Recycled joy.

The pandemic has thrown up some strange anomalies. One is the requirement to make a booking to throw rubbish away.

Our local tip, manned by binmen, or, to put it in modern, our recycling facility, assisted by colleagues, lies at the junction of two towns on a very busy corner for traffic.  Once you manage to spot a break in the traffic whizzing round the corner towards where you are sitting, dangerously in the middle of the road waiting to turn right, you can enter and go up the hill.  On the way vast signs with titchy writing mutter about a list of items you may not dump, a list of items you may not dump if you are a van over a certain size, a list of items you must make a booking to dump and what you will incur in the way of penalties if you do any of the above.

If you are of an age to recall Alice’s Restaurant and Arlo Guthrie, you are not only in the zone but also far out, man (or lady, all readers welcome here.)  If you are not I suggest you put Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie into a search engine and listen to Arlo Guthrie singing it.  It was definitely one of the high points of 1967.

All the colleagues at our local recycling facility are not only aware of that song, they are keen to feature in it.

So, here is the background: difficult to get to, not welcoming.

And now,because of Covid you have to book.

Yep, you have to make an appointment to throw away rubbish.

How easy is the booking process, Jane?  I hear you cry.  ‘I’m assuming they want you to throw away stuff responsibly and therefore make it easy to book?  No?’


The council engaged a specialist booking agency.  They book tickets for pop concerts and the like.  Having found the county council website and the correct page (three screens), you are redirected to the booking agency (two screens)  confirm that throwing away rubbish is the event you are booking, and a couple of screens later you get to the page that lists the dates and times available.  You cannot have today, even if it is empty or someone has decided on the spur of the moment to hang on to their old chip pan after all.  Today is right out.  Not even late this afternoon requested at eight in the morning.

The only space tomorrow is seven in the morning to seven fifteen.

No one can hurl old carpet over a wall that fast at seven in the morning.

Next day?  Fully booked.

Finally you find a quiet spot a week next Tuesday and click on book, whereupon up pops a scrolling list that has to be checked off to enable you to book.  You have to agree to being local, not dangerous, not sick, not in contact with sick people, not throwing away anything from the bad dog list, having read all the Ts and Cs, be of sound mind, be a responsible adult and have nothing better to do for half an hour than tick off some damn fool questions in a list.  Halfway down there is an agreement to let the organisers clog up your inbox with adverts for the next six years, which, if you do not tick it, the next step will not work and you will have frozen screen – go back to square one, welcome to the council tip website.

By now the thing you wish to hurl over a wall is the event booking organisation, but in order to throw away your old carpet you must allow them to pop up in your inbox and have a jolly rendezvous with them there.  And three emails later they refer you to your ticket which is secreted elsewhere on your computer.  I spent half an hour of my life I will not get back looking for it and called the OH in, who after some muttering and flattering gave up quarter of an hour of his life returning to the scarcely looked-at screen of how the computer works to find the hidden ticket.

Three goes later, it printed.

Then three days before the booked quarter of an hour throwing things away, I began to receive the emails.  Questioning in nature they asked:  Was I well?  Was I excited? Had I realised it was now only three days to my booked event?  Next day I got a reminder and again an enquiry as to my excitement level.

Today is the day!  Last night, naturally, hyped as owt, I could barely sleep, dear.  The unreasonable joy of making a slight space in the garage was such that I had to restrain myself from loading the car in my pyjamas.  Yes indeed, I had a car in my pyjamas, I was so beside myself and both of us were off the scale excited.  I just knew as I managed to drop off to sleep again that the event organisers would be utterly stoked too.

As I stacked the car with junk this morning I had uppermost in my mind the dire warnings that colleagues would not be able to approach me to help, not even if the ten ton block of concrete I was chucking was heavyish and that I was only allowed to come on my own with absolutely no one else allowed to join in the fun, no matter how they begged.  It’s a lonely road for us recyclers, I tell you.  Entire quarters of an hour with no company other than a load of rubbish.  Just like home, really.


Veni, vide, chuckie. 

There were four recycling colleagues onsite.  One to sit in a little hut ignoring the bit of printout paper you were waving, because he was struggling with four down, two to stroll off round the corner with mugs of tea and one to be texting on his mobile.  The clientele, or eventgoers, were hurling with gusto, having been through all the screens until they were screening mad, just like me.  I threw stuff away, drove round the site, left stuff at the charity shop, came home.

You know that feeling you get after Christmas or a pop concert that nothing nice will ever happen again?

Haven’t got it.


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The great indoors.

How fortunate we are to live on this ball of rock with a wonky axis.  Unless you live on the waistband, which, like all waistbands tends to be out there and a bit overheated, you get seasons.  Seasons are our lump of rock ensuring the parasites never get bored.  Whether you’re a migrating whale or me putting my thick jeans away five weeks too soon, seasons keep you on your toes.  Pop to the shops in your thin trousers, or, if you are young enough, leggings, and you can guarantee your legs will be itchy for the rest of the day. I found some body oil in the cupboard, it came with a bundle of things that I actually wanted, from a shopping channel.  Having had itchy legs for days I thought it might help and spread it on my legs after my shower.  It helped but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should turn over under the grill, all day.

You have to get up early enough to notice the frost on the shed roof.  If you don’t, seeing the sunshine as a late riser, you might well be fooled into getting dressed without a vest.  You might sit outside with a cup of coffee wondering why the ice cube in it keeps chinking on the rim and not realise it’s because you are shivering.

You could also pop along to the supermarket later in the day, when the weather has suddenly got to grips with its obligations and find yourself melting in your jumper.

At such times I recall the seasonal phrase which sprang to my lips but never enjoyed utterance. My mother would say: Why aren’t you outside in the beautiful sunshine?  And I would go forth and freeze my nadgers off.  And never respond, wittily:  Oh both eff and off, for I was well dragged up.

The truth is that the changing seasons are the perfect time to enjoy the great indoors. The sudden icicle under your sandal, the rush of sweat beneath a sweater, the goose pimpling of the bingo wing creeping out from the shorter sleeve, the blueing of the knee under your postman’s shorts, these are why we invented walls and a roof, and insulation round the side of the door.

The newish neighbour invested many days in building a barbeque table.  I watched from my window.  It is standing height and has a line of tiles around a rectangular firebox.  Two nights ago they had a go and stood for four hours getting frozen round the back, red in the face, covered in smuts, eating raw singed lumps of something.  There was a visitor, for whom they were putting on a show, so the clothing, which started as casual summer evening wear became less elegant as layers of hats and scarves were added until the jewellery disappeared under thick gloves and the voices got higher and higher.  I was utterly delighted that I had not been invited.

I keep getting half-hearted invitations to gardens and have indeed accepted one, from a proper friend, at midday, in full arctic clobber, with scarf, for a limited time, after which I went home, had a hot shower and scalding soup for lunch.

This is the ideal time to enjoy the great indoors.  Not when you are meant to do so, in the middle of northern winter because that’s just too obvious.  It’s hard to be creative with the heating turned up so you can get the benefit of two jumpers and a cardigan.  No, this is the time of year, indoors with sunshine coming through the glass in an inspiring manner and something nice to stare out at when inspiration wavers.

Accordingly I have been making the cards I have been working towards all winter. They are paper shelves stuffed with junk, just like home.

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Mostly paper and mostly made by me.  Some metal and wood bits are collected.  The bowl and flowers are the Ikebana dies, which you may remember

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The old typewriter is stamped on stampboard, the ruler is Tim Holtz, the metal stuff is from LaBlanche, the fabric is all rice paper.


the doll and the cat sitting on her knee are paperclay, made as I showed you a few posts ago.

