Creating My Odyssey

Quirky artist / writer / explorer / wild west, steampunk & ghost nut /renaissance soul / mental health & lifestyle blogger

Wednesday, 10 October 2018


I sat in Costa over my Capuccino, having hobbled slowly down the hill from our estate. It was a lovely hobble - the story of which I'll expand on later - through a pathway/tunnel of trees that were mere saplings when we first arrived in Alton, over thirty years ago.  It cuts through Flood Meadows, or 'Floodies' or 'Floods' as we locals often call it, and Husband and I extol its virtues regularly. So lucky to live here.

We were introduced to Alton by Husband's boss at the time (1980s). We lived in Farnborough, Hampshire, just after we married, on an ex-council house estate, and we could have made the most of it. Not a pretty town, but we could have explored more, because there are interesting places to visit, but we were too wrapped up in ourselves - I was up and down emotionally - and work, and  too lazy to think about it. I was doing voluntary work in the local hospital and Husband's work was nearby.

Then I decided to return to art college. I'd done a year's Foundation Art Course after school and have always regretted not going onto a three-year fine art course at college, but was too stubborn (really?!), insisting on going straight into an art studio in London as a Girl Friday and working up to studio jobs. I remember our tutors asking us, one at a time, which college we'd applied to, and I was the only one who said I intended to find a job. Can't remember their responses. Not encouraging, I think. But the boss in this London studio was a male chauvinist, and I remember Mick, a boy in a similar situation, telling me that I should have had proper graphic design work to do after six months, so I left after a year there. (The title of Girl Friday died many years ago, thankfully).

I had travelled a fair bit before I met Husband. My parents introduced me to Europe, and, aged twenty-two, I spent six weeks in Bavaria trying to find work. My eccentric horticultural friend, Gordon, introduced me to Anselm, his colleague, who's kind family invited me to stay with them in their pretty house beside a lake in Wessling, a half hour rail trip from Munich. Anselm decided we were engaged by the time I left! (I had to let him down gently).  I spent two days as a 'zimmer madchen' (chamber maid) and hated the early mornings. Thus endeth my German period, but 'Ich sprechen ein bitchen Deutsche, aber nicht fille!' (I speak a bit of German, but not much!). Surprising what you pick up in six weeks. Beats school teaching (I failed French O'Level three times. Whatever).

I also spent three months in the springs of 1978/9 on Greyhound bus trips around the States (fabulous!), and did many temporary jobs back home. One such was several months at Kew Gardens, first as a clerical assistant, counting the penny takings, then as a messanger in the herbarium, working with a bunch of hilarious old gents for the botanists working so studiously in their inner sanctum (which looked a lot like one of the greenhouses) that a bell was rung when their day ended. It was either messangering, or the typing pool. No contest.

I had a couple of advertising studio jobs, two of them near Hampton Court Palace, a short cycle ride from home. One was a Victorian house with a basement studio. I worked with a bunch of men - Ron, the boss, was the oldest, and I liked the fact that I wasn't shy of him, but, strictly speaking, his habit of putting his hand on my back would be frowned upon today.

I worked with two Keiths. One was a middle-aged, slightly grumpy golf addict, the other was a young, dishy cartoonist. I fancied the latter, but he was too old for me, and married. I did receive a Valentine's day card, but that was from the rather geeky young lad working for the photographer. Sweet boy!

After my Greyhound bus trips I met and married Husband. My soulmate/rock/best friend. We moved to Farnborough, then his boss, who lived in Alton, suggested we move to Alton. We took a trip here and fell in love with it. At this point I successfully applied for a three-year illustration course and travelled to Twickenham, near London, every day.

In retrospect, as is often the case, I didn't suit illustration, but I did enjoy the course and learned a lot about printing, photography and life drawing. I also somehow managed to accrue a Distinction in Technical Graphics. Still not certain how, but that course consisted of drawing machinery and tools at various angles, and illustrating ergonomically how an individual would use it. I did enjoy it although I've never used the skill, but I would like to have done something like this in a medical field.

My grand plan after having children had been to freelance as a commercial artist, as they were called back then, and hold exhibitions and, because I had done a correspondent writing course, to try freelance article writing. Oh, if only I could've done all that!

My mother had been fine having us three - she'd popped us out like peas from a pod, as she so graphically put it - so I'd assumed I would be ok too. T'was not to be. First, post-natal depression. Second, I don't have the business mind and approach necessary to do freelance work (although Husband has said he would have helped in this respect), and third, I have too many interests and hobbies to stick to just one or two things, and in order to be successful in any sphere, you do have to be a bit pushy. I've had writing and art published, which is fabulous, but I'm grateful now that I have a renaissance soul. Rather proud of it, actually. Over the years we considered having a studio/gallery, but the thought of producing artwork every day, even when the muse was there, just didn't appeal. Today I start something - it's often gardening - then it's 'Right - that's enough!' and mosey off to tackle something else. Can't do that when you're working for hard cash!

