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 www.Samaritans.org 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.

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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.

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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!

Amazing!

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.

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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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Read all about it.

I wish I could say I’d planned my life and then carried out the plan.  This is one mode of operation that life coaches are awfully keen on, though the minute anyone says ‘life coach’ I immediately wonder why they haven’t got a proper job.

The truth is that most of the best things that have happened in my life have arisen like hair from a plughole and nothing I had planned at all.

The lockdown library is a case in point.

It started almost a year ago like this:

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The big river retailer announced it had better things to do in a global pandemic than deliver books, all the libraries shut and I remembered a friend saying that where she lived it was common practice to leave a book you no longer wanted on a wall for someone else to enjoy.

The OH consulted the WHO website to find out how to do this without transmitting diseases and I took the lovely little aluminium green house staging table that we had spent the weekend cleaning and reconstructing out to the front drive, which was still under construction.  I anchored a leg into the drive, so it was safe and strong, ascended the loft ladder in search of books, cleared the drawer of plastic sandwich bags and made a notice for the back of the table.  Then I posted the result on local social media to spread the idea and took the books inside for the night.

Whereupon the table was stolen.  Someone wrenched it from its moorings, leaving a leg half way along the pavement.

I was sad, because that table was one of the first things I bought when we got married and had a garden.  It helped to grow a lot of food when we were poor.  Many a tomato sandwich started on that table.

Undeterred, I put out the books on various garden tables including the one the builders were using for their tea.

A couple of months later I was on to a little trolley on wheels, designed to be a kitchen cart, I think. That was slightly easier, though I did have to carry it over the uneven crazy paving, wishing every time I’d gone for sane paving.  This lasted a couple of months until the first wheel dropped off.  So I propped it up on the end of the drive with a brick.

When I got to one wheel and three bricks, it was time to think again.

So I threw caution to the snow that was whistling in the winter wind and invested in a proper agricultural cart.

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Taa daa!

The now utterly wheel-less previous cart is up there at one end, the middle has become the children’s, how-to and travel section.

At the back of the cart I now place another box.

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A lady whom I have chatted to frequently requested jigsaws for her elderly parents.  The knitting patterns that are in there were a donation which I have augmented with various craft books and what you might term women’s interest items.

The bucket is treat-sized bars, each in a little sealy bag from my show store.  There was already quite a lot of chick lit, now there’s choclit.  I started this in the third week of January, usually the worst week for suicides.

The drive, as you can see is finished.  There’s a metal eye cemented into the drive, the cart is padlocked to the chain that goes through it and there’s a brick to stop it rolling back down.

Passers-by love the library.  Every morning when I put the cart out I am greeted by cheerful good mornings from numerous walkers, riders, wheel chair users and anyone else going past at the time.  Occasionally people knock at the door to ask the rules and are thrilled to find there are no rules except the first one, to disinfect the plastic bag at home and wait 72 hours before retrieving the book. I quarantine all donations I intercept, but cannot prevent someone taking a book which has just been left.  Early on I realised I was giving away picture books.  I buy three new sets of ten for ten pounds from a cut price store online about once a month. A few weeks ago, looking out of my front bedroom window I saw a little girl skipping and hopping along the pavement with a new book in a bag.  I am on the way, walking, to the hospital up the hill, quite a few medical staff who pass this way claim a bit of escapism for work breaks.

I get lovely donations too.  It is heartening to see classic novels going in and out.  Good writing is still enjoyed.

It says on the notice that the library is there because of demand. If there is ever a week when no one takes a book or leaves a book I’ll stop but that hasn’t happened yet.

It probably helps that my house is on the way to the local Marks and Spencer’s food outlet garage.  People pop down there for milk and a paper and something for lunch and return with a book to read.

There’s a girl whose engineer father is out of work, she leaves her baby story books for other children, as well as taking books and always walks taller on the way back.

I know there are lockdown libraries in many places.  Local residents helping each other has been one of the gifts of Covid.

It’s just a very good way to pass the time, is reading, but you know that.

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The gift.

I distinctly recall, when I was three years old deciding that I would never give my mother the satisfaction of seeing me cry.  I never did and now my emotions are locked down tighter than a ship of nuns in pirate-ridden seas.

Now you might say that I am a severely damaged individual.  Maybe so. I am, nevertheless, an individual who can function in most circumstances.

