Friday 3 April 2020

Staying at Home - March 21st 2020

The strongest of all warriors are these two - Time and Patience. - Tolstoy - War and Peace.

Day 1 - of Staying at Home
My cottage is really quite small but it's cosy as in warm - providing that I keep the heating on - underfloor heating is pure luxury in winter and not something I'm used to. Bella loves to come and lie near enough to me to watch me whilst soaking up the heat on her tummy - legs outstretched
- as only a Labrador will, she will spring up at my smallest movement in case there's the slightest chance of food - a crumb or even a molecule will do the trick - she's just had the crusts off my buttery Marmitey toast. 
Moorashes - the little group of cottages  - eighteen in all were built more or less as peasant hovels - one story dwellings built on the earth. 
These little 17th century cottages are all in a terrace that curves gently - very gently along what used to be the edge of the Marshes where the tidal reaches of the River Dart once came to meet the downward slopes of the rolling hills that Totnes was originally built upon.
I'm collecting information of it's history from the Town Archives - I know who used to live in my cottage for instance - a family with six children - believe me a one up, one down cottage is a small place to dwell. At another time a 'Gentleman' with entrepreneurial skills and aspirations who advertised in the London papers and took holiday makers out on the Dart on fishing trips lived in splendid solitude here. Rather like me. I love splendid solitude.
More later when the archives have reopened and I have more information.

Totnes has been in my mind like a second mother to me. I love her. She's accommodated me time and time again as my wandering life unfolded. A safe haven to return to. When I love a place I first of all feel safe and protected. Many places leave me cold and some can actively repel me and then I pass by as quickly as possible and avoid if I can from ever going back. 

Totnes can sometimes irritate me too just in the way that mothers can. I found that my mother hardly ever irritated me - I think that's quite unusual. I however, as a mother, seem to be - according to my children - very irritating but also it seems endearingly amusing - at times. Perhaps that's a compensating factor.

So as the whole world settles or is somehow forced into staying at home I can't help being unhappy for feeling so happy - a childhood trait of mine that seems to have returned. I used to feel so guilty being filled with happiness as my angry and volatile father stomped around the house complaining about doors being open and lights on until he was incandescent with rage - shouting and swearing at my mother and me. As this happened between three and five times a day I was always living on the edge of peace but only ever there when I was on my own or just with my mother - we had that extra bond through seeking escape and refuge. 
We'd commiserate and mull over what had happened if we could possibly find the chance when he'd gone out. We'd go for a walk and let Mother Nature soothe our souls. We lived right on the edge of the countryside - a short walk, over a canal bridge,
along the cobblestone road of the village and then freedom. The Blackbird singing was our administering Angel. 
'Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night' was my song for a long time and still brings tears to my eyes. You could not talk about abuse in those days - you had to absorb it if you couldn't run away. I could not leave my mother to his single handed tyranny and she continually absorbed it until she escaped by death at 62. A merciful release. 
I continued to try and understand it's origins but from a distance by moving - initially to Devon. But inwardly if I was alone I was happy - mainly - often - often enough to show me that life had meaning underneath the storm - behind the clouds. 
I wrote a poem - quite spontaneously - from fridge magnets of all things - many many years later. I'd had them on the fridge for years - then inspiration struck and as if by magic one day as I passed the fridge. I was somehow compelled to stop - this poem showed itself to me - very quickly - one word at a time. There were no other words to choose from - just the usual jumble of incoherent magnetic words and not that I was consciously 'choosing' them - I don't know if you can understand this. It may sound very 'other worldly' - I also think that it was other worldly - in a good way.
But I felt astonished when I read it - automatic fridge magnet writing?! 
I called it The Garden. And at the end there were only 'life and 'love' left as words so I added in my mind - 'all an elaborate chain of' once again to the last word. I also added the punctuation marks as this is how it evolved in that moment of moving the words - one after the other. I think that it's beautiful. And a poem for our time. Also for anytime. I've gone back to it and shared it many times.

The Garden

I have to take you to a garden.
It is essential that you tell our friends.
I have one lifetime only here.

There is a void and then a vision.
The summer rain is felt as music.
The water and the wind whisper through
Eternity a language that we dream of.
Above the mist, behind the storm, beneath the rain.
Together in a thousand moments.
A delicate symphony of light, like diamonds shine and play.
Shadows fall away. 
Beauty would be these and death sweet, not sad.
All an elaborate chain of life.
All an elaborate chain of love.

From my current perspective Corona virus and it's horrendous toll is having the same effect. Now I can see the - what - I am not at all certain. The whole world is in confusion but right now I am happy. A fool's paradise?
I have been making simple resin earrings for a while and love seeing how they are appearing in my paintings - diadems of translucent shifting colours.

I get up very early and paint. And let it evolve. I am looking over the edge of land into the sea or so it feels. I'm in Italy - there are cactus plants - diadems that float before taking form - caught in mid air. I have very few paints so work with chalk pastels and the paint into them with a gesso acrylic primer. It works and is very versatile but very opaque. Looking too yellow at this stage. Later I think I will work onto and into with oils pastels in layers of translucent glazes.

This morning I took Bella for her morning walk etc to a little grassy area round the corner from where I live - called Moorashes Meadow. 
Some people might just see it as a scrappy bit of grass and pass by and that for sure it once was - until quite recently. 

There's a group of people - often older - often female who have banded together to help Mother Nature shine. They start by clearing away all  rubbish, then the overgrown brambles, docks, nettles, ragwort and all and make overlooked and neglected places beautiful. I'm not one for joining groups of any kind - far more solitary so do what I can when I feel like it from afar and unseen. 
I moved here after all the work had been done so I'm a beneficiary of their hard work. 
It's still not finished but the Leechwell Brook that used to pass through the grassy meadow has mostly been channelled along a beautiful narrow raised leet or rill that's built up along the old wall that once delineated the edge of the town proper. It has a dark grey slate base and little rises of silvery granite blocks to allow the water to collect before it rushes and drops to the next run below - and onwards - collecting and dropping - all the time. Well, it's supposed to be musical as in the sound of water falling. You can just see the water rill under the arc of the flowering cherry below.
As there was no-one else yet about I thought I may as well move the dead leaves from the long rill that carries the spring water of the Leechwell Brook to a pond. The newts and water boatmen etc are far happier in the pond after all. I love playing with water especially if there's a purpose so after going back home and feeding Bella and Fizz
(ancient cat) I went back with a small brush that was almost the width of the rill  - about ten inches - and began to gently move everything along.
The rill drops in a series of little waterfalls of increasing height starting about roughly three inches and gradually increasing to the final plunge of a couple of feet into the pond. 
The thing is (was) is that the rill was full of sludge, twigs, plastic and leaves and the water was hardly flowing at all. So bit by bit I pushed the whole caboodle along and over to the next section. It soon became very heavy and the brush handle broke in half so I used my hands - never thought to use plastic gloves though a pair of bright yellow Marigolds would have been wise. It was only when I noticed something twisting about that I stopped and saw a very large black leech - Leechwell
Leeches do carry a certain mild terror for me even though I know they were once thought to be healing aids. In a similar category as rats I suppose. 
I found as I waited for my mild terror to subside that after a minute or two the water began to fill up again and I could then use it's momentum to push the bulk of the sludge over to the next section without actually needing to get my hands in it. 
I've always been a hands on sort of person.
Gradually worked my way along - walking along the side of the stone wall and down-rill to move the leaves into the pond and then walking back to ease the rest bit by bit - not wanting to damage the occupants too much - not even the enormous leeches - until the water ran fairly clearly and freely as it's meant to and the pond had the benefit of all the new visitors and decomposing leaves from the autumn. 
I fished out a big plastic bottle and a bag of dog poo - then feeling satisfied and rather virtuous and still not having seen a soul I went home to shove my clothes into the washing machine and scrub my nails.

Next job is to send a few of the more important emails and then to take a painting to the next stage. I am using up all my canvases and seeing where my imagination and my unconscious take me, really very revealing. I have a large (ish) canvas with a summer sky - slightly blustery on the go. 
The sea is distant but as it comes closer it's shallow and transparent moving over long narrow little sand banks and stretches of seagrass until it is lost beneath the overhanging clifftop that then changes into and vibrant imaginative colourful micro jungle with I think at this stage as a flattened swathe of grass with a book open as if someone has just left for a moment. Maybe. Who knows? Not really me yet as it keeps evolving. This is a daytime painting. I think that I will do a companion piece - set under a full moon. I want to develop a poem I wrote a few years ago and weave it into the life of a character - Sam Lovett - in one of my short stories -

stories that are all linked into a wider arching narrative that connects all of the characters over time. 
Heaven and Earth

Sulphurous halo round the moon, full or nearly full.
Clouds move quickly now, like smoke caught in amber light,
Cool and silent like the river.
Flowers that once dazzled us with their brilliance and intensity,
With their gentleness and grace are still now.
Transfigured and transformed by the silver light and the half-light of night.
The river, half heard, speaks a language that we know and feel,
As it moves along the pathways of our souls.
You are my anchor, my heaven, my earth.

Even though my cottage is small it does have walls - white walls and mostly in the extension that is the studio - really quite high so ideal as temporary storage/hanging space so that I can glimpse them whilst in progress. I find that flashes of insight and inspiration - imagination - call it what you will - will come to me this way. The open book was a complete surprise - not consciously put there by 'me'. My conscious mind would love to vaguely suggest the traces of The Angelic Script 
- partly as some of the letters resemble the flowers that I've painted have evolved and partly because of that intriguing other world that I find enters our world so often. But they're tricky things - Angels. So if I do it will be with a pinch of salt - sea-salt of course.
Or it could be writing by Pericles or the Ten Commandments. Or a page from a sketchbook. Probably the latter.

My daughter is in lockdown with me - rather unintentionally so we're settling into this new shared state gradually. She'd like to get back to London to her spacious flat. As I have mentioned more than a few times it has no garden!  I feel she is safer here. Boris has decided. Here we are. 
As she is by profession as Set Decorator and has worked on some incredible films and has 'the eye'. I have said that she can completely rejig the way I've arranged the cottage to make her stay - however long it may be - pretty much entirely to suit her. I OK with 'Creative Chaos' - and I do know that her way will be a vast improvement. 
Time is standing still now - all the galleries I sent my jewellery out to (on Sale or Return) have closed for the duration of the lockdown so I have time to help rearrange the cottage and do the garden and paint and write and sort out all the 'stuff' that tends to spend far to long in the in-tray. I already have loads of jewellery made and am appreciating the break from making. I have lots of new ideas that I want to relate to my paintings and I want to be able to have time to ponder - to work some stories around the narratives of my paintings and connect them to new jewellery.
In the late afternoon we head off for a walk towards an old drovers road that goes up onto the top of one of the hills here. Walking along the path the birds are singing, the sun is shining and the banks are full of primroses. There is no-one else around. It feels perfect and it's hard to equate this country life with the cities.
Day 2 - of Staying at Home 

