Sunday, 27 June 2021

A Comparative Doddle


It's the middle of what's turned out to be an eventful year. We finished our holiday apartment despite losing our builders during lockdown, sadly we can't coax them to return and tradesmen are now being paid such silly money that we're building the rest of our house ourselves. More affordable, albeit slower. In my experience, builders can't be relied upon to turn up when they say they will, or even call back, so it's he and me. We did have some lovely builders for the first stage of the build, which was fantastic, but all the stonework and woodwork and decorating was done by us. Many months of grafting. Old school repointing of ancient stone is fingertip-grinding stuff but the results have been worth it and the reviews have been exceptional.

Our kids are crazy for karate these days, having begun a month ago and now on to yellow belts, which are very pretty, but I don’t think that’s the point. They train three times a week. Our daughter had her first surfing lesson this last birthday and she is now sold. If we're to pay for any further lessons one of us will need to be sold too. Her recent birthday was more eventful than usual. We started out with our heart-exploding doughnuts and other treats from the local bakery who are single-handedly ruining the health of the town, then daughter and one son went off the local park while I cracked on with fashioning my three into surfers to place on top of the 3-tiered (and almost teared, when I thought the only thing that was going to rise was me) cake complete with surfboards, ocean and waves. I try to outdo myself every birthday with my cake sculpting mayhem but as it turned out this time I was only going to get 20 minutes for that cake accompli. I'd just finished the 3 surfboards when son 2 came back from the park with blood pouring from a gash atop his head. He'd leapt up and been accosted by a chunk of wood. Husband had to scoot him to the small local hospital who 'don't do head injuries' so it was off to one of the 2 larger hospitals in the area - the one that has a triage for kids, thank God - not a given round these parts and before long (as in, a few hours not the 9-12 it usually takes) he was home all glued back together again unlike Humpty Dumpty. As per my daughter’s request, we'd been due to have a particular lunch, so I made it in haste and packed it up for a now pre-surf picnic that became necessarily post-picnic. Then it was a scenic drive in Snowdonia and on to dinner after which I hastily fashioned the surfers for the cake. Their arrangement sums up the day. One of the kids is surfacing from the water, one is half on the board and one is flat out. We rounded off the evening with our usual family party with a playlist that included many family favourites, amongst them, AC/DC, Sia, ZZ Top, Michael Jackson, House of Pain (seemed appropriate) Beastie Boys and various other modern acts my daughter chose, some very good but I can't remember who they are.

Life is generally not getting back to normal, as in we can hang with people, though there is no normal for us. Each week is different as it is for many homeschooling, freelancing and now freewheeling homeschooling families - Our cars were both scrapped just before lockdown and we've been hiking, biking and training (requires patience) it since then, but recently we bought a Mazda Bongo, and as such, we find we're automatically (in both senses) in something of a bonkers Bongo club. Other members wave maniacally at us as we drive down the A55. There are physical meet-ups too, which we won't be joining (we have so much in common! Our Bongos!), but I am sold on van life. Yesterday we went to visit friends on the Llyn peninsula and our new fridge (oh the fun to be had with van accessories!) kept the fizz and the lychee juice and all of us, all chilled, if you don’t count the country stop where I leapt out into mud or manure so that I could help our youngest could throw up in a bush. I've never been that into vehicles, but I'm sold on this one. There have been weekends in the sea in Anglesey, trips to Snowdonia where we can huddle over a table of freshly made coffee and admire the views rain or shine or rain again, and the usual biking to my studio to paint and work where the sea and mountain views are some of the best of God’s palette. I've been working on a couple of interesting books for clients and, having finished a book in March, am working on my first factual narrative - no research! I am the research. A comparative doddle. Happy mid year bears!


Tuesday, 1 June 2021

The Art of Seeing

Last week, in the full splendour of a rare Welsh sun, I sat with my three children in our little courtyard, taking them through a 40-minute drawing exercise that I did with them. As I drew a rosebud, stem and leaves, and later, part of the birdbath, I was captivated by how the more I looked to draw upon, the more details I saw.

This might sound obvious, but how often do we look at flowers or trees en masse and miss their individual and particular beauty as they blur into one? At first sight, here, above a vigorous stem were tight buttery petals pushing and birthing to come out of a divided cap - like an elve's, surrounded by green leaves, some small and a waxy lime colour, some deeper green with ridged edges - less sharp than they looked. 

On closer viewing, I saw tiny veins in the petals and mini thorns emerging like baby serpent's fangs. There was the beauty of discoloured blemishes and parts of the flower not usually seen without close examination. Seeing it so deeply, I fell in love with the rose as I drew - with its beauty and budding claw, its blemish and pecularity.

Should people not be seen in this way too? With their particular characteristics, however strange or offensive on the surface. (Oh yes, they do spring to mind, don't they, and when they do, I try to picture them as newborns, before life has hardened them and stolen their beauty leaving only thorns.) We all came forth as beautiful buds, before the trials of life caused blemish and dropped petals. Often a wounded surface is abrasive. A tortured soul is one who projects and anger is symptomatic of pain and should be seen as a cry in the dark. The laughter of a clown belies fear and anxiety. As I drew, I meditated on these things, the art of seeing gives rise to the truth of what lies beneath.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

On the Shoulders of Giants


Soon after I wrote my last blog - 5 days later - I lost my dear father in law, John. In a way, we'd lost him a year before, as dementia took hold, to the extent that he forgot how to walk, and an operation left him in need of round the clock care. Dementia takes the mind and the body with it - it's a rapacious beast. We had just under a week of decline, a time that we were able to spend with him, holding his hands, cradling him talking to him, being there, present, with him. This past year of not being able to see him has been very hard, particularly for my husband, but small comfort has been taken in the fact that the stretches of time for him would not have had the significance for him as they did for us. His carers regaled me with stories, he was, and they said ‘a character.' Indeed he was, he was a man of great character, and of conviction. As a vicar in South Africa, he had to flee with his family in 1986, as he was on the wanted list of the South-African government. His crime? Praying with his black congregation against apartheid, As he later said, he wasn't trying to 'take a stand' he was just doing what he thought was right, what he felt convicted to do. But in South Africa, doing what was right could go very wrong for you indeed. But he would speak up if something needed to be said, and do something, if something needed doing - which didn't bode well for DIY projects - no one could actually screw up a screw like he could, but if something needed to be put right, he would do it. He also had a wicked sense of humour, and was an hilarious mimic - completely irreligious, and quite the mick taker. I used to call him the Irreverent (as opposed to Reverend for those unfamiliar with Anglican terms!) John Hillman. We had much in common, not least our political and social convictions - mine were also formed in South Africa, standing up to the police on behalf of black children - but our sense of the absurd was the same, and I will miss our robust theological debates.

Losing John has brought back memories of my own grandfather, also born in Liverpool, and similarly, a man of conviction. As a child he took me along to the children's homes where, as a lifelong member of TocH, he would show films. I remember his agonising over the political situation in the former Rhodesia, now #Zimbabwe. He had a strong social conscience and believed in majority rule, at a time when the minority were in power, and like John, and perhaps given their #workingclass upbringing, though Grandpa went to grammar school - the same one as John Lennon, another working class hero of mine - the same goonish sense of humour. I did not have my father in my life, but these 'fathers' of mine have left me an example of how to stand up and face situations, even when the majority are facing the other way. They both showed, in the examples of their own lives, that you didn't just ignore what was going on around you and live a comfortable life while others were suffering. You did something about it. Neither of these men had much cash to spare, but they were extraordinarily generous with what they had, and I think this generosity of spirit - this largesse - in every way, is what made their lives so meaningful, and so impacted the world around them. They left their mark, and I'm richer for them.