Thursday, March 02, 2017

Spring has Sprung Round 'ere

Darlings, thank you so much for your support in my last post, I have news about the mentor, that's coming below. Again, thank you for your kind words and virtual hugs, they were so appreciated.

Z and LT have left me in charge of the Rampaging Rabble, which meant this afternoon I took the bins out for bin collection day tomorrow. As I walked to and fro I was struck by a sense of deep gratitude and appreciation to be trusted to be here. The Zedary is so beautiful and has healed so many of the broken parts of my soul, in so many tender moments, it held me in the moments of my deepest fear. Being here has meant more to me than I have words to express. And it's spring.

Darlings, there are so many snowdrops. I didn't realise a single place could have so many. Dotted around and in clumps. The narcissi have popped up, egging their later flowering cousins on, some of whom have risen to the challenge and refuse to be out done. 

My chooks are laying again. They started last weekend and the noise they've been making about it, honestly, I thought something had got in there and was attacking them. I suppose they're a bit rusty yet. Happily, bantams don't lay all year round...or at least mine didn't. It means they'll live longer than their more profuse relatives. Z's velociraptors kept going through the winter and age doesn't seem to slow them down much at all.

The DEFRA regulations have lifted the most stringent of restrictions, tomorrow, I'll take the covering off their run, but will keep them all in. I would rather be safe, plus I've discovered how convenient it is to have them in all one place, not racing around creating havoc. With the coop being mobile, I've been moving it around, giving them new ground and a new view every week. It's working quite well.

The pheasants still expect to be fed. They congregate at the hedge when they hear my coffee grinder go off and then get closer and closer to the house the longer I take to feed them. We had some snow about three weeks ago and they were all but banging on my kitchen window. Daft things. They noted I was feeding the rabble and milled around hopefully. Feeding them twice a day would be too much, they're portly enough I feel.

And for my three bits of totally awesome news:

1.  Dave met with his oncologist late in February. He remains cancer free. Not only that, his poor baggy kidney is returning to its normal size and shape. A welcome surprise especially as that explained some of the discomfort he was having. Of course I cried. As much as I would like to tell you I've been big and brave about this particular follow up appointment, I can't. I'd be lying. I was worried as hell. Dave will continue having quarterly follow ups and after two years, will go down to bi-annual checks. I take every day as it comes. 

2.  Social media to the rescue! (again) Thanks to Twitter, a lovely lady responded and offered her services. We met yesterday for the first time and she has been exactly who I was looking for: she's an artist herself, she works in education at the levels I'm looking for and she's just lovely! Thanks to her, my tentative plans are now better formed. 

I'm going to spend the next 18 months arting my little (hah) backside off. This time will be about building my practise as an artist, experimenting wildly, producing masses of work with the intention to put a portfolio together to apply for a Masters of Fine Arts at A.N. Art School (to be determined). Having a mentor means I can focus on doing work I'm drawn to, rather than working my way through a curriculum set by other people. I don't need the discipline put upon me. I just need some guidance and to be fed information occasionally. Having a mentor will do exactly this for me. I will also continue taking as many art classes as I can to continue to build upon my skills. 

I'm working towards a ten year plan and I'm quite happy to have the next three years accounted for; I know the seven years after that will be a slog. That's fine. If my foundations are strong enough I can deal. Besides, it's not like I'll be thinking about retirement. That is simply not going to happen. 

3.  Remember I told you my friend Chris the astrophotographer and I were planning to work together to do an exhibition? I submitted the application a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, I got an email accepting us! Put the 13th to 24th November 2018 in your diaries darlings, you're all invited. It's a conditional offer, as we haven't got the body of work ready to hang, they want to see one of my oil paintings next year. That's fair enough. They are taking a risk with me, I've only just started to explore the subject. Nevertheless, I did a happy dance around my living room. Shortly followed by the stunned "oh bugger" dance. Now the work really begins. 

