Friday, February 05, 2016

Doing, reading, listening etc.

Andy Prokh 

What the hell? It's Friday again? What is this 'time' bullshit that keeps passing? And I'm sure I told myself I'd do this every Friday, this blogging thing? 

But I just blogged yesterday. What's that? Rules are rules? Shut up.


I actually haven't been doing a lot of reading and listening this week. Between a storm day that kept the girls home from school on Monday, no electricity for much of Tuesday and a bunch of errands that needed done on Wednesday both my internet time and my writing time has been severely bollocksed this week.

Reading: I've been reading some actual paper books, which has been nice. I'm reading Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons, a Memoir by Lady Trent, which isn't a memoir, obviously but a faux-memoir, about a Victorian-ish era lady dragon enthusiast. It's good, not great. I like the mash up of historical fiction, science fiction and memoir and it's easy bedtime reading but I'm not riveted and I doubt I'll read the rest of the series. 

On the recommendation of a dear friend who shares my prediliction towards Anxiety and Doom I'm also reading Fear, Essential Wisdom For Getting Through the Storm by ThichNhat Hanh. It's less annoying than any other bhuddist books that I've read but it's slow going as it keeps making me cry. Most of what I've read so far are similar techniques, strategies and ideas that I learned about in therapy a few years ago and promptly forgot, all of which do in fact help to dispel my anxiety, once I've stopped blubbing.

Looking at my internet history to see what I've been reading online this week is cringe-worthy, it's almost entirely how to attract the rare cats in Neko Atsume and 3 Messy Signs Your Main Sewer Line is Clogged (I'll spare you the story that led to that one. And the link.)

Reading/Writing: On the recommendation of another friend I did read this BrainPickings piece on the psychology of the daily writing routine, which is something I've been trying to cultivate. Between 9 and 12 is now my Writing Time. Last week went better than this one and between the disruptions of lack of electricity and excess of children at home I managed a paltry 5000 words to last week's 9000, but whatever, I'm still doing it and I'm being kind to myself and I'm letting myself do just one hour when three feels like it might kill me dead. Baby steps.

Watching: Nye and I are watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix at the moment. I've seen it all before but that doesn't seem to be making it any less brilliant/gruelling. People in my real life keep looking at me like I'm deranged when I say that we watch a TV series about American football. These are people who are not doing the internet properly. 

Also watching this vaguely obscene clip of James McAvoy on Cbeebies, over and over again and laughing my arse off.

Listening: Old episodes of This American Life, which are as wonderful as ever. New episodes of Serial, which I find distinctly meh but I can't seem to give up on. And Radio 2, which was back to back Terry Wogan on Monday which made me cry and reminded me that I need to re-watch Stoppit and Tidy Up with my children. Did anyone else watch that as a kid? Nye is literally the only person I've ever mentioned it to who even knows what I'm talking about. 

Housekeeping: the food processor is a Kenwood FDP613 (you have to pay more for one with a memorable name). I chose it because it was cheap (for a food processor) and we are broke, also it has pretty good reviews. So far (aside from being mad at it), it does seem good. I don't think it's powerful enough to make smooth nut butter but whatever, Nutella. I never did find the plasters that I KNOW I bought, but a tiny piece of panty liner and a good length of washi tape makes a pretty good alternative, in a pinch. You're welcome.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Opening a Birthday Present.

Oooh! Look at the box! It's so big!

Shiny! Shiny shiny shiny! I'ma gonna make me some fooooooooood!

Cardboard! I love these funny pieces of cardboard! I wonder what's under them?



Hmmm, that's a lot of pieces.

Ugh, I'm going to have to wash them all before I can use it.

Ok, let's do this thing.


This one goes... where? There? Hmm. No, there. Okay, there. Right. Maybe.

I'm going to break this.


Yes, you can play with the whisk, if you're careful with it.


Ok, that one there and this one there and that one there and ok! Let's turn it on!


JESUS CHRIST, that's loud.

But, it works. Good, great.

Let's make us some cashew chocolate spread!


God, this takes aaaaaages.

These pieces are not getting smaller.

I should turn it up.

Is that melting plastic I can smell?

I should dry the other pieces and put them away while I'm waiting.

This is so fun! And shiny! And FUCKFUCKFUCKSHITTINGFUCKOUCH, that's SHARP.


