Category Archives: The january project –

Sisters


Their journey to Christ starts here, in the hallway of the old chapter house.
In the past, it seeemed that every month we stood, in neat serried ranks, greeting the new noviate, but now months, even years can go by before we are called together to watch a small clutch of women enter the convent for the first time.

The women are older now, not the young girls I remember from my own entrance into this hall way. We were all so young, faces shiny with holiness, turning our back on a world we knew nothing about anyway.
We had a calling, a vocation, they said – our parents, the priests, the very nuns who taught us in our remote way station schools.
We were the devout, the ones who made a full rosary every day, the ones who were moved to tears by the suffering at Gethsemene, the ones who, late at night, truly felt HIS spirit on us and if we didn’t, well, we grew accustomed to the attention, “she’s going to the Sisters” our classmates would murmur as we walked past, our faces innocent of make-up, our clothes, simple, modest, already emulating the habits we would wear later.

We came here, because it had been ordained and then, in due time, so were we.
A linear journey, convent school, to convent and another convent school – child, nun, teacher.

But these women, these new potential nuns, have had lives, known the world, I can see it in their faces, their clothes, the bags they carry.

Some, perhaps trying too hard, have fashioned their own version of a habit, long skirt, head covered, faces bare, they radiate a hungry desire to be here, to be what we are. Oddly enough, they often don’t last, the reality a million miles from their Black Narcisuss day dreams.

Others, adopt a mid point, somewhere between the convent and the world, clothes sensible, confortable, a little dowdy. They are the Marthas in training, busy, bustley. The women who, in 10 or 20 years, god willing, I will look at across the plain scribbed table and feel my fists clench with anger and have to push back an over-whelming urge to
punch, hard, in the face at the way they chew their cereal.

And then there are the others, still grasping onto the world. Fingernails and faces painted, tight jeans, high heels. These very heels almost drag along the ground as they try to resist this calling, fight against this plot line.
This is not what they were planning and having tried everything to silence HIS voice, here they will stay, at least for a little while.

An unsettling presence

And we, the Marthas will watch them nervously, tip toe round their firey faith, which seems not comforting at all, but something to fight against, something to make them gaunt, tired, burnt out.
We, secure in the rythmn of our day, secure in our place in the world, wait for the cycle to end, the natural order to restore and then we will, as tradition gives, watch their leaving, their return to their world.
Those who wanted this too much and those who won the fight against that tiny voice at night, it’s promises of being choosen.

And when they are gone, we easily absorb the one or two new faces, the daily order sucks us back in, soothes us, keeps the tiny doubts stilled, keeps us in this world.

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The tattoo


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The first one is the hardest, the one you agonize about the most.
Past the shop, look in the window, up the road, not today. Tomorrow. Yeah. tomorrow.
I must have done it, that stupid journey, on 3, 4 saturdays and then, on a Tuesday, I went in & had it done.

And its funny, you can hardly see it now, my little butterfly, sort of lost now in everything else thats going on up there.
I’m aiming for the whole arm, hand, shoulder, a sleeve.

I like that word, makes me think that i can dress myself in ink, drape my body in tattoos.
I’m wearing ART – lol

Ive got a plan, not just random stuff, I’m making a jungle, all the colors glowing and parotts and monkeys and everything, even my little buterfly, all warm and bright, like my mum says – its a cold old world and you need something to keep you warm, she gets her glow from spray tan and acrylic nails, but me, Ive got my jungle.

Sometimes, I sit in my room and i light a couple of candles and i really look at myself, the piercings and that, they’re nothing, just fashion. The ears, did those to annoy my dad, he hates them, says it makes me look mad, ,like some mutant or something.
But the art, it’ll be there forever, even when I’m proper old, like really, really old, old like my gran, I’ll still have it, the jungle, my little butterfly.
Makes me feel kinda of nice that, it’ll be mad, all these old people, all covered in ink..LMFAO

I like it when people look at me, smile my biggest, nicest smile, put on my poshest voice and always say hello to them. I like it best when they ask questions, come closer to have a good look, but what I hate is the sneaky peekers, too polite or something, whatever, to just smile and enjoy, no, they look out the corner of their eyes, faces all screwed up in judgement, just like that guy now, pretending to read his paper, but everytime he thinks I’m looking away, his head pops up, like something out of bloody Meercat Manor

I don’t think she’s noticed me, too wrapped up in herself, tapping away at that phone. Funny how young people are always tapping and poking and prodding things, don’t seem to be able to sit still, enjoy their coffee, have a quiet chat, watch the world go by, always seem too busy.
Now don’t get me wrong, me and Marion we liked to move with the times, when mobile phones got a bit cheaper, we had a bit of a confab and decided to get one, but we both knew, it was FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY. Marion learnt to text, the grandsons taught her, but I never really fancied it – too fiddly, easier to just speak to someone and now, well, like I said, its for emergencies really.

