Sunday 27 November 2016

the fox that barks in the wood

There's a sure remedy to lying in bed at half three in the morning, worrying about everything there is to do.

So I got up and stoked the stove and got on with this painting of some boaty friends.

Presently the owls kicked up a quick shindig, and then a little while later dawn happened.

With a sunny day, you can do so much more, when you're on a boat; rainy days keep you skulking indoors, but sometimes you really need the extra space that the Big Living Room provides. Today it allowed me to take the bak wheel off my bike and pour lots of oil into the gear hub (Shimano hub gears don't like muddy towpaths)

sorry, I was so engrossed in tinkering with the hub
that I didn't take a pic in the middle of the job
 Then a quick ride to Bathampton to look at Becky's alternator, which wasn't charging the batteries. More by luck than judgement, we found a loose wire and it started behaving again.

Exciting development on the galley front. I found a recipe in the River Cafe Cookbook for pizza fritta. Now, we are always at home to pizza on this boat, and a recipe that cooks it in a frying pan is certainly worth a bash.

Make the dough for the base in the usual way; stretch out as thin as poss to cover the base of the frying pan; cook it until the bottom is nicely done, take off the heat, flip it, put the topping on, and return to the heat, with a cover over the pan (I use a tin plate). And blow me down, it works a treat.

The afternoon slowed down until it was motionless; the low sun ignited the Traveller's Joy with a cold white fire. Then a fox started barking the slow seconds in the woods, and we tiptoed into the evening.

Saturday 26 November 2016

wasps, hornets, butterflies, maps

The sun came out and I moved the firewood off the roof of the boat down into the the cabin. Tucked up in the wood pile were several somnolent wasps, looking for all the world as though they were dead, stripey pharaohs, but groggily reviving on being disturbed. I evicted most of them, but one flew around the cabin for ages before finding its way out. 

A walker stopped to look at the canal map, and decided to buy one. I'm moored at Hornet's Nest; he asked if I've seen any here. "Yes, but not many. Unfairly maligned, aren't they?"
He agreed. And talked about the hornets he's seen out in Italy. 
"What's the italian for hornet? I know a wasp is vespa, like the scooter"
"Hang on, I know I know it but... bee is ape"
"Direct from the latin, then"
"yes.... ah, calabrone! Wonder what's the etymology? Hang on..." he pulled out his mini computer "'s hard to read in sunglasses ....ah! Uncertain Indo-European origin. Not very helpful."
"Covers a multitude of sins..."

I got onto my computer and jiggered around with my butterfly paintings, as you see. It's a tricky business, colouring the background. I had to lift the text up using a magic wand, and clone out the mess behind it. Sorry, this is graphics software talk. 

Then I uploaded the butterflies to Redbubble, where you can find them. I like the idea of making patterns out of pictures, that can endlessly repeat. Though having lines that continue through each block into the next one is more of a challenge, and more exciting when it comes right.

Deborah was amused yesterday; a colleague had told her she had a friend visiting from the USA, who showed her "a really brilliant meme about Trump and Brexit..." -and Deb knew it was going to be my map. Gosh! I'm certainly getting my fifteen minutes' worth with that. Or at least, the map is. I just threw it out into cyberspace.Go litel book, and so on.

Thursday 24 November 2016

sundog millionaire

I've got silver in the moon
And gold in the morning sun
The woods seem strangely quiet after the days of heavy rain; and the robins and mistle thrushes are singing even more loudly than usual, having had to up their game during the deluge in order to make themselves heard. The owls are spaced out more, as it were; over the previous couple of nights they all hooted together in the breaks in the rain, but last night they were far more leisurely, and I listened for ages to a particularly melancholy one fading away into the silence long before dawn.
always start with the faces!
Then if you mess up, you  have wasted less time

I was (finally!) at work on a new picture when Chris called me from the boat next door. She'd spotted a pair of sundogs. So I rushed for the camera. See them? They're refracting light through ice crystals, and ever so slightly rainbowy. Here's something similar but even more colourful I saw on May morning.

