Embroidered Dragon Kimono

I don’t know what to do with this frail and rather tatty silk kimono: I wish I did. For a while I hung it from a hanger against the wall where I could admire it, like a picture, until the dust began to settle and accumulate.

The kimono is green silk and embroidered with coloured threads and much golden brocade. Two large dragons with serpent scales take centre place top front and back, a further pair grace the sleeves and four smaller dragons pose above a sea of blue sewn whorls. These are followed by a mass of thick gold thread spirals and then comes a deep border of gold diagonal-stripes which reaches the floor. A contrasting fabric marks out the neck opening collar-like and ends with a frog knot closure fastening below the hip on the right side.

This garment was part of the stage costume collection of Worcester Park Choral Society which my grandparents belonged to in the early 1940’s. When the society disbanded my father chose this piece and for a while it was largely unseen. Then for years it hung in my parent’s wardrobe and had occasional appearances in plays or fancy-dress parties.

As a child I was intrigued by the opulence of the design and fascinated by the symbolism which then, as now, I couldn’t interpret. Now I have become the custodian of this old but splendid kimono. What shall I do with it?

Birthday Strainer

This small, upright metal strainer stands in its own little saucer, eminently practical. It has flat, decorative lug handles with an interlocking geometric design of straight lines and curves which makes me think of Chinese patterns. The sides are very fine mesh and although it is made for tea, I shall make coffee in it.

For the last nearly twenty years my birthday has coincided with a steam fair we work at, selling engineering and woodworking tools and junk. It is somewhat of a tradition, for my children to hunt up and down the stalls for something unique to give me on the day. This year they found me a  little strainer to replace a cracked plastic one I have had for years. This modest present pleases me because it reminds me of camping, cold fresh mornings, water heating on the gas stove, my cup with a good spoon of ground coffee waiting in a little mesh sieve.

After I have given it a good clean, I make my first cup of coffee. I savour the smell as I wait for the coffee to brew, then lift the strainer out: I can see my children’s love in amongst the coffee grounds.

Notes:

I aim to buy as little plastic as possible and recycle, save and mend where I can. A present that recognises these aims makes me feel truly happy.

A Tale of Two Toast Racks

One toast rack is an elegant silver-plated affair, the other a sombre piece of pottery and both come with their own tale of mortality.

The first toast rack has an oval base which sits daintily on four flattened round electro-plated “feet”. The regular loops to hold the toast are offset, rather than centrally positioned on the oval base. Each toast-supporting loop curves outward from the base describing its own sideways oval: small, then medium, rising to a bigger central one with a curled loop handle, then decreasing in size.

When my great aunt was recuperating after a major car accident, she stayed with my grandmother in what had been their childhood home. My grandmother took her up a breakfast tray each morning and this was the toast rack she used. It always held four neat triangles of white toast. Looking after my great aunt must have reminded my grandmother of the months my great aunt spent in her teens convalescing from TB. With both brothers and a husband lost to the second World War, their sisterly devotion makes sense.

The second toast rack is an altogether different piece, made of pottery by my father it is a little, dark blue-glazed wooded scene, where small and uneven pointy trees with faces, form lines for the toast to lean on. It looks like a cemetery and at one end is a tiny memorial to burned toast! I’m not sure if many people do it now: but my childhood mornings were often greeted by the scratchy sound of a knife scraping off the charred layer on an overdone piece of bread.

My grandmother scraped her toast on the brick path by the back door. Burned toast was a regular occurrence in my childhood and my dad’s quirky toast rack celebrates this. Both racks, so different,  would have similar tales to tell of burned toast.

Chequered Daylight

The curtains are faded cotton, wide vertical stripes of pink, lilac and pale apricot: overprinted horizontal bands of pale crimson turn each stripe into an oblong, the crimson taking on different shades as it passes over pink, lilac then apricot in repeat. As the light changes outside, the quality of light shining through the curtains changes too.

I remember so clearly how I liked to watch this happening of light and colour play out every morning. I loved how the sunlight glowed through the cloth and cast a pink atmosphere into my bedroom, which deepened and faded. I was fascinated by the different hues and overlapping chequered tints of colour filtered through the curtains.  This was my first, most profound experience of colour and light: I was about four years old.

When I was seven years old, we moved to Edinburgh. The windows in my new bedroom were now both wider and taller which stretched out the curtains and lessened their magic. I looked the curtains out recently and put them up again. Even though after fifty-five years they are frayed and washed out, when the sun shines through, the colour still glows.

The Pruning Saw

When I found the curved saw lying in the front garden among the ivy and the brambles, I knew immediately that it had been there for days: the blade was rusty and the laminated ply handle, once so immaculate had split along the glued edges in several places. It was a sorry sight.

Although I knew I must be the culprit, I had to rack my brains to try and remember why I, normally so careful, had failed to put the saw away. It takes me several days to reconstruct the memory.

I picture my brain like a busy junction, a sort of Piccadilly Circus with bright lights, buses, cars, taxis and streams of people rushing here, there and everywhere. In the past I could take a central position and keep an eye on all the comings and goings. But now I find some things just slip past me and it is unsettling.

Still, the little saw has been rescued: the blade cleaned up, the tooth form is as good and sharp as always and the handle is still pleasing to hold.

 

Notes:

“So, what have I missed out? Did the King of Denmark once use this pruning saw?” I tease my husband, the tool expert.

He informs me that it is probably a Swedish design related to, but predating flat pack furniture which amuses me.

Blue Glass Bottle

The other day my son brought back a bottle he had unearthed during some building work. It must have been in the ground around a hundred years: there’s a thought!

I thought at first that the bottle was clear glass but when it is washed, I see that it is faintly tinted blue: sky blue. The bottle is about 6” high and sort of flat, rather than round. It is perfect, just missing a cork. There is a number in raised letters on the base: 10915 and the letters: WOODWARD CHEMIST NOTTINGHAM cover half the bottle, lengthways, like the spine of a book, but each word has a line to itself and each letter is moulded in handsome capitals with serifs. The colour pools in the base and in the rim of the bottle where the glass is thicker.

I notice how the light sparkles, not just on the surface where the letters stand out, but also from the trapped air bubbles within the glass, which show the bottles age. I pick a bluebell to put in water in the bottle and the blues seem to complement each other perfectly.

Notes:

“I think you should say that you have bluebells growing in your garden and those are the ones you pick.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“Oh, alright.”

Sea Mills Memories

I was born in London, grew up mostly in Edinburgh but the place that we returned to time and time again in holidays and in dreams was my grandmother’s house in Cornwall. I even attended primary school here for a while before we made the move to Edinburgh. This was where I had my seventh birthday when I was given a blue canvas tent and I camped out alone in the vast garden.

The house was an old mill house situated on a tidal estuary. My childhood memories are full of anticipation of the tides and the weather: the grey expanse of mud as the water retreated, crabs scuttling from lifted slates, the grey of slate on the beach and house and garden walls, the jetty and slipway with the over-hanging ilex tree and the frequent drizzle. If the tide was right, we swam or messed around in boats. But sometimes the tide would come in all scummy and there could be no swimming: or the wind would suddenly drop and there could be no sailing. There were walks along to China Beach to collect pieces of broken crockery where clumps of shiny sea spinach, spiky samphire and silvery, grey- green sea purslane were revealed when the tide went out.

I remember how the swallows swooped across the garden path into their nest in the tool shed, when each year they returned from Africa, further than I will ever travel. We drank cups of tea on the slate steps where we scrawled noughts and crosses in the afternoon sun and had games of “hangman” with little pieces of slate. In the evening, I would listen to the oyster catchers and the sand pipers, calling their longing and wistfulness across the creek.

This was where I read a hundred books every summer, curled up in an armchair in a quiet room, dreaming of adventure and romance. Those cast-iron gates, at the threshold of the garden are still there in my imagination, calling me into that precious lost world.

Emergence – Projected Backdrops for English National Ballet

On Saturday 16th March 2024 English National Ballet’s new Dance for Parkinson’s Performance Company took part in Re-Play, the annual showcase of live dance, music and film celebrating the theme of “Emergence” in the Holloway Production Studio at the Mulryan Centre for Dance.

As an artist, I was over the moon to be given the opportunity to create three, atmospheric, semi-abstract pieces of art to be used as backgrounds for a new dance piece created for Dance for Parkinson’s new performance group – of which I’m also a member. We worked with the theme “Emergence” guided and accompanied by our truly wonderful team of talented and committed dancers, musicians and volunteers.

What I’ve tried to show is the way in which the dancers have come to work together, to become a company. We refer to ourselves jokingly as “comrades”, or the “squad”!

For the first image, I was inspired by the words of Nina Simone’s song, Feeling Good including the lyrics “Blossom on a tree, you know how I feel” and refrain, “It’s a new day”. This became very important for me, but a new dawn means different things to different people. Does anyone ever know how others feel? The choreography involves many different stretching moves, branching out, waking up, and, like the blossom, slowly unfolding.

The image for the second sequence compliments the welling-up of the sound, and a gathering of energy. A stylised plant form gives a sense of scale to a murmuration or shoal of small marks which echo the movements of the dancers at different parts of the dance piece. I tried to respond to the duality of the choreography: a couple of dancers break away to perform a duet, soon to be joined by another couple. They intertwine with each other, until they are joined by the rest of the company. On the shout of the word ‘emergence!’, the group freezes before running to the back of the stage. The colours I use are linked to the sound, becoming more saturated. Among the green are hints of yellow, referring back to the first image, while the blue looks forward to the final sequence…

We now see the dancers regrouping, striding forward, leaving the previous scene behind. This last image is the most abstract. The only concrete motif is the monogram, formed from the initial letters of the names of the individuals involved in the collaboration. The dancers group and gather again, this time with a sense of knowing, and mutual understanding. Subtly sprinkled with colour from previous scenes, this image is light, soul-filled, airy, fluid, optimistic and forward-moving, full of rhythmic energy. We emerge as individuals within a strong group.

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