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  • Philip Dunn

Isolation, Consternation and Consolation

Updated: May 7

Hello everyone,


I hope you are all well and safe during this deadly pandemic. It seems only a short time ago that we were able to socialise and wander freely through the rain and mud of the wettest winter ever recorded...

...when, on the occasional bright day, the pond on Ditchling Common looked more like this...

...than how it looks now during the balmy Springtime of Lockdown.

Back then, the only restriction on our movements was the interminable mud...

...and puddles that were more like lakes.

It was still raining on Thursday 5 March, when my studio was visited by a film crew and I was interviewed at length by Nicolas di Matteo (above, centre) about my personal experience of bereavement by suicide. Because of his own recent traumatic experiences, he had contacted me through the SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) WhatsApp group, through which we can share our thoughts and problems about the subject, (when almost nobody else will), between the monthly meetings.

Nicolas had acquired crowdfunding to make a documentary, a project that I assume is in no small measure therapeutic and so I was surprised and impressed by the professionalism of the enterprise. Here, the cameraman is taking low-angled footage of "Last Summer", my 1995 painting of Carole with our first dog, Sigi, at Rodney's Pillar, overlooking the view towards her brother Alec's house at Llandrinio, Powys. I am really hoping that I (and others!) get to see the finished work.


Of course, I have been practising self-isolation for the last seven years since Carole’s death and it has become my normal way of living. The worst time has been being alone at Christmas, New Year and birthdays, including my own. Anniversaries can also be exceptionally difficult, especially 25 April, the day she stood in front of a train, while I was walking Arty on the common.


The phone hardly ever rings and, even when it does, it is hardly likely to be anyone I know. People do sometimes tell me that I can always ring them should I feel in need of a chat but, after a few times, my pride invariably cuts in and, rather than treating my friends and family as if they were the Samaritans, I have found myself occasionally using the Samaritans as if they were my family and friends. After all, they at least sometimes call me back later, when I have been feeling particularly down or lonely.

Since that fateful day, Arty and I have walked this path on the common alone at least a couple of thousand times and I have thought about it on every single one of them. We do vary the route when we can, but because of all the mud this Winter we were left with few options and, even here, poor old Arty slipped into a water-filled ditch at the side of this path, just a little way back on the left, while he was following his still excellently working nose. Unfortunately, it's the arthritis in his back legs that is slowing him down and weakening him and, on that occasion, I had to go back and help him out...

...so, just as social and physical distancing was becoming the order of the day, I managed to get Arty, now over 15 years old, a couple of hydrotherapy sessions, before the Rules of Lockdown decreed that they were not essential...

...which is a real shame, as it was doing him so much good and, throughout all this time when otherwise I would have been alone, he has been my constant and faithful companion.


In contrast, some of my erstwhile friends seem to have become so infuriated with my grief and my need for human social interaction to compensate for my loneliness, following my wife’s decision to so violently seek oblivion, that they curtailed many decades of friendship with tirades of crudely articulated but incredibly vague accusations of trivial wrongdoing on my part. Only a few old friends offered any help, sympathy or support when Carole died so tragically. Apart from my brother-in-law, Alec, and his wife Veronica, none of my own family offered any help at all and some even angrily refused it, even when I begged them. I was then left six months later with the trauma of attending the inquest into the horrible death of the love of my life, again with none of my own family there to support me whatsoever...

...but hey ho, nothing much has changed on that score despite the restrictions imposed to halt, or at least slow, the spread of the virus; and all those with whom I've had no contact for the duration probably assume I continue to be happy in my solitary confinement. That is if they ever think about it at all.


However, the weather has been fairly wonderful of late and it's Spring, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. Actually, in my case, I am no longer a chicken of this particular season, my fancy has been turned in that direction fairly often for several years, and there has not been anything remotely lightly about it. Alas, there hadn't been any success about it either...

...until Friday 13 March, when I had a date for coffee at the Green Welly in the centre of Ditchling. I had contacted an attractive and lively-looking potential match, recommended to me by a dating site, whose statement on her profile included that she did not feel her age, "creaky joints notwithstanding". I, of course, replied that my problem was notwithstanding but getting there from a seated position. I countered her disquiet about our 14 year age difference by asserting that being an artist knocked a decade off it.


And so we met and, the following Monday, which was her birthday...

...we went for a stroll around Sheffield Park...

...and I took my first photo of Veryan...

...while these nearby trees certainly seemed to be somewhat overexcited about something best known to themselves.

By the end of that week Veryan and I had a choice: either we physically distanced from each other for however long the guidelines stayed in place, which would mean that we could only see how our relationship developed just using WhatsApp and Skype (neither of us had even heard of Zoom); or we could chance our arms (etc.) and chuck our lots in together for the foreseeable...

and, suffice it to say, we went for the more adventurous option...

...but Arty did need some persuading...

...to keep him on the straight and narrow...

,,,and to accept help to get him out of sticky situations...

...while I was just making Jackson Pollocks of the Blackthorn (Sloe) blossom,..

...then Veryan and I decided to leave the car behind one day and walk Arty from my house, (which is just to the right and behind the ancient Scots Pine at the bottom of the field), up the hill...

...and along the bridle path...

..to Oldlands Mill...

...which proved too much for Arty, so he had to have a lift home, all 17 kilos of him, my creaky joints notwithstanding (!)

And here to end is a pair of Canada Geese on the pond at Ditchling Common who are also playing happy families, and I can't finish this without saying that the last six weeks or so, since the restrictions began, have been my happiest experience for many years.


I hope to send out another blog soon but, in the meantime, stay safe and here are some doggie thoughts to ponder:


"What is this life if, full of whiff,

We have no time to stand and sniff." (Veryan Greenwood)


"How many treats can an old dog eat, before he's full to the brim?

The answer, my friend: his dinner's in the bin,

The answer: his dinner's in the bin."

(Dog Dylan)


Love,


Philip Xx


PS Veryan wanted to call this blog "Love in the Time of Corona", but I was too slow and others, including Private Eye, have now annoyingly thought of it too.






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