It has all been a pleasure to make and an even greater one to give away.  I gave a similar shelf card to a family member which included a family photograph, shrunk on a photocopier to fit, which he loved.  The base is any frame made from a die set, though you could use any shallow card box, such as chocolates arrive in at this time of year.  A piece of matching card folded mountain and valley and glued to the back inside,  makes the shelves and a small folded card glued to the back makes a stand and somewhere to write the message.

It’s a celebration of indoors, protected from the unruly elements and full of your own lovely junk, a seasonal joy and delight to be thoroughly enjoyed before we conquer the virus sufficiently to be empowered to invite strangers and, worse, relatives, into the burrow and have to tidy up.

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And that’s going to be a shock to the system and no mistake.


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Smart remarks.

The world is divided into those who are adept at making a suitable retort and those who think of it three days later.  The S&H has always fallen into the former category, I am usually in the latter, though one of the advantages of writing is that you can accommodate your instant witty comebacks within a more forgiving time frame.  Some well-known television comedies have had entire rooms of writers working on one killer line for the principle character.

If you are a more normal conversationalist, concerned with what you are going to say and getting the words out there in one go, even trying to make a point, rather than just a noise, your only recourse may be learning some smart remarks to make in advance of the conversation. Retorts you can have to hand to produce as appositely as possible, with the flourish of a conjurer producing a duck from a beret.

Here are a few to learn, the exam is real life. This is the best time to have a go.  We are about to be let loose in company, out of doors, in a howling gale, half a mile away from the person you are talking to, double masked while drinking a coffee through a straw.  There could never be a better time to acquire a reputation as a wit, rather than a half-wit because come the late summer, we’ll all be banged up again.  People will sit indoors through the autumn thinking fondly of you as the person who was able to say something frequently and you’ll be able to go back to spending all morning composing one email to send scattergun to the wrong list of people.

I am taking the initial remark from some of the very, very old television programmes currently available, mostly from the Sixties when the world was young and script writers were paid in pounds shillings and pence.  There is a certain stilted quality to the utterances, mostly from fairly wooden actors (some may have been actual puppets, our telly is on the blink currently and no one will enter the house to give it a kick) unsure of which of the two cameras to fire their lines at.

Here we go, make notes if you wish.  The first remark is from the TV, the second is your killer retort.

Make your point, I have a tight schedule!

I thought there was something wrong with you…… it’s the way you’re walking.  Try to sit down.  No, maybe not.

Leave the money in an unmarked suitcase in the third locker from the left at St Pancras.

What type of suitcase?  Can you be more specific? I need dimensions in millimetres.  They have this cage thing, you know, if it doesn’t get in there, you’re out mate, no hand luggage for you. Well, I’m saying this, I can’t remember really, it’s so long since I was on a plane.  And, also, are you sure unmarked is what you want?  I think we used to tie balloons to ours, though they deflated in the hold, of course, but you could spot them on the carousel dead easy, one pink, one blue.  Snatch yours first and you’re on the bus, window seats of your choice all the way to the hotel up in the mountains.  Sea view, it was called.  Well you could slightly, you had to put the dressing table stool by the bathroom window and stand on tip toe and there it was. Turquoise the sea was, turquoise, well if the mist didn’t come down and when there were no container ships in the harbour..  Oh it was great.  A whole fortnight of sunburn and cheap sangria.

Open the safe, or the mermaid gets it!

But that’s it.  I don’t think she does, does she?  She’s not very bright and you can see the wires, well I can.  Not the most convincing character ever.

I am going to count to ten……..

I’m not impressed. sorry.  My grandchildren can count to ten in Welsh and English and the little one’s only four.

My men have wired the bomb to this hand-held device, all I have to do is press the button….

Oh well, good luck to you.  I can’t get an electrician for love nor money.  We’ve got dangling wires in the corridor, the light I was promised has been on some container ship, stuck somewhere for months.  The PIR light over the drive, which used to light up for a sparrow three streets away, is down to one bulb.  If you want it to work you have to wait until it’s pitch black and then jump up and down and wave the broom in front of it.  As a burglar deterrent it’s rubbish.  The website I bought it from has vanished and the fitting is European and needs a proper electrician because I’m not about to fuse myself to the National grid.

Quick – she’s going to blow.

Sitting on the settee for a year eating popcorn – are you surprised?  Stand up wind and put an extra mask on would be my advice.

Look out he’s got a gun.

I think that’s highly unlikely, don’t you?  I can’t even get the right type of toilet roll delivered.  And don’t get me on to pies.  We’ve ordered steak and ale three times now and not got it.  We keep on getting chicken; I’m veggie and he won’t touch them.  He says he’s all man, after a year of random pies, who’s going to argue?  Not me.  We had an incident in the corridor last week, stuck for a good ten minutes trying to squash past.  It is true, I do have slight gluteal development I didn’t have before lockdown but it’s mainly his pie gut I’m blaming.

Jenkins, you take team B and climb the South face of the glacier.

I’m beginning to wonder if these old TV series are a good source of normal conversation.  I can’t remember people saying this sort of thing to each other in groups, and, if they did, I’m not at all sure what an adequate reply might be. ‘OK see you at the top?’  ‘Last one up is a scaredy cat?’  ‘I’ll have one of those cones with a chocolate flake in it, if you get there first, please.’  Hmm, I’ll try a rerun of an old children’s magazine programme, that should have normal conversation in it.

In the studio today we’re lucky enough to have a tank full of terrapins.

Socially distanced, I hope.  Actually, they’re not.  They’re climbing all over each other.  What sort of example is that to set to children?  I might be better off watching current TV.  Let’s see, what’s on?  There’s a steaming romance in which a couple exchange glances from contiguous supermarket check-out aisles one apart and fall in love through the triple screen plastic and end up sending each other sperm and egg donations through the post but the donations end up at the zoo because the courier has a slight temperature so his friend does it for him so he keeps his job.  The friend can’t map read, you see. Eventually the giraffe has a cross-species infant which is half giraffe, half interior decorator, which goes on to terrorise Wiltshire and parts of the Home Counties.  Not much dialogue in that.  How about this?  It’s an astronomy programme with two brainy people talking indoors.

Directly above me, through my binoculars, Jonathan, I can see………….

The big light!  Yes I can see it too, slightly to the left of that stain on the ceiling.  And from where I’m sitting all three light bulbs are on.

Yes they are .  They are definitely on, at perihelion if I’m not mistaken, which is wonderful because of course you cannot see them in day time.

Well, no, because I switch the light off.


Over at the wall switch there.

Yes, I see it now.  Have you ever considered a dimmer switch?


I think that may be an example of real unscripted conversation.  I was remembering actual conversation as being rather more sparkling than that. It’s a long time since I heard any.  I did have a chat at the checkout last week.  It went like this:

That wrapper is torn.

There’s another one inside.

Oh.  OK.

It’s beginning to look as if, when we eventually meet people again (People – legs, arms, body in the middle, head on top, if memory serves) we might have to make our own conversation.  You could try memorising the TV weather forecast and saying that.  Used to be popular at bus stops long ago.  I think.  I’ll have one last go at the telly

Grasp the stuffing in your left hand and the chicken in your right….

That’s enough of that.  I’m sorry, if you want witty repartee, you’ll just have to make your own up, while you are learning to juggle, or knitting, or basket weaving with your own hair or whatever it was people used to do when they met to talk.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ – a handy service for the nation.*

*Or not, as the case may be.


