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**

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**

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**

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.

**Article continues on Page Two**

Winter Wellies and Hens

Winter Wellies and Hens (30 x 30cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

I look through the frosted window of my front door, to see a blanket of snow resting on the chickens, soft but icy. Only their red beaks peak through, contrasting to the perfect white, as bright as the blank page of a new chapter.

Once the door is opened, the warm air is sucked out of my home into my glacial surroundings. The cold air pinches my cheeks, and rises in pearl clouds from my mouth with each breath. My wellies greet me at the doorstep, offering to protect my feet from the cold and slippery ground. Like Cinderella, they perfectly fit for the occasion.

The clean slate from the snow is marked with my brown boot marks, as I gingerly walk toward my velvety-plumaged companions. The hens look up and see me, with their fluffed-up feathers shielding the cold. They gather around my feet, and I lean down to pet them with my gloved hands.

I am reminded of snow days as a child, listening eagerly for news that schools were shut and the day was ours. I scoop a handful of soft snow, pressing my palms together until I have created a solid white globe. I throw aimlessly, as if in the midst of a snowball battle, and it lands in the white abyss. It is a day of quiet bliss, with only the muffled creaking of snow underfoot.

**Article Continued on Page Two**

Merriment from a Masked Invader

The Masked Invader: 47.6cm x 47.6cm

**Words by Amber L-J**

As I tend to my garden, I can make out the sound of mischievous scheming and clucking. The hens of my next-door neighbour, with their comical determination, are planning to infiltrate once more.

Their small size should not be underestimated, as these chickens are fierce, with a complete disregard of my attempts to keep the vegetable patch intact. It is a daily battle which occurs with clockwork precision.

Initially, they try to conceal themselves in the long grass. However, their clawed feet signal their presence, with their white and orange tail feathers peak over the top like sharks drawn to bait.

They near the end and realise that I have been watching them, arms crossed on the patio, with just a hint of a smile. Quickly, their subtle approach expires; They rush past me with such a brazen disregard, their eyes wide upon seeing the forbidden, emerald cabbage.

They peck at such speed, diminishing everything in sight before I am able to stop them in their tracks. It requires two people to herd these free spirits back to their home, with my neighbour and I laughing along the way.

However defiant, her chickens and their amusing antics are welcome in my garden.

**Article continued on Page 2**

The Hens of Homecoming

The Homecoming (30x30cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Everyday, the hens come home to safety before dark.

I call for my hens in high whistling tones, bent down and patting my thighs eagerly. With a bucket of chicken feed in one hand, and a steaming camomile tea in the other, I wait on the pathway at the bottom of the meadow.

The yellow rose bush grows outward, distinguished from the verdant landscape. Reclining upon the railings of the fence, they welcome me back whilst refusing to be ignored. The warmth from their open petals cause my smile.

I soon see red feathers and orange beaks peak over the top of the hill. The chickens find happiness in their freedom to roam far in these fields, with the exception of feeding time.

These hens leave their haven and rush towards me. With the wind entangled in their feathers, thrust backward and creating resistance, some fall behind. However, a steady stream flows downward.

In the low sun, my squinting eyes make out dark shadows on the green pasture, with their legs strutting at such a speed they seem to disappear.

With their initial stealth achieved on the soft grass, the pitter patter of their claws is soon heard overlapping on the concrete path.

I scoop one of these hens in my arms, both of us making mutual noises of glee. Once she is placed down, I reach into the bucket.

I tentatively hold my hand out, with a pile of chicken feed cupped inside, to be gently pecked at by the hens at all directions, encircling me.

**Article continued on Page 2**

Braving the Bluebell Woods

Hens in The Bluebell Woods (50x50cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Annually, the russet floor of the woodland is flooded with a sea of violet bluebells. In their most natural setting, they flourish and flower for humans and animals alike.

Where the woods thinned, a farm was awoken by the shrill crow of a small, white-feathered cockerel. The farmer sleepily approached the hen coop as the sun slowly climbed over the hills, bearing light on the locked door. Upon lifting the latch, the farmer was greeted excitedly by hungry hens. Once they were fed, the door was left open to endless possibilities before roosting at dusk.

On this day, one hen gingerly stepped onto the bluebell path. Inspired by one’s courage, the other hens trickled into the wood, clucking in low tones of caution. However, as they ventured further into the purple haze, the brood quickly fell silent.

The enchantment of the bluebell forest stole their voice, and caused the hens to pause in silent awe of their surroundings. The woodland air overwhelmed the senses with melodious bird calls and fragrant flowers.

