Childlike not childish 

June 24, 2017

Well, happy birthday to me! I just came back from my birthday lunch and I’m stuffed! I actually got given a plant! I’m staring at it in mild bemusement and hoping I don’t kill the poor thing.  I took a photo of the rest of my presents earlier, all bought for me, by me and you could be forgiven for thinking that the haul of geekery was intended for someone half my age, possibly younger. I do wonder sometimes if there is a version of me in a parallel universe somewhere, one who wasn’t dragged about as an afterthought as a child who went into the family business as a plumber, all arsenal tattoos and Saturday afternoons full of beer and football. I wonder what he got for his birthday, pants and socks off the teenage children and maybe some grudging birthday sex from his wife. 

I wonder what that Chris would make of what I got myself? Probably not much. But then again, that’s exactly what I’d think of his gifts. Mind you, sex would be nice. A birthday is always nicer for having a bit of howsyerfather in it somewhere. It may not seem like it, but there is a logical explanation for everything I bought myself. T shirts are always handy and don’t need ironing, the Japanese model kits are like mindfulness colouring but much cooler and the murakami art book is excellent reference, plus it gives me something to aspire to. Although to be fair, I have no excuse for Mario Amiibo , although it has unlocked a rather snazzy new outfit for my Nintendo avatar. 

I feel that there is an important distinction between people who are childlike and people would are childish and I am always warey that when new people come into my world and see all the things with big eyes, the robots and brightly coloured stuff, that they make the distinction between the two.

Childish people are a nightmare, they are jealous, they tell lies and they do things with little concern for the consequences of their actions. They do things on the spur of the moment regardless of what will happen in the long run and they will happily tell numerous people exactly what they want to hear regardless of the damage it will cause because there is only that very moment and nothing beyond it. Childish people have a desperate need for attention and to be liked, they do anything they can to make themselves popular, all it achieves in the end is that you get liked by those you are useful to in the shallowest of terms and everyone else thinks that you are a bit of a saddo. Childish people leave a trail of chaos behind them as they try and juggle all the whims they have and all the promises that they have made. Eventually , all their nonsense catches up with them and everyone suffers. Childish people make no one happy, not even themselves.

Being childlike is totally different, you retain a sense of wonder in the world around you, be it rainbows, shapes in clouds,the way sunlight hits water or simply a cool breeze of a hot day. Childlike is endless fascination, wanting to know the reasons for things, an endless stream of whys and what ifs. Being childlike is being honest and having a defined sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is fair and unfair and the inabilty to accept any of the murky crap that comes with having to make compromises and tolerate shitty people. Childlike is a thing of the essential rightness of things whereas  childish is petty and nasty, sneaky and wrong.

So now I shall spend the rest of the anniversary of my forty seventh year on this wonderful planet watching Netflix, looking through my posh picture book and making one of my master grade gundam models while the world outside gets on with its nasty petty crap. 

Happy birthday to me! 


Identity crisis.

February 24, 2017

So what is it that makes us who we are? Well, according to my mum and her’s before that it is your choice of friends. “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are” is almost a family motto now. Other’s choose who they like by the type of music they are into, I find that a bit arbitrary personally, same with fashion and books. You might have common ground but that is about all. We are a combination of our history’s, our friends, how we chose to perceive events and indeed people. The Internet, however, is geared to define us by what we buy and by what we want to buy and so much that we regard as free, search engines, messaging platforms, social media sites, is paid for by skimming our data that is then used to sell us stuff. 

Our choices of what we desire are unique, almost as unique as a fingerprint, mine would be a very strange combination of Japanese model kits and artists, dystopian fiction, 18th century art books, utilitarian and repurposed military clothing and very specific art and craft materials. If you put my watch list on eBay in a line up, anyone who knows me could pick mine out instantly. 

Last week I used the uniqueness of someone’s wants to pin down the identity of a naughty young woman giving me grief. They slipped up rather badly by trying to attack me through a selling site, not realising that they had failed to clear all their day to day desires from their profile before giving it a spiteful and targeted name. It narrowed the list of suspects down to just one person in seconds. Fascinating really…

It’s such an odd world we live in now, so niche… It’s great for people like me who make weird idiosyncratic stuff, as I can sell the world over, but conversely, whole industries have been irrevocably altered. Music has become so intangible that a renaissance in vinyl has been kick started in order to prop it up before it collapses through file sharing, it’s so hard finding new, decent, authors amidst the sea of self published dross, everything is so commodified that the concept of subculture is as meaningful as a choice between coke or pepsi.

