Here is a St Ives story, as well as I remember it. We were sitting in the pub yarning & setting the world to rights, as usual, when the conversation turned to attitudes to animals in the North and the South. (I had been living in Greece, after two years teaching in Germany). Karl Weschke had been a young soldier in the Wehrmacht and told a story which happened to him during the war. He had been given the job of driving officers in one of those open Volkswagen jeeps with a corrugated bonnet. He was taking some of these officers downhill, along some very narrow bending tracks, between dry stone walls, in the South of France. Somewhere down there, intermittently seen, was a peasant was working in a field; his donkey impassive, unmoving, stood in the middle of the track. (I had known a Greek donkey stay stock-still for two hours as I drew it and the stone wall behind it).
When the peasant realised that a German army vehicle was coming his way he took the reins and pulled at the donkey to get it out of the track. But the donkey would not budge. Maybe it had been hard-worked and needed a rest. Coming round the next bend they saw him beating the animal with a stick, but with no result. The next sighting showed the peasant throwing stones; in the next they saw him pick up a fair-sized rock. The rock bounced off the donkey, but still it would not move. By now they were getting close, and the peasant was panicking. They saw him bending down by the donkey, and saw him packing straw under it. He lit the straw. The donkey suddenly gave a great bellow and galloped off: the peasant escaped across the stony fields.
I always remember that story when I see his paintings.
A friend kindly sent me this photograph of the poetry post outside Diana Leap’s house, not aware that Diana had died before Christmas. She was remarkable. Her conversation was like a mountain stream over pebbles -clear, sparkling, with little pauses as she searched for the right word or phrase (never the ones you expected), and small whirlpools where she went back and corrected herself. I am reminded of Robert Lowell’s lines about a rather different person:
your old-fashioned tirade-
loving, rapid, merciless-
breaks like the Atlantic ocean on my head.
Man and Wife
She was someone for whom expression was not bounded by compartments – her comments on the world came out as sculpture, poems, drawings, post-cards, telephone calls & emails – and one of the finest novels of our time. I plan to write about her at more length later.