Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Shoe chains

I missed the gallery Christmas Eve party. The first time in 24 years. Snow and ice are wonderful until you want to go somewhere. The untreated roads were lethal. Angie was similarly immobile. Our lovely neighbour, Louisa, from the Quince and Medlar Restaurant opposite the gallery opened up for me at 1pm, lit the fire and did a roaring trade all afternoon. I think she enjoyed it. I've offered to take over the restaurant for an evening in reciprocation but ... spot the snag!
So, I didn't manage the Christmas food shop and I can heartily recommend this. No jostling for the last parking space in the town. No mad trolley dash round the supermarket. No queue at a crowded checkout with a jaded person in Reindeer antlers and flashing Christmas tree earrings pushing stuff past in a catatonic state. No unpacking of split bags overfull with so much food that you feel nauseous just unpacking it. No - just white tranquility at home. You have no idea how liberating it is to be freed from traditional requirements as laid down by Delia, Jamie, Nigella et al. We ransacked the fridge, pantry and freezer and came up with interesting menus and strange combinations - even found a packet of out of date Maltesers in my knicker drawer. Maybe I should put together a Non Christmas Cook Book based on what's lurking at the bottom of the freezer and the back of the cupboard.
I have a very big birthday alarmingly soon and my son has ordered me some wheel chains on Ebay as a very original birthday present. Swedish car - Swedish solution! When I announced this news, both Michael and our neighbour looked at each other and said in unison 'Who's going to fit them?' Who do they think eh? I'm more concerned about what happens when I hit the gritted road and start clanking along like the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz.
The same resourceful son also produced a pair of Postman Pat shoe chains which work a treat on solid ice. (Not for driving in though!) I just skipped across the field to feed our neighbours' cat deliberately dancing on the worst bits of sheet ice to test them out. Good job the only spectators were sheep.

Let's hope for a better year in 2010 for all of us but particularly for those who have lost their homes and businesses in the floods. Surely things can only get better.
I've put our 2010 exhibition programme up on the web site Have a look. Whatever else it's going to be a new start and a bright and interesting year.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Footsteps in the snow.

The penalty for living in the most beautiful corner of England is occasional immobility. In my 24 years here we have had very little snow being close to the West Coast. But that was before the Climate Changed dramatically, bringing floods and pestilences and snow.
I was last at the gallery on Saturday but have been unable to move since then. 'Great' I thought - 'I shall go into writing purdah and get on with the next book.'
I was in heaven. The above is the view from the Pink Egg. Perfect. And an excuse not to do any last minute shopping or join the supermarket trolley dash madness. We can live out of the freezer - could be a strange Christmas menu but who cares? With a well stocked wine cellar, what more do we want? 'Have we any chocolate?' Michael asked last night when his perceived blood sugar levels were getting low. The answer was negative. 'I'll have to start on the Christmas cake then.' he said pathetically.
The call from GMTV came yesterday afternoon. They were on their way from Heathrow (?) to Manchester and wanted to do a live optimistic interview in front of the gallery fire about life after the deluge. 'Fine I thought. What time?' Live at 6AM was the chilling answer. Alright - no problem. I would go straight over now and stay the night in Cockermouth. I rang a neighbour with Land Rover. 'No Problem. I'll pull you to the main road' he said confidently.
The ice under the snow had frozen in solid sheets. I slewed about uncontrollably on the end of a tow rope. Just crossing the field was alarming. The sheep scattered.
'Why am I doing this?' I asked myself when I reached the gate. With a knee-trembling mile in front of me to get to the main road which was also problematic, I decided I could do without the excitement and retreated to the Egg. Breakfast Television could do without me very well I guessed. And they did.
This morning I saw a burly figure carrying a box approaching on foot through the snow. It was the intrepid Interlink delivery man bringing the catalogues for our part-exhibition at Messums in Cork Street in January. They are superb. It will be a great exhibition. Suitably called The Elemental North, it opens on 13th January and includes work by Sheila Fell, Percy Kelly and Karen Wallbank. If you are anywhere in or near London pop in and see it..
We are now seeing the big melt. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We always have a gallery party with drinks and mince pies. I will do my best to get there,though it will be hard to leave this peaceful paradise, cocooned from commercial Christmas. I shall scurry back quickly.
May I wish you all a good, safe holiday. Hope you all get to where you want to be and do what you want to do.
I'm just finalising a cracking exhibition programme for 2010 - see web site We are open every Saturday in January and February
Hope to see you. Take care

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Pop-up Tesco!

Do you believe in miracles? They are being performed on a daily basis up here in West Cumbria. Overnight we have a pop-up Tesco - yes,truly - in North Workington.
We now have a Meccano road bridge built in a week and a Lego railway station built in a weekend. An origami Barclay's Bank appeared in a tiny space outside Sainsbury's Cockermouth within hours of the flood abating. It folds back into a neat cube every night. Not to be outdone, Penrith now have an inflatable Morrisons (well, temporary structure, I think I'm getting carried away!) to replace the massive supermarket burnt down a few days ago.
Our dark powerless day in the gallery yesterday was lightened by the visits of good-humoured people anxious to support. They came from Wakefield, Doncaster, er Bassenthwaite ....... and they cheered us. Angie lit a roaring fire and, ever resourceful, was making coffee on the gas stove for the stalwarts who made it when I arrived. We sold paintings, pots, books, cards even though people couldn't see them properly through the gloom. Hope they still like them when they get them home.
Headlines on the news boards were depressing though. The Cumbria Tourist Board are reporting devastating holiday cancellations. This isn't good.
Hey, our fabulous adventure playground of a landscape is still the same (minus a few bridges), the fells and rocks are as they were a hundred years ago, the waterfalls even more dramatic and our people are even more friendly and welcoming.
I'm here in the Pink Egg looking up the north face of Skiddaw and it is magnificent. There's nowhere else I would rather be.
Think about it. Come and see us. We need you more than ever.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Monday morning blues

So, the power has been off since 5am. The gallery is cold and dark. Tried to ring Angie to save her driving in but she's already left.
Feeling down until this note appeared in my box - cheered me up.

I was one of those who came to the Gallery on Saturday for welcome cup of tea, having travelled from outside Manchester in the morning!
Thanks, Chris again, for the warm hospitality.
Yes, it was lovely to see the shops opening up, including the lingerie shop, which is incredibly up and running in Market Place so soon - so I had a spend. But my conversion from 34B to 32C was reversed! Different make! Yes, I was the one.
And I did quite a bit of my Christmas shopping at the shops at Mitchells- with my presents bearing the proud sticky labels "Bought in Cockermouth"! And some of beautiful Christmas cards in aid of the Cumbria Flood recovery!
On Saturday evening there was a great concert given by Castlegate Singers, a ladies' choir drawn from Cockermouth and the surrounding area, at Christ Church, with a supporting group of a ladies' recorder group called Piping Hot- excellent musicians. The singers normally practice each Wednesday at the United Reformed Church but have a temporary home at Christ Church.
And a friend gave me a run down of the Jazz at the Kirkgate Centre on Saturday lunchtime - again an enjoyable event.
And then Sunday morning - welcome service at Christ Church again, followed by a community meal in the "soup kitchen", i.e. the church rooms where the 24/7 refreshments, including the trolley service, have emerged, and provided such a welcome service to the flood victims and the many workmen over the last weeks.
In the church rooms the children have created a notice, Cockermouth, the town with bounce back ability- the slogan is already on the town website! Apparently the original blue cloth badges are like gold dust- but laminated badges will be soon created.
Thanks for the space on the blog, Chris, and keep up the good work.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Soup kitchen

