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Saturday, 8 May 2021

Do you do any jolly art?

 

I did not do this.

 My friend Deb asked me this last night, after dinner.  If you had to create an exhibition about something jolly, she asked, what would it be? 

In the warmth of the fading evening sunlight, sitting at my kitchen table next to all the flowers in colourful jugs and containers next to the spotty salt and pepper pots, with all my bright and motley collections of mugs, plates, saucers and bowls stacked up on shelves around the kitchen, I was stumped for an answer.  Deb looked at me, and I raised my eyes to the ceiling in order to think.

"HIV?" I said.  

"That's not very jolly," said Deb and a thoughtful silence filled the room. 

"Your house is jolly," Deb said next, "and you're jolly. Think again.  You can do it.  If you had to do a jolly exhibition, what would you do it on?"

But I could not think of a whole exhibition of jolly art.  I can do one off happy, light hearted paintings, I love a bit of colour and fun, I have done fairies and angels but as Deb tried to get me to a point where I could say Yes!  I can paint funny kittens! it became obvious that I did not have it in me. 

I have tackled death and dying (The A Graceful Death exhibition ) and am currently working on an exhibition on addiction (Addicts And Those Who Love Them) and so I see why Deb was thinking about something lighter.  She herself was talking about birth for a project she'd like to work on, and though it is true that I am jolly, upbeat, optimistic and extrovert, all I could see were still births, unwanted babies, sick babies and post natal depression.  It was then that Deb asked the jolly art question.  "Could you do it?" she asked, and I found myself saying, "No." I did not feel too comfortable admitting it, and of course it made us both laugh, because what have I become that my idea of light and uplifting art is a project on HIV?    

I will unpick this now.  I cannot leave you all thinking I take HIV lightly, or that Deb and I laugh at it.  

From A Graceful Death

I am drawn to difficult things.  Not all difficult things, it seems I have to have had some experience within the subject to want to take it further through art.  Though I have had no experience of HIV, I am moved by accounts from friends who went through it when it was new, and very dark. There is something about the way fear and the not-knowing created untold cruelty and suffering back in the 1980s when AIDS first appeared, that makes me want to know more about the people who died in isolation and in total pain.  Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement, came up with this description of pain for her patients facing the end of life.  Total pain includes a whole experience of pain - physical, emotional, social and spiritual.  It describes the power of pain itself, and for all those people who died alone and rejected, total pain seems to me to sum up their experience. If I were to create a project on HIV and AIDS, perhaps I hope for something to be redeemed by remembering people I have never met, through paint and words, though they are, possibly, in a much better place of light now, if that is what one believes.  Which I do. 
From the Addiction exhibition

Perhaps I explore these subjects because I want to find a space in them for healing.  Art can find a way into our minds, start us thinking, and sometimes there is a divine whispering, a new insight coming up that may include compassion, or understanding, or connection.  All the work I do is intended to unlock some self knowledge, at whatever level it happens.  Because I have no answers, I am very drawn to ask the people I work with on these projects, to explain themselves to me.  I remember saying to the people I painted and interviewed for the A Graceful Death exhibition, "Who are you? What do you want to say?" From those questions all manner of stories, accounts and wonderful things emerged.  I use those questions in all the projects I do now.

Of course, I really explore these subjects for myself.  I want to understand something of the humanity of the people involved.  How can we understand another person's humanity?  I don't really know, but we have to have a go.   The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as an ancient Chinese proverb says.  I am drawn to this work, these subjects, this exploration, this journey.  Everyone on the journey teaches me something.  It all comes down to me, then.  What do I learn?  What can I do?  How can I use this knowledge?  Much of the knowledge is perhaps "total knowledge", as in Dame Cicely Saunders using the phrase "total pain".  It is physical, mental, social and spiritual.  That kind of knowledge rubs off on people that are around it, and gathering the stories of people who have experienced, and are still experiencing, difficult stuff, can be very powerful.  I have found that we all benefit.  In the telling of the story, the listening to the story and the showing of the story.          

And so, now, back to painting jolly things.  Why am I not interested in doing any?  Perhaps because my life is quite jolly, and I need a bit of an internal push to paint.  My life outside the studio is like this. 

  1. No one lives with me.  Done the Mum thing. 
  2. My house is full of all my favourite stuff. My daughter says it is like my creative brain has exploded onto the walls.
  3. Living alone, I can eat what I want, when I want, and experiment with all manner of nice treats.  Like seeing what peanut butter and jam sandwiches are like in the bath at 3am.  
  4. My garden is filling itself with new buds, flowers, lush new growths of young strong green foliage and it makes me feel delighted with life. (I may have love fits about the garden but it is actually my friend Chris who works hard in it, he makes it thrive.  I just coo about it and commune with nature as if I had done it all)
  5. I have my fourth grand child, born last week, to adore.  Still doing the Grandma thing.
  6. I have lots of ideas for lots of projects, so there is never a dull moment.  A wonderful gift in getting older is that I don't actually have to do them.  It is enough to sit on my soft red sofa and simply think about them. I can then chose the easiest.

 I wonder if I am taking all the jolly things for granted, and simply enjoying them.  But perhaps, thinking about it even more, I respond to the tightrope balance between harmony in my private life and a wish to explore the darkness beyond it.  I have only arrived at a modicum of harmony in my own life by knowing and experiencing huge disharmony.  My life has not been easy, but it has been amazing. There is something very real, very true, about people when the chips are down.  That is where the truth is.  That is where the insights are.  That is where the hard work is.  That is where I want to discover more about life itself.  I have been there so often myself, and may still return - life is unpredictable.  But at the moment, there is enough jolly in my home and life that I do not want to explore it through art.  I simply want to have it, and gain courage from it and carry on exploring.

A jolly painting, "Jesus on the Tube" has been a firm favourite for many years. See, I can do it.

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Sunday, 25 April 2021

A Group of Conspiracy Theorists Descend on London.

 

Vanessa and I arrive in London like the crazy crackpots that we are.
I was joined by nearly a million people yesterday for a stroll around London town.  The instructions were to meet in our bubbles near Hyde Park, Green Park and Victoria, so as not to draw attention to ourselves. The start point of the walk (which was over seven miles in the end) would be made known minutes before it began, and we were instructed to link arms to form a tight unit of bodies so that law enforcement couldn't get at us and make us stop.

What actually happened was that everyone tried to gather as instructed, heads down and obediently separated, for about thirty seconds.  Firstly, most of us had arrived by public transport and were ridiculously conspicuous by having a whole face.  Secondly, there were so many of us that we simply fell into each others bubbles and gave up.  Thirdly, the sun was shining, something exciting was afoot, and everyone was loving being close to like minded others and so began to party.  Nicely.  

