The Long Walk Home

The Long Walk Home (40 x 40cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

My loyal companions are consumed by wanderlust.

My chickens are always on the move, their bobbing heads often thrusting their bodies forward, onto the next location. They never stay in one place too long.

But like any concerned parent, I always ask them to write, and they have always kept this promise.

I hear the whistle of the postman, and my letters brushing through the envelope slot, landing softly in the hallway. My pooch hears this sound and, wagging excitedly, fetches this for me. As I am finishing my morning coffee, I flick through boring bills and arid advertisements before coming across a postcard.

I see the billowing sand dunes, with the pointed blades of grass waving to me. I see the orange sands warmed by the glowing sunlight which is dipping downward at the end of another day in paradise. I flip the postcard over, and begin to read the next chapter for the chickens who left my garden two summers ago.

They tell me of their experience at the edge of the world, with many other humans present on that gorgeous summer’s eve. The air was smoky with family barbecues (vegetarian friendly they hoped!) and blue cooler bags and flying bottle caps as far as the eye could see.

They frolicked joyfully in the cold sea, before drying out on the warm sand as the sea air ruffled their feathers just as I would after bath times.

Their journey home was one through the most beautiful fields, full of freely overgrown flowers interspersed with passionately red poppies.

The chickens missed me.

I hold the card tenderly in both hands, yearning to join them.

When the next chronicle of their journey is sent in a postcard, I hope to be featured in such a tale.

**Article continued on Page Two**

Swimming into Summer

Koi Study No. 7 (50 x 50cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Like most mornings, I walk to the bottom of my garden with a sense of purpose.

The winter garden has now thawed, and I feel the sun coaxing me out of my dormancy long before I step outside. I gingerly step as to not disturb the chatty birds or the wandering bees. I begin in my slippers, but the temptation to feel the grass underfoot soon becomes a compulsion. I enjoy the tickling sensation on the soles of my feet, and being connected to my surroundings.

I finally get to the fish pond and struggle to make out the dull, distant shapes. I too enjoy the immersion of the water, often thinking to my childhood summers of white sands and clear waters. My eyes scan the water’s surface, as I sprinkle a thin layer of fish food and wait. I watch the orange blur at the bottom of the fish pond manifest into the koi fish who snap up their breakfast hungrily.

The interaction is soothing for me, as a simple relationship which requires so little. In exchange, I receive a private performance of twirling orange bodies reflected in the tumultuous water. The tiny dancers are aware of their talents, and they never fail to parade their beauty for my own enchanted eyes.

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Gentle Reflection

Gentle Reflection (60 x 60cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

The gentle reflection of the water, and of the mind.

Exercise has become so integral to lockdown life, with countryside walks becoming a social visit to those outside of family.

We walk for hours and chat along those canal paths, takeaway coffees and dog leads in hand. Our furry companions are so happy that we work from home, their need for affection and fresh air satisfied.

Most of us have struggled under the bizarre circumstances of a worldwide pandemic, often feeling like characters of a dystopian novel. Everyone has made sacrifices, but so rare is it that we share the same reason for doing so. There is a strange comfort in unity. Each begrudgingly slow step of the past year has now led to enormous leaps in modern medicine, and a new compassion within the community.

The end appears nigh, as we hope to throw our masks up like the graduation caps and celebrate a long, carefree summer.

As autumn returns, perhaps we should hold onto the masks from the bitter wind, and a bittersweet memory which we battled through.

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The Feeling of Neutral Buoyancy

Neutral Buoyancy (87 x 113cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

‘Neutral buoyancy’ is neither sinking nor floating.

Another world lies beneath the sea, its darkest waters as unknown to us as the unexplored galaxies. It is so quiet, your exhaled breath bubbles toward a yellow veil above the water’s surface. Each sound is muffled, so as not to break your focus. This balancing act, with your flippered feet in motion, leaves you with your thoughts.

Whilst remaining calm and focused on breathing, you also feel the silent dread of your own mortality creep into the vast ocean. But in this cushioned, anti-gravity sphere, you can fly slowly and capture your surroundings. You save the memory for later nostalgia.

The light above is safety, whilst the depths below are full of fear yet curiosity. As you continue to focus, those bubbles take with them your anxiety. You are a silent presence in a world far from security and comfort, but full of promise.

You allow yourself to explore, but with the scuba diving instructor still in your vision.

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The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden (71 x 91cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Often in a busy and bustling city, it is hard to find quiet.

As the Earth thaws, the public flock to the parks for a day of sunshine and socialisation. Shorter lengths and bright patterns, London is awash with summer florals and blue denim. I tend to avoid the crowds, in search of my own haven.

Along the illuminated paving stones do I find a Victorian-inspired, cast iron gate. The black metal is scorching as I tenderly allow myself into the garden patio. I see an inviting bench, almost as if the sun has two weighty hands on my shoulders. Before I reach the comfort of sitting down, I am swarmed by a small animal tribe: an unlikely trio of hens, entrusted as keepers of the garden.

I hold my breath as they circle my feet and peck at my laces. I am not sure how happy they are to have a foreign invader, but my silence quickly earns their trust. Over a shared lunch, we bond even more. All three sit with their feet tucked in, their feathered bodies as dense as bread loaves.

They rise to wish me farewell, as the heat of the iron gate subsided from the cool evening air.

This garden shall remain our secret.

