Monday 18 June 2012

Visit from The Queen of Shops

Mary Portas dropped in on open studios at Cockpit Arts this weekend. She had this to say about her visit:

"I like shopping this way. It feels like a wonderful, spirited, creative environment. We are at the heart of great talent and community spirit - I think that’s very British. For me this is somewhere I would like to drag 25 pals back to. Actually when is your next Open Day? "

Photo by Jamie Trounce

Saturday 2 June 2012

What do birds mean to you?

What do birds mean to you?

This was the question I asked you all 2 weeks ago and the response was really wonderful! I received so many beautiful entires, carefully worded answers that were full of love and such immense appreciation of our little feathered friends.
It was very hard to choose one winner from so many lovely pieces, so in addition to the winner of the little bird I also sent out packs of postcards to a little selection of favourites and offered the rest of you a token discount for taking part. Thank you! It's meant a lot to me and I'm so grateful you wanted to join in.

I would like to share some of the responses with you and credit the writers for their beautiful stories and prose. In addition to this I'd like to also share with you some of my dad's stunning bird photography...just so we can really get in the mood!...

Michael's piece stood out very clearly as the winner, as soon as I received it I knew it would be. I think you'll agree:

There is a certain wood I know where nightingales sing in clear Spring evenings. At the edge of the wood their voices are faint and ethereal, and as I walk the path, bordered with shining white campion and stitchwort, I follow through thicket and pass small clearings, pulled as though by an invisible thread. I reach a fence and can go no further, but the song is stronger than it's ever been; there is one bird, nestled deep in a hawthorn tree, a small, dull thing no doubt, but with more nuance and skill than an opera soprano. I sit by an oak, and then lie back, so that the stars and I face each other. Starlight and song weave and thread together until the stars themselves seem to sing, and I feel myself fall into the sky. Far away to my left, another starts: the tentative, soft, beginnings of liquid, velvet song. Alone, at night, with nothing but the birds, a soft breeze, and occasional small rustlings from under the leaves and twigs: and yet not alone, for the song comforts, warms, and speaks directly to my heart in a way that only strong, true friendship can match. This is the song that Beethoven used, the song that inspired poets and artists. But you do not need an artist's brush, or a composer's ear, to listen or to paint the beauty of this creature. And yet it sings alone, and I alone am here to listen, for everyone else is inside, faces turned not to stars or trees but to screens of all shapes and sizes. Nobody listens to the little brown bird, and few could name the song when asked. But privately, I smile. I stay in the wood for two hours, more perhaps, unmoving, listening, and peace overwhelms me. To this, and to one of the most magical experiences of my life, I owe the nightingale. 

This next piece was close second. It really touched me, probably mostly because it's about the writer's grandma and mine was so hugely important to me. It's a sad little piece but it ends happily. Deborah wrote:

One of my favourite people in the world was my Nan; she was smart, witty and only ever swore in Welsh! And she HATED birds. I don't mean she didn't like them, she loathed them. For the longest time I couldn't understand it, of all the things in the world to dislike you'd think that birds would be away down the list. But now I've come to realise that she spent her life in a cage. Trapped in a marriage that was suffocating and lifeless, unfriendly and lonely. When she was 18 she'd spent time in the homeguard during the blitz in London. A young girl
from rural Swansea, she once confided in me that it was the best time of her life and that she felt terribly guilty about that. I think to her birds represented the freedom that she briefly had and lost. When I think of how she used to scowl at a rogue Robin (and mutter something rude in Welsh), it makes me laugh. When I look at and smell the powder compact we bought her as children, adorned with birds, that she used every day despite her loathing, I feel love. And when I see a bird I think of her, now free and soaring. So I suppose that's what they mean to me, spirit, love and freedom. And naughty Welsh words!

My father grew up on a farm in Idaho.  And I grew up at a time when grandparents were visited maybe once a year.  Visiting the farm was a child's dream.  Endless fields to tromp through with hip high grasses to hide in.  Ancient lines of trees to climb, and irrigation canals with sweet, soft mud to make the perfect mud pies.  And in the house, that was magic too.  My grandmother fed us confections to the point that our little bellies could do nothing but slow down for a little while.  And each night, as the youngest child, I fell to sleep on my parents' bed, but woke on a pull out in the main room.  And when I woke, all that I saw were birds.  Birds from wall to wall; birds of all colors and varieties.  My grandmother's collection of porcelain birds arrived from dime stores and by air mail.  Most were careful replicas of true birds, but some were fanciful creations.  My grandmother is gone now, and the farm is no longer in the family, but the birds have found new homes.  When I visit my brother, he has hummingbirds in his kitchen, and gold finches in his bathroom...and this is how I have come to have red winged blackbirds in my dining room, and a blue bird in my bedroom.  I chose my family's 1910 Portland farmhouse home, in part, because of the house my father grew up in.  And it isn't by chance that slowly, the birds are fluttering in, one my one, to enchant my daughter, and hopefully, one day, to become a thing of magic and nostalgia for another generation. 

I love birds for lots of reasons. The small, contained, fragile beauty of a bird, belies it's amazing endurance and sense of industry. They are tiny yet the intricate melody of their song can fill a sky. The gentle softness a feather yet it's perfect design allows a bird to fly.  The myriad patchwork of rich colour and subtle tones of their feathers. A nest has become a symbol of home and safety.
Their quick, intelligent presence. A sign of spring, of hope and freedom.

I rescued a fledgling from the garden {and the dog} yesterday - I'd left it all day to see if it's parents could rescue it but it was totally waterlogged so I brought it in overnight - I told Nate it'd 99% likely be dead by morning :'(
we just released it and flew straight off across the garden :)
 good luck little birdy!" This was such a precious moment between me and my 7yr old son and one I'm sure we will always remember - it was so good to be able to do our very best to save a tiny bird and better still that it survived against the odds, the look on my boy's face was priceless when he told the baby bird to fly away and it did!
Well I guess really for me, birds mean Seasons. And I mean that by they sum up the seasons for me. You can't have winter without that archetypal image of a Robin in the snow. You can't have the summer without the housemartins nesting in your eaves. You can't have spring without the blue tits on the budding branches and autumn is all about the migration, thousands of birds filling the sky. I think my favourite season is by far the summer, waking up with your windows open, and hearing the gorgeous birdsong. Seeing all the swifts, swallows and housemartins darting in and out is just so uplifting.

Seeing and hearing birds is like being in a kind of shangrila. I'm reminded of everything is in harmony and all that is good in the world kindness, courage, hope and joy when see and hear birds. 

As I sit and work in my studio at home, I am very easily distracted by the little passerines that visit my urban Bristol garden. We feed them and in return they connect me to another world. Just a few moments of observation and I feel as if I have quenched a thirst and satisfied an unbuilt desire to connect to that other 'bigger' world, the 'thin place'. My next door neighbour has stripped her garden clean of all life... Even laid down plastic grass! I simply can't understand how or why anyone would choose to dis-connect deliberately with such richness. Birds are like glimpses of richness in a sparse and struggling place, little messengers of hope and inspiration.

Birds are as important to me as my family, they wake me up sometimes far to early with their beautiful song, they give me hours of joy with their antics in my garden at the feeding tree, they fight, they woo they abandon their young for me to worry that they will not last the night with next doors cat on the prowl.........

My camera rests on the window sill ever ready so furtive glimpses can be recorded ......huge but very silly jackdaws (who are nesting in my unused chimney pot again! )hanging on for dear life on the fat ball, the tiny tits that peck the nuts like tiny jackhammers, the cocky sparrows that spat and squabble...the collared doves being too shy and waiting for me to leave food elsewhere especially for them, my beloved robin who hasn't quite got the hang of it all and finally my first glimpse of a song thrush yesterday .....I do so hope he comes back again. Yes my day would be so dull without my little friends and the pleasure they give me.

Birds are very special creatures. They can make your heart and soul lift up when you hear them singing at the top of their voices sometimes from the highest points in the trees. In the mornings when I walk my dog there are several robins that sing along on the journey or maybe it is just one little robin that bounces along with us I will never know. They can evoke childhood memories of long summers when you hear and see the first swifts in the blue skies which this year seemed to only happen yesterday. I remember being in my bed as a child and watching and listening to the hard working sparrows which would build their nests in the eaves of the house they worked intensely gathering debris to make their home just right for there forth coming family. This memory stuck with me as when my friend bought a house in Italy there was a discovery that the house was home to many sparrows nesting in the chimney and every other nook and cranny in the walls of the house making it a save haven for them. I spent many hours trying to ensure their young would not die when they fell  - I worked furiously to build safety nets for the family as it always broke my heart to find one that hadn’t survived and this year for the first time in four years they seem all to have made it through. On one occasion we entered this house after a long period and discovered they had made two homes in the two new metal pendant light shades that had been installed some months before - these were surely the most stylish nests ever seen!


Birds are a symbol for freedom and I love watching them while they are flying. I think they always must sing “jippieh” while flying.

Thank you to all those who shared their thoughts with me x