Monday 27 January 2014


My first day off work sick in living memory. Well, that is a slight exaggeration. But only slight. Have spent the whole weekend housebound and bedridden with a stomach bug.

It struck with eloquent timing almost the minute I finished walking the dogs after work Friday evening.

They've been housebound with me for the duration, poor things. Meaning no disrespect to my wife, but "her hobby" (this dog rescue lark) has landed us with a houseful of mutts only I have the stamina to handle in any mass or on a walk of any duration. Which normally suits me fine. I love walking with them.

I should have gone sailing yesterday, but had to let my crew down. Never done that before. She manned the safety boat to cover the three boats that were mad enough to race in the blow that came in.

Boo sat on my bed for most of the day, keeping watch out of my bedroom window whilst the tree outside taunted me with lost opportunity as it danced in the blustering air.

That young lad has an almost zen-like intensity when he decides to sit and study something. Upright posture, motionless except for the slight twitch of his head as his eyes follow every movement before him.

Almost as if he's puzzling out the secrets of the world he perceives, and what it all means to him.

Maybe one day he'll tell me.

Thursday 23 January 2014


Just read an article on the BBC about a "nearby" star going supernova
that's been spotted very recently bya clutch of pizza-munching
undergraduates during a ten minute telescope lesson at the Univercity of
London Observatory. Apparently, it's the closest supernova to have been
spotted since the 80's.

The deceased star is a mere 12 million light years away.

12 million light years.

Leaving the millions aside, it all gets a bit heady when you start
measuring distances in time. I know it's hardly a new concept. I've long
been well aware of and enchanted by the fact that when you stare at the
sky you're not looking at a picture of it as it is now, but as it was
then. The light of the stars you are seeing has taken years to reach us:
8.6 years for one of our nearest neighbours, Sirius. Around 400ish years
for that old navigator's friend, Polaris.

A time machine laid out before us every night.

12 million light years. It stupifies the mind on so many levels.

The distance from here to there. The fact that this distant star burst
and died in all her magnificent glory so far, far away. And humanity
only now gets to bear witness to it.

Humbling, that light, however bright and intense it would have been at
its creation, should survive twelve million years in distance and time,
to be glimpsed by us now.

Where will we be in twelve million years? What will we be?

It should leave me feeling insignficant. But oddly, it does not.

Such a beautiful majesty, creation.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Promises, promises

It's odd.

I'm sure I did something very useful with my time last Sunday, but
damned if I can remember what it was. I didn't go sailing. Which means
that the entire bedrock around which I hinge my week was unshackled.

I think I brought some walking boots, in a rare trip to the shops. It
follows that I think I therefore took the dogs for a walk. Almost
certainly in fact. Then I do that every day anyhow, new boots or no. I
know I kept myself busy as busy can be, and didn't have anywhere near
enough time to do everything I set out for.

But no, it all just blurs into mush.

Thinking about it, I think I cooked lunch for my wife and Sam (boy_v2).
But I'm sure that wasn't all I did.

Anyway, point remains, I didn't go sailing. Should've moved boats
around, as I've got at least two boats in, geographically, the wrong
place at the moment. But didn't get a chance. There's an awful lot of
stuff that apparently needs doing when you don't run away to go sailing.

The second meeting of the Frampton Icicle Series is this coming Sunday.
Looking at the forecast from the Met Office, I'd normally be dancing
with anticipation. F4 increasing through the morning. Gusts 6 to 8
later. We never not sail at Frampton because of too much weather.

But we didn't, and quite sensibly not, New Years Day. On the outcome of
a forecast that looked very akin to the one building now.

It would be ideal if the promised blow delayed, just a few hours. Let us
get out on the water, have our fun, put the boats away. Then I'll walk
the dogs in the howling gale-driven rain later.

My usual and trusty sidekick Hels is recovered from her chest infection,
but has other commitments. However, despite my stragegically positioning
the kicker on the boom to try and take her face off with every tack or
gybe on our last venture out for the first Icicle, Patricia has
heroically stepped back into the breach and volunteered to sail with me
once again.

