“So what is this?” I ask.

Kate doesn’t look inclined to answer. Then she turns around and says: “It’s the backdrop that was painted from the postcard that Gaga sent me from Switzerland in 1960, though it’s recently been added to.”

“Oh yes, I recognise it from Studio (1) and Studio (2) of Strange Bundle.”

“It’s also a piece of work that I presented for a group crit the other day.”

Actually, I’ve listened to a recording of that crit. Someone - noting the incompleteness of the line of text near the top of the image - asked what Kate was in search of. Another voice, more familiar with Kate’s practise it seems, quipped “Well, Gaga, of course.”

“Thirdly, it’s a plan of campaign,” she tells me, looking at the work from close to where I stand.


She means for the intended trip to the Wirral, where Kate lived until leaving for Brighton Art College as a seventeen-year-old. On the A4-sized white sheet that’s in the middle of the composition - smaller than the three coloured A3 sheets - Kate has written:

Research Trip (plan)
April 3-5th (find accommodation)
Bromborough and Bebbington
+ video camera & sound equipment
walk / talk / look / listen / write / reflect

‘Elizabeth’ being Elizabeth Walshaw, the daughter of an old friend of Kate’s, a young woman who is doing a foundation course at the moment but who is already up on the basic techniques of filming. Techniques that Kate feels will come in handy.

Kate has overlain on the original postcard backdrop - the Swiss landscape
sans kids - a crude pink-brown drawing of Brancote Lodge, where her grandmother used to live. On the dark red panel to the left of the image is a series of photographs taken in or around the house. Is that right? Kate’s been called away by a fellow student who wants to discuss mutual MFA business, but I can take a closer look, both at the painterly backdrop and the formal layout of the photos:


The photo that catches my eye is second from the top on the left, Gaga in her kitchen. She is wearing a butcher’s apron and Kate intends having one made which will be printed with the last letter that her grandmother sent to her. But what am I saying? - the next photo down from that is wonderful. Gaga is leaning on top of the piano while Kate sits at the instrument, turning around for the camera, grinning hugely, as Terry Jones does in the introductory credits to the
Monty Python TV series that was made in the 1970s. And now for something completely different? Take it away, Kate...

The green A3-sized card is titled ‘Memory Map 1952-1961/2’. In these years, Kate lived with her family next to a common across which Gaga lived with Percy, her husband. But Percy the red meat-eating butcher died of a heart attack, and that led to a change in housing. Gaga moved to a bungalow (on the blue memory map for 1963-1967) and Kate’s Mum and Dad moved to a bigger house, also on the blue map. Will we be mostly concerned with the blue map or the green when we travel down there? Kate’s still away, so I’m asking myself, and I don’t know the answer.


At this stage I have to admit that, for one reason or another, I’m writing this up a few months in retrospect (July 17, 2013), and I can say that the green map is where we started off on April the third. So let’s have a closer look at it.


Kate’s house is in the middle of the houses at the foot of the card (see the number 2 in the above image). Across the street is a bus stop, marked prominently. Then a path snakes its way across the common which is full of ‘big trees for climbing’ to where Brancote Lodge waits, top left of the green card, above, top left of the photo, below..


When we got to Brancote Lodge that evening, Kate hung back. There was a vehicle in the drive but Kate did not go to the door. Instead she remarked how the house had been modernised. There was something about the place that she didn’t like. For me the building looked like the one Kate had drawn with the orange conte crayon on the wall of her studio. For Kate, well, for a start the house had been extended to incorporate the garage and this offended her memory.


So it was back across the common towards Allport Lane. It was dusk by that time and it wasn’t hard to recreate the sense of mystery that this common must have conjured up to a child who had yet to experience the wider world. All one had to do was look up into the sky...


We emerged from the common and crossed the road so that we were standing on the pavement outside 181 Allport Lane, where Kate used to live with her parents until she was about 12. As a child she used to be fascinated by the bus stop. Up in her bedroom, she would put on a pair of yellow sparkly plastic shoes which had a raised heel so that she could see out of the window. Peeping through the curtains she would watch the teenagers at the bus stop, trying to get a handle on their seemingly exciting more-grown-up world.

I felt it made for a vivid story. So Kate and I went to the bus-stop and Kate told the story to me again, and I asked for clarifications, while Elizabeth filmed our conversation. I recall feeling some relief at the end of the take. We were a team of three after all, laden with sound and video equipment which needed to be used if we weren’t to feel like nerds.


With the light continuing to fade, Elizabeth and I were ready for the off. But Kate didn’t want to leave it there. She walked towards the front door of the house she used to live in and rang the bell. Why did she do this here and not at Gaga’s house? Later Kate told me that there was something warm and inviting about what she could see of the interior.


Kate had a short conversation with a woman and then waved us forward. It seemed that we were all invited in.

In the photo below, Kate is talking to Peggy, who, with her late husband, bought the house from Kate’s parents in 1962. She and Kate were already getting on very well and it was clear that Kate could explore the whole house if she wanted to. But should we be taking photographs? We did get permission for that. Should we be filming? Personally, I think Elizabeth should have been filming this one-off opportunity, but I wasn’t going to say anything. That was Kate’s call. For my own Strange Bundle purposes, I knew that photos would suffice.

The fireplace, Kate told Peggy, was exactly as it had been fifty years before, though then the coals burning in the fire were real and a fireguard was needed.


As I put this chapter together, I’ve had a full three months to look for a photograph that confirms Kate’s observations about the fire. Here it is below: Kate, the fire and the fireguard. With just enough fireplace (and book shelves) showing to allow a comparison of then and now to be made.


Through in the kitchen, Kate observed that the pegboard that her mother had put up in the 50s was still in use. In the 50s? Gina needs to be congratulated on the modernist product design which looks as if it comes from the Sixties. Peggy, and Chris her daughter, readily admitted that Peggy’s pegboard was not really hers, but had been there since the beginning of time and would still be there, functioning efficiently, when Peg was long gone.


Kate went out into the back garden, where she clocked a row of outhouses, including an outside toilet, that she could hardly believe were still there. For a start, they stopped the morning light from reaching the kitchen window. Back inside, she went upstairs in search of her old room. The rest of us followed in her well-motivated wake. “My mother once chased me up these stairs trying to hit me with a metal hangar,” she said to me. Using child Kate as a moving peg board? That didn’t seem right.


In Kate’s old bedroom, we again got the story of the bus stop. I half listened while taking in just how many books there were in this house. As Kate pointed out later, Peggy’s family had obviously been book buyers and readers for all the fifty years they’d lived in this house. The books and paintings that fill the house are what attracted Kate, as an adult, to the house, though her own childhood home was not so stuffed with culture.


Kate’s enthusiasm for her bus shelter brought me back to the moment - her continuous present. Actually, there was no bus shelter across the road in her childhood. There was a bus-stop and a bench which was lit by the streetlight. I received a clear impression of a ten-year-old child trying to get an inkling of what the teenagers were up to... The sparkly yellow plastic shoes needed to raise the child high enough to get aclear view of the bench... The tiniest of eye-sized peep-holes made by hand in the closed curtains...The child throwing herself onto the bed and burrowing into the bedclothes when she thought she’d been spotted...


Again I’ve had time to locate a suitable photograph from the past. I think the one below is of Kate at that same window. I feel like saying to the child. “Live for the day, girl. Be content to climb the trees on the common for a summer or two yet. You will be living in grown-up world, with adult urges, soon enough. “


The tour of Kate’s past and Peggy’s present ended back in the lounge. Kate pointed out one thing after another about the place.


Of course, Kate threw in the odd joke as well. Quips that Peggy seemed to appreciate more than her daughter, as the photo below illustrates. Ah, ’tis a funny thing a sense of humour, sometimes it will skip a generation. But that is such an unfair thing to say and so beside the point. It’s thanks to Chris that Peggy is able to live as independently as she is. It’s thanks to Chris’s regular visits that Peggy is able to remain living at home.


In the end, as the photograph below clearly shows, ten-year-old Kate ordered Peggy out of
her house, her home.


But the feisty 90-year-old wouldn’t have any of it. The fact that Kate had lived in the house for ten years (and though Peggy had made the mistake of inviting her back in for half an hour) did not come close to balancing out the last fifty years, when the house has been Peggy and her husband’s, and then Peggy’s alone. Accordingly, it was Kate who must leave the premises that moment, and forever more. And she must take her camera-wielding entourage with her.


We left with much to discuss.

In the morning we returned to the common. We waved to Peggy and Chris who were about to go out shopping in Chris’s car, and we made our way to Brancote Lodge.


But again Kate was tentative around the brick building which is so recognisable from photographs taken in the 1950s. Kate reported to us that in the room where the baby grand piano used to be there was a man sitting watching a widescreen television. “Is it Terry Jones of Monty Python?” I asked, but Kate moved on. Looking in the dining room, she could see through to a kitchen. A wall had been knocked through. The little kitchen where Gaga had been surrounded by glass milk bottles and metal culanders was no more.


Actually, although Kate was lamenting the loss of something, she was creating a clear mental picture of that which had been lost. It brought to mind the photograph that had been taken of the front facade of the house in her childhood. At least it prompts me to make use of that image now. the one where Gaga can be glimpsed at the top right window, looking out of her house towards the photographer.


