A photoshoot, a following, an unfair expulsion and a good politician

I love being in the driver’s seat. To eat a meal, to admire the view, to take us to the next place, or to write. (It’s amazing how one can slip quietly but extremely uncomfortably into the passivity of the passenger seat. iNunca más! Not that there’s a passenger seat in my van – Murphy lives there instead.)

Many of you will have seen the beautiful Etsy piece that Julie Schneider wrote about me and which Alice Carfrae illustrated. Here’s the backstory (especially for makers and wanderers who could benefit themselves).

I pitched to Etsy about my ‘Inspiring Workspace’ (the name of their series of features on makers’ studios around the world). A key theme was the interplay between craft and place. Julie picked it up, offering the highest praise. She then interviewed me by phone from New York, quietly listening long and inviting me to go on and on spinning the yarns beyond our allocated time, with only the lightest prompts from her. She’d invited me to make a photographer recommendation, and by chance, pro colleague Alice, whom I hadn’t seen for years, was due to be back here from Asia for a few months. I asked Alice for some dawn and dusk shots, as well as daytime ones, and we became aware that photographing the van interior, and, especially, seeking to capture the interior and the spirit of the location in the same shots, would be a huge challenge (not to mention the vain weaver at work who needed flattering lighting and lengthy post-production to minimise the rings under her eyes). Alice kindly suggested staying with me overnight to get some night-time shots as well. Etsy paid for part of Alice’s time, and I paid for some more with weavings.

For reasons that I can’t broadcast, I seldom carry passengers. Nor has anyone else stayed in the van with me: it is a space designed for one woman, one loom and one large dog. (Although I will soon have two accordions. What on earth would I have done had I been a cellist? Obviously the piano had to find another home, though I did wonder.) It’s the biggest possible vehicle I can get up the smallest possible lanes. It’s for working and sleeping in, not socialising.

I collected Alice midmorning and after briefly exchanging ideas about the most beautiful spots on Dartmoor (of which there are millions) we nattered as I drove: daily life, environmental, social and gender politics in Delhi, Beijing, the Hebrides, England; loves past and present; old friends and workplaces in common. My van’s not easy to drive on these tiny, crowded roads, but with the professional challenge ahead we talked contracts and vignettes too as branches tore at our sides (Alice airbrushed out the dents afterwards).

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These Isles workshop on the move, by Alice Carfrae ©

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Among the Dartmoor tors, by Alice Carfrae©

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Another photobomb, by Alice Carfrae©

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Dartmoor ponies, by Alice Carfrae©

Choosing a photographic location was almost as tricky as choosing a night-pitch alone – every detail matters! We found a spot, but the bracken was too tall. We found another spot, but there were people there, and another, ditto. We found another spot, but the road was in shot. We found another spot with grass in front and a panorama of tors if we faced west as desired – though we would need to relocate for the sunset.

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Finding the right spot (for a few hours, at any rate), by Alice Carfrae©

We began photographing, though the overcast light that Alice would normally find perfect left us with insufficient light inside the van. She got some good outdoor shots, though I twitched when someone zoomed by leaning on their horn shouting an abusive ‘Pikey!’. (C’est comme ça at times; you have to be brave.)

In the sunset spot there was someone else overnighting, so we had to be really clever about photographing from angles that didn’t show his van – it’s just not as romantic, being parked up with neighbours, is it? (My natural instinct is to find the most remote spots, though sometimes I welcome the security.) We barely got a sunset, as, despite the forecast for Dartmoor’s typical changeability, the (even more typical) damp grey settled in. Hard as we tried, we were not quite ready for the three thirty second breaks of amazing light we got – although we snatched a few shots nonetheless.

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I call this ‘Irish light’, after first noticing it with my mum in County Cork as a child.               By Alice Carfrae©

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The light, by Alice Carfrae©

We worked until 10pm, when I cooked supper, and heroic Alice also went outside after that hoping to shoot the warmth of the 12V battery-powered interior lights of the van starlit against a turquoise sky. But the damp grey at night offered only a velvet black in too stark a contrast with our indoor lighting, so that shot was not to be.

