I apologise in advance for this. It’s going to be a long and rambling post. This has kind of been a long and rambling time. Very odd….
That first week of Lock Down I was woken very early by a Nightingale. It was about 4.30 or so; before the other birds were singing. It wasn’t like anything I’d heard before. Now I do realise that a Nightingale so far north is unusual and the first thing my Dad said when I told him was that it must have been a Blackbird or a Robin. But I hear those all the time and, beautifully though they sing, they were nothing like this. I heard my Nightingale several times more in the next few weeks. Always early. One morning I woke Hattie up so she could listen too. She is so used to be woken up through the night for blood tests, and to be force fed sugar tabs, but she was unusually chipper once she realised that she was being woken up for something nice.
With the somewhat startling realisation that we were going to have to home school our children until the end of the summer term, the weeks stretched formidably ahead. How would we manage? How would we make weekends feel like weekends and holidays feel different to term time? How could I maintain something of my creative self and still make this time something special for them? Time is precious and I wasn’t going to waste this. I’m a bit ‘Polyanna’ by nature and I wanted them to look back on this as a magical time when we were all together, their parents were less distracted by work and we made the most of what we had.
The first day of lock-down I took them all running early. It was cold! Not wet, but fairly bleak and I made them run up hills towards (not all the way to) Stoodley Pike. By day three the votes were for walking, not running, and we found a new path and discovered our new favourite wood, complete with stepping stones, climbing trees and a big flat rock perfectly suited to picnics and brew stops. They climbed and I sat, lovely early evening light breaking through almost naked trees, and I thought: if we can do just this every day, this will be enough. I want us to sit and listen. To identify the birds we can hear and the trees as they wake up for spring. And I’m selfish. I needed something for me too, so I had the idea of collecting trees.
Initially I imagined that I would collect one on every walk, but our routes were often the same so a new one didn’t present itself every time we went out. And some trees that were remarkable in March, were hidden in May. And May trees budded and blossomed, or opened silver leaves in a canopy of darker greens.
I had good intentions of keeping a diary of our daily adventures, but so often days were the same. Not in a dull way, but the walks were repeated. Instead, what I’d come away with was a list…
That the birds and flowers have made a come back is something everyone has noticed. The beautiful weather has made for a stunning spring, with bluebells, wild garlic and yellow and orange poppies all out together. But we’ve really started noticing things for the first time. My kids just casually know ‘stuff’ about their world that they didn’t know in early March:
- That what crunches under your feet in the woods are beech nut shells.
- That Curlew calls sound sad.
- That Skylarks sing while they hover above you.
- That Woodpigeons sound like camping holidays.
- That Green Woodpeckers laugh (though we’ve never spotted one).
- How to tell the difference between a crow, a rook and a raven.
- Mother Ducks are feckless parents.
My lists were as often from my solitary runs as from family walks. I can get further, and I can get out earlier when I run.
When Covid 19 began to be talked about as something other than a far away problem, I was lucky enough to be on holiday with my family in Madeira. While I was there I was emailed by a customer about one of my prints. This one:
The lady told me how it reminded her of Persian miniatures and I began to look at Tree of Life paintings, and motifs on Persian rugs. Each is a little world – a shrine almost – in which all varieties of leaves, flowers, animals and birds, centre around one tree. In the evenings (UNO and Portuguese telly thoroughly exhausted) I doodled ideas: trees with Yorkshire animals, some framed within the spaces of bridges or the arches of viaducts.
My scruffy notebooks (I am always clutching a notebook) are always full of ideas I have no time to develop. But on the day of the Nightingale I saw my opportunity and I painted myself into a corner.
These are papers covered in inks, paint, loose pigment and salt. The loveliest and unexpected things happen as they dry. These big sheets I use to build frames and arches…
I also save every tiny scrap of the painted papers. They’re like little gems! Waiting to be turned into a fox or a leaf.
I’ve been taking photos or doing little drawings, or sometimes taking the painted sheets out on a walk. I’ve been working on several at once. I have no idea what I’m going to do with them all, I just know that I want there to be a whole big wall full! A celebration of lock-down in my valley…
I’ve been painting these a little at a time, in between more serious and technical paintings for Toffee Town! They’ve been a little light relief and a chance to go small, and put all the set squares and T-squares away for a bit.
I would also like to state that during lock down, there has also been: home schooling, gardening, squabbling, mess, baking, complaining, washing, cooking, grumpiness, missing family, missing friends, ridiculous hours spent on Zoom with cousins, running without children, family zoom quizzes… Generally a balance of good and bad. This is just meant to be a post about the good stuff.