Beauty School Rehab

I staggered off a plane in Hong Kong when I was twenty five years old, clutching the empty litre bottle of opium tincture (90% alcohol/10% opium) that I had needed to get me through the 20 hour journey.

Admittedly I’d missed my connecting flight in Sydney as I was engaged in a debauch with new found friends at the airport bar, but I eventually reached my destination and my poor, shell-shocked parents.
The first step in my new life was to try and sort out my opiate habit. I made an appointment with the family G.P. The waiting room of his practice in central Hong Kong contained the glossy and wealthy, my sweating and shaking self, someone with a textured tumour covering half his face and several Transexual bar girls from Wanchai, Hong Kong’s red light area.
A lovely man in an immaculate tailored suit, ushered me into his office, waving away the cigarette smoke as he did so. He came from a monied English family and his wealthy Hong Kong clientele obviously bored him so he would take on the occasional more interesting, non paying patient. Hence the transsexuals and the tumour man and also myself and my family, whom he would often forget to send the bill to.
As I  settled into Hong Kong life and the alcoholism that too often runs alongside trying to recover from drug addiction, I would ocasionally see him at four or so in the morning, in the most down market Wanchai bars with the most worn looking of bar girls hanging off his arm. Always the gentleman he would never neglect to buy me a drink.

Once a maintenance and withdrawal programme for my addiction was established (as well as very heavy anti depressants which quickly bloated my emaciated junkie frame) and I acquired new teeth, I realised it was time to complete my life reconstruction and start earning a living.
So I embarked upon beauty therapy training which seemed to be thing to do if one was dealing with drug problems or other life reconfigurations.
I soon made friends on the course that I could both drink with and also share details of the best chemists to buy diet pills.
There was Ruth a young woman from Columbia whose sister had married a Hong Kong man after a mail order courtship.
Ruth had a morality that combined the influences of a superstitious and Catholic family with later life on the streets of Bogota. Sexuality was a commodity, she was the best thief I’ve ever come across, she always slept with her feet at the head of the bed for some spirit fearing reason but assidiously attended church. Unlike her sister who was blonde, Ruth was dark and stocky. She would consume huge amounts of diet pills to attempt to slim down so she could snare a husband, but it never seemed to make any difference. Her family had originally been farmers but gangs of drug lords and gangs of police regularly rampaging through their land and beating them, eventually forced a move to the Colombian capital where she hung out with street kids and saw some of her young peers incinerated by corrupt police.
The stories of her life were horrendous and she had scars on her back from various whippings, so I could understand that she was desperate not to go back, but despite her terrible background Ruth was great company and very, very funny.
I also become friends with a Swedish girl on the course who became a stalwart drinking companions.
Louise had learned English through watching American series such as Dallas and had an amazing accent. She was beautiful but developed acne die to the Asian climate which understandably, upset her terribly and made drowning her sorrows in alcohol an imperative.
She was particularly focused on training in cosmetic tattooing as it apparently had the potential to make great money on cruise ships. Louise used me as a model for her first tattoo work, on the eyebrows. I was willing to take the risk as I reasoned that I had a lot of eyebrow so there wasn’t much scope for failure but a particularly heavy drinking session the night before meant Louise was a tad shaky.
With a little help, the inking was a success, and 26 years on they are still visible albeit blue as old tattoos are wont to be.
Somehow I managed to graduate from the course and specialised in the more alternative side of the field.
On occasion I’d have a terrible hangover and would slam eye pads on the client, ramp up the whale music, and go to the bathroom and throw up.
However working hard and playing hard is the Hong Kong way and no one castigated me for my full on lifestyle as it was pretty much the norm for that time and era. Gradually the drugs started amplifying their personal siren song to me, and when the call became irresistible, I moved to London for a final five years of opiate addiction.

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Pattern Making and Shape Shifting

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At the beginning of this year I had six weeks off work and was able to immerse myself in the finishing of a writing project and my art.
My creative regime tends to be skittish and hyperkinetic. An ideal day includes intense bursts of writing, several hours of art, gardening, the occasional foray into minor domestic tasks, a constitutional walk and photography to fill in any gaps.
Having more time than usual and being a restless soul who constantly craves new stimulus, I helped out several people I knew by writing them bio’s and necessary blurb, and creating a blog for a friend’s shop. I didn’t get paid for this but loved doing it.
Simply enough I find words exhilarating. I thrive on the challenge of rearranging language and structure to convey different intent and identity.
A little like a puzzle where the words are components that can be arranged to create different worlds.
For me, everything is a pattern. I think and see in curves, colours and multi dimensions rather than in linear or flat terms.
When I was young and very shy and socially inept, I would closely watch people’s behaviour to try to understand right rules of conduct and perhaps find a way to fit in. This admittedly, was a bit of a disaster as individuals aren’t particularly logical, and until I learned this, I had periods of depression and anxiety trying to understand why people acted the way they did. I did discover however that groups who centre around certain occupations or lifestyles did behave relatively predictably and as I drifted into fringe societies built around drug or alcohol use or certain types of spirituality, I was able to fit in more easily.
My art work is also very much about patterns. There is the soothing repetition of multi layered bead work, the fascination of playing with camouflage techniques to create depth and subterfuge, the joy of creating movement that makes the life that I see inherent in everything, visible to others.
Interestingly enough I don’t do jigsaw puzzles and whilst I’m comfortable with computers, they don’t interest me.
Geometry doesn’t press my buttons and I wasn’t particularly good at mathematics at school until I studied the subject at a higher level and it became more abstract.
I can’t tell the difference between left and right, am still unable to tell the time on a conventional clock and driving a car or riding a bike are skills I have never been able to master.
Straight lines and boxes make no sense to me unless I pull them into three-d shapes which I find great fun, but not joyful in the way I find curves, which are limitless and filled with potential, movement and adventure.
Patterns hold a way of communicating that to a degree I understand and have control over. I learn from them and find them stimulating and exciting. Falling into them is like drifting into a lullaby that is the antithesis of this crazy mundane world.

Above Image- Clobster Servitor created by Charlotte Rodgers, photographed by Gerard Hutton.

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Sunday Morning To Music

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I started off today with memories of my parents swimming pool in Singapore, fifteen years ago.
Every weekend morning we would meet there, friends and family, the self termed ‘Rejects Club’.
Cliff would join us after his morning constitutional which always included a post walk shot of Baileys served by his ‘man’, a Malay servant who had been with him since his army days and was really more a friend who had needed a home than someone who fell under the antiquated appellation of ‘manservant’.
Then Karl and Tim would arrive. Karl was an American who had lived in Asia many years and Tim, his long term Singaporean partner who still hadn’t told his very traditional  parents about the relationship.
Invariably Karl would bring a flask of coffee, some cookies he had just baked, and news of the Los Angeles gay scene which he still kept contact with.
Then there was Peter, a very old family friend who had lived in Singapore for 30 years. He would be accompanied by his wife of the moment, and sometimes his visiting children from Australia.
All of us had been drawn there by the charismatic mistress of ceremony; my mother with her walker, huge sun hat, Pucci sunglasses and portable oxygen tank.
We would be there for hours, occasionally swimming but mainly talking. Talking about politics, world affairs, art and the neighbours, while the Singapore sun grew stronger.
I remember once seeing a lizard,’Jesus Lizard’, running across the water of the pool.
There would be flashes of yellow as bright birds hurtled through the trees and an occasional ‘whump’ as a ripe coconut hit the ground.
Peter is dead now, as is his son and my mother. Cliff is blind and bedridden and his ‘man’ died many,many years ago.
In my mind the swimming pool is now covered with dead leaves, Jesus Lizard is gone and the birds have lost their colour.
This morning’s music brought back these memories as I struggled with thoughts of, ‘am I old now, should I save my money and buy a decent computer, a greenhouse and a dog? Should I stop travelling and sleeping on the sofas of strangers, and spending all my money on fantastic projects and artistic folly’s?’
My friends talk about menopause related vaginal dryness and I wonder if I’ll ever have sex again, if I’ll ever feel the madness of a new love affair and whether I should stop talking to people young enough to be my children, as equals.
Then I change the music to something beautiful that soars and I am reminded of my ability to fly with ideas and excitements, and I know as long as I can feel like that, I can never be old.

Music to soar to
Roberto Fonseca ‘Mi Negra Ave Maria’
Roland S Howard ‘Autoluminescent’

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Meat and Marrow

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People tend to be surprised that someone like myself, who makes art with bones and roadkill, is a vegetarian. I believe that vegetarianism is a perfect accompaniment to the way I create, as working with the dead forges empathy and a compassion for them that doesn’t allow for casual consumption.
I think those that hunt to eat or as part of their culture tend to have a greater respect for their food source, a respect that isn’t prevalent in a society that mass consumes without looking at the origin of what they’re devouring.
I have similar issues with fur. I react strongly and negatively to people who wear animal pelts as status, when in reality they have the money to buy something just as beautiful and warm and don’t need to prove how important they are by paying for an unnecessary and often brutal killing.
Running concurrent to these thoughts has been an interest in why there is a resurgence at present in the art and appreciation of taxidermy. An interest that was particularly popular in Victorian times when there an enormous disparity in income, technology was surging forward, intellect ruled over the heart, and many aspects of society be they women, the poor or aborigines in colonies, were considered less than human.
I grew up in an animal loving family, and had occasional contact with extended family members who were of very pragmatic farming stock.
As soon as my younger sister could articulate she refused to eat meat, as she found the idea of consuming animal flesh repugnant.
In my early teens I became vegetarian but I suspect this was partially a way of reducing my food groups to accommodate my active eating disorder.
Later, as I travelled in countries where vegetarianism wasn’t an option, I relaxed my dietary choices as it was either eat meat or go hungry.
When I first travelled in China in the early 1980’s and tried to explain that I was a vegetarian, it simply wasn’t comprehended except perhaps as an affectation of a member of very spoiled, capricious and wealthy society.
I still prefer not to eat meat although every few years or so there has been occasion, generally when I’m travelling, where I find it necessary. It is never casually done and I’m uncomfortable about it, but not enough to go hungry or tear myself apart with guilt.
As I’ve aged I have become more aware of life and how valuable it is. I won’t deny others their right to eat what they want, but if people were mindful of the process it would invariably change perspectives. Yes, it’s a privilege to be able to choose what we eat. I’m lucky enough (with a bit of research) to function well with a meat free diet, but not everyone has the same physical make up. Years ago when I was teaching yoga, one of my pupil’s who was constitutionally not suited to vegetarianism, gave up meat and became very ill.
When I walk into work, occasionally trucks filled with live stock pass me whilst on their way to the slaughterhouse, and I’ve thought that there have been times (still are for that matter) when certain human beings were regarded as being worth no more than those farm animals, and at some point in the future there may well be a point when we realise what a crime we are committing by treating animals as such a disposable and non sentient commodity.

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Coincidence is Coloured Green

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I fell in love with someone because they had the same birthday as my deceased mother.
I was broke and needed money for cat food, and found exactly the right  amount whilst walking to work one morning.
All my long term relationships were with people whose initials were GDH.

The above are snippets of my life, although awareness of the last statement (my partners having the same initials) was only recently realised.
I love coincidences. They are like markers or rewards in life indicating that you are treading the correct path or swimming in the right current.
Life can be a proverbial existential morass that signs, symbols and visible portents lighten and brighten a path through.  I’m aware that these things can be tricksters (see the first of the above examples) but they definitely make things more interesting.
I’m also aware of the need for discernment, suspicion and reticence, because this sort of focusing can lead down the path of obsession and delusion. I’ve seen more than a few friends meander off on that strange route, never to return, lost in a world of deciphering car license plates and phone numbers. Fortunately not being particularly numerically orientated and possessing a hyper analytic nature helps keeps me ‘relatively’ sane.
One of my favourite poems ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ by Sylvia Plath mentions
‘a celestial burning took
possession of the most obtuse objects…’
which is what coincidence does.
Coincidence is a rhythm, a colour, a strange vehicle.
It adds depth to the mundane, creating a pattern that makes reality a vision, rather than something merely glimpsed as it is raced past on your way from life landmark to life landmark to grave.

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Budget Edition Mid-Life Crisis.

image.jpegToday’s rhythm shall be encapsulated by the rather splendid word ‘discombobulated’.
I’m in London and not really sure why. I should be at home working, with financial related anxiety issues edging past the corners of my eyes as I obsessively create for an upcoming exhibition.
I don’t seem alone in my perhaps, generation orientated panic.
Many friends in my 50-ish age group are reevaluating their life choices and how much control they actually have over their destiny.
I’m at the bottom end of the pile, financially anyway. To an extent my years living as a ducking and diving junkie, have given me an edge in that I’m adept at seeing every angle to gain enough funds to get by.
On one level I have the freedom to do what I want, and always manage to find the means to express that, but on another I’m occasionally so broke that I can’t afford bus fare and to eat as well as I’d like to.
God knows what will happen to me in later years although various friends and myself have discussed possibilities of living in some sort of arty geriatric, self supporting co op.
A few of my peers are the proverbial high fliers, and the huge wages they receive suddenly don’t seem so golden as they find themselves in un-lived in flats filled with beautiful objects and dust, working for organisations that see them as two dimensional disposable cogs.
Other people are trying to work out a next step, but are constrained by medical concerns that allows little freedom to manoeuvre.
Then there are those like me.
No children, a tad left field, and suddenly noticing that every year brings further deaths within our age bracket which seems to necessitate some reactive change as a response.
Live fast and damn the consequences? Well I did that years ago, and am still recovering, so perhaps that isn’t the best option.
Travel and adventure and experience as much as possible seems to be the choice of most of us, unless you are one of the rare beings who can appreciate and enjoy life in situ, and strangely enough I know no one like that.
To get to the crux of the matter. I’m broke and cannot afford to catch a plane, so the onus at this point is on trains and buses.
Now, I’m off to explore London equipped with sturdy shoes, a thermos of coffee and a free listings guide.

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My Muse Wears Tracksuit Bottoms Covered In Food Stains

imageWorking from home is proving to be challenging. Nick Cave alluded to the fact that being ridden by your muse is not a pretty thing, and I’d agree. However I would also add that being ignored by your muse is even uglier.
Whilst I’m averse to discipline being imposed to me, an innate masochism means I’m extremely good at submitting myself to rigid and sometimes obsessive regimes.
Unfortunately some of my time off at present is being spent house sitting (I qualified that I could write anywhere and thinking that house sitting was an easy job, I believed the change of location would provide new stimulation for me).
I didn’t realise that having my art equipment and my garden on hand was so necessary to my process.
I also underestimated the lure of technology, my addiction of which seems to accelerated to the point where logging onto social networking sites now brings entrance  into a long term fugue state.
Dressing has never been an issue when working from home, as living in an isolated area and moving from messy sculpting ingredients to a muddy garden mean that sartorial elegance is a delusion and gas mask couture with matching stained clothing and elastic waist bands, is the way to go.
Washing and basic care is easy enough as it breaks up the day nicely and a shower or bath in winter is a way of keeping warm.
Eating tends to be rather haphazard. A long term grazing process that preferably leaves a trail as I wander between the sofa, the kitchen and places that I can access social networking sites.
The first house sitting work that I had was in an incredible Georgian house in the centre of a small city.
There was no garden so a daily walk was vital, but as the house was in an affluent area, leaving it meant that getting dressed to an acceptable level was necessary.
I haven’t had a television for years and wasn’t able to operate the many remote control units for the massive screen at this particular abode, so adding TV viewing to my list of how to enter a vegetative state wasn’t an option.
The following home was beautiful, bohemian and easier to leave when dressed in casual rags, but unfortunately had an accessible and understandable television console.
Thus I have been staying up until four each morning watching mindless programmes about zombie housewives and satanic historical dramas.
I’m also cat sitting in this second abode.
Two beautiful Siamese who act in unison…a little like the twins from ‘The Shining’. At the previous house sitting job I was only keeping an eye on an elderly mother, and as we all know, animal companions are always much more treasured than any human relative, so therefore more stressful to look after.
So I went to bed at three this morning and was woken by the cats several hours later. I fed the cats and did my exercise routine ( newly entered, unfortunately every exercise I introduce seems to bring a compliment injury  with it) which is presently limited and gentle stretches due to a recent pulled muscle.
Fugue state on Facebook and Instagram entered for an unknown period of time, then I start the day proper (once I clean out the cat litter, have another coffee, and perhaps a short walk).
Today’s muse is not pretty, but I can hear her approaching. I’ll just have some crackers whilst I wait for her to arrive.

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