Thursday 29 December 2011

Less Of The Inner, More Of The Outer Life Please

I feel you have been patiently dealing with my inner life in recent blogs. It is time now to tell you of all the amazing things that happen in my outer life, rendering you speechless with wonder at the richness of my world.  I shall try not to tell you much about how I feel about any given subject, and I will try not to become philosophical or go inwards, as they say.  Let me develop for you a small time line.

November was exhibition in Birmingham -Birmingham and back - Soul Midwife training in Dorset and back - Birmingham again and back - and Birmingham and back - home

December was unpack - clean studio - assess exhibition - rest - eat - go to bed - plan Christmas - go back to bed - think a little - make decision to do nothing more until January 2012 - have Christmas - award myself OBE for getting through Christmas - do this blog.

It was a hard month, November.  From Alan's birthday concert in Crawley we travelled deep into the night with my car packed to the gunnels with A Graceful Death paintings and Stuff, to a Premier Inn just outside Birmingham, from where we took off early the next morning to park inside the Bull Ring. We had a window of about 3 minutes to unpack the whole exhibition outside the church, St Martin in the Bull Ring, in which we were to show the A Graceful Death for the whole month of November.  Alan suggested, with typical problem solving focus, that I drive along the pavement through the market stalls to the side door of the church where we were to unload and so I did.  I left Alan to carry everything into the church while I drove back through the market stalls and pavement, back into the one way traffic going far, far away from the Bull Ring towards Manchester and Edinburgh, and back, and round and round until eventually, hours later, I found a place to park.

Cut now to mid November and I am off to Dorset to train with the very inspiring Felicity Warner, on a Soul Midwife course.  I have longed to do this work, and so going to train with Felicity and meet all the people on the course, was just the bees knees.  A Soul Midwife is an emotional and spiritual companion and support for the dying.  It is work that needs to be done, and there are many of us who are deeply moved to work with the dying. I met Nurses, Old Peoples Home Managers, Witches, Shamans, a Funeral Director, Counsellors and Healers on this course in Dorset, all of us fascinated with each other and what had brought us to Felicity and this work.  Just before I left to drive to Dorset, I was told that my dear Aunt Kit, my beautiful, funny, clever, wicked Aunt Kit, had lain down that afternoon on her sofa, and died.  I had visited her just a few days before, and now she was gone.  Just for the logistics of this month of November - Kit lived in Birmingham.  I went to the exhibition in Birmingham and back three times, and to Kit's, also in Birmingham and quite separate from the exhibition, to visit twice, and then, by mid November, back to Birmingham for a return trip again for Kit's funeral.  And in the middle I did a three day training course in Dorset.  There and back.  This is how the Queen feels, going round and round the world.  I was only really doing Bognor to Birmingham on a kind of ridiculous loop, with Dorset and back thrown in for pudding, but we all have to start somewhere.

Enough!  November ended and December began.  December was a winding down of all the travel, organising, meeting and greeting that happens in exhibitions.  I finished Rev Rachel Mann's portrait

which you can see is perfect for her.  She is a Heavy Metal fan, has her own Heavy Metal band and will do, if asked, fabulous zombie imitations.  Rachel has tattoos, attitude, intelligence and energy.  She also has a condition that renders her very ill very often, and so to do as much as she does do, she must have an iron will.  Rev Rachel Mann is a force to be reckoned with.  This portrait is 4' tall and about 2.5' wide.  Anyhow, I finished this, and another couple of paintings, and an Angel, by which time I was thinking about how I did not care to do Christmas, and I may have to play at being a bit potty so that I didn't have to take any responsibility.  I also thought that I would take the rest of the month of December off, in order to sooth my jangled nerves and deal with Things in the home.

Christmas was lovely.  I didn't have to do any cooking, my Beautiful Daughter did all of that, and made herself extremely angry in the process. She escaped to my mother, aged 81, to let off steam, which is awfully good of my old Mum.  My old Mum is only 5'3" and Daughter, passionate and Shakespearean when having a meltdown, is just under 6'.   Fiercely Independent Son is deeply unhappy at the moment.  He has always found life difficult, and is near breaking point.   I think he is now just Lost and Furious Son;  he and Daughter do not get on at the moment.  Each wishes the other a spell in Afghanistan without body armour, so it is good that my elderly mother took the Daughter on Boxing Day.  Youngest Son though, aged 15, got a fab report from school, and seems to be less interested in Boxing and Thumping, has not been arrested for at least 2 months, and so I do not know what to call him now.  Instead of thinking that a blood stained shirt is a badge of honour, he seems to think a nice night in revising physics really cuts the mustard.  What happened?  Well, he was the twice on the receiving end of some tom foolery by a rather unprincipled fellow, who is known for his fisticuffs, and managed to escape with cuts and bruises the first time, but had to be hospitalised with a broken nose and possible concussion the second time.  So Youngest Son is a bit more thoughtful now about things.  Let us talk this through, he will say in future.  Let us come to a compromise and shake hands together as friends. 

Christmas was lovely because Cousin Maddy and her daughter came, plus Eileen, my dear photographer friend, plus my old Dad, and of course, Alan.  It was lovely because I took a back seat and said Yes to everything, making everyone very happy indeed except for Daughter who howled with rage and went to her Grandmother and Lost and Furious Son who also howled with rage and told us all that his friend was going to give him sleeping pills to help him sleep.  Maddy, trained health care professional, took over here and as far as I know, Lost and Furious Son has not been sleeping unduly long and we think, we hope,  that she averted that one.  But Christmas was lovely.  Next year, as I live in Bognor, we are thinking of hiring some chalets in Butlins so that we don't have to do a thing, and there are bouncers already employed on the premises.

So to end now, you have some idea of the Outer Life Events over the last few months.  Soon, on 1st January, I will have to be serious about what to do next year.  Or maybe, I will consider that on the 3rd.  Because on the 2nd, how about this, I am taking 81 year old Mum to Birmingham and back for the day!  Why?  We are going to collect Kit's ashes and go through her flat.  And, I am not telling you anything about how I feel about it, nor do I have any philosophical bon mots to say.  In keeping with only the Outer Life this blog, I am going to bed and taking a tray of tea and mince pies with me.  If I feel sick, I won't tell you about it.

Monday 19 December 2011

How Exactly Do You Climb Every Mountain?

How exactly is it done?  You believe you can.  That is how it is done.  You read in a book or hear someone say You too can climb as far as you wish.  Say it daily, and believe! You say with feeling and passion, I can climb mountains!  You look for signs in your life for clues about climbing mountains, you see them everywhere, and you stay where you are. Feeling anxious, you think, if I know how to climb my mountain, why am I still here? Here, then, is my thought for today.  If all it took to change things were words, then we would all be changing all the time. We would find ourselves half way up our mountains in no time, relieved that all it took were instructions and a good pair of shoes; we would keep our eye on the summit as it approached thinking, with a wry smile, that all it took was someone to tell us.

I have read and re read so many books that inspired me to reach for the stars.  Do it!  They cry.  You can do it!  All you have to do is believe and the whole world is yours. I love these books, I love how simple they make it sound - you too have the right to success, to happiness and to wealth.  All you have to do is this - and the This is to tell yourself that you can.  Books with chapters on how your mind can change, how you can re train yourself, and how you deserve this thing that you crave so deeply (whatever it is).  And all through the books are little testimonies of how things are so easy if you go with the flow, ask for them, how the spirit guides you to wherever you want to go and how the still small voice within is always talking sense.  Oh oh oh, I say as I read them, I too can be just like this, my still small voice will tell me how to get the Arts Council to fund A Graceful Death, the spirit will lead me to thousands of pounds and the mountain I shall climb, is called Grants and Funds!  Now I shall train my mind to will it into being since it is mine for the taking!

Oh but I still have to make a proposal.  How long is the proposal?  Many thousands of words.  And many thousands of pertinent and detailed questions.  This is not an easy mountain, I say, but my still small voice says I can have it so on I go.  Eventually I send off a deeply complicated form, millions of pages long, and sit back with my eyes going round and round like a cartoon hypnotist, and feel that this is, if I have done the thinking right, all mine.  It isn't.  I don't get the funding and the Arts Council are very detailed in their assessment of why I don't qualify.  So I have done it wrong, I didn't believe enough.  Those words I read were right, and I didn't apply them properly. Woe, time to throw the books away.  If only I had understood what it was that I was being encouraged to believe, then what I had to say in my proposal would have thrilled the Arts Council, which would as a single body, have thumped the table with their fists and bellowed By Gum, that woman is a genius!  Write her a cheque and don't stint on the noughts.

Perhaps I need to read some more words.  My mountain is unassailable.  Time to find another book to tell me what to do.

