Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A quick hello...

I can't help sharing two things with you: Bob (my son) passed his driving test today. I was extra relieved by this because he had to take it in my car and I was late picking him up from work for the appointment, so he was wound quite tight by the time we arrived at the test centre.

The other thing is that as well as working on my portfolio (which is coming along incrementally), I have also been dealing with six stone of pork from one of these:

and am in the process of making the belly and part of the back into bacon. Most of it will be in the cure for another few days to ensure it lasts the winter. But we got to taste the sweet-cure today.

I made one of my staples, Carbonara, and it was delicious: it tasted just like Carbonara, with bacon tasting just like bacon.

So although I haven't yet got any work done today it was a good day.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Break Break

I'm interrupting my self imposed blogging break* to ask you a question.

After a year of being redundant Stevie has gone into the paintball business, with a friend. Understandably he was a little trepidatious but having made the decision to go ahead he has thrown himself into it with enthusiasm. Now he has things to do and places to go and is, as they say, out from under. There are breaks between the Geiger counter's beeps.

So when he said, 'do you want to come to the wood-yard with me?'
I said, 'OK', rather than, 'what?'

Amongst all the old sheds, planks, machinery, and sawdust were these:


Single stem.


A lone pale one.

I don't know what they are but feel I should. So can anyone tell me?

*While I'm here: thank you for all your encouraging comments, understanding, and general firm friendliness.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Closed for the Season

I have a big, important (to me) project to get done, and I really want to do a good job, but I am easily distracted. In fact I positively seek distraction, and the more important I feel something is the more I seem to go looking for reasons not to do it. Apparently I'm not alone, lots of people behave in exactly the same way, and there are all number of theories as to why: fear of failure is one and another is something to do with self sabotage, I can't remember the details. Anyway, I need to minimize the number of distractions that lay claim to my time and get down to some serious work or I'll fail, and that will make me miserable.

I'm sure you've guessed, blogging is the biggest consumer of my time. I love nothing more than a bit of idle chat and this being able to just drop in on anyone, at anytime, without moving from my seat, is far too tempting; so I'm going to put the hems on it for a while. I will still drop in on everyone from time to time, I may read but not comment, and I may post the odd thing but probably not. Oh, I don't know! I just know that if I don't give this thing my best shot then I'll have only myself to blame for buggering it up, and that would be stupid.

So, that's it then, I'll see you when I see you, but here's a cup-cake to show how much I care:

Friday, 4 September 2009


I am fuming at the moment, the term 'incandescent with rage' doesn't even begin to cover it. So, in order for me not to embarrass myself by delivering an unthought-through tirade on the inherent evils of an aging capitalist system, I present a rather mild dilemma.

I like to have beautiful things around me but not inert or useless beauty, I like my stuff to perform too. Thus I have a teapot that is not only quite lovely it keeps tea hot and pours without dripping too; solid wood kitchen counters that act as a huge chopping board and are easy to clean as well as looking just the way I like, and a computer that not only does everything I could possibly require of it but is an object of such stylish good looks I have been know to take photographs of it. I could go on, but let's just say that whatever I bring into the house has to be both attractive, to me, and functional. Even the art I collect provides inspiration as well as looking just so.

But now I find myself with a conflict of form over function interests. I use a lot of pencils, and so keep a pot of them ready sharpened on my desk. Because they are on view I'm, let's say, particular about their appearance and so am always looking for pretty pencils. Finding them is not easy, but recently I found myself in a shop that sold 'vintage' pencils, some of which were these:

Gorgeous, huh? I bought all they had which was only 8. They are several of my favourite things: old, French and painted with green, as well as being pencils. I don't know exactly how old they are but they have that certain quality that seems to develop over time, and they have never been used.

My dilemma is this: they have survived in this condition for some time, if I sharpen and use them they will fairly quickly cease to exist and I won't have them anymore, and for all I know they might be the last of their kind in the whole world. So, should I keep them as mere objects of loveliness or use them as they were intended to be used?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Poetic Timing

Five minute poems keep popping up all over the blogopolis and, because I can't help myself I've done one too, now. I think I might have cheated though, as although I timed myself to the minute I couldn't help adding a comma after my time was up, so it was maybe five minutes and twenty seconds. It's untitled because thinking up a title would really have pushed the limits. But here is a photo of the inspiration which can be a kind of title:

This table has been painted every shade of flag,
now, left to the elements its layers crack
and flake off in little curls like chocolate sundae decoration.

United nations’ disintegration, rusty
patches, like bald earth, spread,
and lichens push out like forests
reclaiming for the natural world
one wonky garden trestle.

Monday, 31 August 2009


I have been asked by Titus to take the book nearest to me, turn to page 161 and cite the 5th complete sentence. The book nearest to me is Nick Laird’s On Purpose which is a very slim book of poems that only goes up to page 65.

The next nearest is difficult to determine as I have a small shelf just above my desk for reference books, supposedly, and there are about four books there which look to be exactly the same distance from me. Whatever book I choose I will have to bend the rules a little: either cite the 5th sentence of the last page of the Nick Laird, or, the stipulated sentence of not quite the nearest* book.

The other thing I could do is choose the book that is nearest to my reading chair. So not the book that was nearest when I read Titus’s request which was there, between my keyboard and my monitor, because it only just arrived in the post and that is where I unwrapped it, but the one nearest to where I actually sit and read. But that itself poses a problem.

The chair sits between this:

and this:

I am a bit of a dipper when it comes to reading and so am currently flitting between most of these books. Not The English Passengers, it being a novel I am waiting for a quiet, undisturbed stretch of time, to give myself up to it. As I haven’t read this it’s quite tempting to choose it and get to know one sentence, but that could ruin the story. I’ll unwittingly fill in the gaps and then it won’t live up to expectations. I'm sure it's much better than my imaginings could ever be, but that won't stop me anticipating what I know happens, and thus not pay proper attention to what does happen. I've spoilt many a good book in this way, and had umpteen spoilt by reviews too. Best not do that then.

Titus did say she chose me (as one of her five people to pass the baton on to) because she needs more Nietzsche, and, as luck would have it, there is a book about Nietzsche in the running: Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature. This is the only secondary text on Nietzsche that I’ve managed to get all the way through, it’s a really good read: well argued and not even remotely pompous. It lives just above my head – literally and metaphorically.

Here is the 5th sentence of page 161:

The narrative that relates [the past] to the present is altered, and even the accidents in our past can be turned into actions, into events for which we are willing to accept responsibility (“Thus I willed it”), and which we are therefore willing to repeat.

Got that?

I should pass this on to five others now, but everyone else seems to have already been nominated, so I'll squish that rule a little too and say: if there is anyone out there who hasn't been tagged and would like to do this (it's an easy post after all), here is your cue.

*I've just reread the rules and they don't say 'nearest' but 'most handy' which could have made for a completely different post: most handy as in most 'to hand', ie nearest, or most handy as in most useful, and if the latter for what aspect of life? Thank goodness I misremembered because I'd have tortured you with this one.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Eternal Sunshine of the Student's Mind

I have found the secret of happy housewifery and it looks like this:

Taking time out from my writing to deal with chores, some of which are created because I choose to live with someone for whom flakes of croissant on the couch are no deal at all ( let along a big one), has always felt like an indulgence. There are more important things to do than make the bed or clean the loo; wash the dishes or dust the books; vacuum, scrub, polish or iron. And standing at the kitchen table rubbing butter into flour until it looks like wet sand, adding just enough iced, acidified water to bring it all together, leaving it to rest for at least an hour, and then going back to roll it out and line a pie dish, when there are perfectly acceptable ready to use packs of frozen pastry available in any supermarket, and it is only me in this house who notices the difference, has felt bordering on the insanely spoilt. But now as I do these things I can, at the same time, at least feel like I am making an effort to learn my craft.

Why I didn't think of it before I don't know. This beautiful machine has never felt less of a gadget and more of a tool. Here is a selection of my current listening:

The bloody marvellous Ted: lifting onions
in the rain and searching out a suitable place
for them to dry has taken on new meaning.

Because Anglo-Saxon is the tap root of my poetic
sensibility I need to understand more about it.
Being able to learn the wordhoard as I peel eggs is,
quite frankly, a revelation.

Fifteen CDs worth of pure joy. All of
Seamus Heaney's poems read by
himself. The more I clean, the more
I'll absorb his genius.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Transformative Moment

Here, a little late in the day, is my response to Steven’s meme. I’ve been trying to write this for days but there have been no momentous events in my life that I could point easily to and say, ‘that was transformative,’ more lots of piddling little things. These little things often connect, but trying to disentangle them and then put them back together in a way that makes sense has had me in a bit of a pickle. Then, this morning, as I was coming to I remembered: ‘amor fati:’ from Nietzsche’s autobiography Ecce Homo. This, I realised, was the link I needed. The full sentence reads:

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity. Not merely to endure that which happens of necessity, still less to dissemble it – all idealism is untruthfulness in the face of necessity – but to love it...

I don’t propose to deliver a lecture on meaning in Nietzsche, but I will say this: by ‘greatness’ he doesn’t mean what we think of, traditionally, as great. He doesn’t mean statesman-like, or conquering, he’s not talking about being seen as great by the rest of the world but is more talking about living a good life in the eyes of the individual living it. There’s no living for others in Nietzsche, as far as I can discern. Though, the thing about Nietzsche is that he is very open to interpretation because he was very much against dogma and absolutism.

When I first read this I didn’t experience a eureka moment, it was more of a ‘huh?’ But it was enough to make me read on and then read more. And as I did I got to thinking about myself and my own life. I had been brought up to ‘endure’. My mother was a Catholic and she believed that life was shit but if one didn’t complain one would eat at the banquet beside God in heaven. Being of mixed race in an all white working class neighbourhood I had had quite a lot to endure as I grew up: I got called names on a daily basis, boys threw rocks at me (really!), even a trip to the corner shop to get a pint of milk was fraught. But I endured, like a good Catholic. Then, like all good teenagers I rebelled. I stamped my feet at the injustices of the world and wailed about how people should be accepted for what they are, that appearances shouldn’t get in the way of what’s inside. This phase lasted until well into my twenties and, I have to say, made me pretty miserable.

At some point I began to accept the way things were and just live with them. By this time people had stopped throwing rocks at me and calling me names. The term ‘racism’ had been invented and no one wanted to be it. My appearance became, not an obstacle as once it was, but a calling card. But I was still pissed, something still grated, the world still seemed unfair. My acceptance was of the ‘it’s fucking shit but hey ho,’ kind.

Enter Nietzsche. I read everything of his, most of which didn’t make immediate sense but it bubbled away like pie filling in a slow oven until the above quotation mingled with other things and one day I thought: he’s telling us to love everything that has happened to us, big and small, good and bad, because all of life combines to make the person one is right now. It’s a bit like steak and kidney pie: although I love steak and kidney pie I hate kidneys, yet without the kidneys it is only steak pie which isn’t as nice.


There began a slow period of reassessment which goes on to this day. I like my life, I like myself, I’m glad I’m alive and like this. Sure, I wish I was better organised and that I didn’t procrastinate so much, I wish my obsession with detail didn’t get so much in the way, and life would be much more comfortable if I could get up early in the mornings and work during the day rather than slowly coming to some time around eleven, because I work better after dark. But these things are the little pieces of kidney in my pie, they’re horrid in isolation but without them the pie wouldn’t taste as good. With long enough cooking kidneys disintegrate and meld with the sauce that makes the pie so enjoyable. There have been some really big ones though, that along the way I have had to chew.

