I dreamt the Queen laughed at one of my jokes as Dolphins flew with ducks through the air, and I looked at silk bras in a shop.

March 11th

Queen Dream for blog

It was Mother’s Day. I got the poshest slippers, a beautiful portfolio for my work from 19 year old,  a pair of cashmere wrist warmers (orange) bought and paid for by 17 year old, a book of Muriel Spark quotes and some beautifully hand made cards.  17 year old drew Arthur from the Peaky Blinders. It made me very happy.

We went bra shopping.  I told the guy at H&M that I’d dreamed that the Queen and I and one of her footmen were watching ducks in the sky and eating cake and I was making jokes and the Queen really laughed at the jokes, but then there were dolphins flying with the ducks and we thought that weird.  The H&M guy laughed.

Wales v Italy was a fine game. They both know how to play.  I liked the way the ref, a French guy called Jerome, smiled at the players.  He was very fair.

It was so nice not to do anything for the house today.  When we were looking at bras, Tom finished the fencing.  After lunch, I cut both daughters’ hair.  I do that.

The card said ‘Happy Mother’s Day from the Peaky Fockin’ Blinders’.  That was the best thing ever.  I love my 17 year old. She’s top.

But my friend Ellen’s daughter Tabby who is 5, did a naked rendition of Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes for her, with a dance, and I was quite jealous.

 

 

Lying on the sofa watching Morse, eating a giant sandwich, as if there is nothing to do

9th March

 

Green Ro

 

Yesterday we had two viewings.  I spent the morning clearing the mess and cleaning.  This meant putting away a basket of washing, mainly by putting my clothes where they go and piling Tom’s washing, his jumpers, his belts all into the bottom of his wardrobe.  To be fair, I put his socks away. The rest, well, I take the newspapers and the books and the stray socks and throw them into cupboards and chests.  We will never find some of these things again, I’m sure.  I always put fresh  tulips in two vases – one on the stairs, one in the kitchen.

I’d bought Flash with Bleach, so spent a good half hour on my knees, spraying, scrubbing and wiping away dried on Bird poo – the cockatiel sits on top of doors.  He is the 19 year old’s cockatiel, and since she’s been away to university, I have tried to be kind, loving even, but he is now semi-wild, though he still whistles the Archers theme tune at 7pm.  He’s a creature of habit.

I put the dogs in the car, drove to Stroud, spent an hour wandering around buying Mother’s Day gifts and sending them off in a post office box.  I took another hour and a half to walk home with the dogs, long enough for two viewings to happen.  I ate an egg for breakfast and some almonds, so with a heavy coat and sudden sunshine on my back, and a heavy backpack of shopping, I was exhausted.  I began to resent the people who came to view the house, but also hoped for miracles.  They’ll fall in love with it, and they’ll buy it.  Full price. No questions asked.  And then my life can begin elsewhere, in Oxford, where everything awaits me.

There were no feedback cards when I got back.  Nothing but a bird squawking.  I made a giant hummus, Halloumi and carrot flatbread sandwich and lay on the sofa with a flask of tea and watched the first ever episode of Morse.  Whenever there were crowd scenes, I paused it, went slow – we lived in Oxford in 1987.  I want to see Tom and I holding hands, walking in our place.  Though I wouldn’t recognise us – we were both two stone lighter.

I often think this manifestation of myself is a ghost of me, dreaming, colourless, while the Ro who lives in the pasture of Oxford is green with the reflection of it, floating above, ready to hold out her hand to pull me into the dream of my new life.

The floor was unfeasibly clean.  I could have eaten my sandwich off it.

 

Bootless in the mud as Rita flies above me

8th March

Anita Klein inspired

Today I dug up 15 bamboo plants from the front border and placed them around the edge of the cave, because prospective buyers have been worried about the bare rock – is it safe for their children? It is a frustrating notion, as my children played long summers in the garden, the youngest when she was only 3, sliding down from the top to the bottom of the inside of the cave. It feels like a travesty to cover its craggy face with the bijoux fronds of bamboo. While the bamboo wait to be planted (I couldn’t pickaxe holes big enough yesterday because I was worn out carrying the plants from one place to another), I see the ghost of the cave that has stood there for the past 14 years we have lived here, majestic and dignified. It will be like covering the life scarred face of a poet with a designer beard.