Going to pieces is never very helpful, neither is breaking down in floods of tears, stumping around or throwing a wobbly.  At the end of all of that you find yourself in exactly the same position but, additionally, upset.

In the latest film by the neighbour, James Bond rides a motorbike up a wall with never a hair out of place.

Savoir faire, that’s the fella. How does JB acquire his?  Well, first he went to public school, I think, as good a training as you could get anywhere.  I went to a posh girl’s school where you payed hockey in all weathers in your little divided shorts which enabled you to watch your knees going first blue, then purple then glowing red, just before your legs fell off.  Some folk gave in slightly and could be found snivelling in corners.  Everyone dreaded the year with the terrifying teacher when we were eight.  She could fire mental arithmetic questions at the speed of light on a Friday morning and was quite likely to stand you in a stress position if you got three in a row wrong.  Everyone knew you were not in the kindergarten with the modelling clay and your little box of counters now, sunshine!  Oh no!  Gym outside in the rain in your underwear, rush back inside at the double for some hemming which had better be invisible or else!  Colouring in was exactly inside the line and nowhere else and completely even.  Twenty-four little girls had a year of terror and I had a walk in the park because my mother was worse.  Much much worse.  I was not expecting life to be easy and was not disappointed.  By eight I had developed a character like rusty iron and could crack jokes under any circumstances.  I was also very subversive.  I was James Bond in training.

It was, of course, all very well for me but others have not had my massive advantages, chief of which was the knowledge that if I hadn’t been adopted, I’d have been sent to Australia as slave labour, so that everything subsequently could be viewed as a lucky escape.,

In the present circumstances, of the inconvenience of a global pandemic, those of us who have previously enjoyed less than rosy lives surrounded by admiring loved ones, with an enormous salary, frequent holidays in the best hotels round the world, the perfect, face, figure, lifestyle, companions and everything just ticketty boo, are at an enormous advantage. We are not expecting much if any of that, so when it gets taken away we are not just OK with it, we are exactly the same.

If you did have all or some of that, this is the best opportunity you may ever have to develop some resilience.

Resilience is the name of the game.  Resilience is the attribute that enables perseverance.  How many times did James Bond fall off the scooter before he got up the wall?  The crucial thing was not the falling off, it was the getting back on again.

I sometimes see, walking past my house, a lady who I know lives several doors up.  She walks with a stick, having been run over on this busy main road, which now has speed bumps, thanks to her accident.

She walks with a stick.

To that you can reply: Oh dear how awful! Or you can see that:  She walks.

Do you remember Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist?   What’s the first thing you remember about him?  The second is that he was still here despite the wheelchair, still teaching despite not being able to talk, still making television programmes many years after a diagnosis which would have caused others to give up.  He was resilient and it was his resilience that enabled him to do all the subsequent things.

Resilience is a life skill which can only be developed in adversity.  The ability to get up and make the best of the day when yesterday was awful is the foundation of resilience.

Optimism feeds it.  You cannot know what is ahead but if you anticipate something terrible and react to it before it happens and then it does happen, you’ve made yourself suffer twice. Something wonderful may be just round the corner but you won’t know until you get there.  You do have to go there, but only you can decide to go cheerfully. You can be glum if you like and then, when you’ve got there, find you’ve inflicted unnecessary misery on yourself.

The great thing about resilience is that the more you practice it the better you get at it.

This ground hog day in which we find ourselves is the most perfect training for developing resilience.  We do not know what will happen next.  The situation is at once, very stressful and very boring.  We are thrown back on our own resources.  No one is coming to our rescue.  All measures may be ineffective in the long run.  There is no true end in sight.  Death may be just around the corner.

Absolutely perfect!

We have the time and the quiet to look inside ourselves and find the will to survive.  We have another day and another to learn to put a cheerful face on things.  We can all round us see those who are worse off.  Think not?  You could be going through this in a refugee camp, some people are.  If you are reading this on an electronic device by definition you are one of the lucky ones.  Smile because you either haven’t got it yet or you have and you have survived.

I don’t know why I’m telling you, I correspond by email with enough readers to know that readers of this blog are mostly survivors of their own lives.  And well done if you are.

This is life skills practice.  You and I cannot just do this, we can do this in style with a smile and probably even crack a joke as well.

Frank, Dean and Bing all sang You either have or you haven’t got style.  This is our chance, you and I, to polish up our style.  It’s more than a chance, it’s a gift. Day after day ride that bike up that wall until we can do it without a hair out of place and a smile. (I’m going for a laconic grin and one eyebrow slightly raised, what about you?)

My savoir has never been more faire dear, hand me the top hat and the cane, I’m practising to come out of this dancing!

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Up, up and away!

The OH discovered a video on social meja of a young lady, probably about 19 or 20, expressing her frustration. ‘Nobody understands!’  she wailed, stamping around what looked like the kitchen, ‘I neeeed to go clubbing!’

Quite so.  My heart, of course went out to her while my soul, in sympathy, wailed to the tune of the current restrictions.  Here are some of mine:

I need to go free diving in the sea to 100 feet with my back-up team to ensure I come to no harm, or sharks. I saw a picture in a magazine once, interestingly taken from below, of the long slim diver with the massive flippers, going up, up, out of the dark bit into the light with the long legs in the massive flippers, powering with strength and freedom to the surface.

I neeeed those legs.

The chances of skydiving are not good at present.  I may well wish to jump out at a thousand feet with nine other people to make interesting and artistic shapes in the beautiful blue sky but it cannot be done.  Because of social distancing there is no way we could touch hands to make the star, or feet to make the outward explosion, we cannot stack or breakaway, or even free fall in tandem.  It’s a right pity, it is.

I have always wanted to be part of the see-how-many-people-can-fit-in-a-telephone-box thingy.  Wouldn’t it be hilarious?  Just ten of us, suitably plastered, in swim wear, or better still, really smashed, in the nude, I bet it’s never been done.  I neeeed to do it.  On some holiday destination island with a lot of clubs and drunks.  Epic!

Meanwhile, back at the suburban dwelling all alone, other frustrations are mounting.  Why does the computer only decide to update itself when you are tired and want to go to bed, exactly then? Installing 1 of 15 updates, do not switch me off or I will never go back on again and you’ll be really isolated.  If you do anything other than sit there watching the little spinning thing go round and round, I will break and you’ll never be able to watch videos of cats, or roller skating tortoises again.  Update half a percent complete, fifty more minutes of this boredom to go and if your head drops and you fall asleep on the keyboard I will break forever.  And if you order a new one online the delivery man will hurl it in the porch and you’ll have to spend the rest of your life on the phone to a call centre trying to prove you didn’t break it to get a free one for someone you want to impress and are hoping still fancies you even though you haven’t seen them for eleven months.  Update three and a quarter percent complete, switch off and your life is soooo  ova!  I’m all you’ve got now and don’t I know it!

And when tomorrow you switch on the second screen will suggest, so ungrammatically that ‘I cannot log in. I forgot my password.’  I have forgotten my password dummy, it is not simple past tense, who gave you this power, you ungrammatical oaf!  I don’t require a password at all, I’m the only person here, look around, can you spot the crowd?  No, me neither!

Then there is clothing.  What are you wearing? (Hint, look down.)  Is it the all-day pyjama again?  Is it?  I haven’t worn a ring in nearly a year.  They don’t fit under nitrile gloves.  A bracelet? A brooch?  None of mine were chosen for their relevance to the legging.  I neeed to wear nice clothing almost as much as I neeeed to shovel chocolate in, after which, if we ever surface again I will neeeed bigger clothing.  Clothing manufacturers who have survived would be well advised to design and go into production with extra plus size diamond encrusted easy-wear jogging bottoms with matching cloth-of-gold waist scarves.  You heard it here first long before the long-unused previously thin-as-a-rake models emerge blinking in the sunshine to waddle off down the catwalks, turn, wait for their hips to catch up, and waddle back again

There is going to be a new world order, dictated by our neeeeds. We all neeed to attract a close up skin companion.  In pursuit of this the day will arrive when the huge humans that are left lumber outside, wearing only diamonds to scamper at, collide with and roll around on other left-over humans.  And I, the shortest, fattiest, least grammatical, will be the leader of them all and make a law that we all get freeee joggers, freeee diamonds and freeee chocolate.

Because I neeeed it and I bet you do too.*

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* Jane Laverick.com is not responsible for any similarities of opinions expressed to any  politician, or three-year-old.**

**They can stamp their own feet, I just don’t care!


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Snow day.

It is snowing.

If you live in bits of Canada, quite a lot of Sweden, the polar research lab in Antarctica, this is probably not very earth shattering news.

In the West Midlands of the UK, an extremely temperate zone, this is quite unusual.  It is not lying thickly but it’s enough to stop me putting the library out because the books wouldn’t  like it.

I have lived in various parts of the UK and it’s quite surprising what a difference location makes to snow in such a small island.  At school in the North East of England next to the sea, we learned about the modifying effects of the proximity of the sea on a nearby landmass.  I don’t recall going to the beach in the snow much, the North Sea being pretty chilly all year round.  It wasn’t too bad if you got all of you into the sea and swam, but paddling was likely to leave you with feet a different colour from the rest of you.  I did go to school, on the bus for five miles and then a half hour walk through a park in all weathers.  Snow days had not been invented.  Playtime in the snow, outside, was bracing.  Our school uniform was pleated short woollen skirts, which indoors would steam for a couple of lessons.  Going home, your thick tweed coat kept you insulated rather than warm.  It did snow reliably but it never lay on the roads, not that it mattered because not everyone had a car.

Leaving home at twenty one, I moved to Nottingham, in the middle of the country. After marrying we settled in a house in an elevated position, known as Mapperley Top.  The snow lay thickly for weeks.  Snow days had still not been invented, this teacher went to school in hail, rain, or shine but if it was very snowy the children were not allowed out to play, mainly because of the corridors.  These ran round the entire rectangular school on the inside, enabling the children to trample snow straight into the classrooms, though, as the corridors were glass roofed and full of holes, the corridors were always wet anyway.

When I left for motherhood the infant travelled by pram in the summer and sledge in the winter.  I drag a mean sledge, I do.  It’s one of my effortless abilities, along with sandcastle building, that has not been required much at all subsequent to its acquisition.

We moved to Aylesbury Vale, which is, as the name suggests, in a rift valley.  I did not live there long enough for much snow but the ground baked so hard in summer the only plants that I could grow successfully in the solid mud were roses.  The vale was a frost pocket.  My attempts to grow asparagus were thwarted by late frosts, which gave way just in time for the slugs to get going.

And here we are in the West Midlands.  It’s a bit Camelot-like, if you recall the song from the musical.  The snow does not lie upon the hillsides, the summers are balmy, the autumns are crisp and nothing lasts too long for boredom.  Here, at last, where the weather is well-behaved, we have entirely unneeded snow days.

Have we all got soft? (Yes.)  Is it global warming? (Maybe.)

My location does, of course, account for the paucity of snow in Shakespeare.  It’s a great plot device, is snow. The menace it lends to The Wind in The Willows is memorable. Oh the thick snow!  Oh the poor little creatures!  But Shakespeare lived in the next town to here and may well have visited the theatre which has now been replaced by a multi-storey carpark, which has never been shut to cars because of snow in thirty three years to my knowledge. On the other hand, if there had been so much snow he could not have arrived at the multi-story car park, in Theatre Street (yes it is really still called that), in his youth, he may have turned into a sledge manufacturer or some such instead.  Snow days, snow plays.

I did once visit the snow deliberately.  I went with school on a winter holiday to Switzerland.  I was rubbish. I discovered that if you fell over on your skis, the ski instructor, who was about eighteen and very good looking, even in a woolly hat, would come and pick you up.  Naturally I did not learn to ski though I was excellent at falling over.  My main interests were in keeping my legs away from the unlined tweed trousers inherited from my taller thinner cousin, with which I had been equipped and getting my hands on the packets of three cocktail cigarettes which were speedily removed from the hotel tea plates of each girl on the first night.

When I discovered my Mediterranean ancestry three years ago, the retro-active relief was massive.  I am not a wimp at all.  I am not designed to be a tall thin skier whizzing through the snow.  I am designed to be a short, fat, black-clad auntie, dragging a donkey up a hill in the sunshine.  Fortunately I don’t have to do that either.  Me and Shakespeare, we can just sit indoors, in our tights (I was going to do a work out) and write until the nasty snow stops.  If it does we’ll pop into Theatre Street and either watch a play or do some shopping, depending on the century and think about getting some folios out tomorrow, as long as it isn’t another snow day.

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