14.4.21

The birds sing goodnight

 



It’s been a ‘wading through treacle’  kind of day for no good reason, and although I’ve managed to do some of the things that needed to be done, it still doesn’t feel like enough. So it’s time to say goodnight to today, and take comfort in a quiet evening. Things are growing and tonight the birds were singing gloriously, so do turn your volume up, if you can’t hear them. 


Mr Pheasant briefly interrupted this pleasant melodiousness with his inelegant,  croaky squawk, but he is part of home too. Time for bed as the sun sets, country style. 

7.4.21

Gluing myself back together


Post Easter seems as good a time as any to resurrect my blog. It’s been a very difficult winter. I have a tendency to keep things to myself, trying to make the best of whatever problems I have and it’s hard to know what to write without sounding like a whiner (although I have unburdened myself a little in the safety of my Patreon page, where my lovely readers have seen far too many photos of my working in bed).


Apart from battling with the cold, I came close to burn out recently, as I struggled to put my book together and maintain a living with my shop. It just isn’t possible to do these two full time things at the same time; I’m too worn out from the things that life has thrown at me. Sometimes I feel like a pot that has been dropped many times and glued back together and I’m getting to the point where if I’m dropped again, I may fragment into so many little pieces that no amount of glue will put me back together again.



Reluctant to acknowledge how bad I was feeling, I was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything, my book work was lagging and the prospect of having to put the cottage on the market later in the year loomed over me, which I think would have been the final straw. Suffice to say, I felt useless and it’s been hard to maintain a cheerful presence on my social media.



However, I have been the recipient of some immense and unexpected kindness, just as things seemed quite hopeless. I’ve been able to take some much needed time out to rest and repair over Easter. I have been granted a deadline extension after I explained my difficulties to my lovely editor and a few days ago, I had a garden visit from a new Shropshire friend. Being so isolated, I’ve not been able to form many connections since moving here, but for me, lockdown made me not one but two new friends and this one kindly bought me lovely pinky yellow daffodils, which are cheering the cottage up.



It’s a monumental relief to know that I can finish my book without any extra stress and then throw myself back into making and selling, hopefully making a go of things. I’ve finally started painting again. Ideas are sprouting up. I can tackle the garden, knowing that I am safe for the summer.  Spring is here and remarkably, so am I, and I am so thankful for all of it. 




6.2.21

Oxford Marmalade

 


I’m eating a lot of toast this winter. For some reason I've reverted to thick white sliced, which I know isn’t the best health-wise but is cheaper and strangely comforting. I have also had a craving for marmalade and I am unusually particular about marmalade. It has to be Oxford Marmalade (with a capital M).  Now there’s nothing cheap about Oxford Marmalade, but as I’m eating so much toast, I have decided it counts as a proper and necessary food staple.

I’ve formed a little ‘bubble’ with Jean-and-Brian-Next-Door. We are all self isolating and the other week Brian drove me over to a local Co-Op, as I couldn’t get an online delivery in time to save me from having to concoct a meal from the contents of my fridge, which consisted of half a jar of ancient pickled beetroot, three lemons and a small chocolate mousse of uncertain age. It was the first big shop I’ve been in for nearly a year. Mask on, I drifted about, instinctively learning the strange pandemic dance of avoiding other people and not blocking the biscuit aisle for too long. Then I spotted it. Frank Cooper’s Fine Cut Oxford Marmalade. I saw the price, hesitated, then had a ‘sod it’ moment and put it in my basket. 


When I was 19, I moved from a damp bedsit in Bournemouth and life on the dole, to Oxford, to start my art education. I instantly fell in love with the town and greedily drank it all in - sketching in the Ashmolean, discovering real ale, exploring the lovely shops in Little Clarendon Street that I couldn’t afford - yet. Because naturally, I dreamt that I would one day be a well known artist, maybe living in a nice house in the Jericho area, with a studio and well able to afford little luxuries. Back then, there was a dedicated shop on ‘The High’ for Frank Coopers jams and marmalades. I can still remember venturing up the steps and through the slim pilasters that framed the arched doorway,  feeling very daring and buying my first jar of proper thick cut Oxford Marmalade, a real indulgence on my meagre income. 
It was handed over in a fittingly nice white paper bag with a drawing of the shop on both sides and soft string handles. I still have that bag, as I used it to keep Christmas decorations in, although it is of course, older and very worn now - rather like myself. 

