Thursday 30 July 2009

Reply to a Comment. On Potters and Clay

29 July 2009 12:33
jimgottuso said...

it's so nice to see soubriquet remount the horse. you must have been quite the potter extraordinaire because i think if i had a 9 year hiatus there's no way i'd be able to throw that well on my first day returning. wondering if it was enough to get you longing to do more or not? glad you all are having fun.

---I started to reply to Jim Gottuso's comment, and the reply grew. The reply seems to still be growing, and encompassing more than an answer, so I'm giving it a home of its own.
Reply:Well, Jim, I was a bit surprised that the body remembered the moves so much better than the brain.
I closed down my pottery in 1989, then I did a bit of throwing for a couple of local-ish potters who were not able to make the shapes or sizes they wanted, then.... nothing for a long time, last time was before I moved out of Rosebank Cottage, long before, so I figure nine, maybe ten years.
But seriously, I think it's like bicycles, really hard at first, then it becomes -not effortless, but... it seems to come from somewhere deeper than consciousness.
and yes. I'm going to do more. this.... need to get back into clay has been bubbling under for a long while now.
It's where I am. It is in me. It's embedded. Defining.
Reading blogs of potters made me long for that feel of clay in my hands, I love to see other people's clayworks, how different we all are, yet bonded by a common obsession. And I don't think you can be a potter without it being an obsession.
With the failure of my business, I became very disillusioned, disillusioned that I'd proved myself to be no businessman, disillusioned that people wanted the pots, but wanted to pay paltry sums, i was troubled by the thought that if your washing machine breaks down, or your car, or your drains get blocked, then you're ready to shell out your hard-earned cash to get it fixed, you may moan a bit, but you recognise the tradesman needs to charge a fair rate for his time and skills.
Yet the potter, you, me, the person you might ask to make you something, someting original, tailor made just for you, the only one like that in the entire world. And that something, conjured up from a mess of mud, a heap of powdered rock, transformed, transmuted into a new material, a shining, gleaming new thing, created for you, something which is easily capable of over seven thousand years of existence.
You want to pay the person who did that, for you, a lower hourly rate than a teenage shelf-stacker, or burger-flipper?
I had a customer who'd been enthusing about a mug on my shelf. But she griped about the price, telling me she could get one for a fifth the price at Safeway. I pointed out that the one at safeway was stomped out by a machine that, unattended, ploots forth 12,000 finished mugs per eight hour shift. (they're far more productive now, I'll bet).
I came close to being rude to her, but bit my tongue instead.

So, I became disillusioned. Not with the making, but with the selling, the making of things to pay the rent, churning out stuff I knew would sell, as opposed to making things I truly wanted to make.
I know now where it went wrong and why. I blamed myself for too long, and now I'm ready to make again. Not making was, I suppose, a protest, a pointless one.
Some years ago, I met a potter in the highlands of Scotland. she takes some of her pots up into the mountains, and leaves them there, amongst the rocks, in the murmur of the wind.
I should have learned from that. Make it, and move on, set it free, and let it find its own way. Too much philosophy? Yes, I suppose so.

I'm ready to move on, and to just make what feels good. And you guys out there have helped me realise what I should be doing.
I visited Matt Grimmit and was amazed at what he achieves in small wooden garden-shed, it made me realise that the excuses I was making to myself (I don't have room, no space, ha...)... were nonsense, that though I'd had all the toys in the past -vacuum-de-airing pugmill, dough-mixer.....oh, a big list... I had, I'm ashamed to admit, at one point i had THREE pugmills... well, one was a tiny two-incher I bought dirtcheap, hand-cranked chain-driven.. I stuck an electric motor onto the back, with a 16:1 gearbox I found in a scrapyard. Then there was the 3" vertical pug, I found it in an auction, described as "clay-mixer" I think I was the only person there who knew what it was. I paid twenty pounds for it, but had to have the motor rebuilt.
The de-airer, I got at low price as it was a new line for the manufacturer, who wanted me to be their test-bed, so, i used it, and reported on it, and every so often a heap of revised parts would be brought, and we'd try out the new configuration. What can I say. I like machines. I have oil in my blood.
But. In the depths of me, I know all these things are a distraction, just give me mud.