I completed two correspondent courses  - one art, the other writing - and enjoyed both. During all of this I was writing The Novel, Alias Jeannie Delaney. It was a bucket list item, the seedling of which had germinated after seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and various other westerns, and angsting over the lack of female role models in westerns. It has caused me - as many of you know - enormous angst, because the story is hugely epic and I wanted to get it right as how I'd envisaged it in my mind. Also, at this time I was trying to establish myself as a female wild westerner who enjoyed shooting and being armed to the teeth! But my confidence was low, and anxiety high. I had all the gear, including the tent, and I was fairly well known at living history camps, which was fabulous, but every time we were due to go to an event, helish anxiety reared its ugly head. Usually, once we'd established ourselves at camp, everything was fine, but I was honestly relieved when it was time to go home.

I established myself online with my Kitty Le Roy persona and joined loads of wild west Facebook groups and created my Facebook Kitty Le Roy's Wild West Saloon group. Since my recovery from depression we've been to many country and western events, but as we both hate country music (with one or two exceptions) decided to give them a miss, but they were great opportunities to get decked out, buy western stuff and meet the folks. Maybe we will return.

Another idea I've had among the many (enough to give Husband headaches) is to do Steampunk - wild west or pirate, because I love the pirate image - full-rigged ships, tropical islands, treasure and the outlaw image. It's all slightly barmy, and I do love a bit of barmy! 

Back to Alton. As estates go, ours is fine, quite pretty in places. The architecture is varied and there's loads of greenery - trees and grass. We're at the top of a hill and the view up here is fabulous, including the spire of St.Lawrence Church, and would be even better if we could demolish the house opposite. They're nice folk, though, so that would be mean. There are a few estates surrounding Alton, but they're not huge, and not ugly.

The tunnel of trees that I hobbled down leads into the centre, historic part of Alton, which has its origins during the mediaeval era, and boasts plenty of eighteenth century architecture. Tons of history here, too. The Battle of Alton (English Civil War 1645) rampaged through the town, ending up in St.Lawrence Church, which is haunted (of course...) and stands on the edge of Flood Meadows, a short walk for us, and right next to our primary school. Colonel Richard Bolle of the Royalists fought the Roundheads from the pulpit with his sword, and met his end there. There are many musket shots and holes still in the church walls and doors.

Moving on, Jane Austen lived in Chawton, a small village another short walk - half an hour - from us. We regularly cycle there. Very pretty. I'm not a fan of Jane Austen, having forced myself to read Pride and Prejudice three times for my O' Level English Literature during the late sixties. Failed miserably, but I don't care. I'm still not a fan of Jane. Sorry Jane. It's funny that so many folk - many from the States - go all excited about visiting her cottage - 'Ooh, I saw the very table she wrote her books on!' - when I've seen it umpteen times (I exaggerate - once or twice) and I'm just fascinated with her water closet. 'Just think - Jane Austen's DNA is on there!'

Jane's house is on the left.
Moving on again, half a century, Fanny Adams was murdered in 'Floodies', just below us. We think we know exactly where, as well, and her ghost is supposed to haunt the meadow. Never met her ourselves, but you never know. She lived in Tanhouse Lane, which leads off the meadows and the tunnel of trees, all of which used to be hopfields. Tanhouse Lane was the haunt of smelly tanning establishments. 
Fanny's grave - it's still there - and the two friends who were 
with her when she was kidnapped. Some years ago in Alton, 
the descendants of Fanny's friends met in Alton, and one of 
them, an older lady, I was on acquaintance terms. 'I know 
her!' I exclaimed when I saw her picture in the local freebie.

So, yes, a lot of history in Alton.

Now, my hobbling....

Not a pretty story, so I'll try not to be graphic about it. Over the years my feet have been neglected. I was more concerned about my brain. But after the start of my brain treatment I paid more attention to my toes. Not pretty. I was tempted to post a pic of them, but I'll spare you. Suffice to say, I needed laser treatment on four toes. So those nails had to go. Let this be a lesson to you. It hurt! I had to have four injections, one for each toe, and hell they hurt! Worse than the dentist, which is dead easy these days. In fact, I would have rather gone to the dentist. In future, if a bloke in surgical scrubs called Brian approaches me with syringe or scalpel, I shall run screaming in the opposite direction!

But it had to be done. If I don't want to turn into an old biddy with funny feet. I've made brilliant friends with the staff there (Compleet Feet) in Alton. More like a social club. The receptionist is Mary, an American lady, and I'm going to ask her out for coffee, and the manager, Malcolm - I believe he's the manager - is a stained glass artist. Which reminds me of my old dentist, Mervyn Ewe Dyer (yes, really!) who was a photographer. He had a fabulous sense of humour, played music in his surgery - he once played Nigel Kennedy really loudly for me - and displayed his photographs on the walls. We used to have chats - he had chats - about my art and my novel. And there was -is - a map of the world on the surgery ceiling. I'm halfway to Australia as we speak (or not, if your teeth are being tackled).

Here we are, smack up to date. What's happenin', eh?
Sorting my garden...

That's a pond in there!

Being an artist...

Editing The Novel. My menfolk - Husband and son - have given me a brainwave idea to ease off the intense work. I'm getting going with the archery - hooray! - and I'm endeavouring to establish a better social life. It's a bit thin on the ground, otherwise. 

That's it! It's all been a bit organic, this post, but that's fine. I will be back. Any thoughts, comments etcetera I'd love to hear, either on here or on Facebook. 

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