An invitation to the Green Cloth Fair

Last night I went to an inspiring talk at Schumacher College, Dartington. Schumacher, named to evoke the author’s principles of ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘economics as if people mattered’, was founded by a forefather of the UK green movement, ‘earth pilgrim’ Satish Kumar. As I’ve said here before, even though I was brought up relatively poor and firmly anti-capitalist, his decades-old contention that wealth, not poverty, is humanity’s great problem, struck me profoundly as a threshold concept that I return to more and more.

Visiting Austrian economist Christian Felber began his talk by proclaiming Schumacher one of the world’s only ‘true’ universities. It is tiny, but its programmes are wholly holistic: systems thinking reveals the interconnectedness of all things.

Felber offers an economics for the common good: an economics in which goods and services are rated and incentivised for sustainable and ethical production. He posits that this requires a democracy for the common good: a democracy in which we, the people, are sovereign. One of his tennets is a monetary system for the common good: a monetary system in which we, the people, can issue money. Another is a legal system for the common good: a legal system in which we, the people, can initiate or block laws. (I note, sadly but proudly, that my father’s native Italy is the only country in which the people have one of these rights – the last one. Note to self: obtain Italian passport.) He proposes that we, the people, begin writing a local constitution which could eventually become a building block for a national or international constitution. (In case this all sounds impossibly Utopian, see here for the extent of his organisation and its research base.)

So as with every idea that I get really excited about, the take home message is:

Be the change!

Last year in a moment of magic in e-conversation with fellow craftspeople Richard Toogood and Allan Brown, I hit upon the idea of a Green Cloth Fair. On the face of it this could be the textiles equivalent of a wood fair, but now the idea has gestated I know that my initial excitement was for the deeper meaning I glimpsed then: ‘Green’ to me means ethical and sustainable. ‘Cloth’ to me means craft in general and its place in the fabric of society. ‘Fair’ to me means gathering, community hub, exchange of goods, ideas, practices, skills, favours, hardships, joys. The Green Cloth Fair is a political micro-movement methinks.

The social, political and cultural significance of the marketplace is a richness I’ve known as a trader both physically and digitally. And my personal gain from this richness means that I cannot truly commit myself to anti-capitalism. As says Bordieu, capital takes many forms and each of us has some at our disposal, whether that be in the form of time, skill, labour, talent or material resource. Greedy or fearful accumulation of capital results in a race to the bottom. Neoliberal capitalism orchestrates for this. But careful use of capital is natural and wholesome, and I want to be free to use it wisely. Said Felber at Schumacher, and so says a common folksong, the difference is in the emphasis: it’s not what you have that counts; it’s what you do with what you have.

As per populist movements of right and left across the world, the gallingly-winning Brexit slogan of ‘Taking back control’ resonated with so many. To a Cornish fisherman it may mean taking back exclusive fishing rights in Cornish waters; to a politician it may mean devolution; to a factory worker it may mean reviving manufacturing; to a student it may mean learning how to question; to a parent it may mean growing the family’s food; to a farmer it may mean shaping a local agricultural policy; to an activist it may mean exercising the right to protest; to a writer it may mean freedom of speech; to a musician it may mean keeping the old songs alive; to the landless it may mean making cloth from the fibre found in wild-growing plants.

It may mean as many things as there are people. The principles are autonomy, self-governance, self-sufficiency, interdependency through fair trade, and the political freedom to make the most of and care for our individual and shared heritage. For me, it is about crafting a low-impact livelihood that sustains me in a new order of producerist economics for the common good. And I know I am just one of many.

So I invite all serious and political artisans, whatever your medium, to join me and fellow makers worldwide in forming the Green Cloth Collective: an online (initially) community of professionals, would-be professionals and activists whose resilience lies in the good that we have the power to make with our hands. Let’s see what we can make together.

 

eloise sabatier web crop

Photograph by Beppe Calgaro

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The cats who walk by themselves

He of the lavender field blanket requested splashes of marigold. My mother remarked on how clashing colours sing in perfect proportion, and out of the remaining warp, I weave her idea of buddleia.

Budleia scarf 3 flower colour
BudleiaBuddleia, like nettle, is another one overlooked: a lurker in decaying industrial landscapes, abandoned dwellings and railway sidings; a post-apocalyptic pioneer; resistant; home always to a million butterflies. (Vive la revolution!)

The rest of the warp speaks to me of bluebell wood, and though weaving the wrong season is uncomfortable, my wool stash can always do bluebell wood. Were I a slicker marketing operation I might save these for the right season, but since it’s hard to sell anything at all in bluebell May, the hunger patch, I offer them now: a breath of Beltane for winter warmth.

Bluebell wood kidsilk scarf foldsBluebellwood shawl large baby alpaca grass closeBluebellwood dual weavingBluebell wood scarf foldsBluebell wood scarf end landscapeBluebellwood shawl large baby alpaca furry friendBluebellwood shawl large baby alpaca swirlBluebell wood tweed shawl folds

A coven of weavers (would that be a ‘wuvven’?) gather in a flat in a converted mill. And then with a beauty who unexpectedly walks into my life straight from the farms of the nettle-weavers in Nepal, and just at a moment when we both need a friend, I trek across the country to a darker wood, whose colours are muted, whose tall trees let only a little light slant in to catch the smoke of the continual fire in the early morning.

