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Children's illustrator and cricket lover cultivates vegetables and cats in rural Oxfordshire.
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That's been a very busy few weeks and now my holiday selling season has finished. I've sent kits, supplies and needle felt doo-dahs across various oceans. Inbetween, I've also been able to finish a hare and make another one. She was sent over to a new home in America as soon as she was finished and arrived in time for Christmas.
I've finally been able to have some time with my sketch book and tidy my studio. Christmas is a very quiet period for us, and I hope that all my blog friends have the holiday that they desire, whatever that is, with very best wishes from Joe and myself and Percy and Penelope hare.
...there were scrapbooks. I started collecting cuttings when I was 16, for art references and articles of interest and I kept it up for about 20 years. So this is my pile of 38 scrapbooks, filled with newspaper and magazine clippings, postcards, flyers and all manner of ephemera wot-nots.
In the same way that I now have specific Pinterest boards, I tended to keep different albums for different subjects. Textiles was a favourite even back then.
Landscapes and atmosphere -
I often found poems in old newspapers and put appropriate ones on themed pages. The spread below, of various tapestry and decorative textiles, includes this lovely writing by Vita Sackville-West,
She was wearing the coral taffeta trousers
Someone had brought her from Ispahan,
And the little gold coat with pomegranate blossoms,
And the coral-hafted feather fan;
But she ran down a Kentish lane in the moonlight,
And skipped in the pool of the moon as she ran.
She cared not a rap for all the big planets,
For Betelgeuse or Aldebaran,
And all the big planets cared nothing for her,
That small impertinent charlatan;
But she climbed on a Kentish stile in the moonlight,
And laughed at the sky through the sticks of her fan.
Other books are just full of slightly odd, curious, often ugly and sometimes downright macabre images.
There are several life style 'aspiration' books, put together by a dirt poor teenager with nothing but dreams, some old magazines, scissors and glue.
And hundreds of references for colour, style, ideas and potential reference for the glowing art career I was (naturally) going to have.
I'm going to keep them out now that I've discovered them again. There is something satisfying about these old and battered albums; it's like looking into my own head from a few decades ago, when I dreamed big and didn't worry every day about the future. Some pages are like messages in bottles, from the me-then to the me-now. As if I somehow sensed something.
Don't AskTell me love, what are you thinking of?
I was thinking how there are certain times of the nightwhen the dead wipe the frost from their souls and weep.
Of nothing simpler?
Of a courtyard I once visited and of a woman standing beside a statue covered in snow.
Of no-one? No-one else?
She was so beautiful. Had she been made of nettles I'd have wanted her.
Why think of her now, at this moment?
Because I am still missing the ashes of the dead and of dead obsessions
Why answer me like this?
Because I am bankrupt of small comforts, of small deceits.Because we two are new, and without history, And treasonous memory sleeps in so many beds.
In-between other things, I have been working on new designs for next year's workshops and the first is this baby hare.
I am also holding my first local workshop, in Shrewsbury, at a fabulous venue, the Victorian home of Sarah, who runs Fern Dell bed and breakfast near Shrewsbury Abbey. We were hooked up by BBC radio Shropshire on the Jim Hawkins show, after he interviewed me one morning and I mentioned that I was looking for a suitable workshop place. Seconds later, Sarah had contacted me on Twitter and within 24 hours we had things pretty much sorted.
So baby hare will be tried for the first time next year on March 2nd, a Thursday. It's an all day workshop and Sarah will be providing a home cooked lunch and refreshments, all of which is included in the price. However, it has booked up pretty quickly and there are only three places left. If you'd like to see more details, you can find them on my workshop page - booking is directly through myself. And if you'd like to see the beautiful Fern Dell, the website is here and more lovely photos here in Sarah's Instagram feed.
For this weekend only I am having a mini Black Friday sale on these three large, hanging winter swans, reduced to £40 each plus postage. Each one took two days to needle felt and hangs on silver wire with suspended glass tear drop beads and a twist of silver gauze ribbon. They are the top featured items in my Etsy shop, or direct links are underneath each picture.
I finally managed to scrape the money together to get the winter logs in. The log man only lives half a mile down the road and delivers by tractor.
Although it's a tight and tricky reverse into the drive, he has done it many times before and manages to get everything in with expert ease.
This year I ordered a full load of wood - it's not cheap, but it is our main source of heating so plenty are needed.
Brian-next-door heard the noise and came by to help - even climbing into the trailer to pull the last logs down. I did gently mention something about health and safety, but he said he'd done it many times before. So there he was, perched like a pixie on top of the wood pile.
I think he wanted to help us stack them, but we insisted on being self sufficient and sent him home with thanks and a bag of pears from the garden. As they are his favourite.
So Joe had a crash course in stacking |(from me) and we began to store our log horde.In the 'new' log shed. I took it upon myself to chop my first batch of kindling, having done some research and found it remarkably easy, so long as I used the right kind of log. Then, just like a man, Joe got axe envy and took over. I was relegated to stacking logs.
However I did eventually get another go and made my own batch. For the last three years, while I've been here on my own, Brian has supplied me with a big bag of 'morning sticks' (as they are known here in Shropshire) but I feel much better having taken the plunge and learned to do it myself.
Hopefully this lot will last until late spring.
Another early start for last Sunday's workshop at Guthrie and Ghani, in Birmingham. Thankfully fairly 'local' and only a train ride away. The Christmas tree workshop is one that I always pack copious amounts of wool for, as you never know what colours people are going to choose, though it is often green and red.
I also bring a large amount of 'treasure', as trees are usually decorated.
The workshop space at Guthrie and Ghani is simply gorgeous; lots of room, oodles of light and plenty of tables. Oh, and copious bunting with a beautiful chandelier.
I had the pleasure not only of meeting new people and a fabulous returning work-shopper, but also of finally hooking up with lovely Heather Ellis, who is an illustrator I have known since the late 1990s, when we were both members of an illustration forum. Before the days of Facebook, IG and all the other social sites. After all these years, we got to say hello face to face and hug and it was one of the highlights of the day for me.
It was another great session, and the 'treasure' was eagerly rummaged through.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day I had to rush off for a scheduled train, so I didn't have time to take my usual photos of the end results, which were lovely and varied. Many thanks to the kind 'elves' who packed my wool bag, with all the colours neatly sorted - a huge help and very much appreciated. And big thanks to my friend Heather, who picked me up when I almost fell down the stairs in a rush, paid my bus fare to town (as the bus only took exact change) and then walked with me to point me in the right direction of the train station. A guardian angel indeed, as I was so tired by then I could barely walk straight.
My final workshop of the year is back at the Village Haberdashery in West Kensington, London, making Christmas trees again. You can expect a lot of wool and beads. Booking can be done via their website here. This is a much smaller workshop, with limited places but I hope it will be as much fun as this one. I also have a venue and rough date for a local Shrewsbury workshop, at the start of March 2017. if you'd like a little more information about this before I make it more public, do drop me an email.
This is my latest Staffordshire inspired creature. I could only find one image of a pig to work from; pigs don't seem to have been as popular as spaniels or greyhounds. About forty hours later I am finally satisfied with it.
I'm finding I have to work a little differently to emulate the Staffordshire look.. I have never needle felted eyes before, however the eyes on the original were painted on with one brush stroke, so I used just a few fibres of black to reproduce this effect. And the hooves were a bit tricky. but it's a challenge which I enjoyed and another learning curve.
This is one of the old dog kennels and runs, left behind by the previous cottage owners. It has been a dilapidated eyesore and even if we had a dog, I certainly wouldn't house it here. However, we did want a log shed.
So Joe and Brian-next-door began dismantling the innards, including lots of rancid paste boarding inside, rags and dirty wadding and finding, along the way, an old rat skeleton underneath the flooring.
It didn't take long to dismantle the unwanted bits. Which were too far gone for re-using, so later on, Brian had a large bonfire.
And we had a basic log shed.
The hole at the side was patched up neatly.
And the gap at the front was closed, to prevent easy access for rats. Though there is a small hole at the back for the toads, should they need winter shelter. Now all it needs is logs.
My mum used to tuck things away for 'a rainy day'. This was usually a pile of old comics or a book that she had picked up at a jumble sale, for when I was sick or if it was literally a rainy day. I've been saving my book toys for a rainy day, and that time has come. So everything I have left from my book 'Little Needle-Felt Animals' is up for grabs. I've tried to keep prices as low as possible, and there are small things -
And larger things -
I am often asked how I can bear to part with my work, and my usual answer is that I can't pay the bills or mortgage with a needle felt cat. I am pretty torn about selling these little friends, as creating them for my book got me through my darkest hours when I lost Andy. But they've decorated my studio for long enough, so I'm hoping at least some of them will find new homes. They're all available in a special sale section in my Etsy shop here. All come with signed name tags and a little certificate tag.
A few weeks ago, Jean-next-door came round with a bucket of over-ripe damsons. She is a very waste-not-want-not person. I didn't like to refuse, so they came inside and sat in the bucket for a few days, softening, while I tried to find time to deal with them. They went a bit mouldy. At last I got round to soaking them in boiling water, in a wine bucket, snapped the lid on and left it for some time.
This is not the orthodox way of making wine; it is the old 'country' way. Brian-next-door can remember that people used to do it this way and I have found a few recipes online which follow this method. Anyway, it gave me an excuse not to have to sort them out for a while. And so the mould grew.
I don't actually think I left it for long enough, as the cap of mould is supposed to be so thick that you can lift it off in one go. However, I tackled it bravely, just to get the job out of the way. Admittedly, it was very pretty. If somewhat brain-like.
It was a long-winded, ramshackle affair, straining off two gallons of soaked damson with the aid of three saucepans, a colander, a jug and a jelly-bag. The damsons had (unsurprisingly) started fermenting on their own. And it all smelled a bit...odd. I strained it all twice and returned it to the cleaned bucket, with added sugar and wine yeast.
As of now, it continues to have a life of its own. The mould has grown back and it is still fizzing. I dipped my finger in, to test it, with some trepidation and was surprised to find it has a sweet, fruity taste. It will need straining again and decanting into demi-johns. Who knows, it could be the best wine ever - or I may die of botulism.
The other day we decided to declutter some of the 'stuff' that has failed to sell on eBay and isn't good enough for a proper auction house. So we gathered our boxes. Brian-next-door added two old cabinets (one with a drawer missing) and the little blue car was loaded up.
There was just enough room for it all and the three of us. We set off to the next village.
To the village hall.Where we booked our things in.
There was quite a lot of miscellaneous 'stuff'' there already. Some of it even made our humble offerings look tempting.
The next night we set forth again, to see if anything would sell. To be honest, the only thing I held any hope for was the old top box from Andy's motor bike. Brian was tempted by a few things, but I did have to remind him of what Jean would say if he came home with another drill, even if the battery on his other one is flat.
So there we were with our bits and bobs. A box of old cameras and film things, probably not working...
Noddy and the Flintstones...
...a box of Happy Meal toys, collected from charity shops over the years...
...and the bedside cabinets, the motorbike top box and a bound set of old National Geographic magazines from the 1940s. People began shuffling to the main hall for the auction. I think a lot of the room was filled with locals having an night out. Which was pretty much what it was for us too.
I think we were there for nearly three hours as the various bits of bric-a-brac were sold. Or not sold. The Happy Meals toys came home with us, as did the two bedside cabinets. The top-box nearly sold but was just under the £10 reserve. So it has gone back into the next auction.
In the end we made (after fees) the princely sum of £7. But looking on the bright side, that pays for a couple of loaves of bread and some milk. And we've got more space.
Somehow I inadvertently managed to book myself for two workshops in the space of a week, which has been a bit of a whirlwind. My first port of call was to Stourbridge, where I had a lovely large crafting group working in a converted canal-side warehouse. As usual there was a lot of wool...
...and plenty of homemade cake.
It was a really lovely day, very chatty and very friendly. Nearly everyone was new to needle felting, but being a talented bunch of crafters, they soon got the hang of things and were busy creating their own delightful creatures.
Including a thread jointed teddy bear, not a mean feat in one afternoon.
What I liked best was how people quickly found their own style - I don't lay down ground rules in my workshops (apart from trying not to stab yourself with the needle) and the variety of styles was fabulous.
Then just six days later I was up at 5am, to catch an early train down to London, to visit the Village Haberdashery.
I rather enjoy the London Underground and snapped a few arty shots.
There were only three people for the workshop, but it made for a nice, intimate day and so nice to meet people who already 'knew' me, one way or another. Foxes were made. And I finally got home at 9.30pm, a long old day.
I have also made my first sale from my own new website, Lost Arcadia, and sent this little rabbit to her new home. It's starting to feel like a proper website at last. Finally, we were so happy to be visited by 'Granny Sue' and her lovely husband Larry, all the way from America. They popped in for lunch and we had such a fabulous time that three hours zipped by without us noticing. Brian-next-door lent us their drive for parking as ours is a bit steep. Susannah has written lovely accounts of their trip to England and Wales, and a sweet account of their visit to us, on her blog here.
Such an occasion demanded a photographic souvenir, so here is a snap of Susannah and myself...I am thinking i need to start doing some sit-ups! Or suck my tummy in. Or eat less cake.
I mentioned some time ago that I was changing my direction with my work, and doing something somewhat different to the toys that I have been making for around eight years. Typically I chose a challenge. It kind of began with this Staffordshire cat, which I sold a couple of years ago. I meant to make some more but never did.
Anyway, I started in earnest earlier this spring and made a copy of another traditional Staffordshire design, this time a rabbit.
A greyhound was next. I work from one photo, to get the first angle and work out how the rest of it should look.
Which isn't always easy.
Each design has it's own quirks and foibles, and with Staffordshire, they are very 'folksy' and quirky. Trying to replicate a design which isn't my own (and which, by the way, I believe is out of its copyright period) has been something I've found really interesting, although the hours put in on each one are a bit excessive.
The poodle almost finished me off. The shape wasn't too hard to replicate, but this poodle design in it's various forms has stippled, 'salt glaze' on parts of the body, which I tried to emulate by sewing on a silly amount of tiny beads. Eighteen hours of sewing on beads. Yes, I did time myself.
Despite the amount of time they take - 35/40 hours each - I've had fantastic feedback on my Facebook page and Instagram account, and it is nice to take a break from toys.
Although both cats are sold, the dogs and rabbit are now listed on my new site, in the Staffordshire Animals section. Making things in wool which were originally made in clay.
Last weekend saw me back in Oxfordshire again, at the Witney Sewing and Knitting Centre. Witney is a bit of a 'home town' for me; I've known it most of my life, since I first moved to the area when I was 19. I haven't been back there since Andy and I upped sticks and moved to Shropshire, so I was ambivalent about seeing it again. However, I did the stiff upper lip thing and didn't have a meltdown, but concentrated on my workshop instead.
It is a lovely space to work in with great all round lighting and people quickly started doing the pattern of the day, which was my old 'Doglets' pattern from 'Mollie Makes' (issue 13 2012). Another odd thing as I was moving away from the area when it was published and so much has happened in the ensuing four years. However, lovely doglets were made, and amended in some cases. I'm not a stickler for people sticking to my patterns and if people want to go off piste, I actively encourage it. My next workshop is down in Hampstead, London on Saturday October the 1st at the Village Haberdashery. It's limited to six spaces and there are a a couple of places left, so if anyone fancies it, the booking link is here.
I was away for a couple of days and stayed with friends. There was decent beer.
And a vintage 'Magic Roundabout' playground which was dragged out of the attic and played with. And photographed.
Back in Shropshire, I have been spending most of my time working on my new independent website, 'Lost Arcadia' where I am now selling my paintings and needle felt work. My latest small painting 'Country Church' is a nod to my old home of the Cotswolds and the myriad small, sweet churches buried within it's rolling landscape.
It's been a long time since we went for a bike ride what with one thing and another. So this week we went off in search of Langley Chapel, less than four miles away. I had done my Google map research and was convinced it would be fairly easy to find, despite being in the middle of a Shropshire field. We cycled up to the small but pretty village of Acton Burnell.
Once through the village however, it all became very uphill-y and with our cycling legs being a bit rusty, there was a lot of pushing. Alright, pretty much all pushing.
As we climbed higher, the views were spectacular. This is looking across to our main town of Shrewsbury. Somewhere in there towards the right, I think.
I found a lovely roly-poly field formation for painting inspiration. There aren't that many dry stone walls in Shropshire and this picture reminds me of the dear Cotswold countryside, which is lined with them.
Joe found me a tiny cottage in a field, sadly ruined with no roof, but very sweet seen through the hedgerow.
Anyway, we got higher and higher, in search of Langley Chapel - or even a handy signpost - until we got to a point where I knew that it became EVEN MORE hilly. And unfit as we were, we decided to turn back. Happily, it was downhill all the way to Acton Burnell.
Now, we had seen a footpath sign in the village and wondered if we had managed to miss the chapel. So Joe went ahead and explored, and waved me to follow. He had found something. We followed the field footpath and discovered a promising looking portico.
However it did look familiar and as we neared, we realised it was the beautiful Catholic graveyard for the old 'big house' which we had investigated last year. Slightly daunted but determined to have one last shot, we tried another part of the footpath. Which was very pretty but showed no sign of a chapel. We found a few wild damsons though and jolly nice they were too, after all that exercise.So well exercised but feeling a bit defeated, we hastened home, with rain clouds looming overhead.
Back home, we looked at a map and were chagrined to find that had we ventured a little further (towards the EVEN MORE HILLY bit), we would have found Langley chapel. It was about five minutes away from our turn-back point. So that's a trip for another day. Nonetheless, it was lovely to get out and explore. We may not have found Langley chapel. But we did get some exercise.
Last week we had a very rare happening - visitors! A very nice Welsh Springer Spaniel and his humans came to stay for a couple of days. We didn't do much as it was nice just to take some time off and relax. We did manage a short walk nearby.
