Refugees From Sark

Whilst beyond the storm tossed Channel the forces of repression advanced inexorably across the verdant interior of beleaguered Jersey, in a sumptuous office at the heart of England’s capital three bedraggled figures stood, stooped and spiritually broken before a vast mahogany desk. They were dressed in ill fitting white roll-neck submariners’ jumpers, dungarees and plimsolls donated by charitable sailors, crew of the Coastguard armed trawler that had plucked them from the sea off Brighton pier after intercepting their dangerously overcrowded pedalo. They wrung their knitted woollen beanies in their gnarled hands.

“Coping with the whims of our feudal Seigneur was tough enough in the Tyranny of Sark, but this King Emperor is threatening our livelihoods. He inflicts burdensome taxes, criticises our architecture and imposes farming methods unsuited to our tiny island. We have risked all to escape. You must do something to help us.”

Larry tried to look compassionate as he faced them across the desk.

“Actually I don’t have to do anything. That is the point. I am the temporary, acting, titular head of state in a federation of autonomous anarcho-surrealist collectives. My job is to do nothing.

“I am, of course fully aware of the invasion and of your plight. I have formulated a plan, a plan so secret that none but my trusted aide even guess at its existence.”

Barrymore entered with a tray of scalding hot mugs of cocoa, smoothly gliding across the carpet on Rookie Retro V2 roller skates. As she skidded gracefully to a halt before placing her tray on the desk Larry leaned over and whispered in her pointed tortoiseshell ear:

“Do I have a plan yet, Barrymore?”

“No sir, you do not. I have refuelled the dirigible runabout and would respectfully suggest we make an excursion to Limehousesailortown.” She turned to the Sarkees, “I’ll get someone to take you down to the kitchens. You must be famished.”

Barrymore adjusted the elevator wheel and Larry’s runabout gently descended from sunshine into the clouds below. The ever-present Vwoooh given off by the churning propulsion blades changed pitch ever so slightly, the Stanley Steamer aero-engines chuffed reassuringly and, as condensation began to form on the observation ports, she switched on the windscreen wipers.

Shortly they broke out of the cloud and the silver ribbon of Limehouse Reach sparkled up at the airship. Barrymore blew sharply into a speaking tube and the resulting shrill whistle was answered with a, “Huh?”

“We’ll be there in five minutes, Mr Prime Minister. Do you want me to fetch Boris up or are you planning to visit that den of iniquity in person?”

“Take her down and anchor as close to the shore as you can manage. We’ll take the launch in.”

Larry stood in the bow of their tiny inflatable while Barrymore rowed. Once alongside and with the craft moored to a handy pile, he scrambled up a precarious vertical ladder to the balcony at the rear of Bozzy’s Catnip Den and marched unannounced through the French windows into the lounge. Barrymore scurried to catch up.

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The Way We Lied

I’ve been trying to tell Simon just how exciting today was, but he isn’t really interested and in fact, I have to say, has been quite dismissive. He said Mary was just being kind to us and probably couldn’t be bothered to stir things up, but I said that she seemed quite genuine and we all found the afternoon very encouraging.
Nicky had made us all think in advance about the questions we wanted to ask so we would use the time properly. As Nicky said, it’s not every day we get the chance to speak to a famous artist, so we don’t want to waste the opportunity. She also said we should decide in advance which pieces of our work we would like to have on display, so we could all get as much out of her visit as possible. I said there wasn’t much for me to think about then, as all my paintings are much the same, but Nicky said in that case why didn’t I also bring my sketch books along to give her an idea of how I prepared my work.
And that was a brilliant suggestion as it made all the difference. I could see that Mary was not particularly excited by my usual paintings, the run of the mill still lifes and jugs of flowers, but she loved my sketches. There’s more energy in these than I am seeing in your finished work, she said. It would be wonderful if you could retain this vibrancy. I was so pleased I could hardly speak. I mean, her praising me! She was very nice to everyone else as well, though I could see she was not very interested in Arthur Jones’s watercolours of local scenes, but then I don’t think he was very bothered either because they always sell very well to visitors to the area. And anyway, he probably won’t be in on the project, he just wanted to join in for the afternoon because he wanted to meet Mary and then be able to go to the pub in the evening to tell his mates he’d met the lady who did all the tit sculptures. He is such a chauvinist pig, he really is.
And when Nicky started talking about the group project Arthur said he didn’t see why we needed to agree to do a combined effort. He said as we were all so different it would be a bit like trying to pretend we all had a house style, like a range of supermarket products. I could see Mary thought he was being obstructive and she said that perhaps he felt that way about the Camden Town artists or the Newlyn School and that soon shut him up.
Nicky told her we hadn’t yet decided what the project should be, just that it should inspire us all to develop new ideas. Then Mary said that she would be delighted to invite everyone who was willing to sign up to the project ( by which she meant everyone except Arthur) to visit her studio and she would show us some of her own sketches and work in progress. That was quite funny as it certainly shut Arthur up and the rest of us were very keen to agree to be involved from that point onwards.

The Way We Lied

I told Simon all about it when I got home and he just said why on earth would someone like that want to come and talk to a bunch of amateurs? And I got really upset about that because we’ve all been artists for ages and I think all of us have been to art college, so I thought that was a really unkind remark, as well as being misleading. Then he said he had heard of Mary Reid and that she was so incredibly successful she probably wouldn’t ever have the time to talk to us and anyway she was very cutting edge and had a reputation for being difficult, so if she did come she wouldn’t be encouraging at all, she would just rip our work apart. And that really bothered me, because Nicky, who was hoping to set up this meeting, had said that if we could organise it we should all bring in examples of our work for her to look at. I mean, I just thought I’m at a low ebb already, so do I need to go even lower? I’m not sure I could cope with feeling completely useless and insignificant in front of some super woman.
So then I began to get cold feet about the whole thing and I wondered about calling Nicky and telling her I wasn’t sure I could do it. But when I talked to Caroline at one of our regular afternoon get togethers I felt better. She isn’t arty at all, but she is really kind and understanding and we have been friends for a long time, so I can always really talk to her. We were having a coffee and she asked me if the gallery was bringing me any commissions and I told her all about the project idea. And she said she thought it was a brilliant suggestion. And so when I said I was doubtful, she said oh but you must do it, it sounds wonderful. When would you get another opportunity like this, she said, you can’t miss out on it. And so I thought I should just be brave and give it a go. And it’s happening tomorrow and I am really nervous. What if she doesn’t like my paintings? What if she is really intimidating?

The Way We Lied

And that led on to working with adults, which is really something I’d never thought about doing, but which I now really enjoy. It all came about when the Afternoon WI asked me to talk to them about my work at the school and I went along with some of my own pictures as well as work done by the children. They started asking me if I could also teach adults to paint and we arranged to have a little session now and then and a competition as well, because of course the WI do love to have their weekly competitions!
Then one thing led to another and one of the members said that the Manor Care Home had a vacancy for an art therapist and why didn’t I apply? I said that I wasn’t a trained therapist and she said that didn’t matter, they just wanted someone who could talk to the inmates and be encouraging and that from the way she had seen me working with the WI members, she thought I would be an ideal candidate.
So I got in touch with the home and found it really rewarding. To see elderly people who might otherwise have been sitting staring at a television all day enjoying being creative, was really lovely. We did lots of fun things, like taking it in turns to be models – fully dressed, I’m happy to say – and drawing outdoors when the weather was fine. Some of the more physically able ones were also keen to visit exhibitions, so we had some interesting excursions as well.
But much as I loved it, none of this was actually helping me with my own work, although I sold bits from time to time and the New End Gallery run by the local Arts Guild, which I belong to, always had a few of my pieces up for sale. I also did a sort of travelling art show two years running in the summer, when guild members had open days at home. That was quite good fun, as it meant you could each show much more work than the gallery could take at any one time, but to be honest it was an awful bind. Not only did I have to work out how to manage the children, as it was held during term time, but in the end I don’t think I actually sold any more than I did normally. Most of my paintings sell to friends and it was mainly friends who came to the show in the end, so it probably wasn’t worth all the effort.
No, what I really need is a major change of direction. And I think now that Richard is going off to university and Emily is settled at her sixth form college, I might have the chance to experiment with some new work. Simon keeps saying he can’t see why I’m bothered as my flower paintings sell quite regularly. Well that’s true, but I’m beginning to wonder if that’s all I’ll ever do and if I don’t try to change soon, I’ll never have a chance to find out.
So a group of nine of us in the Guild are thinking of making ourselves into a collective and giving ourselves a task. It will be a bit like the modules we all did in art college when the tutors would tell us that the next project would be ‘Time and Space’ or ‘Motion’ and everyone would have to decide how to interpret that. I could never really grasp why we had to all work to the same theme though and still churned out the same old paintings every single time! A bunch of flowers in a large room for time and space and petals blowing in the wind for motion!
Anyway, we’ve been talking about setting up this project and Nicky, who is the unelected leader of the group – she also works at the gallery part time – said she knew this really famous artist called Mary Reid who had come to live in the area. She said that years ago they had been at the same art college together and although they hadn’t exactly been best friends, she thought she could contact this woman and ask her to come and talk to us. She said she couldn’t guarantee it, but that it was worth a try.
We all thought that was a brilliant idea as it would be so wonderful to hear how someone who is really successful comes up with new ideas. I didn’t like to admit that I knew hardly anything about this woman. I have heard a bit about her work of course, but then I don’t really look at sculpture, especially modern stuff. And when I go out with the residents from the home or with the children we mainly go the old established galleries which put on the big block-buster shows.

