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.

Monday 14 July 2014

ars est promovere artem

I thought it looked a bit off-colour....

The Vale of Pewsey is new territory for me; I was over there a few months ago for the Art Trail, where I met my friend Jan Lane, who was also on the trail, at the Pewsey Gallery, where her work is on display. She had given them some copies of Inking Bitterns last year, and they had managed to sell them. So I was very happy to meet Sandra, who is one of the people who run the gallery, and even more happy when she asked me to drop some cards across, too.

Sandra at Pewsey Gallery, finding my cards amusing...
...then Jo at the Devizes Bookshop, cultural hub of the town, agreed to take some of my prints. So I called by to see how things were going. The upstairs gallery has work by a permanent group of exhibitors, but Jo kindly found some space for my pictures too.... 

Sunday 13 July 2014

on charge

When the boat's battery indicator says there's nothing left, and the laptop battery is down to 5%, it's time to start doing something about it.

I've got two little charging alternators run by belt drive from the main engine, just like the ones you have on a car, for charging the batteries. There's also a bloody great 5KVA Electrolux alternator, also belt-driven from the engine, that supplies 240V to the domestic wiring circuit; but that needs you to run the main engine at a constant 800 RPM, which makes it useless for operating while cruising, and uncomfortable for using while moored up; my Beta Tug engine is jolly nice, but it is Very Noisy Indeed.

So I've got a dinky little Honda 240V generator. Suzanne off Electra sold it to me for a good price, when she gave up Electra recently. 

I put it up on the back deck, and away it chugs, a distant rumble as I sit at my desk. It does not cause Men Of A Certain Type to stop and make admiring noises as the Beta engine does, but I'm cool with that.

Here's the charger, topping up the domestic batteries....

...and here's me, blogging away while the laptop charges!

Saturday 12 July 2014


There are two main types of sewage management on narrowboats; one has the toilet discharging into a big holding tank, which, when full, has to be pumped out at a shoreside pump-out station, and the boat needs to be moved to that station. This is a bore, and costs about £25 a time.

The other system uses a small portable tank that slots in under the toilet; when you want to empty this 'cassette', you simply slide it out; the flap that closes off the top orifice should have a watertight seal, so it's quite mess-free (I had to replace the seals on my tanks, which was a fairly straightforward job and well worth doing, eccchhh). Then you can take the cassette to a sani station, which may be several miles from where you're moored, but at least avoids an unnecessary voyage.

I empty my tank weekly at the moment. Some people don't put loo roll down the hole, but bag it up and either burn it or bung it in a rubbish bin. I'm not really comfortable doing that.

I'm moored at Semington at the moment, and the nearest sani station is at Seend, which is about two miles away. On a summer's morning, it's a fine trip on the bicycle, even with the shit tank rattling on the trailer.

I take a plastic raincoat, a pair of rubber gloves, and a dedicated brush for cleaning up the mess. Here's the sani station at Seend.

Job done!

So now I can enjoy the towpath, where the meadowsweet and the spiked speedwell are now proliferating

and the heron pretends it isn't there

Friday 11 July 2014

love me fender

I need fenders to protect Eve's sides, particularly when sliding in and out of locks. The bottom plates of the hull stick out slightly from the sides, and a welded seam runs along the join. The part that sticks out is called the chine. It protects the weld. In time, that chine wears away through abrasion; if it wears deeply enough, the weld might be chafed away, and then the hull will leak. Fenders help reduce the amount of contact that the hull undergoes.

So I looked on Ebay, and found that the best deal I could get was for some produced by Avon Tyres, not a mile from where I'm moored, in Melksham. I cycled past the old RAF base there a while back, and saw that the hangars were full of tyres, and great racks of them on the tarmac where once the roar of the Merlin would have been heard).

But I couldn't just go and buy them over the counter (or perimeter fence). So Jan in Holt kindly took delivery of them, and I cycled over and picked them up. This morning I started putting them in place.

For the low hitching point, the rope that came with the fender was too long; so I spliced the surplus onto the one destined for a higher hitch.

Two done, four to go.

Thursday 10 July 2014

ready aye ready

The midges dance in the morning sun and the woodpigeons take two blue floozies, take two...

Sometimes it's nice to have milky coffee for brek. It reminds me of those Italian-run cafes in the South Wales valleys. I yearn for that sort of thing when I see long lists of things like 'skinny lattes' in places that employ 'baristas'. I helped out behind the serving hatch at the Benjmin Perry Boathouse in Bristol Harbour once, at the harbour festival. A dapper chap in smart casual asked me for a 'chino'. 
I went '?'  
'Cappucino!' he said impatiently.
'We just have coffee' I said, and spooned some out from the catering can of Maxwell House.

Camp Coffee has its place too. Heat up a cupful of water with a tablespoon of instant milk, add about 2 teaspoons of coffee essence, and there you go. 

Sitting here eating and wiping the apricot preserve off the G key of this laptop, though, I see that there has been a subtle change. Have a closer look at that bottle of Camp Coffee., here's how it used to look.... cool is that? 

