Monday, 31 October 2011

Harry, Ultreia!

In search of the perfect Eccles cake, I set off on my ride to the Other Side (of the Humber) and was not disappointed; combined with the quest for fitness and to lose the 3 lb I put on in the Whitby hol, of course.

But a bike trip is rarely totally uneventful, and I was glad that the chain fell off my bike at the bottom of the slope up to the bridge on the Yorks side, as this was when I met a new friend. This chap stopped to help me as I wrestled, even to the point of not being fazed when I started to scream because I had got my finger end caught in the mechanism, and every minute (that's pronounced my-newt) movement of the bike in any direction seemed to pull the finger in further and I worried I would lose part of it. Not a help for an embroiderer.

So then we started to walk up the slope together, and eventually across the whole bridge to Barton. He's called Harry Webster, and you can't get a better and more straightforward Yorkshire name than that. He turned out to be a sports coach, and so I got a bit of free tuition from him in breathing. What you have to do is to develop your intercostal and outercostal chest muscles, and this is how:

Lie down, head on a thin pillow (or you can even do it standing up) and steadily blow all the air you can out of your lungs through pursed lips; really ALL of it, every last bit you can. Then inhale slowly through the pursed lips again, until your lungs are really full. Then hold the breath there for a few seconds, as long as you can. Repeat the whole thing 4 or 5 times to start with, building up to about 12. It will hurt, he tells me, but it is an exercise that has helped asthma sufferers to get rid of their complaint. Worthwhile doing whether you are in tiptop or poor health. 

Thanks for that, Harry, I hope I got it right here.

Harry told me (and said it was OK for me to tell the story too) about a time when he had been at a really low ebb in his life with family and financial problems and had had his sporting life potentially ruined by injuries from being knocked down by a car. He was just about to commit suicide, and had put the gun by the sofa overnight. In the morning, he opened the curtains; it was very frosty, and a shaft of sunlight lit up the garden. There on the grass were half a dozen kinds of bird he had never seen before. Wow! he said.
 He got rid of the gun two days later as a
 result, and his life started to turn round for the better from that moment. He told me the little poem he had written:

"Destined for some higher plane,
my efforts fraught with stress and pain
to conquer failure kept at bay
by thoughts of this another day."

We continued to chat about fitness, and how so much is dependent on doing what you do with good posture; keep your deltoids (muscles in the upper arm) above your hips. And also, make an effort yourself, lots of effort - don't expect fitness to drop out of a bottle of pills.

And so we strode across the bridge together at a good pace. Bear in mind he is 68 and has 2 new hips and a new knee. We continued to talk about fitness, and he asked me if I liked walking; 'Indeed!' I said, and told him about the camino de Santiago de Compostela, and by now I felt he was just the kind of person who would enjoy it, and who would contribute a lot to the group life that is such a part of it.

At the other end, we bumped into someone on a bike who knew him, a PE teacher, and I realised I had joined a new social circle! I took my leave of him, and felt grateful simply for the existence of good people, and for the chain dropping off when it did.

It's a great tea-time, folks! I just opened an envelope which turned out to contain a timely tax rebate of £76 from 2008 (when I ought not to have paid any tax at all)! I'm so lucky not to have an income, as it means I pay none! But at least this can go into my savings-for-the-camino, and it will buy me two or three days, or 45 miles or so. Today was just like a camino day or JLTC as I say. I even understand now why I turned the pictures into funny little strips.

Harry, see this - it's good, I promise!
and this:

And some music for the journey:

Oh dear, have I had a relapse into caminomania?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

"Keep Fit With Viv"

Oooh dear! I was getting relentlessly serious! You must have wondered what had happened to me. It couldn't last. Thank goodness. And so tonight we were listening to Radio 2's 'Sunday Half Hour' at 8.30 pm. Don't laugh; they often play some really good hymns sung by excellent choirs, and to tonight we had the trumpetty version of 'All people that on earth do dwell', and 'For all the saints', and finally 'Oh when the saints go marching in'. This last one had me dancing around the kitchen in mi rubber gloves - one blue and one yellow - and after that there was some programme in celebration of the popular song (" can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles" - remember that?), for a whole hour, and I couldn't stop the dancing and remembered that that is what kitchens are really for.

Mirror, mirrors on the wall
Then I thought that I ought to share with my public, both of you, this secret of a healthy life, so here goes. You will need some space, a minumum of 4 ft x 4 ft. If it is more, all well and good, but if it is only this, then don't despair. You will need some mirrors on the wall (illustrated) - as many as will fit - so that you can check your posture, and also pull faces at yourself and not feel as though you are dancing alone. Also some suitable shoes, preferably from a dancing shop - some things that are like very bendy trainers are ideal - but make sure you have a good springy sole if you think you might leave the ground at any stage; you have to land again sometime after all. No special clothes recommended, though perhaps make sure your underwear is suitable for viewing by the public as it may well become visible as you get hotter and take off the outer layers, and if your kitchen window is near a footpath, well... Then the music.

This can be something you have chosen, or it might be just something on the radio that gets you going all of a sudden without warning. I was alerted to the music of John Adams this way one teatime when Radio 3 was on:; and mediaeval pilgrim music is a good choice, as I think it was designed to get them covering the miles without noticing; they'd fly by with this (I speak from experience) which is excellent.