Intelligence Gathering

Ferdy had landed his Cierva in a field several miles to the west of Jersey’s capital and hidden it in an improvised hayrick. He had borrowed a bicycle, found propped up in the nearby farmyard and was peddling into St Helier cunningly disguised as an onion seller. The deserted streets looked as if a tornado had passed through. Empty crisp packets and greasy newspaper fluttered like tumbleweed along the highway, crushed soft drinks cans piled up in the gutters, doors swung on creaking hinges and bedding hung out of hollow windows. An unseasonably cold, lonely wind wafted mournfully through the town. Nearing the General Hospital the intrepid dodo was surprised to hear the rousing strains of Rule Britannia being bashed out on a concert grand that had been pulled out, minus its lid, into the car park. He leaned his transport against some railings, adjusted his Basque beret and hung two strings of onions about his neck. Tentatively he peered through the main gates. A grizzled character in paratrooper’s uniform stood at the piano, tapping one foot as he played, whilst a curvaceous Lionheart, having removed her mask, and enticed into a wild fandango by two of the Kittens of Chaos, twirled dangerously close to the flames of several fiercely burning 2CVs. A roaring fireball erupted from one of the tiny exploding fuel tanks and Ferdy sprang back into the soft arms of…

“Haave a carre Meesterrr Ferrdinand Desai.”

“Er… I am just an innocent onion seller. Oh… Consuella? You shouldn’t creep up on people like that.”

“Eet ees best we keep a low profile. Come away from thees demonic scene. Arre you rready foorr a cup of tea?”

 

The pair sauntered inconspicuously down the road to the opera house and then crossed over to the small café where Consuella had established her clandestine HQ. They settled at an inside table for two and Consuella called over to a trim waitress.

“A larrge plate of crroissants pleeze dearrr and a pot of tea foorr two.

“Thee girrls have been working harrd on some of thee highest rrranking officerrs of thees invasion forrce. They have brroken alrready Union Jack and Captain Brritain and, as you obserrved, they arre currrently softening up Lionhearrt. We have learrned much of theirr plans.”

Ferdinand frowned. “Are your activities strictly ethical?”

“Hno pain eez involved Meesterr Desai. Anyone succumbs in time to catnip, pole dancing and thee prromees of sex.”

“Hmm. So what have we learned?” whispered Ferdy, leaning across the table in a conspiratorial manner.

“Here’s your hot croissants ma’am. Tea’ll be a second or two, once it’s brewed.”

“Thank you Ellouise… Hwe do not have much time. Theirr High Command is prressing theez insurrgents to crrack on and complete theirr occupation of Jerrsey. Thee long terrm plan eez to install a puppet government and apply foorr interrnational rrrecognition as thee trrue Grreat Brrritain in an allience with the Imperrial Tyrrany of Sarrk.”

Another explosion rocked the café.

“I hope the Kittens are being careful,” said Ferdy.

“I ham going to pull thee girrls out. We will forrm thee corre of a guerrreella rrresistance een thee mountains.”

The Way We Lied

Helen
1

There are some things I know I simply couldn’t ever do. I mean, they are just not in my nature. I don’t mean unkind or unnatural things, I just mean like talking in public for instance. David has to do it all the time of course, as an MP, and I’ve seen Caroline say a few words in front of a small audience too, but I simply couldn’t do it. I’d be mortified. And I couldn’t work with builders like Sarah’s husband Nick does either, or do advertising like Charles. Well I suppose that is the tiniest bit creative, so maybe that’s closer to what I can understand. But having to always agree exactly with a client’s deAlex would be so boring and unsatisfying.
But then when someone, like Sarah for instance, says they can’t think what to give someone for their birthday and I say, well can’t you make them something, they say oh no I couldn’t possibly, I’m not creative like you. Because that’s what I am. I always have been. Always drawing, painting, making models and cards. And I don’t understand how people who don’t make things find any fulfilment in their lives. To me it is just like breathing. It’s an essential part of me, it’s who I am.
But having said that, I have to admit that I am at a bit of a dead end right now. I seem to have been painting the same kind of still life for about ten years and although I sell the odd one and that’s ever so encouraging, I really feel as if I’m running out of steam. I can’t go on doing jugs of flowers for ever, can I?
Oh dear, I don’t think I’ve progressed at all since my art college days. Some people were really wild then, throwing paint at canvases, sticking on rubbish, constructing sculptures out of old junk, but I was always conventional and stuck to the subjects I liked. I suppose it didn’t do me any harm, as it was very acceptable work when I trained as a teacher.
And crazy constructions would not have been much help when I was finally teaching at that very proper little girls school. Can’t imagine the mums in their estate cars and the dads in banking and the sweet little dears in pretty uniforms liking an avant garde art teacher! Oh no, it was keep on with the pretty flowers, just keep them coming.
And then a few years on, with no time for my own work, along came the children and even less time for my painting. So when I did finally want to get back into it, when the kids were full time at school, I had almost totally lost my confidence. I’d done bits and pieces over the years of course, birthday cards and things like that, but not full scale paintings for ages. So I just did a few pictures for the house and then friends saw them and liked them and I thought oh well, maybe I’m not so bad after all, maybe I should do more. It made me feel more sure of myself and then what boosted my confidence even further was helping out at the school, just supervising the art sessions really and then the head asked if I would do an after-school art club and then I got into a summer activities programme.

to be continued June 16