Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Roller-Coaster of a Year

Here is my usual end-of-year roundup post. What a roller-coaster of a year it has been, to be sure! So much has happened that I scarcely know where to begin.Last December, I could never have imagined that our circumstances would change so much in a single year.

The most important event of the year was the death of my dear father on 6th December. I am so full of good and happy memories of this exceptional and wonderful person – a true Renaissance man with all his skills, interests and accomplishments – and I feel extraordinarily blessed to have had him as my father. His influence on my life has been profound, and as well as being a wonderful father, he was also my mentor and friend.

Eighteen months ago he first went into residential care with dementia, which had been slowly increasing over the past couple of years with his short-term memory beginning to fail, but with the onset of a severe UTI, its progress was exacerbated, and with each further infection which he suffered, he recovered less well, and his decline was steady up until the time he died. When he first went into the residential home, my mum was on her own in their cottage which was not ideally placed for an elderly person living alone with no access to transport – there were absolutely no amenities nearby, and with her increasing needs, my dear hubby was having to do a great deal of running around on her behalf, and for Dad, too, and we needed to centralise things.

Our original plan was to get both of them moved into more suitable accommodation, and then in 2014 when my hubby retires, we would move in with them, possibly converting the upstairs into a flat for ourselves, and we would continue to live there after they had both passed on, and for the past two or three years, we were house hunting with this scenario in mind. We looked at several houses that would have been absolutely ideal, but because we could not sell my parents’ house for some considerable time, we were not in a position to buy, and we lost them all. It was very disappointing at the time, but God knows best, and if we had managed to get one of them, and then the situation changed with Dad having to go into residential care, it would have been a total disaster! As it was, we then had to search for somewhere for us to move in straight away, and my hubby would have to commute to work rather than living more or less over the shop (which is not convenient, but workable, and it’s only for about 6 months anyway). It had to be organised so that my hubby and I would have the larger portion of the house, and Mum would have an annexe or single-bedroomed flat.

We were able to find the perfect place eventually, and things fell rapidly into place with an offer being made and accepted on my parents’ house, putting us in a position to buy. However, considerable work needed doing on the property, including the complete replacement of the roof, and so began the great adventure with Andy and the other builders – I was popping over two or three times a week and got really involved with everything that was going on, and had such fun! You can read the whole account with lots of photos if you look for posts entitled “Our New House” or “My New ARTHaven” in my blog archive. I had a major input into the design of the various alterations and renovations, and this has improved my own quality of life no end, with adaptations (including a stairlift) that mean that my hubby has to do far less for me these days – good for both of us as I enjoy more independence, and he is free of the burdens that took up so much of his time, especially as now he is having to spend more time driving, and of course there are always things that Mum needs doing.

The major renovations indoors are my new kitchen:

09 Reduced Work Surface in Kitchen

with its reduced-height work surface that I can sit at, to prepare food, wash up and cook. The other side has full-height units with cupboards underneath, and a new peninsula unit which makes the whole working area a lot more compact and manageable.

10 Peninsula Unit in Kitchen

I have a new utility room which also includes part of the back passage, with access through a lovely new arch.

09 Utility Room Sink

15 Arch 1st Coat Plastering Complete

I also have a newly formed airing cupboard (made to my own specifications) with new bi-fold doors, and we have a new glass panel in the back door which gives a nice view into the garden, and lets in loads more light.

04 Removable Slatted Shelves

02 Unfinished Work around Airing Cupboard

03 New Glass Panel with Cat Flap in Back Door

03 Boiler Wall Plastered

The new boiler replaces this one and its huge tank, which took up so much space in the old annexe kitchen:

10 Annexe Kitchen with Boiler and Tank

The door from the annexe kitchen has been blocked off, and the annexe kitchen has been completely redone, using units from the original main kitchen but with much nicer worktops.

20 Annexe Kitchen Worktop Ends Completed

Before the door from the annexe kitchen was blocked off, there was access from the annexe to our back passage and out through the back door. With this exit being blocked, there was only one entrance into the annexe, from the hall in the main house, and for safety, and also to maintain our privacy, we had a new door opened up from the annexe sitting room into the garden.

01 Annexe New Door and Window

Outside, we had a ramp built up from the back door to the garden steps, and sloping down each side, for easy access with the wheelchair.

15 Ramp from Side

At the top of the garden, the other main alteration was the building of my hubby’s magnificent new Man Cave, which he now has so well equipped that he could actually move in there – microwave, kettle, TV and radio!

04 Laying the Garage Roof Felt

He has graciously allowed me one corner to store my new buggy. This is something else new this year. Two years ago, almost to the day of Dad’s death, my uncle died, and since then, his mobility scooter had been sitting in their garage, and my aunt said I could have it, so a little while after we moved (mid Sept.) my hubby drove up to Staffordshire to collect it. My new-found independence! I can get to the shops on my own, and go visiting!

Upstairs, more magic! My beautiful new en-suite bathroom (which my hubby calls my “girlie bathroom”) was created from the original separate bathroom and loo. It is the last word in modernity and glamour, and with the addition of some very stylish grab rails and walk-in shower, it is well suited to my needs.

01 Bathroom Counter and Arch

02 Bath and Mirror

04 Shower

05 Counter with Ornaments

This bathroom, my beautiful new kitchen and utility room and airing cupboard, and all the other renovations, work so well for me! We both so enjoy living in this house now that it has been upgraded to our own specifications.

