Goodbye 2023

Possibly because it was a cold, grey, miserable day, my walk up Bradlow Hill and into Frith Wood was a lonely one. Not a single walker passed by, nor did I even see a squirrel, and there was no birdsong, except for the distant cawing of the resident raven. It was an unusually silent trudge along the woodland track, the whole atmosphere was brooding, possibly reinforced by the inactivity in the ceramics studio due to delays in connecting the new kiln – creative juices with no outlet can make a person very gloomy – and by the realization that the familiar whiff in our sitting room indicates a dead rat in the skirting boards. The smell is faint now, but building up to its peak for Christmas day.

Crouch vase at Cecilia Colman Gallery, London

Feeling uninspired, I turned a rock over with my foot to find what I expected to see: bugs scuttling away, mainly woodlice. “Aha!” I thought to myself, “here are the true companions of my walk today.” Just because they are not visible and make no sound does not mean they should not be respected as denizens of the wood, as much as the charismatic squirrels, foxes and birds, who have not bothered to make their presence felt; lethargic, pampered and entitled as they lie in their nests, dreys, lairs and setts for the day.

In praise of the woodlouse, the species is found across the UK in almost any habitat. They are flat, oval and grey with a thick exoskeleton and have seven body segments, each with a pair of legs. They are actually crustaceans, related to shrimps and crabs. Like their aquatic relatives they easily dry out, which is why they hide away in cool, damp places during the day and come out at night. To recycle copper in their diet (as their blood is copper based like all marine crustaceans) they eat their own poo, but they also munch away at decaying wood, leaf litter, fungi, fruit, dead animals, as well as other animals’ poo. By the way, eating your own poo is not recommended – do not do it at home.

Granny grunter

If you collect a few woodlice and keep them in a jar, try sniffing it after a while. They excrete ammonia through their exoskeletons, so it’s unpleasant, which is why they are called ‘stinky pigs’ in parts of the UK. They are also known as ‘chiggy pig’ (Devon), ‘gramersow’ (Cornwall), ‘sow bug’ and ‘woodpig’.

Flower vase at Cecilia Colman Gallery

They have 250 recorded names in the UK, including Billy Baker, Monkey pea, Parson’s pig, Cheese log, Daddy granfer, Granny grunter, Damper, Slate cutter, Hardy back, Penny sow, Cheesy bug and Nut bug. Probably names given by children, who are after all the ones closest to these things that crawl around on the ground, it’s children who find them under stones and under sticks, and who play with them.

Segment vase at Cecilia Colman Gallery, London

One insect I did not see was the mythical caterpillar, a beast so rare that only my granddaughter knows about it. It is half caterpillar and half cat – notice the sharp claws at the end of its many feet, the long tail and the feline head.

Cat/erpillar. Erin Arscott Richards

In an effort to be as fair as possible about bugs in general, I include images of two studio residents, a spider and a slug. Both are ceramic portraits, the spider a very accurate one of Ziggy, who as regular readers of this blog know, is in charge of fly-catching in the studio.

Ceramic portrait of Ziggy

Vases have been made in the studio, but they are not even bisque fired yet, until the new kiln is set up. Until then, pieces are available at various outlets, the most recent delivery being at the Cecilia Colman Gallery in London, where you can see the ceramics displayed here on the blog (At last, says Spiro, at least a gesture towards marketing).

Sam Slug

We wish you all a happy Christmas and a prosperous 2024. Here’s hoping it’s a better year for humanity than ’23. Celebrate properly, don’t waste time making mulled wine and other aberrations, go for the classic Dry Martini: Put your martini glass in the freezer, pour a good gin into a shaker, add a drop of Dry Vermouth (only a drop!) and put it in the freezer. After at least 3 hours you can take it out and pour it into the frozen glass and add an olive. The first sip is the best, hold it by the stem so your fingers won’t warm it up. Here endeth the lesson.

Blue dot vase at Cecilia Colman Gallery

A man and his pet slug walk into a bar. They start drinking beer, then as the night goes on they move to cocktails, and then to brandy.  Finally, the bartender says: “Last orders.” So, the man says, “One more for me… and one more for my slug.” The bartender sets them up and they gulp them down. Suddenly the slug falls over dead. The man puts on his coat and starts to leave. The bartender says angrily: “Hey, you can’t just leave that lyin’ there.” The man replies: “That’s not a lion, that’s a slug.

Cheers, and a Happy 2024