A Child in the Wild

My life was intensely happy until I was six. I was completely clear about what I loved most: being outside with plants and animals.  

I drew the mongoose and the duiker (small antelope) from life when I visited my brother in 2018.

At six and a half, suitcase in hand, I was sent to a boarding school run by Irish nuns. This was the early sixties, so no child-centred nurturing of an individual’s interests, but rather a focus on sin. Going to school was a life changing shock. For the next eight years (I moved to a freer school when I was fifteen) I spent over two thirds of each year feeling restricted. I longed for the holidays and half term weekends just to be back in savannah expanses, miles away from that dreaded barren place. 

On arriving home, as soon as I was out of the car, I changed into comfortable shorts and a T shirt and set about hardening my feet with no shoes. I would rush outside and just listen, soaking in the singing insects and birds, especially the different doves filling the warm midday air with unhurried tunes. It would be no time before I found a chongololo or an ant lion. 

Looking back through the long lens of time and my temperate northern home, I only now grasp the diversity of wildlife surrounding my earlier self. It was not unusual to spot a reedbuck or a duiker, a kudu or a mongoose.

Granite kopjes – huge boulders balancing in on each other

We would picnic in granite kopjes, and there, rock rabbits roamed and porcupines hid, and in winter sprigs of seemingly dead resurrection plant greened up in a glass of water.  We often saw chameleons, watching them change colour. Once, I found a tortoise with a broken shell on a road, and I nurtured it back into the wild. There were civet cats and night apes that came out in the dark.  Our dogs occasionally went hunting at night, and came back stinking of polecat (a skunk) and or with porcupine quills in their cheeks.  Once a bush pig mauled one of the dogs. There were aardvark too, in burrows near trees and termite heaps.  And, one year, the day before Christmas, an Egyptian cobra wrapped itself around the engine of a new car. At night, I sometimes switched off my reading light when too many moths and beetles were diving bombing my book.  Then if I listened carefully I might hear nightjars, or jackals with pups in the distance.  Thus the savannah woodland became my haven and fed my soul. 

Some of the wild flowers I painted in the school holidays

As I grew older, drawing and water colour painting became an important part of my love of nature because I discovered that they were powerful observation tools. I mainly painted wild flowers, grasses and trees, because they would keep still. 

Some of the quick sketches of small creatures – one or two feature in my poster!

I tried to draw animals but only put down fleeting lines, managing better with small creatures that I caught and put in a large jar for a short while.  Being the youngest in the family, I was on my own in the last few years, and feeling lonely or free from squabbles, I began to really ‘see’ what was around me. And it thrilled me.  

Click on the link to go to my Savannah Woodland Environment Poster.

Our Fragile Earth

Filled with a burning urge to tell a visual story about our fragile, irreplaceable earth, my ideas and drawings entered an intense synchronized dance on a mandala format. Partly planned, partly unfolding from expanding thoughts, this environmental earth mandala emerged and crystalized into its final form. 

Environment poster
Our Fragile Earth: a visual representation of our rare and precious earth in the universe, a think piece

What is a mandala? And what are they used for?

Mandalas originated in Asian cultures. They are used to visually represent the universe and they act as guides for meditation practices and for teaching. Filled with symbolism and meaning, they work as mental maps for concentrating the mind. 

What do the colours in the Fragile Earth mandala design mean?

Yellow: joy and happiness
Red: energy and passion
Blue: healing and inner peace
Green: connection and love of nature
White: awareness and truth 
Black: deep thinking, individuality, and facing our dark side 
Pink: love

What are the symbols? And what do they mean?

The stars: the universe
The sun: life and energy
The large trees (usually bell entrances to the centre of a mandala): openness, allowing entrance to wisdom and clarity 
The trees and plants: energy and the air we breathe
The animals: sentient life 
The land and river: the saying: stand like a mountain, flow like water
Flowers: unlocking a healthy life
The lotus flower in the centre: perfect balance, beauty, knowledge and clarity.
The swallow (my logo): the northern and southern hemispheres as a whole, equality

I will now leave you to generate your own meanings and think about the implications of this Fragile Earth mandala design. 

Should you wish to purchase this design click here or on the image above.

Journey to the Haydon Bridge Village Cup

Haydon Bridge – a heavenly place to live

When I came to Haydon Bridge, in 2002, I was disorientated and I didn’t really know where I was.  My life had changed utterly.  I had left my job in Cape Town, a huge city at the southern tip of Africa, on Friday the 26th April 2002, flown to England on Saturday the 27th and arrived in London on the 28th.  I was in Haydon Bridge on the 29th. This happened because my eldest daughter could only access my British citizenship and accompany me, as a minor, if she entered the UK before her 18th birthday on the 30th April. It was a tight fast move. 

Aron, my partner, was to follow and start at Newcastle University a few months later. We found ourselves in Haydon Bridge because Peter Stone, who had visited us in South Africa on work trips, had met us at the station in Newcastle and brought us to his home, then in Church Street. 

And, thereafter, we never left Haydon Bridge.  

The girls and I went for a walk along the river to the pump house on our first afternoon. We spent the following week looking for for a place to live in Newcastle. After a week of searching, I gave up. Blindly, we rented 13 Ratcliffe Road, and a year later moved across the road to number 12 – our home ever since. 

For the first few months, Haydon Bridge was unreal. I remember feeling as if I was moving around in a film set. Our youngest started at the high school and later, Aron arrived from South Africa. Initially I worked at the Co-op, and then I secured a teaching position at Newcastle City Learning. 

Gradually, I gained a sense of place, and began to unpack and treasure Haydon Bridge and the surrounding area.  A year or two ago, I began drawing and painting elements of the village that give it character. I worked up all my drawings into a design that would offer a sense of belonging, village pride and story.  And this was how the cup came to be.

Drawings done outdoors, or from photographs taken by Aron Mazel

In a world of urban anonymity, pollution, consumerism and fast living, Haydon Bridge is a heavenly place. A soothingly beautiful river glides through the middle of a village that is neither too big nor too small. People greet each other in the street, children can play safely and know their neighbours. Different generations mix, shopping is a social event around essential needs, and nature surrounds us in every direction. 

Who could ask for more? 

If you would like to purchase a cup, visit my shop. To avoid shipping costs if you are a local Haydon Bridge person, then select ‘local pickup’ rather than ‘flat rate’.