Happy Birthday to me!

June 21, 2017

It’s my birthday soon,  I’m going to be forty seven years old. As of Saturday I will have outlived Oscar Wilde, JFK, Philip Seymore Hoffman and Albert Camus. Erm, yay me! To be honest, just being alive with my health problems and the crap I have had thrown at me is enough of a present really but, as I have done now for many years, I know what I’m getting for my birthday because I bought my own presents. I have sadly learnt from experience that the only person responsible for my happiness is me. So this year, I shall be unwrapping… Two gundam model kits from Japan, a Mario Amiibo so my fat, balding, avatar can whizz around the Mario kart circuits in a fancy new Mario outfit, I have two new t-shirts and the new Takashi Murakami book from his show in Chigago. There is one thing else I want, and it’s something that I know I won’t get… But more of that later. 

I have already been absolutely spoilt for my birthday this year in the form of an artwork. My very talented friend Helen popped over last week and spent the morning drawing elements from my home as an early birthday present. I go a bit wobbly lipped whenever I look at it as I can’t remember the last time someone took the effort to make me something. There is an addendum to that present though and that is I have finally got to a point where I don’t feel anxious about having my femail friends popping over to visit again and I no longer have jealous people in my life. For so many years, decades in fact, it wasn’t a problem, I took everything at face value and didn’t give anyone a sexual preference in terms of friendship. To be honest, the only question I ever have now is when someone befriends someone many years younger than themselves as i fail to see what anyone could have to talk about with someone in their teens or early twenties and they are my age. To me, that would be getting into Radio 1 deejay territory, but maybe that is just me. It is nice though, feeling comfortable with the lack of guilt I have with whom I have in my world. That is a present on its own although the circumstances of that gift still grate on me daily.

I will get lots of phone calls and I shall get taken out somewhere nice and generally get spoilt rotten but I will be denied the one present I want because none of them can give it to me, it’s not in their power to. 

The other present I would like? Well, it, or to be more accurate, they, as there are more than one of them, are answers. Honest answers to some straight forward questions. I can’t even say what those questions are for legal reasons but there are definitely some “why?” questions, some “what?” questions and also a few “when?” questions. I suspect there is also a “who?” question (probably) linked to a “when?” and a “where?” also quite a few “what?” questions. It is pointless me asking though as I know I will never get straight answers, partly through some misguided fear of my response, but mostly because a level of self awareness can be a dangerous thing. After all, if any of us actually take a look at our actions and our motivations for those actions, we might actually have to make some changes, and then where would we be? 
So….. as honesty and self realisation have a value beyond diamonds and pearls, perhaps I should ask for….. drum roll…… I want…. A miniature Shetland pony! Still more easy to procure than the truth and so, sooooooo, cute! 

An inspector fails to call.

June 15, 2017

I’ve just finished  watching a documentary about cultural signs and signifiers in Japanese culture, whilst it was mostly things that I already understood, gundam, gojira, yakusa, geisha and the like, it went into the notion of kannagara to a much deeper extent than I already understood. Kannagara is a philosophy linked to the Shinto religion, loosely translated it means something like community or social responsibility. In Japanese society  people are naturally respectful to one another and crime is virtually non-existent. From what I can gather, this situation exists for two main reasons, firstly because children are taught at school to respect and take care of everything they use, cleaning up after themselves and carefully folding and putting everything away, and secondly, shame and disgrace are seen as major no nos in Japanese culture and are things to be avoided at any cost. 

Shame seems to be an unknown sensation in the west nowadays, it seemed to disappear as an emotion with Monica Lewinkski’s presidential spunk splattered dress and Tony Bliar’s dodgy dossier and a slew of reality shows of the Jerry Springer, Jeremy Kyle, persuasion. In fact, the only time I’ve seen the word used lately is in the defending of those wrongly shamed for their weight or sexual proclivities. Some people really should feel ashamed though but it seems to have gone out if fashion along with self control, acting your age, knowing the difference between right and wrong and most importantly, knowing when and how to apologise.

I was sitting with a few local friends the other day and we were passing comment on how the attention various people draw to their own charity or community minded activities is directly proportionate to the size of their egos and inversely proportionate to the level of their actual talent. Did anyone actually do things for the right reasons? We didn’t think so.

