Saturday 31 January 2015

Bristol's greener arena

bristol arena

Some folk in Bristol have expressed their dismay that there is no arena in the city huge enough to persuade U2 to play here. Ignoring the nay-sayers who reckon that they like Bristol precisely because of that, they gaze wistfully at the sleeve notes of Joshua Tree while sitting in their rather-too-tight jeans, in the drawing rooms of tastefully-renovated victorian semis from St Andrews to Sneyd Park, and remember their fairly-wild student days when they had a leather jacket too.

Happily for these folk, the move towards construction of such an arena continues apace, with the shortlisting of five designs, all suitably anodyne.

As Chief Architect of Gert Macky Enterprises (publishers, bicycles fettled, a song a dance a merry quip, oh and arena designers to royalty), I drew up some plans of my own, as you see from the picture. Sadly, despite the optimism of The Bristolian, it doesn't appear to have made the shortlist, even though it would add to Bristol's green credentials ("it's an elephant! GREEN! We'll paint it green if you like, to make it even greener!") in this year of Bristol, Green Capital.

Here, by the way, is the elephantine colossus of Rhode Island. Thanks, Lauren! 

Friday 30 January 2015

mink on the canal

Frozen dawn at Semington lock

"It must be cold on your boat" people say. "On the contrary; it's far warmer than any of my old homes" I reply, smugly and snugly. The wood burner keeps the inside toasty warm, even when the canal freezes over, as it did last week.

Frosty start at Semington


Frosty start at Semington

It was cold wandering around taking pictures of the frost, of course, but back on board, I was warming up and pointing my iPhone at a bullock on the other bank ("Isn't it cold living in a frozen paddock?" we asked a local bullock) ...when a small black creature bounded into shot. It sat there on the ice gawping up at the bullock; then noticed me and turned tail, describing a lively sine wave along the ice back the way it had come.

As you see, mink avoid getting cold paws by running several inches above the ice.

This spotting explained the spraint I found under the bridge a few days previously...

Poo under the canal bridge

...which was smaller, messier and less glistering with fish scales than this otter poo we saw on the Thames last year 

spraint praise

Thursday 22 January 2015

blazing the path

Testing Little Willy, the new bike headlight (all the neat names like Blinder and Predator were already taken)

Here at Gert Macky (publishers, bicycles fettled, a song a dance a merry quip), we always have our eye on what's going down on Teh Street. And this winter, what's been going down a lot on both the street and on the towpaths and roads near us has been intrepid cyclists striving for ever brighter headlights. Now, auntie Vera was in the ATS during the war, operating a searchlight on a hill near Bristol, and she happened to mention a disused hangar Somewhere In The West Of England that was stuffed with the things at the end of the war. 

Reasoning that a light intended to pick out a Heinkel 111 flying at 15,000 feet would be perfect for sticking on your bicycle when riding on the Bristol to Bath cycle path, we hot-footed it down there and blew away the cobwebs. Result! They are quite bulky, but with a bit of tweaking we got them to fit on the handlebars of some test bikes, and sent out our researchers to road test them.

Results have been extremely positive. Of course, there have been objections from some antisocial fuddy-duddies, suggesting that things were already bad enough when cyclists used lights more suitable for blazing a trail through the uncharted wastes of the Rockies or Carpathians, than for a gentle commute on a well-defined path through suburbia. As our testers pointed out:

You can always look away
Of course we can't dip the lights, that's how they're set up
I'd fall off my bike laughing if some self-appointed warden told me to dip my light
It's just light envy
F***ing wanker
There's always someone complaining*

*all these points were made by cyclists on a couple of Facebook posts discussing this very topic

Thursday 8 January 2015

Towing Aster

Jacqui lives in nb Aster, a 1931 wooden narrowboat that's usually moored at Bathampton these days. In December it was towed over to Semington Dock for some work on the hull, and I volunteered to tow it back to its home mooring. 

I checked out the work when I arrived at Semington, though I managed to avoid getting my hands dirty.

Jacqui and her helpers, but mainly Louis, were patching up the hull using challico, a mixture of pitch and horse dung, boiled up together.

flooding the dock at the end of the job

Ian and Jason of Semington Dock ease Aster out into the pound

poling Aster round to the lock

making Aster fast to Eve ready for towing

I was a bit busy keeping a steady course through the wind and the rain for the next two days, so there aren't that many pics of the trip. Here's one that Craig Marshall took as we crossed the Dundas aqueduct, though

getting ready for day 2

top image from

Wednesday 7 January 2015

fixing a weed hatch leak

Underneath Eve's afterdeck is a dark, cramped place, where, if you pull the steps back and worm your way in, you will find the weed hatch. And if you unclamp it, you can see the propellor and the rudder.  This is useful if you need to clear an obstruction. But Eve's weed hatch seal is old and tired, and started to let water in.

here's the weed hatch removed; you can see the manky old seal.

I cut out a square from my old sleeping mat...

and stuck it into place using gorilla snot*

*silicone sealant, if you prefer

Monday 5 January 2015


As I moved around the boat, I heard a tinkling noise outside. Pushing out from under the cratch cover and bracing myself against the icy air, I saw that the canal had become iced over; and the gentle rocking of Eve had set the ice scraping against itself, making strange noises, that reminded me of the way the fence wire sings as a train approaches. You know the one?

And then there was the swan convoy.