Taking up the most predictable hobby over lock down: bird watching, I decided to make a podcast, spurred on by a best friend Ellie, to make a podcast to document my journey into it!
I made a rule not to google anything about it and learn by doing and through talking to people I happened upon whilst out and about and through chatting with and interviewing friends and more.
All of the episodes were recorded at different sites in the greater Peterborough area: Dog Star Nature Reserve, Stanground Wash, Old Sulehay Forest, Swaddywell Pit and Uffington.
(Note it is quite terribly edited, mostly silly, and the first 2 episodes are recorded without a windshield!)
Episode 1: Tweet Tweet
Looking back over texts and little bits of illustration / collage I was making during first weeks of isolation, my affinity to waterfowel seems be getting stronger every day and I am going to have to invest in some reading…
Bringing this together to mark the time,
THE BOATING LAKE, THE DUCK //
The duck’s quack reminds me of toby’s half-hearted miaow (the cat i am in
it’s tongue is pinker than i’ve noticed of a duck before
a soft and fleshy shade of white-pink
unlike the unnatural emerald green head he wears
i watch the wind’s fingers running over the water’s surface,
moving in a way that is hard anticipate
sitting there memories of events, moments passed at this site wash over me
including the yearly, loud-for-all-senses, rowing gala – a pride of
peterborough’s that it has a boating lake is big enough to
i recall knowledge of it’s origins, a man made lake, part of a a man made
country park, carved out from nature
Peterborough, always straddling that edge of utterly man made, utterly rural
the ghosts of past events collapse in on themselves and on today
this space is all these things ..
as i contain all my pasts, collapsed in on themselves.
right now i am 31, the boat lake is 40+
and we are both quite still
i take a breath
turn my MP3 back on
and get up to complete my run
my 5 min excusable pause has passed.
Out running, my usual Fen colour palette, that runs in linear lines,
of drainage-canal blue, concrete grey, grass green, hay beige
is finding itself disrupted
Stark, startling-white swans,
Plonked in the centre of grey paths
Showing no signs of moving out the way
I navigate around them –
I am enjoying seeing newly embolden ducks / birds out and about,
With them now able to take up a bit more space without us, or the threat of us,
getting in the way
To carry out there business (collecting twigs for nests, eating grass,
lolloping on greens)
without the same sense of nervousness,
of constant scanning,
of high alert,
of always ready to leave
In a time of little human interaction I am also being reminded how
fulfilling and also transformative it can be to share prolonged eye contact
with animals/birds/ducks, having shared a long stare with a swan this week
a swan this week
I am reminded during an isolated period i had and the same happened with ducks:
Working on an industrial business park and a bit lost, I would spend lunch
breaks by the duck pond and after a significant bout of eye contact with one
particular duck I found myself (in a relatively healthy way)
feeling increasingly attached to and curious about them, going to visit them each
– writing and drawing them,
and have felt distinctly more connected to them as a species ever since.
I’d recommend giving eye contact a ago if you’ve not already – birds, ducks, swan,
who/whatever you can find…
TIME IS A SLIPPERY FISH//
The Fens and I
The Fens is a landscape of lines
Of linear lines
Lines of drainage canals,
lined with rushes,
lined with path
lined with grass,
Laced with telephone wires
That all run in lines,
In neat narrow lines
In linear lines
The Fens is a landscape of lines
Of drainage canals,
carved out of lands
To make-dry water lands:
To make productive
To make lands
where farmers hands would
scribe shallow lines to sew
The Fens is a landscape of lines
of linear lines
Of lines that drag eyes to sunsets,
to service stations,
to Macdonald’s signs
The Fens is a landscape of thick grey, ever audible lines
That bear loads of truck that run in lines,
in fleets, in lines
That transport warehouse goods:
the fruits of lines
Of factory lines
Of compartmentalising lines
laced along those thick grey lines
Spring up new lines
Lines of untarnished red bricks
Of front doors that knock
Developers hands draw lines in lands.
Mark the start and finish lines of lands:
Hoardings, billboards, flags that wave
That brand, that name,
That create lines:
The Fens is a landscape of lines
of compartmentalising lines
Of constructed, man made, linear lines
Lines scribed out of,
scribed into, onto
And so this land has seen that
I too run in lines
Run in linear lines
Echoed by path-canal-telephone-wires lines
Echoed by those thick grey lines
The Fens is a landscape of lines
But there exist places where the lines end,
before new lines start
Untampered, bits in between
And there exist places where lines could not be drawn
Those stubborn bits that could not be overwritten
Those thickets that lay abreast M-roads
Those bits the other side of the hoardings
Where thickets of unruly grasses sprout,
and protrude to the other side of lines
Knowing not of these lines
Of these linear lines.
There exists edges to these lines
And so this land has seen that
I too look for the edges of my lines
For my constructed, self made, linear lines
To test the strength of those lines, reliability of those lines
To look for the the bits that sit behind those lines
To challenge, topple, blur
On sharing ‘My Four Green’s project, a few people also based in Peterborough – artists and writers – suggested collaborations – reminding me the value of sharing!
Connecting via twitter, one local writer decided to both explore a theme of ‘daily routes’ and see what happened. This is the result of my exploration.
Having recently moved to Fletton I walk, run or cycle, most days, to Stanground Wash.
Reflecting on my walking journey and arrival, I create the above piece using my new favourite tool: indesign!
If you would like to collaborate on something… get in touch…
2019 was the year of my first official residency – at Metal Southend.
The team at Metal Southend are based in the ever-present white house (Chalkwell Hall) that sits within Chalkwell Park.
Working on my Developing Your Creative Practice project, I used the 4 days I spent there to do a practice run of the larger project I am working on: creative research into green spaces – part visual ethnography, part performative actions, part exploration of the mental health benefits gained from interacting with green and blue space. All loosely exploring themes of care and curiosity.
Below are some fragments that came out of my time there.
A text about my relationship with the house which to even think of now stirs something in my chest, some pages of a zine produced, a ‘report’ of the park, some photos including some of a multisensory mindful walk I ran as part of an arts therapy session run via Metal Art School (which is fantastic).
Reading about it.
Looking out from it
Eventually I felt that I had become it
And couldn’t bear to leave it
the sensitive renovations enacted by today’s owners to make the building more energy efficient,
as I lay beneath the round-edged gridded solar panels, before I descend to bed
the delicate, forever wet, grey slate, wall that frames the building from the south:
waste material having been taken from the now exposed gridded roof.
the smell of old plastic cheese sandwiches wrapped in clingfilm, courtesy of the cafe that existed there, that used to pervade the downstairs
that I now reach to smell too
Looking out from my bedroom window that overlooked the grounds,
That overlooks the estuary,
That overlooks the sometimes-lime-green – fields of Kent
My vision framed by benches, framed by effervescent red-yellow-orange sweetgums – liquid ambers – that line the grounds.
And as I look out the sash window onto the park grounds, onto the estuary
My body blurs with the bodies of all the women who’ve ever stood and looked out of this window, looked out onto the grounds-estuary-sometimes-lime-green-fields.
And from the grounds, an anoraked figure with dog – look up to me and in that moment see’s all of the women who’ve looked out this off white sash window
window, park, scene existed
Each evening I fell asleep with the night – the blackness slowly creeping into the house and into me – channeled by the houses many windows
The blinds rolled down and my eyelids did too.
On Saturday’s storm, as I prepared to leave
The wind hurls and pulls the thickets of straw yellow dogs tail silky pampas grass – pivoting from its root
Those sash windows that concealed nothing apart from the cold.
And I was the pampas grass too – being hurled back, left, front –
stirring inside the part of me that had mourned leaving from the moment i came
In it, outside of it, within it
all these layers collapsing in on themselves – into myself.
This year I have been making more time and space to develop my own creative practice as an artist – rather than producer.
My focus has been around how you cultivate more care and curiosity in green space.
Methods have included unearthing and making visible interesting past histories and present usages and users of spaces.
Visually articulating the mental health benefits I experience when being in and more in touch with green (and blue) spaces.
In terms of care: I have been documenting peoples acts onto care to spaces and performing my own ‘Enactments of Care’.
Act of Care Part 1.
An exercise in colour: deep purple viola wrap the base of the orange, large flaked rubber esque bark covered Wellingtonia tree on Burghley Square.
The tree and orange bark being a visual bringer of joy to some residents spoken with: this an act to make the asset, for visible, for the joy experienced by more
: The purple acting to draw attention to the orange.
are you trying to steal the tree?
Are you one of them urban gardeners? Good for you
it looks like a wedding ring
Four months on, it is the green of the bark and the green underfoot that really speaks —
Act of Care Part 2.
Repairing a forlorn, endearing piece of play equipment in Stanley Rec play park, Peterborough
The only piece in the park with character, a story: a hob on the ground floor, ship’s steer on the first.
The rest identikit pieces, out of a catalogue not unique to this park, nor to Peterborough
Well used and love by children past and present; it is due to be removed by the council…
The paint used: linseed oil based, organics, compostable toy safe.
Coincidentally – the name sake of the park, Stanley, of whose’ estate the land once belonged won an award at the Great Exhibition in 1851 for an agricultural implement:
A linseed crusher.
“To remove it would be to cut people off from their childhood”
“keep up the good work!”
[thumbs up] “Good job. You painting it?”
— Before and After
Paint the blue sections next??
TAIPEI is seedy, a never ending red light district. Illuminated signs flash, studded lights line up in arrow formation pointing to unknown places.
Elegant, grotesque Banyan trees flank and frame streets. Blackened bark. Tendrils drool. Branches dance with one another: making contorted shapes with their bodies.
Buildings are smothered in a layer of dirt that seeps into the cracks between the tiles, coating the thickets of wires that spew out of buildings: the guts of the city laid bare for all to see.
But this is just an impression seen through a Western, British lens. Relative to there where streets are ordered, straight-laced, sterile: to pass through, not to be touched.
Here, the streets are alive. The streets are workshops. Unfinished projects left out everyday: Brooms, fabric, nails, sinks, pipes. Protected by the city’s endless arcades, that extend shop units outwards.
Find a well positioned bench with a good view, or grab a stool and watch the theatre of the street for a minute or two, soon to be passed by a tirade of colourful scooters, their riders of whom, on rainy days, come dressed head to toe in matching rain jackets.
At night the streets are transformed again. Night markets are prolific and exceptional. This is where to eat and how – sample so-called ‘stinky tofu’ (a dip on the cities smell scape), fish balls, pineapple cake. But night markets are not only about eating but socialising, playing: sit down for a moment of calm and engage in a game of Mahjong while sipping on a papaya milk.
In Taipei, people are polite, kind, fashionable; they leave you alone. Here masks worn not because of air pollution (as with some neighbouring countries) but are worn to signify that one is unwell, as a courtesy.
Culturally you’ll find yourself musing on the cities influences from its Japanese and Chinese colonial times, and more recent influences from the USA and Korea.
In terms of religion and spiritual practices it is decidedly Chinese. Temples here (majority Taoist) are prolific and some of the most beautiful. They range in size and scale and are as regular and convenient as the 7/11 shops that pervade the city, and you’ll find them nestled in busy shopping streets and back alleys.
Listen out for a tinny clacking sound emitting from the larger temples: the sound of crescent shaped Moon Blocks being thrown by worshippers with questions. Depending on the way the blocks fall gives the answer – yes, no, undecided.
A sound you will not have to bend to hear in the city is Beethoven’s Fur Elize. In fact it will get stuck in your head: with a somewhat erry, chinzy version of the masterpiece chimed out by the city’s waste and recycling trucks five days a week. The melody as a trigger for residents to come running out with their diligently sorted waste (of which there are 13 categories), when it is checked out the spot, with fines issued for mistakes made. A less welcome ice cream van; or a precious moment for community coming-together? (The trucks also play out the lesser known A Maiden’s Prayer by Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska).
In commerce, the smiley face is pervasive – found on logos, stationary, medicine: nothing is safe. In some ways very charming: or is this just capitalism with a smiley face plastered over it, cajoling you into spending more?
