Monday 27 July 2015

Kultur wars on the canal

When I was a lad, I’m sorry to say, 
My chance to join the Navy sadly slipped away
I worked instead selling clapped out motors,
Safe and sound a long way from such dang’rous waters
(safe and sound a long way from such dang’rous waters)
Safe and sound, I say, till, upon a whim
I bought a boat cos I’m a fan of Rosie’n Jim
(He bought a boat cos he’s a fan of Rosie’n Jim)

A marina berth I swiftly found,
And my gangplank very soon was rooted to the ground
I polished the brass and I drank my tea,
And I took to wearing captain’s hats and neckerchees
(he took to wearing captain’s hats and neckerchees)
A red neckerchee which you’ll find, I’m sure 
’s been traditional since roughly 1994
(It’s been traditional since roughly 1994)

One day in my telescope I chanced to spy
A tatty boat with bikes on as it chugged on by
Though it chugged on by, I’m pretty sure
It was only going to find a place nearby to moor
(it was only going to find a place nearby to moor)
And on mooring up, just you mark my words
They’ll be clogging up the waterway with piss and turds
(they’ll be clogging up the waterways with piss and turds)

An article I swiftly penned, 
For that bloke in Narrowmind World who is my best friend
In green Biro and with lots of caps
It was strong on righteous outrage though quite short on facts
(it was strong on righteous outrage but quite short on facts)
For facts and figures are your enemy
If you would sway the actions of the CRT
(if you would sway the actions of the CRT)

Inspired by a recent Narrowboat World piece that claimed that 'continuous moorers', as the writer humorously described them, were clogging up the western end of the Kennet and Avon canal. He made further, evidence-free claims that they were emptying effluent into the canal, because, well, look at them.... (edit) the claim that the K&A is clogged by 'continuous moorers' was debunked by the CRT themselves in this response to a request made by Rick Hemmings for the relevant stats, seen here:

...and now Tillergraph, a towpath freebie, echoes these sentiments with similar claims in its 'letter of the month',  further complaining that live aboard boaters are making the place look unsightly, and affecting the whole 'culture and ethos' of the canal. Hey ho. If in doubt, respond with persiflage and a touch of contumely. Thhhrrrrp.

Monday 20 July 2015

wild times on the canal

Dawn near Semington. The roe hind raises her head and sweeps the horizon with the radar dishes of her ears. The fox is a red periscope surfacing from the thistles. A wood pigeon porpoises across the gulf of meadow. Fax and teletext messages burst in turn from the skylark and sedge warbler...

The hind examines a pair of cock pheasants who are quarrelling; she leaps back when they remonstrate with her; retreats a few paces, then edges forward again.

The fox tiptoes slowly away, quartering a nettle pitch with its head raised and ears well forward; it springs into the air, but whether or not it caught the mouse is impossible to tell from where I stand. The deer follows the hedge to a gap, and melts into the field of rape. 

Shortly after, the first jogger passes, and the towpath is recolonised by people. It's Sunday, and there are many walkers and cyclists.

As the sun begins to show signs of setting, a roebuck steps lightly out from cover and moves to a hollow in the field, where only his head and antlers can be seen. 

He looks expectantly back to the trees, and presently returns to them with a decided frisk in his hooves. 

The hind appears at the gallop, pursued by the buck; after a few circuits of the field, with much looking-back on her part, they settle to grazing, just out of reach of the last sunbeam that crosses the whole expanse, scintillating a million midges as it goes. 

A peacock calls, for this is, after all, Wiltshire.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

mixed messages

Boat Teenager and I lunched out, as it had stopped raining. Large pasties from Joe's Bakery, sitting on a bench on the Downs. "We're causing even more pain for the joggers", she said, "all wishing they had pasties too".

"Maybe they aren't the sort of people who like pasties," I suggested. "Modern people can be pretty strange."

We had a bit of a laugh about quinoa, and went charity shopping. Got some good stuff too, the sort that cheers you up if you ever needed cheering up.

Heading back up the hill, I paused in the right filter lane before turning into Coldharbour Road, to let a hesitant oncoming cyclist, who had right of way, decide whether he was going to go down the hill or turn left. 

He stopped. 

A shiny black BMW was behind us. The driver hooted his horn and, through the dark windows, I saw him gesticulating, apparently at the junction. "F*** OFF", I mouthed at him, and set off. He may be happy to run over a cyclist, I thought, but I'm not.

A little later he tried to overtake us, on a section of road that is really entirely unsuited for overtaking.  An oncoming car stopped him.

We turned left. He followed, honking his horn.

I passed Boat Teenager my phone. "Get ready to call 999 if we need to," I said.

At the next junction, he tried to force his way past us again. I stopped; he got out; "It's all right, I'm not going to rob you just because I'm black," he said, holding out his hands palms outward, with a rueful sort of smile.

"I never thought you were," I said, quite truthfully. 

"....just that your brake lights aren't working," he continued. 

"Oh! Thank you"

We exchanged smiles and he went on his way.

Sunday 5 July 2015

competitive cycling on the canal towpath

le roi s'amuse

I was walking with some friends along the canal at Bradford on Avon. So wrapped up were we in talk that we didn't notice the rather striking chap in tattoos and lycra, advancing on his bicycle. "SOME PEOPLE DONT SEEM TO LOOK WHERE THEY'RE GOING" he exclaimed, in what I can only describe as a petulant tone, as he forced his way through the group.

