Turning the page on 2023


Dropping in to brush the dust off my blog and wish everyone (if you’re still there) a happy and improved 2024. I had to make some changes to my lifestyle to try to manage my ADHD, jiggling things  (such as my diet and eating times) around a bit, in order that I can use my energies to prioritise work.  That meant resting my blog for a while, and concentrating on my Patreon page and Instagram. Hopefully now that I’m in a better routine, I can blog more regularly.


My mental health has been very bad this year, with the constant stress and the financial struggle to survive and keep the cottage going. In short, it’s been a difficult year. There will be a bit of a life change next year and having faced a lot of dragons in 2023, I’m back to painting at last. I hope this is an end to the artistic block I’ve had since moving here. As I write, there are fireworks going off far away and although I don’t celebrate New Year (for me, the year turned on the recent Winter Solstice), I am looking forward to turning the page on the old year and starting tomorrow with a new pink diary and calendar. A fresh start all round.


Field painting adventure and overcoming blocks

I have started to reserve Saturdays as a day off, otherwise I'm working every day without a break, which isn't particularly good for my fragile mental health. The weather at the moment is perfectly 'May' - not too hot, with a pleasant breeze and everywhere around is bursting with greenery, blossom and bird song. I have been yearning to do some landscape sketching for ages and decided to stay close to home, because I have a certain amount of anxiety about going out. So I packed a rucksack with a stupid amount of art stuff, made up a little picnic of a cheese sandwich and a bottle of water and after a lot of deep breaths, I set off on my monumental adventure; a minute's walk down the road to the back field which my bedroom overlooks. This is my usual  pleasant view, when I am working in bed (which is most days). It has the best light after midday and is comfortable.

I haven't  set foot in this field in the ten years I've been here. There are two reasons for this; the first is practical. There is a designated footpath which goes across it, but it ends abruptly at the hedgerow boundary, so it's fairly useless. The second is that I've had a mental block about it, as this was the field that Andy walked across on his last, ghastly walk in the dark snowstorm, leaving only his footprints, which remained there for days. I remember kneeling at the bedroom window the next morning, watching a police dog tracking what it could find of his scent and that image will never leave me. So despite it's beauty (and since then, I do appreciate it, every day), I have had little desire to actually go into it, even for a change of scene. So this was the day and it felt momentous. The footpath is just on the edge of Jean-and-Brian-Next-Door's garden and is almost never used (for the practical reason I mentioned before). It was overgrown with lovely Queen Anne's Lace and less lovely nettles.  

I scrambled over and waded through the jungle. Suddenly there I was, and what seemed like a vast expanse in front of me. The footpath leads to that gap ahead in the hedgerow. Beyond that are more fields, but technically inaccessible without extra footpath. I don't think the farmer would mind me pottering about, as we are on good terms, but I don't like going outside 'the rules', so I stuck to the  route. 

Happily, the area that I intended to sketch was perfectly placed for me to settle my gear and myself on the path - there is a small blossoming area of hawthorn that I wanted to capture, just beyond the oak tree on the edge of the woodlands (which belongs to another less friendly farm). 

It's been years since I attempted anything like this. I did a very rough prelim sketch of the composition, which was a messy scrawl that only I could interpret. 

I have no pretensions to being the next Cezanne or Paul Nash - this was really about getting out in the nice weather and doing something different. It was hard work though, even with copious amounts of pastels. I didn't create a masterpiece, nor even anything like how I emotionally 'feel' about the landscape. But I did have a marvellous two hours, sat in the sun, scribbling away in the middle of a field that I had feared entering for a decade. Now I felt safe and comfortable. I ate half a cheese sandwich and dickered about with my pastel mess until it was time to stop before I completely ruined it. 

It's been  long held wish of mine to be able to spend most of my time focussing on landscape art, but I'm not good enough to make it pay and I can't afford the time it would take to get to a standard I am happy with, nor the big canvases and oils I'd like to paint with. But this will do for now and more importantly, it was a break from my other work and I had fun. 

The problem is an old one - back when I was doing my art training over thirty years ago, I decided to go down the path of illustration, which suited my naturally 'tight' and high definition style of working. So it's hard to break out of that habit and needs a lot of practise to get out of. However I made a small start and the colour capture wasn't too bad - I'm just not happy with the way I depicted it, because it in no way expresses the way I 'see' a landscape in my mind's eye. There's no lyrical rhythm or magic. It is what it is.

However, self criticism aside, I also enjoyed seeing our cottages for the first time from the back - Jean and Brian's larger sections on the left and my bit tacked on the right side, with the white window frames. I had the odd sensation that maybe  (in some freakish quantum alternate reality kind of thing) there was simultaneously another Me in the bedroom, needle felting and gazing out of the window, while present Me looked on from the other side of the field. 

That's another block overcome and for the first time in ages, I have two mini- paintings for sale, in my usual style, over in my Etsy shop. I'm hesitant about mentioning them, as my art barely sells, compared to my needle felting, but I'm going to be brave again. 

This is 'Marmalade', one of my imaginary toys, which comes in a 6 x 6 inch mount but is unattached, so that it can be reframed if wished, which is available here

And one from last year, which I've only just listed, 'Autumn Pincushion' (very unseasonal), which is also in a 6 x 6 inch mount and is available here. 

Now I'm going to take the rest of the day off again, as it's Saturday, and I might sit under the willow tree in the overgrown garden and finish some Christmas ornaments so that they are ready in time for the holiday season, which will swing around all too quickly. 


A Wild and Sacred Beauty

I realised today that I was in danger of missing my favourite month of the year; May for me is like Christmas - I cannot wait for it to arrive, spend weeks in anticipation of it and miss it dreadfully when it is (all too quickly) over. However, I have to earn my mortgage every month and that means working (making and selling) pretty much all day and every day, with no guaranteed results. The only sure result is that I am constantly tired and anxious. So this morning, with my inner batteries feeling totally flat and my creativity at a low, I pumped dear old Marjorie's tyres up for the first time this year and we set off for a short jaunt to a  tiny village across the way, turning off the main road and up into this narrow, high banked lane, which has been here for centuries. 

I stopped to inspect this huge polypore fungus which has been here for a while. It is just sending out a 'baby' underneath, which feels cool and tender as opposed to the main body, which is hard and powdery. The hedge-rowed banks were sprouting ferns and all the winsome Spring flowers were speckling the greenery - Red Campion, White Stitchwort, Bluebells and Buttercups. Further up the hill and the best of all, the creamy froth of Queen Anne's Lace lining the lane all the way to my destination. This is richness. This is freedom.

All Saints Church at Berrington is small, but beautiful - and ancient. Unusually, it sits within a raised circular enclosure, leading to suggestions that there may have been an even older older scared grove here, before the first Christian church was built. The grounds certainly have a magical, secret garden atmosphere. I parked Marjorie in the foyer and went to explore.  

The older, original part of the churchyard has been left to gently wild, with slim pathways cut through for access to still tended plots. There is an abundance of Hawthorn, which drips blossom laden branches and scents the air heavily.

To the side, there is a venerable yew tree guarding a small gate, with views to the surrounding countryside.

The original church is recorded in the Domesday book of 1086, however the present church was built in the 13th Century and like most British churches, has had many alterations and additions since. Inside, I was drawn like a bee to the Norman (or possibly Saxon) font, which stands upon a Roman pillar. I counted the faces carved around it, instinctively thinking that there would be seven - and so there were. There is no record of who or what the faces depict, that I can find.

I sat on a pew in the still peacefulness and had a little think and a prayer, my thoughts returning as they so often do to Andy and how he would have loved this place and the mysterious faces around the stone font. 

I am only just feeling more like myself after over ten years of finding myself alone in a strange county. Time has (to some extent) healed, but there is still a deep scar.

Outside, the sun had risen high and after quietly closing the old wooden gates, I had a last look at the wild loveliness of the churchyard. Feeling much better for my adventure, I cycled home.

I am indebted to the 'Friends of Berrington Church' website for much of my information; if you'd like to read more of it's long history, do give it a visit. 

(If you are one of my Patreon subscribers, there is a more in-depth account of the church interior here).


Shropshire snow

I ventured out for a short walk this morning, as although the snow was falling it is due to rain later and as I write, there is a steady, wet spattering as it slowly melts and drips from the cottage roof. So off up the hill I went, with my camera. 

It isn't unheard of to get snow in March but it is odd to see the cheery yellow daffodil heads bent under the weight of their new white bonnets and the surrounding farmland resembling a Christmas scene.

I only noticed the other day that the trees and hedgerows were just - barely - starting to acquire the warmer flush of colour that precedes new shoots and growth, however today they were stark silhouettes, with not a hint of Spring about them.

I walked up to my usual gate, exchanging a cheery wave and hello with a father and his two children, who were playing with a sled. There was no sign of the Wrekin, which is usually plain in sight here.

Feeling a little damp and chilled, I headed home, with the  comforting sight of my little cottage waiting for me and the prospect of another day of working in the warmth of my bed. 


Little cottage room made good


For the first time since moving into the cottage over ten years ago, I have a functioning front room. There are many reasons why it has remained a 'zombie' room, mostly due to my being overwhelmed by the sheer muddle of it all (one of the many symptoms of my ADHD) and needing to get the wood burner swept. It has only been briefly lit once, when Andy was alive and has been unused ever since.

However, with a very small electric budget and the ongoing issue of rising bills, I decided to leave my upstairs studio storage heater off this winter, with the result that I've been unable to work in there without catching a chill (even with several layers of clothing and a dressing gown on top). And I can't afford not to work.

So last month I used some Christmas money to get the sweep in. He declared the fire fit for purpose and Brian-next-door helped me put a rudimentary curtain rail over the open doorway, to block the cold upstairs air off. I finally got this neglected space sorted out; I now have dedicated painting and printing space, and a place where I can work in the warm with the fire going. 

It's made a huge difference, as I can pick things up and put them down without losing sight of them, as happened with the other space, where my work table had several roles, and had to be cleared for each one.  Life is slowly starting to make sense and ideas are beginning to return. Little bits of my brain, the ones that dreamed of silly, whimsical things, are waking up again and the results are finding their way onto paper.

