Sunday 21 December 2014

bunkering on the canal

Spencer and Victoria came by yesterday on nb Aquilo, their arrival heralded by the clanging of the handbell. They're based at Hilperton, and travel between Bath and Pewsey with fuel and chandlery.

I bought some Calor gas and coal; there's still plenty of diesel in the tank from their last visit, and of course I'm still burning the ash wood that Jim dropped off the other week. So that's the fuel supplies sorted till the new year and beyond...

Wednesday 17 December 2014

the bicycle thieves

My lovely and very distinctive Strida bicycle was stolen last night from the back of my Morris Traveller, which was parked in Bradford on Avon.

Observe triangular frame, with release mechanism at the front of the lower cross tube allowing it to fold up. Also belt drive, drum brakes, and, the one thing that distinguishes it from other Stridas, the handlebars which have been recently been repainted with Hammerite gloss black.

Here's the mess the thief or thieves made when forcing the back door

....and this is the quick repair I did to allow me to use the car again....

Sunday 14 December 2014

like some watcher of the skies

Jim was paddling by the other day, because his Seagull was out of fuel. I lent him a cup of petrol, and off he chugged, delivering firewood to someone up Avoncliffe way.

He called by later with my own order for firewood, a nice pile of ash for a tenner. 

Then we had a glass of Jaegermeister, because it was that time of day. As we sat putting the world to rights, a moth wandered over from the back of his beret to the front edge, peered out, then ambled off around the perimeter, for all the world like the Little Prince on his asteroid, or Major Clanger on his; if, of course, the Little Prince and Major Clanger were moths, which they aren't. 

Then off they puttered, Jim and the moth, leaving a slight sheen of Seagull in their wake.

Thursday 11 December 2014

getting the water to run smoothly on a narrowboat

In spring, I put an accumulator on the boat water supply. This is a tank positioned between the water pump and the taps; there is a head of air in the tank, whose pressure is adjusted through a Schrader valve on the top of the tank (a Schrader valve is like the ones you get on car tyres). The pressure in the tank with the pump switched off should be the same as the cut-in pressure of the pump. Then, when the pump is operating, it pushes water into the tank until it reaches the cut-out pressure. When you open a tap, water flows smoothly out until the pressure has dropped to the point that the pump starts again, and refills the tank.

The pump had begun stopping and starting much more frequently and for shorter periods than usual; so I decided to add more air.

I switched off the pump (top picture) then drained off the water in the tank.

Then I connected my bicycle pump to the valve on top of the tank

...and pumped it up to about 15 psi. My bicycle pump has a useful gauge on it.

...and now it is working as well as it used to. My friend Philip, who knows a lot about pump systems, suggested that the diaphragm in the tank may be ruptured, and suggested replacing the tank under warranty. But for the moment, I'll see how long this recharging will last....

Saturday 6 December 2014

Uffington Hare

The new picture, following on from the Questing Vole, shows a hare looking up at Lepus, the constellation of the hare, below Orion and pursued by Sirius (though you can't see them in this pic, just in case you were looking). I drew the picture then scanned it and coloured it using Paint Shop Pro. This is good for those deep, smooth colours, as you see; I'd made two starts at this picture using watercolour, and put them aside as it just wasn't the medium for the picture I had in mind. 

As several people asked if it was going to be available as a card, I thought I'd better get some printed up; the cards won't be ready for a few days yet, but I've just picked up some prints and they can be got here on Etsy

Saturday 29 November 2014

dhobi day on the boat

An article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago looked at people who live on boats, particularly in London, as a solution to the housing crisis of availability and expense. A couple of comments I read as a response to the article reckoned that boat dwellers are smelly, which accords with my (thankfully limited) experience of the attitude that some people have to boaters as some sort of underclass, disreputable and probably on drugs, yadda yadda....

Anyway, some people are smelly, and some people aren't. And that ain't got much to do with where they live. Still, as part of my occasional series of blogs about Life On Narrowboats, here's how I do my washing.

the bathroom pump

After I've showered, on a washday, rather than pump the water overboard I bale it into a basin and add it to my twin tub washing machine.

Meanwhile, over on the Morso Squirrel, a kettle has been simmering, and I add the water to the mix to bring the temperature right up

Then I put the Honda generator out on the back deck, and set it running. This is an opportunity to charge the 12V domestic batteries, too.

I can then set the washing machine going. The spin drier is very effective, more so than a normal automatic machine, and two rinses are usually all I need to do

And then I hang the clothes in front of the stove. The atmosphere in the boat is a bit heavy with heat and moisture for a few hours, but then it becomes far more bearable and the clothes dry very nicely.

