The great tattoo mystery.

June 17, 2017

Tomorrow is dead dad day, or Father’s Day as it is more commonly known. There are some fucking useless fathers out there, people who provide shit role models, if they are present at all, my dad wouldn’t  be one of them. I find Fathers Day  upsetting for his absense even after twenty years and for the way it rubs salt into the wounds of not being a dad myself, particularly as there are so many wankers who have managed it… I’m sure there is a joke in there somewhere. 

After all this time I still want to ask him things, like what were those awful blue black smudges on his arms. My dad signed up for the navy during the Second World War, a daft kid of eighteen, younger than his grandson is now, the one he missed by just over a year. He saw so many horrific things, swept lumps of his friends off the deck of ship, saw soldiers drown because officers couldn’t read marine depth charts properly on d day by which point he was around twenty three. He got some awful tattoos done in Ceylon and made them even worse by trying to get rid of them with a Brillo pad when he got home and my mum chucked him because of them. All I ever saw was the blue black blurs, the stubborn ghosts that survived their attempted excorcism. I never found out what they were and it still bugs me now. I’m not a big fan of tattoos personally , they work splendidly on some people, but on others they just look shit. It’s all about reasoning and thought and planning and some people know what they are doing of and others haven’t a clue. Like any form of communication, some people have more to say and better to say than others, some should just shut the fuck up.

I never got to really make my peace with my father, the strokes and brain damage changed him greatly from the man he originally was. I never got to that point where we could see eye to eye and we never really understood each other’s reason for how we lived our lives.

I can see similarities now, sadly congenital heart problems being one of them, but also both getting on better with women than men and being soft touches when it comes to anyone in trouble. Neither of us could stand dishonesty, corruption or injustice either and God help anyone he saw knocking a child or a woman about…. He could be a scary guy when he needed to be. 

I wish there were more people like him about now, more like that and less vain, showy off arseholes. Sadly, many parents now are bigger kids than the children they dragged up, trying to remain hollow version of teenagers way beyond it being appropriate or even funny. Here’s to the few ones left that aren’t! 

The moving on conundrum.

June 10, 2017

I hate that phrase ‘moving on’. There is an assumption of a forward direction being taken, where the reality is that you can just as easily be going backwards or simply standing still and stagnating. Moving on suggests progress to a better state of being. In reality ‘moving on’ rarely is to something better, just something different. Moving on from a cliff onto the rocks below isn’t progress, moving on from adulthood to old age and then death isn’t progress, moving on from a sense of happiness to one of sadness certainly isn’t. And yet, here I am… moving on… It’s certainly wasn’t through choice and I put everything I could into not moving on…. But here I am… What has put me off more than anything else is the thought of the other party moving on and just how far they have moved on already I shudder to think as I have a self imposed blackout on what they get up to, mostly because all it seems so bloody dismal and depressing to me. What I have been avoiding though is the idea that if I acknowledge that I have moved on, I will need to face the sad fact that they have too. The reality is even sadder than that though, they had mentally moved on when we were still together but didn’t have the guts to tell me. I think the hardest thing I have had to do was to separate my own self worth from someone else’s action. When all you can see is string pastimes chosen above you that could have been devised by one of lucifers minions as an especially cruel torture for really nasty sinners, and people that Roald Dahl would throw into the waste paper basket as characters too vile to be believable, it’s hard to comprehend what kind of dispicable creature you must be to make your way down to the bottom of the pile with that sort of competition But however hard it is for me to wrap my head around, that lowest of the low, bottom of the caste system is what I became to another human being and that really isn’t a good place to be.

It not easy realising you mean less that zero to someone you care for  but I have to remember that other people’s choices have no bearing on who I am as a person and that all we ever really are is responsible for ourselves and our own happiness. The truth is, everything I have ever achieved, I have achieved on my own and that having to portion off parts of my life to others has only ever slowed me down or ground my progress to a complete halt, I have never felt like someone has had my back and of late they were probably as likely to be sticking a knife in it. That said, a life for creative success alone is a bit of a poor do and is certainly no way to live a life. That, I guess, brings me back to the moving on business again, and here is where I am in danger of sounding really arrogant if I phrase it wrong but, being as idiosyncratic as I am, the chances of finding someone suitable drop massively compared to someone living a run of the mill life and it really doesn’t help that I don’t trawl around the pubs and clubs, or that I am not a joiner of things to meet people , be they evening classes, groups nor dating sites. It took many, many years to find what I thought to be that special person and many more before that to make sure that I was mentally and emotionally well enough to be in a relationship as I felt it would be irresponsible to be anything less. Like most clever dicks who think they have got every angle covered, I discovered that I hadn’t because while I was worrying about my own mental wellness, I failed to take into account that of everybody else. Whoops! 

Whilst only hiding under the duvet every third day might not seem much progress to everyone, to me it is a godsend. It is allowing me to slowly get my mojo back and throw my paint on canvas rather than words on the digital page. I am my own worst critic and given the chance I will put the boot in on myself at every opportunity. Every so often though I catch myself and have the strength to point out that I devised a way  of turning the drawings of people with learning disabilities into marketable soft toys that can be ethically manufactured just a couple of months back and produced reams of artwork and am working on another show, I achieved more tangible good in six month than some do in a lifetime. If that sounds arrogant then fear not, because in a couple of minutes I will have forgot all that again and be back to kicking myself up the arse. The point is though, that I always manage to acheive, despite the self loathing, despite the illness and exhaustion, I always seem to pull a rabbit out of the hat from somewhere, and sometimes the very things that slow me down become the emotional rocket fuel to power the next thing I do. Is this me moving on? Or is this just me being me? I guess it’s all just a question of me making a choice where there frankly isn’t one. It this the future for myself I chose? No! Is this the future for myself I wanted? No! Can I take this future and make it my own? Probably. I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see.

One way conversations in my head.

June 8, 2017

For a while now, I’ve been exhausted in my head before I even managed to roll out of bed most days. I keep having imaginary conversations or more accurately imaginary arguments in my head. Am I the only person who does this? I know I’m not the most stable person, I will happily admit, but I’m not sure just how far on the weird spectrum this goes. It’s not like the devil is telling me to do something or that I think I am being bombarded by a thought control machine and am in desperate need of a tin foil hat. This is more like the version of my father that I carry around with me, the odd little comment or look I can remember, usually when I’m getting a bit big for my boots and I catch myself spouting some ludicrous explanation for whatever I happen to be doing at the time. The really weird thing is that this person is still alive.

One of my siblings has said precisely one wise thing in their life and it was this. “when someone you love dies, they have no choice, when someone you love leaves you they do.” Being abandoned by a loved one is the dog shit cupcake of berievment with and added rabbit poo cherry on top, and when you are left for things that seem utterly insane and self destructive to you it is the same but with added diarrhoea icing for good measure.

So there is this voice that pipes up in my head and as I am cursed with a ridiculously good memory and a really good imagination it is really no fun at all. I can be cheerfully minding my own business and off it goes and there I am trying to get answers to things I will never get a straight answer to, particularly when it is me basically talking to myself. It’s like Frost / Nixon, Paxman / Howard, Blair and, well, everyone. Squirming and sliding and half truths and misdirection… Exactly like in real life basically, except without the nice moments to break it up.

There are distraction techniques that are useful, the new Zelda game has been a godsend as is the act of painting, reading is a total pain though as all that passive intake of words just allows things to creep in… There are far more ruthless techniques to forcibly eject some from your psyche but that would just seem cruel, swapping out someone’s image for something grotesque or giving them the voice of something unpleasant in your head.  It seems so cruel though, and I don’t do cruel, I leave that up to…. Other people…

Well hopefully, in time, this will fade and it will be as easy to ignore as the tinnitus in my right ear, but until then I’ll have to put up with my brain lodger and try not to start another argument.

Time, no refunds.

