Standing Stones

So I’m back… after driving nearly 400 miles every which way in 48 hours. I’m not sure where exactly my brain is just now – I think I left flubbing around in my slipstream somewhere in the North of the UK I think!!

I had a lot of appointments and things I had to do, time deadlines I had to meet and important things that were harder to face. But interspersed along the way I did some fun things as well so although I’m shattered, it was also good to get away for a couple of days and catch up with old friends in different places.

My first stop was in Oswestry because we’d arranged our Book Club meeting there in a really lovely bookshop/cafe called Booka – if you’re in the area I really recommend popping by either on your own or with friends. A proper independent bookshop with lovely cakes and coffee – it was bustling … which made it hard to find enough seats for our girls to perch on to start with! We’re a bit worried we evicted one couple from a sofa by hovvering!

One of our members had a weaving exhibition in a couple of galleries nearby so we went to go and support her. I loved some of the other exhibits including these sheepies (my kind of art!)

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and there were some lovely 3D needle felted landscapes.

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And when we were sprinting back to rescue our cars and disappear off to our various next appointments we passed this man. One friend, Gemma, is a talented cellist (and my old cello teacher )and she said “ooo what’s that!” and he turned to show us. He was clearly very pleased someone had noticed. He told us it’s called an Appalachian Dulcimer – some of you probably already know this but I’ve never seen one before. So he sat down in the street on a handy bench and gave us a quick tune (despite the fact our parking tickets had run out!)

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I had a couple of other things to do that day along the way but spent the night in our family’s freezing holiday cottage in Anglesey as I had an appointment with the builder in the morning (to talk about boilers and central heating!!). I got there after dark and immediately went to the theatre with some friends who’d kindly saved me a ticket when I announced I was dropping by for the night. I was grateful to spend the evening somewhere warm and in company although I did feel my eyes closing at one point… Back at “home” two duvets, three traditional Welsh blankets and a hot water bottle stopped me from turning into a complete icicle overnight. I was pleased the sun came out in the morning and I sat outside all wrapped up as it was considerably warmer!

This blackbird landed at my feet whilst I was inspecting the new fascias and gutters. I thought it had made a mistake so stood stock still but it didn’t move when I eventually did so I realised it was actually tame – the birds and the rabbits around there are ridiculously unafraid of humans! So I went into the house and got a crumpet and sat cross-legged on the drive feeding it bits of my breakfast. The neighbours saw me on their way back from a walk and asked if I was doing yoga and then spotted Mr Blackbird and told me there are 3 of them. They hand feed them raisins and mealworms which explained why he was so tame!

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I also got some knitting done whilst I was waiting – these are the sleeves I’ve been knitting forever on a cardigan I’m making from lovely HTC Brass Scuttle packs. I hope I’ll get it finished before too long – it’s a light cardigan for summer wear luckily! I’ve sat here to eat meals al fresco from these plates and mugs since I was toddler so it’s something that makes me feel happy and connected to people I love even if they’re no longer here (and I drink coffee now not milk!)

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I also had time to sit on the headland and do some sketching on my late great-aunt’s Basildon Bond notepaper I found in a cupboard. Probably quite a long time since someone last wrote on this…

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After a conversation with my older brother last autumn about sketching to record things rather than using photography I decided to try and get back to doing daily sketching this year – something he’s been an advocate of ever since I can remember  – and I tried to do as a teenager when I had more free time. It’s really important for any kind of artwork; drawing teaches to you to “see” differently no matter what you choose to do with your creativity after. It’s a bit like playing scales and arpeggios for music or warming up for sports. As it happens, like most of my resolutions I haven’t of course done daily sketches. But I have tried to draw more this year – slow down and look more and reawaken rusty senses.

I always feel refreshed being here no matter for how short a time. Not just because of the place which has such a pull on me; the sense of comfort, the recharging of otherwise evanescent memories of loved ones and happy times, the whole “Welshness” of both being cwtched in my soul, of experiencing hiraeth of that which is as ingrained in my blood as my DNA. But also the timely necessity of being unplugged from the present day. Even as I post on social media or blog, I crave the simplicity of being alone in every sense. Of divesting myself for a short time of that which is now our reality.

It was a good point to set off from to head up North to stay over with my best friend and spend some quality time together in a way that we’ve not really managed to for quite a few years. It was so good to be together again for however briefly, just her and me like we used to do when growing up. Lots to catch up on, talk about and also a few laughs. We called in at depressing antique centre on our way to lunch – we were astonished at the abandoned detritus masquerading as “vintage” What finished us off was a particularly ghastly set of mummy-like dolls, a taxidermy owl whose moth-eaten wings were twisted painfully into a half-nelson on his perch in an old horse harness collar and a truly hideous ornamental plate with integral hand-crafted ceramic lobster and seaweed which bore a price tag of £325. We quickly declared it “a temple of tat”, vowed never to return and fled in giggles!

Like everyone else I rely on technology and benefit from it in every sense so I also feel guilty that I really appreciate the ability to slink back into the recent past however transitory that chimera might be.

