Thursday, 18 September 2014

that bike thing

We’ve all gone bike crazy in Wiltshire, let me tell you.

The Tour of Britain passed through last week. To mark the route that the race took through the county, Wiltshire Council have tied lots of gold-painted bikes to lamp posts. I examined a few of the bikes, and concluded that they’d been pulled out of the bins at council dumps and recycled. They were mostly shopper bikes. Ironically, the ones I looked at were in better shape than a folding bike I’ve been repairing for a fellow boater. I considered nicking one of the gold jobs after the race had gone through, but decided it would be too much faff, and the gold paint would be a right bugger to get off the gears and chain and everything. So I bought new gear and brake cables, brake blocks, and Sturmey Archer gear toggle and trigger, from an Ebay shop, and the bill came to more than £30. Ouch.

On the day the race went through Bristol, I’d popped up there on some errands, but managed to avoid the road closures. I did notice, though, both on the streets of Bristol and all along the roads back to Devizes, that there were lots of MAMILs out and about, accoutred head to toe in expensive lycra clothes, with the obligatory wrap-round sunglasses, and mounted on road bikes which cost more than my car. And often displaying a complete lack of road sense- manoeuvring without rear observations and half-hearted signalling- not to mention their plodding along at a speed that seemed entirely out of keeping with the rig. It dawned on me that these were the older versions of little boys in Spiderman costumes, dashing around being superheroes before going home to tea.

When the race came through Devizes, we found a good vantage point at the roundabout next to the Wadworths brewery. I stood on a wheely bin to get a better view. Police outriders on motorbikes came by, and directed traffic off the main road. Then more outriders, then cars, then even more outriders. Then even more outriders. I never knew there were so many police motorcyclists. Then a bunch of cars with lots of bicycles on their roofs. Then more outriders.

Then a knot of cyclists. Whizz they went, and lots of the spectators blew whistles as they passed. I never knew this was a thing, otherwise I'd have brought a whistle. If I'd had a whistle. I wondered if Bradley Wiggins was in there with them.

Then more cars. Then another knot of cyclists. Then even more cars and outriders. Then a loose gaggle of more cyclists.

“Who are they?” wondered Suzanne, who was watching the race with me.

“Nothing to do with the race,” said the policewoman who’d been charged with command of our roundabout.

“Ah, Walts” I said, and she smiled agreement. It’s that Spiderman thing again.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

boat work

I've been on a 48 hour mooring on Devizes Wharf, taking advantage of the quayside to paint the name of my boat, which has just been the-green-boat-with-bikes-on-the-roof till now.

Eve's name came with her, and I couldn't see any reason to change it, though I considered adding to it so she could be New Eve (a nod to Angela Carter) and quite liked the idea of Questing Vole.... it is, of course, bad luck to change a boat's name (though that presumably doesn't count on big ships; in twenty five years of seafaring most of the ships I worked on had had several changes of name in their working lives); one way around this is to rename the boat while it is out of the water, apparently.

The sun was so strong that it was painful to put my hand on the boat's side, so I wore mittens to do the painting. I used Hammerite Smooth paint, and it was very uneven, needing two coats and still looking a bit scrappy; still, at least the job's done and now I can look at it and wonder how to do it better next time.

I also finally had chance to spread out this old lorry tarpaulin, which was a left over piece kindly given to me by Kev and Gemma, who had been using it to roof over an old workboat that Kev had built a shed on top of, an impressive sight (though you'll have to take my word for it as I didn't take a picture).

I'm going to make a new cratch cover from it, because the present cover is falling to bits. I'll use the old one as a pattern. I've now washed the new piece of tarp, dried it out and folded it away neatly (as neatly as you can with a tarp), and must now find some vinyl adhesive which is both strong enough for the job and cheap enough to buy in industrial quantities.

Talking of cratch covers, by the way, I'm secretly mystified by some of the terms used 'on the cut', which has its own vocabulary distinct from the seafarer's -thus, a cratch board is the assembly at the front end of the foredeck or well-deck, between which and the cabin you can suspend the cratch cover. But where and what is the cratch itself? OED online tells me that it is a 'long open trough or rack used for holding food for farm animals out of door' and is etymologically similar to 'crèche'   -so presumably the cratch itself is the well-deck? 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

a lot of white cider

Two locks down from the Wadworths brewery in Devizes is one of the more peaceful places I've moored; the foxes bark in the woods, and a tawny owl keewicks a little before dawn. But I'm slowly heading eastwards, so we moved up to Devizes Wharf the other morning. The wharf is where the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust have their base, with a museum and cafe in one of the few remaining old buildings, another having become the Wharf Theatre. For the rest it is car park, and a popular place for people with cans of Special Brew to sit and talk with their dogs, the conversations being quite lengthy and always conducted along these lines:

SHATTAPPP's fairly Pinteresque in its way.

I set up my little display of books and cards by the boat as usual, and got to meet some nice people as usual, in consequence.

On Sunday evening, I was putting things away on the towpath while Boat Teenager did the washing up. A group of four twentysomething Sikhs had migrated across to the towpath from the wharf, and were sitting on a nearby bench. One of the men called to me: "Can we have some tea, please?"

I was surprised to be asked, but not displeased; we do what we can.

"Yes, no problem" I said.

"Do you have masala chai?"

"I....think so!"

I cleared away some of the clutter on the foredeck and invited them to sit. They scrambled on board and made themselves as comfy as possible, as I put the kettle on.

"How much is the tea, please?" asked the woman in the party.

"Oh! Nothing" I said.

They looked startled, and it became apparent that they had thought I was a cafe, an unlikely notion, as anyone who has experienced the clutter of NB Eve will cheerfully agree. They made their excuses and left, despite my assurance that it was fine.

