Over the summer of 2021 I spent some time having studio conversations and outings with Joanne Tatham, generosly funded by the CAMP mentoring bursary. Below is Joanne’s story of our time together,
Sovay got out of her Renault Twingo and walked over to where Joanne was sitting somewhat uncomfortably on a low granite wall outside her holiday rental. Joanne had hoped to finish her mug of tea before Sovay arrived, but the owners of the accommodation had walked over to introduce themselves just as she was about to take her first sip. Davina and Dave used to live in Altrincham and they’d moved to the barn conversion in Cornwall just before the first lockdown. Davina said she felt guilty to admit it, but they’d had a good pandemic.
Sovay wanted to see inside the holiday rental.
‘Oh!’ she exclaimed, spotting the heating control panel on the wall, ‘They’ve got a Vaillant!’
Sovay was completing a BPEC Air and Ground Source heat pump systems NOS mapped qualification.
Davina reappeared at the open door. Joanne quickly explained the situation and Davina was more than willing to show Sovay the heat pump they’d had installed as part of the process of upgrading the barn. She led the way to the back of the building, with Dave following on his mobility scooter. There was a long and technical conversation that Joanne couldn’t quite follow. Sovay was busy discussing all the details with Dave. Her natural curiosity for plumbing installation made her eyes sparkle.
Sovay then asked Davina if they had a back up immersion heater, but Davina didn’t think so or didn’t seem to know. Observing that Davina was looking a little worried, Joanne suggested to Sovay that it was time they set off on the drive over to Redruth.
Sovay drove her silver Twingo van with the confidence of someone who obviously knew the roads well. A dirty blue transit shot round the corner in the middle of the road and she laughed as she skilfully drove her little van tight into the high hedgerow.
‘That’s a hire car in front,’ she then announced. ‘You can tell by the plates. I wouldn’t want to be driving that round here.’
The road widened as they reached the town. They turned left into a street lined with houses and Sovay parked the Twingo. She got out and walked around to the rear and immediately started rummaged in the back of the van, tugging at a couple of large bags wedged in amongst some copper piping. The pipes were left over from a heating installing that she’d recently completed over in Stithians.
Joanne could see a dark angular shape forcing its way through the thin plastic of one of the two bags. Sovay leaned further into the Twingo, methodically manoeuvring the awkward protuberance back inside the plastic. Handing Joanne the bag, she used her other hand to scoop up a number of small wrapped objects and then shove them back under the front passenger seat. She tucked one of the shorter pipes under her arm and looped the strap of the remaining bag over her other shoulder. She winked.
‘This copper’s for the studio!’
Sovay’s studio was a short walk down the hill and Joanne looked with interest at the shops they passed. Artyzan gift shop and Wiztek computers were just two of the many independents nestled in and amongst the town’s distinctive buildings. Joanne was ashamed to realise that, despite her earlier assurance to Sovay, she’d never been to Redruth before. She was just about to admit her mistake when Sovay darted down a narrow entrance way to their right. Joanne followed on behind, clumsily hoisting the bag and its increasingly awkwardly behaved contents up into her arms.
Sovay was standing on a steep flight of stone steps. She had her bags at her feet and, with her hands on her hips, was staring up at the building.
‘Well then they never told us about that!’ she said.
Joanne looked up, attempting to track Sovay’s gaze up the side of the building.
‘The scaffolding,’ said Sovay, ‘They should have told us about that, it probably means we’ll be out of here soon.’
Despite her evident frustration it was clear that Sovay wasn’t lacking appreciation for the tidily constructed scaffolding now covering the façade of the short-term shared studio facility. Looking up again, Joanne admired the steel shafts that sheered up the ancient Cornish stone, elegantly framing the building.
Sovay firmly tapped six numbers into the keypad and expertly flipped down the black plastic lid to extract a key from inside. Smiling, she opened the door. The bag wriggled and Joanne looked down. She quickly dismissed the thought that an eye was looking up at her from the dark shape inside and shifted her gaze away. A seagull swooped down through the blue sky, squawking over their heads and they stepped into the cool quiet of the former office building.
