Acrylics, House Paint, Spray Paint, Watercolours and Inks on canvas.
60 x 36 inches.
16 x 11 inches
Inspired by a range of German Expressionist images and completed as quickly as possible in an ongoing attempt to make my paintings more immediate, expressive, gestural and fluid. There is a tedium that comes with the rendering of static detail that has started to set my teeth on edge and has lead to regular bouts of boredom when painting over long periods of time. This sketch took just under 2 hours and was a joy to do.
My Grandma once asked me why I never painted “Happy” paintings.
So I knee-capped her.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
“What I like doing best is Nothing. It’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, “What are you going to do?” and you say “Oh, Nothing,” and then you go and do it. Doing Nothing means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear,
and not bothering.”
Winnie The Pooh
During this blog, there will be two opportunities for you to take your iron and ironing board out into the street and set fire to them. The first opportunity is now. Go. I’ll explain why in a moment.
Know that I am a lazy man. When I say ‘lazy’ I mean that I have an aversion to non-beneficial work, I have no requirement to be doing things to justify my existence. And I watch people. I watch BUSY people dutifully cram their every waking moment with a thousand menial tasks while I enjoy doing nothing in particular and I wonder which of us is right. From where I am sitting, it looks as though busy people are just poor souls that lack the imagination to stop being so bloody busy. (By the way, if this already sounds like you then answer me this, who the hell gave you ALL that shit to do? Take a break man, look out the window, notice the world hasn’t stopped turning just because you enjoyed life for a minute instead of toiling yourself into dust). A lot of the tasks that busy people do seem to be entirely devoid of purpose. Work for work’s sake. Chief among all pointless distractions is the time-eating absurdity that is ironing ones clothing.
The average person spends 55 minutes per week doing the ironing. That’s 47.6 hours per year. If you live as long as 65 and start ironing in your teens you’ll clock up around 100 days of ironing in your life. Your one life. Your only shot at existence on the only planet you’ll ever know.
Ever stop to think why you’re doing it? Because you want to appear smart? OK, that’s a reasonable answer; I’ll come back to that later. Luckily I am lazy and have plenty of time to ponder things like this so that you don’t have to. Here’s what I think:-
You could argue that ironing is one of the myriad human activities that mark a ‘civilised’ society, by which I mean it’s something we collectively perpetuate and so collectively support its value – This is important for several reasons.
We seem to be in danger of deluding ourselves that looking ones best is the same as being ones best. It isn’t. This is an unhealthy symptom of narcissism that dampens the spirit of altruism and I despise it. Your need for an image is your ego’s need for a physicality – remember that next time you’re in Top-Shop.
Let’s look at the two biggest appropriators of a world in which clothes magically take on more significance when they are hot and flat, the first of which is the Military. The Military are especially important here because they use ironing as a tool to destroy any unwanted defiance in their recruits. It is administered as a punishment and a way of maintaining control, of quashing the spirit of the individual. Paradoxically it is then used to create a sense of smart-new-self, of acceptance into the pack, which is then richly rewarded instilling pride and feelings of achievement, serving the purpose of making a soldier accept punishment with pride as he can no longer distinguish between the two – all things which make me nauseous and should put ironing in a sinister light. My Father is ex-Navy and learnt to iron with them. When he does the ironing at home he includes socks and tea-towels. I’ll run that one by you again in case you read it quickly without taking it in – A man in his 60’s who is intelligent and witty and has had some very important jobs, irons socks and tea towels. No matter how creased, socks immediately become foot shaped when you wear them, then you hide them in a shoe. Also what has your world come to when you feel it necessary to impress people with the appearance of your tea towels? This point alone should show you that indoctrinated ironing is a lunacy that extends beyond obsessive compulsive disorder, and that at least half of your washing pile has no right to be ironed.
