Tuesday, May 25, 2010


A gorgeous orangey-pink poppy which opened this morning has an almost similar shading to some dyeing experiments I'm doing at the moment. The dyes are all natural, the yellow being turmeric; burnt orange being sappamwood, the other two a grass and bark - all Japanese dried material stuff.

Cork tree bark, giving bronze/pink. Cotton and silk fibre showing completely different colours though both were in the same dyepot!

Sunday, May 23, 2010


A walk by the river. Yesterday we went to look for the place where the little river Terling flows into the larger navigational Blackwater and Chelmer river, we sort of found it by Rush weir, but I forgot to photo it. The Terling is the large photo that fronts the blog at the moment, shallow but with fish in it, last week walking along it there was a bank of logs built across it, almost as if some giant beaver had decided to dam the water. The sense of it was that the farmer had been cleaning his part of the river out, and that the obstruction of the logs was a sort of filtering system that cleansed the water, which it did on his part of the river.
We walked for about 5 miles there and back along the larger river, it is such a beautiful place, a hidden part of ~Essex.
Ducks and moorhens also have their territorial spaces along the banks. The flora and fauna is somewhat sparse, but the fields on either side would have been marshy in times gone, and are mostly down to hay fields even now. Brilliant iridiscent demoiselles are at a couple of places along the path, honey scented cow parsley lines either side, and I note there are cranesbills, it looks like the smaller cut leafed one.
Ulting church looked very different from this side of the river, especially as we had visited it in winter last time. People were picnicing on the ground round the church, there boat pulled up alongside.
The white of the hawthorn blossom and the cow parsley is set off by the pale green-grey of the willows that line the path. England at this time of the year has the appearance of a Tolkinesque 'Shire' landscape of the Hobbits, a soft landscape of lush greens; blossoms overhanging the river reflect their mirror images but it will soon be gone. The horses in the field some a coppery brown colour, their sleek sides fat with the new grown grass are content in the afternoon sun sleeping away.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The making of Japanese 'aged' paste

One of the processes in restoring scrolls and paintings is the making of the paste. This paste can be used on such materials as - paper, silk and wood, in other words it can be used on fragile materials but also much stronger objects such as sliding doors or wooden screens. Its consistency will be altered by adding water to whatever strength is needed. The paste is clear and transparent, it will not mark the delicate silks or papers, it is also 'reversible'. Meaning that may be after a century or two when the scroll has become worn, it can then be taken apart and renewed with new papers and silk. To me it is somewhat of a 'magic' paste, and when you think of all the glues on offer for all types of materials to have one single paste is simplicity itself. For the Japanese Hyogushi or conservator, this paste is one of the most important aspects of his work.
It is made of wheat starch, and is a by-product from the gluten makers who extract the gluten to make cakes and dumplings. The gluten is extracted leaving the starch behind at the bottom of the pan of water, the extraction process is long and complicated, suffice it to say that there are three products that emerge from the water that has extracted the gluten. Firstly, uwa-miza, which is of no use except as a covering of water for protecting the paste; secondly jin-nori, a watery glutinous paste which is sometimes used by other crafts such as dyers. But it is the third and final layer shofu-nori- almost pure wheat starch this is the stuff the hyogushi will use.
As already mentioned the paste is used on a limited number of materials; the combinations being as followed; paper/paper (linings, laminates); paper/silk (linings), paper/wood (rollers/wooden lattices); silk/silk (braids for scrolls), and wood/wood (pommels for scrolls). And of course it can also be used as a size or fixative.
The process of making or cooking- the paste is done on the stove, water is added to the starch and it is gently and methodically stirred for about one hour, its consistency will change over this period. As the paste becomes 'stiff' it is important to whip or stir it vigorously to get the required viscosity, which is often much better if the paste is made in the cold months of winter.
The making of aged paste or Furu-nori; A great pot is made of this, there are several cookings of the paste, and each batch is put into the pot then the pot is tied with persimmon treated paper, and then left for a year. The pot is then opened, the old water poured off and new water added. This happens every year for 10 years, until it reaches its final stage and can be used. This ten year period is the length of an apprenticeship in the studios of the conservators and marks the end of the apprenticeship.
There is a difference between the old and new paste, the old paste has weaker bonding abilities (don't we all) but the old paste (furi-nori) is able to laminate more sheets of papers of a particular kind without producing the brittleness and stiffness of the new paste (shofu nori), and because of this difference is used mostly on the hanging scrolls, which are of course rolled up or unrolled for use, and need to hang straight when displayed. Also, because aged paste is so much weaker, a secondary method is used, which is the beating of the papers together with a brush called uchi-bake which is made from hemp palm fibres. The brush strikes the scroll at a certain angle and 'meshing' of the papers take place to which the furi-noro has been applied.
Old paste can be sieved twice, once through a horsehair sieve and secondly a fine silk sieve.
This is one of the pots, an 'Ali Baba' type of pot, very suitable for growing plants in but unfortunately it has no hole in the bottom for drainage but is a good collector of rain water!

