A celebratory walk was needed after a successful glaze firing. The view from Bradlow Knoll down towards Ledbury this May afternoon was grey and cloudy. You can see in the distance the white shapes of the plastic used in the speeded-up cultivation of strawberries for the voracious soft fruit market, and, nearer, the sheep which will end up on our dinner plates. Land maintained and exploited for the consumer’s benefit, which has made our landscape what it is today. This applies to Frith Wood as well, where dead trees are removed or left on the ground to encourage wildlife. This tree was 57 years old – I counted the rings.
It clouded over very quickly and started to rain, so it was dark walking in the wood, and there was little birdsong. However, it was not as dark as a few weeks ago when my daughter and I found ourselves with thirty others tiptoeing through Highnam Woods near Gloucester at midnight.
It was pitch black. Not a sound could we make, no squeaky shoes allowed, or noisy clothing, no flashlights to be used, only the vague shape of the person in front to guide each of us in single file until we came to a small clearing and very carefully sat down. We had previously gathered around a campfire to eat, drink and listen to the environmentalist Sam Lee, who was leading us into the trees with one purpose only: to listen to a nightingale sing.
Unlike the continent, the UK is seeing the slow disappearance of the bird, due to farming and land management activity, but primarily to the lack of thoughtfully maintained woods like Highnam, which is owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and is a jewel, a remnant of ancient woodland that is carefully managed in order to keep a balance between mature trees and traditional coppice.
Our nightingale sang his heart out, though not for us. Only male birds sing at night, in order to woo the females – if you hear one still singing at the end of Spring, that means he didn’t get the girl and he’ll be a Summer bachelor. Ours was a Pavarotti, with the most amazing technique, and the sound was clean and clear and strangely affecting. Click here to listen, and if you are interested in going on a Nightingale Walk next Spring, have a look at the Nest Collective website here.
From beautiful sounds to irritating ones: is it me, or are the flies out early this year?
They keep zooming into the studio uninvited, hurling themselves against the windowpanes again and again, and buzzing at a particular pitch that keeps you from concentrating. Eventually you spend too much time trying to swat them, unsuccessfully, and getting more and more frenzied and unfocused.
Like most people, I know flies have those compound eyes which allow them to see what’s coming towards them no matter at what angle or speed, so that by the time they’ve swerved the blow of a rolled-up newspaper, they’ve had time to read the print. Ok, so flies are important pollinators, second only to the bees, but house flies, commensal with humans all over the world, spread food-borne illnesses. And they are an annoyance especially in some parts of the world where they can occur in large numbers, buzzing and settling on the skin or eyes. Did you know, and I’ve looked this up, that the fly’s taste receptors are in the labium, pharynx, feet, wing margins and female genitalia, thus enabling it to taste your food by walking on it?
Research on your behalf also uncovered this: the Sardinian cheese casu martzu is exposed to flies so that the digestive activities of the fly larvae soften the cheese and modify the aroma as part of the process of maturation. Banned by the European Union, the cheese was hard to find, but the ban has been lifted on the grounds that the cheese is a traditional local product made by traditional methods. And why not? The sustainable food of the future is the insect.
Do flies, do insects, have much to do with the history and development of ceramics? Not as far as I know, this is just another long and rambling lead-in to my latest batch of vases out of the kiln. I think you’ll agree that the piece above has been influenced by fly-swatting.
From bird song to buzzing to mooing: more PCA ceramics at the Palais des Vaches in Exbury, where you can also see a unique coffee table made with tapering beech legs, the top being sealed, and hand painted with acrylics. Three layers of heat-resistant varnish ensure that hot mugs of coffee will not mark the surface, though coasters are recommended. The surface is easy to clean. It could be described as a horizontal painting on four legs, and certainly you get a lot of pleasure from simply looking down on it and enjoying the colours
Other work at the Palais includes this large sculptural piece:
And to finish, a poem from childhood:
“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
“‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there.”
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.” (Mary Howitt)
Well, I couldn’t resist finishing off with John Keats:
“Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!”