I took this last Tuesday as autumn is quickly taking over.
“You did a good job of that” Marianne said looking at one newly decorated kitchen wall, “we’ve not done much here for years… poor old house”
“Must have been the set, working so big makes you realise how much you can cover in an hour or so”
“Pity the performance has been put off, I was looking forward to it, excuse to buy something new”
“You’ve got your show and of course you must plan for the Inauguration…”, Peter picked up a cake tin and placed it on Marianne’s head, “…a tiara madam” and bowed.
“Oh yes”, she moved her head royally from side to side, “just my size … and the diamonds I think… I’ll outshine Di!” Marianne picked up two bananas and put them next to her ears, “Washington will be ages away, ages”.
“Drink?” Peter was at the fridge taking out a bottle of beer.
“Some of that Australian stuff if it’s still OK. Angela and I opened it the other day”
“Oh God, how is Angela, is she huge yet?”
“Oh dear didn’t you know?” Marianne took a long drink from the glass and poured another, “Well it appears she was never pregnant at all”
“But surely she’d know, she’s had enough…”
“Oh no, nothing like that, no. It was to make Lizzie jealous”
“Lizzie it seems used to have a thing about Tom, didn’t you notice?”
“Lizzie about Tom? But they never…” Peter said.
“Yes they did, Lizzie must have been what fifteen, sixteen when Tom started and she used go to meet Bill at College after school, don’t you remember? She was always in the library, you must do…”
“… well I remember she used to come in after school, but then Bill’s menagerie were always around…”
“Well it appears she got a thing about him, crying at night, all sorts of things.”
“Why pretend to be pregnant? Angela’s bloody mad, I’m sure she is…”
“No, no, no. Don’t you see? She saw it as a way to get Lizzie back home and thinking about someone else, instead of Ryan… “
“Oh God what a mess, was it as bad when Bill was around?”
“Just about, and did Lizzie tell you about Philip?” asked Marianne.
“Philip it appears has been caught breaking into houses…”
“What the devil for?”
“…he’s got into crack or something like that, whatever it’s called”
“I suppose Angela is…” Peter interjected.
“Absolutely furious, she went mad at Philip, they had a huge argument and he’s run off. He hasn’t been in touch with you has he?”
“No, why me? I didn’t know anything about all this, so what’s Angela doing?”
“Well she’s thinking of going to some place in California where you take all your clothes off, shave all your hair…. yes body and head” Peter’s face grimaced “… and you scream at the sea from the top of the cliffs”
“…and I suppose endless sex?” Peter said.
“She didn’t say so, but knowing Angela that’s probably it”
“God, what a mess, what about the rest of the royals?” Peter asked remembing the horror of the week they had all five at the house when things had gone a bit crazy before.
“Don’t worry they’re not coming here… to her mother at the farm, or what’s left of it”
They sat silently turning their glasses with their fingers, staring at the unconnected Aga which had been like that for nine years. It was piled up with washing, some books, a couple of pans Marianne meant to throw out three years ago, and a holdall full of dirty clothes from a Portuguese holiday two years previously that was locked and they’d lost the key to.
“Now I’m back I must sort that out” Peter gestured at the Aga.
“And I must get the lock sorted… what a prat that composer is, getting his files wiped, about three years you said… a couple of nice tops in there”
“That’s what they said? ‘… until there’s a window in the programme…’”
“Seems such a pity… all that work” Marianne said.
“At least I was paid… it was good to do it, such space and size, really makes you think how constricting the canvas is, working up to the edge… we were working with movement and lights, time, depth things that changed colour when shadows fell on them…”
“You still sound excited”
“Frustrated more like.”
“That blue shirt of yours is in there, must stink by now” Marianne pondered.
They were silent. The pause deepened into a space in time when no-one dare speak for fear of breaking the spell.
The phone rang and Peter answered it.
“Hello Mum, you OK?”
Peter’s mother hadn’t heard from him for two weeks and was worried. Peter assured her he was OK and was sorry not to have called. She told him about the sea, the shops closing because no-one was visiting the town and that they’d built that great big supermarket in Colwyn Bay which took all the trade away, how Mrs. Edwards had fallen over in the ambulance and broken her leg, “…and she was only going in to have her ear looked at…”
Marianne tiptoed through the hall, she knew if Pearl heard her she’d want to talk, she carried a newly opened bottle of Shiraz into the living room. As she passed Peter she mimed that she was out and spilt a bit of wine on Peter’s foot. They both tried not to laugh.
