Thursday 21 April 2022

Overdose on a hospital trolly. Detail of one of my addiction paintings.

 Sometimes I doubt myself.  I think, it isn't really that bad.  Sometimes, it isn't that bad, I am right.  Other times it is scary, unpredictable and I don't want to deal with it.

What am I talking about?  I used to say it is just dealing with someone who is high as a kite, incoherent with medications, aggressive, unreasonable and needy with alcohol but now, I am thinking again.  Yes, I feel all that anxiety and yes all those things I described are hard to deal with but I am thinking it isn't really the substances though they make things much more irrational.  It is the mental health that is behind it all.  It is the emotional, mental, spiritual pain that drives the need to self medicate in the first place.  

I used to think, with an addict, treat the addiction and everything will slot into place.  For a long time, I believed that the big thing with drugs and alcohol is to remove the addiction bit, because that is the worst manifestation of wrongness a person can have.  When it is gone, dealt with, sorted, then life will be better.  In many ways that is true, the actual addiction thing is fantastically awful to deal with, live with, have.  But the more I look into addiction and addicts for my upcoming exhibition Addicts and Those Who Love Them, the more I realise I know nothing.  It is as complex a matter as the stars in the sky.  Someone suffering from addiction often has chronic social, emotional, mental and spiritual needs that are unmet, unaddressed and overwhelming. Becoming clean and sober is a first step but then the hard work begins.  How do they live in this world that seems hostile, flat, hopeless and unkind without something to take them away from it all? They need and seek escape. Who are they in this world, and how can they cope with life, especially if life is so very hard and painful? As yet, I have not met anyone who either just took one dose of something and become hooked, or who had the best life ever and decided to give it all up for drugs and alcohol.  The people who do give their best lives ever up for drugs and alcohol are possibly not actually having their best lives.  Maybe it looks that way, maybe it is supposed to look perfect, but really isn't. 

I am wondering whether, in some circumstances, being stoned or high or drunk is a better option for addicts.  A nicer place for them to be.  Less connection to the awful realities in real life though not good for everyone else to deal with.  I watched someone recently become so high on whatever they took it was impossible to do the things outside their home that they said they wanted to.   It was really annoying but that is because I can come and go without a moment's thought.  This person was so afraid of life, so addled with self doubt and bad choices, so mentally unwell and so sure they would suffer outside the home, that they became incapable of leaving. The drugs successfully covered the distress of dealing with life.  

The people in my exhibition on addiction all teach me deeply personal and important things.  I don't take drugs (except tea, which funnily enough is a drug) and I don't drink alcohol, I do not know anything about that world except for what I am told and observe.  It seems that behind all the addiction behaviour is depression, isolation, distress, shame, abuse, trauma, confusion and self hatred.  Lack of connection to others. No wonder they all take and took drugs and alcohol.  No wonder.  And as I have said before about all this, I have no idea what to do about it.  That is why I am creating this exhibition.

I am learning that there is a difference between drug dependency and drug addiction.  I am learning that only about 10% of people become addicted, which leaves about 90% who don't.  I am learning that the messaging about many drugs harms is hugely exaggerated, and that the worst performer on the drugs harm scale for harm to oneself and to others, by a long shot, is alcohol.  I am discovering just how many people take illegal drugs because they like it and do not go mad.  Drugs work.  If you want to heighten your experiences, they work.  I thought one sniff of heroin would get you addicted.  I thought all drug takers were addicts.  I thought addicts could get better through rehab, and then I thought they couldn't.  I also see that all addicts are people, and all of them were someone's little child once whether that was a good experience for them or not.  I also learned that drug taking does not necessarily create brain damage.  And most important of all, I am now convinced that the war on drugs is one of the biggest failures of all time.  Drugs laws are not working and I never thought I would think this, but I do.  Big time. With knobs on.

All of the above is why I sometimes doubt myself.  I do not know much about being addicted. I thought I did, but I don't. The addict in my life may not be an addict after all, as they have always told me, which I poo pooed.  Of course you are! I thought. I am dependent, this person said, and that is different.  I am beginning to see that it is different, and dependency is serious stuff too. I am less afraid of drug taking now.  There is so much behind it, so much I don't know yet, and asking questions of people for my exhibition has brought the person, the people, behind addiction, to the front.  It is making me see addiction in my own life differently. That has to be a good thing.



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Saturday 26 February 2022

What do I really think? Publicly? I can't tell you that.


Keeping mum. 

What do I really think?  Publicly?  I can't tell you that.  Friendships depend on you not knowing. I need support for my work so it is best that I don't say, although luckily, no one has asked me incendiary questions recently and so for the time being, I am safe.

This is not quite how my life is, I am not in that terrible position where I have to, or choose to, make public choices about life, politics or health.  I am not a politician or a famous person or an activist, I don't belong in the great big world of opinions and pronouncements.  This is a huge relief, I would not survive at all, I don't like conflict and I absolutely hate annoying people (though I know, I do annoy some of you sometimes).  I like peace, agreement, harmony and happiness.  I live alone in my colourful house and it is filled with loveliness because no one is here to challenge it.  I find refuge and real happiness here but oh.  When I look outside at what is going on in the world, I am very alarmed. 

I do not have a television or a radio, and I do not read the newspapers.  This is a choice I made two years ago when I began to question the stories I was hearing and reading, and so decided to stop hearing and reading them.  I was as bad as anyone else, very comfortable in being right about everything and so when I began to see cracks in the stories that gave me so much comfort and moral correctness, much against my will, I had to let go of trusting everything I heard and read, and start again.   Instead, I looked around me at the life of my family and friends, and based much of my local knowledge of what was happening to them.  I have a huge network of both, so felt very updated at least on their lives and times.  For news and updates from further afield and abroad, I found podcasts by as many sensible people as I could, and expanded my horizons.  I looked on YouTube and found a vast array of news from many different angles, and now I feel I know as much as I did before, but from a few more perspectives than before I banned newspapers, radios and televisions from my life.  

But back to not saying what I really think - I have come to this conclusion while watching people get

Fisticuffs online
into trouble on social and mainstream media.  I have, for the life of me I don't know why, a Twitter account which I don't use except to see how mean other people are being to each other.  I have Facebook and Instagram accounts to post my jolly stories and see what my friends and people I like are doing but of course, it never is just about our friends; once I have checked in on them, I am drawn into reading and watching conversations, posts and articles that sometimes make me wonder what planet I am on.  And here is the difficulty.  I cannot tell you what they are, or what they are about, because all these points of view and opinions seem so very personal to the people that put them up and to those that reply and either argue or agree, that if I even hinted at what they are I would be in on the fisticuffs if any of them read this and took offense.  I may incur the kind of wrath that I see around me, so the best thing is to say nothing at all and only whisper my opinions to my closest friends and tell them to keep it to themselves.  

I read news on social media and You Tube and am send snippets of more news by my family and friends that make me wary of letting anyone know what I think and believe.  I admit, that as far as lockdowns go I have spoken my mind, and I do know there is footage of me on the anti lockdown and anti vaccine mandate marches in London and for that I got a wee bit of flack.  Those really did count as incendiary opinions, though surprisingly an awful lot of response was positive.  Still, it gave me a taste of thinking things that other people wanted me to stop thinking.  

There are so many contentious things online.  I wonder if it is the same in real life?  I look online and see that people are divided into hysterically opposing teams.  There is footage of them all being very rude and unbalanced about each other, whatever it is they are fighting about.  There are so many subjects it is dangerous to engage in.  Despite the fact checkers checking their opponents out of existence, they have not stopped all the shouting.  I went onto Twitter just now to see people misreading what other people had said and using all manner of horrid words in their responses.  It is the same on other social media platforms, and sometimes I see things I utterly disagree with too and think are bonkers but I do not respond.  Even though sometimes I want to say something really witty and cutting, I don't because then I am entering the battle.  And it is a one sided, unwinnable, irrational battle that goes nowhere and does no good.  And online, it appears, if one is wrong enough, one loses ones job and has to hide from angry mobs.  I don't want any of that, I need you all to support my work and love me, I really can't have my opinions and beliefs made public at all just in case.  But I have noticed in real life, I don't see any of this behaviour.  No one I know shouts people down if they are speaking in public.  I don't have any friends who scream at other people or break windows in mostly peaceful protests.  That may be because I live in Bognor Regis, and we don't seem to do a lot of that kind of thing here. It does happen in the wider world, and has already happened to lots of prominent people though, and I am horrified that it does.  But so far, because I have not said anything too wrong, I have got away with thinking unsafe things - such that they are because never having tested them I do not know, I am just guessing by seeing who gets bashed and why on social and main stream media.

