Friday, 12 August 2011

The bottom left hand corner.

Last things
Mmm, it's going under wraps, I think. My English teacher said to me when I was 17, 'Vivienne' you are transparent'; maybe I ought to opaque up a bit. Just bits of it might apear from now on. This is the bottom left hand corner, starting to come together. A lot to do on it yet, there will  be no raggy edges on display such as you can see.  Only some of the bits are stitched on here, some are pinned roughly in place. The last pieces of the jigsaw were made today; they are really important. The coathangers came too, and they are more than just a frame. I'm hopeful that it'll fly.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The collections.

The collections.
I'm cheating. I've got my friend Sheila to make me two covered coathangers for this project, and it's taking her all week, she is so conscientious, and they are beautiful; they are as important as choosing the right frame for a picture. I've almost finished 'the collections', which means I've been generating Stuff, and now there are two heaps that might add up to enough for the project to go to its next stage. There are things I haven't done that I intended - symbols of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, for example; they will get there.

But now I see it all laid out: it's a record of constantly living with a text and sewing what has come to mind. Now I have two heaps of stuff which I call 'collections', one for Sarah, one for Hagar. They look much like the start of a 'collection' in the fashion sense, and that isn't accidental, as the process has been very much like the work I did while doing the design side of my City & Guilds fashion course. Now it's all together, and if there is any sense of direction, coherence, it ought to be showing. Of course, the way it will be all put together is very important, and that is in my head, with various strategies planned which will heighten the symbolism of what is already there. There's a huge risk that the whole thing will just look awful, but I'm hopeful that it will come together coherently, and also with a bit of beauty thrown in. It's exegetical all right, no worry about that.

So I'm in bed very early, as I've been up till 1 am on several occasions lately. I need a good day tomorrow, which will be one of those make or break days...... wish me luck.

From Ashley to Ashmolean

Mumsnet! Not something I'm in, but I expect if it'd been around in the olden days I would; but it might have been bad for me; "in my day" I found that mothers were roughly divided into those who perpetually congratulated themselves on doing a great job, and those whose errant children made their status quite clear. I was in the second category. So while whirring away on some fabric for Hagar, I was listening to Woman's Hour on R4, and hearing how there's a new description for some mums, those who have all girls: 'Smug Mothers of Girls' and the other sort I forgot the name for, and had to invent ones for me 'Apologetic Mothers Of Boys'. I see the correct title is 'Defensive Mothers Of Boys'. Anyway, Hagar's fabric was, I knew, going to look like something out of Laura Ashley's 1984 collection, all lovely little flowers, and in reality it was inspired by the colours of an Egyptian embroidered hat from 1925 in the Ashmolean museum. I'd written down what colours were on it, but before it came to applying the black, it was very definitely Ashley and not Ashmolean. Note that it is anything but random; it's hard work to make it look this random.

It became clear that to prevent the Laura Ashley look (remember the big skirt in tiers? Cornflower blue? Cost a fortune, but was worth it for the wear it got) it needed something doing to it, and so, with a mindset much like I imagine the recent rioters began their 'work' with, I attacked it, muttering 'Destroy!' and was immediately pleased with the effect. Somehow it made the fabric look both more contemporary and more ancient at the same time, and certainly more like the design I'd seen in the Ashmolean. (Evoke is a word I use a lot; it is meant to evoke Egyptian fabric.) Lucienne Day, homage to you  and your wonderful fabrics.
I also was musing on women dressed in Laura Ashley prints, and thinking that Hagar would not be of that ilk; but then, those of us who were were not all stereotypical sweetness and light, and you could experience to your cost something of that divide mentioned above, me being among the Apologetic/ Defensive ones. So Sarah and Hagar's rivalry sounds like just another spat that would sound absolutely contemporary on Mumsnet of today. 'My husband has had a child by our au pair, as we were infertile for many years.... now she...', and 'I lent out my womb to my employers, and now find myself cast out by the very couple for whom I had the child. They made very poor provision for us....'  Perhaps we old mums can all remember some incident which ended up with a trip to casualty for someone, and I remember one child apearing with the end of a finger hanging off, and his mother livid (before driving off) demanding 'Who did this?!!' and feeling relieved it wasn't my child who'd done it, and feeling very sorry for the mother of the one who had slammed the door or whatever caused it..... I wouldn't want to go through all that bit of my life again. I find it very hard when reading the stories of Sarah and Hagar to suss out exactly why there is such enmity between the two women, where does it start? Was it all Abraham's fault? The fault of patriarchy? God and his idea of 'blessing', which results in favourites? Was there any way that the enmity could have been avoided or repaired?