Last, but not least, is my fabulous new purpose-built ARTHaven. Ever since I semi-converted my office in the old house to double as a studio, neither use worked properly, and I hankered after a space built for my requirements. One of the features that attracted me about the upstairs of the new house was one of the bedrooms which had a partitioned off space with a washbasin (called a “dressing room” on the agents’ particulars) and I realised that this space could become my office, with the ARTHaven beyond. (By the way, the awful floral wallpaper in the hall and landing has now been replaced with cream emulsion, which shows off our pictures much better, and is far more restful on the eye!)

01 Office and ARTHaven from the Landing

It was made to measure! My big desk fits across the end of the office with 6 inches to spare!

01 Office

(The office is a bit tidier than this now. Not a lot, but a bit!!) The washbasin at the other end of the room has been replaced by a sink, which will be wonderful for my art work.

03 Sink

It has been left open at the front deliberately, for easy access for storage. There is now a small microwave on a corner shelf above, for dyeing and other procedures.

Into the ARTHaven proper, I designed the layout myself, and Andy the Magician brought it to life for me! The continuous curving MDF work surface is supported on el-cheapo open-fronted kitchen base units, and is divided into different work zones. I had a brainwave that since I could only sit at one work zone at a time, why waste precious storage space by having several empty spaces under the work surface? Andy put base units on castors, so that they can be pulled out when I want to sit there, and these units also provide another surface to put things on while I work.

03 Gen View

There are wall units above the work surface, with extra shelves, and over the blocked-off fireplace is my display area, for showing off small artworks, both my own, and gifts from fellow artists.

07 Textile and Drawing Zones

06 Display Area

On the final wall, backing onto the office, is an area of free-standing storage with a large, deep MDF shelf above for storing all those large flat items that we find so difficult to find homes for.

10 Storage Zone

There is still a lot of sorting to do in there before I get it how I want it, but I have started working in there and it is an absolute dream… the window faces more or less due north, so I have none of the problems I had before, with dazzling afternoon sun. I have ample power points around the room, and excellent LED lighting over each work zone, and have I have also set up a rig for my new video camera. The original carpeted floorboards have been covered with a beautiful light wood laminate flooring which makes cleaning up easy. It is an absolute dream of a room and I keep pinching myself, wondering when I’m going to wake up!

The trouble is, with all the activity of the past year, and the tremendous amount of work involved in sorting my parents’ house and getting Mum moved up to my sister’s till the new house was ready, sorting and packing all of our own stuff, moving in while the builders were still here, and then all the unpacking, and then the emotional upheaval of my dear dad’s passing, and the work involved in planning and taking part in his funeral, have left me feeling exhausted, and not able to spend as much time in there as I had hoped, but in the New Year I am sure that things will settle down and I will get into a better routine at last.

We had a lot of stress getting Mum moved in and settled. She is better now, but we have had a rocky start and at one time I did wonder whether this arrangement was going to work at all. Things are better now, and she does realise that even if it’s not what she really wants, which is to be back in her old house, living the independent life she once enjoyed, it is the only possibility apart from a residential home which she won’t consider, and as her friends keep reminding her, that she is very fortunate to have us under the same roof. So many of her widowed friends live alone, and far from their children. We see Mum every day and help her with things, and take her out, and generally keep an eye on her and make sure she’s OK. She’s had several episodes of bashing her legs (twice on Christmas day!!) necessitating visits to casualty to have them dressed, but apart from that and her severe deafness, she is remarkably fit for 92, and is still cooking for herself. We share a delightful young lady who cleans for us, and my hubby has a much smaller and more manageable garden to deal with – it is so lovely, and when he retires next year, he will have more time to enjoy it.

On the health front, my M.E. has remained remarkably stable despite the stresses and the huge amount of physical work I have been involved with. I had a fairly big dip shortly after we moved, with extreme exhaustion and badly swollen legs, and a recent severe cold which has left me coughing still, but apart from that I am now quite a bit better. Back in the summer I had a positive result on my first bowel cancer screening test, necessitating a colonoscopy which revealed not cancer (thank goodness!) but ulcerative colitis, for which I am now taking medication which has reduced my bowel symptoms by about half.

We have moved from an area where “broadband” was a complete joke, to the outskirts of a town that rejoices in fibre-optic broadband, which is so fast that it leaves us breathless! For the first time we can now access catch-up TV, and recently got a wireless box for our Sky satellite TV setup, enabling us to watch this on our smart TV.

Because of everything that has gone on this year, I have been much less productive on the art front than in previous years, but I did manage to make myself a smart pair of mixed-media spoke guards for my wheelchair before I started packing up well in advance of the move:

44 Wheelchair with Spoke Guards

These incorporated some of the fabric flowers I received from Judy in Australia, in a swap.

I also started work on an album all about Dad’s life. If things had been different, I would like to have had it completed in time for his funeral so that everyone could have looked at it and seen all his amazing accomplishments, but that was not to be, and it remained packed in a box for months. I have now got it all out again, and am beginning to scan material for use on subsequent pages to the only page I have yet been able to create, on his ancestry.