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The new normal

I had every intention of being funny today but it just isn’t in me.

Naturally the stronger reverberations of the suicide in the wider family are going to take some time to die down. Many people will have lost a family member since the pandemic struck.  If you are new to the loss of someone who was part of your life, it may be difficult even to know what to feel.

As I am quite old I have encountered many losses in my life.  The first resource, if you are new to this and all at sea is Cruse  who you can find at  This is a UK charity with phone lines, and contacts in various ways to help you through the slough of despond.  If you put bereavement care into a search engine elsewhere in the world you will also find a person to talk to who knows what normal looks like in the circumstance of losing someone.

There are many types of loss.  They begin with miscarriage, also something I’ve experienced.  You would imagine the loss of a potential life would create less sadness than the loss of a born and aged person but, of course at the time, the potential mother is filled with the surging hormones to support the pregnancy, which can make the loss seem utterly devastating.

I am fortunate not to have experienced the loss of a child.  I think this must be dreadful, as in the sense of something you dread.  Until vaccinations against the childhood ailments became common place, the survival of children to adulthood was a happy surprise in most developed countries. William Shakespeare lost his son, Hamnet, when Hamnet was only eleven.  Hamnet had a twin sister, Judith, who lived to 77, in the process outliving all of her children.  By the time his twins were four or five, Shakespeare was beginning to be famous.  He was often away in London, writing and staging the comedies for which he was earning well, which were performed for Queen Elizabeth the First, and enjoyed by all sections of society.  Hamnet’s death, of the plague, had a huge impact.  Subsequently Shakespeare wrote the great tragedies.  Here is a quote: Grief fills the room up of my absent child, Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me.  Puts on his pretty look, repeats his words………’ I don’t think that’s about any of the characters in King John, do you?  In Tudor England half the children died before they were ten, Shakespeare’s words must have struck a chord in the hearts of theatregoers.

Most of us expect our parents to die before we do.  It is difficult to say whether the loss is greater if the parent is a good or bad parent, the only loss that will not touch us is the absent parent.  Whoever brought you up has had a great impact on your life, good or bad. Children know their parents better than anyone, it’s in our DNA.  Study of the parent and what will please them is necessary for survival of the child and humans are so complex we have a longer dependant life than other species.  I don’t think I ever grieved properly for my father, his death instantly plunged me into full time caring for my mother and the discovery, upon his death that he had left his body to medical science and made my cousins, who had financial expectations, as his executors and all that lead to, meant that I was consumed by the practicalities.  You don’t expect to have to protect your abusive and bereaved mother from having her home ransacked by her nieces and nephews.

One of the trickier aspects of bereavement may be the unpredictability of family members.  Saying and doing the right thing in the right order may not be a skill we get to practise often.  I have found it most helpful to regard the months surrounding a death that has affected me, as time out of normal time. This is a time to be like a sundial and record only the sunny hours.  If someone says something callous or rude, assuming they don’t know what to say and are having an unsuccessful attempt at saying anything at all, is an attitude I have found helped me.

Funerals are for the living because the dead person is dead.  They are part of the grieving process.  I have been to funerals where an extreme show of grief, with an oak coffin and a full buffet to follow were masking a more difficult truth, of neglect, accident or design and those where a cup of tea and a sandwich by way of mourning contained a world of loss and emptiness.  You cannot tell by the wrapping what is in the parcel.  If you are the principle bereaved person arrange matters to suit yourself, especially if the lost soul has given no indication of their preferences, and even if they have.  The university that took my father’s body held a respectful service in their great hall in which we laid a flower for the deceased, and where I found my father had aligned himself in death with a person whose family disowned him and a down-and-out.  The address preached to the choir, in telling the congregation that it was a good idea to discuss leaving your body to science with your family before doing it.  Amen to that.

Whatever marks the passing, the time afterwards can feel like an eternity.  That moment when you wake, and, opening your eyes, have a feeling that something is wrong, before the truth collides with you like a runaway truck, can persist for many months.

One of the more helpful pieces of advice is to look at the rest of your life from the point of view of the deceased.  No one would want a person they cared for to wreck the rest of their life with grief.

The OH worked for years in emergency and disaster planning.  The overall ethos, post disaster, was always damage limitation.  Personally this means, once the practicalities have been taken care of, to start to live the altered life.  Death is not a head cold from which the bereaved person will get better, recover or go back to normal.  What each day ushers you into is the new normal, which may take some months to become evident.  Part of the new normal is feeling guilty when you realise you have had a happy moment or a grief-free day.

Every reaction is personal and largely unpredictable.  You will feel sad but may also experience intense anger, exhaustion, or any one of a number of emotions unconnected apparently with the present moment.  Grief can hurl itself at you at unexpected and inappropriate or inconvenient times.  The bereavement websites will give you some idea of what is within the parameters of normal at a time when nothing is normal.

We are our scars.  All that we have endured is written on our souls which bloom with the bruises inflicted by life, love and loss.

Ultimately the lesson is to live every day.  To enjoy what is good in each day.  To appreciate each life that touches yours, whether you are surrounded by good souls. inexperienced souls, or flawed souls.  We are all part of history and just now in the middle of a pandemic we are made aware of it.

If you are trying to help someone who has suffered a bereavement, whilst you cannot undo what has been done, you can help by communicating, keep the bereaved person in the world with you even if only for the space of a conversation. I telephone my step-mum-in-law daily and feel like a dusty sparrow trying to fly upward with the world in my little beak.  All I do is ring and try to be cheerful and listen when listening is the thing that helps.  My step-mum-in-law has realised she needs to be around for her daughter and her granddaughter.  I consider it to be an achievement to look outside the grief and see your way back to life is through helping others.  If a death can be the loss of only the person who died by finding the positive in the most negative reality we experience, then that is what life and living is about, and ultimately the triumph of the soul that proves we can transcend circumstance with love.


As always I read all comments that are not spam.  Just click on the link below where it says ‘Leave a comment.’


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A suicide in the family.

There is no getting past how difficult this blog is going to be to write and to read.  I have included it in Dementia diaries because it belongs there.

Let me say straight away to long-term readers that no one that you know yet, through these columns, is the suicide.  My wider family is involved, especially my step-mum-in-law hereinafter the SMIL, who I have rung nearly every day since the beginning of lockdown.  It is her son who has taken himself off this mortal coil in an untimely fashion leaving his mother, his sister and his daughter distraught and short of a son, a brother and a father.  His daughter is only 19, he did not live with her mother.

It became apparent that he had been planning it for months; he left all of his mother’s affairs in order, and left all relevant documents, including his bank cards, neatly arranged for his daughter to find.  He was not apparently ill, though he had minor heart issues. He appeared to be logical and sane.  I talked to him with reasonable frequency over the last year as he was sometimes at his mother’s house when I rang.  There was no indication that he had this course of action in mind and, indeed, planned to all the minute details.

