blink and you'll miss it

During the past two weeks, I've been visiting my friend Barbara Clapham at the Chelsea & Westminster hospital. A formidable creature - tiny, sharp as a tack. I remember her driving me to the ballet at the Royal Opera House, driving well, but a bit of a maniac in Picadilly traffic, and blithely remarking 'oh yes, when I learned to drive, we didn't have to pass a driver's test, you see.'

She had this job in Cambridge, during the war, working for the Ministry of Information. More like Ministry of Misinformation, actually. She learned to drive running documents, under stealth of night, from Cambridge to London, to be released to the press. Sometimes, she'd be stopped at checkpoints: 'Tell Miss Clapham to turn back, the information has changed.'

So I've been a bit worried that she's seemed increasingly a shadow of her former self. And was planning to visit her today, but, Liz the Vicar's wife, told me Barbara is home! She got in last night.

Late last night, I was fiddling round with these images that my friend Joseph Keller took of me, last summer. We're still exploring the same kind of landscape portraiture, separately but uncannily similarly, as we did when we first became friends in our early twenties. And I watched, again, Unfaithful, and the poem by Omar Khayyam:

 'Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine, roses, and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.'

And today is her birthday. She is 99. And since everyone in her long, full life is 'long gone, dear', I'm throwing an impromptu surprise party with a few people that I can round up. Baking her a dark chocolate flourless cake, an old Italian recipe. Then I will find her some flowers, orchids perhaps, or roses, because after all, she founded our garden, when she retired, in 1958.

Olivier, our neighbour, will be bringing some good French wine. Because, as he said, if her old friends are no longer here, then she must celebrate with some new ones. One candle on the cake, because she's one year away from 100.

This moment is your life. Blink and you'll miss it.


Unknown said...

Nice style of photo shot.I like it very much.

Homeware store

Jessie in Fashion Limbo said...

Barbara is one lucky lady, to have someone like you in her life, caring for her in such a lovely way. You remind me of my aunt and best friend Sylvia, Jill. She does these kind of beautiful things for other people, asking nothing in return. You are one amazing woman Jill


Mona said...

Jill love all of these merged!

jill said...

Thank you, Mona!

And Jessie -what you wrote, amazing, thank you. What\s even more incredible is that a new friend - a total stranger who sat next to us on the pew at the beautiful church in the Boltons on Easter Sunday - Karen- showed up for the party!!! How cool is that.

I don't know if I can honestly say I ask nothing in return. I'm constantly surprised at myself for being surprised that not everyone thinks and feels the way I do. I suppose I ask in return that people are kind to me, but hey, ho - what more often happens is, somewhere down the line, a total stranger does something that blows me away. I think this is called Karma.

And funnily, both of you - Mona and Jessie - happen to be wired the same way. Thanks for your comments, means a lot coming from you both.

Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful story. So heartwarming to hear that people are actually like this in real life. Enjoy the moment.

ODYSSEY said...

Such wise words - live only in the moment because that is truly all we have.

Rosalind said...

Jill this is such a beautiful post about an obviously extraordinary person. What a span of life and experience and history 'Miss Clapham' has lived through. Incredible to think that she was born in 1914. What sweeping world, social, economic and cultural changes she has witnessed while evidently approaching each day as an opportunity. What a privilege it is to encounter such individuals whose impression on us is lasting and profound.

jill said...

Roz, how extraordinary that you happened to read this post - I was thinking of you. Considering you're one of my youngest friends, and 'Miss Clapham' is now my oldest living friend, I've always wanted you to meet. I'll send you a private message in case you don't happen to see this, but maybe when you're next in London, you can come to the secret, sunken gated garden she created (surrounded by hedges - not unlike your grandmother's, actually) and you can hopefully meet her.

And Odyssey, my dear friend, and 'seeking the question' - what can I say. Thank you.

adrielleroyale said...

Great portraiture and then made into art :) How wonderful to have a friend with all that history - a treasure indeed. Hope the party was wonderful! :)

Beauty and Style said...

So real and inspiring it give me some peace to my heart.
I always searching for unique beauty and style.