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).