Gateshead has a lot to be proud of. In recent years landmarks have popped up south of the Tyne that are already nationally famous - the Angel of the North, the Millenium Bridge, the Baltic art gallery and the Sage music centre. Newcastle has long since stopped looking down its nose at Gateshead and now casts an envious eye at its neighbour across the river. It has even started rebranding itself “NewcastleGateshead”. A glossy magazine recently explained "think Buda and Pest, two cities divided by a river". Not sure I'd go that far pet, but Gateshead is daein' canny.
Another name upon which Gateshead can pride itself is Alan Dunn, sugarcrafter extraordinaire. I mentioned a demonstration by him in July and was keen to have some tuition in making flowers. I was tipped off about the best way to contact him (codename Alice), negotiated the release of some cupcakes and arranged two tutorials for this week.
The first flower we did was a peony. Alan showed me how to cut, vein, soften and wire the petals, make the centre, add stamens, and tape everything together. It looked so easy: “oh yes, roll, squish, clag it together” but you forget you're watching 25 years of skilled practice. I flailed about like a contestant on the Generation Game and vowed to take more notes and pay closer attention to the next step: dusting the flower with colour and adding foliage.
My homework was to practise making another peony. “If only school had been this much fun!'” I thought. But by Thursday night, some French irregular verbs would have seemed quite palatable: 2am is not the best time to realise you have no glue and the wrong kind of stamens, but I did my best. Dawn broke, as did several petals, but by breakfast I at least had something to show and didn’t have to claim “the dog ate it”.
|Can you spot the difference? Er, yes...|
The second lesson was lily of the valley, a pretty stem of buds and flowers. We also made wired butterflies, two of which got the full works with shimmer and glitter, while one was painted like a cabbage white. It made a lovely bouquet with the peony and lily of the valley.
We were kept company by Alan's beautiful assistant Liz, who made up for a lack of opposable thumbs with heaps of enthusiasm and chat.
I ended the week at a group class in Witton Gilbert, County Durham, home of 80s pop sensation Prefab Sprout. Alan had to endure hours of the gentle ribbing that men get from women when they're hopelessly outnumbered (eight to one, he didn’t stand a chance). I suspect he's used to it. We made ylang ylang berries and blossoms, which are very pretty but mean I've had The Chiffons' “do-lang do-lang” chorus stuck in my head all day. We also made yam leaves ready for inclusion in a bouquet of perfume flower and Christmas cactus later this month. Homework is to make more of these. Homework for the homework is to buy some glue this time.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Alan's classes for a very friendly atmosphere of chat, gossip and a million and one tips on sugarcraft – the best place to check out which flowers are coming to a town near you is here. You’ll also be in for some nice 80s musical treats, though I can’t see any Prefab Sprout. Yet…