They’re back outside the studio. It’s midday and the August heat may explain the calm that hovers over the streets of Redruth. It reminds Joanne of that summer when she was in her late teens, before she left West Yorkshire to go to art school. They walk past buildings, all of which were something else at some point. Sovay points out the bar and hotel where she went to gigs when she was growing up.
They turn the corner and walk into Redruth’s historic Mining Exchange and Butter Market. The Market is now owned by Redruth Revival, a Community Interest Company set up to use business solutions to revive the town centre. Sovay and Joanne walk through the Market past a tattoo studio and a café. People are sitting outside talking. Sovay knows some of them and they stop and chat. They walk past a bench with Made in Redruth painted across it in bright colours. The names of notable people from the town, such as the actress Kristen Scott-Thomas and the author DM Thomas are filled in along the wooden slats.
They walk down Fore Street together. In amongst Superdrug and Wilko, alongside vintage shops and estate agents, are a number of empty shops. They peer through a window at the large space recently vacated by Peacocks. Sovay is discussing her ideas for using the space for an exhibition she’s developing.
Walking back towards the Butter Market they slip out of the heat and into the diffuse gloom of the Auction House Gallery. Sara, another artist, is using the gallery to try out some new audio work. She plays Sovay and Joanne a work from 2019. It’s an ensemble of supernatural sounds drawn from archival recordings of early satellites, and from field recordings made on Goonhilly Downs on the Lizard. They sit on chairs, eyes fixed on a point where there’s nothing to see, and listen carefully. A lightening strike on the Lizard stutters around them.
Sovay’s silver Twingo appears on the brow of the final undulation of the long lane that leads to the holiday rental. This time Joanne is out waiting by the barn. There’s a workshop in the barn that’s rented out to a joiner — a friend of one of Dave and Davina’s daughters. The workshop is orderly, and the joiner possesses a pleasing sense of purpose. Joanne entertains the idea that perhaps Sovay and him might, at the very least, have an acquaintance in common. She imagines how she might steer the conversation to uncover a connection, but her reverie breaks as Sovay slams the driver’s door shut behind her. When she turns back, the joiner has taken his coffee inside.
Sovay is carrying a tray of small plants, laughing.
‘Look,’ she says, ‘I put them on the roof and then they fell off! I’ve managed to get most of them back in but these three…’ Her voice tails off and she laughs again.
Joanne is laughing too now. These are the echiums for her garden in London.
‘Just get them in the ground as soon as you get back,’ says Sovay.
Joanne places the tray of echiums on the low granite wall and gently pushes the damp compost back around the flopping seedlings. Once they’re both in the car Sovay accelerates back up the lane, braking hard as a family of young pheasants wander out of the trees onto the road. The birds run along in front of the car.
‘I’ll get out,’ says Joanne.
She runs towards the pheasants, spreading her arms in a sweeping gesture. The pheasants dither and skitter but don’t leave the road. She decides to bark at them and runs faster, barking and running and waving her arms. The birds run alongside her. Sovay drives the Twingo towards them and the pheasants disappear into the mass of trees.
Today Sovay is driving Joanne to the north coast. The drive over gives Sovay an opportunity to talk about her family. As she approaches Camborne, she suddenly makes a right turn and then a left and then they’re in the town centre. Sovay points out the former department store that used to be owned by her dad’s family.
‘When I was at school,’ she says, ‘I used to go up to London to see my mum. She used to work in fashion shops and so all her friends would dress me up.’ She laughs. ‘They probably loved it! I’d come back with all these clothes! But then I’d turn up wearing Bodymap on a non-uniform day and everyone else was wearing jeans or ra-ra skirts!’ She pauses. ‘I didn’t realise.’
Joanne looks out of the window and remembers trips to Chelsea Girl in Leeds. She’d buy anything with a bold pattern.