Sitting in a valley the edges of the city are green. Stretch up to stroke the ridged underbelly of a banana tree leaf, never too far from reach. The trees peel, collapsing upon themselves like the fruit they bear.
Here you’ll encounter a natural noise palette made up of a chorus of frogs, crickets, singing their evening song that encases the city…
Mountainous, hiking is always on the agenda and you need not travel far to find a challenging peak. Travel via bus to Jinguashi, rumoured to be the inspiration for Studio Ghibili films, to climb Teapot mountain via unsanitized trails, where you’ll soon find yourself scrabbling on all fours to get up the mountain face. Here many-storied tea-houses totter on stilted legs atop mountain ranges,in a way that invites a magical realist re-imagining.
Want to get further out still? Tainan, in the south, is where you’ll experience the ‘real Taiwan’, argue some: smaller in scale and with breaks in the skyline that Taipei lacks. An appeal of Tainan is that it is surrounded in agriculturally rich towns and villages such as Yujing. Home of the mango, in Yuging you’ll find godly sculptures of mangos held up on plinths. Hailed as the King, the Tsar, Emperor of the town. The most organic, representative and charming placebranding scheme you’ll ever see. A common phenomenon in Taiwan, other towns hailing their own vegetative god.
You’ll notice key cities are prefixed by Tai-:Taipei, Tainan, Taichung. Meaning Tai- North, South, Central reflective of a certain sense of unity you’ll experience: a sense that ‘we are all Taiwan’ here. Even the Easycard (for trains and metros) works cross-country. Yet you’ll find distinctly unique character and culture within each region and city.
An Island 394 km long, come not only for the capital, but for the rest of this intriguing, kind, and in fact very clean – in a way that is quite different from the West – island and city.
written Spring, 2019
In March 2017 I relocated to Peterborough, a small city situated within Cambridgeshire, to deliver a community arts project. A move that was to last only 6 months – before going onto Nottingham, a city that I had begun courting from afar.
I was looking for a new home, a new city that I could love, having completed my journey with London and Berlin. These had been long standing homes, partners: both creative and challenging, that allowed me to grow alongside them, with them.
Peterborough ticked almost none of my boxes in terms of what I felt I wanted and needed in a city – and whilst not even a consideration in my hunt – I still find myself here 2.5 years on.
It has become my unexpected new home.
This text talks of the games I found myself unwittingly employing in a bid to attach to the city and the subsequent journey I found myself going on.
“When I first arrived to Warsaw I was intimidated by the huge streets cutting through the squares…the huge apartment buildings and closed apartment complexes…In order to warm the city up, I began to look at things through a different lens: I saw grey buildings as though they were colourful and patterned and I imagined them to have a different function to give them new life. With time, I began to discover new places in the city and I started to feel like I wanted to share my game with other people. For me, constructing Warsaw is a state of mind. We don‘t need asphalt, bricks and glass to do it. Sometimes using simple materials like paper or cloth, with which we build our metro or veggie markets can do a lot to change people‘s consciousness, their concept of aesthetics and approach to using public space rather than constructing closed buildings…”
Wyspa Warsawa, Iza Rutkowska
Wherever I live, or visit, the motions of walking, running and cycling through the city are deeply ingrained within my daily routine: part necessity – to get from A to B, but also, as part of my self care practice.
Wandering in the (big) city has been my form of meditation before I knew it as a concept.
New delights at every other step, these are times where I don’t need to try and stay present.
The multisensory experience engulfs me: leaving no space for going down any unhelpful rabbit warrens, which I’ve found myself prone to visiting over the years.
Staying present isn’t hard in cities like London and Berlin.
Cities that are carved and curated everyday by many hands; you need not look hard for stimuli to attract and hold your gaze.
On the surface, my new home of Peterborough had less going on.
On arriving, I moved into an area made up largely of uninterrupted stretches of suburban housing: with a pale grey colour palette at large.
With little to spike my interest, hold my attention, left with too much space in the head, I found myself paying visits to these warrens, that were getting longer and more convoluted.
My runs got shorter. Cycling became the reserve of commuting along. And, when out walking I would quickly get on the phone to busy myself – the environment, my new home, taking on the role of backdrop – hindering the opportunity for a relationship to develop.
But I continued,knowing that this was part of my cure, muttering to myself to PAY ATTENTION.
After a while the street names in the area started to catch my eye:
Buttercream Drive, Sugar Way, Candy Drive, Bakers Lane.
This was the site of the former British Sugar Factory, these being streets where the factory would have once stood.
Churning these names round and round I found myself starting to imagine this cluster of roads, through a sickly sweet, sugary lens.
Walking through Buttercream Drive, my vision became frosted over by a smooth, creamy glaze that extended out to coat the suburban architecture, tarmac, concrete, curbs.
I started to notice features that backed up the developing identity that was forming in my head:
a play park with a milky pink, princess like turreted play apparatus,
a local penchant for plastic, spherical flowers decorations, that would hang either side of front doors.
This was an identity of a suburban neighbourhood coated in plastic sweetness – somewhat artificial – slightly eerie, but far more intriguing than before and saw me from that point, forever looking for more clues to back up my thesis when out running, walking, cycling in the area.
Elsewhere in Peterborough I started to notice that lots of roads had food based names.
Ham Lane was the first.
At first I started to find that pieces of ham would manifest in my minds eye as I cycled down the lane, layering on top of my vision giving a pink tinge to my world.
Then I’d find slices seductively draped on signage, dripping like Dali’s clocks.
Until, every time I ventured down Ham Lane I’d find myself encased by huge, slabs of ribbed, mustard-glazed ham and like waves, slices would peel off and start crashing down either side of me – the slices wibbling and rippling as they fell. Me, always cycling just fast enough to get away.
Next I found Peppercorn Close. A quite ordinary, narrow cul-de-sac: at first glance.
But, where, if you look closely, you’ll locate a cluster of peppercorns found forever bouncing along the pavement, with a life of their own, ready to bop into buildings of whose doors had been left ajar, or trip up the absent minded visitor…
This vision imbued the street with a playful warmth, brought a smile every time I cycled by.
Then there was Almond Road. An utterly unassuming – perfectly pleasant – suburban road, made up of semi detached houses running in rows, accompanied by street trees running in corresponding rows – the spacing consistent – just like the brickwork, cars parked, front lawns.
I found myself designing merchandise for a road, born out of an imagined future where a form of hyper-hyper localised gentrification had taken hold in Peterborough and Almond Road had been hit.
I started drawing tote bags,aprons, mugs, with the Almond Road branding stamped on them: the whole collection available for the road-proud dweller.
There was even a local press publication that told of the all the roads’ latest news – from neighbours scandals ‘John at 58 left the wrong bin out!!’, the environment ‘The willow tree by the green verge next to house no 22 is sucking the earth dry! Community watering commencing 12 July’ to commerce ‘Newsagents stops stocking Milky Way bars: Have Your Say’.
This led me to thinking of the micro intrigue that sits behind every street, every suburban road, that’d I’d previously been quite dismissive of.
These game would fill my thoughts, add a new delight to streets, new meaning, made me think of your words in Wyspa Warsawa.
I am happy to report that, two years on, whilst I still find myself, from time to time playing imaginary games with street names (I’ve just discovered Raisin Court!), I’ve since gone on a learning journey with the natural world.
Having spent the last year or slowing building up a catalogue in my head of tree parts – leaf shapes, colours, bark texture, patterns – scanning each part as I walk, run cycle by, I find that I am now about to identify at least 1 in 5.
And moreover, through practicing a more active, noticing, wander (a new type of game) I feel I’ve sharpened my multi-sensory lens – seeing suburban streets taking on renewed interest…
This has been through taking the time, and practising, to notice the colours of the flowers, berries, leaves, seeing if and how they compliment stones, brickwork, paths.
To zoom in on unassuming sections of pavement, finding a whole world exists within comprised of colour, texture, movement.
To tune into the sound of bird song, I hope one day to be able to identify.
