The Way of the Willow


It seems whenever I open a certain type of newspaper some academic or other is predicting the demise of capitalism. Since it usurped feudalism a couple or so hundred years ago the writing has been on the wall for this particular brand of world order. The fundamental problem being that it relies on consumption and at the same time market competition dictates that fewer and fewer people can be involved in the production i.e. investment in machines means less people working and earning and therefore less people able to buy the products. This anomaly had been solved temporarily by the availability of cheap credit; a plan which went spectacularly wrong in the financial crisis of 2008.

So what now for the future. A future where many of us having received an good education to degree level but now find ourselves serving coffee or pizzas or staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day and earning not much more than our contempories did 20 or 30 years ago?
Well in an equitable society the assumption is that wealth should be redistributed through a progressive tax system. With austerity and a Tory government determined to rein this back it is time to look again at what we determine as wealth.

What is wealth and what is done with it? Generally it is considered to be money. What is done with this money? Again generally I would argue that this wealth is converted into space; the wealthy buy space. They buy big houses, big gardens, farms, parkland and , most annoyingly, big cars.

It feels that our country has less and less space. Houses are more and more expensive, the roads are congested with huge cars, fields and woodland and fenced and we are excluded.
Perhaps we should look at not just a redistribution of money but also a redistribution of space?

To start with vehicles could be restricted in size and number to ease congestion. All new housing could accommodate garden space and plenty of bedroom space. Access could be given to woodland, coast and river banks.

May the Willow Gods be with you.

The Way of the Willow

Sometimes I go about in pity for myself and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky.

Ojibwe saying.

For those unfamiliar with the tv show The Sopranos this enigmatic saying appeared in one of the episodes and it struck a chord, not just with Tony Soprano, but myself too.
It poetically captures the reality of our helpless powerless selves caught in a wholly causal universe and the pointless futile habit of feeling sorry for ourselves when events appear not to favour us.
I keep this saying pinned on my fridge by a guitar shaped magnet. It reminds me that I belong to a greater whole and although it appears I can effect small changes to my own course through the universe that I am, like a canoeist caught on a rip tide, bound on a course that has been set upon since the beginning of time.

May the willow Gods be with you always.

The Way of the Willow


Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept and it relates largely to the idea of the perfection of imperfection. That is , celebrating and exploring that which is imperfect. The movement started as a reaction to the straight lines, angles and perfect geometry in everyday art and architecture and tried to reflect the imperfect asymmetry of nature. There are no straight lines or perfect circles in nature.
This is something I try to impart to my pupils when teaching basket making. Basket making uses natural materials and as such, these materials have there own will and I try not to dominate but to encourage. There is no such thing as a perfect basket, there is no correct way. When making a basket you have to feel the will and show respect to the material- Wabi Sabi.
The result is something organic and natural and more importantly unique.

May the willow gods be with you!

The Way of the Willow

“Did you make all these baskets?” she asked. “Well keep up the good work” as she walked away.
A phrase innocent and well meant but one that makes the bile rise in my gut! Of course I should be more tolerant and I am more tolerant and I understand why people are unable to see the connection between making baskets and making a living; but this is in fact how I pay the rent, and put food on the table for my children and clothe and school them. It is,of course, my choice to make a living this way and the life has many advantages and I am grateful to be able to spend my days being creative but of course these skills will die out if they are not supported and I don’t mean supported just for the sake of it. The challenge for me is to make a product that people want , what people need and what people value too.
What brought me to basketry was the connection between aesthetics and utility. Baskets are supremely useful, versatile and long lasting. My baskets are made with local and natural products and they are a great way to capture and store carbon from the environment. They are also beautiful objects that somehow reflect not just the colours and beauty of nature but also the fabric and nature of the universe that we abide within.
I will of course try and keep up the good work and reflect on patience and tolerance.
May the Willow spirits be with you!

The way of the Willow

March, it seems, is not such a good time to sell baskets but it is a great time to be cutting the willow and making lots of stock.
Log baskets, linen baskets, bike baskets to name a few have all been piling up in my workshop ready for when the public starts thinking about getting out and about and buying baskets once more. I am glad the weather is warmer but i get anxious as I watch buds developing on the willow and hazel and I know time to cut them is getting limited. On my small patch of land where I grow some of my own willow I have developed and planted another bed. It will be 2 or 3 years before I get anything meaningful from this crop. I have also dug a patch to grow some pumpkins. i have planted the seeds at home inside in pots and am hoping they will germinate and turn into seedlings which i can eventually plant out. I aim to have pumpkins for sale on my Norwich Guildhall stall by Halloween.
I also planted a couple of years ago two apple trees:one eating and one cider. Neither has grown much in those two years and no fruit have developed yet. It would give me such pleasure to pick even just one apple this year.

The way of the Willow

Is this the hardest time of year? Spring time brings promise of new life, warmth and longer days but the winter seems to persist. Working on my stall or in my workshop I feel the cold: I feel the nagging wind and long to be released from the tyranny of my thermals. I long to go bare foot again and enjoy the feeling of soft grass between my toes.
I’ve recently been working at a school teaching some pupils to make a celtic frame basket and this has highlighted the therapeutic qualities of basket making. The youngsters spend an hour and a half each week sitting in the sun weaving these baskets and I noticed how absorbed they have become in the activity. Comfortably chatting with each other or working quietly alone: relaxed yet active. In my life prior to basket working i remember the terrible pressure I experienced to “look busy”. It seemed that I had to be looking at my monitor screen even if I didn’t really have much to do at that point in time. Looking at a computer screen signaled that I must be actively employed somehow. Being an employee meant my employer owned me for the hours he employed me.
Working now I am far more productive in much less time and I no longer have the anxiety of looking busy and can experience the joy of being actively absorbed in something creative.
I try to extol the virtues of this active absorption to those who come on my basket workshop. Basket making allows you to leave yourself behind and engage mindfully in the present moment.
More about basketry and the pursuit of mindfulness in my next blog.