I am particularly fond of gates.
I don’t mean the suburban wooden ones, built high enough to keep intruders out and to prevent me from looking into garden’s (an interest of mine as I pedal along, the saddle of my ‘high nelly’ yellow bicycle affording me a good view) but rather the old farm gates of the countryside.
The ones that did a real job, of keeping animals in and providing a means of something to lean on and a place to allow the ‘leaner’ to gaze and dream and pass the afternoon from.
I love to sketch, paint and take photo’s of these gates and I see them as an art. A craft I hope will not die out.
To my eyes they are a thing of beauty.
I would like to share some images of them.
But first a story:
I am walking with my mother and two of my sisters along a small road.
It is summer and we are camping below at the sea, as we do every year since I can remember.
The road, with its green strip of grass down the centre, is potholed and splattered here and there with fresh cow dung.
It twists away from the sea and towards the mountains.
On either side, the dry stone walls twist with it. The stones loosely heaped back up where they had been previously pulled down to let cattle through and then rebuilt. Tangles of wild dog roses and honey suckle drape and spread over the stones and in places, neglected fuchsias have formed themselves into small trees and are bent in the direction of the prevailing winds.
‘Watch where you are putting your feet’ my mother calls after me, as I break into a run and disappear around a corner. She is more worried about my getting cow dung on my new summer sandals than twisting an ankle in a pot hole.
Tasting honey from fuschia flowers is my new favourite occupation at eight years of age and I stop just long enough to suck the stamen and taste the sweetness before racing on to the next bush, leaving a trail of discarded bloody blossoms behind me.
I can hear the clinking of the empty bottles my mother is carrying and my sisters voices rising as they quarrel over who will carry the egg box.
We have an arrangement with a nearby farm to buy milk and eggs from them.
As I round another corner I see old Mrs Kavanagh leaning on her gate at the gable of her cottage.
The gate is old and the bars are rusted in places.
The broken pieces are held together with twine but although dilapidated, the gate is still strong enough to hold her weight.
For Mrs kavanagh is what would have been described back then as ‘stout’.
I am afraid of her.
Not for any particular reason except she is very old , with a face wrinkled by almost ninety years of salty atlantic storm’s, so I stand in closely in the shadow of the bushes and wait for my mother and siblings to catch up.
And while I wait I observe her from my hiding place.
Her hair is grey and covered by a black scarf. She has a black apron tied around and nearly covering a flowery frock. Her feet are encased in a pair of oversized mens wellingtons which had been cut roughly around the tops to allow for the stoutness of her legs.
The back of one of the wellingtons is split and I can see a bit of wooly sock protruding. Around her wellingtons a new bull calf is shoving and butting, and doing his best to escape and follow its mother, who can be heard bellowing from a few fields away.
I am torn between my urge to befriend and console the calf and my fear of herself.
The latter wins and I stay put and follow her gaze instead.
Squinting against the sun I can just make out the main road and walking slowly along that road, I can see a line of people following a black car.
I look back to see if that is what she is staring at and then back to the road again and though young I can sense the sadness in the way she is leaning on the gate.
For old Mrs Kavanagh, too tired and arthritic to make the journey to church and graveyard, is watching the funeral of her husband from the gable of her cottage.
Her razor sharp eyes, which in her younger days could spot a stray sheep a mile off on the side of a mountain on a rainy day, can identify every mourner following that hearse even from such a distance. (Or so I heard the adults say later)
I also heard later how my father had offered to bring her to the church in our car, as cars were few and far between in that part of the country back then, but she had refused, perhaps preferring to do her mourning in privacy by her familiar black gate.
At this point my family catches up with me and beauty the old sheep dog, her coat matted with burrs comes barking towards us alerting Mrs kavanagh of our approach.
She turns and waits in dignified silence for my mother to arrive at the gate.
My mother holds out her two hands and reaching over the top most bar, warmly enfolds the gnarled and battered ones in her own and offers her condolences.
We see our chance and rush to the gate.
kneeling down we call ‘sucky sucky’ as we have heard the farm children do. We stick our hands through the bars and shriek in delight as the calf sucks furiously on our fingers, whilst Beauty, not to be left out, pushes her way between us to be petted and fussed over too.
Our laughter drowns out the gentle rise and fall of my mothers voice and the lilting sadness of Mrs Kavanaghs replies, as the clouds sweep in from the north west and white horses appear on the sea and the mountains disappear into the mist.
SOME GATES WHICH DELIGHT ME AND ONE WHICH I HAVE STOPPED TO SKETCH: