Today marks one of the saddest days of my life, of which I share with quite possibly hundreds of others. The only way I know how to deal with my sadness in this moment is to write about it.
I am standing here not knowing where to put myself in my own home. Almost fearful that if I sit down I may have to rely on muscle memory to get back up.
Over the past few months I have spent time with a woman at the end of her life, saying goodbye as if it were the last time every time.
Grateful for one more cup of tea in her company or one more portrait session. Once I even received approval for the way I made her a milky tea (almost as good as the way Antony did it) which made me feel most pleased with myself.
Margaret was a woman who lived for only the constants in her life, art and friendship.
To the very end she offered herself to me as a subject to photograph. I told her that the light in her bedroom was always so kind to her and if I did ever visit without my camera, I left with a little regret.
At any time of day, in any room, she looked beautiful. As if the light of the Lord himself was always upon her.
I commented to her during my last visit how pastel she and her surroundings had become. On reflection I suppose that could seem quite metaphoric. She was a woman I would have ordinarily associated with bright, bold, psychedelic, deep colours but had become surrounded by more pastel tones towards the end. Largely due to her floral bed sheets I think and the kindness of a carer who bought her what I would describe as old lady cardigans which were white and pink.
Margaret was not your typical old lady and she was rarely seen in white or pink. She never seemed old. Even at 96.
Regardless, the glint in her eye, that inner small little girl always smiled back at us and I know I am not the only person who saw her.
Margaret often posed as a model for my photography workshops and as a real treat for the participants I would ask her to get out her hat collection. In it was her "happy hat" and my personal favourite was her beret which she wore more often than the others, as well as a red coat that she said didn't suit her, but she wore it anyway because it was warm and practical.
If I were to think of anyone in terms of colours and tones, Margaret was as far removed from pastel as you could possibly get. She was outspoken, bold, brave, witty, honest and (in my opinion) always right. If she said something was very good it was exactly that.
Margaret told me I was a brilliant photographer and said that I take beautiful photographs. She loved that I could take photos that look like paintings.
This style that I have developed is really because of her and her home. I have spent much time in her house, exploring and documenting the rooms and it is here that I have felt most like an artist.
This openness and welcoming attitude of hers was a gift she offered to all artists lucky enough to develop a friendship with her. Not just me, musicians, painters, potters, punks and hippies included. Some might say it was at times a house full of outcasts, where anyone with a story belonged. She welcomed the out of the ordinary, especially if it meant they were creating something in some way shape or form.
She understood better than anyone what it is to be consumed by the need to create, document, capture and express oneself artistically with occasional, temporary satisfaction.
The above image and three photos following were taken as part of a project to document the rooms of her home, Denmark House, as it was whilst she was alive. Margaret was extremely untidy and many things had been left in the same place for years. Paintings, furniture, antiques, books and drawings cluttered every room.
I knew that one day the rooms would all change and be emptied of it's history. Margaret loved these images and at the time I knew I was doing something very important. I realise that even more so now.
Margaret's husband was the art director for Hammer horror. He made the original Dracula and Hound of the Baskervilles. That was how she met Bernard. She made the mask for the dog in Hound of the Baskervilles and this period of her life was probably her happiest, especially when she and Bernard married and their Son Peter was born.
Margaret was a puppet maker. She loved her puppets and during the time that I was photographing her with them I felt I got to know them almost as if they were part of her own family. They are certainly an important part of her history and of course like her, they all have a unique tale to tell. (Oh and how she loved to tell a tale).
During the early years of our friendship when I would call Margaret on the phone, she would initially think I was the fish lady. The fish lady has a northern accent. I do not. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one though. Her hearing wasn't great.
Margaret didn’t even like fish, but every Tuesday she would receive an order regardless because she was keen to support independent business, which was also the reason that visitors would often receive an offering of a carton of apple juice from the pile that blocked the cellar stairs. If you were lucky, it would be in date too.
She didn’t want to reduce her order from the milk man either and insisted on walking to the local green grocers to buy her vegetables until her health forced her to rely on others to bring her shopping.
Margaret never questioned my creative intentions, never said no when I asked if I could photograph her and wasn't the least bit self-conscious even when she was bed bound and life had become as she described “ very lavatorial”.
Dying on the commode whilst being painted by Antony or photographed by me even became a stand in joke between us. Antony Williams who continued to paint her until the end. She will probably always be his best seller. This year Antony sold a portrait of her wearing a leopard print jumper (not very pastel).
Margaret loved her over-grown garden, she fed the birds daily and had the feeding table situated right next to the window where she could watch them closely. She also had the most magnificent magnolia tree. This was enjoyed by everyone that visited. This year it flowered twice. I didn’t know that they had two flowering seasons.
There were pink leaves on the tree when I last saw her. She’d have been glad about that, she could just see it from her bed as it was tall enough to display itself through her bedroom window. I am sure the birds will miss her too.
I am glad she left us in the Autumn . We would have all worried about her in the winter. She piled the blankets on during the summer months so goodness knows how we would have kept her warm enough, she was so thin.
Margaret left us on Monday 3rd October. She was not alone and died at home, which was all that she had hoped for the end.
If I am going to live until I am 96 then I intend to do it her way. By investing my love and time in people and by always keeping the door open to the child in me. (The latter is something that will take more effort if I am honest).
She was quite possibly one of the most important people in my life. I could not even begin to tell her life story or explain how inspiring she was. I believe you can see it all in her eyes though and lucky me I have the photographic evidence to prove it.