Jackie Morris/ website etc
Things I love
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- Artique, Tetbury. A small piece of India in the Cotswold Hills.
- Bears: 30 years of painting them.
- Book List.
- Books in their natural habitat.
- Day of the Desk.
- Exhibitions and Festivals etc.
- Fishing in a river a thousand miles away.
- My paintings in their natural habitat
- The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan.
From The Western Mail, Sat 11 May.
Below is the unedited raw text that I sent to The Western Mail. When Glyn’s brother died he had been very unsettled. He wanted there to be something in the paper to mark his passing, but his eyesight had faded so much from glaucoma that he couldn’t see any longer to read or to write, so I said I would help. I had only met James once. He lived in St Davids. So I sat on the settle beside Glyn and Nadolig and he helped while Glyn remembered and I wrote and then read back to him what we had put. Then he was happy. So in a way this is as much for Glyn as for anyone. For those who knew of Mr Griffiths through the cat’s blog, can I say thank you for all the cards that you sent him when he was ill. He loved that these arrived from far flung places, loved the pictures of cats and the stories of people, and the fact that you cared enough to send him warm wishes. Meant a lot to me too. So thank you.
A life measured out in cats.
On the side of a hill, close by the sea, a small cottage sits and waits and glows like a pearl against the green. When you stand in the yard in front you can hear the bells of St Davids Cathedral. Now the cottage is derelict, sad, its only occupants the jackdaws who build their nests, and the mice who scurry in the dark inside. It wasn’t always like this.
For years artists have been drawn to this cottage. It has been painted so many times, photographed over and over. Film crews have come to the door, making programmes about Welsh life, Welsh architecture, and all were welcomed by the inhabitants of the house, Glyn Griffiths and his cats. The house could be said to be an icon of Pembrokeshire with its chimney fawr and limewashed walls and grouted roof. And in truth Glyn was also an icon.
I first met this small, unassuming man when I moved to Treleddyd Fawr over 20 years ago. At the time, in the ignorance of my youth I thought him old. A sweet old man who lived next door. Over the years I got to know him better. On sunny days we would stand in the yard in front of the beautiful powder blue door and pass the time of day, and I began to learn.
Glyn spoke Welsh as his mother tongue, the last in the hamlet to do so. He had lived in this cottage since 1936 when his parents moved there and had grown up wild on the hillside, running all day with friends over the hill with a slab of bread and cheese in his pocket until his mother blew the whistle to call him and his brothers home.
After about ten years of conversations on the sunny doorstep Glyn asked me in for a cup of tea.
We would sit for a while and leaf through old photos and he would tell me about his mother and father, working on the farm, stone wall building on Ramsey with friends when he was young. He would show me black and white pictures of his mother, father, his old cars, peering at them closely in the dim light of the cottage. His eyes were not as good as they had been. And he had photos from other places too……concentration camps in Germany. At the time I found this strange but he skirted over them on to others. At his funeral the other day I found out that he had been a soldier at the end of World War 2. How much we do not know about our friends, until they are gone. He had travelled through France and Germany and Holland before returning to work in Trecwn for the MOD, and while there had applied to work in Africa, in the Transvaal. On the wall was a photo of him and some of the tribes people he worked with. I still remember him talking with horror about the way the whites treated the people out there. If he was asked what he did there he would answer that he worked with ‘ all kinds of explosives.’
Glyn had an interest in local history, particularly the ruins of Maes y Mynydd, the old settlement that still lies in ruins a mile or so from his house. He showed many groups of people around there, from the Women’s Institute to school children, history groups and Quakers from the USA who came in search of answers and ancestors. He wouldn’t romanticize the past and always talked of the poverty and hardship they endured.
He took me walking around Maes y Mynydd, too, when I told him I was working on The Seal Children, a book set in the ruins and told me so much about the place. And I included a painting of his house in one of my other books, rather to Glyn’s alarm. When working on How the Whale Became, written by Ted Hughes, the character of God, in the book, lives in a small house, with a garden in which he grew carrots and a whale ( but that is another story). When I told Glyn that I had painted his house as God’s house he laughed and said’ “ I hope there will still be room for me in there.” It did seem to me that if God did have a house on earth it would be one like Glyn’s…..small, well loved, with vegetables and flowers growing in the back garden.
