Category Archives: personal history

Space Oddity

“Big Sky” oil painting, 1990  (Paraparaumu)

It occurs to me that each one of us has a universe inside.  There are light and energy sources – suns and stars.  Also plenty of space.  And black holes – awful negative nothingness which is another name for the bottomless-pit-of-need where you can never get enough validation or self-esteem.  Inner planets too?  Why not.

Positive energy (the sun) shines forth as one loves, receives inspiration, gives back, and puts ideas into action.

But it is hard not to be afraid of the black hole and of being drawn into it.  It is such a hopeless void.

Sometimes I blaze through my universe with rocket-fired determination – gladly constructing and carrying out ideas, projects and schemes.  At other times I languish, lost in space.

These are elements within my inner universe, and perhaps they are elements inside yours.   The universe isn’t only out there, but also in here.

I lay in bed early this morning thinking these thoughts before turning over and going back to sleep.

“Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.”  David Bowie

Life Back Then

When I was 11 years old my Form 1 class was set an assignment.  We had to interview one or other of our parents about their childhoods and write in some form what life was like back then.  I came across my composition last night as I perused the pages of  “FABRIC OF A FAMILY – The family history and background of Mary and Jerzy Podstolski” by my sister, Jeannie Beauchamp.   (If Jeannie hadn’t added my words to the family history they’d be totally lost.)

I interviewed Mum for the project at home in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1971.  Mum was born in 1920 in Hucknall, England.  If she was alive today she’d be turning 99 on 25 October 2019 while I will be turning 60 in a few days.   And so, to celebrate two young lives, and history in general, here is my piece.

Mary Spray in 1929

Mum’s Generation

Family Life

Before I start I’ll let you know that Mum was born in a small town that was part of Nottingham, England.

Mum would have to get up at 8 a.m because she lived very close to school.  Her dinner was at 12 p.m and tea was at 4 p.m.  She had to go to bed at 9 p.m.

In the evenings Mum would read a great deal.  She would sometimes play outside with a ball and often she would play cricket in the back yard.  She would go for walks, write letters to her friend (who lived next door), knit and listen to the radio.

Mum was expected to do no work as her grandma did it all.

Mum was disciplined a great deal by her grandmother and she was never allowed to go for walks by herself.

Mum used to go to the sea a lot on holidays.  She went to Skegness, Mablethorpe and Cleethorpes.  They would only stay for about four days.

My grandfather, Edwin Spray, tests the water.

Bournemouth holiday snap. Mum is the little girl 4th from the left in front.  1924.

In the weekends Mum’s parents would be busy in the shop so Mum could never go out.  Sometimes they would go for long walks in the country.  On Sunday Mum would go to Sunday School, and in the afternoon they would have visitors or visit someone else.

Mum got sixpence a week pocket money, and in the summer on Saturdays she would be allowed an ice cream which one of our relations made.  She wasn’t allowed to get ice cream from anywhere else other than her relation because in those days people made their own ice cream and sold it and you never knew what they put in it.  People only made ice cream on Saturdays and on Sundays none of the shops were open.

Transport

In Mum’s area they usually travelled by taxi, car or bus.  If they were going for a long holiday they would go by train.  To go to a beach they would go by train because the nearest beach was about 200 miles away as they lived in the Midlands.  Mum’s parents did not have a car but they lived with Mum’s grandmother who owned half a car.  Mum’s aunt (Grandmother’s daughter) owned the ofther half.  Often Mum would go out in Grandmother’s car with the family, but since no-one could drive, they hired a man to drive for them.

Left to right: My great grandmother (Lizzy), Aunty Mary, my grandmother (Ada), Mum (Mary), and the hired driver.

Mum needed no transport to get to school as her school was almost across the road from where she lived, but if she had needed transport, she would have been lucky, because there was a bus stop right by her front door step.

The mail would be delivered twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  It’s much better in England because the letterbox is in the door so no-one can steal your mail.

Mum lived right near an aerodrome and she heard planes fly over a lot but in those days there were no passenger services.

Housing etc

All houses were made of brick but mostly red brick.  Most young people lived in rented houses.  The suburbs which were being developed were mainly Linby, Papplewick, and Bestwood estate.

Mum had electricity.  She had never heard of vacuum cleaners.  Instead she had an ewbank sweeper which she pushed up and down the floor.  She didn’t have a washing machine but a tub.  Mum had two irons which were called sad irons.  While one was being used, the other sat on the gas element, and when the one which was being used got cool, they would be changed around.  They had a heater and Mum’s old-fashioned grandfather used to think it was the same as a fire so he would throw rubbish into it hoping it would burn.