Darning at night

Darning the cloth. Photo by Alice Carfrae ©

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Darning skipped picks (stitches). Photo by Alice Carfrae ©

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Cooking in my fully-equipped kitchen, by Alice Carfrae©

Dear Alice slept (fitfully) on a mattress on the floor, and, exhausted and overstimulated, I didn’t sleep much better either – though it was nice to be in a beautiful spot with a friend.

Not an early riser, I nonetheless awoke early as usual, and at 6am the first hint of sunlight was showing over the hill, so I reluctantly roused Alice, who was straight outside again with her camera within seconds.

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Jacobs maud me on moor.jpg

We’d done three hours’ work before breakfast, getting some of our best shots in the soft, sweet morning light (though it certainly took a while for my face to wake up).

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The view from the workbench, Alice Carfrae©

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Yarns in the morning, Alice Carfrae©

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Tools in the morning, Alice Carfrae©

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Heather in the gorse, Alice Carfrae©

Murphy was ever-patient, as his walking routine was neglected – but he enjoys being out and about in different places meeting people.

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Finally the light was on our side and the camera rolled until after lunch, when, with almost all of Etsy’s shotlist covered and with some spontaneous shots besides, we finally packed it in, packed up and got back behind the wheel, seeking out an ice-cream reward on the way back to Alice’s house.

After much backing and forthing between Julie and I and Alice and I and Alice and Jen, the photographic manager for Etsy on this assignment, the article was published. I knew I needed to be prepared to make the most of the exposure, but I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming wonder of people’s enchantment: I certainly had not allowed time to spend most of the subsequent fortnight responding to people’s incredibly affirmative comments where they shared deep feelings and snippets of lovely stories, though it’s important to. It’s been amazing: I can’t thank you all enough.

My stats (views, favourites, likes, subscribers) spiked tenfold in some cases, and in a week my turnover exceded that of my best month yet in this two-year-old business. Phew. A lot of hard work, but it’s going places. (Obviously I’ve had to cut my living costs right down in this travelling life.)

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Even more special are the amazing contacts made as I catch a glimpse of your lives – in vans and RVs, on boats and crofts – and your projects that are visions of mine too – growing vegetables and dye plants; raising sheep and awareness; musicmaking, wordsmithing, spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing, travelling, dreaming, remembering, wishing, working, working, working for change. I’m really glad to know you’re out there, and hope our paths will cross in the flesh sometime (I’d love to build an itinerary of parking-up spots, and though I can’t imagine bringing this old van to the US, the Americas are seemingly calling me, so maybe one year…) The number of you who have expressed thanks for my inspiration is the most heartening bit. A somewhat desperate bid for survival, I nonetheless felt selfish deserting the worthy cause of teaching in mainstream education, but if I can still inspire, then I’m still contributing.

Says Gayathri from India: ‘I just pinged to say that I loved the article … it’s by far the best post I’ve read on Etsy! I have never sent a convo to anyone other than my buyers. It was such a beautiful article and I couldn’t just sit here without appreciating you. It would be an understatement if I say that your wonderful journey gives me so much hope and happiness. Thanks a bunch for making me smile 🙂 keep living that beautiful life for all of us! Lots of love from across the oceans’

Says Nicole from Quebec : ‘Eloise, you are an inspiration. I think I could do this with my soapmaking! I would like to bring my horses along….. Thanks for sharing.’

Says Emm from Wales: ‘Your story and life style is inspiring. My dream but I am a lone parent of four. Feeling a bit trapped but you give hope for a one day change.’

Says Frances from North Carolina: ‘My daughter and I are just now starting to clean out our house and get it ready to sell. Sitting in the yard is a new 5th wheel camper and a truck. We are are embarking on a similar journey and I have been wondering if I should close our business or try to take it with us. After reading your story and seeing that it is possible, I feel so much happier now, knowing it can be done. Thank-you so much for sharing. You made my day! Keep on going. Live the life you love.’

