Monday, 7 August 2017

a short trip down to Portishead


We were up at 5, drinking coffee, eating Asda's brioche swirls and looking at the sky. The air was almost still in Bristol Harbour, but the clouds above us were moving along at a brisk walking pace. It looked good to go; the lock out from the floating harbour down onto the Avon was set for 0630.

I'd driven up to town the afternoon before; parked out in Montpelier and cycled to the Arnolfini where Rick was moored. Juniper lay at the pontoon next to Boomshanka, another old familiar Kennet and Avon boat waiting to go tidal. The harbour was thronging; Bristol Samba were booming away over the water, and a DJ was laying down some shit on his decks outside the Arnolfini, for all the world like a drunk with a microphone at a scottish wedding. I looked into the Arnie, and recoiled from the video installations of the current exhibition. People, it was Hipster Central.

We walked over to Bedmo to stock up in Asda. South of the river is decidedly more old school Bristol. In the Magnet chip shop, I followed with interest the talk of the other waiting customer. "Wassee gone to Amsterdam for?"
"Pride, ennit? Amsterdam Gay Pride!"
"Dean's norra faag! I've known 'im fer years- Dean enno faaaag!"
(Sorry, clumsy attempt at rendering that Bristol accent there; it was so nice to hear though...)

The fish and chips were brilliant. We ate them sitting on the harbour wall, true hipsters we, and drank in the Nova Scotia, after we'd moved the boat down the harbour to escape Drunk DJ. Early to bed, we were lulled to sleep by the convoys of trip boats circling the harbour with crowds of drunk happy people singing fit to bust.

0600; Rick fired up the engine and we were away. A rainbow came out to accompany us across Cumberland Basin, and there were the dockies waiting at the already-open lock.



"These early tides are a killer", said the chap who took the bow rope off me. "Still, we'll get some sleep this afternoon before the next one". I recalled the difficulty of juggling a maritime working life with a domestic routine, and sympathised.

The water didn't have far to drop from the lock; the very last of the flood tide was eddying as we came out onto the river, and Rick opened up the throttle. Largesse, the other narrowboat that was making the same trip, seemed keen to go past, so we made way and off they went ahead; the owner having given his tiller to a pilot.



I pointed out the local stuff as we went down the river, and we admired the tree full of cormorants at Pill, the wide stain of their droppings bleaching the foliage below them.


Beyond the Avonmouth Bridge the smooth blue water close inshore changed abruptly to a bumpy brown chop, streaked with whitetops. Largesse reached the end of Avonmouth Pier, swung round westward, and began pitching.


Through the haze I counted off the landmarks of the Welsh coast; Twynbarlwm, Mynydd Machen, then finally away to the west, Lavernock Point, and Exmoor and Countisbury Head far and hazy beyond that. Here and there were the buoys marking the shoals; but I couldn't work out which was the English and Welsh Grounds buoy, which replaced the lightship that is now sitting in Bathhurst Basin in Bristol, and about which I wrote this poem


"Have you got video on that camera of yours?" Rick asked. I did.



With the breeze blowing F3 or thereabouts, and the increasing ebb of the tide, we were crabbing quite nicely as we pitched our way along the coast, the propellor occasionally racing as it lost water. Then the Portishead pierhead, that had been a distant vagueness for ages, was suddenly there above us and we were gratefully entering the lock.



Wednesday, 26 July 2017

making a paper tiger

I saw a Japanese toy paper tiger on Twitter the other day; when it's assembled, it's placed next to a wall and wafted with a fan, so that it comes alive. The design apparently dates back to the Edo period. As I wanted one of my own, I drew this version of it as closely as possible to the original. If you want one, click on the picture to get it full size, then download.

The version I saw on the internet used seashells to weight the feet; I would suggest you use buttons.


Here it is in action




Monday, 24 July 2017

Red Kites, Spitfires and Going Through Tunnels


The well-heeled red kites of both Berkshire and Bucks
have moved up in the world, and wherever you look
they are wheeling and whistling with insouciance,
their eyes on the suburbs, their minds on the chance
of chorizo or pâté de lapin sauvage;
although if the locals aren’t giving it large
and their bird tables simply have nothing to tarry on
they’ll wheel away, whistling, and keep calm and carrion.

Here's one of the red kites that inspired that poem, just along the canal from Little Bedwyn. It was striking that they would be wheeling around over the villages; you don't see buzzards doing that. Anyway, it was jolly handy, because I wrote this one in next to no time and stopped worrying about trying to write something about kingfishers, as you almost invariably must do when you're writing an alphabet of birds (oh! did I mention Drawn Chorus?)


We saw a few more unusual aircraft on our trip east; here is a Hunting Percival Pembroke (Lauren commented on how great it was that there should have been a company called Hunting Percival)


...and here's a Spitfire, not entirely unusual but still nice to see. Look closely under the fuselage and you'll see two camera apertures; this identifies it as a photo reconnaissance aircraft, and therefore a Mk XIX.  I accidentally had the camera set to ARTYBOLLOX mode, which is why the picture looks a bit odd. Sorry.


