Monday, 24 August 2015

hailing foxes

It's nearly two years since the publication of Inking Bitterns, an anthology that combined poetry and pictures on the subject of wildness. Now, Gert Macky Books (population: 1) is getting ready for a new anthology. It will be produced in what is already recognisably the Gert Macky style, which is to say AT THE VERY LAST MOMENT. It's intended to be launched at the Bristol Poetry Festival, on 29th September. We could do with a few more poems.

The brief: poems about wildery/the natural world/nature; and site-specific, as in Bristol. This is decidedly about Bristol. Length: comfortably fitting on a side of A5. Follow the link above, see what the previous pages looked like.

Time scale: within the next fortnight, I reckon. I'm making this up as I go along, be gentle. Thank you.

My email address is

Saturday, 8 August 2015

making a film about the lightship

Peter Brownlee sets up the opening shots

Liz Brownlee is collecting poems on the subject of 'light', in readiness for National Poetry Day, on 8th October. There's an event at Waterstones in Bristol. And Peter Brownlee has been making films of the poems, which I understand will be on show in Millennium Square.... Liz mentioned in passing that it was a pity there were no lighthouses on hand in Bristol. "But what about the lightship?" I replied. 

What indeed? The former Light Vessel 55, built for Trinity House by Charles Hill in Bristol, is now moored up in Bathurst Basin, where the Cabot Cruising Club have their headquarters on board. I was determined to write something about it because it seemed such a good thing to write about. 

And so I did. Here it is, in my previous post.

And having done so, Peter and Liz liaised with the folk at the cruising club, and we all met up down there a few days ago and made a film. Well, they did. I just stood in the background.

Sarah Allen, Stuart Lees and Jacqueline Corcoran, of the Cabot Cruising Club, prepare for an ensemble reading of the final verse.

Peter Brownlee in action

...and then we had a guided tour of the boat. Everything from the gunwales up is modern, after the fire that was intended to destroy her. (The dense timbers thwarted that plan, in the hull). Down below feels very old indeed. And rather nice. Good place for a poetry reading, I reckon...

a model of the lightship 

downstairs, or below decks as we sailors say

a stage, even!

Friday, 7 August 2015

keeping the light

The English and Welsh Grounds lightship

Some ships are bound for Newport Docks, and they pass to the west of us;
And the Sharpness and the Bristol boats sail safely to the east
And the flood tide that sometimes roars enough to fright the best of us
Uplifts us, but it will not shift our anchorage the least.

There as always is the chimney of the Uskmouth power station,
Lined up with the transporter bridge and distant Ysgyryd Fawr;
And the goods trains wind away with all the produce of the nations
While our newspapers are out of date and week-old milk’s gone sour.

Still, there’s tab nabs at smokoe, after sujieing and holystone;
And a splash of conny onny that goes nicely in the tea.
And each day in the log takes me closer still to going home-
Though when I’m home I wonder if my real home’s the sea.

Cos when dusk comes and we light the lamp, and settle down to tend for it,
I look up and down the channel, and see all the lights like ours
From Flat Holm down to Countisbury; St Brides Wentlooge; the Breaksea ship;
The beacons of the South Wales shore, of Devon and of Somerset;
The flashing lights, the steady ones, that sparkle near and far;
One great coastal constellation, and it’s we who tend the stars.

glossary and pronunciation:
tab nabs - snacks
smokoe - break 
sujieing - mopping (pronounced SOO-jee-ing)
holystone - a stone block used to scour decks
conny onny - condensed milk
Ysgyryd Fawr, otherwise the Skirrid, is a prominent mountain near Abergavenny, and pronounced UZ-grud VOW-r

Monday, 3 August 2015

wings over Wiltshire

Last Thursday (bear with me, please, I've been out in the wilds and need to visit the library to use the internet properly) ...last Thursday, I say, my keen ear (that's the one on the left. The one on the right is nonchalant and whistles constantly) detected an unusual aero engine approaching. with a low and clattery sound. Stubby wings, and invasion stripes... It was a Grumman Martlet! Never seen one before in real life.

Shortly after came a Chance Vought Corsair, in Fleet Air Arm colours adopted for the Far East- the red circle has been removed from the roundel to avoid it being mistaken for the Japanese red circle marking. Another first time sighting for me. This bit of Witlshire is very good for seeing odd aeroplanes.

...and then a Tiger Moth, but hey, Tiger Moths, ho hum*

*Not really...!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Kultur wars on the canal

When I was a lad, I’m sorry to say, 
My chance to join the Navy sadly slipped away
I worked instead selling clapped out motors,
Safe and sound a long way from such dang’rous waters
(safe and sound a long way from such dang’rous waters)
Safe and sound, I say, till, upon a whim
I bought a boat cos I’m a fan of Rosie’n Jim
(He bought a boat cos he’s a fan of Rosie’n Jim)

A marina berth I swiftly found,
And my gangplank very soon was rooted to the ground
I polished the brass and I drank my tea,
And I took to wearing captain’s hats and neckerchees
(he took to wearing captain’s hats and neckerchees)
A red neckerchee which you’ll find, I’m sure 
’s been traditional since roughly 1994
(It’s been traditional since roughly 1994)

One day in my telescope I chanced to spy
A tatty boat with bikes on as it chugged on by
Though it chugged on by, I’m pretty sure
It was only going to find a place nearby to moor
(it was only going to find a place nearby to moor)
And on mooring up, just you mark my words
They’ll be clogging up the waterway with piss and turds
(they’ll be clogging up the waterways with piss and turds)

An article I swiftly penned, 
For that bloke in Narrowmind World who is my best friend
In green Biro and with lots of caps
It was strong on righteous outrage though quite short on facts
(it was strong on righteous outrage but quite short on facts)
For facts and figures are your enemy
If you would sway the actions of the CRT
(if you would sway the actions of the CRT)

Inspired by a recent Narrowboat World piece that claimed that 'continuous moorers', as the writer humorously described them, were clogging up the western end of the Kennet and Avon canal. He made further, evidence-free claims that they were emptying effluent into the canal, because, well, look at them.... (edit) the claim that the K&A is clogged by 'continuous moorers' was debunked by the CRT themselves in this response to a request made by Rick Hemmings for the relevant stats, seen here:

...and now Tillergraph, a towpath freebie, echoes these sentiments with similar claims in its 'letter of the month',  further complaining that live aboard boaters are making the place look unsightly, and affecting the whole 'culture and ethos' of the canal. Hey ho. If in doubt, respond with persiflage and a touch of contumely. Thhhrrrrp.

Monday, 20 July 2015

wild times on the canal

Dawn near Semington. The roe hind raises her head and sweeps the horizon with the radar dishes of her ears. The fox is a red periscope surfacing from the thistles. A wood pigeon porpoises across the gulf of meadow. Fax and teletext messages burst in turn from the skylark and sedge warbler...

The hind examines a pair of cock pheasants who are quarrelling; she leaps back when they remonstrate with her; retreats a few paces, then edges forward again.

The fox tiptoes slowly away, quartering a nettle pitch with its head raised and ears well forward; it springs into the air, but whether or not it caught the mouse is impossible to tell from where I stand. The deer follows the hedge to a gap, and melts into the field of rape. 

Shortly after, the first jogger passes, and the towpath is recolonised by people. It's Sunday, and there are many walkers and cyclists.

As the sun begins to show signs of setting, a roebuck steps lightly out from cover and moves to a hollow in the field, where only his head and antlers can be seen. 

He looks expectantly back to the trees, and presently returns to them with a decided frisk in his hooves. 

The hind appears at the gallop, pursued by the buck; after a few circuits of the field, with much looking-back on her part, they settle to grazing, just out of reach of the last sunbeam that crosses the whole expanse, scintillating a million midges as it goes. 

A peacock calls, for this is, after all, Wiltshire.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

mixed messages

Boat Teenager and I lunched out, as it had stopped raining. Large pasties from Joe's Bakery, sitting on a bench on the Downs. "We're causing even more pain for the joggers", she said, "all wishing they had pasties too".

"Maybe they aren't the sort of people who like pasties," I suggested. "Modern people can be pretty strange."

We had a bit of a laugh about quinoa, and went charity shopping. Got some good stuff too, the sort that cheers you up if you ever needed cheering up.

Heading back up the hill, I paused in the right filter lane before turning into Coldharbour Road, to let a hesitant oncoming cyclist, who had right of way, decide whether he was going to go down the hill or turn left. 

He stopped. 

A shiny black BMW was behind us. The driver hooted his horn and, through the dark windows, I saw him gesticulating, apparently at the junction. "F*** OFF", I mouthed at him, and set off. He may be happy to run over a cyclist, I thought, but I'm not.

A little later he tried to overtake us, on a section of road that is really entirely unsuited for overtaking.  An oncoming car stopped him.

We turned left. He followed, honking his horn.

I passed Boat Teenager my phone. "Get ready to call 999 if we need to," I said.

At the next junction, he tried to force his way past us again. I stopped; he got out; "It's all right, I'm not going to rob you just because I'm black," he said, holding out his hands palms outward, with a rueful sort of smile.

"I never thought you were," I said, quite truthfully. 

"....just that your brake lights aren't working," he continued. 

"Oh! Thank you"

We exchanged smiles and he went on his way.