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Introducing Tulip

May 4, 2023

As early as the 11th century London was an international port, goods came to and from lands across the sea.  Markets like Cheapside, Smithfield and Billingsgate were in existence.  Wool became an important commodity from late Saxon times traveling down the Thames to London and then to the continent. Then into the Middle Ages malt, grain, and timber, then into 1800s metals, manufactured goods and even cheese was passing through ‘my’ imagined village near Reading down the canal and river.  Coming up the river and continuing north or turning west along the Kennet and Avon canal to Bath and Bristol were cargos of sugar, coal, tobacco, rum, cotton, dyes, tea, and mahogany etc. Much from Africa and India and some less far and less exotic, fertilizer for the growing market gardens that had moved out of the city. The fertiliser was made from human waste that had been treated so that it be handled and spread on the soil to encourage fruit, flowers, and vegetables to grow and flourish for home and foreign market. It was a by product of the industry that was created to clean the streets and the river of London that become badly polluted. 

In my story the Shepherd had a younger brother who owned a cart, a valued tool that proved to be a vital part of his business and that of the community. He and the cart would often be found on the towpath or at the Quay Side near the lock where the Canal met the Thames, unloading goods to be delivered to local industries like the biscuit factory or brewery from the barges and narrow boats that were coming and going to London, Bath, Bristol or Lechlade.

It was here that the Carter met Tulip.  He learned later that she had ‘history’ her father was a lighterman in the docks in London and may or not been involved in smuggling and Tulip had been unfairly implicated so escaped up river to find work and lodgings.

Lightermen were considered the most characteristic groups of workers in the docks.  Lighters were flat bottomed vessels that were used to transport goods from the ships moored in the middle of the river. It was an extremely skilled job.  While the lighter was unpowered the lighterman had to rely on his intimate knowledge of the river, its tides and currents and it demanded muscle power and paddles for steering.  However, with all this experience the working conditions were as poor as the wages. So, it is little wonder that a father who had to a large family to provide for might take risks that may lead to imprisonment. Tulip was working in Covent Garden Market, now on the run and needed work and a home.  The man with a cart had recently been widowed and was looking for a carer for his young family and the rest is history. Tulip, whose name refers to the flowers or at the least the bulbs that came from Holland bound for the market and gardens in and around London and along the Thames to Sutton Seeds that was founded on 1806. She was a good girl but not used to country life. She had the ideals of a city girl and didn’t take kindly to rural ways and traditions. Nonetheless, she bought colour to the somewhat drab surroundings and her stories of the big city, market and dockland were enjoyed by those who took the time to listen. 

the post girl …

April 27, 2023

The post office was formed during the 17th century, but it was not until the late 18th century when uniformed post men and women were walking the streets and making daily delivery of letters and parcels. The out of town the post office was part of the village shop. One was able to buy stamps and post letter or parcel or money orders while buying other supplies.  Those who wished or were able could open a savings account with the initial deposit of a shilling (5p). My big sister in the story who was not the eldest and not yet married, worked in the post office and part of her duties was to take a satchel of mail and deliver it to the further community in all weathers she trudges the countryside.  While she undertook some clerical tasks it was the postmistress with more experience took overall responsibility. This job was probably more desirable for one who was good at written and mathematical work. Big sister was clever and hoped to be a postmistress one day. 

walking with the ducks …

April 19, 2023

I have already spoken about an important character in my story; the shepherd who started his ‘career’ after training in the big house.  I wonder if he had a daughter and what she might do when she left school. She would have learned much at home beside her mother and siblings but her contribution to the family income was vital so finding work was necessary. If she lived near a factory, then she might be lucky to begin an apprenticeship to learn a trade or merely undertake casual labour.  Some girls in towns and cities worked on the streets, selling matches, flowers, or ribbons.  Working in a coal mine was not out of the question, small children did tasks that took them in to small and seemingly inaccessible tunnels and caverns. 

