It was noticeably colder this morning. The sky was blue and clear, but I wore two sweaters as I set out on my walk to work. A farmer’s wife, who was making her journey on foot towards the village, confirmed to me that this morning she had witnessed the first frost of the autumn.
By the time I’d reached the steep hill from Hollywater Bridge, I was regretting my extra layer. I paused to catch my breath and to survey the landscape through the gate at the top of the hill, one of my routine stops. From here there are open fields, to distant hills, with the village church set between them. It’s a terrific place to watch the swallows as they weave and dart just above the ears of barley, catching insects on the wing. Today they were nowhere to be seen and the barley was just stubble. A large group of them were gathering on the telephone wires outside the workshop last week, chattering away, preparing to head off to warmer climes - they’ve gone now until the spring.
A little further up the hill, some of the trees in the top orchard are laden with apples. There appear to be two varieties still on the branch, awaiting the mechanical harvester which will strip them bare. In spite of the wet summer this year, they are ripe, so they will be harvested soon I think. Earlier varieties were taken for cider making a few weeks ago (the small, hard ones with bitter skins). These are eating apples, large and red and juicy – a couple wouldn’t be missed, so I took some to eat later.
Today I will be decorating some small tea bowls that I made earlier in the week. I’m expecting a visit from a group of Japanese pottery tourists in a few days, so these were made with them in mind. Tea bowls are of course held in great regard in Japan and are used in the ancient ritual of the tea ceremony. This is a very different cultural experience from my ‘English tea ceremony’, i.e. a teabag steeped in a mug and then squeezed with a teaspoon before the addition of milk and the unhealthy sugar that helps to keeps my frantic body active throughout a long day.
I can only make the type of pots that I understand, so my interpretations of tea bowls are unashamedly English – simply a variation on the theme of the breakfast bowls I used to make a few years ago, when tableware was the staple production. They are, however, softer thrown on the kickwheel and I am much more aware of the qualities of the rim, which must be inviting to the lips – the same consideration when making mugs. In contrast to mugs, the appearance of the inside of the bowl is much more significant and I try to throw them deftly and with speed, so that the spiral that transmits from the centre captures the dynamic energy of the throwing process. I’m not sure if they’re any good really, time will tell; as bowls go, I really like them, but whether my Japanese guests consider them to be good tea bowls, remains to be seen.
The next day.....
Well the tea bowls are slipped and decorated. I’m a little unsure about some of them – it a matter of proportion – height, to width, to size of foot ring etc. I just haven’t made enough of them in my time to be confident - to have found ‘my own’ shape. I’m writing this from the workshop sofa, with the bowls on the shelf in front of me. Some of them just look wrong, but in making those, my eye becomes attuned to the ones that look right – they’re all worthwhile. I’ll see them through the firing process and the good ones will be offered for sale. The poor ones will go home with me and be used for porridge. Ah porridge! I must get some, it’s fine fuel for this time of year. My snack on the track this morning on my way to work was blackberries and Bombay mix – healthy and not so healthy – the balance of life. I love blackberries from the hedgerow – each one has a different flavour, a sharp one, a sweet one, a soft mellow roundness or an acidic attack on the taste buds – everything is about contrast.
Usually at this time of year I’m collecting wild strawberries – evidence if ever it were needed that bigger is not necessarily better. This year I’ve barely seen any, just the delicate, minute white flowers, awaiting the sunshine that this past summer has failed to deliver.
I met another farmer’s wife on my way here this morning. Anyone would think that it happens all the time round here, another day, another farmer’s wife. We spoke briefly about the artificial insemination of sheep before we went our separate ways. Life is never dull in the countryside.
I feel too tired today to make pots, although I know that I must. I want to get some shallow dishes made for the visit of the Japanese – I’ve left it all a bit last minute. I haven’t had a day off in weeks and the last two weekends were spent dashing around the country. Last weekend I was in Derbyshire selling pots, then I was in London, visiting the galleries with my son Luke the weekend before. He’s away to university in Bath tomorrow, to begin studying towards a degree in Painting. I’m excited for him and a little sad too as he takes this big stride towards independence. He’s a really good artist, I’m so pleased that he’s chosen this route, albeit perilous – not to explore and develop such skills would be such a waste. This world needs creative people.