Monday, 26 October 2009

The falling leaves and the strange case of vitamin B12

ON RETURNING to our hilltop parking spot, we found all well, a few more brown leaves blowing about the wheels, and a sense of relief at being amongst hedgerows again. The colour of things is definitely changing, and small creatures are preparing for winter, in rather interesting ways... We opened our food cupboard to find that during our week away small mouse teeth had been gnawing determinedly at (of all things) the vitamin B12 jar!! Their nibbling had almost succeeded in opening the plastic lid! What strange mice, perhaps they sense themselves deficient in this particular vitamin? It reminded me of a passage in one of my favourite books - Master Snickup's Cloak, by Alexander Theroux, illustrated by Brian Froud.

Mountains were climbed, mazes thrid. He crossed a sea that had no motion on the ship What is Pseudoymry? and came to a desert where he said penances and fed on caper buds, dormice, lentils. Still he pilgrimaged, Reading the footprints of geese in the air.
To reach eventually the Black Sea where, living alone on a shale island, he chastised himself with thongs and subsisted only on air and dew. Rain fell on his blue cloak, which he sucked, supplying himself with vitamin B12.
Swallows sang upon his wrists.

This artful writing is combined with illustrations of wonderful medieval strangeness. A delight indeed! And I wonder what it is about vitamin B12?!

The land we are on is home to a basketmaker and a woodworker/toolmaker. They have a beautifully organised array of outbuildings, workshops and garden. We will be doing the odd little thing here and there for them in return for our spot, and we have been feeding their chickens and stacking logs for them while they are away these last few days.

My muscles ache today from many happy hours of log stacking yesterday. Tui's job was to wheelbarrow the logs from their piles in the field to me in the woodshed where logs are organised by dryness and stacked in sturdy towers.

This kind of outdoor work on a sunny autumn day leaves excellent space for mind-wandering and thinking up more words for my tale. These last few days I have tried hard to climb back into the story which I have picked up off and on like an old piece of knitting over the past year. I carry this little notebook everywhere; in a strange way I almost have come to love it and what it contains, the thought of losing it fills me with horror. It is so hard though to keep a work like this going, when you have other tasks that earn money or are everyday necessities to do instead. I must try to make a little corner for this story every day, even if it is just one word I adjust. Each time I return to it I reread what I have written from the beginning, therefore becoming absurdly familiar with the first few lines. I cross out, rewrite passages, add little scribbled ideas in the back of the book, when words fail I draw, and I go on imagining.

One day I will bring you a finished book, with words and pictures, and a tale that is my own.
Here is the corner of the truck where I work, which is rather messy with boots and things, on the desk you can just see the clock that I have been busy painting.. I shall show you that soon, when it is done!

After our logging day, we made an outdoor fire in a firepit that is a few yards away down the field. The plan was to sit and eat dinner by the fire whilst watching a film on the laptop, but that idea proved more romantic in its imagination than in its realisation - the wind blew smoke this way and that, and so we retreated, eyes stinging, to the warmth of our lovely vehicle home, where we could have a fire without smoke (the marvels of a chimney!) and sit in comfort whilst watching The Secret Of Roan Inish- a lovely Irish film about the legend of the Selkies.
Tui's latest construction is an ingenious wood and rope laptop-swing that can be hooked from the beam in our luton sleeping loft. And he's fitted two more little speakers in amongst the books there, so that we can sit in bed watching films with surround-sound and hot chocolate and the night tree-breeze blowing in through our round window. Not bad for a rustic peasant life eh? :)

Our autumn walks have been scattered with autumn treasure: chestnuts popped new from their shells, downy-soft and shy, exactly the sheen of a horse. Upside-down mushrooms and right-way-up mushrooms - red Fly Agarics - waiting like Christmas amongst tree roots ... who will nibble first?

(these lovely photos are by Tui of course!)

On my way to the village today, on my way to write you these words, I met a white cat on the lane, she said a few words to me, and I to her, and then she disappeared into the trees.

Once I stepped into this world-wide-web, I was delighted to find that this here blog has been listed by Blogger as a Blog Of Note! Gosh, thousands more visitors are now following our happy little peripheral tale! The internet never fails to amaze me, though it is scary too, you are all very welcome! I'm back off up that white cat lane now, back to our little wooden wheeled house, and a cup of tea and to this exquisite view...

Saturday, 17 October 2009

At my parents' house

THIS WEEK we have been visiting our families. We left our house parked in its Dartmoor field and hopped on a bus and then a train. The train took Tui up to the north-east where the fog horn blows out at sea and where they pronounce cake keeak and film filumm and call their mothers me-mam. And the train took me down to London (which despite being a Londoner, I find altogether alien now and horrifically busy with millions of people. I found myself like a green visitor from faraway, unaware of city customs and taboos, staring too long in fascination at
billboards and people in their closed little commuting worlds.)
...and back to the house where I lived since I was about this age...

