Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Looking for a uniquely personal gift?

Of course you are. So am I. I've come up with a solution by making personalised name plaques for people. In the process, I've created a new problem of trying to squeeze in the odd bit of blogging and, you know, life, around creating them, but they're so much fun I'm kind of addicted.

I liked this one so much at the halfway point, I almost stopped there. What kept me going was looking at it with a child's eyes (Jasmine is 10) and deciding I would have preferred the full-on colour explosion when I was that age.

I've got a few more to do for people I know, but I'm also hoping to take commissions. I've been sketching for a new oils project for a couple of months, but now I've got embroiled in the fun of my brush pens again. Somehow it feels less like 'proper' art than using an actual brush and paints, so I let myself be freer.

I think I would have been proud to have an original work of art with my name on it when I was a kid. I've got a vision of making these for adults, too - weddings, housewarmings, birthdays, whatever - but I feel I can go a bit crazier with the colours for the children's ones, so they're the ones I'll enjoy making the most.

They're up on Etsy, possibly too late for Christmas, but this is when they have arrived and maybe they'll catch someone's eye.

I'll leave you with my song of the week - literally, the song I'm replaying endlessly. My family have been tolerant thus far.

Monday, 28 November 2011

This too shall pass

First, apologies if you've been frantically trying to hear my short story, 'The Clown' broadcast on Soundart Radio. It took a little while to be available online, but you can hear it now :o).

In other writerly news, I have failed (by quitting NaNoWriMo early) to write 50k words of my novel in a month, which seemed such a modest aim, and as a result I've collapsed into a despondent mood about all my creative endeavours. I must be feeling more positive than last night or I wouldn't even be writing this. I can blame illness (mine and others), or visitors taking up work time, but really it was just an awful slog - too much like school and not enough like skipping after the words as they dart ahead of me. Maybe another year, or maybe it's not for me.

And I certainly don't want to be complaining about our visitors. They came bringing music and song,

never minded when Pickle joined in (she's lately added the kazoo to her repertoire - one saved from our wedding) or the endless toddler impedimenta (they had to sleep on that sofabed, under the dangling elephants and boinging beefly),

 and introduced us (and our neighbour who came to share his latest toy and discover the wonders of Becherovka) to apple and chocolate pancakes.

As if music and pancakes weren't enough to cheer me up, here's a group of heroes doing a ten-day-and-night chant. This is the lovely Fiona explaining the point of such a thing, or you can tune in to see them live - a kind of voyeuristic spirituality which feels ridiculous at first, but quickly becomes mesmerising..

And speaking of heroes, please bear with me while I share another little film of those good people at Chagfood:

So, an odd day. I haven't decided if I'm enjoying it yet. I'll leave you with this November strawberry from our garden, which I also have mixed feelings about:

and, finally, this poem, which did make me better, in at least one way.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Big Lips: The Clown and poor Pickle

My story's being broadcast on the radio tonight! I haven't been so famous since I was on Songs of Praise with my school choir. (Did I just type that out loud?) It's Soundart Radio, only available locally, (okay, not even as famous as my few minutes intoning Laudate Dominum in an excruciating haircut, blouse and blazer combo), at 7:30 tonight (It's Tuesday), but everyone can access it online via this link. It's called 'The Clown' and I remember thinking it was funny in parts when I submitted it eons ago. I will be making myself listen, even though it might be like hearing my own voice on an answering machine. I had the option of reading it myself, but I'd rather have my tongue pulled out my eye, so someone more competent will be doing that. And I should mention that it has the great quality of being short.

I'm almost 9,500 words behind my NaNo word count target due to - told you there would be excuses at some point - visitors, illness (mine and the Ent's) and Pickle smashing her face on the side of our bed this morning (she's over it; I'm nowhere near). She's got her first fat lip and she's still dribbling blood, but our saviour arnica has reduced the forehead marble to half a pea and her cheese-and-raisin obsession is unharmed, so really she's fine.

I've raved about the wonders of Chagfood here before. The Observer recently ran an article about Ed, Samson and co, which I heartily recomend: Inspired by the Levellers (not the band) Ed Hamer's radical vision of farming involves a commitment to making the land work for the people. And it helps to have a big horse
Do have a read if you've got a minute - it's so refreshing to hear positive news about people acting from conviction, intelligence and not a little courage, and I'd really appreciate it if you listened to my story and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Burn

At 25141 words I'm just ahead of my National Novel Writing Month word count target, so here I am, as promised, with no excuses to make (yet).

Our house is being held to ransom by a couple of particularly stubborn molars (or particularly tough gums), so all bets are off on what may be achieved in the coming week.

