Thursday, 26 May 2011

Two birds

I'm on the outskirts of London and very much enjoying being able to dip into city life when I want and retreat to quiet countryside. How lucky to be able to do that.
On Tuesday, two birds caught my eye, reminding me of the way I'm living at the moment.
This female Mandarin duck flew up onto the bow as I was sitting out with my morning coffee....

Later in the day, I came across this giant Heron in Hackney:

I was reading that the Mandarin is originally a native of western Russia, China and Japan but has settled here successfully and that the Heron, which used to nest in elm trees, just adapted when so many elms died and moved to oaks instead. Survival so often seems to be about adapting, migrating, moving on.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


I was looking at the Granny Buttons blog and noticed a site called 'Blackbird' listed in the sidebar. I wondered if it was a broken link to the old blog I'd started a few years ago and deleted when I got fed up with it. The link took me to an unfamilar page in salmon pink and blue, entitled 'Carrieblackbird'. It looked so much like a personally chosen site, I assumed it was another Carrie with a boat called Blackbird - what a coincidence! The writing was from 2008 so I didn't immediately recognise my own words.
There are no recent postings and I vaguely began to remember Mr Denny writing something about having a copy of my postings, even though I'd chosen to delete them. Quote: "Carrie, please note that a blog is permanent even if you delete it. On my computer I've still got all 60 posts you made since I first discovered you on 10th November." I remember thinking at the time 'so what!'
I may be wrong, but it does look as though he, or someone else has made a blog, selected the format and colour scheme and filled it with my past blog entries as though I had made it.
If this is the case, I'm very annoyed. I chose to delete my own writings. At least my link to the Granny Buttons blog actually leads to his site and not some stoopid pink concoction, masquerading as his choice.

ADDITION: I've since spoken to Andrew Denny and it's clearly not some dastardly deed of his but that of some spammer in Russia. Aplogies Andrew.

lovely May

I've had some happy days on my boat recently, moored up in a little private paradise of trees, waist-high nettles and brambles ;-) Lovely. The fine weather made it especially gorgeous with everything leafy and green. (My internet connection's too slow to let me upload a photo, I'll try and remember to do it later.)
Reading Lucky Duck's blog I was led to Belle's blog where a boater is experimenting with foraging and cooking from the hedgerows. There, I was amazed by the recipe for Dandelion marmalade which I must have a go at making. I've made a dandelion oil before, for salads and also a dandelion remedy for aching muscles (thouh I've never been sure whether it wasn't just the rubbing in that helped ;-)and once tried some flower heads in a salad (more pretty than tasty!)but reckon the marmalade will be good.
It's a good time to be making stuff when everything is young-leaved and fresh-tasting. I missed out on finding any St George's mushrooms this year (not enough rain maybe?) but am determined to be a little more adventurous with mushrooms this autumn. Apart from the giant puffball I found along the Shropshire union canal one year and a couple of field mushrooms, I haven't dared try anything, even though I have a couple of good books to guide me. When I lived in France, everyone went Cep gathering and you could take anything you weren't sure of to the pharmacy to get it identified!
I've hardly done any hedgerow foraging myself yet this year. Instead, I've been lucky enough to have been given fruit and also taken advantage of throwaway supermarket gluts to make:
Rhubarb and ginger jam
Date and rhubarb chutney
Chilli tomato chutney
Fig and caramelised onion jam
Pickled peppers
Pickled garlic mushrooms

As for my little rooftop garden, apart from plenty of perpetual spinach (which is very easy to grow and comes again all summer, some peas that may or may not produce enough for a meal ;-), and some reluctant-to-flower strawberries, I haven't made the big effort I intended to this spring. Never mind, I AM glad I got around to planting some flowers because it's great to see the bees busy foraging, although as Simon commented, it may cause some confusion back at the hive, when the dance of map instructions leads them to a recently vacated mooring!

(Yes! - Got a better signal to post my photo)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Roses & castles

There's loads of stuff written about the 'roses and castles' painting of narrowboats for anyone interested in the tradition. I recently found an old copy of 'The Water Gipsies' by A.P Herbert, written in 1930, which gives a romantic account of the decoration of a working boat and butty. He mentions 3 designs: roses, castles and hearts, saying that they represented beauty, worldly honour and love, rsepectively.
He suggested that the castles on different boats often bore some ressemblance to actual castles or stately homes in England, which doesn't seem to be the case today, judging from the ones I've seen, which tend to look more like the castle that little fairy flies up from at the start of Disney films!

On Canal Junction Tony Lewery explains that there was a much richer variety of designs than just the 'roses and castles' to which we've reduced canal art - "There certainly are roses of a sort in profusion, but there are also daisy-cum-marigold shaped flowers, dahlia/ chrysanthemums, pansy/primroses and other strange floral >hybrids invented by the brush of the painter working at speed. Castles or big country houses predominate in the picture panels, but there are also churches, cottages, lighthouses and portraits of dogs, horses and the sailor's head from Players cigarette advertisements"
As well as having similarities with folk art across Europe and beyond, I think much of the style and content is inspired by what people with little money or literacy had to hand - playing cards, printed cloth, cheap Victorian patterns on things like these tea-trays.

It's funny that some people who are quite vocal about preserving the 'tradition of roses and castles' may actually be strangling that tradition by reducing it to an extremely narrow set of 'rules' whereby the castles all look the same and there is a set list of ingredients to make up the whole. Courses teaching this may be helping stultify this art form that I reckon was once much more quirky, fresh, individual and inventive.
We can see this happening in another art form - graffiti. There's wonderful self-expression, often influenced by popular culture, comics, TV, (the playing cards and tea-trays of the past) but when you try to confine it, teach it, preserve it, it gets reduced to a set style with boring results.

I do like seeing traditional canal art on boats and it's wonderful to preserve it but if we really want to keep canal art alive, we should maybe try to include our own intersts and influences as our boater predecessors did. I like seeing how some boaters have portraits of their dogs or canal wildlife on their doors and others go mad and paint their whole boats with wonderfully imaginative designs. A couple I met a year ago are a good example. He had painted a lovely card for his partner and she liked it so much, they painted the whole of their boat with that design! It even has some flowers and hearts too I think, that should keep the purists happy :-)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

London Boaters

During the Little Venice weekend, we wandered over to the Regents canal to take part in a London Boaters towpath event. The main aim was to draw attention to BW proposals to clear the River Lee of what it sees as undesirable boaters, though anyone attending the weekend event, would immediately see that these boaters are it's greatest human asset.

We arrived too late to see the forming of the word 'Home' with boats - must have been a funny palava to watch! Here's a photo by Sasha Andrews, posted on the London Boaters website:

They are also on Facebook.

What we did get to see was a fine circus act on the roof of a big boat (why didn't I take my camera?! doh!), including a mime act, a beautifully poetic trapeze performance on ropes accompanied by singing and lovely live music - the accordian playing was a bonus for me ;-) General friendliness, welcoming chat, a sense of inclusion, the table with tea and cakes, the child uni-cyclist, the warmth of the sunshine, smiling passers-by, an open-hearted community.
After 5 years of travelling around various canals and meeting all kinds of people, I know that this warm sense of solidarity and sharing is usually only found among boating communities that stick together. It doesn't mean you have to live in each other's pockets but are there for mutual support and sharing good things. We boaters that travel singly and over a wider stretch of the country can look in vain for such neighbourliness. The best we achieve is a friendly politeness towards other boaters, and an eager anticipation of meeting up briefly with friends afloat.

Another important aspect of the London Boater community is that of environmental awareness. They are a part of LILO (Low Impact Life On board) and encourage sustainable living afloat through example. BW claims to be implementing a rigorous policy of environmental care of the waterways, which is just incompatible with forcing boats to continually travel - this is something they are simply refusing to recognise. In other words, they are ticking the 'environmental awareness' box they are forced to do by law, while not really giving a damn about the consequences of their policies. For all my efforts to live a low-impact life, I burn diesel every time I travel and my carbon footprint must be huge in comparison to those of boating communities who move over a smaller area.

Finally, I'm thinking about the Jericho boaters. That wonderful little haven in Oxford that had its heart ripped out when the community was broken up and the boatyard cleared. I used that emotive term 'ripped out', because that's what it was like - people clinging in tears to their boats as they were craned out the water. And for what? That place is a dreary, soul-less blot on the landscape now, high-fenced and barb-wired.

I've been sorry to read how some boat bloggers are not content to simply disagree with the London Boaters stance, but seek to actively stir up opposition. I suspect such people would never themselves be useful members of any such community and make few friends and many enemies in their own chosen lifestyles. I leave them to their lonely misanthropy and urge on the London Boaters with a great cheer!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011