Though a bit of me is left behind in Connemara and I’ve been feeling very lost (like, what the hell am I doing with my life?), time and Cork are doing their job, thanks to good people and good music.
My host is cheerful, thoughtful, generous, unimposing and kind, and parked up by her chicken run in a farmyard that is cared for but not manicured, all my practical and many of my social needs are met, for a modest pitch fee that I’ve had to insist upon paying. Striking and Goidelic, she also models my work beautifully.
She invites me on walks with her great friends, and we sometimes go into town on errands together (‘town’ being any one of the many small, colourful, lively, harbour hubs that are within striking distance of this hill). I buy not one, but TWO new Donegal wool jumpers. They are both green (though different shades), and for a proper good Irish look I am given a daringly-orange beanie by the lady in the jumper shop because she’s our neighbour and she likes my dog.
On one such trip to town we stroll along a pebbly beach, watch dolphin fins in the bay and hear a birdlaugh from a nearby island that we don’t recognise. My host’s son works the mussel boats and, cherubian and yellow sou’westerlyed, he gives us a wave and a large sack of shellfish. Meeting the boat (by happy accident) as it docks, it feels as if we’re receiving smugglers’ treasure or cocaine (have you seen the Cornish film Ondine?). We also receive a bag of dirty laundry (mother makes a good mule). Later, well feasted (onion, garlic, parsley, cream and cider), despite curses at extending his working day, the mussel cherub answers my questions about mussel farming:
– How do you breed them?
– We don’t, they’re wild; we just provide the breeding ground.
– Beneath the floating black barrels you see there are hundreds of metres of looped rope; they cling to that.
– So they believe that they’re free and they choose to live on your farm. Poor buggers. Do you feed them?
– [Laughs.] Nope, they feed themselves.
– Do you medicate them? Antibiotics?
– No way, that’d ruin the water!
– Yes, but that’s what industry does, isn’t it? Well, good, I’m glad you don’t! How long do they live? When do you harvest them?
– We separate the smaller ones from the larger ones for harvesting between one to three years’ old. You can come on the boat if you like.
– I’d love to [she says, a little nervously; how many hairy arsed men?]!
I conclude that mussels may be reasonably sustainable, as well as healthy, fare and resolve to eat them more often.
In the Irish farmhouse kitchen by the warm range, some music: his melodeon (only it’s called an accordion here); my accordion; various guitars, voices and congas. Just as an Irish kitchen is supposed to be.
And then top-of-the-trad-canon fiddler Martin Hayes comes to town, with astoundingly good Waterford piper I haven’t heard of (apart from on Radio Na Gaeltacht in the car on the way there), David Power. I take the lovely French WOOFA and though she may not have been into Irish traditional music before, she loves it and says that a gig this good is truly the stuff of memories, and my heart is warmed. It is a fabulous gig, by great masters, and the venue has an excellent upcoming programme including many of my heroes and heroines – another pot of gold.
I’ve co-designed a weaving with a wonderfully engaged, artistic and sympathetic customer who cites Rothko, Klee and Matisse as possible influences on our shawl design. I see the colours she chooses in my much-photographed Connemara-autumn-birch-in-front-of-bracken-hill-and-purple-mountain-snowy landscape and wind a warp I hope she’ll like. I spend January working on various iterations of this.
The first iteration is a washing machine casualty (as you may have seen me rant about on my other platforms): with wools that are still ‘in the oil’, i.e. ‘greasy’ from the oil put in by the mill to aid the spinning process, I have to wash them. I can either soak them overnight in a large, bendy tub I carry on board, which is risk-free, or I can put them in a washing machine on a 30º wash where a delicates cycle will turn them over in both directions for a little agitation that will ‘full’ the cloth, i.e. rough up the fibres for a softer, woollier cloth with less stitch definition. If I get this wrong, I can shrink, distort or otherwise ruin my work. In this case, the drum has had its aelerons removed (I’ve no idea what the proper name is for the plastic ‘sleeping policemen’ inside that move the washload? Fins?), exposing sharp metal tabs, which I fail to spot. In future I will check every new machine I ever use outside and in: these sharp tabs cause disaster by pulling a hundred threads in my loose weave.
I list it as a second when a genius weaving friend admires the ‘hawthorn snagged chic’. To my delight, it sells within minutes to a good woman who says upon receipt that she is gladdened by its dose of landscape medicine in her currently-urban life. I’ve been gladdened by the making of it, too, if not the ruining of it.
The second iteration, despite double-checked calculations, comes out smaller than requested, and I do not get away with the liberties I have taken in representing closely the particular view from my autumn home when some colours and details deviate from my customer’s requests. I’m attached to the highlights of gold leaves against the red birch twigs, and pleased with how they capture the scene I have in mind, and I hope someone will love this one modelled by a Massey…
However, for the third iteration, she asks me to remove the dark red section with its tiny stripes and make a couple of other little tweaks. I am lenient with her and happy to make a third attempt because, whilst we have very amicably discussed my creative freedom, I know I have stretched the spec too far according to my whim. Finally this third one touches her heart, and I am content.
The Connemara autumn series of weavings has left some lovely offcuts that are in my shop’s ‘Sale and miscellany’ section for you creatives who wish to do something clever with them (do get in touch if you’d like me to combine lots at better rates).
I take my bike for a second tyre replacement in the snow and go for a long bike ride the next day (only getting off to push it up *two* of the many hills). The 27 year old water pump in my van dies, but I order a replacement and fit it myself and feel smug. Then I forget to replace the oil filler cap and the van cries black tears and I have to order another filler cap and I feel less smug. However three different men get involved to help and that’s nice. Irresponsibly (for a hole is immediately blown in the temporary tin foil oil filler cap), on our way home from the beach we nonetheless stop to enjoy a Chinese takeaway in a hip and welcoming, unpretentious, pub with a great singer/songwriter and other friendly folk, and then a visit to a new friend’s beautiful home, banoffee pie with her many kids and a drink with them and some musicians in another great and curious little pub. She relates intriguing tales of mysterious family constellation therapy happenings. I have strange dreams, but since I have had three sociable and musical evenings in a row with a beach walk in between, and made a bunch of new contacts as well as friends, life is looking brighter again.