Missing

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I Miss

I miss you in the kitchen, my constant companion throughout the preparation of meals.

I miss you sitting watchfully at the table, taking as much interest in the chopping of peppers for Ratatouille as you did in going for a walk or having a game of fetch.

I miss your eyes on me, and your paw, gently reaching up to tap a reassurance to both of us.

I miss you waiting patiently for your portion of the food served. I miss walking from the room knowing you wouldn’t touch any morsels left on the table as I prepared a meal, not even a tasty piece of fish, or a scrap of cheese tantalisingly in reach.

I miss the pride I always felt when any guest noticed you could be trusted in this way, and the warmth of affection when I watched you take proffered tidbits from visitors with gentleness, never snapping or wolfing down. Always gentlemanly and reticent.

I miss the way you’d lock on my eyes, watching for any small expression of encouragement. A tiny nod would bring you to my hand, a tilt of the head would alert you to step back.

I miss the chatter between us, me in words and you in the soft vocalisations you used to express your feelings. You did it more as you got older, and perhaps as you got more deaf.

I miss the kitchen door banging open when you arrived to join me. Closed doors were never an impediment to you.

I miss you massaging my back. Was there ever a dog who did such a thing? You were extraordinary.

 

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I miss you, all the time.

Sir Jack and the Green Knight

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Jack was my companion in the studio throughout the long process of making the 14 prints of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight series. He kept vigil in his basket beneath my work table every working day of the project. There would be occasional forays downstairs to discover what was going on elsewhere, to greet the postman, check up on Peter and see if anything interesting – or promising – was going on in the kitchen. But afterwards he’d always return to take up his post with me, and he’d stay until it was time for his walk, and again after that, until the day’s work was done. Whenever I was overtired I’d stretch out for a nap on the studio floor, my head resting on the pillow of his flank, and he’d tuck his head into my neck and sigh deeply with contentment as we both drifted off in the dust and sunshine.

For the many years we’ve attended exhibition openings at MoMA Machynlleth, Jack has always accompanied us.  Weather allowing he would sit patiently in the courtyard while Peter and I were off viewing art, though I’d regularly check on him from the window up in the Owen Owen Room, from where I could see who’d decided to keep him company. There was always someone, and often a queue of admirers, children and adults, proffering tidbits of sausage-rolls and ham sandwiches from the buffet. Jack never went short of food at a MoMA opening and rarely needed super after one. However, willing courtyard dog-minders notwithstanding, this year, with the weather so cold and Jack feeling it more than when he was a youngster, I’d determined he was coming in for the Gawain event. I knew it wasn’t permitted for dogs to enter the building, but as my studio companion throughout the two and a half years of preparation for the exhibition, I was determined Jack would have his place in the spotlight on the big day. (And I strongly suspect Richard and Ruth Lambert would have allowed it!)

But in the end, though he made it to the completion of the fourteenth print, Jack didn’t manage to stay long enough for the exhibition. On Saturday, in memory of him, I shall fasten his leash into a belt-loop at my waist, the way I always did whenever we were out and about together. Jack eschewed a lead at social occasions, always behaving impeccably when off it. So although I’ll be without him, I’ll feel better for having his leash at my side, the way it has been for so many years.

Below: my birthday supper at La Cuina in Cardiff, June 2016, with Philipa and Dave Robbins, Peter, Richard Edwards, and of course, Jack, who had a bit of everything on offer! I’m behind the camera.

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Gentleman Jack

 

Peter and I give our heartfelt gratitude to all the messages of condolence arriving as we mourn the death of Jack, who left us yesterday. There are so many that while I’lll struggle to answer each one personally, we want all who’ve contacted us to know how deeply moved we are by the eloquent and comforting testimonies of how much Jack was loved both those who knew him in person, and through his further reaching appearances on social media. He of course was oblivious of how many hearts he caused to flutter, which was probably for the best. Suffice to say that occasionally, when walking through Aberystwyth with him, I’d hear a distant hailing by someone unknown to me, not of ‘Hello Clive, but a jaunty ‘Hiya Jack!’

