The chance to paint some one's memories is always a pleasure. When that someone is my friend Stuart Haywood, and it involves a day out in his company, it makes it even more of one. It also involved a lot of walking, a history lesson, a botanical lesson, a bull, a herd of sheep and some cheekiness! But I'd expect all of that when out with Stuart, who's age certainly doesn't curtail his ability to walk many miles over hill and dale, and to air his considerable knowledge to any willing audience, which was me, this day.
We met at the village of Ticknall, in south Derbyshire and had arranged for us both to walk to the nearby stately home of Calke Abbey. I hadn't realised it would involve passing through a field of cows, who were all lying down chewing the cud, and I noticed one of them was a lot fatter, and fuller than than the rest...."Hey, isn't that a bull?" I asked as we passed by. "Yes" Stuart agreed "He'll be calm if he's with his herd" and I was incredibly pleased and relieved to note that that was indeed the case. We walked through woods and through the beautiful parkland and came out by the large house. It's not a very attractive house, quite square and heavy looking I always think. But we weren't there to look at the house, and passed on and up the hill, towards the little church. But we weren't there for that either. We were heading for something far more interesting.
We past by the newly restored Orangery and stopped before a gate in the high wall. Closed against us. "Do you want to go through?" he asked and I nodded in agreement. I love doors in outside walls, and always imagine they lead into mystical worlds. As indeed did this one. A world of the past, a world of colour and fragrance.
It was the world of Peter Rabbit, and Mr McGregors garden!
Cabbage patches, currant bushes, fruit trees, gourds, and beans, and in the distance a white lean-to greenhouse, and upended clay pots on canes amongst the potato plants. We by-passed the well stuffed scarecrows and passed under Medlar trees, and black Mulberry trees, (both of amazed interest to me since I've never seen either tree before) and on to the next part of the garden. Of flowers and colour and sweet fragrance and Stuart indicated the plain looking building to our left. "That's it!" he said, and I looked with interest at the place we had trailed this far to see.
I walked towards it with him, walking in through the main door and he indicated the greeen painted doorway to my left. I stood in wonder and looked at the scene infront of me. A vision of metal, wood, brick, pot, hessian, glass, plaster and paint. All of it much handled, aged and worn. This was what he had brought me to see. And more to the point, this was what he wanted me to paint for him! Wow! It was a veritable cornucopia of ancient gardening implements and would be most interesting to sort into some semblance of structure and interest.
For what Stuart wants me to paint is the essence of the spirit of 17 years spent there, in that room, the Bothy, when he was a volunteer working at the gardens at Calke.
I took photos, lots of them, and looked at all the old implements. But the thing I loved most about it was the blue distemper on the walls, all peeling off and faded with age and many summers, and long distant winters. And I knew that I would love doing that painting for him, because the haphazard piles of old clay pots would be set off to perfection against that blue. If you can fall in love with a colour, I fell in love with that one.
We continued the rest of the visit looking in other old buildings, all full of memory and one purpose - the boiler room, the pony lawn mower shed, the ice house, the Orangery. Soaking up the atmosphere, soaking up the memories, the feeling of the place, the ambiance. And I agreed whole heartedly with Stuart as we set off back through the woods that it was indeed important to do that, to see the place for myself, to understand what it is he wants me to paint for him.
The photograph is here, of what he wants me to draw and paint for him in watercolours. And I can't wait to get started! And he can't wait to see it!!!!