Friday, 15 August 2014

Felt All Over

When we were at the Museum of Country Life recently, the bit I liked best wasn't the Museum at all (fab and all as that was).
It was the Café.
No surprise there, cake-aholic that I am, but - although they had very delicious cakes - it wasn't even that.
It was the exhibition of felt pieces on display that grabbed me.
One of the waitresses said they'd been made by local school kids.
I wanted to take them all home - the felt, not the kids.

Some of the wonderful display of felt pieces

I love making felt. I think it should be obligatory for everyone at some stage, male or female.
So many people over the years have said to me: 'I'm not a creative kind of person'.
I find that very hard to believe. Everyone is creative. If they think they aren't, they just haven't plugged into the right socket yet. They probably haven't had the opportunity to be creative.
They need to go on a felting course, even if it's only for a single morning.

No one can fail to be creative with felt.
And who knows where one small session of 'making' might lead?
That would just be the start of it.

I think problems with creativity are largely about expectations.
Take art. For nine and a half out of every ten of us, there is such a gaping chasm between what we see in our heads - or even in front of our eyes - and what we manage to produce on paper/canvas or whatever, it's no surprise we feel as if FAILURE is stamped on our foreheads after every sorry attempt.
It's the same with so many creative disciplines.
The words you write don't express what you'd like to say.. The lump of clay won't centre on the wheel, no matter how often you try. The pink fluffy whatsit you're making doesn't look anything like the one in the magazine.
It's as if there's some vital link missing somewhere in the chain from brain to hand - the messages aren't getting through, or else they're being distorted en route. Your head wants to achieve but it ain't coming out through your fingers.

I guess it's probably age related as well. It's ok to splodge paint about when you're four, you're thrilled with anything at that stage, but splodges aren't terribly satisfying if you're 40 and you were hoping to run up a little Cezanne.

It isn't like that with felt.
Possibly because there aren't really any expectations with felt - or certainly  not in those vital, early stages.
You start with a bit of wool in your hands. You choose a colour you like, several colours that appeal to you.
You have soap and water, and someone shows you how to work them together, with a chik or a mat or something to provide a bit of friction.
You work away in the dark - you can't even see what you're doing.
But voilà - magic happens willy nilly.

When you unwrap your warm, soapy bundle, there it is - a unique fusion you have created without glue, or needle and thread, or any other invasive method of joining. The colours you have chosen have come together in a pattern that you may or may not have devised, to form an entirely new material that is robust yet fragile, tactile yet also a feast for the eyes, enduring yet delicate.
You cannot help but be thrilled - I promise you.

I'll promise you something else too.
You'll want more.

Gradually you become more adventurous.
You try bigger, more elaborate, more precise, more abstract, wilder, finer tuned - who knows, but whatever it is you want to try, more will be the operative word.
More and more and more.
It's fun, it's alive, it's creative, it's addictive.
It's failure-proof.
You cannot help but create felt, and you cannot help but create pattern.
It's just so satisfying.

There was also a fab collection of birds made from felt and scraps of other materials

If you don't believe me, get on-line and find a felting course near you, or ask around and when you've found one, don't hang about - try it.
You won't be disappointed.
And who knows where that portal will end up taking you?
And you'll never again think you're not creative, either.

Oh, and if you're anywhere near The Museum of Country Life in the next few weeks, pop into the Café and see this lovely exhibition while you can - I don't know how long it'll be there.

Time to get felt all over.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

It's a Walk-Out!

We have, as they say, lost the run of ourselves altogether.
One day out (at the Museum of Country Life) and that's it - the In-Charge and I have downed tools, gone on strike and walked out.
Our work lies abandoned where we left it and we have been taking days off, one after the other, on the trot.

I'm not sure that we needed one, but we have had a teensie little excuse for such idleness.
A painful, messy, and - well, revolting excuse.
The In-Charge burst his finger open. I think his endless stint on the roof and then weeks mending the wall have taken their toll.
It was, inevitably, gory, and eye-wateringly painful.
A large stone slipped, squashing his hand onto another stone and one of his fingers bore the brunt. About 3 inches split open to the bone.
It wasn't pretty.

Being a man, he refused point blank to go to A&E, and as I didn't have half a dozen Bouncers and a lot of rope handy, there was nothing I could do to enforce a visit.
Instead, an alcohol wipe was briefly passed over the extreme surface, a squirt of dry antiseptic was sprayed in the direction of the wound, as many butterfly stitches applied as possible and painkillers administered.
You may now address me as Matron (a starched hat is in the post).

My immediate prescription was lots of R&R, so we have, unexpectedly had what you might call a bit of a holiday.
And mercifully, although it's been a tad breezy, and we've had some heavy bursts of rain, the weather hasn't been too bad.
The first few days he lay in the sun - arm propped high on cushions - and for a short while, I even drove him around. But that didn't last long. You know what men are like.

And we've sallied forth on lots of outings.

The Models with #2 Son on our favourite beach

We went to our favourite beach, walked to the far end and got utterly drenched on the return journey.
Thank you, Hurricane Bertha.

