Somewhat Precarious at the Best of Times
Landing in Brittania
The story of English culture can be told through the ruins, through the lives of the people who lived and worked the land, through the arts and history that are compelling in so many ways and move us with their evocative eccentricity that is so much a part of the culture of Britain.
Winter in East Anglia is a ‘Red Badge of Courage” in many ways. One of the first friends I made in England asked me if I had survived an English winter. Now I can honestly say, have successfully survived the long, dark, grey and windy winters like Heathcliff before me on the moors. Only in Brittania, It’s called East Anglia and the Iceni are still among us. The bravest of female warriors around these parts is the bodacious Boudicca.
Let’s talk about Boudicca. She faced unspeakable tragedy and rose up against the Roman army. She defeated the generals so resoundingly that they never returned, a true heroine to the people who depended upon her leadership, strategy and grit. I honour her resilient spirit and try to channel her bravery every day here in Anglia her homeland she defended with her life, now mine.
As if secretly investing herself, my daughter learns how to read ancient Runic. Since we’ve have visited tonnes of ruins together, with a picnic basket at the ready or a quick trip to Tescos. We walk on the salt marshes where the waterfowl nest. I am looking forward to longer days and warmer weather, not whinging -just really noting the season. I hope you are keeping warm and I think of you often. That’s my internal dialogue. I think of you often.
I fully embrace that magic is a by-product of trial and error. I learn to navigate these ancient roads that are really only fit for a donkey cart and they pass as a “B” road. I pull over off the side of the road to allow a lorry or a tractor to pass. It’s not one way, it’s a two-way road and the occupant of the vehicle flashes his lights, and waves or a simple nod of the head will do- politeness surrounds me.
That internal voice in my head reminds me of you, miss you and wish we could meet for a drink and some laughs.
On all these journey’s, the weather is ever present. Living so close to the sea, it presses itself forward onto your consciousness. Depending on the land to feed you, the farmers align themselves to the sun, wind, frost or rain like the four points of a compass. Weather permeates everything. The Arts in England follow the weather throughout time. I’ve recently read a fantastic book about British weather and it’s influencing upon Art and Literature. Have fun with Alexandra Harris’s book “Weatherland” writers and artists under the English Skies. In gothic novels, Mary Shelly’s follows the breath and shape of a cloud.
For me, as a painter of weather, I was absorbed in her descriptions of Claude Lorraine’s paintings and what must have been going on in his mind as he painted the effulgence of late sunlight gilding the fields or “mild lustre of a blooming morn’reflected in the face of a shepherdess”. She writes “No other painter of the time had taken light as his subject in this way.” Landscape painters tune into a time of day and weather like Turner and Constable before me, the big sky changes how you think about the world that surrounds you.
Let’s talk about Light. If you take the time to note a comparison chart with the south of France as compared to Norfolk on average they get 6 hours more of sunlight daily. I live at Norfolk Latitude: 52.614. The days are ridiculously long and I adore the deep long shadows that come flooding off the carefully planted tree lined roads. I try to paint actual sunshine. I try to capture a sense of deep space as the light travels across into sky infinity. I try to capture the fleeting nature of light as it slips over the horizon. It’s really easy to see whilst living here how JW Turner (1775 – 18 51) became a British landscape artist commonly known as “The Painter of Light”. My work is nothing like Turners’, but I can see why he wanted to paint light now that I am living here in East Anglia.
Life is a wonderful opportunity. Admittedly, though I am a tad road weary, however, living in the English countryside like I now do, exploring the hidden by-ways of Norfolk and getting lost on Hell Pit Lane seems to be working wonders.
I wouldn’t like to be any other place except where I am right now. The east of England in the summer is absolutely fantastic. To quote the bard, “Oh, to be in England in the summertime.”
What I wouldn’t give for an adult beverage in a snifter filled with something amber, seated adjacent to you next to a fire. The muffled strains of a musician playing a jazz tune in the background as we laugh and share our tales. I’m homesick.
The second year I was living in England, I found out that my grandfather on my mother’s side was part of the executive team that planned the D-Day invasion to free Europe from the Nazi’s. My mother always told me that Daddy Wes never talked about the war, but when I moved to Norfolk I learned that there were American and British Air Force stationed at airfields all over England during the war.
My own grandfather spent 4 years here and ran the ground crew that kept the Americans bombing during the daytime over France and Germany. The Mighty Eight Air force and stories about the American Flyboys, there were over 150,000 service men and women stationed here in 1944. It would be a walk in your grandfather’s shoes sort of experience.
I tried to get a tourist business up and running whilst I was figuring out my transition to the UK where jobs are scarce. Now as a true Norfolk Girl, I have cobbled together 2 part-time jobs and my career as an artist to make a living. I focus on seeing things others overlook.
I wrote to my uncle living in Tennessee to see if he could send me any information about my grandfather. What arrived, was emotional gold. There were photographs of my grandfather in officers dress and photographed as part of the executive team. There were restricted photographs of aeroplanes all over Norfolk at various bases having crashed. Most wonderful of all was the wartime correspondence between my grandfather and his wife back in the States raising his two children. The letters were tender and my favourite was when Daddy Wes liberated Paris he went into a ladies shop and bought my grandmother a pair of silk gloves. When I opened the letter the gloves were wrapped in tissue and gently fell out of the envelope.
My uncle had to ask my grandmother, “Mommy, who is that man standing over there?” She replied, “that’s your Daddy.” Sacrifices made. I understand sacrifice on a profound level having left my native country to make a home in a foreign land. What you leave behind haunts you.
I circle. I’m living in Norfolk the very place where my grandfather planned the attack to liberate Europe from tyranny. I’m here where my grandmother’s family left England to settle in Connecticut and then travel down into Kentucky and on into Tennessee. Hearty folk that knew a thing or two about leaving things behind. I have a vivid memory of driving over the Mountains in East Tennesse into North Carolina and stopping along the road to see a piano that was left by settlers who couldn’t get it over the mountain pass.
I come from the seafarers of East Anglia who lived along the coast and left the home in search of a better life.
My hope is that Americans will allow themselves a larger world view. To know that we are all from somewhere that has roots. So I started thinking about a tourism business knowing that tourism is the second largest revenue generator behind banking in the UK.
I often think on the idea of cultural intelligence. My desire to share the Norman Keep of Norwich Castle, knowing it was built by the French! The idea of Treasure Houses connects to the East India Trading Company that to me echoes the cultural exchanges of the Silk Road in China. The Treasure Houses of Britain are filled to the brim with all manner of inventory from all over the globe. Sandringham, where the Royals do Christmas, has a room filled with the heads of animals hunted for sport the world over. Houghton Hall (first Prime minister’s house) housed a fine art collection that now resides in the Hermitage in Russia and is also breathing new life into contemporary art with the summer blockbuster of Richard Long.
Blickling Manor is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. It’s reported that a headless Anne shows up at Blickling once a year! Thanks to Neil Story, a historian buddy of mine, l know Anne Boleyn (aka Kitty)
It’s a lazy Sunday summer evening, a thing of rare peaceful beauty. Sunsets very late in the evening and twilight seems to last forever. Holkham Hall has a Dowager’s house. She is the patron of the local choir. Choirs are very big here! You know, in my mind, everything having to do with a “Dowager” is just about as ‘fiction’ as it gets! I wonder if she smells of old lace and rose?