Thursday, 23 May 2013
"I'm the last moored boat to the west of the bridge" said Suzanne, and by the time I found her I'd begun to wish I'd taken my bicycle. It was a nice spot, though, a few miles west of Devizes. I was going to have a look at the bowthruster, which has never really worked properly since she got the boat. Removing the hatch from the foredeck revealed a bit of a mess, and suggested that the marina people who'd sold the boat had been less than fastidious in their 'repair', and less than honest in their description of it. Quelle surprise, as any boatie would no doubt say, especially any french one.
It's always a bit daunting trying to work out what you're looking at, when you start a job like this on a piece of unfamiliar equipment. I started taking bits off, carefully noting down what went where, and began making sense of how it works.
These are solenoid contactors, that connect the bow thruster battery to the motor when you push the switch. They were all seized up. So we fixed that, and cleaned all the contacts, and put it all back together again, and... nothing happened. So next job is to open up the motor. But on this particular day, we'd run out of time, so I put the hatch back on and got cleaned up for a trip to Devizes.
Saturday, 11 May 2013
Here's another sequence of snaps showing the development of a painting. It starts off with a pub sign, not that you can tell just yet...
And then it reaches a stage where I start to think it might work out OK, so I don't burn it or stamp on it.
And then I think "OK, that's enough" because otherwise it'll never ever be finished. And I scan it, in three strips, and join them together in Paintshop Pro
And finally I layer it up and multply it, to create a greater depth of colour, like this.
And that's that!
Wednesday, 8 May 2013
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
"Mike's locking out of Bristol Harbour at 0415 tomorrow!"
This was Suzanne, my narrowboat-living friend, calling from somewhere on the Kennet and Avon. She'd met Mike as he travelled westward, and they'd shared their plans for making the alarming trip between Bristol and Sharpness, which allows canal boats to connect with the inland waterways up into the Midlands, without having to return along the liberally-locked K&A. Suzanne had offered to go along with Mike, as he was worried about sailing single-handed. And I'd offered to go along too. Suddenly, it was going to happen, and sooner than expected.
"You'd better come over and stay here, and we can go down to the harbor together."
At 0330, Cumberland Basin and the stilled streets of Clifton above echoed with blackbird song. We walked around to Baltic Wharf, where the low rumble of a diesel and a moving light showed that Mike was up and about, and preparing for departure. From the balcony of an apartment block on the adjacent quay, Queen's Don't Stop Me Now was blasting out past the two young women who were shrieking at each other in the accent of the Entitled Middle Class.
"So you didn't get much sleep then, Mike?"
"They've only just started playing the music. They've just been screaming at each other all night. ...no, I didn't get any sleep. Neighbours must love them. There's lifejackets in the cabin."
We came onboard. Black Rose is a widebeam boat, and Mike's home. It looked very spacious inside after Suzanne's narrowboat. I threw my bag into a corner and struggled into the lifejacket harness. Casting off, we trundled under the swing bridge and across the basin to the open lock gates. As we made fast, someone emerged from the lock keepers' house and wandered over.
"You were quiet! I'd have helped if I'd known. Good morning! Beautiful morning, isn't it? A yacht to come yet; they'll be swinging the bridge in a minute."
The waning crescent moon rose beyond the flyover. The great swing bridge rumbled into life and swung round in a surprisingly agile way. And along came the little yacht that would be going downriver with us.
We dropped about a metre and a half in the lock, and then the gates clanked open and we were away. The yachties announced that they were heading for Portishead too.
"You'd better go first," said Mike; "You're bound to be faster. I'll follow you."
"Some advice I was given years ago when I started sailing," said the yacht's helmsman. "Don't follow another boat; they may be on the sand already. Stick to the outside of the bends," he added; "That's where the deep water is."
The dawn chorus was going at full blast in Leigh Woods as we passed under the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Mike kept his eye on the masthead light of the yacht ahead and tried not to worry.
"There's tea and coffee in the flasks," he said. It was welcome; the air was chill now, and I wished I'd brought my parka.
I dug out the beef sandwiches. "Sandwich?"