A rather beautiful bowl used for the paste, though its first use is for the grinding of minerals.
Fresh paste is very stiff and will have to be cut out in lumps, it is then put through a horse-hair sieve and kneaded with a paste brush.



ref; Manufacture and Use of Japanese Wheat Starch Adhesives in the Treatment of Far Eastern Pictorial art.....

Friday, May 14, 2010


Bluebells in Blake Wood; And of course patches of stitchwort and yellow archangel. From bare earth a few weeks ago, an absolute feast of bluebells, and stitchwort also decorates the hedge banks profusely. Although the weather is so cold, trees in blossom and the wild flowers seem to be everywhere. The great horsechestnuts are out as well. The rolling softness of the many tree colours of green, freshly minted is also beautiful.
The 'drenched' blue of the bluebell, is down to colour change. As the flower spikes unfold it is a deep, deep bluey-violet, midway in their growing period, a lighter blue streaked with lines of purple, as the bell opens out it is a much lighter blue.

A patch of stitchwort

This house which we passed yesterday, never ceases to amaze me, the pink paintwork echoing the colour of the great pink horse chestnuts tree.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Two carp leaping among waves Tsukioka Shuei (1790-1830)

The Salmon of Wisdom, is an Irish celtic tale, the salmon in the tale had swallowed nine acorns from the nine hazel trees that surrounded the Well of Wisdom. In doing so he became a fabled legend of wisdom. A poet spent seven years trying to catch this fish, and one day he did and passed it over to his apprentice Finn to cook but under no circumstances to eat the fish. Finn did this, but accidently stuck his thumb on the fish after it was cooked, and then sucked his thumb. Well as luck would have it this was the precise morsel that contained that pearl of wisdom, so Finn was now endowed with great wisdom and went on to perform heroic deeds as in all good celtic tales; there is a Welsh version of this as well.

What struck me about the story though was that it was very similar to the Chinese tale, also adapted by the Japanese, of carp struggling up to jump waterfalls, a characteristic very familar with salmon as they go back to their home river to spawn in the shallow waters.

The Chinese carp are seen as symbols of martial attributes due to its armour like scales, and therefore paintings reflect the myth of the carps swimming upstream and jumping up waterfalls to change into a dragon if they achieve their goal. So a painting of this is given and hung up in offices as a sign of achievement to which everyone can aspire to!

So the tale goes that if a carp who succeeded in swimming upstream in the Yellow River to leap over a place called the Dragon Gate, would be transformed instantly into a mighty dragon...

The picture above which hangs on a wall, was originally a single screen surrounded by a frame and free-standing. Such screens were set in direct alignment with the entrance to a temple. So that as you went into the temple it faced you. This was to keep the bad spirits out, because apparently they only travelled in a straight line, not like our spirits at the cross-roads who could presumably take whatever road they felt like, though of course the answer that by burying the wicked at a cross road they would be confused as to which way to go.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Early Asuka temple

                                                                Tamamushi Shrine;

"an episode from the Golden light sutra of a bodhisattva removing his upper garments and hanging them on a tree before casting himself from a cliff to feed a hungry tigress and her cubs."  It is one of the early periods of art in Japan, the Asuka period and much of this beautiful 7th century work can be found in the temple of Horyu-Ji.

The picture itself appears on a four-sided portable shrine which is made of local Japanese wood and then lacquered. The Tamamushi shrine is named after the tamamushi beetle, who's iridescent wings were used in the decoration, though the colour and the beetles have long disappeared from the shrine.

The wings were placed under the bands of ornate bronze filigree ornamenting the pedestal so that the colours would shine through; the beetle itself to be found in the woods in summer. Although the work is classified as Japanese, it was during the 6th century that the Japanese emperor at the time, imported you might say, nuns and monks from Korea for their crafts, so that such things are not necessarily indigenous to Japan. Be that as it may the Asuka culture and temples are situated in the earlier ritual landscape of the Tumuli people.

Giving one self to the hungry tiger

Here in this picture you can see the bronze filgree work and also the wooden carved moldings showing the lotus petal pattern around the base and the top.
There are many buildings at this very old temple site complex, and many treasures, its carved wooden intricacy is a visual delight, the many statures of the buddhas as well have elegant folds to the line of their garments, almost modern. The temple reflects the beginning of the buddhist religion in Japan, the craftsmen and women used were of the finest.

                                           Horyu Temple, with the pagoda at the side
photos taken from creative commons...

Monday, May 10, 2010

everything is connected to everything else

This is the 7th century depiction of the story of the prince offering himself to the lioness. It is a 'three picture' narrative. The picture is depicted on the side of a portable altar in the Horyu Ji temple

Recently in some news was the story of two young eagles poisoned in Ireland, and the fact that the eagle might become extinct in Ireland, there was also the story of an egg collector who gathered rare eggs for his collection and too sell. The eagles could have been poisoned by a gamekeeper, probably protecting game birds for shooting, or a farmer protecting his young lambs. Both acts are unforgivable, the killing of large predatory birds and the robbing of nests but they point to a 'relationship' with the natural world wholely in favour of our human need to dominate and control the 'wild' around us...

Here is a different tale...

"While out riding, a prince and his brothers come upon a starving tigress and her cubs. The brothers return home to bring food, but the prince remains behind. Fearing his brothers will not return in time, he decides to sacrifice his own body to feed the animals. The tigress and her cubs are weakened from starvation, so the prince must jump off a cliff, breaking his body into smaller pieces. When the brothers return, they find only the prince’s bones. They collect the bones and build a pagoda for the relics."

A morality tale, a turning round of the accepted view, could it be that other species have an equality, a right to 'survive', as tales of the greater primates becoming extinct flash across our screen, we give it a moment of thought but the deeper ethical position somewhat eludes us, we are not prepared to accept 'brotherhood' with these or any other creature, we are after all, the clever species, the one that 'survived and evolved' under Darwinian rules.

Reading Mary Midgeley, she sees our response to the singular nature of such causes, adoption of specific campaigns; for instance stopping the rain forest from being chopped down, the hunting of foxes or the killing of whales to name but three. What we do not do is look at the much larger picture of the natural world as a whole, and perhaps more importantly though we may feel guilt we do not address that which lies behind the destruction that humans do to other species.

Changing the myths by which we live, (and yes we do live in a scientifically rational world, but also a very reductionist world) the ongoing process of economic growth has a precedence over everything else. What she advocates is that we may have to change our perception of the world, change our direction and in so doing change the future. And that of course is the most difficult thing to do.............

p.s. this of course leads on to 'deep ecology', and the writing of Arne Naess and others, a philosophy underpinning a lot of green radical thinking....

some of the principles set out by this philosophy..........

The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.
The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.


These are fine words but probably impossible to achieve, I do not necessarily criticise Naess but having read all these authors over the years I think that there is a certain unrealistic aim here, though beautifully put. Naess lived in Norway, he loved the mountains and solitary places, most of humanity live in a very different scenario. But all these philosophies have come and gone, his was the inspiration for movements like 'Earth First' an American group more radical than Greenpeace.
Today I find in my email box George Monbiot talking about another movement, this time 'The Dark Mountain project' proposing that all of the above, the individual campaigns and trying to save the world are a waste of time! What we should be doing is knuckling down and learning to survive whatever happens in the future - not terribly new thinking, its part of the myth that 'greens' live by, but perhaps its a sensible way forward. And do I note in the writing that Paul Kingsnorth has also been reading Mary Midgeley, and putting forward the similar idea of creating a new myth by which we live, and thereby living it?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A weekend of unrule

Not misrule of course, but the fact that we are leaderless until some of our politicians get their act together. Well I have'nt been dormant, 'people politics' are coalescing as well, so emails to the liberal autocracy, plus some petition signing, may help in that much needed call for a proper voting system!
Marina Hyde's campaign trail article is articulated with her usual cutting, beautifully ascerbic tongue;...Once it emerged that we'd forked out for some sod's moat to be cleaned, the public would'nt bother gasting its flabber for anything less that Gordon dined on sauteed kittens every night"
Simon Hoggart's dry wit and Marina's wicked tongue are always the first things I read in the Saturday Guardian; there are reams of coverage, the tv and radio blast out all day; presenters have a shocked incredulousness, and to be quite honest amongst all that quacking, they don't know either.
It is a time of uncertainty and wit, we are once again in the hands of party politiking, a jousting for place and power by a few. Lets hope the grandees of the liberal party, Ashdown and Steele, get the show going in the right direction.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Its over

