Monday, 29 December 2008

So, more than two months have passed since my last blog and what have I been doing? Readjusting to life in the UK after being in Australia and Hong Kong, wondering what comes next and finding no answers.

Really, none at all.

And then this morning I rose at 5 a.m. to meditate. In the deep stillness of early morning I finally realised that this 'not knowing' (also known as floundering) is as much a part of the creative process as anything else. I'm unsure whether to repeat what I've done in the past or whether to sharpen up my receptive faculties and see what arises. I've decided on the latter and will wait for as long as it takes.

The stones project has never been about speed - it moves with the velocity of a snail and now is proving to be no exception. Floundering is only uncomfortable when I'm pressing myself to move forward and expecting something to happen. Waiting for the next instructive dream, or an idea that rockets me into action. But there is no idea for now and no dreaming, apart from one small glimmer of an A-5 book of stones and stories.

Beckett had a lot to say about waiting. Various railway companies also have a lot of announcements to make about waiting. There are waiting rooms and waiting times, people who wait on tables in restuarants, waiters and waitresses. Ladies in waiting. Artists in waiting. I am waiting on something and have no idea when it will arrive.

Meanwhile then, I am returning to play, something that has been almost edited out of my life over the past couple of months. I'm painting again, writing little things of no consequence, staring at blank walls and dreaming. Lying in hot baths until I'm wrinkled like a prune. The only thing of note, at least the most interesting thing of note, was the liberation of a lobster on the 20th December. Since then, lobsters have begun to crop up all over the place. I'm not sure what this signifies - although it's probably something fishy and profound - so if you have any ideas please let me know.

Until the next blog, I wish you all a magical new year.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Tragedy nearly struck on Tuesday when I took the stone to be sited.

It was a dull, misty morning, rather chilled and English in feeling, and we arrived by the shore of the lake around 11.30. We met Terry and Bob there and the work began on drilling holes into the mother stone so that we could affix the migrating stone to it.

Before long the heavens opened. It rained so hard I discovered very quickly that my waterproof jacket was not waterproof as water trickled down my back. The drilled holes filled up with water. The glue wouldn't go off.

Bob looked at us through the grey sheeting downpour and declared that he couldn't carry on.

Sue (from the Council) and I had to leave the stone with him hoping that the weather would clear in time for Bob to be able to complete the work. We drove off to an Op Shop (second hand shop) and bought new clothes. Even my knickers were wet from rain!

I took the train back to Sydney not knowing what was going to happen. The launch was scheduled for the following day. People had taken time off work. My whole journey was suddenly in peril - or so it seemed.

Wednesday brought fair weather. Sun and a gentle breeze. By 7 o'clock Bob had been out to the lake and fixed the stone in place. As with all mythical journeys, the biggest obstacles always arise just before you reach the destination.

We had a fantastic time down by the lake welcoming the stone to its new home. Roger played trumpet and it was magnificent to hear music skimming out across the water. Tamryn read poetry, and then I read a couple of poems too.

The stone looks fantastic. It was warm with sunshine and I felt totally satisfied and fulfilled. This whole project has been quite extraordinary from beginning to end - from dream to the realisation of that dream - from one place to another.

I now have two days off. The sun is shining, my friends are nearby and I'm off to the beach to swim!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Today is, predictably and wonderfully, a new day. Yesterday's sadness has dispersed and now there are just plenty of things to be doing.

Perhaps it's always this way; just before we're about to make a big leap, or about to achieve something very special, all our worries and fears come crowding in and we feel inadequate and fear the worst. I know this often happens to me and, no matter how many times it happens, it always happens again.

One lovely thing: Roger and Neil had a barbecue last night and invited lots of wonderful friends around. As the sky darkened and the nearly full moon rose above us we engaged in chatter and drinking and munching of prawns and sausages. At one point Neil put the poem, And stones moved silently across the world, onto the c.d. player. By stanza three I was gazing up into the sky and what do you think I saw?

A shooting star. Not just any old star though. This one blazed a trail, a line of bluish fire sparking out behind it.

I'm off early tomorrow morning to Wollongong to meet Sue from the Council and Terry who's going to be bringing the mother stone and drilling holes. It will be the last journey that I make with the third migrating stone.

From tomorrow, the stone will be settling into its new and cherished home.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Today we are having a little celebration for the stone before it makes it's journey down to Kanahooka Point on Tuesday when it will be settled into its new home. Then, on Wednesday, we will be having a launch complete with readings of poems and a gathering of friends and local people and people from Wollongong Council.

It's hard to believe that this journey is coming to an end. After three years in the planning and dreaming and working out there's now so little time before I have to say goodbye to the stone and clamber back onto an aeroplane that we fly me to England.

I am a little sad today. Without exception people over here in Australia have been so kind and generous. In addition, I'm going to miss this stone in my life. Of course it will still be there, sunning itself by Lake Illawarra, but I'm going to be out of physical contact with it for years, possibly for the rest of my life.

