Sleep patterns

I am about to embark on another collaborative venture.  More details will follow but suffice to say that I am going to be working with other makers on a project which is going to involve me taking the way they work: their colours and textures and incorporating them into a body of work for a joint exhibition this autumn.  I am truly excited to have been presented with the opportunity and, given the pleasure that the collaboration with Candide Turner Bridger and Nigel Slater gave me for the recent Earthlines exhibition, I know that it could result in some great work.

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Collaborative work for Great Walsingham Gallery.

But, and it is a big BUT, I also know that I now have a whole lot of sleepless nights coming in the next couple of weeks.  All my best ideas happen in the middle of the night, usually at about 3 am.  The initial electrical surge is followed by a protracted process of going over and over the finer detail and sleep becomes utterly impossible.  There is little point in getting up and beginning to make as the whole thing has to ‘cook’ for a while first.  Sometimes a walk helps – so the puppy is on standby for some strange night-time excursions – but, please, if you have any dealings with me in the next week or so, do not expect much in the way of quick witted repartee!  

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Please be gentle!

Spring is in the air!

I have been suffering a considerable level of Pot Anxiety in recent weeks.  This is the state of stress which keeps ceramicists from their beds in the middle of the night because an idea hits or a problem resolution crystallises.  At which point there is nothing to be done except to get up – sleep will elude you until the offending thought has been dealt with.  The current bout of trouble stems from having rather a lot on and some difficulty knowing how to get 4 firings through the kiln before I head up to London in preparation for the exhibition at The Fountain Gallery which starts on 16th of this month.

At 4:00 in the morning there are few cars on the roads in Cornwall and, as I drove the couple of miles to my current studio to swap pots and glaze things in the dark, I really felt that the world belonged to me alone.

On the return journey I tuned into BBC Radio 4 and discovered that I had woken early on the perfect day.  It was International Dawn Chorus day!  The song birds that the BBC was recording were fantastic but imagine my confusion when I stopped the car, turned off the engine, got out and still the music played!  The birds of Cornwall were all up and about and heralding the morning with gusto.

I could have gone back to bed but that would have been a crime against nature.  Instead I brewed a mug of tea, pushed my feet into my walking boots and set off through the woods to the little stone quay at the bottom of the hill.  Through the woods the pale green canopy was still not fully out and the path was fringed with blue bells, red campion, wild garlic and with a late narcissus and an early foxglove or two completing the spectrum.  The birds were giving it everything they had got – it was truly magnificent.  IMG_20170123_103337

By the time I reached the water’s edge the tide was just beginning to ebb – sucking at the stones on the slip way as it crept back out to sea.  The surface of the river was as flat as a mill pond.  You couldn’t really make out the colours because the light was so gentle but I could see a couple of small boats hunched over their moorings and, in the houses opposite, there was not a single sign of life.

The chorus was diminishing now as the song birds all went off in search of their breakfast but the rooks and the oyster catchers were in full swing, it was a beautiful morning and a joy to be alive.  I tried to record the sounds but technology defeated me and anyway, I was being far to self indulgent to try for long so here is the BBC podcast from early on International Dawn Chorus Day.  If you don’t have the patience to listen to the whole thing I commend the last twenty minutes to you.  You will not regret it!

Sod’s Laws?

Last week I spent a lot of time working on commissions.  Several of these were for people who are particularly important to me – either because I know them personally or because they have become some of my best customers.  It seemed to me that this had a strange impact on my work.  I think that I was trying particularly hard to get things as good as I could get them and this proved to be a mistake!

There are weeks which go really well in the studio but this was not one of those.  Trying too hard takes the spontaneity out of things and they spoil.  Opening the kiln was not a good experience.  Things had warped, discoloured, cracked or peeled.  So after a flurry of emails to explain why delivery might be a bit later than planned, this week I am back to the drawing board – sun or no sun!

On the up side, I firmly believe that every error leads to a development and an improvement.  The lucky people for whom these pieces were intended will shortly be benefitting from improved models.  Well, that is the plan at least.  So, if Sod is reading this, please could he go and upset somebody else this week whilst I rectify a few things

 

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Material used to strengthen the porcelain has never discoloured it before!

 

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This flat platter now goes round corners.

 

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Decals are not supposed to peel up from the centre.

 

 

 

 

There has to be an easier way . . .

One of the most significant changes resulting from moving my studio to Cornwall is that instead of working in a very creative atmosphere, as at Wimbledon, I am now surrounded by more practical types.  I am flanked by a dog grooming parlour and the store for a fish and chips enterprise.  There are at least two units involved in mechanical engineering plus a shellfish processing plant: sensible, down to earth practical types who know a good piece of kit when they see one.

So conversations range round subjects such as can I keep a look out for the gas bottle delivery or whether there is any life in some old rotavator rather than whether or not to enter a particular exhibition or competition.  It makes a change but, even more than in my lovely artists’ community, I am prone to feeling like a fish out of water from time to time and it is because of this that certain bits of my machinery do not come out until everyone else has shut up shop for the day.

My most exciting piece of kit is a wet diamond polishing machine.  It is a veritable monster!  I use it to polish, rather than glaze, the outside of my work.  It is what gives my pieces their tactile, lustrous quality.

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The diamond polisher is what gives my work such a tactile quality.

It does, however, give me some difficulties.  True to its name, this polisher is wet!  Extremely wet!  So wet that I become soaked to the skin in very short order, despite full waterproofs.  It shoots water in every conceivable direction and leaves no part of me dry.  I have to use it outside in the yard.  If I worked in my studio I would run the risk of finished work floating out of the door.  It also blasts lumps and bumps off the work, throwing bits of grit everywhere.  I wear safety goggles to protect my eyes but they don’t have wiper blades and so it is minutes few before I can hardly see out.  It resembles working in a car wash.

Imagine my embarrassment, then, the other evening.  Everyone had gone home and it seemed safe to bring the monster out into the yard and start polishing.  I had not appreciate the importance of it being Friday until the lovely, young fish and chip man arrived to collect his van for his regular weekend run to the village.  It was blowing a stiff easterly so I was freezing cold as well as drenched to the skin.  With my hair plastered down over my goggles I couldn’t actually see who was talking to me.  A large bin liner worn underneath my  waterproofs is meant to mitigate for the fact that they are not in fact waterproof but what is provides in terms of practicality it lacks in the style department.  The dungarees belonged to my father in law and should have been thrown out years ago when the shoulder straps failed to maintain their elasticity.  They were several inches too long for me so I have sliced them off rather unevenly below the knee, revealing more than is fashionable of a pair of blue floral wellies which have been kicking around the house for years.  It is not an altogether fetching look.

My friendly chippy worked away on his van, his gas bottles and his fish for a while but in the end he couldn’t resist it.  ‘So, there has to be an easier way than that, right?’

Yes, I rather suspect there does.  I need to find out how to tame my monster before I die of drowning.

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Don’t let me drown

This is just not cricket!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a delightful person wanting to buy some work that his wife had seen on my website.  After a couple of emails he settled on two pieces with a combined value of £1000.  They were for a special wedding anniversary present.

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He wanted a special present for his wife.

I was over the moon.  No-one had ever spent this much on my work in one go and I was so pleased that they were going to be a special present.  The discussion coincided with my best month since setting up as an artist;  I felt as if the world was alright!

 

A cheque was sent.  But no sooner had he emailed me to say that he had posted my money than he sent me another email to tell me that, due to a misunderstanding, he (well his accounts manager) had made the cheque out for too much.  Please could I cash the cheque when it arrived and repay him the excess.  Sure, I could do that.  No problem.  I nearly sent the money before the cheque arrived.  This man was charming and not only buying a generous present from me but also now out of pocket.

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The poor guy was out of pocket and I felt bad.

 

What stopped me?  Prudence – and a strange feeling about the communications.  Before very long I began to be pressurised by daily emails asking if the money had arrived.  I stalled – I wanted the confidence that the cheque had been honoured by the bank.  There were tell tail signs that something wasn’t quite right but I felt really guilty for thinking them.  One should never treat one’s customers with suspicion – right?  Yet I couldn’t help wondering.  Firstly the cheque was in euros but he wanted the repayment in sterling and into a different bank.  Secondly his English was not good – not a crime but when added to other suspicions it seemed to begin to matter.  In addition, he kept talking about visiting his post office to know if I had repaid the money – why would he do that?  Why not call his bank or check online?  Then there was the intensity of the emails which was, by now, beginning to make me feel quite stressed.

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Alarm bells were beginning to ring.

I called my bank to ask how soon the money would be available and was told that, because it was in euros, it could take six weeks.  Now I felt really bad.  The poor guy!  Should I pay him his money and send the goods?  What if we missed his anniversary because I was being so cautious and tight?

Eventually I got a letter from the bank.  The cheque had been cleared.  The money was in my account.  But the last part of the letter told me that, until they had checked it fully, I could not be confident that it would remain there.  Really??  Surely now I should give this guy his money.  I didn’t.  Why not?  Because he was now being rather a nuisance in his emails and I decided to make him sweat – whilst also feeling really guilty about it.

Two days later I received another letter from the bank telling me that the funds were no longer in my bank, that they were charging me £15 costs and that the cheque was probably fraudulent.  I wrote to my customer telling him what had happened and asking him to get in touch.  Oddly, the daily emails now came to an abrupt end.  48 hours later I received a call from the fraud department at the bank asking me for details of the transaction.  As a result of the conversation that I had with the bank I contacted the police who are now dealing with it.

It turns out that this scam is currently doing the rounds and that it is directed chiefly at artists and other self employed people with a small turnover.  The charm and the warm fuzzy story at the start are all part of the plan – although if you ask me this guy had to put a lot of effort into getting the £2000 ‘overpayment’ out of me even if I had given it to him.

I am posting this blog because I was so nearly ‘got’ and I would hate for anyone else to fall victim to this scam.  I truly hate people who take others for a ride in this way.  I watched my own dad be destroyed by a (far worse) scam and I think the people who decide that this is a way to make a living are absolutely despicable.  How they sleep at night I would love to know.  I mean to say, who do they think they are tricking honest people out of their hard earned cash like this?

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Its a scam!

Thank goodness this time I wasn’t taken in but, please, if something like this happens to you, be on your guard.  Do not assume that the customer is necessarily right.  Times have  changed, apparently!

And if you have been the victim of a crime like this, or you think you might have been, and you live in UK contact the police using this link