Biography of Philippa Lane
A war baby, Philippa Lane was born in Chichester, West Sussex, England on March 7,1941. Her only vivid memory of early childhood in South-East England is the sound of Nazi missiles (doodlebugs) cruising overhead en route for the threatened destruction of London. If one were shot down, as occasionally might happen, it could explode horribly close and destroy a part of her beloved countryside instead.
At the age of seven, Philippa was sentenced to a boarding school education. She went to Stone Court in Hastings, as cold as its name implies. She remembers her mother telling her that at her new school, the people who ran it were nuns, adding: “They’re different from you and me.” “What are they? ” asked Philippa. “It doesn’t matter, dear, but they dress differently.” Her first impression was that they were rather large penguins. Philippa vaguely recalls that there were some classrooms with desks and blackboards, but she was so preoccupied with the dilemma of whether the nuns were male, female, or, perhaps, both, her only real recollection are textures, smells, noises, imaginings and fantasies. Also, she remembers being so close with nature exploring every inch of the wonderful grounds, woods and gardens.
She started writing poetry around ten years of age, and her early poetry is closely linked with her relationship with nature. At the age of eleven, junior students were sent to complete their formal education at the senior school, St. Mary’s, run by blue-stockinged nuns. Clearer memories are of the spaciousness of the grounds, lacrosse, the beauty of the gardens, the charm of the ancient buildings and the horrors of the meagre amenities inside them. It was a Spartan existence. Wooden corridors wound on forever, lit by gas lamps to dormitories with biblical and Greek names: Hebron, Siloam, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Omega and Epsilon. Philippa’s first dormitory was Kappa “Kappa had three bathrooms – in the middle of the floor were duckboards to stand on… we were allowed four inches of water to wash in, and a quarter of an hour to have a bath. “We had a pretty porcelain washbowl in our dormitory – beside which was placed a hammer, so we could break the ice before we washed our faces. We woke in winter to the sight of icicles hanging above our heads and beds – our breath puffs of white smoke in the freezing air.”
She excelled in all sports, particularly lacrosse. Automatically expected to gain entrance to Oxford to read Classics, she rebelled against this expectation and, in 1957, after challenging the newly-appointed headmistress on a point of principle, was de-prefected in front of the entire staff and students at an Assembly arranged especially for this purpose. “It was my first experience of sheer humiliation and victimization.” Thus, she was paroled at seventeen to complete her “A” levels privately under less austere custody. She recalls: “We were a motley bunch – I had spots, greasy hair, huge feet and chilblains – but we were good-natured, chaste and uncomplicated, with high ideals and a firm sense of duty.”
Her penchant for the Arts became evident in 1958, when Philippa, armed with diplomas in English Literature, Public Speaking, Book Prizes and Certificates for art from The Royal Academy of Art for Picture Making, and the much-coveted gold medal of the Royal Poetry Society, won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. This she was forbidden by her father to accept, inasmuch as it was common knowledge that practice in the Performing Arts might lead to Professionalism in the Performing Arts that was unwholesome; moreover, quite an improper thing for a young gentlewoman to do as an occupation. She recalls her father saying: “Only loose women go to RADA” – and that was that. A few months later, her father died of cancer. “I was absolutely devastated, lost and had no direction – bearing the scars of injustice and humiliation, I simply gave up.” She attended technical college and obtained diplomas in shorthand and typewriting, left for London and found employment as secretary to the television director of an advertising agency. At twenty-one, she spent a year in Denmark through her membership of the Danish Club in London – first staying on a farm in South Jutland and later moving to Copenhagen. “I longed to see The Little Mermaid. Like so many others, I anticipated a largish sculpture; but there was the place, and I still didn’t see her - then I realized she was there, blending into the low rocky foreshore with waves lapping gently over her exquisite smoothness and form, an integral part of the seascape.” Later, Philippa returned to her homeland in the Weald of Kent and was employed as a private secretary for a well-known aeronautical journalist and author on his farm in the Canterbury Way.
She recalls: “It was a blissful time – I drove thirty miles to work through pretty, winding lanes in the early morning mist and typed manuscripts in the old cow barns converted into offices – the scent of bluebells, the sound of skylarks singing, and smells of manure drifting in through the windows. I lunched at the local pub and chatted with the farmers, and learned, through my boss, how to fly a Tiger Moth. At precisely four o’clock, we were served tea and Fuller’s cake. I derived enormous satisfaction from my task of converting the large hay barn into a technical library. On my way home I played a round of golf.” Ms. Lane emigrated to Canada in 1963. “It was partly impulsive, and partly driven by my loathing of the Class system in England – it didn’t sit well with my moral code”.
In 1989, she assisted her husband on a working trip to Tunisia. “I shall never forget the Bardo – a palace and a museum. It was breathtaking, actually walking on the vast antique mosaics and picking up the odd broken piece, caressing the smooth marble of Roman statues, and running my fingers over the sensuous lips of Marcus Aurelius. The vestiges of Carthage and the beauty of the ‘three Blues’ of Sidi Bou Said – the blue of the painted Ottomon shutters and doors, the blue of the sky, and the blue of the Mediterranean. I returned with a book of exquisite paintings of their revered Mahmoud Sedhili, and many photographs taken both in Tunis and in the South – of Arabs and their families, the olive groves, the mules and cacti blossoming the scrubby landscape. On the plane back to Montreal, I felt I was returning to a third-world country not leaving one – still smelling the scent of mimosa and the sincere warmth and intelligence of the people we met there.”
Philippa has experimented in the Plastic Arts and has marketed silk-print designs. Her written work includes poetry, most notable of which are her Colour poems, published in Soliloquies, and articles of naturalistic and historic interest, some of which have been published. She has also written a short story, ‘Martha’s Supplication’, and much more. Her life-long love of poetry – ‘the silent picture’ – often takes over from her love of painting and designing; more often, there is a blending of the two, in the long periods of thought preceding the actual execution of a poem or a painting. “I cannot separate them – they are a good marriage: when I read a poem, I see hues of colours, space, shapes, rhythm and harmony; when I see a painting, I see rhythm, melody, words, and metaphors in the composition. A poem is addressed to a listener by a speaker: a painting is speaking to a silent observer’. Self-taught, the diversity of her art is matched by her strong will not to belong to any school and to follow no rules at all. What she lacks in accepted technique, both in her poetry and paintings, is made up for by her rich inspiration and abundant imagination. She expresses, with all her strength, through her art, the importance of man’s relationship with nature, and a global vision of social and humanitarian issues interwoven with the vast range of feelings peculiar to man.
Philippa is married, has a daughter, two sons and four grandchildren, and lives near Montréal, Québec, Canada.
Philippa Lane Poems
Purple is afraid it scuttles into corners on all fours it reeks
Blue floats and hovers it never comes to rest its scent is distant bonfires its touch moth-breath
Yellow is the sun of childhood the certain day the fine silk strands of youthful years
we rake them into pyramid pyres, our satisfaction glowing like the flame with which we light them.
Breakfast On A Psychiatric Ward
'Does anyone know how to make a bed without fitted sheets? , the princess asked, as she wafted down
Drunk On A Train
He staggered from the bistro and at a glance he looked for all the world
I Weep For You...
I I weep for you, though no tears fall, I watch you,
once I was dead wood in a forest flowing with sap
The beginning of the end of our Canadian winter; The ending of a British winter, And their gentle spring ahead of ours. I always think about these overlapping seasons,
At high tide, as we drove along the seafront on our family outing, our car would be peppered with pebbles
Colour Poem: Purple
Purple is afraid it scuttles into corners on all fours it reeks
There is always a doubt Never quite visible Like a coin thrown in
First Meeting With A Psychiatrist
It seemed a third-rate performance of an actor well used to the role, the salutary greetings linked in a single-line monotone:
There's magic in the mountain-tops, there, where the sky begs to be eaten in turquoise gulps of joy -
Blue floats and hovers
it never comes to rest
its scent is distant bonfires
its touch moth-breath
Blue is man-child
with spiritual eyes
a stranger in a room
who isn't one