feathers print

Something Exciting in the Post

At the beginning of lockdown in the spring (when we thought this would all be over by Christmas) I started a Letterbox Art Collaboration with my mother as a way of keeping in touch while we weren’t allowed to meet up. I’d been inspired by Anna’s post and thought it would provide a little ray of sunshine while we were socially distanced. Then, buoyed by the success of the first collaboration, I also joined an online chum for another Letterbox Collaboration as part of the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge.

Art collaboration starter of circles drawn on card.
Starter | Letterbox Art Collaboration


The premise of the collaboration is that you send a set of prompt or starter cards to the other person who completes them and returns them with a set of their own prompts. There’s no telling how the other person will interpret your prompt, so it’s always a bit of a surprise when they’re sent back. As you can see above, the original prompt produced three very different reactions. You can read all about the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge Letterbox Collaboration here.


I must admit that I wasn’t prepared for it to be such a joyous thing to do. This year, when celebrations have been few, it’s been a delight to find a little bundle of artwork in the post. It’s so much better than looking at a screen for there’s nothing like holding something in your hands to appreciate it. Perhaps we post a little bit of ourselves, revealing a hint of our character with our handwriting and choice of stationery that you don’t get with emails. It’s also been great fun to do. Sometimes I know exactly what I shall do as soon as I see the prompt but other times I guiltily push the cards to one side hoping that inspiration will suddenly strike. Not surprisingly, the answer often comes while I’m out for a walk and I hurry home to commit the brainwave to paper before I forget.


By the end of the summer, I’d accumulated quite a stack of cards. Some were pinned up and others stored in a box but I wanted to do something better with them, especially as I think they’ll be a wonderful record of this odd year.

Paper bag book as part of the Letterbox Art Collaboration project. Tunnocks wrapper and blackbird


The summer collaboration was very much a springboard for being creative and so we’d varied the collaboration a bit by sending out four prompts but returning only three. This provided the leeway to be experimental so that when it ended disastrously, (as it so often did) I could keep that card back and work on it a bit more or quietly consign it to the bin. In this creative spirit, I wanted to make a book from existing supplies and allow space to add the retained cards or work inspired by them and notes. I remembered seeing a Paper Bag Book in the book Making Handmade Books, so I liberated some bags from The Christmas Shop, found an old cardboard folder to use for the cover and sewed the whole lot together to make a very simple pocket book.

Paper bag book as part of the Letterbox Art Collaboration project. onion ring prints and flower print

The art cards are slotted into the half page pockets, where they form part of the page and can be easily pulled out to look at more carefully.

paper bag book standing to show extended cover

I extended the cover to wrap it round to stop everything falling out. One day I might even manage a fastening for it. Read the full instructions for making a Paper Bag Book if you’d like a go. They’re easy for young children to make if you make the holes for them to push the needle through and would be great for treasure hunts if you changed the orientation of the pockets to make them drop-in ones.

Envelope Book made for the Letterbox Art Collaboration 2020


For the other collaboration, I wanted to retain the theme of sending and receiving in the post and so made a book that looks like a collection of envelopes held together by a ribbon. I now realise that, had I thought about this at the start, I could have used the original envelopes they were posted in. Alas, forward planning has never been my strong point. The envelopes are made from a sheet of A4 paper, which is folded and glued to make an envelope.

Letterbox Art Collaboration Envelope Book Birds in Boxes

The envelopes are then stuck to a concertina cardboard spine, which holds them all together. Each envelope holds three cards, so if I’d kept them in their original groups, I could have put them into chronological order. But that would have needed some forward planning. No matter. From now on, I can keep them in order.

Envelopope book with Harlequin picture


If you’d like to have a go at making an Envelope Book, the template for the envelopes and instructions for assembling the book with a concertina spine can be found in the craft section under How to Make an Envelope Book.


Both these books would also be a great way to keep a collection of postcards or photographs. They’d make good travel journals, especially if you used bags or envelopes picked up in your travels. If I’d thought about it earlier, I could have made an Advent pocket book, with something appropriate slipped in each day. Honestly, how did we get to December so quickly?

Why not give the Letterbox Art Challenge a try? You might be surprised how much you enjoy it.


An Autumn Walk

October already! How did that happen?

