Category Archives: UK

10 THINGS I LOVE ABOUT BRITAIN (as I say goodbye to her)

Before I launch into tales of my new adventures in other lands, I’d like to take a moment to consider the country of my birth.

As I plan to end the longest stint of living in Great Britain in my adult life (over seven years) it is tempting to justify my departure by rattling off a list of things that drove me to end my residency. The English liberal middle classes are as riddled with national self-loathing (perhaps a legacy of colonialism) and joining in with Britain-bashing is an easy trap to fall into. Considering my determination for writing positive things about other places I have lived in or visited – Iraq and Pakistan for example – it feels only right to resist being drawn into a wholly negative take.

OUTDOOR PEOPLE

England - London - Three city office workers sunbathe during hot lunchtime1. I love how we worship the sun. It only has to briefly show its face and office workers crowd to patches of pleasant green during lunchbreaks and roll up sleeves and trousers to soak in Vitamin D. I love how in the summer the sun shines long into the evening and the fact that we buy more convertible cars than the French, Spanish and Italians. images

2. I love how we love gardening. I love how we mark out our territory neatly with walls and fences and how even the bleakest of council estates will have a row of bungalows with perfectly planted pansies. Allotments thrill me.

CROWDED ISLE

images-13. I love sitting on the tube and being surrounded by people of all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, nationalities, ages, attitudes. I love how despite the diversity everyone manages to avoid eye contact.

Unknown4. I love my personal space in Britain. People don’t queue too close and mostly avoid the continental cheek peck and needless hugs. We need to maintain our large personal space and save the hugs for when we mean it. Unknown-1

5. I love how when we have really enjoyed something, we say it was “Quite good”. We need to cling on to the under-stated and save the awesome for the truly awesome.

TOTALLY SICK

Unknown-26. I love how being ever-so-slightly mentally ill can be viewed as charmingly eccentric (for the middle and upper classes at least). raynerlarge

7. I love how although we still have a class system, the middle classes now shop at Aldi and overall economic hardship is being shared beyond the working classes.

Unknown-38. I love how Brits dramatically pull over to let an emergency vehicle past. This doesn’t happen in lots of countries, and in some countries it only happens for ambulances.

9. I love that we have emergency ambulances. And free health care to those that need it. Many countries have neither.

NEVER IN IT TO WIN IT

LOST-532_1535358a

10. Finally, I love the English ability to lose graciously. Losing is our default starting point – but we still enjoy a good match.

 

And with the later in mind, I am well aware that perhaps I haven’t chosen the best professions to succeed at in Britain: the civil service, teaching, publishing and being an artist. Perhaps I didn’t put myself in the best place to make Britain work for me over the past seven years.  But I still think Britain is great. Not because it hosted the Olympics, or has a Queen, or any reasons associated with recent attempts to turn our national flag into a commodity. For me, it’s the cultural nuances that will help me be gently, quietly comfortable in my English skin as I once again embark on an overseas existence.

Less Jive Talking about Swindon

It is the fifth time in a row that the Bee Gee’s track, Jive Talking is being played in the Plum Tree in Swindon as I sit down to write.  Nobody seems notice.  An old man smiles and taps his foot whilst tucking into a fried egg breakfast.

It’s been 14 years since my favourite comedian, Eddie Izzard, described the Wiltshire town of Swindon as “knackered”.  A Bristolian by birth, it felt good to sneer at our less attractive west-country cousin. Known to me only as “a bit of a railway town,” last month I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Swindon to see for myself.

As I have done in Basra and Islamabad, I arrived in the dead of night.  Lost, I wondered with my luggage around a black and white town centre void of almost all people.  Those I came across – hotel workers and chip shop owners – helpfully pointed me in the right direction, some walking with me for part of my journey.

In the morning I ventured along the same streets, now bathed in colourful sunlight.  It was early and everyone was busy going about their business.   One figure stood out from the rest –  a middle aged white man with a huge grin on his face was walking towards me.  As he grew close I was able to read the words on his T-shirt: I’m so broke I don’t even pay attention.  The message combined with his happy disposition was a wonderful defiant opening to what would prove to be a very positive few days.