The reason for blogging this is the same as the reason for the dementia diaries – you are not alone with a problem if you know someone else has the same problem.  During and after the writing and posting of the dementia diaries, I received emails from all over the world.  It seemed as if a large number of people in every developed country were facing the problem of how to cope with ageing relatives needing help and care at a distance, sometimes in another country, or on another continent.  Former normality, where we all lived two streets away ‘from me Mam’ who was going to live to eighty if she was really lucky and then drop dead thoroughly thrilled that she managed a decade more than her three score and ten, no longer obtains.  It is more likely that in our late middle age we will be struggling with our own health while trying to assist with mentally compromised relatives kept going on trays full of pills, visits from healthcare professionals and frequent stays in hospital.  This stage of life, difficult for the carer, achieved with grace, kindness and understanding, can be life enhancing, both for the care giver and the receiver.  Life throws challenges at us all, it would not be much of a life if you had no challenges and the spiritual growth and personal satisfaction that comes from meeting and learning how to deal with all the trickier bits of life are ultimately the measure of a person.  Becoming more yourself through doing the difficult stuff is what life is about, much more than assembling a ton of money, having a great career, or simulating some aesthetic ideal.  But the difficult stuff is not easy, which is where the Dementia diaries came in.  They were the moral support you needed in the small hours sitting with a cup of cold tea, gazing at the carpet and wondering if it was only you had to put up with all of this, and, also, was it even possible, at all?

Hence this posting about suicide.  Whilst this is the first time it has happened to a family member, it is not the first time suicide has loomed in my life.  I would like to say straight away that is the place to go if you are contemplating suicide yourself.  Their phone lines are manned by trained people who can and will help you.  This organisation began in 1953 in the UK, and still serves the UK by telephone.  In other places of the world you can find telephone help with your search engine.  Talking to a stranger, who does not have the approving or disapproving face of a family member or friend but knows how to listen and what to say, can be the greatest help in the most despairing time.

The first person I encountered the tendency to suicide in, was me.  When I got eleven straight high scores in O level exams at 16, my mother, as always, jealous, decided I was too fat and that the best thing was to get the doctor to lock me up in a geriatric ward and have me starved for a fortnight while they went on holiday. I was not overweight until she started starving me.  The more she suspended food the fatter I became, until the second lock-up, from which I ran away.  In the 1960s it was not understood that the brains of teenagers are something like chrysalises, undergoing a metamorphosis into the adult with adult emotions, hormones, muscular development, reproductive equipment and the structures in the brain to facilitate and enhance all of that development.  The very last thing to do is suspend the fuel to make the change.

I stopped speaking and after several months began suicide attempts, by various means.  One involved taking a vast amount of headache pills, for which I was given an emetic of mustard, which I cannot stand to this day.  I was still weighed every Sunday and still punished if I had put on weight.  I was told it was my fault, that they had adopted a faulty one and that I had an endogenous depression caused by being born wrong.

The second time I encountered suicide was when we were in our late twenties.  A friend we had made at that time took his own life with great determination.  He was very bright, the son of immigrants, though born in this country.  His father was living out his ambitions through his driven son, who did not seem able to make friendships with girls easily, we were all aware that he was very happy when he was in company and very lonely when he wasn’t.

The only reason that people commit suicide is that it seems either like a good idea or like the only possible idea, just as the only reason for you being dead is that your heart has stopped beating.  There are many routes to arrive at this conclusion.  Money troubles, usually debt, are a common trigger.  I do know how despairing you can feel when there isn’t even enough money to eat.  When my mother-in-law died we were £16,000 in debt, at the time half the value of the house we were living in and many times the mortgage we were paying on it. We’d achieved the debt by entertaining the in-laws for four days every fortnight for five years on the pay of a lab technician, once I stopped teaching to have a family.

The other triggers are lack of love and social isolation, principally.  This is one of the main causes for peak suicide age for men being in the late twenties.  The biological urges to find a mate and reproduce are at their peak and in sharp contrast to the financial constraints of finding paid employment and getting a roof over your head.  There are additional stresses caused by the screens we are surrounded by, which present us with idealised images of people which we feel to be aspirational when they are far removed from the appearance of most normal people.

The dictum that hell is other people can be a trigger for some suicides.  Bullying, abuse and other forms of aggression by groups or individuals can be a potent trigger in what seems an inescapable situation.  My mother was a bully who could be charming to other people while bullying me.  Caring for her in her old age whilst never visiting on her any of the things she did to me raised my self esteem considerably.

Substance abuse of various kinds, leading to despair of ever being free of addiction, simultaneously creating chemical changes in the way the brain works, can also be a trigger, as can the abusive behaviour in another person who is the one with the substance problem.

All of these triggers to suicide and a few others are almost a description of what thousands of people have been enduring during the pandemic.  If these problems are yours, or you can see them in someone you are in contact with, or suspect someone you know may be thinking this way, please get help.  The pandemic is a guarantee that you are not alone in suffering with difficulties that seem unsurmountable.  All you have to do to find help, is to put the problem that is getting to you, into a search engine.  I have had a go experimentally to see what you turn up, and my computer now thinks I am a down-and-out on major drugs regularly beaten up and about to imminently off myself.  What that proves is that proper help from trained agencies in every possible problem is only as far away as the screen you are sitting in front of.  The conditions of difficulty that lead to thoughts of suicide, which is described officially as suicidal ideation, cause changes in the brain.  When a normal brain is sitting in your head, thinking of what you’re going to have for dinner, how you really ought to wash those joggers, or wondering if it is worth switching on daytime TV, the idea that you should take the butter knife and kill your self with it, right now, is ridiculous.  Our experience of life so far has taught us that good things can happen in the future, which, in the case of a chocolate biscuit and a cup of tea, may only be five minutes away.  So what happens to make the idea of ending your own life, which has already produced, usually, more good things than bad things, seem logical?

When my father died and I began caring for my demented mother, it was plain that I was the only person who would be talking to the doctor and that I needed to understand what was happening in her brain to grasp what the doctors were telling me, so that I could help her most effectively.  I began by reading a children’s book about the brain and, having absorbed that, everything else that was written in layman’s language that I could get my hands on.  Quite soon doctors began asking where I had done my degree in medicine.  By then I realised that my clinical depression as a teenager was almost certainly caused by the starvation.  Our brains use at least a fifth of the energy we consume every day.  Different parts of the brain undertake different tasks, even though the brain itself, sitting in the skull like a bowl of grey jelly, with a formidable wiring system, is so plastic that in the event of injury, other parts of the organ can compensate by partially relieving the damaged part of its duties.

In my twenties I had a stroke, which was not diagnosed until I had a head scan more than ten years after the event.  I was teaching at the time of the stroke, got wavy lines on the side of my vision and fell off the desk I was sitting on.  I felt very strange but the head of the school I was teaching at decided I was just swinging the lead, and nagged me back to school in a week.  I continued to feel odd for a few weeks.  The scan years later revealed that the stoke, in which blood flow is interrupted to part of the brain, stopping it working, had killed off part of my brain at the back of my head.  You could see, in the screen picture of the scan, the dark part of my brain, right next to the visual interpretation centres.  Yet I had recovered, obviously nearby areas had adapted and taken over the work of the dead cells.

I believe the human brain is the most amazing thing we have found in the universe so far.  The human brain took some of us to the moon with the assistance of instruments with less computing capacity than an old folk’s poke button telephone.  Human babies are born equipped to learn everything every person has ever known, including every language and all maths, and make choices based on environment, over the first few years, to narrow the abilities down to the specific place and conditions on the planet where they find themselves.  We are adaptable, our brains can shrink over the course of a hundred year life, yet still support life, thought and the memory of poetry we learned when we were five years old.

This comes at a cost. The organ is fragile, which is why it is enclosed in a bony box, it works by organically generated electricity, if the chemicals go wrong it can go wrong.  Deductive reasoning, orientation in space, use of language, perception of smell, and endless other, endlessly astounding abilities can be lost, vanish temporarily or go on the fritz.  Like the complex electrical circuitry they are, our brains can blink on and off, leaving logic nowhere, and you can’t even tell this is happening by looking from the outside.

This is the essence of clinical depression, a normal brain thinking abnormally because of nutrient deficiencies, the overwhelming presence of stress chemicals, worries, life changing events, and various other external and internal changes such as pregnancy and giving birth.

At the time, in the head of the person who is thinking so abnormally that suicide seems like a good idea, the ‘hang on, is this really what we want?’ response seems to be missing.  I remember thinking, when suicidal, that the world would be better off without me, that I didn’t want to be here, that life was impossible and also, because I was a teenager at the time, that that would jolly well serve my parents right!

As has been shown by the careful preparations of the family member who took himself off, sometimes suicidal thoughts don’t just seem like an answer to current problems, they seem like a very good solution to everything.  Anyone who plans to kill themselves with such dedication for so long, is probably convinced that it is the only possible response to an ongoing situation.  You would have to have a brain operating at the very edges of normal parameters to think this way.  When my father died my mother had a conversation with me in which she proposed I fetch a lot of pills and she would swallow them and that would sort the problem of being left alone.  Very little chatting to someone who had actually been diagnosed as demented, persuaded her that assisted suicide would cause many more problems than it would solve, and her last Christmas that she was able so joyfully, to spend with her great granddaughter was proof that something wonderful may always be round the corner.

To be theoretically in your right mind, apparently lucid, holding a normal conversation and yet at the same time, be constantly planning your suicide in your head, is an indication of how abnormally my SMIL’s son was thinking.  A brain that is working so poorly is not going to serve its owner well.

And that answers the question all survivors of the suicide of a family member or friend always ask first :Why?

The clue lies in the death certificate.  The death certificate says that the person took their own life while the balance of their mind was disturbed.

And the second questions that survivors ask: could I have stopped it, was it my fault, what did I do?  Are also answered by the same phrase.  The mind of a person whose mind is unbalanced, is not working in the same way as a rational mind because it is unhealthy.  The person is sick.

In the last year around the world people have encountered very challenging situations during the pandemic.  We know that for many people social isolation can itself be enough to unbalance a mind.  Brains are as unequal as any other part of the body in different people, some are strong,  others not as strong. This is why torturers of prisoners in modern times isolate them, deprive them of sleep and have constant loud noise in the vicinity.  They know that these are enough to break some people by disturbing the electrical working of the brain.  They often add constant death threats, so that the person is pumping themselves full of stress chemicals.  During the pandemic, many people have been isolated, not sleeping and terrified of imminent death from the virus.  It is the likelihood of the situation causing mental distress, that prompted me to add a bucket of chocolate to the lockdown library on the drive.  You can’t cure mental illness with chocolate, but you can perhaps make someone who serendipitously finds free chocolate, feel optimistic enough to take the actions that are helpful to lifting mood.

As I have discovered over the more difficult parts of my life which have included living without enough food for months on various occasions, living with random aggression for years, living with temporarily disabling injury, living with alcoholism and living with cancer, lifting the mood is not always easy.  There are plenty of medical solutions but to balance my brain, I prefer exercise, water, sleep and good nutrition.  Some of all of this in a regular way every day helps the body and the brain.  In times of unavoidable stress a pastime which focuses the attention elsewhere than the stressor is helpful.  Every one should have a hobby.  Preferably several.  Everyone should value and take great care of that person that you see in the mirror. You should make sure that your self-worth is not externally located.  Do not value yourself because you know someone famous, ‘like’ celebrities on social media, or count your worth to be the same as your bank balance, or your physical appearance.  All these things can vanish in a flash, leaving you with nothing.

If life calls upon you to do a very difficult task, such as living with a person whose brain does not function correctly because of drugs or alcohol, or caring for a person who is very aggressive, or a person with extreme physical requirements, your plan of action to save the day must include the plan of action to save yourself.  Rest, time off, respite care, a chance to get out in the fresh air for an hour or two, participating in a physical activity, a shopping trip just for you, time spent with a friend, a nice meal, a good night’s sleep, all these need to be built into the plan for  you, the carer, from the beginning.

Long-time readers will, I’m sure, be about to remind me that each time I cared for someone demented I ended up with cancer.  True.  I believe that in me cancer is a stress response.  I would still do the caring because this is the way to grow your soul. We learn to endure by enduring.  The ultimate early exit strategy robs us of the resilience we would have acquired if we had just hung on a bit longer, got a bit of help or a friendly ear, through the trickier bits.  At the end of Covid those of us who have survived will have changed.  We will have a new appreciation of the simpler things and different values, for some of us, than we previously held.

Not every one will make it.  Those who did not, whether they succumbed to the virus, the isolation, the mental strain or anything else, should be regarded as casualties of a once-in-a-hundred-years event.  This is how I am going to regard the loss of the SMIL’s son for myself.  I have continued to phone the SMIL every day, twice if she seems a bit down and I will use every bit of empathy I have and my ability to make her laugh.  I have started making her a lap quilt to send a hug for an afternoon nap and volunteering all the stuff I have discovered that needs to be done after a death and where to find out what to do, to her daughter.  If you have suffered a death during the pandemic, or do so in the future, ask your search engine what to do in the event of a death, follow the steps, ticking off a list and keep all the official papers somewhere safe for seven years in Britain or however long your search engine tells you is the legal requirement where you are.

Surviving the death of another from any cause is one of the most difficult things we may be required to do in our own lives.  Afterwards the steps to recovering our own equilibrium and living the rest of our own lives in the new circumstances are the same.  Exercise, sleep, water, nutrition, a place to put your head away from the worry and time are what we need.  No one is likely to live their whole life, if it is of normal span, without encountering the death of someone close to them.  The only person who will be with you for the whole of your life’s journey is that face in the mirror, which is why, in the awful event, it is of the utmost importance, as well as doing all the things you have to do, to be kind to yourself.  It is important to be patient with yourself, to know that your strong emotions will soften with time until all that is left in  your head are the positive and happy times.  Like waves washing at a fossil in a rock, often the structure of reality is not apparent for a long time.  If you have lost someone in the pandemic, it may help to realise that no one will know how the world has changed until long after this once-in-a-hundred-years event.  It may help to regard your lost person as part of great changes in history, as are we all.

If you are a survivor be grateful every day.  Throughout the last year I have made sure to end each day with a gratitude list.  Your list may be short.  It may be the bird singing in the garden.  It may be a spectacular sky.  It may be a cheerful word through a mask in a shop.  It may be a little bit of chocolate. It may simply be that we have survived another day and that we do not know what wonders tomorrow has in store for us.  We do know that we have to get there to find out.  We also know that we are only ever going to be asked to live with the difficulties of one day at a time. At the end of the day we sleep. During sleep we mend so that we can wake to the wonderful gift of a brand new day, refreshed, renewed.

Consider this – if you live long enough you will be able to bore the pants off your great grandchildren by telling them how you survived the great pandemic of ’20. And the third time you tell it, you’ll even know when they are going to start rolling their eyes and fidgeting.


I reply to emails that are not spam.  Click on the link where it says to Leave a comment.  If you are feeling very depressed or desperate please do talk to a doctor, or look for professional help with a search engine.

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Sculpting and mould making with Paperclay. 4.

Do not wait too long to rescue your sculpture from the mould.  Ten minutes would be perfect.  Gently work round with your fingers freeing the base, which you can see, from the embrace of the blue silicone. Sometimes, if your shape is close to a simple cone, sphere or cylinder, it will release with little effort and pop out.