When I first knew Glyn he had such pride in his house. He knew it to be special. It is rare in these days when houses are treated as investments to discover someone who understands that the true nature of a house is as a home. Glyn loved the cottage. And I think the house loved him. Every year the walls would get a new layer of limewash, and the unique nature of this method of painting meant that the house would glow like a pearl in the green, a beacon. It could be seen, still can, from 2 miles away, if you stand on the Pebbles in St Davids. He would lovingly limewash the grouted roof too, much to my alarm as one day I walked past to find him on the roof, with a rope tied around his ankle and the other around the chimney ‘for safety’, mop and bucket of limewash also balanced precariously.
The house and Glyn appeared with Trevor Fishlock on television, on Restoration with Grif Rhys Jones, on S4C. But there was more to the man than just his care for his beautiful home. Of his parents who lived there and worked the farm he said “ They were happy here.” And from what I saw of Glyn he was happy there too. He lived alone, with cats and he measured out his days in the lives of cats, always with one beside him. When I first met him it was Daffyd, a small black cat of great fierceness. He loved animals. I could always tell where he was when he was out and about as a small flock of squabbling sparrows were always close and rooks flew over his head.In his pockets he carried bread and cheese for the animals.
He would go to Maes y Mynydd when he could still walk there and talk to the ghosts of the people who lived there, always in Welsh. He looked after a sick badger named Owain, a fox found shelter in his barn. He loved birdsong and made many recordings of birds, the sea, seals. He knew the names of the fields, of people who had lived in the hamlet, was always pleased when a new child was born in Treleddyd. Even when his sight was failing he had an eye for a pretty woman and now and again would mention an old flame, long gone, wistful in memory. He loved to read, to tell stories.And he loved a little company now and again and especially the company of cats.
Of his house he said “ I want to keep it for the nation.” What he intended was that if someone who had lived in the house one hundred years ago, two hundred had walked in they would have found little changed.
Glyn died on 21st March 2013. He had been in an old people’s home for some time, his house standing empty. We had talked when he first became ill of life and death and what he wanted to be done with his ashes. A few days ago, according to his wishes, I carried the remains of him up the hill on a last walk together. The ashes were heavier than I thought they would be. I am told their weight is similar to that of your weight at birth. It was a sunny day. As I sat in the remains of the village of Maes y Mynydd and scattered Glyn’s ashes to mix forever with the stones and the land swallows flew low and close. Back home his house stood waiting, jackdaws nesting in the rooof and walls. It looked both sad and beautiful in the sunshine. I wondered who would live there next and hoped that they would love and be loved by the house as much as Glyn Griffiths had been.
In many ways he was the soul of the house, but he was more than that. He was perhaps the soul of the village. One of the old ones. A true Welshman.
The photograph above was taken by me, one one of my many walks past the house. Glyn had returned from a spell in hospital and Nadolig, who had been absent during much of the time Glyn was away had turned up that day. The photo was to let his well wishers know that both were alive and well.
In the uncanny way that cats have I think that Nadolig knew the last time that Glyn went that he wouldn’t be back and he attached himself to my neighbours Phylis and Alan who looked after him, fed him and gave him a warm and loving home until he disappeared on the same day that my cat Pixie died.
The photo in the Western Mail is by David Wilson who has a fine eye for a great shot and also really liked Glyn and his home. David featured Glyn in an BBC program My Secret Wales. If you watch this, towards the end there is a chance to see inside the house and to listen to Glyn.
Below are three photos taken by Roy Essery. Glyn and his house attracted so many artists, photographers, even film crews.
Sometimes it takes someone else to put into words how you feel when you work. Cooking supper this evening, listening to Front Row after walking on the beach in sunshine for two hours until the skin on my face felt salt-tight from sea air I heard Tony Garnett, TV producer say something I have been trying to express for years. He said that it is only when you have taken the time to make something, a work, in his case film, in my case books or a painting, that you understand, ‘ah yes, that is how to do it,’ and then it is too late, it’s done, and you feel a sense of disappointment. Now you know how to do it better.
This I understand.
