Saturday, March 21, 2015

In praise of old school

We've had a bit of a systems upgrade here ; dragged kicking and screaming into some new version of OS X that has added greatly to my sum of grey hairs and deepened forehead furrows and depleted bank accounts, but hey... it had to happen some time, and I judged that now was as good a time as any. I took myself off to the nearest Temple to consumerism and joined the sheeple, poking and prodding in worshipful adoration of all things shiny and new.

As I explained what I needed a new slim metal connected ether-brain for, I came up against my old-fashionedness as an illustrator. No, I didn't need to run the most recent version of i-DrAFT or rembrandt proTools. No, I wasn't remotely interested in acquiring a mat thingy that I could draw on with a digital stylus which would connect to the thunderbolt portal, or was that the lightning door, or was it the usb hubble or - och, feeeech. And when I hauled out a notebook and wrote myself some reminders with a -gasp- pencil - I felt like a small but very cross time-travelling dinosaur being peered at by a group of wet-behind-the-ears student paleontologists.

Paper, pencils, charcoal, light from the sun. Watercolours. Such things don't need an instruction manual or a menu. They do require a lifetime's study, giving up their secrets one by one, and rewarding my patience by happy accidentals ; a smudge here, a granular texture there, a glorious gradation from light to shade that simply happened in exactly the right place and the perfect density of grey to black... such things make me stand back from my drawing and take a deep and happy breath.

I tend not to do that too often, standing back from my new, slim, metal, connected ether-brain. More a holding of breath and hoping against hope that I haven't done something too awful, wiped anything irrevocably or mangled a file beyond repair. Must ask at the Temple if there are specific prayers or hymns suitable for such occasions. Here in Outer Caledonia, we tend to use the simple forms ; Ya Beauty for those moments when files synch correctly, and the Och ya wee toly for system crashes, kerning nightmares and the black screen of doom. O spare us...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Other people's lives


Winter twilight. I love this time of year ; the colours of the skies, the glowing windows, the fact that rib-sticking food is allowed, nay encouraged all contributes to the overall feeling of hunkering down, digging in and hibernating. We wrap and layer and go for long walks, always returning to the mothership and the comfort of casseroles of root vegetables and pulses and beans. Don't pull that face - I can do a lot with a lentil - all those years as an art student taught me something useful, you know. And knitting ; I become a thing of wool and felt and hitherto undiscovered craftiness in the winter ; the plummeting thermometer seems to bring out my inner Ravelry-ite.

And spending the winter holiday with family ; having grown-up children home, the household filling with their presences, their voices; truly this is one of the best times of year, made even better, even more precious by the fact that due to divorces and other arrangements, we only have a full house once every two years. I look forward to this brief time with my grown-up children, this ( at most) seventy two hours for an entire  730 days until it rolls round again. 

So. Imagine my dismay when December began with a series of migraines that simply kept on going. One after the other. Day after day. And December's such a relaxed month, right? Nothing to do, much. I kept taking my migraine drugs ( one of the triptans) and the migraines just kept on rolling in, 4 a.m being their preferred arrival time. We had a big family dinner planned for the 21st ( Winter Solstice, in honour of the turning of the year) and I briefly thought about calling off, but decided to keep on going. 

So did the migraines.

As the last guest left in the early hours of the 22nd, the mother of all migraines arrived. I chugged a triptan and nothing happened. Twelve horrible hours later I took another and it worked, sort of. I appeared to have reached a well-documented point where I'd overused these wonder-drugs to the extent that they were now actually causing the headaches I was taking them to alleviate. 

And the cure? No more drugs. For quite a long time. Which means NO DRUGS. No dental work then. I'm trying to feel sorry about that and failing. It also means if I fall over and break a leg, I'll have to be all manly and stiff-upper lipped. Oh dear heavens, this is so not me. And as well as normal migraines whatever that may be, I'm also having a period of withdrawal from triptan overuse as my outraged pain sensors reset themselves back to normal. This is what I'm now doing. The last headache I had earlier this week, courtesy of triptan withdrawal was a 72-hour blaaaargh which I'm in no hurry to repeat, but may well have to. 72 hours of lying still with my eyes shut. I can't even listen to the radio, it's like being sandpapered till I bleed. And somehow I'm supposed to eat and drink when food tastes like burnt rubber and moving my head to get fluid down my neck makes me feel like...

Don't know where, don't know when the next headache will show up, but understandably, I don't want to go anywhere too far from
a. home
b. bed
c. my own little bedside bucket to throw up in
d. my freezer ( purveyor of ice for ice-packs)
e. people who love me and understand that this is every bit as horrible as it sounds and that I'm not drunk ( I get quite dizzy) or a revolting woman ( well, throwing up in public isn't very attractive) 

On the plus side, this coming year (once I get this headache/drug nonsense sorted out or at least down to a manageable level of shriek-fest) will be an amazing one. I'm looking forward to several brilliant projects, books and residencies and can't wait to wiffle on about what shape they're going to take BUT

my ancient and trusty mac is about to flatline here so I'd better wing this out on the ether before I run out of battery life. Laters xxxx




Friday, October 11, 2013

Heading home

I'm so lucky to return to what I call Da Bonnie at the end of a week on tour down South. After meeting and sharing my new book with over a thousand very small children, it's utter bliss to come back to the land that nourishes me. The journey North, through a land shading towards autumn, is beautiful. Through the Lakes and Lockerbie, past velvet greenclad Leadhills, swallowing up the miles to Waverley, my heart growing lighter as each clicketty clack of the train brings me closer to those I love.

And, it has to be said, to ma ain pillow. Oh! The wrestles I've had with disobedient hotel foam pillows in the wee small hours. They do not take a telling. Pound and fluff and prod as I do, they remain stubbornly bouncy, hot and uncomfortable.

And home is so quiet. So very quiet. On tour we've had traffic, other hotel guests ( may their larynxes temporarily shrivel) pinging lifts ( dear god- ALL night?) drunken passersby, screaming, roaring women- at four a.m? My heart goes out to them but also, please, somebody, make it STOP.

So home, with its 5am milkman and 7.30 tractor. With its raucous dawn chorus of blackbirds. With its starlings that nest in our roof. Home.

With my lumpy old feather pillow. Home.

With all that sustains me and all that I love.

Home.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Packing burnt sticks

After the wardrobe crisis which I'll spare you, I have to pack a portable studio to go on tour. This is so I can
a. Do 'live' drawing, although one suspects they'd sell a lot more tickets for 'dead' drawing.
And b. Keep a drawn diary at night, after the day's work is done.

Last year, on tour with What's the Time Mr Wolf? I tried to be all 21stC and drew a tour diary straight onto an iPad, but d'you know what? It looked totally hideous. I am too much in love with the tools of my trade- pencils, charcoal, chalk, watercolours- to find that their digital substitute can come even close to touching the same deep pleasure centres as, say, the glorious happenstance of a stipply, puddled wash in watercolour or a grainy swipe of coal-black charcoal shading to sea fog that perfectly captures the mood.
So. Here's what I packed for next week's drawing. I only hope my phone is up for taking photos and that the 3G signal will relay it all to you.

More to come. X

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A pebble dropped in a pool


An envelope came in the post last week.
Inside it was another envelope with German stamps and an airmail sticker.

Inside that envelope was another envelope.


And finally, inside...oh - you know what I'm going to say, don't you?
Yes. You're right. Here it is.


But I bet you didn't guess about the star, did you?
Anyhoo - inside this fourth envelope were two very special things.
The first very special thing was this.


I wish our computers could do glitter, but they can't. You'll have to put the sparkly, glittery stuff on with your imagination. I think this princess is beautiful,
with her aquamarine eyes and fuschia blushes on her cheeks. I love her dog too - with its golden muzzle and matching tummy.  

I sincerely hope I've got this right, Emma - if the princess is actually holding the reins of a horse, please accept my sincere apologies. I don't really think it matters. I love this picture for lots of reasons, and the dog/horse question isn't one of them.

Anyhoo. The other thing in the blue envelope was a letter. I'm not going to post a photograph of the letter because it is private, and Emma, who wrote it, is entitled to think that her beautifully written letter was only going to Debi Gliori, not to the WorldWideWeb. Emma wanted to let me know she's really enjoyed one of my stories - she may have said to her mummy or daddy -I really liked that story - and they might have said - Why don't you write to Debi Gliori and tell her? So Emma did. Emma, being small, might have assumed that her mummy or daddy would know where Debi Gliori lived.

Well. They didn't, but they knew who would know. Somebody in Emma's family was paying attention, because they read on the flyleaf of Emma's book that Debi Gliori lived outside Edinburgh, and they knew exactly who, in the huge city of Edinburgh, would know where to find that ex-directory, not listed in the listings, rather hard to find Ms Gliori.

Yes. A librarian. At the rather grandly-titled Central Library, in Edinburgh. With total confidence in the vast knowledge-pool housed in the Central Library, Emma's parents posted their daughter's letter with its precious contents all the way across to Scotland, and a few days later, I had an email from a librarian,

explaining that a package had arrived from Germany and would I be willing to furnish the library with my address?

All of this against a backdrop of Terry Deary's pronouncements that the service is rooted in an outdated Victorian sentimentality. And the death from a thousand cuts which are felling libraries in some of our poorest regions. And the desperate campaigns to 'save' libraries. The petitions. Marches. Speeches. The feeling that we are plugging a colanderish dyke with nothing like enough fingers. And a growing sense of the deaf, deaf ears our pleas are falling upon.

If we lose our libraries, we lose something infinitely precious. Open, unrestricted access to the written word. In a library you do not have to pay to read. To download. To fill your head with the wisdom of centuries of human thought. Anyone can use a library. And sometimes it is just one book, one chapter, one encounter with the written word that a life turns upon. A pebble dropped in a pool with ripples spreading outwards, all through the years beyond the initial moment where stone met water. For children raised in homes where books are not, a library may be that child's only chance. Nope, that didn't take. I'll say it again. A library may be that child's only chance.

And breathe.

Back to Central Library in Edinburgh. The generosity of the librarian's gesture was humbling. Emma's parent's faith in the library system was deeply encouraging. The whole episode was hugely cheering ; a lovely example of the goodness of people, the kindness of strangers and the way a book, a story can make a difference, however slight to people's lives.

It would not have had anything like the same impact if the entire correspondence had taken place by e-mail. I held Emma's drawing in my hands and glitter fell off onto my kitchen floor. That's a real connection. I will treasure her home-made star and I will hang it on my Christmas tree for years to come. And when I do, I'll remember who sent it, but I won't forget who made sure that it reached me.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Love, love, love. And kittens...

Before the year ends, I want to thank everyone who helped me get through the dark days of what my youngest son laughingly refers to as Catgate.  I'm glad he can laugh - I haven't got to that point yet, so I won't dwell.  Catgate, the saga of the Tobermory Cat, still rumbles on, like a war in a far-off place with distant gunfire, shells falling on burnt-out buildings, and munitions dropping onto a territory to which, like the past, I cannot return.

It was horrible. Truly, I had not realised that there was such a lot of hatred out there. But I had also not realised that there was so much love. And the love by far outshone everything. The love came pouring in. Like sunshine. Like light.

So, in the darkness of winter, at the ending of a year I'll be grateful to leave behind, I want to say thankyou. I asked for help from my friends, and you came. You helped. You gave me the gifts of love and time, and I love and thank you for them.

I haven't said thankyou until now because hard on the heels of the above, I lost three great and good friends. Lost is such an inadequate word. It implies I laid my friends down and cannot find them. Which, in a way is sort of true, but I would never have chosen to lay them down. Never. And in a strange way, I can find them. Safe in my heart. Beloved.

But, as you can imagine, when the bells ring in the New Year, along with looking towards the future, whatever it may bring, a large part of me is looking backwards, to people I have loved dearly who will not be travelling alongside.

So. A New Year wouldn't be the same without some resolutions. For these, I commend you to the Tobermory Kitten, and her fluff-brained ideas for her new, improved 2013.

 I resolve to check what's in the kitty waaaay before I set so much as one paw out of the door.
I resolve to spend some of my spare time winding up rats. So predictable, but such fun. 

2013 is going to be the year I get a handle on voodoo. Tonton miawcoute, c'est miaow.