Weaving together stories ancient and modern about the relationship between cows, people and milk. It includes a sound installation in a caravan, live outdoor performances and a pop-up ice cream parlour. Come and see…
The CowGirl Parlour is still snug under wraps in winter quarters at the moment… but I’m heading to the Landscape and Art Network AGM in London on 30th of the month to give a short project presentation… It’ll soon be spring and time to continue on to new pastures, new audiences, new trackways for the work…
New meetings, wonderful responses, over 500 visitors to the installation and/or the performance, in Ledbury town, Canon Frome Court, Garway and Skenfrith – hot days, a few rainy hours – and such a good time!
We’ll be reflecting, reviewing, collating, responding to invitations, sorting through comments and photos over the coming weeks, so do keep checking in with us here on the blog as we feel our way forward with this beautiful piece of work…
all images on this page by Turlach O’Broin.
Belonging to winter and longed for in the heat of summer…. desserts made with fruit-sweetened ice are thousands of years old. The addition of milk products to make ‘dairy ice cream’ is a much more recent development – its huge popularity dependant on the modern refrigeration techniques that brought ice cream vans to every street and, soon afterwards, ice creams to every home freezer.
We knew from the start we wanted to include a pop-up ice cream parlour in this project, with local, organic and sorbet options available. So this bank holiday has included quite a bit of taste-testing… and also, the trialling of several possible head-dresses for the Empress of Ice Cream…. Not long now till you can come and visit us at the Poetry Festival and see for yourselves!
The printed Festival programme will be out this week, including info about when and where you can see CowGirl Parlour, as well as all the other events throughout the ten days of the festival. Also online http://www.poetry-festival.co.uk/cowgirl-parlour/
Today – a timely snippet about the traditional joys and perils of milking on the first day of May … The season of Beltane has always been a time to celebrate abundance and fertility, with the newly released cows full of the joys of spring, the new milk flooding in and the fields sporting fifty new-budding shades of green. But amongst the abundance and plenty, May Day itself seems to have been a tricky boundary to navigate for the dairymaids. A time when the veil between worlds was thin, the known and the unknown jostling together, and the cows in the early morning meadow and the maids going to milk them were susceptible to mishaps. A lack of vigilance on a May morning (quite likely after the traditional night partying of Beltane Eve) could result in an abundant flow of milk being lost to a neighbour. A briar snagged on a milkmaid’s skirt and dragging behind her through the dewy grass at Beltane would draw the ‘milk luck’ with it, and if she passed through a neighbour’s field would leave the milk luck there, and there it would stay however hard she worked to increase the yields… But keeping your wits about you at the liminal times, and the first morning of May in particular, would go a long way to ensuring this didn’t happen.
(text refs: Cattle in Ancient Ireland, A.T.Lucas 1989, Boundaries and Thresholds 1993, P. Lysaght, ed Hilda Ellis Davidson)
The majority of dairy cattle raised in the UK are turned out onto pasture in springtime, with a hop, skip and jump. Cows are not seasonal breeders in the same way that sheep are, and the time of their calving can be arranged largely for the convenience of the farm and the farmer. In most dairy systems today, newborn calves are separated from their mothers almost immediately and all the milk that the cow produced to feed the calf goes instead for human consumption. In past times, and in some systems today, the milk was shared between the calf and humans for several months until the calf was weaned. This involves coaxing the mother to ‘share’… Last week we went to Canon Frome Court to record some of the poetry of Annie Finch, who looks after the cows there. We managed to arrive just at the time when Lottie, who has recently birthed Tulip, her first calf, was being taken to the milking shed to get used to being hand-milked. It’s a tricky time, where a cow may easily become agitated and fidgety. Often in the past, calves would remain tethered beside the mother during milking, but here Tulip was left in the barn nearby, and Lottie communicated with her regularly, providing sound recordist Richard Urbanski with some bonus high quality mooing combined with soothing, coaxing words from the milkers! Lottie let down some milk and was patient for quite a while before becoming anxious to return to her calf…
…who was waiting patiently in the barn.
“The cow steps forward delicately, takes in everything unsorted, flowers, stalks, silage and begins the work of transforming sunlight into milk in her dark belly…”
We’ve just been taking advantage of the glorious weather these last few days to do some of our own experiments with sunshine too. Project Assistant Lily Constance has been doing a few tests with sun-activated dyes on different fabrics for some of the texts that you will see inside the caravan.
Here we have the 1972 Carlight Casalette (the Rolls Royce of caravans back in the day – or so the brochures say) that is destined to be the home of the CowGirl Parlour installation in a few months time… So this is the ‘Before’ photo, and we are inching our way slowly towards an ‘After’… The van spent the winter cocooned under covers, like a giant chrysalis. However, when we took the covers off earlier this month it did not emerge from its chrysalis fully metamorphosed and ready to go! So now the work of transformation has begun, and so far it has involved lots of screwdrivers, the careful stripping away of veneer panels and crossing our fingers that there aren’t too many unwelcome surprises lurking beneath…
We could have spent the afternoon making drawings or designing on screen, but in fact it was much more fun to get straight outside with paper and scissors and masking tape. And the brisk wind only made it more interesting… Still, the “After’ photo will be a while yet.
Back in the Autumn I went walking, to visit some of the places traditionally associated with tales of the Abundant Cow. This is Llyn Barfog, up in the hills above the Dyfi estuary. It’s a beautiful place, and is one of many lakes, seas, and river estuaries that has been home to the magical cattle that have wandered through world mythstory over thousands of years. Cattle that are hard to win, but generous and abundant with their milk, giving to all who ask until….until….well, usually until a line is crossed, a vow broken, a cruelty perpetrated that results in the Abundant Cow disappearing back into the waters from whence she came. As was the case with the Stray Cow here at Llyn Barfog, who returned to the lake with all her offspring, “and disappeared beneath the waves leaving only the yellow water-lilies to mark where they had vanished.”
Quick trip to Reading last week to record an interview with Kate Johnson. Kate is a qualified vet and a researcher in dairy science (just about to complete her PhD) and with the support of the Royal Veterinary College is advising us on the science of CowGirl Parlour. So, as I’ve been mulling over the long relationship between cows, milk and people, Kate has been on hand to explain and comment on the biology of lactation, fertility and the contemporary search for the high-yield cow from a scientific perspective.
Kate’s daughter Evelyn has been in on the project from the start and now at 12 weeks old she was keen to add her own voice to the discussion… You’ll be able to hear from Kate (and possibly Evelyn!) as part of the caravan sound installation in July.