“It’s a working town” said a taxi driver, “we have no airs and graces, we just enjoy living and working here”.  Swindon’s lack of pretension was the number one thing that people I asked said they loved about the town.  Another thing that made Swindonian’s proud was “the people”.  Combine the two and you get a very welcoming, down-to-earth place to be: The receptionist at the Holiday Inn Express who “sneaked me a youghurt” when I arrived at midnight. The guy in the corner shop who offered to make me a cup of tea when I asked where a good café was. The smiles in response to a cheeky girl who ran into a shop and turned up the volume on their speakers.  A smile and a wave from a highly decorated octogenarian war veteran on a mobility scooter – in fact people saying hello to each other all over the place.  There was also a genuine excitement in the air about “future Swindon” – the coming regeneration of the town centre, the potential of a ski slope at the Oasis, and new life breathed into the old corn exchange building in Old Town.

I am glad to have my perception of Swindon changed by the people who live there.  I had thought it was a relatively new town – yet it has a history going back as far as a The Domesday book.  I knew it was famous for building railways – but I never knew it was where Isambard Kingdom Brunel chose to build.  Nor did I know that the railway workers health scheme was used as a blue-print for our National Health Service.  In 1844 a revolutionary co-operative organisation known as The New Swindon Improvement Company transformed the railway’s workforce into some of the country’s best-educated manual workers.  The legacy of this history with people at it’s heart, is clear.

This travel blog has been home to my thoughts about my travels in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq – and each time I am keen to show that their perception of a place is not necessarily accurate.  Swindon is just the same.

I asked the Landlord at the Plum Tree if he liked Jive Talking.  “Has it been on more than once, darling?” he asked.  I nodded.  It was taken off.  For those who don’t know, Jive Talking is slang for bullshit.  It’s time for less Jive Talking about Swindon.

Hyde &The Great British Tourist

Over the past few weeks I have witnessed our Brazilian house guest taking in Britain’s top tourist destinations.  In the very few hours she has when she is not studying English, she boards coaches bound for our “sights” to explore Britain’s heritage.  She has been to the cities of Bath, Oxford,  Brighton.   She has taken in a West End show, been awe-inspired by Stone Henge, and enjoyed the delights of Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle.  Today she is in  York.  Next weekend Edinburgh.

All of this on top of the fact that we live in central Cambridge – a city that swells with over four million visitors every year.  We have a quirky and interesting history here, churches, museums, a river with boats (punts) – all the usual stuff that attracts tourists.

As I trekked up the A1M this week on a pilgrimage to the small town of Hyde on the outskirts of Manchester, I couldn’t help think of myself as a bit of a tourist, and I certainly felt like one when I got there.

Two things drew me to Hyde.  The first – as the old stomping ground to my favourite melonchony signer – John Bramwell from I Am Kloot.  The second, a more serious research assignment – as the old stomping ground of British Artist, Harry Rutherford.  Like Bramwell, Rutherford frequented Hyde’s public houses and found inspiration there.

“It’s a shit hole” I mumbled to myself incredulously on first impressions. I parked up on a dusty stoney patch of land and fumbled with a pay & display machine.  Not knowing my car registration number caused a queue to form behind me.  Expecting the usual tuts and impatient sighs I apologised profusely for holding everyone up.  I needn’t have bothered, people were smiling warmly in a kind of “she’s not from round ere” kind of way.  Someone asked “do you know where your’e headed?”  A phrase from the film Withnail & I sprung to mind: “I’ve come on holiday by mistake”.

I didn’t say that, instead asked for and was offered directions to the cash point: “Is’ through the mall”.  The “mall” had more of a bus-shed feel to it – and seemed to offer the poorer versions of franchised retail outlets from home.  Even the charity shops looked in more genuine need than the charities they were supporting. A couple of young men pointed to a bucket and asked me to give some cash for soldiers in Afghanistan.  My excuse of not having money was genuine, but clearly not believed.  Grey-faced smokers stood around chatting, in the same, not-in-a-hurry way that I had encountered buying a parking ticket.

Outside the mall, down side-streets, tatty England flags fluttered, and an increase in visible neck tattoos meant I switched to using eye contact and nods of the head.  I certainly didn’t look about me like a tourist, and made my step intentional, despite not really knowing where I was.  It’s a built in safety feature, I use when in apparently “hostile” environments.  Or shit holes.

Lunch was appropriately in a Wetherspoons pub.  I didn’t know until later that Rutherford had hung out at the Clarendon (as, possibly, had Bramwell), but Wetherspoons was fine.  I shared lunch with a Kashmiri friend of mine who’s complexion attracted a few hostile glances.  He shrugged it off with mild amusement.  Next to us a table of inebriated white people were arguing about where the Falkland Islands were.  An old lady in a tatty fur coat tried to put on the television.  Our pierced “waiter” had no idea where the sauces were.  I found myself wondering if they would marvel at the diverseness of their pub, or spit in our food.  Fish and chips for my friend, who was blending in better than I with my vegetarian sausages.  Through lunch we fittingly talked about identity and notions of “home”.  Nobody troubled us and I was warming to the place.  If I didn’t have a three hour drive home, I could have replaced my diet coke with a strong northern ale and settled down for the afternoon.  Maybe even pulled out a sketchbook.

I said goodbye to my friend who returned to his native Bradford.  Passing a hand-painted sign that offered singing lessons I decided to stop a man who looked not unlike Rutherford himself – with a flat cap and shopping bags.  He was delighted to be asked where the library was, as if I had restored what little faith he had in the town.  “Not from Hyde, then?” he asked – and seemed disappointed when I told him no, I was from Cambridge.  I wanted to add that I was originally from Bristol – as if this would boost my credibility a little in the eyes of this seasoned northerner.  But south is south whichever side of the country you are on.  He waved his stick in the air and wished me good luck.

The library was perhaps Hyde’s finest building.  A grand, red-brick beauty, I wondered how it had escaped being turned into swanky apartments.  Hopefully because in Hyde there is more use for a library than for swanky apartments.  The Rutherford Gallery – which is shortly to relocate, so please don’t look for it there – was housed in a high-ceilinged, light room.  It was beautifully curated with Rutherfood’s actual easel, paints and hat collection as the centrepiece.  But more fascinating were his archive sketches, letters and photographs held in a room not more that four foot high – adding a quirky “Being John Malcovich” tone to my research.

I emerged from the short space hot and excited.  The sun had come out in Hyde and although the faces on the street were still grey (with the occasional orange tan), coats were coming off and arms exposed.  I heard the hearty husky laughter of a long-time smoker. Young people were drinking tea in a scuffy, cheap hairdressers.

I hasten to use the word “real” as I know there is no such thing, but perhaps it is the same gritty northern-ness I love about Bramwell’s voice, that I witnessed in Hyde.  I wondered whether the betting shops and boarded up buildings of Hyde could offer the same insight into Britain as York Minster or Brighton Pier.

I know I will make the seven hour round trip from Cambridge to Hyde again – to find out more about Rutherford, and have a proper drink in the pub.  I might also come back for singing lessons and bring my Brazilian house guest with me.

The Truth About Art and Love

Coming Out of the Closet about Creativity

I have stretched the boundary of this ”travel blog” many times before – and I’m about to do it again. I’ve always advocated that blog’s are at their best when they are up close and personal – and whilst I have shared the death of my mother, blogged whilst depressed or scared and under fire in Iraq and even Tweeted my wedding – there is somewhere I haven’t gone yet.

You may or may not know that I am an artist. I wear the label like an alcoholic wears Johnnie Walker (hidden in the drawer or tucked into an inside pocket) . I was born with the affliction (it was a genetic disorder handed down from my grandfather via my mother), and whilst it does on occasion cause joy, in the main it is more akin to a frantic compulsive obsessive disorder. It is only by associating my creativity with healing, provision of comfort for others or political meaning that I have felt comfortable even talking about it. Usually I feel self indulgent and a bit mentally ill when the passion to create takes over. Hence I barely talk about it. At least not in any depth.

Last year I was turned down for an Arts Council grant – largely because I presented my proposal as a community cohesion project and neglected any reference to my own artistic development. They must have viewed me as someone trying to meet a cold political aim with technical application of my skills.  I said nothing about myself.   The project may have been about  tolerance and diversity, but it said little about what I, as a living breathing artist could contribute or about my mental approach to my craft. Perhaps because, like a drug addict, I am loath to admit I am a “user” (of the paint brush).

My creativity does relate to my travels – so perhaps safe to talk about it on my anonymous travel blog. In the 36 countries I have visited, I have painted or sketched in every one of them. A nomadic closet-artist. On occasion I have exhibited my work – the British Council kindly sponsored a solo show of my self-indulgence in Slovakia in the 1990s. And my beloved Sri Lanka has been host to more than one of my exhibitions (along with other “users”). I’m getting used to the whole humiliating ritual of painting in private and then hanging things on the wall for friends and strangers to look it. It feels very “show offy” and I liken it to an AA session. My name is Nomadic and I’m an artist.

So here is the bit that I missed out of the Arts Council proposal. A few weeks ago I was approached by a retired ballet dancer and asked if I could paint his portrait. He asked me about the process – what was involved. I’m not used to sharing this, but once I started talking you couldn’t shut me upnd I realised I had a need to share.

If I paint a portrait of someone I don’t ask them to sit in a pose for hours as I stand pompously before them with my canvas, stroking my chin and squinting at the subject. Rather I spend time with the subject, watching how they move, how they talk, what makes them laugh, sometimes witnessing uneasiness, sensing flaws, and understanding what moves them, what makes them tick. I listen. I look. I may record the encounter with a couple of sketches and photographs, but this is more of a record to jog the memory of the empathy and intimacy discovered.

Then I return to my studio (a room at the back of my garage with paint spattered cheap carpet and the faint odour of nicotine from smoking times past). I will probably do a fair amount of thinking and “sleeping on it” before I begin. I usually begin with a basic layout plan, although this may change. I alternate between sessions using a thick pallet knife, a broad brush, a fine brush and sometimes fingers. I rub paint onto canvas, scratch into it, or daub it. The wonderful thing about oils is the freedom to move it around the canvas – it’s fluidity. I use fine washes and I use thick blobs. Some paintings will take months to complete, and each session of work will have a different mood, a different feeling, another layer. My work is very much about the process and the emotion involved. By the time I am nearing the end, I have very much fallen in love with the subject. I feel I “know” them better almost than they know themselves. This is the creepy, stalker-bit, which I usually keep covered. It’s not a sexually or needy love – but a love of that person as a human-being. So yes, it’s true to say I love Derrick Ashong, Lord Ahmed of Rotherham and even John Humphrys although I have never told them so.

After my mum died it was a good few months before I could contemplate creating portraiture and I turned to nature and began looking at trees and all things growing. I felt completely “in tune” and empathetic to my environment – as I believe extreme stress and mental disturbance can generate. I found pretty quickly that the process of expressing this feeling on canvas was pretty similar to when I painted a portrait. I began to fall in love with the apple tree in my garden, with the grass growing and my son’s potato plants (even though we planted them too close together).

I’m not sure what to do with this love but channel it through art and for the first time, talk about it here. The power of it scares the hell out of me – but it is very passive. At most I may shed a tear as I paint (a recent painting of Mary/Maryam mother of Jesus/Isa generated many of those, for she is in everywoman and I am she).

You probably find it very odd that this passion (or “Junoon” as a new friend would call it) is more difficult to write about than the loss of someone close, romantic love of my husband, or my own mortality. These things I write about, usually because I know that other people share this. I know that by sharing my own grief, love and fears that I will be providing comfort to others. But by sharing the intense-up-closeness-generated in the act of painting I feel I am stating my difference. What marks me out from others. I may appear a bold individual soul, but inside I really do just want to be like everyone else. I anticipate readers will mutter “huh….that’s wierd” or “bit creepy, I hope the freak doesn’t want to paint my portrait”, but I hope, just maybe, that there is someone else out there who shares this spiritual high.  Someone who gets what on earth I am talking about. Who can weep with joy and understanding at a tree, or a face or the wind.

So, Arts Council, yes it is about the process. The meaning. The feeling. The insanity. The high. Don’t expect me to be putting into a turgid funding application any time soon though.

This boundary stretching travel blog will be back on course after a short interlude of non-travel. A few weeks should do it.

Travelling without Moving: Somerset, The Cotswolds, Sheffield, and France

(or “Moving Without Travelling” whichever works for you)

(image with retrospective thanks to blogger isaria’s excellent post on poetry in urban landscapes – photo taken in Sheffield).

Despite my lack of travel-blogging the past couple it doesn’t mean I haven’t been places.  Usually in the passenger seat, dabbing at mascara stained cheeks and sometimes giggling with tiredness and new found closeness to those I love who are still alive.  I’ve been exploring a range of family members in a catalogue of places (see below) but without getting too hippy, it’s the internal journeys that have mattered .