Friday 28 November 2014

Questing Vole cards

The Questing Vole cards are proving popular... I was distributing them around Bristol on Wednesday, and this morning was in Devizes and Seend, and sending a parcel of them off to Australia! If you'd like some, they're available in my Etsy shop. I've also had some printed up as giclee prints, and the picture is available in a limited edition of 50. You can get one here,  again in the Etsy shop.

Monday 10 November 2014

questing vole

Here's this year's Christmas/Solstice/ Winterval picture. I've thought of renaming Eve so that she becomes Questing Vole, but Eve is easier and quicker to signwrite.... and a good name of course.

Why shouldn't voles have their own constellations? I was chuffed this year to learn that the Welsh name for the Pleiades is Saith Seren Siriol, or the Seven Friendly Stars. Here they've become a vole... if you look for them in the night sky they'll look far smaller than this, but my artistic licence is still valid so nerts.

I'll be printing these off ASAP, and putting them up on my Etsy shop and on Gert Macky, of course....

Thursday 23 October 2014

more baking on narrowboats

The last time I tried to make bread in the solid fuel stove, it was pretty disastrous. Unless you count as success a loaf that is carbonised on the outside and doughy on the inside. 

So I've added a wire shelf inside the Morso Squirrel, as you see. It is made from one of those big cages that people (some people) keep their dogs in, and which I rescued from the rubbish bins on the canal a few months ago.

We made pizza in there the other evening, and v tasty it was too. But we were so hungry that I didn't pause to photograph it. So here is a baked potato, baking.

You have to let the fuel (in this case, logs) finish flaming and settle into a good glow, before putting in the food to be cooked. And then it's a race against time. The potato was just cooked by the time I needed to throw fresh fuel on.

(postscript) Here's a loaf baked today. It's a bit burned underneath, but it's OK and was v nice to eat some slices with my dinner....

Friday 17 October 2014


naughty boy, Brendan

The Spectator thought it a squeal
To have their own potty-mouthed heel
But they couldn't afford
To get Burchill on board
So they settled for Brendan O'Neill

There was a time when I occasionally read the Spectator, though admittedly it was in the 70s and then only because it was in the school library. Still, it was quite readable. So it was a surprise yesterday to read a bit of clickbait that they'd commissioned from one Brendan O'Neill.... 
Why are trannies so touchy? So touchy that even that use of the word ‘tranny’ – which, yes, is designed to make a point – will have them reaching for their pots of green ink so that they can pen outraged missives about what a transphobic monster I am? doesn't really get any more intelligent than this, sadly. So rather than respond with outrage, here's a limerick for Brendan, and a lament for another publication that's gone down the toilet.

Sunday 12 October 2014

git along little dogies

My pan of bacon, black pudding and mushrooms was just about ready to eat. Above the sizzle and spit of well-cooked breakfast came a deep rumbling. "Thunder? Surely not", I thought. The window darkened as the view became one of cattle legs and flanks heaving by.

I switched off the gas and popped out onto the foredeck, in time to see the last of a herd of cattle and calves hurry along the towpath. The two speed skater walkers who go by every morning, arms swinging wide, appeared from the trees. "We hid in the bushes!" they said, and continued westward, arms a-swinging.

I watched the receding herd, and pondered. No question of heading them off at the pass- the towpath was entirely filled with cow. But- what was this? They were getting bigger again. They had turned back! I jumped on my bike and pursued the speed walkers, tinkling my bicycle bell furiously. "Can you help get them back into the field?" I asked.

They looked a bit uncertain, but were game for giving it a go. At the swing bridge, the gate into the field from which the cattle had escaped was closed, and had been closed for years by the look of it. There was a gap by the stile where the cattle had evidently pushed through. I parked the bike across the swing bridge, and we three made a line across the path, using our most dauntless expressions, as the lowing herd wound swiftly up the path, pursued now, I saw, by Craig, my boating neighbour and one to whom dauntlessness comes naturally.

It became obvious that the cattle were not going to push their way back through the small gap, so we revised the plan. I moved the bike out of the way, and shooed them towards the swing bridge. There were a few anxious minutes as they shuffled uncertainly, and a calf and a cow jumped into the canal. But then the first adventurous cow advanced to the bridge, and crossed. And then the rest followed. The cow in the water made her way over and clambered up the bank of the winding hole. Finally the calf scrambled up onto the towpath and Craig shooed it across to join its mum.

Presently the farmer and his hands appeared, and after much running up and down, flicking of sticks and shoutings of "Hup!", got the herd back into their field.

The Wiltshire Times covered the story, but our part in the business was, naturally, unsung...

Saturday 11 October 2014

the Tao of Morris

In the pulsing heart of Bristol, I established my very own Island of Unmoving. This was simply attained by the Traveller's clutch rod snapping as I negotiated the St James Barton roundabout. I rearranged some useful traffic cones to reduce the likelihood of a taxi getting all Zen on my rear bumper. Some passing drivers scowled at this imagined impediment to their progress, and others smiled. A familiar-looking bearded chap waved cheerfully, and shortly after I got a text from Matthew, whose beard it was, offering assistance if needed. But I'd already called the recovery service, which duly arrived in the form of a flatbed truck with a winch on it, and a cheerful Geordie driver who was the sensible type of chap who was able to accept immediately that I knew what the problem was, and that here was no place to attempt repairs anyway.

With the car safe in Cotham, I called Mal, who took some time out from her busy day to take me down to the Morris Centre where I bought a new clutch rod.  "Guess how much?" said the chap at the spares counter. 
"Um.... £8?" 
"I'll just change the database... no,  £6.13!"
Bargain. They threw in some washers and a split pin too. And ten minutes after returning to the car, it was ready to go again. It is not the breaking down that is important, Grasshopper, it is the fixing.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

peacock and wrens

Here's a picture I did for the new edition of Broadsheet, the poetry magazine broadsheet for the South West, and brainchild of Simon Williams. It contains heaps of good poetry, including, by remarkable coincidence, a poem about a peacock and a wren, and it is v cheap. Go buy!

Meanwhile, this photo I took the other evening has become the most-viewed pic I've ever taken, with it having just passed the 27,000th view on Flickr. Which just goes to show what I sometimes* say; that technical ability has got nothing to do with a good picture; you just have to point the camera at something good. The camera in this instance being my iPhone in panorama mode.

*but not always, for that would be boring.

Monday 6 October 2014


Some evenings, it would be a positive sin to stay indoors. Against the deepening red of the sunset, the local ducks flew quick sorties in neat vics of three or four, wings swishing as they criss-crossed the sky at all altitudes. A loose stream of laconic crows barked their way from right to left in the vague direction of the rooky wood. It reminded me of the Battle of Britain, with the crows as Heinkels and the ducks as the Spitfires. Casually mixing my film references, as the indigo of the evening intensified, groups of geese came whooshing by at low level. That was obviously the Dambusters.

Sunday 5 October 2014

roadrunner roadrunner

Bringing a boat down the Caen Hill flight of locks is a day's work. And you need understanding friends. Which in my case, on Wednesday, was Richard, who came over for the day. We coupled nb Eve with my floating neighbour Dave's boat, and I piloted the paired craft in and out of the locks while they did the hard work. There's not much clearance when you have two boats together, and it was a bit stressful, though I tried to retain an appearance of nonchalance and possibly insouciance too.

Richard wonders when we'll be getting breakfast

Having negotiated the first few locks from Devizes Wharf, we paused at the locks cafe for bacon and stilton butties, as you do, and a couple of boats passed us on their way down. Dave got antsy and anxious to get on. So we did. And I was so busy that I didn't get time to take photos of our descent, on what Dave claimed to be the steepest flight of locks in the world (though I suspect that while it may possibly be the flight with the greatest height difference, it may not be the steepest. Wikipedia, be my friend here. Aha. Yes. Caen Hill has an overall gradient of 1:44 with the main staircase being 1:30 - the Bingley Five Rise has a gradient of 1:5)

Nor indeed did we get time to eat the humungous pan of gammon and pea soup that I'd prepared for the trip, so Richard and I had some for dinner instead, before walking back up to Devizes to fetch our cars, and to admire the sunset.

By Thursday evening I had eaten a lot of gammon and pea soup, and woke up in the night feeling rather ill. Then I got to sleep, to be woken again at 4:00 by the carbon monoxide alarm, which was chirping in a desultory manner. I tried to look on the internet to find out what the message on the display meant, because I couldn't find the alarm manual in the dark. But my phone battery was flat, so  the phone died just as the page was loading.

This, dear reader, is how things ALWAYS happen on boats.

This boat, anyway.

"If I go back to bed and die of carbon monoxide poisoning," I thought, "I shall feel VERY SILLY INDEED."

So I drove over to Somerset instead, because I had a busy day planned that involved all sorts of errands in the Bristol area.

I occupied my brain by composing haiku as I drove. It started in Melksham when I saw

The nonchalant fox
its shadow loping slowly
under the street light
There were several dead badgers on the road too, either knocked down or dumped by unscrupulous badger killers. They had yet to be flattened by the passage of the coming day's traffic, and were quite alarming when they were

picked out by headlights
the temporary speed bumps
of dead badgers

Some creepers in the hedgerows were so vividly red that they were red even in my headlights. As I arrived in Long Ashton, I saw that the first great shedding of leaves had begun on the ash trees, and there was a great carpet of beech mast in the lane

Diverging tyre tracks
through a carpet of beech mast
still too warm for frost
ahem, poetic punning. Right, that's enough haiku and time to watch the sunrise over Somerset 

at the launch of Tangent Books' Bristol Boys Make More Noise

bloody funny bluebird of happiness

Tuesday 30 September 2014

on small publishers who sell online

When I published Inking Bitterns, I set up my own website to promote, inform about and sell it. You can find it here. I also registered the book with with Nielsens, the people who supply ISBN numbers; and I think it is from them that the big online sellers get their info on what is newly published, and, in the case of Amazon, automatically list the book. It was odd seeing all these Big Sellers advertising my book, especially because I had decided not to sell through Amazon, because they take such a big cut that I would have made a loss on each sale, quite apart from any other consideration, like, you know, TAXES.

So yesterday I got yet another email from someone who wanted the book, but had been discouraged by going to Amazon and finding that it was listed as CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE - we don't know when or if this item will be back in stock.

I tried putting a review on the Amazon page, explaining this and suggesting where prospective buyers could go to find the book. But the review wasn't accepted- it jut dropped into a hole in cyberspace.

So then I wrote to Amazon, thus:

I am the publisher of Inking Bitterns - it is a book of illustrated poetry, and I sell it at a low price because I think that's important. So I haven't used Amazon to sell it, because it would mean my making a loss on each sale. But you have listed it anyway, presumably as an automatic response to its listing by Nielsen.... and you have marked it as out of print. Feedback from other sources tells me that people wanting the book have been put off by this information; it is in fact sold through my own website, and has been ever since I published the book.
Could you please remove the listing for Inking Bitterns, or amend the information you have on your listing?
Dru Marland
Gert Macky Books
...and got this reply

 Amazon Your Account
Message From Customer Service
I understand your concern about published book "Inking Bitterns" which is listed on our website; I'm very sorry for the information you found on the book.
Given the case, I would like to introduce you to our Author Central; in order to make changes into the listing of the book, "Inking Bitterns" on your end, please join our Author Central. Author Central is a resource designed to help authors become more active participants in the promotion of their books.
Amazon's Author Pages also offer customers a new way to browse favorite authors, discover new books, and more. The pages also include bibliographies, biographies, and discussion boards.
You can find out more at:
For further assistance, kindly click the link below so you can contact our Author central customer service through phone or email:
I hope this helps! We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Hmm, it didn't help. A further mail, after a complicated trawl through the Author Pages:

I would like the information on Amazon about Inking Bitterns, a book that I published, to be amended so that it does not claim that the book is out of print. The book is in print, but has never been available on Amazon because it is not economic for me to sell on Amazon.
...and another reply, which may be more helpful (time will tell)

I understand your concern about the book you published.
I forwarded this information to the appropriate team so they can check and correct the issues found on the details page of the book.
Rest assured, as soon as I hear from them, I'll get back to you via e-mail.
Thanks for giving me time to find the resolution to your inquiry and we hope to see you again soon.
Best regards,

...Meanwhile, the book is, and always has been, available from GERT MACKY!

Monday 29 September 2014

stained glass for narrowboats

So, Tony asked if I could paint his cratch board window, and I said, “Of course!” and then thought, but did not say “…well, at least I think so….”

And then I went away and did a bit of mugging up on the topic. And drew up a design. And ordered some paints. I used Pebeo Vitrail, a solvent-based glass paint that promises to be waterproof but advises against the use of dishwashers. I thought Tony’s boat would be safe from that. 

I sellotaped three bloody great pieces of paper onto the side of my boat, and drew up a template; there’s precious little room on board Eve for a drawing board like my old one. Then I cut out the template and stuck it to the back of the glass, and lined in the design using Pebeo Cerne outliner. This creates a black bead, something like the leaded strips you get between panels of stained glass, which is of course the intended effect.

As I was moored outside the Barge Inn at Honeystreet at the time, I had some interested spectators; one (whose name I didn’t catch) said “I’ve got a tattoo just like that!” and showed me. And so he did; it was a rising sun over the Uffington white horse, surmounted by his daughter’s name. 

