Yesterday the garden fair was all ice cream and summer dresses. Today was the sort of day when the hills disappear, when the rain streams down your face into your mouth in spite of the storm hood, when water runs into your sleeves as you take a bite of damp cake, when you snap no photos and send no texts in case the phone drowns, the kind of day when the legs of your jeans are so heavy with water that they start to fall down off your bottom as you walk. A few keen gardeners traipsed around, bought a plant or two, and went home for early lunch, no doubt consoling themselves that their £7 entry was going to a Good Cause. The show was officially declared rained off at three, and we packed up as the angrily-flapping canvas tried to take off in the gusts, and just as the ground paused on the verge of becoming an un-driveable quag.
It was, indeed, the sort of day when you strip off your horrible trousers as you walk into the house, indifferent to the privacy of a bathroom or bedroom (or even a closed front door); and when you utter thanks to those trusty old soldiers in your service –
– feet being the only parts of the anatomy which were still both warm, and perfectly dry.
Chill dawn air wafting round the ankles, hot kiln-smelling air rising into the face:
A little later:
They ring remarkably well.
Not that I originally had any idea how annoying it would be.
One batch of beach clay was a rich, dark, intense orange-red, slightly gritty, and I soaked it for a long time to get the smoothest consistency possible. Turns out that it is a pig of a clay – staining everything it touches, sticky and lumpy at the same time, and almost impossible to wedge up, as it goes from a glutinous unhandleable mess to a dense resistant lump with no apparent intermediate stage. Of course, it absolutely did not want to be thrown; and after one attempt I damped it down (making it glutinously unhandleable again) and added some fine sand in an attempt to open the body a little. This had no practical effect when the clay firmed up again (perhaps not enough sand) and it reverted to being a heavy, dense, entirely un-plastic clod.
Naturally I am far too obstinate just to chuck it out – having carried it three-quarters of a mile off the beach – so the intransigent clay and I sat to the wheel and beat one another into submission. The throwing slurry is an even brighter colour than the clay, so I ended up red in tooth and claw, and the conservatory looked as if a massacre had taken place.
I can scarcely bear to think of the turning and drying and firing processes still to come; surely these pots won’t survive.
My forearms hurt. Time for a nice little lie down.
I’ve trained them too well: every time I walk out into the garden they rush under my feet, looking for breadcrumbs. So far I have managed not to stand on them (much).
You would think I had stamped them all flat when they are lying in their favourite dirt bath, squashed down, spread out, heads extended at bizarre angles, feathers cocked inside out, feet projecting improbably, squirming their wings as if dismembered. In fact, of course, they are just superbly relaxed.
I was not as relaxed as they were, having undertaken a maddening hunt for a pin. I’m careful with pottery tools, but I’m always losing pins. After half an hour looking in every drawer and receptacle, likely or unlikely, I found a brand new one. Where the others have gone, who can tell?
Today was the start of one final collection of beach clay pots, from six or seven different small batches of clay, hoping for some good colour variations after firing. Then I’m going to call a halt – at least until I have grown some new skin on my fingers and the palms of my hands. Exfoliation? Ow!
At the first end: ugly lumps, and wet newspaper everywhere, but it’s invigorating to work up the beach clay from slop to gloop to squodge.
At the other end: fragments of apricot light coruscating through trees, becoming a broken arc, a distorted rectangle, finally a golden disc. Full moon.
lxix : Listen to clay singing
When very dry clay is soaked down, it ticks, murmurs, chirps and even whistles. It’s quite companionable.
The second batch of beach clay pots went in for a v e r y s l o w f i r i n g, and I only lost one, cracked at the rim. I’m surprised how pale some of them came out – one of the grey clays must have had scarcely any iron in. Also rather oddly, the blue-green clay fired to a quite strong terracotta, and not surprisingly at all, the dark orangey brown fired to dark orange-red. I think they will look better when dirtied and algaed up a bit. Going in raw:
The third batch are drying out ( v e r y s l o w l y, of course). Meantime I have had an outbreak of porcelain bud vases, which is about as different a throwing challenge from the big rough beach clay pots as you could possibly get. I do make the little vases quite chunky though – my excuse, so that they will be stable if heavy-headed flowers are put in them.
It was difficult to achieve the zen-like concentration needed for good throwing, as the wretched guest poultry, which are allowed to forage on a large patch of grass, a partly-dug vegetable bed, the wild-bit-at-the-back, a neglected border, and a long gravel path, have found the one bit of garden I don’t want them in. Naturally.
They waited until I was well settled at the wheel, and then tip-toed down the grass, carefully not making eye contact with me, to the forbidden territory. I added a new game called broomfrighteners to my sporting repertoire, sweeping the invaders up the garden with gratifying flutters and flaps and squawks. The chooks then stood about ten yards off, doing chicken things with their necks and complaining, waited for me to sit down to the next bud vase, and immediately started doing grandmother’s footsteps back down the garden for the next round. So far, I reckon they are winning on points.
On the other hand: egg and lettuce sandwiches; swiss roll; baked custard; omelette; quiche …
and not feeling creatively adventurous. I’ve used up nearly all the algae-encrusted, dried-out or slimy remnants at the bottom of plastic sacks, though, which is a sort of achievement.
The mugs and jugs are bog-standard stoneware and I hope their simple shapes will show off my favourite green glaze with its dark tan colour break. Fingers crossed. The main practical problem at the moment is to slow down the drying, as the conservatory temperature is peaking at about 85° in the shade. So the kitchen table is now fully occupied with slightly whiffy clay, outgassing slowly.
Nothing much to be said either for the basic flowerpots made with the local clay from the beach. Since I don’t know if they will fire successfully, I’m not going to invest a lot of time in each piece. I’m guessing that holes at the bottom and in the rims may weaken their structure and crack the pots, but we’ll soon see.
It’s fun to watch the young blackbirds bathing; not as funny as the blue tits, however, which are so tiny they are up to their necks when they get in. Look at me swimming … glug …
Not much throwing lately; time to rectify this, but all spaces in this house have to multi-task, so first I had to remove from the wheel about forty agastache, bergamot and aquilegia seedlings, a tray of pricked-out snapdragons, an ounce or so of escaped potting compost, and some curly lettuce. (Obviously didn’t move them far enough, as I then trod in the lettuce. Never mind, they were annoying anyway.)
Some of the beach clay I collected last time was so fine it seemed worth trying to throw with it – most of the beach clays go for hand-building, as the coarse texture would sandpaper your fingers if it was whizzing on the wheel. This fine one is very unspringy, and, being out of practice, the first thing I made was a splot, and another effort was destroyed by an undetected small stone in the clay ball. However, there are now a few grey basics sitting on the side to play with and decorate later. I’ve no idea how this will fire.
Then it was time to exercise my civic responsibilities. Many compatriots will understand when I say that I came home with a large chocolate bar, and feeling glum.
I wonder if coloured paper and scissors and glue will make things better … and tea in a proper cup and saucer … and space opera?
Definitely space opera.