Category Archives: Artwork
Some of you may recall that I recently had a bit of a run-in with one of my neighbours. Welcome to the second instalment…
About ten days or so ago I decided to order a copy of this picture as a large canvas print.
It was meant to be for my fab hubby to remind him of our perfect Caribbean holiday, which seems so very, very long ago now. We’re having a bit of a tough time right now, what with dodgy finances and (the FAB Hubby’s) heart surgery and a distinct lack of purpose in life, coupled with an increasing feeling of having been tossed onto the scrapheap of sentience. I don’t want to impose my life complaints on everyone, but these circumstances are not helping my increasingly severe depression and most days I spend staring at my computer screen, trying to find any kind of motivation to get something achieved.
I have occasional spurts when I try to ‘pull myself together’ like a pair of curtains, but these rarely result in much tangible success, although I do keep on trying.
So actually gathering enough *oomph* to select and order this picture was a major happening for me. I was so pleased with myself for achieving something.The picture is particularly sentimental for us as it is of Pebbles Beach, in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, where I learned to swim as a small child. Taking Mark there was one of the first things we did when we got into the hire car – the satnav wasn’t working, but I managed to guide him to the place without too much of a detour, largely based on forty-year-old memories and a keen sense of direction. To be fair, the island is only 14 miles by 21 so it’s pretty easy to navigate around, but I was still chuffed to have found it so easily.
Standing on the exquisite white sand in the most brilliant sunshine, I was suddenly eight years old once more, in my tiger swim-suit (long story !), whiling away my days, collecting precious shells and rolling in the surf on Pebbles Beach. The Aquatic Club bar – ‘Pebble Beach Inn’ as it was known then – also had a swimming pool although it’s gone now, having been redeveloped in the intervening years. Patrick (my bestest of boy-friends) and I spent day after day either in the sea or the pool, only being dragged out to eat or drink something then back in the water we went, like a pair of water babies. It’s a strange misnomer, because there isn’t a single pebble on Pebble Beach – and there never has been as far as I can recall, so it was shells that we collected on the rare occasions that we emerged from the water.
Showing my husband of thirty-six years this precious memory meant that finally we could share it together and this of course called for a stroll along the length of the beach. I snapped the picture from the top of the steps, then he helped me jump down the steps and being a rather rotund shape these days, I tippled forward and he, being the gallant knight that he is, staggered forward to help me, so that I would be spared the indignity of rolling into a ball on the hot sand. He’d been taking his specs off and replacing them with his new sunglasses – another, whole different story – so this process was interrupted during the rockin’ and rollin’ around in the sand.
Fast forward for about an hour as we stroll the entire length of this gorgeous beach and begin our return journey. By now, the heat has gone from the day and the sun is beginning to set -the light is fading exquisitely albeit rapidly, as it does in the Caribbean, being so much closer to the equator and all that. I’m happily snapping away with my new camera at the scenery, the sand, the water, the sky, everything in fact. I turn to take a snap of the FAB Hubby; he’s looking puzzled and just ever-so-slightly panicky.
‘Why’s he fumbling in his shirt pocket?‘ I ask myself. Then I ask him the same question of course, to which his terrified face blurts out ‘I’ve lost my specs!’.
Now, I should probably explain here that FAB H is virtually blind without his specs. Modern technology has reduced the thickness of the glass these days to something that resembles one of those convex coffee-table paper-weights that people have favoured pressed flowers encased in, as keepsakes or whatever. Jam jars are a thing of the past. Well, mostly anyway. The thing is, he genuinely cannot see a thing without them. So this was a BIG deal.
The entire holiday was on the verge of ruin, for without his eyes, how would he see everything? How would we manage? Plus, the damned things had just cost an arm and a couple of legs to ensure he had them in time for the holiday. Usually he has photo-chromic lenses which means he doesn’t need separate sunglasses, so there was considerable cursing of the incompetent optician’s assistant whose fault it was that we were now having to negotiate our holiday of a lifetime, minus the ability to actually see anything, since the actual reading glasses had taken themselves off for a little holiday of their own.
It’s quite a long beach it turns out.
We retraced our steps, trying to remain positive, in spite of the increasingly fading light, turning every grain of sand over with our hands and feet, checking to see where they may have been washed into the sea, for, of course, just to complicate matters a little further, the tide was coming in. Fast.
We’d almost given up as we arrived back at the steps to clamber back into the car.
And then I saw them, quietly, even contemplatively, watching the sunset sitting squarely in the sand, exactly where he’d knocked them out of his pocket when he chivalrously came to my aid earlier.
Lost. And then found again. Just like the beach was.