“A bloke in the field here did it for me” he said. The field in question being the camping field next to the pub, where assorted tipis and old vans and buses were assembled ready to welcome in the equinox. “Quite like Stonehenge in the old days”, I remarked to Boat Teenager, who had been kept awake for most of the night by the band, and would have gone in to listen except that there was no-one else of her age around. We agreed, though, that the band, despite the billing, were not what we’d call psychedelic. I’d been hoping for something a bit Hawkwind at least. “Who?” asked Boat Teenager. I went back to my painting.

It was hard to get a smooth coverage of the larger areas- the green hill with the horse on it was particularly difficult- either the paint was too thick, and the brush strokes very much in evidence, or if I thinned it it was too thin.... I tried stippling it, which created a far better effect. I subsequently tried sponging, on the background to the wheat- I cut off pieces of washing up sponge and dabbed the dark brown paint on with it; this was an effective method.

a hare, of course!
there's a harvest mouse in there somewhere

...there it is!

Sunday 21 September 2014


This bridge traverses so much sky,
Such clear depth of open air
As tempts my aircraft under there;
It seemed ungrateful not to try.

I held my breath. A sudden flick
Of shadow on my face; my joy
Reflected in that waving boy;
The cliff face zipping by so quick-

Now, zooming high, I see the far
Welsh mountains in the dawning glow
While Bristol's half-asleep below,
And steer towards the morning star.

I was in Bristol yesterday for the IsamBards' second poetic outing, a walk around the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This poem was my small contribution, which they kindly invited me to make as I'm so keen on the stories of the pilots who've flown under that very bridge.

Laura Hilton, the Clifton Suspension Bridge's Visitor Centre Manager, introduces the poets Deborah Harvey, Pameli Benham, Stewart Carswell and David C Johnson

Thursday 18 September 2014

that bike thing

We’ve all gone bike crazy in Wiltshire, let me tell you.

The Tour of Britain passed through last week. To mark the route that the race took through the county, Wiltshire Council have tied lots of gold-painted bikes to lamp posts. I examined a few of the bikes, and concluded that they’d been pulled out of the bins at council dumps and recycled. They were mostly shopper bikes. Ironically, the ones I looked at were in better shape than a folding bike I’ve been repairing for a fellow boater. I considered nicking one of the gold jobs after the race had gone through, but decided it would be too much faff, and the gold paint would be a right bugger to get off the gears and chain and everything. So I bought new gear and brake cables, brake blocks, and Sturmey Archer gear toggle and trigger, from an Ebay shop, and the bill came to more than £30. Ouch.

On the day the race went through Bristol, I’d popped up there on some errands, but managed to avoid the road closures. I did notice, though, both on the streets of Bristol and all along the roads back to Devizes, that there were lots of MAMILs out and about, accoutred head to toe in expensive lycra clothes, with the obligatory wrap-round sunglasses, and mounted on road bikes which cost more than my car. And often displaying a complete lack of road sense- manoeuvring without rear observations and half-hearted signalling- not to mention their plodding along at a speed that seemed entirely out of keeping with the rig. It dawned on me that these were the older versions of little boys in Spiderman costumes, dashing around being superheroes before going home to tea.

When the race came through Devizes, we found a good vantage point at the roundabout next to the Wadworths brewery. I stood on a wheely bin to get a better view. Police outriders on motorbikes came by, and directed traffic off the main road. Then more outriders, then cars, then even more outriders. Then even more outriders. I never knew there were so many police motorcyclists. Then a bunch of cars with lots of bicycles on their roofs. Then more outriders.

Then a knot of cyclists. Whizz they went, and lots of the spectators blew whistles as they passed. I never knew this was a thing, otherwise I'd have brought a whistle. If I'd had a whistle. I wondered if Bradley Wiggins was in there with them.

Then more cars. Then another knot of cyclists. Then even more cars and outriders. Then a loose gaggle of more cyclists.

“Who are they?” wondered Suzanne, who was watching the race with me.

“Nothing to do with the race,” said the policewoman who’d been charged with command of our roundabout.

“Ah, Walts” I said, and she smiled agreement. It’s that Spiderman thing again.

Sunday 7 September 2014

boat work

I've been on a 48 hour mooring on Devizes Wharf, taking advantage of the quayside to paint the name of my boat, which has just been the-green-boat-with-bikes-on-the-roof till now.

Eve's name came with her, and I couldn't see any reason to change it, though I considered adding to it so she could be New Eve (a nod to Angela Carter) and quite liked the idea of Questing Vole.... it is, of course, bad luck to change a boat's name (though that presumably doesn't count on big ships; in twenty five years of seafaring most of the ships I worked on had had several changes of name in their working lives); one way around this is to rename the boat while it is out of the water, apparently.

