Tuesday 14th April
I walk around the block: door to door, it’s a couple of miles and definitely more than two kilometres from my home, but not as the crow flies, which is how I justify it. The walk is heaven from start to finish. The first bit is open fields full of skittish, beautiful horses, and a hill that rises to the ruins of Tyrone House. Then there are lots of bendy bits and more fields of wildflowers. Then there are trees and a turlough full of irises and moorhens, and a swan or two. Then more bendy bits, more flowers and more trees, then the home stretch and a wide blue estuary to my right and more swans, and blue sky over everything. I pass a marmalade pussy cat which arches its back when it sees Reuben the terrier, but poor Reuben was raised in a house with a cat, and he gives the cat as wide a berth as his lead allows.
I listen to my audiobook, but I’m distracted by dandelions in the verge. They are so intense. They are the yellowest yellow that has ever been created, with an even deeper yellow in the centre. I have all sorts of ways to tackle them in my mind, and I think about them as I walk, thinking how I going to lick these little upstarts one way or another. I am taking delivery of acrylic gouache in a couple of days and I feel that it will be the grand solution that I have been searching for for so long. Watercolour is beautiful but I want a break from all the hard things like conserving whites, keeping colours clear and transparent, waiting for things to dry to avoid bleeds, in fact all the things that I love about watercolour. But I want to be ringmaster for once and not just a lover in thrall to a beautiful boy.
I teach a zoom class to a group of wonderful and enthusiastic kids. Today we are drawing and painting Irish insects. We draw a ladybird, a bumble bee, a wolf spider and a praying mantis. I figured drawing insects might stimulate a connection with the kids and sure enough they are very animated. There is much talk of who’s been stung by a bumble bee, what insects are in their house at that very minute, what dead ones they’ve seen and how they feel about big spiders (fine, it turns out). No one has a strong reaction to the praying mantis, which sort of reinforces my idea that it’s the experience of the insects that means something to them. They do beautiful work.
After class I decide to tackle dandelions on home turf. Trouble is, all the dandelions in my garden are “seconds”. They’ve been sprayed in cut grass, walked upon, stunted, or they’re generally a bit the worse for wear. Why are there no rudely perfect dandelions like the ones on my walk? Fat and yellow and round? But there aren’t. I decide to make do with the ones I have. I use ink that I have blended myself, from yellow and green waterproof inks, and as I hoped it’s really suitable for scribbling fresh wild plants of spring.
My daughter Honor (20) and her boyfriend wander into my studio. Honor says she’s been to Coole Park. I say, a little hypocritically, that it’s not within 2km and that they’re breaking the law. They are cross (her) and mildly irritated (him) and say that the law is there to be interpreted. My other daughter Liv (15) makes a contribution. “So…if you’re an axe murderer, you can decide yourself how to go about your business, according to how you want to interpret the law?” Honor and her boyfriend leave my studio, not particularly in the mood for chastisement.
I want to find somewhere to read where I can see the setting sun. Paddy (18) and Liv are playing some kind of video game in his room, and he graciously allows me to get comfy in his room while they play. As usual these days I cannot concentrate on the page (I blame my audiobook habit) and in the end I give up and sketch Paddy and Liv. There is lots of galloping and lots of horrible graphics the attraction of which passes me right by, but Liv and Paddy are clearly loving every minute and are fully engrossed. I run out of brown ink almost immediately and have to switch to the yellow green I reserve for sketching dandelions and the like, but I don’t care.
Time to turn in. Something’s wrong and I don’t know what it is. I am no longer afraid as I was at the start, afraid of my family, my friends, afraid of everything. That night that Honor brought her (recently ill with covid) boyfriend home to my house, the night that I felt that my sanctuary was so violated, was the night my fear left, thanks to that wonderful New York ICU doctor, Dr David Price, who told us all not to be afraid, because all we had to do was follow certain protocols and we’d be fine. He will never know the difference his video made, how it gave me peace. Perhaps I am experiencing an ebbing of the adrenalin that fear brings. Or perhaps it’s the whole impending doom thing that’s getting to me. I do not know. I just know I am down.
I need to keep my head up. There are dandelions to master, and I cannot rest until I capture them.