What are you like when it comes to trying new things? I don’t mean things like a new brand of ice cream, or a marmite-flavoured vodka but things like experiences, or a new hobby.
For me, I’m pretty bad at it; I mean bad at actually making myself do it. When I was looking for a new hobby (glass fusing – which it was at the time), it took me months to summon the courage to book onto a course. I even sent Rich on a course first, just to try it out. I figured that if he couldn’t do it, he wouldn’t lose sleep over it and I certainly wouldn’t. That’s me, you see. Endlessly brave…
It’s called ‘perfectionism’ and it’s fair to say that it’s taken up far too much of my life. So many times, I have wanted to try something but haven’t because ‘I know I’ll be shit at it’.
This is a crazy thing to think because really, who is good at something the first-time round? You can’t tell me that Usain Bolt shot out his mother’s womb so fast that he thought to himself ‘there’s something in this – I can move REALLY quickly’. Or that Edison literally had a lightbulb moment during a nappy change.
It’s not the trying, it’s the humiliation…
Clearly, being really good at something, takes time and practice. So, I’ve asked myself why I expect to be good at something, immediately. I’ve thought long and hard about it and ultimately, I don’t think I’m scared of failing, but I AM scared of being humiliated. You see, in my world, I think it’s OK to try something and not be brilliant, but it’s not OK to try something and be really fucking terrible. Like, the worst attempt from anyone, ever, that’s tried that thing. That’s humiliating.
I’ve realised that humiliation is one of the things I am most afraid of in life. It’s an emotion that feels the most uncomfortable and at the time, the most devastating. I remember one hideous moment taking part in an inter-school gym competition. I was average at gym, but well below-average at vaulting. When it came to my turn, I jumped on the springboard, tripped over the box and landed on my face the other side. I recall the hushed sounds and my gym teacher standing over me, ordering me to get up. I remember being face down and thinking I would rather die through suffocation on that mat than ever show my face again. Total humiliation. At an age when even walking into a room is humiliating.
Be wary of the Red Shoes
Another time, I recall finding a beautiful pair of shoes when I was about 13. They were in the sale for a ridiculous price, so I snapped them up. I soon realised why they were in the sale because you couldn’t stand upright in them. The soles were so slippery that even walking on a piece of Velcro would have had me unwittingly auditioning for Ski Sunday. But they were bloody lovely. The brightest red. With a bow on the front. So, I wore them. And walked gingerly.
One winter evening, I was meeting some friends. I would be literally getting out of my dad’s car, and walking to the front door of the village hall. With such a short distance, surely I could manage that in my Ski Sunday shoes? On arrival, I saw my other friend turn up in her dad’s car. I got out and walked over. I slipped and fell. She hadn’t noticed until she looked up and saw my hand grabbing onto the bonnet of their car and me hauling myself up, only to not get purchase in my shoes, like a cartoon mouse, and fall again. Her and her dad laughed like drains. She was still laughing 3 hours later when he came to pick her up again. The shoes went in the fucking bin.
OK, I wasn’t trying anything new in those shoes. I could, after all, already walk. But the humiliation has stayed with me and it’s the possibility of feeling that intense shame again which threatens me when trying new things.
The Impressive Adult…
About 18 months ago, I bought a glass course on a technique which has always intrigued me. It’s been in my inbox ever since because I’ve been too damn scared to try it. It’s technically advanced, but what worries me most is that it’s…arty. I cannot draw. I cannot paint. This course involves both. What a dick.
I’ll not lie, I’ve been keener to clean out my cat’s litter tray than to begin this course and that’s never a joy.
But, I’ve started.
Wow. See, it’s never too late to become an impressive adult…
The first piece went in the kiln on Friday and came out two days later. It’s okay. Needs work, but it’s okay. It’s not exactly a Usain Bolt moment, but I’ll get there. I thought about putting a picture of it here for about, ooh, 3 milliseconds.
Apparently, in business, you’re advised to continue to write newsletters, blogs, and post on social media throughout January. I understand this, but understanding it, does not make it any easier to do.
Believe it or not, I’m now going to write a blog, which I want you to read, on the subject of having nothing to report. Bear with me…
I don’t like doing much in January. It’s a time of recovering from the excesses of December, and the realisation that it’s bastard January again. I cut myself some slack because even plants can’t be bothered in January, and they have just one job.
However, I accept that I must crank this old bird into first gear, and move off into 2024 with the caution that comes with starting a 1975 Mini after it’s been parked out in the rain for a couple of weeks. (As an aside, my first car was a 1975 mini. Old minis were notorious for breaking down in the rain because the distributor cap was right behind the grill. When it rained, the electrics got wet. In those days, I carried a can of WD40 around with me like a rancid bottle of Chanel No.5.)
I know, I’ll do a workshop!
