Sunday, 29 June 2014

Evening treat

Walking quietly down the garden to the Dell to hunt for the cats, the evening sky shading from silver above me to deep rose behind the tree line to the west. I know they will be along soon, if I stand by the broad beans and rhubarb and wait, bats flitting above me hunting moths in the evening air. As I wait, I hear a scuffling and huffling ... the badgers are stirring. If I stand, statue still, perhaps I will be rewarded with a glimpse. A breeze rustles in the trees around me and two black shadows appear, one after the other; those cats can't resist an indifferent human, not obviously luring them in for the night and yes, that scuffling and scritching is surely getting closer. I see, with my ears, that there is something to my left and perhaps to my right as well; scratch scratch, whiffle sniffle, coming up from the Dell. I move just my head and eyes, seeking the source of the sound and there, in the undergrowth, that unmistakably striped face, peering about, nose to the ground, searching tasty morsels for supper time treat. A young one, this year's litter; perhaps Mum is behind. He trots along the grass in next door's garden, almost skipping with evening excitement, clearly visible through the very gappy "hedge", heading for the bird tree near the house, where delicious leavings can be found once the birds are all in bed. I stay still, in case another is following behind, but then here he is, bumbling back. He stops in the gap, facing me, his nose lifting, lifting, lifting to snuff at the air. The breeze must be behind me, he scents me and hops nonchalantly back to the undergrowth, hidden again from view, visible only through sound. My treat is over. And those cats? Ah well, they are in play mood now, so hurry up the garden with me, back to the house, hoping for strokes and fuss, lured in by promise of biscuits and there, captured for the night.
Time for bed chaps!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Stitching progresses

I've not been entirely occupation'less since my post last month, but did get into the dreaful doldrums with my City and Guilds, so have withdrawn from that. I hate giving up on things, but it was all getting too much and my tutor Barbara was very understanding. I have felt a great sense of relief since doing so, which suggests it was the right decision. I've also felt there is more time to work on other things like this.

My feather is developing, as is the breath of God. The phrase comes from Hildegard of Bingen, who was a 12th Century mystic, writer, composer and Benedictine Abbess. Her music is sublime, I fell in love with it many years ago and so wanted to find out more about her. I was very interested by her illuminations to the several writings she produced, on both her visions and the spiritual life in general. When I saw the way the dye had blended and spread on this piece of fabric I was put in mind of a feather, albeit one from a very vivid bird, swirling a cosmic burst of energy, and thought of Hildegard's image. I have been revisiting her illuminations to try and find motifs to use on this, to tie it in visually with her work, whilst still keeping to the spirit of the cloth itself.

She seems to have been a woman of great individuality and strength, in a society where women often found it hard to express themselves. In fact, the religious life was, I suspect, one of the few paths to relative freedom that a woman could take in those days. It released her from the necessity of marriage and provided a space to be herself, albeit within a context that was still primarily under the rule of men

You can read here what inspired this phrase, in which she uses the simile of a feather, floating on the breeze to express her sense of her relationship with God. Whilst I no longer have any faith to speak of I still have a deep respect for that of others, and an inner sense that, perhaps, this physical realm is not quiet all that there is to life; so agnostic rather than atheist, with leanings towards mindfulness as a wise path for living. I try to bring that mindfulness into my stitching, working slowly rather than rushing to finish a piece, so that the imagery and flow of stitching has time to develop..

Leaving City and Guilds has also freed my mind to think more about what I'll do in Christine's class come September. I'm going to stick with Creative Development as that seems to be a context I'm enjoying. I might just take the year to explore shibori in more depth; I keep finding myself thinking about what effect is would have if I did this or that, folded this way, stitched here, clamped there. I do have several books to inspire me!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

A great change

I'm sorry, I have been absent from this blog for more than a month now, partly because I have been so tired coming home from work that there has been no energy to spare for thinking and posting. Also, I have been faced with the unenviable task of finding a care home for my dear little Aunt Cecil. Her carer, who has been a wonderful help to her over the past almost four years, has always said that she will let me know if she feels that Cecil is getting past the point where care at home is sufficient, and she feels now that this is the case. So I have trawled the local care homes, both on line and in person to select somewhere that, I hope, will provide her with company, security and not too much of a sense of being in an institution. I'm trusting that my choice will work for her, so went up last Wednesday to see her and discuss the next steps. She, with her usual pragmatic view, expressed both dismay and anxiety, but says she "must just go with the flow". This has been her philosophy for the past five years, since she was robbed of her short term memory by whatever it was that sent her in this direction. I admire her hugely for such fortitude, as it is quite obvious that she finds the whole thing immensely frustrating, having been an independent lady for all of her working life, which lasted, in some fashion, until 2003 when she was 78. The next few months will be hard for both of us. She will have to adjust to moving, and I will have to work out how to get her here in one piece along with what little furniture there will be room for, then deal with the rest of her house contents. It is very sobering to see a life reduced to what will fit in one room, to know that she will no longer be able to rummage through drawers, finding fragments of her past, or wander round the rooms she las lived in for the past 25 or more years. Each room of the homes that we live in contains something that defines who we are, things we have chosen to keep, for aesthetic or sentimental reasons, or from practical necessity. To be faced with leaving the bulk of that behind is bad enough, but I'm very aware that, with little memory to speak of, she will be placed in a state of permanent confusion initially, and am hoping that she will be able to adjust to her new circumstances. I feel that I am both rescuing her and condemning her, but the sad process of ageing brings such necessary accommodations. Having watched this happen to the three women who have been closest to me, my mother in law first, then Mum, now Cecil, it leaves me sometimes with a genuine dread of what lies ahead. 

On a more cheerful note though, having left Cecil on Friday lunchtime in the kind hands of her carer, I stopped off at Grey's Court on my way home. It was such a lovely day, and I wanted to spend some time there taking photographs for her. She worked there from 1969 until she retired and continued to be involved there until Lady Brunner, the owner, died in 2003. I was delighted to meet the current estate manager, who remembered Cecil being there to help her ease into the job. She had been told by those who worked there that Cecil would be easy to recognise, as she looked just like Mrs Tiggywinkle, an apt description which made me laugh with delight.

 I have a number of memories of visiting her there, both on my own and with Mum and my Grandmother. It is a beautiful property, so if you are ever In the area do take the time to go there. Here are a few pictures to give a taste of its delights.

The front of the house, with its lovely facade of mellow brick and stone, grounded by the green lawn and background trees. No photography is allowed in the house, as the contents still belong to the family, but inside is full of fascinating things; beautiful plastered ceilings; needlework and porcelain; books, furniture, portraits of the family and of Lady Brunner's friends from her days in the theatre. She was the granddaughter of Sir Henry Irving, studied acting in Oxford and London, and appeared on the stage and in a silent film, before marrying Sir Felix Brunner in 1926. The house still has a very domestic feel, having been beautifully restored, but also kept very much as it was the the family lived there.

Above and below are two views of The Keep, which was where Cecil lived when I visited her. The large building in the left foreground houses the donkey wheel which was used to draw water for the house. The turreted part below housed the kitchen in which Cecil made great trays of cakes for the tearooms.

The Cromwellian, below, which sits on the opposite side of the lawn We were allowed to sleep here on one visit;  I was quite I sure that the room I had been allotted was haunted and so refused to sleep there. As I went round the house on this visit I had a feeling that the patchwork quilt I might have slept beneath was on display in the guest room!

The beautiful gardens, which are a delight at any time of year

The rose walk, a paradise of delicious scent

The archbishop's maze, installed in 1980. You can read about its inception here, a rather lovely tale of spirituality translated into form

The wonderful wisteria walk, full of green shadows and gnarled twisty branches, lovely even when there are no flowers, but I would imagine quite sublime when in full bloom

I felt rather wistful wandering about with thoughts of Cecil's long assiciation in the back of my mind. For me, Greys will always be associated with her, and with memories of my visits there, which I treasure as a rare privilege in what was otherwise a very ordinary childhood. Before I left, I treated myself to delicious coffee and cake in the tearooms, in honour of her.

You'll find more information on the National Trust website if you fancy a visit. I'd recommend it.