Friday 13 September 2013

#FridayFlash - The Wilson Street Mission

Shimmering Light Two weeks after my roommate's boyfriend moved in, I started taking my evening meals in the diner two doors down from our building on Wilson Street. It was the only way I could get any peace; Cody didn't know what the word 'quiet' meant, and the TV was permanently tuned to the sports channels. He ate like a pig at a trough, and Lesley was too grateful to have a boyfriend to say anything.

The diner was the kind of place where the staff know the regulars, and no one talks unless they have something to say. I started sitting at one of the tables by the window, my netbook open in front of me, where I could write and watch the street as I ate. I often stayed an hour or so after I'd finished eating, and Phyllis would ply me with black coffee and nibbles.

The Wilson Street Mission was across the road from the diner. People would drop by alone or in pairs every night, but on a Wednesday, a whole congregation would turn up. I'd watch maybe fifty people pile into that old red brick building, and at 7:30pm sharp, the doors would close, and I'd watch the light show against the stained glass windows at the front of the Mission. By the time I left an hour later, they were all still in there.

I watched this go on for a month - one night, I even tried to see if they were still there at midnight, but our apartment was on the wrong side of the building, and I didn't want to venture into our street so late at night.

One Wednesday night, as Phyllis was taking away my soup bowl and pouring me another coffee, I asked her about it. She shook her head at me.

"No, I don't know nothin' about that Mission there, 'cept it does a lotta good work for folk in this neighbourhood."

"Why's it so busy on a Wednesday?"

"I guess the pastor got somethin' special to say."

I knew Phyllis wasn't telling me everything but there was nothing I could do - if she didn't want to tell me, then I couldn't make her. I decided to stay a little later that night - the diner closed at 10pm, so I settled down with my coffee, and a slice of cheesecake, and started writing.

The diner was empty by 9, and Phyllis went home, leaving just Cathy working the front. Marco pottered around out back, bursting into snippets of opera he'd picked up back home. Cathy never spoke to anyone, so I didn't bother asking her about the Mission, and she didn't ask why I was working late. She just brought me another coffee, and went back to cleaning the counter.

My intention had been to see when the congregation left the Mission, but I got engrossed in my work and forgot to look. I'd made good progress on my novel when Cathy coughed, and looked at the clock. 9:55pm. I nodded, shut down my netbook, and paid my check. As I left the diner, I noticed the Mission's doors were still closed, and the light behind the stained glass windows was throwing coloured shapes across the road. A chorus of singing voices filled the late night air, and echoed along the empty street. It sounded beautiful and haunting at the same time, and I couldn't stop myself from crossing the road.

The information board outside the Mission featured special events or forthcoming visits by doctors and priests, but it was blank for Wednesday night. I tried to look through one of the windows but they were too high up in the wall. The singing definitely came from inside, but the congregation sounded like a lot more than just fifty people.

On a whim, I tried the door. The handle stuck at first, but I put all my weight on it, and the door opened. I pushed it inwards with my fingertips, hanging back in case anyone came to see what I wanted. I expected someone to rush over and send me packing, but no one came. Feeling bolder, I poked my head around the edge of the door.

I expected to see a congregation, enraptured and following an enthusiastic pastor, with bright lights shining behind him, lights that I could see outside through the stained glass. Instead, the building was empty and in darkness. I figured it would be like the old soup kitchen four blocks over, but it was laid out like a theatre. A layer of dust covered the velvet flip seats that faced a platform at the end of the room - no one had been inside for years.

I couldn't hear the singing any more, or see the light, so I turned to leave. The door swung shut in my face, and the darkness swallowed me up. I felt around on the door for the handle, but there was nothing on the inside, just smooth black wood. Suddenly, a voice broke the silence.

"Good evening, Celine. We've been expecting you."

A hand touched my shoulder and I screamed.

I've been screaming ever since.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Ode to Autumn

Lost LeafOur temperature here in Newcastle was a whopping 24°C last Wednesday, dropping to 15°C on Saturday and Sunday. With the temperatures dropping, and heavy rain beginning to set in, the weather forecasters are all adamant that summer has slipped into autumn (though only one has announced that "winter is coming"). While the Autumn Equinox is still some days away yet, there is certainly a new nip in the air, and a sense of melancholy as the nights draw in, while the idea of early morning sunshine begins to feel ludicrous. Was the summer really so long ago?

But is autumn as a season really something to be dreaded? John Keats certainly didn't think so - back in 1819, he considered it to be the season of "mists and mellow fruitfulness", and waxed lyrical about the ripe fruit, and the specific songs of autumn that differ so vastly from the songs of spring. I must admit, I'm no fan of going to work and coming home from work in the dark, and I'm even less enthused about the daily drenching as rain plagues my commute, but I'm trying to think positively about the changing seasons. So here are my top three things about autumn.

1) The Clothes
No more worrying about needing to have a "bikini ready" body, or needing all visible limbs to be in tip top condition - I'll be spending the next few months in comfortable jumpers, squishy handmade cowls and warm boots (though, in all fairness, I practically live in my Doc Martens even when the temperature goes into the mid-thirties). I can bust out my collection of hand knitted accessories, and choose from an array of hats, handwarmers, scarves, cowls and shawls to keep myself cosy when the nights draw in.

2) The Comfort
There's something comforting about making it home just in time to see the heavens open, and being able to sit by a fire while watching the downpour outside. Grey skies, chilly winds and falling leaves seem oddly romantic in their melancholy way when you're enjoying them inside, hopefully while enjoying the smell of freshly baked cinnamon biscuits. Plus you've got more of an excuse to ply yourself with hot drinks and comforting snacks.

Cross in the Woods3) The Colours
I love spring when the world comes back to life, but I equally love autumn as the trees prepare for the coming winter - this year I'll be heading up to Howick Hall Gardens to see their collection of New England trees burst into dazzling autumnal hues. The blaze of red and gold somehow takes the edge off a dreary morning, and the beauty of the season seems to be nature's way of compensating us for the cold darkness that lies ahead. Also, if you're anything like me and you find beauty in sad, doleful things, there are few things more glorious than a tree repainted in autumn's finest colours looming out of an early morning mist.

What about you? Do you love autumn, or do you yearn for spring already?

Monday 9 September 2013

Using Silver Clay

I've always enjoyed messing about with anything that lets me use my hands, and I was a big fan of Fimo Soft for a long time. I've been making jewellery for a little while now, and I always enjoy finding new materials or techniques to try. I was browsing available one-day workshops around Newcastle when I came across a Silver Clay class at the Mushroom Works. I've known about metal clay for a while but haven't been able to get my head around how it works, so I thought I'd go along and give it a go.

Silver clay, in this case Art Clay Silver Standard, looks just like regular polymer clay when it first comes out of the packet. You can roll it out, cut out shapes, all the usual jazz you'd expect from clay. I made these shapes by pressing the clay into silicon moulds, the type of thing you might use with sugar paste for cake decorating. The ammonite on the left came out looking like that, but I added the last of my clay as a tiny ball onto the heart on the right.

Next stage is to dry the clay - we used heat guns but you could leave it out overnight. Once it's dry, you can use emery paper to smooth off the edges and buff out any imperfections or fingerprints, and you can use a pin drill to make the holes. Then it needs to be fired.

We used a kiln, in this case at 650°C, and it comes out white (you can also use a blowtorch or a gas stove). The pieces also shrink by up to 10% because the binding agent holding the silver particles together burns off in the firing process, leaving behind 99.99% silver. Using a brass brush, you brush off the white coating, revealing the silver underneath. An agate burnisher helps to buff it up to a mirror shine.

Next, I used the pin drill again to make sure the hole was big enough, and I attached a jump ring so I could hang it from a cord. A length of 3mm black satin ribbon helped turn the heart into this choker...

And I repeated the process for the ammonite (which I only realised looked like Ursula's shell from The Little Mermaid after I was finished).

It still baffles me how I could now have two pendants made of silver which started life looking like clay, but it's definitely something that I want to experiment with further. I think I'll try the copper next as it's cheaper, and while it can't be fired on the stove, it can be fired with a blowtorch, making it a more accessible route into metal clay jewellery!

Have you ever used metal clay?