The epitome of my career

Yes, I have reached a high point in my stratospheric career (only 30 years from newly hatched full time artist with a few commissions to old hand with a few more commissions). With several overdue and wonderful commissions in hand, I had finally a day to myself to make a start but the head gardener, Bailey, was bemoaning the state of his garden ornaments and as I do sweet F.A. in the garden to help him, I felt it was my moment to step up.

So here are the results of my efforts – I was starting to paint highlights on the clothing of one of the gnomes at which point I thought enough was enough, they just needed to be clean and tidy after all.

Am I a lover of gnomes, not really. Just seem to have acquired a few and they were appropriate for an artist and (ex) cricketer. The balls are our gate-post ornaments. They might amuse the odd passer-by …

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Right place, right time

There is a right time and place for most things, without getting into the sphere of philosophy, politics, religion, etc. I am thinking of more day to day concerns for an artist.

I do occasionally have white paper syndrome or artist’s block, and I’m experiencing something like that now due to an accumulation of stress from too many balls in the air, and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. This is not usually a problem for me but now and then I do go under and it’s hard to be creative when you feel that way. As I work a lot of the time on commissions, I have found a way to ‘ground’ myself and get into the right mood for painting, and it is tidying up my space. You could look upon it as procrastination and, in a way, it is, but it is bringing me into a quiet space where I am physically and mentally preparing for what I need to do.

I’m not an artist who flourishes in chaos, no matter how many people tell you that shows a creative and brilliant mind. It causes me to have surges of frustration, distress and even anger. I’ve had this problem for a long time and it can be difficult sometimes for the people I live with who just don’t understand why I’m obsessing about it. I’ve lived with far too much stuff crammed into small houses for a long time, so I should be used to it. After a trip away last year I have come home with an urgent need to de-clutter and have made a good start, but there is so much that still niggles me and I don’t really know how to control it, so I just try to avoid it by constantly finding the right place for things. That makes me feel calm and helps me to be creative. Sometimes I just sharpen pencils till they’re all bristling with beautiful (long) points – that’s a story for another day – and then I can begin.

I’m always fascinated by other people’s studios but sometimes horror-stricken by them. I know I couldn’t do anything till I’d spent days organising a clear space to work in. I feel like I was a monk in a past life, spending hours every day writing beautiful lettering, and I have a tendency to write naturally in a sort of calligraphic manner and a leaning towards illustrative rather than abstract work. I’ve fought against it a bit, as I do enjoy artist’s who work effectively in a loose style but abstract for the sake of trying to be hip sets my teeth on edge – that’s who I am and I need to just embrace it.

Right time and right place is my little Sitooterie (a Scottish lady named our little extension this as it’s where you ‘sit oot’) once I’ve cleared the space and am ready to settle into my work. I love that time and marvel at how lucky I am when, some time afterwards, I realise I’ve been in that trance-like state of total absorption in a piece of work.

Artwork also has a right time and right place. Take my painting of a sunset I photographed at the beautiful St Ninian’s beach. It’s a magical place, somehow different each time I go there but always welcoming and uplifting. This painting never sold. I knew it was just not the right place and right time for it, but I did start to wonder if I liked it myself. Then I had taken something down and needed a replacement over our bed and came across the painting, and it is just perfect with the frame similar to our bedroom furniture, the calmness of the waves lapping onto an evening beach and, above all, the colour. It is still for sale of course, but for the time being it has found it’s time and place. The pug? A lovely present who arrived just at the right time after my hottle wattle bottle sprang a leak. He gets warmed up every night and is just right if you get a draft on the back of your neck.

Marmite – Love Him or Hate Him?


We love him, but who wouldn’t. He’s the Little John of the Company of Cats, a gentle giant with a soft centre. Not one who you would expect to be the nurturing, caring and cuddling one. Well maybe that’s a step too far, but he does have his own little gang. First in his entourage is Mousie.  Mousie, a little knitted mouse made of glittery silver wool with a huge long tail, was unloved and neglected for years before Marmite found him in the bottom of the toy basket, a bit dusty, a bit dog-eared, and forgotten. Now, twice a day,  Marmite carries him with pride from room to room with his  long tail so that his body bounces along behind, loudly proclaiming his prowess at another successful “kill”. Once the ceremonial “Have you got Mousie?” exchange with ma or fa is over, he drops him wherever he happens to be and casually strolls away. The only problem is that one of these ceremonies has to take place in the middle of the night, so is always heard but not always acknowledged.

His entourage also includes Merlin, the little beastie, who having previously befriended a black and white cat who would put up with his brattish behaviours, has now found another monochrome Moggie willing to give him baths without judgement, scoldings or the downright ostracism of all the others (understandably). Ma and Fa tend to find this bathing and closeness unbelievably endearing and produces the sort of reactions and approving noises from them that are usually only reserved for the best bits of Disney films.

The Third Man in this picture is no mysterious figure in a slouch hat in Vienna, no it’s the Cat Whisperer himself. Fa doesn’t know why or when it happened but now Oscar (the Catfather) has a serious rival for Fa’s knee. The removal of a settee the size of Wales has only exacerbated this problem. Replaced by a chair that does everything bar make the tea, the beauty and versatility of this furniture is totally lost on the Cat Company. It’s just not wide enough. Even fairy lights and a small tree with dangly bits have not made up for this failure on the part of the Furniture Procurement Officer (Ma).  I hold my hands up.

The Catfather & Company

Oscar is the head of the household. He knows who is boss and it isn’t Fa or Ma, even if they’d like to think so. The Company of cat peeps are his plebs, to be ignored where possible, instructed where necessary and occasionally flattened just for fun. His vantage point on Fa’s knee gives him a clear view of proceedings and is safeguarded mostly with a look or a flick of the regal tail. If one of the Company dares to get there first, there follows a ritual dance of circling, meaningful looks and quiet insistence until the interloper just gives in and finds a spot that’s a bit more ‘zen’. Only at that point will the Catfather emphasise his suggestion with a swift pawslap on the departing rear end. He loves his food, but only the best, enjoys a sunny spot in the garden or the window and is the only one allowed to snuggle under the duvet with Fa, as long as Ma doesn’t twig on. He knows he is the bees’ knees. The Catfather, what a dude.

Seal, but no seal

Gorgeous, clear sunny day in Shetland while most of the UK has got awful weather. Winter is the only time Shetland has the highest temperature in the UK, but it does happen (even if it is usually at night). Went for a short walk to ‘our’ beach, Minn beach, which was glorious and, as is my usual won’t, couldn’t help myself but had to do a drawing in the sand. Today it was a seal as I am usually chatting away to a curious seal on these walks but none appeared today. There was a family having a bit of a barbie, or at least a fire in one corner, and a few other people about but it got busy later on and I was glad I had gone while it was quiet. Don’t mind chatting to folk any time, but I do find beach walks are all about the new magic word ‘mindfulness’. A time for deep breathing, opening your mind and just being…. best stress-buster there is.

Sad day for some of my family attending the funeral of a younger cousin. Her Mum has now lost a husband and her two eldest children but still has a big family and, I hope, lots of support. She’s a tough cookie but not in the best of health. She’s always been kind to me so I’ve always had a soft spot for her. Couldn’t have gone down at this time but my sister will be there to show we care.

Pounds of wobbling fat that I want rid of

Yes, I was in the shower this morning, checking this out and suddenly, for no apparent reason, started thinking about the leader of the Free West. I had a moment of clarity, in between bouts of disgust and despair, and suddenly realised the way he’ll exit. Something will happen which makes him realise he has to go before he ‘s found out, impeached, or disgraced (what would  it take to do that for goodness sake).  He will get some quacks to sign him off on mental and physical strain, (no-one will ask for proof as we ‘d just be happy to see him go) and he’ll say he’s leaving for his health and to spend what time he’s got left with his family. How delighted they’ll be.  

He will blame it on the stress caused by the ones who are protesting, standing up to him, and mocking him. So he’ll leave to a happy ‘retirement’ still pulling all the strings of his puppet family pretending to run his businesses and he’ll have a great time playing golf and getting fatter off all his adoring fans at Mar-el-Lago who will fall over themselves to be seen with the ex-President. 

So he will have achieved everything he wanted, made himself even more millions, his wife won’t have to be seen with him ever again looking totally repelled by him, and he will leave the US with a Cabinet and White House full of racists, white supremacists and mysogenists who think women are there to look good but don’t have anything worthwhile to say.  So unless there’s a serious epidemic of man-flu that wipes them all out (and I include his Education Secretary and Press Officer/Campaign Manager in this), we are stuffed either way.  And don’t get me onto Theresa May, Brexit and the NHS.

A company of cats

In photo order: Aspen, Neville, Fizzy, Marmite, Oscar Charlie, Hercules and Merlin







 It was over a year ago when Hercules (and Marmite) had just arrived and I fell in love again. He and Marmite are the sweetest cats and have settled in amazingly well to their new life in Shetland, all having their own favourite places in the house. For some reason the two tabbies in the house (Aspen and Hercules) are my sofa mates whereas all the rest want to sit with Mike and its first come first served to get on his knee. We have made a few new ‘beds’ around the house so that when we’re not in the living room they can all find somewhere comfy and warm but our bed usually has a few cats sleeping quite companionably together. This includes the Neville (the Garage cat) who is as nice a cat as you could ever meet.  (His history and why he came to be the Garage Cat is another story). He is best friends with little Merlin and now has to sport a rather natty collar so that we can tell him apart from Marmite as they are so alike. 

Mike was determined to get Neville to live in the house with the other cats even though he seemed so comfortable and happy where he was, but he worried about him in the winter, so he tried bringing him in lots of times and sitting calmly with him in here (an excuse to watch sport on’t telly really) but usually he’d just bolt out after a while. Then one day be didn’t, but he stayed under the sofa most if the time keeping a wary eye on the comings and goings. He just started gradually to get bolder and now mingles quite happily with the other cats. He’s very clean and healthy despite his time living rough and, best of all (from my point of view) is his friendship with Merlin who was desperate to play with someone and who now has a WWF wrestling partner for silent bouts where they eventually disentangle and casually sidle away from each other, as if nothing had happened.  Neville washes Merlin, taking particular care to do his lugs, and it’s so sweet it brings a lump to even Mike’s gruff and manly throat.

You may have noticed there’s a strange collection of names with no logic to them … That’s because we’ve only named three out of our seven cats. How many!?!.  Yes, seven. Not our intention to have so many but one was needing a home in the country as he had decided he was not an indoor cat in a flat and as I knew he was a really handsome boy, we thought he could come to us. This was Aspen who came to us when we only had Fizzy the oldest cat and the only female  and Oscar Charlie, our lovely big Ginger Tom who came from a neighbour’s litter.  Fizzy, by the way, doesn’t like any other cats and never has. Oscar and Aspen were wary but soon settled into a friendly tolerance, and Aspen is a gorgeous silver tabby, very sweet-natured and easy to get on with. It was love at first sight for me. Then we’d heard our neighbour’s’ cat was having another litter so we said we’d have another Ginger tom if there was one, and of course there was. 

Next we heard my niece was desperately trying to find a permanent home for her two cats as she was moving to Australia and didn’t feel she could put them through the quarantines, travelling and change of life. She asked if I knew anyone that would take them but only someone that could be trusted not to ever let them end up in a shelter. So we did try, but in the end I said we would take them and my friend kindly arranged to include them with some specialist transport that was bringing her a rescue dog. So they travelled from Cheshire to Shetland, settled into our little bedroom and gradually started to explore the house and garden.  Hercules had always been a shy cat so we were prepared for him to hide under furniture but once I got his trust by sleeping in that room and talking to him all the time, he soon started to explore and now is, along with Aspen, my best buddy. We both fell for these gentle, friendly cats on the first day – Marmite, the black and white cat that looks like Neville (who was still living in the garage at that time) is a big, bold boy who soon settled in to life in Shetland and is quite self-contained and does his own thing but always sleeps at my feet overnight and strolls happily about the gardens on a nice day. Hercules is more introvert but the only time they both head for the hills is if someone new comes into the house and even then, they will often venture back in. 

It’s not been all plain sailing of course, nothing ever is. There have been trials and tribulations with food, as one of the ‘new’ members of the family couldn’t get on with the very specialised steam-dried food all the others were doing so well on. It was chosen because it has no fillers, grains, etc, and has improved the coat and condition of our others but with a combination of best quality natural chicken and fish, Marmite now seems quite content, although all the others now insist on having some of his too.  The other problem has been a “phantom widdler” which was causing a great deal of problems and we now feel we are on top of it but it’s meant the whole house (apart from bedrooms) has had a new flooring laid which is one of the new style cushionfloor vinyls which looks just like a wood floor, is non-slip, textured surface so it doesn’t have to be polished after mopping, and can be kept clean and sweet-smelling. We use rugs that can go in the washing machine, we have a sort of bacterial cleanser that eats any bacteria and removes any smells and we have a spray called Wee-away to put them off spraying in places that were “favoured”. One of these was the log basket for some reason, so we now have the logs by the fire in a tall wooden umbrella stand that is not easy for them to leap onto. The final change was the litter we used (not much used in spring and summer but vital in winter). A new type as recommended in my internet research has made a huge difference, and an added litter tray, rather a posh one so there are now three litter trays in different parts of the house, checked and cleaned several times a day.  

So it’s certainly been a learning curve and it was worth all the effort to have our little family all doing well together. In my adult life, I have helped to raise over £20k through exhibitions and events for wildlife charities and in more recent years I have continued to donate money and paintings to animal charities of all kinds (as well as children’s charities) but still feel I have never physically been out to “save” animals in the wild, so maybe I am subconsciously doing my bit in my own space. However seven is an auspicious number and we have both drawn a line in the sand! There will be no more but we will continue to care for our little raggle-taggle bunch of misfit names, friends and non-friends, mad-max nut cases and gentle little cuddle-bugs. All much loved.