Cover Art

Jura Spring Flowers by Hugh's Sister, Fiona Charis Carswell

Jura Spring Flowers by Hugh's Sister, Fiona Charis Carswell

For years we came up to the cottage in Jura for our summer holidays. No mod cons. No electricity, no running water and no heating other than from the fireplace. Cooking on an old Calor Gas stove, and candlelight in the evenings.

Although a romantic picture, the stone building itself required continuous attention. For many years the place was kept habitable by my father and mother, and by my Uncle Freddie and Aunty Isobel - working through their holidays. I remember helping out - days spent on the roof sanding and painting and doing various and numerous jobs.

The reality was that whoever came up first in the year would be met by a damp, dirty and inhospitable house. The work that had been done in the previous year would most likely have been undone by the winter. My mother deserves a medal for re-papering and painting the damp wall above the sitting room fireplace - transforming it from mould into gleaming Dulux brilliant white every year.

The inner walls of the cottage had mostly been, at some stage, covered by waterproof treatments (just making condensation and damp worse) and the concrete floors had just been laid on earth and rock with no damp course. So, not surprisingly, it was always wet. The furniture would, over a number of years, rot away. My mother had made lots of colourful chair and cushion covers, which could be fitted to give the appearance of civility. And once all this was done, and the fire was burning, the place was lovely if you were willing to ignore the damp patches.

In the big bedroom there was a fireplace which, for some reason we never used. I think mainly because the bedrooms had been low priority in terms of decoration and de-damping and were mainly just entered in near darkness by candlelight with a hot water-bottle. The effort of making a fire just for those few moments of getting into bed was probably deemed unnecessary.

The fireplace was always a bit of a black hole, and a drafty one. One year my father decided that it should be sealed with a bit of hardboard. My sister Fiona, a painter, who at the time may have been studying, was commissioned to do something on the hardboard in order to make it more decorative. It must have been spring time. We always had an old vase of freshly cut wild flowers on the sitting room window sill - cut from the fields surrounding the cottage - and Fiona obviously decided that these would make a good subject. She's amazing the way that she can just quickly work something up like that. I vaguely remember her painting away, quickly and spontaneously, and before long we had a bright and vibrant picture to sit in the fireplace.

At the end of each year's holidays we would pack up, bag everything in polythene, and leave the cottage bare for another winter. I can't quite imagine that now - so poignant that the place was just left every year. During those months, the white walls would darken, the floors would dampen, and various animal lifeforms would make their nests inside the walls and roof. The place would fade - literally. 

And yet, on arrival every spring, amidst the inevitable decay, the fireplace always remained bright. Eventually, realising that I really loved the painting - for it's spontaneity, life and abundance - I made a quick frame for it and elevated it from fireplace duties to wall decoration duties, possibly to cover up a big crack in the plaster!

So, when thinking about the artwork for 'In Chances of Light', amidst the numerous photographic options available, I realised that I wanted to feature Fiona's painting. The darkness of the blue backgrounds taken from the old painted woodwork of the cottage. The old chinese vase - I don't know what happened to that, and of course the wild Jura spring flowers. It seemed symbolic that the painting hadn't given up on us during those decades of dark Jura winters. 

Thank you to Fiona - you'll also see some of her charcoals on the website.


Hugh Carswell