They drive past the remains of tin mines and the sea comes into view. The heather is out. Sovay pulls up into a layby on the side of the B3301. There are women walking dogs and men in football shirts with their kids. Sovay and Joanne both wear bright clothes and trainers. They walk along the road in single file for a short distance and then reach the carpark. It’s not as busy as they thought it might be. They cut across the carpark to the path that runs along the top of the cliff.
Sovay surveys the view and beams with pleasure.
‘I prefer the north coast too,’ says Joanne.
‘You grew up in the north. It’s a northern thing!’ Sovay laughs.
‘Perhaps…’ Joanne hesitates a little. ‘Although I love the moors.’
A dog runs towards them, stops and barks. The three of them look at each other.
They walk on. The path here is sandy and worn down around outcrops of polished stone. They keep walking. The cliffs drop down steep from the path. Pausing on a tufted outcrop she waves her arms, gesturing for Joanne to join her.
Sovay strides with confidence towards the edge. Despite suffering from vertigo Joanne feels compelled to follow.
Sovay and Joanne are now standing looking down at the cove from above. The tide is noisily on the turn and the sea shimmers as it crashes over the rocks at the mouth of the cove. They’re too far above to feel the spray from the waves, but they don’t need to, to know what it feels like. Joanne stares down at a dark cavity indented at the base of the cliffs on the opposite side of the cove. She can see something round and dark bobbing around where the waves slap into and out of the hole and idly wonders if it might be a seal. She re-focuses her gaze and sees it’s something more uncertain than that. She looks again and it’s gone. It must have either dived beneath the waves or been sucked into the crevice below the cliff.
With each retreating wave Joanne and Sovay see a little more of the cove below. Large boulders, recently submerged and still dark with water, surround the lower edges of the cliffs. Sea water forms still pools. The edge of the line of high tide is marked across a swath of smaller, looser stones that stretch the width of the cove.
The waves pull back and a length of copper pipe emerges amongst the sea wrack. It tidily turns a right angle at a point about a third of a way along itself. The water pulls back and then advances again, washing around the polished metal and sending tiny bubbles popping and fizzing at either end. The sea rushes and sucks around the rocks revealing a second length of copper pipe. The pipe is both awkwardly and elegantly affixed to the first one, and pushed hard into a crevice at its seaward side.
The tide withdraws more noisily now, as pebbles rush down and push back up a steep bank. Joanne thinks she sees the dark uncertain shape again, lolling amongst weed-covered stones, and then the sun comes out and her attention shifts. The drag of pebbles subsides and calms to expose a growing expanse of pale sand. A small wooden armature connects a pool of abandoned salt water to an outcrop of drenched rocks.
Joanne recalls that Sovay had said there was no way down to the beach, but as they stand and watch from the cliff above, they see it begin to fill with people. Women draped in reflective silver sheets sit and laugh good humouredly as they watch another group making drawings in the sand. One has a bright orange scarf. Another shuffles squares of blue and purple, laying them out before her like a tarot reading.
Joanne’s attention is caught by a sudden shift in the tempo of activity. A larger group have assembled, knee deep, where the waves begin to break as they reach the beach. Joanne wonders if they swam around to the cove, but they’re wearing shorts or skirts that are just wet from the waves at the hem. The group seem to be forming a human chain and she watches as together they lift and pass an array of small objects, swinging them from hand to hand, from one to the other, to then be carried further up the cove towards the high tide line. The small objects are placed carefully in the shadow of the cliff. Small groups are gathering around to look.
Joanne looks again and sees Sovay down in the cove talking to one of the groups assembled at the base of the cliff. Occasionally she picks something up, sometimes to move it but sometimes just to stare at it. Joanne sees Sovay hold aloft the object that earlier she had mistaken for a seal. Two eyes blink at her. The sand shifts and moves. She watches as Sovay moves from group to group and from person to person. The rocks rearrange and realign. The tide retreats and advances. At times the sound of the waves is relentless! Sovay is at the centre of everything, making things and moving things. She moves from one group to another. Alone on the cliff Joanne turns to walk back to the carpark. She idly wonders if one of the women with dogs might give her a lift back to her holiday rental.
Joanne Tatham, October 2021