It has been a sad start to 2016 with the loss of Jill, my close friend.
Mark and I had just to moved to France some eleven years ago and we were standing in the queue at the post office when someone said "Are you Simply Chateau?" It was Jill who was also in the queue. I had written on my blog of our move to Normandy, she saw us both laden with parcels and guessed ( correctly) who I was. From that day we became firm friends and saw each other every few days or so.
Having a unique and wonderful creative spirit for painting and drawing , she was also an amazing textile artist. She taught me that art is a personal thing and you create it purely for yourself and no one else.
I would occasionally try to fish out some delicious creation that she had discarded into her waste bin, unhappy with her work. On those occasions when she was persuaded to exhibit some of her creations, she was always genuinely surprised if someone asked the price of an item with the intention of buying it, which was not uncommon as her work was stunning! She was so talented but, at the same time, was very humble - and I am quite sure she had no idea how fabulous her creations were.
Her studio is a haven of absolute heaven, filled with period textiles, trims and paints with drawers full of vintage paste jewellery pieces, beads and corsage flowers. The walls are lined with prints, paintings, books and treasures that Jill had collected over many years. The room is purely " Jill", and it was here that I would often find her totally absorbed in her latest project, oblivious of the time and sometimes forgetting to eat. I spent many hours sitting opposite her simply watching as she worked whilst we caught up with each other's news.
She was an absolute inspiration to me. We laughed together, cried together, made mad plans together, swapped velvet and linen clothes - and often put the world to rights!
She did everything with style and panache and no more so than one early morning when, whilst walking through an antique fair, her skirt slipped down around her ankles. Unperturbed she simply stepped out of it, picked it up and carried on walking as if nothing has happened!
She was a voracious reader and made me read books I would never have chosen for myself . But I am so glad she did; they were the kind of books that, once I had started reading, I simply could not put them down!
I feel privileged to have listened to her talk of her own life experiences. From being a teenager in London in the swinging 60s and her very first job being an usherette at the Royal Opera House, Convent Garden to her travels and the people she had met. She had been a photographic model and had rubbed shoulders with many famous people of the time. When I began to call her my Bohemian friend she immediately looked up the word "Bohemian" just in case it was a name she would was not entitled to!!!
She told me in minute detail of the time she had lived in India on a houseboat on Lake Kashmiri - and her recollections were so vivid that, when I closed my eyes, I could almost feel the warm breeze on my face, hear the water lapping against the wooden hull and see tiny glimpses of silver as tiny fish darted between the reeds.
There was recently a fascinating TV documentary about the oldest and most famous hotel in Mumbai - "The Taj Mahal Palace". As I started to tell her about it I was amazed when she interrupted me by saying "When I stayed there in the 70s I asked a maid to arrange the dry cleaning of my beautiful fine silk dress and later, as I looked out of the window, I saw the maid beating it against a stone in the river to wash it!" If I had known that she had stayed there I would have watched that documentary with even more interest!!!!
As her illness progressed and she became weaker we talked of what wings we would have in heaven. We decided that mine would probably be made of carved wood, shabbily painted and with bits of wood missing and harbouring woodworm! Jill`s wings on the other hand would be made from rich silk patchwork in Kingfisher blues and deep purple and embroidered with her own signature dragon flies.
To Tony, her family and friends who sat with Jill to watch over her twenty four hours a day, I can only say that no one could have cared for her better; you were all amazing.
And the next time you catch a glimpse of a Kingfisher across the water you know who it will be !!
With the fondest of memories