Friday, June 26, 2020

In The Garden

Everything is new and very odd and I've been doing two things to keep myself grounded: 1) Going out on my bike at 5am for a long ride around the canals or the city (500km in total last month) and; 2) Gardening.

The cycling has kept me fit - to the point that I'm not clear how I'll maintain this after I go back to work at the School - apart from the unfortunate injuries sustained on riding into a bus-stop (caused by going too fast with my head down in the early days of cycling on empty roads, deep bruising, cuts and a possible broken rib) and hitting a rock in a tunnel on the Harbourne Walkway, ending up, "Beano"-like in a pond (grazes, bruising and dignity dented)! The moment of impact was captured on my bike camera:

You can't see what I hit, or the pond but you get a lovely shot of the nettles around the pond. Also, for some reason my light switches to flashing mode.

Ages ago, I posted before/after pictures of my front garden. The transformation is even more marked now.


Front Garden

The tree in the middle is a rather lovely medlar. Ever since my landscaping days, I've been fascinated by the fruits which fell out of favour: mulberries, medlars and quinces. I now have all three growing! The flowers of the medlar are quite wonderful:

Mespilus germanica - Flowers

What I didn't post last time was the similar transformation on the back garden. When I moved in, the back garden was overgrown with numbers of self-seeded mature and semi-mature trees which were getting on for posing a risk to the houses. I had those cleared out and started from scratch.

Garden Carnage

As you can see from this shot, it is a surprisingly large garden, narrow but very long and although the front garden has been looking tidy for several years now, the back has only really started to look cultivated this year, in large part because of the time I've been able to spend here due to lockdown: I wasn't able to spend my spring break in Brighton as usual.

Back Garden - 1

It is planted from the foreground right to the wall at the back. I've managed to incorporate a lot of manure and have been composting everything from the kitchen in both a traditional and a 'hot' bin. The hot bin is rather amazing in that it is SO rapid - useable compost in a few weeks rather than months. The blue bag at the front of the picture above is full of material from the hot bin.

About half way up the same picture, on the right, are a couple of duck-boards as I'm aiming to create a no-dig system and in order to prevent compaction, I need duck-boards to walk between the plants. These boards were made from an old pallet and "pallet craft" has been a feature of my lockdown. I have never really liked woodwork - wood is such an unforgiving material and is so unlike metal - but because the pallet-wood is free and is already usually in ropey condition, I've been experimenting and am actually rather pleased with my bird-box, using an old bike tyre for the roof:

Pallet-Craft - Bird Nesting Box

We'll see if anything nests. I've already seen a robin on the roof but I don't think that it is the sort of place robins prefer.
I've also made some "pot-holder" troughs for the tops of a couple of walls which are needing attention, a temporary fix to allow me to grow salads and herbs until I get round to getting the walls properly fixed:

Pallet Craft - Planter

All of this came on the back of some YouTube videos by Huw Richards: definitely worth watching, whether new to gardening or someone like me who already knows a fair bit. (I am not sure how many people know about my background in horticulture: I was very nearly not ever a jeweller!) 

When I was studying at Wye College - a rather miserable experience - "permaculture" and "biodynamics" were seen as the lunatic fringe, marginal interests considered only by the sneered-at Rural Environmental Studies students while those of us in horticulture and agriculture got on with learning about pesticides and artificial fertilisers and the like. How wrong we were. I was fortunate enough to have been able to count as friends a number of the environmentalists and it was through them that I had loads of brilliant experiences (hunt-sabbing, visiting the Greenham Common camp at it's peak...) although somehow the disconnect between what I was learning in University and what they were teaching me - almost osmotically - was never quite apparent.
Now, of course, I realise that they were right, that the future needs their kind of thinking. I've joined the Permaculture Society.

Everything is growing really well now and I've been enjoying fresh salads, carrots, radishes, strawberries and raspberries for the whole of the month. Some snapshots...

Finally, amongst all the bad news, I was delighted to see the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol. This is fresh and new and must be terrifying for the government. It is time for more direct action of this sort.

You can't cover up history
Image by Big-Z on Flickr.

Monday, June 01, 2020

A Year Out

I've taken almost a year out from social media to reappraise what I think of it and its role in my life. Twitter is ditched: I will use it to notify of updates and no more. Instagram, I use but with caution. There are so many scams on there and so much advertising that it is not so pleasurable any more. Having said that, I wouldn't miss Ben Sadler's videos for anything...

A post shared by Ben Sadler (@bend_laser) on

Flickr, I will continue to use. I really like it but the quality there comes from it being a paid-for service. No complaints.
Blogger is still useful too, and, as you can see, I'm back.

It is a very strange time just now, what with me being at work but not being in the School of Jewellery but I am not going to dwell on that for now. It is a time for positivity. In the last year, I've done SO much but haven't really been recording it in the same way, knowing that I was taking time out. (It wasn't meant to be a year, but there you go!)

Here are some odds and ends from the past year: it all seems so far away now...

This Heat (This is not This Heat)
I went to see the very last show ever by legendary post-punk outfit, This Heat. It was brilliant to meet up with Ana and Paul and hang out at the Deptford Market the next day.

This Is Not This Heat - 1

Jewellery Quarter Festival
It was time for another Jewellery Quarter Festival. This time the School of Jewellery was open and everything was running in full-swing.

A Visit To Leeds
Off to Leeds to deliver a piece of work to a collector.

A Forest - 101

"A Forest" from 2011.

New Rings
I got a couple of new rings. One was from Erik Blomqvist in Norway (the iron skull ring) and the other from Jordan Furze:

The "I Guess" ring from Jordan was a lovely and unexpected gift.

More Home of Metal

Black Sabbath - Home of Metal - 1

This time to see the main event at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, "Black Sabbath - 50 Years" with my friend and colleague, Miranda Wells, eminent gemmologist.

Having seen them on their "The End" tour, this exhibition marks a real full-stop, the conclusion of a long and influential career in music and is curated with a good deal of detail and humour which never slips into parody. From album art to clothes - how thin must Geezer Butler have been in the early 1970s?! - through photographs of fans and a truly marvellous collection of fan art (I would have been happy with much more of that), this is well worth seeing.

Black Sabbath - Home of Metal - 5

Here they are to tell you more:

Sensing The Machine

A trip to London to the Science Museum for a conference ostensibly advertised as being about "the machine-body interface" but which, in fact, proved even more interesting, diverse and philosophical than I could have hoped. With speakers from a diverse range of disciplines - art, science, medicine, history... - the talks were far-reaching and inspired much discussion in the afternoon.

Our conversations ranged from ideas around the human biome, where the human stops and the environment begins, the future of robotics, the environment and so much more. I had originally attended this to make some contacts for our own Symposium, Handmade by Machines (anyone interested is welcome to apply) but now feel that this opened up a whole new direction for me and my own work.

Highlights of the day: discovering that the Science Museum has gone completely vegetarian - no animal products at all are served; the two women who had come along straight from the end of their A-level exams - I really wish that I'd had the sense and the guts to go along to an event like this when I was 17 or 18. Their input into my group was interesting and very important, especially given that the rest of us were all over 40.

Make Your Future

Make Your Future 2019 - 9

We also celebrated the last of the "Make Your Future" events at the School of Jewellery with a display of works made by the school pupils who took part in this fantastic venture. Run by the School of Jewellery and the Crafts Council, the scheme seeks to put craftspeople into schools to try to address our philistine government's shameful undermining of craft, making and art practice in education. (They've been to private school and are terrified of dirty hands.)

Make Your Future 2019 - 8

This year saw leather work guided by Deborette Clarke, aluminium jewellery guided by Sam Chilton, wall-hangings made in conjunction with John Grayson, etched work with Vanessa Miller, ceramics and even a pair of praxinoscopes from the group working with Melanie Tomlinson.

Make Your Future 2019 - 4

Make Your Future 2019 - 7

The School was full of proud young people, makers, parents and teachers.

Make Your Future 2019 - 1

It was really good to see Alison Honour, our Dean of Faculty and our Vice-Chancellor Claire Mackie along to support the event and, more importantly, to support it in the future. The Crafts Council will not be funding this again, but the School of Jewellery will certainly be taking it on in some format.

Warwick (It's Historic)

Lord Leycester Hospital - 1

Met up with Rachael Colley to spend a day in Warwick - the signs on the motorway for Warwick always make me laugh as they read "Historic Warwick" and I always get the sense that someone was very pleased with themselves for coming up with that. As ever, it was lovely to spend some time with Rachael and it was good to explore a town I don't know at all.

It certainly is historic but we ended up on a tour of the gardens, especially the wonderful Hill Close Gardens, a series of Victorian allotment gardens - 16 of them - which were originally rented to the local population, many of whom lived above their businesses and so had no garden and in time, they came to be privately-owned. They were saved from development in the 1990s - there are some exceptionally ugly "new-build" blocks just beside them - and renovated.

Apart from the fascinating range of fruit trees - many of them historically important - I was rather taken with the brick garden sheds...

Hill Close Gardens Summerhouse

This one has a fireplace in it!

Later on, we went to Mill Gardens, a private garden opened to raise money for local charities and which sits in the shadow of the spectacular Warwick Castle.

