Category Archives: crafts

The Terracotta Army

Xi’an, the ancient capital of China, is the nearest city to this famous exhibit. Goods used to arrive here from the Silk Road, while porcelain, silk and paper were exported. The city controlled these lucrative trading routes.

It’s colder than Chongqing, so keep warm clothes handy on a winter visit. Those large courtyards are chilly. The coal fired power stations – we were a long way from the Three Gorges Dam by then – had just been activated to provide winter heating, and the air pollution was really quite bad again.

The Grand Dynasty Culture Hotel was lovely though. There was no time to explore the feature room with the huge sculptures of the Qin Emperor and his staff, nor even to linger over the excellent breakfast….

Statues of the Qin Emperor at the Grand Dynasty Culture hotel Xian

…off we went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. This is an active Buddhist temple, containing a spectacular mural of Buddha’s life done entirely in various colours of jade. It was a beautifully peaceful place. Unusual birds feasted on red berries in the tree branches; they had an uncanny ability to fly away just before you took a picture.

The Big Wild Goose pagoda has the most fabulous painted eaves
The pagoda has the most fabulous painted eaves
Office, Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Fancy an office like this?

We hastened back to the bus, past a row of lovely stalls and many lifesize bronze tableaux on the pedestrian way. The ‘maybe later’ market here had rubber band birds that really flew and run-along bee toys.

I’ve read a lot of reviews since I returned which complain of being pestered by vendors and touts. We never had that experience; it might be worth joining a day tour rather than exploring as a solo traveller, to put yourself inside the invisible boundaries.

wrestler statues near White Goose Pagoda

We called at the terracotta workshop to see how replica models of the soldiers were made, using moulds and pressed clay. These were fired in a traditional kiln; they supplied all sizes from a few inches tall to lifesize with your own features. The price wasn’t unreasonable, with shipping and insurance thrown in, though you’d probably need to inform yourself about customs taxes at each end.

Terracotta warrior replica mould
Some things are just too heavy to take on a plane!

Driving on, we passed local farmers selling persimmons and pomegranates from roadside stalls, and the actual tomb of the Emperor. This was just a large grassed mound; it’s been left undisturbed. Inside, a model landscape of China is said to exist, using liquid mercury to represent rivers. The fumes from this may have deterred tomb robbers. Further exploration awaits the development of better techniques for preserving such fragile items as may be found there.

Terracotta Army museum

We arrived at the Terracotta Army site at last – you need stamina with RSD tours! Our splendid local guide, Jerry, told us the story before we were released to explore free range for a few hours.

“Upon ascending the throne at 12 years old, around 246 BCE, Qin Shi Huang set about building his mausoleum at once. The army of over 8,000 lifesize terracotta warriors, complete with weapons, 150 chariots and 700 horses, took 700,000 workers 38 years to nearly complete.

The Terracotta Army legion

“The Emperor died unexpectedly while visiting the Great Wall – which he also built, as well as creating extensive canal and road systems. The son travelling with him concealed the death for a month until they returned to the capital, whereupon he announced that his father had changed his will. This son was to be Emperor, and executed all his siblings to prove it.

“At his father’s funeral, he murdered all the generals who disagreed with him. Upon this, those who had wisely stayed in the provinces rose up in revolt. Within three years, the palaces were burned and the dynasty extinguished.”

Fragments of terracotta warriors

The mausoleum was probably regarded as unlucky after that. It became forgotten, buried in silt, until some local farmers drilled a well and reported their finds of pottery. Excavations began in 1979. Many areas are left buried. The paint disintegrates as soon as it is uncovered, and methods to preserve it are being explored.

restoring terracotta warriors

As advised, we began with the smallest hall – number three – and worked our way up. This hall had chariots, the second displayed examples of each piece. There were generals, mounted archers complete with horses, ordinary warriors, officers and so on. Detailed information boards in both Chinese and English accompanied the displays.

