Some cheeky ideas about Blake’s cottage.

I had some very interesting answers after my last blog about Blake’s cottage and made a list of them all, because they set me thinking.

One writer asked whether all three members of the triumvirate have the right to invite their friends to the cottage, now that Tim Heath has started extending his invitation to his friends. I have to admit, I don’t know the answer. But if it’s a rule for one, it should be a rule for all three. Perhaps the other two might like to tell us, or even better perhaps the local member of the trio would like to invite some of the locals in to visit the place. After all, the locals raised quite a lot of money to buy it in the first place and our local member of the triumvirate is a fair, friendly and honest man. How about it Mr Johns? I know the vice chairman of the Big Blake Project would very much like to see the place and has asked for permission and been refused, or to be strictly accurate has been told he will have to wait until Mr Heath decides to have an open day. Hmm.

A second writer wondered whether we could find a well known Blake scholar who would weigh in and help us. I only wish they would but Blake scholars are rather rare. If there’s anyone out there who could and would help us, do get in touch. We need your help very much.

Another writer said in her opinion, she thought only legal powers plus the money to access them could lead to any effective change, which is inescapably true. Those of us who are campaigning to get  the cottage repaired are, by and large, extremely short of cash, but her observation set me thinking in a different direction. There is another organisation that might give the lead to effective change too and that’s the Charities Commission which is a government watch dog set up to see that charities organise their affairs legally and properly. So I have written to them, pointing out what a parlous condition the cottage is in, stressing that nothing is being done about it and asking whether it is legal and proper for the trustees of a charity to make money on the property they are supposed to be looking after and running for the nation, in order to raise money purchase another property. I have had a reply, saying they have noted my complaint and will get back to me if they want to know any more.

Any help that any of you can give at this point would be welcome. If you know any renowned Blake scholars who would help, for example, or have other questions you would like to put to the charities commission or have any other suggestions, my door and my ears are always open. For sadly the cottage is still in the same desperate need of repair.

This entry was posted on February 15, 2017. 4 Comments

Of mice and – no not men – but rather annoyed birds.

My lovely amanuensis and I were enjoying our coffee this morning when she noticed a small brown furry shape happily eating the suet cake inside its plastic container. It was certainly not a bird, so we went to the window for a closer look and were highly surprised to see that what we were watching was a field mouse. Charlotte took a picture of it because we could barely believe our eyes. We couldn’t get a very clear one, but there the little thing is to the left of the little hill of suet, happily feeding. What on earth would our birds have to say about that?

They’ve been saying it ever since, sitting in the hedges protesting. After all it is their suet cake. So now we have gremlins rampaging all over the house spilling coffee and gravy and removing the edges of all the furniture, a field mouse helping itself to bird food and a hawk plucking a young seagull on the lawn, as bold as brass and spooking every small bird in the area. Whatever next?!

But of course, bird watching is full of surprises. That’s the joy of it and I rather like field mice, although of course that’s possibly because they don’t eat my breakfast.

This entry was posted on February 15, 2017. 2 Comments

For the nation or for the elite?

One of the people who’s been working with me to push for the repair and restoration of our Blake’s cottage is beginning to despair of ever getting through to Tim Heath. ‘I simply don’t  understand him,’ he said. ‘He says one thing and does another.’ That in essence is the key to understanding the man. We must judge him not by what he says, either to the press or on the Blake Cottage Trust website, but by what he does, or even more destructively, doesn’t do.

His words are mostly airy fairy dreams – “lets skip over the tedious business of raising funds to repair the cottage and consider our glorious future and the scores of geniuses that will come streaming out of the door in a thousand years time.” It takes time and study to disentangle all the things he says because they are so much at variance with one another. When the cottage was first bought he trumpeted loudly in the local and national press that it had been bought for the nation. ‘Once the cottage is purchased, the society intends that it will be put into a charitable trust to be held in perpetuity for the benefit of the nation.’ If only. Now he is more openly admitting that the important thing to him is to be able to pull down half the cottage and build his half a million pound second residence on the site. It seems to me, that those are two very different and conflicting aims and in the meantime the cottage is in desperate need of repair which it isn’t getting.