Many years ago, when I read Philip Pullman’s magnificent ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, I was moved by the author’s conjuring of a world in which every human being is inseparably accompanied throughout life by a ‘daemon familiar’ in the form of an animal. Although a fiction, and a fantastical one, at some essential level it seemed to me – and I’m sure to many others who share their lives with beloved pets- a plausible notion.

For more than half the time Peter and I have been together (twenty-five years this month), Jack has been a part of our lives at an intimate level. Although he was an independent chap and would take himself off around the house and grounds on his own business, his preferred place was as close to me as he could get: in his ‘fleece’ basket next to my easel in the studio, in his blanketed basket next to the Aga (where he could keep an eye on all the food preparations), or wherever I happened to be sitting/going/working/sleeping. When not engaged in activities that required walking or running, his heat next to me, pressed close, has been an almost constant sensation over the fourteen years we’ve been together. So as in the ‘Dark Materials’ universe, his separation from me right now feels like a hole punched clean through my heart. Even as I sit here typing, from the corner of my eye I keep mistaking the crumpled piece of tissue on the sofa for a blaze of the white of his livery, and I feel that’s what life for the foreseeable future will hold for us: the constant seeking for what we know should be there, now absent.

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Abergavenny Music

 

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Twenty seven years ago my friend James opened his music shop in Abergavenny. I designed and painted the lettering on the board above the window and on the hanging sign that led shoppers along the street to it, together with the shop’s logo of two wyverns, their tails entwined with a lyre. The signs have been repainted many times since those early days, but though the livery evolved from gold lettering on a turquoise ground to what you see now, the typography and the wyverns have remained unchanged.

For the several years James had a satellite music shop in Castle Arcade, Cardiff, at his generous invitation I set up my studio in the cellar beneath it, a shared space that was also the shop’s staff and stock room. No windows and bitterly cold in the winter, nevertheless in memory it remains the studio I was happiest in. I painted the entire series of ‘The Temptations of Solitude’ in James’ cellar, and my first Annunciation, with pianist Semra Kurutac, who worked part-time in the shop, modelling for the Virgin in her lunch and coffee breaks.

The Castle Arcade shop closed many years ago, before Peter and I moved from Cardiff to west Wales. Now Abergavenny Music, too, has closed its doors. It’s been on the cards for quite a while, though James’ sudden illness has precipitated what had been planned anyway. Life will not be the same in Abergavenny without my friend’s shop, his wonderful staff and his deep knowledge of music, so generously shared.

Peter has written below about the closure of Abergavenny Music.

Abergavenny’s specialist classical music shop, Abergavenny Music, will close on 29 July owing to the illness of the owner and founder, James Joseph. For more than quarter of a century it has been a big part of the lives of Abergavenny and a world-wide community of music enthusiasts.

James established Abergavenny Music 27 years ago. As a talented musician who had worked in production across the UK and Europe, James wanted to create his own perfect music shop, characterised by wonderful stock and expert service. He and his wife, the artist Sarah Thwaites, chose Abergavenny as the place where they wanted to settle down and have a family.

He took premises at 23 Cross Street and made them into a stylish and airy space that became a treasure house of music. The shop sold recordings, videos, sheet music and books, and customers came from far and wide. One of its qualities from the start, set by James’s own quiet and unassuming style, was as a place where people felt welcome to browse for as long as they liked, listening to current recommendations playing through the sound system. The shop felt like a creative space – a focus of chance meetings and a place to make new friendships.

The excellent staff over 27 years have included bright youngsters given their first job opportunities and many professional musicians who were able to supplement their incomes knowing that James would change schedules at short notice if performing opportunities came up. Customers came to expect a service very different from any they would get from HMV or Amazon thanks to the eagerness of James and his colleagues to find answers to obscure questions, research just the right recording or locate scarce scores.

For several years James expanded the operation with a sister shop in Castle Arcade in Cardiff and after that a stand in Ross-on-Wye but the changing landscape of multinational online retailers and downloading has challenged the survival of in-person music retailing everywhere. He kept Abergavenny Music open long after most people would have closed the doors because he loved to be in that calm, music-rich environment and to provide a service.

James has received many messages from people who have been grateful for everything the shop has been over the years. Angela, Kaye, Rosie and Lindsey continue there until the doors close for the last time on 29 July.

Peter Wakelin

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Catriona on May Day Morning

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I remember my friend Ian telling me that he and Catriona had risen in the dark of May Day and driven from their home in Caerleon to Oxford to be present in time to hear the choristers of Magdalen College choir singing Hymnus Eucharisticus from the Great Tower. The adventure would have been a seed sown by Catriona and made into a reality by Ian, her champion, life companion, lover and organiser. The journey would have been carried out in the spirit of delight and celebration for all things green and renewing. But the weather was not great, and Catriona later recounted that far from the rapturous experience she’d imagined, all youthful voices ringing through the crystalline spring air in the city of dreaming spires, instead a desultory crowd huddled against the damp grey morning, straining to hear the distant, muffled and not terribly enthusiastic account of the music given by the sleepy boys, dragged from their beds and herded up the tower to signally fail to sing out glory. All a bit of a damp squib, she mocked, and hardly worth the bother.

This was the Catriona I loved and admired. She was a romantic in spirit but she wouldn’t make a pretence when things failed to measure up. The notion of the Magdalen Tower tradition, she claimed, was so much better than the event. It was this refusal to pretend that made her such entertaining and bracing company. That said, she would delight in small things, gilding the everyday with insight and her ability to appreciate. While the May Morning recollection made her scornful, she could wonderfully describe her memory of taking a nap in the crogloft of our cottage one peerless summer afternoon, drifting in and out of sleep to the distant sound of children playing and dogs barking on the beach, and stirring herself to the noises of preparation in the kitchen below. She said there was no sound sweeter than waking to the low murmur of voices she loved, and the tinkle of china cups and spoons being laid for tea.

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In her final year, when the illness that would take her from us had her in retreat and yet she was still well enough for Ian to bring her to join Peter and me at Aberporth, Catriona and I – plus Jack – would sit on the bench in front of the low, whitewashed cottage, and listen to the birds, observe and greet passers by and wax lyrical over the burgeoning garden, so many plants of which she and Ian had brought to us and planted. Intolerant of puff or any form of self aggrandisement in herself or others – and she could be merciless in her lambast when roused – yet she could make you see the transcendent in ordinary things. The old bathtub at the cottage that I’d determined to change because of a dislike of coloured baths, was forever transformed for me when Catriona cast her eye over it for the first time, exclaiming on the beauty of its pale, washed-away blue, ‘Oh how lovely. Taking a bath in here will be like taking a bath in the sky!’ And so it’s there still, and is still as blue as a sky washed after rain.

Catriona died on May Day 2005. She came into my life when I was lost, and held me fast until the moment had passed. She changed the way I see the world. I miss her still, every day.

Catriona Urquhart was the author of The Mare’s Tale, a series of poems that she wrote about my father, Trevor, who she knew and loved in his later life. At the core of the series is Trevor’s childhood encounter with an apparition that terrified and thereafter haunted him intermittently for a lifetime. The book was published in a numbered edition by the Old Stile Press in 2001, designed and printed by Nicolas McDowall and with illustrations by me. It was the only book of poems by the writer published in her lifetime. Copies are still available from the Old Stile Press, signed by us both in pencil on the colophon page. You may find it:

HERE

Catriona Urquhart, 1953 -2005.

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Border Country at the National Eisteddfod

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It’s a sadness not to have been with Peter in Abergavenny for the opening of his exhibition Border Country at the National Eisteddfod. But with time ticking on my forthcoming Gawain exhibition at the Martin Tinney Gallery in September, I had to stay home to work. I’ll see Border Country later this year, when it’s on tour.

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Of the four artists in the exhibition, John Elwyn (whose painting is on the cover of the catalogue above) and Bert Isaac are dead. Joan Baker will be attending the exhibition this week, but Charles Burton and his wife Rosemary, herself a painter, were able to be present for the opening, brought from Cardiff by Dave and Philippa Robbins who live just around the corner from them.

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Rosemary and Charles Burton in front of his painting of a steam train in the south Wales Valleys. (Croeso is the Welsh word for Welcome.)

Peter and I knew John Elwyn, having visited his Winchester home and studio in his latter years. Bert Isaac and his wife Joan were friends, and we visited them frequently in Abergavenny, where they held regular exhibitions of local artists in the ‘orangery’ of their beautiful Georgian house.

We are especially close with Charlie and Rosemary, and when Peter and I lived in Cardiff we saw a lot of them. (We had gallery-visiting holidays together in Paris and Venice, and in Venice we were joined by Liz Sangster, another painter and close friend from my days in the theatre.) That little painting of a steam train usually hangs in the kitchen at Ty Isaf. We purchased it, along with another piece the same size, from a Cardiff antique dealer before we knew the Burtons. In fact it was the acquisition of the paintings that stirred Peter’s interest to trace and then contact Charlie, who had retired from teaching. He was still painting, though not for the most part exhibiting. These days both he and Rosemary show regularly at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff.

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I love the colour red chosen by Peter as a background to the paintings. Beautiful.

Jonny Hannah’s Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox

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Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox (2nd edition) is a treat that grew from a suggestion made by Mr Simon Lewin of St Jude’s to artist Mr Jonny Hannah. Mr Hannah thereafter not only curated/compiled the collection, but  went the whole hog by writing and illustrating the booklet of notes that accompanies the disc, together with… not as though they were needed… producing some tasty value-added extras.

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The result is a little package the size of which belies the treats crammed therein. Quite the ‘Lucky-bag’ packed with delights! For your money, you get:

i) the sleeve with Mr Hannah’s artwork, as seductive and more-ish as a bag of old-fashioned mixed boiled sweets

ii) a double-sided title card

iii) a signed-by-Jonny Mon Oncle print, produced by the artist’s shed-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden-Cakes & Ale Press

iv) a densely decorated sixteen page booklet with track notes by the artist

v) the disc itself, slathered with more Hannah artwork and made up of a generous twenty tracks

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Credit is given in the notes to Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records, from whose archive the selection of recordings has been made.

Mr Hannah has a way with the words, as befits the progenitor of the continuing creative adventure that is ‘Darktown’, the artist’s compellingly believable community-of-the-imagination that reeks of brine and liquor, vintage clothing and chandlery bitumen. Sometimes salty and occasionally rhapsodic, I enjoyed his notes quite as much as I enjoyed the tracks! This is he on a mash-up of Ogden Nash, Noel Coward and Saint-Saëns.”

“Quintessential Englishness mixes with a French composer and American words. Dreamlike otherworldly sounds, way down below. A symphony for all fish and drowned lost souls.”

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There’s a crazed and eclectic bunch of musicians and performers gathered at Mr Hannah’s party, and I play the disc in the studio while working on my own St Jude’s project, which is a picture-book of Hansel & Gretel. I think my plucky German protagonists would not be out of place at a gathering that included Mel Torme, Robert Mitchum (yes, the actor), Miles Davies, Art Blakey and the charmingly named Pinky Winters.

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Kudos to Mr Lewin for setting this caravan in motion. It is a pleasure in all its parts!

Available from the St Jude’s website. (But I’m sure not for long. This will be sold out in no time.)

 

Clive Hick-Jenkins

May 2016

Read my review of Jonny Hannah Greetings from Darktown: an illustrator’s miscellany,  HERE