Sunday, 27 December 2009

get thee up into the high mountain

Christmas Day dawned with not a cloud in the sky, so I headed over to Wales and Ysgyryd Fawr, just north of Abergavenny. I was up there last year, too, but it was misty and windy then. Today it was cold but clear, although the massif of the Black Mountains, just across to the west, had a great fug of fog on top of it, and the Blorenge looked like it was wearing a hat of the same stuff.

There were other walkers, and we exchanged Merry Christmases as our paths crossed, sharing that sense of felicity in being there.

But it was a bit cold for eating lunch (a big lump of tortilla in my bag) on the top, so I drank my flask of hot chocolate and came down again.

Next stop Skenfrith, and St Bridget's church.

I love this church. The windows add gentle hues of yellow and green to the sunlight on the floor's memorial inscriptions. Restoration has touched lightly upon it. And I had the place to myself, in a sense.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

blooming cold

With the snow fall the other night, there was plenty of evidence of our local foxes; there were prints up and down the road and the back garden. Though I have yet to hear foxes screaming in the night in this part of the city; while my friend in Clifton says that she has heard them often, recently. It's a good sound for the winter, a feral sound cutting through the night.

The roads are icy, so I've been walking or cycling when I want to get to places; Uncle Jim always reckoned that the best vehicle for snow is a motorcycle combination, and when I had a combi I had to agree with him. The narrow wheels cut through the snow more readily than wide car tyres; and you can do controlled pirouettes down the road, if it takes your fancy... sadly, the combi's long gone, and I rather missed it, these last few days.

I finally got the Trav warmed up and defrosted ready for some vital errands, yesterday. Stuck a big piece of cardboard down the front of the radiator, to help keep the temperature up, and scraped and wiped until the windows were finally clear; there was as much ice on the inside as there was on the outside.

Then I looked up and saw that blue sky was appearing above me, and realised that the fog was lifting (or rather, descending), which would hopefully leave the house riding above a sea of mist over the city. So I dashed up onto the roof...

Out and about, there was solid traffic converging on the city centre as people got into a spending frenzy for Christmas.

I was approached by two women, one with a pram, asking for money. I think they were Romanian gypsies. I gave one of them two pounds. She then retreated, and the one with the pram continued asking for money, pushing forward a piece of paper explaining how needy she was and gesturing to the baby. I told her that I'd given the money for both of them. A cropped-headed young man angrily said, "You shouldn't give them anything- they were here yesterday." Which produced mixed feelings; I wanted to do the opposite of what he'd said, because he was hateful; but I also resented being asked for more.

Monday, 21 December 2009

squiffy chocolate

I've been decanting the damson vodka, because it's that time of the year. Which has left me with lots and lots of damsons that are pretty well soused in vodka. So I've been making my own alcoholic damson chocolate bars.

First, remove stones from damsons. I use one of those cherry pitting devices, which you can see there to the left of the plate.

Then chop up the damsons.

Meanwhile the chocolate that you put on the stove to melt, using a chocolatier if you have one, will have been melting. Well, duh.

So you pour it onto a tray that's got a piece of greaseproof paper on it.

And then you scatter the damsons over the chocolate.

And then you cover the damsons with more chocolate.

...and, well... that's it really!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

traveller's joy

The Seven Sisters are a group of Scots Pines on a barrow on Durdham Down, just across the road from where I live. Except that there are now only three of them.

The Old Man's Beard (or Traveller's Joy, or indeed Virgin's Bower) is very conspicuous just now, especially when the low winter sun lights up the white fluff. I must have another go at drawing it; the fluffiness is just not fluffy enough in this picture. Damn.

In the middle distance, a Fieldfare. We used to get great flocks of them on the Downs; you can still see the occasional one, anyway. They're winter visitors from Scandinavia.

And that's my solstice/Christmas/(insert your choice of winter festival here) card. And if I don't have your address, you won't be getting one in the post. Unless you e-mail me your addy. In which case I'd love to.

Happy wossname!

Friday, 18 December 2009

the smell of gingerbread in the morning

I once made gingerbread decorations for the Christmas tree. The tree looked very nice, and very tasteful. Too tasteful. My smelly lurcher, Grommet, pushed the tree over and ate all the decorations, then stood there looking gormless and guilty. It's just what lurchers do. It's a 'force of nature' thing.

Grommet was safely planted in a friend's garden some eight winters back. He was dead at the time, obviously.

So I figured we'd be safe to have another go at the gingerbread, for our small tree that we bought from the BTCV stall at the CREATE Christmas Fair, where the old hippies go for their Christmas nick-nacks.

Things started pretty well...

But then disaster struck, although we did not recognise it at the time. I got a phone call from someone on Freecycle, offering me a bike workstand that I'd put in a request for. But I had to dash off and get it there and then. Katie retired to her computer, and failed to hear the clockwork timer announcing that it was time to take the gingerbread out of the oven.

I got home to smoke, open windows and a really rather upset Katie.

And some very blackened gingerbread.

Making the best of it, we painted it with some white emulsion we'd pulled out of a skip, and then painted the decorations with bright acrylics.

And now we have a very nice tree.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

hunting for the pavement cyclist

If the Bristol Evening Post is to be believed (stop laughing, you at the back, please, I said 'if'...), the very fabric of our society is threatened by hordes of rabid cyclists disobeying the Highway Code like there was no tomorrow. Mere anarchy is indeed loosed upon the world.

So I went hunting for 'em.

First I went down the Gloucester Road. It was slow going, because the traffic flow was impeded, as it always is, by cars parked where they shouldn't be, like these.

Oh look! Cyclists. I wonder if they're anarchists? But damn, they're cycling on the road. And smiling for the camera. Little tinkers.

I had a good look at the sign on the other side of the road here, because there were so many cars parked here that I began to wonder if parking was actually allowed. No, it isn't.

And then I went over to Cotham Hill, which has been in the news lately after a lorry crushed a bicycle and injured the rider.

It was a normal morning. A lorry was parked up on the pavement, and pedestrians were stepping out into the traffic to get round it, as you see here.

Another lorry that had been making a similar delivery further up the hill came down, then reversed around the corner and went back up the hill because it couldn't get past the first lorry.

Pretty normal sort of day for Cotham Hill, really. The driver of that car W837YOC is to be commended for their courtesy, by putting on their hazard lights when parking where they shouldn't really park. A small gesture, but it says "This really is an emergency! If I don't get my hands on a skinny latte very soon, I won't be responsible for my actions!"

Then up Whiteladies Road. All these cars are parked on the double yellow lines on the approach to the pelican crossing.

And this is a popular place to park, higher up, so that you can dash into the bank or the Building Society.

I didn't bother photographing the cars parked on the double yellows that go with pedestrian refuges along Whiteladies Road. In fact I've only uploaded a few of the photos, because otherwise we'd be here all day.

Oh yes. Pavement cyclists? Sorry, I didn't see a single one. Unless this woman counts. She's evidently got a bicycle somewhere near by... I wonder if she parked it dangerously? What do you think?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

easy journeys to Planet Stupid

I never really thought of myself as a cycling activist, mostly because I'm not a cycling activist. On the other hand, the simple act of cycling is apt to radicalise the most moderate of people, as it puts you on the receiving end of some pretty stupid and/or aggressive behaviour from drivers. And, of course, some folk seem to find the mere existence of cycling offensive, perhaps because it doesn't buy into the whole package of values and assumptions that go with car kultur ...

Be that as it may... the comments section on any newspaper website is the natural habitat for any amount of rich and strange pondlife, but I was compelled to put my wellies on and wade in last week over on the Bristol Evening Post's internet site. The Evening Post seems to have decided that a pro-car, anti-bike stance is where it ought to be, and so its stories tend to follow that bias. Hence last week's Your (sic) dangerous, rude and need educating, Bristol cyclists told, followed by a piece by Mike Ford, Even blind people can see how badly cyclists behave.

It all starts here:

Blind and partially sighted residents have called for the safety of pedestrians to be given high priority as the city plans to spend millions on projects as part of the Cycling City initiative.

They have told their MPs that near-misses have left many not confident about going out and they fear the city's status as the country's first cycling hub will only add to the problems.

..and by the time it gets into Mike Ford's hands, it has become this:

It's not my style to make or condone sweeping, generalising statements like this; but when even blind people can see how badly cyclists behave, surely it's time for cyclists to hold their hands up and admit maybe they need to change their attitudes?
Now, personally speaking, I get really annoyed by people who cycle on pavements too. But then, I have about as much in common with them as I have with the spoddy young man with the spiky gelled hair who rorted past me in his car, dangerously fast, and with that farty noise that tells you that he's spent loadsa money on an exhaust pipe that sounds aggressive, over in Clifton the other day. I have no particular desire to change my attitude to either; they're all idiots.

Maybe I should take direct action against them? I did step in once to prevent a couple of drongos from stealing something off a bike outside the University. It was definitely a high-adrenaline activity, and not one of the many people who passed us during this confrontation stopped to offer help. Still, as a goodwill gesture, I promise to stop and Have A Word with the next pavement cyclist I meet, if Bedminster Bigmouth will undertake do the same with antisocial drivers, whether they be the ones who park dangerously outside schools or on pavements, run red lights, or do any of the many things that drivers do and shouldn't; though obviously he might have a problem catching them, in which case he could always ask for some help from that mighty defender of motorists' freedom, the Association of British Drivers, which is apparently one bloke with a Fiat Panda. I think we could respect such a public-spirited gesture from these vociferous fellows putting their money where their big mouths are...

Here's a small taster of the quality of debate...

..and then there was this 'contribution' from Owen...

..."Very odd," I thought, coming as it did directly after my post. And then, shortly after, this...

Note the clever use of brackets there. "(S)he". By the way, if you were in any doubt, the incident described by Owen on Whiteladies Road was presumably a made-up story so that he could introduce the Little Britain reference.

Some people are transsexual. Get over it.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Barry comes to live with us

The menagerie at Schloss Marland continues to grow apace. On Monday evening Katie and I rescued

2 Frosty the snowmen
2 Father Christmases
Bungle from Rainbow
That dog off Tweenies
an elephant
Rosie off Rosie and Jim
Some big kitten with huuuge eyes that looks like it's terminally constipated
a unicorn
that fatuous looking hippo off Rainbow
a gibbon
a pony

-they had been bundled into a Clifton skip. Obviously we couldn't leave them there.

The next thing you know, we're hearing from Mal.

I've been a member of RSPST (Royal Society for the Protection of Soft Toys) for years as you know Dru - all those rescued birds and monkeys in my van! Have a problem at present rehoming a life size gorilla called Barry with a slight armpit problem. He's been round at Annie's for a while but she wants him out as there's no room for a Christmas tree with him 'galumphing about'. Could Katie find it in her heart to offer him a warm bed over Christmas?

...well, you can guess what the answer to that was.

Friday, 4 December 2009

running the gauntlet

A normal morning on Cotham Hill. The usual vans parked on the double yellows. In the background, a lorry is lurching forwards and backwards, manoeuvring into the narrow entrance of the builders' yard. Pedestrians seize their moment and dash through the gap when it offers itself. Nobody is helping the driver out by waving him back, watching his blind spots. It's about 10:30; the chaps at the yard are probably having a cup of tea.

Forty eight hours earlier, just about to the minute, a cyclist and her bike were crushed under a lorry at this exact spot. It was a bigger lorry, an articulated one; it was swinging into this same entrance when it caught her. Of the comments on the Bristol Evening Post website, a lot of them seem almost to gloat that a cyclist has been badly injured, assuming that she was doing something that she shouldn't have been doing, and reckoning that she'd got what was coming to her. The general attitude is: lorries are dangerous, and the drivers can't see very much from their cabs, so keep well clear or you've got no-one to blame except yourself.

As I commented on the website,'s the 'elephant in the room' thing. And it's not just an elephant, it's a visually-impaired elephant. And it's not in the room, it's on the streets.

When I worked on a ro-ro ferry, lorries were not allowed to move around unless under the supervision of crew members with hi-vis gear and radios. And yet it is apparently thought perfectly acceptable that an articulated lorry should be allowed to manoeuvre through one of the busiest parts of town without any sort of control or assistance.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

rad graf

At Katie's school, Ther Kidz thought that it would be nice to have a graffiti wall. And, after due representation and consideration, the school agreed that a graffiti wall they should have.

So they employed a graffiti painter to come to the school and paint the graffiti wall with graffiti.

And here it is.

Katie did run past some of her fellow pupils the idea that maybe a graffiti wall should be a place for free expression. By... Ther Kidz.

"Oh, we'd only make a mess of it," one of them said.

finding a rhyme for 'antlers'

Quiet times here, as I recover from last week's surgery. I went to Kings Weston House yesterday. It's a fairly modest stately home, as stately homes go, and it looks out across council estates to the chemical plants of Avonmouth. I was gawping through the window and the woman at the desk inside beckoned me in, so I mustered John Terry, who had come along for the adventure, and we admired the staircase, and then saw this, which I, as a keen amateur ornithologist, recognised instantly as a Giant Irish Deer.

As he's been extinct for about 8000 years, I think it's a bit showy having hunting horns mounted next to him. Apparently he was a Souvenir Of Ireland.