Cake mixers had not been heard of, neither had electric blankets or fridges.  Instead they put their food in the cellar or meat safe.  Hot water bottles had been invented and so had treadle sewing machines.  Mum’s mother had one because she was a dressmaker.  Mum did not have a toaster but she toasted bread on a toasting fork by the fire.  Later on they had a radio.

In Mum’s day there was a lot of difference between the rich and the poor.

Education

Mum’s school was as big as ours if not bigger.  There was not a shortage of teachers, in fact lots were out of work.  The play area of the school was only a concrete playground.

The programme included maths, country dancing, physical education, composition, sewing and cookery, and housewifery.  The system was much better than now because in housewifery they taught you to keep your house tidy, wash windows, iron etc.

The holidays were four weeks at August, one week at Easter, one week at Christmas, and one week at Whitsuntide.

The schools were mainly public like today.  Anyway Mum never went to college.  She left school at 14 years old.  Lastly the schools were very strict.

Work

Work was very difficult to find and jobs were easily lost.

The pay was all right but not very good to miners.  Some miners who had big families to look after got a pay of 16 shillings a week.  Transport was reliable to and from work.  The main public job which was available was mining as Hucknall is a mining town.  The hours of work were 8 hours a day, 9 o’clock to 5 o’clock.

Working conditions were not as comfortable as now.

There was no rationing during the Depression in England.

Work was always hard to get in England because of the population, and it still is.  Lots of people beg on London’s streets.  Something you won’t see in Wellington.

Fashion

Everyday clothing was just the same as now except the dresses were longer and for women no trousers were allowed.  Mum wore just ordinary clothes to school.  She didn’t have a uniform.  It was easy for Mum to get clothes because her mother was a dressmaker.

Mum with her mother, Ada, directly behind her.

For a lot of poor people clothes would have to last a long time because people could not afford new clothes very often.

At balls and special functions women would wear long gowns and men would wear tails.

Wet weather wear did differ from today.  Coats were not waterproof, and there was no such thing as plastic.

Shoes mostly had buckles for women, and for men there were lace-ups.  I don’t think buckles were on men’s shoes like today.  Wellington boots were worn in wet weather.

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Well – it ends rather abruptly doesn’t it.  Either I hadn’t learn to finish off essays yet or the last page went missing.  In any case, I think the teacher liked it.

The author at the approximate time of writing this – aged 11.

Mum and I at a wedding reception in New Plymouth, 1973.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-exhibition post

  • Here I am
  • I exist.  For now
  • What am I going to do with the rest of my existence?
  • What is my relationship with the world?
  • How can I be relevant?
  • How can I fit?
  • How do I fill in time?
  • Void

At the end of every art exhibition I walk off the edge into nothingness…

“Once Upon a Wall” (detail) coloured pencils/oil pastels 2017

Disintegration, then reformation (hopefully) – maybe.  Exposure equals vulnerability.  This always happens.

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way/ And the stars look very different today/….Planet Earth is blue/ And there’s nothing I can do…    (David Bowie)

A normal part of the artistic process.  Nothing special.

“Café des Arts” (detail) coloured pencils 2018.

PS I recovered from my post-exhibition blues.  It took exactly two weeks for me to return to my normal self.

 

Walking with Claude

“Walking with Claude”
a drawing in oil pastels and coloured pencils of Monet’s house and garden in autumn.
320 x 400 mm. February 2018.

Does the spirit of Claude Monet walk in his garden?  He said his garden was his greatest masterpiece – so perhaps he lingers within its borders.  But all the tourists might drive him mad!  He (like many artists) used to be infuriated by the interruptions of curious people.

I like to think he may come and go – leaving when it is busy and returning when all is quiet.  The garden was nearly empty of people in late autumn of 2012 when I was there.

Who knows?  Perhaps we walked side by side sharing in silence our solitude.

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On a former occasion, in 2005, I visited Giverny with my family.  Here I hand the page over to Matthew to introduce his song “Walking with Claude“…

Matthew, Emily, Lucy and Alicia on the Japanese bridge in Monet’s garden. August 2005. Photo by Julie

Walking with Claude  by Matthew Clements

“In the summer of 2005 we spent time in Monet’s garden.  It was during one of our last family holidays before Emily, Alicia and Lucy sprouted their own wings.

I wanted to write a song which somehow captured the artist in his idyll.  My mother, Barbara, was a gifted gardener.  I thought how she would have loved Monet’s garden but her advancing age made it unlikely she could ever make the journey.  In fact, she never visited Europe during her life.  So the song became my description to her of his wonderful garden.