I couldn't be leaving it in a better place. But that doesn't stop a few tears from falling as I contemplate these last few days that we will spend together. I wonder if we aren't born with equal measures of sadness and joy; and that together they make the full and splendid spectrum of our feelings and deepen the quality of being alive.

Today's tears fell under a sunny sky as I sat in the shade of a willow tree. The wind blew tiny shadows across me and even in the midst of feeling glum I couldn't help but see all the beauty around me too.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Greetings from Sydney!

Today is a great day. The stone and I took the train to Wollongong where we met Sue Bessell from the city council. I was so excited; after years of planning there we finally were, on the other side of the world and about to get in a car and drive to the place where the stone will be given a new home.

I barely slept at all last night and then gave in around dawn and got up. It's strange to have waited so long for something and then when that something arrives it is both mundane and quite extraordinary at the same time.

We took the train and then a bus and Sue met us at 11. Nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful the site it. Here the sun is shining and hot today so the sky is cobalt blue and there are no clouds. In response the water of Lake Illawarra was a deep translucent and slightly cornflowery blue. Rippled by a gentle and cool breeze.

The lake is vast. There were birds of all sorts feasting there - heron, cormorants, shags, pelican. Apparently the prawns from this lake are the best that you can get. The site for the stone is at Kanahooka Point and it looks directly over to Koonawarra. Apparently there was a King Hooka - an aboriginal elder - after whom the Point is named.

Who knows - perhaps it was him who spoke to me in my dreams and instructed me to bring a stone out here.

When I was waiting to be picked up by Sue this morning I came to think of myself as a strange ambassador. One who comes bearing stones. I thought, is there a more precious gift that could be taken from one country to another, given from one community to another?

After being at the lake we went off and chose a large slab of sandstone to which the migrating stone will be fixed next week.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Tomorrow I leave for Australia.

My bag is nearly packed and I've still a million things to do. Including a swim at the Quay and a walk through the Vale. I can't go without saying goodbye to the ocean and the oak tree that's been a constant companion to me over the past four years. A grand beast of a tree, the north side of its trunk covered in moss and ferns, verdant limbs spiralling up into the sky.

The stone is swaddled in bubble wrap and ready to go. The funny thing with leaving is that I've been posting parts of myself to Australia for more than a month now. Sending little imaginings ahead, planting the idea of myself and the migrating stone in Sydney. It's good to do this, it's preparation, a good tilling of the soil I'm about to set foot upon.

I'll be gone for a month. Which feels like a very long time. Still, this stone has been waiting patiently for three years already to be taken to its new home and the time is now good and right.

Monday, 25 August 2008

On Saturday I visited Rough Tor. Rough Tor is a remarkable place just on the edge of Bodmin Moor near to Camelford. It is a high tor and there are the most extraordinary nature sculptures on its peak: huge slabs of granite that have been chiselled by ice and wind over many centuries. The slabs are laid on top of each other in places, making it look as if Andy Goldsworthy has been there beavering away.

For me, Rough Tor is a stone kingdom. There are so many stones - balancing stones, tumbling stones, broken stones - that to be human in this place is to be in the minority. There are wild horses and cows and sheep and the wind tumbles around the place like a feverish duster - always sweeping things away, making them fresh, never letting anything settle for too long.

Whilst I was there I was particularly struck by the way in which stones rise up and out of the earth. At the same time I was pondering why so many people take stones as souvenirs - and then these two things become obviously connected. Souvenir means to rise from below - and I think that this is what stones do. Not only literally, but also metaphorically because they remind us of what can rise up from within us. The intuitive, instinctive parts of our own natures. That which we know without needing to be taught.

Stones takes us back to our primordial selves: they remind us of who we are, who we were from the moment we were born. And who we will be when we die. Perhaps even after we have died. Something so basic and so essential that for a moment we recognise the stone as a friend; a companion, someone who understands what is in our hearts without needing to speak of it.

At least, that's what I'm thinking today - do let me know if you agree or think differently......

Friday, 1 August 2008

There's all kinds of things afoot with the stone. In fact, it appears to be taking on a life of its own. If you go to the Arvon Foundation's newsletter you'll see the stone and how it's become part of a competition where people get to say where they'd like to take it and why - and the winner will receive a writer's and artist's yearbook.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that the stone set this opportunity up. It happened due to the enthousiasm of a man called Philip who works for Arvon. But nevertheless it goes to show that the stone and its migratory habits has the ability to excite people and to get them involved in some way.

This was also borne out last weekend. I attended the Resurgence Summer Camp as Satish Kumar had invited me to read poems there. Miraculously the sun shone all weekend and at times shade has to be sought for comfort. Again and again people were intrigued by the migrating stones project: for some reason it taps into something very deep in our psyches, this idea of stones moving around the world. I'm not quite sure why - so if you have any insights or ideas do let me know. But there's no getting away from the fact that something is sparked in us when we think of stones or pebbles - an old memory that we can't quite grasp, perhaps a feeling in our bones that we too will be stones one day and when we are we'd like to be treated well and taken care of.

Meanwhile the date for my trip to Australia draws ever nearer. Small butterflies have begun to spawn in my belly. It's a long way away and I hope I've done everything I need to do to ensure the stone gets there in one piece. I've started meeting more and more people who love Australia and I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm going to be rather blown away by the oldness of it. Who knows? I'll find out soon enough.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

I once did a project on the nature of time with the artist Hannah Cox. As part of this project I called my mum one day from a phone box at the top of Corn Street in Bristol and said, "Mum, what can you tell me about time?" She thought about this for a while and then said, "Well, it goes a lot faster the older you get."

So I haven't blogged since summer solstice which is over two weeks ago - where did those weeks go and how did they go so quickly?

Part of the answer to this question resides in a public art project I'm currently involved with called Companion Stones. It's taking place in the Peak District and is really inspiring. I'm working with artist Amanda Wray to create a companion stone for one of the stoops on the Moor.

These stoops (stones) were put on the moors to guide people in the right direction: Bakewell, Derby, Sheffield, Dronfield etc. Prior to this it was very easy to get lost and if you were lost there was a high likelihood that you would starve to death.

The stoops were installed in 1709 and here we are nearly 200 years later creating companions for them.

Meanwhile the migrating stone is still progressing. I'm in contact with Australia with regard to siting the stone and it is all starting to feel a lot more real. I'll blog again soon with further details of this and the stone's progress.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

21st June, 2008

Happy Summer Solstice to everyone

Tonight I will be celebrating solstice with some friends. We will gather to eat food and read some poems by Rumi and Hafiz. The notion to do this came about when I discovered recipes for curry in the back of my Rumi's collected poems. It seemed to make perfect sense - the combination of poems and recipes. A trend that could perhaps be encouraged in contemporary poetry books? Who knows, perhaps there's a whole hungry market out there just waiting for for the poem/food fusion to happen.

All we need is a mystic restuaranteur or publisher to step this way and we're off.

Meanwhile, my ticket for Australia has arrived. I will be flying on the 24th of September with Virgin. The aeroplane only stops in Hong Kong for refuelling and so once I've managed to get the stone onto the plane then I know that it will arrive in Sydney.

I'm excited about travelling with this next stone. It has been three years since I took the last one to the U.S.A. and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with everything stone and the mysteries that imbue stone. I'm re-reading Phil Cousineau's Art of Pilgrimage in preparation - this is a great book full of inspiring quotations. I'm also about to have some photographs taken of the stone and me with the stone which will then be posted as soon as possible.

If anyone is unsure about what the migration habits of stones project is all about, then please visit my website at

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The strangest thing happens on Sunday 8th June. I'm sitting in a field at the Bovey Tracey craft fair munching my way through a salmon salad when my phone rings. It's my friend Roger. Roger who lives in Australia. What's he doing back in the UK? I think. But he's not in the UK. He's on a beach in Sydney and he and Neil were thinking of me and so they phoned.
Roger said, "We keep on imagining you here Alyson. Everywhere we go, it's so easy to see you. In fact, it's as if you are already here."
That's the thing with travel. A little part of you leaves days, weeks, months before you actually step onto the plane or train or road and depart. An envoy of the soul if you like.

Meanwhile, on the practical front, I'm trying to speak with customs. If you dial the number that you find for customs and excise on the internet you get a hideous squeak followed by the predictably mechanical voice that tells you the number is not recognisable.
Here we go, I thought, anticipating spending at least the following three hours trying to find someone to talk to about taking a stone through customs.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Enter Stuart: a real, live human being who is part of the Heathrow Airport Information Team. What a star. He is friendly and extremely helpful. He assures me that a stone is not such an unusual item to take through customs (people take anchors for boats he tells me) and that I should mention it at the check-in and also obtain proof of ownership so that people can see I'm not involved in a commercial venture.
The only thing remaining for me to do now is to speak with the airlines and to check whether or not they are happy to offer safe passage for my stone from this country to a country on the other side of the world.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


This is to let you know that I am now in full flow preparing to take stone number 3 in the migrating stones series to Sydney, Australia.

The current mountain that I'm preparing to climb is deciding which airline to fly with. Given that I'm going to be carrying a rather unusual object - and a heavy one at that - I need to be rather careful as the last thing I want is for the stone to be blown up when an unsuspecting baggage inspector looks at his or her screen and sees a large, unidentifiable thing in my suitcase.

So the current tasks are

1/ How to protect the stone (when i flew to the states a few years ago the metal box containing the stone was severely damaged)

2/ How do I contact the airline I fly with in order to tell them my story

3/ What paperwork do I need to ensure that the stone can successfully make its flight from Heathrow to Sydney in September.

With regard to question one, I spent most of yesterday inspecting roasting trays. Yes, that's right, roasting trays. The latest brain wave led me to believe that two taped together would be the most efficient and economical protection for my stone.

Later, when I thought about this, the pitfalls were obvious. Strange object surrounded by foam in between two taped together roasting trays. The only other thing i'd need to add would be a clock and a bit of wiring.

Thankfully Sam, my man, came to my rescue with a black box that will serve the intended purpose perfectly.