Monday, 28 April 2014

The Family Artist

It's been a tiring strange time with work and work-related anxieties consuming far too much of my time.

Evan - my gentle giant - brought respite, with his beautiful, meticulous artwork.

He's just pulled together all the elements for his final exam - this is the 'expressive' unit folio of the Scottish Higher Grade.

Humour me. Here are some imperfect pictures of his now-submitted work. The theme is 'Decay'. He tells me that he wanted to convey his sense of 'decay' as just another metamorphosis - that things break down and rot - but that the transformation can be (and is) beautiful. There is a cycle - death is just another 'becoming'.

I loved that.

I also love his beautiful detail. His perfectly realised vision.

I'm also his Mother... and I love him dearly regardless.

The pieces are largely charcoal, pencil and watercolour.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Two Nights in Liverpool

Robert and I took Jamie and Ana down to Liverpool for a couple of days last week. A couple of nights in the Holiday Inn Express - cheap, clean, functional and well placed for the Docks and the City Centre.

Last time I was in Liverpool it was 1996 and I was there for a final interview with the Health and Safety Executive. Success was admission as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Health and Safety.

I had an overnight in a nasty, fowsty, run-down, rent-by-the-hour 'hotel' just beyond what I think is now an impressive Chinatown. I didn't sleep. For a place with only fifteen rooms there were a lot of doors banging and a lot of comings and goings... (pun intended). My door was tried at least twice. In the end I wedged a chair under the handle and scratched at the red lumps that were appearing on my legs.

I couldn't have given a shit what happened at that interview.

That's probably why I got the job.

Anyway. Liverpool was a derelict frightening dump of a place. The Liver Building was covered in mesh - presumably to prevent loosening masonry from braining some innocent passerby. The Liver birds were miserable looking craturs - tethered (as they are today) and scaffolded (as they are not).

It looked like what I thought a war zone might resemble.The aftermath of the ideological war was ugly. Liverpool was defeated - and there were only faint traces of rebirth. Some scaffolding here and there and development at the old Albert Dock area from where a popular morning tv show was broadcast- but I could only see this as a manifestation of contempt for what the old City had been.

Now it's transformed. It's been middle-class-ified. In that sense I suppose it's no different from any other Northern ex-industrial behemoth. Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle. All regenerated. All to varying success.

We managed to avoid the Beatles and mostly everything Beatle-related (who were the Beatles, Mum? They've spelt the name wrong. Shouldn't it be Beetles?). But we bored the kids with museum overload. The Tate Modern (Jamie enjoyed a binary art/not art trip around it - deciding he definitely didn't think spots or splashes or anything installation-y was 'art'). The Maritime Museum. The Museum of Slavery. The Museum of Liverpool Life. We took a Citysightseeing bus and short-circuited city knowledge. The Cathedrals are astonishing buildings - even for this non-religious family. The City Wheel went up too high for me. The Mersey was vast and chill - an astonishing river for one used to the Clyde.

The people, though - the people. They were funny and warm and acerbic. Certain in their sense of self. They wanted to talk and smile and show you things. They wanted to engage. The humour - self-deprecating, taking the piss - was one that I recognised from Glasgow. I felt at home. There was the same edge to things - a sense that someone might pull a knife as quickly as a laugh. But that was familiar, the known. And it's been years since I saw anything violent in Glasgow - or felt afraid walking through its streets - so I was not afraid.

I'm glad we went. Really glad.

Liverpool Wheel - Ana and Robert in foreground

Albert Dock - view from the hotel room. Grey overcast and cold. It's now a World Heritage Site.

Robert and Jamie freezing their balls off looking out over the Mersey vastness...

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Guest post for elsewhere...

Thought you might enjoy reading a guest post I authored for the site...

You can find it here:

Big thanks to my talented friend Jamie Marzella for the accompanying photo (gable-end and communal garden of my house/Row)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Here's to

A very minor, very broadsheet-type stooshie blew up over the weekend. Hit The Independent. Caught my eye.

There's Mumsnet. And now, fighting the 'gender equality in parenting' corner, there's Mumsanddadsnet...

I'm all for gender equality. Been fighting for 'equality' since I was in Nursery and was redirected from the sandpit with the immortal words 'all good girls like the home corner'. So Mumsanddadsnet sounds alright to me. And it is. Alright that is. The few articles authored so far sound imminently sensible and well-reasoned. Decent. Honourable. Measured. All in all its creator, Duncan Fisher, presents well with his very civilised endeavour to address a serious issue: the inherent sexism of our culture and society - a sexism that identifies the 'real' parent as 'the Mother' - and which ghettoises women and condemns men to the parenting fringe in the process.

So, why am I apprehensive? Why should I be anxious? Surely any effort to redress imbalance should be welcomed?

Probably because experience tells me that sites that set themselves up as flag bearers for parenting equality are invariably hi-jacked by the women-haters and mother-bashers. By those who think they win equality for Fathers/Men by attacking Mothers/Women. The binary thought processes lead to well-trod battle-lines: women use residency/contact to punish men; men and women are mentally and emotionally inherently and qualitatively different; it's all a feminist plot to take over the world; it's not about 'parents', it's about Mothers and Fathers; the attack on 'father's rights' is a result of the feminist attack on 'family values'; families without fathers are an abomination before God (ah dear, never mind what this implies about same sex couples who parent together)... and before you know it, reasonable discussion about a serious subject becomes impossible.

As soon as the discourse of the 'Comments' become peppered with references to 'the innate differences between men and women' I am off. And - for what it's worth - for every sexist conclusion neuroscience (neurosexism) allegedly encourages us to make there's another* neuroscientific study that 'proves' there's no such thing as the male/female brain - that what minute difference can be observed can be explained  by the impact of the socialisation process which attributes gender to everything (pink lego anyone?).

What is it that all those who cannot bear the descriptor 'parent' fear?

'Parent', the great semantic leveller, emphasising what He and I have in common when we've done our fertile best and reproduced.

I mean, there we are, my fellow Parent and I, besotted with the little blighter and doing our best to deliver he/she safely to independent adulthood. Do we get hung up on gender roles when deciding who does what, subjecting every task to gender-interrogation? Is changing the nappy a Mother or Father duty? Should He iron the babygro, whilst I change the hoover plug? Or should He be principal breadwinner, come home to his dinner on the table and the kids in bed?

Get a grip.

Having brought the kids into this world, we have a joint responsibility and common interest in seeing them safely to independence. The enterprise is more secure if we parent together (whether in the same household or not). Success is more likely if we co-operate and help one another. Success is an even greater certainty if we have the support of a network of extended family or friends or a loving community. 'He and I' are yer 'traditional married heteros'. But the above holds equally true for all those parents who are living apart, those single parents, same sex parents, adoptive parents or foster parents who are lovingly working together - either with each other and/or others in their extended family or friendship groups - to nurture the children in their care.

I suppose I've never understood the desperation of those who feel compelled to define themselves as 'masculine' or 'feminine' - who are determined to view the world as binary. Does my vagina really make me more suited to the colour pink or to flower-arranging? Does it really mean I'm ruled by the moon? Or that I am innately nurturing and emotional? Does His penis mean emotional distance, power-tools and play-fighting? Or that he is 'the boss', the main breadwinner, the head of Me?

There is the stench of desperation and of the protection and exercise of power in the attacks perpetrated by some of those commenting in the early posts of Mumsanddadsnet.

But maybe that was inevitable - and is ultimately an essential part of establishing a message. For if you are good enough to attract their approbation - you may just have a meaningful message and an effective vehicle.

So, here's to - to parenting and to hope.

* Thanks must go to Prof Gina Rippon (Professor of Cognitive Neuroimaging at Aston University) who debunks the neurotrash theories of 'men are from Mars; women from Venus'...

Starting from Scratch: a business venture...

Days like this were invented to sleep through... But no. Instead there was work.

So, a quick shift up the M9 to visit a distressed wummin seeking advice and support. Job done. Now home.

Things have been slow recently. Or maybe 'slow' is relative and is in fact what happens when you want to crack on - get started - but have to endure the frustration of anticipation; the drag of preparation; the slow-burn torture of knowing that where you currently are is not where you a) want to be OR b) will shortly be... when things are 'ready'.

I never did apply for that GS/CEO job. Not only would it have been wrong for me, the chances of me actually getting it were nil. I say that informedly. I am no defeatist.

By way of encouragement/discouragement (you tell me) I was told - by the manager in charge of recruitment to the post - that I was 'too young'.

Ha! Was it the hoodie gave me away? Youth! 'Too young!' I've never been told that before. And I daresay - from a shallow, vanity perspective it would normally have tickled me. But. I am nearly 47. No child. No inexperienced whipper-snapper. And in most arenas I would be written off as 'too old' - equally iniquitous of course.

Yes, yes. I could sprint off down the age discrimination route. But what's the point? And anyway I need some income - and the raising of any ET action would really (maybe not legally, but mentally and emotionally) require that I walked out.

My hearts not in it. Nor is my head. Not in claiming and not in staying long-term.

