Handel, Hendrix & Kahlo with a side of football

 

Saturday 7th July, 2018

Tom was off with the Ubers to see Ride at Hyde Park so I had a Saturday in London to myself. Bliss.

Having nabbed myself a National Art Pass on a special offer recently (£10 for a 3 month membership) I had built a wish list of the places I wanted to use it. I decided to start with the Handel and Hendrix museum, which is just round the corner from Bond Street. A couple of centuries and a wall kept the men apart in life, but they are now both commemorated in this fine double museum. I started with Handel,  he was first after all. I had no idea he had lived, and indeed died in London until today. With the Hanoverian Kings, it of course made sense for a successful German to come to London at that time. He wrote most of his music here too, and standing in the room he composed in was pretty thrilling. They had some beautiful vintage instruments on display, which is how I discovered how the harpsichord works and that it is more like a guitar (plectrums!) than a piano. There was a small opera recital in the house on the day I visited and so I was accompanied by the gorgeous sounds of baroque opera as I walked round.There is a replica of his bed, the one in which died, in the room in which he drew his final breath. A rather fabulous marble bust of him looks over the room. Having recently discovered a love of Baroque music I really enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of Handel.

A narrow staircase takes you into what would have been Hendrix’s flat next door. The original staircase he would have used is still visible and even though I couldn’t walk on it, I did have the feeling of walking in Jimi’s footsteps. They use the small space well to tell you about Jimi’s sadly short life, with his jacket (he was tall and broad, I didn’t realise that), record collection, effects peddles and replica guitar. For one glorious moment I was stood between the two museums with the sound of a Handel opera in one ear and Purple Haze in the other. As a blend it was fabulous. As was the reconstruction of Hendrix’s bedroom. Many photographs and interviews took place in the room, and the Trust had help from Kathy Etchinham (who was Jimi’s girlfriend) they have managed a very authentic recapturing. My initial reaction was “wow” the colours and fabrics strike you as pretty psychedelic even now. The bed is low, the ashtrays are full and the detail is superb. The mirror is original and you are invited to look at your reflection in the same way he would have done. That’s quite charged.

As a child whose parents smoked B&H, stubbing them out in sea shell ashtrays, I can say I felt transported right back. It is a perfect little time capsule of 1968. The ha’penny taped to the arm of the record deck. The fan knitted teddy bear Jimi kept for years. The beautiful Victorian shall hung above the bed. It all came together to give a real feel for what it would have been like to visit there at the time. While the colour and fabric were pretty shocking, it was also wonderfully domestic and ordinary. You could see Jimi and Kathy sitting in the low bed, drinking tea, having a fag and watching TV, just like any other young couple. Some places give off a special aura or glow and just make you feel things.

What was the spare room (where among others, George Harrison spent the night on the sofa) next door, showcased Jimi’s record collection and guitar. I gazed out of the window, thinking about how many of the great, good and notorious would have looked at the same view.

I took another, slow look round both places, I almost didn’t want to leave. I picked up a memento, a red guitar necklace and headed out into the sweltering heat.

My next stop was to be the allergy and free from food fayre at Olympia. As a coeliac the chance to sample gluten free foods and pick up some supplies is always welcome, and the ticket was free and more crucially, they were showing the England game on a big screen. Gluten free chilli in my belly, christmas pudding and cookies in my bag, I made my way into the side hall where the football was on. It was quite surreal on a bright sunny day to be in a darkened room. Victorian grandeur mingling with modern technology (wi-fi projector and laptop, huge screen).

The crowd was great, really mixed, lots of other women, kids of all ages, people of all colours and faiths surrounded me. Even some brave Swede’s who were sat behind me. We shook hands before kick off, it felt like the sporting thing to do. And what Gareth Southgate would have wanted. The elderly Chinese woman sat next to me (with her Anglo Indian husband) was as excited as me, despite telling me “I don’t usually watch the football, but this team and this World Cup!” When the first goal went in, the place erupted. I’ve never really watched football like this, en mass, and I loved it. It was tense, with none of daring to dream that we could win, but we did. England’s men would be in their first World Cup semi final in forever. It was such a feeling of relief and joy. Enormous credit to the young team and the set up around them, they have restored many of our faith in the men’s game.