The wheel, after all these years of storage, gathering dust, worked perfectly, I resisted the temptation to strip it down, grease the bearings, replace and re-tension the drive belt.

The Mule, my muse, encouraged me. A bit like setting a toddler on a bike and seeing it wobble away. First clay ball duly wobbled away. Blobby. Yechh!. Back to the makeshift wedging table, and make a few pounds of clay do some exercises. Pretty soon the clay got the idea that I'd be expecting better behaviour this time. And it behaved.
The Mule, and my mother too, came in and heckled a bit. But hey, I was a tame potter in a tourist-trap town once. I can take heckling. You just have to get the audience to laugh.

How did I feel? Great. The goblets had over-thick stems as thrown, I wasn't happy with the proportions, but I turned them back to a proper size, and was happy that I could still tap a leather hard pot to centre it on the wheel, that hands and eye still co-operate.
And... ouch. my back muscles, and shoulders, and forearms are in need of retraining. I've gone soft.
But changes are a-coming.

Firefox Not Playing Flash Based Videos. (YouTube?)

(This post, and the one it refers to relate to windows xp.
If you're a mac-user, as some visitors to the earlier post were, I know nothing about macs, beyond that they're very pretty, and cost an inordinately greater amount than a pc. Also, mac-users are conditioned into handing lumps of money to the mac store when they break, which of course, many mac users swear never happens.
If I had lots of money, I'd buy a mac, because I like all that see-through keyboardery, and cool white, and fewer cables... Then I'd get really upset when I wanted to do things without being held to ransom by Apple.)

We've been here before. Statistically probably my most visited post ever was not some beautifully crafted wordsmithing, it was the post I wrote on the 13th June 2008, titled "Firefox 3 not playing You-Tube Videos -Easy Fix!"
People are still coming from the nooks and crannies of the web, hoping to find the words of a guru. I can report that it has fixed some but not others, but hey, it was a fix for Firefox 3 Beta, using Flashplayer 10.0 beta.
We're so far past the beta stage now guys. Yet a significant number of people EVERY DAY! google their way to that post. What does that tell us? Something's broken in the interwebnets? "What's that, Skippy? You-Tube fell into the old mineshaft and is hanging there in darkness? and you've come to get help?"
Well, little feller, you can just push off, because there's no help, no glimmer of light in the old mining torch.
Over the past few days, the black-screen victims have been thronging, even swarming... You-Tubes must have been diving headfirst into non-beta wells. I wondered what was going on....
Now I know. The Dark has arrived.
I'll post this, as it goes so far, and take a foray into the darkness. "What's that, Skip?...........Yes, I'm going down the old mine, alone... with only a rusty old lantern... yes... If I'm not back in an hour, go get help? Good on ya, Skippy".

Phew, that was scary... rotting timbers down there, and darker than the inside of a witches hat. nearly lost it when those props in the western adit suddenly collapsed. But, deep inside the ol' mozilla mine, i found the tools and set to work. I'm not a computerist. Remember that. I did not grow up with bits and bytes, I can't do html, I do not speak cobol, algol, or linux, and the windows registry. Shudder! I stay well out of all that.

But I just fixed the Firefix not playing YouTube problem. Again. How?
By following my own earlier instructions.

This worked for me.
It may work for you.
It may not work for you.
If you get it wrong your computer will explode in a ball of searing flame.
No. I lied about that.
If in doubt,
go to windows help and support (off the start menu)
If you can't get there, then don't attempt to fix anything yourself, ever.
Click "undo changes to your computer with system restore"
Click "create a restore point"
After that, click close.

So, if anything goes wrong, you could restore your computer's brain to this moment.

Okay. Next: go to Adobe here and download the Flash Player uninstaller. save to desktop.
Then go HERE and download the latest version of Flashplayer. Save to... desktop?

Exit Firefox, and any other browser. Run the uninstaller.
Shut down your computer and reboot.
Click on the installer icon, install flashplayer.
You could reboot again, but it's not really necessary.

Go watch that crummy waste of time youtube clip. that's it.

It works for me, and I'm big-hearted enough to share.
I'm not proud of it. I just think, if I can do it, anyone can, so why are you reading this? go fix the stupid computer. Okay?

Update December 21st 2009:
I found this, after another run-in with flash objects. In my case, it was that goear music gadgets that I have been using on my site would not play in Firefox, but worked fine in Chrome... Turning add-ons off, running ffox in safe mode led me to Adblock Plus. If it was enabled they would not run. I added exception filters in adblock for goear/swf...still dead. only thing that worked was to disable adblock. I found this at

"Adblock will block flash that it identifies as the same as another flash object that has been blocked. This means different things at different times but to the end user the result is often that they block a flash ad on one site, and find that flash videos stop working on another.
The common example is that a user blocks "*" on one site after seeing an annoying ad and now any other flash that matches that address (which is very common) is now blocked for the user everywhere."

Stop press: Harrow@SJ said...
Better solution for AdBlock:
-Click on the AdBlock button to bring up the menu.
-Right click all the filtered links, and click "Disable this filter on"
-Done, go rejoice.

I don't know for sure, there are lots of other sites pointing at Adblock, but Adblock plus' daddy says it's not his kid that started the fight, it was Mozilla, so......
try turning adblock off and see if it fixes anything. Worth a try, it's free, easy, and ...something else to do if you're feeling desperate.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Leavin' on a Jet Plane...

The Red Dirt Mule, guest blogger of the previous post, is leaving on a jet plane. Now she's discovered my secret stash of piggy banks, and learned how to ransack them. See, I was reading a book called'Valverde's Gold'
about the lost treasures of the Incas, and it seems treasure fever got to her. No sooner had I read out a little excerpt than she was.... "Takin four paces nor-nor-west from the ponderin'tree, two to the east, pause by the bookcase and...... home-in on the piggies above the gas heater...............
"How do you get the money out?" she demanded, looking around for a hammer.... I explained the finer points of pig ransacking, then moved on to advanced pillaging.

The pig on the left was made in my pottery in Yorkshire, in the late 1980s, the other?1982, in Ristiina, Finland.
Oh yes, wherever I have travelled, I've made pigs.
I plan to teach the Mule to make them, in due course.
We hope to re-unite the pigs, sooner rather than later.

De-Mule is Be-Dazed and Be-Dazzled and Be-mudded

A guest post by Guestblogger Red Dirt Mule,
The first day trip of my mulish journeys was to the fair (fairly insipid) (Gritinthegears note:The mule saw only a bit of Haffilax, so, Haffilaxers, please extend a little courtesy and tolerance her way!)... town of Halifax to gather clay for my beloved donkey. First a stop at the Piece Hall...

The Piece Hall

.....and a quaint book store run by an elfin impostor who fell under the spell of red dirt mulish charm.

Next, to the 'mud' store. (Navigation to such provided by the mule and her innate sense of location and ability to read the signs ...) Back end loaded with what felt like a ton of bricks (no pun intended) and away back to our abode.

Fast forward to the always too-soon ending of my British sojourns, and my donkey insisted ... no he DEMANDED that we spend a day in clay. I learned quite a few interesting tidbits regarding these potterish folk. Let me elucidate:

1. Spending a day with clay requires spending half a day in preparation: clearing out a workspace in Mum's garage was no sloucher's task.

2. When potterish donkeys begin muttering beneath their breath, it's time for the more horticulturally minded mule to find a pair of pruners and start working in Mum's garden. I called it my quiet red mule 'side-step.'

3. Potterish folk use a lot, and I mean A LOT, of stuff to do potterish things. Fetch me warm to the touch water; I need a smallish sponge; where's my work board ??? Now you might can see why I kept disappearing into the garden under the guise of 'helping Mum out .....'

4. So there the mule sat, with hooves propped up, sipping a delicious cup of tea with dear Mum in the garden - enjoying an unexpectedly sunny cool day. And the donkey ???? As I rounded the garage door to hand him his 'cuppa,' - but what to my wondrous mule eyes did I see ? But a fair bowl with a swirly line being neatly cut off the wheel.

5. Be prepared to be Be-Dazed.

6. In no time, my fair donkey was ram's heading his clay, twirling his swirly wheel, splashing fingers and sponges in water whilst amazing shapes rose and fell beneath his most capable of hands, (oops, I mean 'hooves.')

