Monday, 26 July 2021

Stella Maris

That morning we’d been still hove to, round in Mount’s Bay;
Fuel filters had been on the blink, and Knut and Ove looked none too bright
Hunched over coffee in the mess, after an all-nighter.
The forecast by now was looking grim, but we got under way;
Sheltering’s all very well, but you don’t get paid
For fannying around. Beyond Wolf Rock the swells
flung into scudding spindrift. By dusk the wind was off the scale
And us hove to against it. Boy never left the helm, and laid
The bows into the waves that boiled around us.
Below, the crash of crockery and crew came from the mess;
Up here, the groaning in the rigging was the only sound,
A crazy sort of calm in the storm's eye, but calm of sorts it was.
Crackling on Channel 16. Hans, his face lit by the radar
Murmured “Freighter. They're in trouble back there.”

I wrote this about my first trip at sea, on seismic survey vessel Karen Bravo. We were transiting from Germany to Fleetwood in Lancashire, and the evening of 19th December 1981 found us off Land's End in the ferocious storm that saw the destruction of freighter Union Star and the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne, and their crews and passengers.

I was thinking about that night, yesterday when I heard that RNLI crews have been attacked after being criticised by the likes of Nigel Farage for saving the lives of migrants rescued from the Channel. 

Sunday, 25 July 2021

the launch of the Archangel's Way at Belstone, 31st July

The Archangel's Way is a new pilgrim route that winds round the north side of Dartmoor from Brentor to Chagford, I've been doing lots of drawing for the folk down there, and this picture of St Mary's church at Belstone is the latest. And it's at Belstone that the route is being officially launched, on 31st July, with all sorts of activities on offer. Here's the link to some more info on it.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

putting the Grand Western Canal on the map

Maps are potent things in modelling our view of the world. We see it chiefly through the lens of the Mercator's Projection we had on the classroom wall at school. Britain centre top, northern hemisphere uppermost. 

Some folk don't quite get that a map is a model and not the thing itself. Its purpose is to transfer information. The London shown in the Underground map is famously different to the actual terrain. But it does an excellent job of getting you onto the right train.

I knew that when I published my map of the canal network, I'd get the mutterers-into-pewter-tankards, of whom there is absolutely no shortage on the cut, cavilling and carping about things they thought I'd missed out.

This is all very much par for the course. And such cavillings and carpings were made and responded to, if not to the satisfaction of the cavillers and carpers, at least to my own.

More bothersome was an organised pile-on on my Facebook page from enraged Tivertonians, for whom Fridays are obviously not a busy day. They quite rightly pointed out that the Great Western Canal, a short stretch of which remains extant in the vicinity of that Devon town, was not only missing from the map, but hidden under the title.  

I in turn pointed out that I'd omitted lots of small and unconnected canals and waterways in the interests of clarity and relevance.

They did get quite hostile, not just about my map but my personal qualities.

So I have obliged them with a map of their very own.

I'm sure the Grand Western Canal is lovely.  And the Angry People in Local Newspapers Syndrome is not peculiar to Tiverton.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

a Map of the Canals and Waterways of England and Wales

This is the new map I've just finished. I hope it gives a clear and useable view of the canal network without getting bogged down in detail. And it's decorated with local things, and with coastal vessels of the sort that use the coastal and inland waterways.

There's a Thames sailing barge, a dutch tjalk (you get a fair number of those along the canals these days, as they make nice homes), a Severn trow, and a Clyde puffer (like the Vital Spark, in the Para Handy stories). They're all flat-bottomed and in the case of the sailing boats, with leeboards that can be lifted.

But the most useful aspect of the map is that it shows the interconnectednes of the English (and Welsh, if only just) canal system. Some folk are surprised when they learn that I could get from here in Wiltshire up to the very north of England. There are a few places where you may choose the intrepid option of tidal waters, like the lower reaches of the Thames, the Severn between Bristol and Sharpness (I've done that a few times in either direction and it is Jolly Exciting, I can tell you), the Wash, and the Ribble link that was recently added to allow traffic up onto the Lancaster Canal.

The big picture is deliberately lo-res here, but here are some detail images to give you a better idea of what it's like. (I did encounter some folk on a hireboat who'd downloaded and printed off one of my canal maps, which was admittedly ingenious but a bit downheartening when you're trying to make a living on your art...)