 Then it was off on the bicycle to Bathampton, to help Becky put a fan belt on her engine. And we drank Rioja afterwards, as you do. I arrived home to a text; "Can I commission you do to  picture of 'Dru to the rescue', with coat flapping?" -I don't necessarily applaud the sentiment, but anyway.

moi, sort of

just another boat going by, pretending to be a Clyde puffer

Tuesday 22 November 2016

a bit wet

Here's the Avon Valley at Monkton Combe, as seen from my boat on the canal; one taken two days ago before the rain began, and one this morning.

The canal is fairly safe from flooding, at least where we are; there are overflows that spirit excess water away. It's a worry for folk with boats down on the river below Bath, though; that must be jolly scary. Well, I'd certainly find it a bit alarming anyway!

Friday 18 November 2016

giraffe safari in Bristol

Into Bristol to pick up this year's new Christmas card design from Minuteman Press in Bedminster, my fave printers. Continuing my animals and constellations theme, this is Vulpecula, or the Little Fox. That's the Alton Barnes White Horse in the background, from which you will deduce, astute reader, that this is Honeystreet on the K&A. 

The card's added to the stock in my Etsy shop...

Driving into Bristol through Bridlington, the traffic was shocking bad and I realised that the Christmas retail thing is already happening. In the lane next to me, stopped in the queue, was a woman in a Citroen Picasso car, with a picture on the side of giraffes and baobabs, and the motto ONE LIFE LIVE IT.

Living the one life
she looks up from her phone, sees
the zebra crossing
Then as we passed TK Maxx she turned off into the retail park.

Minuteman have a nice display of my pictures in the window; some new ones for them, like the English and Welsh Grounds Lightship, and Ann Wood-Kelly flying a Spitfire under the Clifton Suspension Bridge;  chose because they're local to Bristol, and because I like them!

Thursday 17 November 2016


Out in the wet Wiltshire wilds, the first muddy cyclist and highly-equipped walker have yet to appear on the towpath. As the owls wind down for the day, I drink my tea and catch up with the internet.

The boat's cabin's even more snug than usual at the mo; it was a long overdue dhobi day yesterday, and even as I filled the twin tub it started to rain. So the rotary dryer, which I lash, as needed, to the tiller, was not an option. I finally got round to installing the pull-out clothes line thing I found in a charity shop. Its about 50 years old, and has a smiling Katie Boyle (I'm pretty sure) on the box, along with a kite mark. 

I rigged it so that if it falls down, the clothes on it won't fall on the stove and set fire to the boat. Well, hopefully not. It's not a good way to go, a boat fire.

And, while the generator was running (sitting out on the afterdeck with an umbrella tied over it), I did a bit of graphic crunching on the big computer. I've been digging around for suitable pictures for the new Redbubble shop.

This is something I did ages ago when I was trying out ides for textiles, inspired by my old shipmate Yolanda, who now runs Shire Slings (go there for all your baby carrying requisites!).

In theory it's quite easy to do a repeating pattern; draw a picture in the middle of the paper, then cut it into four equal rectangles and stick them back together with what had been the four corners meeting in the middle; then finish the picture.

In practice, it did need a fair bit of tweaking in the graphics programme. Still, it's fun even if it does make my head spin a bit.

Entirely unrelated, but thinking about dragonflies on a wet winter morning, I remembered Dragonsfly, a band I saw in Somerset a few years ago, and jolly good too. Here's Maya Preece

Maya Preece

...and the band. Happy days.


Tuesday 15 November 2016

'quick the struggling withy branches let the leaves of autumn fly'

After so many days of still air and sunshine, the wind got up and the air was alive with all the leaves that had been waiting for the hint. They blizzard across the towpath and rafted up on the water so thick that passing boats had to keep going hard astern to clear their choked props.

Then there was the first proper frost, and the next day, though the wind had died completely away, the leaves just kept on dropping; making enough noise in the still valley to sound as though a large beast was rustling through the woods.

At dusk the vixen crosses the field opposite, and presently we hear her screaming on the hill. Well, I'm guessing it's the same fox. 

Owls are calling at twilight, then around dawn, and sometimes they wake up around one o'clock in the morning and have a natter, too.

And after a week or so you suddenly realise that the trees are almost bare.

Here's the Dangerous Brothers, dropping some firewood off. I've just done a flyer for them. I was helping with some Leylandii in Bristol last week, horrid job, and as we drove back we were brainstorming names for the business. "....local branch?" I suggested. "Special Branch!" said Jim, and it stuck.

Friday 11 November 2016

a special relationship

The morning after Trump's electoral victory in the USA, my social media feeds were full of shock and grief. My response was to cobble together this map. After Brexit, it seems that the two nations are vying with each other to see who can be more daft and racist.

The picture took off rather, and bounced around the internet and started returning from all sorts of odd corners of the world. Obviously it hit a spot. Though you could argue about which way round 'I'm with stupid' should be pointing... Great Britain is a bit small to have its own arrow pointing back...

Remarkable, the power of communications these days. All this started (and indeed continues, as I write this) from a mooring under a hill in a deep wooded valley in Wiltshire. My office looks remarkably like this, or at least it does today:

Because several people said "That map should be on a t-shirt!" I decided to make that option available. So here it is, on Redbubble

Thursday 3 November 2016


The tsunami of the industrial revolution swept up the South Wales valleys, and, slowly receding, left long ribbons of towns, and the flotsam of housing estates perched improbably above the valley floor, jostling into the steep hills and tributary valleys where the modest welsh hill farms still huddle behind the humped hawthorn, and the beech woods go on for ever.

...such were the thoughts that went through my head after Deb and I had done a Useful Errand in Risca, and decided to take the picturesque route back to Bristol.

There's a rare cross valley connecting those of the Ebbw and Afon Lwyd, running between Crumlin and Pontypool. It was once a beauty spot, with lakes and woodland walks. Then Hafodyrynys colliery  punched into its side and spilled the slag all along it. But the woods are still beautiful. So that's the way we were headed.

In Crumlin I said "Turn left down here! Let's have a look at the Navigation!"

And so we did. Down the track, one of the few collieries still standing was ringed by very modern linked fencing, like you get at festivals. But the gate was open so in we went. The Navigation was saved because it is listed. It is quite a harmonious group of buildings as you can see. But having been saved, there's always the problem of What To Do With It. Last time I came here a few years ago, a builder had taken occupation of it and put up a helpful sign saying PRIVATE PROPERTY FUCK OFF.

welcome in the valleys

...though that particular cuckoo has apparently flown the nest.

By the far left building were a couple of cars, and a sign advertising a market. We were intrigued, and parked up. A harassed looking woman emerged and told us that the market had been yesterday, and we shouldn't be there. But she relented enough to let us peek into the derelict building, under whose open-to-the-sky walls were ranked some improbable market stalls, and four people wrestling with a gazebo. We waved a farewell, and wandered around the foot of the colliery.

"When I first came here in about 1969, it was as though they'd just downed tools and walked away," I said. "Paperwork all over, and the big winding engines; you could just wander around wherever you liked."

The sad little market stalls amid this dereliction reminded me of a painting in Bristol City Museum's collection; oriental markets in the ruins of past civilisations. Though my memory played me slightly false; here are the pics I was thinking of. But you get the idea.

Our musings were interrupted at last by an outraged shouting. It was the woman from the market. "Don' you go taking photographs! You should come on the open days for that. It'll cost you £10! Sneakin' in yur sneakily..." 

"Baksheesh!" I said as we drove up the hill and away. 

"Sneakin' in yur sneakily!" said Deb.

You gorra laugh.