Archives for the month of: October, 2012

6.30am – satnav bright in the rainy dark – to Stansted Airport, our lanes clear, but incessant headlight stream swarming in to London. Imagine that your job requires you to drive into London every day at 6am; perhaps it does. Stansted Airport: modern world writ large. Huge steel beams frame World of Mammon, thousands of shelves of exquisitely-displayed perfumes clothes phones phone accessories spirits wine scarves ties food… high-gloss images of airbrushed perfect people buyingshoppinglivinglifetothefull: don’t you wish you were? Instead of fretting about the luggage restrictions of Ryanair (1 bag under 10Kg in the cabin – otherwise an extra £25 each way).

The American is dabbing the little wound on his bald head: he was warned about the low roof and the stalactites but immediately walked into one. The cave, though immaculate, still has that deep rich old smell, beyond time. Above us two reindeer are nose-to-nose, painted onto the rock shelf. The standing deer seems to be licking the other’s snout, standing over it, sympathetically, or triumphantly – who knows? A herd of bison stampedes around the walls at head height; the undulating surface of the walls would give body and movement to their forms, especially when lit from below by flame. 17,000 years ago artists were painting these living animals in manganese onto the wall, and they still live.

Sadly, the guest poet had to cancel, and, in a helpful and completely mad moment, I offered to step in. And now I can’t find my glasses as I’m about to read to seventy-odd children and adults, from a book of Basho’s beautiful haiku. It’s another Lewes Junior Film Club event: the films are poignant and very poetic – The Red Balloon and White Mane, both made in the 50’s by Albert Lamorisse. Before the showing, the kids sit at the tables in All Saints, drawing up storyboards (involving Lewes and – yes – a red balloon) and now (when it comes to it) I suddenly get nervous. I read a couple of haiku that I made up; we’re to make some up together on a big smeary white board.

Once on the Kisoji trail in Japan I stepped on a snake (apart from snakes and bears, there are very sophisticated toilets on the trail) so I tell them this:

Scared by a snake on the path–
How comforting is a warmed
toilet seat!

which gets a bit of a laugh. After the first film, the kids write messages on tickets hanging from a great cluster of red balloons, and then burst out into the sun in All Saints’ churchyard to launch them.

Silent stone walls.
Then a squeaking red eruption
Up! go the balloons


One red balloon
Drifts along the golden street
Looking for an owner

Seventeen syllables do not
a haiku make–

Stomach cramps. It’s nearly two weeks since they started, and despite a couple of trips to the doctor, I still don’t know what it is… No, I’m not going into detail. But I’m fed up, and I’m going to stay in bed today. With the sun slanting across the wall, I reach for my well-thumbed Bleak House. And start thinking: ” Am I staying in bed because of the stomach? or is it to read Bleak House?” Work’s quiet at the moment, so there’s no pressure to be in the studio, but there’s still a sub-stratum of guilt, which is easily buried by the next twinge. Just how self-indulgent am I being? This is the omni-present question for the free-lance designer/illustrator, in more ways then one.

Young Smallweed sidles off the page, in imitation of his role model, Mr Guppy. They’re practically in the room with me, these two strange characters: Small-,  or ‘Chick’ Weed – fifteen going on fifty, his little weazen features protruding from under the tallest of hats, walks at the same angle as his hero. The tender chords of Guppy’s heart vibrate in yearning for Esther, the narrator, (though they may be also stirred by the possibility of a noble family connection). Grandfather Smallweed, grasping loanshark, sits in his box-chair, his little legs hanging uselessly over a drawer of reputedly fabulous property. From time to time he violently throws his cushion at his wife opposite, and slumps down, ‘like a broken puppet’. Judy, his wizened granddaughter, has to punch and shake him back up. The Smallweed family “has no child born to it, and that the complete little men and women whom it has produced, have been observed to bear a likeness to old monkeys with something depressing on their minds”.

I love Dickens’ characters (though Esther, unloved and abused as a child, lets you know just how wonderful she is thought by those around her). I’m living in a world of shocking inequality, hypocrisy, greed, and fear. I’ll need a cup of tea in a minute.