1934 – work in progress (42 cms x 60 cms charcoal and pastel 2017)
“Drawing…can get you through things. It’s like in an old Portuguese joke, in which a man is up a ladder painting a wall with a large brush. Another man comes along and wants the ladder, so he says to the first ‘Hold on tight to the brush, I’m just taking the ladder away…’ This is what drawing is like – it grounds you, it connects you so intensely to the paper, through the pencil or the nib or whatever you use, that it’s a lifeline when everything else is taken away. Things can go wrong, but if you just hang on tight to the paper and pen everything will be OK.”
Paula Rego, reported in Paula Rego by Fiona Bradley (Tate Publishing) p.42
About eighty years separate this photograph of my Mother, taken around 1936 when she was 18, and this drawing, hastily completed as she concentrated on her newspaper last Saturday afternoon:
May (A5, ink and pencil on sketchbook page, 2016)
In between she had two children, lived through the war that brought with it many personal tragedies, suffered a betrayal by one of her two brothers, and moved into – and later out of – her dream house. She outlived her brothers and her five sisters and nursed her husband – my Father – through his only serious illness (which eventually killed him) – all etched in the lines on her face.
It’s probably about 75% accurate as a portrait: what I couldn’t capture is her humour. Despite everything that life has thrown at her she has a wonderful sense of the ridiculous, so much so that it was difficult to detect the onset of her dementia five or six years ago. Now that reality is something of a sliding scale for her, the disappointments of her life have largely fallen away leaving intact her ability to laugh.
Although she sometimes feels alone, or tired, or lost – despite being supported in her own home by a network of carers and daily visits by my brother – how wonderful to approach one’s 98th birthday with laughter and amusement!
Let me share with you a moving story about Buddy Holly’s mother, written by Spencer Leigh, which I read some time ago in the Independent:
On Valentine’s Day in 1959, just 11 days after the air crash that killed her son, Ella Holly wrote to the families of the other performers who had died, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens. They are beautifully composed letters, expressing her bewilderment and grief, and they reveal her conviction that they will be reunited in Heaven.
What makes the correspondence extraordinary is that she wrote a similar letter to the widow of the pilot, Roger Peterson. She did not cast any blame, although the accident occurred largely owing to his inexperience. She said: “We are crushed by this terrible tragedy and the loss of our son, and we know you are suffering the same…our hearts go out to you because we know what you are going through.”
More than fifty years on, this letter indicates how Buddy Holly had been raised and how his parents had shaped his personality. It is often said that rock ‘n’ roll was the music of rebellion, a response to the dull, conventional lives of the previous generation. There is none of that in the Buddy Holly story.
In these days when, after every news event, the media immediately look for someone to blame – that social worker with too many cases, a tired driver whose eyes closed for a second, the doctor faced with an emergency at the end of a long shift – how heart-warming to read about the forgiveness of Buddy Holly’s mother.