Sunday 13th December
The soup seems to be working its magic - though I won't be giving up the day job as yet. Cockermouth businesses are in the recovery position - working together to lessen the impact of anything that might hit us.
A Guardian journalist came to the gallery on Tuesday and sampled the magic soup (tomato, basil and secret ingredients). On Thursday there was this brilliant 3rd leader in his paper which probably wasn't anything to do with it but was very heartening. The high profile politicians and VIPs may have gone but we are definitely not yesterday's news.
He wrote
Cumbria has given the world the best in scientists, comedians and of course poets, but a prime minister has yet to come out of its beautiful landscape. Perhaps one is in waiting among the young people who have witnessed, and are taking part in, an exemplary expression of civic virtue which has followed November's floods. A bridge has been built in a week at Workington, a railway halt in a weekend. Devastated shops in Cockermouth have relocated to the town's auction mart, taking their Main Street signs along with them. The strength of the response has been partly a matter of efficiency by all the agencies involved, but it owes more to Cumbrians' priorities. They drew on their own strength first . The yellow jackets of Churches Together volunteers were on the streets almost as quickly as the orange ones of the emergency services. Only later came the justified request for extra government funding. The money was offered with enthusiasm because so much self help had already been shown. The long haul back to normality remains a test, but Cumbrians in the Northside community centre at Workington, or Cockermouth's temporary surgeries, are planning long term. Shallow obituarists of broken Britain should visit the county to learn these wholesome lessons (as should anyone else within reach, to do their Christmas shopping). The county council's motto Ad montes oculos levavi strictly means "I shall lift up mine eyes to the hills". It might be better translated as "Looking out for one another".

It has been a good weekend. The feeling of support from far and wide is wonderful. We sold paintings, we sold books in exchange for tea and soup and a place by the warm fire. People came to the gallery from the North East, Manchester and London and they came to spend money in the town. This is not easy (well spending money is) but it's not as easy in a wrecked town as going on the internet or a one-stop shopping mall but you have no idea the difference it makes to us all here. Main Street at Mitchells is buzzing and the warehouse round the corner is miraculously almost fitted out with loads of small units. The shop signs are going up. People visiting for the first time since the floods were deeply shocked at the level and extent of the damage.
And the drying out process just keeps going. The Main street is an anthill of activity. We are all making things happen rather than waiting for somebody to do something. The support agencies are there for us and the bridge builders in every sense of the word are doing their best. We none of us realised how utterly important bridges are. We took them for granted until we lost them. We drove over some of them without realising we were even on a bridge. To lose one bridge is inconvenient, two is unfortunate, but the number we have lost is catastrophic and life changing. My six mile, ten minute drive to the gallery from home is now a twenty two mile trek (with temporary traffic lights and a four mile contra flow system) stretching it to at least forty minutes on a good day.
But none of us is disheartened. Our communities are not divided - we are working together for the greater good. Just keep on coming - we need you to keep the town alive.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Head above water.

We had a great time unpacking the new works which arrived on the van from Menorca last Friday. It was just like Christmas-come-early and took our minds off the depressing scenes just down the road.
We were in Menorca in October with artists Kenneth Draper RA and Jean Macalpine which was loads of fun and now feels like years ago. It rekindled memories. On our way to a beautiful beach for lunch, we passed an area of burnt ground. There had recently been a huge fire there. Both Ken and Jean went into raptures about the colours and said they'd return (when we'd gone) to do some work there. Of course we would have just driven past thinking what a shame without noticing the detail. The first work by Ken that we unpacked is called 'Embers' and is the result of that fire. Ken is a sculptor turned painter and his works are pieces of sculpture encased in a box frame. This one immediately transported me back to that day. Jean is an extraordinary photographer. She sees beauty and potential in very ordinary things. She will photograph a piece of rusty metal and transform and enhance the print into a remarkable piece of art. While tourists are taking their holiday snaps, Jean can be found making a close-up of a tatty piece of wall, climbing on a skip or haunting a demolition site.
Come in and see these new arrivals to the Christmas show. Enjoy a bowl of soup or a coffee. We are accessible now. The near-chaos in the town itself is miraculously being sorted out and we are open for business every Friday, Saturday and Monday until Christmas. It is still better to approach via Embleton if you can. The army and co. have done a miraculous job in Workington building a railway station and footbridge in record time. This has eased the traffic build up here in Cockermouth 8 miles away because it is the nearest bridging point between North and South Workington on the coast. With some of our own bridges down, it is still difficult at peak times.
If you can't come in person have a look at our website Ken and Jean's work is now up on the Christmas Exhibition page.