The long, hot summer days have faded away and autumn has taken hold. Late afternoon yesterday, when I went out to shut my hens away for the night, the sun was shining and there was a pleasant breeze so I thought I’d make the most of it and take a quick walk.

Heading out through the back of the yard, I joined the public bridleway that runs through the farm but there was nobody else around. The blackberries are just about finished but scarlet rosehips still make a splash of colour in the hedges and I resolved to pick some soon to make a little rosehip syrup to mix with this year’s Hedgerow Gin for an autumnal cocktail. This year, I’ve been infusing a few seasonal ingredients like raspberries or blackcurrants or blackberries in a small amount of gin for a week or so. Unlike a traditional, sweetened fruit gin that’s drunk neat, I’ve left them unsweetened and added tonic water to make a colourful drink with a hint of fruit. The hedgerow gin with blackberries, rosehips, haws and sloes has been particularly delicious.

As I walked alongside the ditch where the track changes to a narrow footpath, the water had flooded the path making me glad that I was wearing wellies (even though I don’t like walking in them) as I sloshed through muddy ankle deep water. Further downstream the banks and bottom of the ditch are so overgrown that the water is obscured but I suspect, from the noisy rush of water, that the flooding was caused a fallen branch that has made a dam. That stretch of path is owned by the local council who don’t seem to care too much about maintenance or keeping footpaths passable but they probably have rather more important matters to deal with during this Covid crisis.

crab apples floating in water

On firmer ground, fallen crab apples littered the path making a circle under each tree or floated like the prelude to a giant apple bobbing game where the trees overhang the ditch in Lakes Field. This field has lots of wizened crab apple trees along its boundary with each producing its own shape and size of apple, all of which are disgustingly sour. I often wonder if the trees have sprung up from apple cores discarded by farm workers years ago or if there used to be some sort of dwelling here. A map from the eighteenth century shows small buildings dotted along the main track that runs through the farm, although they’re long gone and have left no trace.

Geese flying over a cultivated field

Walking southwards, the trees cast long shadows across the cultivated earth as geese flew noisily overhead and a hare sat motionless on the headland ahead and then quickly turned to dart through the hedge, across the ditch and over the open field. I lost sight of it as I walked behind a high section of hedge but then I thought I saw him waiting in the middle of the field. Or maybe it was a clod of earth. It’s difficult to tell at that distance, especially in the fading light.

Rain on an autumn day
a

Suddenly, the sky darkened, the wind blew cold and large drops of rain fell in a torrent so that within a minute I was soaked to the skin. The folly of wearing a lightweight jacket in a showery week. Though this was considerably heavier than a shower implies. I thought about sheltering under a tree until the rain had passed but I was cold and didn’t think I could get any wetter, so ploughed on. I was wrong! By the time I reached home, my trousers were so wet that water trickled down the inside of my wellies and water streamed from my hair. Cursing that I walked before I did the hens, I tipped in their food as I did a quick head count and closed the gate.

Across the yard, the lights were on in the house, which is always a welcome sight. I peeled off my dripping clothes just inside the door and by the time I’d had a hot shower and put on dry clothes, there was a pot of tea waiting on the kitchen table. And a slice of millionaire’s shortbread. Perfect.


Poised and Waiting

Life may have changed irrevocably in many ways, but some things are just the same as ever.


This week, everyone is poised and waiting for harvest. Every year in late July and early August, there are constant checks to see if any of the crops are ready to harvest and the weather forecast consulted regularly in the hope of dry sunny days. As usual, this begins way in advance with varying estimates of the likely start date. Today Bill’s forecast was “not before the weekend”.

Bowl of freshly picked raspberries and alpine strawberries from English country garden


The garden is in full production with enough fruit and vegetables to feed us, so long as we don’t object to eating pretty much the same thing every day. As usual, we’re moving rapidly through the sequence of excitement at the first raspberry, bean or whatever, then getting rather bored with eating them every day and then finally, having a great fancy for them when there are none left.