May 21, 2017

It’s funny how things catch you sometimes. This little meme popped up on my Facebook feed today and it was so utterly perfect, so very true. You can never get that year, that month, that hour, that minute, that second back. Whoosh! There goes another bit of time, gone! Byeeee!  Many years ago now, I worked for the civil service, we worked on flexi time, writing in the times we came and went, seven hours twelve minutes a day, thirty six hours a week for eight years, give or take holiday. I have the time sheets tucked away somewhere, I figured they would make and interesting bit of art. I think about that time and where the money went, stuff, clothes, records, books, booze, travel, cigarettes, concert tickets.I guess it probably got me laid occasionally and kept me in food. That’s it really, I can’t account for much of that time. You do that when you work in a ‘proper job’ you try and make that time spent mean more by using that money well, but the gigs of which there were many, are just fuzzy memories, the stuff, obsolete, the records are much part of a past that I don’t need to cling to live in ghost form as MP3 files, barely, if ever, played. The books I have, the books I love but how many can I reread in a lifetime whist I keep devouring new ones? 

Right now, I have little money but I use it well, money is working energy, money is materials, money is body fuel, money is research and information. Time though…. Ah time! Time is much more precious than gold and diamonds, time is life, and you can never get it back when it has gone. I’m fortunate now as I can so readily account for much of my time, this bit of meandering here for example. I only ever write it for me, if someone reads it, fine, if they don’t, fine too, I know how I felt today, which is very useful. Mostly it’s accountable now through art though, I can track where I was in my head and the world by paintings, drawings, sketchbook and all that. 

I guess since my brush with the grim reaper last year I have become even more acutely aware of time misused. That said, merely sitting feeling the sun on your skin or watching the light glittering on the sea is time well spent, time with good friends and lovely family members is too. Time spent with arseholes though or, even worse, time spent doing things for arseholes… That is the worst thing in the world, you are effectively murdering time there and murdering yourself a little bit too.

Anyway, enough of this. Things to do and people…. Well, people to avoid. 

Time to get a wiggle on.

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. 


February 2, 2017

I was asked for a definition of poverty recently…. It’s a hard one.

All poverty is relative. One definition is being beyond a certain percentage out from the rest of your peer group, another being where you fall on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs spectrum. A pyramid diagram where on the bottom level lies, food, clean water, warmth and shelter and, as it narrows, things like education, comfort and self fulfilment become available but the relative availablity is shown through the narrowness up to a tiny point where so few people get their hearts desire. On the other end is the term “fuck off money” the ability to tell anyone you don’t like to “fuck off” with no consequences to your  wellbeing or standard of living. I know a few of these, they buy my art occasionally, they have a fascinating outlook on life. Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buffer you from an awful lot of woes. It also buys you time… Time is the most precious gift any of us will ever have, well, along with health and, no, we can’t buy that either, but we can safeguard it. A friend of mine is alive today because his parents could afford to go private and jump a queue, he has two children who would not have been born. I’m way beyond a socialist and have sacrificed a lot for my principles over the years but I would go private like a shot if I had to and the money was there, which it isn’t. That said, the nhs saved my life and I thank its wonderful  staff every day of my life.

My own experience of poverty is this…

I was born to elderly parent in 1970s in North London. Dad owned a small central heating business, mum was a secretary. They both worked and I was brought up by my nan mostly. They had a bit of money left after the mortgage and had a few luxuries, in truth too many. For some people, poverty is never that far away, it lurks like a monster in the shadows, one illness, one accident, a simple change of fate and there it is. Like many of the working class, my dad the guy in the pit village who left for the navy in the Second World War and never went back and my mum and her parents not able to comprehend the importance of an offer to attend one of the best schools in England and not going, my parents weren’t brought up to handle money carefully or understand the dangers of having credit. When they had money, they spent it, when they didn’t, they spent it still. And then came Thatcher. My dad’s business went down the toilet and, in a fit of desperation, he hit upon the idea of selling a three bedroom house in London in 1978 to buy a place in Yorkshire. My mum was so out of it on Valium that she put up little fight. I remember the screaming and the arguments though. Both then and for years later when the bills and the bailiffs arrived. There was no work for either of them up north, my dad leaving for the evil south and bringing one back to the heartland. People were backwards then, they still can be now sadly, but about different things. No work, predudice, freezing in the winters, hiding from people chasing debts. No phones, no going anywhere, wrong school uniforms, decaying shoes and the bulling that went with. There are things that stay with you forever, the look on my mum’s face when she had to sell her engagement ring and her dead mother’s wedding ring for next to nothing will haunt me to the day I die. 

