The Summer is Over…Long live the Autumn

One could say the “summer is over” all activities seem to have stopped and I find myself being “back at work” which for me is making small-pipes and busking. But I can still write about the various activities I have done over a month or so, some of which were a welcome change: a travel to Orkney (a birthday present to myself); sailing once more after a period of 3 years; going to Piping Live 2015 in Glasgow; and a trip to the Isle of Arran (my last visit was when I was 21, a few moons ago!), and where my small laptop got a wash in seawater and decided not to work again (the laptop I had used on many of my previous blog entries R.I.P.)

There was a new insight into my electric bike which I will add to the review blog. I will be reworking my Dinghy Cruising Association articles for the blog, as I think they could be of some use to those who wish to cruise the Solway Estuary.

Over the next few days/weeks I will be writing several blogs on these topics and others too, such as: folk sessions; a new Small-pipe workshop which will be in October; and unintentionally learning an old instrument, the recorder! An instrument I hated when I was at school, but I find myself starting again.

So the summer might be over but let’s look forward to the autumn!

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The Nayanban – The Iranian Bagpipe

The Persian bagpipe is becoming more popular, possibly thanks to the internet, this once little known instrument is gaining more interest in Europe. Generally one player popularizes an instrument…becomes a well known name and gets all the attention, concerts, fame and money!
But, it does not mean they have the final say on the instrument, music, or style… but to many it is.

Leila, visited her country and chanced upon a Nayanban musician in Isfahan, Iran. Being Iranian she could converse with the player and learn a little bit about him. This is her story really, I am just including it as i think it is a wonderful story and a chance to Ethnomusicology working both ways.

The Nayanban is a bagpipe from southern Iran, near to the Persian Gulf. The “red arrows” on the map indicate the areas where the instrument is popular: Bandar Bushehr to Abadan, along the coastal area. These are port towns and possibly this instrument was imported from across the seas or it was exported from these ports to other countries?
The area is also near to Iraq and Kuwait, big oil producing areas, and there is also a lot of oil on the Iran side of the border too. During the War between Iraq and Iran (1980-87) this area received a lot of bombing and invasion. A lot of local people (Bandari) moved north to escape the bombing and they took their culture and instruments with them. A lot of the migrants settled in an areas close to Isfahan,  especially in a town called Shahrekord (South West of Isfahan).

This nayanban player Leila met was called Behnam Rahimi, from Baghbahadoran, which is close to Shahrekord, he came to Isfahan to play on the streets to earn some money; but unlike buskers in Europe who would play on the busy streets, shopping areas, city centers, and commercial and touristic areas, Behnam plays in residential areas far from the “madding crowd”, his streets were quiet, walled enclosed, no passers-by or shop-keepers to move you on! His audience were behind their walls, inside their homes or peering from their windows.

The instrument consists of a bag, 2 chanters in a single stock, no drone. The 2 chanters have the same tuning, the player’s fingers cover both chanter at the same time and play the same notes. The music is highly rhythmic, more for dancing I imagine than for singing. Behnam, told Leila that he was later to play at a wedding where there is generally dancing; but before the wedding he was “busking”… not ‘on’ the main street of the city, but ‘behind’ the main street, in quiet roads, lanes, drive ways. People would hear his music, and like his music and come out and pay him.

you can hear him playing the Nayanban here 

Byocycle City Speed Review


I do not normally do reviews of things I buy, but I chose this electric bike after a lot of research, but there was a lot of info I could not find online or via the shop, so I thought to add to the reviews that are currently on line.

I bought this electric bike online, I did not see it or try it out before hand, a risk? Yes, as to send it back would cost… but the reviews were promising. 
I was looking at two bikes the Byocycle City Speed and the Wayfarer, both had similar spec and both had good reviews. There was very little in the way of videos, the Byocycle Cameleon had a few videos but the city speed was poorly documented. The Wayfarer had a couple of good videos which showed durability. The Cameleon looks the same as the City Speed, in fact only a few of the components are different if you compare them, but there is a big difference in price. 

