an e-mail to francesca kay

1996-058The rose arbour at Tretower Court in a painting I made when I worked there.

Francesca Kay and I have a friendship that goes back a long way. We met at Tretower Court and Castle where I worked in a custodian’s hut… long since demolished… selling tickets and guide books, and she’d come to care for the newly-constructed medieval garden, re-placing the modern plants the contractors had provided with ones that were more appropriate to the period. It was in the hut at Tretower I made masks in my spare time, and there too that Francesca wrote poetry and planned her garden talks that were such a well-loved feature of the site. Francesca and her mother Angela continued as gardeners at Tretower long after I had left, and under their care the ‘new’ medieval garden matured into a beautiful, timeless sanctuary.

Clive to Francesca: 16 December 2012 10:00:32 GMT
‘Francesca, I dreamed about you last night! We were both working in a huge stately-home-type garden, looking after it I suppose, though in what capacity wasn’t too clear. I seemed to have something to do with the life-size clockwork figures that decorated the herbaceous borders, and you were marshalling a vast tour-party of poets, split up into groups and swarming everywhere. There were ‘events’ going on all over the estate, and you and I were buzzing around being terribly important! At one point I cornered you and said… with a sort of weary resignation… ‘It’s come to my attention that you’ve been infiltrating my blog site and altering some of the posts, and while I don’t particularly see any reason to object, I’d prefer that you spoke with me first rather than change things behind my back without any discussion!’ You whooped with unseemly amusement, though I noted you looked slightly shame-faced as you tossed your curls and skittishly ran ahead to avoid the confrontation. I called out after you ‘I want to know how you did it. Clearly it’s a breach of security!’ But I was shouting into the air, because you were gone, with only the trill of your laughter trailing across the grass as you skipped away to take refuge among your poets!’
The medieval garden at Tretower
You can read more about Francesca at the Artlog HERE and HERE.
You can visit her blog HERE
… and purchase her delightful literary and opera finger-puppets HERE.
For the seven years I worked there, my approach to Tretower was by car along the lane that turns off the Abergavenny to Brecon road. It’s less than a mile long, curling across the valley floor to the Court and Castle and the village of Tretower beyond. As soon as I’d turned into it I would slow down to a crawl, better to appreciate the magnificent reveal of the sentinel tower across the field beyond the flowery mead of the ‘medieval garden’. For me that short stretch of lane, bisecting meadows where geese and horses grazed and the stream rushed about its business, was the approach to heaven. Sometimes the small pond adjacent to the Court’s boundary wall would be flocked with ducks spilling out into the lane. Their chattering and the smell of stone, old wood and honeysuckle in the sun, is how I always conjure Tretower in memory.
Don’t Look Back, painted at the time I stopped working at Tretower in 1996.
The wall of Tretower Court is about shoulder-height, and I always thought it a delight that  a view of the garden, and particularly the rose arbour that runs parallel to the lane, was afforded over it for passers-by, regardless of whether they paid to enter the site. In the painting of the garden at the top of this post you can see the wall to the right of the composition, as it was during my time at the monument. Alas it does not look like that now. CADW Welsh Historic Monuments has erected a high hurdle fence on top of the wall that entirely obliterates the view of the garden from anyone on the lane. It seems to me an act of wretchedness to hide a prospect that once was there for everyone to enjoy. In past summers when the arbour was in flower, the roses were a fragrant cumulus of blossom banked along the top of the wall. Now there is just the grey blankness of hurdling masking the beauty, and a sinking regret in the heart that those who once walked along the lane to appreciate the flowering of the arbour, are now denied even a glimpse of it. All must pay their pennies and enter. Shame on whoever at CADW was responsible for this mean-spirited decision.

9 thoughts on “an e-mail to francesca kay

  1. Clive I don’t know whether to be pleased or slightly alarmed to be in your dream – but I do feel it is the duty of poets to infiltrate, leaving ideas and altering perceptions wherever possible!

    Tretower was a wonderful place, and the memory of it is deep in my heart. It is lovely to see your photograph and two pictures, which bring it back to me with joy, and a little sadness too.

  2. Interesting dream. I too have often associated the tending of a blog with the tending of a garden. Spam comments are so like weeds, and neither a blog nor a garden is ever complete…

    • I like this notion of blogging being analogous to gardening. Good observation, Dave. The ‘weeding’ made me chuckle. And as I take a little break from being the-man-in-charge in this lead-up to Christmas, in Lucy and Shellie I even seem to have got myself a Head Gardener and an Under-Gardener to look after it all. How very ‘Downton Abbey’!

  3. What a great dream, very powerful imagery and a bit mad – I can see that Tretower is a place that can get under your skin. I do love that painting, the wide format and the lovely cool shadows

    • Done in acrylic inks. Not at all easy to handle, but they yield wonderful results if the paintings are kept at a modest scale. (The inks are difficult to control when worked with big brushes on large sheets of paper, tending to pooling and stickiness.)

    • Tretower is an oasis of calm. There was the sense that it had drawn me in when I needed it most, embraced and then held me safe. But when my time was up and I was deemed whole again, I was unceremoniously tossed out of paradise to forge my future elsewhere. (I’m quite sure I was making room for another lost soul who needed its balm.) However in so many ways, Tretower still feels like where I half-belong. My dust has blown into the mortar of the walls, and all my early paintings are steeped in the place.

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