Monday, November 23, 2015


Nothing much to say about frost except here are two photos of geraniums on my patio after a fairly heavy frost.  I expect it will have done for them and other delicate plants in tubs but I'm not complaining about having had them all (even lobelia!) in flower until the third week in November.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Documenting my life

It occurs to me that much of the stuff that I like to do on social media is documenting my life.  H recently told me that if she were on Facebook and was my FB friend, she would immediately unfriend me if I posted photographs of my meals.  Just as well she's never likely to be on Facebook, then!  I love all that stuff.

As with this blog, the frequency of all of my other social media posts varies hugely and it may be that this is a reflection of what's going on in my life.  Often my working life just continues much as before, with nothing new to say or show for it.  Often my meals are just my usual meals and, loving my food as I do, once the food is on the plate, all I want to do is eat it and I never give photography a thought.  Often there doesn't seem to be much going on in the garden or the weather isn't good for photography or I am just plain busy.

Then there's a little run of things which happen which I want, not just to share, but yes, to document.  It seems to be that sort of time at the moment, so here are three offerings in that vein.

Who's been standing on my bowl?

A minor hazard of putting freshly-thrown pots outside to dry, which actually happens very rarely.  I quite like it, though I suppose I wouldn't if it was a bigger bird because the pot would probably end up squished.  I was tempted to leave the footprints as they were but in the end smoothed them over.

 A little bit of La Vienne in Stroud

 To be fair, there are actually quite a few, but I chose this one specially from the 'beach' when I went for my last swim in the river at Lesigny this year.

...  and here it is (blending in nicely, towards the top right, in case you are having trouble spotting it!) in my water feature, as planned.

It's a bargain!

One of the dear friends whom I lost recently could be something of a shopaholic.  She could not resist a bargain, even if it was something she didn't really need and still couldn't really afford.  I remember one particular self-catering holiday when she bought far more food than we could all get through because she kept finding brilliant deals.  They were good holidays. 

A bargain can be a wondrous thing, though.  One advantage (and there were a few, as it turned out) of getting started on the garden very late this year because I wimped out at the chilly March, was that I didn't get round to growing my own plants for the tubs and had to buy what was left on the shelves in garden centres rather late.  It was an advantage because they were so cheap.  My best bargain was undoubtedly half a dozen fuchsia plants at 25p each.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

National Poetry Day

This post is possibly not for the faint-hearted.  

Here we are, National Poetry Day, and I had a few ideas about maybe posting some of my favourite poems on my Facebook page throughout the day.  When I started to look them out, though, it's not where my thoughts took me after all.  Instead, I found myself browsing my current "Writing" folder on my PC.  I don't write poems often and I have been posting them here from time to time over the last 12 months.  There are three, though, that are good enough - not good per se, not my best by any means, just good enough - that I didn't post when they were new because I wasn't sure whether people would want to read them knowing it was how I felt at the time.  To some extent they chart my progress through grief and the first two, at least, belong very much in earlier times.   So maybe it's time for them to be aired.

I don't have a jolly poem to end with but that's because I haven't written one.  Jolly things have returned to my life, as you will have noticed if you've been reading this blog over the past months.

nothing is enough
any more
with no more

I sit here
and carry on, though,
doing things
that are enough
in themselves
for themselves
just not enough
for me

one day
there will be things
that are enough
I know that

the knowing means
I can survive
this time when
nothing is enough

nearly done now,
a sunset photo
representing where I am
in time and emotionally

in three interminably
long weeks
not dodging any bullets
but facing it all

cramming in the essence
of 10 summers
beautiful places
wonderful friends

immersing myself
in the place and the life
so I can leave it

now it will be something
left behind and ended
no longer to be feared or dreaded
no longer like
a kick in the guts


So often I’ve talked of my specialism
in husbands:

Mikes, born late summer 1942.
Red beards, ex-teachers because of stress
Divorced, two children:
an older daughter with red hair,
a dark-haired son born in ‘77.

And now another thing they share:
Died, leaving me behind.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A splendiferous month.

At the beginning of September the month ahead looked a bit manic.  So many opportunities cropped up all in one month rather than spread out over several months but they were all things I was really looking forward to, so I put aside my worries about getting any work done and jumped in.

Throughout the month I'd been calling my manic month I've been to a live performance of Tubular Bells, been to Paris for 3 nights, visited my parents for 3 nights and made five batches of jam and jelly, done what I hope is the first of many activity sessions with my granddaughter, had one week at home making pots, had a friend to stay here, been with her to meet up with other friends at two different friends' houses (neither of whom I've met before) and been to London to meet yet another friend I've known online for 15 years but not met before, then in the final afternoon of the month met with my SixtyAt60 friend and another old friend I haven't seen for 33 years to share another of those 60 tasks. 

Somewhere during that last day I became aware that something had changed.  September no longer felt like a manic month; the whole had suddenly become greater than the sum of the parts and become a wonderful experience.  Instead of being tired or dazed, I am thoroughly energised.  There's always a danger when I'm really buzzing of a crash of tiredness to follow and I know this could still happen but I hope the energy will carry me forward.  I've really thrived on having a life: spending so much time with so many and divers friends, being in so many different places one after the other and above all having conversations - oh, the conversations!

By contrast, the next five weeks at least must consist primarily of head-down, solid ceramics work.  There is an exhibition coming up, not to mention Christmas sales in shops and markets, and my stock levels are at an all-time low.  I don't feel daunted by this, though. The pottery is full of dry pots ready to be fired.  More need making, but as each three or four batches of pots are made and dried, a kiln firing can follow. 

The weather will change, there will be times of grief again and I will take off my rose-tinted specs in due course, but for the moment, at least, the joys of a splendiferous month are still with me.

Friday, September 18, 2015

So ...

Many people (be glad I didn't write 'alot of') of my age or thereabouts are busy complaining about others beginning a sentence with "So",  as in the answer to the question of how I've spent my day so far being "So this morning I have already packed up the boxes for tomorrow's market" when the sentence doesn't follow from anything.  It's one of those grammatical developments that are causing the most angst with people currently. 

There are others which bother me quite a bit; I'm still definitely a less and fewer pedant and would like to be a 'beg the question' pedant were it not for the fact that I suspect half of those reading this blog won't even know what I mean.  It's literally (yes, precisely that) years since I heard the correct use of the phrase and since I've heard it misused even in philosophic circles where it should have a valuable function and indeed had to explain to Mike what it used to mean (and he was a great thinker, philosopher and wordsmith but didn't know) I will probably give up with that one.  I'm sad about it though.  The phrase 'to beg the question' is a nice (in the proper, original use of that word too!) way to express the concept that it does.  If you don't know it and would like to, I recommend Wikipedia

But you'll have noticed that I do break many other grammatical rules, such as beginning a sentence with a preposition.  Indeed, I'm fond of writing incomplete sentences.  When it seems appropriate.

You've probably guessed where this is leading.  I have realised that these days I frequently start sentences, paragraphs, stories and the like with 'So'.  I make no apologies.  It makes a change from 'Well' and I find it really hard to just launch into speaking without at least a minor preamble.  If you hate it, you probably hate sentences starting with 'Well' also, but ask yourself which is worse?

If you hate both equally, then possibly you find this post upsetting and I am sorry for that.  I won't be stopping, though I hope to continue to resist "from the get go".

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Saying yes

One of the by-products of working as a full-time artist and being single-minded about it is that I have spent a lot of time saying no.  In order to try to maintain the stock levels I would like, I put my work first much of the time so if something was suggested that would interrupt my normal working routine I thought carefully about it but would often say no.  Some people apparently find the discipline of working for yourself from home difficult.  I seem to have found that part easy.  If you work in an office five days a week nobody expects you to be free in the day on weekdays and I have always treated my working week (albeit often longer than five days per week) much the same.

Now I am working part time, one of the main benefits is that I'm able to say yes much more often.  Happily, opportunities have also come along to give me the chance to exercise this freedom.

Last week I spent a couple of days teaching a friend to throw a pot.  I say a couple of days.  We actually had a session on the first afternoon, a short session on the second morning and a third that afternoon.  Vivien has set herself a challenge to complete 60 tasks during the year she is 60, to raise money for her two favourite charities.  Some of these tasks are relatively short, like spending two days learning enough to throw a pot, but some are longer, like learning to play the saxophone well enough to play a particular riff from a favourite song.  Some of the tasks are definitely challenges in themselves; throwing a pot in a short time when you have no previous experience of clay work is one such.

Vivien and I met more than 40 years ago at Eastbourne School of Domestic Economy, where we studied Needlework, Dressmaking, Cookery, Laundry and Housework, (with a side order of Household Accounts plus Typing if you thought you still weren't doing enough).  I know her to be someone well able (if a little out of practice) to use her hands to make things so I was happy to offer making a pot as one of her tasks.

I began to worry when Vivien told me she herself was a tad apprehensive.  But hey, it was unknown territory, who wouldn't be?  I brushed aside my own worried thoughts about whether teaching someone I knew so well over so many years might be as difficult as teaching your partner to drive.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch together and then went out into the pottery.  It was then she reminded me she's a bit of a perfectionist, confessed she is not as co-ordinated as I thought and dropped the bombshell that she can't copy other people's actions.  Seriously?  How do you teach something practical to someone who can't copy your actions?

"Don't worry," I said, "Over many years of seeing other beginners on courses I attended, I have never seen any beginner as bad as I was." 

The first piece of clay produced a pot, though I had interevened on two or three occasions to 'rescue' it so it was not quite all her own work:

The next few, when Vivien was completely on her own, not so good.  But soon it was time for supper and a long, long time talking together, such that we haven't had the luxury of for many years. 

The following morning I started by making a pot myself while Vivien had hands on from time to time to find out what it should really feel like.  Some more time on her own ...  well, read her blog to find out how that went.  Suffice to say that by lunchtime I began to think that here was the beginner who would make a worse go of things than I had.