My aim is to expand what I do, on top of needle felting and bring in enough extra money to cover the mortgage and be able to stay here. It's been a long struggle to maintain things and at times hasn't seemed worth it, without Andy to share it with.

My drive to be an artist and to earn a living creating has seen me through tougher times than this. As a young person in the care system, trying to fend for myself, my ambition to be an artist saved me from many pitfalls; nothing else mattered apart from that one thing that drove me forward and to make a better life for myself. In retrospect, I'm amazed I achieved what I did, especially now I know I had undiagnosed ADHD on top of everything else. 

If I'd known how long and hard my journey would be, I might have given up, but I didn't, so I'm not about to throw the towel in now, not without a final effort. I owe it to my younger self.

(The ceramic cat in front of the fire is one I made when I was a 20 year old art student and it looks totally at home underneath the warmth). 


New Year Return

The first day of a shiny New Year seems as good a time as any to crank this old blog back to some kind of wheezing life. The Old Year was a difficult one, particularly in the autumn, when I sank into one of the worst bouts of depression I’ve endured for years, largely down to the looming prospect of having to sell the cottage and face an uncertain future. However, I managed to drag myself out of it and am starting 2023 feeling remarkably positive, despite everything. 

After a creative slump, when I felt as if I’d never create anything original and pleasing again, I began making a new range of little creatures who have cheered me up during the dark winter evenings and are proving popular, quickly finding new homes and so helping me to stay in mine.

I tend to withdraw into myself when things are going downhill, hence the quietness here. When Andy and I relocated to Shropshire over ten years ago, it was supposed to be the next exciting chapter of our lives together and as many of you know, it was completely the opposite. The trauma of losing 
him, just three months after we moved into the cottage has taken it’s toll and I don’t think I’ll ever recover from it. What I didn’t know then, was that I was also starting the menopause, which brings its own set of difficulties, especially, in my case, mental health ones. I was also unaware that I have severe ADHD. I was finally diagnosed in May last year. It didn’t come as a surprise, but it has led me to reevaluate the way I live and to realise that all of these things made my time here the most difficult period of my life, which has not been the easiest in the first place.

I’ve no idea what the next ten years hold, if I’ll be here this time next year or even this summer. I am, however, feeling stronger somehow and more like my old self than I have done since leaving the Cotswolds. I’m older, more tired and achey, but I’ve managed to find a little nugget of courage kicking around in a corner, just when I thought I was all out of it.


Cuttings from a garden in Wales

Last month Jean-and-Brian-next-door invited me out for an afternoon of sight seeing, namely Glansevern Hall and Gardens, over the Shropshire/Wales border near Welshpool. As long term readers know, I can’t get out and about, due to the complete lack of public transport here, so I have barely explored the area I’ve been living in for over ten years; the offer for a trip to somewhere new was very welcome.

On the day we went there was a voluntary payment system rather than a ‘pay on the gate’ entrance fee.

It’s a rambling, overgrown wild beauty of a garden, bursting out over grassy pathways and only loosely tamed to some semblance of formality. Let’s follow my neighbours down the veg and herb patch and have a wander. 


Through the walled gardens…

 …past the little orangerie…

…down ‘Wisteria Walk’ towards the classical fountain…

…discovering a fairy folly…

…and a handy bench by a fallen beech, where I rested my arthritic knees, while Jean and Brian took a brief detour to visit a nearby bird hide and came back filled with delight at having seen a kingfisher.

Leaving the main gardens, we headed towards the side of ‘the big house’ (which I thought was relatively modest by Georgian standards).

Coming round to the frontage and a drive large enough for a few carriages.

Directly in front  of the house, there is an area of clipped neatness, with the lush, rolling Welsh landscape in the background and tumbling, moody skies overhead. But even here, the planting has been allowed to spread and spill along the edges.

On to the final adventure, a long walk around the lake, with a tantalising trellised canopy decorating the centre; a delicate confection of a frame under which it would be wonderful to sit and have afternoon tea, with tiny colourful cakes and hot tea in porcelain cups.

Dear little lichen covered stone benches for just sitting and looking.

Although it was overcast,  it was one of those muggy, still summer days, and the lake was perfectly still. The Chinese bridge is much steeper than it looks and I almost came a cropper, but I took it very slowly and my dignity remained intact.

Coming up around the side of the house, and onto the original drive, lined with lovely topiary balls (and as you know, I do love a bit of topiary).

Although I found the main house to be too austere for my liking, I was very taken with the humbler red brick out buildings and could imagine myself living there quite contentedly. (Jean and I debated for some time as to whether the fan tail doves on the wall were real or not. I decided the matter by taking a zoom shot - what do you think?)

I think we pottered about for around three hours and had a thoroughly lovely time. My head was filled with images of a joyous riot of plants, a mirror lake and tangled woods, with the looming block of the house sat squarely in the centre, keeping watchful window eyes on the wild rowdiness surrounding it.

(If you are one of my lovely £3 month blog extra Patreon subscribers, you can read about our visit on the return journey to a special little church in the Welsh mountains with a chequered and ancient history here).