Some people are gathered there I’ve known I need to meet, spinning, weaving, dyeing, retting, scutching, hackling. A bunch of cats who walk by themselves, for a number of years they have nonetheless co-ordinated something lovely: yurts, looms, wheels, scutch horses, distaffs, flags, maps, tarps, trucks, tents and trivets make a productive and roughly poetic camp. Many visit, get involved, do their first weaving and wonder why it’s taken them a lifetime; one has even visited the derelict Welsh mill I’ve had my eye on. Ideas swirl beneath the activity, not ready yet to crystallise, but we agree that this could well be the embryo of the Green Cloth Fair I’ve had my mind on. We who walk by ourselves are nonetheless plugged into the currents of the collective: enough practice for a critical mass and the zeitgeist will soon be ours…  

And if you’re still reading, you’re probably one of us.

I’d like to say that I take the fleece I’ve been harbouring and finally learn to spin; that I take the skeins I’ve been storing and finally vegetable dye them; that I learn all the steps in plant fibre processing; that we cook up plans for fairs, caravans, festival acts, co-operatives, community interest companies, outreach work in inner city schools and prisons…

However I just dip my toe in this time. In helping clear up though I do learn how to assess whether flax has been over, under or perfectly retted (that is, half-rotted – I think – ready for fibre extraction).

And I do meet the human spirit there firegazing: worldly, wounded, reconstructing, loving, sharing, rapping and cursing. We sing, and a new song of mine on its first outing goes round and round. We laugh, and it’s more than I have in years. And though we dream of connection, partnership, collaboration and community, off we drift individually on our solitary journeys perpetually doing our solitary thing.

But like my own kin here and abroad; like the folk club in Stornoway; the selkie family at Husinish; the other families in the Highlands and islands on the road and those rooted in the Irish hills, these people in these woods are clan, tribe, home.

Honest cloth

My uncle is dying of a brain tumour in a nursing home, and I’m on the way with hound and accordion having promised him a tune. Radio 4, which sometimes irritates the hell out of me when it does its privilege-preening BBC establishmentism that is abhorrently irrelevant to most of society (or should be, IMHO), is on form today.

Imagine knowing you’re in the path of the ‘perfect storm’, battoning down the hatches and praying they’re strong enough; or stuffing your car and praying you get to shelter in time; or turning away from the evacuation aircraft because they won’t take your dog; or tethering your livestock to trees as if holding them down will save them from hurricanes and floods. Imagine knowing that you’re not quite in the path of the storm but that the path of tornadoes cannot be predicted at all. Imagine knowing they’re coming but not knowing where.

Imagine being a Muslim in Myanmar, where the state for years denies ethnic cleansing, and the world doesn’t know.

Imagine being cleared by fire from your village because the land you inhabit is to be enclosed for the grazing of sheep for wealth to conquer other lands.

Journalist Dan Saladino takes us to Georgia, at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe – and here my tale beautifies, for Dan Saladino is a poet, and his programme is about wine.

We hear Orthodox Christians sing their prayers, and we’re told that wine here is truly sacred, exalted in love. But as the programme unfolds I observe that this sanctity is not religious, and this love not holy. This sanctity and love are heartwarmingly political and personal.

Georgia’s survival down the centuries, and therefore its identity, has depended on winemaking. Birthplace of wine some 8000 years ago, it has been the livelihood of a disproportionately high number of citizens. Caught in the crossfire of empire-building, her warriors tucked root stock from their vines under their tunics when they went out on the war path to defend their territory. Not religious or superstitious belief (although maybe it was that as well), but pragmatic: if, whilst out fighting, our villages are sacked, we can replant our vines and rebuild our livelihood.

Light enough to travel: your loom, your yarn, your computer, your accordion, your hound, all in your van. Your livelihood: freedom and resilience both.

Eloïse of These Isles portrait by Alice Carfrae, courtesy of Etsy, Inc

Saladino visits a family who’ve been making wine for generations. Their vineyard is more like an untended garden, where vegetables and nettles entangle beneath the vines. The vintner, with a vesselful of chagrin, admits that this began with laziness but became culture as the grape thrived, and through the foreign tongue you can hear his grin.

My unplanned cloth colours, warp improvised with impatience, impulsiveness and a reckless glee in spontaneity. A deliberate practice in organicness: chaotic emergence of landscape inspiration; only slightly stylised, and often then by luck. And people kindly say I’m great with colour. We are but conduits: the wove weaves itself, as a song writes itself, as a story tells itself. Less choice than we like to believe; less control than we wish we could have.

Longest green shawl 4

The vintner describes a handful of a grape: difficult to grow, unpredictable as a plant and as a wine, changeable even through the day according to unknown factors. His wife, who has known him since childhood, names it after him, and laughs with great love in her voice.

With a qvevriful of pride, the vintner describes his zero-compromise approach. Non-judgmentally he criticises farming practices that correct and over-correct in constant compensation: put this in the soil, do that to the plant; do this to the land, spray that on the plant. A process of refinement that can easily go too far.

Every artist knows this one, and everyone else too: the table-leg job. Crazy artificial.

