The Unusual Exhibition

‘Vines and olives groves, Fressac’ – All paintings on this page are by Robert Lee-Wade, RUA

Robert is sweeping out the dust and straw from the long, covered alley where the horses come to be groomed and fed. Bill, the chief horseman around here, removes the last saddles and bridles from their pegs, while the dogs sniff around eagerly, aware that something unusual is happening. It’s the day of the art exhibition. My husband, Robert Lee-Wade, is a painter in the impressionist style, a member of the Royal Ulster Academy and widely exhibited in various countries abroad. But never before in a stable block in the South of France.

Robert cleaning the alleyway ready for the exhibition.

Robert and I have been at Mas la Chevalerie for several weeks now. We’re staying in a gite on a ranch owned by retired actors Bill Homewood and Estelle Kohler on an extended stay to paint (Robert), write (Cherry) and enjoy the landscape of the Languedoc and the Camargue. It’s September in the South of France, and the grape harvest is coming along, in this idyllic spot. And so is Robert’s art – Bill has helped him to set up a makeshift studio in his capacious office, where he (Bill) also records audio books for Naxos.

Estelle, I should say, was my heroine when I was sixteen and she was a very young actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford. At that time, newly arrived from South Africa, she was playing Ophelia to David Warner’s Hamlet. The innovative production by Peter Hall captured my teenage imagination, and with friends from school in Birmingham, we saw the play several times, usually on cheap stand-by tickets. I never imagined that I might become friends with Estelle so many years later.

Robert Lee-Wade, Estelle Kohler and Bill Homewood
Bill organising the logistics. Camargue pony arrived for schooling. Interested bystanders.

‘Let’s have an exhibition!’ said Bill, after Robert had been painting for several weeks. He and Estelle have been here for decades, and know practically everyone in the Fressac area. They count up who they might invite – the mayor (of course), the baker, the restaurant owner, the dressage specialist, the Danish sculptor, the ex-rock drummer and a whole long list of others. We are to provide the refreshments; being France this must be wine, and being near the Camargue, this must include brandade, a paste made of salted cod. And definitely some baguettes. So be it.

The alleyway is nearly clear now, except that another friend of Bill’s has chosen to bring his exquisite white Camargue stallion for some extra training in Bill’s manège. We’ve had our own exciting encounter with Camargue horses on this trip, taking a three day break down in the marshes to ‘ride the white horses to the sea’.

‘The White Horses of the Carmargue’

The pictures are up, the guests arrive. ‘Everyone will come,’ we’re told. ‘They love a chance to socialise and have an apéro.’ They do, and they mingle, looking carefully at the paintings first– some sales are made – and then it’s time to get down to the serious business of eating and drinking. The party grows merry – why not let the horses join in the fun?

The horses on the lawn, in art and real life

Several hours later, it’s quiet again. Bill and Estelle choose a painting as a gift for their help – it’s ‘Where the Nightingales Sing’, which captures the essence of this magical place. We have also seen golden orioles here, and once, a bee-eater in technicolour glory.

We’ll soon be packing our hatchback car and making the long drive back to the UK. We all talk of doing the same thing another year, but although Robert and I will come back for shorter visits, this exhibition is one of those delightful comings-together that can only happen once. And it’s probably all the more memorable for that reason.

The castle from the horse manege at Mas La Chevalerie

Paintings from the Camargue, by Robert Lee-Wade RUA

You can see more of Robert’s artwork here

Checking in at New Year

Happy New Year, dear readers!

This is the 42nd post I’ve written for Cherry’s Cache. The site was launched in April, with three posts already in place, and they’ve gone up at weekly intervals since. So, I’ve been kept busy through lockdown and through a very mixed year – a year of challenges for all of us.

The idea had been brewing for a while; my author’s website had an intermittent blog, but I felt it was time to strike out again in a more purposeful way. I also needed to get my teeth into a project which wasn’t writing a book every two years, as had been the case for a long time now. It wasn’t the right moment either in terms of my own ideas or in the publishing market to start another book. But I needed to write, all the same! Perhaps a new website might be the way to go?

And then an email popped up in my inbox, a notification from The Gentle Author, of Spitalfields Life blog, that he was preparing to give his last ever courses on blog writing. I’ve long been a subscriber to the G.A.’s blog, which is an incredible compendium of articles about London life, so I decided that this was my one and only chance. I signed up for the course in early March. I felt it would hone my skills and perhaps help me to discover a format for the new blog.

Spitalfields, with Christ Church built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the early 18th century

It was a magical weekend, staying in an old weaver’s house in Spitalfields, right opposite the Hawksmoor church. A smallish but committed group of us gathered to check out ways of presenting material, designing a website and how to keep ourselves on track with the writing, as well as our blogs. I’m bound by group confidentiality not to discuss what we did, or said, but I’ll give links below to a few of the blogs that others are writing.

The bedroom I stayed in, in the old Spitalfields weaver’s house where the course was held

The weekend was intensified for me because of the sense of a looming crisis, as the Covid virus epidemic was gathering pace. There were no actual restrictions in place then; the general advice was to be cautious, but the crowds I saw gathering in and around Spitalfields pubs in the evenings made a mockery of that. I made a few cautious expeditions. A friend and I visited the Dennis Severs house by candlelight on the Friday evening before the course – magic! And I spent a blissful early Sunday morning rediscovering my (very) old haunts of Sclater and Cheshire Street, at the end of Brick Lane, where I had once ‘fossicked’ for vintage clothes for my shop Tigerlily. (We’re talking Cambridge, 1970s, here.) I hope to write something more about Tigerlily later on.

Shades of the old Cheshire and Sclater Street markets, which I used to trawl on Sunday mornings, driving down from Cambridge to arrive before dawn. This seller and I had a chat about the ‘good old days’, when his Dad used to run a stall there. Below are some of the street scenes today, including an old warehouse I used to rummage through, and a bookstall where I bought Daniel Defoe’s ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’, which proved a little too close for comfort a few weeks later.

But I decided to cut short my visit, as it was plain matters were getting worse, and I had to get back to Devon by train. I cancelled a follow-on stay with my son in Stockwell, and a planned visit to the Tate, and left the course a couple of hours early. As I jumped on the train at Paddington, I felt as though I was fleeing before a tidal wave.

Spitalfields – March 2020. Note the poster in the centre: ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. Another touch of irony.

However, before I left I had reaped huge benefits from the course. I pounced on a suggestion from Paul that I should celebrate the diversity of my writing – I’ve never fitted easily into one category – and write about any or all of the subjects that fascinated me. On the journey home, the name ‘Cherry’s Cache’ came to me, and I jotted down a wealth of topics that I might cover. With friendly phone and online help of Jason, who handles the Spitalfields Life website, I became the possessor of a smart new website. Paul advised me not to try and do it myself – time wasted, for a writer, he said! And although I could construct a basic site through one of the blogging platforms, Jason’s work gave me something far more sophisticated and user-friendly than I would have been able to create.

So here I am. I decided to put up one post a week, and I aim to hold to that until the 12 month year is up. Then I may decide to slow it down to once every two weeks; although it’s exciting and stimulating, getting a weekly blog into place, it’s also a great deal of work! I enjoy research enormously, and probably for that very reason, it always takes me further into new areas than I expect. Some blogs, like those on the Zinkeisen sisters and Walter Lassally require a considerable amount of background preparation, and I like to try and ensure that the facts are as solid as I can make them. If I therefore sometimes construct a post from existing writing that I’ve done, you’ll understand why, I hope! It gives me a chance to draw breath before tackling another substantial subject.

A glass pendant, bought from one of the second hand stalls in Cheshire St, which I regard as a kind of talisman of the work I set myself that day.

I made a decision at the start that I won’t try and reflect current events in my posts, as a general rule. (This post is an exception!) I’d like some of these stories to be relevant in the future, and not tied to the circumstances in which I wrote them. Also, I reckoned that readers were getting enough of the news and the prevailing pandemic anxieties, and that it would be better to tackle topics which could interest and cheer people. My Gentle Author coach was kind enough to say: ‘I am so pleased that you are writing your blog, these things take on a greater meaning when people are searching hungrily for stories beyond the news.’ Indeed. And I’m writing as an activist, or agitating for particular kinds of change – that’s not my job, though I respect those who do this out of genuine concerns for our future. Once, I was asked in a visualisation exercise what my task is, I spontaneously replied, ‘I bring the fire from the mountain.’ Make of that what you will.

I’ve had enormous fun too, consulting with my old schoolfriends Helen Leadbeater and Mary Cutler about how we all got involved with writing for Jackie, for instance. Reliving the crazy exhibition we put on in France for my husband’s art. Foraging for Black Country jokes, and writing about the adventures of my runaway 4x great grandmother.

The game’s not over yet. I hope I can continue at least for another year, even if with fewer posts. (We’ll see!) And here’s a big THANK YOU for reading my posts, and for subscribing to the email list, if that’s how you get the alerts. There have been some lovely comments (and only one grumble!) I quote some of them here as they help motivate me to keep going!

Hi Cherry – It wouldn’t be Sunday with your blog. Many thanks! (KC)
Love your cache writings. (JP)
(On ‘Meeting the Shaman’) – I really enjoyed this. What a fascinating and profound experience. (MC)
Absolutely fascinating Cherry! I love your researched and interesting blogs.(JW)
I just loved all your Russian content – especially the red corner etc.
Thank you! (BM)
Hope you can keep up your Cache which I have been enjoying very much. Laughed out loud at the masterly Sign collection, and enjoyed another journey to Topsham. You write so entertainingly! (LO)

The adventure continues! Happy New Year again – please keep reading, and do share the link with anyone who might enjoy Cherry’s Cache.

Blog updates

Cosmo, a cat of Hidden Topsham
Do you remember Cosmo, the ‘six dinner Sid’ cat of Topsham? (link) He’s still around, as you can see from a more recent photograph. One morning, I found him lurking on the corner of Monmouth Street, standing guard over something. As I got closer, I could see that it was a dead fish. And moreover, it wasn’t something washed up on the riverbank, but a splendid fancy koi-carp type of fish, with elegant wavy fins. Or it had been. Oh, Cosmo! Did you go fishing in someone’s pond? Or should we give you the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that a passing heron dropped its catch right in your path? It’s possible, after all. Just.

Golden Quinces – I used the last of this year’s crop of quinces to make Quince Chutney. Chutney needs to be left for 4-6 weeks before it’s ready to eat, to reduce the vinegariness and meld the flavours. We’ve now just tried the first pot, and it’s pretty good! It has quite a tart flavour, but rounded out in a lovely Christmassy spice way. The Quince jelly, which was ready to eat straight away is superb. Last year, I don’t think I boiled it long enough and the resulting jelly was light both in colour and texture. This year’s is much stronger in both senses, and especially delicious eaten with soft cheese on an oatcake!

Venetia, the Woman who named Pluto was published back in October. This week, the post suddenly had 24 hits from China. (The Stats are a fascinating collection of information as to where readers come from, without of course giving away individual information.) Was it a class of Chinese students learning about space exploration? Or something more sinister?

Contacting Cherry – Go to the ‘About’ page, and at the bottom there is a contact link you can click on which brings up a Contact Form. It’s rather obscure and I will try and get something better sorted. Or else visit http://www.cherrygilchrist.co.uk and use the Contact tab there.

The view from our kitchen window