Monday, 21 December 2015


Owlhoot on the hill.
One by one the stars take up
their rightful places.

There was much talk of a magnetic storm last night, at least over on Twitter, and the aurora was heading south. So I got out the camera and tripod and set up on Smelly Bridge, the closest vantage point that I could get to without squelching through fields... as you see, a thirty second exposure gives a nice view of the skyline, the Plough, and... no aurora. Hey ho. Maybe Smelly Bridge isn't high enough, and maybe it isn't north enough.

Prelim sketch for a tattoo design for someone. Hares' faces are an interesting mix of colours.

This morning the sky is clear as anything, Venus is so bright that I thought at first there was an aeroplane with a searchlight on, till it hadn't moved for long enough to make that improbable. Before I could detect the first signs of dawn, the heron crooked from the river as it does every morning - a single cronk as it sets off to work - then the crows answered, and presently the bare trees on the skyline showed against the sky, and the robin began singing. Soon, if the last few days are anything to go by, the mistle thrushes will be calling all up and down the valley, holding firm in their belief that if they call loud and slow enough, we'll understand.

Happy solstice! We've reached the turn.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

another starry picture

fireball over Alton Barnes's Leo, and a fireball, and the Alton Barnes white horse as seen from the canal near Honeystreet. Just a picture I wanted to do; and the generator charged up the boat batteries while I had the big computer running so that I could do the digital processing....

Been v busy sending off Christmas orders lately. I did a small print run of cards for my own use, like this- life on board nb Eve...

Christmas Eve

...I scanned it before I coloured it; was thinking I might do a colouring book, as they seem quite popular at the mo. If that is your thing, feel free to download the pic and have a go!

Monday, 16 November 2015

dryads and pirates and fireballs

My mooring looks across to the valley of Monkton Combe, which notches into the steep valley of the Avon and gives a good view of the evening sky- that's why this stretch is known as Sunset Strip... two nights ago, I got up just after one o'clock and opened the hatch to see what I could see in the sky- the night was clear as anything, and a moment after the hatch swung open a great fireball dropped over to the west. Goodness! All those times I've stared fruitlessly at the sky hoping to see a shooting star. I Tweeted the sighting, being all modern like that, and saw that someone else had seen a fireball over Wiltshire an hour earlier. Apparently it's the Taurids that are responsible. I watched a while longer, the more permanent pleasures of Orion, and the Pleiades, or Seven Friendly Stars, glowing high overheard, so clear that I could make out five of them with eye unaided by anything more than my specs.

That's the second time I've seen a fireball. The first time I'd been waiting for the ISS to appear...

The picture above is the fruit of my wanderings in the local woods, and is for Deborah Harvey's forthcoming collection. On her blog is a series of picture showing this picture developing.

It's a relief to be painting again. Sometimes it can be very hard to get started again after being distracted, by, in this case, the publishing and getting-out-there of Hailing Foxes. Anyway, the desk is now in painting mode, which is just as untidy as any other mode, but with a predominance of artstuff cluttering it.

And here are some pics of canal things, as I get back to that project. The pirate season has passed now; in the high season you might get four pirate boats in an hour going by. In November, oilskins and sou'westers are more the thing. Though we did get a hireboat crammed with chaps all dressed in country best, with tweed jackets and flat caps. Though to be fair, the fellow on the helm did have a captain's hat on.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

rough winds

Such a long, still autumn was bound to come to blows eventually, but I was grateful for it while it lasted; the mild, still days succeeding each other, as the woodlands’ colours insensibly varied and deepened; olives, russets and deep scarlets that slowly turned to ochre and umber. In the thinning woods that overlook the cut, the stars can be seen at night; the fox barks, the tawny owls call to each other in the half light, and a single cronk announces start of the heron’s day shift. The soundtrack to the greyer of days is the dreary Farrow and Ballery of the nuthatch. The light breezes pick out an individual tree that has decided its moment has come, and whose leaves stream, swirl and eddy away. The big ash tree under which Neil had moored his beamy dutch tjalk Swaere Shaep had been steadily dropping its clusters of leaflets till his upper deck was almost obscured; “I think I’ll move up to Smelly Bridge”, he said ruefully, and did so, just in time. Perhaps it was a particularly cold night as well as blustery; the morning after All Saints Day found all the ashes along the towpath bare, with great heaps of leaves below them.

The next morning I emerged to find an ash tree had fallen across the canal in the night. Traffic along the canal is light at midweek in this season, but already a hireboat and another narrowboat, heading for Semington Dock for blacking, were moored up and their crews pondering the fallen tree, providentially lying across a disused stop lock, so the water was narrower and bounded by walls. I brought out my bow saws, billhook and rope, and balanced across the trunk and main bough, feet on the one and hands on the other; slippped off as I approached the other shore, clouting my face on the trunk and tasting blood, dangling foot just touching the water through the brambles; hauled myself back up onto the bank, and got to work. The men from the hireboat were very happy to haul on the rope that I belayed round the trunk, when I should finally cut my way through it; I reckoned that repeating the procedure on the bough would clear the navigation and allow me to be returned to the other bank by an advancing boat. So I set to with the saw.

It’s a weary old business cutting through a big trunk with a bow saw, even a bow saw with a good blade. I’d got about two thirds of the way through when the Canal and River Trust workboat appeared round the corner from Dundas, ablaze with the hi-vis jackets of the half dozen volunteers. So we paused to let them join us. Sadly, volunteers are not trusted with chainsaws, just more bowsaws. But I was happy to let two men take over the sawing, and meanwhile the workboat eased its bow under the trunk in readiness. Away came the trunk; astern went the boat; the hireboat crew hauled manfully on the rope, and the trunk was safely ashore, shortly followed by the bough.

Happiness all round; cheery salutes from the boaters as they passed on towards Bradford on Avon; and the workboat chugged astern to the winding hole and on, no doubt,  to a well earned tea break.

Good ash timber is never left lying around for long. I set to immediately, cutting it into portable lumps, helped by my neighbours Sarah and Ben, and it was soon piled safely outside my boat. As the rain began again in earnest, I got out my brolly and the Wray and Nephew overproof rum, and we had an increasingly hilarious little party on the towpath.

I figured it was time to get myself a decent chainsaw. My old Black and Decker electric chainsaw kept us in firewood for years in Bristol, where the winter storms provided a good harvest from the Downs; but it’s no use on the boat, beacuse my little generator isn’t powerful enough. So I went over to Devizes, and while I was there I called in to Devizes Bookshop to drop off some more prints; they’d sold a couple more last month from their upstairs gallery, which is always cheerful news. There was a little pile of copies of the new monograph on David Inshaw, in which and whose honour a dinner had recently been held in the shop, with the artist in attendance. I had to buy a copy, of course.

Roses Hardware is one of those shops that are far bigger on the inside than you might think from looking. At the back is a big yard where Shire Garden Machinery hang out. In both shops are the sort of men who wear blue overall coats and talk knowledgeably but without condescension about their wares. So it was a good place to go shopping for a chainsaw. Having decided upon a Stihl model, I was talked through How To Start It, and then we took the saw out to a shed and ran it up just to see. I swaddled it in the back of the car, and headed home.

The sawing would have to wait. The rain set in hard, and harder still in the night, and then before dawn the wind got up. By full daylight the boats were rocking gently and straining at their mooring lines, and the trees were roaring and swaying. I looked at the ash tree on the other bank, that overhangs me at a jaunty angle, and tried not to think of that character in The Woodlanders whose life is dominated by a tree which he thinks (rightly, as I recall) will one day fall on him. The leaves had begun to raft up in the water; with the gale, long skeins of them now formed, too. 

Sarah's cat considers a new neighbourhood

Sarah and Bob stood by her boat, discussing the storms. Sarah was considering her move to Bradford on Avon; she is anxious to make sure that she complies with the CRT rules for contiuous cruisers, and had been kept by illness in the Bath area for a while. As we talked, three hireboats scudded by with the wind behind them, veering wildly on the corner before the aqueduct. I cycled down and checked the coast was clear, waved them on, returned. The Met Office app on my iPhone told me that the wind was blowing about 25 knots, gusting to 45, and that it was slowly moderating. Sarah decided to press on. I offered to tag along, as I wanted to go to the library anyway. She accepted. I dug out my oilies and sou’wester, doubled up my mooring lines, which had been pulling the pins out of the ground under the strain, and joined her, putting my bike on the roof.

It was an easy journey, as it turned out. We nosed past lots of fallen branches, and Sarah frequently had to run the prop astern to clear the leaves from it; on the few boats we passed, we exchanged the expressions of mutual esteem of those who are undaunted by, or at least caught out in, foul weather. Turning onto the Avoncliffe aqueduct, the full force of the gale hit us broadside on; but the heavy iron hull of Sarah’s old boat (it was built in the 19th century, apparently), combined with her helming skills, kept us neatly on course right down the middle, and soon we were moored under Neil’s now-bald ash tree.

After an hour in the library, I came out to find a clear blue sky and the air warm in the sun. All along the Avon valley the robins were singing. It was time to play with the chainsaw.

Monday, 2 November 2015

winter gnats

All Hallows Eve, and all along the tops of the Leylandii that bordered the opposite bank of the canal, great clouds of small insects swirled, silent murmurations. Sometimes bigger insects (dragonflies?) darted into the cloud, hawking at them. Chris and Jinny from next door came out to admire the sight too; it was Jinny who learned from her dad that winter gnats is what these are.

I remembered a walk down the Honddu valley one Maytime, from Capel y Ffin to Llanthony. All along the river, the mayflies danced up and down, great clouds of them rising and falling. Returning the same way that evening, they lay dead all long the path.

But the winter gnats were still at it the next day. Not for them the poetic living-for-just-a-day.

A passing couple, properly attired in Stout Walking Apparel, approached, their trekking poles clacking on the path. Wishing to share the wonder, I pointed out the swirling insects and said "Look! ...."

The woman looked anxiously straight ahead and bade me a distant "Good afternoon", and they continued out of sight, looking neither to right nor to left.

Fair enough, you never know what you might catch from waterpikeys....

Friday, 30 October 2015

Smelly Bridge

I'm moored just here now, and spring seems a very long way away; the mud is spreading, and the leaves falling. Must do some more painting!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

local names by local people

The Kennet and Avon boaters' Facebook group has been contributing to a Google map identifying the  places along the west end of the canal (from Devizes to Bath) and giving the names of places as they are known by the boaters. And adding a welcome touch of silliness to life along the way of course.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

hot Trangia mess

that Trangia emotion

Over on Being Drusilla, my post Telling Our Story, about the pernicious effects of people getting the wrong idea about trans folk, has been widely read; I was checking through the stats to see just how widely, and found that I'd been linked from this Reddit page below. (I'm not linking to it; I'm sure you can find your way there if you want...)

Never been to Reddit before, because I don't need to. What is this Reddit of which you speak? ...goodness, is it all like this? 

It's quite cheering to see that Richard and I are nestled there in between the tranny cam sex and hot blonde shemales. How many perves click through in hopes of seeing Eric Hobsbawm (who he?) doing something dodgy in the hay, to find an eminent and entertaining Marxist historian, in a tent in a muddy welsh field, followed by bangers and mash? Bless 'em. 

(the title of this post spoofs some idiot gay website in the USA, that once described me as 'hot tranny mess', which I understand is not intended as a compliment.)

Thursday, 22 October 2015

on the radio

Our local heron was backlit by the sun, making its beak glow like the amber of a Belisha beacon.

Life is not all bucolic walks along the towpath. I was up at Radio Bristol on Saturday, talking about what it's like to be trans in Bristol. It woke up a few demons, and I've been exercising them over on this other blog of mine, because there was some unfinished business there. Walkies, demons!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

more on lightships

This is the film that Peter Brownlee made of my poem, the English andWelsh Grounds Lightship. It was for Liz Brownlee's project for National Poetry Day, and was shown along with lots of others, in Bristol's Millennium Square.

...Stuart Lees, of the Cabot Cruising Club, recently sent Liz this picture that he took of the buoy that replaced the lightship, and there are the Transporter Bridge, Ysgyryd Fawr, and the Uskmouth power station, in the background, as described! Funny to think of a buoy replacing that big vessel with its crew; sending a buoy to do several men's work, indeed... (boom tish)

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


Slow cold boil of mist
Coils across the canal,
Too pale for pea soup,
Thin as brown Windsor,
Grey as old Sundays,
Grey as old Sundays

 After long and earnest discussion, the rooks in da hood have agreed that they mustn't grumble

Abruptly comes a chill in the late afternoon air. I realise that I saw no swallows today, and all the ones I most recently saw were flying the same way.

carrying the dew
the spider national grid
its nettle pylons

Slowly letting the day start around me; 
the kingfisher doing its rounds in the mist, 
the woodburner creaking, 
the stillness I'm happy not to disturb just yet 

Friday, 2 October 2015

pomes at the library

So we launched Hailing Foxes at Bristol Central Library on Tuesday, as part of Bristol's autumn poetry festival. I found a table and set out the books and sold loads, and a few passing library users stopped to wonder what was going on, and, on finding out, stayed for the performance and enjoyed it. Which was especially nice, because it meant that it was decidedly not a Poets Talking Poems Unto Other Poets event. And Boat Teenager was in there somewhere too, taking an evening out from her arduous routine of Being An Art Student. 

And most of the poets featured in Hailing Foxes were there, and they all read one of their poems, and they were good to hear. I'm so glad the book happened. And very grateful that Colin Brown at Poetry Can was so encouraging and quietly persistent in keeping me on track, and indeed organising the launch.

The picture shows Rachael Clyne reading from her collection Singing at the Bone Tree. We also heard the Wells Fountain Poets performing Waterwoven. It was a very happy evening.

Plenty more pics over on Deborah Harvey's blog post. I'm afraid I didn't really get to take many pics...

Thursday, 1 October 2015

tomato moon

Just for a change from my relentless going on about the New Book...

The day before the eclipse, everyone on the towpath was getting quite excited about it all. The neighbours were trying to work out exactly what a lunar eclipse involved, and I resisted being a smartarse and explaining to them that it was the earth's shadow moving across the moon, because no-one likes a smartarse.

"Will you be taking pictures of it?"
"No," I said, "Pictures of eclipses are rubbish; better to just be in the moment. Though I may paint a picture of it..."
No one likes a smartarse... especially a precious one...

I set the alarm to 3:00, and woke up three minutes before it was due to go off; wrapped myself in warm things, and stumbled out into a blissfully clear night. A heron cronked from the chestnut trees across the canal. A tawny owl hooted and hooted from a nearby hedge, as though it was wondering what was going on, as perhaps it was. The moon was almost fully eclipsed, and as the bright ring at its base contracted and disappeared, so my shadow on the towpath disappeared, and the Milky Way emerged out of the deepening darkness.

And I decided to take some pictures. Even with the tripod, with a 15 second exposure they were rubbish because the moon and stars had moved enough in that time to come out blurred in the picture.

After looking on Twitter and Facebook, and seeing all the crap eclipse pictures, many of which described the moon as blood-red, I took a picture of a tomato and put that up on line, because that's the way I roll.

I think it's a much better eclipse picture than the other ones, TBH.

...and I never did get round to painting the scene. Unlike the time I did it for Hale Bopp, like this

Here is our local heron.

..and this is me, wondering how the new hair colour is doing...

 ...and my new bicycle saddle, from the Indian Bicycle Shop. The old saddle had broken yet again and I reckoned it was time to Do Something. is a fine bird from Jan Lane...

...and a fine autumn morning, of which we've had quite a few lately, thank goodness...

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

publication day

Down at Minuteman Press in Bristol yesterday afternoon, Lauren was putting the finishing touches to a few hundred copies of Hailing Foxes, putting them in a v impressive guillotine thing that squared them off nicely. 

I helped as best I could, because I'm nosy that way, and then loaded up the books in the back of the Traveller and started distributing them around Bristol... they're already available on the desk at Henleaze Library, and are in the hands of several friends whom I happened to meet in my travels...

And now they're listed on my Etsy shop, and Gert Macky, that great Bristolian publishing empire.

Up, up and away, then!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

launching a new poetry anthology

On Tuesday 29th September at Bristol Central Library, we'll be launching Hailing Foxes, a new illustrated poetry anthology, as a part of Bristol's poetry festival. Here's what the book's all about...

Unseen in the street plan of any city run the paths of the wild creatures whose lives are lived alongside ours, and which occasionally cross our own. And sometimes a door will unexpectedly open to that other city,  showing us something startling and unforgettable; foxes, falcons, mice, whales, balloons, reckless pilots, lost ships. All we need to do is pay attention.

Hailing Foxes follows Inking Bitterns, our previous book of poems and pictures about wildness; and this time we look at what’s around us in Bristol, in this year when the city is Green Capital.

Here's what you'll get at the library that evening: further details over on the Poetry Can website

Wells Fountain Poets performing Waterwoven
Wells Fountain Poets are a group of highly talented and entertaining poets who have been meeting in the city of Wells, Somerset for twelve years. Tonight group members Clare Diprose, Jo Waterworth, Ama Bolton, Morag Kiziewicz, Sara Butler and Andrew Henon (kindly stepping in tonight for Ewan McPhearson) perform their extraordinary poetry show Waterwoven. 

Rachael Clyne is an artist and a poet, who lives and works in Glastonbury. Trained at the Bristol Old Vic, Rachael was, for many years a professional actor on both stage and television. She then became involved in work with cancer patients and families, setting up London’s first cancer support centre, now celebrating its 30th anniversary. This work led her to train as a psychotherapist. Rachael is sustained by her creativity as an artist and poet and is also passionate about ecological issues and love of the land. Her published books include her poetry collections: Singing at the Bone Tree and She Who Walks With Stones.

Dru Marland & Friends launch Hailing Foxes
Poet and Artist Dru Marland launch's her new book Hailing Foxes, irresistibly illustrated by Dru and containing poems about nature in Bristol, especially its urban wildlife, from poets including: Alan Summers, Ruby Fowden-Willey, Hazel Hammond, Jinny Peberday, Ben Banyard, David C Johnson, Rachael Clyne, Kathy Gee, Tom Sastry, Vanessa Whiteley, Stewart Carswell, Liz Brownlee, Pameli Benham, Deborah Harvey, Dominic Fisher, Pat Simmons, Shirley Wright, John Terry and, of course, Dru.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

putting a book to bed

After a busy few weeks doing extra illustrations, both digital and watercolour, and then formatting the pictures and poems into as harmonious a collection as possible, I finally got to send the print-ready PDFs for Hailing Foxes off to the printers. Here is my desk, viewed mid-data transfer ("go litel book, go little my tragedy", etc); as you see, Gert Macky Books' office is fashionably open-plan.

Here's a digital picture (well, I drew the picture in ink, then scanned it and coloured it with Paint Shop Pro...) and a watercolour. The poems you'll just have to wait to see when the book comes out!

Now on with the canal pictures.....

Saturday, 12 September 2015

otter in the night

I'm sceptical when people claim to have seen otters on the canal. Oh yes, I think, but don't necessarily say, you saw a mink and would like it to have been an otter. Because otters are Nice, and mink are Nasty.

Still, one of the neighbours (neighbours in the canal sense can be sometimes next door and sometimes  several counties away. This is how canal society works).... one of the neighbours, I say, was insistent that a nearby culvert is a fine place for sitting out at dusk and watching the otters cavorting. Better than Strictly, it is, apparently.

I took myself down there, leaving my bike at a distance and walking feather-footed along the last few hundred yards of towpath.

It was a little early in the evening for otters to be cavorting, evidently. The silence was broken only by the choir practice of a local tawny owl clan. And a thousand rooks and jackdaws.

Down the wooden steps to the culvert, was a little platform for the canal people to stand on while inspecting things. And on the little platform was some poo.

If otters were around, this might well be the sort of place for them to leave their spraint. So I descended. It looked superficially a bit like small dog poo, but poking it with a stick (as you do) revealed fish bones.

Very ottery.

That night I was awoken by splashing and thumping against the hull. I took my Very Bright Torch and popped out of the after hatch. SOMETHING was swimming along the opposite bank by now. Two very bright eyes reflected my torchlight back to me. It dived and reappeared some distance away, then dived again...

Cycling to town the next day, a short distance from the boat I found this signal crayfish, intact save for the fleshy tail that had been scooped off and presumably eaten.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

greening a man

Here's a series of pics of my progress with a picture for the new book, Hailing Foxes.... finished picture at the top, obv....