24 February 2014

walking the coast path - bude to morwenstow - an adventure!

we drink tea in the cafe on crooklets beach and begin our walk at 10am. we've been planning this trip for the last three saturdays and finally we have a lovely storm-free day with morning sun and a gentle breeze. there are three of us and a gorgeous little white dog with fur as soft as a cat. i'm told she is from the pyrenees where her father was a circus dog. he was killed by a wild pig before she was born. then at the age of two her mother was also killed by a wild pig. now at 15 she is as fit as ever but her little legs can't match our stride. 

we haven't gone far before we come across a pregnant sheep that has collapsed in a field. we take a  small diversion to find the farm and leave a message for the shepherd. not so much further on we find a sheep that has fallen off a steep edge and is lying half dead with blood streaming from its eye. it's hard to know what to do as there is no farm in sight. as we are considering options a pick-up arrives and a farmer and daughter brutally drag the sheep down the hill, through the stream. it's bent-back head bashes against the rocks. they hurl it into the back of the pick-up where it lands on its back. he drives off and it's legs are shaking in the air. it's so horrible to watch and we are all saddened. 

the landscape echoes our feelings. jagged black rocks stand in rows like knives. the beach is ink-black stoned and bare. the cliffs are sharp with big overhangs and our path teeters on their edge. it's a harsh and barren landscape. hostile and menacing. spectacular and dramatic.

onwards we wander until we climb down to stanbury beach and have our picnic. again it's black and to my joy it's littered with fishing buoys and driftwood in large quantities. after soup and a sandwich i gather a large pile of wood. but my excitement turns to dismay as i start to discover seabirds. the beach is a cemetery of beautiful birds dashed against the stones. there are mainly guillemots, great northern divers, lots of razorbills, a couple of shags, a couple of fulmars and a puffin. there must be more than 50. the aftermath of the storms.

i sort through the wood wanting to take it all. i compromise and select just a large and heavy bagful! time is ticking by and i'm determined to get to hawker's hut. the eccentric clergyman, poet and antiquarian, parson hawker (1803-1875), built this tiny hut from driftwood and old ship's timbers. and apparently he spent many hours tucked away inside smoking opium and writing poetry! "other eccentricities attributed to him include dressing up as a mermaid and excommunicating his cat for mousing on sundays. he dressed in claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman's jersey, long sea-boots, a pink brimless hat and a poncho made from a yellow horse blanket, which he claimed was the ancient habit of st padarn. he talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church and kept a pig as a pet". what a man!! the entire interior of the hut is carved with names and dates, some as early as the 1890s. i'm envious of the solid oak timbers  and fantasize about beachcombing in hawker's day. my bag of soft pine is a disappointing modern day equivalent. but thankfully it's a lot lighter.

we leave the coast and cut inland to morwenstow church. the gravestones are heavily patterned with lichen. it's past 4pm and we have a long way to go to get back to bude. the little white dog is carried to speed things up. we pick our way through a network of footpaths leading us past old stone farms untouched by time. we have discovered a very authentic part of cornwall. it's intriguing but there is no time for curiosity on this visit.

night falls and i'm beginning to feel a little responsible for the fact that we are NOWHERE near the end! i definitely underestimated how long it would take and on top of that i got a bit distracted with beachcombing! carrying a dog and a bag of wood throw an element of endurance into the mix. it's hard to see where the footpaths begin but somehow we manage. i've been surprised by how little mud there's been..... until now! the puddles in the squelchy mud reflect the sky enough to show us something of the path. my torch is faint but good enough to make out names on signs. we have to do a little back tracking but eventually we see the car welcoming us - a shining beacon of comfy seats. it's gone 8pm and we're very very tired. we have walked solidly for 9 hours. we stumble into the nearest pub bleary eyed and caked in mud. the dj is just setting up for the night's entertainment. i feel a little out of place. we joke about dancing. just standing up again feels like it could be a challenge.

21 February 2014

slowly slowly a studio is emerging.....

a little like the waking tortoiseshells in my previous post things are slowly coming together with my new studio space. they had to get a lot worse before they could get better. in january water started to come up through the floor and having chipped up most of the lino tiles and stripped everything back to a bare shell i could begin to see the source of the problems - always a risk when you delve deep behind years of remedial bodging - that you will discover things you didn't want to find!

february has been a crash course in damp. i've spoken to lots of people about damp, read all about damp, picked my way through many conflicting opinions and sought out a couple of damp experts. my biggest hurdle has been knowing whose advice to follow. i now understand a lot about traditional building materials, techniques, breathability and ventilation. i also understand the basic principles of modern building. the problem is when the two collide and there is a bit of both. i have a traditional granite wall but a thin and badly cast floor of concrete laid on bare earth. under the window bays i dug out sack after sack of damp earth and on one side hit concrete. the other side i just continued to dig and realised there had once been floorboards laid onto bare earth! they crumbled to dust as i tried to pull them up. now i have an indoor garden!

i have also realised that i do not find most builders very helpful. i have an idea of what i want to achieve and run it by a builder and am hit by a wall of nos, 'oh no you can't do that..... NO..... this is what you want to do'. and when i ask why not i'm told that that's just not how it's done. full stop. but slowly i'm weeding out my type of builder. that is a builder/artist. someone who knows about materials and how they work. someone who can think beyond the bounds and conventions of the building trade. i've been fortunate enough to meet a brilliant guy who is a builder but studied fine art sculpture. he was apprenticed to a builder (his dad) at 16 and went on to cast full size people (mostly himself) using building materials - concrete, bricks and resin in his work. i ran lots of my ideas by him and he said YES..... of course you can do that if you want to. at last i had found someone i could trust to chop out and rebuild the bottom section of my wall where the timbers had also been laid onto bare earth. this was a job i didn't want to do as it involved acro-props and maintaining the structural integrity of the building. fortunately it transpired that the wall everyone had told me was load bearing (after i'd already sawn out a big section !!) actually wasn't taking much weight after all (phew!)

daylight under the wall!

a structural engineer's nightmare
i've also had great advice from a friend who is a timber framer. he favours traditional methods and natural materials and has a sculptor's approach to building. like me, he doesn't like plastic and chemicals  or thinks that it's necessary to use them. another friend is a lime plasterer and artist. he has introduced me to the cornish lime company who are passionate about reviving lime as a building material and dedicated to informing people about its benefits. they provide clear information on the different types and uses of lime, natural paint and finishes and much more.

i am committed to using sustainable, natural and recycled materials. i only want to give my money to companies who are not causing environmental damage. i do not want to fill my space with products that leach chemicals into the atmosphere. this mean putting a little more thought and research into things. and everything takes a little longer. but it's totally worth it.

so now with enthusiastic advice from the builder/sculptor i've started to take the ceiling down. this involves getting filthy - years of dust and soot and soil - MORE soil!! just how does that much soil get above a ceiling?! when i unblocked the fire place i ended up with a huge pile of granite and 55 sacks of sooty soil. i weighed one bag and estimated over a tonne of soil. the granite was claimed on free-cycle. the small and medium pieces went to a woman who is building a little wall around her pond. the large and extra large-too-heavy-for-me-to-lift-off-the-ground pieces have found a new home with an archeologist who is building a fire pit in his garden. it must be a big one!

so, onwards with the ceiling. the small joy of embarking upon this task is the knowledge that, within the main area, when this is done there really is nothing else i can possibly take out without demolishing the building itself! and amidst the dust and grime there are funny moments. balanced on the top rung of the ladder i levered a big piece of plasterboard off on three sides, closed my eyes as the layers of dust and soil slid past my head. i looked up thinking there was still more to come and was actually hit on the head by a porn magazine! that must have been stashed away beneath the floorboor boards for a few years. do i mention it to the neighbour i wonder?

17 February 2014

a touch of sunshine amidst storms

i swim and jump and ride in on the waves. the sea does not feel so cold. i dry in the sun against the warmth of a granite wall. the couple next to us pull a large cafetiere filled with steaming coffee out of a wicker picnic basket. breakfast on the beach.

sun pours in through the studio window. a hare speeds past my feet. i try to see its eyes but so fast - it's gone.

two waking butterflies have found my indoor garden. they unfurl stiff wings. opening and closing and shaking over and over. one flies to the window. i rest a finger beneath it and it perches there, wings outstretched. i stand in the doorway and hold my hand to the sky. an ascending spiral of orange against an intense blue.

soaking in the sun after hibernation.

yesterday i planted crocuses. i dug a bulb sized hole and unearthed an inkwell. today i run it under the tap and see it still contains a dried pool of ink. buried under my floor for many many years. the glass is iridescent and shimmers with a rainbow in this february sun.

01 February 2014

of flamingos

yesterday a surprise package turned up from walvis bay in namibia. it was covered in so many stamps.  a slightly squashed little tea box contained individually wrapped treasures from the beach. it was a bit like opening a christmas stocking - lots of intriguing shapes - all very exciting. 

i laid out a selection of objects foreign to my eyes - seed pods, shells and a beautiful coral pink flamingo feather.

only last week i chatting to two artist friends who are preparing for their exhibition. they both have a thing about flamingos. i said i'd never really thought about flamingos before. they told me that from now on i'd see them everywhere. i didn't think any more about it. but maybe this is just the start.....

my friend is a marine biologist researching and working to protect whales, dolphins and other marine life in namibia and beyond. to find out more about her projects you can visit her blog 'west african cetaceans' here.