Friday, March 29, 2013

The mender, the maker, the glad undertaker

The dust of the rivers does murmur and weep
Hard and sharp laughter that cuts to the bone
Ah, but every face within your face does show
Going gladly now to give himself his own

And twelve yellow willows shall fellow the shallows
Small waves and thunder be my pillow
Upon the gleaming water two swans that swim
And every place shall be my native home

I drove slowly up to St Briavels, the village that hangs 800ft above sea levels on the English side of the Wye river, listening to the Incredible String Band with my son nodding in the back of the car.

Large puffs of snow floated towards my windscreen from the slate sky, the air so dry and cold I didn't need my wipers on. I looked down and saw a farmer carrying something across a field in the bitter wind, the metal dome of an old pigsty behind him.

The Norman Castle at St Briavels that is now a hostel. A few years ago I played at a lovely wedding here. The bride had long purple hair and it was alcohol-free event, the long years of alcoholism explained by a tearful groom in his speech.

The east gate like a fortress dissolve it away
The west gate like a prison O come break it down
Island I remember living here
Wandering beneath the empty skies

In time her hair grew long and swept the ground
And seven blackbirds carried it out behind
It bore the holy imprint of her mind
As green-foot slow she moved among the seasons

Living in this part of the world makes you feel connected to history in a way that living in cities and suburbs don't. Ancient farms still stand while their barns collapse gently into the dark soil - the marks of a thousand years of community, pastures and land use are everywhere. Damp wells stand in squares, blacksmith barn conversions dot the road sides, one tiny church squats within sight of the next and village shops are still housed in buildings that have held commerce for hundreds of years.

The great man, the great man, historians his memory
Artists his senses, thinkers his brain
Labourers his growth
Explorers his limbs
And soldiers his death each second
And mystics his rebirth each second
Businessmen his nervous system
No-hustle men his stomach
Astrologers his balance
Lovers his loins
His skin it is all patchy
But soon will reach one glowing hue
God is his soul
Infinity his goal
The mystery his source
And civilization he leaves behind
Opinions are his fingernails

It sounds crazy but every time I drive around the countryside here I feel so entrenched by the past, I cannot occupy my mind with anything but chilblains, blacksmith forges, wooden buckets, vegetable patches, telegrams, woodcutters, water bubbling on smoky open fires, laundry days, Roman occupation and wild Silures. No plastic, no internet, no phones - just cold, hard life with no option but to work to the bone to survive.

I am consciously trying to allow this feeling to infiltrate my own life, cut out the dross, live more sustainably, do whatever I can to make money. We are all struggling in the same way our ancestors struggled on this same ground. It helps to feel connected to the past and I now realise I had forgotten what it felt like.

The cobbler, the maiden
The mender and the maker
The sickener and the twitcher
And the glad undertaker
The shepherd of willows
The harper and the archer
All sat down in one boat together
Troubled voyage in calm weather. (excerpts from Maya)

Friday, March 22, 2013


This week was a blur of sickness, sleep, teething toddler and, sliced in between the oblivion, a job interview.  If all goes well I will be working from April to October this year in a vast Norman Castle for a few hours a week. I am all about preserving history, right down to the music, so I am very excited to start

That is just another strange happening in my life, just as last weekend I found myself in a Social Club in a less than salubrious part of Cardiff, playing my violin to people who didn't care and almost wishing it was 2006 and the smoking ban was not in force as anything would have been nicer to smell than the odour of 70s chairs, beer, sweat dripping from the skirting boards and the aged and hideous carpets.

Eco Living list additions:

I have finally opened a Triodos savings account to replace my NastyWest one after meaning to do so for the ages. (Is it me or is the name 'Triodos' completely unmemorable? I've tried to remember it so many times over the last couple of years and it just instantly disappears out of my mind). When I have any money that I can safely need 30 days notice to get hold of I'll be opening an ISA with them.

Triodos is an 'ethical' bank: "At Triodos Bank, we believe that profit doesn't need to be at the expense of the world's most pressing environmental problems. That's why we finance organisations from organic food and farming businesses and pioneering renewable energy enterprises, to recycling companies and nature conservation projects."

We have switched to OVO energy suppliers who aim to use more renewable energy. They are also based in Gloucestershire so are really local, and so far they seem good.

I am getting some raspberry plants from my colleague who has too many. I have decided to try growing tomatoes in the conservatory.

Please let Spring arrive soon? Now have to work out what to do with a huge amount of carrots, parsnips, cabbage and turnips that I have acquired. I'm thinking mash, gratin? Roasted?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Links & Inspiration

This image was the inspiration for my quite disturbing 'Teratoma' drawing from this post
There is a glorious Aubrey Beardsley series going on at the Poul Webb blog, it's in 7 parts and has so many works that I've never seen before. His blog is definitely worth following if you are interested in art. I like Beardsley for his art of course, but also because we share the same birthday and I went to the same college that he did.

Intricate soft sculpted monsters and dwellings are slowing starting to fill Melissa Sue Stanley's Etsy shop and I for one am excited:

Click here to read the post I did on Melissa Sue Stanley's work

A couple both engrossed in their wireless devices. 1906. For more on my love for Punch Cartoons see this post.
Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (1865 - 1953) - A Gust of Wind

A mysterious and much argued over map that if real, implies knowledge of America far before Columbus - if anyone knows anything about this please let me know!

Alan Lee - Farewell to Gandalf

Osman Hamdi Bey, The Tortoise Trainer, 1906-07
Georgia O’Keeffe and Eastborn Smith in Twilight Canyon, Lake Powell, 1964 -by Todd Webb
A shirt from Zara that is very impractical and I will not buy but I like all the same.
My current desktop background. Markarth from Skyrim.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Eco living list

The longer I live the more guilty I feel about consuming consuming consuming. Here, for my own reference really, is a list of things I am currently doing to help conserve both money and the environment apart from the normal recycling and turning off lights obviousness.

I am trying extra hard lately to make more eco friendly things a part of my life so please help me make this list longer:

The big one for me since having a baby is washable nappies. Since Mostyn was 18 days old I have been using washables and I am evangelical about them. I have collected a full stash now of mainly BumGenius v4s and a few Fuzzibunz for when I have run out of BG's and I have found them so easy to use. They are in just the same condition as they were when I bought them (he's now 18 months), and I am hoping to use them until potty training, and for any more potential kids. If we go away and I have to use disposables, I buy the eco nature baby care ones. I think the only disposable nappy I've ever used that wasn't environmentally friendly in some way was ironically, the free newborn one I got in my Bounty pack and used in the hospital after Mostyn was born.

I use Ecover and Method cleaning products, washing up liquid and handwash. I do use limited bleach as I have found the Ecover bleach not so good, and I use non-bio powder for washing my nappies as apparently you are not supposed to use Ecover for that (can't remember where I read that).

When we moved into the house we tried to buy as eco-as possible fridge, freezer and washing machine. I am trying to keep the freezer full of food so as not to waste electricity.

Limiting consumption of food & general groceries:

I don't buy kitchen roll anymore - you just get used to not having it and using a sponge. It saves on both waste and money.

I buy the huge bottles of shampoo and conditioner and wash my hair half as much as I used to.

I have never bought ready made baby meals, Moss eats what we eat.

I try really hard to use up everything in my fridge and if I have to throw stuff out I feel awful. It was a recent revelation to me that instead of throwing away salad leaves you can just put them in pasta sauces, blitz and eat.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have joined a fruit and veg co-op initiative. They aim to provide fruit and veg that is all grown within 50 miles of here, it's seasonal and very cheap. I have also joined a wholesale food co op for dry goods but I've yet to use that. We're also eating far less meat, and what meat we do buy is free range.

Buying new stuff:

I have just found out today whilst walking through town (right after buying sleep suits from Tesco :[ ) that there is a second hand children's clothes and toy shop in Chepstow! I'll definitely be buying clothes from there from now on.

If I need any home ware items (for example I need a pot to keep kitchen utensils in) I am keeping an eye out for something in the second hand/antique/junk shop instead of just buying something new.

Growing my own

I do not have a good track record of growing things to eat but I am going to give it my best shot when it gets warmer now we have a garden. This year I'll try runner beans, strawberries and maybe tomatoes if I can get them past the slugs. The previous owners left us with a selection of herbs so there is abundant sage, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme.
Is there anything else I can do?  I know there are practically unlimited ways to save money and reduce consumption, but if you have any tips I haven't thought of please share what you do! One of mine is to put washing up liquid on the sponge instead of in the water when you wash up. Since I started doing this my washing up liquid bottles last forever and washing up is a lot easier. It sounds stupid on its own but if I could make 100 more tiny things like that a habitual part of my life, I'm sure it could make a big difference.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Co-op veg, late night cooking in large pots, second hand wrist warmers, trying not to spend money

A recipe box I made once out of old cards.

Cushion cover from India on my table with a single candle and a pot of crayons. The colours looked nice together.

New (to me) wrist warmers that I am really pleased about.

After a mammoth late night batch cooking session making macaroni cheese, a beef and lentil cottage pie, Cicero's soup and roasted sweet pepper sauce for pasta.

My first local co-op veg bag. All this for £2.50!

Mother's Day present!

Office progress with the clock made out of one of Huw's Serein releases that I gave him for his birthday.

My desk for now. Those shelves are grim. The paint colour we're having is the one on the right that you can barely see under the light.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wales Goes Pop!

I am playing some violin accompaniment for the splendid 'singer/songwriter' (these words strike dread into my heart normally but not in this case) Andrew Paul Regan at the Wales Goes Pop festival on 31st March.

