Dead Good Words


Thursday, 6 December 2012

   "Made in Art" curates 12~12~12 in Manchester

- a single day of humanity 10am to 10pm various venues across the city

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

12~12~12 HUMANITY event in Manchester
Just a week to go and we shall be in the Natural History Discovery Centre of Manchester Museum. Come along 2.30 to 4.30pm and Design your own Funeral - fee £8 in the surroundings of their taxidermy collection in the company of stuffed ferrets, owls, a goat in a sweater, a snarling tiger and an elegant flamingo. Who is the endangered species here?


                                                                                                                        Birkrigg Stone Circle South Cumbria

Sunday, 2 December 2012



This is just to say how much we enjoyed the lecture you gave on Wednesday for Graphic Arts & Design students at Leeds Met, it was incredibly interesting and entertaining. It made a refreshing change to hear from people who have managed to sustain an alternative creative practice with a political edge throughout their career!

A few of us are definitely curious to see your house in Morecambe!

We have attached the photograph of the two of you by your lecture poster.

Best Wishes
Vikkie and Sian (third years who designed the poster)
We say:

It was a brilliant studio with loads of equipment including metal letterpress letters and presses and equipment for etching, woodcutting, lino printing and silkscreen

We also collected a useful quote:

"The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty.
Posted by deadgoodguides at Sunday, December 02, 2012 No comments:




                       An 8 minute ‘bite’ delivered by John Fox and Sue Gill in Queen Elizabeth Hall

for SouthBank Centre’s Festival  "Art will Change the World"  25th June 2012



“Art will Change the World”

As a pathological optimist I endorse this but there are questions. Such as what kind of art and whose world do we have in mind? I advocate a vernacular celebratory art that is integrated into our lives, which offers a creative outlet for the majority, where process comes before product and where participation is all. It is energized through an altruistic gift relationship . It is playful and improvised and includes carnivals, cooking, gardening, building houses, telling stories, making music, seasonal festivals and marking key life changes with new ceremonies for essential rites of passage.

Such an art currently only exists in the western world in occasional pockets of community art often token and frequently surrogate social work in disguise.

Artist/poets can shift perception and demonstrate imaginative possibilities. Unfortunately like so much else in our market driven culture much ART has become institutionalized bureaucratized and colonized by investment ,celebrity, novelty, spectacle and dodgy sponsorship. It has become a consumed product controlled from a huge pyramid of desks and relationship managers, rather than a ground up creative process accessible to all.

Then lets look at the world. Other cultures do not separate art from life and segregate aesthetic experience to the exclusive realms of the museum, art gallery, theatre or concert hall. Some cultures integrate art and nature with a holistic perspective and reverence which is missing in our dominant culture. And to be blunt if we do want to change the world may it not be better first to look at agriculture, water supplies and sanitation before art? Or are we to rationalize that the lateral thinking we associate with art education will facilitate imaginative solutions for even these issues?

If I were to be really grim I could ask too you how will art help our grandchildren deal with the alleged coming storm of 2030 when population growth and food and water shortages (exacerbated by climate change) will generate a crisis for the whole world ? Even now 18 million people are facing starvation in Africa.

Currently our financial and religious structures are collapsing so can art help us mark significant priorities ? Well first we need new structures of thinking.

What really gives us peace of mind ? How may we select and celebrate true priorities?. How do we create a universal non eurocentric, ecologically minded culture which may be less materially based but where we all participate and rejoice in creative moments which give meaning and purpose to our lives?

Here are a few positive examples from our own work where we have been wrestling with such questions for over four decades: Talk to slides.




For 25 years in Cumbria we orchestrated the annual Ulverston Lantern Parade. A multigenerational event that created its own tradition and grew to 4 separate rivers of light that flowed together in the centre of this small market town. An evening where families come together to celebrate with artworks made with their own hands and their imagination and creativity. The materials are simple – willow sticks, masking tape, tissue paper and candles. Each lantern is handmade with the help and encouragement of skilled artists.

The Lantern Parade reinforces pride of place and reminds us of seasonal rhythyms – it is always at the start of autumn. A moment of excess where we shut the streets to traffic and connect with neighbours and friends. It costs nothing to be involved and draws a huge following. People who participated themselves as young children bring their own offspring to the event as a rite of passage. Art has certainly changed this small community.

Lantern Parades form this prototype are now to be found all over the world from Vancouver to Darwin to South Africa to the Shetlands. The townspeople of Ulverston are now running this on their own.

   Ulverston annual Lantern Parade-community celebration with handmade lanterns as rivers of light flow through the town.          Building a cruck barn with volunteers using oak from the local forest in Cumbria       3 frames are vertical, the ridge beam holds them in place and the team poses up high for a photo.




