Happy in the Hinterland

Last Friday, we drove the grey of the N3 into the wind and rain of the Irish Hinterland. Spires and ancient round towers arose out of Kell’s magical mists and I soon found myself installed in a front row pew in the church of Ireland, seeking adventures along a silk road.

Peter Frankopan took his place at the altar in a stylish blue (silk?) suit, and transported me East to the magic lands of Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Tibet. Waving his hands, his undulating Notting Hill/Oxford tones created a wonderful discourse, flowing with passion and interest. It seems my history has been mired in Western war fare, in crusades, in squalid sallies, in colonial battles, world wars, and King Henry’s wives instead of in the rise and fall of Mesopotamia, of Byzantine culture, of Persia, the truly great civilisations of our world, arising from the glitter and glory of the trading routes of the Silk Roads.   Compared to the glory of Sultans, Pharoahs, Ayatollahs, the people of Western Europe were little more than slaves (apparently the only thing of trading value). We had no riches, no spices, little in the line of the black stuff, not much in the way of sought after natural resources; somehow, though, we managed to convince ourselves, and others, that we were the centrifugal force of  history (obviously we had the gift of the gab, and those spears and poleaxes probably helped) while actually the original power and glory was invested in the riches of the East, now on the rise again. Note China’s new ports, gas pipes, and its railways being laid across Africa.  So, after 500 years, the balance is finally being redressed and the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Pakistan are mere birthing pains for a new era (unless the West has a tantrum and starts throwing its upgraded boy toys around in pique).

It was, truly, an invigorating presentation, providing a different perspective, sparkling with brilliance. Peter Frankopan was wonderful to watch (you can see why from the photo below), and his sales pitch was fabulous. He must have been practising on those Silk Roads. I bought the book.

In contrast, the historian, Turtle Bunbury stumbled about the church  while he told us how ‘1847’ had presented itself to him as ‘the year’ to write about. It had been the year the plans for his ancestral home castle were drawn up, the year the famine had got going (he didn’t comment on the structural relationship between the two), the year the Bronte sisters had been published, the year the USA conquered California. This was reason enough for an hour of stories about Black Ben Forbes (?) and Tom Thumb who apparently graced 1847 with their presence. Interesting? No. The historian, John Bowen was much more sober and erudite in his presentation of the ‘Autobiography of Ireland’ which is a collection of original sources: amusing letters, articles reflecting the hundred years after the Rising.

I was looking forward to the Brexit Debate on Saturday morning – Chris Mullins, David Murphy and Mairead McGuinness and was very, very disappointed. It was lack-lustre, un-engaged, uninformed, smug, and comprised an indifferent discussion. Chris Mullins performed like an oil painted portrait with a withering smile, (like one of those spectral portraits in Hogwarts, just not as interesting); Mairead McGuinness glittered with EU self-adoration, and David Murphy manufactured the statistics to suit himself. They bored me, and I felt sad at their lack of spirit, humour and passion.

Thank God, passion was not lacking thereafter. Ed Thomas, director of The Hinterland (a Welsh detective series on Netflix) was fascinating. He was a friendly, bubbly character, but clearly with a dark side. Hinterland is a slow, beautiful but rather grim portrayal of the Welsh countryside. It reflects isolation and is very bleak. He was well interviewed by Georgina Godwin who also later did a great interview with Stephen Frears. The first thing Ed Thomas said was that most of his work was autobiographical and that Wales was a ‘laughing stock’ and a country that didn’t really exist.  He described how being Welsh in the late eighties and nineties was akin to being invisible. He left, changed his accent, pretended to be Irish, or a loud South London lout. I was taken aback. My mother is from a South Wales mining town. In my mind, Wales was a small, beautiful country, the home of a strong, vibrant people who sang, worked and evolved a strong chartist, social spirit. It is clear that in the late 70s and 80s, the closure of the mines, the shutting down of a community, the abandonment of a people laid waste to a wonderful country. Ed recently had to sell his home place of a 130 years. He told us his daughter didn’t know what a miner was. What a sad indictment of a British Government that cruelly turned its back on its working people. An excellent interview which was followed by a second excellent interview with Stephen Frears (photo below)

At first, I thought Georgina Godwin (photo below) was going to have a difficult interview. Frears (who has directed The Snapper, The Van, My Beautiful Laundrette, Philomena, The Queen amongst others) answered her questions in short sentences with brevity. He faced out to the audience and seemed to find it hard to turn his head to look at her when she asked her questions. But she handled him very well. She always had another question ready when he didn’t seem disposed to answer the previous one. She was well prepared, incisive and confident.