Says Jenn from New Hampshire: ‘Love this feature! You are an inspiration and a fabulous weaver. I have often thought of doing what you are doing, but here in the US. Maybe we should start a small traveling colony of Etsy sellers:o) Wouldn’t that be grand!’

Says Lisa from the Treehouse: ‘This has moved me. On many levels. Thank you for sharing your spirit and work and words. You may have just started a movement.’

And this is just a few of the few hundred.

I haven’t started a movement, but there IS a movement. A ‘normal’ way of life is failing ever more people who, squeezed and wrought, must, like me, think outside the box in order to make do. Wellbeing is not a luxury: everything goes wrong without it.

(By the way, if you have questions about the small-but-dealbreaking pragmatics of a lifestyle like mine as you work out an alternative way forward for your own life, then please do post them in the comments below. I generally prefer holding this kind of discussion in the public domain so that more people can benefit by reading and/or joining in – plus then I don’t have to type the same things loads of times; I’ve done little weaving this month!)

Me, me, me. I’m extremely lucky – and pretty damn resourceful. Brought up with no money, no property, with state benefits and state education, I nonetheless had art, craft, culture, animals, wilderness, business and critical thinking capital (not to mention kind and talented friends and family). England voted to leave the EU, but I have dual citizenship and the right to a European passport, so I’m just fine. So many are so much less well off. And here I have to get back onto the soapbox, and cannot keep it out of my ‘weaving’ blog, because I think in systems, and the whole lot is connected, and there has been more drama that I want you to know about.

Fearing an even more unjust Tory-shaped independent Britain, I put my support behind democratic socialist Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (who, incidentally, happens to have been a prominent figure in a textiles union decades ago). Labourlist says ‘Corbyn’s status as frontrunner in the leadership election is secured today as a new poll finds he is on course for a 24-point victory’, but he is being attacked ever more viciously (as this satirist hilariously sums up – NB expletive torrent). Since I think he is a rare source of hope, I want to be among the voices speaking up for him, so I offer you my reasoning (forgive me some repetition of previous writings):

I don’t think that socialism holds all the answers, and, understandably, a socialist is having grave difficulty holding together a party that is half constituted of neoliberals, but he is the only person anywhere near the premiership whom I trust to recognise what are NOT the answers (inequality; austerity; neoliberalism; authoritarianism; war) and resist the kind of constant compromise that leaves a Labour government looking so very similar to a Conservative one. Corbyn, McDonnell and their young team are intelligent, sensitive, passionate, steadfast and dynamic. I think their minds are open to new solutions: I’m wondering whether inequality could be addressed by state control (as opposed to global, corporate bank control) of our monetary supply creating a non-debt-based economy. It seems to me that money creation as debt is basically the modern feudalism, whilst fairer distribution of currency would mean fairer access to markets so that they worked for the many – markets which kept well away from services (currency, health, education, welfare, infrastructure) that are at risk from distortion by commodification. Obviously this plays havoc with the international financial markets, and I’ve no idea how a transition could be made, let alone smoothed, but I do think that making survival a bit less hard for the masses would free us up to better look after each other and the environment. (And if overpopulation is a concern: we breed more under stress, don’t we?) Corbyn’s the only one who could do this, I think.

