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Sweet Suspicion

Thursday 20th April 2000
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kestrel AS WE HEAD DOWN THE M1 a Kestrel hovers at the crest of the hill ahead. It hangs motionless above the centre of our carriageway. It surely can't be expecting a vole to rush across the tarmac, so I assume it is scanning the narrow grass verges at either side.

Michael GregorySadly, we're attending the funeral of a friend, Mike Gregory, my graphic design tutor from Leeds College of Art, who died, aged only 61, of cancer last week. He taught us that graphic design needn't be about flashy effect, it can be part of a philosophy, a way of life. There was a calmness and clarity about his work which in a way seemed to grow from his Christian convictions. His sense of proportion extended beyond his artwork.

In a tribute, his old friend Steve Knott said that, as a teacher, Mike had the ability to listen to his students and not to judge by appearances. I realise how lucky I was to have had his encouragement in my first shaky efforts to put over my words and images in a coherent form.

Steve remembers a door chime the two of them designed for Friedland. They came up with idea, a sort of calm cubism, in a few hours one evening. It is still in production forty years later. I have one outside my studio door.

Some artists are stand-offish misfits, but Mike seemed to believe that a designer should be part of a community. To judge by how packed the old country church in West Hallam was this morning, he succeeded in that.

Same thoughts from Kilvert's Diary of Easter 1870.

This extract from the Francis Kilvert's (1840-79) diary was read at Mike's memorial service;

Michael particularly liked the idea of the village people decorating the churchyard with primroses on Easter Eve.

Sudden deaths and short illnesses make one thoughtful and it is a solemn thought how absolutely unconscious one may be of carrying one's death warrant about in an unsuspected disease that may bring on the end at any moment.

More and more people kept coming into the churchyard as they finished their day's work. The sun went down in glory behind the dingle, but still the work of love went on through the twilight and into the dusk until the moon rose full and splendid. The figures continued to move about among the graves and to bend over the green mounds in the calm clear moonlight and warm air of the balmy evening. As I walked down the churchyard alone the decked graves had a strange effect in the moonlight and looked as if the people had laid down to sleep for the night out of doors, ready dressed to rise early on Easter morning.

Easter Day

The happiest, brightest, most beautiful Easter I have ever spent. I woke early and looked out. As I had hoped the day was cloudless, a glorious morning. My first thought was 'Christ is Risen'.

There was a heavy white dew with a touch of hoar frost on the meadows, and as I leaned over the wicket gate by the mill pond looking to see if there were any primroses on the banks, I heard the cuckoo for the first time this year. It is very well to hear the cuckoo for the first time on Easter Sunday morning. I loitered up the lane again gathering primroses.

The village lay quiet and peaceful in the morning sunshine, but by the time I came back from primrosing there was some little stir and people were beginning to open their doors and look out into the fresh fragrant splendid morning.

There was a very large congregation at morning church, the largest I have ever seen for some time, attracted by Easter and the splendour of the day, for they have here an immense reverence for Easter Sunday. I am glad to see that our primrose crosses seem to be having some effect. I am thankful to find this beautiful custom on the increase, and observed more and more every year.

Between the services a great many people were in the churchyard looking at the graves. The sweet suspicion of spring strengthens, deepens and grows more sweet every day.

Barbara and I return via the Peak District. As we cross the central plateau we're surprised when the view of the wooded gorge of Monsal Dale opens up to the west of the road. As we start to climb towards Holme Moss a large falcon, pointed wings swept back, flies along a moorland edge valley that always reminds me of Scotland. It is most likely a Peregrine, a falcon that has recovered its numbers since pesticides all but wiped it out in the 1960s.

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

E-mail; 'richard@daelnet.co.uk'

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