What to do with myself next?! Other than eat more gluten free things of course. I felt I’d earned the brownie with the stress of the game.

I had a ticket for the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A, but that wasn’t until 8.15pm so I thought I’d head over to Trafalgar Square to see the Millicent Fawcett statue. Last time I tried to get there 10,000 anti Brexit marchers had gotten in my way! This time I had to contend with the ends of Pride and a lot of happy, glittery people instead 🙂 I arranged to meet up with Mark off twitter, who was quite merry from watching the game in a pub, and we had a good natter in the sunshine next to the statue. I asked him to take a picture of me with it, got into Rosie The Riveter pose and only later realised he hadn’t got the statue in the shot! Too many beers I suspect. I’ll have to go back another time. I liked the statue very much, Gillian Wearing is a great artist and she has done a bang up job. The texture in the cloth, the band of photos of other suffrage campaigners in the plinth, the hands – fabulous, strong and striking. Courage calls to courage everywhere held directly opposite the Palace of Westminster. Yes, sisters, yes.

I bade farewell to Mark and headed over to the V&A. This has always been one of my favourite London museums, it is vast, eclectic and interesting. To access the exhibition at this late time, when the rest of the place is closed, involves the staff security hut and corridor. It felt a but like sneaking in, which sort of added to the thrill of the whole event.

I have always loved Frida Kahlo’s art. It speaks to me. Directly. Like an electric charge to the heart. Something in her work has always touched me, moved me, made me feel things very deeply. The first time I saw her work I knew very little about her life. I didn’t need to to have that direct connection, her art cuts into the very soul of me. Then I did learn about her life. And oh boy did that connection make sense. Another woman who had known deep, shaming, female pain, deep, deep into her bones. No wonder I felt so strongly as a reaction to her work. I understood her, she understood me. She explained and depicted the strength, courage and downright determination needed just to make it through the day. She did it with beauty, with such love and tenderness, that I find it impossible not to stare at her paintings for interminably long periods of time.

There was a major exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s art in London in 2005, at a time when I was ill, wracked in pain and not working. I went and still occasionally look through the gallery catalogue. Then I did not have my son, and did not think I ever would. So the paintings depicting Frida’s infertility and loss affected me profoundly. I spent so long in the exhibition, looking and looking, moving in and out of the paintings eyelines, that security had to ask me to leave as they were closing. At 10pm.

A great deal of Frida’s art is in private hands, or held in collections in Mexico (quite rightly) or the US, so when one gets the opportunity to see it closer to home, one takes it. This current exhibition at the V&A is of her whole life, including clothing, personal effects, photographs of Frida as well as her art. It is the first time much of this has been seen outside of Mexico, where it was fairly recently rediscovered. Her husband had her rooms sealed after her death and everything lay there undisturbed for decades. It is now in the public domain.

Once you are in the room containing Frida’s personal things, her shoes, plaster casts, medicine bottles, lipstick, nail polishes and so on, things get emotional. At least they did for me. Her little feet, they were so tiny. Just like mine. The shoes, specially shaped and stacked on account of her childhood polio, yet so very beautiful, the red velvet continuing to shine. If they had not been behind glass I may not have been to stop myself from stroking the fabric. They were ostentatious, embroidered and embellished. I want a pair. Next to them, the false leg, worn later in life, after an amputation. What could have been ghoulish or macabre seemed somehow triumphant. Frida hid her legs beneath the long skirts all her life, hiding those pretty shoes as a personal reminder to herself of her femininity. Now they are out for all of us to admire.

The plaster casts and spinal braces felt initially too intrusive, too personal, too open and raw in their pain to be shared. Spinal pain, nerve pain and spinal surgery are fuckers. It is no wonder Frida had so many prescription medicines and was dependent on painkillers. That she was able to create so much amazing, incredible art from her bed simply elevates her talent to another level. As someone who has known chronic and intractable pain I could only weep for the torment Frida endured and want to stroke her face and hold her body in recognition. Kindred spirits and souls can be found across time, space, continents, even death, in art.