A catalogue of places:

  1. The Cotswolds. A stuffy Tory area of England perhaps made worse because I have needed to do business with Estate Agents during my recent time there.  Cotswold stone is pretty and every house is made from the honey coloured stuff.  The countryside (of which there is lots – dotted with pretty, if not claustrophobic villages) is a stunning vista of rolling hills littered with pro-hunting signs.  Cirencester (England’s former capital city), I am told is THE up and coming heart of this region. Despite the population being decidedly elderly I am tempted to believe this news, not least because since my mum’s death it seems quite likely that I might actually end up living there (s’complicated). Anyway “Old” is the new “Young” and at least they’ve got a FatFace in Cirencester.
  2. Somerset.  I can’t believe I used to want to go and live there.  Having lost my mum in a road crash on a bendy country road in Somerset I can quite honestly say I am no longer a fan of bendy country roads in Somerset.  Funny that.  Navigating my grief around this region has meant perpetual gripping of the dashboard and potholed panics.  A normal road in Somerset has a steep bank of hedge either side and there is barely enough room for two cars to pass.   Even Glastonbury feels like a complete sham to me at the moment.  The Tor was visible from my mum’s house and art studio (in fact can be seen for miles around) – and walking around the town last week with its crystals and goblins – it appeared very superficial.  If this place ever was spiritual then it was a very very long time ago and no matter how much Shaman juice we partake in, I am afraid we missed it.  And talk about claustrophobic – Somerset makes the conservation conservative Cotswolds look like a breath of fresh air.  Rant aside – there IS a lovely little pub called The Stoke in Chew Stoke, which I thoroughly recommend – and not just because my best mate owns it.  And not just because I have just slagged off Somerset where my best mate lives.  But because the food there is gert lush (especially them pies).
  3. Sheffield. OK, I’ll stop moaning now.  Despite my clearly cantankerous mood (only slightly improved by pie), I have to admit I quite like Sheffield.  Although I had never set foot there until last year, it conjures up a sense of nostalgia for me.  People there REALLY are friendly (like in the olden days).  The steep streets and Victorian suburbs remind me of my hometown – Bristol (which is slightly in Somerset but NOT to be confused for the distaste for the “Somerset countryside” under reference above). The area surrounding Sheffield is drop dead gorgeous.  I’m pining for city life at the moment, but this REALLY IS “Escape to the Country”.  Hiking routes and picnic spots.  Cotswolds Shmotswolds – this is the real England I’m after.

Not ALL the shopping centres in Sheffield have been finished (or even started really) – a glimmer of hope perhaps that they will develop without the burden of shallow retail sector – and perhaps in the enlightenment to follow, Sheffield will lead Britain in turning would-be-commercial-business-zones into new open green space for thought (not unlike the cloudless vapour trail free skies following the Icelandic Volcano ash chaos).   Seriously, it’s sad to see such evidence of the recession from a city which has had its fair share of knocks – but its strength is in its people – it’s resilience, it’s generosity of spirit.  Good times, and thank you Sheffield – just the tonic I needed right now.

  1. France. Over the past few months I have seen more long distance motorway travel than you could wave a stick at.  The biggest 24hour driving session began and ended in Cambridge with stops in Portsmouth and rural Britanny along the way.  Early morning empty main-roading is great.  I’m clear headed and up for the challenge of grubby Le Harve and her fantastic bridges (REALLY worth a look), but the midnight Portsmouth return, plagued by heavy lorries and average speed limits was less fun (especially after a sick bag filled channel crossing).  The only compensation for the traffic calming was the occasional glimpse of a night-time crew feasting on potholes– like cockroaches caught out by the sudden illumination of a kitchen strip light. At least someone out there had some purpose.

As ever though, we DID manage to get the most out of a mere handful of waking hours in France and like Cirencester spent some of it with an Estate Agent (well, a Notaire).  We rather foolishly fell in love with a huge run down town house in a small run-down village.  She needs electricity, water and (bits of) a new roof.  But as usual we are counting chickens before they are hatched.  In fact, come to think of it, we haven’t really even got any eggs yet.

As for the internal journeys – whilst being sometimes grisly passenger I was also a deep thinker.  The budding trees rushing past, the gaze of the yellow robot like speed camera, and the splash of the ocean on the ships windows – in many ways prove to be empty poetic imagery which did not penetrate my inner thinking.  To say I have been “in deep” is an understatement.  My reading has been of eastern philosophy, of death, and unusually of very little.  Although for many of my journeys I flicked ash from a small crack in the window, I gave up smoking 17 days ago (not that I’m counting).  Perhaps my unusually bitter accounts of Somerset and the Cotswolds reflect this.  Smoking is smelly, expensive and not good for me.  Despite what I have been telling myself since I was13 – it is NOT a good look.  I made the decision to give up smoking the day after my 40th birthday.

The journey continues of course.  I realised somewhere in the past couple of months that I do actually want to live as long as I humanly can (and not a moment longer – Eddie ref).  I think I understand that my body is home to my spirit/soul/whateveryouwannacallit- so it might be a good idea to make it work for me as best I can.

How I spend my time on this planet has been another conundrum.  I like to think I’m on a journey with this (making a difference, earning a living, expressing my creativity, dedication to others, living for my children, going with the flow, pushing for positive change…..lumox) but I think it may take a few more years of therapy and counselling before I even untie the vessel from the quay.  Maybe it starts tomorrow- with a journey I am NOT looking forward to.  Nearly two months after my mum died I have assembled enough faculties to return to my place of employment and “work out” a way forward.

Emerging from my burrow of detached-ness  (that has allowed me to contemplate life, death and anything but my job).   I will be blinking my way into bright normality tomorrow via the morning commuter train.  The passenger seat once more.

Classic Mini For Sale

With some degree of sadness we are looking for a good home for our media inspired mini motor car… Pictures of her here http://bit.ly/DTgHh 24 year old classic. Perfect for those who work with the media or don’t have five children to cart around (like we do).

The Great Unfinished Work

Unfinished Work

It goes against the grain – sharing this with you.  I am not sure what drives artists and writers to share their creation with others.  It makes me uncomfortable even.  Painting, blogging, writing, communicating – can feel self obsessive, indulgent, and arrogant.  But there.  Us creatives are caught up in this cruel net of intense sensitivity combined with a bizarre desire to present ourselves – exposing our raw vulnerability.

Since my mother’s sudden death on 23rd February I have been painting the picture above.  Shivering, smoking too many Marlborough Lights in my tiny makeshift studio at the back of my garage.  Dipping my brush into my green tea instead of my accelerating medium – I have painted with more energy and meaning than ever before.  The portrait of Atwar Bahjat (herself lost to this world on 22 February) has kept me company in my state (seen peeking behind the picture above).  What goes against the grain, is that I am sharing this painting with you unfinished (fellow artists will know this pain).  Like the vital life of my mother – there is a sense of there being much more to do yet.  Aspiration.  Potential.  Incompleteness.   But today, 40 years since my mum gave birth to me – I share this with you.  The painting I have started begins to describe how I feel my mum’s spirit left her to unite with nature around her.

Over the past few weeks I have felt the love and support of so many.  Those at my side on a daily basis, renewed contact from those afar, and the moving sentiment from strangers.  My virtual blogging friends told me to “just write” whatever comes to mind, whatever you can – so this blog posting, like the painting has been in the making since the end of February.  The delete key has been my friend and my enemy as I have lost many a word in my daily re-edit of this text.  But as with everything – I guess this remains unfinished.

Last week I wrote: “I have been barely able to string a sentence let alone compile a blog posting.   And I seem to be in decline…..”

The week before: “The death of someone close changes everything.  I am (so I’m told), going through some fairly normal processes, which is reassuring but doesn’t make the tears any less real….”

And in the days directly after her death: “…it makes you question who you are, why you do what you do and it lures you into unusual, testing behaviour and thought like some unhinged life coach”.

I find it utterly uncanny that three days before my mother was killed in a car crash I posted about the insight into life that I had gained from a “safe driving” course I had attended.  I know she read it.  I know she wasn’t going too fast.   And I also know that my slowing down and inward look has hastened (if it is possible to speed up decelerating then I’m the one to do it).

I managed to squeeze out a tribute to my mum to be read out at her funeral – but it’s a nasty trick to play on a writer – to ask them to carry out this, the most precious of tasks at a time of utter turmoil.  I have pasted it at the end of this posting for those that knew my mum that have requested sight of these written words and maybe for those that didn’t know her.