Reading by Tigerlight is now available as a print from the Kids Need to Read eBay store. $55 and they ship world wide. Brilliant quality prints.
The original is available to buy at The House of Golden Dreams.
I was going to walk up to the old village, but someone decided to follow.
Elmo came too, up the green lane, running up trees, to the hill top.
They walked side by side and brought back memories of Maurice and Mo with their tails entwined, and this is what I had hoped for, in getting more cats, this walking in quiet. Perhaps on sunny days they will come and walk and sit with me while I write.
And Genji ran, so funny when he runs I must try and film him. He is long legged in his teenage cat years.
We could see the ruins of the old village where Glyn’s ashes now lie. The mist softened the land but the gorse was bright. The wind was cold, but somehow beautiful to touch.
Genji shone, bright in the green lane, Elmo like a ginger flame, happy to be walking.
A short conversation then both cats up the tree, and home, past the dark barns where Spittifer and Max were curled up, sleeping.
My first walk with the new cats in the pride.
A few years ago when my friend was ill we talked about death and dying and what he wanted to happen to his ashes. I made a promise that I would take them to Maes y Mynydd, a place he loved, if I survived him ( fingers crossed, he was a good thirty years older than me, but you never know). In order to make this easier for me I asked that he put in his will that he wanted me to do this.
Today I collected Glyn’s ashes. Such a beautiful day, and with the blessing of his family I took them over the hill to Maes y Mynydd. I went alone. This is what I wanted. When Glyn and I had talked about it I had always imagined myself taking this time alone. And I wasn’t going to write about it, but I think there are many who read my blog who know Glyn from the cat’s blog, from my diary, from things I have said about him in the past and so it seemed right, seems right, to share.
I collected the ashes from Bernard Matthias, in whose care they had been. Surprised by the weight of them I searched for a bag in which to carry them and chose a beautiful bag made for me by my friend June, with love, from rich coloured velvets. Usually it carries my healing bowl. For now it seemed a fitting carrier for Glyn.
Together we went for this last walk.
The edge of the path was patterned with celandines, open wide in sunshine. Swallows were everywhere. Violets, shy in the grass, and gorse, scenting the air. Kisses are only in season when gorse is in bloom.
As we walked it seemed that the birds of the air had come to welcome him. Swallows, rook, raven, buzzard, kestrel, peregrine and small songbirds, linnets and stonechat, a thrush and wheatears. I walked slowly, feeling the weight of the friendship.
Inside the ruins of the main cottage I set the bag down to rest a while and think, beside the remnants of the lintel from the chimney fawr with marks from the Toredo worms clear for all to see. He loved this place. He loved his house too. Why did he want to be scattered here?
I had walked here with Glyn a few times, and met him here by chance on more occasions. He would walk here almost every fine day when I first knew him, and some not so fine. When he was a child he would run away here, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. I wondered, sitting there in the sun, whether he had brought sweethearts here as a young man, a sure way to make the tears flow. I bet he had been a handsome youth in his time.
I realised that I did not know how to scatter ashes. Was there a ‘right way’? It was relatively calm, beautiful sunshine, so quiet. I unscrewed the lid and inside was fine white remains of my friend. Such a lot of ashes. He had said ‘scatter’. So I took a handful and threw it up to the winds. Time seemed to slow. Some heavy particles fell straight, some like diamonds caught the light and shone and some, fine, dust-like danced on the wind and swirled up to be caught and spread through the stone walls of the ruined cottage. Yes. This was how to do it. Slowly, a small handful at a time, and with each handful remembering the man.
A child, running on the hills, barefoot on sunny days to the sea, laughing, chasing butterflies, not a care in the world.
A schoolboy, out from the confines of lessons, wild on the hill.
A young man, courting, dreaming of love, hand in hand with someone.
A soldier, back from the war having seen sights no man should see, resting his eyes on the old stone comfort of familiarity and watching birds.
With each handful a memory, of times he and I talked, while the swallows flew so close they almost touched my hair and another handful up into the arms of the wind to dance and swirl.
Older now, and home again, this time from Africa where he was shocked at how white men treated black men, walking the hills, trying to make sense of the world.
