Sunday, 11 February 2018

mapping genderia

Yewtree posited gender as a scatterplot rather than a spectrum, and surveyed its topography briefly in this post. And, since I like drawing maps, I did one. My only contribution to the geography of Gendaria was Camp, and Classic Transsexual Island, lost in the Pink Mist up there in the top left corner. Not a very good name for the island, but there you go, couldn't think of a more succinct one. You know the sort though, the ones who think there's only one right way of being transsexual, based on old textbooks written by people who tell us what we are rather than those who listen to us... it's a Stockholm Syndrome thing, and unsurprisingly their island is located out in the Straits of Bigotry not far from Terfy Island.

It was a quick sketch... you can tell. Dashed yesterday afternoon when I should have been making pizza dough. Oh well, that can be today's treat.

The map is of course a work in progress, and if there are any other places you can suggest that should belong on it, do let me know in the comments. 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

travellers all

Here's Netty, with Chris, Jinny and Secretary Cat (the Skyravenwolf collective) on board, approaching the Dundas Aqueduct. I finished this picture this week. It was an interesting exercise; I used to do lots of pen and ink line drawings with hatching, but still have lots to learn. I was looking enviously at John Minton's illustrations in Elizabeth David's books; but then, just as in poetry, we all have our own styles, and must make the best of what we've got.

Mainstone Press have recently brought out a book of John Minton's work, by the way.

The days are lengthening by the day! It was still light at 5:30 yesterday. This is very welcome for us canal types, obviously. Still blooming cold though, and yesterday I was enticed out to service a bicycle for someone only to be rained, hailed, sleeted and snowed on in the space of half an hour. I really should have packed it in and gone back to it later, but there you go; sometimes when you get the bit between your teeth... I remember long ago back at Hafod Fach at haymaking, dad was baling when it started to rain, but kept on going, and I was wet and shivering and thinking PLEASE STOP WE'LL ONLY HAVE TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN ... but there you go, sometimes the bit gets between the teeth and the apple has only fallen a little way from the tree, evidently.

haymaking at Hafod Fach

Talking of things that fall from trees, there's been much activity along this stretch of canal over the last week, as contractors tidy up the trees along the railway that runs alongside us. Boaters have been swarming down and rescuing the cut timber and chopping it up for firewood. The less enterprising get theirs from Sherry Jim. Here he is. I was alerted to his presence by loud shoutings the other evening; he and Ding Dong and the Technicolour Bedlinton were delivering to a neighbour.

Ding Dong displayed his special facial skillz for the camera. He has, in his time, travelled to Cumbria to compete in the World Gurning Championships, but remains unrecognised on the world gurning stage, and continues to practice his art on the more humble one of the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Friday, 2 February 2018


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.

It was my 60th birthday, and I cycled into Bath to post a letter and to get some essentials and a few inessentials too. Around town, I saw several fellow boaters and we cheerfully greeted each other and I thought of this poem I did a couple of weeks ago. 

It's all been a bit medieval along the canal, with the mud aforementioned, and with the various diseases. I had the flu, and it was truly horrid; three weeks of feeling tired and awful, and still not entirely recovered after four weeks. My neighbours had it even worse; they had norovirus at Christmas, then recovered in time to come down with the flu two days after I did.

Onwards and upwards. The daylight hours are lengthening; as I type this at 0710, a song thrush is singing outside, and a tawny owl is chipping in too. The woods echoed to the drumming of woodpeckers yesterday, and the cuckoo pint's arrowhead leaves are thrusting up along the towpath, where the snowdrops have been in flower for over a week already.

Monday, 8 January 2018

watching geese, cooking carrots

We're embracing the technology here on board Eve; after wrestling with making a Kindle version of Drawn Chorus, I've been playing with iMovie on the Mac, to make a poetry film. Here's the result, Vol de Nuit. It's got some neat slow motion goose action at the start. The poem's about the time I was getting ready to ride down to Weymouth to join the ship, and saw the geese flying high over Bristol, lit by the city's lights. It was an awesome sight.

I've been trying to clear out the galley cupboards, which involves eating up all the things that've been sitting in there for a very long time. So I've been eating lots of pulses; and rediscovered the joy of cannellini beans, which are nice cold with olive oil or hot in a stew. I've also started trying to modify my vegetable habits, which usually involve buying nice fresh ones and then waiting till they're rotten and stinking before throwing them into the bushes. So on Friday I made curried carrot soup. It was really rather good, and solved the problem of what to do with  big bag of carrots.

It also meant playing with the moulin-legumes, which is one of my fave things in the batterie de cuisine. It reminds me of the time on a teenage exchange visit to France, when we stayed with my host's elderly relative in a Paris suburb. It was a grand house full of relics of French Indochina, and the kitchen was huge and full of interesting things, reminiscent of those illustrations that John Minton did for Elizabeth David's french cookery books. (There's a fine new book about John Minton, from the Mainstone Press, by the way)

this was when I was in Marseille, you know... wot larks

last night's dinner. The quinoa was a mistake, obviously

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Drawn Chorus: an alphabet of birds - on Kindle

Drawn Chorus, my alphabet of birds in poems and pictures, is now available on Kindle. If you follow the link there, you can have a look inside, though you only get to see a few of the poems, sadly. 

Anyway, it was something I'd been thinking of trying for ages, and after two days of formatting and wrestling with strange software in the tried-and-tested Marland way (hit the buttons, swear, hit them some more, wing it, drink wine), I got it all working and uploaded it yesterday afternoon from the library in Bradford on Avon. Being a fairly off-grid publisher is good fun, but throwing huge PDFs around in cyberspace eats up your data allowance like crazy.

We've been having a lively time on the canal. Just before Christmas, I was getting lots of heart fluttering, and it worsened till on Christmas Eve I feared I was having some sort of heart attack; by the time I'd got the Moggy started with the winding handle (the starter motor was kaput) I wasn't fit to drive. Some of my boaty neighbours appeared, and an ambulance was called. And so I got a ride to the RUH in Bath; and ECG and blood tests showed that I was actually pretty blooming healthy. The problems were stress related, and I'd exacerbated them by having a full-blown panic attack. I did feel bad about taking up NHS time and resources like that, but couldn't think what else to do at the time. 

Sherry Jim had accompanied me in the ambulance as a responsible adult (ha!) and embarrassed me all the way with his banter at the medics; "Stop it Jim! You can't say that..." - and now we walked down from the hospital, and made our way back to Semington by such public transport as you can find on Christmas Eve. Which was an adventure in itself.

And then there were the storms. Moored on an exposed aqueduct, I got the full blast of them, and had to go out and add extra lashings to the stuff on the roof; and then lay awake listening to them creak and bang and flap. The day after I moved the boat down to Bradford, the next storm hit, and was severe enough to pull out the mooring pins of the boat next to where I'd been, and spin it round so that when my neighbour woke up she found herself facing the wrong way though still, fortuitously, alongside the towpath. At least one boat had come adrift and been blown about half a mile until getting caught in a reed bed and rescued by Georgie and Laurence, who have an offside mooring there. This is a problem with 'dumpers', the boats visited by their owners maybe only every other weekend, and often poorly secured - good neighbourliness demands that one sorts out boats that have come adrift, but sometimes you feel that you're being taken for granted... I'm never comfortable when I'm away from the boat in foul weather; you need to be there to respond to problems as they arise...

Friday, 22 December 2017


Frosty start at Semington

The frosted meadows glittered in the rising sun
and mallards walked on water, laughing fit to bust,
the day we broke the ice from Seend to Semington.

We stamped our feet, and let the engines run
to warm them up, as prudent people must,
and noticed frosty cows can also glitter in the sun.

Our bargepoles smashed the way - such fun!
- to steer a course out to the middle of the cut
and onward through the ice to Semington

Moorhens who interrogated their reflections
were chased off by the sheets of ice we pushed
that rafted up, and glittered in the sun.

The props clanked on the fragments now and then
and hulls were scoured of blacking, weeds and rust
by that infernal ice en route to Semington

And chastened, we agreed; all said and done,
wise folk who like their boats stay put,
when meadows glitter in the sun
and ice is on the cut from Seend to Semington.

This happened last year, when Chris and Jinny on Netty and I went up to Seend, despite knowing that the canal was closed beyond there and we'd need to come back without turning; so we went up doing a push-me-pull-you, with Netty breasted up on Eve who was facing backwards. It sort of worked, but the return trip to the ice was one we really have no intention of repeating! 

We've started a new poetry group on Facebook, Poets Afloat, for developing poems about and/or by boaters and the waterways. It's a closed group, so you can't see posts unless you're a member, which means they're not officially published (this matters if you're thinking ahead to potential submissions). The format is inspired by Jo Bell's 52 group, which was very good and fruitful. And small though the new group is, there have been some startlingly good new poems already. Do join in, if that sort of thing floats your boat.
Here are some rakish characters heading by through the ice, on an unrelated occasion.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

shear legs and engines

The floating village of the canal is long and thin, and the people who live there are never still for long. You might arrive at a very quiet spot, moor up and drink in the splendid isolation; and a day later find yourself surrounded by other boats. And then you may just squeeze into the last space in a bustling place, and wake up one morning to find yourself all alone and wondering 'Was it something I said?'
When I came up to Semington last week, I towed Deb's boat along with me, because her engine is kaput. A dead engine is no excuse for not moving, in the eyes of CRT, so move she must. Her partner Jim had sourced a replacement engine in Devizes, and it was obligingly delivered here. Over the next couple of days, a few other familiar faces drifted in, and we had enough bodies to heave the old engine, a very heavy BMC Commander, onto the towpath and away, and then heave the replacement Isuzu into place.
As you see, there was a bit of ad hoc craning, with a few tree trunks used as shear legs. A passing dog walker exclaimed, ' That reminds me of Dartmouth!' He was formerly a Fleet Air Arm pilot, we learned, flying Gannets. The Services do seem to like playing round with telegraph poles; I did something similar at Biggin Hill once, long ago, when going through the selection process. And then we did this once, at RAF Hereford...

building a bridge

...there's a fair bit more work yet to be done on Deb's new engine before it's chugging along again, but at least the heavy stuff is done. And we all got filthy dirty oily and muddy, and had to go to the Somerset Arms and drink cider. As you do.