The cosmetics were a joyous release, bright, bold lips and nails such a part of Frida’s look. That defiance again. That fight. That fire. My gosh she was an incredible woman.

In the final room, Frida’s clothes. Beautiful, bright, Mexican clothes. They were partly practical, the skirts hid her legs, the tops easy to put on and off over casts and braces, yet Frida took those factors (which could be seen as limiting) and made them spectacular, full of colour and pride in her Mexican heritage. Her jewelery was incredible, some made from Aztec stones thousands of years old. There was a necklace, silver, made up of tiny arms and legs all marching and waving, a wonderful slice of humour. In this room also a number of her paintings. Two of which I could take my eyes off. Both self portraits, one with monkeys, one almost a funeral cortege. I spent a long time in this room. Watching others look or pass by, standing close, moving further away, bobbing left and right, drinking in each painting slowly over and over.

Eye contact is a hard thing for me (I’ve learnt to look at noses, the space between eyes, eyebrows, lips so that you think I’m looking at you but I’m not) it is so intense it can actually hurt. When I do make that connection with someone (that I love and trust, generally) it is very intense and powerful. So for me to stand for minutes at a time, looking directly into Frida’s painted eyes, is revealing, tense, intense, emotional and overwhelming. Yet I am unable to look away. Something draws me closer, holds me. I find Frida Kahlo’s art spellbinding. It sends shivers down my spine and goosebumps up my arms. I feel such a deep sense of connection and belonging with her art. After some time with these works I went back to the start of the exhibition and began all over again. I couldn’t let go, I couldn’t leave. I wanted, no needed, more time with Frida. I found myself staring at the shoes again. Looking at the medicine bottles, working out which ones I had used myself. Everything was so beautifully curated and displayed that they were almost works of art themselves. I started to wonder if she were alive now, whether Frida would be doing this herself. Modern art, telling her life in another artistic way. I concluded that she may well, her art was always about revealing herself.

I returned to self portrait with monkeys and self portrait 1948 and wept in front of them both. The latter, displayed as it was at the end of the exhibition, next to the costume that was worn in it, with the face ruff/veil all round, like a crown of flowers on a death mask, made me cry for the tragically young age at which Frida died. 47. Only 6 years older than I am now. How that was a blessed relief, in a way, from a physical body wracked with pain, to a spiritual body that she very much believed in. I did not feel this was the end I wanted, nor that my relationship with Frida’s art deserved. I am still very much alive, hopefully with more than 6 years left. I wanted to leave with a sense of life, of joy, not mourning. Self portrait with monkeys 1943 would be my last and lasting image I decided. I took some final, long, lingering looks at the strength and audacity displayed in that face, closed my eyes and found the exit.

On my way out I realised why Frida Kahlo’s art has such a profound and lasting impact on me. She wanted to be seen. A disabled woman of colour. She wanted to be seen. Society and culture hide and render invisible women, people of colour and disabled people. Frida Kahlo was all 3. She wanted to be seen. She wanted to roar and rage her way out of the pain and the way others chose to not see her. She wanted to give them no choice but to look at her and hear her voice. And how she did. I hear her, I see her and in her I see parts of myself reflected, I see and feel understanding, acceptance and love. That is redemptive. And rare. And beautiful. It is powerful and heady stuff. When I look at Frida Kahlo’s paintings I see her. And she sees me. I see myself echoed in the paint, I see aspects of my life mattering, I see representations of female pain, anguish, fear and anger. I understand myself more. I feel. I feel so strongly and so powerfully that I am renewed.

I hope one day to be able to stand in situ with her work again, there really is no substitute for the real thing. As much as the exhibition catalogues and prints try to capture, there is no replication of the way it feels to stand and marvel at a painting or sculpture. Art is about explaining and exploring the human condition, it shows us who we are and what we can be. It transcends time and space, we can share in the emotions of artists dead for centuries, or ones who live round the corner. We can connect deeply to each other and ourselves in art.

Frida Kahlo’s art has always spoken to me. It continues to do so.