You can find the map in A4 and A3 sizes over on my Etsy shop (link on the sidebar there). They're £5 and £8 respectively. I kept the price of the A3 relatively low because it costs so much to post in a tube...

Sunday, 20 June 2021

the deer that nibbles the buttercup

A roe deer appeared across the water, treading lightly through the long grass of Horse Field, and nibbling delicately at the buttercups. I started filming just as this Shostakovich began on Radio 3, and they seem to go together rather well.

After I posted it up on Twitter, somebody told me that I was most likely mistaken, because the flowers were probably crowfoot, and animals don't eat it because it's not good for them.

Never argue with that sort of person on the internet, says I, not least when you know what you saw and even filmed it, and they saw but evidently did not see the film.

But I did get curious about this 'crowfoot' business, and looked it up. Crowfoot is another name for the meadow buttercup, and derives from the three-pronged leaf's supposed similarity to a crow's foot.

Anyway, I wandered over there early the next morning. The path wanders up the hill in the meandering way that paths do when they're not imposed by a ruler on a map

And closer to, you could see where the grass had been pushed aside and the dew had been brushed off by the passage of the wild creatures in the night.

And in the shadier places there was Bath Asparagus, or Spiked Star of Bethelehem. It is really quite common in this area, the country south of Bath; hence the name. It's not an asparagus but a lily, but is edible and used to be harvested and taken to market in Bath. But it's protected now, although I do know someone who still picks and eats it, the rascal.

Friday, 18 June 2021

replacing the rudder stock bearing on a narrowboat

The rudder was getting very wobbly on Eve; lots of play at the bearing, and graunching when the tiller was swung. So I got the tools out and got stuck in.

Before taking anything off, I put a rope through the hole in the rudder and secured it to the stanchions. Because you really don't want your entire rudder falling down to the bottom of the canal.

Pulling off the swan's neck was hard work; it's secured to the rudder stock by a large bolt, and sits on a tapered shaft. After many years in place, it was reluctant to come off. 

After several attempts at levering, I succeeded by using a bottle jack, pushing against a pry bar secured to the swan neck by heavy chain, like this.

I pumped up the bottle jack till everything was bar tight, then rapped the side of the swan neck with a hammer. And it popped off.

Sometimes there'll be a Woodruff key down there too, but not in this case. In fact, this arrangement is identical to that on my old MZ motorbike clutch, which sat on the end of the crankshaft on a taper just like this.

Before I went any further, I made sure I'd got a replacement bearing to fit in place. I used the information on the cast bearing housing, which told me that it was an FL208. This gave me all the info I needed; otherwise, knowing the stock diameter (this one is 40mm) and the distance between the securing bolt holes, should give you all the info you need.

The bearing is held to the stock by two grub screws. The easy way to take the bearing off is 

remove the securing bolts

clean the shaft above the bearing with emery or a file, and oil it; this makes it easier to take the bearing off when it starts to move

Raise the rudder a little, enough to insert wedges under the housing

Rap the top of the stock with a hammer (I used a copper mallet).

If you're lucky, this should get it moving.

I wasn't lucky, though, and it showed no sign of wanting to go anywhere at all. (In fact, I clouted the top of the stock rather too vigorously, and ended up needing to dress it and the thread inside it, later. )

So I used a disc cutter to slice down the bearing, taking care not to cut into the stock. I also took care to cover over the bolt holes, as they go down into the fuel tank, and I didn't want to blow myself up.

...and then I used a puller to slide the now loose bearing off the shaft.

and there it was, safely off

Next, clean everything up, and push the new bearing into place, having liberally greased it

I also added the plunger that I usually use to unblock the sink, to keep the rain out.

And that was that! 

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

K&A Otters

A couple of weeks ago, early in the morning  I watched an otter catching a fish and carrying it back to its holt, where I guess there were pups to feed. I even filmed it with my phone. It porpoised along, its shiny back looking like that of a little humpback whale, though less humpy. I posted up the film on the boaters' Facebook group, and in among the people saying how nice it was to see, were some miserable comments from the sort of feller who thinks that otters are responsible for all the ills that have befallen our once great nation etc.

