An Arts Council Grants for the Arts award is allowing me to carry out research for a new project which is slowly taking shape. This blog is my attempt to beat back the brambles as I make my way up the winding paths of Norfolk’s many hills.


It’s a week now since I took a train to Colchester for an interview for participation in a mentoring scheme run by the Activator initiative. Called ‘Information Highway’ it’s an interesting scheme in that it works on a pyramid principle, and successful applicants are expected both to receive and give mentoring. I was on the bus home after the train journey to Norwich, tired after my day out, when I got the phone call to say that I hadn’t been successful. It seemed like a lot of time, effort and expense, and I wasn’t sure what had really been gained. I do think it was a worthwhile experience overall, but my feelings are mixed. Part of me has the drive to keep pushing on with this profile-raising thing (which after all is what my Arts Council funding is for) but part of me wants to spend time doing all the other things I rarely get around to doing and which are also important to me. And family commitments both to children and to elderly parents mustn’t be neglected. Not to mention the need to work and earn some money.

I’m still processing the experience, anyway. In fact, I’m lucky enough to have funding allocated for studio visits and mentoring, so perhaps this will be the nudge that gets me approaching an artist to see whether they would be interested in a day’s paid mentoring.

The day after the Colchester interview, a piece about my performance at Cromer Museum appeared in the local paper. It was odd to see it highlighted (in a slightly over-emphatic way, maybe??) as the headline outside our village post office.


Monday: I went into BBC Radio Norfolk to be interviewed live during their afternoon show. This was brilliant timing as it was the very day before Part Two of my hill-building performance at Cromer Museum. It was good for the museum because they got several mentions, but also I was able to cite the Howe website address and hopefully a few listeners will be motivated to take a look and see what the project is all about.

Tuesday: the day at Cromer Museum was exhilarating and very, very hard on the knees. Well, not just knees – legs in general. It must be easily the longest I’ve ever spent in non-stop performance. In fact, despite my initial resolve to get out and have a break at lunchtime, in practice I never left the courtyard from 10.15am until past 5 o’clock. Luckily it was a glorious day, which was just as well with all that paper involved.

It soon became evident that it would take all the hours available to get anything looking like a hill, despite the fact I had a head start from my three hours at The Late Shift last month. I had already realised that each row of names would take successively longer to organise and paste, but it had still been difficult to predict what would be possible in perhaps twice as much time. Also, I couldn’t tell how much the time would be broken up by conversations with viewers. As it happened, a reporter from the local paper came to talk to me during the morning, and told me that there would be a photographer coming over at 2pm. It was at that point that I realised it would not be possible to allow myself a lunchbreak …

It was only towards the end of the afternoon, when the pain really set in, that the whole thing started to feel like a chore that I couldn’t wait to finish. Until that point, it felt creative and fun, and I had some lovely conversations with visitors to the museum who on the whole seemed interested and approving of what I was doing. I had a few flyers with me but only gave a couple of them out. Nonetheless it felt very worthwhile and I couldn’t have been luckier with the location (not to mention the weather). Because it was so sunny, the museum staff said that attendance was down on what they would expect during Easter week – but you can hardly blame people for heading for the beach, just a few hundred metres from the museum.

That’s what we did ourselves afterwards – well, we didn’t get onto the beach itself as the tide had come in by that time, but we did treat ourselves to fish and chips on the pier. Sublime.


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The Second Mad Artists’ Tea Party took place on a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon in the slightly strange, slightly smelly upstairs room of Bedford’s Mount Zion Pentecostal Church. With its chandelier-style lighting and seedy faded grandeur, it made a suitably surreal backdrop for some of the live art shown by East Region artists during the afternoon.

It was all great fun, apart from the find-a-partner-and-devise-an-improvisation piece during which I’m afraid Trevor and I both instinctively went and hid. I felt as if I were back at school again, hiding in the toilets during tennis lessons! But I enjoyed the presentations, and the cakes – impressively, all made by Caroline who had organised the event – were delicious. Also it was a lovely opportunity to meet others working in live/performance art, including Guest Artist Tania Harrison who is the curator of the arts stages at the Latitude festival and Richard Dedomenici who has performed at each Latitude so far and gave a very entertaining talk on his experiences.

I had been allocated ten minutes, and it was useful to have a time frame already laid down and then devise something to fit! I named the performance Howe: Echo and presented three ‘echoes’. The first was an extract from The Elfin Hill by Hans Christian Anderson, who, as I pointed out was a Danish collector of fairytales. I said that I had made a translation of this tale into the ‘Norfolk tongue’ in honour of the Danish Anglo-Saxons and Vikings who had spread their stories through this land. On the wall I projected the text which I read with as authentic a Norfolk accent as I could muster (I’ve always lived in Norfolk but don’t have any discernable accent for some reason).

