Sunday, 29 September 2013

The grapes of moth and the anatomy of a landscape

Dear Monty,

In my mouldy 'greenhouse' the grapes fall and ferment. The smell of yeasts is delicious. Moths fly about and the wasps get drunk on the must.

We have just returned from Hay-on-Wye, the half way meeting point to see our daughter and granddaughter. Sophie Elizabeth was glad to see her grumpy grandpa.
I love warm autumn days. Hay has a middle class charm  though I am working class to my boots, so I'm not sure why I feel so comfortable there. We had a lovely lunch at and then mootled around the bookshops. I picked up a book on impressionism for 50p.

Still light at 6pm I sit and reflect upon the day in my own backyard. Marigolds flower with the black eyed Susan forming a larger clump this year.

This garden beneath the coal tip is trying hard to return to woodland. I find sycamore, birch, alder, willow, oak, hazel, ash and buckthorn trying to gain a foothold in this tiny garden. If left to its own devices the whole hillside would regenerate and drown out the houses and gardens. One farmer has allowed this to happen higher up on the slopes above us, helped by additional plantings of native oak, the understory kept clear by pigs.

On Tuesday, I sat at the head of the valley looking back upon this hill sitting like an island rising out of the sunlit mist. This landscape shaped and altered by ice and industry now green again. It has a beauty of its own, largely undervalued.
Trying to understand the anatomy of landscape is what drives me to draw and paint it. To see and feel its curves and colours, to guide the eye and heart on a walk through it, this is what I try to achieve through painting, carving and scratching into plaster.

I made some preliminary sketches and notes and I am very lucky to have been shown an ideal viewpoint by Eleanor Flaherty, local mountain guide, artist and filmmaker.

So as a thank you I wrote this :

Your bones sat upon the turf
Blue eyes pierced the horizon
Drank in the watery sun
And spread out the hills like a blanket

The serpentine wall curved through the contours
This view from Penwyllt resonates with history
Many peoples pasts layered like the exposed rock
Some buried beneath our feet
Some visible in the quarry houses
Some spoken of from living memory.

Ancient seas are lifted above our heads
We see lime kilns, sink holes and peat bogs
And lower down towards the u-shaped valley
Under my own hill just visible
Coal and my cloistered garden.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Masks and the evolution of man

Dear Monty,

2 'poems' for you.


Full moon orb'd silver
Through trees
Glowed in his cheek

Eyes reflected back the garden
The universe spun
Around his head
His hat
His hair

With one dark eye
He drank tea
At the lamp lit table

No potato eaters here
Only crows feathers
For her mask

His mask begun to crack at the door
As the street lights sparked
In the night air.


The evolution of man  ( when do we get a backbone ?)

What strange creatures we are
Calling women sluts
And raping children

We slithered as fish from the teeming waters
The earth was without form and void
Until we ruled over all creatures
Even ourselves

We tamed wolves
And made suns to melt flesh
We poisoned our food
And multiplied over the face of the earth

Our greatest creations were money and democracy
The rich consuming the poor

What heights men fly at
Higher than the feathered dinosaurs.


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Mystic tendencies


I realise that had I been alive in the grim days of the witch-hunts, my 'mystic' tendencies may have got me into deep water (literally).

The spiritual aspects of life defy our incessant wish to scientifically categorise and rationalise every experience.

Demonising and witch-hunts continue to this day.

The things that make me feel alive are not 'evidenced based '.

Today I felt alive by changing the colour of a picture frame. I knew it wasn't right, it was a gut thing, a response to the autumn light in the thinking room.

What makes me feel alive is the garden slipping into Autumn. It has tipped past primping. The large conifer is soon to be cut down, and I have some anxiety about the hole it will make in this small garden, but at the same time I know it will regrow and become cloistered again.

Although most people know me as a nurse, I am an artist - that is what I am. I wear the uniform and struggle to do my best, but it is not the real me. All I want to do is draw the mountains. They call me to sketch and etch them into my memory. Then I can carve them into plaster, scratch and hatch and run pigment into the cuts... It makes me feel part of this living landscape.

It may upset some to know that I forget about their health problems, but I simply cannot carry the memory of them all.
God carries everything - the anger the disappointment the hatred and outrage the murder and the greed. Perhaps you think that God is the cause of it, after all that seems to be the zeitgeist. In a sense that is the right interpretation.

We are fragile

I am fragile

It is a beautiful fragility.


Saturday, 7 September 2013


Dear Monty,

I am sitting in my coal tip cloister in the warm morning sun, like an old man sitting in a French, Italian or Spanish square simply absorbing the light the sights and the sounds whilst sipping coffee.

This morning on my walk with dog I realised that many of the wild plants flowering now are just as colourful and intense as some of our introduced weeds from other countries. There was a plant with particularly lovely lemon yellow spikes of small daisy-like flowers yet to be identified which I intend to collect seeds from and grow in the garden bringing colour at this late end of the floriferous season.

Connections with our natural environment are so important for our soul life.

Without making connections we are in danger of becoming even more blind to our own self destruction.

I first became aware of making the connection with my dad in the small terraced garden of our humble home in Swansea. In those days insect life seemed more abundant, house sparrows were common and life buzzed outdoors.

I also had a privileged time in West Wales, where we had an old caravan parked near a dune system and a thriving estuary. For those who despise such sites, just let me say this one had well spaced caravans many of which were hidden by the dunes. The place just thronged with life, elvers in the streams, frogs, toads, newts, water boatmen, dragonflies in the drainage ditches. Grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, moths and butterflies among the dunes. On the shoreline there was the sight and haunting sounds of curlew, oyster catcher, flocks of snipe and other waders. In the estuary there were hermit crabs, mussel beds, lug worm beds, cockles and flat fish galore. Sewin swam up river, bass fed in the full tide, mullet skulked in the channels. As children we made intimate connections to this awesome living world, playing cricket, going fishing, trying to fly kites, and sneaking into the old church when no-one was around and playing the organ. We looked up at shooting stars, talked about ghosts and life after death.

I have an inward wrenching pull inside me, a deep yearning, perhaps even a mourning in my soul which has been with me ever since those days. It started when the bulldozers came and flattened the sand dunes. The old caravans were shunted out of sight and eventually forced off site, to be replaced with chalets. Money wins and nature looses, this was the lesson I learnt at the age of 12.

Perhaps we are waking up - I am heartened by those fellow human beings who see beyond themselves.
Thank you lovers of nature for your blogs, your books, your tweets and photographs, for the artists and gardeners, walkers, farmers and musicians. Lets keep connected.

One final thing, I have discovered one of the UK's rarest orchids growing on the coal tip close to where I live. Yeeee Ha !


Inspired by and and, I thought I would show you how the 'garden' is looking now from bare front to lacking in colour back, but plans are afoot.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Botanic conversations

Dear Monty,

I had a wonderful time at the Orchid Festival organised by at the National Botanic Garden of Wales this weekend.

I strolled through the walled garden in scented butterflied solitude and watched a red kite fly low over the walls and Sir Norman Foster's glasshouse.

The garden slowly woke up to the sound of birds and conversation.

I admired the late summer wild flower oval in front of Principality House, and the ruby chard growing in the vegetable borders.

Most of all I enjoyed making connections with those who have the same love of the natural world.
It is truly a privilege to be part of this annual event.

I agonised over my paintings again, I do this every time I put them on public display, it is a bit like exposing yourself - will people think I am a fraud, a failed artist etc etc. I need not have fretted.


A friend there said ' This generation is all about "me" , who wants to read about what someone had for breakfast on Twitter or Facebook ? ' Well I cannot exempt myself from this generation, and I too have this need to be accepted, I believe it is there in all of us to a certain measure, it can be  a strong driving force in our lives which can lead to all kinds of misery if we are not careful.

Where do we go for acceptance - do we look for success - have to keep fighting to be in the light ?

Another person asked a question of me, ' Now we have thrown out faith as the foundation for our lives in this country - on what do we build our lives ? Where does our moral guidance come from - who sets the boundaries ? '

I'm not sure what people build lives upon, but I was amazed that these conversations were sparked by looking at my paintings and our love of the natural world.

I confess that I too get hooked by Twitter, and I felt a rush of esteem when I read your supportive comments regarding this blog. But here is the thing Monty; where does it lead ? Building self esteem on the opinion of others is a risky business, as I suspect you already know. However, it is good for us to find merit in things which are excellent or praiseworthy, to think on such things is my salvation.

I felt the same rush of esteem when having a conversation with . Polly a botanical artist, talked of her sense of achievement and joy in developing her skills as an artist and connecting with others through her art and most importantly being true to her vision.

Being true to your vision was also the theme of another conversation with an artist and plant hunter/collector who said she would not 'sell her soul to the Devil' and change her painting style to become popular and 'contemporary'. She would not compromise her belief that art comes from the soul.

It is the same connection I observed being made between lovers of orchids - passing on knowledge and passion to one another. These - these are the good things in changing and sometimes threatening days - a passion and a care for beauty and each other.

I need to continually learn this lesson.