Clare Qualmann: I almost forgot
to let go of the logistics and be present in the meeting……
1. As the train entered Wales the weather gradually got better and better until a perfect blue sky was achieved. Around an hour before we got to Machynlleth I began to wonder if walking to CAT from the station might be possible, finding a way to send the luggage, carry Ruby, navigate. It felt like the best way to begin the days: walk. Blackcurrants from an honesty box on the way: not nearly as sour as I remember from my childhood (probably 30 years since I last ate a raw blackcurrant). Ruby was grumpy on the last bit of the train journey, but has fallen asleep in the sling now. She is hot and heavy breathing on my chest, making me sweat on the uphill climbs. The narrow lane is almost like a tunnel in places the growth is so lush. It is worth the heat and the sweat to arrive like this.
2. On our tour of CAT John Urry tells us about the kit building style that they have experimented with here, based on the work of the architect Walter Segal. The buildings are flexible, with interior walls that can be reconfigured as required, but don’t hold heat (or cool) at all well. They have found that building a slate wall inside these structures acts as a heat sink, gathering and then giving back warmth in winter, and cool in the summer. Thursday, late afternoon, I come out into the courtyard and no one else is there. I take my shoes off and stand for a moment on the slate paving, letting the warmth from a full day of sunshine soak in through the soles of my feet.
3. Walking up the side of the quarry Phil and Karen ask us to stop talking for a little while, to focus on the sounds around us, to choose a piece of slate from the ground to carry with us up the hill. The music that the slate makes underfoot, chiming, plinking, suddenly seems amplified. On the dock of the sauna hut, looking out into the reservoir we throw our slates into the water, the splashes making perfect circles on the surface.
4. At the summit of the first hill that we climb out of CAT on Jess’s walk she has us stop for a moment and sit or lie down. I am a little impatient, we were late getting started and I want to get moving, but I am an obedient participant. After a moment, despite the coolness of the breeze, I feel the heat of the sun on my face and my arms. I focus on my breath, disappearing into the wind, and the feeling of the ground – a huge mass of land, underneath me. I only get a moment before the need for sunscreen pops into my thoughts.
Post script: When I get home, to the ‘new’ flat that I moved to a week before the meeting, I find a tin full of small pieces of slate. It is very heavy. I don’t think I’ve seen it since I moved from Liverpool to London in 1999 – 15 years and 4 moves ago. It’s from an old school friend’s roof – when we were doing our A-levels. Her family was having their roof replaced and I collected hundreds of pieces of broken slate from their skip. I holed them, and wired them, and constructed a sculpture from them, built around a climbing frame as base structure, inside the old squash courts at my 6th form college. These are the pieces that I saved afterwards (the sculpture was built in-situ and was to big to get out of the door) they are very very small, but make a beautiful plinking sound as I empty them out onto the floor.