From Weft to Wight!

crazy woman

My good self performing in durational Live Art / Dance work ‘The Last Knit’, by Annika Kompart. Image: Natalia Iwaniec

“In weaving, the weft is the term for the thread or yarn which is drawn through the warp yarns to create cloth. Warp is the lengthwise or longitudinal thread in a roll, while weft is the transverse thread. The weft is a thread or yarn usually made of spun fibre. The original fibres used were wool, flax or cotton.

Hand looms were the original weaver’s tool, with the shuttle being threaded through alternately raised warps by hand. Inventions during the 18th century spurred the Industrial Revolution, with the “picking stick” and the “flying shuttle” (John Kay, 1733) speeding up production of cloth. The power loom patented by Edmund Cartwright in 1785 allowed sixty picks per minute.

A useful way of remembering which is warp and which is weft is: ‘one of them goes from weft to wight’.” (Extracts from Wikipeda)

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Image and Textile Installation in Detail: Katy Devereux

Local Textile Artist Katy Devereux, Vocal Artist Georgie Buchanan and myself are soon to embark upon Warp+Weft: a multidisciplinary journey through Textiles, Dance and Sound! We doubt it will go from weft to wight as planned, since creative journeys never do stick to a straight path, but nevertheless, we’re very excited about where it might wander. (Just watch out for the ‘shoddy’*, we don’t want anything getting stuck in that pipe!)

To begin, here’s our 100 word extravaganza of a description for the lovely folk at The Arts Council:

Warp+Weft is a two month interdisciplinary collaborative Arts project, interweaving the skills and experiences of local women in Art and Industry to create a multi-layered journey encompassing Textiles, Dance and Sound. Through a series of workshops with a group of local ex-Mill working women aged 55+ the project will engage with Calderdale’s rich Textile heritage to explore wider themes of womanhood, work and industry. It will culminate in a residency followed by a Live Event and Installation reinterpreting local heritage though experimental art and sound, taking place at the 1830 Gallery at The Artworks during Heritage Open Weekend. The project will be documented through a diverse range of media, including blog, film & photography.

Since there’s no word count on this blog, I’ll begin at the beginning. Three ’emerging’ artists (that’s what they call us!), sat in a room. Look out at hillside and mills. Consider collaboration. Put heads together. Goes a little something like this…

Apparently, landscapes remind a person of who he or she is. In the belief that we can only begin where we are, we asked; what about the Mills that are written across our local landscape? Such man-made industrial environments and machinery were at the forefront of a revolution which changed the way human beings lived and worked forever, not only in our local region, but across the world. What of the women who worked in them in years gone by; our families, our ancestors, our sisters across time? We make Art, they made Industry. What’s the connection between past and present, people and place, art and industry? How can we explore those loosely bound threads and weave it all together anew?

Through a process of excavating the stories of a group of local women, combined with construction, occasional deconstruction, and live performance, this collaborative project aims to re-envisage and re-animate The Artworks’ 1830 Gallery, formerly Shaw Lodge Mills (one of the longest running Textile Mills in the local area, owned by the Holdsworth Family, it remained open until as late as 2008).

The Artworks; left, exterior of the building, right, interior of the 1830 Gallery

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Things Fall Apart, Exhibition by Katy Devereux, 2010

Based in an understanding of the often under-appreciated embodied intelligence present in all kinds of physical work, the project will explore the experiences of a group of women who worked in Calderdale’s Textile Industry. We want to listen to their stories and experiences, and yup, you guessed it, interweave these with our arty shenanigans!

Perhaps we’ve been reading too much Studs Terkel (author of bestseller ‘Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about it’. Check it out, it’s fascinating and we highly recommend), but we want this project to offer a space for the re-interpretation of the humanity and poetry of the Mill worker in texture, sound and motion, as remembered and lived through the body by local ex-Mill workers.

We want to explore the relationship between man (or woman, in this case) and machine. Between community, industry, transience and transformation. Between three art-forms traditionally associated with the feminine, and the inner workings of the factory floor in the once great Textile Industry of our local area.

Once upon a time in the days of old, workers kept time by song. When the industrial revolution arrived, mechanical time took over and workers would lipread over the sound of heavy machinery. Repetitious and laborious tasks were not universally hated, although they were by some (we have already gathered many a tale of health & safety nightmare, accidents and incidents occurring none too infrequently at times); yet several women have already spoken to us about their enjoyment of this work, of being ‘tomboys’, of it’s smells and sounds.

GEORGIE

Vocal Artist Georgie Buchanan making magical sounds with a ragtag of instruments and her exquisite voice in an attic somewhere. Sneaky peek of her tones on the link below:

One woman who worked in the Mills in latter years even has a theory that certain classic Northern Soul dance moves originated in the movements made by Mill workers! We wonder, can we as live human performers become an art machine of sorts, a human choir choreographed, with machinery all mingled in with the found sounds and noises made possible by the next step in the industrial revolution – electricity! For this, electronic musician and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Smith, who produces under the name ‘Ruma Gilah’ (Malaysian for ‘Madhouse’), will join us.

