Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Kerbiriou may be located among the Islands of the Blessed.

For nectar and ambrosia, there was Paul's cider, light and sweet, made the traditional way, layered and pressed with fresh straw, and for breakfast, as we looked down to the sea, the pure apple juice, and a jelly made from it with the consistency and taste of honey.  And Yvette gave us piles of home-made warm crêpes, as well as good bread, and soft, fresh creamy cheese she made with the milk from the goats in the paddock we could see from the breakfast room.  A kid had been born the day before we arrived, it nestled in the bank, a scrap of black silk, small and point-eared as a cat.  Then there was very yellow butter made on the farm, and raw milk in big white jugs, warmed for breakfast coffee, and some cold in a smaller jug to take to the fridge in our room for tea when we wanted.  I skimmed the cream off it each time and ate it with a spoon.

We were sometimes joined for breakfast by an attendant spirit.

There were hedges foaming with blackthorn blossom, alive with insects, which promised a wealth of sloes for the autumn,

and there was blue.

Blue boats on blue water,

blue borage,

and blue bluebells, with violets, in the fields.

There was that perfume of wallflowers, in gardens and on the face of cliffs, which marries so oddly well with the pungency of seaweed and iodine of the seashore.

And there was this,

and this,

and this.

So that it was necessary to do this.

I have been so blessed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fire and Rain

What to say about my sister? Much, too much, but so much of it radiating from the central fact that she was one of the most intensely, ceaselessly, effortlessly creative people I have ever known.

She was always making things, from the time of my earliest memory.

To recall and describe all the different things she turned her hands to - always done with beauty and flair and originality, and always to completion, not for her the over-reached, unfinished fragments in cupboards and attics - in the vivid, associative detail in which it has been returning to since last week, would fill a year's worth of posts here: paints and pens and pencils ('sit down, I need to draw you...') , scraperboard and ink, Conte pencils and oil pastels, charcoal and cowgum and drymount; books of fonts - she was a graphic designer for much of her working life and had a good degree in typography with history of art - a film SLR with which she took lovely portraits, for people were another thing she was good at; stained glass - there is a school chapel somewhere in Leicestershire which has a set of windows she made; pictures and the forms of letters; things knitted and patched and woven and stitched; a sweater in finest four-ply covered with rows of tiny, exquisite three dimensional bunches of purple grapes and dark red cherry bobs; remnants of fabric from drawers and boxes turned into original clothes - in New Zealand she had the leading costume hire shop on the bustling main town of their area (Kiwis like to party and they like to dress up), some stock came with the business, some accessories she ordered, but much of it she made herself. As well as the shop she also provided costumes for the various plays and drama projects she and my brother-in-law, a drama teacher, were involved in producing all over the country; sometimes she put one on herself and became a mean Macbeth witch or an impressive Lady Capulet, since whe was no slouch at that either.

She liked to be out there, and she liked to be doing. Sometimes in her adolescence, my childhood, constraint goaded and frustrated her; she could be stormy and distant, though never unkind. She was not necessarily motherly or even always a confidant to me, but she was a fine, fine friend. She handed me down art materials,curiosities, clothes and records, she took me to places and showed me things. She taught me to draw, the rules of perspective ( I wasn't quite cognitively ready, I did the house smaller than the person, but put them both on the horizon...) and the conventions of the human face ('your people will have noses like pigs if you draw them like that, I know that's how you see them, but...'), and to sew - I remember pushing the painfully threaded needle in and out of the scraps of slightly glazed green and yellow 1960s print, and, 'look, the two pieces are joined together!' Such creativity as I have was, in its early stages and after, largely fostered by her.

She blazed with creative energy; time and again as we have been speaking of her this past couple of weeks the word 'bright' has come to us. And she was fearless, or so it seemed to me. No doubt she wasn't always - who is? - but fear never stopped her. Though we have always been different characters, in my later life, if I needed to become brisk, competent, extrovert, I found myself using her internalised voice and manner, which pleased and surprised me.