To climb any mountain, you have to start at the bottom.  How dull.  You have to stand at the bottom with your strong boots, in all the mud and the sun beating down on your unprotected head, and work it all out.  If you think you can will yourself up towards the top, you can't.  What I am finding is that no amount of believing and thinking can make those cold calls for me.  I still have to do it.  No amount of reading and telling myself in the mirror Every day and every way it's mine all mine, will excuse me from the hard work of taking the time to learn my way through whatever it is I want to do.  I had to stand back from A Graceful Death and ask myself, what exactly am I doing and what, precisely, planet am I on?  The Arts Council were right as it happens.  My proposal was not realistic, and putting the exhibition on in Westminster Abbey with Carmina Burana sung live on a loop and real cannons as in the 1812 Overture was never going to be easy.

When I first went to University, I was astonished to find that all people didn't think as I did.  I shall just tell them, I thought.  Once they know, they will think like me, and all will be well.  All I had to do, I reasoned, was to explain myself and then we will all be able to agree.  With me.  Oh but they didn't agree, not at all.  Even though I had explained everything to whoever was listening, most people argued back and didn't change their minds at all, in fact they tried to tell me what was right!  The nerve!  When I had made it all so clear, what on earth was there to disagree with?  I remember having a strong debate with a fellow student and finding a good dozen or so others listening in with deep concentration.  At one point, they all cheered and said She's right, you know, you lost the argument, and they were talking to me!  Hold on, I thought, I have explained it all to you, she isn't right, and I where did all you lot come from? I was very sorry for the lot of them.

My first self help books said Hey, change your mind and everything will follow.  Well, yes.  But I still had to find my clients and still had to paint their portraits.  I tried changing my mind about people who didn't want a painting, and think them into wanting one, but they had no idea that I was doing it and carried on doing whatever people do when they say No thanks, toodle-oo. 

Back to these mountains that we intend to climb then.  How do we climb them?  How does anyone climb them?  Asking those who are at the top how they did it will be no help.  Well, they will say, we just did.  And what self help books did you use, we will call up to them.  Leaning over to hear us and cupping their ear, they will look surprised and say, Self help book?  I don't know what you mean.  I haven't the time.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Philosophy, Mine, According To Me.

I met a lovely lady this morning, at a party in the Day Centre within our local Hospice.  It was a party for all of us who volunteer there. She told me, long before we asked each other our names, that she did Philosophy.  She told me why, and told me where I could do it too, and I was very taken with her.  She told me she has had to struggle with being judgemental, and that it has taught her to live in the now and to not be judgemental any more.  Gosh I thought, loads of people spend loads of time and money trying to live in the now.  Clever lady.  With that, she said she must mingle and off she went, leaving my Now and entering into a whole group of other Nows.

So I stayed where I was and thought of Philosophy.  I thought idly that if an Artist sat down in Bognor Regis, along the lines of a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere, would that cause the Nikkei index to crash somewhere else, along the lines of the butterfly wings causing an avalanche on the other side of the globe?  I liked this.  Cause and effect.  I remembered that when I was a small child, my father used to drive me mad, pointing to a bottle on the table and saying How do I know that this bottle is still in the room if I go out of the room and can't see it?  What if, I thought, my paintings only exist if you are able to see them, and they are not really there at all when you turn your back?  Oh goodness.  How funny. I sell my clients paintings that disappear when they turn their backs, and only reappear when they turn round again.  Or do they?

My own philosophy then.  What is my own philosophy?  I have thought about this and I don't think I have one.  Do you have one?  Do you have a philosophy to cover your life, your actions, your beliefs?  I do have beliefs that could be called philosophical, like Love is better than Hate, and We are all but Shadows in the Cave of Life and so on.  Keep it Simple is a good one to begin with, and would make sense. Though if that was my only philosophy, and I stuck to it all the time, I would be dreadfully boring.  The Keep it Simple philosophy would be become a motto and I would be rather constrained by it.  Perhaps one needs more than one philosophy.  A simple central fundamental one, with others like ever increasing circles around it to mop up all the mood changes, the variations, the different angles, and to make it OK to not quite stick to it if the situation changes. So Keep it Simple would be the basic philosophy, and the concentric circles may be It's not so Simple, then Complicated is OK, then Complicated and Simple Paradox, leading outwards to Chaos is Fun and ending up with Pass the Axe I'm Coming In.

I don't have a philosophy.  I hadn't really thought about it until I met the Day Hospice philosopher.  I have mottoes, I have ever changing beliefs and ideas, and I often haven't a clue what I am talking about.  Like now.  But, I can make that my philosophy; Not knowing what you are Talking about is the Font of all Wisdom.  I expect someone else has already done that though, it sounds rather sensible and both vague and controversial enough to provoke at least some discussion.

Maybe I shall think of a personal philosophy.  All is flux, I am told.  This is flux in action. I like to keep things simple, I like the idea that all is random and I also like the idea that all is not random. I love the flux idea.  I looked up a list of philosophies and was thrilled that these were listed amongst the hundred or so other philosophies- Chaos Theory, Defeatism, Digital Philosophy, Fanaticism, Leaderless Resistance and Voluntaryism.  This is the tip of the iceburg, I could have stopped at Universal Reconciliation and been relieved to find that they believe that all beings, despite their sins, are reconciled at some point with God.  I did stop at Quietism, because I like quiet, and read that - "By re-formulating supposed problems in a way that makes the misguided reasoning from which they arise apparent, the quietist hopes to put an end to man's confusion, and help return to a state of intellectual quietude."  It was the intellectual quietitude after having my problems reformulated and my misguided reasoning blown to bits, that appealed to me.  So, then, I shall be a Quietist.  I picture myself sitting quietly on a chair by the window looking blissfully vacant, having returned at last to some intellectual quietitude, as the children riot around me.  There is our mother, they will say.  It is a good thing that her supposed problems were only a product of her misguided reasoning.  Isn't it a relief that she has now become intellectually quiet.  And even though she looks goofy now, she will, at some point, be reconciled with God. 

My philosophy then, according to me, is that we should all be Quiet.  That, and that although other people are often right, I am always right.  (With reference there to Lucy Martin, author, linguist, entrepreneur and party animal, who said it to me when I was not very articulate and immediately I found my voice.  Thank you Lucy Martin.  You are right.)

Friday 2 December 2011

Don't Mess With Me, I'm Successful

Yes.  Don't.  I am successful and I may bite.

I was reading some self improvement books recently and in all of them we are encouraged to think positive and to practice affirmations.  This is the one I came up with, and it feels good.  A little uncharacteristically violent, but good.  I need another affirmation, though, to help me get over anyone who does mess with me, and I am forced to bite them.  That feels scary, so perhaps I am not quite there yet. 

However, I think that I am successful.  My life is very busy, and I run my life on many different levels, mostly, but certainly not only, that of an Artist and that of a Mother.  I have just come back from Birmingham where I took down my A Graceful Death exhibition from where it was showing for the month of November, and I have tied that all in with training to be a Soul Midwife.  My children, all of them, are in the throes of growing up and being both wonderful and ghastly all at the same time.  They are powerful, emotional creatures, tall and blonde and terrifying, and two of them are legally adult now.  Crikey.  You wouldn't know it.  The one who is not quite an adult yet, is being encouraged to do rugby to keep his anger in check, and is going to be nice one day, I am told.  The other two, oh the other two - I love them all so passionately, but they are off in an orbit that only young adults of that age can inhabit.  Whatever happens, it is all my fault;  I was born aged 51 and though well meaning, am very blameworthy at all times.  But, I am successful here too, because all of them do like me and are still alive.  They are ridiculously healthy and full of adventure and opinions.  (Frighteningly so.)  I am successful because I raised them alone and without a leader, as the great Horace Rumpole would have said, and I done, as kids these days say, good.

I am successful as a painter.  I paint well, and I work hard at it.  My success is that I can do it, I know how to paint and I have tons of experience.  People can recognise themselves in the portraits that I do, thank goodness.  And the Angels that I paint are full of love and kindness, which helps people to like them.  What else am I successful at?  Thinking.  Yes I am extraordinarily successful at thinking.  I can sit and think for ages, and sometimes, I can tell you about it when I am finished.  My success here, is simply in the act of thinking.  Like Pooh Bear, I can think think think for hours.  The next stage, what to do with it, is not quite so successful. 

I am successful at making tea.  I know how to make a mean pot of tea and keep it warm.  I have tons of teacosys, the best of which was made by Mrs Smith of fame, and is in the shape of a fancy iced cup cake.  A total genius, is Mrs Smith.  I am successful at drinking tea.  I know how to do that even in my sleep, and no one can fault me on my methods.  A resounding success - similar to the eating cake successes.  Very clever at that, very practiced.