When I was six the prettiest girl in the school was able to convince our class teacher to steal from me my birthday Barbie, and give it to her. A child as ugly as I was could not possibly be in lawful possession of such a lovely new doll. It took a week for my father to get the doll back for me, by which time it was in a sorry state and I never played with it again. I remember this vividly, it was the first lesson in what was to be a long series on the importance of appearance. I learnt that appearance was currency, a door opener. Some people, no matter how much bollocks they talk, will always have a voice merely because of the way they look. For a long time I thought that was unfair. Later I accepted it and now I think thank goodness, for this has been a major factor in shaping the me I am today, without it I wouldn’t exist in my current state. I am not a natural beauty, but because of the, largely unconscious, work I have been doing all these years in this regard I am now able to convince pretty much everyone that I am. If Joanne had not stolen my Barbie I would probably be two stone heavier have far more wrinkles and have much less of an idea about what suits me – clothes, hair, make-up wise – than I do. It’s the details I attend to on an ongoing, daily basis, without even thinking about them, that creates the illusion. I have chopped, boiled and fragranced with garden herbs, this particular kidney: it is now the most velvety element in my sauce.

As a dark skinned, ugly child I was always considered stupid. No teacher expected anything from me. That seems quite unbelievable now, I know, but this was in the late 1960s and early 70s when England was still hanging on to its imperialist past and all the beliefs necessary to mercilessly overrun someone else’s country and annihilate their culture. You really couldn’t do that to someone you thought was as morally and intellectually worthy as you. I was a ghastly colonial. This was made resoundingly clear to me by a maths teacher called Mr Steer. He was one of those old military types, he looked like he had been a general at some point, and he hated me from the minute he set eyes on me. He openly mocked my ineptitude at every opportunity, he made me wash the class room floor on a pretty regular basis, he called me stupid to my face every time he saw me. And he never lost an opportunity to cause me actual physical pain: his ruler made regular contact with my face in full view of my classmates. So I learnt never to look him in the eye and never to even suggest that I might know the answer to a question, and this fed into all my classes throughout my school life. But sometimes I would be asked a question directly by a teacher and would have to give an answer. So, terrified of being mocked or even beaten (even the ‘nice’ teachers still believed in the purgative quality of violence) I ensured I knew the answer to everything I might possibly be asked. I rehearsed answers to possible future questions over and over. I checked them and rechecked them in multiple books, and for good measure I learnt how to reason clearly and carefully in order to explain how I’d come to a conclusion should I have got the answer wrong. I drove my poor parents insane with my questions. School was agony and I couldn’t wait to leave. When I did it was with one paltry qualification in English literature and I only got that because a new, young, enthusiastic teacher had come along and given us George Orwell and Alexander Solzhenitsyn to read. Once I left school I was really angry, I was sure I wasn’t stupid but I had no idea how to find out.

It took almost thirty years of trial and error but I’ve kind of got there. In my mid forties I embarked on a philosophy degree, and loved it. I was crap at essay writing (this tendency I have to try and cover every single eventuality can be paralysing, it leads to very tangly sentences that can take ages to sort out, not good for short deadlines) but it was enough to lead me to a post grad degree in writing, and my current incarnation as a writer. So I have a lot to thank Mr Steer for: because of him I learnt how to make sure of my sources, how to argue using reason – long before I knew what reason was, and the importance of communicating my ideas in a clear way. This kidney is still breaking down but is now so small I can take the odd piece with potatoes and, of course, the sauce of the previously described one. If it hadn’t been for Joanne teaching me the first lesson I wouldn’t have been heard in the first place: people only started to listen to me because they thought I was pretty.

But, of course, my main debt of gratitude goes to Friedrich Nietzsche because thanks to him I’m no longer enraged by the apparent injustice of the world (not the bits that affect me directly anyway, when I hear about how other people are, or have been, treated I am still apt to want to punch something). Now I have a beautiful crisp, golden pastry crust holding all the ingredients that make my life, kidneys and all, a pie worth savouring. Thanks Fred.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


About twelve years ago* we were invited to a friend's soiree to celebrate her twenty fifth wedding anniversary.

'Twenty five years!' I said to her, 'how have you managed to stay together that long?'

'That's easy,' she answered, 'you just don't leave.'

Today is our twenty fifth wedding anniversary and I find that Joanna was quite right. Our marriage is a bit like our old bed: it fits our shapes, we both have our comfy spots in it, there are a few lumps in the mattress that sometimes disturb the sleep of one or other of us but we have become accustomed to it and can mostly shift over and nod off again. A new one might be exciting but it would take years for it to become quite so accommodating. The odd rampant spring not withstanding.

The two of us, a bit worse for wear, at the dog end of a party a few years ago. Stevie loves this photo which is why I've chosen it, even though I was much plumper then.

*where has the time gone!?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Out of my Pie!

I am so in love with this girl, she is youth perfected. A living poem. Just look at that outfit! And then listen to the perfect cross over of voice, music and lyrics.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Ruin

About ten years ago an old country-house hotel just outside this town suffered a fire. The couple who ran it left. Naturally when I heard about it I got on my bicycle and went to explore. I went back a few times, but I don't think I knew what to make of it at that time, then I forgot all about it. Today, though, I went back, and oh what marvels I found (click on the photographs to make them huge enough to look at the details):

The first thing that caught my eye.


Bannister, why the wire, I wonder?

Detail of the balustrade

Local colour

I can't think of a more suitable book to find in a house like this

Tear drop

Country Pile

The central tower.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Art of Writing

I asked the writer James Kelman recently* what was his starting point for Kieron Smith, Boy, his answer was a joy. I could see him thinking as he started to speak: 'Well...' His eyes sparkled and his face warmed to a soft glow: 'you know artists studios...?' I nodded. He went on to describe an artist's studio: packed to the gunnels with stuff, gathered for the hell of it. This stuff inspires, feeds, informs and, sometimes becomes part of the artist's work, he said.**

His computer, he continued, was like an artist's studio: on it he gathers all sorts of little things, snippets, which he puts into files. He has hundreds of files like this. Some might sit untouched for years, but generally he will add to one or other of them from time to time. Every now and again he might have a look to see what he has, and occasionally when he does he sees the start of something, and that is how he works. He collects what may or may not turn out to be material, keeps it with no particular aim in mind, has a look at it from time to time, adds to it, and then sometimes he will find the suggestion of a story. One such file was the starting point for the book.

This notion has been percolating away in my mind for a month or so, I love the imagery of it, have always adored getting a peak at the studios of artists. One of the best things about Saturday has for me been the 'Writer's Room' feature in the Guardian Review, though, sadly that seems to have stopped recently. The thing I can't quite get to grips with, though, is the thought of keeping everything on the computer, everything. I wonder if he actually does, I didn't ask him? How I would love to be able to do that, imagine how neat and serene his room must be. I dream of having a large, virtually empty space to work in, no distractions. Unfortunately I can't seem to keep my collecting habit to my computer, it keeps spilling out into the material world.

My writing table, this morning. No wonder I'm unable to get any work done.

*At the Borders Book Festival during the questions bit after his reading, sadly he wouldn't know me if he had to scrape me off the sole of his shoe.

** I should just say here that I didn't take notes so this probably isn't exactly what he said.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Picture This

My best friend came for lunch today with her three children, the oldest of whom is five. They live quite a distance away, and have to spend almost as long in the car as they can here, so it takes some thought for them to come, which means they don't come often. This is a shame because we have such a ball when we're all together, but the kids will grow and things will get easier, in the meantime when they do come they always leave plenty to remember them by:

Oscar, the five year old, spotted my old (sadly now legless) tailor's dummy and decided to dress it up. It is now called Sheldon.

They also brought home-made gifts.

Edith who is two and a half made this for me yesterday.

Oscar made this and was really rather excited about giving it to me.

They all made these together; isn't that a lovely image?

After lunch we went to the park and Blythe who is just one lost a shoe. We retraced our steps and kept our eyes peeled, but we didn't find it. They were brand new and cost forty quid. None of which bothered her; when we got back to the house she was sleeping soundly in her buggy.

As Oscar had been desperate to draw on my blackboard wall from the minute he'd seen it, I showed him where I kept the chalk while the baby slept and mummy gathered up their belongings before they had to leave, and was rewarded with these masterpieces.

I Need Cake, by Edith.

Higher, by Oscar.

I do hope they can come back soon.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Fantasy Writer

I've remembered the other thing I wanted to tell: I went to the beach with Kim and his kids, Rogan and Meg, last Monday so he could practise his photography by pretending he was doing the shots for the inside of my book jacket. I say pretending because I don't have a book jacket. But I might one day so maybe this was more of a rehearsal. Whatever it was, it was fun. We took a picnic and everything.

