Monday 30 December 2019

the deer departed

Andy held the drowned deer in place with his boathook, while I lowered the rope noose into the water and slipped it under its hindlegs and up round its chest. It was easy to haul out; a muntjac buck, the size of a large dog. I laid it on the edge of the canal, its head lowered over the cill. Water pooled from its coat and dribbled from its mouth, pink-tinged. 

"It was thrashing about at the side of the boat, about six o'clock," said Andy. "Look at those fangs! I didn't want to get too close to it, you never know what it might do." 

It would still have been pitch dark at six, and it must have been hard for him to think of anything helpful to do. Sad, but so it goes. It was now half past eight, and the deer was very dead, but only very recently so. There were two good reasons to pull the body out. One is that a dead deer becomes a deerberg, which nobody likes floating by or, worse, wedging itself by your boat and stinking, as happened to me a couple of years back. The other is that it is potentially good eating. 

"Is Jim about?" I looked up to where Jim's big sailing boat is moored. 

"He went off down to Avoncliff a while ago"

Jim had been around to my boat earlier on, while it was still dark, and had a coffee. He's run out of gas again and I make good coffee. He'd been delivering firewood in his dinghy yesterday, and left the dinghy down by the aqueduct. He'd gone to fetch it back and scout for fallen timber. I tried his mobile. 

"Jim? We've just pulled a muntjac out of the canal. Any use to you?"

"Maybe James could stick it in his freezer.  I'll be along soon."

We laid the deer on the grass verge of the towpath, and I went back to fixing the brakes on my bike. Presently came the creaking of oars and Jim's little dinghy appeared. He wasn't entirely happy about the deer. "People get the wrong idea," he said. I know what he means. This stretch of the canal is very popular with folk walking their dogs or strolling down to the Cross Guns at Avoncliff, and to some of them, we boaters and our decidedly lived-in boats are unsightly and perhaps threatening. I do try not to be judgemental myself, and of course often fail; it can be funny overhearing the very wrong-headed things that Respectable Folk say about us as they teeter round the muddy puddles in their unsuitable footwear.

Jim bound the hindlegs and threw the rope over a convenient branch; we hauled the deer up to a convenient height, and tied it off. Then Jim ran the knife down the belly, and pulled out the guts with a crowbar. The stomach split, and a mass of cud oozed out, looking remarkably like pesto. The organs were vivid and shiny, and I felt a bit sick. Jim wasn't too happy either. "I'm sorry, mate" he told the deer as he scooped. "I blooming hate this," he told me. "James is much better at this stuff."

James is an arch-Freegan, and he and Jim are regular scourers of skips outside supermarkets; one is a particular favourite because the staff put the edibles on top to make it easier for them to forage. Sometimes the haul is so big that already fairly-ripe sausages get too high even for them before they've finished them.  But there was no sign of James. He's not an early riser.

The horrid business was done, and I got my stirrup pump and we sluiced the body cavity. Then Jim fetched a spade and scooped the guts and numbles down the slope, and tied a sack around the carcass so that it wasn't so obviously a deer hanging in a tree. But with the head sticking out at the bottom, it wasn't entirely successful, as the startled remarks I heard through the day demonstrated. The entrails were a sure hit with passing dogs, though; you could see them being suddenly galvanised by the enticing stink, and dashing off down the bank, utterly oblivious to the useless calls of their owners. 

Sadly, nobody asked me about the deer. I had my answer ready-made; "Oh yes, it's our midwinter offering to Cernunnos."

Friday 27 December 2019

the year of the sloth

you can see some of the desk, be fair
The weather turned wet and windy again and I skulked inside moving things around. I've been given a 12V fridge which has been occupying the forward welldeck for a few weeks now, making getting on and off the boat rather tricky. 

not my boat, Jim's boat
Sometimes accepting something daft and easily fixed as normal creeps up on you (me. I mean me) so rapidly that it becomes habitual. 

Thus the squeezing past the fridge. 

Anyway, I finally cleared enough space along the cabin to move it to its intended new home, under the counter in the galley. And lo, it fit in perfectly as though made for the job.

Next thing will be to wire it up and add a solar panel to keep it in electricity, in the summer months when there is both sunshine and a need for a fridge. You can often tell who doesn't have a fridge, or who at least doesn't run it in winter, by the containers of milk sitting on the gunwales as you pass their boat. 

Full of ideas for new pictures. Rather worried when I saw online that someone has painted a picture similar in intent to one I had recently sketched out. If I do paint my pic, hopefully it will be sufficiently my own not to be thought to be trespassing on someone else's territory. 

I know some artists and craftspeople whose work has been actively plagiarised, and know how bad that is, and how upsetting and annoying it is when it happens... then there are other ideas that come along and it's good and interesting to see what other people do with them too. I'm pretty sure when I did my Uffington Hare picture,

 I'd not seen anyone else do anything like it; and it in turn was a development of the idea behind the Questing Vole picture (the idea in question being that if animals look at the stars, they see things differently to us)

and I used it again in my newest pic... 
...Etsy, the online art shop I use, made *helpful marketing suggestions* in a post last week. Apparently sloths are going to be the next big thing. Get drawing then!

Thursday 26 December 2019

braver notes; some early morning winter birdsong

Christmas morning began with a bright pass from the International Space Station just before 0700. The sky was clear and starry, and the valley was still as it ever gets, with only the sound of the weir at Avoncliff half a mile away. By 0715 the birds' day shift was beginning to clock on. In the first video there you can hear the robin, woodpigeon, crows and a moorhen. You can also hear the tawny owls, both early in the recording with a 'tuwhoo...... tut tuwhoo' and towards the end a 'keewick'.

Fifteen minutes later the song thrushes were singing, as they have been on most mornings here lately, unless it's really cold.

...which reminds me, here's Thomas Hardy' poem The Darkling Thrush, read by Deborah Harvey.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

refloating a boat at Avoncliff

Alice and Emily, the Julian House traveller outreach workers, went by on the canal ministry boat Litania, handing out Christmas boxes as they went, and with Fairytale of New York blasting out to announce their passing. Presently the music receded into the distance and they crossed the Avoncliff Aqueduct on their way to Bath.

Then I got a message from Alice; there's a boat that had sunk on Saturday, just beyond Avoncliff, and the owner was back there trying to refloat it. Alice is one of the Floaty Boat group, whose aim is to keep people in their floating homes. There are boaters with experience in salvage work, and there's equipment to use on occasions like this. As I was not far away I cycled down to see if we could help.

Bob, whose boat it is, was there with some friends and a hired pump. They couldn't get the pump started, and had already phoned the hire company, who were sending someone out. With a bit of tweaking, we got the pump got going, but it was really not very effective, as you see in the video; it's a reciprocating diaphragm pump, and may well be good for moving slurry, but doesn't really push through the volume of water you want for a salvage job.

So I cycled up to the Wharf to collect the centrifugal pump and other odds and sods that I thought may be handy, in my bike trailer. It might not seem the fastest way of doing it, but along the canal sometimes can't beat a bike and trailer for speed and efficiency.

Even so, by the time I got back with all the gear, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the boat was thoroughly afloat and buoyant. Bob was pretty buoyant too, even though he was soaked through. The chap from the hire company had brought along a huge petrol driven pump of the correct sort, and that was that. 

Bob's still got to replace or hunt down the stuff like solar panels that either fell off or drifted off when the boat sank; and everything is wet through. 

But it's a start anyway.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

distant orbits

If you're walking along a towpath on a cold, wet night and you see a boat moored up looking all remote and bleak and godforsaken, you may not realise that inside is warm and snug and there's somebody in there enjoying the peace and solitude. Which is what this new picture is about, I suppose. It's set in the Vale of Pewsey; there's the Alton Barnes white horse, and Woodborough Hill, and the church at All Cannings. The interior is not any particular boat, but the dog is Sam's dog Pirate, who's been a guest in Eve in the past, and the cat is Chris and Jinny's Secretary Cat. The fox is the fox's own.

I've been down with the flu, and am finally recovering, though it is remarkably persistent. At least I've got a decent boat. Sherry Jim's big seagoing thing lets the rain in, and he's run out of gas and was cooking something on a fire on the towpath when I passed him yesterday.

We're all a bit numb from the election results, and the general sentiment that canal people are expressing is that we must all look after each other. Which we already do, but I think that harder times are a-coming. But there we go, no point going on about it. I've already muted a few folk on Facebook who are still posting angry stuff about the injustice of it all, and the phrase 'and so it begins' is getting a bit overused, tbh.

I cleaned my specs the other day, and in the ensuing period of ultra-clarity of vision, was struck by how much a cream cracker looks like the moon looked like when we watched it on telly as the Apollo mission flew over it. Try it yourself; move the cream cracker past your nose while saying 'we come in peace for all mankind' 

Thursday 5 December 2019

medieval brigands and robins

It's perishing cold on the canal, with freezing fog hanging in the steeply wooded Avon valley between Bradford on Avon and Bath. Everyone's got the canal lurgie that always spreads from boat to boat, as though it were carried by the foggy miasma through which we stumble, just as it used to be thought that the ague or malaria were spread by the damp air. What with that and the mud, it's all a bit medieval brigand, I can tell you.

Talking of medieval brigands, Sherry Jim's been wandering around looking cold and sorry for himself. His big seagoing boat had neither stove for heating nor stove for cooking, and a boat can get blooming cold without either, let me tell you. (I usually let my stove go out overnight, and it's a bit of a trial waiting for it to heat up again in the before-dawn dark). I lent him my little Primus stove to cook on, and he found a woodburner being sold remarkably cheaply, and trundled past with it in a wheelbarrow, so all is well.

A group of ramblers (they're like walkers but radiate self-righteousness) came by the other day; several of them fanned their hands before their faces and coughed theatrically, as they passed the smoke from my neighbour's boat. "It's supposed to be a SMOKELESS ZONE" said one. "It's smokeless fuel" I replied. But really, what the hell are we supposed to do to stay warm? -these entitled sods will no doubt drive their cars home to their centrally-heated houses... I guess they just don't like seeing liveaboards and our impolite lives.

I drove over to Bristol to pick up some new cards that Minuteman Press had been printing for me, including the one at the top there, of Caen Hill in the snow 

Driving up Brassknocker Hill I emerged briefly into sunlight. Funny to think that down there is the canal and everyone's huddled in the cold with no escape from it. I stopped to take photos; with only my phone, they don't look particularly wonderful, but so it goes. It was a magical sight.

I also picked up my post, which included a copy of Jane Russ' new Robin Book from Graffeg Press, which includes a couple of my pictures and my round robin poem, and some terrific work from some admirable poets and artists, including Deborah Harvey, Tamsin Abbott, Hannah Willow and Karin Celestine. Very seasonal! Makes an ideal Christmas present!

There is one small typo in my poem there, but what book comes without a typo? -when I took delivery of Drawn Chorus, I spotted the typo the moment I opened the first copy. It's just one of those immutable laws of publishing.


Saturday 30 November 2019

boaters hey

Lorks its cold! Which made things very atmospheric along the canal as evening fell and we prepared for our great LIGHT SWITCHING ON and singing and partying, on the eve of the Winter Fayre. Up from the town rose the sound of their own official light switching on, officiated by someone who'd once been on the telly apparently. And they had mains electricity and amplifiers, so I'm sure it was all very bright. I stuck a light bulb in a 25L drum and hoist it up my bargepole where shortly beforehand the EU flag had been fluttering (or hanging limply, it wasn't very breezy) and lo, it were an the full moon had risen at the wrong time and the wrong place.

And as the night grew darker, the Cross Guns Singers belted out an assortment of trad seasonal songs and Jim Purry used his homemade bellows to get the forge roaring for warmth and metal bending; and there was hot chestnuts and mulled wine and curry from the Wolf Kitchen and lots of steaming breath and mud, and Sherry Jim was ratted, and just for the moment all was as it should be and well with the world.

We'll be here all weekend! On the Lower Wharf on Bradford on Avon.

Friday 29 November 2019

in praise of the rigger boot

Let’s hear it for the rigger boot
The perfect place to stick your foot
When winter brings the endless rain
And towpaths turn to mud again.
They’re warm and dry and stylish eke
(Well, if we’re talking boater chic)
Go! Splash in puddles! Cause a nuisiance
With an air of insouciance

I'd been looking at rigger boots back in the autumn with an eye to getting a pair; "Don't be daft" said my sensible side (I do have one somewhere); "Your para boots are fine."

Then blow me if I didn't find a perfectly good-as-new pair by the bins in Bradford on Avon. It's a boater thing; if you've got something that you don't need but has some use in it, leave it by the bins for someone else. Sometimes you'll find treasure. Cacky old toilets covered in shite, maybe not so much. Some folk are rather naughty, to be quite honest.

Never  mind. Happy boots! Dry feet! Good morning!

Wednesday 27 November 2019

the Kennet and Avon Floating Fayre, Winter 2019

This year's canal winter fayre takes place on the Lower Wharf, Bradford on Avon, on the weekend of 30 Nov- 1 Dec. There'll also be a lighting-up on Friday evening, and probably some singing too.

There'll be artwork from me, silverwork from Anna Berthon, cool vinyl on sale from the Record Deck, weird stuff from the Goblyn Portal, mulled wine from the Dawdling Dairy, ace vegan takeaways from Wolf Kitchen, and all sorts of other arty crafty shit.

There'll also be the Buskers Stage, where some of the fine musicians of the canal will be performing.

Here's a link to the Facebook page for the event, which will enable you to get more info.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

not a solicitor

I've moved westward. Now the view has widened out to the big field where you can sometimes see hares. There's a barn owl that patrols the sides of the canal here too, so a while after the sun had dropped below the horizon I went out to watch for it. I was just in time to see it wheel round in the air and drop onto something in the field, and I watched in vain for it to rise again; it was either happily eating the prey there on the ground or had flown away low so that I couldn't see it against the gloom of the hill.

But I did see the two deer who'd emerged from the hedge and were walking softly across the horizon.

My time at Sells Green was mostly peaceful, though I was interrupted on Sunday by a hireboat speeding past my window as I sat at my desk idly sketching out ideas. Knowing that at that speed, it was going to clout good and proper against the swingbridge a little further on, I went out just in time to see the helmsman go hard astern. Water boiling from the prop, the boat came back as fast as it had gone forward, clouting the stern of my boat as it came.

Before I had a chance to say anything, the bloke on the tiller shouted at me that I shouldn't be moored where I was, and that my boat was a tip. I started filming the incident, in case it turned even nastier. He objected loudly to having his picture taken, covering his face with his arm. "You can't take my picture, it's against the law!"

"Oh yes I can, and oh no it isn't"

"I'll report you!"

"Go ahead and welcome. I'll be reporting this to the hire company"

A man on the towpath, whom I assumed was one of the hireboat party, approached and reiterated that I was breaking the law by photographing the man on the boat.

"No I'm not"

"Are you a solicitor?"


"Well, I am. Is your boat damaged? I'd like to come on board and take photos of it"

"You are absolutely not coming onto my boat"

"Well, there you are then" he said, as though to prove something.

And off they all went. I was shaking by this time. So I went below and fired off my email. And then vented on the canal Facebook group, where a friend commented that they'd been pranged by the same boat earlier, down at Semington.

The next morning, I got an email back from the hire company; 
Our hirers are due back later this morning and I will personally be pointing out the error of their ways.
Approaching at bridge at such speed is unacceptable, apart from the fact they should have been going slowly past your boat. To then lose control and proceed to abuse you, just shows that they are not the sort of customers that we wish to build our business upon.
I am glad that no real damage has been inflicted and will update you on their response later on.

This is one of the better hire companies, so I trust this response.

Presently, a couple came by. It was the self-identified solicitor and his wife. 

He apologised; his wife had seen and heard the entire incident and told him that the hireboat was in the wrong. They'd been walking their dog on the hill and had been opening the swingbridge as a courtesy for the boat.

I accepted his apology, and failed to point out that he was wrong about the law on privacy.  Not to mention the underlying assumptions that went behind his actions... 