 

 

 

 

Sensory Symphony – Colston Hall, Bristol

Sunday 10th June, 2018

Less a gig, more an event. A chance to say farewell for the time being to Colston Hall. Although we do not know what it will be named when it comes back, of course. Today was the last day, the last chance, to see the hall before the 2 year project to transform it begins.  I was emotional going in. Colston Hall, in particular The Lantern have been such an integral part of my life over the past 18 months. I honestly do not know what I will do without regular trips there. Like many Bristolians, and after almost a decade here I hope I am allowed to call myself that, have many wonderful memories of Colston Hall.

I have only every known it with the shiny new extension, opened not that long after I moved here. It made the space open, welcoming and full of light. I think the first gig I saw was The Manic Street Preachers, who are always worth seeing live. They told stories about escaping out of windows and sneaking on to trains to get to gigs at Colston Hall as teenagers!

The first time I went to The Lantern (which remains one of my favourite venues in Bristol for somehow managing to combine intimacy and spaciousness) was to see Saul Williams. Or Peggy Seeger. I can’t remember which came first, but they demonstrate the range and diversity of acts you can see  at Colston Hall. Many of #40gigs took place in The Lantern. Wonderful gigs. Memorable gigs. I have cried, I have danced, I have shared and I have been alone. Always I have enjoyed myself. The plans for the Lantern are ambitious, bold and beautiful. Windows will be reopened, seats installed and capacity increased. The designs look incredible. I can’t wait!

The plans for the main hall also include increasing capacity and building new balconies, which are needed as the acoustics suffer in the current design. It will be glossy and modern and reflect Bristol’s place as a cultural leader for music.

I was nervous about today’s event, an audio visual, immersive experience. Would it be overwhelming? We all know what an emotional creature I am with music. We were ushered in and onto the stage. Now there is a treat right there! To know my feet have trodden Colston Hall’s boards. Standing on the stage gave a real flavour of what it would have been like to be a performer here, a new perspective for me as a fan. I looked out at the hall in front of me and remembered some of the amazing gigs I have seen here. Michael Kiwanuka on his 30th birthday, Nils Frahm (be still my heart), Mogwai giving it everything plus the kitchen sink, Penguin Cafe bringing so much joy and love,  The Bootleg Beatles and the singalong Hey Jude making me smile, Ezra Furman showing the world how to be unafraid & unashamed, 6 Music Festival which was one of the greatest weekends of my life and the first time I saw John Grant who was simply incredible. All on this stage, the one I was now stood on. I was already emotional and we hadn’t even begun!

We were treated to a whistle-stop, greatest hits tour of Colston Hall’s recent history. The great, the good, the infamous, the influential, anyone of musical consequence has played Colston Hall it would seem. The audio visuals were spectacular, I got goose bumps and shivers and wanted to dance all over the stage. They did a great job, it can’t have been an easy brief. Sensibly they went chronologically, although we did seem to skip the last couple of decades as we got tribute to the ‘Bristol sound’ of trip hop in the early 90’s then steamed ahead to the end. Did nothing of note happen in the late 90’s or all of the 00’s I wonder?! Icons of British music history flashed before us, The Beatles, The Stones, Bowie, Elton John, Queen, Led Zep, Hendrix, all have played Colston Hall. All were included today. If these walls could talk! Well they sang today, with glorious memories of the Hall’s past. It was a fitting way to bow out. I lingered on the stage as long as I dared, not wanting to leave. It isn’t goodbye, it’s a partial farewell. For a much-needed refurbishment and makeover. I know when it comes back it will have been worth the wait, and we will all make memories afresh among the Hall’s walls.

It was difficult to leave. Colston Hall and The Lantern were such a part of #40 gigs that it isn’t hyperbole to say this place helped to change my life.

Good luck to the transformation team, you have a big job ahead of you. One I know Bristol deserves and will respect. Once you are back, in 2020, I’ll be there on opening night, ready to embrace the new with as much passion and vigour with which I have the old.

 

Festival of Ideas – Peggy Seeger

I went to see Peggy Seeger live a couple of years ago in the Lantern at Colston Hall. I was amazed that night by her warmth, humour and vitality (she was 80) as well as her talent as a multi instrumentalist and singer. She sat in the audience, right in front of me, to hear the support act Sam Gleeves as a lover of music, and as she saw herself as no more important than any of us. She was sat next to Big Jeff and a more surreal image of musical legends together I have yet to see.