Every weaving has flaws, and I have a constant dilemma of which to correct, if any, and which to leave. As a bit of a pedant, this is good practice. My rule of thumb is whether the flaw compromises the structural integrity of the cloth. Will a mis-threading result in a constant crease along the length? Will a missed pick result in a loop of thread that will snag? My other rule of thumb is whether the colour arrangement  is enhanced or compromised. If I’m working a neat geometric pattern with colours symmetrical (which is rare), I feel to correct everything. If I’m working a landscape with twenty organically-blended colours and a thread breaks, I sometimes like to tie on a new colour in its place – whatever is to hand, just for the sake of it. (Ooo, the rebellion.) Sometimes there are flaws which I take days to correct. Sometimes there are flaws which I haven’t time to correct. Sometimes there are flaws that I can’t correct. And sometimes there are flaws that I choose to leave. For Allah. Or someone.

Flawed cloth

Saladino talks with an American Gospel singer in her twenties who’s emigrated to Georgia. We hear her soulful voice soaring in praise above the congregation. Gladness and gratitude. She’s also got Wine, and has learnt to make it. She laments that Georgian wine is referred to as ‘natural wine’. Chemical free from good, simple, time-honoured, clean farming, she prefers to call it simply ‘wine’.

I think of ‘organic cloth’, ‘pure wool’ and so on. Cloth. My colours are chemically dyed. They are cheaper. Yesterday I bought some yarns imported from Peru. They were the most beautiful. I use wool. I love it, and it’s better than petro-fibre. Perhaps my own zero-compromise tendencies need the practice of compromise, even if it’d be better to avoid it.

Of wine and wool

But I’m hoping that a Green Cloth Co-operative might emerge from the Nettles for Textiles group. Maybe individual foragers around the country would do the first steps in processing plant fibres and then send the fibre to be spun in a waterwheel powered, co-operatively-run and commonly-owned mill. (Yeah, ok, the idea needs a lot of interrogation, and there may be better ones. But it’s one beautiful dream of many.)

The Gospel singer says every bottle of wine is different – some amber, some cloudy, some white with the character of red. I think of my accidental elderflower champagne: one magical bottle in a batch of cordial of very variable drinkability.

She says she’s not looking for perfection. She’s looking for honesty.

People doing their amazing thing

Does anyone else notice the year as it turns at Lúnasa? That very day (before I realise it is that day) I notice the light and air quality change, and it happens again on September 1st. Turn towards autumn.

I’m in Devon, SW England, held here all summer by lush valleys, safe parking and interesting folk. Wild swimming and weaving the sea some more.

Small sea shawl shell wave portrait clouds

Large sea shawl portrait cloud shell

 

Then conceptually to the South of France weaving a lavender field blanket at the behest of an artistic Californian who sets me a challenge with plenty of essential creative freedom:

 

There’s a remnant for sale in my shop if anyone wants to make a cushion (I can supply filling), hanging, bag or small curtain?

Lavender blanket test patch

 

Some of the leftover warp lends itself to bluebell wood:

 

And another handful of new poncho listings:

Huge rodolpi front 1

Large Jacob poncho front

Rodolpi maud landscape

Rodolpi jacquard front

*

And  I go to Sidmouth Folkweek, which brings many heroes to the Regency bit of coast. Young ones with young tutors from Halsway share fresh ideas. Ninebarrow are gently magnetic with delicate guitars, crystalline harmonies and two harmonia. Josienne Clarke sings like Innana’s guardian angel. Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer spin yarns with theatrical virtuosity in a time trip to great halls bursting with Purcell. Stonehenge morris fiddler John Dipper shares a sombrely mysterious processional march to the stones. Leveret do their mesmerising thing again. (As someone with a horse bred for haute école and a hound whose action is similarly stunning, I ache with admiration for the suspension and elevation in their Playford and other tunes. They even play the Italian one at my request.) Sam Sweeney does a one-off for a second time with Martin Carthy and it’s Aquarian in character, his viola as surprising as he says is Carthy’s approach to tune-playing.

Monbiot does his final powerful gig with Ewan McLennan – words for the age of loneliness and songs for the cause. (I weep.) As I leave I hear someone shouting my name and a dear man I knew from my days in HE is manning his Network of Wellbeing stall and continuing the valuable work of active community-building.

And so many other heroes in marquees and pubs that I have to choose not to see. As I get ready for bed on my last evening, schoolmate Seth Lakeman’s  unmistakeable verve strides down the hill to my van from the Bulverton Marquee. I’m in a leafy car park near the beach with twenty other campervans, though most of their occupants are still out partying.

And in the hours between all this, like a moth to the light or a traveller who knows they just have to detour but not why, I keep going back to the music fair, talking accordions with a number of fantastic nerds, learning intensively, trying all the best ones, getting back ache, and falling in love… but she’s expensive and the van is so laden that the steering is light, and there are already two others…

*

My official home is near the counter-cultural hub of Totnes. Many of us both love it and hate it: all the erudition of Dartington Hall; all the music of Britain’s finest; all the conservatism of farming England; all the ideas of hippies and revolutionaries; all the smack addicts of a desperate city corner; all the wealth of the South East; all the deprivations of a rural town. Every other person is an artist or a therapist, and people come here to get healed but find a community that indulges their idiosyncrasies. The market is the best I’ve encountered in Britain, and ditto the buskers. The norm is to have children from a number of different partnerships. It is not surprising to see someone dowsing whilst jewellery shopping. Many have settled the surrounding land in communes. Plenty have ascended high in the enlightenment competition. If you’re stretched thin on the treadmill of normality it is threatening and hard to join in. If you’re sceptical you’re wary of the uncritical. If you struggle with your inner zealot, you have to make peace with everyone else’s happy clapping.

