I’ve Been To A Marvellous Party…

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Actually, it wasn’t a party it was a funeral in celebration and remembrance of the Artist Jemma De Vere Cole aka Jemma Dorella Tetley, an altogether heart achingly beautiful and deeply sad affair which reflected the life of a wonderful, funny, passionate and loving woman whose own life touched the lives of so many and which the packed church stood testament to.

You can view her self portraits and other works here:


Jemma’s heritage is colourful, old and rich with history as her surname hints at but none of that history, eccentricity or ‘colour’ could hold a candle to the reality of Jemma; she loved, she never judged, she took everyone as she found them without pretension, she waded onwards throughout the tough times and delighted in the good times with a refreshing innocence of purpose. Jemma was not a woman with hidden agenda’s, art was her mistress but not her queen and her feet were very firmly planted in the real world; she was a mother, a sister, a daughter, she worked at the hospital, she was a carer… many things to many people. She moved in many circles but danced always to her own tune.

Her paintings are lovely; vibrant, sensitive, perceptive.  At forty nine years of age Jemma has left the party far too soon. I know her sons, Lucas, Elliot and Jo-Jo will feel the reverberation of that vibrancy and the empty space with the same passion and emotion that Jemma relished on her daily life. I know her family too, will struggle to overcome her absence.

Today we heard from family and friends, who celebrated the essence of Jemma in poetry, music and song, their voices quavering their loss. I loved Lucas’s poem “…Mum, you are fading away… ‘I can’t believe this is happening’, we say and out of the cloying fog of confusion, a brief moment of clarity as you tell us, ‘neither can I….”

I smiled as Dudley Sutton painted his own picture of Jemma in our minds, his broad brush strokes stitching together memories and epitaphs and I wept as Bill Benham (violin) and  David Power (piano) played Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Part eloquently mirrored by Canon Jeremy Davies ‘Homily’.

Later, standing in our small town Market Square today, on the steps of our Guildhall raising our glasses and crying out “thank you Jemma!” as the Hearse edged back out into the afternoon traffic I was reminded that life, the flow of the universe – finds the strangest ways to remind us of what matters.

I have a framed newspaper cutting in my loo, a picture of Dee (Jemma’s mother Diana) and my mother dressed as agricultural labourers for a promenade theatre performance of ‘Larkrise to Candleford’ staged at Salisbury Arts Centre (St Edmunds Church as was) along a Yew-lined path in a momentary shaft of golden sunlight, looking like something straight out of the eighteenth century not the 1980s as it was. My mother also died from cancer. But that picture reminds me that no matter what suits we choose to dress ourselves in, we are all the same underneath. Life is theatre, Jemma knew that and rejoiced in both the costumes and the people underneath them. That is what matters. People. Love. Joy.

Post Script

Two things:

It was remiss of me not to also include this link to Salisbury Hospice, whom support people and their families at challenging times in the process of medical intervention http://www.salisburyhospicecharity.org.uk/ the concept of ‘Hospice’ goes back to the fourth century when Christian orders welcomed travellers, pilgrims and those in need. It remains a valued and much needed service in all communities. Every age has had it’s ‘cancer’ – human nature has proved that despite our ability to empower ourselves we will always fail to eradicate ill health throughout the world, through our own greed and weaknesses “Man’s inhumanity to Man”. A place where the weary and terminally ill can seek respite and comfort deserves our support.

Also, I forget that sometimes people I don’t know read my posts – I was thinking about the tendency we have to really ‘beef’ up peoples good traits at funerals – to set them on pedestals which they may not have enjoyed in their daily lives. That is perhaps, part of the point of ‘celebrating’ a persons life, to focus on their best characteristics and achievements. I wasn’t a close friend of Jemma’s, I knew her all too briefly in the greater scheme of things, our lives bumped into one anothers every now and again but she came and went with all the vibrancy and impact I have described in my post. Someone said, during the service that she was always at the centre of any party, that is generally true but not in my experience in any attention seeking way but  through sheer vitality and integrity, with a genuine interest in people and experience.