There was no need to link arms.  We were such a huge number of people we would have got in each other's way, under each other's feet and fallen over each other in a million strong rugby scrum and so without further ado, once the starting flares went up, we all started to walk.  "Hooray," we all shouted, and those with horns blew them, those with drums banged them, some with saucepans and spoons bashed them and off we went like the jolly conspiracy theorists that we are.  And actually, for conspiracy theorists, the people around me during the five hours of marching that I did, were very moderate.  They just did not want to see their freedoms spirited away from them with weasel words by the Government.  They did not trust all the figures, did not like children wearing masks (did not like anyone wearing masks).  They were furious about the old people left to fade away and die in despair and loneliness, for their own good.  They did not want to be forced to have vaccines and no one, absolutely no one wanted vaccine passports.  "Wake up!" we all wanted to say, "much of this Government and media stuff is madness!"


I did go to the anti Iraq war march on 15 February 2003.  I am not a great march goer, but I did feel very strongly about the Iraq war.  There were coordinated anti war protests across the world, the London one was called the million march.  I was very glad to have joined it though it did no good at all.  War was declared and everyone went about their business as planned, we marchers had had our say and it was nice of them to allow it.  Yesterday, as I met up with, walked alongside, chatted to and laughed with the ever changing sea of people around me, I thought that perhaps we won't change our government's minds but we will show each other we are not alone.  We are jolly well not alone.  For all of us who feared we would be the only person in the supermarket without a mask for ever, we saw we are one of an enormous crowd of like minded others.  

There were all manner of ages, sizes, colours and types with us yesterday.  There was not a typical freedom protester.  You could not look at the miles and miles of marchers and say Ha!  Knew they were all freedom protesters!  You can tell!  The banners were a give away, that is true, but the people carrying them ranged from a young woman with beads in her hair and flip flops to an older woman who looked like everyone's favourite granny.  That really was the point of the march.  It was not just a crackpot minority who believed that this virus came from outer space helped on it's way by winged dragons.  It wasn't simply a fringe group who wanted to change the world into a place where everything is free and who dance in the streets to tin whistles.  We were, are, a collection of people for whom the facts do not add up.  For whom, once the cracks in the story appear, cannot disappear.  What we see and experience do not match the things we are told are happening all around us, and now that the cracks in the story cannot be unseen we notice how mad everyone has become and how that is applauded. "Stop it!" we want to say, and yesterday, we did say it.

 

Ha ha ha

Many people yesterday said how difficult it was to think differently to their friends, families and neighbours.  Our voices and opinions, they say, are removed from the public space and we are made to look like the baddies that are causing all the trouble but because we are banned from being heard, we cannot always argue back.  And so the misrepresenting, the tarring and feathering, the wholesale silencing continues not only unchecked but officially sanctioned.  This is hard enough for we, the common plebs, but we see people we trust and want to listen to, officially removed from the airwaves, from social media platforms and from the print media.  Not only are they officially shut down, they are put onto a metaphorical ducking stool and ducked into the water to shouts of raucous abuse.  We, the hoi poloi, fear that if it can be that hard for the scientists, virologists, doctors, epidemiologists and other such professionals to speak up, then we do not stand a chance if we disagree with the official line.  We feel we are being lied to and sold a pup.  It is hard to deal with this alone, knowing that everyone else thinks all the nonsense is fine while we make little forays into the darkness of non compliance, and we don't wear our masks.  Or we don't get a vaccine.  Or we veer into people on purpose who are trying to avoid us on a windy walk on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. 

So back to the walk yesterday.  My friend Vanessa and I walked happily for five hours.  We left before there was a bit of police action at the end, but looking for any mention of the march at all on any kind of news outlet later, we only heard about the police bit at the end.  We also read that a group of covid deniers were marching down Oxford Street trying to make people remove their masks.  Not sure that actually happened because Oxford Street was completely shut down and very few shops were open.  But it was telling that about a million ordinary citizens marching against bizarre, restrictive and frighteningly damaging and illogical rules in their own country, was passed over.

This went on for miles and miles.

What we did not hear was how wonderful it was to meet so many people who were not afraid of being together.  To laugh at how things like having a hug was not only bad for you, but possibly both illegal and lethal, and how many of us were simply not complying, quietly ignoring all the rules, and not only remaining alive but all around us remaining alive too.  Fancy that, we all said and carried on walking side by side.

My friend Amy and I giving out copies of the spoof tabloid newspaper The Covid Chronicles

 

See the Covid Chronicles spoof tabloid newspaper on my website here.  Paper copies are £3 each.  A work of art, words and drawings by yours truly.  Contact details on the website.

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Sunday, 11 April 2021

Kitting myself up as an extreme athlete. Preparing for the Macmillan Mighty Hike.

 

Not really me, but very much an extreme athlete. Click bait. Sorry. 

I am having a great time kitting myself out as an extreme athlete.  I just bought myself a peacock blue, tiny, all weather, all singing and dancing rucksack; the man wearing it in the advert was on a bike and meant business with his stern face and lantern jaw, with his muscly legs and aerodynamic cycling helmet.  His rucksack was black, and streamlined, and I imagined he could get his lunch and a flask of tea and a change of socks in there without compromising his aerodynamics.  That's just like me, I thought, and I must have that rucksack.  When I went to investigate it online, I saw that there was a bright blue one.  Oh!  I thought, I will look so good in that.

So much about exercise is in the mind.  I remember in 2003, when I was training to run (wobble) the London Marathon in Spring 2004, being told that my only question on waking each morning while training should be, "How far am I running today."  Only when that was sorted could I look after the children, paint my paintings and have my breakfast.  I remember those long months of running, whatever the weather, and feeling like giving up at least five times a day.  But I didn't give up and I learned what a subtle thing the mind is and how, at the drop of a hat, it will turn you round from your training, and make you go to the ice cream shop and then on home to bed.  You have to resist.  Oh boy, it was tough.  But the actual marathon was truly an amazing experience, and I did complete it after about six hours.  I was beaten to the finishing line by a womble, three hippos, a teddy bear and a birthday cake.  And a famous Indian marathon runner in his seventies who zipped past me on the final stretch.  Most people zipped past me on the final stretch.

I have chosen to walk twenty six miles on June 5 this year for Macmillan Cancer.  It is called The Mighty Hike and when I signed up a year ago, I thought I had plenty of time.  I did have plenty of time, then, but now as the date looms ever nearer, I don't have much time any more.  So I am channeling the extreme athlete I once was in 2004 and making myself walk on the Downs every few days.  I am joking, I never was an extreme athlete.  Calling myself this is all part of the mind games I play to get myself out there and moving.  

The South Coast Mighty Hike 2021.
 

On the 5 June about 500 of us will walk along the South Downs from Brighton to Eastbourne. There will be coaches to drive us back to Brighton where I, at least, will try and drive in a straight line back to Bognor Regis.  It is possible I will have worn myself down from 5'9" to 4'10" but at least I will have done it. And for such a good cause too.