01 Album Resurrected in New ARTHaven

Since the move, I have made a mixed-media card for a friend, using one of Ryn’s moth stamps and angelina fibre, against an inked and embossed background:

Angelina Moth for Lucy

I have also started making some door plates for the downstairs of our house, where the beautiful art deco originals have been removed. I took a mould from one from upstairs and have been experimenting with different materials to make them from.

02 Original and Mould

04 Mould and Plates Made from Polyfilla One Fill

When trimmed up and painted with a faux vintage metal effect, I am hoping they will be indistinguishable from the originals.

With everything that has been going on over the past two or three years, with my parents gradually becoming less able to cope, and culminating with the events of this year, my hubby and I have not had a holiday for three years. I am hoping very much that we will be able to get away for a fortnight together after he retires next summer. We could both do with it!

Plans for the coming year also include finishing unpacking the remaining boxes, and getting my big spice rack and various other things fixed up, utility room cupboards to be organised, and touching up bits of painting around the house. I am planning to continue organising my new ARTHaven, and as time goes on, incorporate my art into its beautification – I have lots of storage boxes which I would like to decorate, and I’d like to make some wall art, bunting and other decorative features. I also want to return to my Zentangle art which has been seriously neglected of late – this, along with my knitting and other sedentary activities could well have been done from the comfort of the recliner, but I have simply not felt inclined, with everything else that had to be done.

My most imminent, and very exciting activity for the New Year will be the arrival of my new iMac computer, and learning how to use it. I currently have two laptop PCs which are now about seven years old and starting to show their age with the huge demands I put on them with the video work I am now doing, and when I considered updating them, was put off by Windoze 8 which doesn’t appeal to me at all, as I believe Microsoft have lost the plot somewhat. I have been fed up with Windoze for years, with its constant security problems and the workflow being incessantly interrupted by upgrades of this and that, and the general lack of integration of the system. I have often wished I’d started off with Mac in the first place, but once I’d got caught up in Windoze I had so much invested in it that I thought it would be impossible to change at this late stage. However, I have now discovered that there are ways of running Windoze software on the Mac, and ways of integrating my data with the new operating system, and after a discussion on Boxing Day with our nephew, who has used Mac for years, and playing with his Mac Book, I have finally decided to take the plunge. It is due for delivery in the first or second week of January. I am super-excited. Watch out for progress reports!

Further plans include developing my mixed-media art skills and experimenting further with different materials. I want to pursue my interest in working with reflective surfaces, and I am really keen to get started with Gelli printing. Now that I have work zones set up, and my sewing machine can be permanently out, I want to expand the parameters of my mixed-media work and incorporate textile, fibre and stitch into my work, and begin experimenting with dyeing and fabric printing again – something I used to do many years ago. The boundaries between all these disciplines are increasingly becoming broken down, and it is a very exciting time to be exploring new techniques, with all the wonderful materials and equipment at our disposal these days. I just hope and pray for enough energy to be able to get really stuck in in my wonderful new ARTHaven during the coming year!

To close, I want to pay tribute to my wonderful hubby. Over this past year, he has worked tirelessly for our family – dealing with all the arrangements for Dad, having power of attorney, and organising everything surrounding his care and eventual death, sorting out endless problems with Mum, arranging removals, storage and clearance, ferrying me and loads of stuff here and there – the list goes on and on, and all the while, he has been working full-time in a demanding job, and sacrificing so many of his days off for the needs of the family. He deserves a medal, and so much more besides – not to mention a good long rest! People like my hubby are the unsung heroes of our society, who do not receive recognition in the New Year’s Honours List, but without whom our nation would be the poorer. I simply cannot imagine what we would have done without him. Thank you, my darling boy. You are a rock.

May I wish all my faithful followers, visitors and friends a very happy and prosperous New Year, full of stimulation and creativity, and happy relationships with friends and family alike. May God bless you all.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Dad’s Funeral, Thursday 19th December 2013

Graduation

The past few days I have felt absolutely exhausted, but better enough today to put fingers to keyboard and share with you what a wonderful service we had for Dad on Thursday.

My hubby, my sister and I planned it from beginning to end, and it was very hard trying to decide what to put in and what to leave out, because Dad lived such a full life with so many interests and skills, but I think in the end we did him proud!

The above photo was taken at his graduation from Manchester University in the late 40s. He looks so handsome! We put this on the back cover of the service booklet.

I designed the service booklet myself, and the funeral director submitted it for printing. This seemed so right, and it felt like a beautiful service I could perform for Dad, to put my design and layout skills to their best use, to produce something beautiful that would honour him, and that his friends and family would want to keep afterwards.

We asked our local organist, who is extremely gifted, to play a selection of J.S. Bach chorale preludes at the beginning of the service, and one at the end – Dad loved many forms of classical music but Bach was his first love (something he passed on to me), and these pieces were also played at our wedding. During the service we played recordings of other favourite pieces of Dad’s, and as his coffin left the church, carried shoulder high by four bearers (my hubby being one of them), “Syrinx” for solo flute by Claude Debussy was played. Dad used to play this piece often, and it is so haunting and atmospheric. You could have heard a pin drop. Throughout the service, Dad’s flute lay on his coffin. He played all the woodwind instruments during the course of his long life, apart from the clarinet and the recorder, and self-taught, achieved a proficient enough level to play each one at various times in his local symphony orchestra. The flute was his first instrument, which he took up when at Manchester Grammar School.

Also during the service we sang a selection of his favourite hymns. One in particular stands out: “Teach me, my God and King,” written by George Herbert in 1633. I wanted this hymn at our wedding, but since I had chosen every hymn and every piece of music, I thought it only right to let my poor hubby choose at least one thing! It was this hymn that had to be dropped, which I was very sad about. It is a most unusual hymn, written at the dawn of the Age of Reason when alchemy and superstition were giving way to modern scientific method and discovery. It contains references to both disciplines, and points to Dad’s many interests in the nature of the physical universe, and also describes his character – someone who did everything to the very best of his ability, for the glory of God. Somehow, not having it at our wedding was made perfect by having it at Dad’s funeral instead.

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.

All may of Thee partake;
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with this tincture, “for Thy sake,”
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.

The service consisted of exactly the right balance of solemnity, beauty, joy, fun and laughter. My hubby, my sister and I were all able to speak about Dad, sharing our own reminiscences of him, and there were many amusing anecdotes! My talk, which I entitled “My Inheritance” was a distillation of my blog post about the importance of objects as symbols, and I took along the objects described in that post and made a little display on a table at the side, complete with explanations for each one, and selected half a dozen to include in my talk.

In my sister’s talk, she included a reading of two of his favourite Hilaire Belloc nonsense poems that he used to recite from memory to anyone who would listen – having heard them so often over the years I have them by heart myself! She remembered things about Dad that I had forgotten – such as how he and she used to climb trees!

My hubby spoke about him after the reading of Psalm 1 (“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…”) which so summed up Dad’s integrity and righteousness; he spoke about Dad’s faith, and shared his own reminiscences. Between us, we included his diligence in his profession as a surgeon, his music, his engineering (and especially clock repairing) skills, his love of astronomy, his general eccentricity, his great sense of humour, his love for his cars, snooker, croquet, fencing, tennis and table tennis, and his enthusiasm for life and his constant desire to learn new things, which kept him forever young.

After the service, the pews were pushed back and we tucked into a splendid Devon cream tea, with sandwiches and lemon drizzle cake, and plenty of opportunity for further reminiscences. Lots of old friends and colleagues were there, and family members from as far afield as Yorkshire and Staffordshire – my only regret was that so many people had to leave so soon, as they had long journeys to make in the darkness and the rain, and I only managed a few minutes’ conversation with my cousins and Godmother, for instance.

In addition to the display of objects on the table, I also set up my laptop with a slideshow of photos taken throughout Dad’s long life, and this was watched with great interest by all and sundry. During the wake, a CD was played of further favourite pieces of music which Dad had loved.

The beautiful little country church was decorated ready for Christmas, with the candles lit, and the Nativity on the table to one side.

We chose a beautiful willow coffin for him. I have a thing about coffins – I really hate them! My hubby knows a wonderful local firm of funeral directors who offer “green” funerals and in their catalogue, they provide several different willow coffins, and also shrouds on a bier – we attended a funeral a couple of years ago when this was used, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. They cannot use shrouds for cremation, though, so we chose the most natural-coloured willow one, which rested on two simple ash trestles. We chose beautiful flowers, all in white, with some greenery – Dad loved simple, unadorned things, and I think this would have pleased him immensely. As he was borne out, I had a thought that it was fitting that he should be in a Moses basket – just like at the beginning of his life! We had chosen his favourite clothes to be dressed in for his final journey, including the green velvet waistcoat with the silk applique ivy leaves which I had made for him many years ago.

Dad's Funeral 19-12-13

When the funeral director returned to the church after taking Dad to the crematorium, he told me that on the drive there with Dad, the sky became very dramatic, with a huge dark cloud behind them, and shafts of sunlight ahead, which he said made the grass greener than he’d ever seen it, and the sheep more luminous! As he watched, a rainbow appeared. I believe this was a beautiful sign that God was smiling down on Dad and welcoming him into His Kingdom.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

WOYWW 236

For info on WOYWW and how to join in, please click the logo in my sidebar which will take you to our hostess Julia’s blog where you can sign up.

In answer to the question “What’s on your workdesk [this] Wednesday?” the answer is, “Not a lot.”

WOYWW 236

I have decided that at the first opportunity I am going to start work again on the album about Dad’s life. I haven’t done anything on it since well before we moved house, and I have a special reason now for wanting to do it. To the right of the album page is a small background I was working on last week, with mopped-up Distress Ink and some stamping and further distressing. I shall be uploading a blog post about this in due course,but I have managed to make the video.

On Friday, my beloved Dad passed away quietly just before midnight. He had been in hospital for a couple of weeks with an infection, and developed pneumonia, which, on top of his congestive heart failure, was causing him great difficulty breathing, despite the oxygen he was on. He seemed to be rallying during the week but on Friday afternoon he took a turn for the worse, and my hubby and I were privileged to be able to spend his final evening with him, holding his hand and speaking words of love as he moved on his final journey.

This is how I shall always remember him – the photo was taken in 1997 at their Golden Wedding party.

10 Parents' Golden Wedding Party - Dad 1

I have written two blog posts about him, here, and here – the second one being a long post really for my own benefit, to organise my thoughts into words. I am hoping to make a distillation of this to share at his funeral on Thursday 19th.