I really can't wait.

In other news, Buster, my black GSD, took a funny turn last night. Fine
one moment, then just went very shakey and lethargic, took himself to
bed, and the shakey, hang-dog, something definitely not right look as
persisted throughout today. He's an old lad, at eleven years, so
anything like this is, frankly, a little terrifying. Think it's a trip
to the vets tonight so see what's gone wrong.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Birthday parties

Funny. Probably the smallest crowd we've had for a birthday party gig in quite some time.

Yet the atmosphere was sweet, the folks lovely, and very conversant in how to have a good time.

Great night.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Run with wolves

The photo is one of our foster dog, Ty, taken in the park behind my house last weekend. He's off to the vet tonight for his final vaccination, which means we've had him for two weeks now. It's slipped past very quickly.

Asha, our previous foster, is settling in well to her new home, thriving in the company of the young daughter and the resident terrier that are her new packmates, and loving life next to the beach in Torquay.

Apparently she's none too certain of waves yet, but doesn't hesitate to
stick her head under the water to retrieve her toy.

Ty is settling in well enough, but we're having to be exceptionally careful with him around Jack. The two are prone to setting each other off; Ty is as bad as Jack now that he's found his feet in the house, though still pretty non confronational in all other respects. He's just gotten fed up and run out of patience with the upstart youngster continually trying to challenge him.

It's nothing we won't be able to sort out with a little time and effort, but for now they are living in two separate halves of the house, spending time together only outside on walks and passing each other in the house under supervision on the way to or from the garden.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Racing done

Time to leave the lake to the folks not interested in chasing each other and give Ty a well earned walk.

We took fourth place out of about a dozen on the start line. Not displeased, and was great to get back out on the water.

1100hrs: rigged, waiting to launch

Sunday morning

Just shy of 9am and the tree outside my y bedroom window is dancing in the moaning breeze.

Time to get up and go sailing.

Friday 10 January 2014

A new set of wheels & petit captiaterraphobia

I'm finally restored to mobility, with a 2003 registered 2.4 litre diesel Volvo V70 estate. In my late teens, before the needs of family and utility saw me restricted to four wheels, I used to ride a bike. Nothing fancy, only a 250cc Yamaha XS, but I loved it, and the liberation I used to feel when I used to ride. I've only ever known that to be surpassed by gliding or sailing.

I seem remember Volvos, and more to the point, Volvo drivers, were the subject of mockary, scorn and ridicule amongst the biker community and press. Post mid-life crisis, middle-aged men, cocooned in their cosy, airbag cushioned tanks, the polar oposite of the freedom of what it meant to be on two wheels. And blind to the vulnerability of other road users around them.

Even away from the biking community, Volvo drivers were most commonly associated with the retired, elderly couple towing their huge caravan slowly down winding A roads, with no room or consideration for the miles of traffic stacking up behind to pass.

My new car even has a towbar setup with the electrics for dragging a caravan.

For my last three vehicles, I've therefore driven Fords, the last two being estates, but perhaps unwisely given the time I spend towing, petrol engines. These two pretty much lasted the same amount of time as each other (about six years of hard use) and met the same untimily, knackered
demise with a valve burning out of the engine.

So this time around, I wanted something a bit bigger, something that could drag both boats or the band's trailer, and something that could fit the dogs, albeit not necessarily all of them at the same time. I did briefly consider a transit van.

The Volvo was available, I liked the guy selling it to me (but then it was his job to be liked) and it was bang on my price range. The image of the brand has also redeemed itself somewhat over the years, and like it or not, the reason for their original reputation and my original absorbed scorn is that they have always made very robust, reliable estates.

I've got to say, driving her is an absolute treat. The vehicle has a certain weight and presence, everything seems well thought out and put together, with all sorts of attention to little details paid, and there is absolutely loads of space inside.

I am now, unashamedly, a Volvo driver.

I suppose as I've always seen cars as a means to an end, a tool to be used as opposed to the definition of a lifestyle, I shouldn't really be surprised. It was probably inevitable.

This coming Saturday, I'm giving Ben (boy_v1) a lift back to Uni for the start of his new term. Nikki has decided that because it's south down the motorway, it's a good excuse to carry on driving down to Bideford to see Linda (the lady that runs the dog rescue we work with). It's an extra two or three hours further south, but a nice chance to see how the car runs, and Linda lives by the sea, so the chance to walk a dog on a beach is quite appealing, even at this time of year.

The challenge for the car will be to fit Ben, my wife, our foster dog Ty and all of Ben's luggage in for the trip.

One of my small ambitions is an overnight trip out Lundy with Dad in Ondine. Lundy is an island that lies in the Bristol Channel, a little way offshore from Bideford, so that would seem the obvious place to launch.

I've just finished reading an article by Webb Chiles called "The Cure", where he concludes with the definition of a disease I think he's long suffered from, captiaterraphobia: fear of being trapped by land. That made me smile.

For my own cure, it would seem there's enough interest in the new idea of the "Icicle" series for about half a dozen sailors at least to have promised to turn up at the lake in Frampton to race this coming Sunday.

My regular crew and trusty side-kick Hels is laid low by a chest infection at the moment, but another friend and fellow club member Patricia has volunteered to crew for me.

I awoke myself this morning to a nasty sore throat and emerging cough. Ironic after I sailed through the bugs and diseases of the Christmas break with friends and family dropping like flies around me but remained untouched by taint or fever myself. I'm going to put it down to a very minor form of petit captiaterraphonia, and fully expect our brief outing on Sunday to cure me.

The Met Office is predicting light rain, a relatively balmy 9c and 13kts SSE with gusts to 25kts. Sounds like it could be good fun, and significantly kinder than the blow that foiled our last outing on New Years Day.

Saturday 4 January 2014

A moment of nostalgia, a past crisis of confidence

I stopped writing songs some few years ago now.

It was once very important to me. But then we hit a crisis in the Band back in 2004 and out of that I realised it was the performance, not the composing that really mattered. I didn't much care what I had to sing, I just wanted the validation of an audience to listen.

The band, every once in a while, try to persuade me to start writing again. But I think those days are gone. These days we play covers. Anything from Van Morrison through to Snow Patrol. Whatever takes our fancy. There seems to be a market for it. Though there was an equal market for our own stuff, back when I was still writing. We were never short of a gig or an audience, even if it was never going to pay for the mortgage.

That, perhaps, was the reason for my failure making it as a professional musician. What rock star has a mortgage to pay?

Though as far as the writing went, bottom line is that I lost confidence in myself, for many reasons, and got out of the habit. And writing is, if nothing else, a product of habit.

Though for all the crisis of confidence, I still love much of what we wrote and recorded together back then. The band has been going in one form or another since 1992, so there was a fair bit of it.

This song was written in 2001. I remember the year for many reasons. It was probably recorded a year later. It's not the best we recorded, but it's one of the song's I'm most fond of, for many reason.


And now I'm off out to tonight's gig.


Bittersweet moment.

Our foster pup, Asha, pictured here with my youngest son, Sam, tonight left with her new family.

She's been with us since the beginning of October. Really sad to see her go, but really pleased for her.

She's moving to Torquay, with a family with small grandchildren and lots of other dogs, beaches to run on, everything a growing pup could possibly want.

So very happy for her.

And we're back!

As is the nature of these things, I don't know how or why or what I did to fix it.

I did manage to find the original install discs, but hadn't got a far as putting them in the drive.

Would seem the threat was enough.

I hate computers

The Blue Screen of Death. It's been haunting me all morning. PC won't boot. Which means I can't print the set lists for tonight. Which means I can't print the adoption forms for the family that have come to see Asha today.

Have copies of the adoption forms on their way over from a fellow foster family, so that's in hand.

I vaguely remember a time when we used to write out setlists by hand. Whilst I'm sure I had people that did it for me, it can't be that difficult, so the gig is safe.

Still feel like I've had me right arm cut off, not being able to boot my PC.

Though once upon a time that would have been a total catastrophe, whereas at least these days I can still reach the Internet via my phone.

Funny, the things we get used to.

PC seems to be booting in to Safe Mode okay. May yet be able to salvage this.

Not how I'd planned to spend the day, however. 

And in other news

I've heard back from my friend over the River.

He's checked, and the Fireball is safe and sound, and tied down securely against further tides.

A weight off my mind, thank-you Alastair.

Coyote Ugly, Bristol fashion

This is our venue for tomorrow night. The Railway Tavern. The photo was taken after our last gig there, in November last year. A great evening, but it's a lovely venue we've played many times that has a habit of turning out such evenings. Makes it no less special, just leaves us anticipating tomorrow evening more.

Dunno if you've seen the film, but this place always puts me in mind of a very English, very Bristolian version of Coyote Ugly.

Friday 3 January 2014

Landlocked is simply a state of mind

All this ruminating over the end of the 2013 season, I thought I'd share a photo of my Enterprise, "Buffy" in action. We're the boat on the right hand side; my son on helm, I'm crew. The photo was taken on my camera at the Ent Open Meeting at our sailing club back in October. The boat to starboard of us is being helmed by the Club's Enterprise Fleet Captain Phil, with the very able young Lewis as crew.

Phil is an exceptionally dedicated and gifted sailor, one of those folks who intuitively knows how to get the best out of any boat he sails, and has always been unfailingly generous with his encouragement and support
of us lesser mortals in all matters sailing. He's one of the few fellow lake sailors at Frampton who, like me, shares a passion for our big, muddy River next door, where he races a Cherub downriver from Lydney at
Thornbury Sailing Club. He also has a certain enthusiasm for cruising Wayfarers.

We'd just come to the end of a screaming reach where we'd caught up and gained the overlap on him in the fourth and final race of the event. Ben, at this point, looks understandably focused, but is feeling stupidly pleased with himself. We went on to finish 2nd, our best result of the four, and Phil's only loss of the day.

The race report can be read online here.

If I'm sounding all glum and downtrodden with the end of the sailing season, don't feel too sorry for me. It's not as bad as last year, when all racing ceased until March. This year, the Club starts a trial "Icicle" series next Sunday; four races in total, one race every other weekend, to take us through to the start of the Spring series at the end of February.

And so it begins again

Our first gig of 2014 is tomorrow night, a lovely pub called The Railway Tavern in Fishponds, Bristol, one of the band's regular haunts and a fitting start to the new year.

The grip in my hand has recovered, I seem to have dodged the various bugs that have waylaid my wife and children over Christmas, so voice remains in fine fettle. Quite looking forward to it. Though will have to borrow dad's car to get the kit there!

On the mutt front, Ty is settling down well. Quite chilled around the house now, though still a little wary of Jack. Jack is under the weather at the moment though, with a tummy bug (this is where I squeemishly draw the line and restate that the dogs are really my wife's hobby!) so isn't being such an abnoxious pain towards the new guy.

On the boat front, a weather-glutted spring tide of 11.4 meters at Sharpness has flooded out Lydney Yacht Club. I'm a little worried about the Fireball. A good friend is going to try to make it there to check her for me this afternoon. Going to have to make a concerted effort to shift her over to Frampton.

That said, a sailing club underwater is small chips compared to the problems flooding is causing many others around these parts at the moment.

Photos: My guitar, Ty anxiously wondering anxiously if he's going to get a belly rub, and Lydney Yacht Club this morning, the latter courtesy of friend and fellow club member Andy Simons

Thursday 2 January 2014

Tis one thing knowing the problem

But quite another, the solution.

A story on the Guardian site put me in mind of a Chaucerian motif (from The Pardoner's Prologue)

"Radix malorum est cupidatis"

The writer makes many points I recognise, but cannot see how to put right without irrevocable harm. We've come too far; now bound by the choices we make, every choice that follows is pretty much dictated by those that were made before.

Is it necessary to loose everything to understand the value of anything?

Our latest foster dog Ty, three year old male GSD

This is Ty.