We’re not sure what it will look or sound like, because there’s still so many stories to hear and experiences to encounter, but we hope you enjoy following us, from weft to wight or wherever we go.

Too rarely is the honest work of local people in industry honoured. So many things these days are boxed up and prettified, dissociated from where they came from, and much gets lost in the process. This project is a chance to tell some stories differently: it won’t be the same, because everything changes, but it will be a little bit of a lot of things, all woven together again.

I’ll leave you with a little dance I did a while ago. Complete with the dulcet tones of our very own Yorkshire born David Thomas Broughton, on forgetting where you come from and returning, along with some words of wisdom on the value of movement by the legendary Dance Artist Steve Paxton.

 

*A local lady we met at an art group told us about ‘shoddy’ getting stuck up the pipes where she worked. Here’s the Wikipedia definition: “Recycled or remanufactured wool. Historically generated from loosely woven materials. Benjamin Law invented shoddy and mungo, as such, in England in 1813. He was the first to organise, on a larger scale, the activity of taking old clothes and grinding them down into a fibrous state that could be re-spun into yarn. The shoddy industry was centred on the towns of Batley, Morley, Dewsbury and Ossett in West Yorkshire, and concentrated on the recovery of wool from rags. The importance of the industry can be gauged by the fact that even in 1860 the town of Batley was producing over 7000 tonnes of shoddy. At the time there were 80 firms employing a total of 550 people sorting the rags. These were then sold to shoddy manufacturers of which there were about 130 in the West Riding. Shoddy is inferior to the original wool; “shoddy” has come to mean “of poor quality” in general (not related to clothing), and the original meaning is largely obsolete”. (Source: Wikipedia)

THE ART OF ACTION (in the eye of the shitstorm)

winterrice

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/winterrice-helping-young-refugee-families-survive#/

CLICK ON THIS LINK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This may well not turn out to be the most coherent string of words I’ve ever sewn together (it’s late and I’m tired), but then again, that’s not the whole story. Coherence is like debate – it can sound convincing, but be simltaneously utterly devoid of humanity. This post is coming from a different place. I’m writing it, person to person, in the understanding that some things need to be felt in your bones, and that this, my friends, is one of ’em. Some stuff spews from the guts. It ain’t always pretty, but I’ve come to realise, nevertheless, that it’s totally fucking necessary.

If you’re connected to me already, whether by blood, friendship, hell or high water, you’ll no doubt already have encountered my ranting, chanting and carrying on regarding the refugee crisis in recent months. My obsessive-compulsive social media sharing, and general banging on about articles, blog posts and campaigns, have received less comments, shares and likes (!) than I might have hoped for. Perhaps I’ve even done everybody’s nut in and come across as holier than thou…?!

Anyhoo, in the end I would like to publicly say SOD IT, FUCK IT, and as girl after my own heart, Kate Brittain, recently put it …. #SORRYNOTSORRY !!! I’ll continue ranting, chanting and carrying on, with all the Yorkshire-rowdiness and flexing of the freedom of expression muscles that I can currently maneuver. Because whilst I love the dancing (ohhh yup I really love that dancing!), I have come to the stark and shocking realisation that protest-dance has a supremely limited ability to help the folk freezing, drowning, and having a totally bloody dire time as they attempt to reach the relative safety of ‘Fortress Europe’.

This blog is called izzabellanecessary for a reason. It’s about calling a spade a spade and an arse an arse. It’s about lessening the gap between what’s considered ‘necessary’ or ‘useful’, ‘intelligent’, ‘arty’ or ‘creative’. It’s something to do with expanding my mind-body matrix in order to see, be and do what’s appropriate. What is necessary in order to navigate the complexity of this world; how can I slowly weed out the ways in which I’ve been furtively trained to see, be and act by society?

I’m now beginning to realise that this new approach can really encompass anything. We don’t all have to specialise and separate, creating artificial borders between art, work, life, our ‘selves’ and all other assorted humans, creatures and earthly wonders. There are ways and means of expanding beyond the microcosm.

In recent years my life has revolved around the learning the embodied art of dancing, and practising the odd bit of poetry to go with it. Meanwhile, under the surface, several other concerns have been taking seed. I’ve been composting thoughts, germinating ideas, and more overtly direct practices of ordinary magic had begun to seem necessary. To translate this into less of a tongue twister, I’m beginning to dip my dancing feet and dainty mitts into the art of taking practical action – whether that means weaving willow into a garden fence with my pals, taking baby-steps towards learning about bees and growing food, or tentatively engaging in actual direct action (somewhat delicately, like this little book suggests).

I’ve made a new commitment to collaboration, collective creativity, and taking a pragmatic, integrative approach in helping to heal the problems facing our world. Gahhhh, it’s not like I’m on a crusade friends, but some kind of sea-change has undoubtedly begun.

This might all sound suspiciously like my own personal new-era manifesto, and I will get to the point eventually, promise… However, I’m mentioning all this because I do believe that personal pleas are important. Scrap that, they’re essential, vital, and again, totally fucking necessary!!! People to people solidarity and grassroots responses have provided much of the backbone of humanitarian support across Europe, throughout this all-encompassing, ongoing shitstorm of a very sorry situation.

With this in mind and body, I’m asking you to feel beyond the boundaries of your own situation, and think about sharing, supporting and engaging with this ‘ere little initiative (go back to that link at the top, click it, read, share, and donate if you can). It may seem small, a drop in the ocean even, but it all matters. 

This particular initiative, aiming to provide 100 families with emergency surival kits for starters, has been set up by a super inspiring group of artists in Greece. I spent time learning lots of wisdom and wonder-things with them this summer at The Ricean School of Dance, in relative luxury on an idyllic Greek Island, not far from where refugees are still arriving in their thousands. They are enduring horrendous hardships, inhumane conditions, and have far, far too slender a hope of some shelter from the storm. Whilst summertime RICE focused on creating a temporary, experimental space to explore non-hierarchical, binary-bending, boundary-breaking approaches to art + life, WINTERRICE is a pragmatic response to an urgent situation of epic proportions. It made me smile to see RICE described alternatively in the conext of WINTERRICE as standing for a ‘real institute of civic engagement’. The two initiatives are perfect companions in the book of balance 🙂

Donations to WINTERRICE began thick and fast. I got into my cosy bed one night, and arose to find $1000 more in generosity flowing straight towards some of the people who need it most. After sharing till our fingers bled, we reached our target in record time! Happy days! The decision was then made to increase our target in order to improve the quality of the kits, include longer-lasting food, and to buy and staff a tent for refugees in Mytilene, Lesvos with two volunteers, including a nurse, who would also distribute the emergency kits.  We were ‘featured’ and we were ‘trending’, at the peak of the appeal, but donations have, of course, now slowed.

And so it is. The time has come to rant some more in a bid to keep that trickle a-coming. There’s only six days left, so now is the time!

Consider this a call to action and a serious shout out for a show of solidarity, if you will. I am begging / pleading / requesting that you please please please support and share this initiative! If you feel disconnected from the reality of the refugees it aims to help, or perhaps not fully aware of the extent of the refugee crisis, I ask that you make it a priority to check out the many blogs and articles online (often written by grassroots volunteers who are currently working, organising and helping on the ground across Europe, see the bottom of this post for links).

We all have our own realities, and struggles and action comes in many different shapes, sizes and varieties. I want to emphasize that right now, a series of historical moments are occurring. The full weight of what’s happening in the world, from refugee crisis to climate change, encompassing the full kaleidoscopic multitude of madnesses and back again, will become wholly evident only in hindsight.

I’m asking you to help ensure RIGHT NOW that these people are not forgotten, that these stories are told, and that we make ourselves necessary to the softening of this particular problem.

If you can’t donate, I feel ya. Let’s face it, I’m totally and utterly shambolically skint myself. I recently extended my overdraft again in order to, firstly, eat, and also to give a mere $20 to the very campaign that I’m pleading for. It’s not all about the cash-money. There are many ways to get involved and show your solidarity. You can write letters, raise awareness, share stories, organise a fundraiser, or make links with organisations supporting asylum seekers in your local area. Just give a shit and do something, basically. Use your big mouth and your unique life, to whatever extent you’re able.

We desparately need to see this situation for what it is, and not merely how the limited vision of the usual media channels represent it.Our governments are not doing enough – almost bugger all in fact, for a bloody change! Border policy and nationalist self-protection, along with ‘economic imperatives’ come first for them. I write simply and from a place of common sense, as you can see. I’m no political commentator.

Even so, what I do know is that this form of knowledge is as valid as any. I don’t need to back up this post with theory and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the complex political maneuvers that have contributed to this crisis. I know enough. I know that we are capable of putting the pressure on those governments, and that we can certainly choose to open our own personal borders to let the compassion out. It might only be a trickle at first, but eventually it can build into a booming expression of the interconnectedness of all things.

We’re all deeply implicated, whether we know it or not. I feel this deep in my bones, in the gurgling processing-pit at the bottom of my belly, and in the blood that boils when I consider the state we’re in. I also experience it in the beauty of the rich and diverse pragmatic practices of ordinary magic ocurring moment to moment, all across the world. It’s in the intelligence of nature, the individuals and communities creating amazing things everywhere, and in the awe-inspiring, warmth-inducing possibilities of the things we might potentially create together. We are a collective of flawed and yet well-intentioned humans, who might just have the ability to see what needs doing, and to spontaneously do it. It’s an invitation innit 😉

Directly after my time at The Ricean School of Dance this summer, I got on a bike (having not cycled in two years, I was really just following an intuition that this was something I wanted / needed to do), and joined the Critical Mass to Calais in order to donate bikes to the people there. It was an experience which was both eye-opening and transformative, and you can read / watch more about it herehere and here. Confronted with the reality of the refugees there, I began to more fully understand the extent of the inherent violence of borders. Policy, policy, policy, but what about people? #noborders #yourborderskill #fucktheborders. That is all I have to say.

