Category Archives: 03.6 Unit 1 reflection

Reflection on the interim show

The biggest piece of learning I will take away, is how you cannot overestimate how much work is involved in setting up a show. We started preparation way too late, but no-one had any idea what was required – and we were all surprised how much we were required actually sort out by ourselves. We got there in the end of course, but there were a few too many things being done (and work being finished!) just hours before the show opened.

I was impressed and surprised by how many people came to the private view, it was actually quite an event! I realise the vast proportion of visitors seemed more interested in drinking the beer than looking at the work, but I suppose that’s part of what a PV is about. There were some genuinely interested visitors as well though. Feedback wise, I had a number of people ask about what the work meant, particularly the Starfield piece, and quite a few people commented on how they liked the map basket. I even had a lovely discussion with Stella Harding (basketmaker), who took a few photos for her Morley students, and great comments from an unidentified member of Camberwell teaching staff – that’s the sort of feedback which motivates you to keep going.

So far, I have had three parents, one husband and a next-door neighbour come to visit me. So great to get so much support. Oh and nearly all of my business cards are gone already!

I have also taken the chance to quiz some of the second years before they disappear into the mist. One of my friends on the MA Book Arts course (with a mesmerising installation in the show), had some of the most poignant wisdom. Like me, she spent her EFT 1 year wandering though a range of very different experiments trying different concepts and different techniques, and ending up confused and overwhelmed with ideas. Her final success she believes, came from entering the second year with a new sense of purpose.

  • You have to OWN IT
  • Come back with FOCUS
  • BELIEVE in your ideas
  • Know what you want to say with your work / what you want your work to say (and the difference between the two)
  • INDEPENDENCE: you need to lead your own project
  • Listen to advice, but only take from it what is relevant to you
  • Ensure the work stays true to yourself

Wilding the edges

Following on from Lucy Orta’s Genius Loci talk a couple of weeks back, I had a day on a walking tour of Wimbledon, under the title of “Wilding the Edges”. The event was badged as an “interactive walking tour of Wimbledon’s unexamined places: a journey through spaces which straddle both city and countryside and where “wild” and cultivated” environments overlap.” We split into a number of groups: I went in the group led by Lucy Orta for those working on the Genius Loci project, and we were encouraged to photograph and take notes on areas which interested us as we passed through them. I have to admit to having decided to go my own way with my thoughts: I discovered I had been left off the list for those working on the project, so had missed all of the communications. Not really a big issue for me, I just concluded that I would try to make the walk relevant to my own proposal entirely.

Some photos first:

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As you can see by the pictures – I was interested in two things. One was clearly the line, broken and unbroken. Where is there continuity and where fragmentation? These paths allow us to ask where have we come from, and where are we going.

Second, I was attracted to the ‘non-places’, the areas you only ever pass through, with no narrative, no history. This got me thinking about site-specific work, and how much is about the place, rather than about any place. This has sparked off from some of the sketchbook work I have been doing on maps of the nameless city: any place, every place. These exist as the antithesis of the haunted place, soaked in memory and the spirits of the past more real than the history of the present. There is an echo of the earth in the haunted place, and we become the medium of the storytelling. In between the anyplace and the haunted place lie marker points – fixed points in time and space. Where are these found? What narratives of place are so strong that all thought from past and present converges around a single point?

After the walk we concluded the session with a ‘Barcamp’ discussion (a type of un-conference) in the pub, where we were invited to “reflect upon the social and political implications of the hybridised spaces and explore how we might respond to them as artists”. There was a number of separate interesting discussions on each table we could join/leave at will.

The discussion I spent most time in asked “What does it mean to be an urban human in the wilderness?”. We spent a lot of time trying to define what wilderness (and wildness) actually means. Most of us thought instinctively about landscape, nature – the wilderness of an actual physical location. The poser of the question had a different, and rather fascinating, perspective – that wildness is a state which exists within all people and all things – relating to an idea rather than a physical topography. ‘Wild’ is a combination of rising energy and free will. We also talked about the edge lands – the semi-wild places – where the boundaries become blurred. When you exist here, your behaviour changes, the way you look and act within the world. We become transfigured by the way we interact with the edge-land itself. This to me had echoes of the words from Boradkar’s book, Designing Things, which talked a lot about this transformation in relation to object (or thing) and the user.

