Friday, 31 January 2014

SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE!- Three Forces of Nature.

Dearest Em,

With a soupcon of Venus in Retrograde, some topical discussion about how Women are discriminated about today, and some mid-Victorian cachets, let's look at Women with our 'Some Things Never Change!' eyes...

Your Grand-mother has often been a bit slow on the uptake (like GiGi the character in your little sister's book- not quite 'getting' what it was she was supposed to do!) However- I feel the need to share my ignorance and learning, as the supposed wisdom of age bids us teach our little ones.

Let's take our own Julia Margaret Cameron. There was a Woman, who though under Victorian stricture needed to be seen to be the dutiful Wife, taking second place to the Head of the family, her husband- Charles Hay Cameron. Charles became a semi-invalid during their early years of marriage, and never quite pulled off a Governing post overseas, after he was rather unceremoniously put as a bit of a fall-guy in Macaulay's Indian team. Failing Coffee and Tea plantations in Ceylon didn't help the family's financial picture either. Julia being of near Aristocratic class, needed to cut her cloth to suit this situation, and was often reliant on handouts from a benevolent Cambridge friend of Charles. However- Julia wasn't the sort of Lady to reign in her own benevolence, grand gestures of giving away shawls, food,wallpapers, re-decorating friends rooms (as in the Henry Taylors- who hadn't asked for this kindness!) adopting children, giving away her Piano to the Tennysons etc etc...

By becoming a Photographer (carefully insistent on the title 'Amateur' as it would not 'do' for a Wife to be seen to be taking over the family purse-strings) she succeeded in part in swelling the familys coffers. Added to buying the two houses that make up Dimbola- she also became a Private Guest House Land-lady, though dressed in the guise of helping out all her dear friends. She didn't get any recognition for this rather underground role- and often had to defend her 'hobby' in her copious letterwritings to the Family Benefactor, and detractors of her 'past-time' who criticised her and saw it as the exact opposite of what she was actually surrepticiously achieving. Instead of gaining quiet understanding from anyone except her beloved husband- she was railed at for her extravagance. It must have been a bit of a struggle for her. And when, she had bet on a rather lame horse- ie- she was probably under the impression that Tennyson's Idylls were raking in the cash (it wasn't the case) and her extravagant gesture of photographically illustrating them all- at her own expense- was probably a bridge too far. So when Charles yearned again for Ceylon, she threw in the towel, gathered up her husband, two coffins and a cow- and set off for Ceylon. She was probably rather tired of the fight by then, and at her house in Ceylon today, there are records of her referring to her 'beloved Isle of Wight'. She died there on January 26th 1879. This unconventional, kind and effervescent lady is a constant source of inspiration to me Emily- for all she was, and for her pioneering work...

As is her dear friend- Anne Thackeray Ritchie- she of our tales, and more and more- her lyrically pithy and humorous quotes that are underpinning our 'Freshwater Circle' collection. Anne's background alone- gave her quite a unique view-point on life. Her Father- the esteemed William Makepeace Thackeray (with a Wife in a lunatic asylum, and he being the lone parent) afforded Anne a liberal education, normally reserved only for boys. The erudite circle he mixed in, gave a precocious Anne full reign to observe, be seen and be heard, and to write and draw.
And she did all of these with aplomb. Once William Makepeace had died rather early in his fifties, Anne and her sister Minny were brought by Tennyson to Mrs Camerons, where they became firm friends. Later in her life, Anne was to become a matriarchal figure to the Bloomsbury set- and her influence is well-recorded.
Her writings though are in my opinion rather under-rated, and she is my constant source currently for quotation. Here is one, from 'Toilers and Spinsters and Other Essays 1876...

This one Em, is a design I've done today for a notebook and some cards.

