Hitting the Ground Running

I’m just back from Japan, It’s been a great trip. I’ve been away since late August. I’m back just in time to discover that my friend and mentor, Allan Parkes has just died. Such an interesting and creative person.

For the first time, I decided to rent some studio space in Japan and make some work there. It was very good. I hope that I’ve learned something while I’ve been away, but one never knows. Only time will tell. I tend to take things in and let them blend and simmer for a while, then hope that something will percolate back out again in some dilute form that will enhance and extend what I already do with what I know. If nothing useful emerges, then there is nothing lost, as I really enjoyed my time there. As I alway do. I have a strong affinity for Japan, the people, the food, the creative endeavours of all those people that I have met and/or whose work I have seen in the Galleries.

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I had one day to unpack and do my washing, then straight in to the pottery and kiln factory. I have a large kiln ordered, so it’s straight into welding mode. I have to earn some money. I weld up the steel frame and get it off to the galvanisers in just 4 days. While the kiln is away. I get stuck into glazing all the bisque fired pots that I left here in the pottery, before I went to Japan. So it’s glazing, decorating and kiln packing. Then wood stacking, kiln shelf grinding, cleaning and washing. Finally the kiln is packed and ready to fire.

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It’s 5 o’clock in the morning and the early bird chorus is just starting. I’m down in the kiln shed firing the kiln, I like to get an early start for my firings. For some very intimate psychological/physiological reason that I don’t really understand, I seem to like to get an early start, when it’s dark and quiet and I have the whole world to myself. Well, almost. There is of course the odd rooster in the distance and the bird song. The birds seem to start calling to each other even before I’m aware that that there is any change in the light levels, but they are so much more sensitive to the natural world than I am. We have all learnt to live in an un-natural modified environment with electric lights, refrigeration, supermarkets, air con, and flat screens. I eschew most of this for the frugal comfort of home grown vegetables and a wood fire for warmth and cooking. Of course I do have electric lights and a fridge. I’m not a ludite, but I’m trying to keep my life as simple as I can, while still engaging with the modern world.

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Half an hour later, I can start to see a slight lightening of the sky and instead of it being jet black, it starts to have a very pale light grey to bluish tinge to it. I’m sure that if I had to live without any modern ‘conveniences’, that I’d soon adapt to my circumstances and start to see the dawns approach, just like the birds. But at this stage I’m happy in my hybrid world, sitting on the edge of my small hamlet, with access to everything that a modern first world economy has to offer only half an hour away and I’m also happy to live here quietly and ignore most of it.

Electricity is great. We make all of our own. In fact we make about 3 times more than we use, and sell the excess 2/3rds into the grid for money. Having fresh drinking water on tap is also a great thing. We catch all our own rain water from our roof and store it for later use. Hot water on tap has to be the greatest luxury ever invented. I consider it the basic standard of civilisation. If you have hot water, you probably have peace and stability. We make our own hot water from a combination of solar panels and a boiler fitted into the back of our wood fired kitchen stove. We also own a fridge, a small one, but we don’t own a freezer, even though we have a large kitchen garden and could find a use for one. We thought about it and decided against it, as it uses too much electricity. We always have something fresh to pick and eat from the garden. We eat what is in season in the garden, what we have over, we vacuum preserve it in ‘Vacola’ jars and store it away in the pantry.

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I’m perfectly aware that the way we live is both very hard work and a great luxury. We are in control of most aspects of our life and that is our greatest luxury. However, Just like everyone else living in a capitalist economy, we have to earn money to pay the bills that constantly accrue. Such things as Council rates, insurance, registration, taxes etc. There are lots of once-off bills that occur throughout the year, but add up to be our major expenses over-all. As we don’t have conventional jobs, cash flow can sometimes be a problem, but we manage by living quite frugally. Luckily, most of the things in life that we aspire to can’t be bought for cash, but are earned through hard graft and personal effort.

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This wood firing will be the last that we can fit in before the Southern Highlands Arts Festival Open Studio Weekends, that are slated for the first two weekends in November. It gives us a couple of weeks to unpack the kiln and then fettle and grind all the pots. With any luck, we should have just enough time to unpack the kiln,  then clean up the studio ready for the opening.

Best wishes from Steve who is glad to be back home again and hitting the ground running