I watched “an inspector calls” again recently and was wondering while I was watching it how it would stand up to today’s crop of the middle class, or indeed anyone. I saw a production in the eighties with Tom Baker playing the inspector, who was playing it for laughs. It was the strangest thing, being led through something that dark and chuckling your way through it and thinking about it now, that is probably what it would be like trying to get anyone to feel a shred of remorse now…. A sick joke.  By the way, if you haven’t seen the play or any of the movie versions I have included a link on the photo to the crib note version using playmobile toys for those with short attention spans. 

I can picture it now, the rakish fiancé would now be drugged up as well as drunk and the girl he knocked up whilst in his twenties would probably be fifteen and he would blame it all on a bad upbringing because his parents got divorced and wouldn’t buy him a scooter/pony/ back tattoo/whatever. The sister would claim to have some vague disorder that would prevent her from being civil to anyone, particularly lowly shop assistants and shrug her shoulders and proceed to snort another line of ketamine off the silver salver on the table with a rolled up twenty. The husband would chuckle at the thought of sacking the dead girl and wonder out loud if this would qualify him to be a bigger bastard than that bloke off the apprentice or those mouthy celebrity chefs and would it be possible for him to get on television. Then the wife would explain that her only interest in running the charity that wouldn’t help the girl who topped herself was that it was that she was only doing it so that she could network herself into some more paid work contracts and the girl’s situation wouldn’t have got her enough attention if she spent her precious socialising time trying to help.

The inspector would be sent away because someone had googled what to do and they would start quoting their rights at the poor spectre, then they would all drop an e and go out clubbing and then to a swingers party and shag a few strangers whilst pilled up before going out and doing something the next day that they are morally unfit to do, like look after vulnerable children or give advice to the unfortunate.

This may seem to be satire, but all I am doing is cobbling together various actual things that I’ve heard done by people who should behave better and changed the details slightly. In fact, I have toned things down somewhat. Sadly, I can’t help but feel that the world today has become a place where corruption and immorality are starting to become a baseline norm amongst certain circles and I can’t believe I am actually having to write this. I regard myself as pretty normal, not predudiced, not homophobic, I have no real religious beliefs to speak of, but I believe in right, wrong and having a conscience and I spend a lot of time right now being disgusted with people. When someone like me started being appalled at your behaviour, you know you are a bad person and heading for a fall.

All I really know right now is that I should have been born in Japan.

Check your change

June 1, 2017

There was a new girl working in the cafe today, I found the price of the coffee for her and waited politely for my change. She seemed very surprised when I just stuffed it all in my pocket without counting it. I have always believed that people should be given the benefit of the doubt, I am not daft enough to believe that they are fundamentally good, that would be a stretch too far. People are fundamentally people, but I like to treat people with the level of respect and common human decency that I would like to receive in return. I would like to hope that by treating someone with trust and respect, it will spread a bit of positivity around and, let’s face it, we need as much of that as we can get these days.

Now here is my dilemma, I am carrying around a lot of emotional baggage right now and almost all of it is down to me expecting people to be better than they actually are. The option that is most often expressed to me is that I should let everything go, stop caring, and just never expect anything of anybody but thoughtlessness, cowardliness and rudeness. The theory is that by expecting precisely nothing of anybody, I shall never be disappointed and that whenever somebody acts with the slightest hint of humanity, I shall be pleasantly surprised. The thing is though, I know I will definitely still be disappointed with one person, that person being myself.

I would feel a failure being that person, the apathy, the cynicism, the low expectations of assuming that all I can ever expect from people is the least and the worst. That I shouldn’t ever expect honestly, never expect explanations or apologies for terrible behaviour and never expect people to treat anybody well unless they are expecting something from you or are expected to be applauded for no other reason than for not being awful.

Do I need to change? Do I need to be a different person than who I am? Do I need to lower my standards to avoid feeling constantly disappointed by bad behavior? Do I have to drop any expectations of ever getting of any form of remorse or contrition for pain caused and damage done?  Call me an idealist but I thought we were supposed to progress, to evolve as a species rather than roll backwards into the lowest common denominators of humanity. I guess the choice is mine… I just have to ask myself, do I want to be a good person who is often disappointed, or a permanently happy and deluded fool? 

Greyfriars Bobby. 