I'm dedicating its' aptness to a dear neighbour of Julia's and ours who lives today. In her 90th year, she know who she is. Currently poorly- this Force of Nature bears out our 'Some Things Never Change' strap-line...
When I moved into the Lane, and was introduced to her- she reminded me in her eclectic home of my own Grandmother Elsie. Elsie beat to her own drum, and many of the features of her surrounding aesthetic were very akin to Elsie's.
Moreover for me- as I have been often criticised for 'doing too much'- this Lady ran a Society, made Jewelry, sold at Craft Fairs and Dimbola, and is a vociferous, pro-active member of the local community.
Never afraid to speak her own mind, she is indefatigable- and beautifully honestly- just 'herself'.
For myself- she gave me the benefit of by watching her- I gained added permission to be myself. She has an inspiring and awesome past. The qualities she has gained from it shine through. She doesn't sing very loudly about her own story. But she is the sort of Woman, you know has learned so much.
She knows who she is, and I send her love and admiration, and get well soon wishes.

Just sayin' Em, that some things are constant, and as true today as they have always been. I wish for you and Annabel to get to live long, happy and fulsome lives, and always keep enquiring minds, a sense of modesty, but never ever be anything else than true to yourselves.

And if that's a struggle- never mind! You'll learn from each struggle if you are open to it.

Lesson over...

Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxxx

Saturday, 25 January 2014


Dearest Emily,

'Twas the night before your Fashion Uncle Henry Conway zooms onto our telly screens in The Jump and we're getting excited for him and wishing him lots of luck!

So, I've sat myself down to do some 'colouring-in' Em (you know what that's like.) I've been looking forwards to settling down to doing this one since I was lucky enough to scan it from the collection of a direct descendent of the Founder of Punch.

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street (loq.)"O dear, O dear! I wish I were out of this nasty mess!"

It's a constant source of amazement to your Grandmother GiGi, how things crop up here in a timely manner. This sums up my week! Tenniel was brilliant at satirizing with character- but I don't suppose for a minute he realised how much of his work would chime in with the zeitgeist in years to come.

'Some Things Never Change' Em, as my little Shop has adopted as its 'Isle of Wight-centric' tag-line- and here this cartoon has a relevance to the current Economic status-quo just as it did when it was drawn by Sir John Tenniel a hundred and twenty years ago.

More-over, in a week where in a Looking-Glass Fashion, I have been fighting my own Jabberwock- and dealing with Slithey Toves and other Creatures, I'm drawing my own strength to keep fighting for the good and just side, by smiling when I think of my own Muse- our lovely HC. When our dear Henry, hits a contretemps or two- he is simply himself. Always, and honestly. Never afraid to galvanise or fight a good fight- he is simply his delightful him.

Which I'm sure, a lot of people are about to see as he bravely hits the ski slopes and tries to find his (non-existant) inner-Beast. We used to laugh about Grumpa's 'Black-Dog' (of the kind Churchill referred to as plagued him) and say Henry just didn't have one- with Churchill and Led Zeppelin as references. But Em, he is brave...

We are lucky to have all our good friends in life, and of the many things I adore about your 'Fashion-Uncle' is his honesty and joie de vivre. This is underpinned by a core of truth, strong values and a supportive and loving family. What more can you have to draw upon.

HC the froth on my Coffee- I am so looking forward to watching you on 'The Jump'- though I shamefully always pooh-poohed any reality TV shows you were offered. But this one rather suits you!

And of my own political fights, I shall say just one thing to you Emily. Truth, always. Know your own truth, be passionate about what and who you care about- and never be afraid of consequences coming from those. Never allow a Bully, and never walk away from what you know to be right.

Enough said, now for the entertainment- Good Luck Henry!

Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi, xxx

Sunday, 19 January 2014

GiGi and the Cat- The Worm who couldn't Dig.

Dear Emily,

Let's go back for a moment to your little sister's book.

If it's a spoof of a parody, perhaps she should have a lost chapter too! Last week I was the lucky winner in a give-away and received this in the post;

It is from 1977, and contains the galley proofs of the section that was dropped from 'Through the Looking Glass' because illustrator Sir John Tenniel thought it was 'altogether beyond the appliances of art'. So here's our Volte-Face Emily- that we shall throw out for the same reason, before we publish it!

