Up North to Mowbreck

I don’t often have much call to leave the South but I thought I’d make an exception to visit one artist in particular.

Jenny Cork is an artist working on the edge of the Forest of Bowland, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and my destination for what was to be a thoroughly exhausting but inspirational trip up North.

It takes a lot to drag me away from Brighton. Although I spent a few years trying to convince myself that I belonged in London, one trip down to ‘London-by-the-Sea‘ was enough to convince me that I needed a change of scenery. I’ve lived there now for nearly a decade and can’t imagine going anywhere else. Unfortunately, I’ve got so comfortable there that months often go by without me leaving a 2-mile radius – which is why, every now and again, I like to get out of my cosy, comfort zone and venture somewhere a little different.

So when my Mother called me asking if I wanted to come with her to visit a potential new home, I jumped at the opportunity for a road trip. I know a lot of people might balk at the idea of going on a road trip with their Mother, but I could think of no better travelling companion.

For the last few years my Mother had lived in Newhaven, just a half an hour drive away from my me. She’d made the move from my childhood home in Essex a couple of years after I’d moved to Brighton. She admitted that she was jealous of my coastal town and that she wanted her own close by, so that she could see me whenever she wanted and so she too could walk along the beach whenever she pleased. For years she was happy, but as she grew older and the sea breeze began to set her bones to shaking, she grew steadily tired of this life and wanted to trade in her seaside home for something a little more sheltered.

She’d first seen the Forest of Bowland on Country File and was taken back by it’s stark beauty. When she found out that there were park homes for sale in the nearby caravan park Mowbreck Park, she jumped at the opportunity to take a look around. Luckily for me I’d heard about a particularly interesting artist who lived in nearby Clitheroe and knew that if I played my cards right I’d be able to organise a visit of her studio.

The journey up to Mowbreck was a smooth one. We’d spent 5 hours or so quietly nattering away whilst admiring the shifting landscape, my Mother getting more and more animated as we continued on our way. The drive inland had been the first she’d done in a while; similarly to me, she’d found herself growing increasingly comfortable in her little town, despite finding the environment increasingly hostile. As we approached the outskirts of Mowbreck, she quietly let her discourse slip into melodrama. Gasping audibly, she uttered:

“Isn’t it beautiful!”

It was and the best parts were still yet to come.

Adventures in the North: In Search of Glass

I don’t think Mum really wanted to move away in the end.

“I just didn’t think it would all so…cold.”

The initial rush of excitement instigated by the long drive had faded and now she no longer appeared impressed by anything that Bowland Fell or the surrounding area had to offer. I, on the other hand, found myself slowly but surely falling in love with the town of Clitheroe, whilst hunting through it’s charming streets for reclusive glass artist, Jenny Cork.

It was an online advert that had snared my Mother, I found out. She’d been idly browsing the internet, typing all the queries into the search engine that would’ve told Google that there was a single elderly woman in Newhaven looking to spend a lot of money on a life changing move to a holiday park somewhere. From one night spent sipping sherry and window shopping, she’d given the bots enough information to blast her with constant targeted advertising that proved to be too much for her to deal with.

“It just doesn’t look how I’d imagined.”

Her hands fretted with a tired clasp on her handbag. My Mother didn’t like to waste other people’s time and she clearly felt that she had done just that for the ‘nice people’ at Bowland Fell.

I felt a little guilty for encouraging this impulsive behaviour, it was only ever going to end this way really. The bitter wind that blasted her as she stepped out of the car had been a surprise. The uneven gravel drive had also not been ideal and now she was looking around at the comfortable looking park home it clearly didn’t meet her expectations.

“I just don’t think I’m ready to move so far away from you.”

We thanked the ‘lovely woman’ and left. Back in the car my Mother stared despondently out the window, I couldn’t quite tell if she was drifting off in her mind or still weighing up her options, at 68, she still had a few open to her. We trundled along the country lanes until we reached the town of Clitheroe. Although hardly as bustling as Brighton or New Haven, there was a surprising amount of activity in the little centre. The afternoon light was dwindling and I could tell my Mum needed perking up.

It was a little warmer in the shelter of the town centre, despite the fact that the sun was now dipping behind the horizon. As we strolled down the High Street, we stopped from time to time to gaze through shop windows. One particular wind chime caught my eye; delicately fashioned from multi-coloured stained glass, it dangled precariously from a fine silver thread in an otherwise unremarkable gift shop. The strange warped glass was something I’d not seen before, I asked the shop keeper and he told me that it was a piece by Jenny Cork. With a reluctant smile he informed that she had moved away, off to another part of the country to continue her work in private.