He has a lovely, devoted nature. A big boned lad, he's very underweight from his time astray and subsequently spent in the pound. It's hard to imagine what he's been through; he's got scarring on his muzzle that suggests he's been fighting or has been picked on at some point, but has a complete lack of aggression so I can only think some bastard set another dog on him.

Found in a woods, his microchip traced back to a fellow that said he'd sold him and didn't want to know. With that sorry conclusion, the pound were going to put him to sleep unless a place could be found for him in rescue.

I can't imagine what would have led anybody to abandon him. I'd like to think the best of folk, and put it down to some sort of personal tragedy, but over the last 18 months of being involved in this dog
rescue gig, I've seen both the best and the worst of people, and of the
latter, some of the worst are truly incomprehensible to me. I'd get angry, but it would be a futile waste of energy. Better just to focus on fixing the consequence of the problem as we can't hope to make a scratch on the cause.

But as of a couple of days ago, Ty's world has now taken a turn for the better, and he's got a happy, lucky future ahead of him. It's a privilege to have had the chance to have a hand in that. A great part of this gig is that I get to meet and spend time with an awful lot of gorgeous dogs like Ty.

Though a big downer is inevitably having to part with them.

Seasonally adrift

I've never known the Club to cancel racing due to wind, either too much or too little, but on New Year's Day they actually did. Most sensible souls, on seeing the forecast, elected to sleep in, but a few fool Laser sailors turned out to race us.

It was pretty grim when we arrived, but Ben and I dragged the boat out and prepared to rig. The weather built. The OOD's team were looking pretty concerned, but happy to push on if we were mad enough to still want to sail.

And still the weather built. It wasn't so much the two remaining Laser sailors "reefing" down to their kids' Toppers that gave us pause, but more how they had to rig with the boats on their sides because of the wind strength that finally convinced Ben and I to call it and put the boat away. Just getting her back to her berth without having her blown off the trolley was challenge enough.

Of the two remaining Laser (Topper) sailors still intending to race, Mike (of second place, Winter series fame, previously written of) is a man about my age and apparent idiocy. However, Jon is post retirement, so nearing his 70's and should probably know better. But on a wintery, chill and drenched New Year's Day with blustery gales broaching F6 or more there he was rigging a small boat fully intending to head out and race.

Proof, if any proof were needed, that sailing keeps you young.

With Buffy safely covered and tied down, I volunteered to man a second safety boat. As much an excuse to get out on the water if anything, it struck some bemused observers in the club house that by having a dedicated safety boat each, a certain couple of sailors were definitely getting their money's worth out of their club fees!

By 1130hrs, with gusts hitting 49 kts, the OOD called it, and racing was cancelled.

And now we're into the Doldrums of the year. With the official racing season now over, nothing is scheduled for Sunday, and I find myself emotionally adrift, uncertain of quite where I am or what to do with myself.

Though there is plenty of maintenance and boat shifting to do. I need to bring the Europe home from Frampton, I need to find somewhere to dry out and repair Penny and I need to somehow get the Fireball back from Lydney and berthed at Frampton, so that I can clean her up and assess what needs doing to get her in to a state where she's safe to sail.

Trouble is, I'm still without a car following the demise of my poor Ford Mondeo just before Christmas.

I really am not a fan of this time of year.

In other, non-sailing news, the new foster dog, Ty, is settling in well. Still a little nervous around the rest of the pack, and we have to keep a close eye on Jack (twelve month old GSD male - the archetypical bolshie teenager) but he's a beautiful dog. Terribly underweight and his coat's in an awful state, but desperately eager to please, and not a confrontational or aggressive bone in his body.

He's spent the last couple of days pretty much attached to my hip, shadowing my every move.

I imagine he's going to be easy to home, but heart-breaking as I'm totally besotted with him. But after what's clearly been a shaky start, he's going to have a fine, full and happy life ahead of him now, so that will be some comfort when he goes. But I don't think it'll be for a while yet, so I've got a bit of space to enjoy his company in the meantime.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Have put the boat away

F6 and building. Volunteering for Safety Boat instead. A couple of Toppers are still going out to play.

All home, time for bed

Talking of whom, just as I posted the last entry, my eldest, Tash, came home from work.

Ignore the chewed arm of the sofa, that was a foster now happily homed.

The whole dog thing was supposed to be my wife's hobby. Before Lilly, not pictured tonight, I'd found myself dog free for the first time in my adult life.

I'd meant to buy a yacht. Guess that's going to have to wait another decade.
But it's okay. The ocean will wait. At the dawn of 2014 there may be many things I regret.

But nothing I'd change, for anything.

Bear is also done for the night

But at his age, which we can only guess at, we can understand.

Our final failure, this one belongs to my daughter, Tash.

Though the man of her life is terrified of dogs and Bear refuses to be left behind when I walk Buster, so he's also mine.

Like our newest foster, Ty, Bear was an abandoned pound dog out of time, nowhere to go, so we took him.

Jack is responsible for my needing to crew one handed tomorrow

He really didn't mean it. He's a year old, and just  beginning to find his own feet. He's most upset at the new foster, Ty.

I took both for a walk. Jack loves to play fetch. Made the mistake of bringing a ball. Ty likes fetch as well.

Took my own eye off the ball.

The resulting bruising leaves me unable to move my thumb. Nothing broken, including the skin. Might hurt tomorrow, but should be okay for the gig by Saturday night.

By Saturday night I'll have those two playing ball together.

Jack is my wife, Nikki's personal failure, and her "baby". He was born in the Rescue.

Unlike his litter mates, his ears haven't stood up. A critical failing in GSD circles. I love winding Nik up about it. She counters that he's looks so sweet and his flopped ears just match his adorable persomality.

She is, of course, entirely right. Jack is gorgeous and I love him to bits.

But it wouldn't do to give the game away! Jack understands. He's my mate.

Boo has given up on finding the party. Asha is still young enough to harbour hope for the night yet to come

Boo is ours. We were only supposed to give him a lift cross country to the Rescue.

It was my youngest son Sam's birthday. Boo broke free of the other five we'd picked up and crawled out of the boot (trunk for any trans-Atlantic friends) onto Sam's lap on the back seat.

Three and a half hours later arriving at the Rescue in Devon, it was obvious Boo was staying.

He was our second rescue failure. At three and a half hours, he was our quickest failure. He's also our only non-GSD.

The beautiful Asha is a Carpathian Shepherd cross, and fostered with us.  She's proving hard to home. I can't work out why. Perhaps I should try harder. Five of my own are enough.

Buster says "Happy New Year"

But leave the late night festivities to the youngsters please!

Happy New Year Everybody!

And may the new year bring all we each dream.

2014 sees us with seven dogs in the house. A new foster arrived yesterday. Three year old long-haired German Shepherd called Ty. Abandoned, left in the pound and due to be put to sleep last Sunday. He had nowhere else to go, so he came here.

Gentle, lovely lad. Won't be hard to find him the loving family he so deserves. As always though, having fun settling him in with the resident half dozen.

Been a funny old Christmas. My car died so have transport issues.  Winter Series ended with us in a close fought third place. Laser Pete won, Laser Mike second. Pete deserved the win for sheer tenacity.

Worst race of the year was probably Boxing Day. The photo above was the morning of that day. We should have done well in the conditions, but Hels and I were simply not in sync.

Another cup race at 11am tomorrow to see the new year in. My crew Hels is poorly, so I'm going to crew for my son Ben. Can't wait.

Forecast is a bit silly. 30kts gusting 50. And I've hurt my right hand separating a couple of squabbling dogs today, so I'll be crewing one-handed.

Nice thing about sailing on a 50 acre lake. 50 knot gusts might break the boat if you get it wrong, but they probably won't kill you. So they make for very interesting racing, rather than wiping the day out.

But with my injured hand I am glad my eldest son has the helm.

And quietly proud that I can trust him with it.

Happy New Year everybody, wherever you are, whatever you dream.