The sun was so strong that it was painful to put my hand on the boat's side, so I wore mittens to do the painting. I used Hammerite Smooth paint, and it was very uneven, needing two coats and still looking a bit scrappy; still, at least the job's done and now I can look at it and wonder how to do it better next time.

I also finally had chance to spread out this old lorry tarpaulin, which was a left over piece kindly given to me by Kev and Gemma, who had been using it to roof over an old workboat that Kev had built a shed on top of, an impressive sight (though you'll have to take my word for it as I didn't take a picture).

I'm going to make a new cratch cover from it, because the present cover is falling to bits. I'll use the old one as a pattern. I've now washed the new piece of tarp, dried it out and folded it away neatly (as neatly as you can with a tarp), and must now find some vinyl adhesive which is both strong enough for the job and cheap enough to buy in industrial quantities.

Talking of cratch covers, by the way, I'm secretly mystified by some of the terms used 'on the cut', which has its own vocabulary distinct from the seafarer's -thus, a cratch board is the assembly at the front end of the foredeck or well-deck, between which and the cabin you can suspend the cratch cover. But where and what is the cratch itself? OED online tells me that it is a 'long open trough or rack used for holding food for farm animals out of door' and is etymologically similar to 'crèche'   -so presumably the cratch itself is the well-deck? 

Tuesday 2 September 2014

a lot of white cider

Two locks down from the Wadworths brewery in Devizes is one of the more peaceful places I've moored; the foxes bark in the woods, and a tawny owl keewicks a little before dawn. But I'm slowly heading eastwards, so we moved up to Devizes Wharf the other morning. The wharf is where the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust have their base, with a museum and cafe in one of the few remaining old buildings, another having become the Wharf Theatre. For the rest it is car park, and a popular place for people with cans of Special Brew to sit and talk with their dogs, the conversations being quite lengthy and always conducted along these lines:

SHATTAPPP's fairly Pinteresque in its way.

I set up my little display of books and cards by the boat as usual, and got to meet some nice people as usual, in consequence.

On Sunday evening, I was putting things away on the towpath while Boat Teenager did the washing up. A group of four twentysomething Sikhs had migrated across to the towpath from the wharf, and were sitting on a nearby bench. One of the men called to me: "Can we have some tea, please?"

I was surprised to be asked, but not displeased; we do what we can.

"Yes, no problem" I said.

"Do you have masala chai?"

"I....think so!"

I cleared away some of the clutter on the foredeck and invited them to sit. They scrambled on board and made themselves as comfy as possible, as I put the kettle on.

"How much is the tea, please?" asked the woman in the party.

"Oh! Nothing" I said.

They looked startled, and it became apparent that they had thought I was a cafe, an unlikely notion, as anyone who has experienced the clutter of NB Eve will cheerfully agree. They made their excuses and left, despite my assurance that it was fine.

A shame- bet they wouldn't find a masala chai anywhere else in this bit of Wiltshire on  Sunday evening....

Yesterday afternoon I was drawing at my desk when one of the Special Brew Crew started shouting across, instead of at his dog. I got the message that a man was in the water. So I grabbed a rope and went out.

There was indeed a man standing in the water, which lapped his bare shoulders. 

"I've been drinking a lot of white cider" he said in a voice which did nothing to belie this statement.

I tied a bowline and passed it over his head, and bade him put his arms through. Then I hauled him out; he was a big chap, the bank was very steep, and it was not easy. Furthermore, as he emerged, it became apparent that he had nothing on lower down either; his trousers were bunched around his ankles. 

"I've been drinking a LOT of white cider" he said.

I got him onto the bench and he pulled his trousers up while I called 999; it seemed the most prudent thing to do. Then we made him some warm coffee. He preferred to drink from the big blue plastic bottle that was almost empty.

"I HAVE been drinking A LOT of white cider" he assured me, with something between a laugh and a sob. He looked at the canal. "Did I fall in there?"

"Yes, you did," I said.

"It's my birthday on the twenty seventh..... I'm fifty. .....I've been drinking a lot of white cider. .....I've drunk six litres. ...I'm an alcoholic. ...Did I fall in the canal?"


He'd given me a number that he had by heart, and I called his friend, who said she'd come straight away.

Two paramedics arrived, one in an air ambulance flying suit; then a policeman. I told them what little they needed to know and walked back to my boat. Presently I saw the friend arrive, and the salvage of a small shipwreck of a life carried on.