My girl also found employment at the big house, before a time when there were laws to give children protection. Her day began before dawn for the ‘family’ and their guests whose demands were overly expectant, harsh, and unending. I have a romantic idea that perhaps taking the ducks and geese on to the meadows on a sunny day might have been a pleasant time in a world where child exploitation was the norm.    Sadly, it wasn’t nice with inadequate shoes and clothing and poor diet being exposed to all weathers was harmful to health and far from ideal. 

the shepherd and his flock …

April 13, 2023

One of the jobs a backhouse boy in the 19th century may have advanced to when he was about 16 years old was shepherd’s helper.  In time when he had learned the ropes, he could take responsibility for a flock of his own. At first, he might find the nights out with the flock a bit scary so his dad would sit with him until he got used to the noises of the night.

A shepherd was one of the most skilled and respected members of the village community. He worked alone and reliant on his one judgment.  The farmer would have to trust him implicitly before entrusting him with a flock of sheep whose welfare depended on him. It was a lonely experience but while it was poorly paid it was a regular income and during lambing time, he could earn a little more. Furthermore, if he killed a sheep he was entitled to its hide and the head and liver etc that could be boiled and made into a stew and a welcome treat for a poor family.

Shepherd families in the village continued for many generations, handing down rural skills and methods building up a good reputation with farmers and neighbouring shepherds providing medical advice and cures.

One shepherd I read about was fine looking man, his gait like many whose work is restricted to tending sheep is free from swaying and rolling movements like those used to walking with a plough. With a smock flowing gracefully behind him, with a crook on his shoulder and a dog at his heel he would walk majestically with steady even pace, head thrown back with his sheep following … a picturesque figure in the landscape.

All this aside, farm work was long hard and poorly paid, and the family lived mostly in poverty. However, there were two ways to relieve it, but both were illegal and harshly punished but it seems that most families had to take the risk. One was smuggling and the other was poaching my shepherd I think was not adverse to bringing home a hare or a rabbit under his smock if the opportunity arose.

Out of the doldrums …

April 7, 2023

After weeks, going on months of blog procrastination, I feel that with a new will I might be able to commit to a regular posting. I have been busy during the last few months but not in a position to consider that it was ‘real’ work. It was fun but not purposeful and some would say that fun was good enough.  I do enjoy my work and it does make me smile but having fun isn’t my main objective.  To be honest for me it is enough to ‘get through the day’ without meeting up with the doldrums, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome. So, thank goodness for fun!

Nonetheless, a few weeks back with the help of a friend and a mighty big prod I was able to make a film to be shown in Dusseldorf at a film festival last weekend where it was well received.

This was the impetus I needed and feel able to pull together the threads of an idea to make another film to show later this year. 

I have been writing the initial premise of the story which is set in an imagined village in Berkshire just before the industrial revolution. Now I am developing the characters and the scenes with story boards.  Making the film is still a long way off, but the journey ahead appears hopeful.

As I immerge as a film maker, I am a textile artist so I will be drawing on my skills and knowledge of fabric and costume design to produce something that is somewhat authentic albeit for wire and felt sculpted dolls … I will begin with a shepherd and believe me they will not be Little Bo Peep

Kintsugi through the back door …

February 14, 2023

I don’t call myself a ‘puppeteer’ as it seems rather a lofty assumption.  Having said that neither do I easily assume the title ‘animator’.  My dolls rather than puppets come from a place of necessity and animation followed quickly after.  During my studies and since I have researched both extensively and discovered they are masterful arts far beyond my humble attempts to make and perform.  However, I do want to learn more and be part of the scene and community, if possible, in the time I have left in this world.

Which seems rather alarming, but it is super empowering.  As it seems that the average age expectancy in UK is, give or take is 85 years, having reached my 73rd year just last week I have decided to spend these relatively few years I have left achieving something good, and not wasting valuable time on shame or regret. While I have not yet made many plans to this end thus far, I did attend a puppet making workshop this past weekend and made this crazy creature. It is a puppet that will be animated soon, and is made with rope and parcel string,  the many knots in the recycled string I have strengthened with gold sealing wax.  Which makes me think of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken crockery where the glue used to join the pieces is mixed with powdered gold, thus enhancing the damage rather than disguising it.  Comparing my string creature with such an art is also rather presumptuous I suppose … but my dreams are lofty!!