Now, let’s get back to the present shall we… stop all this lazing around on tropical beaches!
So, I’d ordered this picture to remind him of our wonderful holiday and perhaps to help motivate us both into better frames of mind. I got a great deal and ordered it in a large size – my pictures are meant to be viewed in large formats. This one was about 60cm x 80cm. That’s about 2 feet by about 2 feet 8 inches for those who don’t do decimals.
Thrilled I was.
When I received the email saying it would arrive on Tuesday, I was still feeling thrilled.
On Tuesday I went out of the house for the first time in about … well forever… to go help some friends hang an exhibition in Scarborough hospital. I almost asked my other neighbour to keep an eye out, but she was busy with her three children, so I left it, thinking ‘We’ll be back in good time, it’ll be fine.‘
Famous last thoughts. ‘It’ll be fine.‘ HAH!
Upon returning home the neighbour and her offspring were still in their garden so I asked about the parcel and she told me our other neighbour, the chap from downstairs, the evil one who made me clean his drains out recently, he was the one who’d taken it in. I sent my son round to go pick it up, but there was some confusion about my apparently ambiguous instruction and the long and short of it was that no-one went to get the parcel that evening. I fretted and worried and got antsy and my *long-suffering men* ignored my slightly manic state and pressed on with the heavy responsibility of watching TV (or rather, snoring in front of the telly) and raising hell in some imaginary computer game world. Ahem.
Fast forward again to the next morning, when, as usual we were woken by the sound of the recycling truck and staff collecting the recycling waste. Thinking nothing more than ‘Did you put the bins out?’ I turned over and went back to sleep, whilst the FABH got up and pottered about downstairs for a while.
When I rose, Cleopatra-like, from my slumber a little later on, my first thought was about the picture so I asked if FABH had yet retrieved it and he agreed to put some trousers on and go to collect it. It’s best to not ask about the trousers – just let that one go for now, OK?
He returned, empty handed, reporting that our (despicable) neighbour had no knowledge of any parcel whatsoever.
I was distraught.
I was beside myself with tormented thoughts.
It wasn’t adding up.
How could he not have known about the parcel? What could have happened to it? Where did the UPS chap leave it? Did anyone see what he did with it? These and many more questions began encircling my tiny brain – like the little cartoon birds that used to fly round Sylvester or Tweety Pie’s head when they crashed into something.
I fretted a little more. I envisaged every and any possible scenario regarding my parcel’s fate. Each a more grisly fate than the last.
The FABH of course remained implacable in the face of potential chaos. He phoned the delivery company (UPS) and we had a delightful conversation with a lovely lady called Sarah, who assured me that the records showed that the parcel had been left in a porch around the back. I explained that this property isn’t what it seems and that ‘around the back‘ are two separate, distinct apartments. She sympathised and suggested that the delivery man might call me himself to explain where he left the parcel. We thought this was an excellent idea and readily agreed.
Then we waited.
Only, I’m not really very good at waiting.
The ants in my pants told me to do it.
I went downstairs and around the back and knocked smartly on my (beastly) neighbour’s door. He was on the phone and clearly, visibly, ignoring me. I could see him through his window. Eventually he gesticulated for me to let myself in, which I did. I asked him about the parcel and he flatly denied all knowledge of it.I described it in detail and he shook his head and threw up his hands, asking me what I wanted to DO about it?
I asked for permission to check his outbuildings- an aluminium shed and another, smaller, store-box, but it wasn’t there. I was even more puzzled now and asked him what I was supposed to think when I’d been told that the delivery man had left it in his domain, but it seemed to have simply vanished. As he sagely nodded his head and attempted to stand up to encourage me to leave, he slumped, in a drunken stupor, to the floor. After helping him to the nearby sofa, I took my cue and left. Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere there.
Upon my return, the delivery driver, Carl, rang and we discussed the situation with him. He suggested that usually in these cases, the ‘thief’ makes the mistake of putting the packaging into the rubbish bin, to which the FABH calmly stated that it’s unlikely he’d find any rubbish in the bin as today was collection day… and then we both looked at each other in horror as the realisation of what might have happened set in.
With tears (of anger, frustration, utter disbelief and the ultimate pain of loss) rolling down my face, we thanked Carl for agreeing to pop by the next day to check on the location of the parcel and then all we could do was sit and wait. Again.
I am really rubbish at waiting – we’ve already established this – so around six-ish, I went to call on our other (Polish) neighbour to see if perhaps Carl had been mistaken and left it in his kitchen instead. He hadn’t. And it turned out that our Polish friend had actually seen my parcel in the other neighbour’s kitchen.
What can you do when faced with such evidence? Clearly, I live next to an unstable and apparently vindictive man who thinks nothing of stealing our mail. I considered going to the police, as well as our mutual landlord, but persuaded myself these options seemed drastic. I even emailed the council in the hopes that someone might have spotted the brand-newness of my parcel and put it aside perhaps… to no avail of course. I didn’t sleep a wink and when Carl arrived the next day having taken a good look around the neighbour’s property, he agreed that the only thing to do was set everything in motion to replace the picture. He promised to drop the necessary paperwork off early next week and then he left.
Imagine how delighted I was yesterday morning then when Carl arrived with my replacement parcel! He confided that the paperwork hadn’t been required since, upon ‘further investigation’ (I know not what that entailed), my dastardly neighbour had admitted that he’d taken the parcel in and then put it straight into the recycling collection. Part of me still mourns for that lost picture, but at least now it’s sitting where it’s meant to be – above the sofa across the room from the FABH, so he can be re-inspired each time he looks at it.
Lost. Stolen. Recovered. Or at least replaced.
It’s a picture with a story to tell…
Thanks for reading again!
It’s been a busy day, with some success and a spectacular failure – I messed up finding the location of a wonderful workshop in Scarborough, but thankfully I think I will be able to recover that at least partially, so not an actual disaster then. I just look terribly foolish – I can get over that as I’ve had so much practice.
I woke up early in a major panic. It’s the 16th of December. For one thing, it is the GUS’s nineteenth birthday and he’s still at Uni so I wouldn’t get to see him today. It’s the very first time I haven’t seen him on his birthday – even when he was at boarding school, their terms had finished by now , so for the first time in nineteen years we’ve been apart on this important day.
It’s so hard to explain the pull of my children, even though all three are now fully grown into wonderful, magnificent adults. It never goes away. I doubt it ever will.
Still, I talked with him on the phone at 7.30am and I knew that he’d grown up just a little more when he answered the phone with a comprehensible ‘Hiya Mum! How are you?’ as opposed to the usual Neanderthal grunting. Progress is so rewarding! Anyway, we’ll be seeing him very soon – probably tomorrow, so I’m not dwelling too much on his absence, save to remind myself of how truly brilliant he is and how lucky I am to be his mother.
But back to the panicking.
No-one does *PANIC* quite like me I think. If it weren’t for the fact that I am ACTUALLY panicking, feeling sheer insurmountable terror inside and out, I could probably get an Oscar for my portrayal of ‘Panicking Woman’. I think that they have some stupid rules about having to be in an acting situation – you know, a movie – to be considered for one of those prestigious awards. It’s so no fair!
What was the panicking all about I hear you asking?
Ah, dear reader, here’s the rub – there doesn’t need to be a REASON to panic! Clearly, that’s where you’re all going wrong. No, no, reason is in fact your enemy when adopting the fully engaged PANIC mode. It’s much better to feel the panic, building up inside through weeks of worrying about Small Stuff (I could *sweat-the-small-stuff* for England, if it were an Olympic event!), about Big Stuff and about all the In-between Stuff.
There was Friday’s tussle with The Grinch. It prompted some epic responses from my Farmie Friends, which involved broomsticks that can travel across the Atlantic, transporting said wonderful wild women to come to my aid; they realised they’d need to return on a regular scheduled flight as their mode of travel would have been otherwise deployed, embedded deeply into The Grinch’s rear end, as an aid to help him clean up his own mess in future. I’m sure you need no further details! I laughed long and hard over this – truly thankful am I to have such smashing pals. Thank you ladies – you know who you are.
There was also the much more pleasing trip to see the grandchildren, who are all growing so fast, I have to find the person with their foot on the accelerator to get them to back off, just a little so I can savour them for a while longer. The Angelic Angel (Scarlett, aged three) and the Dynamic Donkey (Harriet, aged four and eleven twelfths) contributed fabulously to possibly the best Nativity I’ve ever seen. No panic here of course, unless you count my inability to capture such moments with my camera, largely due to shaking from suppressed giggles. Still, it’s being *in the moment* that counts and so it was indeed, fabulous.
But today’s panic was the culmination of my realisation that the deadline for readying my work for the New Year exhibition at the Palace Gallery in Redcar is rapidly approaching and I was no where near even being able to get them printed yet – it’s Christmas apparently and this means that getting things printed is high on many, many other people’s agendas meaning that my regular printer, who works just down the road from me and is reasonably priced, was unavailable. I rocked up last Friday afternoon, thinking ‘I’ve got this – it’ll be great’ only to be faced with a dreadful notice in his window declaring that he’s far too busy until after Christmas to do any work for anyone else.