This sort of thing is why you shouldn't say where you've seen otters, in case some nerk comes along and kills them.

On the other hand, it makes a fun thing to do with this rather wonderful DIY Bayeux Tapestry generator , of whose existence I was made aware by Karin Celestine, they of Celestine and the Hare.

You may recognise a Big Nod in the direction of Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London. The K&A is of course the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

bimbling around the Vale of Pewsey

I hopped into my neat little Nissan Micra, and popped over to All Cannings. (The old Morris Traveller has finally gone, closing the door on over fifteen years of adventures in it, and many roadside emergency repairs. "Don't you miss it?" people ask. "It was fun," I say, "But now I've got a heater that warms more than just my left knee on a good day...")

Gill, at the village community shop, had asked me to do a picture for them, and we wandered around the village admiring the varied building styles, and meeting the cows at Manor Farm where they produce the milk for the Moo2You vending machines they have in these parts. 

The rooks were busy repairing their nests, and it was too early to tell from their labours whether it is going to be a good summer (nests high in the tree, foretelling balmy days) or a rotten one (nests skulking in lower boughs).

Here's the finished picture, which will presently be available as a tea towel from that village shop, yet another reason to go there. 

It's fine country for a bimble. At the moment there's a good chance you'll see golden plovers flocking; and peewits will probably be nesting presently around Allington. And there's a great egret taken up residence on the canal. There it is, loo, in the picture.

Talking of bimbling, I got a rather excited email from Richard Beard a few days ago: 

Be still my beating heart. Look at us, officially approved by the OED. As flagged by one of my former graduate teachers in Cambridge. What are the chances of anyone ever finding it?


and lo, we are indeed in the OED, and so is my little Traveller. I wonder if the new owner knows of her illustrious literary career?

Saturday, 6 March 2021

a Mystery Owl

A few days ago, Pip, who's moored in Widbrook Woods three miles away upriver, messaged me to ask if I could identify this bird that was calling outside her boat. I couldn't; it sounds sort-of tawny owl-ish, but different to the usual to-whoo..... tut-tuddly-hoo that they do.

Two nights later I heard the very same sound here, around midnight. And posting this recording on Facebook, Liz Brownlee, over in Chew Magna, said she'd heard a similar sound.

So for want of a better ID, it seems to be a call peculiar to tawny owls at this time of year; maybe a courtship thing. 

Saturday, 23 January 2021

the Lundy rabbit's complaint

Who’s this odd bloke puffed up there outside my hole?
I only nipped out for some dandelion, and when I got back
There he was, bold as you like in his black dinner jacket,
Saying “Come in here dressed like that? That won’t do at all!”

The cheek of it! We came over with the Normans, I’ll have you know.
In fact, my people have often dined with royalty.
And now here’s this blow-in, shirt still wet from the sea.
Maybe he’s drunk? He’s got a nose on him like a rainbow.

Nasty nip to it too.
Says they’re only here for the summer season
And then they’ll be off cruising down to Spain, when the puffling’s
Gone away to college. Empty nesters eh, he said, feathers ruffling
Not empty enough if you ask me thought I, with reason,
Thinking of the kit’s old nest down there, my belly fur and hay,
The pong of fishbones and old guano that’ll never go away

...I started off writing an entirely different puffin poem, but there you go, you never know what'll happen when you start writing. Here's more

You often read nice things and stuff in
Books for kids regarding puffins
But sadly there is not a jot
On gannets, or the guillemot

Thursday, 14 January 2021

new map of Genderia

Three years ago Yvonne Aburrow mentioned their survey of the continent of Genderia, demonstrating that it is rather more of a complex landscape than often represented by a binary, a line or spectrum. And I did a hasty map to accompany that work. But we thought it was time to update and improve it, so here's the new version. Yvonne's blog is here.

You won't find the Secret Volcano Base of the Trans Cabal, of course, because it's secret. But there is Transgender-am-Berg, in the Transalpine region across the hills from the happy village of Little Cisgender on the Wold. Upriver are the mountains where the Fierce Femmes hang out, while down in the Queer Archipelago there's all sorts of nonbinary stuff going on. 

You can get a copy of the map in my Etsy shop; it comes in A4 or A3 sizes. Here's the A4. And here's the A3.