Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Special day slightly later

The 244th RA Varnishing Day starts with a service for artists at St. James Church.
 I didn’t think many artists would be interested in going to church, but there was a queue along the pavement and the church was packed.  Perhaps the RA attracts the Anglican chapter of painters, but I stood next to a young Canadian called Joel Penkman who told me she had a painting  on show, the image of a tin of treacle in egg tempera. As there were no pews left we  had to go up stairs where it is hard to see anything going on below, and to hear properly thanks to Sir Christopher Wren’s acoustics.

There was a happy feeling rising up towards me with the heat, but  I don’t think many there were as happy and grateful as I was. All my anxiety of earlier on melted away and I was so happy that I sang with gusto, particularly Come Down, O Love Divine, by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

It was a good service, quite rigorous with good prayers for people in Afghanistan, Syria, and Congo. We heard a poem by New England poet, Mary Oliver called, “When Death Comes.”

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

The Revd Mark Oakley took up this theme of struggle and making a mark and the difficulty of being  an artist and a “person of faith.”
Apparently if you try being both you will be accused of being mentally deficient or an emotional wreck. I happily admit to both and so did he, I suppose on the basis that if you lay down your arms no one can attack you. 
He said most people think the search for God and the search for Art are a shocking waste of time.  
Back inside the Summer Show at last, I made my way slowly round the great rooms where the light pours in through the high windows, looking for  my painting of Maisie. I was  also looking desperately for the tiny tables they put in a few rooms, where you could put down your glass, catalogue, vegetarian chillie,  strawberries and cream.
 They have abandoned the usual room once kept for small paintings, which is always so popular and spread the small works throughout the gallery. Maisie looked surprisingly good sitting there among much bigger works, across the room from a large Ken Howard, and Olwyn Bowery’s usual green house  paintings.
My painting is on sale for £600, but there was a young woman from Hungary with a work next to mine on sale for £15,000.  She was standing there balanced on killer heels, tossing her long blonde locks,  chatting to men who seemed enchanted with her. When I went back an hour later she was still there by  her work, chatting up mainly elderly men. They looked so pleased and flattered and she was certainly businesslike.
By 1pm there was a very large crowd, “arty types” you might say of all sorts from savage looking retro punks, to very smart women in designer dresses to frail, bookish elderly men. And of course the single women  artists like me, who tend to look slightly battered and crazed. 
I don’t remember so many people there before, twelve years ago. Then we sat at tables with our strawberries and cream. But it’s a bit hazy. I walked around half cut with the Champagne enjoying the sense that I didn’t have to look at anything too hard, I was just there for the pleasure, and all was well. 

Special day early

Arrived at the cancer clinic at Queen Charlotte’s at 8.30am for a 9.20 appointment, because I woke early and then just couldn’t hang about, best to get it over with,  to start walking. Two fat magpies in the park, a good sign as I crossed over into the dismal atmosphere of east Acton.
In the waiting area with my copy of Metro,  I felt the stinging anxiety of waiting again, just like every time  before. Everything hangs on so few words.
By 9am the clinic had begun to get crowded; youngish women with gynae problems still hoping for children, and older women like me hoping for a bit more life.
I continually imagine meeting with the doctor; her clean, bright face, they way she will welcome me,  we’ll sit down feeling fairly formal almost as if it was a job interview, she’ll look away for a few moments at the screen or go through some papers then she will speak –  words that mean everything, more than “I love you” or “will you marry me?” ever meant.
“Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire,” we said on Sunday. Where is it when you need it. Banished by  panic is the answer.
The Metro headline reads: “Football is a matter of life and death says Sol.”
Sitting here too early in the morning is a matter of life and death. I wonder who Sol is with his silly words.
How many women have passed through here and died? Tell myself I have got to stop being afraid of death as that is the only way to live.
The nurse from Belfast I saw on the Victor Bonney Ward goes past. When I had my original op she used to come and stand at the bottom of my bed in the morning looking furious and dressed up  like an admiral. She was part of my morphine dream.  I saw her again last August and she seemed to have been demoted to mere nurse.
There is the same young male receptionist. I wonder how he sticks it. A chav girl  comes in with bottle tan and wearing a vest covered in sparkling sequins.
Then I am moved a bit nearer to the doctors’ consulting rooms.  There are nine of us in this new waiting area, two of us English, one Scot, the rest veiled, sitting with anxious looking men. The Belfast nurse notices me and a smile flits across her lumpy  features. Perhaps she recognises me or my note-pad.
Then I am in with the doctor, a very young man I haven’t seen before. He welcomes me, we sit, he looks at the screen and says, “Everything is fine from the blood test. Any problems?”
Tell him I had a short period of constipation and got really worried about it thinking that the cancer had returned. As I speak realise I am getting emotional and struggle to control it. That is very embarrassing. Tell him I am taking Asprin to try to prevent the cancer returning. Not a good idea he says, thirty percent get a stomach bleed. He wouldn’t do it. That thirty percent again, only that number survive this cancer longer than five years.
All over in about ten seconds and I am out in the sunshine again, on my way to the Royal Academy for  "Varnishing Day," which these days means champaign.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Here Comes the Sun