Terracotta army horse

Hall number one covered the army standing where it was found, and was colossal. Rows of warriors stood four abreast in long corridors, well below current ground level. They stood on paved floors, and the roofs were made of heavy mats supported by wooden beams, covered with earth.

Layers of silt buried the army ever deeper over the centuries. The pavement slabs were heaved up through soil movements, toppling the figures to smash into piles of fragments, momentarily shattering the silence of the echoing corridors, empty of life.

Some of the roofs were removed to reveal these jumbled heaps. The figures on display were plain clay, but originally the figures were brightly painted in lifelike colours. Every face is different; often the heads were added later.

Chariot Hall at the Terracotta army

The wavy roofs of the unexcavated areas occupied the same huge pit; you could see the weave of the mats. A team of archaeologists was patiently sifting through a layer of debris as we watched. Further on, the statues were being pieced together out of baskets of fragments, like three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles. Special slings supported partly completed ones.

Terracotta army figures restored

Chilly and tired now, we joined the group in the coffee house, which sold Western style sandwiches, and headed for the bus, hastening past many tempting stalls. Perhaps it’s the determined pace set by our young tour guides as they head off into the distance with their tiny flag – our lifeline to the warmth of the bus – that discourages the sharks!

Chinese translation of Keep off the Grass

To be fair, our permanent guide Kevin was very keen on group cohesion and enlisted our help in a roll call system. People didn’t wander off and get lost very often. As we gained in confidence, the constraints of the tour agenda became a little galling, but we appreciated that this is what we’d signed up for.

However, towards the end of the fortnight, the ‘optional extra’ excursions, though interesting enough, were discarded in favour of an expedition to find the local supermarket. We found that quite enough of an adventure!

Next week – Beijing and the Quest for Carrefour

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March Diary 2017

The weather during the first part of the month was lovely and warm here in Somerset. Just as everyone got ready to sow the spring seeds, the very weekend a whole lot of lovely outdoor events were planned….an icy wind sprang up and plunged us back into winter!

The Red Brick Building Garden Club still managed to make a few raised beds at their Friday workshop. These are constructed from dismantled pallets, and only take a couple of hours to make once you’ve had a bit of practice.

raised garden bed made of pallets

raised bed with base

 

They were on display for the Seedy Sunday event on the 19th, along with a biochar stove, advice on mushroom cultivation and the main event in the hall.

Every year, there’s a seed swap day in Glastonbury, in time for planting season.  It began in a small church hall at the obscure end of the High Street.  Gardeners, sorting through their seed boxes, would bring along the ones they really weren’t going to get round to planting. They’d add them to the pile on the table, and have a look for anything interesting brought by other people.

There was tea and home made goodies, of course.  You could sample exotics such as beetroot or parsnip cake, or stick to the traditional lemon drizzle. People sold gardening books, sapling fruit trees, craft items, tools, Resilience Handbooks….the event had to move to a larger venue!

Green Wedmore held an Energy Advice Day in the yard of the George Inn on the Saturday; although only a few braved the icy cold to investigate, it was a great networking opportunity.  Mark and Liz came down from the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol, with a display of in-depth advice leaflets and some very interesting gadgets.

I was quite glad I hadn’t been able to book onto the free willow fence making course run by Glastonbury Abbey – it was nice not to be outside all day! The demonstration at the garden event showed me all I needed to know about getting started – maybe I can upload the pictures sometime 😦

Meanwhile, I’m digging over the allotment after work most days.  We’ve been given another patch to look after and it’s pretty wild.  I’m turning over the soil, pulling out the main weed roots and binning them. Then, using the great heap of leaf mould which someone – the Council, I suppose – left in the car park, covering the dug ground with a thick mulch.

A local fast food store generates more cardboard than its bins hold; we’ll cover the lot with sheets of card, weighed down with bits of brick and a couple of tyres.  The first cleared patch is destined for potatoes, planted through holes in the card.  Strawberries next – the wild strawberries in my garden are lovely, but I’d like enough to make wine from!

