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 Amazon.com
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:


...it'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.