The week has obviously been a busy and emotionally charged time, and again I am so grateful to my wonderful hubby who has yet again risen to the occasion and taken on the burden of organising everything for us all.

Whatever is going on in our lives, I believe it is important to keep our eyes open for the beauty surrounding us, whether it be God’s creation in the countryside around us, or man-made beauty, or strange juxtapositions of familiar objects etc. Dad always taught me to observe the small detail of things, and we shared a lot of enjoyment together in seeing things that other people often ignore.

Remember this?

Grater Light 3

Last night I discovered more beauty from a humble object in the kitchen! I was cooking supper and had the halogen lamps on under the extractor hood, and I looked down to see the most amazing play of light and shade and reflection around one of my Dartington Glass daisy bowls sitting on the kitchen counter. I just had to grab my camera and photograph it! I enhanced the photos only slightly, using Serif PhotoPlus, to remove the slightly yellow cast and to bring up the contrast somewhat.

Daisy Reflections 1

Daisy Reflections 2

I am always amazed at how many beautiful and interesting things there are in our world, even in the most mundane of settings, if we just train ourselves to be observant!

Wishing you all a happy WOYWW and a creative and fulfilling week ahead.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Hare with Amber Eyes, Dad’s Treasures and the Importance of Inheritance

Warning – long post, but please stick with it as hopefully it will make sense by the end!

In Memoriam: My beloved father, 1923-2013

Over the past week I have been giving a lot of thought to the importance of objects as symbols of something much deeper in our lives, and especially since Friday night when my Dad passed quietly away. I have already posted this photograph on my blog, of a collection of items which used to belong to Dad:

02 Dad's Treasures

and I have had several requests for more information about these intriguing objects.

Coinciding with this, I have just been listening to one of the most fascinating and gripping audio books I have ever heard – I enjoyed it so much that my hubby is going to give me the illustrated hardback book for Christmas.

The Hare with Amber Eyes

A few weeks ago I watched two programmes on TV on the work of Edmund de Waal, a ceramicist living in London who makes vast numbers of individually thrown plain porcelain pots which are then meticulously arranged in vitrines (glass cases) and on simple shelves, and exhibited as installations. The effect of these pots-en-masse has a strangely restful effect, on me at least, and there is as much importance given to the spaces between the vessels as to the pots themselves – I have some further thoughts about this which follow below.

He studied in Japan for a while, perhaps explaining the origin of the “zen” effect created by his work, and stayed with his great-uncle, who had inherited the family’s collection of Japanese netsuke, tiny, intricate carvings of animals, people at work, and many other subjects, originally intended to be worn as toggles dangling from cords on Japanese clothing.

He has now inherited this collection himself, and he decided to take time out from his work to retrace the steps of this remarkable collection, from the time when his ancestor Charles, of the wealthy Jewish banking family of Ephrussi, originally acquired them as part of his huge art collection. This voyage into the past became one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read, and is at the same time an intimate family history, a detailed account of various artefacts in the family collection, a history of the turbulent years of European history from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its dissolution with the First World War, the unstable inter-war years and the rise of Hitler, and the devastating destruction of the Nazi years and the Second World War. It also details the struggle of European Jews to assimilate into mainstream society, and how thin a veneer this proved to be, and how this was ultimately stripped brutally away by the Nazis in an attempt to rid Europe of the Jews once and for all.

The thread running throughout this remarkable tale is the objects in the collection, in particular the netsuke, passed down faithfully from generation to generation, each one gathering along the way its own collection of stories and memories, layer by layer, as it passed through each succeeding hand. Gaining far more worth as symbols of family continuity than their intrinsic or monetary value, these objects became so much more than mere “things,” which made their theft, splitting up and dispersal, and in some cases destruction or disappearance, all the more traumatic as the family inheritance was raped and pillaged.

Edmund de Waal is a quiet, unassuming man with immense talent and a capacity to create simple objects with the capability to move one in a way not expressible in words. There is something very Japanese about his work which speaks to us in a totally different way from Western art. He has written books on pottery, and The Hare with Amber Eyes, his first book dealing with wider issues, is a masterpiece. On the audio version I have, there is an interview with him at the end of the book, and he expresses amazement that it has shot into the bestseller lists, when he expected this personal family history to be of limited appeal to an audience wider than his own intimate circle.

Reading the book, I began to feel intimately acquainted not only with the characters in his family tree, but also with the objects they owned and passed on, and could feel a real sense of grief as they were wrenched from their rightful place, and something died. I had never before thought of the Holocaust as a destruction of symbols as well as people – the physical object may still exist, as a painting, or a piece of porcelain, or an article of antique furniture – in a museum or in the hands of another private collector – but stripped of its story, and the threads that bind it to the family and the other objects in their collection, it is diminished and becomes a mere thing.

When we cleared my parents’ house ready for sale, my hubby, my sister and I spent many hours in Dad’s study. Mum always complained that he never threw anything away, and I am so, so glad that he did not. Yes, it made our work much harder, but what we found was a treasure-trove. My hubby came into our family too late to witness the stories growing around these objects, many of which he had never even seen before, because he never lived in the same house with them. My sister left home very soon after leaving school, and was never as close to Dad as I was. I have spent many a long and happy hour in his workshop with him, as a child, “helping” him by holding things, and just watching, and letting him explain what he was doing, and why, and seeing his unique way of working, and gradually moving away from the carpentry and cabinet-making of my younger childhood, to the metalwork and engineering of later years with the acquisition of the first lathe, and throughout, the passion for clocks – collecting, repairing and maintaining them, not just for himself but for family and friends as well, the only payment usually being a bottle of his favourite Single Malt!

