A Busy Old Year and a Happy New One

It would be easy to focus on the negative in 2016, so I'm going to focus on the positive instead.

Highlights of the year for me have included (in no particular order):

Being An Associate Artist of Daily Life Ltd

Leading workshops/performing/diagnosing diagnosis at The Walthamstow Garden Party, The William Morris Gallery, and The Wellcome Collection.










Teaching Women To Make Mini Protest Banners


Teaching Myself DIY Screen Printing




Learning To Use A Sewing Machine (And Almost Finishing My First Handmade Dress!)




Finally Getting You Didn't Cry Trophy Pins Made (And Selling A Few!)





Many Art Dates With My Lovelies, Making Some Wonderful New Friends, And Doing The First Drawing I'm Actually Proud Of



Being Welcomed Aboard The Good Ship Object Book And Securing Studio Space Starting January





Dressing My Muse In Hand Embroidered Blouses And Getting Back Into Photography (More To Follow)






Getting To Make Things With Young People All Day For Money




I could go on but I'd best leave it there; there are canapes to roll, cocktails to shake, and my face to paint (just putting this together and looking back at everything I've done this year has made me feel tired; and I left a lot out!)

Suffice to say I hope anyone who finds their way to this post has had a wonderful year; I wish you an even better new one, and if you've been a part of my 2016, thank you for making it so special. 

Letting In The Light

I very much wanted to write a post for International Women's Day, but was at a bit of a loss until I was mentioned in a lovely tweet by my friends over at Daily Life Ltd.
This decided it for me; my International Women's Day blog post will be dedicated to the women I share the stage with at Daily Life Ltd's light box installation in the square outside Stratford Library, Letting In The Light, which is on until the end of the month if you fancy taking it in (it's worth it; these photographs don't do the scale or the luminance anywhere near justice).

I have to start with Bobby Baker, of course. Several of her diary drawings, completed between 1997 - 2008 and began while she was a day patient at a mental health centre.

This illuminated illustration particularly spoke to me. It's called The Daily Stream of Life, and features Bobby's mind as a river through which life flows, and she in life, sometimes in a rowing boat, sometimes in a canoe, sometimes in a fancier vessel altogether.

After a brief blip in my mental health due to an unfortunate series of circumstances, I feel I am bouncing back to a place where I can leisurely row along on the river of life, enjoying taking in the scenery and getting fresh air as I go.

Liz Atkin is an artist, advocate and speaker who raises awareness of, and promotes recovery from, compulsive skin picking through her art. The work featured in Letting In The Light, Lavish, transforms an illness which dominated Liz's life for more than twenty years into something really quite beautiful.


My favourite piece in the exhibition involved one of my very favourite things; word play.

By Jane McCormick, the piece has a back story that is well worth reading.
Bats in the belfry

An honorary mention goes to male artist (gasp!) Anthony Woods who created a joyous ode to fashion icon Iris Apfel:

My piece is in great company:


I couldn't resist a quick selfie with my work. It was rather wind and rain swept as you may be able to tell; apologies for the quality of all the photos.


Letting In The Light is well worth the trip to a slightly unassuming corner of East London; brighten up your evening, and discover the truth behind Groucho Marx's quip, "Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light".


Dumpling Days Potion

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that food looms large in my life. This time of year heralds plentiful supply of my favourite food group; stodge. Realising this always reminds me of an idyllic autumn afternoon I spent with my Mum in Epping Forest, hunting for fungus and crunching the fallen leaves. I mentioned that the change of the seasons augured the cooking of my favourite stodge, stew and dumplings (mentioned in the previous post). "Yes" my mother said; "It definitely feels like a dumpling day."




It is now that time of year once more; dumpling days are here again. Hence this week's potion is named Dumpling Days Potion; my particular brand of salad days.


This week's diaristic element is a scrap from one of Daily Life Ltd's illustrated coasters (don't worry, I have several) which succinctly expresses my views on dumplings. The embroidered words on the autumnal ribbon may seem unrelated, but as I mentioned in last week's potion post, I am feeling much brighter than I have of late over the past few weeks. So the embroidery reads "Yes you can", which is not particularly meant as an Obama reference, more a simple and impactful affirmation for me to always bear in mind, and a reminder for you, too, should you need it.


Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

World Mental Health Day: Thoughts on the Dragon Cafe and Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings

In the run up to World Mental Health Day, I have been reflecting on my visit on Monday to the most extraordinary place. The Dragon Cafe is the UK's first mental health cafe, "a relaxing cafe and imaginative space, open to all." They certainly got the relaxing part right. It immediately put me on a level playing field, where I could be open about myself without judgement, and have a laugh with the like-minded. Perhaps surprisingly to the uninitiated, the Cafe was a hive of activity; Tai-Chi, gardening, filming of conversations about "re-covered" chairs, dance, and a workshop with the wonderful Daily Life Ltd (and more) featured in the few hours I was there. The food was delicious and the volunteers big-hearted. I spent my time drawing a big bowl of stew and dumplings, to explore cultural identity and heritage through sharing an illustrated feast on a white paper tablecloth with many others at Daily Life's workshop. The conversations were as warming as the satisfying stodge I drew on the paper.



My rather paltry (and unfinished) offerings to the table, alongside more delectable dishes


I spent several blissed out hours nattering away with Daily Life, until it was time for a "one-man play" which gave voice to one of the re-upholstered chairs. Referencing everyone from Blake to Bob Marley, the wordsmith's generous spirit was infectious, and he received riotous applause and laughter.

Bobby Baker of Daily Life Ltd, who I am beginning to think of as a punk rock fairy godmother, gave an illuminating talk on the Diary Drawings she drew first daily, then weekly, whilst a patient at a mental health day hospital. 

I had more than one moment of something more than empathy whilst listening to Bobby and looking at her drawings. Recognition; realisation that I wasn't the only one, that I perhaps wasn't as singularly and hopelessly mad as I had previously thought.


Two of Bobby's Diary Drawings; one portraying her time of weeping tidal waves of tears (another thing we have in common) and another asking how many hats can one woman wear?


Two drawings in particular led to this realisation; the first a drawing of Bobby's skin lifting away from her face like a mask, to reveal a demonic skull beneath. Bobby had shown this drawing to a mental health professional to try to explain her desperation; to seek help. It had not had the expected effect. The mental health professional asked for a copy. "I know a lot of people who feel like this" he said.

The second was perhaps more distressing. A distraught Bobby wept blood from her eyes, mouth and nose. Blood was something she had hallucinated frequently during her illness, she told us.

Aside from my immediate family and medical professionals, I have never (up 'til now) told anyone that I hallucinated blood when I was ill. Buckets of the stuff. Everywhere. I won't go into particularly grisly details, but suffice to say, it was not unlike the lift scene in The Shining. For someone who faints during blood tests and once had to go and lie down in a darkened room after reading a passage in The Bell Jar about self harm, it wasn't the most pleasant experience.

Bobby may feel she had her public "outing" via her Diary Drawings thrust upon her, but she could have said no. And as her son gruffly said when she consulted him about the matter, "It's got to be done, Mum." Showing the world at large how monstrous you feel beneath your exterior, exposing that vulnerability, is an act of extreme bravery. But we are not in fact monstrous. We have had monstrous things happen to us.

That's why I wanted to write about my psychotic symptoms (the hallucinations, the delusions) today. Because, aside from the occasional slight whiff of stiff-upper-lip-pull-up-your-bootstraps-ism when I am open about anxiety and depression, I do feel that society at large is beginning to understand and accept these illnesses. But mention that you have heard or seen things that others don't, or have had, as the mental health literature politely puts it, "unusual beliefs", and be prepared to brace yourself for the reaction.

If you have these symptoms, you have crossed over from being "run-down", from "having a lot on", from being "sensitive" or "over-tired" or "angsty". Congratulations, you are 100% genuine, prime cut bonkers. Even up to the middle of the last century, schizophrenia was classed as a degenerative illness, and this stigma still looms spectrally in the background. What comes into your mind when you read the word schizophrenic or psychotic? An unkempt vagrant moving erratically and mumbling to themselves? I would hope by this point we have moved beyond the facile stereotypes of mad axe murderers, although as recently as 2013 supermarkets were peddling "mental patient Halloween costumes" at this time of year.

How about a young woman with a first class honours degree, holding down a job, taking on self employed work, in a committed relationship and surrounded by friends, family, and love? Or an artist with a thirty year career, director of an Arts Council national portfolio organisation, who tours and exhibits internationally is one of the most patient and generous souls you could ever meet, and similarly has a whole host of family and friends who cherish her?

I'll admit, as Bobby said of herself, I am incredibly, incredibly lucky. Not everyone has back-up; people who love them and will fight for them. Which is why it is so important that we all fight for them. For all of us who have been touched by mental illness. Because there is no them and us; there's only us.

Please allow me, if it won't ring the alarm bells that I'm having one of my "funny turns", the liberty to see into the future. I can see a day, and it's not too far off, when the stigma is gone. When we have killed the most insidious and inextricably woven in part of mental illness; stigma, the real monster.

Roving Diagnostic Unit

A few weekends ago I was asked by Daily Life Ltd to be an "expert" part of their Roving Diagnostic Unit at Shuffle festival. The plan was simple, though baffling to a number of people I explained it to before and after the event; use the language of the DSMIV to diagnose selected elements of the cemetery park where the festival is held.

The DSMIV, or Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders 5, is a means of categorising the mentally ill. 

The DSMIV encompasses everything from "schizotypal personality disorder", (which I was once told by a medical professional I "probably had") characterised by eccentric dress and behaviour (otherwise known as being an interesting person), to the recently adopted "emotionally unstable personality disorder", which I consider one of the most abhorrent labels you can give a distressed human being. 

In earlier incarnations, the DSMI categorised homosexuality as not only "deviance" but mental illness, and made a distinction between psychosis and neurosis and never the twain shall meet (I am living proof that the two are inextricably interwoven).

As we began to diagnose the bins, benches and ponds of the cemetery park, the biased, arbitrary, reductive nature of the DSMIV became more and more apparent. How can an effective diagnosis be made after spending only a few minutes with a patient? What are the ethical implications of standing around talking about a subject who cannot talk back? Bobby Baker, leader of our troupe of "experts", related this to her own experiences of being on a ward round, unable to speak for herself as twenty medical professionals "observed" her. I was reminded of my own experience of being incredibly distressed, half dressed in my untidy bedroom, whilst medical professionals invaded this most personal of spaces "for my own good".

The tours of the cemetery park our merry band made revealed further categorisations which had little to do with the DSMIV; the bench and bin, man-made objects, were broadly categorised as deeply troubled, whereas the pond, though overgrown and unkempt, was diagnosed as working its way through its troubles, and the tree, splitting off in many directions (dissociative identity disorder?), was generally felt to be coping and developing its personality normally.

This speaks of a tendency to idolise that which is "natural" over that which is "artifical", which is seen in everything from the #eatclean Instagram craze to unfortunate conversations I have had where I have been asked if I am "dependent" on the psychiatric medication which, you know, keeps me alive (I wonder if the people who asked would ask the same of a diabetic who takes insulin?) This in turn reminds me of the hysterics I was in when I read in the leaflet that comes with my anti-psychotic medication that it may lead to an "abnormal feeling of wellbeing"; an abnormal feeling of wellbeing was kind of what I was going for, given that my "natural" state leaves me feeling like I can't go on.

It is always so refreshing being with Daily Life and the people they bring together; knowing you can give an honest answer to the question "How are you?" Knowing you are amongst people who have had the same experiences and won't treat you with kid gloves or from a safe distance "for detonation".

I eagerly anticipate the development of this project; Viva La Roving Diagnostic Unit!










Tenacity Potion


As #secretsofselfpreservation continues, the "mantras" the bottles contain are becoming more realistic, even bleak. I think this reflects the situation I find myself in currently; not where I'd like to be at this point in my life, but not capable of doing a whole lot about it, at least not for now. That's why this week's potion reads "You can't control everything, but  you can choose to get up in the morning." A slightly gloomy edition of #secretsofselfpreservation, but a grimly determined one nonetheless.

It is accompanied by the sticker I wore for this weekend's Roving Diagnostic Unit with Daily Life Ltd at Shuffle Festival, which I will write about in full shortly.

The potion is named "Tenacity Potion", because I feel that, now, this is what is required.



 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Basket Unweaving



I've had what could best be described as "a funny old week". My Twitter, if it didn't blow up, certainly had a very tiny controlled explosion, resulting in being approached for commissions and sales, which is always lovely. I haven't made the best use of Twitter in the past, but I'm certainly making up for that now, and all in all I think I've had a bit of a social media overload. Pip was away, and on Thursday, when I had the polling station, a double bill of performance curated by Daily Life Ltd, and First Aid Training to get to, I, rather embarrassingly, became the practical demonstration at said training. I'm not even good with descriptions of blood, and felt so fragile and rotten that I didn't make it to the performances that evening. Just before I went to bed the possibility of a Tory majority government was beginning to look likely, and I had a terrible tension headache from my visceral reaction to mentions of blood.

On Friday morning I felt hungover and funereal with the election result. I think I'm not the only one who's still in a certain amount of shock. 

Thank goodness, then, that I had a second Daily Life Ltd ticket for their cabaret evening on Friday. I was late and flustered to the event, but within two minutes of walking through the door, I felt better.

Poets associated with F.E.E.L. (Friends of East End Loonies) performed a rollicking variety of texts, from the elegiac to the ethereal to the positively zinging with all the "madness" of life. Listening to them made me want to get up in front of a microphone again, which I haven't done since I was fourteen.

Dylan Tighe performed wondrously crafted songs interwoven with looped 80s keyboards, with words both poetic and realist.

But the two highlights for me were Simon Raven's "basket unweaving", a witty riposte to the busymaking distractions of  mental hospital mandated "art therapy", and Bobby Baker's Ballistic Buns

Bobby told us the story of her grandfather and grandmother, extraordinary individuals who met in the early twentieth century. Her grandfather, a "senior angler" or Oxbridge mathematics superboffin to you and I, was tasked with creating the British answer to "Big Bertha", an enormous mortar gun used by German forces in World War One. He never forgave himself for the devastation his engineering engendered. Her grandmother was from a wealthy background, hardly ate a thing, but, much like Bobby, loved feeding people.

One of Bobby's abiding memories of her grandmother was of sitting at the dinner table, when her granny would suddenly shriek, "Catch!" and pelt rock hard home baked buns at Bobby and her siblings.

As Bobby was a tomboy (believe it or not, so was I at the age of ten), her favourite film of the time was Dam Busters.

Thus, in homage to both her grandparents, whilst footage from Dam Busters scored by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain played, Bobby pelted her captive audience with (mercifully soft) Madagascan vanilla buns. And, as Bobby demonstrated her pitcher's arm in a curiously balletic style, all the tension which had been building up in me over the course of the week bubbled up and overflowed into uncontrollable belly laughs. The laughter, as Alice of Daily Life put it, of jouissance. Just what the doctor ordered.

It made me think, as I have often privately thought before, that it's ok to be a bit mad. But here was collective, joyous, jouissance madness.

I felt buoyed up, and all these thoughts have led to the embroidered words of this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion; "Raise each other up."

I refuse to despair in the face of another five years of Austerity Britain. I refuse to silently seethe, to grow complacent or apathetic. I won't stop working, however much arts funding is squeezed, however much the rug is pulled out from under vulnerable people. I will do my bit.

I wasn't quite sure what diaristic elements to include alongside the words, so Pip had the excellent idea including collage elements of the stack of Labour party literature he'd accumulated. I simply cut out the words and phrases which seemed most pertinent.







Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.