Sunday 23 December 2018

a shared enthusiasm for Hardy's Dorset

I was rapidly running out of clean clothes, and yesterday's weather forecast suggested that it would be the driest day for a while, so I did the dhobi. As usual, this meant the usual routine of filling the two 25l jerry cans with water (I did that earlier in the week, when I filled up my main water tank at Avoncliff); putting my biggest pan full of water on top of the stove first thing in the morning (which in the case of yesterday, was 0300; this early to bed, early to rise malarkey is really getting out of hand round here); then, as 0800 approached (the time before which it is rude to run engines and generators) I had a shower, baled the water from the bathtub into the twin tub washing machine, topped it up with the piping hot water from the stovetop, and got on with it.

Other Usefuls included taking the rubbish to the bins, which also meant I got to see Bradford on Avon's Morning Jackulation, which is like a murmuration, but with jackdaws.

And then tidying up. Which is a never ending task on nb Eve. This is a normal scene for my desk, two days ago during a frenzy of printing.

Down at the post office counter in the Co-Op, I was queue jumped by a Very Middle Class woman, who held things up for ages while they fetched 300 euros for her. I was alarmed to hear that the pound/euro rate is pretty much 1:1; last time I went to mainland Europe the pound was worth better than €1.40. We exchanged long cold stares, and I quietly wished that she might get held up for several days at Gatwick by a rogue drone. 

Cycling back to the boat, I considered popping into the church to think more elevated thoughts, because life's too short. But then I thought that life right then was too short for tht, and dashed home to set out my pictures on the side of the towpath. Which meant I got to meet a few nice folk who stopped and bought things. I pointed out the Hardy poem The Oxen on the back of this card, to the chap who'd just bought it, and he told me that he'd spent some time walking round Hardy locations in Dorset. I used to do the same, when I was based in Weymouth on the Channel Island ferry, only I did it on my motorbike.

This is a picture I did in St Mary's, Puddletown, where the Hardys were in the quire; and very chilly it was too.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

a badger at Avoncliff

Here's a badger looking down on the canal from Westwood towards Avoncliff, on a snowy night. That's my boat there with the fire going. I used my artistic licence to clear the roof of bikes, firewood, spare toilet cassettes and general clutter. Very handy thing, that licence.

I was going to draw something to do with mud, to go with this poem I wrote earlier in the year, and which is very relevant right now
It is our medium of communication,
we wade through it, it clags our bikes
and is the topic of our conversation.

In the polite streets of towns we enter,
we hail each other at first sight
of clouty boots, dank hats, the scent

of woodsmoke that has browned and kippered us,
tallowing our clothes and coats
when skulking in the warmth of boats
that snugly through the winter skipper us.
...but I just couldn't come up with an image that worked, and then I thought this would make a nice pic. So we get the romantic view of the canal instead.

It is pretty romantic, of course. And it did look like this back in March when the mini ice age hit.

But right now it's raining, raining, and then raining some more. 

And muddy, of course.

It's been a busy few weeks selling canal calendars and Etsy orders for cards and pictures. As we get close to Christmas I look forward to getting on with paintings and poems, because I've not been doing enough lately, and that makes me antsy. Though it's extremely nice that people like my stuff enough to want to buy it! I haven't got over the happiness that gives me, and probably never will.

Boater life around Bradford on Avon continues to be lively. Much repairing going on on the wharf - it's good to see an active boatyard at work. And we had a big party in St Margaret's Hall last week, as a fundraiser for the Floaty Boat Fund.

And the week before that we had a gathering to remember a friend who drowned. There've been three deaths like that this year. 

Tidying up yesterday, I found the bottle of rum that this friend gave me as a thank you for helping him with his engine. Maybe I'll finish it on New Year's Eve.

Have a good Solstice, Christmas and all that!

By the way, as this picture has been so enthusiastically received, I've done some prints, and you can get them here in my Etsy shop

Wednesday 21 November 2018


incoming! -there's a lot of red kites over Kintbury way
A message arrived from Jenny Maxwell. 'Some traders have dropped out of the Kintbury floating market. Would you like to come over?' 