It'll be at 10ft Tall in Cardiff on the Sunday evening - I'm looking forward to it a lot!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mother's Day

Seeing your own mother with your baby is a very special feeling.
Happy Mother's Day mum, I wouldn't be who I am or be the mother I aim to be without you.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

World Book Day 2013 - The most important book I've ever read

I am lucky enough to have been brought up with a writer for a father and a house packed with books - as a child (unfortunately not so much now my time is so limited) I was an avid reader, and stories still have a big impact on me.

I am celebrating World Book Day today by a shameless promotion for honestly the most important and interesting book I have ever read in my life. It happens to be written partly by my aforementioned father.. hence the shameless promotion aspect, but I wouldn't share it with you if I didn't think it was special. And it really couldn't be more important as it's about consciousness, the origin of mental illness and why we exist.

A warning though - if you are an affirmed, raging atheist (and I admit, I used to be one) then this book will probably provoke sneers. If you are agnostic, describe yourself as 'spiritual' as I do (although I really hate that word, I prefer the word 'mysticism' but that brings up lots of strange associations as well these days) or have faith of any sort, you may find this book just as challenging, or you may find it utterly life changing.

OK I think I've covered all bases so here is a short review I wrote of it:

"It is not often that a book can be recommended to a friend as being quite literally about 'the meaning of life', but I have found myself repeatedly doing so after reading Godhead: The Brain's Big Bang.

Godhead is a book to be read again and again, not an arduous task due to the fascinating and life affirming content, but also not one to be taken lightly. This is a book to set you on a life long journey, it poses and succinctly answers the profound questions we have all contemplated and, like a river flowing smoothly downstream, leads the marvelling reader through an incredible mental landscape.

Combining history, psychology and physics it culminates in a game changing theory of consciousness and time, presented in a surprisingly easy to understand way. I found the descriptions of the metaphorical language used in religion to describe stages of self development (e.g 'angels', 'the fall of man') particularly enlightening.

 It's so easy to misrepresent and dismiss as 'woo' modern books that contemplate the questions of meaning, self-development and 'spirituality' (a word practically lost of all meaning in these nihilistic times) - but it can also be said that those who do so may by missing out on fundamental truths and knowledge that must touch us all, and demonstrably have done since the first awakening of imagination in mankind.

 This book is the life's work of Griffin and Tyrrell, and indeed, will take the reader another life's work to digest thoroughly. As another reviewer has so aptly said, 'Read it and act.' "

Don't just take my word for it, here's a review from the Toronto Review of Books, plus some people on Amazon have had their say..

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Shove the pig's foot a little closer to the fire

Tooth related sadness
I have been very busy dealing with a teething toddler, the last few weeks of work, trying to ramp up freelance work, gigs, sorting out the house and generally not having a moment to sit down and update my blog.

It's been lovely exploring our new town. This street is my favourite. Some of those houses have bow windows that actually bow!

Near the castle.

I actually went in Castle on St David's Day - Moss fell asleep and it was pretty cold and cloudy so I was walking round by myself. It absolutely blew me away, especially the great hall.

To the cellar.

The nicest bits of my days have included mocha coffee with shapes on, roast dinner, friends arriving with delicious cakes, finding out I had more money than I thought, and the bills I expected to pay were less, being given a lovely lemon tree (I have always wanted one) and two beautiful sunny days.

I played at a cafe with my band, it was fun though my mind was on other things. Another gig i had recently was the most surreal of my life for reasons I can't go into on a public forum. I also learned that there is a tune called 'Shove the pig's foot a little closer to the fire'

There is no better sight to me than a pile of acoustic string instruments leaning up against a battered old chair.

My sunshine boy and his poor sore teeth made cloudy days fun.
I made two things for the first time, seed cake (because they eat it in The Hobbit and I wanted to know what it was.. caraway seeds, if you were wondering) and also gnocci, an insanely tasty yet simple dish which I will be making a lot more in future whenever I find myself reaching for the pasta yet again.

In exercise terms - I am starting the 30 Day Shred as soon as I get my new mat delivered (wooden floors and situps don't mix). There, I've written it down now so I have to do it. I got up to day 4 before we moved but gave up. Even 4 days made a difference to my posture and core muscles so I have vowed to keep it up next time.

In eco friendly terms - I am recycling my food waste, buying from second hand shops and instead of buying a book I wanted from Amazon, I ordered it from my local bookshop! I have joined a local food co op mailing list and I am going to start the fruit and veg co-op this week.

I started The Witcher 2 but I am so used to zoning out playing Skyrim that I spent most of the time having no idea how to draw my sword or set up a spell. I could get into it though if I played for longer. I am also highly annoyed by the over objectification of the female main character, but that's another rant for another day ...

We also finally bought Mass Effect 3 but the wretched disc wouldn't load, I have been wanting to play that for the last year and am a huge Mass Effect fan so that was a disappointment.