West Cork winter: inhabiting the seasons

Killarney National Park 3

I gradually emerge from midwinter’s emotional shroud and begin to enjoy getting out there a little.

Having fled down here in a state, with no heart and no plan, for a few months I’ve been feeling very lost and stuck. So then when I actually get the van stuck in the mud and have to wait twelve hours (at a very awkward angle) for a tractor, the stuckness slaps me in the face and prompts a meltdown.

I change locations and the change of scene helps. Although I’m feeling uncomfortable about being on others’ land no matter how kind they are, I enjoy the company of a different lively family and new lanes to walk. A thespian tells me about a singaround in a pub on the south coast and it is nice to be recognised by the host as I walk in, and waltzed by her at the end when an accordion plays a dance tune.

I meet a French WOOFA randomly in a pub – both of us females alone – and we are surprised to find that we both have family connections in the same remote part of Brittany. We go out together a couple of times.

After a while I go back to the family farm I initially fled to and am, again, warmly welcomed ‘home’.  There is a new lovely WOOFA, American, and we have great debates walking the lanes and going out to pubs.

The sow farrows a huge litter of piglets while I’m there. She is an enterprise that the youngest son, now a full time farmer, took on in his early teens, and the family’s source of pork.

(I never understood why the world goes crazy for pigs – I’ve never seen Babe – until one sunny autumnal day a few years ago when eight huge grown piglets joined me lying down in their field: they literally stretched their bodies along the length of mine to share warmth, and I laid my head on another. That was the first time we’d met. Amazing creatures.)

In a wholefood shop in town I natter with a self-taught perfumer from Carlow, Jo Browne, whose kitchen-table business has taken off like wildfire, here and abroad. I put my foot in it but she is tactful, forgiving, warm and inspiring and I am glad to have met her.

There’s a flurry of activity on the These Isles publicity front: first I’m invited to contribute some words to an article on tiny house living (‘Small Wonders’, by Carol Anne Strange, in the fifth issue of Breathe, a magazine by the Guild of Master Craftsmen). Then I’m asked out of the blue whether in a hurry I can get a spring green blanket to a photoshoot in a Welsh castle for the New York Times style magazine. Good people help me get into gear to make things happen in both cases (thank you Carol, Alice, Niall), and we’ll see what comes of it.

Then I go to the Killarney trad music Gathering. None of the campsites are open, so I will have to bite the bullet and do my first wildcamp in Ireland. I didn’t plan to do this in winter with her short days and early dark, and this winter’s twists and turns have left my confidence at an all-time low, but the line-up is so good that I go anyway – after all, what am I really in Ireland for?!

The first night, after delightful performances from musicians I’ve been wanting awhile to see (Bríd Harper, fiddle; Dermot Byrne, accordion; Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, singer), I make the cowardly choice to stay in the huge hotel car park. I am reassured by the presence of other festival-going motorhomers, but WiFried by the electromagnetic radiation of too many routers. During the next two days I enjoy superstars Dervish and younger genii I’d not come across: Goitse, Full Set, and husband and wife duo Caitlín Nic Gabhann (concertina, dance) and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh (fiddle). Mustering my nerves, I stay in the woods by the lough, where Murph and I have beautiful walks. Storm Doris brings snow here. When the festival is done I go into Killarney National Park proper, and after a weekend of blowaway music, I am blown away by the mountains too.

Back down in West Cork I negotiate a Donegal jumper or two to be made for my mother with our neighbour the woolshop owner, and buy some rich-coloured Donegal wool with which I plan to make a snug or three sometime.

Donegal green

With Alpaca and Shetland wool I weave a run of springlike woves, and for once am ahead of the seasons. This makes photographing them in the right settings difficult as the greens in the landscape are not yet acidic enough. That might not sound like a problem, but it is! A problem of lifestyle, also, I realise: I have often moved on from the source of inspiration whilst still working on the weavings it inspired. And I am frequently one whole season behind in my colourways. (Hmm. Constantly dwelling in the previous season rather than the present? Or just getting good at slow? Ahem.) Being a whole year behind would work ok. The fashion industry probably mostly works one year ahead.

