I meant to add something to my last blog post. Whilst stranded, mad, friendless, adrift in a soulless box of a house on the outskirts of Doncaster. A line from a David Bowie song, “Everyone says “Hi!”” Used to rattle around my head . It was a very simple phrase but I took it as a message to myself. The line was, “Don’t stay in a sad place where they don’t care how you are” and I held it to my heart. And I didn’t , I left, got out of town. I woke up to the news of Bowie’s death from cancer at 69 today. I haven’t listened to much of his new stuff (or anyone else’s for that matter)recently but I always found it comforting that he was out there, always a bit edgy, always taking risks. From killing off the Ziggy person at the height of its popularity and then going off to be a soul singer, to experiments in electronica, jungle, being at the forefront of the Internet, whatever, he took risks and didn’t care too much about people ‘getting it’. It could be hit and miss sometimes but the misses were soon forgotten. I really love it when people just get on and do their thing. There was something slightly alien about Bowie, he was a curator of pop culture, picking out the essence of a scene or a sound and making it his own. He reminded me of the Martians from War of the World, peering at humanity from a distance and drawing their plans. I feel like this often, I’m not a partygoer or a socialiser, I don’t brag and show off, I just get on with it. I observe the world at a distance and interpret what is there in my own way. There is so much bullshit and so many bullshitters about (particularly where I live) and the likes of Bowie, Bjork, Captain Beefheart, Lee Scratch Perry, John Lydon, Takashi Murakami, Prince etc who just get on and do / did it regardless fills me with hope. In my own small way I try and do the same thing, wishing for the kind of money and clout that allows me to achieve what I want to. I’ve been feeling this much more acutely of late, having a potentially life threatening illness I’ve become very conciouse of my legacy. I’ve already been struggling to catch up with years wasted through poor mental health and I feel now this sense of urgency even more. I faced Christmas this year without an Iain Banks and a Terry Pratchett to read and now no more Bowie’s . All my heroes are slowly dying off, leaving what? A homogenised assortment of drivel and dross. Sad day, sad world.
Time is a funny thing, some days go by in a flash whilst other days are so slow and painful that they become a feat of endurance to get through. Time has been dragging for a while now, my last week has been spent, blowing up black and white images to the equivalent size of a double bed mattress and subtly altering them in photoshop. I got through roughly 4 a day for four days and on one of those days in particular the day was so long, hard and painful that I was amazed that I got through it in one piece.
Surfacing from a severe bout of depression is a bit like waking up after you have been on an alcoholic bender. You stumble around trying to assess the damages both physical and psychological, work out what you can fix and what you can’t. I won’t lie, I always come up with some really good ideas when I am going a bit nuts, but also some really stupid ones. The only real difference is that when you are drunk, you have the excuse of not remembering what you did, I do. I wouldn’t say I felt normal today, I don’t even know what that means any more but I do feel a level of normality. Sort of.
By contrast to the last week, time positively whizzed past this morning. Freed from the drag of photoshop hell, I threw all the necessary files that were needed to produce the Bexhill Colouring book on to a memory stick and headed down to the printers. I felt such a feeling of achievement, weeks of research, drawing, and editing, all whilst suffering from the worst bout of depression for over a year, all on something the size of a packet of chewing gum. When I got down to the printers though, I felt like someone had popped my favourite red balloon. The lady in front of me in the queue to be served was picking up the hymn sheets / orders of service that she’d had printed for her late father’s funeral. I really could feel her pain. That tired way that she was trying to keep herself from falling apart by keeping busy and keeping talking. Exhausted as I have been myself, of late, and feeling stressed by the notion of having to engage in polite conversation with a total stranger, I had to acknowledge that her need was much greater than mine at that moment. I have to be honest though, part of me was really miffed. For the first time in a fortnight or so, I wanted to go “yay me!” but instead I merely handed over my memory stick and got out as soon as I could. Lesson learnt. It is rarely about me, even when I really need it to be.
Next stop, Kassa, my favourite coffee vendor in the whole world. I had managed to acquire my favourite seat for once and got to enjoy my coffee whilst staring at the sea from the dubious comfort of the squidgy sofa that has been reinforced with a sheet of plywood. The usual suspects were holding court and I managed to avoid catching anyone’s eye and getting sucked into a conversation. What was fascinating though was a couple trying to teach their three/four year old daughter what asymmetrical meant. First though, they needed to explain symmetry. They went through a whole routine about two arms, two legs, two eyes etc but the little girl just became confused and fidgety. At no point did either of them think to mention about painting butterflies by folding over a sheet of paper with blobs of different coloured paint on it. Lesson learnt. Grown-ups are silly!