Pickle and I went on a brief foray into the city (for winter boots - for her - the price of which made me sweat a little) and were confronted by this creature:

Pickle was, understandably, uncertain, but then decided she loved her and produced some fine moos for the good people of Exeter to enjoy. She stands outside The Real Food Store, a community owned food shop, bakery and cafe. I can heartily recommend it if you're near. It is the only time strangers have joined in with our whispered chorus of 'If you're happy and you know it, touch your nose'!

After the horror that was Hallowe'en, I was nervous about taking Pickle to the Sticklepath Fireshow. Every year there's a crowd of thousands and the surreal play which precedes the fireworks is about half an hour and even less comprehensible to a toddler than to the rest of us. Four generations of our family went in the end and we all had a good time, despite Great Granny scuttling off to get lost in the crowd and Great Grandpa struggling to move at all over the lumpy ground and Pickle being startled awake by the ambulance siren in the safety bit before it had even started.

As ever, the set was impressive. The two skeletons to the left were crafted by that most handsome of woodworkers, Thomas Hine and if you click on the Fireshow link above, the big dragon head was also his.

Hundreds of volunteers make the whole spectacle happen and the work of each of them was rather lost on our girl, happily snuggled in her ear defenders (one of our best buys ever), but she did wake for the fireworks - the best display I've ever seen, which I won't demean with our dodgy photos.

And she was quite mesmerised by the burn. Great Granny couldn't believe people had worked so hard to create such a huge and intricate structure, then those same people would merrily set light to the whole thing and start again for the next year.

As we watched each new piece collapse, we talked about how rare an opportunity it is to see a fire on this scale, and particularly to watch a building burn.

Fire is an energy much feared in my western/British/English culture, or so it seems to be in the main. Anger is never welcome; there is no admittance of a healthy way to express anger. Sometimes we can justify it, but never welcome it. Sex is something that is mostly discussed within the safety of comedy, or else it furnishes us with many of our swear words.

When I first became pregnant I was shocked by the fierceness which came along with the tenderness. I hadn't experienced it until a crowd surged in my direction and I locked my arms in front of my belly, ready to take them all on! With most people I never mentioned this new intensity; it is the opposite of what pregnant women and new mums 'should' be feeling. But the truth, now as much as then, is that, to protect my daughter, I am capable of things I could not later justify. This is a fire which will not go out.

And so to a whole group of people desperately trying to keep their fire alight. I can recommend no blog higher than The Hermitage and in particular this latest post on travelers. Do please take a look. The two little films are each haunting in different ways and Rima's artwork is worth a visit in itself.

I love living where I do. You've probably gathered that by now, if you've been here before. I spent a few years being nomadic, but really I'm a roots person. And as a rooted person, I am grateful to all the traveling people for adding their difference to my world. It is perhaps a way of life less afraid of fire and passion than the one around me.

I hope we can learn.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy new year, everybody!
Samhain has passed. We're all on the dark side now... :o).

When I last wrote we were full of excitement about Pickle's first experience of trick-or-treating. We left treats at the bottom of our path (the route to our door being too genuinely dangerous for kids high on sweets in the dark) clenched between the teeth of a skull and lit only by the world's most menacing apple. (A Crawley Beauty, if you were wondering.)

Just before we set off, Thomas rushed to get his mask. Sadly for those of us with a sadistic sense of humour, he noticed and evicted the hibernating wasp before he put it on. But as you can see, he failed to notice the massive spider about to crawl into his eye.

Strangely, given how attractive he looks in that mask, Pickle cried and he had to take it off. Then, when we met up with our friends, one of them had full Sith face paint and she got truly terrified. Slightly mollified by being in my arms rather than in the buggy, we carried on, but every painted face caused her to cling to me in such desperate horror that we soon turned back. If I didn't know face paint existed, I'd have been running for the hills too - if only to avoid catching something!

Samhain is our anniversary of being together (five years now), so we'd planned a babysitter so we could go out once she was asleep. But, after her traumatic evening, we just couldn't bear to risk her waking without us there.

Fireworks night was far more successful, but Thomas has taken the camera to the sea, so more of that when I'm here next.

And that may not be soon. I'm in the midst of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to those in the know) and attempting to write 1667 words a day. As a compulsive editor, I can delete faster than I can produce words, so to give me any chance, I've resurrected a novel which I've been ignoring for months... or, actually, years. It turns out to be a) bordering on chick lit and b) bordering on good. Still trying to work out how those happen simultaneously, but that's how it is. I'm up to 11,885 words, which is on target (to save you the maths) and appreciating being online so much less. Maybe it's the 'net rather than the screen which gets to me.

If I stay on target, I'll give you an update on my progress; and if I don't, I'll make my excuses on the other side. (Now those I could write about at great length!)

Wish me inspiration!

Monday, 31 October 2011


Autumn's toes are getting chilly now. The fine ladies of this town are sacrificing hair for hat. The mornings are beautiful when at last they open their eyes to us.

And the colours bring joy enough to see us through to the other side.

In our school playground, apples patiently queue in an admirably English manner. Some have arrived in such number they burst from every door of a car; others are nestled in a basket with just a few friends.

All are destined to be pressed. Here Yuli Somme, felter extraordinaire and creator of the most beautiful natural woolen shrouds, blithely ignores the instructions written on the funnel - with no unfortunate consequences.

The resultant mush is packed in a stack of gridded tins lined with muslin,

each carefully wrapped,

then squeezed by young and old working the tightening wheel. The nectar is carefully poured into bottles 

and the leftovers taken away by the firstcomer for excellent composting.

This is our freezer. More is in our fridge. More still is in our systems already, keeping the doctor away, we hope.

Fueled by this seasonal sugar bounty, we have been getting creative. Pickle spent ages using the stick end of the brush to make the most beautiful design of dots and dashes. Them she stuck the brush in the black and covered it all up. I make art because I love the process, but it is awesome to watch Pickle do it with not a scrap of regard for the finished result (or the laundry).

I followed a recipe (almost unheard of) and made perfect playdough. We stuck our fingers deep into it, giggling a bit nervously when we couldn't see them any more. We made rings. We made moons and sausages and a little teacup. Then we squidged it all back into a lump, which was the most fun part.

Other harvests have come our way. Perfect horse mushrooms from fields around an organic farm

and a bumper haul from Chagfood: pumpkins galore plus our regular veg box, and an evening of feasting, fire and Baba Yaga storytelling from Coyopa with musical accompaniment from Rima Staines (who, it turns out, can make an accordion snore!). The children claimed they weren't scared. I can only say they must be fools.

All that has got us in the mood for Hallowe'en tonight. Many years I've celebrated Samhain in a (fairly) serious and sacred way. But this year I'm creating a new ceremony. I'm taking my favourite little witch (seen here flying her broomstick backwards - maybe it's a stunt broom) trick-or-treating.

And if any children come to our door, this is what awaits them:

Happy Hallowe'en and Samhain blessings on you all. Let's make it through!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Our weddings

 Two years ago, Thomas and I got married. Here we are, landing together on a new side of the brooms. We jumped three times, which isn't easy on wet grass, up a hill, in fishnets, at four months pregnant, but Thomas had a tight grip on me and our dads were under strict instructions to ignore the tradition of lifting the brooms higher at the last minute.

 A marvelous assortment of folk made it up the biggest hill around these parts (although there was a great amount of complaining from some of our city friends), to stand in a cloud, listen to poems and vows (and to make a community vow to support our marriage) and sing 'All You Need is Love' - some adding kazoo accompaniment. Kids clambered about the rocks, dogs chased each other, relatives got smudged for the first (and no doubt last) time, there was laughter and everybody cried - although no-one more than me!

As one of our many personalisations of a traditional ceremony, our wedding cake was a cheese cake - as in, a pile of cheeses. And here we are on top, as modeled by Thomas's very talented sister. (I may have bigged-up my pregnancy breasts over the phone!)

In truth, I'd spent the whole morning wondering how I'd get through being the centre of attention and unable to slink off without people noticing. In the event, the crowd seemed so much less important than telling Thomas why, of all you splendid people out there, I wanted to spend all my days and all my nights; my troubles and moods and joys and triumphs with him. Actually, it felt quite private - for all their looking and listening, and all our welcoming and sharing, no-one else could really experience how it was for us to stand on our hill and speak our hearts.

And this is one of my favourite photos of the day (honestly I had no idea it was raining at the time!):

Famously, Thomas's grandad said it seemed like every witch in town was there - but was told, No, one of them had to be away looking after her dad. I don't think he was impressed.

Later, we had the greatest bring and share feast, danced the night away to The Mordekkers (friends from Tipi Valley in Wales) and, when almost everyone had gone home, we sat around a fire and let the night embrace us. Then I remembered I was pregnant and exhausted, so we trotted off home to find our entire front room full (as in stacked almost to the ceiling!) with gifts. Every time I think of the generosity of so many people (the friend who re-made my dress repeatedly has vowed to never work with a pregnant woman again!) I well up. Blessed, blessed, blessed, and most of all by the land which held us as we made these vows.

A few days later, we did the legal version. Thomas even wore a shirt and I wore a red dress through which Pickle visibly writhed.

There was a tricky moment when we were asked, before we went into the wedding room, whether we had ever considered ourselves married. I guess this is to deal with foreign marriages, but Thomas is the most compulsively honest person ever, so I quickly said we understood that we were not legally married and never had been. Thomas frowned, but agreed that was true and they let us carry on. Phew!

The sun was out and we had fun (although I couldn't look at Thomas as I said my vows because I was heroically suppressing a giggling fit!).

There were suspicions that we weren't taking this ceremony as seriously as our hill wedding, but I can't think what they were based on. Here we are at our tea and cake reception:

And so off to honeymoon, feeling one way of living sink away...

and another roll in...

This year, we had made grand plans to have a celebratory cream tea (click on link if not from England) in the extraordinarily posh hotel a few miles from us. Despite knowing that David Bowie has stayed there, we decided in the end that, no matter how hard we scrubbed, our inherent earthiness would show through and we'd feel out of place. The chances of there being NO mud or leaves attached to ANY of us are small. (Right now, despite having had her face washed, Pickle has baked bean juice on her nose.) So, we ate at a local pub - just the happy three of us - on the day and later shared a meal with a couple of friends at Fingle Bridge Inn, then took a mini walk down the river.

We scrambled about, played Pooh sticks, chitchatted and sat about in the glorious sunshine on a handy log...

...admiring the view and sneaking love glances.

And so the days flow on, filled with art and washing up and colder, moodier skies... and new projects.

I have swum up to the Etsy shore and set up a little camp. There's a link to it in the right-hand column, or you can step through here. To my great delight, only 36 hours after arriving in Etsy-land, I made my first online sale. 'I wish' has been carefully wrapped and sent to its new home. A good thing indeed. Now all I have to do is list everything else - a mammoth task as I'm planning to sell all the paintings I have stacked around our house.

And finally, Pickle was having a happy toddle around our local re-use/recycle centre when she spotted 'Dada':

Arms open for a cuddle, she couldn't resist him. Now she carries Dada around our house and even insists that visitors give him a cuddle. Thomas is delighted that she perceives him as so muscly, and I would love to know his real name. All we know is he's a WCW figure. What a man I have married :o).

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Turning

Fernworthy Reservoir reflects our gratitude for the blue. But it has shrunk during the long days, and as it has pulled inward, old bones have surfaced.

An archaeologist's eye traces the lives of a village: hearths and paths of an old way which has been lost. No, not lost; drowned. Important people needed good water to drink. This village was emptied and flooded. Now we wait for a dry year to admire their stone huts-turned-circles. I find a chunk of clear quartz as big as my hand, offer a song in its stead. Has this rock been held before? These views, balm to wind-whipped minds, were once the for-granted frieze from door to door. It is a mixed place. It is a mixed day. But the sun is giving way and the water will rise again, smoothing sharp corners until all is soft and free as dust.

The turning is tangible. Led by the huge horse chestnut which stands alone, fire, stolen each moment from the sun, creeps across the leaves. The world is still green, but closer in...

...the chlorophyll crown is slipping and we are dripping in gold. Kicking up piles of gold. Laughing and kicking as the leaves rain down and the sun shines its fading hardest.

A girl, behind bars in a floral lane, sits alone in a stone courtyard, feeling the sun warm her back and staring forever into a handful of this last light. Soon she will be gone; sold.

A slow worm of pure gold visits us on its journey into the dark. Losing speed as it loses heat, a flickering tongue explores tiny spaces where it can be still for the long, cold months.

And I, drawing in and seeking the darker spaces, find the quiet voice of poems and paintings, prayers and passion, sounds louder now, and so, this:


My shaggy green coat hangs heavy.
I nod, blind, high over
the scatter of chattering charms
as they try to outshine their own fade.
I am gaunt, untidy,
out of place
in this trove of trinkets.
And then.

And then, in a burst of rapture
that opens, opens my eye,
the late light
blazes gratitude through me
and I am heliotrope,
head held high.
I stare unblinkingly
into the greatest eye of all.
The bees
desert the browning pretties
and come hungry to me.
I suckle them throught the bright times
and as the eye lowers,
flocks replace swarms.
The light is less and less.
I tire.
My head,
heavy once more,
and I lean
until the earth
takes me back.
I dream of my children
as they open:
standing tall, tallest,
holding the gaze,
shining a beacon of bounty.
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