With this in mind, I decided to attend a ‘Vision Board’ workshop, with six brilliant and funny women. What’s a ‘Vision Board Workshop’? Well, you create a vision for your year ahead and, well, put it on a board.
I arrived at the venue (the most beautiful house) and on parking my car, was greeted by two black cats. I instantly thought ‘well, this is a Sign’! But then I realised you can’t really interpret animals as a ‘sign’, when you are visiting a place where they actually live. It’s a bit like visiting the bat enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo and declaring it a sign that your chosen career into witchcraft must be right because you’re practically inhaling bats.
Where I practice signing my name
Anyway, at the start of the morning, we were going through some journal exercises to get us into the right frame of mind for vision board creation. They were thought-provoking questions but one of them stumped me:
‘What three things did you achieve last year which you are most proud of?’
All around me, I could hear the furious scratching of pens on paper whilst the six other super-beings wrote down all they were proud of. I, meanwhile, could not think of one. Single. Thing. I wrote my name a few times in my notebook, to make it look like I had something to write, then closed it quickly. I mean, I didn’t want the others to think I was some sort of idiot.
After lunch, it was time to get creative and put our boards together. We had piles of magazines to go through to cut out pictures, words or phrases which inspired us or meant something to our year ahead. Most magazines have eye-catching words in order to get you to read the articles within however, the first page I opened contained an advert for a Stannah stair lift…
Out ratting by the light of the silvery moon
So there I was, literally cutting and pasting. Words and phrases such as ‘getting older is liberating’, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, ‘storytelling’ and ‘whippet’ found their way onto my board in a wave of optimism and future manifesting. All the while, the conversations and witticisms of my fellow cut and pasters provided the soundtrack (the horse who thinks he’s a ‘fucking rhino’ and the descriptions of the two ‘Shitland’ Ponies; along with the phrase ‘oh yeah, chickens are bastards’; and the tale of rat brought in by one lady’s cat in the middle of the night, resulting in her carrying the then bag-wrapped rat, by the light of the silvery moon on the winter solstice, in her pyjamas to release it.)
It was a fabulous day, spent with fabulous women. Our awesome hostess fed and watered us with tasty home-cooked food, cake and a heavy dollop of encouragement.
I’ll put this out there now: I’ve never been one for Vision Boards. I’ve always thought them a bit too ‘woo’ for me. However, I now think that I shouldn’t really write something off without actually trying it. I’m glad I did. Dreaming for a day was fun and if just some of the stuff on my board comes into being, well then, I’m happy. Particularly if it’s being able to fly a broomstick – I’ve never been able to master that.
THIS YEAR has been pretty shit…how we can all help small businesses
I know, I know. The year hasn’t ended yet but I feel I can safely say that 2023 so far has been pretty dire for the majority of small businesses. And, to be perfectly honest, although the year is not yet at its end, I can’t see any glimmer of something spectacular in the few short weeks remaining.
However, I am not a monster. I know this year has been pretty awful for ordinary people, not solely those running a business. Let’s face it, just trying to pay for 3 ½ minutes of electricity is on a par with your mortgage or rent. I am an ordinary person, too. I understand. The only living thing which eats like a fucking lord in this house is the cat.
Despite this, I am a small business and this is a small business website so I am going to discuss in this blog why we need to worry about…small businesses.
Will the last person to leave, switch off the lights…
It was at this point in the blog where I was going to impress you with statistics about how many businesses have closed in 2023. However, on searching the internet, I realised I needed a) more time to find this out and b) more intelligence than I have to decipher all the charts and graphs. Therefore, you will just have to humour me when I tell you that lots and lots of businesses have shut up shop this year. The ones I know of have all cited the cost of electricity, but let’s face it, it’s increases in fucking everything. Except air. And I wonder how long that will remain free.
Quirky Shops and Craft Beer
So this is sad for businesses. But why should you care? I mean, you can still get what you want, can’t you?
This is why: small businesses give you something different. Think of all the times you have visited a quaint little town in the UK or abroad and what did you like about it? Chances are, it’s all the little quirky shops there are, selling things you don’t normally find. Or, when you go to a pub, how often do you try the craft beers made by small breweries? I don’t think anyone ever, would be heard saying ‘Barman, I don’t want any of that craft ale shit with all its depth of flavour and uniqueness; give me a nice pint of John Smith’s.’
In short, at the very least, small businesses give you something different. And in this day and age where the internet and social media is saturated with…well, people, don’t you want to have something different? Something not everybody else has? Small businesses give you that.
They also give to the local economy. A successful small business will spend its money locally, keeping other small businesses in 3 ½ minutes of electricity.
And another thing? Without small businesses, there will be fewer jobs. The more of them that close, the more people are looking for employment elsewhere. What happens with fewer jobs? Less money being made to spend in the economy.