“… are you all right Peter? Sounds if your throat’s sore….”
“Oh, I’m OK, you were saying about Mrs Edwards…”
A couple of weeks after his father’s funeral, Pearl received two large cheques from insurance companies and an even larger one from a trust fund. It appeared that Peter’s father had paid every week into insurance schemes, without telling anyone. His mother was shocked at first and sat looking at the cheques saying something must be wrong. Peter had had to ring the companies to check they were correct. His estimation of his father rose and he felt a little ashamed for all he’d said and thought in the past.
When Pearl went through George’s black metal box she found a war time ID card, the original agreement with the borough council for the house, and a letter written in his slow, careful hand writing. It read:
12th May 1972
My dear Pearl,
I haven’t written a letter since North Africa, you do that sort of thing, you know how to put things.
By now you will have received the money from the two policies. I them took out two in case one went bust and they should help tie you over for a while. I didn’t want what happened to Mother after Dad died happen to you, trying to make ends meet killed her.
I don’t want anyone else to know about this, there’s plenty would want what should be a tidy sum.
With best regards, George Marten
Pearl had smiled at the ‘regards’, and knew that in his way he meant well.
A week later she caught a train to Colwyn Bay and took a taxi to Rhos-on-Sea. She inspected a small sandy coloured pebble dash bungalow with two bedrooms and sea blue paint work, a garden with pink roses and less than half a mile from the sea.
She bought it.
When she got home she rang and told Peter, who felt hurt that she hadn’t asked for his advice. She told him that the rest of the money would be invested at the bank and she’d add the interest to her pension.
She read the agreement with the council, gave proper notice of leaving and didn’t tell anyone else. A removal van turned up at her house early one morning and by the time the neighbours were awake she was gone. From then on she spent her days walking along the beach, going to tea dances, and meeting lots of other women her age, alone and eking out an existence each week on what Henry would pay for a good bottle of wine. She became part of the scene and soon no-one could remember when she hadn’t been there.
Peter sometimes went over and did odd jobs. She talked endlessly about her new friends most of which Peter had never met (or wanted to meet), she needed an outlet.
“… and it won’t be long before you come again?”
“Not too long, London’s done with for now, so I’ll try to come later this month”
“Oh that’ll be nice, I’ll look forward to that”
After a few minutes of forward planning the conversation was ended.
Peter slumped into a chair and took a long drink of the deep red wine.
“Why did I do that, now she’ll be planning, damn”
“You haven’t seen Pearl for ages… anyway it’ll be nice to go to the seaside”
“… and you haven’t seen your mother for ages either!”
“Oh yes I have! Three days ago”
“You didn’t say”
“Well with all these things going on, that sale has knocked me a bit, it slipped my mind”
“Slipped your mind! With your brother almost a convict!”
“Oh God, you don’t know about all that do you?”
“There’s not more?”
When she’d arrived Colin was at his solicitors. Her mother took Colin’s side utterly and completely, it appeared that Shirley had been successful in getting restraining orders on him and had told of many years of Colin bullying her at first by shouting, then by hitting her where it wouldn’t show. Whenever things went badly at work, Shirley got the reprisal, he treated her like this until she knew nothing else and began to think it normal. Colin began to meticulously plan different and more obscene ways of humiliating her, breaking her will, Shirley produced drawings and notebooks that Colin had made over a number of years. It came to a head when the Police came to the door to speak to Colin who had been observed kerb crawling and picking up a fourteen year old prostitute in his car.
At this Peter eyes nearly popped out, “Never! Colin?”
Colin denied it, but Shirley didn’t back up his story and when he returned from making a statement he threw her against a door and knocked her out. That was the end for her, later that night she rang a friend, took the kids and went. In the morning after Colin had gone to work she returned, got all the locks changed and barricaded the house. Colin went to stay with his mother.