I would, as it happened. So first thing on Saturday morning (first thing in this case being about 4:00; I do tend to get antsy about not being late for things) I filled the bike trailer with maps, calendars and seasonal greetings cards, and cycled to the Moggy. It was dark, cold and a light rain was falling, and I hoped the weather forecast on the Met Office app was true, and it would cheer up before too very long. 

It did. Bang on schedule, the sun burned away the mist, and by ten o'clock all was bright and sunny. Jumping cold, mind, and I cursed my choice of thin socks and hippy boots, rather than the two pairs of thick woolies and para boots that would have kept my feet warm. Oh well, you live and learn. It was a good weekend, and I got to meet some good friends and some new faces.

Jenny rocks the Tibetan coat look
Sam of Cake on the Cut. Her mulled wine took the edge off the cold.
Ziggy and Toni, of Shine on the Water and Wyre Witch respectively

Tuesday 23 October 2018

K&A Canal Calendar 2019

The new Kennet and Avon Canal Calendar 2019 is just back from the printers! It's full of paintings by me of life on the canal, as you can see. It costs £6.50, and 20% of the profits go to the Floaty Boat Fund, a crisis fund for distressed boaters. You can get it from my Etsy shop by clicking here, or hunt me down on the canal. I'll also be at the Floating Market in Bradford on Avon at the beginning of December.

Sunday 21 October 2018

early up the flight

It was cold enough to wear my old motorbike gauntlets, when I set off on my bike in the early dawn. Not that dawn is particularly early at this time of the year; it was already 7:20. My boat's moored at Sells Green, in the wide basin of the Avon between Devizes and Trowbridge, and days like this start chilly and foggy. I was off to help Jenny on Black Cat, and Victoria on Aquilon (the coal boat) up the Caen Hill locks. We'd got up as far as the Rowde basin the night before, and were doing the final staircase this morning, eight o'clock sharp.

A kingfisher flew close past me, its colours deepened to indigo and deep viridian in this light. Early fishermen were setting up their little nylon igloos and computerised fish monitors, or still trundling along the towpath with great cartloads of tackle and legged boxes like lunar landing modules, for perching on.

Jenny and Victoria were up and about, and there was just time to dump my bag on Black Cat and decline a cup of tea before they cast off and were into the first lock just as Chris the CRT man arrived from the top compound on his quad bike to unlock the ground paddles, without which you can't fill the lock. They took to locking the flight overnight a few years ago, after someone stole a boat in Devizes and tried to make a getaway down the flight... giving up some way down, they'd torched the boat. Not the shiniest of apples in the fruit bowl...

Everyone knew what they were doing, and Jenny and Victoria zipped the two boats into each successive lock side by side and barely touching the brickwork. It was a joy to behold.

The mist ahead of us was glowing in the early sunlight, and presently there came a distant honking, and skeins of Canada geese appeared from their night quarters, wheeled round us a couple of times, and dropped into the adjacent pound, with a great splashing and quarrelling.

Jenny tries not to be distracted by the geese
here they come again!
 ...and then we were at the top, and in brilliant sunshine. And it was time for a late breakfast in a Devizes cafe, and a goodbye to Jenny, in whose company I've been cruising these last couple of months and who is now heading off to that wider world beyond the Vale of Pewsey, while I'm still down in the Shire.

Saturday 13 October 2018

riding out the storm

what I did in the storm (drawing this picture, not hanging out at a pub)

Two nights ago, Storm Callum blew in. I listened to the rain rattle on the roof above my bunk, and the flapping of the lightweight tarpaulin I’d got stretched over the foredeck as a temporary cratch cover, after the old one finally fell to bits. I got up in the small hours, to check that nothing had come adrift; the windward side was battened down with a hefty lump of wood, round which I’d wound the lower end of the cover, and then weighted it down with a plank athwart the gunwales, with my big heavy toolboxes sitting on it.

A quick aside about terminology here; the cratch cover is something that shelters the welldeck at the front end of a narrowboat, and gets its name from a feeding trough; it would once have protected the fodder for the draught animal that pulled the boat. I don’t know if there’s a continuity of use there, or if it was dredged up to re-traditionalise new boats after the canal revival of the 70s and 80s. There’s lots of canal terms that are strange to someone coming from a seafaring background, as they are two distinct cultures with no great overlap.

Anyway, there’s nothing like the first proper storm of autumn to probe the weaknesses of your boat after a calm summer. And at five o’clock, there was a great crashing and flapping as the pile of plywood on the roof, draped over with another tarp and ballasted with a folded-down table, a workmate and a bicycle, was blown over the side and down between the boat and the bank. Good job the wind was southerly, I reflected as I hauled on my wellies and went out to contain the damage.

Couldn’t find the damn torch in the kerfuffle. There was a little before-dawn-lightening of the sky, enough to see to haul the bike and bits and pieces onto the bank and weight then down; in the lee of the boat, they were relatively protected. Then up onto the roof, carefully picking my way round the odds and sods scattered all over it, and I plonked a car wheel on top of the timber that hadn’t yet been blown off.

There were brief lulls throughout the day, but then the wind would get up again and again I’d check the cover, and resecure the after hatch that would insist on blowing open. It was no day for doing home improvements; just sit out the storm and make pious vows to sort out the boat properly, just as soon as I was able. I got on with a picture I’d promised to paint, and sometimes in the lulls stepped out and said hello to the neighbours, who were taking advantage of the moment to exercise their dogs, and we’d all agree that it was a bit blowy. Just the very occasional hireboat would go by, all of them with a schedule to keep and so unable to do the sensible thing and tie up to wait out the storm. One went by so fast the it nealy pulled my extra-strong mooring pins out, and Jenny leaned out of her hatch and sternly shouted to them to SLOW DOWN.

And now it’s nearly the dawn of the second day, and still the cover is flapping and rattling, and the boat rocks in the wind.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

lifting the Lister

Down at Smelly Bridge, Bradford on Avon, there was more progress on George's boat. The venerable old Lister engine needed to come out for a jolly good overhaul after a week underwater; a hole was cut in the engine room deckhead, and the CRT workboat and crew kindly came along and used their crane to help lift it out. Hands across the ocean! It was good to see the local boaters and CRT folk working together.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

more on the sunken canal boat at Bradford on Avon

Nine days after George's boat sank at Smelly Bridge, Bradford on Avon, we heard yesterday that it had finally been refloated. 

In the meantime, there was a meeting last week at which boaters, local councillors, police, and other interested parties discussed the ongoing problem of antisocial behaviour on the canal.

It was pointed out that the company which hired the boats to the men who behaved so badly that weekend, use this image (above) on their website to promote stag parties; observe how all the people in the photo are holding a drink.

It is also a matter of major concern that the hire company appeared to have no robust system in place to deal rapidly and decisively with problems; it seems that complaints had to be referred to managers at the head office, who seemed to have gone home for the weekend and left their phones switched off. Local employees may have been aware of the problem - there were complaints enough, and the police attended the boats in question -  but their hands were tied; it took over 24 hours to get to the boat and remove the troublemakers. 

There is a general determination that Something Must Be Done; but that is behind the scenes for now.

It's been a rough couple of weeks on the water here; two people were badly injured in a gas explosion on the Avon in Bath. There is a crowdfunding effort to help them, here. And Jeff Green died after falling into the canal at Semington. 

Sunday 23 September 2018

a sinking

The Kennet and Avon Canal can be a tricky place to moor your boat; often the sides are shallow, and you need to keep your distance from the bank and use a plank to get ashore. You also need to protect the boat against the pull and drag of passing boats, especially if they're going fast; which they shouldn't, especially past moored boats, but often do.  

Where I'm moored near Avoncliff, there is a concrete cill below the surface; I space my boat from it with a floating car wheel, and brace it with a plank; then run a spring line in addition to the two mooring lines. That combination is usually proof against whatever the canal throws at it.

On Friday evening, the boat started sliding to and fro, and scraping violently against the cill. After the third time, I swung open the galley hatch to see what was going on; speeding boats will push water far ahead of them in the canal, rather like what happens to water in a syringe when you push down on it, and I wondered what was coming.