We had a break from the floods on Monday morning - some light relief at Theatre by the Lake Keswick. They were introducing next year's programme on this year's panto set (Grimms Fairy Tales) - and it's a good one. Something to look forward to. Our friends Kay and Stephen who run the Literary Festival - Words by the Water, revealed their March 2010 programme as well. Let's hope it will be BY the water and not under it by then!
There are some real goodies in there - something for everyone - several novelists including Fay Weldon, Sarah Hall and Jane Gardam. Broadcasters including our very own GLC (Greatest Living Cumbrian) Melvyn Bragg, as well as Lynn Truss, Stuart Maconie, Martin Bell. Politics, architecture, history, poetry, religion, art all have their day. The programme is packed with unmissable events and speakers - all crammed into 10 days.
I am giving an illustrated talk on the secret life of an art gallery on Friday 12th March which will be fun. In the morning I will be part of a discussion with James Long and Sarah Hall about whether Creative Writing can be taught. That should be interesting.
You can pick up a full programme at the theatre or the gallery or on line at
Take a holiday in this beautiful theatre among the hills and lakes. We need you more than ever now. It will help with our recovery.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

switch on the lights!

Cockermouth had a mini switch on of Christmas lights in the Market Place on Friday evening and it was very emotional. I know it's kitch but loads of people singing 'You'll never walk alone' especially in the midst of devastation was a real tear jerker. There were stalls, an ice cream van, a Jennings stall and more. It was lovely to see everybody out. Banks ironmongers had lights in their ravaged window so we could see inside.The ancient mahogany counter is away safely being restored but all those little wooden drawers which stretch way up the walls look forlorn. What treasures they hold ; screws, knobs and widgets of non metric dimensions.Things householders in a predominantly Georgian town constantly need and can't get in the big DIY stores. Vanessa had a few things on an old barrow outside - lamps, ropes, candles with the message to come round the back and ask if we need anything. Her message is widespread round the town traders 'If we've got it, we'll sell it!' You can now find relocated businesses in surprising places. I noticed some of Jacy's knickers in a market place window (possible an accountant - something financial!) so she is up and running again. There are some strange alliances forming - makes me laugh!
Now that the bridges are open (to pedestrians only at the moment) we are seeing more people at the gallery and served vast quantities of soup and coffee on Saturday. I always said I'd never get involved with food ............ Mind you I also said I'd never do a blog ...........
I will give you a link to my blog when I've worked it out - need to make it so you don't need to be a google person to access. At the moment it's only got these e mails on it going back to the dreaded 20th November.
The paintings arrived from Menorca late on Friday. The driver was very confused (aren't we all?) because my instructions disagreed with his satnav so he mistrusted both of us. I tried to explain that his satnav hadn't been told about the floods.
Happy days
Angie's manning the soup pan Monday!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The story so far .......

For the past 2 weeks the kitchen table at the gallery has seen many bowls of soup being consumed by refugees from the storms and floods experienced a few yards away down the hill in the centre of Cockermouth. Stories have been shared and morales boosted - and we needed it.
I've been sending out regular e mails to all my friends and clients (same thing really!) giving an account of the floods and their consequences to this community.
So many people replied with their own stories that I decided to start a blog.
I'll start with a catch-up and move on from there.

Friday 20th November
Thank you for all the people who have contacted us re the dreadful floods. Yesterday was a very dramatic day - torrential rain, high winds that just went on and on relentlessly. I had a heavy doom-laden feeling deep inside that something awful would happen - and it did.
We and the gallery are on the high ground and we are fine - those mediaeval castle builders knew a thing or two about site choice.
It is a different story on the Main Street. It is grim. Shops and homes, hotels and restaurants flooded out - rooftop rescues and many shop windows and bridges broken with the force of water - terrible for their christmas stock and trade. The town is wrecked! It will take years to restore our beautiful Georgian Gem town.
Angie is fine and those artists I've e mailed too - many phones are down - even the mobile signal has gone. Contact us by e mail.
We were going to take delivery this afternoon of some new paintings for the christmas show by Helen Tabor. I have just put the images on the web site Web site is ironic I just realised - we've all got webbed feet! The driver can't get through so we have no measurements either.
The rain has stopped, the sun is breaking through, we will be open tomorrow and Monday. if it is possible. The people in this town are brave and resilient. We are all optimistic. Life goes on.
chris, angie and michael

