I recently set up an Instagram page called Hen_and_ink.
It’s main purpose is to discipline myself to sketch on a daily basis, to put myself out there in the public eye which in turn will, I hope, help me to sell my work in order to earn some supplementary income.
1973 or thereabouts.
It is a month or two before Christmas. My mother and I are walking down Grafton street.
I am at an age when I find it embarrassing to be seen with her, not because she looks odd, but because she has that wonderful ability to talk to everyone, including an unshaven shabbily dressed elderly man on the bus whom everyone else is avoiding.
‘loneliness has to be the worst thing’ She announces as we step out onto the busy street. ‘Imagine! We may be the only person he talks to today. A kind word, an empathetic chat never cost anyone anything ‘
So you can understand the fact that I am the one helping her carry a large suitcase means I must have been the only daughter available that day and that this was a serious errand.
We spy my old elocution teacher walking up the street towards us and whereas I duck my head hoping she doesn’t recognize me, my mother, gregarious as ever, calls out a greeting.
I stand patiently while the two women hug each other as though long lost friends which I suppose they are, considering my mother has many daughters who attends the school where Mrs black (not her real name) teaches.
As they chat about mundane things I can see Mrs Black is distracted by the suitcase.
Maybe she thinks we are running away.
My mother also notices this and, to my horror, puts her out of her misery by laying the case on the pavement and opening it.
The samples of her work, which she is bringing to the liberty shop in the hopes of getting some orders, swell out of their confinement and she holds up a few of them for examination.
Mrs Black sighs, placing her hands dramatically against her chest.(she was my drama teacher after all!)
‘Exquisite’ she breaths, reaching forward and running her jeweled fingers over a Liberty cotton covered hanger with lace trim, and then a delicate cotton padded picture frame. but its the porcelain doll with handmade liberty frock that really woos her.
More items spill out onto the footpath.
Oh god! Could that be a satin cover for a toilet role?
I look on, feeling my cheeks redden with embarrassment, praying none of my friends will appear.
Then, before my mother has the chance to repack the case, a crowd gathers, peering over each others shoulders to get a better look.
‘How much is that?’ A woman demands pointing to a pretty tissue box cover. ‘
‘I’ll take one of those too’ Shouts someone from the back.
‘I would love that doll’ calls out another “I’ll give you twenty for it”
My mother could have sold the entire lot on the spot but instead she quickly pushes everything back into the case, zips it shut and straightens up again.
‘Well good luck May’ Mrs black hugs her again ‘your work is truly beautiful. That shop would be very silly not to place an order’.
And she floats off in a cloud of Chanel perfume while the disappointed crowd disperse.
We continue our way turning left into the Westbury center to the liberty shop and where the manager does indeed place a large order.
‘Lets celebrate with a coffee and bun in Bewleys’ My mother is smiling with relief.
The reason I tell this tale is, that back then, my dad had to retire early due to ill health and had not made any financial provision for such an event.
An artist herself, my mother was forced into producing work at a time when she was still raising children and running a busy household. Somehow she managed and as her work was extremely skilled and worth buying she tided the family over financially for the necessary length of time.
Yesterday I told her about my planned Etsy shop and my recent Instagram page, explaining how they worked.
‘It would have been so much easier for you to sell your stuff today’
My Mother at 87 took the concept of eCommerce in her stride. (Her heart may be failing but her brain is not.)
‘It might be easier’ she replied laughing ‘but not as much fun’.
She began to recall the suitcase incidence
‘Do you remember meeting Mrs black?’ she whispered conspiratorially ‘I think she thought we were running away’.
‘You thought that too?’ I asked in surprise.
‘Of course I did! That’s why I opened the suitcase. I wanted to show her that it didn’t contain a change of underwear for us and two toothbrushes’ She smiled ‘but it got a bit out of hand and I felt embarrassed at the attention it drew’.
‘Gosh remember that tiny woman who almost pushed you over trying to get the toilet roll cover?” she continued
‘Yes’ I laughed ‘She accused me of jumping the queue when all I was doing was trying to hide it in case any of my friends were passing! My mother selling toilet roll covers on Grafton street? I’d never have lived that one down!’
‘So’ she asked ‘this shop! have you started it yet?’.
‘Not yet, I’m just so busy at the moment’
She widened her eyes at me.
‘OK’ I laughed ‘I started out with good intention, drawing every day but then this story about three hens who had escaped from a battery farm took form and diverted my attention away from the shop’
My Mother sighed ‘I understand! sometimes you need to be in dire straits to be forced to produce work seriously. There is a lovely luxury to creating when you don’t actually have to make money from it’
With that she began rooting in a bag hanging from the arm of her chair.
She pulled out some wool. ‘I have this idea’ she said ‘I want to design a huge pair of knitting needles.
And there it was! Even when her arthritic hands wouldn’t allow her to hold ordinary knitting needles she had an idea how to overcome it.
My mother’s creativity would be the last thing to leave her.
As for my Etsy shop?
Nope.. its not started yet!
You see, I am busy doing a new pen and ink story…My brother is up in the chestnut tree, searching for two straight branches. When he finds them he will fashion them into a gigantic pair of knitting needles for my mother….