Will the birds eat them instead?  Will rabbits get our carrots? Is it worth locking the shed when the most valuable bit of it is the door? An allotment presents a whole new set of challenges to resilience gardening!

Join the adventure – choose a task from the Resilience Handbook and see where it takes you!

Why learn a craft?

Traditional crafts are dying out as their practitioners retire. Soon the vast knowledge base attached to them may be reduced to outlines in books.

Learning a real skill as a hobby can keep these alive. We may need them once the fossil fuel party is over. Developing a craft can provide you with continuity in a society where jobs and homes are continually shifting. Spend time with a teacher, exchange ideas, join an interest group, network with other crafters.

Take a look at your lifestyle. What do you value most – clothes, furniture, kitchenware, ornaments, the garden? In what area do you buy yourself luxuries? Explore the variety of crafts available. Attend craft demonstrations, search online, read some of John Seymour‘s iconic books.

Find one that really interests you and start to learn. Persevere for at least a year. It takes time to acquire a practical skill. Once you are involved, you’ll find other options open up. You may decide that using a potter’s wheel is not for you, but become fascinated by the art of mending bone china. I didn’t like spinning much, but found that I loved weaving!

The hobby which I developed into a personal skill was wine making. Now, people ask me for advice, and bring me useful equipment. My friends keep bees; I’m going to discuss making mead from honey.

Extracting honey from a fresh comb
Extracting honey from a fresh comb

Many years ago, my father made wine as a hobby. I was, of course, taught to knit by my grandmother. The school tried to teach me sewing, but I was too busy resenting the fact that the boys got woodwork. Again, carpentry was something my father did quite well, while my mother hated sewing.

If you’re bringing up children, having a craft of your own could inspire them much later. Although I didn’t take much interest at the time, I do wonder if just having practical skills happening around me taught me more than I realised!

willow crafts
Baskets are always useful around the house
amazing socks from Norway
You can find the pattern for these under the More Information tab

Part of your personal resilience plan is to take up a craft – if you haven’t got one already – and try it out for a year. If you can’t get on with it after giving it a fair go, choose another one. You score for trying, not for producing wonderful works of art.

Learn more about this in the Reskilling section of the Resilience Handbook!

Adventures at the Green Gathering

Wow! What a great festival!

I love off grid events – without the diesel generators churning away, the sound levels are gentler, the lights less glaring. The whole atmosphere is more relaxed. It fits into the splendid natural setting of Piercefield Park like a hand into a glove.

Green Gathering 2016 vista from crafts area

The weather was fabulous, with plenty of shady places under trees or in cool venues to shelter from the hot sun. At night, gaily illuminated cafes, bars and venues were strung on curving lines of coloured festoon lights.

Green Gathering 2016 floating lotus venue

If you were inclined to learn resilience skills, there were abundant workshops teaching everything from archery to willow weaving.

boar oven GG16

Steward Control at the Green Gathering was the last job I did before retiring from event work to promote resilience. Some of the volunteers remembered the trial version of the Resilience Handbook which they were issued with back then! Training event stewards to cope with camping out – often for the first time – provided valuable material for the final version.

The splendid Laura now manages the stewards, but my colleague Linda Benfield is still a director of our company, and also of the Green Gathering itself. We created the Resilience Wheel concept together some years ago.

the resilience wheel

We were struggling to write an energy questionnaire for Glastonbury, for a Transition Town funding bid. The problem was the huge disparity in energy awareness from house to house, and how to reflect this in a meaningful sense. At the same time, we were involved with the Town Council’s emergency planning committee.

The two projects started to overlap; we began to see the issues around putting these plans into practice, the multiple factors, the many variables. The number of things that should be in place and weren’t. Surrounded by flow charts and spider diagrams, we had a sudden insight and reinvented the wheel!

Anyone can find their place on it. All your efforts towards a sustainable lifestyle – that would be one which isn’t going to vanish in a puff of fossil fuel smoke – feed into one central goal. Resilience. You can’t do without it.

The Resilience Wheel isn’t just a picture. It’s a tool. You have to pick it up and use it.

June Diary 2016

I expected June to be a quieter month than it usually is for me, as I’m not going to the Glastonbury Festival for the first time in many years. There’s no going against the rhythm of the seasons though, and events conspired to make this month every bit as hectic as before!

I’ve been working hard on my next book, about food and resilience…this involves a lot of experimental cooking and field studies. We finally got an allotment garden for our project; it’s quite overgrown. Although late in the season, we’ve managed to plant out the last of our seedlings, and there are quite a few food plants there already which only need the undergrowth cleared away.

Linda hoeing our new growing space
Linda hoeing our new growing space

It was the Green Scythe Fair on 12th June, which is an annual fixture for me. Strolling among the colourful stalls is like visting a future where everything has worked out fine. People gather around to admire the latest electric car on display, discuss the merits of the various tools offered for sale, consider hand made clothes or choose a pair of angora rabbits to breed for wool. The faint tap of peening scythes underscores the murmer of conversation. A woman plays her fiddle while children dance; other youngsters make nests from the cut grass.

A tremendous selection of local delicacies are to be sampled here, from crystallised flowers to venison steaks.

sea buckthorn juice stall
A stall selling juice made from sea buckthorn

You can get anything you can think of to do with honey, including a hive of bees. All the brand names, the shiny labels, are absent though. The cafe heats its water by wood-fired rocket stoves; the electrical power is from storage batteries recharged by renewables, including the lights and entertainment at night.

In the Craft area, one can see blacksmiths, stone masons and thatchers at work. There’s a stall selling hemp twine, another with leather pouches. A man haggles for an enamel basin, a woman picks a new copper kettle. The plough horses watch curiously as you pass by; yesterday they were demonstrating techniques for a land workers’ training session.

The centre piece of the event is the scything. A grand marquee is set up like a scything supermarket, with blades, whetstones, files, all the odds and ends of the craft. You are ‘fitted’ for the right size of handle, consulted about the appropriate blade and shown how to attach it. The complete novice is given a introductory pamphlet, but it’s wise to enrol on one of the day courses. Like any skill, it’s best learned alongside a master.

On the day of the Fair, however, all these craftspeople were out on the long grass in the centre, where the competitions were taking place. There were trophies to be won, reputations to be made! A sudden downpour had flattened much of the grass – how would this affect the form? The skilled scythers – men and women in separate heats – would cut their allotted square down to the length of a well trimmed lawn in only a few minutes. Assistants raked up the fallen grass while the judges inspected the quality of the job and considered points.

After the business of the day was done and the cups awarded, the music and carousing began in earnest. The stalls closed up and stole away; the families left. Only the crafters and campers were left to wind the evening up in traditional style and wobble gently home across the dark, empty fields.

May Diary 2016

Well, April was something of a disaster!  I had to cut my South West trip short as there were problems with my car – it turned out the alternator was slowly dying and communicating its distress to the steering and clutch through the wonders of modern car electronics.  At least I got my boots ordered first!

Peugot on Dartmoor
Peugot on Dartmoor

I did manage to explore the fabulous Scilly Isles, ancient haunt of pirates, for the day.  I dined on fish at the ‘Admiral Benbow’ on my return – yes, I know it’s not the real one from the book but it had to be done!  Penzance Youth Hostel was excellent, one of those with a lively sociable lounge and valuable parking space.

If you go to Cornwall in the summer, don’t take a car!  My landscape reading skills tell me that the narrow rocky peninsula is not kind to vehicles.  You can get a whole day’s travel on the buses for the price of an hour’s parking.  If there’s enough of you to fill a car, check parking on Google Streetview, look for reviews.  It’s more of an adventure to go on public transport!

Adventure was the theme at Falmouth Marine Museum.  Sailing out into the unfriendly Atlantic in a wooden ship, with no engines to steer you away from the jagged rocks lining this coast – no wonder so many pubs are furnished with the spoils of shipwreck!  There was a Viking exhibition featured too, a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of these fearsome reavers.