Saturday 21st November
Thank you so much for all the marvellous messages - very cheering.
I think I was in my usual optimistic mood when I said the gallery would be open today. Although the gallery, unlike most of the other businesses in the town is totally undamaged and on high dry ground, there is no way it can be accessed today. Cockermouth is closed off and the A66 is closed between Keswick and Cockermouth - Bassenthwaite Lake has overflowed on to the road!.
Much as I would love to see you (I was intending to make a big pan of soup and coffee) It won't be possible. I shall try to be there and open up on Monday and will definitely be open next weekend Friday, Saturday and Monday with a big warm welcome.
Don't ring the gallery as yet - please e mail. I will keep you informed that way. Mobile signal still non existent. but should be back tomorrow
Please pray for no more rain - all our prayer flags have blown away on the high winds so hope they have taken our request with them.!

Sunday 22nd November
My mail box is full of good wishes - someone in London offered me his holiday home yesterday for however long I might need it. How generous - thank goodness I don't need it. I am one of the fortunate people with a dry house and business.
So - it has been raining heavily and windy again all night. It is still raining now! I was woken at home in the early hours by Red Care in Manchester to tell me the gallery alarm is going off - telephones and electricity are down - even our mobiles aren't working or only intermittently. I still can't get to the gallery which is frustrating. Our good friends Colin and Louisa at the Quince and Medlar restaurant have been over and switched the alarm off. They have been cooking great pans of soup for the emergency teams who are working round the clock and are exhausted. Cockermouth is totally isolated. Both bridges in the town are now damaged and closed (The Gote bridge is damaged and the Cocker Bridge by the HSBC has a huge tree embedded in it.). I feel totally useless. So Aldi is open but few can get to it. Sainsburys is inundated with shoppers - let's hope they can get new supplies through. The police are doing 12 hour plus shifts to stop looting and keeping people out of danger. It is an amazing operation. Large plant is arriving from all over the country. The Merseyside lifeboat has been up and down the Main Street rescuing people - who would have ever imagined such a scene. It is surreal. There is a total feeling of unreality. The whole country is on our side giving help. It is so impressive. Even Gordon Brown turned up in a helicopter yesterday to cheer us up?!
I can only imagine what the people there are feeling. In all the recent floods there has been nothing like this - or even close! Water is just falling out of the sky and gaining momentum as it rushes off the fells. Bassenthwaite lake has overflowed onto the A66 closing it down between Keswick and Cockermouth. It is about four times its usual size and gushing into the River Derwent and down to the coast. Of course The Cocker is bearing all the water from the Lorton and Buttermere fells and joins the Derwent by Jennings Brewery in Cockermouth causing havoc. There will be watery beer for a while I guess!
The main shopping centre is like a war zone. The bookshop which was recently newly fitted out is ruined - just a shell. The water came well above the ground floor. Many of the shop windows broke under the pressure of water and are now just empty shells. Lovely Percy House Gallery is completely gutted - all stock gone. The waters were like a huge conveyor belt carrying wools, tills, Christmas goodies from all the shops down to the coast. The new interior Design shop and the underwear shop in the Market Place as well as Banks - our famous Ironmomgers are ruined. Cockermouth has so many small independent businesses which is what makes it unique and which makes it even more devastating for the owners. The chemists, Doctors surgeries and vets are washed out and operating from higher ground now. However it has brought out the best in people. None of us are giving in. We will recover. It will take time but we will.
Gallery will remain closed until I can get there and until we have electricity! There will be a really warm welcome when we do! Hot soup and mulled wine all round!

