Death and taxes!

Being over dramatic with that title? Maybe so, but these have both been on my mind recently. The deaths of people and animals to me seem to be equally distressing but some might find that statement rather offensive, but no apology as for me I’ve been lucky enough not to have to cope with the deaths of very close loved ones so far, but I certainly have lost several loyal, beautiful animal companions over the years. This was brought to mind by a friend who recently lost  her dear old doggy companion, a sweet old gentleman of a dog, and it reminded me of the sense of loss you feel whenever you walk in a park, walk on a beach, or just curl up on your sofa, if you have had a dog in the past.

The loss of a close family member is, however, looming as I see with great distress the way Alzheimer’s is slowly sucking the life and light out of my Dad. I don’t see him every day being a long way from my parents’ home these days so the difference always hits me quite hard, but I will soon be there for a full month to ‘cover’ all the care and support my sister and her husband are giving to both parents, so no doubt I will get used to seeing Dad as he is now, but doubt he will know who I am, but will treat me like any of the other smiling faces who try to communicate with him.

it’s a terrible disease that seems to short-circuit areas of the brain, bit by bit, and messes with your memory, behaviour, mood and mobility, amongst other things. It gradually separates you from the people you love, and you can only hope they will love you enough to stay and hold your hand even when you don ‘t quite know who they are. We won’t give up on our Dad of course because he was the quiet, hard-working, long- suffering rock of our family all these years and we loved his love of comedy, his passion for sport and his Scottish pride.  He could probably have gone to University and made more of himself but circumstances meant he had to work to keep his family and he did that without complaint or any sign of regret all his life.  He is a special person and deserves the good carehome, lovely staff and attentive family he now has.  He may live for years, but we are already grieving his loss which started some years ago.

This and another situation where a death has revealed that someone was not the person he purported to be, have brought these rather morbid thoughts to the fore, so forgive me the indulgence of stating hereley “living will” ….

I am happy enough to go into a carehome where I have good people looking after me, a view of the sea, good food and a radio. It would be nice to think I’ll be handled gently and with dignity once I have to rely totally on other people. 

If I am taken ill, do not resuscitate me to anything less than a mobile, normal life where I can read, listen to the radio, walk in a garden or on a beach and, hopefully, create things (painting, knitting, etc). All I possess on my passing, should go to my daughter eventually but can be enjoyed by my partner while he is living (like our little house) and if any of our animals are left behind I would ask my daughter to make suitable arrangements for them to be rehomed as comfortably as possible, preferably to friends who know them.  My body can be used for organ transplants if anything is in working order by then, and the remains should be cremated.

My partner has already been given instructions for my ashes to go off our beach in a “Viking” burial with a little boat set alight and a lone piper to play some of my favourite music. (Mixed metaphors I know.).  I’d like to think it will be a calm day where a few friends will gather and raise a toast to my passing and then swap funny stories of the daft things I’ve done in my life and how much I loved my friends and my family. I don’t expect family and frieds who are not in Shetland to travel for this – I’d be happy for them to get together for a nice meal and raise a glass to me there and maybe put a little donation to an animal charity on my behalf …

Well I hope that hasn’t been too maudling and I promise next time to be back to my usual shallow and slightly amusing self.

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The smiling assassins …

There is no doubt that cats are at their best asleep … Not that I don’t love them when they’re awake but there is nothing more relaxing and therapeutic than a cat curling up to sleep on your knee. Well, unless you’re me, that is. Oh it’s great for a short time, then the fidgety legs kick in and I cannot stay still and so they de-camp and switch loyalties to enjoy the vast tundra that is Mike’s lap. Not that he is unoccupied for long, as our mob of moggies have all discovered the joy of perfect stillness. Not that Mike is a couch potato, far from it. At every possible moment he is out in the garden or his shed. When he does come in and is relaxed, he can stay still for a long time with anything up to 4 cats on or next to him. It’s a gift.

The one-way cat flapThe other reason I like them best when they’re asleep is that it’s the only time that all the little beasties are safe. I can’t be doing with dead little beasties offered up as tokens of respect and appreciation. Even less do I like LIVE little beasties flapping or scuttling around my house. My daughter maintains that we once moved house because the cat let a mouse go in the house. She ‘s not totally wrong. My motivation to find a new house was certainly revved up by the thought that this mouse could drop into my soup at any moment., although I had already been on the look-out (honestly).

We had been noticing our cat spending a lot if time looking up at a curtain rail. In the end, assuming it was a fly or spider that was mesmerising the cat, I decided to shake the curtain and a mouse bounced off my head, onto the floor. In sheer panic I locked myself into the downstairs loo and shouted My daughter, who was probably only about 6 at the time, to get her boots on and find the mouse!!! You have to understand that she was, even then, a shark loving, dinosaur expert who was not afraid of any living creature (except moths, and if forced to I could deal with those). Unfortunately nothing could be done to find this mouse and even a friend who worked for Rentakil and came armed with all his technical equipment (a shovel and a brush) had no more success.

Well ill we did move house and, to my undying shame and my daughter’s undying contempt, I re homed the cat. I know, I know. Despicable. But she did go to a good home, and I’ve learned my lesson, and all our animals have a good home for the rest of our lives and would be provided for beyond that if necessary. I’ve got no better at dealing with the wee timorous beasties but since Alex left home, Mike has taken over as mouse-tamer and,  if he’s not around,  I have to go out for the day and pretend it was all part of the plan.

We now have a proper cat flap but for a long time we’ve used a customs control sort of system. Show me you’re not “carrying” and I’ll let you in …but there was a cat flap that Mike designed some years ago. A one-way cat flap which it took one of our cats only seconds to work out. She could spring out one claw which would lever the flap up and then she’d put her head under it and climb in. The other slight problem was that the cat flap was cut out of the door itself and hung with it’s slightly uneven edges back in front of the opening with a rusty pair of hinges. More shabby cheek than shabby chic. It had to go and Mike was so fed up with me nagging him about the wind whistling through the gaps that he closed it permanently in the early hours with a six inch nail, but that’s his way, bless him.

The art of relaxation

… Cats have it. Zen comes naturally to them. They literally can sleep on anything and during daytime hours, so can I. If I’m a passenger in the car, we’ve hardly reached the end of the road we live on before my chin is bouncing on my chest. I can catnap and wake up marvellously refreshed but once saw an article or heard a radio programme (can’t remember which) where tests have shown that 20 minutes is the optimum for a catnap. Less is not enough and more makes you feel more tired afterwards and makes it more difficult to “come round”.  I’ve made that mistake before and a short nap has turned into a couple of hours’ deep sleep leaving me feeling lethargic and heavy-limbed for the rest of the day and more restless than usual at night.

i’ve struggled with pillows for as long as I can remember.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an insomniac thank goodness, and I feel for the people who do suffer. For me it’s been a bad habit of working late at night when everything is quiet, and then struggling to get up in the morning. This started with a particularly heavy load of work some years ago, leading to me working on one portrait under a daylight bulb right through the night so I could deliver my last commission in time for Christmas. This was fortunately not a coloured piece of work as these can go badly wrong with the colours having to be re-adjusted the following day in real daylight,  so I tend to organise myself with colour work during the day and pencil work, admin or writing at night. I say organise with an ironic smile as I have very little organisation in my life – by choice – I don’t like routines or being pinned down to anything on a recurring basis, especially since retiring from “work” but I recognise that I could do with more discipline in my approach to my painting and writing. Order and discipline sound like they are the same thing but not in my life. For me, I can’t work in an untidy space, so I tend to have a problem with displacement activities, I think they’re called, ie  cleaning, tidying and reorganising when I should have the self-discipline to just paint.

So here I go rambling on and I have that kind of brain which doesn’t usually stop me from getting to sleep but does cause me to have vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams which I can often recall in great detail. I certainly hope to visit Cadiz one of these days to try and find the beautiful building I dreamt about –  a church or cathedral in light coloured stone standing above dazzling wide white or soft pink steps leading down onto a promenade overlooking the sea, where I was waiting to meet someone special. Just a mosr haunting  dream that makes me feel as if I’ve really been to Cadiz but I have no idea what caused that to pop into my head that night. So sleep itself does come, but rest is more elusive as I have restless legs, and problems with aching shoulders and neck – back to the pillow problem. I’ve tried all the fancy shaped ones, the memory foam ones, etc, but in the end I found my best night’s sleep was in a Premier Inn with their much publicised Hypnos bed and really comfortable pillows which I investigated and found to be just a firm hollow fill type. So I now have a firm pillow which seems to work OK most of the time. Of course at the Premier Inn I was in a super Kingsized bed on my own as opposed to our Kingsize bed shared with a partner with ridiculously long arms and legs and a variety of cats who seem to work on a shift system of their own making. So usually my head hits the pillow very late and I do get to sleep through sheer exhaustion. I have been known to fall asleep at the computer on a night and crawl to bed once I’d fallen off the chair but last week was a first. I was working all hours on a painting trying to get ready for the exhibition that will finally be hung in the morning, I fell asleep with a brush in my hand and found I’d painted a stripe right across the t-shirt of one of the musicians on my canvas. Easily remedied thank goodness, but it was a signal to hit the hay even though I’d been working well up to that point.

It’s quite difficult to leave a painting or drawing when you’re “in the zone” but I find as I get older I don’t have the legs to work right through the night. Actually it’s more accurate to say I don’t have the eyes for it these days. Just when I feel like I’m really starting to learn how to paint … But then I always was a late starter.

There’s more than one way to stroke a cat …

Well, being a cat lover, I would change that saying, wouldn’t I.

In fact, this week’s clog, it’s like a blog but I’m quite likely to put my foot in it, is all about the face … drawing and painting it, that is.

I ran my first full day’s workshop for a few years yesterday, and was dreading and looking forward to it in equal measure. The dreading part was to do with the preparation, you can never do enough and never have enough time. If people wonder why they pay so much for a workshop like this it has less to do with what goes on on the actual day, and more to do with the days of preparation and years of accumulated knowledge. I may not have a formal degree in art but I do have the years under my belt of trial and error, going to other artists’ workshops and demos, absorbing from books, DVDs, tv and mostly practice, practice and more practice. There’s no substitute for the latter.

Take my morning’s photography workshop (learning, not teaching on this occasion). We talked ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I thought I understood the message. Then we were invited to try taking photos around the room, using our new found knowledge to get the right setting for the shot by manually choosing our settings. I turned into Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Que?

After some time of blank expressions, a few questions to the tutor and a lot of mindlessly pressing all the buttons on my camera, I actually took a half-decent photo. Half-decent for me that is, not for someone who knows what they’re doing. Of course, I said, I don’t need the best quality pictures as I want them for reference for paintings. However this is not strictly true as there will be more wildlife, pet and bird paintings in the future and for those I do want to learn how to take photos so crisp and clear that the feathers tickle your nose and make you sneeze…

Which brings me back to fur, and my comment of more than one way to stroke a cat … A recent visitor was stroking a friendly semi-feral cat that we have adopted and who lives the “Life of Riley” in our very large garage / shed. He has a heated bed, food delivered twice a day whatever the weather by his very own butler (my other half) and all the company he can stand from our other cats who are fair-weather ferals (and come indoors for most of the time). He was happy to be stroked, explained my beloved to the visitor, apart from there and there …

So, the workshop went extremely well, no glaring omissions in my preparation, all the food went down well at lunch, a relaxed, talkative bunch of people and some really good work produced. This was the part of it I was looking forward to as it’s lovely to see people growing in confidence and enjoying their art. The best part was that two out of the six people could not get to grips with my method of measuring with a pencil to create an accurate drawing. When I say my method, I mean my preferred method amongst several classical ways of accurately transcribing a subject.  you’d think this was a failure. However I had an ace up my sleeve with my second string, go to method for beginners – the upside down way, as prescribed in one of my favourite books, available from Amazon (click on the link below to see the book).

http://astore.amazon.co.uk/wwwwildabouta-21

This is a method to train your artistic side of the brain to override your logical side, ie how to draw what you see and not what you think you can see. Sounds like high-falutin, arty-farty nonsense, but it’s a simple, effective way to learn. It worked spectacularly well for one of the artists at yesterday’s workshop  who had not drawn or painted since her schooldays and we won’t mention how long ago that was.

If you only buy one book in your life about drawing, make it this one.

A renewed vigour

I had lost my get up and go … yes it was that sort of post-Christmas dull lethargy, fuelled by too much chocolate, too much telly and not enough sunlight or fine weather to encourage me away from our log-burning stove.  What a great purchase that was.  It really is the most comfortable place to be in the world in our front room on an evening with the fire roaring and the wind blowing a hoolie outside.  The first occupants of our cottage many, many years ago had a similar stove which they would have burned mainly peat on, but would have afforded them their cooking and water-heating as well as their warmth and comfort on a dark winter night.  We know this because we’ve seen a photograph of them sitting in front of it.  The house has changed some since those days and is now a combination of two small cottages joined together with small extra extensions at the front to allow for a utility room and a modern bathroom (both small but perfectly formed).  We also have a small conservatory, lovingly called the “Sitooterie” becase one sits oot in it, which was built by our immediate predecessor in the house.  Instead of a two room but and ben cottage in which all the family life took place, we now have a very comfortable little cottage with most mod cons (no ensuite, but the bathroom is so close to the two little bedrooms that iit’s almost ensuite).  We live by the sea – our long-held fantasy – and we are detached as opposed to being semi-detached for most of our lives, and in some cases even terraced or town-housed! – so what more could we ask for.  Good neighbours you say, and good neighbours we have. Our sitooterie doubles as my studio and gallery and I share it, when painting, with a small army of curious, inquisitive and sometimes downright vandalous cats (more of them in another post).  So finally, I’ve dragged myself away from the wood-burner to the Sitooterie and have managed to finish a piece of work, one of a series with 3 more to go, all for the lovely young women who work in the hair salon I go to.  Each is to have their own portrait by their workstation and I’m working on portraits with a difference, each one inspired by the woman herself, and also by my love for certain styles of painting, including Pre-Raphaelites and Gustav Klimt.  More of this series later.  For now all you need to know is the Sitooterie is back in use, the new movable kitchen trolley houses my paint palette in such a way that I don’t think my cats can walk through it any more and the views of the sea are making my chances of starting on my resolution of walking more often a little more realistic.  Also, I went to a really inspirational talk by an author Joanna Penn talking about ways of achieving scaleable income by writing and this included lots of really good advice about self-publishing, tying up all the loose ends I’ve been dabbling with recently including having an Amazon Affiliate shop and regularly blogging. So here I am re-starting  my blog which sprang to life some time ago and then died an ignominious death. This time I’ll be faithful.  Also writing 1000 words a day was mentioned – or at least spending an hour a day trying to write 1000 words.  Seems a lot and then I notice this blog has rambled on vaguely without me even trying and has almost achieved an amazing (and probably over-lengthy for a blog) count of nearly 600 words.  Who’d have thought.  So tomorrow is another day and tomorrow I’ll achieve 1000 on one of my stories which may never be published but will get me heading in the right direction of writing, chopping, editing and polishing.  Wow, up to 634 now (note to self, stop looking at the word count …. 646).