My dad was a consultant ophthalmologist by profession, but he could equally well have been an engineer like his father, or a professional musician. He was a true Renaissance Man. His stature was small and might be considered by some to be insignificant, but his brain and his heart were that of a giant. After a long day of intricate and exacting work, he could not simply put that great brain and those deft fingers to sleep, but would spend his leisure hours creating things simply because they interested him, or conducting experiments in optics and sound, often with me as his willing “gofer,” assisting with the setup of the experiment and witnessing the results. We had a great deal of fun throughout, and I have now come to appreciate that he enjoyed my company just as much as I did his, as he had no-one else to share his interests with at home.

We found copious notes, and many curious objects when clearing his study, and my sister and hubby would pull something out and say “What on earth is this??” and I would whoop for joy as a whole treasure-trove of memories would tumble out, and I rescued it and saved it to keep as my special inheritance – the intrinsically valueless object made infinitely valuable by its own stories, known perhaps only to Dad and myself.

Before we embarked on this clear-out, I had already started acting on a plan I’d been hatching for months – to make an album about Dad’s life, chronicling his ancestry, childhood, youth, professional life, interests, etc. etc. I had already created the first page, and with the discovery of all these treasures, I have a wealth of material to incorporate. Some items will have to be included in photographic form, those which occupy the special shelf, along with others I have not yet found in the course of my unpacking after the house move. The whole collection will be a lasting archive of a life well lived, lived to the full, and special and personal and unique to me. My inheritance.

The Objects

Astigmatic Lens Model

Astigmatic Lens Model

Astigmatic Lens Model Detail

While working at the hospital, every few months a new intake of junior doctors would arrive. My dad was the only consultant in the team who believed that a working knowledge of optics was a useful tool for the ophthalmologist – curious really, because it is so fundamental, but perhaps the younger consultants were more interested in the hi-tech aspect of the work, with the use of lasers, diamond knives, etc. and maybe felt that optics were far too mundane! Dad used to run a short evening class at the end of the working day once or twice a week, which the young doctors would attend, and in the course of this he would produce visual aids to help explain some of the more complicated aspects. One of these was this model of the astigmatic lens – of particular interest to me since I suffer from astigmatism! Hard to explain how a lens could focus a beam of light not into a point but into a line, but his model, with the threads running through the perspex representations of the lenses, explains it perfectly. It is also a rather beautiful object.

Trick Dovetail

Trick Dovetail

In his cabinet making days, I was always fascinated by the beautifully fitted joints – the mortise and tenon, and especially the dovetail, which had to be carved so accurately with a series of chisels. I loved the sound of the tap-tap-tap of mallet on chisel, and the appearance and fragrance of the fresh shavings which would fall from the bench. Dad came across a pattern somewhere for creating a trick dovetail, with a dovetail joint on all three faces of a triangular prism – clearly an impossibility to assemble! Of course, these dovetails are not real dovetails at all, but they certainly look real! On this little piece, made of two solid pieces of wood (not veneered), one oak and the other mahogany, you can see the dovetail on each face. Over the years, with polishing, these woods have become darker and it is less easy to see the difference between them than it was originally. This little object is very tactile and the satin finish of the polished wood and the contrasting clean sharpness of the edges feels pleasing in the hand.

Graefe Knife

Graefe Knife

In 1987, his colleagues had a Graefe knife (cataract knife) gold plated and mounted in a small silver-mounted glass display box, to be presented to him on his retirement from the hospital. Wikipedia says of this knife that “Use of the knife demanded a high level of skill and mastery,” something my Dad had in abundance. Nobody uses them now, as with the advance of technology there are easier methods.

My Grandmother’s Silver Medals

My Grandmother's Silver Medals

Three heavy silver medals presented to my Scottish grandmother (Dad’s mother) in her school days, in the years 1907 and 1908 – prizes for mathematics, English, and science. She was an extremely bright lady, and graduated from Aberdeen University in 1913 with a 2nd class honours degree in mathematics and natural sciences. (Scotland was obviously more enlightened than England in those days because it was many years before English women were awarded degrees from the principal universities, even though they had done the work and achieved the required level of excellence equal to their male counterparts!)

Fencing Medal

Fencing Medal

Dad fenced for Devon in the early 1950s. When I was very young I remember going to meetings and watching him fight, and was intrigued by the heavy white linen clothing and the mesh face mask, the stylised movements and the exaggerated politeness between the protagonists, and the curiously-shaped canvas bag he made to carry all the kit. He was always very quick on his feet and you could see the fencing influence in later years when he played tennis or table tennis!

Diamond Scales

Diamond Scales - Box Closed

Diamond Scales - Box Open

Diamond Scales - Weights

Diamond Scales - Scales Assembled

A miniature set of weighing scales in a beautiful little polished wooden box. Dad inherited this pocket set of scales from Grandpa, who obtained them while in South Africa. They were used for weighing diamonds. The set is complete, with all the tiny carat weights, and is quite exquisite, and just the sort of thing that appealed to Dad.