I was not a happy chappy. That’s when the real panic started; the weekend spent happily with family simply put it all on hold and it wasn’t until 5.21 am this morning that it reclaimed my brain.
I have no pictures printed.
Printing them is expensive (giclée printing costs a fortune and they need special paper too), takes a considerable time and care to produce and then they need to be mounted and framed. Then I’ll need to properly wrap them up and then drive up to Redcar to go and deliver them. Before next Wednesday evening.
ARGH!!! and BOTHERATION!
Looking on-line didn’t help – printing may have been possible, but getting them framed this side of Chinese New Year was looking impossible.
What in Heaven’s Name was I going to do?
(Hint – here’s where all my panicky words are stored – angst, disquiet, flapping, fretting, heebie-jeebies, jitters, misgivings, needles, shakes, shivers and willies. I had ’em all. All at once. Simultaneously. It was pretty scary)
If I fail to get the pictures to the gallery in good time for the hanging of the exhibition, I miss my first chance to gain some essential exposure as an artist.
If I fail in this endeavour, it’s likely I’ll gain a reputation for lacking any kind of professionalism – those of you who’ve worked with me in the past will know how deeply this cut would scar me, it is simply unthinkable!
If I fail in this endeavour, my fragile dreams of artistic success will come crashing down on me, burying my confidence in a calamity of fractured narcissism that might just cause me to totally implode.
GASP! GASP! GASP! (does anyone have an inhaler handy?)
Not that I’m being melodramatic or anything.
That’s the main ingredient of PANIC. Just, you know, FYI, in case you’ve never done the whole horror of frantic frenzy scene or anything.
Enter the FAB Hubby.
With soothing tea and calming reason. See, I told you reason is the antithesis of panic!
Together, we found a solution and thanks to two wonderful and very generous people – Paul Crick Photography (he’s a photographer who lives not far from me) agreed to print them for me (for a fee – he’s not a charity!) by Saturday and his recommended framer, Bridge Street Frames & Gallery in Helmsley, who has agreed to frame them for a great price AND have them all ready by Tuesday evening, I am now A PANIC-FREE ZONE!
So BAH! Sucks to panic!
Paul’s lovely wife, Vivien, managed to sooth my jangles with her wonderful calm stillness which is not surprising, given that she (and Paul) also run a fantastic personal wellness practice at Gaia Holistix. She is indeed the absolute antithesis to PANIC and within one minute of being in their presence, I felt better. Some people just *glow* with spirituality – she’s definitely one of them.
Thank you Vivien, Paul and the lovely chap at the framers – I didn’t catch his name but he too was so willing to help and I find that totally humbling.
This Cinderella may indeed be going to the ball.
Serenity, at last!
(Cue calm breathing. Deep, nourishing lungfuls of relaxed chilled-ness simply *being*. Wonderful!)
… now, how many days shopping do I have ’til Christmas? And what do you mean I have no money? Does anyone have any spare change down the back of your sofas… and if so, can you send it to me? Do I have a recipe for cranberry sauce? Where’s my list… here we go again!
Thanks for reading my friends, once again.
And in case I don’t get time for another post before the Big Day, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Let there be Peace on Earth.
A new piece of art this evening – a simple digital collage from our walk in the woods a couple of weeks ago. I love the way the light found its way through the trees, creating an atmosphere of serenity. I hope it gives you peace to see it.
For a while there I was engulfed in a mortified mire of misery, submerged in suffocating self-loathing as ‘dark as the helmsman’s bark of old that ferried to hell the dead‘ as A. C. Swinburne once said.
When I get so depressed that all I can do is try to beat the world at Scrabble or match rows of analogous ‘Bejewelled’ gems to pass the time, and then bemoan my lack of purpose so that this is almost the only thing that keeps my grey matter from stagnating utterly, I cannot write at all. I should, because the whole process is rewardingly cathartic as I discovered yesterday. I should make myself a motivational poster to put up on my pinboard above my desk to remind me of that fact.
See, now I have a purpose again.
It makes a huge difference.
A while back I visited a local village and took a bunch of photos around the churchyard there. If you click here (or visit the link on the sidebar for the archives in October 2014) you can see the original story. Only if you want to of course… I’m not trying to be bossy here.
Anyhoo, (NOT a typo there – it’s a word I use frequently) you may recall I took a picture of a small bird’s egg lying amongst the leaf-litter between the gravestones and a yew. The fact that there are usually yew trees in graveyards in England (and possibly elsewhere I imagine) is a constant source of amusement between my youngest daughter and I as, having spouted this *fact* as we strolled through her Oxfordshire village one sunny afternoon, I failed miserably and in spectacular fashion to identify a yew in someone’s garden – she’s teased me about it ever since. It’s not really funny now of course – I guess you had to be there – but whenever I see that word it raises a smile in my mind. Which is always a good thing.
Where was I?
Oh, of course!
Back to the story.
The bird’s egg.
Well, of course, I had actually been out that morning to catch something *interesting* to enter into a photo competition that I was keen to tackle. This was to be the second competition that some fantastic people had organised over at the Creative Group for Bedlam Farm which I’ve mentioned before, once or twice, perhaps. The theme this time was ‘Nature’.
A slightly conspiratorial atmosphere prevailed as my FAB hubby and I dressed for our outing in the pre-dawn October darkness. The plan was to go and capture the sunrise over the pumpkin patch on the Pickering Road, about six or seven miles away. It was magical and I was pleased with some of the shots achieved, hoping I had captured something worthy of entering in this contest.
During the first contest earlier in the year I had sent in what I had thought was a winning shot of a bee *visiting* a flower, but it hadn’t even placed, so I was apprehensive about what a winning shot might look like and how on earth I could achieve it. I had agonised for days about which photo to send in and was genuinely devastated when my eventual choice was overlooked for a prize. I was very aware of the deadline approaching for this second match and determined to find something to compete with.
With the sun fully up by eight o’clock, we’d headed home, passing through Rillington on the way. There was something special about the light that morning – cool, bright, crispy and properly autumnal. I had to stop and take some more pictures. I snapped away enthusiastically at kaleidoscopic leaves, briskly babbling brooks and ghostly gravestones in the hoary churchyard. When I wrote about it later I imagined a moment of time travel, being transported through the years to visit the lives of those commemorated in stoney memorials.
And then came a moment of pure clarity. Lying on the leaf litter between the tombstones and the aforementioned yew tree was a forlorn-looking half-eggshell. The edges crazed and fissured and inside was complete empty. Devoid of residue from the albumen or anything else in fact. My eye was drawn as if by some powerful magnetic force to the whiteness and the blank inanition of the fragile shell; I dropped to my knees instantly to find myself almost at eye-level with the fronds of grass and detritus on the ground. This was an automatic move that my brain seemed incapable of controlling – my photographer friend, the inestimable Jeff Anderson, has repeatedly instructed me to ‘get down low’ and search for the light from the right perspective – his words ringing in my ears gave my legs the clear message to move myself into an advantageous position.
It looked even more ethereal from this viewpoint.
I could almost hear the little chirruping that the tiny new life would have made as it freed itself from the confines of the protective shell. Perhaps its mother was answering her offspring’s uncertain pleas, gently encouraging and cajoling the tiny birdlet to cast away their fears and spread their wings so that they could emerge into this wondrous world, continuing a line that is older than Time.
All that remained now was the discarded shell that had cherished its cargo until it was no longer needed.
And I saw myself for the first time.
I’ve been a mother for over thirty-four years and my two eldest children fledged an age ago.
But I still have my Neanderthal at home, for now at least. He will be eighteen in just a couple of days time – in fact with a labour that lasted for thirty-four hours, it should have been his birthday today, but that’s a whole other story that I hope you’ll tune in for on Tuesday. Not long after this momentous occasion he will depart from our nest and start his own adulthood. I am fully aware of this – it’s not like it’s any kind of surprise, I’ve know this day will come since he was first conceived.
The thing is, now it is almost here, and it is tapping me on the shoulder and shouting ‘BOOM’ in my other ear.
I’ll have an empty nest for the first time in my adult life.
I deliberated for weeks about whether or not to send this picture in. It seemed a little simple. Black and white simple.
I played around with the image, giving it different colours to see how it affected the feel of it. Eventually I settled on this hint of green, symbolising envy and perhaps new beginnings, coupled with a dash of blue to add just a touch of sadness to the ambiance of the image.
It turns out that I’ve struck a chord with people, who like this image for its simplicity. I am pleased to say that it won the competition – much to my genuine surprise.
And the judge’s comments, coupled with the congratulatory messages from my fellow Farmies have lifted me back into the Land of the Living. They gave me a moment of real life. I’m so very grateful.
Thanks for reading again!
* The penguin image is from a very informative page about African Penguins that can be found here
Post Script: December the 13th was my mother’s birthday. She would have been ninety-four this year. I mention this because of her connection to the Neanderthal’s birth, which you can read about here, if you wish!
After all of the beautiful images of the services at the Tower of London yesterday, I wanted to repost these pictures I took in early September of the poppies, which at that point hadn’t filled all the space in the Tower’s now defunct moat.
My grandfather fought for twenty-seven years in the Royal Horse Artillery as a gunner – he had to be able to transport the lighter cannon guns around battlefields, presumably on horseback as I understand it – until he lost a leg during the bloody carnage at Passchendaele, known as the third Battle of Ypres, in October 1917. I’m told that he demanded his men help him search for his severed lower limb in the mud before being dragged out and transported to the field hospital that day. He was lucky. There was a significant amount of mustard gas used during that battle and on top of all of that, there had been weeks of very heavy, unexpected rainfall creating an enormous quagmire in the field of battle. Many soldiers who had been badly wounded lay where they had fallen, firmly ensconced in the thick, gelatinous mud, unable to crawl to safety alone and impossible for others to rescue without being stranded themselves.
I am still researching to find out how my granddad, Thomas Sharp, managed to survive, against such absurdly improbable odds, but I am enormously grateful that he did, for I would not be here if he hadn’t. My mother was born in December 1920 – two years after the end of the Great War – so clearly without that moment of survival, she would not have been born and consequently neither would I. I am ever thankful and will always continue to remember him and the many hundreds of thousands of others who were not so fortunate in a century marked by constant conflicts around the globe.
These magnificent words from the poem written in 1914 by Robert Laurence Binyon echo down through the century and will continue to ring out our call to remember not only our own loved ones, but the great sacrifices that so many made, in defence of that which we hold so dear – the concept of freedom.
We WILL remember them.
As always, thanks for reading once more!
In 2014 we have been continually reminded that this is the centenary of the start of The Great War. During my school days, which do indeed seem like an entire lifetime ago now, I was remarkably interested in this conflict – for reasons unknown at the time. I think I was probably around twelve or so when I first became aware of the fact that the entire world had been at war with each other on two mighty occasions during the twentieth century. I can recall, as clear as day, my thoughts about this – ‘When WILL Man ever learn to live harmoniously, side by side?’ I think you can probably tell that I was a child of the Sixties, born into a generation that truly believed that Peace on Earth not only was possible but is what we will bring about – Man’s crowning glory of an achievement.
Whilst I cannot profess to being a devoted student of war, my interest in The Great War was piqued by the tales my mother was continually regaling me with, which focussed mainly upon World War 2 – she lived through it as a young adult whose equally young husband had fought in Burma, was captured and held as a Japanese prisoner of war for around three years, only to return to a strange and unreal *normality* and somehow they had both survived. I now know that she possessed an active imagination which resulted in many of her tales being augmented truths rather than reliable historical fact, but none-the-less, she inspired me to consider the consequences of war from a practical perspective – how ordinary people reacted to the fluidity of rapid change and carried on, regardless.
I recall being fascinated by the concept that people truly believed, in 1918, that the terrific horrors they had lived through surely were the worst possible things that man could inflict upon each other; that this Great War had assuredly, unquestionably and inexorably been The War To End All Wars. I learned that the benefit of hindsight when considering the mistakes of the past is an oft-misused idea and that to truly understand something you have to consider a person’s actions at the time, without the luxury of retrospection. It’s an important lesson in life, a transferable nugget of knowledge that guides the wise. If only I were wise enough to recall this at important times.
My mother often talked of her father, my granddad, Tom Sharp. She spoke of his gruffness, his taciturn, dour manner with all folk, except perhaps for a gentle twinkling when he spoke to her and her young son. She had clearly been frustrated with his reticence when dealing with others, perhaps wishing he could be more pleasant and cheerful as she felt she had to be. What little she knew of his story I cannot say, but perhaps as a young adult her own life had been so scarred by the events of World War II that she felt, as many young people often do, that it couldn’t possibly have been any worse for him so he should shake it off, forget about it and move on with his life.
She talked of him because through that return to wartime, when sense and reason had departed, she lived with him in a small terraced house in Crowther Street, Stockport. All during the Manchester Blitz, when the Doodlebugs reigned terror upon ordinary people, they clung to each other and survived. Manchester is only a hop-and-a-skip north of Stockport and as home to much of the manufacturing of the arms and weaponry of war, including the famed Avro Lancaster bombers, the city was a prime target. I’m not sure if it’s one of her fantasies or not, but she used to tell me of her work in the factory at Chadderton, where she worked on the Lancasters; it’s entirely possible as it’s only about eight miles, which was a distance she could have travelled by bus to work each day.
Stories of my mother’s wartime experiences I’ll keep for another time – it is Granddad Tom that I’m thinking of today. Only last week when we visited Salford (again, that’s a whole other story!) we found ourselves in the Lowry Museum for a little while. I love to visit galleries and see paintings, sculptures, Art, up close and in reality. Not printed in a book or photographed and available online. But actually, here: right here, in front of my own eyes, where I can observed the brush techniques the artist chose to employ and consider what they might have been envisaging, imagining, conceptualising. I’d managed to sneak a gallery visit into an altogether different trip and was pleased we had made it. Looking at the ‘Match-stalk men and match-stalk cats and dogs’, as Lowry’s paintings have come to be fondly known, took me back to my youth, when Stockport had looked much like many of the scenes depicted with such child-like simplicity. I swear I knew some of the people represented – and I definitely knew the animals!
Imagine my surprise and delight then when I came upon Lowry’s portrayal of Crowther Street, the very same street where my mother, granddad and brother had lived during that terrible period! They had lived there after the war too, for my brother has occasionally told me about his early memories of the place – sliding down the ‘Brew’ (which I think is an old Lancastrian word for steep hill) on a wooden board, nearly killing himself in the process! Granddad Tom used to stand on the doorstep outside their home at Number Five, watching the world go by, tapping our the contents of his pipe on the side of his tin leg. I was touched by the shared memory of a place and a relative that I never knew.
The tin leg intrigued me though. My brother describes his memories in an entry on his Facebook page: ‘My own grandfather (maternal) lost a leg at Paschendaele . It simply disappeared as a shell landed on his artillery wagon, killing his six horses. He was a horse farrier sergeant major and immediately detailed two gunners to go and look for his leg! He was given a tin leg and I remember that it banged like an oven door every time he knocked his pipe out on it!
In another post from my brother, I’ve discovered that our grandfather served in the Royal Horse Artillery for twenty-seven years prior to being invalided out of the Army after his brush with death at Paschendaele. Now this is a man I find I want to get to know. He is one of many hundreds of thousands of men who sacrificed much in service of their country during that egregious conflict. Thankfully, he was spared his life otherwise I would not be here today.
So when I see the commemorative events that mark the centenary of the First World War, I think of the senseless waste of human life yes, but I also think of my grandfather – how that one event must have soured his enthusiasm for life, yet in spite of it all he survived. He returned home from the madness and resumed his life with his family, fathering at least two more children in the following three years after the Great War. He further survived the death of his beloved wife, from complications in labour with their last child – the little boy survived; my eighteen-month-old mother’s only younger sibling. It’s no wonder really, that he was so out-of-sorts with life after that. Perhaps mum could have cut him a little slack for the hardships he had known in his long and difficult life.
I am overwhelmed with sadness when I see poppies each November – it has always affected me on a deep level. When I heard, earlier this year that an artist had created the magnificent ceramic poppies installation at the Tower of London, I was determined to ensure that I took some time to go and see it in real life. In person. Like viewing the Lowry paintings, the actual reality of the piece means so much more than just looking at them online.
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to see them this week. It really was a moving experience – consider the symbolism, the presence of each poppy, crafted with care and compassion and planted with equal benevolence by volunteers and patrons – each poppy representing a fallen hero from the many battles during the Great War. The venue of the Tower of London is an excellent idea, largely because of the additional symbolism of this as a place of power in times past. The hustle and bustle of the modern city is never really transcended – but then I imagine that would have been equally difficult in the squalid, unforgiving trenches on the Western Front and elsewhere.
I took many photos, of course, you would not expect anything less, I’m sure. I found myself looking for contrasts to create some contiguous images that might provoke mixed feelings. As I walked around the perimeter walls of the Tower, I noticed a heavenly perfume and was drawn to these beautiful roses, flowering in the mid-September sunshine and suddenly had exactly the juxtaposition that I was seeking. Roses, representing the beauty of individual souls alive in a sea of cold, ceramic poppies, seems so appropriate to me.
Funnily enough, the family of a fallen hero had a similar idea, I discovered, as they left a small bunch of roses tied to the railing, giving a brief account of their loved ones’ sacrifice. I found it very touching.
I also decided to make a photo-montage of the scene that I encountered. My wide-angled lens is good, but I wanted to create something that gave at least some indication of the grand scale of this installation. I took seventy-two shots from the same spot. Then I’ve pieced them together into this montage. The original file is massive of course – around 1.3GB (gigabytes – that’s a whole bunch of pixels!), so I’ve resized it to make it reasonably accessible on this blog. Also, since I did this on Wednesday, I’ve discovered a much more effective tool to stitch the individual images together – but I’m not re-doing this one yet! I hope you enjoy looking at it too.
I’ll leave you with your own thoughts about this piece of artwork – and will be remembering my Granddad too.
Thanks for reading this evening – your presence here keeps me going!