The girl, well, you cant help but look, everything about her says look at me, so I do.
Bits of metal all over her face, ear lobes distended, mis-shaped with huge black things, earrings maybe.
I remember when our Paul had his ear pierced, 1976, he was just 16, saw something on Look East about punks and next thing, he comes home with a little stud in his ear. Marion went mad, expected me to lay down the law, but I looked at his face, screwed up with defiance, a good boy really and I just shrugged, went into the garden, looked at the lawn, burnt to a crisp in the drought.
It’s her tattoos that are really catching my eyes, her whole arm is covered, leaves and flowers, but that’s not what’s puzzling me.
The thing I’m looking at is small, my age, close up stuff, well that can be a bit of a blur, but far away things, eagle eyed, that’s me, so I can see the tattoo on her hand and it’s not like the others. It’s just one word, a name maybe, but it’s impossible to read and it’s got me wondering. Marion always said that i was nosey, personally, I’m just interested in people, well, that’s how i see it.
So, this, well, it’s odd. This is a girl who wants to be noticed, but why have a name that no-one can read.

When I took the drawing to Tom, the guy who’s done most of the inking on me, well, he just didn’t get it, scratched his head, got a pen and re-drew the letters, each one perfect, perfectly readable, even drew some nice shading, looked at me, but I shook my head and insisted that he followed my design.
Afterwards, he joked, said that i shouldn’t tell anyone that he had done the work, said that he didn’t want anyone thinking he couldn’t write properly.
I looked down at where the new piece was hidden under gauze and tape and said his secret was safe with me, but I knew he didn’t understand.
Once, when my mum was out and it was raining, me and my dad were watching some old detective thing on telly, Sherlock Holmes, I think, and he was talking about how to hide things and he said
“hidden in plain sight” and my dad, who loved that sort of telly nodded and told me what it meant – hide something where everyone can see it and that’s what I’ve done.
Anyone can see it, it’s there, black ink on my skin, hidden in plain sight.

Her phone pings or clicks or something and she picks it up, I can see her hand clearly now, against the black of the tiny phone, but the letters are illegible, a scribble. I can make out a couple of letters, just enough to annoy me.
And then she is gone, a clatter of jewellery and over- sized bags and I’m left wondering.
I take another sip of coffee and finish reading the paper. I’m not in a hurry, nothing much to hurry for these days.
Just for a second, i wonder what Marion would have said if I’d told her that I was going to her name tattooed somewhere on my body.


Clowns to the left of me, clowns to the right….


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She liked art
” I like a bit of art ” she said
” I like a picture with a bit of a story, like to loose myself in it, imagine what’s happening, who they are, it’s beter than a soap opera, a good painting”

She liked romance
” I like romance” she said
” I like to feel all soppy,loved up, curl up on the sofa with a good read, nothing too racey mind…..I like that Barbara Cartland, takes you to the bedroom door and no further”

She liked sadness
” i like a bit of sadness” she said
” I like a good weep, a sad film, but it doesnt take much to set me off, I can cry at the drop of a hat”

So, the clown painting that hung over the fireplace had everything for her really, clowns, sad clowns, lovers looking longingly out of windows and of course the dog, faithful, loyal companion.
She loved that painting and when I was little I loved it too.
We would sit on the sofa and talk about the picture, ask questions, pose solutions, speculate on the what happened nexts.
We choose names for the dog and settled on Benny, I meant after Benny Hill, in retrosepect, I suspect that she was influenced by the vague Italianete flavour of the picture and was perhaps thinking of Benito Mussolini.

At 19, 15 months into a fine arts degree, I loathed it. It stood for everything I hated in art & design and interiors. In reading onto it.

I decided that it was up to me to educate my grandmother about proper art and the correct way to look at a painting.

I have no excuse, young people are cruel, my own daughters are often cruel themselves, sometimes knowingly and with a desperate precision but more usually, it is an unthinking cruelty, the raised eyebrow, the half heartedly muffled sigh, the face turned away mid conversation.

In my defence, I truly wanted my grandmother to appreciate great modern art, although in all honesty, my own understanding was at best somewhat sketchy.

I showed her Braque, Picasso, Rothko, Pollock. In my youthful arrrogance, i felt that it was important the she understood the great modernist movements and maybe subconsciously, I selected hard line non-representation as my main teaching tool.