7. Mum and I brought our seats over to sit in THE FRONT ROW of this Be-Dazzling Display of Donkey and Clay Reunion! And we were quite rewarded for our efforts. Often our potterish teacher asked questions, lectured on techniques, explained the various strange tools of potterly trade and took requests.

(An aside: as a mule, I must confess that sitting at the front of the class is not always the wisest of choices as I tend to snicker a lot and Mum was NO HELP ATTALL in keeping me out of trouble. As a result, the donkey paused often to reprimand our errant ways ..... I'm still snickering ..... I mean, you should have SEEN how BIG that, ummm, 'column' of wet, pointed clay got before the donkey squished it down again .........!!)

8. Our donkey potter, back on the bicycle of throwing on a wheel, began taking requests: a goblet, an egg cup

(I think it's meant for an ostrich egg ....) and ....... A PIGGY !!

Yes, let me pause yet again for another aside: All who know the red dirt mule, know of my search and subsequent discovery of Gary Rith's pottery piggy banks. So what's the first thing I see when I reach my beloved Donkey's home ??????? THAT'S RIGHT! A piggy bank. A POTTERISH piggy bank made by none other than my beloved donkey hisself. Welllllll I'll swwaannn. (those are Lady-like mulish swearing words). Yep. I was fit to be tied. Donkey's been holding out on me. Knew I was on the hunt and kept his piggy secret-like from me. AND THEN ........ : add insult to injury, he showed me two MORE piggy banks of his that are in dire need of a firing.

So as a test of his BRAYING ways ..... I requested he throw a piggy bank. Not just any plain ole piggy - I wanted a BLUE RIBBON PORCINE!!

9. And away he went. A whirling, a twirling, a dampening, a sponging, a trimming, a blow-torching (yep, potterish folk like blow torches !!)

And he prepared the most BE-DAZZLING blue-ribboned pig in front of our eyes. Mum and I were quite impressed and clapped loudly for the top-hatted fellow.

10. Potterish donkeys are able to throw exquisite wine goblets in ONE PIECE..... yep ..... he started with a spirally stem and then flared a bowl and voila' - a cup.

Later I watched as he returned to his cups and hollowed out their stems.

11. Oh. And the donkey cooked dinner somewhere in between all of this potterish stuff as well. I told you he's BE-Dazzling!

12. Yes. The mule put her hooves to the wheel. My beloved is a patient teacher, centering the clay on the wheel for me; showing me how to hold my hands, one hoof steadying the other. And I was happy to play and smash and squish and TRY to form some sort of cylinder. The best part ?? When I was done, he 'autopsied' the piece I had squished and showed me where I had done well (fairly even wall thickness) and where I had failed (too thin on the wall; too thick at the rim.)

When I asked him how did it feel to be pottering again (after .... 9 years + ????) The donkey paused ...... 'Well, it's a bit like riding a bicycle. You never forget how.' And indeed, my beloved potter turned his wheel, cupped his hands and formed beauty out of clay ... with nary a sweat bead on his brow. He makes it look so darn easy !!!!

My beloved is a potter extraordinaire.

(ps. he still can't beat me at scrabble. but i do take pity on him. donkey dictionaries are notoriously lacking ....)
xLDru>en GoogleC
(Gritinthegears note: The mule saw only a bit of Haffilax, so, Haffilaxers, please extend a little courtesy and tolerance her way !)...

Sunday 26 July 2009

Further Travels With a Red-Dirt Mule.

"Giddap!", he yelled, as the alarum clock shrilled, "Giddap, Mule", "Oh-ohhhhhhhhhhh!" the mule moaned, piteously, "it's toooo early." "Breakfast is at eight thirty," he insisted, "Git yer hooves on the carpet, quick-fast!" "Oh-ohhhhhhh, I'se a-sleepin', "says the mule, screwing tight shut her eyes. Her morning procrastination is monumental, she's an olympic procrastinator, once out of bed, you might think that one was close to breakfast? Hmm. Shower, hair, clothes, make-up, hoof polish, mane knotting.... I learned, on a previous expedition, that time and breakfast in hotels wait for no mule, so I had to drag her, muttering darkly to the room where the cheery fellow- guests were tucking into fruit, cereals, porridge, omellettes, fried eggs, bacon,.......... Mmmm, all that over-caloried goodness that a holiday renders essential. "How about a day on the beach?" I murmured, as she wrapped herself around some toast. "MMMMMM!" Yep, she fell for it. As soon as the last smear of egg-yolk was polished off the plate she was away, up to the room. "bikini?, check, sunglasses? check, sunlotion, book, beach-towel, fruit-juice, sun-hat......"
(The picture in the Mule's head was something like this)

So out we went, past the hotel's mysterious set of gay-plastic-meercats....

