Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Asleep in the hedgerows

It's lovely when two projects come together and Stitching the Wars and The Homeless Library were bound to feed into each other at some point- the Homeless Library was part inspired by the late greatly missed Wilf who I met at Bakewell Age UK, who shared memories of unemployed men sleeping in the ditches between the wars and the tramps walking from Bakewell Workhouse to Chapel en le Frith. During an afternoon spent with the Social Group at The Farming Life Centre, it turns out that 'tramps' where a regular sight in the countryside in the 30s and beyond.

Tom and Bill, (Bill, sorely missed) Social Group, Farming Life Centre

"Tramps after the war, you’d see one most days, they used to go to the local workhouse. Walk from one workhouse to another, a distance they could walk in a day. They put signs on posts to say who would look after you. They lived off their wits, they would beg a crust, lost souls
Asleep in the hedgerows
I used to take a dog with me and send him in first to check the barn, once saw a wellie sticking out of the hay barn
The hay barn near Ashford always had tramps in it.
Worried about setting fire to the barn over night from their smoking
Just passing through
Workhouses in New Mills, Babington in Belper, Bakewell and Buxton, they would break stone in the night
We would offer a crust and a cup of tea, there were markers to where you were welcome
Turnip picking, mother would produce a plate of food that was taken to the barn.
Had they had a life? Didn't they like that life? Drop out from a wealthy family?
One drew marvellous pictures.
There was a lady who lived in a tent all winter in the 40’s bottom of Sheldon Dale, in a make shift tent all winter
One came round with a pram and a gramophone, he had a big white beard, a chubby red faced man.
They used to come round sharpening scissors and knifes
You'd see a tramp every day when you were going feeding. They got a lot of help in the village.
Tramps, some ex soldiers from the 14-18 War
I’m trying to work out where they intelligent people who dropped out or the very poor? Black Harry in Baslow, in a cave up Chesterfield Road

Tramps would scare you to death, but they’d be more scared of you that the other way round."


Thanks to everyone at The Social Group at The Farming Life Centre, Derbyshire, and Helen for her marvellous note taking. I'd love to have met the chubby guy with the long white beard and jolly face, he sounds kind of familiar...

Friday, 25 September 2015

Syrup of Figs and Deadly Night Shade

The Social Club at the Farming Life Centre is constantly humming with conversation, accompanied with scones, tea and lemon cake. The theme this week for 'Stitching the Wars', moved from luxury and opulence, to home cures and remedies, to evacuees, Irish Travellers, tramps, prisoners of war and gypsies, as ever to much to put in one blog, so today it's home remedies...

'A Bomber's Moon', quilt detail. 


Mostly it were ringworm, you went to the herbalist first, if they couldn't fix you, you went to the doctor.

Comfrey, they call it knitbone, you pick it and let it dry, use is as a poultice or soak your wrist or ankle in it. Pick the comfrey, let it dry, bind it up. Use it for rheumatism.
Goose fat on your chest.
Slippery elm when dad was poorly with sugar on.
Some kids had camphor round your neck to school. (or in balls for your clothes)
Sal Volatile in a little bottle, it took your breath
Epsom salts were a cure all
Foxgloves digitalis, for heart complaints, it can be lethal
All the girls with ponies would bring them for worming but walnut leaves and tobacco were just as good.  A bread poultice.
Didn’t tell ghost stories on the toilet to get you going…
Syrup of Figs or Cod Liver Oil.
Fennings Fever Cure, WD40 replaced all that.
And Deadly Night Shade to get rid of customers that didn’t pay!

Days and sons in Crewe, they had a box with a cow on the front. You rubbed their knees with the white oil

Remedies for animals

Half a bottle of Whisky
Cover the cow, or horse with hay and make it sweat then give it half a bottle of whisky
Oat meal gruel warm up the beer and dose the cows
Walnut leaves for working a horse
Turpentine and milk if they were ‘blown’.
Out in the wild they wouldn't have this problem there were herbs in the grassland that would cure anything.
Jays fluid, mint had arsenic in it they had to be dipped before they were washed
Policeman used to come and check we did it for long enough

If you were cut if could wrap it up tight enough you could carry on
Or the doctor had whisky or brandy around, he would reach a bottle from the top and told us to drink it.
My finger was hanging on by the skin, the local GP stitched it back on, took us home in the car afterwards.
Sometimes vets acted as doctors

Cobweb would stop them bleeding, dehorned with secateurs,
Horrible blood everywhere
A vet cost a Guinea a visit and a doctor cost ten bob, 1930s
He were a dab hand at putting a cows womb back in.
These old cows can spit one out and not even know it

I have had broken ribs, toes trodden on cows and horses
I was put into hospital by a cow, dragged a chain with a hook into my hand
It went rotten, they could smell it
So unpredictable, never trust a bull, Rams are as bad

The vet used to come and put a rubber Mac on.

