Archive for March, 2014

landspirit gardening: raised bed, raised awarenesses

Exciting times in the garden!


and now:


– which made my day yesterday and will be such a joy over the summer!

There were a lot of stages – Spade and Sparrow did the heavy clearing

STA46094and left it to overwinter and settle. All I’ve managed to organise since has been replacing the cardboard mulch and a little pruning back. I had a couple of ‘seeing’ sessions where I took time to sit and think about what I wanted, but also what the land wants – this is why I call my approach landspirit rather than permaculture, though I use permaculture techniques. Being still and seeing what happens in a space is really important if you want

STA45688to work with the existing patterns and bring out the best in a situation.

The new bed is very central, at a crossroads between different kinds of leisure, growing food, growing flowers, badminton, with paths on two sides used by us and the posties, a slabbed area for the bbq and container garden, access to the carpark, access to the drying yard…

Something I feel the whole garden lacks is a good place to sit and chat. This is a lot to do with being in a city, people stealing garden furniture and not wanting to encourage the sex workers already using our garden and yard…Lots of houses on our street have electronic gates and I get why, but the truth is the more we use the garden, the less others will.

STA45091The constant difficulties and obstacles to getting the raised bed in motion had made me question if it should happen at all (the phrase ‘pushing the river’ came to mind πŸ™‚ ) but every time I am in theΒ Β  garden and feel the joy of its return to colour and


bounty (wildlife and harvest and enjoyment) I feel sure it wants more human presence, not less.. more domestic everydayness anyway!

This is the kind of thing that you either get or you don’t!Β  And the truth is, you can be a great steward of the land without feeling this. But some extra layer of ‘happening’ tends to occur when listening to the spirit of place, some bonuses come in as though on rails when I engage this process. I feel very convinced by it, because after a lot of work turning round my derelict and poisoned allotment, I saw the results, bushels of healthy fruit and veg, herbs for tea and scent or strewing, bees galore, the pollination rates of the allotmenteers near me shot up… Even the old guys had to concede my ‘messy’ ways worked πŸ˜‰

STA45096Coming back to the garden here, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the transition from kitchen garden to purely ornamental/badminton lawn. The rockery is huge, as long as a tennis court and a couple of metres wide at the narrow end. It has beautiful mature trees and lovely rocks with fossils in and interesting marbled chunks and then a lovely array in July of foxgloves, feverfew, spirea, liquorice agastaches and flowering stonecrops, with alkanet and lush foliages… So looking from my rollator along the curving length of the bed towards the drive, seeing only logs on the raised bed edges would jar.

DSC_0018-001Instead we went on an expedition rounding up materials from all corners to make a bed that can be a heart centre. Ben suggested pulling some of the rocks lost under ivy from the super dry shady bank that is the front boundary, David found a huuuge sandstone boulder on the edge of the drive and I found big chunky pieces of tree trunk in the wood pile.

DSC_0032David then worked really hard, digging postholes and a channel to support yorkstone slabs on their sides, wedging and shuffling rocks, logs and slabs until it all looked really harmonious. I had suggested that the biggest log, which gets used as a seat on bbq nights became the edge of the bed nearest the slabbed area, and that the boulder made the corner between the rockery and the badminton lawn, and the upright slabs next to it echoed the path, but David had lots of fun choosing where to mingle rocks and tree trunks and big branches πŸ˜‰ Yes, he ached all over when he stopped!

DSC_0050DSC_0042DSC_0040DSC_0061DSC_0063Called back to view progress I was so touched: a big seawashed chunk of chalk we had used as the top of a miniature quoit in the garden in Hucknall has been put at one corner and the copper, steel and stone mobile that hung near it were fitted in to the corner! So lovely of David to think of this! I put an amethyst and some hyacinths (Andy’s favourites) there too. They had emptied compost from the bin round the corner and the empty container garden over the cardboard and horse manure, so with a bit more topping up, I’ll be all ready to plant πŸ™‚

There will be rose bushes and hyssop for the bees in the centre and then beans, squash and tomatoes roundabout, though I might sneak beetroot and lettuce in to catch crop πŸ™‚

Being able to dream gardens again is so satisfying! And with all that sorted I feel more connected and committed to tending the rockery, which has been possible but not an attractive option when it meant walking past all theΒ  looming ‘beyond my strength’ reminders. It has been a gap, a lost friend even…I feel gardening to be an integral part of my life, my healing, my politics, my art, being at home in the world, a place where the balance finds itself and energy flows… paying attention to my changed capabilities means I have to listen even harder now. WorkingΒ  with neighbours who have never worked this way before was a challenge! This garden that is a woodland edge in a city needs to be a place where we can play to all our strengths, and yesterday, we did πŸ™‚



What’s in a Name?

So I’ve been interviewed 4 times in 2 months, and two of the interviewers were reluctant to accept Singing Bird as my action name. As an agoraphobic, this is an avatar that helps me be somewhere that sets off panic attacks, so their attitude lands very badly. One accepted it but his editor called it my pseudonym, my false name, and this annoyed me excessively until I thought about what I’d said during my interview with Kristina, that this is my ‘true’ name, expressing a part of me that has struggled for a long time to come out. And as the editor has no idea about that…no blame…


Interview by Kristina Lewis-Shipley for her forthcoming book on Street Artists and their handles:

KLS: Please ignore ‘SprayCan’ throughout the message, (hahaha) Ok, so the two questions are really simple:

Why did you first pick up a SprayCan? Where does your Street Name/ Pseudonym come from?

SBA: I feel the tiniest bit intimidated, but I’ll just pull my big girl panties up and speak loud πŸ˜‰

The two questions you put are 30 years apart in my life, and why I feel like my life is finally making sense – a big wound has started to graft πŸ™‚
I first made a piece of guerilla paint and fibre art in 1983, but it was a street action for peace. I was used to making peace flags for the barbed wire fences at the MoD missile sites or the Trident base at Faslane, but when I suggested doing it in Newcastle upon Tyne, the other activists were really snobby about it. They didn’t want to be accused of vandalism 😦 Luckily my best friend and my boyfriend were supportive, because on the day I was down with a stomach virus, and they had to execute the designs. I’d made pieces to hang in a tree and a piece to write on the walls and pavements in chalks, and after they’d done those, they added some of their own, which made me sooo happy πŸ™‚
Why did I want to do it?
I dreamt it.

A lot of my art comes to me that way, now that I am an artist, but at the time I was a bit lost, my parents had refused to let me do art at A Level, they were abusive in many ways, including physical and sexual, but looking back the biggest damage was withholding my way to be in the world. How is that possible, that a parent refuses to buy their child even super cheap felt tips? And pours scorn on everything that might encourage her?
So I grew up very bent out of shape and this was my first experience of genuinely needing to make MY mark in the world, and my new people, the activists did not like it, but I did it, and when I was up again, I added to what the others had done for me – it had been made for Valentine’s Day, so it couldn’t wait…it was a message of love to the precious earth and to her humans to stop the trashing…
I loved it and one of the ‘real’ artists I knew (he could draw!) decided it WAS effective after he heard about it and we should do some street art/ performance art and we did… πŸ˜‰
But it was interesting to see how flyposting was political and ok, and heartfelt messages and pictures chalked on walls, bedizeners hanging from trees…not so much…


My street name has been Singing Bird Artist SBA for five years, since my husband died and I could no longer paint, so since 2008/9. (er, long relentless optimist story, broken collarbone and ribs trying to save him, permanent damage, learning Machine Embroidery as a new skill to keep sane through staying creative…)
City and Guilds courses are REALLY tough, super structured and meticulous, I was an “interesting” student πŸ˜‰ but I found myself needing to express my wild side/politics and myself more freely, more directly…


So I started with hanging freeform fibre art in bus shelters etc and public crafting/freeform crochet and leaving bedizeners/happy makers in public spaces πŸ˜‰ My husband was an artist/poet and we would do this together before, we made environmental art in the woods too, so art for people to find has been important to me for a long time.

SBA was definitely a response to him dying and me having to work without his support – I have agoraphobia and can’t be out alone after dark, or in isolated places. Then I mixed in with Nottingham yarn’bombers’ for some joint blitzes. I prefer yarn ‘tagging’, cos I’m a pacifist, but I understand the excitement of saying yarnbombing, and also the backing off from the guys within graf (def NOT all, waving at you, lovely Popx!)Β  who are hostile to using tagging for yarn/fibre work.
I have had fibromyalgia for over 4 years now (following the neck injury) and use a rollator, so can’t action very often, but am blurring the lines where I can, I have 2 fibre art installation pieces in a gallery in London in February and they want me to make a ‘live’ piece for the private view. What they don’t know is that with the help of the friend I’ll be staying with I will yarntag across London while I’m there – coming to a railing near you, peopleΒ  πŸ˜‰ [Due to the injuries following installation, I couldn’t actually do this, but made it into art for the Anti-ATOS/WCA protest on February 19th and Robin Hood’s Rally against Budget Cuts on March 19th 2014]

I chose to use my yarntag name as my ‘fine’ artist name (big thanks to Banksy for showing the way) so I can link the two sides, legal, illegal. It also frees me to work a different way – the art world is full of puffed up entitlement at one end and genuine heartfelt making at the other. I have struggled with writing those pompous post-modernist windy statements, and then last spring I cut through it all and declared I would only use Singingbird Artist/SBAΒ  for ALL my art/social justice/permaculture activism. It comes from a Chinese proverb “If you keep a green tree in your heart, maybe the singing bird will come.” To me it means that if we are true to our deepest calling to make our mark in the world for what is needed (to cut through the mindless consumption junky culture capitalism demands, at the cost of the earth and all her peoples) then we each become a singing bird for those around us who need to hear that things can be different, change is possible, every *small* act counts.
Since I got my ‘right’ name, amazingly, loads of doors are opening for me, so your question about the name strikes home!

As Singingbird Artist, I make what I like, as fast as I can πŸ˜‰

Which is not very fast, grrr,Β  I have permanent damage to the deep tissue in my hands, but all the joy that pours out into the work and the world makes me really happy. I even like it when people steal the work to take home, if it speaks to someone that much, great, I’ll make another, keep spreading the song πŸ˜‰


re photo, I need to be anonymous – the Dept of Worry and Persecution will stop my disability benefits at this prioritisation of my energy to art not hoovering πŸ˜‰ so I like to use this one as a thumbnail- the rollator makes the point that physically disabled people can still make art/actions πŸ˜‰

Well, back to making! I have been working on the brown – blue water waste piece, some tricky freeform knitting, but first there are some garden photos to edit πŸ™‚

a time for community action

A very ugly truth is that the British Government thinks it can continue to deny FOI Freedom of Information requests on the deaths of disabled people dying within 6 weeks of being refused benefits (to which they have contributed through national Insurance, remember) or moved from the support group to the work-seekingΒ  group. This guy wrote a great post:

Meanwhile pigs in troughs are continuing to thrive…

that’s 5 POINT 5 million, not 55 btw, but plenty bad! who are the scroungers sucking the country’s resources?

I’m too angry to write a proper post, but you can see where I’m heading…

We need to honour the dead

We need to say NO!

We need to help the people thrown into despair and hunger and homelessness…

What if everyone in the country wrote to Nick Clegg asking him to do the honourable thing and stand down and break the coalition? Is he so far sunk in selfishness that he would ignore it? EDITED TO ADD: someone else had the same idea!

It’s getting very hard to imagine how any of them look themselves in the mirror…I put that on Facebook and someone pointed out they have no reflections (ie they’re vampires) and it’s hard not to agree…

Meanwhile, my necessary YES! to cope with all this is:


i) working on a piece about water waste, mmm, blues and browns and now pearl blue-grey Opium yarn with Katia ruffle yarn cascading off it…this is pure indulgence as the next in line should have been Wool Against Weapons, but with all the bad news, I can’t be knitting pink, I need something to make me smile!

ii) teaching my friend in Flat 1 catering and sending protein bars and soups and stews to the new free cafe (first event is tonight, at Crocus Cafe in Nottingham, we think it’s fortnightly πŸ˜‰ I’ve managed to lose the original info, eek!)


iii) helping People’s Assembly against Austerity with a post Budget speech protest rally. I hate making assumptions, but it seems pretty likely that the cuts to necessary services will continue and the rich will be let off more tax…if not we can turn it into a celebration πŸ˜‰

I’m upcycling leftover placards and the body politic silhouettes from the ATOS protest and also felt tips and crayons…need to buy some more bubbles though πŸ˜‰

Ok people, I’m back in relentless optimist mode now, bubbles and sequins and knowing people will be eating tonight and tomorrow thanks to the protein bars they can take away, and the two big boxes that went to the cafe only made a little dent in the Approved Foods mountain, plenty more where they came from! So, yes, we can bring the heart back to our communities, yes, this tide will turn…there ARE simple things we can do that will make all the difference πŸ™‚