Disappointing though this was, I was glad to have at least found something by this fabled artist. The piece now hangs in my Mother’s conservatory; she’s not considered moving since our trip up North, but I wouldn’t it past her to find a new dream to follow in the New Year.

A Trip to the V&A

In one day I was hoping to see as many priceless items and objects as possible…

I love taking the train up to London for a day trip, it’s far enough away to feel like a real journey, but just close enough to not zap all my energy.

A day is just the right amount of time to enjoy the city without feeling completely stifled by the stuffy busyness of the whole place. I studied in London when I was at University and whilst I certainly appreciated the wild nightlife at the time, I’m more than happy to forgo this in favour of a quieter, more peaceful existence. Needless to say, I’m always glad to get off the train in Brighton and breathe the fresh air – it’s amazing what a difference 50 miles or so makes!

I took the early train from Brighton, wanting to make the absolute most of the day, getting into London for just before 9am. King’s Cross was rammed with commuters, rushing with their heads down and their ears plugged. I’m always a little shocked at the brusqueness of Londoners, for people who live just a short distance away they act completely different to people from Brighton. Once I’d got my bearings, I set my sights on the Victoria and Albert Museum, my first destination for the day.

The museums in our country are taken for granted somewhat; they’re free to enter and showcase some of the rarest finds in History, yet whenever I visit them, the only other people there are tourists!

The V&A, as it’s affectionately known, is my personal favourite of all the London based National Museums. It’s a grand building to look at let alone step inside and it’s filled with the kind of art that you could spend hours staring at. Although it sounded like some kids were having a lot of fun in the interactive Winnie the Pooh exhibition, that wasn’t why I’d made the trip up. I made my way straight to the Märit Rausing Gallery to explore the huge range of glass items that they have on permanent display.

One particular that stood out for me was James Maskrey’s spectacular Antarctic Expedition. This exciting piece attempts to chronicle the story of three Antarctic explorer who were racing to the South Pole in 1911, on a mission to collect the eggs of Emperor Penguins. Only one of these explorers returned alive from the mission, later describing it as the ‘worst journey in the world’. Ferocious snow storms and dwindling food supplies were a constant threat – Maskrey’s piece attempts to capture that spirit of adventure, as well as the resilience with which these men acted over a hundred years ago.

The two part piece is made up of a clear glass bottle, much like the one they would have taken with them for water and a teacup, also similar in style to one they would have used. The cup has the appearance of porcelain, it’s milky white complexion is an illusion though, as is the photograph of the adventurers set within it. This cup and the photograph embedded in it are both made entirely of glass – the artist used decals and transfers to take the detail of the original photograph, printing the image onto a completely glass surface.

It’s pieces like these that make me rethink the nature of glass and just how expansive a medium it really is.

By the time I’d wandered my way around the V&A the sky was already beginning to grow dark. As the street lights started to blink on, I hurried myself back to Kings Cross to catch the train – eager to get away from the smoke and the fumes.

Brighton Carboot Sale: Knotweed Infestations and Bacon Sarnies

My Grandmother was a self-confessed car boot sale addict.

She’d often be parked in her banged up Morris Minor up to an hour before any of the sellers were even there, making her a favourite of the regular stall owners.

For the uninitiated, there’s a lot more to car boot sales than haggling for chipped crockery and sheepskin coats. Within the roaming car boot sale communities of the UK there are hundreds of fascinating individuals, all of whom either make a living or supplement their lifestyles with their weekend sales. Although some contend that the car boot sale community is struggling to compete with the likes of Amazon and Ebay, I believe that as long as there are eccentric characters offering cut-price deals on unique items, there will always be a purchasing public willing to support this Great British past time.

I don’t get to visit car boots as often as I like, but I did make it out to my local car boot at the Brighton Race Course last weekend to catch up with a few familiar faces.

Just like my Grandmother, I’m an early-bird when it comes to car boots. Brighton Car Boot Sale is pretty affordable when it comes to early passes, charging only £2.50 for entry before 10:30am. Sellers usually arrive between 8:30am and 9:00am but my first stop is always at a certain Bacon Roll stand.

Jacqueline and Henry have been dragging their battered catering trailer around the country for over a decade now. Their bacon sarnies are the best I’ve ever had and their well-brewed tea (poured into quintessential polystyrene cups) are the fuel that keeps the whole car boot running efficiently. Just like always they see me coming a mile off. Before I’d even reached the stand there was a hot brew and a white bap stuffed with bacon waiting for me.

“Your Nan was one of our most loyal customers – she was a right sweetie.”

Jacqueline does all the talking in this little business, chattering good-naturedly to customers from 8:30am until they shut up shop at 4:00pm. Henry quietly moves in the background buttering baps and expertly placing rashers on the griddle pan as he works in tandem with his wife. I bid them goodbye and make my way to one of my favourite sellers.

When I first met Phil Jefferson, 10 years or so ago, he was selling his wares from a single foldaway table that. His stall stood out from all the others there and was always the subject of much attention from the other kids who had inevitably been dragged to the car boot by their bargain hungry parents. Phil was (and still remains) an unadulterated nerd. He started out by selling back issues of comic books, along with a few spare action figures – grown-ups enjoyed the retro kitsch of his items and kids were fascinated by his collection of toys.

Today, with the explosion in popularity of geek culture, his wares are in much demand from older people, like my Nan who always sought out retro toys to give to us, to younger collectors who can’t find what they’re looking for online. Phil is a quiet man when engaged in small talk, but as soon you ask him about a particular item he becomes animated with kind of passion that I’ve only ever found at car boot sales. It’s rare that I buy anything from him but I always enjoy the conversation.

Before I leave, I stop by at a rather ramshackle stall with a tired looking man behind it. Although it’s comforting to see familiar faces, it’s always nice to meet new sellers. The stall was a little bare, with only a few items on his bench including an ornate grandfather clock, a particularly attractive gilded mirror and a charming Grecian statuette. There were no prices on any of these – a sure sign of a rookie. The man introduced himself as Gerald Tavish, he was friendly enough but as he talked he wrung his hands together, clearly a little stressed.

As I’d guessed this was Gerald’s first time at a car boot sale, he’d been forced to downsize to a smaller home after discovering an infestation of Japanese Knotweed under the floorboards of his home and now had half a home’s worth of ornaments to offload. Despite having paid off his mortgage, he told me, the cost of removing Japanese Knotweed from his property was simply too much to cope with, so he was abandoning his home of 30 years and leaving it to the Knotweed which was sure to spread to the rest of the village he was escaping from.

Although I felt for this first-timer, he was simply asking too much for his items, clearly hoping to make a quick buck and make a dart before the close of play.

I left Brighton Carboot Sale with only a few bits and pieces. As always I’d been distracted by the charming sellers and lively characters that contribute to a truly British subculture that certainly still alive and kicking.

Derwent Crystal Vase from Bexhill

When it comes to breakable objects, none are more iconic than the vase.

Although I much prefer smaller glass items, I still have a number of vases in my collection.

Once I acquired my taste for glass objects, I found it very difficult to stop myself purchasing them and vases were often the most common items to find in the charity shops and boot sales that I frequented every weekend as a student. Much like my Grandmother before me, I’d developed a keen eye for a bargain and the thrill of the hunt often had me searching high and low at all kinds of hours.

Whether it’s in James Bond movies or newspaper comic strips, the vase is the epitome of fragility. How many comedy scenes can you think of where characters are desperately trying to avoid breaking a glass vase? And how many times do those efforts often lead to the destruction of the aforementioned vase? I’m thankful to say that I’ve not broken any of my vases (yet!) but it’s a wonder that they’re still intact, especially considering the precarious plinths that I leave them on…

One of my favourite items (just behind my much cherished Glass Slipper, in fact) is a particularly elegant glass vase that I found whilst trawling through the excellent selection of charity shops in Bexhill.

If you’ve got good shopping instincts, like me, then Bexhill is a must-visit destination. This quaint seaside town is famed for the wide variety of charity shops it has. After noticing the increase in tourism as a response to the amount of bargain hunters coming to town, the local council decided to offer discounts on rent to charities looking to open stores in town, offering up to 80% off for some.

Despite local businesses complaining that they’re being priced out by this scheme, the trend of more charity shops opening has continued unabated. There are now in excess of 20 charity shops in Bexhill – making it Britain’s High Street Thrift capital.

I first visited there with University friends around 10 years ago. At this time there were about half as many shops there, but this didn’t stop me from coming back with my arms full of some great stuff – including my much treasured Dartington Crystal Glass Vase.

Dartington Crystal is a company that has been creating gorgeously retro pieces since their factory opened in 1967 – the business came about after local governing body Dartington Hall Trust, were looking for ways to bring more economic power to the area. After consulting with local pottery designer Frank Thrower, a team of Scandinavian glass-blowers (with Eskil Vilehmson at the helm) were hired to start producing the first pieces of Dartington Glass.

Demand soon outstripped supply and competitors Wedgwood invested in the Torrington based company so that they could successfully expand and offer a wider range of products – one of which rests in pride of place on a precarious plinth in my living room.