Getting used to breathing easily now that the thieving Robsons have gone. Went out into the garden this morning without the unpleasant feeling that curtains were twitching above me. There was a robin on the garden table, haven’t seen him or her for a while, and a tiny little bird balancing merrily on top of one of those tall thistley things. It was almost as if they were greeting me, I had come back into their zone.
Later I remembered more things missing from the flat. Perhaps Robson is a case of nominative determinism?
I haven’t got a recent inventory and didn’t bother with it much as all my previous tenants were honest. They had an enormous amount of stuff when they moved in which surprised me as I was offering a furnished flat. Now I wonder if they do this if they regularly acquire property from other people.
Well, never mind. Taffy was a Welshman as they still used to sing when I was a child, along with De Camptown Races and Paddy McGinty’s Motor Car.  

Monday, 21 May 2012

Other Adventures


Apart from reclaiming my territory from the bug-eyed Welshman and his hygienic wife, I had my three monthly  blood test today at the cancer clinic in Hammersmith Hospital.
How things have changed since all that started almost exactly two years ago – they have moved the chemo clinic upstairs, removed the large fish-tank and replaced it with a large flat screen TV and you no longer seem to have to queue for hours in a corridor.
I am different too, at least this time.  I felt no fear, no dread. Watching the face of Robin Gibb appear on the TV screen, I thought more about the day I once spent with him and his wife rather than the fact he has just been killed by cancer.

Spick & Span and Away They Ran

21/5/2012 Approached the flat with caution this morning at 8am. Found the keys hidden in the electric box and got in holding my breath with anxiety. It looked OK. They had done some cleaning up – the wife was always worried about hygiene. In the first long text of complaint I received from them after they moved in, they listed, “layers of dirt,” and “fleas” in the carpet.
Later after she had been convinced there were no fleas she said she could see dust mites. The last thing I heard before the outbreak of hostilities was her insistence that there was a stain on the carpet in the hallway which would give her asthma. Looking at that bit of carpet today in the early morning light, I could see there was no stain of any kind there at all.
 Being so conscious of these things they had dusted every shelf and cleaned every drawer and cupboard – unfortunately for me they had also emptied every drawer and cupboard. There was nothing left, not a pan, a wash-cloth, a pedal bin, waste basket, or Little Henry vacuum cleaner. All gone. They had indeed cleaned the place out. They’d even taken a rather melancholy old stick umbrella that used to hang on the back of the door, used by many tenants over the years. I saw it as a token of London.

A Small Win in Life's Lottery

20/5/12 8pm I am sitting here listening intently for noises from my flat upstairs. The squatters who moved in before Easter verbally agreed to leave tonight, but I have no way of knowing when or even if they will really go. They don’t answer any phone calls or e mails, so I just have to wait. I think the place is empty. They lived with all the curtains and blinds permanently drawn and now they have been opened, but I cannot be sure. If I hear the floor boards creaking above me at 3am I will be sick. Tomorrow I could go up there and find they have gone but not left the keys (they changed the locks illegally) or they might not have gone at all. If that happens the agent’s husband, a burly policeman has promised to come over and assist, but it could all be so ugly. Or it could be OK – they will be gone and I can clean the flat and start again. This is a situation I never expected, a bit like cancer, suddenly you can find yourself in a very nasty place without any certain means of delivery. Not many people have recourse to the law these days, it’s too expensive. You just cut your losses again and again, or perhaps take out endless insurance the way they do in the US.
 However, yesterday was a very good day. On Friday night, when I returned from my portrait painting class, which is like being in a hot  room with a lot of spitting cats, I discovered that I have got a painting in this year’s RA Summer Show. I had to read the letter several times. I went through the same disbelief last time I got in, way back in 2000 with a portrait of Ken Livingstone. In those days they sent a card showing just the number of the paintings you’d sent in and a code for refused or accepted or accepted but not hung. It is easier to understand now, but just as hard to believe. This year I submitted a painting called “Insomnia,” which I liked. It was small with lots of glazes and showed my hand reaching out for the DAB radio in the night. Also a painting of my cat Maisie lying on my arm, called, “Dead Hand.” They chose that one. I am not proud of that painting but at least I’m in. After getting in with Ken I got a series of D Notices, which means selected but not hung, then straight rejections. Getting a painting in against 11,000 other entries and all the boring old RAs is like winning a national lottery. So yesterday I was moving hither and thither on a cloud of joy. I hope we still get the strawberry and cream reception that they used to do on Varnishing Day, not sure.  I remember a week before the public were admitted, wafting around the RA rooms, all flooded with sunlight, feeling extremely groovy. I had a busy but joyful day; I had to go all the way over to Stratford East, to find the Lakeland cookery shop as a friend had given me a token to spend there for my birthday. It's a seductive shop, at least if you like heart shaped pastry cutters, cake-tins celebrating the Diamond Jubilee and kettles for fish. I bought a new hand- mixer for making bigger and better Victoria sponges. What a summer we have to look forward to – the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in all their daft glory, the Bedford Park “Green Days,” two days of unparalleled garden fete, then the Bedford Park Arts Festival, with speakers, poets, plays, film and music. Also a “Festival Mass” at St Michael’s, Bedford Park, with full orchestra and professional choir.
 (27/5/12) I completely forgot here to mention the Olympics!  For most of my friends and me our only real interest in that subject concerns how well our public transport system is going to hold up.  After the emporium of baking I set off for Bethnall Green on overland rail as the Central Line was off. After a long walk from the station I found a rather obscure, dusty art shop called AP Fitzpatrick on the Cambridge Heath road, near the picturesque “Three Colts Road,” where they sell odourless solvent at half the cost of the regular art shops. At the classes I attend you are forced to non smelly solvents for H & S reasons, and in Cass Arts they cost £10 for about 250ml. I made my way back to Stratford to get the overland again, no buses from there to Islington.   I struggled to get there carrying 4 litres of solvent and one of  linseed oil. The weight wasn’t too bad but one of the tins really cut into my back even though I tried lagging it with newspaper. I had to reach the The Hen & Chickens pub in Highbury and Islington in the other direction.
I had promised to see a friend in a matinee performance there of a new production entitled, rather vaguely, “An Evening of Neo-Absurdism.” I was worried about being late, shoved a slag heap of natchos down my throat and rushed up the stairs to the stage door where I was told it was not going ahead as I was the only person who had showed up. The cast had a vote on it and went ahead. I was joined in the audience by a member of the production team who designed the posters.
I was expecting some wild Dadaist stuff on stage, but they were gentle sketches about the absurdity of modern life, rather Lewis Carroll meets N F Simpson, with a bit of Oscar Wilde thrown in. Some might have made afternoon radio plays if they were worked on, but it was all a bit flaccid. During the performance I almost dozed off, had a sneezing fit and my mobile went off. The John Heartfield  chap was fiddling with his mobile throughout. Between us we committed almost as good a range of theatrical crimes as if there had been a full house.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A new sight on the English high street

15/5/2012 We are deep into May now and the drought and hose-pipe ban continues with heavy rain day in day out. I have noticed increasing numbers of people like me, holding up broken umbrelli like dripping thorn bushes above their heads. Something dire has happened to the umbrella making business; you buy one for £5 or more and within two uses it's dead as a squashed roadside crow. Perhaps the insistent British rain is full of acid, not sure, but almost as soon as you open them out the spokes rust and resemble the desiccated legs of dead insects. Not many of us can afford to keep buying new each time we have a down pour, which is almost every day, so you will see us going about with these bunches of wet, rusting metal twigs held above our heads.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Before I go to sleep