So in summary, I won’t be carrying on with the Wimbledon project – although it was badged as a CCW thing, I think it was really meant for the Wimbledon MFA students. However, I gained some very valuable insights into my proposal question, and the idea of research by walking is a very interesting one. Helen Goodwin, whose research methods I very much like and which are aligned to my own proposal, talked about this in her research paper: “If everything is moving, where is here…”. I was so taken by the methodology described in here that I have been gradually working though most of the books on the bibliography.

She defines her practice like this: “I am interested in ideas that centre on what it is to define place and belonging. How inextricably bound do we become to the places in which/where we are born, live or travel to? I wonder how we develop our sense of belonging to those particular places. How much importance can we attach to these ideas as our societies become increasingly mobile? In a series of activities which possibly echo my having lived in different cultures and my sense of displacement, I have begun to collect and exchange material of place; the art works I make cease to be objects but become actions and gestures.”

Through doing this research, I have come across a rather intriguing strand of study known as psychogeography, which sounds very much like what we were doing on the walking tour. Psychogeography is the point where psychology and geography meet in assessing the emotional and behavioural impact of urban space. The intro book I have found [Coverley 2012] states that: “The relationship between a city and its inhabitants is measured in two ways – firstly through an imaginative and literary response, secondly on foot through walking the city. From Urban Wandering to the Society of the Spectacle, from the Dérive to Détournement, Psychogeography provides us with new ways of apprehending our surroundings, transforming the familiar streets of our everyday experience into something new and unexpected.”

Feedback from mid-point review

It was an interesting day yesterday, hard work, but some very valuable comments given to all of us as part of our mid-point review. Essentially a very big group tutorial just a bit more scary. The morning after, I have mixed feelings on how it went; I wasn’t happy with what I said when I presented my proposal(s), partly from not preparing well enough what I wanted to say and partly from garbling when I did say anything. I think I have spent too much of my career so far as a facilitator – presenting facts and opinions of others in the balanced, unemotional way you need to in corporate life. So much harder is talking about things which are very personal and really matter to you. If I am going to continue with such a ‘personally-rooted’ story, then I will need to know how to tackle this and be less self-conscious. However, feeling uncomfortable perhaps is a sign of getting out of your box. If you are very happy about everything then what can guide you on how to improve?

Otherwise lots of constructive feedback and questions from others on my work including some very useful general comments made to the whole class throughout the day:

On my proposal topic

  • Was it the right move to scrap by first proposal?
  • Is place and placelessness actually a question about belonging?
  • This topic is still very big, how will I focus this down?
  • Is what I am asking about actually identity? what is your identify and how you define yourself – the place you are currently in is just one point on this journey
  • It is ok to have two separate strands which you are looking into, these are likely to come together somehow in the end. But don’t force it, and don’t end up with numerous completely separate proposals.
  • How do you define a border?
  • What can give everyone a universal understanding of a personal feeling?
  • Don’t worry about forcing a research question because you think you have to – ask yourself is this really the thing you want to understand?
  • Answering the question is not the most important thing, it is understanding what the question really is

On my way of working

  • Why do I collect maps?
  • Why are so many of my objects made up from lines?
  • Don’t loose sight of the bigger picture, you may need to think small and think big in alternating cycles
  • Focus on the materials you are using, explore an idea to its full potential before moving on
  • A thousand ideas of different things to do may in fact be a hindrance, try something completely different to shake up how you think and work – e.g. changing scale or tempo
  • Be wary of experimenting with specific places which don’t mean anything, don’t sent yourself another “exercise”

Ideas and suggestions

  • Most of the other MADM students are international or have moved at some point, perhaps ask them their experiences of placelessness
  • Look up Do Ho Suh, Architecture fabric art installation related to belonging, displacement

So what next?

Well, we have the advantage that our 10 weeks ‘off-site study’ is now upon us. A great chance to slow down and reflect on what’s been going on and what to do next. A few ideas have started to slowly emerge from yesterday’s fog in relation to the last few samples I made, but I think I also need to do some more work on understanding and exploring the question first. Perhaps I have unwittingly spent too much time trying to answer it.