Wednesday 9 July 2014

making pictures

I'm starting to crank up the illustrating and publishing behemoth that is Gert Macky (population: 1), and actually had a nice little commission last week. It's for Judi Sutherland's new poetry site, The Stare's Nest, which is open to submissions of poems in many styles, with a general theme of political issues, social justice, equality and diversity. 

At the moment I'm relying on natural light to paint by, so it's helpful if I don't moor in the shade of trees, which, as it happens, was exactly where I was at the time; so I did a fair bit of painting up on the foredeck, which was quite congenial in the hot weather.

To scan a painting, I need to set up the little Honda 240V generator on the afterdeck, then crank up the desktop computer and scanner. I'm hoping the generator is producing clean enough power to not damage the computer, but it has had a couple of cranky fits, so fingers crossed...

Then when I've done with processing the image, I put it on a memory stick and send it off from my MacBook, which is tethered to my iPhone - both these are new to me, and vital connections to the greater world. I get 2GB of tethering per month with my phone plan, but I can also get wifi at libraries, thanks to an enlightened council.

Slowly getting things sorted!

Tuesday 8 July 2014

life among the insects

A carpenter bee has been busy excavating my Useful Pole on the roof of the boat, and carrying leaves into the hole for her eggs. I wondered if I should abandon my Useful Pole on the towpath before setting sail yesterday, but then thought, hey, my pole my rules.

Monday 7 July 2014

coffee tin bread

There are all sorts of good reasons to drink Illy coffee, and I wondered if making bread in the tins would be yet another. So I cut the bottom off two tins, then turned them upside down and added bread dough. In this instance, I used about 12oz flour.

When the dough was risen, it filled the tins pretty well right to the top. Then I put second lids on the tops, from my stockpile. And put them in the pressure cooker.

I was just going to steam them without pressure, but accidentally pressurised them. I wonder if the bread will be more airy if it is not cooked under pressure?

Anyway, after 20 mins cooking under pressure, I had two good loaves which slid easily out of the tins. Texture is good, slightly dense and bagel-y or crumpet-y. Or bread-y.

Sunday 6 July 2014

putting the house in disorder

I’m scraping out a lump of paint from my watercolour tin.
Is it any real colour? You know, I think it’s not;
Grained now with age, that purply-brown
You get when washing out paint pots.
Into the bin with it; I’ll put some sepia in there instead.
Then every single section will be useful and good.

I’ve replaced like colour with like, as they wore out;
Rung a few changes too; ditched crimson for a warmer red.
Black lasts a lot longer these days, since I learned
Things were rarely black as I had painted them;
Indigo’s the perfect colour for pure still nights.

Then there’s warm ochres, indian yellow;
Two different whites; sap green, cerulean blue.
All hues I use to paint my map,
A land where there’s no footprints on the path;
This ringed compass, more true to my finger
Than the lost marriages along the way.

This was your best gift to me. No, not the paints here in my hand
But the love, belief in me that came with them. 
This day of days, I wish you were still here
To get drunk, maybe talk some shit about art,
I’m sorry, so sorry,  you aren’t.

goosegogs and fox prayers

The collection of empty jam jars under the galley cupboard is growing. They claimed their first prey last week, when Jan Lane called by, bearing the gift of goosegogs, fresh from her garden. So I boiled them up with a very small mount of water and some sugar, and they lasted long enough for me to decant them and eat them with cream, very nice too. Don't know what you call gooseberries done this way; goosegog idiot?

At five o'clock this morning a fox was barking from the hill above the canal. The bark didn't just echo around the wooded valley, it positively rang. So for this morning at least, this part of the Avon valley can be a welkin, a prayer bowl for foxes. I wandered down to the river to enjoy the sound, and heard the kingfisher, which flew by and perched high on a hogweed plant overhanging the water. So I fumbled with my iPhone in hopes of recording it, and so missed it diving in. Though I heard the splash. So then I started filming the place where the ripples were receding, to record its resurfacing. And missed it again.

Sometimes you're just better off living in the moment, I guess.

Saturday 5 July 2014

breadmaking on the boat

I've been working on ways to bake a decent loaf of bread on the narrowboat; I've been making my own for decades now, and it would be good to continue doing, especially when you can't be sure of being able to buy a decent loaf near where you're moored.

Trouble is, the calor gas stove does not get hot enough to cook things properly. So I tried baking in the solid fuel stove.

I got a decent fire going while I made the dough and let it prove. 

Then I raked the embers to the sides and bunged the dough in my cast iron pot, into the stove.

After about 15 minutes I checked it. The top looked a bit pallid, and the bottom was burned.

I turned it over and put it back for another five minutes, which browned what had been the top.

But the area of OKness in the loaf was quite narrow, between the charred base and the still doughy middle.

In fact, it was a complete failure.

So I tried pressure cooking the bread instead. This is much less hassle, though I still dream of making bread over a fire, and shall maybe make a trivet to go in the stove to try again. But if you want to make bread with a pressure cooker, simply make dough in the usual way, let it prove, put it in a tin or a basin, stick it in the pressure cooker and steam it for ....well, in my case 20 minutes, which seemed about right.

You'll have a loaf with a very pale skin (you could hardly call it a crust) and a texture rather like that of a bagel.