They refused to go under though and one, then both, went to seek work in London leaving me in the care of my sister with mild learning disabilities. Mealtimes were interesting and school was infrequent as the ease with which I could pull the wool over my sister’s eyes was spectacular. When I broke my arm on my bike I never went back for a year. I didn’t miss much mind, the school was fodder for the mines and the army if you were a boy and retail or pregnancy if you were a girl. In a way that year of saved me, I sat there in front of the television and there was nothing to watch but schools tv and the open university. I still can’t do long division but I know an awful lot about the strangest of things.

The quality of the local hospital and my almost feral behaviour led my parents to drag me back south where they could keep an eye on me. I slept in a camp bed at my nan’s at first and was put in the remedial class at school, I was smarter than that but had little motivation. My horizons and expectation in life were limited and once in that class, the second you showed any drive, intelligence or ambition, the other kids beat it out of you. These were third generation unteachable children mostly, dads in prison, mum’s on the game, doomed from day one. It put the wind up me and I wanted to get out, even if it was just so I didn’t get punched in the face every day. It wasn’t long before we were homeless, the house worth a pittance in Yorkshire wouldn’t sell and remained dormant while my brother (see numerous daily mail articles) sold my nan’s house, which was in his name, just to spite my parents. My Nan was granted a one bedroom maisonette by the council and in we all moved. My nan, who instantly went from forgetful to senile slept in the double bed with my sister, my mum on a camp bed in the same room and my dad and I took turns of the sofa and camp bed in the living room area. There was both black and green mould up the walls, the flat was infested with silverfish and woodlice. The toilets in the flats above would overflow as would the river nearby. Everything I owned was constantly damp and smelt bad. We were ill permanently and the lack of personal space affected everyone. My grandma took to shitting in the bath and to absconding in the middle of the night to either Walthamstow or Peckham where she lived as a child to be brought back bewildered by the police. Then, irony of ironies my nan died just a month before a family member was legally entitled to continue the tenancy and eviction proceedings began. I remember we were interviewed for the today show on radio 4 as Norman Tebbit had come out with his “get on your bike” speech and the housing charity shelter thought being on that might help our case, it didn’t. 

After much fighting, eviction day came and we found refuge in a very strange place, a tiny bungalow that was in the middle of a garage forecourt. The rent was cheap, but there were catches, lots of them. What little electricity there was, was put in in the nineteen thirties. Bakerlite  switches would buzz and arc in disconcerting ways and the rubber cascaded from the fittings like toxic dandruff. I had no electricity in my room, but I had a room!! My parents had a pull out sofa bed and my sister a grotty room with electric but no daylight. The worst thing was the lack of privacy though. The mechanics kept their parts in a room off the kitchen and their mot book and security embosser in a secret safe in the front room. They were in and out constantly and there was never an evening or weekend went by without some idiot ringing the bell at all hours to drop off car keys or pick some up. 

