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Back at the pottery again

I find that one of the best ways of coping with end-of-year, work-related stress is to spend a day at Eastnor Pottery. Throwing, turning and decorating pots are all very absorbing activities, and leave no room left to think about work. I spent the day there yesterday, initially working on half-a-dozen or so vases that I threw last time I was there. There was only one I wanted to keep, so after I’d turned the others, I cut them all in half with a cheese wire to look at the profile. That always feels like an act of wanton destruction, but it’s a very good way of understanding how accurate your throwing is. I was able to see that I’m still leaving a significant amount of clay at the bottom of my pots, so they’re quite heavy-bottomed. That makes them pretty stable, but I could still make them taller and thinner from the same size starting lump of clay.

After that, I concentrated on throwing some ramekins, a commission from my mother who wants one made to a particular size. That’s always tricky, as the clay shrinks around 10% or more between throwing and firing, so you have too make them too big to allow for an indeterminate amount of shrinkage. I ended up throwing nine pots, all pretty much the same shape (flat-bottomed, nearly straight sides) but slightly different diameters. The lumps of clay were much smaller that I usually throw with, as I’m most comfortable with lumps between 500g and 1kg. Smaller lumps are very fiddly, and larger ones take too much strength to centre, and exacerbate the RSI in my wrists. The smaller lumps though were the same size as the three beginners in the workshop were learning with. I did feel a bit guilty as I churned out pot after pot, all clearly repeatable variations on a theme, while they struggled to get the hang of throwing something bigger than an egg cup! But they all seemed to be having a lot of fun, which is the main thing, and by the time I called it a day and left mid-afternoon, they were all making good progress and throwing some nicely symmetrical pots.

In the evening, I continued with the pottery theme, and cooked a duck tagine using the terracotta tagine I made last year. It felt very satisfying to cook and serve myself dinner using my own pots, plates, serving bowls and drinking vessels. I’m very careful when using the tagine on the hob to heat it up slowly and gently to avoid thermal shock, as I don’t want it to explode on me! I made it with a deliberately thick base and walls to retain the heat, with the result that it took ages to heat up, but the stew was still simmering away gently when I put it on the table. And it tasted good too.