May 28, 2017

What is it with Hollywood and dogs? Lassie, Lady and the tramp, 101 Dalmatians, turner and hooch, Beethoven. The list is seemingly endless, there aren’t that many cat ones though, I can think of about three, tops, and I can’t remember their names off hand. I don’t own pets, I have enough bother looking after myself, and they tend to trash artwork if you don’t keep a constant eye on them , but I guess I would lean slightly to a preference for cats as they seem to hold humans in utter contempt… and quite right too! 

I always found the story of Greyfriars Bobby rather interesting though, a dog who would sit on his masters grave every night for fourteen years after his death until Bobby died himself.

I am considered by my friends to be a very loyal person  and it is a quality that I value in others. I think it’s important though not to confuse loyalty with ‘liking a bit of drama’ as there are so many bitchy, spiteful, people around who love nothing more than to wade into other people’s affairs and put the boot in at every opportunity. That isn’t loyalty, that’s a bully in search of a new victim. It can be annoying sometimes having friends who are not only loyal but are also lovely and kind and they won’t sink to the level of being horrible to anyone, no matter how much they may deserve it. They won’t like them though, they just won’t show their distain and cause a scene.

Loyalty isn’t the same as taking sides and it definitely has nothing to do with having an axe to grind. I’ve witnessed so many people over the years whose sole purpose in life seems to be to replay a past relationship or some childhood trauma that they haven’t dealt with through other people’s lives, they dive in and try and ‘help’ but all the are ever doing is reliving something that they once failed to do for themselves, not quite getting that they were probably a major factor in those original events that they are trying to fix vicariously through others. Personally, I wish that whenever someone has an axe to grind, they would do the decent thing, they would bury it in their own head.

You can be loyal and point out that someone is acting like an arse, I have friends who have to do this for me occasionally and it is important to have trust in any relationship, either friend, family or romantic. If done with tact it can be priceless. After all, how can you trust someone to tell you that you are doing something right if that has never been tested by them disagreeing with you? 

It’s important to know how to differentiate between loyalty and someone being of use. I take immense care of my sable hair watercolour brushes as they were very expensive and would cost a small fortune to replace but I have zero loyalty to them, they are tools, nothing more. Being a rather plain, podgy, balding, middle aged man of limited financial means and limited apparent usefulness, I have the dubious privilege of being able to spot the bulk of life’s professional users with ease. The parasitical and the clicky  rarely waste their limited capacity for feigning caring on anyone other than those that will either prop up their egos or provide some use to them, like a cheap film set, you only have to look from the side or get too close and you can see how fake they are. Sometimes, being neither use nor ornament is a definite advantage.

I think one of the things I find most hurtful and hard to comprehend is when it dawns on you that someone that you love and care for has been extremely disloyal. That moment when you realise that not only have they not got your back, but they are actively painting a target on it for others to stab you, providing the ammunition for their guns and merrily tying the noose for your lynching. I guess, though, that there is some sense of loyalty there, it’s just not for you. 

Betrayal is never a nice thing, it gets Judas the prime position in hell in Dante’s the divine comedies. I guess there are times that when it is understandable, I betrayed a family member many years ago to keep three young children safe, that decision still doesn’t sit well with me. When someone betrays you for petty, selfish, reasons, like a need to be liked or be popular or something as feeble as not to be caught out on a lie, it sticks with you for a very, very, long time.

I got a valuable lesson in good friendship with last year’s heart troubles. People would often pull up by me as they saw me shuffling down the street and offer me lifts anywhere. I’d get care packages and food parcels and taken out so I could get a change of scenery. I pride myself on my independence, as a lot of people  in the ‘vulnerable’ bracket do and it wasn’t easy for me to accept help, but my friends got it about right. You always notice the odd one out though, the conspicuous absense, the wonky paving stone on an otherwise sturdy pavement that sprays dirty rainwater up the back of your leg. 

It’s interesting to note that, the most disloyal of disloyal, greatest of betrayer, Judas Escariot took his own life. It takes the coldest of hearts, the shallowest of people, to walk about without a care in the world. Even the most legendary of betrayer had a conscience it seems. There are many people though who learn from their mistakes, murders who found religion and devoted their lives to helping others, criminals who have steered others from the poisoned path, ex cult members who rescue others…. But for the common or garden cowardly and disloyal, their lives are often punishment enough, they have to live with the choices that they make and the ghosts of them will haunt them in everything they do.