Although I have not had my bike long (a few months) I have been on long bike rides, around trip of about 25 miles to and from the boat. The trip involves quite a lot of hills and gradual climbs and the weather is not always good. Today for example I had strong icy winds in my face and heavy showers. The roads I cycle on are farm roads, tractors often produce cracks and pot holes and generally uneven surfaces, so not the ‘typical’ conditions that the info uses for getting the most out your battery. The spec say the battery will last between 20-30 miles on flat terrain with no head wind! 
I generally cycle everywhere, I do not drive a car, I have had no interested in learning to drive, and I try not to use the bus or the train if I can help it. Cycling is my chosen transportation, good for a lifestyle, fitness and low cost. The bike I was looking for had to be practical and useful to the distances I needed it for. It is not for a pleasant ride on a Sunday…
This morning the battery was fully charged and I had little luggage to carry. I learned a few years ago not to cycle up steep hills. I get off and push the bike up. This is not laziness but it saves the chain and it stops lactic acid building up in the muscles, by using other muscles it leads to a less painful experience. I only do this a few times as I cycle to 25 mile round trip, generally I cycle. 
On my way to the boat I peddle as much as I can, I use the “peddle/motor” option when I need it on gradual hills and when I get tired legs. I try and be in 3rd gear when I use this option as otherwise I am pedalling for nothing, as least in 3rd I can add to the motor.  When I am not using the peddle/motor option I knock it off. 
By the end of the 12 miles I was feeling tired… this is not because I did not use the motor enough, but I think because of the weight of the bike one is pulling the equivalent of a loaded trailer, when you come off the peddle/motor option the bike slows down, you feel the weight underneath you, and you feel your legs having to push that weight along. It is like riding through treacle! 
Coming back from the boat I try out the “motor only option”. As my legs are tired I need to rest them on certain parts of the journey. Also when you use this option you can peddle and not use the battery. I prefer this as I can have more option depending on the terrain. 
By switching from ‘peddle/motor’ option (by holding down the button on the control box) it automatically switches to the ‘motor option’, I can access the motor while peddling by slowly moving the throttle leaver next to the hand grip. This can be unsteady to achieve the right amount, so I press my thumb into the hand grip and rotate my thumb next to the throttle, I can get minute variations to suit my leg requirements.  When I release the throttle again it feels like I am cycling through treacle, the weight of the bike is apparent. You need the motor for this bike… it is too heavy to go long distances without it. 
The lights are very good, very bright and penetrating, the front light is turned on/off by the control box on the handlebars, it is connected to the battery. You need to have the control box set on ‘motor option’ mode otherwise you will be peddling all the time whether you want to or not. The back lights are not connected to the battery, but they are good lights.
I like the bike stand it is useful, I like its sturdy frame especially when I fly down the hills, there is no shaking of the frame. 
After the ride I noticed the 3 green lights indicating the battery strength was still on green (all 3) so I have not used a lot of battery to achieve my 25 miles. I will keep experimenting how to use the bike more efficiently, maybe increase the usage of motor only on this hills and give my legs more of a rest.

bunji the folded bike together it is a lot easier to transport.

Galician and Border Fingering – Cross Fertalization

Often when we learn an instrument we learn ‘patterns’ for our fingers to use on the instrument, this is an aid to learning an instrument and memorizing tunes. We become accustomed to these patterns and form them into a ‘tradition’ which develops into a certain regional or national style. But, what is important is the ‘sound’ to play the melodies as they should sound and achieving the sound should be more important over technique.

Finger Chart for the Highland, Scottish Small-pipes, & Border Bagpipes

I have deviated from the normal ‘tradition’ on the Border pipes, I am adopting a different tradition of fingering the chanter. This mainly concerns the top A note which is fingered traditionally with the bottom hand oxxx and with the top hand xoo o (oxxx xoo o) this is a Highland bagpipe style, which in my opinion is a different style of music to the Lowland piping tradition. 

I have been playing Border/Northumbrian melodies using the traditional fingering for a number of years it suits it well, but there are characteristics of the Lowland music which make this fingering of the top A note cumbersome and problematic. There are many ‘jumps’ in Lowland music from a high A down to a lower register, and this can cause a lot of hand ‘waving’ on the chanter (The Highland bagpipe style uses a closed finger technique that lifts multiple fingers off and on the chanter) as the top hand opens so closes the lower hand. It can be messy, especially if the melody demands a quick run or semi-quaver ‘jumps’.

I have been learning the Galician bagpipe for 3 years and they use a different fingering for the high A note, (oxxx xxx o) all fingers closed and only the thumb hole open. It is this technique I have been adopting for the high A on the Border pipes.

At first it was to put the chanter in tune with itself as it was a bit sharp on the top A, so instead of taping or gluing the hole I changed finger technique. Another reason why I used this Galician fingering was I fitted a Galician Bb reed to my Border chanter. I scraped the reed so it was softer to play and could sound a top A in the traditional Lowland fingering, but I found it gave a good high A in the Galician style too.

There are a lot of quaver notes in the Lowland repertoire that ‘jump’ in quick succession e.g. AaAbAcAd. This could mean playing oxxx xoo o for the high A then playing ooxx xxx x for the low ‘b’. I have found it easier to play these notes by using the Galican style oxxx xxx o for the high A then ooxx xxx x for the low ‘b’. this makes life a lot easier.

If you know the fingering style of the Northumbrian Small Pipes then you will know that this style of playing uses a totally closed finger technique, one finger is lifted off then replaces before the other is lifted. So jumping from a high to a low note is not a problem. This Galician high A position is similar in style to the Northumbrian as only the thumb is removed while the rest of the fingers stay on the chanter.

Of course there is no evidence that this finger style was used in the tradition of Border piping….but there is no evidence to prove it was not used either. The music certainly allows for an easy way of playing these ‘jumps’. and the Galician high A is one solution. In practise, I tend to mix these 2 finger styles, depending on the melody, some runs require it others do not.

In the Border/Northumbrian tradition at least there has always been a healthy innovation, without it the Northumbrian Small Pipes would never have evolved. It is easy to imagine these innovations coming about by influences from outside of the Borders through the numerous ports, commerce and migrants/visitors/travellers, as well as closer to home though journeymen, after-all tunes travelled and it is said that the Northumbrian Small Pipes were influenced by the French musette. .

There are numerous bagpipes which use the ‘closed fingering’ style as the Border pipes, some more closed than others…but this style is not wholly a Scottish fingering technique. The Asturian Gaita uses a crossed/closed fingering not unlike the Border pipes. Both are conical bored chanters and a 2nd octave can be reached by the same technique of the Galician high A fingering position.

Gaita Sanabresa in Zamora

Wandering through the medieval streets of Zamora, Spain, we came across a folkloric group dancing and playing Gaita Sanabresa.

The Fiesta was in aid of married women all over Spain, a sort of weekend long celebration. The colourful costumes of the women and loud resonating gaita made the streets come alive with tradition and feeling. Traditional music in its natural setting always makes it relevant.

Gaita de Boto and Ney – Snakes and Reeds

As it was a holiday in Madrid we thought to go and get out into the nature for the day. Our choice of area seemed to be the wrong one as it was heavily industrial with rubbish spoiling the river bank and the river stinking from the chemicals from the nearby factories. This did not stop the wild life from inhabiting the area though, birds and rabbits ran to hide as we walked along the rivers edge. We were walking near to the airport and every 3 minutes planes came over our heads on their way to land. I was getting a little disillusioned as the track came near to the motorway and then it ended with a gate saying “private”. We sat down and ate then headed back the same way.

What interested me was the size of the reed (cane) beds that lined the river bank, and also which grew away from the river and close to the motorway; they grew very big and a few were thick enough to cut , dry and to make open-ended flutes (nai and neys) as well as cane reed flutes.

As we walked along the path we saw a movement a few steps in front of us, a snake slithered down a hole, it was quite large, fat and light green. I am interested in the Gaita de Boto, the gaita from the region of Aragon that sometimes has a snake skin covering the chanter and drone. Green snake skin suddenly came to my mind and how it would fit nicely over my chanter!

I have reeds cut and drying in our flat for about 1 year, they need sized and experimented with to see if they are good enough to make reeds for bagpipes and to make open-ended flutes possibly of an Arabic style (nai) and perhaps a Turkish ney. The reeds near to the motorway were much better than the river bank examples, being away from the river meant they were a lot stronger, I would return and cut them later on and have a supply for a year.

I had collected a few pieces of cane to take home and as we walked I thought what an excellent place to come for  a day out, I can get my musical needs satisfied in one afternoon: snake skin for my chanter and drone, open-ended flutes from the motorway, and drone and chanter reeds from the river bank!
I did not even notice the air planes any more.

On Stage in Zamora (Spain)

It has been a number of years since I stood on stage alone playing solo. I remembered when I last did it back in the 90s on stage in Vilnius, Lithuania. I have played countless time since then but to stand on stage in front of about 400 people is still a nerve racking event. Playing with others is easier, you follow each other, timing is easier and just to be with another is more relaxing. I have played Border Pipes for years but hardly performed with them on stage and I choose to start the concert with them. My nerves showed for the first set of tunes, but after a while I got used to it and relaxed. When I played the Northumbrian Small Pipes I was back on familiar territory and played my set with out too much trouble.
I do not think it is the ‘standing on stage’ that is the problem with nerves it is the microphones, it can be in a room with friends or solo recording a CD, but whenever I stand in front of a microphone I grow tense, I do not play as I normal; I can not move or walk around. The microphone rivets me to a spot…curse it.

The melodies I played for the Border pipes (BP) were:
Frisky, 
Chevy Chase, 
I’m O’er Young to Marry Yet, 
Bonny Lad.

Except for Chevy Chase, which is a Border Ballad, the rest of the tunes can be found in the Peacock manuscript from the early 1800s.

The next tune I played was Bonny Pit Laddie, also from Peacock, and I played as many variations as I could remember (I think I missed one out). The style of the Northumbrian and (Scottish) Border repertoire is full of melodies with variations and to memorize them is quite a task; I fail each time but I must say I am also getting better at it too, as my playing time increases so is my memory for these variations.

Next, there was a quick change over of instruments from BP to Northumbrian Small Pipes (NSP). These are quicker to tune than the BP and less problematic to hold and to play. The melodies I played were:
Mallorca, 
Wards Brae, 
Gallowgate Lass.

The last two melodies I grouped together into one melody as they are very similar to each other.

The final group of tunes were:
Johnny Armstrong
Welcome to the Town Again,

the first being a Border Ballad melody and the last a dance tune from Peacocks.

The experience was an interesting one, enjoyable and I hope the start of many more to come in the future.
The video is of the first performance on NSP.

My Hybrid Bagpipes

If Organology is a study of musical instruments then musical archaeology is a piecing together of facts about a time and place of that instrument.

My newly made bagpipe would tell of many layers of musical history, and as it stands today, a history that travels continents.

If we start with the oldest first:

The Drones, then we will find out that they came from India, the Punjab. I bought a set of Highland pipes in a small town in 1995. They cost me 18 UK pounds, with it I got several drone reeds and chanter reeds, in fact I bought what there was in his shop. I suspected the chanter would not be in tune but the rest of the pipe I could use for other things. In fact teh reeds fit well in my Border pipe too.
The 3 drones were in a rubber bag, very small, easily inflated but leaked a lot.
The blow pipe had a metal mouth piece which fell off after several years.
With all its faults it did play, and I did use this set of pipes for experiments over the years.
The pipe is made from wood, the chanter is conically bored and not dissimilar to the bore of my Border pipe.
I used the Indian Bass drone in my Hybrid Bagpipe, it plays in ‘Bb’ as well as in ‘A’ and by changing the drones around (removing the middle section) I can also play in ‘D’ with the same reed.
I use the cane reeds I bought in India and they are very good and reliable after so many years.
I use all stocks from the Indian bagpipe too, as well as mouth piece. I have made a few mouth piece tips to replace the metal one I lost. The ‘crack value’ i have replaced recently to make it more air tight.

The Bag I bought in Spain in 2011 from a shop in Madrid, it is a synthetic bag which is in a ‘pear drop’ design, not my favourite to hold, I think in the future I would buy/make a bag in the Highland style.
The cover was made by myself and Leila with fabric bought in Madrid and Zamora.

The Chanter/s I play are a mixture of traditions. Originally I got it to play with my Sanabresa Chanter in Bb, I turned a stock for it and connected it to the bag.
I also made a stock for my Border pipes chanter and if I tuned the drones down to ‘A’ I could get a good sound with the same reed
I also turned a stock for my Galician chanter in D, I removed the middle section of the Drone and it played a D drone to go with it.

The beauty of mouth blown pipes over bellows blown is the less time to ‘pick up and play’; and less time in tuning the drones, also with these pipes I have been able to add a Galician reed in all of them, where as to obtain a Border reed or Sanabresa reed is quite difficult.
Another advantage with this system is that I have 3 chanters and 1 bag, which saves space when transporting them and costs a lot less to buy.

Porto in Portugal

A recent trip to Aveiro in Portugal to attend an Organology Conference, we stayed in Porto and I was delighted in the overview of the city. Small streets line the banks of the river, an excellent river for kayaking from Spain which I will attempt later this year hopefully.

A view from the bridge onto old Porto

Porto has kept its old feel, small streets large enough to reach across and touch both walls.

Old Medieval Streets

The harbour showed a history in the stone, and boats were there now for touristy purposes, but it added to a charm of the place. The old traditional boats next to the old harbour walls.

Old Harbour

Long oars were used to propel the boats, but they can not have been for sea voyaging on the Atlantic.

Brightly painted sterns. We did not see any sails in use, but in the summer the boats are used for transporting tourists.

Portugal is well known for its coloured tiles on the sides of houses and churches, and railways stations.

On Stage in Zamora (Spain)

It has been a number of years since I stood on stage alone playing solo. I remembered when I last did it back in the 90s on stage in Vilnius, Lithuania. I have played countless time since then but to stand on stage in front of about 400 people is still a nerve racking event. Playing with others is easier, you follow each other, timing is easier and just to be with another is more relaxing. I have played Border Pipes for years but hardly performed with them on stage and I choose to start the concert with them. My nerves showed for the first set of tunes, but after a while I got used to it and relaxed. When I played the Northumbrian Small Pipes I was back on familiar territory and played my set with out too much trouble.

I do not think it is the ‘standing on stage’ that is the problem with nerves it is the microphones, it can be in a room with friends or solo recording a CD, but whenever I stand in front of a microphone I grow tense, I do not play as I normal; I can not move or walk around. The microphone rivets me to a spot…curse it.


The melodies I played for the Border pipes (BP) were:
Frisky, Chevy Chase, I’m O’er Young to Marry Yet, Bonny Lad.
Except for Chevy Chase, which is a Border Ballad, the rest of the tunes can be found in the Peacock manuscript from the early 1800s.
The next tune I played was Bonny Pit Laddie, also from Peacock, and I played as many variations as I could remember (I think I missed one out). The style of the Northumbrian and (Scottish) Border repertoire is full of melodies with variations and to memorize them is quite a task; I fail each time but I must say I am also getting better at it too, as my playing time increases so is my memory for these variations.

Next, there was a quick change over of instruments from BP to Northumbrian Small Pipes (NSP). These are quicker to tune than the BP and less problematic to hold and to play. The melodies I played were:
Mallorca, Wards Brae, Gallowgate Lass.
The last two melodies I grouped together into one melody as they are very similar to each other.
The final group of tunes were:
Johnny Armstrong and Welcome to the Town Again,
the first being a Border Ballad melody and the last a dance tune from Peacocks.

The experience was an interesting one, enjoyable and I hope the start of many more to come in the future.

The video is of the first performance on NSP.

A Path of Colour – Summer Flowers

There has been a few entries in this blog about the journey getting to/from the boat in different seasons of the year. Summer is upon us and sadly disappearing. When I came back from Sweden I noticed how ‘green’ our roadsides and fields looked compared to the multicoloured equivalents in Sweden, “What has happened to our wild flowers?” I thought. 
Recently I have noticed a change in our country roads, there is more colour, more natural growth of different varieties. I do not know the names of these flowers (there is no need to know to appreciate their colour and beauty) I am just happy there are there; and perhaps they are becoming more widespread than compared to other years, I hope it may continue in years to come. I also notice fields being left and wild flowers growing, if this is EU policy or Farmers taking the initiative, so may it continue