**Article continued on Page Two**

Sunlit Tree, Summer Dreaming

Sunlit Tree (30 x 40cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

This kind of weather prompts us to leave our homes and toward any nature within the vicinity. In a city filled with sparse areas of green, I am fortunate to live in the bountiful countryside where Mother Nature hides around every corner. She takes my hand on a wildlife adventure, transporting me back to my youth and endless curiosity.

Each time I visit the canals, there seems to be new colours, new life, found there. It tickles the leafy trees and runs along the lazy river. I choose today as a mission for myself to find the perfect picnic spot, my basket swinging excitedly, giving me momentum.

Travellers in their moored boats will soon join the steady stream downward, towards the local pub and café, for leisure and nourishment. Rather than following the general crowd, I cross a rickety bridge and settle down near the sunlit trees. As I lie on the patchwork rug, the warm air weighs on my eyes and sends me into a dream. I dream that I am outstretched on a cloud, with the rays of sun lighting what appears to be a racetrack; With chalked lines in the grass, there is a chicken scuffing their feet in anticipation. There is a distant but high-pitched whistle, just as a siren calls the sailors to shore. The chickens run excitedly, their plumy wings at their sides and their heads thrust forwards. They cross the finishing line in quick succession, before huddling together excitedly, feathers flying. When I awake once more, my skin is rosy and my open book has cascaded onto the floor.

I collect memories of this place to keep me warm in winter.

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The Breakfast Surprise

Breakfast Surprise (40x40cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Breakfast is important. In those first moments of your first meal, it sets the tone of the rest of your day. As a child, breakfast was crafted with fascination, from animal-shaped pancakes to intergalactic cereal; It almost felt like a small window to eat, before the contents of my plate would make their escape.

My favourite meal was a boiled egg, with regimented soldiers placed alongside and ready for combat. It is a ritualistic meal – tapping my spoon against the egg, removing the top and dipping the soldier into the salivating, saffron yolk. It is seemingly a quick meal, and I was always eager to start my day and escape from the ordinary into my wild imagination. But this was a moment that I would savour, leading to an unusually quiet morning in a house of frequent, chaotic energy.

To eat soldiers felt fit for a soldier, an occupation that I manifested for myself that day. But that could wait. I placed my cowboy gun nearby, ready to go should an epic battle present itself in the middle of my breakfast.

**Article continues on Page Two**

Lavender-Scented Hens

Lavender Scented Hens (30x40cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

This is a scene that I hope to wake up to each morning. When my eyes are closed, I can transport myself to sunny days in the British countryside.

There are white beams of light through each window, not ceasing until late into the evening. The days are long and sleepily warm, as not to exert yourself; Whether that is from the sunbed with a book, or a picnic on the bright gingham tablecloth, or a dinner party where champagne flutes clink in celebration, you so often find yourself outside. As your skin browns, it seems as if your physicality absorbs your surroundings.

There is nothing better than that feeling of opening the door and the strong waft of French lavender, vibrant and quick to flower, greeting you. Its calming influence subdues the mind.

The hens of my garden are happy little souls, strolling up the gravel path, hoping to explore inside further. But I will be leaving my house to meet them, to follow their forked footprints from their morning venture.

I think of this memory all year round, appealing to my weary, wintery soul until the snow melts and the flowers flourish.

Coming home is so safe and familiar, but I am excited to go, to step out into the exquisite unknown.

**Article continued on Page Two**

When Spring Calls

New Beautiful Day (61 x 61cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

White roses are traditionally associated with new beginnings, as white as a bridal gown. They may not be as loud as their coloured counterparts, but their understated beauty flaunts in their layered tones of white, playing with light and shadow.

On the first day of Spring, there is no overcast to be seen, but rather an empty sky and a scorching sun. The artist sees this from her studio and, after a long winter, is eager to capture the changing seasons. As if stealing a palette from the sky, her background is sapphire. In her ever-flourishing garden, the muted white roses provide that dramatic contrast that the artist desperately seeks. With a bed of sun-lounging roses below, only the fighting few climb upwards, their tightly closed buds unravelling, their faces exposed. She uses a thin brush to trace their intricate stems, before sculpting her white paint into oval shapes on the canvas.

When the seasons change once more, and we return to shorter days and colder nights, these white roses are a gesture of remembrance. A farewell to summer, but a promise to return, their purity expresses a quiet optimism for the future. This painting says, ‘I’m thinking of you’.

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Reunited Once More

Paula & Chris’ Village Wedding (70 x 100 cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

A joyous wedding scene, with no masks or social distancing in sight.

A historical scene from our lives before the life-changing pandemic that has eclipsed 2020 and 2021 (so far).

The invisible enemy, which dominates all media coverage and conversation, has often left us feeling as if there is no end in sight.

England has made incredible leaps in medical science with a vaccine, the chance for the most vulnerable in society to be protected from the unpredictability of COVID-19. There is a steady progression, with the government hoping to vaccinate fifteen million people by mid-February.

A small but growing light shines in the dark.

Hopefully there is an end in sight, and with that lots of celebrations to be had. Whether that is the revival of a lockdown birthday, or a wedding without a restricted guest list. There may be no special occasion in mind, it may be as simple as hugging your loved ones without fear.

On our hands and knees, lost, our eyes have adjusted to the darkness. On our feet now, we slowly follow a guiding light to the door of the future.

Normality will no longer be something taken for granted, but something that is cherished.

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