Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Making Glass Beads

I became a lampworker by chance. Long fascinated by glass beads, a few years ago I read an article about an English bead maker who’d learnt her craft in California. What a shame I thought. I was heading for the U.S,A, but chilly Alaska, not warm, sexy California.

On arrival, I mentioned making glass beads to my Alaskan host. She made a phone call, we drove forty five miles to her neighbour’s house and there I had my first lampworking lesson. When I returned to England a short while later, I carried a rucksack stuffed with coloured glass rods, a bag of tools, a hot head torch and book entitled, ‘Everything You ever Wanted to Know About Glass Bead Making.’ You can imagine what they said when I went through U.S. customs.

I’ve been making glass beads ever since. It’s a hobby, it’s a passion, but it’s not a viable way of making a living. I’ve tried. Yet the magical effect when heat meets glass, and the challenge of controlling and shaping the molten glass in the flame makes me feel like an alchemist.

Hot and flowing glass has a life all its own, full of endless potential; when cool, it’s fragile yet durable, decorative and full of possibilities.

Each bead is unique. Even those made to the same design, at the same time, will have subtle variations of shape and tone. The charm of glass is that it’s unpredictable. It behaves in different ways according to my mood, the heat of the flame, even the weather.

Lampworking probably started with the Phoenicians. It was popular with the Romans, was a large scale industry in 18th and 19th C Venice and, in the last decade, has seen growing popularity in U.S.A, Canada and the U.K.

I know why. When it flows well, working in glass is almost a meditation. It’s magical, molten, hypnotic and enormously satisfying. When it goes wrong I curse and throw the results up the garden. I wonder what archaeologists will make when they find my mistakes in the future.

Sunday, 23 September 2007



Autumn, silent killer, softly creeps

And binds her web about the countryside

With cruel chill fingers she reaps the fruits,

Then casts the empty husks aside

Her lush and sensuous colour spreads

Oozing beneath her grasping hands.

Shrouding the ground with pools of red,

Each tree and bush denuded stands

Clammy and chill is the air she breathes

Hard and cold her greedy mouth

She takes the summer to her breast

And slowly sucks the lifeblood out.

N. M.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Anyone got a recipe for Eve's pudding?

Don’t let on but I’ve been scrumping again, or should I say Autumn foraging. I’m tempted every year and one end of my workshop is now stacked with wonderful bramleys and some old fashioned little red apples that I can’t identify.

Let me explain. Lampwork cottage supports only one apple tree. Stately it may be, with a beautiful canopy, it’s a tree for climbing and resting under, but it doesn’t justify its space in the garden by providing me with apples. It promised six green marbles earlier in the summer, but three dropped off in the first strong wind and the starlings did for the rest. I’ve managed a few pies from next door’s windfalls dropping over the fence but each year I’m lured on by the lustier trees down the allotment.

Now my allotment isn’t posh, with paths, sheds and running water. There are no written rules and anarchy does reign at times. It’s privately owned and I pay £5 a year to join other stalwart gardeners fighting a never ending battle with mares tail, bindweed and other invasive terrors. But for my £5 a year I have the most beautiful spot looking onto fields and woodland. A place of peace and tranquillity, where I can watch birds and wildlife when tired with digging. The soil’s quite good too.

But my little patch of earth is constantly threatened by brambles. They creep towards me with a muscular stealth that can be quite unnerving. and, in the middle of these brambles, grow some of the most prolific apple trees I have ever seen. They are so fertile that each year branches break under the crushing weight of the fruit. No wonder I’m tempted.

When I took over the allotment the old timers told me they were Mr A’s trees. It was a couple of years, and several metres of steadily encroaching brambles, before I realised Mr A had been dead for some time. So now I quietly thank Mr A as I slash and trample my way through his brambles to scrump the apples. I do have a naughty guilty feeling as I pick, but I guess women have always been tempted by apples and I’ve had to find something to go with all those blackberries the brambles so helpfully provide.

(The pictures are just recent snaps of my garden)

I've just found this rather sweet little fairy poem. Very appropriate!