I am brilliant at being nice.  I am so nice I can make you cry.  I like people, I am sure they are all glorious creatures and like me as much as I like them.  Even when I find out that they are not so nice, I am stuck in the being nice groove, and have to continue.  And do you know, they respond, often, in kind?  Not nice people are nice to me.  I am successful therefore, at being nice.

What I would like to be successful with, is making money.  I do not make much money.  It escapes me, I forget about it, I don't understand it and I don't think about it.  I have enough to live on, but I don't have nor think about having, an excess.  Many of my friends are clever about business and making money, they do it with ease and aplomb, but me - I am too busy being nice, and thinking, and drinking tea, and painting paintings, and being a Soul Midwife in training.  I am not that bad, but I do lack the killer instinct.  Which makes the affirmation I chose at the beginning of this blog, quite interesting.  It is about getting in touch with the assertive me, the tough, ruthless and menacing me. The biting bit is about harnessing the missing killer instinct.  The books say that if I repeat this affirmation as if it were a mantra, I will surprise myself and all will go my way.  Even more than it does at the moment. 

The Bognor papers will report that a suspected Artist has been making money from startled passers by in Bognor High Street, after barking Don't mess with me, I'm successful and pocketing the subsequent donations made in order to escape.  Some have reported bite marks on their trousers...

Saturday 26 November 2011

Resting In Motion At The Speed Of Light

I have taken the unprecedented step of replicating my A Graceful Death blog here.  The A Graceful Death blog is about my life as it is unfolding now, and seems to be relevant to this blog too.  So here it is, and if you want to see the blog in situ, and read it all again with different pictures, please go to  Here goes -

I am so proud of the A Graceful Death exhibition.  So many people, too many to name here, are responsible for making it strong and simple, gracious and loving.  It exists because there are those who have a huge heart and a strong mind.  I include in this all those who help to transport, hang, catalogue, publicise and do workshops for the exhibition, and those who are painted and who tell their stories, and who write the poetry that is used.  Having the expert and excellent Eileen Rafferty on board as co-producer is another feather in the exhibition's cap.  This link to Eileen's blog shows some small films that Eileen has made, where we discuss the latest paintings for A Graceful Death, which is on the subject of the suicide of Stuart Pryde's wife Sue.

But I am now moving in a different though parallel direction.  I have taken on the job title of Soul Midwife, and have begun a journey that both thrills and terrifies me.  I simply do not know how to do this job.  And yet, it is quite simply the most important thing I have ever done.  I have been on a course in Dorset with the wonderful Felicity Warner, I have been inspired by the concept of graceful, gentle dying and the place of the Soul Midwife in working with those who are going to die, to create the best death that they can together.  The idea behind the Soul Midwife movement seems to be very like the ideas behind the hospice movement, and the work of all the most influential palliative care pioneers.  The beauty of the Soul Midwife is that we do not have to be trained medically or as a counsellor, we work alongside other professions and provide spiritual and emotional support.  We listen, we support, we are not afraid.  Many have other services such as reiki, healing, bach flower remedies, meditation to offer.  Some are experienced in helping the dying person to reconcile differences within the family, some are wonderful with music and art, and can help to unlock thoughts and memories that need to be celebrated or acknowledged.  The most important offering, I think, is a listening love.  If only we start with this, the rest is just icing on the cake.

Where am I in this wonderful new world?  Having done my course with Felicity, I am so far down the ladder as to be almost unable to see the starting rung.  I have spent a week letting my thoughts settle after the course, and making myself do nothing.  I can see how this work can be done, and I can see that it is so very important, but where on earth do I start?  I am paralysed by the enormity of the task.  How can I, with very little experience, possibly help another to die well?  I know nothing.  I know nothing.  It is the other way round, it is me who will be saying, help me.  I will be saying, will you help me to know what is going on as you die, will you teach me how to do this?  I need to watch and wait, I need to go directly to the dying and learn from them.  I cannot do this work yet, I have much to learn and a long way to go.  So I have decided to start at the beginning.  I need to learn. This new job as a Soul Midwife starts with some training at the front line.  It is fine that I know nothing, it is not fine if I stay like that.  So learn something.  Ask someone.  I am a Soul Midwife in Training.  It is fine to take my time, in fact, it is essential.  Maybe I will learn quickly and set myself up in no time at all.  That would be wonderful;  I cannot think of a more perfect job than that of a Soul Midwife.  And maybe, I find that I do not learn quickly.  Maybe I am someone who needs to sit at the feet of many many different people before I set myself up as a Soul Midwife.  Or perhaps a third option, in that I do a bit of both.  I don't know right now, I have not quite started.

Here is what I have done.  I have contacted the Snowdrop Trust, a charity that cares for children in West Sussex (where I live) with life threatening and terminal illnesses, in their homes.  I have asked to train as a volunteer, as their volunteers are highly trained and supported, and are not expected to do anything medical.  I will, I am told, be doing fun things with the children alongside the Snowdrop Trusts doctors and nurses.  A  lady from the Trust is coming here to my home next week to go through it all with me.  I volunteer already at my local hospice, where my role is to make teas and coffees and listen.  And finally, just as I returned home from the course, I received an email from a lady who I admire tremendously.  She is a highly intelligent, articulate and compassionate speaker on all subjects from palliative care to moral issues in the approaches to dying, legal issues at the end of life to matters around mental health.  I have found her willingness to help me work out how to best produce the A Graceful Death exhibition over the years so helpful and insightful.  Her email, received at 7.30am the morning after I returned from Felicity's course in Dorset, said that quite out of the blue she had been diagnosed with a possible terminal condition, and that everything in her life had been turned on its head.  The most extraordinary thing, she said, is that the tests that found this dreadful illness, were routinely given for something else, and that she still felt very well indeed.  And yet, she is extremely ill, and possibly has not got much time left.  I asked her to come and see me as a friend, not in a professional capacity, and she did.  The following morning she came for breakfast.

She is an extraordinary lady.  It was a wonderful breakfast.  We laughed, we ate, we spoke of life and death.  And here, in my kitchen, is the person who can teach me how to be a Soul Midwife.  She had agreed to talk me through her experiences and to be my teacher.

And finally, as the dust is settling, and I am making more sense of how to move forwards not only as a Soul Midwife but as an artist who is dedicated to producing the A Graceful Death exhibition as an ongoing Artistic contribution to the subject of death and dying and love, I am aware that the most difficult thing to overcome is my own lack of confidence.  One of the bonuses of being a Soul Midwife is the contact with other Soul Midwives.  We seem to care greatly about each other, and to offer a huge amount of support in all ways. I met and made contact with some wonderful people on Felicity's course, and am really, once I get over my confusion, in very good hands indeed.  And that is what I want the people I work with to say of me, that they are in very good hands indeed.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Tangos And Soul Midwifery.

I am lying on the sofa with the sun shining in through the twinkly butterfly installation in my window, listening with a fluttering heart to an old 1950s record of Continental Tango Music played by the deeply camp and long forgotten 101 Strings Orchestra.  The Sound, it says on the record cover, Of Magnificence.  Despite a part of me longing to take it off and hurl it into the far distance, a good deal of me wants to give into this romantic, unselfconscious medley of passion.  Put that way, who wouldn't?  Much of me longs to melt into the violins, the accordian, the thing that sounds like a Hammond Organ.  (Hammond Organs mean ice skating at Richmond Ice Rink in the 70s.  Remember?)  And the rest of this music makes me feel I am in a Peter Sellers Pink Panther film, with technicolor in my sitting room.  I am unsure whether the music is making me happy or violent.  But as I write this, a passionate Tango has just struck up, and I am full of angst.  Oh oh oh.  How will I tell Peter Sellers when he comes into my film set sitting room, that I am a) someone else b) a murderer c) married?  But patience, the Tango has finished and another one has started up that makes me feel I am now in full Flamenco dress on the Spanish border singing across the dust and guards that my heart is true and even though I am dressed like this, I can be sensible and fling myself into a proper job till you, oh my love, come back over the border to claim me. 

I have just come back from a course in Dorset with Felicity Warner, where I have begun my training and my first steps into the work I am wanting to do.  Felicity has set up a foundation called Soul Midwives - see her website .  She has begun to train those of us who want to do this work, and sent us out to do our stuff.  A Soul Midwife is someone who is an emotional and spiritual support and companion to the dying, helping those who are at the end of life to achieve the best death that they can under the circumstances, with as much dignity and attention and love as possible.  A Soul Midwife is not medical (though many who train are already nurses and doctors) and aims to work alongside doctors and counsellors.  We work one to one with those who come to us, and help by listening, by offering such things as gentle touch massage and often other holistic treatments such as aromatherapy or healing, for example, as many who train are already registered as therapists in these fields, to support and to be as practically helpful as we can. 