‘Quick Mum!’ The Neanderthol exclaimed, excitedly. ‘You’ve GOT to see these mushrooms!’
Now, between you and me, my soon-to-be-an-official-adult-but-in-the-meantime-is-making-the-most-of-being-a-Neanderthol son rarely exclaims excitedly. Except when he’s in a tizz about something. Or if a hairy arachnid strolls into his line of sight. I imagine that might be quite amusing, if I ever stopped and looked over my shoulder to capture the moment, but I’m usually too busy legging it in the opposite direction to notice, so I’ll just have to continue imagining his expression.
So, when Toby vociferates at top volume, it grabs my attention, which in this case was a good thing.
Grabbing my trusty Canon and a squishy quilt (well, you wouldn’t want an old lady like me to have to scrabble in the gravel now would you?) I dashed outside to see the cause of the commotion.
Indeed, some quite magnificent fungi has sprouted overnight. Clearly, this is evidence of the existence of fairies. And magic. And fairy magic.
I can totally see tiny fairy faces, albeit perhaps a little on the grubby side – these dwellings are decidedly dark and possibly even a little dodgy-looking – opening doors and skipping in and out of their miniature homes.
With my photographic mentor’s words (‘Move your feet!’ and ‘Get down low!‘) ringing in my ears, I snapped away, looking for colour, texture, defining shapes and light. Always, looking for the light. They were remarkably co-operative subjects.
You’ve gotta love magic. All I need now is a little pixie-dust…
Thanks for reading again!
I miss Summer already.
She hasn’t left us completely, yet. When I go outside, I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my back, especially if it’s the middle of the day.
But the garden is looking increasingly sparsely populated, in terms of flora and the grass isn’t growing so fast, if at all. As each patch of glorious summer colour fades, I find I am mentally preparing for the onset of Autumn. The conker tree is looking patchily bronzed, the apples, plums and chums, drupes of incalculable quantity, have almost all fallen or been collected, greedily, for jam-making and fruit-pies. Some of the hedgerows still hold drooping bundles of blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants, but these are needed by the birds and small mammals that inhabit the countryside with us. The bright red haws speak of the coming of Autumn, more loudly and clearly than even the nocturnal cries of our resident barn owl.
Autumn is nigh.
But, being a somewhat disorganised gardener – one day I have promised myself, I WILL construct a planting timetable that will give me a more bountiful harvest throughout the summer and into the autumn, but sadly, this year is not that time – I planted a few things rather later than would be ideal. Take gladioli, for example. Various horticulturalists advise planting in around February to abut the end of April to achieve a garden full of repeated blooms throughout the summer months. I found a bag of corms in early June and thought ‘What the heck?! I’ll just get these in now and we’ll see what happens’.
This is frequently my mantra when it comes to gardening. I haven’t even the smallest Scooby, a Scoolb-let if you will, about how to make the garden grow. All I know for sure is that plants want to grow. If you give them a little care and attention, lots of watering and a good talking-to once in a while, they shoot out of the ground with a desperation that could be unseemly, if it weren’t for their unbridled enthusiasm for *life*. Possibly, there’s a lesson or two to be learned from our little plants.
So, mid-June and my gladdies have just hit the soil. Actually, I did think of them earlier, on the 16th May, as that was the FAB Hubby’s grandma’s birthday – her name was Gladys, so I always think of her when I see these beautiful flowers. But for some reason, I still didn’t get round to putting them into the ground until mid-June. Of course, the real benefit of this is that they are finally, just about now, beginning to flower.
And they are so pretty!
A lovely variety,Gladiolus Rose Supreme – ‘warm salmon flowers with creamy hearts’ – is simply gorgeous. I’m thrilled that they’ve started to bloom, at last, because they really do brighten the day.
Of course, I couldn’t resist orbing the gorgeous girl…
I also found that there are still dahlias flowering right outside my studio – every time I think they must be about to give up the ghost, another bud pops up and BOOM! There’s another beauty shining forth for all they’re worth. I would happily say that they are indeed worth their weight in gold. The bright cardinal coral of the red dahlia and the xanthus, golden hues of the yellow dahlia are the last vestiges of the Summer of Hope.
When I see them, I am reminded of all the hoping I’ve been engaging in – hoping for some inspiration, hoping for a new direction for my career, hoping that each day will bring warmth, sunshine and a modicum of contentment. I am still hoping.
And then, of course, there’s still the sunflowers. I posted some photos of them recently, but they always seem to outshine themselves with each new day. So, I’ll leave you with some more of these glorious giants – the tallest are well over nine feet now – and their multi-headed splendiferousness.
Thanks for reading again!