IT WAS while D. [her father, Stanley; "M." was her mother,
Hilda] was a soldier in Macedonia during the First World War that
he suddenly thought of the idea for a resurrection scene. This
theme was to be important to him throughout his life, and often
helped him recover from loss and difficulty later on.
He didn't talk much about the war, apart from two stories. In
the first, he remembered standing on sentry duty one night on the
Macedonian Hills. He was small and slim - he was only five foot
two, like me - and was standing motionless in the darkness, when
some soldiers came up, thinking that they had arrived at a latrine,
and began to undo their trousers. It was only when he shouted
"Hey!" that they realised their mistake.
D. was very good company, and often told amusing stories: he was
a good mimic, and could see humour and the ridiculous in everyday
His other war story involved losing his water bottle. It was
terribly important to have your water bottle with you at all times
in Macedonia, because you might not survive without it. When he
dropped his, and it rolled down the hillside, he left his position
and scrambled after it. The next thing he knew was a soldier
pointing a bayonet at him, shouting: "I have orders to shoot you!"
This was always a very vivid memory for him; it must have been
MY FATHER fell in love with my mother when he was invited to
dinner at my grandmother's home in Hampstead, in about 1922. She
was remarkable-looking: beautiful and striking to look at, but not
in the Greek-goddess type of way, more interesting than that. D.
wrote that he "felt a longing for her", and immediately "saw a life
It was around the time that he was painting The
Resurrection, Cookham, which captures the feeling of
the new day and sunlight, and M. features in it in several
The painting is full of flowers, which are a feminine symbol
with suggestions of opening up and giving birth. At one point,
someone said of it: "Aren't you rather overdoing the flowers,
Stanley?" To which he laughingly replied: "Not all Suttons seeds,
or Carters seed-packets would be enough!"
In the middle of The Cookham Resurrection is the arch
of the church porch, with M. sitting beneath it, in the dark hollow
of the doorway. Behind her, emerging from the darkness, is the face
of God, rather indistinct and looking like a newly opened flower -
a symbol of femininity.
The fact that he should give God a face as mysterious as an
unfurling rose somehow brings together the whole subject of
sexuality and love of creation, religious feeling and human love,
and the creation of new life. The arch, festooned with flowers,
which echoes the shape of the woman's leg to the left, is a mother
shape that protects the face of God beneath it. Thus, femaleness is
shown to be integral to the connection with God: "God is Love", but
Stanley takes this a step further by linking love and sex
AS A Christian Scientist, M. needed a Christian Scientist
practitioner to attend my birth. So I was born in Downshire Hill,
Hampstead, on 24 May 1930. It was only in 1961 that I discovered,
in conversation with Mrs Behrend, that I was supposed to be - in
fact, should have been - born at Burghclere. Because M. was taken
ill ten days before I was due to arrive, however, Mrs Behrend had
her driven up to Hampstead to see her practitioner. Back at
Burghclere, D. would wrap me in a shawl as a small baby, and take
me to the chapel with him, laying me on a chair while he painted. .
MY EARLIEST memories are of Chapel View, with rooms leading from
one into the next. I can remember M. singing me to sleep in a small
room with a sash window: I looked out at the evening sky, while she
sang "Now the day is over". At the foot of my bed was a door
leading into my parents' room, and I could see their bed, which was
the brass-bedstead type with a white cover.
I would often remember this scene when I was about ten or 11
years old; and always do, even now, when I hear "Now the day is
over". As a child, I would visualise a deep-blue sea and sky, and
sailors rising and falling on the waves. There was a glow of
sunlight of indefinable day- or night-time, like sunshine in the
middle of the night, as well as sunset.
And the figure of my mother was dark against the window, but she
was by my bed, and I looked past her to the window. She was a warm,
dark colour against a blue evening sky.
M. USED used to give me a bath in a tin tub in front of the
fire, in a corner of the cosy dining-room, when it was chilly
outside. I had some beautiful little toys in those days: my little
metal black-and-white pigs, and a doll in a tiny wicker cradle.
Many years later, in 1955, my father resurrected this scene in
his painting Hilda and I at Burghclere. M. is holding me -
a baby - and D. is bringing the bath in, a great round tub; my
sister, Shirin, is hauling in the rolled-up bath mat.
At first glance, it seems like an idyllic scene of cosy family
life, but, to me, it's a sad picture: the symbolic shapes of the
big, round, womb-like tub carried in by D., and the long,
cylindrical, rolled mat dragged in by my sister, together convey a
feeling of loss. The pattern in the carpet is anything but a dream
of domestic bliss.
Many of D.'s later paintings were similarly retrospective, and
conjure up scenes from his memory. They were like wishful thinking,
recreating an imagined past. These could be intensely personal,
such as Hilda Welcomed, with M. at its centre, or scenes
from the Bible set in Cookham High Street.
Sun. 5th Feb.
