Sunday, 18 February 2018

Happy families

Image result for robert hogfeldt

The picture above accompanied my childhood, sitting on the kitchen wall for as long as I can remember. I always loved it and knew without doubt which sort of garden I wanted when I grew up. (I’ll leave you to guess which that was, and whether I’ve achieved it.)

When my mother died (last year) and we children were clearing her house, I put in a bid for the picture thinking that no one else would be interested but discovered that every one of my four siblings was keen to have it too. Consequently, one of my sisters made copies of the picture and just before Christmas sent me one.
On the copy I noticed for the first time that there was a signature at the bottom of the picture and, through the wonders of the internet and after much trial and error with different combinations of what I thought the letters were, I discovered the artist. 

The signature on the picture
His name was (Gustav) Robert Högfeldt. He was born in Holland in 1894 but is usually considered Swedish because that is where he spent his working life. That fitted. My mother was half-Norwegian and I’d always presumed the picture had come to her through her family as I couldn’t imagine her buying it. Our particular print was called (in translation) 'Happy families'.

As children we used to go to Norway every summer and play on the beach with cousins. In my teens I went several times on my own, two or three times to ski and once in the summer again. I bought my mother two more Högfeldt prints on one of the visits (not knowing the artist’s name but recognising the style).
So now I wondered whether I could buy an early print of ‘Happy families’ for myself. I trawled the internet and saw many examples of Högfeldt work. Most of his paintings turned out to be humorous, not to say grotesque, and many of them have a folk-tale flavour with troll- and pixie-like creatures, fat peasants, mushrooms. Unfortunately I also discovered that he has fallen out of favour because of his cruel portrayal of black people, and there was little to buy.

This summer Frog and I are going to Norway for a huge family party being given by my mother’s sister, who lives there. It will be Frog’s first-ever visit to the country and my first for about 45 years. Phew.
During the visit I shall keep a look-out for Högfeldt prints, in particular ‘Happy families’. But if in the meantime you can help in any way, do please get in touch.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Anger is an energy

The title of this post comes from the autobiography of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), a copy of which has been sitting on one of Frog’s shelves for several years waiting to be read.

All last weekend I ranted and raved at Frog. We got into one of our dead ends and I let fly. I didn’t care any more. I said things I’d been wanting to say for years. I shouted so much I got a sore throat.
By Sunday afternoon I was exhausted. The anger disappeared and I bubbled tears like an over-full drain. We then went to Sainsbury’s for the weekly shop and I felt amazing. Free. Real. Whole.

Frog, bless him, although confused, had put up with it all. ‘The anger is important,’ he kept saying.


Since then I’ve had a migraine and a cold, but they’ve given me time to think. Anger is an energy. You need to acknowledge it. You need to do something about it and it doesn’t have to be destructive. Squashing it, as I was always taught to do, is so so wrong.

Anger is what protects us, and without it how can we be open with other people? How can we trust them if we don’t trust ourselves to stand up for ourselves? Without anger we are victims.

So now I have to undo a lifetime of bad habits, and welcome this energy called anger.

I’d never read the ‘William’ books by Richmal Crompton although Frog had always spoken highly of them, and for Christmas he gave me the first ten, a set of facsimiles of the first (1922) editions. I’ve devoured them.
In the face of appalling treatment by most of the grown-ups around him (did people really treat children like that in the 1920s?) William is cheerful, confident, selfish, unscrupulous, inventive and devious. I love him. He is my new hero. I shall model myself on him.

Saturday, 3 February 2018


The first anniversary of my mother’s death falls in three weeks’ time.
At this time last year I was too busy to get the winter blues. I was editing a monthly magazine and going up and down to Kent every few weeks to see my mother and to help my brothers and sisters with her care.
This winter has been for me much more difficult. I don't know what to do with myself and I don't see any future but ill-health and death. Am I grieving? Am I remaking myself, like Trish Currie in ‘What’s cooking’, who is also dealing with bereavement?
Will I feel better when I’ve passed the anniversary?
I hope so.

And here, because ruins seem to be a bit of theme at the moment, are some pictures from last winter of Burrow Mump in Somerset.

The ruined church on top of the 'mump' (hill), with me and the dog to the left. (Photograph by Frog.)

The extraordinary sky that afternoon

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Exeter's medieval ruins

Here at last are some of my own photographs of the medieval ruins in Exeter where I have taken to eating my sandwiches, away from marauding seagulls.
The ruins consist of almshouses and a chapel (dedicated to St Catherine), with Roman remains underneath - but I don’t think these are visible.
No one seems to visit them except me and some small birds.
The pictures were taken today, 1 February, a time of low sun and shadows.

The old and the new

Nature is doing her best to take over

The entrance to a secret garden
You can just see the tower of the cathedral in the distance

The looming remains of a belltower
Outside the ruined walls people scurry past

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

A right to be

Perhaps I should clarify what I said in the previous post. It's not that I don't have anything to say at the moment. What's happening is that my mind is too full. It's awash with thoughts and feelings and I can't make enough order out of them to write something coherent or positive. I keep trying and then rejecting what I've written. Inspired however by the new posts that have appeared on some of the blogs I follow (see right) and because the weather is so filthy and I'm putting off taking the dog out, here goes again.

Yesterday, Ellie's day at the dogminder and my day to myself, I took myself into Exeter. I had only a short list of errands and the city centre was almost deserted so I could wander at will without feeling harried.
I took my lunch to the ruined medieval almshouses as I did in October, and again as with that visit I experienced a sudden onset of calm. (And again I so wanted to take pictures but didn't have my camera with me.) Last time a blackbird emerged from a tangle of clematis. This time a pied wagtail joined me, bouncing from flagstone to flagstone in a hunt for food. I could almost see him smiling.
My last errand of the day was the library and as I walked away from it, along the red-stoned medieval city wall, I had a small revelation. I admitted that, yes, my parents did treat Frog and me atrociously, and with that a weight lifted. I felt free. I felt like me.
That admission comes and goes, but I realised that it's the foundation of my wellbeing. What it says is that I have a right to be. It's not that I want to diss anyone, least of all my parents who did so much for me, but I do want to be a person in my own right, and I don't think I ever have been before.

Roselle Angwin in her blog Qualia and other wildlife ('Zen and the human condition' 23.1.18) mentions the five 'hindrances': craving, aversion, apathy, anxiety, doubt. Yup, I have them all, but most of all at the moment - doubt. I've battled with craving in the past (eg not eating and then not being able to stop eating), apathy and anxiety come upon me from time to time, and although it doesn't immediately spring to mind I'm sure I could find aversion if I looked closely enough.
She talks about Zen meditation as a way to be free of the hindrances. That, of course is horrendously difficult. Sometimes simply getting away and breaking the rhythm of one's normal routine can have the same effect.

Frog and Dog just before Christmas - neither of whom have the slightest problem with their right to be