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Monday, 19 July 2021

Settling into myself.

 

Me as a young mother with Lexi, my oldest, aged 7

Pondering at nearly 61

I am going to be 61 in a week or two.  I remember being 10 and spending all my pocket money on some lipstick for my mother's birthday and a Bic biro for my father's and feeling very grown up. I have a handle on life, I thought, I know what these grown ups need. Theoretically I am grown up myself now, and I am very glad.  There is much to be grateful for, not least that I do not have to go through the learning any more that has led me to who I am now.  The learning is not over, it never is, but the hard lessons during my travels to where I am today, are over.  They still reverberate and I deal with the fall out from time to time, we all do this, and the fall out can be good too.  Then I am relieved and feel that we never really know how things will turn out.  With the best will in the world, struggling through the business of being young, trying to work out how the world works and who we are in it, sometimes our worst decisions can end up being beneficial in the end, after many years, despite the fall out at the time. 

Being a young mum

The most difficult times of my life were as a young mum.  I was not as young as some, my first child was born when I was 30, my last when I was 36.  I did not have a clue how the world worked and did not have a clue who I was.  My first pregnancy was a complete shock, I had only just met the father.  None of my clothes fit me any more and I felt sick and exhausted. "You're pregnant", said the doctor when I went to see her, and I was outraged.  "How very dare you!" I said, and changed doctors.  At the new surgery, the doctor said, "You are probably pregnant," and as I made to leave in a huff, she gave me a pregnancy test and told me to come back and see her with the result.  It was positive.  OMG. I was so clueless.  But in this strange and confusing world, where I was now to have a baby despite feeling totally disconnected to life, my own mother was a lifeline.  She was calm, loving and practical.  She was the grown up, she was the real mother.  I was stunned.  A baby.  Blimey.

I found motherhood both beautiful and glorious, and terrifying and challenging.  I made it up as I went along, I meant well but had absolutely no grasp on reality.  Sometimes I thought I was only three months more emotionally mature than my children.  I had no idea how to do it, what the rules were or who I was.  And after my divorce and two children later I was, for most of the time, a single mother.  To say I was anxious and frightened was an understatement.  We were poor, chaotic and for much of the time I was ashamed of how bad a mother I thought I was.  Not only that, I thought I was a bad person.  I just wasn't like everyone else, and I felt too different. Of course I was never a bad person.  I was different, I wasn't like everyone else, but I lacked the experience and insight to understand that that was my USP.  My unique selling point.  That was my strength.  That is what artists are.

But

With all those years behind me, with the benefits of hindsight and time passing, I completely see I wasn't so bad.  This is the good bit of settling into myself.  I wasn't so different from other mothers, though I thought I was at the time.  Somehow the kids and I got through and everyone is still alive today, which in some places, is a huge success.  All those years of ups and downs, good and bad decisions (lots of very bad decisions) made me work out who I am and what I want.  There is nothing like being on the front line of experience to make you decide to sink or swim.  

My own daughter has four little children and a lovely husband.  She has everything right in ways that I had not. But her struggles with being a mum are, actually, the same as mine were and, I see, the same as all of us.  Despite making excellent choices, and despite being a very sound family, the actual job of parenthood for her looks as difficult as mine was.  I am reassured that perhaps the bottom line for many of us who have children, is that we really do love and we do the best we can.  The rest is just a muddle. Life happens around us at the rate of knots and we do a great job of running as fast as we can to stay as still. I know who I am now because for so long I did not know.  All those years of struggle have led to a degree of calm now, and the calm is not just from outside because all my children are grown and living away.  That does help, boy does it help.  But the calm is also from inside -  we have all staggered through the good times and the bad to right now, and though my children are all beginning their crazy journeys through life, I am beginning the long last road of mine.  I am not old and am not intending to die just yet but I am looking at about 20 years with luck, and I know now a lot more about what not to do, and how not to fall into traps which leaves me with what I do want to do, and, of course, what I can do.  And, I am deeply sympathetic to my own mother too as I get older. 

Work

My work, my family and my social life are all linked together in a big crazy knot. While a young mum, I became a self employed artist almost by accident, I announced it one day out of the blue and then had to learn about business, about clients and new things called the internet and mobile phones.  It seemed such a huge deal at the time to admit that I was an artist, even though in my heart I never was anything else.  A friend held business support sessions and encouraged me to think big.  This is where Artist Extraordinaire came from, but for the first ten years or so I used to whisper it in case anyone thought I was uppity. Yet I didn't reject it.  Funny, really.  Like I knew I was an artist extraordinaire but no one else would. 

About to set the world on fire at uni

I have not set the world on fire.  At university, my aim was to soar to the greatest heights and change the world.  To what, never crossed my mind.  It was all about me.  The hard task of life got in the way of all that, and for many years it seemed I was never going to amount to much.  It was all such hard work.  Trying to be a mum, doing my own growing up (painful), following a dream and navigating the real world as an artist meant that all I ever seem to do was get it all wrong and tread water.  That is how it seemed.  I still stuck at it because that is what I do, I stick at things.  And because in my heart and soul I had never ever wanted to do anything else than be an artist.  So when I look back at all the crazy, I see someone who was just a bit different, who did not conform to anything much but had so little self confidence that she thought she was just wrong.  But what I also see disguised in there as stubbornness, is self belief.  Wow.  That's good.  Self belief helped me to choose and stick to my destiny as an artist even though everything around me was mental, and everyone else thought WTF.  

And so -

 Here I am today.  Feeling chilled about life in the way I used to marvel at in my grandparents.  In my opinion, they had finished living because they were happy to do gardening and reading, and have early nights.  I see the almost spiritual benefits of that now.  I can't wait to do some gardening and take a book to bed for a night of reading.  Damn, I would have considered that a punishment at one time.  Time is different to me these days, and I suppose will continue to change and morph.  I don't have to rush about now, and I am learning that whole chunks of time spent not being an amazing human being are not only preferable, they are a relief. And they are possible!  The world does not end.  By now, being an amazing human being is less about changing the world with a fanfare and lots of praise from the outside world, and more about getting a balance between me and my soul. I don't have to do anything to be amazing, I just have to be.  Then, I notice that everyone else is an amazing human being, and we are all in this together.  Life changes over time, and it becomes less about the outside and more about the inside.  The great Franciscan priest, author and spiritual teacher Richard Rohr says that we spend the first half of our lives building our container, and the second half examining its contents.  Well, I am examining the contents of my container, and finding much of what is in there can be gently removed and the space that it leaves filled with only peace.  

I will just end by saying that to the outside world I am still constantly on the go.  Yes, I am.  But I can, and do, stop and spend the time chillaxing alone that once I would have spent with children, life and ambition.  I am full of projects, thoughts, events and stuff.  I am a whirligig.  But I am not driven now, there is no point, I can't change the world.  I still want to get things done and make a difference, but where I once wanted to change the world, I now understand that my journey is not to do that.  I can still make a difference, as can we all, and it is lovely to make a difference every now and again and feel good about it.  I am settling into myself very well these days, and finding that it is nice, being nearly 61. 

Nearly 61 with my little granddaughter Lilz. All the world ahead for us both.

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Thursday, 8 July 2021

Look at you, you great big booby.

 

Little boobies

Everything about those that support the Covid narrative and those that don't, has mostly been said.  There are those who follow it, there are those that sort of follow it, and those who don't follow any of it.  I try to keep myself in check, remembering both to love my neighbour blah blah blah, and that, according to my Qi Gong teacher, energy follows thought.  That means something along the lines of I have a thought, it creates energy, energy creates matter and boom, I have created my reality.  If I engage in negative thoughts about people wearing masks, washing their hands every time they pass someone in the street and keeping as far away from me as they can on a small path as if they are both doing me a favour and furious that I am not climbing the fence to keep out of their way too, then I create my experience of lower vibration hostility and judgement.

But. It is hard work.  I took my car in for an MOT last week, and found myself wanting to stop being so reasonable.  I am reasonable, because we get nowhere challenging very convinced people.  After all, I am a very convinced person too, and I am utterly unmoved by the Covid pantomime. 

At the door of the reception in this garage is a notice telling me not to cross the threshold.  There is a bowl on a small table for my keys, and some hand gel in case I have suddenly got Covid on my hands. The staff sit about fifteen feet away, safely behind clear perspex screens with little holes to receive money and paperwork. Most of the staff are big, lumbering blokes.

When I went to collect my car, I walked into the reception thinking that as they would like my money, this was allowed.  "Where is your mask?" asked the big burly fellow sharply, sitting by the little hole in the perspex where I would be paying.  "I'm exempt," I said.  "But I'm not," he said with suppressed bad temper.  I dug out and put on my exemption lanyard, and he said with a curtness that told me what he thought of me, "Oh.  I see."  Despite the disapproval in the air and the feeling that I had personally offended him by my death wish behaviour, we had a civil transaction, and I left.  I hadn't noticed him moving his chair further away from me as I approached though, nor was he wearing a mask himself.  Perhaps he had not thought about the rules very logically, and wearing an official lanyard was safe as a mask because the virus has had the memo from the Government and knows to leave them and masks wearers alone.  Though not as safe as if I had stood at the doorway fully masked wearing my laminated "I have been double jabbed" badge, and thrown him my money to him across the no mans land where the virus waits to bring him down.  I wondered if he knew the virus might go through the hole in the perspex and get him that way but he didn't seem to have thought of that either.

You big booby!  I thought as I left.  Look at you, a big healthy fellow like you pandering to this nonsense!  Here you are, young and fit, probably double vaccinated, hiding behind a plastic screen and feeling hard done by because I, an actual old lady who you have been told should be clinging on to life with my fingernails inside my motorised perma-sealed bubble mobile, am walking free, ignoring the rules and do not have a mask.  You big soft lump.  What on earth has made you into such a weakling?  Oh for goodness sake. And I thought, how have these previously proud and fit youngsters been cowed into such foolish subservience?  That bearded, tattooed bloke in the garage, treating himself as if he has special needs, who must have created all his muscles in the gym and lifting cars to work on them in order to look like a tough guy, has become a self righteous school prefect. Pompous buffoon, I said to myself.   

There are so many who are not like this, but I do see these self important boobies everywhere, masked up to the nines, swerving to avoid each other delighted to be following the new protocol in politeness and social acceptability, checking their phones to see if they have been pinged by their app telling them to self isolate.  "Look at me look at me!"  They seem to imply.  "Even though I am young and healthy with my life ahead of me and a stupendous immune system evolved over millenia, even though I smoke and drink like a fish, I want to be prematurely old and terrified into delicious paranoia and join your gang, the one where nothing in our lives will get us no matter what risks we take except for this one virus.  And," they may continue, "we agree that plastic will save us, and wearing masks will save us, and being alone for the rest of our lives will save us, thank you very much for this amazing life saving wisdom." They remind me of the little green aliens in the Pixar film Toy Story.  

