Sunday, March 30, 2014

the tinker's horse

My dad was a great storyteller and this is one of his I remember from long ago. Just to give you some background, at the age when most of us were dreading our first day at high school my dad went to work in one of the coal mines of northern England. He would certainly have preferred to stay in school but, as the eldest boy once his father had died, the mines were the only place to earn money enough to feed his mother, sisters and brother.

Anyway, this story is about a man and his pony who lived in the village just before the turn of the 19th century - so likely a story my father had heard rather than one he witnessed. The man was a tinker who spent his days going round the local villages fixing things that were broken as well as buying and selling whatever came to hand. There's nothing odd in that but what was strange was that so long as the tinker himself was sitting on the cart bench his horse went to whatever village he knew to be next. The tinker never used reins. If he decided to go to a different village he simply told the horse which one and off they'd go.

In those days the miners worked six and a half days a week with just the morning off on Sunday so they could attend church. Not surprisingly, they gathered at the local pub on Saturday nights to relax and enjoy themselves. (I'm guessing not all made it to the services next morning.) Normally his horse was well cared for except for those Saturday nights the tinker spent in the pub while his horse waited patiently outside. What invariably used to happen was that the tinker would get very drunk, so much so that all he could do at the end of the evening was to climb onto his cart where he'd fall asleep. The horse could be relied upon to take him home.

Late one night when the pub had closed some of his co-revellers followed behind the horse and cart that was carrying the drunken tinker. The horse stopped in front of the dark house (the tinker lived alone). The men had decided to play a trick on the tinker. They lifted him off the cart and put him down in a comfortable spot, then they unhitched the horse. After that they took the wheels off the cart, lead the horse into the house, carried the unwheeled cart inside, put the wheels back on, hitched up the horse to the cart and, lastly, carried the unconscious tinker inside and put him back on the bench.

Next morning when he awoke they all just happened to be waiting not far from the tinker's door. He came outside rubbing his eyes and said, 'Ah elwis knew pit wes a clivvor cuddy but ah nivvor knew ha bloody clivvor til neeo.'
(I always knew he was a clever horse but I never knew how bloody clever until now.) 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

playing with Crow

Crow and I (and a few friends) have been working on a new picture (possibly painting). This is how far we'd got by this afternoon. Since we're expecting a new blizzard tomorrow, more may be accomplished while we're stuck inside.

This morning I came across a great article in The Atlantic about an adventure playground in Wales called 'The Land'. This was not so much discovering something new as the re-discovery of something very very old. Children’s play. Those of us born in earlier times than modern children were often lucky enough to have enjoyed a lot of unstructured time as children and, if we were luckier still, there was open countryside for our games and daydreaming. More recently, children rarely have freedom from the constant scrutiny of adults.

After reading the aforementioned article I decided to investigate the woman who began the adventure playgrounds in England (there are several dozen similar to The Land), It was after WWII that Lady Allen of Hurtwood, a long time advocate for children's well-being, visited Copenhagen in 1945 where she was introduced to Emdrup, the very first deliberately made adventure playground in the world. Emdrup was the brainchild of the landscape architect C.Th Seorenssen. Even before the war, he'd been dissatisfied with the playgrounds that he had created once he noticed that children preferred to play on building sites rather than the neat municipal playgrounds that had been designed for them. These ad hoc playgrounds were messy spaces, using a lot of left over junk bits that the children found lying around and the children loved them.

Emdrup playground, established in 1943, was generally agreed to have been a benefit to the neighbourhood from the beginning. During the Nazi occupation the difference between sabotage and delinquency was not obvious, and many of the children had become unruly and anti-social. Once they had their own playground, where they could do what they liked, the surrounding social climate took a turn for the better.

Lady Allen returned from Copenhagen determined that all children would benefit from unstructured play areas and set about the business of establishing them throughout England. She had a number of interesting things to say, including, 'Better a broken leg than a broken spirit', but my favorite quote of hers was this one:

.’.. Municipal playgrounds are often as bleak as barrack squares and just as boring. You are not allowed to build a fire, you would head straight for juvenile court if you started to dig up the expensive tarmac to make a cave, there are no bricks or planks to build a house, no workshops for carpentry, mechanical work, painting or modelling and of course, no trees to climb…’

At first glance, The Land, a Welsh adventure playground, seems like a modern-day parent’s worst nightmare. The Land is riddled with what looks like trash and the walls are covered in graffiti. There are children jumping over unsteady barrels and mud puddles, and youngsters poking sticks into fires or hammering wood with (eek) sharp nails. The Land, in my opinion, is exactly what’s been missing from most childhood experiences for at least a decade now.

Anyway, what follows is a brief video introduction to a documentary called 'The Land'. Just in case you wonder these places do have adults lurking in case of need but so far there have been no serious injuries to anyone at an adventure playground.

The Land, Promo from Play Free Movie on Vimeo.

Some parents may not be quite ready:

'My can kid go outside alone when he turns 14.'
'My 16 year old can ride the city bus, so long as a parent is with her.'
'18 years of age is a good time to let kids go off on their own.'
'I’d NEVER let my kid go outside without an adult.'

Not everyone would agree:

“Play deprivation is bad for children. Among other things, it promotes anxiety, depression, suicide, narcissism, and loss of creativity. It’s time to end the experiment.”
~ Dr. Peter Gray

“The child amidst his baubles is learning the action of light, motion, gravity, muscular force….”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”
~ Plato

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”
~ Fred Rogers

“Men should learn to live with the same seriousness with which children play.”
~ Nietzsche

“Play is the highest form of research.”
~ Albert Einstein

What do you think?

Monday, March 17, 2014

imaginary future Crow #1

With apologies to both Jules Verne and the artists of old Final Fantasy games, I couldn't help but try to render one of Crow's visions of what it might be like to live in a world where people have finally found a level of technology in keeping with ecological balance. In this one we have my impression of a large, and admittedly Rococo, airship that has carried an audience to view a boat race. Okay, it will take some more work, but while I'm not very good at drawing architectural (or aeronautic) structures, I love the idea that eventually we'll find a way to live in harmony with the world.

per Crow*: The industrial economy that exists today can best be described in ecological terms as a scheme for turning resources into pollution at the highest possible rate. Resource exhaustion and pollution problems aren’t accidental outcomes of industrialism, they’re hardwired into the industrial system: the faster resources turn into pollution, the more the industrial economy prospers, and vice versa. It's become apparent the current situation helps nobody - including my non-human friends.

It seems worth considering that from the standpoint of the far future, industrialism may prove to have been only one early and inefficient form of what might eventually become an ecotechnic society. Of course, we both agree this distant future is very hard to imagine from our current perspective, but who, hundreds of years ago, could possibly have imagined air travel and cell phones?

Personally, I like to imagine air ships.
Back to the drawing board, but first
some music by crows^ arranged by
Jarbas Agnelli:

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

* Crow often visits his friend the Archdruid while I simply read his latest post every week.
^ You already knew they're clever.

Friday, March 14, 2014

experimental magic

Okay, I'll be first to agree this isn't the most exciting thing ever but once I got the little lantern from Magic Lamp I really wanted to try my hand at making my own version of the turning cylinder that fits inside one.

It was my friend, Marja-Leena, who asked me to show how it might be done and with that in mind I've been happy to take pictures of my first attempts and the result. You can see my 'how to' over here.

Magic turning lamps, or MawariDoro, are very pretty enhancements for any room. Now if only I knew how to make my own 20 second video :) 

Monday, March 10, 2014

projects new and old

It's funny the things we'll think of when winter's dark seems as though it will go on forever. Some weeks ago, during just such a time, I remembered the little candle chimes my Swedish friend, Inger, used to unpack each Christmas. This time I had a spot on top of a new bookcase that didn't really need a reading light, but did need something interesting. Although I'd liked the angel lights, a candle powered anything didn't seem like the right thing for regular use. After a little searching I found a small company in Vancouver called 'Magic Lamp' that makes what are known in Japan as 'Mawari-Doro'. They had some on sale for a very reasonable price so I ordered the one you see here.

