Farewell to an old Faithful friend!

Regan O'Callaghan winter coat, old man coat, studio, British

“Sitting in a park in Paris, France

Reading the news and it sure looks bad

They won't give peace a chance

That was just a dream some of us had

Still a lot of lands to see

But I wouldn't want to stay here

It's too old and cold and settled in its ways here”


Twenty years ago I arrived in London with £20 to my name.  In the space of a day I had found a live-in job in a pub In Hounslow a place where you didn’t serve bottles incase you got one in the face and you took your tie off at the end of the night so you didn’t tempt a disgruntled patron to drag you across the bar for not serving that last pint.    The Landlady a small but fierce woman didn’t put up with any trouble though so one was generally safe.

Winter was approaching and  this Kiwi didn’t feel prepared.   The landlady’s son knew where I could get a good coat to keep me warm from the cold grey English winter.  Early one sunday morning we made our way across London to Whitechapel Market in the East End.  Within 15 minutes amongst the plethora of things for sale I found my coat.  Thick, heavy and a great fit it cost me £5 and it was British made to boot!   Bargain!

Nearly twenty years later I sit in my friends flat in Paris after having spent 5 weeks traveling through Andalucia.  It is cold and grey outside.  I am here for a few days before travelling back to Mojacar, Spain where I have an artist residency for a month.  When leaving London friends said take a coat as it will be cold in Spain.   I duly took my beloved coat which I had christened my “old man coat” named as I believed it made me look like I had just emerged from down the mines especially when I wore my flat cap.  Wearing it on the plane so it wouldn’t be counted as hand luggage  I felt ready for my next adventure.

Southern Spain wasn’t cold for this seasoned Brit,  the sun shone and it was warm so my coat stayed bundled in a plastic bag carted from Almeria to Malaga, Cadiz to Cordoba.   In Granada where there was snow on the peaks of the Sierra Nevada the sky was bright blue, the sun warm and though at night it got chilly it was not enough for me to put on my old man coat.

My beloved old man coat.  Five years previously I had spent £80 having it repaired. It had become worn in places, the lining was frayed and the button holes torn.   But I wasn’t ready to say good bye to it then, my coat that had seen me through numerous winters including last winter heavy with snow which dragged on and on or the winter of ’94’ when I worked nights returning home in the dark and then getting up to a cold dark sky and leaving to start my next shift.   The coat which I had sometimes used as an extra blanket when staying in freezing rooms with summer duvets.    The coat which I wore to many a dawn service at church, to funerals where grieving relatives hurt and loss stayed with me until the next funeral.  The coat which I wore to my citizenship ceremony, friends weddings and parties.  The coat that kept me warm as  I wandered the streets of London.  The coat which I looked forward to wearing as it hung in my closet during sunnier months.

Traveling through Spain though made me realise I needed to say goodbye to my old man coat  Goodbye not only to the feeling of security my coat granted me, but goodbye to the need to have a protective layer, insulated not only from the cold wind that sweeps by but also the warm whisper that beckons me forward to new places, new people and new life.

Arriving in Mojacar at the beginning of my trip I had my coat repaired for one last time.  The seamstress told me of growing up in the surrounding hills, of caves, of found ancient objects and mysterious lights at night.  A generous and wise woman I listened as she restitched the button holes and sewed together the lining.


“Oh it gets so lonely

When you're walking

And the streets are full of strangers

All the news of home you read

Just gives you the blues

Just gives you the blues

So I bought me a ticket

I caught a plane to Spain

Went to a party down a red dirt road

There were lots of pretty people there

Reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue

They said, "How long can you hang around?"

I said "a week, maybe two,

Just until my skin turns brown

Then I'm going home to California"

California I'm coming home

Oh will you take me as I am

Strung out on another man

California I'm coming home”


 Joni Mitchell.

Regan O'Callaghan Old Faithful friend, altar, winter coat,

For the Love of Birds.

Regan O'Callaghan Elijah and the ravens, oil pastel, wadi,"Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all"       

Emily Dickinson


I spent part of my childhood on a farm a few miles out from a little town called Taihape in the North Island of New Zealand.  I have a very clear memory of asking my stepfather if there were any Kiwis in the surrounding countryside.   There were none.   Kiwis are forest dwellers and the forest had been cleared a couple of generations before to make way for sheep and cattle.   The trees that dotted the landscape were mostly introduced species like the plum trees in the orchard where I would spend time climbing and hiding or the big Macrocarpa trees behind the dogs kennels where Magpies roosted and sometimes dive bombed.

I loved birds.  One of my first pets was a Australian cockatiel named Joey.    He lived in a cage but was often let out and eventually when we moved back to Taupo released into a large aviary in our garden.  Around this time I also had a pet magpie who as a young bedraggled sick looking bird wandered onto our property.  I nursed him back to health.  He flew around our neighborhood and would return when I whistled.  One day he just disappeared.    I like to think it was the call of the wild.

I started painting birds at an early age.  Seabirds, parrots and owls all appeared in my work and I was fascinated by the very rare New Zealand birds most people hadn’t seen or even heard about.  The Hioho, Piopio, Huia, Takahe, Hihi and others inspired me and saddened me at the same time.  Some having become extinct.  In Maori culture birds have an important role.  Its not surprising they feature so prominently as Aotearoa was originally a land of birds.  There were no land mammals except for bats.  Birds ruled.  This all changed with the arrival of man and rats, stoats and possums.

Gone but nor forgotten.

On the day my father died I went round to my grandmothers.  A few of us gathered to share our feelings and begin to discuss funeral plans.  As we talked a Pīwakawaka ( a small bird with a fan tail)  flew into the room and flitted around us twittering before darting out.  To some including my superstitious grandmother this was a bad omen.  For me I saw it as a beautiful sign, a sign of hope.

Birds feature in my art often as symbols of hope and as representations of dreams of  fluttering wings and haunting birdsong deep from within forgotten forests.    The story of God promising that ravens would bring food to Elijah is a reminder of something we often choose to forget.  We need birds.  They remind us of the beauty of the world and its mysteries.  Their flight is inspirational their song heart moving.    Without them we are lost.  The now extinct Huia is a case in point.  There is a story that says the Huia was the first bird to sing at the rising of the sun and once it had started singing all the other birds would join in with the dawn chorus filling the land with song.    Today the Huias song has been silenced along with much of the song of creation.   The remaining forests in New Zealand are virtually silent.   Thankfully the conservation movement in New Zealand is working hard to protect what is left.

Gone but not forgotten.

 “Elijah and the ravens”Oil pastel on paper1996.