There's the completed fabric above. It was necessary to go round each daisy-thing with black thread precisely twice, or else it would have been bad luck. Why? I don't know; it just would. It's a girl thing. (I'm so inadvertently superstitious). It's also done with one complete and unbroken piece of black thread.  I told myself it would be good luck if that also happened, so let's hope this thing gets done on time.

Lair today
Back to the lair.... I know.. two sewing machines..... wonderful.

Something to laugh at

...and then there WAS something to laugh at! Because, having done Sarah's hand pointing to the right, I discover that there's a hieroglyph that means 'return' which is a pair of legs walking off to the right, so that means that when Sarah sends Hagar away, she needs to go off to the left, and then she can return by walking from the left to the right. Geddit? The pic will maybe make it more clear. Never mind that it's 12.30 am, some things can't wait, or you just can't sleep.

Anyway, I can use both hands, 'cos Sarah is a bossy woman.

While I was hieroglyphing on the Bernina - I now know 500% more hieroglyphs than I knew before - imagine them done out big on a Dorset beach, visible from space - I was thinking about the effect of the riots on Barton, and whether we had any, and I remembered that we almost did, as this morning after the eucharist, we were drinking coffee in the church hall, and the bobbin lacemakers were on the other side of the room. I could see the lacemakers making gestures with their hands over their ears, and I went over to ask if they were OK, and they told me that the eucharist-goers were being too noisy and it was making it impossible to concentrate on getting the lace made. So I went over to the eucharistis and indicated that this was so, then left hurriedly to get back to My Life's Work. I don't know how it ended; perhaps there were ugly scenes involving lace pins and coffee cups. It's probably not quite in the same league as Clapham Common and so it'll never get reported; that's the problem with living in the provinces. Come on, Barton, you can do better than this!

The gospel reading was about not storing up treasures on earth where moth corrupts, and it could have added, looters loot and all that, and I hope that no clergy will have done some naff sermon based on it against valuing material things, pointing out how vulnerable they are to present events. We aren't in the mood for that kind of thing at the moment, I think. T'owd man was a lot more subtle of course and talked about having enough capital in the bank of things we say we value in order to write cheques against, like martyrs did, if I understand him rightly. They put their money where their mouth was, and their money was there first; that's me carrying on what he said, really.

Oh dear! I've left something a bit risque up there in the pile of hieroglyphs. (You are going to scroll up, aren't you?)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bleak stuff

The idea is probably clear by now. This hand is telling me it's time to go to bed, but I've just spent 20 minutes learning hieroglyphs, so I want to try some of them too. It's mostly about text just now. Here is me transferring the design by pricking through tracing paper on which I've drawn the design. This is Sarah's (my) left hand; I hope she was left-handed when she pointed, silly me I ought to have reversed it, but I want Hagar to go THAT way. It is the counterpart to 'Thy maid is in thine hand', as shown. Bleak stuff. Technical problems occur from time to time, some cloth doesn't work so well, or one cuts a piece too small and the letters fall off the end; that's me being careful and not liking waste, which only results in more waste.

There's the apple crop to see to, too. Trying to make juice, and the occasional pie. Not to mention riots going on that the radio is telling me about while I work, and at mealtimes I'm reading a book about apples from the Common Ground stable (they invented 'Apple Day' on or near Oct 21st), eating, growing, history, varieties, and wonder wistfully whether I could save the world if every person had access to an orchard in which to play, eat, tell stories, make love, all the things romantic liberals dream about. But these things do get taken up, occasionally. We seem to have gone down a wrong road or two somewhere, and everyone has their idea of the cause and the solution. Mine is: not enough orchards, accessible to all; plant more.

Not much for Hagar to laugh at just now.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The uses of theology

Ohh dearrr! 1.30 before I got to bed last night. I got stuck on 'God's eye'. It was 'finished', but I was really cross because God's eyeball has space round it - you can see the whit
Pages from the Holkham Bible
e/pink of his eye. Is God that kind of person? He is now. I spent ages thinking if I could rectify it, but 'for technical reasons' it is not possible, believe me. Thus at breakfast, the answer emerged in conversation. The pupil of the eye is supposed to be God's thought, him thinking up the idea of the up the idea of creation, which is why it is all whirly; I think I had in the back of my mind images from the Holkham Bible which has some gorgous rather abstract illustrations. It is so much illustration that some think it may have been a kind of pattern book for mediaeval wall painters and/or embroiderers. (Rotten pic, I'm sorry, just now in artificial light). Oh crikey, I've unwittingly used it again too. Read on, if you can...

God's eye (with Hagar's)
So God with his eyeball floating in space didn't matter so much, as we decided it could be like the earth spinning in space. All that time I studied theology, and now it shows its worth! And D assures me that he thinks this kind of use is not at all out of the ordinary too, i.e. finding ways to justify the accidental. Anyway, I stopped fretting about the thing, and moved on.

The pupil of Hagar's eye is in silver, as she seems to see God, so the reflection there would be pure light, perhaps???

Today's helpful household inspiration
Making a start
Jumped a bit - 'here's one I made earlier'.
So today I got to work on the equivalent piece for Sarah - her pocket, basically. I thought about tents, and domesticity, and onto carpets, and looked down from the landing for ideas, and then set about my work. Then tonight, I had one of those exegetical leaps! I'd already added the Pink Thing, which is.. well what IS it? Shall I leave it to you? Is it Sarah's ear, overhearing? or is it a foetus? After all, the OT is full of begetting, and there is Isaac to come. Then I thought - that's homage to Grayson Perry too, as he did a quilt featuring aborted foetuses, shown in the open book underneath. I saw the actual thing at the V & A last year; brilliant. Then, hell, things came thick and fast today. The tent flaps - well they ARE in colours that are a bit... anatomical, mmm? I won't go into it here, as you may be reading this before 9 pm. That was kind of accidental but you-know-how-the-mind-works on these things; homage to Tracey Emin too. I had been thinking of her tent as a bit of a womby place, and what with the Lord visiting her there and look what happens to her! And, hell, it went on... I saw a piece of cloth I'd made in 2008 in celebration of marmalade, and thought - flames - just what I need for baking Sarah's cakes over, so I slapped them in there. And then I thought - are you hanging on - hell, that flame is under that baby-thing - that's Isaac - and oh crikey, that's what nearly happens to him!!!

So it all got a bit too much for me, and I'm feeling all , well, excitable.

Out in the garden, I was sent to fetch in some plums. Honestly, why ask a bohemian to do that? 'Cos I just stood there and ATE THEM ALL. No, really, I tried to save one or two for t'owd man, and then I DID go and get a bucket of windfall apples. But it made me think, wasn't it NICE of Eve to hand over that apple to Adam? Wasn't she a KIND woman? Compared with me, very much.

I spent a little time sewing by hand, and as this is such a rare thing, I got t'owd man to photograph it for posterity. With my little dog Mimi. I didn't sit there long, as he brought me some beer, and two wasps got drunk and nearly drowned in there, and were fished out by embroidery scissors, which did them no good at all. If the half-bee is called Eric, what would half-pissed-wasps be called?

Anyway, the Sarah thing is just about done. I'll put a ribbon on to tie the tent flap back when it is on display. As usual, you might have to wait for tomorrow's gripping episode. But I managed not to put too much on it; I avoided words. But I did wonder, in view of her story in Genesis, whether Sarah might put one of those notices you can get on the front door of the tent: 'No Jehovah's' (sic).

Monday, 8 August 2011

God's eye

'Thou God seeset me' says Hagar, and so God has to have an eye, which has been my job this afternoon, after finishing what I call her bib. I brought out the best silks for some of the colours in God's eye, and both my sewing machines were used, as they have a different set of stitches. The Bernina ones are limited, but there is one particular wavy one that was just right, and a brill one on the Pfaff for edging the iris. I will always think of it as the eyeball edging stitch now.  But you don't need a great range of stitches to do some nice work; the piece here is some I did more than a decade ago just using a very limited number from the Bernina's small selection. It's not what you've got, it's how you use it; but it's good to have a good range when you get a bit more ambitious.
On the Bernina
Using a very few stitches
My source material for the Eye is a picture of a piece of pottery like an 'evil eye' in a shop in Crete. The other source is the artist's robe by Grayson Perry. is a good pic of it. The eyes are a symbol for the artist, and not long ago I was thinking about God as an artists, so everything fits together. In homage to Grayson, I am making the white of the eye pink. Has God got a hangover? Somewhere in the psalms he does - wakes from sleep like a man after drink. There's green and several blue in the pupil of the eye, as though God has in mind the earth, seas and skies.The eye is embroidered onto Hagar's pocket. I have an idea for what will form Sarah's pocket of course. Do I run out of ideas? So far, no. And yes, I CAN sew in a straight line, or a curved one - whatever. But probably not chew gum at the same time.
See that useful stitch - a satin stitch, but straight on one edge, and random on the other.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Go on... have a bath

An afternoon's work.... phew, I need a ride on my bike, have not done my customary Sunday afternoon windsurfing as I have to be dedicated to this....... This is for Sarah.... now you know why I'm a machine embroiderer. the machine does it all... doesn't it?

