Wednesday 27 May 2009

A Carnival of Caravans

GREETINGS FROM THE MOST SOCIABLE HERMITAGE there has been! Though we are usually a quiet pair who like a secluded green spot where only the chattering of birds can be heard, our work and travelling takes us on occasion into pockets of busy humanity to sell our wares. The last two weeks have been positively bristling with people, as we've taken our rolling house and all our wares to fairs and festivals where we've seen so so many faces and swapped many interesting tales.

Weird and Wonderful Wood was a delightful event set in the leafy grounds of Haughley Park where a knotwork of wood crafters set up tents and stalls and tables to show and sell the things they made. We were parked between beautifully painted gypsy vardos and a travelling family selling walking sticks carved from Bog Oak. There were wandering musicians and activities for children, stiltwalking and all sorts, and we thoroughly loved it. The back of our truck turned into a shop front where I hung original paintings and framed prints were displayed on a blanket below. With the door open our house became part of the display too and brought countless oos and aas and "Do you live in this?"s ... Folk tramped in an out of it and our jaws almost came loose from chatting. All the while my pictures sold like hotcakes - amongst them two originals! Tui's truck handiwork was the star of the show and the gnarly ladder and roofrack in particular prompted much praise!
We hardly got a chance to properly look at other people's doings unfortunately, though we were pleased to meet Andy the woodturner of Cobweb Crafts and several other blogging friends.

We commented after the weekend that all the people were so nice, a selling experience quite unlike our usually slightly harangued street set-up. We were met with much kindness and intelligence and were thoroughly glad to have joined in, though we did sneak in and shut the door of an evening so as not to have to do any more talking! Numerous folk offered us park-ups all over East Anglia and we heard tell of other fairs too...

*Last slightly supernatural jumping picture courtesy of Hetty who we met there :)

So rather uplifted and quite weighed down in the pockets, we headed to the next festival in Kent. Small World Festival is a twice-yearly solar-powered gathering of hippies in a beautiful rural spot in mid Kent. It's a music festival, though definitely not mainstream, and as such was to be a completely different experience from our previous weekend. There was a lovely ramshackle air to the site as we arrived and the strange sensation of pulling into a gathering of other live-in vehicles of all shapes and sizes. There were people too.. in all the colours of the rainbow and more. And so the five strange days began.

The first couple of these were quieter affairs as the site was mainly full of people working there or doing stalls.. the others would arrive later, as the weekend got madder.

We have never seen another Bedford TK on the road in real life but this little field housed four including ours! And along with those, many other trucks, vans, vardos, tipis, tents, yurts and buses.. all kitted out like homes, some of them for living in all year round, others just for the odd festival.

Festivals are strange things. I think the idea is to create an alternative sort of a world for a weekend where you can escape. So they gather colourful folk from the country round to bring their strange land yachts together and park alongside each other, not unlike a gathering of barges, moored side by side. Hedonism seems to be the aim and delight of most visitors, and in this other reality, anything goes. I find this uncomfortable. There is something in me that has always been drawn to an alternative way of life, and the sight of a field full of coloured waggons, cookpots on campfires, children with grubby faces and barefooted matted-hair parents makes me smile no end. But the hedonistic side of it all makes me shy away. So many of the conversations we had with people made no sense at all. People mostly didn't really want to buy pictures, cans of beer abounded, and people staggered around the site until well past dawn.
I do not judge people's need to celebrate or escape, just the brutishness with which it is done sometimes. It made me feel like I was hiding from school bullies again. It made me feel like I do not fit in, in the very place where an onlooker might assume I would.

So we hid again. We walked out of the gates into the surrounding (silent) fields where cows looked at us soft-nosedly and we could take time to look at grass blades. Then rejuvenated we returned to the melee. It was not so bad really, and there were wonderfully interesting things going on. It was a festival after all, and as festivals go it was a lovely little one. I found the fact that the whole gamut of sound systems and so on were being powered by wind and sun quite inspiring.. We drank chai round campfires and we met folk there with whom we hope we will stay friends. I think five days was a little too much for our world-weary souls, but in a strange way we became fond of the place and the people and were sad to go. It was indeed a small world created for a week in a field.
A last day delight was a little old lady from the locality who'd never been to a festival before who brought her home made ice-cream in little tubs and many wonderful flavours: gooseberry and tayberry, greengage and damson ... my goodness I have never tasted ice-cream like it. She sold out quickly I think. We spent ten pounds on her delicious ice-cream!

