half-yearly report


Exactly six months since I last wrote, and a lot has passed. A lot of hard slog, a lot of lessons learned, both practical and emotional. Most of the work I have been doing has been with drills and hammers and bags of rubble, as I press on with making a home and garden from the bare plastered walls and rectangle of brown earth I moved into at the beginning of the year. And there has been much progress, and many tears, and laughing and happiness too. So, most of my 'creative' work has looked like this...


...but some of it has been more like the picture at the top, as I gradually find time and energy to dig out paintbrushes and concentrate for a few minutes on less practical expressions of creativity. Although most of my artwork is still getting done at the kitchen table with a five-year-old...


...or should I say a five-and-a-half-year-old. Because that's how I know it's exactly six months since I last wrote anything...

five


Today my funny, clever, loving and beautiful granddaughter is five. If I'm honest, this is really what I've been doing all this time. This is what's been absorbing me, keeping me awake at night, frightening me, limiting me, making me laugh, making me cry.

My son and his then-girlfriend were very young when she was born. Her mother had very little support from her family and so we had to rally. Suddenly a little person drove the pace. I say 'we', but it was mostly me, driven by love and compassion. My son has grown and blossomed into a strong and loving father and I am intensely proud of him and his brother, a devoted uncle. There have been many difficult times. My son now cares for my granddaughter full time and she is happy and thriving. That is the main thing. Along the way I lost a husband and a home and any energy for anything but survival. I am not being melodramatic or asking for pity, in fact I am choosing to hold things back rather than reveal too much. But she is five. Five! We have come so far. And we have survived.

nothing to show

I don't think I have ever started a post without a photo before, but I honestly have nothing to show and no nice pictures on my phone, so if I am to start any kind of a post at all in 2014, it's going to have to be words-only.

This year is not panning out like I hoped - at least not yet anyway. I have moved into my house but am nowhere near settled. The builders turned out to be awful in every way and left me with thousands of pounds worth of work that needed finishing, replacing or repairing. I am currently dealing with a collapsed and broken drain under the brand new concrete floor. The central heating is so badly fitted that the noise it makes is almost unbearable. The roof blew off in the storms. Nothing seems to work properly. There are a myriad unpleasant smells. I have acres and acres of painting to do before I can put up pictures or curtains, and the 'garden' is a joke.

All this has been so overwhelming and demoralising and unsettling and lonely and difficult. Those of you who know me well know that it has almost broken me, but, look! I'm still here. I haven't lifted a crochet hook or dug any soil or opened a book other than to look at pictures or cooked a half-decent meal and I certainly haven't looked at my paints or unpacked my sketchbooks or made anything other than a mess. But, maybe I will one day. And then I'll have something to show.

stuck


At midnight on 31st December last year, I lit a sky candle and sent it up into the darkness, full of symbolism and hope for the future. 2012 had been a terrible year for me and I wanted to say goodbye to all the sadness and illness and tears and regret. I felt optimistic and ready for change, ready to embrace new things and new challenges. I loved seeing that sky candle filling with light and heat and pulling away from me into the night sky. I watched it rise up with a happy cheer, a silent wish and a secret prayer.

The sky candle immediately got stuck in the branches of a tree, and stayed up there for weeks, tattered and forlorn. I saw it every morning from my kitchen window, and felt haunted by its failure to fly and what this might symbolise for my year ahead. Everybody laughed and told me not to be silly and everything would be fine and it was just a sky candle stuck in a tree, nothing more. Finally the rain and wind loosened it and one morning it was gone, so I forgot about it.

And then a few days ago, I remembered it. And I saw that actually it had spoken the truth, for I have been stuck in one way or another for the whole year, and indeed still am. Our house took forever to sell: months and months of fruitless cleaning and tidying and showing people round, never feeling able to spread out or make a mess for fear of the next viewing, my life on hold. Then eventually in September moving out and putting all my things into storage and taking a few essentials and, aged nearly fifty, with a little granddaughter, becoming a lodger. I expected to rent a room for a few weeks while my house was extended and refurbished... but I'm still here. The builders have taken forever and driven me nearly crazy in the process, and a catalogue of expensive disasters has unfolded. The end is not in sight. I am still living out of a suitcase and surviving on ready meals.

But yet, I am hopeful... at least a little bit. I know that one day soon I will be able to move in, and a new chapter of my life will begin... a lot later than I expected, and it does feel like I have wasted a whole year waiting for it. But I am painting my shelves so that I can unpack my books, and that feels good.

I'm not lighting any sky candles this New Year's Eve. I'll be babysitting for my granddaughter, and I'll probably go to bed well before midnight. I don't want to look into the future or even hope or dream. I'll wake up the next morning and it will all unfold just as it would have done anyway.

new beginnings


This has been the scene at my new house for the past three months. A tiny, unloved, worn, tatty and unremarkable house with an overgrown, tatty garden has been knocked about, stripped bare and ripped apart. Slowly slowly the house has been put back together, added to and improved, and is nearly ready for me to move into, a brand new clean slate for me in so many ways. Tomorrow my furniture and belongings move out of storage and into their new home, and at the weekend I will follow. There is a lot to do but it will be mine to do with as I wish, a gift. It will be exactly one year since my old home went on the market and life changed shape. A very long year, a very hard year, but a neat representation of the circle of life. I hope to be creative there.

I will be making a Flickr set about the house and the changes that take place there, should you wish to have a look. It's not up yet but will be soon.

home, where my thoughts escaping


I am popping in to say hello, having spread out my red spotted handkerchief at my temporary lodgings (the photo above is not, of course, my temporary lodgings, but the very lovely Crosthwaite House in Cumbria, which I can heartily recommend).

I have only intermittent wifi here so internet activity is sporadic. It's a strange and unsettling time getting used to being a lodger for a while, trying to sort out my new house and garden under pressure of time, and of course life doesn't pause itself when times like this happen, either.

Suffice to say I am rather stressed. I am taking refuge in Pinterest and crochet and toast. I have my art materials here too but they remain untouched for now. A full night's sleep is enough of a challenge for me at the moment.

Don't go away.

in memory of sally smith



In two weeks I will be leaving this beautiful, rambling old house and putting all my things in storage, and the builders will move into a tiny dull house not too far from here and make it bigger, make it lovelier, make it mine. I will rent a room until it is ready and then I will start a new life there.

While I was sorting things out in readiness for this new chapter, I found these embroideries from 1989 which I did for an exhibition (where? I can't remember anymore), shortly after I left college. They are called 'In Memory of Sally Smith Part I and Part II' and were inspired by the gravestone of a young woman I found in a tiny abandoned graveyard near to my then-home in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. I imagined Sally living in one of those tall, top-and-bottom houses, roaming the moors and then dying, perhaps of tuberculosis - the gravestone gave no clue. 


Perhaps I am less romantic about life nearly twenty-five years later. Certainly my artistic style has changed. But these embroideries, like all the disparate people, places and parts of my life, make up the person that I am, still am, am still to be.