We still had the first pot on the board together with a couple of other vaguely pot-shaped items.  So a pot had been thrown.  The task had been done.  Although ....  So finally to the afternoon session of day 2, and this time I didn't touch a piece of clay at all.  Instead, I watched and commented (and took photos) as Vivien worked.  And then ... drumroll please ... all of a sudden there was a pot.

After which, three more pots of a similar size appeared on the board.  So, I still hold the record for the worst ever beginner at throwing.  Not only that, Vivien has completed her task, our friendship is entirely undamaged and I had the best time.  I'm so glad I said yes.

If you would like to donate to a good cause, please do make a contribution to Alzheimer's Research by visiting Vivien's JustGiving page.  It doesn't have to be a large donation but would be really appreciated.  Just say 'yes'.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Making hay

Making hay while the sun shines is of course about taking opportunities when they're offered.  I've been doing quite a bit of that recently as I find out what this phase of my life is shaping up as.  I'll write more about the wider opportunities some other time but today I am taking the phrase literally.

When I got up it seemed a pleasant day but when I looked at my favourite (because most accurate) weather forecast site it looked as if the sunshine in the first part of the day was likely to be the last for about six days and furthermore most days we will be getting rain at least part of the day.  It was a case of deciding on priorities for the short burst of fine weather.

I am currently in that part of my working cycle in the pottery where I am finishing off making pots in one clay before cleaning up the pottery and starting the other.  This means I have boards pleasingly full of dry pots waiting to be fired once I have a good mixture of shapes ready in both clays.   I am finishing off with cereal bowls and plates, which take up masses of space on their boards until they are dry, when they can be stacked, so I'm in danger of not being able to make anything else until I can get some things dry.  That was therefore the first priority of the day and here we see lots of things on the ware trolley already half dry.  As the sun is still shining, I am hopeful that by the time the rain arrives, the bowls will be stackable.

The other thing that has been on my mind is logs.  M always collected wood wherever he saw it and I think I have posted photos of various stacks of wood here previously.  In the last couple of years he said it didn't matter if there was too much because that would mean there was still firewood if he was no longer able to collect and cut it up or if he died I would still have a couple of winters worth of wood and of course now is that time and I do have plenty of wood to be converted to logs for the winter.

Last autum I was much fetched with a chainsaw bench I saw in a local shop which holds the chainsaw in a clamp and saves you having to hold it.  The chainsaw is not very heavy and I am able to use it but there are certainly times when my back would rather not be bending at a low angle while holding a moderately heavy electric implement, so I bought the bench.

Since then there have been other priorities outside.  I've got further with the garden, done massive amounts of clearing in sheds and covered ways and generally managed to while away the fine weather we've had.  But autumn is definitely approaching. so a couple of weeks ago I got out the bench and tried to set it up.  Eventually having summoned the help of an experienced friend we established that it would not work!  The handle of the clamp to hold the saw ended up on the wood before the saw did.  A couple of phone calls to the company who make the benches established that this can be a problem and there is an alternative handle, which eventually arrived midweek this week.  So the other obvious job to start while the sun shone was cutting logs.

Less than half an hour's work.  Most enjoyable and satisfying, though disappointing to find how little wood was in the drying area once I got going.  M was a master of the diagonal.  He loved to chuck things in and didn't care much that if they were diagonal they took up to four times the space they really needed.  I'm not sure I'll actually have enough completely dry wood for the winter.  For this reason I've stopped the sawing and now I've finished lunch, will give the rest of the dry part of the day over to organising the woodshed so all the dry wood is one side, leaving room for whatever else I saw up later to dry for the next few months.  And cross my fingers for a mild winter.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The long view

We're often encouraged to 'seize the day' and 'live in the present' and I'm in favour of both.  Thinking of the phrase reminds me that many years ago I had a commission from a C of E vicar, (not sure why it feels relevant, but somehow the choice seemed surprising at the time) to make a hanging to commemmorate the birth of his granddaughter.  Many of my pieces being fishy in those days he wanted "Carpe Diem" with a carp-like fish (and name and birth dates).  He was clearly proud of the pun and actually I liked it too.  I've probably taken more notice of the sentiment since then.

I think it often doesn't look like this to other people, though, because of my tendency to plan.  I love to plan.  I like having things I know about in advance to savour before they happen and I think I enjoy them all the more.  There is a risk of disappointment, of course, if things don't go to plan, but I am usually either modest in my expectations or perhaps just lucky that plans often do work out for me.

Work plans and goals in particular nearly always do work out.  I think this is because I only set achievable goals, though I admit that sometimes they are only barely achieveable and then take a lot of commitment to achieve.  A friend once described me as "single minded" about my work.  It turns out that working part time doesn't make any difference in this regard: I still feel pretty single minded about what I want to achieve and, if necessary, I still put work first.

My work goals are nearly all taking the long view.  There are reasons for this.  Exhibitions and other events need to be booked well in advance.  I suppose you could ignore this and still make work for them at the last minute, but I don't.  I like to have some idea of the mix of work I want available when the time comes.  The other, main, reason for taking the long view is my pottery work schedule, which I've written about before.  What this means is that since I returned to work in the pottery I have in mind new work for the November exhibition and for Christmas sales, and those are what I am working on now.  Things I made a couple of weeks ago won't be finished until possibly October if they are going to be decorated with lustre.   I am continuing with most of my usual ranges but also branching out and making just a few here and there of new shapes.  You'll have seen the new cake plates and they're on sale now.  The others, though, are under wraps until later in the year.

