November 28, 2007


Apart from some tweaking of colour here and there, that's it. The apples were multiplying like rabbits and I had to put a stop to it. As in life, making a choice among many equally interesting possibilities has always been a problem for me and trying to include them all is just smorgasbord - nice, but not as satisfying as a real meal.

Apples nearly done

Had some excellent real meals this weekend, food for the body and food for the mind, in the beautiful house on the Isle of Wight which is both home and Mindfulness Retreat Centre run by Sylvia Clare and David Hughes. If you feel the need to look at life from a different angle than the one you're used to, theirs is an ideal place to start exploring mindfulness. I went with a friend and we both, in different ways, gained a lot from the experience. Relaxing in the evening after Sylvia's workshop we had the bonus of hearing David sing and play a few of his own songs for us on the guitar - watch out for him soon on MySpace: he is really really good.

View from a window of Clatterford House on the Isle of Wight.

View from window of carrisbrooke House, Isle of Wight

Sheep mindfully grazing on the Isle of Wight, most definitely in the here and now.

Sheep on the Isle of Wight


November 21, 2007


Here it is in today's Guardian, nestled among the, er, Sidelines.

Well, what did I expect? Fireworks? The reasons they chose our entries? Quotes from the entries themselves? Goodness gracious me, give her an inch and she wants a mile, put her on the shortlist and she wants to be the winner, make her a winner and she wants a full page puff. Never satisfied.

Heh heh. Not true. I'm chuffed.

Guardian Sidelines, 21/11/07



November 20, 2007


Louise's Maman spider on Embankment

Went to see Louise Bourgeois at the Tate Modern on Saturday. If you expect an objective review of the exhibition, look away now. Privately (unless I have to be teacherly or technical) I look at art in a strictly biased, blinkered, subjective, egocentric way. It either speaks to me personally or it doesn't. If it doesn't, I might pass by silently or I might express a judgement that completely misses the point or is at odds with the most esteemed critical opinions. But I don't mind.

So: Louise. If I had met her, I'm pretty sure we would have become friends. I love her face, her brusque speech, her disdain of niceties, her fragility, her toughness. But I don't love her art. Like Frida Kahlo (whom she obliquely reminds me of) she is a wounded soul and those wounds dominate her landscape, obliging you to share her prison. Entering her cells feels like stepping into the house of a terminally ill, neglected, abandoned person. You feel compassion for the patient and admire the sinister beauty of their claustrophobic ambiance (smelling of camphor, lavender, dust and rage) but you can't wait to get out of there.

Louise Bourgeois "Passage Dangereux" detail

Louise Bourgeois, red cell

Only in the first few rooms of the exhibition, the work done in New York in the early 1940s and 50s, did I feel that Louise was speaking to me in her self-searching engravings and paintings and in the wry, patient, industrious humour of her Personnages.

Louise Bourgeois persons

After that she lost me - the "organic" forms, the marble and latex and plaster and fabric - well, I blame New York and its competitive what-have-you-done-lately pressures. As for that big spider, the exhibition notes say:

Both predator and protector, a sinister threat and an industrious repairer, the spider is an eloquent representation of the mother.

To me it just looks sad, and lonely, and old.

But like I said, don't take my word for it.


November 14, 2007

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES, la lutte continue, la lutta continua

This is a close-up of only part of the painting. The rest is more or less as it was before.

Closing in to three apples

It is a struggle: this cannot be denied. Struggling is not enjoyable.You can't call enjoyable an activity during which you're in a state of terror and tension, eyes, ears and nose pricked up like a deer being hunted, knowing that at any moment it could be curtains. Maybe that's why I've been so unfaithful to this calling, this joy that is so painful. Because I'm pleasure-loving and I give up on things that require sustained effort and attention. Allright that's not true. I did and I do undertake a lot of work in my life which demands long hard slog and I manage to complete it. But reluctantly, teeth gritted. My teeth are full of grit from all the gritting I've subjected them to. In my heart of hearts, I want everything to be easy. Wonderful art to flow non-stop from my fingers like honey from a spoon; life, love, liberty, relationships and happiness and knowledge and wisdom - all of it to be simple, straightforward, quickly achieved, effortless, with clear instructions in large type on a single sheet of paper: if you do A it gives you B which leads to C and that's it. All done and all perfect.

You may be wondering what's this got to do with painting apples? Depends on how you look at painting apples. If you're after getting the drawing and the shading and the colours right then forget my angsty talk. Painting can be fun, can be taught and can be learned. Loads of people enjoy doing it and are good at it. What I'm talking about is like deciding to enter a monastery or a nunnery in order to serve one invisible and unknowable master. A master who never gives you instructions and whose existence you can't confirm, yet you are compelled to search for it. I may be painting apples but I'm looking for something I don't know and it keeps disappearing. Just when I catch a glimpse and fix it with a brushstroke it's gone and I'm stuck, nothing to do but wait for the next sighting.

My problem is that I want this cake and the other one too. Then another one.

By the way: the announcement of the winners of the Mary Stott prize will be published next Wednesday Nov.21 in the Guardian's "Sidelines" column. So if you want to see my name in lights, that's where it'll be. See what I mean? I'm not ready for the nunnery yet.


November 10, 2007

(thanks to Kim for the headline)

Triumphant winner


November 8, 2007


Well, it doesn't seem to be in today's online Guardian yet but I know I didn't dream it because the flowers are still here and I know I was on the shortlist because my name was mentioned here and that's why I was invited to the party last night.

Thrilled to bits in a nonchalant way to be one of six chosen out of 700 entries to the Guardian Mary Stott Prize Competition to which I had sent an entry back in July, booted and beautified I swaggered over to a posh private club in Covent Garden, weirdly-appropriately called "The Hospital", and within minutes I was swigging champagne out of long tall glasses and being welcomed by Kira Cochrane, women's editor, Katharine Viner, features editor, and other Guardian luminaries who, strangely, seemed to know all about me and as if that wasn't enough soon I was chatting with Joan Bakewell, Katharine Whitehorn, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Posy Simmonds all of whom happen to be among the most brilliantly talented women on the planet.

When the crowd and the sound of talking was at its peak, there was a plea for silence and two enormous bouquets of flowers appeared. By that time the heels of my deceitful bargain boots were giving me serious aggravation but, fortified by several slim flutes of golden liquid, I was in jovial mood as I waited to hear the winner's name, certain that it was not me since the victorious one was supposed to have been contacted six weeks earlier.

Kira Cochrane said: "The winner is...." and read out two names.

One of which was Natalie d'Arbeloff. That's funny, I thought, someone has the same name as me.

But it was me, your actual moi.

As well as another woman - I'm really sorry but at this moment I don't remember her name: Bridget Orr.
We are joint winners of The Prize.
One of the two bouquets was for me.
An envelope containing a cheque for £500 was handed to me by
Catherine Stott, delightful daughter of Mary Stott, and we talked.

Some time early in the new year Bridget and I (at different times, I believe) get to be editors of Guardian Women for a week.

My tortured toes sang an operatic aria, hitting notes of pleasure-pain never heard before.
I took a taxi home.

How many exclamation marks do you need?



November 7, 2007

A RIDDLE: All will be revealed tomorrow

Q: What is this?

A special bouquet

A: A fabulous bouquet of flowers sitting on my kitchen table, still in its shiny wrapping paper.

Q: Who is this?

Me going out tonight

A: Me, all dressed up to go to a party tonight, wearing my new high heeled black boots.

Q: What is this?

Home from the party

A: Me, home from the party.

(HINT: Buy The Guardian tomorrow or go to its website. Look somewhere under Guardian Women).


November 5, 2007


while waiting for customers at the Comiket. Sold three books in four hours.

Doodle at ICA Comiket

Tomorrow must must must find some shoes for a *very* special event on Wednesday (read all about it later). Much as I would love to totter and tower and be powerful on those very high blocky heels, I cannot do it. I fall and twist my ankles the moment I try them on and as for actually walking, forget it. Regretfully I have to remain four foot eleven inches in flattish footwear and keep my power hidden.


November 2, 2007


This is my latest version but the photo was taken under electric light so the colours are not true to the painting. In fact the transltion from canvas to camera to computer to website to internet doesn't allow for accurate reproduction. Never mind, at least you can follow the changes. I don't know if any more apples are going to appear. Maybe it's just a foursome. I might call it "Time Travel".

Stag 5 of Apples


Saw the surgeon, got the results, much the same as last time. The decision now is not to operate (hurrah!) but to keep checking up on the lump every couple of months to see if it grows. At present - as it has been for the past two years or so - it's nice and quiet and tiny and well-behaved so just pray it stays that way. Am hugely relieved, of course. Somebody/something/somewhere is watching over me: thank you.