However, if you can feel resistance, as you try to ease the sculpture out, and it will not readily release, as here

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and you know, because you did the sculpture, that the area sticking out, in this case the front paw, is the problem, then you need to make a release slit.

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Make the slit, feeling gently with your knife tip but making one smooth downward cut from the base, which will release, to the part which is sticking.  Cutting the silicone is easy and does not require force at all.  Try to slide the knife rather than hack. This is a small item, keep your fingers out of the way of the knife.  When you have made the cut, preferably not all the way down the side, ideally leaving what will become the standing base when the mould is turned over, intact, then

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gently ease the trapped part out of the mould.  This will work with gently persistence.  Now, because this is silicone, you can instantly take an impression. That fast!

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Make a small pointy shape of paper clay and insert it into the empty mould.  You need to get the paper clay right down into all the spaces, for which some sort of blunt poking tool, such as a paintbrush handle will help.  Keep adding paper clay and pushing it down until the mould is absolutely full to the top.  Because you have made a slit in the mould you need to keep the slit closed as you push. You could do this with your other hand or a small rubber band.

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Keep going until the mould is full, then level it off and demould, easing the shape out of the mould.  Even though you have just made this mould you are not the expert on how to use it.  You will achieve that with practice.  I had not put enough clay into the mould to fill the head space at the bottom of the mould.  What came out of the mould was the shape on the left of this picture.

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If this happens to you do not be alarmed, it simply means you have to learn your mould.  Looking at the shape that came out, the interior of the mould and the original sculpture, I could see where I had to put extra clay into the mould.  The second time I held the mould open with one hand while shoving bits of clay in with the other, held the mould closed  whilst I carried on shoving, used the paintbrush handle, shoved some more, smoothed off and demoulded the perfect replica to my original, on the right of the picture.

Demoulding the shape is only the start.  You can work on your demoulded sculpture as much as you like.  We can turn the all-purpose animal into a little fox, with a longer muzzle, a cat with bigger ears by squashing them with tweezers, or a cat washing its face by raising one paw.

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The animal on the right is the sculpture used to make the mould.  As you can see, paper clay sculptures shrink slightly as they dry out.  They will shrink more if you have had to wet the clay to make it workable. They will shrink differently with different brands of paper clay.  Although the brand I am using to make the mould is Paperclay, you can use other brands, including the super light varieties, in the silicone mould you have made.  Each brand will give slightly different results.  While they are still newly demoulded you could cut them in half with a knife to stick on the front of a card, completely remodel the head, add a long tail, or a mane,  or do what ever you wish to make every sculpture unique.  Each one is your own original work of art.  They are your copyright.  To colour them, although they are paper and will colour by all the means you use to colour paper, including marker pens, pastel sticks and so on, I suggest acrylic paints because they are fast and leave a nice smooth surface.  If, once the sculptures are bone dry and you are ready to paint them, you notice surface imperfections, these are more easily rectified with a couple of coats of acrylic paint than by other colouring mediums.

Acrylic paint for hobbies or artists is available everywhere.  For small sculptures you only need a small blob at a time, pea sized is about right. It dries out so quickly I wouldn’t advise leaving it uncovered and going off for a cup of tea, it will have gone unsaveably solid by the time you return.  It is also a trial to wash off nice palettes and can wreck your clean water colour palette with ease.  For this reason I put tiny amounts in the lids of individual ice cream tubs, scrape off the residue and chuck the lids in the recycling.

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Acrylic paint will stick to your fingers as well as any receptacle, so to paint small items, washable metal tweezers are your friend.

Of course, this method does mean you may be forced to eat many, many, quite a lot, of individual pots of ice cream.

But you know how it is, us sculptors, Donatello, Bernini, me, you, we just have to suffer for our art.


If you perpetrate the odd masterpiece, or even just manage something that looks like something and doesn’t fall over, I’d love to see a picture.  Click on the link below.

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Sculpting and mould making with paperclay 3.

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Over the course of the lockdown, when I ventured out in my blue plastic gloves, I stopped wearing rings because it was pointless, and nail varnish, which sticks to plastic gloves and therefore is even more pointless.  If you, like me, now have a stockpile of nail varnish going off faster than a teenager the moment a party in a park is permitted, here is something infinitely more interesting to do with it.

Give the utterly dry small seated animal one good coat of nail varnish all over and let it dry hard.  Even coat the base, helped by your waxed paper or non-stick surface.

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Here are some silicone moulds made with the Pebeo Siligum.  These are technically open-faced moulds. The other type of mould would be a fully enclosed mould made of two or more separately made parts.  Models produced from an open-faced mould will have a flat side that was out in the air and smoothed off when the paperclay was put into the mould.  The hands were put in to the mould to create good looking backs of the hands.  The fronts, which are unformed, and face down on the paper, were just flattened off.  The mice are both sitting on bases that were the empty-looking part of the mould.  The middle mould shows clearly a release slit made with a craft knife.  As you can see from the mice and the hands you can make and retrieve quite complex shapes from these simple silicone moulds.

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The Siligum comes in two pots, each with a screw-on lid and an inner lid.  As soon as they are thoroughly mixed the result will begin to cure and be permanently shaped within five minutes.  Therefore, just like a good ghostbuster, do not cross the streams, do not get blue stuff into the white pot do not get white stuff into the blue pot.

Using your knife, remove a portion of one colour of Siligum from the pot, roughly equal in volume to the item from which you wish to take a mould.  Then, because you are not doing this for a blog, as I am, put the lid back on.  Clean your knife (wiping on a tissue will do), then remove an equal amount from the other pot.  Check that there is no contaminating colour in the other pot, if there is, dig it out and then put the lid on.  Combine the two lumps and mix them in your fingers, stretching, rolling and mixing until they are absolutely streak-free.  This takes less than five minutes for a small mould.

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Roll the combined Siligum into a shape that will contain the sculpture.  I flatten the base of mine because it will be easier to use if it can stand up on its own.  I rolled the cylinder on the waxed paper until it was properly cylindrical then

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I plunged the little animal head first into the Siligum.

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I worked my fingers round until I could not feel any paws, pushing the Siligum into any spaces I could feel then

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I re-flattened the base.  Then I waited ten minutes.

A whole ten minutes.

Feels like a lifetime. Do it anyway.  If you are an impatient person, go and put the kettle on, or wash your hands twice while singing Happy Birthday To You and next time I’ll tell you how to get the sculpture out of the mould.


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Sculpting and mould making with paper clay. 2

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If you have read part 1, which, as blogs go, is the post down below this one, you know how to sculpt the body of the all-purpose-sitting animal.  I refer you again to the photo at the top of the previous blog (below, I know, who invented this?) in which you can see that I am making very small sculptures. The cat above is just over an inch tall, 3 centimetres, which is not tall at all.  If you are not a miniaturist, it doesn’t matter, just make a bigger one, making the right shape in any size is a matter of tools, hands and materials.  If you wanted to make a cat life-size, paper clay would have to be reinforced with something, such as a wire frame, if you are making microscopically, say under a centimetre, the paper clay will not be fine enough, you would be able to see fibres on the surface.  The size I am working with would be about right for a twelfth scale dolls’ house, to stick on a greetings card, or as a small collectable ornament for a printer’s tray. I think this type of small sculpture in paper clay would hold together well, easily up to six inches tall.  Bigger than that the clay gets heavy; sticking the legs on and making them stay there might be tricky.  This type of sculpture is ideal for models up to about four inches tall.  At this size, or smaller, you are going to get at least twenty models out of a block of Creative Paperclay. One to three inches is a good size to display in printer’s trays. There are quite a few modern versions of printer’s trays easily and cheaply available, most craft outlets will have wall hanging, sub-divided shallow boxes available in either MDF or cardboard.  Tim Holtz, craft guru, does one for Advantus in which the subdivisions are removable, both craft channels in the UK, which ship internationally, have versions by various makers.  If you didn’t want to give away your sculptures or sell them, these display boxes would be ideal and you could fit them with a clear plastic front and never have to dust your sculptures.  My father collected antiques life long.  Married, it took my mother no time at all to insist on the need for a cleaner because she had better things to do than dust and it is easier to sack a cleaner who has broken a valuable antique china ornament, than your wife, especially if she is a good cook.

