Last January I decided to book myself on a course at the St Ives School of Art. I like to learn new things, meet new people, take myself out of my comfort zone. After I hit the 'pay now' button I felt as excited as a kid on Christmas day, not a feeling I've had in a long while. And the course was being run byEric Ward, a painter I have admired for a few years.
Finally the day arrived when I had to pack up and drive down to Cornwall, four days without making breakfast, four days without doing laundry, four days not being Mrs Ace taxi driver. Four days to paint and wander.
On the first morning, it rained, well more of a drizzle. Hardly surprising as we had had rain constantly since the beginning of March and this was July. We had no Summer to speak of and not much Spring. How would we paint outside in this I wondered as I dragged on my huge mac for yet another day.
A bunch of us gathered at the school, twelve to be precise, one joker suggested it was the last supper.
After a morning in the studio, we braved the elements. The weather had cleared with only a gusty breeze and the occasional splatter of rain, so we went down to the harbour to paint. Surrounded by holiday makers it was a slightly daunting task. A trick I learned in photography is to cut myself off and concentrate on the shots I need to get. I adopted the same here otherwise I would feel so self concious that I would crumple into a small heap and be blown away by a gust of wind.
This is what I saw that first afternoon....
As time went on we all got to know each other a little better. I found two new friends, Mary and Vic. We all had stories to share and enjoyed each other's company for a few days. It's strange how, when in some situations you can forge strong bonds. None of this would have happened if we had gone along with friends. Each of us was travelling alone.
The sun came out again on those days and has stayed with me since. As have my new found friends. I think we will get together again one day.
A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine decided to get back into the world of paid work after bringing up her 3 kids. She wasn't sure what she should do, and she realised that after spending the best part of 14 years out of the paid workplace she had not kept up with her skills to be able to dive straight back in at the deepend. In fact, even dipping her toe in the water was proving an insurmountable task. I remember her standing looking at me forlornly as I was sipping a cup of tea at her kitchen table. I asked her what the matter was, she said this,
'What if I fail?'
Her words hung in the air for a second, then I looked her square in the eye with a smile and said this,
'I am probably one of the biggest failures you know. I launch myself at new things all the time. I may look successful to you, but along the way my path has been peppered with failures. Little ones, fairly large ones and sometimes expensive ones, but I won't let that stop me because...
You need to learn to fail to learn how to succeed. It's all part of the process and as soon as you can accept this you will find success.
So here is how to achieve what you really want.
1 Make a plan
4 Revise your plan if necessary
7 Revise your plan if necessary...
...and most importantly start calling your failures something more positive maybe...
Jump and have some fun along the way, you won't regret it.
As for my friend, she now works in an exciting and challenging new field.
Any regrets? None.
Today, I'm driving John to Westonbirt Arboretum. I met John twelve years ago when I first started out as a photographer specialising in gardens. He owned a vast garden, some 36 acres. Most of it was managed woodland, but a few acres surrounding the house was filled with special trees from all over the world collected by John and underplanted with a wonderment of beautiful plants. On that first visit John marched me round the garden naming every single tree and how he had come by them, his memory was impressive, it still is. Over the years I went to the garden at all times of year to photograph it. It really was a special place, which he opened to the public and for school visits.
A couple of years ago, John's wife and tireless gardener quite suddenly suffered from a form of dementia. She became very muddled and within a short time John decided to sell and move to a smaller house to look after her. That was two years ago, we all miss Homecovert, but especially John who was 90 this year, he can still remember every single tree in his garden.
I popped in to see him in January and he mentioned that he had been invited to a special day at the arboretum for dendrologists but didn't think that he would be able to go, I offered to drive him up there. So today, I'm driving my old friend and mentor John to Westonbirt.
I got in contact with an old friend this week when I was feeling a bit glum. We've known each other for years and they reminded me of who I am, or at least the person they saw, which is different from how we sometimes feel in the bleak moments that overtake us. They only said a few words, shared some kind thoughts and happy memories, complimented me on one of my paintings and said this,
'Life is a long game friends mean a lot'
They certainly do, cherish the good ones.
I feel a bit like a station master, for the past couple of weeks I have been dropping off and picking up members of 'The Team' at various unsociable hours. Its 5.55am and I have just dropped Emma (13 3/4) at school for a 2 day trip to Ypres a beautiful Medieval village in West Flanders, Belgium and also the site of the battlefields of World War 1. They will visit some of the cemeteries and the Menin Gate for 'The Last Post', quite a memorable trip.
It's too early in the year for poppies in Flanders fields, but they are always a poignant reminder of sacrifice and of hope.
Poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are one of my favourite flowers, they have an ephemeral beauty, a delicate (surprisingly hairy) but strong stem, a bud that hangs its head (very photogenic) and petals as delicate as tissue paper which last only a day or so. Field poppy seeds can lie dormant for years and will germinate when the ground is disturbed-so tougher than you might imagine. I often try to grow poppies but they are wilful and pop up where you least expect them. A scattering of seeds may only produce one or two flowers for me, probably because I don't plough my garden when I sow them!
If blood red isn't your thing there are some delicious varieties, 'Bridal White' or 'Picotee' in gentle shades of pink and peach.
They also lend themselves to watercolours, I painted this a couple of years ago.
"We want to get gardens in every school in the country. It can be a couple of square metres, it can be a roof garden, it can be decking, in pots or wellie boots - anything that won't move," said Oliver
Good on you Jamie, at last kids can get the opportunity to see how we grow our food. Finding out that food comes from the ground and not from a plastic bag in the supermarket is a good thing. Emma, my daughter had a brilliant head teacher (Mary Murray now retired) who introduced a school garden and chickens several years ago, she was so switched on.
A couple of years ago I shot a story about 'Children, chickens and allotments'. See for yourself how much fun these kids were having on a cold, foggy winters' day.
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