Remember you have to land sometime
Then just let rip. Do whatever you like, as long as it is moving, fast or slow. Clutch a couple of weights up to about a kilogramme, and get whirling like a windmill, or remember some yoga poses from some past class you went to and do moving versions; or the Black and White minstrels will do; whirl, twirl, waltz, strip the willow, tap dance, whirling dervish stuff, tai chi-like slow stuff, any kind of movement, and I'd say especially one you invent as you go along, is all that is needed. You aren't trying to impress anyone except yourself. 'Blimey!' I think, 'I can do 'I'm a tree blowing in a gale' as well as any six-year-old'. The idea is not to do any particular dance, unless there are some that you used to do or aspire to do. The point is to move, and to move joyfully. That's all. Do this a minimum of three times in a week, and I can guarantee that you will improve in fitness by the end of that week, and your sessions will get longer and longer, because you'll enjoy it, which is more than you can say for most of the dreary exercise routines you've probably tried in the past. If you really can't leave the ground, then just wiggle and jiggle.

If you have some weights, say from kitchen scales, that you can arrange in a heap that in total weighs as much as your excess, if you have any, then you'll enjoy looking at it and thinking how it's going to disappear in a fun way. Don't knock it till you've tried it!

Disclaimer: Viv accepts no responsibility for smashed kitchen equipment, broken bones, silly smiles due to lift in your mood, or visits from the noise abatement people that may occur as a result of these practices.

The new world.

Fings ain't wot they used to be! Of course not, and how could they be! T'owd man is constantly telling me just how much the world has changed in the last 20 years or so; and that's official. There have never in the whole history of humanity been so many changes affecting us so quickly. The big thing is the internet of course. But apparently the scale of change is so big, so rapid, so far-reaching and deep, that we can hardly comprehend it. I think that humanity ought to give itself a pat on its collective head for coping as well as we do. But the strange thing is that we don't seem to notice the fact until it is pointed out to us!

And so it happens that we read the Bible in a rather different context from how we did in, say, the 1950s. Those of us in ministry or vicarages can get rather tired of hearing bishops who got to the top of the tree (they're dropping off now, thank the gods) by rising up through the ranks in the 1960s sounding off about how they made a great success of ministering in some big tough council estate, and how the church was packed etc etc. Yawn, I'm afraid; yawn. Telling us about that ad infinitum does nothing to help us who struggle in these days of indifference towards religion. It's a trip down memory lane, and has to be seen as that, before those of us around now start to feel performance anxiety when they bash on just that bit too long. But if we remember the content of my first paragraph, then we can perhaps relax a bit about ourselves.

Humber squiggle
We who are now in our in our 50s experienced some of the first chills to run through society. We'd been to university and colleges, some of us, and yet it was starting to be the case that there were not enough jobs of the right kind for graduates. But there was no comfort out there, because our elders were still stuck in the mentality that said that if you worked hard and passed exams, then your present and your future was assured. If things didn't go like that for you, then clearly you were at fault and needed a few lessons in self-presentation, and then all would be OK. But we young 'uns knew it wasn't like that. We could see the writing on the wall for the 'it's with...' approach; by which I mean that attitude to life which sees most things that happen as all down to something we have done. I could never so much as catch a cold without it being my fault for not wearing a coat on one occasion. Never mind that I experienced hypothermia in 2008 and didn't catch one after that, the British like to think that colds are self-generated. 'It's with [going on a bus] [having a young person in the house who goes to school] [having/not having the central heating on too early in the year]...' Being unemployed too - 'It's with [not working hard enough at school] [not going to the interview with a properly ironed shirt] etc etc...' It was a comforting world when you could take refuge in 'It's with...' Part of this was that you could read the Bible - those bits which are heavy on blame for floods and massacres and stuff included - and take comfort that it'll never happen to you, because you didn't do those things which brought it on.

Of course, there were some uncomfortable happenings, there were floods, and people did catch nasty diseases and all kinds of calamities. But there was a sense of it being possible to be master of your own destiny; more to the point, it was possible to point the finger at people you considered brought their misfortune on themselves.

So in many ways it's a great new world now! Less comfortable in many ways, but misfortune is so widespread, that if we have a touch of it, we no longer have to go through the self-blame ritual! Wonderful! We can blame someone else if we must, but at least we do not have to face the crippling feeling that out there people are heaping blame on us. We are just part of the great mass of unfortunates. What a weight off the mind! I'd much rather be quite poor and blameless than just a bit less poor and held responsible when I know I'm not.

I was going to go all theological and start to go on about how I see the effect of the new context in which we read the Bible, but I think I'll leave this one here: this is the silver lining in the cloud of low church attendance, falling sales, lack of respect for your profession, wotever: it's so widespread and so bad now that we know it's not your fault, it's a feature right across the whole western world! Rejoice, again I say, rejoice! Relax! Enjoy a bike ride across the Humber! Spend your time doing things of no benefit to the GDP and don't feel guilty! Wow - is this the dawning of a really, really new age?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Humber mud and self-help

Humber mud today, south bank
There are two sorts of people, those who read 'self help' books and those who don't. (But I really prefer, as I read somewhere recently: "There are two sorts of people, those who divide people into two sorts, and those who don't; I don't".)