I’m not perfect…there’s a surprise
Listen, I am not saying you should never spend your money with big firms. Let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to things such as…electricity. Also, businesses like Amazon are cheap and convenient. As much as I hate contributing to Jeff Bezo’s rocket fuel, I still do. I am trying to curb this but what I’m saying is that I do it too.
So what’s the solution to this? As I’ve said earlier, it’s shit out there. Some people really are in the situation of having to choose to eat in the cold or not eat and be warm. Others are just worried and are spending less to feel a bit more in control of a world which is consistently showing itself to be anything but controllable. But there are still things you can do to support small businesses.
How we can all help small businesses
Social media: comment and share business posts. Even if it’s just to say ‘I love this’, or ‘I saw you in town the other day and I have to say, you look really quite shocking in black’ (don’t say that – that’s cruel). Don’t have time to comment? Click the heart/laugh/wow emoji. This all helps with the dreaded and really fucking annoying social media algorithms.
Leave a review. If you have shopped or used a business, no matter how big or small your purchase, leave a review. You can do this on Facebook (if they use it, otherwise that would be weird), Google, TripAdvisor or Trust Pilot. It may take you 5 minutes but it will make so much difference to the business you are leaving it for. Just do it in the daylight to avoid the cost of putting the lights on when it’s dark.
Sign up to email lists. Showing an interest in a business by signing up to receive their newsletters can really help. If you read them too, that’s even better. How? Well if a business has lots of sign-ups, it gives them a boost; a bit of hope. And, if emails are opened and read, that also helps the mood of the person who has written them as it makes the sender feel they are at least being listened to. Obviously, it needs to be a business you are interested in; there would be little point in Suella Braverman signing up to receive information from a tent supplier for example.
Visit fairs and exhibitions. I know there is this feeling that you are ‘expected’ to buy something. I used to feel like that, too before I started fusing glass. But, like with the newsletter, showing an interest is just as lovely. Your interest, even without parting with money is hugely valuable and greatly appreciated.
Buy a card. We all send a card occasionally. Consider sending one you have bought from a small business. The added bonus of that is the recipient will be hugely thankful that you have considered them enough to buy a card which isn’t the same old shite with the same old jokes WHSmiths have been selling for the last 35 years.
Spread the word. If you know of someone who would benefit from a small business you like, let them know.
Pick up a business card. If you are the sort of person I mention in (4) above and the thought of not buying anything makes you cringe, then here’s a tip: pick up a business card. That way, you have shown an interest. And, if you do have a friend who you think would benefit, pass on the business card to them. Easy.
So, there are just 7 small ways you can help independent business in the shiteness that is Brexit Britain in 2023. Hopefully 2024 will be a little less bastard-ish and who knows, maybe you’ll be able to buy 5 minutes of electricity for the same price as your mortgage. How’s that for optimism?
It is said that nobody can buy from you if they don’t know you exist. I like this phrase because you don’t need a degree in English to understand it. It’s not ‘psychobabble’. It’s a sentence that even in these divisive times, literally nobody can argue with.
I make things. I want to sell the things I make. So why do I find it SO hard to sell? You know what I’m talking about: having to put yourself out there. Having to present yourself to the world, whether online or otherwise, and say ‘this is what I do.’ Leaving yourself open to criticism.
The Master at Work
But it’s so…excruciating! Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not good at sales. In fact, I’m bloody terrible. Here’s an example: at a show a few years ago, a man was studying a piece on my stall with real interest. He walked away only to return 10 minutes later. He studied it again. And walked away. The third time he came back, he pointed at it and said ‘I’ll take that, please.’ And I said:
‘Are you sure’?
Let that sink in. I uttered those words ‘are you sure?’ I mean, what the actual fuck?
‘Are you sure?’
Honest to God, I bet there isn’t anyone else you know in the world, that would have said such a thing. It doesn’t stop there, though. You haven’t heard the apologetic tone in my voice when someone asks me the price of something. “It’s £95”, I say, in the same tone your doctor tells you ‘it’s your age, I’m afraid.’
Why? Why aren’t I saying ‘it’s £95 and that’s the best £95 you’ll ever spend. All your friends will bow down to your superior taste in art and you will be forever known as a guru in interior design.’?
The Master Online
This doesn’t just apply in person of course. I put out social media posts showing a piece I have made. I might make a joke or two about how it’s come into being or the stress I encountered on making it. However, on coming to the part in the post which most people want to know …I can’t do it!IT’S LIKE MY POST IS WRITTEN IN CAPITALS UNTILit gets tothe bit where I tell people it’s £95.
It goes against every single cell in my body to say that I’ve made something beautiful and that I’m proud of it. Yet this is what marketing is: it’s telling everyone how great you are. It doesn’t bother me when other sellers do this because I want to know how great their product or service is, and yet, there is nothing I struggle with more in business.
There is also the issue of networking, or telling people what I do. I say ‘I’m BecciandIownandrunBlackCatGlassDesigns’ so quickly and so quietly that I hope they’ll just fear their hearing is going and are too embarrassed to ask me to repeat myself.
Me and the God Complex
So why is this? I honestly do not know. I am not ashamed of what I do; it’s not as if I pull the wings off ladybirds for a living. It’s obviously a confidence thing but I also think it’s part of my character that’s completely resistant to change. I find that if I dare to think I may be good at what I do, some lightning-bolt of shite will immediately deposit itself on my doorstep, clearly meant to send the message ‘THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE A GOD COMPLEX’
Maybe I’m just in the wrong job. Perhaps I should have been a librarian or an usher, scooting about in the dark – which is all well and good until I have sell ice-creams, even to those who actually want an ice-cream.
Anyway, on that note, I’ve made this. It’s £150 and it’ll be the best £150 you’ll ever spent. All your friends will bow down to your superior taste in art and you will forever be known as the guru in interior design…
The other day, a fellow craftsmen sent me a message which said ‘how’s life and all that shit?’ Fair question, I thought. ‘Fine’, I replied, ‘considering it’s still fucking January.’ This got me to thinking: what is it about January which is just so awful?
The Theory of Time
When you get older, if you are anything like me, you lament at the rapid speed at which time travels. It seems, with increasing age, comes increasing speed, though not in a useful sense, like faster brain processing in calculating your VAT, or the ability to outrun a rabbit on your morning dog walk. But the increasing speed in which time goes by. You wake up one day and it’s April 24th. You run a few errands, hoover the floor and suddenly it’s October 3rd. That sort of thing.
January passes at a glacial rate, and a glacial rate before global warming at that. Every day lasts an eternity, which is ironic as January comprises most of the shortest days of the whole year. And the dark of a January morning! The dark morning mocks me with its faceless, all-encompassing presence. And as much as I like rain, if it’s raining on a January morning and I have to get up, I am Sin itself. Satan is just one in a whole box of puppies in comparison.
An intelligent race? Really?
As an apparently intelligent race, what, therefore, do we do in January? We decide to do Dry January and to give up sugar and chocolate; to go on a massive health kick, even if we haven’t so much as lifted more than a hot coffee the previous year. We decide to completely reinvent ourselves into something SO much better than we ever were before. Yes, we opt to make the direst month of the year EVEN WORSE by not drinking, not eating sugar and trying to run 10k before eating breakfast, (which can consist of anything, provided it’s not carbs).
It seems utterly bizarre to me that we would do this to ourselves. And I’m as much guilty of this as anyone else (apart from the running. I won’t run, ever. Chased by a bear? Fuck it – it can have me). I get through that mindless period between Christmas and New Year by promising myself a better ‘me’. A better life. What’s worse is at that time, I really believe it. Despite 40-odd years of repeating this behaviour, I still think that this new year will be the one! I feel almost dizzy with the optimism (I am not used to optimism, therefore when I feel it, it’s extreme and comes with dizziness).
This optimism shows itself in my behaviour by my deciding not to go through my wardrobe and chuck out what I don’t wear. Come the New Year, I will lose so much weight, said item will look fabulous on the snake-hipped, new me. I look at holidays online because when I relaunch, I will consequently become so successful, a yacht holiday is entirely plausible. And as I eat the last Christmas chocolate, I look at the wrapper disdainfully as if to say ‘that’s that, you little shit – come the New Year, you won’t tempt me with your sugar rush anymore because…well, ‘new me’’.
Of course, inevitably, ‘new me’ doesn’t arrive. ‘New me’ just becomes a more pissed off version of ‘old me’, because now I have failure to add to my persona.
The Wisdom of Dormice
Listen, all I want to do in January is stay in and hibernate. Like a massive dormouse. (As a completely unrelated aside, that reminds me of a time when a gloriously funny friend of mine who I worked with, said of a short colleague ‘I don’t know if Gary is just short or a really fucking massive Borrower.’)
I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to socialise. The only time I’m creative in January is in finding vastly outlandish reasons for staying in bed in the morning (“I can’t get up because I had a dream whereby I’d die if I get up before noon and I don’t want to tempt fate”) or for not going for a walk (“my walking socks are in the wash and they take five WHOLE DAYS to dry as they can only be dried by the breath of a fledgling wren”).
As I write this, it’s still January. It’s also at this stage of an essay whereby the writer comes up with a really positive outlook to counteract the essay’s earlier negativity. I’m not going to do that. It’s January. I hate it.