Having gone to Dorset, I have come away utterly inspired and extremely nervous.  I know nothing.  Each person who is facing death is tied up with medical stuff, procedures, fears, expectations, unfinished business, legal business, family business and management and relief of symptoms.  Oh goodness.  Each person is different, each person will die in their own way, and as I am starting out, I wonder will I be able to help?  Of course I can.  This is something that I want to do.  Everyone starts at the beginning, there is always the first step.  And I have been working in my local hospice for a while now, and I do my wonderful A Graceful Death exhibition, paintings from the end of life ( which as you know, is on in Birmingham for the rest of this month and you will go to Birmingham to see it, at St Martin in the Bull Ring, you know you will.

The course in Dorset was full of the most wonderful people.  From all corners of the UK, and from all backgrounds possible.  We all have experience of end of life care and issues.  Some work professionally already with the dying - we had an inspirational Funeral Director who runs her Funeral Company with care, light, love and inclusiveness.  Two people came from the care home they run up North, specialising with end of life care.  I was very taken with their stories of how they deal with their residents, their families, and all the details of practical and medical care given to old people as they are dying.  But I found their humour and dedication to the individual really astonishing.  The stories they told of the old men were wonderful; the old men now ill and in the home, once vital to the life of the factories, pits and communities, being diverted to the pub for a quick pint on the way back from the doctors with the wonderful male nurse who came on our course.  Full of love and kindness. 

We had alternative therapists, we had all faiths and none, we had trainee celebrants, we had even an Angel Rieki Master - a lady who works with angels.  We had nurses, mums, healers, and a dance teacher.  And me, an Artist.  All of us bound by our passion to work with the dying and to apply ourselves to becoming a friend and companion to those that come to us asking for help.

So back to today.  I set the scene with the help of my passionate Tango medley music, so that I could write this and pour out my heart, this sunny Sunday afternoon in Bognor Regis.  But, the music forced me into a Peter Sellers film on the Spanish border, with all sorts of passionate and conflicting feelings and all in all I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  So that didn't work.  I have started to talk about the Soul Midwife course, but have found that I don't know what to say yet because having done the course, I am exhausted and full to bursting with unprocessed thoughts. 

So.  Here I sit with the Tango record back in it's sleeve (and not flung far into the garden), the butterflies twinkling and dancing in the sunlight in the window, and my eyes crossed with the effort of thinking.  At times like this, in order to move on to the next stage of life, one needs a nice strong pot of tea and some Cadbury's dairy milk.  I can cope with that.  I have to start somewhere.

Monday 14 November 2011

A New Ploy. Saying Yes To Everything.

"Can I go on a bender and lose the plot?"
"And maybe die?"
"You won't change your mind?"
"You will change your mind?"
"So you don't mean yes?"
"You do mean yes?"
"Oh no!  So I can't go, this is what you mean?"

"Oh what is happening nothing is safe any more nothing is as it was.  My mother is either too deep for her own good, or she is barking."


I have had a tough weekend.  It is all sorted now, and I am sitting in my studio with my fourth cup of tea on this Monday morning, and thinking over how much time I didn't spend doing nice things.  I spent a lot of time being grown up over the weekend.  I spent a lot of time wondering if instead of sending my children to the World's Strictest Parents (a TV programme I am told), I should go and pick up some tips.  I like the idea of my children kissing my hands before each meal, and washing my feet after.  And carrying me shoulder high into a bath of bubbles and scented soaps before bowing their way out backwards as per the King of Siam.  There were highlights, there was tons of lovely food cooked by my Daughter, so we may have had a fiery weekend, but we were all very full up for it.  Passions ran high, but slow, as we were all eating an awful lot.  Last night, though, the tsunamis of passion and fury had quietened down to such an extent, that everyone went to bed early and exhaled a teeny burp and a sigh of relief.  And so, this morning as I turned on my computer, an ad popped up and said with a little conspiratorial wink - Simplify Your Life!.  I will, I said to the computer, but not in the way you are suggesting. Not by taking out the insurance that you insist will simplify my life, but by finding another more personal way.  I intend I said to the ad, to narrow down my response to the word Yes.  I will, for a week, say Yes to everything. 

Many things may happen.  My children and those who deal with me may cotton on very quickly that this new tactic.  They may cleverly tailor their requests to make sure they get what they want.  "Mum?"  "Yes." "When you said that you love all your children the same and that you don't prefer me above all else, you meant something else didn't you?"  "Yes."  "You meant you like me the best didn't you?"  "Yes."  "Ha ha!  I knew it!  I am the favoured one, I am the golden child!".  Half an hour later, "Mum!" "Yes."  "I am your favourite child, aren't I?" "Yes."  "Ha ha!  You have fallen from grace, I am the one and only now!"  Ten minutes later "Mum."  "Yes."  "You are mad aren't you?" "Yes."  "You are playing with our minds, aren't you?" "Yes."  "Run your own bubble baths and wash your own feet.  Bah!  We give up."  ("Yes.")

They may not want to risk a change of mind once they get a Yes.  They may ask no more questions, and act on what they have heard me agree to.  "Madam,"  "Yes."  "We are reputable traders, and we think you need a new roof."  "Yes."  "Fine, stand aside, we will start with that bit there.  It will be fifteen million pounds.  OK?"  "Yes."  A small discussion amongst the reputable traders, and a hesitant, "no personality disorders we need to know about? "Yes."  "What?  Are you known to be unpredictable and violent?" "Yes."  "Run boys!  Save yourselves!"  ("Yes.")

And they may have seen the same advert for Simplifying Your Life, and had the same idea.  They may just leave me to it.  "Antonia?"  "Yes."  "Seen the advert for Simplifying Your Life?"  "Yes."  "Saying Yes to everything then?"  "Yes."  "Thought so. Me too."

So far, though, I am having a lovely Monday morning.  I have work to do, but I have spoken at length to my lovely cousins Maddy in Tunbridge Wells and Marlayna in Detroit, and to my splendid brother John in London, and I have facebooked witty one liners with all sorts of people who just want to have fun.  I have made a few important calls and left messages on answer phones, and very soon, the effects of the weekend will evaporate, and I will stop saying Yes to everything.

"Can't you say Yes any more?"
"Are you going to behave yourself?"
"Oh I give up.  I'm moving out!"


Sunday 6 November 2011

A Gentle Day, A Clean House, And A Semi Comatose Mother and Artist

In case that you think that while cleaning my house one gentle day, I found a semi comatose artist in one room and a semi comatose mother in another, I am afraid that you are wrong.  I am, dear reader, both the semi comatose mother and the semi comatose artist.  One body and one soul. 

Alan and I set up the A Graceful Death exhibition in Birmingham, and Eileen ( ) and I were there with the poet Penny Hewlett for the opening.  I came back from Birmingham for one day during the week, because deeply beloved Youngest Son, the one who is learning to be gentle and sweet, turned 15.  Early the next day I shot off back to Birmingham and got on with the opening. Late on Friday, Eileen and I arrived home here and I started to clean.  Hello, I said to all who were here.  How are you all, lovely to see you, pass the cleaning fluid, and tell me your news.  In fact, I said, tell Eileen.  I am going to clean the cooker and take out the rubbish and wash the kitchen and bathroom and re-tile the roof.  So Eileen sat and listened and I entered an alternative universe and repossessed my home by cleaning it.  It is something that I find I have to do; after being away I cannot sit in the house without putting it immediately to rights.  It has to be exactly perfect or I will die.  Now.  I have to do it now.  It must be a kind of mental thing, there is no reason for it, but it is rare that I come back from being away and sink with a contented yawn into the nearest chair and say Yeah, whatever, bring it on.  I want perfection after being way from my home and I want it now or a comet will drop on our heads.  The only thing I couldn't do was hoover because by the time I was ready to hoover at midnight, everyone had gone to bed and not only were they in the rooms I wanted to hoover, with the lights off so that I couldn't see (goddam it),  I would have woken them up and they would not then want to make me tea in the morning and let me eat the banoffee pie that was in the fridge.  So twitching and frothing, I went to bed too. 

On Saturday morning, dear Fatema who had sat in for me here while I was away, caught the train back to her world.  I spent the day finishing the housework.  And the shopping. And the washing.  By late evening, the house was glorious, everyone was fed and I was a shadow of my former self.  I looked 80 years old and I had lost the power of speech. I crawled into bed like a man crawling out of the desert into an oasis. Sort of.  If the man had only been lost that afternoon in the desert, he had gone the wrong way coming back from the loo behind a sand dune and spent the afternoon being lost and feeling dreadful.  Anyway, a man who was not really in dire straights, just a bit needy for the time being, crawling out of the desert into an oasis.  That was how I crawled upstairs to bed.

