Friday 26 July 2013

I am hiding.

There is no doubt about it, I am hiding.

I have filled my house with foreigners, I have made some hefty changes in my life and now, I want everyone to go away.  Not the foreigners, they are paying my mortgage and are no trouble.  In fact, no one is any trouble, I just don't want to talk to anyone.  Ever.  I have reached my cut off point, and that is that.

Let us recap and let us make sense of this outburst.  I have friends coming tomorrow, and I am looking forward to seeing them.  I have Fancy Girl, her boyfriend and his parents coming for a large breakfast on Sunday, and so, unless we all talk this thing through, no one will have any fun, and I may find that being grumpy costs me my social life.  And so.  Some gentle probing.

There comes a time when one realises that the steady climb up the mountain of success, physical, mental, financial, spiritual, emotional and professional success, is not a simple matter of getting from A to B.  Some of us have huge mountains with many peaks, some of us have a singular mountain that soars into the air with a distant peak and no visible footholds.  Some of us have a series of smaller craggy mountains with many paths, and some of us are content with the odd hillock.  Progress is not just a matter of making a decision to do something, doing it, and moving on to the next thing.  Achieving even one thing is often quite enough to be going on with, thank you very much, for the time being, especially if it is a big thing.  No, there are stages in between these achievements, and those stages in between are often quite exhausting.  Those in between stages are like being in a holding bay, where we sit down, frazzled and emotional, for a rest with a cup of tea and a currant bun, before plunging onwards and upwards, to our next mountain/hillock/molehill.

I am most definitely in a holding bay.  I am hiding in a holding bay and I don't want to come out.  My holding bay has big comfy sofas in it and I am on one, looking for a paper bag to put over my head so that no one sees me.  There is a hint of bad temper here, and that needs to be addressed.  It is not you, dear friend, that has put me into a bad temper. I am simply reacting to events.  I am resting at last on my holding bay sofa, allowing the pent up emotions of the past few weeks to catch up with me.  Here is what I have done. Here are a small selection of mountains and hillocks and molehills that I have been scaling with varying success.

  1. I have filled every spare room and cupboard with a rent paying foreigner.  I did not seek foreigners, they just happened to turn up and were splendidly able to pay rent and move in within ten minutes.  My foreigners are excellent people, and because English is not so easy for them, there is not much chat.  Excellent.  I like this.  This is most certainly a mountain, I have done well on this mountain, I have not wanted to fill up my house but now that I have, all is well; it is the Bognor Tower of Babel.
  2. I have been very tough with my son and it has been dreadful to be so tough.  I am not tough, I am nice and jolly and when I play Monopoly, I like to cooperate and am happy to waive rents and consider lending my money on a nought percent rate of interest so that my opponent feels good about themselves.  I have taken a risk with my son's life, and have wanted to go back to when he was a little boy, and do it all over again to try and prevent the mess that we have got into.  I am told by those who have seen him, that he is doing OK.  I hold on to this as if everything is going to be fine. This too is a mountain, a difficult one, with few footholds, the summit still hidden high above the clouds, too far away for me to see it. 
  3. I have taken on a job, which I do not want.  It is a smelly job and I am cross because it always has been a smelly job, but I didn't want to see it.  It will never get me beyond the holding bay, it will just prolong my stay there and I want to cut my losses and flounce out. This is a hillock.  A silly one.
  4. I have no idea at all, any more, what I want to do in my studio.  Or life. This is not really a mountain or a hillock or a mole hill.  It does not really exist, so I shall say that it is a temporary pile of rubble, which will be moved on in the near future.
  5. I do have an idea.  I want to lie on the sofa and read books and watch Traffic Cops on the laptop. And nothing else. Forever. This too is not a mountain, it is a hissy fit.
  6. I have joined a slimming club and after a good start have unaccountably put weight on this week.  This has made me angry because it is not fair, and I don't want to be a fatty boom boom.  I am angry because the scales must be wrong, the lady must be wrong, the whole system must be wrong, and everyone is out to get me.  I am not wrong.  However, instead of being on my way to being fascinatingly elegant and just like Ursula Andress in the James Bond film, I remain not quite there yet.  Ah.  A mountain.  I have climbed this one before and know the way, so this mountain is high, but familiar.  I still wish I was further up it.  On a chair lift.
Weight Watchers Angel.  Acrylic on canvas.  She is the colour of Cadbury's Dairy Milk.. 