...and she was just going to spring over, when she heard a deep sigh, which seemed to come from the wood behind her.
"There's somebody very unhappy there," she thought, looking anxiously back to see what was the matter. Something like an old man (only he had two faces) was sitting on the ground leaning against a tree, all huddled up together, and shivering as if he were very cold.

"I don't think I can be of any use to him" was GiGi's first thought, as she turned to head back to Mrs Cameraman's House:-"But I'll just ask him what's the matter", she added, checking herself before heading on. "If I once head off again, everything will change, and then I can't help him".

So, she went back to the Worm-rather unwillingly, for she hadn't really seen him as a part of her story.

"Oh, where are my bones, my old bones!" one of his faces (the grumpy one) was grumbling on, as GiGi came up to him.

"It's Purgatree business, I should think" GiGi said to him, and she stooped over him, and said very kindly "I hope you're not in much pain?"
The Worm only wriggled, and turned the Grumpy face away, so GiGi was facing two profiles- one smiling and one grimacing. "Ah, deary me!" he said to himself.

"Can I do anything for you?" GiGi went on. "Aren't you rather cold here?"

"How you go on!" the Worm said in a peevish tone. "Worrit, niggle! There never was such a Cleaner here!"

GiGi felt rather offended at this answer, and she was very nearly walking on and leaving him, but she thought to herself "Perhaps it's only pain that makes him so cross." So she tried once more.

"Won't you let me turn your face around to the better side? Things will look a bit better that way?"

The Worm let her approach him, and she gently turned the smiling face towards the front, where she considered it better, but he then got settled down again and the face turned instantly, the grumbling one saying "Worrit, niggle, Can't you leave us both alone?"

"Would you like me to read you a bit of this?" GiGi went on, as she picked up a newspaper which had been lying at his side.

"You may read it if you've a mind to", the Worm said, rather sulkily. "Nobody's hindering you, that I know of".

So, GiGi sat down by him, and spread out the paper on her knees and began. 
"Latest News. The Committee have made another tour of the Business, and concluded that there is nothing that needs doing. Councillor Just, said the Insidious Rumours would be playing the Down, Just said as they did- back with the Hay Days."

"Any Funky Diggers?" the Worm interrupted.

GiGi hastily ran her eye down the paper "No, it says nothing about Diggers" Oh, I see- thought GiGi to herself- he's reading a quite different Newspaper to ours- no wonder he's confused! 

"LET IT ALL STOP THERE!" said the Worm, and he shuffled sideways turning the grumbling face straight towards GiGi. "THAT'S WHERE IT SHALL ALL STOP. PUT THE NEWSPAPER DOWN, AND LEAVE IT ALONE."

GiGi put down the newspaper. "I'm afraid you are very sad" she said in a soothing tone. "Can't I do anything for you?"

"It's all along of the 'Dig'" the Worm said in a much gentler voice.

"Along of the 'Dig'?" repeated GiGi, quite pleased that he had recovered his temper.

"You'd be cross too, if you were a 'Digger' like me, and you got worrit's and niggles about your right to 'Dig'. And then I gets cross. And I gets cold. And I gets my scarf , and I ties it round my face as at present."

GiGi looked pityingly at him. "Tying up your face(s) is very good for the toothache" she said.

"And it's very good for the Conceit" added the Worm.

GiGi didn't catch the word exactly "Is that a kind of toothache?" she asked.

"Well, no" he said: "it's when you hold up your head- so- without bending your neck".

"Oh, you mean stiff-neck" said GiGi.

"That's a new-fangled name. The Funky Diggers called it Conceit in my time".

"Conceit isn't a disease at all" GiGi remarked.

"It is though." said the Worm, "Wait till you have it, and then you'll know. "And when you catches it, just try tying a scarf around your neck- it'll cure you in no time".

"I'll tell you how I came to wear it. When I was young, my ringlets used to wave!" With this, he untied the scarf, and GiGi couldn't help but see how sparse he looked...