Monday 23rd November
This morning - got to the gallery at last. Had a serious meeting with Angie round the kitchen table about how we will cope in the midst of all this dark tragedy. We are both 100% positive. Castlegate House is dry and unharmed - not even any damp in the wine cellar!(hurrah!)
D'you know I feel so guilty writing that. There is something cathartic about recording this and passing it on to you.
I approached the town from Embleton down Castlegate Drive and everything looked absolutely normal although uncannily deserted. But looking down Castlegate the view is terrible to behold. It is like a film set At the bottom, Police guard the bridge over the Cocker which has a huge tree still impaled on it. The shops stare out with black and empty eyes. The buildings look fragile and vulnerable. There is rubble everywhere all mixed up with coloured wool. How could a small wool shop have so much wool in stock? It is everwhere.The desolation is awful. Owners of the shops were allowed to see them for the first time today. I can't begin to imagine how they feel. Their businesses were bright with Christmas stock a few days ago. It would have been the Big Switch On of our famous lights yesterday. They now just hang bedraggled and unlit. It is heart wrenching.
Angie and I unearthed our silver modern 'tree' and brought it down and erected it - albeit with sadness. We are hoping we can reopen next weekend. We all need a cheering up. The town was totally choked up with cars skirting round the narrow roads on the perimeter. People were hauling heavy bags on foot from Sainsburys.And everybody had a smile. These are exceptional people with Northern grit. This town will survive - I know it will.
Many are asking me if there is a disaster fund set up. I am sure one will be very soon. I will let you all know as soon as we have the details. Gordon Brown has promised £1m - that won't go very far at all. Money will certainly help but it is long and short term morale boosting that is needed as well. Those who have lost everything will need psychological support as well as material. As businesses re-open they will need people and celebration to counteract the present Ghost Town feel. The community spirit is very much alive and well and will provide support.
We now have 100 soldiers on the streets I'm told. (nearly as many as Television teams!). The Emergency services are fantastic. It is impressive to see it all coming together so quick and efficiently.
Thank you again for caring about us all.

Tuesday November 24th
Dear friends
A hurried e mail. Cumbria Community Foundation have set up a flood fund. They are based at Dovenby a few miles West of Cockermouth. They are a first class organisation.
See details below - form on their web site.
Good news - we are reopening on Friday. and will be open Friday Saturday and Monday until Christmas as well as christmas eve.
The Quince and Medlar restaurant are reopening this Wednesday(tomorrow) 01900 823579 evenings only.
Our wonderful B and B - Six Castlegate is also open - breakfast and care there is amazing.- see their web site.
We will do soup and coffee and wine at the gallery as much as we can manage as we have lost our infrastructure of tea coffee shops.
REQUEST - does anyone have a commercial coffee machine to lend us or for us to buy?

Went back to gallery last night as worried about security. The back-up alarm battery is now flat. The town now looks better - now has a few lights although the Main St is still black apart from the arc lights the emergency services are using. (and the media to whom we are also grateful) We have a policeman top of Castlegate 24 hours a day but, as ever, there are the 'desperate bads' who will find an advantage in anything. They are putting yellow jackets on and getting into insecure areas. Unbelievable but true. We have enough to worry about without that.

Cumbria Community Foundation
Cumbria Community Foundation, Dovenby Hall, Cockermouth CA13 0PN. Please write on the back 'Cumbria Flood Recovery Fund'.