SuperModel taking off

Even the Models were a bit taken aback by the overwhelming overwhelmingness of the rain. SuperModel suffers from a rare and very sad affliction. She dissolves in the rain, so it is imperative that she stays well away from any but the lightest of showers. (Luckily, she doesn't 'absolve' in the sea as well. Or the lake. She's OK in water that she chooses, but that definitely doesn't include hose-pipes, bathroom showers, rain etc etc. That kind of water is very, very dangerous indeed.)
So, on the beach, as soon as the car was dimly visible (a distant speck - she is a Sight Hound after all) she just bolted. Bullets and guns come to mind.
The In-Charge and #2 Son eventually caught up with her. She was huddled in the lee of the car, shivering and completely unable to understand what had taken them so long. 
Even my faithful Model Dog finally left my side as we neared our destination and, with an apologetic backward glance, turned and ran for the cover of the open car boot.

Fortunately, a good rub down and - in the case of the two-legged members of the party - a hot shower soon revived us all. (The In-Charge has perfected a method of showering/washing that doesn't involve his right hand. I think he takes it off and leaves it outside the door.)

Since then we have really caught the holiday-bug.
On Sunday, we went to Carrick for the day. A friend told me there is an indoor market (of the junk rather than the food variety) next door to the weekly car-boot sale, so we piled the dogs into the car and set off first thing.
We had a great time - and a sunny one withal.
We bought a pair of cast iron legs that will make a perfect table for the garden, once we decide which of three table tops to award them to.
I bought some beautiful phlox from a German chap, two large baskets of shells (for an as yet unidentified project in the garden), a pretty little dish which caught my eye and a gorgeous paperweight that the In-Charge thoughtfully brought to my attention.
Meanwhile, the dogs lapped up a serious amount of flattering attention, behaved immaculately and - as always - served as an introduction to all sorts of people.

We bought a paperweight, lots of shells and a little plate

On our way home we popped into Strandhill People's Market, but sadly it must have rained there a good bit, as the stall holders had all gone home by early afternoon, when we arrived. The In-Charge bought a delicious sausage in a roll from the only remaining stand and then we too headed home for tea and a lazy evening. On our journey we listened to a programme about the Irish Wolfhound in which they quoted the most perfect description I've ever heard of those - and all - hounds: 'A lamb in the house, a lion in the chase'.

By Monday, we were up and ready for the off, the dogs dancing at the door.
All we had to do was decide where to go.
As we needed to visit a wood yard for several items, we decided to go to Sligo. We haven't been out that way for ages, since the end of term in May.
It was a breezy day still, but Bertha having plumped for places further south, it was mostly just sunny and warm. Sligo is very busy this week, and all wrapped up in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, so we left it singin' an dancin' and headed out to Half Moon Bay, to Hazelwood for a lovely, peaceful walk.

Hazelwood House, picture taken from the internet

It is heartbreaking that such a house has slithered into rack and ruin, instead of being put to some latterday use. It was built in the 1730's - Richard Cassells was the architect - and owned by the Wynne family, but they ceased to live there donkey's years ago. Let's not go into the whole sorry, sordid Saehan occupation of the site, but if someone doesn't rescue the house soon, it will probably be too late. It may already be too late - who knows when this picture was taken? But imagine if it could be used to benefit the whole community.
We noticed a For Sale notice on the gate, but I didn't see exactly what was for sale. 
Let's hope the Save Hazelwood House society can, indeed, save it.
(Click here if you want to know more.) 

Map taken from Sligo Walks - Hazelwood

At least the woods, surrounded practically on all sides by Lough Gill and the Garavogue River, remain and are open to the public. We didn't follow the well known sculpture trail, we just enjoyed the scenery. From Half Moon Bay you can look across to Cottage Island and Church Island on Lough Gill. We stood for a long time staring out across the water. Back in the mists of time, we used to go to both those islands in the little boat with the In-Charge's father. We'd load up with fishing rods, rugs, picnic baskets, the dogs, and the Volcano, that marvellous contraption for boiling water almost instantly over a campfire, and we'd set out for a blissful day messing about in boats.
'What's it like on the lake, Sammy?' my father-in-law would ask the old black lab.
'Ruf, ruf,' he'd bark his own reply.
It's a perennial joke, but it reminds me of him.
The days that used to be.


We left Hazelwood and popped into McHale's wonderful wood yard nearby to get the pieces we needed. I quite fancied a mosey out to Dromahair, but by then the car was rather laden, so we went down towards Doorly Park to find the scaffold-board man instead. We wished we'd had the foresight to bring the trailer at that point, but we'll go back another day.

Yesterday, we again got up bright and early and went off to The Organic Centre in Rossinver.
Sadly, once there, we couldn't think of a way of passing the Models off as Blind Dogs, so we had to leave them in the car, parked under some shady trees with the windows open. They were, to say the least, extremely put out, but there you go.
It was a quiet day at Rossinver and unfortunately the cafe wasn't open, so no coffee for the In-Charge. But we looked in all the polytunnels, ate the warm, aromatic tomatoes straight from the vine that were offered to us, admired the wonderful home-made benches, the imaginative fence posts and the willow sculptures.