Local resident and award-winning Radio 4 poet Matt Harvey sums it up hilariously, astutely and compassionately, in a satire of the Totnes Hug, the particularly Totnesian challenges of choosing curtains, and the rivalry from much straighter neighbours from TorquayAnd here’s a poem a bunch of us made with him at a Green Party fundraiser last night.

Poem by a Matt Harvey audience

And here’s a song that came grabbling out with a few others that had to tell themselves to me in a tumble last week:

Jersey Motel

It doesn’t yet have a melody; anybody?

*

Meantime the Green Cloth community mushrooms over at Nettles for Textiles if you want to join us (it’s a fascinating gathering), and aforementioned inundated host Allan Nettle Man is currently mulling his worldview to share on my blog at some time hence.

Where the magic money tree grows

So I was looking for home and love. Home keeps reconceptualising itself; love was ever thus. And now I am looking for my role in the revolution and my place in the new order. By this I mean the campaign against feudalism and the growth of something that somehow marries the best of socialism, capitalism and anarchism.

Maybe one day I’ll buy a little land, but something stops me now: not only limited choice, and not knowing where I want to settle and invest, but also concern that land ownership is such a problematic part of the old order. When one person owns, no other can be an equal on that territory, is my experience – no matter how careful, generous and skilful the parties, it seems.

Summer hedgerow

I’ve been inspired by the words of a woodsman fellow weaver who made the below short film. Self-proclaimed ‘nettle nerd’ Allan Brown considers his nettle textiles a symbolic act of resistance, since wildgrowing nettles are the ‘fibre of the landless’. 

 

Because sheep farming is tied up with land ownership, reduced bio-diversity and the meat industry, ultimately I wonder whether I should move away from wool – even the local, undyed, vegetable dyed and/or handspun wool that I prize and can ill-afford – and towards a more sustainable fibre source such as an abundant wild British plant.

At Seed eco-conference I met not only virtual friend, drop spinner and weaver Imogen Di Sapia, but also a Saori weaver, Erna Janine, freely weaving chaos principle. I have another friend, Richard Toogood, currently staying in a Neolithic reconstruction village and rough hewing his own primitive looms. Together with Allan we are cooking up ideas for a ‘Green Cloth Collective’: a Green Cloth Camp; a Green Cloth Fair; a Green Cloth Co-operative. How to make local labour viable in a globalised neoliberal world? Meantime I have some nettle yarn from Nepal out of which I’m planning a poncho. Despite that the Nepalese yarn cost me about twenty times less than if I’d spun it myself, the garment will still be pricey, alas, because of the cost of my labour at even about half the UK minimum wage. Perennial problem for craftspeople: I hate that the many cannot afford my goods. I wonder if a different world economics could alter this.

The money question. At times it’s been a relief to leave complicated barter arrangements aside and resort to the supposedly neutral tool that is currency. Like many, I have a long-held suspicion of money, but in moments like those, see its true value as a tool. I’ve never understood money markets, nor, till recently, been interested in economics at all, though now have become fascinated with the both, together and separately. Here’s why.

Contrary to what the dominant neoliberal culture would have us believe, there *is* a magic money tree, but it’s currently in the wrong hands. Money can be a common good, but the way we currently create it is not in the interests of the common good: money creation as debt forms a locking mechanism that keeps us hellbent on the impossibility of infinite growth: boom, bust, guzzle, crash. Humankind is great, but we let our shadow run the show. And the essence of our modern economic model inclines us to act more exploitatively than most of us would naturally act. *This is how it works (it’s a simplification, and it’s dry, but it’s important, so I invite you to read carefully and share widely – and of course feel free to contest).

Some fundamentals:

Firstly, apart from the tiny proportion of money that is represented by coins and notes, money is not a *thing*: money is a token, an agreement between parties, a currency that serves as a tool to be used to aid the fair exchange of actual things.

Next, a brief look at the monetary cost of *things*, that is, of goods and services:

Raw materials do not cost us money, because we do not pay money to the earth herself for the minerals and other raw materials that we extract. What we pay in money for raw materials is for the labour required to extract and process them. So the financial cost of every product or service is mostly constituted by the cost of labour, including what I will call ‘embodied labour’.

In our current monetary system, over and above the cost of labour and embodied labour, which represent the true monetary value of a thing, there’s an additional cost. On average in each monetary transaction, there is one winner and one loser, financially speaking: in order to keep afloat, the vendor must charge more for his product than the product is technically worth in terms of labour. This is because he has to pay not only the cost of labour input, but also the cost of money.

So now to explain the cost of money:

Only 3% of all money in circulation has been created by governments. The other 97% of money is debt that has been created by corporate banks who have special governmental permission to manufacture money for the purposes of lending. When a loan is agreed, the lender simply writes the money into being in their electronic ledger as they transfer it into your bank account. That’s right: they create it from thin air, as confirmed here by the Bank of England. The magic money tree is currently operated by corporate banks who commodify money, hiring it out as if it were a thing.

The borrower does not just pay a hire fee or service charge, but an exponentially growing rate according to volume and timescale: interest. As the borrower repays the loan, the money loaned is written off again by the lender: it ceases to exist. Meantime the lender has extracted surplus, in the form of interest, which far exceeds the labour costs of lending the money, and which constitutes profits for the bank’s shareholders. (Who holds the most shares and thus gains the most income from this? The richest few at the top of the pyramid.)

And back to the transaction of goods and services:

This ‘surplus’ is the additional cost that a vendor has to cover in each transaction in order to service his borrowing. Hence the consumer pays a price that is more than the true value of the actual good/service.

These individual transactions aggregate to constitute the wider economy. Because of the the moneylenders’ interest hoover, vendors charge more than the actual value of their goods and services in order to cover debt, and consumers are out of pocket. The dynamic is mathematically imbalanced: prices are higher than wages/salaries, and so wages/salaries can never cover the consumption of all the goods and services produced. This means that some vendors will make heavy losses, even while consumers everywhere borrow more and more to afford less and less. The result is an impossible quest for infinite growth: basically productivity booms as we chase the shortfall, and busts when we fail to make it. The failure is inbuilt, never-ending and relatively predictable. (So if you’ve a shrewd eye and a purse for gambling…)

Consider the human and environmental cost of all this. Most of us have our backs against the wall for at least some of the time, or are at risk of it, and fear or memory of this discomfort or strife compels us to earn harder to try and alleviate the impact of the next squeeze. Depending on our place in the hierarchy of the economic pyramid, we are either stuck on survival, running just to stand still, or, if we’re lucky/ruthless, climbing at great expense. (Perhaps even those at the very top feel they struggle financially to maintain their castles, yachts, grouse moors, oilfields.) It is hard for anyone not to feel poverty conscious. When do we have the leisure to consider the sustainability of the system, the sustainability of our households, the sustainability of our relationships, and the sustainability of our impact on the natural world?

Being debt-free as an individual does not aid the debt-based economy, since 97% of the population will necessarily be in debt (as per the current percentage of money that is debt). Keeping consumerism down does not aid the debt-based economy either: with insufficient custom, our businesses fail, and our families suffer. A debt-based economy requires consumption to be maintained at a certain level – a level that our planet cannot sustain.

Something has to change.

We reject hunting and gathering, by our land ownership, agriculture and desertification. We reject self-sufficiency, for it does not allow for specialisation. We reject communism, for it reduces us to the lowest common denominator. We contest capitalism, but even without land or property ownership, we all have capital on which to capitalise, be it time, energy, or competency. We had democratic socialism, where the welfare state looked after those in need and business gave opportunity to some. We now have neoliberalism, a barely-regulated capitalism in which voracious big business dismantles the state, looking after fewer and fewer and giving real opportunity to fewer and fewer. We rejected feudalism, but it has emerged in another guise.

Said Indian ecologist Satish Kumar of Schumacher College some years ago: ’It’s not poverty that’s the problem, but wealth.’

So what can we do about it? A pivotal measure could be the nationalisation of money creation: it could remove the locking mechanism that keeps us in wealth-hoovering, planet-devouring chains.

When things get sticky, our governments shake the magic money tree themselves and, in partnership with the central bank, perform Quantitative Easing. In other words, they print money. They can do this in any number of ways – they don’t necessarily literally print banknotes, but may create digital money to invest in particular ways with the aim of stimulating growth in a certain sector, banking on positive knock-on effects for the wider economy. It doesn’t always work, and depending on the way QE is deployed, sometimes it serves only to create yet another trickle-up mechanism to boost the already rich. But the point is this: that *governments*, the folk we elect to work for the common good, can get involved in money creation.

So what if a government took the powers of money creation largely into their own hands? President Lincoln did this successfully with ‘Greenbacks’ before he was assassinated; JFK apparently was moving in a similar direction, and other isolated economies may have done and be doing this around the world.

positivemoney.org proposes such a sovereign money system in which a friendly government works in partnership with a committee at the national bank who are independent of the governing party for the sake of neutrality. A sovereign money system would not be gameable in the way that money creation as debt is currently gameable, and should thus eliminate and/or dilute the mechanisms by which wealth is currently hoovered upwards and concentrated in the hands of a few. Sovereign money could begin to create a stable economy in which costs, wages and prices all matched. Just imagine what we’d then all be freed up to achieve if we weren’t hellbent on the myth of growth.

–:o:–

And meantime what can we as individuals do to resist, prepare and act otherwise? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Visit the Positive Money website and read Bank of England literature for technical details – the more of us know what we’re talking about, the better
  • Join your local Positive Money group and campaign for monetary reform
  • Check out the New Economics Foundation
  • Consider your own business model (bottom up? collectivist? co-operative?)
  • Read Marx, Raworth, Reich, Roebottom, Monbiot and Noakes, or just interrogate bankers, economists and Positive Money folk, as I do
  • Watch Bruce Parry
  • Think collective, collaborative, co-operative and municipalist 
  • Study the economics of differently-organised countries and communities
  • Support local and regional banking initiatives, including credit unions and building societies, or otherwise Triodos Bank
  • Boycott
  • Barter
  • Share
  • Discuss
  • Contest
  • Write letters
  • Vote wisely
  • Ask questions
  • Gain insight
  • Consider the overview
  • Think in systems
  • Crowd fund
  • Crowd source
  • Guerilla garden
  • Rewild
  • Recycle
  • Reinvent
  • Repurpose
  • Upcycle
  • Be vigilant
  • Dream differently
  • Plan carefully
  • Create alternatives
  • Support each other
  • Remember Camus: ‘The only way to be free in an unfree world is to make your very existence an act of rebellion’

 

 

  • [Please add to this list in the comments below]

 

*With special thanks to Chris Noakes for guiding my study of monetary reform.

