Month: October 2010

The observation and admiration of a stranger

I am sitting in the graveyard at Ditchling, it’s 1.45p.m. on Thursday 7th October 2010. A bee just buzzed past my head, birds tweet, the wind rocks the grass and the leaves in the trees overhead. My hair bobs gently against my face and I breathe in the warm air. There are faint noises of cars passing, a door opens and closes, wheels rumble over bumps in the road. I am relaxed, settled and looking. This is a place I know a little, I have been here a few times with my Winifred and infact I once went into the church on Winni’s second birthday and wrote her name into the visitors book.

I catch the inscription on one of the many headstones; Hannah wife of William Hubbard…

My attention is distracted as someone just cleared their throat, but I can’t see them. And now people have walked into the graveyard… 2 women. I watch them casually. One in the lead, has a leaflet in her left hand (and as she walks it waves backwards and forwards) and a black rucksack over her right shoulder. The second women who follows behind pulls up her mac and tightens it around her waist. We catch each others eye, smile and say hello. All seem perfectly comfortable and they disappear round the corner of the church behind me (St Margaret’s Church). A faint sound of a child calling, an aeroplane passes overhead and more cars pass in the distance. I wonder if they are wondering what I am up to and I suspect not really.

I can barely see the inscription on the gravestone and I have to get up and move closer, crouching down I can see more…Hannah wife of William Hubbard, Died December 27th 1846 aged 54 years old. She died 166 years ago, and so she has been lying in that spot for all that time next to her husband who died May 15th 1872 aged 80 years. He went on to outlive his wife by 26 years. So, he was the same age as her when she died. I wonder whether he went on to remarry or if William and Hannah had children and if so why their graves aren’t here beside their mother and father.

The wet grass has soaked into my jeans and so I return back to my original spot on a slab of the path. Someone somewhere is knocking nails into wood. Trees are turning orange and yellow. A berry tree on my right is laden with heavy red fruits. They can’t be cherries it’s too late for cherries but they look a lot like them. Does this mean it will be a cold winter? Ducks are quacking over by the pond under the tall trees shaking in the breeze.

My bottom is cold. My mocha coffee, which I paid a whole £3.05 for, is the most expensive mocha in the world. It’s beside me on the path next to my red purse and my phone to check for 15 minutes time up. A cloudless sky in front and the wind blows my red and white spotty scarf beneath my chin. Peaceful. Rustling leaves, grass cuttings dancing in circles by my crossed legs. I feel content, present and still. Ditchling museum sits behind the dark evergreen tree which I don’t know the name of because I don’t know much about trees. I went into the museum earlier and paid a £1 because I am a student – this made the mocha bearable. A voice somewhere near…a male voice. I had fantasised about finding a perfect painting for my Looking at Art Task in the museum and imagined myself sitting alone in a wooden framed room in a moment of perfection lasting 15 minutes. But I wasn’t allowed to take my drink in, the ladies on the desk said they couldn’t allow it…my first disappointment… and, I watched my dream fade still further when I quickly discovered there were no paintings that caught my eye in the gallery.

Whistling wind, cracking wood, and the bells of the clock strike ‘bong, bong’ two o’clock exactly. Having abandoned my Art Task I decided to do my Observation Task instead. But there are no people here?…I check the blurb which says…’anywhere you like’. And, now I am wondering how this piece of writing demonstrates my understanding of case study reporting principles and whether this piece could ever be described as ‘a report’.

The wind blowing across my wide open ears sounds like the sides of a flapping tent, a dog barking seems to come from all around and a magpie hops along past a tree infront, turns back and then pops up onto the edge of a gravestone. My throat hurts when I swallow. I pick up a feather on the path next to me to take home for Winifred because she loves them. And as I walk back to the van I glance over to the pond and see the two women from earlier sitting side by side on a bench by the ducks.

On returning home I googled William Hubbard and found The Sussex 1861 Census which lists William Hubbard, 69, Retired Innkeeper, Lydia Hubbard, Wife, 46, and Harry Hubbard, Son, 43, Gardener.

I can infer from this then that William having lost his wife Hannah went on to marry Lydia within fifteen years of her death. He at 69 years is married to a 46 year old. The son Harry’s age suggests he must have been from Williams first marriage as he is only 3 years younger than his stepmother Lydia. How interesting. Why is it then that William is buried with Hannah. Perhaps if I go back to the graveyard I will find Lydia’s grave. She was probably only about 57 years old at the time of Williams death in 1872, so perhaps she went on to marry someone else.

A William Hubbard, Inn Keeper at the Bull is also listed in the ‘Pigot & Co Directory 1840 for Sussex ~ Ditchelling & neighbourhood’ where it is written, ‘the burial ground attached to it [the church] is remarkably neat, and invariably attracts the observation and admiration of the stranger’. Which I think is really quite fitting.

I went back to the graveyard on Monday (11th September). I couldn’t find Lydia’s gravestone. However, there were two other graves very near to William and Hannah. One normal size and one smaller. I could not decipher the inscriptions on either of them. I could contact St. Margaret’s Church to find out if Lydia and Harry are buried here. There is even a possibility that I could develop a piece of art work from this little project. (I have since emailed Ditchling Museum to see if they can tell me if Lydia and Henry are buried in the graveyard, see Appendix 1).

