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.

the evolution of a toy-theatre

Back so long ago that my memories of the event are hazy, I took part in a ‘mail art’ exhibition curated by the late Lizzie Organ at her Kilvert Gallery in Clyro. (Alas, no more.) I decided to make a card that opened to show a garden. I hoped the card might survive the postal system reasonably well, as long as I made it robust enough. (I didn’t want to put it in an envelope.)

It’s constructed from very thick card, hinged at both sides with strips of linen to two flaps that close centrally. The front is painted with the proscenium arch and the curtains of a theatre. For its Royal Mail journey there were narrow silk ribbons tied and secured with sealing wax to keep the flaps closed. When I think about it it’s staggering that such a fragile construction survived the postal system intact. The remains of the ribbons, stained with the residue of red wax, had to be cut to open the card, but remain attached at the hinges.

The back of the card was painted with a decorative cartouche containing the address of the gallery. I underestimated the space the stamps and ‘Special Delivery’ sticker would take up. It’s a shame that the former cover the architecture of the cartouche, and the latter the swagging at the bottom of it, but then again, that’s all a part of the history of the piece.

When opened, the card reveals a simple, three dimensional paper-engineered garden, with windows and an arch cut through a dark hedge, and a view beyond of cypress trees, a path and a wrought-iron gate.

Many years later, I produced a still-life, using the paper-engineered card as a model, all angles and straight edges to contrast with the curves of a pecking-hens toy. But I radically altered the design of the card for the painting, replacing the gate with a view of a simple house, and adding topiary elements as ‘wings’ to the scene.

After that came a second depiction of the card, this time as a still-life prop for the foreground of a painting of Saint Kevin and the Blackbird, and with the house now turned into Ty Isaf, our home in the Ystwyth Valley.

The last incarnation of the visual theme developed in card and paintings, came in this toy theatre, made in 2011 for my retrospective at the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales. 

Later I added gates, and a wolf to prowl the grounds.

The ‘Ty Isaf’ theatre has yet to appear in a painting. But it undoubtedly will. One day.

the garden matures

When we came to Ty Isaf, the drive was bounded on the downhill side by a clotted bank of dark conifers. The ground beneath them was as dry as dust, and nothing would grow there. The view from the house of the Ystwyth Valley beyond was completely obscured.

From the lawn a wide and ugly flight of concrete-paver steps led up to the drive. A beautiful silver birch was jammed against the conifers, its branches flourishing only on the unencumbered side, and an Amelanchier too was being crowded out.

After much soul-searching, we decided to fell all but one conifer, a Norway spruce. We had to leave the root systems of the felled trees in place to hold the bank together, but we brought in new soil from elsewhere in the garden to shape it and to improve the condition. And we got rid of the steps.

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One of the conifers goes down into our paddock.

Sometimes things have to become worse before they get better. We went from this…

… to this…

The felled and chopped conifers overwintered where they’d once stood as we waited for the ground to dry out so that we could transport them across our paddock. The steps and the building-rubble supporting them had to be carted away. Everything had to be done by hand.

The re-conditioning of the soil and the re-landscaping began. It was a slow business.

We built a winding path and steps, and held the beds in place with low drystone walls. We battled with rabbits, eventually embarking on mass-planting so that whatever the little blighters took, there would be some survivals. (They eat everything when young. They even lopped off young euphorbias, which are supposed to be rabbit-proof!)

We claimed a strip of the paddock for the garden. This is how it looked just after re-fencing…

… and this is it seven years after planting a trail of Himalayan silver birch.

Below: 2007, just before the steps were removed.

2010

Below: 2006

2013

Below: 2007

2013

Below: 2006

2011 – 2013

Profligate herbaceous planting defeats even the rabbits. Whatever they take, there’s more coming along.

Ours had been a garden of shrubs, but had little by way of beds. The previous owners had probably battled with the rabbits and given up. We persisted. The massive new herbaceous bed that we made where the conifers had once ruled, is a mass of flowers from April through to August and beyond. In the winter we clean up and prepare for the spring.

In the wooded valley that divides our property from that of our neighbours, we jointly made a bridge to span where the stream tumbles in a vertiginous fall. We had a weekend of bridge building, with friends invited along to help in return for a picnic. There were about twelve of us down there, including children. We use the bridge as a short-cut when we visit each other, and on circular-route walks. It’s a beautiful spot.

We’re getting there!