The Family Artist

It’s been a tiring strange time with work and work-related anxieties consuming far too much of my time.

Evan – my gentle giant – brought respite, with his beautiful, meticulous artwork.

He’s just pulled together all the elements for his final exam – this is the ‘expressive’ unit folio of the Scottish Higher Grade.

Humour me. Here are some imperfect pictures of his now-submitted work. The theme is ‘Decay’. He tells me that he wanted to convey his sense of ‘decay’ as just another metamorphosis – that things break down and rot – but that the transformation can be (and is) beautiful. There is a cycle – death is just another ‘becoming’.

I loved that.

I also love his beautiful detail. His perfectly realised vision.

I’m also his Mother… and I love him dearly regardless.

The pieces are largely charcoal, pencil and watercolour.


Relief and pain and family trauma

There are no words sufficient to the task. My child is alive. Fear has eaten this week. Fear and rage and a dense, deep, bitterest despair that drums in your ears and throat; that burdens every breath.

He is alive. When we thought he had died. Thought he still would die.

This is how it happens. How quiet ordinary lives cross over on an early sleepy Sunday morning. How a thudding door opens to policemen with words of pain and darkness that sleep’s confusion cannot process to meaning. How a car journey to Accident and Emergency passes without memory of road or place – but only of how I cannot get wheels to turn fast enough. Of the ashen aged look of my husband’s face. Of the fear in us. Bleak and black. How the ticking clock thrums and how every passing minute where there is no news from the ambulance or paramedics or the nurses or doctors is filled with the fear of loss. Unspeakable hideous incomprehensible loss.

And then of my beautiful gentle son gradually returning to himself and us. Broken. But here. Blown pupils a black pool of intoxication and of relief and remorse and dark sorrow.

We have all suffered. His brothers and sisters. His grandparents. The traumatised friends who witnessed his descent into hell and who stopped his fall with brutal restraint and emergency calls.

But yesterday, into that space, bleak, numbing relief had squatted, there was, too, a deepening realisation of our inter-dependency; of love; of the reasons we have to give thanks and to be grateful. And – from all of us – this desire to be close together – to hug one another tight.

There are painful words to be spoken in the days ahead. Tears are only now beginning to flow.

For me – I remain filled with fear – of what the ringing phone will bring; of Lewis’ speeding car on dangerous roads; of Megan walking alone at night in the city; of Jamie late home from a friends; of Ana running and playing along the river. This reminder of what can happen – of what does happen – to ordinary families and ordinary mothers and fathers – it has punched a deep hole in the taken-for-granted everydayness that sanity and equilibrium rely upon.

But this too shall pass.

Journey to Work

The iced land opened up before me at the road end. Whitened earth stretched out to dark hills in the distance. Hoary sandstone seams are a running stitch, hemming field boundaries and retaining muffled, shifting sheep.

As I advanced into the veiled land, still, silent cattle loomed from road edges, breathing smoke plumes into the frosted air.

There is the surprise of a sandstone farmhouse nested in the crook of a land fold. Shrouded, lightly.

And then a spectral wall of cloud, fallen to earth, has consumed house windows and doors, church hall walls, has eaten the penitentiary.

The spire rises above with a stark bleak clarity.

To my right and the south I sense the reassuring omniscience of Tinto – pre-history pointing still to the sky and tying us to this earth. On the Hill Fort, buffering mists reveal shadowy mesolithic ancestors working prized pitchstone into bewitching tools and carrying a horn of fire up the ritual path.

To my left and in front, lies Wolfclyde and the Coulter Motte. Its settler farmers carving their new life in royally gifted land and building. Recent. They speak to me in a Flemish tongue bringing new trade.

But there are the neolith field barrows, tumulus rising like slumbering giants before me. Unfolding and furling again as I pass at increasing speed.

The land is a cradle and a grave. It is food and shelter, sustenance and death. It is my womb and my home and I will turn my flesh into its folds, one day.

Until then, there is the journey. The daily grind of the city, and of work and of money, to be fought. There are the little joys to be won. The smell of Ana’s wind-blown hair and the earthy odours of the pleasure she took in that new football strip; a smile and kiss; the promise of living, replete.


I spoke to old Tess on the telephone, midweek. My last remaining grandmother. Almost 90 and moaning about her poor memory. I laughed with her and tried to jostle her out of the self-pity which was beginning to saturate her every word. She says living is hard. Waking every morning wondering if today is the day the struggle and grind will finish.

I’ve thought – off and on this week – of our conversation. 
And have concluded that thinking is a funny business. I sometimes wonder if we don’t all have internal monologues capable of rivalling anything Joyce could assemble on a page. Aren’t we all Finnegan’s Wake-ish? One random thought triggering another – seemingly unconnected – thoughts simply floating through the river of our lives. Thoughts whose only apparent connection is the weft and weave of what we are or have become; what we did or do.
My Irish granny, Martha, died long ago. She had no opportunity to tire of life. I recall her fire. The violence of her embrace. The intensity of her joy and rage.
Chain-smoking Kensitas Club; a collector of their tokens; delighting in the occasional treasure which mountains of them would yield: a teasmaid; an electric carving knife… She worked ceaselessly. A school-cleaner; a farm-worker; a keeper of the hearth.
I remember her tight short dark permed curls; her dark sallowy skin and the violet blue of her eyes. 
She loved baubles. Clip-on dangly earrings. And was shrouded in the pungency of estee lauder’s ‘youth dew’.
She insisted on peony roses – huge big globules of petally crimson framing the window ledge; dominating the small front-garden. And intoxicatingly perfumed yellow roses. And curiously scentless blue moons.
She was a free and strong woman – pub-drinking when it was shameful. Defying gossips. Wrapping my gentle grandfather round her fingers and charming men indiscriminately.
She was a reader of tea-leaves. Nursing her own dark straight tea cup whilst she peered into the mystery of the future.
And a reader of the tv times. 
She was a bigot. Insisting on stark protestant religions for her children. An Ulster woman by birth-right
When she died, all of the town turned out and the family swelled with the ferry-loads from ‘back home’. The Belfast step-sisters came to bury her too. And squabbled over her wardrobe: her coney fur coat and curly lamb; the gaudy paste jewels and beads; the elegant high-heeled shoes which her bunions had never allowed her to wear. 
My poor mother has wept hot angry tears over their insensitivity: ‘She’ll have no need for these things now, sure’ they said.
Oh ‘catch yerself on’ she shoud have shouted back. But didn’t.
30 years on and I find myself longing for that fierce embrace and the look of ownership and pride which she always gifted me, her treasured grand-daughter, her own little mirror. And I find myself impatient with my only remaining granny who would seek to cast off the life which is denied so many.
Perhaps I too would be tired, at 90?