A precursor to our successful Arts Lottery bid of 1996 was a self built cruck barn. Connecting head hands and heart and revitalizing the brains in our fingers. Researching traditional Cumbrian building techniques and recruiting a gang of twenty volunteers taught by master green wood carpenters, we built the barn over one long hot summer. Topping out and other ceremonies were spontaneously integrated into the course of the work.

Could this be one solution to young people’s housing needs? A different housing benefit maybe?


This was a secular requiem using site specific theatre techniques to commemorate and memorialize the sinking of scores of Grimsby trawlers during the Battle of the Atlantic. It started with a musical vigil round an ice bound trawler then expanded to burning ships and a final unlikely vision, as a giant haddock descended from the night to present a tiny crystal trawler to a survivor in a rowing boat. Actual survivors, very old veterans of the battle read out the names of their dead comrades. Musical accompaniment was a Brass band and a specially written song - “The longest street in Grimsby is called Hope.” Which it was and is.


Giant haddock under construction by sculptors Graeme Gilmour and Caroline Menis for requiem event to commemorate loss of fishing trawlers in WW2orate                                                  Cardboard eco coffin painted by Caroline Menis for A Lover of the Sea




As we all get older our friends start to die. I don’t know about you but we’ve been to some truly awful funerals. the conveyor belt sort where, as one funeral takes place inside the crematorium, the next is lining up outside. It does not have to be like that.

So the next phase of our work began, using creativity and arts practice to find a way to improve funerals, to create new secular ceremonies that are still legal and dignified, yet are distinctive and have meaning for those involved.

Coombe, made by Duncan Copley, is a sculptural waymarker and at the same time, an urn for ashes.

How do you express the inexpressible at a time of grief and loss? We need poetry, song, music, as well as the visual arts, dance, silence ... we need to find these languages which permit us to feel things we have maybe never felt before. Art can change our death and dying.

We published the Dead Good Funeral Book–a no nonsense guide to creating your own funeral, and 7 years on there is a measurable change in the funerals industry – more flexibility, more choice, more transparency, more ecological awareness.

We also run a programme to train people who want to be independent celebrants – not just for funerals but for ceremonies to mark many other of life’s milestones. Birth and marriage –yes – but also the darker side – divorce, redundancy, illness, loss.

And this is Wishbone House, a portable ceremonial space that has witnessed many ceremonies.


Coombe - an urn for ashes in the form of a sculptural waymarker made by Duncan Copley                                                                            Wishbone House - a portable ceremonial space for weddings, namings, funerals and memorial services in landscape, made by Duncan Copleyem





As dominions of economics, religion and art break down, some people respond to such change as an exciting challenge. Some give up. Once the old frameworks and supportive iconographies have disappeared and until new patterns can develop, a depressive and fearful violence can permeate the vacuum of uncertainty.

So, let us start in a small and a domestic way. Make life and art work together. I work for my neighbours to the best of my ability. Last week we painted signs for our village coffee morning; over the weekend I played in a community street band for the Great North Swim and next week I am playing accordion on the pensioners’ sunset cruise on Coniston Water.

I wish to find and maintain a playful art that demonstrates what it is to be human; where consciousness is shifted to a realm of poetic resonance, a realm of visceral, sensual, aesthetic collaboration. A truly ecological poetry. One of love and collaboration For me if science is “a way of thinking” then Art is “a way of being”. And we urgently need more of it. A lot more.


JUDE KELLY asked each contributor to bring a short ‘tool’/ practical piece of advice for changing the world:








Rosa and Isabelle won 'Best of the Fest' overall primary winner for their 2 minute film THE YETI HUNT entered alongside 53 other short films in the Peninsula Film Festival 2014 on 19th May at the awards ceremony in Grange - over - Sands. Congratulations!


Judges said ' good acting, funny, lovely credits, caught my attention, good story with exciting opening'.


THE ELK STORY created for World Book Day 2014 with Sue Gill and the 60 children of Leven Valley C of E Primary School in S. Cumbria - an ecological mythic tale of marine pollution.




The Elk Papercut

Plastic elk

The BEGINNING – created with Class 1


Let’s start with the LAND creatures.

In Sea Wood on the shore of Morecambe Bay in Cumbria lived an ELK – a majestic creature. He was SHY of meeting up with human beings. Early in the mornings, while they were still snoring in their beds, he would venture out along the shoreline, leaving tracks of his hoof prints for anyone who cared to notice. Once they had gone indoors, he would go out again to enjoy the evening.


He ate leaves and grass and moss and he chewed the bark of trees, which annoyed the forester. Once the human beings got up he would retreat to the shady parts of the woods and rest, invisible to passers-by.


The Elk had a young friend STELLA. She was a very energetic young elk. He realised that he had not seen her since Tuesday, and began to wonder where she might be. He asked his friends in the woodland if they had seen her – woodpecker, fox, badger, rabbit, mole, grass snake, squirrel – but none of them had seen Stella.


The MIDDLE – created with Class 2


Next morning Elk set out along the shoreline, searching for Stella.


Coming towards him out of the reeds was the most curious creature he had ever seen.

‘Hello Elk’, it said, “it’s me – Stella!’

‘What on earth has happened? Are you alright? ’


‘Well’, said Stella, ‘I was out swimming in the Bay. You know how much I love swimming. And last Tuesday, the sun was shining and the sea was calm and I could not resist, so I went out for a swim. Then I felt my legs being pulled DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, and I ended up on the seabed.


There I met the SEA NURSE. Her job is to look after the bed of the sea. She is a creature of the SEA. Her hair is liquid, her necklace is liquid, her apron is liquid, her slippers are liquid.


She was very distressed. ‘Just look at the bed of the sea. It is all clogged with plastic litter – old combs and broken sunglasses , sardine cans, string and nets ..... It will take centuries to disintegrate. It’s disgusting’.


‘It used to be so beautiful – silver sand, shells and sea plants swaying in the motion of the water and little fishes and crabs scuttling about. But look at it now. It’s horrible. I try my best to clean it up, but I can’t manage. Everyday more and more plastic arrives. What can I do?’


‘Sea birds are choking on this plastic, fishes are eating it too. I am a SEA CREATURE. How can I let people on LAND know about this?’


‘ I could HELP you?’ said Stella. ‘What should I do?’


‘That could be marvellous’, said Sea Nurse. ‘I have an idea. You are a young Elk, I can see. Would you let me transform you into a Plastic Elk ? That way, human beings might take notice’.


Stella was not sure. ‘Would it hurt?’ she asked.


‘No, you would not feel a thing’, said Sea Nurse.


‘Would I be stuck like that for ever?’ asked Stella.


‘No, I promise that if ever you changed your mind, I would always change you back to the young Elk you are today’, said Sea Nurse.


‘Should I take the RISK? thought Stella. Then a part of her said YES.


Sea Nurse carefully took off Stella’s skin, folded it up and put it in a safe place. Then she weaved her magic and transformed her into a Plastic Elk, constructed from old bottles and rubbish lying on the bed of the sea. She was really pleased.


‘Wow, I’m ready to go back to the LAND and try my best to tell all those lazy people who leave their plastic lying about just what is happening to the bed of the sea’, said Stella. ‘But just a minute – how will I do it?’


Sea Nurse reached into her liquid throat, drew out her speaking voice and gave it to Stella. ‘There you are’, she said, ‘you have my speaking voice, but I still have my singing voice’.


Plastic Elk swam back up to the surface and made her way back to the shore. It took her a little while to get used to her plastic legs, and the creaking noise her new body made. Coming towards her was Elk and he stopped in his tracks at the sight of her, as she told him the story.


The END – created with Class 3


Things on LAND start to improve. There is so much interest. TV cameras, newspaper photographers, rumours flying around. Loads of people are curious to see the Plastic Elk for themselves. Walkers and families flock to the beach to hear what she has to say. They get organised and start to CLEAN UP the beaches, so no more plastic rubbish floats off into the sea. Sacks and sacks of LITTER are piled up for the council to take away. The beach has never looked so clean. ELK gets a little bolder and starts to find his COURAGE and CONFIDENCE around human beings.


Stella is starting to get a little restless. She wonders what she might do NEXT. She notices how Elk is starting to enjoy his new role, and with a sense of sadness she says GOODBYE and GOOD LUCK, now she knows he has the BRAVERY to carry on the work.


So, she has many CHOICES facing her. Should she ask Sea Nurse to turn her back into the young elk she was before? Or should she stay as she is and go off to other parts of the world – Russia, South America, China, Africa, Canada ........? By now Sea Nurse was a little bit lonely, but remembering how she had created Plastic Elk, she decided to make a couple of kids from the plastic litter, to keep her company. One would be called FLOTSAM, the other would be JETSAM, and she would sing them to sleep with lullabies each evening on the bed of the sea.




SOMEWHERE FAR AWAY  a story by Rosa Fox Copley age 9   July 23 2012

Rosa Fox Copley, aged 9, author of Somewhere Far Away - the mythic lizard story         iPad drawing by Rosa of the lizard, the compass and the mirror    i PAD drawing by Rosa                                                                


'I want a lizard' screamed Jessica. She lived in a city that was cold and wet. She longed for sunshine. 'I want sunshine'. A passing wizard heard her and said 'Why, what is wrong child?' as he flew in through Jessica's window.

'Are you a wizard?'  'Yes, I am. What is wrong?'

'Well, I want a lizard but it is cold and wet here.'

'Then come with me. We're off to Lizard Land.'

The wizard took off his hat and said magic words. All of a sudden they were in Lizard Land.


'This is amazing', said Jessica, 'so hot and sunny, but where are all the lizards?'

'They have all disappeared and it's your job to get them back Jessica.'

'Cool, but how?'

'Come with me.  Take these Jessica, you will need them on your journey. A mirror, a golden ball and, last of all, a pencil.'

She didn't know how they would help her but she put them in her pocket.

'There's a cave with a boulder in front of it and the lizards are trapped. It was an evil fairy who put them inside.'

The wizard put a spell on Jessica: 'Flipperty, flopperty flue/ a spell is cast on you.'

The spell meant that whenever Jessica goes near that particular boulder, it will shine golden.'


'Which way do I go then?'

'Look carefully at the golden ball - it will show you,' and sure enough there was a compass inside pointing East.

'Goodbye. Wish me luck. I'll be back in a year or so with the lizards. Trust me.' And off she skipped.

For 10 days she journeyed until she got to a river. The mirror suddenly shone, writing came up saying: 'Chop down a tree with this saw.'

A saw appeared, she took it, chopped down the tree and walked across it. Looking back, her bridge was still there, however a new tree had sprung up in its place.


So she looked at her golden ball to see where to go next. It was pointing West. 'Maybe this is the way to the lizards?' said Jessica excitedly. Continuing her journey she came to a bush of prickly thorns so thick that even a field mouse could not get through. Suddenly her mirror shone. 'Here is a dagger for you to chop a path through.' Jessica only got 1 or 2 scratches, but managed to get through.


Looking at her golden ball, this time it pointed South.

On the horizon she saw a fiery glow. Getting closer Jessica saw it was a forest fire!

'Here is a pail of water. Drench yourself then roll under the flames.' With her heart beating fast, she did what he had to do. Then she ran through the smoke coughing, but soon was out of all that commotion.

'I must be near the lizards now. I've been over a river, through thorns and under a forest fire. Surely I'm near to the lizards.'

And Jessica was right. She was!!


Now the golden ball was pointing North. Jessica got to a cliff. The mirror shone. It said: 'Climb this cliff. Your journey is over.'

Step by step Jessica climbed the cliff. At the top was not one boulder but several.

'Now, what was it the wizard said? .....  'when I go near the right boulder it will shine.' Jessica started to walk around all the boulders. 'It's not this one. It's not that one. Ah! - it's this one.' It began to shine.


She went towards it, assuming it would just roll away on its own. But no, the mirror shone brighter than it ever had before. 'Take your pencil and draw a shape on the rock. I cannot tell you which shape though.'

First she tried a triangle. Nothing happened. Then a circle. Nothing. Then a spiral - it's bound to be a spiral. Nothing.

The boulder shone a little, just faintly, revealing the real shape - a double spiral.



Jessica took her pencil and drew over it, the boulder loosened and she was able to push it to the right. Just as it was beginning to move, she heard singing from the cave at the side: 'Kickety kockety koo/ My spell will work on you.' 

She realised this was the evil fairy, so she kept on rolling the boulder until it was over the entrance to her cave. 'Ah ha! now you're trapped.'


'Now lizards, its safe to come out.'

Slowly, slowly they crawled out, looking around carefully, then scampered off, thanking their rescuer. The mirror shone: 'Thank you Jessica. Your task is over.'


Jessica blinked. She was at home with a golden lizard badge pinned to her jumper, with the golden ball, the mirror and the pencil. Best of all, the sun was shining outside.

Then something moved in her pocket - her very own lizard! 


THE END  [ typed up by Nana during a sleepover at the Beach House 22 - 24 July ]       





      A new role for the artist?

“Modern art has taken a wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in favour of individual self absorption”. Andrei Tarkovsky in Sculpting Time 1986.

At the end of 2009 emergency is in the air. Population growth, global warming, scarcity wars, religious wars, famine, environmental degradation, cyber wars, nuclear proliferation and disease loom before our grandchildren. As our financial and religious frameworks also appear to be collapsing, and our media are driving and thriving on the anxiety, (and it is very easy to get depressed), we need to look at ways of marking what is worthwhile. What gives us peace of mind, what values fashion the ideal and how may we celebrate such values?

Traditionally some artists have offered inspiration. In our consumer culture however many of us have been hi jacked by cultural industries, surrogate social work, monetary investment and the cult of celebrity, spectacle and novelty. So in this unsettling time of enforced hysteria it could be useful to lay down the initial ground rules of a culture which may be less materially based but where more people will actively participate and gain the power to rejoice in moments that are wonderful and significant. These could be where more people grow and cook their own food, maybe build their own houses, name their children, bury their dead, marking anniversaries, creating new spaces for new ceremonies,and producing whatever drama, stories, songs, rituals, images, pageants and jokes that are relevant to re- discovered values.


In such a context this artist would become facilitator and fixer, celebrant and stage manager, a visionary linking the past and the future, and a shamanic poet, the revelator of layers of perception and the holder of what used to be called spiritual energy. Equally of course this kind of artist would also acknowledge the artist in us all and offer testament to the innate creativity recurring in every generation and every community where the intuitive is given freedom. Where re -generation is of the soul and not of economics. Where a holistic way of being is given credence and where making art is a daily experience.

                                                                                                                                                                                      John Fox

This is part of an article from the New Ground Project in Castlebar in County Mayo in May 2008. Do let us know if it strikes any chords or thoughts. Thanks.

Muriel Law wrote on Oct 3rd 2010 from Hongkong University: ....... it is so elegantly written with such a passionate call for us the artists and the artists-at -heart to make wherever we are a better place to live. What is most important of all, it reminds the actor inside us to exercise the power of creation and creativity over fits of frustrations, moments of despair and temporary sight loss, a state that I have been experiencing these past few weeks with work. Identify the actionable and engage with it, mark moments of the celebratory, be with the others ....

Dec 7th 2011 NATIONAL THEATRE WALES   'Making Ideas Concrete'

Sue Gill and John Fox lead a 1 day workshop for newly appointed Freelance Facilitators for NTW's Assembly Programme.

Jan 27 - 29th 2012 DEATH: Southbank Centre's Festival for the Living

Sue Gill and John Fox lead a public workshop DESIGN Your Own DEAD GOOD FUNERAL in St.Paul's Pavilion, Level 6, Royal Festival Hall. The workshop set out to dispel common myths, to demonstrate the nuts and bolts of planning a funeral, to inspire and to give confidence. 70 people squished into the room where we were expecting 30, yet managed to follow the guided process, committing their funeral wishes and requests onto a document to take home and discuss with those nearest to them. 'Your workshop was by far the most insightful and interesting talk/workshop we attended. You presented a really great insight into the logistics of planning a funeral, as well as demonstrating how amazingly creative you can be!' Antonia Beck

Feb 22 - 24 TIPPING POINT CONFERENCE Newcastle upon Tyne      ' What am I doing about the future?' Short provocation/ reflection from John Fox 'Thank you so much for your contribution. It combined a masterful precis of some of the event with an even more powerful call to arms. Precisely what was needed - and more'. Peter Gingold, Director.


for staff at Tullie House, Carlisle, the county's museum and art gallery, facing redundancy and job losses. Old documents such as job reviews, assessments and reports were creatively recycled, thresholds were crossed, validations were read out and witnessed, fancy home-made certificates were distributed. To ensure we left traces behind, the afternoon ended with a bit of guerilla gardening, before we went to the pub, replenished with new directions.

March 30th ISAN gathering at Lanternhouse, Ulverston

of producers from the outdoor arts sector when Fox and Gill of Dead Good Guides orchestrated a wild walk and environmental workshop along part of the Cumbria Coastal Way at a mystery destination. '.... the day was inspiring in a very subtle, calming and serene way. As a group we are still talking about it, and it has raised many professional and personal issues for us - how we want to try and live and work, work/life balance, and how we look creatively at the next phase of our careers .....'



40 WALKS: Dee Heddon To mark a significant decade birthday Dee invited 40 people to take her on a walk of their choice throughout the year. Read about them in her blog

WALK 4 - Walking with Gerry Harris 10th April 2010 Ulverston to Baycliff and the Beach House via the Cumbria Coastal Way

extract .........

Up the path leading off the beach and into a garden packed with sculptures made from bits and bobs. In the circular studio on the left, we interrupt John, busy at work on his various pieces that engage with this particular environment (at present, pictures revealing the thousands of micro-organisms to be found in a bucket of sand from the beach below his home). Sue invites us in for a welcome cup of refreshing tea and some seasonal sustenance (toasted Hot Cross Buns and Simnel Cake). Their renovated beach house is carefully designed with lots of natural wood and glass, and curves that soften the square of windows in the living room. Looking out onto the expansive horizon (sky, sand and water), Gerry and I agree that if we lived here, that is all we would do. The landscape is so big and empty and riveting.

I tell Sue and John about 40 Walks and serendipity hovers again. Sue has given herself a couple of Birthday Walks too – including a long distance, week long walk alone for her 60th. Sue is a woman to admire.

John shares a picture book album that tells the story of Beach House. What is most evident is that its creation has depended on the continual efforts of family and friends. It is a feat of commitment, determination, community and love. We are also told about a likely wolf ghost (paw prints appearing mysteriously in the sand early one morning). Apparently, the last wolf in England was shot not too far from the beach house. It seems entirely likely that if the wolf is to return anywhere, then it will be here, close to the Fox’s home, where art and life are carefully synchronised ................


Rituals on Radio   Sue Gill 2008           SAYING GOODBYE

We all saw the helicopter last year but we didn’t see the person. Rumours flew around the festival site . …. Rushed to hospital …. Someone’s died …. It’s a lady ….. Heart attack … My own mental image was of an elderly person here for the August Bank Holiday, who may have over exerted herself. Just how wrong could I be?

The festival is far off in the top North West corner of Cumbria, occupying a high open site, perpetually windy, offering its panorama of the mountains of the Lake District and of Scotland, sunsets over the Irish Sea and glimpses of the Solway Firth – hence its name SOLFEST. Dressed with avenues of huge silk flags which sparkle and flutter by daylight, and hugely dark night skies, SOLFEST is animated, not only by the music and the people, but by its connection with the elements – earth, air, fire and water. The festival draws 7000 people, who gather to live, eat, drink, listen to music, sing, dance and celebrate outdoors for 4 very long days and nights. Now in its 5th year and Winner of the UK Festival Award 2007 Family Friendly Festival.

We have been part of the crew running SOLFEST FM, the festival radio station on site for the past 3 years. 4 days of round the clock broadcasting on 87.7 FM. Live feeds from the 3 major music stages, interviews with bands, features, live music sessions in the temporary studio. Everything from early morning cockerel impressions via a SOLFEST Archer’s Omnibus/ Ominous to Book At Bedtime. Schedules created in the moment.

A week before the festival we were contacted by a friend of the bereaved family, saying they would be returning to SOLFEST and would like to do something, but were not sure what. That allowed me to include a couple of books in the packing that I would have otherwise have left on my rites of passage shelf. We arranged to meet up at the radio van on Friday afternoon, where I was handed a CD. On the cover, a vibrant woman in sunglasses stood in the SOLFEST campsite, smiling to camera, as her hair blew across in the breeze. The atmosphere present in the photograph is of a classic relaxed holiday. Impossible to tell she suffered from a heart murmur. “This is the last time we spent with her …” Could this be the person soon to be in the air ambulance?

The 2 sisters Kirsty and Lycette – probably in their thirties – and brother Lewis sat down with me. From the portrait on the CD cover, Samantha would have been their slightly older sister. The CD has a dozen tracks on it, all Samantha’s favourites and had been created as a memory and a tribute. 3 of the tracks were played at her funeral, which had been attended by family and friends and crew from SOLFEST. We talked about making a small piece for radio, which I suggested might be best scheduled to go out on Sunday morning between 10.30 and 11 o’clock. It turns out that it was Sunday last year when she died. Should it be live or pre-recorded? We decided to pre-record – less pressure – and then they would be free themselves to listen to the broadcast along with everyone in their circle.

The CD became our touchstone. We opened the piece with music, then Lycette spoke into the mic, with a background of festival hubbub which we agreed felt just right. “Everlasting” by the Manic Street Preachers was the track we played as we brought our sister Samantha into church a year ago. Samantha died at SOLFEST last year. She was a lifelong music lover and festival goer”. Kirsty took up the story.“She influenced much of our musical tastes over the years. Her first love was David Bowie and so we’d like to play Ziggy Stardust”. After Bowie we had a poem which the 2 sisters read in turn. I suggested “Antidotes to Fear of Death”, written by the brilliant astronomer Rebecca Elson, who died in 1999 aged 39 from cancer. With a couple of edits, they agreed it was perfect.

After the poem, Lycette ended the piece. “So many of the family and friends who came to Sam’s funeral will remember Harvest Moon by Neil Young which we used to close the ceremony last year - and its lyrics - nothing lasts forever .... ” And what about brother Lewis? He had not found it necessary to add anything to what was said. He was present throughout to support his sisters and he lit the candle on the small table between us to start this small ceremony. The sound of a match striking on radio is unmistakeable.

I made a brief introduction to the whole piece: “SOLFEST has its own way of marking the milestones in our lives – new partnerships, new arrivals, and inevitably loss. Samantha’s life ended suddenly at SOLFEST this time last year. Join me, Sue Gill, at 10.30 for a special commemoration and celebration of her life”..

ANTIDOTES TO FEAR OF DEATH - Rachel Elson - abridged

Sometimes as an antidote

To fear of death

I eat the Cumbrian stars.

These nights, lying on my back,

I suck them from the quenching dark

Till they are all inside me,

Pepper hot and sharp…….

No outer space, just space,

The light of all the not yet stars

Drifting like a bright mist,

And all of us, and everything

Already there

But unconstrained by form.

And sometimes it’s enough …….

