Sunday, 16 January 2022

Art, Addiction and Vegan Sausage Rolls.

The artist in the garden in the rain.  A busy bee.

I finished a portrait for the Addicts exhibition this week, and made several videos about portrait painting in the studio for my Patreon page, had an online book launch for my book As Mother Lay Dying with my friend and colleague Mandy Preece (her book is Being Rock ) and I completed a seven mile walk along the Downs as I have signed up to do another marathon walk of twenty six miles for Macmillan Cancer, in June.

Do you want to be sick yet?  I sound very cheesy.

I did do all of those things, and all within a week, and it was a lot, but it was the result of hours and hours of struggling to even start, and huge amounts of time going into the kitchen to have more tea and my absolute (current) favourite thing, bread and butter.  And of course, most of those things above were finished off this week, begun quite a long time ago, so it is not as if I created and produced and organised an entire portrait, lots of studio videos and a book launch all in one week from scratch while training for my marathon walk.  However, it has been a good week and I am feeling strong and pleased with the portrait, and it did my ego a great deal of good to start this blog with that list, even though it did need explaining.

We all know I spent the Christmas period in bed feeling rotten with the flu (see Not Just Any Illness ). New Year came in over my sleeping head as I was still in bed feeling rotten, and don't remember any of it.  It took a while for my energy to come back and for a couple of weeks I thought I had aged prematurely and would never leap out of bed like a lambkin in the morning ever again.  But here we are, and I don't remember the day when everything shifted back to normal, but it seems I am back on the treadmill of work and creativity and feeling full of beans again.  Though I stopped leaping out of bed like a lambkin a good decade ago so that was never going to be a measure of how ill I felt.  It sounds good, but a more accurate take on feeling I had aged prematurely is to say I thought I would never get myself out of a chair again without a hoist.

My Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition opens in five months time.  This exhibition is about addiction, about the craziness of it, the madness, hopelessness and the lack of treatments for it.  The whole title includes the words "behind every addict is someone traumatised by loving them" and as there is addiction in my family, I am that person traumatised by loving an addict.  But, the key word is love, and though it is so hard to cope with a relationship with an addict, those of us who do have relationships with addiction, still love, and despite all the trauma and insanity, we hope.  And there is hope, addicts recover, and miracles do happen.  And so for this exhibition, I am working with addiction in whatever form I can, and asking questions, telling stories and painting portraits. Because I don't know what else I can do.

I am starting to pull all the strings of the exhibition together and not only create all the paintings, but find people with stories to tell through painting and words.  I have done that, I have some very powerful people to work with.  I have children of alcoholic parents to paint.  I have people who work with drugs and addiction through charities, research organisations, and the police involved in the exhibition, and I have addicts who take their drugs and drinkers who drink their alcohol and all of them have much to say.  In my studio, here in Bognor Regis, I make lists on large whiteboards of all the people I am painting and what they say to go onto each painting.  At the beginning of this mega week of getting things done I went into a local store to buy art materials only to find they had hardly any paints.  Obviously I need paints, and was not too impressed with an art supply shop that had hardly any paints, so am now considering a trip to Brighton, a good hour away at least, to Lawrence Art Supplies which I know from old has everything in the world that I want and need.  But, also in Brighton, is a brilliant shop that sells hot flaky vegan sausage rolls, so I think that makes it all OK, for art's sake etc, as it is a bit of a haul to get to Brighton and back.  Also in Brighton is the Fishing Quarter Gallery along the seafront, the venue for the Addicts exhibition later this year, which I may just pop into to remind myself of the space and ambience of the place.  It is such a good gallery, it will be perfect when we open in May and the weather is getting warmer and the light stronger.  I think a trip to Brighton for paints, vegan sausage rolls and checking in with the gallery is becoming more and more important the more I think about it.  I will have a bit of a jolly.

Profess or David Nutt.  I have yet to add his words.

The portrait I have just completed is of the Neuropsychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt.  He is a neuroscientist, a psychiatrist and a pharmacologist, researching with his colleagues at the Drug Science Organisation into the harms and benefits of drugs both legal and illegal, with a view to helping with addiction, alcoholism, depression, PTSD and other conditions of the mind and brain.  I am very glad he has agreed to be in Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  He has much experience of treating addictions and has a great desire to find a way to treat all mental illness and conditions with compassion and the best science and medicine can offer.

I am talking to and painting the portrait of  Fiona Measham, Professor of Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy at Liverpool University and founder of The Loop, a charity that sets itself up at festivals and raves to test the drugs that are in circulation during the events.  The Loop works with events organisers and the police to make sure any contaminated and dangerous drugs that are sold there under the guise of something else are highlighted and information circulated.  Drugs can be taken to the Loop tent and tested, information and help given, and lives saved.  The Loop is interested in harm reduction and education, and there are branches of the Loop opening in various countries in Europe which is a huge success.  What I love about The Loop is that Fiona Measham puts her money where her mouth is, and actually does something to make the insane world of drugs and addiction better, despite all her other commitments.  I am really glad to have her join us for the exhibition.  Another fascinating prospective member of the Addicts exhibition is an ex police man who worked for years undercover infiltrating drugs gangs.  His story is very powerful, and moving, and once he confirms he is happy to be a part of the Addicts exhibition, I will name him.  I am hoping to meet him here in Bognor this week, and am really looking forward to it.  

In May last year at the first showing of the Addicts exhibition I met two amazing young people. Both aged 18, and both dealing with alcoholic and addicted parents.  I am really glad to be painting these two articulate and far too wise young people.  They will add something of a world of which I have no idea nor experience.  And there are other excellent people that I am working with, not least a young Australian nurse, Mae, now a mother herself and the eldest of six children of addicted and alcoholic parents.  Mae was the oldest child, and raised her siblings as best she could in a destructive, dangerous and damaging household until she could leave, taking as many of her siblings with her as could come.  She is very worth listening to, and I have started her portrait today.

In the past, I have used crowd funding to pay for my exhibitions.  Instead of managing a new Go Fund Me campaign each time I host an exhibition (which I have done for two exhibitions on Addiction, and for all my A Graceful Death exhibitions over the last ten or so years) I have decided to ask for more permanent contributions.  Many of you know I have created a Patreon page and am looking for people to subscribe monthly to support the work I am doing.  It goes without saying that I do not charge for anything I do, and I rely on the generosity of the general public to keep it all going.  Patreon, for those who are not familiar with it, is an online subscription platform where creatives of all sorts - art, writing, performance, podcasts, crafts, journalism, music, comedy and so on - ask for monthly donations of about five or ten pounds to support the artist, and in return the artist offers small benefits to the Patrons as a thank you.  This is a safe, effective and ongoing way to support all the work I do on Addiction and, when I host the A Graceful Death exhibition, on the end of life. 

In the video above I explain what the exhibition and my Patreon page is about, and hope that you may consider helping me and this project (and all the projects that I do, including the end of life exhibitions) by becoming a Patron.  Having a look at my page does not commit you, only you signing up commits you and you can cancel at any time though of course, I hope you won't want to because it will be so much fun on my page watching behind the scenes videos, interviews, and updates.  And other small benefits that each Patron receives depending on the tier (amount you pledge).  

Well.  Tomorrow is Monday and a new week ahead.  Will it include flaky vegan sausage rolls?  For the sake of art, yes.  


In the name of art.

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Saturday, 1 January 2022

Not just any illness


I wish I had looked this pretty while sneezing like a warthog

Over Christmas, I began to feel unwell. Uh oh, I thought, I have been here before, it doesn't feel good.  Usually I shake off bugs and lurgies but now and again, I don't.  My throat started to hurt, right at the back, and so I dared it to do its worst.  Do your worst! I thought, I am stronger than you! But I wasn't, I just about got through Christmas and on Christmas night I had crazy dreams and woke up with no voice. Damn, I croaked, I was going to record a video today, and now I can't. I was beginning to feel absolutely awful.  And, the day after Boxing Day, I was to have my two oldest grandboys aged four and six, to stay for three days.  Best buck up for that I thought, have an early night and get myself in gear for two little boys who absolutely love to stay with Grandma and who have been champing at the bit to come.  It will be fine! I said to myself, ignoring all the signs that it was not really fine, and carried on.  The boys arrived, my cold developed, and for the next three days I spluttered, sneezed and blew my nose while they had the time of their lives.  I took cold remedies which did wonders and for most of the time I could pass for normal and thank goodness for that.  We went out for walks, for runs (they ran) and bought lego with their Christmas money.  We had fifteen meals a day because they like to eat, and we had late nights till 8pm watching films on the sofa.  They froze little kiddie yogurts with spoons in them to make what they called popsicles, and they woke up long before dawn to get on with another exciting day. 

George, 6, decorating a gingerbread man

I remember the thrill of being with my own beloved grandparents.  My grandad worked at Cadbury's chocolate factory in Birmingham and had pockets full of sweets and chocolates that had failed the high quality standards to be allowed out for sale.  He would bring them home for his grandchildren when they, we, were staying and as he had 24 grandchildren, that was a lot of square cream eggs and odd shaped bar sixes. Our grandmother made us chips all day long as we would eat nothing else while with her, she made the best chips in the whole world and none of us were allowed chips at home so Grandma had to do it.  And she made us sweet tea in little glass cups and saucers.  She did all this with delight because she was perfect.  And that is my role model for my two little boys here, despite my cold making me feel as if I had been run over by a freight train. There would be an end date for this stay, the boys would be collected and taken home, and I would then dig my own grave and lie in it.  Not really, but that is how I felt. 

The meds worked brilliantly.  I got away with it.  Mostly I looked a bit under the weather but even though I had moments when I thought I would have to call in the army, all went to plan and everyone had a lovely time.  When the darlings did go home, I went up to bed and let my cold out of its cage and struggled with what seemed like a life and death flu dragon.  I felt so awful but oh it was lovely to be in bed.   I think it was the flu, proper flu, because I began to go a bit potty and dream I was trying to get into a medieval village with a gang of paupers and cripples in order to have a good Christmas.  I coughed and spluttered, my eyes and nose ran, my head ached and I thought, what have I done to you, God, that I should have to have this?  Now, I was able to give in to the lurgy, and fight it out in the comfort of my bed, a battle between good and evil, between life and death, between having flu and not having flu.

Trying all night to get into here with my band of cripples and paupers

I am a healthy person.  Mostly, I shake off any twinges very quickly and I regularly rest and take time out.  I don't usually get as far as manifesting any symptoms.  As I lay in my bed though this time, a few days ago, when not trying to get into a medieval castle in my head, I remembered how we used to get the flu in the old days, and how it was just one of those things.  My step grandmother would get what she called a "bally stinking cold".  At my boarding school, I would dry my big cotton hankies on the radiators in the classrooms during lessons so I could keep on using them when I had a bally stinking cold.  It never occurred to me to do otherwise, I thought I was being extremely practical.  My mother occasionally got flu and when she did, it was bed, warmth, rest and lots of cups of tea till she felt better.  My father, my three brothers and I and anyone who was visiting (20 first cousins and 12 uncles and aunts just on my mother's side of the family, plus the old great aunts from Ireland) would go and see her and smooth her furrowed brow, bring her more hankies, and go about our business.  No one panicked, no one left food outside her door, no one gave a monkeys, and mum got better and life went on.  At school, if we became ill enough, we went to the infirmary where the wonderful Sister Francoise had a small kitchen full of little brown teapots with hand knitted cosies on, which she would use to make tea four times a day for any lucky girl that got to stay in the infirmary with her.  That was bliss, that may be where I picked up my teapot and teacosy habit. 

So back now to my sick bed here.  I am, for your information, still in it.  Day three now of giving into the demons, and I feel much better.  But these days it is not good to be ill and not good to be displaying the symptoms I had.  Headache, runny nose, cough, tiredness all sound like the current no no virus, and it is impossible to tell unless one tests for it.  And the tests are not reliable, and so we all assume the worst and go a bit mad. 

The boys just gone home, about to do battle with the life and death flu dragon, still in my lipstick.

I do not assume for a moment that you go mad, I am sure you don't, people who read my blog do not go mad - but the general accepted way to proceed is to advise the ill person to test themselves, over and over again because it must be that illness, which when at last you do test positive for it, means we rush to all the new protocols for a biohazard.  Except you are now the biohazard.  No Christmas or New Year for you matey.  Hide in that there bed and do not come out for two weeks and we will throw your food in thought the window from a safe distance and may God have mercy on your soul.  Again, I do not say you do that, but it is the kind of thing that does pass for sane and practical and that, as you can tell, does not sit well with me.  

Kind and good people suggested to me day and night that I should test myself for our new variant of this no no virus.  But I have had flu before, I know what flu is, and this is flu, I said.  Well, they said, just to be sure.  Of course they suggested it, it is the latest craze, and it frightens a good many people.  If I tested and it said Yes! I would have to stay in bed and keep away from people and everyone who knew would run a mile and wash their clothes if they walked too close to my door.  If I tested and it said No!  I would stay in bed for the same amount of time as a Yes! result, and people would go about their business and leave lucozade at my door to make me feel better.  Either way, I would stay in bed for the same amount of time and come out when I felt better.  The difference to my mind is the amount of fuss involved.  So I have not tested myself, and have thanked my kind friends who are suggesting what they think is the right thing to do, and had none of the fuss.  My flu is getting better, and no one else got it.  

It seemed to me that once I became ill, it was expected of me to not just have any old illness, I needed to have this one special illness.  All the symptoms were the same, I was told, in which case, perhaps the other illness is flu.  I don't know. But I had just the same old winter illness we have all had for years, the flu.  I thank you.

I understand that what I think may annoy the hell out of you, and I am sorry about that.  The thing is, I feel very strongly that when we are ill, we need each other and not stigma and a shut down.  If what we have is as bad as the bubonic plague, then yes all bets are off and I am with you.  I will happily throw your food in through your open window and run. In the case of bubonic plague, the bodies would be visibly piling up and no one can mistake it for anything else.  Perhaps this is not a sensible comparison, our no no virus is not the plague, and though it is horrible for anyone who suffers from it - and many do not - it is not likely to scythe you down in your tracks and kill all your family in a weekend. 

Common sense tells us that anyone who is vulnerable needs to stay away from illnesses they can catch, and common courtesy makes us respect that vulnerability.   Wild horses would not drag me to see my friends, like Marie or Claire who are compromised with chemotherapy and other difficulties, and anyone recovering from surgery should not need to worry that I will turn up shouting Flesh Wound!  I won't, until it is safe for them and they are happy to see me. 

But enough now, I am through the worst of my flu and it has not affected a single other friend or family member, and all of us have lived to another day.  

Happy new year and thank you for sticking with me, and for reading my blogs. You are wonderful!


I'm cured!

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Saturday, 18 December 2021

Dreaming of Christmas alone

It's always like this. That's me by the fire there with my current heartthrob.

Who would have thought it.  I am an extrovert, one of a large family of three brothers, twenty four first cousins, fourteen uncles and aunts and fifty thousand second, third and many times removed other relatives.  I am also known to enjoy a knees up.  I had a mum and dad too, both of whom had friends, and so growing up was never really done in silence, or alone.   It was a free for all most of the time.  Add to all of this my two grandfathers, and three grandmothers - one of whom was my grandfather's second wife, who brought with her her own family, some of whom are still dear friends to this day. 

Who would have thought, knowing all this, that a silent Christmas this year on my own would be my idea of bliss.  

The idea at Christmas is that there is lots of fuss.  We can choose to join in and go up and have a lovely time, or go down and become an alcoholic and fight everyone.  Or, we can opt out while secretly tagging along with our neighbour who loves the fuss, and say, "Oh go on then," pretending we didn't really want to.  Or, we really can opt out, and make a little bolt hole for ourselves under the table with plenty of snacks and watch back to back Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, feeling smug. 

I have done all the glitter, the presents, the huge Christmas lunches and the trees over the years.  I have agreed to have everyone in the world over for Christmas Day, fed them rich boiled fruit cake from my wonderful Irish Great Aunt Nina's recipe and done my best to make everything perfect just as it is supposed to be over the festive time.   

When I was a little girl, when Christmas was so big, so magnificent and so full of magic and excitement, I never wanted it to end.  All that wrapping paper, all the hiding of presents for each other under our beds and all the wonderful foods being prepared and stored for the big day made my brothers and me giddy with excitement.  Our Christmas day started on Christmas Eve with midnight mass, followed by bed in the early hours of the morning with our stockings ready at the end of the bed and so much excitement about getting to morning to see what we had got.

Oh and then there was the food. There was always so much food over Christmas.  Such wonderful, once a year treats!  We had a big cold larder room in our house, ideal for preparing food in advance and leaving it while Mum got on with all the fresh foods.  Mum fed so many people over Christmas, I do not know how she did it, it was a banquet of delights for family, friends and assorted guests. But how magnificent it was to sneak into the larder in the week running up to Christmas day to peep at what was in there.  Trifles and fruit salads made from scratch and upside down cakes waiting only for whipped cream; brandy snaps also waiting to be filled with cream, plates upon plates piled high with newly made mince pies, bowls of fresh brandy butter, dark pink savoury jellies made with beetroot and red cabbage, sprouts, carrots, potatoes all ready to be roasted, and Mum's famous roasted red cabbage and vinegar with raisins. There were crisp buttery shortbreads in their tins, and mixtures of both chestnut and sage and onion stuffings in big bowls with towels over the top, ready to go onto the table.  And of course Great Aunt Nina's boiled fruit cake that took over four hours to make, three of them in the oven.  It was, and still is, utterly fabulous. Outside in one of the sheds, the turkey, the ham and if we had any, the pheasants, were prepared ready for cooking and presentation at the big Christmas lunch.

This is how I FELT my mother's Christmas larder looked like

 I love those memories.  My mother worked hard to make Christmas wonderful and as a young mother myself I tried to recreate the magic and food that my mother had provided for us, for my own children.  I was very poor, and chaotic, but did what I could - there was magic in my Christmases even if they were unconventional, and I always managed to find the money for presents, stocking presents and treats. I ended up buying enormous Christmas trees from some tough red headed travellers for many years, in a field off the main road near where I lived. All red haired, all trained fighters and all proud of it.  Even the women.  

Of course, this was nothing to how we got our Christmas trees while growing up.  We lived in a remote farmhouse in the middle of the West Sussex countryside then, and if you were the farmer or landowner then and reading this now, we are all very sorry.  Once a year in late December, at about midnight, my father and brothers dressed in their darkest outdoor clothes, got the axe, some rope and a torch and set off across the fields to where there were plenty of trees in the woods.  Only once did I go too, when we were all a bit older, and saw just how exciting the whole venture was.  So, in the freezing cold at nearly midnight, I joined my father and three brothers to trudge quietly in single file in pitch black across the fields to the woods, select a tree, and chop it down as quickly and quietly as possible and drag it back across the fields with obvious tree drag marks in the mud across all the fields, right up to our front door.  We didn't even think of that then, and no one ever knocked on our door to drag the tree back again.

We were nearly caught on that one time I joined them all.  Just as we fastened the rope around the fallen tree in the pitch black of the woods to take it back to the house, we saw landrover headlights bumping along the track nearby and had to dive into the undergrowth as the landowner's steward did the rounds of his woods and fields, checking there were no poachers or other problems lurking about.  Little did he know that hiding under the fusty piles of winter leaves and bracken, within a few feet of his car, was his very nice tenant who was a television producer for the BBC, his four teenaged children and an axe.

He also didn't notice one of his trees lying at a suspiciously jaunty angle with a rope round it ready to be dragged off and decorated with tinsel and fairy lights.  Just as well, as Dad was underneath it trying to look like undergrowth.  Later that day, on Christmas day itself, the landowner and his wife would be joining us all at the dinner table and he would never guess that our fabulous twinkling tree was actually one of his. 

The land owner had no idea that the lovely tree at his host's Christmas dinner was actually one of his

When my children were little, it was so easy to make their Christmases special.  They had magic in their little hearts and eyes anyway, and loved the presents, the lights, the tree and the big Christmas lunch.  My children soon learned that the more people came to visit, the more presents they got, and so they encouraged their own friends and anyone who would listen, to drop by on Christmas day.  Sometimes, there were lots of people and presents, sometimes there were just lots of people.  It did not always work out present wise for the kids, and no one minded. But I was a single mum, and it was exhausting to make everything come together and look easy.  I never had much money, often none at all, but somehow we always did Christmas.  Somehow, we pulled through.  

So now, let us come back to this coming Christmas and why I am dreaming of spending it alone.  

I have loved my Christmases past.  My parents worked hard to make them special, and I worked hard when it was my time, to make mine the best they could be for my own children.  It took so much energy and effort, so much planning and preparation, so much scrimping and saving and so much cooking, preparing and cleaning up that I was often utterly exhausted at the end of it, and felt that though I was delighted to have provided Christmas for everyone else, I did not really have one myself. I, and my mother and almost all mothers and fathers before us, did not get time off, did not have a restful and lazy time, and we were at all times responsible for everything.  The buck stopped with us.  We did everything.  Despite it being so exhausting and stressful for those in charge, it was all completely worth it when I was young and energetic, but now I lack the will to put so much effort into what will end up being only one day.  A fabulous day, a holy day, a fun day, but such a significant one that I find I am weary before I even start.  I am too old, and too tired, I don't want to do all that work.  Instead of wanting to cook, and celebrate, and spend time with all my friends and family, I actually want to close all my doors, turn my phone off, and spend a magical day on my own in my studio.  I have a vision of Christmas Day being somehow mine, and special, and my studio warm and inviting and undisturbed.  That is where I would love to spend my Christmas Day.  Alone, not speaking, not seeing anyone, just painting and pottering and listening to talking books.  Of course, there will be a little bit of preparation, and I will have fairy lights and some candles in there, and at the appropriate time, a time of my choosing, I will probably have a whole packet of mince pies. I anticipate at least six.  No one will need anything of me, no one will disturb me, and no one will ask me any questions. It will be the one day in the year where I can actively disengage from all expectations, and, a big deal for parents and all those who produce big Christmases, I will not have to try.  

But, as with all good things, I have compromised.  I will, because the grandchildren have asked, be spending Christmas Day with them.  I will enter this Christmas, then, through the eyes of my tiny grandbabies, and revisit my youth through their excitement.  I will be fed there, made to sit down, and asked to look at lego superheroes by my six year old grandson number one, give my two year old granddaughter all my jewellery because she wants to wear it, asked whether I will get a disability scooter by my four year old grandson number two (and then, he asks, if I do get the scooter, will I die soon after because I will be so old) and dribbled on by my eight month old grandson number three.  I am delighted to be going there.

On Boxing Day, the day after, I will have my day in the studio with six mince pies instead.

How I imagine my studio looks over Christmas.


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Saturday, 4 December 2021

Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return


Ash Wednesday ashes

  When I was a little Catholic in my long ago youth there were some truly beautiful and memorable words during the Mass that have stayed with me. "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return" were stern and serious words.  They remind us of our mortality at the beginning of the Christian Easter cycle of prayer, fasting and celebration. They are spoken on Ash Wednesday which in the Christian calendar, precedes six weeks of fasting and prayer called Lent.  This leads to the bleakest day of the Christian calendar, Good Friday, when Jesus, who Christians believe is the son of God, was crucified and died.  Three days later is Easter Sunday where Christians believe in and celebrate the fact that Jesus came back to life after his crucifixion, and other people eat chocolate bunny rabbits till they burst.

My Catholic upbringing brought lovely things to me.  The beauty and mystery of the Latin mass, the security of the services, feast days, holy days of obligation - we all knew where we were and what was happening and how to do it, and I learned (and keep) a respect for reverence and belief.  I did not stay in the Catholic faith, nor did I leave it as such, I just thanked it and moved on.  But there were many times during the masses as a child that I felt awed and affected by the mystery of what the priest was saying.  During the Ash Wednesday mass, we would all line up for the priest to mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross in ash as a reminder of our mortality and mutter to each of us in turn, "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."  I felt this message was meant especially for me.  It did not frighten me, I did not really know what death was, but somehow I understood what was being said and I felt a knowing and a reassurance that I could not explain.  I come from dust, I shall return to dust.  Remember this. I am mortal, I am here and gone in a heartbeat, I come from ash I shall return to ash.  The great comfort for a little Catholic girl was that when that happened, it wasn't just lights-out and that's your lot.   Job done, life over, nothing to see here, eternal nothing.  There was God, and angels, and Heaven, and Jesus and a whole army of saints and good people (now dead) to look after me.  There was a whole new adventure coming.

Looks good, can't wait.


Are you afraid of your mortality?  Do you feel that you are fully on this earth, or do you feel that you could be whisked away any moment?  Perhaps you feel a bit of both.  Our feeling of aliveness is so personal, so changeable, so up and down and so challenged by circumstance and so rewarded by experience.  Most of the time we are simply getting on with our lives.  Getting through the day with all our stuff is more than enough for us to be thinking of but sometimes, just now and again, we are brought up short and remember we are mortal. We catch a glimpse of what it means to end, to stop, to cease and it blows our mind.  Most of us don't like it, we cannot conceive of simply not being here.  Most of us are terrified of it.  How can we disappear and how can life for us end?  Not many people are comfortable with knowing they will die and perhaps, when it is not happening at that moment, those who say they are OK with it have no real conception of how it will feel when it does happen for them.  Then again, I have been with terminally ill people who say they truly are accepting of their death and simply hope it is not too painful and uncomfortable along the way.  And even then, these terminally ill people have moments when they are not wanting to go, and have to find a way to get through those difficult times.  It can be done, it is done, and we all die sometime whatever we think or feel about it.

There is something very special about remembering that we are mortal, that we come from dust and shall return to dust.  It gives us perspective, there is a time line, and we are on it.  It won't go on forever. 

"Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."

How are you living now?  Look around you, what have you got?  Who have you got?  Where are you? Is this what you want?  The miracle is that we are born at all, and have this span of life, and we cannot take it for granted because it will end.  We have just this tiny part of personal time in which to make the best of ourselves, before we move on and return to dust. What do you want? Is it what you have?


Life is tough.  It knocks us around and makes us work for our time here.  But we humans are gifted with extraordinary things like choice and perspective, we can always choose where we are going, what we will do and who we will be next. We can say, Well that didn't work for me, didn't like how that turned out, better try something different.  We choose what we have around us, and theoretically at least, we can choose to change it.  Takes time and courage, but can be done.  And this is where the magic of life can step in - people turn up and help us, circumstances change to support us, something happens and we have a sudden insight into what we are or are not doing, somehow life gives us a break.

Life is also beautiful.  We learn about the hard stuff, yes, and we also experience the lovely stuff.  We have to remember that we are allowed this lovely stuff, and not let the tough lessons take all our focus because unless we stop that, we will allow all the difficult things to dominate.  We learn about love, and compassion, and appreciation.  We experience satisfaction, praise, joy, wonder.  We have insights, understandings, inspirations.  We do things, we learn things, and while we are still here, still alive, we can choose to go up as well as down.  Small triumphs, small successes, especially small triumphs and successes, give us another beautiful human gift, hope.  Life is such a journey, it is your journey, and it is up to you, me, all of us to make of it what we can.  If I don't like today, what can I learn about it, and how can I move on?  How can I change it and what does it say about who I think I am?

Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return

Finally, I am thinking that with so many different perspectives on life and death, living and dying, that my upbringing in a religious faith has given me just one set of beliefs in a world full of sets of beliefs.  I am so grateful to have spent a childhood with the idea of a loving God and a whole universe of mystery.  That part has never left me, and though I have shaken my Catholicism warmly by the hand, thanked it and moved on into a bigger brighter world beyond, I love the memory of some of the words, and much of the magic, the mystery and the beauty of it.  Each of us has our own experiences, we make of it what we can.  Now, onwards and upwards, the day ahead beckons and life is yet to be lived and experienced.

life is a journey, never too late to live it.

  • Don't forget, you can buy my book As Mother Lay Dying, a tapestry woven of memories and insights from the bedside here

"I loved this book, it really hooked me in and kept me turning the pages.

This is so helpful for being with those we love at end of life, so many good ideas for making people more comfortable, feel loved and cherished. However, the emotions that run through it are what I find most interesting and helpful. There is such honesty about how, in fact, we might really feel at these times and I much admired Antonia’s courage in sometimes saying what we all might think but not be brave enough to voice. I also found the end section on grieving so helpful.

We all have to experience death at some point in our lives, it’s not a bad idea to be a bit prepared for it…..this book will so help." Pauline.

"For my work and my own life, this book held many important and meaningful messages. It is beautiful, funny, honest and poignant. Written with such grace, thank you for sharing Antonia"  Claire

  • Subscribe to my twice monthly newsletter, updates and thoughts from the studio and life here (next one out this Tuesday 7 December)

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Going to hell in a handcart

I think it's hell you're after, matey.

Blimey yes.  There seems to be an air of malaise and gloom about us in the world.  If what I read and watch is accurate, something bad is happening almost everywhere. Even though I no longer watch the news, read newspapers or listen to the radio, I cannot miss the podcasts and videos on YouTube and from what I can see, there is no hope.  And then I go out from my home here in Bognor Regis, and everyone is still as nice as they ever were, the shops are full of stuff and everyone is going about their business, bustling about together and living the good life.  I wonder then, whether I am just protected in my tiny provincial town by the sea and the badness hasn't caught up with us yet.  I see protests in big cities on YouTube.  I hear Australia is now a totalitarian police state.  I see Austria has declared a lockdown for their unvaccinated citizens  with Germany and Europe set to follow suit and in America, the vaccine mandate is not only now steamrolling ahead regardless, it is successfully legally challenged and still it is steamrolling ahead.  I see on YouTube and in various articles that I do read that Gibraltar has cancelled Christmas, Canada and New Zealand have become wet and authoritarian beyond belief, and I wonder - why is Bognor Regis still managing to get by without all of this affecting us?  Are we just not affected yet?

There is, if you look for it, a change in the psychic weather.  Something has happened to we ordinary people and though most of us have retained our good manners and many are happy to go about our daily business, there are billions bound by a new fear, a new terror, that somehow they are going to die.  Not the old existential we-are-all-mortal die, but a gruesome, germ-warfare die.  It is here in the whole world, this fear.  It is attached to a new threat that was science fiction only a few years ago, but now is, we are told, and we utterly believe it because why would we not, lethal, indiscriminatory and almost supernatural in its power.  It is new and we are all going to die and it comes from China. Aaaaag. Certain actions will save us, we are told, and if we do not do them we not only effectively commit suicide (we die horribly and it is our own fault we were warned) but take others down with us too (they died tragically because we did not do what we were told to do and we knew others would die if we disobeyed, and still we did not do as we were asked and now not only are we dead, but everyone else is too thank you very much), so we are effectively murderers too.  But despite religiously doing what we are told, the fear increases because we start to not only fear dying suddenly from something we can't see that seems to have all the power in the world, we fear not doing these things as if that too will strike us down, and then we fear each other and now, billions of us fear everything.  And worst of all, this great invisible threat to life as we know it ignores all the roadblocks our great leaders and those in charge of what story we are told, tell us will stop it. As far as we can see, it is still out to get us.  It knows where we live.  And still, as far as I can see, life in Bognor Regis just tootles along. 

There is something that goes hand in hand with this fear.  It is compliance, compliance with whatever we are told to do and believe in, which far from making the fear better, makes it worse.  It gets worse because the information about the invisible super killing enemy in the air keeps changing, and the invisible super killing enemy is not taking any notice of what is in place to defeat it, so nothing really works and we have to find someone to blame.  Well it is not us, that is for sure.  It must be them, whoever they are, and we conveniently make them responsible for making we who have played by the rules, look foolish.  

The compliance is understandable.  The messages from our great leaders who thought up the life saving steps to defeat the enemy in the air, are clever, and make us feel like they care, and our great leaders have access to all manner of ways to make us believe in them.  We are all so deeply traumatised by the Russian roulette manner in which they tell us we are all to die or survive, that we hang on to our great leaders' every word, even when not much of it makes sense.  The thing about compliance is that it makes us feel as if we are doing something, we are in control, we are in this together, and as a group the thing we most fear can't get us.  And our leaders tell us that we, ourselves, are the most dangerous thing of all and so despite being in this together, we need to be in it together but far enough away from the next person that we cannot touch or breathe on each other, so that this thing that we are now personally responsible for cannot get anywhere. Or at least, it can, but it may get my neighbour or the next person in the queue and not me, because I am obeying. I am safe.  Unless I come across someone who is not complying and then it is an all over. Oh what to do!  Tell us, great leader, and make it strict and tough so we feel that you care!

Browsing the aisles in a carefree manner.  Not yet in Bognor though.

I do look at social media and I do look at headlines on the papers in the shops.  What I see there is a mad, crazy world of blame and counter blame, a panic driven wish to hide whole societies under the kitchen table in hazmat suits and to denounce ordinary living as lethal.  I see that vaccines are the answer, to protect the world from this armageddon.  Great, that is a relief.  But now I see that they lose effectiveness after about six months, and that they work wonderfully well (thank God) but they don't actually work that well, and it is all very confusing.  The narrative goes now, that unless all people from birth onwards take this magical vaccine, life on earth will end.  And to help us to do that, take the vaccine, we are given free doughnuts and cash prizes and always a pat on the back for our selflessness.  And anyway, if I read the headlines, social media and YouTube correctly, if we don't get ourselves vaccinated (once, twice, three times and now four and possibly more ad infinitum), we are too dangerous to work, to shop, to travel and to be around.  Best get it done then.  Phew.  And yet, many are not vaccinated, carry on living quite happily, and what does that mean for all those who are, and what does it mean for life on earth?  Oh it is all so maddening.  

Back to Bognor Regis.  I do not know who is vaccinated or not and no one is dying in the street.  There is no division into clean and unclean in Morrison's. People wear face masks that they take out, shake off the fluff from their pockets and put on in shops, and that is possibly the only way we are playing our part.  We make our masks suit our outfits and feel lovely in them, taking them off to chat and eat and drink, and to smoke too of course.  The fact that we have them, probably many of them in different colours, is enough. We have not had any riots or demonstrations, and so far, we are milling around and buying all our usual stuff on the High Street.  Maybe those who are still very afraid are still under their tables in their hazmat suits, so of course we won't see each other. 

But there is a malaise in the air.  Things are different out there, beyond Bognor.  It is not a good idea to be ill and need care at the moment.  It is not a good idea to want to travel out of this country.  It is not good to need to work and fear being made unemployable by not having a vaccine that you thought you had the right to decide to take or not take.  Not good to fear our great leaders shutting down everything for our own good, except that it is not for our own good, if we cannot earn money to live.  There is a malaise in the air and it is not good.  If I believed all the hype, I would say we are going to hell in a handcart.  It may be true, but so far, in Bognor, it is not.  

It's like this every day in Bognor.

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Saturday, 6 November 2021

I'm turning into my mum.


Waiting in the wings to become shameless and lethal too.

I'm turning into my mum.  Blimey, it's not a bad thing as such, I love my mum.  I have written a whole book about her dying, for goodness sake, she is big in my life even now.  The thing is, I point my finger in the same way as she did, my hair is turning into her hair, I say things that she said, I feel myself walking like she used to walk and I find myself saying with feeling in the dead of night, "Back Mother!  I am my own person!"

Mum was such a striking figure.  Small, elegant and ferociously intelligent, she relished a fight with anyone who stood in her way.  Never one to actually swing a punch, Mum would use her super power instead, a forensic perception of your weakness, and a pathological determination to bring you down, and use it without mercy.  As she got older, she became more confident and delighted with the success of her encounters.  Those left in her wake included bad salesmen, disrespectful shop staff, stubborn officials and anyone who refused to give her a bargain.  

Mother was also very kind indeed, and her growing fearlessness as she got older made her step into situations where angels would fear to tread.  In these situations, her forensic perception could be very strong and helpful.  But as children, my brothers and I would relish the idea of someone trying to pull the wool over our mother's eyes when out shopping for, say, some good piece of cloth in a market.  We knew that she could be underestimated, being small and beautifully dressed, but what they did not know was that she was going to kill.  And nine times out of ten, she did.  She got what she wanted - and somehow in the negotiations, mum would find out the name of her opponent, and their mother, father and grandparents' names and she would use them all to bamboozle the poor victim. It was a master class in assertiveness and sheer bloody mindedness.  

Later in life, mother became quite openly shameless.  We went on holiday to Ireland together a good few years ago, back to visit her family and see where she spent her childhood and I was to drive us around Southern Ireland in a hire car.  On the big day, I picked her up from her house, and drove us both to Gatwick Airport with our bags and snacks for the journey.  Though in her eighties, she was a powerhouse of energy and determination, and so looking forward to our holiday.  We were like kids on school holidays - mum could be wonderful company.  Walking happily from the airport car park, swinging our bags, chatting and planning our trip, we walked into the airport building and mother suddenly slowed down her happy, healthful and spritely walk and announced that she was disabled. She needed, she said, the special help that airports offer, the little car that drives you around, a wheelchair, and one to one care.  I was mortified and wanted nothing to do with this charade because I knew from old that she was on a roll, and I was sure she was on CCTV skipping around outside.  I told her she could go and ask on her own because I was going to hide. As she approached the desk for special assistance I watched her from behind a pillar in what I can only think was a perfect display of method acting.  She limped, and sighed, and staggered, and moaned and blow me down, she convinced them that she needed help immediately at the head of the queue, and not only that, because she (now) couldn't walk at all, she said she needed - and got - the special kind of lift apparatus that lifted her, me and her wheelchair into the aeroplane before everyone else, and to be helped into a seat like a dying hero.  I was mortified, mother was delighted and all the staff felt that they had helped an old lady live another day.  It carried on in Dublin where mother (who was still very beautiful) convinced a nice (poor) porter to wheel her off the plane, through customs and then actually right outside the airport building to where the hire cars were waiting a good ten minutes walk away, and put her bodily into ours. He even fastened her seat belt because she had so little time left to live. That, is chutzpah.

No pretending.

But now, back to me.  Obviously the above account is not me, (yet), and I do not want a fight (yet) with anyone.   My mother was tiny, and I am tall.  She was well dressed and loved quality and I, bless me, love colour and sequins.  I look fine, but it is obvious I like the jumble sale look.  How am I morphing into my mother?  I find myself listening to people in exactly the same way that mum did. I remember how careful she was when listening and how she could tell if someone was not interested in asking her about herself.  Sometimes Mum was a bit sharp but mostly, she had this strange kindness as if she knew it was important for her to just let them speak.  I am aware that I am holding my head in exactly the same way that she did, and I hear myself responding using her words.  There are times when my voice is exactly like hers and I repeat phrases and sayings that used to make me say, "Oh muuuuuuum!" in embarrassment when I was much younger.  Now it is me saying them, and they are coming out from my mouth as if I'd always been speaking that way.  I know my face is more like her than it ever was, despite me supposedly looking more like my dad. I can see her in there, she's in my face and when I put on my lipstick, which I wear because my mother always did so, she's taken over. 

Mum used to say she loved a bit of hard, brown crusty bread and butter late in the evening with some whiskey.  I couldn't think of anything more tedious when she was alive but now, what have I taken to having?  I can't wait to have hard crusty brown bread and butter of an evening but as I don't drink alcohol, I have mine with hot milk. (Sorry Cousin Kirsten, this always makes her feel ill).  When did a piece of hard brown bread and butter become beautiful to me?  How? 

I see myself being her when I deal with my grandchildren too.  I can feel myself being her.  I know now how she felt looking after my children, I remember watching her and being very curious about the seamless change in her from being a mum with beautiful long black hair to a stouter white haired grandma.  I find myself thinking about her and what she said and did, and understanding her now because I am also sliding seamlessly into being a stouter grey haired grandma. It is almost as if she knew the path that I would have to follow, that of getting older with all it entails, and also becoming a grandmother, and left little clues and presents for me along the way.  And because she was my mum and played second fiddle to no one, she is making me look and act more like her just for the hell of it.  

I am just waiting in the wings now to become shameless and lethal too. 


Hello Mum!


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Sunday, 24 October 2021

I had a dream

No sleep, no dreams.
Pre dream

I rarely dream. I listen to friends who do dream and wish that I did.  They always have so much fun, and if we were inclined to do so, we could spend ages unpicking them to find meaning.  Sometimes we do, like recently my friend dreamed that she was looking for her Prince Charming. He's over there, someone said, up in the maths tower which you have to climb.  My friend has a memory of swinging in through the window of this maths tower on a vine (like Tarzan) instead, so she didn't have to climb it at all. She did not say anything about Prince Charming inside so perhaps he had dived out of one window as she was swinging in through the other.  Wonderful. We couldn't work out what any of that meant, so perhaps we will wait for her next dream and try again.  I am told that I do actually dream, everyone does, but that I do not remember them.  Possibly because I wake a lot in the night and they don't have time to really get going, or because what deep sleep I do have crams them all in and my brain explodes.  I really do not know, and perhaps you can put me right on this.

Night time used to be a fearful place for me. Many years ago I did not sleep well, and did not want to face the darkness.  There was something about the long quiet dark hours of the night in which I could not escape from my own thoughts that made me try and avoid it.  I would resist going to bed, resist going to sleep, and keep the radio on to help me.  To lie down and stay still, to know that all the chattering in my mind would be louder and louder in the quietness, and to feel the anxiety in my stomach in the early hours when I woke after only a small amount of sleep, made life very difficult.  I did sort it out after many years and in the end, and it was quite simple.  Mostly, it was a decision to stop dreading the night, and to have a proper bed time and wake time.  I read a good book about sleep, put their recommendations into practice, and the long dark scary nights began to recede. I love my night times now.  I sleep very well in my own way, and don't worry about it if I don't.  But still, I do not remember my dreams.  

The dream

 My life is full of meaning.  The work I do, the people I meet and the places I go means that I am often concentrating hard on what the outcomes are.  Much of what I do is about energy and energies which includes healing work, listening work and creative work. It can be very intense - it is intense - which is why it works.  The deeper and more difficult things in our lives take time, focus and energy to deal with and when I am working with someone, I use love and kindness alongside time, focus and energy, and it draws on resources we forget we have.  Sometimes, my work is an encounter with someone out of the blue, and I may not know who they are or what their name is but we encounter each other and for the time we spend together, there is an exchange of healing and experience.  

When I go to London, I carry loose change so that I can give it to whoever asks for it.  One time, a very misshapen young man, obviously not right in the head, left his cardboard box and beckoned me over.  Would I go into the coffee shop and get him a sandwich and a coffee?  With sugar? I did so, and while I was buying it, he wandered in looking filthy and strange. I feared the coffee shop owner would refuse to sell to me if it were for this man, everyone stopped and looked at him.  But the coffee shop owner gave me a smile and said that as it was for this man, who he addressed by name, he must have cake too.  Apparently this young man is often in the shop, and the owner loves it when people listen to him and buy him what he asks for.  When they don't the owner gives him the food anyway. The young man and I left the shop, he asking me to come back another day, and buy him some more.  The healing here was through the coffee shop owner, and the experience was for me. The vehicle was the dishevelled young man.

So, my dream.  I dreamed that I was in a dark, black place, so dark that it was impossible to describe.  The blackness had a texture to it, like velvet.  It was not a frightening place at all, despite the deeper than dark darkness.  I had a person, that was neither alive nor dead, and in the darkness I had to lift this heavy body and put it back into its soul.  It was hard work, and I struggled to manage the weight of the body with me, and I remember thinking that I had no idea what a soul looked like, or where to find one. At that moment, to my left, a ball of light appeared which was so bright, so light and so beautiful that it took my breath away.  It was flat, not spherical, and in the centre was so much love and I knew that this was the soul I was looking for.  But I also understood that this amazing light was looking out for me too.  Somehow, I raised the figure above my head and into the soul and as I did so, I knew the figure that I was carrying was that of my son who has so many troubles.  In the distance I began to see other lights appearing, and I knew all was well.

Finding the soul and it finding me.

When I woke, I was filled with the beauty of this light, the feeling of peace after the body and soul were united, and the memory of the incredible blackness in which I was struggling to lift this body.  Days later, I am still in awe of the whole dream and keep coming back to the light.  I like to dwell on the power of this and feel the most important part of the whole dream is that the soul light, though it belonged to someone else, was magnificently looking after and out for, me too.  Wow.

Post dream

Of course, it was a dream.  But it felt more than a dream.  It felt like something hopeful, something wonderful, something beyond me.  I am reassured, inspired and relieved by it.  We struggle along in our lives, and many of us feel we are alone especially when things seem never to improve. Life can be so relentless and lonely, and at times, we long for reassurance that we are not wasting our time, that doing our best will pay off, that somehow things will get better. Even those of us with a faith of sorts can feel abandoned.  It is hard work, when the going gets tough. I do have a faith and I do believe in a God of love and kindness.  I do think there is a purpose to life and that if we can remember it, we are not alone.  Of course, we don't always remember it, how can we?  We are only human and sometimes it feels like we blinking well are alone. But this dream came to me when I needed something to reconnect me with hope, and I think it was a spiritual experience in a dream.  So much so that I have tried to paint the experience, which when I was doing it, boiled down to two colours, black and white.  But I did paint it and used Prussian Blue and Paynes Grey for the darkness, because those are luminous and there is depth to them whereas black is matt and flat. My head is painted in matt flat black which shows up against the depth of the blue and grey, if you look carefully.

I went to see my son and decided to tell him.  I showed him a photo of the painting, and he liked it.  There is always a chance that when one talks of a dream experience like this, that it will not be taken seriously and dismissed as nonsense.  My son was quite taken with it, and I am glad.  Since I had to raise him above my head into his soul again, and he was jolly heavy, it was the least he could do.  Ha ha.

Post script - a dream experience like this does not necessarily change things in the world.  It would be wonderful to think that suddenly all is well, and that we are all healed.  We live our lives as we choose, and our stories are our own, even if we feel they are not.  Life is nothing if not an ongoing, extraordinary, painful and joyful series of lessons, experiences, losses, gains and understandings.  A dream like this, though I describe it as a spiritual experience inside a dream, is for me and I take from it that I, and my son, are not alone. I take from it a feeling of comfort and connection that is beyond what I normally experience, and a knowing that the whole of existence is vaster and more intense than I could possibly know in my day to day life.  I like this, and it helps me accept a bit more what I cannot change. 

Light is everywhere, even when we cannot see it, which is most of the time.


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