And in a funny sort of way all this still is seizing the day.  I ask myself what I would most like to be doing today and try to do it.  Most days what I want to do is to work towards a plan or two and that's what makes me happy.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Stonkingly good

Yesterday four friends came round for dinner and at the end of the evening one of them thanked me for a "stonkingly good dinner".  What a lovely word.  And yes, it was a pretty good dinner.

The friends were two couples who hadn't met before, but they are the only friends currently on my eating together list who will eat - and enjoy - any kind of food at all.  My other friends range between only needing to avoid one or two things they don't like to one who is a gluten-free vegetarian, with various levels of 'can't eat, won't eat' in between.  In the event, the dinner I cooked would probably have been eaten happily by at least one other friend, but when I was planning the meal I enjoyed having total freedom in what to cook.

We began with a bottle of cheapo French supermarket sparkling white.  I still have half a dozen bottles, although I will no longer be able to obtain them once they run out.  It currently costs about £1 a bottle, but is so drinkable.  I will miss it when I no longer have access to it.  My guests had finished theirs by the time I served the starter.

The starter was individual salmon and asparagus tarts served with a garnish of asparagus spears and buttery fried breadcrumbs.  I finished my white fizz while others had a little white wine (brought by one of the guests) and one started on the red.  I avoided soggy bottoms in my tarts by brushing the blind baked tart bases with a little beaten egg before pouring in the filling to bake.

The main course was duck breasts with a red wine jus, served with small roast potatoes, braised red cabbage and French beans.  I'd never cooked duck breasts correctly before, since when I have cooked them, there have usually been people there who would not like them left correctly pink.  Would I be able to pull it off this time, with no experience?  I think they're one of those things where you have to just trust the instructions and cook for the length of time stated, so I put the duck breasts skin side down in the pan and went back to the dining table, ignoring the increasingly loud sounds of spitting fat coming from the kitchen for 7 minutes.  Success.  Perfectly crispy skins.  Into the oven for 8 minutes, rest for 5 and slice ....  to reveal slightly pink.  The cabbage was delicious, in spite of my trepidation at using a whole tablespoon of fennel seeds and the jus was a triumph.  I adapted the recipe, having found some actual home-made duck stock in the freezer and using lots of juniper berries and redcurrant jelly as well.  Most of us drank red (again, brought by guests) while one prefers white with everything.

I love a good dessert wine.  A search in the less-used wine rack in the larder, right under the stairs, revealed a bottle of 2002 Sauternes.  I know very little about wine, not least how long a dessert wine is likely to remain good in the bottle.  It went in the fridge for a few days.  When I brought it out, my guests, at least two of whom know a bit about wine, were suitably impressed.  I noticed (from a secret code written on the label) that it was the most expensive wine I have ever bought, costing about ten euros about 7 years ago.  In the UK, of course, it would be a lot more expensive.  To go with the wine we had individual brown sugar pavlovas and little chocolate pots.

For once, my cheesboard did not hold any cheddar.  Instead I chose goats' cheese, blue Stilton and a cheese I had not heard of before.  To my surprise none of my guests had heard of it either; one friend I think of as knowing most of what there is to know about food and two of the others have a house in France.  Still, none of us had heard of Vallage, from the Champagne region of France.  It's a soft cheese which tastes like butter.  Doesn't sound appealling?  The taste is so much better than the description and I noticed that it was the one people kept picking at after they were full.

Three coffees, two teas, and the evening was over.  As I expected, everyone got on well and there was plenty of interesting conversation.  And a stonkingly good dinner.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Letting go

If you're a regular reader or know me in real life, you'll know that my working life has been disrupted over the past couple of years by one thing after another and particularly in the last 9 months.  I seem (fingers crossed) to be ok now and able to work in the pottery once more.  It's just as well; stock is very low in both shops where I sell and my showroom here at home is getting emptier too.   But here's the thing: I'm letting go of the idea that low stock means more work to catch up.  It's scary.  But it's also right.

Since last April, when I turned sixty and started receiving my small teaching pension, the idea has been that I can now afford to work part time, which should mean the work/life balance improving a bit in favour of life (in the garden, in the kitchen, with friends, etc).  In practice there was catching up to do at first, and then life went pear-shaped, but when I was able to work I was still doing so more or less full time.  Now, though, the complications seem to be over.  I'm back from my travels and have no plans for any long trips in the forseeable.  There are some nice events coming up but nothing that takes over.  I was looking at throwing myself into the pottery all day and every day in order to try to catch up with stock and orders.  But that way, when would I know it was ok to actually work part-time?  In reality, one never seems to have done enough, so it was unlikely to happen.

