A bizarre sort of homesick

victoria park roadWhen I was in my late teens I couldn’t wait to get away from my home city, Stoke-on-Trent. Admittedly the city was in a poor old state at the end of the 1990s. The decline of coal and steel in the 1970s and 1980s, coupled with the later out-sourcing of the pottery industry to the far east left the city struggling. Our sturdy chaps with the strength and skill to tame the earth, to shape iron, coal and clay from the land, were abandoned by the government and the industries they had served for generations. I know it wasn’t that simple. I know about recession, free market economics, globalisation and finite resources. But I also saw the impacts and it devastated a generation. More than a generation. Parts of the city still haven’t recovered. Some parts of the city still had 50% unemployment in 2010. It’s hard for people who conquered the land with the might of their hands and strength of their will to make a dignified living in a call centre or a warehouse. Again, I know it’s not that simple either. Honest work is still honest work. But our identity as people and as a city had always been tied to the raw processes of the land and they were gone.

The word I used there in that last sentence – “our” – is the reason for my writing today. As a young woman I never felt a connection with my city. I just wanted to leave. I worked hard in school, kept my head down and did what I had to do to get away to university. And beyond that I lived abroad and then moved to rural Suffolk. But as I approach 40, I look back to my home city with a nostalgia that I never thought would be possible. The openness of the people towards strangers is the thing I miss the most. As much as I love Suffolk (and I do. I really do!) I feel like a real weirdo when I try to chat to people in a queue or make small talk with a shop assistant. And when I’m back and someone calls me duck, it brings tears to my eyes.

I miss the industrial environment – I never thought I’d be saying that either. Bury St Edmunds is not short on history; its bucolic tale wends back to the early days of our nation. Many of the events of the town have been formative for our nation-state – the preparations in the lead up to the signing of the Magna Carta are probably the most famous. Stoke-on-Trent is a city of the industrial revolution – in years its still a babe in comparison with Bury St Edmunds – but it has contributed so much to the formation of modern Britain. It makes me smile to think that some of the earliest canals – mass transit methods of the early industrialising age – were built there; and now Stoke is renowned for its distributions centres – mass transit in the age of just-in-time production and global logistics.

Maybe it’s inevitable that encroaching middle-age makes one nostalgic for one’s roots. I know I’m looking back through rose-tinted glasses. The Stoke-on-Trent that I grew up in is not really there any more and I didn’t like it much when it was! I’m pleased to see inward investment making improvements to the economy and really happy that some of that is trickling down to the people who live there – and about jolly time too. It’s lovely to see improved housing, new businesses and better roads going up all over the place. I just hope that I’m not too late in coming to love Stoke to appreciate the city it once was before it’s renewed, refreshed and ready for the post-industrial age.






20150909_152341308_iOSNear where I work, there are some massive beds of roses. I’m not great with botany, but I believe that they could be a strain of Japanese rose that is now completely naturalised in the UK. The used to grow behind my house as a child. During the summer they smell heavenly and I linger daily on my walk from the car park to the school entrance, just breathing in that scent. It fills me with happy from my head to my toes. I wish I could bottle it somehow as a natural perfume, but I haven’t found a way yet. If you know how – leave a comment, PLEASE!

After the summer holidays I returned to work to find the roses gone, but the rose hips in their place are so beautiful. They look so rosy and cheerful. Shining in the autumn sunshine and tempting me to pick them. But until I know how I can use them, I don’t want to collect any.

I hear that rose-hip syrup is a great way to get Vitamin C. There’s also recipes out there for rose-hip vinegar and rose-hip tea. I wonder if they will taste as heavenly as their flowers smell? If all else fails,  I could crack the open and use the little hairs inside as itching powder – that might wake my students up a bit!

Art Unfinished [Venn Diagram and Questionnaire]

craft_time_vennMaybe it’s the teacher in me, but I work well with deadlines. If something has to be finished and with my editor or a client by next Tuesday, then it is likely that I’ll be done with it, spell-checking, proof-reading, final presentation checks and all, by Friday evening. It’s the way I’m hard-wired. I like the finality a deadline brings. I like accountability. Ticking completed work off a list gives me a real sense of satisfaction.

However, with personal art or craft projects I become an utter drifter. A complete bum. Jack Kerouac would be proud of me. Maybe it’s a reaction to being professionally deadline oriented, but projects for my own pleasure rarely get finished. I get so inspired by the next idea that I can’t wait to begin it and so I put my current project on the back burner. But then the next must-make item pops into my head, or appears on my Pinterest board and I’m distracted once more. I’ve taken to having Finish-Up Februarys in order to get projects completed and out of my work box as well as off my conscience.

I know I’m not alone because there are threads on most art or craft forums dedicated to works in progress, and most people will happily confess to having several projects on the go at once, some dating back several years!  I’m really interested to find out more about the way other artists and crafters cope with unfinished work. Please share your experiences in the comments section below. How many projects do you have on the go at one time? How old is your oldest work in progress? What strategies do you have for getting things finished? Please could also share this page with as many crafters / artists / makers as you know? I’d like to collect as many responses as possible. Thank you!