September was exhausting (I appreciate it is now nearly November, but it’s taken me that long to recover!) Some of it was fun, some of it wasn’t. What wasn’t? Well,
Chasing my tail – mostly my fault for not being organised
Driving behind tractors – always a joy…
Being sleep-deprived by a kitten with the shits
Noticing my uncanny resemblance to a fat hamster (followers of my Facebook page will be well aware of this discovery!)
But let’s not dwell on that! Let’s talk about what was fun.
I spent a lovely day in Oxford with my friends, Carolyn of Freedom Yoga and Relaxation, and Chris of Chris Lewis Jewellery Design. I’m not going to dress it up in business-speak because it was a jolly. Pure and simple.
Chris is driving. She ‘uses’ a satnav but doesn’t listen to it. She also has no sense of direction. As a result, what should have been a straight drive down the A40 became a meander along straw-thin roads OFF the A40, dodging hedges and cyclists, and passing the same pub three times. The destination was one of the 5 park and rides around Oxford. Even with Chris driving, we figured we should manage to find one of them.
Park and Ride
After parking, we find the payment machines. There are 4 of them but what we don’t realise until too late is we’ve paid at the ‘family’ ticket machine: £6.80 for two adults and three children. In our defence, this was really badly explained (i.e not at all), by the completely wank signage.
The bus driver did not buy into the argument that I took up fewer seats than 3 kids and therefore we had to pay a further £4.30 on the bus. A total of £11.10 for 3 adults to get on a bloody bus. They didn’t even serve drinks.
As the bus drove off, Chris and I had this conversation:
Chris: we don’t have to worry about finding the car when we get back as I’ve taken a photo of it.
Me: you’ve taken a photo of the car?
Me: the car, and nothing else?
I realise I have a whole day of this…
The Boat Trip
On arrival, we decide we want a trip down the river. Carolyn and Chris fancy taking a rowing boat. I refuse on the grounds that Chris has fallen off a chair in my presence, and torn a ligament walking along a flat, carpeted floor IN HER OWN HOUSE. I was not getting in a rowing boat with Chris Lewis.
We go for a captained boat. We envisaged a gentle trip, on deck in the sun. The reality was somewhat different. The open-air seats on the boat were taken so we had to sit undercover in the back, with the engine, which was so loud, we couldn’t hear the Captain’s talk about our surroundings. ‘This is not what I had in mind’, shouted Chris as we chugged down the river. Carolyn, always a calming influence, is serene and enjoying the moment as only a true yogi can.
The Fish Restaurant
After the boat trip, we walked for 40 minutes to get to our restaurant of choice. On arrival, we were sat behind a large table of adults and children. They were drinking Moet and eating lobster. They also did a runner, leaving the waitress almost in tears. Bunch of arseholes. Clearly there was no intention to pay. They just thought they’d have lobster and champagne and then run off down a dark alley. And to think they had children – what an example to set.
If I was a witch (which contrary to popular belief, I’m not), I’d’ve laid a curse on them. A curse in which they turned into lobsters and had to spend the rest of their lives being not particularly dextrous with their very large claws, and destined to sit on a pack of ice, half alive in a supermarket.
It was unanimously decided to seek out dessert. Chris had to have cheesecake. Carolyn suggested we went to the beautiful café we passed on the way to the restaurant. We got there. No cheesecake.
We googled ‘best cheesecake in Oxford’. It came up with a place and (oh God), Chris set up the satnav on her phone. In twenty minutes, we find the place and walk in. ‘Got any cheesecake?’, says Chris. ‘No’, says the bored, monosyllabic guy behind a sea of pastries.
However, there is a cocktail bar, very close by. ‘Happy Hour, 4-9pm’ it gleefully states on a chalkboard outside (surely that’s happy hourS?) Several cocktails later, basking in the warm glow of the effects of alcohol (well, Carolyn and I were as Chris was driving) and we are ready for more food. Chris fancies sushi.
Sushi: In Rapid-Time
The restaurant can’t really fit us in but doesn’t want to turn us away. The waiter, as if welcoming Poundland customers to a Harrod’s private viewing tells us ‘ you need to be gone by 8pm’. That gave us 55 minutes. This worried me as I’m a slow eater. I chose poorly by going for a ramen, which whilst delicious, cannot be eaten quickly with a pair of chopsticks and a small ladle.
The Pudding Place
At this point, the plan is to return to the very expensive bus but Carolyn spots a dessert place! The inside of the Pudding Place is totally pink, the walls emulsioned with Pepto Bismal. It’s like walking into a candy floss party at Barbie’s, held in a giant blancmange. But, there is CHEESECAKE!
Having waited six hours to get cheesecake, it is disappointingly bad. Chris prods it with her fork, and declares it ‘fucking awful’. To be fair, the cheesecake was terrible – it was still partly frozen for one thing. If you aren’t going to make your own cheesecake to sell, at least make sure it’s defrosted, otherwise, what is your speciality? On leaving the Pepto Palace, Chris goes up to the guy behind the counter and tells him the cheesecake was shit. The moral of this story? Don’t piss off a jeweller who has built up an appetite for cheesecake over the course of 6 hours.