A shame- bet they wouldn't find a masala chai anywhere else in this bit of Wiltshire on  Sunday evening....

Yesterday afternoon I was drawing at my desk when one of the Special Brew Crew started shouting across, instead of at his dog. I got the message that a man was in the water. So I grabbed a rope and went out.

There was indeed a man standing in the water, which lapped his bare shoulders. 

"I've been drinking a lot of white cider" he said in a voice which did nothing to belie this statement.

I tied a bowline and passed it over his head, and bade him put his arms through. Then I hauled him out; he was a big chap, the bank was very steep, and it was not easy. Furthermore, as he emerged, it became apparent that he had nothing on lower down either; his trousers were bunched around his ankles. 

"I've been drinking a LOT of white cider" he said.

I got him onto the bench and he pulled his trousers up while I called 999; it seemed the most prudent thing to do. Then we made him some warm coffee. He preferred to drink from the big blue plastic bottle that was almost empty.

"I HAVE been drinking A LOT of white cider" he assured me, with something between a laugh and a sob. He looked at the canal. "Did I fall in there?"

"Yes, you did," I said.

"It's my birthday on the twenty seventh..... I'm fifty. .....I've been drinking a lot of white cider. .....I've drunk six litres. ...I'm an alcoholic. ...Did I fall in the canal?"


He'd given me a number that he had by heart, and I called his friend, who said she'd come straight away.

Two paramedics arrived, one in an air ambulance flying suit; then a policeman. I told them what little they needed to know and walked back to my boat. Presently I saw the friend arrive, and the salvage of a small shipwreck of a life carried on.

At twilight, Boat Teenager and I went for a last walk up to the bridge. A loud PLOP told us that water voles were active, and we watched them swimming around under the bridge, looking from above a little like tiny dogs. The bells of the parish church were ringing across the hushed town beneath the waxing almost-half moon. A bat flew unostentatiously beneath us through the arch of the bridge.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

talking to whales about poetry

It can be a bit scary, trying to come up with an idea for a picture when the brief is 'do whatever you like' - this is one of two pics I did for the forthcoming edition of Broadsheet, the Exeter-based poetry broadsheet. The other picture is being used, so here's this one because I quite like it even so.

The last Broadsheet was really good, and good value too. Check it out. And there's still time to submit, if you fancy it and live in the South West....

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

onward to Devizes

"I'm thinking of heading up the Flight", I said to my boat neighbour at Bradford on Avon a few weeks ago.
"It's a lot quieter up there," she said. "And the people are a bit more... individual".
"I should be right at home then," I quipped....

I'm talking Caen Flight here, that sequence of 29 locks that takes the Kennet and Avon canal out of the Avon valley into the wide open spaces of the Vale of Pewsey.
Since it's hard going at the best of times and would take an age doing it solo, I was accompanied by some old welsh friends, Gareth and Andrew; Andrew was visiting from Fremantle, Australia, where he lives these days.

Andrew looking surprisingly cheerful near the top

Gareth in action

We joined up with another boat at the foot of the flight; Dave was another singlehander, being helped by a couple of chaps whom he'd helped up the day before. There's a lot of this sort of thing goes on, on the cnals. It's one of the things I really like about them. We tied the two boats together fore and aft, so we were able to chug out of each lock and straight into the next one with the minimum of fuss and manoeuvring.

journey's end

Sunday, 17 August 2014

glow worms


I was out late last night, and cycled back to the boat with no lights, though it was light enough to see my way except when I was approaching the Barge Inn at Seend, when I was blinded by their lights. It's rarely so dark that you can't find your way, and if it's possible, I prefer to travel without a light, because when you've got one, then you are marooned on a small island of light, surrounded by impenetrable darkness. You can see a lot more without a light. 
There was a bright green glow at the side of the path. It was a glow worm. I was v chuffed, as I've only seen two glow worms before. And I was happy that I saw it as green; the first time I saw one, walking back to our Herefordshire tent with my friends after an evening at a pub, I thought it was a cigarette end; it was the only time I've mistaken a green light for a red one, as a result of my deficient colour vision, that put a stop to my intended career as a pilot in the RAF...
Two cyclists appeared as I crouched over the glowworm. "There's a glowworm here!" I called, as they neared. They passed silently, worried that I was some sort of loonie, I suppose.
I passed two more glow worms, a hundred yards or so apart. Then I saw some anglers on the path ahead, and dinged my bell to warn them of my approach. They all put on the little head torches they were wearing, which glowed red (a night vision thing, I suppose). We wished each other good evenings as I passed, and I thought how very like big glow worms they looked, togged up in their bulky all-night clothes and glowing like little beacons.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

tern for the better

Three terns appeared over the canal, swooping and flitting and occasionally diving onto the water's surface. Very lively they were too. A kestrel came over to investigate, and they rounded on it, clattering their beaks. An unusual sound, and one I'd not heard before.

My friend Andrew Heard came visiting; I knew him in Wales long ago, but he's now settled in Fremantle, West Australia, so he comes here but rarely. I took him to Devizes for a fried breakfast at Carol's Kitchen. Then we looked round the Wiltshire Museum's crop circle exhibition, which was not as hippyish as I'd feared. Quite fun, in fact. 

Down in the museum shop, I was extremely chuffed to see that my Westbury Primroses cards are displayed right next to the Eric Ravilious and David Inshaw ones. Did I say extremely chuffed? They are two of my totes fave painters!

...and yesterday I found that one of my poems had been published in Silhouette Press' Here Comes Everyone, in their latest issue Boy/Girl. My poem is about trans stuff, and was originally written in response to a prompt on the 52 group, curated by Jo Bell.

OK, boast mode OFF!