My friend Rita died today. She was a tiny woman, thin and petite, her hair cut close to her scalp, but longer pixie strands haloing her face: she dyed her hair pink quite often. She was in her seventies, I think, though her attitude was of someone much, much younger. She was a devout Catholic, but espoused Buddhist theories, and liked a joke. Her accent was Liverpudlian. She had a sweet, kind sense of humour and a willingness to cheer everyone on. I shall miss her.

Ghosts fly above us. Ghosts enter us as we work. I miss all my dead people. They were all funny and kind. The good die young? Or the people more in touch with life and the world – laughter and kindness are truths in themselves, and hard to carry.

I fell, dragging two bamboo plants. I was backing up and forgot there was a rock behind me. I fell back and bruised my back and my arse and my palm and my knee. I looked up at the cave and wanted to cry at the sting of it.   Often, it’s when we’re struggling to carry on, that we forget to see how others are – and they slip by and slip away, and we missed them going. I shall never see Rita again, and that feels appalling.

This house that we’re leaving is like that friend. In trying desperately to sell it and move on, we’re missing the friend that it was – we’re letting it slip away. I need to honour it.

We’re moving!

Over the next months, I am focusing my blog on our move.  We started the process back in January, when the agents came and we signed the documents.  I have painted the house from top to bottom, and Tom and I have started to clear the detritus of 14 years of living.  During this time, I have been continuing to do an MA in Illustration.  As a way to combine my work and my thoughts, I have been writing a blog about the move, and illustrating it.  It is a way of coming to terms with an enormous step away from the large family life in the countryside, to a very much downsized family and property in a city.  We are hoping to move to Oxford.  If all goes well, we hope to do this by the summer.  Wish us luck!  Thanks for dropping by…

Structure

I’ve been thinking a lot about the systems we buy into.  Everything – everything – is a structural system.  The internet has made structural systems into the general rule of success.  Whatever we do, whatever we are, whatever we want to be: there is a system to buy into.  It strikes me that those who are successful have a system, and those who want to be successful are trying to buy a system.

If you want to lose weight: there are a hundred thousand million people on the internet and in the bookshops who will sell you their system.  From Weight Watchers to green/clean eating, to veganism to lots of fat or no fat, cooking well, eating raw, only eating potatoes.  Every one of these has a website and a system of guilt – a way to be successful and a way to lose.  The website for each of these systems is a structural system – lots of food preparation photographs, with highly manicured hands showing you how to cut an onion just so or how to whisk an egg in a chrome, Danish bowl bought on the King’s Road.  We all believe that by clicking through and buying in to these systems, we will have the perfect life on offer.

Big business is obviously based on a structural system and the selling of this.  B2B is a thing, people! Businesses used to be: I make something, I sell it.  Then it was: I made a machine that makes something, I sell the machine.  Now it is: I sell the way to sell the machine.   Structures upon structures upon structures.  They get smaller and more refined, the higher up they go.

The key I’m trying to get to is: perfection in business, in bodies, in art or even in writing doesn’t come from doing what they say.  It comes from doing what they do.  You need a system.  I’m trying to do three jobs at the moment, while contending with more work being done on the house.  If anyone needs a system, it’s me.  And yet, because of my age, and my ability to juggle due to always having a complicated life (four children will do that to you) – I seem to get by with very little systematic structure.  I look at people who are working successfully within the worlds I work in: writers and illustrators have ways they gather information and disseminate information.  They advertise their work on websites, they share working practice, they are selling of their work from a very early point in their working lives.  Me?  I seem to pause, think, move forward in tiny, snail like slides, and I often wonder why that is.

So.  Today I shall buy box files.  I shall unpack my study and repack it so it is neat, and all ideas are accessible.  I shall start to use my computer to notate the way I work.  I shall…oh, GOD it sounds exhausting.  It sounds like I am archiving my life into an automated process.  But it is what is needed.  Watch this space.  Who knows? In a few weeks, this blog could have pictures of my hands cutting onions, pouring them into stainless steel bowls, and my mouth smiling with shiny white teeth, selling you a lifestyle dream… of what? Nothingness. I will sell you nothing.  That’s what it’s all about: we are in a new world, where our time is taken up with people selling us nothing.