 The over view of all of this, is that I am out of my comfort zone. These are only some of the things that have made me want to hide and not talk to anyone.  There are others, but I am being noble and not telling you about them, in case you start to feel that you, too, want to sit on a sofa in a holding bay with a paper bag over your head.  Being tough with my son (I remember when he was about seven, he asked for a little hideaway to sleep in, so I made him a tent over his bed and fixed it with fairy lights inside so that there was magic for him to connect to) - being tough with my son has made possible, finally, the reordering of the house and influx of the foreigners.    

I have had to address my gentle and sustained weight gain.  I can't fit into my Summer clothes. They are hanging up in a spare wardrobe in Giant Boy's room. In my room, I have a selection of nice elasticated clothes in bright colours, that do not make me look wow and sizzling, but do make me look deeply appropriate, as if I always take my library books back on time and am nice to kittens.  

And I took on the job thinking it would give me extra experience in the work I am doing with A Graceful Death, but it doesn't.  So here in the holding bay, I have to decide what I am going to do about it all.  

Here is what I am doing in the short term!  I am running away!  It is one step further than hiding away!  I am going to stay in Dorset in a friend's remote little cottage while she is away, and I am going to sort myself out.  I am going to have long furious chats to the horses in her fields, and I am going to make flip charts to plot my next moves.  I am going to lie around so effectively on her hammock that I will forget mealtimes, and become like Sporty Spice in no time at all. I won't talk to anyone for a whole week, at all, and will either go mad or come back so laid back that I won't mind what I do or how I do it or who with.

Because of the above, my life as an Artist has simply evaporated.  The studio sits silent and uninhabited in my garden, like Scott and Shackleton's hut.  Abandoned and sad and magnificent.  I cannot go in there until I have sorted out my home, family and waistline.  And now, after a week or so of standing forlornly in the garden, (the studio, not me) we have found ourselves strangers to one another.  This has been another thing to be cross about.  But Art is not dead!  Oh no, while I have been sulking on my sofa in my hypothetical holding bay, a email arrived to tell me that the Overview of the Compassionate Communities Report in England, commissioned by the Dying Matters Coalition, is just out, and A Graceful Death is in it. Oh good.  And then, my dear kind clever friend in Brighton has just sent a message telling me that he and his partner have found a venue for A Graceful Death in next year's Brighton Festival.  

Perhaps after all, I shall be nice to my guests this weekend, and I shall take the paper bag from my head.  But perhaps my guests would prefer I spend the day in silence with a paper bag on my head.  I hadn't thought of that.

At the top of a mountain a few years ago with two of my brothers.  See, I have been to the top before, and not always on my own..

Saturday 20 July 2013

Pain and Pudding, Music and Not Grumbling.

This week has been very hard.  A week of difficult decisions, a week of stepping out of a dance that does nobody any good.  A week of being tough, and I am not tough.  Well, I am now, but I have to work up to it.  I wasn't born with the three strikes and you're out gene, I don't have the Clint Eastwood glint in my eye.  I am co operative, I am stumped by aggression and bad behaviour.  The week has been full, and there have been dreadful moments, and wonderful moments.  And moments of sheer British stiff upper lip-ness.  Those moments involved my father, his sister, and her husband, all in their mid to late 80s in a posh restaurant in Winchester.  More on that later.  This account will be split into three parts.

  1. Pain
  2. Beauty
  3. Mustn't Grumble

1.  Pain.  

My oldest boy has been choosing danger and a lifestyle that is beyond my help.  This week, I found myself closing the doors, and telling him that he was on his own.  I don't remember making the decision, I only remember having done it.  I didn't like it, and my heart breaks at the thought of my beautiful boy suffering, of his vulnerability, his youth and his state of mind.  But I need some help myself, and I am afraid, and I am not helping either him, myself, or my household.  And so, he is on his own.  There have been some very good people who have held my hand, and reminded me that I have not locked the door, I have just pulled it closed, and on the one side my son will follow his choices, and on the other, I will recover my soul.  The door can be opened at any time, but my son will take a long time to understand that the power to open it is in his hands, that I will be holding a safe space for him on my side, it will take time and experience for him to understand that true love will do this.

On the one hand, I am exhausted with the relief that he won't be in the house any more.  On the other hand, I think, where is this child that was so keen on cars, that if we were in a traffic jam on the M25, he would be delighted and impressed?  I saw someone who looked like him at a railway station a few years ago, haggard and scruffy and ill, and had a dreadful premonition.  I wonder, if I paint him in my studio as a saint, will he come back?

2.  Beauty.

My dear friend, Musician Extraordinaire Lizzie Hornby, has recorded a dedicated new piece called A Graceful Death, for the exhibition.  Listen to the notes like a heartbeat running through the piece, halting, and pausing, and stopping before starting again. Like life dwindling, and rekindling, and the heart patiently trying to continue with life.

I asked Lizzie if I can use her music for the exhibition because it is beautiful and it does not lead me to laugh or cry.  It is music that is so much itself, that it commands my attention and carries me along with it.  I want music for the exhibition that does not create sentiment, nor make going to the exhibition like going to a weepy movie.  The exhibition needs to stand on its own, so that when you are there, your response it entirely your own. The music has to be special, and Lizzie's music is, to my mind, perfect.  Lizzie writes from her heart. She understands what I am doing, she is not swayed by it and she has used her talent and gifts to do her own thing alongside what I do, and so has created music that compliments A Graceful Death, and adds to the whole experience.  This title piece, that Lizzie has been working on over the past few months as the theme tune for AGD, has made me sure that God is good and lives in creativity and expression.  Lizzie is touring in the US at the moment.  She is also giving a concert for the A Graceful Death opening night in Bridport on the 1st of November this year.  And, while she is in the US, I am going to hide away in her cottage in Dorset for a while.  I think I win big time here.

Lizzie playing the piano at an art exhibition in Ditchling in West Sussex this Spring.  The piece she is playing is the one that started the whole thing off, and this became the music for AGD.  Now I have a dedicated piece of music called A Graceful Death to play alongside all her other work.  I am thrilled.

3.  Mustn't Grumble.

Esteemed Father and Excellent Son. Pudding was still uncomplicated here.

My brother Ralph and I took our esteemed father (82) to Winchester to visit his grand and memorable older sister and her husband (combined ages of Aunt and her husband about 172).  All was well, on this hot and dusty day, over lunch at an upmarket eatery, until I glanced at my Aunt who looked as if she was struggling not to rest her forehead in her plate of risotto.  "Do you want to go home, Aunt?" I said, to which she replied that she thought she ought to.  Before anyone could decide how this was best done, Aunt slid gloriously into her risotto and started snoring.  Quickly standing behind her and holding her head, I asked the waitress to get an ambulance, while Ralph took care of Esteemed Dad and Venerable Uncle.  "Is she still breathing?" the waitress asked me ( she many months pregnant, and calm as a cucumber), prompted by the emergency services on the phone.  Aunt looked paralytically drunk by this time, worryingly so, with her eyes half open and her head lolling into my hands.  "She is breathing!" we cried as Aunt delicately snored on.  "Lay her flat on the floor" the emergency services on the phone told the waitress to tell us, and so Ralph, some waiters and I, carried Aunt over the chair, and onto a hastily cleared space on the floor of the busy upmarket eatery in Winchester.

One lady left her table to come over and help, bless her.  Everyone else carried on eating. The lady who came over to help made sure Aunt was decent (Aunt is very decent), that Aunt's skirt and blouse were as smooth and elegant and as well presented as she could be as she lay under the table surrounded by jolly lunchers above.  As she came round, Aunt's first concern was that we all go back to the lunch table and finish our puddings.  At what point, I asked her, in all her training as a nurse, was she taught to leave elderly relatives semi conscious on the floor of restaurants in order to finish puddings? Aunt agreed that it wasn't done, and passed out again. And anyway, pudding had been ordered but had not, understandably, arrived.

And so we stayed on the floor, until the Ambulance came, I holding my gracious and formal Aunts head in my hands and stroking her hair, Ralph looking after Uncle and Dad and lunch carrying on around and above us as normal.  Uncle sat on a chair near Aunt, calmly watching and looking wise and serious.  Dad, who has memory problems, sat at the table looking extremely confused.  One minute we were all above the table having lunch, the next thing, half the party were under the table, and pudding was on hold.  Ralph was wonderful looking after him.

All ended well.  Aunt and Uncle are home after a spell in hospital, with a bit of rest, all will be back to normal. Dad suggested to Ralph as we left that we stop off en route from Winchester to London, for a pudding stop.  And so we did.  The moral of the story?  Mustn't grumble.  And always have pudding.

Today is a quiet day here for me in Bognor.  I shall mow the lawn, and tend my teeny meadow.  I shall think of my son and how this all came about.  My other son, and my daughter, are very supportive, as are local agencies around here.  But I cannot help feeling that Son is still only a child, and that I have said Go, Son, and die somewhere alone and unloved.  That is not the case, Son is loved.  He does not love himself, and is somewhere beyond me.  Until he comes back, I suppose I mustn't grumble.  And have some more pudding.

Pudding.  Made by Son for my birthday a few years ago.  It says Antonia in bananas. 

Friday 12 July 2013

A Eureka Moment which includes Bongos and Verdi's Requiem.

I had a Eureka moment yesterday evening.  I glimpsed the nature of the divine in creativity.  I am not very connected to music, but I am going to concentrate on music right now, and the almost too fleeting moment, when I thought I caught the divine.  No great symphonies, no big concerts, just a moment in a church with friends, a choir with some bongos, and a burst of insight.

I have great difficulty with the certainty in, and the stories behind, religions. God seems to be a very good idea, and a jolly necessary concept.  But as a child, I was horrified by the idea that Man made God in his own image.  That set the cat amongst the pigeons, and for many a year, I was conscious that it was all the wrong way round, and that we, the people, were being fooled and God didn't make us at all, we made God.  Oh that bothered me so much.  How is this, I thought, that we made God and the church (I was raised a Catholic) is carrying on as if they hadn't heard and were sticking to the old story that God got there first, and made us.  "I'm a child," I thought, with rising panic, "and I know this, it's out there in black and white, what is wrong with them!"  This thinking manifested itself by causing a distance between me and music of any kind in the church, with hymns, choral music, and even big fancy Requiem Masses.  It caused a distance between me and any kind of religious music. I could love the effect, but I got stuck at the silliness of believing all the doctrines of the church, and I could not understand how anyone, who had the gift of music in them, could write music and songs around it.  And Verdi, who wrote my favourite Requiem, if he was so clever, what on earth was he doing writing a funeral mass?

I spent much of my life thinking that those who wrote for the church, about the church, and in the church, were possibly wonderful people, but had a bit of a problem with reality.

I stood in a congregation last night, celebrating ten years of a friend's priesthood.  On the one side of the altar, was a small choir, with an organist, on the other side of the altar was another local choir, with a drum and some maracas.  It was while listening to the choirs that I had a glimpse of what it was all about.  The passion and the creativity in church music is not about the church doctrines.  It's not about words or philosophy, it's not really about rules at all.  Inside an artist is a need to create and to express.  Simple.  But how does that feel? Oh the thing about creativity is that it is something quite other, quite beyond our rational mind, quite different from the need to sit down, the need to eat, the need to have a long bubble bath.  Creativity is something that is both inside us and outside us.  In order to access it - and you do have to access it - you have to give in to it, and step outside yourself to let it in and let it work with you. I think the Ancient Greeks believed that your talent, your Genius, was not in and of you, it was outside of you, a divine gift, and you had to ask for it to come to you.

It is not the same as inspiration.  If we wait for inspiration, we will never do anything. Inspiration is always just a bit beyond us, and just a little bit esoteric, and waiting for it, keeps it at bay.  Inspiration is the icing on the cake.  If it is there, fabulous.  If it is not, carry on anyway.  Creativity lives in all of us, inspiration is a gift that we can produce for ourselves by using our creativity, and the result becomes expression.  Oh and isn't expression the thing we crave?  To express ourselves, to say our piece, to be seen, heard and understood?  To express ourselves in our clothes, our choices, our friends, our reading matter, to express ourselves in our opinions?  What if you could write music to express yourself?  What if you could step aside from yourself to let in this thing called creativity, and you grasped your inspiration, and used it all make something that was a total expression of your experience and gift?  My Eureka moment was that it is not the church, the doctrines, or the stories that made such glorious music, it was something so different and so deep and so wonderful, something so God given and divine, that caused the writing of the music.  The church is a vehicle, the creativity is on a par with the divine itself.  And the expression of it, is the gift we receive.

Those singers singing with the drums in the church last night, were taking part in this divine spark by singing.  They were co operating with the whole creation/inspiration thing by expressing, and by expressing, by singing and using the music to step outside of themselves to let in that "other" that I call divine creativity, they were joining and affirming the spark that the creator of the music took and used and made something of in the first place.

I saw that it didn't matter that the words and setting were religious. I saw how God, who I do believe exists and is my personal friend, breathes creativity into all of us, and watches us ignite each other.  One person's work, by stepping aside and entering into their creativity and working with it to create, for example, a piece of music with some bongos and some local singers, is used by those singers to express themselves by singing at the tops of their voices, for us who listen and are moved to sing too, and so we all end up expressing ourselves.  So Verdi, who wrote that marvellous Requiem Mass, is giving vent to this thing that he can do, and he is doing it.  The Catholic church is his vehicle.  It's not about the church, though it is for the church, it is a direct connection to the mind and heart of God, and so beyond words and analysis completely.  My Eureka moment was that we are following religions, we are searching for meaning, we are looking for answers and we are longing for something to explain ourselves to ourselves, and the answer is in this extraordinary thing called creativity.

Now that I have this straight I can listen to church music, and be as moved as if God had leaned over and touched me with divine finger tips, and whispered in my ear, "Go Girl.  It's what it's all about, cry if you want to, wave your hands in the air, whatever.  Just shed the attitude and step into the light and let's groove".

Saturday 6 July 2013

On Work, and Play, and Mr Christmas coming for a visit.

We will divide this week's blog into two sections.  Section one will be work and section two will be domestic.  Woven into each section will be references and hints at other things, such as personal, kids, and escape routes.  And so, let us wade forth!  Courage, mon brave, it will soon be over.

Section One, Work.

Last weekend I finished the portrait of the young terminally ill doctor Kate Granger.  It was a difficult portrait to paint because Kate looks so well, and works so hard.  I am glad that it is done, and that she will now join the A Graceful Death exhibition as a powerful lesson in how someone facing their own death, refuses to stop everything and wait.  The exhibition will benefit from Kate's presence and lessons, and I am so pleased to have met Kate.  She will be writing something for the exhibition herself, adding much welly to the portrait.  I hope very much that she will come to an AGD, in the near future.

Kate on her sofa at her home.  Note the tension in her hands, and her wedding ring.  Interesting details.
Sound Workshop and Sound Bath Experience

Next Saturday, for those who can come, my friend and colleague Sarah Weller will be holding a Sound Workshop and Sound Bath here at my house.  We are raising funds for AGD, and will ask for contributions from you who attend, for the sessions.  Sarah's practice runs from Blacknest Golf and Country Club in Alton, East Hampshire, you can see her page here - . Here is a taste of what we are doing, 
Sarah Weller, inspiring Sound and Drumming Therapist and Soul Midwife, will be giving a workshop as a fund raising event for the A Graceful Death Project. Sarah's workshops, featuring drums and gongs, are energising, mysterious and deeply wonderful. We are asking only for donations to the AGD Project, we will leave that entirely up to you.

The Sound Bath is a glorious way to experience mystery in pure sound. It is peaceful, meditative and effective. Sarah will play her many different sound bowls while you rest, eyes closed, and feel the power of the vibrations and frequencies healing and soothing you.

I will provide the necessary tea and cake, you will need it after experiencing Sarah's wonderful Sound Workshop and Sound Bath.

We are raising funds for the A Graceful Death project, that enables paintings of those who are facing the end of life, to go on public display as part of a project to start talking about what it means to live, and die, and be fully alive while dying. Many of you know and have supported the AGD Project and know that without your help, I could not do the work I do. It is ongoing, as I do not charge anyone who is painted for the exhibition, just to work with them is gift and a treasure beyond compare. But I still need to fund the creation, the exhibiting and the maintenance of the project. Sarah is offering her valuable help with this Sound Therapy Workshop and I am honoured to have her support.
Sarah and I are also going to offer another screening of the film "I Am Breathing" after this workshop.  This is a powerful film of the last year of a young father with Motor Neuron Disease.  The film is sponsored by the MND Association, and we will ask for donations to that too, if you stay on to see the film after the Sound Workshop.  We are able to show the film with the blessing of the MND Association, and hope you will be able to stay and see it.  All donations to see the film will go directly to the Motor Neuron Association.

Please have a look at the page set up on Facebook and come along.  Let me know if you are coming, I will double the biscuit levels and get out the extra big teapot.  

Next week I go to visit another old friend and Sound Therapist, Sharon, to talk about AGD going to a Hospice near her.  If that comes off, I will let you all know, endlessly and repetitively, and make you all come to it.  Sharon lives in Lightwater in Surrey, you can find her on  

And!  I have promised myself a day off in the studio!  A day where I can throw glitter around, fiddle with pots of paint, make paper aeroplanes and lie on the floor and sing to reggae as loud as I can.  And hoover behind all the stacks of wood I keep on the off chance that I will paint a masterpiece on one of them. This day may be tomorrow, Sunday, I feel it taking shape in my soul.   


I am renting out my Older Son's rooms.  He has two, a big bedroom and a teeny room alongside it.  For some reason, the teeny one has captured the heart of my Polish lady who already lives here, and she has moved out of her small room to this even teenier one.  "Are you sure?" I said, and "But yes!" she said.  And so, it took her 20 minutes to move her things over the landing, and she has taken up residency as from last night.  Older Son has stopped talking to me, which is quite nice, and is camped out (with all mod cons) in the TV room downstairs.  He does have a place in Brighton but it is better here, more food.  This afternoon I have a man called Mr Christmas coming to look at the bigger of the rooms.  I wonder if he has a sense of humour.  I shall line up the whole household to look at him, we could be offering accommodation to someone we need to keep on the good side of.  If I dress as an elf, and he has no sense of humour at all, and thinks this is normal, then he is perfect for this household.  He won't notice anything.  Giant Boy tends to eat big meals in the early hours of the morning, and Older Boy is often furious.  I may be lying on the floor of the studio on his first day here, singing shamelessly along to reggae in a pseudo Jamaican accent that only middle class middle aged fairies can do.  A profound sense of humour works here, or none at all.  Just a bit of a sense of humour, and you can feel oppressed.  It needs careful navigating, this house, at times.

While mowing the lawn last week, I had to dodge the bumble bees.  My lawn is 20 % grass, 80% dandelions, daisies and other wild flowers.  "Sorry!" I kept saying to the bees, as I tried to mow in all sorts of patterns around them so that they could finish doing what they do with the flowers.  So I have left a patch of grass, about 4' in diameter, for them to play.  I have a meadow.  I have now got a bee friendly meadow, where the bees can frolic.

Where the bee sucks there suck I.

Here will be my own Dingly Dell in the making.  Soon it will have a pond, some benches, overhanging branches and weeping willows.  It is all very new, and I have found some bees not in the Meadow this morning, but on my other flowers.  I gave them a stiff talking to, and told them to not look a gift horse in the mouth.  I shall check up on them later.  Just for reference, here is Eileen photographing in the real Dingly Dell

Like Where's Wally?  Where's Eileen?
And now.  I must prepare the room for Mr Christmas.  I am painting some old furniture white, and it is in the garden waiting for the second coat.  It goes in the room I wish to rent.  And later, Sarah Weller, of Sound Bath and Sound Therapy fame, is coming for the night and we shall have our first screening of the "I Am Breathing" film.  Tonight, we are showing it to a selected audience with dinner and discussion, to raise funds and awareness of and for, Motor Neuron Disease.  That will really test Mr Christmas.