I suppose there are some people who never buy a self-help book, and I imagine they think quite scornfully about those of us who do; the ignominy of having to resort to a book to help one get on with one's life; why not just... get on with it? And do they work anyway? Somewhere we have a book called 'Organising for creative people'; I did come across it the other day on a shelf, but I think it has now lost itself again. I remember though that it said something about creative people not being able to 'see' things that are filed away upright in filing cabinets etc; things have to be displayed horizontally with the titles visible, or we simply don't believe they exist any more. A bit like how I used to have to find transparent cake tins in which to put my home baking, since our boys would never look in an opaque tin; the stuff had to be immediately visible or the cakes, however much they liked them, remained uneaten.

But do self-help books work? I don't know, because I don't know what I'd have been like if I'd never read one. The ones I go for tend to be all about organising space and time, and getting rid of creative block, which for me are all aspect sof the same thing. Some people can create in a mess; I can't.

Humber mud, N bank

A self-help book I'm on with at the minute is quite old, from 1994, called 'The Artist's Way: A Course in Discovering your Creative Self' by Julia Cameron. I picked it up intending to tidy it away to a charity shop, but then started to read it, and working backwards I began to be impressed with it, as it suggested solutions which are things I already do and which seem to work; so I figured that if it recommended things that I already know work for me, then the things I haven't tried yet might also work. Thus the book recommends that every morning you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness stuff, which can be total rubbish, and somehow it is supposed to - supposed to - I'm not sure quite what it's supposed to  do; (that reveals me as a book-skimmer) - ah, it says it will lead me to a 'connection with a source of wisdom within'. Ummm! Just the kind of b*llsh*t to put me off this book. I even skimmed the last few pages to see what is supposed to happen to me if I follow this programme faithfully, and I saw the words 'sacred circle' and I was even more put off!! But I will try writing these 'morning pages' that are allowed to be total rubbish; no, I haven't reproduced them exactly here, no; they are supposed to be kept secret, even from me.

Tile yard, with car park
But the thing that I already do and helps me, that the book recommends, is to trot off on some physical exercise session. So today conditions seemed just right for a bike ride across the Humber in search of porridge oats from the health food shop in Hessle; quite the best porridge I know. Passed the tile yard on the south bank below the bridge, which is being developed as a tourist attraction; jolly good, but was it necessary to concrete over what seems to be a whole field for a car park? Aren't there greener-looking alternatives?

Some sadist in the bridge administration lot had decided that only the west path was to be open, and this meant that on the way back I even had to pedal hard in first gear in the teeth of a southwesterly to get me downhill.While out trying to stay afloat/moving forwards or whatever, you do at least get a bit of respite from the worry of wondering whether you ever had any good ideas.

Just the thing for the camino?
But I will try this self-help thing and report back on progress, and we shall see. I'm doing it for you, so you don't have to! In the meantime, I stuck a few pics on the blog from my ride to the exotic county to the north. No, I didn't get one of the tiger jump suits, tempted though I was; in thick fleece, just the thing for writing in, or anything, but....

Friday, 28 October 2011

"I have never seen the righteous forsaken..."

I got really irritated today. I suddenly exploded, 'I really think the Bible is a most irresponsible document. I don't approve of it putting about the idea that if you do everything right, then your life will go right too.' You know the stuff - the idea that 'you reap what you sow'. It crops us every now and again all over the place, in Proverbs, Psalms, and the notorious Deuteronomistic history, and I wouldn't know about the New Testament. Not that they don't have other ideas too, such as that the poor sometimes get a raw deal and we ought to be nice to them. But this 'I-have-been young-and-I-have-been-old-and-I-have-never-seen-the-children-of-the-righteous-begging-for-bread' stuff in Psalm 37. Awful. Even Augustine in his commentary on those psalms had to do some exegetical gymnastics and make it somehow refer to the eucharist, so he wasn't exactly comfortable with the plain sense.

Whitby keeps the fun in funerals.
I used to tell students that the book of Proverbs was suitable for children, as it might encourage them to work hard with its promise of reward for righteous living and hard work. The book of Job was like a night out at the theatre for adults where this view of the universe was challenged out of the hearing of children. At the end of the play, all is restored to hunkydory-ness, the ornaments are back on the mantlepiece not moving (I'm thinking of Bagpuss here, ) and we can get on with the business of bamboozling the children as usual. And then Ecclesiastes is a journal by a slightly depressive character looking back on his life, musing on these things.

But today it seemed to me that life would be a lot better if nobody ever got hold of such a preposterous idea in the first place; never teach something you have to un-teach. Why tell children something that is patently a lie? Are we afraid that if we don't dangle this notion before them, of hard work getting its reward in personal prosperity (job, house, holidays etc) they will just give up and find no reason for getting out of bed?

I think we ought to experiment for at least a generation and tell them the truth, then they won't be disappointed if life or nature or whatever has nor come up with the complete set of goods that we deem essential equipment for a happy, healthy and prosperous life. They'd be able to get used at an early stage to the idea of life having a large element of randomness, luck of the draw stuff; and they'd be given lessons at school in shrugging shoulders, as part of a new combined subject of philosophy, religion and PE.
Say this carefully.

But t'owd man heard me sounding off, and said 'But there is a further thought', and suggested that there is a use for the idea of people getting a just reward for their deeds; it often doesn't work for individuals, but it does work for societies. As a society, we get what we deserve. If our collective values find expression in celebrity culture and all that you find me harrumphing at on this blog, then society will go the way it does, and what a mess it can seem. If on the other hand our values were different, and we planted orchards and valued the making of things of good quality, looked after the old and the young properly, invested as much as we could in health care and wholesome living and good food for all, and... well you know what I think.... if we did those things, then society would reap what it sowed, and there would be better support and safety nets for individuals who experienced misfortune. So Proverbs, Psalm 37 etc does work across a whole society, but doesn't work so well in a highly individualistic culture.

Well done, old man! Barring natural disasters, I think he's really onto something.

But I included the pics here as I thought the blog might look a bit too earnest if I didn't bring in 'the holiday photographs' somewhere. And it is getting chilly so I invested in some warm things in M & S yesterday, as these were so useful in Spain's very cold spring last year too. I'm gradually buying things towards my proposed 'next camino', such as the 'heat generating leggings', which I think is the new term for long johns. T'owd man says that in 2013 I can either stick to my plan to do the camino, OR I can have a motorbike. I decided that the purchase of the long johns at least keeps my options open.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Living in the present

Cabbagey things hidden in nasturtiums
Oh I do love the now! I mean the age we live in. I suppose it is one of the worst times to live in a few ways; it depends where you live etc etc and whether you can afford to live at all. But I remember (here an anything-but-misty look comes over me) the 80's. Horrid times in some ways. My kids were little and that was lovely; I enjoyed being a mummy very much. But I could have enjoyed it a bit more if I hadn't been so eaten up by the anxiety that really I ought to be out there doing some 'job', and I felt very much the risk of being called [here I trot off for a moment to Google 'cabbage', and with some relief find that it just means a vegetable now] a 'cabbage'. Those were the heydays of Laura Ashley and Clothkits and some very wholesome clothes where you could get the same item in both mummy's and daughter's versions, and I don't mean the kind of 'glam 6 year old' stuff of now; I mean there was a lot in the way of floral corduroy, and I did rather like it - at the time. But now and again, you'd see one of your mates out somewhere, and hardly recognise her, 'cos she seemed to have sprouted the Big Shoulders of Dallas and Dynasty as she tried to make her way in the World of Work, as it was called, while the kids were at playgroup.

My work today
I was in a bit of a difficult position, 'cos there was this pressure on women to Succeed, but we didn't yet have anything like a sense of disability rights, (rights! hell, I'd have been satisfied with the milk of human kindness; but we do need rights, 'cos of the hardness of the human heart) and so I only stood to lose, since I was not going to be a typist for a tycoon, nor a schoolteacher, nor any of the things where you went to Meetings (the things I feared most) and had to be able to hear properly so that you could come up with some incisive reply that showed that women really were a lot cleverer than men. There weren't really any jobs that didn't involve meetings except for things that were called 'menial', and I'd just come out of uni with a jolly good dregree and an MA that took me 18 months full time to achieve, and so I had a bit of hauteur about me, which I needed more than most people. And there was this drive to get women into education that was aimed at what were called 'women returners', who were assumed to be in need of some basic literacy training, as they obviously thought we didn't retain information for long.

So I felt perpetually uncomfortable, and never had the right answer to any question, and there was only ever one question that people seemed to ask me, and that was 'What do you dooooo?' when my kids were well old enough for me to be allowed to do something else in the daytime.

But now! Oh NOW! Oh wow! I'm only sorry I never stuck to my original intentions cooked up when I was about 6, which was to become a tight-rope-walking nun ("TRWN" for short). Still, maybe I have some of these elements in my life; vicar's wife/ biblical person/ windsurfing. You can see the continuity. Somehow I feel that it would go down a lot better now to be a TRWN that it would have done in the 80s, when there would have been questions about the career structure. It seems to me that NOW we are very much more accepting of people's individuality, in fact it is seen as a positive advantage to have a bit of a quirky CV.

Vita Sackville-West may have had one.
But how did I get here? It was because I was thinking today: Now what shall I do, I have these fruit flies threatening to take over the house because of all the apples lying about - tons of them - and I have this exhibition coming up for which I will need a quantity of embroidery - around three kilogrammes of the stuff, at least - so how do I choose what to tackle first? And I thought about all the women of the past making the choice between attending to the harvest - which is urgent - and attending to the embroidery - which is important. And I had a little smile to myself at the continuity with those women (omitting the 80's of course), and thanked the gods that I could feel comfortable without the Dallas/Dynasty padded shoulders or today's equivalent. Today IS much better than yesterday.

But a bit of a digression - just look at the pics of the harvest - crab apples, perhaps the most beautiful of fruits, here cultivated varieties 'Golden Hornet' and 'Gorgeous', and some quinces. (And out in the garden, I was wondering why some fruits grow with a deep waxy shine, and others grow with that velvet bloom. HOW does it happen, and what is the assumed natural advantage of one or the other?) But you will notice a wonderful aluminium thing containing some of the crop. One of our friends once asked what it was, seeing it hanging on a hook. I said it was designed primarily to be a container for water that you sling round your body when you go out to pick flowers; Vita Sackville West probably had one, I should think. The friend looked unconvinced, and said that to him, the thing really looked like an elephant condom, and I'm glad to say, the name has stuck. If only he were around now to name that pink thing above.