Retired, walking every day, followed by birds and memories. He would walk here and talk with the ghosts of the people who had lived here through centuries. Handful of ashes, after handful and hands gray with the dust of them. Tears in the sunshine, time passing and with the last few just falling and some still swirling up in wind made visible by ash two chough flew over in a courting dance.
How many times did I touch him in life? Not many. A hug now and again. I had written a letter years back that he carried in his pocket, everywhere. We had lunch together, a handful of times. Just a handful.
Beside the chimney fawr a hawthorn tree grows. Every year the blossom looks like a wave washing over the house. Every year a crow builds a tangled nest of twigs. It is there now. There are eggs. There will be a new brood of crows. Every year Glyn would write the name of the village on the gate at the end. When the parc put up a new gate they added the name out of respect for Glyn.
As I walked away I thought, “could do with rain now to wash the ashes in to the earth and the stones.” Looking up I saw clouds and smiled.
Back home, as I walked past Glyn’s crumbling house, Elmo came shouting out from the back garden where he had been hunting for mice. Jackdaws shouted from the walls. And outside my house I walked past the wonderful glass panel of Maes Y Mynydd and the ghost cats. I hope that Glyn is happy there. His ashes were very beautiful.
Aided by The Bold Brave Knight of the Broom I have risen to the challenge that used to happen ‘between books’ when I would tidy up and move my furniture around in order to begin work on the next in a new space. Things had got a little out of hand, not helped by getting kittens who at night colonize my workspace. So, I turned for help. I am the most rubbish at tidying and cleaning but I know a woman who isn’t and together over a few days we, or rather she, with me hiding behind her, afeard of the dirt monsters, are working magic. Progress will be shown below.
Midway through, second day, first a call to help neighbour move furniture from horse box as their horse was seriously ill. Just heard the news that he has made it through operation. Beautiful horse. Must paint him. Then migraine stopped play, first one for months.
Today will resume, but meanwhile the dirt monster is losing this battle, thanks to Sue.
I will not dance on the grave of Margaret Thatcher. But neither will I forget some of the things that she did in the name of the British people. Some say that you can judge a person by the company they keep.
She had some evil friends, supported some terrible regimes. Of all the things I have seen written about her over the past few days this is one of the most chilling.
from Tim Monro: “My late brother, David, made a film with John Pilger, Year Zero, which exposed the horrors of the genocide perpetrated on the Cambodian people by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Images of skulls piled high and photographs of the victims who were often barbarically tortured before they were murdered. And how did they gain power? Because, Kissinger (the same one who honoured Thatcher’s memory today) and Nixon ordered the carpet bombing of Cambodia. They bombed it back to a medieval landscape paving the way for Pol Pot to enforce his inhuman regime where you would be brutally murdered if you wore glasses, or spoke a foreign language, or were a doctor or a teacher or an engineer or showed any deviance from being a poor peasant, forced to work in the rice fields under impossible inhuman conditions. Thatcher and the Tory government recognised the Khymer Rouge and supported them at the UN. It’s not good enough to say, ” get over it,” or, “liven up and move on,” for while they are eulogising over Thatcher we must tell it how it really was. The most chilling thing I remember my brother telling me was that he went to film some of the torturers, who were confessed mass murderers, captured by the liberating Vietnamese. They were in a holding camp. David was lining up a group to film and asked the interpreter to ask one of them to move two steps to his right. Before the interpreter could ask him the man moved, giving away to the others that he spoke English. David said he’d never seen such fear on a man’s face. He had successfully concealed his linguistic prowess for years and had become a torturer himself but now his fate was sealed. When the camera crew left he would feel the retribution of his fellow Khmer captives. This was the biggest genocide since the Nazis and the brutal regime was supported by the Thatcher led Tory government.”
So, I will not dance on her grave but neither will I forget.
She once said ” I have no use for art.”
Today has been spent moving work around. The Shed, Porthgain, Pembrokeshire now has new work and there are some paintings in Seaways Bookshop in Fishguard along with piles of books waiting for Saturday’s event.
I will be painting and reading to anyone who comes. I will have lots of books, including some texts for work in progress, and I hope between stories to be working on a small dragon for an auction in the USA. ( Event runs from 11 am -3 pm Saturday 6th April, Seaways Bookshop, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire)