Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Returning to Pont Morvan

Pont Morvan and its mill became a favourite spot for me to paint during the early 1990’s. No matter what the season the old double arched bridge always presented a rustic charm along with the mill which at that time was still in working condition although no longer used. I only saw its massive mechanism in action once and there was a brief period when we hoped that an English enthusiastic might purchase it and start up a milling business. Then an expert pronounced the bridge unsafe and a vast amount of European funds were secured to totally rebuild it. As always with these things it lost all charm; the stone vaulting was replaced with cast concrete and the contrast of local schist stone and granite was replaced with a uniform modern cut granite, while the road over was flattened out and a cumbersome slab topped parapet wall was added. The only thing left of the old bridge was the original granite buttresses. I stopped drawing the bridge and when the mill was eventually sold its workings were promptly gutted and abandoned. The old weir was removed apparently to prevent flooding and the deeper waters beyond where locals had once learnt to swim became shallows.

Quarter of a century has passed and my eye has once again been taken by the old Pont Morvan mill but this time I’ve stayed away from the river finding a spot further on where from beneath the roadside trees the mill buildings are seen nestling within the winter woods. The sun streams across the shadow filled field while a lone Normandy house cow looks on. Now a rarity these cows have been replaced by the standard black and white Friesians.
There is one further thing that has changed and that is my prices. While those early pictures sold from between £250 to £450 this latest and larger work 92cm x 64cm is for sale at £2250. During all these years I have somehow managed to survive as an artist never having sold a picture from my website or even had an inquiry to buy on line. I don’t expect that to change any time soon.    

Monday, February 18, 2019


From left to right; Madame Salaun, Marrie L’hours, Niroko Rosineux, Loisique, Madame Sisan, Tom Hickman, Monsieur Le Lay, Monsieur Lostanlen, Pierre Louis Cleran plus Din Din the collie dog.
While browsing through some press cuttings I came across this one from the late nineties concerning the restoration of our village well. What struck me first was how naturally the group divided into men and women, without the slightest prompting from the journalist. It has to be said that although there are three who are married none of them appear with their respective partner. During an interval of twenty three years all but three of those villagers remain including myself.  All the men are dead. Monsieur Le Lay a devout man died on the church doorstep having attended morning mass while Monsieur Lostanlen after a lifelong battle eventually succumbed to the demon drink. It was extra ordinary to think he’d lasted so long having never managed to secure an employment other than to drink his way through the fortnightly deliver that arrived on alternate Thursdays by lorry. As a local resistance leader during the war Pierre Louis was considered the unofficial mayor of the village and as such was first in line for the fish van that also called on Thursdays. My mind slipped easily back to that damp afternoon where for the first time I felt accepted in village and was impressed by the fact that out of the nine houses then occupied in the village all but one had its representative in the photo.
The old slate front was all that had been partially visible to indicate that buried in the earth bank was a well, and it irritated me that it had at some point been put back upside down. One summer I noticed that a hole had appeared above the slate and on investigation I discovered the old planks covering the well had rotted making it potentially very dangerous for any inquisitive children. Before I made any attempt to restore the well I had first to prove that it was the village well and as such belonged to everyone. Monsieur Lostanlen was sure it belonged to him as it abutted his father in-law’s old house however consulting the 1836 maps it showed the well pre-existing outside the limits of the later house. The well is situated half way between the two oldest houses in the village and on the same spring line as two other later wells. Our first job was to empty the well and during a period of rare sobriety Monsieur Lostanlen loaned his pump. The next step was to climb down the well using the foot holds conveniently provided by the original constructors. I am more comfortable climbing above ground but at six meters down I found only one lump of wood and surprisingly little mud. The spring source was easily identifiable already clear and strong in the front right hand corner. The large arched cut granite was most likely a recuperation from Manoir de Keryvon and would have been one of a pair that served as a well head being placed flat. However since now only a single stone had been reused I felt it more appropriate to raise it vertically so as to form a well entrance. Pierre Louis was pleased to have found and adapted an old winder and the required length of chain. The well would have probably been originally covered by a single massive slate but since that was no longer at hand I made do with a selection of smaller rustic slates, surmounting them with a line of interlocking lignolets slates ornamented with a date of 1692 the same age as my own house. The only thing missing now was the original granite trough that had been removed by Monsieur Lostanlen’s father in-law. Since mains water had arrived the well remained unused and so when Monsieur Jaffrey removed it when enlarging the entrance to his house nobody complained, but now his son in-law was more than happy that it be returned to its original emplacement and could regain its original purpose of holding water rather than soil and some annual bedding plants.
On the death of her husband Madame Lostanlen was not slow in getting one of the local farmer to take back the trough and despite a visit from Plouye mayor plus a professional arbitrator the forlorn trough remains stranded and empty in the centre of her lawn. So the family tradition of steeling the trough is maintained. Her father in-law’s house has since been sold and she made sure that the notaire included the well in the sale so that now the present owner retired from the south of France thinks the well is his. Such is life but it won’t stop me parking my van alongside to wash it.


