Tag Archives: death

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.

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


“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.”

Comfort in a picture at a time of great loss

“And in a picture I want to say something comforting.  I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our colouring.

So I am always between two currents of thought, first the material difficulties, turning round and round to make a living; and second the study of colour.  I am always in hope of making a discovery there, to express the love of two lovers by the wedding of two complementary colours, their mingling and their opposition, the mysterious vibration of kindred tones.  To express the thought of a brow by the radiance of a light tone against a sombre background.  To express hope by some star, the eagerness of a soul by a sunset radiance.

And in a picture I want to say something comforting.”

An extract from a letter written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo – read out at the funeral service of Marguerite Clapp on 5 March 2010 by her grand-daughter.

I thoroughly intend to let both artists guide me from this point on.