Frears was laconic, dry and humorous. Classic Brit. He reminded me of a dragon, lurking in his lair, watching with glittering eyes, a grim smile and high intellect. He told us how fortunate he was. He was a child of a time. He had a golden letter box through which, over the years, amazing scripts were posted. He was self-deprecating in a humorous way which showed us how brilliant he was. The 1960s to 1990s were certainly the golden era for film and theatre. Shane Connaughton whom we had seen in The Town Hall, in Cavan the previous Thursday (interviewed by Philip Doherty) had said something similar. Shane had been in the right place at the right time. I asked both Shane Connaughton and Stephen Frears how much politics had contributed to their success. Both responded positively. The hope and optimism, the belief in humanity, the resources, the investment in the arts, and people had helped them create and become great artists. This is the reason the Brits need a new Government. Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!

 

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Happy in the Hinterland Last Weekend

Last Friday, we drove the grey of the N3 into the wind and rain of the Irish Hinterland. Spires and ancient round towers arose out of Kell’s magical mists and I soon found myself installed in a front row pew in the church of Ireland, seeking adventures along a silk road.

Peter Frankopan took his place at the altar in a stylish blue (silk?) suit, and transported me East to the magic lands of Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Tibet. Waving his hands, his undulating Notting Hill/Oxford tones created a wonderful discourse, flowing with passion and interest. It seems my history has been mired in Western war fare, in crusades, in squalid sallies, in colonial battles, world wars, and King Henry’s wives instead of in the rise and fall of Mesopotamia, of Byzantine culture, of Persia, the truly great civilisations of our world, arising from the glitter and glory of the trading routes of the Silk Roads.   Compared to the glory of Sultans, Pharoahs, Ayatollahs, the people of Western Europe were little more than slaves (apparently the only thing of trading value). We had no riches, no spices, little in the line of the black stuff, not much in the way of sought after natural resources; somehow, though, we managed to convince ourselves, and others, that we were the centrifugal force of  history (obviously we had the gift of the gab, and those spears and poleaxes probably helped) while actually the original power and glory was invested in the riches of the East, now on the rise again. Note China’s new ports, gas pipes, and its railways being laid across Africa.  So, after 500 years, the balance is finally being redressed and the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Pakistan are mere birthing pains for a new era (unless the West has a tantrum and starts throwing its upgraded boy toys around in pique).

It was, truly, an invigorating presentation, providing a different perspective, sparkling with brilliance. Peter Frankopan was wonderful to watch (you can see why from the photo below), and his sales pitch was fabulous. He must have been practising on those Silk Roads. I bought the book.

In contrast, the historian, Turtle Bunbury stumbled about the church  while he told us how ‘1847’ had presented itself to him as ‘the year’ to write about. It had been the year the plans for his ancestral home castle were drawn up, the year the famine had got going (he didn’t comment on the structural relationship between the two), the year the Bronte sisters had been published, the year the USA conquered California. This was reason enough for an hour of stories about Black Ben Forbes (?) and Tom Thumb who apparently graced 1847 with their presence. Interesting? No. The historian, John Bowen was much more sober and erudite in his presentation of the ‘Autobiography of Ireland’ which is a collection of original sources: amusing letters, articles reflecting the hundred years after the Rising.

I was looking forward to the Brexit Debate on Saturday morning – Chris Mullins, David Murphy and Mairead McGuinness and was very, very disappointed. It was lack-lustre, un-engaged, uninformed, smug, and comprised an indifferent discussion. Chris Mullins performed like an oil painted portrait with a withering smile, (like one of those spectral portraits in Hogwarts, just not as interesting); Mairead McGuinness glittered with EU self-adoration, and David Murphy manufactured the statistics to suit himself. They bored me, and I felt sad at their lack of spirit, humour and passion.