Fruit bag dolls …

February 2, 2023

When I began making dolls for my MA I intended to use discarded wire coat hangers. However, they were very difficult to cut and bend so I had to buy softer wire.  So, I am unable to wave the banner for saving the planet in this aspect. Nonetheless, I try my best to recycle, reuse and repurpose as much possible. So, these dolls dressed in skirts made from plastic bags are very pleasing …

Time will tell …

January 14, 2023

As you know I go to a studio in the centre of town once a week to make films.  While stop motion animation can be undertaken on a tabletop, and the equipment required minimal and potentially packed away quite easily much like any other creative equipment. This is a misconception, especially as I have other art supplies that remain unhoused. Furthermore, my house is bereft of natural light certainly not enough for photography of any type so while a studio was vital for a professional artist it has proved to be a happy routine where I can make films but also just be creative and meet likeminded souls. Sadly, towards the end of last year I hit some troublesome times and wasn’t enjoying myself so much.

With the new year and lifted spirits I am seeing the light in the tunnel and pretty sure it isn’t an oncoming train! I am back on track and looking forward to new opportunities and applying for funding.  I am not holding my breath regarding the latter, but the former may just be a rich by-product. Application for funds requires much research and planning and the resulting material must not be overlooked. 

I have made five new characters for a particular story although that has not yet been written yet. They are much like the coat hanger dolls, made with wire and felt, but with heads, faces and hair and perhaps a little more characterful. I have also made a dog and a lion, I have not animated a dog before so there is much tail wagging, ears lifting, up and down, he is good at sniffing and wandering about nonchalantly. So, what new?  There is also a devil with red eyes so there maybe an element of mythology which might suit the lion and me as I don’t have access to the plains of Africa in my studio.  Light and space is all I get so with lots of hope only time will tell. 

With the ugly one …

January 9, 2023

I had lots of kind and thoughtful responses to my post yesterday and I feel much loved and grateful. 

My depression is like an ugly companion with whom I spend my days but with management he/she doesn’t impinge too much, sadly it’s the anxiety,  self-loathing and doubt, it brings that restricts me sometimes and particularly this time of year. 

My ugly friend is a bully (or a kindly project manager) who keeps me in the moment and ensures that I keep working to block out the grief … as a result I do have a substantial body of unseen work for a book perhaps.  I have also applied for a commission which involves a substantial sum of money and a film and remains beyond my wildest dreams. 

So, if we are talking ‘book’ then I have much to learn about self-publication and Affinity Publisher and a film then, I must design a set, dress some characters and write a script …  bring on the kind project manager … but this can only happen if I can keep the anxiety and doubt at bay …

It is what it is …

January 8, 2023

While I have busy since I graduated in 2021, I haven’t been able commit to anything in particular. I enjoyed build up ant the focus of my studies and the anticipation of a new beginning after it finished. Like I said, I have kept busy in the studio, at home an in my garden but it all seems pointless, and I lacked purpose.  I kept making dolls and films and even joined some local groups, but I was uninspired and seemingly stagnant. Winter arrived followed by Christmas and with my mood so low, I was dreading the New Year unless I had a change of outlook. Friends and family became concerned and even suggested medication and therapy. I wasn’t convinced. Wasn’t I doing enough to be happy? I am creative, enjoy playing and listening to music, I take regular long walks, I eat and sleep well etc. Why should I be depressed. I have a kind supportive family.

 I have suffered from depression for decades I have undertaken years of medication and therapy I can and do manage it well.  However, this time it all feels so much more difficult to find a stable path. They say, ‘I’m not alone’ and its true the world is depressed. Everyone is trying their best to balance not to be ‘happy’ or even not ‘sad’ just to keep on a path of kindness … but it isn’t easy.  It is Sunday morning (or it was when I began writing this) I got out my toolbox of ‘good’ intensions again! Being grateful, forgiving myself for doubt and any other misdemeanours that got me into this dark place. I sit gazing and accepting that for a while this is how it is!

Just a wet and windy Sunday morning and we need rain.