Which is why I am now going to do you an enormous favour.  When you finish this article, I suggest you take the best structure of all and spend time with it.  You are surrounded by them.  Remove one – any one – from the nearest shelf to you.  Pour yourself a cup of tea/coffee/wine.  Find a comfortable chair.  Sit down. Open the structure, trying not to crack its spine…enjoy.  This, my friend, is what life is for.

 

Nice Guys?

We are all gathered in that dead time zone: Saturday night, drizzle outside, nice warm sofa and nice supermarket curry burning a hole into impetus to move. We are staring at Apple TV menus.  It is a ritual: we are all film fans.  I hold the buttons, but always make concessions to the younger bretheren.  I want to watch ‘Son of Saul’ – but 15 year old says

‘Not a fucking Holocaust movie.’  I then zap to foreign movies and show them the preview of a French romantic comedy about a really short guy going out with a tall blonde.  When you’re talking over the preview to work out how they did it –

Me: ‘Green screen?’

Son: ‘CGI. They put his head on a short guy’s body, look…’ then you know the movie is done for, as far as this family is concerned.  There was a look of slight shock that they’d do that to a short guy.  There is another Holocaust movie with Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, but 15 year old says

‘Dad needs to laugh. He’s feeling down.’  Which = ‘I need a laugh because I’m 15 and I don’t want to watch your stupid Holocaust movies.’

Last time we were in this zone, I conceded and we watched ‘Spy’ starring Melissa McCarthy.  I said after

‘NEVER AGAIN.  I am never watching a Hollywood movie again!’  The random, mad killing, the idiocy of the jokes, the single hero’s journey through the movie… I couldn’t do it.  So we’re at a crux point where we should really move to the DVD cupboard and hoist out a Hitchcock, or a 50’s musical, or a Cary Grant.  But because I am weak, we rent ‘Nice Guys’, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.

It is a 1970s-set private detective yarn, with lots of laughs.  It has many gags, and lashings of whisky drinking, cigarette smoking capery.  They beat up on each other regularly, and Ryan Gosling has a daughter who looks ten but is apparently 13, who drives his vintage open topped Merc for him, and turns up at all the set pieces in order to provide him with an innocent to rescue.  The family all roar with laughter throughout.  I am not inured to a little bit of slapstick, so I laugh along, but about two thirds through, I find it all a little dull and start to nod off.  It is too long, as all these action Hollywood movies are, and after a wee -break, I am fully awake for the denouement.

This morning, I wake to the full horror of what that movie was about.  You have two, down on their luck, white males walking through glamorous parties, searching for a porn star beauty on behalf of her older, in government, bitter, twisted Mom.  The two males shoot and fight their way through most scenes, taking guns out very early on, and accidentally killing people who are then not accounted for at all.  It has become a trope in Hollywood movies such as this and ‘Spy’ to utilise the mass killing of super hero movies as part of the entertainment.  This sits very badly with me.  If each death is part of the entertainment, and in fact, often laughable, then how are we expecting the youth whose culture this is, to understand that death is real, that killing a person is always killing someone with family, with background, with worth?  Dr Robert Hare, in an article about the Columbine killings, says this:

None of his victims means anything to the psychopath. He recognizes other people only as means to obtain what he desires. Not only does he feel no guilt for destroying their lives, he doesn’t grasp what they feel. The truly hard-core psychopath doesn’t quite comprehend emotions like love or hate or fear, because he has never experienced them directly.‘ (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/2004/04/the_depressive_and_the_psychopath.html)

In the movie, Russell Crowe is seen to kill, early on, a villain who has been chasing him.  The guy, a strange, goofy man who could be lightly called ‘a weirdo’, with dark, long hair, is hit by a truck.  While lying in the road, the child goes over and holds his hand.  Russell Crowe sends her off to flag down a car to help.  While she is away, he kills the guy by strangling him.  Later, when he is about to do this act again at the denoument, with another villain, the epiphany comes: the 13 year old says ‘You don’t have to do this!’ and Russell Crowe stops himself, saying ‘Congratulations…a 13 year old saved your life.’  The people Crowe and Gosling are fighting are either weirdos, dark haired, or black, incidentally.

