Category Archives: courage

Dedication

I hope it’s now abundantly clear why there’s been such a dearth of blogs on my site this past year but just in case you missed the announcement I’ve been otherwise engaged. Books don’t write themselves. In my case it’s taken a lifetime to achieve this goal. Although I thought I would write my first novel soon after leaving school life got sort-of busy and soon there was a mortgage to pay, commitments to fulfil and my dream of writing a novel had to be postponed – no rush, I had all the time in the world.

Then we had a year of disasters – life-changing disasters. Taking time out to write a book was no longer an option – no space available for fulfilling ‘unpaid’ ambitions. For many years times were tough and however much I wanted to write ‘that book’ it never resolved into action. Dreams have a habit of remaining ‘on hold’.

One of the first friends I met after moving to Cumbria was a quietly spoken artist called Liz. A master-silversmith and teacher she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art where she was paired her with Bruce Oldfield for her final exhibition. However, instead of proceeding as an artist in the Big City, she returned to her parent’s home in Cumbria because she wanted to nurture creativity in local schools. To that end Liz enlisted anyone she thought could help, including me, because she believed passionately that ‘making’ art was essential for achieving fulfilment in life.

Liz died of ovarian cancer in 2008. I miss her gentle passion, her calm resolve, her softly spoken words which prompted those around her first to try, then to do better. She always expected her students to aim high yet never raised her voice or bullied, her ways were far more subtle and enduring.

There isn’t a dedication in The Blood of Kings. It would take more than one page to list everyone who helped towards writing this novel, but I would like everyone to know my friend Liz was the instigator, if not the spur.  Bless you girl, wherever you’re hiding.

 

 

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under art, aspirations, completion, courage, Crafts, Friendship, fulfilment, hope, Life, Memories, Past

Farewell Stiff Upper Lip

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

On Saturday one of our oldest customers came to our workshop because she needed a ring re-sized. It was commissioned 35 years ago by her husband and she reminded me that when the ring was made Michael and I had just started our jewellery business and were still working from home. ‘It was so cosy’, she said, ‘and my husband loved looking at all the lovely designs before deciding on our commission. He used to look forward to coming to the workshop and watching Michael at work. Although he died many years ago whenever I come to visit he seems to be here with me.’ We both shed a few tears as we slipped down memory lane.

There was a time I wouldn’t have empathised so openly. My parents didn’t approve of sentiment and in order to please them I learned to conceal whatever I felt (good or bad), truly believing that if I didn’t allow my emotions any scope they might diminish or at least become more manageable. However the opposite happened, some emotions hurt more than physical pain, and then I discovered that if I articulated what I felt (on paper and in secret) I could actually cope. So I began to write prolifically. Gushy poems (as teenagers do) alongside many many pages of fast-action stories where my plucky heroine would make the world a better place. Of course nobody ever got to read these outpourings but writing helped abscond the pain.

I’ve always felt I’ve somewhat failed in the maturity stakes. Surely being grown-up means emotion gets easier to contain? My mother rarely attaches sentiment to anything (the only old things she keeps are photographs) whereas I can’t bare to let anything go if I feel an emotional attachment. I still have the tiny leather purse my best-friend Janet gave me on my tenth birthday, just before she emigrated to the USA, and the hand-made elephant Michael gave me on my fifteenth birthday. If our last house hadn’t burned to the ground I’d still have all the gushy poems and story-filled exercise books but perhaps that disaster did me a favour. Very little survived and what I keep in store is doubly valued.

tait024

My Parent’s Wedding Day, Brighton 1953 

At the same time my elderly customer and I were reminiscing a young bride-to-be and her fiancé arrived to collect their wedding rings. All the metals we’d used had been recycled from their own old and broken jewellery and they started to describe the store of precious memories contained in these new-made rings – treasure not of our making. Also could we extend great gran’s string of pearls so the bride could wear them on her wedding day? They already knew the pearls were made of glass but wearing them would bring another memory to the occasion and everyone knows the rhyme – Something old, Something new, Something borrowed, Something blue – only the last sentence is often forgotten, A silver sixpence in my shoe.

Silver and gold have always been valued. Metal is a solid, hold in your hand, reminder of what something is worth. Though not a coinage we use today the very fact a sixpence is made of solid silver makes it immediately desirable. But the value of sentiment is immeasurable. Even now (in their mid-eighties) my parents rarely show emotion and generally appear detached. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand that they don’t mean to be unfeeling but in their eyes sentiment is an act of self-indulgence, they prefer to show what we British like to call a stiff upper lip, but I’m finally bidding good riddance to such total self-restraint because I was born a melt-in-the heart sentimentalist.

impression of shakespeare seal

Shakespeare’s Seal

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Ancestry, aspirations, courage, Culture, Experience, Family, Feeling, fiction, Life, Memories, Roots, society, Tradition

The Artist

It was no more than a garret. Pitched windows cast mute sunlight. Seasons of grime danced with dust. Marooned by forsaken canvases the artist posed at his easel, far too engrossed to acknowledge visitors. Ardent fingers stroked muddy gouache into a sullen landscape. It was his agent’s suggestion they should throw open the studio so patently the little man should take full responsibility for clients.

Pierre, clad in simpering Sunday best, was steering an elegant woman through the shambles, taking particular care her generous skirts didn’t engage with discarded canvases. The silly man never did recognise when a painting was finished and dry.

‘My mother thought herself something of an artist.’ The client had an elegant voice, symptomatic of her class. ‘An unfortunate obsession.’

Pierre was nodding respectfully. ‘Artists! Such passion?’ And keen to illustrate the virtues of his young protégée poised in front of a glowering masterpiece.

The woman’s flamboyant millinery concealed the look on her face but studying the picture closely she enquired. ‘What is the subject?’

‘Notre Dame. It is early morning; mist is rising from the river.’ Pierre had become well-versed in avant-garde techniques.

‘I see nothing but fog.’ Grey dust swirled as their client marched towards the next canvas.

The artist didn’t stir from his easel, being posed in the far corner. Closing his empty eyes he tossed fronds of tousled dark hair from his fore-head, and brooded. Discarded underfoot, like flotsam on a beach, were the charcoal sketches of blurred memories never destined to become art.

‘And what is the theme of this study?’ The relentless woman had manoeuvred behind the artist in progress.

‘The church of Sacre Coeur at dawn…’ Pierre began confidently.

But the lady interrupted. ‘And has the artist ever availed himself of taking the air at dawn?’

‘The artist prides himself on beginning every study en plein air.’ Vigilant in his praise.

‘Yet another study of Paris in fog?’ She waved a gloved hand dismissively.

The artist applied paint with such passion his easel screamed across the floor. He wouldn’t look up, wouldn’t give the client that pleasure.

After an agonizing pause she continued. ‘I find Paris too indulgent of artists with a fascination for fog.’ The pitch of her voice rose to an unremitting crescendo. ‘They must persist in starving until they comprehend how these bland creations fail to inspire.’

Pierre looked forlornly towards his artist. Spine rigid, head otherwise engaged, he laid down his brush and took up a knife.

Derwentwater winter

Good manners being integral to business Pierre remained impeccably polite. He escorted their client downstairs and out into the street. Only then, concerned for his artist, did he run briskly back up to the garret, more than slightly out of breath.

‘Madam was over-critical, please don’t be dispirited.’

Laying down his knife the young man stepped back from the easel, wiping his paint-swabbed hands on a rag while considering his latest creation.

Pierre shook his head sympathetically. ‘Of course we are bound to attract the curious, those whose interest is not entirely aesthetic.’

‘Oh she never intended making a purchase.’ The artist’s attention remained set on peeling paint from each awkward finger.

A sudden perception engrossed the agent. ‘You’ve met the lady before?’

And turning from his ruined masterpiece the artist brandished a smile. ‘That lady was my mother.’

February 2012

Leave a comment

Filed under art, aspirations, courage, endurance, Family, fiction, fulfilment

Convalescing

It’s been a long time coming this year, our summer. We had the heating on last night and there was ground frost carpeting the lawn at dawn on Monday. I know, because I was up.

Three weeks today I got a new right hip. Three weeks of staggered recovery. In fact the days roll along pretty well – busy with writing and reading and projects. But the nights are proving a trial. Until the new joint is settled and strong I must sleep flat on my back, except I never sleep in that position and it takes an age to settle. I toss, I plump the pile of pillows one-by-one, have a sip of water, try sliding my legs gently to the left and then the right – ouch – bad move. Another sip of water, review my medications (what’s left in the arsenal?) take a spoonful of morphine (well it was prescribed for emergencies), try and relax again. Wriggle, slide, wriggle, twist, slide…

I wake before dawn with a full and pounding headache which nothing seems to quell (even morphine). Best get up, have a walk round, but I’m too wobbly to attempt the stairs. Then comes a craving for a cup of tea but I slide back under the covers. Wriggle, slide, twist…

I dream. My husband and I and his brother and his wife are driving a huge silver camper van touring the Australian outback. But we’ve crossed a toll bridge and none of us has the correct currency to pay the attendant. Shoes, bags, clothes are tossed down onto brick-red sand – we’re turfing out all the contents of the van looking for money, any money, and then a policeman comes and says we needn’t worry…it’s a wonderful dream. And then I wake. And reality hits me. My brother-in-law is dead and I’ll never see him again in this world. How can a dream make him so alive, so real?

Queensland travels

Queensland travels

I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few weeks. I’ve learned to suppress every impulse to tidy the house (I’m not permitted to bend or lift anything for 12 weeks minimum) – and so far the place hasn’t disintegrated into chaos. I’ve learned to be more patient with myself, especially when I dropped both walking sticks out of reach and couldn’t move from my chair until my husband came home. Most importantly I’ve learned to say ‘I can’t’ without feeling I’ve failed.

It’s so easy to repeat the same daily patterns of life, to slip into other people’s expectations of who and what I am. But this period of convalescence has given me space to remember what it is to be me.

Queensland after the floods

Queensland after the floods

2 Comments

Filed under Changes, courage, Family, fulfilment

Pain

Pain dissembles every aspect of life, of living.
It eats away at who you are, devours independence yet leaves you isolated, despite every firm resolve not to let it.
Pain is the four letter word I hate most. A source of rage, of indiscriminate actions.
Pain negates life. It culls the heart, smears the spirit, wounds resolve.
Life is lived differently when you endure constant pain. Pain drains hope, it makes you feel hollow, unworthy.
It is ten years since an injury caused my right hip to seize-up. Gradually inflexibility became disability.
But on 29th May I had a new ‘bionic’ hip installed. Today I can stand tall again.
This is the beginning of a new chapter of my life. The act of being ME changes.

Meeting friends I never knew I had.

Meeting friends I never knew I had.

2 Comments

Filed under Changes, courage, endurance, fulfilment, hope