The Blogroll

Scrolling through my long established blogroll, I discovered countless broken links. Some clicks carried visitors to sites that while full of past treasures, had long ago ceased from updating. The conclusion can’t be avoided that what had once been a delightful route to adventures elsewhere, had become a list that no-one was using anymore. So I’ve discontinued it, for the present.

However I shall be building a blogroll afresh again, and some of those who were on the old one – dependable and sharing artists, authors, poets, publishers and friends committed to the art of writing  – will be reinstated. (And I’ll happily listen to arguments from anyone wanting an old favourite returned.) But the fact is that everything needs freshening up from time to time, and today I’ve had a Spring Clean!

Until later.

 

‘The House-Dog’s Grave’, by Robinson Jeffers

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Robinson Jeffers: The House-Dog’s Grave

I’ve changed my ways a little; I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you,
If you dream a moment,
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you’d soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed; no,
All the nights through I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read‚
And I fear often grieving for me‚
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that when you are lying
Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.

No, dears, that’s too much hope:
You are not so well cared for as I have been.
And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided…
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

 

My thanks to Julie Whitmore, who sent me this beautiful poem, so eloquent of many thoughts crowding my head at this time.

We didn’t bury Jack ‘less than six feet’ from our door, though he lies in the paddock where he ran joyfully for eleven of his fourteen years, and his view is of Ty Isaf and all its comings and goings.

 

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Every sensation in this house has changed in an instant. No longer the click of his nails on floorboards and no longer his blissful morning roll on the bedroom rug as he stretches and yawns and attends to his start-the-day lick-and-brush-up prior to setting out to get me moving because time is passing and still no breakfast.

No sounds of him industriously rearranging and making Jack-nests of the piles of cushions on the various sofas he was master of, or of the friendly though insistent growl that told me he was ready for food, or a walk or for simply a lap-cuddle.

Above: Peter napping while Jack keeps watch.

He announced every telephone call with wince-making wolf-howls – just in case we hadn’t noticed the ringing – and from his lookout post in the sitting-room window-seat he had a friendly bark for anyone he recognised coming up the drive, as opposed to the outraged one he reserved for suspect intruders and marauding rabbits. Jack was always the first out of the door to inspect and greet all legitimate comers, and for the years we’ve lived at Ty Isaf, our directions to travellers have concluded with ‘You’ll know you’re in the right place when Jack runs out to greet you!’

Above: Jack at Ty Isaf.

Above: sitting behind me and gently massaging my back. We never taught him to do this, but I always found it very soothing.

He was practical in matters of his own comfort. He would lead me to the fireplace wood-burner and fasten his eyes on mine to let me know he’d appreciate a blaze to stretch out in front of. Jack was always eloquent when expressing his needs and preferences, and was quite capable of many nuances of exasperation if he found we weren’t satisfactorily co-operating with him.

Above: paying a visit to Pip Koppel at Lletty Caws, where he’d been born.

Throughout Jack’s life he slept in our bed, and in the winter months Peter and I vied for him, each stealthily pulling him closer for warmth. Jack was at his most comfortable and happy with one or the other of us spooned around him. He’d curl up and press so hard into you, the tighter the better, only pulling away when he got too hot and had to rearrange himself, usually on his back so that his belly would cool faster.

He travelled the UK with us by car – his favourite mode of transport – watching the road ahead, preferably from the lap of whoever was in the passenger seat, and when that wasn’t possible, from the gap between driver and passenger.

Above: keeping an eye on things from the navigator’s perch next to our friend Dave.

 

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But he made trips by train and ferry, too, and just last year had his first experience of the top deck of a London bus when he accompanied us to the London Illustrators’ Book Fair, a mode of transport he entirely approved of when he discovered that he could wander off and make new acquaintances. He was a seasoned and polite guest in the homes of friends, in hotels, in rental properties and in B + Bs. He behaved so well that he occasionally gained access to restaurants that didn’t usually allow four-legged visitors.

Above: the first stage-rehearsal of The Mare’s Tale by the composer Mark Bowden – in the blue t-shirt. The librettist was Damian Walford Davies, whose children loved Jack so much they persuaded their hapless parents to get them a Jack Russell of their own!

When in 2014 I directed The Mare’s Tale, he attended every rehearsal. Somewhere I have a picture of him sitting in a stalls seat of the theatre while every musician on stage aimed a phone camera at him. Later he had a reserved seat next to mine for the premiere. Ian Hamilton recalls that when he walked into the auditorium that evening, there were more people crowded around Jack than there were around me.

Throughout his life he loved to play and was very good at it. In his prime his frisbee retrieval was nigh on legendary, and it was wonderful to see him run and leap and perfectly field even the most far-flying throw. He took fences like a steeple-chaser and what couldn’t be got over, he took a route under. I loved to see him chasing in the long summer grass of the paddock, because he’d progress like a Springbok, in high prances.

Jack was an extraordinary presence in our lives: sweet-natured, courteous, attentive, adventure-loving and laughter provoking. From his earliest days he was a pup who got a joke, and that’s a rare thing. Moreover his ease in all company made him in so many ways not quite what most dogs are. Yesterday in a phone conversation, Dan, my friend and collaborator on the Gawain project, explained that he’d realised whenever speaking to others about Peter, me and Jack, he never referred to the latter as being a dog, which I think must occasionally have led to misunderstandings. He said he just didn’t think of Jack that way when talking about him, and I can quite understand why.

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Above: in the audience of a concert given by the Mid-Wales Chamber Orchestra. He behaved impeccably until the applause at the end, when he barked vociferously to show his proper appreciation.

Above: enjoying a cake-fest with my cousin Katy in Dolgellau.

Above: encouraging Susan Trueman to play!

Above: Jack and a visiting Mari Lwyd

Above: in the River Ystwyth just below Ty Isaf.

Above: with Peter just prior to the opening of my ‘Telling Tales’ exhibition at the Tegfryn Gallery, Anglesey.

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Above: his favourite ‘Ducky’, a gift from Alfie and Elsie Bugg.

Above: the best game of all, trying to kill the shining snake that comes out of the hosepipe!

Above: being watered by Rhys Edwards at the 2017 London Artists’ Book Fair.

Above: on holiday on Bryher in the Isles of Scilly.

Gentlemen Jack

2004 – 2018

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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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The Unsung Mentors: Part 2

 

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An extraordinary little memory-bearing time-capsule from the past. This from my friend Gaynor Miles Clark, a snapshot of a group of tutors and alumni of Monmouthshire Young People’s Theatre, dating, from the 1960s.

Mollie Wanklyn sits sideways on the bench, her body turned to the camera. It’s so like her to have intuitively balanced herself in the composition to the three tutors to her immediate left. She was a woman of graceful angles held in opposition, legs always immaculately crossed and sloped, insteps arched. (Her body language was similar to that of the actor Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s film of ‘The Birds’, all gleaming hose and pencil-line skirts in artfully arranged repose.) Mollie was the chief tutor and director with the company. Her influence on me was, though lightly scattered, nevertheless deeply sown. Her voice was rich and nuanced. She smoked cigarettes with elan and was always dressed beautifully, though subtly.

Centre is Marcia Griffin, who taught dance and who we all called affectionately, ‘Bunny’. While Mollie was somewhat daunting because she was such a presence, Bunny was a bottle of pop, and her enthusiasms and skills were myriad, coupled to enormous warmth and empathy.

Patricia Flowers, at the right, was I think the youngest tutor during my time, and she became a friend who I saw socially. Much later in life I tried to contact her. But though I was able to send a letter to an address I was given, I never heard back. There were half-lost memories of my time at MYPT that I thought she might help me recollect. Perhaps she didn’t receive my letter, or it was from a past she’d set aside and didn’t want to return to. Either way I was sorry. I was as fickle as any fourteen year old at the time we’d known each other, and I probably dropped out of her life as my own became more exciting. No reason at all why, therefore, she should have picked up the threads when I returned as an adult, full of questions.

Julia Hibbard’s head can be seen between Marcia’s and Pat’s. She was the niece of my ballet teacher, Myra Silcox. I think that her teaching came after my time at MYPT, as I don’t recall being in her classes.

Of the men I recognise only Robert Page on the right. He was among the generation of older students who went on to teach with MYPT. I knew him from the beginning, when we’d both been in a production of Henry V with the company. He was a magnificent, hearty youth, forever laughing and with a ripened actor’s delivery way beyond his years, all wrapped in the marvellously musical inflections of the south Wales coal fields. He was kind to me, joshing and ribald and tender, when I was as frozen and frightened as a kitten on a motorway!

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The Unsung Mentors

Encouraged by writer, Giovanna Congdon, who asked me respond to a fairly detailed Q & A about my life at her blog, I’ve been casting my mind back. The full version will be hers to post, but here’s a taster. This about experiences not previously shared, so all credit to Giovanna for prompting me.

Giovanna:

‘Is there a mentor in your past? I am thinking of historical characters that inspire, as well as feet on the ground…’

Clive:

‘Mentors. There have been many and various throughout my life. I’ll confine myself here to those who, on reflection, had the most impact in the early days, though at the time I was too young to understand or value the extent of their kindnesses.

Mel Thomas and Mollie Wanklyn at Monmouthshire Young People’s Theatre. Mel was the Drama Officer for the county, and he took me to MYPT when my parents confided to him that they were worried about me. Mollie was the main tutor and director, and she enthralled me with her ‘actress’s’ voice and her inspiring classes in choral verse speaking, which hit me like revelatory lightning. Myra Silcox, my fearsomely waspish but encouraging ballet teacher, and ‘Bunny’ (Marcia) Griffiths, who cast and choreographed me in the MYPT production of Peter and the Wolf, and showed me how shyness could vanish when I inhabited another character.

Mollie Wanklyn with me and Linda Henderson, backstage during a performance of Maeterlinck’s The Bluebird

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Later, in London at vocational school, my headmistress, Miss Brierly, once paid out of her own pocket for a small group of pupils to attend a performance with Gemma Jones as Shaw’s Saint Joan. We sat in a box and it was another revelatory moment. I’ve watched Gemma Jones on stage and in films all my life, most recently in the film God’s Own Country. Boy and man I’ve loved her work, all unknown to her. She is everything I most admire in an actor. Her eyes can tell you all you need to know about her character, her life, her dreams, her joy, her despair. Joan Brierly opened the door to all that for me, with the gift of a ticket to a play in which a gifted actor gave a luminous performance that became a gold standard for me as I felt my way toward a career as a director. In my teens, after I’d left the school, a letter came in which she enquired what the results of my O levels had been. She wrote, joshingly, “You children can be so ungrateful You never think we’d like to know!” And I lived up to that summation, because I didn’t reply. Awkward and unformed as I was, her words then didn’t strike me with the force they do today. Now, I wish, I wish….. but of course it’s too late.’

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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