Three little pigs

June 6, 2017

The view from my window some days is like a hide on an anthropological study. Right now I’m watching one of my neighbours trying to nail some wooden pallets together to repair a fence. The rain is falling by the bucket load and it’s blowing a gale, the same gale that brought the ‘fence’ down in the first place and there they go, tap tap tap tap. That’s the first mistake, you find a bigger hammer and hit it hard, so it goes straight in rather than making the hole too wide to hold the nail. It doesn’t matter though, there is no bracing, no fence posts pushed deep into the ground, if it lasts the day I will be suprised. As I watch this tragic comedy unfold, a thought occurs to me, “Have they read the tale of the three little pigs?”

I think this a lot sadly. All those stories we were told as children, they mostly came into being as ways to stop people getting killed or to try and surreptitiously give people a bit of wisdom without giving them a boring lecture. Like little red riding hood and the simple notion that just because someone has a nice big smile, it doesn’t mean that they are nice people. 

All these little tales, they give us the basic instructions for living and getting along in this world. Simple things, like giving people the benefit of the doubt, but not too much, think before you act, make plans, liars’ lies eventually catch up with them, learn from your mistakes. 

The last one I see ignored time and time again, I watch everyday as the same dumb people do the same dumb things over and over again. When my closest friends tell me of disasters that have befallen them, they are now so bizarre that you wouldn’t believe them if I told you, which I won’t. That is the point though, whilst we are dealing with the more and more bizarre stuff, there are others we know dealing with the shit we learnt to avoid in our twenties. The basic stuff like, if you don’t teach children the difference between right and wrong they will be bad people,  drugs mess your life up, choose your friends well, problems ignored blow up in your face when it’s too late to fix them. Frankly, I’m amazed by the constant ability of people my age (46) or older to keep screwing up on the basics.

One of the problems is that, past a certain age, you can’t tell anyone anything and if you try you are hit with a barrage of accusations of being negative. There is a whole history of other people’s wisdom out there and other people’s mistakes to learn from and if you don’t… Well…

It seems to be the buzzword of the times, “ooh! That is soooooo negative!” Whenever anyone comments on the insane things that other people do, as if everyone has the right to constantly act in a stupid and selfish manner. So what is so positive about people getting hurt and things falling apart? What’s so positive about wasting years getting to the realisations that others came up with maybe a thousand of years ago? As a culture we used to value wisdom, now we just celebrate naivety.  

At this point I am temped to make a comparison with the way culture seems to be shifting and the Eloy in H.G Wells’ The Time Machine. I’m tempted, but I won’t, mainly because the numbers of people who have actually read it are dwindling. I see so many people busying themselves in inane chatter and stupid projects and endlessly referring to ‘the community ‘… Well, there is a bigger one out there, it’s called ‘the written word’.

The late great Anthony H Wilson, loved and loathed in equal measure but famous for making things actually happen, had a typically condescending phrase which I have been tempted to start using. When explaining something, he would often use a classical reference, such as the myth of Icarus to explain the danger of excess pride. When people stared at him blankly, not knowing what he was referring to, he would turn round and say, “you don’t know that? That’s fine, but you should probably read more.”

And so should all of us.

Put a fish in your ear.

May 24, 2017

The curse of being ahead of your time is that you can end up not being around to say “I told you so.” It’s towel day and the geekier amongst us remember the impact that Douglas Adams had on the world. As I look about me, from the screen I am tapping my fingers on right now that has access to the entire world to the blithering idiot in the white house and I think the same thing, over and over again. How can the world make any sense to anyone who had not read any Douglas Adams? It’s not as if they are very long books, and they aren’t exactly hard to wade through but without them, the world makes no sense at all. When he created the ideas of the electronic book with the entire universe at your fingertips, the rest of the planet were chuckling at being able to type 80085 on their pocket calculator and it reading as boobs. When people read about the soul purpose of the role of president being to distract from where the power really lay and that an idiotic, sexist, egomaniac like Zaphod Beeblebrox being the perfect choice, Donald Trump and George Dubya weren’t heard of. From environmental catastrophes, politics, economics to technology, Douglas had it sussed.

Like Swift before him and Pratchett after, Adams was a keen observer of human nature, documenting it’s endless optimism and absurdity.

Every day I still think about the B ark, the giant spaceship that sent The Useless Third of a planets population out into space, only to populated what would become the planet earth. When I look about at all the people doing the most utterly pointless things and taking themselves so seriously in the process, I can’t help but smile at the stupidity of it all. 

