Pot-head

Beginners' pots
I feel very lucky to have happened upon Newton Pottery where I go on Friday afternoons to play with clay. The class is friendly and laid back, each person making things in their own particular style, with help and guidance when needed. Nice chat, good coffee, a beautiful garden – what more could a girl want? Oh, and there’s the clay, wheel, kiln… magic.

I always manage to arrive late, as is my wont, and so a bit flustered; but while there, and as I drive home through pretty Lincolnshire villages, I always feel extraordinarily cheerful.

The dark pot at the back is my latest, brought home yesterday. It still has the weighty feel of a beginners’s pot, but not quite as much as the stripy one next to it. The smaller ones at the front are the least wonky of my efforts at throwing on the wheel.

More experienced hands than mine made the pots below, just some of those which fill our kitchen shelves. Some are gifts, others came from pottery studios, charity shops or French market stalls; some are old, some new, some cheap, others not so much. I love them all.

Use the tag ‘pottery’ at the end of this post to find earlier posts more or less about pottery or my visits to Newton.

Kitchen pottery

Not quite so crafty

Coil pot
… or rather, not so craftsmanlike as the lovely 14th century carving in my last post.

But dear to me nevertheless: my second pot, glazed and fired, brought home from my pottery class – see A lumpy thing but mine own.

This is a coil pot, slightly less lumpy than the first one (though still weighs a ton). As I mentioned in Scenes from a country churchyard, I’ve been playing on the wheel in recent weeks, which I have loved. So I’m looking forward to tomorrow, Friday, when I hope to bring home a collection of small bowls of different shapes but all with thick bottoms, that I saw going into the kiln last week.

Since the church visit last weekend, I’ve been thinking about what I get, what we get from looking at ancient art or artefacts. The Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this year was awe-inspiring, including pieces thousands of years old, with that feel of great age and also complete modernity about them.

If we could meet the medieval stonemasons and stonecarvers who worked on St Andrews Church, we might struggle to understand their speech. But their hands and eyes would have been the same as ours today and we can feel connected to them when we look on the things they made.

I imagine what they were thinking when they were carving that sweet mermaid or grinning gargoyle. I think about feel of clay in my hands. I think how basic a part of being human it is to feel joy and satisfaction in making something.

Bring on pottery tomorrow – though today I am supposed to be reading and writing about family mediation! And the sun is shining and the garden beckons.

Scenes from a country churchyard

Behind Walcot church

Just another couple of pictures of a church and churchyard, this time from the small village of Walcot, taken last Friday when I took a scenic route home from my pottery class (see A lumpy thing but mine own about the pottery, or Landmarks in a flat country for a previous mention of Walcot).

I don’t know how to express why these scenes make my heart sing. They are ordinarily, quietly rural, but there is something wonderful to me in the way that you can just drive, or indeed walk or cycle, through village after village like this, with a church, a farm or two and a few other houses. They seem to me like a picture of an England that perhaps many of us, in most of the country, don’t believe exists any more. It is not an idyll of untouched natural beauty, but a working landscape, with people labouring hard behind the apparent peacefulness. And probably here, as elsewhere in the country, fewer and fewer people find it viable to make a living from the land.

So perhaps it can’t last, but I hope it can.

Friday was a great day all round because I had my first go on the potters wheel, something I haven’t tried for decades. I made four thick little pots and had a brilliant time – could have sat there at the wheel for hours.

Walcot church

A lumpy thing, but mine own

First bowl

This is here for no good reason other than to show you my first finished pot from my pottery class at The End Room, in the pretty village of Newton. It weighs a ton, as beginners’ pots tend to do; and it is rather lumpy. However, it is the first pot I have made since I left Brixton, twenty three years ago, and I am therefore ridiculously pleased to have done it and brought it home.

It is a coil pot – I never got very confident with coils in my earlier attempts at learning to make pottery – so decided I should try and get over my negative feelings about them. There is another one in the making – maybe a little less lumpy this time, but still pretty hefty.

I’m really enjoying playing with clay again – the feel of it is wonderful.

And I love the drive over to the pottery. Last week, before the class, I went to collect a piece of beef, to make Spiced Salt Beef, from a farm (Bassingthorpe Beef) over in the same direction, near Grantham. I had a wonderful adventure of a drive, through back roads and tiny villages, through a quietly beautiful landscape, so empty of people but full of human cultivation. It reminds me of drives in France on family holidays, when partner and I would sneak off to visit small wine producers, finding ourselves on rough tracks that seemed barely fit for cars, winding round mountains, finding amazing views, wild boar piglets and friendly winemakers. No wine or mountains here, no tourists, less money than in the south of France; but the same quietness, open fields, tiny settlements and people living on the land, getting on with the business of growing and making.

And though no wine, I feel drunk with the subtle beauties of this landscape.

Of clay and continuity

Pheasant plate

Last month I mentioned my bay tree that travelled with me from Brixton to Manchester and then, twenty-two years later, from Manchester to Heckington (Vegetable Stories).

Pottery and cooking pots hold other connections, threads running through my life. The ‘pheasant plate’ above was made by a lovely potter called Jill Fanshawe Kato; and I bought it in my mid-twenties, my first serious bit of ceramics buying. I’ve always treasured it, and used it, remember many midnight hours, the party over, friends gone home, after too much to drink, washing it up and putting it away so it didn’t get muddled with other dirty dishes and get broken in the morning.

I remember its first appearances, holding plaited bread for parties in a flat in Victoria. I remember a sort-of-Chinese chicken and beef salad in Brixton and Moss Side, terrines and roast lamb stuffed with spinach in Chorlton.

So when I look at this plate, sitting on a window sill just by me now, it seems to hold all those parties and dinners and friends in all those places; it holds that moment when I felt so grown up, buying a piece of art for myself; within it are centuries of Japanese pot-making, a modern English potter’s love of birds and the pheasants that live in my mother’s garden.

A lot to hold; but clay is dense and deep and weighty, can take it. At my pottery class (Too late, too late…), I’m getting used to the feel of it again after many years; takes me back to London days, ‘my salad days’ when I was young perhaps, but not so green that I couldn’t tell a good pot when I saw it.

And we did eat a lot of salad back then, come to think about it…

Too late, too late…

Aswarby church
On Friday I went to a pottery class at The End Room studio, about 20 minutes drive from Heckington. On the way, on a whim, I took a turning off the dull and dangerous A15 (Peterborough to Bourne, Sleaford, Lincoln and the Humber Bridge) and found myself in another world: the tiny village of Aswarby with its lovely church bathed in afternoon sun. But before I could get my camera out, the sun slipped behind a cloud – so you can’t see it in the picture.

I’m getting used to the contrast between A-roads busy with lorries trundling food to the rest of the country and quiet villages just round the corner. Very different from Heckington these, often with no shop, no community building except the church; but so beautiful. There are huge old trees in stretches of greensward, sheep or cattle quietly grazing and, if you’re lucky, golden sunlight over everything.

I left the pottery in the village of Newton after four in the afternoon when the last rays of sun lit up the village church like a spotlight. More beautiful still was the same light falling on grass through a thorn hedge- but I was too slow again, too late to capture it.

‘Too late,’ my mum used to say, throughout my childhood, ‘too late, saddest words in the English language.’ Seems to be a quote from a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, but don’t know if he had it from somewhere before that.

Why so sad? Why so hard to let go of what is past, of things over which we have no control – like the chancy fall of light from one moment to the next?

Was the light any the less because I couldn’t grab it, bring it here to show you? Ho hum, enough musing for a Monday morning!

Newton church