As the hens continued, they could see an area in which the gleaming sunlight above was concealed by formidable, towering trees. Mistaking this as night-time, or risking danger ahead, many began to turn back. The first, brave hen marched to the edge, with only a few followers remaining. Looking at the path ahead, the hen glanced back to see the safety of the collective lingering behind her, unable to follow her into the darkness. Her unfledged desire to explore was quickly triumphed by the sensible majority.

Maybe tomorrow.

**Article continued on Page 2**

The Great Advantages of Painting Later in Life

I knew I was a painter for many years before I started producing paintings at the age of forty-eight. Before that, I read all I could about painting & established a social media presence in preparation for what I knew was coming.

I thought about it, between a full time occupation of transporting & nurturing our three sons, spread over twenty years. My husband was completely immersed in building his own business. He left at 7am & returned at 7pm in time to say “goodnight” to them when they were young, and cook for us as they became older.

Once I started painting, the great advantage was that I knew myself & had a lot of pent up energy!

I enjoyed the process of it, & what it did for my state of mind, so much that I really wasn’t preoccupied with what other people wanted me to paint. I haven’t stopped painting since.

The Hen House (30x40cm)

From my wealth of work & life experience stored up (with feelings of anger, sadness and joy), I knew what I liked & disliked, following my own mind’s natural revelations. I created my own world where I was truly happy, & no one could touch me. I found that I could paint such joy from experiencing such sadness.

I also resolved the anxiety surrounding mortality within myself; My paintings will far outlive me &, having suffered the life changing experience of friends’ deaths, this was really important for me. When I paint, this is one of my main motivations.

Petals & Shadows (61 x 100cm)

I picked up from where I left off working in the fashion industry (‘pre-computers’), but having children had changed my view of the world; I felt protective, & the fashion industry seemed immoral to me now. I originally went into this vocation because my Dad was a knitwear man, before I knew myself better. But I’m glad I did it, because my experience all feeds in to my paintings now.

I tried out other people’s painting styles, experimented & evolved my own thoughts through failings until I found a unique artistic style that I wanted in my own house. I had looked for similar paintings & I couldn’t find them elsewhere.

My friends & family were, & still are, so supportive. They were also, frankly, surprised that there was more to me than they thought, which came out in my paintings. I’m really gobby when drunk but learnt from an early age, growing up as a little girl in the Sixties & Seventies, to keep my thoughts to myself. I am fairly quiet as an adult, as a listener, a reader, an observer. I tend to see the best in people, until crossed.

Whispering Shadows

Painting has helped me release & reveal myself, connect with kindness & like minded people, divert thoughts & anxieties of external beauty to channel internal beauty.

I will paint until I die. It is is an ageless occupation which makes sense of my entire life. The ground colour flickering throughout my paintings is my life weaving itself in, to make a whole of something that is fractured & sensitive.

Sophie Waiting

Charismatic Chickens: The Most Exotic Hen House

The Most Exotic Hen House (60x60cm)

**Words written by Amber L-J**

“At my grandmother’s house, there was one rule: no one was to sit on the dark pink, velvet sofa.

It always looked so inviting, with deep, sunken cushions encased by wide, pleated arms. But this was more of an aspirational piece than one of comfort, reserved for the most sophisticated company. With no family or friends meeting this unachievable standard, it was as if my grandmother was expecting a visit from royalty that never came.

This being said, a flock of pure, white hens with crimson beaks were treated as loyal pets which roamed the estate freely. But even their presence was not welcome anywhere near my grandmother’s most prized possession, with the living room door closed at all times.

One day, when my grandmother was moving to a new house, the family helped move her furniture outside in preparation for the moving van. The chickens were to travel with us.

A home which held so many fond memories, I walked through each vacant room, with only faded pencil marks left in the kitchen to mark the youth and growth spurts of myself and my siblings. Over the years, the chickens’ claws had scraped along each floorboard, also leaving their mark.

On that crisp, summer morning, as we say our final goodbye, I twist the door handle. A sudden gust of wind outside rushes through the wild flowers, with speckled sunlight dancing on the red-clay, earthen brick walls. This force of nature means a dramatic thud of the door fully ajar.

Before my grandmother can react, the chickens seize their opportunity; they dash outside, at different speeds but with the same destination in mind.
The most exotic, and the most forbidden, hen house.

As my grandmother looks on in pure exasperation, the chickens burrow down happily on the sofa cushions, basking in the sunshine.”

**Article continued on Page 2**