Walking like this is a serious business.  I have invested in proper walking boots and I have bought some fancy new insoles that tell me I will feel I am walking on air.  I realise that socks are very important, and so have found some that are great for ladies, for the summer, and for fairly flat feet.  And, oh bliss!  I just ordered for myself that peacock blue tiny rucksack for serious and super focused walkers.  I am that thing, I say to myself, so I need this bag.

Yesterday I walked ten miles.  I planned an extra hilly route on the South Downs, packed my (large) rucksack with tissues, a pooh bag (wet wipes, loo roll, nappy bags, spare pants etc for all those stops behind bushes), sandwiches, a flask of hot soup, water, mobile phone, bluetooth ear phones, mobile battery charger and the hat that Gill, my dear friend, knitted for me.  I planned a very early walk just after the mists of dawn have faded and the early morning bird song was at its newest and loudest.  Striding across the South Downs, I would have proved how strong my mind is now, for my second marathon training event. 

I was still on the sofa in my pyjamas at 9.30am.  The longer you wait to go out training, the harder it becomes.  I remember this so well.  Oh not today! your mind says, perhaps tomorrow.  Planning is one thing, doing is another.  But I have in my memory the line up in the early morning of the London Marathon all those years ago, and the gruelling training that I had had to do suddenly became a life saver.  I was used to running long distances, in that I had done so for this event, and now I was glad.  Alongside me were all manner of people, all shapes and sizes, all ages.  I was told to notice anyone with brand new trainers, as they would not last long on the run.  There were plenty.  You have to wear your trainers in, to get past blisters and get used to how they feel, in order for them to serve you on a long run.  The pros turned up with old, well worn running trainers and a fierce look in their eye.  Twenty six miles of anything is serious. You need all the help you can get.  And so, I changed out of my pyjamas yesterday morning, told the sofa I would see it again soon, and to wait for me, and drove to Bury Hill here in West Sussex, to begin my walk. 

Something wonderful happens once I am on the Downs.  I feel my spirits raise, I feel my head clear, and my energy expand.  It is, whatever the weather, beautiful.  Even in the pouring rain, even in heavy fog, I am in a place beyond myself where nature just is. I love the colours in the chalk paths, all the shades of white with touches of brown and yellow, I love the way the brown barren fields and mud filled paths are suddenly filling with new green shoots.  What the shoots are, I don't know, but they are popping up everywhere, small and delicate, out of what seems such hard, lifeless brown old earth.  It is true, nature is a mystery, and relentless, and a wonder.  The silence is wonderful, and I realise it is really only silence from people.  The birds are not just singing, they are shouting.  The wind blows around me and the new greenery, and the old trees, rustle and make their own sounds.  And then there is the sound of my own feet tramping along the path.  The sound of my (state of the art) anorak swishing as I move my feet, and when there is no wind, and the birds are having a quick glass of water after yelling so loudly, I can hear my own breathing as I walk.

This uphill bit is so beautiful you can forgive it for being uphill.

 Yesterday I chose a route with loads of hills.  The Mighty Hike, I am told, involves hills.  I had better get used to them.  Oh the Downs has hills, it has hills like a forest has trees.  But this particular walk has two intense climbs up on the way out (nicely down hill on the way back) and one mile long descent (blimmin uphill on the way back).  There is a nice little tree stump in some woods just at the beginning of the long climb up on the way back where I planned my lunch, and all will be well.  When I get there I will be so pleased with myself for coming that far, and I will need my egg sandwiches to give me the impetus to walk this mile uphill so I can be ruler of the world when I get to the top.

I think on these walks.  Or rather, all the voices, conversations, thoughts, plans, worries, speculations, observations and stuff that is in my head, go AWOL while I try to get a word in edgeways.  Problems do get solved on these walks.  Things do become clearer.  I feel my focus shift, and new perspectives and ideas come through.  I am surprised at how little any of it matters when I am so far from anyone else, and from home, and from any emergency services should I be attacked by bears.  (No bears on the South Downs.)  

At the end of the walk yesterday I found that I had only done ten miles. I thought I had done much more than that.  Oh dear.  No wonder I was not that tired, next time I must do more, what went wrong?  And then I thought, I must be making progress - at what point in my life have I ever been disappointed that I had walked merely ten miles?  A paltry ten miles! So in a way, great progress was made in my mind yesterday.  Apart from loving it once I got going, I am making progress.  Yesterday's route felt like more than ten miles because so much of it involved walking up hills that felt like mountains. To put this into context, there are always cyclists on the Downs, who actually ride up these hills.  I may think I rule the world when I get to the top of one, but these cyclists actually do rule the world.  They would easily outdo any bears for speed and strength.  

Today, the day after, I am resting.  My new blue rucksack arrives this afternoon, and I am washing my new, special, ladies with flat feet, summer weather walking socks from yesterday, and noticing that my recovery time from this walk is much improved.  Today, my mind works, my body is not too tired, and I cannot wait (in theory) to get back out for my next walk.

To sponsor me for this walk, please go here, to my Just Giving page 

Margaret, on her ninetieth birthday
Macmillan Cancer support are just wonderful.  I was a Macmillan Buddy for two years, befriending
people struggling with their cancer.  I saw at first hand how much Macmillan do for their clients, and how dedicated and helpful they are for all those who turned to them for help, advice and solid support.  I am walking this Mighty Hike in memory of my first buddy, Margaret Winstone, who became such a close friend despite over thirty years age difference between us.  Margaret, a vicar's wife from Yorkshire, was a mathematics and music teacher.  Sometimes, in her late eighties, she would sing me folk songs from her youth, with such loveliness that brought tears to my eyes. I supported Margaret right up to the day she died.  Margaret didn't believe in giving up.  "Don't fuss!" she would say with a lovely laugh, and so I won't fuss, I will do this walk for her.  

All sponsorship money goes directly to Macmillan, who do such a good job. Thank you all. 

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Saturday, 27 March 2021

Observing addiction.

Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  Behind every addict is someone traumatised by loving them. 

 

It's their own damn fault.
 

Addicts have only themselves to blame.  It is their own fault, they knew what they were getting into.  Addicts need a good long jail sentence, keep them off the streets and teach them a lesson.  If we are tough enough with them, they will learn. 

I changed my mind about this a few years ago when waiting in a methadone clinic for the person I was accompanying to receive their script. I sat in a shabby waiting area watching people come in for one of their twice daily dose, some sitting in the seats available, some standing, some talking loudly to each other.  All trying to be normal. As time went by, those who had not yet been seen became agitated, began to shake, get angry, and walk about with increasing anxiety.  One or two began to shout and then apologise, and shout again.  It was very unsettling to be sitting there, people not seen quickly enough were unraveling.  It felt dangerous despite the very prominent and bored security staff standing around.

