Wednesday, 29 July 2009

o let me see thy footprints

The Telegraph has helpfully published a list of the top thousand most polluting postcodes for carbon emissions. I am quietly proud that my leafy suburb is up there, though at 25.5 tonnes per household per year, it lags behind top-of-the-league Rickmansworth's 36.42. It's all down to the affluent middle classes, apparently, what with the 4x4s, people carriers (so essential for the school run with Mellors and Jemima), barbecues and forren holidays.

Reading through the list gave me a little frisson of gratitude that I didn't live in the other places, which may be unfair, but there is something about some place names that say to me, 'Don't go there!' And then I went to my big book of poetry and read this

Barton in the Beans

For comfort on bad nights,
open out a map of Middle England

and sing yourself to sleep
with a lullaby of English names:

Shouldham Thorpe, in gentle sunshine,
Swadlincote, in a Laura Ashley frock,

Little Cubley, running with weak tea,
Kibworth Beauchamp, praying on protestant knees,

Ashby-de-la-Zouche, saying 'Morning',
Wigston Parva, smiling- but not too widely,

Ramsey Mereside, raising an eyebrow,
Eye Kettleby, where they'd rather not talk about it,

Market Overton, echoing with the slamming doors
of Cold Overton, where teenagers flee every night to their rooms,

screaming that from Appleby Magna to Stubbers Green
they never met a soul who understood.

They never met a soul.
At Barton in the Beans, the rain says

Joanne Limburg

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

suds ouest

It's the summer hols at last. So I am writing this on my tiny PDA, from our luxury holiday yurt in the Maldives.

Or not.

I'm trying to get a bunch of drawings finished, and generally trying to be more organised than has been my habit in the past. A few days ago, I applied myself to organising piles of paper into themes, and doing something about them. I even managed to write some Important Letters. Then I completed a drawing. It was now 9:45 pm. It had been a productive day, but something wasn't quite right. "Twenty third of June," I kept thinking. I knew it was something significant.

Then I remembered that it was Brendagh's birthday. And it was now too late to do anything about it.

I felt very annoyed with myself, and a bit worried about the state of my memory.

We were talking, the next day, about the difficulties of being self-motivated and about that sense of oppression you get when you've got a pile of work that needs to be done and you keep putting off, and the sense of relief you get when you have actually done at least some of it. Brendagh described it as like having live frogs around the place (she is a cat owner, which may account for the choice of metaphor). We agreed that first thing in the morning is a good time to clear away a few tasks. "Eat five live frogs before breakfast," as she put it.

So that can be the thought for the day.

Monday, 27 July 2009

still to adventure and battle we ride

On Saturday I decided to mark the centenary of Louis Bleriot's flight across the English Channel by recreating his historic flight. Only we did it in the Morris Traveller, and we used the Severn Bridge instead of the wings. And flew from England to Wales, rather than France to England. And flew a bit faster than M. Bleriot (50mph, which was a whole 10mph faster than his aeroplane). He flew a bit higher than us, though, at 250 feet. Oh, and we drove rather than flew. But generally, I think you will agree, a pretty close fit.

Here's how it went.

I wanted to follow the Wordsworths' route through the Wye valley up to Goodrich, when they went walking in 1798. John came along for the ride, and Katie's friend Alexa joined us so that they could sit in the back being moody and disaffected - apparently it's in the contract somewhere.

We rumbled out of town past Filton aerodrome, and up onto the motorway at the Almondsbury interchange. As we swooped down the long descent to the Vale of the Severn, John told me about his plan to buy a new bicycle, using the government's CycleScheme. John's got his eyes on a machine with belt drive. We got to discussing the relative merits of Shimano (good) Rohloff (v good but extremely expensive) and Sturmey Archer (useless) hub gears. This discussion was quite engrossing.

I paused.

"I think we're on the wrong motorway," I said.

"I didn't want to say," said John.

We were heading for the wrong Severn Bridge now. This reminded m of the time that I accidentally got onto the pay-as-you-go section of the M6, and was doubly frustrated because not only was the road taking me to the wrong place, but I was going to have to pay for the privilege.

We did a tour of the roundabout just before the Second Severn Crossing, and headed back for the Almondsbury interchange.

As we struggled to gain height up that long incline, the engine started misfiring. I dropped a gear, and we screamed up. Well, screamed up at low speed, if you see what I mean. And then we went all the way round the Almondsbury interchange again. Motorway interchanges certainly take up a lot of space, I reflected as we completed our circumnavigation.

At last we got onto the right bridge. The engine didn't miss a beat. Far to the west I caught a fleeting glimpse of Lavernock Point, the wind turbines at Avonmouth and odd bits of Somerset. And then we were over, and heading for the Wye valley on the long straight road past Chepstow racecourse.

There was a moped ahead of us. I accelerated. We overtook. The engine misfired again, then died. The oil pressure and ignition lights came on, bright yellow and red. I made a perfect forced landing in a convenient side road.

"Maybe we won't bother with Goodrich," I said.

John agreed that it might be over-optimistic.

We waited a few minutes to let things cool down, and started up again. I drove into Chepstow, as it was on the way home anyway. We wandered down to the river, where Katie and Alexa slumped, looking even more bored and resentful. They'd obviously been practicing. I chivvied them along until we reached the Severn Princess, one of the former Severn ferries, now lying in a derelict state under the railway bridge.