Probably the most fascinating character to me appears in one of the later books, she is a wise old woman living in a dark, dank, cave that reeks of bat shit on the planet of philosophers. She hobbles around, prematurely aged and half mad, muttering to herself before producing a collection of photocopied pages to hand to the protagonist. What she gives him is a detailed list of every decision in her life that led to her sad ending in a cold, damp, smelly hole in the ground so that he would not make the same bad decisions that she did.  The sad truth is that, sometimes, a person’s sole purpose in life is to be a reminder to others on how not to screw things up, the trick is not to be that person.

Although I am quite sure he expected to have many more than the precious few 49 years he understood how fragile and precious that time was and used it well, leaving a too small but extremely dense legacy for the rest of the world.

If you have not read A hitch-hikers guide to the Galaxy, please do, the world makes absolutely no sense without it.

Oh to be a real boy / girl

May 15, 2017

Over the years I have learned to adore the greats of literature. No, not all that bronte shit and dickens waffle, although Shakespear was indeed as wise as yoda. No, what I mean are the books and stories of right and wrong, good and evil and little coded (and not so coded) tales of wisdom that are our stories from childhood. It’s interesting how many stories from different cultures have similar root messages, but then they often are created to impart a basic, common sense, message, a universal truth. Think before you act, don’t tell lies, don’t be unkind, listen to the wisdom of people who have been where you are before you, choose your friends wisely, actions have consequences… All those useful tips for later in life so you don’t end up up shit creek without a paddle.

The one that comes to mind most often is Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, mainly as I seem to have taken on the role of Jiminy Cricket over the last few years, the insect given life by the Blue Fairy to act as a de facto conscience and guide to the puppet that has been embued with life.  It gets rather tedious though, being the only sane (and this is me talking so it’s a fair assumption that whatever  I’m questioning is way beyond nuts) person around. It gets to a point though where there are so many appalling or ridiculous things going on that you end up seeming insane yourself by being the odd one out. 

What people remember most about Pinocchio is the telling lies / nose growing business, but it’s more complicated than that. Pinocchio comes a cropper when he falls into bad company and also when he starts to think he knows better than everyone else. He is never a bad person though and like many of us he gets into trouble for a combination of poor decision making and pride. It’s interesting to note that in the original version of the story, Jiminy Cricket’s appearance is incredibly brief as he is despatched from existence by an angrily thrown shoe. Pinocchio, like many of us reacts badly to being told he is screwing up. Sadly, my own experiences have been pretty similar. It’s getting boring now, so many people seem to be acting like complete idiots right now and so many are disappearing up their own arseholes, I do wish it would stop. 

Sarah ?

February 20, 2017

Sometimes when you find out the truth it can be such a disappointment can’t it?

When you find out what is behind the lies you struggle to find something, anything, to understand why. When you realise that the truth is that there is just another sad, damaged, person in the world you just have to deal with it. It’s not like you haven’t before.

When I first read ‘Sarah’ by J.T LeRoy I, like everyone else at the time, took it at face value, a harrowing story of how someone had got away from a life of abuse and made a new and better future for themselves. Coming from my own, slightly less, messed up world it was always good to read about the ones who got away, not being dragged back into the same seething mess of humanity. Back in the dial up internet days of the 90’s, information was so sketchy and when, after two books, LeRoy disappeared it was just another mystery that couldn’t be solved.

That was until last week… The truth can be so dismal can’t it? Tucked away on the BBC iplayer is the answer to the great nineties literary mystery and truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Turns out that Sarah wasn’t written by a cross dressing gay guy with hiv but a rather disturbed middle aged woman by the name of Laura Albert. Laura ended up pretending to be her own manager at public appearances, putting on the most appalling of Dick Van Dyke British accents that I’m amazed no one saw through. People want to believe though, we like a good heartwarming story do us humans and this was no different. Laura inlisted the help of her sister in law Savannah Knoop to play JT ( Jeremiah Terminator) in public and proceeded to watch from the sidelines as He/She became drawn into a world of A list celebrity. Things got out of hand and eventually it all blew up in their faces but not before a movie was made “the heart is deceitful above all things” directed by Gus Van Saint. I got hold of a copy recently but only watched about 15 minutes before I found it too harrowing and turned it off. I couldn’t cope, I wasn’t strong enough. 

