Saturday, 14 October 2017

up the Bradford Flight


It was time to go up the Bradford Flight, that majestic series of one single lock that marks the frontier between the upper and lower West End of the K&A. Below, the cool wooded valley; above, the broad, sunlit (or windswept, depending on the season) uplands. 

map of West End of the K&A

On The Street I failed to get alongside at first, as it was so shallow; breasted up on Fairy's boat for a while and scouted out the stretch further along. The Netties had found a nice spot by the winding hole, where there is some hard standing that you can get alongside; but our friends on Pathfinder, moored close by, were stuck way out into the canal because of the lack of water under the keel.


I admired the artwork on Recalcitrant, and considered hanging around until they moved off on their way to Bristol. I met this boat some years ago in Tewkesbury, where it had been left high and dry by the winter floods of the Severn. Really very dramatic, as you see.

Tewkesbury

...but Astral Dave was moored right there, and life is never quiet when you're moored near Astral Dave and his cosmic dog. 

So I sailed on and found a nice spot between reeds, where I was able to get close enough alongside to use my gangplank, and yet far enough away from it to be able to pull the gangplank in at night and feel secure behind my moat defensive... because this is the badlands here, and there has been a lot of thievery and wanton destruction over the summer; two bridges have been damaged by having great blocks of stone pushed out of their parapets down into the canal.

the old Bowyers factory, as I cycle into Trowbo
But that aside, it's a nice enough spot and there are good neighbours; and the kingfishers perch just opposite, and if I look out of the galley window while washing up, I see the water vole nibbling industriously away by its hole.

  

Friday, 13 October 2017

getting out and doing poetry

Bristol poets on the loose; Deborah, Colin and Pameli

It's been a busy week or so. Last Friday I was guest poet at Can Openers, Poetry Can's monthly open mic lunchtime event at the old fire station in Bristol's Broadmead. 

I looked up the very first time I'd read a poem in public; that was also at a Can Openers, in Bristol Central Library that time, eleven years ago. I walked in and the first people I met ("are you here for the poetry?") were Annie McGann and Alan Summers, the very first to welcome me into Bristol's poetry scene.

This time, I was reading from Drawn Chorus; and suffered the sort of pre-event nerves that had me retching that morning. 

It went pretty well, though, I think, and it was nice to catch up with some friendly faces I'd not seen for ages. Sadly, no photos.

Monday's launch party was at Monty's, a rather nice cafe run by May Colquhoun in the Montpelier area of Bristol. She also kindly invited me to display the illustrations from the book, so I had a frenzy of ordering up prints and buying frames from IKEA ( as you do). 



And the evening also went very well; there was a nice crowd of people, some of whom had travelled a fair old way to be there, like Adrian, Carol and Lorraine here, friends from the canal.


...alas, no other pictures. 

Colin Brown, Deborah Harvey and Pameli Benham also read some of their poems from the Gert Macky back catalogue and elsewhere. Thank you!

Poetry Can is a great organisation, doing good things in the Bristol community. And they've lost their Arts Council funding. Which is a right bugger.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Drawn Chorus - an alphabet of birds - launch party



As part of Bristol Poetry Festival, there's a launch party for the new book, at Monty's Cafe, 62 Bath Buildings, just off Picton St in Montpelier. Monday 9th October. Starts at 7:30. Wine and nibbles and stuff, and guest readers. 

There'll be an exhibition of the illustrations too. 

It's a really nice cafe run by May Colquhoun, fresh back  in her hometown after a couple of years of adventurous cooking in Australia. 

I'm also guesting at Can Openers this Friday. More details on this and the rest of the festival, over at Poetry Can


Thursday, 28 September 2017

unherd

DSC_1058
So many sheep, if asked, would tell
you how they’re wild and free
and independent minded. Hell,
they’d say, you won’t catch me
consorting with the common herd.
I’ve even grown a fine goatee
and listen to Coltrane and Bird,
and read the works of well-known potes.
I think conformity's absurd.

But when they round up all the goats
they'll hide inside their woolly coats.

for National Poetry Day, which is today, and this year takes 'Freedom' as its theme.

Friday, 15 September 2017

home to roost


I picked up great piles of pictures yesterday! Minuteman Press had finished the new greetings cards, the magpies and the starlings, which you can find on the Etsy shop. And then over to Niche in Stokes Croft, where I collected a gert huge pile of prints for the upcoming exhibition. Unfortunately, IKEAL were out of the frames I'd been hoping to get, so framing is slightly delayed.

What exhibition? I hope you're asking. Why, the one to accompany the launch of Drawn Chorus as part of the Bristol Poetry Festival, down at Monty's, the fine cafe down in Montpelier. Full details to follow, obvs. Lord, exciting times.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

cauliflower in the sky


The rain started as I drove through Bath. By the time I had reached the north of the city it was raining as hard as I've ever known it in Britain.

Then it really started to pour.

Driving over the Mendips was a bit like cruising along the canal, but with more splashes coming up through the floor.

So I took it nice and easy, because you're a long time dead.

Dropping into Pensford I remembered the flood there that washed away the road bridge in the ...1950s? 

The van in front of me indicated right, and slowed down; it was about to turn into one of those lanes that come down at a sharp angle to the main road. I slowed to an almost-stop, and waited; then realised he needed to do a three pointer to get round the corner, I stopped.

There was an almighty THUMP. The van behind me had clouted the back end of the Moggy.

I won't go into details because TBH it's a bit upsetting. I'll be taking the car into the Morris Centre next week to have the damage assessed.

Anyway, I carried on with things, feeling a bit unreal. Later, I walked with Brendagh up the hill behind her house, and in the early evening sun we saw Brean Down, Steepholm and Flatholm, Lavernock Point at the tip of Glamorgan, and the far smudge of Exmoor and what was probably Countisbury Head in the far distance. You may need to click on the photo to enlarge it if you want to try spotting them too.


On Saturday I cycled down to the Benjamin Perry Boathouse on Redcliffe Quay in Bristol, for the bookstall that I was joining in with for the Bristol Doors Open weekend.

It was so busy that I didn't get time to tale a photo to show how busy it was. Here's a quiet moment with Mark Steeds of the Long John Silver Trust and Bristol Radical History Group, though. 

Every now and then there would be another great deluge of rain and the place would fill up with refugees. Outside, the Guides, who run the boathouse these days, were rowing and canoeing gamely to and fro, and hordes of visitors shuffled into the Redcliffe Caves.

It was nice to catch up with the Bristol book people; it's been a few years now since we last did one of these stalls.


Later, up on the side of the Cotswolds, I stopped to take the panoramic photo at the top, because the sky was so spectacular. I think that's a big cumulonimbus cloud in the middle. You cant see the one that looks a bit like a cauliflower, next to it, because the tree's in the way.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Bristol Doors Open Day, and books

I got a call from Roy Gallop of Fiducia Press. "Why not come to the boathouse for Bristol Doors Open?" he said.

I could think of no good reason why not.

So on Saturday (but NOT Sunday!), you'll find me, and several other Bristol publishers, offering bargain books for sale in this fine old building where you can also get the cheapest bacon butties, cakes and cups of tea and coffee on the whole harbourside.

Obviously, I'll be touting Drawn Chorus, my new anthology of bird poems and pictures, as well as a few other things.

We'll be at the Benjamin Perry Boathouse on Phoenix Wharf, in Redcliffe.


View Larger Map

It's a good place to seek out; there it is, that big black wooden building there. You can either walk down the long ramp from Redcliffe Parade, or follow the cobbled road round from the Ostrich pub; or come through the gate on Redcliffe Way.






Tuesday, 5 September 2017

a slow voyage into autumn



I've slowly moved down the Avon valley from Bradford on Avon to Bath, as late summer turned to autumn. The jays are all busy in the woods, gloating over their acorns and bobbing to and fro with them; if the valley isn't reafforested with oak trees, it won't be for want of their trying.


Where around midsummer at 4:30 in the morning the sun would be streaming into the forward window, casting a beam the length of the cabin, it is now decidedly dark with no hint of the dawn. Yesterday I lit the fire for the first time since spring, to banish the feeling of chill and damp that came as much from inside me as outside the boat.

Dashing to and from Bristol to sort out various admin things, like an overdue eye test and then picking up the new specs; the latest ones are reactive. You know, the ones that go darker in bright light. This will be a challenge; I rarely use sunglasses because I prefer my light unmodified as much as possible. 


Driving back from Bristol, I stopped at the Waitrose on the Keynsham bypass. Returning to the Moggy and setting off along the A4, I suddenly had misgivings that I'd left my phone on the roof of the car. But I could hardly scrabble round in my bag, and the traffic was norrible so I kept on going. Up round the top of Bath and down Brasssknocker Hill. I'd been avoiding this route since the first time I went down it in the Moggy; it was a really hot day and by the time I was approaching the static queue of traffic at the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill, the brakes had faded so that they scarcely worked at all. Managed to avoid pranging the van in front of me by putting it into low gear and switching the engine off.... anyway, I've improved my survivability by going VERY SLOWLY down the hill and be damned to anyone fretting and fuming behind me.

And on arriving at Dundas I searched high and low and ...the phone was nowhere to be found. I took my laptop round to Craig's boat and piggybacked his internet, and logged into the 'find my iphone' thing. And lo, my phone was showing itself to be on the side of the A4 between Saltford and Newton St Loe.

So I drove back there. It is really a Very Unfriendly Road for anyone but motorists who are doing a hurtle. But I managed to pull over, and to find the phone.

Poor little thing; all mashed and smashed, but still presumably sending out its last faint SOS...


...so it's been an expensive old week. And, since (I tell myself) it's never too late to unlearn learned behaviours, I am determined to:
  • always put my specs back in their case as soon as I take them off, to avoid scratching the lenses
  • never EVER Put The Phone On The Car Roof For Just A Moment While I Sort Out The Keys


Look! This is me arrived at Bathampton and about to set off for Bath proper, having filled up with water.

And now I'm on Darlington Wharf, and Chris and Jinny are moored up next door too, and there's proper internet for the first time in weeks and I can catch up with admin of all sorts. And get on with some ART.

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