I am reading a fascinating book: ‘KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps’ by Nikolaus Wachsmann.  Right from the beginning, in 1933, there were camps in Berlin – 170 of them – of varying degrees of brutality.  It is clear that Nazism grew out of a grassroots movement of lack of education, victimhood and hysteria.  The reaction of every person who was detained was to give some sort of account of what happened.  One man, very early on – Fritz Solmitz, a Social Democratic journalist, was treated brutally, and reacted y writing an account of this brutality on cigarette papers, which he hid in his watch.  He was murdered fourteen days after his detention.  The point here is – the way that he controlled what happened to him was – he was in control of the story.  The truth of his history is preserved.

So, sure, what we watched last night was just a movie, right?  What am I carping about?  Let me ask you this: if each young mind watching that movie thinks – ‘there is an element of truth in what I am watching’, what are we selling to them?  We are selling them a singular journey of two white males who see themselves as victims within their own lives.  In order to survive within their world, they must battle and kill many bad people who come at them with knives, bombs and guns.  They must be brutal and not care about the victims.  The Columbine killers, it is claimed by one of their mothers, Sue Klebold, were copycatting a movie: ‘Natural Born Killers’. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/14/mother-supposed-know-son-columbine-sue-klebold)

So what do we do about this?  Our family are going to stop watching the movies, for sure.  That is a good first step, as far as I’m concerned.  We bring to the attention of 15 year olds and 17 year olds that the movie they have just watched has fatal, terrible, flaws.  (On another matter: the movie has a scene where the 13 year old is introduced to a porn movie by one of its stars: a classic grooming technique.  All the time, she is at the mercy of older women and men of questionable character – because, it’s the 70s! That’s what it was like!  I was there.  It was like that.  Except, it wasn’t funny.  And rarely was there a father figure rescuing the smart, sassy girl.)

If you think clearly about what has happened in the recent months in the USA: you have a white male who feels down on his luck, rallying crowds by telling them he will lock up the villains who look different than him.  He’ll throw them out, or build a wall.  He’ll not allow the brown, different religions in.  When someone disagreed with him at one of his rallies, he watched gleefully as they were beaten up.  His singular journey as the hero of his story is what he sells to other white males: we have been down trodden, and we will be great again.  The movie last night had Kim Basinger thwarted in her attempt to win, the incumbent governor brought down by her own corruption.

Soldiers are suffering from PTSD, working in the Pentagon because they are droning ‘the enemy’ in places like Afghanistan – those inverted commas because they are often killing civilians, often women and children.  Those soldiers are judge, jury, executor – and historian.  The people they kill do not give eyewitness accounts.  Similarly, in other war zones, it is becoming clearer that international humanitarian rules of war are becoming murkier.

A movie like last nights can’t possibly have an affect can it?  And yet, there are shootings all the time in the states.  A man takes his gun out of his checked bag at Fort Lauderdale and shoots five people, wounding eight more.  The terrorism attacks across Europe by young men who often grow up in the west, cannot only be down to a misplaced idealism and religiosity that has nothing to do with Islam?  If you see it in what you watch and what you play onscreen, surely it must be easier to carry out?

And this brings me to this question:  what is art for?  A stupid movie like ‘Nice Guys’ is art, I’m afraid – it is someone’s interpretation of a story, and of deeper truths of the human condition.  What I saw was a movie about psychopaths. A small step toward making the unacceptable acceptable.  It is strange, and wild to imagine that we have come to this point in our human existence – that killing and hurting is watchable, funny entertainment.  We’re an intelligent, liberal family, and we guffawed.  I mean, we laughed so hard we were finding it difficult to draw breath at times.  The bitterest pill can be swallowed with sugar: the moral is, be careful about what pill you swallow.  Be careful it isn’t poison.

 

On madness

On the common this morning, 7.50am, I heard a woman’s voice shout:

‘I DON’T CARE ABOUT UKIP OR DONALD TRUMP! I want to live my life with kindness and integrity! Now stop!’

And I realised it was me.  Shouting at my husband.  Because once the debate starts, you feel the squashed down frustration rise within you, and when its raining, and you passed up a half hour of peaceful meditation at home in the warm in order to be with the person you love and spend some quality time with them walking across the dank, fog laden pasture, only for them to start fulminating about the world’s crises, and you have brain freeze: of course, you’re going to shout.  Like a child. Like a pushed-up-against-the-wall arsehole.

After I shouted, the wind took my words, as wind often does, and sprinkled them around me as I walked, so that they kept coming back and smashing me in the face with the  ice rain.  I try not to shout often.  I laugh, I sing, I tell loud stories.  But shouting and anger are things I avoid.  Shouting is an ineffective method of communicating one’s feelings.  And it is destructive.  When I think of it, when I really look at myself doing it, it is simply a construct of fear, and of unhappiness.  It is not my real person.  It is the person who feels under attack, and must attack back.  The animal self.  And this is a sort of madness.  We are all going mad, I think, because we are all under attack.

This year has been a perfect storm of outcomes.  A lot of our heroes died: that feels like an attack on our emotions that goes deeper than a bereavement for a relative.  If you think of Bowie dying, you think of parts of your memory stream dying with him: the feelings he gave you are personal highs to do with identity and love.  I heard the John Lennon Christmas song in a shop the other day and teared up – I still miss John, and love him with a tender place in my heart.  Famous people dying is always hard because we want ownership of the tragedy.  But its everyone’s, and no ones – you don’t want to seem gauche and over the top, so you are quiet, sad, you say goodbye to something of yourself, and you shoulder the bag of responsibility and being grown up, and move on.

We had a referendum, and the US had an election.  Both of these were funnelled through to us by a media stream more and more marginalised by factions on both sides of the arguments: and the politicians, being the sort of people who would want to become leaders, used this to their advantage.  They manipulated and lied and strutted about like fighting cockerels, and we were asked to choose, based on – not the facts, God forbid – but on personalities and the best lies that were told.  We were the audience in a talent show where the talent was for mendacity.  And the end result?  People die.  Across the world, but also in our back yard.  Everything in the world is reverberating out in concentric circles around a crater-like epicentre: Aleppo.  And another: Yemen.  There are others, and others.  And even here, in Great Britain, we have a small crater: Birstall, West Yorkshire, where Jo Cox MP was killed.

The politicians and the media told us that there was no one representing the poor.  And the poor and the middle incomes and the far right all rose up and voted for revenge, against an imagined status quo that was damaging them: the immigrants, the weird bogeymen who will take their livelihoods.  And who did they vote in? Millionaires, over here.  Billionaires in the US.  Because of course, they will understand what it is to live out of a food bank. There is no one representing anyone, I think.  We are all still reeling in shock, and going mad with anxiety and grief and sadness for our countries and our world.  But, if you follow through my journey this morning to its end: there is hope.  I continued to walk through the rain, husband and dogs by my side, and the rain beat down and gave us both brain freeze.  We came home, boiled the kettle and drank tea.  We were silent and forgiving of each other.  It is what our world needs.  We need to give ourselves silence.  We need to drink tea and forgive.

Full disclosure: I work for a charity once a week, and sit on its committee.  I give three hours a week to listen to people who are suffering. I do this because – it is the least I can do.  I went towards it a year and a half ago because I was sick of sitting in my warm house and not doing anything.  I was sick of myself and my inertia and my despair at the world.  Putting the world to rights should not be something we do at home, while drinking tea in our warm houses.  It can be done by engaging with the community – by being in the world.  It is the best part of my week.  It is the best thing I do in my life. My fellow volunteers are the dearest people, friends I value highly.  It is how I counter my own madness and the madness that attacks me in the world.

I have gotten rid of my iphone this week and gone back to a phone that takes calls and texts only.  I limit my news to glancing at the headlines on the BBC website in the morning, reading an independent newspaper which states its need to be as non partisan as possible only occasionally, and every few days, to honour the people who are dying in the world, I will catch the night news.  I won’t listen to the politicians who have lied to us, and I won’t engage in arguments…in theory.  I see this as a way to stop the attacks.  Because, look, our lives are precious.  If we concentrate on being kind to one another, and if we strive to create beauty in everything, laughter in everyone we meet, peace in our homes: perhaps we can counter the madness.