So this week I have drawn a line.  I now work part time.  I am still alarmingly low on stock and working part time means it will be even longer before I progress through my usual cycle of throwing and drying and then having a batch of firings, but I am letting go of all those thoughts.  Letting go of the worry that I won't have enough work to sell.  Letting go of the lists of pots I should have made.  It's done.  Life happened.  I wasn't able to work.  But now I am.  Part time.

It's a bit scary.  But I've been self-employed (part time and then full time) for 31 years and I've done ok so far.  I'm letting go of previous pressures and putting my faith in my work, whatever direction that takes me next.

Monday, June 22, 2015


I have recently taken part in a Facebook meme - to post an archive photo on six consecutive days.  It was a really interesting exercise.

To begin with I searched through all the photos I am pleased with and made up a short list. The first one I posted was this.  I love this picture and wish I could print it out, but unfortunately it no longer exists in any except compressed form as it was part of a big computer disaster which included losing a batch of images.  I had uploaded them onto Facebook so am able to retrieve the compressed version but the original is lost.  Since then I don't remove photos from my camera until they are saved in at least two places.

The second picture is another personal favourite, taken at Westonbirt Arboretum.  After this I began  to think about the fact that it was a photo archive challenge and not necessarily about the photos I consider to be my best ones, so I moved from digital photos, which accounts for the last ten years, to those I have in my many albums.  Most of these have not kept well.  I do have all my negatives (yes, even from 1962) in a filing cabinet and could in theory scan them in to create clear versions of them once more, but I'm probably not going to!

This photo at the Snake Temples on Penang, Malaysia was taken with my first ever roll of film, when I was 8.  It doesn't have a huge amount to recommend it as a photo but I wanted to mark the beginning of my interest in photography.

Having got into different types of subject, I looked for a still life.  I haven't taken many, but this one is one of my favourites.  Getting photos printed in the eighties (and beyond) often resulted in distortions of colour because machines don't like an image to be more or less one colour range and they compensate.  This still life was green and white (even the wallpaper was white with a hint of green) but the machine compensated with a pink wash.  The print has probably deteriorated in the album as well but I managed to Photoshop it into something I still rather like.

My family first started saying I was a good photographer (which was kind of them) when I got a zoom lens and managed to capture family members unaware because I was standing some distance away.  You can often, though not always, get some great shots of people if they don't know you're taking a photo.  This one was taken in 2001 and shows a dinner at my house.  The two people central to the photo were very close friends who both died within six months of each other in the last 18 months.  This is such a happy photo, showing them both 'au naturel', oblivious not just to me but everyone else. 

And finally ...
This photo from 2009 was an accident because I initially set out just to photograph the window I had just painted, however it is now one of my favourites.  I like the composition of the photo but it is also a picture of a place and time that are very important to me.

Searching through all my old photos has given me yet another nudge to make sure I do more photography.  I have ideas.  The next task is to set aside some proper time for them. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

New poems

Sometimes new poems are like internet posts you make after one too many glasses of wine - best not made public.  Encouraged by others to write openly about bereavement has meant that I've been more inclined to share poems, but if in any doubt at all, I have tried to wait at least a day to make sure a new poem is really something I want to share.   Is it too raw, too much stream of consciousness (which I confess my poems tend to be) or actually not very good at all?  It's worth writing the bad ones, I think, for reasons of self-expression, self-discovery and similar.  There's just no need to make them public and most of my poems do not, indeed, see the light of day.

I'm pleased with this one, though.

summer tasks like
removing the winter’s cobwebs
strimming the grass
around the house
putting out the garden furniture
and generally
making the place feel
like the home it has been.

as I wait for his children
it feels more as if
I’ve been lighting lamps
keeping the home fires burning
and other arcane winter tasks
like a beacon in the dark for them
here one last time.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I'll be needing another dog

When we lost Charlie we were all set to give another Labrador a new home when our local council brought in a new by-law making it illegal to let a dog off the lead in many places which were our regular dog walks so we backed off.  I always said that we would get another dog when I could work part time and could be responsible for walking it, if necessary by putting it in the car and taking it somewhere else where it could run around, something that Mike wasn't keen to do.  This summer I'm getting some outdoor building work done which will include new fencing needed since we had the yard remodeled and the gateway widened and made gateless, which will make the whole garden dog-proof once again.  I don't plan to get a dog this year, but some time ...

You know when you've been almost thinking something that you can't quite put your finger on?  It seems to get closer but you're still not quite sure what it is that you're thinking.  And then ...  'Ah, I see.'

I had one of those yesterday.  I suddenly realised that this is the first time since 1987 that I have been without a source of cuddles.  After my first husband died, my Westie, Ralph, became my main source of cuddles for thirteen years. It's not quite the same cuddling a dog as being cuddled by a person, of course, but it will do.  By the time Ralph went I already had Mike in my life and soon afterwards we got Charlie, a Labrador, who if anything was even better at cuddles than Ralph. 

So, after 28 years and having lost two husbands and two dogs, I find myself without a source of cuddles.  It still won't be this year, but I now understand even more why it is that I'll be needing another dog.

Monday, April 27, 2015

It must be forty-four years ...