So I end with another image (I have a feeling my blog postings may become more visual as time goes on).  My mum was a great artist but I was honoured when her art tutor gave to me two paintings she had barely begun.  They sit on top of my book shelves between two of my paintings of Sri Lanka (where we had many good times together).  In a strange way one of my most treasured of her creations.  The Great Unfinished Work.

The Great Unfinished Work

Tribute

“It’s hard not to feel desperately sad about what has happened.  But today we celebrate Marguerite’s life by remembering some of the good things about her time with us.  And we don’t have to look far.

Marguerite’s mother, Olive, could not isolate a SINGLE memory.  No one moment stood out as being special – because as she said “I ONLY HAVE happy memories”.  We didn’t just GLIMPSE humour, compassion, sensitivity and love with Marguerite – it was ALWAYS there.  A constant.  Everyone is this room will have shared smiles, and been touched by her serenity and generosity – she was there as support to many of us, not just by listening, but with gestures – a card, an email or text, or a thoughtful gift (she always seemed to get that right).  She was a best friend to so many of us (Caroline says she was “far more than simply a mother to me”).

Marguerite left a strong legacy: the creativity that surrounds Dudley every day; Caroline, the daughter she was so proud of (who inherited Marguerite’s artistic gift); and three exceptional grandchildren – Daisy, Billy and Vincent, who think Grandma was the coolest grandma ever (what other grandma could would give a Fatface hoodie for Christmas?)  And of course a legacy of many, many friends who have been inspired by her; anyone who knew Marguerite, knew her as a friend and she had a unique way of making everyone feel special.  But perhaps her greatest legacy is in her art (which in many ways was inherited from her own parents – her father, Bernard, was a master oil painter of landscapes and, in particular, of trees).

Marguerite started her working life as a fashion artist in London in the swinging sixties – and her sense of style never left her.  Her attention to how she looked was never superficial – it was careful, delicate, colourful and harmonious. By the 1970s, she was decorating and designing furniture hand-made by Dudley.  But over the past decade she dedicated her creativity to canvas, and in the paintings she leaves behind we know that every brush stroke (or tooth brush stroke!) was delighted in and enjoyed.  It was the process of painting that she loved as much as the final product.

Her style has been described as “hauntingly beautiful,” a description perhaps that could be attributed to Marguerite herself.  You may have read this most unusual press report of the traffic accident – “There is always a sense of playfulness in her compositions – lines dance, interact and separate across the surface evoking energy and vitality”. She even managed to impress her colour on an otherwise tragic news item.

And Marguerite had a thirst for learning more and perfecting her craft.  She studied History of Art with the Open University and never stopped attending classes in life drawing, felt-making, portraiture, enamelling and painting – exhibiting regularly in galleries in the Bristol area.

She also had a love of the written word – and of sharing the written word – she often arrived to stay with Caroline bearing a bag full of recommended reads.  In her working life she surrounded herself with books – at the Cheltenham Road Library, Bristol University and the legal library at Burgess Salmon.

A few years ago Marguerite moved to Pilton.  If Dudley was her soulmate, then Wenlock Edge was her Soul-place.  With a tranquil place to paint and some inspiring views you might imagine she would settle down to life at a slower pace – but instead she employed energy and vitality like never before; together with Dudley, she threw herself into transforming her home and garden with the gentle loveliness she was so good at.  She continued with art classes, tried yoga at the village hall, explored the area – and even took in the Glastonbury festival, where she could have been found dancing with her hands in the air to the Wombats at the main stage.

If you understand Marguerite’s way of creating you will understand her love of the natural world around her.  And “world” is right – she drew inspiration from her time in Sri Lanka and even the Maldives – as much as she did from experiences in France and Italy and the physical world close to home. This was expressed not just through her paintings, but in how she lived her life.  Her love of animals and nature guided her.  Whether playing on the beach with her brother Tony (and Sherry the dog) on family holidays in Cornwall, or giggling as she climbed up Glastonbury Tor, she was never far from nature.  It wasn’t so much awe as inspiration – drawn from everything that grows, everything that lived around her; her garden was phenomenal.  From a silver birch tree, to the love of a good cat – she had room for us all.

Today we are sad for our loss – but not for her life.  She lived creatively, beautifully and peacefully.  We celebrate what she gave us.”