It's a funny thing, but even though we are in a very rural part of Shropshire, there are few footpaths and barely any quiet places to walk. And with this being the busiest bit of the farming year, the little lane we were in had it's fair share of large agricultural vehicles managing (somehow) to make their way through.
So the next day was mostly spent in the garden, with lunch (mostly cheese) and beer.
Knitting was done - my knitting - though not by me. This is something I started and almost finished but couldn't. So my knitting expert friend managed to sort it out for me.
In return, I let my friend have free reign in my studio and she had a couple of impromptu painting lessons.
But play has to end eventually and when they were headed home, I finished off a couple of my own paintings, which are up for sale in my Etsy shop. I seem to be heading for autumn a little prematurely, but then we are having an upsy downsy summer. In my big studio tidy up, I also found a box of the last lino prints I made in my previous life, including the popular 'Little Hare. It feels a bit strange and very sad looking at old blog posts like with pictures of of the other cottage, such as 'Printing Little Hare' and 'Monsieur le Roitelet'. So to raise a few pennies, I've put the remainder back up for sale, at single figure prices in my shop print section.
I'm hoping to sell enough to be able to buy some WD40, to get my trusty old printer back on the road, so that I can print again. Sadly it's been in a damp shed for too long and needs some de-rusting before I can use it.
Back when I printed the lino cuts in November 2011, I was trying to juggle needle felting with printing and painting. Then Andy and I began the big move to Shropshire and just over a year later, Andy was dead. Now my life is back on track, with a different love and I am still needle felting, starting to paint again and hopefully printing soon. In those days I was lucky enough to do it as a part time job. Now it's a life necessity. But I try not to analyse it too much; it's all a bit odd really. Such is life.
Blog: Middle of Nowhere
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, blue tit bathing
, Gretel Parker painting
, making a herb patch
, old stone trough
, renovating garden
, sparrows bathing
, stone pond
, using stone trough for pond
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This is how the so-called 'herb patch' looked a couple of weeks ago, still with the plug-ugly plastic coated washing line post firmly cemented into the earth. So as the weather had picked up, I did my scorched earth weeding and Joe got to work with Brian-next-door's sledge hammer.
After a long tussle and removing lots of rock debris, we tugged and pulled and shoved and eventually we dragged the monster out. We could just about manage it between us.
Unfortunately, someone DID like the overgrown mess and we found this lovely toad nestling in a pile of bricks. We left her undisturbed, but she vanished overnight. We are hoping that she has found a nearby home.
By the end of the day we had almost cleared everything.
The garden originally came with two little old troughs which were destined to be made into miniature ponds. This is a fairly ordinary cement one, which had been upside down since I moved in over three years ago. I had assumed it was a block of stone until Joe turned it over and discovered the secret.
The previous owner told me that this bigger one was an antique 'pony trough' which came from a nearby town, but then he told so many fibs about the property that I am inclined to take that with a pinch of salt. It is a nice old thing, anyway and had been languishing uselessly in the drive.
The fun part was putting the stones and pebbles in and filling it.
By now it was early evening and the cows had made their way up the field. They seemed curious, but I don't think they cared about our lovely little pond.
The ponds have provided a source of constant amusement. Despite having to empty them and paint them with concrete sealant. Because we didn't realise that the stone could leak. But since then the garden birds have been enjoying the novelty too. Joe has taken quite a few photos. At first the blue tit was the sole bather.
But then a tribe of sparrows moved in and claimed both ponds for their own.
Anyway, to cut this long pond-y story short (forgive the length, neither of us have ever had ponds before), this part of the garden is finally starting to be ours and looking like a proper place. Not a wilderness of weeds.
Today however we have had rain and I went back to proper work, heralding autumn with this little painting, 'Acorn Cottage' which (naturally) is for sale in my other Etsy shop, 'Lost Arcadia'.
So the time came when my studio needed a serious make over. It's been a bit of a tidy pickle for the last three years, and there were so many things on the floor that there wasn't enough room for my big feet to move around without stubbing a toe. Or even work properly.
And this area was particularly confused. I seem to remember that I just shoved a few bits of spare furniture up so that I could unpack some favorite books and it became a bit of a dumping ground. So the mammoth task of sorting out began.
The key to the entire operation was this lovely old (apparently Georgian) bookcase that Joe bought me well over a year ago, for the studio and which had become another dumping ground downstairs. We shifted the old futon out and I began reorganising my books. And stuff. The first day was complete carnage.
But by the second day it began to take take shape. And I found I had masses of floor space!
I'm still not sure how I found the energy to blitz it into shape in 48 hours, but I now know where everything is. This is the only area which remained untouched.
The old fireplace (sadly blocked up by the previous tenants) has been set aside for a printing area. The next task is to renovate my poor old flat bed press.
So I did finally get round to finishing a batch of small paintings and yesterday I reopened my very first Etsy shop which I've had since 2007 and listed them all at £35 (about $45) each. I was amazed to sell two paintings overnight. and somewhat relieved.
So here I am in yet another studio, painting again and enjoying my books. It's nice but odd, just another layer of things coming around, the same but different. And a little fragile. Like my tiny houses.
Last month I was back in Oxford at at Hill End, returning after my earlier bear making workshop two weeks previously. 'The Willows' waited quietly in the already hot morning sun.
This workshop was a little different in that it was for a hen party - bunting was obligatory. I quickly set the workshop up. I like this peaceful part of the day, when I can settle myself and calm my nerves.
I had some samples ready for inspiration.
I'd also set up a display of work and a collection of photos of my first pieces of work. The photos are useful as I can show people that I myself started somewhere and my early work was far from perfect.
While I was waiting for everyone to arrive, I sat on a big stone outside and watched baby bunnies creep out of the bramble patch to nibble grass. Of course there was also an obligatory robin.
But then I cast my eyes to the left and was amazed to see a young fox slinking out of the undergrowth. He clearly hadn't seen me. I slowly got my camera ready and held my breath as he came towards me.
I have never, ever been so close to a fox before. He got to just a few feet away and then clocked me.
He made a stealthy but quick get away, heading towards the baby bunnies who made an even speedier escape!
Then the hen party arrived (all ten of them) and it was business as usual. Only one person there, the bride-to-be had needle felted before or even knew what it was. But I gave them a pep talk and got them working. Pink fluffy deely-boppers and all.
And in the end, they all did fantastically. One or two designs became other things - which is why there is a parrot in the flock.
Back home, I have been busy with getting my life back on track - more tidying and unpacking. I did make this little Staffordshire style cat last week, and posted a picture of it being made in progress on my Instagram account, where he was bought at once. That has sorted the electric bill out. I don't have a lot of time to sit down and blog properly, so my IG account is a way of keeping in the loop, as they say.
It's funny what lurks in sheds. Brian-next-door was showing me a pair of old oil lamps and I spotted this. I squealed. I really did squeal. He was a little confused at my delight as it was 'just some old shelves' which he uses to store oil and paint cans. The back has rotted and was replaced with paste board, which is also rotting.
Although my lovely neighbours have become accustomed to my love of what they consider to be junk, I think this one had Brian stumped. But bless him, he removed the cans, levered it from the dirt floor, chased away a colossal fat, black spider and together we dragged it out into the sun.
It must be about seven feet long and quite low. I think it was probably once the base to a huge farm dresser. The cupboard space is deep, however the doors are long gone. I can't remember the exact story Brian related, but it seems to have lived in a few local places, including an uncle, before being entombed in the damp old privy.
Look, I know, it's a bit shafted. Apparently it's been used as a workbench in previous lives. Hence the paint blobs, the oil spills and the gouges.
But imagine if it were cleaned up and restored. It's a good, honest chunk of country pine, crying out for some attention and a good dollop of beeswax.
Brian did his best to dissuade my enthusiasm, seeing nothing but a knackered old unit which would otherwise serve it's purpose and eventually fall apart. And the surface damage bothered him. I said repeatedly that I liked that and would probably leave some remains of it, if I sanded it down, to show the history. I think I lost him there; he would replace it with a new bit of wood.
He was convinced that the top might be an add-on, as it appeared to be screwed down and maybe underneath there would be a better, original slab of wood. So he got his screwdriver out. I held my breath and tried not to wince.
But no, it was part of the piece. So, having convinced Brian that I really did love it, warts and all, it is now mine. But it has gone back into the shed, for the time being. The cottage is still in a state of partial renovation, and walls need plastering before anything else goes in. It is going to look amazing though.
It was only by happenstance that I discovered that the Flying Scotsman was travelling this afternoon through Shropshire. If Brian-next-door hadn't popped round to tell me he was going over to Craven Arms to search for lawnmower parts, I wouldn't have scrounged a lift to the village Post Office and heard the news. Because due to too many enthusiasts causing disruption in the past, the precise times of it's passing had been kept as hush hush as possible. But the nice people at the post office knew. and I told Brian. And so this afternoon, Jean and Brian and I hopped over to a very small country bridge in a nearby village. There is Jean in her sun bonnet and Brian nearby in blue, fiddling with his big camera and trying to remember how to turn the flash off. And a local bobby. Just in case.
There were a few of us there, but no serious 'train spotters'. The policeman said they were all crowded up on the other country bridge further up. The sun was very hot. We wilted in the heat and listened for the train, patiently and with good humour. A small boy was hoisted onto his father's shoulders for a better view and the policeman told us that the Flying Scotsman had just left Shrewsbury and was passing Sainsbury's supermarket; it should be arriving soon. Five minutes later, we heard rumblings and squeakings. Here it comes, around the corner...
Such excitement! Brian had worked out how to turn off his flash and turn on his burst shooting and I just managed to snap it as it thundered through our quiet countryside.
Then it was off and away towards the blue hills of Shropshire, where it would stop briefly at Craven Arms and then head off again to the county of Herefordshire, next door.
As we waved it goodbye, a more modern and dowdier cousin passed it. And then all was peaceful again. The policeman returned to his car, the cyclists headed off and there were friendly waves and nods, as we all shared the happiness of seeing something very special indeed, if only briefly.
Yesterday we made a pilgrimage to see Andy's tree. Brian-next-door kindly drove us over, as it is some distance away in the heart of the Shropshire hills. Set in ancient woodland, the South Shropshire Remembrance Park is the most peaceful and tranquil place - beautiful even in the rain.
It's been just over three years since Andy's ashes were laid to rest under a silver birch tree sapling. It has grown considerably since them, which considering how tall Andy was, is appropriate. The little glade where his tree is situated is up on a wooded hill. Joe and I made our way there while Brian waited in the car park, to give us some privacy.
I'd brought some things to tidy up with and the first thing I did was to give his stone a good scrubbing, and remove the moss which grows so quickly. On my hands and knees, in the muddy grass, in the rain. Because it is the only and last thing I can do for him. And it still doesn't feel like enough. I don't think it ever will.We'd brought a bottle of his favourite beer.
Which I poured on his tree roots, with a little salutation to 'the big man'.
It was Joe's first visit and although it was sad, we both found it less painful than anticipated. And will be coming back again, soon.
Then the heavens really opened up to a deluge. We headed back as quickly as possible, to the car, soaked to the skin.
Brian took us home via the 'scenic route'. Little twisty Shropshire lanes, which, as we found, were flash flooded. This is why a 4x4 is useful in the countryside.
With Brian's careful driving, we negotiated the small rivers that covered the lanes for long stretches.
Some readers may wonder how I could take photographs during such a difficult and personal time, and share it so publicly. Well, Andy was always part of this blog. Taking photos, writing about it, and recording it helps me to sort things out in my head and makes it all seem a little less weird and messed up. Just a little.
Blog: Middle of Nowhere
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Guthrie and Ghani
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Tiny Polar Bear (sold)
I recently updated my website and for the first time (ever) catalogued all my designs by year and month. Nine years of almost non-stop needle felting. It took many days of hunting on various camera cards and through this blog and Flickr, but eventually I got there.
Looking through it was a bit of a wake up call and I was able to look at my work and realise not only that I've done a phenomenal amount of work, but also that I've not really moved on, stylistically. Although, to be fair, the last few years haven't exactly been the time for creative navel gazing.
I think it has a lot to do with the last few years of creating commercial patterns, which have to be easy to make, and doing so many workshops, ditto. So I've not really stretched myself.
I think making myriad cute toys has almost run it's course for me, after all, I've been doing them for nine years. So I've been finishing off several bits and pieces, including this set of tiny animals and bird dolls, which despite being small, take around six hours plus to make
As usual, I've bunged them on dear old Etsy. I'll be starting a shiny new website soon, for my new work.
I started a new and very 'grown up' line of work this summer, but it is under wraps until I have several pieces. Suffice to say, I am stretching myself at last.
While I'm cheerfully shoving things for sale under your noses, I may as well add that I've got some fabulous new workshops in the UK, for later in the year. I have two winter workshops in Hampstead, London at the Village Haberdashery - my first time in London! It's going to be the red eye train at crack of dawn for those two.
In other news, I've finally started painting properly again. But I'll spare you that for the time being.
Well, that's been a bit of a hefty blog break. Busy times. Sometime last month I had a birthday, and as some people may know, I am not a huge fan of birthdays. But there was a beautiful card from Joe, who also ordered a fabulous Clangers cake - and they spelled my name correctly, which is always nice! Yes, I adore the Clangers.
He bought me far too many presents, including some CDs of my favourite noisy bands, and a colouring book...which sadly I have not had time to play with yet.
Although I have made time to get on with my own painting.
Last weekend was my two day trip to Oxford, where I held my bear making workshop in the Willows, at Hill End Nature Centre, a truly delightful work space with lots of light and room.
I had nine attendees, four of whom were returns from previous workshops and it was lovely to see them again. It was a very busy, friendly session, and if you want an outside view, there is a lovely blog post about it on 'Tales from the Weekday Home'.
It is always nice to get to the end of the day and see the more-or-less finished results.
Apart from that, we have been trying to straighten things out at the cottage. I am still only half unpacked since moving in three and a half years ago. It was all a bit too much with everything that happened subsequently, and I've been quite happy or rather, resigned, to live like this. But things are changing and this dumping room needed sorting.
It's actually tidy compared to how it was. We've gone through boxes and boxes of stuff, put various things into lots for auction, charity and attic storage. Sometimes it was particularly painful, but it had to be done as life is starting to settle down and there is a lot more which needs sorting out. One can only live in carnage for so long.
Last night pizza! The day finally arrived when Joe had completed the course that he has been studying for the last two years. Since we first met, we knew that this day would come, but in the meantime, there has been a constant back and forth between my place, in Shropshire and his place, in Lancashire.
Considering that neither of us drive or has any money to speak of, it has been a bit of a palaver over the last 19 months and yet we somehow managed to spend about two thirds of our time together. Because we needed to. But we have longed for it all to be done and to start our new life. So having passed his course, things were put in motion for him to vacate his flat and move into the cottage.
We had the best kind of 'man and van', who was helpful, friendly and businesslike. In less than twenty minutes we were loaded up at Joe's end and on the road.
Then it it was goodbye to Preston and everything there. Heading home to the Midlands, passing the wind turbines of Cheshire.
Taking a brief foray into Wales and then back into England - hello Shropshire!
Off the main roads and heading down the familiar bumpy lanes leading home. Almost there, and the Wrekin in the distance. Right at the back, poking it's head in the clouds.
The cottage being on a small and busy country road meant that parking was a problem, as it was when Andy and I moved in. So yet again I called on Brian and Jean next door, who moved a car so that we could park up their drive and not get clunked by a tractor.
We unloaded and then began the little procession of humping it all up the lane. Joe and I and the van driver and Brian, of course.
Dumping it in the front yard.
Thankfully there wasn't too much and it was soon inside, if in a considerable muddle. We are now in the process of sorting it all out. But the most important thing is that things are settling down now and our adventure begins.
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So on the hottest day of the year, a couple of weeks ago, we rose at 6.30am, caught a taxi and three trains to the pretty town of Ormskirk, finishing off with a bus journey to Edgehill University campus, where Joe's graduation ceremony was taking place. We were already melting by the time we arrived.
It's a very impressive campus and has a pleasing amount of topiary trees. Around the back of the historic part, the more modern additions are discreetly concealed.
The first item on the agenda was for Joe to get togged out in his graduation robes, before an extraordinary amount of photos and selfies were taken with his colleagues. Me, I stayed in the background and had a crash course in ladies shoe fashion for 2016. A loose count showed that ankle straps are 'in' this year and that 'flesh' (or as I believe it is called, 'nude') is this season's colour. I was in cheap baseball boots. Not being in heels, I was one of the few females on campus able to walk in a straight line.
At last we were able to head off for the ceremony.
After a long wait for everything to be organized, and having the most fidgety child on the planet next to me, it all got rolling with the expected pomp and ceremony; the procession of the University staff in suitably impressive robes and hats, and a fanfare of trumpets. Literally.
After several long speeches, the graduation ceremony itself began. Joe was about third from last, by which time people were a little restless. Having patiently waited for nearly two hours for his moment of glory - the shaking of the chancellor's hand - I had my camera poised, zoomed and in focus.
Then just at the very second of the hand shake, a big bloke in a white shirt came bustling down the aisle stairs behind me and barged right in front of my camera as I was pressing the button. I may have sworn loudly. (OK, I did). So all I managed to get was this...
Then the lovely chancellor made the most interesting speech of the day, cracked a joke about the University board being 'the entire staff of Hogwarts' and everyone waggled their caps in the air. Apparently throwing them up willy nilly is not the done thing anymore.
After a quick go at the buffet, we started our homeward journey. Did I mention it was hot? And so we got a bus, three trains and another taxi back to the cottage. The English countryside quietly sweltered in the sun. The train guard handed out free bottles of water on our last late, overcrowded train, where we stood in the corridor all the way back to Shrewsbury.
We eventually arrived home, flopping and half asleep, at about 8pm and went to bed almost at once. A long day, but one which Joe worked hard for and despite my humorous tone, I was actually very, very proud of him. He is now a fully qualified counsellor.