“For three days, that wall was the centre of our universe. Nothing else seemed as important.”
— Jetstream Jonny, assistant on The Lifeboat Station Project
The weather was apocalyptic when we arrived in Stiffkey.
Despite praying to the weather gods, the terrible forecast of 74mph winds had indeed come to pass.
After all the planning and driving — not to mention the recent balmy late September sunshine — it felt like a cruel blow as I steered Neena past the freshly-sawn trees.
Judging by the frequent sprinkles of chippings glowing brightly against the tarmac, we were lucky to have dodged the arboreal blockades on the approaches to this tiny North Norfolk village.
I’d allowed two days over the final weekend of September to complete the installation with some flexibility to work on the Monday if need be.
On Saturday morning, the plan was to board up the windows before cracking on with the pasting. In the ferocious winds, that was not going to happen.
Jetstream’s face said it all…
So, we did what we could, which amounted to meeting a few folk, saying hello to old friends, measuring up the windows and squeezing in a quick interview with Angie from BBC Radio Norfolk.
We were due to speak live on air but we had to resort to pre-recording our chat — ’twas even too blustery to put to up the dish on the roof of the outdoor broadcast van…
…and note our futile efforts to make a windbreak out of Neena too:
It’s good to recognise when it’s time to retreat, so retreat we did.
We parked up at The Red Lion in the hope of food and shelter. Hen and Jetstream waited outside while I donned my mask on the hunt for a table.
Of course, things are so different now. Gone are the days when you can just wander into a pub on a whim and huddle shoulder-to-shoulder with the vibrant weekend crowd.
“Please let there be a table” I quietly wished but I soon realised that just about everybody in the area had scurried into this one building for some social distanced sustenance.
“You can sit outside” the waiter kindly offered. “I’ll even put the heat lamps on for you.”
I didn’t have to delve too deeply into my heart-of-hearts to know this was not an ideal option.
Somehow, the power of eye contact ramps up a notch or two from behind a mask and Hen was sending me some strong signals, his immortal words sealing the deal:
“It’s not an endurance test, is it?”
We turned on our heels and found a nice little place around the corner where we holed up for a few hours with a lovely mocha, all smiles again and resigned to relaxing till the next day, keeping everything firmly crossed for a break in the weather.
Finally, finally…those weather gods threw us a bone on the Sunday morning and we could get on with pasting the first sheets.
As you’ll see from the time-lapse above, the wind had eased and Neena now became a useful windbreak.
By 3pm, it was a wonderful moment to see my new big idea taking shape but time was already marching on. Nevertheless, we allowed ourselves a celebratory coffee — in the standard issue project mugs, of course.
Although we didn’t quite know how rapidly we’d progress, it was utterly clear that we’d be working well into Monday…
The wall presented unexpected complications too.
For example, I’d already made an educated estimate for the amount I should laterally stretch the image to compensate for the corrugations but do you see the three overlapping horizontal sections to the building?
We came to realise this meant that we were, in fact, working with three different rates of corrugation as well as the “small” matter of the windows in the midst of it all.
Therefore, scenes like the one above became commonplace — lots of standing back, looking and thinking. And check out Neena’s position: parked extremely close to our work area, acting as a windbreak while the strong gusts prevailed.
We worked into the evening, determined to get as much done as possible before heading back to The Red Lion where we’d thankfully managed to reserve a table this time.
Fast forward to the end of Monday, our final evening…
By 8pm, we’d made good progress but morale was diminishing.
The sun had long set. The air was becoming cold and damp. Sitting on the staging, illuminated by Neena’s floodlights and Jetstream’s Land Rover headlights, my brush strokes were slowing and shoulders slumping.
Despite immaculate planning for weeks beforehand, it felt like the apocalyptic weather and time had beaten us.
We’d worked so well as a team in such trying circumstances. However, I couldn’t help but gaze at the huge areas of corrugated wall stretching into the night sky that had still yet to be pasted.
Through the struts of the staging, Jetstream asked me how I was doing.
“Heartbroken.” was my (perhaps a little dramatic) response.
“Right, then. We’re going to run a diagnosis procedure which we use in the airline industry…”
At this point, it’s probably as well to remind you that Jetstream (full name Jetstream Jonny) is a commercial airline captain with many years’ experience under his belt.
Jetstream went on to describe the procedure, which you can read about in this members-only post.
