Sunday 31 August 2014

Return of the Mojo

The return of the Mojo

Summer is over and suddenly, it's show time.  I may be on my sofa, yes, and I may be basking in the gentle sunbeams slanting through my windows, and I may be keeping an anxious eye on my guard hollyhocks as they strain to break from their restraints by the front door and smack anyone within eight feet in the face, but this is a different kind of sitting on the sofa.  This time, I am only here for as long as it takes to write the blog because people, I have things to do.  I have found my mojo.  I am on the case.  The whole of August was a month of feeling droopy and unloved.  It was a reaction to a very busy period, both professionally and domestically, I needed to stop and get off the merry go round.  But having stepped off, it took a long time to stop spinning, and when I did, I saw how very tired and sad I had become.  Time taken to rest and contemplate life, to bore my friends silly with the story of my life and what I am really really feeling now, and then, and all the time, paid off and today, I bounced out of bed with a squeak of triumph, knowing that in the night, my mojo had crept back and laid down beside me as if it was never away.  

Isi's Magic

This lovely little children's book is out on 15 September, and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to illustrate. About 18 months ago, my great pal and colleague Mandy Preece, who runs Fern Publishing, introduced me to her friend Dreena Marten when they were looking for someone to illustrate a book Dreena had written.  Oh and what a joy it was to be asked to do these paintings.  The whole of the book is about sweetness, magic and beauty and the love of nature.  It is about a little witch girl called Isi, her puppy, a curly haired poodle, and explains how Isi is a pretty, kind, bright little girl witch, not a long nosed old lady with a pointy hat and nasty spells.

Isi, the pretty little girl witch, wears red Doc Marten type boots.  Buy the book and see the rest of Isi, meet her little poodle and see where she lives and what she does.

  Dreena Marten is a witch herself, she loves and protects the planet and nature, and lives by a code of seeking the best in and for everyone she meets.  I found Dreena an inspiring lady, full of wisdom and knowledge, and I have to say, with a wonderful sense of humour.  Here is what Dreena says of the book and why she wrote it 

"My reason for publishing Isi was because I wanted to create a book I could read to my young son which showed witches as cute, kind and magical rather than ugly and wicked! As I say on the Fern Books website :

I can see a new future – one where people of all faiths (including mine) are accepted and honoured. A future where we can talk openly about our faith without the stereotypes cropping up – very few of us actually have black pointed hats and the warts on our noses! So here is my offering to help change views and perspectives. Isi’s Magic is a small children’s’ book with a big job – to break down the preconceptions about a faith. My hope is that if we start with the children, then we can change the understandings of a whole generation.

The book is aimed at pre-schoolers and is designed so they have to turn the page to get the answer to the questions. I wanted to break down existing preconceptions (i.e. that we wear black all the time or have pointy hats etc.). I also hope that this would be a book pagans could buy as a gift for non-pagans – to help start a little revolution in changing views and negative depictions about my faith

The book retails at £4.99 and will be out on 15th September. It can be pre-ordered at 

and will be available on Amazon from the publication date."

For this little book, I have painted 13 pictures and enjoyed it so much.  I had a gorgeous little character to create, alongside creating her home, what she wears, and where she sits and loves the woodland around her.  I remembered being six years old and falling in love with an illustrated fairy story book my aunt had given me; the pictures in this old book were full of colour, and light, and magic, they made me feel I was part of a wonderful world that I always knew was there, I just had not accessed it yet.

And so my dear friends, please buy Isi's Magic, and see how much fun this simple, happy, powerful little book is.  Fab illustrations too.  

God's Kitchen

I am in the process of painting a companion painting to "God's Study" from a few months ago. This is God's Study

God's Study, a moment in time as God popped out to put out the washing, and I snapped this image.  In paint.  

 In God's Kitchen (the sequel), God has just left the kitchen for a few minutes, and I am painting a snap shot of what it looks like.  So far, God has an old gas cooker and lots of teapots.  Do I base God on myself I think you are asking.  Perish the thought, I say, I can't help it if God has a shed load of teapots too.  Once God's Kitchen is painted, I will show you all.  The God's Study paintings can be commissioned.  I add details from your life into the Study - it is very personal and special.  I remember doing one for a newly ordained Vicar once, which I thought was a wonderful gift.  God's Kitchens can be commissioned too, except we don't all know what the Divine Kitchen looks like yet.  Contact me if you want to talk about your own God's Study or Kitchen.