The trip to Calais was not without it’s challenges and complications, oh aye; co-ordination and cohesive action is a craft, an art and a lifelong learning curve in itself. However, the kindness and compassion in Calais and the experiments in disrupting the usual modes of communication at RSOD, both served to make it blindingly clear that everything begins with dialogue and connection. This communication between self – environment – other is occurring always, on multiple levels. Much of the act of meeting has occurred before physical touch or ‘action’, as we usually conceive of it, occurs. I came to observe that there is a delicate activism occurring in the communication between everything, all of the time.

So I’ve been thinking about these things. Such as: what is the art of hosting conversations that matter? How does change happen? Does it start with a tiny seed and expand outwards, in a mycellium-like structure, just as mushrooms communicate underground? Is it essentially an organic process? Leading questions, I know, but both Critical Mass Calais and RSOD emphasized and developed further in me the necessity of standing in solidarity with fellow humans, other animals, and also the earth (which is also a part of us, not just another, separate story).

Recent experiences have demonstrated to me that we can develop the resilience that allows us to see these things, and not turn away. It is possible to learn the art of open dialogue and to translate that into the art of action. We can call a spade a spade, an arse an arse, and take on the eye of the shitstorm, in which spades and arses can often become confused and convoluted things, mutated beyond all original intention… You only need to read the news to see that.

We can do all this, amongst other, necessary stories… and fuckshitswine, I’m going to sound like a crappy motivational speaker (pfft, again #SORRYNOTSORRY) … but what I’m trying to spit out is that WE CAN DO THIS TOGETHER.

#winterrice #danceswithoutborders #artofaction #yourborderskill

See below for some related articles, videos and blog posts from recent months…. it’s like a weird little link diary via my social media over-share  and the bookmarks folder that I ironically, originally labelled ‘going home‘. This whole thing began for me by cycling to Calais to donate bikes and other supplies, as research for a DIY 12 Live Art Development Agency workshop, which I never even made it to in the end. Art sent me to action, and action sent me back to art, and I realised that there need be no difference between the two.

Before I sign off… WINTERRICE! WINTERRICE! WINTERRICE! Please be part of this real institute of civic engagement, or start your own … like my hi-vis jacket says on the back, DON’T JUST WALK ON BY! DO SUMMAT!*

*Yorkshire-speak for ‘something’.

TA FOR READING. OVER AND OUT XXX

http://www.huckmagazine.com/perspectives/reportage-2/life-inside-calais-notorious-jungle-refugee-camp/

http://www.weareplanc.org/blog/channelling-compassion-calais-solidarity-and-where-we-go-from-here/

http://mashable.com/2015/09/10/calais-camp-jungle-aid/#RE42PMX96uqR

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/morocco-no-borders-the-forgotten-refugee-crisis/x/12605954#/story

http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/sep/16/first-refugees-head-for-croatia-after-hungarys-border-crackdown-live-updates?CMP=share_btn_fb

https://www.facebook.com/clare.moseley.98/videos/144114715937682/?pnref=story

https://www.facebook.com/theworldwidetribe/photos/a.1613492195603208.1073741829.1526014994350929/1626569714295456/?type=3&fref=nf&pnref=story

http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/zero-refugees-guess-which-countries-have-taken-not-one-of-the-60-million-fleeing-war/#_=_

https://twitter.com/calaisolidarity/status/646331196700553216

http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2015/september/dougal-wilson-reports-on-secret-cinemas-secret-protest-at-the-calais-jungle-camp/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2015/sep/22/kiss-knows-no-borders-photographing-refugee-couple-budapest

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-crisis-the-true-extent-of-the-british-publics-extraordinary-response-revealed-10514341.html

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/five-explanations-to-why-the-majority-of-refugees/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/banksys-dismaland-moves-to-calais-to-provide-shelter-for-refugees-a6669156.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/27/un-official-asylum-assessment-centre-calais-france-britain?CMP=twt_gu

https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-alliance-for-a-safe-world/urgent-france-to-deport-asylum-seekers-to-sudan-on-thursday-four-young-men-from-/764462416996440?pnref=story

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/sep/29/magistrate-nigel-allcoat-resigns-after-paying-destitute-asylum-seekers-court-fine

https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2015/british-artists-launch-theatre-in-calais-migrant-camp/

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/sep/29/magistrate-nigel-allcoat-resigns-after-paying-destitute-asylum-seekers-court-fine