Now I've begun the process of seeing if I can make one of the paper cylinders that spins inside the little rice paper walled box. This is how far I'd got by this afternoon. Since I wasn't able to find any colored cellophane like what's been used in the cut-out windows of the original, I had to order sheets of colored mylar from an art supply company in the US. Getting supplies I'm used to having easily available is a bit frustrating, but not an insurmountable problem. While I expect it's going to be tricky figuring out the right weight and balance for a new spinner, I think the result will be worth spending the time. I'm already getting ideas about carving and gluing balsa wood frames..

I also have a new plant friend, one rescued from the grocery store a few days ago. I thought it was a cactus, but it turns out it's a Euphorbia Trigona, a plant native to South Africa where they're often grown into hedges to keep wild animals out of the gardens. Yes, this is a very small one and I must be prepared for it to grow to six feet or more. We may need a bigger pot and a dolly - eventually.

Lastly, and in case you wondered, I did finally finish Final Fantasy IX, the game I began to play late in January. Just in case you might (possibly, maybe) be interested in seeing what held my attention for so many afternoons the following shows some of the video highlights of the game. Good video games can provide entertainment like no other medium I know. Yes, 50% is fighting and figuring out puzzles, 5% is movie, but the rest is all about traveling around discovering a world and getting to know (and love) the characters who live there.

'You don't need a reason to help people.'

~ Zidane

Saturday, March 1, 2014

the late dinner

This is one of those stories I know from family legend better than as a complete memory from childhood. It happened while we still lived in England during the years after WWII.

Back then I had a German aunt. Aunt Hella and her husband, Uncle Arthur, lived a few doors away from us on Corporation Rd. in Gillingham. Although they weren't family in the traditional sense, children then were taught to call adult friends by the honorifics of aunt and uncle. I don't remember much about Uncle Arthur other than his big moustache and his even bigger grin. Aunt Hella, on the other hand, was entirely memorable. She was a German war bride, the daughter of a very wealthy family in Berlin where Uncle Arthur had been stationed as a mechanical engineer. When his tour of duty ended he returned to England bringing Aunt Hella with him. She hated the place.

She didn't like the food; she didn't like the streets; she didn't like the houses; she didn't like the weather; she didn't like the people - and, much to my mother's embarrassment on shopping trips, made no secret of her low opinions. Hella spoke English very well but didn't enjoy doing so. The only exception was that she liked us - my mother in particular. How they became friends has to be a matter of speculation for me since neither of them are around to ask nowadays. Nevertheless, they found much in common to laugh and talk about. Not only was Aunt Hella the one who taught me what little German I remember, she also told wonderful stories about her life as a child in their Black Forest summer home. Her magical descriptions of Oberammergau fueled my imagination and my child's heart. It was obvious to me then (and more now) that she was homesick.

On this particular evening Aunt Hella had invited us for a proper German dinner. We arrived on time around 6pm to discover dinner was not quite ready. My mother called through the locked kitchen door offering to help Hella but was summarily refused. Instead, we sat with Arthur looking through his photographs and talking about this and that. I have no idea what I was doing in particular. Anyway, hours passed with no sign of dinner while Arthur and my father's stomachs were rumbling in a unified hunger they had to raise their voices to talk above. In those days my bedtime was invariably no later than 8pm. 9pm had come and gone as the clock ticked towards 10pm, at which point my mother had had enough. Goodbyes were called toward the closed kitchen door and we went home.

As my mother prepared something for us to eat, we all heard the sound of crashing from the front hall. We stood amazed as Aunt Hella's special dinner of sauerbraten, spãtzle, marinated herring, spargel, carrots, beans, bread and even the Eierkuchen she'd made for dessert, not forgetting the plates they sat on, came pouring through the letter box.

My parents cleaned up the mess and so far as I know nothing was ever said to Aunt Hella about her extraordinary outburst. It did, however, become a fine teaching story about the folly of indulging in temper tantrums.
Aunt Hella and Uncle Arthur later spent many years in Africa where he worked on highway developments. Eventually they returned to Berlin. The friendship between them and my parents lasted throughout their lives.