Hello and goodbye - 2018
It seems the holidays are all but over: flowers are throwing down their petals and weak English tans are beginning to fade. Today, I’ve had to put on a pair of socks for the first time in weeks which made me ponder on the imminent end of a bittersweet summer.
There have been no fancy holidays, just the occasional stretch-out on the grass and a couple of days away from Tyneside.
One of these included a visit to the National Railway Museum (I’m not a spotter but I know someone who is). George Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ says hello as you arrive and then you see a poignant new exhibit: a WW1 ambulance train which carried wounded soldiers back from the front.
I am always taken aback by the sheer scale and presence of the magnificent engines. I looked at almost everything except the modern Oriental trains - you can’t get a sooty face and wave your ribbons at those things! I perched on a stool in the café (Blueberry muffin: 7/10) and admired the curves of the magnificent Mallard but one of my favourite finds was this marvellous platform vending machine.
SJ wondering how in the world she can get one of these...
There is simply too much to say about a place like this: I loved every square inch of it. The house and estate have been beautifully maintained and recently renovated: the stone could have been quarried yesterday. And who knew that a Georgian greenhouse at Chatsworth cultivated the 'Cavendish' banana that we all know today? The plants were sent from Chatsworth to various locations in the pacific and grown commercially for the first time around the turn of the 20th century.
This French beauty was sitting in the grounds - a great pity it was closed. If I were posh enough to have a favourite champagne, it would be Pink Laurent Perrier; I even painted some once…
I can’t report on the cake quality at the Duke of Devonshire’s place as I didn’t have any. I’d overdone it the day before as it was my birthday. Instead I bought a ridiculously expensive bar of Chatsworth soap which is still in my car, overpoweringly a reminder that I need to go places more often.
There has also been a good amount of peaceful painting time and I certainly don’t take for granted the evening walks home along the normally chilly coastline in the bizarrely out of character warm breeze.
For those of us inclined towards depression or seasonal affective disorder, the sun is one of the best fixes there is which is why I dread (and have to psyche up to) the coming seasons. However, I am very lucky to see another autumn: a gift which some will be denied.
This week, I experienced the loss of a friend...
Toni was an incredibly talented artist who I met many years ago when we shared the same art publisher. We hit it off immediately; she possessed a wonderful, dark sense of humour. Toni was well known for her striking paintings of animals, executed with such precision that I could never understand where her patience came from. Yet, as technically accurate as her work was, she could never be accused of photorealism. Toni composed her portraits artistically and could give a standard Friesian cow a certain ethereal quality; all of her cows,spring lambs and goats would have names and personality. This magic ingredient and her respect for animals is what elevates her artwork above merely faithful animal painting.
Despite this honed skill, at around 50 years old, Toni changed careers. At this age, how many of us would be brave enough to train for an entirely different occupation, especially while undergoing treatment for double breast cancer? She worked and studied like a demon, passing her final exam this summer (with 100%) to become a hospital pharmacy technician. She had been doing extra revision when she couldn’t sleep because of the pain from an extremely rare form of metastatic cancer, such was her resilience.
Not being able to meet very often, we wrote to each other regularly for years. I have reams of correspondence full of Alan Bennett-esque observations from her life and whenever I cleared out my inboxes, I always saved her messages because they were too good to delete. I’m so glad I will always have her words.
On asking Toni how she managed to remember so many clinical references and chemical names:
“When I studied ear/nose/throats, I struggled to remember the difference between ‘Otitis media’ and ‘Otitis external’ as they have very similar symptoms and some related specifically to the ear canal. So for one, I drew a gondola in a canal (ear canal). My victim in the gondola was carrying an ear trumpet (can cause temporary deafness) then I struggled to remember that Clioquinolone is one of the treatments, as we don’t have those type of things in hospital pharmacy, I drew an upturned Renault Clio in the canal that someone had dumped. Did all that and it didn’t come up in the exam.”
Life isn’t fair: a brilliant person has been taken from her life-partner, Wendy and deprived those of us who knew her of a determined, clever and remarkably funny friend. I will miss her.
Toni Hargreaves 1965 - 2018