At the end of November last year, I was struggling somewhat. I put together an action plan to help me get my shit together. December didn't happen because of that bloody virus, pretty much wiped out five weeks of my life (which I deeply resent), but there you go. In January, I discovered the joys of Bullet Journalling which enabled me to chase down my ducks, round them up and get them lined up in some semblance of order. It's meant I'm building a daily meditation practice to keep The Crazy at bay and got me moving again. I'm now beginning to work out again in the mornings, I've had to go back to the beginning with Rosemary Conley, but I'm moving and the best bit is that while I've been frustrated at my general lack of fitness, it turns out I'm a lot better than I thought. My resting heart rate has come down considerably. Three years ago, the best I could manage was 82 bpm, Now it's 68 bpm. Hopefully, that will continue to improve the more I move.

The ridiculous part is I'm getting up the same time and I do all of this stuff first's still second and third thing in the morning before I'm able to get on with the other things in my life. Having said that, I am not on the sofa very much at all, nor am I on Facebook or Twitter and it's been much better for my general wellbeing. There's some crazy shit going on out there. 

Darlings, this month I aim to do better. See you next week. xx

Friday, January 27, 2017

Situation Vacant: Art Mentor

I'm stuck and I need help here. I've gone as far as I can with what I've got and I am in need of some informed artistic input.

I'm looking for an Art Mentor, someone who is used to working with art students at a degree plus level and who would be prepared to mentor me as I work through my various artistic obsessions. Someone who thinks The Box is a waste of time, never mind thinking outside of it. Someone who will provide constructive critique of my work and who will help me explore both context and push me both technically and creatively. 

This is where I started off in April 2016.

Oil on board 3ft x 2ft

 And this is where I was December 2016.
Pen and gouache on paper 8in x 5in
But this isn't all I'm interested in. I'm in the planning stages of a joint exhibition for next year with a friend of mine and I also have an idea for an installation based on thought processes. And that doesn't even describe my thing for sunflowers...

I am doing a handful of hobby art courses this spring and have looked at a couple of MA programmes and I'm in a bit of a predicament. I will only be able to go so far doing the adult education art courses, yes they will bring up my technical ability (which definitely needs to happen), but they won't push me far enough intellectually, they won't give me the contextual basis that makes art greater than creating pretty pictures. The Masters of Fine Arts programmes are happy to take my application, however they are keen to see some kind of fit with my previous BA in Creative Writing. While I maintain an interest in Word and Art, it's not my current focus...the abstracts with sticks are where my heart is...and I'm not prepared to squeeze myself into a box for the sake of it. I don't need the qualification that badly. I'm obsessed by the sticks, but I can't push the concept much further without some kind of input from someone who knows what they are talking about.

If you are able to commit some time and some energy, get in touch. We can discuss rates of pay and expenses. I'm not assuming you work for free and will respect your time.

If this isn't you, but you know who it might be, please pass this on. I'm not a time waster and assume you aren't either. Also, I'm based on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. It'll probably be easier if you come to me first time, so I can show you everything (yes, there's lots more) and see if we can work together.



Saturday, January 07, 2017

Chicken Shenanigans

The morning of the 6th December 2016, I was tucked up in bed, considering the day ahead, when I got a text from Dave. Before I could formulate a coherent reply (remember mornings are not my strength), he rang me with worrying news.

DEFRA (the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) issued a declaration, effective immediately regarding the outbreak of a strain of avian flu (H5N8) on the continent. In order to protect poultry flocks in the UK from the virus, everyone with poultry, whatever the size of flock, were advised to keep their birds indoors or take measures to cover their outdoor enclosures to limit their contact with any wild birds that may be carrying or infected. The original housing order was well-worded and encouraged poultry owners to be sensible about their flocks' housing arrangement. 

Z immediately suggested I move my velociraptors into her greenhouse that's standing empty until seed planting time. This I did. My flock had been in for a couple of days already with the foul weather and were glad to stretch out and explore their new accommodation. Unfortunately, their pleasure lasted until the evening of that day, when they waited patiently for me to come and get them to take them home. They were unimpressed when they had to sleep there and the next morning made their displeasure known. They spent a less than happy fortnight there. It got to the stage where they were so pissed off with me, they stopped laying, ran away when they saw me, and then went off their food.

After my adventures with red mite over the summer, I had intended to upgrade their housing in the spring anyway. I'd had my eye on a plastic coop that would cope with being flushed and scrubbed within an inch of its life once a week. Despite Z's assurances that they would eat and they would forgive me (eventually), I changed my plan and ordered their new home. I missed them so much. I hated that they were unhappy and weren't in the garden milling around and making noise. The decision made, I placed the order, then fetched my flock home. They spent a couple of days in my greenhouse. 

I can't tell you how good it was to have them back. We immediately made friends again...until 3.15 the next morning. When they first stayed in the greenhouse, they were little and Jenga hadn't started crowing. During the summer, when Dave was convalescing here, he used a small, hand-held noise monitor to discover that Jenga giving it large was 86 decibels per crow, enough to have the local council slap an ASBO (anti-social behavioural order) on him. 

Jenga is an early riser. He wakes up, has a stretch and calls for the sun five or six times in row, then he rests for about half an hour or so and has another go. I was unimpressed. The next morning he was more considerate and toned it down a bit. I was grateful, but still considered getting ear plugs. 

Happily, their new Eglu Go Up! arrived. By the way, if ever you wonder why I adore Dave to the extent I do...he put the various bits that arrived in five different boxes, without violence to my person. There was quite a lot of muttering under his breath but frankly, considering the complete nightmare of flat pack assembly, he was very reserved.

I see flat pack instructions and they immediately translate themselves into Mandarin or Malay. I can't do it. If someone shows me how to put it together, I am perfectly capable of copying them, but to do it cold...bad things tend to happen. Dave is really good at translating written instructions for me and I'm very good at getting the different bits together and passing the right tool at the right time. I am also brilliant at getting out the way at the part where something needs hitting with a bigger hammer and making tea. I'm also brilliant at plastering up gouged, sliced and hurty bits.

Dave surveying the results of his hard work
Their Eglu comes with wheels, so we can move it around the grass every few days to protect the garden and give them something new to nibble. Chickens love their greens. It's a brilliant coop. Big enough that they can have space to move around, their sleeping quarters has ingenious doors which once they're tucked in at night, are predator proof.

My velociraptors are happier and that's all that matters. (You'll notice I said "ier").
Chickens checking out their new feeders
As far as avian flu is concerned, I think the measures are reasonable considering the risk to poultry. Not long after the poultry housing order was issued, a farm in North Lincolnshire lost 5,000 turkeys to the wretched virus. Those birds that hadn't succumbed had to be culled. It must have been awful for the farmers. I'm sure there is financial support, but even so; to lose 5,000 birds that's terrible. After that, there were a couple of cases in Devon and Scotland, but when a backyard flock in Wales came down with it, I knew my flock would be in for the duration. 

This week, DEFRA announced the extension of the housing order until the end of February. Dave was increasingly uncomfortable with just the top being covered over and so yesterday we covered over the run completely. As it is, my flock don't mind, it keeps the wind off of them.

This summer, I'd gotten into the habit of feeding the multitudes of birds that live around here. I started with fat balls on the damson tree, then peanuts, fat slabs on the lilac and then sunflower seeds on the cherry tree. Then the local pheasants figured out that I shook out the chickens' feeder every day and started visiting regularly. A pheasant in a cherry tree eating sunflower seeds out of a feeder meant for finches is quite a sight. I started throwing an extra handful of food out for them. 

Given DEFRA's guidelines are to limit wild birds mingling with kept, I had to change the arrangements. The feeders have been moved to a tree outside of my garden, in Z's orchard and I started feeding the pheasants under the hedge opposite my kitchen window. When we asked people who knew about such things, they felt it was better to keep the wild birds well fed, to ensure they were robust enough to fight off any infection. The only problem has been that word got around and I've gone from feeding maybe four or five pheasant hens to ten or eleven hens and two or three cocks! 

I now have inside pets, garden pets and outside pets. And they all make out that I don't care and never feed them! If I'm late with the pheasants' breakfast they mill around staring pointedly at me from under the hedge. When I call they come running as fast as their legs can carry them. I adore them so much. I'm so pleased no one is allowed to shoot them on Z's land. They're so sweet. 

All in all, things have settled down and we're just waiting it out. Some people have suggested that DEFRA have been over-enthusiastic with their reaction. I disagree. Given that many peoples' livelihood depends on their poultry, anything that can be done to mitigate the cross-infection, is wise. Also, I'd be heartbroken if my flock took ill. They're my pets and I love them to bits. Hopefully, this is all there will be of this and we won't have to speak of it again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Slamming the Door

The weeks since the end of October have been "interesting" as the fear and grief of the past year took their toll. It wasn't quite depression, but there were a couple of days when I was definitely skating around it. 

I didn't think it would be like this. I thought I should be filled with energy and enthusiasm and able to crack on with my life with vim, vigour and a renewed sense of optimism. It's not been like that at all. I've had days where doing the immediately necessary was my only priority. I did tomorrow, that which did not incur charges today. All the while struggling with this enormous sense of frustration at myself. 

My To Do List darlings, is ginormous. I have Things to do, people to See and a sense of a ticking clock. I've been drifting along; although I am deeply grateful to be here - at this point in my Life - I'm also aware that drifting isn't enough. I know I can drift, endure, survive etc etc but enough is enough. It's time to Live, to lace up my walking boots, grab my stick and map and journey. Journey as a verb, a doing word. Not a thing that is static and fixed. Life will happen anyway: taxes will need to be paid, my butt will continue to expand, there will be more wrinkles and grey hairs this time next year.  

I've used the time to create a Plan for World Domination. Of course a new Plan requires a new book, and thusly one was purchased. I considered my time frame and did some day dreaming. In the end I came up with a 10 year Plan (I thought I'd give myself some leeway to get side-tracked), wrote it down in detail and frowned at it for a few hours. 

There really wasn't anything quite as dispiriting as looking at my dreams all laid out in blue and white in sensible lines and bullet points. I took myself to the emporium of dreams, otherwise known as The Range (a down-market department chain store). It has an amazing art and craft section. I spent...well, let's not go into too much detail about that shall we...time...looking at all their goods and brought home many, many unsensible, irrational and delicious things to put the fun into my future. I channelled my inner six year old, scrawling all over my Plans with gold and silver pens. Highlighting and emphasising points with pretty stickers. It made me happy.

I've since broken my Plan into six week chunks with a list of things I would like to accomplish, the first of which I'm now half-way through. The first week was brilliant. I was focused and productive and feeling very pleased with myself. And then...I got sick. I got hit with a chesty cold that laid me out with a single punch and has been giving me a good kicking since. I am shifting it slowly, I am happy to say, it's now a question of getting rid of the dregs.

Unfortunately, it hit the week of Yule when my festive To Do List was a mile long. I had to postpone, re-book, cancel, rearrange the whole week. I don't know what I would have done without Rowan and Dave who did shopping and downscaled our plans with understanding and without complaints (and by the way, I'm not entirely sure I'm going to ever get past the ridiculous irony of saying to someone who endured six months of chemotherapy: I feel really awful; I'm sick; I can't today, today.)

As far as my Plans for World Domination getting off to a phlegmic start, I knew full well that the festive season would throw things out anyway. The idea was to start, that was the purpose of the exercise.  

I lived up to my promise to Dave. You may remember I have a deep loathing of turkey and I promised Dave that if he was still here we would celebrate with turkey for the festive season. He cooked me turkey for Boxing Day and I ate every scrap with deep prayers of gratitude. In actual fact, it was no great hardship. He performs magic with demonic poultry and made it not only edible, but delicious. Darlings, I did draw the line at cold turkey sandwich. That was a step too far. A woman has to have some standards.

I reiterate the Winter Solstice blessing I posted on FB: 

May the returning sun bring with it compassion, kindness, decency and a wish for greater tolerance and understanding between all peoples.

I hope that we all work hard to build bridges in 2017.

Love and peace to you all.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Politics of Nostalgia

I long for the days when Britain was Great.

It's true. 

I look around now, on social media, in the papers and I see little evidence of Britain's greatness. What I do see is fear, hatred, anger and unkindness on a level that is sobering.

The qualities that used to define greatness: kindness, generosity, respect and decency are fast disappearing. 

This summer 52% of the voted to leave the EU and what followed has been appalling. The racism and xenophobia spouted in mainstream politics and in the media is astonishing. Leavers and Remainers trading insults like whether Britain stays or leaves the EU is going to be decided by who gets the most burns on Facebook. 

My hand is up. I am not only a Remainer, but I'm a Remainer who indulged in a few slanging matches. I have good reason to be fond of the EU. My adopted mother is German. When I had a "proper" job, I was an Economic Projects officer delivering business development and support projects for local businesses, projects 75% funded by the EU. I was able to do this because the EU supported a telecottage in a seaside town, that hosted an Access to Higher Education certificate, which got me to university to do my degree that landed me my job.

After the results of the referendum were out a couple of Leavers messaged me privately and told me the reason their votes fell where they did. They were valid reasons. Reasons that have got lost in the midst of the Witch Hunt against immigrants. 

There's a movement that encourages solidarity with immigrants by the wearing of a safety pin. If an immigrant sees a safety pin worn by a stranger, they know they can sit next to them without fear. I thought about wearing that pin...and then I remembered...I'm an immigrant.

Not only am I an immigrant, I'm a woman of colour, a single parent. I'm working on the sexual diversity, but I'm too in love with Dave to be truly serious. I am everything that the rabid Leavers hate. This is the first time I've every felt uncomfortable going out and about in public. I live in rural Tory heartland. This is the first time Norfolk hasn't felt like home. And I miss it so much. 

The right-wing rags are only interested in their profiteering. Dear Gods can't anyone else see the irony of an old billionaire white man from Australia schooling the UK on what it is to be British? Kindness, decency, caring does not sell papers.

On Thursday, the High Courts ruled that Parliament, not the PM Theresa May can trigger the Article 50 to leave the EU. There are death threats against the judges who've upheld the law (and sanity). That's what democracy now means: the freedom to incite harm against the person who doesn't agree with you. 

I'm not saying the Remainers are any better.

How many times has calling someone stupid, illiterate, ignorant etc made the other person re-consider their beliefs? Seriously. I'd like to know. How often does disrespecting the other person bring them round to your way of thinking? 

Here's the thing, people don't listen when you shout at them.

I'd very much like to get back to the good old days. When you could disagree with someone's politics, shake hands and get on with sharing a pint in the pub. When people talked to each other with respect and listened to the responses. When Foodbanks were inconceivable. When people weren't expected to hold down 2 and 3 jobs to just get by.

The fact of the matter is people are afraid and rightly so. The British economy is truly up the spout. Tory economic policies have cracked the NHS and pushed the welfare system probably past fixing. The safety nets that used to exist aren't there any more and our local communities aren't like the Americas, where there's the expectation that a good neighbourhood looks out for their own. 

It's easy to blame the Other...but actually, it's all our faults. We've got us to this point. Silence is taken as consent. I'm not going to shut up. I love this country. It's my home. It's where I became an adult and grew my son. I am committed to being here. I will fight to make Britain kind again. I will fight to make Britain decent again, safe again. I will fight to make Britain respectful again. Damn straight.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Unexpected

The last two weeks have been difficult. I was hit by a vomiting bug that left me feeling queasy and being very careful about what I ate for a week. The day after my stomach finally settled down, the sore throat and head cold came around to party. The only reason I survived is down to gallons of tea and Beechams cold & flu remedy. Yesterday, I trudged along to my osteopath (not the one I went to in the beginning of September) and he gently coaxed my bones back into their proper alignment. 