At twilight, Boat Teenager and I went for a last walk up to the bridge. A loud PLOP told us that water voles were active, and we watched them swimming around under the bridge, looking from above a little like tiny dogs. The bells of the parish church were ringing across the hushed town beneath the waxing almost-half moon. A bat flew unostentatiously beneath us through the arch of the bridge.

Thursday 28 August 2014

talking to whales about poetry

It can be a bit scary, trying to come up with an idea for a picture when the brief is 'do whatever you like' - this is one of two pics I did for the forthcoming edition of Broadsheet, the Exeter-based poetry broadsheet. The other picture is being used, so here's this one because I quite like it even so.

The last Broadsheet was really good, and good value too. Check it out. And there's still time to submit, if you fancy it and live in the South West....

Wednesday 27 August 2014

onward to Devizes

"I'm thinking of heading up the Flight", I said to my boat neighbour at Bradford on Avon a few weeks ago.
"It's a lot quieter up there," she said. "And the people are a bit more... individual".
"I should be right at home then," I quipped....

I'm talking Caen Flight here, that sequence of 29 locks that takes the Kennet and Avon canal out of the Avon valley into the wide open spaces of the Vale of Pewsey.
Since it's hard going at the best of times and would take an age doing it solo, I was accompanied by some old welsh friends, Gareth and Andrew; Andrew was visiting from Fremantle, Australia, where he lives these days.

Andrew looking surprisingly cheerful near the top

Gareth in action

We joined up with another boat at the foot of the flight; Dave was another singlehander, being helped by a couple of chaps whom he'd helped up the day before. There's a lot of this sort of thing goes on, on the cnals. It's one of the things I really like about them. We tied the two boats together fore and aft, so we were able to chug out of each lock and straight into the next one with the minimum of fuss and manoeuvring.

journey's end

Sunday 17 August 2014

glow worms

I was out late last night, and cycled back to the boat with no lights, though it was light enough to see my way except when I was approaching the Barge Inn at Seend, when I was blinded by their lights. It's rarely so dark that you can't find your way, and if it's possible, I prefer to travel without a light, because when you've got one, then you are marooned on a small island of light, surrounded by impenetrable darkness. You can see a lot more without a light. 
There was a bright green glow at the side of the path. It was a glow worm. I was v chuffed, as I've only seen two glow worms before. And I was happy that I saw it as green; the first time I saw one, walking back to our Herefordshire tent with my friends after an evening at a pub, I thought it was a cigarette end; it was the only time I've mistaken a green light for a red one, as a result of my deficient colour vision, that put a stop to my intended career as a pilot in the RAF...
Two cyclists appeared as I crouched over the glowworm. "There's a glowworm here!" I called, as they neared. They passed silently, worried that I was some sort of loonie, I suppose.
I passed two more glow worms, a hundred yards or so apart. Then I saw some anglers on the path ahead, and dinged my bell to warn them of my approach. They all put on the little head torches they were wearing, which glowed red (a night vision thing, I suppose). We wished each other good evenings as I passed, and I thought how very like big glow worms they looked, togged up in their bulky all-night clothes and glowing like little beacons.

Saturday 16 August 2014

tern for the better

Three terns appeared over the canal, swooping and flitting and occasionally diving onto the water's surface. Very lively they were too. A kestrel came over to investigate, and they rounded on it, clattering their beaks. An unusual sound, and one I'd not heard before.

My friend Andrew Heard came visiting; I knew him in Wales long ago, but he's now settled in Fremantle, West Australia, so he comes here but rarely. I took him to Devizes for a fried breakfast at Carol's Kitchen. Then we looked round the Wiltshire Museum's crop circle exhibition, which was not as hippyish as I'd feared. Quite fun, in fact. 

Down in the museum shop, I was extremely chuffed to see that my Westbury Primroses cards are displayed right next to the Eric Ravilious and David Inshaw ones. Did I say extremely chuffed? They are two of my totes fave painters!

...and yesterday I found that one of my poems had been published in Silhouette Press' Here Comes Everyone, in their latest issue Boy/Girl. My poem is about trans stuff, and was originally written in response to a prompt on the 52 group, curated by Jo Bell.

OK, boast mode OFF!

Monday 11 August 2014

Alton Barnes White Horse

Here's the finished picture that I showed in the earlier stages in my previous blog post. The Alton Barnes white horse looks out over the Vale of Pewsey, which is a lovely, wide open place where you can sit up on the Down and gaze over to Salisbury Plain and imagine the far distant past, in between admiring the evolutions of the huge jet fighters that occasionally wheel over the Plain, and the distant rumble of artillery.