My grandmother tried hard, her head tipped to one side, she would smile an overly bright smile and then comment, usually on a colour used, a shape that ” looked just like something else” and would invariabley get it wrong, miss the point.

It took me years to realise just how much I had missed the point, got it wrong and deprived my grandmother of her very real love of narrative paintings. I took away the joy of what happened next and made her focus on brush strokes and influences and the use negative shape. Concentrating on the trees, i took away the joy of being in the forest.

If this was a proper story, with structure, narrative and closure, then, now, I would tell you that the clown painting hangs in my house, that I regard it with affection, that it reminds me of the simple pleasures of surface looking, but, it doesnt and I dont.

Its a terrible painting.


The Ethel Mermans


Thursday is swimming day, it had a special rhythm, a tone different to other days.
It is a day of display, of testing their new reality, making public in the most dangerous way possible that which is the other them.

Thursdays start early, the mermaids meet at 10, sometimes even 9.30, eyes hidden behind shades, close cut crew cuts buried under baseball caps.
Faces still blurred from the night before,
the slight tremor in a hand, amphetamine shake,
king size cigarette, drag, and blow and smile.
Wordplay never wasted.

Step 1 – the look

In briefs, doing what these briefs need to do, stand in fron of the full length mirror, a sideways glance to convince yourself that you are the best, the most convincing, the realest of the unreal.
Breasts, new, still surprising when you run you hand across your chest and feel this new landscape, but becoming more familiar as each day passes and as promised, the scars are tiny, neatly hidden.
Now checking carefully, mindful of shadow on the skin, a dishonest gesture, a tell.
You strike a pose,
strive to hide the posing,
make it real.

Step 2 – the preparation

Legs waxed two days ago, but still you check for errant hairs, tell-tale roughness.
Nails painted perfectly, cerise, scarlet, day-glo orange…….
And then the hair – each wig removed so carefully from its temporary gym bag home
Brushed,
Combed
Titivated
Teased
And then, with one practised sweep, on and shake, fingers carefully probing the sit, the lay.

Step 3 – the costume

The mermaids are not yet brave enough for bikinis, although secretly, in the one roomed flats, the shared houses they inhabit, they have tried them on, sashayed down invisible cat walks, hips before them and then put them away, waiting for another day when transformation is complete.
For now then, one pieces, square legged but in colors that scratch the eye balls, draw attention to the perfect breasts, the endless legs, the neat and gym toned buts.
Birds of paradise, busy, shiny plumage.
Look at me, look at me, these costumes shout.
And of course the swimming hats, their hair too precious, too pricey to risk the water.
These hats, ridiculous confection of plastic flowers, reminders of another age, worn with irony and panache.

Step 4 – the walk

The mermaids/merboys are ready.
Make up thats passes the waterproof test.
Gym bags bursting with towels and scents and body butter and todays’ choosen costume – emerald green, hot lime, passion pink.
Route to include at least one building site, they work the walk, enjoy the shouts, an afirmation of sorts
and then

Step 5 – the pool

Thursday lunchtime – ladies’ swimming, the changing room busy, bodies of all shapes and sizes, sensible black swimmimg suits, women focussed in making the hour work for them, not wasting time.
The mermaids entrance is just that, an entrance, they are somehow so much more than the women around them.
Changing quickly, costumes sensibly already on beneath Chloe or Seven jeans – perfect size 0.
Hair tucked into caps, shoulders back, each one sneaks a look into the full length mirror beside the shower cubicles and then …..
Each one hearing a movie soundtrack in side their head, they enter the pool…..
mermaids.
fabulous

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The photograph


it was in the drawer next to his bed

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next to this bed, the last bed.

Not the real bed, not the marriage bed.
Not even the interim bed, the one he moved into when she died, the spare bed, the spare room, when we wondered why, he said
“because”
“because, in the big bed, I am lost, floating, all at sea…………rudderless”

We marveled at the poetry, coming unexpectedly from of such a prosaic man.
We didn’t know then that language, sense, meanings were unraveling, it was not just in bed that he was lost, floating, all at sea.

The photograph creased, handled, the paper softening, edges curling, placed, neatly in a box with everything else,
Afterwards,

False teeth,
reading glasses, arms snapped, not needed on this voyage
key ring to a house, long gone to pay for this last bed
a copy of the racing post
three Christmas cards
a tube of smarties
2 lighters from before, before he forgot that he smoked, forgot how to smoke, forgot.

