Becoming single again.
It took me a while to settle, after all it was a very different life style. No going out with married friends, listening to jazz and having a bevy. I think I was a kind of surrogate daughter cum companion. It was nice to be spoilt a bit. Betty liked entertaining and she was a very good hostess. We were always having people to stay, most of them her old friends from relief work days, almost all of them from other countries. To be honest I sometimes wished that we had the house to ourselves more than we did. I like to be left alone to get on with my own thing. She was at her happiest in company. She had to give up her relief work and take up teaching again as her mother was very ill and unable to look after herself. Her mother died a few months before I moved in. Betty, like me, came to Stevenage for a new house and job.
As soon as the holidays came she would want to travel. On long summer holidays it would be somewhere in northern Europe, I longed to go south. At Easter, it would be Cornwall, St. Just in Penwith.
Which soon changed to Tresco, on the the Isles of Scilly, when we discovered it. We frequently took our visitors from overseas to Cornwall with us. They discovered the joys of Cornish pasties and cream teas. I will revisit these beaches in connection with my own work later. They do have a bearing on my creative work.
Pentle beach Tresco. The cedar wood chalet was just above this beach.
At Christmas time we were usually in Freiburg im Breisgau in the Black Forest. We stayed with Russian friends. Svetlana had been a student in the centre that Betty had set up. Now she was teaching Russian at the university and becoming the best translator of Chekov in Germany. She died recently and I have a beautiful film that they made about her and her mother Mamotchka. I have lots more to tell about that family but that will have to wait. The landscape was usually covered in snow when we were there, the forest in the snow was breathtakingly beautiful.
Two of her best friends were the Poles, Anya and Wlodek. It was hard for them to get a visa, they couldn’t use Polish Zloty’s and we paid their fares. It wasn’t very much as they came on the cheap Orbis bus from Warsaw overnight. Anya was learning English but Wlodek hadn’t any English at all. He began to learn English words off cereal packets and labels on jam, and on TV adverts etc. Betty spoke some Polish, but she was also fluent in Russian, German and French and Wlodek could speak German, he wasn’t very keen about it as he had been a soldier in the Polish cavalry and he still had no love for the Germans. I can manage a bit of German when pushed!
We went to visit them four times driving there in the car. I’m talking the 60’s here. We had to get a visa for Poland and East Germany, not easy and often quite scary going through the zone. The control point soldiers could be very fierce, and make you turn everything out of your car onto the road shouting at you. Or they could keep you waiting for hours.
Very often it depended what was happening politically. You go out of West Germany into East Germany through the zone then check points again into West Berlin, which was an island in the middle of East Germany. Then back into the eastern zone again to get to the Polish border. Going through Germany you were on the autobahn. In Poland the main roads were awful, full of potholes, some cobbled and hardly any cars. It was like stepping back a hundred years. Lots of horses and simple carts.
What surprised and delighted me were the goose girls in villages, driving the geese in front of them down the road, ju
st like the fairy story. Sometimes you would come across farmers winnowing wheat on the surface of the road.
The cities were more modern of course. Our friends were living in Slupsk at that time in northern Poland, near the Baltic coast. Gdansk wasn’t far.
This is the beach (which goes on for miles) at Rowy, a short distance from Slupsk. Wlodek rented two wooden
sleeping huts just behind the beach. You could get milk, butter, eggs and smoked sausages from the farm, bread from the traditional village baker and anything else from a tiny village shop. The great forest came right down to the waters edge. A favourite occupation of the Poles was mushroom hunting. The mushrooms all had categories. It was something for whole families to do. You might hear someone shout category no 1…great excitement because that was rare and much treasured. Then you could light a fire on the beach and have a cook up. Some of these beaches on the Baltic coast are glorious (if only it was warmer). You could also find amber, some of the best amber comes from this area.
They then moved to Klodzko in south west Poland a little bit of land that was surrounded by the then Czechoslovakia. A very historic and beautiful town near Wrozlaw. Wlodek was a high up engineer and a communist. Anya had been a professional dancer belonging to a Polish Folk Dance Troupe her group had performed all over Europe. She was a very devout Catholic, Catholicism is very strong in Poland.
Betty met her at an international work camp in Poland, when she was working at Mittelhof. Anya’s troupe were performing and they became friends. The Poles are very creative and artistic people, remember I had Peter Potworowski teaching me at Corsham now I wanted to work with textiles. I became interested in the inter tidal zone on beaches.
I went back to Corsham Open days to see the final exhibitions on a few occasions. On one of them they were suddenly all producing wonderful photographs of the collections at Beechfield, shells, feathers, skulls etc. and of buildings and sculpture (I don’t recall any of people) I felt so envious. I desperately wanted to do it. I taught myself with the aid of books, got a half decent camera, a Pentax and turned the bathroom into dark room, fortunately we had a downstairs loo! I’d be up there till the early hours of the morning (just as I am when I am writing this blog) It became a passion.
I only gave up using my darkroom that I have in this house, when digital photography came in in a big way. There is still nothing like the thrill you get watching a latent image appear in the developer. I’ve got thousands of A4 photographs stored in photographic paper boxes. Sadly I haven’t been able to use a camera for a while as my hands are too shaky even with an anti shake device, I hate using a tripod. But anyway for several years now I have almost given up photography for drawing in my sketch book. Somehow when I draw I internalise it more completely and I like the challenge and process of drawing. If I do any photographs nowadays it is usually on my iPhone, actually I am quite amazed art how good they are