I have been thinking about making this video for a week or so. Since the day after the morning when I put down my tea and ran downstairs to catch the ringing 'phone, and clattered up them again a few minutes later, giddy with grief and disbelief. The song came into my head then and it has stayed there as a recurring theme throughout. When I was sixteen, after my 'O' levels, my sister and brother-in-law (who called me on last Monday morning), married just a year, took off to Italy for a while, to soak up art and history, and savour a period of freedom before taking on new home and career responsibilities. They left me a tiny stereo and their combined record collection. As well as the Beatles records I'd persistently tried to beg, steal or borrow for years were a number of Bob Dylan albums (bliss), and many more things many of which I have forgotten or perhaps didn't take a lot of notice of, and also some James Taylor. I gather he's a bit looked down on now as MoR, or whatever, I don't know, music is an area where I've often been happy to be led by others anyway. But, despite the naming of the 'you' in the first lines, and other references to his own personal circumstances, and a million cover versions later, 'Fire and Rain' remains for me the song of heartbreaking, unexpected, untimely loss of someone dear at a distance, and that remorseful, remorseless lament that cannot be put away: that I thought, assumed, mistakenly, that we had more time.

Yet to me it seems more than that. It carries also the sense that time, the creative flame, love, cannot be taken for granted, must not be wasted. That to be fixed on one's own failure and disappointments, the things that fell to earth or never got off the ground, is wrong, a squandering of potential, that dishonours the ones we have loved and who have loved and cared for us. And that in the dark times, when we feel all done-in and cry out in despair, grief can be the crack that lets the light in, that out of darkness and pain can come a renewed force of generative energy. Not a bland and anodyne happiness, not getting over it or getting back to normal, but a knowledge of blessing at what has been given.

The video is one small attempt at a memorial, but it won't be the only one. I shall always miss my sister. At so many turns of the memory she is there. Her loss is the first that has really hit me like this, with such a weight of shock and outrage, so close to home. It hurts terribly to think that her husband and children must go on without her warm, bright, steady physical presence in their lives. Of all the beautiful things she made, her three children were the most beautiful of all.

But she has left me with a heap of treasure, and I am beholden to use it. I shall write and speak, and make more things about her, but even when I don't do so directly, each time I step up and claim my own creativity, each time I see and act on the possibility of colour and form and texture, the vivid or the subtle image, each time I succeed in seeing the human clothed in something wondrous or funny or transforming, each time I face down my doubts and demons, fears and apathy, or I see someone else shining out brightly, or doing something with excellence, and aspire to emulate them rather than simply falling back discouraged and bitter, each time I stop agonising and just do, I'll be living her legacy. I'll think of her and I'll thank her. It'll be a work in progress, always, and it won't always be easy, but it will be my way of remembering. She deserves nothing less.

I downloaded the Windows Movie Maker to make this, for which tip I must thank Zephyr, I wanted to do a better job than the scratchy jumpy Picasa things I've done before. And I'm using Vimeo instead of Youtube because they are an altogether nicer outfit.  As well as the older scans - in the early black and whites, the first baby and toddler are me, the curly chap is my youngest brother, between Alison and myself in age, the other youngsters are her children - I have used some pictures from our trip to New Zealand three years ago, and a couple that my niece - my brother Chris's girl - sent of a trip that their family and my other sister Helen took to meet up with Alison, her husband and son in Santiago in northern Spain last year. Sadly, I seem to have few photos of her and her husband together, except for the daft one of them dressed as a Christmas cracker and Santa's elf, which I include in the necessity of wholeness .

Thanks to everyone for the kind words and comments, thoughts, prayers, e-mails, marks of respect, expressions of fellow-feeling and concern, 'phone calls, walks on the beach etc.  Not everyone chooses to air private grief in what is essentially a public place, I know, but I think we know each other well enough now, and I value the friendship that I find here.

We're going away for a couple of days now, to the Bay of Morlaix, whose wide blue tranquillity I have held in my mind's eye since we drove around it on the way back from Finistere a couple of years ago. It's a spur-of-the-moment trip; I felt the need of a hiatus before going back to work next week, and within a short time of searching an inexpensive dog-friendly B&B with a sea view and vacancies presented itself. I have a strong wish to be by the sea at the moment.

Bye for now, and thanks again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Time out

I learned this morning that my beautiful and beloved sister Alison Turner died suddenly today, at the age of 57, in New Zealand, where she lived.

I can't really do this in words just now.  Using the past tense is more than I can cope with.  So I'll be away for a bit.  Thanks.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The last couple of pictures from le Légué a few weeks ago...

... and once more pondering on photographing people.  Though there were many people quite interestingly moving around and occupied with doing things on their boats, especially those out of water, I was still shy about photographing them.

The answer would be just to do it anyway, take a lot of pictures, scattergun fashion, out of which would surely emerge a few serendipitously good ones.  I don't think many people would really mind being photographed from an distance when out in public, not wishing to invade people's privacy is a bit of an excuse for my own self-consciousness, perhaps, and for closer portraits, one can always ask.  The more powerful zoom also means I can keep my distance so they need barely know I'm there.  Something nags me that all the witty abstracts and pretty bits of nature in the world are worth little if I can't approach looking creatively at my fellow humans as part of the variety and beauty and essence of the world, though that doesn't come easily to me. 

One possibility may well be to concentrate on people who are clearly involved with something else.  Some people, it's true, have a knack for beautiful portraits which focus directly and entirely on capturing the person, but often people are most interesting when they're connected to some aspect of the world, embedded in a context, which enables the viewer to engage with them too.  Anil has been doing a couple of posts - here and here - of people reading books on the local network trains in Mumbai.  It's such a wonderful idea, I can't imagine why no one's thought of it before.  As well as the lively impression of the environment of the trains themselves, and the grace, in repose and absorption, that the act of reading bestows on the faces in the crowded, often uncomfortable trains, it gives an authentic slice of life, reflecting the concerns and fantasies of the men in their choice of books. Sometimes they are clearly aware of being photographed, sometimes he strikes up conversations with them about their reading, but not usually.  In turn the books spark memories, associations references and reflections on the part of Anil himself, then again for his readers who comment.  A truly dynamic exercise perfect for the medium of blogging, which it would be great to see more people doing around the world.  Sadly, I travel little by public transport, which this makes me rather regret.

I often find it's a lot easier to record people in an open and relaxed way if they have animals with them, as I've observed before.  They still sometimes mug and pose a bit if they catch you doing it, but the pretext that you are photgraphing the animal and not them tends to take the pressure off.

So, there was the boating bearded collie, and his owner, who, in his sailor-striped sweater, seemed rather inclined to pose even when not aware of having his picture taken.  Though actually, if you watch people when they are standing at ease, it's amusing how often they do strike that slightly camp attitude of semi-akimbo, with their hand, palm outward, at their waist or in the small of their back, a little like David Suchet as Hercule Poirot!  Or perhaps he had a slight stitch from bending and doing boaty things...

But despite determining to include the man with the dog and the boat, I couldn't help feeling that the dog alone was the nobler creature, who made a better picture.

The photo below, however,  I was pleased with, though the background is busy and distracting.  That's another problem with photographing people spontaneously, that there is less control of those things; I can't consider and manipulate angles, backgrounds and other elements of composition as easily.

A young Moslem family, taking an afternoon out, hung about with the clobber of bags and bottles attendant on babyhood everywhere (presumably), had stopped to perch for a snack and been joined by a cat.  The cat was not ingratiating but companionable, sitting back to back with them.  The parents didn't see me at all, as they were just on the point of gathering themselves to move on, but the cat and the baby, less preoccupied and more observant, look straight at the camera.  As they made to leave, the young man turned and stroked and said goodbye to the cat in a most gentle and courteous way.

Not for nothing the old showbiz adage 'never work with children and animals'.  They are, inevitably, more attractive to eye and sympathy than adult humans.  As such, they shift the focus of attention, but in terms of photographic capture, this may not be a bad thing.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

After the haircut...

... as I mentioned, we went to the watermill.  To gaze and gaze on the daffodils.

'Ten thousand saw I at a glance', yes really.  But the camera simply can't capture their starriness en masse, the way the light shines out of them in the still leafless wood.

And the birds were to sound what the flowers were to light.  I am always frustrated when it comes to telling blackcaps from whitethroats by their song, then this chap obligingly showed himself to be a blackcap:

The zoom on this camera is more powerful than the last, but not really powerful enough to take really virtuoso wildlife shots, and the camera itself is less speedy also, I think.  So most bird photos are really for identification only.  The bird below, whose call was unfamiliar, but who became visible when I stood still for a time, as it fed on the seeds from the larch cones, was not identifiable at all beyond that it was some kind of tit.  The photo showed it to be either a willow or a marsh tit, but no chance of telling the difference by its looks, and my knowledge of their voices, which are apparently very different, was not adequate. 


However, my lovely new Collins Bird Guide, whose information on distribution is far more up-to-date than the Field Guide I've had for years, confirmed that here we are outside the usual range of the willow, so marsh it must be.

On the ground, a fluttering shape crossed my path, which had a differnent quality to it from a dead leaf.  Looking twice, it was this mouse.

One shouldn't really see mice out in the wild like this, they should be more careful, and hide, and not keep still long enough to be photographed.  But this one seemed dozy, not quite right in itself.  Perhaps it was ill, or I thought perhaps coming out of hibernation.  It was very small and silvery coloured, and, looking at the photo, there seems to be a slight dark stripe down its back.  There is a species of woodland mouse called the birch mouse, which fits this description, occurs in this part of Europe, and which enters into a very long and deep hibernation, emerging relatively late in spring, so perhaps this is what this one was.

(Post script: further searching tells me that birch mice don't get this far west, and are much more blodly striped anyway, so this must be simply a wood or harvest mouse...)

The wood anemones and celandine were not to be overlooked, as I would have done this wood sorrel, below, taking it for another anemone if I hadn't noticed the bright lime-green trefoil leaf.  Its flowers are delicately veined with purple, when you look closely.  Which you always should.

Withal, a lovely walk, and Mol concurred that it was well worth getting your haircut for.  She tells me the smells weren't bad either.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Molly goes to the poodle parlour

This is Mol last week.  Her paws had started looking like one of those fancy chickens with feathers that grow over its feet.

This is what she looks like now.

She is the dog for me; her combination of melancholy and merriment is spot-on.  In photos however, especially after a haircut, she usually just looks melancholy. 

She, and the young woman groomer, were marvellous.  No muzzle, no trembling, little restraint.  I was astonished that she allowed her to run the clippers all over her face and whiskers without a snap or a  murmur, and even to scissor round her eyes and eyebrows, so now we can look straight into her open face, which is lovely.  Then the girl just perched on the table chatting and passed the clippers all over her back and sides as if she were just stroking her.  The only complaint was when it came to trimming her front paws, which are always a no-go area.  The groomer shrugged and said simply 'Elle est comédienne' - a drama queen.  But she persevered and got the clippers and scissors right between her toes and pads (coussinets!) to get out the knots and other winter dirt and debris.  Now I'm sure she's running more smoothly and comfortably for having unencumbered feet and legs.  We had a wonderful walk at the watermill to reward and celebrate.

I can't believe I spent so long battling to keep her coat under control myself, when there's a professional who can do it so painlessly.  I know it looks a bit severe, and shearing them like sheep isn't what you're supposed to do with cockers, but it's clean and cool and comfortable.  And for half an hour's work, in a spotless premises with two other girls working with her, she charges the princely sum of 15 euros, though I always give her 20 and she puts the extra 5 in a tips pot on the counter 'for the girls'.  How she makes any money I don't know.  Though the preciously coiffed bichon frisés, poodles, shih tzus, yorkies and the like, all going in for shampoos, sets and blow-dries, who look serenely down their retroussé little noses at my agitated ragamuffin, probably bring in a bit more cash.

But it's a tiring business, all the same.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


From the arboretum, the other day, windy and bright, where Mol and I went. Magnolia, pussy willow, quince japonica.

Today, always one of the best in the year: boiled eggs with faces on and bread and butter for breakfast; marzipan eggs and the smallest Lindt chocolate bunnies (always milk, never dark, we are willfully unsophisticated about chocolate), in a dish with a creamy pale daffodil and a maroon-purple hellebore; listening to The Messiah; ordering cards from Moo; a chicken and mozzarella and sun-dried tomato toastie for lunch; reading; watching the greenfinches squabble over sunflower seeds; dreaming.

A mild, breezy day, sunny patches and blackbirds singing.  Time for tea and a walk.

Happy Easter, whatever it means to you.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The sad story of the Queen of the May.

Not all boat tales are happy ones.  Also at le Légué, I was taken by this little clinker-built wooden boat, with her English name - the 'Queen of the May' - out of Lympstone in Devon, a pretty village on the Exe estuary which I've probably been to. 

However, I wondered why she looked rather dishevelled and neglected, and the licence disc in her cabin was last renewed in 2007.

Her varnished decks were peeling, and her winding gear looked as if it could do with some maintenance,

her brass portholes were verdigrised,

though her carefully stitched sails looked well-ordered and still sound.

As I've found before, an unusual boat can often be easily researched on the internet. I found from the on-line newsletter (that's a PDF file, btw, so a bit slow) of the Lympstone sailing club that the Queen of the May was built,owned and sailed by one of their long time members, a well-known and liked man by all accounts, but then he and his wife, and the boat, moved to Brittany, though they all travelled back and forth regularly, as we are fairly much on a straight line down from that part of Devon.  Sadly, he died in 2007, and it seems that the Queen of the May goes to sea no longer.  I couldn't find out anything much more.

It doesn't look as if it would take much to get her seaworthy again though...