They perked up a bit when we scrambled on board.

The ferry had been lying around in the West of Ireland, and brought back to Chepstow with the idea of restoring it. The project seemed a bit optimistic, looking at it.

Look, that's the turntable where cars arriving on board got swivelled around into position on the deck. now we were very hot and in need of ice cream. We settled for an eight-pack of Jelly Baby wobbly jellies from the Somerfield supermarket. I wish I'd taken photos of that. They were kind of droopy and faintly obscene.

Heading back to England, we had to detour to the Second Severn Crossing, as there were roadworks on the old bridge. A squall blew in across the Severn, and helped cool us down. There were no more ignition failures, probably because of the drop in temperature. (I think the HT coil might have been overheating - I shall put in a replacement, and hope for the best). So there; another Bleriot connection. He escaped ditching in the Channel by flying through a rain cloud to cool down his engine.

Friday, 24 July 2009


Many birds have regional tweaks in their songs – especially blackbirds, chaffinches and willow warblers. Kentish blackbirds often select a phrase similar to part of the third movement of Beethoven’s violin concerto

Geraldine Taylor The Coffee Thrush

After my attempt to sum up How I Attained Enlightenment Through Cycling in fifty words or less (through boko-maru with the pedals, possibly), I got a message from Alan Summers, the haiku man, asking for a single word. He's going to be up on the plinth

I'd like as many people as possible to send me "important words" and I will read out as many as I can during my hour on the plinth.

What's important to you that can be summed up in just one single word?

Is it a word that's important to the world, or is it something personal like someone's name?

All of your important words are welcome whoever you are.

You can give a reason why the word is important to you, but you don't have to. You can include your name, or remain anonymous.

Email your important words to: by 4pm Monday 27th July, or give them to myself or my wife or Beatrice in Trafalgar Square between noon and four o'clock - we'll be the ones collecting important words.
I couldn't think of a portentous sort of word, so I settled for a nice sounding one instead. People who live in rainy places could do with more words to describe rain, probably. And you do seem to get more types in the Wess Vinglun than you do elsewhere. Like that fine, misty drizzle that gets you soaked through in no time at all. The Basques call it chirimiri, I was told by Suzanne who once lived there.

So that's my word. Because it sounds nice. And an attempt to describe it, in seventeen syllables (but not less)


This mist I move through;
I blink it out of my eyes.
My coat’s cold and wet

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


Bristol is coming to terms with being a Cycling City, with varying degrees of success. Over on the City Council website there is a competition called Turning Point, in which you are invited to describe a life-changing moment, preferably bicycle-related, in 50 words or less. I mention it and provide the link in case you fancy entering and maybe winning that £250 voucher for bike stuff.

I thought long and hard (well, two minutes and a sip of tea). But cycling has been a part of my life ever since my father sneakily let go all those years ago and I was launched.... into a Lancashire gorse bush. So my life-changing experiences are not particularly bike related. So here is my entry; the occasion was memorable, anyway, ascending from Bantry Bay in Ireland

All day we'd sheltered in our tent waiting for the rain to stop. It didn't. We packed up, pushed our soggy bikes up the long steep road over the coastal mountains, and emerged into sunshine with an endless downhill before us. If it's raining where you are, just keep going.


When I was wandering around Blaise Castle, wondering about the relationship between Romanticism and the picturesque (as you do), John Terry, who was along for the ride, quoted this from memory.

"Allow me," said Mr Gall. "I distinguish the picturesque and the beautiful, and I add to them, in the laying out of grounds, a third and distinct character, which I call unexpectedness." "Pray, sir," said Mr. Milestone, "by what name do you distinguish this character when a person walks around the grounds for the second time?" "Mr. Gall bit his lips, and inwardly vowed to revenge himself on Milestone, by cutting up his next publication.
Thomas Love Peacock. Headlong Hall (1815)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009



I have already described how, on Saturday, I drove to the Midlands and stopped for petrol and snacks, and the Finest Swordsman in France accidentally bought alcohol-free beer.

Yesterday morning I got a call from a Detective Inspector at the local police station, asking if I am the owner of green Morris Traveller, registration blah blah.

"Yes", I say, going into worry mode.

"I've had a report from the Tesco garage on Southmead Road that you drove away without paying for fuel. The CCTV shows that there were several people in the car, and that you went into the shop... do you have a receipt?"

I rummage in my purse. There is a receipt from Tesco. Hmm, let's see. Pringles, check. Cadbury's Eclairs, check. Cherry Coke, check. We like to eat healthily when driving, you know.

No petrol though.

The DI and I agree that the best thing to do would be to go along to the filling station. So I do, and the manager is nice about it, and I pay for the petrol.

Must look more carefully at the till display next time, evidently.

While I'm out and about, I pop over to the Cribbs Causeway shopping mall because I'm nearly there by now, and I want some calcium supplement tablets after learning about the leaching of calcium from bones that you get from drinking carbonated water (thank you, Larry, for alerting me to this problem).