Conversations about the End of Life, finding time to think in our busy worlds

The next Conversations is set for 17 September here in Bognor at the Salvation Army social centre. I am delighted to host this gentle, open and forthright afternoon, with my dear friend Gail Willington.  Gail has got married since the last poster, and so has another name below.  The session is free, and we have space for up to 8 people.  Tea and cake is of course, part of all of the stuff I do on end of life, and will be freely available.  But don't stop eating the week beforehand, aiming to come and have an almighty binge, I will be watching and I will see.  I know a binger when I see one.

I'm watching the cake stand.
These Conversations are so important.  It is the simplest thing to talk, one would think, but in reality, it is not so simple if you do not know how to start.  Talking about the end of life, of dying, is part of living.  It does not have to be fraught with tension, it does not have to be heavy.  It does not have to be full of pain.  It may be all those things, but it does not have to be difficult.  These sessions are to start the conversation going.  Gail and I are open for all possibilities, we have much experience of talking to people about death, and we will take it as it comes.  We want to open the simplest of opportunities for people to gather and ask questions of each other, and see what it feels like to address this immensely important subject.  You are so welcome, come and see us and join in.


Life is good.  On the whole, it is good.  One of the things I did during August was to sell things on Ebay.  Good Lord it's addictive.  I began to think we don't need that table.  See what I can get for it.  And that bed.  There's a lodger, see if I can get a few quid for a lodger.  I began to creep around at night and hide things, perfectly good things that I like and want, in a pile in the corner of my studio ready to pop onto Ebay and see if I can sell them.  The bubble burst when I had sold 20 items and made about 45p.  Life is, then, good.  I am no longer temporarily gambling my household on Ebay, I am no longer without my mojo, and it is time for tea.   

Sunday 24 August 2014

How do you Move On, and Let Go the Old Cheese?

From upstairs, I hear sounds of grim and desperate gasping.  Giant Boy is training the Anxious Pole.  They have spilt out from the room where the weights and training stuff is kept and onto the landing;  I can hear sounds that make me want to explain to the rest of the household that it is not a blue movie being made up there.  Giant Boy's weight machines can be dismantled, the dumb bells moved and weights added or taken away from it.  He is a very hard task master, and does not believe in second chances or lilly livered pleading for mercy during training.  The Anxious Pole knows that if he lies down and cannot lift the mega ton weights from off of his chest, he will get no help from Giant Boy, who will fix him with his dangerous eyes and tell him to push through the pain.  I tell myself that the Anxious Pole is an adult and I do not need to go and save him from a painful death.  As yet, he is not dead, and is looking very well so I tell myself he knows what he is doing.  And he is, I think, looking a bit beefier.  I do not want to tell his adoring mother in Poland that her son has been flattened by a dumbbell, and I also do not want to tell he that her son now weighs two tons and eats cannon balls for lunch.

Against this backdrop of grunting, sweating and the clanging of metal from the landing, the household continues it's gentle way through a Sunday afternoon.  The lodger in the Annex has put on her best dress, put in her false teeth, and gone on a date.  If he tells me he loves me, she said as she left, I'm coming home.  See you in ten minutes then! I quipped.  More like twenty, she said, and left.  An hour later she is still not back so the signs are good.  I am sitting on my sofa, happy in the afternoon sun as it shines through the hollyhocks and into my sitting room. Perhaps September will be an easier month than August, perhaps I will find my energy and will be able to concentrate on the right cheese. 

The wrong cheese
I will explain.

On the radio recently, I listened to a very good programme on self help books, one of which was about moving cheese. Who Moved my Cheese it was called.  The message was that if your cheese disappears, don't spend all your time longing for the cheese that is gone.  Don't pine for that cheddar no longer there, make plans to find some new cheese.  If cheese is what you want, and it disappears, pining for it will not bring it back.  Wake up and smell the cheese. Get your act together and find new cheese and when you are successful, be aware that someone can move that cheese too.  So don't take it all for granted, if your instincts tell you your cheese is not as plentiful as it was, go off on a brie hunt and find some more.  Accept change, check your cheeses, have a teeshirt printed with the words Cheese is Change and go with the flow.

I saw how I was holding on old cheese.  What is this?  I asked myself, why am I sitting and moping about cheese that is no longer here?  Why am I trying to visualise cheese that is too vague to see when there are many cheeses in front of me already?  It is one thing though to understand that you are spending your time missing cheeses that are gone, and quite another to put into place plans to find some more.  And so, I have told myself that I must take it easy for the rest of August.  I must be gentle with the knowledge that much of my time has been spend recently in moping over things that are gone, finished, over, and out of sight.  While I am being nice and understanding to myself over this, I must make plans for future, tiny, Babybel sized projects.  I must open my eyes and see the shimmering vision of Wensleydale, of Stilton, Red Leicester of Camambert before me and go with the flow.  Cheese is Change!  Go for it.

The right cheese
Back to the present, and the grunting from the landing has stopped.  The Anxious Pole is silent in his room dreaming of being a chunky cheese.  Giant Boy has been in here playing Debussy very sweetly making me wonder if he has any conscience at all, after training his fellow house mate to an inch of his life (sort of) and then playing gentle sweet piano music as if nothing had happened.  The lodger on the date has not come back, which means the date is surviving the experience. She is not happy with her teeth in, and may have already taken them out so that she can settle down to a comfortable afternoon out.  No cheese worries for her, she sees it like it is, and acts accordingly. 

I will end this week with a painting finished yesterday that makes me happy. It is strange that I have had very complicated feelings of whatever recently, and painting them out results in a very uncomplicated, straightforward image.  See what you think.  Do you agree?  

Sunday 17 August 2014

Rembrandt Pizza and Pyjamas

While you are reading this, listen to Giant Boy's latest favourite piece by Debussy.  He is having a go at learning it and had got to the middle of page one.  Recently at a party Giant Boy disconnected the music and reconnected it to his iPhone and made them listen to Rachmaninov for six minutes before reconnecting the sound system.  They did listen (Giant Boy can be disconcerting if the mood takes him) but I am not sure anyone rushed out to buy the latest DVD.  I don't think he has been to any parties recently either.

Some nice things to start the day
  • My nails are a bright pillar box red.  This is good because when you get bored talking to me you can follow the swish and flash of my nails as my hands emphasise my words.  
  • There was evidence in the kitchen this morning of the lodgers cooking.  This is good because I worry that they are not eating properly, and may die of eating junk food and sweets in my house.  
  • I have tied up my hollyhocks in the front garden so that you won't be brained by them as you pass in a slight breeze.  They are very aggressive.
  • I have started a savings account to go and visit Eileen in Tanzania, and I have over £5 in there now.
  • Someone wrote that that the state of limbo that they struggled with, was really a state of grace.  That is a lovely thing to write.
  • I have been painting three figures on three very small canvases and they are still barely more than outlines, which is good, because that is how they feel.  This is quite liberating.
  • I have tried other teas, but Tetley is still my favourite.  I have done my homework, and now I can relax.  I have a pot beside me now, it's good to have played the field but even better to come back to the one I started with.

It has been two weeks since I left you with the account of my troubled, treasured son and his journey with drugs.  Nothing has changed, there can be no change yet, but my house is clean and I have had time to come to terms with what has happened.  Life, as they say, moves on.  It does, it does, and it takes us with it whether we like it or not.  A lady recently asked if she would survive after the husband she was sitting with as he was dying, did die.  Will I survive?  She asked.  When he has died and all of the world carries on regardless, will I be able to carry on too?  We agreed that whatever we thought about it, life goes on.  In it's own way, that was a blessing, and when we are ready, we will join life and continue to live beyond the thing that has made us think we cannot.  As my mother has said, there is still a place at the table for my son, we are keeping it ready for when he comes back to take it.  The lady sitting with her husband as he was dying took comfort from the normality of everyone else's life as it continued regardless around hers.

And so we move onwards.  Fancy Girl and I took my father to see his sister and her husband last week.  My father has lost his short term memory after a couple of strokes, is nearly blind, can't use public transport on his own and has the same conversation again and again and again. His sister, my Aunt, has dodgy hips, a walking stick, a very sound mind and is in her mid eighties.  Her husband, also of deeply sound mind, is in his nineties, and also uses a walking stick.  Dad is the youngest of his siblings at 82.  My aunt greeted Dad with her usual gentle greeting of Hello Boy, to which he replied Hullo old thing, and we all trooped out to Pizza Express.  By the time you get to proper old age, it seems, you care less for convention and more for whatever works for you within the bounds of good manners and courtesy.  My old uncle, with his life as a District Officer in Africa behind him, his days as a solicitor over and having raised his family diligently, wore his pyjamas to lunch because they were more comfortable.  He put on a tie, and a hat, and a coat, and took his wife on his arm, leading us to lunch with never a word said about his pyjamas.  It made sense to him, and to his wife, and if my father had noticed, it would have made sense to him too.

My uncle speaks softly, not always very clearly, and has survived enormous crises with his health.  I do not know him well, though I have always liked him.  We sat opposite each other over our pizzas and talked of Rembrandt. Perhaps I imagined it, but when he described Rembrandt and the effect the old Dutch masters had on him, for a moment, two or three times, he seemed overwhelmed by emotion and on the verge of tears.  It was fleeting and powerful;  I was incredibly moved by the effect that this Dutch Old Master had on a private and undemonstrative old man, my uncle, who I knew but did not really know despite a lifetime of connection through family.  I am not, he said, ambitious, nor have I ever been.  I regret that, he said.  But I disagreed, and told him so.  You are, I said, ambitious for the things of the soul.  I learned during lunch at Pizza Express, with my uncle by marriage, in his pyjamas and in his nineties, about the power of art and the joy of response to beauty.  I saw how painting can move the viewer, and that viewer can be anyone; how that viewer holds the experience deep inside for years, and how the pleasure can remain and grow over time to a point where it moves you greatly to think of it, perhaps even to tears.  I cannot remember what my uncle said about Rembrandt, that is not important.  I remember wanting to go home and look at all the Rembrandt paintings I could find, to capture their power and beauty, to find for myself a little of the magic. I know my uncle will be going to the National Gallery Rembrandt: the Late Works exhibition in October.  Perhaps I will see him there.

I painted John Horne here for A Graceful Death, using the browns and warm tones of Rembrandt.   Were he alive, Rembrandt may have disputed this and told me to get a life.

I note, with tears in my own eyes, that it is nearly 4pm and time for some more tea.  This moves me, as Rembrandt did my uncle, to extraordinary heights of happiness.  Giant Boy is practising his piano and talking at me with no need of a response, none of the lodgers are dying of hunger, and all is well.  The sun is shining through the rain clouds, and the hollyhocks are bobbing in their restraints without leaving any marks on anyone, all is as it should be.  I have not written of any work I am doing, that will come in time.  I have taken time off and away from work, and quite beyond my expectations, I am still alive and the world has not ended. In fact, no one at all has noticed.  Just because, said my friend kindly a day or so ago, you are not painting, it does not mean you are not an artist.  Yes it does, said Giant Boy.

My aunt, my father and my uncle. If Rembrandt could have taken a photo of a domestic scene instead of painting it, this may be it.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Praying into the pie and letting it pass.

In order to start today, I thought about my colours carefully.  I chose a red shirt, jeans and a big, soft, fuchsia  blanket in which to wrap myself before sitting on the sofa to write.  My toenails are pink, my earrings are red and my flip flops have red and white spots.  I am ready to begin.  Breakfast was a pot of tea and scrambled eggs on toast, all the preparations are in place, the day is now mine.

You will just have to imagine the scrambled eggs.
Dominic, my youngest brother and a Catholic priest (undergoing tough treatment for advanced cancer at the moment) told me that to love yourself enough is a struggle, and you are going to fail.  It is hard, we recognise it is hard, but the struggle to love oneself daily is a way of loving God.  Dominic is full of kindness and compassion.  It is right to accept we are going to fail, because it takes the pressure off us when even liking ourselves is hard, and gives us the space and courage to try again.  For Dominic, it comes down to doing his best, recognising the daily struggle to love himself for the greater glory of God, recognising that he sometimes - often - fails, and trying again.

I have been dealing with a son who does not love himself in any shape or form.  The struggle for him is that he has turned to drugs to find relief.  He has always looked for a way to belong, and has found life very difficult.  The nightmare in which he lives now is of his creation, for him it reflects his view of life and his place within it.  He cannot be touched, he cannot be reached, not yet, not now, and in his mind, he is not wrong.  The chaos a drug user inflicts on the people around them can be truly terrible.  It is an illness, yes, but it is destructive and cruel to all who come in contact with it, not just for the user.

For the last couple of months this treasured child has been  here after he moved out of his flat in London.  On Thursday, I told him that if he did not leave I would call the police.  He left, of course he did, he took a few things and disappeared on the Thursday morning.  He had been given a few weeks notice, but my fear at his behaviour made me call the police for advice and help.  On Thursday, they were ready to come, but my son slipped away and I didn't have to face them escorting him away from my house.  The silly, stupid thing is, he didn't say goodbye.  Considering his behaviour with his drugs, considering his paranoia, and considering his own mother had threatened the police to remove him, it is most unlikely that he would give me a cheery wave and say, "I'm off now, bye, sorry about the police thing, give them my best and tell them they won't be needed".  To be clear with you all, I have told him that when he decides to seek help, I will support him totally.  I understand that there is nothing more that I can do.  

So wrapping myself in reds and pinks today, is about loving myself.  The house has been cleaned, all of the debris, chaos, disorder and mayhem  has been dealt with, and balance, order and harmony has been restored.  We can breathe again, it feels as if there is silence everywhere.  What I have now, is a normal house, it just feels extraordinary compared to the difficulties over the last few months.  Sitting on my sofa now, feeling protected by these lovely colours, I am trying not to feel guilty that I have so much, and my son feels as if he does not.  My answer to myself here is to recognise the daily struggle to love oneself enough, and to say that my son needs time.  His struggle to love himself enough is his struggle, not mine. But I feel dreadful today.  I am fearful, tired and very sad.  I am a mum who cannot make anything right, and I am also an individual who makes choices to do the best she can for herself in order that she can be of use in the world.  Tough love, they call it.  It is tough for both of us.  

Here is my plan.  Today, I will bake the biggest pie I can.  I shall eat it all as part of the therapy. Giant Boy can have some only if he mows the lawn (the Anxious Pole is on holiday in Poland thank goodness and cannot be forced to do Giant Boy's jobs).  Tomorrow I will do a car boot sale (unless I decide not to).  Monday is a whole new world.  On Monday I will sit in the studio and think and at all times, today until the near future, I shall consider bubble baths.  My mother said of this angry confused son of mine, that he has left the table but there is still a place laid for him, and we are keeping it ready for when, if, he comes back.

So here are a few of the things that I still am doing. It is true that life goes on.  It would have suited me if the whole of  Bognor had ground to a halt recently, and had phoned for hourly updates on my situation.  I would have thought nothing of the whole world being consumed with my household - but life goes on, as it always does, without reference to us, and all the things I have to do still have to be done.
  • The "Conversations on the End of Life, finding time to think in our busy worlds" are continuing.  17 September is the next one here in Bognor, at the Salvation Army community centre.  Gail Willington, my old pal from Lancashire will be there as we are doing it together.  She runs Elizabeth Way Family Funeral Service ( ) and everything depends on whether she can get away or not.  I will be there though.
  • Dying Matters want me to write another guest blog.   
  • AGD is going to Ascot in September, Swansea in late October/early November and to Bournemouth in March 2015
  • I am doing one more painting for AGD.  I am painting and interviewing my brother Dominic.  This is about me too, when I look at Dominic, I see myself.  We have had the first interview, and we have decided how I will paint him.  This collaboration is unashamedly about me too.   
  • I have a new commission following on from the idea of God's Study, a painting of a snapshot of God's study as he pops out, and all of the books, memos, photographs and personal effects that God has on his desk and laptop.  The new commission is God's Kitchen, which will be as the study, God has popped out for a moment, and this is a snap shot of his kitchen.  That will be ready for the end of August.

God's Study, with references to the person who commissioned it. I have done a few of these, they are great fun.  God's probably amazed at how accurate I am, and is tidying his kitchen now in a hurry in case I guess correctly at that as well as his study.
I asked Dom what he did when the thoughts of dying overtook him.  He said that his fear manifests as self hate, and anger at the world and those around him.  He tries to love himself, he says, and allow himself to be depressed.  He accepts himself in the process, rests and lets it pass.  He prays into it as a form of acceptance because it always passes.  And so, with Dom's advice, I will accept myself in the process of dealing with my son, rest, eat pie, and let it pass.  

Part of the process.  Pray into the pie and let it pass.