Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Small magic

My housemate tells me that this blog makes it sound like I live in a magical fairyland.  Of course this isn't true...  except sometimes it kind of is.  I'm getting adept at finding it now.  Magic doesn't come to you if you sit indoors and hope wistfully, you have to go hunt it down.  Be prepared to look more closely at ordinary things than perhaps you normally would.  Take this weekend for example, when I went back to Norfolk for the day.  It's not often I get to go back to my home county (although my parents aren't originally from the area I consider myself a Norfolk girl by adoption).  I went home for a birthday party, but that wasn't until the evening so I spent the rest of the day at Weird and Wonderful Wood, a small festival in Haughley, Suffolk, that celebrates all things wood, and the folk that make them. 

This lovely family let me join them in den-building!

Roasted sugar almonds.
For me it was a particularly memorable occasion as one of the stalls there belonged to Rima Staines.  I have followed her blog, The Hermitage, for over three years now, marvelling at her work.  Rima's art seems to come from another place and time entirely, and carries echoes of something old and venerable and lost that I feel like I'm trying to get back to sometimes.  It's a funny thing to meet someone face to face when you've admired them for so long that you almost begin to feel as if you know them a little bit, but of course they don't know you at all.  Following Rima's work has inspired and assured me in my own need to draw, and encouraged my growing love of being outdoors and a life that doesn't always fit with the mainstream.  Once I managed to get over myself enough to form a bashful sentence I was able to thank her for some of this, and we talked about working and living and drawing, and what seems to matter most in all three.  She and Tom seem lovely people, and I feel quite privileged to have had the chance to thank her in person and buy a second print, drawn by Rima and framed in rescued wood by David Winter.  It was my pleasure, and I have a proud place for it on my work desk, not far from the first print I bought, two years ago.
Hanging pictures.  That one second from the left, 'Atching Tan', now hangs in my own house.
A miners lamp and a Hatter 's clock

Home of The Hermitage
The rest of the day was just as full of discoveries.  You know me; I'm interested in everything and I'll talk to anyone, so I went and did just that!  I spoke with a man who carves spoons and showed me how to tell the different types of wood from the colours alone, and another who makes a living shaping walking sticks from bog oak - massive trees that have been preserved in the Fens for tens of thousands of years until they are dredged out so the land can be farmed.

I sat inside a massive egg made from willow weavers and lined with sheepskin, which was so comfortable I almost fell asleep, I joined a young family in building a most excellent den and got my hands covered in sweet-smelling pine sap, and I sat under canvas and was taught the knots that begin a traditional East Anglian basket.

Also I finally fulfilled a wish I've harboured for over a year - to see a real live hurdy-gurdy.  I first heard one being played on the radio and had looked them up online, but on this day I stumbled across one quite by accident, being played by this friendly gentleman.

Just look at it.  Isn't it beautiful!  It was made in France, by one of the few businesses left that still craft these.

The only things I can't show you is the smell of the place. At lunchtime I found myself sat on the side of a small hill in the sunshine surrounded by the most amazing aromas. The sweet living smell of rough-cut grass that makes you want to groan out loud and roll yourself up in it, the thick flowery cloy of the fields of oilseed rape that lie around the estate, the rich treacly scent of a bag of roasted sugared almonds, and of course everywhere the clean freshness of wood.

There were so many children's activities going on and I laughed at what first seemed like a health and safety nightmare; children soldering, children hammering nails, children dragging branches ten times their own length, and children climbing ten feet into the air un-harnessed.  All were closely watched by older eyes, but most of them seemed perfectly capable at doing these things themselves.  In our anxious world we are right to be careful, but sometimes we miss out on experiences through over-caution.  Say that even with their being watched one of the children did burn their own hand, what would happen then?  A bad blister, for sure, and a good cry, but not much beyond that.  I managed to burn my finger on a car cigarette lighter last year and it throbbed for a day or two, but now all I have is a story.  There's no scar and I don't even remember which finger it was.  Even the cost of an injury can be worth the gain in experience.  I spoke to the mother of three young boys who'd had trouble dragging them away from their DS's to get them to the festival but was now watching them den-build, fully engaged and interested, active, thinking, learning, inventing, working together, and all that by a pile of sticks.

I played new games, listened to new music, tasted new foods, and learned new things, and did not meet an unfriendly face all day.  The whole festival was relaxed and uplifting, and a nice reminder of how folk can be once everyone stops rushing about.  I suppose the kind of people who would sit and take the time to carve sculptures from wood are the kind of people who don't care much for life being lived apace without knowing why, and the kind of people who will take on a little hardship and dirt to do what they love the most.  Thank goodness for it.


  1. Thank you Michelle for such a lovely mention, and what a great write up of my favourite fair! It was lovely to meet you.
    My lovely recycled frames are actually made by David Winter in Yorkshire :) ... http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/thewintergallery/
    With all best wishes to you and your work and adventures

    1. Thank you too :) I've updated the post with the correct link now. I love that print so much. It's sat on my desk as I type, brightening up my view.

  2. Isn't it wonderful how one blog discovery leads to another? I saw your comment on Rima's blog and thought I'd come over and read yours, which I've really enjoyed :).

    1. Oh thank you! It's the best way, isn't it. It've found so many fun blogs just through checking out other people's favorites lists. For example, I will now go check out yours!