The Oxford shop on the High Street shut many years ago and became an antiques centre, which is still there now. But I never lost my early love of the dark, bittersweet - almost sour - flavour of proper marmalade and every time I  taste it, I am momentarily a 20 year old art student again, hungry for artistic fame and wanting to eat the world. So long as it is spread with Oxford Marmalade. 


4.1.21

Sounds all around



It has been too bitterly cold to venture out for some time, but there comes a point when you really have to remind yourself of what legs are for. I have been feeling a bit creaky and my dodgy ankle was aching, but today I was in much need of some fresh air. There is a brisk East wind sweeping the country, which cuts right through you - a ‘lazy wind’ as I believe it is called in the North. So it was a bleak morning and to make my exercise a little more exciting, I challenged myself to find three bits of bright colour or beauty while I was out. Which was quite hard as everywhere seemed drab and chilled. 


Then I heard a quiet swishing and glanced sideways just in time to see an Ash key whirl to the ground. Looking down, I saw how it resembled a tawny owl in full flight. Had I not caught the fragile sound of it’s falling, I may have passed on without noticing.

As I continued my small ramble, I heard the fragile tinkling of running water. No magic spring, but an ordinary drain creating its own music as the icy field water trickled through the muddy echo chamber


Returning homewards, I found myself listening intently for my third ‘moment’. I was no longer on a quest for visual colour, but for the sounds of the winter landscape. And there it was, above my head; the dessicated whispering of long dead leaves, punctuated by the call of a crow. 


My cheeks scoured by the East wind, I reached home and a welcome hot lunch. I did not find the bright colours I had been seeking, but I have found a new interest in the sounds around me, which paint their own aural picture. 



It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to post here, but by way of apology, I have  made my latest post on my Patreon page public, with updates on my recent bedroom makeover - if you follow my Instagram account or are a Patreon, you will know that I’m spending a lot of time working in bed, where I can keep warm. There’s teddy bears and little needle felted geese and everything. 




25.11.20

The soup of life

 

Another early start for me at 7am and while I am shovelling down my first coffee of the day, I thought I’d take advantage of the dark morning to write to my friends and readers here. The last few weeks have been what seems like an insurmountable challenge to get my depleted Etsy shop updated and restocked - lots of things that I have made over the last couple of years and not listed for sale, lots of new work. My anxiety has previously tied me up in knots over how to put work for sale out there without imposing upon people. This is something I’ve always struggled with, but it had become worse over the last few years. Funnily enough, now that I have my life to myself again, I find that much of my anxiety (despite my circumstances) has dissipated. So I’ve been sorting out  pieces that I made and never shown, all of which needed photographing, such as these little rocking horses that I made in Spring 2019. And to my surprise, things are selling.  


After shutting my shop during lockdown, I am at last getting my wools back on sale. They were due for a packaging make over and so each colour has to be re-photographed. This time I wanted to do it properly, instead of the rather prosaic shots I took back in 2013, so I set a theme of a piece of vintage china/ pottery with a crumpled linen backdrop, which has worked nicely. There are roughly 45 wool colours to photograph, when the light in the morning is good enough. 


With all the other things I’m trying to organise, it means that my studio floor has become a melange of wool and various props, and I am still in the middle of all this, putting kits together and working out how much more wool I need to buy in and how much I can just about afford. (You can see the path I’ve made here, from the door to my desk). 


When it gets too cold and dark for me to carry on in my studio, I take my work tray to to bed and make the most of the rest of the day. Sometimes there is cake. I have so many little things to finish off in time for the Christmas season, but I’m not sure if I can do it (the reason why being near the end of this post). 


I’ve been absent from this blog, as I try to cram what was supposed to be a more gradually paced process into a few weeks rather than a few months. After the initial shock of Joe’s unexpected ‘daylight flit’ has worn off, I have slowly realised the enormity of what he’s done and how coldly uncaring his selfish actions were, without the slightest concern for my feelings or the life we’d built together. Which I thought we both enjoyed. There are a few more details on his side that I won’t go into - it’s too private and not my concern anymore. I still cannot believe what a mess he’s made of both our lives.

I’m usually too busy to dwell on it though and I am finding that apart from the constant worry of trying to quadruple my income in the space of three months, I’m actually ok. I have always been comfortable with my own space, I love being on Instagram every day and chatting to people and I have my dear little old bear Rupert for company. What more could I possibly want? 


Which  brings me to the final herb to be thrown into the messy soup of my life. My next (second) needle felt book. This all started back in the halcyon pre-Covid days before the first U.K. lockdown and I’ve had to wait for months to see if it was even going ahead. All the details were sorted out just before Joe did his vanishing act and I’ve been so busy with all of the above that I have only just started the pattern shooting. I’m not able to reveal too much at this point, save that I am working with two amazing like-minded women (my editor and art director) with whom I’ve worked with before. It’s going to be something a bit different and rather beautiful. 


I have twenty patterns to shoot and make samples for, as well as all the writing and supporting photographs, with an April deadline. My problem is juggling all  the things I have to do and make to earn enough to survive every month, with the enormous amount of work involved in putting a book together. (There are only so many hours in the day, no matter how early I start).  

It won’t be published until later in 2021, and then it should be a huge boost to my career. I hope to be able to get enough new custom from the publicity to keep the cottage going. That’s the plan. My problem - and what is tying me in panicked knots - is whether I can manage to get to that point before I have to sell up.  So if you are reading this and have bought anything from me, whether it be craft materials, art, prints, cards, needle felt work, kits, Patreon support, Zoom workshops - everything large or small - thank you. You are literally helping me to keep the roof over my head, because I’ve just about managed to make the mortgage for the last three months, without Joe’s help. And I feel quietly proud about that. 



2.11.20

My Aunty Dora

 


Last month I finished off another batch of my ‘imaginary toadstools’ for my shop - these ones are darned and patched with various threads and vintage materials. When I create more natural toadstools, such as these...


...I give them folksy names, which are fanciful but not totally unbelievable - ‘Angel Eyes’, ‘Spice Ball’ and ‘Scarlet Bonnet’ are just a few of the toadstools that dwell in the woods in my head. 

However, even I have to admit that I have never come across a toadstool with visible mending on its cap, so I let my imagination go wherever it liked with the naming of these. And here we have my favourite, ‘Aunty Dora’s Bedroom’. 



Now, bear with me, while I explain. I had (as some of you may have) several ‘aunties’, all of a certain age, some of whom were bonafide aunts, some who were a kind of cousin or just friends of my mother’s. I had an Aunty Dora, who lived in Yeovil, Somerset and she was a proper aunty. We didn’t have holidays as such, but usually once a year mum and I would go to stay with Dora for a while. I loved her and always looked forward to our visits. Apart from the novelty of being in a more modern, comfortable household than ours, with a television, proper wall to wall carpeting and a dining table, she was very kind and fun to be with. She always had a little gift for me; just simple things, but I was easily pleased and when she gave me a small plastic box full of brightly coloured map pins (the kind with fatter ends, which I’d never seen before) I was thrilled; she’d brought them back from her job at the Milk Marketing Board, I think. Once when we arrived, she gave me a empty blue glass perfume flagon which still smelled fragrant and every time I sniffed it afterwards it reminded me of our stay with her. And a matchbox sized green plastic television which had a blank grey screen, but when you looked in the peephole in the back, it showed a photo of picture of Spain or France or somewhere exotic, and when you clicked the button on the top, the picture changed.

So, to return to her woolly namesake; I used typically 1970s colours, as that was the era in which I saw her most and although I don’t think she had such outlandish colours in any of her bedrooms, somehow it reminds me of those kinder days. I can only find one photo of her, (which is not the best) of us both enjoying a summers day in her back garden when I would have been about eight or nine, I think. I seem to be sucking on an ‘ice pop’ (another treat) and I am wearing some new and ever so trendy (I thought) espadrilles which were turquoise canvas with a bit of a chunky heel and woven hessian down the sides. New shoes were few and far between, but these were special ‘holiday shoes’ and I felt quite the thing. 

Wherever you are Aunty Dora, thank you for those lovely memories. 



30.10.20

Sundown




I was lucky enough to catch this wonderful sunset this evening and as it’s been a while since I wrote, I thought I’d drop in to share it with you. I am fine and despite the constant worry of finances, am remarkably calm. My heart has mended fairly quickly, with just a few hairline cracks left and I am just about managing to juggle everything. I have realised however that I need to take a little more time out for myself, after working for ten days straight and becoming a bit rundown recently. 


So many learning curves...I have restructured my Zoom classes now, so that they can be easily bought from my Etsy shop in one purchase - the kit and the one-to-one session, with date and time of choice, meaning that I can work around time zones, and I am offering free kit postage in the U.K. Each kit contains plenty enough wool for the project, which means that once someone has made their first toadstool with me, they can make more in their own time. So far I have only toadstool workshops available, but next week should see one or two seasonal projects added. 


Workshop kits and bookings





I’ve also been getting a big backlog of my own work finished and listed online and keeping up with my Patreon page, which is now up to fifteen lovely members. Their support is reassuring and  invaluable, providing a real incentive to keep writing - so for the first time in months, I picked up a kind-of-ghost story I started last year and have almost finished it. I will be drip feeding it to them over there in three instalments. The setting is remarkably like a cottage I (and possibly you) know well, in Shropshire, with a person newly moved in and finding her feet, with the help of very kind elderly neighbours.

Although despite the possible resemblance, I hope I never go through what my main protagonist experiences in ‘A Bundle of Crows’...




15.10.20

A scenic U-turn



Yesterday we had the luck of the sun again - October has been largely kind, weather wise. I had a workshop kit to post out; I normally do this using the online postage service and then hand my parcel over to the collecting post person at the top of the lane. But  today, I decided to cycle over to the village post office, where I haven’t been since early this year. It was all going well and I had a jovial exchange with an elderly walker who commented on my going at ‘sixty miles an hour’, to which I replied that yes, I was going so fast! (I wasn’t). And then just as I got to the turn off for the village, I came up against this;


There was a man with a mobile phone wandering about, but no workers, so I enquired if it would be possible for me to push my bike through, as the diversion was quite a large one. He investigated what I could see was a fairly deep cut trench (the electric mains wires were being replaced) and advised against it, as there was barely any road to work on. I had to agree with him. So I turned homewards. Said hello to the elderly walker again. Pushed Marjorie up the hill.


Investigated some gnarly bits of hedgerow.


And took a scenic shot, before returning home feeling thwarted but virtuous. And later that day I got my order sent off the usual way, stopping to chat to our farmer who (cheerfully blocking the traffic with his enormous tractor) offered to give the outside of the cottage hedge a trim as he always does. He’s a good sort. 


I have been busy juggling various things and have been amazed that my new Patreon page has gained twelve lovely subscribers since I launched it last week. It’s been good to have a safe place, where I can post freely and chat more easily with people. With the benefit of subscriptions, I’m able to take the time to craft longer, photo rich posts, and update more regularly here. I’ve also added three extra tiers, which allow people to save towards a small piece of my work over six months. 

This week, my subscribers shared my quiet weekend, in ‘A Letter from Saturday Night’. 



And have been on a long, autumnal ramble with me, with lots of photos, as I took Marjorie out for a very long spin, finding (at long last) some woodland to explore in ‘Seeing the Woods and the Trees’. 

If you’d like to join me in my wanderings, you can find my Patreon page here. I’d love to see you! (And Marjorie would be pleased too). 



7.10.20

A new path winding



This is the field which is situated right under my bedroom window. When I first moved here, eight years ago, it was populated with a small herd of milking cows, who often slept directly under my window so that on summer nights, when I had the window open, I could hear the moist huffle of their warm  breath and low grunting as they shifted their bodies to a more comfortable position. It was a friendly, reassuring accompaniment as I fell asleep.


Times change and the farmer‘s son took over the herd. The cows were  fitted with tracking collars and milked by a ‘robot’ - an amazing machine which is essentially a big computer with moving parts. Gradually the cows came out for less time each year and for the last three summers, there have been none at all. They spend their lives under cover and the field is harvested several times a year for silage, with which to feed them. I miss them, but also understand that times move on. 


My life too has undergone some radical changes since moving here, as many of you know. I am on a new and uncertain journey, with  no idea of where I will end up. The young farmer has cut a new path in the field recently, for field access. It winds gently and has a sinuous grace of its own. I rather like this new addition to my view and if I were of a mind to take it as a sign, I would see it as a good one. 



After much agonising, I have started a Patreon page. I have previously balked at paid-for content, preferring my blog to be ad-free and available to everyone, which I have done for over fifteen years. Now I am pulling all my resources together, as I am at real risk of losing the roof over my head and I have to make every hour count for something. So for a small monthly contribution,  I have set up a ‘plus’ version of this blog, where I will post every week. I realise it won’t be for everyone, however it will enable me to share a more private side of my life here; what the inside of this shabby cottage looks like, how I’m feeling and with the extra freedom, be able to get out more and share the surrounding countryside with you. As I settle down, I will be offering more tiers with extra benefits. 



Patreon support will enable me to continue with this blog, which is free for everyone, with more regular posts. With that in mind, I have left public my first Patreon post and hope that those of you who are inclined to and are able, will join me in my draughty, higgledy-piggledy, much loved home. 


Birds in the roof and toadstools inside




4.10.20

Heading onwards with toadstools


What a month it has been. So many thanks for the supportive comments, advice, emails and messages - who knew there was so much love in the world? I’ve been a little taken aback at how much there is, but profoundly grateful, as it has been an immense help. 

I’ve had my self indulgent week of beating my breast and wailing - it was inevitable, but it’s over now and I feel cleansed and strangely calm, under the circumstances. I have spent the last week organising and planning - some plans that I was already putting in motion before things went wrong, and some new. My brain can be a slow moving animal, but with the aid of numerous lists, I am making progress and dealing with as much as possible. 


My other studio is the bedroom and it is the best place to sort out wools for add-on workshop packs. I held my first Zoom workshop last Wednesday and despite my initial nerves, it went very well. None of the participants had tried needle felting before and over the two and a half hours, with much live demonstrating from myself, they produced excellent toadstools. It was remarkably like holding a real-life workshop, but in some ways better, as I had equal access to everyone and was able to show working techniques to everyone, equally,  without constantly moving round a table. Later, I was sent this lovely in situ photo of a finished piece - 


So with more confidence than I had before, I have set up four hanging toadstool dates for October in U.K. time, with limited spaces of four people per session. 

October 9th, Friday 10.30am - 1pm
October 15th,  Thursday 10.30 - 1pm
October 23rd, Friday, 10.30 - 1pm
October 29th, Friday, 10.30 - 1pm

I’ve already had a couple of bookings, and it’s early days. All of my courses can be booked directly through myself (email me here) with payment via PayPal or booked on my page on Craft Courses here. I am also offering one to one sessions with flexible dates and timing, which should allow for overseas sessions in differing time zones. (Hello America!) 

So, that’s one thing started and a Patreon page is set up for a launch next week, which will initially be a more personal ‘plus’ extension of this blog, for a small subscription. And although I’m spending most of my time tapping away at one website or another, I am still making a little time each day to wind down with my own work. 




Discover more wanderings by supporting me on my Patreon page 





26.9.20

Trying to look up, not down.

 




Thank you to everyone for the kind comments and private messages, which helped so much. A month on and the first few weeks of being in numb shock have worn off; try as I might, I cannot find any fighting spirit. I had my first proper cry the other day, just as my ‘work horse’ computer permanently died, as if it, too, was tired of me. 


My eyes seem to be permanently leaking - whether from the cold, tiredness or from the all encompassing, aching sadness which fills me, even when I am immersed in work. And work I must, despite the urge to bury myself and howl for a lost future. So I pick up my brave face and attach it as firmly as I can. I try not to think about the rapidly approaching winter; how chilly and dark the cottage becomes. I spend my mornings in my studio, well wrapped up and then take my work to bed for the rest of the day, when hopefully some sun will come through the window. I force myself to eat twice a day, even though I have no appetite. I try (unsuccessfully) not to torture myself by wondering what on earth happened and how did it come to this - the lack of any firm facts has left me in a state of horrible limbo, yet somehow I have no anger, nor need for retribution. It is what it is, and despite myself, I cannot help worrying about him and whether he is feeling wretched too.


And so it goes. The only thing I have is work and trying to prepare for an uncertain future. Beyond that, I cannot see. But I am strengthened by the sympathetic wishes left; I am not the first person this has happened to (it is as old as history) and sadly I won’t be the last. So I am trying hard  to shake off this unattractive self pity and to keep on looking up, not down, as a wise friend advised. Because down is very scary indeed and I’ve never been good with heights.




Discover more wanderings by supporting me on my Patreon page 




16.9.20

Alone on a new path

 

The past several weeks have been difficult. This is an awkward post to write, considering that I am a very private person and not given to spilling my emotions publicly. So the fact is, Joe does not live here any more. He left, three weeks ago, with what he could fit into a few bags, offering no credible reason and departed without even bothering to say goodbye (or sorry). And while I’d sensed (with some confusion) the night before, that he could barely stand to be in the same room as me, I had not expected this. We never argued and as far as I was aware, had a good relationship. But it seems he’d planned it all for at least three weeks and even had a room in town pre-arranged. So I had been living in a fool’s paradise. Had I not confronted him that morning, he would have stayed for a bit longer, until it suited him. 


I kept my dignity and retired to my studio to let him pack. After all, what can you say? Since then, I’ve joined a few dots up and it’s left rather a nasty taste in my mouth. But thank goodness for my dear friends  - my  ‘sisters of the heart’ - who have been my constant support throughout.

 


When he left, I was cold with physical shock. But as the days went on, I realised that this is not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Once the numbness had worn off, I tried to hit the ground running, sort out what finances I could and  began working ten hour days in my studio, in an attempt to earn enough to keep the roof over my head. I’m bruised,  but not broken. As someone once said, ‘people have died, but not for love’ and I find I am enjoying my new found freedom and the space to do whatever I like. The old ‘me’ is returning - I’ve missed her.


Here’s the thing - long time readers of this blog will know that three months after moving into this cottage, in 2013, my darling partner Andy decided to leave this world, and took his life. Nothing can even come close to the pain I suffered then.

 

 

When you’ve stayed up all night because the love of your life has gone missing on a bleak, snowy winters night. When you’ve seen the sniffer dog following his scent across the fields and heard the rescue helicopter thumping overhead, doing a search and sweep. When a kind faced police woman tells you that a body has been found and you sink to your knees, wailing, wishing that a hole in the ground would swallow you up. When you survive the months of misery and loneliness afterwards - when you have been through all that and can still find joy in life. When all that happens, it seems that being lied to, deceived and manipulated are really, by comparison, quite small hurts. Although they are, of course, hurtful.


The last five and a half years just seem like a terrible and sad waste of time.





Discover more wanderings by supporting me on my Patreon page