But I think it’s interesting the things that I picked most of out of this small and busily-packed trip were those things that don’t change much and when time slows. Drawing or painting or playing music by hand. Books – in a tangible, paper form. A play performed for more than four centuries. Landscape, the bones of which are barely changed over millennia even though humanity might mar it superficially. Communion with friends unfettered by anything more complicated than eye contact, a hug, a smile … and the ability to both talk and listen.

Roots.

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Moving Home

A lot seems to have happened in the month since I last posted. I’ve been busy making new things and learning new things. So much has happened it’s hard to know where to start!

I made a dress…

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I used to make a lot of clothes when I was younger. Somewhere along the way I stopped because of time, space and then finally inclination. I forgot how much I enjoy sewing. So it was about 14 years since I last made myself a dress for a special occasion. But a good friend was getting married and I really wanted to make an extra effort for her big day. In the end it turned into something of a making-marathon and I spent a week sewing it instead of the couple of days I’d thought but I was very happy with the finished garment. I was sewing up the hem just hours before the wedding so I don’t have any decent finished pictures of it yet – I might do a post about it when I do!

Then I went to the wedding of my lovely young friends. The day was rainy and I only took my small camera which struggles with low/artificial light and low speed shots so I don’t have many good ones sadly :0( But I can tell you the bride looked gorgeous and the happy couple were radiant with joy and it was lovely to catch up with members of their family whom I hadn’t seen for a little while.

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Once all that excitement was over I needed to launch the current Build a Batt Box. I chose Silver Birch as my theme and although the main colours were around greens I also added in complimentary light spring shades. If you like these there are still some available for sale in the shop!

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Talking of shops: my next task was to revamp my online business. I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time and turning over options. I’m not technologically minded so for me it was quite a big and scary step to think about moving on. I’ve had this blog for a while, I use a few areas of social media. But so far I’ve never had a website which is something I’ve long planned to do. I joined Instagram recently and with yet another place to park myself on the internet it seemed it was time to pull it all together in one place.

It was a very steep learning curve – my brain ached as I struggled to work out both creatively and practically what I wanted to achieve but it’s been great to challenge myself to a new project! The new website launched last week and I’m happy with the “first edition” – you can view it at barber-blacksheep.co.uk . There are still adjustments I want to make and  things to move around but for now it’s functioning beautifully as my new “home” on the internet and the integrated shop has been turning over nicely – it’s relatively well stocked with new dyed and carded fibres just now as well as the current Build a Batt Box and I’ve got more stock due to arrive shortly.

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I have more exciting things for the shop planned in the near future so make sure you keep an eye on the website!

Outside of work and weddings I’ve also been busy doing things on the farm with my mother. Winter work continues – hedge laying has now finished for this winter but between Mum, Phil and myself (and Marley!) we’ve laid 2 hedges and trimmed another field boundary. Lots of bonfires and work in rain and shine. (I wrote about our hedge-laying last winter – the blog post is here if you want to know more).

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We’ve also been having unwelcome visits from a hungry mystery visitor. We’re unsure as to whether it’s a killer rat, a polecat, a mink or stoat but something with a blood-thirsty appetite and terribly strong claws and teeth has been assaulting our chicken houses and doing a terrific amount of damage, even in what you’d think were inaccessible places. It’s been a daily occurrence trying to fix hen houses and unfortunately one night an intruder did manage to break through and kill one of my mum’s Lemon Pekin bantams. So sad. So for a few nights we had to carry all our bantams down after they’d gone to roost and put them in a borrowed dog crate in our house.

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They had a couple of broom handles pushed through the bars at night to perch on – during the dark hours they don’t need to move around much so the fact they were all crammed in for the nighttime was OK. Unfortunately the broom handles did turn round a bit under even the slight weight of the chickens and occasionally tip them off as though it was some kind of humane chicken rotisserie! It was a bit funny for us but possibly not for the poor banties! So after a few nights of this mum and Phil nailed metal sheets over all the hen houses and floors. So far it seems to have deterred the intruder. A friend has lent me her wildlife nighttime camera but with the torrential rains and storms we’ve had and then the Fort Knox DIY efforts on the hen houses I’ve not used it yet – but it will be interesting to put it out with some bait just to see what savage thing is lurking out there at nighttimes!

I’ve had lots of other things to deal with just lately too – all in all I’ve had almost zero time for spinning and knitting. However I have spun up 500g of a new blend for an item I want to make for myself – so-called selfish knitting! It’s lovely and I hope to get this made over the next few weeks time permitting! Here’s a sneaky peak at my yarns and fibre so far…

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It’s not long till it’s time to start the garden off. Yet again my mum has stepped into the breach and started on the prep work which I’m grateful for but I need to start sowing a few seeds – it’s still really chilly out there and will be for some time to come but I know it will apes quickly and before I know it Spring will be upon us so I need to get ready!

I hope I’ll be back sooner with more things to show you. Hope you’re keeping warm and happy wherever you are!