On 15th February I held my father for the last time in a Belfast hospital. For weeks afterwards, I lived in his home while arranging the funeral and sale of the house.
Between tasks, and to help manage the emotional fallout, I set out on journeys along the coast to swim alone and revisit places from childhood. I love the geology there — mountains, headlands, rocky coves, loughs, islands and green hills.
Before February, and the fall that led to dad’s passing at age 96, I spent periods of time in Belfast over the past two years, caring for him during bouts of illness. I’d bought art materials to keep there but it was only in the aftermath of his death that I began to paint regularly. It became a solid foundation in the midst of change and loss, a reminder of who I’d grown into whilst being surrounded by so much of the long ago past.
3 April: Co Antrim, starting at Ballygally for a swim then north to Glenarm before the homeward stretch through the achingly beautiful Antrim Glens. I could have stopped dozens of times to look at field patterns, colours and the scale and grandeur of the landscape. Antrim has a different geology to Down, though both are food for the soul. My dad was a commercial traveller for Jacob’s Biscuits (as well as being a jazz pianist) when I was a child. It meant he was away much of the time — this was before the motorways were developed — but also meant I got to hear lists of place names, look at maps and watch him sorting out his order forms into stacks by county. I helped him service the car and could drive once I was out of nappies. Of all the books in the house, the old atlas, pages falling out, is the one I most want to keep.