“The metal windows have been replaced by new plastic ones,” Kate lamented.

Funny thing is, Kate saying that, with a sense of loss, makes the old ones seem all the more real to me.

Before we left, Kate took the following photograph. She liked it because the sign was the one she’d known from her childhood. Pity we couldn’t take it away with us. Well, we did take it away with us. As this image.


At Kate’s request we drove a short distance to the row of shops that she remembered from long ago. Gaga and she used to walk there to Mrs Haigh’s cake shop and buy jap cakes. The cakes, a chewy meringue made from egg-whites, covered in almonds, would be placed in a white cardboard box, ritually tied with string.

There is no cake shop these days, but there is a charity shop. Amongst its jumble of stuff we came across a framed reproduction of a Breughel painting. I drew Kate’s attention to it and she was immediately excited.

“That picture use to hang on a wall in Brancote Lodge. I bet its been circulating around local houses and charity shops for the last 50 years! Anyway, I’m having it.”

So Kate obtained a physical memento of Brancote Lodge called
Hunters in the Snow. And then she took it to Rabymere, a pond that lies between Bromborough, where Kate lived until she was 12, and Bebbington, where she lived until she was 17.


Kate used to be brought here by Gaga and Percy to feed the ducks. There were also swing-boats and weird machines that, when you put your eye to a peep hole and turned a handle, you saw near-naked dancing girls and clips from Charlie Chaplin films and other silent wonders.

Elizabeth set up the following photograph. Kate standing holding the framed print in such a way that the image of
Hunters in the Snow can be seen reflected in her shades. As she gazed at the Breughel she noticed the frozen ponds that the hunters and their dogs are vaguely heading towards.

“I was also brought to Rabymere for ice-skating in winter, at least in those winters when the pond froze. One day my friend Kathy Roberts fell and broke her collar bone. Luckily, her father, always known to me as ‘Dr Roberts’, was on hand to take care of her.


Below is the house that Kate moved to in Bebbington. Why did Kate’s parents move the three or four miles from 181 Allport Lane to this white house? Well, with the death of Percy, Gaga’s house became too big for her, so she moved to the bungalow that we’d be seeing next. At the same time, Kate’s father’s sister and brother-in-law vacated this white house for another elsewhere, so it made sense for Kate’s family to move in. It meant they had a grander house and were still close to Gaga.

Kate came back from the front door to tell us that there was a man in the front room reading a paper. I asked her why she didn’t try to get into the house, but she shrugged and said she didn’t want to. She explained that she didn’t have particularly happy memories of this house. Her mother and father were increasingly estranged from each other and the atmosphere in the home was not so good. She spent much of her time exploring the fields behind where we were standing. Fields that were a step up in wildness and mystery from the trees of the common at Allport Lane.


As we looked at the white house together, Kate told us a story. Once she was asked to give up her room (top left of the above photo) so that her sister Sara (seven years Kate’s junior) and a visiting friend could stay in it for a weekend. Kate was not at all happy about being ousted from her room, and in protest climbed out of Sara’s window at the back of the house (which we could see by then as we were walking towards our next point of call). Apparently, her best friend Philippa, who lived in a neighbouring house, saw Kate dangling from her room’s window sill and wondered what on earth was going on. Perhaps Kate had to shout for help in the end. In any case, Kate’s father, George, hauled Kate up from her precarious position. He was very angry with her. Kate can’t remember whether or not her protest had the effect of her staying in possession of her room. She suspects it did.

The story takes us all the way to our next stop: Gaga’s bungalow on Mobberly Way. Kate has fond memories of this house and wants to get into it. She would use it as a retreat when things were too much at her parents’ house. Gaga would always listen to her and respect her opinion, which wasn’t the case at home. She even had her own bedroom here, or at least there was a guest room that she could use whenever she wanted to. Gaga’s clothes were in the wardrobe. And one day, under the bed, Kate came across the clothes that Percy and Gaga had worn as masons. Gleefully, Kate had dressed in the peculiar clothes, but it led to one of the few occasions that Gaga had expressed annoyance with her. “Take those off at once,” she ordered.


In April 2013, Kate, looking as I imagine Percy did in his mason clobber, got in to the bungalow without any bother. We all got in. After a stroll through the property, we had a chat with Tony, the current owner. But I could see that Kate was holding back. Only when we were out of the house again did Kate let us into a vivid memory. She called round for Gaga one day when she was back in the area, on holiday from art college, and her grandmother answered the door stark naked. She had a pan in her hand and, when asked, explained that there was no hot water (she had forgotten how to switch on the immersion tank) and that she was filling the bath from water boiled on the hob. Not long after this incident, Gaga was put in a home where she lasted just a few months.


Looking at the above photograph, three months down the line, I’m wondering what Kate’s thinking about. The girl being ejected from her own room for the weekend or the elderly woman being removed from her bungalow for the rest of her life?

At the end of the day we returned to our airbnb and enjoyed locally bought fish and chips. Following our meal we went out into the garden.


I think it was Kate who suggested that - as the garden had the feel of a film set - we might as well make a film there. The idea really came to life when she hung the Breughel on the wooden boarding that surrounded the garden on three sides. Elizabeth then suggested we move our seats and that she film us via the large mirror also embedded in the wooden boarding. Beers in hand, we were happy to oblige our director.

Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 21.24.06

At last the clapperboard that Elizabeth had insisted on bringing along was going to come into its own. Actually, that’s not fair, on several occasions during the research trip we shot footage and, unwilling to rely on the quality of the video’s audio, made a sound recording on another device simultaneously. The clapperboard ensured that - come the editing process - the two recordings could be synchronised.

Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 21.23.48


We were off. I asked Kate about our day’s research. I pointed out that we’d been to four houses that she had personal associations with. I wondered if she was going to make a piece of work using still photographs of each of the houses. For the sake of the hypothetical viewer/listener I identified the houses: 181 Allport Lane, Brancote Lodge, the white house and the bungalow. Kate said nothing, just drank from her beer.

I helped things along by saying that the houses were in two pairs. Kate’s parents’ houses, one and three, where Kate lived. And Gaga’s houses, two and four, where Kate took refuge. Quite a strong pattern, I thought. What did Kate think?

Kate said nothing, just drank from her bottle. ‘Christ!’ I remember thinking, ‘now I know how Michael Parkinson felt when interviewing some film star that was too up herself to answer his questions!’

Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 21.24.20

I drank some beer then tried again. I said that while the four houses were all interesting, perhaps it was the fifth house - our airbnb - that was the most interesting of all. After all, that’s where we’d chosen to film. In the present.

No comment from the woman behind the shades.

At last Kate did speak. She told me how strange it was to enter 181 Allport Lane and to meet Peggy who is exactly the same age as her mother. She’d not gone in search of her mother at that house, but that was who she’d found, one step removed. Peggy was to be 90 in April while Kate’s mother was due to be 90 in May. As we spoke, preparations were already underway for Gina’s birthday party. But the meeting with Peggy had made Kate all the more determined that she would throw herself into the occasion.

“You tried to walk into the past but you couldn’t escape your present ,” I summarised.

“Isn’t that what I’ve just been saying?” replied my interviewee.

“You weren’t scared to go into 181 Allport Lane. You knew you’d find your mother there because you’re still in touch with her. You couldn’t make yourself go into Brancote Lodge because you knew you wouldn’t find Gaga there. Do you think that’s the difference?”


Screen shot 2013-07-18 at 15.53.49

“I’m very flat about it all,” Kate finally admitted after a long pause.

She went on: “Here I am sitting in Andy’s back garden, having a beer and looking at the Breughel. Which is nicely positioned over there.”

“The Breughel that you think your grandmother had at Brancourt Lodge?” I asked, for the benefit of the audio.

“Oh, yes.”

“The price is still on it,” I said, pointing to the bottom right corner of the image.

Screen shot 2013-07-18 at 15.54.00

“We should have taken it off,” I wittered. “No, no, it’s fine. ”

“Atmospheric painting, isn’t it?” said Kate. “Did you say he died when he was 41?”

“He died when he was 41, yip.” It’s not that I’m up on my art history, it’s just that the info is written on a sticker on the back of the print.

“That’s Breughel the Elder,” I clarified. The back of the print told me that as well. “I’m not sure if Breughel the Younger lasted a bit longer.”

“Did they paint in the same style?”

“Mmm, that’s a good question. I suspect they did.”

“It’s meticulously done.”

“I’d describe it as realism with an edge.”

“A Breughel is instantly recognisable, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but when you say ‘Breughel’, you probably mean Breughel the Elder..”

Screen shot 2013-07-18 at 15.54.30

“I didn’t realise there were two Breughels,” said Kate.

“I don’t know if they were equal in terms of art history,” I replied, beginning to feel that I was part of a
Waiting For Godot production.

“I didn’t know there were two Breughels,” Kate repeated. “Gaga and I thought there was only one.”

Screen shot 2013-07-18 at 15.54.42

Was that the place to leave it?

When it came to editing the video, the piece which was supposed to sum up our three-day investigation into Kate’s past, she left it at that.

Waiting for Gaga?