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!

Wednesday 25 September 2019

lots of horses in Devizes

Being as how it was pelting it down yesterday, I took the brolly and went into Devizles to hunt down horses in the Museum. I found that they're making a Big Thing of Eric Ravilious, now that they've got his rough draft of a Puffin book he was working on before his sudden death in an aircraft in Iceland. There's a book out, an imagining of how it would have been, with some of his pictures in it. It's a well done book, but at £15 I shall have to think about it.

They're planning a Rav exhibition too, and fundraising for the £5000 that they apparently need...
I mentioned that I was working on my own white horses map, and the nice woman at the desk waved over at the tea towel one that they already have, and one of which I already have. I showed her my canal maps. "Oh, they're for CHILDREN!" she said, unenthusiastically. 

Hey ho.

I found the horse and rider brooch I'd seen online, and another almost identical, which was nice.

And this odd bird grabbing a... rabbit? -which reminded me a bit of the spoonbill with a frog, at Wells.

the spoonbill and frog at Wells

And the exciting Marlborough Bucket, with some sinuous gee-gees on it, probably Gaulish apparently, and sinister as you like. And photographing them through curved glass meant the photos were rubbish. I may have to go back with the sketchbook. After all, I qualify for entry concessions, as I am now ANCIENT.

Saturday 21 September 2019

hunting the starlingerie

As I was a-walking one fine autumn morning,
I heard the reeds crackle with the starlings at play,
And I goofed with the camera and missed their departure, 
as they rose in one body and all flew away.

Then a fox in the field was a-leaping for mouses, 
and frisking its tail in the meadowsweet's dew
And what with the faffing and pressing wrong buttons, 
I succeeded in failing to film the fox too.

So here's my boat, and the silent reed beds, and a culvert fox-red with rust because there's iron in the hill.

There was an ironworks here once; and John Aubrey investigated the water and reckoned it was as mineral-rich as Bath and proposed a spa; there is a wellhouse somewhere in the village, which I must search out one day, but Seend never quite took off as a resort.

Shame about the missed shots; the starlings were very nice to hear and watch. There's a small but respectable crowd here, enough for a bit of a murmuration. They fly in and gather on the power lines on the hill, then do a quick airshow, and dive abruptly into the reeds. And in the morning, I was stood on the other bank listening to the starlingerie fizzing and crackling away, and tried and failed to film the sudden burst when they all rose up. Maybe I should have just enjoyed the moment.

I was singing Game of Cards as I was walking; you'll find it here, sung by June Tabor and Maddy Prior. The verse I wrote here fits the tune... 

Wednesday 18 September 2019

plenty of bikes

Just a robin singing, and the distant thud of artillery way off on Salisbury Plain. 

And me trying to photograph Lepus, with Orion high over the hill and Sirius risen an hour ago. The camera wasn't cooperating though, the bugger.

There's chilly summer dawns where you feel grateful for the cool after the heat of the day. And there's this morning, where I'm tucked up in my duffel coat and the misty cold is so sharp it hurts your fingers after a while. Winter's on its way and the first frosts can't be far off.

I'm in striking distance of the Caen Hill locks now, but taking a few days here to sort out a few things, like the bikes that need new homes. The top of the boat is raaaather cluttered tbh, and made teetering across it a bit lively as I came up through the locks yesterday. 

Several passers-by commented 'amusingly' about the number of bikes I've got; a passing cyclist said to his partner (I was out of sight down below at the time) "Look at that! Bet they're stolen...".

Presently a walker paused and said "You've got a lot of bikes!" "Yes, I steal them from one town and sell them in the next".

Uncomfortable silence follows.

Bloody pikeys eh

Sunday 15 September 2019

Below Westwood

By early afternoon our boats had got too hot for comfort,
broadside on, unshaded from the sun,
and Phil and I were sitting on the big ash log
that someone years ago had carved a long bench from, and now the bugs were slowly claiming for their own. Small heaps of dust showed where stag beetles had burrowed, and every now and then we’d see an ichneumon consider possibilities as it hovered over them.  
With just the most perfunctory of warning roars
a Hercules flew low and fast above our heads
and banked hard over, following the valley to the south.
Its camouflage was obviously meant for somewhere else,
more desertlike than Wiltshire on an August day.  
The silence crept back in. A buzzard’s call was quite enough
to echo round this dome of sky, the pasture where the sheep
were huddled in the shadow of the tree, the idle boats.
And over Becky Addy Wood we saw a bank of what we thought was mist
blank out the treetops like a fret or haar. And then we smelt the fire;
“Oh, it’s the Amazon!” I said, and for then for just too long
we watched the spreading smoke, and said no more.

I wrote this poem last week, and yesterday was moored in the same place; three of us floating traders have set up a little pop-up event. That's Laura and Owen's cafe boat Wolf, freshly painted and beautifully signwritten by Ginny Barlow. In the late afternoon, smoke drifted again through the woods, making it all very atmospheric, and making the folk moving their boats squint as they tried to see their way ahead.

If you were up on the hill looking down, that'd be my boat there with the smoke coming out of the chimney. Though it's obviously much more autumnal at the moment. Must see if there's any elderberries left on the trees; elderberry cordial is good for keeping winter lurgies at bay.

Saturday 14 September 2019

watching the moon set

Here's a new map I just did, focusing on Newbury. It was interesting exploring the canal along there on my bike; from a boat you sometimes miss lots of details because you're too busy operating the locks and trying not to prang. 

I've just been out watching the moon set. Mist was rising from the water, and owls calling along the valley. It's decidedly autumn now. I was a bit absorbed in doing a commission and other stuff, but now it's time to get some new things done. Funny; finishing a picture takes away that nagging 'you should be getting on with your painting because that's what you're supposed to BE, isn't it?' feeling. For a short while at least.