Lost and found, past and present

Forgive me if I have told this tale before.

Life is not a straight line progression. It’s more like a driver with no map or satnav. The track of our years meanders, falters, takes wrong turnings and goes round in circles then heads straight for a while… .occasionally it crosses a previous path and you are reminded of your history.

When I was 12 we left our home in Singapore to travel to a new life in Suffolk. This was normal; three years was the most we lived in any one place due to my father’s work as a meteorologist. We were travelling home by sea (now I know I’ve mentioned P&O Orsova before) which I was looking forward to. It meant six weeks out of school for one thing, and the sight of the big white ship, the hum of the engines and the smell of the harbour was thrilling. One of the most vivid memories is the moment of departure. This was no holiday cruise; for most of the passengers this was a permanent goodbye so the quayside was packed with people.

As we waited to leave, we threw rolls of paper streamers from the decks, clutching tight to one end and hoping that the person catching the other end might be someone dear to us. Soon hundreds of fragile ribbons of colour tethered the friendships between ship and shore. As the ship pulled away from the quay, the crowd cheered and waved. The paper ribbons pulled taught then parted, torn ends blowing in the breeze, falling into the swirling oily water.

Half a century passes and our family goes through changes as families do – moves, divorce, births and deaths. On Saturday I drove to Northamptonshire for my stepfather’s 80th birthday. It was a small gathering consisting of me, my mother’s second cousin, my stepfather, his second wife’s daughter (my step-step sister perhaps?) and her husband. Sleeping on a sofa bed in a spare room I noticed a carved wooden chest and desk that my mother had bought in Singapore. I opened the lid of the chest and with the smell of the camphor came the memories – I think I even remember the shop she bought them in (CK Tangs, but I could be wrong!). Memories of Singapore City, our life there and the vivid image of those broken streamers came drifting back.

The camphor chest and all its memories came home with me. I’d been trying to find a box that would double as a coffee table (storage space is scarce on my boat). Small things can give much pleasure!

Now I need to remember why I was telling that story. I think because art – making ideas visible – is similar. It’s not a straight line; sometimes you know where it’s heading and sometimes you haven’t a clue. Sometimes you’re lost, sometimes you turn back and pick up an idea that was begun years before. I’m at a bit of a creative crossroads at the moment. When paying work is scarce it always saps the confidence, and I was sad to lose my regular slot for Classic Boat due to budget cuts. That monthly commission was always a challenge but after 8 years I was starting to get the hang of it! The knack is to use a crossroads to change direction, try something new perhaps, or look back at the busy trace of the years and rediscover something I’d forgotten.

Illustrating Tom Cunliffe’s column in Classic Boat was always a challenge – making words visible!

So what’s on my drawing board? Not very much at the moment; life seems to be more about admin and accounts and emails than art, though there are positive things too like getting ‘Antarctic Sketchbook’ off to be typeset. There are always ideas bubbling, new and old, more books I’d like to get on with (including a new revised version of Keeping a Sketchbook Diary), and the door to new adventures is always open!

2 thoughts on “Lost and found, past and present”

  1. Alan says:

    Lovely thoughts, words and chest (camphor !). Sorry to hear of the CB saga….more time for music, you certainly stood out at FFF with the harp? At least you didn’t offend anyone like I apparently did with my intro to Handsome Cabin Boy!! X

  2. Alan Saunders says:

    I too lived in Singapore, during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, and spent three years there as my father was in the army, in charge of troop .ovements. I can also remember the wonderful smell of their camphor chest which the brought back to Sussex with them.

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