Two hireboats had just come at speed round the bend from Bradford on Avon. They lost control and went into the offside bank; careered off with the use of poles; and collided with Deb's boat, just up from mine.  George, whose boat is just around the corner they'd come round, was following them; their wake had thrown his boat around particularly badly; and they were shouting abuse at him, then at Jim and Deb, who had come out too, and Jenny, in the boat between us. "When was the last time you paid Council Tax? -Are you on drugs?" and so on. They were drunk, and obviously enjoying the fun. "Do you want to say anything to me?" asked the young bloke on the bow of the first boat. "No; I do not" I replied. I did, though, call the shouty fellow on the tiller a "fucking entitled shit". He, indeed they all, had that braying drawl that you associate with the feral middle classes and the arseoisie. He responded by calling me a "tranny". I suppose it was intended as an insult.

They carried on at speed, their shouting receding into the distance. Passing Laura's boat, they cause things to fall off the shelves in her kitchen; she asked them to slow down; they responded with "Oh shut up; not you as well; fuck off you cunt".

The canal social media was alive with reports of their progress, and of complaints made to the police and to the hire company. Apparently the police did come out and have a word with the young men. But the next morning there were further reports of drunkenness, speeding and abuse as they proceeded to Bathampton.

But the next morning also revealed that George's boat had been sufficiently damaged by the thumping it had received, to sink overnight. He'd been woken at 4:30 to find the cabin awash. By daylight, it was sitting firmly on the bottom of the canal.

The boaters swung into action, bringing the community emergency pump down from Bradford wharf, collecting dry clothes and Useful Stuff, brewing coffee, making bacon butties. The day was spent shoring up and pumping, in rain that varied from light to heavy, but always persistent.

And by dusk, we'd got absolutely nowhere. 

George is being put up on a friend's boat for now. There may be further attempts at salvage today. But he has lost his home, at least for now and possibly completely; and all he owns is soaked through or ruined.

And still the jolly young men are on the hireboats, partying, at Bathampton. Though I understand that the hire company will not be letting them steer the boats back to Hilperton themselves. So the canal continues to be a theme park where outsiders can come to act out vicious, drunken and antisocial behaviour with impunity, and then go home to their 'respectable' lives.

There's a Crowdfunder to help George, here 

back to it on Sunday afternoon

Tuesday 4 September 2018

further adventures in Cisland

I was just getting out of the car when the phone went.

"Hello; I'm standing outside your boat and got the number from the window. You do bike repairs?"

"Sort of; for friends and emergencies. What's the problem?"

"Oh, my bike needs a service..."

"Sorry; I'm trying to get some paintings done just now"

"Oh! You're an artist?" -he sounded very excited.

"Um, yes..."

"I wonder if I could make a video of you at work? -I make films; I'm in a club, and there's a competition..."

"I'll be back at the boat in a few minutes; if you hang on, we can talk face to face."

He could. We met, and introduced ourselves. He showed me one of his videos on Vimeo; it was very well filmed and put together, about a chap who goes flying. I tentatively agreed to do a couple of hours filming; he referred to me as "your good self" rather than simply "you", and as we were winding things up he called me "sir" - I thought I'd heard that earlier too, but didn't pick him up on it; sometimes life's too short... but the thought of spending more time with him without clarifying things was unbearable.

"You called me 'sir'. That's not what I am. My pronouns are she and her..."

"Oh! I really don't have a problem with that; I've a friend who's gay..."

He called me sir yet again and corrected himself to madam. And off he went on his bicycle that needed servicing.

I thought a bit about how much of a mission I felt to Spread Enlightenment. Once upon a time, people in academia were falling over themselves to find tame trans people to participate in their research for their PhDs. These days, of course, they just take the easier option and make things up, and then get them peer reviewed by their chums on Mumsnet. And then there was a flurry of interest in canal dwellers, as we are obviously lively and colourful and excitingly bohemian, and a gift to the
photographer, some of whom are cheerfully expanding their portfolios with us.

But I just couldn't face it. It's not my job to educate someone when they don't even consider that I may not care whether or not they have a problem with me.... I txted him. Sorry....

Thursday 30 August 2018

no shipwrecks, and nobody drownded

Every now and then, I see a large bird flying high, and wonder whether it is a heron or perhaps even a passing crane, because it has that squareness to its wings that strongly suggest one or the other. But I've never had the binoculars at hand in time to positively identify it. 