I think the UK Green Party offers some such answers, but they are so far off being elected that I joined the Labour Party instead. Ideally I’d like to see the parties of the left join together. Goes the old adage: ‘the reds ain’t green enough, and the greens ain’t red enough’. And the yellows (the Liberal Democrats) are committed to electoral reform so that we actually get democracy, probably in the form of Proportional Representation. In post-referendum hysteria during a week of intense passion nationwide, fearful news stories, keen motivation and seeking to support the emergence of a Progressive Alliance, I also briefly joined the Lib Dems. I shout my politics from the treetops: my personal Facebooking is largely campaign activity. Intelligence agents for the centrist neoliberals of the Labour Party who have been trying to unseat soft-but-firm-left Corbyn by purging the party of newly joined ‘Corbynistas’ have seen my hundred pro-Corbyn posts and they’ve also unearthed a pro-green-and-yellow remark of mine, and expelled me from the Labour Party, ostensibly for the latter reason. I am distressed to be disempowered by being denied a vote in the upcoming leadership election to renew Corbyn’s mandate, but on the other hand I am furiously empowered. I’ve replied to Labour’s secretary general, who seems to have been blocking democracy at every step as hundreds of thousands of us subscribed on the explicit understanding that we could vote, then had to pay an extra £25 for the privilege as the goalposts were moved to exclude us, then paid again, then had to be screened all over again, then went to court, then won the ruling, then lost the appeal, then got expelled as well. (And when a whole lot of people get blown up by a terrorist over there, it’s got a lot to do with this shit happening right here.) Yesterday a young journalist from the Guardian (Britain’s most major centre-left intelligent broadsheet newspaper, who’s been disappointingly cynical on Corbyn too at times) contacted me out of the blue on Facebook, asked to talk, and asked whether my page was covered in pro-Corbyn material. Oh yes, says I, how did you guess? Laughs, does he. And will I tell him my story? Oh yes, says I, for sure.

So we’ll see what happens. Stay tuned for the next instalment, and please comment and share, share, share, and meantime I’ll perhaps see some of you at Exeter Green Fair (Devon, UK) on Saturday as I show off my wares and meet some more good folk.

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22 thoughts on “A photoshoot, a following, an unfair expulsion and a good politician

  1. Eloise, I believe you have expressed much of what I hold dear. You are inspirational and I have to admit to loving the ethos of travelling folk, I love to see them, talk to them and wave to them when I see them. My friend and I are just embarking on a spinning adventure, taking normally discarded fleeces and helping them be what they richly deserve to be! I have planted a dye garden and am excited at what we can achieve. Value what you have and, on those ‘pikey’ days remember that you are living that wonderful life with our best thoughts and wishes. Bless you and well done. Oh, and much love to Murphy!

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  2. Hi Eloise, I too, like so many others, was delighted with your story and your adventure. I have now enjoyed reading your entire blog and look forward to your future posts weaving and travelling. I spin, knit,sew and will weave when my loom is set to go again. Keep up the creativity.
    Sincerely Margaret from a little village in the Southern Highlands of NSW Australia.

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    • That’s so lovely to hear, thanks Margaret! My entire blog? Very flattered 🙂 ‘Spinning stones’ rings a bell, I’ll Google when I’ve time. Lovely to receive greetings from all corners and place you all 🙂 Eloïse

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  3. Dear Eloise…Marguerite here from upstate New York ….what a treat it was to read the original article on Etsy about your studio and creative life! I loved seeing the great photos of you and your sweet pup there along side you on your adventure. Ever since I was a child growing up in Quebec (yes I have dual citizenship also between the U.S. and Canada) I have dreamed of driving from town to town all across North America in a RV and experiencing the people and scenic vistas of these 2 countries and just absorb it all into my soul and you have revived that dream for me! I too had a similar childhood to yours and although it was a challenge to overcome some of the negative experiences I believe it made me better able to feel love and compassion for those around me. Thank you so much for putting me back in touch with the early dreams I had for myself, it made me feel young and vital again and maybe just maybe, I will get that RV someday!

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  4. Hi Eloise,I am an Irish woman, living in Egypt and I am also a spinner, tapestry weaver, writer, healer etc. I have my own sheep here but soon I am moving to the Red Sea, so that I can finish my writing and do more crafts without the incessant and constant interruptions I experience here! I love your blog, and I especially love your header photo!!!! I am a Murphy, and unfortunately, it is not me sitting in the seat beside you!!! I love the solo artists life although I am still waiting for it to happen! Only two more months to go… How do you manage socialising, or is something that you don’t really need? Personally, I prefer to have chicken and geese friends! Egyptians can be hard work! I like teaching, as that is also what I do, but when I feel ‘up to spending time with people’. How do you manage that aspect of your life?