I went in what used to be my favourite bakers on a day when the staff were less likely to now give me the evils. (long story) and all the staff were in the back of the shop, surprisingly, not hiding from me this time. Whilst waiting, some other guy walked in, and on the pretext of perusing the stock, managed to work his way in front of me and caught the attention of the assistant first, Now in this sort of situation, I would usually let whoever get served before me, but this time I spoke up and made sure I was served first. Lesson learnt. Instead of feeling bad for not standing up for yourself, you can feel just as bad for standing up for yourself.
Lastly, as I was heading home, I heard someone call out to me. It was a co-worker from a charity for adults with learning difficulties that I work for sometimes. The organisation facilitates them in creating artworks and performing in their own drama and dance pieces. I was very disappointed when, a week ago, awkward circumstances made it impossible for me to go to their private view and when I was informed that the students were having their own little low key celebration just for them and it was happening at that very moment, it made my day. It was so lovely to see all the people that I’d worked with and to see their work in the form of cards, prints, tea towels, badges and original artworks and they in turn were pleased to see me. The only fly in the ointment was that one very vocal member was missing. I have a deep affinity for the chap in question and his presence was instantly missed. I discovered that he could not come because there was no longer the funding available for him to attend all the classes that he wished to due to cut that this evil, vindictive, government that we suffer under in (not so) great britain. I could feel the anger boiling inside me, I know myself only too well how it feels to be shut out, cut off, marginalised in more ways than one and for this to happen with a man who lacks the ability to grasp why this is happening I find deeply upsetting. Lesson learned. The pure hearted will love you for who you are and what you do. Lesson not needed to be learnt (because I already know it). When self-centred, selfish, greedy and damaged people get the opportunity, they will ruin the world for everyone and pick on the people who are most vulnerable first.
Hello Doctor, I want you to know I’m feeling very rejected….
Well that’s what I should have said.
It’s funny how people can have such a deep affect on your life and not have a clue that they have done so. Like today for example. I made yet another failed attempt at trying to get a stockist in Hastings Old Town. Truth be told, I have never really liked the place, but then again, it has never liked me much either. There is something almost feudal about Hastings as a whole and the Old Town is worst than anywhere. There was all the kerfuffle surrounding the building of the Jerwood Gallery and several years after it’s completion, the “No Jerwood on the Stade” posters are still dotted about the Old Town. You almost need a passport as there is a definite “you do not belong” feel. It is very rare that I go there as it makes me feel really depressed, but as today I scored 96% on the Goldberg test for depression (dead man walking) I figured, “what the hell! Couldn’t get any worse.” I have learnt to work with my mental illness over the years and I have discovered that days like today are great for doing awful, pointless things, like trying to crack the Old Town.
There are a couple of versions of this place, there is the tourist trap / student farming version where groups young language students are dragged through the cobbled streets, come rain or shine, as a treat between getting them to learn english in shabby classrooms and where families frogmarch their kids through ye olde engerlande streets when they just want to drop their pocket money in the beeping machines in the adjacent amusement arcades. The next version is the down from London, cool hunting, shove the house prices up version, which demands organic, sour dough, five grain, bread and chalk based house paints, in-between writing articles for the ‘quality’ newspapers about how they discovered Hastings and how it was a dying seaside town before they introduced hummus to the locals and civilised their fishy ways. The third is the posey, boozy hanging out in Old Town where all the locals lurk on Friday and Saturday nights and where the most tedious bands play terrible blues and terrible everything else as well. There is the odd little gem, music-wise, but they are few and far between, it is mostly eminently ignorable and serves as a background to the turning of booze into piss and nice houses for the landlords. Rents are high, footfall is heavy and the pile it high, sell it with a massive mark-up attitude is king. As a consequence there is nowhere, edgy, quirky, niche or whatever that sticks out as being a likely stockist, the shocking shop rental charges don’t exactly encourage anything but dead certs. So in my head, the trip into tourist trap Hastings was a fool’s hope anyway but I thought I’d give it a go, as I said, feeling shit, couldn’t get worse (famous last words.)