The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanantion of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta
The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanation of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta

I had to limp home and forego my visit to Tintagel and the nearby town of Boscastle.  The flooding there in 2004 inspired the ‘Strategic National Framework on Community Resilience’ which was an important influence on the Resilience Handbook.  Bringing resilience into play, I renavigated my course to the Bristol Survival School weekend camp to go by bus.

My goal was to learn to use a fire drill, as featured on ‘The Island’.  I achieved that, but also learned that anyone who’s good enough to get a fire going with this method in under ten minutes – and there were a few! – wears a flint and steel around their neck.  Fire drilling doesn’t seem to be the preferred method, and it is very difficult.

I continued my work on identifying burdock in its first year stage, which is when the large tasty roots form.  I’ve nearly nailed down the differences with the poisonous foxglove.  Please don’t go digging up wild plants though, except with the informed permission of the landowner.  Use your Resilience Garden space – even if it’s only patio pots – to cultivate your own forage plants.  You only need to get to know them, maybe try a few…

making fire drill

Above, the instructor is carving out a fire drill set from raw wood.  Below, an ember has been lit from the powdered wood created by the drilling process, and has been transferred to a piece of bark.  At this stage you use ’ember extenders’ to nurse it into a larger coal.  This is placed in a hank of dried grass and blown into flame, narrowly missing your eyebrows.

firedrill ember 20160423_200120

A Resilience Adventure

One of the adventure challenges in the Resilience Handbook is ‘Visit a Repair Cafe and have a cup of tea.’ My budget didn’t stretch to a trip to Amsterdam or Germany, so I looked online and found the nearest one, in Bristol. This is held on the first Saturday morning of every month in All Saints’ Church, Fishponds.

I set off on the bus – I try not to take the car into cities – and navigated to the venue with the aid of my trusty A-Z map book. It took longer than I thought, and most of the actual repairing was finished before I arrived. There was tea though, and cake, courtesy of the church volunteers. I had a good chat with the organiser, Kate, and presented her project with a copy of the Handbook. It’s a pity there isn’t a branch of Repair Cafe nearer home!

Repair cafe banner

The networking potential of these meeting places was quickly demonstrated. Hearing me talk about resilience inspired a young lady to take me to the Feed Bristol Harvest Fair, a short walk away.

This event was so fabulous it was almost surreal! I felt as if I’d been transported into a Transition vision of a post-oil resilient community!

The Welcome gazebo was surrounded by tables of the most intriguing plants for sale – I couldn’t resist the Vietnamese Fish Mint – beyond which stretched polytunnels and plots under cultivation. Further in, excited children raced around tiny woodland paths, played in the sandpit, made paintings using mud and colourful flowers. Adults strolled more sedately, exploring the roundhouse, the herbal gardens, the tree plantings.

One could sip Fair Trade tea in the open marquee while listening to a string quartet playing in the autumn sunshine. It was a glorious day!

feed bristol harvest fair

The growing area – due to restrictions on images of children, I can’t show the actual fete, but there’s plenty of pictures on the websites

vietnamese fish mint

Vietnamese fish mint is not a mint, but does taste of fish!  And it’s very pretty.

At the Harvest Fair, I spoke with soap makers, food cooperative organisers, gardeners and teachers. The project is run by Avon Wildlife Trust; the remit is to create an edible yet wildlife friendly landscape, and it works very well. As I listened to the people who worked there, I began to realise that this project utilised the same core concepts as a Resilience Garden!

  • for use by the surrounding community
  • an emphasis on education, demonstration and experimentation
  • the abillity to produce large amounts of seed and spare plants to fast track other growing spaces in a crisis
  • creation of an edible landscape which supports a positive relationship with local wildlife, especially friendly insects and birds

Although defining a Resilience Garden is a struggle, I know one when I see it!

Areas like this should be a key feature in every housing development.

The Methane Saga

The Methane Saga

or

The Production of Methane Gas Described in the British Style of Finnish Epic Poetry

I was listening to a recording of the Kalevala, the Finnish epic poem, while crocheting. These tales were created to be spoken or sung, and I was struck by the way they harmonised with repetitive creative tasks.  One is busy but relaxed; it can be dull without listening to something entertaining.  Hence the popularity of knitting circles.

Imagine an extended family in a snow bound yurt dwelling.  After months together, interesting subjects for conversation may be limited.  How to amuse oneself while making socks or whittling knife handles?

“Tell us a story, Grandparent” comes the call.  Arthritic hands are no longer nimble enough to join in the tasks, but a fireside place is welcome.  And so it begins….

Tales created to be spoken communicate in different ways to those designed for the written word.  If you weren’t paying attention, you can’t turn the page back.  Listening to the Kalevala, I found that momentary focus on my work meant I lost a few lines, but not the gist of the plot.  Even if I had missed some crucial words, important concepts are repeated several times, key events padded out with description.

The ‘Hiawatha’ rhythm in which English translations of these poems are recited seems to bear little relation to the singing of the original.  There’s a sample of this on Wikipedia.  My musings on the ancient origins of epic poems may be mere fiction.

However, author Lewis Dartnell has speculated at length in ‘The Knowledge – How to Rebuild our World from Scratch’ on how we can preserve important scientific discoveries in the event of global catastrophe.  This style of telling seems well adapted to embed this information.  It falls into memory as if it were designed to, and the redundancy guards against attrition.

In the post-apocalyptic landscape, you can bet people will have to knit socks, possibly in a yurtish sort of dwelling. So I wrote the ‘ The Production of Methane Gas Described in the British Style of Finnish Epic Poetry ‘. It’s very long, a good sock’s worth to a fast knitter, so it’s on its own page. I’ll be checking the technical details with the biochar people, but as the epic points out ‘ And with care prevent explosion’!

The Resilience Handbook will be out soon!!

You can place advance orders here

How the craft workshops are getting on

It occurs to me that people may not be notified of changes to other pages, so I thought I’d just draw your attention to the progress of the free craft workshops.  We held the third of these yesterday (15th March), and there’s still another three.  Follow the link to read how things are going.

If you’re in the area – Glastonbury or Street – try and drop in.  There’s the Bocabar cafe next door; you’re welcome to just sit with a coffee and watch the crafts happening!  Although large, the Event Space is warm and there is plenty of parking nearby.

drop spindle workshop crochet workshop

Diary, December 2014

The Resilience Garden glitters with frost, which should finally put a stop to the ravages of slug and snail. The September rocket sowing bolted due to the warm weather, a November replacement sprang up with enthusiasm but then settled down to wait out the winter as seedlings, and the molluscs ate most of the spinach.

Feeding the leeks has worked, though.

Waiting for a book to get published is an arduous task. I’m using the time to develop my own Resilience Plan some more.

This has involved me in adventures with an anti mould paint based on calcium hydroxide. The resilience pioneer can study the manufacture of this and other basic chemicals in The Knowledge. Use your Xmas tokens. It’s a good ‘man book’.

I’ll be appearing on The Knowledge website as a guest writer in the New Year, covering some of the amazing projects I’ve found on my travels!

Meanwhile, I’ve been designing learning modules to go with the Resilience Handbook, exploring more strange landscapes, repainting the house….

…and working with CREW HQ to organise a series of free craft workshops next year!

These will be held fortnightly on Sunday afternoons at the Red Brick Building between Glastonbury and Street, in Somerset. The first one is to be on February 15th. We’ve been part-funded by Aster Communities, and about thirty local craftspeople signed up at the Frost Fair last month.

Traditional crafts are going to be demonstrated and visitors can learn some simple techniques on the day. You can learn to fix things, get advice on your own projects, and generally network with skilled artisans. If you’d like to talk about a Repair Cafe, starting or joining a community crafts group, building a career as a craftsperson or anything like that, do come along.

I’ll be there teaching resilience. How resilient are you now? Why are practical skills important? Try out the questionnaire and design your plan.

Best Wishes for the New Year!