We found the car because Chris had taken a photo of it…(we found the car because it was the only one left in the car park). Luckily, Carolyn takes on the role of navigator so we get home on a straight road, in one piece, only passing the pub once.
At the end of last year, I really looked forward to the four whole months I had to prepare for the art and craft fair season, which was starting in May. I could see the endless days of working in my nice, warm studio, drifting in a cloud of serenity, not under any pressure, just creating.
Guess what? It hasn’t quite worked out how I planned. Why? Because I am a terrible procrastinator. I am not kidding when I say tell you that I bought a course on how to stop procrastinating and, well, I’ve not done it.
Here’s a snapshot of the last 4 months:
January: 4 months until craft season
There was the taster weekend, which to be fair, was a lot of work. I’m not complaining at all as it was great, (you can read about it here*) but it did take up much more time than I anticipated. I was also nervous about it and being nervous does not make me very creative. ‘I’ll start building stock when that’s done’, I said to myself.
February: 3 months until craft season
Craft taster weekend, done. I start to make some pieces. But I also do an online course with an international glass artist so I need to start working on that technique. It can’t put it to one side to do later because part of the course is to upload the piece you’ve done so it can be assessed. This is a brilliant way to do a course, but it does mean that I’m not making art exhibition stock because I’m concentrating on this new technique. I just tell myself it’s only February and we all know how long winter lasts.
Early March:2 months until craft season
Slight panic felt in my tummy. But we’ve still got weeks to go before the first craft fair so I can easily push that to one side. To make myself feel better, I draw up a plan to work to: what pieces do I need, and what is going in the kiln and when. This of course, is a form of procrastination but I kid myself I’ve done a really useful thing. And go and sit down and do a sudoku.
Mid-March to April
Full-on panic-mode. I now know exactly what I’m doing. But wait a minute – what the hell is that hissing noise? It’s my sandblaster – having a meltdown – clearly it wanted a serene four months, too. Rich decides he will try and fix it and does some online research. Sadly, because we don’t know what is wrong with it, he has to finally admit that he can’t. Besides, his face is now a sort of hell-fire red, which is its default colour when he is stressed. We send the sandblaster off to be repaired. In a couple of hours, Rich’s face goes back to its normal colour.
No sandblaster. This is a real problem. I had no idea HOW much I use it. I don’t just use it to finish off a piece, I use it between firings, a lot. Each week I wait for a call from the repairers. At the end of week three, I ring to find it’s not even been started. Enter full-on rant mode. This wears me out. I calm down by doing a sudoku.
Early April: just a few weeks until craft season
The sandblaster is back and I spend what feels like days locked in a tiny room with something that is actually louder than my dog. I emerge only when I just get too hot to stay sane.
Now: what feels like just hours until craft season
Well, we are getting somewhere but I still worry I don’t have enough stock. If I had a magic wand, my wish would be that kilns didn’t take so damn long; that firings could be done in 2 hours instead of 24. (Mind you, I’d also like a bigger house, a fancier car, 33” legs and thicker hair but I guess you have to just get on with what you’ve got).
We still have things to do: order some nice card for our displays, order wall fittings for the wall art, drive all the way to bloody Ledbury to get change for the float because every branch of sodding Barclays even slightly close to us has been closed. (Incidentally, I found out last week that the Post Office don’t like giving change because of potential fraud. I mean if I was into some massive fraud, I’m damn sure I’d be doing it with more than £20 in five-pound notes and £30 in mixed change but there you go).
Reader, this is how NOT to prepare for craft events. Of course I have simplified it. I haven’t really spent hours sat on my arse with sudokus and I have spent a lot of time doing commissions, marketing, etc but nonetheless, I could have done it better. I’d like to say ‘lesson learned’ but I’m not convinced this short-legged, fine-haired old crone, in a small house with an old car is realistically going to do anything different next time…unless of course I actually finish the procrastination course.
*if you fancy doing the next taster session in June, you can book here.
‘Do you do fused glass workshops?’ is a consistent question I am asked when doing craft fairs. My answer is always the same: no. This is because my studio is too small (this is true) and I have reactive dogs (true). What I don’t say, however, is ‘because I’d rather set fire to my hair’, (also true).
You may think this is extreme and wonder why I have this reaction. I’ve pondered on this and decided it’s because I catastrophise. In your head, you’re asking ‘I wonder if she does workshops?’; in my head, I’m thinking ‘what if a student cuts off their hand with some glass and I get sued and lose my house and then there’ll be nowhere for me and Rich to live and that means the dogs and rats will have nowhere to live and we’ll have to live in my car, which is tiny and only one dog will fit in it and how can I possibly decide which dog to keep and what about all my shoes…’ (btw, this isn’t bad grammar, though it is, it’s literally a running commentary in my head which features no full stops, commas or semi-colons). Anyway, you get the idea.