Next, against an OHP of Tulip Hill, I read a ‘poem’ made up of lines, each consisting of four hill names. These had been juxtaposed both for meaning and sound, including such groups as ‘Rising; Anguish; Hungry; Crow’ and ‘Gramborough; Muckleborough; Inkleborough; Warborough’. It was an interesting experience to read this aloud as I could feel the words building in intensity and Trevor, who was in the audience, said he could feel people responding to this.

The image of Tulip Hill, covered in pine trees, remained for the final ‘echo’. This hill was chosen as a focus as it’s so very hill-shaped as well as having plenty of stick-gathering potential. As mentioned in my last post, Trevor and I had previously gathered armfuls of sticks, mainly pine and elder with one or two pieces of hazel. Back home, I had sawed both ends off 30 of these sticks and made double sided ‘pennants’ from white cotton sheeting, representing the Anglo-Saxon/Viking Wynn rune that forms the ‘flag’ on the top of my Howe logo. I suppose it wasn’t surprising that I had underestimated how long it would take to get all this ready. Not only am I slow with a saw but I then had to prepare the fabric – and drawing, pinning, cutting out, sewing, turning, pressing and stapling 30 times takes ages (well, took me ages anyway).

So there I was with my 30 wynn-runes, instruction sheets and individual hill names on folded strips of paper. Participants were invited to take a pennant and a hill name, and to paint, write or draw something on one or both sides of the fabric representing an ‘echo’ of the word they had chosen. The example I gave was Lemon Hill, where you might think of a hill that resembles a lemon; of a hill that smells mysteriously of elfin lemon curd; of lemmings; or even of Lemmy from Motorhead!! I wonder if these chinese-whispers are akin to the way that some of the hills originally acquired their names? The idea now is for people to take their ‘echo’ to a high place, whether an actual hill or somewhere like a multi-storey car park, and to take a photo of it to email to me. If this works out, I’ll be able to post the resulting images on the Howe website. Lots of people took kits, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens!


My current work with Howe has been selected for presentation at The Second Mad Artists’ Tea Party to be held in Bedford this Saturday!

The event is billed as ‘An afternoon of meeting, eating and performing for artists based in the East of England working in live art’. This sounds quite enticing …

As part of the Activator programme within the Eastern Region Escalator Live Art strategy, a series of six tea parties are being held across the region between October 2010 and August 2012, each led by a guest artist and consisting of discussion, presentation and workshop activities (along with drinking tea and eating cake, hopefully!).

For this second tea party the special guest is Tania Harrison, curator of the arts stages at Latitude festival. It all sounds like a very good idea and I was delighted to hear about it through Caroline Wright who is devising and leading the Activator programme for the East region. As ever, my proposal was somewhat last-minute but I was very happy to hear at the weekend that it had been successful!

Each selected artist is given a maximum of 10 minutes to perform or to present their work, so it will take careful planning. Also, I’m mindful that there will be no equipment or setting-up assistance available so it’s essential to keep things simple. I’m planning to take my overhead projector and have a single image and a piece of text projected onto a blank bit of wall – that shouldn’t be too technically demanding, should it? (she said hopefully). I have quite a lot of ‘making’ to do in preparation over the next couple of days. I hope I’m not being over-ambitious.

But the first step has been taken, as Trevor and I went back to Tulip Hill to collect sticks to distribute as part of the participatory element of the work … more on that in another post. We just made it back to the car as the storm broke and the heavens opened. Yes, you definitely feel close to the elements when you’re up in those Norfolk hills ;-p


So what’s been happening with this slow-burning project during the first part of 2011? Well, a couple of things.

Firstly, there have been several visits to hills in order to nab them and add them to the collection. Many a weekend has featured a ‘hill trip’, although usually this has only taken in one or two specimens, sometimes on the way to somewhere else. But gradually the number of hits has built up, and Trevor has been assisting me in the compiling of a Google map showing their whereabouts. I plan to add comments to each one – loads of potential with this technology!

Also, the project now has a website at It doesn’t contain much material yet, but if it’s anything like my last self-directed project, just having the site there is a great motivation for making regular additions to its content. Which will hopefully be an aid to creativity …

And, a while back I had a mad crazy phase of misusing Google Translate to stir up The Elfin Hill a bit. Translating it from (translated) English to Danish to English to Norwegian to English to Swedish to English to Icelandic to English to German and finally back into English had some strange and amusing results, which I’m still deciding how to utilise.

But it’s the hill visits that are the main ongoing activity at the moment, and yesterday we spent a whole day out with the intention of adding a fair few to the haul. With the electricity off at home all day for essential works and with our own freelance day jobs relying on computer use, well, it seemed the ideal excuse! I’m really not sure how all this data will resolve itself, but meanwhile just ‘seeing what happens’ feels like part of the work itself and I’m going to run with that.

Yesterday’s bag – Tulip Hill, Tumbley Hill, Hangour Hill, Hungry Hill, Bartholomew’s Hills and Burrow Hill.