A PR person asked me that years ago and I hadn’t a clue what she meant. After my long puzzled silence she said “Well, it’s nature, isn’t it?!”
I guess she’s right. Nature. In the back of our minds all the time, it’s where we’re from. There’s an element of bringing colour, fun and lightness into people’s lives and homes. The clocks especially, with their birds and animals, colour and eccentricity, and the experimental techniques I use in making them, suggest a sense of freedom that can get lost in our adult lives.
Maybe we should delve into my childhood, in rural Northumberland…here’s a snapshot.
It’s 1974. I am eight. I am wearing yellow and purple crimplene trousers, of which I am very proud.
I live in a small Northumbrian village. My Mother was brought up here, my Grandma lives next door. I am aware that I am living in an idyllic place. Sometimes I’m swayed by how exotic towns and suburbs seem on TV but I like the countryside. I like to see the trees and fells.
We live in a tiny cottage. The toilet is outside, the bath is in the kitchen, there’s only a coal fire for heating, but friends and relatives who live in the country have the same arrangements. We have large gardens and I’m always outside anyway.
Next door is Bowman’s shop. It is dark and old, it sells sweets and iced lollies, newspapers, comics, there must be other things too but I don’t notice. We play outside in the back, in a fantastic jungle of old cars, hens and nettles.
There is a steep hill rising protectively above the village, it’s called the fell. If we are feeling energetic we climb it and make camps in the gorse, play on the rocks, watch linnets or yellowhammers as they call fleetingly.
I went to the village school only a few months before it closed down. I remember painting and spelling mostly. There was a stove, a tray of tiny milk bottles that froze in winter, beanbags and hoops, the smell of pencil shavings and brown plasticine.We ran in the woods and made dens in the hollow, as my mother had done before. I remember the whole school all standing in assembly singing “Summer suns are glowing” from a purple scented printed sheet.
Out of school I mostly play on the green, cricket in season, football all the rest of the time, although there are only three of us. A farming engineering workshop nearby is full of men drilling and welding. We can hear them from our house, it is the background sound.
There are three working farms in the village. We go sometimes to ‘help’ with the milking.The cows come across the main road from the back fields at milking time and stop the traffic.
Sometimes people will just sit on a bench and watch cars. We often walk down the fields to the river, to swim, play, and pick primroses in the Spring, hazelnuts in Autumn. My Grandma posts primroses to her sisters who live in towns.
I know the names of all the trees and flowers, know their seedheads and the shape of their petals, what is edible and what to leave alone. The shapes and colours of nature are my constant surroundings, I like to examine leaves and tree seeds and all the details of life around me.
There is church and chapel Sunday School, both of which I’m sent to. I would much rather be outside. Everyone has a garden and most grow food. I know everyone. My Grandma is everywhere and in everything. The Garden Fete and the Leek Show are village highlights.
I am absorbed in my native place. It will be many years before I think it strange for a roomful of men to be comparing the size of their leeks!