To walk across the SOLFEST fields ……

Thinking: whatever left these husks

Flew off on bright wings.

On the Sunday morning, we heard later, the whole clan gathered around the radio in the sunshine and opened a bottle of champagne. Those who could not attend were listening at home in West Cumbria. Our sound engineer put the 20 min. recording onto CD for the family.


”…..the shift from the mundane to the extra-ordinary is partly a choice of perception and partly a matter of wilful luck. “

In our garage a newly hatched swallow is learning to fly. It is scrabbling on the lip of an archive box, one of many containing old Welfare State documents. Twittering on the telephone wires above swallow parents search anxiously. It is a handy symbol of recurring patterns and generational evolution. Throughout our heart stopping journey we have scrabbled from one perch to another constantly learning or re learning to assert a new position.

Yesterday a new assertion was realised in tangible form. In the sixties when we were consciously seeking “an alternative, an entertainment and a way of life” the drama critic Lee Baxandall recognized the revolutionary role of theatre and performance and its contribution to a collective consciousness. In 1968 he wrote about ‘the performative’ seeping into everyday life, identifying it as ‘the dramaturgy of radical activity’ *

Stanley, a college friend from Guyana whom I have known for over 45 years has come to stay with Leila his new partner. They asked us to organise a betrothal ceremony for them so yesterday at 5 am just before sunrise I was under the wheel barrow spraying WD 40 onto a squeaky wheel. We didn’t want to wake the neighbours as the four of us set off across the sands with our load of ceremonial paraphernalia: ten small silk flags, laminated poems, a picnic hamper with fresh coffee, Bayjun Special Reserve Rum, warm croissants and accordion. Stanley was up late the night before carving the marking stick from a length of seasoned chestnut. He carried this and the rings while Leila picked fresh flowers.

At the West edge of The Rock, they face the dawn sky and the turning tide. Using the sacred stick they draw in the sand a large central heart with two adjacent diamonds. Meanwhile we place the flags to form a semi circle behind them. As we wait for the sun to rise we are rewarded by a honking fly past of wild geese. After Sue sings a welcoming blessing ( Gibran’s “Breaths’” ) and I read my betrothal poem, the couple step individually into their diamonds, to read two of Stanley’s poems Then entering the heart together they exchange rings, make vows and in duet sing the first verse of “Drink to me only with thine eyes”.

Finally they scatter petals in the small lagoon round The Rock. We make toasts (with too much excellent rum ) drink coffee and play the Westmorland Waltz. As it fades away and the couple finish their first waltz together we gabble joyously and meaningfully while the sun emerges in full monty.

Back home feasting begins with brown eggs from Brow Edge and Gloucester Old Spot bacon. In the evening it continues with a glowing gathering of family and friends. Against the turquoise dusk our silk canopy on the seaward side of the deck fluoresced into a patchwork jamboree. As an offering to the bride to be, Naomi, our son’s pregnant partner, threaded 40 grey oystercatcher feathers to dangle from a Japanese parasol. Rueben 7 made a tepee centrepiece for the table. He joined bronze soldering rods with red insulating tape and threaded this little cone with emerald green ferns which sang against the crimson tape. Grandaughter Rosa 5 drew a goodwill card, a gift, a spidery parade of travelling lovers and was engulfed in warm thank you hugs from Leila.

A brazier of oak logs and a charcoal barbeque infused us (eventually) with sweet smoke. Stanley had asked for the occasion to be witnessed by our extended family so on the kitchen table we looped a video of the dawn ceremony. We wined and dined on local chicken and toasted our futures with fine French champagne. Drawing on our fiddles, drums, trombone, guitars, and melodeon we conjured up flamenco, diddley -dido English barn dances and Jamaican calypsos to dance and sing to in a wayward cornucopia of musical styles.

Within our self-ordained jewel of flickering firelight and delight, spirits, dreams, memories and wishes entwine. Rosa’s dancing shadow is ten foot tall. Reuben’s tepee is the central hub of a great wheel that spans the world. This is certainly “an alternative, an entertainment and a way of life” underpinned with the values of community, family, shared cultures, life-feasting and connection and teeming with personal recollection, generosity and vital art. Such affirmation and such heightened sharing may be rare and but this was a confirmation and an assertion that “performative” activity had soaked well and truly into the everyday. The specific occasions for such celebrations may be few and far between but the possibility is constantly at our fingertips. We just need to recognize that the shift from the mundane to the extra-ordinary is partly a choice of perception and partly a matter of wilful luck.

Not unlike the pressures on that fledging swallow which, naturally, did eventually fly. . ________________________________________________________ *Lee Baxandall. ‘Spectacles and Scenarios: A DRAMATURGY OF RADICAL ACTIVITY’ In L.Baxandall (ed) Radical Perspectives in the Arts. Penguin.1972


Each year we welcome visitors to The Beach House within the context of a Gift Relationship contract. In exchange for agreed periods of practical work from our visitors on "The Weather Station", we offer refreshment and discussions and/or interviews on significant cultural issues.

STRANGEWORKS ( Will Bock, Mary Doyle, Georgia Jacob) a dynamic theatre company from Hackney, London came in 2007. They wrote: "It has been a great and valuable experience to take part in this Gift Exchange ...very helpful to our own work...seeing your work has affirmed for me the importance of bringing your life and work together.."...


Gift Exchange - young artists work in exchange for mentoring and advice                 Building wire gabions filled with beach cobbles to retain the steep bank                Heavy work in the hot sun!



The Weather Station at the Beach House is an on going installation, a cliff and beach garden on the west shore of Morecambe Bay. With weather vanes, icons for an unknown faith and drypoints, collographs and etchings it is designed to examine performance and perception in an ecological context. Started in 2007 and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from 2008 - 2011, this epic work in a teaspoon incorporates signage, printmaking, whirlygigs, pamphlets and occasional ceremonies, events and performances.

Briefly on this West side of Morecambe Bay, next to the Beach House, we have started to colonise a steep cliff and a smitch of land.   Once overrun  with nettles and brambles we are creating a terraced rockery , potential fernery, and small sculpture garden.... a peaceful nexus...., an escape from the mundane.... and a place to measure  meteorological and psychic weather. 



John Fox adjusts an oystercatcher installed at the Beach House                     handmade wooden whirlygigs mounted on poles             The Beach House sign

  vernacular art - based on whirlgig toys that rotate in the wind     The Last Wolf whirlygig - his jaws snap as the wind turns the mechanism        working in the studio on the ribcage of the wolf                                                                           the last wolf


The artist REBECCA CHESNEY began work at the Beach House during May to create an archive of all the plants within

a 50 metre radius of the house. By July she had identified, collected and pressed 172 species. Her work on the green roof of the studio contributed to ideas for the "Garden in the Sky" children's book from Boardwalk Books, published June 2011.

In the plant audit we found 171 species of plants within 50 metres of the door of the Beach House.                   Rebecca Chesney - artist, botanist - surveys the plantlife on the studio roof


dandelion clock close up                              samples from the garden pressed and mounted     red poppies petals and leaf from the Beach House garden


HUNTING CRITTERS IN THE BAY with Professor Peter Matthiessen, Chris Matthiessen, Richard Scott and Betty Green. The Fresh Water Biological Research Centre on Windermere provided great support and lent invaluable microscopes.


Rosa - 6 years - takes a close look at mud shrimps      Her brother Reuben - 9 - checks out the ragworms through the microscope                 digging for micro-organisms in the mud of Morecambe Bay - seasonal surveys


nereis close up - the rag worm adapted to live in the harsh conditions in the bay                             We found 29,000 creatures in 1 sq metre of the seabed: here are amphipods close up.

 nereis close up                                                                                    amphipods close up




a visual poem directed by JOHN FOX in collaboration with scientist Peter Matthiessen

Camera & Post Production: Peter Croskery

Sound Mix: Dan Fox, Sound Intervention

A short film to celebrate the billions of minute shrimps, worms and molluscs to be found in the sediment of Morecambe Bay on the North West coast of England. Premiered at the Making Time Symposium at LICA, Lancaster University on 12th March 2011


SEPT 6-17 2010 

Artists' residency towards a celebratory garden event at Ox Close Primary School in Spennymoor Co. Durham.

Mysterious fire breathing ox kiln disgorges small clay oxen made by the children, musical steel ox, flags and listening post stories for Festival of Words.

Associate artists: Jon Bielstein, Kate Johnston, Martin Brockman, Dave Young, Wendy Meadley, Dan Fox, Naomi Edwards. Community Celebration 17 Sept. 1 - 3.30 and 6- 7.30 pm with fire, drums, lanterns and hog roast.

A Creative Partnerships project.


musical steel ox made by Dave Young, tuned chimes by Dan Fox      Spennymoor Ox by night      Flag Installation by Wendy Meadley


Playing 'Bobby Shaftoe' on the musical ox     Firing up the Ox Kiln to fire the small clay figures inside made by the children         Martin Brockman, kiln builder, gets the flames up to aa elemental climax

HANDFASTING CEREMONY: outdoor wedding ceremony
on the Summer Solstice for two conservationists
at Hay Bridge Nature Reserve in Cumbria;
the bride arrived on horseback.      21st June 2011      

The bride arrives on horseback for the midummer wedding ceremony in a meadow   Happy couple jumping the broom at the end of their midsummer wedding ceremony    Traditional Handfasting Ceremony in wildlife meadow - celebrant Sue Gill