So what on earth can those of us who very much want it to belong to the nation and to be repaired and kept in good order, do in this current situation? I fear it may be very little. He is already going his own way, refusing to allow locals into the cottage but inviting personal friends there for an escorted visit. The change has already begun.

I discovered, quite by accident, that one of the ex-trustees of the Blake Society,  Naomi Billingsley, was given a personal invitation from Tim Heath to visit the cottage last November. Which she did on November the 25th 2016 and afterwards wrote on social media about what a beautiful place the cottage was and how much she’d enjoyed her visit. What is more, she published pictures of the interior. The news made me sit up with surprise. She’d visited??!!! That’s unheard of. She’d been allowed to publish pictures??!!! That’s more than any of the Felpham supporters of the cottage, who raised funds to buy it, have ever been allowed to do – with the single exception of Rachel Searle.

Then I read a newspaper article about the British Pilgrimage Trust who had walked from London to the cottage and had had their photographs taken outside the place, so I chased up all the newspaper articles about that. And, as one of the papers had reported that the group spent Halloween there, I’ve been trying to contact them ever since, without luck so far, to find out whether that was true.

I will go on playing detective and doing whatever I can and reporting back to you, but there is actually very little that one old woman can do. Taht would require the power of a public body like the West Sussex County Council or the ADC or even better concerted action being taken by the local Felpham Village Preservation Society who are a large, amiable local group whose motto and reason for being is contained in three powerful words. PRESERVE, PROTECT, PROMOTE. Oh if only they would! It would make such a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on February 10, 2017. 3 Comments

An infestation of gremlins

This one is a grim and gremlin dominated story. Fasten your seat belts.

Ever since I fractured my left wrist and broke a bone in my right hand, my orderly (?) house has been overrun by gremlins. They’re so quick I don’t even see them but my, they’re cunning and they have quite extraordinary powers. They can move the edge of a table or a worktop inches away from me in seconds, so that I set a full cup of coffee down on empty air or drop it on the floor before I’ve even realised what they’re doing. And they’re demons with full saucepans. I’ve lost count of the number of pans I’ve emptied into the sink instead of onto the plate or even worse onto the floor instead of the sink. Their piece de resistance was moving an entire cooker out of range so that I tipped half a pint of milk into the hob and all over the floor. I never realised half a pint of milk could spread so far. My nice blue floor was a white pond, although I have to admit I turned the air blue to compensate. It took far too long to mop all the the milk up with with my remaining more or less useful hand. And to add insult to injury, the milk dripped off the sides of the hob onto my head while I was doing it. I felt I was drowning in milk.

Since then, they’ve interfered with every aspect of my life, reducing my piles of notes to a disorderly heap: spinning the soap out of my hand into the corner of the wet-room where I couldn’t reach it, couldn’t pick it up and couldn’t even kick it into touch, and turning the shower head into a wilful snake that coiled and twisted and showered everything with hot water except me. My innocent forks are bewitched and have now developed a trick of tossing the food away from them into the air or down my clothes or onto the carpet. The washing machine cringes every time I come towards it with another armful of food spattered clothing.

 

 

 

 

But I’ll get even. You have my word for it. Gremlins beware! I shan’t be in plasters and splints forever. And ‘Deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome someday.’

This entry was posted on January 26, 2017. 6 Comments

An ugly story

I’ve got an ugly story to tell you this morning. But first, take a look at these two pictures. The first is the one we all know very well. It’s the cottage where Blake lived from 1800-1803. The second one is a picture of the house in which he had rooms from 1803 to 1820. There are two things about these properties that are very significant now. 

For a start they are the only two properties in which Blake lived, which are still standing. All the others have been demolished. But there is another link between them that is something we all need to know and something which could well be illegal.

To begin at the beginning. I had coffee with Peter Johns (the local member of the triumvirate who lives in Lavant) on Sunday. I wanted to see if our 500 strong and growing petition had influenced the triumvirate’s thinking at all. And I’m sorry to report to you that it had not.

Of course he agreed that the cottage needed repair. Of course, of course. But the triumvirate’s top priority is to raise the £50,000 to pay Tim Heath’s chosen architectural company for drawings and plans.

All the old hoary excuses and reasons were wheeled out. If they had the drawings they could show them to wealthy donors who would come across with the money. It’s a pretty dream but that’s all it is. They are going to pay for a obscenely expensive “sprat” to catch a “mackerel” that could well prove elusive and give them nothing at all. He told me over and over again, that this money could be raised if I was to TELL all my blog readers and all the people who signed that petition to part with their cash. ‘Just TELL them,’ he said. ‘You are the one who has a way with words.’ So although I had no intention at all of TELLING anybody to do anything – that’s not my style – I promised him to write another blog. Whether or not you think it right to hand over your money or not is entirely up to you. I wouldn’t touch this project with a barge pole, not now I know what I know.

We continued to talk and I told him that Tim Heath had lived in the family house all his life and was about to be turfed out of it because it would be on the market.

‘Would this,’ I asked him, ‘have anything to do with the fact that the half a million pound building he wants to build in Blake’s garden, has now become a residence? Who is going to live there?’

The answer, revealed more than I think he realised.

Oh no, Tim was not going to live in Blake’s Cottage, he could assure me about that. It was Tim’s dream to purchase Blake’s part of the property at 17 Molton Street and if the cottage could be repaired and/or the second residence built, it could earn sufficient money for Tim’s dream to be realised. I remembered then that right at the start he had declared that he wanted to ‘join the two houses in a single creative project’. I thought that was idealistic pie in the sky, rather on a par with the scores of geniuses he dreams of producing over the next thousand years by allowing wannabe artists into the cottage. But no, there is a deeper and darker reason. He wants to be the man who owns both Blake’s surviving houses and it looks very likely to me that he will use the cottage to earn the money to buy the house. Or to put it another way, the cottage will be a milch cow to be used to finance his dream.

We need to know now whether a trust that owns a property has the right to milk it to earn money to buy another property. The charities commission could possibly advise.

This Friday the Blake Society holds its annual general meeting in Waterstones in Piccadilly. And most of the unpaid trustees will attend. I shall alert as many of them as I can to read this blog before the meeting. These are things that they should know and if they are true trustees, should act upon.

 

 

 

This entry was posted on January 18, 2017. 2 Comments

From garage to library but not in one easy lesson.

A few years ago when my creaking knees were making such a noise that my children  thought I should move downstairs and have my study there. The only problem was where it could be. It’s a problem a lot of writers face at some time or other, when we find we need more space or a different venue. We solved my problem by nicking half the double garage and the rather useless space that had been left between the garage and the house and building a brand new room there. Total bedlam whilst it was being built of course, but we’ll gloss over that. Once it was done and the books were all on their shelves it became the workplace I knew I’d always needed.

I had book shelves built on both sides of the room and a desk running the length of the room with plenty of space, as you can see, for such necessities as tea, coffee, tins of chocolates, phones, ipads and such like and two large windows one at either end of the room so that I got plenty of light. The cats were all for it. They had a sunlit window each and I had all my books warming the walls.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It needed all my machines to furnish it completely and a picture of my three children above my computer where I could see them all every day, after all they were the ones who dreamed it up and planned it and carried all the books downstairs and arranged them neatly and in order, where they stayed for at least 24 hours.

I can’t say it’s tidy but then work rooms very rarely are, it’s against their nature – and mine! Books have a life of their own and it isn’t just a shelf life. They have a tendency to wander when I’m not looking and pile themselves up in any other space they can find. I think they like being cosy together.