By the time I wrote the song a year later, my own impending kidney failure somehow impacted the spirit of the song as I compared my mother’s mortality with my own.

The brilliant Perth guitarist and singer-songwriter Simon Nield, already with well advanced cancer that would soon take his life, found his own meaning in the lyric and recorded me singing it in his studio in 2007.  He then overlaid some of his own gorgeous guitar.  Thank you Simon!”

 

“Day Trip to Giverny”
Drawn in January 2018

 

Happy Paris Anniversary

A celebration of what was, is, and what will be…

This weekend one year ago Alicia (middle daughter) and I arrived in Paris.  I am celebrating the anniversary with a slice of “Opera” cake from Wild Bakery (to be eaten later) and a look at the drawings I have done so far from that inspirational trip.

Here is – basically – half an exhibition.  The other half is still to come.

“Somewhere”
November 2016

“Guiding Lights”
November 2016

“Show Time”
December 2016

“Alone in the Upper Marais”
December 2016

“Nearly Dusk”
December 2016

“Good Morning Paris”
January 2017

“On the Road”
January 2017

“Just a Moment”
January 2017

“The Elegance of the 4th”
April 2017

In Town Tonight
April 2017

“Sideshow Alley”
May 2107

“Once Upon a Wall”
June 2017

“Rhapsody in Gold”
August 2017

“Walk”
September 2017

“Irresistible Blanche”
October 2017

I mentally immerse myself in Paris long after physically returning to Fremantle.  I don’t wish I was still in Paris now.  I am there during the creation of each drawing.  Can one be in two places at once?  Without a doubt.

A photo of Alicia during one of our unforgettable walks together.

 

Fascination Finale

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Today, members of Perth Kimono Club visited our art exhibition “Fascination: Maiko, Geiko, Kyoto”.

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Outside it was an incredibly stormy day.  Only the bravest of the brave actually wore kimono as a strong bitterly cold wind blew non-stop while horizontal rain teemed.   Inside the gallery we sat and discussed maiko, geiko and Kyoto – interrupted at regular intervals by the front door blowing open.

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President of Perth Kimono Club, Izumi Woods, was given the task of randomly selecting the winner of 40 Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 coloured pencils (held by Robyn Varpins) donated by Kadmium Art + Design Supplies in Sydney.  220 names were in the bag.  Congratulations Di Swain!!!

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After a group photo, people chatted and looked at the art.  It was a lovely way to finish off the exhibition.

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Matthew (my Better Half) was given the task of photographer.

Tomorrow people will come to take away the sculptures and drawings they bought.  And I will go back to being a person who works quietly at home…at least for another two years.

Thank you to EVERYBODY who took the time to visit our art exhibition over two and a half weeks.  Your interest, encouragement and support are hugely appreciated.

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Hurry Up!

"Hurry Up!" is drawn with coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth. 250 x 305 mm. June 2016

“Hurry Up!” is drawn with coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth.
250 x 305 mm.
June 2016

I may be nearly 57 but my eternal inner child is alive, well and as insistent as she was when I was actually her age.  A fortnight ago we travelled to Kyoto together.

“Hurry up!” she implored on each of the three nights we stayed out to photograph maiko and geiko.  “I’m bored already.  We’ve been out all day.  I’m tired.  I want to go back to my room.  I want to eat.”  And – “Buy me a macha ice cream”.  [I did.  It was delicious.]  “My feet hurt.  My knees, back and shoulders ache.  I need a bathroom.  I need a bed.”

I had to be firm.  “Just another half hour”, I replied.  “Wait until I get a couple more photos.  I tell you what, after the next maiko or geiko shows up, then we’ll go.  Just until 9, 9.30, just until 10.”

So the internal dialogue continued.  Adult Julie simply HAD to hold out; resist the whine from within.  This was a small window of opportunity (three days and nights) to acquire new source photos to draw from.  I couldn’t waste precious time by giving in and going back to the hotel.  I MUST HAVE PHOTOS!  (Or to quote a famous lady, “I must have my share…”)

We agreed on one thing; when maiko and geiko appeared, enabling us to get photos, both adult and inner child were exultant.  “YES!”

Maiko and geiko finally came out of various ozashiki and dashed in the rain to their next appointments.  The drawing’s title refers to their speed as they hurtled (with grace) past one another beneath red umbrellas.

Hurry Up!” is a drawing about movement; an impression of speed.  Plus the title acknowledges Inner Child.  It reminds me of our nightly reckoning as we endured mind-numbing boredom and fatigue on the dark wet streets of Gion – waiting interminably for a few quick bursts of elegant action.