In normal times, I’d be tempted to supplement the garden produce with something we don’t grow, but this year I’m trying to be more imaginative with it all in an effort to cut down the shopping. That said, today we’re having stuffed marrow with runner beans and new potatoes, which is not at all imaginative as I’ve probably eaten that every summer of my life.

wildflowers and weeds in a vase


There are always wildflowers and weeds to pick around the farm and yesterday I saw the first ripe blackberries, though I wasn’t tempted to pick them as they were next to the road.

peacock


Rather unusually, a peacock has taken up residence on the farm for the past couple of weeks and comes across the field each morning when I let the hens out, though they are deeply unimpressed by the tail waving, bottom waggling shuffle that he performs for them. The other day he flew onto the netting that covers the top of the hen run as he tried to join them or perhaps impress them with his flying prowess. I was worried that he’d get tangled up in the loose net but he just sort of bounced across it, as if it was a trampoline, and shook himself down when he reached the side pole. I suspect he’ll wander off soon, but he’s brought a vivid splash of colour to the farm.


Saturday is Lammas Day. Lammas was originally an Anglo Saxo festival that marked the beginning of harvest. The first grains of the new harvest would be baked into a loaf of bread that was taken into the church to be blessed, hence Loaf Mass. Normally, I’d say that bread is taken for granted, a basic foodstuff that’s thrown in the shopping trolley with little thought, but maybe it’s valued a tiny bit more after the bread and flour shortages earlier in the year.

Perhaps this year we should all bake a loaf to celebrate Lammas Day. If we can get the yeast, which still seems in very short supply.


It was upon a Lammas night,
   When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
   I held awa to Annie;
The time flew by, wi tentless heed;
   Till, ‘tween the late and early,
Wi sma’ persuasion she agreed
   To see me thro the barley.

Robert Burns: The Rigs o’ Barley

Lockdown Diary Month One

Have shunned all social contact for one month. Every day, thank my lucky stars that I have a garden and that I’m not on my own or worse, stuck with someone I don’t want to be with.

Life much the same as before. Farm work continues as usual and still plenty to do in the farm office after my thirty second commute (which you can watch here). No cakes or biscuits to bake for printmaking classes as they’ve been cancelled. Garden under control with vegetable seeds in ground and some green shoots just discernible. Blossom on fruit trees is glorious.

Paper boat made from old print

Fully intended to use this isolation time for number of creative projects. Had brief obsession making paper boats, which led to reading this article about the elderly but relevant to us all at present and pulling out CD (see below) to listen to this song again. Ongoing exercise to print circle on old book page each day and do something with it. Bit weird and may not last. Other creative projects still a list in head.

Haven’t managed to secure delivery slot for groceries so relying on efficient daughter Beth who had booked several pre-lockdown. Trying to keep order to minimum as she is buying for five households so meals are basic and wholesome. Like they used to be decades ago when spaghetti came in tins and avocado was a rare luxury. Or just a bath colour.

Decided to Kondo the drinks cupboard instead of restocking (see above). Finished small bottle of Benedictine given to us c1983 when people had dinner parties and drank liqueurs from tiny glasses with their coffee. Just enough tequila and Grenadine syrup (only nine years out of date and solid in bottom of bottle) for Friday night Tequila Sunrise in reprise of my Eighties cocktail enthusiasm. Moved on to spark 1990s joy of Roger & Tonic.

Dragged out vinyl music collection for evening entertainment. Noticed several albums borrowed from sisters have not been returned. Some records enthusiastically taken from sleeve but not as good as remembered. Others surprisingly good and made me quite nostalgic for my youth. Briefly. Progressed to CD collection and rediscovered much music. Discussed the aptness of our Isolation Songs* -Bill’s is Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World and mine is Woodstock sung by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.

Feel parts of life have slipped back decades. Suspicions confirmed when broadband disappeared over Easter.

Wonder how much life will change post-lockdown. To quote Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock lyrics “I feel just like a cog in something turning”

* Number One in the singles chart on your 12th birthday.

 


Verbal Doodling

A while ago I went for an appointment and as there were nine people in the queue before me, I decided to be one of those people who pulls out a notebook and makes quick, but wonderful sketches. I abandoned it after thirty seconds because it turns out (as I suspected) that I am not one of those people.

Book filled with verbal doodling
 

Instead, I started to write. About parking in the wrong place, about my stomach rumbling, my plans for the rest of the day and then just a stream of incoherent thoughts. I turned the page and wrote on top of what I’d written, which didn’t matter because it was just verbal doodling.

It turns out that verbal doodling is more relaxing than my normal impatient, foot tapping waiting technique.

Just passing it on in case you have a moment or two to fill.