Friday, June 25, 2021

Long Time No Post

 So Covid, and life....

I am currently at Driving Creek Railway and Pottery. I have been employed as Railways Manager and I co-manage the Pottery with an amazing guy Sam Ireland.

I have been here since just prior to Covid Lockdown V4. 

So this is just a quick update, will get some more done soon.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

60,000 bricks @ 1000 deg C

Today I finally got to get the tour of the local brick works!
Tavleen, Balwinder, Prince, Ellen and myself headed off down the road. On the way we saw a small juvenile Northern Goshawk that had been probably hit by a car,
Juvenile Northern Goshawk (i think) 
it seemed perky enough so we left it to check on the way home. The Northern Goshawk is the state bird of Punjab. Was spotted up on the power lines on way home...
So for all those fans of PBT Transport, we were at the home of PBT Bricks.
KP Brick Manufacturers trading as PBT
Now it was pretty obvious that the heavy rain that we had experienced on Friday (torrential rain and amazing thunderstorms) had made its presence felt at the brick works,
Rain sodden brick paddy fields
Spoilt bricks due to heavy rain
Green bricks destroyed by rain
some of the green bricks had been lost but they had managed to cover a fair few.
Plastic covered green bricks
Saved green bricks
So in the area surrounding the main kiln, there were acres of brick making space.
Brick making paddy field
More brick making paddy fields 
They just use the local dirt which has enough clay content to make it all stick together and then fire it all.
So we rocked on up and got to meet the owner who gave us a guided tour of the area.
Ellen, Tavleen and the owner
So at one end of the kiln area they were unpacking after a firing,
Unpacking a fired area (note the height)
then we moved up to the other end where they were firing.
So there are three wickets (doorways) per firing area.
Wicket door after firing
The green bricks are loaded into the area, stacked cleverly
Green bricks stacked for firing
to allow for airflow and even firing
Standing on top of the firing chamber from left Owner, Frederick, Ellen
and then the roof is laid over the top, complete with stoking holes and observation holes.
Observation hole
Stoking holes and containers of coal dust
This is all then fired up to 1000 degrees centigrade. It is fired with coal dust and there is a team that stokes 24/7 for the 36 hours it takes to complete the firing.
Team of stokers with plastic barrels of coal dust
Top of kiln with stoke holes
There are 60,000 bricks per firing and there are 4 firing chambers that rotate, so one loading,
Stacking green bricks
one firing, one unpacking
Unpacking fired bricks
and the last a mix of loading and unpacking.
Unpacking (note hand carts and labour)
Close up of partially open wicket door
It was an interesting experience climbing on top of a firing kiln to watch the stoking.
Ladder up to top of kiln, stoking team watching us with interest
The guys wander around in wooden slippers between the stoke holes with a metal hook and lift the metal lid,
Stoking holes
drop a small scoop of coal
Coal stock pile
down the hole
Coal dust for stoking
and drop the lid back down. It was quite a musical sound with the lids dropping down. What was even more interesting was the lack of heat. Eventually I started to feel the heat through my shoes, but there was little ambient heat while we were on the top.
There are 250 workers on site and most live on site as it is a 24/7 operation.
House on site, close holes for winter, open for summer
The kids were everywhere and were funny to watch.
Where are the kids?
Here we are!
We were treated to chai and biscuits with the owner and I showed him a picture of a PBT truck and trailer unit from NZ and he roared with laughter and his PA grabbed it and WhatsAppd it to his phone. They thought is was wonderful.
It was an amazing experience to see how bricks were made in northern India.
Worker unloading fired bricks
Smoke stack
Would not like to be around in the hot summer months.
I am going to try to get back to see the actual making of the green bricks. We saw the PBT emboss stamps
PBT emboss stamps
PBT green bricks
but not the molds.

So further to that I have been plodding along making and experimenting with slab work at the studio
Slab vase
Teapot without spout (yet)
Interesting vessel
Geometric piece (Stairway to.....)
and creating some pieces for Rachel and her business Real Food Gratitude.
A wall hanging and some small appetizer plates.
Phases of the moon wall hanging
Moon phase appetizer plates and dish
As you could possible guess Rachel loves the phases of the moon.

So pretty much up to date here, our chef has been having fun with the ‘salad’ plates
Cucumber and flower petals
Cucumber and orange slices
Cucumber and tomato
Kiwifruit and apple
Carrot, tomato and cucumber
I am starting to realize that my time here is getting close to being over. I leave here on the morning of Dec 28th to begin part 2 of my journey so not that long to go now.

Dhanyavaad (thank you) for reading this
Safe travels everyone.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Fires, heat and hospitality

So while we were all in Shimla, Prince and Tavleen did a bisque firing. In the morning we opened the kiln to see just how good things were. No blowups, a little cracking but nothing major and some awesome pieces.
Bisque results
Bisque results
What followed was a long day getting things glazed ready for a glaze firing on Thursday. This was pretty fast turn around as Katrine was due to leave to head home to Singapore on Saturday and wanted her items to take with her.
It was a pretty hectic day as we had to prep our pieces, clear them of dust, wax where necessary to prevent sticking to the shelves or themselves (lids etc).
I will try and get some pics from the day as I didn’t have time to get some.
All I have is my big pots that didn’t get fired.
From right, vase, teapot, sugar bowl and behind the leaf platter
From left, teapot, trinket box, glazed lid from the teapot and leaf platter behind
It was a frantic day with trying to sort out colours and whether to dip or spray. But we got there in the end only about 45 mins later than expected.
The following morning we kicked off the kiln at 9am
Candling the kiln to drive off any remaining moisture
and let it candle for 1 1/2 hours then applied some heat to two burners.
And off we go
At 700 dec C we lit off the other 2 burners and apart from a change of gas bottle we got a very steady even rise in temperature to 1260 by 5pm and after holding for 15 mins at 1260 we then sealed up the kiln and turned the burners off.
By 10:30am it was cool enough to open after cracking it at 8:30am and it certainly looked different.
Anuja and Tavleen inspect the results
We had a few cracks and splits but nothing majorly broken to disrupt the kiln.
Oh dear, major cracking
Some of Katrine’s work
I was very happy with the few small bits of mine that went into the kiln
Some of my small pieces
and am awaiting the next firing to get my bigger pots and bowls fired.
I am slowly finding my niche and it seems to be geometric shapes.
Geometric Progression - From Circle to Cube
I have been having fun with a number of teapots
Teapot in the making, just need a handle
Teapot,  third try but still not completely happy
and vases as well as geometric sculpture.
Stairway to .....
Meanwhile, on one of my trips to the local village of Manakpur Sharif I had met up with two lovely young men who had shown us around the village. Now suddenly one of them
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Bhapoor Singh found me on Facebook and said that he was heading to Aura on Friday and would like to catch up. Now Bhapoor had said that he had known Anuja’s (owner of Aura Pottery) late husband Atul. Atul had passed away in February this year from a heart attack. Bharpoor and Atul had been working together on a programme of planting many more trees around the village and alongside the road leading to the village.
On Friday when he arrived I was unaware that he was actually at Aura for a meeting with Anuja around using the proceeds of Winter Day to buy and plant more trees around the area.
So Bharpoor had a quick tour of the studio and some of our work and then was whisked off to his meeting.
Latter both Rachel and I get an invitation to dinner at his home in the village, which we accept. So last night, Sunday, we wandered off to the village with a cake Rachel had baked and a jar of our spiced nuts and seeds for them.
Bhapoor met us on the way and showed us the trees that they had planted along the roadside and explained that some of the farmers were not happy as it shaded their crops.
We had another wander through the village, down street and alleys we hadn’t been before. So amazing to think that there are over 3,000 people living in this village.
When we arrive at his home, he explains that most of his extended family live together but in separate houses and gather together often.
Indian families have an interesting reaction when I take my shoes off at the door. I have to explain that it is a cultural thing in my country and I seldom wear shoes inside, and never as a guest in someone else’s home. Bharpoor finally accepted it when Rachel confirmed that I never wear shoes inside the house.
So first up we meet Grandmother who is 82 and quite sprightly. She was sitting on a charpaya (Indian woven bed) if you translate literally it is char: four and paya: footed. She was knitting very rapidly.
Then came a stream of relatives, Father and Mother, Bharpoor’s wife, his Grandfather, Uncle and Aunt and later his brother and his wife and young son arrived.
Bhapoor’s brother, Grandfather, Grandmother, Uncle & Aunt
Uncle, Aunt, Father and Bhapoor’s wife, Aman
It was quite interesting as Grandfather, Bharpoor and his wife Aman were the only English speakers so conversation was fun.
Grandfather had been to the United States in the 80’s and so there was a bit of interesting conversation between him and Rachel.
We were offered the wonderful Indian version of coffee, milk heated, coffee and sugar added and then whisked frothy. Very delicious. This was followed by what I believe was pinni. It was explained to us that his father had made this. It takes around 4 hours to reduce 4 litres of milk down to 1 litre and that it is almost solid at this point. This is then mixed with gram flour, jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), ghee and nuts and seeds. There is a great deal more to the creation of this wonderful winter snack, and I will find the complete recipe when I go back for some lessons with Father on how to make it. It is amazingly healthy and is great for adding missing dietary needs over the winter months.
We were then invited out to watch Mother cook roti for dinner in the outdoor kitchen or bhathi.
Watching Mother shape roti by hand, (no rolling pin) was amazing, beautifully round and even thickness and then cooked on the roti cooker (tawa). This is a two person job as Mother rolled and patted the roti while Aunty first cooked the roti on the top then carefully crisped them up inside the firebox against the side on a bed of coals.
Bhapoor had brought the idea home to apply ghee to the roti then place back in the fire to create super crispy roti and they were! So this was served with saag, a vegetable purée of mustard greens and other leafy  greens. The bowl of saag was then laced with a large dollop of homemade butter (not ghee). The butter is made daily from the buffalo cows that Mother milks every day. At the end of the week and butter left over gets turned into ghee. I still cannot get over the fact that the butter and cream here are white, not pale yellow but pure white. I first came across this on my trip to Florida and thought it was just in America but no it is here too.
So we all sat around the fire eating saag and roti, with a glass of warm water. It was a wonderful experience to have roti so hot that I had to wait for it to cool before I could eat it. Grandfather was hilarious about asking if we needed forks to eat with as his brother who was a professor at a major US university had brought a group of people home and they couldn’t/wouldn’t eat with fingers. A very funny story in the telling.
We then went for a wander around the house, saw the new cow and calf, who had arrived that day but she got a bit upset when we came in and kicked her calf. Mother was trying to get the calf to feed from the cow, so we left them to it. We toured the garden where all the ingredients for saag were grown. After that we went upstairs to the roof where we enjoyed a very quiet time seeing the village at night from the rooftop, observing what few stars were visible and talking about sleeping on the roof tops over the summer. They have temperatures around 50 deg C in the summer months and 2 deg C in winter! Huge temperature differential over the year.
After that we returned to the sitting room and talked about all sorts of interesting things and then instead of us walking home Bhapoor drove us home. On the way we paused to meet a group of young men that Bhapoor was part of who were huddled around a small fire on the street corner.
A group that comes together most nights to talk about non consequential stuff and just relax and enjoy the company. Apparently Bhapoor is the first of the group to get married, so he cannot attend as many get togethers as he used to.
It was a wonderful evening and Bhapoor was adamant that the honour was theirs to be able to host us but it went both ways I felt very honoured to be invited into their home and to be welcomed so warmly and fed with such a meal that was prepared with so much tradition and love.
An amazing experience!
It also seems that I have unleashed the inner artist in our studio help Prince, he is starting to create some awesome work.

Safe travels everyone.