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Pen and ink drawing class at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

Fig.1 Chair and shade

It was like being back at school: though the ratio of 15 women to 3 men felt like I’d gate-crashed the girl school’s class down the road; I was educated in all male schools from 4 to 19. Of the 15 two were under 20, two were under 30 and the others above 60 and 70. No difference. Just like school. I recognised this swimming with Masters that given any opportunity to be the child that we were we are.

My relationship with art is an odd one: a mother who taught art, had an MA from Durham University in Fine Art, but who discounted at as a career for any of her children. I took it as far as A’levels (under her tutelage).

In 90 minutes we has some history, so thoughts on kit, then we got on with it. I found a secluded spot in the central courtyard (Jerwood Gallery, Hastings). And picked first on the climbing plants on a wall, and then the chair I’d taken out of the class. My challenge was to look at different ways of adding shade. Eventually I found that changing from pen to cotton balls and ink would differentiate between the object and the shadow. This’ll take further work.

Other learning opportunities over the last few days have included:

Power Boat II (Refresher)

It is eight or more years since I did the course and seven years since I’ve been in a power boat. A bit of it came back. And new stuff was added. I need this so that I can operate a ‘rib’ during ‘racing week’ at the local sailing club: laying the course, keeping an eye on the fleet to rescue and assist. The sea can be choppy, the winds strong. Dinghies go over and their mast can pin them to the shallow sand and grit of Seaford Bay.

How to train a pigeon

In her wisdom my daughter has rescued a pigeon with a broken wing. The RSPB and animal sanctuaries aren’t interest. ‘Ralph’ is now accommodated in a garden shed; shits everywhere but is eating from my daughter’s hand. Muggins will be looking after it shortly of course. The volume of pebble-dash shit is impressive as every shit is onto a fresh patch of shed floor – it will be one shit deep, like a carpet by the weekend.

Graphic Design

The exhibition on the designer Ivan Chermeyeff at the De La Warr is so good I’ve been back three times. There is no book on this exhibition, though many of his books are nailed to a table to admire (the page it has been opened at), with a few books you can browse. There is an insightful video too – an interview with the designer talking about how he got into fine art and graphic design from an inspiration father. One of the things he talks about is ‘learning to see’. Had photography not been banned I would not have got out a pad of paper and looked more closely at his collages. Had I not taken such a close look I wouldn’t have seen, with magical surprise, that one was made from ephemera collected at the inauguration of JFKennedy as US President on January 20 1961.

I dress for the sea

I swim out to the bathing zone marker buoy 200 or 300 m offshore. I go in gingerly wearing windsurfing boots over the shingle and a ‘shortie’ wetsuit. I have latex bungs in my ears and a swimming cap. It is cooler already than a week ago; I let myself in gently, not repeating the mistake I made a week ago setting off in a Triathlon by leaping in dry and racing off for the first marker as I were the sprint swimmer in a water polo pack determined and used to getting to the ball first mid-way up the pool. I let the wetsuit keep me buoyant and I set off my head high, only lowering it further into the water to tip my eight forwards after a few dozen strokes. I rested up a couple of times too, my excuse was the water in my goggles, my excuse was I did a half hour pool training session this morning, my excuse was the swell coming in from the South East that could fill my lungs and belly; I made that mistake last week too, taking several mouthfuls of sea-water within minutes of setting off. Not today.

The sun sets, the beach is quiet

It could be the Mediterranean in March, Cannes in November. I rest at the buoy, threading my feet around the rope that anchors it to the seabed. Rested I head back, this time without a break, a steady, relentless swim, head down for six strokes, checking my way forward on the seventh. It’s easier with the swell coming over my right shoulder as I find breathing to the left less forced. Once used to the water I breathe bilaterally for a stretch, not for long, just to see if it can be done in the sea. I’ll bring a football out next and swim with it, water-polo style, head up; that’ll work the shoulders more and prepare me for the more upright position that is sometimes required when swimming in the open sea.

I would never have expected to sunbathe in mid-September and feel flushed; I would never expect to swim in the sea, but I did.

Sea swim in September

I swim out to the bathing zone marker buoy 200 or 300 m offshore. I go in gingerly wearing windsurfing boots over the shingle and a ‘shortie’ wetsuit. I have latex bungs in my ears and a swimming cap. It is cooler already than a week ago; I let myself in gently, not repeating the mistake I made a week ago setting off in a Triathlon by leaping in dry and racing off for the first marker as I were the sprint swimmer in a water polo pack determined and used to getting to the ball first mid-way up the pool. I let the wetsuit keep me buoyant and I set off my head high, only lowering it further into the water to tip my eight forwards after a few dozen strokes. I rested up a couple of times too, my excuse was the water in my goggles, my excuse was I did a half hour pool training session this morning, my excuse was the swell coming in from the South East that could fill my lungs and belly; I made that mistake last week too, taking several mouthfuls of sea-water within minutes of setting off. Not today.

The sun sets, the beach is quiet

It could be the Mediterranean in March, Cannes in November. I rest at the buoy, threading my feet around the rope that anchors it to the seabed. Rested I head back, this time without a break, a steady, relentless swim, head down for six strokes, checking my way forward on the seventh. It’s easier with the swell coming over my right shoulder as I find breathing to the left less forced. Once used to the water I breathe bilaterally for a stretch, not for long, just to see if it can be done in the sea. I’ll bring a football out next and swim with it, water-polo style, head up; that’ll work the shoulders more and prepare me for the more upright position that is sometimes required when swimming in the open sea.

I would never have expected to sunbathe in mid-September and feel flushed; I would never expect to swim in the sea, but I did.

Writing, child care and resistance

21/1/2002

Seaford

5.55 a.m Shattered but buzzing

Awake because TBT woke shouting ‘Stop it you’re’ giving me a headache’. This sounds like a nightmare. It also sounds like something I have said when I have been trying to concentrate or block something out while Darlingest or one of the kids has been trying to get through to me.

6.40 a.m. Going spare

I have gone twice into the bedroom with a torch to look for a folder of print outs titled ‘Writing 2002’ that contains, amongst other things the notes printed from ‘Journey to Work’ – the story had hope to spend an hour writing. It alludes me, not downstairs in the study, not in my bag. I recall taking it out of my bag so that I wouldn’t have to carry it around Pevensey on Saturday.

Have a mad idea for ‘Time Telescope’. Alfie uses it to alert ships that were wrecked in the past so saving countless lost lives.

The Bodleain Library

Also open my eighteen year old leaver-arch file on the Bodleain. I know this thing lost its way, but reading the questionnaires staggers me. I hadn’t realised I sent this thing around to the key departments. Suddenly I have another ‘live’ documentary. Put the Bodleian online gives you a Wellsian World Encyclopaedia, it is ‘The Contents of Many A person’s brain’ – a way into personalities and an opportunity to discuss the democratisation of learning and information against the elitism engendered in the past by places of scholarship such as Oxford.

So I’m not so bothered when I finally settle down to write and am disturbed within minutes by Zozo calling for someone to go to her.

I have over done It

I am too tired. As I copy and paste entries into a back up disc I somehow delete or overlay several hundred words I have just written on the machinations of yesterday evening.

Cryptic Reminders:

Drop TBT at nursery.

Take Zozo to the library. (Loo. Snacks. Timers).

Collect TBT.

Then what?

All a bit cryptic but ‘doing the Diaryland’ has been somewhat obsessive of late.

A boy child is born

Fortunately that is all it was – a nightmare

2.13 a.m.

I woke with a start a few minutes ago.

What I am about to write is the most horrible dream I have ever had.

Darlingest says she once had such dreams about me, and has had such nightmares about the children too. I hope it is a reflection of how close I have become recently, especially to TBT with whom I can now find I spent the entire day.

TBT is three, born on the morning of 111th June 1998

As he emerged I held his head and untangled the umbilical cord from his neck and with the next push I helped his shoulder through and held him as he arrived. Darlingest was on her knees at the end of the bed shoving for all he might, I gently passed our new born son (it is only then I discovered he was a boy) between Darlingest’s legs. (This, you might gather, was a home birth). Darlingest gradually turned over, umbilical cord still attached, and sat with this great bulbous lump of a thing.

The midwife arrived five minutes later

She was delighted with our progress. (I should add here that there were two ambulance men present. The first had covered one birth nine years previously, the other never – we didn’t let them help even if they had wanted too).

The midwife had to come over 30 miles

She is happy to let the moment last, to allow Darlingest to find her way. She may have tried to feed him, I’m not sure, I think both Mum and boy were too tired. I was offered scissors to cut the cord. The toughest of the grizzly, vein filled pipe-work surprised me. A few moments later the midwife ran a bath. By now the ambulance men have gone. Zozo and Nonna may have come upstairs. Perhaps they left it a little longer. The chord cut I found I was left with the little chap while Darlingest and the midwife retired to the bathroom. I propped myself up on a pillow and slept. TBT (it took another five weeks before we named him) slept in my arms.

I tell all this rather than the many fond moments we have had together since. As I have taken on the ‘Househusband’ duties I’ve seen a lot of him. I have become, Darlingest says affectionately. the one he wants to turn too. This is what could have provoked the dream. I’ve become exceedingly maternal. (I had the joy of having this for a short spell with Zozo too). Reading these diaries, especially the ‘Mrs Daddy’ stuff you’ll know how close we are and what fun we have together as a family.

Now to the dream

I will analyse it in due course. It comes out of a dream n which I am floating about the ocean, dolphin like, though sometimes cadging a lift on one of the quaint motor-cruisers. We could be anywhere, we might even be in the fake canals and lagoons of he Venice in Las Vegas. I only saw this because of the strange, bright shadowless like light the filled the world. I gather that one of the captains of a boat had been on was a TV executive of some kind.

Towards the end of this sequence he calls ‘Watch out Vernon’ or some such. I had been floating about amongst boats trying to moor and he may have thought I was getting in the way. I might have been on a plank or in a canoe at least – the analogy is pretty stark, though the mood of it all is open and happy. The dreams might be completely unconnected but seemed to segue into each other.

Death of a child – my child

I’m in a town, on foot, amongst the canals and tall dock side buildings of a less salubrious neighbourhood, there’s a bit of a Charles Dickens’s London about it, done up, or Amsterdam (though I have never been), even the quayside building of Trollhatten, Sweden where the last EAVE I attended was based. I am approaching such a building, four storeys high.

This town house is pleasantly and plainly decorated on the outside (here the reconstructed old square of Warsaw or the old square in somewhere like Amiens comes to mind). There is no glass in the window frames, it might be that we are just moving in. Importantly for what happens, each floor is a jumble of cardboard boxes and furniture stacked up over the lip of each windowsill. The second floor has boxes almost to the top of the single, large square windows (or window frames). Zozo (who is five) is on the ground floor, passing something through a window or climbing out of it. TBT (who is three) is above, about to do the same, he is perched on the top of one of the boxes leaning out of the window. The box gives way and he slips forward, for a moment he is caught by an ankle. His head points straight down the wall, he will certainly fall.

I am across the street, encumbered with something, watching this but unable to scramble and dive to his rescue. It’s as if I sense there is nothing I could do. I will never get there on time. I know he will fall and that the outcome is going to be nasty if I don’t catch him. I just continue to walk towards him, not daring to call out as he slips out of the window. I dash forward, I should have run over the moment I saw the accident unfolding. TBT hits the back of a bench beneath the window and falls behind it onto the cobbled stones beneath. I could draw the scene now. Paint the bricks, the bench (green gloss, faded, wrought iron frame, heavy wooden seat and back). I lift TBT straight up. Common sense says don’t move him, he may have a neck injury.

In my heart I know he is dead. I want to pull him out from behind the bench and clutch him to my chest. He is inert, his neck is broken and most ghastly of all one side of his head has been pushed in deforming his left eye and spoiling his beautiful sunshine face.

I yell out in pain and anguish. I wake with a start, disturbed by the sound of my own voice. I feel wretched. Alone. Broken

The aftermath

I am being vigilant. Getting in and out of cars, climbing on walls, at softplay, in the swimming pool. He leans over parapets in the multi-storey car par, insists on running along the tops of walls. At his age I had a long scar on my forehead, he has a short one from a fall against a concrete planter. At his age I fell off a harbour wall and landed on the deck of a fishing boat. A little older I slid off a breakwater at low tide. So I’m vigilant. He could so easily do the same, but not come off as lightly as I did. But he loves climbing. He’s strong and agile. Having climbed myself it is remarkable to see him swing, grip, tug, and heave with balletic agility and enormous strength. It could get him into a lot of trouble. We keep the windows locked at home, especially those on the third floor. Wish us all long happy lives!

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