Extracts from Peter Iden: Versions of the Downland
* Extract from the chapter 'Later Life' by Mary Iden
We got married in 1980, and a year or so later moved rather reluctantly from Pendrills – we could never afford anywhere half as nice as there - to the house we bought in the centre of Chichester, where I still live. Peter continued with annual exhibitions of his watercolours in Chichester, usually in the Assembly Rooms in North Street. He did almost all his paintings outside; when I first knew him it took a while to get used to the fact that during a country walk he might suddenly want to sit down to paint a view that took his fancy; this could involve a wait for me of anything between half an hour (if things went badly) and 3 hours (if things went well and he was able to finish the painting on the spot). He occasionally did architect’s perspective drawings, which he was very good at, but which he never really enjoyed.
Rachel was born in 1984. I was working in the path lab at St Richard’s, and went back full time after about 6 months. My mother and Peter shared the job of looking after Rachel. This, though, wasn’t a great success; much as Peter loved his daughter, it was difficult for him to fit his work round her. We persevered for about a year, but then we took the plunge and I handed in my notice; it wasn’t possible to work part time in those days. We were relieved to find that we could just survive on his rather precarious income.
In 1992, Peter became ill, and after what felt like an eternity, when it seemed that everyone apart from his doctors could see that there was something seriously wrong with him, he was eventually admitted to hospital and diagnosed as having gut lymphoma. He had an operation, then chemotherapy, and came home weighing only 6 stone! He made what seemed to be a miraculous recovery, and was back walking on the Downs amazingly soon. There was something about having survived that serious illness that seemed to change his, and my outlook on life. We both realised that we needed to get on and do those things that we really wanted to do, rather than wait for ‘the right time’ – and also that life was too short to do things that we didn’t want to do. Peter never did any more work for architects, and also refused to take on commissions – these had always proved to be extremely stressful; once someone told Peter to paint something it seemed to lose its appeal. People could either find a painting that they liked from one of his exhibitions, or they could go without! After a lot of thought, he decided that he might be happier living on his own, so moved to a flat about 10 minutes’ walk away. We saw each other very frequently, he always joined us for Christmas, Easter and birthdays, and stayed with us if he was ill and couldn’t manage on his own. In fact we probably got on better than many conventional married couples.
Once he got over his chemotherapy and was back painting again, Peter began experimenting with some acrylic paints that a friend had recently given him. There was something about acrylics that he found rather unsatisfactory; he soon moved on to oils, which he immediately took to - and his paintings were never the same again.