Thursday 26th November
We are re-opening the gallery tomorrow - Friday. Big fire - big welcome I can assure you. We'd love to see you but please take note of the following access instructions. There is an easy way and a hard way!
The Cocker bridge and Gote Bridge areclosed and the footbridges are also closed. There are traffic jams in town. It is not advisable to go anywhere near the town centre in a vehicle. Fine on foot but a bit of a trek round via Kirkgate.
THE EASY WAY If coming west on A66, turn off right after the Pheasant Inn (which is open) and take the Embleton road. This brings you into Cockermouth straight down Castlegate Drive and straight to us. You can turn into our car park which holds about 8 cars or park in Castlegate Drive before you get to us. If you overshoot down the hill turn left (the only option) into Market place and immediately right into the (empty yesterday) car park by the river!!! ( only if it isn't raining - don't want to risk another overflow!). Don't try going up Kirkgate - it is narrow and everyone coming the other way seems to be in a 4x4 or bigger! (That was just my impression!). If coming east on A66 keep straight on at all the roundabouts - do not be tempted to turn into the town from these. Keep on until the next left turn to Embleton. Turn left again when you reach the other road and same instructions as above.
Because there is nowhere left for teas, coffees at our end of town - we will do soup, bread and far as is within our capabilities in our lovely big kitchen. You can have your coffee in the presence of our big Sheila Fell , Percy Kelly, Mary Fedden and a few others.
We do need you now if the town is to be kept alive in the interim. It must not turn into a ghost town.

Yesterday was strange. We went over to Yorkshire to collect some things we bought in an auction last week. First trip out since the disaster. Heavy rain and very strong winds all the way. A66 closed to high sided vehicles and the Eden right up to the road in places.
Everyone in the auction house who saw our address expressed sympathy. I couldn't believe only a week ago we'd been there totally innocent of what was about to hit us. It was hard to recall normality.
Back to the gallery to receive the Helen Tabor paintings which couldn't be delivered last friday when the driver had to turn back. They are lovely - worth waiting for. We need to keep our artists going as well - many depend on us for their income.
The police presence has now disappeared at the junctions. Things looked almost normal down the hill. I walked to the Market place where a massive tidying up is going on. It didn't look too bad. The workers are doing a fine job. The tree has now been extricated from the bridge and is lying at the roadside. There were lights in the shops and my heart lifted until I realised they were lit by powerful arc lamps and the movement inside was caused by teams of emergency workers clearing up the interiors. It was just a facade, a cruel illusion Some were dark and untouched because there may be structural defects and they may be unsafe. I wept to see the stock and mess inside and the piles of waste outside on the pavement. Peoples hopes and dreams just lying there ruined. Percy House gallery had laid out their shop beautifully for christmas and now there are just ruins and a wonky gold christmas tree teetering unsteadily in the window. It's the same story with Banks Ironmongers, the old fashioned barber which only opened a few months ago, Lilly and co - the interior designers and the lingerie shop where someone just told me that Jan had converted her to 32C rather than 34B! 'I feel a big part of my life has been wrenched out!' she wrote recalling special times in some of these shops which have given such individual service over the years. That has always been Cockermouth's strength and it will be again.
Of course the shops are just the front line. Little alleys run to the backs of all these premises and house scores of people in the 'yards'. It is a huge, hidden residential area which was densely populated until last week.
The visitations continue. Gordon Brown talked to a lady. 'Call me Mabel' she quickly said. ' Call me Gordon' he replied immediately. She was delighted to be on first name terms with the Prime Minister!). After this we have had a stream of VIPs. David Cameron next offering us great things as though he's already PM, the Archbishop of York who might have a greater influence on God to stop this continual rain, the environment minister, our MP and many more. 'Call me Gordon' is working hard to get a new station and bailey bridges in the Workington area to reunite the split community. It might be Prince Charles next! He is very fond of this part of the country. His favourite valley, Borrowdale, is still flooded and cut off. We know and are comforted that there are a lot of influential people working for us.
The valleys are suffering also. Mark Wier owner of Honister slate mine was on TV last night. He had a narrow escape. He tried to go over the bridge at Southwaite at the beginning of the floods in a tractor and was swept away. He is a very fit man. He's an adventurer who has often been in tight situations but he really thought his time was up. He managed to get out of the tractor door which was under a lot of water pressure and swam to dryer land. He then walked the 3 miles home drenched and singing celebrating his escape. He then got his helicopter out and flew over the scene and filmed it!
Come and see us. We have Christmas cards left for the Autistic Society, books, pots and of course paintings and sculpture. I am trying to compile a list of other businesses that are open. I will let you know.
Chris and Angie and Michael