When you take off into the sunset: community and nomadry

When I first drove off into the sunset, as well as for the adventure, it was to leave behind various defeats, frustrations and feelings of claustrophobia. Fleeing a factory farm education sector, an overcrowded steading and a hippy-progressive enlightenment competition, I was heading to the hills in no uncertain manner, seeking the quietest, wildest, remotest places that I could live in awhile alone. The Outer Hebrides offered what I sorely needed. Yes, of course I was lonely before long, but the real paradox is this: though I found nurture in the spaces with the fewest humans, as soon as I’d touched base on the furthest western shore I was ready to delve back into the peopled pockets. To get to know the islands I had to get to know the people. (Not to mention the old getting to know yourself wotsit.)

Whilst ‘community’ had been just about top of my list of loathed ‘c’ words, straight away I was making connections that made me want to belong: to the Glaswegian/Leoisach selkie family swimming in from St. Kilda; to the Friday folk group in the old people’s home; to the monthly singaround sharing songs and stories and foul-mouthed craic; to the trad session run by young beauties in the arts centre; to the trail of daily dogwalkers in the Stornoway castle grounds; to the Harris Tweed weaving tradition in the mills and crofts and sheds; to the fishing villages who’d lost so many to the sea; to the community of ordinary folk doing ordinary jobs in shops and garages and offices, who said that I should stay; to the caravan of international surfers who’d found the lesser known breaks, who shared their beer and mackerel; and to the community of motorhomers who considered me a fellow motorhomer.

All this too in Brittany and Ireland: lonely timidity of a newbie with all the awe and wonder of an anthropologist child explorer. An adventure in every little exchange, and a welcome around every corner. (Where there wasn’t a shotgun, an agenda or a bad temper, that is. In those darker corners, the one or two newly-made, friendly contacts are lifesavers.)

Back in Devon for a pit-stop when the election is called, and it is a moment to plug in again here too: the local political landscape has been changing after a hundred years of the same old same old yellows being the only challengers to the blues. Green leaders Bennett and then Lucas came down here to promote progressive alliance, but it hasn’t got off the ground. Do the reds have a chance? I don’t know how to vote to best promote Corbyn/social and environmental sustainability, so I conduct some research in the local Facebook community, whipping up a stormy tactical voting debate and pissing off the local left parties who fear losing out to a voter alliance. Despite the fact that Totnes and Dartington make an ultra-progressive island in the Westcountry’s dominant conservatism of rural wealth, disappointingly the local left parties have resigned themselves to yet another Tory win, which duly occurs. (I stay up all night shouting at someone’s TV. It is a really good night.) The 450 people I poll forecast the Corbyn-effect Labour surge here too, and I make a number of new swing-voting and activist friends locally. The urgency and the enormity of the political struggle; the awfulness of terror and fire. Infighting, rank-closing, rabble rousing: we are alert and will change this shitty trickle-up system. Don’t wait for our leaders and parties and governments to solve things for us all; we must do it ourselves.

I go to Bovey Tracey Contemporary Craft Fair. Just a punter again, not ready to tie myself to being in a particular place ahead of time, just visiting for inspiration, professional development. Cool crystal water on the scorched earth of a ravaged Britain. I babble with a Welshman;  relieved to just look at pretty things and not talk politics – as I manically jump from the election to Corbyn to neoliberalism to the urban decay that inspires his striking ceramics, all at a rate of 2000wpm. I’m greeted warmly by the light-genius Valerie Wartelle, whom I interviewed last year. I also admire the work of a Cornishwoman making rusty wriggly tin landscapes, inspired by the stories she too sees in decay. Lisa Wisdom is the only fine artist we know of whose main medium is corrugated iron, and her work is a lovely surprise, her scenes parts of these isles that I know in my bones. Her sister describes the origins of Occupational Therapy in weaving, and when a basketmaker subsequently tells me that that happened very near here, I add it to the boast about Clement Atlee’s NHS-founding manifesto that was written here in Dartington Hall. Everywhere I go, I’m proud of my Westcountry upbringing.

Lisa Wisdom wriggly tin art

 

I get my head down to the loom again and weave a batch of ponchos and mauds: a summer hedgerow; a Rodolpi Mountain; a woman’s hand dyed Jacob; a woman’s handspun Jacob; a man’s handspun Jacob.  I curate a collection of images by artisans around the world and send them a link with a compliment and an invitation to share. I receive warmhearted replies from as far off as Peru. That awful ‘networking’ can be meaningful communitybuilding. (I’m reminded of the beautiful film ‘Even the Rain‘ with its subtle critique of the patronising Western people’s way. Cringe.)

