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Monday 31 December 2012

It’s Forward …if slowly…into 2013

At 11.00 am on 30th of December with the turning of the last page of “Bring up the Bodïes” Thomas Cromwell finally released me. I felt myself fortunate to have got away with all my body parts intact save the aching Foot. Not many who came across him were quite so lucky.
After his darkly compelling world I was glad too that the sun was shining, the birds were singing and that I could see the first striped leaves of a crocus struggling through.  But as I come up for air I also, selfishly, hope that Hilary Mantel is deeply closeted with the Tudors writing his next chapter. It can’t come soon enough.

I have also been released from my crutches. Shuffling replaces tapping. So now my progress, if slow, is at least silent. The Foot is gradually easing back into being a functioning thing. The painful toe stabbing demons are still visiting as the long incision begins to heal and tightened tendons and muscles are stretched. But it IS progress.

Today I made a small drawing, not an interior as a kind reader suggested but three tiny eggs. My Christmas card” last year (see First Snow) showed some snow covered nest boxes. They came with the house and in the spring we cleaned them out and put them up in hope of some takers. Blue tits came and were busy for a while but for one reason or another they left. We have magpies, we have visiting cats, there are cars and circling birds of prey. So many things that could disrupt an early nest.  And then there is just life, death and misfortune.

Earlier in December we took the box down and inside were 3 tiny eggs. It was poignant but, sentimentally, I like to think they found another quieter place and raised another brood.  The nest was a bundle of grass, moss and some vibrant day-glow fibres which makes me think a neighbour has a closet 1970’s dressing habit.
The little eggs have been on the kitchen windowsill nestling beside a head of garlic on a pretty saucer and waiting to be sketched. I wonder at their tiny size.


Three little eggs .. a symbol, if you like, or an encouragement to the coming of new life and a new year. I have always thought that making a drawing of something gives it another “go” at life, another possibility of existing in a different dimension.  We will put the boxes up again and keep our fingers crossed.

And so it’s forward, if slowly, into spring and into summer; to painting, drawing, printing and hopefully, walking.
May your muses be many, attentive and cheerful.
A Very Happy New Year to you all.

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Saturday 22 December 2012

Walking Notes reviewed and resumed..

Within the rectangular confines of the Ugly Bungalow I stumble around on my crutches bumping the sides like a bee in a box.  
Through the rectangular bedroom window the days spin by. Sometimes I feel as though I am pinned to the centre of an old fashioned revolving zoetrope or repeat screenings of Koyaanisqatsi, but life in a village is not quite that exciting. 
I mark my days by the coming and going of the light and the dark, by the rain and the sun, by the frequencies of cars and birds. The “outside” comes in occasionally and then leaves.

Yesterday, I looked through my Walking Notes,  started on an auspicious day in the Summer. A preoccupation then was the time of dawn and dusk and the shortening days. On this, another auspicious day, marking the turning year and welcoming the beginning of lengthening days, it seemed the perfect time to resume.

I know I can’t actually walk yet but my busy brain has been out there,  trotting up and down the road, along the shore line and through the wood. Ideas and thoughts are still floating in and out and some could do with being nailed to the page or they will drift away.

Today’s hobble only took me to the kitchen window. I watched the blackbird pecking at the old apple I had thrown out for him.  My note for today:

It’s raining. Reports of flooding in West. In garden every receptacle that can hold water is full, pond overflowing. Cooked last bramley apples from Dads tree. Smell of late summer. Blackbirds love the peelings. From today, days get longer, Sunup 8.04, Sunset 15.54, tomorrow will be just a few seconds longer.. not much.. but it’s a start….

And a sketch..

bbird apple bg

Blackbird and apple in the rain 22nd Dec 2012..  not much but its a start :)

The past walking notes are interesting to look back on. Snippets of life feelings, colours and images. Without the subject actually in front of you, you are left with simplified impressions sifted through memory. Sometimes, from a creative point of view those are easier to deal with than the muddle of reality.