I will tell you about the second shop first as it is less relevant but still amusing. It was yer typical haven of tweeness, mass produced chinese soft toys, cards, lots of Cath Kidston (aristocrats masquerading as designers are worth a blog of their own, but not today.) The shop assistant, proceeded to cough at me before shushing me out so she could get some water from the basement. I must admit, that is the most novel knock back that I have ever received to date. Now for the first port of call… I only went in this particular shop because the name had changed and I had assumed that it was under new management. Wrong! I gave this place a wide birth as one of the owners was my first Doctor in Hastings and he was quite spectacularly terrible. I don’t think I realised how bad until I actually got a little bit healthier and talked to a few more people. When I lived in Doncaster, I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to be tested on the groundbreaking new iapt (improving access to psychological therapies) program which actively helped the mentally ill to get their lives back with intensive help and not just throwing a few anti-depressants at you and hoping for the best. After years being an almost total recluse, I was encouraged to work out what I wanted from life and taught how to reverse engineer the steps needed to get there. The main thing I worked out was that I needed to be living somewhere a bit more convivial to being a fay arty type than where I was living. So, to cut a long story, I got a bit less ill and eventually moved. I was proud of what I’d achieved and when I moved to St Leonards and signed up at my new doctors I got a bit of a nasty shock. This was when I met… let’s call him Dr Arsehole for the first time. He was the most acerbic doctor I have ever had the misfortune to meet, and not far off being one of the worst people and, believe me, I have met some truly bad ones. He proceeded to tell me that there was nothing like I.A.P.T in Hastings or any help at all in fact and that I needed my meds upping because “I might as well be pissing in the wind” on what I was taking. The antithesis or everything I’d come to expect in the way of treatment for the previous few years. I left the surgery shocked and stunned, this guy had pulled out one of my major supports. between that and discovery that the ‘friend’ who helped me move to Hastings was a dangerous and delusional narcissist, my world completely fell apart. I barely survived that and if I were stronger I would have reported him for negligence for not putting me in touch with many of the fantastic services that actually were available to me in Hastings. I still can’t work out why he would have done that, sadism, incompetence beyond belief, I did something terrible to him in a previous life, but then compared to a friend who lost a ovary and nearly died due to his mis-diagnosis, I got off lightly. To add insult to injury, he neglected to update my records so it looked like I had never had any dealing with the medical services which set me on a terrible path that ruined my life for at least a year. It came as no surprise to discover that this guy had another occupation that was distracting his attention from what he should have been doing, he was running a little shop.
Just how much money do some people need? Are there many poor G.P’s in the UK? Probably none. So why would a doctor want to run a shop too? Some need to run an empire? A nice little tax write off or maybe arty pretensions to soften his titanium cast heart? Anyway, all I knew is that whatever the why’s and wherefores, he wouldn’t ever get any of my cash.
So fast forward several years and here I am, walking into this shop and there he was and phased by his continued presence I am stuck in a position where I am showing him my wares. A few years earlier, his response would have floored me and I would have fell into a week long decline but as I have had a fair degree of success I could see it for what it was. He just didn’t get it, or get me. I should have learned by now, my artwork is Marmite, you love it, or you hate it. This guy certainly didn’t love it. His response to the colouring in books was a classic. “so is this it? or is this a sample?” I could have told him that I like things that feel cosy, I love that zine / diy aesthetic and that slick, mass produced, things leave me cold. I could have said that I spent a lot getting things printed on heavy duty paper so that people could use them without pencils going through or they would hold a degree of watercolour paint before cockling. I could have said lots of stuff, but why bother? He didn’t get it. His partner was a little bit nicer with the “Oh, we just ordered all our cards for the year.” Gosh! I haven’t heard that one before… I do find it fascinating though, the way people pass on rejection. In this case there was good cop and bad cop in one place.
Some people say flat out no, some visibly um and ah and weigh things up, bad cop here toyed with me a bit, as if to put me in my place. How dare I come into his little empire and try and take money rather than the other way round? The easist one is a simple “It would not work in here” neutral, not offensive, no harm done. When I walked out of there I’m sure he said something cutting to the other chap, some bitchy little comment about how rubbish I was with my pricing, how shoddy he thought the cover was. Probably in the same way as he took small pleasure out of knocking the last bit of hope out of a, vulnerable, mentally ill man in recovery. Or, even worse, he doesn’t even know he’s doing it and sails through life, soiling everything he touches with an ingrained bad attitude. From a personal point of view though, the thing that I should have learn’t by now is how difficult it is to do something new, something edgy, something that could be potentially ripped off, something idiosyncratic, in this country, particularly when you are based outside of cities and even more when you don’t hang around with the ‘right’ people and in the ‘right’ bars / pubs. Nearly everything that has gone well for me has come from people slowly catching on to what I’m doing, it is too complex and strange to be ‘got’ all at once, particularly without the cultural or artistic references. Just wandering about like a space cadet gets me nowhere, although it was a lovely day and I’m sure the walk by the sea did me good. I left Dr Arsehole’s shop, left Hastings Old Town, got to the New Town and dropped my wares off with someone who actually “got it”. Maybe one day I’ll actually get a stockist in Old Town Hastings but until then you can buy your Hastings stuff HERE as well as lots of other goodies.