Monday 30th November
Oh joy! It isn't raining, the sky is blue and icing sugar has been dredged on the fell tops in the night. It feels as though life is almost normal. As predicted Prince Charles came to give encouragement and was very supportive. Listed buildings are his bag. We can depend on his influence if needed.
Today a walk through the town was heartening. Many of the businesses have regrouped and have rented spaces in Mitchell's Auction premises; chemist, newsagent, toy shop, book shop, building society. Main Street at Mitchells it is called. Further spaces are being created round the corner in a spare warehouse. Boots reopened this morning. People were bustling about the streets looking cheerful and hopeful. Work forces were busily working everywhere and there was a feeling of purpose and optimism. We are hardy and resourceful people here.
This town will return to better than normal. Our Main Street will be even more beautiful than before. It looks as though we will lose our lovely stone Gote Bridge and part of the historic Trout Hotel is unstable and must be rebuilt. These historic buildings have never had to endure this sort of battering before.
Stories are now emerging. The notice in the window of one of our sweet shops said 'No more than 2 schoolchildren allowed in this shop at any one time.' This has now been changed. The soggy paper, still hanging limply in the gutted shop, has been slightly adjusted to 'No more than 2 MPs allowed in this shop at any one time!' Yes, we still have a sense of humour. Louisa from the Quince and Medlar posted her early Christmas cards in the red pillarbox on the Main Street last Thursday. The water that night rose eight - ten feet high - well over the top of the box so she had given them up. She was surprised today to get calls from some of the recipients who had received them 10 days later stamped by the Royal Mail DAMAGED BY FLOOD.
We had a mixed weekend at the gallery. We are still difficult to reach from the town centre despite our gourmet soups made to secret recipes by elves in the gallery kitchen (well, by me actually - that's just a bit of romantic marketing speak!). It is an initiative test to reach it. Divers have not yet managed to get down into the foundations of the Cocker Bridge which cuts us off from the main drag. Maybe with the better weather it will happen soon and let's hope it is basically undamaged. We can't lose all these lovely old bridges for single span replacements. I still have to drive 25 miles round Bass Lake to get to work as the Ouse Bridge is still closed.
The handsome new railway station Workington North has been built in record time which has relieved the pressure on the roads around Cockermouth as people made diversions. Best of all - we will have a mini switch-on of Christmas lights on Friday in the Market Place at the bottom of Castlegate. Time for celebration.
Thank you to all those who have sent donations to the disaster fund but now the best thing you can do is come and shop in the town if you possibly can. Do your Christmas shopping here. It is possible. There are enough places open and willing to give you the best service. This will help keep the town alive in this desperate interin period.
The Cockermouth web site is giving out up to date information of shops that are open on their web Our web site is A copy of Hercules and the Farmer's Wife makes a great hard back book gift at £10 and is based in Cockermouth which is now a recognisable famous name (we'll even sign, gift wrap and post for you.) and we have plenty of Wallbank christmas cards left in aid of the Autistic Society.
Yours full of optimism

Thursday 3rd December
This town is fighting back. We are all supporting each other.
Our GP, Andrew Mason heroically hitched a lift in an amphibious vehicle through the floods and climbed into the flooded surgery which is the other side of the river (except it was all river by then) and he rescued all the patient notes, the computer and files. Allinsons the chemist did the same thing, saved all the prescriptions but forgot the till! Priorities eh? Went back several days later to find the till still intact but wet. Dried out the money in the AGA! Could that be termed 'Money Laundering?' The other group practice in South Street couldn't be accessed from the front so one of the doctors did an obstacle race to the back over walls and gardens to get their records out.
There was a farmer on TV last night standing in acres of rubble. His land is now covered in pebbles and debris - such a shame. It looks like Brighton beach on a bad day. Unbelievable amounts of stones everywhere on good green grazing land. The cameras panned round and there was so much stock from the Cockermouth shops and houses mixed in with it all - heartbreaking.
If anyone has stories, experiences, photographs or memories please put them here so we can all share. Sharing is now the ethos of the town. It will make us strong.