A Cycle to the Artic

A frosty morning to go and check the boat, I pedaled 10 miles over icy back roads and when I got to the sea there were large blankets of ice flowing down with the ebbing tide, it reminded me of the ice fields of the Arctic on a much smaller scale! I parked the bike and gingerly waded out to the boat, underneath the water I could see the white of the ice still frozen to the gravel. I walked around the boat inspecting the hull and slipped, nearly ended up in the water as some submerged ice made the ground like glass. I climbed into the snow that lay in the cockpit and undid the lock, amazingly inside was ok, no leaks, only a small patch of snow inside, how did that get there? As I lifted the floorboards to see into the bilges I could hear the small pieces of ice scrapping the hull as the ebb took it along. The antifouling paint was scraped off in many parts of the hull down to the fibreglass itself, on the starboard side where the sun had got to it; on the port side where the sun could not reach the ice was over the hull half way up the boat with ‘veins’ cracked into the ice. I am not sure if the cracks were part of the ice or that the paint had cracked due to the cold. A line of ice showed where the water level had been. I made myself a coffee and noticed how neglected she looked, the weather was taking its toll on her and she badly needed some TLC. When spring comes she will get painted and a brushed up. The surrounding area looked beautiful, ice and snow covering the shore line, Scotland looking pink in the sun light, the few birds were searching for food, it would be nice to linger but I had a 10 mile cycle ride back home and it was already past 2pm and sun went down at 3.45pm.

A Glorious Spring Day


A Glorious spring day, the daffodils were out in abundance, the sun was shining, a cool breeze made cycling to the boat a pleasure. I was enjoying the country roads, dodging the flies and other insects that were trying to get under my eyelids and up my nose and into my mouth. I reached the boat and leisurely unpacked my things and undid the tarpaulin, a task all the more quicker now that the second tarpaulin had been stolen. I was preparing to sail today so I made the boat ready, but the tide was racing in and I had to climb on board long before I was ready and the rest of the preparation had to be done in a cramped and messy cockpit. I secured the tiller hoping that it would hold the rudder in place on her maiden voyage; I unfurled the main sail and secured it to the mast. I was trying a new system today instead of the normal way a Bermudan rig is set up with a mast and boom, I was dispensing with the boom altogether hoping to make the rig less heavy aft and therefore less dangerous. I did not know if this system would work it is not normally done, but I took confidence in seeing that a similar type of rig exists on boats that are sailed on the Persian Gulf and traditional Arabic Dhows still use them today. This system is called a ‘lanteen’ rig, it has a triangular sail that is connected to the mast and the free corner is connected to the mainsheet, as in the Bermudan rig style. Having no boom means there is no ‘shape’ to the sail, it flutters in the wind when not sheeted in. A boom helps the sail have a flattened shape, and makes it a highly effective power engine, catching the winds and making the most of them. Without a boom it is like a flag blowing in the wind the energy is dissipated until you pull in the mainsheet which tightens one corner and gives it s curved shape enabling wind to spill out easily. This makes the sail safer as more energy/wind is lost; having a boom makes the sail hold more wind making it more powerful and therefore easier to capsize with the inexperienced like myself.

As the tide was coming in I connected the pulleys and sheets and tidied everything as much as I could by throwing things from one corner to the other corner as I searched for missing items, the wind had picked up and black clouds where thrashing Scotland only a few miles away across the estuary. Sea fishermen had set up their gear on the shore opposite me, I could not sail now even if I wanted too, but it was a blessing as the wind picked up to a force 5 or 6 and we were bouncing around as the swells and wavelets, as a present from Scotland, came fast and furious. The wind swung me on the mooring chain, it came on strong and increased quickly, very soon there were white-tops hitting the shore shooting bursts of surf over the fishermen; the sun had gone and we were now a lee shore; it was a different scene from the beautiful weather when I had first arrived.

I still tried to put up the sail in the wind and found that if I pulled in the mainsheet from the beginning I stopped the ‘flag’ fluttering at its corner, this made it a lot safer as it was whipping around the cockpit like a Whirling Dervish, and the metal fixing was making it a lethal weapon. It took me a few tries of getting the mainsail up but when it was up it looked ok. I let go the chain that connected me to the mooring so I could put some distance for me to sail. I was not going to let go totally but have a length of rope connecting me to the mooring so I could get back when needed. All I wanted to do was to see how the mainsail performed in such winds and if I could tack without a boom.

I let out the rope for about 15 meters and I drifted with the tide which by this time was starting to ebb, I was side on to the waves getting bounced around and soaked by its spray as it “slapped, slapped” against the hull causing surf to hit me as it was carried by the wind, also it had started to rain heavily that made the sail wet and heavy pulling the mast backwards. The wind was on my port side so when I pulled in the mainsheet the sail took effect and the boat immediately started to move forward, the boom-less sail worked fine, but now I was running out of rope and starting to pull on the mooring chain. Fearing that I should pull-up the mooring or break the rope I tried to release the mainsheet and let the sail flutter. The wind was now behind me pushing the sail against the mast and shrouds, this was “running” with the wind and although I was happy that it worked also, it was not what I wanted right at this moment! I had to release the main halyard and bring down the sail altogether, in doing so the tide brought me backwards and saved the mooring.

My second attempt was to try and reef the sail, what followed was a clumsy attempt of rapping the foot of the sail around itself then tying both ends to stop it unfurling I then took up the tension on the main halyard. I did not really know what I was doing as I never had expected these conditions on my first attempt but I thought to give it a go as it is in such conditions that one needs to reef. I tried out my attempt and the sail looked a sorry sight, baggy and limp, but when the tension was taken up on the mainsheet, she did its job and I could manage the sail more easily.

By this time the sea fishermen had gone home it was too wet and too windy even for them. I admitted I could not do anymore too and took shelter in the cabin and waited until we bounced on the sea bed and then fried out. I packed up in the ever dimming light and struggled with a lock that would not open on the cockpit locker. The wind never abated and it was an icy wind that made work slow and uncomfortable; as I tried to cover the boat with the tarpaulin it was blowing away like a kite. I finally got on my bike as it was dark and cycled 10 miles home, tired and cold and ready to do the same tomorrow hoping that it will be another glorious spring day.

Off Again

It is the time to be travelling again, the itchiness in the feet has made me don boots once more and head off for the hills…well in this case it is Spain for a bit of sun and relaxation. Ironically it has started to get warm here. I left the boat yesterday in glorious sunshine. I was underneath the boat trying to apply marine sealant to the join between the keel and the hull as I think she has started to let in a bit of water. I was flat on my back squeezed between the hull and the water, sand and stones. It is a fiddly job and I do not think it worked. The marine sealant is noted for sticking to anything and everything and it certainly stuck to my hands and hair, clothes and parts of the boat that I did not want it to stick too, but it would not stick to the parts I did. Anyways, time ran out and I had to leave her alone on the beach. I watched the incoming tide and I wanted to sail away in her and to see a distant shore, but the wind blew me home, and now it is blowing me to Spain. Forever on the move. I once wrote “Movement is Life” and I think it is still true, to move on is something positive and healthy otherwise we can become to obsessed and too narrow minded. It is time for a break.

The Inner World of Migration


The new becomes routine. The unfamiliar becomes unnoticeable after a while, but once in a while an event occurs that makes me look at the familiar with a new vision and I wonder and I am thankful for the beauty of it.

I cycle to the sea two or three times a week in all weathers. We have had a very severe winter more so this year than previous years. As I cycle along the small country potholed roads week after week I forget to notice what is around me my mind is on other things and other people. I must think that journey boring as I do not notice it, yet if I had been incarcerated in a small 4 walled cell it must be like heaven to see what I see in those 3 days of cycling, I had forgotten to appreciate it. The winter cold makes me cycle hard and all I notice is how my sweat freezes and how the wind bites into my skin. But recently I have begun to notice the different bird life. At first it was the birds of prey, the Buzzards taking advantage of the air currents and floating effortlessly above the fields looking for prey, or just enjoying the gift of flight as they seem to be enjoying their experience hovering and gliding majestically without effort using what is natural to them and what is free to them. I have seen other birds of prey: a Kestrel had in its talons a small animal as it flew over my head heading for the next field to devour it; a Sparrow Hawk had what looked like a pigeon’s wing hanging down from its claws nearly as big as its own body. The birds of prey are easy to spot; they take my attention and demand acknowledgment.

More recently I have noticed smaller less unfamiliar types of bird doing beautiful and unpredictable things. Yesterday I saw a large flock of Black Birds in a farmer’s field all on the ground taking advantage of the worms as the tractor disturbed the ground. As the tractor approached the seated dinner party the front section of the flock rose in the air and flew obediently and in order to the back of the flock and continued to take advantage of the farmer’s fare but not as fresh and plenty as the front row. As the tractor came closer the next section of birds rose and migrated behind them, it was a constant movement a wave effect of rising and falling, a mass of blackness swaying with fluidity. It was beautiful, poetic, mesmerising and very natural; it was mechanical yet organic and although it seemed like it was programmed and fixed I knew it could reform and change, dissolve and fragment at any moment. I cycled on thinking of this apparition when I noticed a Buzzard perched on a fence post it slowly took flight and glided away from me unconcerned as though it was bored.

A while later I came to the hill where I normally get off my bike as my brakes cannot hold the descent and taking the bottom corner at full speed is not so wise due to the ever widening potholes that seem to get bigger each week due to the tractors that plough that country lane. By getting off and walking down the hill I noticed a tree trunk, the sun shone on its south facing bark but on the reverse side there was an exposed piece of trunk, bare except for a row of beautifully formed toadstools one above the other. It was so unexpected and lovely, the sun shone and I was taken by their colour and form. I felt happy to see it, not to own it or to cut it, possess it or to eat it, just to come across it and then leave it; leave it I did and continued around the bend. The road I have named ‘potholed alley’ for obvious reasons and after the recent snow and ice we have just had the small crevasses make the journey one of “find the asphalt”.

Before the village of Easton there are fields on either side of me I saw in one of these fields a large flock of Canadian Geese, the faded green field was a mass of dark browns and greys. I got off my bike and took out my camera to video the congregation, it reminded me as if they were waiting for their leader to give a speech at the annual ‘Canadian Geese Rally’ that is held in the dirtiest field at the north east corner of wintery England. Then I heard a sound of a small aeroplane coming towards me, the area is quite flat and it holds a few old aerodromes from the 2nd World War, as it turned away from that Geese filled field there came a mass cry and a beating of wings as the whole flock took flight. The Canadian Geese rose into the air on mass and criss-crossed each other away from me and then towards me, a mass of black shapes splitting into smaller flocks and then moving away from one another, splitting and dividing, then reforming again, chaotic yet repetitive. I had seen flocks of Starlings nesting before and it reminded me of them as they swirl and manoeuvre around the skies, but these were a lot larger and a lot noisier. The plane had also startled other Canadian Geese from other fields and these flew over from behind me and they were heading towards the others. They were regrouping, multiplying, and safety in numbers perhaps. They did not seem as though they were enjoying themselves, they were not like the Buzzard who loved to fly for the sheer glory of it; these bleating long necked birds were confused and were looking for a leader to reunite them to a quieter patch of ground; but they did not find it and they were still flying in circles when I left, they seemed to prefer fields a long way off from where I was.


The day was not boring nor was it lost in my own selfish importance; I took nourishment in its detail, in the fragments of not rushing, and I noticed other worlds at play and realised my life was as important as other lives even if I was think it is not. We do what we do without programming it, we think we make choices but we are regimental as the migrating geese or the relay of black birds or the sprouting of fungi, how arrogant to think we are any different.

To Say Goodbye


It is not easy to say goodbye, I have done it a lot. You leave! You depart from what is known and comfortable. You leave friends, family, love, belonging. You go out in to the uncertain and the new, you leave yourself open to winds that can blow you anywhere, this why I do it is it not? I can only stay so long, then I need to go, to see the new and experience that wind. I wish I could stay longer to say “OK this is where I will make a stand and relax a bit”, but I have to move, it is not my final resting place. It is a feeling, not a desire. It is inherent at least with in me. I did not create it or wish it. I am curious. I never feel I fit in somewhere and I am always searching for that next view around the corner. So, to go is not always a bad thing, it clears out the old and the used, and it lets the new in and the freshness to start again, to say “cut” and to “paste” later on, to let the time heal and the space balm the hurt. When I cross the door again, the same door I left months ago, then all is new, fresh and ready to start again.
But parting is hard, I have never gotten used to it, I always hurt when I say Goodbye.

To Begin or not to Begin


I always say to start means that you will finish, so i have begin this blog…

Life seems very compartmentalized at the moment I think this is to do with environments and transport. I do not drive I never have done and I have no interest in it, so I take public transport or I cycle every where. I do this because of choice and in the West we are obsessed by choice. In the USA I did not go very far unless someone took me to places, I did not drive and the public transport around Florida was limited. but in the UK we have a public transport system of sorts. But i prefer to cycle and i cycle often quite far sometimes to get to places. This structures life, it divides your day in to sections and now it is dividing weeks into sections. One day it is to the sea, the other day to the city, the next day back to the sea etc. Or I travel abroad and then I ‘stop’ my life and begin another life, one that is not my choosing as I change environments again and I become someone else again. Life has always been like that for me always moving from place to place.