May Day Letter

Dear Catriona

I awoke this morning thinking about you, as I’ve done on most May Day mornings since your departure on May Day thirteen years ago. Of course you’ve never really gone away, as I still think of you a dozen times every day, recalling our conversations and the times we shared. Your voice, your laughter and your presence are as familiar to me in imagination as ever they were in life, and though I wonder whether one day my recollections of you may start to slip their tethers, right now it feels as though you’ve only just left the room. So here I am again, writing to you to tell you how much I miss you still, holding on and bringing you back by dint of that trick of conjuring a greatly missed presence through the art of remembering and storytelling.


We shared a love of storytelling, you and I. You had great skills for taking histories and weaving them into narratives, including the magnificent feat of reimagining my late father into your suite of poems, The Mare’s Tale. You and Trevor were such friends. Only a friend could have taken his recollections and forged them into something as moving as you crafted to accompany the drawings I made in an outpouring of grief for him. Peter often says that my grasp of facts can be somewhat interpretive, but it can’t be denied that I learned much from you, a master of the art of how to take chaos, to face it down, to order it and bend it into shape until it becomes something fine. And now I do the same, ordering the tangle of memories and loss, until the next time I get caught out and have to start the process all over again. I know now that while I breathe there will always be the imminence of chaos, and the repeated processes of gathering and curating memories into stories, ordering them and making sense. It’s a bit like tidying drawers that have become muddled with too much stuff rattling around!

Jack died a couple of months ago. Another thread broken. He was a young dog thirteen years ago when he lay across your legs while you were quietly dying in your bed, softly calling his name and curling your fingers into his coat for comfort. And just ten days ago, Pip Koppel, who gave Jacket-the-puppy to us, died too, at the home she shared with us for a year while we looked for a house here in west Wales.


When my grieving for you was at its most raw, Peter and I were living with Pip. She often noticed and asked me what was wrong, though I could never explain because at the time I had no words for what I was feeling. So she took me into her pottery workshop and together we threw clay and made things, and sadness was pummelled and beaten and reshaped into vessels.

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With Pip gone, the list of those I miss grows longer. I keep making art. They hold those I’ve loved closer to my heart, these stories, paintings, drawings and reinventions. Chaos into order. Pain into creation. Darkness into light.


I miss you still. With all my love, Clive







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.


the terrier’s tale

Jack has witnessed all stages of The Mare’s Tale, from inception, through the processes of design and making, right up to rehearsals and performance. My friend Stephen Kay wrote of the performance on the 7th September:

‘On a slightly less serious note, I have to say that tonight was the first time I’ve been in a theatre when the director was accompanied by his dog. We were sat in the row behind the seats reserved for the creative team, and noted that as people filed in to sit down, almost as many greeted Jack as you.’

Above: early days with the Mare’s Tale ‘model village’ at Ty Isaf.

Below: waiting for everything to begin at Theatr Brycheiniog.

The little chap has become an old hand now at orchestra calls, taking them in his stride. At the second orchestra call I noticed a number of musicians taking i-phone photographs from the stage of him sitting bolt upright in his seat in the stalls, watching everything with great interest.

Above, piano rehearsal in dressing-room 4 for Eric Roberts and the creative team. Jack is at bottom right.

On the Friday night before our opening, Jack attended the Private View of Philippa Robbins’ exhibition Magical Thinking at the Art Shop Gallery in Abergavenny, which is an absolutely gorgeous show in a beautiful space. (Peter wrote the exhibition note for it.) Philippa had made a tiny ‘nicho’ painting titled Jack on a Rug, and a woman came up to ask if the dog standing at my feet was the one in the painting she’d just purchased, because if so she’d like to meet him. From left to right in the photograph above, my friend, artist Shellie Byatt… holding Jack’s lead… me, Shellie’s husband Kit, and the owner of the Art Shop Gallery, Pauline Griffiths. Jack wasn’t the only animal present, because upstairs in a quiet room, Philippa’s daughter Oonagh and her fiancé Jon, were introducing their sixteen-week-old Devon Rex kitten, Marcelline, to selected guests. Marcelline behaved impeccably, greeting her visitors with delightful aplomb. Later she met Jack too, which was done from within the security of her cage, though clearly they were both very interested in each other. Just as well too, as Jack is to be Marcelline’s canine ‘uncle’ when she moves permanently to Wales.

Below: stage rehearsals with piano.

Above: accompanying the director on morning walks before work.

Below:  he’s become unexpectedly good friends with the Ciliau cat.

Above: packed and ready to return home to Ty Isaf.  Jack loved our stay at this beautiful old house.

Below: Jack-the-theatre-dog.