A Jump into the Abyss
So why, three weeks ago, did I do not one fused glass workshop, but eight? Let me explain. I was one of a group of six artists and makers who came together in two of the artists’ adjoining studios to run a craft taster weekend. Participants chose 4 out of 6 crafts to ‘taste’ the very basics of their selected crafts. It resulted in a total of 8 sessions, with 5 participants in each, over the whole weekend. This was what is known as a baptism of fire, or, what I refer to as shitting myself.
I began my first workshop. ‘Are you bleeding?’ said a kind soul as I looked down at my hand to see it leaking copious amounts of blood. Yes, thirty seconds in, I had cut myself and DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE. I made some lame joke, patched myself up with a plaster and carried on despite the blushing warmth radiating from my face like a small woodburner. However the rest of the day ticked along nicely and I even relaxed enough to take off my coat. I got home and sat in front of the TV and milked it for a bit whilst Rich got my tea. When I got to bed, I lay there for a while, musing over ‘plastergate’ until sleep took over.
A 70’s popstar
By day two, I was feeling a little more confident, (despite Rich telling me ‘you look like Alvin Stardust in that jumper’ as I left the house). First session and up comes this concerned voice ‘have you cut yourself?’ Cue blood all over my hand. By now, I was wondering if my subconscious was having a laugh at my expense, (the bastard), and had a small frisson of panic run through me.
But do you know what? It was fine. All of it. The students were fabulous: eager to get stuck in, and interested. By the end of the weekend, I was buzzing; chuffed to bits with what the students had produced and more than a little proud of myself. Of course, without the support of the other artists, I would’ve found it much more daunting. They all run workshops so I took my cues from them. They had let me practice on them a week before, which gave me confidence. I’m very grateful for their support and for trusting me to live up to their standards. I know that I know my craft extremely well and that questions wouldn’t phase me. My fear stemmed from being the centre of attention; even more so as I was dressed as Alvin Stardust.
…and on to the next one
So where does that leave things? Well, we are doing another Craft Taster weekend on 11th and 12th June 2022. I will be there…with a suitcase full of plasters.
‘Why you shouldn’t be scared of stall holders’. That seems like a strange title for a blog, doesn’t it? By scared, I don’t mean ‘scared’ as you may feel walking through a dark alley, or as in the sweaty mess you become when you see a spider/snake/clown/buttons (delete as appropriate). I mean scared as in ‘a little bit wary’. But ‘why you shouldn’t be a little bit wary of stall holders’ is frankly a terrible blog title. So. Let me explain what I mean.
Me: in the beginning
I’ve always loved craft, long, long before I learned one myself. For those of you who know me, you will be fully aware that I was not an art success at school. I couldn’t draw, couldn’t summon up the courage to try the potters’ wheel and thought I’d got away with not doing a screen print in Design Technology until I read my report from that teacher which said ‘it’s a shame Rebecca decided not bother with a screen print.’ (I honestly thought she hadn’t noticed – that if I stayed really quiet, slunk under the desk or squeezed between the slats in the blinds…I was a very tiny teenager…that she wouldn’t notice me). In metalwork, I filed my aluminium key fob to the width of a dog hair. Obviously to be a successful key fob, it needs to be wider than this.
Too scared to approach
Being this inadequate myself meant I loved to visit a craft fair. So many talented people in one place! The downside of this was although I wanted to look at every stall and talk to the artist to find out how they did something, I was just too scared. This wasn’t because they all looked like they’d happily knife you in the head but simply put, I thought, if I engaged with them, they’d expect me to buy. This resulted in me only being confident in approaching a table if there were already people there so I could both look and fade into the background simultaneously. There was one time when I did look at something. I liked it, but under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have bought it. I felt I had to because we’d had a conversation. Luckily, it wasn’t a diamond seller.
From the ‘Other Side‘ as a stall holder
Life being strange even in ‘normal’ times, I now find myself the other side of the stall. What I notice more than anything from the Other Side, is that there are an awful lot of visitors to craft fairs who think like I did. I look at them to say hello but an awful lot of visitors don’t want this. To say hello is to in fact say ‘don’t you dare leave without buying something from me because I can send you to hell and eternal damnation, just with my thoughts’. Those who do reply then scuttle off as if their clothes have just caught fire and they need to find a puddle of water pretty damn quick if they are to survive.
Readers, I know how you feel. This was me. But you have nothing whatsoever to be scared of.