Number Counter

Number Counter

Press the top, and the number advances by one digit. Ushers at conferences or church services would frequently use these, clicking as each person arrived, so that the organisers would know how many attendees there were. Dad used this for all sorts of things where he was counting and didn’t want to lose count. It is worn and somewhat grubby from so much use.

Escapement Models

Escapement Models

Two small perspex models of clock escapements. In 1985, when Dad was president of his local medical society shortly before his retirement, one of his duties was to give the annual presidential address, which was always of a non-medical nature, and to which members’ families were invited. The lecture would be followed by a dinner. The subject of Dad’s address was “The Clock Doc – or Horology in a Nutshell” and he brought along many examples of different clocks from his collection. He showed diagrams on the overhead projector – one I remember was extremely detailed and complex, and he prefaced his explanation of this with “It’s really quite simple” which caused a ripple of amusement through the audience! They all knew what he was like!! He made these escapement models from perspex, to place on the plate of the overhead projector, and he would pull the string to make the pallets work against the scape-wheel, and it would all show on the screen. One is of a recoil escapement, common in normal long-case clocks, and the other a dead-beat escapement, more often found in regulators. He spent many hours designing and making these, to be shown for just a few minutes during his lecture. He used to do things like that.

Clock Notebook

Clock Notebook

In this tiny well-thumbed notebook are details of all the clocks he serviced and repaired over the years, written in his tiny and often illegible handwriting (illegible even to himself at times, as he freely admitted!) with the dates, and what he had done, so that when a particular clock would return as an inpatient in the Clock Hospital, he would know what had been done before, and any peculiarities or anomalies of that particular clock. He would often detail the gift the grateful owner would present him with, on the return home of the precious clock – usually a bottle of his favourite Single Malt. He never charged for his services but did it for love – love of the clocks and the opportunity to work on many different and varied timepieces, and of the many and varied owners with whom he often had long-standing relationships over the years as he continued to maintain their clocks for them. Many of the clocks led to enduring friendships, and several of these people left their clocks to him in their wills when they died, adding to his collection. I now own at least two of these.

Alhambra Mirror

Alhambra Mirror

I bought this for Dad when my hubby and I visited Granada on our Spanish holiday several years ago. He always loved Granada, Cordoba, Seville… all the wonderful Moorish architecture and the ancient culture, and I fell in love with these mirrors on sale, which imitate the intricate plasterwork of the walls and ceilings of these astonishing buildings. It hung in his study from the day I gave it to him. The only item in the collection which I gave him, chosen because I knew he would love it, and now it has returned to me, but with an extra layer of significance, another story, gained during his period of ownership.

Double Moebius Strip

Double Moebius Strip

Dad had long been fascinated by various mathematical problems and puzzles, including the Moebius strip, which is a mathematical three-dimensional figure with only one surface. He decided to make one, and ended up making a double one out of copper strip, brazed together. It used to hang in his study, rotating slowly in the air. As you look at it, it appears impossible, with the two figure-eight shapes appearing to be suspended on nothing. It still has a single surface. As you hold it in your hands, it moves and flexes in a strange way that makes it feel somewhat unreal, and not rigid as you would expect a metal object to be. I have in mind one day to create one from silver mirror card, and to suspend it from a slowly rotating motor, inside a partial cylinder of mirrored surface, to create an interesting play of light and reflection. It’s one of those projects in embryo form and not even yet on the drawing board! One day, one day… I think Dad would have been intrigued to see the result of such an idea, and when I eventually get around to doing it, it will feel like a joint project created by myself and Dad – an object with its own story and a divided timeline, as Dad is no longer with us, but he will still be intimately involved in its creation.

Antique Gold Pocket Watch

Gold Pocket Watch

This little watch is highly decorated and ornate. I do not know its history, but it was with his clock bits so I decided to keep it. I think it is probably a Victorian lady’s pocket watch but I have no details. Its story is hidden, but I am sure it has one!

Ornamental Turning

Ornamental Turning

Some years ago, Dad read a book about the 17th and 18th century kings of Prussia, who became passionate devotees of ornamental turning, producing some astonishing work. He decided to try his hand at this, and although he did not have a dedicated ornamental turning lathe, he used his 7-in Myford engineering lathe and decorated some small cylinders of box wood. The one in the above photograph is the only one remaining, unfortunately. Being a very hard, dense wood, box is ideal for showing up the fine detail of this form of turning.

Oxford Congress Badge

Oxford Congress Badge

For many years, Dad attended the annual Oxford Ophthalmological Congress which drew delegates from around the world. They would stay in one of the colleges and after an early morning dip in Parson’s Pleasure (a section of the River Thames strictly reserved for male nude bathing!!) they would settle down in the conference venue and hear learned papers and generally bring themselves up to date with the world of ophthalmology and share information in the more informal environment of the dining room. One year, for the final session, my dad presented a paper on a patient who had suffered a traumatic head injury resulting in the condition known as enophthalmos due to blow-out fracture (her eye had been pushed backwards, breaking the thin orbital bone of the skull). He had devised a novel method of rectifying this problem, which involved removing first the legs, and then the arms, of the patient, which enabled him finally to remove her head, and access the orbit posteriorly, via the foramen magnum. By this time, as you can imagine, there were distinct murmurs of apprehension and concern from the assembled company. At the end of the paper, Dad said that the patient herself had kindly agreed to appear before the congress to show them how successful this surgery had been. Dad introduced them all to Wendy, my sister’s plastic doll! Her limbs and head were connected by elastic bands via holes in her body, and her head could not be removed without first removing the limbs! Once he had her head off, he was able to push the eyeball back into its socket from behind – fortunately her head was quite hollow and his progress was not impeded by the presence of a brain!