"No thanks; I'm not feeling hungry just now."
Passing Sea Mills we saw a great bank of mist across the river ahead, obscuring Shirehampton and the Horseshoe Bend. The yacht disappeared into it; we could on;y just make out their masthead light.
"Oh dear, that's a worry. Hope it's not like that out on the Channel."
I got my pocket compass out and set it to the bearing for Portishead from Avonmouth pierhead. "Just in case," I said, hoping fervently that we wouldn't need to rely on it.
Round Horseshoe Bend, the mist thinned and we emerged into a clear bright sunrise. There ahead was the M5 bridge, and it was time to call the Avonmouth harbourmaster to alert them to our passage, and ask for a traffic report. Mike tried and failed to get through on the VHF radio that he'd recently bought; so he called on his mobile.
"There's a car carrier coming into Portbury," he said. "Something to watch out for."
The car transporter appeared round Battery Point.
"Ugly beast, isn't it? The yacht's going right out, round that buoy. Don't want to get too close to the big boat."
We followed them, going way out, then swung round and ran down channel, passing the car carrier that was edging slowly towards Portbury. We found Portishead Marina on the VHF. They told us that there were some boats coming out, and that we should wait off the pier, and enter the lock at 0715.
We approached the Denny Shoal buoy surprisingly quickly. "There's quite an ebb running already! Maybe we should head for the pier?"
We didn't. So we hove around for half an hour instead, watching the mudbanks emerge from the ebbing tide.
Portishead lock was very civilised, with a pontoon to make fast to.
Mike had a pilot booked for the afternoon flood tide for the next leg of his journey, to Sharpness. We wished him good luck, and wandered into the town to find a bus back to Bristol.
It being a bank holiday, of course, there weren't any buses.
"Let's hitch", said Suzanne."I've got my lifejacket on; someone will see that we're stranded, and rescue us."
We stood there waving thumbs hopefully at the occasional passing car. Rescue was not forthcoming.
"Stuff this; let's get a taxi," I said.
So we did.
Monday, 29 April 2013
SwiftIt was a chilly day yesterday, and gloomy and damp. But then I heard a familiar and long-awaited sound. Was I mistaken? I watched out of the window, and soon they reappeared; a formation of four swifts, sweeping round for another low pass, like a flight of fighters back from a successful sortie.
Four swifts go
Screaming through the gardens
Saying “Summer soon!
Friday, 26 April 2013
I wonder how you always find your way back home.
I’m really small, in the back seat of the Zephyr that you drive,
And we’re off to Preston, to the shops. But you went alone
That trip you never came back home from. You were thirty five.
We wandered in the wreckage of our grief for you
That hurts too much to think of, even yet.
When father met and married someone new
I felt betrayed he could so easily forget.
Which was of course unkind. With craftsman’s touch,
He was forever building stuff and moving on,
And drank, as did we all, too often and too much.
And died. I wished we’d talked. That moment’s gone.
I sometimes wonder what you’d think of how things went for me
And then recall the love. That’s what matters. That is family.
Today's poem for NaPoWriMo, taking its theme from a prompt by Jo Bell : "write about your parents in a rough sonnet. Six lines on your mum, six lines on your dad - finish with two lines on you. If you want to make it a Shakespearean sonnet, it needs to rhyme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. But I'll let you off if it doesn't. Some of you will have touched on the subject before - but it's one of the great inexhaustibles, isn't it?"
This is what my road looks like on foggy mornings at half past three. I love travelling at this time of day; as I cycled to the station, foxes gambolled away ahead of me, clubbers staggered towards somewhere to crash, and Queens Square was full of blackbird song.
The station was locked. I sat near two cheerful young men talking about climbing. One ascended the station wall, to keep his hand in or illustrate a point. I wondered about the big suitcase next to me. "This is yours, I guess?" I asked. "Oh no, it's his over there". He pointed to a figure far across the car park, with hood up and scarf over his face. I kept an eye on him, just in case, and tried not to worry about the case. Even an inept terrorist would scarcely think me alone worth blowing up.
The airport express coach came in, full of passengers, most of whom were dark-skinned. The sign on the back of the bus said "The Quickest Way To Africa". Sounds a bit optimistic, I thought to myself. I worried that they might all queue for the self service tickets, and make me miss my train. But the bus picked up a single passenger and departed. Then the station doors were unlocked and I was first at the ticket machine.
This was train travel as I remembered it. One big empty train. I found a seat at a table, facing forwards. Perfect. At one second past 04:47 (I was watching the departure board through the window) we started moving. And I was facing backwards. Damn, caught out by Temple Meads again.
A gloomy army trudged onto the train at Reading, Costa coffee in one hand and iPhone in the other.
There was the Thames that I'd sailed down only a fortnight ago, still looking rather high; and the sun rising over it.
Before long I was walking across Hyde Park; I had quite a lot of time before I was due at Westminster. The early swimmers were jumping into the Serpentine, joggers were cajoling their dogs along, and those who enjoy riding on horseback were riding on horseback.
It was a good morning for sharing the felicity of being out and doing, early on a beautiful spring day.
...though by the time I got to South Kensington my legs were beginning to protest, and there ahead of me was a rack of Boris Bikes. It was about time I saw how easy to use these are. So I stuck my bank card in and kept hitting the screen, and before too very long I was anxiously tugging at a bike while the green light came on, hoping it would escape from the frame before the light went out.
It did. And I was away! Off round Kensington and Chelsea, and down to the river. Eventually, at Westminster, I looked for somewhere to park up. This would be important as I didn't want to be stuck with an untethered bike when it was time to go into the Houses of Parliament. Oh no! There was a long row of Boris Bikes, and no spare slots. I searched further and further afield, then gave up and abandoned the bike on the South Bank and went beachcombing, as the tide was out.
Here is a fragment of a wine jar that Claudius brought over in the year 43AD. Next to it, that thing that looks like a dog turd is in fact a heavy iron nail, melted where it was subjected to the ferocious heat of the Great Fire of London.
And this is the actual frying pan that Emmeline Pankhurst clouted Herbert Asquith with in 1908, after he told her to make him a sammitch.
History is all around you in London, you know.
Just before noon. I met up with the folk from Trans Media Watch, and we went into Portcullis House, where the security chap spent ages emptying my bag to see what made the metal detector go ping. So many things to choose from...
We gave a presentation about our experiences of press intrusion. This event was sparked by the recent death of Lucy Meadows, a trans* teacher who was hounded by the press and subjected to the sort of crap from Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail that we have come to expect, but not accept, from him and the paper that pays him.
I think it was a useful event. I was glad to see my own MP, Stephen Williams, there. And Caroline Lucas. And Kerry McCarthy, another Bristolian MP (and several others whose names I shall add just as soon as I find out! Sorry!) Thank you, all!
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After all that, it was time to slope off to the Tate, and say hello to some old friends. I was extremely cheered to find that Keith Arnott had been given a room to himself. His Self Burial was one of the most memorable pictures I recalled from my very first visit to the Tate, back in the days when people were getting outraged about the expensive bricks. (I thought the bricks were a bit ho hum, but really enjoyed Richard Long's maps (not visible on this latest visit).
I hadn't realised that Keith Arnott lived just around the corner! -the background of lots of his pics looked very familiar, and were indeed Chepstow and the Wye Valley. I liked his gardeners very much.
By the time I dropped off my last Boris Bike in Hyde Park, my legs were aching like heck. The bikes are terrifically useful, but so heavy! -like pedalling a tank. And finding somewhere to leave them, if you're an out-of-townie, can be a bother.
So I sat by Paddington Basin and ate Marks and Spencers sandwiches, and longed for home and bed, which were a few hours away yet because I'd booked myself on the 8 o'clock train because it was the cheapest.
And it was packed. And the bloke next to me grunted ungraciously when I tried to be sociable, and waved his Marks and Spencers sushi around, wafting the smell at me, and hogged the arm rest and stared at a swords and sorcery story on his laptop. But I was cool with that. I had my Marks and Spencers Somerset cider and I was taking it home. Inside me.