked if he could kindly have a coffee and a bun:
 But when she found out he was actually a Pole,
Who normally flew Spitfires but had just popped by
To meet a lady bargee he was sweet upon,
Apologised profusely, gave him extra sugar.

A flight of mallard came back in from Semington
With nothing to report. The afternoon grew older.
The hawthorn quietly blossomed in the sun.
Sedge warblers serenaded drowsy soldiers
In pillboxes new-built along the northern shore,
Who swore there’d never been so quiet a day before.
At six o’clock we put the kettle and the radio on,
And wondered if our dinner would be any good.

Big Ben tolled. “This is London. Earlier today, HMS Hood…”

This started when we were in Devizes recently, and we saw a poster about the Kennet and Avon canal during the war, which got us riffing about the action in The Cruel Sea and Sink The Bismarck! relocated to the canal...

Tuesday 25 June 2013


Mayflower, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.
Mayflower is the oldest tug in the world, probably. And she lives in Bristol Harbour, and at the moment is up on the slip at the Underfall Yard, having a bit of an overhaul. So I popped down there to have a go at drawing her. The workers were all eating their sandwiches when I arrived, which was a shame as I'd hoped to draw them at work. Fortunately, they did start after a while; or at least, the chap with the back-to-front hat did. So there is a bit of action!

Monday 24 June 2013

working for the mob

getting mobbed, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.
There's been an increasing seagull presence in the neighbourhood this year. They circle Westbury Park, on the lookout for scraps, like those vans that rumble around our streets on the lookout for bits of unattended metal (the exhaust pipe off the Traveller, for instance. You tinkers!). The seagulls are top predators; when they move in on something, even the magpies, who have terrorised the neighbourhood for several years now, hang back and look wary.

The gulls have now established a colony on the roof of the old peoples' home, two doors down. And one of the gulls has taken to attacking people in the street as they pass by. And it has now started going for me when I go up on the roof. And since I'm not going to have my roof declared a no-go-zone by some bolshy bird, I have a big stick standing by the skylight. Gullzilla hasn't come close enough yet for me to hit it; it dives at high speed toweards me, then pulls up into a tight Immelman turn, and swoops around and repeats the attack, while making a great palaver.

Sunday 16 June 2013

ravens over Partrishow

ravens over Partrishow, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

When we went to Partrishow in January, it was a beautifully still day, and a pair of ravens made use of as much sky as they could, which was quite a lot. Deborah's written a poem about them, and I thought it would make a good picture.

I used olive green for the fields, as they have that just-before-spring colour to them.

And burnt sienna for the bracken slopes in the half-distance.

And I drew branches in white wax crayon before putting down a sepia wash for the trees, which worked quite well; not done that before.

Had a major goof on the sky; I was putting down masking fluid, then realised I was masking the sky and not the ravens; and while I was removing the mask before putting it where it should be (on the ravens!), it ripped the surface of the paper. And there was a horrid dark patch on the the sky (cerulean blue). So I put a band of cloud across behind the raven (dampening the area, then lifting off the blue by dabbing with a sponge).

Saturday 15 June 2013

St Anne in the Wood

"What do you know about the old ways about these parts?"

Sophie has been reading Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways - as indeed have I.

I got thinking. There are perilous river crossings available on the Severn, just as there have always been, but the water holds no footprint. And there are destinations for pilgrims, like Glastonbury and St Davids (with its two-for-one offer), and even Santiago de Compostella (Bristol once did a good trade in shipping pilgrims there). And there are holy wells. Lots of them, here in the soggy and superstitious West Country.

 Wells can be both waypoints for the thirsty pilgrim, and destinations in their own right. Some of my local faves are St Mary's Well at Penrhys, overlooking the Rhondda valley; St Cybi's Well, at Llangybi, which sneaked into a TS Eliot poem; and my firm fave, Issui's Well at Partrishow. And waymarked trails are all very well, but it's good to step off into the unknown. Sometimes, as Machado said, 'no hay camino, se hace camino al andar' - there is no path, the path is made by walking.

"Let's go to St Anne's Well in Brislington," I said.

So we did.

We ventured along the Feeder, past scrapyards and car showrooms, under great industrial conveyor belts, and up the hill by Netham Weir, to park by the rows of villas that overlooked the steep wooded valley of the Brislington Brook. Down below the trees the valley broadened out into a narrow floodplain awash with buttercups. And ahead of us, the fluttering rags on the railings and the trees around St Anne's Well, where a man in white overalls was just blowing away the freshly-strimmed grass.

"I'm leaving the buttercups," said Julian. "Shame to cut them down. People can sit on them if they like."

  "Henry VII came here once," he continued, when he saw that we were interested, "To give thanks after he won a battle. And the queen came too; and after she'd been here she gave birth to Prince Arthur. Then again, he died, so that didn't turn out too well.

