Wednesday 26 June 2019

a surly hireboater

I moved the boat up to Bradford on Avon ready for the launch of Poets Afloat, of which more in the next post. And then I spent the weekend on the wharf, with my pictures and cards books set out, and the weather was hot (and rather uncomfortably humid), and everyone seemed to be out of sorts. So I made a few sales and met some nice people, but not very many. 

And then a hireboat moored next to me came adrift when the pin holding the stern line was tugged out by the pull of a passing boat; so I scrambled onto the bow, made my way aft and prepared to throw the line to Rustic Mark, who was passing. 

And as I swung it, I slipped and fell down the stairwell, and falling forward, narrowly avoided going overboard.

Hey ho. We got the boat secured anyway. 

The bloke who'd hired it returned some while later, and I happened to be out painting my bike. He gave me a very surly hello, so, not to be slighted, I said "Your boat came adrift; we repinned it."

"The ground's really loose here" he said, and that was his sole acknowledgement. 

He then went and pulled out the pin and hammered it in somewhere else. 

The next morning he set off, ordering his partner about in a very surly way indeed. She and I exchanged a few friendly remarks as she untied the bow rope; they're spending over a week more cruising. Sounds like hell for her.

An aching in my side got progressively worse. I guess I've gone and cracked a rib again. Bloody nuisance, because I'm due into dry dock in less than a fortnight, and was intending to do the blacking myself; but going by how I feel now and how I felt for ages last time this cracked rib business happened, I was seriously worried that I'd be able to do it, and it seems unfair to ask others to help when I'm not able to do much myself.

So I went and talked with Ted at the dry dock, and they'll be doing the job for me. 

The pics are from last year, and not my boat, by the way!

Tuesday 25 June 2019

the Forbury Loop, Reading

I was asked to map the Kennet navigation in Reading, by Graham Puddephatt of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, to coincide with the advent of the KACT's new trip boat Matilda, and the Reading Water Fest. So I did, and here it is. There's a lot of history buried or otherwise hidden away in that bit of Reading. You can get a copy of the map from my Etsy shop here

...mind you, sometimes it seems like a Berkshire or Hampshire town that can't claim a connection with Jane Austen is the unusual one...

the old Simonds Brewery stables are still there, next to the County Lock

Sir John Knill was one of those awkward types who kept the navigation open in the dark days of British Waterways trying to run them down. His son Jenkyn is still highly active on the West End of the canal, here he is on Lady Lena, in Bathampton

...poor old Captain Scott. By the way, Burberry, who also feature on the map because they made trench coats for the British Army during the First World War, supplied Scott's successful rival Roald Amundsen. 

Friday 14 June 2019

Poets Afloat - book launch

Thursday 20th June
The Lock Inn, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1LE

We'll be launching Poets Afloat, the new collection of canal poetry, on Thursday evening. There'll be readings from the poets (of course) and musical interludes from acclaimed duo Devil's Doorbell. The Lock Inn is a very congenial spot next to the Kennet and Avon Canal, and we'll be out in the garden (or under the pergolas if the weather's iffy). 

Free entry, of course. 

20% of profits from the book go to the Floaty Boat Fund

Tuesday 4 June 2019

warbling in the night

work in progress

I was cruising up to Semington last month, and as I approached Marsh Farm near Hilperton I heard a sudden burst of birdsong. "A Cetti's warbler?" I wondered, and slipped the engine into neutral and coasted, listening intently. There was no repeat performance though.

Next morning I cycled down to Bradford on Avon to pick up the car, and paused for a while at Marsh Farm, but no Cetti's did I hear. Discussing it on the canal Facebook page, though, a friend moored at Whaddon, half a mile or so on from Marsh Farm, sent me a recording he'd made, and lo! It was a Cetti's warbler. The song is very distinctive; hugely emphatic, with an initial introductory note and a pause, like the HWAET that precedes an Old English poem, then a sudden quickfire burst of notes, repeated a few times.

Now I'm back down below Bradford, at one of my favourite spots; Horse Field, looking up from my desk at the hillside where at this moment two crows are swaggering about like Wild West gunslingers who've just done ridden into town, and the rabbits are keeping a wary eye on them; a few months ago I saw a crow attack and kill a rabbit over there, though the long grass spared me the gory details. Two mornings ago I glanced up to see a roebuck trotting down the hill towards me. 

It stepped into the copse at the bottom of the field and presumably stayed there all day. Unless you see where deer have holed up, you'll almost certainly be entirely unaware of their presence; three roe deer spent the day in the woods opposite the boat a while ago, and it was only because I saw them arrive that I could recognise the white tails and the occasional flicker of movement.

Last time I was here I'd heard a mysterious bird in the middle of the night (or at least it felt like that), and wondered for a while, then forgot about it. But I heard it again a few nights ago, and made a recording of it. It's quite far away, so you'll have to listen carefully. It's a Cetti's warbler. Two things stopped me identifying it the first time round; one was that the song is much shorter than the usual song, and the bigger one was that I had got used to the idea that there are no Cetti's warblers around here. Over the last few summers I'd only ever heard them east of the Bruce Tunnel, between Pewsey and Hungerford. Anyway, have a quick listen.

I do try not to make assumptions, but often fail, and the assumptions can get in the way of learning something new. Hence my failure to recognise this bird the first time I heard it. I did get annoyed when someone else did it to me a while ago on Twitter; when they mentioned the rarity of water voles I remarked on the number of times I've seen them on the canal, and she replied "lots of people think they've seen water voles when they're actually rats." Uh huh.

The brevity of its song here seems to be characteristic of it singing in the dark; it begins between 0230 and 0300, long before any other bird around here (though sedge warblers can and will sing all night). There's a handy site called xeno-canto, where you can hear all sorts of bird sounds, and a night-singing Cetti's in a recording there sounds just like the one I heard. In the daytime, by the way, it goes back to the full song, but it's so far away (down by the river) and so short and episodic, that it tends to get drowned out by the noise and bustle of the daytime canal.

On the mystery bird front, here's something that Liz Williamson heard at Stourhead. Had me flummoxed, but I wondered if it was a jay, because jays often mimic other birds; I've heard them do a convincing buzzard, heron, and even (in Bristol, near the zoo) howler monkeys. Behold, xeno-canto turned up a recording of a jay sounding just like this. What is it mimicking, though? -sounds like a Scops owl?