“Mum said it was a case of wrong identity and that Shirley was as usual over sensitive, she needed a good shake sometimes, she’d often felt like doing it herself… anyway” Marianne continued, “…and that’s not the end of it. Mum had to go and see a psychiatrist, which shook her a bit. Colin it seems has been ordered to have his mental state observed and this psychologist needs to know more about his background. Mum was asked all sorts of things about when he was little, when he went to school, what toys he played with and of course some of this she couldn’t answer!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well I looked after him so much didn’t I?”
“So you’re to blame for this monster!”
“I think that’s what Mum hopes, I’m sure she does, Colin can’t be to blame can he? And now I’ve got to see this woman too, or she’s coming over or something”
“Better not take her to the studio!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, all those dismembered dolls and heaven knows what she’d say to that one with the squashed black dildo and the seed catalogue!”
Marianne threw a cushion at Peter and they both fell into uncontrollable fits of laughter, which they knew was juvenile.
This photograph from January 1979 is from a train, I think travelling between Chicago and Baltimore, but exactly where I am not sure. I’ve always quite liked the way it has interest from bottom to top, maybe even influenced by Andre Kertesz, whose photographs I had seen in Chicago a few days earlier, though without his elegance. It looks like morning and I am looking westward. This is a digital copy of a slide, I tried it in black and white but it didn’t work well. It was taken on my OM1 with 50mm lens, on Ektachrome.
As it is National Poetry Day I am putting a Kathleen Raine poem Exile on my blog, which I read in Victor Gallancz very personal anthology of writings From Darkness to Light. She was a wonderful writer, I think amongst the finest British poets. I do not share her beliefs, but she had the ability to express hers in words which are so spare, where no word is unnecessary.
Then, I had no doubt
That snowdrops, violets, all creatures, I myself
Were lovely, were loved, were love.
Look, they said,
And I had only to look deep into the heart,
Dark, deep into the violet, and there read,
Before I knew any word for flower or love,
The flower, the love, the word.
They never wearied of telling their being; and I
Asked of the rose only more rose, the violet
More violet; untouched by time
No flower withered or flame died,
But poised in its own eternity, until the looker moved
On to another ﬂower, opening its entity.
I see them now across a void
Wider and deeper than time and space.
All that I have come to be
Lies between my heart and the rose,
The flame, the bird, the blade of grass.
The flowers are veiled;
And in a shadow-world, appearances
Pass across a great toile vide
Where the image, flickers, vanishes,
Where nothing is, but only seems.
But still in mind, curious to pursue,
Deep within their inner distances,
Pulled the petals from flowers, the wings from flies,
Hunted the heart with a dissecting-knife;
But the remoter, stranger
Scales iridescent, cells, spindles, chromosomes,
Still merely are:
With hail, snow-crystals, mountains, stars,
Fox in the dusk, lightning, gnats in the evening air
They share the natural mystery,
Proclaim I AM, and remains nameless.
Sometimes from far away
They sign to me;
A violet smiles from the dim verge of darkness,
A raindrop hangs beckoning on the eaves,
And once, in long wet grass,
A young bird looked at me.
Their being is lovely, is love;
And if my love could cross the desert self
That lies between all that I am and all that is,
They would forgive and bless.
Today’s photograph is from 1972 in the Rockies in Alberta, quite opposite really to the poem but an image I must have wanted to capture at the time, the freezing cold water tumbling down from the mountains and tall pines. It was taken on my Zenith on Ektachrome.
I’ve been writing this blog since January and adding photographs regularly (it was supposed to be every day!). Something I have noticed is how many I have taken in the ‘field’ I cross when going to and returning from seeing a friend. The image above is best clicked to enlarge and see the intricate patterns.
It isn’t really a field, just a piece of unused ground which a few years ago was cut in half by a new road. It was next to a marl hole (where they used to dig clay), it is not beautiful but has just been left to grow wild, and that to me is its interest. In the winter I was photographing dead undergrowth, exposed to frost. I spring the bright green of leaves, plants, grasses growing through the dead stuff. In summer the amazing flowers and swathes of swaying grasses.
Now, in autumn, the cycle is coming to an end, plants are losing leaves, the intricate shape of stalks and fronds showing through. The mass of undergrowth is in parts still flourishing, in parts dying, creating a wonderful mix of colour. These photographs from yesterday attempt to recreate some of this, the mass of undergrowth sometimes looks like abstract painting, and strange almost unworldly forms are there as they are in their final throws. What amazing forms these wild flowers (which are ‘weeds’) create when left to live to fruition.