I had a paint crisis on Saturday, when I put on a wash for the sky, and it went horrible. I use Daler Rowney hot-pressed paper, because it is really smooth and allows me to paint very fine detail. But the flip side is that it won't suck up huge amounts of paint. So I did a quick dash to Bristol (Wiltshire seems a bit deficient in art supply shops) and picked up some gouache from Harold Hockey's. The sky is painted with Winsor and Newton's Permanent White, which is their most opaque; and Brilliant Blue mixed in with it. 

Saturday 9 August 2014

getting on with the painting

I was moored next to a wheat field, and liked watching the local sparrow gang flit into the wheat, munch away, and then zip back to the hedge again. They're very wary, and it was difficult to get any decent pics of them.

I tried hiding under a mosquito net, which was a total failure, as I looked like someone sitting under a mosquito net. The sparrows were highly amused, and flitted off into the village.

Still, I got enough pictures to be useful, before the combine harvester moved in.

Now I'm painting my next picture. It started by looking a bit bitty, as I added the sparrows.

Adding the wheat helps. I hope it all turns out OK...

I sat up on the foredeck while working on the picture, because the weather is hot again and the light is better than at my desk. It's also more sociable- I met some nice people who were walking or cycling along the towpath, and even sold some copies of Inking Bitterns! -and most companiable was the water vole, who is resident in the clump of reeds next to my gangplank, and who sat there munching its way through the juicier bit of the stems as I worked.

Thursday 7 August 2014

keeping the line flowing

It's twelve years since my father died. There was some unpleasantness, not of his doing, that kept me away from his former home; some business related to another more recent death meant that I picked up a few of his things a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I'll write more about that in time.

This is his watercolour tin. Everyone's palette gives you some idea of their painting style, I think.  Here's mine, though with a freshly-wshed palette, for added mystery. Here's a poem I wrote about it, and addressed to dad. was odd picking up dad's art stuff after it had lain unused for so long (though it doesn't seem that long really). Some of the fine liner pens wrote as freely as though they had only just been put down. The tubes of watercolour, though, were all dried solid, except for one single tube that's still usable. 

I've been looking at the tin, wondering what to do, and finally bit the bullet and washed the palette. And I've ordered replacement tubes of paint. So the tin's going to be back in use again.

Monday 28 July 2014

a Sunday swim down the Avon

Could the weather have been more perfect for a gentle swim down the Bristol Avon? -no, gentler reader, it almost certainly could not. 

Fifteen remarkably cheerful swimmers set off from the Dundas Aqueduct, and Mike and I followed in Mike's canoe, to dispense Rowntree's Fruit Pastilles and encouragement as needed.

It takes about an hour or so to get down to Warleigh, and the swimmers had become pretty widely spaced by then. You could hear Warleigh long before you got there; the happy hubbub of youth enjoying itself unsafely....

The early arrivals cheered the stragglers home....

And we had our picnic, complete, this time, with poetry. 

There is an album of more pictures here, on Flickr

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Sally in the Woods wild swim really is quite wild!

It's time to start planning for the next wild swim. So....

When and where: Sunday July 27th, 2014, 12:00 meet at Claverton (OS ref ST 789 641 ) a few miles south of Bath, off the Warminster road

Getting there: If you drive, there is limited parking along the lane down to the Claverton Pumping Station; and more parking up on the main road. Cycling is an option; recommended along the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath, either from Bath or from Bradford on Avon.

View Larger Map

The route:

  • Walk (or canoe) along the canal to the Dundas Aqueduct, about 1 mile towards Bradford on Avon.
  • Descend to the River Avon, and those who are swimming get changed; their gear is stowed in the canoe(s). Swimmers and canoeists then proceed downstream to Warleigh Weir, about 1 1/4 miles away. The current is sedate but helpful, the water is deep, the banks are steep. Canoes are intended to help out anyone in difficulties. (Last time was late in the season, and we had one swimmer who had to give up because she was so cold. Hopefully this will not be an issue in July).
  • It isn't possible to walk all the way from Dundas to Warleigh on one side or other of the river; but if anyone wanted to walk the whole distance by riverbank rather than swim, they could start off on the east bank then transfer across to the west bank lower down, by canoe. Probably. And if you are swimming and get too tired or cold, then walking is an option.

The swim should take about an hour. We arrive at Warleigh Weir, where there is a big meadow. And then we get our picnic stuff from the cars, and relax.

Here is the description of a previous swim; and here is the very first big one

Here is a set of photos from the swim.

Here is the Facebook group for the event.

Here is the Environment Agency's river level monitoring station at Bradford on Avon. This tells you the current level of the river.

Here is the EA's water quality monitoring page. As you see, the water quality is graded A, which is the highest quality grade.