Sumptin’ about this time of year does have me needing to print, and to re-print – and to frame and to re-frame. Gifts on the agenda, obviously, but also’s because it’s by tradition quiet for my business nowabouts, and therefore the ‘creative me’ projects gain traction, momentum and move, oft-times, from making to making-it-real. And typically this involves some printing on to paper.

Today I had the all of my Inky Conditions series (by the working title of Anywhere Here Is Fine) printed to one handsome brick-like stack of A6s more than 100 sheets high. The girl at the local printers’ made this a breezy can-do job – which is a rare and lovely thing when it comes to what is for me the most blind of technical blindspots. Now comes the challenge of what to make of the work. I don’t know how to go about this yet.

Today I re-framed two prints (from the Inky Conditions stable, but not running the same race) shortly to be shipped to a local bar. First framed yesterday, they troubled my already tinnitus-troubled sleep. The wrong frames, simply. Reeking of fakery. And I was made to repeat the drive-about, where-are-my-glasses?, errands of yesterday, and was lucky, much luckier, and found picture frames that were the right ones. I’m very happy with the re-framing. And happier moreover that I listened to, and acted on, my doubts.

Why did I go with the wrong ones firstly? Did I need to do wrong to do right?

The people in the house at the back of us, with the cats, have moved. The bigger of their cats (oh, is he big) keeps coming back – making his own way home across roads, backyards and playgrounds. Not a million miles, but enough to have you googling how? The cat-flap in their now-empty house must still be in operation, because the cat gets in and he sits at an upstairs window. Looking out. Framed, in a pose of achievement, pluck and complete misunderstanding.



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Alzheimer’s Society: an empowerment of empathy

In February this year I had a phone conversation with a helpline adviser at Alzheimer’s Society. I didn’t make the call lightly; coming to it only after months of frustrating encounters with in-turn-frustrated authorities, duplicated assessments, have-a-go form-filling and a pretty much continuous churn of case workers – all with the vague aim of seeking something like support for our dementia-suffering dad, and Mum, his main carer. Of course there was nothing to say I couldn’t have picked up the phone before all that bother became our family’s norm. I just didn’t think it was the natural flow of things. Truth is, it totally can be. Because what the woman on the helpline gave me was absolute empathy. The empathy of experience and an empathy that was empowering. She sighed at the stories I needed to share – the circular-reference assessments, the bleak humour of would-be helpers walking backwards out of rooms – and after those listening sighs, her preparatory intake of breath and then the ‘okay – here’s what you can do…

The call gave me the confidence to get to our right person in local social services – someone whom (by sticking at it) I came to feel like I was working with, rather than on, or at experienced worst, against. Equally able to listen, to rest a beat and then, in that tonal equivalent of rolling-up sleeves, ‘Okay…’ A hard-won skill I could now detect because of that helpline adviser.

I trace the turning point in our getting things sorted back to this February call. Brimful with knowledge and the language, the palare, of the system, of the best sequencing of actions and contacts, the call for me was like a reset – a mental de-frag. Okay – here’s what I can do… But first came the empathy.

Of course crap continued to happen along the way – let-downs and rejections and the relentless robbery of the disease – to making progress with Dad’s care. And the doing bits, the sorting stuff, were still tortuous and sometimes traumatic. But a mental strength was in the bag, and in our ear the voice that said it wasn’t just us who were fighting for Dad and the legions like him. Everyone’s need to call, and their needs overall, will be different. I’d made the call to Alzheimer’s Society because I needed to say to someone outside the family and away from the paperwork: seriously, really, what can we do? And I was given empathy that empowered – and I believe changed everything for the heartbreaking better.

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Dunk of Nightmare!

Submersion in terror, from Inky Conditions – a Brexit with Biscuits.

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Hedge Hopping

Sometimes in the evenings when we’re knackered, I like to introduce some horrid thought. Like, hey, fancy popping into town? Wanna go catch last orders? Go for a walk? It’s all for the exquisiteness of opposites. That none of these things have to happen. And an awareness too that it’s actually what some people do. Hell, even younger versions of us – though not so much of me. B’s not so fond; doesn’t totally appreciate or welcome my logic. But I persevere, and last night I said, at ten, hey! let’s go Hedge Hopping! Sleepily, B. says she doesn’t want to go hedgehog shopping.

Hedge Hopping is something we did for a while as neighbourhood kids. In the dark evenings – mainly this time of year – after gravy-soaked teas we’d gather as a little gang and challenge ourselves to make it through as many back gardens as possible up our street. Slipping around or over fences, behind the back of a shed and by the rabbit hutches; or all-out dashes across wide-open, kitchen-lit lawns – sometimes straying over into the ends of the gardens backing on to those on our street; the houses on the Ring Road reversing into our own. These were times of no security lights, few yappy dogs, and families hunkered in front rooms, hoofing between the three channels – and yet the aim was to stay as far from the houses as the hedges would allow.

In fleeting memory like the visible puffs of our giddy breath, the forays were far-reaching and expertly orchestrated. In remembered reality we were pretty much pants at it.

For starters, there wasn’t one truly spirited tuff among us. Apathy was about as attitudinal as this part of our suburb could muster. But set against my own shrill keenness for (fairly safe and, frankly, Beano-informed) larks, that was hard enough for me to take. Because I loved these adventures. They stood as a devilish opposite to my morning paper round and its genteel front-gate legitimacy. Here I was now, a-skulking round the rear of similar houses. And however thin it was, I liked the troupe mentality – most, or only, apparent at the outset, with us shuffling in a driveway, badly smoking pilfered cigarrettes and mumbling wetly into our Leeds United scarves; hands in ridiculous goalkeeper gloves, thrust into the pockets of fall-apart parkas… Ah, the stuff of honed strategic beings.

The first five gardens were either of, or closely known to our membership; so in real terms shouldn’t ever have counted towards a hedge-hopped total. Warm-up material, maybe, or qualifying laps. But the truth is we didn’t get massively further beyond these familiar zones. I did say we were pants.

It’s interesting to think now that, for me at least, this was all about grown-ups and the risk of encountering them. Unknown men with bad tempers and moustaches. Cuban heels and Ford Capris. Englishmen with foreign lives. Not to receive a thrashing, head-chopping, but to have their anger directed at me; anger all modern and self-assured and probably reeking of cooking smells alien to me. Did we get far enough to risk this?

Off our own territory and with a different band, I tried the back gardens of other streets. Preposterous circular experiments with cul-de-sacs. And a developed penchant for weaving up and down the gaps between newly-built garages. I was little and I was shifty, with a crazed and crazying look of fear that I think instinctively made pissed-off adults let me slip away.

B. has gone to bed, or somewhere upstairs. I look outside – out the back. A bored cat sets off the light and glances at me like, what? before she disappears into a hedge. I go with her.

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Pie Season – Your Questions Answered

You know, a lot of people ask me – I mean, enough that I would remark on it – well, they ask…

What are the start and end dates for Pie Season 2017/18?
Thank you. This season began on Sunday 15th October, with a maple ham pie, created to celebrate the onset of Autumn, and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ winning start to their new season. It looks set to end around late February, early March (yes, you’re right, previous Seasons have gone way into March and April, but let’s face it, we’re in a whole world of uncertainties right now, so I’m going to call it early. No, I know that doesn’t follow as a line of thinking. But what you gonna do?) On the 24th of February I’m off to see Morrissey in Leeds. I kind of told myself that I’d hang it up after the Hull gig in 2015, and was pretty conflicted all week, what with the expense and it being a weekend and all – but, hey, you follow your heart. That’s what I’ve been telling people.

Why is this Pie Season off to such a slow start?
I think that’s kind of judgey. As with all previous Seasons this one will find its own rhythm. I swear to god I can never spell rhythm without checking. When I was in bands and stuff in Leeds there was a group called Rhythm Method. I remember my mum reading the name out in the newspaper’ gig listings, and then getting all flustered about saying that out loud.

Can you tell us about the thinking behind the Apple Pie?
Yeah, that was kind of spontaneous. We had all these apples from Uncle Pat and Auntie Dympna’s garden (yes, I totally had to check Dympna – maybe it’s words with those ‘y’s, or the absence of expected vowels. At junior school we had a spelling test, all lined up against a wall, and I got ‘yacht’ to spell. I messed it up. My friend had to spell ‘hundred’, and claimed it was more difficult because it was a big number. Trump-logic, right there, way back then.) Also, I found these cinnamon sticks in the cupboard and wanted to add that crazy antiseptic autumnal sensation. As it turned out, I stewed the apples too long and had to go get a huge one from Sainsbury’s – which kind of diluted the family-sourced-ness of the effort. The checkout lady said ‘ooh, that’s a big apple!’ I started to reply something but my voice did that not-ready-to-make-coherent-sounds thing and I just squeaked at her. Anyway, I liked how the pastry strips looked like ocean waves (apple-related how?) similar to my inky drawings.

Do you sometimes wonder why you even bother?
No. Not really.

What’s next up, this Pie Season?
Thanks for the question. There’s ready-rolled pastry wants using (as my mother would say – in that Yorkshire way of putting the active element on the inanimate), and the next few weekends aren’t going to accommodate any baking, so – but you just want to know what the next pie is, right?

Okay. Well, because of something that happened this week, it’s going to have to be largely potato-centric. We may go up the way to the farm butcher’s and see what’s in. I know how none of this sits well with being a Morrissey fan. Apart from the potatoes.

You don’t know what you’re making, do you?
No. But that’s cool. And you might want to drop the light aggression. Bloody hell, I just so spelled that with one ‘g’. I did that once in an English Literature essay, with ‘exaggeration’. Hamlet essay, it was. But for some reason I had to write ‘exaggerate’ a lot (I know, I get the joke), and what made it worse was I used to do these ‘g’s like they are in this typeface – but handwritten – because I was trying to copy the style of the handwritten lyrics on Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle album inner sleeve. So every instance of my singular ‘g’ was drawn extra attention to by the marking teacher. And that kind of made me realise how foolish the whole thing was. Or at least to question my motives. I don’t know. But I think that’s everything answered.

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Inky Conditions #1 – The Cat That Thought About It

Introducing (hereabouts at least), my new collation of all things narratively, naturally, inky. Inky Conditions. That’s Inky (let the records show) Conditions. In this first epic tale, a cat thinks about It. I like how this happened in frame 3.

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My October Symphony, Part 6 – Fishing with Dad

Dad, with some coaxing, sits down next to me on the bench outside his room. Shoulder to shoulder, the both of us facing the fence, beyond which the motorway sounds like the ocean. The cubes of beige cake on the tray on my lap are tasteless, but rich enough to talk about when I can’t keep mentioning Mum and the house. Dad runs his fingertips across one cheek and over his chin, aware to the touch of the shave I just gave him.

I tell him about the sound of the sea, and ask if he’s ever been fishing. He answers with the ‘yes’ which is now simply his acknowledgement that a question has been asked. I know he’s never fished. But it’s what we’re doing now, on a warm October Friday afternoon – this crumby bench in the land-locked, horizonless garden, is a riverbank, or rocky outcrop. Us wordlessly together on a shore.

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