Song of the Fairies Robbing an Orchard

We are the fairies, blithe and antic

Of dimensions not gigantic

Though the moonshine mostly keep us,

Oft in orchards frisk and peep us.

Stolen sweets are always sweeter,

Stolen kisses much completer;

Stolen looks are nice in chapels,

Stolen, stolen be your apples!

When to bed the world are bobbing,

Then it’s time for orchard robbing;

Yet the fruit were scarce worth peeling

Were it not for stealing, stealing

Leigh Hunt (1794-1859)

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Country Dancing with Sir Roger

Country dancing was a big part of a child’s world in the late 1950s and early 1960s, well it was in mine. My first dancing memories are of Miss Strudwick, our infant teacher, thumping on the piano, and me clutching the policeman’s son in my sticky hands, twirling happily in the Sir Roger de Coverly. Who was Sir Roger? I haven’t a clue, but there is probably a whole website dedicated to him. I’ll have to look the old boy up again someday.

My big sisters were very familiar with him. Sometimes in the evening, they'd push the table up against the wall, hum his tune, clap their hands, pirouette and strip the willow on the living room lino. A tricky manoeuvre with just three children and a dog.

All too soon my sisters sang a different tune. The eldest graduated to dancing in halls, driving off in cars and bringing home a boyfriend, then she left home. The middle one wore tight sweaters and rode off on her bike to see her friends and suddenly I was on my own in the evenings.

But in my eighth year I was able to join the G.F.S. (Girls friendly Society. An organisation deserving a blog to itself, I promise.) Miss M and Miss B, genteel ladies, who’d lost their loves in the First World War, were very keen on Sir Roger.

Under their tuition us group of girls skipped and thumped in St Andrew’s Hall, till its wooden walls shook, though we were careful not to crash into the bentwood chairs or the hot stove. Eight o’clock found us on our knees, promising to, ‘….render to no man evil for evil…’ The most wayward of us emphasing, ‘Man’ in the most daring manner, causing giggles that the chaste old ladies stonily ignored.

Sadly I attended this girls club without my previously saintly sister. She’d brought disgrace to her family by jiving during the Sir Roger de Coverly and had been asked to stay away from G.F.S. Obviously a bad influence. Though tainted by my family connections, the fairly forgiving Miss B. allowed me to remain, but she kept a close eye on me just in case. She didn’t want any more moral transgressions. I didn’t disappoint her.

By the time I was twelve years old Sir Roger had been abandoned for the complications of American square dancing and other thrilling fare. At my all girls secondary school, lunchtimes saw me swinging and sashaying to Turkey in the Straw and do-si-do-ing in true barnstorming fashion.

When I shyly asked our young teacher if she’d ever heard of Sir Roger de Coverly, she laughed and led us onto daring European folk dances requiring much stomping and stamping and even the occasional shout. Aah! If only I’d stayed faithful to old Sir Roger, all would have been well.

In the fourth form we gave an open day dancing display. She’d chosen a particularly vigorous European dance. As a big strapping lass I naturally took the boys part in my red school shorts, white gym blouse and black lace up shoes. My partner was togged out in swirly skirt and white plimsolls. We were quite a pair.

Sadly boys play a large part in the rest of this story. One was waiting for me just outside the school gate and, excited at the prospect and anxious not to keep him waiting, I wanted to get through the dance and change as quickly as possible. Scared he might not bother to stay, I took some unwise short cuts.

Our dancing team bounced onto the arena, determined to put on a really good show. We stamped and capered, twirled and kicked and stamped again. It was the show of our lives. I knew we were impressive as everyone stopped to watch. It was going down really well. Most of the audience were smiling, some were even laughing, all were enjoying it except our young teacher. Her usual sunny face had a frozen stare and it was concentrated on me. I stamped all the harder and swung my partner with renewed vigour. Something was jouncing against my leg. Again and again I felt it bounce. Now it was both legs. My suspenders, that I thought safely tucked into the elastic of my grey regulation knickers, had come adrift and were bouncing away freely.

That was my last country dancing display. Shortly after I gave up Sir Roger and his friends for Jimmy Hendrix and a Purple Haze and bought myself my first pair of tights, then a whole new world opened up for me.