This morning, while lying in bed, I decided to wear my pyjamas all day.  I thought that if I did that, my whole life would fall into place.  It was a relief to feel that at all times I was connected to my bed, and that it would take no time at all to rush back upstairs and fall into it.  It was after all, the place I was dressed for.  Oh the joy of putting on a dressing gown and slippers.  There was nothing anyone could do - I couldn't possibly leave the house for anything ever, there was a huge barrier between me and the outside world - my pyjamas.  They said No!  I am mentally and physically deficient, I cannot go further than the front door!  Bring me tea!  So I drifted from room to room, patting a surface here and smoothing a cushion there.  I smiled with a trembling and weary smile when any of the Sons came near me - I am weak, I made it say.  Do not ask more of me than my fragile body can manage.  I drifted from the kitchen to the sitting room grasping onto the furniture if anyone was watching and holding myself upright.  See?  I am in my pyjamas and my strength has gone.  I hold this furniture  because I am spent.  Bring me a sandwich or I may collapse behind this sofa;  and if they were still watching, I would pass a weary hand over my brow and sigh.

Oh but the house is so clean and tidy today.  I am fulfilled.  Yes, the exhibition is up and running, yes, Christmas is coming but right now - my house is wonderful and sparkly and I am in it, ready at a moment's notice for bed, and all my world has narrowed down to being hopelessly delighted in a hoovered and polished house.  With, of course, lots of lovely flowers and scented candles.  I am after all, an artist.

Here is my kitchen.  I want you to glory in the lack of rubbish on the floor and the Mr Sheen shine on the table.  Now look at this.

Do you see the tray of tea on the sofa?  That is for me!  And the big cushions for me to sit on.  I can't launch myself onto them, because I am supposed to be a faded, wizened and pathetic creature (until tomorrow) so I stagger from door to mantel piece pausing for effect, and then a face forward fall onto the sofa cleverly missing the tea tray.

And when I do get onto the sofa and sit up, I see on the other sofa, the excellent Eileen Rafferty - dressed and in control!  Eileen has already been for a walk on the seafront.  I screamed when that was decided, in case I had to go too but I didn't.  So I stopped.

And when the going gets tough, this is where I lie my weary head down.  That is not a pillow under the window, it is another big double duvet in a spotty duvet cover in case I get chilly in the night.  It sits there, large and poised for action, to save me from any discomfort and inconvenience.  I hope you note the spotty bra on the chair.  Marks and Spencers.

Now it is late and time to go to bed. Tomorrow is Monday and it will be a day to get dressed.  I need to build up my strength so that come the morning, I will bounce out of bed at 7am with a roar of defiance, and pummel the day into shape.  Perhaps.  I am still a bit weary...

Sunday 23 October 2011

Feeling the Feelings, Thinking the Thoughts

This is quite a brave thing to do.  It feels very uncomfortable to sit and feel what we are really feeling and think what we are really thinking, right through to the end.  For example, I feel worried to death about getting the exhibition A Graceful Death ready for Birmingham next week.  Don't like this, I say to myself, Laaa laaaa laaaa, and I drown out the thoughts and look for a nice way to not feel anxious.  I do some more housework, Laaa laaa laaa, can't have silence because it makes me anxious so I put on the radio.  Going into the studio gets harder and harder to do.  I need to talk to the Glorious Clarissa now for hours, and then to Lovely Lucy Martin, Whirlwind Extaordinaire, and then to Olivia who will agree with me on everything...

I have been advised to sit down, when this is happening, and really feel the feelings and think the thoughts, and in squaring up to them, taking them on board, wrestling them to the ground, see that it isn't quite as awful as I think it is.  I have been told to take a pen and paper and make a plan.  But not until I have felt the feelings and thought the thoughts.  Until, in other words, I have faced up to the insurmountable problem of worrying myself to a frazzle about, amongst other things, next week and the exhibition.  Such a simple idea but so difficult to do.

We all know about my Sons.  Fabulous creatures, both of them, but quite a handful.  Feeling my feelings and thinking my thoughts about them was at first very alarming because I expected the logical conclusion to be that I would have to sell them both on Ebay.  I thought, if I actually follow my thoughts and feelings through  to the end concerning these two, I may find that I am not a very nice mother.  I may come to the conclusion that selling them to NASA is a good thing, and that they would do very well in space learning how to orbit for a few years.  What happened was much less exciting.  I did sit down and let it all happen, and I realised how very tired both boys were making me.  That tiredness was spilling over into all other areas of my life, and the anxiety about putting together the exhibition for next week was not helped by being so exhausted keeping my Man Cubs going.  I felt real anger towards them both, and I felt real compassion.  They simply haven't got a clue.  There they are, thinking with such conviction that they have nothing left to learn and that they are in control;  there they go, furiously judgmental and self righteous and then, coming to me because there is a spider in the room and they can't stand spiders.

After a little while of discomfort, feeling and thinking, I realised that I am doing the right thing with the Sons.  That is a relief.  I also realised that I am tired and angry and need some time off from them.  And that it is, actually, up to them quite a lot.  Not up to me.  Hoooray.  Now that lets me off the hook a bit.

As for the exhibition.  Well, thinking and feeling and so on, made me cancel everything that I could until further notice.  I simply need the time here to get the exhibition properly sorted, catalogued, prepared, packed, finished and mirror plates screwed onto every single painting.  There are now 48 paintings.  Blimey, that is a day's work and no mistake.  I still have to finish a painting for it, and I still have to plan my journey.  And to leave everything in place for 14 Year Old Son to survive the week with a friend who is coming to stay to look after him, and of course, to make sure the friend is safe. (Here, have this taser and don't be afraid to use it). After sitting and thinking about the exhibition, I understood that I was avoiding getting it ready and that I felt it was too difficult.  Well, it was too difficult if I was planning to do a hundred things other than the exhibition in the hopes that it would all go away and that somehow, Eileen might do it all long distance when I was not looking in between doing her own job, her degree and her own photography work.  So.  After sitting and thinking and feeling, the eureka moment was Cancel Everything, and so I did.

Another major Don't Want To Know Laaa Laaa Laaa item on the list is my health.  I am a veggie and I don't drink alcohol, I love water cress and I think chickpeas are fab.  But, I am a twit when it comes to sleeping well, being realistic about how much I can do, and being sensible.  So, sitting down and thinking and feeling and so on, makes me see that I avoid sleep.  Idiot.  What do I want to do that kind of dumb-ass thing for?  I avoid sleep because when I lie down in bed there is nowhere for my thoughts to go except round and round, and because I don't like feeling the feelings and thinking the thoughts and so on, they are chaotic.  And I get nervous and I get overwhelmed and the best way to deal with that is displacement.  Empty the dishwasher!  Get up and even though it's midnight, put the washing on!  Clean the bannisters!  And now, since I am up, do the hoovering!  Oh no wonder I have been feeling worse and worse.  I don't sleep, I try and avoid thinking and I am not facing up to anything.  And when I did start to unravel it all by letting myself think and feel all the way through, the things I was worrying about weren't that bad at all.  The most sensible outcome from that particular little sitting and thinking lark is that I have been exhausted for well over a week now, and have been sleeping early instead of late, having a wonder-snooze during the day and longing each morning for night to come so that I can go to bed all over again.  Blimey O'Reilly.  It's tipped a bit too much the other way though, and once I have caught up on my rest, I will be more normal.  Don't laugh.

Well.  Perhaps things are improving.
  • Boxing Boy, the sweet natured Viking in our midst, has just bought me a penguin biscuit.  Seeing how quickly it went, he went and bought me another.  
  • Furiously Independent Son, the extemely angry and world weary despot in our midst, has just done two loads of his own washing.  
  • It is just after 10 past 6, and bedtime is getting nearer and nearer.
I'm going to take all the penguins to bed with me tonight, I know where they are hidden.  Result.

Saturday 15 October 2011

An Amorphous Mass Of Nothingness

Yes, well, amorphous-ish. Amorphous mass of nothingness is about a state of mind.  It is what happens after a dramatically busy week where the plans you have for being gently industrious, are steamrollered and you spend the week reacting and going Yikes!  and Duck!  and What?  When, eventually, you get to an oasis in the madness, and quite by chance you have some peace and quiet, you sink in slow motion onto the sofa and cry aloud with insight, Amorphous Mass Of Nothingness and know that you have described what has happened to your mind.

It sounds majestic.  It sounds nihillistic.  It sounds fancy.  It sums up the brooding grey clouds of formless thoughts that rise from nothing and go back to nothing.  It sounds awfully clever.  It's very effective.