Next step — plan of actions to be taken

1. Research links between identity, place and belonging; how much of our identity is linked to place, and what does actually this mean if we understand that “place” means much more than just location?

2. Bring in the independent work I have been doing for my CQ Quilt Group based on my stream of consciousness poetry; I think this is a critical strand which will be relevant to my proposal and shouldn’t be ignored

3. Decide which of the material samples I wish to focus experiments on, and begin exploring the full potential of it without getting distracted by a thousand other things. Current instinct is that this should be the rust dyeing process and the map yarn.

4. Do some sketchbook work on understanding how I can describe my feelings of place, placelessness (or belonging / non-belonging) using both visual imagery and poetry

Tabula Rasa

Almost a week has passed since the series of unfortunate events which plagued last week. I have spent all that time trying not to think (something surprisingly difficult) and get in touch with the real things which inspire me.

It was the visiting tutor, Barnaby, who asked some of the most directed and crucial questions of anyone I’ve met in College so far; what is it which drives all of your creativity? What truly inspires you in the things you read, the photos you take or the things you do from the moment you get out of bed?What defines you as an artist?

Well, this has been the core of what I have been trying to answer since I started, at the same time as trying to “meet the needs of the course” and unfortunately have ended up with a chasm of disconnect between the two. I have decided not to quit, and to continue on the course – primarily because I have learnt so much and (despair and confusion aside), I think I have come a long way in a very short time. I like the professional critique you can get in this environment and exposure to cross-disciplinary ideas. But from now on, I am going to work from my own art first and not from what I think I need to do to pass the MA.

So to the next steps. I am going to redraft my proposal from a blank page, working with my inspirations first – and figuring out my question later. One of the tutors once said that “we like obsessions”, so i thought I would start there – with the visual imagery from nature, books and film which surround me at home (and in some cases everywhere else too). This brings me to two key things: the magic of nature and Moomin-mindedness.

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I woke up in the middle of the night with a realisation that this was the place I started back in September….do you remember this photo from the narrative workshop? Bringing in two objects which meant something significant to you? A Moomin mug and my Morris dancing hat – a good omen I hope.

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Much work to do then to find my question in amongst my existing inspirations, and see how this relates to objects and making them. As a starting point I am going to work from the piece I made for the pop-up exhibition this week (blog on this coming soon). This was titled The unwatched moon, as a comment on society’s losing touch with nature in the modern world. I want to look at more at this as a topic: overlooked beauty in the modern city, natural magic losing its foothold in people’s hearts and minds. As a final outcome, I am aiming for a mixture of two and three dimensional fibre works, stitched textile art and fibre sculpture perhaps. I’m not bothered about functionality, but would like the materials to also speak of being ‘overlooked’. This fits in with what I thought about using the silk waste fibres for the moon sculpture. Not sure about a new context yet, will work on it.

Overall, I think I’m now in a much better place…now, back to work!

Thirteen hours to solve the Labyrinth

This week has been the first point since I came to Camberwell that I have honestly felt like dropping out. I had four tutorials with four tutors over the course of last week, all adding more worry on how much I am struggling. I can’t make sense of my work: I have worked so hard, but it feels like grabbing handfuls of sand – the harder I push, the more it slips through my fingers. It may turn out that this course is simply the wrong thing for me to be doing at this stage of my life – it may be that it isn’t, but I need to work smarter not harder. Either way, there are some hard questions that need to be asked and answered.

When I look back on this in days to come, it won’t be the words of the tutors which will matter, it will be my realisation of hard truths. I see now that I have spent so much time trying to meet “the needs of the course” that I have lost sight of why I am here; my project is not clearly articulated and I have lost the feeling of where my technical skills actually lie. The lack of self-confidence in my own work has allowed me to get swept away, and now, I find myself cast adrift.

Where do I go from here?

Expecto Patronum

I have had about three different blog posts mixing themselves in my head over the last few days not knowing how to tease them apart to make sense of what I’m thinking. The end of the week has arrived, so this seems a good a time as any to try.

First off, let me remind you of this rather special moment from the third Harry Potter film, my favourite of them all, of Professor Lupin teaching Harry the patronus charm for the first time. (If you haven’t seen the film then where on earth have you been for the last decade?!)

The thing I’m pointing out in here is Harry’s choice of memory or feeling which he is using to fuel the spell. For his first attempt at the charm he thinks about a nice, clear, happy memory – but not nearly emotionally attached enough to work. His second successful attempt, is using a memory of a deeper, more complex emotion – love, loss, happiness, grief.

This is the feeling I have after reflection on the elements pieces I have been making this week. Nice use of new processes, getting clearer on a message – but is it really the emotional message I am looking for? Well no, not yet. I want to look deeper – into something more complex and more human than simply commenting on the elemental building blocks of life. I started this term with wanting to make things to invoke a feeling of a moment of special, perhaps altered perception. The cliched “moment of zen” aka “wow isn’t the cosmos big and amazing” is ok, but like Harry, just seems all too ‘nice’ for me at the moment.

So, I went back to my current theme’s starting point, the feeling of listening to the rain. Looking beneath the first reaction – the feeling of stillness and distraction from hypnotic white noise – for me the sound of rain brings a whole host of other associative memories. My dad is an avid (slightly obsessive?) angler, and most of my family childhood memories revolve around weekends and holidays around the water – the tent on the beach sat next to the tackle box; warm, sunny days by the reservoir pretending I was in swallows and amazons; the stormy days watching waves crashing over the pier; hours spent hiding from the pouring rain, playing games with my mum, while dad fished on, and so on….it is no wonder I am most at home by the water’s edge, and (thanks to my personality I guess), my heart belongs to the wild and lonely places. Rain, particularly heavy rain, has the power to transport me away from a boring meeting straight into the past.

I wonder then if tapping into this would be an interesting next step from my elementals work. My project proposal as it stands is about moments of extraordinary experience, of altered perception. This moment is about the feeling of standing on the edge:
— the ebb and flow of exposed, raw emotions,
— the influence of the past, the lost and forgotten places
— loneliness, the windswept moor, the moon’s reflection over the water

IMG_0302 This week I also came across the artist / sculptor Jennifer Liston Dykema, who makes work similar to what I am currently trying to play with/ aim for, which I really, really like. Some of her work, talks to me of elemental things. Here are a few pictures below which capture a little something of what I am trying to say.

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A conversation between maker and object

I have had a few days away from the studio visiting family, giving me a chance to catch up on some reading while travelling. A couple of very interesting things sparked my attention, both on the topic of the meaning of objects and materials.

First, the book Designing Things (1). This is one off our MADM recommended reading list (which I have not yet had a chance to really look at in depth).

The general gist of what I highlighted was a discussion on meanings, and how they are not “an inherent property of the things themselves, nor are they total fabrications of the human mind; they are suspended in the spaces between us and all that is around us”. I was very intrigued by the description of a reciprocity of agency between things and the makers of things. Although I am not sure I really understand properly what agency means. Another key point was on objects as signs, and how the form and meaning of an object are interrelated and how is is a fundamental concern of what an object says. Something must have a form in order to be seen, but it must also make sense in order for it to be understood and used.

“…designers do not create meanings – they create form; it is users who create meanings. The network within which things exist serves as a location where designers in the process of design and users in the process of use construct meanings. Each actor – designer, user, thing, meaning – in the context of the network and in interaction plays its agentic role in making.”

Meanings do not exist within people’s minds, and neither are they embedded within things. Meanings exist in a non-physical, non-psychical network that includes people and all things. Meanings should not be thought of as entities, but rather as structure in motion constantly evolving, heavily context-dependent and generated by individuals, social groups and things themselves.”

So, I can but simply suggest meaning in my making by choosing certain forms, materials, colours and textures – so to nudge users into constructing certain meanings. This brings us back to my Challenge of the moment – better understanding the materials I am using. I need to look at the suggestive meaning of materials beyond just its obvious touchable qualities. On the train home, with a surprisingly good 3G signal, I found an article by textile artist N. Nimkulrat (2). She talked about the material and its role as an active participant in the creative process. (This is what I think agency is essentially about – is that right?). Anyway, the core of the article was about giving consideration to the expressivity of a material in a given context.

Materials are not passive, nor are they instruments, but interact with the maker’s artistic intelligence when his or her hands, mind and eyes are engaged in a creative process….through the act of [making]…meaning was embedded in the physical material, gradually transformed into an artefact, which in turn articulated this meaning through its physicality back to the maker.

So again, the message to me is that I need to explore the expressive qualities of a material – knowing that materials with different tactile and visual qualities will express different things. On top of that many fibres have a long history and complex social context around their usage. This may be a help or hindrance to what I am trying to say.

Current thoughts are definitely focussed on fibres. I have started working with paper, predominantly for its ordinariness, and looking at using silk for its extra-ordinariness. My intention is to try to stay limited to allow me to explore more making processes, and not get too distracted by shiny new things again. I’m missing stitching though. Possibly I should also look at how I can utilise stitching with these two different types fibres.

(1) Designing Things, Prasad Boradkar, Bloomsbury 2010
(2) Nimkulrat, N (2012). Hands-on intellect: integrating craft practice into design research. International Journal of Design 6(3), 1-14

I met a man who wasn’t there

I have been looking at extending my ideas of paper and ink calligraphy to see where I should take it next. A few making ideas are floating around in my head at the moment.

1. Making ordinary paper extra-ordinary
Can I take the ideas of using ordinary paper, and make it into something extraordinary? To do this I thought I would look into using silk – the voluptuous soft delicacy of these rich fibres – to make handmade paper. The long history of silk (and silk paper in fact) adds an interesting narrative, although I need to check how this aligns to my project proposal.

2. Taking the ink off the page
The other idea is looking at “taking the ink off the page”, using a different process inspired by basket maker Dorothy McGuinness, who uses acrylic painted paper to make beautiful complex basketry.

The key will be in deciding what form to make my objects. I want to use the ideas of the ritualised making – changing the balance of thought and action. My aim for this experiment is some intervention which is purely of the moment with an element on the unexpected or the unknown: a “balance of the highly controlled and the accidental”[1]

The other thing I have been looking into is the use of automatism in surrealism. Some great insights so far from the book, The Haunted Self on surrealism and psychoanalysis [2]. “The technique of automatic writing practised by the surrealists with some fervour was widely understood by them as fracturing an illusory self”. However, “are surrealist works destined to betray the unconscious in the course of trying to represent it?”. Freud apparently spoke of this concern also, in speaking of the unconscious “as an inference made from the gaps or omissions in conscious discourse, or from the roundabout form in which the unconscious wishes to manifest in dreams or symptoms, but not as something knowable in itself.”

Another book on surrealism I found by George Bataille [3] has the following poignant quote:

“What distinguishes modern man and perhaps especially the surrealist, is that ink returning to the primitive he is constrained to consciousness even as he aims to recover within himself the mechanisms of the unconscious, for he never ceases to have consciousness of his goal. Consequently he is at once both closer and yet further away.”

The last adventure of Wednesday was our weekly cross-programme lecture, this week from Roderick Mills, an illustrator from England. He talked of his worked and his inspirations, and the bit that really caught my attention was his talk of the uncanny. He talked about emptiness, absence, non-places and non-words, the space off screen. I thought this was fascinating, and brings back the thoughts I had last term about things that are familiar but different.

He also showed a trailer from a Sapphire and Steel episode which was so creepy and drew you in instantly, even if you were slightly terrified by the end. Another type of moment which fits into my proposals. I’m now thinking back to the ghost candles which were the very first things I made on the course. Perhaps an avenue to re-explore?

[1] Textural Space: contemporary Japanese textile art
[2] The Haunted Self, David Lomas (2000)
[3] The Absence of Myth, George Bataille

Making a line in the sand

I’ve been quiet on the blog for almost a week, while I try to get to grips with what to do next. After my tutorial last week, I felt very disappointed with my progress, but can see clearly the issues raised in my feedback in my work. Nothing insurmountable, but needs a different approach to my research and a different way of balancing thought, vision, theory and action.

So. First some “motivational” statements representing some of the things I want to apply to my way of working in general:

UNDERSTAND WHY
SLOW DOWN
LISTEN TO YOURSELF
LISTEN TO YOUR OBJECT

Then I asked myself some questions, which I MUST be able to answer in order to actually make anything with the right intent behind it.

What is my project about?
Making as ritual: I am interested in how the process of making can be a a ritualised activity for the maker, capturing the essence of a ritual process within their work.

Why am I interested in this?
This is my own personal journey through the complexity of life, searching for balance and inner stillness. I need to find my own space and sense of identity.

What am I trying to express?
I want to make works which reflect on this journey and how important ritual is to our connection with the universe. I am seeking to capture our experiences of moments – pure moments of clarity, mystery or depth. Moments which leave you on the edge of something bigger….even if only for the most fleeting of instants. These fragile but powerful experiences can guide and shape our lives.

So next, as I said in my introduction, I want to rebalance thought, vision, theory and action. This means thinking less about what I am aiming to make at the end, or what it is for, or about the bigger picture for my project, or what Maiko will think. It means thinking more about my expression, my experience of the feeling I am working with; more about each and every material which is used and what it says – and how this narrative changes with the processes I use upon it, and with the context it is placed in.

This week, I have stepped back and begun work again from a single, small but powerful experience, one I in fact mentioned on the blog back last autumn: that of my unavoidable habit listening to the rain. The literal feeling of the sound of the rain, pulling you so completely out of day to day activity into a state of hypnotic thought, where you exist – for just an instant – entirely in the moment.

I’m doing some drawing and sketchbook work initially. I will summarise progress in a later blog post when I’ve had time to reflect on how it’s going.

The cost of alternative routes

When I first applied to Camberwell, it was under the hope the footnote at the bottom of the course webpage which said “alternative routes will be considered” would be true for me. This should mean that even without the requisite undergraduate education in the arts, I would be looked at for my potential. I was well aware that all I had done formally was my City & Guilds tuition – but with a PhD already I shouldn’t have any issue with the research. It was just the art & design side which might have a skills gap….

….and I don’t have any issue with the research. I understand what needs to be done, the iterative link between thinking and making; I understand how to do self-directed research. However, I feel like I have now come across the harsh reality of what a skills gap feels like. Or perhaps that is a skills chasm. The problem is that I’m not sure how far it is to the other side.

These thoughts are coming from reflecting on the tutorial I had with Maiko yesterday, my first for term two. Maiko as usual was sharp-eyed and saw straight through any blagging, or making I had been doing without really understanding the point of. Talking with her is very helpful, but I always feel a bit shell-shocked afterwards, probably at being brought back to clearly see the climb still ahead of me. Yesterday’s feedback focussed mainly around my lack of clarity on materials and materiality. I still have a tendency to over-think things but not think enough about the fine details of the materials I am using and why. Back to a cooking analogy, it is like a poor sauce which detracts from the deliciousess of the main ingredient and a garnish which doesn’t even belong on the plate. Plus am I making a main course or a dessert? How can I not know which?

One of her other comments was on my daily squares which I had been making as part of my ‘daily rituals’ investigation, which had essentially turned out less to express any emotion and more as a display of a range of different techniques. She reminded me that playing with the possibilities of art like this is what you should be doing on a Foundation course – not an MA. An MA is the time to focus and expand / develop your style into a specific direction to take forward into your professional career. I suppose this hit a chord as I had really considered if I should do a Foundation course after finishing my C&G Certificate. I thought it would be a lot of fun and I would learn lots – but that’s what drove me to an MA in the end. Fun is fine, but I would not be in a position to drive a new business / new career straight afterwards. I am too mature in my career and without enough money to just take a year of work just to have fun!

So, being committed to the MA enough to quit my consultancy job for it, I am not going to let it get the better of me. I have been enjoying the course and I think that can continue while tackling The Challenge ahead. My first challenge, as Maiko and I discussed, is to find the right material which speaks to what I am doing; and to figure out what it is I am doing. I am currently sinking in a sea of good ideas and things I want to try out – structured textile artworks, willow basketry, tapestry weaving, quilted baskets, paper making etc etc. But this is not what the MA is for and I need to keep reminding myself of this. I’m sure this is half of the problem I’m causing for myself. I recall Bridget saying way back during the Getting Started workshops in September – that good ideas you may have to pass by during the course are not lost. You can come back to them in the future – you have your whole career ahead of you after all.

So I’m feeling a bit more positive than last night; I know it will take a little time to figure this out and I will need to be focussed, methodical and proactive. I need to accelerate the crossing of my skills gap and quickly figure out what I really want to develop within my practice.  We have some time left in Unit 1 to experiment, but not that much time.

It’s all character building as my dad would say 😉