And so…

The Bathers - Duncan Grant Mural

The Bathers - Duncan Grant Mural


Vanessa Bell - Self Portrait

Vanessa Bell - Self Portrait

Following on from my previous post…The editor of The Times apparently expressed concern that Grant’s mural The Bathers would  corrupt the children of the working classes! Thankful that I have somehow remained psychologically intact and depravity free, despite exposure, I have to admit that Charleston did produce some pretty complex sexual relationships between its key characters. Unconventional even by modern standards, regardless of the sexual comings and goings (no pun intended), I find Grant and Bell’s relationship a touching one. Their loyalty to each other; their support of each others’ art – spanning decades and remaining until death – suggests a deep bond. Now that’s a rare and precious thing.

Charleston, Magical Gardens and the Search for Community

Last week Laurie and I hit the mainland to squeeze in a day trip before the onslaught of the new academic year. We took ourselves off to Charleston, the one time home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, both of whom are wonderful artists. 

Charleston is a farm house nestled beneath the Sussex downs and was their home for many years. It is full of murals, textiles, ceramics and decorated furniture created by Grant, Bell and others linked to the Bloomsbury group. I found the tour round this amazing house very moving, the immediacy of the art, the strong sense of a home once creatively occupied and loved – the atmosphere of which is still strongly felt – made me feel very emotional and forced to the surface, once again, my long-term desire to live as part of an alternative and creative community. The tears really started welling when I walked into the last room on the tour: the studio. I got that same jolt of emotion that I felt walking into Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture garden in St Ives for the first time. Both places touch something deep in me, both calling to that knowing within that recognises how vital the expression of ones creativity is; a knowing that can confidently challenge the negative voices – both inside and out – that declaim otherwise.

My yearning to be part of a creative spiritual community has always been with me – as has my cowardice to actualise this for myself. In my adult life, I have been blessed to be around creative people – musicians, writers, artists and dancers – and for all of us the problem of balancing artistic ambitions with the financial demands of living, remains a constant issue. There is something very attractive about experimenting with new ways of living in community, particularly (for me) ones that might explore the links between creativity, spirituality and the land. Of course, the Bloomsbury lot were atheists but there is nevertheless something spiritually uplifting about Charleston and what it produced. I have no doubt that life in such a community would bring its own challenges and blessings, just as any life we might choose to live inevitably does. And yet, I can’t help yearning…

I think this desire of mine might also be connected to a very basic urge in me with regard to family and belonging; my own family felt either puzzled, uninterested or impatient with my creative impulses. The pursuit of such was not considered practical – not a ‘proper job’ – and therefore not worthy of pursuit. I have always struggled to confidently call myself a ‘singer’ or ‘writer’ or ‘musician’ and I think this stems from there being such a massive gap between my own creative worldview and the reality of my family relationships. Perhaps in yearning for that creative community, I am seeking to recreate a family life in which this vital part of me is loved, appreciated and supported. Without such, there is a danger that what we might give of ourselves creatively to the world, will find itself snuffed out prematurely. Sometimes it is difficult to let go of the gnawing doubts, driven on as they are by voices from the past that firmly state that what we are and what we feel compelled to express is unacceptable. Charleston was a tonic.

We also visited Lewes for lunch. I have been to Lewes many times but strangely had not noticed the church of St Micheal on the main road. It has an extraordinary tower but also an extraordinary churchyard. The main thoroughfare is very busy, the traffic fairly constant, and yet, walking through the church and finding oneself in the graveyard out back, feels like you have suddenly been transported to the country. The atmosphere of this little churchyard is incredibly peaceful and removed from the noisy bustle that is, amazingly, only feet away. In this tiny space are five (I think) Yew trees and an enormous old Horse Chestnut. Above and beyond its walls Lewes castle  and moat can be seen. There is something very special about this place – I recommend a visit if ever you are in Lewes.

There is a fantastic painting by Duncan Grant of Vanessa Bell in the Studio at Charleston. It was painted a year before she died. In it she is painting, totally absorbed in her canvas, the shoe on one foot of her crossed legs, hanging from her toes, a gesture of both being totally immersed in her own creative process and utterly confortable with it. She would have been in her early eighties, still expressing herself through her art and Grant too in his late seventies, capturing her so beautifully and tenderly. Next to me as I write, I have a postcard of Vanessa Bell’s self portrait in her late seventies; something in the look of her eyes inspires me, tells me that the spark is always with us, right until the end, if we strive to feed and nourish it. Whether I ever get to live out my community dream is yet to be known. Until then, it is good to be reminded of why any of us might put brush to canvas, pen to page, fingers to keys…and why it’s important that we never stop.

All in the Balance

Tracey walks the Spiral

Tracey walks the Spiral

It’s been a little while since I have posted. In the run up to the Equinox I have experienced that strange unsettling feeling that I so often encounter at these times of the year when the light and dark meet each other as equals. Part of me quite likes it. Psychologically speaking it feels a bit like giving my duvet a good shake; a rather vigorous few seconds followed by that moment of suspension before it settles back upon the bed to find its place again, smoothed out into peace once more. There is something satisfying in it; engaging with a bit of chaos in order to bring, well…order.

I love September. It is such a beautiful month. The sun’s lowering angle in the sky gives out the most beautiful golden light; it’s a light that has both extraordinary clarity but also a softness and warmth to it. Keats was spot on when he called autumn a time of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’; September seems to articulate this state perfectly. The last few days has seen the sun diffused through a pale haze, making the Island look lazily ripe and satisfied with itself. Other days have been brilliantly clear, vast blue skies a stunning backdrop to the vibrant reds of haws and hips abundant in the hedgerows. The leaves are maturing into earthier colours at their edges, the horse chestnut racing ahead, it leaves already fiery. Great clouds of swallows fill the evening air, a feeding frenzy, bulking up for the arduous journey to come.

As I type, my fingers smell of the ripe tomatoes that I have just picked from the garden. That delicious sharp smell brings with it childhood memories of my father’s tomato enclosure, a mini green house of wood and plastic at the bottom of the garden, and of the toad that once spent a happy summer there in the moist heat.

Here in the Northern hemisphere, at the Autumn Equinox, we not only give thanks and offer gratitude for the immense blessings of our lives but we also contemplate and prepare for our journey towards winter. At this time when light is perfectly balanced with the dark, we search for equilibrium in our lives. As the growing darkness stretches out before us, we celebrate the paradox and mystery that in times of waning we are blessed with harvest; that in endings there are fruits to nourish us through darker times.

It’s a wonderful moment to walk a spiral back to its centre, an act that symbolises a journey inward to access that deep store within us, that place that will nourish us through the coming weeks of growing darkness. It is a returning to a sacred place within; as we walk the spiral inward, we are guided towards the darkness and repose, towards the source of all life, creation and inspiration – that we might take stock, replenish and give thanks. We can welcome the shortening days and the chance to ponder, sitting at winter’s heart to dream our dreams. From this place of balance, we can draw strength to move on with gratitude and joy into winter and as the year grows older and wiser, give praise for the joys and sorrows, and for the lesson they have taught us.

When we journey to the centre of that spiral, we take with us the abundance that we have gathered in our lives: the loves, friendships and talents that sustain us; the gifts of shelter and nourishment of body and spirit, all the precious things within us that will support us through the coming months.

I have to admit to a certain relief in the letting go of summer; after the hectic growth and movement of that season (ask any gardener!), I rather like the slowing and mellowing that autumn brings. With it comes a certain restfulness and acceptance. May the Equinox bless us all with a glorious moment of peace and deep knowing – let’s welcome the changing pace.

Trish and Equinox Spiral

Trish and Equinox Spiral


Sometimes it takes a while for the proverbial penny to drop. Our most potent realisations often come after such foggy, confused times; light breaking through what had seemed dense cloud. Those blind moments that obscure other ways of seeing or approaching a situation can undo us for a time; leaving us to circle tightly in upon ourselves, coming back again and again to the same point, wearing thin the ground of the problem, our own and others’ patience. We can be our own worst enemies until we choose to befriend ourselves.

When we choose to let go of a known way of responding to a difficult problem, we give ourselves the opportunity to discover a fresh angle which in itself could be the trigger to open out from that tight, endlessly repeating circling of an issue.

It can be guilt that keeps us in that place or low self-esteem; it might be that our problems bring us the attention of others and therefore become a way in which we can rather negatively receive the love that we might feel we lack. It’s not a healthy way to be and ultimately serves only to keep us trapped in our problems; immovably placed at the core of the constant circling, sucking friends and loved ones into that vortex. Such an approach can create a horrible stasis, we wallowing in the deminishing hope of forward movement, our energies negatively feeding upon themselves; the constant focus on perceived problems nurturing their growth and the power that they exert over us.

When the revelation comes –  when we see clearly what we have been doing – the relief is immense because suddenly the opportunity to look up and outward, to discern a route through becomes possible. At this point we realise that we had more choice in the matter than we were previously willing to admit.

I have had my own set of realisations over the last few days, clarity dawning. My own revelation has meant that I have had to accept the courage of my own convictions, be a little braver about the choices I have made and why I made them. I have been learning to back myself; learning to forgive myself and others for what each has done, or not done, and in doing so, give myself the opportunity to move on. Suddenly it seems remarkably simple and obvious. I have allowed myself to stand in a different place, gaze out over a different view and it has made all the difference.

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice –

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

‘Mend my life!’

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognised as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do –

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver