Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Places I want to visit: Djenne, Mali

The Great Mosque in Djenne is built entirely of mud and is truly truly extraordinary. The music of Mali is also rather good, but that's for another post...

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Khachapuri Japanese Stylee...

How to make the best Georgian comfort food in the world with the help of two Japanese ladies - a little culturally surreal but I'm glad this culinary gem is going global. I plan to bake it for my friend's band who are coming to stay this week - wish me luck...

Fairytale Tree

Illustration by my dear friend Jamie Atherton - there's a link to his blog Atherton-Lin at the side of my page...

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The Sky Car

Being a little obsessed with failed flying machines of the past this was a little gem to discover... Kind of like an early helicopter...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Cherry blossom time - Japan 1932

I'm slightly overindulging in old travel footage... but here is one of my favourites... and it's especially rare to get pre-WWII footage of Japan... Gosh and I've been to Nikko and Kamakura too - two dreamy strange days of getting lost and stumbling on beautiful things - one in snow in Nikko and Kamakura was all dappled sunshine - I must scan in my photos - it was pre-digital camera days! But I remember being puzzled by lots of little statues in red woolly hats and how I went up to a lake near Nikko and there were monkeys in the snow by the road and I found a cluster of swan shaped pedalos drifting abandoned on the cool clear water...

Damascus 1930

1950s Land of the Vikings

Iran 1953

AM 4 Retro Volcanoes

I've always been a little obsessed with volcanoes... and wanted a dress made of lava, but I'm pretty resigned to the impossibility of that... But hey - here's some great out footage of eruptions in Hawaii where the lava is always the most spectacular...

Treasure Island, San Francisco

Cornish Piskies

I am sat in my room in Cornwall staring out to sea when I should be working - but I can't concentrate so began thinking about all the lovely walks round here and how often I see secret paths too small for people. My granny always used to say they were for the piskies so here for those non natives is a short guide to the secret folk of Cornwall (text from

"Piskies, Faeries, Knockers and the Small People.

In olden days, Cornish country people believed that they shared their lovely land with another, more elusive population of piskies. The Cornish piskey, of course, is legend, but much less is generally known about those other faery people, the spriggans, knockers and Small People, whose activities were closely interwoven with those of the ordinary mortal folk among whom they lived.

Not so many years ago, one could ask any really old soul whose days had been spent in Cornwall and get a sure description of any of these little creatures and what they got up to. First there were the prankish, teasing, laughing, heel-kicking piskies who, some declare, came with the saints from Ireland, while others say that they are the souls of virtuous pagans from times yet deeper in the past. There are those, too, who believe the piskies were once the gods of pre-Christian Cornwall, giant-like in stature, but who, in the face of the new religion - some say they were scattered with holy water-shrank in size, an unfortunate fate which will continue until they vanish entirely from the earth. Whatever their origins, the piskies - or Piskey as he is called, for he usually works alone - are as good a people as they are mischievous, helping the aged and infirm in their household tasks, threshing the corn on a moonlit night, plaiting the pony's mane for stirrups and riding it wildly the night through. And, of course, many people of old were piskey-led when benighted, losing all sense of time and place and wandering helplessly in what appeared to be a strange landscape, until they dropped down into an exhausted sleep.

What were these little old men, the piskies, like to look upon? To begin with they were all identical, and each no higher than, say a mouse. They wore wigs of grey lichen beneath their red caps. Eyes as bright and unwinking as a robin's stared out of each small, wrinkled face. They were dressed in dapper fashion - white weskits, green stockings, brown coats and breeches, while their brightly gleaming shoes were buckled with diamond dew-drops. Always lively, when they chattered they filled the air with a sound like the droning of bees. They were accustomed with riding about on snails.

If these friendly little creatures were the good spirits of old Cornwall, then the spriggans were the bad. Hordes of them, hissing, spitting and grinning maliciously, protected every cliff top or granite cairn where treasure might be buried, for they were appointed to protect it. In the same way, they haunted the hundreds of ancient burial mounds, as well as the giant pre-historic tombs known as dolmens, which are found in Cornwall, particularly in the far west. Beneath these, it was thought, treasure lay beside the remains of pagan peoples who walked the Cornish moorlands thousands of years ago. The spriggans were ugly, and much feared, wizened and shrivelled old men with large heads like those of children upon their puny little shoulders. They were able to raise sudden whirlwinds and storms to terrify the lonely traveller. They could summon rain and hail to lay the corn. Worse, they stole children from their cradles. So too, it might be said, did the piskies but whereas the latter chose neglected babes which their parents soon found again, well cared for and cherished, the spriggans selected bonny babes, leaving in their stead their own large-headed, wizened and ugly brats.

Most mysterious of the elfin creatures of Cornwall were the knockers or knackers of the mines. These were, it is said, the spirits of old miners, perhaps those Jewish miners who worked underground in Cornwall a long time past. Those who have seen these sprites are few, but their descriptions of them tally; of ugly, thin limbed creatures no higher than the smallest human dwarf, with large hooked noses, slit mouths from ear to ear, and a great liking for making dreadful faces.

They were not above, for instance, crossing their eyes and thumbing their noses when they met you, or bending over to grimace at you between their spindly legs.There were also those who affirmed that the knockers were not the spirits of Jewish miners but of those who had crucified Christ. In support of this theory, they were said to be heard sweetly singing carols in the mines, not from choice but under compulsion, on Christmas Day, Easter Day, All Saint's Day and the Jewish Sabbath. Others believed the knockers were the souls of those whose deeds in this world allowed them entry neither into hell nor heaven - an interesting conjecture considering their living and working in the Cornish mines.

Supposedly, these tiny creatures were once upon a time much larger but were destined to shrink so much in size that each eventually became an ant, or murrian, and finally disappear, a fate in store for them since the birth of Christ. Knockers, of course, were a product of the imagination of a past race of Cornish miners, people of a naturally mystical and superstitious nature, which was enhanced by their working in the darkness of narrow, rock-hewn depths where the only light was shed by glimmering candles. In such eerie surroundings, with the pitchy silence broken only by the dripping of water, the faint tappings of other men working in distant levels elsewhere in the mine, or an occasional clatter of a falling stone, it is perhaps not surprising that the most sceptical of Cornish miners came to believe in these underground spirits. It was well known that the sound of these little men, whose activity with picks and shovels, borers and barrows, was familiar to every underground worker, were full of fun amongst themselves when unobserved, but much more sober in behaviour when spied upon.

Generally speaking, the latter was not wise. Knockers were to be treated with respect, for although of a friendly disposition on the whole, they could be malicious towards any miner who failed, for example, to leave a portion of his underground meal - a piece of pasty, maybe - for one of their number to enjoy. Similarly, they were not to be sworn or shouted at and, indeed, the miner who did so was a fool, for the knockers worked only profitable ground, and would make themselves known only to those whom they favoured. Continuing bad luck might even dog those who were particularly disrespectful.

There were others in Cornwall who connected the name of these "underground piskies" with the "knocking" or "knacking" of a mine, that is, its closing or abandonment. Some popular beliefs had it that the appearance of knockers in a mine presaged its closing or that their arrival was otherwise an ill omen. It is said that in the hundreds of Cornwall's "knackt bals", or abandoned mines, that they live there still, keeping everlasting watch, awaiting the day when they can, as of old, guide miners towards the wealthy lodes which they themselves are aware of.

In mines abroad, it is interesting to note, similar spirits were to be found. Small elf-like beings haunted the lead and silver mines of the Hartz Mountains in Germany, for example, and their behaviour and characteristics were very similar to the knockers of the Cornish mines. Again the Cardiganshire mines in Wales, had their knockers, little men already at work in the new mines before the men even found the ore for which they were searching, little men who worked while the miners worked, stopped when the miners stopped - as might an echo.

The most faery-like of Cornwall's elfin folk were undoubtedly the Small People, gentle, harmless, always beautiful. Like Piskey, they would come into the homes of the sick, the old and the poor, bringing wild flowers and entertaining with songs, lively dancing or light hearted pranks. More usually however, they were seen by some lucky person while holding their fairs and markets in woodland dells, in faery gardens filled with perfume and music, perhaps among the sea-pinks that found hold along the cliff ledges, or in the shelter of moorland cairns. Unfortunately, such sights were a rare privilege for human eyes, and those that trespassed on faery ground immediately became one of their number.

Descriptions of the Small People vary but they are unanimous in depicting a vivacious, graceful and slender folk, barely knee high. Invariably they were fleet of foot, although not averse to riding a hare when in a particular hurry. Always they were elegantly and richly dressed, in lace, satin or velvet, with jewels of silver, diamonds and gold. The ladies are described as crinolined, with curled and powdered hair piled high beneath tall and pointed hats. Their menfolk were sometimes dressed as soldiers or huntsmen but the majority wore pale blue jerkins and green breeches, with elegant tricornes trimmed with lace and silver bells, upon their heads. Like their ladies, they had large, dark, luminous eyes but whereas the former had pale and delicate complexions, the faces of the men were dark- skinned."

I couldn't find any non-twee pictures of piskies, so here is a good photo of some young boys eating pasties - the atmosphere is a little piskie-like...

Monday, 14 July 2008

Bucharest Metroart project press

If anyone can read Romanian...
Time Out Bucharest:
Antipa Museum website:
Romanian television

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Snowballs for bees

The Himalayan Snowball plant is hollow inside so bees can rest there when the winds get too strong and get on with pollinating in safety and warmth... I like to see them as secret meeting places for the equivalent of Nepalese bee tea parties. Or some such... They're rather pretty...

Clockwork duckling

Oooh creepy but I love it! By Lisa Black.

Kidnapping Caucasian Style

Lana has long been telling me I should watch this classic of Soviet comic cinema and look I found the whole thing on youtube! Thought I'd share...

Balkan shopwindows...

and creepy dentist signs - I've noticed teeth with smily faces a lot on my travels... I guess they figured it wouldn't work for the British market - it's a deeply sinister tradition I'm kind of fond of though...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Patterns of memory

Found photo, key, matchbox house and shells story sketch/map 2008.
(The problem with sketches is I do them in five minutes then when looking back would change every bit of writing - hmmm - good to let go...).

A Serbian use of caravans...

One thing I really noticed in Belgrade last year was the number of randomly floating caravans. Like Romanians having no idea why there are so many wedding dress shops in Bucharest (if you ever wander around Lipskana count them - seriously...), my Serbian pals are at a loss to explain why this stalwart of the optimistic British holiday in the rain has a tendency to be parked on wood and set afloat in their capital city...

However they all overwhelmingly agree with my observation that as a nation they are obsessed with drafts. It became a running joke. Whereas us Brits sleep with windows open for the good of fresh air, Serbs close bus windows in sweltering heat and rush for a scarf if a breeze floats through a slightly ajar door! I might print some copies of this to take with me next time I go as it brings both our theories together...

I wonder what Serb inventor hero Nikola Tesla would think of it all? (Hell this is just an excuse to post one of my favourite photos of all time)...

Floating Houses

Having always fantasised about living in both canal boats and lighthouses over the years I started to think about floating houses. I remembered seeing footage of Lousiana and the little wooden houses there that have a darkness that's overwhelming yet kind of magical and comforting too. There are some amazing ones in Vietnam - some of my favourites in terms of setting with the mountains looping behind them. There's a particularly lovely old lady's one on a lake in Russia and also some new eco homes that are really innovative in terms of design (though I've picked a creepy looking one as it reminds me of a modernist witche's house just in case you ever wondered what that would look like) - if the world's going to get a lot wetter in makes sense to drift on calmer waters. A permanent yet transient home is maybe the way forward, as well as maybe the home I crave to suit both sides of my nesting vs running away longings...


I just got back from two weeks of running art workshops for children in Bucharest in the Peasant museum and the Natural History museum. I was continually impressed with the enthusiam and unfettered imaginations of the children - there's something wonderful about minds that haven't learnt to constrain themselves yet. Here is a photo of the collective results of the Natural History museum workshops - amazing seaworlds made from wire, wax, coloured gels, wool, beads, bubble wrap, plastic bottles and buttons based on the children's drawings they made inside the museum.