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April

May 3, 2012

Towards the end of March I undertook a physically and emotionally demanding journey by public transport cross-country to Saffron Walden, with my mother in a wheelchair.

What a beautiful place! I was bowled over by it.

The 600-year-old former maltings building was until recently a Youth Hostel. Alas, no longer.

There is a very fine museum and the ruins of a 12th century castle.

The church is built of a mixture of stone and local flint.

Many of the houses are decorated with patterns made by stamping a mould onto wet plaster (pargeting). Most of these patterns are geometrical: waves, chequers and zigzags.

The second photo shows stylised saffron crocus flowers. In the museum I saw the wooden mould used for this pattern.

Here is a view of part of the Bridge End Gardens. It was a perfect spring day and I didn’t see another soul there.

In the early years of the 2nd World War the folk of Saffron Walden raised a large sum of money to sponsor a ship for the Royal Navy. That ship was HMS Lapwing and she took part in the D-day landings and escorted eight convoys to Murmansk and Archangel. The purpose of our visit was to remember, with the Lapwing Association, the men who went down when the ship was torpedoed on 20th March 1945 and sank within 20 minutes with the loss of 158 lives. My father was the Navigating Officer and he was one of 61 survivors picked out of the Arctic Sea. He was 23 years old and I was an unborn baby. He never spoke to us of this experience.

Three of the survivors are still alive. I had the great privilege of meeting one of them, Tommy Jess. Here he is with his wife, grand-daughter and grandson-in-law.

After the ceremony I went for a long walk, in the course of which I found the Turf Maze. This, being unicursal, is actually a labyrinth or “Troytown”.

It was exactly what I needed. Walking the labyrinth calmed and stilled and centred me.

Afterwards I sat on a bench and wrote about it, and as I missed a meeting of ABCD (Artists’ Book Club at the Dove) on that day I decided that when I was home again I would make a book .

I painted cartridge-paper with a mixture of methyl-cellulose paste and acrylic paint, and used the end of a paintbrush to scratch words and other marks into the wet paste.

The book is called “What the Labyrinth told me”. It is large, messy, primitive and very physical.

I hope to show photos of the finished book next time.

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