Thank God, passion was not lacking thereafter. Ed Thomas, director of The Hinterland (a Welsh detective series on Netflix) was fascinating. He was a friendly, bubbly character, but clearly with a dark side. Hinterland is a slow, beautiful but rather grim portrayal of the Welsh countryside. It reflects isolation and is very bleak. He was well interviewed by Georgina Godwin who also later did a great interview with Stephen Frears. The first thing Ed Thomas said was that most of his work was autobiographical and that Wales was a ‘laughing stock’ and a country that didn’t really exist.  He described how being Welsh in the late eighties and nineties was akin to being invisible. He left, changed his accent, pretended to be Irish, or a loud South London lout. I was taken aback. My mother is from a South Wales mining town. In my mind, Wales was a small, beautiful country, the home of a strong, vibrant people who sang, worked and evolved a strong chartist, social spirit. It is clear that in the late 70s and 80s, the closure of the mines, the shutting down of a community, the abandonment of a people laid waste to a wonderful country. Ed recently had to sell his home place of a 130 years. He told us his daughter didn’t know what a miner was. What a sad indictment of a British Government that cruelly turned its back on its working people. An excellent interview which was followed by a second excellent interview with Stephen Frears (photo below)

At first, I thought Georgina Godwin (photo below) was going to have a difficult interview. Frears (who has directed The Snapper, The Van, My Beautiful Laundrette, Philomena, The Queen amongst others) answered her questions in short sentences with brevity. He faced out to the audience and seemed to find it hard to turn his head to look at her when she asked her questions. But she handled him very well. She always had another question ready when he didn’t seem disposed to answer the previous one. She was well prepared, incisive and confident.

Frears was laconic, dry and humorous. Classic Brit. He reminded me of a dragon, lurking in his lair, watching with glittering eyes, a grim smile and high intellect. He told us how fortunate he was. He was a child of a time. He had a golden letter box through which, over the years, amazing scripts were posted. He was self-deprecating in a humorous way which showed us how brilliant he was. The 1960s to 1990s were certainly the golden era for film and theatre. Shane Connaughton whom we had seen in The Town Hall, in Cavan the previous Thursday (interviewed by Philip Doherty) had said something similar. Shane had been in the right place at the right time. I asked both Shane Connaughton and Stephen Frears how much politics had contributed to their success. Both responded positively. The hope and optimism, the belief in humanity, the resources, the investment in the arts, and people had helped them create and become great artists. This is the reason the Brits need a new Government. Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!

 

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Thank You, World

2017 has been good to me, so far. My mother would say that by announcing this, I am putting its future in jeopardy! But to hell with caution, my yellow daffodil of spring wants to trumpet!

I have funding from Cavan Arts Office for a fourth series of AT The Edge this year, and not only that, we have nine brilliant readers (think cat and cream and you have the right image of me here). The first on Tuesday 2 May will see Cavan welcome Kate Dempsey, Colm Keegan and Helena Mulkerns. In August, Maurice Devitt, Stephen James (tbc) and Lisa Frank and in October, Afric McGlinchey, Mairead Donnellan, and Brian Kirk. I am so looking forward to seeing them all in Cavan.

So, I was surprised when another Cavan Arts Office envelope plopped down into the porch of The Bungalow last week – the porch is where I occasionally sit when my muse goes awol. I smoke, keep an eye on the neighbours, and watch for what my garden is growing. Anyway, this envelope from Cavan Arts Office was telling me that I had been given a professional development award to get a mentor to help me finalise my first novel and collection of short stories. This was brilliant news which came at a very good time for me as my muse has been more missing than musing recently. Not writing is another ‘art’ of writing that my mentor may have to help me with! In fact, in the past few months, I have spent more time submitting material (thanks to Angela Carr for her circulation of submission and competition deadlines) and editing my early stories. It has been alarming but interesting to see how raw and unkempt my early short stories are; a raggle taggle of cock tales in sore need of pickles and extra shots! I vaguely wonder, how I know this. When and how did I learn the craft? More to the point, what exactly did I learn so I can do it now? I’m hoping my mentor who has much more experience than I will be able to tell me!