Tuesday 12 November 2019

hot water bottles and Macs

We've had the first frosts, and the last of the ash leaves are settling on the roofs of boats that were rash enough to moor under them; ash trees seem to go for the big leaf dump all at once, and a boat can almost disappear under them. I think the cold got into my MacBook; it seemed to boot up, but there was no display, so I used my iPhone to research solutions to a broken screen, and got nowhere. Until after a week or so, it just came back to life again while I was trying a few random combinations of opening and closing the lid while pressing buttons. 

So now I'm treating it very gingerly, and making it hot water bottles on cold nights, while for own part I simply huddle under two duvets and a quilt, and wrap fleeces round my head to keep it warm.

Into Bristol yesterday to pick up the latest prints; now the Crofton barn owl has been added to the Christmas card designs in my shop, and I've got a couple of prints of it as well. They're in the Etsy shop whose link is there on the right hand side of this page, hopefully.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

blow the wind easterly

This is the latest picture from the drawing board. It's a night scene at Crofton, the pumping station that uses the original beam engines to lift water from Wilton Water to the summit of the Kennet and Avon Canal. It's wild country round there, with a remote feel to it that came as a surprise to me when I first went that way on the canal, having previously thought of Wiltshire as somewhere to the side of an A road or the M4 where London commuters lived. Ha. How very wrong I was!

I sort of recycled the owl from my previous picture. When barn owls are hunting, they usually do it close to the ground of course, where the voles are. But I've seen them sometimes go high high up, on their way from one place to another. 

The wind's been blowing from the east these last few days, and it's miserably chilly out there. But I've got the stove going and all is cosy on board Eve. The Army have been practicing with their big guns on Salisbury Plain, and this wind brings the sound right to us, making the boat rattle ever so gently. I'm moored in Devizes, at the top of the Caen Hill locks, and on misty damp mornings it's like being back in Wales, up on the mountain, except that these days I've got better clothes for keeping the weather out. And only five minutes away is the town, one of my favourite towns, with a particularly good bookshop. And I'm not just saying that because they've just put my Wiltshire White Horses map in a window display...

Thursday 24 October 2019

up the funnel

Today’s Inktober picture prompt is ‘dizzy’. This is back when I worked on Havelet, the BCIF ferry operating between Weymouth and the Channel Islands. We were in Falmouth dry dock for the annual refit, and the Chiefy, Jim Nelson, was binding about how the Irish Ferries boats alongside had beautifully painted funnel exhausts. So eventually I volunteered to paint ours to shut him up.

I took a tin of aluminium paint up the ladder that went from the engine room all the way to the top of the funnel, and lifted the hatch. The top was flat with a rim of a couple of inches. The floor of the dry dock seemed a very long way below. Well, tbf it was a long way below.

I hastily slapped on a coat of shiny silver paint on the rusty, sooty exhausts, and went back down, trying not to think of that drop...

Moments after the engines fired up, the exhausts were black and sooty again.

But at least I’d shut Jim up. For five minutes, anyway.

Monday 21 October 2019

Samhain fire

Here's a new picture, a party round the fire at Diggers, up near the Dundas aqueduct. Fires are a good way to socialise along the canal, what with narrowboats being a bit cramped inside. Well, mine is, for sure, you can hardly move without falling over bike bits and landing on art materials.

The weather's getting cooler, and the days shorter, as often happens at this time of the year. Yesterday it took ages to get the stove going properly, because I was using unseasoned willow as kindling. I'd chopped it up on the side of the towpath at Bradford on Avon; the tree had fallen last winter, and I'd misidentified it as a field maple, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. The wood absorbed the heat from the firelighters, and hung around sulking and glowering like a Tory politician who's been found out.

Saturday 12 October 2019

the querulous tawny owl

Off along the Vale of Pewsey to drop off some of the new white horse maps at the Barge Inn at Honey Street, as they're pretty much at the epicentre of Wiltshire white horse country and you can see the Alton Barnes horse from the canal side there. It's also crop circle central, and has a terrific painting on the ceiling. If you haven't been there, get on down!

It's nice to see the place busy and welcoming again, after the recent change of ownership. Peter on Grey Hare had just arrived and found a mooring bang outside the pub, after setting off from where he'd been moored next to me at Bishops Cannings that morning. It was a wild and wet day, and just the moment to have a glass of something to ward off the chill.

Peter in happier weather, carving a walking stick

Back to the boat; I parked up in the village and transferred a bag of coal to my bike trailer. The gale peppered me with rain as I crossed the big open field to the canal. Blooming rain's relentless. As I type this in the before-dawn dark, it's spattering down on the roof above me as it has been all night, and all around the boat right now there are tawny owls quavering to each other; "How long? How bloody long?" It must be hard times for owls; I know that barn owls at least suffer in the rain because their feathers aren't water-resistant like most birds, because they're designed to fluff out and deaden sound. So sometimes in rainy weather, you'll see barn owls hunting in daylight in between showers.

the barn owl at Diggers, near the Dundas Aqueduct

Friday 11 October 2019

hare's ears and horses

A busy day in Bristol yesterday, which meant an early departure from the Vale of Pewsey to get there before the main morning traffic started. Fortunately, my sleeping pattern is all gone to pot at the moment, falling asleep with the dusk and getting up long before dawn. So I was bundling my stuff onto the bicycle in the dark at 4:30 or so, and pushing it along the very wet and muddy and slippery towpath. But the sky was clear, and the view to the south unimpeded and free of lights of any sort. So there was a clear view of Lepus, the hare, there below Orion. It wasn't quite one of those nights where the air is clear as crystal, the Milky Way glowing and the stars sparkling bright; but the hare's ears, not the brightest of the stars in the constellation, were clear to be seen and you can see why it got its name.

And so I was parked up in Bristol before 6 o'clock, and tucked myself up in a very warm and bulky parka, and went to sleep for a while, waking again for a breakfast of croissants from Asda and coffee from Macdonalds, enjoyed sitting in my safely parked car while watching the traffic jam that stretched out of sight in all directions. 

I picked up the new Wiltshire white horse maps from Minuteman Press in Bedminster, and jolly nice they are too. You'll find them in my Etsy shop should you want one.

Monday 7 October 2019

the White Horses of Wiltshire

This is my new map of Wiltshire's white horses (and of course Uffington, which is in Oxfordshire but I could hardly leave it out now, could I?). It's available from my Etsy shop in various sizes; here's the link to the big version (it comes in A3, A4 and postcard)

 I've taken some liberties with perspective, distance and orientation, because some of the slopes upon which the horses are found are north-facing, and some (well, the Devizes one at least) are so shallow that the horse is considerably foreshortened. Do you draw them as seen from below? From some distance away? From above? It all depends. So it goes. 

My friends made some useful and helpful suggestions for Things To Put On The Map. Without Deborah Harvey's compendious knowledge of West Country history, I'd never have known about the Salisbury Hob-Nob, a hobby horse with hobnails for teeth and a nasty bite. And although to my knowledge the RAF never dropped horses by parachute, only mules by glider, and then only in the Far East in the Burmese jungle, Richard Jones pointed out that one of the most useful gliders in that war was the Airspeed Horsa, many of which took off from Wiltshire airfields on D Day. Which is enough to get it onto the map; I do like drawing aeroplanes. Ditto the Westland Dragonfly up at the top there, suggested by Christine Beckett. There is an obscure horse reference there, and if you can identify it you will win a round of applause. 

There's a couple of artefacts from the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. I went there to find the Romano-British horse and rider brooch found at Cold Kitchen Hill ('thought possibly to have a religious significance', which an archaeologist friend says is what they say when they haven't a clue), but also found the Marlborough Bucket, which was worth the entry fee alone. It's decorated with heads and horses, and is reckoned to be Gaulish work. The Celts apparently used their buckets to binge from (they'd have fitted well into canal society, particularly the society of Sherry Jim, I reckon); and the decorative metalwork would have enclosed the wooden staves of the bucket, which was left as grave goods in a burial near Marlborough. Anyway, the representation of the horse is interesting to compare with that of Uffington, although Uffington predates the Marlborough Bucket by a considerable time. Probably.