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/tatiana-garavito/migrants-rights-protest-st-pancras-ticket-barrier-shut-down-eurostar

http://time.com/4077370/refugee-crisis-calais-death/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/lliana-bird/refugee-crisis-lesbos_b_8388988.html

http://mariennapw.com/2015/10/29/entry-iii-the-sinking-of-the-nameless-recollections-of-a-volunteerjournalist/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/yvette-cooper/refugee-crisis-lesbos_b_8418988.html

http://gauge-mag.com/

http://www.itv.com/news/calendar/2015-10-30/otley-aid-worker-could-face-jail-for-smuggling-4-year-old-back-to-family/

http://balkanist.net/guardians-of-the-frontier-migration-racism-solidarities-balkan-corridor/ 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/07/europe-refugees-david-cameron-united-nations-warning?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Facebook

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/11/09/whos-in-charge-of-the-migrants-arriving-in-greece-the-answer-will-surprise-you/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/22/greek-concerns-mount-refugees-balkan-countries-restrict-entry

this poland is making a big noise in my head

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 My first attempt at taking a photo on a ‘proper’ camera. It was on the bus that we hitched part of the way to Łódź on. Out of focus, yep, but I’m sticking it on here anyway for memories sake 🙂

I first met Katie when she walked into the pub I was working at in the French Alps many moons ago. She had only a backpack, a few euros and a disarming smile, having hitch-hiked alone all the way from Reading at the tender age of 19. She was looking for work, and we needed a bartender. It was a magical friendship made in the mountains, and it stuck. Over the years our friendship has evolved in a slightly all-over-the-shop but organic sort of way. Mostly we’ve been living in different countries, each following ‘all the good things’ down the yellow bricked road to wholeness, fulfilment and contentment. (I’ve been trying to work out what the good things are for a while now, “but the thing is, it’s a slippery little bastard, and it changes!” That’s a line from a new poem, I keep slippin’ ’em in there!)

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Katie, the soul-sister. My first portrait attempt (bit cheesy but I still quite like it!)

Both in spite this and because of it, this summer we decided to go on a long-awaited adventure to Poland together. Life can be a logistical nightmare, but if you just keep on putting the effort in in the right places, you end up with sweet soul sisters and brothers who you can make lovely things and times with. I met a lot of these kind of friends in my mountain days. Each one of them is living their own life, and each one of those lives is completely different to the rest. We see each other when we can, but the love is always there. I see this as simply the beautiful price I pay for for the freedom of the feet – for choosing not to live in one place forever, or even just for following discovery over continuity. I guess the freedom of the feet is more a state of mind than a literal thing. You don’t really have to go anywhere, it’s just that you never know where this state of mind might take you!

Anyway, I doubt this will be the last of our trips together. It might well be the first in a long tradition, the idea being that we’ll still be nattering away and reminiscing about our exploits when we’re 80. In fact, scrap that – we’ll still be adventuring when we’re 80! For me, a self avowed late-starter of many things in life, this was my first proper hitch-hiking and couchsurfing venture. It was perfect timing, considering how I was feeling at the start of summer. Katie was the ideal travelling companion; never stroppy and always willing to give things a go. Together we got easily over-excited by small wonders on backstreets and sliproads across Poland, all the way from Berlin to the Baltic Sea. You can find her scribblings about our trip on her lovely blog ‘Je Suis Une Monstre’ here and  here and also right here. In fact, check out the whole thing, she’s a pretty interesting lady.

Admittedly, hitch-hiking didn’t get off to a great start on our way out of Germany. We waited for quite a while, and eventually one guy who had a massive dog in the back of his car tried to persuade me to go to his house with him (alone) so that he could ‘drop the dog off’. Hmmm. No thanks mate. This served as a nice gentle reminder to trust our instinct and not give in to lifts from weirdos no matter how long we had been waiting. Fortunately, this was not a sign of things to come. In Poland, we never waited for longer than 20 minutes for a lift, and our very first lift really set the tone for our great experiences in the country.

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Me, trying to get out of Germany. Photo by Katie.

We had barely set down our bags on Polski soil, and had not even so much as stuck out a thumb, when up rolled what was possibly the nicest couple in the country to sweep us off our feet and into the forest. They seemed a tad perplexed about why we weren’t going to Woodstock. This was a question we heard repeatedly, since our whole trip was spent going in the opposite direction of the 500,000 Poles travelling to the biggest free festival in the country! Since the ‘klezmer’ (aircon) wasn’t working, this lovely pair insisted on providing us with cans of low-alcohol fruity beer to assist in keeping our temperature down. Unfortunately, since I had a pretty bad case of ‘kac’ (pronounced ‘katz’), that’s hangover to you and me, all the sickly sweet drink did was enhance the hair-raising ride of our first Polish hitch-hiking experience by making me feel really, really dodgy.

His driving was insane and all I could do was deep breathe and hope for the best, while the lady danced to really loud, pumping Polish pop music and occasionally turned round to smile sympathetically at me. This was a hangover of the highest order. I actually felt as though I was on some serious hallucinogenic drugs, so perhaps it was also a bit of heat-stroke from waiting in the sun in Germany. By the time we got out of the car I knew that I was going to shit and sick (or spew and poo) immediately, but in which order?! That was really my only question.

DSC_0299

Not the exact place we got dropped off at, but similar…  and straight into the woods I went.

I won’t disgust you any more with my roadside exploits, but suffice to say that it was pretty unpleasant. Still, I soon recovered and the whole thing didn’t dent my day too much. I was feeling far too happy to let a few agressively expelled bodily fluids get me down. With a little help from those two kind souls and their sufferance of my sick-face, plus a guy who said everything in his car was ‘kaput’ and a fully air-conditioned, empty Polski bus on it’s way back to the depot, we were well on our way to Łódź  (pronounced ‘woodge’, but with a soft ‘w’ that’s said as though you’ve got a fag between your lips).

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It’s pretty good having a whole bus to yourself. Photo by Katie.

For a moment on the bus, we panicked, when we thought that the bus driver had missed our turn off and was carrying us to some undisclosed location, not of our choosing. Katie looked at me – ‘you go and ask him’. I looked at her and thought, aww, that’s sweet, the adventurous one is encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone and try some more Polish. I expressed this, but what she actually said was ‘no, not at all, I just can’t be bothered… please you do it’, with a weary grin. All I could manage was a pathetic ‘pszepraszam, Łódź?’ which was like whispering ‘Please? Manchester?’ in a desperate, child-like voice to the driver. This request tickled him, and since he couldn’t speak English to respond, I took his jolly face as evidence that he wasn’t kidnapping us and sat back down.

Even when we found ourselves on a motorway sliproad, which is illegal in Poland, we managed to get a lift without a bother. I took to dancing and smiling like a friendly maniac, and found that it’s true what they say – eye contact with the driver is essential for hitch-hiking. Recently, someone told me a tale about when their Dad was hitching in Norway back in the day and somebody stopped, smiled, and said sweetly ‘Buy your own car’. A bit below the belt if you ask me, and anyway, this limited experience of hitch-hiking has already taught me that lifts don’t really come for free.

It’s hard work walking for yonks out of a city to get to the nearest decent road where somebody might be more likely to pick you up, you hope, as you drag your walking boots along weighed down like a donkey with backpack and tent. It also seems to be written into the job description of the hitch-hiker that you should provide the in-house entertainment, regardless of whether or not you speak the language. The constant smiling gives you cheek-ache, the slightly dodgy experiences nearly give you a heart attack, and the putting your journey into someone else’s hands constantly means you really have to give a lot of yourself to the experience.

Lucky for us, it turns out that the Poles are a nation of very friendly, generous, character-full folk. We met more than a few people that I would describe as ‘natural actors’. Even when we stoody by, open mouthed and mute, not understanding more than a few words of this alien language which is full of confusingly-strung-together-consonants, they were somehow entertaining. They just used anything nearby as props, plus a generous approach to the twisting of language in order to communicate. Those Poles know how to spin a yarn.

We quickly got the feeling that the whole country is just that bit more DIY than the UK. There’s still a dab of punk in Poland, which I guess is to be expected in a country which has had it hard (harder than us Brits anyway) in the not too distant history. From the DB radios fed on wires out of car doors and onto roofs, to the mass proliferation of decent boots, we witnessed a mixture of the hard-working obedience that is the English stereotype of the Polish, and subtle disobedience. You can’t drink a beer in the street, an issue which one young Pole informed us should be top of the political agenda, and it’s illegal to jaywalk, but the Poles we met definitely had some rebel in them.

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‘Hardcore, No Disco!’ Katie getting into the Polski spirit.

Our host in Łódź was the lovely Mariola, who showered us with hospitality, green smoothies and special egg breakfasts. Mariola loves her city, and it shows. Busy as she was, she made time to let us into her life, which after all, is what this couchsurfing lark is all about. When she suggested a beach party on the first night we arrived, I did question what kind of crazy EuroPop event we were going to find. Particularly because Łódź, which incidentally means boat, is a totally land-locked city.

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Mariola and Katie. A bit blurry (taken by me!)

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We pulled up at Manufaktura, a renovated area of old factories-turned-shopping centre/hotel/gallery/beach party! Usually I hate these kind of complexes, but if you have to go to one, Manufaktura is an extremely well-executed and not too offensive example. The next night, Mariola and her friends took us to the (FREE) outdoor cinema in a local park. Mariola was very knowledgable about films, and gave us a lot of tips for good Polish films to watch. It was during one of our film chats that she coined the phrase I used for the title of this post – ‘this film is making a big noise’. I just really liked her turn of phrase, so I wrote it in my notebook. Back to the outdoor cinema – tt didn’t even matter that the film was Spanish with Polish subtitles. The experience was amazing, and every so often Mariusz would lean over and offer us a little synopsis to take our mind off the profusion of vicious mosquitos.

Polski mosquitos, DAMN YOU! Vitamin B and tabletki antihistamino were all we needed, but nobody understood our Polish language attempts in the chemist. It also took us three hours to find menthol filter tips in a specialist tobacconist, because tobacco hasn’t become mainstream there yet. Even so, we didn’t really care. We just wandered the dusty streets of this city taking photos like proper tourists, ogling street art and the crumbling, abandoned buildings which are the relics of Łódź’ industrial history. Handmade goods and beers galore in OFF Pitrowska were an ace intro to the city, as were Mariola’s tales about how things have changed in the city, and in fact the whole country, during her lifetime.

Some say it’s the forgotten city, others hail it as ‘Poland’s Manchester’. For us, it was pure magic.

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(All photos by Katie)

Getting out of Łódź was a bit of a trek. Our earlier good luck with the hitching gave us false confidence and we thought we might even get a lift out of the city. Not so. We had a bit of a hike on our hands, which we began in good faith, but I admit that we eventually gave up. Hungry but not yet too grumpy (we both like our food man, I’d never make it as a real hand-to-mouth traveller. I need to eat every few few hours), we decided to take the tram. Lots of charading ensued as we tried to understand a friendly lady’s transport directions to the road we needed. We hopped on and settled in for what we later found out was famously the longest tram journey in Poland. The longer you’re on public transport in a country where you don’t speak the language, the more you doubt you’re going in the right direction. The  thing is that when you’re having fun, you’re just not really bothered either way.

We got a lift with a guy who told Katie she had ‘beautiful eyes’ and spent the entire journey frantically translating on his phone with not even one eye on the road. We nearly went into a bloody lorry, at which point I yelped, prompting him to do it repeatedly again, as though scaring girls in cars was some kind of personal, macho duty. Anyway, we survived. The next lift came with leather seats and in-car laptop tapping, with two young guys working in telecomms. One had spent a year in London working as a rickshaw driver, and gave us a long and comprehensive rundown of why he hated it. The English are a bit racist, girls get drunk, take their shoes off and piss and sick in the street (obviously I didn’t tell him about my motorway-side hangover exploits!) It was all the stereotypes in one foul swoop, but we let him off. He was a nice guy essentially who had just had a hard time of it in London, as I imagine immigrants often do, whichever country they go to.

We made it to Sopot for a brief interlude at a weird Polish holiday resort, which was an experience.  I dipped my feet in the Baltic sea and then we headed off to Gdansk in search of Piotr, our next host. He told us to meet him at ‘the biggest church on the planet’, where we should ‘send the raven, and look out for the orange trousers’. That’s the best directions I’ve ever had. From this we deduced that he was going to be ‘a character’, but we didn’t realise quite what an all round good, interesting guy he’d be.

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Piotr, otherwise known as El Capitan, wearing his birthday hat at five in the morning on the way home from his birthday Fire Camp. Also insisting on carrying all the bags, like a proper Polish gent. Photo by Katie.

Piotr showed us that it’s true, in Poland they do drink a lot of vodka. However, they always pass it around in our experience. In Gdansk, at Piotr’s 30th birthday Fire Camp (never again will I call it a camp fire! This way just rolls off the tongue better) shit got shared. Whether it was sausages, home-brewed strawberry vodka or stories – the overall impression was one of warmth and generosity. It seems that a Polish welcome is a warm one, and it got me thinking about how it’s just not always like that, paricularly if you find yourself at a gathering with people who all know each other but don’t know you very well.

At parties people can tend to count their cans and hug their bottles just a wee bit too much. Is it a British thing? Or perhaps it’s just a people thing? It could be that when you travel people are more generous towards you, simply because they know you’re far away from home, and maybe you seem a tiny bit more exotic. All I know is that there can often be a bit of an everyman/woman for himself/herself mentality when it comes to enjoying ourselves, and that quite a lot of people can’t really be bothered to make an effort with new people.

Recently, I realised I could do a bit better at both of those things myself, and I’ve now made a more conscious decision to approach everyone I meet as though they are new friends. I think it’s a nicer way to live.

On this occasion I felt so relaxed amongst my new friends that I swiftly overdid it on home-brew and really strong spliffs and then fell asleep by the fire for five hours in a stupour! Through my haze I felt people covering me with blankets and kindly tucking me in. I was totally at home under the stars, although Katie told me later that someone almost dropped a massive hunk of sharp log on my head. Also, when I woke up, I had some burns on my arm from where the fire had spat at me. So having said all this, I’d also like to point out that you can’t expect pissed people to save you from a spitting fire, friends or not! There’s a limit to these things!!

DSC_0878 DSC_0877 DSC_0886 DSC_0892 DSC_0900 DSC_0905 DSC_0918 DSC_0922 DSC_0940 DSC_0935 DSC_0958 DSC_0945                                      Piotr and friends at Fire Camp. One or two of my photos in there (I was getting better by this point), but mostly by Katie 🙂

My most enduring memory of my time in Poland was our visit to the stochnya, the historical home of anti-communist solidarity in Gdansk. This was a place where history was made! This is where the protests started which helped to bring about the end of communism in Poland. There are some memorials at the front, but a little beyond that and it’s actually abandoned now. You can just see the outlines of the ‘historical cranes’ as Piotr called them, over the water. However the area we were in was all private property, since they build superyachts round the back! Bizarre.