On a cloud

I did something different today. I just did a 'Blog Page' which allowed me to babble on a bit more extensively about Sarah and Hagar. I think you can get to it by looking at the menu at the side, and it is there at the top right, 'Sarah and Hagar explained on a cloud'. It contains the 'blurb' that I sent in to Southwark when I delivered the pieces to them, and which I gave to the very nice Will Harrison  from Lincoln diocese's in-house mag, Crosslincs, which can be read online:

Preparing to sail
and in which I am to appear, next issue if there is room (well it IS the Christmas edition, so that's very apt - will there be room for me? As there will be a new bishop rightly taking up a lot of space; and we have high hopes of him poor thing; bet he's as nervous as I am at the thought of next year's exhibition. I must pray for him whenever I get the collywobbles. Funny, he was consecrated on Sept 21st in London, the day after I got my prize. We go in a kind of tandem, his new life and mine.)

So if it is of interest, do go to my very first Page.

I'm really happy that I've managed to complete a yearly task which holds terrors for me, creating the SOTS Autumn Address List and other related lists. Otherwise, today is the day I hope to really get to grips with the washing up, and tiding up my lair in readiness for my year of hard labour. Once I'm on the water, I'll be fine. Much love to all my readers! Please pray for me!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Music hall

T'lads'll go ballistic! They're always telling me I grumble too much about things I can't change, and that I ought to count my blessings etc etc. I've been looking round the vicarage wistfully, thinking 'Wouldn't it be nice if there were just SOMETHING you could say about this place, such as it has some charming feature/ is spacious / has lots of cupboards... just SOMEthing.

It DOES have a lovely garden, but most of the year one lives inside, looking at a desk or sewing machine. I heard recently of someone moving into a vicarage where they have been able to put their grand piano in the hallway, and so I thought 'Don't get downhearted, Viv, do the same!' and so you can see from the pic that I have tried to stop my grumbles and make the best of it. What, you mean you can't see it? I'd better provide a close-up.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

First steps

It's my lucky day today! I wasn't sure, as it took me 6 hours to get home from London, though the train was not crowded and seemed so spacious I thought I must have gone into first class by mistake. But when I got home, I knocked a toilet roll in to the loo, but caught it before it hit the water!

Pink bag and scarf at the BL
I spent a little time in the British Library cafe, which is so handy for Kings Cross station, since I had failed to find out the train times correctly and had to kill an hour and a half in London; funny, I had to do the same thing in Hull only last Tuesday! I must do this again, but preferably only at the London end so I have time to wait for my train in the lovely cafe (by far the best place to wait for a train from Kings Cross; to reflect on, savour the days away, and prepare for the homeward stretch), where I decided not to open my laptop, and instead unrolled and perused my new dress pattern designed by the Carolyn Denham of Merchant and Mills This one, the Panel,  is no. 7 on the list, and no. 3 was the starting point for the Sarah and Hagar dresses. Carolyn cuts patterns beautifully (presented in traditional cardboard form), unlike a lot of the dowdy offerings in the more usual paper pattern outfits that just make one yawn or cringe, and often both.
More practice needed

But the piece de resistance of today's pics is surely this one of grandson Eddie taking his first steps. Well, not literally his first; actually about his 6th, 7th and 8th. It's a bit blurry, for obvious reasons - he was moving and I was excited.

I'll have to stop now as I have work to do tonight.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

What has Grayson Perry done for me?

Being a Grandma means that every time I lean forward while typing on the laptop, there is the noise of some farm animal (no, not ME, silly!) because the kiddies' book I'm resting on is a clever one. Eric pointed out tonight at story time that I have a very wrinkly neck and hands, and look VERY old. Funny, I don't seem to mind at all. Reading yesterday's blog, I could see just how old I am - thinking that the new generation is not going to learn to make stuff etc etc, yawn yawn, 'In MY day...'! - well maybe they aren't going to do the same things that we did, but no doubt they will do good things.

Opening day at Knitting & Stitching Show
This morning I went to Ally Pally just to get the catalogue for the Knitting & Stitching Show that I'm going to tomorrow, and there were these hordes of women arriving, showing that making is alive and well, and I'm sure it won't all be cross-stitch kits. I know; I'm a craft snob; such kits are fine, but I wouldn't see the point for myself; I want what I make to me mine, all mine.

You can see what a tribe these women are, and I'm obviously identifiable too, since two of them approached me some miles off Ally Pally asking 'Where is the shuttle bus?', just expecting me to know that they meant the bus supposedly laid on from the station to the Palace itself. I sympathised. I'm so lucky to have family just round the corner from the one event I'd hate to miss the most. That bunting is all made of knitted triangles by the way. I'll find out more tomorrow!

Today was Grayson Perry Day for me at the British Museum, the first day of his new exhibition 'The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman', which he said could be another name for the British Museum. I wrote down many things he is quoted as saying, as well as some the things he has written on his pots. I love the one called 'The Frivolous Now', on which he lists many things that are very much the thing of today, as all the stuff in the BM was at one time. Thus he listed, among many other things, phrases like 'Going forward', 'The Big Society', Botox, Corporate spirituality, Mumsnet, and much more. All without comment, except that he refers to them 'Banalities and buzzwords'.

It's bigger than it looks here
I like the words at the entrance: 'Do not look too hard for meaning here. I am not a historian, I am an artist. That is all you need to know.' Of course, he understands a lot about the objects he has chosen from the BM, which stand alongside things he has made himself. Often, from a short distance away, it is hard to tell which objects are GP's creations, and which are antiquities; that's the point, well one of them.