In fact, though it’s still wintry, I fail to photograph even the few wintrier woves in the right landscape: they are sea-inspired but the sea, weather, light and opportunities to go out with a camera don’t all line up. I take a day trying to find the right seascape, but the weather changes and the beaches I find here are just wrong for it, and I spend the whole day driving. (Oh well, at least I like driving – and have a good soundtrack, after buying great CDs from the amazing young Killarney performers. I put Caitlín Nic Gabhann’s haunting ‘Last Port of Call’ on repeat, and later learn it on the melodica.)

 

This winter I’ve expended an unhelpful amount of energy worrying about how to make life work.  Being on the road proper in winter doesn’t feel feasible – it’s lonely and less safe. Being on others’ territory is often uncomfortable, no matter how good the arrangement. To my disappointment, though there are parking up places, land is less accessible here than in Scotland, and although actual gypsies have just been granted official recognition in Ireland, beach car parks and the like tend to have height restriction barriers and ‘no camping’ signs. Landowners are more forgiving of walkers than they are in England, but less so of dogs, and there are far fewer actual footpaths/public rights of way. I get excited about the possibility of buying my own small plot of land, perhaps a derelict house, and even view an interesting place in a good location, but don’t feel ready to set up house alone.

For a month I’ve barely made music myself either, despite making more and more friends in the sweet West Cork folk scene, which offers lots of non-scary opportunities. I’ve had something hurting my throat and crouching on my chest for ages – damp and unvoiced worries. I have a little bout of bravery on the melodica (and getting that out in public *is* brave): a new friend hosts a fireside session in a tiny pub at the end of a long peninsula, and we share tunes. When there’s a song, all ten people in the pub listen and/or join in, and suddenly we are one family in the same conversation. The next time I return there through the fog, the locals recognise me and ask if I ‘have the music tonight’. Though I don’t that night, in an instant I glimpse a life exactly as it should be.

In another pub nearby, the landlady requests a reel and a jig of the accordionist, and dances some traditional steps; the young barman gets out guitar and harmonica and sings soulfully. Though I only visit the once, and am songless and subdued, sad that I’m about to leave the area, I am touched by the staff waving me off as my van pulls away.

Says Shetlander Malachy Tallack on his journey through Siberia in search of home: ‘the longing for home and the longing for love are so alike as to be almost inseparable. The desire to be held by a person, or by a place, and to be needed; the urge to belong to something, and for one’s need to be reciprocated’…

Welcomed by family I didn’t know were family; by neighbours, townspeople, new friends and friends of friends, I start to feel a sense of belonging in West Cork, and that, though not everything is here, still there are things that I would love to be a part of.

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I LOVE BEING IN THE ARTS WORLD! Barter, media, cross-fertilisation and creative enquiry

Dear Higher Education Sector,

I am SO grateful for all you taught me, and SO glad that you are shrinking small into a distant past.

Yours not at all,

Eloïse Liberty Sentito


For weeks I’ve been writing and rewriting and rewriting a short(ish) essay (not a rant, er…) on monetary reform, and also feeling that not addressing the question of whether the UK should stay in the EU is remiss at such a time.

So on the latter: to quote a friend, ‘I’m a nationalist and also an internationalist’. Basically, whilst I’ve some sympathy for individualistic tendencies – ahem – it seems that most arguments for ‘Brexit’ are fuelled by resentment that Europe is limiting the ever-mushrooming right wing freedom to exploit. (Anyway, isn’t a slower-growing economy a stabler one, and better for the majority?) Besides, though our little isle is crowded, overall (reports our tax office, HMRC), immigrants are more than paying their way. So broadly speaking, a vote to leave the EU this year looks like a vote for aggressive Neoliberalism, whereas for social justice, democracy and the environment, I’ll vote to stay. How about you? (With the recent election of a Muslim Labour Mayor of London, I have hope for our country, and also, unusually, pride.)

There, that’s some of the big topics, er, well, not ignored. The question of monetary reform will have to wait, as I’ve plenty to report about weaving these isles.

There have been barterings: here are some beautiful pictures by Californi-Italian coppersmith Marcella of Unicorn Vibration, who swapped a pin like this one for some remnants as photographic backdrops and sent me the results to share:

 

 

A DSLR camera barter is under discussion – by the skin of my teeth (typically) I’ve got this far without one.

And here are a couple of small picnic blankets I’ve made that might constitute my offer for a dauntingly heavyweight, three-octave, billion-buttoned, Hohner Contessa accordion I’ve been offered:

Tweed Harris picnic blanket pair close

(At 4′ x 4′ they may be too small for the accordion barter proposer’s family picnics, so they’re likely to come on general sale soon – stay tuned. SC, let me know your thoughts.)

I keep thinking of additional items to add to my barter wishlist – please keep an eye on that page for updates if you’d like to consider a swap.

There has been lots of weaving, and I’ve been commissioned to make a poncho that will disguise its wearer as a roe deer (just for the romance of it, as far as I know). A lovely challenge.

And there has been media interest: you may have seen my post about getting teleported (well, sort of) right into the Radio 4 studios for (an albeit brief) live broadcast of my thoughts on camper-travel, only for them to run out of time. Well, it was exciting anyway, but even more exciting is that the programme’s producer (no less) has got back in touch, as they may want to chat with me on another programme. Just so I can say it again: that is BBC Radio 4, the most prestigious station on one of the most respected broadcasting corporations in the world – and the people I’m in contact with are from one of the best and hardest programmes to get onto, says my music-plugging friend who knows them.

And there has been elegant hobknobbing with other craftspeople: every year the very high-end Contemporary Craft Festival graces nearby modest little Bovey Tracy. Every year I think I should apply but am unkeen to commit to specific whereabouts in midsummer six months hence, unable to muster the pitch fee, and unsure that I can summon the impressive coherence required for a successful application, or the necessary glamour of a super-chic mini-gallery that is every stall. However every year at the last minute a certain friend (thank you CD) conjures a spare ticket to the private view and so most years I get to dress up and race around the labyrinthine marquees finding plentiful inspiration, greeting maker-friends and spilling free champagne. This year said music-plugging friend whom I happened to speak to the same day after receiving the Radio 4 email (just checking you heard that) happened to be also going alone so we hooked up. It’s a fun, high-speed, stylish feast for the imagination, full of the Westcountry’s most interesting folk and UK makers from far further. I told myself that it was a work outing, and remembered to take cards (though didn’t think, in the warmth, to wear a wove). However I let myself off the hook and decided not to network but to enjoy. Dear ticket-conjuring friend also conjured an Indian meal out afterwards.

And then the next day I felt that the two hour private view simply hadn’t been enough and that, as well as only having had a quick look at fewer than all the stands, I was missing a trick. I do lots of networking online, so what was I doing dipping out of the face to face opportunity?

I loved being in the Hebrides last year feeling like an explorer on a journey of enquiry meeting their wool people and investigating their weaving traditions (and everything else) – and doing so in a way that was so much more free and spontaneous than in academic research. Why not put my own home area under the magnifier?

With radio on my mind and a warm recollection of profound conversations I’d had with wise lecturers in an education research project I’d conducted in my last chapter of life, I decided to return to the festival with a dictaphone to extend the snippets of conversation I’d begun with some intrigueing textile artists and weavers.

Light, colour, technique, tools, process, livelihood, story and business model were my themes (far too many of course). Valérie Wartelle (wetfeltscapes), Sarah Beadsmoore (silk scarves), Nick Ozanne (silk scarves) and Graeme Hawes (glassware) were my interviewees (I’d have loved more, but ran out of time, articulacy and battery). I’m just editing my four audio recordings and will share them with you here shortly.