There was a lot of anger at the discovery of this literary fraud, if that’s what it was. Anger that someone pretended to be a male child prostitute and that the dead mother Sarah never even existed . Like most stories though, the truth isn’t so simple and clear cut. Laura was abused as a child, raped from an early age by a close relative and then ended up in the foster system when her mother couldn’t cope with the trauma the abuse caused. Laura started writing as therapy and started to invent new personas for herself so as to give herself a bit of respite from herself. So whilst the stories of JT LeRoy aren’t ‘the truth’ they are ‘a truth’ and I feel personally are still valid as works of literature. 

I have been privileged to, on occasion, work with adult survivors of child abuse and I admire anyone who has the courage to confront their past and deal with it in a healthy manner. My own historical woes melt into insignificance with the stories I have been told and those almost destroyed me. Sometimes the true heroes aren’t those out drawing lots of attention to themselves but those who just carry on. I can’t criticise Laura for surving, for that is what she did.

There have always been pen names in literature, often created out of a societal needs when writers of a sex, gender, race or class find it necessary to hide their identity to break through a predudice.  Why should this be any different?

So long as an assumed identity is used to help, not harm, then what is the problem?

I guess when the dust settles it will, as in most cases, be up to history to decide.

Feeling Miffed

February 17, 2017

Dick Bruna died today aged 89.

I’m trying to wrap my head around this. He died in his sleep after a very successful and full life. I guess in a way I should be concentrating on the success aspect but I’m mostly concentrating on the age, 89. A year older than my frail, leukaemia ridden mum. The one that I moan about constantly. Some things are a bit sobering.

Miffy was something I came to late, a byproduct of my fascination with hello kitty in my late teens and beyond. Like a lot of people of what was called Generation X I became fascinated with everything cute and gaudy as a rejection of that eighties design ethic. It’s hard to imagine now but Hello Kitty and other Sanrio products were expensive and as rare as rocking horse poo. Hamleys had some Hello Kitty and a few shops in Chinatown but it was all super expensive. In the post goth, pre club kids, circles I used to knock about in it was as much a status symbol as yeezys or the latest Supreme collaboration would be today. Now it’s common enough to be disposable, an important thing to remember. Miffy was easier to get and considerably  cheaper. Looking back on it now, you have to appreciate the beauty and deceptive simplicity of the lines. This was pre photoshop and illustrator you have to remember, you couldn’t just chuck a couple of extra nodes in a line and pull round a perfect curve, a human being did that and it’s a lot harder than it looks. 

There was always something comforting and solid about Miffy, like Lego was once before it started to go in for all that licensed  character stuff in the nineties. It will carry on of course, like the moomins and the mr men and it will always charm children as it always has, but for a generation of grown up knocking fifty, there will be a lot of deep sadness today. 

Alice is for Christmas, not just for life.

October 29, 2016

Let’s face it, Christmas is mad, madder than the maddest thing. Millions of people work themselves up into a frenzy doing the the strangest things, from the hunting of the turkey (or in my case the non horrible nut roast) through to the coating of everything with glitter, baubles and lights. What I have to do is even madder, utter nonsense in fact, drawing images to be used as Christmas cards during an Indian summer as the sun shines and I cover my head so it doesn’t burn. The conventions of Christmas cards, are strange. Take snow for example, when did it properly snow at Christmas? I honestly cannot remember and yes there I go drawing snowy wintery scenes that never ever happen.

When I drew my set of Alice illustrations for my Dweeblings in Wonderland show  a few years back, madness was an ever present factor in my life, I guess that is why I have always had such an affinity with the book. I tried to incorporate all the elements of madness in my drawings then, homelessness, exploitation, falling through the gaps in society. These elements are even more pronounced at this time of year and as the cold begins to bite and the disparities between rich and poor, sane and mad become more obvious. 

The real irony for me is that Christmas sends me scurrying away for cover like the cards from the queen of hearts, looking for somewhere to hide until the whole thing goes away. It’s never been a good time of year for me, new year neither and I never really recover until March. But for those who can embrace the madness and throw themselves wholeheartedly into it there is fun to be had I’m sure, if you like that sort of thing.

I think this is my third set of Alice cards now, it’s becoming my own Christmas tradition now in a strange way, a tradition of drawing things that never happen with a different twist I guess that is what Christmas really is, traditions, and mad ones at that. 

You can buy my Alice in Wonderland Christmas cards here.


October 20, 2016

At the moment I am trying to train myself out of looking at Facebook, which is awkward seeing as I have to using it to promote my artwork. The nearest I can liken it to is an eating disorder, and I completely acknowledge that compared to those it is completely trivial, you have to eat, you just can’t cut it out of your life and walk away.