I think, what happened to you all? Young people need to rebel and question the older lot who decide the rules.  Young people are quite literally the future. What have you done with your brains?  What are you doing, you ninnies?  What happened to you that you feel safer behind a bit of perspex when the air around you is swimming with bugs and germs and long legged beasties that never bothered you before, and what makes you think that the perspex is going to fool all the swirling bacteria and viruses in the air now?  Can't these beasties see the holes in the perspex for money transactions?  Can't they pop over the top and around the sides?  Can't they pop into you through the gaps in your masks round the ears and nose and don't they rush at you when you take your mask off to take a bite out of your sandwich? And what in heavens name is going to happen to you if one virus with a 99% chance of survival gets you?  You will probably survive.  And then what?  My mask free youngest son is 6'7" and makes a point of peering over the top of the safety screens in shops because they only come up to his chin, and no one has been carted off to the crematorium yet.  No one has asked him not to because he is far too close to the cashier and breathing down on top of her head.  They think it is funny and everyone laughs at how tall he is.  No one has noticed that he is a killer in action.

So I will go back to my loving my neighbour as myself thing, and remember my Qi Gong energy follows thought thing, and try not to swerve into people as they swerve to avoid me.  And I hope that these big boobies get bored with all this fuss, and start to swerve into me too. Then I know we are getting back to some kind of normal.

Yeah, well.

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Sunday, 4 July 2021

"We have to learn what kind of love works for us." Love in addiction.

 

No matter how wise I think I am about other people, I can feel clueless about myself.  Someone called me once, at her wit's end, because her daughter was doing the crazy, angry, help-me-it's-your-fault-give-me-money-or-I-die thing.  I had been supporting this lady over an entirely different health matter but what she needed on this call was immediate and intense help with how to cope with her daughter's out of control drug habit.  She wasn't supposed to have my number but we had realised very early on that in the background we both had addiction problems in our family.  I gave her my number for this reason, and because other people had been so kind to me when I was overwhelmed at the beginning of my own journey. I knew how helpful it was for her to have a no holds barred conversation about a loved one's addiction, because I have been where that lady was.  It was crisis time for her to recognise the depth of the problem, how she was going to protect herself, how she was going to detach with love.  I repeated one of the Al Anon pieces of advice given to me when I needed it - do not cause a crisis, but do not get in the way of one if one is naturally occurring.  I knew how bad she felt about not being able to help or protect her daughter.  I knew that awful helplessness in the face of drug and alcohol fuelled self pity, drama and manipulation. This lady had called me was because she knew I knew about the handicap, as it can be, of loving an addict.  Her story is my story.  It may be your story too.  Our phone call gave her permission to love and be ruthless and be safe.  It is not easy.  It doesn't feel like love at all, because love is kind and gentle and saves the world.  It feels like rejection, cruelty, selfishness bordering on sociopathy, and it feels like everything a Mum should never do.  But it worked for her that day, and she was able to put herself in a place of safety, detach with love, and make herself a priority for once.

Here I am today then, in a muddle myself, wanting someone to come in, be a grown up and take it all away. There has been so much disruption and madness with drink and drugs this past week, and when it is in my family, when I am the mother who has to rethink her idea of love in a split second or go under, I can't remember any of the things I have learned about how to survive it.  I have had to call on other people to help me remember what is real and what is not, and to breathe, and to not be afraid.  I had to do what that lady did when she called me.  Thank goodness we all have each other.

I want to talk about love.  It is this in all its different layers and manifestations, in its abundance and in its absence, that makes everything so complicated.  If I had no love for anyone, it would be so easy.  I could dismiss everything that got in my way and have no feelings about it at all except possible satisfaction.  If I had no love for myself, I would fall prey to everyone and anyone who said something nice to me, and blame myself when it went belly up.  So having no love is not a good thing.  Over-loving is as messy as under-loving.  If I love too much, I misunderstand the idea of love and think that I should give it all to everyone without limit.  Without boundaries.  When it goes belly up I blame myself again, and carry on with my warped idea of love (which always goes out, and never comes in) until I am a pale shadow of a person with no will of my own left to save me. 

We have to learn what kind of love works for us.  How to do it, what version is going to work best for the person giving and the person receiving. It is easy to love the lovable, and very hard to love the unloveable.  When challenged, in an emergency or when the chips are down, our idea of love can become tangled with other emotions like guilt, sentiment, anger, control and punishment to name a few.  Love is meant to be uplifting and purifying, but so often isn't.  It is painful and confusing and we need help to work it all out.  Do I love, or don't I?  Is this how love behaves?  Am I loving enough?  Am I loving correctly? Is it my fault that my love is not working?  Am I to blame?  Is my love not good enough?

Over the last few days I have expressed tough love.  I have done this a few times now and it is never easy.  The first times I put it in place I did so as a last resort to protect myself from addiction behaviour that threatened to stop me functioning at all.  It was then, and is now, so hard.  It feels like abject failure to turn my back on all the crazy that is trying to pull me in, because the crazy is so powerfully painful and I need to make it better.  The addict is in meltdown acting out all their pain, fear, illness, trauma and rage; I am watching someone out of control with mental, physical and spiritual agony but whatever it is that they are begging, shouting, crying and demanding I do, I ignore.  I walk away. I turn off my phone, I do not take calls, I ignore all the calls from the emergency services and I will not engage.  No, I say, this is not for me and I must put myself in a safe space and keep myself there.  And then I ask myself , "How is that love?"

I cannot love you until I love me.  My own love, for me, has to survive all the sabotage and cruelty that I put in its way. It is an ongoing struggle to love myself, especially when tested by the extreme distress and drama of someone who I am supposed to keep safe and love forever, kicking off.  If I have worked on my own self love I will know what I can do and what I can't do for someone else.  My self love has weathered its own storms of self doubt and self loathing.  Of course it has.  We all have messages on a loop in our heads that insist that we are unworthy, ugly and failed.  Self love tries to address that narrative and limit the damage by consciously choosing another one.  I am worthy, I am beautiful, I have done well.   I have also learned that giving into sentimental self love is OK sometimes but mostly leads to self indulgence and superficial relief. If my go-to self love tactic every time I am distressed is to eat cream buns, watch Bugs Bunny on a loop and lie on the sofa, and this is my only response, I may feel instant comfort and distraction but I will end up fat, spotty and a bit emotionally stunted.  It is when I am challenged by myself, in loving myself, that I learn to persevere and keep on trying to believe that I am worth it.  I end up learning to love me even when I feel lost, frightened and unloveable. It is good training for dealing with someone else's crazy when they are demanding the impossible.  When they demand to be saved from situations in which they put themselves time and time again, with no self awareness and no intention of not doing it again, I discern that the love I need to access is not the love they think they want.  

How is this not love? 

Here is tough love.  I do not play the game any more.  I will not dance this dance.  I step out of the madness leaving the addict to cope without me.  If mere words worked, then we could have talked about it.  Words have not worked yet and it has been years.  If diving into the crisis helped, I would only have had to do it a couple of times, but the crises continue.  My love becomes weak and confused and I no longer know what to do if I enter the fray. I get ill, the addict gets worse, I feel responsible and the addict continues to take without a conscience and maintains the story that I am in fact, responsible.  Nothing changes for the addict except that when I am truly under and far too crushed to continue, they need to find a new source of attention and money.  That is not love.  That is abuse. 

I have to remember to step away and focus on myself, keep trying to learn compassion, love and respect for me. I put myself in a place of safety and I learn from all the stuff I have done and failed to do up until now.  I learn to be kind to myself and I learn how others have coped and I share my experiences.  All this is done so that I can see clearly that my addict is doing the addict thing and I need to toughen up so that when, if, I can help and support, I am strong and experienced enough to do it.  Love can be soft and kind, it can be gentle and insightful and save the world.  It can also be powerful, robust, challenging and tough.  It can be boundaried and it can say No.  True love does not shut down, it strengthens, challenges and demands truth from the person working with it.  It keeps an eye open for a chink in the armour of addiction and prepares to go in to do what it can however many times may be needed without getting lost because it can retreat as well as advance.  And if nothing else works, I heard a wise man say once, and nothing we say is being heard, the last thing we can be to those around us, is a good example.  

 


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Sunday, 20 June 2021

"Even in the most crazy, terrifying moments, we are not alone." The exhibition is done, what a week.

 

The Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition in Brighton last week

Busy week.

I am sitting alone in absolute silence on my pink sofa in the empty house, feeling exhausted.  Today is the first day in a long time that I am, theoretically, doing nothing. Except today is the only day I have in which to do my blog and newsletter and so I am not quite doing nothing.  And, I am dressed in my walking clothes because this afternoon I aim to go back on the Downs for a walk.  Have I been invaded by aliens?  Probably.  I was looking forward to today so much, imagining myself lying on my bed in glorious well earned abandon, pots of tea on my bedside table, a plate of shortbread within reach and a smile of absolute success on my happy, sleepy face.  Interestingly, I have my lipstick on in this mental image.  I think I was imagining it on the front cover of a magazine.  The idea of a day of joyful snoozing has been the carrot that has kept me going.  But, I am not doing that.  I did a bit of it and then decided to get up and get stuff done.  And, I am really looking forward to a walk this afternoon.  I have even made the salty soup that I took on my walks while training for the Macmillan Mighty Hike, the 26 mile sponsored walk that I completed two weeks ago yesterday.  I think I am a changed person, taken over by aliens, or whatever, because where once my greatest love was to sit on my sofa where possible and live my life from there, now I am wanting to put on my walking boots and go for a hike on the Downs. Crazy.

A week ago today was the last day of the exhibition Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  This was the culmination of two years of work putting together paintings and words by me, drawings by Marie Paul and photographs by Michael McAlister on the subject of addiction.  The exhibition tag line was "behind every addict is someone traumatised by loving them", because though I am not an addict, there is addiction in my family.  The ongoing, messy, destructive, chaotic and ghastly business of living with and alongside addiction is something many of us experience.  Working through art to tell stories, paint portraits and share experiences of addiction helps us understand how other people manage. It is also the only thing I can think of to do.  I cannot change the addiction in my family, I can't make it go away and I can't escape from the fall out.  I have to find a way to manage the damage and to keep myself strong and boundaried while hoping for a miracle and keeping my idea of love strong and bullet proof. I will need it for myself and it had better be robust.  If I keep working on that love for me, I can hold it for my addict. It is a hard lesson to remember, that if we believe love is all, we must love the unloveable.  The love is there but it is tough, and real, and detached and keeps us going when we are in despair. This love is about letting go, walking away, and maintaining a distance from the madness (which is not ours) while keeping our hearts ready to respond if that response is going to work.  It is about hope. But a realistic hope.  

The week of showing the exhibition in Brighton, as part of the Brighton Fringe and supported bymy friend Ian's relapse prevention support group Arun Exact, and the excellent charity supporting families in addiction Adfam, has been intense, beautiful, enlightening and amazing. It has been hard work.  It seems that the people who came all needed to be there for whatever reason.  There were tears, powerful stories, insightful comments and interesting interpretations.  There were some crazy people, there always are, but they have stories too.  I met with and talked to many brave people who were living with, inside, and alongside addiction.  There were two fellows who left their cans of beer outside and came in for a cocaine filled experience of Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  After a while I asked the less buzzing of the two to take his friend out now, as he was not going to stop whizzing about and talking unless he was removed by his friend.  They both had a hug, gathered their beers, and left.  

Cousin Maddy helping to set up
We had an eighteen year old couple with addicted parents visiting every day, and telling their stories.  They had been together since they were thirteen, and seemed to be both way older than eighteen and also lost in a stunted childhood that could not progress.  I am hoping to work with these two youngsters to tell their stories and create their portraits. They would touch a great many people who have the same lives but who are no so articulate.  I met people with brain damage who were living free of active addiction.  I met a lady who I hope to work with, who is sober now in her seventies but with parents, children and grand children drinking as she had. Her husband died of drink.  Her story and portrait will be very important. One evening, we had a whole AA fellowship group come to see us after their meeting.  That was lovely.  All those people had found God, each other and hope.  It does not follow that they were all sober though. After listening to the stories from the week I am aware that giving up alcohol and drugs often takes more than will power and a good fellowship.  It helps, they say, but rehab is where many were able to stop.  And even that, I am told, is not necessarily effective only once.  It may take many rehabs.  There is a rule of three, my friend Ian tells me. Ian is ten years sober and clean after forty years of addiction.  He says that one person will relapse, one person will die and one person will recover.  The rule of three.  So speaking to the visitors in recovery last week, and having a whole fellowship meeting come to see us, was a powerful expression of hope.  And I suppose, it keeps me going where my own addict is concerned.  If these people who were so deep into addiction found ways through, maybe my addict won't die an addled death alone somewhere, maybe we can visit each other and have tea one day and talk about life, and sit together on the sofa in companionable silence.  Maybe. 

The next stage

 I will gather all my notes, new contacts and thoughts into some order from last week now.  Then I will start to paint and speak with new people from the exhibition just gone to create a new body of work for the next showing of Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  I don't know where I will hold the next exhibition yet, I will find a gallery or an exhibition space and take it from there.  Michael McAlister, a dear friend and colleague, will show his photographic series of powerful and challenging photos called Small Signs.  These are the small signs that describe his thirty years of addiction.  Sober and clean for many years now, Michael's work is deeply inspiring.  Marie Paul, another dear friend and colleague, is hoping to add to her dark, beautiful and mysterious drawings in charcoal, pastels and black crayon.  Marie's work is skillful, detailed, and personal to her own journey with drugs and addictions. It is the insight and creativity that Marie and Michael bring to the exhibition that inspires me too. They are part of the story of the exhibition through past addictions and are now exhibiting their own artwork from a position of recovery.  I am looking forward to working with new people for the next showing, though I am a bit nervous because there is so much work to be done to get to the next stage.  However, "nothing comes of nothing" as Shakespeare says. Or "get a move on" as my late husband Alan would say.

The Addict's Room.  Oil on wood.

Thank you

The exhibition ran smoothly because of the help and support I received. The generosity of all those heroes who helped to fund it through my Go Fund Me crowd funding is deeply wonderful.  Thank you all.  My two cousins Maddy and Kirsten stayed with me for the week and provided food and care at home here, and practical exhibition management support with me daily in Brighton.  My cheerful and efficient assistant Lora from Pink Spaghetti has helped from the very beginning, and everyone who came to this first showing of Addicts And Those Who Love Them made the week so worthwhile.  Thank you.

And it was sunny. Most of the week was downright Mediterranean. Cousin Kirsten turned a healthy shade of mahogany during the week and fair skinned freckled Maddy turned a gentle salmon pink despite being in the shade for most of the time.  The Fishing Quarter gallery where we were exhibiting overlooked the beach on the Brighton sea front, which meant that we had to have lots of chips.  We had to.

And now

It is time to rest and recover. Whatever I do on addiction is only a single grain of sand on a seashore. I want to gather together all the stories of the people I met last week and plan my next exhibition phase. In my own life, I have always decisions to make about the addiction in my family.  It does not go away, at least not for long.  It is unsolvable, constant and destructive.  It is distressing, frightening and confusing. I suppose one of the most important messages from this work I am doing is that we are not alone.  Even in the most crazy, terrifying and out of control moments, we are not alone.  And we all need each other.  Keeping quiet about what is happening to us when it is traumatic and distressing (whatever it is) is unsustainable, and it is a shock to meet other people and hear that your story is their story too.  We can get lost in the shame and stigma of having this thing, addiction, in our lives, and try to keep quiet about it.  We make excuses, explain things away, take the rap, try and cover up the damage.  And when we don't any more, and the world does not end, because we have found the support of a community who know how we feel because they are feeling it too, we can move forward.  I remember walking into a drugs and alcohol support meeting many years ago for the first time, and collapsing in tears when it was my turn to speak.  I heard myself saying that I hated my addict, and I wanted them dead.  I was taken aback by what I had just said, feeling a little out of control and was expecting the group to ask me to leave. Instead, they listened, gave me tissues, hugged me and said they understood.  Many of them had come to this group with the same feeling, and look at them now, they said.  Of course I would feel this way they said, it is intolerable dealing with so much on my own.  It isn't that I want my addict dead they helped me see, it is that I wanted the situation to go away.  And I hated the addiction, they said. If I hated the addict, I would not be there with them in floods of tears with my heart breaking.  

And so this project continues.  But first, in a minute, I will go for a walk.  I has been an insanely busy time.   

 

Marie, Me and Maddy. What a wonderful week.

I am looking for stories and experiences of addiction, either your own or someone who you love, for possible use in the Addicts exhibition.  Stories can be anonymous too. Email me here in confidence.

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Sunday, 6 June 2021

It's all over by the time you read this. In a good way.

The Walk

A photo of walking equipment in my nice quiet sunny kitchen today.


By the time you read this I will have completed my Mighty Hike walk for Macmillan.  I am heartened by thinking that this walk will soon be in the past, meaning I will have done it and won't have to think about it ever again.  Yesterday, as you went about your day without a care in the world, I walked 26 miles from Brighton to Eastbourne with 499 other people and let me tell you, it was tough.  I don't actually know that yet, but I expect it will be. Near the end of the walk, at about the twenty mile mark, there are the Seven Sisters which from what I gather from our walking Facebook pages, are seven huge hills that will kill all of us.  Apparently they are very difficult even without having already done twenty miles.  "They are tough, there is no denying it, and many may never walk again," say the experienced walkers on the social media pages, who have done Mighty Hikes with the Seven Sisters before, "but just enjoy the day and look at the view."  Oh that will help. I will just admire the view as my legs fall off.

There is always a chance that I didn't make it, and that I am still there on the route, lost and confused and a long way from home.  If you don't read this blog, then that is why.  It never got posted because I am still walking twenty four hours later and may have gone mad.  No one can find me and Macmillan will have to send out a search party.  They will have to lure me off the Seven Sisters with flasks of tea and eggy sandwiches.

The training for this Mighty Hike has been a lesson in perseverance and strange rewards.  In the beginning I would walk for an hour or two, and think that there was plenty of time.  As time went by I planned longer routes and eventually, with a new tiny turquoise ruck sack, a flask of salty soup, water and my excellent (new) walking boots, I would take a whole day and do up to nineteen miles. On some walks the weather changed suddenly and became very unpleasant.  Twice, I was utterly caught out, unprepared and under dressed in just a pink dress, a jumper and no coat or hat.  I squelched back to the car in a crazy downpour with gusts of freezing winds thinking, this is what it must be like on a mountain when the storms come and no one is prepared.  Those eight miles back to the car were absolutely awful and when I got to the car, I couldn't open it.  When I did get into the car, I found that the peanut butter sandwiches that I had wrapped in water proof bags were holding water like a sponge.  The treat that had spurred me on through the storm had been snatched from me by the elements and I was left to drive home cold, hungry, miserable and drowned.  The strange reward from this walk was that it would probably never be that bad on the day of the real walk, and that I had survived.  This was SAS level training, I said to myself, you're tougher than you think.  

Training for the Navy Seals.
 

As I write this, I see that on Saturday the weather will be hot and sunny.  I have all the things I need; a new sun hat, factor 50 plus suncream and lots of books downloaded on Audible to listen to.  I am revisiting all the Inspector Rebus books by Ian Rankin.  It will be interesting to walk through brilliant hot June sunshine on the beautiful South Downs by the sea while being a part of a dour Edinburgh police team searching in a freezing winter for unspeakable baddies and led by an alcoholic misfit genius. I will be in Edinburgh for much of the Mighty Hike.  I also have a plan, which may or may not have worked as you read this.  At the foot of the first Seven Sister cliff which looks terrifyingly like climbing to the moon in the photos I have seen, I will have a flask of sweet tea. I did this at the bottom of another hill when training and it was so delightful that I think of it still.  I sat on an old mossy log underneath beautiful trees and luscious green leaves at the bottom of a very steep mile long woodland ascent from Washington village back up to the Downs one sunny afternoon. I was trying out my new idea, a flask of hot sweet tea on a long walk.  I always take hot salty soup with me, as it seems to hit the spot.  This time I trialed sweet tea and boy, was it good.  On the actual walk day I will take both, a flask of salty soup for half way and sweet tea for the last climb over the Seven Sisters.  It may be the last time anyone will see me. 

You can still sponsor me through Just Giving and all the sponsorship money goes direct to Macmillan.

Post script - I did make it and here is a photo of me going directly to the Macmillan fry up at the end.  My sister in law Jacky was there to greet me and bought me a bag of crisps and chocolates.  She put an apple in the bag too but I didn't want that, fed up of healthy stuff, I wanted the crisps.

 

Not wanting to be fobbed off with healthy stuff.

The Exhibition

A six foot banner in case anyone can't remember what they are looking for.

If I don't come back from the South Downs on Saturday then this next bit is an apology.  Sorry, the exhibition is off.  I am writing this before both the walk on Saturday and the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition opening on the Tuesday.  

Assuming all is well, the exhibition will be opening to the public at midday on Tuesday 8 June and I am spending this week before everything happens writing lists.  The paintings are all finished, the writing is nearly done, wrapping up all the paintings is not a problem so can wait a bit.  But there is all the other stuff to remember like a giant kettle for tea for the week at the gallery.  A coffee maker, a cold bag for milk and lunches.  Hanging equipment - hammer, nails, picture hooks, measuring tape, sellotape, blutac, string. I must remember the easles and the A-boards, and of course the new six foot banner I had made to go over the door outside.  That reminds me, we need a ladder.  Then there is the planning for the private view, which includes all the (low key) catering, and always the constant remembering to tell people about the exhibition in the first place.

 Addicts And Those Who Love Them is a serious exhibition. The idea behind it has always been to tell the stories of people dealing with addiction, and that is not just the addict, but the people behind them. 

I first began creating a body of work in 2018 on the subject of addiction.  It was in response to my son’s struggle with opiates, and it was called The Brighter The Light (the darker the shadow).  I showed it here in Bognor, and it resonated with others who were experiencing the same thing.  From that exhibition came the idea for this next one, Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  It seemed that we who witness and journey alongside addiction in our close circles feel vulnerable and alone.  When we eventually do talk to someone who understands, and when we tell it like it really is, which is very horrible because we expect not to believed, the relief is enormous.  At this first exhibition, I remember a mother coming in and walking around the paintings in shock.  When she managed to come and ask about the stories behind them, and I told her exactly what had happened and was still happening, she broke down in tears.  She and her daughter were living in a silent nightmare of the daughter’s addiction.  The mother, feeling (as we do) that it was her fault (and addicts are expert at blaming others) finally understood that she was not alone, the addiction in her life was not her fault and that there were places she could find help and support without judgement.

Though this lady does not feature in Addicts And Those Who Love Them, the whole idea behind it was inspired by her.

I have a great team with me for this exhibition.  My two cousins Maddy and Kirsten are coming to stay with me for the week to make sure there are always two of us in the gallery, and that someone (Kirsten) will be doing food. There is so much organising, and I have a wonderful VA (virtual assistant) called Lora, who does so much of it, with her lovely cheerful smile.  I am grateful to have the support of Arun Exact, a peer led relapse prevention group in Littlehampton near here, and of Adfam, a wonderful charity supporting and educating families and friends of addicts as they deal with the addiction journey.  Perhaps I could call it the addiction lifestyle.  I have also, with huge gratitude, had wonderful support from all the people who have donated to my crowd funding pages to help pay for the costs of this project.  All the work I do is free, and the exhibition is free.  That is why the crowd funding has been so important and special. 

I have two Go Fund Me pages for this exhibition. The first was set up a year ago in 2020 when Addicts was meant to show at the Brighton Fringe.  Of course, everything was suddenly cancelled last year and when I was offered a slot this year I couldn't find my old page and so began a new one.  Then I found my old page.  Both had donations on them and I simply had to pretend I always wanted two pages and that was how I rolled.  If you would like to donate you have a choice.  The first page is here and the second is hereYou could donate to both, in order to maintain balance.  I will not stop you. 

In the studio holding a portrait and words of Ian from Arun Exact.

And so

I write this blog before my busy week begins.  If you are reading this, I did make it on Saturday and I am taking the Sunday to rest before hanging and preparing the exhibition on the Monday.  I have toyed with opening the Addicts And Those Who Love Them from a wheelchair but I have bought myself some orthopedic flip flops instead.  I will be supported by them and look nice too. 

Just as a little extra, my darling brother John is getting married in London on the Friday before the walk and exhibition. So I will be partying on the Friday at the wedding.  My train home arrives at Bognor at 11.30pm, and I am up for 5am the next day ready to make my mark on those Seven Sisters and earn the right to wear the orthopedic flip flops for the next week in Brighton.  

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Saturday, 22 May 2021

Dual diagnosis. Mental health and addiction.

 

Mental health and addiction

Dual diagnosis is the name given to describe both a mental health condition and addiction occurring together.  I have no other qualifications to talk about this but lived experience, and that counts for a lot these days.  Observational lived experience as I do not suffer from dual diagnosis myself, but someone I know does and it has been a very powerful learning curve .   

When I was growing up, I had thought all addicts were the same.  It was their choice to take drugs. They were feckless and if they became a lost cause, well, it was all their own fault.  Addicts were shadowy people on the outskirts of normal life, and always very different to me. I on the other hand, was a better kind of person because I was not a drug taker and I was not an alcoholic though in the early days, an addict in my opinion was simply a drug user.  Alcoholics were always old people and always lying on the streets, whereas drug users were younger but lived in a different world to me. I did not come across many drugs even at university.  They were probably there, but I did not notice them.  A person who took drugs was, in my mind, dangerous and violent.  And, you could tell who they were because they looked like tramps.  I hoped I did not have to meet one. It was that simple.

When I look back to how black and white my thinking was then, I understand that I had no idea about this terrible other world of drugs that nice girls like me did not have to know about.  I had no experience of life being intolerable, no idea of mental illnesses, no conception of taking something to help make the world go away, or the pain less awful, or life easier to live.  I think too, that when I was younger the choice of drug was much more limited than today.  There was weed, and speed, and magic mushrooms, and LSD.  Oh, and heroin, there was always heroin.  And alcohol but it took me a while to equate it with addiction, there were drug addicts and alcoholics and I don't suppose I ever considered that alcoholics could take drugs and drug addicts could drink alcohol.  

Only in the last few years have I come across the term dual diagnosis. There has been addiction in my world over the last decade or so and what a rude awakening it has been to that shadowy side of life that I had only imagined when young.  What a hard and shattering journey for everyone involved.  Of course now, with hindsight, it makes sense, that mental illness and addiction go together.  It is very serious and very troubling.  In my limited experience with addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis, I get how hard it is to keep going with depression, mental illness, psychoses and disorders that make the sufferer feel apart from the rest of humanity.  When life is really hard inside your head, it is made worse by feelings of isolation.  So many of these illnesses and disorders come with cognitive and behavioural problems.  It is hard for parents and teachers, for co-workers and colleagues, for family members and all of us in the big wide world out there to cope with any kind of challenging differences in others.  Without knowing that there is a reason, or a diagnosis of some disorder or other, it is easy to put it down to willful, anti social and often aggressive lack of self control.  Even with a diagnosis of mental, behavioural or personality disorders, it can be hard to know how to respond.  It is really hard to know what to do.

But if this is you, and life is distressingly confusing and frightening, there are countless situations in which substances offer longed for relief from life.  A vulnerable person does not always present as meek and helpless.  Vulnerability may be expressed in explosive rage, in seeking danger and taking insane risks, in self harm or harming others.  That vulnerability comes from an inability to know who to trust, to be easily manipulated, to be unable to judge danger or consequence, to be impulsive or compulsive and to make life difficult for themselves and everyone around them. If this person found something to make all their difficulties go away and make some of the pain stop, then of course, they would take it. And if it made people like them, and gave them the courage to be sociable in a way that got them lots of attention, why not? Why, if the the struggle is so hard and the stuff they take brings such a buzz and freedom from pain, would they not take it?  The thing is, self medicating works.  It makes the world go away. It becomes disastrous when addiction takes hold, but at least in the beginning, it works.  And there are no shortage of people who make a very good living out of making sure the most vulnerable get a go of drugs.

Maybe all addicts suffer from dual diagnosis and have crazy mental health disorders. Perhaps if they did not start out with one, by the time they are addicted they certainly do.  They have many.  

No one with an addiction holds it together very well.  At some point, life unravels.  We all know the image of someone who once held down a good job, looked well and happy against the image of them later, having lost everything, looking unkempt, bleary eyed and thin.  It is people like this I saw in the methadone clinics when I spent time accompanying someone in addiction.  Everyone came into the centre trying to look as if they were ok, when it was obvious they were not.  They were withdrawing and needed their next script.  Withdrawal is awful, and not a pretty sight.  Some came in scruffy suits as if holding on to an image of normality, which did not work and I could not work out whether it was poignant, embarrassing, distressing or funny.  Some came in quietly, some not. Some came in clothes they must have been wearing for weeks, some came in clean and new outfits.  But none were able to sit still, all exhibited signs of increasing agitation and some became aggressive and uncontrollable if they had to wait even a short time.  It was here I saw how mentally unstable an addict is, whether with a dual diagnosis or not.  It seemed that there was no such thing as just mental health problems or just addiction, only dual or triple or multiple diagnoses with addiction.  It was all a big, horrible, mess.  And later, meeting other people in addiction, I was no more than a prospective means for them to get what they wanted.  Whatever I thought from my perspective as a non user and not in this game at all, to the addicts I met I was a means to get for themselves what they wanted because that is what addiction is.  An addict is a master manipulator and even the nicest of addicts knows how to play you.

A personal post script.

The person I knew in addiction started out with difficulties. This person was deeply intelligent with a very high IQ (we found out later) but always felt different, was always difficult to manage and understand and eventually managed to get a mental health diagnosis of something or another.  I say it like that because this person was a product too of their family, and though there was a mental health problem with this person, in that it was most evident in them, the whole family could have done with guidance and a few diagnoses too.  Naming this person's problem was never going to work in isolation, nothing much changed for them.  The whole family needed help.

It was not inevitable that this person would become a drug user but like many youngsters who are angry and feel too different, misjudged, abused and ignored, it happened.  It happened in the clubs and streets that seemed a better option to them than home. Fast forward many years and the madness and chaos that seemed to follow so quickly in this person's life has created deep physical and mental illnesses that may never be sorted entirely.  That early diagnosis does not seem relevant any more, it almost feels like an excuse of a diagnosis in their early life to make them go away.  Now, this person is older and the consequences of so much medication and booze is not pretty.  In a way, when this person was younger - a teenager perhaps - it was attractive and powerful amongst their peers, but now, older, there is a sadness and a coarseness to all the years of struggle against so much poison.  The mental health conditions are now many and complex, and the physical health is fragile and has been life threatening.

But here is something else I have learned.  An addict is not just their addiction.  They are also the person they have always been inside though of course, it may be very hard to see it.  There are times when this person has profound insights into not only themselves, but the world around them.  There is a strange wisdom in this person now, mixed with a total dependency on all and any medication that makes the world go away.  I keep away, mostly, now.  I do not belong in that world, and they do not belong in mine. Though of course, I always hope. 

 


                                                       *******************************

I have written this to go alongside my exhibition about addiction, details below.

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

An exhibition of portraits and words by me, and photographs by Michael McAlister. 

Showing as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival, the exhibition is supported by Arun Exact, a peer led relapse prevention scheme from Littlehampton, and Adfam, a charity offering support, advice and education for families with addiction.

On from Tuesday 8 June to Sunday 13 June, midday to 8pm daily.  Entrance free. 

The Fishing Quarter Gallery, 201 Kings Road Arches, Brighton BN1 1NB

I wrote this guest blog which puts the exhibition in context for the drugs support charity Adfam

All welcome at the exhibition.  

 

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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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