lilac, violet

On Friday, last week, I treated us to some new aquarelles. I like drawing with coloured pencils – I always have, and aquarelles – or, more accurately in this case, watercolour pencils – are happy combination of the control I like to have in terms of the colour is always the same, and the unpredictable blends that water adds to the image. I’ve even found some lovely biro style pens that are able to have a variety of line widths and are not overly waterproof; yet not as soluble as watercolours.

Remember that Radiant style ink we used to use in school? I don’t recall anyone ever actually emptying a bottle, at least not for school work purposes. Biros (ball-point pens) were verboten. I learned to write with a pencil – we weren’t allowed to be promoted to a fountain pen until our handwriting was of sufficient quality. My handwriting never was – I think my parents moved me to another school lest their shame of the young ‘un with the bad handwriting should become public.

While making the choices of the colours, I had some misgivings about buying purple pencils, and in the end I didn’t. Real artists™ have no need of purple watercolour pencils, they can take a 18 inch roller, dip it in liquid cow manure and paint Persian miniatures, in three shades of murex, with their eyes closed. Us lesser beings buy ready-made purple. Heliotrope. Mauve. Whatever.

As I reflected on the two gaps in my pencil bandolier, and thinking about the names of purple, I remembered my two grandmothers. I associate them both with variants of purple.

At my father’s mother’s house there were violets growing. I can clearly remember the lush dark green heart leaves, and the simple elegance of the single flower. Violets speak to me of love that is forgives. When you first smell the fragrance of violets it’s strong, lusty, and provocative – like those heady lust-filled days of early love. And then as lust fades there’s a period of almost no detectable odor, before the fragrance returns, changed, different, deeper, richer. And you forgive the change, because it is more like mature love.

My mother’s mother and I share the same birthday. I remember helping pick and taking her lilac flowers for her birthday. I still like to see lilac on my birthday to keep the memory alive, and I usually locate a lilac bush nearby in anticipation. There’s one just a few houses down from where I live, so I don’t have far to go. Lilac, like the violet, has a fragrance all of its own. I can’t bring it to mind as I write, but there is a nagging thought in my perfume memory of sweet beer. It’s probably wrong. Some days, when I’m feeling anxious, I remember Sophie Tunnell’s quote – Fear is a slinking cat I find beneath the lilacs of my mind – and I think about the lilacs and how I used to love lying under the bush, looking up through the wonderful translucent celadon green of the valentine heart-shaped leaves, into the bright spring skies.

I probably don’t need the pencils – I can mix the colours myself. But I’ve decided I’m going to get them anyway. One for each, for old time’s sake. Wherever my grandmothers are, there’ll be lilacs and growing underneath, violets.

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