Go on, have a bath! It works wonders!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Thought-bath results in progress

...Look, it's coming..... this is the idea that came to me in the bath. It's in its infancy and will have a lot more embellishment, but this is the start... the 8 pointed star is found in Sumerian archaeological finds, from the city of Ur whence Abraham is said to originate. (Great! I was going to use it anyway, but this is what I need to hear). It is later used in Islam of course. My Folkwear book of ethnic clothing tells me that 'an eight-pointed star originated in Sumerian iconography as the symbol for Gula, consort of the sun god Shamash.' But I don't knpow how accurate this is, and I don't have time to research it in depth; this will have to do for now, as I have to get on with making. My friend Olivia, who is from partly Greek stock, emailed me to say, "I was delighted to see the eight pointed star - took be back to my childhood where of course it s a standard motif in Cypriot embroidery - often including drawn thread work or satin stitch. You find it especially in the embroidery known as Lefkara lace. I have several examples amongst my inherited table linen." Olivia is an artist and psychotherapist in Dublin, and you can see her work at:

(Note stitched-out chart of all embroidery stitches available to me on the brilliant Pfaff 2058. It's my breakfast-time reading matter. See also the example of real Palestinian hand embroidery; quite beyond my capabilities, I'm a machine woman.)

The stars are stencilled using some glittery metallic powders mixed with some acrylic fabric-printing medium. I've had these tubes ofr glitter since 1984 when my Grandad died, and I had access to the art materials he had. I was impressed by bohemian's storage system, that I knew just where I'd kept them, as I've not used them before.

Stencil is made in manilla
This is a worked example of the thought-bath and its effects. I'm quite pleased so far. This is the 'plastron' for Sarah's dress, the bib-like decoration that is found in Syrian, Palestinian and other dress. I'm not doing fancy-dress, so this is meant to evoke
Glittery powders from my hoarded materials
rather than to imitate.

(To make total sense of this entry, you need to go back to the blog entry showing me in the bath with a tart, called 'The thought-bath'.)

I'm carrying on with my work... if you read 'Thought-bath', why not go and try it for yourself?
Guide lines sewn for later embellishment
Not by any means complete....

The thought-bath.

The "thought-bath" is not a new idea, but it IS a new title for something I've long known about and practised. It's nothing to do with a thought-shower, which I think is a new name for brain-storming, which was an older title for the group generation of ideas; the thought-bath needs no flip-chart. No, a thought-bath is a real bath, with real water; a real bath for the real world. It must be taken between about 10.30 am and 11.00 pm - just as long as you have about 3 hours in the day left when you get out of it, to put into practice what I will speak of.

The idea of instructions on how to go about bohemian living suffers from the fact that bohemians don't really do instructions. Why, only yesterday when t'owd man came home, he reminded me that that thing had happened to all the TV signals that was supposed to happen in August, and so now we can get Radio 3 on the kitchen telly, which is why we bought it, and were disappointed. But I had to say to him 'Er, David, please tell me how to turn the TVs on', as I really had never quite known, since we got these new ones a year or so ago. But this really is about how to do one aspect of bohemian living quite well; anyone can do it.

Pic 1
The bath is a good place to start, and it is both harder work and less hard work that the other kind of bath. It is about getting clean, but it is more about the mind. Preparation is necessary, which means a book and a magazine or two, some food and drink, not too much though or it is squalid and akin to 'Steptoe and Son' and him dropping those pickled onions in the bath and putting them back in the jar. No no NO. The thought-bath today even involved a visual aid, which was a piece of what I think is Palestinian embroidery (see pic 1). In fact, start to study the pictures.

