Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Shape of Things To Come

Image result for Metropolis movie
The Guardian.com

Wow gosh golly, what a year 2016 has been. And what a day it has been today. Rarely, I spent the entire day creating. It is wonderful and strange to re-visit that old sensation of exhaustion from a totally different kind of energy expenditure. In contrast the past few months have been so physically demanding, most often under the glare of the sun, getting to grips with gardening in the Mediterranean. Dealing with the dislike of the very thing that motivated me to find a new life abroad was terribly confusing.

I've been back home now in the UK with the folks, for about a month. Sigh of relief. And today the attempts at nesting have finally reached a climax - fairylights in my bedroom, a dinner for the family after a day using lots of the scraps of strange fabrics and materials from the little caves of the past.

It's been so wonderful and nourishing. I've churned out paintings, a futuristic sculpture inspired by the film "Metropolis" (the main image of this blogpost) as well as working on some simple designs for tote bags. The work sprung from inspiration offered by a theme from a friend's future display in her marvellous new gallery space. And so now everything is lacquered in metallic shades and catches the light wonderfully. Even the gelatin. Who knew the brittle leaves of gelatin could lend themselves to couture finishes? Just hoping the moisture of the North keeps at bay or the lucky buyer may end up with a slightly less couture finish...

It's felt so good to loosen the grip on finding the right path, the right job, the right vocation, the right place to settle. I left for Spain originally 4 years ago next month...trained up speedily in London, met my fellow interns (there were 7 of us) then spent 3 months living and working in a new place. That place was Ubeda, northern Andalucia and the rest is history.

I stayed finding any work I could, often sharing cluttered over-stuffed rooms with people from all over the world before finally settling at dreamy intense Sunseed for almost a year. Life-changing indeed..and then time to move on again. And through it all, looking looking looking and hoping for a place to settle yet never feeling settled. Always sizing up the new place for a quiet space to meditate or read or practice yoga. I was driven and determined to find this utopia I'd invented, and riding the gas of idealism. Yet a month ago, that gas began to clonk and chug. I didn't sleep well. My dreams lost their loveliness. I lost my resistance and my happiness for a bit. What was I doing?

It's not just in the eyes of social media that one wants a semblance of light-heartedness and fun; it's natural in any relationship to apply the best face. It's normal as we try everything on for size. During these 3 years of travelling an insane amount of kms and meeting an even insaner diversity of people, there were such life-affirming moments, life-long connections made, wild swimming, parties and of course sunshine galore...but besides those things, just a person and his simple desire to find a place to call home.

I didn't, and so I'm back at home...where I have spent most of my life. Such relief. The white knuckle ride is over.

It all still feels so new especially in the sense that I need to be back at Square One and loosen my idealist grip on finding something out there. Previously I'd never understood when other travellers have told me they've missed their home land but this time, I got it - I felt it in every cell of my body. I was sometimes checking flights on my phone in the middle of the night wanting to return. 

And after a drive to simplify, to go low impact, to release all the shackles of the modern world, I've realised that I need them. At least some of them. They created me and while I can be incredibly creative within those limits, I'm understanding why those limits exist. A major theme apparent in many people I met travelling was this sense of finding a new world, cutting ties with the old, sometimes with bitterness or despair. I think everyone can relate to that, at times. But I need to find a middle ground. Familiarity is the umbilical cord to the old world. As well as reaching out for something new, we can be running away and missing the nuances of uncertainty or interpreting them in a specific way which fuels our idealism. I certainly was.

I don't know how long this feeling of 'ahhhh' will last but I know that having such distance from Blighty has made me fully understand how lucky I am, and we are, to live somewhere where water is on tap, trains and buses cheaply take us anywhere, people speak my own language, I am warm indoors and I generally just know where to find everything like stamps or phoneboxes or good coffee...an appreciation of these things to a person who hasn't travelled must sound so cliched and a tad ludicrous. But the exhaustion that ensues when those basic things are consistently being re-arranged is very unsettling.

I used to think that in order to galvanise, toughen up, I had to keep testing myself. I had to keep on until finally, I'd be some kind of spunky modern adventurer that would have no problem with making a bivouac anywhere where I happened upon. I wanted that experience that so many young men crave, (think Brad Pitt's character in "Legends of the Fall"...the wild child who rides horses and takes ships to unknown lands). Fiction after all is today's myth-making and we are all looking to hook into the myth that fits.

Adventure means many things to many people. As someone who lives so much in imagination, through colour, smell, through symbols...and not the type who climbs trees or wild swims in January, I must befriend myself and be kinder, more accepting that crafting, learning, dancing, singing, practising yoga, making music, reading, cooking and studying are my kinds of adventure. That's the cloth that I'm cut from. 

Catch examples of my work soon at the delicious boutique, Arcanum, on Market Street in Hebden Bridge.

And...why not order a veg box and collect it from Veg Box People at the University of Manchester every Tuiesday? You will find awesome bread there, too, from Trove bakery in Levenshulme. 

Sunday, 23 October 2016


Will a month's trial as a garden volunteer at a organic yoga paradise in southern Spain bear Winter fruit? Or will the reality of wet boots in a soggy rustique way of life prove one step too far?

Today is a day I've waited for since the end of summer. It's been a year of achieving some important dreams - taking my mum to New York City for her birthday, training to be a yoga teacher and finally learning how to garden in southern Spain. A trip to see a friend allowed a new connection where my excitement to learn about permaculture and ecological land management practices was met with a resounding "yes"! So I am now back at the impossibly beautiful Suryalila Retreat Centre, where I volunteered for 3 months last summer and cared for the chickens, and attempted to build a pond...

