The month of December signals the full emergence of the cold winter season and, as the last month of the year, it promises a new beginning in January – who would not be looking forward to that?
On the other hand, we’ve learnt to change our habits so much in 2020 that, as a result, bread-making, chess, virtual wine tasting, online bingo and TV bingeing may be on the up but to the detriment of other activities such as going to your local shop, meeting other humans and playing golf. I do go walking more though.
Yes, there is always the great outdoors, and on this particular day the sum was out and the day crisp and bright as I made my way into the Frith. There was no point looking for colour other than the general grey-green-brown hues, no plants, no fungi, just the wet mud of the path and Autumn’s fallen leaves, lots of dead bracken and, somewhere high above, a croaking raven.
Most of the brown areas are the result of bracken. It was traditionally used for animal bedding which later breaks down into a mulch that can be used as fertilizer, and it’s best not eaten, as it contains a carcinogenic compound, though it is used to store freshly made ricotta cheese. Highly invasive, luckily in autumn it turns brown and dies down. Ferns are definitely prettier.
Walking in squelchy mud is tiring and forces one to use muscles you didn’t realize you had until you clamber into bed, aching and stiff. That night I slept as soon as my head touched the pillow. I dreamt of trees, squirrels, mud snorkeling and giant stoneware vases.
At some point, I woke up with a start. There, at the end of my bed, sat an old man with a long white beard. He wore a woven straw hat, so he wasn’t Father Christmas. There was a musky smell of sheep in the air. He looked at me and asked:
“Do you honestly think that they care that bracken was used for animal bedding?”
“Sorry?” I mumbled, “who are you?”
“Remember me?” he asked. “Come on. Your blog of November 2019?”
I searched my memory and suddenly it came to me.
“Ah, yes, of course. St Spyridon, patron saint of potters.”
“Spot on, though you did misspell my name on that blog.”
“How can I help?” I asked politely.
“I believe it’s the other way round. I am here to help you.”
“You’re having trouble with your blog. It’s been preying on your mind, and last night before you fell asleep you muttered the words “hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates”. If these are the last words a potter says before sleep, I am duty-bound to make an appearance.”
“Well. It can’t happen very often then.”
“You’d be surprised how often a disturbed and troubled potter utters the magic words before drifting off.”
I sniffed the air, which was rude of me.
“Oh, I used to tend sheep before I became Bishop of Trymithous. That’s why I wear this shepherd’s hat. Anyway, your blog. You’re finding it increasingly difficult to relate its content to ceramics, when, after all, it’s meant to be a ceramics blog. Is that right?”
“Yes, I admit that.”
“Your blogs tend to be text-heavy, filled with rambling non-sequiturs and partly related images. The last one was all about mushrooms. I am here to provide a solution. Instead of trying to twist the text towards any ceramic-related narrative, I propose you write about whatever takes your fancy and intersperse that with unrelated images of your work. Each image, when clicked on, will link the viewer with details of the piece, where it can be bought, and for how much. The more images, the lighter the blog. Vision trumps all senses; the human brain can process entire images in as little as 13 milliseconds.”
“Wow. You’re quite media savvy for a third century Greek monk. I suppose once you get to Heaven you absorb everything past, present and future, and take on a wisdom beyond anything human.”
“Natch. By the way, how many followers do you have?”
“Well, seven that I know of,” I hesitated, then added pathetically “not including my wife and mum, of course.”
Wanting to change the subject I asked:
“So, who else have you helped in this way?”
“Oh, I gave Josiah Wedgwood a hand with his marketing, Bernard Leach too, Kawai Kanjirō, Pablo Picasso…”
“Gosh, all that knowledge at your fingertips.”
“Yes, but there are limitations. We get given one luxury when we arrive at the Pearly Gates but this is restricted to each person’s contemporary experience and era. So, for example, my friend Albert Schweitzer has a gigantic church organ, Siggy Freud has a gramophone player, Nelson Mandela has a constant supply of Dom Pérignon, and so on. Alas, I could not have any of these because they did not exist in my time.”
“So what did you choose?”
“Goat’s yoghurt. I’ve always had a passion for it, and it was considered the height of indulgence in my day.”
“But presumably you can share things, listen to Freud’s records, sip Nelson’s champagne…?”
“Yes, true. Albert is teaching me the organ, though, of course…… for a fee.”
“You use currency there?”
“No, we exchange things.”
“So how do you pay Mr Schweitzer?”
St Spyridon raised a hand and signalled the end of our conversation.
“I will only appear when genuinely needed. It’s no good muttering “hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates” unless you have a real potter’s dilemma, otherwise I’d be forever at the beck and call of potters.”
He stood up and waved, then slowly disappeared through the bedroom wall.
Later my wife woke up and, despite my protestations, accused me of allowing sheep into the house while she was asleep.
Just click on the images of ceramics to find out more about each piece. Jewel Street is a new outlet you might like to visit, and if you do want to buy a three legged bowl for Christmas the voucher code is PETERARSCOTT10, which will get you a £10 discount. St Spyridon is full of ideas. Meanwhile, back in the workshop, recently made up vases are drying in readiness for their bisque firing in a few days.