Saturday, 25 January 2014

My Birmingham

Occasionally my little world of green hills and rivers (currently bigger rivers) expands to include a range of cities; most often, Birmingham. The last time I was here with specific time to wander, I was visiting the Lace exhibition in the Gas Hall (and, excitingly, attending the conference relating to it).

and enjoying the lace emerging from the building site that has now become the Library of Birmingham.

Now complete, this building, and its contents, and its funding, has been the subject of much comment, and some controversy. I think it is brilliant. A public building celebrating the arts, celebrating culture, and creating fantastic spaces from which to see, engage with, and be inspired by the city surrounding it.

[Aside: P and I also recently visited the refurbished Birmingham Rep, which is now part of the same building, and saw the brilliant Tartuffe from the front row. I only wish I could afford to go back more regularly, and that trains home from Birmingham didn't preclude evening performances without the extra expense of overnight accommodation]

But more of the Library another time. This week, work has called me to Birmingham, and it was the little details of the many and varied architectural styles that caught my attention. Birmingham has been a metropolis for a long time, so significant buildings like the Cathedral, which might in other cities stand out, are here tucked away amidst the taller office buildings, and the green space which surrounds them has become a crossing-place, a meeting place, a space for a few snatched minutes of calm.

In the surrounding streets, modern shopfronts jostle with older frontages, like this pub:

And office blocks retain the traces of what they once were: the Law Library; First Floor Offices (of some description); Ships sailing over what is now a solicitors' firm.

Arcades, like in Manchester or Paris, are similarly a feature of this architecture: suddenly the monolithic façades give way to something rather different; intriguing, inviting.

Thankfully, they also still seem to house many of the independent retailers of the city.

Meanwhile, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery may contain an interesting and beautiful collection of paintings, the Staffordshire Hoard (certainly worth a visit, if you've not seen it) and a well organised series of exhibitions, but they also seem to have a few of the now-rare red phone boxes stashed away!

[Apologies for the blurry photo - the light was abandoning me at this stage!]

Best of all, situated as they are right in the heart of the city, they're close enough to visit on your lunch-break (and the visit is free, with donation boxes available if you're able to give to this cause), so you can catch up with your favourites and gather a bit of that peace around you before returning to the maelstrom.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Do Something Different

Sometimes, it's worth pushing the boundaries a bit, and playing with skills you don't usually use. That, plus an offer of an evening of good company in a bring-your-own setting, was what led me to take a train under the hill to Glazy Dayz on a couple of Friday evenings a little while ago.

Not only experts in the techniques involved in painting pottery and happy to offer friendly advice and tips, but well provided for with reference books and their own inspirational work, Glazy Dayz are open for pottery painting sessions on regular weekdays, but a whole range of special events, for everyone from babies to the fully-grown. Between Ladies Night and the (non-mandatory) themed Adult evenings, me and my friends are happily provided for, and the timing (7.00pm – 9.30pm) is such that we can easily and conveniently catch trains after an early dinner, or even straight from work.

As to the craft itself, I didn't hold out much hope for myself – I know I cannot draw, and expectations should therefore be kept low. Rachel is of course immensely talented, and her creations were properly artistic and beautiful...

Sadly, I didn't get any pictures of her work – not even before the firing, when the paints take on their glazed finish and end colour. (It is worth being very aware of the difference between what you paint onto the pot, and the final colour may surprise you, even though the paints are carefully numbered to match fired samples for reference.)

What you get to see, instead, is mine! My first attempt was a plate on which I wanted to try the scruffito effect of painting two layers, and then scratching the top one off – much like the foil pictures you can get from art shops.

Since there are only so many pots that a house can hold, I decided that my second tries should be small, and therefore picked a square and circular tile – minimal space taken up, and I had a plan. The circular one has become a coaster, but the square tile needed to perform a very specific function. Over the years, I have amassed rather a collection of small historic figures, all of which have sentimental value, but which have a frustrating tendency to gather dust, and to get knocked over at any movement of the monitor or printer on my desk. The solution? Paint a tile and blue-tack the figures to that, so that they gain stability, and can easily be moved as required!

It may not be my greatest artistic achievement, but as a way to spend an evening, I can highly recommend it. I've tried many many crafts, and some have become passions, others have become skills to be brought out when useful, and some are simply fun. I find it difficult to do things I don't think I'll be good at – I don't like being out of my comfort zone, and I generally have a wide enough skillset that I can stay within it – but I had a lot of fun, and I sometimes need to remind myself that fun can be a goal on its own.

Different can be intriguing, and fun, and interesting – what's been new for you recently?

Monday, 6 January 2014

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

I bring to you, not twelve lords a-leaping, or even the three kings, but a slice of Pi. Circular Pi, that is.

In July 2011, as part of my Zimmermann challenge, I knit 'My July Pi'. I honestly didn't think that a circular shawl would be all that much use - while I was knitting it, it was compared regularly to a showercap, and a doily, and my usually stalwart knitting group were heard to ask how it would work.

Since it's been finished, though, I've found myself reaching for it again and again. With one edge folded over, or a full-half, and the addition of a simple brooch, it becomes a warm and snuggly wrap beneath my coat, or an elegant top-layer over a dress or blouse in the air-conditioned office.

I've spent a couple of years with it now, and it's in definite need of a re-block, but I've been asked for the pattern enough times that I thought it might make a special Pi for the Fête des Rois.

So, here you go: my take on EZ's amazing mathematical creativity,for you to share and enjoy, as my Christmas gift to you.