The Organic Centre has lots of things to admire

After that we drove up to Enniskillen, on to Omagh and then back via the Atlantic route, stopping to picnic,  look at things and walk the dogs in between several gusty rain showers. In Ballyshannon we were too late to find a cafe, so drank coffee and ate ice cream in the car on the deserted little harbour below the town, and stared out at the cross, grey waves snapping at the squally rain. In the distance lay a gleaming sand bar, lit up by a stolen ray of sunshine, but we were too tired to go and find it, and in the event, it too was swallowed up in mist by the time we left.

This morning we haven't gone anywhere.
The In-Charge's new toy has arrived. He has bought a Bosch 'silent' vacuum cleaner, so that he can clean around Hobbes without waking him up - like they do on the ad.
He got it on-line, super-duper-ultra-reduced because it was shop-soiled or something.
I tried it, but it wasn't on silent mode and Hobbes leapt up and ran out in disgust.
The In-Charge was also disgusted. I had taken the first 'go' on his new piece of  kit, a presumption of the first order and not to be tolerated. However, I've apologised profusely, willingly agreed to re-sign the pact that forbids me from using the vacuum cleaner - ever, and peace has been restored.
He is away now, cleaning the house in blissful silence, without needing ear-defenders for once.

Judging how long it's been since the old vacuum died, he could be gone some time.

The Models are consequently sulking in their beds.
It looks like our Walk-Out is over, for the time being anyway.


Monday, 4 August 2014

Blessings in Disguise

The gulls were high in the sky this morning, shrieking with laughter; the sky blue from end to end, and the sun hot on the back of my neck as I walked round the garden with the dogs.
I often wonder what the seagulls find so funny, but I love to hear them, just as I love to hear the rooks shouting and arguing like souk stall-holders.

It was not thus yesterday.
We awoke to wind and rain, and the day had that settled look that doesn't bode well when it's wet.
It was Bank Holiday Sunday, and over our bacon, eggs and marmalade we relinquished our gardening and wall-mending plans and debated whether or not to give in to the weather and curl up beside a fire with books and movies.
But then I remembered that a friend had posted about a craft fair on Facebook.
We piled into the car and set off.
It was being held in the Museum of Country Life's hallowed precincts in Co Mayo.

I admit with shame that despite having lived here for the last two decades, I've not previously visited the Museum. I've driven past it on numerous occasions, but only en route to somewhere else.
It occupies an old country house, and the new building housing the bulk of the exhibits, has been beautifully designed to fit as minimally as possible into the grounds.

A stray grass stalk spoiling the view of The Museum of Country Life

We had a great afternoon.
The grounds contain a small lake, a lovely greenhouse, a garden with herbaceous planting alongside a second lovely greenhouse, some handsome trees and a few interesting sculptures.

My camera pretended to take some nice pictures of the rampant flowers in the greenhouse

I took lots of photos in the gardens, but unfortunately my camera battery was on its last legs and it turns out that it was just pretending to take pictures, something I only discovered when we got home and it was too late to take them all over again.  I must have spent a good hour clicking away in happy oblivion. Mercifully it did finally resort to the black screen of death.
Luckily the In-Charge had his camera too, but he'd disappeared soon after we'd arrived. He's better at museums than I am, and was doing the rounds - methodically.

#2 Son and I headed to the Craft Fair in a marquee behind the house, and had a great time chatting to the different stall holders. Two friends were there, Liz Courtie who makes jewellery and buttons and ceramics and Jane Dunn who is an artist and sells prints and cards of her work.

Liz Courtie's ceramics and Jane Dunn's paintings and prints

We admired some felting and bought some goat's milk soap from Carra's Garden, and spent a long time chatting to Ella, a potter from Poland who had a range of stuff glazed with blue glass that sang to us. Her pottery is called Mood Designs.

Gorgeous blues, birds, felt and soap from Mood Design and Carra's Garden

Afterwards we joined the In-Charge on his tour of the museum. At least, we tried to, but once again he proved to be so elusive that we started to wonder if he'd actually accompanied us after all.
The museum was full of people, and was interesting, but I get a bit claustrophobic in museums, so, although I did the full tour, mine was, well, on the quickish side.

Eventually we all met up in the cafe and ate large wodges of cake, and then I borrowed the In-Charge's camera and went off to take a few photos - alas, not of the gardens.

As we were driving away, we paused to admire the bird boxes amongst the trees along the drive - there were lots of them.

An array of bird boxes in the grounds

I am very into bird boxes, especially having read that 12 wrens saved their lives by huddling together inside a nesting box during the very cold winter a few years ago.
I'm not sure that birds would nest in the Museum's boxes - I've a feeling birds are very particular about front door size and things like that - but they looked very pretty, and you never know.

While I was admiring the bird boxes, I walked through the trees to the edge of a large hollow. It was very steel sided and deep, and at the bottom a few lines were strung between the branches, with towels hanging on them.
The Museum's washing? An Installation? Campers?

I'm still wondering what that was all about.

The Museum's washing? An Installation? Campers?

It was a great afternoon, and not at all what we'd expected, looking out on the dismal torrents at breakfast.
I guess every now and again the rain is just a blessing in disguise.

One of the sculptures in the grounds.