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A Potter's Moll: Slack Bottom

Liz Robison this week writes of art festivals, Latin Mottos , Fryup and Slack Bottom.

For more of Liz’s engaging take on life please click on A Potter’s Moll in the menu on this page.

Jim, the potter, went to Aberystwyth last weekend to be the Master of Ceremonies at the biennial International Festival of Ceramics there. Part of his job is to go round the stage in the auditorium to demonstrators from all over the world and talk to them (or their interpreters) about the processes they are using in their work.

The demos and conversations are videoed and shown on a large screen at the back of the stage so that the 1000 audience members get a good view of the proceedings. Jim has a relaxed and friendly manner which puts people at their ease, but it’s still a challenging and sometimes stressful job.

Someone said to me: ‘We saw Jim at Aberystwyth last week, making a very difficult job look very easy.’

Meanwhile I held the fort in our Holmfirth gallery as part of the ever-successful ArtWeek. Our opening on Sunday was crowded as visitors enjoyed strawberry cream scones and fizzy wine. I was glad of the help of our daughter and son who are old gallery hands. Well, daughter is; she was introducing her brother as: ‘my trainee’!

Jim’s Horoscope in the local paper recently said; ‘You need to make more of an effort with your appearance. You have been living life in the fast lane and this is beginning to show.’

I was pleased to see that a range of eco-friendly products such as washing powder, washing up liquid and fabric softener has expanded into liquid hand soap and shower gel. They all have herby fragrances and are pleasant to use, but it did make me ponder something a friend told me when he worked a summer job in a factory in South Wales in the 1960s. The factory produced Jean Phillipe beauty products which were sold in Woolworths. I used to buy a big bottle of bubble bath, ( a fairly new concept, at the time) , decant it into smaller bottles, the lids of which I had painted with nail varnish. With a ribbon tied round the neck and a greetings label, that was my Christmas shopping as a 14/15 year old done.

My friend told me that in the factory, Jean Phillipe products were mixed in a huge vat, and were one tanker of ‘perfume’ and two tankers of ‘teepol’, ( a detergent then, I don’t know if it is still in use.) A bit of a disillusionment! It crossed my mind to wonder if the new eco-products might be produced in the same way!

I was interested to hear Gordon Brown, the new Prime Minister, recall his school motto as a lesson for life: ‘I will do my utmost.’ I do not recall my school having a motto but I remember being impressed when I became a student at Leeds University by the coat of arms (owl, shield, sheep etc) which included an open book with the words: Et Scientia Augebitur . We were told it meant: ‘And knowledge shall increase’, and I was proud to be part of that process.

Recently I received the university’s Alumnus magazine. (I know it’s a Latin word, but I dislike its American connotations.) There was the same coat of arms on the front, but the pages of the open book were blank! What does that show about what has happened in the last 45 years?

I was just now telling all this to my sister on the phone and she recalled how she was always puzzled as a child by the motto/slogan on the Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin. There was a picture of a dead lion with bees buzzing around it and the legend: ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness.’

Intrigued, I looked it up in a Dictionary of Quotations and found it is part of the Samson story in the Book of Judges. Samson slew a lion, the flesh of which he later ate, and later still bees nested in the carcase and made honey. (Did they have lions in ancient Palestine?)

Samson presented these events to his friends as a riddle: Out of the eater (lion) came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness. (My current plastic bottle of golden syrup has the picture of the lion and the bees, and unlike the university, still has the motto but in such fine print that you could only really read it with a magnifying glass.)

Then there was a lot of smiting and slaying and in the next chapter when Samson has a row with his ex-father-in-law, he takes 300 foxes and takes firebrands and sets the tails on fire and ‘let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines and burnt up both shocks and the standing corn with the vineyards and olives.’

Nice! They never told us that at Sunday school. More slaying and smiting next, and then the ex-wife and her father are burned ‘with fire’.

In a weekend magazine I came across a list of amusing British place names. These included: Splat (Cornwall), Piddle River (Devon), Crapstone (Devon), Fryup (North Yorkshire), and Slack Bottom (West Yorkshire).

The latter reminded me of an occasion a few years ago when I went on a residential writing course at Lumb Bank near Heptonstall. A posh-ish southern lady travelled by train from London to Leeds, changed trains for Hebden Bridge, then went in the post office to enquire how to get from there to Lumb Bank.

‘Ah! Tha needs t’ Slack Bottom bus, love,’ was the reply.

More from me in a fortnight.


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