Thanks again to The Farming Life Centre for hosting us with The Social Group and to Helen who took the challenge on of keeping up with the conversation and writing such fantastic notes. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Poverty and the great sheep dog trial

It's been a strange week of highs and lows.

We started the week with The Homeless Library saying our goodbyes at The Red Door, Bury- (a homeless day centre) during that day writing down a brutally honest account of a women who as a 15 year old was let down by the authorities, falling through the cracks and ending up leading a life of prostitution and drug taking. A tragic story, re-counted through tears, a story that could be repeated up and down the country by other men and women.

I spent Wednesday at The Farming Life Centre with The Country Craft Group for Stitching the Wars,  a delightful afternoon spent stitching, drinking tea and discussing poverty associated with the war- with the distance of time, making reminiscences of hard times full of colour and humour.

Thursday was at Blythe House Hospice, a place on the first impression that could be so sad, but in reality is warm and full of life... fantastic reminiscence and stitching for Stitching the Wars...

On Friday we secured a fantastic exhibition venue for our quilt 'A Bomber's Moon' more on that soon. On Saturday we found out we have been awarded a significant grant for a new project- more or on that soon...

A Bombers Moon- detail.

Before I started Stitching the Wars, I admit much of my knowledge about farming was gained from The Archers. Working with The Farming Life Centre has been an amazing opportunity to meet and discuss life on the land with farmers who have worked the land for the last 100 years. Yesterday it was the Hayfield Country Show and Sheep Dog Trials where I exhibited the quilt 'A Bombers Moon', and worked on the new quilt for Stitching the Wars. The quilt got a great reception, with many positive comments- it's such a tactile piece- I watched as people made a bee-line to come an hold and touch the artwork (I still get nervous showing such a piece- want to do justice to the people who have contributed to the project and to all the organisations who have supported the project)  On the face of it life in the country looked as it does in the adverts, green and pleasant and for many people it is, however scratch the surface and you find a different reality. There are farmers who are doing well, but many are on the bread line, many going under. I spoke to one women, a sheep farmer who explained incredibly tight margins they work to, (like so many dairy farmers in the UK) She's just had to get another overdraft to tide them over till the income trickles in from sales of the wool. She was still smiling. A day out meeting friends, sharing a story and eating the best pies in Derbyshire.

It's Monday and I'm knackered. What will this week bring?

Thanks to the Farming Life Centre for letting me share their stand, exhibit the quilt for the 2 days of the show and promote the project.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Hospice, pea wak

I'll be honest, I was nervous the first time I visited to a hospice, how misguided I was. Blythe House Hospice isn't just just for people with terminal conditions. Its there to help and support anyone who is suffering with cancer and other debilitating conditions who feels they need help in accepting and managing their illness. Today I visited their Living Well Service Day Care. Its held in a modern, bright and friendly room, with views out to their beautiful garden and filled with welcoming staff and volunteers. I was there to introduce the project 'Stitching the Wars', share the work completed so far and encourage people to take part in the second quilt.

Detail of the quilt 'Fresh Air and Poverty', for the project Stitching the Wars.

Lively conversations, cups of tea, biscuits and the occasional break for individuals to receive help from the nurses.

Much of my time was spent with Sheila (who was also on her first day) Madge and volunteer Audrey.   We discussed what the word 'poverty' means to them. For Madge it brought back memories of her mum: 'Struggle, everything was a struggle or thats how it appeared to be as kids. Your mum constantly worrying about how she was going to feed us. She'd make soups and things, used to queue up for 'Pea Wak' in my mums kitchen. I was born in 1940, aged 4 I'd go to the public baths once a week, my older brother would be in the stall next door. You'd pay your penny (if your mother had a penny) and you'd get a sliver of soap and the attendants would drawer you so much water. They looked scary, always big men, in their white outfits and spoke very authoritarian, when your time was up. There was a washing house running alongside that where women did their washing, but mum didn't like going there, did her washing at home.

detail of the quilt 'Fresh Air and Poverty', (work in progress)

Sheila reflected on the start of a life long fear of chickens. "The toilet was in the cellar of my grandma's house. In the late 30s she used to hang the poultry in the cellar in full feather. She'd pluck them herself. I'd put off going to the loo as long as I could, crossing my legs..."

"People coming into my Aunties groceries would sometimes buy things and pay when they could- on the tick. Aunty Maude and Uncle Willie, Jackson's Grocery at the entrance to the Cricket Club on Church Road, New Mills. They knew they'd get the money eventually."

Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome, wonderful to see new squares being made for the quilt, more same time next week. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

Letter from Nigeria

We've been lucky enough to spend some time with Muvi, who has kindly offered his story as a contribution to The Homeless Library. Muvi grew up in Nigeria, moved to the UK to work and then the plan went into unplanned territory...

Artist book, collaboration. For the project 'The Homeless Library.'


Homeless depends on what you mean by homeless. If you mean sleeping rough no. But if you mean I was in difficult circumstances and I had to leave and stay with a friend, then yes. It was decisions I made, not the right ones. I can speak around the edges because it personal. A long relationship a long distance one. I'm from Nigeria and I got a job here. While I was working here I had a girlfriend in Nigeria. I miss managed it. Trying to get her over here was expensive. Then the company I was working for went bankrupt. It all happened together.

I was supposed to go for a job in London I interviewed and got the job. They wanted me to wait for a few months and then said the role had gone. After I lost that job it made me sad. It was a significant job, something I wanted a long time and when I didn't get it I was disappointed. Something I really wanted. It was hard, so hard.

I had been to university - bachelors and masters and all that. I had to retrain, I'd been putting all my eggs in one basket which you shouldn't do.

When I lost the job I wanted to refocus and try to get in a better situation. You're only safe on a job for as long as employer wants you. So I looked at being self employed. I could've gone to London and stayed with my sister but I didn't want to be a burden. I stayed in Manchester stayed with friends. Didn't want to be a burden.

Looked at self-employment, then set targets and started working towards them. Because I stopped acting with clarity that's when I got into problems. I got too emotional, which I usually am not, and that created the problems. If you are too emotional it becomes a problem but if you're too intellectual you are not compassionate. You need a balance. In my case, I now think I should've come out of that relationship. As I've grown older I know that loving someone doesn't mean you should necessarily be in a relationship with them.

What is the difference between being homeless in Nigeria and homeless in the UK? The key difference in the UK as compare to Africa is here people are more economically stable, they're  more likely to give. You can only give if you have. Here you've got centres like this (The Booth Centre) offering food and so on. Housing is more complex they can't easily provide that. But in Nigeria and most African countries you won't get this level of help. You have to rely on friends and family and if that doesn't work you starve. Beg on the streets. That increases violence. How do people survive? They get a gun or a knife and they rob. I tend to believe people here look out for the other person. That's why you have groups fighting for fairness - Gay rights, equal pay, equal rights for women. This is because they're looking out for others.

I'd say poverty does a lot to the human being. Where there's a general lack people become selfish. They think about survival for themselves and their families and no one else.

In my opinion you only succeed as a group. People come together and that is the way they solve problems. For instance, in Nigeria you might have the money and a big car and a posh school for your kids but you are still not safe. The guys at the bottom are going to rob you. You could lose property, loved ones, lose your life. I think success should be defined as a reward for a group. As long as I have anything, as long as I have enough, I want to share. Material things or knowledge I want to share. That way we all get ahead together.

Interview with Phil at The Booth Centre, July 2015

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A diamond flat

artist book, made by participants at The Wellspring, with artists Jeni McConnell and Lois Blackburn

--> The following short but powerful account describes how very easily any of us could end up homeless:

There had been a computer error, it wasn’t my fault but my housing benefit had stopped going into my landlords account. He threatened me and when the 6 month lease came up he didn’t re-new it. I moved in with my partner, but we argued, silly arguments- I ended up in a real mental state- went out drinking, got so bad I throw myself into the road, ended up in hospital with no-where to live.

That left me on the streets for a couple of days, staying at friends houses, I didn’t feel clean. Then the Council gave me a place - sheltered housing for the homeless, but it was infected with ants and all sorts of horrible things. I hated it so much I went back to my partner. The relationship got quite violent, so it happened- ended up homeless again. So when they gave me this diamond flat, there’s no looking back. I can’t be pushed into something I don’t want to do. I turn 50 next year, excited! Life begins at 50.


artist book, made by participants at The Wellspring, with artists Jeni McConnell and Lois Blackburn

Yesterday at The Red Door in Bury I worked with artist Jeni McConnell  making artist books and interviewing people for The Homeless Library. Jeni and I slowly progressing with the challenge of exactly how to integrate the interviews we have gathered into the artist books- it feels important we get this right- to do justice to the power of these stories and the trust people have shown us letting us into their lives.

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.