Monday, 15 December 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to a scarce 'old' potter called Richard Godfrey

Richard, who was respected for his work in Britain and Europe, a guest demonstrator at international events and seminars and Council member on the Craft Potters Association, has died at the age of 64.

What you possibly didn't know about Richard, that he :

* born in 1950 and recalled his desire to express himself through art "started at an early age, messing about in clay in our garden in Harrow on the Hill" in affluent North West London and after the family move to Plymouth, from 1961 - 66, attended Devonport High School for Boys' where, in his early teens, he was taught to paint by teacher/artist Wyn George (right), who was 'a great influence and through his teaching, learnt to look for colour and form and use drawing as a tool to develop ideas.'

* in 1966, at the age of 16, left Britain with his family to spend two years in Gibraltar and attended the catholic Grammar Grammar School for Boys run by the Christian Brothers and studied 'A' Level Mathematics and Physics and Art in the lab and room above the arches, with a view to becoming an architect and incidentally, surrounded by 'the deep and vibrant colours of the Mediterranean', which had an immediate effect on his painting and 'just couldn't put the brushes down and painted every spare moment.'

* having taken his exams in the summer of 1967, was at a loose end and by chance found himself 'at an evening class in ceramics, touched the clay and, like so many others, was instantly hooked' and instead of returning to Britain to study architecture in York, went to Plymouth and on a year's foundation course at the College of Art, before his
undergraduate course at the Bristol College of Art, learnt much from his ceramics and sculpture teachers who gave him 'the self-belief and determination so vital to someone who spends their life working alone tying to create things out of clay.'


* at the age of 19, began his studies at Bristol where he benefited from small classes, excellent equipment and tuition from Gillian Lowndes and Ian Auld, from whom he learnt the basic techniques : hand building, throwing, kiln building and firing and fell in love with the whole process of throwing on the wheel and later reflected : "It's a very magical thing. That's what made me want to be a potter. It was the late 60s and things were changing and people were looking at different ways of earning a living, more interesting ways than just a job in the office and the idea of being a potter really appealed to me."

* developed a love of glaze making and experimentation with glaze chemistry, working with one colour at a time and brighter and brighter versions of that colour and inspired by some 17th century Toft dishes he had seen in a museum in York, spent his last year, 1971-72, "exploring earthenware glazes, trying to recreate that wonderful juicy brightness, that depth, because, for me, that encapsulated the feeling that I had about making things out of clay."

* cut his teeth as a secondary school teacher in a year in a tough comprehensive school in Plymouth and at the age of 23 in 1973 started teaching art at the Battisborough International Boarding School in Devon and at the same time, his career as a part-time potter, sharing a studio on Plymouth Barbican working with John Pollex, where he continued to expand his ideas about glaze, and trying to get a "juicy, rich, bright earthenware glaze, we had a happy accident one day and found a way of making the glaze even brighter."

* having become Head of Art and Deputy Head Teacher at the College, in 1981, at the age of 31, resigned to take up working full time as a potter at his workshop in Yealampton, Devon and went back to slab building for the first time since his college days because he was limited in his "use of form, by forms which were thrown on a wheel and wanted to make things which were not round but were constructed" and in 1989, made his final move to his studio overlooking Mothecombe Bay, Devon.

* only three minutes walk from the coast, said : "I love this landscape, the North Devon landscape with this wonderful coastline and I want to make work which reflects that and earthenware somehow, for me, seems quintessentially 'English'. I'm not really interested in aesthetics that come from different cultures, but looking at things around me which condense and express the joy  that I get from the landscape. For me, brightly coloured earthenware seems to that."

* explained his pursuit of colour : "It might be a leaf, a flower a butterfly wing, a shell, bits of flotsam and jetsam on the beach. Because of my need to find colour, I find it in unusual things, but it's there. There's a huge amount of colour, even in winter. I went out yesterday. It's february. There's gorse out at the cliffs. The yellow is absolutely stunning and when you take one flower and look at it closely, that's extraordinary. When you look at things at that level and when you look at things intently, when you get down on you hands and knees in a way that a child looks, you see things in an entirely different way."

* said of the inspiration behind the design on a teapot, that : "This originally came from a black and white feather that I found and was intrigued by the way it contrasted with the bight colours on my pots and realised that if I put black and white on the colour, it intensified the value of the colour."

* explained the process of inspiration to creation : "I am walking across the beach, a beach of millions and millions of pebbles and I'll pick one up, so the secret is : can you go back to the studio and work out why you picked up that one ? If you can do that. If you can isolate what it was that touched my button, I can use that to touch some one else's button and it might be something very simple."

* in 2004 received a bronze award at the 'European Ceramic Competition' in Athens held the celebrate the opening of the Olympic Games and in 2011 the 'studiopottery Award' (right) and in the same year gave an Online Ceramics interview : http://ow.ly/FVTwC and created a bowl for his video blog : http://ow.ly/FW2ys and threw a mug in 2009 : http://ow.ly/FW3ed

* on being voted by fellow exhibitors as having, at the Valentine Clays Peers Award in 2013, 'Best Contribution to the Festival' said : "You go through life when you are creating pieces with a hope that you are doing something of value and worthwhile because sometimes it feels you are not really doing anything of any value and just messing about with mud. Someone once commented to me that the most important thing is that you are making people smile. I try to generate something in my work that does exactly that. The nicest thing for me is when my contemporaries commented on how much they like my work, it's always a surprise. It generates a warm feeling, it makes the whole thing special in a way that is hard to define."

Richard smiling and generating a smile with his 'Rocket Dogfish Teapot.'



Saturday, 13 December 2014

Scotland is no longer a country nor Perthshire a county for old ballad singer, Sheila Stewart, last speaker of its Cant, who has closed her winklers for the last time


Sheila, who has died at the age of 79 and in life sang for a President, a Queen and a Pope and became the blood sister of a Comanche Chief, never lost sight of who she was no where she came from and said "No one will ever change me because I was born a traveller and I will die a traveller and I'm a traveller to the end of time."

In 2006 when she was 71, took part, with her great granddaughter, Amy, in Dylan Drummond and Blair Scott's short film : 'Bridging the Gap : Lies I Last in the Line', a valediction for the old way of life in which she recorded that : "We ran wild when I was a child and the freedom was unbelievable. We knew we were different, we took pride in it. I would never have changed it for anything. I never ever thought, growing up all my life that my culture would die out."  : http://ow.ly/FN0lN

What you possibly didn't know about Sheila, that she :


* born in the summer of 1935, in a stable which belonged to an hotel in Blairgowrie where "My Mother put up big curtains to shield herself and then gave birth to me while my Father waited outside" and grew up in a family of tinkers who "earned their living from hawking, besom making and seasonal farm-work. They still went up the glens and had a horse and cart and went hawking, but then they would go away and stay at farms, pulling the flax and cutting the corn."

* had as a Mother, Belle, a singer and songwriter and Father, Alec, a piper and storyteller, but learnt, songs from her Uncle Donald MacGregor, her mother's elder brother, who 'chose' her to carry on the families songs and stories and at regular family ceilidhs sang after song with the encouragement of ten-shilling note and recalled : "Ballads were always a part of my family's heritage - singing round the camp fires, just for their own pleasure."

* from the age of five, in 1940, started school at Rattray Primary, where she was bullied as a traveller and later reflected : "My parents, grandparents and forbearers were all travelling people. My people and my family have been victims of lies all their life. We have been persecuted, ridiculed and I got beat up everyday." Yet conceded, on another occasion, that : "I am glad for Blairgowrie for turning their backs on us. We wouldn't have kept our culture alive if it hadn't been for that."

* with her siblings, as well as helping to pull flax, picked berries and lifted potatoes and in her first fifteen years, through the Second World War and secondary school at  Blairgowrie High in 1946 though to 1950, commuted between home and her Uncle's house in nearby Rattray, where he had a lasting influence on her : "To me, the first love in my life is ballads. My Uncle Donald is on a pedestal as far as I'm concerned, because he taught me everything about how to sing the ballads."

* from Uncle Donald, learnt the importance of 'conyach' because he "was a brilliant man for making up things from the heart which suited the object or the subject better than the word itself. He couldnae say, ‘I'm putting the feeling intae it.’ He had to come up wi' a word that meant the same as the feeling of coming from the heart. Because you can have a feeling coming from your head and he thought that the word 'Conyach' was such a severe, heavy word that said everything of what he meant when he was singing a ballad. He made it up. It's not a cant word."

*  first met Hamish Henderson, the co-founder of the University of Edinburgh’s 'School of Scottish Studies', when she was 18 in 1953, when he visited the Stewart family and recorded her singing  'The Bonnie Woods o' Hatton', she having learned the lyrics from her brother-in-law and put them to an old tune in a song in which ploughman Sandy, laments his misfortune in love, having courted Molly for a year and been rejected : http://ow.ly/FNBaW

* with the family under Hamish's stewardship, made her first public performance with the 'Stewarts of Blair' in an old church in Edinburgh when she was 19 in 1954 and was recorded by him at berry-picking time and as he later commented: "Collecting on the berry fields was like holding a tin can under the Niagara Falls. However….. it was clear that the really fabulous contribution had been made not so much by the nomadic travellers among whom we had camped as by the Stewart family."

* in 1956 at the age of 21, married Ian MacGregor and found that, although her husband was not a Traveller, he was accepted by the family and became a willing convert to the way of life, but prone to jealousy and with a fondness for drink, could on occasion, be violent, and she later reflected that he : 'was not husband material. Although he adored his kids, he wasn’t very family-oriented. But I loved him and I was his wife. I had made my bed and I would have to lie in it.‘

 * was not allowed to choose any of her children’s names and was expected to do her share of the work – even during potato lifting and worked with Ian, dividing the field up between them and keeping a fire at one end to boil kettles for tea and to cook and keep warm when it was cold and had one child walking about the field, one in a basket and another in a pram.


* spent time 'down south', where, on occasion, Ian worked on the Victoria Line and she had a spell in Sheffield as a 'traveller liaison worker' and relished most memories from the early 1960s, when she was in her late twenties, the family was working in Hatfield and she and her husband and sister Cathie's family bought trailers and camped on the big green at Colney Heath, where the police turned a blind eye, other Hertfordshire travellers joined them, followed by the Irish and : "We had wonderful ceilidhs roond the fire."


* in 1964, witnessed Ewan MacColl make the Stewart family home in Blairgowrie his Scottish base and the inspiration for his radio ballad : 'The Travelling People' : http://ow.ly/FNR7p .

 * found that her child-bearing days were over when, acting without her consent, her mother and husband gave permission for her to be sterilised and recalled : ‘I had no say in the matter of my own body. I was used to my life’s decisions being made for me and so I just accepted it’ and though wanting to breast feed her newborn daughter, found, when she came home from hospital, the baby was already being bottle fed and was "so sad about that." 


* in 1974 had her best known performance of the tragic ballad ‘The Twa Brothers’, involving a wrestling match in which William gives John a fatal wound with his knife and uses his white Holland shirt to bind the wound : http://ow.ly/FNuBE issued on the Tangent label's classic two-disc set : ‘The Muckle Sangs.'

 * with the family, performed extensively in Europe and the USA, where as heroes of the folk revival, they were given the red carpet treatment.

*in 1976, at the age of 41, chosen to represent Scotland, to sing in full highland dress in the White House for President Gerald Ford in Bicentennial Celebrations and met the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

* later recalled : "I met the Queen and she asks me : "Where do you come from?" And I says: Blairgowrie".  "Blairgowrie ?" says the Queen : "I know it well. I pass through it on my way to Balmoral." So I says: "And I know Balmoral well, we used to visit often." "Well," says the Queen, "the next time you're passing you must pop in for a cup of tea." And so I says to the Queen : "And, Your Majesty, the next time you're going through Blairgowrie, you must do the same." "

* while in the States, gave lectures on the oral culture of Tavellers' at the Universities of Princeton and Harvard and performed with the family at the Smithsonian Institute, where dining next the Chief of the Comanche Tribe she "started to explain that we were an ethnic group of people who belong to Scotland. We have our own culture of ballads, stories, and our secret language” and after he told her that Comanche also had a secret language was party to a blade cutting of their fingertips and she becoming his 'blood-sister'.

* recalled a conversation with her Father who said : "You were in America, met royalty, and were made the blood-sister of a Comanche Chief. Then you come home and go raking a midden, and give your blood to an auld traveller woman to glue her clay cutty [pipe] tegither. How do you feel about that?" To which she replied : "Daddy, I was born a traveller and I will die one, I prefer travellers any day, they are my folk. I will never change."

* saw travellers' lives change in the 1970s, when proscriptive new laws forced many into houses and children to school and witnessed the decline in the Cant language as travellers became more integrated into mainstream society and later lamented : "I brought my children up to speak the Cant and know the ballads. None of them speak it anymore. They just think it's too auld-fashioned, they've taught none of my grandchildren. I am the only one left still speaking it."

* found that despite obligations to her husband, Ian, led to conflict about her performing at home and abroad, his  reluctance to let her travel was usually overcome by the prospect of the money she would earn until 1977, when she became a widow at the age of 42, when he, with whom she a peculiar kind of love…very deep.  We couldn’t agree, yet we couldn’t stay away from each other’ died of a heart attack whilst angling.

* maintained her links with her family and three years later later, at the age of 45, sang 'Mill o'Tifty's Annie' in family house : http://ow.ly/FO2gW

* in 1982, was chosen to represent the Travelling People on Pope John Paul's visit to Scotland and sang Ewan MacColl's 'Moving On' to acclaim from the Bellahouston Park crowd of 300,000.
 

* in 2000 appeared at the Barbican in London and the Glasgow 'Open Roads 2000' Festival and in 2003 at the age of 68, collaborated with 31 year-old composer and musician, Martyn Bennett, who incorporated snatches of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Segger's 'Moving On' :'The big twelve-wheeler shook my bed. The farmer said, The work's all done' into his 'Grit', as seen a third of the way into the clip and the 'Banks of the Lee' in the last third : http://ow.ly/FKFoE two years before his death in 2005 and with the following result : http://ow.ly/FPTE4

* for four years sat on the Secretary of State's 'Advisory Committee on Travellers' and later said that she : "got a lot of the designated sites for travelling people in Scotland. I had to go to the councils and fight them to give me a piece of land to put the travellers on legally. I involved the travellers – usually they build sites without consulting them about what they want. The land is owned by the council so travellers pay something like 50 per week to live there. They provide their own caravans, but pay for electricity and pay council tax."

* in 2006 received MBE for achievements in Scotland and in the same year had published 'Queen Among the Heather : The Life of Belle Stewart', was inducted into the 'Traditional Music Hall of Fame' in Scotland in 2007 and published in 2011, her autobiography, ' A Travellers Life.'
 

* in 2010 recorded the importance of the soul the 'conyach' : http://ow.ly/FOaju and in the same year published 'Pilgrims of the Mist. The Stories of Scotland's Travelling People.'

* has over a hundred of her songs archived for posterity with 'Tobar an Dualchais' : http://ow.ly/FPTjp

* in 2011 was finally recognised by Blairgowrie with its 'Citizen of the Year Award' and said : “This means more to me than receiving the MBE. My mother would be so proud of me because this is recognition by Blairgowrie for the contribution my people have made to the town. I am accepting the award on behalf of my family and the travelling community. This is the icing on the cake to a wonderful career.” 




 








 
   

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Britain is a country where Russia makes a 'personal presentation' of Ushakov Medals to old Second World War Arctic Convoy Veterans

On Monday 24th November, Peter Ward from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire and Harold Biddulph from Rubery in the West Midlands, both in their 90s, were among 44 Arctic Convoy veterans invited to County Hall in Worcester to receive the 'Ushakov Medal', Russia's highest naval honour. It was given to them by Sergey Nalobin, Head of Bilateral and Political Affairs at the Russian Embassy with the Third Secretaries Sergey Belyakov and Sergey Fedichkin and Assistant Naval Attaché, Commander Dmitry Sharapov, as part of a programme to honour surviving veterans all over Britain.

Sergey Nalobin, told the assembly that the men were "all heroes who will never be forgotten in our country" and speaking after the presentation :
“It's hugely important for Russia to recognise the veterans, these people are remembered quite well in Russia. The importance of the Arctic Convoy to our victory was crucial at that moment. We understand that without the help from our Allies it would have been difficult to defeat the Nazis. For four years on the convoys, thousands of people risked their lives, many of them volunteered for the job and I think it's right we are remembering them and decorating them with the Ushakov medal.” 


Peter and Harold were present because, when they were in their late teens, during the Second World War in 1940, Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, promised to supply his Russian ally, Stalin, with war supplies to help him fight Germany on the Eastern Front, knowing that, if Russia fell, the full weight of the German military machine would be targeted on Britain. Churchill himself described the Arctic route to Russia as "the worst journey in the world."

Peter and Harold :

* played their part in delivering 7,000 warplanes, 5,000 tanks http://ow.ly/FD0YT and other battlefield vehicles, ammunition, fuel, totalling four million tons, as well as food, medicine and further emergency supplies. 

made sea journeys to Russia in convoys along the hazardous Arctic route facing the twin dangers of attack from German U-boats and warplanes and the ferocious seas and sub-zero temperatures, as they made their way to the northern ports of Murmansk and Archangel.
.
*  were not numbered among the 3,000 seamen who lost their lives in the venture.

* a
fter the War, as survivors of the convoys, did not have their contribution and sacrifice recognised because, with the onset of the 'Cold War' with Russia, it was deemed unacceptable by successive British Governments to recognise the efforts of the men who had supported the erstwhile ally.

* by the same token, the Russian Government was forbidden from offering any recognition of the efforts .

* were part of the dwindling band of 200 veterans who finally received recognition when they received their 'Arctic Star' Medal from the British Government last year, but were not among the 40 invited to a ceremony presided over by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 10 Downing Street in March http://ow.ly/FCpsQ , nor the one in which he gave out the medals to 21 more veterans, alongside President Putin who gave them the Ushakov Medal at the same time.

* on November 24th had their Russian medals presented to them by Sergey Nalobin in a velvet-covered case with a certificate confirming ownership and a letter from the Russian Ambassador with an expression of gratitude and a transcript of Sergey's speech.

Peter said :
"There was such a contrast between receiving this medal in its beautiful case at a wonderful ceremony and the Arctic Star from the Government which just came through the post."


The experiences he had faced, for which he received his medal through the post, may have not been dissimilar to that of Bill Sheppard from Portsmouth who has said : 
Hero: In perilous conditions a sailor frees chains, wires and bollards from the ice"The ships were solid with ice. If you put your hand on a rail without gloves on, you’d strip the skin off. Sometimes the ships would tilt to 45 degrees, so we had to clear the ice quick. We came dangerously close to the ice taking us over. The most horrendous thing I remember is when an oil tanker got hit by a bomber. It broke up and there were huge flames. There were men on fire falling over the side in to the freezing sea that was also on fire because of the oil on the water. There are things that never leave your mind. Sometimes at night those terrible images will invade my dreams. It never leaves you."

 Or Lieutenant Comander Dykes : 
"It was gale force wind after gale force wind coming from all different directions.
The spray would turn to ice on your face. Your eyebrows and nose would be covered in ice.
Appalling cold: Snow and ice covered the upper works of all shipsIt was horrendously cold in every way imaginable, but we had to keep going out and chipping the ice off the ship because if it built up too much we could go under. It wasn’t just the weather, though. There were enemy attacks from dive bombers and torpedoes on an hourly basis at times.
We would be at action stations for weeks on end and we’d live off cold food because the chef would be too busy supplying ammunition to cook anything - not that we had much time to think about eating at all."

Unsung: One of 78 convoys that braved frozen seas to help win the warOr Eric Alley, who served as a radar operator on HMS Inglefield and made 15 convoys between 1941 and 43 :
"After they woke up, all hell broke loose. They shifted all their most able Luftwaffe squadrons and U-boats to Norway and we’d be under constant attack from the air and sea. You’d hear a horrible bang and one of the ships would disappear. Once I was moving across the deck and there was a huge explosion. I saw a column of smoke and fire and one of the ships start to sink. The poor blighters on board didn’t stand a chance. We heard ships call for help but couldn’t do anything about it.’

The Russian Government's 'personal' as opposed to 'postal' delivery of its medal has seen :

17 November : Counsellor Nalobin present Medals to 25 veterans at a ceremony in Plymouth.







20 November : Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko
present Medals to 46 veterans at the Russian Embassy in London.





20 November : Third Secretary Belyakov present the Medal to Francis Melbourne.




23 November : Secretary Kozlov present the Medal to Richard Davies.




2-3 December : Counsellor Nalobin, Secretary Fedichkin, Attaché  Elizaveta Vokorina and Naval Attaché Commander Sharapov visit Wales to present Medals to veterans in the region.






4 December : Counsellor Nalobin and Secretary Fedichkin, present Medals to Reginald Guy, Douglas Potts and Edward Tann during a meeting of Woking County Council.





7 December : Third Secretary Pavel Kozlov present the Medal to Cyril Porter,  Glynn Jones and John Clerc

Back in May, Charles Erswell received his medal from the Chargé D’Affaires, Alexander Kramarenko, on HMS. Sheffield. He served as a gunner on HMS Milne and remembered having to recover the name tags of men from a sunken merchant ship and on the same day witnessed the sinking of another : "It went down stern first, absolutely vertical. There were about five or six lads climbing up the fo'c'sle as it was going down and one managed to get to the bow. He was sat astride it, waving at us, calling out for help, but we couldn't get there, it went down that quick."
                                 
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