It was about then that my dad had his first heart attack and my sister started to get strange headaches. Heart attacks begat strokes, begat heart attacks and my dad became more disabled and brain damaged, my sister was going through the long and painfull process of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I spent a lot of my free time caring for both of them, nursing my sister and escorting her to Barts and Moorfields hospitals and changing my dad’s pissy trousers and washing stuff there wasn’t much time left but I managed to do art foundation course. Walking half the way sometimes and skipping lunch to pay for paint and pencils. Doing  a degree was out of reach though. My family situation caused me to fall inbetween the cracks in the local council’s system and I was prevented from doing further edjucation until I was 25. So I plugged on, working, caring, doing evening classes. My mum was pensioned off and left me caring for my sister but, whilst absolving herself of the rent and bills, still spent nearly as much time in the crazy bungalow. At twenty five I went to university and at twenty five my dad died, leaving me with two traumatised people to deal with. The student loans came in and the grants disappeared and I paid my way by getting up at four am and  doing the books for a building company before heading for campus. I got my degree through, and was immediately headhunted by a prestigious Japanese designer. It was impossible to survive on the starting wage though. Poor people are locked out of progressing in the creative and media industries by all the unpaid foot in the door jobs, without independent support. I had friends at the time from similar backgrounds who only survived by becoming drug dealers just to keep going on their chosen career path.

Lacking the mindset to become Pablo Escobar, I went back to my old job and promptly went mad. The squalor of my home and the lack of official tenancy documents meant no paper trail. No paper trail, no housing benefit and once I had racked up every debt I could and sold everything I owned, I spent a couple of years off the grid, sofa surfing from relation to relation, friend to friend, I never did the rough sleeping thing, but wasn’t far off. I spent a decade in the white elephant house in Yorkshire on sickness benefit, barely leaving the it, severe depression, severe anxiety, almost a shut in. I never stopped learning though, never stopped making things. Taking every small opportunity back to something like a life. Eventually I got one…. Just in time for the Tories to get in. It was simple, I couldn’t hold down a real job, still can’t. Now I get by on things I make at home in the peace and quite and then the occasional phenomenally well paid thing that leaves me wiped out for the next few days. Then though, it was a case of turning up at a medical every three years by which point I was a gibbering wreck and then they would  promptly wheel me home again.

Then came Atos and the work capability assement, a benign scheme created by new labour that was turned to a witch hunt by the Tories. The first one I promptly failed, I found out three days before Christmas, followed by a year of appeals, meetings, sick notes, scraping  by on emergency money, psychiatric assements, culminating in a tribunal which left me mind fucked and in tears. They found in my favour and I had a year of relative peace…. And then it all started again. Next time I went mobbed up, a massive paper trail, a social worker, a legally trained advocate and I passed. It wasn’t the end of it though, in a new dodge I was put in the active work related activity group, where you are forced to jump through hoops and be patronised and demeaned at ever turn. There was another option though, and that was to become self employed.

The last few years have been exhausting, whilst I have had cash flow, made sales aplenty and done some pretty amazing things, knocking up sales on every continent bar the frozen ones, it goes straight out again. Materials, fees, printing, it all adds up. Going without food and warmth to pay for £250 a metre bear fabric, being awash with debt whilst investing in the next project. This could all blow up in my face any second though and I will end up back where I started or worse. Poverty is hiding in my shadow, poverty is breathing it’s foul stench over my shoulder, only the beta blockers and the ssri’s keep it from swallowing me whole.

For nearly forty years now poverty has been in my life and that of my family. One thing after another, affecting health, affecting sanity, everything having a knock on effect, setting off the next one, you never catch up and with every struggle you sink further and further into the quicksand. Living in poverty is living in fear, I have all the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, you get that from spending time in combat situations normally. 

The worst thing about being poor is other people though. You buy one nice thing and it’s pure hatred, as if that new t shirt would have cleared all your debts and left a bit more to invest in a pension. Then there is socialising, standing at a bar buying drinks for people you don’t like that would have fed you for a fortnight. Even joining things, there are never the right clothes or you are expected to chip in for such and such’s wedding gift, or God forbid! they ask you round for a dinner party, a day’s food on wine, another on afters and then you have to do a return one. Poverty ghettoises you so you can only hang out with the equally poor who would never do something as cruel as to invite you to something and so there you stay, stuck on the same level, never making contacts or getting opportunities.