Any good news, well it looks like a coalition government, maybe proportional representation is on the horizon, and there is the first green canditate in parliament - Caroline Lucas, who is a damn good spokesman for said party. So we will have a lot of muddle over the next few weeks, the commentators will have worn themselves out and we shall be facing 'cuts' in spending. Who is going to take the knife to public services I wonder? All in all we are still in a mess...
Going out for meals each evening with friends who are staying in the area. First night was the Waterfront, where surprisingly everyone had a pasta dish, why is it that I am beginning to see the same old ingredients and menus in every restaurant. The pasta dish was'nt bad, rocket, and artichoke in a cream sauce (too rich) but twice baked small souffles looked interesting.
Yesterday Loch Fyne fish restaurant, I should have chosen something simple and plain but instead opted for the fish and chips, which made me very ill today. The restaurant was crowded, many more women dine with each other than with male companions. Someone had squid, and my love, char-grilled salmon which I found salty.
Tonight probably Indian, though I shall probably go with plain rice and yoghurt and a salad, though I wish we could make our own salad dressings. End of moan, but everything seems, especially the Fox and Raven, too much cheese, cream, chips, and a melange of vegetables with some undescribable sauce. And I'm getting sick of onion 'marmalades'.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bank Holiday

The campaigning goes nauseatingly on, 72 hours of more purgatory and the economic situation as gloomy as ever. I cannot believe that the weather has changed so much after taking the above photo last week on a lovely warm sunny day. A north wind doth truly blow, its freezing, my tomato plants (18 inches high) are miserable, and to be fetched back into the shed soon. The pink cherry blossoms, only just come out, are scattering on the lawn, and the birds are hungry as well, pots of various salad leaves have done well, radishes as well and the spinach; the poor pansies are being blown hither and thither in the strong wind.
Luckily austerity does'nt worry me ;), the amount we owe as a country is mind-boggling, but as ever my mind says where does all this money really exist, is it real in gold bars, or bank notes in the bank, or is it so much scribble on paper.......
We seem to have forgotten the drama of the Icelandic volcano a few days ago, the drama of the blackened sky caught in the glint of this ponies eye, it must have been awe-inspiring; now its just promises, promises, promises from our politicians.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Poster from 'Save Me' Brian May's campaign

There has been a lot in the news about animal rights this week, mostly to do with our ability to train cameras on wild animals and view their every movement, should we not respect their rights to privacy, instead of watching them on TV. Not sure where I stand on this, firstly I agree most wholeheartedly that animals should commandeer the same respect as humans, we should not cause unnecessary suffering. I have joined campaigns in the past to stop cruelty, beagles forced to smoke cigarettes to see what it did to human lungs, rabbits who had shampoo squirted in their eyes (no explanation required there). Factory farmed chickens (it still happens) and badger baiting, in which we would patrol our local hills round Bath keeping an eye on the badger setts; that one got a law passed against baiting. But of course there is to be a cull of badgers in Wales due to the argument that they infect cattle with bovine TB.
And to a degree we are a little more kinder to the rearing of chickens, though it should be remembered that our milk cows have a very short life due to the specialised breeding of animals that gives them larger udders.
So the poster above is another campaign against cruelty, one I featured on my Facebook site last week, this time against the hunting of foxes, which though banned under present law, still sort of goes on but without killing the fox with dogs...hmmm. Stag-hunting by the way is also very cruel, the chasing of stags to exhaustion on Exmoor makes one despair.
Brian May of Queen resides in Bath I believe, I notice he is campaigning for a labour canditate, Dan Norris in Keynsham, who just might get the seat, given that he was a popular MP in Bristol. Of course Keynsham is the home of Cadbury's who have sold their chocolate factory to the American giant Kraft, with the consequence now of the closure of the factory and loss of 500 jobs.
As we once more go through the travesty of another election on the two, or maybe three party selection, it would be good for just once to be able to vote on issues, and even, dare I raise it, proportional representation. Being in the 'green movement' for so long, I have despaired that we should ever do anything for planet Earth, except of course when we are forced to take notice of the destruction we wreak on this earth, a fate that America is having to face as the oil slick gets nearer to its coast in Mexico.

So if I have to make some choice on issues next week, some of these issues are contained in the following leaflet....