Some time before, watching them drift into the clinic, it seemed many were trying to act normal as if it gets you seen quickly and out of there.  They were so obviously not normal.  Methadone is a legal heroin substitute given to addicts to keep them from buying illegal drugs.  The amount given is scrupulously administered by doctors and chemists by appointment only after having been assessed, documented and accepted onto the programme.  If you miss your appointment, you are back to square one.  Start again.  What I have seen of addicts is that keeping appointments, being in any way regular, playing the game and ticking boxes, is as easy for them as going to the moon.  They are chaotic, utterly driven by their addictions, unbalanced, and completely unreliable.  But when they need their next dose of whatever it is they need, acting normal is very hard, and they are not very nice.  This is how some turn up for their next methadone appointments.  And many use methadone and heroin and whatever else is going, so the withdrawals they are experiencing when they come for their next script may be from much more than the methadone they are wanting now. 

As with many of these clinics, on the day I was accompanying someone, there was much waiting around, appointments delayed without notice, and frustrations with communications.  I watched one man lose his cool and shout that he needed his stuff now.  He swore and shook and looked as if he would punch anyone who came too close.  He needs his methadone, I thought, then he will be OK.  Others began to argue with the receptionist, with each other, and claimed medical emergencies, needing attention now.  Those that got their script took it with staff watching in a side room set up with protective plastic paneling to protect the person measuring out the bright green methadone into little medicine pots, to be taken there and then.  There were, it seemed at least twice the amount of people turning up for their doses than were appointments.  It was probably true, people suffering withdrawals knew that methadone was being given out here, and addicts will do and try anything to get some stuff. 

I thought, no one cares.  This is not good.  No one cares.

What I think now. 

What can anyone do?

 

Just another overdose.

The staff at that clinic were doing their best and had to deal with deeply unbalanced, violent, mentally unstable and physically dependent people all day every day.  The tidal wave of addiction is left to a few professionals who struggle without resources and often give up.  Programmes set up to help addicts wither away through lack of funding and interest and disappear.  No one wants to deal with it, it is an insane problem, and drugs and alcohol are too easy to get hold of.  The culture around using and drinking is too seductive and the sad truth is that so many take drugs to self medicate due to intolerable mental health conditions, and appalling lives.  Drugs and alcohol work.  They make the pain go away, they make you invincible and feel great, until they don't any more.  Even then, when they don't make the pain go away like they used to, they still do enough and the physical and mental dependence is so staggeringly powerful that it is next to impossible to stop.  And if an addict does manage to stop, what in their lives will fill the void that drink and drugs has left?  Life and reality is just too hard.  Getting clean and sober is only a small part of the journey.  Once done, the rest of an addicts life and existence is overshadowed by the craving to go back to the certainty of what they knew worked.  Even if an addict wants and needs to recover from active addiction, it may take many tries, many failures and much despair.  It also takes a huge amount of support, patience and understanding from other people who understand what it is like.  Mostly, you and I could not support alone if someone we knew wanted to get clean and sober.  We need the help of other addicts in recovery and professionals who can help with the pain of the journey, especially in the early stages of recovery, and afterwards too. 

An addict told me once that a big part of his using experience was planning to get his fix.  Making the call, going to get it, holding it, anticipating the preparation and finally the consumption.  His life was narrowed down to using, tracking down the next fix, anticipating it and using again.  And so on.  There is a video of Russell Brand watching a video of himself shooting up many years before he managed to go into recovery and become clean.  He was shown the video as a reminder of how far he has come, but his reaction was of envy for that feeling, that experience, and how the video of himself shooting up made him long to do it again.  He wanted to be that old version of himself at that moment, despite knowing all that he had to go through to become clean.  Needless to say, Russell Brand understood this reaction, it did not harm him at all.

 What I think now is that addiction is as much a scourge as ever.  An addict is manipulative, cunning, and vicious, taking no responsibility at all for anything.  They are liars, thieves, cheats and without conscience. 

And, they are lost, still themselves, regretful, ashamed, vulnerable, overwhelmed and traumatised.  Whatever made them become addicts in the first place is very possibly pain, abuse, poor mental health, isolation and more pain.  The addict that I accompanied on that afternoon to the clinic to get his methadone is all of the crazy things, the bad things, but is also clever, compassionate, funny and longs to be free of all this.  But at the moment, he does not long for it enough.  He can be wonderful with other suffering addicts, and can listen with great kindness to people who are in deep distress with mental health problems.  I once observed him listening to and comforting a frightened young man who was hearing terrible voices, keeping him from running off to do himself harm.  

Addicts And Those Who Love Them

Ian. Has a degree, runs relapse prevention programmes to help others after thirty years of addiction.

I am someone who loves an addict.  I do not like the addict nor the addiction, but I love the addict.  It has been a long hard journey which has not ended and we, I, have no idea how far along the road we are.  I have had to find a way to accept that it may end badly, and though the addict is not too bothered about it, I am.  However, one thing I know about being alongside addiction is that it is not my journey.  Two things that spring to mind from the Alcoholics Anonymous model which I think are vital for survival are, that I am powerless over anyone else's addiction, and that I must detach with love. The detaching with love part comes with the following advice - that we should not cause a crisis but we should also not get in the way of one if it is naturally occurring. How difficult is that.  We have to remember that we cannot rescue, and if we do, we enable.  Hard stuff. We also have to remember that if our addict wants to recover, that we support and do what we can, remembering our boundaries and never giving up hope.  After all, despite all the trauma, crime, destruction and abuse with and from our addicts, who they once were is still in there somewhere.  I carry an image in my head that an addict is only small in size compared to their addiction which towers over them, more than four times their size, and is very much in control.  It often does not end well, though there are enough for whom there is recovery of sorts, and a new chance for us to keep hoping.

I am currently creating Addicts And Those Who Love Them, an exhibition of portraits and words. (Ian pictured above is part of it). Behind every addict is someone traumatised by loving them.  Parents, siblings, friends, lovers, spouses and children, all caught up in the cycle of destruction and despair and learning how to survive. I wanted to find people affected by a loved one's addiction and ask them, how do you feel?  What do you want to say about this?  I have painted portraits of people in active addiction, people in recovery and people behind the addict who despite all the madness, the destruction and the lies, still love them.  This does not necessarily mean they allow them in their homes, does not mean they can help them, it may mean instead that they have nothing to do with them in order to survive.  I have met other people in my situation, heard stories of sadness, of loss of hope and loss of life;  stories of redemption, of recovery and stories of ups and downs and the constant not knowing how things will end from both addict and the people that love them.  I have written their words on the portraits. I wanted to do something about the things I have seen and experienced with addiction, and what I do is create art.  I want to show the faces of people living through addiction, and write what that they say about it.

The Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition will open on Monday 7 June as part of the Brighton Fringe.  It will be held at the Fishing Quarter Gallery along the seafront, and run until the Sunday 13 June.  Entrance is free.  You are all so welcome.  If you have a story to tell of addiction - yours or someone you love, feel free to contact me.  If it is appropriate for me to use it in the exhibition, with your permission, I will do so.

Angel Addict.  
Addicts have only themselves to blame.  It is their own fault, they knew what they were getting into.  Addicts need a good long jail sentence, keep them off the streets and teach them a lesson.  If we are tough enough with them, they will learn.  Not quite.  Most of us have never seen the suffering of withdrawal  The physical and mental torment of an addict who needs a fix and cannot get one.  We judge from the comfort of our lives where we have no conception of how it feels.  If an addict asks me in the street for money, I give it.  I do not care that it will be spent on a fix.  I have seen the madness of helpless withdrawal and it is not, in my opinion, for me to pass by saying no.   

I once knew a young nurse of great compassion, who put a small bottle of alcohol in the hands of a tramp who was fitting through withdrawal, because she knew he would probably die.  She had seen how people like him fare in A&E, and so made this decision.  I would paint her, if I could find her. 

I will be creating a crowd funding page to help with the costs of this exhibition.  I do not charge for this work, costs are covered through donations. I will launch a Go Fund Me page in early April, watch out for it. 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Read the incredibly irreverent, satirical, spoof tabloid newspaper  Covid Chronicles here (Paper copies of the newspaper are for sale for £5.  Contact me if you want one.  It is a work of art.)

 

Sunday, 14 March 2021

A day in my glorious life.

Where the day ends and begins. 

I would love to chose a fascinating, action packed day, but in the interests of truth, I rarely have them.  My days, and I imagine your days, are an equal mixture of doing things and thinking of doing things.  And, I can lose whole sections of the day in just thinking alone. In the olden days, when I belonged in the world, I would whizz about in my car seeing people, doing things, juggling my phone and my calendar and having tea parties here in my home.  I'd say, "Oh  I can book you in for ten minutes next month.  Will that do?" to friends and family, and I would feel both important and a little frazzled

I could make a day up - no one would ever know.  But I won't.  Let's begin.  Here is my day today.

Morning. 

I wake often in the night, see that it is still dark outside, and wish it were not.  I love the dawn, and the birds starting their early morning songs, and the feeling of newness that it all brings. I can't wait for the light to come back, I am excited that eventually it will be daytime. During the night, in between sleeps, I anticipate getting up at daybreak, at the official end the night time, to make myself tea. Where shall I drink my tea?  I ask myself, and fall back asleep. When dawn does come, I am so excited that I pass out completely and stay that way until I wake with a start, much later, and can't imagine what made me think it necessary in the night to get up and make tea in the morning.  My bed is so delicious, I don't feel nearly so excited about the day ahead and I wonder if, just for today, I could get away with spending it in bed.  Who would know, I think to myself, who would know?  But then, I tell everyone everything, so everyone would know. Damn.

This morning though, I have a plan.  In the night, the plan was so exciting - I was to get up very early, make a flask of tea and some delicious sandwiches and go on a ten mile walk.  As I drifted off, I saw myself on the Downs walking in the early morning mist, strong and determined, with a litre and a half of stong tea and some doorstep sandwiches made from a loaf of fresh brown bread.  There I go, I saw in my mind's eye, striding like a land girl of old, robust and glowing and covering the miles like a pro.  But when I come to again, long after dawn, in my fabulous bed with the memory foam mattress, I change my mind.  I know, I say to myself, I will have tea here, in bed, and go on the walk later.  I will take sandwiches for my lunch, not breakfast, and that is a much better idea. 

On the 5 June, I am doing a 26 mile Mighty Hike for Macmillan, the cancer support charity, and so it is essential that I get myself ready to do this long walk.  Over the last year I have moved less and less and now I am like a cartoon fat cat that can't get off the sofa, it just has to fall off.  So, a wonderful charity, a wonderful walk, and a real challenge.  This is why I am planning a 10 mile walk today.  I have done 8 miles a few times, so today I am upping the ante.  This is all very well, I say to myself still in my ridiculously comforting bed, but the ante is very much ahead of me, and yet to be upped.  It's all about discipline, I tell myself, and turn over for another five minutes.

It takes some time, lying in my increasingly addictive bed, before I get myself out of it to go downstairs, make a pot of tea and carry it back upstairs.  All the while, I think, any minute now, I will get ready and do my walk.

 Suddenly, at about 10am, I have a burst of determination.  Dammit, I say, I am ready.  I put on my walking clothes, make a giant sandwich, fill a water bottle and get into the car.  This, I say, is the real me.  If only I had done this earlier.  

The world is older and wiser than we can ever be.
 

Soon, the car parked, my bag on my back, I am on my way to walk 10 miles.  As I walk, I feel optimism creeping into my heart, I feel a smile starting and I think, Oh!  How beautiful is this, how happy I am and how this walking is really the answer to all of life.  I walk at a steady pace through fields, woods, mud and chalk paths until I reach my lunch spot, just over 5 miles from the start.  Sitting on an old moss covered wooden stile, listening to the birds singing loudly in the trees, and gazing at the deep blueness of the sky, I feel that all really is well.  Whatever we worry about will pass away into nothing and somehow, the world will keep turning.  And right now, eating brown bread and butter sandwiches under the brightest of blue skies with both the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, the world I can see around me for miles in all directions, is very beautiful and far wiser and older than I can imagine.  The world holds me, right now, in this peace and natural beauty, I do not hold it.  I am very lucky to be here.

Afternoon  

In the car, much later, having completed the walk and gratefully sitting down, I check my phone and see that I have walked 11 miles.  Move over Paula Radcliffe, I say in my head, I'm coming up fast behind you.  Feeling very noble, I drive home through beautiful Sussex countryside that, having walked 11 miles through it just now, I feel I know very well.  For a short while, I identify with those people who live on the moors and wild open places, reading the stars and understanding what the weather will be by looking at moss, and cattle, and who think nothing of walking through the bracken following their inner compass born of a lifetime living close to nature.  When I get home, this feeling lessens a bit as I return to my very comfortable house to run a hot bath, make a huge pot of tea and some scrambled eggs.  Scrambled eggs are my ultimate comfort food.  I have three eggs. 

I have three eggs. I am an athlete.  No kidding.
 

Two hours pass in a haze of warm water, aching legs, scrambled eggs, and talking books.  Soon, I have to get out because at some point, everyone has to leave their bath.  Even the queen has to leave her bath, even Dolly Parton has to leave her bath.  So, slowly, I leave my bath.  It is now late afternoon and I still have things to do.  I have this blog to write, and I have a group video chat with my cousins.  But first, putting on my leopard print pyjamas and my late husband Alan's dressing gown, I go and sit in my bed with all the pillows I can find, and look at YouTube.  I know this could take over my life, but I have to do it.  The urge to fall down a YouTube black hole is always very strong.  Oh do it, I tell myself.  You're an athlete now.  You walked 11 miles.

More time passes.  At some point, I put on my unicorn slippers and find myself in the kitchen making veggie sausages, peas, mashed potatoes and gravy.  This is a good thing I tell myself.  Athletes need to eat.  

I will have to do my blog, I know it has to be done, but not just yet. 

Evening

Back on my bed, after my sausages and gravy, I have a moment of determination. I take up my laptop and begin to write. This is a good thing, it makes me feel like I know what I am doing. And then, the phone rings and it is my two cousins so I have to stop writing.  This is also a relief.  My two cousins are fab, and we have a long chat which I leave early because I have to write my blog.  I feel important.  My cousins probably think I have my finger on the pulse, and so I leave the conversation, say goodbye, tell them I am very busy, and leave them talking. And then, as is always the case, once I start to write, I remember how much I like it.  I love creating, I love making and painting and writing and talking, but mostly after I have finished doing it.  Before, when I am starting, I hate it and want to watch YouTube and distract myself, place myself a million miles from the here and now.  It is this way for lots of us, I believe.  I love having finished whatever it is I am doing.  But back in the here and now, I pick up the laptop, having impressed my cousins (I hope) and begin to write this blog.  I am not in the least bit hungry so there is no excuse to go and get a snack, I am not tired enough to close my eyes, I have had a bath so I am fragrant and wrapped up in fluffy pyjamas and dressing gowns - time to concentrate on writing.

And so I do.  I write, find I am enjoying it, as I knew I would, immensely.  After a while I stop to take a call from my son which leads to needing a bedtime snack, and that leads to finishing my YouTube documentary which ends up with putting away the laptop for the night.  Well, the blog is mostly done, I am delightfully weary, and my day has been good.  I am glad to have walked, I am glad to have written as much as I needed, and it was lovely to chat to family and to eat a lot because I had earned it due to that extra mile on the Downs. 

Night time

I will see you all in the morning.  I turn my phone off, turn the light off, and begin my night time thing of longing for dawn, planning early morning tea and knowing that once the light appears, even though I have slept happily on and off during the night and longed for the dawn, I will be out for the count as soon as it happens until the shouting of the birds outside my open window brings me back to the day.  Goodnight all. 

And this morning, with help from my unicorn slippers, I finish the blog. Amen.

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Sunday, 28 February 2021

Understanding Lockdown divisions via family dynamics in my past.

Left - Mum, Dad and me.  Right - the general public, anti Lockdown and Lockdown.

Part one.  The family divide.

 Years ago, I hated my father. I thought I had to.

My mother and he had parted, and I was bound to my mother and her anger and grief in such a way that there was no room for compromise.  My father was wrong and nothing could redeem him.  For many years, from my teens up until I was a young mother in my thirties, I scorned my father and tried to appease my mother.  It was hard work.  My mother could not be appeased, not for long, and her fury and pain would wash over us all threatening to drown us without mercy. 

I listened to my mother.  She was powerful, beautiful, wronged. How dare he? she would cry.  Her grief drove her mad, even before he left.  Her grief and something raw and frightening would overwhelm her, making her separate, and wild, and lost.  But when my father eventually did go, worn down by her rages and pain, all directed at him and laid at his feet as his fault, I stayed in the madness of my mother's version of events.  We all did. My three brothers and I, and we were at the mercy of her love and her violent scorn.  We listened to her, understood her, and were afraid to provoke her.  But the triggers were impossible to detect, and time and time again, the fury overtook her and her need to destroy made us frightened, confused and vulnerable. 

And so, I hated my father.  For years, I saw what he had done to her.  For years, I would not see him nor speak to him.  It was safer not to.  If my mother knew I had seem him, she would not let it rest and it would end in another storm of pain and anger.  The sadness of it was that I had always been so close to my father.  It must have been so dreadful for him too, but I listened to my mother and he, my father, had to go. 

I remember how this all came to a head.  In my early thirties, with a young child, he came to see us.  I would not look at him, and left him sitting alone on the sofa while I took a bath.  My husband looked after the baby, and I knew my father was sitting alone having come all this way to see me.  I did not care.  I knew it was rude, but he was the cause of my mother's madness, so she said, and even if I did want to see him, she would find out and I could not stand the rage she would unleash.  And so, after a while, he called through the bathroom door that if I did not want to see him, he would go. I did not bother to reply and he left.  I knew it was wrong, I knew I was beyond rude, and I knew I had finally hurt him as much as I possibly could.  I didn't like it, but it was this, or my mother's rage. And I think, underneath it all, I was frightened.  My father had behaved badly too, he had not been the best person for my mother in her distress.  She did have a point, but so did he.  These were my own parents and I did not know how to deal with it.  I took the path of least resistance in order to survive.  I did what I thought I had to do.

It was not long after this that I began to see a counselor. During one of the sessions I had an epiphany.  I was allowed to love my father.  

I was allowed to love him, and the realisation hit me like a bombshell.  Of course I could.  He was my father, had always loved me, and had done nothing so very wrong.  He was a victim of my mother's depressions as much as we, his children, were.  And as much as she, poor dear mother, was too.  Oh my goodness.  I did not have to do this rejection any more.  Everything changed that day.  I did not apologise to him, in fact we never mentioned this period of our lives ever, but the relief of it being possible to love him as I absolutely did, was wonderful.  He, gentle, and kind and clever, just welcomed me back.  The freedom to be with him, to enjoy his wit, his company, his eccentricities, made me see how afraid I had been to think for myself.  I really loved my father. 

But I did not let go of my mother.  I really loved her too.  She did not change, she remained as she was.  The difference was that I could see how her need to weave the story of my father's badness was not true for me.  It was true for her, but it was not rational, nor was it possible once we started to unpick it.  The evidence simply wasn't there.  Once when I met one of my mother's friends while visiting her, I was astonished at the friend's confusion when I said I had seen my father.  "You still see him?" she asked, "but how come?".  I remember wondering what story she had been told, and being shocked at their disapproval of my father, whom they did not know, and at how insanely wrong all this was. 

Part two.  Understanding the Lockdown divide

Here is what I think about the Lockdown and the virus. I worry about it, and I do not understand it, and I wish it were easier for me to make sense of all the difficulties with how we are all behaving and thinking.

There is a divide amongst us, and those that follow the rules believe in them.  Those that do not follow the rules do not believe in them.  Each side is certain they are right and each side is increasingly furious with the other side.  It has become personal, and those with opposing beliefs embody wrongness and are loaded with responsibilities for whatever failures are happening.  "If you didn't do that, then this would not happen!", or "  It's your behaviour that is ruining everything for us all!"

Being right, needing to be right and proved right, shuts down communication.  We can't all be right.  There are very good motivations and arguments on both sides of this current situation, but we are backed into corners, fighting our cause and blaming the other, because for some reason, we cannot bear to let go of what we have come to believe in case we spontaneously combust.  And here is where I saw a link between this problem and the experience of my mother and father.  Bear with me, I mean no harm, and you may not like it.  But this is the insight that made sense to me. 

My mother represents the Lockdown.  She is angry and afraid, she is triggered by loss and fear.  Nothing can reach her when she is at her worst, and most vocal and reactive.  But she is also loving, deeply intelligent and wonderful.  It is just that she has created a narrative that explains to her what the object of her fury and fears are.  Though her behaviour is hard to handle, it works for her and it gets her what she needs. But it exhausts her, and makes her feel lonely and isolated, because no one can save her, no one can help her, no one can take it away.  It only got better when she decided to get better, and the long slow process of coming to terms with her depressions and how it made her act, was deeply impressive.  She never got over her fears, but by the time she died, she understood them and tried hard to limit the harms she caused when they took over.  She was, incidentally, quite a magnificent woman.  Impressive, intelligent and loved. 

My father represents anti Lockdown.  He is an outsider, considered too eccentric to belong and he carries the burden of all the wrongs my mother could not explain.  He is the archetypal scapegoat.  It is not his way to follow the rules, he thinks outside the box and the response he gets from those who blame him for all manner of things he is unaware of, causes him great unhappiness. He means well, he is deeply educated, he reads and questions everything.  But he is different, and lonely, and eccentric.  He cannot see how his wife can believe the things she does believe, and he is astonished at how many people take her side and judge him harshly without even knowing him or talking to him.  He is considered beyond the pale without anyone asking him for his story.  My father's thinking was wide and free, but his life was lonely and his one marriage a disaster.  He never really understood why he was cast out into the darkness by so many, but by the end of his life, he had caused so many people to love and admire him, simply because he was himself.  And many of his insights proved right.  He and my mother were able to meet each other at family gatherings, where it became more and more obvious that he was not a baddie.

The Scapegoat.  Horns tied with red and sent out into the wilderness symbolically carrying all the sins of those who sent it out. Painting by William Holman Hunt.

 I represent the general public.  I do not know what to do for the best.  There is a narrative on the one hand that is compelling and frightening, and a narrative on the other that is different and contrary.  I, as the general public, cannot do both.  I take sides and the side I take is the one that I hope gives me a quiet life.  I take my mother's side.  Taking the other side, my father's side, casts me beyond the pale.  I am too afraid to do that and so I stick with my mother's side.  She is more powerful and louder than my father and if I do not stay with her, I will be against her and the consequences are more awful than not staying with my father.  So I try and destroy him.  It is part of the deal.  

There are those, it must be said, who support my father's story and are as vocal and punitive as my mother's faction.  His side of this story is not all gentle academic dreamers and thinkers who don't know why things are this way.  My father's side has also those who are just as furious and controlling as my mother's side.  And my mother's side also has those who quietly take her pain with a pinch of salt, and remember that there are two sides to every story.  There are times where I, as the general public in this little thought experiment, find on both sides not only righteousness, judgment and closed thinking, but also patience, moderation and the wish to understand.

Part three.  Conclusion, in so far as there can be one.

We are locked in a prison of right think and wrong think.  It feels, like my mother and father felt in their story, as if our whole being depends on maintaining our position for ourselves.  It has become, like the conflict between my parents, entrenched.  My mother as the lockdown, my father as the anti lockdown and me as the general public in between. There is life or death in this prison.  If I let go of what I think, if I let the other side in even for a second, then I am wiped out as a person.  My very being depends on keeping this going, I identify with it and if I lose control of it, I do not know who or what I am.  If I am, in my parents' story, the public, I have had to chose a side.  I choose the one that seems absolute but as time goes on, I see and feel there are inconsistencies.  It is not true that there is a total goodie and a total baddie.  How come my father became such a monster?  I hadn't noticed him change, I saw no evidence at all of his wrongness. I remember feeling very sorry for him at times and longing for him to stand up for himself.  But I stuck with the louder voice and stopped thinking for myself.  Until I did think for myself.

And then, with help from an outsider (a therapist), and over time, I became more detached and less believing.  I moved away from both stories, loved both parents and began to live and think for myself.  It was always hard, I had to find firm boundaries in order to survive, I had to go back to square one and ask myself what do I think, what do I feel, and what do I want to believe.  

I, as the general public in this story,  can chose to move away from the loudness of both sides, my mother's and my father's, the Lockdown believers and the Lockdown non-believers, and while respecting both, walk away and make up my own mind.  I wish I had had the courage sooner to say to my mother, " It feels real, but is it true?" and to my father, "Come back in from out there in the cold and stand up for yourself."  I never actually did say either, but I thought it.  

And in the end, like the hippie I really am, love is all there is.  If we can only remember it.

 

This is humanity riding off into the sunset with nothing but love.

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Sunday, 14 February 2021

I changed my mind. The Great Rethink


 Just wondering if any of you would like to change your minds too?  Yes?  No?

 Over the last year, I changed my mind.  There was not a sudden moment of clarity where I joined another side.  Rather a long, drawn out realisation that things were not as I had thought.  I saw that I had followed the story that I wanted to follow.  I had been immersed in right-think.  I had been in an echo chamber without realising it.  Perhaps even if I had realised it, I would have felt on the side of rightness and justice.  My echo chamber was the good one. I was with the superior set. From my viewpoint today though, I hesitate to use language that puts me on one side of something or another.  I feel detached from "sides" now and am looking at it all as if I had found a hidden door out of a very stuffy and noisy room full of people shouting and yelling at each other.  I am a little bewildered that I was ever in that room, and now that I am out of it, I wonder if other people know that they can leave.  They all look as if they are having so much fun in there, I can see them from out here and I don't imagine many of them are interested in following me.  It is as if I have left a huge, shouty, boozy, raucous party and am now standing looking in through the conservatory windows from the quiet of the garden. 

I was anti Brexit.  I voted to remain.  How dare the others all vote to leave.  How dare they!  Lucky for me, right was on my side and though the actual majority of votes were to leave, the true moral vote was definitely to stay.  Whoever the leavers were, they were not only wrong, they were bad people and I was not a bad person, thank goodness for that.  My outrage at the result made me and all those like me very depressed.  Who were these leave-voting short sighted people, these racists and nationalists?  Damn them all.  I was actually married to one at the time, my late husband voted to leave but I loved and admired him immensely, and put the inconvenience that he was neither racist nor nationalist to the back of my mind.  He was an exception.  Oh, and some of my friends voted to leave.  They are jolly nice people too, but let's not think of that either.  

My rightness was soothed and pandered to by everything I heard on the radio and television.  "They are biased!" said my dear late husband angrily, and I guessed he may be right that his point of view was never discussed on the airwaves.  But that was the price to pay for being wrong.  He just had to accept it.  We, the correct army, would punish all those who voted wrong by ignoring them and carrying on as if we had had our way.  Brexit would never happen.  Somehow, we would all prevent it.  Everything I heard and read reinforced this and I was lulled into a world view that told me that we, the good people, would never have to deal with this leaving, and all the bad people would have to give way. Ha! We thought, it'll never happen, you'll see.

A new narrative arrived.

It did happen.  And along the road to leaving the EU a pandemic of biblical magnitude wafted in on the air, on people's clothes, their bags, cars, their handshakes and most of all from inside their bodies.  Brexit became a little story in the news, it could not compete with this astonishing and glorious new thing.  This new thing, this virus, was the new Armageddon.  It was going to get you.  You did not stand a chance and if you did stand a chance, it only left you able to pass it on to everyone else while you were not looking and thus actually killing them.  You did not know if you had or had not killed anyone, but erring on the side of caution, it was a given that you had.  And now the story around this virus began to be created, polished and told.  Those news makers and tellers that cushioned my anti Brexit certainties began to weave another tale and by this time, my dear late husband was actually late.  He had died and was not here to witness this apocalypse.  His was a voice of common sense and powerful reason. He was unafraid of facts, and made his mind up unapologetically.  I missed his take on the way I was obeying my radio, my neighbours, my newspapers and the telly.  Unused to being wrong, I was still in my good persons echo chamber, but I did wonder what he would have said about this new narrative. 

And then, I came up against the intransigence of the accepted narrative. We, my brothers, our father and I, became part of the collateral damage.  At the beginning of the summer last year, in his nursing home, our helpless, befuddled and gentle old father died.  For the three months before his death, in his nether world of Alzheimer's and Dementia, my brothers and I had been forbidden to go anywhere near him.  We had been barred at the beginning of the panic and shut downs.  He was to never, ever see us again. Hold on a minute, I thought when I was first told my Dad was hidden forever behind a disinfected plastic wall, he relies on my brothers and I visiting him.  Even before the iron curtain came down, he was sweet natured, eccentric, professorial and utterly bewildered by who he was and what was happening.  How could this help him?  There was no way of making him understand he had not been abandoned.  He, we, and I, were now lethal and so that was that.  I was barred from my own father, who was little more than a child in his mind, and there was no discussion.   I began to smell a rat. I have written about it here with great passion (as part of the Huunuu Virtual Literary Festival this February), and how we did get through to him despite all the protocal and madness, just as he died.  It was at the point of his death that I began to get angry.  Only minutes after he died, lovely and well meaning staff hugged my brothers and me.  Our aprons askew, our gloves on the floor and our masks and hats hanging from our ears, we were comforted with hugs and kind words and holding of our hands by staff equally unprotected.  (Never a bad word for these staff.  They were wonderful, doing the best they could, and were absolute angels.  They did not make the rules). If this virus thing is so lethal, if we have been kept from our childlike and terrified old father because of it, how come now that he is newly dead we are being comforted by the very things that we were not allowed to do to him when he was alive? WTF?

Our sweet natured, befuddled academic old Dad on the day he died.

And then I began to look closely at the story I was being told, the story I had willingly accepted, the narrative I had not questioned, the things I had agreed to do to save the world. My information came from the radio, the television, the newspapers and all things online.  It was all the same.  We are doomed and there is no hope.  I began to think - I am not seeing what I am told I am seeing, and so began the long slow process of changing my mind.  It was my father's death that brought me up short.  I noticed how we were not able, not encouraged, to think clearly about the threat we were supposed to be under.  I saw how gratefully we bought into our own fears, and how easily we dismissed each other in the name of safety.  Safety from what? From death? We were to consider each other, all those lovely grandchildren of ours, our brothers and sisters, our lovely mum and funny dad and all our friends, a bio hazard.  It became socially acceptable to be furious with each other if we were within yards of each other.  Furious meant shouting, insulting, accusing.  A good person would shop their friends and family to the police.  That was good behaviour. What happened to good old courtesy and good manners?  It was a sanctioned free for all.  With no touching.  

Nothing added up, I not only doubted the things I listened to and read from my news sources, I began to suspect them of actually fibbing.  This was mass collusion into a narrative about danger, threat, darkness and a fate worse than death itself that was not adding up in my family, my community, in any community.  I did not doubt that we were dealing with a virus but I did balk at the madness of the sledgehammer that was being used to crack the nut.  And I wondered at the madness of surrendering such common freedoms so happily, so readily, just because a stern man with a face mask on told us we were going to die.  Of course we are going to die.  Most of us though, won't die yet.  Get a grip, I wanted to say, get a grip.

Here then is where I began to change my mind.  This is what I began to put together. 

I belonged to a the part of the country that did not accept leaving the EU. Everything that I heard from the radio, television, newspapers and my friends supported me in this.  Not for one moment did I engage in any debate about it, I was living my life through the correct story, brought to me by all the media outlets.  Any dissenting voices were beyond contempt.  Don't listen to them!  They are racists, homophobes, little people with little minds.  They will never win.  And so, the story from my radio, which I preferred to papers or television, told me the leavers were wrong and the remainers were right, and to take comfort in this.  But we did leave.  Of course we left. The people telling me my story were wrong, they were actually completely wrong. The leavers won the vote, what was I thinking of?  I see now the narrative was utterly skewed. I began to remember my late husband's frustration with the news ("They're all biased!") .  It seemed to me that the same spinning of a political narrative was being spun around the new virus.  If, I began to ask myself, I do not accept the truth of what I hearing and seeing, how do I find another viewpoint? It became clear that I would have to look long and hard, and when I did find people that questioned the government and media narrative, I would have to keep quiet about it.  Other people, people who were where I was only a while ago in their right-think echo chamber, would not tolerate it.  Just as I would not tolerate any talk of Brexit.  

And now, I am out of the shouting and heaving party and in the garden looking back in.  I have changed my mind.  It is not so simple as now supporting Brexit, joining the other side, so to speak.  It is not so simple as refusing to accept how a new virus causes mayhem to those who are vulnerable to it.  It doesn't matter what I think about Brexit, or the virus, that is not the point.  What matters is that I have seen how complacent I have been.  How easily I have been led.  How I did not discern for myself what was happening, and how I liked the comfort of following orders because I agreed with them. How safe I was in my surety.  How happily I bought into what the radio told me.  How I colluded with my own sense of entitlement.  Now, I do not care about leaving the EU.  I take everything I hear about the virus with a pinch of salt.  I don't listen to the news, the radio, the papers.  I limit what I read about the news on all fronts.  I think they have an agenda that is not about news.  And I do not want to take sides any more, neither for or against Brexit, neither for total house arrest or total freedom, not even right or left in politics.  I feel extremely glad to have found my way out of that room of shouting people.  I am free out here in the garden looking in, and I can walk away and think my own thoughts now.

Real life image of me walking away to think for myself.

 

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