I start work at around 5 in the morning, I’m fully awake by then and it seems pointless to stay in bed when the current novel is roaring in my head and my library is waiting is patiently for me, in its organised, dis-organised way. As Mr Punch used to say, “That’s the way to do it.”

Good luck to any of my writing friends who are building themselves a work room. You’ll love it when it’s done. I can guarantee.

This entry was posted on January 11, 2017. 9 Comments

Two different aims for Blake’s Cottage

Since I put up the blog called ‘The petition has been handed over’ I haven’t written another blog although I’ve had plenty of mail, and the original blog is still being visited – which I find rather surprising.

Among the letters there was a touching and very trusting answer from an ex-trustee of the Blake Society. He writes ‘ I still think the best solution – perhaps the only solution – is for all parties to put down their axes and start working together – start repairing the actual work that needs to be done, which is not material (as you know Blake wasn’t remotely  interested in ‘bricks and mortars’ and the material aspect of life) but rather relational and emotional – the sense of Blakean ‘community’.’ It sounds so sensible and mature and possible, so it’s really rather sad for me to have to start this blog by saying, it’s actually an impossible task and that is because the two sides (and there are two sides now) have entirely different aims.

The 500 village people who signed my petition and the others who are still signing it online, have a very simple aim, as I do. We want the repair of the cottage to be the top priority. If it were, I’m sure we would be prepared to campaign for funds just as we did when we were gathering money to buy the cottage in the first place. Our declaration of intent couldn’t have been more clear.

But. And it’s a very big but. Nobody in their right mind would be prepared to hand over their very hard earned cash so that Tim Heath can use it to pay for architectural plans for this new half a million pound building he wants to construct in the grounds nor for the destruction of half the cottage to make room for it. These things are his top priority – he’s already chosen the architect – and he’s been talking about it ever since his handout to the press on June the 16th 2016 when this ‘significant property’ was first openly admitted to.

It’s been very difficult for anyone following these events to discover what that  half a million pound building is actually going to be for, it’s changed considerably over the last year. To start with, Peter Johns said it was going to be a study centre and visitor centre. Then it was described as a ‘retreat for those who want space to ask important question about their lives.’ But it wasn’t until a statement put out on the Blake Cottage Trust website – undated as it always is – but quite recently which gives us the key word. ‘The new building will be multifunctional, having a secure space for small but important exhibitions, space for conferences, alternate space for a second residence, as well as office and administrative space.’  A RESIDENCE. When I read that I wondered who was going to live in it.

There have been altogether too many smoke screens and too much mystery in this affair and by no means sufficient straight facts for us to make up our minds about what it would be best to do. So let me give you a few facts. All of them verifiable.

Tim Heath is 61 and has two brothers who are hard working, reputable doctors with homes of their own and families. Tim Heath has lived in the parental home all of his life and is still there. According to his brother he has lived in the current family house for 50 years. Since his mother, who was the surviving parent, died, her affairs have been in probate but, once the legal matters have all been settled, the house will be put on the market. It is in a salubrious part of North London and worth, according to his brothers, a million pounds, but when it is sold, Tim Heath will have to get out and will need to buy another residence in which to live. According to his brothers he is hoping to walk away with the full million from the house. They have other ideas. Either way, he will still need somewhere to live. I think a lot of us will be wondering where that will be. I know I am.

When this magnificent half a million pound building was first mentioned in the local press, I said it was pie in the sky because I knew how little money the BCT actually had. Now I have to say, I think I was wrong. It wasn’t pie in the sky at all, it was a very real and determined plan.

I would very much like to know what others think of the present situation. Should we hand over money regardless of what it is going to be spent on or should we insist that a very clear promise is given that any funds gathered now would ALL be used to repair the cottage and none of it would go to pay architects, demolish part of the cottage or build another residence?

Keep in touch. This is by no means over.

This entry was posted on January 6, 2017. 5 Comments