... since I last made cream horns.  Immediately after school I attended an amazingly quirky place called Eastbourne School of Domestic Economy, where the main subjects were Cookery, Dressmaking, Needlework, Housework and Laundry.  I did particularly well at Cookery but didn't want to spoil my love of it by using it in any kind of employment.  Considering we were only there for three terms - there was an optional fourth term which I didn't do, deciding I could teach myself the main skills it contained at home - we covered an amazing amount of ground.

I well remember making cream horns but although I spent a fair bit of time developing various cooking skills at home during the following year, I don't think my mum has ever owned cream horn moulds.  I knew I had an unopened pack of them which I'd had for many years and when I re-organised my baking tins etc earlier this year, the cream horn moulds emerged.  They cost £1.37 from Rossiter's in Bath.  I last lived there in 1977, so they've been around a long time.

Yesterday I used them!  Hurray!  Success!  My only regret is that the moulds come in packs of six so you can only make six at a time.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

I don't know why ...

... I feel so drawn to photograph bees and butterflies, but I do.  I guess I enjoy photographing all wildlife and plantlife and indeed domestic animals both human and otherwise.  The bees and butterflies are possibly my favourites, though.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Forget the budget

Have you ever read the short 'About me' statement on the right? 
Yesterday I was simply a bon viveur, not a glimpse of budget in sight, as I had lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.

The whole day was wonderful but when I was able to photograph Raymond Blanc being interviewed in his garden, it became exciting as well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Money can't buy happiness ...

...  but it sure does help.

When I learned that I would be eligible for bereavement benefit I was very pleased.  I have always been very organised with money and planning ahead for the lean times but still welcomed a financial cushion.  I imagined that bereavement benefit is to help cover your bills while you work out how to adjust to only one income when you lose your partner.  I'd already got most of the way there, working out that if I simply work as much as I have done in the last few years, my new teachers' pension would cover the gap left by M's contribution to the household expenses.  So I welcomed the benefit as a cushion I hadn't looked for because I was not in great need of it, but would appreciate none the less.

Now, though, I understand what bereavement benefit is really for.  It's because you may not be able to fully return to work for much longer than you think.

Having just fought off the demons that were stopping me from working in the pottery I had spent a good week getting stuck in and was beginning to see how the work would unfold from here and looking forward to continuing on the following Monday.  I was then struck down by a lurgy.

There are lots of ways to understand this event and to reassure those who don't like anything too airy-fairy, happenstance is certainly one of them.  That week I had been to a pub gig where the atmosphere was very warm, it was fairly closely packed and one member of the band (just a few feet away from me) had lost his voice.  Those allergic to the airy-fairy can look away now.

I haven't had any kind of cold, cough or similar lurgy for about 5 or 6 years so for my money happenstance was unlikely to be the whole picture.  Why now?  Well, the lurgy affected my voice.  For nearly two weeks I was very limited in who I spoke to.  And what, gentle reader, have I been blogging about recently?  Why, the unusual occurrance of my not wanting to talk about things.  Hoist by my own petard, I'm afraid.  A week later and the talking about things block having cleared, the lurgy probably wouldn't have taken hold.

So there I was.  People popped up in cyberspace and in real life to tell me they'd had this lurgy for four weeks now.  I started out quite positive, reasoning that just because it took four weeks for them, it needn't for me.  But I fear it is the nature of the lurgy and two and half weeks later it hasn't gone.  I'm a lot better than I was but still have a cough, occasional sore throat and am fit for very little.  Each day I can do a little more, but I'm certainly not up to any work. 

So where does money buying happiness come in?  Today, the sum total of my morning activity being to get up to date with my accounts and make a batch of soup, I took my lunch and a book out onto the patio and didn't worry.  This afternoon I will sort out some recycling, possibly read a little more, and not worry.  My income from my work is dwindling monthly and so long as I am not producing new stock, will continue to do so - but I am not worrying.  This is because of my bereavement benefit, designed to cover this eventuality.  Not being able to work comes about not necessarily because you are too miserable to work (because I'm not) but in more subtle ways, and these are the ones that have affected me.

I would love to be able to do so many things at the moment - work, continue with the vegetable garden, walk to the shops - but I know I can't.  I can, however, feel my recovery happening faster because I am accepting what I can't do and not feeling stressed by being unable to work and that is entirely due to having a financial cushion.  I am so grateful for the bereavement benefit, admit unashamedly that I have after all had need of it and am very thankful that this particular benefit has not (yet?) been affected by public spending cuts. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Look after your soil

Apparently the UN have declared 2015 the International Year of Soils.  No, I haven't heard any publicity about this either; it was drawn to my attention by a gardening newsletter to which I subscribe.

Coincidentally, over in Ambridge yesterday (not to mention the day before), Adam was waxing lyrical about the importance of looking after the soil we are growing on now or we will not be able to grow on it in the future.  Well, the lyrical bit is not strictly necessary, but obviously the main point is.  For disenchanted ex-listeners of The Archers, this storyline at least is following the original purpose of the programme, which was to remind farmers what they ought to be doing, so you may wish to listen again.