I have also found some information about Eric Gill, the sculptor and letter cutter, who came to Ditchling in 1907. I already knew about Eric Gill’s links to this village. And while I have liked his work, more recently I read about his possible incestuous history and this made me wonder if I could continue to appreciate his work with this knowledge? I haven’t resolved this issue.

And finally, I have just found out that Ditchling has had a few notable residents including, Raymond Briggs, Herbie Flowers, Dame Vera Lynn, Sir Donald Sinden and Jamie Theakeston.

A Painting in Hove Museum

Sitting down on the floor. I take off my shoes and cross my legs, my note book resting on my lap, pen poised I start to look. I am looking up at a painting hanging on the wall in front of me. This is Hove Museum and Art Gallery. The painting is part of a ‘family friendly’ exhibition of paintings called Picturing Stories…the ideal way to introduce children of all ages to a painting exhibition…says the blurb on the leaflet – and I wonder whether I will return sometime with my daughter. I like this gallery, I don’t come often but when I do I get a good feeling and I appreciate the space it offers me.

A woman sits sideways on a sofa her left arm bent against the back with an open book in her hand. She is looking at the book which has a rusty red cover and is open about half way through. Her head is slightly tilted, her hair shines in the light that seems to come from above and a neat bun sits gently on her collar. In her lap leaning up against her bosom is a child. A little girl, who stares directly out from the painting and meets my gaze. The woman and the child are holding hands tenderly. The woman’s hand is placed over the little girls so we cannot see either of her hands. I can feel the warmth of that little hand in mine. The girls right cheek is flattened against her mothers breast, she looks relaxed and comfortable – she owns the space beside this woman on the sofa. This is an intimate private moment between a mother and her daughter? Her cheeks are reddened perhaps she is hot or flushed. Maybe she is unwell and her mother is tending to her, reading a story to her and wishing her better. In the girls lap are some garden flowers, perhaps buttercups and daisies, yellow and white. Did the girl just pick them herself a little gift for her mother? A wisp of hair sits across her left brow before passing back behind her ear. She’s not really smiling, her chin is ever so slightly raised and there is just a hint of of a frown which may indicate pain or illness. Is she gazing or dreaming; caught up in the pictures imagined from the story being read to her? She is lying out on the sofa both feet up, shoes with a blue flower touching the edge of the painting. The fabric on the sofa is blue and has a distinct pattern with flowers and lines. Simple but pretty. The girl also wears a blue dress with a white smock over the top, and a white lacy collar pops out of the dress at her neck buttoned under her chin.

My eye is rolling over the surface of the painting slowly taking in the whole picture one minute and then moving in closer searching for detail. I get up and move up closer to the painting, I look carefully at the texture of the paint and the colour. Lots of blue apart from the women’s dress which is a strong solid mustard colour. Up close I now notice that a couple of the flowers one yellow and one white have escaped and are lying on the sofa behind the girl and another has dropped onto the woman’s lap. This gives the picture a very domestic feel, a normal every day moment captured in time. Perhaps the woman has just picked the little girl up and in doing so she has dropped a couple of the flowers she was clutching in her hand. Is it nearly bed time?

Along the top of the sofa to the right of the painting is a doll – she is lying with her feet towards the girl and the girls lies the opposite way – they complement each other in the composition. They both have blue dresses. The doll has one little brown shoe missing and her left arm hangs limply down the sofa, face up with her hair tied back with a red ribbon. Where is the little shoe? Will it be found in the folds of the women’s skirts or perhaps it has been missing for some time.

The mother and daughter for surely that is who they are, sit close together in the left half of the painting and the mother’s head touches the top edge. It feels warm, intimate and real. The woman’s green dress floats forward buttoned over her knees the bustle tucked neatly into the corner of the sofa. The paint is smooth, not thick, not thin. No real texture. Lightly applied. The girls dress might be silk but there isn’t enough light suggested to see what the dress is made of.

This painting is by George Dunlop Leslie and it’s entitled Alice in Wonderland. C. 1879 (that’s seven years after Henry Hubbard died). Oil on canvas. How should I read this painting? How would the audiences at the time? Why did George paint it and who are the subjects in relation to him. Are they his wife and daughter perhaps. It is a tender and gentle image and I think these people are well loved by this painter. Idealised motherhood perhaps? And maybe not the most exciting or striking subject matter and certainly at other points in my life I would hardly have looked twice at it let alone spend 15 minutes alone with it – however, I have to confess I now find it reassuringly beautiful.

George Dunlop Leslie RA (2 July 1835 – 21 Feb 1931) was an English genre painter, author and illustrator. He often used children as subjects and his work was praised by John Ruskin for its portrayal of the “sweet quality of English girlhood”. One of his pictures, “This is the Way we Wash our Clothes” was used as a poster in an advertising campaign for soap. Despite its apparently trivial subject matter, however, Leslie’s work was highly regarded by critics of the time. Leslie was also an author and had several books published. “Our River” (1888), “Letters to Marco” (1893) and “Riverside letters” (1896) were all illustrated by him in black and white, and based on personal observations of life and nature in his local area. He also wrote a history of the early years of the Royal Academy – “The inner life of the Royal Academy”. Leslie was married to Lydia. They had a daughter Alice (depicted in his painting “Alice in Wonderland”).