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    • Hello IrishwomanlivinginEgypt (what an exotic mix)! (Ah, checking your website I see that it’s Ann, hello Ann 🙂 )

      Thanks for the complements! Murphy came with that name. A rescue dog from Wales with English and Scottish blood, I liked that there was Irishness too.

      On socialising, good question: well, despite formerly teaching in a huge university and being part of a close team and national network, my life feels all the more sociable now as (in the calmer months) I actually have time to enjoy people rather than dread them – whether it’s ‘strangers’ I happen upon in the same beauty spots or in unknown pubs with music sessions; customers and contacts online through my business network; or select old friends via social media, phone and annual or biannual visits to where I used to live. But basically I’m an introvert and it’s quite a relief to be anonymous and have evenings to myself to make music, cook, keep on top of cleaning etc. or just be very quiet. I loved my equine and avian friends. But loneliness is an absence of the self, rather than of the other, I think… ❤

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      • Hi Eloise, actually that’s a lovely way of putting it. “Having time to enjoy people, rather than dreading them”. I am working towards that! A good way to live, having the choice of when to meet and when not to.
        I don’t get lonely, thankfully. Too much to do. 🙂
        Murphy dies have a ‘wolf-hound’ look about him! Lovely! 🙂

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  5. i just came across your website, blog etc.pp. through peggy osterkamp’s blog – and i am absolutely intrigued and amazed and awed! what a great project and adventure! i moved to canada with my husband 13 years ago and we live a different lifestyle, too. i’ve come to believe more and more that we have to think outside all the boxes, so your site is a true inspiration. in my native germany, two years ago i also began a little personal project of working with local wools, but have not made it very far yet… but i will 🙂
    thanks for the inspiration, and i’ve already passed it on to other makers, too.
    petra from nw alberta

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    • Aw, thanks for the thanks for the inspiration and the complements Petra – also inspiring in return 🙂 It’s exciting when we start to conceive of unboxed things, isn’t it. I have a friend in Alberta, I must visit one day… Eloïse

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  6. Tiny House Living is definitely gaining traction as increasingly people are trying to carve out lives that are more meaningful for themselves, and less toxic to the welfare of the planet. You have taken it a step or two further by living and working in a mobile situation. The words nomadic and contemporary “gypsy van” come to mind. I subscribed to your blog. All the best to you!

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  7. Read your story on Etsy and had to come here to follow your blog, because I feel a kindred spirit! 3 years ago I packed my business, my son, and dog and cat int a travel trailer and embarked upon a mobile life. It is, at times, a struggle to make a living. I was recently discouraged, but the feedback of some clients, my friends whom I represent through my shop, and now your story have boosted my confidence again. I also hope to take it over to your side of the pond one year. I think it would be better to store my rig here in the US and buy one over there. Maybe we should do a trade/tradeback…

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    • Robyn, thanks so much for this. And YES, the rigswap for a year or so could be a brilliant idea, so exciting, thank you! Although I’ve so many places I want to spend time in the British Isles, never mind the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, all ye good folk in the Americas are certainly calling me. I was picturing parking my bus in a barn and wondering how on earth I’d fund buying another one out there etc. etc., but why not do a homeswap, wow! UK motor bureaucracy is a nightmare, but nonetheless, let’s hold that thought, how cool 🙂 I love the topics of your blogposts and hope to delve in when I’ve some breathing time… Thanks to you too for the inspiration. Keep in touch. Eloïse

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    • Aww, thanks very much for reading Ruth! (It was nice to get the Totnes tango classes invitation recently too – I considered it, but have too much on, and am off to Ireland next month, indefinitely.) Wishing you great adventures too. Eloïse xXx

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