 I do wonder whether we are in the last generation of the tangible right now, as 3D printing becomes more affordable, how will that change our perception of stuff? While I would like to think that it’s our intelects that define us I suspect it is really stuff right now and without that, who and what are we? I guess time will tell.


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. 


Loopy

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.


Man / Child

September 17, 2016

I bloody hate name dropping so recounting this little story is going to make me cringe. A long while ago  I helped write a book about the goth band The Cure, I never had my name on the book as the obsessive nature of Cure fans at the time meant that they have an annoying habit of turning up on the doorstep of anyone even remotely connected with them and I like my privacy. It was the early 90’s and I was pretty sick of the goth lifestyle back then, I liked the sunshine too much for a start. Plus I loved bright colours, there was more to life than black, purple and the occasional polka dot pattern. 

So somewhere near the end of my goth years,for want of a better phrase, I started doing the unthinkable, I started turning up at goth gigs in bright colours. It was at one of these, back stage at a cure concert after party, that I bumped into the then ultra famous comedian Rob Newman, one of the first comedians ever to play arena gigs. What was strange was that he had started making the same sartorial choices. To the point where we had both been shopping in the same shops, most notably Daniel Poole at the end of Neal Street Soho. It was one of the first clothes shops with a resident dj and I had been drawn in by their use of Japanese anime and in particular the really edgy stuff that is now described as hentai. I was fascinated by the ultraviolet reactive inks and the use of super reflective prints and fabrics, elements which would later morph into cyberpunk. Things were still new then, the endless stream of irony, post modernism, pluralism and mass produced, commodified, watered down, crap had yet to creep into every aspect of modern culture as it has now. But then it was new and exciting and mr famous person must have thought so too. We chatted about our outfits, like a couple of spotty teenagers in the changing room at top shop, amidst a sea of black and velvet.

Things in my life started getting messy around then, the all night parties, the weekend long parties and things that helped one stay up, alert and dancing for all that time were having nasty effects on me. The false feelings caused by substances that altered seratonin levels would mean that the skeezyiest of people would get under my radar particularly if I thought they were holding. 

I haven’t got many pictures from around that time, it was before the days of digital cameras and so photos cost money and involved effort and organisation and what little of either of those commodities that were about were better spent at the next party or getting over the last one. Strangely enough this meant that in nearly every photo of me from the messiest time of mine and many of my friends lives consisted of my holding a child and being taken by a family member. It is safe to say that in every photo I look a complete mess, pale, pallid, skin in all and a haunted look in most. Other friends came a cropper too, mental health problems, neurological problems, bad decisions, bad association. The strangest thing was the chum of mine who ended up with a strange condition where everything she touched constantly felt wet, she was a mess long before this and I knew all too well that trying to get any sense out of her on a Monday or a Tuesday was never going to happen due to her constant weekend partying habits. 

There were many casualties of that time, the rave years I guess you’d call them, but I don’t think I was one of them, whatever was going on wtih me was already in the post courtesy of genetics and a messed up upbringing. 

I’ve been reminded of this all recently by a combination of things, post rave ambient band The Orb were playing on the pier tonight just up the road  and the predictable photos started popping up on my Facebook feed and by coincidence there was some acid house themed nonsense lurching about Hastings last night. 

I’ve been trying to fathom out what had been going on with the people of my age locally. It’s as if everyone has decided to have their midlife crisis all at once and in public. Time was that the occasional middle age man would scandalise the neighbourhood by leaving his wife, getting a leather jacket, a pierced ear, a motorbike and a daft teenage girlfriend, nowadays this seems mundane as the endless attempts to recreate a youth that they probably never had, because they were too busy getting on the property ladder and feathering their family nests, get more and more bizarre. 

I have been scratching my head wondering why all this nostalgia crap and attention seeking behaviour leaves me cold and I think that I have finally worked out the answer, I have been having a mid life crisis of my own for so long that I can’t tell the difference anymore. It makes sense, well sort of, as I was a carer from an early age and had experienced extreme poverty and degradation at the hands of Thatcher’s policies. I had grown up far too fast and hit my own What’s it all about? years at the same time that my peers were still in their partying phase. Through countless years of poor mental health, poverty and vulnerability I sought to find myself, create a more fullfilling life for myself and work out just who and what I am. I guess I’m still doing it, a forty six year old man with a house full of toys and a wardrobe of T-shirts, jeans and trainers. Maybe I find all the local sillyness so hard to fathom not so much because of all the embarrassing behaviour but because everyone is such a rank amateur at it. 

The truth is that I really don’t know.


The force awakens on a depressing day. 