So here I am on my sofa.  I have never sunk so far into amorphous masses of nothingness that I could not go and make a pot of tea;  I sit here with my tea and a bowl of wild rice and garlic and think that perhaps the mass of nothingness was temporary and that I am over the worst.  This last week, my 14 year old son, who we call Boxing Boy, had a surge of testosterone and turned into Colonel Gaddafi.  We are dealing with it, and when things have died down I will say to him, Well, that didn't get you very far did it?  Banned from polite society and wearing leg irons, tsk tsk my son.  Time to find another approach to life.  And the other son, the older one who we have called the Muppet, or the Furiously Independent Son, he has not found a way out of his furious unhappiness yet.  I stand in the side lines watching and waiting for a way into his world, and thinking what if I never will?  What if he is lost to us forever?

Back to the sofa.  I like it here, it is a rare moment in my house when no one, absolutely no one, is home except for me.  My lodgers are out.  My children are out.  Alan is on his way back from Greece, and I am utterly alone and utterly silent.  I have had a bath, I have made the tea, I have got my books, but all I want to do is Nothing.  Not read, not eat, not talk, not even think.  All I really want to do is listen to the silence.  My grandfather clock is tick tocking behind me, and the odd car is swishing by outside, and in between those sounds is such a deep quiet that I can feel my soul recovering.  Funny really, I had this past week set aside for plodding along with my preparations for A Graceful Death in Birmingham next month.  I thought, I have been such a busy bee, such a focussed individual, so nice to everyone, oh my reward will be to be hidden away in my studio painting and fiddling and humming away to myself - a dab of paint here, a tweak there, emails pinging to and fro between me and fascinating people, it was to have been a glorious week.  But it wasn't to be. If you are to be taken seriously in this world as a painter and a person of substance, said God, you need to be able to deal with character building stuff that I will chuck at you when you are least expecting it.  And so last week was a week of character building stuff that I was certainly not expecting.

However.  Despite the madness of the past week, I have done the following.  It's quite impressive -
  • Started the Sue and Stuart portrait diptych for the new A Graceful Death exhibition next month
  • Wrote and sent out a press release for the same exhibition
  • Bought a shed load of food
  • Went to see my Old Dad in London and took him through the Soul Midwife course that I am going to do with Felicity Warner next month
  • Listed and noted all the paintings for AGD and repainted bits of them that were damaged and had marks on them (like boot marks.  Not really, just thought that was quite funny)
  • Spent the afternoon in the Hospice making tea, chatting and listening.
  • Collected my daughter from Haywards Heath because she was too tired to move (she is a student nurse and works too)
  • Did a mercy trip to Petworth to save my mother who had a cold and needed her bed changed, a nice hot bath and some oatcakes and smooth pate.  
So sinking in slow motion onto the sofa this afternoon crying Amorphous Mass of Nothingness was perhaps not so much a state of mind that was a result of the Sons and their bids for World Domination, it was perhaps an appeal.  After all the dreadful things that the Sons got up to last week, Amorphous Mass Of Nothingness was a desirable state to be in, a relief, no less.  Instead of the images of Wagner and Valkryies and impending doom with full orchestra, the image is more of Morpheus and dreams and the underworld.  Oh I like that.  When my household eventually come home, they will find me happily suffering from the latest designer condition, the amorphous mass of nothingness, which prevents me from doing any dinner or washing up.  For ever.

A Graceful Death Exhibition
Paintings from the end of life
St Martin In The Bull Ring, Birmingham B5 5BB
 Open daily
 4 November - 29 November

Open Event with poetry workshop by Penny Hewlett, poet in residence
Thursday 3 November 2-4pm
 ~Tea and Cakes. All Welcome~

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Getting Older. Lessons From Joan Collins and Lionel Blue.

I have been reading two very different books by two absurdly different people who do have one extraordinary thing in common.  They are old.  And the subject of each book is the world according to them.  Two things in common, then.

The first is called Godseekers by Rabbi Lionel Blue.  The second is called, spookily enough, The World According to Joan by Joan Collins.   I don't quite know how old Lionel is but he must be over 80.  Joan is, I think, 78.  I have been reading eagerly to see what they have to say about life, age and themselves and whether I can prepare myself for the day I wake up and turn either 78 or 80.  Here is what I have learned.
  • Joan can't help being the way she is.  She has always been this way and is lucky to have wonderful skin and a superb figure.  
  • Joan works hard to maintain her looks and it is a shame that other people let themselves go and become ugly and old.  
  • Lionel is full of fun and advice for those who are in difficulties with their lives.  He was, he says, a dreadful bore when he was younger and deeply unnattractive.  
  • Lionel says that a sense of humour is vital to get one by and that God has a finely developed one.  Life when you are young can be terribly earnest, and a good way to lighten up and see things from a different perspective is to laugh at yourself.
  • Joan is outraged at how badly everyone dresses, behaves, thinks and is these days.
  • Lionel says he enjoyes the company of his friends and is grateful.
  • Joan thinks that if everyone was a bit more like her she wouldn't have to complain so much.
Recently, Olivia Fane (On Loving Josiah, her new book and worth getting) asked me how I was getting on.  Oh, you know, I said.  Feeling tired and frumpy.  Haaa! said Olivia, I know what you mean.  I am spending my days at the moment watching my body become older and feeling my youth drain away.  I am preparing, said Olivia, to be old.  And if Olivia is doing that then you can bet your bottom dollar that she is doing it with gusto.  Olivia has no vanity at all.  She does not care a jot whether she is old or young, whether she is well dressed or not.  She is so eccentric, so cerebral and so funny that she is a tonic to be with, and always takes a slightly sideways look at life and has absolutely no intention of behaving well for anyone.  

I am feeling tired and frumpy.  I have watched myself pare away at my busy schedule so that often now, I am sitting alone in the afternoons, with nothing much to do.  I have been sleeping more and have stopped fussing about doing as much as possible Now because I ought  to and am left with, well, not much.  Time, a bit of silence, a feeling of weariness and some more time.  And of course, the world has not come to an end. None of the kids are dead from starvation.  The house seems to be ticking along without being hoovered and we all have quite clean clothes to wear, much of the time. All that needs to be done is done, and I am quite enjoying the sitting alone in the afternoon with nothing much to do.  I have taken to having a nap.  I am finding that I am longing to snooze in the afternoons and go to bed early.  I say to myself, Lie down on that sofa, in the sunshine, and have a little think about things.  Go on, and later, if you feel like it, you can see if you need to do an email.  Don't mind if I do, I say in reply to myself, and within minutes I am drifting off into that delightful half way land between sleep and waking where all things are possible and Joan doesn't mind if you tell her she ought to be a Marxist like Lionel was once.  

Getting older has been very much on my mind these last months.  I am 51.  Oh, I hear you cry, like Joan, you don't look your age.  Well, thank you kind people.  Fact is, I do look it.  I see my face and sometimes when I can bear to look, I see my body.  I am never going to be smooth again, if I want to be firm I will have to do as Joan does, and jolly well make the effort.  There are lines on my eyelids, there are deep lines from the corners of my nose to the corners of my mouth, and if I don't go every six weeks to the hairdressers I would look like Gandalf.  My fingers look like chicken bones, my neck has those double parallel vertical lines from under my chin to my collar bone, and oh this is something Joan avoids by painting her lipstick on with glue and giving herself a bigger pair of lips than she actually has, my lipstick bleeds along dozens of teeny lines around my mouth.

I don't mind all the above so very much. With determination, I can still scrub up pretty well and once at a gathering of people, being an extrovert I can have a laugh.  What I do mind is that I am much slower, tireder and more forgetful.  I seem to sigh as I get up from my chair and lope off to wherever I am going, stop half way, wondering why I am there and gratefully lope back again to the chair where I sit back down again with a second sigh.  This intrigues me.  What happened to the zappy 50 year old?  When I wake up in the morning now, I think that what I would like to wear more than anything else is a blanket and slippers.  Once, when I was 50 and younger, I would select fancy clothes and colours and feel Yes!  Bring it on!  Now I think, wonder if anyone will notice if I wear my duvet all day and if I pass the sitting room, wonder if I can have a lie down before I do anything else?

I read Joan with interest.  It is important to her that one doesn't let one's standards drop.  It is important to make the most of yourself and to stay healthy and fit.  Quite right.  I read Lionel with interest too.  It is important to him that your God is accessible and that you can tell your God off when you are fed up.  To Lionel, life is hard but there is a way to cope and kindness to ourselves and each other is fundamental.  Miracles are possible in the strangest of places, and to Lionel, people need their miracles.  Joan looks a million dollars for her age, but seems unkind, competitive and intolerant.  Lionel looks like the back of a bus but is wise, loving, humourous and kind.  

Still, it would be nice to look like Joan and be like Lionel.  Perhaps that is the plan for being 52.  Until then, until the feeling passes, I will get back into my duvet, compare notes with Olivia, and have another snooze in the sunshine. Bliss.

Monday 19 September 2011

Bognor Regis Football Club. A Place Of Passion And Insight.

On Saturday Alan, 14 Year Old Son and I went to a football match here in Bognor Regis.  Bognor was playing Sittingbourne and so who could resist?  The stadium is but five minutes from my front door and we knew there would be a passionate time ahead if we went. So we went.  It cost us £2.50 per ticket and for an extra pound each, we could sit on a more sophisticated type of plastic chair in a posher part of the stadium.  Of course that is what we did, and were lucky that so many of the seats in front of us were broken as both Alan and 14 Year Old Son have legs that start just below their ears and go on for miles.  The broken seats were no longer attached to the ground and gave more room to long legs which made all the difference, and so the extra money was well spent.

This, said Alan, is the soul of football.  He was very moved and perhaps a little tearful. " I played at this level once", he said, looking wistful. " I remember the excitement and nerves before playing an FA qualifying game, such as this is."  14 Year Old Son didn't hear Alan though, he hadn't brought his hearing aid because it has once or twice picked up someones mobile phone conversation in a crowd, and made him think he was hearing voices from God.  14 Year Old Son has been known to carry on surreal conversations with people who don't know that he has not got his hearing aid in.  Not quite connecting to what is being said, he carries on chatting about what he thinks the other person is talking about, and is so batty and conversational that it is only the intervention of a very confused third party asking what the hell they are talking about, that the penny drops.  Recently, Son spent time chatting happily to an elderly man about football while the elderly man talked about world war two spitfires.  It was only when the whole table (it was at a Sunday lunch) fell into a mesmerised and pained silence that someone noticed that neither party had their hearing aids in.  Both Son and elderly man had been thrilled to have met someone who could talk with such depth about football/spitfires, and neither could actually hear what the other was saying.  It seemed cruel to disillusion them but the conversation had become so loud and so bizarre that something had to be done.

The football match began.  All around the pitch, men and boys gripped the seat in front of them and settled in for 90 minutes of sheer bloodcurdling emotion.  Onto the pitch ran the players, one lot wearing green and the other lot wearing blue.  Now wasn't the time to ask the old warrior next to me, "And which, pray, are the Bognor lot?"  I would work it out.  And I would also work out which end Bognor had to score.  Then, I would be one of them, an old football hack, able to roar appropriately along with the best of them.  And not shout "Oh jolly good!" from the Bognor side when Sittingbourne scored a goal.

I am not a sporty person. I do however, possess a very sporty son and a very sporty other half.  What I love when I go to matches and sporting events with them, is the passion everyone feels for the game.  I love the furious excitement, I am full of admiration that they know the rules and can follow what is going on, and I am impressed at how personal the playing becomes to each and everyone spectating.  It is as if each player is only playing like that to annoy that one man who is beside himself with passion.  "You're only doing that to annoy me!" he shouts, but not in those words.  That is only the gist of what he is saying.  Much of what he says is cunningly wrapped up in personal comments about the player, the team, the ref and his mother.  You have to listen between the lines, so to speak.  Oh how football matches clutch at the heart of those dedicated to watching them.  There is a universal need, it seems, for every man there to shout instructions to every player on the field at the top of his voice, from wherever he is in the stands, and expect the players to hear him and for it to make a difference.  Oh thanks!  he expects the exhausted fellow sweating in the middle of the pitch, to say.  I didn't think of that!  I'll just do that now.  Or, Excuse me!  You there, in the left hand row at the back of the stands!  What shall I do now? Give me your advice!

Each man in the stands, watching the game, if they were not singing, was yelling till he was red in the face.  Instructions,  furious arm movements, match advice, and a running commentary on his personal feelings for game itself and possibly the ref  And his mother.  A heartbreaking camaradarie broke out within the stands, and fans would turn to each other and say in so many words, "Back me up, pal.  I am sinking fast into the Slough of Despond, tell me I am right and that these fellows playing need to be sectioned"  or, "so and so is playing like a hero today bless his cotton socks, and long may he continue to do so" and so on. And these men were loud.  Caught up in the intensity of the moment, nothing would do except an all out bellow to join all the other all out bellows from the very core of the souls of the other spectators.  All of whom were giving life saving advice from their own point of view.  (The right one.)

Gosh, I thought.  What would women do if we had something that moved us to shed all our good manners and yell advice at the top of our voices to whoever was entertaining us?  What, I thought, am I passionate about?  Colour was my first thought.  A whole sea of women becoming unhinged at a spectacle where teams had to choose colours and paint something in those colours?  I don't think it would work.  (Red!  Orange!  No, no no, not blue, tell me you won't do blue AAaaaaaagh!  Yaaaaahhhhh!  Pink! etc)  I wondered what would move me, as a woman, to identify with a game so much that I would merge my soul with it and at the same time give myself a hernia telling it what to do.  I couldn't think of anything.  I do love painting, but that is a solitary act.  I love eating - not quite.  I love reading.  Nope.  I love dancing to reggae.  Nope.  I love funny people.  Nope.  Nothing it seems, in my own life, could match football in a man's life.  

I did have a small insight though.  While at school I would try and try to get onto the Lacrosse team.  I never made it, and couldn't understand why not.  I ran around didn't I?  And sometimes I caught the ball, didn't I?  What I lacked, and still lack, is ability to see the bigger picture.  Once I got the ball, it was meant to be passed on strategically to someone else (on my team) so that someone could hypothetically go on to score a goal.  Well.  I was so delighted to have caught the ball that I would not be too worried who I gave it to.  Look at that! I wanted to say.  I got the ball, I am definately team material.  But I see now that it didn't stop there.  As part of a team I was duty bound to act not as an individual, but as a cog in a wheel that was  destined for victory.  I saw all that in a flash on Saturday, at the Bognor Regis v Sittingbourne match.  And while I was watching the match, I realised that I had no idea how anyone knew where the ball would be in this very game, or how the game would unfold.  It was blindingly clear to those men having metaphorical heart attacks around me.  But all I could see was a collection of men working together with some kind of divine knowledge not available to me, a game making sense with a plan, doing something together that they all understood and working together as one in a team in a way that was utterly beyond me.  There,  That is the nub. I am not a team player.  I am a lone worker, an individual, and as such, no darn good in a Lacrosse match. 

Well, Bognor Regis won.  They wore the green outfits and no one died watching the match.  I understand more about Lacrosse now than I did this time last week.  And in the relief of the discovery that I am not a team player, I will make a badge that says "Don't ask me the rules.  I'm a loner." 

Friday 9 September 2011

My Tracy Emin Moments.

I have coined a new psychological term that may be useful.  It is called the Tracy Emin Personality Association Complex Disorder Thing. It refers to the sudden realisation that you want to do exactly and only what you want from now on, be paid a lot for it, basing all that you do artistically and expressively solely, utterly and only upon yourself .  It is a very good thing.  It means that you are rebelling and you are probably going to do something dangerously different.  Tracy Emin Association Complex condition comes on quite suddenly and can feel like a bolt out of the blue.  Hang on, you say to yourself as you make your tea and chocolate spread sandwiches, I don't want to do this painting that I am doing so nicely and lovingly for someone else.  I want to let rip.  I want to paint trolls in the background and give all the women moustaches.  I want to express myself and let my inner artist out.  I don't care to please anyone any more, I'm having a Tracy Emin Moment!

It is far too hard to take this on board the first time it happens.  Like a vocation to the religious life, you fear it and pretend it never happened.  Don't know what came over me, you say, as you wipe the sweat from your brow and remove the chocolate spread sandwiches from your fist.  You don't know why you punched them, but you blame low blood sugar in the morning and the stress of not waking up slim and beautiful as you hoped you might if you didn't eat the coco pops you so wanted just before bed last night.  

The next time you are struck by the Tracy Emin Thing is when you are feeling listless in the late afternoon in the studio, and not wanting to call up new venues that may be interested in your work.  Before you can stop yourself you have called a gallery in London and told them that whatever they wanted from you, the answer is No and what is more, you are going to roll in flour and red paint to make an installation called "It's All About Me" and write down all the names of those who wanted to marry when you were twelve.  Like, for me, Alvin Stardust and Bryan Ferry.  What is happening is that you are experiencing an extreme reversal of your artistic choices and whereas before, you were happy to do whatever anyone wanted in the style they wanted, now suddenly (it seems) you are filled with a passion to shout Knickers! to your clients, and a furious need to do only what you want in your studio, with your art, for ever.  And alongside this furious reversal of your whole artistic ethos and business model, is the utter conviction that everyone that has anything at all to do with your new madness, will absolutely love it.  Adore it.  Fete you, promote you, write books on you and ponder your inner meanings - even ponder your soul.  Bring it on! you shout as a kind of battle cry, from now on it's Me Me Me!

I have been having a few of these moments recently.  I have been shifting slowly, it feels, towards simply doing what I want.  I have had enough!  I said to myself.  And so the painting of Rev Rachel Mann which was like this -

has been wiped out and is now this -

Poor Rachel has not seen it yet but this is how it is going to be.  Courage, Rachel, all will be well.  It is going to be mainly black and white and I bought loads of magenta paint to go somewhere in the back ground so it really will be something.  

This is just the start of the creeping Tracy Emin Thing.  So far with me, it has only taken the form of Doing What I Want.  Soon, unless I practice deep breathing and eat lots of healthy vegetable soups, my whole artistic oeuvre will concern only, and obsessively, myself.  And if I am to do a proper Tracy Emin Thing, I will have to do it extremely well.  I will have to make my dirty laundry really speak to you.  I will have to exhibit my toenail clippings with passion.

The bottom line is that I like Tracy Emin a lot.  She is fascinating to listen to, she can actually draw and she does what she does well.  There is an integrity to her that I admire, and I love her intelligence.  So onwards, my troops, with this sudden explosion of assertiveness.  You never know, Tracy may get the urge to paint Angels and Veg Fairies and have a breakdown and I may exhibit my tonsils that were removed when I was twelve and have a breakdown too.  
But this is getting out of hand.  I don't want any breakdowns. The whole point of this Tracy Emin thing is that it is healthy.  It is about doing your own thing and being bloody minded about it. So as Johnny Rotten so sweetly put it

"No feelings, no feelings, no feelings for anyone else.  Except for myself, my beautiful seeeelf."


Monday 5 September 2011

My Tiny Feet Are Frozen

My feet are cold and so I will be brief.  It is September now and the wind is blowing around my garden under a low grey sky.  It is only natural then that my feet are cold.  I did not think twice about putting on my usual flip flops this morning; during the summer months I choose my flip flops to suit my mood,  my outfit, or both.   I paint my toenails red, or pink, or often paint the red over the pink and vice versa, and keep going like that until I have very tall toenails.

I am sitting in my studio as I write this, thinking and making plans but I keep coming back to how cold my feet are.  Despite the difficulties in concentrating, I have made a wee plan for today and I am going to stick to it stubbornly even though, even though - my feet are cold.  Very cold.

My plan for today is to email three people to say thank you for various lovely things, which I have done.  Then to write the A Graceful Death blog which I have done too.  (  Oh, it is pouring with rain now.  When I leave here I will have cold and wet feet. Why do I have to suffer so?

My plan.  Back to my plan.  I have this blog to write and then I am going into the house to tidy, clean, wash and do laundry with Oldest Son who is, I hope, going to let me into his Quarters so that we can make his surroundings a bit more crisp.  If I ever finish the cleaning thing in the house, I will come back in here and paint more of Nushi and more of Rev Rachel Mann.

Rev Rachel Mann has been a bugger to do.  I have wiped the wood clean twice now and am starting again with a completely and utterly different style.  I am going to try to do her in black and white paint, with grey and maybe bright scarlet too.  I think this may be the answer, I have begun it and hope that I can make it work.  It is taking for ever, but I hope I will finish it before Rev Rachel makes it to Archbishop.  

There are goosebumps on my arms now.  What is this coldness?  I have a warm boiler suit on and a long sleeved teeshirt.  I have blue and white spotty flip flops which we have agreed will not keep me warm, but the boiler suit has always kept me warm before.  Maybe I am coming down with something.  Maybe I am fading away.  Unlikely.  I had a dream the other night that I was now officially fat and got a certificate to prove it.  I don't think I am fading away.  Maybe I will be discovered like the poet Chatterton, dead in my garret, my tiny feet as blue as as my flip flops. 

Henry Wallice The Death of Chatterton.  The young starving poet is found dead in his attic.  His feet look fine.

Oh!  I got it wrong! says Puccini, I meant to say, your tiny feet are frozen.

A rather sinister thought is that Socrates felt the effects of Hemlock from the feet upwards. He lost the sensation of his feet first, they became cold.  The rest of his body followed.  I have not taken any hemlock that I know of, I had PG Tips for breakfast, there wasn't any Hemlock in my tea caddy.  I think.

No.  I am not going to die.  I am being dramatic.  I am simply going to go back into the house now and put on my fluffy winter slippers.  I will put all my flip flops into a plastic bag and fling them to the back of my wardrobe as if Finally.  Our relationship over the last few summer months is over. There is no more need of you here.  It is time for boots and fur lined slippers. It is Over, do you hear, Over. 

Whoops!  Time to go and clean the Son's Rooms.  Best foot forward and all that ha ha ha.

Monday 29 August 2011

"What I Really Think" By The Dalai Lama

I wonder what the Dalai Lama really thinks.  My cousin Maddy, when the chips are down, says think Loveliness.  The Dalai Lama does Loveliness, and is trained to be above average in the human being stakes.  He twinkles and smiles, he does meditation and politics, he fasts and wears robes and does not do cold turkey without a cup of tea.  He is full of mindfulness and love.  But what does he really think?  While he is meditating and slowing his heart rate to a tenth of, say, mine, does the image of a cheeseburger cross his mental line of vision?  Does he ever wake in the morning and say under his breath as the icy air creeps under his robes while dressing, "No more Mr Nice Guy.  I am going to smack someone today."  As people queue up to touch his hand, does he ever want to say, "Gerroff."

The Dalai Lama is the top Lama.  There are plenty of other Lamas, all of whom are trained to be Other and Wonderful.  What do any of them really think?  Because the Dalai Lama is a public figure, I am very taken with his hypothetical book, which will never be written, called "What I Really Think."

So as ever, comparing myself with the Dalai Lama, I have been thinking of the difficulty of writing a book called "What I Really Think." If I wrote about all the things that happen and what I thought at the time, this blog wouldn't be the jolly, measured account of life and love in Bognor Regis.  It would be a teenage tantrum about things not being fair, and how I hate everyone and it is all their fault and why does everything always happen to me etc.  And there would be a list of people I hate and what I want to happen to them.  I would be lost in self pity and want to tell you all about it so you could plan revenge on my behalf and I would be the centre of attention in the playground.  But - I work through that stage before coming to write it all down for the world to see.  I do Loveliness, and think of things like consequences,  and have a cup of tea.  Often I don't even mention the things that really bother me, in case I tell the truth to all of you and get really personal. I am always in danger of folding my arms and pouting and wanting to stun people into submission by my silence.  I suspect that it never works because the victims of this powerful tool of  Pouty Silence are quite relieved and think oh good, she has shut up and now I can get on with my life.  I, on the other hand, hope they are saying, goodness how wrong I am, it is all my fault and her stalwart silence is covering a truly broken heart and a gentle righteousness that is a lesson to me.  Does this ever happen to the Dalai Lama?  If he maintained a pouty silence, those around him would think he is just meditating again and leave him alone.  Don't make a noise, they would say to each other, he is in another realm.  Whereas the DL is wanting some real attention and someone to say poor you, have a cream cake and tell me where we have gone wrong.
I am always wanting to find peace and love.  And adulation and glory.  I want to do the right thing and I wish I was wise and deeply memorable.  But I want that while being fed my favourite foods and being told at all times that I am fab, my paintings are fab, that my writing is fab and that really I am the bees knees.  At all times.  And when someone tells me they don't like me/my work/anything about me, it is because they are simply jealous.  

I did go to France with Alan, to join the wonderful novelist Olivia Fane (her new book On Loving Josiah is out now) and her husband, and 20 other people in a Chateau in Cherbourg.  I did paint there, and I did almost finish the portrait of Nush Khan Levy. I did feel very vulnerable too, because the people who we were holidaying with were very cultured indeed, and I realised that they may not like what I paint at all.  No one said anything about the portrait, I didn't get the Blimey you are Marvellous comments that I long for, but then again, I didn't get the sniggers behind the hand either.  I loved painting in this holiday in France.  I loved how easy it was to set up in the attic there, and I loved how I actually did it.  One guest staying there was an art teacher and an artist of high renown.  When she came up to see what I was doing, I was afraid that she would say this, Antonia, is on a par with painting by numbers.  But she didn't, she gave some very helpful practical advice which I followed and felt even more proud of myself for even starting to paint on holiday.  Instead of just talking about it, you understand.

So what do I really think?  I think I must go now and collect Eileen from the station.  She is coming to stay so that we can work on A Graceful Death together, and for her to have a bit of peace.  Eileen always tells me what she really thinks.  If I don't go and collect her on time, she will think that I have deserted her and fallen forever into a pouty sulk.  I had better go and get her, and tell what I really think, which is that having just arrived at my house, she should do all the housework for me.  

You can imagine that Eileen will not spare her words telling me what she, too, really thinks.