Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dear Fleur . . .

Dear Fleur . . . what can I say? What can I possibly add to the flood of obituaries. I put 'Fleur Cowles' into Google a few moments ago and was staggered by the response.
Were you really a hundred and one? I would never have guessed. But, there again, surely no-one else could have filled their century with so much creativity, so much generosity, so much friendship?
It was a privilege to be one of your many friends . . . and it was fun, it was enormous fun!
You enriched my life, Fleur, and I shall always be grateful.

Do you remember the occasion when you came to my flat to boost the confidence of my students before their English Speaking Board exam? And do you remember how you invited Rupert to the launch of "The Flower Game" at The National Portrait Gallery? Surely no other cat in history has received a personal invitation to The National Portrait Gallery . . . and didn't he enjoy himself!

I said that there was nothing I could add to all the incredible tributes you've received, but, as I think back, there may be one of your many talents that has been overlooked. Let me explain . . .

Many years ago I was spending a happy weekend with you in Sussex. As always, it had been a social occasion. There were, if my memory serves me correctly, six guests. These weekends always followed a formal pattern. The guests would arrive before lunch on Saturday, and would leave some time after lunch on the Sunday. The lucky ones stayed for tea.
On this occasion, just two of us remained for tea. It was a wet afternoon, so, instead of revisiting the garden, we sat with you as you painted. Your easel had been placed in front of the sofa and the two of us sat by the open fire watching you at work. Tea arrived at three-thirty. You barely paused from painting to take refreshment.

At four o'clock the door leading into the porch opened slightly. Tom was standing in the doorway. Instantly, you put down your brush and rose to your feet. There was no lingering look at the painting, no regrets that it was an inopportune moment to leave, no hasty gathering together of paints and brushes . . . instead, you smiled at us and thanked us sincerely for coming. Then, without even stopping to collect a handbag, you moved to the door . . . through it and into the porch . . . out onto the gravel drive . . . into the waiting car . . . and, all in a matter of minutes, were on your way back to The Albany.

Yes, I know, there were loving and attentive members of staff to take away the painting. There was no need of a suitcase as everything you needed would be waiting for you in London, and doubtless Tom had already taken your handbag to the car.
But the rare talent remained. With ease and grace you stepped from one moment into another. No regrets . . . no lingering . . . no doubts . . . your role called for you to move to London and there was no way in which you were going to argue.
Would that I could always accept my role in life with the same equanimity!

Bless you, Fleur, for a wonderful example of living in the present moment. Was that how you achieved all that you did achieve, in a creative, action-packed century? Is that why your paintings reflect such a joyful serenity?

Do you remember how you loved to paint butterflies?
Let me finish with a poem by Don Blanding. I came across it just the other week, and I think you're going to enjoy it . . .

"Why ask for proof
That soul lives on
When body dies,
Do caterpillars recognize
Their angel selves
In butterflies?'

Thank you, Fleur . . .