A more peaceable dawn scene here, because I like it; and here


 ...are Chris and Jinny, emerging from the Bruce Tunnel. It was a bit of an alarming experience for all of us; as I approached it, I thought "Ha! It's hardly any length at all!" and didn't bother switching any lights on. A very short while later I was completely disorientated, and had to dash through the boat switching all the lights on so that the light would shine through the windows and illuminate the tunnel wall, allowing me to gauge my distance from it like the Dambusters did with spotlights to show them their height above the water.


Having learned our lesson, I got a couple of very bright LED floodlights, and on our return we laughed at the darkness. As you see.


Having been starved of internet signal for ages, I'm catching up with a bit of blogging, as you may have deduced from the capricious nature of this post.






Sunday, 23 July 2017

downhill from Devizes




After our early summer slow voyage to Hungerford, we've returned to the West End of the K&A ready for next weekend's Floating Market at Bradford on Avon. While in Devizes, we helped friends up Caen Hill; here are Tiff and Matt at the start of the main flight, with Chris at the lock. And we in turn were helped down by friends. It makes it so much easier and more fun.

Walking back up to Devizes with Sue, who'd come visiting, we popped over the the Jubilee Wood, adjacent to the flight, and saw that the information boards with my pictures on had been installed. Funny seeing your own work there like that.




...after a few days at Sells Green, we've moved down through the much smaller flight of locks at Seend, and are now moored in a lovely spot between Seend and Semington. Chris and Jinny went out walking last night, and saw the local barn owl at very close quarters. I'd had an early night! ...the owl was still very active this morning, along the banks of the Semington Brook. This is a different owl, the one that flew by us regularly at Great Bedwyn.


...here's some spraint I spotted on our travels. But I'm not saying where. An otter was found dead on London Road in Devizes two days ago. Probably hit by a car, of course; but the Devizes Issue Facebook group posted the story up and several commentators, anglers all, were very hostile to otters. So it's best to keep schtum about sightings. I did post up a link to my response to this sort of thing, Otter Madness, that I wrote when an otter had been poisoned in Marlborough. It pissed off a couple of anglers, so a small result!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Drawn Chorus - an alphabet of birds



The new book is done! I was up in Bristol yesterday and today, helping out at Minuteman, the friendly printers, such was my keenness to get it done as soon as possible. Here's the scene this morning, as they went through the stapling and folding machine, the penultimate stage of the transformation of blank paper into a real life book (the final stage is trimming the edge opposite the crease, as you may have surmised). This machine is great fun, and reminds me a bit of the old Bamfords baler that we used for haymaking back at Hafod Fach, with its assortment of  kerchunks and ticks and low dronings, though without that majestic WHUMP that accompanies the compressing of a bale of hay. Hey, though, can't have everything.



It is rather wonderful, that last bit where all the loose paper suddenly becomes a real book. 



...and now I'm back on the boat (in Devizes, at the mo) treading that fine line between thinking it's not bad really and not wanting to SHOUT ABOUT IT UNTIL EVERYONE'S SICK OF IT.

So. I done a book. You can get it here, on Gert Macky. But, gentle reader, I'll still like you if you don't. 




Sunday, 28 May 2017

little bobbing humbugs

Moving ever eastwards, we are now near Wootton Rivers, a fine spot with a good deep mooring - in the last couple of miles before the village we tried mooring a few times and couldn't get near the bank without running horribly aground on mud.

We're sheltered by ash and beech trees, which made the recent hot spell far more comfortable; living in a big steel box can get a bit difficult when the sun beats down on it. Along the side of the towpath is a ditch with a stream trickling along it; this is the Hampshire Avon in its early career. Down in  Pewsey you can stand on the bridge and look down into the clear water and see brown trout keeping station against the gentle current.


A pair of spotted flycatchers are nesting in an ivy-covered tree just opposite the boat. I watch then dart around the glade that is their hunting ground, then perch and wait for their next victim; they're very hard to catch on camera, but exciting to see; I've only ever seen them fleetingly in the past. They're quite distinctive with their upright posture and their big eyes.

And cuckoos! Never heard so many cuckoos. I'm trying to learn how to make that ocarina noise with my hands so that I can call them to me. No joy yet. "I'm learning a new life skill," I told Boat Teenager the other day when we Facetimed... it's never too late, after all.

Next weekend I'll be exhibiting at the house of my friend, artist and poet Hazel Hammond's house on the Easton Arts Trail in Bristol; Rebecca Swindells will be there too; there'll be my pics and Marietta's Wardrobe, a mixed media project about clothes, grief and loss, and poetry.

Jinny Peberday described ducklings as humbugs. Seemed a good description.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

sparrowhawk



I'm concentrating on finishing my bird alphabet now; each letter gets a poem and a picture. The poem always comes first, so I can plan ahead with how to fit the text onto the picture. The sparrowhawk poem was written after I saw one flashing through woods and disappearing so abruptly that I came up with the idea that, the less sure you are that you saw anything at all, let alone a sparrowhawk, the more likely it is that a sparrowhawk just went by.

Here's the untweaked painting; I first illustrated beech leaves like this for another picture of Leigh Woods at bluebell time, but I prefer the feel of the newer picture; it seems to work better as a picture and as a watercolour. Though the leaves are a bit too spiky for beech. Damn.



buzzard in the woods