political pottery

wobbly shelf or shard luck?

Last week I walked into the studio and slammed the door behind me. There was a resounding crash. I knew then that I should have repaired the wobbly shelf that held stacks of three legged bowls. However, all potters develop a protective skin that steers them away from howling at the moon, so I swept it all up.

beyond glueing

I hope the night of March 28th is clear and cloudless because this month’s full moon, called the Full Worm Moon, is a “Supermoon”, the nickname given to a full moon when it’s closest to our planet. It’s named the Worm Moon due to the softening of the ground that typically happens in the spring that allows earthworms to emerge. And I couldn’t resist bringing worms into the blog again.


But March in the UK is usually associated with the yellow splash of colour that daffodils provide, and we rather take them for granted.  I didn’t know that the word derives from “asphodel”, a variant of Middle English affodil, from Latin asphodelus.


Yes, we Brits do go on about our daffodils, but we’re not the only ones. They are also valued in China. They bloom around Chinese New Year, and symbolize good luck, prosperity, and good fortune. If the flowers bloom exactly on New Year’s Day, it means that you will have good luck for the entire year. The Feng Shui three legged Money Toad will also bring luck – in fact all things three legged are a good thing, unless they are on a wobbly shelf.

three legs = good luck

Now that we’re talking about China, I can remind you that this is a ceramics blog and that porcelain developed in China and exported to Europe was so named after its country of origin. Porcelain and china, by the way, are fired at a higher temperature than stoneware, which is what I use, but are made of a finer particle clay, which results in a thinner construction and more translucent body.

willow pattern story

So, still with China, many of you will be familiar with The Willow pattern. It is a distinctive and elaborate chinoiserie pattern popular at the end of the 18th century in England when, in its standard form, it was developed by ceramic artists adapting motifs inspired by fashionable hand-painted blue and white wares imported from China. Part of the marketing ploy, claims Spiro (in charge of Marketing at Peter Arscott Ceramics), was to come up with a good story to sell it.

the Duke arrives in his boat

This is the story: once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter. She fell in love with her father’s accounting assistant, angering her father. He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride.

the lovers escape, Dad with whip in hand

On the eve of the daughter’s wedding, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand, though it looks more like a ball and chain.

the lovers transformed

They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. He sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves

protest vase

I decided I would give the traditional pattern a more up-to-date interpretation. My visit to Hong Kong three years ago was an eye opener, and I enjoyed the vibrancy and energy of the place – click here to visit the blog – so with the suppression of free expression and democracy in Hong Kong and the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang in mind, I made a willow pattern protest vase, since I feel strongly about the issue, and I am a potter. Instead of the doves, two helicopters, instead of the lovers escaping over the bridge, prisoners with guards. You get the idea :

Confucius said that an oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger.

And Confucius did not say the following:

 “Man who keeps both feet firmly planted on ground has trouble putting on pants.”

zaijian – 再见 (Goodbye)

Ledbury (part 2)

spring vase

What is the difference between pottery and poetry, other than the extra “t”?

I don’t know, though I could go on about how playing with clay, twisting it into shapes, applying glazes in a particular way, to make an object “speak” so that it is more than the sum of its various parts, is not unlike playing with language so that a poem emerges that engages or surprises you. But I won’t.


Instead, I will present you with more reasons to visit Ledbury, including not only a look at the new ceramic pieces now being shown at John Nash but also the opportunities to combine eating and drinking with some gentle therapeutic shopping followed by, say, a walk in the Herefordshire countryside now that the wild daffodils will be in full bloom by the end of March.

wave fruitbowl

This is daff country. As you’ll see, they still grow wild but are no longer picked and sold commercially as they were up to the middle of the last century. Loaded onto train known as “The Daffodil Express”, it was big business, and GWR ran specials for the pickers who were mostly gypsies from Kent and day trippers. Walks are now organised to see them at their best – no picking encouraged.

Matisse vase

These small plants appear every Spring and transform the local landscape, specially around the Dymock area which becomes very popular with visitors who can take the various walks designed as circular routes that take in the many associations with the poets who lived in the area at the outbreak of the First World War. Aha, back to poetry.


This was a group of like-minded poets who got to know each other, mostly in London, so that when the best-known of these, Lascelles Abercrombie, moved to Ryton, the others followed. Thus you have the coming together, for subtly different reasons and agendas, of people like the American Robert Frost, Wilfrid Gibson, Arthur Ransome (Swallows and Amazons), W H Davies (the Supertramp), Edward Thomas, John Drinkwater, Ivor Gurney and so on.



Lascelles Abercrombie, by the way, may be largely forgotten nowadays but he was the “go-to” poet at the time, and a man with a sense of humour. When challenged to a duel by the argumentative Ezra Pound and was asked to choose the weapons, he suggested they bombard each other with unsold copies of their poetry.

Back in Ledbury however, peer into the Master’s House, the recently refurbished medieval building that is the Ledbury library and houses the poet laureate John Masefield collection – yes, he was born here. Across the High Street is the Painted Room, another medieval set of rooms which display, among other things, the poet W.H.Auden’s marriage certificate – yes, he got married here to Thomas Mann’s daughter.


But enough poetry, what about something to eat? Try the Malthouse on Church Lane – fabulous pancakes with maple syrup, and Eggs Benedict, and if you’re there for Sunday brunch (booking advisable) get Jim to make you a proper Bloody Mary. The best in the West Midlands.

tuttifrutti jug

But do drop in at John Nash’s and have a look at the ceramics, some are a little different from the vases; more sculptural as they are best viewed in the round, and give the appearance of having been made out of different fragments bonded together – in fact they are all made out of the usual stoneware and built up, bisque fired to 1000 degrees, hand painted and then glaze fired at 1275 degrees.

wild daffs

Just in case you can’t wait to sip a Bloody Mary, here’s how to make one:
Place the ice in a large jug. Measure a splosh of vodka, a small tin of tomato juice and lemon juice and pour it straight onto the ice. Add 3 shakes of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco and a pinch of celery salt and pepper. Stir until the outside of the jug feels cold, then strain the cocktail into 2 tall glasses. Top up with fresh ice, add a celery stick and lemon slice to both glasses. Delicious (and surely nourishing).

Strike hands with me. The glass is brim. The dew is on the heather. And love is good, and life is long, and friends are best together.