Finding time to study and learn about yoga has been a part of a hectic schedule. So this, finally, weekend has been the beacon of relaxation I've been waiting for. Seasonal torrents of rain are also encouraging me to stay put under a mountain of blankets with a flask of lemon ginger tea. Ah what bliss. Going through old photos and files is just what a soggy Sunday needs.

Where am I? About 1.5 hours from Seville, in the middle of nowhere where swathes of eager yogis come to learn more and a smattering of cityphiles and their families come for a slice of the good life. The centre has horse-riding facilities as well as a natural salt water pool and serves 3 meals a day that are fit for the King of Spain; I'm sure he wouldn't notice the lack of jamon. The majority of dishes are vegan while the cheese is sourced from local suppliers using sheep or goat's milk. There's also a juice and smoothie bar, so I know the little savings I have left will dwindle as my tastebuds go to the stratosphere.

This time I am volunteer in the horticultural team. The huerto supplies the kitchen with a small amount of produce and with the help of this newfangled team, that percentage will steadily grow. So far (I arrived on Wednesday) I've been preparing beds for kale, cabbage and more roquette. I've also been removing olive sprigs from around the base of the olive trees and making hot compost. There's also loads of faces from last year which is a fantastic welcome.

The soil here, having been battered by intensive monoculture for a while, has long since said farewell to the rich ochre earth that still supports a few oaks in the distance. Some are estimated to be more than 500 years old. Our closest village, Prado del Rey, literally translates as "pasture / meadow of the King" so if etymology is any indicator of history, that fact remains fossilised in the area's past.

This design inspired the chicken coop makeover last summer
I'm working with a great team of 5 guided by an ambitious plan to turn things around. And already the parched ground is providing the kitchens with some salad and greens, and when I visited last year, we had an abundant harvest of figs. There are citrus trees and of course olives, and to keep the place beautiful, many landscaping succulents, lilies and banana trees. There are plenty of herbs too with the parsley, coriander and basil doing well and kitchen staff embellish the Moroccan-style serving dishes with borage flowers, calendula, nasturtium leaves and rose petals. We're visiting the vivero this week and I'll be pushing for lots of aloe vera so thirst-busting "AloePops" can get on the juice bar menu.

Alongside growing, the project manager is keen to install plenty of ways to preserve the harvest, the most obvious one being solar drying. This is a really easy and quick way of preserving excess and when I used this method at Sunseed Desert Technology, the most successful eats were aubergine slices (great for rehydrating in curries and stews) and stoned fruits which were chopped up before drying. Figs can be tricky if the maggots get there first. He's not come across a hay box before so I am excited to build a simple one.

The pond in April this year
I'm on a month's trial here before I commit to an extended period. If things go well, I imagine leaving before the intense heat of late Spring kicks in. The biggest challenges for late Autumn and Winter are going to be maintaining a strong sense of personal space as so much is shared and meeting new people is addictive. I also need to be realistic in preparing for the wet, windy and cooler weather which is one skill I've never mastered hence my fleeing from UK. Temperatures stay reasonable and the Winter is short - last year, nearby Seville was still seeing 24 degrees at the end of November - but outside of the city, life is squelchier and damper. I'm hoping that when a room becomes available at the volunteer house, I can swiftly move there. Despite my dreams of wildness, I am a walls and hot showers / radiators / slippers / heated towels / wifi kind of a person.

At the moment, I share with 3 other guys in a large tent. One makes his bed every day to hotel standards which impresses me. The others move around remarkably quietly. There are compost loos and outdoor showers nearby, the more homely bathrooms inside the main building. I've learnt that I'm a fairweather outdoorsy type; this weekend the winds have been lashing around the canvas and the rain drops more than pitter-pattering all around. While reading novels about wild weather appeals, enduring the reality is less romantic. It's a far cry from camping exactly but I feel lost without hangars and a maiden for my smalls. Last month my adventuring friend tried to encourage me to loosen up my white-knucked grip on civilisation with a camping trip on the beach. That was truly wild...no tent, no camping mat. Just us with a sleeping bag against the Milky Way and concerns about being washed away alleviated by a Gin Tonic nightcap. I smiled and tried, I did.

All in all, I am excited to be following a very longheld dream of living in Spain while growing. I will finally have to get to grips with being realistic about bad weather challenges. Despite training as a Forest School Leader in the UK a few years ago, bloodcurdling screams emit from my insides in worse weather, so I'm lucky to be somewhere where the temperatures stay quite civilised. My suitcase has only allowed me to pack so much (read: shorts and evening trousers) so the rest I can borrow (or beg or steal?). As long as I remain looking reasonably civilised so as not to shock the gentle yogis, I will be happy at the end of the month.

I shot the evolution of a caper / caperberry by gathering the plant at its different stages

Friday, 16 September 2016

Disposable Reasoning

I follow the work of George Monbiot, a passionate environmentalist keen on re-wilding  as am I. His latest article, Disposable Planet, can be found here. As a Romantic as well as someone who values scientific reasoning, I find much to critique especially since his views are typical of many people I meet on my path to finding an ecological and sustainable way to live. The response I sent is below which will make more sense if your read his article first!

Post your comments below.

Hello George

Thanks for your latest article, Disposable Planet. Incisive as always...and also despairing and hopeless, leaving me with that unsettling feeling similar to the dread in the belly during a parental telling-off. "You're using the car again...despite the planet going down the plughole!" ..."Your shower lasted 8 minutes...do you know how much water that could provide to a drought-struck village on the African continent??" Forgive me, Father. I'm also about to critique your reasoning. 

De-capitating Logic

So, I recently discovered a new way of thinking thanks to constellations which, like most things, suddenly seemed obvious. The Plough, Orion, the Great Bear...and all such named constellations, despite being individual stars light years away from each other, make very sketchy outlines for us humans... although simply an abstract handful of white dots in space. Why? Because we are making sense of the world around us (note - not necessarily the world we are entrenched in, but that's another story).

This "constellation" tendency is how many mortals flex their muscles with the things they've come to know. And it's a shame that the tone of your articles, as much as I enjoy reading them, fall into the same trap: a dying population here, extinct animals over there, melting ice here...and then industry growth over here, and blithe consumers shopping malls or on futuristic devices with 1,000 Apps promising every convenience. That's cause and effect, right? Surely any fool would agree. And, then, wham! you're reasoning wings are stuck in the glue! 

The intellect, like the internet, makes bold promises of a world that's understood and relatively neat and organised...and seems to hint a glimpse of world without physical limitations. But we aren't just heads on legs, or fingers tapping at keyboards - we are absolutely bound to gravity, despite our spiritual yearnings. Yes, you, too. Sorry about that.

Any breadth of knowledge doesn't exempt you from the hairy contradictions and compromises we are all forced to negotiate in order to be, firstly, human and, secondly, as informed individuals, sane, happy and motivated to act from a courageous space rather than a fearful one. Not recognizing that can dislocate the relevance of your message since a reader could be forgiven for imagining that you are beaming your blogposts on fairy's wings from a self-sufficient idyll only the enlightened seers inhabit (they had accrued enough carbon-offset points).

And yet, here we both are...stuck in fleshy bodies while able to communicate without having met...through complicated technological platforms that govern and shape our lives/perceptions which make no more sense than a fairy's wing. But isn't that also a great metaphor for the sophisticated infrastructure that we're inherited from our ancestors...complete with its socio-psycho-cultural matrix? I think a writer who is full of idealism (that's my attraction to your work) as well as one who endeavours to make sense of the incomprehensible bonkers-ness of it all, has much more weight. Of course, I see all that you do, too - this is about relationality (even though Microsoft doesn't seem to recognize that word).

It's no surprise to me that The Guardian (or similar) at once recommends a healthy tuna salad and reports the abominable nature of the fishing industry; it's more shocking that you have reached this point and only highlight the paradox rather than have anything deeper to say. Informed readers aren't oblivious to the many contradictions and hypocrisies in which they can flourish or fall.

Your knowledge, coupled with your power as an articulate and well-known writer, offers you a responsibility to soften the potential blow ("real" facts about catastrophe reeled off in your article is simply that well-known journalistic tool, sensationalism). Can you offer solutions...come back to your fellow inhabitants...rather than beautifully present heartbreaking and bleak summaries of impending extinction, that leaves some of us clutching for the Kleenex and Seroxat, rather than feeling elated and aspiring for excellence and betterment? And not for the sake of sugar-coating and the nicey-nice, but for tenderness and a sense of "we're all in this together"ness? We all need a continued sense of wonder that you so elegantly express when in the presence of wilderness and the animal kingdom. We are as majestic as those phenomena and deserving of as much respect. It's not apparent in your tone that you agree...directly from the Pulpit of Doom.

....unless I'm being terribly naive and Monbiot has evolved into a brand whose USP features lamentation, sorrow and that last bastion of hope for mankind? I thought I could watch any new channel for that.

Awaiting a reply,


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Bee & The Butterfly

A Sea Shanty

A boy stands feet together before his Majesty, sand sinking up between his toes. The string from a balloon dashes above and around his head, begging to be let go as the many fingers of the wind clutch at it. He smiles softly and shares his attention between its wild yellow thrashes and the crashing waves that gain momentum, threatening licks at his ankles and lower legs. His thinking softens, the larger part of his mind already immersed and occupied within the ocean's fiery gemstone blues and crested white kisses.

Hours go by, perhaps a decade or so, perhaps no time at all. He will only dare to reason again once the strange trance subsides and recedes. For now, the singular yellow balloon tosses in the curling gusts, like a young shark urgent to gain over its prey, conducting a slippery rhythm from the excited wind.

Barely perceptible crystal stars of salt dust the boy's lips, like early spring pollen on 2 petals of a red flower, and he moistens them with 3 considered licks of his tongue. And did he just miss the sight of a dolphin...or a whale, revealing its muscular form between triangles of water? He resumes his focus, promising by a slight frown not be distracted again. He even pledges not to blink. He wants to become the dolphin, if only for a second. He wants to know what it sees, and where will it sleep tonight, and how. Is the dolphin's vision the same as when the boy is submerged and attempts a glance through the wobbling glass without the defiant tilt of his head allowing his ears to drink the water?

He doesn't like to hear what they teach at school. Numbers and facts about the sea bed, the rocks, why there is water and from what matter it's composed, when it evaporates, or might flood low places. It matters much less than these naked moments of ragged wild silence.

Existing in 2 worlds as the coast line relentlessly defines itself, his feet enjoy the impression of the collision. Rather than a line, it is just a restrained spill of the waves, teasing... like the vagueries of the poet, feeding each other like lovers at a banquet, marrying and separating, relentlessly. The intimacy of the sea is not diminished  by the 1,000s of pairs of eyes that have soaked it in. It belongs to no-one, it doesn't need to. And still, it is not unlike a hopeless animal caged in a zoo... gazing sadly at the shore, and menacingly, with a dark primal heart in its blue twinkling eyes, capable of swallowing buildings, continents, promises.

For now, its loose invitation apparently extends to the boy and his yellow balloon, absorbing him into its private circle. The still boy, the exotic tango of the balloon, the sea busying itself  adorning them both, baptising them perhaps, with illusory eternity or some more beguiling gift. The sea and its many blue pencils draw boundaries around definitions of freedom, isolation, of tremendous union that the boy has heard about in handed-down fairy-tales.

Suddenly, he laughs absurdly. This blue watery soup before him seems silly, unknowable. The balloon seems to nod in agreement then continues dancing idiotically, its yellow hips at odds against the tulip blue sky. He looks at the end of his finger, bloated and pale as the string has tightened. Ah...and another glistening metallic lump diminishes as he turns to look...has he missed the dolphin again?

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Why Kale Really Is A Superfood

Credit: sondibruner.com

There are many things in life that I am proud of. However, the greatest must be that I have got my dad to drink smoothies. Not some flouncy soft-core syrupy foppish frappé (that's basically just melted ice cream) - I'm talking home-made rustic (Morphy Richards wand) with kale, turmeric and kiwis. Kale, turmeric and kiwis are 3 species that have never been unearthed by Planet Poppa before. And not only drinking them, but he's actually asking me to make them.

Nothing about my dad screams smoothie to you. He turns 71 at the end of this year, reads AutoExpress and lives for football. His dad was a miner from the North East. He has never heard of Gillian McKeith and wouldn't forgive her if he had witnessed the way she treated KitKats.

Since I was catapulted from the outer galaxies in to this family 35 years ago, I have challenged everything my parents have done and said. Annoying, awkward - that's me. Some invisible force has propelled me to shine a light on everything they do and show them that my way is superior. Even when presented with my mum's favourite brisket stew, that had simmered away for hours then lovingly finished with a nostalgic-looking crust, my face would contort as if it was a pouch of Felix.

So how did I peel my Pop's taste-buds away from Sprite and midnight glasses of semi-skimmed milk to this fine oxidant-busting beverage?  Simple: I shared the joy!

Normally, I would hammer my way around the house...be aghast at 99% of the things they did and never alight the soapbox (I blame the Aries in me). But I've just been approaching things in a more joyful way. I love smoothies, so Pops...wanna try some? Magic. From a place of floating around on flimsy dinghies in the vast blackened parental oceans of life, we're suddenly, if briefly, rowing together, smiling,......with bits of kale stuck between our teeth.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Get Rich or Die Studyin'

Tonight was the 3rd week into my study group for Napoleon Hill's Think & Grow Rich. The themes of this week's chapters (since Week 3 and 4 have been rolled into one)... are entitled Imagination (tick), Organised Planning (what happened to Week 3?), Persistence (tick) and Decision (double tick - I ordered a burrito, followed by nachos). The author reminds us in no uncertain terms that those who lack decisive action and quiver in uncertainty are doomed to a penniless life. Or in his terms, "will not succeed in any undertaking". Harsh.

Napoleon Hill wasn't the only one eager to have his opinion heard. While a few of us were chatted about what being rich means, a pair of beady eyes bored holes into the air around us. Then as our discussion branched off between 2 of us, he erupted...with a violent declaration that we were all wasting our time. My friend and I looked at each other, then looked at him. He continued, with an incredulous expression, telling us that everything was "in here" (poking his own head) and that he didn't need anyone else. I eyed up the empty pint glass that sat gloomily before him.

"No man is an island!" I graciously declared hoping that the attempt at melodrama would dissolve any escalating aggression. But to my dismay, his response was defiant and sufficiently animated:

"I am!" and without irony, "I am a painter and sculptor!". Then, more cheerfully, "I'm as mad as a box of frogs". I was mostly surprised that this was the first time I'd heard the expression being used self-referentially. But perhaps that's what islands are destined to have to do.

Then, after a short pause, regurgitated more instructions: "You -- *pointing to my bewildered friend* --- need to get on with your life, and YOU --- *turning to me*---need to F*** off!"

My poetic exclamation had obviously done nothing to sedate him or gentrify the situation. But I somehow succeeded in moistening the vile glue of this strange conversation envelope and posting it back from whence it came (an unnameable monstrous island)...then the box of frogs gathered his coat and hat. Even deranged amphibians need clothes.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Stranger Danger

We should all be heartened, and relieved, by this (real) Lifeboats advert and gently reminded that it is that playful rascal Satan who joyfully pedals Sales and Marketing.

"Lifeboat volunteers will drop everything to rescue total strangers!"

What a waste of time. Why not join Friend Ships, a service where only friends are rescued 
if there's nothing on the telly? 

Friend Ships
Where friends come first, naturally. 

If a tree falls over in the forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

If you're out at sea and in danger, you are safe with us - as long as you have friends**. We are the UK's first rescue service dedicated to putting friendships first, leaving strangers to bask in the briny. Our dedicated team of volunteers ask one simply question so you can be safe and sound in the shortest possible time. In the long tradition of Noah and his Ark, we recognise that teaming up, like love, is the most natural force in the world. Hell's wildest fires deal with the rest. **and the new series of Britain's Got Talent hasn't just started

Our unique rescue boats won't let you down
It Makes Sense

* With our I Got You, Babe plan, newly weds are prioritised - that Honeymoon love won't drown on our watch!
* No-claims bonus if you have over 600 friends on Facebook
* Get your first month free if you can show us that you receive 2 notifications per hour (proof required)

Don't be a stranger - our insurance policy covers anyone, even you pitiful creature surfing the web alone, because we are the only company in the UK who even accept a passing hello in the Post Office and a Message in your Other folder as a sign of  friendship. You're safe!

Peace of mind We know that you value loyalty - you don't like sharks. Strangers are like sharks and we can guarantee that your good money will never go to rescuing them. No-one wants their legs bitten off. Let them drown, the nasty friendless bastards.

We tirelessly rescue from Monday to Friday until 5pm. After hours, you can all take a running jump. But preferably not into deep water. 

One quiet afternoon in Cornwall...

Friend Ships Contact Centre (FSCC): "Hello, Friend Ships Cornwall, what's your emergency?"

Friend Ships Volunteer (FSV), Gary, aboard The Friendly Swan: "Sighting of a lady in distress off the coast of Bude."

FSCC: "OK, right. Let's establish is if anyone knows the victim so we can send Rescue straight away. Do we have a description so we can find her Facebook profile?"

FSV: "Female, white...difficult to establish her age because of all the splashing. Her hair's dark, really wet, maybe black. Her makeup needs touching up."

FSCC: "I'll need more, Gary."

"Well, I've heard there was a sighting in a local chippy - a lady in her 50s, about an hour ago or so. The owner said she wasn't happy with the chips. A caller has suggested a potential suicide attempt."

"Right, that's something. Did any of the staff recognise her?"

FSV: "My Uncle Roger used to date the fish-fryer from that chip shop back in 1984. So we could have a connection. Friends Reunited?"

"Gary, if she made it from her phone she's might be active on social media. We'll need her phone. Can you access her phone?"

"I'll try" *reaches down, boat tips, lady's hands grab at him wildly*..."be with you shortly, love, hang on in there, won't you...----- Negative to getting the phone, And I've heard that salt water will short circuit it."

"How about her password? Is she conscious? We could get a sync of her contacts, and we can go from there."

*Gary peers over the boat, trying to get the lady's attention*

"Excuse me, Miss - er, Mrs..." *desperate gurgling from the water* "Are you on Facebook? F A C E-book? *lady getting bluer in the face and struggle starts to lessen* ----- No, nothing. Er - subject uncooperative."

"Well, that's no way to behave. Perhaps we're fighting a losing battle and she doesn't have any friends? *tuts* Although I am getting a few profiles in Bude ... ah, but I'm gonna be here hours."

"Have you checked TripAdvisor? I bet she's the kind to leave a nasty review on that chip shop."

"Roger that. *taps furiously at the keyboard, mumbling incoherently*...doesn't look like she lef---oh, Gary, here we go, an hour ago someone posted a 2 star review."

"2 stars? What did she give the stars for?"

""Chips cold and undercooked. Don't waste your money. Man on till said he liked my hair, which made my day"."

"OK. A name...I need a name?"

"Er yeah - Buttercup Beamdancer."

"I'll Google that --------- I'm not getting anything up, Gary. Can you ask Buttercup her real name?"

"Butterc -- oh, erm...hello? *water completely still, dreadful silence*

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Gift of Hypocrisy

News yesterday of how Chernobyl is now being considered as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) shocked me. Chernobyl. SSSI, No. Once alight and radioactive, evacuated and devastated ...30 years on to is now to become one of the most diverse and potentially one of the world's largest protected wilderness spots. Does not compute

Nice to Meet You 

I grew up in a sleepy, sometime very smelly, suburb. I prayed every night for the source of that stench (a local factory, and possibly my mum's thrice-boiled cabbage) to close and, years later in a Ferngully The Last Rainforest-kinda way, it finally did....then proceeded to fulfill its corporate duty by creating a nature reserve. As long as I had been aggrieved by its presence (much more so than the geese and ducks who had called it home), a chat with a botanist turned everything that I'd believed about contamination on its head.

Not every question should have an answer
Taoist principle

Humans are WEIRD. I'm weird. We're all weird (you're weirder than me, I think). And if we consider ourselves to be part of the natural world (the terms nature / natural are tricky customers), imagine how weird nature actually is. Very. Hypocrisy, contradiction abound: epic forest fires cause untold destruction followed by phenomenal re-growth. Industry chemicals leached into soil can often create opportunities for prolific growth as rare species feed from the strange cocktail elements. Contradiction has its bittersweet yin / yang. Or maybe a pragmatic optimism that we sometimes overlook. A desire for life shines brightly, regardless.

 Nuclear Futures, is no stranger to pragmatic optimism. Now raising money for the their symbol of peace to the survivors of nuclear testing all over the world, they are shifting a massive sculpture from Australia (where the organisation is based) to Nagasaki to mark the 70 yeasr bombings in Japan. Help them reach the target by donating here.

"The sculpture is inspired by Yalata community's own search for peace and harmony 
as Australian atomic survivors. It will create a unique Indigenous Australian presence in Japan, 
and provide recognition for atomic survivor communities."

I have no idea what to do with all these observations except admit that it's safer to bet we know next to nothing, rather than pretend we're closer to certainty about anything. The wonderful afterglow of a bunch of bonkers facts is that glimpse of a world that isn't answerable to rationale, to logic, to deducible atomised facts. That makes me very happy because it is a world closer to the creative process and wonder.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Dear Internet, You're Dumped

Hello Internet,

Ever since we've met, we've spent so much time together. Now you're ruining my life. I can't wake up without you in my face telling me stuff about the world. Sometimes I just don't wanna know.

So, I'm really sorry but we have to go our separate ways. Maybe we can stay friends and meet for coffee sometime. It depends if I find out you've been seeing someone else.

Now, I have to get on with my life. I haven't played the piano or read a book, or even dusted or hoovered since I can remember. It's all been about you.


E. Arth

Friday, 4 March 2016

Nativity Part II: The Tattooed Lady

Our emergence from the womb signifies the epic awakening of our most primal sense - the visual. Tattooing, sometimes provocatively, often beautifully, embroiders our visual history, tracing the lineage of our ancestors and, since the first known art work, contributes to the description of our shape-shifting perception of beauty and ritual. 

Since the colourless nothing of mythical lands that 
Time forgot, civilisations have used their skin as
canvas...embellishing and adorning with prolific
surroundings - berries, beetle shells or different forms, 
shades and textures of earth and clay. Today, the art of 
tattooing remains a prominent artistic discipline in which 
that sacred and colourful legacy continues to flourish. 

  In the second installment of the Nativity series, which attempts to distill contemporary sense of the word "native", tattoo artist Clare Lupino invites us to understand how her dermal illustrations, commissioned for aesthetic purposes - including sensitive post-medical procedures - embroider and contribute to her relationship with her sense of nativity and place in the natural world.

"tattoos are totums, symbols, representations and metaphors that can mark phases, and phrases, of our lives"

Clare Lupino
Tell us where you live.
I live and work in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire (UK) in a creative, spiritually-oriented community.
When you were younger, how much time 
did you spend outdoors?
I lived with my nana for some 
of my childhood. She was a 
very insightful woman who 
grew her own vegetables and 
looked to nature for healing 
remedies. She encouraged my 
creativity by immersing me in 
the natural world. I would
while away hours counting the rings of a fallen tree, or making seed pies for the birds, 
gathering pine cones and observe how they opened and closed, according to the weather. I even  rescued worms from busy roads, returning them back to the soil! Some of this has continued into my adult life. As an older child, I would play lot outdoors, building dens
and jumping across streams.
Have you, or would like the chance to, grow your own vegetables, forage or hunt for game?
   I think I could survive in Armageddon - I know how to make a shift and connect with what is essential. I do love the excitement of cities and need that injection regularly as a barometer of social human development, to feel relevant with writing and art, but I flirt with my feral self. I love to read about keeping hens and allotment digging. Right now, it's a different world for me as a busy mother - there are only so many hours in a day! My current focus is my business so I can be financially independent and be free up creative time.
  The term "nature" evolves its meaning as much as our relationship to it. What does nature mean to you?
  Nature means being true to myself, to my own nature; as a woman, a mother, an artist. I see Nature as the domain of Mother Earth, the Goddess, the sacred feminine. I'm interested in using my work to promote that awareness of nature, both the gentleness and the power.
Generally, we've come to use the word 'native' for indigenous people. If this extended to include your own life, would that adjust your understanding of your place in the world?
I consider myself as a spirit in a body. I'm here on a 
journey to learn, to gather, teach and impart what I 
have experienced. I believe that, since we are all the 
same substance, really, we are native to a kind of 
'universal energy' both before and after we 
become native to this particular planet! The concept 
that we are all One (like "uni-verse" meaning literally 
"one song") means to me completing the dream of what 
I call an "earthly" nature. Our spirits become native to 
a specific culture when we are born and all of them 
contribute to a global human identity.
We are more aware than ever these days about our impact on the environment through waste, fracking, mining for minerals for technology, etc. How does knowledge of these contribute to your understanding of the natural world?
"Flame of Desire"                 Never a dull moment 
My motto is "waste not, want not" and also a concept that applies to my spiritual self. Energetically, if humanity aligns itself with its collective soul, then a collective conscience will develop naturally. Within each collective, the energy of the individual counts - I believe that my individual contribution is to help expand the concept of creativity in others through the medium of my own art work.
 How do any spiritual, religious or philosophical beliefs that you hold contribute to your idea of the natural world or being ‘native’?
I have an eclectic and all-encompassing set of beliefs. I look at the intention in religious and spiritual endeavour and cherry pick from each. It's important for me to get a sense that the intentions benefit everyone. I feel very connected to the times when women were brutally punished for their beliefs (the Burning Times of "witches") when orthodox ideas of Christianity were so ingrained. I feel the same about the obliteration of indigenous tribal rituals in many countries where political agendas have dictated via missionaries that their way was the only way. I seek to find and keep my native human spirit.
A recent controversial manifesto argues to keep humans 'separate' from nature in order to maximise conservation of the wilderness to keep it sacred. To what extent do you agree?
If we see the Earth as a mother - as female - which more accurately reflects indigenous traditions for millennia - we can come to understand that she can provide without a sense of dominion, control and separation. The sexes can be equal because both have a sacred part to play. Human evolution is an awakening of the individual to make sense of the masculine and feminine within us, to gain a sense of Oneness.
"Charleston"                Waste not, want not Stunning upcycled pieces
To what extent does technology affect your relationship to the natural world? How much do you consider technology to be natural?
If technology carries a holistic intent for the planet, including the generations of different species to come, then it can only be considered as an extension of human nature.
 Many people wish to get back to ‘the good life’. If an opportunity arose for you to move to an island with your friends/family, live more simply and aim for self-sufficiency, would you take it? Explain your reasons!
This comes down to the integrity and authenticity of others. Perhaps if there was a secret mini-island and a small boat! All artists need that kind of sanctuary.

Licensed studio in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
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Customisation and corrections,  personalised tattoos, cosmetic and medical work work. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Polyamory, Padlocks & Pooh

"I'm gonna lock my heart and throw away the key..."

I'm ignoring people's advice to "get out more" because I can no longer deny the love affair I have with my bed, my duvet, my snuggly peluches that are unashamedly scattered on top. Sleeping and relaxing on my bed is still my favouritest thing in the entire world. Despite having travelled the world a lot, met lots of different people and read twice Carnera's bodyweight in books on every subject imaginable, I am spending the Winter hibernating in my soft magnolia nurseryesque bedroom... my body, foetal-like, delighting across my sumptuous bed cuddling fake animals with extraordinary amounts of fur. I was affronted last week when Thumper was stolen. He even speaks and has a thumping foot and to forgive this unfortunate electronic monologue when I make an unlucky turn during the night speaks of a tolerance most high. Anyway, in his place is now a life-size Winnie-the-Pooh (I have no idea how it is life size but I imagine if it was any bigger, it would just be creepy). Goodnight. Oh... I have to finish this? Oh yes, love.

I'm a tireless Romantic and if you are my friend and not a poet, artist or haven't recently dropped LSD, you may roll your eyes on many occasions at some of the shit I come out with. To me, everything (except celery and kohl rabi) is wondrous...the alien jelly clinging to an ingrown hair, the behaviour of saliva a glass of water, the shattered crust beneath my laptop keyboard. Although I do have violent reactions to things to which others pay no mind (like, seeing vegetables cut in a haphazard way upsets me deeply), my experiences are pierced by a pastel-coloured joyful amygdala that believes, no... knows! that the One exists and will come one day. I am stupid enough to even take reassurance from a friend who tells me Barbra Streisand's true love was revealed when she reached 59. I don't Google this. I don't need to because I am busy waiting for Love and it is on its way....in a gilded carriage, smelling of red roses, holding hands across the bridges of Paris. Until that bridge collapses and everyone dies.

"and if I never fall in love again, that's soon enough for me"

At least, that would have been the fatal outcome of a bridge in Paris if Parisian health and safety officials (does it depress anyone else that Paris has health and safety?) hadn't removed the padlocks people have placed their for decades as symbols of their enduring love. 45 tonnes of eternity, unbuckled. The amorous culprits obviously hadn't attended the University of Manchester's day of lectures on polyamory.

I admit - as soon as I saw the word 'love' in the title of the seminar (I may have even invented that when I saw something vaguely resembling 'amour') I booked my ticket and tried to drag my stone-cold hearted harem of friends along to much protesting...mostly related to visions of cultish conversion horror. Repent, Monogam! Repent! So on this dreary Sunday morning, church-like, dressed in a chunky cable knit sweater, my Royal Navy jacket and with fruity linseed muesli in tow, I headed in. Be sure - I am not lonely or unfulfilled in my life. I just believe strongly that we are meant to share our life with a special someone. And not many people know that if I were offered a proposal, I would say yes without hesitation. It is these Hollywood hey-day thought spectres that sometimes (often) guide my actions thanks to the likes of images below.

"Swimmers" Diptych, 1962, Roy Lichtenstein

The event reception was strangely glorious, if a little surreal and unexpected, as it strayed significantly from the stiff academic tone of the invite - Gloria Gaynor, Dusty Springfield and Aretha almost boomed from the tannoy as clangs (or is it throngs?) of people stayed close to friends in case the event was just a front for high brow swinging...and then a Volunteer made a peculiar exulted boast about how everything EVERY thing from the complimentary tea and coffee counter was DISPOSABLE. Hell, yeah! The poor thing collapsed when every blue, green and pink-haired attendee, clad in rainbow colours, shrunk in horror and gestured towards the recycling bins. Never has the first 7 minutes of an event failed to prompt a fantasy swift departure. Oh, is this not the Church service?...

Religion has a thick history of enchanting and bothering people in equal measure. My family were no exception. In fact a band of besuited individuals once materialised at our front door as they had heard, or sensed - I don't remember which - that someone in the household had strayed from the flock (their words). It's in those moments that only a Custard / Gillette cream Pie launched in the visage would suffice as an appropriate response.

As Methodists, my sister and I came off slightly easier with our weekly trip to church which of course neither of us could appreciate until later. Methodists are fair and sweet and soft looking. We even had a female minister with cherubic curls. I blame their philosophy for an affliction to be the voice of reason and justice, no matter how small the slight. I was even determined that no-one in that church be deceived during Communion by the blood of Christ - it was bloody Morrisons Taste The Best Forest Fruit juice. No-one cared.

So, en-duveted and surrounded by my oversized stuffed animals (teddies, I mean), I reflect on how being an early Methodist brought unexpected joy through simplicity to my life, shaping my ideas of love and why many peers would bark at me to get a life and stop being so agonisingly dull and dreamy. I didn't drink, smoke, take drugs, I sang all day...hoping the One would hear. I was the Sandy of my suburbs. Everyone wondered why I wasn't ashamed. I was a Shameless Sandy! But the polished seed of purity was sown early and throttled any potential coolness from my body. It lead to crazy attempts later in life of whittling any potential toxin away...a year being a sugar-free vegan (read: I ate bags of pre-washed salad and, secretly, flapjacks) during my gap year, followed by monthly enemas and the compulsion to jog around each new place that I visited on the day I arrived.

What the fluff has this got to do with anything? I don't know, so back to the matter in hand. Padlocks. Bridges. Colossal mess. Polyamory. Love. After almost 6 hours of lectures, my brain melted and now spells out this sticky grey wisdom for you all to paddle around in until The One calls (wait by the phone for him/her because it's just such a great image). Love is ANYTHING you want it to be. Literally. Make it your mission to fall in love with anything that tickles your fancy - a cookie, a door,a wig, a pineapple, a laptop, a vegetable. Maybe be generous and extend that to a human being. It's almost the 22nd Century so no-one gives a shit. The End. I do?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Nativity - Part I: The Jungle Book

When this image appeared on Facebook last year as a person "I might know", I wanted to know about him immediately. Apart from his striking beauty and being clad in little more than clay leaf-print, I had to find out if the image was part of a photo shoot or if it was an actual snapshot of real life. As someone fascinated by indigenous people, ever since watching "The Emerald Forest" with my grandparents when I was a boy, I have had a voracious appetite to discover anything about native people and their environment - from missionaries to linguists who were sent to notate a new language, to highly anecdotal accounts of childhoods spent growing up with these eccentric and curious parents. Interested in textiles too, ceremonial displays with clothing embellished from local exotic birds can't help but capture the imagination and shame even the most bedazzling runway show.

My latest project, Nativity, explores what the term "native" means to a contemporary world. Naturally I turned to Mogly, the name of the wildly handsome man above, whose photo I discovered was a rainforest 'selfie' and not destined for any glossy magazine. I am now equally puzzled and delighted to count him amongst my Facebook friends as we message almost daily - I am captivated to learn about every aspect of his life, which understandably is worlds apart from the average UK life. Despite his feeling about modern technology, it is the internet that has allowed this incredible connection from my armchair.

Mogly escaped to the Columbian rainforest over 7 years ago, for a surprising reason he explains below and, now 24, he remains there with his partner and their 2 children. It is a pleasure and a true honour to connect with this beautiful tender-hearted person who is also a rare example of someone has never lost touch with his essential wild nature. I am deeply moved by some of his answers and humbled to be able to share a small part of his fascinating yet simple world.

The interview was conducted in Spanish so you'll find his original answers below the English as well as some photographs of the spectacular place he calls home.

Tell us where you live
I live on a mountain with a very special name, El Serro del Tigre
Vivo en una montana de un nombre muy especial, el Serro del Tigre

Describe how you came to live there.
[I followed] my instinct to wish to live a normal life
Mi instinto de querer vivir normal

Tell us what you do in your average day
Work and till the earth!
Trabajar y sembrar la tierra!

What are the benefits to living where and how you do?
I learnt a lot from using medicinal and edible plants that I find in the jungle, and I make infusions or use them raw. They are very effective.

What are the disadvantages, if any, of how and where you live?
At first it was quite difficult because the seeds and plants that feed me weren't ready and I had to walk 9km to get food.
Al inicio fue un tanto dificil porque las semillas y plantas que me alimentarian no estaban listas y tenia que caminar 9km por los viveres.

Is feeling connected to the land important to you?
Of course [because] my it's where I learn to live with myself and my happiness is reflected in the waters of the rivers.
Claro que si es donde aprendo a vivir conmigo mismo y mi felicidad se reflecja como las aguas de los rios.

How does internet access affect your relationship with your world?
It depresses me to realise that we suffer as the human hand destroys the fauna and flora and through the medium of the internet, we withdraw from our world.
Me deprime al darme cuenta de lo que sufrimos por medio de la mano humana destruyendo fauna y flora y por medio del internet nos sacan de nuestro mundo.

Do you have any spiritual, religious or philosophical beliefs?
No. I believe in what I see because everything that is, is in front of me.
No yo creo en lo que miro porque todo lo que esta estaba antes de mi.

What did you dream about last?
I had a very interesting dream! I was visitng a family close to the river. I was there with my 2 children, 2 teenagers and a baby. I had a feeling as if there was a fish in the river. I had a quick look and then noticved that the level of the river was rising....my reaction was to tell the children to to the top of the house. The river began to rage, so we took the children and went to the highest part, the river was still rising violently...almost to the floor of the house. The oldest child saw that the river rose to the harvest as his parents were desperately jumping, and the river then rose up to him too, leaving only his 2 brothers, my 2 children and me. Running on a lot of adrenaline, I held them close [...] they were very quiet, just watching the waters and suddely the waters calmed again. The most interesting thing was that the children weren't scared and I felt a strong energy through them that I can't explain. The house was pulled to the other side of the raging river, we reached the shore. I put them down and I began to cry inconsolably, like a baby, and I woke up in tears. I learned that a dream teaches me that children are the closest to nature, and it's that same nature that protects those who look after it.

What are your hopes for the future?

[that we all] return to our roots, we will work the earth together and those who don't have a particular crop can swap food with another and [do] activities together where there won't be any metal or technology.
Volver a nuestras raices todos trabajaremos las tierras juntos y el que no tenga de un tip do cosecha el otro la tendra y podremos intercambiar comida y actividades juntos donde no existira la plata ni la tecnologia.

Thanks to Mogly for his pictures and to Sonia Tome and Diana Ruiz for translation work