Navel gazing

'Buddha' Niki De Saint Phalle Photo:Sue Margaret

‘Buddha’ Niki De Saint Phalle
Photo:Sue Margaret

Are you sitting comfortably?…then I’ll begin!

Long, long ago, in the days of yore, I was able to sit half lotus just like the magnificent personage here depicted. Some people say sitting lotus style & navel gazing are good for your health!

This sitting pretty, bright and cheery sculpture is an installation, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, close to West Bretton. Yorkshire Sculpture Park was formerly known as Bretton Park, and was the estate of Bretton Hall. There is an interesting twist in the story of the inheritance and horticultural development of this former stately home. Dianna Beaumont, an illegitimate daughter of one of it’s male owners, inherited the pile in 1792 . In that era property was rarely inherited by female offspring even if they were legitimate, they were overlooked in preference for any, often distance male relative. Diana was

 a keen horticulturalist, commissioned a giant domed conservatory, the largest of its kind in the world, which is said to have been the prototype for the Crystal Palace in London. ¹

Another interesting, possibly useless fact, (though it impressed me as a teenager) is THAT wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, from the film Women in Love, ground breaking in 1969, was filmed at the hall. My short shortsightedness meant that the possibly interesting bits in the scene were blurry and therefore lost on me! Oh, and Henry V111 is thought to have spent three days there, the oak bed he is said to have slept in is now at Temple Newsam. That’s probably not useful information either.

As a young child I considered my family visits to Bretton Park and West Bretton village as far flung in time and space, despite them being only a short distance from our home in Wakefield. West Bretton to this day has neither shop, post office or pub, but its bowling and cricket green make it the quintessential English village.
Too young on my early visits to know what romance was, Bretton Hall’s Camelia House, did strike me as the perfect setting for sitting pretty, tete a tetes. The Yorkshire Sculpture Parks planned re-creation of ‘tea with Diana Beaumont’, (by all accounts a sassy diva) this summer, might provide such an opportunity. The purpose of the event is to highlight the importance of her contribution to the parks horticultural splendor, and to raise funds for Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

By the time I was a teenager I had more idea about romance. Chamber music recitals on the terrace, performances of Shakespeare and Wakefield Mystery plays held in the atmospheric stable block courtyard, all served to inspire and expand my interior and exterior worlds.
Bretton Hall at that time was an Arts teacher training college, later acquired by the University of Leeds Arts Department. Trainee or newly qualified teachers were assigned to the secondary school I attended. The teachers personal interest in we disadvantaged youths, both in school and informally opened our eyes to more culturally diverse lives.
I was encouraged to, and dreamed of one day being a student there. I didn’t so much want to be a teacher, or have a career in the Dramatic Arts but was keen to live on campus and lounge about looking the part! Kohl eyed, patchouli doused, sitting under some tree late into the night discussing all manner of things. My interest in yoga, sitting lotus style and contemplating navel came a few years later, I never found it easy. Nowadays my own style navel gazing might best be described as,…..a trance like slouch on the couch, except when I bethink myself!

When I re-visited Bretton Hall estate after many years absence, it had become Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and my heart sank. Very large abstract sculptures dominated its landscape, I thought they were unsympathetic to it’s natural beauty. However I’ve since learned to appreciate and be more sympathetic to them.

Wakefield, and Bretton Park, as it will always remain to me, still occupy a special place in my heart and memory. I’m a Manygates babe! I now live in, and love Leeds, and have the privilege to be a Lifelong Learner at the University of Leeds, Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications. and get to lounge on their chaise lounges. I still don’t have a career or educational goal, (I’m ‘retired’), and I no longer aspire to ‘look the part’. Some of the text books still have the fly leaf of Bretton Hall College, that gives me a buzz. In a very roundabout way I’ve come to be that lounging student at Bretton Hall. My ‘study’ involves a lot of sitting, contemplating, and procrastinating about deadlines. Life lessons have taught me much of what is discussed formally, but it’s reassuring to have academia, at least Cultural Studies, confirm that my long term ill ease with main stream thought is a valid response, that’s been good for my wellbeing.
As each year passes past and present moments mingle, these are the things that remain. I try to live without regret or ‘what ifs’, ‘navel gazing’ helps me remain buoyant in the oft choppy waters that mental distress, its residual effects, diagnostic labeling and its treatments stir.

Sue Margaret

camelia house image

6 thoughts on “Navel gazing

  1. I think you share what all of us who attended Bretton Hall came away with – the place forever changed us and never leaves us. You are one of us.


  2. I was fortunate to work at Bretton but do have one note of potential disappointment : the famous wrestling scene was shot not at Bretton but at kedleston hall in northumberland


  3. Only just come across this evocative piece I was a tutor iat Bretton 1987-2007and then in PCI in PVAC at Leeds until 2016 when I retired. I hope you are still being well and ( current months excluded) get to enjoy the Bretton estate where the sculpture park goes from strength to strength. Be happy


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