Saturday 18th April
The apple trees outside are heavy with blossom. I know how fleeting it is, so I head out with Reuben the terrier to sketch. We have about 15 apple trees and their main accomplishment is twofold: 1. to feed the huge rooks that are a nuisance around here, and 2. to make us feel guilty that those beautiful apples go mostly to the rooks. Oh, there’s a third – they make it impossible to mow the lawn around them, which becomes a year-round reproach. Twice, or perhaps thrice, they gave us delicious cider and our supermarket bill plummeted.
But today there are no apples to feel bad about, only beautiful blossoms. I sit next to a nice one to sketch, uncut grass long and green at my feet. Bees buzz lazily. Every now and then a little white petal tumbles gently down, and Reuben watches it until it lands. Birds sing their hearts out. I soon realise I have no brown ink. That’s okay, I have green-yellow ink in another pen. I start to sketch the thick trunk. Things are going well when my green-yellow ink runs out. I switch to grey. The pink buds are delicate, a dab of opera pink with the tiniest hint of orange to take the intensity of the pink back a bit: the leaves are soft and green, a mix of lemon yellow, phthalo green the merest kiss of green apatite genuine. I sketch fast, and it is infinitely better than the time I sketched them about five years ago, when I got so bogged down in getting everything right that it was not a joy. But a fude pen keeps everything fresh.
My husband Marcel comes through the front door, close to where the apple trees are, to get some bay leaves. The smell of Indian spices wafts through the door: Saturday is his night to cook. A little while later we are eating local beef cooked to tender perfection in a curry of his own devising.
My studio is warm and toasty because Marcel cut lots of wood for me. I hate to waste the warmth so I take the opportunity to sew a couple of face masks. The truth is I love sewing them. Everything is neat and controlled. You cut a rectangle, then you press and stitch seams until everything is neatly finished. Then you pleat, pulling each pleat straight and controlled. You iron everything flat…and stitch in the pleats, and they are safe, and you add the sides and the elastic, which is then knotted so it cannot escape…I notice the word “control” makes more than one appearance. Is making masks my way of putting some kind of manners on my world? If so, that’s fine by me. I will take it where I can get it. Meet Super Seamstress and her trusty companions, Iron Girl and the Stitching Avenger.
All that sewing of masks reminds me of a new hashtag I saw the other day: #portraitwithmask. I am late to the party but as they say – the best time to draw a self-portrait with a home-made mask was three weeks ago, the second best time is now. I put on one of my favourite masks – it will not surprise you that I have made lots from favourite scraps for my own use – and start to sketch what I see in the mirror. I am so tired and my eyes are very red (I left that bit out), but I want to do this. Frida and her monkey will protect you!
It looks like they’re going to start recommending the wearing of masks on a larger scale in London. Ireland will follow suit, as it always does (except in getting our lockdown underway in better time than the UK). If I think I am late to the party…try being Ireland, or the UK, where some experts are STILL trying to tell us masks don’t work. They are going to look pretty foolish when the science becomes more widely available, telling us that masks make a huge difference to the overall infection transmission rate. That might not feel like the same thing as protecting the wearer from germs, but it is…indirectly. That is what the Western mind fails to grasp. I still wonder if the WHO was trying to keep masks for the hospital workers: if it stops those staff spreading infection, why not do the same thing in the general public? And why did they not consider the fact that some of us – many of us – know how to sew, and would happily share our skills? I am understandably feeling frustrated. So I will continue to play my part: sew them for anyone who can’t get them any other way, and spread the word. Like this one: #Masks4All.