So I get them from Boots the Chemist, and look for a pair of socks while I'm at it, to go with my ultra-comfy Conker boots. Which by now I am longing for, as I came out wearing smart (well, smart for me) pumps, as I'd been seeing someone at the bank earlier. And my ingrowing toenail was hurting like fury; I ended up taking my shoes off and walking without them. Though I put them on again when I entered M&S. Funny how it feels relatively acceptable to be barefoot while out and about, but I feel self-conscious about it if I'm in a shop.

I check out the hosiery section. Nothing very exciting. I look in the men's department, as I've not looked in there for quite some time, and I have big feet, and you never know, they might have what I'm looking for. Long socks, knee length even, to go with my boots.

There are some quite nice socks. They even come in pink. Crikey. I get some red ones though.

The woman at the counter smiles and asks me, "Are they for him or for you?"

"We'll fight over them," I say.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


We're thinking of boats, what with the summer holidays being close upon us. I've been getting the Mirror dinghy ready for the sea again. But Katie has experienced the joys of kayaking on her school camp, and wants to go solo. Entirely understandable, but we've still got a sailing dinghy and a large Canadian canoe on our hands. Maybe we need to get rid of a few things first.

As a change from the sort of poems I've been putting up lately, this describes a sea voyage around the Welsh coast. I've sailed up and down this bit several times; I came round Land's End and into St George's Channel in a hurricane on my first trip to sea; it was a wild night, the night the Union Star and the Penlee lifeboat were destroyed. And I've sailed down through Cardigan Bay when the sea was like a mirror, and the Bishops and Clerks (the chain of rocks and islets that extend off St David's Head) had inverted mirages sitting on their heads, like a 70s album cover by Roger Dean. And watched the tide races around Strumble and Ramsey. And so on. So I like this poem, because it counts off the headands and sounds, and I can follow the voyage in my head.

The Chaunty of the Nona Hilaire Belloc

Come list all ye Cullies and Doxies so dear,

You shall hearken to the tale of the Bold Marineer
That took ship out of Holyhead and drove her so hard
Past Bardsey, Pwlheli, Port Madoc, and Fishguard--- 
Past Bardsey, Pwlheli, Port Madoc, and Fishguard.

Then he dropped out of Fishguard on a calm summer's day,
Past Strumbles, St David's and across St Bride's Bay;
Circumnavigating Skomer that island around,
With the heart of a Lion he threaded Jack Sound--- 
With the heart of a Lion he threaded Jack Sound.

Then from out the Main Ocean there rolled a great cloud,

So he clawed into Milford Haven by the fog-blast so loud,
Until he dropped anchor in a deep-wooded bay,
Where all night with old Sleep and quiet Sadness he lay--- 
Where all night with old Sleep and quiet Sadness he lay.

Next morning was a Doldrum, and he whistled for a breeze,
Which came from the Nor' Nor' Westward all across the high seas;
In passing St Govan's lightship he gave them good-night;
But before it was morning he raised Lundy Light---
Before it was morning he had raised Lundy Light.

Then he tossed for twelve hours in that horrible place,

Which is known to the Mariner as the Great White Horse Race,
Till, with a slant about three bells, or maybe near four,
He saw white water breaking upon Loud Appledore--- 
He saw white water breaking upon Loud Appledore.

The Pirates of Appledore, the Wines of Instow;

But her nose is for Bideford with the tide at the flow.
Rattle anchor, batten hatches, and falls all lie curled;
The Long Bridge of Bideford is the end of the World---
The Long Bridge of Bideford is the end of the World.

plenty of Morris

a motorway wonderland

I drove up to the Midlands with Katie yesterday; she is away for the weekend. We were asked to give a lift to The Finest Swordsman In France, so we arrived punctually outside his house and rang the bell. And waited.

And waited.

He finally appeared with his guitars, which we stowed in the boot, and I raised the driver's seat and ushered him into the back seat.

As far as Katie and I are concerned, the Trav is our car, and she belongs in the front seat. There seems to be an expectation that when an adult joins us, they should take the front seat and she go into the back. We agree that this is not fair to Katies, and have adopted a 'guests in the back' policy. Although, when they are her friends, she prefers to be in the back with them. You know how it is.

We stopped at a Tesco filling station and, after I'd put the petrol in, got some sweets for the trip. Finest Swordsman picked up a six-pack of Becks Alkoholfrei beer. "Gosh!" I thought. "Finest Swordsman is a changed man."

As we rumbled along the motorway, Finest Swordsman offered helpful advice about the car; "I think there's an exhaust leak," he said; "I can smell fumes."

Finest Swordsman is a bit of an expert about cars, as you may have gathered already. I filed the information about the exhaust leak in the appropriate folder in my head. F for forget.

I tried to make conversation. "How do you think Becks Alkoholfrei compares with other non-alcoholic beer, Finest Swordsman?" I asked. I am genuinely curious, because I have tried it and thought, "Yuk".

Finest Swordsman was horribly alarmed. "Shit! I didn't notice the label!"

I wonder what he's going to do with the beer. For Finest Swordsman, a non-alcoholic drink is a drink wasted.

After the handover of passengers at Checkpoint Chav, just south of Birmingham, I returned to Bristol by way of the Wye valley, as it was a nice day and I am thinking about Wordsworth, and was seeking inspiration. I stopped at Redbrook, and walked over the old railway bridge to the Boat Inn. It's a good place to sit watching the river, and think, and drink. In this case, I was drinking a bottle of perry made by a local farmer, who calls it Capsy Wennet. The woman who served me told me that he calls her 'capsy wennet' too. You may recognise the name from Cold Comfort Farm. The perry was quite earthy and yeasty, but certainly interesting, though my stomach started making complaining noises later in the day

The pub was full of morris men. They were the Bathampton Morris Men, on a weekend tour.

John joined me, and told me about it. They had already danced that morning in Chepstow and Monmouth, and were carrying on to Grosmont, where they would spend the night in the village hall, and basically dance and drink their way around Monmouthshire. A bunch of Will Kempes with a minibus. "A weekend without the wives and girlfriends," said John, cheerfully...

Tin whistles and accordions struck up inside the pub. The morris men were settling in and making themselves at home while waiting for their lunch.

John and I talked about travelling across the Severn. He remembered going on the ferry when he was a boy, lumbering along in the family Morris 8 hoping to catch the ferry before the tide fell, and the alarming descent of the slipway and across the boat's ramp onto the ferry deck, where the car would be swung on the turntable and moved back into position for the crossing.

A kingfisher flew low across the river, which was brown and in spate; there's been heavy rain in Mid-Wales, evidently, and the Wye can rise very rapidly indeed. The pink flowers of overhanging Himalayan balsam dipped down towards the floodwaters.

John also remembered the building of the Severn bridge; the box sections, built in the shipyard at Chepstow, floated out and raised up onto the supporting cables. He described how the big towers at first leaned outwards, and as the cables took the weight of the box sections, the towers leaned further and further inwards until they were vertical.

Then one of his comrades called across; "Bill! The food's ready!"

"It's John, not Bill," said John.

"I didn't know how you were getting on with the lady; I thought you might want to be Bill", said the other chap.

We smiled.

And so we parted. I liked John. Or Bill.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

a rum do

on Twyn Barlwm

I got an e-mail from David yesterday, about the Idris Davies poem Rhymney I uploaded last week. It was short and to the point:

pronounced as RUM_KNEE an Englishwoman, albeit one who went to school in the Valleys, I hesitate to pronounce upon Welsh pronunciation. But... as I recall, Rh is pronounced differently to R; it is rolled, with lots of breath. Try reversing the letters, like this: Hrum-knee...

I once had to explain to Richard, by e-mail, how to pronounce the welsh LL. I found a useful description of it in my Welsh placenames book. "Like the TL in Bentley", it said. Which sort of works, although when Katie tried this explanation with some children in Nottingham when she introduced them to Llygoden, her toy mouse, they inserted a glottal stop and it came out as Ben_Lee.

Of course, there's proper pronunciation and there's pronunciation as it is pronounced. The locals were pretty casual about it in the Newbridge area, back in the 70s, and no-one spoke Welsh apart from the children of Mrs James, my English teacher, two of whose sons went to the Welsh school at Rhydfelen. So 'Celynen', for instance (the name of two local collieries: North Celynen and South Celynen) would be spoken 'Glennan'. This was in the Ebbw valley; I had the impression that things got progressively more Welsh as you travelled west.

Times change.

Here's a poem. I remember those hooters. (Nantgarw, by the way, is pronounced "Nant GAR oo") with the stress on the GAR, and a short 'a' sound as in 'ash')

Meic Stephens Hooters

Night after night from my small bed

I heard the hooters blowing up and down the cwm:

Lewis Merthyr, Albion, Nantgarw, Ty-draw —

these were the familiar banshees of my boyhood.

For each shift they hooted, not a night

without the high moan that kept me from sleep;

often, as my father beyond the thin wall

rumbled like the turbines he drove at work, I

stood for hours by the box-room window,

listening. The dogs of Annwn barked for me then,

Trystan called without hope to Esyllt

across the black waters. Ai, it was their wail

I heard that night a Heinkel flew up

the Taff and its last bomb fell on our village;

we huddled under the cwtsh, making

beasts against the candle’s light until the sky

was clear once more, and the hooters

sounded. I remember too how their special din

brought ambulances to the pit yard,

the masked men coming up the shaft with corpses

gutted by fire; then, as the big cars

moved down the blinded row on the way to Glyntaf,

all the hooters for twenty miles about

began to swell, a great hymn grieving the heart.

Years ago that was. I had forgotten

the hooters: my disasters, these days, are less

spectacular. We live now in this city:

our house is large, detached and behind fences.

I sleep easily, but waking tonight

found the same desolate clangour in my ears

that from an old and sunken level

used to chill me as a boy — the inevitable hooter

that paralyses with its mute alarm.

How long I have been standing at this window,

a man in the grown dark, only my wife

knows as I make for her white side, shivering.

Friday, 17 July 2009

catch that pigeon

blokes up ladders, Walcot Street, Bath

Yesterday was Katie's school sports day (she had put her name down for the hop, skip and jump, because you've got to put your name down for something. She gets her enthusiasm for athletics from me). So I had to deliver her to the school sports ground, which is some way from the school.

We went by tandem, and as we cycled along we passed little knots of children in the school's PE kit, heading the same way.

"If I see anyone I know, I want to get off and walk with them," said Katie, who was becoming more mortified by the moment.

She didn't. We arrived and swung into the small car park, where other children were being dropped off in big cars.

"Just go. Now. Pleeeease" said Katie, who was now positively writhing on the back of the tandem.

I ignored her and kept going till we were clear of the car park (dangerous places on school runs, car parks) and looking out over the sports field where teachers and tables and children were arranging themselves about the place.

Katie was making little squeaking noises by now, so I left her to it.

Then over to Bath where I had arranged to meet my little brother Rufus and his family. They've been camping down Salisbury way.

I've not seen them for seven years, since my father's funeral.

They were running late, so I goofed on the promenade overlooking Pulteney weir, watching the tourists...

...and watching the seagulls whirling, looking for food to steal from the tourists or the ducks.

Then a seagull made a dive at a pigeon. The pigeon had a quite striking appearance; white, with black tail and markings.

They swooped to and fro; the seagull could fly faster, and would gain height and then dive at the pigeon, and the pigeon would jink out of the way. This was seriously high class aerobatics, better than the Red Arrows. You could have sold tickets. Finally the pigeon flicked under Pulteney Bridge, and the seagull pulled up at the last moment to avoid the arch, going "Curse you, Red Baron!" in seagull.

I went into the indoor market and bought a quarter of sarsaparilla drops, and had a look round, and went back down to the promenade.

In the middle of the road was the seagull with the pigeon in its beak. The pigeon was frozen; the seagull was bashing it against the road. People stood gawping at the show.

I dashed over to stop the murder. The seagull dropped the pigeon, which took to its wings and was away in a flash. Then the seagull faced up to me. Its beak was messy with feathers, and it looked quite miffed at being interrupted, and had that generally insanely psychotic appearance that seagulls do have, when you look them in the eye.

I, however, had a brolly, and I wasn't afraid to use it.

So it slouched off, muttering darkly of revenge.

And I met Rufus and Pauline, and the girls, and we had cups of tea and bacon butties in the market cafe and had a too-short chat before I had to dash off again for Bristol.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


I was out doing stuff yesterday, and when I parked up outside the office I was visiting, I switched off the engine and heard a hissing from under the bonnet.

"Uh -oh..." I thought, pulling the bonnet release toggle.

Indeed, steam was hissing out from the little bit of tube that connects the water pump to the cylinder head.

Nothing to be done until it was cool, so I completed my business and then drove the very short distance to a branch of ALDI, where I bought loads of their sparkling spring water.

I poured a bottleful into the radiator and drove home. And removed the offending pipe. It has a split along the seam, as you can perhaps see here. And it's less than a year old.

So I replaced it with a thick piece of hose.

The positive side of this is that I've discovered that ALDI's spring water is at least as cheap as LIDL's, and it comes from Wales rather than Germany. So I'll be going back there.

Later, I sat on the top deck of the Grain Barge in the harbour, drinking cider with Brendagh and watching the Sea Cadets keeping warm with their rowing and shouting at each other. It's a shouty business, being military.

It was a bit chilly, as the sun sets in Hotwells in the middle of the afternoon, what with the great mass of Clifton looming over it. Me, I just put a coat on. But whatever floats your boat.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

those are pearls

There is something hug-yourself-ish about coming across a felicitous sentence in an otherwise extremely matter-of-fact book. Like those occasional moments in Pevsner, when he allows himself a dry smile, as with Bristol's church of

St Paul, Portland Square (E). 1789-94 by Daniel Hague, perhaps with some help from or interference by the Vicar. One welcomes the tower in the skyline of Bristol, though Mr Whiffen is of course right in calling it 'rather monstrous'.
The subject of workshop manuals came up yesterday, and I got to thinking of my old MZ motorbike manuals. The MZ (Motorradwerk Zschopau) was built in East Germany, and the paperwork was very 'socialist realism', printed on coarse paper and with very clunky black and white pictures.

Germans do take their engineering seriously. Once, when I was working on a seismic survey ship, we were refitting in the Lindenau Werft in Kiel. The yard's engineers fitted a large water pump on the gun deck so that we could pump canisters of nitro-carbo-nitrate along a tube to explode them deep underwater. Several engineers in white helmets superintended the alignment of the pump and motor, then came in a delegation to where we sat drinking our tea and gasconading, and politely informed us that it was essential to maintain a clearance of 9 mm on the coupling.

We smiled and assured them that we would take every precaution.

They walked back to the pump and conferred earnestly. Then the delegation approached us again and presented me with a feeler gauge. "Nine millimeters!", they repeated. We exchanged smiles. It was a 'hands across the ocean' moment.

I felt honoured. The feeler gauge is in my toolbox still, though we never used it on the pump, and it worked fine anyway....

Now then, to the accidental lyricism of MZ manuals. I remember the performance data, stating top speed as 78 MPH with the caveat that 'rider should assume a sporting position (slightly stooped). No loose clothing!'

Sadly, I gave the books away long ago. But I found an online copy of the MZ workshop manual, and this is how it begins:

In the high latitudes of Finland, in the parching heat of Africa, hence, under the most different conditions, the MZ moto-cycles run to the satisfaction of their owners.

Heck, doesn't it make you pine for the open road?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

I'm only doing my job

you can't do that here

I've got a big pile of Bristol Downs books, as I have taken over the distribution of them in Bristol, because Catherine the publisher is a bit busy with other things these days.

Yesterday I finally plucked up courage to do the City Museum. I piled a cardboard box with copies of the Bristol Downs, along with a few others from Broadcast Books, as they wanted them too. These were, by the way

The Street Names Of Bristol
Secret Underground Bristol
Clifton Suspension Bridge
Dictionary of Bristle
Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology it was quite a heavy box. I bungeed it onto the back of my bicycle, and teetered down Whiteladies Road.

Since Banksy took over the Museum a few weeks ago, there have been humungous crowds at the museum -apparently they are getting 8000 people per day. They have closed off the adjacent University Road and installed barriers for people to queue along, in one of those snakey up-and-down patterns that you get in places where people tend to queue a lot. Like the Chartres Cathedral maze but less picturesque.

The maze was choc-a-bloc. And Queens Road was hugely busy with the Banksy fans contending with the crowds of graduates in academic gowns and their doting families, spilling out from a degree ceremony in the Wills Building next door. It was an interesting contrast; posh formal wear on the one hand, and grown up people wearing the sort of thing that teenagers used to wear on the other.

I finally found somewhere to park my bicycle, and staggered to the place where the queue went in. "I'm delivering some books to the shop," I said; "They're expecting me".

The steward was evidently one of the temporary staff who had been drafted in for the exhibition. He was very cheerful and very helpful, and he made a radio call. "Go round to the exit door," he said; "It's the old main entrance, just over there."

And indeed it was. There were several porters standing there. Porters of the old school. Masters of the craft of Getting In The Way. Men whose beetling bellies o'erhang the Nylon trousers amain.

"I'm dropping off some books for the shop," I said.

"You'll have to take them to the Goods Entrance," said the fattest porter. He airily waved in the direction of University Road.

So instead of walking the twenty paces across the museum foyer to the shop, I pushed my way through the crowds, climbed the steep hill of the side road, skirted the queues, went through a Gormenghasty side entrance where forgotten bits of museum lay mouldering, then made my way through the museum from top to bottom (in the hilly way of things, the goods entrance is on an upper floor) and finally got to the shop.

O well, Fat Porter evidently belongs in a museum.

Oh yes, here's what the queue looks like

I met Sandra on Whiteladies Road and we had a nice talk. She is a visitor to this blog, and said that she likes the line drawings. So here's one, Sandra!

Monday, 13 July 2009

getting on

let go! don't let go!

Katie spent the week in Exmouth, at a school camp. In obedience to the school's request, she left her mobile phone at home. So of course I was wondering how she was getting on, and fretting ever so slightly; this was the first time she's been out of touch for a sustained time.

Down at the school on Friday afternoon, I picked my way through the rows of Range Rovers gridlocking the school entrance as other parents arrived too, to pick up the sprogs... chatting with a mum about how I wished we'd smuggled her mobile into her rucksack. Another mum piped in, "I sent mine off with his mobile, and he didn't ring me once!"

So things could be worse.

And then the coaches arrived and Katie appeared, with a rucksack as big as she is, and we said our cautious hellos. It was OK, she hadn't gone completely feral.

So we walked home together.

Friday, 10 July 2009


As I noted ages ago at the beginning of May, I was surprised that the swifts arrived here before I saw any swallows in our Bristol suburb.

So today, two months on, I finally saw swallows over our street. Two sightings and a twittering. And not before time.

And now a bit more Welsh poetry, specially for Larry. This is by Hedd Wyn

Dim ond lleuad borffor,
Ar fin y mynydd llwm;
A sŵn hen afon Prysor
Yn canu yn y cwm...

Only the purple moon
At the edge of the bare mountain;
And the sound of the old river Prysor
Singing in the valley

Translation is given by Gwyn Jones in A Prospect of Wales


another in my occasional series: Useful Guides To Fixing Things On Moggies, And With Pictures Too, What's More

After I changed the Trav's rear axle hub bearing and oil seal back in May , I've been intending to take the wheel off and check that everything was OK. I finally got round to it, and found that everything was pretty good, but there was a bit of float on the hub- that is to say, it could slide inward and outward rather a lot. The Workshop Manual says that the bearing should protrude beyond the face of the hub; in fact, it was about 1mm below the face, which felt like quite a lot when I rocked it to and fro.

So I dismantled it again.

I got some heavy cartridge paper and measured the combined thickness of ten sheets. This gave me 3.5mm. So I reckoned that three thicknesses would be about right. I drew around the bearing and cut out three paper shims, like this

...and then reassembled the hub.

According to my calculations, the bearing face is about 0.5 mm proud of the hub face, and the book says it should be 0.025 to 0.102 mm. I'm hoping that the fudge factor will take the discrepancy on board. And I'll check it again next week or so, to make sure that it isn't leaking.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

picturesque picaresque

I've been looking at Wordsworth's travels in the Bristol area lately, and was pleased to discover that he and Dorothy had once stayed at the Co-op in Shirehampton. It wasn't actually the Co-op back then, but it's fun popping in to buy your baked beans there and imagining the Wordsworths studying the frozen pizzas with wild surmise.

When William and Dorothy set out to walk from Shirehampton for Wales on the morning of July 1oth 1798, they would have walked past Blaise Castle, in Henbury. It occured to me that there was some similarity between the landscaping at Blaise, and Wordsworth's poem "Tintern Abbey", which he would be composing over the following days. So I popped up to Blaise yesterday to check it out. I had visited the house before; it is now a museum in the care of Bristol City Council. What I had remembered was the 'Red Book' of the designer, Humphry Repton, laid out in a glass case with the landscape neatly delineated in watercolour, with paper overlays showing his proposed alterations. Upon what, on the 'before' picture, was a wooded hill, he created a small field with a rustic cottage in the far corner.

The view across to the cottage has been obscured by the passage of time and the regrowth of trees. And unfortunately, the roof of the museum had leaked last summer, and the book had been damaged; but a guide helpfully fetched us a copy of it, and I was able to see a facsimile of Repton's designs and a transcript of his proposals.

This is an excerpt from what I'm writing about it...

.the sham castle which gives Blaise Castle its name

We then passed Blaise Hamlet, a little cluster of thatched ‘gingerbread’ cottages where retainers of the adjacent Blaise Castle House would once have been installed in order to look picturesque for the people in the big house. I wondered what William and Dorothy would have made of it; but on that July morning in 1798 as they passed by, the hamlet was still thirteen years in the future, though Humphry Repton was already at work creating a picturesque landscape for the owner of the house. I was struck by the area of common ground in the aesthetic sensibilities of Repton and Wordsworth, although they seem worlds apart in other ways. Here is Repton describing the effect of cutting back the trees on the hill behind the house and installing a cottage:

…this by its form will mark its intention, and the occasional smoke from the chimney will not only produce that cheerful and varying motion which painting cannot express…. It must look like what it is, the habitation of a labourer …but its simplicity should be the effect of Art and not of accident.

Red Book for Blaise Castle

..and here is Wordsworth, on his return from this short expedition to Wales, describing what he saw in the Wye Valley:

…these wild pastoral farms,

Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke

Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!

With some uncertain notice, as might seem

Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,

Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire

The hermit sits alone.

These beauteous forms,

Through a long absence, have not been to me

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration….

Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey

At least I know what I think of Blaise Hamlet. Pevsner describes it as

the nec plus ultra of picturesque layout and design. ….(it) is indeed responsible for some of the worst sentimentalities of England. Its progeny is legion and includes Christmas cards and teapots. Why then are we not irritated but enchanted by it?

Why indeed, Nikolaus? I am not enchanted but irritated by it. So there. I said as much to James as we drove by, and if he disagreed, he wisely kept his own counsel.

(some more here...)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

plane daft

waiting for an aeroplane

Here's an easy way to have an adventure.

I squint at diary to confirm the arrival time of the aeroplane that is carrying Brendagh back from Turkey. 7:40. Head off early because I'm neurotic about being late for things.

Heading out of town on the A38, admiring all the weather that's happening over the Mendips ahead of me. There are great glowering storm clouds, and a huge cleft into the upper sky, where there are massive mounds of sunlit fluffy white clouds, like a turbocharged Mister Whippy machine gone berserk.

So I park up in a field near the runway and watch the sky, and the occasional aeroplane.

And I check my mobile for the time, and to make sure Brendagh hasn't texted me to let me know that she's got through baggage collecting.

7:40 comes and goes.

I read some poetry. I write stuff on my little laptop. Then the battery runs low and it goes into hibernation.

There is a ferocious downpour, and dog walkers are running for their cars. I photograph them from the comfort of my own car. Then the windows all steam up.

More time passes, in the way it tends to do.

I drive up to the "ten minutes free" car park at the airport, to see if there has been a delay. I check the Arrivals messageboard.

Hmmm, none of tjhose places sound very Turkish. In particular, no mention of Dalaman, the Turkish airport in question.

I get out my diary and squint rather more closely.

Aha. The flight is due in tomorrow morning at 7:40.

how long have you been waiting?

Monday, 6 July 2009

poetry of Idris Davies

There doesn't seem to be much of Idris Davies' poetry on the internet, so I've uploaded these, some of which are in "This World of Wales - an anthology of Anglo-Welsh poetry", ed. Gerald Morgan, and others gleaned here and there.

(You might also like this poem by Meic Stephens, about colliery hooters; I do! And here is Alabaster Thomas, my own Valleys poem)

Gwalia Deserta VIII

Do you remember 1926 ? That summer of soups and speeches,

The sunlight on the idle wheels and the deserted crossings,

And the laughter and the cursing in the moonlight streets?

Do you remember 1926 ? The slogans and the penny concerts,

The jazz-bands and the moorland picnics,

And the slanderous tongues of famous cities?

Do you remember 1926 ? The great dream and the swift disaster,

The fanatic and the traitor, and more than all,

The bravery of the simple, faithful folk?

‘Ay, ay, we remember 1926,’ said Dai and Shinkin,

As they stood on the kerb in Charing Cross Road,

“And we shall remember 1926 until our blood is dry.”

Gwalia Deserta XV

O what can you give me?

Say the sad bells of Rhymney.

Is there hope for the future?

Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.

Who made the mineowner?

Say the black bells of Rhondda.

And who robbed the miner?

Cry the grim bells of Blaina.