"I didn't hear your bell. USE YOUR BELL YOU NUMPTY!" I called after his receding form.

But answer came there none.

Of course, he didn't have a bell. Apparently it's unmanly to have a bell on your bicycle. Or something.

a melodious bell

I'm all for shared use of the towpath, but there is a problem with some cyclists expecting all to jump out of their way, and, as has often been said, treating the towpath like a racetrack.

It's not just a figure of speech, either. Some cyclists are engaged in competitive riding on the towpath.

Strava is an app that records the journeys of its users, and ranks them according to the speed of their journey. This section is the Bath to Bradford on Avon towpath. As you see, the latest high scorer, Martin D, managed an average speed of 32.1 km/h, or 19.95 mph, over this 13.4 km towpath, on June 25. Quite impressive, given the uneven surface and often very narrow path, and blind corners under bridges. Small wonder he's been awarded the title of King of the Mountain (KOM); the humpback bridge that the track traverses at Dundas is, after all, really quite precipitous....

I wrote to Sustrans on 23 April

Dear Sustrans,
I live on a narrowboat moored on the west end of the Kennet and Avon canal, and I am a cyclist. So I appreciate the use of the towpath as a cycle route; indeed, I find it hugely useful, if not essential. I’m also aware, through my own experience and that of my fellow boaters, of selfish and sometimes dangerous behaviour on the part of some cyclists. I’m prompted to write after a friend’s recent and particularly unpleasant encounter with an aggressive fast cyclist.
I’ve learned that Strava provides an app that allows cyclists to time themselves on specific routes, including the section of NCN4 that follows the towpath between Bath and Bradford on Avon, where this incident took place. As you will see from the Strava website, there is a competitive element to this app, with a league table and the titles of KOM and QOM for the leaders.
How does Sustrans feel about the towpath being used for this purpose, given that much of the towpath is narrow and entirely unsuited to fast cycling in an environment that contains pedestrians, children and animals? I understand that selfish cyclists are only a part of a wider social malaise; but for a company like Strava to foster competition among cyclists on a Sustrans route can surely only be a bad thing? 
Yours sincerely,
Dru Marland
I got a reply from Alistair Millington, Sustrans' area manager:

Dear Dru
Thanks for reporting this. We don't support the adoption of traffic-free sections of the National Cycle Network as Strava segments. We can flag this with Strava. I'm not sure whether that leads to its removal or a warning but I'll find out.
Best wishes, Alistair that was a waste of time, apparently. We can look forward to the next aspiring KOM attaining the 20 MPH average speed record, sometime soon.

Saturday 4 July 2015

a morning badger

I put the kettle on, then steeped over to the open galley hatch. And froze. 

There on the bank opposite was a badger, drinking from the canal. Presently it turned and ascended into the wood, becoming invisible almost immediately in the undergrowth and the half-light of the early morning. 

For some time I heard it slowly truffling its way through the wood, in the general direction of home.

After my bucket of tea, I went up to the wharf, half a mile away. (When the hot weather began, I moved Eve to the shadiest spot I could find, in the shade of some great ashes and oaks. It's made a big difference to the temperature on board, which is now bearable). There are some wild cherry trees up there, and I'd noticed the day before that they had reached a peak of ripeness, some being deep red and some so deep that they looked almost black. One tree's fruit was quite sweet but a little bland; the next tree's fruit looked exactly the same, but was really sour, but with a strong flavour coming in behind the sourness. I thought it would be just the thing for putting in vodka...

The blackbirds were already busy in the tree; once wild cherries are ripe, they're gone in next to no time. They clucked petulantly and occasionally flurried at each other, even though there was plenty for everyone. A thrush darted up, plucked a cherry off on the wing, and returned to a chick, almost as big as itself, and presented it with the fruit.

I filled my Tupperware tub, and watched the martins that had begun wheeling over the housing estate over the water. Then there was a PLOP that is always worth investigating, and, watching the other bank, I saw a water vole swim along, then scramble out and start nibbling noisily at the reeds. Another one joined it. You could easily spot where they were, as the vegetation shook under the onslaught of their nibbles.

I got the camera out, then put my specs up on the top of my head, the better to see through the viewfinder. I turned, and PLOP. 

This time it was my specs.

Nothing else for it; off with shoes and leggings, and into the water. It was a great relief to find that the bottom was gravel, and not the slimy, foul mud that you often find down there. I guess the swash of many propellors had kept it clear. The water was just about waist deep. After ten minutes of probing with my toes, I found the specs and lifted them out.

And so home, to the second shower of the day.

Shame it was such a poor picture of the vole. Sometimes it's better just to enjoy the moment.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

the exhibition in Bath


Last week was the exhibition in Walcot Chapel, Bath, for Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (and Boater) Month, organised by Julian House in Bath. I was v busy painting in the run up to it, and displayed eight paintings, of which the one above, of Jacqui at home on Aster, is the latest.

I sat in on the exhibition for quite a while, and got to meet all sorts of interesting and interested folk. Here's Brian, whose granddaughter once owned Netty, the boat in this picture. She'd asked him to come along and say hello, as she is over in West Wales.

Here's Maggie Smith-Bendell, author of Rabbit Stew And A Penny Or Two, who came for the opening of the exhibition and talked about her life

...and here are Jenks and Helen, whose boat rides on Lady Lena are apparently the most romantic thing you can do. Ever. Helen is the sculptor. Connie and Sam, the organisers of the whole thing, are there on the right.

....and Katie, with her picture....

Kate at the helm