To acknowledge, to inspect, the interplay between shadow and light at high sun and the patterns created by the railings and other everyday features.
To reach out and touch the curious looking, rigid leaf,
feel the bare bits of the recently skin-shed plane tree,
run a stick along a railing to find out what it sounds like.
And, in terms of this housing, a new joy has been found in noticing people street-facing window sill displays – their curtains shut, this is just for us.
These mini art galleries that adorn the city, that give insight to the people who live behind the curtain; these daily, private curators.
Feeling more connected the landscape – my new games includes trying out the perspective of other elements within the environment:
to try seeing the street from the perspective of a leaf in the old oak, feeling how the wind moves me – too and fro – and then in circular motions: with the branches that hold me, moving like fingers hinged from the hand that is the tree.
And sometimes, when in tune I find myself feeling, on a visceral level, the sudden swoops, lurches of the swallow, as I take on the world from this angle, through this motion.
I think about having developing Peterborough eyes and for me this is noticing eyes, leaps and jumps from my expectant, blunt, London eyes – where everything was given to me.
I’ve also come to realise part of the draw of the big city was that I was unable to just be with my thoughts. I had deliberately manufactured a life where there was as little space, silence as possible: constant visual, and sensory stimulation.
I am happy to report that now – through lots of work – I am much better with a kind of stillness I had not been before.
And now find myself contemplating taking on the bigger city again, and this time with more calm, stability and renewed ways of seeing.
As I trickle out of the weekly Hanoi night market, to join up with lake Hoàn Kiếm, you see the silhouettes of older people, stood at the edge of the lake facing inward, performing their daily exercises, rotating their arms from the shoulder joint.
Life is constant and unceasing around Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
On one night in May, 19.05.2019, I walked one lap of the lake and recorded the activity I saw.
Another lap would have doubtless told of even more…
On that night I saw:
4 dancing exercise groups (1)
3 strong games of Đá cầu (keepy upie) (2)
5 live music performances (3)
4 dancing dance troupes (4)
Toy cars being ridden, or waiting to be ridden
Magicians making magic
Caricature drawers drawing
Bubble blowers blowing
Endless stalls selling (5)
A dog with dyed red ears, and a dyed purple tail (pom pom esque)
The sound of a person singing one of the country’s favourite karaoke songs (6)
Fan wavers waving
Mask wearers wearing (7)
Root bearers bearing (8)
2-piece wearers wearing (9)
(at least) 10 stomach bearers bearing (10)
2 monks contemplating
A clash in performance schedules
A police coming to sort out a kerfuffle, with curious bystanders standing by
Phone watchers, selfie takers, face times havers
Stilt walkers, acrobat throwers
Normal-clothes wearing runners
Birthday celebration – a circle of friends, a cake and candles, good cheer
Ice lolly sellers selling
Balloon contorters shaping Little dogs on leads walking (11)
Lit trees standing
A deconstructed float (12)
A performance coming from a temple
An exhibition aimed at tourists (13)
Street cleaners sweeping
Banana shirt wearers
1) All women, estimated ages ranging from 20 – 70 years, at least 15 people per class. From a visual survey you’d guess it was all locals participating, bar one white gangling westerner – MALE – joining in whilst his parents took photos and encouraged from the side lines
2) Mostly played by teens, with a rogue 50+ yo involved from the sidelines
3) That included an all women, all men (gothic), mixed gender (rock) and all male (Justin Bieber-esque boy band)
4) That included an electric violin led 5 piece band (very sleek), A duo of western eco-chic acoustic performers, An electric guitar player and soulful male singer, Solo western woman
5) Selling chopped sugared fruit, plastic gizmos and more
7) Worn to protect against polluted air
8) Banyan trees
9) Older women in Vietnam tend to wear 2 pieces matching outfits – top and loose trousers
10) Men, always and only men
11) All looking like ‘Jeep’ a dog I got to know in Pu Luong
12) A national float celebrating Hanoi, half deconstructed, with some lotus flowers still on top, others forlorn on the floor beside
13) Entitled ‘Ho Chi Mihn: A Great Man’