Worst of all though are the do gooders. Well meaning people who unwittingly rob you of the last of your dignity, without even knowing it. Trying to empathise but never truly knowing what it is like to live without hope or to realise what it is to know that you are so far behind in the race of life. When you are that in need of help it is so demeaning, you have nothing left, not even a sense of self worth. Plus you can feel the warm glow that you are giving them in return for doing their good deed, the trade off is never fair. 

The way a lot of people cope is to just give up, just sink into the mud and stay there like a good little peasant. Sink into the oblivion of drink and drugs, throw what little money they have at a betting shop or on scratch cards. I wish I could do that, I wish I could just give up, but a little voice in the back of my head keeps pushing me forward, inch by slow inch and it reminds me that this is my one life and I better make the most of it.

Hope is a dangerous thing to have if you are poor, it takes you forward but it also torments you at every chance. According to Dante, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” is written across the gates of hell.”  Those words are not a warning, they are a piece of kind advice.

Vita Brevit, Ars Longa

January 28, 2017

I had a very strange reaction to the news of the death of actor John hurt this morning.  I couldn’t wrap my head around it. In so many of his most memorable roles he seemed to always be dying, from the chest bursting scene in Alien, being tortured as Winston Smith in 1984, his brave struggle against cancer in Champion to the mercurials agent provocateur in Carl Sagan’s Contact surving beyond normal means due to the influence of unimaginable wealth, John has always been dying. I haven’t been far from death of late, from my saxophonist friend to my own brush with the grim reaper a year ago now, mortality has been a constant shadow. 

The coming to terms with the fragility of my body has become a key factor of late, having as I do enough trouble dealing with the fragility of my mind. I get spots in front of my eyes every time I sneeze or cough and I have to run a risk assessment in my head for every item I pick up before I do it. Things came to a head last week when after six weeks of struggling when I had to admit that, at 1.5 kilos in weight, just holding up the recent Alan Moore novel was beyond my capacity, leading me to re-buy it for my kindle. 

One of my favourite t shirts features a momento mori consisting of signifiers of art, creativity and learning. It’s hard to find one in t shirt form that doesn’t look like something you would pick up at a heavy metal concert. Having a bloody great skull in the middle of a design tends to do that. The Latin means simply Life is short, Death is long. A reminder that we only have one life and that we better make the most of it, not that I really need one judging from the above. In fact, I can hear the ticking of the doomsday clock so loudly that I find it hard to waste I second of my time if I don’t have to. I suppose everyone has a different notion of what time well spent is though. Sitting on my arse, staring at the sea, or just feeling the warmth on my skin on a sunny day is time well spent, as much as making some art, reading a book or making something lovely, sitting in an office isn’t, or a meeting or indeed being around anyone you simply don’t want to.

I have an almost allergic reaction to being around people I don’t want to be around, I don’t suffer fools gladly. I can’t bear users, or people who kick off if you don’t go to their thing. People who constantly talk and talk over people, people who only like you if you meet their definition of cool, people who only like you if you are of use to them, bullies, boasters, controlling people, the cruel and the cliquey and unkind. Every single second I have spent in the company of people like that is a second I shall never get back, a second too long. I spent too long with low self esteem, I struggle with it still. when I was younger, being  pushed around by people like that and I simply won’t engage anymore, it’s probably not the best way to cope with people like that, but there are worse.

Here is where the real problem kicks in though… I spend an awful lot of time crawling back into bed and trying to go back to sleep. Suffering from depression is a horrible waste of time, it eats away at you, making you seize up, or crawl along at a snail’s pace before you just simply cannot cope with being conscious any longer. How do you marry a condition that eats away at your time and energy with a desperate need to wring out every drop of life and from what’s left from your time on this planet? It’s deeply frustrating, the only upside of it being the sense of purpose and urgency I get when I feel well. I feel like that today and will crawl under the covers soon, hoping I will crawl out later and some internal brain mechanism will have rebooted again, well, for a while anyway.

So on I walk, limp, hobble and crawl, to my inevitable end, hopefully by the most scenic and purposeful route I can imagine. 

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