(The pink Pig had found some friends)

Into the car-like thing, and off, toward the slightly sub-tropical shores of Port Mulgrave.

We were some distance from Tahiti, and far to the north-west of the spice-islands. The weather forecast promised some sunshine, honest. The road to Port-Mulgrave passes through a small, and somewhat surreal village infested with scarecrows, the mule shivered, slightly...
"Toto, we're not in Kansas now...." It's probably wise not to ask what's going on in Hinderwell, probably the result of hallucinogens in the water supply.

Aliens seem to have invaded the village, but there's a strong police presence,
(Picture removed, by order of Mule)
The President of the United States of America is making a statement in front of the Fish'n'chip shop,

and Doctor Who has arrived to save the day.

The Pied Piper is ridding the pub of rats...
Michael Jackson is visiting...

Little Red Riding Hood has STOMPED the wolf

And so, we passed on, toward Port Mulgrave. What I had not told the Mule was that Port Mulgrave ceased to be a port in the nineteen twenties, that the "village" is more of an illusion than a reality, (blink and you've missed it) and.... There's no road down to the sea from the cliff-top. Oh. And there's no beach. Um. That's about it then. Otherwise a tropical paradise, minus the tropics, and short of the paradise...

Once upon a time, of course, it was tropical. Warm seas, steamy swamps, plesiosaurs... in jurassic times. The way down to the sea is a steep little path through bushy vegetation, with a few stone steps here and there, no handrails, some mud, brambles, nettles... it takes a while to get there. "Are we there yet?" she sings out... -not even close, -it's steep.

Precipitous in places. And you need to check the tide-tables before descending, because the tide comes in all the way to the cliffs, get caught in the wrong place and ummmm. well, not a good idea, anyway.

The bottom?

On a sunny day this could be the caribbean... or New Guinea..
-or maybe not.

The cliffs are tall and crumbly, rockfalls are happening all the time, wise not to go too close,

So why are we here?

Because at an earlier time, we bought a fossil, an ammonite, as a kind of unusual reminder of Yorkshire, and I'd promised that one day we'd go find our own, so here we were, on a foreshore where the strata laid bare are the remains of the Jurassic era, and where millions of years worth of fossilised sea-bed and swamps are falling from the cliffs and being ground up by the sea.

Just innocent looking rocks...

I always loved geology, geomorphology, but eventually loved art and ceramics more. If I'd persevered with it, I might by now be bored and unmoved by sights such as this.

Choose a likely-looking stone, smack it carefully with a hammer, to split it.

Peel it apart. Be the first mammal ever to see its contents.

An Ammonite (dactylioceras) that swam in warmer seas, right here, a hundred and sixty-five million years ago.

These bivalves were glowing like gold. We left them there, maybe for the next hunter, maybe never to be seen again, depending on the whims of the sea.

In the background, frequent rumbles and rattles as more rockfalls replenish the beach.
Eventually, satisfied with our haul, and with the waves a LOT closer, it's time to return to the old harbour, and face the long, steep climb up, back to the world. In all this time we've seen maybe five other people.

She moaned on the way up too, "Are we near the top yet?" "No".

But there's a respite, a seat about a third of the way up, dedicated to a man who fished from this bay for forty years, there are a lot of easier places to fish from, I think, but up and down that cliff every day must have either kept him very fit, or killed him.

More trudging. She knew I had the rations, so she had a motive not to just curl up in an exhausted sobbing heap...
And eventually, the top of the path, car in sight!

And so, back to our own little haven, a couple of miles down the coast, and a day well spent, treasure found, aching muscles, but a sense of worthwhile achievement.