A curious idea came into GiGi's head. Almost everyone she had met had repeated poetry to her, so she thought she might see if the Worm couldn't do it too. However- GiGi thought- this Worm is reading an altogether different newspaper- he wont understand poetry in this way- he wants to sing!
"Would you mind singing it to me?" she asked very politely.

He was silent for a few minutes, then he drew himself up, shook both of his heads together into one- screwed up all his features and beating his tail to a rhythmn, began;

"When I was young, my ringlets waved
And curled and crinkled on my head;
And then I said 'I should be shaved
And wear a purple wig instead'

But when I followed my advice,
And noticed the effect,
I thought I didn't look so nice
As I had ventured to expect

They said it didn't fit and so
It made me look extremely plain:
But what was I to do, you know?
My ringlets would not grow again.

So now that I am old and gray,
And all my hair is nearly gone.
The Worm can't dig without a gig,
So where else could I bring it on?

And still whenever I appear
They hoot to call me Dig!
And that is why I do it dear,
Because of a purple Wig"

"I'm very sorry for you" GiGi said heartily, as he clearly thought he was in fact wearing the wig! " I think, if your Purple Wig fitted a little better, then everyone could see how fine it is. I think-"

The worm interrupted her here "Your wig fits very well- its just the rest of you that's all wrong! Your jaws are too short, your feets too big, and what's more you just aren't here to Dig!" At this, he laughed at his own words, and gathering courage and humour he carried on "Your eyes, well you've only two- and they are both the same size- what use is one head, when two can suffize!" 

GiGi stepped back, noticing how well the Worm had not only recovered his spirits, but had set one face- the smiling one, on straight. His tail, still beating to his own tune, was beginning to dig at the soil underneath him. GiGi thought she might safely leave him. "I think I must be going on now" she said.

"Goodbyee, and thankeee" sang the Worm, and GiGi tripped down the hill again, quite pleased that she had gone back and given a few minutes to making the poor old creature comfortable.

So there we are Emily, that is the 'lost chapter' that I shall throw out of Annabel's book! It was fun writing it though, and good to go back and revisit something I might not have bothered with.

Enough of my nonsense for now. Hope you enjoyed the Natural History Museum yesterday- what did you make of all the Dinosaurs?

Your ever-loving Grand-Mother,

GiGi xxx

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Testament of Devotion

Dearest Emily,

Yesterday was a day of inspiration in some rather surprising ways. It was the first of a planned series of Road Trips on Dimbola missive. This first one was to the Watts Gallery in Compton. I have heard so many great things about the team there, and how far they have come from humble beginnings and achieved excellence. So- I was all prepared for this- and hoped to be inspired and re-energised by what has become something of a Beacon for us at Freshwater...

What I was not prepared for however- was to become converted to being a Watt's fan! I've sort of skirted around his work- without being very drawn to it- possibly for the same reasons I didn't previously get into the Pre-Raphaelites. My age being an issue here- in the mid-seventies at school, the desks smelling of Patchouli oil, and the older girls with Hennaed hair- immediately sent me rebelling off on an Art-rock tangent via Mr Ferry and Mr Bowie- and my head was turned away. It started to come round last year though when I went to the Tate Modern exhibition- helped by darling Henry's fashion commentary along the way! Also, my growing collection of prints from contemporaneous books, contained several of his illustrations- this one being my favourite;

Not having a date for it- I don't know if it's Angelo Collarozzi Senior or Junior- but that's another story- anyhow- here's Senior, in Julia Margaret Cameron's hands-

Which is where I kind of began on this trail, back in 2005! 
Back to Watts...
I met up with our Chairman in the fabulous Gift Shop and were warmly greeted by the Staff- all of whom are Volunteers. Brian bought books (as usual) and we waited for Nick our guide who is the Curator. 
Nick and his lovely family stayed with us last Summer- so he knows what we are trying to achieve at Dimbola- and is very encouraging. He explained the relationship of all the buildings surrounding the Gallery- and I got a developing sense of the past and present very symbiotically singing off of the same hymn sheet.
Mary Seton Watts- G.F.Watts second Wife, had created this fascinating enclave- for herself and her husband to work in. The effect of her own aesthetic- Arts and Crafts-centric- enabled me personally to look at Watts with a more appreciative eye. Similarly- this seems to me to be The Watts Gallery's secret weapon- as their task is to convert those historically not loving his work!