I aspired to this
 Perhaps I am showing my age.  Perhaps we humans were always thus, and I just think in my youth everyone behaved better.  But we didn't have the internet and so the dissatisfied youth of my day had pitched battles in the town centres instead.  I remember football hooligans fighting each other with broken bottles, I remember dreadful gangs looking for foreign youths to attack at night after the pubs closed, I remember being very afraid of a terrible thing called skinheads.  And when I saw one, they looked so odd in their braces, boots and shaved heads that I would run away.  And then I remember Punks.  They were all about anarchy and spitting and mayhem.  I was 16 then and thought they were a great idea and so became a kind of fairy version of one.  I wore all the clothes, did my hair like a goth and wore tons of black eye makeup.  I didn't spit though, or throw up on anyone.  Punks, being into anarchy and destruction, could wreck the joint in no time at all. I didn't do that, but I did put safety pins all over my clothes like they did though of course, they put them in their ears, noses and mouths too.  I wafted on the edge of punkdom feeling very grown up and not getting hurt.

But my parents and my grandparents thought the world was ending when they saw me joining in the anarchy as a pseudo punk.  Oh how they lamented the way we youngsters were going.  No one did this in their day they cried - until they remembered the teddy boys of the 1950s causing trouble and the astonishment around Bill Haley's record Rock Around The Clock which ushered in Rock and Roll and the end of civilisation.  At the time, none of it was heard of.  It seems that each new generation has it's own version of bad behaviour.  It just seems the ones we were involved in were better and the stuff going on now is worse than we ever were.

So back to not saying what I really think on social media.  While writing this, I am thinking, it doesn't really matter what I think.  I don't post my feelings online because I am private and it isn't because you lot may come after me with a pitchfork (of course you won't, I am just being dramatic), it is because I don't want to. Whatever everyone else is doing and saying, it is nothing really to do with me, and even though I get a bit anxious when I see how much nonsense there is, no one needs to know my deepest thoughts unless they are a close friend and standing next to me. I get drawn into checking the madness, and getting cross about it, which is nothing but wasted energy.  And actually, I don't really care what they are all saying.  It isn't anything to do with me, I have my work and my life taking up as much time as I have to spare, so I am actually living in real time with real people and projects.  I think I have sorted my thinking out now.  Thank you for listening, I am fine now.  I had better not say any more than I love kittens and Mother Theresa, and that I want to save Polar Bears.  Now I can still be friends with everyone and have you all support my work.  Phew.  

What was the world coming to.

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Saturday 12 February 2022

How dare lots of strangers not give me likes and loves?

Fed up and pouting

I got fed up recently.  As I stamped my foot, folded my arms and pouted, and as the words, "It's not fair," formed on my lips, a little angel tapped me on the shoulder and whispered into my ear, "Look at what you already have."

And therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare's Hamlet said. 

To backtrack, what has led me to this point of pouting and stamping my tiny feet, is summed up as follows.  I am creating the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition. Despite having wonderful help and support, there is only me creating this work and putting it together, and it is a huge amount of work;  I am trying to complete nine new portraits and nine new stories all before 12 May. That is fine, it is just as it should be, it is my project and and I asked for those paintings and stories.  But I work very hard for long hours and often become discouraged as I can feel underappreciated for the time I put into what I do. What I am trying to say is that I didn't think I was getting enough online attention.

What made me frown and refuse to go on was looking on social media and seeing other people were more successful than me. I looked at people who seemed to sweep the public before them with (in my opinion) barely anything to say, I looked at people who seemed to have it all, and I looked at my own social media presence and thought, Damn.  Nobody loves me.

Before I show some common sense and insight, how did I get to this point?

I am sixty one years old, slightly unconventional, and drawn to work with difficult subjects such as the end of life (see the A Graceful Death exhibition) and as you know, Addiction. I am established as an artist and have made good and bad decisions along the way.  It has been both wonderful to follow my heart and a struggle to make ends meet over the years.  However delightful it is to have the time now to create my own projects because I no longer have dependent children at home, it is also very demanding.  Each portrait I do starts out like a toddlers drawing.  It is that bad.  I never show anyone my works in progress unless they look good; my aim is to present you with a fantastic painting. I try not to allow anyone to see the utter rubbish I produce at the beginning, preferring you to think I knock them off without effort because I am clever.  It actually takes a great deal of time to think of, create and finish any work of art but I keep that secret.  We don't get to see me struggle, we don't get to see my bad days and we certainly don't get to see my mistakes.  I once spent a long time painting someone with a fascinating face, only to find, when I stood away from it at the end, that I had painted the eyes so far apart they were almost on the side of his head.  I had painted ET.  There was no choice but to re paint the eyes and put them where they should be.  It turned out fine in the end, and I never admitted this mistake to anyone.  It took a great deal longer to re paint the eyes as all our features are linked to each other, and the whole face needed to be redone.  But no one knew this because I presented the painting as if were effortless, and easy, because I didn't want anyone to know I was only human.  

How my paintings start. They get better. 

 My social media profile has me as a fairly unconventional, uncomplicated, artist, grandmother and eater of food.  I'm always having tea and wholesome get togethers with my friends, I have loads of grandbabies always turning up, and I always look as if I am having an effortlessly grand time.  When my friends say that I always seem so happy, and I have such a wonderful life, I confess that my online life is pure Hollywood.  It is a very well crafted bubble of jolliness, even when everything is falling about me in ruins.  You wouldn't love it, I say, if I show you my really fat days when I do absolutely nothing but avoid my Urgent To Do list and eat crisps.  

Working hard to create art, busting a gut to organise an exhibition while looking after grandchildren and having fun times with my friends, should make me irresistible online and get me millions of followers, likes and hearts.  I should be drowning in comments like Tell me more, and OMG you're so amazing.  But I am not.  And I think, why not?  What is wrong with me?  Why don't you all love me?

It is a slippery slope to madness. The angel who whispered into my ear to ask me to look at what I already have was very wise.  It is so simple, and when I had a look, I was reminded again that the online world is not real.  My real world is real, and in my real world I can look my friends in the eyes and feel the warmth of their friendship.  In my real world, I am surrounded by support for my work, surrounded by happiness from my friends and surrounded by a sense of belonging from my family.  I had a team meeting recently to update everyone on the upcoming exhibition and afterwards, with lists written and ideas discussed, I was struck by how amazing all those in the meeting are.  These people are with me, they are full of quality and strength, and they are the real thing.  I don't need a heart from a stranger on social media with these people on my team.  This lot are full of hearts.  And good ideas.  What else have I got that I was not seeing?  I have feedback on the paintings I am doing from the people in them.  They love the paintings, they love their words on them.  They mean it, and they say it to my face in my studio, they don't text me and send me an emoji. What else do I already have?

I have a sense of community in my community.  I have a sense of purpose in my work.  If things get really tough I can count on my brothers who I know will help me out, on my friends, who will listen and do what they can.  And, about those friends, I have them everywhere.  In Ghana, in Dublin, in London, in Bognor, in Birmingham and many more places.  They don't need to send me likes and hearts for me to know they are there. They are still expected to contribute to my Crowdfunding pages and Patreon requests however, and if they don't, I know where they live.  

What else do I have?  I have a sense of wellbeing.  I have a sense of anticipation about the future and a sense that the future is huge, and exciting, and a little unnerving.  I have all this outside of my computer and when I am finished in my studio, I can walk out if it and into my kitchen where I can experience, in real life, fresh bread and butter and jam.  

To conclude, online life is seductive if I let it. If I am creating sheer Hollywood with the stories that I post, then so is everyone else.  That angel who tapped me on the shoulder and told me to look at what I already had knew what it was talking about.  My life isn't virtual, it is real.  What do I know about who is watching me on social media, and what their lives are like?  And really, what gives me more satisfaction - brain storming with my friends over tea and chocolates, or having fifty strangers give me a thumbs up or a heart?  It is really nice having attention online.  But it isn't real life. Real life is when my friend Gill took me out to lunch at a new arty cafe in Littlehampton and fed me sweet potatoes and rock buns.  And when someone tells me my home is light and loving. And when my four year old grandson tells me I forget things because I am so old and soon I will have to die.  That is definitely not virtual. 

With the grandbabies, not dying quite yet.  But still, in the real world.

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Friday 28 January 2022

What if we changed our minds about the badness of drug taking?

Once a ho - from the Addicts exhibition 2018

I have the ghost of an idea which is not yet clear.  It involves drug taking, and drug behaviour.  I am speaking to loads of people about their drug use for my Addicts exhibition, keeping in mind my own family member with addiction difficulties, and there is a rebellious thought forming.

What if it was OK to take drugs.  What if there was a way to accommodate drug taking and change our approach to it? I am talking, as I say, to a good few people, some of whom suffer difficult and crazy addictions, others who did not become addicted but who took drugs and alcohol to such an extreme that they were utterly out of control.  But when these latter people decided to stop, they found a way to do so without rehab or AA.  Stopping was not easy, and the way of doing it was possibly unorthodox but they did it and knew that they could - but I am discovering that the whole drug taking and drinking to excess world is utterly unorthodox.  I remember one such person telling me that there is addiction and there is dependency.  At the time I thought they were the same thing, and this fellow was just using words to deny his problem, but actually, I wonder if he has a point. It is beyond my experience and understanding, mostly because I am teetotal and do not take drugs and until I started work on the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition, I had not come across people who are in this other universe.  Damn, it is complicated.  I wonder, how has all this addiction and hellish behaviour, hellish outlook and lack of interest in providing solutions got so bad.  How has it? Is what we think about drugs correct?  Is our response to drug taking working?  Are we all part of the problem?  And it is a bloody awful problem.  Really it is.

 Crack pipe.  A fairly dreadful substance.

 Here is my rebellious thought.  What if we have caused the crisis of addiction and mental health and associated crime by our response to it?  I am wondering if the fears we have and the stories we think we know about each drug is wildly out of balance.  The more I look into it, the more I talk to people, the less I know.  What I think I know is that all drugs are bad.  Addiction happens instantly and cannabis is a gateway to other addictions.  I know that addicts are dreadful people, their addictions make them manipulative, cruel, without conscience and borderline psychopaths.  They commit crimes to fund their habits and much senseless violence is the result of the drugs trade.  All drugs need to be banned. And much of this may be true.  The amount of manipulation, lies, stealing and bad behaviour I have experienced from addicts I have known is very hard to deal with.  The way some of these characters casually commit crime is shocking to a law abiding nice person like me.  I watched them do it and laugh about it, and I thought - they do not belong in my world nor I in theirs. 

And this is where I am beginning a thought experiment with myself where we turn everything on its head. Millions of people take drugs and millions of people drink alcohol, they always have.  According to research done by Professor David Nutt at Drug Science, only 10% of people become addicted.  That means 90% don't.  Do drugs make the users anti social?  Sometimes, yes.  And sometimes, no.  Are all drugs absolutely lethal? No.  What is the one drug that causes the most harm both to the user and those around them?  Alcohol.  Is cannabis a gateway drug?  Not necessarily.  On its own, it is pretty harmless to most people, as are psychedelics including MDMA, magic mushrooms and LSD.  The harms that may occur from all these drugs are possibly less than the harm caused by alcohol, which is legal.  Is alcohol a gateway drug?  Well, yes, I think it is.  It seems to go very well too (from a drug takers point of view) with all manner of more serious and harmful drugs like cocaine, opiates, benzodiazepines and all manner of legal and illegal substances.  And there is no doubt that anyone taking all this kind of stuff is going to be pretty difficult to deal with.

Then I think, why do people take drugs?  There are so many reasons, one of which is because they work.  My friend Ian, a true success story if ever there was one, sober and clean now for ten years after forty years of insane drug and alcohol abuse, said that if your life is so bad, so difficult and bleak, and something you took put rose tinted spectacles on for you, then why would you not take it?  That is what he did. People self medicate through drugs, they take away pain and hopelessness.  They make you feel you can cope.  One man I spoke to started drinking at thirteen.  It gave him a sense of who he was, he lost his shyness and felt that only alcohol could help him with feeling so powerless as a child. And here is another revolutionary thought, people take drugs because they like to get high.  People love to get high. 

My friend Ian.  From the Addicts exhibition 2021

 My thought experiment made me wonder, what if we asked drug users what they want?  How would their lives be better?  I used to think abstinence was the only goal to have in recovery.  I don't think that now.  Many many addicts cannot come off their drugs.  The cycle of trying to get clean and sober, and relapsing, and trying to get clean again is impossible and maybe, they should be allowed to take their drug.  Our culture hates addicts. We punish them, we think they chose this life, they don't deserve our help.  Or time.  Or money.  We don't give to addicts on the streets because we know they will spend it on dope or drink.  We are pleased with ourselves, we were not fooled and they need to learn.  I say, have you ever seen someone withdrawing?  They don't need a lesson from us, they need their substance.  Nothing we have will be as bad as that.  Give the money and don't judge.   Addicts do not give up their drugs because we ask them to.   Alcoholics do not stop drinking because we make life difficult for them.  An alcoholic I spoke to told me each time he went to prison he worked in the kitchen because he knew how to make alcohol from the scraps of vegetable peelings.  Prison didn't work for him, it was irrelevant.  But here I have to say that though alcoholics are addicted to their alcohol, I don't suppose my thoughts on drug reform is relevant to them.  It is a whole different subject but I hear that research into using therapeutic psychedelics under a licensed practitioner for alcoholic recovery is very exciting and successful.  Watch that space. 

If drugs laws were changed and drugs were decriminalised, everything would turn on its head.  Imagine, the reason the dealers and gangs are so appalling is because there is no legal control over their stuff and their business models.  They do what they want - who is to stop them?  Who do you complain to if your supplier puts rat poison in your dope?  Who regulates the prices you pay?  Who do you go to when it all goes belly up?  So if your supplier was the government, and instead of back alley transactions there was help available and offered, the whole concept of drug taking would change.  The dealers and drugs gangs would be out of work.  I believe that at one point fifty or so years ago, doctors were able to prescribe heroin and there were a fraction of addicts then.  With the prescription under control, people were able to work, to carry on as normal, under the safe eye of the doctor.  When that was made illegal, and those poor people needed their heroin as normal, the only way to get it was to break the law.  And a downward spiral of illegal supply and demand took over.  Of course, if drugs are illegal, then anyone can step in and create the supply with any amount of dangerous adulteration, and no one can do a thing about it.  In America, during prohibition, when alcohol was illegal, more people died of alcohol poisoning because of the substances added to the drink to make more money, than when it was legal.  What if all drugs were made legal and taken over by the government, what would happen to all the dealers and gangs?  All the resources in place to fight drugs and drugs crime - which makes such a tiny and temporary dent in the trade - could go to treatment, to research into what actually works, and to safe, clean, monitored spaces in which to take the drugs.

Addicts are not like us.  They don't respond to instructions.  They are chaotic and unreliable.  Their world is made up of the search to find their fix and everything they do is illegal. The buying, the taking, the acquisition.  They can't give up because we tell them to.  The law makes no difference to their need to use except that it makes them live outside the law and against it.  Many addicts can't stay clean.  Hence methadone. And even then users top up their methadone with other stuff.  And even then, there is shame, judgement and punishment.

So my rebellious idea which is shared by many, many others, is that what if we asked our addicts what they wanted, and what if we ended the war and make it a peace on drugs with help not punishment, and what if we understood that those who are addicted, need patient, kind, consistent help to take their stuff if they cannot stop?  What if we shone a light on drug addiction and changed our minds, to find sensible, practical and humane ways to bring addicts and addiction back into the fold?  What a thought. 

Safe injection sites are popping up.  Controversial, but successful for harm reduction.

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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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