“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
The opening line to my favourite novel of all time – ‘The Go-Between’ by L.P Hartley.
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I guess this is a kind of early ghost story for Christmas – perhaps a love story too that spans a century or more. It follows on from my previous post about my Emily portrait; one idea always seems to ignite another within me. It is dedicated to a spirited young woman called – ‘Loveday’.
I called her ‘Loveday’ because she came to me out-of-the-blue one day – and as soon as her face turned towards mine – I was smitten by her bespeckled loveliness. It was love at first sight. She has no provenance – other than what was imparted by the well-spoken gentleman who passed her on. He said he’d bought her in Exeter at an auction in the 1970s – but that she’d always been a bit too creepy to hang-up in his house – although he felt that there was some immensely tragic story behind her face. I think in one way he’d had a bit of a pang parting with her – because he’d enquired a couple days later about her fate. He’d certainly hung on to her for several decades for a reason – and why did he bid for her if he found her creepy? Creepy – and chilly – are words that have attached themselves to ‘Loveday’ – repeated by those that have seen her in the ‘flesh’ – including by my other work mates. I don’t think their pairing was probably his choice – I think ‘Loveday’ chose him as a suitable custodian – so that forty years on she’d be brought to the right place – for me. ‘Loveday’ has an etherealness about her – her face is strong with a piquant expression – yet her body fades away to light. She has a frozen quality about her and not just of time. She may well be a ‘post mortem’ photograph – it’s hard to tell – but what form she is makes no difference – it’s who she was – and is – that matters.
When I removed ‘Miss Loveday’ from her bashed and crumbling frame – there were no clues written on her reverse side – as to her real name. This ‘nameless’ young woman has been asleep behind glass for possibly one hundred years – or more. I think she is possibly Edwardian at the very youngest.
She came to me on the 10th November 2016 – a Thursday morning – whilst I was at work in the shop. Her ‘bequeather’ – who is a regular giver and buyer – had brought her in for recycling – along with a handful of other old pictures that had clearly been gathering dust for a considerable time – possibly in an old barn or outhouse. My manager dealt with the gentleman’s donations – and gladly accepted them all apart from poor ‘Loveday’. In his eyes she was deemed to be “creepy” – and not thinking that anyone else would want her either – he dismissed her! We get inundated with unloved and unwanted pictures – most of them are mass produced and of little monetary worth and are often broken – so sometimes it is necessary to be a little selective on such occasions. People more often buy pictures to up-cycle their frames – but in ‘Loveday’s’ case – her frame was beyond repair – and she herself was badly foxed and creased. The gentleman who donated her wasn’t at all offended – and was happy to take her away again.
While all this was going on outside – I had been serving in the shop – and knew nothing of her arrival – or of her imminent departure. Just in the nick-of-time before she disappeared from ‘sight’ forever – I entered the yard. My manager was suddenly inspired at the sight of me to say to the gentleman – “Ah! Just the person! Melanie likes unusual, creepy things!” My skull fetish is no secret at work – and they humour me about it – but they are the ones that don’t get it!
While still in the boot of the gentleman’s car – he turned the subject’s face to me – and I was instantly struck by her spirited look. Her crooked fringe reminded me of myself when I was a young girl. I always had a crooked fringe – and would often frown and glower from beneath it – I was always a rather spirited individual in my day! Suddenly I’d been confronted with a picture of a young woman that mirrored an element in me. With no more ado – the gentleman was pleased to handover his custodianship.
For the rest of the day – she patiently sat in a spare chair in the manager’s office waiting for home-time. At the end of the day – my manager said he was glad she was finally on her way – “She’s been giving me the creeps all day!” he said – as I spirited her away out of his office door.
The day after – I set about reframing her. I searched through my store of old picture frames – for the perfect match. I have been collecting old frames for a long time now – and quite often they can lie-in-waiting for years before the right picture comes along – each is as important as the other in my eyes. I tried several around her – but none were right – either in dimensions or looks – or both. Then I remembered an empty frame that I’d bought in Church Antiques in Barnstaple – about a year ago. I just loved the wavy shape of it – even though at the time I had no worthy picture to go inside; it was a necessary extravagance at £19! I think it is mahogany – and it’s got ‘the look’. I wanted to create something around ‘Loveday’ – that reminded me of her era – and there was no better place to inspire me than Tyntesfield in Somerset. Ever since being spellbound by the opening bars of Dan Cruickshank’s insight into ‘The Lost World of Tyntesfield’ – (that I’ve watched on an old video tape many times since) – have I been so in love with a house! From my own experience of visiting Tyntesfield – I especially remember those areas with peeling paint and damp plaster – ‘forgotten’ rooms and corridors that housed a treasure trove of restoration projects and stored artefacts.These areas seemed to retain the greatest evocation – that for me brought the past to life. It was as if an invisible cloud of sleeping dust had stirred all around me – and I can remember absorbing great wafts it. How I wished that the scent of that “foreign country” could be bottled as ‘Essence of Go-Between’ and sold in the National Trust gift shop – I’d have bought the lot!
The above photograph of a bedroom at Tyntesfield – is the room that inspired the look for ‘Loveday’ – there was something about the elegant lines and atmospherics inside the room – that came to mind when I was deciding the tint and shape for her velvet mount. If I could see ‘Loveday’ hanging on these walls – I was doing her existence justice.
A couple of weeks on – ‘Loveday’ is on my wall looking suitably lovely. She hangs on the wall directly behind me; it was the best space available for her impressive surround. When I’m sat here writing or browsing – I feel her eyes boring into me but not in a nerve-tingling way – I adore her sweet face – and her presence. Late at night in the early hours of the morning – when I’m the only one still up – I’ll suddenly become aware of a coldness around my back and neck for no real reason. No doors are open and the wood-burner is throwing out a good heat still. It is a phenomenon – or fancy – that has only happened since ‘Loveday’ has been at home. I myself do not find her creepy. On the contrary – it is her perceived chilliness that warms me. I’m happy that she found her way here – so that I could preserve what is perhaps the only visible memory of her – at least for my span of time. I think old things have that within them – an ability to navigate their way to their chosen custodian. To me – ‘Loveday’ glows like this piece of pomegranate-shaped stained glass – which has suffered multiple breaks in its lifetime; I don’t see the cracks – even when the sunlight highlights them more. What I pick-up – is a sense of memory -of that foreign country that L.P Hartley wrote so powerfully about. It is the only way I can logically reason to myself as to why I have such a feeling for these outwardly fragile, half-broken yet still lovely things. They possess an extraordinary other strength that endures like the soul.
It’s long gone midnight – and there is nothing remotely chilly about Loveday’s presence in my room – in fact the only chilliness is outside – as the temperature sinks below freezing. Although having said that – I do detect something. A spirited young woman behind me – has tapped me on the shoulder – reminding me it’s time for sleep.
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