On this dreary wet day I read one sun drenched entry from a September walk. I wrote:
 “Hot evening walk, stubble is crackling behind a huge combine harvester working late. It emerges from clouds of dust. High up in the cab is a young driver, beside him a pretty girl cradling a baby. They are laughing. Everything is deep yellow. How lovely.”

Ahh…summer … not long to go now!

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Monday 17 December 2012

Slipping into Sloth and other Worlds.

How easy and how pleasant it has been to slide into doing nothing. Sleep, usually such a stranger to me, moved in and as if to make up for years of being shut out in the cold refused to leave my side. We snuggled up together, our slumbers interrupted only by visits from the toe stabbing demons.

Now I am more awake but the days are slow and remind me of childhood illness when in the recuperation phase, after the hubbub of breakfast and family preparations for work and school, the house returned to a blissful quiet and I was left with my books, my pencils and my toy farm.  Back then my waking hours were lost in the realms of Narnia, hoping for the stories never to end.  Now the need to sleep has gone I am in that ‘other’ world of the 16th century, shadowing Thomas Cromwell as he picks his way through the snakes and vipers of the Tudor Court in “Wolf Hall”. 

Then and now….

TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd) 501px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01
The first edition cover of the magical tales illustrated by one of my all time favourite illustrators Pauline Baynes and the portrait attributed to Holbein (one of 3) of the scheming Thomas Cromwell. Images thanks to Wikipedia

Reading: a guilty pleasure
It’s always been easy for me to take myself to other places, walk in others shoes and see through their eyes. Not in any hocus pocus way you understand but put me in an ancient place and, even on a sunny day with a chattering hoard of visitors I can feel the ghosts in my bones. Put me in a good book and I am transported.

In this busy and disorganised year I had almost forgotten the joy of reading. There have always seemed to be other more important things to do. But how wonderful it is just to let go and give in this guilty pleasure. Give me a vivid description told in beautiful prose, lay out a cast of fully rounded characters, hold out a hand and whisper that magic word ” imagine…..” and I will follow willingly.

When I was young I walked through Kipling’s steaming jungles with Riki Tiki Tavi by my side. Rode like the wind across the savage Mongolian steppes with Barbara Bartos-Höppner,  leapt bulls in Knossos with Mary Renault and outwitted smugglers on the Romney Marsh with Malcolm Seville. I was the Little Match Girl, I climbed the Glass Mountain, I hesitated on the threshold of the Gingerbread House, fought bravely alongside King Arthur and stood on Mount Olympus with the Gods. More recently I have travelled to India, South America and back to Africa through the letters of my grandfather but in this hectic year it all got a little lost.

Flay and Pew

So I am grateful for this short slothful interlude and it wont be too onerous now I have succumbed to the luxury of reading.  There isn’t actually much guilt  because I really can’t do much except hobble slowly around the Ugly Bungalow.  Even here literary figures have crept in and at night, when it’s quiet, there is a sinister feel to the place, as Chris with his cracking arthritic knees clicks from room to room, like Flay in the gloomy corridors of Gormenghast, whose..

“…passage across the room - in fact his passage through life - was accompanied by these cracking sounds, one per step, which might be likened to the breaking of twigs. “ from Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake

Meanwhile I tap my way around with the doom filled menace of Blind Pew seeking to hand on the dreaded Black Spot.
Me thinks it has left my hand, fluttered out of the window and landed in the field just down the road because today I realised I could no longer hear the turkeys. 

Mervyn Peake was of course an outstanding artist and another favourite of mine, whose depictions of his own characters have never been surpassed.. he also, coincidently, illustrated Treasure Island..

Here are his darkly beautiful drawings, firstly of Flay.. striding along with his wrapped knees, 

Image from the British Library

and his heart rendingly sympathetic portrayal of Blind Pew.

 peake pew

Compare with the great N C Wyeths version, much more Hollywood

Thanks again to Wiki

It’s always fascinating to see how different illustrators interpret a character.  I admire them both immensely and they do different things. The Wyeth has fabulous drama, composition and painterly skill but Peake’s ability to engage our sympathy for even the darkest characters in both his writing and his drawing was, I think, quite profound .


And a huge and heartfelt thanks to you all for your many many kind and supportive emails, messages and communications. It is very VERY nice to know you are all there. 

Bear with me….sketches returning soon …unless I do find THE book. Then I might just slip in between its seductive pages and never re emerge. :)

Thursday 13 December 2012

The Bones of the Foot..not for the squeamish.

It’s cold, very cold. Outside, the freezing fog has solidified and draped the trees prettily with hoar frost. The pond is frozen, still and quiet.   
If a thermal camera happened to be passing over the Ugly Bungalow today the operator would see deep cool blues, then a rectangle of warmer turquoise as the camera moves over the building. All as to be expected. But if the operator were paying attention he might suddenly see in the north west corner of the rectangle a glowing spot of brilliant yellow orange. He might even be concerned that a small fire was burning. But there is no’s just my left foot.

It’s day 3 after surgery. The healing process has begun. Bone knits with bone, tissues seek to reunite and nerve ends reawaken with electric results. There is no need to put the heating on as the foot is keeping the whole room warm.

It’s only a small, common, operation but does involve knives, saws and needles and perhaps if you are particularly sensitive you should not read any further..but it is also fascinating.  
From an art and design point of view anything to do with bones is interesting…structure, function, design, articulation etc. Consider these lovely Leonardo drawings from the Royal Collection.


The wonderful foot. A highly sophisticated structure of 26 small bones, criss crossed with levers and pulleys which have to bear the weight of the body, as well as forces many times that, during movement. 

We don't really think about our beautiful feet while all is going well, do we?  But painful feet are just a misery and over 20 years my “great toe” joints have been grinding to a very painful halt.

Elective surgery..unless you are completely mad.. is not an easy decision but when the pain outweighs the deep primeval fear of saws and local anaesthetics then it’s probably the right choice. I will find out in a few weeks if all is well.

The Operation.. An adventure for the Senses.

So what did they do?
Firstly, the administration of the local, which I think is perhaps like being tasered in the back of the knee. You wait and hope it’s going to work (reassuring noises from nurse).
Then they decompress the joint by taking a piece of bone from the metatarsal, (sawing), they remove the bony collar which had developed (more sawing), and generally clean things up in the joint (some deft knife work) then stitch it all back up (neat sewing).

As I lay on the table I felt only apprehension, and the strange vibrations from the saw reverberating up through my leg bones and deep into my pelvis. 
I heard the surgeons talking, the radio playing The Who and some gorgeous Latin music, some loud clipping as in wire cutters and the whine of the high speed saw.

What did I see? Well, that really depended where I looked. A large green sheet protected the immediate view. But as I lay, looking up at the ceiling, I realised the strip light to my right had a bevelled reflective interior strip which neatly mirrored the gloved hands of the surgeon and my pale foot. I wonder if they know.  And yes, I did watch now and again. :) How could you not.

Now I am under orders to rest, properly, with my feet up, and for quite some weeks.  This is not easy for me at all, especially now the brain has now fully emerged from the comforting opiates. A short spell of very deep and profound pain has given way to annoying visits by vicious demons who stick pins in my foot, tug the stitches and sprinkle itching powder under the bandage. I am clubfooted, surgically booted and very clumsy on the crutches…and I have a root canal next week if I can manage the dentist’s stairs.

But tomorrow I will bring pen and paper out again and sketch out some ideas and notes for next year. It will be exciting, busy and productive.  I spent the last two weeks up a ladder, trying to get a coat of paint on the garage and its new windowed doors which is going to become the home of a small etching press in the New Year…hurrahhhhh