Chatting with Nick outside- the recent extreme weather has left them with local flooding- his genuine concern for his place of work was overwhelming. In the early days, the Gallery had buckets dotted about to catch leaks from the roof- and he was fretting about their return today! 
Everyone gives you this feeling here- it is a very special place...
The past, the present and the future are all working together here- an absolute inspiration!

Thoughtfully curated- somehow for me at least- they have managed to let us see Watts as his Wife saw him- her devotion (and the current Team's devotion)- allowing his work to be seen afresh.

Next road-trip Em- I think it'll be to Watt's first Wife's home. Ellen Terry fascinates me- and there is a recently restored 'Beetle' dress to be admired that apparently Lewis Carroll remarked on when he saw her wearing it at a performance shortly before his death.
What fun Emily!
Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxxx

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Another Fine Day on a 'Remote British Island'

Dearest Em,

A Happy New Year to my gorgeous Grand-daughters. Well, it has been wild here! Nature's being rather dramatic- and locals tend to walk about- shoulders set, with a sort of 'weary of the constant sound' of the wind expression. I've kind of given up listening to the Weather forecast, as it seems we are bashed about every few days right now.
So- you'd expect everyone to be indoors right? Not a bit of it Em, down at Dimbola I felt like applauding everyone who came through the door- just for getting there. Then they stay quite a long time- so we're all happy! And today at the Bookroom, more of the same. Sandbagged Yarmouth still functions rather well.
My first delicious day back there since Christmas, and time to pick up my Christmas present to myself- here it is Em...

Apologies for the flash and the rubbish angle- but I was in a hurry to show you. This lovely piece is number two in my Freshwater and Isle of Wight map collection- I fear it will grow and eat up my wages rather too quickly! But ooh Em- just look, it is dated 1817 and amused me because The Isle of Wight is classed as a 'Remote British Island' which I guess it was, by horse and cart- but even so!
Also, it has a fab engraving of the Bay, and no GiGi's house to be seen- in fact nothing at all. No Fort Redoubt, no Plumbl'ys Hotel, no Albion, no 'Cabin' which should've been there on the Beach. That (also known as The Mermaid) was by all accounts a bit of a dive. It's where the artist George Moreland hung out and got drunk after escaping his creditors on the mainland. So- there's another reason for remote visiting I guess. Then Mr Tennyson and his desire to escape adulation, thought he'd got the remote bit right- until everyone started coming over to catch a glimpse of him (including our stalker Dodgson.) I guess varying reasons for coming here are pretty much the same centuries on.
Anyhow, that was then, and this is now. Your Grandmother thinks it is the Centre of the Universe as you know. But, I did think that maybe the internet helped me move here. Perhaps it did Em, and I love the remoteness of living on the edge of the Down, and looking out of the window at night in the Winter- seeing no people, no buildings, paradoxically for me feels the opposite of being alone.
However- what with all this Weather- I sometimes think it's more like Newfoundland in 'The Shipping News' and again- I quite like that.
Last week though, we had a bit of a test. The main internet mast broke- and Grumpa installed a washing machine in my office and left all the router plugs disconnected. So what we thought was down to the mast, became prolonged down to a lack of plugging-in. But, guess what Em, we got used to it. It was a bit odd to begin with, but then it ceased to matter.
I'm glad it is back on- I enjoy catching up on what my friends all over the world are up to for one thing.
But it was a nice little test for me here on a 'Remote British Island' theme. LOVE IT.
So, I shall sign off for now, and await the next storm!

See you both again soon. We shall go for our walks with Milly and Marley, you will pinch my hat and pretend you are me. You'll comment on me doing my make-up and discern that the one made up eye is 'quite nice- do the other one' , and I shall feel all over again how rich my life is and how lucky I am! Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxxx