Sometimes, when having to make a great physical effort, it helps to have a mantra echoing in your head. Rutile is a good word to pronounce, like, say, elbow or helicopter. The sort of word that comes into your head for no apparent reason when you’re trudging up Bradlow Hill. Anything to take your mind off the increasingly challenging gradient and the pain in your lungs.
When I finally made it into Frith Wood I saw a fallen tree. I was surprised at how shallow its roots seemed. I suspected that this is due to the trees being tightly packed in a small area and thus competing for light by concentrating on shooting up as high as possible and not wasting time with root depth. But a little research showed that when life gets tough, the roots take the easy option, staying close to the surface and spreading out a long way from the tree. A common misconception is that the root system is a mirror image of the trunk and branches. It turns out a tree’s root system is surprisingly shallow, dominated by long, lateral roots spreading out close to the soil surface and outwards and beyond the branch spread. So, trees are much like us – given to taking the easy option.
The trunks of older trees were hosts to all sorts of fungi, and here’s an image of an oyster mushroom. Mushrooms do not have roots; they have mycelium— a root system that is a mass of filaments called hyphae. I expect you know that. These web-like structures spread into the substrate the fungus is growing on – wood, soil, dead squirrels or compost, and the purpose of the mycelium is to find food sources and collect nutrients for the final creation of its bloom or flower: the mushroom.
There was a reason for the word rutile popping into my head during the hill climb. Rutile (its name is derived from the Latin rutilus meaning “shining, golden-red”) is an oxide mineral composed of titanium dioxide which produces many surprising effects in glazes during cooling in the kiln and is used to enhance the surface character of ceramics.
In other words, you do not know exactly what you’re going to get when you open the kiln, specially if you pour an iron oxide glaze over a bisque surface that has been painted with rutile – it’s all in the lap of the God of Pottery, Khnum, who was depicted by the ancient Egyptians with a ram’s head. He was the creator of the bodies of human children which he made at a potter’s wheel, from clay, and placed in their mothers’ womb. His title was the “Divine Potter”.
Back to the subject of roots and uprooting, it’s sad saying goodbye to an old friend, specially one that has worked hard in the studio over the years, but the advantages of the new style of pugmill outweigh Thelonious’s steady workhorse qualities and he is shortly going to make way for his replacement.
Needless to say, it was difficult breaking the news to him and he is refusing to speak to me (as are Ziggy and Spiro) and goes around the studio with a deeply hurt look. “You’re certainly no Divine Potter”, I heard him mutter under his breath. The indignity of being sold on Ebay was also mentioned. Even the promise of a farewell party has been shrugged off with a sigh, despite the complexities involved in finding exactly the right delicacies for my strange little team: goat yoghurt, spiders and engine oil. I suspect Shimpo, the new pugmill, will be just as fastidious and will only contemplate cheeseburgers (he was born in the USA).
And cheeseburgers were part of the reason I drove all the way to Stoke-on-Trent, cradle of pottery in the UK. I was there to inspect and then buy Shimpo and bring him back, with the reward of a cheeseburger at one of the motorway service stations on the way back. Somehow, they taste better in a car park when you’re sitting in the car listening to the radio – there’s something vaguely illicit about it if you are not a regular burger eater.
I shall miss Thelonious and his whimsical nature. Shimpo, I can tell, is more the James Cagney of pugmills – robust, stocky, slightly aggressive, and “no nonsense”. He just wants to get down to work, with no pussy-footing – I just hope he gets along with the others.
And finally, a plea to you all. Just as a burger is nothing unless it is eaten, a ceramic cup meaningless unless drunk from, or a song unless heard, so a story unless somebody reads it. If you have ten minutes to spare (and the inclination) please read my short story published online.
It is called A Summary of A Brief History of Nasocarpia, the links with Grietta Ingar and the epidemic of 2049. It is published by Lazuli Literary Group who promote otherworld realism: a genre that represents the known, often mundane world in an elevated or defamiliarizing way through the use of linguistic craft, innovative language, or experimental structure. CLICK HERE.