Anyway, that is not all! There is more good news. We are having a poetry party in Cavan at the Town Hall Arts Centre on Poetry Day, Ireland (Thursday 27 April at 6.30pm). The Town Hall has just received good news too. It has received three quarters of a million euro from the Department to refurbish the listed building. They plan to install poets on every landing to recite poetry every thirty minutes (not really, I’m just getting carried away). So, we having a poetry party to celebrate Poetry Day, Ireland, but not just a poetry party, we’re having a poetry and cake party. What better way to spend a few hours on National Poetry Day, reading poetry and eating cake!

So, this Spring is good, and I want to say thanks. Thanks to Crannóg in Galway, the Lakeview International Journal, Anomaly, and the Honest Ulsterman for publishing four of my short stories.  I loved reading at the Crannog launch in Galway last Friday. My son, Joe, said there were two women who were crying with laughter. I could hear their guffaws and it was very encouraging, so thank you to them. (The story is Irish Mothers, Beware and you can read it in this edition of Crannóg (http://www.crannogmagazine.com/). Thank you to Cavan Arts Office for supporting At The Edge, Cavan, and myself. Thank you to all the readers who are prepared to come to Cavan and read. Thank you to Nuala, and all the local poets who come to my own poetry workshops, and thank you for reading this blog. I should also thank my family, and Poppins, my dog, and, Ciaran, the postman who brings such good news and is nice about Poppins barking at him, and oh, my mother! I should thank my mother!

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Art, Expression and Brexit

At one of the International Literature Festival events in Dublin last Friday, Margaret and I, along with similar looking and attired folk, filed into the upstairs bar of the Lord Edward pub next to Christchurch and scattered to the tables and stools. There, we were treated to a reading of Flan O’Brien’s drama, Thirst.

In Thirst, following the local sergeant’s arrival ‘after hours’ with his note pad, the audience is transported to a hot desert by Mr C who over a period of forty minutes described his war years as a duty bound soldier where the feet were caked in scalding hot sand so that the very skin peeled off, the throat was parched with arid dried sun and the water bottles had to be cast away because they were made of aluminium, the packs, guns, knives were the weight of elephants, the eyes were brimming with sand and dust, the sun was a furnace into which they travelled, indeed chased the enemy over dunes, and more (forty minutes more), all to convince the sergeant he needed a pint after hours, and indeed, we were all reaching for our glasses to quench our thirst. It was very funny, very Irish and a brilliant performance.

the thirst

I was less enthralled by Yianis Vouroufakis, though he is rather delightful on the eye and I am sure that if we were in one to one situation with a bottle of retsina (Ruth Ennals, are you reading), I would be totally charmed.

yianis varoufakis

He gave an absolutely devastating description of an EU which was undemocratic, unwieldy, in the hands of megalomaniac bureaucrats and indeed was set up as such a body from the very beginning. Yet after lambasting the mechanisms, behaviours, the corruption (he said that irrespective of the Greek decision to default, the EU paid the bankers and sent him the invoice), he believed that Britain should stay in. I couldn’t believe it. Yianis justified his view by saying you needed common standards, that the political loss would be huge and that the EU was already deteriorating because of its hubris. Speeding it up would create havoc. I wonder what propelled him to say this.

I have been alternating in my views about Brexit (although I don’t have a vote as I have lived more than 15 years in Ireland). My instinct and feeling is that the EU is a conglomerate of bankers and power elites which do not respect democracy and certainly put the interests of the rich and powerful first. However, I certainly do not want to be associated with UKIP, Gove and Boris Johnston who would appear to want to return to Little England, and have unpleasant and racist views about immigration and refugees. I believe firmly in human rights, international conventions, and the need to draw up fairer, equal policies in conjunction with the experience of other nations and countries. I believe we need to rethink what we want the EU to be. I am sure Mr Farage and others will not have in mind the kind of EU wide supports and network that I believe should be put in place.

Yianis described an unwieldy monster when he described the operation of the EU. And he was sceptical of its reform. He thought the Brits were damned if we did leave and damned if we didn’t. I think it is better to attempt change, and not fear it. Maybe the way to do this is to leave because at least it will change the status quo which at the moment is only providing people with unemployment, hysteria, right wing politicians and promulgating fear throughout society. Surely it is better to do something rather than nothing. Maybe this is the revolution, we just don’t know what revolution looks like any more.

Anyway, Yianis helped me think as did Lesley Courcof (an English friend of mine whom I met for lunch the next day before she left Dublin after seeing The Boss) and Margaret Barry with whom I went to the International Literature Festival events and who had to listen to my passionate ranting and ravings with a patience and a humour that only Margaret has. I thank them all.

My few days ended with a return to Cavan to see ‘Underneath’, a performance by Pat Kinevane at the Town Hall (to which, if you look back through my blogs, you will see previous references). ‘Underneath’ is about bullying, the power of the strong over the weak. He makes his point with sensitivity, humour, and his set is of the most beautiful, stark style. He is sinuous, sensual. His movements are graceful, his voice is huge. Performances like this is what we live for. Sadly, whether the EU exists or not, or Brexit happens or not, there will always be the weak and powerful. I just hope we will always have art and literature,  to help us reflect on our vulnerabilities and enable us to think, and listen. (Are you listening, Irish Government?)

Cheers

 

 

 

 

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Cavan Discovered on Tour

Culture day in Cavan was a hot trail of art and theatre through blue skies, scudding clouds, all merging into a wonderful sunset behind the spire of the cathedral. It couldn’t have been a more artistic setting.
It was a great day which began with the Women’s Traveller Health and Social Care Project. They put on a wonderful spread of food but it was the knitting, the painting, and the chat that was brilliant to see and hear. I didn’t realise the project was so extensive. What a resource for the town to have.
In the evening, Julie and I started in the Library with Sally O’Dowd’s one line drawings. I was intrigued by these. I used to like doing one line drawings myself but mine only turned into scribble, unlike Sally’s. Maire, a friend of mine, reminded me of the toy we had as children: grey screen, red backing, two knobs in the front which you turned and created a one line drawing. Ahh yes, memories. Sally’s drawing made me wish I’d kept at it.
After the Library we headed up to the Moth Studios behind Church St. This is where I discovered parts of Cavan I didn’t know existed. Long beautiful gardens roll up a hill and there are interesting bungalows dotted on the horizon beneath an almost Swiss looking forest of conifers.
On down to The Living Thing exhibition by Jackie O’Neill and Joe Doherty in The Teacher’s Centre. This was a delightful surprise. The outside tree light sculptures were so pretty and so was Kavan Donoghue playing the harp. It was a lovely exhibition. It focuses on the concept of Mandella, the unifying centre from which everything evolves. Yes, a little hard to get your head around but the wooden artefacts were gorgeous and I loved the way the way they were displayed. I particularly liked Jackie’s Shannon Pot piece.
We got so excited about this exhibition that we missed the beginning of the Tapas Theatre on in the Town Hall but when we did get there, I really enjoyed this performance. With the Sinfonia orchestra on stage providing the music in between, the Theatre Lab Cavan brought us a few of the tiny plays collected by Fishamble and the Irish Times who received over 1,700 submissions when they asked the Irish public what could be achieved on stage in three minutes. I particularly liked the heart knitting piece, the two girls drinking and dreaming, and the banking scene. So clever, and so enjoyable. The stage setting was fab too.
As, indeed, was the launch of the Town Hall Programme by the crew. What a spectacular! Great lighting, smoke, creativity, charisma, charm, and engagement. I loved the lowering of the gigantic bar of lights to centre stage (isn’t it ironic how the lighting is rarely acknowledged in theatre despite often being the show piece) and the final wrap up with the wrapping up of the dancer by the stage hands. Brilliant.
We are so lucky to have the Town Hall as an arts centre in Cavan. It feels like home. There can be no greater accolade. Thank you everyone!

th prog benchjoe doherty

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A Week of Inspiration

At Cuirt (literary festival in Galway) this week, Kay Ryan (poet) said, after listening to Naomi Shihab Nye (poet), that she wished she was Naomi Shihab Nye. Then after listening to introduction to herself  by Sarah Clancy (another poet) that she wished she was the Kay Ryan Sarah had introduced. She took the ‘wishes’ from my mouth, so to speak. I wished the same.

I wasn’t familiar with Kay Ryan’s work and I was glad that I heard Kay read her poetry herself before I read them on the page. Her wry tone of inquiry, and the pleasure she takes with word formation shaped her short poems wonderfully for me. They were clever and neat, sharp and condensed but full of fizz, like in her poem ‘Effervescence’.

I too wished I was Naomi Shihab Nye. I was introduced to Naomi’s poetry (I will call her Naomi for brevity’s sake) by Moya Cannon. I was seduced straight away so I was very excited when I heard she was coming to Cuirt. I think she is… the word ‘magnificious’ (a confusion of words once used by a French friend) comes to mind. Her poems fill me with humility, tears, love, resentment, admiration all at the same time. It is quite unsettling. Naomi captures the moment with beautiful eloquence and accuracy. She described herself as anchored in poetry. She said, as a person of both Palestinian and American heritage, poetry provides her with roots. I can totally relate to that. I think most poetry is a form of protest. It rises as steam from the boiling cauldron of our hearts. Naomi writes stories in her poems but they are not prose poems, they are direct, and lyrical. They are inquisitive. As she read the Sweet Arab, I was watching the story unfold, like a rat peering out from its hole, my whiskers quivering with the trauma and tensions of the poem.

Both Kay Ryan and Naomi Shihab Nye made me tremble with delight but back in Cavan last night I was shaking, rocking and rolling with glee. I went to see LIES, a play written by Joe McManus who came to my first writing workshop. (It worked well for us both. As a participant, Joe gave me confidence that I run good workshops. As a facilitator, I gave him confidence that he could write…I love our inter dependency!). Anyway, the play was excellent. It was (close on) two hours of riveting drama packed with pace, suspense and humour. It is set in a village but it is not the usual rural romp. It addresses the issues of dreams, despair, dishonesty, love, brotherhood and deception, all characteristics of life but so much more edgy when living in a small rural community. It was beautifully staged by the Killeshandra Community Drama Group. The acting was excellent but for me Gwen Conroy, Mary Keaney and Keelan Braiden shone. And, may I add, the programme was the best theatre programme I have ever seen. It was clear, informative and colourful. For those of you in Cavan, and reading this today, it is on tonight (Sat 24 April). Go and see it.

We then went to support the ‘Yes to Equality’ event in Blessings (Ireland soon has a referendum on marriage equality). I don’t go to music events very often and it was wonderful to see the youth, energy and talent that is so prevalent in Cavan. I was so impressed by The Strypes. I saw them last about four years ago and I liked their vigour, and young faces full of hope and diffidence. I also liked their music. I don’t know much about technical prowess but they had that something of ‘je ne sais crois’. Last night I was amazed. Their diffidence had been replaced by confidence, a sleek style, and synchronicity but they are still youthful, sweet and charming. They truly filled my heart with hope and despite my ageing hips, and the blister on my foot from my new red shoes, I danced, rock and rolling, rattling with emotion!

strypes

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Eclectic Art in Cavan

Eclectic Art in Cavan

There is an eclectic exhibition at no. 61 College St, Cavan this weekend which is worth a visit. I love the line drawings by Sally O’Dowd. Most of them are drawn in one or two continuous lines but the sketches are very intricate. I love the idea that the pen has not come off the paper. Very clever.

Jane McCormick’s sick selfies series is grim, but powerful. She captures the sense of powerlessness and pain. I particularly like ‘silence’.

Mark Lawlor’s has a wolf theme going though his exhibits which are quirky and fun. Be warned there is cured hare’s head in a tin. His material amused me.

Pawel Kleszczewski’s pictures are scary. He has drawn 9 scenes from the bible using crayon and charcoal. They are dark but illuminating. I liked them immensely They’d look great in our hall.

Jackie O’Neil’s art is fascinating. She digitally prints an illustration on calico and then enhances aspects of the print with hand embroidery. They are subtle, almost whimsical but at the same time have a strong imprint. The embroidery, although delicate, gives them real depth. I loved the fish in a bowl, the giraffe, and the flamingos.

Finally, the last exhibit I saw was Kaisa Zimmoch though I think Siobhan Harton has an exhibit there but it wasn’t hung when I was there.  Kaisa has constructed a mushroom/toadstool fairy ring out of lidl brochures. You can stand in the middle of it and see what happens. It’s amazing what people do. So clever.

Most of the exhibits are for sale and are very reasonably priced. Great Christmas presents. 

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