We have noticed how odd it is to settle into a particular view out of our windows, and then have it change. It makes me realise how much a part of your home the view is. The atmosphere inside a house is flavoured by what you can see out there and there. But at the same time you create a haven-bubble of candlelit serenity amid the beercans and loud music. For five days we could see a purple face with two staring eyes out of our back window (part of another display's awning). From the bedroom window we could see across the tops of tents, and from the side we could see Moroccan textiles under tarpaulins. Now it is different. And that change of view feels odd. I think our itinerant life means that change is much more of a relevant entity in what we do. Our life is lived in small chapters, where we learn to love that view, that tree, that walk to the "loo", and then we are gone, and a new fondness must grow in its place.

Our days at these festivals have taught us that we need maybe to aim more for crafty, outdoorsy type fairs and if any of you can recommend some to us, we'd be mightily pleased. We are planning to head to Cambridge's Strawberry Fair in a couple of weeks' time which we've heard is a manic rush of 30000 people but excellent for selling. Can we do it?!
Some of the festivals charge an awful lot to traders, so those are ruled out. (Also because those require such things as risk assessments, public liability insurance and form filling!)

The rain made the odd appearance at these events too as one would expect in Britain. Weird and Wonderful Wood was rained on on both days and we had to bundle our goods indoors before they got ruined, which added to the general hecticness. We shall have to look into extending our display with an interesting wooded awning type affair. Small World was blessed with sun until the last evening and the morning of packing up. So an army of exhausted hooded folk loaded vans and stuffed damp tents into rucksacks. We drove off early on the Tuesday so as not to get stuck in the quagmire of muddy tyre tracks left by folk returning to their other lives.

Thursday 14 May 2009

The Greening and The Keening

THERE IS A LADDER that climbs up the side of our wheeled home and takes the daring up to the roof where a roof-rack has appeared, all edged in branches from the woods. If you sit up there, high above the goings-on below, ruffled by the chilly winds, you can see treetops and further, and smell woodsmoke from the battered chimney behind you. Up there you can imagine things a little way off, you can look in one direction and imagine what folks are doing over there underneath their roofs, and in another direction to imagine what you might do next. If your vision could fly past the opaqueness of things, you could leap off the rooftop and follow your long-held dreams to a place just over there where they are real.

We have been loving our days here in this beautiful green and windy May. We have worked and pottered and looked and walked and touted our wares. We have talked and been silent, we have looked at insects and met friends. We have planned and sighed and drunk coffee and sat by rivers. It struck me today how happy I am, as I sat outside our back door painting and a weevil with a luminous back crawled over my knuckles. Our days are our days and that makes us smile. We are mostly down to our last £20 but it never seems to matter. Somehow something comes along at the last minute and we sell only the things we create, never the minutes of our lives.

Springtime is wonderful. There are green things birthing themselves all over the place, somehow all hearing that sap-murmur that says 'now's the time'.
We walked down the path alongside the river yesterday and saw life and death. We scrambled through fields yellowed with buttercups, where delicate calf ankles crept amongst the yellow. Growth was in everything. By the water, hidden in the tallnesses of grasses a white swan treasured her nest. And yet by the roadside, a baby deer lay, flung aside by the car bonnet of somebody in a rush, eyes already fly food.

Sitting on the roof again you wonder why someone might have been in such a rush that they did not see the shy trembling thing emerge from the trees. Perhaps they had to get to work. Perhaps they had to get to work to earn money (or rather so that some numbers changed on a computer screen somewhere apparently equaling wealth). Perhaps that money paid for a large house and for materialistic kudos in its myriad forms. But that rushing person did not spend very much time in that large house because they were too busy rushing to a job that made them grey to earn the money to pay for it. And what wealth is that? That you sell your one given life to someone else so that the very life force that keens in you, that makes these daisies turn to the sun, is put on pause until some other time in the future, that never quite arrives.

On Saturdays we have been pushing our excellent old lady shopping trolleys full of pictures through the barley fields to the place where the rather infrequent bus stops, and travelling into Colchester town where we have tried to sell our wares. A new town is always exciting. These are people we've never seen before, nor have they seen us. The first time we tried, we were circled by fat yellow-vested council bouncer types who worked for one of the private companies who seem to have bought sections of the town. Not one of them was brave enough to approach us, but they phoned another company "Street Care" who sent a nervous young chap, newly in the job, to move us. Our usual chat ensued... we had set up outside a boarded up shop, and were bothering noone, except it seemed those who did not want us there. He was kind, but we told him we would not go. And so the police came. And of course unless we want to spend an afternoon arrested and then released chargeless, we have to move for them. These though, were possibly the nicest police we've come across and one of them wanted to (but couldn't) buy a picture. So that day we packed up early and stumbled upon a delightful Clock Museum in a timberframe building which we explored instead. As it turned out the policeman visited us with his wife some days later at our farmland parkup and bought a picture after all.
We got away with it the following Saturday by trying another spot, and hoped the same would occur this week.. but it was not to be. Our day was started by a beggar launching fury at us for saying hello, and our mood continued in a sort of "readiness for battle" as various lurching heroin addicts slurred abuse at us and eventually the same nervous council man from a fortnight before brought with him a council colleague and an army of 2 policeman to move us.
However on that day a chance encounter with a face I had seen in blogland brightened things enormously. We were delighted to meet the Snippety Giblets family and go to theirs for tea after the grand turfing-out. And then a few days later they visited us here and we are happy to say that such friends, intelligent minds and good hearts we are glad indeed to meet.

So here we are almost ready for our next chapter. We'll be happy for the next horizon, and for the feeling you get as your house pulls away, but the leaving will be sad because Sarah and her clan have become good friends and so has the land here. For their stretched out hand of kindness and their hospitality and help and lifts to galleries and address lendings and freshly laid eggs and friendship we thank them. We shall be back again next time round.

The next exciting thing to tell you is that we'll be taking our house and wares to the Weird And Wonderful Wood fair near Stowmarket this weekend. Hopefully unless we are caught in a deluge, I'll be hanging pictures from the side of the truck, and also showing originals (i.e. all my work from the exhibition, minus one - Hark Hark - which very excitingly sold!). If the rains do come, then it'll be a weekend of huddling inside with the kettle on and delighting in the woodturning, musical instrument making, basket making, tree climbing and other spontaneous happenings that are to be found there!

And I have been busy making a sign in a wonky reclaimed-wood-worn-out-folk-art style that will stand outside the truck at the fair and will attach to the back while we go along, so that interested people in traffic jams can find out what it is that we do in here!

So til soon, I wish you all the greenness of May in your hopes and dreams and delight beyond measure in the things that you do.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

What I saw by the wayside

AFTER NATURE'S WEDDING when the ground was strewn with petal-confetti, I walked along the road, and delighted in my wild garden by the wayside.

There I saw growing in blue-eyed carpets Germander Speedwell or Jump Up And Kiss Me as they call it across the green sea.

And waving white Cow Parsley, beautiful stalks of lace, with sinister other names: Mother-Die, Stepmother's Blessing the children called it, don't pick it or it will break your mother's heart.

I saw Vetch that clings with wiry tendrils onto things.

And White Dead-nettle pretending to sting.

For gamboling children with a stitch in their side, Stitchwort grew for the piskies to hide.

And Red Campion which they used to call pudding bags on account of their shape.

I saw Goosegrass, or Cleavers, the sticky plant for finding out sweethearts.

And Ground Ivy, all mauve amongst the grass, and bearing the lovely other name Robin-run-in-the-hedge.

Common Mouse-Ear Chickweed or Mouse-ears for making peasant cough syrup grew in little white daintynesses there too.

And escapees from the forest, Bluebells blue.

Dove's Foot Cranesbill, whose roots powdered in claret were thought miraculous against ruptures, danced pinkly there.

And looking out at me from their grassy green sky, two open Daisies: a perfect day's eye.

As the day wandered on I saw yellow tooth-of-lion dent-de-lion Dandelions sending off their seeds.

And I waved off the what-o'clocks as a kiss on the breeze.

Everywhere I went on this wild-flower day, there grew lush confederations of green stingers, which I gathered in gloved hands for tea.

We infused it in a teapot for keeping away the summer sneezing, and we cooked it as greens in our dinner, sharing in an old tradition of using nettles in food.

They are full of iron and delicious in soups too. Nettle tales and lore abound, but I shall share just one here: A New Forest Gypsy in 1952 was recorded as using nettles as a contraceptive. The plant had to be laid inside the man's socks as a sole for 24 hours before his dalliance with his lady!

Tender-handed touch-a-nettle

It'll sting you for your pains

Grasp it like a man of mettle

And it soft as silk remains

Now as I sit here writing, I see that some of these spring flowers have wandered into my spring Crow painting for Melanie.

My bookshelves are full of plantish books, but for wayside identification I cannot recommend highly enough Roger Phillips' Wildflowers of Britain and indeed all the others in his photographic series. For the folkloric side of things, the brilliant Oxford Dictionary of Plant Lore will keep you diverted for hours.

And there's our growing house... parked by a patch of nettles. Tui is building a roof-rack for bikes and other things (including sitting on summer nights), and a foresty ladder to get up there! Now as he climbs he has to dodge bees, because they too have decided that a house on wheels is the best of all places to live.

And two cuckoos in the trees are cuckoo-echoing, like children singing a round as the shadows get long. And I am off to sit in the evening...