Thursday 14 October 2010


I drove up Brathay hill in a furious temper yesterday. Radio 4 are re-running a series on Cern originally broadcast in 2008, which coincides nicely with the school run. Yesterday's programme was about anti-matter and included an interview with a scientist who explained that his theory for the non-existence of anti-matter in the universe as we know it (we can create anti-matter, and for every piece of matter, and equal piece of anti-matter should exist - but if anti-matter and matter meet, they cancel each other out) was that there was...wait for it..."an asymmetry when the big bang happened" - so for every billion antimatter particles, a billion and one matter particles were created. Thus, although most antimatter and matter particles cancelled each other out, still lots remained.
An Asymmetry? Really? Seems to me that this guy has just explained exactly why I got fed up with science. That just sounds so much like a complete fudge. Asymmetry could explain anything and everything - and indeed, nothing. If we're going to allow asymmetries whenever we don't quite understand something, then we are allowing chaos and removing the need for the universe to have an overall pattern. Actually, that's fine by me, but I'm surprised a scientist would find it acceptable.
Talking of chaos, by the time I reached school I realised that they'd managed to produce their own, highly-predictable but nonetheless unforeseen asymmetry in parking arrangements. The late finishing of the annual fell-race had meant a long tail of cars with nowhere to park and no-one (as yet) to pick up. Luckily the place has spectacular views and lots of foliage so I sat and admired both, attempting to draw inspiration and to analyse the structure of leaf forms. As the children did start to emerge I turned my attention to their faces and head shapes as instructed by the very readable Bandhu Scott Dunham at the start of Contemporary Lampworking vol 3 Yes, my new book! And brilliant! Written like Cold Comfort Farm with Rant Warnings in the margins and recipes for sausages cooked in glass tubes! I recommend this book to anyone - and he recommends that you need, to sculpt successfully and fluidly, to examine and draw nature. He also recommends surreptitiously drawing people on buses, trains etc..
I can tell you that sitting in a school run queue staring at the faces and attempting to draw them results in some very strange glances. It isn't particularly popular with your own children either and explaining that you're doing it for your glasswork doesn't seem to make matters any better.
On another note, this is a marble I've just made. Typically for borosilicate glass, the rod is a dark colour that looks transparent light blue when held to the light. Encased and imploded, it is the most stunning variegated fir green. Must be an asymmetry somewhere there.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Budapest. Where else...

....would you be able to see just exactly how long ago the last metro train left, as well as when the next one will arrive, hear the reactions of football supporters to every move of a football team like a wave from one end of a long street to the other on a warm summer's World Cup night, or come across a practice for a top fashion show in the middle of the street? Where would Rod Stewart play to a crowd of thousands in Heroe's Square with free ticket entry, in a concert put on by a mobile phone company (they do one every year - last year, Elton John). Where would you find a supermarket in a stunning wrought-iron building, sharing space with a flea market, or a very venerable cafe with beautiful painted walls and ceilings tucked up at the back of a book shop with a glass roof?
Perhaps I should say, where else? I've stood next to knights in armour selling chestnuts while watching bopping bands across a crowded street while rickshaws pedal past, seen singing vicars in the underground and marvelled at the frozen Danube. I've attempted to buy glass from a small shop with a padlocked gate (presumably glass is dangerous!). The winters are bitter, but made worth it by the Christmas markets and snow as well as warm and welcoming shops, cafes and bars. The summers are hot, but then you can eat out, the ice cream is plentiful and to be honest, who doesn't need a bit of sunshine? Spring and Autumn are often perfect. This is a working city with a quirky heart, loads to see and a lot of life where the best thing you can do is just walk and take it all in - can you tell that I love it?

Saturday 12 June 2010

Peer pressure

Peer review systems - love or hate 'em? I'm sitting here brooding on how much of the 'net these days revolves around the opinions of others, and how much we all rely on the words of strangers to make our own minds up.
Much of my business work depends on feedback, whether on Etsy or Ebay, holiday rental sites, even Facebook and Flickr. I worry constantly about providing the best service, good prices, communication and nice extras to make that artisan transaction worth coming back for more. Sometimes, just making the sale becomes more of a concern than a pleasure. Will they like it? Will they ever want to buy from me again? What if.....the feedback is bad? Rude? Unrealistic? Niggly?
Friends tell the story of their cottage guest book - one set of guests made a glancing comment on the softness of the bed (which was a personal preference, the more so given that the mattress was new and quite firm!). Because it had been mentioned, every other guest from that moment on made their own opinion known, until the guest book became little more than a running argument on the state of one bed. They replaced the guest book and the bed was never mentioned again.
Opinions of strangers seem to matter more than ever. I suppose this is inevitable with increased globalisation. Maybe as our world widens, we try to find ways to make it feel more like a village.

Ah, well. My world is small today - a duck that is sitting on non-hatching eggs and a torch waiting to be lit. I have dragons and mice to make and an appointment with some strange hands that reach out from wine bottles, holding vortexes. Somehow, they seem appropriate. The sun is shining and I've just been told that hens turn their eggs over 50,000 times a day. Time to stop brooding and go burn some glass!

Friday 28 May 2010

The lure of the new

I've just been leaning on the side of the kitchen waiting for the jasmine tea to brew, and contemplating life and glass. I've ordered a number of essential items today - nothing fancy, just tube cutters and memory card readers. While thinking how the post tomorrow would be more interesting than just bills and junk mail, I thought how much I look forward to new things arriving. This led me on to thinking how much we glass people look forward to new glass, and then to the creative issues surrounding new products.
I read a forum post recently that suggested getting to know each borosilicate glass colour for at least a few weeks before moving on to another, so that you absorbed all its possibilities. I am nowhere near that disciplined, but nonetheless have bought very few new colours at all this year. I haven't even bought many tools, instead trying to concentrate on learning more about the glass itself and the possibilities it holds.
Soft glass varies in viscosity and reacts differently with different colour types and flame chemistries. This effect is magnified several times over with boro. Glass can be pulled, pushed and pinched into so many shapes and manipulated to give stunning effects. A pair of pliers can produce an extraordinary work of art, just by pulling and pushing, pinching and twisting. Why do we constantly lust after new things, when we can make so much with what we already have to hand?
I wonder if a constant desire for new tools and new colours can be a substitute for new ideas. If we stop buying new things and instead focus on what we already have, or even cut down on what is available to us, do we push ourselves into finding new ways to use existing colours and shapes? Would having less make us learn to do more with what we do have?

Tuesday 25 May 2010


The Hungarian language has 44 letters. It isn't the longest alphabet in the world - that honour goes to the Cambodian alphabet with 79 - but it's long enough to confuse me! Not only is it long, it also has several (to the English ear) things that make it very difficult to pronounce. Looking at the Wikipedia entry, E with an umlaut should be pronounced as in "same" while e with an acute accent is as in "hey". Personally, I struggle to see the difference. Added to that, I live with a Cumbrian who pronounces "hey" as "hey" and "same" as "serm". Goodness knows what a Hungarian would make of any attempt he might make on their language! Some letters (like u with a double acute accent) don't even get an English pronounciation equivalent. I occasionally try pronouncing Hungarian words (street names etc...) while in Budapest. Invariably I get them wrong, and am often surprised my feeble attempts don't meet with more hilarity. This really isn't a language (even on a pronounciation level, let alone a comprehension one) for the faint-hearted.
And yes, that is a poor attempt at Queen Elizabeth 1! She is commemorating a special event this week.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Don't mention the dragon.....

I've eventually made a different type of dragon! One with horns, whiskers and big flared nostrils. The really nice thing about this one is that, having made it, I feel freed from the one type of dragon and am suddenly full of ideas for pointed horns and odd-shaped wings. Goodness knows how any of them will translate into glass, but it is going to be fun trying!
One of my Etsy customers has asked me to make her a dark dragon for her fiance. I'm not a fan of commissions but this seemed a fairly straightforward one, so I agreed. I can make dark dragons, the colour choice is easy, what could go wrong? Humph. What went wrong was me, of course. As soon as I sat down to make this dark dragon, all I could think about was that it was a commission so it had to be good - and that was enough to give me 10 thumbs. I've got boiled-frit dark dragon, squished-eye dark dragon and really quite unusual dark dragon, but nothing I'd happily send out of the door in one piece. It was like a bad episode of Fawlty Towers - Don't Mention the Dragon! Of course, as soon as I got fed up and made other colours, I got a couple of lovely pieces. Aaaagh!!!

Thursday 13 May 2010


I have an ironing board full of glass pieces, many of which I have made and won't sell. Dragons with wings that are too skew, bad cases of Nipple Eye (nasty disease affecting lampworked dragons and related to Sunken Eye), odd phoenixes and strange-coloured elephants. Often people come and coo over them and often I'm told I'm too fussy and should be putting some of them up for sale.
Many years ago, I studied metallurgy at university. It was a four year course, the last year of which was spent doing a dissertation - helping with a project and writing up the results. From the many interesting projects on offer, I chose that which had as little to do with metallurgy as possible and so ended up in the Department of Archaeological Metallurgy (total population: 2), studying a find of iron age objects including some gold jewellery. It was an interesting year, but the work I produced at the end of it could hardly be said to have been excellent. Looking back at it a couple of years later, I felt that I could have done a much better job had my mind been better focussed on the task in hand and less on social life and other things.
Imagine my feelings then to discover that this "important work" is now likely to be incorporated into a British Museum publication and that a Time Team programme may be in the offing. I should be excited, but instead find myself more than a bit embarrassed!
This is a very good reason for all those 'substandard' pieces to continue to reside on my ironing board, one day maybe to move to a windowsill or displayed on a wall outside. We will continue to live with unironed shirts and I will be happy in the knowledge that I won't wake up one day to find my 'very important dragons with nipple eyes' in the British Museum.