She sang songs about mothering, motherhood and the pain of losing her Mother young. She read a poem about her mother dying aged just 52, when she herself was only 18. It touched me. Whenever you find another member of the club who lost their Mum young you know you share an awful bond. I told her so afterwards and we shared a moment together, Peggy taking my hand in hers and offering words of comfort.

She told stories between songs and talked about writing her memoirs then, and I’ve been waiting to read them ever since.

A few months ago, checking the listings for the Festival of Ideas I saw Peggy’s name and excitedly bought myself a ticket, knowing this also meant that the book was finished and I would finally get the chance to read about her fascinating life.

Tonight she was on sparkling form. Witty, warm, giving, generous and brilliant. Reading extracts of the book to paint such vivid pictures of her life. She has clearly written the book in the way she writes her songs, narrative storytelling has been her life blood for 60 years after all. I asked and Peggy confirmed that she has recorded the audio version of it too, which I cannot wait to hear when it is released. Frequently I was on the verge of tears as she spoke so movingly about love, relationships, recording and preserving the stories of the 99%, how folk music is the baton passed between generations. At every point she checked in to make sure we all had the references (the only one universally known was Senator McCarthy), she was inclusive, given to wonderful flights of fancy and made me feel like I was in the presence of both greatness and of family.

Music is the thread that binds us, preserves us, holds us up and connects us to people we will never meet or know across time and space. Folk music is powerful stuff in the right hands. Hands like Peggy Seegers.

I don’t have the money right now to buy the book, and I would prefer the paperback and audio versions anyhow, but I did take the opportunity to talk to Peggy again. I reminded her of when we had previously met and of her words to me “I hope you find what you are looking for.” I told her I had, that I had found the courage to be myself and the courage to begin writing. She held my hand again and we shared another moment.

I would never have found the courage, or confidence, to begin a project like #40gigs or all it led to (including the regular discipline of writing) or discovered a deep, deep joy and love of folk music without that evening seeing Peggy Seeger sing in September 2016. Thank you Peggy, thank you Colston Hall for that original gig and thank you Festival of Ideas for bringing Peggy back to Bristol tonight. What a treat to hear her talk and sing!

I’ve checked the gig listings and Peggy is playing in Bath in November. Shall I see you there?

One week in May

The reason I started writing this blog was a way of documenting #40gigs and I’ve continued it as a music blog. Lately I’ve been feeling as if I want to write about other things that interest me; art, architecture, culture, working class life and politics, or anything else that takes my fancy. I’ll clearly continue with the gig reviews as well, but the adage of write what you know encompasses more than music.

Last week was a big week for me. I’ve written most of it in the 5 music blog entries that preceded this one, but somehow that didn’t feel enough.

In the space of 7 days I traveled to Birmingham, Reading, Bath and Oxford, had 3 job interviews, waved my baby off to school camp and left my job. I photographed Gaz Coombes twice, went to 2 other gigs, met my heroine Marian Keyes and attended a day festival in the sunshine. All while builders re-rendered my house (not the best timing but I’ve waited a long time for my landlord to do anything so I can hardly complain).

My son has never been apart from me or his Dad for longer than 1 night, and always calls when he is with the other parent. Lugging all his gear up the hill to school last Monday morning to say goodbye and not even be able to talk to him until Friday was difficult for us both. Made worse by having to leave him in the hall to dash off to an interview. It is fair to say he coped far better than I did! And my quiet word in the teachers ear about him possibly needing to call me worked as she let him use her mobile to call me before he went to bed that night, which is how I missed Gaz’s last song in Birmingham! At least I was at the back that night and could nip into the foyer of the venue to talk to him. The reassurance of hearing my voice, and me hearing his, was enough. He had a great time, scoring amazingly high in the shooting, taking part in nearly all the activities and even winning an award for being tidy (anyone who has witnessed my Lego strewn house will understand my astonishment at that). He has coped with SAT’s and camp so well, much better than I thought he would, and I am very proud of him for doing his best in all aspects. If he grows up a kind person I’ll be happy, I keep telling him the exam results don’t mean shit, that being a decent human being who tries their best is what is important, but that message is drowned out by the relentless pressure of the other kids, their parents and a school system dominated by results. Children are good at different things I tell him, so what if you can’t spell, neither could Eninstein! You are funny and caring, those things matter a whole heap more. I want to be proud of the person he is, not his academic or work achievements. I wish society shared those aims, and not just for our kids. Our worth as humans shouldn’t be in financial units or levels of productivity, but in how we treat each other. Warmth, kindness, compassion and understanding are better measures and they don’t exclude either.

When I’ve  meet people who’s art I admire, those are the qualities I look for. And the art is tarnished, for me, if they turn out to be an asshole! I guess I’m lucky, or I pick good people to admire, but it is rare that I run into a total tosser. Gaz Coombes, all his band and management have been lovely, allowing me, as a fan, access to them photographically. I  have always thought that the words “thank you” are a bit useless in that they don’t really capture gratitude properly. I am so grateful for the photo passes. I am largely self taught, have little experience or expertise and not a terrific amount of confidence in my abilities. Last week was the first time I’ve photographed a band in 8 months. Bristol was a nightmare, the lighting could not have been worse and I had to work hard to get any useable shots, but I managed it. Birmingham had been a treat of another order, having permission to shoot from the crowd and there being balconies and steps allowing me to do so. The results are ok. I did ok photos here Thank you Mick, Gaz, Piney et all for the opportunity. Let me know if you like them. Or if you don’t. We all need feedback on our creative endeavours.

Silly late nights and ridiculous travel on coaches is clearly good interview preparation as I was offered all 3 jobs I interviewed for. I’ve accepted one and so hopefully my financial picture will perk up soon. It is still a job I am massively over qualified for, but part time and flexible work (essential when you are a single parent and your child isn’t entirely ‘standard’) tend to be on the lower rungs. Without the help of state assistance in tax credits, DLA and housing benefit, we wouldn’t survive. I shouldn’t feel the need to justify that, nor explain, nor feel ashamed for being “on benefits” but the reality of our society is that I am and do. I wish I could earn enough on my own, but the reality is that I can’t. The reality of caring and working, when you aren’t always well yourself, is that you need help. Financial help from the state, emotional help from a counsellor and support groups, societal help in terms of understanding. None of us can survive alone, and some face greater challenges and barriers than others in accessing that help. Many of them hidden. We circle back to displaying kindness again don’t we?

That kindness is how I can afford to be at so many gigs. Again, I shouldn’t need to explain, but I feel I do. Most of the gigs I go to are not paid for by me. Tom paid for all the tickets last week, and the travel. Apart from the coach to and from Birmingham which was a promotional birthday gift from National Express (yes, really) as well as 80% of the food/other expenses. He does this out of kindness, because he loves me. Photo passes mean free gig entry so those were gifts of a kind from the band. The camera I was using had been saved up for over the space of 18 months. The laptop I edit and type on was a gift from my ex boyfriend about 4 years ago. I get given money and venue vouchers as birthday/christmas/Mother’s Day gifts so that is how I afford others. Occasionally a venue or artist or promoter sees how much this all means to be and offers me a guest list. Last year a chunk of #40gigs was paid for by total strangers via gofundme. Kindness again, always kindness. Without it I would not be able to pursue my passion for live music. And as regular readers will know live music is my everything.  I remain full of gratitude and thankfulness.

One day I may be in a position to repay, and if I am I will do so gladly. In the same way as I was ever to climb the financial ladder I would consider it a  privilege to be able to pay higher rate tax. I guess that is how you feel when you have been in receipt of help yourself, when you have benefitted from kindness you are more likely to spread more kindness. It makes you wonder how cold, hard and cruel the upbringings of the people who govern us must have been for them to be enacting such cold, hard and cruel policies on us all. How blinkered and small their worlds must have been and remain to have never seen nor understand kindness.