By pausing for 10 minutes and running the procedure, we came up with a revised plan with which we were all happy.
Between the three of us, we agreed that we couldn’t finish the giant Lucy Lavers poster as originally envisaged but, as long as all elements of the boat were pasted, we could effectively revise that vision on the fly and finish her differently.
Furthermore, we’d agreed a completion time of 10pm.
The meeting had given us a new goal and an end in sight. As a result, morale was immediately restored.
It was a perfectly-timed masterstroke by Jetstream and one of those moments that, out of nowhere, had suddenly become a project highlight.
FLUIDITY IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Although we finished the inaugural poster in a different way to my original vision, I was more than happy with the result.
The whole experience taught me so much about the creative process — reminding me once again that I cannot control everything and that there may be times when I need to relax a little and be flexible with regard to the outcome.
It’s also taught me that I can be more creative when I plan future posters, in that I don’t necessarily have to paste the whole image — certain elements of it may well be sufficient and, in fact, be more powerful for it.
As I pasted the final sheet and stood back, I really felt like we’d made something together, something that enriched the world just as intended.
I soon came to realise that the finished poster was much more interesting not only because its interaction with the building was more obvious but because of the story that now accompanied it.
Furthermore, it was in keeping with the work of Agnès Varda and JR that had inspired me to take this path just two months ago.
It gave me a greater understanding of their work and, in particular, why JR makes his pastings in the way that he does. With this in mind, if I had my time again, I’d likely pare the image back even more.
All-in-all, despite being physically and mentally exhausting, I think it’s safe to say that it was an incredibly rewarding experience for us all.
Once again, as with so many other instances on The Lifeboat Station Project, our true reward is the story to tell.
A MAGNIFICENT TEAM
Despite so many unforeseens, Hen, Jonny and I were a magnificent team, each bringing our strengths to the party. I’m so proud of how we worked together, testament to all those times we’ve worked side-by-side on the coast over the last five years.
Just like the gale force winds, we prevailed and completed installing the vast poster.
Huge lessons were learned and plenty of laughs were had along the way…and we’ve got a stack of questions for JR!
All the while, people came and went. Occasionally, I’d draw breath to turn round and see their gasps of wonder at what we were creating. Because, in truth, what we were creating was indeed truly special.
To all of you who came along, I thank you. You may not have know this at the time, but you carried such motivation and fortitude with you.
All-in-all, it was an incredibly rewarding time and, I’m sure it’s safe to say, that we can’t wait to make the next one.
And as we packed away those final pieces of staging, Jetstream started chuckling to himself as he said to Hen:
“You know that time on Saturday when you said: It’s not an endurance test, is it? …
… well, it turned out that you were quite wrong!”
HELP TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
I’m extremely proud that so many people who enjoy my journey are helping to fund it — the project has only been able to continue through such difficult times because of the generosity of my online community.
As I wrote in the original announcement, funding the With Courage Exhibition with the help of my online community is a wonderfully simple and symbiotic notion, avoiding the need for corporate involvement and logos plastered about the place.
After all, it’s an exhibition for the people, about the people in times when I believe courage, compassion and community spirit are key.
If you’d like to get behind The Lifeboat Station Project and the With Courage Exhibition, check out the new Posters page here:
Find out all the ways you can support my work here:
…and if you can help me bring the With Courage Exhibition to your town, please drop me a line to get the ball rolling:
Thank you to: Wendy Pritchard and Simon Garnier for hosting us so warmly; Julie for generously keeping the spot clear and offering access to all the facilities; Martin for taking us to new heights by kindly lending us your staging; Pete for turning up (in vain) to film it all; Sarah for the moral support and stunning lemon drizzle buns; Gareth (my school teacher and mentor) and Suzie for swinging by in your MG to help with the staging; Richard and Sheila for your moral and emotional support (and the samosas!); John Chennells, likewise, for your moral and emotional support and for the photographs you kindly contributed to this post.
A special thank you to my stoic friends Hen and Jetstream for sticking with me through thick and thin for this one. I really couldn’t have done it without you!
Huge thanks also to Harry Cory Wright for the photograph of the finished poster. We never did get to see the finished piece in daylight, so I feel honoured that Harry went to the effort of recording it for us.
Finally, thank you to everyone who sponsored this inaugural poster — you all covered the costs, which is an incredibly special thing to have done.
Bravo, one and all!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
In the mood for learning more? I answer some frequently asked questions about my project here: