The patience of the potter…

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It is a wild wet day here- the first storm of the autumn. Emily is home from university for some TLC (tonsillitis no doubt brought about by loss of sleep and excessive parties) and will is stretched out on a floor cushion in his onesy nursing a cold.

Michaela is potting. She has been making some large bowls based around pebble designs.

No matter how much you might like to rush the process of making pots, it is simply not possible. One of the most important skills employed seems to be a process of learning patience.

First you take a lump of raw clay. You then work the clay to ensure it is smooth and free of air bubbles (which would result in the pot exploding in the Kiln) then you use your hands and imagination to shape a pot. It takes Michaela several hours to get to this point;

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Next you have to wait for the pot to air dry- getting as much moisture out as possible. If you do this too fast, the pot with crack, if you do not do it enough it will be destroyed in the kiln. This can take around 4-5 days, depending on the thickness of the clay and the weather conditions.

Next you carefully stack your pots in the kiln, using ‘kiln furniture’ (carefully covered in bat wash so nothing sticks.) The kiln then as to warm up over several stages, taking around 11 hours to get up to around 1000 degrees centigrade.

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It will then take another 10 hours to cool down sufficiently so that you can open the kiln. Some pots will have survived the firing, some may not. Even then, you do not have a completed pot- you have something that has been biscuit fired- it is hard and porous. Next you need to glaze the pot.

This involves brushing one or more glazes in liquid form on to the pot, carefully layering and sponging. This too can take an hour on some of the big pots. Many potters hate this stage as it is the least creative.

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Then the pot goes back in the kiln. Carefully stacked on bat-washed kiln furniture. Glaze sets like glass so if two pots touch they are like Siamese twins, only separated by risky surgery. Another 11 hours getting up to temperature, and the same to cool, and you open the kiln with excitement and trepidation.

The colours of the glazes are fickle- they often depend on subtle differences in temperature in different parts of the kiln. Sometimes Michaela has fired pots three times to get the right colour.

All of this is one of the reasons why I am no potter…

But I love watching the things work, helping out when I can, and I am so proud of Michaela’s pots.

I should add that for those of you who want to try your hand at pottery- Michaela and Pauline run courses- which are very busy-  I think the next few 4 session introductory courses are almost full. However, we will also be hopefully running to residential weekends over the winter- watch this space!

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Giving hospitality…

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We have had a house full of (paying) guest over the past week- here for the Cowal Highland Gathering.

Highland Dancers from Newcastle.

A family of highly creative folk from France and London, including a jazz musician, an opera singer and a life model.

Michaela and I cooked 31 cooked breakfasts (once at 6am!) cleaned constantly, changed bedding every third day, and in the middle had time to do some pottery, some wood carving and bits of socialising. It has been a busy hectic week, but we have both enjoyed it enormously. It helped that our guests were so lovely of course, but just the process of welcoming others into our space with other people is such a simple pleasurable act.

Michaela in particular is really good at those little touches that make people feel that special effort has been made- place mats with hand lettered quotes, suggestions of places to go and things to do, etc etc. Mostly (particularly in the morning) I kept out of the way and worked in the kitchen. On one occasion whilst delivering some toast I was accused of sending it sliding down the table western bar style- with no small amount of elan I thought!

Weekends like this when the house is so full gives hope for the future of our mixed economy way of making a living. It will always be marginal, and Cowal Games comes but once a year, but it kind of fits with who we are.

This week an old friend from Bolton is using the Annex- I have not seen her for 10 years and it will be lovely to catch up with her news.

Our big old house is a demanding old aunt, but at last it feels like she has softened into genial old age…

Come and see for yourselves!

Highland short break- special offers!

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Sorry to go all commercial, but regular readers of this blog will know that this year we opened some of our house as a bed and breakfast. We are half a season in, and have really enjoyed sharing our house with guests from all over the world.

In these difficult times, we are well aware that many folk are looking to make their hard earned cash stretch as far as they can, and so have decided to offer a couple of special offers- one of which is an exclusive one to readers of this blog!

Through the Visit Scotland ‘Surprise yourself’ , people who book two nights in our B and B are entitled to a free pottery taster session in our pottery;

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However, if you mention ‘this fragile tent’ when you book a couple of nights, then you will get a 10% discount of the cost of your stay too!

The weather has been beautiful up here over the past week or so- temperature in the 20’s, blue sky above the mountains and lochs, space, quietness and peace yours for the making.

We are closer than you think, on the edge of the National Park, near Dunoon;

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The next generation of garden grazers…

…and try as I might, I can not resent them for the plants that I know they will destroy.

I looked out of the front door a few minutes ago and there were two tiny fauns on the driveway, still covered in their lines of camouflage spots and speckles to hide them from the wolves and lions that no longer frequent these parts.

They are young Roe deer, around 2 or 3 weeks old.

One was shy and skipped through the hedge almost immediately. The other one lingered, perhaps curious about whose garden this was that provided such good eating.

Even when she wandered through the gap in the hedge she did not go far- watching me as I watched her. Here she is;

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Three stars!

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And here they are!

Yesterday we had a ‘secret visitor’ in our B and B- from visit Scotland. We knew that we would get a visit at some point, and we had our suspicions about this particular guest (which made for some nervous moments!)

As it happens, she said lots of lovely things about our service, the rooms and the general feel of our B and B, and more crucially, awarded us three stars!

Three stars signifies a B and B of ‘a very good standard’. Realistically, we will not meet the criteria for 4 stars because of our location, the lack of lighting on the driveway and the fact that our rooms are within a family home. Overall, we are delighted with the three stars, particularly so early into our trading.

So if you would like to have a stay within our three star B and B, taking in the wonderful views, and perhaps trying out some pottery as part of your stay- take a look at our website!

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Michaela talks about the Timebank!

I am very proud of Michaela- and so here is a chance to show you some of the things she does in her day job.

Recently she was speaking about a local project she has been working on- a local Timebank. (You can watch her whole presentation here.)

The bloke from the NHS talking on the video seems to have totally missed the point- the emphasis is not on ‘services saving money’, or ‘sick’ people doing something to make them better- rather a Timebank is a level playing field to allow everyone to build community connections- where everyone can contribute.

We joke in our family that the first ‘exchange’ of time in Dunoon was a few years ago when Michaela came home with a rusty Shopper bike and told me that I was to make it work again. And they were off! It has become a really great local programme, with some fantastic stories- including a whole wedding- flowers, photography, cars, catering- all arranged through time exchanges! People have some amazingly diverse skills to offer- translation of a document from Russian? No problem. Fix a computer? Easy. Proof read a document? When do you want it finished? Others have involved an older lady who learnt how to write properly using her handwriting skills on certificates, or another person teaching woodcraft skills. It is great.

Michaela would never agree that a lot of this is down to her- she would point to all the others who have worked so hard to make it a success- but I know different. She is just one of those people who makes other people feel safe and included, and by her own dedication makes other people stick in there.

 

Creative breaks…

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Work is progressing on our second B and B room (although this is a photo of the first!)  Just carpets and curtains to sort out now, and then we can get everything put together.

We are hoping to offer some weekends of themed ‘creative breaks’ over the next few months. These will be a chance to escape to lovely Dunoon and make something beautiful. It is amazing what we can achieve when given space to do so. This bowl was made by Issy in our pottery a couple of weeks ago, on her second ever attempt at moulding clay;

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The idea is that we will be setting out a list of creative weekends people can book in for, but also guests in the B and B, or our holiday cottage, will be able to get creative too- making some pots, or a range of other activities.

More info to come!

Quiet weekend- step away for a while…

We are just planning our first ‘quiet weekend’ using the new accommodation space at Sgath an Tighe. This will be from Friday evening the 11th of January to Sunday the 13th.

These weekends are intended to allow individuals and couples to set time aside to reflect, pray, meditate and share some evenings around a fireside. Our starting point for entering into meditation here is Christian spirituality- of a generous open kind.

The spaces at our house will allow for three double bedrooms, one twin, and one single, and it would be lovely to fill these.

Our first weekend will cost £200 per person, including accommodation, all meals and activities. (We cook simple but lovely wholemeal vegetarian food.)

We will divide our time into periods of silence – where guests are welcome to use prepared spaces in the house, the garden, or to take walks along the shore – and times of sharing.

There will be an opportunity to be part of morning and evening rituals, and to use clay and other art materials to aid reflection and meditation.

If you are interested, get in touch and we will send you a booking form.