I like it that he says, 'Part of my role as an artist is similar to that of a shaman or witchdoctor. I dress up, I tell stories, I give things meaning and make them a bit more significant. Like religion, this is not a rational process, I use my intuition. Sometimes our very human desire for meaning can get in the way of having a good experience of the world. Some people call this irrational unconscious experience spirituality. I don't.' Oh good. I'm not myself a big fan of that word either.

GP is a big fan of Joseph Beuys, about whom I must find out more, and here is some stuff to be going on with:

What really impresses me is GP's humorous turning of his teddy Alan Measles into a kind of god. I love the embroidery where Alan is shown with his arms spread over the adherents of other religions, giving them wise advice 'Hold your beliefs lightly'. GP is an atheist, but he doesn't hate religion in the way that some atheists do, and instead of mounting an agressive anti-religion campaign, he makes a gentle plea for, well, for gentleness among the religious, I suppose. He has a lot more sense on this than some intellectuals who ought to know better.

The idea of pilgrimage is one that appeals to GP, and there are objects arranged in categories such as maps, shrines, souvenirs of pilgrimage, magick etc. I'd say that like me, he is religious but not spiritual, though of course I stray into belief into the more usual god.

Have a look at this sneery review by Brian Sewell:
and if you like GP, go to this exhibition and enjoy; see and Maybe I'm a simple soul, but I just loved it, and I don't want anybody to be nasty about him.

I'm still in London, of course, and I suppose this sort of thing is normal. It really does just sell fruit and veg and stuff, so maybe it just lacks a grocers' apostrophe, and there is someone called Ero.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Adding, subtracting, transforming.

 Mmm, London, love it! Today I met the vibrant 'hanging committee' of Southwark Cathedral, regarding the exhibition of things yet to be created (aaargh!) for next November, after my success in the Lancelot Andrewes art comp. Some prize - a year's hard labour; but for me, this is a real gift. Lots of things seemed to 'happen' today.


The nave of the cathedral was full of clergy, recognisable by a band of white around many of the visible necks. There was some interesting-sounding lecture going on when I arrived, so I asked the bod on the door what it was. In the manner well known to me from visiting many cathedrals, I was treated to, 'The Clergy of the Diocese are Having a Talk' - which I had in fact noticed! And despite being dressed in the pink hat and various give-away what you might call 'artistic' garments and accessories, I was addressed by the man-on-the-door as though I were a  trainee in  counting envelopes, and only 5 years old to boot. So I stayed on for 15 minutes or so and heard some 'Blah blah.. theological reflection.. blah blah artists....' and thought it was really up my street, though in fact it seemed to be arguing the case for taking art seriously as a medium in which to exegete the Bible, and I think I'm a fully-persuaded practitioner now.

Southwark Cathedral peeps in here just R of centre

So after a discussion of what I might produce for next November, I went on to the V & A museum for the afternoon, and was disappointed to find that the fashion and textile stuff is very much Not There, as it is being reshuffled and will not be available until some time next year. But there was an interesting exhibition on called 'The Power of Making', celebrating, well, making! My reactions were mixed. Great that the exhibition is taking place, and I couldn't agree more with the basic premisses of it, and the blurb - see link below - talks of 

making involving adding, subtracting or transforming; for embroidery, the process is mainly is adding, combining. Sculpture would involve subtracting, and ceramics, transforming. Geddit? I liked this bit of blurb:

Old holiday place for bishops of Winchester
"Thinking by making: Many people think that craft is a matter of executing a preconceived form or idea, something that already exists in the mind or on paper. Yet making is also an active way of thinking, something which can be carried out with no particular goal in mind*. In fact, this is a situation where innovation is very likely to occur.
Even when making is experimental and open-ended, it observes rules. Craft always involves parameters, imposed by materials, tools, scale and the physical body of the maker. Sometimes in making, things go wrong. An unskilled maker, hitting the limits of their ability, might just stop. An expert, though, will find a way through the problem, constantly unfolding new possibilities within the process."

*Jez was once making something with scrap card etc; his gran asked 'What are you making, Jeremy?' 'I don't know', he replied, 'I haven't finished it yet'. Out of the mouths of babes...

Timber Wave at the V & A
So what didn't I like? Mainly the fact that this exhibition is necessary, that these things need to be said. I have a weary sense of 'I have always said that the demise of all kinds of making in this country is a very Bad Thing, and now it has become fashionable to Make, and to do so is out of the reach of many people. Well, it isn't totally, but it is not now part of the everyday; it has been driven out by the ruling classes, and then sold back to us now that it has become unavailable to ordinary folk'; (for this analysis of just about everything from weddings to looking after your own kids, thanks to t'Owd Man.)

Timber Wave again
What I like about London is that round any corner, you find a view that combines something old and something new.  Thus at the V & A, here is a brilliant wooden structure calle 'Timber Wave' designed by AL_A, and made IN LINCOLNSHIRE by Cowley Timberworks. love it! (Remind me to get some new coathangers too when I get home.) While I was photographing it, I dropped my notebook, and a few things fluttered out, business cards, a pressed leaf. A line of young adults sitting on the steps nearby failed to bother to leap up as I think I would have done, to help me gather it up. I got the paper bits, but I clutched at various dry leaves forlornly, as none nearby was the right one. But then an elderly man about to get into a taxi approached me with The Leaf, a pale green dotted with white flecks - no idea what it is - and said he thought I'd dropped it. This made me feel sad, that the young people had just left me to flail after my stuff, but this man had followed the leaf that fluttered away from me, and he knew it was precious, even though he didn't look as though he had ever been a hippy, and he did something to help. I hope that young people of now will be able to 'be bothered' to master the skills of making with a bit more application than the sample before me who didn't bother to get off their bums to help a poor little old lady whose stuff was blowing away in the wind.