It is strange how a place holds memories in the walls, almost as if my childhood is trapped in the folds of the brown gingham curtains. Though my parents' house is in an ordinary corner of an ordinary suburb, they have over the years made a unique artistic nook amongst pebble-dashed ex-council houses - "the odd house" - where neighbours would hook their disapproving snouts over the garden wall and not understand.
This house was home for me for the longest time in my life so far, and it has always been full to the brim with artistic inspiration and love.
In all fondness I think my mum and dad are possibly the world's most infrequent bloggers, and so I bring a report from their rustic nest instead because I think they do beautiful things here.

In the back garden my dad has built a courtyard and workshop, all by hand over the years, from wood and slate and cut-in-half bricks for cobblestones. The red autumn has begun to grasp the roofs and all my mum's hanging plants in ceramic pots are stitched together by spiders building webs in the October suns.

In the house, shelves are made beautiful with little things. My mum makes hearth and windowsill into shrines of seeds and sculpture and stones.

Books on shelves in dark corners remind me of days off sick from school when I'd lie on the sofa, the titles and fonts and colours of the spines chanting and marching through my flu-dreaming head.

Those canvas tool rolls, full of chisels, for the making of my parents' work, are still stacked on the shelves of my memory.

And the wonderful faces of my dad's carvings that have looked at me, and I at them, for many familiar years.

My mum has been creating - beautiful shapes in alabaster and soapstone, birdlike and moonlike and budlike,

and smooth and round as these pebbles.

She has also been creating in the kitchen: knobbly tasty barleycorn bread,

And there's mackerels for tea.

This little personality lives here now (though I have dear memories of a large and kindly black predecessor) - the cat with the chequerboard chops, and an I'll-do-just-what-I-like look in her eye.

The other day we walked in the woods that were wildness for young me, and which now seem so much more edged than the countryside forests we wander in these days...

On the walls there are words beautifully penned,

(calligraphy by mum's art school friend Karen O'Neill-Newman)

an alphabet drawn by my grandmother when she was a girl at school in New Zealand,

And in the garden the little apple tree is still making apples, just in time for Apple Day.

I went back to the library yesterday where as children we would hungrily borrow our weekly allotment of six books, books where I learned to lose myself in story. There is a book I remember loving back then, the cover was a black and gold chessboard and there was a chase through the forest in the tale, with knights, and a good measure of foreboding, and the word mire, but not for the life of me can I rememeber the title or anything else about the book. I wonder if you recognise it?
I love to pop into the childrens' sections of bookshops now and then and delight in the wonderful selection and visual sumptuousness of what there is on offer for kids these days.
Story is in us all: our days gone before and yet to come, the lives of others that we hear about. We are ourselves stories and we must continue to tell and be told.

On the train here I was reading a mouldy old Dylan Thomas Miscellany that I found in a box outside a house once with "please help yourself" written on it. As well as his beautifully crafted poems and stories, there are his broadcasts - delicious evocations of the sights and sounds and smells and thoughts of a childhood vividly remembered.
Here is an extract from his radio broadcast "Reminiscences of Childhood":

I was born in a large Welsh industrial town at the beginning of the Great War: an ugly, lovely town (or so it was, and is, to me), crawling, sprawling, slummed,unplanned, jerry-villa’d, and smug-suburbed by the side of a long and splendid-curving shore where truant boys and sandfield boys and old anonymous men, in the tatters and hangovers of a hundred charity suits, beachcombed, idled, and paddled, watched the dock-bound boats, threw stones into the sea for the barking, outcast dogs, and, on Saturday summer afternoons, listened to the militant music of salvation and hell-fire preached from a soap-box.

This sea town was my world; outside, a strange Wales, coal-pitted, mountained, river run, full, so far as I knew, of choirs and sheep and story-book tall hats, moved about its business which was none of mine; beyond that unknown Wales lay England, which was London, and a country called ‘The Front’ from which many of our neighbours never came back. At the beginning, the only ‘front’ I knew was the little lobby before our front door; I could not understand how so many people never returned from there; but later I grew to know more, though still without understanding, and carried a wooden rifle in Cwmdonkin Park and shot down the invisible, unknown enemy like a flock of wild birds...


For more of my parents' wonderful work see their website and etsy shop.

& apologies for the dubious photo quality - I am testing out a new camera!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A new hill in October

AND SO THEY DROVE their house again to a new place. As the hills pulled up their autumn hoods and leaned into the wet winds of October, one of the hills wore a Bedford as its hat, and smoke rose like hill-thoughts from the chimney. From there they could see for miles all around and began to think about wintering. The walk to town is even further now, and the wet lanes are spotted artists' palettes of umber and ochre. They are busy, with paintings and woodworkings and visitings and doings and proppings of back wheels on slopes and under-stackings of wood for colder days. There will be more news when the camera-that-takes-black-photos has been fixed! And Rima says thank you for many many kind birthday wishes.
Meanwhile pheasants with autumned feathers strut by the crisscross windows and cock-a-doodles welcome their wet grassed mornings. When the nights come in, earlier now, they can see the grey layers of faraways blackening as the sun goes down, all dotted with lights as people Over There kick off boots in porches of warm houses and begin their imagined evenings.