“What took you so long?”
A voice bounced around my head as I crossed the threshold of Thurning Village Hall in deepest Northamptonshire to look at the newspaper cuttings and memorabilia collected by the church warden and his family over the years commemorating one of the village’s most famous son, Christopher Whall: one of Britain’s leading stained glass artists from the turn of the last century. His voice was on the irascible side; as if he’d been waiting in situ for the last century and was mightily impatient for someone from the family to turn up and genuflect at the altar of his birthplace.
What took me so long I replied was that it had taken quite a while for my mum to tell me that the reason her first name was Veronica was because she was the God-child of Veronica Whall who happened to ‘do a bit of stained glass’. Understatement doesn’t begin to describe that description.
Consequently, it’s taken me some time to realise the extent to which both Veronica’s work – and her dad’s – that would be you Chris, if you don’t mind me calling you that? – has had such an impact on stained glass across the world.
It then took me some time to find Thurning on the map, and even longer to realise that together with its nearest neighbour, Little Giddings, here was a geographical hotspot which would account for some of the world’s leading artistic creation. T.S. Eliot for example composed the final part of the Four Quartets after he visited the area:
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
…seems an apt homage to how this mini-pilgrimage is developing. Start at the end and work backwards to the beginning via the middle, Chris: that’s what I’ve been doing and what would account for how long it’s taken me.
It is funny how long it takes us to realise what’s on our genealogical door step so to speak. TV programmes tap into that desire to find out who we think we are, who we really, really are and aren’t: and the questions of how on earth we got to be where we are, are never far away from those deliberations and which even Wikipedia is incapable of answering.
Some years ago, Talking Heads had a hit with their song, Once in a Lifetime: the opening lines including ‘And you may ask yourself / Well, how did I get here?’ and the punch line eventually, over time , reveals itself as ‘And you may say to yourself, / My God What have I done?’
Chris, I’ll never know whether you and V asked yourselves those questions, but rest assured your beings and doings, comings and goings still live on, in the most surprising of places. They just take some time to find. As T.S. might have (and did) write:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.