But the photograph, the girl, pretty, posing, poised,
No-body that we know
And too late to ask, not just by days, but years and years and years as he floated, compass broken, rudder snapped, captain at the helm as the ship went down

I fragment,
You fragment,
They fragment,
We all fragment.

But the photograph, important enough to move from home to homes to here carries some weight, some significance, some something,

So, we take it home and unsure of what to do, place it in the drawer beside the bed and sometimes wonder who and where and mostly why,

But generally, we forget.


puppy love


When the babies fail to come, he begins to think about getting a dog, for her of course, not him.
A gift for her, something to fill the gap, fill her days, fill the silences that fall between them more and more.

He is not a dog person, actually he is not an animal person at all.
if pushed, he will admit a mild fondness for cats, at least he is fond of their independence, their rugged self reliance, their ability to manage themselves and their ability to survive a level of healthy neglect.

Dogs he considers to be too needy, too demanding, simply too much.

The demands of babies, their neediness was pushed to the back of his mind, firmly packed away in a mental box labelled “do not open” and he threw himself instead into the making of babies.

Sex early in the morning, sex late at night, sex as dictated by the thin red line on a thermometer, by the stars and moon, sex with orgasm, sex without, sex followed by her adopting a partial headstand position, sex followed by a terrible silence.

And when, finally, all talk of babies was over, when all talk was over and she lay, night after night, a resentful, silent hump under the duvet, he began to consider a dog.

The breed was important, something small, almost fur less, skin colored, baby shaped. Something that she could hold, caress, love. Something to fill the gap.

After much research, he settles on a pug and in due course arrives home one day clutching a 9 week old puppy, allegedly fully weaned and ready to go.

She, wearing the dressing gown that has become her habitual day and evening wear, sits up in bed and stares at him and the whining, shivering dog and then slowly, deliberately, she rolls over and pulls the duvet over her head.

The puppy is far too young, not weaned and cries all night.
He wakes every 2 hours and hand feeds it the mashed puppy food the breeder pressed upon him. The animal is cold and shakes, digging about in the cupboard under the sink, he unearths an old hot water bottle and swaddling it in an old jumper, he carefully places the puppy next to the heat.

He dozes on the sofa, in case the puppy wakes afraid, lost.

Three months later, she moves out and doesn’t take the tiny dog with her, but by then it is too late, he is besotted.

The puppy is weakly, often ill, he spends nights nursing it, watching its tiny chest move up and down as it struggles to breathe.

As it grows larger, it learns to spend hours laying on his chest, panting, its bulbous eyes fixed adoringly on him.

It feels the cold, shiver easily, he finds specialist web sites, buys tiny jumpers, t-shirts, coats. By the time is is 8 months old, it has an extensive wardrobe and he finds himself planning its outfits for their daily outing to the park.

He knows they look ludicrous together, the tiny, delicate dog and he, burly, head shaven, still wearing his work boots but moving carefully, lightly around the animal,making sure that he doesn’t tread on it.

Late at night when they lie together, his finger traces the whorl of beige fur on its’ belly.
The silence between them is comforting.

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Lady Companion


This is part of an on-going mini- project. A selection of photos generated from a random word plugged into a search engine and then used to kick start some form of fiction.

At first, we thought that we had invented it, there were no words in our lives, the lives of our families, our neighbors, friends to describe what we did, what we wanted to do.

We felt as if we had discovered not just each other, but a new way of being. We were like the splendid gentlemen who are busy discovering new lands, new continents, new peoples. We had our new continent and we were the only inhabitants.

Every day was a journey, an expedition, a mapping out of new spaces. We struggled to make a sense of our new landscape, to make it our own.

We had no problems creating a culture, an identity.

In our tiny population of two, we were everything to each other, mistress, slave, police and thief, sister, daughter and finally wife.

And finally wife, whisper the word, mouth it from behind a fan, breathe out the letter sounds, sense hidden behind fingers pressed against lips.

Wife.

Friend.

Companion.

Out there, in the world, we fill the space allowed us, spinster women, devoted friends, girls of slender means.
Our gazes averted, our modesty praised,we are held up as models of virtue.
We can be trusted to deliver baskets of groceries to the deserving poor, make up numbers when a table is thin, sit quietly while topics outside our experiences, our narrow, provincial experiences, are discussed.

But then, in our world, inside, we fill the spaces, fill all of the spaces, the empty places, nowhere is forbidden to us.

We are explorers, adventurers, swash buckling heroines.

We are the mistresses of this new land, this no-mans land.

This is for all those women, those devoted companions, those life long friends, whose particular friendships were hidden away, sometimes caught in a photograph, a letter, a gravestone.

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