Summer hedgerow green poncho banner

Rust Jacob poncho 2a

Dark Jacob poncho grasses

Dark Jacob poncho textures

Rodolpi maud portrait

Rodolpi poncho full height

Whilst waiting for some delayed wool, I cook up a new summer product idea: warp readywound for weavers. I struggle to scratch a living in the summer, and need to innovate. Piloting is exciting.

Last minute I put out a shout on social media about an eco-conference called Seed Festival at Hawkwood, Gloucestershire. Is anyone I know going? A dear friend, Imogen Di Sapia, as yet un-met except online, invites me to contribute to her workshop there: ‘The Craft Economy and Women Underground’. We talk about networking with meaningful human connection for moral support and pragmatic exchange. Another workshop, about land use, requires us to consider what landscape means, and my neighbour contests my limited definition of hills and open spaces: landscape is built and peopled, says he, citing the Welsh ‘hiraeth’. Something you belong to. A self-build workshop focuses on intentional community and though I contribute a word the leaders like, ‘inter-reliance’, my old allergic reaction froths to the surface. But I enjoy the conversations I have with (particularly) women who are looking to grow their art, build their business and find their way, a different way.

I interrogate the representative of Triodos Bank. He says he wants to restore relationship between savers and borrowers, but I’m uneasy at this sweet, simplistic representation of corporate banking. I’m nervous about describing in 30 seconds the injustice of our debt-based monetary system and the mechanism of its feudalism so that the audience understands and the speaker doesn’t feel attacked (plus my countercultural understanding of economics is far from complete). But I succeed, ‘hear hear’, many folk in the room are already onto this, and he answers well: though Triodos is a commercial bank working to the conventional banking model, its profits don’t trickle up to fat cats via derivative products, stocks and shares, but are reinvested 100% in worthy causes and the real economy. So the company is not transformative, but it is nonetheless a force for good. I hope the climate gives us time to change things slowly.

Molly Scott Cato, South West MEP, discusses Brexit as an opportunity to reshape British agriculture, and I realise more and more how dysfunctional it currently is, with small farmers paid to keep uplands desertified and the wealthiest farmers paid just to keep wealthy. Land ownership, like other wealth, is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few (some Saudi and Russian), and Britain is nowhere near capable of feeding itself. Cato is opposed to Brexit and feels the dire necessity of a left-shaped response to the crisis. She has drawn on expertise from the Soil Association and land rights changemaker Simon Fairlie to propose plans in the absence of government plans. (Incidentally, she feels there is, surprisingly, a teency glimmer of hope in the language of Gove and DEFRA despite Leadsom, though whether they will ever walk the decent talk is another matter.)

Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth supremo, challenges notions commonly held by businessfolk that sustainabilityfolk are anti-progess. Sustainabilityfolk are commonly held back by businessfolk intent on a race to the bottom. Oh, I’ve got an idea: maybe we could work together?

I miss Caroline Lucas talking, but I pass Bruce Parry and we smile and he is as warm as in his films. I go to the screening of his as-yet unreleased Tawai. A popular headline act, we are spilling out of the curtained hall, standing for two hours with craned necks in a dark sauna. I only want to hear him speak, ask questions – not stare at a screen at a social event – but the opening scenes compel, and it is nice to watch it with the maker, and with a friendly bunch of concerned strangers. Seven of us standing in a crowded corner, hot and tired and, one, disabled, move considerately around each other to make spacesharing work, helping out, propping up, cushioning, commenting, swapping places, making room for latecomers, making room for shorter folk or older folk or tireder folk. His film is ostensibly an investigation into interdependency among members of the world’s last hunter-gatherer community in Borneo, but the profound and lightly-trod subnarrative is a personal investigation into ways of knowing, being, living and believing. The moment of his epiphany is understated but it reverberates as I think I spot a homefinding in his own quest for belonging. ‘If you’ve come to help us, then we have nothing to say to each other. But if you’ve come because your survival is bound up with ours, then let us talk.’ Later Parry asks to join us beside the campfire, and I want to talk to him about the inner journey, but he is quickly surrounded by beauties talking to him about the outer journey, and as I open my mouth a drunkard falls on top of us and the moment is passed.

I’m invited to contribute to another conference about community business, and though both these words have turned me off in the past, I’m starting to feel the layers in the depths of them. Interesting, the deeper significance of trade and trading relations. When I took to the road, I designed my livelihood and lifestyle for maximum independence, autonomy and solo agility. But perhaps I can plug back in by inspiring others to take off into the sunset before they plug back in empowered. 

And maybe my community doesn’t have to be in one place. Maybe I’m a child of globalisation, and happy that way.

Weaving the sea

Seascape blanket 9

I decide to return to Devon for a pit-stop, and go via Dublin for a shorter ferry journey, a superhero gig, an invitation to the Etsy Ireland headquarters, and an evening with someone special. Though I give the van a good wash, I bail out of going to the Esty Ireland headquarters, as a few days in the city, a ferry journey and an evening with someone special feel like daunting enough challenges all at once, without also inviting a bunch of strangers into my tiny winter-worn workshop-home just now. I’ll have to come back soon for the honour of a work lunch and open studio.

I spend a night in a campsite on the outskirts that is next to an enormous park and which has rosemary hedges dividing some of the pitches. I’m nervous about parking in the city – all the car parks in the safer zones have prohibitive height restrictions – but public transport is the scarier option for this country girl, especially late at night, and difficult too with Hound. However, when I find a nice spot very near the centre the next day, just round the corner from the Palestinian embassy, I decide to overnight there. (Gotta be one of the weirdest.)

I pass a curious shop, the kind I might have expected to see in the Outer Isles, or in my childhood in the provinces: a narrow, high-ceilinged Georgian house has its ground floor hung unslickly with wovens and jumpers, and the lovely girl attending shows me the Swedish loom she is resuscitating in the basement. We make friends and I feel at home.

I visit some Viking textiles in the archeology museum, and wish I’d allowed more time for my visit, as Irish bogs have preserved a plethora of intriguing artefacts down the centuries.

Murphy finds some fans as ever, and I meet with said someone special on Stephen’s Green. A native Dub departed, he delights in showing me a corner or two, and we natter without pause, and though we are late for the gig, we have to stop so he can demonstrate somethingorother (Celtic? Viking? Identity? Equality?) properly with his hands. They’re beautiful hands, so I stop and watch. A swan makes her presence felt, and we exchange folk tales about swans, and then later Andy Irvine sings a beautiful version of the tale I have told, as if for us. Afterwards we head to O’Donohues, the pub he said that changed his life five decades ago, and the musicians are all still there, and we dig it.

I sleep well enough in the street, and walk Murph along the canal in the sun and cherry blossom next morning. There is a poet’s statue, a discarded sleeping bag, and a homeless man’s tent. Dublin is my latest love, and somewhere I plan to return, even live, though god knows how.

The next day the sky is blue, the sea calm, and our journey smooth. The only traffic jam occurs by a beach in North Wales, so Murph and I have a walk and it clears. Late at night we get to Gloucester Services and there the next day meet for lunch with the old schoolfriend who bartered me the big accordion there when we were on our way out to Ireland six months ago.

Devon feels busier than Dublin felt on St. Paddy’s bank holiday weekend with a rugby match (Ireland beat England, yey)! But it’s warm, and it keeps being warm for weeks on end, and so I keep on staying.

We spend a couple of nights camping with friends near Land’s End, in Cornwall, as a gig at the outdoor amphitheatre carved into the cliff coincides with my needing a crystal blue sea to photograph my latest weavings, and the last day of sunshine. The climb down to the first beach is steep, the afternoon late, the tide just turning, and my camera batteries failing. But fortune brings it all together in a narrow window and, after several years’ gestating these weavings and several months’ gestating the photography, here are the first of them:

Picture white sand and crystal blue green waters at Cliobh (Isle of Lewis), Husinish and Luskentyre (Isle of Harris), Langamull and Calgary (Isle of Mull), Glassilaun (Connemara), Allihies (Cork), Pednvounder and Porthcurno (Cornwall)…

I planned to return to Ireland, but it’s not quite right just now. Week by week I hit on other exciting ideas, research them, make initial enquiries, resolve to realise them, then replace them with another: ruin renovation in Ireland’s West? Canal boat on England’s waterways? Agro-forestry in Wales? Weaving shed in Devon? Permaculture in Cornwall? Crofting in the Scottish Isles? Urban life in Glasgow? Cottage in Brittany? Finca in the mediterranean? Something in Scandinavia?

Britain’s general election will be a watershed and I may decide according to what this country looks like on June 9th. After an anxious drive to Make a Plan, I accept the uncertainty and concede that this lush Devon valley will do fine for a time. It serves a quiet working routine very well, and I meet up with old friends, unearth some great gigs, and plug back into political networks. A canvassing experience in a nearby marginal constituency has me enjoying knocking on doors though I thought I wouldn’t:

We’re voting Labour [all thumbs up and the warmth of conspiracy] I don’t know what I’m voting but not Tory [Then Labour is the only probable alternative, pleeeease!] We’re voting Lib Dem, even if they’re statistically unlikely here [Good for you for your conviction] I’m not voting for that Corbyn plonker [Well, he’s the very reason I’m here, but I respect you] And I respect you too [respectful smiles all round] You won’t get anything out of me [What, not even a vote?] You can’t speak for this city, you woman, you won’t seduce me with your party mantra [nastily, before I’ve even opened my mouth] Maybe… I’m going through a bereavement… Yep, Labour… Election?

No progressive alliance deal is made locally and so the left-of-centre parties are still pitted against each other. Even though this is supposedly an ultra-safe Tory seat, I make a quick straw poll to gauge the local mood for tactical voting and share it on social media, and the response is encouraging. What the metropolitans often don’t know about the blue and purple South West is that this is the cradle of Britain’s green movement; that, briefly a UKIP stronghold, nonetheless we were part of Devon’s only Remain area; that the NHS was conceived in talks here at Dartington College of the Arts; that radical and creative things can happen here first.

With our artistic and social innovations let us use our Pen against fascism and likewise redirect the Marche of greedy neoliberalism and its false freedoms.

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.

West Cork weaves

dusk-on-barley-cove

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.

b-purple-sky-snug-looking-left

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.

– Oh?

– 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…

birch-shawl-1-whole-on-wheel

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.