Did the girls hear that? Did I scare them? Please please please don't come through...

No, it's fine. That bloody machine is so loud they can't hear anyyhing.

Shit, that hurts.

Do we have any plasters? No? Fuck, I'm SURE I bought some. I did buy some, but where did I put them?

Oh god, I'm dripping blood everywhere.

How clean is this teatowel? It's not clean at all, is it? Shit, I bloody knew I should have done some laundry yesterday.

Fuck it, it hurts, I don't care if I get sepsis, it needs to stop dripping right now.


Those pieces still aren't getting smaller. This is crap, it doesn't bloody work.

I'll add some water. And blood.

Ugh, the nuts aren't even moving. I'll just poke them with the end of this spoon.

Shit, that didn't sound good. I shouldn't have done that.

This noise is giving me a headache. I hate noise.

Has it stopped bleeeding yet? No. UGH.



That does not look like chocolate spread.

I don't even like chocolate spread.

Okay, I do like chocolate spread. I should have bought some. There's nothing wrong with sugar and palm oil anyway.

Ugh, I need to find a plaster and put the kids to bed. It'll do.


Wait, how am I going to get that out of there?

Do we have a spatula?

We don't have a spatula.

It's never coming out.

Do we have an empty jar?

We don't have an empty jar.

It's not coming out and even if it does come out there's nowhere to put it.



The end.  


Friday, January 29, 2016

Doing, Reading, Listening


  • I went to Glasgow (see last post's Photos From A Bus Window) and I did some actual real photography work. The pictures are of families in the snow and you can see some of them here.

  • I have been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's podcasts. I thought they would annoy me as her facebook page annoys me (I don't love inspirational quotes) but actually she is wise and funny and there's profanity and advice and listening to her is like listening to your most comforting friend, or a really good therapist. The first episode was her in conversation with a blogger who wanted to write a book (it wasn't me), who thought she would be able to do it once her kids were finally in school (again, not me) but who was stuck and couldn't get going (could have been me, but wasn't). The advice Gilbert gave her was the advice I was looking for last time I talked to someone about my wanting to write and was instead told 'writing is just a hobby for you, stick to what you're good at.' I won't pretend it didn't hurt. But that podcast helped and now I'm writing again and maybe I won't keep writing but I'm going to try because it's not just a hobby, it's something I love and am good at and want to do* 

  • Speaking of facebook and conversation, I started a facebook page for this blog, mostly because I was bored and lonely and hoping some of you might chat to me sometimes about the interesting things that are on the internet that I might post there sometimes. Also because I heard it was a good idea if I wanted to sell a book one day, I'm not going to lie.

  • I read this piece about why young women should have savings, it is literally the only thing I have ever read that has inspired me financially. My grandpa should have told me about a Fuck Off Fund when I was 17 instead of that 'rainy day' crap, it would have been infinitely more effective.

  • Speaking of ma dog, before Christmas I read Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor. It looks and sounds like an animal training book (which is why I bought it) but actually it's more of a brilliant memoir about Karen Pryor's life's work in animal (including human animal) psychology and how when the Man Scientists told her she was wrong and that she didn't have a PhD and she should do things differently and that she wasn't a real scientist anyway, she said 'hmmm, that's interesting' and carried on doing exactly what she did - brilliantly. I loved this book and her publishers need to re-market it as a fascinating, funny, inspiring memoir/popular science book. I'd read it, again. 

  • Finally, do you know this 1970 song by Peggy Seeger? It's bloody brilliant and probably the most feminist thing I've ever heard. I have spent 15 minutes listening to it on repeat for my favourite lyrics but I don't have any because it's all fantastic. Eat your heart out Beyonce.

* It's 'Cara's creative confidence gets kicked but somehow she keeps on trucking' week here on Peonies and Polaroids. Thank you for your comments on that post by the way, they were appreciated and it was valuable to hear that I'm not the only one was was Lost in Indoctrination (phrase coined by Emma in the comments). I'm trying really hard to reply to my comment now, to give them the attention they deserve and to spark some conversation so if you feel like replying to my reply to your reply then have at it.

This postwas practise for making notes and remembering interesting things and sparking conversation, also just blogging, because I'm hoping to do more of that in the future, here and elsewhere. Share your best things from the internet in the comments if you feel like it, I'd love to read them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A story about a story.

The brief was to take photos that told a story, a narrative. The thought of taking any photos that didn't tell a story was ridiculous to me but I played along anyway, there were plenty of people at art school who thought narrative was over.

The visiting lecturer was young and female which instantly lent her opinions more value to me than those of the old men who held our captive audience each week, imparting their Great World View under the guise of teaching.

She showed us a range of work by established artists exploring storytelling, both traditional and experimental. One set of slides that jumped across the projector was work by a Japanese photographer, black and white photos taken from a bus window as she traveled home from the city to see her family. I don't remember the specifics of her situation but it was moving, emotional, artist's statementy. I do remember the pictures though; deep blacks and murky greys, reflections on the dirty windows of public transport, fragments of other passengers creeping into the frame, flocks of jet black crows scattering over fields. Crows were a recurring theme, she saw them a lot as she traveled home and they seemed to symbolise something ominous, heavy. (When have crows ever symbolised anything else?)

The tutor went round the class asking us what our thoughts on the project were, where our ideas were going. The Japanese photographer has inspired me, photos through car windows having stirred something in me ever since the opening scene of Lost in Translation. The layers and the distractions, your eye flirting between subject, glass, reflections, questioning which layer exactly is he subject.

When the tutor reached me I mentioned that I was interested in the Japanese piece, that I frequently traveled between Edinburgh and Glasgow and was inspired to tell the story of that journey in black and white, through moving windows. 

'Well' she snorted without even taking a pause, 'that was a very emotional journey, very meaningful' as if that fact might have escaped my notice. 'I don't think your journey would quite have the same impact. Ok, who's next.'

Embarrassed, I turned back to my sketchbook, crossed out 'bus journey' and started scanning the other notes I had made for new ideas. I don't remember what I handed in for that project but I do remember the feeling of being dismissed out of hand, as a silly little girl who imagined herself more interesting than she really was. I also don't remember when my embarrassment turned into anger, when I started bristling at the power that that woman had held to encourage me, to listen to my ideas and help me tell my story. She didn't know why I was travelling between the two cities, she didn't know because she didn't even bloody ask. I could have had a dying parent, a secret child, a desperate unrealised love that had turned my heart to an over filled balloon of quivering liquid and my every move through this world a hallucination of watery sun straining though threatening clouds out of which menaces of crows burst . . . theoretically speaking. Ahem.

I don't feel ashamed that I let myself be dismissed and I don't berate myself for not thinking 'well fuck you' and doing that project anyway, I was 18, and I was a student in the cult of the mythical Artist Tutor, and it was that woman's job to teach and encourage me and she totally, utterly failed. Sometimes the lesson people need to hear isn't 'stand up for yourself, take no shit, ignore the haters', it's 'don't be a dick'. Listening to people's stories isn't hard, it just takes a little bit of time. Almost everyone is more interesting than they first seem (some people are less interesting than they first seem, you can usually find those people at art school.)

These photos are not the art project I never made, that can't be recreated and these weren't taken under the influence of any great well of emotion (they were taken under the influence of boredom and a couple of those tiny bottles of supermarket wine), but every time I take a photo through a moving window I remember this story and today I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for listening. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

On January.

It would seem that January is nobody's favourite month but I don't hate it with the passion that many appear to. Yes, it's dark and yes it's long and yes Spring is still so far away and no it doesn't have the sparkling promise of fun and feasting that December does, but it's also quiet, and gentle and if you aren't insane and treating it as a period of abstinence and self-denial after the excesses of Christmas then it's a month ripe for wrapping up in a nest of whatever comforts you and looking after yourself in front of the fire (real or proverbial).

I don't hold with January as a month of self-denial, January is a fine month to do more of what pleases you, not less. No one drops by in January, there are few social engagements, kids go to school and come home again every day of the week (unless you get a storm day, which is more welcome in January than it was in November). January is by and large a month where you are left to your own devices, other people busy with their own recovery from their own Christmasses - be that a recovery of kindness or one of deprivation - and being left to my own devices is pretty much my favourite thing. And then at the end of the month of knitting and resting and drawing and thinking and staring into space I am rewarded with my birthday, which is something that I enjoy more and more every year. Yes, I like January.

At the end of this week I'm going away all by myself, which is also one of my favourite things. I'm going to Glasgow to photograph four families (another of my favourite things) and there is a whole lot that I'm looking forward to about the trip because as much as I love this island, after almost three months I am desperate as fuck to get off it. I'm also desperate to work, to take photos again and be paid for it, to spend time with people who value not just my skills but also their families, their children and the precious fleeting moments of every day family life enough to give me their time and money to capture them.

I think I've mentioned before that I always return from family photo sessions appreciating and loving my own family that little bit more. I'm hoping that doing four sessions over two days will increase and intensify that feeling exponentially because at the moment – I have to admit - I'm not appreciating my family life that much at all. I mean obviouslyofcourseitgoeswithoutsaying that I love and appreciate my husband and my kids and the fact that I have them and that they're all wonderful human beings etc etc etc, but I'm also tired and stretched and frustrated and irritated by being little more than a cook and a cleaner and a referee and a personal assistant in our little set up we have going here.

We're still settling into our new life and Nye and the girls have settled a lot faster than I have. They have their roles and their places and their lives, Nye has a job, the girls have school, they all have friends and colleagues and classmates that they see everyday. I have... the house and the dog and a list of chores. And a whole bunch of niggling ideas and dreams but not quite the gumption to make any of them happen any time soon. It's a process and as I sit at home I'm constantly fiddling with the rubix cube of my world, trying to find a way to make the pieces align but my inability to figure it out is making me royally pissed off and I am looking forward to a few days off, a few days in a world that doesn't need made sense of because it's not my world, I'm just visiting.

Other things I'm looking forward to include coffee from single source beans and an espresso machine, with crema on top and pretension on the side. Leaving the house and walking down the street and seeing other human beings but not knowing a single one of them and not having to stop and talk to any of them one single bit. Walking past those human beings on pavements. (Pavements! There is a pavement on the island, but it's only two feet wide and maybe forty feet long and it doesn't really go anywhere. It's still nice to walk along it though, for the novelty.) Going to the cinema and drinking wine alone in the dark* (there is a cinema that visits the island every few months, it comes in the back of a lorry and parks 10 miles away and I can't drive and we don't have a babysitter and while it's an amazing thing that a cinema comes in the back of a lorry it may be less frustrating if it just didn't come at all.) Friends who I can see on foot, with little notice or planning, in a variety of interesting locations, some of which serve foreign food. Shops, shops full of things I don't want, don't need and can't afford, but shops none the less. Working as a photographer who isn't a wedding photographer that does family photography sometimes but is just a Photographer (who doesn't do weddings so don't ask me). Spending seven hours on the bus, each way. With sandwiches and podcasts and knitting and probably not any books because I get travel sick but also absolutely no one to ask me any questions at all for SEVEN HOURS.

Yes, I like January and I like this trip very much.

*Shitting fuck. I just looked up the listings and the indie cinema near where I'm staying is only showing Star Wars, The Hateful Eight and that Leonardo DiCaprio one. That's a lot of middle aged white men with beards, or Star Wars which I have only ever watched because my kids love it. Do I want to see any of these? Do I? Tell me.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Hogmanay Letter.

Dear ones,

 it's that time after Christmas that stretches into the first week or so of the new year when I think back over the last twelve months and feel inescapably tragic. No matter if it has been a good twelve months or a bad twelve months or (more commonly) an untanglable mixture of the two, the weight of the year past descends upon me and I feel heavy, as heavy as if I were being asked to live it all over again in the space of a week.

 This year has been longer than most. We started it in London in a pretty bad way – stretched, sad, exhausted, scared, fairly legitimately tragic. We scrambled and we fought to get ourselves packed and organised and ready to leave the life that was filling our pockets with more and more rocks every day and we did it; after three months of painting and building and planting and crying we stuffed our bags and closed the door, said goodbye to the garden and the home that we had tried to build (some pieces more successfully than others) and handed the keys to our year's work and life's savings over to a bunch of only moderately suspect tenants.

 We boarded planes and ferries and planes again - sometimes together and sometimes apart - and fell face first into Nye's parents' arms and home where we lay whimpering and shaking and drinking wine like France had run out of water. It was supposed to be three months but it turned into six, three months being not nearly long enough to recover from the preceding hundreds. I'm still trying to make sense of them but I probably never will, they were six months out of a life otherwise lived elsewhere. They were six months that were purely, intensely, unfathomably their own (très français) thing. Seductive and restorative and alienating and exhausting, they both tempted us with the desire to turn them into our next six years and sent us running for a place we knew better, a place for want of a better word, less foreign.

 And so again we were packing our bags and our boxes and our car. Wrapping the speakers and the hard drives in tea towels, stacking the books and squashing the cuddly toys into the spaces in between. Washing and folding the clothes outgrown, the summer things that would in all reality not be needed again while they still fitted and packing them into bags for the charity shop. Dismantling bikes, taking photos from the fridge door, secretly filing a thousand drawings of the dog and the swimming pool into the recycling. Boarding planes alone again with two small, bewildered children and watching my husband drive off, the work of his past few months bouncing along on a trailer behind him. Saying goodbye to somewhere that like the home before it had been so many things to me, both wonderful and terrible. A place that had taught me that nowhere is perfect, that however hard we look a home is never going to be heaven all of the time, that even a landscape gifted to you by the gods can and will turn into a prison of occasion and that maybe it was time to accept and learn to live with that.

 Stepping off the first plane into Bristol we stumbled again into the arms of family, again we drank wine and again sighs of relief were prickled with tears of separation while bone deep exhaustion settled over us as we drifted to sleep on the floor. Another plane, another journey alone with little children and we were almost there, desperate to be reunited again with my husband, their daddy who had driven across two countries. Together, in a state of weary confusion and displacement and with the help of my mum whose quiet home we invaded with our chaos, we got ready for the final stretch of our journey and a convoy of two cars trailed slowly through the Highlands, mountains and lochs and deer and sheep leading the way to the ferry terminal, a long concrete strip buzzing with fishermen bringing in catches and seagulls busy spreading their detritus. In the back of one of those cars shivered a small, smelly puppy with ridiculous ears who had been found along the way and collected that morning in an act of hope and serendipity colliding. Ten years of talking about a dog and finally, finally, we had one.

 We arrived in the dark, having sailed into the sunset and out of the other side. Driving across the moors in the pitch of a night unlit by street lamps, the ghostly antlers and luminous eyes of red deer, the low swooping of owls and the darting of rabbits from the road welcomed us to their island. The next morning that same road disappeared into the grey of an October sunrise and in our pyjamas we threw a ball in the garden, marvelling at the thick blanket, the rolling tide of mist from whence our new home was peering.

This year has been a long year. We have moved and we have moved. We have rested in a way that we have never rested before, we have quit and we have stalled and we have tried to start over again. We have made the best of what we have and we have worked hard on accepting - accepting decisions mis-made, situations mis-handled, directions mis-taken. We are looking into a new year (like every other damn person) not knowing what will come and being, finally, okay with that, hopeful that this will be one of new starts but that not a single one of those starts will require a boarding card.

 I have dreams big and dreams small for 2016, the list is endless but these are some that come to mind; to see more of the people I love, to find a home and put up a picture, to sell my photography but not my soul, to train the dog to walk at heel, to find a mascara that works for me, a pair of jeans that fit and a job that pays me actual money. To hold the newborn baby of my oldest friends and cry quiet tears of joy into his or her soft little head. To learn to drive, make sourdough bread and joint a chicken (not all at the same time). To climb more sand dunes, chase more waves, eat more foods that scare me. To go slow and enjoy it, to go fast and enjoy that too. To fill a sketchbook. To find my place in this endless landscape, to enjoy the space that has opened up around me and allow myself to fill as much of it as I need. To shout less, or at least with a little more direction, to join the library and knit something in the round. The list goes on and always will.

 Happy New Year friends. Thank you for being with me this year, for leaving your words of encouragement and commiseration and support. For offering me your tales of failure and your dreams of success. For being there when I quit and being there when I tried to start again. Every word you have left here has been a gift to me, a gift to each other and I hope you know that they are always, always appreciated. As this year ends I wish you all a few moments of peace to think about all that has past, to ready yourselves for all that lies ahead. I wish for at least 30% of your dreams to come true, if not this year then the next or the next or the next again and for those dreams that aren't for you to be let go with all of the grace or anger or dismay that they deserve, for as my Granny says, what's for you won't go by you. 

 See you on the other side my friends, see you on the other side. x