April 18, 2016

  Like many a middle aged man (or woman for that matter) the Star Wars movies are an inextricable part of my conciousness and today I bought the latest film on DVD and am watching it for the first time. I still own my very first Star Wars figure as well as many others which sit in a glass cabinet just a few feet from me. It was bought by my father, I remember the day still, a Saturday and the day of my sister’s 21st birthday party. He took me to see “a new hope” in a cinema in Enfield, North London that has long been a supermarket. Good and bad in the Star Wars film are represented by the light and dark sides of the force and like in the films it is sometimes hard to work out which is which. Take my father for example for most of my childhood he would be the tired gentle giant who would come home late at night and would sit filthy handed in the kitchen ,Benson and Hedges in one hand, clutching a glass full of fizzy painkillers in the other. He would only come alive at weekends when he would often spoil me rotten. If he was in Star Wars he would definitely be on the light side of the force. Whereas my mother was always a scary figure, the one who said no all the time, her face going through scarlet to white with rage at the merest indiscretion on my part. She to me as a child was definitely the dark side growing up but as an adult I can see things were a lot more complex than my child’s brain could comprehend. My mother suffers from depression as did her mother and so do I. I have a vivid memory of her ruining my outing to see “the empire strikes back” at a cinema in Norwich by having one of her ‘funny turns’ in the middle of it and us having to leave. It was what I would now call a panic attack, a thing that has ruined many things for me and caused myself and people who are close to me a great deal of misery throughout my life before I even had a name for it and a diagnosis of depression. It was not long after that point that my mother drifted fully into the foggy  realm of diazepam where she would remain for at least a decade leaving me to deal with a nightmarish childhood alone. My father’s good heart, the light side, caused a lot of strain and misery to us all. Between his over generosity to clients for whom he would often work for next to nothing and his over generosity and capricious nature he ran up a ridiculous level of debt and left the whole family to carry the can. His light let the dark in, leaving my mum to bare the load and her harder nature to control the reigns and keep the family together even as my father’s health failed and failed more. I have bits of both of them in me but a bit more self knowledge than either of them. When my father died I was at university, I buried all my grief in my work, using my Star Wars toy collection as the basis for all my designs for all that semester. I ran from the grief only for it to catch up with me threefold some years later when the world had forgotten all about my dad. 

  Today is the beginning of depression awareness week. I am all to aware of depression unfortunately, it has haunted me consciously and unconsciously throughout my life to the point where I don’t know which is me and which is it. It has caused me so many problems of late and has lost me something that was so dear to me recently that I find it hard to carry on. But I do. Stubbornness is a family inheritance too it seems. But was it depression that caused the problems or me? It’s  hard to tell, today I feel like I’m in charge but that’s because nothing upsetting has happened for a whole couple of days but prior to that I would say depression has been running the show for at least three months possibly much longer, reeling  from shock to bad news to bad decision to consequences of bad decision over and over until I can no longer tell what is real from what is imagined, I’ve  hurt others and myself in equal measure. I can’t shoulder all the blame, some is down to other people, some is down to bad luck but the bulk is down to me or that raging chemical maelstrom that is my mind at times like that. 

If you imagine a bowl of water, you drop in a pebble and watch the rings expand and from the point it happens as they gradually disappear and the surface settles down to normal. But throw in a house brick and the water goes everywhere , running over the sides, flying in the air and the crashing and clashing of waves is impossible to track. That’s what I’m dealing with right now, just what happened? how much damage has been done? How much of that is fixable and how much is permanent? How much of that damage has been compounded on top of damage that I had caused before? Will I be forgiven and to what point? I can’t expect anything but I can hope, and that is all. 

 In the meantime I have to forgive myself which is hard enough. I have to try and soldier on from one tiny moment of snatched happiness to the next between a seemingly endless slurry like tide of knowing the value of what I have lost and the permanance of that loss. The new Star Wars film bought me a couple of hours of snatched joy although not nearly as much as if I was watching it being seven years old, the woman clutching a giant lady gnome with a bewildered look on her face in the supermarket bought me an extra couple of minutes but now the fog is closing in again and I need to go off and draw something before I sink back in the mire, getting to a point and time where I might sleep and, if I’m really lucky, get through to the next morning unbothered by the creeping loneliness that haunts my bed at night.

I know that if I hang on long enough there may be other moments that aren’t bloody awful and if I’m really lucky the occasional time of happiness and even bliss. The last time I felt truly happy was New Year’s Eve when I foolishly believed everything was going to be right with the world from then on. Sadly I was gravely mistaken, but for that one night I knew pure joy, happiness and moments of bliss. 

But in the meantime life now is constant emotional management, there are a couple of seconds of blissfull ignorance that prelude the day and then Wham! a constant stream of thought control exercises and distraction techniques until bedtime. It will get better… Or at least that is what I need to believe to keep going. 