However, our paper clay sculptures are light and strong.  If you drop them on the carpet, no harm will come to them, though it might if you trod on them.  If you fill a small wall hanging box with them, the weight would still be mainly that of the box. It would be worth adding a clear front, the sculptures, being light, could drop out if someone wafted past. If you dropped them on the floor and someone else vacuumed them up, that, in the middle of the frustrations of lockdown might bring matters to a head.  And so will I.

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Here is our sculpted body of a sitting animal.  On the right is the other piece of clay.  I have rolled it between my hands, pressing more on one side than the other to produce an egg shape.  Making sure the top of the body and the underside of the head are damp enough to adhere to each other, place the head on top of the body and hold it there with the finger and thumb of one hand.

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Work around the junction of the two pieces of clay with your sculpting tool smoothing the join.  Work all the way round once, then maybe again with water on the tip of your knife until the join seems firm and you cannot see the join anymore at all, even better than the join on Little Ernie Wise’s wig.  If it’s invisible, it’s good.

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Break two very small pieces of paper clay off the block to make the ears. I scooped tiny bits off with the end of my knife.  Pick one proto ear up on the end of your knife., stabbing it if necessary. Holding the body by the lower end, as you see in the photo, place the knife with the ear on it on top of the head. squash it on and work round the ear, as you did the neck, until it is attached.

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You can make a little indent with the tip of your knife in the front of the ear to make the earhole.  I would be wary of making the ears too thin for the mould, but when you are demoulding the finished shape from your mould you can reshape the ears to be thin, pointy, flatter or whatever you like.  You could make them very thin by squeezing them with tweezers.  In a little animal like this manipulating the ears on the finished shape can add a lot of character.  What you want now is strength; solidly attached, small ears are more likely to survive the moulding process than anything thin or very elegant.

Now we have a recognisable small sitting animal.

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As you can see, I have not refined the ears yet but they are very firmly attached, so I can mess around with them without them breaking off.

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And here I am with my ears refined.  All I need to do now is use the tip of my knife to define a mouth, or maybe make a slight depression for the scoops under the eyes.  You could consider adding little rolled balls for eyeballs, though in this size they need to be small or your animal will look as if it’s on Class A drugs.  You could also add a longer muzzle (but not much longer, it may pull off in the mould.)  In general that’s it.

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You have now managed to sculpt a small sitting animal in paper clay.  I am proud of you.  Be proud of yourself.  A new skill acquired!  You are qualified to tell people who spent their lockdown sitting on the sofa, eating, that you used yours to turn into a sculptor!


Let the little animal dry over night. Make sure you seal the clay away in a plastic packet and go and find some old nail varnish for next time, which is mould making.  The mould making is easier than this, you’ve done the hard bit, you sculptor you!

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Sculpting and mould making with paper clay. 1

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I’ve been sculpting some small animals and a doll in paper clay.  I thought you might like to have a go too.  When I began doll making over thirty years ago (I know – where does the time go?) it was considered too difficult for normal people to sculpt.  In fact the first modern doll moulds were made in the 1960s, when domestic kilns became available, by taking antique dolls apart and taking moulds from the pieces.

Using an item already made to take moulds from is, in fact, illegal.  Any shape that has been made by a person to sell, or reproduce and sell, is copyrighted just by being made.  When you think about it, this is how the sculptors make their living, whether it is a Disney Snow White figure, a brass part for an aeroplane or a new kitchen spatula, someone had to make the original shape and was paid to do so.  It’s their job, so you cannot simply take a mould from it and make another, you’d be in breach of copyright and if you sold the result you could be sued.  This has actually happened in the miniature world before.  It’s not even safe if the person who, for example, invented the character in a story, that caused films and models and toys, has long since died, as their descendants will have inherited the copyright. At this point would-be sculptors and doll makers usually make a wailing noise and storm off in a sulk, thinking it’s too difficult and they’d better take up an alternative career as a recycling colleague or horizontal temporary storage facility re-stacker in a supermarket.

But there is no need to go off in a strop, sculpture is something anyone can learn who has two useable hands and eyes.  Though I did once encounter a couple making miniatures who had one hand each, the minis were good and the couple were even better.

I never had a formal lesson, there may be better ways of doing it but this is my way and it is easy.

To begin, assemble supplies.

You will need:

Air drying paper clay. There are many brands on the market, look for one which is less like paper and more like clay.  To make a mould from your sculpture you need one that dries quite hard.  Any that are described as ‘super light’ usually have air incorporated and do not dry firmly enough to take a mould from.  The brand I use is Creative Paperclay modelling material in a 16 ounce pack in a black wrapper.  This has been going for years, is stocked by the big river retailer and lasts years opened as long as you keep it in a very sealed bag.  Mine is in a bag with a rubber band round it, because, as it dries in the air, you need to exclude air in storage.  I hadn’t used it for a couple of years, got it out again and it was good to go.  Looking at it, I see it is made by the Creative Paperclay co. in Camarillo.  If you cannot get this, if you are shopping online, ask for one that dries hard and behaves like clay.

Tools.  I am making in small scale, as you can see by the photo of the animals by the pen.  The size is not important but you do need the right tools.  In the size I work, my best friend is my disposable scalpel, it has a tiny sharp tip.  If you are working on a sculpture, the finished size of which is about the size of your hand, you may only need your hand as the tool.  You can get plastic sculpting tools which will help make the shapes.  In small size, cocktail sticks, also known as toothpicks, are helpful and anything else small and hard that will make a mark, or has a flat surface to smooth, and will not disintegrate in water, which is used for smoothing the surface of the model.  If you are reluctant to buy tools until you see if you are any good, I’d suggest assembling a metal tail comb, toothpicks, paint brush handles and your smallest old knife, doesn’t have to be sharp, an old butter knife will be fine, and a craft knife will be better because of the fine tip.

Water in a jam jar.

For the moulds I am using Siligum Gede, Pebeo Silicone two part moulding material. This is another item that has been going for years and keeps for years.  You can get it in two sizes, the largest, which might make about eight to ten small animal moulds is £22 about, currently where I am.  There is a smaller pack that might make about five small moulds at a lesser price.  There are other two part silicone mould making materials, the Pebeo one has the advantage of being widely available, mine was the big river retailer again, but most craft stores will be aware of the brand Pebeo.  The Pebeo moulding material is fast and I do mean fast.  You can make a mould in five minutesThis is ideal if you are going to be Bernini in a rush, or need to be Henry Moore by tomorrow.  It is also good because if the first effort is awful, you’ll have time to sleep on it and have another quick go in the morning.