Until the other day, when a chap was talking at me outside my boat, and I noticed an indisputable heron rising on a thermal behind him. "Sorry," I said, interrupting him mid-flow; "there's a heron!"

He looked briefly. "That can't be a heron," he said. "It must be a bird of prey."

It goes without saying, of course, that this chap knows as near to nothing about birds as makes no odds. But hey, mansplaining.

I didn't argue; just watched the heron rise, circling, until it disappeared from sight.

On the other hand, there are people who value my knowledge perhaps too much.

Yesterday I went over to have a look at a generator that I'd sold to a friend a month or so back. It'd been running fine until it ran out of petrol; when he refilled it, it failed to start, though it did make a big black smoky backfire.

I took the plug out and reattached the HT lead, grounded it on the cylinder and tugged the starter cord. No spark.

Jiggered around with the wires, tightened up a loose crimped connector, tried again. A big fat spark, then a couple of faint ones... drained the carburettor bowl. Nice and clean petrol.

...took the air filter out, and squirted some Easy Start down the air inlet ( I know Easy Start is bad for your engine, be gentle with me. I'd just found the nearly-full can by the bins and threw it into my tool bag, as you do).

Chris pulled the starter cord. Once. Twice. On the third pull the air inlet belched a flame, which ignited the filter housing. Quickly I doused the flames with the rag I'd just been using to mop up the spilled oil and petrol. The rag burst into flames. Threw the rag overboard. It ignited the dry vegetation on the canal bank. Chris stamped it out enough to throw the still-burning rag into the canal. 

Oh well, at least I didn't burn his home out... it was a great comedy moment, anyway. No shipwrecks and nobody drownded.

Thursday 16 August 2018

the barn owl in the Heron Tree field

For about twenty minutes the barn owl hunted to and fro across the big field on the hill opposite, that's been ungrazed for ages and is a happy hunting ground for owls and foxes. Frequently it would perform an abrupt cartwheel and drop onto its prey; then it would be lost from sight for a while as it ate; then it rose and resumed its patrol. Finally, it slipped through the gap in the hedge up to the Heron Tree field, and was gone for the day. Presently, a pair of ravens flew high over across the valley. I finished my tea. It was nearly seven o'clock and time for breakfast.

The long heatwave has finally broken; the fields are still tinged brown and russet, but the woods are green and the trees roll like waves when the wind blows over them. The wild clematis is flowering; this valley is dense with it and just now it looks like a paler echo of may blossom. In the winter it'll be bright white and sparkling with frost, but for now it's more maiden's bower or traveller's joy than old man's beard. The nuthatches and woodpeckers are calling, and you can hear the nuthatches tapping away in a cautious sort of way at the hazelnuts. Sometimes a jay will screech; presently they'll be hard at work in the woods, gathering and hoarding acorns.

Friday 10 August 2018

egret in a tree

The very first time I saw an egret, we were paddling a canoe up the estuary of the Erme, in South Devon; it was one of those deep inlets where the trees overhang the water, and when we came round a bend we saw one of these trees with several great white birds in. It reminded me of Saint Brendan meeting the fallen angels during his voyages; as their offence had been small, they were allowed to live quite cheerfully and sing praises.

Not that I've ever heard an egret singing, but it was a fine sight.

Up at Great Bedwyn I saw a couple of the local egrets perching in a big ash tree by the River Dun, and took some photos that helped with painting this picture. It was the second time I've used the Two Rivers paper I got from Neil Hopkins, who makes it in a water mill on Exmoor. It's very nice stuff. 

Saturday 4 August 2018

adventures in cisland

The queue in the Co-Op was short, and fairly loose, so I was able to exchange looks with the young woman who was nominally behind me; she was staring intently at me and smiling, so I responded with an interrogative expression.

"I keep thinking you look like a man, but you're a woman," she said. "I keep seeing you around. We've got a man at the school I work at. He was called John and then he said he wanted to be called Helen. He makes me laugh, cos he was a man and now he's a woman."
"How do you think she feels when you laugh?"
"It's funny though, she was a man and now she's a woman"

I'd reached the checkout by then. I paid and waved a goodbye to her as I went to leave.

The woman behind her in the queue hurried across and said "I hope you don't mind, I heard what she was saying, I hope you weren't offended; she's got..." (and here she went into pretend whisper mode with exaggerated mouth movements) "...LEARNING DIFFICULTIES"

"Oh I don't mind at all; I like people who are straightforward; much better than whispering behind your back..."

"I think you're VERY BRAVE"

I finally got away.

I called into the pub where they sell my maps, to drop off some new ones. At a table outside was a friend and a few other people I know. One man is effusively friendly. "Dru! Nice to see you sir! Get yourself a drink, put it on my tab."

I wince, but say nothing. He introduces me to two women at the table, misgendering me again and again and then correcting himself. It's a game some people play, just to show that they KNOW MY BIG SECRET (which isn't one I really try to hide of course). I suspect that they also think that claiming friendship with a tranny makes them extra cool.

Hey ho.

I couldn't face having The Conversation, so walked away without a word, went back to my boat and had an early night, tucked up with Humphry Clinker.

Sunday 22 July 2018

Floating Market, Bradford on Avon, July 28 - 29 2018

What it is
For the third year running, there'll be a floating market on the Kennet and Avon Canal at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire. Artists, craftspeople and traders who live and work on the canal will have their stuff on display and for sale by their boats. There will also be stalls for other traders. And music and stuff.

photo: Deborah Harvey

Where it is

Bradford on Avon is in the valley of the Avon south of Bath. Lots of it is too steep and inaccessible for cars, so it's good for walking around. Check out the medieval tithe barn, the saxon church, the maze of twisty little passages (all different), the ancient packhorse bridge over the Avon. But better still,  it's also the hub of the Kennet and Avon Canal's West End, and there's a lock, a basin and boatyard, and lots of boating action. And pubs and cafes too, right by the towpath.

Here's the canal on Google Maps Streetview. Get here and you'll have no problem locating the market; it's on the wharf below the bridge towards the tithe barn. Follow the noise!

How to get there

The railway station is close to the canal; if you're driving, there are car parks down by station and the river Avon; and another car park right by the canal, off Moulton Drive.

Saturday 21 July 2018

smouldering resentments

Yesterday a man walked by talking in a Complaining Voice into his telephone. “...they’ve got a fire on the towpath; it’s making a LOT of smoke and it’s hard to get past”

Ten minutes later we hear a NEENAH NEENAH and a fire engine appears on the little road that runs below the canal alongside the Avon.
I cycle along to Smelly Bridge where a solitary fireman dressed in all the gear is looking all about. And looking a bit harassed, to be honest. Those firefighters' suits are not the best wear for a heatwave.

“You’re looking for a fire aren’t you”
“It’s just along there”

A couple of boaters had been doing some home improvements and burning off the old wood in a furnace that was previously a washing machine drum.
The fireman and boaters seemed in perfect agreement that the call-out had been a bit of an overreaction, and he went on his way.
There are some spectacularly untidy boats along thus bit of the canal (heck, you’ve seen my boat?) -and Bongo George’s encampment at Smelly Bridge is very much disapproved of by folk who would like to keep Wiltshire a game reserve for the polite middle classes...

Friday 15 June 2018

several hares

A busy few days drawing things. One was a leaping hare, a request from a friend. It was supposed to be in tones suggestive of ink; that deep bluey-black. First attempt looked like this
.. which I then scanned and toned, but was really not happy with it; it does look a bit odd, don't it? I did this hare 

...and then tweaked the colour

...and then tweaked it a bit more...

...which I was fairly happy with; but one of the folk it's for preferred things about the first hare, so I went back to it and worked on it a bit more, and to be honest I now prefer that one too 
...which is very cheery, because if they'd settled for the previous picture then I'd not have got round to it.

All this while, we're moored next to a big field where up to five hares can be seen dashing around having hare fun, which is good, and a reminder that you should never stop trying to capture that hare-ness in pictures, because it is so very wild.

And then the next floating market is coming up, and I thought it would be nice to try to come up with a simple design to promote it; the picture for my first poster two years ago was fun to do, but very busy; see? I drew this (it's called a Buckby can, and is the sort of thing that traditional boats tend to have on their roofs, adorned with flowers and castles). This is the ink drawing

...which I then scanned and coloured

...and again I quite like it, so hurrah.