The day was windy and cooler, there were some odd angled light as the sun pushed through clouds. I will make this into two blogs as I took around a hundred shots and was pleased enough with about 15 to put them up.
Chapter 12 of my novel Underpainting set in the early 1990’s. The previous 11 chapters can be found on the link above or in the Categories link on the right. The rest will appear on here over the coming weeks.
“Lorete Krukowska, that’s who you mean!” Henry exclaimed as he finished his coffee, “oh yes, we all know her. Loads of cash swilling about, ruining the markets. Trawling the world to fill this ‘goddam gallery’” he finished in a mocking southern drawl, “hard nosed bitch”.
“She from Virginia?” Peter impishly asked at hearing such a bad accent.
“… somewhere like that, but you know what I mean”
“What’s that you’ve brought for Rachel?”
“Oh, some drawings. We’ve been given box loads by the estate of Raymond Miller, by some greasy little solicitor in Dawlish, thought she may be interested”
“Raymond Miller. That’s a name from the past”
“And now passed on… we used to sell his work, went out of favour years ago, but its good stuff, heaven knows what we’ll do with it all.”
“He used to do some teaching when I was at college, life drawing that sort of thing. I never really came into contact with him. Really old-school”
They sat staring at the set, now almost complete.
“It’s taken you longer than I thought”
“It’s so big, probably too detailed” Peter answered.
“Does Marianne need any assistance with the bless-ed Lorete, she’ll be a hard nut to crack?”
“No, I think she’ll be OK, pretty hard stuff herself is Marianne when she wants to be”
Tom and Rachel came noisily through the doors, laughing.
“Hi, Henry!” Rachel waved a French stick at him.
“I like the look of that” he replied. “I’ve got something to show you”
He took the folder to a table and he and Rachel began to leaf through a series of drawings. Tom joined Peter and sat down.
“You’ve been quiet Tom, anything up?”
“Oh you know. I went home for a few days. Dad kept asking what I’d do after this was over, Mum said I looked thin. They kept insisting that I could go home anytime, you know the sort of thing, I wouldn’t get in their way…”
Peter said he did know, but didn’t really, that sort of relationship had never happened in his family. Tom looked down and fed up.
“Seen any of your old college friends?”
“No, not really. I did some odd jobs for people. Everyone seems to have gone home or are working their arses off paying off debts. This’ll just about clear mine, thanks.”
Peter waved a hand to say ‘don’t worry’.
“Peter, d’you mind if I take the rest of the day off, I’m not really concentrating on things, I don’t want to make a mess”
“Sure, have a good walk round. Why not go to that show at the ICA, it looks good”
“I may” and with that he lumbered out of the room. Peter wondered if Angela had said anything yet, but daren’t ask him, didn’t dare even hint he knew.
“Stunning texture” Rachel was saying as Peter joined them to look at the drawings. “Look Pete, these are wonderful. Henry says he taught you.”
“No… he did some teaching at my college, but I’d given up all this sort of thing. If I remember there was only two or three who did life drawing then, wasn’t the thing to do, maybe I should have. I just splashed paint around.”
He studied the fine drawing technique. Cross hatching, strong line and features, disciplined work. Miller caught the real essence of skin and muscle.
As Rachel was turning a drawings over slowly. Peter put his hand on her arm and took a sheet from her hand.
“Can I take a look at this one?”
Peter walked over to the window with it. It was a highly finished drawing, of a male black model in a boxing pose, seen from behind the right shoulder. The skin was perfectly captured, the muscles shimmering and taut, the hands emphasised but in proportion, however it was the half hidden face that caught Peter’s eye.
Surely not’ he thought, ‘too much of a coincidence’. He turned the drawing over, it was dated 18th March 1956, then in a softer pencil Coombe Bay. He turned it over again, the face was away from the artist, but the structure of the cheek and jaw were clear.
He went back to them.
“Are there any more of this model Henry?”
“Oh loads at the Gallery, as I said boxes full and no-one to leave them to.”
“Can I keep this here?”
Henry looked a bit stern.