This doesn't look like the beach because it's not, it's a viewpoint we stopped off at on the way back to Kim's but is the only shot I got of the three of them that is in focus and not too dark.

I asked if we could go to the beach for the shoot because I felt I needed a theme to feed a look, and I had landed, like an excited bee in a field of comfrey, on exploration. I've always admired those lady explorers. You know the ones who set off on their own across continents when women were supposed to stay home as a male appendages? They always looked so strong, free, and defiant, yet no less elegant and no less female. They proved certain dichotomies to be myths, and I hope that I am carrying on in the tradition they started. When a colleague once asked me to choose another noun for myself (once he'd explained what on earth he was talking about and given me an example – he chose 'witness' for himself ) I said 'explorer': I do feel that's what I do when I write: explore the why and how of us as a species, not to mention the possibilities of literature itself, and what I can do with it. Once the look/theme was decided I needed a setting, and as neither Kim nor I live near a desert or jungle the Galloway coastline seemed the next best thing. In the space of one small cove you will find smooth and sandy here, rocky and jaggy there, grass, pebbles, shells, and rock pools with tiny creatures in them. I could feel like an explorer in such a place. Also, the light is good at the beach which means fewer unpleasant shadows.

I can't pose for photographs, the minute I become aware of the camera pointing my way I kind of freeze, it takes someone with a good dose of empathy to get a decent shot of me. One day, when I'm feeling gung-ho I'll show you one or two of my wedding photographs and you'll see what I mean. By the end of that day I'd been stiffly smiling for so long that my cheeks hurt. I look like a stuffed hamster in every photo.

Kim saw my discomfort and suggested I just run about the beach with the kids saying he'd merely follow. So that's what we did, and very soon I pretty much forgot about the camera and simply had fun. And, although out of the hundred or so shots he took there were only about ten I could bear to look at, there were some I actually liked!

As You can see I didn't dress up but next time, if there is a next time, I'm thinking of wearing a ball gown.

After the exertion we stopped in at Cream o' Galloway for an ice-cream (we chose our beach carefully!) before heading home. As we were driving along Kim pointed out this:

My dream writing room!

Click on any of the pictures to enlarge. The two photographs of me are courtesy of Kim Ayres Photography.

Friday, 31 July 2009

On Cleaning and Writing

Today I simply must clean the house. The eucalyptus tree in the garden is shedding leaves at the rate of about a ton a day and at least a million of them have found their way inside, brought in by the tread of my flip-flops as I come in from sneaky peeks at my sweet-peas, obsessive deadheading of my geraniums, and picking the green-fly off my one tragic rose. I don't mind the odd mucky footprint, they make me feel like part of an active-outdoor family, but when getting to the bathroom involves wading it becomes apparent that the old vacuum cleaner hasn't been taken from its cupboard in too long.

But before I do I have to tell you about this It's one part of the result of (my writing mentor/tutor) Tom Pow's latest writing project. Called Dying Villages it is a response to his visits to villages throughout Europe that are fast losing their inhabitants. (There is also a book of poetry and a CD.) This website's worth looking at for the pictures alone if, like me, you find a bit of decay enthralling. There are also some very interesting statistics about the continuing exodus from rural areas of Europe, and an opportunity to join in the debate about what, if anything, can be done about it.

Also, I promised a sample of my handwriting to join in the meme I came across at Savannah's place. So here it is: it ain't pretty but I think it's mostly legible.

I still write with a pen on paper a lot. The computer hasn't quite taken me over, yet. I find writing my first drafts with a smooth pen on a large pad the best way to organise my thoughts. If I try and do it using a keyboard it comes out kind of stilted with most of the connections missing, and doesn't make enough sense to give me something to work on. This might be because I love the image of a person sitting at a table, head bowed over in deep concentration, pen scratching away, and this fuels my imagination making me feel like a real writer, following in the footsteps of real writers who have gone before. And, of course, there's the slow, rhythmic act itself which probably helps bring a vague notion into focus.

I also write letters, in the old fashioned way, to my best friend. I started this because I hadn't been able to resist some incredibly beautiful French note cards

when I visited the fantastic emporium RE, not too far from Newcastle. It sells the contents of my dream life; things like copper plant tags, glass cake stands with domes, Spanish cane-work deer heads, as well as the world's most desirable stationery. Once I had them home I had to use them so I wrote her a note and stuck it in the post. I've kept it up because she was so delighted to receive it. And it gives me an excuse to go back and buy more gorgeous writing paper.

There was something else that I wanted to tell you, but I've forgotten what it was, it will come back to me. I better get my duster out now.

Can you believe it, I forgot to hit 'publish post' earlier so now the house is basking in the soft glow of 'real' beeswax polish with not a leaf to be seen, but I still can't remember what else I want to tell you.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Desperately Seeking Vision

I can't seem to get myself motivated to do any proper work at the moment. This is bad: I have my final portfolio to complete by September, and I am supposed to be working on a project (mentioned, I think, a post or two ago) with my writing group. I don't know what's wrong with me because normally I love doing this stuff. Normally I love everything about writing, from the moment of inspiration to the frantic scribbling it down, to the endless redrafting and editing. But I seem to have come to a stop. I need to untangle some of the threads in my head. I need to settle my stomach and calm down. I need to get to the 'fuck it' stage.

Thinking of my work as work, is, I think, turning it into something scary. It's stopped being play. It's stopped being: 'ooh, this is interesting, how far can I push it?' and has become a means to an end instead of an end in itself. Yet I don't really know what the end it's supposed to be a means to is; more work probably. (Here I could so easily go off at a tangent about the evils of the capitalist system. It's not all evil, I know, but I can't help feeling that these days we feed it rather than the other way round.) I'm so bored with the sound of my own voice, slurred, as it is, with this ever present whine. So picking up a piece for redrafting, or even trying to write something new, is waring. It's like going on a long journey in a car with a squeaky wheel: your whole body is filled with its endless wail so you don't see the Angel of the North as you pass, or smell the grass as a man on a tractor with his dog on the back cuts it, or taste the chocolate you nevertheless keep cramming into your mouth.

Bugger, bugger, bugger... I need to get back on track. Especially for the project because a) I don't want to let the rest of the group down, b) I know it will be fun once I get over this, and c) if I can do it it will help me with the other stuff. So, Liz Waugh and her life and work: I need to focus. The project is called: Words and Bronze: A celebration of Elizabeth Waugh at 80.

This (I believe) is an early piece. It makes me think of the south of France, of Picasso and Brancusi, and that wonderful early 20th century artistic turn.

I'm trying to untangle what I know, and how I feel, about her and her work – the artist is the work according to Nietzsche – synthesize it, and come up with something interesting to say. She lives in the Eskdale hills and works in bronze. She makes both animals (for animals sell) and nudes. She is currently trying to combine nudes and animals in the hope that she can both work on what interests her and sell it on. An artist needs to sell her work in order to be able to keep on working: feed the market so she can feed herself. She uses resin bronze, mostly, because foundry bronze is too expensive: people want bronze but they don't want to pay for it. This gives her sculptures added vulnerability: resin bronze is fragile, it might shatter if you drop it on a hard surface. She had an enforced break of 25 years because of marriage and all that entails – or, at least, entailed for her. She wonders, now, what her work would look like if she hadn't had to have that break, if she had been able to continue to manifest her ideas during that period.

A work in progress. I often like works in progress better than finished pieces, I love the colour and texture of the plaster and the lack of facial features on both creatures here.

Her nudes, to me, speak of the landscape in which she lives which is all green hills and valleys and little secret places. Fecund. All except one: a recent piece which is a one off – called One Off – this is a hollow shell of a creature clutching her knees, it reminds me of a dead pea-bug, one that has completely dried out, which is a tantalizing departure for me: the turn in the poem; the point of conflict that turns something lyrical into something interesting. But bugger me if I can make anything of it.

Empty lady

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Bat Pits

Last night we went to see Harry Potter. As we were getting ready to go I took a jacket from the overfull row of hooks in the hall and put it on. As I moved it made a noise as if one of it's many zips was flapping. I decided to have a quick pee before leaving and as I sat on the loo it made the noise again: odd. I sat stock still and the noise continued for a few seconds, then stopped. As I washed my hands it started up again. This irritated me somewhat, I hadn't noticed this jacket making noises before. In the hall the noise continued, it sounded like a factory full of zips being tortured by magnets. Deciding it wasn't right I began to take the jacket off examining it as I did so. With it off on my left side but still on on my right I looked at the pockets and cuffs and jiggled them slightly: 'what on earth are you doing?' Bob asked me. I told him about the noise: he listened as I gave the jacket a shake, 'it's just a zip,' he said.

I made to put the jacket back on and the noise started up wildly. Bob frowned, 'take it off,' he said. I took it off and handed it to him, he turned it around, examining the zips and fastenings. Stevie, who by now had joined us, pointed at the studs on the collar, 'it's those,' he said. Bob gave it a shake. Metal flapped and scraped against metal: 'it's the zips!'

'OK. It's just that... it doesn't usually make such a noise.'

He peered inside. 'It must be the... oh not it's not,' he said, 'it's a bat!'

I had been worrying a little brown bat that had taken up residence in the oxter of my jacket! Bob made for the garden and once outside gently laid the jacket, replete with bat, on a chair. The poor thing was quivering so I took a quick snap and we let it alone.

I had to wear a different jacket to the cinema.

When we got back the bat was gone. I hope he/she enjoyed feasting on the bugs that fill the air of an evening around here, and has now found somewhere to sleep where he/she won't be disturbed by my armpits again.

Friday, 24 July 2009

On Tribes and Pudding

Good day yesterday. First up I had a meeting with my writing group: there's something about being with like-minded people that is always über invigorating, but this was a particularly good meeting. We are readying ourselves for a performance of our work at the Wigtown Book Festival in September and it's getting exciting. We will be performing work written in response to the sculptor Elizabeth Waugh who turned 80 earlier this year and is still as prolific as ever. She is incredibly inspirational: strong as an ox, sharp as a scalpel, and highly skilled. You may remember (those of you who were around then) this picture of her garden wall that I did a post on some time ago. I love this wall.

So we discussed how best to present our work: just standing up and reading is a bit boring and rather short-lived, we want to give the public something more, something to engage with on another sensual level, like Liz does. Her work is all about the body, both human and animal, and is mostly bronze which she encourages people to touch: it's all smooth, cool, curves and hollows if you close your eyes and just feel.

I went into the meeting with a few ideas and came out with a bundle, bursting with enthusiasm, and starving. So I phoned Stevie and asked him to meet me in our favourite local café for a bite on my way home. He had a baked potato, but I had this:

after which I was ready to get on with some work.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Maggie Can

“Art is the expression of the voice of gifted individuals with a point of view.”*

I went to see Maggie Ayres’ exhibition on Sunday.

I'm not a visual artist so am not really equipped to pass judgment on visual art: I don't really know what I'm looking for, can't speak of brush strokes and execution, but I know what I like and can have a stab at saying why if I'm pushed. I tend to be drawn to work that, yes, is beautiful, but goes beyond that, and beyond itself: a perfect representation of a chicken, or anything else, will rarely get me excited. Maggie's work in this exhibition did (and does still), I will be going back soon.

There was one piece in particular that I loved. It’s a three dimensional shape, so I guess you’d call it sculpture, which is an interesting departure from her usual highly textured but backed by canvas work. It’s form, colours and textures seem to me to combine in a way that makes a coherent whole: it is a thing in itself.

I could bang on about all the various references I see in it: corsets, plaster casts, shipwrecks, blood and bone that take it beyond itself, but it’s probably best that I don't.

I also really liked this piece,

there’s something of the sea in it, as if the sea has been taken to hospital and wrapped in bandages and is now trying to break free. Or perhaps it has broken free and this is what remains of what we tried and failed to do. No? (I know I have a tendency to over analyse).

*Richard Eyre: I read this in The Guardian newspaper some months ago, can't remember the date.