I’m rarely enthused. But I am about my craft
Clearly, I can’t talk for all crafters. However, I think I can when I say that we like to talk about what we do. When I was 13, I could talk about Duran Duran until the New Moon on Monday came up. I was that enthusiastic about them. These days, this is how enthused I am with my craft. And I can talk to you for as long as you want to. Want to know how I have done something or how or why I choose certain colours? Want to know if I have a furnace at home? Let me tell you! I am not telling you because if I explain everything that’s involved you’ll feel sorry for me and feel obliged to buy because otherwise I won’t eat for a week. I’m telling you because I love what I do and you’re interested enough to ask.
Of Course we Like to Sell…
Now don’t get me wrong, all crafters like to sell their wares. I am no different. If you talk to me and want to buy something I have made then yes, I am a very, very happy person. I believe this is something a lot of crafters refer to as ‘doing a happy dance’. I can’t bring myself to do that in public so I just say thank you. But inside I feel like a spaniel in a tennis ball factory.
However, we crafters also know that not everyone can afford to buy; not everyone can find a place for what we make in their home; not everyone who can afford to buy, wants to (one lady told me she couldn’t buy because she’d be dead soon and then what would happen to it?). And do you know what? It’s totally fine! If you have come over to say you like what we’re doing, to ask how things are done or even remark on how shit the weather is, this is all good! Because otherwise, we would all be stood behind our stalls, bored shitless, with each second that passes feeling more like the hours they’re made up of. Selling and talking to enthusiastic people is fantastic. Not selling but talking to enthusiastic people is certainly the next best thing. But not selling and not talking to anyone is just soul-destroying.
Not convinced? One final tip…
I’ll leave you with this: please don’t be reticent at a craft show. For all the reasons I have stated above, you really don’t have to be. Here’s a little tip: If you still feel uncomfortable walking away with nothing, then just pick up a business card and mutter something about it being Christmas soon. That works, too.
Note: want to know where we are exhibiting? Click here.
When I meet people for the first time (this was a LONG time ago…I have, since Covid, lost all social abilities…), they ask me what I do as a job. When I say I’m a glass fuser, the assumption is immediately that I have a furnace going 24/7 and I spend my life blowing into a steel pipe to make pretty things.
You see, people think I’m a glass blower. It’s glass blowing which involves a steel pipe and funnily enough, blowing into it. This assumption has led me to write this blog: what is the difference between glass blowing and glass fusing? And where does ‘slumping’ come into it?
Glass blowing involves very bloody hot furnaces. This is the reason it’s referred to as ‘hot glass’ (whereas glass fusing is known as ‘warm glass’). In the first furnace, known as the Crucible, clear glass is melted. It is from this furnace that the first load of melted molten glass is collected onto the blow pipe.
After collecting the clear glass, colour can be added by rolling this molten glass into coloured glass powder. The glass is worked on at this point by rolling it to shape and blowing into the pipe to create a bubble. Whilst the glass is worked to shape, it goes in and out of the second furnace, (called the Glory Hole…). This keeps the glass at the workable temperature and allows the coloured glass to melt into the clear glass.
Finally, there’s the annealing furnace, which is also known as the kiln: this cools the glass at a controlled rate down to room temperature, usually over a period of 14 hours. This slow cooling prevents the glass from thermal shock, resulting in a cracked piece.
Glass fusing is using an electric kiln to melt two or more pieces of glass together. If glass fusers want coloured glass pieces, they generally use sheet glass which is already coloured. They can also use glass powder but this is added to the sheet glass at the cold stage, and is heated onto the glass in the kiln, rather than collecting powder onto a piece of molten glass.
Fusers also have to anneal their work to prevent thermal shock however, rather than having a separate annealing kiln, the annealing stage is programmed into the overall firing schedule in the one kiln.
As for shaping, whilst glass blowers shape by rolling the glass and blowing into the pipe, fusers ‘slump’ their glass into shape. This is a separate firing in the kiln: the glass is heated and then as it softens, it ‘slumps’ into the shape of the mould required.
As you can see, the two processes are very different. There is something quite wild and dangerous about glass blowing. I have seen it in action and it is a fascinating process. I literally could have watched all day.
Clumsy As F…
Here’s the thing though: if you know me and/or Rich even slightly, you would know without asking that we could never be glass blowers. We are both very clumsy. Only yesterday, Rich knocked his glasses off just getting into the car. At a friend’s house, many moons ago, Rich walked into their patio door and broke his glasses. The patio door had those bird stickers on to stop birds from flying into it, but turns out they don’t work on humans. I once fell over in town, prompting an elderly lady to ask me if I was alright. Indeed it was a monumental fall in the student café at University which lead to me doing fused glass in the first place: I was on a doctorate course in Psychology and the embarrassment of that incident meant I never went back to university again after that day.
So, you see we could never have furnaces anywhere where we are. The only advantage of them would be not having to pay for cremation after accidentally falling head-first into one of them.
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