There's Wayland the Smith, outside his smithy, which is a long barrow on top of the North Downs near Uffington. If you leave your horse there with some money, the elusive Wayland will shoe it for you. Best not get on the wrong side of him, though, he might make a drinking vessel out of your skull like he did with Niðhad's sons, though admittedly Niðhad had hamstrung Wayland. The story of Wayland was brought over by the Saxons, so I've given him yellow hair. He features in the Anglo Saxon poem Deor, by the way, each verse of which features someone having a truly horrid time, and then ends with the refrain Þæs ofereode,  þisses swa mæg - 'that came to an end, this may well do so too.' A bleak sort of comfort, but one that I've recited to myself fairly often in hard times. (If you want to recite it too, then þ is runic 'thorn' and pronounced 'th', and all letters are sounded; thus 'ofereode' is 'over-eh-odour')

Some horses had makeovers; so there's been a horse at Westbury for longer than the present one may suggest, with its Stubbs-ish appearance dating from 1778. And some are relocated; so the Devizes white horse is on a hill around the corner from the earlier one which had a far more imposing position on Roundway Hill, from where it would have been visible for miles across the vale of the Wiltshire Avon. The Alton Barnes horse was inspired by envy of that at Cherhill to the north, and its construction was complicated by the chap employed to do it scarpering with the money. 

Coincidentally, the white horse at Alton Barnes, which is less than five miles from where I'm moored right now, is in the news this morning after an Extinction Rebellion logo appeared on it. Apparently it's being removed even as I write. 

Anyway, there we go. I think I'm going to have to scan the picture again, there's a line across it where there's a dead spot on the scanner. This picture is five scans stitched together, and it's a damn nuisance when something slips through like that. And it's pouring down now, and to get the computer up and running I need to stick the generator out on the back deck, and then put a brolly over it. And that can wait till daylight, and as there's a neighbouring boat I can't run the genny before 8 o'clock anyway. 

And then I can send it off to the printers. And tidy up the damn boat. Honestly, it goes to pot when I'm working on a picture.

Sunday 6 October 2019

failing to identify birds

After a few days alongside in Devizes I headed out into the wild Wiltshire wolds. The weather's turned cold and damp, which is just right for skulking inside the boat and getting on with drawing. I'm working on a map of the Wiltshire white horses, and hope to finish it today. So more of that later...

There are still swallows around; it comes as a slight surprise to see them, now that I've got used to it being fairly seriously autumn. And passing the big field where the wheat is grown, the one with the kestrels' oak in it, it is now ploughed and harrowed, and there was a flock of small birds that I wasn't able to idnetify. So I went back with the binoculars and camera, and ...they weren't there any more. So I'll say they were bramblings, because why not?

Cycling is a challenge up here on the long pound when the ground isn't dry. Even with the big knobbly tyres on my Overbury bicycle I managed to fall off right outside Nipper's boat; then on the way back again I did the same thing in exactly the same place. He found it highly amusing, anyway.

Friday 27 September 2019

stand by engines

Journey's end for today, and the flight ahead for tomorrow
It was time to head up the locks to Devizes. And it was about time I did a thorough check of the propulsion system anyway. So I started by checking the oil and coolant levels in the engine. I'm lucky that I've got a dedicated engine room, which makes working on it relatively easy, and it's safe out of the weather; many boats have their engines under deck boards at the back, and they can get all manky and rusty with rainwater dribbling on them.

Back, then, to the boatman's cabin (the small space between the engine room and the afterdeck) and remove the steps to access the weedhatch. First, turn the prop shaft and make sure it's free turning and with no fore-and-aft play. 

Now, wriggle under the afterdeck into the back of the hull. The weedhatch seals in the inspection chamber at the bottom of which is the propeller. You need to be able to get at it to clear the propeller of debris; without the hatch you'd have to go underwater yourself to get at it.

Here's the hatch removed, with the cavitation plate at the bottom (or the top, in this picture). The cavitation plate keeps a smooth profile on the underside of the hull so that the propeller doesn't turbulate, or at least no more than can be helped.

You can now see down to the propeller. Or at least, you could if the water weren't so murky. Nothing for it but to roll up the sleeves and get your arm down there.

There was a big piece of plastic wrapped around the propeller shaft; that would explain the vibration I was getting last time I moved the boat. While I was down there, I turned the prop and examined it for dents.

And finally a turn on the stern gland greaser. This lubricates the packing that stops water coming in where the prop shaft runs out of the boat into the water.

And now it's time to fire up the engine!