It has been far too long since I committed to my blog.
This is not because I haven’t had stories I wished to share, there have been several. The one story that I am sorry I didn’t relate at the time, was easily my happiest day during lockdown. An invitation by Farmer Eck Phillips to feed milk to his orphaned cows and stroke the ears of the donkey that freely wandered the farm. The experience was unexpected, surreal, and innocent.
The first reason for my reflective absence was work. It has been exhausting. I have laboured far beyond my 9-5 remit this academic year to make the remote learning experience as straightforward and inspiring as I could. It has been a tougher year for my students though.
The second reason?
For the last several months I have been struggling with my sense of ‘self’. I have lived in Scotland for most of my life, but I am not Scottish. I was born in England, and yet I am not English either. I am adrift, searching for a new means in which to define who I am and where I fit in. This, I am sad to say, is the juncture I find myself at.
My search for a resolution has begun with the renovation of a garage which will soon be my new studio. To date I have patch plastered the walls to consolidate them. On Thursday last the electrician installed plugs and a strip light. My next task is to source a workbench.
And so, a new ‘pilgrimage’ begins…
I am dog tired and desperate for sleep but my mind and heart are racing. This is the reason I am now ascending the hill next to the cottage at 3.30am, the waxing moon politely lighting my way. There is a biting chill and I am glad my face is protected by my scarf, I hate extremes of either hot or cold. The sky is clear, it is the best night sky I have seen for a while. I look upwards, spinning around to survey the stars, straying off course and into the verge. There is a stillness that calms me.
On my journey I am lucky enough to see two shooting stars. I make my secret wishes, one for me and one for a friend. I feel guilty that I didn't use my wish to save the planet.
I was hoping that the essence of my friend would stop by and say goodbye before she departed this mortal coil. Perhaps she did? Kissed me gently so as not to disturb my slumber.
And so it is, my friend is with us no longer.
Who was she? She was a strongly independent and brave woman. A global traveller and explorer. A lifelong student. She was kind, did not judge me, was lots of fun and the right kind of naughty. But most of all she was an inspiration and I loved her very much.
Caroline Hampton Robertson, 15/08/1938 - 15/12/2020
An emotional and demonstrative soul. I believe that I have always embraced what life has proffered, headfirst and passionately without considering the consequences. Sometimes this manoeuvre prevails, sometimes I crash. Either way my life experiences have enriched and formed me into the person I am today.
At the beginning of the year my life changed dramatically when I moved to the countryside and in the springtime I found myself the passenger of the tractor that sew the barley field opposite my new home. I remember being surprised that the seed was red in colour, encased in a coating to protect it before germination. As the barley was mechanically placed into the earth the perfume evicted from the transposed warm blanket of fertile soil was sensual...erotic.
In the months thereafter I observed with wonder a slow/fast time lapse as the ground transmuted brown to green then golden.
Harvest time is now upon us and for the last few mornings I have observed that the air now hangs heavier, and as I breathe in deeply I can taste the fields that have already been harvested. The distillation reminding me that the closing of the summer is near.
No longer do the days need to be titled, for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday hold no meaning for me now. Time has sloweeeeeed.............waaaaaarped............meeeeerged. I feel like I have been transported back in time into a Thomas Hardy novel. That Tess of the d'Urbervilles may be working in a field by me.
As the lock down continues my daily walks have evolved. To begin with I propelled myself belligerently, a reflex response to the enforced confinement. Today my outings are gentler, meditative, introspective. Time has slowed and I with it. Less has become more as I have begun to notice signs and make sightings of the animals I share this landscape with.
This week 8 years ago I was in Paris on an art study trip jointly leading a group of students around the capital. I have visited Paris a number of times with each trip the city generously surrendering a new experience. The first time I went to Paris I was an art student and I remember vividly being overwhelmed by the Degas pastels in a darkened room at the Musée d'Orsay - so much so that I was moved to tears. This visit my discovery was how much closer the places I wanted to see were to each other and instead of taking the Metro I walked with my companion, stopping in between destinations for a coffee or beer so that we may voyeuristically watch Parisian life as it flowed by.
Not long after this trip I was to learn how important walking was to me. How it is more than just a means of getting from one place to another... The whole world understands this now too as we collectively face the pandemic that is Coronavirus and we are ordered by our governments not to leave our homes excepting for basic necessities.
Thankfully, a couple of weeks before the government lock down I had moved to the countryside. From my present location you could be forgiven for thinking that all was well in the world. A perspective that is shattered as soon as a TV is switched on.
From the outset, most days we have gone for a walk to explore our locale. In a newly planted field just up from me I made a discovery. Half way up the field I glanced down and noticed a fragment of pottery - intrigued I picked it up. I was surprised to find it as there are no houses nearby. Continuing to the end of the field I found numerous pieces. I'm afraid I think I have stumbled across what could become a new obsession.
Now that the lock down has been enforced, the daily permitted walk has become a vital part of our routine. It keeps us physically and mentally well, it unites us as a family and it
reminds us more importantly of freedoms we all once took for granted,
April photo diary
After my nanna's funeral my mother and her sisters set to the task of sorting and clearing their childhood home of her personal effects. The task weighed heavy on their hearts as they dredged through the mementos, each sibling recollecting different details from their collective past.
How many of us believe that we know our loved ones completely? I would not have guessed that my nanna had secrets. Nonetheless, even she had a couple of big ones. The first was revealed on her death certificate, she was five years older than she had declared to all. It had embarrassed her that she was older than my granddad. The second secret lay hidden in a suitcase in the loft. A letter and a photograph from her first fiance Gerald who had been killed during WWII.
Relating to a close friend the story of my nanna's box of keepsakes she disclosed that she had a box of love letters that she could not part with. Another friend a similar story. Then this weekend I found myself somberly searching for the grave of a young woman whose memory had also been kept alive in a box concealed in the attic. The morning was bitter cold and emphatically in keeping with proceedings.
Which got me to thinking, how many of us have a secret past lover for whom we have mementos that we cannot throw away? Do we innocently omit from our consciousness that our hidden boxes may inadvertently cause pain to others in there discovery? Or do we instead consciously stubbornly refuse to let go at whatever cost? I afraid I think it’s the latter.
This morning at sunrise I buried my cat Castro. She has been part of my life for 19 years. Although I knew her time to pass was nearing it was still difficult to say goodbye.
It's curious how a burial highlights your personal mortality and that of those you love. It is at these junctures that you hold what is dear to you a little closer and tighter.
At a later date I will mark her grave with a plant, Her body giving sustenance back to the earth seems right and good especially now in these times of environmental climate change. I will also endeavour to make sure that I continue to appreciate and spend time with the people who are important to me. Cliché I know, but death is a reminder to forgive mistakes (for we all make them) and to not waste time. To recognise that...
“We are often more tender to the dead than to the living, though it is the living who need our tenderness most.”
-Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey.
It has been too long a time since I have been out with my camera exploring. So, an invitation from my friend Mark Chalmers to investigate and take photographs of the Glenfarg Railway Tunnels was accepted enthusiastically.
The walk into an explore is as important as the explore itself for me, so I am very grateful to have companions that I can meander slowly with. Friends who are not fixated on collecting geographic trophies, they insist instead on a richer experience.
As we walked, we chatted, the landscape repairing us both. It was a mild morning and I was seduced by the aroma and taste of autumn. When trees begin to lose their leaves, they reveal landscapes and buildings that only keen explorers will discover in summertime. If you were unaware of the Tunnels then you may miss the clues of their existence along the abandoned track that leads to them, now overgrown with vegetation and trees.
There are two tunnels, each around 500 meters long. They are sound in condition but very dark. Mark had advised me to take a torch and a flashgun so that we may take long exposures and create light paintings.
I am afraid to say that I came inadequately prepared for our shoot. I forgot my flashgun and the torch I took was not bright enough. As a result, I didn’t get many good photographs. A lesson from Mark on how to use a flashgun to make exposures in an underground setting was the order of the day. With his DSLR set on BULB, Mark emitted the light from his handheld flashgun several times, taking care not to be in the shot himself. Multiple exposure were made to ensure he got the results he desired. When I got home, I consolidated my new knowledge with some internet research.
In just over a weeks time I will be back at work preparing for the new intake of students. The summer has flown in and I haven't managed to do a quarter of what I wanted. Creatively I have only managed to take photographs on one occasion at the Collodion Workshop I attended in June. My time has been dominated by parental duties - looking after my daughter as she recovers from surgery.
Today, for the first time in weeks, I felt confident to leave my teenage charge and fulfil a commitment to visit my friend the composer David Ward. David lives a couple of hours drive away from me in rural Aberdeenshire.
Finding my way to his countryside idyll would have consumed me with terror before I had a smartphone with Sat Nav. It is fair to say that technology has made my world larger and widened my skill set. Whether it be an App that can navigate me around the globe or a website that allows me to view video tutorials from practitioners of infinite specialism. Indeed even my own website has enriched me, through the cultivation of new friendships and rekindling misplaced ones.
The journey northwards was leisurely and affecting. I wondered whether I would be able to distinguish the difference between the Aberdeen, Angus or Fife countryside if abducted, blindfolded and dropped off in a country lane. I am sure there would be clues.....the colour of the soil, the construct of a farm dyke, the style and materials in which a cottage had been built, the ripeness of the crops.
I arrived late morning at Davids humble abode, a two storey cottage hidden down an unassuming single track lane. The worn signage protecting its identity.
It has been a while since we last met but there where no awkward silences. We chatted about what was going on in each of our lives and the creative projects preoccupying us. At the moment David is half way through a collaborative project writing a commissioned chamber opera on the theme of Brexit. After lunch I was treated to a private preview of what David had written so far, a synthetic computer synthesis replacing the orchestra and singers. To accompany, David turned the pages of sheet music and conducted so that I may understand where the lyrics fitted. I was moved by his kindness and sharing.
The drive homewards was equally leisurely and affecting.