Emerge

How is January from where you’re sitting? It seems to take longer each year to ease into the newness, to emerge out of the fog of the old year and start to feel my way forward. Snowdrops never stop being a surprise and this week the first noticeable lightening of the evening sky and some bright winter sun, has given me a little bit more energy and purpose.
I’ve just got back to Cumbria after my first trip south for about a thousand years (my daughter was having all 4 wisdom teeth out) and it made me realise what a little house mouse I’ve become, my (adult) children joked that “the Hobbit has left the Shire” … I need to get out more. Leaving aside the pandemic and all the associated fears around travelling; I was shocked to discover that I had forgotten where to put my Tube ticket to open the barricades and went into a blind panic at the sight of Staples Corner roundabout (luckily I wasn’t driving). I began to worry that I’d lost all my Londoness, not only that but I worried that I’d lost so much confidence that instead of me looking after Sara, she was actually looking after me, or maybe it was mutual, I hope so. Anyway despite the reason for the trip we had a lovely time, exploring new places and revisiting well loved ones, seeing art, laughing too much and looking at the scraggy bits of the city with the help of our new favourites, the late Ian Nairn and the current Tom Chivers.
One of the most special things was visiting Kew Gardens and finding out that they were showing Blackfield by Zadok Ben-David. I’d seen this by accident nearly 14 years ago when I was doing some work experience in Shoreditch and remember being really moved by it at the time. The surprise as the field becomes colour, suddenly, still made me go “oooh” even though I knew it was coming.

Now back in the North the roads seem so quiet, the air so sharp and clear and I’m all full of good intentions, to escape more, to work harder at the things I love, to write more and to work on finding a better balance day to day. I’ve been terribly lonely since moving to Cumbria almost seven years ago and much as I enjoy solitude I’m really aware of how unhealthy is is to feel isolated. Isolation can become a habit and unless Dubwath Silver Meadow want a resident hermit, I’d better start working on my social skills! I joke but it’s a serious thing, I think I’ve said it before but it needs re-saying, especially after the past few years of global weirdness, check in with your friends, it’s all very well saying “I’m here if you need me”, if someone needs you they probably won’t want to ask.

I’ve been busy in the studio at last, mostly restocking things that sold out last year that I wasn’t able to make while all my stuff was in boxes or supplies stuck in shipping queues. For the first time I had 3 whole days in a row to settle down and work; there was even a few moments where I felt a strange sensation… could it be? might it be? Happiness?!
I’m not sure how other creative people work, there’s lots of talk about “flow”, and for me there is an awful lot of daydreaming, coffee drinking, inertia and making mistakes before something clicks and it starts to go right; this means that interruptions like going to my other (lovely) job can kill the whole process. I’ve been trying to always leave the studio with something positive or easy to come back to, this is an idea I read in a book about Judith Kerr’s work. Having said all that, I’m a bit superstitious this, it all sounds a little too good so please keep your fingers crossed that there is a bit of smooth sailing for a while, I’m tired of wallowing about on the rocks.

Now the super exciting news is that at the end of last year I got a mysterious email which I almost dismissed but which turned out to be a quite genuine commission from Search Press to write a beginners guide to cyanotype printing! I feel very daunted by the prospect but also it couldn’t have come at a better time – I don’t sell a lot of work and I don’t feel like an expert compared to many other cyanotype artists with bigger audiences, so it felt encouraging and “validating” (this is my word the moment recently) to be recognised as someone who might be able to write and share what I’ve learned about the process. It’s hard to stand out in a crowd of blue and white so I’m really flattered they chose me.
The timescale is quite long, I think it’s due to be published in August ’23 and I haven’t spoken to my assigned editor yet but it’s a thing and that’s a better thing than at this point last year.

Well, the sun has just come out, I’m snuggled under my Christmas blanket, from my brother, and thinking it’s probably coffee time. Time to put away the screen. I hope the year has started gently for you wherever you are and as always , thank you for listening to my rambling words.

Reading: Zoe Gilbert, Mischief Acts (published in March) and strangely, coincidentally, Tom Chivers, London Clay which includes some of the same places and story roots.

Gnarly

Last week I met an old woman by the river, she was bent and gnarled and knobbly. I would have loved to climb up and sit quietly for a day or two, listening to her tell me stories of time and the river; perhaps build a treehouse and amuse myself throwing moss and sticks down on to unsuspecting passers by. Isn’t she beautiful (although Ash trees always remind me of my friend from back home in North Yorkshire who once came to a Halloween party as “Ash Dieback Disease”- a genius and important idea but it was difficult to get him in the car and his branches were soon shed for the sake of our eyes and to enable him to bend his arms enough to drink).
This particular Ash looks quite happy and, although I really wanted a tree-hug, the path was busy and she seemed to be leaning away from it to avoid unwanted human attention, can’t say I blame her.

Trees, woodland and treehouse shelters were the subject of some new prints I made recently for the current Cumbria Printmakers exhibition at the John Muir Trust gallery in Pitlochry. They are only small prints, with a dusting of French knots, and I was cutting the deadline fine but I am really pleased with them because they were the first things I’d been able to make for AGES. Finally, after months of revolting circumstances which made work impossible, followed by more months with things stored in boxes I have taken the mad and wonderful leap into a dedicated studio space and here is the view that now distracts me (a little zoomed in but only so that I could work out where the pot of gold may be at the end of the rainbow) …

The space is big and light, on two floors, so I was able to rescue my poor old furniture from the farm shed it had been stored in (since it didn’t fit in the new house) and begin to realise the joys of not having to clear up at tea time. When I’m there I work and don’t wander off to clean the bath or bake something, paying for a studio does tend to focus the mind on work! I do wish so much that I’d had this space earlier; it would have meant the stability to keep working while the rest of my life was in chaos but, never mind, here I am now. My plan is to gift this luxury to myself for as long as I can justify the rent, I have no expectations of permanence and I’m trying very hard to tell myself that I deserve it as much as anyone (easier said than done), it will be a place I can use to find space to think and hopefully recover something lost … how do I explain what that is… is it solitude or privacy, a safe creative nest, a bear cave to retreat and rebuild? Anyway it’s lovely so far and now I just need to keep busy with plenty of orders so that I have to cycle to Keswick Post Office every day!

Now here’s the thing… I actually wrote this last week, agonising over the final two paragraphs; sitting up until two in the morning and waiting until the next day to take a deep breath, check and press publish. Only the internet had dropped out, the draft hadn’t saved and I made the wrong gesture on the trackpad, deleting the bit I’d needed to say the most, the bit that will keep me awake at night until I do. In self preservation mode, I’ve managed not to think about it until now because it was so hard to write and I still don’t know if I have the ability to explain without alienating readers who are tired of my soapboxing. I do worry that talking about my awful housing nightmare will somehow damage my “brand” but then I know I could never compromise myself just to sell a few more greetings cards and this blog has never been a shop window. I’m not asking for sympathy, I want people to know so that maybe things will change. Silence achieves nothing .
Anyway, having deleted my writing I can’t face trying to repeat what I’d said so here’s the short, less eloquent version, from Facebook…

Now I’m sharing this for several reasons, because throughout all the months of trauma it has been obvious that our situation, whilst particularly complex and messy has been part of a picture that is very far from rare, especially in rural areas and also because I bet you didn’t know that even if you’re being evicted you still have to give exactly 30 days notice and that whatever the circumstance TDS will only look at the cold letter of the law (in our case ignoring the fact that we had emails agreeing the date and that the Ghastly Gerrish had no reason to claim lost income or any repair bills) In hindsight I wish we had gone to court ( we had been advised that we could claim up to two years rent repayment for living in a house with no safe drinking water) rather than trusting in a system that will almost always uphold the balance of power. Jackie Morris recently tagged me in this conversation with another artist, Jennifer Green who was also facing losing her home because Cornwall, like the Lake District, has seen a rush towards yet more tourist accommodation since the pandemic. Jenn’s words gave me the courage to keep on speaking out because to build nurturing, thriving rural communities, people need to feel able to put down roots, live near their work and above all feel safe. The greed of landlords choosing to evict long term tenants to cash in on the tourist market, and the eternal issue of empty second homes is hugely damaging :

It is hard not to feel angry when as a consistent renter, the carpet can & often is be pulled out from underneath us at any time. I often feel as a renter I work harder to justify my existence, I pay more & watch others invest in where they live, relaxing into their space. We really need to stop treating people who rent like second class citizens, with huge restrictions. In the past, I have literally painted myself out of a property & I know for a fact people who sell their homes don’t do that…

The only positive thing I can do at the moment is keep supporting charities like Shelter who offer free advice and campaign for reform. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Gerrish family donated their ill gotten deposit money to Shelter!

Now I need to close the door gently and leave that rage behind for a while, it’s only safe to visit occasionally or it would consume me. Time to make coffee and head off to the studio where I am preparing for The Great Print Exhibition at Rheged in December as well as Christmas events at Makers Mill , Keswick and Harding House in Lincoln. I’ve also been offered the MOST exciting project ever but can’t tell you yet as I’m afraid to jinx it.
Thank you for listening, I hope wherever you are your nest is safe and warm x

Re-potted

August 17th already, exactly a month since my last blog post; I’ll never get a column in The Guardian with this rate of productivity! What is it that gets in the way of doing the things you really want to do Kim? My intention after the last post was to immediately follow it with another, more upbeat and full of news about exhibitions and observations of the swifts nesting under the street light on the corner the house. Somehow there never seemed to be the perfect moment to sit and think without distraction and all of a sudden the sky is quiet and I think I’ve missed my chance, have they already flown south? It makes me think of all the way-marks that I’ve missed this year because I was looking in the wrong direction, too preoccupied to notice, or care about, the slow unfurlings and now slightly detached from familiar things that used to be quiet sign posts in the year – bracken follows bluebell, meadowsweet and willowherb after cow parsley, bilberries before the heather. I remember when my parents moved to town from the farm, my dad told me he hadn’t realised it was “already snowdrop time” and thinking yes, that is how we almost unconsciously measure time and how precious it is, how much strength it takes to keep on planting seeds and believing you will see them flower.
My new situation has removed some of the familiar signposts but added new or half remembered ones. I’d totally forgotten about swifts (swallows were our summer visitors in both my recent homes) but this summer there seemed to be lots of books about them in the shop and ripples of worry on social media, early in the year, as people waited for their delayed return. It was such a joy when, after we’d moved here I suddenly realised that the cursed streetlight on the corner of the building was actually concealing a swift’s nest and not only that but the insects the light attracted at night meant I could watch bats catching their prey in midair just a few feet from the door (I still hate the street light but this is a exercise in positivity isn’t it) so much fluttering and screeching and swooping about to distract me.

The plants have also been doing their best to show me the way, acting as good examples of resilience and adaptation. The sad, slug eaten lilies, rescued from a mouldy pot at the old house, are ecstatic to be given light and air, they shout at me “look! We’re blooming! We were suffocating in the shade of that place” and it’s true, they are as tall as me now and flinging their petals back in delight – I must try to be more lily, perhaps I was getting root bound and just needed re-potting!

After months of nothing it was a bit of a shock to suddenly have a few things I needed to do with my art work – a couple of workshops and two exhibitions, one at Rheged and one at RHS HarlowCarr. I’m trying to remind myself that it’s not at all surprising that I found this, especially the workshops, quite stressful. All of these events had been postponed multiple times and then seemed to be happening very fast, while everything was still in boxes, I’d lost all my social skills and I hadn’t made any new work for nearly a year. On a confidence level it feels as though all the little highs from last year ( Countryfile, the magazine pieces) have all been a dream and I’m having to start again- so, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I’ve taken a studio space, starting in September.
It’s an outrageous indulgence and (possibly) financially unjustifiable but maybe that’s what’s needed to emerge phoenix like from the ashes of the past 18 months; almost as mad as when I accidentally became Dorothy. Many years ago I’d gone to help paint scenery for the village theatre and somehow got persuaded to take the lead role in their production of the Wizard of Oz; not only being on stage but SINGING – out loud, wearing gingham and ankle socks, in front of people I barely dared say hello to in real life. I was 33, painfully shy and at that time, wracked with panic attacks in social situations and the most unlikely lovie you could have imagined. I went on each night humming REM’s “Walk Unafraid” to myself and it worked. Like some annoying Facebook meme I faced the fear and did it anyway and for the next ten years or so the terror of it did seem to have cured the anxiety and social awkwardness in more everyday situations!
Anyway, the idea is that the studio space will make living in our rented house easier, will separate work from home (always useful when you’re a tenant) and means I will at last have space to unpack those boxes. There’s the possibility of small workshops and open studio’s and basically it’s worth a go isn’t it, it’s not as though MGM want me for the remake or anything so I need to put everything into this small business and believe it might work.

Well now I think I’ll stop here, with a recently completed bit of stitching and some words that leapt out at me from a fantastic graphic novel I browsed though in the bookshop the other day “It’s Not What You Thought it Would Be” by Lizzy Stewart.
The exhibitions at both Rheged and Harlow Carr are on until September 7th and the next will be with Cumbria Printmakers at the Alan Reece Gallery, John Muir Trust in Pitlochry.

PS. In case you were wondering we STILL haven’t got our deposit back, no decision has been made by TDS and I continue to wonder how on earth people with even lower incomes than ours cope with these kind of situations without getting caught a cycle of debt. What needs to change ?

Over the hills and far away

“There’s more to life than a f***ing view”

Where were we? It was probably a mistake not to keep writing, or at least taking notes, throughout the past 4 months; I kept on thinking “when all this is over”, “when we get an internet connection”, “when we get the deposit back and never have to deal with the Gerrish family ever again”, but of course life is never that simple and as time has gone by the story has continued to evolve so that I’m not quite sure where to pick up the thread. The only way to start is to hold my nose and dive in, say what I’ve been needing to say and look at how far we’ve come (and how much greyer my hair is!) since this photo was taken on the 3rd of April.
Rupert took that picture of me after I’d sobbed and sulked up Grey Knotts – like a wounded bear wearing lead boots- and at the top, in the bright Spring sunshine, I realised that he was sobbing too, everything felt broken and the glorious weather and views were no compensation for the unbearable stress we were dealing with. We were still in the middle of Lockdown 2, an increasingly upsetting legal battle with our (now ex) landlords, had had no internet or phone for weeks, had not found anywhere to live and time was running out before the Section 21 deadline. The whole world seemed to want to rent or buy in Cumbria after a year of confinement and it really did look as though the only option was for Rupert to live in his van during the week and for me to give up my bookshop job so we could move back in with my parents in Yorkshire.

Sparkle Jar

Another reason I haven’t felt like writing was a letter we received from the (ex) landlord’s son in the midst of the internet crisis which accused me of saying “unkind things” about him in this blog. It shook me a bit because the whole situation had already left us both feeling violated and vulnerable; for a family so convinced of their own position, why would he be bothering to read this? Without access to the internet I couldn’t even check my emails let alone scour past blog posts for alleged meanness but I did ask other people to read back with a critical eye and that in itself made me think about writing and creativity in general – who gets to censor what I write, who am I writing/creating for and how much of myself do I want to expose? If you speak out in a public space you have to be able to face the backlash and I was already struggling. The letter, and the fear that somehow it would affect our legal position, left me even more isolated, unable to talk about my feelings of loss and even of joy because of the unseen shadow of a lurker, it felt humiliating to let them see my distress. I’m a little cross with myself about that now – they took everything else, I shouldn’t have let them make me doubt my own voice. It also seems vital that people do speak out when things like this happen, because things need to change, especially in “desirable areas” where I’ve heard so many stories this year of long term tenants being evicted so that their homes can become holiday accommodation; the Pandemic Staycation Boom. Ironically businesses in the Lakes, the very ones that tourists want to visit, have struggled to find staff and I’m sure this is partly because even if they fill a post there is nowhere for people to live. More on this another time perhaps.

Some new notebooks for Lakes, Dales, Moors Arts at RHS Harlow Car in August



We left Newlands Valley at the end of May. Our new landlords had left wine, housewarming gifts, welcome cards, and even some treats for Nutmeg, prompting more tears, this time of gratitude and an understanding that this is how it should be. They had planted white Lavender and purple creeping Thyme and there is water that you can drink straight from the tap! The doors and windows lock and there are no cracks to stuff with tissue paper. We are not where we wanted to be and I ache for the solitude of the fell , the smell of bracken and rushes and my walks to the river with Nutmeg but slowly I’m realising just how damaging a lot of it was, like finally walking out of an abusive relationship. Not only did we spend 6 years in a cold, dilapidated place (it now has a council improvement notice on it) with no drinking water, for the past 2, but we were told over and over again to think ourselves lucky…

“…for all the downsides, you should not forget what a unique and heavenly place Newlands valley is and a two up and two down in Eskdale, nearer the power station, will not compare. There is an empty fort at the top of Hardnot (sic) which may be charging a lower rent.”


As a final slap in the face the landlords ignored and then disputed returning our deposit, saying we hadn’t given enough notice – apparently even if you’re being evicted you have to give your landlord 30 days notice (we’d told him when we would be leaving and he agreed in writing but then refused to return the deposit and apparently got a solicitor to scour the tenancy agreement for a loophole) – it is so obviously vexatious (because they had lost their previous attempt to charge us £8000 for disputed/unsubstatiated bills and had to pay our legal costs) that I haven’t the polite words to use here. It took us days to collate evidence and write our response to TDS and as I write we still don’t know if we will get it back and this is the point – we are lucky, we were able to fund the move (with help from family and the kind overwhelming Ko-fi donations), pay two lots of rent in May (to secure the new place whilst still in the old) and a deposit for the new house. We can pay our rent, we did have the time and ability to fight. We are on relatively low incomes but not in any sort of debt. But what about the people who don’t have access to that kind of support, by now they would have had to eek out 2 months with a £700 shortfall, possibly got into rent arrears or even failed to pay the deposit on a new home, all at the whim of a rich landlord who had lost nothing but his pride.

I’m planning to print and sell these to raise money for Shelter


Every story has at least two sides and I’m pretty sure the Gerrish’s are able to justify their behaviour to their own circle, such as the previously friendly, “community minded” neighbour who told us “it’s hard for landlords too”, I’m sure it is in some cases. I’m not anti landlord, just anti entitled arseholes. Renting is fundamentally an insecure position for tenants and my argument has always been that with the privilege of property ownership there also comes a responsibility to act with care and RESPECT because one person’s money making, spare house is someone else’s home, security and the linchpin for an entire life – work, health, family, community. We respected and cared for that place, we were good tenants by anyone’s standards and as I worked in the garden or mopped up floods and rescued damp and mouldy books from the cottage next door I often thought that I would have nothing to fear from Molly Lefebure‘s ghost.
It’s now possible to stay in a garden cottage at our ex landlord’s Welsh manor house (my love of gardens biting me when it popped up on my instagram), the contrast between that and the way we had been living made me reel, sealing a determination to never be afraid of speaking out again (it looks so nice I would have booked it or maybe you would!) It costs the same per week as our deposit and seems to make a lie of the perfectly reasonable claim that he “needed” our home for his own use.
There, I’m mean. I’ve named names and stuck my head above the parapet, maybe you came for the art and the mountains and got this by mistake, I’m sorry. I will post this and be wracked with self doubt but deep down I know that I would do anything I could to prevent someone else going through this and that’s not mean. This could happen to anyone who rents and for those who doubt the stress or think its tough for landlords I invite you to spend this weekend packing just one room in your house and imagine searching for somewhere new within reach of your job, all without the internet, in a global pandemic.

Be Kind

Lovely people, some of you have followed this blog for years and some will have stumbled by accident on what seems like a bitter rant – in which case I’d ask you to read some of the previous posts to get some back story. I’ve agonised over this and it’s not what I want to spend time writing about but it needed saying and having lived through a traumatic Section 21 eviction twice now I feel as though it’s my job to keep talking about it from time to time. Section 21 is a “No Fault” eviction, too often the fault is with a landlord but the stigma remains with the tenant (on many tenancy application forms it was a requirement to state whether we had ever been evicted, for whatever reason).
In the next few posts I’m going to be much more positive I promise; there are exhibitions to tell you about, there are studio plans and my new solace to share with you, the swifts, the big sky, the lanes thick with Meadowsweet, the rippling Solway sands and sunsets over Criffel. When we moved here my daughter said, suddenly like a proper grown up soothing a sulky child “tell me 5 good things” and although I’m very much still in recovery there are more than 5, don’t let me forget that…

Solway light

Until next time, thank you and much love x

Hanging on the telephone

Nutmeg looking for some good news…

March. The year is galloping headlong towards the Spring Equinox, it feels like I’ve been unseated, have my foot stuck the stirrup and I’m being dragged. Slow down, can’t we rest a moment and gather our thoughts? Are we heading in the right direction? Nutmeg isn’t so sure.

I’m sitting at the table by the big window, watching the birds again; two woodpeckers today, their bright red bellies echoed by the huge, slightly menacing, flowers of the Amaryllis bulb that has marked the passing of time since Christmas. Throughout all the drama of the past few weeks it’s been these quiet moments with a mug of coffee, watching the birds or monitoring the slow unfurling of new growth that has been a grounding solace. But will there be a green space and room for precious plants wherever we pitch up next? My walks up the valley now smell of wet moss, mud and something sweet; perhaps the last of the snowdrops. I’ve taken to walking at the end of the day, in the half light and last week I was rewarded with a very close encounter with a hare.

a previous meeting with a hare.

I’d seen it far ahead, running down the path towards me and stopped to try and film it. It saw me and dived into the Gorse (The Bird City) but as I stood still fiddling with the phone, trying to zoom in on the images it must have circled around behind me and, mistaking me for a tree in the low light, re-emerged to brush past my leg as I took a step forward and looked up from the damn phone! It was so close and I’d been looking in the wrong direction, I didn’t even get a good picture (the one above is from a few years ago) – but then again if I hadn’t been so still and absorbed it would never have come so near. Looking up I saw a giant kiss, an X in the dusky sky, where two planes had crossed, and I decided to see it all as a good omen.

Actually those moments of optimism have been in the minority, It’s been a particularly maddening time since I last wrote. On top of the looming eviction, the thing with the condemned drinking water and other unmentionable stuff, we’ve been pitched into a mind bogglingly complicated, rabbit hole of a situation with BT who wrote to us in February saying “someone wants to take over your line, let us know if this isn’t correct”. Obviously we did but they went ahead and cut us off anyway – no wifi, no mobile signal just a crackly landline with a new number that isn’t in our name but that of the landlord’s son!  

I think it was probably a genuine mix up, an unintended consequence of people subdividing a house years ago and not registering the address with Royal Mail (the reason loads of my post went missing when we first moved here) but in our present circumstances it felt like the last straw.

Now we conduct our affairs, including the posting of blogs, from the supermarket car park, a 12 mile round trip. Booths is the only place with free wifi where we can set up “office” to get work done, search for a new home and all the other daily admin. of modern life. We’ve already missed out on possible houses and lost some of those things that soothe in times of stress – access to the opium of television, podcasts, apps to keep in touch with friends, the means to see distant family members in this year of isolation. 

Meanwhile the empty house next door has the super fast fibre connection I applied for as a SME in 2019. 

 

Anyway, It’s evening now, the stove is blazing (extra wildly as the loose chimney cowl finally blew away this week and landed in the garden like a grubby UFO) and thank goodness for books! Books have been saving us both, Rupert currently immersed in the Deep South curtesy of Paul Theroux and I’m a little bereft after finishing A Gentleman in Moscow but still joining Marc Hamer as he tends Miss Cashmere’s garden. Books are also breaking our hearts as we count the packing boxes needed and begin to sort through those that won’t make the cut. I wish the charity shops were open or I could leave them as gifts on bus seats or cafe chairs. I wish I could travel fast and light and not be slowed down by things that hold so many memories but will inevitably live in boxes that I fear might never be unpacked.
Moving house means lots of cathartic clutter clearing but also, for me at least, the necessity of facing up to mortality and a huge existential crisis around the “stuff” we acquire in a lifetime. As an artist, maker (and bookseller for goodness sake) it’s impossible to take a position that these things are not important. By the age of almost 54 I have a home full of “treasure” that is only of value to me – no wide screen telly or posh sound system but a truck load of cherished books, crates of my childrens’ drawings, old artwork of my own and a much travelled chest of drawers that my parents bought in the 60’s (it was old even then), held together with lead nails and memories of all the things it ever contained.When it lived in my parents’ room I remember a tissue wrapped plate tucked in one drawer, painted with flaking blue powder paint, a relic made by my brother or me. 

I want to travel light but these things are my story, when you don’t have a permanent home it feels even harder to part with them.

Several days later … 

We’ve just driven to town to send this, post an order and prepare to visit another hopeful house. I thought I’d end with this picture of the happiest day of the year so far. I met my daughter at Grizedale Forest a week ago, for a socially distanced walk, and came across this very friendly fox. We didn’t see another soul except for a buzzard and the swirl of a sunbathing lizard’s tail as my shadow sent him darting into a stone wall. We felt privileged to have the entire place to ourselves and talked about the coming summer and what it might be like here in the Lakes, where we might be and what to do with all those boxes! As ever, thanks for reading, keep your fingers crossed the Openreach engineer who is planning to visit tomorrow, is good at labyrinths and puzzles.

Little Boxes

Everyone is house hunting, the birds are busy squabbling over the dilapidated bird box and I’m feeling like a bad landlord for not doing the repairs I’d promised before nesting season! Soon that tree will be buzzing with life, the fluffy buds are already trying to open and the willow pollen will bring early bees. Have you noticed how the quiet of winter is slowly being replaced by birdsong? Yesterday’s daily stomp up the valley was a struggle but I made myself do “mindful noticing” as well as grumpy cursing and the sound of songbirds in the huge gorse patch I call Bird City was the main new thing that I noticed. A wren flew ahead of me the entire way alongside the beck, shouting furiously and my triangulation points, three deceased sheep, mark the passing days with their various journeys towards bleached relic. Bone underfoot and fleece fragments caught on wire.
At the back of the house the birds are such a pleasure to watch that I can hardly bare to imagine living in a place with no green space to hang a bird feeder for my friends, Flamboyant Woodpecker, the upside down bandit bird, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, tiny punk Coal Tits and opportunistic Robin who clears up underneath the feeder because he lacks the grippy feet of the others. I wonder who will move in to the leaky bird box.

Today has been incredibly stormy which I’ve decided I really like at the moment, it suits my mood. I like watching the snowdrops bobbling about defiantly and think that the way a plant moves is not always appreciated. Snowdrops are made for February winds!
So, strangely the wind and rain these past few days has not made me gloomy, the collection of cat litter trays (normally used for rinsing cyanotypes) catching rainwater on windowsills and doorstep would normally depress me but this time I feel vindicated. For six years we told our landlord that the house leaked and he did nothing. This January, after our eviction notice, he suddenly had the gutters cleared saying his builder had told him that was all that was needed. Well, fiddlesticks to them and all their kind. Much of what we’ve talked about and felt since we got the Section 21 has been the way we’ve lurched violently between so many emotions including self doubt and a kind of misplaced guilt about making a fuss. I think there has been an element of gaslighting which is why the rapidly filling trays of water make me feel relieved, I’m not going mad after all. Not yet anyway.
We’re a long way from resolving the situation and I’m so sad because it’s hard enough to look for a new home at the moment but the legal and financial mess around this is all consuming; it could and should have been avoided, by the landlord doing his job properly in the first place. Our energies should be spent elsewhere.

I do keep trying to work and do some drawing but it’s just not working at the moment. What did work was cutting a hole in an old drawing and using the shape to frame other sketchbook snippets. It’s a classic art school exercise, making a viewfinder, and I did have some fun putting various characters in my treehouse. I also used the magic of Photoshop to combine two more recent things and I like the results so much that I almost feel as though it’s not mine. That feeling happens quite a lot when I’m stuck creatively, a disbelief that I could ever draw at all, it’s not easy to explain but I think it’s not uncommon.

Now it’s very late and I really need to go to bed and hide. The cat has been driven insane by the weather and, with nothing better to do, keeps ambushing me from behind the settee so it’s not safe here anymore. Besides, I have books and they are both fantastic escapes. I mentioned Marc Hamer’s Seed to Dust last time and I’m really enjoying it, with the bittersweet recognition that the garden here will soon be lost to me and I need to toughen up and be more zen about it –

Any garden belongs to everyone who sees it – it is like a book and everybody who visits it will find different things.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is also providing philosophical escapism. The story of an aristocrat living through post revolutionary Russia in a kind of house arrest in the Hotel Metropol where “his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery”. I think it’s going to be made into a film which doesn’t surprise me at all.
Until next time, thank you again for reading and leaving kind comments, virtual coffees and moral support. x

The Ice Gallery

This week there have been little moments of calm as well as plenty of bitter tears freezing on my glasses as I stomp up the valley on my daily walk. Luckily it’s been so cold (9 degrees in the house this morning!) that it would bring a tear to the eye of even the happiest wanderer, so I can pretend I’m just overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the fells in winter. My walks up the valley have been like much missed visits to an art gallery, ice sculpted like glass by Chihuly or Helen Chadwick’s “Piss Flowers“. The reservoir is frozen right over for the first time since we’ve lived here and the beck even sounds different, muffled and bassy, as it flows in and out of new glassy rock formations, water thickening and lace edged.

I can’t begin to explain the feeling of relief when our landlord’s son finally disappeared last Friday and we were at least able to gather our thoughts a little without the constant feeling of being under siege; watching them build their nest while we are forced to dismantle ours. Devastatingly, after years of trying to sort out basics like drinking water and electricity bills we were sent a potentially life changing demand for 6 YEARS worth of electricity last week, which they expect us to pay by the time we leave! I’ve lost count of the number of times we suggested they include it in the rent since we had no separate meter.
Hopefully, the national covid situation will at least improve so that next time he appears there isn’t the added layer of fury that whilst we barely leave a 5 mile radius of home, he has been carrying on regardless.
There, I’ve squeezed so many lemons into that paragraph and you wouldn’t believe how much I’ve censored it! Now for a bit of light.

This morning was super cold but there is light! Sunlight hitting corners of the house that have been untouched for months, like a solstice sunrise at New Grange. I decided to stay under the covers a bit longer this morning and read the February chapter of A Spell in the Wild by Alice Tarbuck ( I’m reading it a month at a time in real time) and it was a perfect choice because the chapter opens with descriptions of her time at Moniack Mhor in an unseasonal February heatwave. When I was there in late September, 2019 there was also a mini heatwave and her descriptions of the drowsy, mossy, enchanted forest near the centre felt very familiar, it really is a special place. She describes watching moorland wildfires from the window of her room, worrying about climate change. Strangely,last night I was reading about a wildfire on Dartmoor and Scotland has recorded the lowest winter temperature (-23c) for twenty five years. There have always been freak weather episodes but climate change is now undeniable and it worries me that the pandemic has slowed down a lot of the good changes that were starting to happen, the small everyday choices we could all make. Still, faced with the impending house move I’m hoping that even though I’ve just bought a stack of plastic packing boxes this will be offset by the fact that any new place has got to be more environmentally friendly than this barn. The stove is blazing and the boiler is squealing as it desperately works overtime, trying to heat a sieve, burning enough oil, wood and coal to run a small village.

I’ve begun sorting through old work and packing, so today it was nice to rediscover old embroidery samples from my brief stint as a freelance designer and to realise that they weren’t all as awful as I’d thought. It’s hard to know what to do with “stuff” but I suppose hanging on to them was worth it just for a much needed mini confidence boost in a crisis (obviously it would have been much better if they’d sold in the first place but that’s a different kettle of fish!). You can see some of them on my Instagram stories.
In a nostalgic mood I made a quick sketch, from an old black and white photo, of me when I was a child, in the garden of our house in Wimbledon. I meant to paint in some background and more detail but instead scanned it in to Photoshop and had some fun making digital collages, which I can also draw into once printed. It’s reminded me that I do still like drawing it’s just that it’s hard to concentrate right now and, in the same way that my walks involve “play” – cracking ice, splashing in puddles, talking to my favourite tree, imaginary ponies and other embarrassing actives for an old lady, it’s important to re-find the playing part in my creative life. I’ve been talking to a wellbeing coach from our local surgery ( an amazing service you might not know about) and I know she would have suggested making art as a way to cope with things, if I hadn’t grumpily said “art is work and it’s stressful not relaxing”; maybe she’s right though and I can find a little balance now after all because when I was small I really did escape into the stories I was drawing.

Enough for now, it’s time for more tea and a slice of something delicious, I’ve made Earl Grey fruit loaf and a tray of Lucia’s Ginger Crunch.

Reading: Alice Tarbuck, A Spell in Winter and Marc Hamer, Seed to Dust

Lazy

This is Day Seven I think, it’s hard to tell because sometimes I’ve pressed Publish too close to midnight and when I tried to count just now it kept being different every time. I’m famously bad at maths but it’s embarrassing if I can’t count from 1 to 7. I’m blaming the stress and accompanying lack of sleep so as soon as I’ve finished this I’m going to run the deepest bath with bubbles to the ceiling and listen to an audio book before bed. I’m currently reading (book not audio) Iris Murdock’s “The Flight from the Enchanter” because we found it in one of Sara’s boxes, and it’s not really doing it for me, what am I missing?
I wanted to say thank you for sticking with me this week and for all the messages and virtual coffee!
I know angst about eviction(s) is not what most people signed up for when they subscribed to this blog (originally about my textiles degree). Some people who sent messages have been here almost from the start and this picture from Ali Ferguson gave me a real lift this morning. Ali (The Purple Thread Shed) is a textile artist whose work has featured in some of those gorgeous Batsford textile books as well as lots of glossy magazines. I can’t quite remember how we found each other in the virtual world but I was still doing loads of embroidery and living in Yorkshire so it must have been ages ago. It’s so good to see how her career has taken off and so flattering that she recently bought one of my bear mugs. Hopefully we’ll meet one day for the promised real coffee and skills swap session.

I have done some quick drawings today but they were rushed and rubbish because I was doing them simply to have something, anything to share. One was a slightly malevolent, unhinged looking peacock that I really can’t share because it was kind of meant as a tribute to a dear friend who is grieving at the moment and badly drawn bird wasn’t what I was aiming for. I decided that because today has been tiring (I stacked a huge load of logs) and a bit disappointing (we didn’t get a house we’d applied for that would have made all this so much easier and was in the perfect spot so we would all have been able to keep all our jobs) I’d just give myself a break and say thanks, you are wonderful. I’ve been sending these postcards out with some of my orders recently, feel free to steal the image, print it out and stick it to your mirror to remind yourself- even if you don’t believe it some one else will.

Light

“For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Amanda Gorman

Today was a good day wasn’t it. Who else got a bit tearful watching the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris? It felt like stepping out into the cool, fresh air after a long train journey in the smoking carriage (remember them?) sitting next to an obnoxious drunk. I really hope this is the beginning of change everywhere, better times and a waking from a collective nightmare of misinformation and tribalism.
I’d woken up this morning with a bad head and no improvement in my weirdly deaf ear. At least it had stopped raining but the mess from the moss massacre was depressing, Nutmeg was really disgusted and told me to pull myself together and clean up.
It can feel demoralising to continue caring for a place when you have no future there and I do get horrible flashbacks to the last days in my old home (almost exactly 6 years ago this week) when it seemed as though I would never feel clean again and the garden was so frozen that I had to leave some of my pots stuck to the ground or risk smashing them. Anyway it was good to be outside with buckets of hot water, working in the drizzle. Now the windows are clean, the stones swept and I feel like I can walk the moral high ground and enjoy a better view. Lifting clods of moss from delicate plants I came across all the stubby shoots of bulbs that will brighten the next few months and, who knows, maybe the next place will have fewer slugs (of all kinds).

I think it’s day 6 of this mini challenge I’ve set myself and I have been having a few wobbles about it. I just want to reassure any readers that I do know how massively self indulgent it can appear, how it could be seen and read by ANYONE, even enemies, and also that I’m straying way too close to that genre I’ve always tried to avoid, the “Misery Memoir”. I think that was a pretty disparaging shelf label I once saw in WH Smith’s, is it really a thing? I doubt that Penguin have a Head of Misery Memoir Acquisition but it filled me with a kind of dread that if I ever told things as they were, it would sound self pitying, entitled or like that Monty Python , Four Yorkshiremen sketch. If I were a proper writer I’d be able to get the balance right but as I say, this is a personal challenge and not meant as anything more.

Today I made this tree house picture and kind of wished I hadn’t made the eyes so obvious on the tree. These are very tiny little watercolour doodles so it’s odd to see it on the screen, bigger than the actual picture. Once things calm down a bit and when I’ve stopped trying to do this blog everyday, I’m going to try and do a lot more observational drawing. Lots of my creative friends draw every day which is why I often feel like such a rusty old fraud. My friend Penny Hunt recently shared a Facebook post about sketch books and why they are so important to her process…

“when I was about seven I used to draw the same picture over and over again, two hills meeting each other with a stream or pathway coming out from that point. That composition is where I find myself unless I’m working from sketches!”

Penny Hunt

That sounds like me with my endless bears and tree houses and I know that without regular drawing, from real life as well as imagination, I will never improve and reach a point where I feel proud and confident enough to call it work.

Lastly, This is really embarrassing but after a lot of thought and fighting with blog widgets I’ve signed up to Ko-fi.com which describes itself as “the friendly way to ask fans to support your work for the price of a coffee. Coffee’s just a metaphor (You don’t have to buy actual coffee!).” Personally I find it very difficult to ask for anything and it’s going a bit far to call you “fans” but I have supported other people this way and I do really love coffee so I thought it was worth a go.
Please don’t worry , it’s absolutely only if you want to and have the means. If we ever meet I’d love to return the favour, any excuse for a flat white x

Moss

An old bit of sketchbook “don’t stay still for too long or we’ll grow moss”

I’ve been hiding in the bedroom. I think I’ve mentioned before that this house feels a bit like a tree house or a goldfish bowl: it’s a Cumbrian Bank Barn which means it’s kind of upside-down – you come in downstairs but we live upstairs where the room is dominated by glass doors onto what was the “bank”, originally the entrance to the threshing floor. From most windows at the front there is no visible sky, just tree branches and mountain side. Anyway, a man turned up today to clear the roof of moss and all day we’ve been stuck here watching clods of sodden mud raining down like cow pats from the sky and getting our knickers in a twist about insensitive timing and the almost hilarious speed at which long neglected things are being done now that we’re being kicked out. Now the roof and gutters have been de-mossed it will make it all much nicer for the landlords but right now it just means our windows are splattered with mud and my “garden” of pots outside the big window is like the Somme. I’m moaning, I’m sorry, we’re grateful, it needed doing. It’s just that we felt trapped, especially when the landlord stood outside the window chatting with the roof guy as if we didn’t exist, as if lockdown didn’t exist and things were crappy enough but now it looks a mess too.

Autumn this year, before the mud.

Poo sticks! It’s so boring to keep going on about it when I want to talk about art and trees and lovely things but I think its probably worth noting that both of us have been sailing really stormy seas this week and just as we feel briefly calm the enormity of the stuff we have to sort in the next few weeks (time that should be spent on other things) crashes down again and at times we’ve both admitted that we’ve doubted our own reality, were worried we were wrong, had been naive and had brought it on ourselves by “making a fuss”. Today’s “Hot Ear” conversation put my mind at rest a little; there may be nothing we can do or change, we will have to leave, but the situation is not of our making and didn’t need to be like this. I’m so angry that this could easily be happening to other people in much tougher circumstances, in fact it is, all the time and people need to know that. I found some useful site’s today that I hadn’t been aware of but always hoped existed, one is Ask Tenants which attempts to redress the imbalance whereby checks are compulsory for prospective tenants but there are no similar checks on landlords or properties for rent.
Yes, I know, I should shut up in case it ruins our chances of finding a new place but I can’t. We ARE good tenants. Injustice thrives on silence.
Here are some imaginary and illusionary houses…

The black and white tree house picture only surfaced recently while my brother was scanning some old negatives. I have no memory of the place, a family friend’s garden, but I was immediately surprised at the similarity to my slightly surly tree house girl. Weren’t the 70’s funny, I have no idea how I got up a tree in a lace mini dress, am I happy or stuck?
I haven’t drawn anything new today but I have been packing some orders, lining up my ducks and feeling very emotional about the lovely comments people have been writing. Thank you so much.
Want to see something beautiful now? For several years David Wilson, a stained glass designer and art college friend of my parents, has been sending me occasional funny and encouraging messages (he grew up in Osmotherley where I used to live, went to Middlesbrough Art College and eventually moved to New York) Today I looked at his updated website and am now fantasising about building a swimming pool with stained glass walls, a light filled room with angels and abstract panels and warm blue water…ok, I know but it’s good to dream isn’t it. Aren’t they something?!

Images ©DavidWilsonDesign