A winter's morning ~ Pamela Derry, painted around 1986 the day I was staying with her in her old stone cottage in Dorset. Pamela Derry, artist, 1932-2002

My friend Pam

Way back in our Winchester days I met and made friends with an artist PAMELA DERRY ~ it was shortly after our divorce and to my shame I decided to join NEXUS this dating organisation ~ a dreadful mistake and one event was more than enough, but I did meet Pam there.   I hadn't thought of her for years I'm sorry to say but something cropped up yesterday which reminded me of her and looking her up on Google I discovered she had died in 2002 ~ however there are a good number of her gorgeous landscapes on line under the various galleries and auction houses that have them ~ before I came up here she did give me one picture which I copy above though it is rather colourless ~ somehow at that point we lost touch and now it is too late.   Look her up on Google to get an idea of her work ~ I'll tell you more about her tomorrow.

Pam was married to a farmer in (I think it was) Rutland and, like me, she had four kids, of roughly the same ages as mine ~ teenagers and young adults.   She longed to devote herself to painting, and one day lined them up, told them she was leaving and they could go with her or stay with their Dad ~ they all chose to stay put.   So off she went into the unknown, knowing that the most important thing for her was art.    I was pretty impressed by such dedication, such singleness of purpose ~ to leave her family like that was no small thing !   She got herself down to Dorset and by the time I knew her was settled in an old stone cottage, White Horse Farm, I think it was called, deeply thatched and with three foot wide stone walls, a barn, and a flock of geese ~ geese make a filthy mess but produced good eggs and were excellent guard dogs.    Pam particularly loved the early mornings and would drive off at dawn with her camera, home for breakfast, and then get to work ~ she had a stack of primed canvases ready and a good stock of frames that a nearby carpenter made for her ~ as often as not, she would produce a picture each day, pop it into its frame, stick a price on it (in those days £80-£100), and the rest of the day was given over to friends and fun !   There was I back in North View struggling to establish myself as a writer, getting the odd article published, running a Creative Writing evening class and taking various mundane jobs to keep us afloat, me and Will and Kate.   I remember Pan saying scornfully that it was no good diluting my efforts like this ~ to make a success in any field required total commitment ~ and she was right.   From her Google entry it is clear that by the time she died she had made quite a name for herself.  I do wish we had kept in touch.

The thing that reminded me of Pam was an item on Songs of Praise on Sunday evening ~ one of the hymns was from the annual gathering of a sect calling itself "The Children of God" (or was it The Church of God ?)   whichever, it was rather a Big Claim, considering all the other churches and sects, all claiming to be the Chosen Ones.   Perhaps I will quote here from "Solitaire" ~ maybe not.  (In case anyone is interested, I called her Jo in the book.)    Except this description of her : I liked Jo straight away.   I liked her patched jeans and wild grey curls.   I liked her independence and her positive attitude to life . . .    Sadly as I saw it she got sucked into this weird Christian Community which among other foibles would not allow yeast in any form into the kitchen, well into the house.   Even Marmite was unacceptable, for heaven's sake !   Marmite !!   So watching Songs of Praise (and joining in lustily !) when the presenter explained that The Childen of God had an annual Get-together in Keswick, a penny dropped ~ this was Pam's Lot !   As an artist she returned to her maiden name ~ I believe she was connected to the Derry & Toms family ~ maybe at the time she escaped from marriage and motherhood she had inherited enough to buy her Dorset cottage ~ enough to claim her independence.   Funnily enough, when I started to write Solitaire I intended it to be based on Pam's story but quickly realised we can only write from experience ~ this is why the un-named narrator is a struggling ARTIST rather than a writer.

I wish I had a photo of Pam ~ we were good friends for several years.   The NEXUS thing was quite gruesome ~ "all those women with freshly tinted hair ~ all talking so brightly, with such animation ~ and weighing up the male talent on the sly ~ oh my Gawd !  The male talent ..."   It had been terribly sad really.   Sixty-odd women, dressed to kill.   And a dozen or so anxious little men.   And everyone busily explaining away their own loneliness to anyone who would stop talking and listen.   (Solitaire, page 112)