There are certain ways of smoothing and manipulating cloth when you're working with it that you just can't teach people, you have to find it out by having an aim in mind and problem-solving as you go along.

So how do I feel at the end of this day? What have I learned? What concerns do I have? Mmmm. There seemed to be a lot of shops selling food ready made (restaurants, they call them) and none selling any of the raw ingredients for me to sew. Even The Globe theatre had no Tudor straw hats in the shop, only baseball caps. I feel uneasy. Can the young - and I mean a larger swathe than just those attracted to art colleges etc -  be given the time and the wherewithall to be able to 'make'? Or will they tire quickly and get back to the Blackberries, iPods etc? The idea of 'craft' as the book of the exhibition says, is a bit of a tea-cosy over present-day Anglo-Saxon thinking, as though we are trying to get back to Old Ways; and yet if you really try to make anything, you find that it is far from a blood-pressure-lowering activity taking you back into the days of yore. I 'make' while I read the Bible and listen to Radio 4, and the making has the effect of making me think more sharply about the here and now. No way is it some form of escape into the past. I'm both optimistic, but also not at all optimistic; uneasy in fact. I hope my pessimism is unfounded.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Golden Year, Day 1

Oh I do love it in a non-vicarage! There isn't that feeling that someone can just come and GRAB one of the inhabitants and take them away to deal with Something Else. I've had a lovely day so far. Had to spend 2 hours walking round Hull camino-style with my big rucksack (packed with apples, sloe gin and cake) 'cos my over-55s ticket (Damn! I didn't have to PROVE my age!) was only valid on certain trains and I just missed one. So I chatted to a Big Issue seller, who was a young woman expecting a baby, but her ankles were swollen up, poor thing. I tend to buy a Big Issue when I have just, or am about to do something a bit extragavant. Going to London for 4 nights is sort of extravagant, except that now I call it 'research' since I'm going to be going to 3 museums/exhibitions - the V & A. Grayson Perry's thing at the BM, and the Knitting & Stitching Show. But I do a lot of sitting on park benches with a sandwich and some orange squash. I chatted to someone who was working for the Red Cross, and I said Sorry mate, I look richer than I am, 'cos I make my own clothes; or is it the opposite? He politely didn't say, and when he found out I was called Vivienne, he said that was a good name for someone who makes her own clothes (thanks, Mum!). I said, honestly, in this country, we really grumble about the weather, and all the time, the Red Cross is having to deal with places where the weather actually KILLS people. I'm in that state of camino-like openness when I'm on the road, and I talk to anyone and everyone.

No pics taken today, but here is a pic of the bags that my accomplice and I made at an embroidery and spirituality thingy: Today I loaded mine (the one on the left) up with sloe gin, apples, tomatoes, something called 'Grandma cake'.... so it now has a bit of a used look, but I find that things improve a bit when they get that slight patina of London Underground-ish muck.

So now I'm at Sonny no. 1's place, and the poor thing keeps yelping whenever some kiddie comes to give him an enthusiastic hug, and he says he is not going to want to go out tonight and be sitting on bar stools. (THAT operation). So now those grand-kids are a limited edition.

While in central London, I paid a visit to the British Library, and went to the Ritblat Gallery and saw a lot of stars: the Luttrell Psalter, the Egerton Genesis, the Holkham Bible, the Golden Haggadah, some beautiful Qurans I contributed toward the purchase of the St. Cuthbert Gospel too formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel - - a piece of bookbinding from the 7th Century (DO judge a book by its cover sometimes) - OK, 50 pence, but look, I'm a sump, not a wage-earner. The kept-woman's mite. I was rather bowled over, and this on top of a sudden surge of inspiration for my exhibition (some quite unsuitable, but I accept it all gratefully) next November, that I felt quite worn out. Grandson Eric, having last time paid me the - to him - compliment of  'Oooh, Grandma, you look so OLD!' asked me if I had my brain with me, so I said I might have left it on a train, or it might have plopped down the drain.

Today is maybe the first day of what, in the absence of a better title yet, I call The Golden Year. This is the year when I have to work hard to produce an exhibition of up to ten works commission-free in the Southwark Cathedral teashop. Mock not; they get more people passing through that than through the average London Gallery. So this is an unrivalled opportunity for me to make my fortune. Lets do the maths: I work all year and make ten things. Let's award me a salary of £10,000 a year for working, say, around a 3/4 full time job. Thus I will have to charge £1,000 per piece in order to generate that. Oh dear! I think not! OK then, 20 quid. My aim is to make enough so I can do the camino again. Then when I've done it, I'll have nothing left, be totally skint, and have a sketch book full of blisters and one of my ideas for embroidery will have got going. But I will have heard that holy nun, or similar, sing that song.... Go on, watch, turn up the volume! Weep! The more I make on this exhibition, the more baths I can have along the way; I thought maybe every ten days I might stop in a proper hotel?? and go to the museum of Pilgrimage in Astorga where there is also a museum of chocolate  but I won't be going to that.

Oooh! Sonny has just brought me dinner, his sausage and bean casserole; he might be sore down there, but thank goodness, it has not affected his cooking skills!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Quashed, not squashed.

Mmmm, I know now what an insect feels like, not in a nasty way, but rather like the kind of little obscure thing that hasn't been given a name yet, and then suddenly it says in the papers in a half-inch of a column, 'New species discovered in Madagascar' or wherever. So when I found out that one of the judges of the Southwark art competition had a declared interest in 'art as exegesis', I suddenly felt as though I existed in a way I had not existed before! since what I do is meant to be 'textile exegesis'; I had even made myself a badge saying 'Textile exegete' (pic not included as it came out all blurry).

In case you aren't familiar with the term, this is from Wikipedia:

"Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι 'to lead out') is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used for greater specificity. The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance."

There were two judges, one from Tate Britain, and Prof, Ben Quash, the man from Kings College London, who said:
"The main comments I have are on the winning adult entry. It seems to me to capture some of the importance of the frequent 'doubling' effect in the OT/Hebrew BIble, where the significance of something emerges out of the juxtaposition of two versions of it. So, for example, there are two creations - the second being after the Flood. There are two givings of the Law (Moses gets the tablets a second time, having broken the first set). And in this case, there are two partners of Abraham )Hagar and Sarah), and two children of promise (Ishmael and Isaac). The matching garments (with their womb-pockets) are doubles of each other that invite us to attend closely to their subtle differences.
Then some wonderful surprises emerge. Hagar, often viewed by mainstream Judaeo-Christian tradition as the offcast one, emerges as the more free, colourful, joyous figure, and this is because she is in some way able to emerge from Abraham's shadow and become his equal, as herself the progenitor of a great nation. The colours are brighter and the lines more flowing. Sarah's are dominated by black, and by rigid straight lines. The '1st', which is Hagar's badge, is an ironic reference to her coming 'second' in Abraham's affections, but has the more positive meaning that she - like Abraham - is really an *originator*: the first of a new line...
The little attributes of the children in the womb are charming and meaningful. I always think that one could do a Freudian reading of Ishmael's becoming a great bowman, because when his mother set him down in the desert, believing they were both about to die, she moved a bowshot's distance away in order to sit down and weep. So the child's longing to reach the mother whom he fears  might abandon him is measured by a bowshot, and his whole life's task becomes about crossing the distance he needs to cross in order to regain his mother... Of course he became an archer (Freud would say!)."
This is a very generous summing up, and also adds considerably to my own understanding of the text, especially the bit about Ishmael the archer, which explains something I felt at a subcoscious level, and hopefully is an indication that in trying to be faithful to the text, I have carried things over from the text that are there and that I didn't fully understand while I did it. Reception history in the making; not 'misunderstanding' but 'furthering understanding' as a result of his dialogue with the text and with my pieces. I hope that future viewers of the pieces will take on board the reasons elaborated by Ben for how and why it is important for Ishmael had to have a bow and arrow on the front of his tunic, just as Isaac has a woolly lamb/ram. Brilliant of him. For info on Ben Quash, you can begin here:
Following this link, I began to find out about a process called 'Scriptural Reasoning', which is about members of the three Abrahamic faiths reading their scriptures together in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and nothing to do with collapsing three faiths together into one. It got very interesting, and I could see that this is something for real intellectuals to do, and that my role is to cheer from the sidelines and get back to my sewing. But it made me feel proud that I had included in my pieces a circle broken into three equal parts, with a symbol on each for Judaism, Islam and Christianity: looking forward to a time when adherents of these can all exist together peacefully, which is one of the aims of Scriptural Reasoning. And so I am looking forward very much to the arrival of a book by Ben, co-authored with Michael Ward:

The second line of the title is 'Why it matters what Christians believe'. This is so exciting. It might rekindle in me an interest in the New Testament and its chief character, who has been rather sidelined by Hagar of late; but I'm sure he's big enough to take that, and will welcome me back.

I think that's enough serious stuff for one blog entry; and the insect needs to get to bed. I'll end by sticking in the pics of work-in-progress; it seems ages since I was doing this, and now I have to get on with the work for the exhibition-in-a-teashop next November. There ought to be a name for this coming year of work, a golden year I hope, which I'm sure will have its highs and its lows; and will hopefully set me on a good path of regular, purposeful work, to replace my tendency to go hell for leather for a few weeks and then flake out. The piece of collagraph printing I did months ago was an unintended summing up of the angel's words to Hagar in Genesis 16, 'Whence camest thou? And whither wilt thou go?' and the words roam around my head now. Hagar is told to 'Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands'. This 'submit' makes me think of putting my hand to the plough, of the times when the going is hard and there seems to be no future in what one is working at, but the only thing is to keep at it. But then this mistress sends Hagar away: 'Cast out this bondwoman and her son', and off she goes, taking with her that product of her captivity which is most precious to her, and she nurtures him and he prospers under her care - imagine her getting her resolve together to make a real go of single motherhood - and he arrives at independence (but then I think also of how he is to 'dwell in the presence of all his brethren') , the 'wild ass of a man'. I could go nowhere with all this; but I hope it will be somewhere. I hope that what I say in words or pictures will simply be some small way contribute to the ongoing dialogue. There never is, and never can be, any 'last word' on the stuff in the Bible.We just scratch the surface, and miraculously, its underlayers seem constantly to grow anew  - I was going to say 'in every generation' but I have to say 'every time an individual opens it'; this for me is where the miracle of the Bible lies.