Again the sun rises into a blue sky. 
I was woken in the night by excruciating toothache. I made my Elixir of Life - I once read that the Ancient Greeks had a drink that they called the 'elixir of life' and it's characterising feature - apart from the obviously miraculous aspect was that the water was somehow thicker than regular spring water, river water or sea water. This does have a strange viscosity so in my mind I imagine that they had stumbled upon a  water source that ran over salt deposits and passed through deposits of sodium bicarbonate - it's entirely possible - check this out - the many uses of Natron - bicarbonate of soda 
that in the form of Bicarbonate of Soda - 1/2 a teaspoon and a dash of Himalayan Pink Salt whizzed up until clear as the salt can resemble little bits of finely ground pink stone - not sure of the chain of ethics of the suppliers. Too much and it stays cloudy it seems, just right as in Goldilocks and The Three Bears and hey-ho let the magic begin. That's it - the pain abates from 100% to 2% over the next hour. 
I also saw a very interesting video on YouTube about a family who credit Bicarbonate of Soda with not getting Flu during the 1919 Pandemic - it makes some aspect of your body chemistry neutral so the virus cannot enter according to her mother.
Mrs. Boone, 100 year-old resident of Mobile, tells how her family was the only family in a small rural Alabama area that did not contract the flu during the 1918 flu outbreak. Mrs. Boone's family all became responders in her community. Her parents become instant nurses and she delivered soup to the door of ill families. Well worth watching.
I go back to sleep to await the hither said sunrise as clear skies in March also bring very cold nights. 'The March wind doth blow and we shall have snow.' etc. The Robins as are the Thrushes and the Blackbirds are singing in their newly or reclaimed territories and on the hunt for the early morning worms. 

Generally I'm an early morning worm - I love the peace of the beginning of a new day. There is an incredible hush about the air at least for the first few hours. The road that runs nearby has been very quiet but now towards midday I can hear much more activity as in cars moving about. 
I continue to tidy the decking and clean up the pots of this and that - that have endured so many house moves of late. Now I know the way of the sun in this little garden and I can move pots to their best places. 
Wisteria and roses over by the steps that lead into the garden, a vine in the sunniest spot by the arbour, jasmine next to the French windows where the sun shines all day (when it does). 
I cut back the lavender that is in those long rectangular black plastic pots that make such good dividers or sit happily next to a wall or shed and scrub a bit more of that old decking every time I wash up. There is no dishwasher here so everything has to be washed by hand. A process that I'm re-learning to enjoy. 
Do I really need to table the days by number when they have so very rapidly merged into one long day that gradually is getting longer as the nights are getting shorter? No - different rules apply - I am sometimes content to float - more so now as I've completely lost my bearings. 
I love the morning as the sun rises in the frosty air - the blinds - a cream linen colour are down still against the night. I am sleeping on the little sofa in the alcove surrounded by some of my favourite books.
The sunlight gradually slices its way through the 2 inch gap between the blinds. It is dazzling and warm and full of life and joy - of promises for the year ahead. It makes beautiful shadows on the blinds - shadows of vine tendrils and of roses as the reach up towards the light and wave gently in the breeze. I have taken to taking my easel outside on the deck (I think of it as a deck as on board a ship that is searching for its safe harbour rather than decking from the builders' merchants) and with a thick graphite stick - a round one, sharpened to a point, I quickly trace the movements and of the shadows. But not every morning. Yesterday and the day before it was too cloudy so no sun and consequently no shadows.
So I found myself staring into space on the verge of tears as my heart cried out in pain at the whole world' plight. I kept thinking of the poor in India - of the homeless and of all the workers that have kept capitalism alive for the utterly pointless lives of the over indulged and hedonistic. This is a wake up call for us all. 
Today the sun is shining once again and I am seeing everything as an expression of love - at least I am remembering Tolstoy in War and Peace who continually emphasises love - in all it's forms - but ultimately divine love. Turner - the painter - said - supposedly on his death bed - his last words - that the sun is God. Certainly seems to be the earthly manifestation - 
I remember how I felt on the moment of a solar eclipse in Cornwall one summer when once surrounded by sea and sky and hundreds of bright blue agapanthus flowers the world - just for a few moments - but it felt like a howling, screaming desperate eternity - the world turned black and the air became immediately very cold - then the cocks began a confused cacophony of crowing all around - over the hills and woods and fields through the darkness. Then the utter joy and relief as the light returned. 

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