From there Dave and I went to the oncologist. He asked after Dave's health, asked a few questions about his digestion and waste-moving works and then gave us the news we did not expect.

Dave is cancer free. He is officially in remission. 

This round of treatment has been successful. 

You will note the lack of the word "cure". It's not something that will ever be used in relation to this cancer. Dave will have follow-up tests every four months for the first two years and then if everything continues to go well, every six months, until the cancer returns. Or he gets run over by a bus. Or the Zombie Apocalypse. 

The fact of the matter is he's cancer free now.

We have more time. 

We went into town and celebrated in this fabulous new eaterie called Figbar that specialises in desserts. There are a couple of nods to savoury foods, but yeah it's all about the dessert there. We had huge mugs of hot chocolate made with whole milk, double cream and butter and three different types of chocolate. I had a maple and pecan swirl, Dave had a bakewell tart. We were like a couple of two year olds on a sugar rush and then had to go nap once the carb coma hit. I'm pretty sure my pancreas is on strike. 

Dave said he'd never spent so much time texting people. 

Today, he's back in the roastery and I'm home again. I'm not entirely sure how I feel apart from the obvious. My head is still a bit stuffed up with goo, but I feel fine otherwise. I'm going to take the weekend slowly and enjoy getting used to the fact he's going to be around to annoy me for a lot longer than we were expecting. It's a damned good feeling, I tell ya.

Dave being a teenager

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Me Again

It's definitely Autumn out there. I've put the heating back on, as well as my personal three layers of clothing. I put my tee-shirts away and promised them I won't strain the seams so much when I take them out  (they didn't believe me, but hey). The next big thing on my To Do List is the garden. It needs me. I need more time.

Since I last wrote I've been very much focused on me. My health and of course, my art. The result of the comfort eating, I indulged in over the last eleven months has ground me down no end. Everything is too tight, I feel horrible in my skin. Having said that, the last eleven months have been hard, hard work and I have been in desperate need of comforting. It is what it is. My back, shoulders and neck have been particularly troublesome and have added to the general "bleugh". 

Now you see why I haven't been blogging? It would have been sentence after sentence of whinging and moaning.

I have been doing yoga and foam rolling and that has helped so much with getting moving again. After a muscle in my back bitched at me for attempting one of my exercise DVDs, it was clear that my body needs me to be more gentle, more understanding and just keep moving. Since then, I've been doing the most gentle yoga routines I can manage. That's just been great and my back is gradually improving. Very gradually.

I've been focusing on my art more and more. Trying to see how I can push myself beyond my current technical limitations. With this in mind, I've signed up for a few improvers classes and a fortnightly fun drawing class and it's been really good. My technical skill will get there, but at present, it just can't keep up with my imagination. To be human is to learn to live with the frustration of my own limitations. That I know these limitations are temporary, does not help. I am an instant gratification kinda gal. I want it; and I want NOW. I have a learning curve to conquer and I am determined.

Having said all of that, I am treading water somewhat. Dave had his follow up scan and blood tests last week. We will see the oncologist for the results soon. We will see how well the tumour has responded to this round of treatment and where we go from here. We won't talk about remission, the chemotherapy didn't get all of the primary tumour, but hopefully, we will be able to talk about a dormant period. It preys on my mind. Dave continues to be well in himself, albeit a bit prone to enjoying the odd afternoon nap. Given the choice of being stretched out with him, I'm not one to judge.

He is making plans for what he calls his "Farewell Tour", to go and see his friends far and wide. He hopes he'll be doing it along Status Quo lines and will be touring for many years to come. I hope so too. I am making plans about my art, but that's a post for another day. Be well. Until next time.