If you suffer or a family member suffers from depression or indeed any other form of mental illness you have my sympathy and my empathy and if you have dealt with it as long as I have and you are not a gibbering wreck and have something even partially resembling  a normal life you have my respect and admiration. Sadly, I don’t think there are many people in this world who would say that about me right now. But hey! That could be the depression talking again, couldn’t it?

  


The bear faced truth about Christmas. 

December 21, 2015

 Every now and then I get asked the same question. It goes something like this… “Oh Chris! I love your bears! Why don’t you make more of them? You’d be rich!” Wrong! Whilst not actually timing myself, I can gauge the four bears that I have made this week in television shows. Three movies, 10 episodes of a Swedish cop drama. Three seasons of a sit com, a ray Harry Hausen documentory and assorted Dr Who re-runs. I’m guessing about 35 hours of eye fodder. Being both heavily medicated and a bit poorly , I have probably been slowed down a bit so let’s say 7 hours a bear. That includes finding and marking the grain of the fabric, placing and marking the pieces, cutting out, trimming the edges, trimming the muzzle, pinning, tacking, sewing, pinning, tacking, sewing again, placing joints, placing eyes, stuffing, embroidering the nose, sewing on ears, fixing joints, stuffing the belly and doing the closure stitching. So even at below living wage that’s £49, plus materials of say £20 (it’s often much more). So before we have even thought about needing to add a shop mark up, that’s £70 for a small bear. Heaven forbid what it would be if I made it an outfit too. Now please remember, this is based on minimum wage. Theoretically, as a trained and experienced artist, I should be charging at least £20 per hour which would bring the figure up to £160 for a small bear. Do I charge that? Of course I don’t! I don’t know anyone with that kind of money to burn. A little bear in Chris world will cost you £30 – £50. Which is why I never attempt to make a living from them. So why do I do it? I guess that’s the obvious question, and the equally obvious answer is this, “Because I like doing it.” It is a little more complicated though. Many years ago I trained to be a textile designer and subsequently work for a while designing and making knitwear and accessories for the higher end of the fashion industry. I was bloody good at it an’ all and had a reputation for making stuff that nobody else could wrap their brains around how it was put together. Anyway, it was a big deal for me to get to university, it was a big deal for me to get into the fashion industry, but when I got there I instantly wished I hadn’t. The first thing I realised was that the sort of people who could afford what we were making were the sort of people who couldn’t stand being caught wearing the same thing twice. So I was effectively making high quality things out of the finest materials that were regarded as disposable by their buyers. Then, once the rot had set in, the final straw was my trip to London fashion week. It’s really not what you think it is (unless you think it’s a trade fair for selling shit that is). Behind all the supermodels and celebrities it is just a trade fair. I can pinpoint my falling out of love with fashion to the exact second that I unzipped my flies in the lavatory and looked down, the water was blue, it was a chemical toilet! Oh the glamour! Anyway, to cut a long story short, I left the fashion industry but I like to use the pattern cutting skills I picked up to make my own teddy bear designs. Using similar making processes but to create something that, with luck, becomes a family heirloom rather than something that ends up in a charity shop. The disposable nature of fashion has become much, much, worse now than it was fifteen years ago. First with the rise of Primark, Peacocks and H&M where the clothing became so cheap that everyday folk could practice the crass art of throw away fashion. I think the obscenity factor has hit overload in the last couple of years though with the growing popularity of the Christmas jumper. This article more than any other represents the wastefulness of the western world. These sweaters, most often made of the most synthetic of materials seem to be everywhere I look. Whilst I realise that I have ‘form’ when in comes to kicking off, about well… pretty much everything, I feel with this one I am on a winner. Knowing as much as I do about the making of knitwear, it may be made on a machine but there always has to be some poor sod casting on, setting up the rib pattern, adding the extra yarns to make the hideous reindeer pattern or whatever, someone sewing or linking the seams, steaming, labelling… Many people, many hours work, all to produce what? A terrible garment in a sweatshop on the other side of the planet for at best two week’s wear. It would be as easy to making something in cotton or wool in an ethically sourced manner that would provide years of wear for the same time and energy expended. It would be even better if we paid people proper wages. There is a level of exploitation in what I do but the person I am exploiting is me as I like putting nice stuff into the world even when I barely break even.  It is my choice, a luxury someone in extreme poverty in a regime even more corrupt than Britain (Well, for the moment anyway) simply doesn’t have.  If you would like to know more about my bears look at the page thingy in my header up top in other stuff or check out my Facebook page here. Oh! And by the way, Happy Christmas! Xxxcrimbojumpers


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