Housing Blight II

Since posting my tentative exploration of Housing Blight – a phenomena that i thought many people would be unable to relate to; mostly because it’s hard to appreciate why new housing can be a blight on the community it’s imposed on, unless it has happened, or is happening to you, I have been inundated with emails, tweets and people stopping me to talk further about it. Every one, a shared horror story about how a developer where they live or work, has flouted the planning system and reneged on their promise in order to build new housing and it seems this problem is not unique to the UK. Let me share a few: here in Wiltshire, over the summer Wiltshire Council (a large band of “faceless bureaucrats” to quote a neighbour)  have laid off staff in the planning department, so clever developers blasted them with a raft of planning applications, knowing full well that there wasn’t the staff to deal with them in the mandatory 31 days stated, and that parish councillors and wiltshire councillors would most likely be on holiday and therefore any objections were likely to go unregistered. If the council hadn’t dealt with the application within the mandatory time, the developers were free to launch an appeal. It costs in the region of £50k a time for councils to go to court, so they avoid it like the plague and obviously developers know this and play on this weakness in the system for all their worth.  In Devizes a developer applied to build thirty houses, there was strong opposition so he agreed to put £80k towards a community centre and planning permission was agreed based on that promise. However once he’d started building he appealed the amount of money required as his contribution towards the community centre, the appeal was held in his favour, he built his thirty houses and suffice to say – no community centre!  You only have to look at the planning advisory website to realise that developers are laughing all the way to the bank http://www.pas.gov.uk/local-planning/-/journal_content/56/332612/3749791/ARTICLE   – they manipulate the law and due process, like it was a personal plaything and have made a mockery of the planning system. Ultimately ‘money talks’ and the law can’t stop them, and if it does, they’ll play the waiting game and appeal.

We are supposed to have something called ‘localism’ here in the UK, the government even introduced the ‘localism act’ but ironically it has eroded the power of local communities to protect their local environment and their homes and lives, not improved it. Neither the developers nor MPs have to, or are likely to live in these Noddy Town developments that are being built in answer to the Governments rallying cry of ‘build, build, build!’.  If new homes are so desperately needed, then let’s build for the future. Let’s build homes that form a community, that are built to last, that are built to a standard that the developers would want from their own homes, and with features that would make their own families comfortable and happy. Let’s deliver beyond the minimum standards for energy efficiency, let’s invest some of those huge profits in philanthropic building for the benefit of others not ourselves.

I challenge UK  MPs to write a list of what they value most about their own homes and the communities they live – and then get out there and compare this to the new housing estates being built, and to the existing homes that have been ‘blighted’ or impacted by the building of these new homes; the water supply issues, the added impact on local traffic, local resources and then to list what they would be prepared to sacrifice in the name of this insane ‘build now, count the cost later’ policy. I challenge UK MPs to look at all the appeals and broken promises not delivered by developers on new housing over the past five years in their area – I suspect it will make telling reading.  If we are to have a rigorous system in the UK that works to the benefit of local people and the environment, things will have to change, or we will rise out of recession with far greater expenses looming on the horizon. Worse, and possibly already happening – once thriving towns suffering from economic depression will become ghost towns, starved of life by all the many impacts of housing overload, roads under so much pressure people stop going into the towns, tourism being driven away, water at drought conditions in both spring and summer, the expenses of dealing with flooding…. oh there’s a long list. We need GOOD planning, thoughtful planning, this is why our tourist industry thrived and equally why it will die away if we are not quick to act.

Stop thinking about London, London, London. Stop imprinting its unique challenges on the rest of the country! Look around you. Look beyond your cosy little Westminster glee clubs. Soon the only good things about towns and cities in the UK will be in books, they will be stories, myth, legend. Stop over-ruling local planning decisions on the side of your chums (the big fat-cat developers) and stop pretending that you have the best interests of local communities at heart – because a whistle-stop bus tour of Salisbury and its surrounding (once countryside) suburbs would soon put paid to that lie. And from what I hear it’s endemic across the UK. You started it government, you sort it out before it’s too late!

Paint Off 2012

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Lovely day spent in the grounds of Salisbury Arts Centre. Plain Arts and The Unit held the third #Paintoff today a wonderful event where people come together to paint and then, the resulting canvasses are auctioned off at the end of the day. Charlotte and the team from Plain Arts worked hard to ensure an enjoyable day in the sun, with indian head massages and shiatsu also available! Nich Angell a wonderful young comix artist who had the day before, been at a convention in Manchester promoting his first volume of Cat & Meringue comic books was the judge. He is normally joined by Stew Taylor but Stew is also a member of a local amdram group – Studio Theatre and they were at the RSC collecting their award for winning a competition with their production of Hamlet. So Nich pulled in @_TheUnit manager Heather to help him choose five winners. Also there for a DJ mix-off was DJBong and next door in the Council Grounds one day festival ‘Park Life’ was going on – so a pretty eventful day and James Butcher worked his socks off as the Paint Off ‘auctioneer’

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