When I first realised that I wasn’t going to get any rent and was facing about ten rent free months before any sign of the bailiffs would appear, I went into a kind of spin. I made my way to Chelsea for my portrait class and when I got off the overland train at Imperial Wharf I didn’t know where I was. I cautiously followed the other passengers up the street quite unable to recognise anything around me or be sure I was going the right way. This was a very scary experience, rather like being a small child walking alone to a new school, feeling totally disorientated. It was as if shock and distress had knocked everything out of my head. When I got to the class I couldn’t recognise the teacher. I told one of the other students and she laughed. I made a joke of it too but wasn’t sure of what was going on just hoping that whatever was going on in my brain would settle down soon. This week on my way to the class, having heard that I was being accused of racial harassment etc I got on the wrong train, going entirely in the wrong direction. I decided not to get hot and bothered, just to go with it. Since then various other landlords have spoken to me, including this tenants previous landlord who had the temerity to give them a reference. After telling me how bad they’d been he said, “try not to worry, this will pass.” My friend June said, “Just think to yourself, all this will pass.” Well yes, quoting George Harrison or someone is all very well, but I seem to have entered a new world of landlords’ karma, where we all wander around soothing each other because no one can actually afford to get the gloves off and go to law.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Scones and arrows of annoying fortune

Oh God, if I could have my health back. Oh God, if I could have my peace of mind back! I was feeling much better after my recent drive to the Isle of Wight and back, I actually felt happy, yes happy, it was there almost palpable and rather a new thing. Now I have just had another bolt of bad luck and joy has evaporated. New tenants moved in upstairs before Easter and they are refusing to pay any rent. First they made incessant demands, which were all met and really promptly. Then came the silent refusal to put anything into my bank account, then an illegal changing of the locks. I now face the long process of getting them evicted and losing about six months rent in the process. Disaster. My system of getting by; small pension and rented flat works OK but only if I get tenants who pay up. Now I realise that these two are not going to pay anything, and to make matters worse he has launched some kind of campaign against me, getting legal advice to see if he can prosecute me for entering the property unlawfully to fix a sash window before Easter as we were all rushing to go away and I couldn’t get hold of them. I also left a note at that time telling them when to put the bins out and he said this was evidence he could use against me, of illegal entry. He has reported me to the council, demands to see all documents relating to the flat, and has, he says, reported me to the police for “racially harassing” his wife who is Portuguese. He also accuses me of harassing his parents. His father guaranteed the rent but has no intention of paying either. I went to the police station myself to check it all out and a rather borned WPC said, “harassment is a series of consecutive acts.” I have only sent the father one polite e mail so that doesn’t amount to much. As for the race business, after she sent me a text accusing me yet again of going into the flat unlawfully, I sent her a text saying, “I know your English is not good but can you understand these words: “pay your rent.” The policewoman said it might be fact that her English is not good, and not to worry. Maybe the English is worse than I thought, she certainly didn’t get the message anyway. As they live upstairs from me the situation is particularly unpleasant an uneasy. They keep all the curtains drawn front and back but seem to know my movements. I lobbed a very small snail over the fence last night into a garden where they do not gardening. I wonder if he noted that one down? All that aside, I have just had my 56th birthday – it sounds auspicious somehow that number, but I realise I am living precariously, relying on one rent. It is not what I imagined for myself when I was twenty five. I think I thought I would have a big house in Hampstead by now and a successful career at something. Wonder if I should sell the flat and live on the proceeds. If I got £240k for it that would last about seven years. No point in investing it, it would just go in the bank. But then the banks might default too. All over the country there are people making these useless calculations about the future. In the meantime it is a matter of getting the evil little shit and his ghastly wife off my premises! Despite all that I managed to have a lovely birthday. I had a big lunch on the Sunday and on Monday. My friend June and I went to the Picasso exhib at the Tate and then she took me for afternoon tea at the Lanesborough Hotel. It was a sumptuous tea, although we had to ask for the scones to be brought out and the tea-cake was the size of a fifty pence. The sandwiches and small, warm quiche were best, and they came with gold and silver leaf on top, so you can enjoy a genteel afternoon treat and cure yourself of clap at the same time. In the evening my friend Brian took me to see Sweeny Todd, and he even paid for a box. I have some wonderful friends.