The only other thing you need is a surface to work on.  Non stick would really help.  I’m using waxed paper waste from sticky-backed craft sheets.  A non-stick mat, an old baking tray or even just a bit of newspaper will do but non-stick helps you more, because the model you are making, while it is wet, doesn’t stick to the surface every time you put it down.

Let’s begin.

I am going to model a small sitting animal, because I think that’s something most people would like to have a go at.  I am saying ‘animal’ deliberately because, having got the basic shape, you could tweak it to be a dog, a cat, a fox, a bear, a mouse, whatever you can think of that has four legs and sits on its bottom.  The reason for choosing this shape is that a model is easier to display with a good base that sits firmly and a paper clay shape is easier to make in a mould and demould if it is basically a cone.

Proportions are interesting.  In an adult human the shape of someone standing upright can be divided into seven equal measures, with the head occupying the top space.  For children we need five spaces with the head in the top space.  The majority of mammals have young whose heads are proportionally larger in relation to the rest of their bodies, than adults. As we are mammals and need to feed and protect our young, we do not find the giant head scenario at all horrifying, we find it cute.  For this reason I have proportioned the animal as a young one, you will love it even if it’s a really awful sculpture, much as you do the goofy kid in the striped tee-shirt with the huge eyeglasses and the ripped jeans.

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Break a bit of paper clay off the block about this big and roll it in a ball.

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and another one this big in comparison.

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Use your flattening tool, butter knife, or whatever dipped into water to shape the larger ball into a pyramid type shape with a flat base.

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Use the modelling tool to push a pointy hollow in the front of the clay. This will form the front legs of the sitting-up animal.


Use the knife to lever up (gently) two front legs.

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Use the point of your tool to make a depression in the side that suggests where the stomach of the animal would be and shape the back leg that the animal is sitting on. It does not have to be perfect yet, we are aiming for ‘looks a bit like, in the right sort of size’. If you have done a giant back leg or one hefty front leg and one weedy one this is the time to correct the shape.  You can remove clay with the tip of your knife and smooth some more to make both legs thin, or add a tiny bit of clay and smooth it in with water to make both legs fat.  Keep going until the back legs are roughly the same size and shape and the front legs are too.

Turn the front ‘paws’ out a little and shape them with a wetted knife.  I have made one front leg slightly raised but make sure at least one is touching the ground, so the finished model will not fall over.

Now make a tail by pulling a tiny bit of clay off the block and rolling it, either between your hands, with one finger across the wax paper or with a tool.

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This sort of size, in comparison to the body.  Now stick it round the body, attaching the base of the tail by pressing with your modelling tool and using the tip of the knife to smooth it round the body.  Keep smoothing, using water where appropriate until it is securely attached.  Smooth the base of the animal to incorporate the tail into the base from below.

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Keep going until it is attached and incorporated.  Don’t forget that the paper clay you demould, when you have made the mould, can be reworked to separate the tail.  We are trying to make as cohesive a shape as possible to make the mould making successful.

In sculpting the easiest shape to make a mould from, similar to an animal or human, would be a cone shape.  Anything sticking out is in peril of being pulled off when you demould the shape, taking it out of the mould.  If you think about a cone going into a mould point first and coming out by pulling the base, success is almost guaranteed.  However, adding bits that stick out, causes problems.  One of the most typical is a chin.  A chin on a person, is what in sculpting terms, is known as an undercut.  It doesn’t only stick out, it juts down.  For this reason we will try to make our simple sitting animal as cone-like as possible. It is discouraging to make a sculpture so good, you are considering permitting your local national gallery to showcase it to enhance their reputation, only to find, when you’ve made the mould, so they can sell them by the hundreds and make your fortune, that every time you take the shape out of the mould you pull the ears or half the face off.  This may well be the wellspring of ‘modern’ art but we want no truck with that. We have ambition. We’re going to try to make it look like what it’s meant to be.

I am going to break off now because the publishing programme will only support a small number of pictures.  So if you are reading this and nothing follows, just wait, part two which describes modelling and attaching the head, will follow as soon as I’ve written it.

However, it might be time, if you have got this far, to allow yourself a smirk.  You are actually sculpting.  Yes, you are.  Michelangelo, Rodin, me, you.  Oh yes. Sculptors, us lot.  Fame awaits, just as soon as I’ve written part two and told you how to put the head on.  Meanwhile, just regard it as a body of work.

Back soon.


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Wad some po’or…….

The incomparable Mr Burns did remark that it would be interesting if we could see ourselves as others see us.

It would, and, also, quite alarming.

This morning, being Friday, is recycling day at the edge of the pavement.  Round here, by order, you are not allowed to put your rubbish out on the borders of your curtilage, (which you probably never knew you had until you read the legal document that says which is yours and which is next door) until six of the clock in the PM.  Otherwise, continues this jolly directive from the council, you can be hauled up before the beak and fined for littering even though your assorted rubbish has not laid bag upon the public highway but is still constrained within the confines of the borders of your property including adjoining land.

So, naturally, everyone puts their stuff out round about five, until we get to the summer, when it will appear about eleven at night because the neighbour who you take the clue from that it is recycling day, has gone on holiday for a fortnight.

I always try to get every last tin, newspaper, bit of cardboard and so on, out, so I can begin a new fortnight with nice empty bags.

It’s practically a recipe for a happy life in my book, beginning a fortnight with empty bags.  So, late on Thursday I am to be found scuttling round the house collecting rubbish.  I like to go to bed knowing all is clear, and sleep soundly.

Would that the OH did the same. On a different page entirely, he manages to secrete the recyclable and leave it for me to find early in the AM in little piles all over the kitchen. One pile beside the stove of a squished egg box and some tin wrappers.  On the sink a baked bean tin and its lid.  On the washing machine a beer can and a low alcohol beer can and assorted bits of paper.

It was really frosty this morning; the minute I got out of bed my hair stood on end.  So I popped my work-out leggings, which have seen better days, on top of my pyjama shorts and my scruffy, quite small, bed jacket on top.

In the kitchen, faced with the non-arrival of the bin men yet, piles of recyclable rubbish and a very frosty drive I methought me (because I can wake up quite posh) of dear old Ted next door.  Ted remembered it was recycling day just as he had got into bed and then went on to his drive with the big red box, tripped and spent most of the night on the drive fallen over in his pyjamas in the cold.  I never knew and still feel guilty that I did not somehow know he was lying on his drive a few feet away.  So accordingly, I got the first jacket out of the cupboard, the one with the overtight sleeves and the slightly overtight body which nearly zips up if you breathe out, collected the rubbish and headed for the end of my curtilage.

Which is when, in a barrage of cheery ‘good mornings’ I discovered passers-by, the lady walking her dog and  the folk at the bus stop, see me as the endlessly cheerful lady who does the books.

So I smiled (thank goodness I had brushed my teeth) said ‘Good morning,’ back.  Recycled and scuttled off indoors with my genuine bed hair, fat arms sticking out sideways, ankle gap between the slippers and the ancient leggings and a bed jacket sticking out under the zipped-up stomach.

I believe I still have sufficient glamour to require make-up, working out, new clothes and all the rest of it.  Thanks to the giftie. all I now need is pyjama trousers that actually cover my legs.  Though I should have known, I had to provide a driving licence photograph earlier this week. The OH kept taking a photograph of this old lady.  Horrors! ’Twas I, apparently, bag lady on the kerb, smiling at the nice humans.

The only saving grace in all of this is that old people (like me) wake up early and have poor memories, so with any luck the shame and notoriety will have worn off by this afternoon.


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