The Mill Garden - 2

The Mill Garden - 1

My Own Garden
One of the greatest things about leaving Glasgow was definitely getting a garden! Over the last few years, I've been whipping it into shape and the last couple of months, understandably, have been very garden-focused. When I bought the house in 2015, the front garden looked like this:

Now it looks like this:

Front Garden

The tree in the centre is a medlar and has really lovely flowers:

Mespilus germanica - Flowers

After our wonderful Easter visit to Liverpool, we decided to go back, taking in Anthony Gormley's "Another Place" at Southport which we had to abandon the previous time as there were too many dogs everywhere. This time it was quiet and peaceful and very lovely.

Another Place - Revisit - 2

Another Place - Revisit - 6

In Liverpool, we went to Tate Liverpool where we caught another OpArt show, this time marvellously juxtaposing Bridget Riley with Jim Lambie:

Tate Liverpool - 2

Tate Liverpool - 1

Also last summer - so hard to believe that almost a year has passed - we went to see what was, for me, the most enjoyable, funny and also disturbing show of the year, Rand/Goop at Studio Voltaire in London, an exhibition by Mary and Patrick Reid Kelly, exploring the fascist similarities between Ayn Rand and Gwynneth Paltrow.

Rand/Goop - 3

Rand/Goop - 1

Rand/Goop - 2

From the Studio Voltaire website: "Whilst these subjects are seemingly unconnected, Rand’s espousals of individualism or the virtues of ‘selfishness’ soon begin to resonate with the purchasable wellness offered by Goop. ‘Self–care’ becomes the relentless pursuit of personal betterment, sold as ‘10 ways’ to do better, to perform harder. Correspondingly, the artists’ characters speak in anxious, blustery palimpsests that swerve between implied emancipation and fear: ‘Let’s talk about a girls–only/ Libertarian alternative/ Where no innocence exists/ Without material property’."


Sixty - Cocktail Ring - 3

I've still been making and working as usual during this time and I've had a couple of excellent commissions, including one for a Post-Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring to celebrate a 60th birthday. Of course, I immediately decided that it had to have 60 gemstones in it, not all obvious at first glance...

Sixty - Cocktail Ring - 6

Sixty - Cocktail Ring - 1

The odd and wonderful "quilted" citrine on top has a host of rubies set underneath, only visible through the quilting as the ring is turned. The quilting is studded with pink sapphires.

I also got a commission to make a piece on the theme of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Bottle Imp", a wonderful short story from 1896 which I really like but which had never suggested itself to me as a source for a piece of work.

The Bottle Imp - WIP - 1

I spent a very wet day in Oxford at my favourite museum, Pitt-Rivers, doing research for this piece.

Pitt Rivers Museum - Oxford - Research - 8

Having had a disastrous accident on the canal path where I collided with another cyclist, wrecking my bike and being horribly bruised when his bike hit my face, I bought another bike, this time a Ribble Cycles gravel bike... a little faster than my usual transport. Love it!

And it is orange.

The Garden Museum
Just about the last thing I did before lockdown (see below) was to visit London. I had bought the train tickets in order to meet with a friend from the US who was coming over for the London Book Fair. In the light of the racist idiots who had been targeting Chinatown, we had arranged to meet in a restaurant there for dinner. The book fair was cancelled, my friend was not allowed to travel but I decided to go anyway. I took my bike - cycling round a half-empty London was brilliant - and went to The Garden Museum in Lambeth, another of those little, crazy museums that I love.

The Garden Museum, Lambeth, London - 2

The view from the tower of the building is wonderful.

The Garden Museum, Lambeth, London - 4

After that, I went to Tim Hunkin's fantastic kinetic art show, Novelty Automation.

Novelty Automation - 2

Then everything stopped.

In between all of this, there have been the usual concerts, exhibitions and the like. I've been to Brighton and Scotland and had weekends around the country but not documenting everything, got out of the habit of photographing things.
Then it all went wrong mid-March, shaken by the arrival of the Covid-19 virus and it was time to seriously re-appraise what I was thinking. I've been posting much more instantaneously on Instagram but now, I think that I've decided the correct balance and it is time for the blog to return, for me to start back with the camera.

I've been sent home from work. My students have not been able to access the workshops. Some of that has been good - my online-only CAD classes are perfectly fine and actually add something to the blended-learning approach - but mostly it has been bad: we are proud of our workshop-based teaching and we haven't been able to deliver that. I'm not enjoying "working from home": it is stressful, tiring, unsatisfying.

I'm not enjoying not being able to go to Brighton and see Dingo.

I'm not enjoying our idiot government's inability to act.

I'm not enjoying the miserable news on a daily basis and the way in which the disaster capitalists are positioning themselves.

The birdsong and morning bike rides, my garden, and the good weather have all been keeping me sane.

Light at the end of the tunnel.