The second of the two principle perpetrators is the world of corporate business; and it is here where we again strike at the very root of why you iron clothes in the first place – the perception of appearances. For at least one thousand years, clothes ironed flat have been a way of improving ones appearance so as to separate ones self from the dishevelled masses of the not-so-ironed. It was developed by the Chinese, a race whose class hierarchy is so demented that people die to uphold it, and for whom making a cup of tea involves a three hour ceremony – making them the most efficient time wasters in the world. So, pressed clothes are a means to simulate class and status and the corporate world has embraced and expanded this idea to include professionalism. A pressed suit gives the “effect” of the “representation” of reliability and business acumen.
Is it me or does that become obviously bollocks when it’s written down like that?
I have met some of the most immaculately dressed tossers in the world and I learnt very quickly not to judge by appearances. Even kids know this. I am regularly astonished to see people actually get impressed by a well ironed shirt and therefore taken in by the bullshit that hides behind it.
Here is a meeting of two potential business partners:-
Suit One: “I see you have taken the time to iron your shirt.”
Suit Two: “I see you have done the same.”
Suit One: “When I discovered that you had bankrupted four companies and had stolen from all your previous business partners I was worried there may be some issues concerning trust, but then I saw your professional ironed shirt and I see now that I was wrong to let facts get in the way of my faculty for decision making, when all I needed was blind faith in a flat material.”
Suit Two: “Quite.”
Suit One: “Let’s touch cocks.”
Little Red Riding Hood: “Why Grandma, what a crease-free nightie you have on.”
Wolf: “All the better to deceive you with, my dear.”
Outside of the Military and the image crazed corporations are the ordinary folk in the street. Remember when you said you ironed so you could look smart? Well let’s question that a little bit further now. Are you really so bothered about what other people think of your appearance that you want to squander hours of your precious life pandering to their (totally unquantifiable) opinions? Do you actually walk down the street thinking everyone is admiring your flat clothes? Well, they aren’t. If anything they just think you’re the person who was in front of them in the queue at Greggs and they don’t give a shit whether you’ve ironed or not. If you stop viewing life as a hollow fashion parade then you’ll stop endlessly trying to appeal to judges who AREN’T THERE. You wear clothes so you don’t die of exposure. End. You cannot be marginalised by them. The only thing your clothes should say about you is that you’re at the mercy of weather conditions and when you are stuck for something to piss away your hard earned cash on you don’t mind paying for a fashion designer to scrawl something on your t-shirt. Unless you buy your t-shirts from large high street shops like Burtons – whose T-shirt rack was hand picked by a blind donkey and is so crammed with clashing designs they are basically saying to you “We haven’t got a fucking clue what’s cool anymore, just buy something and hope for the best”.
When I see people in their homes unthinkingly ironing a mountain of clothes (including undergarments that never even get seen) on summer days I weep for them. I weep for their children who see this behaviour, assume it to be the norm and ready themselves for the day they’ll inherit the same ball and chain. I weep for the iron manufacturers whose very existence unwittingly binds us into a voluntary enslavement and anxiety that we can never be as well presented as we should be. When people say to me “I spent nearly two hours ironing yesterday” I feel like saying “Wow, you sure know how to squeeze the most out of your weekend, I wasted two hours yesterday doing drugs and fucking hookers in the endless sunshine, what an idiot, if only I’d had the foresight to get on top of making my clothes hot and flat instead”.
If I was king of the world I’d ban ironing immediately, I’d eradicate it from the history books. We’d live in a place where all clothes were creased simply because they were made from creasy material and it meant nothing more than that. Business men would have to rely on strength of character in order to gauge someone’s strength of character. The Military would have to come up with different means of psychological bullying (no problem there) and rely on their integrity in order to portray the pretence of their integrity. People in the street would have to get to know you in order to judge you. My father would be free. Most important of all, I’d give you your 100 days back in order to spend time with your loved ones. Or just doing nothing with me.
Always be wary about devoting your time to things you haven’t fully thought through. Was I talking about more than just housework here? You bet your ass I was.
