The past is never just the past, it is recalled in the now,
a visual invitation to step into a life.
Memories laid down in layered pixels of existence
moments in snapshots faded by time.
photography by http://www.rebeccapells.co.uk
Weave between the lines you see; search for what lies beyond,
the portal to a life lived four score years plus ten and then four more.
Cocooned in a chair, reduced in presence and time as synapse fade
but within those four walls a human soul beats on,
memoir script upon her face, invites us as witness, scribe to her life.
Touch gently that place, the trigger to find, a flicker of recognition
lights up the entree to memories, illuminated, transported in time.
Each crease, every fold of sagging, mottled skin belies a chapter,
an experience gained, a lesson learned, heartbreak and joy.
As a pebble dropped in stagnant pond, ripples radiate
as rings in a trunk strip back the years in lucid clarity.
Hesitant at first, then like a wave memories flow
to wash upon the shore where long held dreams splash forth
and like a child she dances once more.
Acceptance must come, to deny the end of summer’s gift is foolhardy. It was but a fleeting moment in time, when all seemed possible, when heat and heart soared. But as in nature these dizzy heights cannot be captured and held suspended in time. We have to let go, move on with the seasons, face a new chapter of life.
Few things end abruptly: more oft there is a gradual passing, a fading of that which was held in high regard and despite our best efforts the saturated colour, intense and bursting with life cannot endure the whisper of breathy frost or a shoulder coldly turned. Disbelief turns it’s attention to weary acceptance that once again we allowed ourselves to be smitten, to believe the summer was forever, that we had finally arrived and would be allowed to stay.
The garden decays before our eyes, fruit unripened calls out for late warmth; lush trees which short weeks ago danced in gentle breeze, now shed their leaves in nods of brittle shards impatient to bare their boughs and be at rest once more. When the party is over, we need to withdraw, to reflect and maybe even hide a little until we are ready to emerge once more, to show ourselves, exhibit our work, declare our love. In an era of instant disclosure withdrawal is a bid for freedom, to hide under the covers, to ensconce ourselves in the studio or walk the cliff edge. It is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference.
Real loss is to find ourselves stuck, unable or unwilling to embrace the new. Time and again we look back, ruminating, regretting. If only we would turn our attention to the rhythm of nature, to that which new seasons and chapters offer. For beneath the protective cover of leafy decay, we will find hidden beauty, small tender, formerly eclipsed by summer’s glory. Ready, waiting to unfurl towards the future.
I woke this morn and sensed the changing of the guard
Summer’s twilight slipped into autumn’s first dawn.
Reluctant to cross this threshold once more
Au revoir summer’s promise unripened by drought.
And let go the dream sustained by hope
Release that which can no longer be held.
Fade to autumn, the hue I must reside
And cherish sweet memory with wistful smile.
Painting ‘Antique Roses’ by Rebecca Pells
available from https://www.artfinder.com/product/antique-roses-fa34/
The Somme 100 Years
1st July 1916 marked the start of this bloody battle
And that was just the British
In a single day.
in a fractured Great Britain
on the cusp of cutting ties of friendship with Europe.
Least we forget the terribly consequences of political failure.
Peace must be prized above all else.
(Installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock)
One of the most asked questions ever. And well into the 21st century it remains unanswered. Even Google falters at this one in an age where image and instant reign on a glorious and exalted unsatisfying high.
For the last six months I have been slowly but surely dismantling the material elements which made up my late father’s life. The process is almost complete, a few final loose ends to tie up and then all semblance of his daily life will be gone and only memories, photographs and a few small heirlooms will survive. You would have to look hard to know he had lived and breathed on this earth for 92 years. What meaning did they have for him – perhaps his four children, three marriages or his Christian religion stoically observed Sunday after Sunday. I will never know.
Both parents gone and you seriously begin to think about your own mortality – the creeping weeks and months which so rapidly descend into years. Don’t let anyone tell you that time doesn’t speed up the older you get – I so does! And yet, with my father’s genes and a brisk prevailing wind I may well see one score year and ten more. Thirty plus more birthdays, thirty plus New Year resolutions to make and break. Thirty plus more chances to live meaningfully.
The thought both elates and alarms in equal measure. On days when things are going well that doesn’t seem long at all – just over half as much again as I have already skipped through – not long into which to squeeze the rest of my life! On others when all seems bleak the time stretches gloomily into a distant grey horizon – oh my, at least half as much again as I have already stressed my way through – how will I fill those long hours and days, keep the anxieties at bay, avoid the blackest clouds and stumble my way to my final hour.
We are cajoled, coaxed, coerced and consumerised into believing that a state of constant happiness is our goal. But the foundation stone of capitalism has become our stumbling block as the constant seeking of happiness proves forever elusive. We try to access it with things, we view it as a destination to be reached and once there we can reside for ever and a day. But I suspect that state cannot be sustained, and is unlikely to provide the meaning for which we search. I don’t think I would want it that way. The meaning and purpose of our lives can often be found in the darkest corners, in those hours which seem the most bleak. But when we eventually emerge into the light once more oh how much sweeter. Like the colours in a painting, the light shines so much more brightly when placed next to the darkest hue.
The meaning is in the doing, in the striving, the anticipation and in the possibility. When we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, when we are prepared to take a risk, when we allow ourselves to step beyond our familiar threshold and let go. Those times we spend alone, absorbed by our activity and undistracted we truly live the moment. These are the experiences which paint our emotional memories. Sometimes they burn us, sometimes elate but they are soaked into our soul just as the warmth of the sun will transfer the image from a negative onto the salt paper, the fine details captured for posterity. These are the ones which we will recall when we reach our eleventh hour. These are the details which give life meaning.
‘Afternoon Blues’ by Rebecca Pells
available from https://www.fineartseen.com/product/afternoon-blues/
On the 7th May 1915 the British liner RMS Lusitania, the fastest and most luxurious ship in the world at the time, was struck by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland. Of it’s 1962 passengers and crew only 764 survived – my great uncle and aunt were among them. Their one year old son John was not.
An account of their trauma is taken from statements made by both Mary and Elmore upon their eventual arrival in England.
“(Cyril) Elmore and Mary Anita Pells, travelling with their infant son John from Canada to England where Mr. Pells was to join his regiment, despaired of ever leaving the ship safely. At the time the torpedo struck they were dining in the second class salon and returned to their E Deck cabin to retrieve John, and Elmore made a second trip below for lifebelts. Not expecting to survive, they took seats together somewhere on one of the upper decks presumably on the port side, to wait for the end. When it came, they were pulled down deep with the ship, and in the torrent John was wrenched out of his father’s arms and lost. Elmore and Mary surfaced and were able to pull themselves atop an overturned lifeboat.”
Following a short period of recovery in London, Elmore joined his regiment as originally planned but after receiving a brief note telling of his safe arrival in France, Mary never heard from him again and he is documented as having been killed in action during the Battle of Aisne-Chemin des Dames on May 27th 1918.
The human element of this disaster, which has largely been lost among the controversial nature of the incident together with the passing of time, is now coming to light, re-surfacing along with the personal stories. I have researched Elmore and Mary’s accounts with the benefit of the internet and personal family history. However, I am also in possession of a wonderful photographic record of their lives in Canada prior to their fateful journey. The images long since faded, document a young couple in love. Elmore met Canadian born Mary in the UK and following their engagement they emigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia and and were married at North Lonsdale in April 1914. Their son John was born in February 1915. The images tell a story of a vibrant life together, socialising, fancy dress and tennis parties and picnics on the beach with friends. Just one image remains of their infant son John.
It is their own record of their life together, each photograph carefully entered into the small album by their own hands, unaware of the tragedy which was shortly to unfold and change their lives forever. Faces reach out from the faded images, ethereal and yet full of life, crossing the threshold of a time long since gone and reaching into the 21st century in an effort to be remembered. A reminder that they lived life to the full during their short time together: there was life before the Lustania and for Mary a life after but very much changed.
Through the remainder of the war Mary served as a nurse, and she was awarded a sum of $1089.15 for the loss of her personal property and Elmore’s medical expenses after her return to British Columbia. For a time she lived in California, where she continued to study nursing, before returning for a third time to Canada, where the trail is lost in time. However, somewhere along the way she maintained a connection to the Pells family – in 1936 she received a legacy from Elmore’s mother upon her death.
Elmore – ‘lost in action’- has no known grave but is remembered at The Soissons Memorial located in the Aisne département of France. The memorial lists 3,887 names of British soldiers who were killed in the area from May to August 1918 during the Spring Offensive.
And somewhere, somehow, this little album has found it’s way from Canada back to England, passed down my family and following the recent death of my own father John, who was named after his young cousin, is now one of my most treasured possessions.
The connection we prize, betwixt friendship and love,
more precious than either, the fit like a glove.
Elusive to seek and nebulous when found,
no sudden discovery, a revealing of lives bound.
A sense of arrival of something long sought,
like the missing jig-saw piece long since bought.
The vista of life’s shadow cast into light,
my own wounds you touched, inner turmoil and fight.
Your essence reached out from long hidden time
parallel depths in recognition of mine.
You called out to me, I responded in kind
I cradled your pain for you mine to find.
Suspended by time, the connection a fine thread,
it sways with the seasons to others all but dead.
Poised for nourishment the possibility resides
the strengthening vein the longer it bides.
Two only in my lifetime thus far in time
too precious to waste, oh soulmate of mine!
Painting ‘The Writing Table’ by http://www.rebeccapells.co.uk/
‘Was it Yesterday’ by Rebecca Pells
available from https://www.artfinder.com/product/was-it-yesterday/
A few moths ago I attended the launch of a book written by the father of a friend. First published in 1928/29, ‘Was it Yesterday?’ by A M Bown recounts his experiences in France during the First World War. For many years it remained out of print until his son and daughter, themselves now into their 80’s, realised that his story would be of interest to many others and so they set about the task of re-publishing.
‘When he volunteered in 1914, A M Bown was a twenty year old scholar at Oxford (university) studying science. He became an artillery subaltern and remained one throughout the First World War, being wounded twice and gaining the Military Cross for bravery. This book, although fictionalised, grew out of his personal experiences and is a vivid and authentic account.
He tells of ordinary day-to-day incidents, some amusing, some frightening, and gives a sense of real lives – and real deaths. He keeps throughout a respect for his fellow soldiers, saying:
“So this little team in khaki stood waiting for the starting gun . . . in the greatest game of all, and whatever share the fields of Eton (college) may have had in any winning of it, the same share must be credited to the back alleys and the cinder patches, the parks and the recreation grounds which had been the nurseries of most of those who stood together in that forward line, picked to play for England.” ‘
Inspired by Bown’s story and with his family’s permission, I painted ‘Was it Yesterday?’ The opened book sits upon a table from around 1916. Original wallpaper tinged with ‘forget-me-not’ blue symbolizes the fading of memories of a time long since gone but which also bears witness to the present – a jug of fresh spring daffodils and bright scarf cast aside in a hurried moment. So intense are the events of which the author writes, that they feel like they happened only yesterday.
‘Was it Yesterday?’ by A M Bown