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My favourite. I took this one of Katie and Piotr in the abandoned factory by the Stochnya.

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Mainly photos by Katie of the evening leading up to and including us scurrying around at the Shipyard. I did the one of the two of them on the bench though 😉

We shiftied through a small hole in the wire to explore the broken-down buildings, rusty remnants of communist-era machinery, the odd boat (with an old kettle dumped inside it), and to bask in the atmospheric light streaming through half-smashed windows. What an amazing place. We were very drunk, as this was post Piotr’s personal vodka tour, but this only added to the magic and we still managed to get some great shots. Well, I say we, Katie did, mainly. I took a couple and then pretended to be a film-maker, diving around trying to get strange angles in order to capture the mood of the moment as I perceived it. I panned to Piotr, who obliged by giving an inspired performance as an imaginary cut and paste Texan/Polish shipyard worker hybrid. Damn that guy should be an actor! We even got caught and searched by the guards, which of course made it all the more fun!!

To cut it short, and because this expression of rambling Polski-love is turning out to be longer than I anticipated – more people should visit Poland. There’s plenty of culture and history and art to go round, and you’ll even get free tea and a chocolate wafer biscuit on the train. You can charge your phone in the train station sockets and nobody will try to charge you, which is pretty remarkable. They’ve got lovely lakes and fire camps and there is a general sense that this is a country on the up.There’s optimism in the Polish air, and whilst there’s often no klemer and you still have to pay for the turnstile toilets, we just really liked it.

Also, soul sister (or brother) adventuring is good. I recommend it. If you’ve got friends in faraway places, it’s special for your friendship to take some time out to explore together every once in a while. A snatched day or weekend here and there is fine, but everything needs feeding, and trips like this feed soul, friendship, itchy feet and the craving for adventurism. We coined the term ‘magnetisement’ shortly before our trip, and magnetisementing good things all over Poland is exactly what we did.

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My friend Maz-Bird talks FLOCK. Good work you magical creature! Big up to all the enthusiastic baby-birds, gender-bending-birds and beautiful-new-friend-birds that joined us on our flights of fantastic lunacy at Avant Garden and Shambala. Extra-massive love and thanks to Georgie Buchanan for being the birdy brains of the outfit (literally, she thunk it up, she made the wings, she showed us how to fly!) Here’s to many more happy FLOCKventures and festivals. WE LOVE FLOCK!! XXX

MARIANNE TUCKMAN

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FLOCK is a newly formed collective of dancers, poets, seamstresses, singers and puppet makers. Last year Georgie, India and Louisa introduced Unknown Festival to birdy delights, this summer FLOCK have been flying all over.

We have an interactive, nomadic story that develops each day with workshops and performances. Each aspect of our performance is designed to invite fellow festival goers to join in. WARNING: FLOCK may attempt to seduce new flock members in subversive manners, such as through the disputably irresistible FLOCK mating dance. New members will be greeted by a lively welcome dance and will be presented with a unique item binding them to FLOCK.

We took FLOCK on an urban adventure from Hackney to Lewisham on our way to Avantgarden Festival at the Fox and Firkin. Our feathers set trains, buses and dual carriageways blazing with colour. Passers by passed by and then passed back to double…

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Twisted Knickers and Dictatorships

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Some rehearsal photos from my final year project, Twisted Knickers and Dictatorships! We’re not photographers, but there’s still some nice ones here… This piece was a collaboration between myself and my good friend Cristina Mackerron, and a unique and fascinating cast of lady performers; Sophie Hutchinson, Emily Eason, Emily Orme and Nikki De Graaf.

With black humour running through every costume change and fluctuating personality, this cast of slightly soiled, somewhat flawed, but often wild and fearless female characters, find themselves endlessly tangled in the twisted knicker dictatorship – with only an anarchic dressing up box and a really bad portuguese accent with a lisp, for company…

It’s a fairly chaotic piece of dance theatre, overflowing with a disparate band of women, stories and characters, in a place where magic and realism meets! Extracting the latent content from the fairy tale form, and inspired particularly by the life and work of artist Paula Rego and writer Angela Carter, we set out to excavate the surreal, savage, and sometimes farcical aspects of femininity and the romantic ideal.

Archetypes are twisted and turned upside down, revealing the women to be both complex and contradictory creatures. Filled with gothic tales, cruel tales, tales of wonder and tales of terror; many influences are exploited in this cut and paste performance style which mixes the personal and the political, the traditional and the contemporary, the beautiful and the grotesque.

The piece will be shown again during an exchange with London Contemporary Dance School on 9th May, and we’re on the lookout for other opportunities, so fingers crossed!