Signet Ring Impression

Signet Ring Impression

When my parents got married in 1947, post-war rationing was still in place, and new gold was practically impossible to obtain. My dad bought an antique gold wedding ring for Mum, and she bought him an old gold signet ring set with a very dark red garnet. To make these rings uniquely their own, hers was engraved with tiny daisies all around (long since worn off after 66 years of marriage!) and the garnet of his was engraved with his monogram in reverse, as a seal. In amongst Dad’s things I found a tiny box with a wax impression of this seal, and a printed diagram of the monogram, produced by the jeweller who did the work for them.

I am extremely upset that the ring has gone missing recently. When visiting Dad in hospital the other day, I noticed to my horror that it was not on his finger. I immediately asked the hospital staff, and they checked the inventory of his belongings on admission, and it was not there, and none of the staff had noticed him wearing a ring. I phoned the residential home and the manager said they would have a look for it – it had not been handed into the office. He was notorious while there for losing his possessions – glasses, walking sticks etc. went missing for a pastime, and we are hoping it may yet turn up. This is history repeating itself – my maternal grandmother had a fine gold signet ring set with a bloodstone which had belonged to my grandfather, and which was to come to me, and it disappeared while she was in the nursing home. I am hoping and praying that it may yet turn up. I feel very upset over the loss of this ring which I have always loved, and which has been part of my dad’s hand all my life.

Thistle Liqueur Glass

Thistle Liqueur Glass

This is the last remaining glass from a set owned by my Scottish grandmother (the recipient of the silver medals). I always loved these little glass thistles, and I love the tactile contrast between the rough, cut-glass bowl and the smoothness of the rest of the glass. It brings back so many happy memories of holidays spent in her beautiful Scottish house so full of treasures.

 

I have various other objects which are not displayed on this shelf, partly because there’s no more room and partly because some of them are still not unpacked. They will most likely feature in the album. I also have some treasures of my own which were presents from Dad, and which reflected our shared interest in such things as the ancient Minoan culture of Crete, the Russian Imperial eggs of Peter Carl Faberge, and working with our hands – many of his gifts were workshop tools to help me with my basic DIY skills. We used to give each other magazine subscriptions for Christmas presents – he gave me a craft publication called “Golden Hands” for several years, and I reciprocated with “The Model Engineer,” or as we called it, “Oily Hands.” He was physically very healthy all his life until his extreme old age, suffering only from migraines – one thing he generously passed on to me that I could well have done without!

My dad had more integrity than anyone I have ever known. One of his favourite phrases was, “Just because everybody else is doing it, doesn’t make it right!” He was meticulous in his desire to do the right thing and to follow his conscience at all times. He was honest through and through, a man of faith, quiet, unassuming, hating to be thanked although he was generous to a fault, and giving in secret. He had extremely high standards in every area of his life, exacting, not sloppy in any way, neat and dapper in appearance and extremely intelligent. He liked everything to be clearly expressed and exact, and he used to irritate me a lot when I was growing up, by constantly correcting my grammar and not letting me get away with expressing things inaccurately! He and I had a close relationship from my early teens onwards, with mutual respect and a shared sense of humour, and a common love of classical music, especially Bach and chamber music. He introduced me to the Dartington International Summer School of Music which we attended together for many years, he playing chamber music and I singing in the choir and in workshops. We had long discussions about many subjects, including the Bible and our Christian faith, music, art, astronomy and many of his other interests and he always appreciated the things I had made. We enjoyed many of the same books – he introduced me to Sherlock Holmes and Nevil Shute – and we shared a love for thick, Scottish porridge cooked with salt and served with no sugar!

 

Some thoughts on physical presence and memory

I mentioned earlier the  importance of the spaces between objects being as important as the objects themselves. I have been reflecting on my dad’s place in the world, and how for 90 years he displaced a small part of the universe by his presence. At the moment of his death, although his body still occupied physical space, it was as if this displacement vanished, and the universe once again encroached on the space that he had lived in. His living presence made a leap – to glory, to share in eternity with our Lord Jesus, but also, at the same time, and in no lesser degree, into our hearts, where he will remain forever. He is no less real, now that his presence in time and space is no more, and I feel I have internalised him in a way that enlarges and enriches me. The space between objects that he once occupied has suddenly become a space within an object – as it were filling a plain and simple pot with something rich and enduring.

My precious little collection of artefacts appears as an eclectic group of objects with nothing to connect them except the mind of an extraordinary man – a true Renaissance man with wide-ranging interests and an untiring intellect – a mind which chose not to rest at the end of the working day, or when his professional life came to a close. A questing, enquiring mind which took delight in learning new things every day, expressed in the objects that he collected, made, and loved, and expressing a time-line of changing interests as his knowledge and experience grew. Each object tells a story and is redolent of the character of this great man I am privileged to call my father.