Friday, May 27, 2016

Having a Bash at Blacksmithing

Nearly every day since I'd returned from England, rain has fallen and Saturday was no exception. I was going just a mile or so down the road to the nearby Earth Village Education Center where I had signed up for a course in Basic Blacksmithing. Guessing we'd likely be outside because of the smoke from the forge, I dressed up warmly and wore a raincoat too.
When I arrived our instructor was readying the forges, and I had to keep moving to dodge the smoke, but he seemed completely unperturbed by it. Greg Price is from Warrenton and prefers to refer to himself as a craftsman rather than an artist, and by the end of the day I totally agreed. He had told us that many customers seemed nowadays to prefer a 'rustic' look whereas he preferred the honed polished effect, which obviously would not allow for any imperfections of any kind that the rustic look would allow. I respected him for that.
I was told immediately to remove my raincoat, being a man-made material, it was too flammable. Of course I removed it, and then mentally kicked myself for not wearing more layers, it wasn't warm out here.
Some of the pieces Greg had on display which we could attempt to copy after our basic training, and the hammers that we'd be using to forge our pieces.
This is a swage, a cast iron block used for hammering in the curves of a spoon or ladle, or anything else that needed 'bowl' shaping.
While watching Greg start up his demonstration forge I looked down and spotted the message on the bucket. Rather apt for today! I had to keep moving about though because of the infernal coal smoke, it really was making me feel a little sick, and I wondered how I'd last a day of it. It made me very aware of how it must be working in the cab of a steam train or what the conditions must be like in a colliery.
And then the fun began. The first thing I was surprised at was that we wouldn't be wearing gloves while we worked, but of course if I'd thought about it, it made sense. A lot of the creativity here required the sense of touch and a firm grip, both of which would be hampered by thick gloves. We were also told that gloves give you a false sense of security.
Just keeping the forge alight is a huge task. We learned that our bucket of coal had to be kept wet as this ensures that the fine particles of coal stick to the larger pieces. The wet coal is stacked on one side of the forge where it heats up and turns into coke. This is what should be in the center of the fire and what you push your stock into to heat it up, it's hotter and produces less smoke than coal. Air is pushed through by a fan to ensure the flames are hot. Greg told us to forge when our stock was lemon yellow, and to bend it when it was orange. If your stock is spitting sparks like a firework, then it's too hot.
Greg showed us how to draw a taper, with even tapping every 90°. Tapping the metal, working it from a square into an octagon to a round point. He made it look so easy with his fast and even moves, the steel almost appearing liquid as it moved so fluidly under his touch.
He also showed us how us to add the twists to our metal. An even temperature was required or the twists would be uneven. Too high a temperature and the twists would be too tight, too low and they'd be too far apart.
This was my station. I had a hell of a job maintaining my forge and trying to work on my steel at the same time as I had to turn off the pump after every time I pulled out my stock, because the air pump was too powerful for my little forge and was burning my fuel up too fast.
Another thing that surprised me was that I didn't have to hit as hard as I thought I would need to work my steel. It did involve a lot of concentration and co-ordination with my forge but after a while I was enjoying myself and not even aware of the clouds of black smoke that I occasionally swallowed. Even the damp cold day wasn't hindering me, I was soon warmed up with my efforts and my nearby fire. I did feel that I needed more one-on-one attention, I sometimes had a problem working out which way I needed to hammer my piece but Greg was always very patient and explained or demonstrated well.
Greg told us about shaping ball-peen hammers to get the desired effect on our steel. These are different tools that he's actually made himself from hammers, heating up the peens to then shape them into his desired tool. Impressive, and I loved the handle on the hammer at the top of the photo. He's also made his own grips for holding the hot steel, there are quite a few varieties of these too.
At the end of the day I left with two pieces, both of which, although not technically correct, were pretty good in my estimation. We all had to make a hook for our first piece so we could get to grips with the techniques, and then we all made our choice of the pieces Greg had laid out that morning as examples. Some folks made more hooks but a young lad and I chose to go with the BBQ steak flipper, a tool I'd never seen before, and I though it could become a conversation piece.
I arrived home tired and with a very black face, and stinking of coal smoke, but very satisfied. Kota and Rosie Lee inspected my works of art, and after feeding them I sat straight down and cleaned them up with sandpaper and mineral oil.

The photos below were taken by Kevin from E.V.E. More can be seen here.
I am extremely fortunate to have E.V.E. on my doorstep and will definitely be attending more classes. I wish Mike would give me my long overdue pay rise so I can sign up for more!
I'd very much enjoyed the day, I'm not sure that I'd have another go but this is something that I'd always wanted to try. I used my hook to hang my steak flipper and am actually quite proud of my efforts. Maybe further down the road I'll find myself once again standing in front of a forge, or even putting to use the 85lb farrier anvil I have sitting on my fire hearth!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

An Ancient Fleet and a Wet Footed Community

In the old town of Hastings, East Sussex, is The Stade, a shingle beach which has been home to probably the oldest fishing fleet in Europe. The boats have been fishing off here for more than a thousand years and also make the largest fleet of beach-launched boats.
I used to come down here many times when I lived in England, to hunt around the old antique shops, have a cream tea, finally find a print of my then favorite Pre-Raphaelite picture, and stop for a beer on my many motorbike rides here. On this day I wanted to photograph the old boats, the likeness of which isn't seen in the USA, and have a fish lunch. I had planned on leaving Mum to have a break at home while I came up here on my own but she was having none of it, so once again she fed me sweets on the drive. We were pretty hungry when we arrived as we'd not had breakfast, in preparation for the much looked forward to fish and chips.
 Some of these little shops selling sweets and ice cream have been here for decades and not changed one iota.
 We parked close to the beach and noticed that many of the gulls were perched on tops of the cars, enjoying the heat radiating from the roofs. The sun was out but the wind was strong, making it chilly, so I quite fancied joining them, they looked very content.
 We walked past the beach and fishing net huts to explore the town but all I was thinking about was taking photos of the boats, I could barely wait. But our hunger pangs were intense so we walked to the little fish and chip restaurant that I used to visit many years ago when I would ride down here on my motorbike with friends.
The restaurant was still open but was now owned by eastern Europeans. We were a little skeptical at whether they'd produce the goods, but our worries were completely groundless. The fish was so fresh I could taste the ocean and it was cooked to perfection, thick, white and meaty, coated with a perfect batter that never shed a drop of grease. The chips were excellent and we also had a side of mushy peas. Mum poured malt vinegar over hers but I couldn't bear to desecrate mine and ate it as it came, with of course a large helping of tartar sauce. Cups of tea were plentiful and the waitress was divine, so polite and friendly. We loved the new guys and wished them the best of luck, along with a hefty tip and a first rate review on Trip Advisor. We waddled out and decided to walk around the town a bit to work off lunch, there was no way I could bend down to take photos on the beach just yet!
It was lovely to walk down the sheltered George St and little had changed since I was last here.
 I spotted a really unusual fashion ring in a window, looking like it was 2 rings rather than one. We went inside so I could try it on. I loved its originality and ended up with it on my hand. Thanks Mum!
We also found out where the house that featured in Foyle's War was situated, so climbed the hill to visit that.
We found the house at the top of the hill, it's a private residence with nothing outside that informed people of it's famous role, probably just how its owners like it.
We walked back down through narrow alleys to George St, meeting a seagull who was performing an amorous dance for a lady friend, and a trompe l'oeil on a tudor house of 3 dogs peering out a window.
Many of the town's buildings had ribbons and brightly colored bunting up for May Day but I spotted a sign down a dark alley saying, 'Dirty Old Town', I wasn't sure whether this was  supposed to be hurtful or whether it was a joke, but when I got home I found this great nostalgic video online. I guess some folks think it's a grubby kind of place, but to me it's wonderful, and this video which I assume is made by locals helps to banish that misconception.
We wandered back towards the beach and the fishing fleet. It was getting pretty chilly and the wind showed no signs of abating so I suggested Mum sit in the car and wait for me, which she said she'd do after looking into the Lifeboat Museum. I ran down to the beach. I'd been looking forward to this moment for months, jumping off the bank to crash land down on to the pebbles and then hearing that sound of the waves hurling the stones further up the beach, and sucking them back out again.  Even the blustering wind didn't bother me, it was wonderful just to savor that sea air, the smell of the seaweed and the taste of the salt. As the camera pans to the left on the video, the fishing fleet is hidden behind the stone jetty sticking out into the sea.
I walked along the edge of the water, dodging the surf and came up to the fleet. I'd missed these boats and was now so happy to see them again, like old friends.. There's nothing even close to these in America, these brightly painted little tubs bursting with so much character and identity that they could almost pass as toys.
I had only a couple of photos of these vessels which I had taken many years ago and then put in frames to which I'd glued small shells and fishing net found on the beach. But they had faded, losing their vibrancy, so I'd had to discard them. I was loving it standing here in front of them now with the prospect of taking many replacements, and was like a kid in a candy store wondering what to pick first!
And back in the U.S. I had a terrible job when processing these, trying to select just a few to go on this blog, I couldn't leave any out, I loved them all.
The seagulls were extremely raucous and flying low over my head.The fishermen had arrived back late morning and the pebbles still bore a few carcasses of fish and crabs strewn about which the gulls were greedily tucking in to. I tried not to disturb their meals and skirted around them.
These little tractors are used by the fishermen to pull and push their boats out into the water, or some of the boats have winches on the front of them.
 I had to look up RX, NN and PH, and found a list of fishing boat registration codes here
The net huts can be seen in the background here. They are now listed buildings and once stored the mackerel and herring nets. The nets which were made from natural materials could be hung here to dry without rotting. Local historian and author Steve Peak says about the net shops:
"The old town’s Net Shops - approximately 50 black wooden sheds standing in neat rows on a shingle beach are unique. They were built to provide weather-proof stores for fishing gear made of natural materials which rotted if wet for a long time. Today’s materials are artificial and can be left in the open. Most net shops stand on a piece of beach that appeared suddenly after the first of the town’s groynes were erected in 1834. The new beach area was small and close to the sea, so each shop could only have about eight or nine feet square to build on. But all boats had more nets than could be stored in such limited space, so the sheds had to grow upwards. Some have cellars. Many originally stood on posts to let the sea go underneath. Fishermen keep spare gear in the shops. One is a museum."
The East Hill Cliff Railway, which has been operating since 1903. With a gradient of 78% it's Britain's steepest funicular railway, providing access to Hastings Country Park and very likely amazing views over the town, but I was out of time today. I'd been gone about an hour yet could happily have stayed here for much longer, and actually would have loved to get sunset and silhouette shots, but I had to get back to Mum.
Loved these two, like a couple of old washer women having a chat over the fence!
I found this fabulous little video from 1936, and really very little has changed since then. And here is a short film from Greenpeace based at Hastings., The Last Fisherman.
This fleet has been here for so long that they can fish from The Stade at no charge, a medieval right. The Stade means 'landing place' in Saxon and there are over 25 boats that fish from here.
Walking back to the car, there were still some gulls enjoying the last warmth of the afternoon, and Mum told me she'd had to wave some of them off from our car. Wished I'd seen that!
As we left I quickly ran into the fish shack to find they had cleared all the fish away to close up the shop but one of the guys very kindly went out back and got me a little tub of cockles which I doused with black pepper and vinegar. I'd not had these for about 25 years and was very excited to eat them again. But in all honesty, they weren't as I remembered, and I shan't likely bother with them again.Oh well...
I was quite content to head back home after our day but Mum decided that a little diversion on the way wouldn't be amiss so it wasn't too long before we were driving into a sleepy little village called Bosham, pronounced Bossum. A series I love, Midsomer Murders, filmed an episode here, "Written in Blood" in 1998. But the village is known more for its flooding at high spring tides. And the lower parts of the village are well prepared.
Mum outside one of the houses with flood defense. Parts of the town can be cut off, including the pub, how awesome! And many of the larger properties that face this threat have their gardens at the front rather than the back.
King Harold sailed from here to Normandy in 1064, an event depicted in the famous Bayeaux Tapestry, and apparently it is also here that King Canute tried to hold back the sea. It is rumored that his daughter is buried in the church here after drowning nearby.
The tide was coming in quickly in the short time it took us to walk around the harbor.
I want this house with the orange door and bluebells in the garden, it's perfect.
 We met this little guy near the church entrance. Apparently he's out quite a bit and makes it his business to greet and welcome all visitors that walk by.
Mum suggested we have a drink and watch the tide come in for a while. We went upstairs in the pub, finding a window seat and had no choice but to listen as a rather loud gentleman with a plum or three in his throat held his friends' rapt attention as he commented on the tides of Bosham.
"I could never understand how the moon only appears once a day when there are two high tides. I looked it up and found some discrepancies which I noted down, and I like to give a talk on it occasionally!" As he finished booming, Mum and I had to lower our heads to stifle giggles, and with a sideways glance at the next table I caught the smirk of a lady doing the same as us. 
When we left the bar, the water had risen quite dramatically. I would have loved to stop another couple of hours just to watch it gradually seep into the tiny streets but we couldn't stay, there were still a few miles to drive to get home.

The M3 was empty as the coach sped me up the M3 in the early morning towards Heathrow, driving through The New Forest with its golden gorse flowering profusely and a gentle mist rolling over the heathland. The fields were trimmed with neat hedges and a pale yellow hazy sky on the horizon was announcing the start of a warm and sunny day. I didn't want to leave, I wanted to stay here, at home. I remembered the lovely places Mum and I had enjoyed snacks at, The Sticky Bun Tearoom in Alderholt with the crumbling scones, The Orange Teapot in Ferndown playing, 'There'll Always be an England', Pamphill, with the butchers, whose amazing pork pie I was enjoying now for breakfast. There were still my bluebells blooming in the woods, I'd been greeted by my favorite flower every day that I'd been here, seeing them peeking from under street signs and hedges, clumps on the verges and lanes, and even a couple in Mum's back garden. And now huge blankets of deep blue covered the grounds of woodlands as the coach flew past, almost as though they were giving me a last sighting, a parting gift.
Earlier this morning I had sat in the sun room as I had done every morning, putting on my makeup and enjoying the warm sun through the glass.I'd enjoyed each day listening to the beautiful birdsong that I had been treated to from the thrushes, the blackbirds and the wood pigeons, but I'd never seen a single sparrow or smaller bird until this morning. As I'd looked out, a little blue tit and a bullfinch with his rosy pink chest both landed just outside the sun room at the same time and both looked in at me. And I just knew it was Dad.