Monday, February 4, 2019


The first trace of morning arrives, filtered through cobwebs behind the oak shutters and despite the door of the lit clos being firmly shut the feeble light is determined to welcome me into a calm winter’s day. Through the fanned fretwork of that door I detect the vague forms that resemble the sun’s rays and know it’s time to rise and shine. I fumble for the switch and the harsh lamplight floods the black interior of the six by four double panelled. My box bed is more akin to sleeping within an old wooden coffer and if you’ve never tried resting your weary bone with wood then I recommend you try at least once before the coffin arrives. It would seem a shame to have missed the conscious experience.
 For almost a month I stopped winding the clocks and returned to daylight hours as far as dawn rising. Although the evenings are noticeably drawing out, the mornings seem to persist in a sluggish grey awakening. Now with the old long-case clock once again ticking I am dragged from the fruitless dreams of shallow slumber by the rowdy bashing out of the hour.
Having recently discovered that I am of pensionable age there followed a few days of sluggish retirement redundancy blues and a feeling of no real urgency to do anything. This was followed up smartly by a degree of discomfort in that for the first time in my life I was being paid for doing nothing. Should I think about doing some voluntary work, was I truly old enough to help out at the local charity shop?  Then my own list of things to do rather quashed that idea. I might be slightly richer in monitory terms but with each day that passed I was becoming time poor, so slide open the lit clos door, no time to linger with the trialling of coffins, get up and get on with the day. First ritual job is to empty the ash along with any success of last night’s mouse trap and then relight the fire followed by a full pot of green tea while I consider whether to glue more feathers or continuing where I left off with last night’s stitching. I find mornings are a case of keep calm and carry on, ease into the day preferably in silence, there will always be plenty of time to catch up on the rotating or perhaps rotting round of world news. Last night the high winds roar within the chimney and rattled the door but here within the confines of thick granite walls my one room existence stays warm. On gusty mornings skeletal trees flail wildly while the neighbour’s cockerel leads his four hens to their favoured scratching spot beneath in the leaf litter. The blue winter iris huddle in the lea of the low wall and snowdrops in full flower seem strangely taller as we head into February. Yesterday a confused peacock butterfly awoke and fluttered briefly in the afternoon sun and I noted that a second cut of rhubarb may be possible in the coming days.
Beyond the dawn of the morning comes still silent Sunday, even the birds seem to have made their chorus brief. The sun slips low across a heavy mist that sits dank within the valley of the river Ellez. Beneath the pin oak lay soft moss covered pebbles and unfrozen puddled water, the trunk vertically defining westward with a liberal covering of silver green lichen. Standing waste high in the abandoned neighbouring garden golden grasses static and yet not frozen. Within, shutters open and table as yet uncluttered, the old clock bashes out the noisy hour signalling time for coffee and decisions; inside or out, studio or garden, framing or feathers?