There is always a chance for anyone to take a good look at themselves and act with a sense of decency, as with Pandora, at the end of it all there is always hope.


May 25, 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about the hurt people do recently. I’m having to come to terms with the fact that one particular situation will never be resolved with any sense of satisfaction. Maybe I am really old fashioned but I have a really strong belief in common human decency , it’s a constant source of amazement to me how few people seem to share that belief.

I’ve never been someone to bury my head in the sand about anything and the thought that I had caused anyone any pain, either through my actions or inactions would haunt me forever. True, I have defended myself when I’ve been attacked, the problem with that being that I am a lot better at expressing myself visually and in words than anyone who has tried to cause me harm, I have feelings the same as everyone else and I feel hurt deeply. It must be terribly freeing I guess…. to be able to shed any feelings of conscience or remorse and just walk away from the carnage of your actions. To become distracted and waltz away from the suffering you left behind you. It must be even more freeing to be able to lie or conveniently edit the truth until an entirely different version of events than the actuality takes shape. You can put it about that someone has gone mad, you can find people with cliched axes to grind and wedge in versions of situations to create a tailored response. You can find people whose perspectives of the world are so deranged that they will propagate a certain truth. The real gift, of course, is to take things that one step further until you can recount that version with utter conviction, until you almost start to believe it yourself. 

I guess that is how politicians sleep at nights, the constant repetition of a bare faced lie until it is a new truth. You can’t even call someone a liar in the Houses of Parliament, you can consign a generation to the scrap heap, tear down the national health service, conduct an illegal war and kills countless people, but a liar? No! You can suggest that someone is being a touch disingenuous, maybe even that they are being economical with the truth at a push, but lying? That gets you thrown out of the chambers and blackballed from all the best clubs.

So how does an honest person cope in a world like this? Where fairness, justice, honesty and decency are just words. Where your morality is dictated not by an inner code but by the company with which you choose to associate. Am I really old fashioned? Possibly. Am I incredibly naive? Perhaps? Can I sleep at nights? Definitely! I guess that is something at least.

My mum will have to clear that up.

May 8, 2017

I have a very distinct memory from my early twenties that as I listened to some acquaintance tell yet another ‘hilarious’story of his drunken exploits and about how he ended up pissing all over the bathroom floor in some pub or other, a mutual friend, on hearing this, twisted his face in disgust and said, “somebody’s mum will have to clear that up” and in another pub it would have been his mum doing the cleaning because that’s what she was, a cleaning lady. I was thinking about this a couple of years back when a bunch of local arseholes decided to be all anti establishment by riding around the local branch of McDonalds on their bikes. They were on film, laughing and congratulating themselves at their daring. All I could think was that some poor sod would have to mop the floor yet again and waste an hour of their time filling in an incident report, someone on minimum wage, not some bored, middle aged, middle class person on their fairy light covered bicycle.

I thought much the same today as I saw poster after poster of the local mp with some meaningless slogan and a bit of the organisation posting it’s branding stuck to bus shelter after bus shelter. Quite what it was supposed to say or achieve is totally lost on me other than that they have plenty of money to waste on full colour printing and stickers. I looked at them as I walked along, they said and achieved precisely nothing and all I could think was “someone on minimum wage will have to clean that mess up.” It won’t be their mummies and daddies though, the ones who do do working class jobs amongst them do them as some sort of political affectation, taking money from the less qualified who would only be able to do that sort of thing. None of them are the sort that will have to do shitty jobs just to survive, just because it looks a bit ‘street’ or because they can’t be arsed to do anything with more responsibility.

I do wonder what they were trying to achieve…. How that one of the many pointless excercises in windbaggery played out… I hope they had really good biscuits that day whilst deciding to bring down the government by getting cleaning staff on minimum wage to use their last bit of elbow grease trying to shift some meaningless posters for them after their little bit of fun.

I often wonder whether these arsehats are actually paid by the Tories in the first place, I mean, how better to make the left wing look bad than by making them all out to be a bunch of stupid, thoughtless, fools than by making a run down area look just that little bit grottier? 

I also wonder if they have an active interest in keep the Tories in power…. I mean what use could they possibly have if labour got in with Jeremy Corbyn in charge? No marches to be had, no fundraisers, no more meetings and stupid little splinter groups, heaven knows they might actually have to do something constructive with their lives…. Actually have one would be a start. Oh well, at the rate things are going they can keep themselves knee deep in eighties stencils and silly placards for decades to come. Maybe that is why they do their very best to to make the left wing look shit? I mean, what better way to stop people voting labour than by giving the impression that all the left wing ever does is to vandalise things and make a bloody nuisance of themselves. 

Oh well, Freedom for Tooting and all that! 

Through a glass darkly 

April 19, 2017

I had an interesting chat with someone today, they asked me for my definition of what art means. Without thinking, I instantly came out with the phrase “art is a mirror of the world around you.”  It’s a bit of an oversimplification but that’s how I percieve the role of an artist, to take what they experience and translate it back in some tangible form. Whether that is a figurative painting, a piece of music, dance or a detailed instruction for the creation of a piece of conceptual art, it is all the product of a human or humans and how they percieve the world around them.

The problem with holding a mirror up to people or situations is that people don’t always like what you show them. Granted, as an artist (yes, I am aware of how pretentious that sounds) it is my interpretation of a person or event and it is highly subjective but I feel that since I completed and shows my “kings and queens of kings road” series four years ago, the world seems to have gone down a darker path. Politically, the world on a larger scale has taken a turn for the worse, what with the nasty party being in power and people making foolish decisions that have a disastrous consequences for our collective futures. Locally, various groups and characters have been given too much attention and/or influence and have let their egos run loose upon the community in grandiose ways. I’ve done what I have always done, I’ve watched and learned,but I am now very wary of reporting back what I see and all the things I know. If I were to repeat the same process today, there would still be a few wonderful people and places, the woman who works to give the local children a safe space to do activities, the photographer who has a keen eye for making the banal look beautiful, the cafe owners who provide vibrant local spaces for people to meet or just pass a bit of time, I could represent them in paintings but I feel I would only be telling half the story if I didn’t include the other stuff. I see a greedy estate agent, drawing in rich people looking for holiday homes and forcing up the prices and forcing local people out, I see a whole host of the monied and superficial trying to make the town into a poor simulacrum of the London boroughs they just left, I see shops turned into mere facades  as they become cheap storage places for people with too much stuff, I see building tarted up to increase their property value for a better time that will never come. I see people given a little attention turn into monsters. I see financial loopholes exploited to fund and propagate pointless events and worthless projects and I see the gravy train being ridden into the ground through the wreckage of it all. 

Do I really want to show all that? Plus, just how much trouble would I get in if I did? I know of grotesque events of Jimmy Saville and Sweeny Todd proportions that I could depict, it’s only me, I have neither the security guards nor the lawyers to hide behind when people don’t like the world that I show them. I find it fascinating though, people’s willingness to buy into, invest in and maintain activities and situations that are clearly wrong for fear of rocking the boat. It’s the banality of evil at play, that strange capacity amongst humans how amidst the gas chambers, the killing fields or the labour camps, there will always be some lowly guard complaining about the poor quality of the coffee or something equally petty while horrors unfold around them. 

The thing that is puzzling me right now is was it always there and I just wasn’t so aware of it? Or have things got worse? Have I got worse? Is there something in me that has changed that interprets things differently? I don’t think so but it is important to acknowledge that it might be that case. I made a self portrait from words the other day based on my perceptions of a small but irritatingly visible group of local characters, the words weren’t pretty but the picture was. That said, none of them are ‘local’ local, neither am I for that matter but I feel my own intrusion has been more sympathetic to the surroundings than others. Some things once seen can’t be unseen and sone things once known can’t be unknown, if I moved to a new town, a different country even, would I be looking for the rot beneath the surface that I see here?

I want to go back to focusing on the good things, the genuine, non-cynical, people who do what they do because they love it and to be seen as something. People who do things for the right reasons and with pure intentions and not just to look virtuos. I’m so tired of wading through shit that I fear I might sink and drown in the stuff. I’m going to try and live in blissful ignorance, well, for a while at least. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe… All I know is that I have been holding this mirror up for a few years now and my arms are very tired.

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