There has been a fuss about us not singing in church, so I
tried very hard but one does not get any inspiration from that
church. We have to go for a walk this evening, why aren't we
allowed to have the whole evening free? I'm going to try and read
my Bible every evening, it is a nice one, plain black with gold
lettering, the cover overlaps a little and the edge of the leaves
shine red and gold. Oh bother we have got to get ready.
Senior choir sang a lovely thing by Mendlessohn, about the
strength of the hills, and praising the Lord. I was looking out of
the window and watching the sea on the rocks, and the sun was
shining very much. Last night I made up a poem about the sea, here
I heard a minotinouse sushing sound
of the sea as it beat on the shore
the waves rode up and fell down again
and seeced to be seen anymore.
Hurrah, I am going to do extra art the same as Jill, I am so
After Christmas (no date)
On the Sunday we had a discussion on punishment for young
children, it was very interesting. I went red because Shirin spoke
and I always feel funny for her when she speaks. Mrs Payne, she's a
psychologist, said never punish a child when you are angry. Be
great friends with your husband for some time before you marry him.
When the baby comes you have to sacrifice a lot to it, and you must
give it everything it wants until it comes to discretion. E.g. You
must feed it regularly.
Sunday Aug. 12th
Mr Payne [the curate a lovely man] gave us a marvellous
sermon which he would have liked to have shouted from the rooftops
of Epsom. I wish he could. It was all about the atom bomb. For the
lesson he read the story of Adam and Eve, how they ate from the
tree of knowledge. Then he said that we were to use this atom bomb
for good not for evil. He was more forceful than that and you could
tell that he felt it very much. I felt very worried because I
thought that he meant that the whole invention was wrong. Outside
the church Mr Payne came along and Gwen said "Unity is thinking
very deeply about your sermon." "Oh is that how she looks when
she's thinking deeply?" he looked at me quirkily.
Wednesday Aug. 15th
Today is a marvellous day. This morning at eight we turned
on the wireless and THE WAR IS OVER!!!!!!!! Isn't it wonderful.
Japan has been a long time in accepting. . . We listened in to the
description of the great victory procession, good old English
weather, but everyone's spirits were as high as they could go and
the King and Queen were in an open carriage. They went to
Westminster Abbey to thank God. We went to the parish church, we
had a lovely service, I felt like smiling an awful lot but then
during one of the hymns I said to myself "I'll never forget this
day, God, and I do so mean it" and then I felt my eyes getting red
so I looked down for the rest of the hymn, although I felt like
looking up. We listened to the King's speech in church. He spoke
extremely well and didn't stammer at all.
THE idea of redemption means more to me than resurrection,
because I know that I will resurrect at some time; if not fully at
the end of this life, then at the end of some other life. But the
idea of redemption is about being redeemed now. I can be lifted out
of the scene now, if I am willing.
I need to recognise that I am somehow acceptable, warts and all.
As I learned, among many other things, in the Marlborough Day
Hospital, I needed - as we all do - to learn to love myself, which
means accepting myself. Accept myself first, before I can be
redeemed. Without acceptance of myself, and how I am, or was,
without feelings of forgiveness of myself and others, I cannot be
fully redeemed. I love the sound of the word: it's so expressive of
its meaning, the "ee" sound seems to rise up out of the mire.
Forgiveness was difficult for me. I have always found it
difficult to forgive, not realising that, if I don't, quite apart
from the damage I cause others, I'm damaging myself, by falling
into the trap of being a victim in the situation. If I can realise,
without pointing the finger, or blaming others (and I have to be
very careful here that I'm really not holding anything against
them), then I free myself up, and I free them up.
But this has taken years and years to realise fully, and be able
to take on board and act on. A waste, maybe; but, as they say,
nothing is wasted, because all our experiences, especially the
painful ones, if we can turn them around, only enrich our lives for
ourselves and others, and give us even more compassion and
MY ANGER and my subsequent depression were a lot to do with the
way I felt about myself, because much of the time - most of the
time - I really did think I was a bad person. My anger was on
account of the injustice I felt around my perception of myself; my
perception of how my remaining family seemed to view me; and my
uncertainty about how others saw me.
Often, I had no anxiety on that score, but they only had to make
a chance remark, and a sharp knife would twist in my gut somewhere.
But redemption is a "lifting up out of", and is for everyone with
the willingness to be lifted up in this way - not from willpower,
but by relinquishing that part of the will that really needs to let
go, from the heart.
Somehow, inside myself, over a period of nearly 40 years, I have
been endeavouring to redeem myself, with help from the MDH,
therapists of various kinds, and so on. It might seem a strange
occupation; some may think it self-indulgent, but there is nothing,
absolutely nothing self-indulgent about really facing up to
yourself. Sometimes, it is literally a matter of life and death; or
it is a matter of not just surviving, but actually learning how to
live, and understanding what the word living actually means.
How many of us really know, feel, realise, how to live in the
Edited extracts from Lucky to be an Artist by Unity
Spencer (Unicorn Press, £30 (CT Bookshop £27)).