“I’ll buy it!”
“OK Peter, come over later and I’ll show you the rest”
“Did he work in London?”
“Miller? Oh yes, through the War then moved away just after”
“Devon, I remember, he used to come up from Devon”
“Yes, that’s where these came from. Paris as well for a few years, late forties I think. He did those portraits, you know, in Southampton or somewhere like that. Boxers, cyclists, there’s that great one of an acrobat standing on one hand.”
“Never been to Southampton Henry”
“I’d like to see some more” Rachel joined in, “he was a good model… look at those tight muscles”.
“Mmm..” Henry said in a not too artistic way
Peter took up the drawing again.
“It’s got to be him… it’s Vic I’m sure it is” he said softly to no-one. “That has to be Vic. Younger, what nineteen, twenty?”
Henry joined him, “Someone you know?”
“Maybe, not sure, I’ll come over and see the rest”
“As I said, there’s loads at the gallery, they’re cluttering a corner of my office”
Peter imagined Henry wouldn’t like dusty boxes in his immaculate office. He felt pleased because sometimes he’d not believed Vic about the artists he talked about meeting.
“Oh, Henry. I forgot. I’ve had some reporter after me, The Independent I think they said. I didn’t reply, I thought you were probably dealing with it.”
“About a week ago, only just remembered, sorry”
“That’s OK, Independent’s not much use for us anyway, I’ll ring him. Buyers tend to get The Times, unless it’s for the supplement of course”
“No, it was definitely a her, I remember now, Eva Wilson”
“Never heard of her. I’ll contact them, see you later! She’s not their usual critic, perhaps they’ve appointed someone new, about time too.”
“Marianne Maddox” Alice said “Lorete Krukowska”, introducing them to each other at the door of Peter’s studio.
“Just Lorete, please” Lorete said in a soft southern American accent. Marianne studied the immaculate clothes and hands, perfectly finished, nails shaped and dark smooth skin. She quickly hid her own, which were permanently ingrained with blue black paint, in her back pockets.
“I’m so pleased you could come” she said, then to herself ‘for God’s sake Mari you sound like the Queen’.
Lorete was considering at the quilt, set up on the wall where Peter usually hung drawings.
“It’s amazing… have you seen this Alice! Hey look at that” she went over and put her hand on a section with a plastic car , “… and this, oh and look at that”. In her excitement her accent thickened. She stood, her legs crossed ballerina-like and two fingers over her mouth,“…and Alice says you’ve got as many you’ve not used?”
“Yes, about two hundred more, I chose fairly randomly, though I have my favourites.”
“I bet you have… I bet you have… Oh look at that one, where did you get that from? And against that… hey that’s not painting, that’s poetry!” There was a deep emphasis on ‘poetry’ and Alice and Marianne stood and nodded their heads.
“You know Marianne, I’ve got the perfect site for this…”, Marianne tried to intervene, “no..no.. let me finish. The new wing. It’s a long series of galleries, with a walk space down the middle, no doors and at the end of it all I’ll put this, so that when you see it first it’ll look like a few coloured shapes, then when you’ve been through each gallery it’ll slowly come to life, the crowning point. That’s it, this is what I’ve been looking for!”
“Please, Marianne it’s perfect. Hey look at that I had one of those when I was a kid… and you’ve got another, I really must take a closer look.”
“I didn’t plan to…”
“And you work here, live in this town?”
“Yes, I teach part time at the local college”
“Teach! Oh you really are the answer to my dreams. My old school, Juliet Farrow Women’s College in Wilmington, North Carolina, you know it?” Marianne shook her head, “No… well they’ve asked me to look for someone to be the artist in residence, you’d have a studio, students would book time with you and they pay senior professor fees. You get to go to all the conferences, you know like that one in Beijing, and have your own show every couple of years. And this, they’d love it, oh yes, what d’you think?”
This was all too much for Marianne. Was this some softening up process she thought. She could see Lorete was as hard as nails whatever coos and fancies she put on.
“Well I’d have to talk it over with my partner”
“Oh, she could come too, there’s a house goes with the job”
“It’s a he actually, this is his studio”
“Oh, well” Lorete said shrugging her shoulders condescendingly.
“But I am interested” Marianne said quickly and firmly, ‘who wouldn’t be’ she thought.
“Marianne” Lorete said firmly, “say the word and I’ll fax them. The Principal is over here soon, to look at Alice’s show, and set some partnership up with an Oxford college, she’ll just love this when she sees it and you can meet her then, talk it over.”
“I’ll make some tea”
“Not for me” Lorete said, “I only drink blueberry extract”
Marianne left the room with the kettle. When she returned it was clear that Alice and Lorete had been deep in discussion.
“Your partner is Peter Marten then?”
“Yes, he’s away doing a set, for a ballet, but it looks like the show won’t even open now, pity really”
“He’s doing well, I suppose you feel a bit intimidated by his success”
“No… no it’d never even crossed my mind that way, we don’t compete” Marianne replied.
“Don’t you? Are you sure?”
“No, we really are a team. I’m pleased he’s got on, he’s worked hard, it’s taken him years”
“It’s taken you years too” Lorete said.
“…he actually prefers my work to his own!”
“That’s often the case. Male artists are all either certain they’re genius’s or certain they’re failures, whichever way their ego is usually larger than their penis”
Marianne poured tea.
“Marianne, I really do want to buy this. I want it for the gallery.”
“But it’s for the show, I want it to tour”
“Of course I wouldn’t dream. It can go on the tour and when it’s over we’ll have it. They’re still building the wing, it won’t be ready for two years”
“I don’t want to seem pushy but we really must get this finalised, I have to be in Gdansk on Friday, family stuff you know the sort of thing, and I won’t be back here until your opening. I’ll have our lawyer draw up the contracts and get them to you, or do you want your agent to deal with it. Alice said that slime ball Henry deals for you.”
“Oh no, I haven’t an agent and I haven’t agreed to sell it either. I really need some time and you don’t know the price… and well I may not want to sell.”
“Oh you British. Right. Let’s get down to numbers. How much is it?”
Alice who had put the catalogue together for the joint show was about to speak, when Marianne almost shouted out the first number that came into her head.
“One hundred and fifty thousand!”
“Pounds I suppose”
“OK, not a bad price, about what I’d planned, we’ll have it”
Alice looked as amazed as Marianne felt. “Bloody hell” she said.
As Lorete was leaving, she turned to Marianne.
“Ah, just one more thing. Some years ago, when she was in London, one of my committee saw some paintings by a Clare Zetzer, do you know her? I think she went to the college here?”
“No, I don’t remember that name, perhaps before I started… I’ll ask Peter when he gets back… Clare, what name was it?”
Marianne sat down and stared at a small paint splattered mirror.
“What on earth is all this about eh?” she said to her reflection. Her mind was reeling, was this what she wanted? Wilmington? Time to work with no money problems. Studio space, her own house, but Peter? Well he’d go if it was him wouldn’t he, she thought. They were a couple, but they were both artists. she buried her head in her arms on the table and wept.
“Bloody Hell Mari” that was the fifth or sixth time Peter had said it. “Bloody Hell Mari” he said for the seventh.
Peter and Marianne were standing in his studio looking at the quilt before it was packed up and sent off to the exhibition. When Marianne had told Peter about the sale they hadn’t said much, they both stared at the quilt not quite taking it in.
The visit of Lorete had left her in a state of mild shock. She felt at last someone really appreciated her work and what’s more valued it, or was this a nice colourful piece for that end wall, just decoration to fit in with the space.
“Anyway she wasn’t that awful. I felt sort of sorry for her, she seemed lonely, looking for something. I liked her, no pretence.”
“Well I’m proud of you Mari. God knows what Henry’ll say, all that commission he’s missed. Ha! Will you be going over for the opening, unveiling or whatever it’s called?”
“Inauguration, Lorete called it. I suppose so”, Marianne hadn’t told Peter yet about the possibility of Juliet Farrow College, she really wasn’t sure herself yet, there was plenty of time. “I’m afraid it’s women only.”
“All the good things are nowadays”, Peter looked closely at one of the panels “Hey! That’s that scarf I gave you at college!”
Marianne looked closely at the panel as well.
“It was the first present I ever gave you” Peter sounded hurt.
“It had a hole in it and was covered in paint. I hadn’t worn it for years.”