Friday, 29 September 2017

The Good Life- to the Manor Born

Dearest Emily,
When GiGi was a teenager (yes, a very long time ago) there were two television programmes that I loved to watch.
The first was called 'The Good Life'. It was all about a couple living in suburbia, who decided to grow their own food, make their own clothes, and as much as possible- live off of their own semi-detached land.
Next door the couple also had aspirations- except theirs were social climbing ones- embracing all the snobbery and frippery of that and behaving as though in their modest semi- they were in fact 'To the Manor Born'.
I immersed myself in this sitcom- imagining I was Felicity Kendal's character in my life. At the same time- I adored the character next door, hilariously played by Penelope Keith.
When the series finished, Penelope starred in another sitcom- To the Manor Born, and I watched every episode as she beguiled and delighted us as a character who had sold the family pile, and moved into the Lodge, as financial constraints demanded.
Fast forward forty years, and my life here in Freshwater- and though I'm no crop-grower, I can draw satisfying parallels from my two favourite sitcoms.
My business is a pretty sustainable one-rescuing, repairing and recycling books that otherwise end up  as landfill.
I make my own knitwear- having been given heaps of discarded yarns destined for the skip.
I walk to work (ok, I only live two doors away.)
We use locally grown produce in our cakes and jams (from an Orchard two minutes away)
I make our meals at home based upon what is reduced from the Larder (otherwise known as Sainsbury's a short walk away.
I bake my own Sourdough bread...
You get my drift here, Em. I say that I am indeed living 'The Good Life'!
And- to the Manor Born?
Well, just up the road, is one I hold dear to my heart.
Farringford. The former home of Tennyson, has been exquisitely restored and is now open to us all for guided tours.
Visiting recently, a comment in the Visitors Book, sums the experience up well. "It is as though the family just went out for a walk, and we stepped in". This stunning restoration is delightful and I've done a painting for you of my favourite bit...



You know much about my passion for local history in particular Julia Margaret Cameron and the mid-Victorian Freshwater Circle- so, imagine my joy recently when Channel Four visited on a reccy for a show based upon the Batsford travel books that line my bookshop shelves.
Imagine my delight on being asked if I'd be interviewed about Julia Margaret Cameron!
And- imagine my excitement as to the interviewer- yes, it is the lovely- Penelope Keith!
I can't wait!

With love to you all, from down the Rabbit Hole,
Your ever-loving Grandmother, 
GiGi Xxx

Friday, 30 June 2017

The Wonder of it All

Dearest Emily,
Well, just a couple more pictures to do, and it will be time to put them together as an exhibition. I thought, if you didn't mind, that I would print out my blog-posts to you to go next to each painting. It'll give people something to read as they walk down the corridor with the pictures up.
This picture is of a favourite view of mine- of Freshwater Bay and the High Down- as seen from the cliff near Compton. This is where Grumpa parked up the car one day, back in 2006, at sunset. We stood looking out as he cranked up the Red Hot Chilli Peppers playing in the car - in particular, the track 'Wet Sands'. Apparently, he was plucking up the courage to ask me to marry him.
I guessed that, as we stood there together- but he didn't ask me then. But- he did a week later, so that's ok. This picture was at six in the evening, last Sunday.


This favourite view of mine, I know I share with many, and it has been so for hundreds of years.
Tennyson, arriving here, house-hunting with his new bride- saw Farringford Hall, and looking out of the window there at the reverse of this view (towards Blackgang Chine) declared that they had  to have that view.
Nearly 100 years earlier, a Mr Richard Worseley wrote in his book about the Isle of Wight, that this vista was a 'Wonder of the World'.
I'm with both these bods, Em, and from the first time I set foot on the beach here with my Dad in 1967, to the time Peter and I alighted here in 2005, I too- have had to have that view, and I do consider this landscape a 'Wonder of the World.'
Tennyson's Monument crowns the High Down today, and Grumpa's ashes were spread as he wished out to sea beyond the Bay.
He said to me, that whenever I wanted to see him, I should go to the Bay-
"I shall be in the waves,
Sometimes choppy,
Sometimes calm,
But, I'll always be there for you."
A but like in life, really Em.
And that works for me, I come here, I look out to sea, the sun maybe setting, or rising, the water rough, or smooth, and rolling gently into the shore.
Food for the soul Emily dearest, and a true Wonder, at that.

Your ever-loving Grandmother,
GiGi XXX

Monday, 19 June 2017

Idylls of Freshwater

Dearest Emily,


What a beautiful morning! It's about thirty degrees here, and I have just opened up the shop- hoping to get a quick post out for you with some new paintings. Here's one of the Estuary that I did for you last week.

You remember the Causeway 'Em, the old railway line that links Freshwater and Yarmouth? Every year Swan's hatch their brood for the year. This year it seems that only two have survived out of a brood of about five. I've painted scenes up and down the Causeway- and I must admit- its brilliance of colour can be challenging. It's a problem just recording the translucent iridescent scenery in front of you. It can look too idyllic.
Similar problems present themselves to me at Freshwater Bay


I suppose that I could be seeing these colours more vividly than they actually are 'Em, but I don't think so.


My third Idyll in Freshwater is my garden. It's a good year for the roses.


This morning before work I went into Boots the Chemist for some toothpaste. Whilst standing in the queue, a lady in front of me greeted her friend who was standing to the side awaiting a prescription.

"Oh sorry," said the friend- I was miles away. "Goodness me, that's where I'd like to be, miles away from here under an Oak Tree perhaps, by a babbling brook".
There followed further discourse about the stifling heat.
As I left and thirty seconds later walked across School Green, alongside the Brook, which bears the name Brookside, and ambled in and out of dappled sunlight, passing people sitting under trees and I wondered how far she felt she needed to go to get away?
A customer has just furnished me with an apt quote for today, dear Em. It is from E.Nesbit's The Railway Children...
"Many wonderful and good things happen in our lives, and we live most of our lives in the hope of them".
Just looking around me Emily for subjects to paint- I rather think that there could be less time hoping for them and more time enjoying them, if we reminded ourselves more often of what we do have.

What do you think Emily?

Your  ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxx




Sunday, 28 May 2017

In the Eye of the Beholder

Dearest Emily,

I've painted you a corner of my garden this week,



It was lovely to see you all last weekend, and weren't we lucky that the sun shone all day for Walk the Wight! You did really well- I did notice that you kept a smile on your face and didn't complain- even when we were at the top of the Down and the wind was rather chilling.
Mummy was right wasn't she? You first thought that Walk the Wight might be a bit sad, as it is all about helping people at the end of their lives, but it wasn't at all was it? There's always an incredible atmosphere, everyone tramping away for the same aim. All acknowledging each other with smiles and encouragement. It's as though the Island becomes one big green lawn with hoards of people enjoying walking over it.
And, I did notice that you didn't moan even though you all had to walk up a big hill to join in as we'd all set off whilst you were eating lunch. I know that was probably because Mummy told you how Grumpa didn't complain when he did it last year, when he was very poorly.
Of course there are some sad things Em, and some bad things too. Nobody can pretend that isn't so.
But, we do always have a choice as to how to look at things in front of us...

Look at my garden again in the painting.

I was drawn to paint this corner of my garden because I think it beautiful. I like the stone lady holding her bunch of roses, with her hair tumbling down her back. She looks graceful and pretty by the hedge. I had all the pots out ready to plant out some geraniums, and was drinking my morning coffee at the time. The ivy creeping up the pale wall, the terracotta pots and colours of the brick paving and the sun making the white table and chair shine bright. The sun-faded pink cushion on the chair, and my pink gardening gloves, all create a pleasing vista.

Mind you Em, I suppose I could look at it another way...
The stone lady's nose is beginning to be worn away by weathering. The pots might get frostbitten and break, and all the effort of watering the geraniums I was about to plant, could put me off. That ivy,
ends up causing damp on buildings- and isn't that an asbestos wall? The brick paving could trip someone up and they could break a bone- and then they'd have to spend hours at A&E. That sun-faded pink cushion will rot soon if I keep leaving it out when it rains. The table and chair- it's starting to show some rust, and don't forget the worm I inadvertently cut through- who is struggling to make two of himself.

I could go on...but you get the point?

If I looked at things negatively then I just couldn't paint them. Because I wouldn't be able to appreciate the precious beauty that is in the moment- I'd never be able to appreciate what I'd got right under my nose- until perhaps it had gone. Then, it's too late.

That little lesson is one of the things that getting all my pictures done for the exhibition in August has given me. The gift of reminding myself to appreciate what is right in front of me right now.

Of course, I know that you know all this Emily, you are a bright girl!
But it doesn't hurt to indulge your Grandmother in teaching her grandchildren how to suck eggs,

Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxx



Thursday, 27 April 2017

Metamorphoses (Or a Grandmother's Musings to her Grandaughter on becoming who you truly are...)

Dearest Emily,
Here's my favourite tree again, the beautiful Horse Chestnut which you've seen in its Autumn Glory- all 'Chimeney-red and Halloween orange' as Tom Waits might say. You've seen its leaves die slowly and fall off, and then it stand all bare as it sits out the winter, waiting for rebirth in Spring.


There's such a wealth of comfort in nature Em. For me over the last eight months by painting what is around me, the seasons and the cycle of death and rebirth have been grounding and healing in this period following the loss of dear Grumpa.
The other day, a customer came into the Rabbit Hole exclaiming how she needed to go down The Rabbit a Hole for a bit, and step outside of time. A Head Teacher- she'd had a stressful time getting ready for the end of the Easter Term.
'You are Alice actually-aren't you?" She said.
"Am I? " I responded.
"Yes, you are" she replied in such a tone that I thought I had better accept it.
Well, Em, maybe I am in a way. Not a Disney way of course (yes I know you've just been to Disney World- but that is about as far from your Grandmother's aesthetic as the Yellow Brick road is to the M25. )Not, in a wierd sort of grown-up playing dress-up as a seven year old girl in a blue dress and bunny ears either. 
Maybe though, I recognise something of myself in Dodgson (Carroll) 's tale- in the essence of it.
In my tale, as a question sort of person, who has gone down The Rabbit Hole and found a whole new World- one both curious and vexing in measures, and all at the same time-familiar...
Add onto this Em, that I was the seven year old child who did actually sit at the back of the wardrobe willing it to let me go through to Narnia. 
Yes Em, I think I recognise myself here.
Here, on the Isle of Wight, in the West-Wight, in Freshwater, along the 'Pretty-bit' opposite School Green I am in my own reality down my own Rabbit Hole and I don't see much reason for coming up for air.
A 13 O'clock shop- one customer called it- outside of time. Well it is my 'happy place' Em and I'm happy it chimes with others as that too.
Of course, my creative head won't let it lie, until I've completed my imagined aesthetic, my own inner 'White Rabbit' keeps egging me on checking his pocket-watch. But even that's not frustrating or stressful. The Island has tempered me to its' own time, and I've mellowed-and somehow things still get done in their own time.
There's little frustration in my life, not many rules, and I like that.
Beating to my own drum (as Grumpa always commented on)- is one I know, yet don't really fathom, but it's the right tempo for me and allows me to develop my interests organically within the community I treasure.
Nature, whimsy, friends and above all gratefulness for what is this beautiful part of the earth ever imparting inspiration.
Nuff said Em.
Yesterday, I experienced an example of going down the Rabbit Hole- albeit reversed.
Remember I told you about winning a grant from the wonderful Harper Collins Indie Development Fund? Well, yesterday was the reception- so I hopped onto the ferry at lunch-time, and trotted off onto the train, where I promptly fell asleep, and woke up in my old life in London.
All about bustle-mode I strode up past St Martin's in the Fields, and striding away spotted Cecil Court, diverting off to Stephen Poole books where I'd sold a beauty of a book that helped fund my garden premises, and introduced myself to the Proprietor face to face (we had previously just spoken by phone.) True Book-seller style, he gave me invaluable advice about some special stock I'm a pondering.
Then I zoomed into Soho and Ham Yard, noticing that with our knitwear label Weardowney, we had had a stand in a unit there some 13 years hence. 
Meeting up with my lovely Fashion-Son Henry Conway, not seen in three whole years, we did a speed-catch-up. Here we are together-



Then, speedy London-stylee, we zipped into the reception where a lovely CEO explained the initiative and invited collaboration and I felt as though I was with 'Old friends already'.
I could only stay 45 mins because of the last ferry being 9pm, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable change of pace and Rabbit Hole! Now we have the lovely Ben from Harper Collins coming down here in August on 'Work Experience' to add to our Summer Adventures!
Henry ordered me an Uber, and I hopped into a BMW, out and onto the train at 7, the ferry at 9, and back down my own Rabbit Hole into my Shed-Room at 10, feeling enthralled by life's journeys.

We are all Alice Em, if we want to be. You are now, by your age and your perfect curiosity.
That, with the mix of magic of everyday life, becomes your magic wand forever!

Ttfn, your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxx

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Spring-time Meditations

Dearest Emily,

I remember last year, harping on to you about the lovely Horse Chestnuts that line our view from both shops over on School Green.

I'm rather in love with one in particular, that sits resplendently opposite me whilst I drink my morning coffee. It has become my morning meditation, just gazing at it, sun and season offering different views, and shades of viewing.

Here's my tree again this week. She's resplendent in setting right now, just as she starts to bud, with the daffodils, crocii and snowdrops adorning her grassy carpet.


Today, this view is a lovely reminder of the season ahead where everything springs into life and colour and invades our consciousness!
Let me tell you a little tale...
Once upon a time,
There was a young man, who was interested in Science at school. so he studied hard and went to a Grammar school as they were in those days.
He couldn't afford to go to University, so instead he chose to do a Degree by 'correspondence course'.
Meanwhile, during his studies, he started working for a Chemical firm, and was so good at his job, that he rose up through the ranks quite quickly.
He was sent to Germany where he worked with several eminent Scientists.
One day, his Boss who was Jewish became alarmed about an impending War, and he resigned, giving the young man his job.
War broke out, and the man was tasked with finding out about the passages and types of chemicals that the Germans were moving and using. He became quite useful to the Government, and was given the title of an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.
He now had to 'interrogate' the colleagues he had worked along-side in Germany- the depth of his knowledge being the ally here, and he was successful in returning valuable information to assist his Country.
When peace came, he was moved nearer London, and embarked upon setting up a Research Centre for his Company.
His Scientific Life, was in no way at odds with a more Spiritual one, and he and several members of his family were involved in the early days of the 'Interplanetary Society'. The British arm of this Society was originally set up to test Rocket fuel, and actively engage in the development of Interplanetary travel possibilities. This aspect became impossible in 1936 when it was brought to their attention that a law had been passed in 1875 preventing this kind of testing on British soil.
He was active in matters Theosophical, and wrote and lectured extensively.
Here is a picture of him,


He was your Great-Great Uncle, Emily, and following a chance memory awakened at a Yoga class a couple of weeks ago, I'm embarking upon a fascinating journey of putting together some biographical notes on him, primarily for you, and Bel and Flo.

There's something else that fascinates me here too, Emily.

Your Great-Great Uncle strove to underpin 'Seeing', Clairvoyance, and Meditation, with Science.

It appears he was way ahead of his time...

More to come! 

Hope you had a good half-term, how lovely to see that Florence can sit up on her own now- much more fun for her than watching you both hop about from a lying down position!

Your ever-loving Grandmother,

GiGi xxx


Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Journey to the Past and the Future

Dearest Emily,
It's been a significant week, one way and another, as I was just explaining to Daddy, what with finding a letter from General Garibaldi dated a month after he was here on the Isle of Wight in 1864, and surviving a glass shower door shattering over me this morning ( I'm ok, just a bit shredded and sore) and as Uncle Joe says- getting used to having 'dodged a bullet'. All that aside, there's a story that I want to tell you- that is to be continued...
On Monday, I started Yoga class again, having left it alone for over ten years. During the class, the Teacher asks what kind of yoga I've studied before. "Hatha" I say straight away, then knit my brows in perplexity. Because Em, I didn't study Hatha, it was Iyengar, but as the teacher is explaining this class, and I'm wrestling with my mouth and my memory- I didn't feel it appropriate to correct myself.
Later we did a fab relaxation and during this, he guided us to the inner flame that was the true self.
This true self that had made up her yoga history glided, chilled and centred, to work.
A delivery of old books arrived for me to sort and buy what I could sell. I sort through them, and a 1960's Teach yourself-Yoga, caught my eye, and rang some memory bells...
Of course! That's it- my Great Uncle Wallace (who had one leg) taught Hatha Yoga- he'd written a book on it I seemed to remember. The story also went that he had lived with Mum's cousin Kathleen, but kept going off travelling and once surprised everyone by coming back married to a Hungarian lady.
Anyhow, I thought I'd look up his little book.
That's where it all becomes rather flabbergastingly interesting Em.
Great Uncle Wallace didn't just write a book on Yoga. He wrote several, and he classified all the types of yoga into types that are still classified and quoted as such by him, today.
That's not all! Your Great-Great Uncle was a bit of a dude and I'm going to gather together some biographical notes on him for you girls at the very least.
He was important in the Theosophical Society, lecturing and producing papers on matters Theosophical that I shall expound upon later.
Suffice to say today- that V (for Victor) Wallace Slater (1900-1987), as explained by my mum this week was 'brainy' but couldn't afford University, unlike  his Wife Doris (that- unusual enough in the 1920's) but he had managed to get a job at Laporte Chemicals- and risen to be a Director there.
Em, he discovered Hydrogen Peroxide! ( my hair couldn't be this shade without him!)
He trained as an Osteopath, was a strict Vegetarian, and after reading some of his findings on 'Occult Science' (don't let the definition put you off Em, it's historical) it seems that your anscestor was working on stuff that's just about now becoming scientifically recognised- significantly the ability to meditate deeply and use guided imagination to possibly change the body's D.N.A.
Your Great Uncle and Aunt Doris were way ahead of their time, and after several emails to the Theosophical Society who kindly sent me his Obituary and a bibliography of his writings- I have a quest, and at the very least a Wiki stub to produce forthwith!
A lot of what I have read, chimes with my own instinctual choices in life.
It's nice to learn a bit about the puzzle!
I shall fill you in along the way!
In the meantime, I've done you another picture.
It is of Sarah's (she of cake baking fame here at the Rabbit Hole) Uncle's garden as peered at through the trees.
Golden Cottage, sits at the foot of Golden Hill, and evokes a time gone by, when it was the main house that had the Orchard, that now is filled with houses all the way down to the High Street.
Dall Square still bears the family name, and after the recent death of her Uncle, it's about to go up for sale.
A beautiful house in a beautiful setting, who knows what it's future might be.
For now, I just wanted to paint a glimpse through The trees as a child might see a Secret Garden- golden, as its name describes.


Anyhow Em, that's enough for now,
Will write more about your Great-Great Uncle, in the mean-time I'm off to yoga again, with some cuts and bruises from the shower-door episode and a secret, that I didn't study Hatha, but someone close to us, did, quite a bit and more besides,
Your ever-loving Grand-Mother,
GiGi XXX