They will plunder willy-nilly,

Say the bells of Caerphilly.

They have fangs, they have teeth

Shout the loud bells of Neath.

To the south, things are sullen,

Say the pink bells of Brecon.

Even God is uneasy,

Say the moist bells of Swansea.

Put the vandals in court

Cry the bells of Newport.

All would be well if — if — if —

Say the green bells of Cardiff.

Why so worried, sisters, why

Sing the silver bells of Wye.

Morning Comes Again

Morning comes again to wake the valleys
And hooters shriek and waggons move again,
And on the hills the heavy clouds hang low,
And warm unwilling thighs crawl slowly
Out of half a million ruffled beds.
Mrs Jones' little shop will soon be open
To catch the kiddies on the way to school,
And the cemetery gates will chuckle to the cemetery-keeper,
And the Labour Exchange will meet the servant with a frown.

Morning comes again, the inevitable morning
Full of the threadbare jokes, the conventional crimes,
Morning comes again, a grey-eyed enemy of glamour,
With the sparrows twittering and gossips full of malice,
With the colourless backyards and the morning papers,
The unemployed scratching for coal on the tips,
The fat little grocer and his praise for Mr Chamberlain,
The vicar and his sharp short cough for Bernard Shaw,
And the colliery-manager's wife behind her pet geranium
Snubbing the whole damn lot!

Mrs. Evans fach, you want butter again

Mrs. Evans fach, you want butter again.
How will you pay for it now, little woman
With your husband out on strike, and full
Of the fiery language? Ay, I know him,
His head is full of fire and brimstone
And a lot of palaver about communism,
And me, little Dan the Grocer
Depending so much on private enterprise.

What, depending on the miners and their
Money too? O yes, in a way, Mrs. Evans,
Come tomorrow, little woman, and I'll tell you then
What I have decided overnight.
Go home now and tell that rash red husband of yours
That your grocer cannot afford to go on strike
Or what would happen to the butter from Carmarthen?
Good day for now, Mrs. Evans fach.

Tiger Bay

I watched the coloured seamen in the morning mist,

Slouching along the damp brown street,

Cursing and laughing in the dismal dawn.

The sea had grumbled through the night,

Small yellow lights had flickered far and near,

Huge chains clattered on the ice-cold quays,

And daylight had seemed a hundred years away...

But slowly the long cold night retreated

Behind the cranes and masts and funnels,

The sea-signals wailed beyond the harbour

And seabirds came suddenly out of the mist.

And six coloured seamen came slouching along

With the laughter of the Levant in their eyes

And contempt in their tapering hands.

Their coffee was waiting in some smoke-laden den,

With smooth yellow dice on the unswept table,

And behind the dirty green window

No lazy dream of Africa or Arabia or India,

Nor any dreary dockland morning,

Would mar one minute for them.

High Summer on the Mountains

High summer on the mountains

And on the clover leas,

And on the local sidings,

And on the rhubarb leaves.

Brass bands in all the valleys

Blaring defiant tunes,

Crowds, acclaiming carnival,

Prize pigs and wooden spoons.

Dust on shabby hedgerows

Behind the colliery wall,

Dust on rail and girder

And tram and prop and all.

High summer on the slag heaps

And on polluted steams,

And old men in the morning

Telling the town their dreams.

A Victorian Portrait

You stood behind your Bible
And thundered lie on lie,
And your roaring shook your beard
And the brow above your eye.

There was squalor all around you
And disaster far ahead,
And you roared the fall of Adam
To the dying and the dead.

You built your slums, and fastened
Your hand upon your heart
And warned the drab illiterate
Against all useless art.

And you died upon the Sabbath
In bitterness and gloom,
And your lies were all repeated
Above your gaudy tomb.

Capel Calvin

There's holy holy people
They are in capel bach-
They don't like surpliced choirs,
They don't like Sospan Fach.

They don't like Sunday concerts,
Or women playing ball,
They don't like Williams Parry much
Or Shakespeare at all.

They don't like beer or bishops,
Or pictures without texts,
They don't like any other
Of the nonconformist sects.

And when they go to Heaven
They won't like that too well,
For the music will be sweeter
Than the music played in Hell.

Poem 18

Man alive, what a belly you've got!
You'll take all the serge in my little shop.
Stand still for a minute, now, and I'll get your waist.
Man alive, what a belly you've got!
Oh, I know it's only a striker's pay you get,
But don't misunderstand me, Hywel bach;
I depend for my bread on working men
And I am only a working man myself
Just Shinkin rees the little tailor,
Proud of my work and the people I serve;
And I wouldn't deny you a suit for all the gold in all the world.
Just pay me a little each week, Hywel bach,
And I am your tailor as long as you live,
Shinkin Rees your friend and your tailor,
Proud to serve you, and your dear old father before you.
But man alive, what a belly you've got!

A Victorian Portrait

You stood behind your Bible
And thundered lie on lie,
And your roaring shook your beard
And the brow above your eye.

There was squalor all around you
And disaster far ahead,
And you roared the fall of Adam
To the dying and the dead.

You built your slums, and fastened
Your hand upon your heart
And warned the drab illiterate
Against all useless art.

And you died upon the Sabbath
In bitterness and gloom,
And your lies were all repeated
Above your gaudy tomb.