I have had addiction problems in my life, I am obsessive by nature and I try my best to channel it all into art and creativity but at various points in my earlier life, before I learnt to control it, I became addicted to painkillers and to cigarettes. I quit both eventually but it wasn’t much fun. Everyone has things they do all the time, little ticks, little phrases. I say “ooh!” an awful lot for example, I was joking with a friend yesterday about how it must be like the Inuits having many words for snow. I have a myriad tones for the word “ooh!” There is Ooh! Someone nice is at the door, there is ooh I’ve just spotted some trainers or a t shirt I would like to buy, ooooh I’ve just see a gorgeous designer toy, OOOH! I’ve just had an idea, OOooOOH!!! There is a naked lady in my home. It’s so ingrained that it is part of me. Sometimes we carry on things way past when we need to, I still waft an imaginary cigarette around when I am talking and a lot of my anxiety, most people’s anxiety in fact, is carried on from things that happened  in early life that I am still trying to  protect myself from that don’t even exist any more. This is where it gets confusing, if you remove a key habit from your life, are you still you? What exactly is “you” anyway? I’ve been guilty at times of trying to point out things in people’s life that is obviously doing them harm and it never works out well, people can only ever come to conclusions for themselves. A year into three years of counselling, I worked out what was blitheringly obvious to the counsellor from day one but she could never have told me. It’s all that giving people the gift malarkey. Some people try and circumvent (god I hate this phrase) personal grow by going on some weekend, sort your life out, course, paying hundreds of pounds to magically fix your life. An old college friend of mine who had to be rescued from a cult calls these Cult Lite, they use the same programming techniques but combine them with some sort of pyramid scheme. The truth is, changing yourself in any way takes bloody hard work and time.

I have been trying to create healthy loops, ticks and habits over the years, going for a long walk every day, reading, trying to eat healthily (I’m still working on that one), creating things…. This is where it gets into eating disorder territory, writing this blog is a loop and sometimes it’s a good way of getting the thoughts out of my head that would eat me alive if left in there, sometimes it entertains or explains something but sometimes it gets me into trouble, same with the artwork, it isn’t  always that clear when I am crossing a line from useful or interesting to offensive and hurtful, it gets into so many grey areas that you can see nothing else if you are not careful. 

I’ve been doing a bit of knitting recently, I used to knit all the time and have done since a teenager. I stopped a while back because it became too trendy and I didn’t want to be associated in any way with the sort of people who had jumped on the bandwagon. It’s  nice doing it again, knowing that my hands remember everything, but once I’ve made a couple of hats for myself I shall stop again. Where as it used to be a passion, it is now just a useful skill to have. It doesn’t define me, not the way it would the quirky straight guy who would do it in his twenties which was me back then, doing a degree in constructed textiles and getting praises heaped on me and a strange admiration from women. 

There are similar questions I ask myself about the difference between being child like and being childish. I have a huge collection of toys, ones from my childhood, art toys decorated or designed by other artists from around the world, toys that are technically very small sculptures, I make teddy bears and there are plenty of mine about the house as well as examples of some of the most interesting ones I have found by other people or companies. I am fascinated by the shapes, the colours, the textures… I try and see the wonder in most things, beautiful skies, shapes in clouds and trees. I am curious to know what is behind doors, over walls, underneath stuff and I make up my own versions which are usually but not always much more interesting. Childish though is probably more about all that nasty playground stuff, gangs, who’s in, who’s out, doing things with a lack of thought that effect other people, not thinking things through, not seeing the consequences of your actions or not really caring about them, showing off… Plus I’m not intentionally trying to act like I’m young on some slightly embarrassing mid life crisis trip back into an idealised version of  my youth. I think I’m ok on all those counts so I think I am safe to keep the toy fixation loop going.

The Facebook loop though… I think over the years it is fifty fifty, I’ve got back in touch with some lovely people and it’s got my artwork to some places it wouldn’t otherwise have got  to but it’s also caused an awful lots of arguments and falling outs and I have seen things that I would rather not have. It’s damaged the distance I have tried to keep from toxic people and unintentionally  upset some nice ones, people have definitely got hurt I am sorry to say, including myself and people I love. Over the last half a year or so I have cut down what I see  of other people’s lives, particularly the one’s who’s loops, ticks and childishness are particularly  tedious and I have become incredibly selective about who sees my stuff which is no mean feat with all the privacy settings keep changing all the time. The next thing is to learn how to leave my iPad well away from the bed area so that it isn’t the first and the last thing I see each day.

In time I hope to replace my social media behavioural loop with a book again, as obsessive habits go, being a voracious reader is a good one.

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