Curious encounters in the garden

Dragonfly  Felt tip pens and brush. Carole Day

I often sit in the garden just listening to the birds and watching the butterflies, bees and various insects flying around.

One late afternoon, in the long shadows, a moment of peaceful Sattva, I experienced a strange and mesmerizing sight.

A dragonfly began circling in the dwindling sunlight. It flew around and around in ever decreasing circles, as if it was compelled to remain in the diminishing rays of the sun. It was so beautiful in its jewelled flight, until at last the sunlight disappeared and it flew away, as I watched in awe.

Wood Pigeons. Pencil. Carole Day.

The same afternoon I saw, high up on the branches of the Chestnut tree, a pair of wood pigeons, perched next to each other, and cooing passionately. It seemed to me that they were kissing as they crossed their beaks and caressed each other’s necks. So surprising, so beautiful.

 


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Birthmark

 

Rose and Heart by Carole Day. Felt tip pens and brushes.

When I was born I had a bright red birthmark on my upper left arm. I don’t really remember it much, but my mother said that other children teased me about it when I was young and were unkind. My mother tried to get it removed, but the doctors said it would fade of its own accord over time, and if they injected it there would be a permanent scarring, like mottled skin, so she let it be.

One day, when we were living in Molesey, I was playing in the garden, I did so a lot, on my own, making up stories, talking to myself, and I pricked my arm, where the birthmark was, on a rose bush.  As the doctors had predicted the prick made a permanent scar of raised mottled skin. It was in the shape of a heart and I bear it to this day, I saw it as a kind of sign; I have always been in love with this beautiful world.

Walking out in the garden, aged about 4 probably, in the bright summer sunshine, on a lovely day, I remember thinking “everything is perfect now, but it never will be again.”

In a way I was right – I started school and things began to unravel; life, conscious life, began with all its nuances, disappointments, struggles, kindnesses, creativity and ultimately patience, endurance and love. It all depends on the path you take.

 


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Trainers. Pencil. Carole Day

 

Geranium on the Windscreen. Felt tip and brush. Carole Day

 

Strange Objects
Every so often in my life I have come across strange objects in unexpected places that cannot easily be explained. I find these encounters puzzling but also stimulating, and, of course, some artists make these the basis of their work.
Perhaps one of the most curious of these occurred when I was living in Twickenham and travelled to and from work on the 65 Bus. I was travelling home one day, on the top deck, where I liked to sit and enjoy the view, when the bus stopped, and there, on top of the bus shelter, was a fully decorated birthday cake, complete with candles (unlit) but untouched and looking to be in perfect condition.
How did it get there I wondered? Maybe some disgruntled birthday celebrant had thrown it there from the top of the bus or from the adjacent houses – although this seemed unlikely, surely it would have been damaged. Perhaps in a drunken stupor, or for a bet, a birthday guest had scaled the shelter to place it there – who can say?
Closer to home, I left the house one morning to drive to work in my car, a Mini Clubman my brother had given me. Inexplicably I found, wedged behind each windscreen wiper, a geranium plant complete with the soil ball but no pot. Who had put them there and why, and where they came from, I had no idea. A well-wisher who knew I loved gardening? Who knows, I never found out.
A similar incident occurred whilst I was living in St. Margarets, but this time specifically aimed at me – I found a pack of Café Crème cigars, which I smoked at the time, on my windowsill in the front garden. Although it must have been someone who knew me, I never discovered who had, I supposed thoughtfully, left them there.
Later in life my husband, Edwin and I moved to East Kent and I started a course in Art and Design. We often used to visit Margate and the various galleries there: the Pie Factory, Crate Space and Limbo, where I later exhibited and held workshops. In the forecourt of Limbo, on a tree opposite the entrance, hanging from one of the highest branches, a pair of trainers, tied together were dangling down. How they got up there it is hard to imagine, but there they were. Perhaps one of those artists whose practice deals with strange objects put them there as a subject, perhaps they were concealed nearby, recording the various reactions to their installation.
Some things in life are hard to explain and forever keep us guessing.


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Mending the Coverlet.

Coverlet Detail. by Phyllis Griffiths (my grandmother) and Carole Day. Textile and felt.

Mending the Coverlet

Some things cannot be mended.

Some can.

When my sister’s husband, Nick, died following a motorcycle accident, a kind of chaotic miasma descended on our family. It felt like a beautiful tapestry unravelling, something that before was firmly knit and strong was now dishevelled and broken.

It seems that all my life I have been trying to mend what was broken, trying to find what was lost.

I was born in my grandparents’ house in Teddington. I lived there with my mother, father and older brother, Michael, in a little flat off the first floor landing.

My mother often told me the story of how upset she was when Michael drew all over her new dressing table with one of her bright red lipsticks. Her grandmother, my great-grandmother, told her, “Doreen, don’t fret over this, worse things will happen in your life.” Of course, she was right.

When my brother, Michael, was seven and I was three, we both caught the measles. Michael died in hospital from a rare complication, bacterial Meningitis, which infected his brain. I survived, with slightly impaired vision. The night before his death my mother’s pearl necklace broke, and the beads scattered all over the floor of my grandmother’s kitchen. My mother never wore pearls again. Years later, a pearl necklace I was wearing broke at a party; the beads rolled away, lost in the floor-boards, and I could not retrieve them. The next day my boyfriend left me – I never wore pearls again.

Some things cannot be mended, but some can.

When my sister, Gill, asked me if I could repair her coverlet, of course, I did not hesitate to take the opportunity to mend something that was broken. My grandmother made the coverlet, she was always making things. In her house in Teddington the back room was always filled with huge bell jars of fruit, vegetables, pickles and jams. In a small room off the stairs to the basement was the sewing area, full of scraps of fabric, cottons, buttons, lace and sewing equipment; it was a treasure trove that I inherited as part of my mind-set without really knowing it.

My grandmother gave the coverlet to my mother, I remember it as a child, and my mother passed it on to my sister, Gill. Gill and her husband, Nick, both artists, had used the coverlet well; paint stains were splattered all over it, and several sections were frayed or corroded. I considered the best way to renovate this piece that represented the heritage of my family and the continuity of generations. In my mind this was my chance to mend the damage and to bind all of us together again across the ages.

I wanted to rejuvenate the piece but also preserve what my grandmother had created and, at the same time, reveal the process she had used.

Mending the coverlet gave me more pleasure than I could have imagined and gave me more opportunity for reflection than I had anticipated.

As I worked I uncovered the tacking stitches my grandmother had made, securing the underlying quilted sections together. To see these stiches and the material she had chosen to create the internal padding gave me deep pleasure. I felt I could see her mind working, I could see her expertise, intelligence, judgement, and artistry in making, which, I think, our whole family has inherited. The way she had juxtaposed the different types and designs of the material showed her artistic flair as well as her craftsmanship.

In my work I sought to reveal the work of my grandmother and the creative choices she had made. At the same time I endeavoured to complement what she had designed with my own creativity. In renovating this composite piece I felt I was drawing together four generations in an expression of our love, skill and creativity.

Some things cannot be mended, but some can.

 


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Shivery Dog
Shivery Dog in the Garden by Carole Day. Sepia ink pen.

When my brother Michael died, and we moved to Esher Road, I guess I must have been lonely. Although I don’t remember being with Michael, my mother said we were inseparable, and he always looked after me.

Now I was alone, and Mummy was sad all the time. I became very self-absorbed, I played on my own in the garden and on the barrels upstairs in the back bedroom, it wasn’t decorated or furnished yet.

I used to make up stories, which I recited to myself all day long, and I had an imaginary friend called Shivery Dog who lived in the garden behind the rockery, under the apple tree. He was a small, frail puppy dog, frightened of the world outside the garden, I looked after him and told him stories.

Recently I was rummaging through my photograph albums, and in amongst them I found my Dad’s handwritten speech for my wedding to Edwin. In it he reminisces about my life growing up and describes my friendship with Shivery Dog. I had forgotten I kept this reminder of my Dad, I’m so glad I did. So, I continue the story in his words.

“I remember Carole when she was 3 years old – wandering down to the bottom of the garden – beyond the rockery – sitting on a fallen tree trunk and talking to an imaginary friend – Shivery Dog. She would usually be telling him off for something he had or hadn’t done, but sometimes she would tell him a story.

Her mother, Doreen, and I would often tiptoe to the rockery and look over and listen to the stories. We said we should have made a note of them. They would have made a lovely book. But Shivery Dog frequently got told off, I’m sure Edwin doesn’t come in for that kind of treatment.”

I don’t remember any of these stories, I wish I did, but I will always remember the little Shivery Dog and our time together in the garden. We were happy there for a while, then, unaccountably, Shivery Dog decided it was time for him to go. I think he was feeling braver and curious, and he wanted to see the world outside the garden. We said goodbye and he went on his journey, and I never saw him again.

Soon after that Mum and Dad removed the rockery, along with the crazy paving path and a circular sunken birdbath in the middle of the lawn. I was quite sad about this, as I enjoyed these garden nooks but now I had a baby sister and they wanted to make the garden safe for us children.

Then, Mum and Dad took me to choose a real puppy, and of course, I chose the smallest one in the litter, a Corgi/Sheepdog cross, and named him Bonzo, not very original! I loved him for many years and now I keep him safe in my memories along with Shivery Dog.


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