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 pull themselves 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.
There’s a gracious backdrop to the confusion of cars, vans, marquees, gazebos, trestles and tables, residue from about a hundred geese, and other impedimenta. Crucially, we found the tap.
We were slightly concerned by the number of people attaching storm straps or extra guys to their canvas. We don’t have any for ours. The forecast is fair overnight, but I find my ear is cocked for a change in the wind.
Fluffers has been restored to the correct family bosom, and snuggled to show she knew it.
The garden in general and chicken pen in particular look as if a vigorous pillow-fight has taken place. One of the guest chooks has decided to do a moult (at least, I hope it is just a moult), and every time she flaps or preens a few more bits detach themselves. Already she only has half a tail, with a patch of – quite frankly – repellent bright pink flesh showing through. I keep imagining that one morning I’ll open the roost, release a small puff of quills and down onto the breeze, and a sort of horrid oven-ready bird will come pacing beadily out.
I have to de-spider the door before walking through it, de-spider the ceiling before crossing under it, de-spider the table before working at it, de-spider the glaze buckets before opening them, de-spider the chair before sitting on it, de-spider the kettle before boiling it, de-spider the pots before glazing them, de-spider the towel before drying my hands, and de-spider the kiln before packing it.
Now there are a few glazed pots to go in, and I am a grumpy bundle of arachnophobical twitches.
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!
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 …
There’s no getting away from it. Chickens make some of the most ludicrously dismal noises in the world, only to be compared to small children learning to play the violin.
This morning I let the guest chooks out to stravage about the garden for a few hours, watching in case they explored into next door or ate my young plants. It was fairly easy to keep an eye on four of them as they scratched deep in the vegetables and weeds, but the fifth was more difficult to see.
Indeed, occasionally I put shoes on and went out to find the highly camouflaged Dotty, as I don’t want to have to Explain Myself to a tearful owner, but luckily she always turned up.
She was more visible when on a green background; an odd-looking creature, her booffy britches fluffed up and twirled by the wind.
The main task for the morning was to lead them up and down the garden a few times with trails of brown bread crumbs, of which they are inordinately fond, in the hope that they will associate me with treats and thus come when called. The evenings are reserved for Fluffers, who has her own indoor space (she is too small to associate readily with the outdoor flock, and thinks she is a person anyway). Occasionally she condescends to use me as a heated mattress.
Chicken selfies. Sigh.
The beach clay pots are in progress, and I am trying to possess myself in patience and retard their drying to a suitable slowness. This is difficult, as they are completely in the way, all over the kitchen – the conservatory would risk them drying too fast, or unevenly if the sun caught them on one side.
Some of them have cracked anyway, but on this occasion I don’t think it is my lack of patience. The three are all made from the same batch of yellowish-grey clay, which is a 100% failure rate for this particular clay body. Lucky it wasn’t one of the larger batches. I shall not recycle the clay and try again; if it won’t do a slow dry without cracking, I can’t imagine it firing successfully either.
I’ve had some odd things posted to me by various nearests and dearests; this has to be one of the oddest.
In spite of a deep resistance to all forms of sport, I do believe I have invented a new one: Bumble Badminton. Here is the necessary racquet:
I’m getting quite good at this sport. The stupid creatures ramble into the conservatory when I am potting on, and seem to think I may have nectar in my ears.
Four is probably the maximum number of players, assuming you have enough racquets, but playing solo is safer. I’ve decided that points are awarded based on the distance each stroke moves the object towards the goal (door), and subtracted for the distance it returns in between strokes (one point per yard), and also for false strokes. Two extra points are received when the object is propelled through the egress, and style marks are given when it is struck cleanly from the sweet spot on the racquet (the bristles), or for good playing technique, i.e. nothing else in the environment is contacted.
All points are forfeited if the target is squashed. Breakages must be paid for, and the umpire’s decision is final.