It's also what gardeners ought to do, especially if you are trying to grow vegetables.  I am quite good at this and have been doing it for more than twenty years.  I have a 6 bed rotation of crops.  I heard somewhere over the last year that 'they' have decided this is no longer particularly useful in a vegetable garden, but I shall continue to follow it because I disagree with that.  For one thing, it means that I always use garden compost (if I have any) and last year's growbag compost (ditto) on the first two or three beds until the compost runs out, so by rotating, I know the compost gets added evenly over the years.  I also buy additional stuff to dig in where appropriate.

Over the past five or six years my vegetable gardening has been a bit erratic and this year promises to be little different!  I have, however, started preparing the first two beds, ready for planting onions and sowing root vegetables.  As for the rest - it will have to take its chance as usual.  I hope to post about it a bit more often this year, though. 

I have spent the last week suffering from a lurgy.  Not to go on about it too much, it has just taken a big bite out of my life and indeed I'm still not back to normal.  I am trying not to stress about the gardening and work I am not doing though.  If you can forgive my stretching a metaphor somewhat - I'm trying to acknowledge that we can't grow anything - ourselves, our relationships, our creative work - unless our own soil base is healthy.  That means physical health, for sure, but also mental health.  So I'm trying to be relaxed about it.  It isn't easy!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Am I bovvered?

This week I have learned that I mind more about what others think than I want to.  "Are you the sort of person who cares what others think?" is a question to which I like to answer "Not much" because it's usually asked of people struggling with decisions about what to do.  I don't do a lot of that, and when I do, what others think is usually way down the list of considerations.  I prefer to work out what I think is the right thing.  However, it's become clear that I care what others think more than I realised.  This is not something I like to admit, either, let alone publicly, but it's probably good for me to do so!

I don't care what people think about my appearance.  I'd rather they weren't nasty about it but if they are, then they're probably not people I care for anyway.  I'd rather the people I do care about think well of me, but acknowledge that I make decisions of which others may be critical and I take responsibility for that.  No, those are not the sorts of things I'm talking about. 

What I really mind about is people thinking something about me which is not true.  It matters to me hugely that people do not misunderstand.  This becomes a problem in a changing situation because most of us like to find out what the state of things is, so that we know.  We like to get up today knowing what we learned yesterday, not living some kind of Groundhog Day until we get it right.  And changing situations don't accommodate that.

I first noticed a reluctance to talk to people when M was ill in hospital.  It being most unlike me, I did some serious thinking about it and traced it to a frustration that the situation changed daily so any report I gave would need updating almost immediately.  Since he died, there have been other situations in which I really didn't want to talk much, and it turns out they're all founded in this thing of not wanting people to go away thinking one thing (and by implication basing their behaviour towards me, or what they say to others, on it) when by the time they do either of those, that thing is no longer true.

It turns out that this matters so much to me that I am preferring not to tell anyone anything at all.  This is a rather extreme reaction to what is after all really fairly commonplace.  There are many parts of our lives which change. It's why we chat to friends, send emails, post on facebook - to bring people up to date with our world.  But here I am, bovvered about it.

Another surprising side-effect of bereavement.  I'll try to get over it, but can't promise you instant results. 

Working again

I'm working again. I'm 'at work', mostly in the pottery,  and therefore busy during working hours (about 8 -6 these days).  There have been several contributing factors to produce this change.

I bumped into a customer on my way to Waitrose, who told me she'd been meaning to phone because she wanted to order a set of breakfast pottery.  Mugs, cereal bowls and small plates.  She's a nice woman, so I explained my dilemma about bereavement and work and said I'd let her know if I thought I could do it by the beginning of May.  (She is expecting visitors from the US and would like to have the pots then if possible.)  I really want to do this order, it's such a nice order to have and I rarely get asked for sets of things.  The customer is very understanding and will wait if necessary.

At that point I was in the middle of a very busy 10 days but had managed to finish lots of things I'd been in the middle of and could see ahead to a couple of weeks with not so many commitments.  This is what's needed to work in the pottery.  As I've mentioned before, you need to be there every day for a while in order to work on things at their different stages as they gradually dry.  I could see that having the order to work towards could be the most helpful thing to get me over the problems I've been having.  To have enough work to do a couple of firings I will need not only to make the pots requested, but a whole lot of other stuff besides.

Then, we had some nice weather.  Followed by very cold again, but the nice weather was enough to show that the winter will end one day and even the unheated end of the pottery will become habitable.

Finally, I was away for a few days.  Nothing like being away for making you really want to be at home!

After a final flourish of days with commitments, I was finally able to get in the pottery on Tuesday this week and with one or two smaller interruptions, have been able to be a potter all week.  And it's working again.

I don't know if this state of things is permanent.  I can't say I'll feel the same next week.  I can't say what other problems may pop up to get in the way.  You'll forgive me if I don't say more just now.

A bit of discipline

When you're learning to throw you want to keep every pot that makes it off the wheel because you are so pleased that it has.

The trouble is that a potter, like any artist, is always learning.  You have never finished learning or you would probably stop.  You may be able to guarantee getting a pot off the wheel, but now you are learning to make a different shape, or now you are aiming at 12 near-identical mugs, or now you are trying to free up your style of ...

So you continue wanting to keep everything.  What is needed is a bit of discipline.

I'm quite good at self-discipline generally.  I know people who are astonished that I can keep chocolate or biscuits or liqueurs or other tasty things in the house for months or even years without eating them all up.  On the other hand, I am, as you know, overweight, partly because of my metabolism no doubt but combined with the fact that I do like to eat more than I need, so 'quite good' at self-discipline is probably about as good as I'll get.

In the pottery I am also 'quite good'.  I am moderately strict about what is let through, but not rigorous.  One thing I have always done is to follow the advice of the person who taught me most of what I know about being a good potter*, Douglas Phillips of Ridge Pottery in Somerset, and occasionally cut a pot in half to look at the thickness of the walls and base.  Are they even?  Are they the thickness you thought they were and is it a good thickness?

Here's one I cut up yesterday.  It's a one-person teapot, one of four I made the day before.  As I was rolling the base to tidy it, the centre of the base curved in.  This is usually because the pot is not really firm enough for rolling the base yet and doesn't really matter in a finished pot apart from aesthetically.  It can sometimes be, though, because the base is too thin.  I was feeling a bit more rigorous, so I decided to cut it in half.  Base not too thin, though slightly thinnner than the rest of the teapot.  The walls of the rest pretty even too, and it was a nice shape, so I was pleased with what I saw.  To be really self-disciplined, I think you have to not mind finding you have a cut a good pot in half.  I didn't.  So that was good.

* On the matter of how not to be a good potter, I am entirely self-taught.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Work in progress

There is work in progress.  You will have seen that I have made earrings and new textiles work.  I have also done some work in the pottery.

I don't tend to write about or show pictures of the pottery work I do until it's finished.  This is partly because there's not often anything different to see until it's decorated and fired and it also has a lot to do with the fact that I can't be sure it will exist as a finished pot until I open the kiln after firing.

I haven't been writing about the work I've been doing lately for a different reason, though, which is that until now I wasn't sure what to write.  A few weeks ago I was at the stage of saying that I was pretty sure I would return to the pottery but that I couldn't be entirely certain.  Of the few people I spoke to, some were cool with this and thought it was a fairly healthy place to be while others were clearly taken aback.  Well, having gone back, I think I can say it's likely I'll continue.  I'm probably still a potter.  Probably.

I don't know what sort of potter I am, though.  I don't know what I'll be making.  Oh yes, there is a long list of things that are needed because I am running out of them, starting with a few hundred mugs and cereal bowls.  I am not sure if I shall be making them, though.  The things I have made so far have mostly not been things I normally make.  It has felt ok.  I did make 15 mugs last week, but that wasn't great and the idea of going in there this morning to make mugs - well, I won't be. 

Obviously this is part of the bereavement thing.  But how?  Why?  Where does it fit?  When I returned to the pottery a few weeks after M died I found that the glazing and firing was ok but the making part was the hardest thing I've had to do.  The first time I tried, the grief was overwhelming and I had to give up. 

I was astonished by this.  It was the last thing I expected.  My creative work is so much an integral part of me, my self, and time spent in the pottery was always something separate from M (or indeed anyone else) that I really expected it to be the one place I would feel ok. 

I think I know what's going on now, though, and the explanation has been crystallised by reading someone else's blog.  L is also a creative person.  She's currently going through treatment for breast cancer and has just written that she has not felt able to continue her usual work.  She has been creative, though, writing, painting, making wonderful headgear for herself.  Just not her normal things.
I have come to the conclusion that with life-changing events (bereavement, serious illness) it is because one is never again going to be in the 'before' state that things that totally belong there are the difficult ones. One is now in a new state and things that have a new element belong in the now, so they fit and feel ok.  Things that belong so much in the then, the 'before', are the hard ones to return to because there is a mis-match between the activity and the time.  They're not new, so rather than being part of this new life, they are a sharp reminder of the permanently lost old one.

With creative work this is particularly a problem if you make your living at it.  It's scary to think what might happen if I never return to making the things that people buy.  Will they buy other things?  What will happen if they don't?  If it takes me months to return to production, will outlets wait for me or will they ask me to leave?  Will my business lose so much momentum this time that I won't get it back? 

If a hard thing presents itself, I try to tackle it head on.  The bigger the emotional challenge, the more likely I am to go for it, once I have recognised its existence.  Acknowledging these questions and accepting that I don't know the answers has been a pretty huge challenge, exactly because they are so scary to contemplate, but I think I've met it.  Waiting to find out what happens next is easy in comparison.

Why don't I apply the same principle to making a hundred mugs, you ask.  Well, it's a good question to which I have some answers but I think they are for another time.  This post is already long enough.  And, to be honest, writing it, re-exploring the ideas and feelings that have been milling around for the past few weeks, has taken enough out of me for one morning.  The heating is on in the pottery so I after a comforting hot drink I'll go and turn three small bowls which are ready, because not to do so would be a waste of them.  After that ...  I don't know.  

It's a work in progress.