It wasn't the worst of moves. I did need to kick myself out of the ease of my last job - before I found myself at 67 yrs, still trooping off to the Sheriff Court to repel some appeal or prove some pair wee wain should be taken 'into care'. I had to (for my own sanity's sake) cut the cords tying me to what I knew and then I had to land somewhere.

The somewhere just isn't where I am.

So now I'm planning to do something so strangely un-me that I cannot quite believe that I'm even thinking the words. That is, I am going 'to launch a new business'. Concentrating on an HR/employment law/training/employee engagement + mediation offering.

It's taking time. I'm talking to a very bright insightful woman about a joint venture - but if that isn't going to work I'll be on my own. Though I've been approached  by a couple of lawyers looking for escape - they too are interested in mediation - so there are other possibilities.

I need to sever links to my current position gradually. Weaning to half time around August/September (I've asked - and it seems it'll be granted). Unfortunately it takes time to build a client base...

In the meantime, all business tips will be gratefully received. And anyone looking for HR/employment law/mediation - please contact me. Please.

I'm good at this stuff. Honest.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The news was good.

With the NHS waiting list for 'routine' appointments (my GP had marked my referral as routine as she couldn't feel the lumps) running at 12 weeks in this Board area I called the Friendly Society which I've been a member of for years (Benenden - £7.80 per month flat rate regardless of age or previous medical history) and they immediately ok'd diagnostic testing up to a maximum of £1500.

I saw a lovely Consultant on Friday 7th Jan and he instructed three tests: mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy.

I wasn't imagining the lumps (the GP's not very pleasant bedside manner had me checking continually in the run up to the consultation). They are real. And they are benign.

The biopsy results aren't back yet - but I've been told not to worry.

I am one of the lucky ones.

Workaholic Robert took time off and came with me on Friday.

It's a funny old thing how relationship complacency is bust by a wee bit of worry. We spend most of our lives together ignoring or taking one another for granted or pulling one another apart. Then discover that we are there for one another when it counts most.

When the testing was over we decided to go for lunch. The Nuffield Hospital is less than a mile from Glasgow Uni and the West End - my 2nd home for so long - and I found myself automatically driving down University Avenue and towards Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - back entrance

Parking was difficult and we were about to give up and move on when a car moved on and we got their prime space.

We opted for the basement cafe and its table service and fresh good food.

The cafe conservatory

Our waitress was a punchy spiky Glaswegian - energising and uplifting. Nosy. In yer face. Happy. Laughing and joking. Slagging banter and self-deprecation a speciality.

We placed our order. Robert read his paper and I looked out of the modern glass cage we were sitting in - over the car park and up to the dark University spire.

Glasgow University from Kelvingrove

The cold sun spilled through greying clouds and lit up the modernist conservatory. And there was the naked truth of it all revealed to me.

I was in the right place. I was with someone I loved and who loved me. The generosity of our waitress was uplifting. This day was just the beginning. And I was overcome by such a stark and perfect and beautiful joy.

Friday, 24 January 2014

You are not in control Mrs S...

I am pissed off. Cross. Crabbit. Mighty big pissed off. This ageing lark is now interfering. It is taking over. Ugh.

I've been pretty louche. I've not given a damn. I've given into temptation and not suffered too many twinges - of guilt or health or purse-strain. Hedonism (mostly small scale, not too risque, of the full fat, nicotine-stained, alcohol-fuelled abandonment strain) is me - I used to think.

It's all catching up.

With a family medical history like Death's reference book of Ways to Go - cancer (bowel, stomach, throat, lung, prostate (ok, so no threat to me there), womb); heart disease; high blood pressure; hypercholestrolaemia; diabetes; pancreatitis; depression et al - I knew that the odds were that I'd get one or other of the above and shuffle off early.

This knowledge is probably why I never could take pension advice seriously. And why I always gave into temptation. Life's too short I'd say, then do whatever thing it was that I knew sensible people wouldn't do.

But the years are piling on. They are loading my arteries with fat and my lungs with tar and my liver and pancreas are screaming ENOUGH and I'm facing 'the truth': that I need to lose weight; stop smoking (for real, everyday); never touch another alcoholic beverage and that even if I do all of that I'll still need to take the tablets.

I have inherited the hypercholestrolaemia. I am now diabetic. And I have a referral to the Breast Clinic to investigate a lump I found a month back and which I was convinced would go away but which hasn't.

It'll be fine. I'm sure. One way or another. But it's all just too grown up and old. Momento Mori. My reminder of the shortness of this life. A reprimand. My personal admonition: you are not in control Mrs S - life is.

Vintage Art of the Day

Shakespeare Quotes