This week also saw an historical vote in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the 8th amendment and pave the way for legal abortion in the country. Reading the stories of all those traveling home to vote and then the result, by such a huge margin in almost every area and among all age groups (bar the over 65’s) moved me to tears repeatedly.  The pace of change in Ireland is astonishing. The Magdalene laundries and their ferocious legacy of abuse only fully closed a generation ago. The scandal of what was done by the Church to thousands of women only just beginning to be uncovered. The mass graves, the beatings, the forced removal of babies from mothers, the cruelty, all of it only just starting to be known about.

Divorce was still illegal in Ireland the first time I visited Dublin as a teenager and the thought that gay marriage would be legalised was laughable (sadly). Yet I have lived to see all of it. I’m not Irish and it has been an emotional journey to watch, so to begin to understand what this must mean to the women of Ireland, well it’s incredibly moving. It is also so hopeful, that in a time when both the UK and US seem hellbent on moving backwards to a mythical time of ‘control’, that our near neighbour has run towards a more accepting and liberal future is beautiful. I wish, especially in the light of Brexit, that my Irish ancestry was a little closer than Great Grandparents.

That I was to be seeing Marian Keyes and Louise O’Neill talk the day after the vote was the icing on the cake. Two brilliant Irish women, who had campaigned for repeal, talking about feminism, writing, make up, the responsibility of being a writer, Aldi ice cream and so much more, was an amazing way to spend a Saturday morning in Bath. We started with a spontaneous round of heartfelt applause for the repeal vote and it carried on being emotional from there on in. There was also a lot of laughter, warmth and kindness. I am not a huge reader of fiction, but Marian Keyes is an author I adore. She writes with such warmth, humour and love about all of life. Domestic abuse, addiction, death, mental illness, families (no-one writes family dynamics as well as she does), shoes, relationships, it is all there in her novels. I managed to read the Walsh family novels in the wrong order by mistake (I know, hilarious) reading Rachel’s Holiday last of all.

The day after my Mum’s funeral I was in a charity shop (something she and I used to love doing together) and I picked up Anybody Out There, a Marian Keyes Walsh family novel I hadn’t read. I thought, brilliant, this will be a good distraction and bought it. My Mum loved reading, so a book bought in a charity shop was a good connection back to her. I hadn’t banked on the subject of the book, which I shan’t spoil in case this moves you to seek it out, but it unlocked a wave of grief. Tears flooded out of me. The pages of my already quite battered copy were now covered in snot and sobs. I tweeted Marian to say I’d picked up the book not knowing what it was about and that it had this effect on me. She replied with a sweet and honest reply that she was sorry to hear about my Mum and that her book had moved me to much. It was unexpected to say the least, but indicative of the humanity and love Marian displays as a person and writer. So to her speak, in person, was such a thrill.

I apologised to Louise O’Neill afterwards for not knowing her work before today, she was as funny and engaging as Marian so I suspect her books are also ruddy brilliant. I almost ran out of the queue to get Marian to sign my ticket (I was too embarrassed to take my old and well worn copies of her books and until I start my new job can’t afford to buy her latest) as I was so nervous about meeting her. My heart was hammering. My mouth was dry. I almost couldn’t speak. Yet I did. I croaked some embarrassing words about how much I loved her books and how when she followed me on twitter I nearly died, to which she immediately asked my name and said “oh yes I know you!” and signed my ticket with 3 kisses. I nearly fainted. This meant more to me than meeting Nils Frahm or the time Guy Garvey hugged me!

You simply have to follow Marian on twitter, she is hilarious and regales stories of her nearest and dearest with such love and wit it is impossible not to feel that you know them. As someone without a family of their own any more, it makes me feel connected and part of something. That is is the beauty and joy of social media in the hands of those who use it for kind purposes (and I have to say those are usually women).

When I was a child I really loved Cynthia Voight’s novels, Tell Me If The Lovers Are Losers in particular and I wrote to her saying so. After many weeks (oh the days of international snail mail!) I received a reply saying thank you, but that a book needed a willing reader. It took me until last year to understand what she meant and to accept my part in the process. The best artists are ones who give, who share, who use their platform with kindness.

The last full week of May 2018 was a very busy one, I traveled many miles and had very little sleep. I met artists I admire and got to be creative around their work. My boy took a huge step towards his eventual independence. Writing helps me process, hence this long and rambling summation. Thank you for reading, whoever and wherever you are.