I knew it would take something special to jolt me out of my seeming inability to write anything at all in recent weeks. I'd reached a point at which everything I thought of writing was dismissed almost immediately as trivial. Well, that is one of the stages of bereavement and one simply has to wait for the leaden feelings to lift and get on with life while waiting for them to move away from centre stage.
And, yesterday, there was something special.
It's five and a half years since I included one of Jackie Morris's exquisite paintings in this blogpost; discovering her work at that time was the source of immense pleasure. Since then I've followed and greatly enjoyed Jackie's delightful blog, We Three, Ginger Cats' Tales. There is now, sadly, only one ginger cat remaining - the redoubtable Elmo - but he and his elderly tabby companion, Max, have been joined by two Bengal kittens . . .
Apart from the feline tales, We Three and Jackie's other blog keep admirers of her work (her words are as inspriring as her paintings) up to date with what she is doing and, at the moment, she is very much on the road. As luck would have it, that road led yesterday to one of my favourite shops, the wonderful Number Seven, run by Jan, her daughter Davina and Davina's husband, Christopher, in nearby Dulverton. Jackie was spending the afternoon at Number Seven, giving readings, discussing her work, and signing copies of her books . . .
including the latest, East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
All of which explains why, an hour ahead of the first scheduled reading, two women of a certain age settled themselves by the fire in Jan's kitchen behind the shop, while Jackie read us The Seal Children, her first book*. I felt about five years old again, lost in the wonder of words and magical illustrations.
And we talked about books, painting, writing, children, travel, cats, the beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast, dragons . . .
and Tibetan bowls. I happened to mention cheetahs and told Jackie about the sanctuary I had visited in South Africa, where I spent time with an adult male cheetah and had fallen in love with these remarkable big cats.
'Have you seen my cheetahs and cherries paintings?' asked Jackie. She showed me one. That's it, I thought, I'm starting a cheetah painting fund.
If there had not been two dear dogs waiting patiently at home for their afternoon walk, I could happily have stayed by the fire listening to stories until teatime.
As I left the shop, carrying a precious parcel of signed books, I saw Jackie's van parked outside Number Seven and just had to smile.
At four o'clock, the dogs and I walked up to the top of our hill and then had half an hour of what we call 'extreme retrieving' - the object being to tire out the seemingly tireless Miss P; even though it was wet and muddy, I didn't mind one jot. It had been such an uplifting day and a privilege to spend time with someone as gifted as Jackie. But not just gifted, warm, funny and approachable too.
By this morning, the emptiness of the past two and a half months had gone; the sun shone and the dogs and I enjoyed a long walk by the river. We went up to the hill again this afternoon and I stood in the top field and did a 360 degree turn, looking across to all the other hills, disappearing behind each other, in every direction and into the distance, just to remind myself of the beauty of this place. The dogs romped and rolled in the sun and were as happy as I was.
So, thank you Jackie and thanks also to Jan, Davina and Christopher for a memorable Saturday and for inspiring me to start writing again.
If you are visiting Exmoor, make a point of going to Dulverton and calling in at Number Seven - tell Jan I sent you - and don't miss Toy Ahoy!,their shop in Minehead.