Pic 1 shows feet with bubbles, which is obviously a good thing, but you will see that in pic 2 there are no bubbles as you will have been in so long that they have all gone; time for a sleep in between the 2 pics. The drink you will see is not in a wine glass, but in a glass without a stem. Inexperienced, well-meaning helpers may think you want a drink in a glass with a stem, but this is to be resisted, as it can't then be drunk while lying down. Much better is the glass shown here, even though it doesn't have quite the style you would think you'd prefer. [Actually, it is hot Ribena. With a Barton apricot, the last one; what better way to savour it?]

Pic 2 is a little blurry; this is because I've been to sleep, having looked at a few pages of my book - I have only ever dropped one book/magazine in the bath - but it survived, even the dress patterns at the centre of it are only a little bit crinkly - and woken up rested, and you can see that my helper has brought me another snack, this time a cup of cocoa and a piece of plum tart, also one for himself, as at this stage, conversation is good, and you chat, eat, and then are not long in getting out. (I once dropped the cocoa in, and then it really WAS time to get out.)

Pic 2
But what has happened in between? You've filled your mind with images and the ideas that were the purpose of the bath, you've let them marinate in their own juices and have drifted off to sleep - don't worry if you hear yourself snoring - this will reassure you that you aren't going to drown, no, you'd wake up with the spluttering if you slipped in. You wake up, and in that dreamy 10 minutes of 'coming to' you will have some new ideas for your project. This is why you need to have at least 3 hours available to you after you get out, in order to put them into practice before you forget what they are and to make sure you capture them before the spark in them dies, which it might not of course, but better to be safe than sorry.

I've never 'done' drugs, apart from one notorious piece of cake in the Netherlands that I ate out of politeness to my hosts (remember boys?) and it didn't make me sorry that I wasn't ever planning to make that a way of life. Nor do I want to emulate the lifestyle of those rich 19thC people who took all kinds of things and wrote poetry as a result. No, this is a Class A Bath, and you will know when you need to take it. It can be addictive, of course.

What's my book? It's 'The Folkwear Book of Ethnic Clothing' by Mary S. Parker, which is a strange book, much both better and worse than it looks, with some weird charts for patterns, and assurances such as 'The yoke of the Syrian dress is an approachable embroidery project for sewers with little prior experience', and you think No! It is NOT! But the book is always inspiring; like the Bible, it needs a bit of mulling over for you to get to its real worth.

T'owd man has now read this so far and says in a quavering Henry Crun voice, 'These are not the musings of a completely sound mind'. He's so English, isn't he, the way he puts things! Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I'm off now to put into practice what came to me while testing all of this this out for you. I'll post the results in a day or two.

God the artist.

This is really risky! It's always possible that this Sara & Hagar thing I'm doing will come to nothing, won't be ready on time, won't be accepted.... but I carry on in the knowledge that I'm enjoying doing it, it is good for me etc etc. While I'm whirring away on a machine, I'm always thinking about something, someone, some god, and I'm pondering the idea of God being an artist, and I have two questions.

1) Does God worry, as I do, about waste? Does he think, every time he thinks of Thomas Gray's line' Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air', 'Oh dear! What a waste!' and think of all that beauty in the depths of mines, all those colours of minerals and sparkly gold-speckled stuff. My stash of cloth and threads etc (there's a lot of etc) is composed of stuff that is both newish and donkey's years old. I used to worry about using it up too quickly, running out of stuff, as I'd spent many years being quite hard up, now I worry that it won't get used up before I die, (hoarding is a psychological response life's events, but also necessary for textile people) but then I think that surely some descendant's eyes will light up when told 'have a look through grandma's stuff - she'd want you to have it and use it'. But to produce a tiny bit of embroidery seems to depend on having drawers and drawers of colours of thread and all the scraps of fabric left over from every garment I ever made. Until a week or so ago, I didn't cut into big pieces of cloth, as I tend to save them for clothes, and then only use the scraps left for embroidery; but I've had to change that and think that the small things are so much what I want to do that I might as well cut into a big piece and be damned; but always the fear that that piece will nearly, but not quite, make a skirt after it bit has been snipped off it. But look around in nature, and there isn't any trace if that attitude. God seems to bury a lot of his best creation underground, and we (the descendants?) come along and find some of it and use it for our own purposes. We never make anything from scratch, we only use the things he has left us.

2) If God is an artist, when does he know he has finished a piece? And if this earth is not quite finished, in what activity or events can we see his tinkering? It's tempting to see earthquakes and tsunamis as the activity of a rather careless artist. And how does his I-haven't-finished-yet activity impinge on human relationships? Is he involved in that? 'I haven't quite got them right just yet - need to increase the altruistic level a bit', rather like a kind of edit-in-Photoshop thing. Or has he walked away and left us to make the best of what we are? Perennial theological questions.

Back to Sarah & Hagar. It's rather risky to put any of it here, as it could fail completely and look very naff. But this is Sarah's obit piece, the field of Machpelah, (and a few other bits in the background, including the bit I worry looks like Egyptian fancy dress, rather Gilbert and Sullivanish). I'm hoping it is reminiscent of an English hedgerow. I know there was not an English hedge around the field that Abraham bought, but I'm pretending not to know.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Hagar's steps

Bohemian hours must come to an end! T'owd man is due back today, and that means I'll have to keep to some conventional hours. What a shame; R3 has such good stuff on 'Through the night' or whatever it's called; selects out things you'd never know about otherwise, opens the eyes to new things, and they are often the ideal pieces to accompany trying to create. So I was working on this yesterday, and then on something else not illustrated 'cos it is so terrible and if not done something with will make Hagar's dress look like Egyptian fancy dress. Oh well, it is a beginning. The steps are based on a pattern I observed in the Lake District, where paths form in a pattern following the natural placement of footsteps. (I know, I know, that's bl**dy obvious, isn't it!)

Hagar's steps 1

Hagar's steps 2
But what's really making me jump for joy today is the discovery of this website and its writer:

Hagar's steps 3
On biblical stuff. See her Bible Book Club idea. David once went to a pub quiz, where the question was asked 'What are the first words of the Bible?' and quick as a flash and in all seriousness a bloke piped up 'Once upon a time'. I wish! Just what would be unlocked in the human mind, in the minds of a community if we could read the Bible in this spirit; remember half dreaming,  sitting at the feet of a storytelling adult when you were little? OK, I'm romanticising. But my piano teacher had a walk-in cupboard of storybooks that I used to get lost in while my sister had her piano lesson. I can't remember the stories well, I wish I had that kind of mind but I don't, though I know they were Hans Christian Anderson etc, lots of fairies and elves and wicked trolls and forests and stuff that appealed to a little girl who was more interested in the jacket potato Grandma would have for me on return than in the piano lesson. (Was I good at it? I don't know; I just hated exams so gave it up because of that; if only I'd been able to do it just for enjoyment. Music for kids seems always to have been about grades, and I hated that, hated it).  But if the Bible were read as though it came out of a magical cupboard of dreams, and not in the 'Is it true/not true' mentality that has become standard, well, what would it do for us, for society?

So, back to Hagar...... I love the idea of her trekking between two mountains looking for water as the (or a) basis of the Islamic hajj. So I wanted to do something on her steps.

 For some reason, making a very small piece of embroidery results in my lair looking like this..... it's even worse than the picture really shows.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Dem bones, dem churches.

Back garden of St Mary's vicarage; Viv's streaky kitchen window
Mmm, sobering thought (not that I've had anything more than half a pint of shandy in the last few days; the English language is so full of possibilities for creating slight misunderstandings). One of the things that happens here now and again is that a load of bones are wheeled past my front door and returned to their resting place in St. Peter's church, Barton-on-Humber, having been excavated and now available to researchers for study. Here is Kevin Booth of English Heritage pushing some of them home in boxes, which are like shoeboxes, with the longer side the length of the longest bone in the human body. It always makes me feel I ought to bow reverently when I see this happen.  I tend to do a silent blessing of them and wonder what their lives were like, and how many will have trodden the earth that is now under my back garden. Some date back to Anglo-Saxon times.

That link shows the view out of my window (not the one shown here - that's of the back garden) when I'm peeling veg, so I feel very lucky. We have two mediaeval churches here in Barton, no-one knows the exact reason why this should be. Our house lies very close to St. Peter's, but St Mary's is the one we use. It rather reminds me of the story about the Welshman who gets shipwreecked and winds up alone on a desert island. He settles down there, gets on with his life, till eventually someone finds him and gets him to show them round the things he has built. Proudly he shows them his house, and two churches. 'Why two churches?' the rescuer asks. 'Ah well,' he says pointing first to one of them 'This is the church I go to' and then pointing to the other (firecely) 'and this is the one I don't go to'. Sorry to any Welsh readers, it's just that the joke sounds a lot better with a Welsh accent, and probably it ought to say 'chapel', not 'church'; I think it can apply to all situations where inter-church/chapel relations in small towns anywhere have not been good. Let's hope it is a thing of the past. So anyway, St. Peter's is only very rarely used for worship, and we have to pay to get into it otherwise, which is a great shame for the people of Barton, some of whom used to like to come and just sit in it. Many Bartonians are not in a position to pay for English Heritage membership. Of course, both our churches are Anglican, but presumably in the distant past they may well have had two mainly separate sets of worshippers. Not many decades ago both were in use month and month about by one congregation, with a special wheelbarrow to take hymnbooks and choir robes between the two.

This is the one we do now use:

We have an excellent musical tradition here, and apart from August, we have full choral evensong at 6 on the first Sunday of the month (as well as other sung evensongs). Our organist Geoff Brown has just written a splendid new setting for the eucharist, 'Missa Rosa Mystica', which we are just learning. I hope we will be a beacon of excellence in congregational singing in the fulness of time, to the glory of God in the highest.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Apricots & Abraham.

Apricots! Growing in Barton-on-Humber, edible, sweet. Fit to give away (but not too many!). Eat them quickly before they become mishmish, the Arabic name for them, I'm told.

A few days on my own - t'owd man is away with the youth group - and in four days I've managed, thanks to apricots etc in the garden, to buy only a bottle of milk. I'm saving for my next camino, but if our garden is so productive, then some of the surplus cash really belongs to Africa. One of our congregation suggested that we should try to live a frugal week and give away what we don't need to spend.

There's not much blogging going on just now, because I'm busy on Sarah & Hagar. Because I no longer teach formally, I don't have to go through all the J,E,D & P stuff that I used to; and anyway, there isn't the confidence any more that this is the way or even (for some) a way to approach the Pentateuch, and so I'm free to look at other stuff treating the final form as something to read rather than to disentangle, and that's a great freedom. Not that that disentangling doesn't have its place, but thankfully it is somehwhat displaced from its previous head-of-table position. I really haven't considered whether any bit is 'J' or 'P', because for me this just isn't important for my purpose.  It's quite a depressing set of stories, since the religions which claim them as to do with their ancestral history often (not always though) seem to have carried on its theme of division, jealousies, non-communication and general human nastiness. So I want to make the piece I do in response to it contain some suggestion of a consciousness of its history through time as a source-book for squabblers. Whether I can complete the work in the allotted time-span, I don't know.

Hagar's stars
Sarah's stars
I'm happy with the idea that the OT broadly contains some stuff that is legend and folk tale, and that some clever people came along and did things with that, adding their own stuff to supplement it and give it new contexts and twists. I'm sure those ancient literary bods never just took over their raw material and left it unchanged. The result is a varied collection of genres, including narratives with very complex sets of events and characters and causes of discontent; and it's hard to exonerate the part God plays in these stories, since for a start he is prone to various degrees of favouritism (though in these stories, for some reason we have often failed to notice how he honours Hagar, but the word 'bless' is never used of her). Is this idea a natural way that humans respond to life's random unfairness? Is 'God did this to me' easier to bear than just 'I've been unlucky' or 'I'm incompetent'? And 'God has blessed me' is potentially something that could release a humility in us and stop us from feeling that we are responsible for all our own successes, unless we feel that it is our just reward for virtues.  Yet the very idea of 'blessing' is to me far too problematic to ever claim for myself, as it seems to create an un-blessed group, and I don't like that; even if Abraham is somehow meant to spread the blessing out. Mmmm. A big part of the glory of these stories is perhaps in the reflection they can provoke in the reader, if you can let go of wholesale identification with one or other of the characters. (Imagine if the whole nation were to get down to it instead of reading the News of the World or similar.) I could get stuck here going over and over things, but I'm trying to do something textile that embodies some of my musings, and it isn't easy. But then you just have to get on with it and 'cut something out', which in cloth terms is the opposite of what the phrase means in literary terms.

When Sarah & Hagar gets to a stage where I think it might work, then I'll put some of it here. Oh look! Some crept in, just so I can look at it and consider. This is stuff I've produced that will be cut up and applied in smaller bits, but it's nice in the piece. Abraham plays a part in making their descendants as numerous as the stars.

But this is also about apricots, and so here is our lovely visitor Fr. Patrick enjoying the one I gave him. I also converted him to becoming an enthusiast for Grayson Perry's art (it didn't take long as Patrick understands this kind of thing); subject of a future blog post, I think.....