If you were one of the people who didn’t set fire to their iron at the start of this blog, this is the second opportunity to do it.
Unless you ENJOY ironing, in which case knock yourselves out you weirdos.
I suffer from a rare neurological disorder that prevents me from understanding how far distances are and how long it will take to walk them. It’s not a debilitating illness or even a proper disability, I can work and live quite normally with it, just don’t ever come on an afternoon stroll with me. Ever.
When I tell you it is probably just another 2 miles to the pub, it isn’t, it is 7 miles. When I tell you it will take us half an hour to get there, it won’t, it will take an hour and a half and when we get to the pub we won’t be friends anymore. It happens to me all the time. But I’m not lying you understand? It’s a neurological disorder. I believe it’s called “Getafuckingmapandawatch Disorder”; or I.D.I.O.T. as my mates refer to it.
Anyway, yesterday I succumbed to the effects of this malady in a most painful fashion. Yesterday was my birthday and I decided to tackle the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk all by myself. It is 23.5 miles long(ish) and takes in Pen-Y-Ghent (2,227 ft), Whernside (2,415 ft) and Ingleborough (2,372 ft). I thought it would be a memorable and challenging way to celebrate another year of life and something I could look back on fondly.
I was wrong on all counts.
Simply staring at the words “Twenty three and a half miles” gives you no indication at all as to how far that is. It is really, really, really far. It is unbelievably far multiplied by ten. Luckily, plenty of training will lessen the impact a walk of that magnitude will have on your body. Unluckily, I did absolutely no training whatsoever.
I didn’t even do any stretches.
Nobody has yet invented the words that correctly convey how stupid this is.
So, today I am typing this in a seated position because I cannot walk. It is hard to think about what to type because of the intense sunburn on my scalp, the stuffiness of the man-flu I have contracted and the endless shivering that marks a good honest bout of sunstroke. My lower back seems to have been replaced by a wet sponge and no longer supports anything above it. My hips are still burning, the muscles in my legs are so tight that going up and down stairs actually makes me wail and my feet are twisted broken replicas of their former selves. I seem to remember they used to have skin on them.
It was a fantastic day though…
I thought that when writing this I was going to wax lyrical about man and his landscape, or every step on the walk versus every step in life, or spending the anniversary of your birth doing something that proves you’re alive or something equally twee and uninteresting/obvious; and I probably have a bit but there was a much nicer way to sum things up which came in the form of an accidental discovery of a misspelled sign in a field on my trek.
It reminded me of the way everyone passes from one phase in life to the next, and the fact that when one is over and done with it should be correctly sealed shut so that you are free to move on from it, taking your experiences with you but letting go of your attachments.
Or something like that. You’ll work it out.
I finished the walk in 8 hours. If anybody wants to do it again with me I reckon we can do it in 3 hours. The pub’s just over the next hill…
The direction of the wind has changed
The lost look in your eyes remains
Hanging Frozen Twisted Tight
Uncertain in the streets tonight
Nothing ventured nothing gained
Crying puddles with the rain
Moving away and not returning
Forgetting all you should be learning
Sign your life upon the line
Drown the guilt in a glass of wine
You aren’t your job you aren’t your shoes
The innocence you had to lose
They don’t need to know your name
You’re just somewhere to lay the blame
The cruelest card you ever dealt
The blade on which you cut yourself
All your schemes and all your plans
The way she used to hold your hand
Bang your drum and stop your talking
Walk away and keep on walking
Can’t help the way we’re all the same
Can’t rub us out and start again.
I tell ya Kid I shoulda seen it comin, when that first scheming crack let me know I was housing a quitter I shoulda seen it comin. Course the seeing and the getting out the way are two different things, ask any old road-kill. Never figured myself an easy lush but still I wait for the hit like any good stool pigeon should and soon enough that tooth goes bad and works me over like the turncoat it is. Voices its resignation by poisoning my face and swelling me up like an engorged leech. An urgent memo, one might say. The upsettin thing is I raised that tooth like it was my own, now it bites the hand that feeds and I figure there’s more respectful ways to expire. Whole episode put me in mind of rats leaving a sinking ship, the ship being destroyed not by wind and rain but by time, the storm of old age, the rot that don’t heal.
“Only da captain goes down wit da ship” laugh the rats, “we ain’t gonna croak on account of another mans mortality”. The kicker is I got no comeback to rat wisdom.
Now when it comes to the criminal assault of Dentistry I’m not a well connected man so I figure I’m gonna fall for the double bluff and get suckered up with some vicious backstreet practitioner, big mean fingers, never made it as a butcher and now empties sore heads for a fiver and a favour. Dead fish eyes and a smile so empty you know he tried his craft on his own incisors first. Probably enjoyed it. Maybe he took the “Do unto others….” gig too far, now he’s a junky for the extraction habit. Anyways I call the bureau and make my appointment and when the day comes I develop such a burning hatred for that weasel tooth I almost wish for the worst atrocity to bring it to its knees.
I’m despatched to a small community centre, invisible unless you’re invited, a pensioner’s yoga hall but with part time medical ambitions. There are forms to fill out first but I already dig the forms are only there to justify the filing cabinets so I only tick boxes that make me out to be a saint. I figure it’s the least I can do to lie to those that collect paper souls. The Doc calls me to the slaughter routine (white tiled abattoir to remove all sense of hope) and I see straight through the haze of disinfectant and that white coat and size him up immediately. He ain’t Johnny Local but he sure is professional, got hands that never dug a hole unless it was into gum and root. Cell walls littered with certificates and diplomas for placebo effect.
As neither of us are a fan of the small talk we get straight to it and he gives me a shot in the back of the mouth that makes my face fade into numbness, pure junk kick, stop you getting too uppity as you suffer the dental murder. Reckon he keeps the best stuff for personal. He clamps the tooth with some tool looks like it could take the nuts off the wheel of a bus and then he gets to wrenching from side to side. Cracking sound like an old branch. I can see it’s taking all his strength to twist me this way and that and I feel my head move like it wasn’t attached no more.
“Sweet Jesus this guy’s good” say the rats, “He pull off da whole head rather than deal wit da tooth, keeps down the expense”.
He’s quicker than a thief on a crowded subway and more voracious of intent. The tooth comes out in two halves in two minutes flat and I stare right in to its bastard soul as the doc makes to throw it in the trash. “Hold the front page Doc” I say through half a face, “Put the sonuvabitch in a baggy and I’ll take him home”. I got a real tasty vengeance planned soon as I get that Judas tooth back to the ranch.
I break out into the sunshine weighing about 6 grams less than I did on the way in, wondering if it will always take pure attrition to rob me of my youth. I figure no one ever really died of old age; they were just removed from general service one fragment at a time, all bought and paid for y’understand? I walk one block and already I got a crimson tide filling my mouth and I gotta spit. Now, Kid, when I tell ya that muck hit the sidewalk like I done slaughtered a pig there, well that’s only half the story. Make you wig to think of it. I thought I was gonna wig right there and then, ya dig? I only gotta walk another six blocks but suddenly my chances of survival are questionable. I’m emptyin quicker than an informant in the witness box. Don’t suppose swallowing blood puts it back in the right place neither. Anyway, I get the determination kick and make it home without emptying out altogether. I got the rounds to do and leastways dying today means a victorious tooth and I won’t give that sonuvabitch the satisfaction.
Recollect a run in with an old Chinese man runs this three gig outfit that makes him more greenbacks than a coke dealer on Wall Street in a recession. He got a Laundromat, a Restaurant and an Apothecary all in a row with doors knocked through all the walls so the same staff can service all three at once, no wasted time exiting one building to enter the next, no need to change aprons, maximises productivity, ya dig? The Chinaman is smart but he is also blind, been known to clean a suit in Demerol, prescribe Ajax for rheumatism and I hear it ain’t wise to eat the number 26 with noodles if you value your pancreas. But though he can’t see the end of his own bank account he sure got his philosophies down and when I went to see him (I’d eaten at the restaurant and therefore required the apothecary, I’m tellin ya Kid that Chinaman knew his business strategy) he lays me with this nugget: – “If I taunt you with Death every ten paces, you’ll show me what it is to live and walk a mile”. So now I got no comeback to Chinese wisdom neither, apart from it making less sense than rat wisdom.
I mailed the tooth to my ex-wife. It was the worst thing I could think to do to it.
Acrylic, House Paint on canvas
40 x 30 inches
This was a commission from my friend the acid tongued social commentator and professional busker Ian Adamson for his EP “Bread and Circuses”. It was also a chance to pay homage to Willem DeKooning heavily referencing his superb painting “Excavation” from 1950. Mr Adamson’s cruel and incendiary dismantlings of all things at the bleeding edge of NOW can be found within his blog at sugarthepill.wordpress.com. Go there and feast.
The night is still as a mill pond and I suspect it harbours the same forlorn depths. I’m staring through the window at the firmly shut doors of all the sleeping neighbours I have never spoken to on the other side of my street, lit with the lurid orange-grey pallor of what passes for a street light. Doors locked and bolted in pure metaphor. There is a deathly weight to things and as it stales the air I am resigned to the fact that tonight I will not sleep. Details are lost and forms are ill defined on either side of the window pane, blurred into a background that is both miles and inches away at the same time. The street an under water version of its day time self. I try to feel the same way.
For a large portion of my twenties I was stricken by fanciful ideas about faking my own death. Not constantly, it happened in waves. I was unhappy with my job and probably at the end of some wilting toy-romance that I no longer had the energy to terminate and the cyclic misery was sapping my spirit. The point to the plot, of course, was not the dying but the living, starting anew elsewhere as somebody else and leaving my entire tedious life behind me. Tabula rasa.
I would park my car up; abandon it off some lonely desolate country road, a deliberate illustration so the bereaved could really grasp my state of mind. Door flung open as though my exit were hurried and careless, money and documents blowing in the wind, a lost suicide with no note. I’d have headed north. I fantasised about working on a farm in Scotland. Something about the supposed simplicity of the land. The lack of responsibility in the face of the elements. I don’t know why it was Scotland in particular; it wasn’t anywhere I’d actually been. Maybe it didn’t even matter. When I finally died for real I wanted it to be on a mountain in India with no one around. The “no one around” was especially important. The snag being that I would’ve been there. I never go away.
There is a void in people that cannot be filled and the futility of our attempts is comedic when viewed from the correct angle. Tragic when lived from the wrong angle. I seldom meet anyone who acknowledges this. Even less those who know they are running, never those that know what they’re running from.
I see now that there was a part of me in those days that did not want to be me at all. An odd thing to imagine I suppose, this mini version of you in your head that is constantly annoyed at everything you do and wants out but cannot leave. Who is that? What am I doing to drive us apart? If I only knew how to listen to him. You see I don’t want to die or to run anymore, I want to hear. But he communicates only in sensations and that is a language that I have forgotten how to speak. What I can say for sure, is those sensations that were once borne of adolescent frustration and fear now manifest as the quiet mature introspections of an insomniac. Age has forged a cosy familiarity between us through all these long dark hours, some sort of intimacy, albeit back to back. A tacit coercion at best. I use our time together to quell the motion in my mind, to stem the tide, to mutely measure our comings and goings against the stoicism of the stars. Waiting for a hint of understanding. Wanting to work it all out for myself. To stop running. To fill the void. To start again.
The night is still as a mill pond and I suspect it harbours the same forlorn depths.