"They had candles 80 feet high, paid for by the cordwainers. And twenty silver ships, to take the offerings. Sailors used to come here, up the Avon, because St Anne is patron saint of sailors."

We paddled along the brook. Minnows darted ahead of us, and a host of tadpoles wriggled out of the way. Flag irises and Himalayan balsam overhung the stream. Blackcaps sang in the sycamores, and a jay bobbed across the valley.

When I'd asked Julian his name, and told me mine, he said, "Dru Marland? -thought it was; wasn't going to say. I've got one of your pictures!"

"Ha! The Bright Field?"

"That's the one."

I'd been thinking of RS Thomas as we set off that morning; here's his poem Ffynnon Fair (St Mary's Well)
They did not divine it, but
they bequeathed it to us:
clear water, brackish at times,
complicated by the white frosts
of the sea, but thawing quickly.

Ignoring my image, I peer down
to the quiet roots of it, where
the coins lie, the tarnished offerings
of the people to the pure spirit
that lives there, that has lived there
always, giving itself up
to the thirsty, withholding
itself from the superstition
of others, who ask for more.

Saturday 8 June 2013

blackbird concert

blackbird concert1, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

Sometimes you spend hours doing a picture and then wake up the next morning and look at it and realise it's only fit for kindling. The first version of this was just such a picture, gentle reader. And, while this one is flawed, sometimes you've just got to stop and get on with the next one. Maybe I'll come back to it when there's more time....

Friday 7 June 2013

the Westbury Rabbit

the Westbury Rabbit, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

Here's a bit of fun, based, of course, on Eric Ravilious' painting.... before I coloured it in using the brightest pencils in my drawing box, I scanned the outline so that I could play with it digitally. I like the pattern flood option that you can do with Paint Shop Pro, and am just starting to play round with it, with the obvious consequent risk that it's a bit OTT. But I like the way that Helen Binyon used texture in her illustrations for the books she did with her sister Margaret.

Monday 3 June 2013

a flight out of Bristol

At six o'clock on a summer's Sunday morning, Bristol docks are quiet and still. Only a few late drunks still shouting at each other in Millenium Square, and, down in the amphitheatre, Phil and Allie Dunnington, balloonists, and Mal and Ade, gently pulling out an apparently endless stream of red balloon material from a big bag.

Allie gazed at the sky appraisingly, and considered the wind direction. "The Met Office website reckoned nor'easterlies" I offered, having checked before setting out. "I'll send up a trial balloon" she said, and filling a party-sized balloon with helium, let it go. We all paused and watched as it ascended practically vertically; then a few hundred feet up, it made its mind up and turned gently southward and disappeared in the brightness of the sky. "Good," said Allie, and conferred with Peter over the map. "Maybe we can land at Settle Hill. There's a small landing strip up there; it's a good place." She talked with Lulsgate airport on the radio. "It's always as well to let the airport know what you're up to," said Peter.

They fired up a petrol-engined fan to inflate the balloon. Allie wandered around inside the envelope, making sure everything was in order. Then she fired up the gas burners and the balloon rose up, swinging the basket upright. "Hold on to the basket, but whatever you do, don't let your feet leave the ground" she warned. Having seen that rather unpleasant film Enduring Love, I needed no dissuading from that particular ballooning faux pas.

Mal and Ade scrambled in, and they were off, and the arena, that had been so full of balloon a moment before, was suddenly very empty.

"Would you like a hand at the other end?" I asked Peter. "Oh, yes! All hands welcome; thank you!"

So we set off in pursuit. Near Hengrove we pulled over. The balloon was drifting over the former Whitchurch aerodrome. "We landed there once, took us ages to get out", said Peter; "It used to belong to the Council, now there's some private security company involved."

Whitchurch was home base for BOAC's overseas operations during the Second World War; it was on a flight to here from Lisbon that Leslie Howard died in 1943, when the DC3 in which he was a passenger was shot down over the Bay of Biscay.

Whitchurch Airport in 1945, from Bristol City Council's Know Your Place historical map layers

"We don't like to get ahead of the balloon," said Peter, "in case it comes down unexpectedly." He considered the map, and chatted with Allie on the VHF radio. "I'll do a practice landing approach, and then we're looking good for Norton Malreward," she said.

We dropped down the long hill on the A37 and were just in time to see the balloon touch down in a big meadow next to the road.

That was the end of Mal and Ade's first flight in a balloon, and Allie's 699th as pilot. ...and the berginning of the transformation of the balloon from a lighter-than-air creature to something Very Heavy And Bulky Indeed, when you have to hoik it over a locked gate -the field's owner was not at home, sadly!

It's not mandatory to drink champagne after a flight, but then there are worse ways of celebrating