“Auntie Megan’s here, Auntie Megan’s here!”. My son comes running in excitedly, and then dashes out again with my daughter. A couple of minutes later, my old friend, and collaborator strolls in, my children bouncing around her feet like badly trained terriers.

Megan is one of a very few artists I have met who sees the world, and the creative process, from a similar standpoint as my own: Willing to experiment with the conceptually forbidden zones of psychology, spirituality and emotional process.

Megan trained in the 70s, and surfed the wave of feminist art, working with some great names including Judy Chicago. Well respected in her field, but penniless, she developed an art therapy business to keep afloat.

Nearly a decade ago, to the great sadness of myself and my son (then 3), she moved away from Oxford for some landscape, and to focus on her art therapy business.

Recently, she has returned to art production, and to help “catch up”, has enrolled on a Contemporary Visual Arts masters degree.

The first essay did not go well. Quoting her influences and the great names she once shared the limelight with, she received low marks: “This is a course on Contemporary art, not art history.”

Are we really art history … surely not? At the tender age of 47 I just feel like I’m coming into my stride. At 18, the received wisdom was that one’s career would be beginning to mature at 60. Now my generation are closer to 60 than 18, are we to be thrown on the scrap heap of history, to make way for the blossoming Culture of Youth? Will an entire generation of artists be dismissed, as too youthful in their youth, and obsolete in their maturity?

It’s definitely the case that most art is made by young people. Simple economics: young people, without the ties and responsibilities of family, can live happily on virtually nothing (as I used to myself), and can avail themselves of a vast array of opportunities denied to us “Veralteten”: travel scholarships, residencies, competitions for the under 30s, etc.

The true dilettantes soon get bored, and wander off when they’ve found another novelty to play with. Those of independent means carry on, but without having to meet the challenges of living a normal life, their output tends to become irrelevant and self-obsessed.

The more dedicated take arts admin, art therapy and teaching posts, in the hope of one day going part time and returning to creative practice. A very few succeed financially, and define the mainstream.

Only relatively few of us manage to keep creating, and tread that twilight path somewhere between fame and oblivion.

Certainly, my volume of output is restricted, and I pursue an artistic vision that lies on the fringes. But that doesn’t make me history. Not even when my grandchildren are pushing Auntie Megan around in her wheelchair, are regulating my morphine drip and changing my incontinence pads … not even then … will I be history!

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Swaddling. At 2 weeks old, my son was making up for his first 3 days unconsciousness, by almost never falling asleep. By this time, it felt like he’d been awake forever – a dark eternity of crying through nights of torture.

My partner started to consult health visitors, friends, even relatives, for advice, and the consensus seemed to be to try swaddling.

We were taught as children that ancient and savage people swaddled their babies – wrapped them tightly in rags and bandages – in an effort to keep their bones straight, especially in regions with low Vitamin D in their diet … but that this was a cruel and counter-productive thing to do. So we were a little resistant.

Anyway, we decided to try it. Late one evening, when we couldn’t bear yet another sleepless night, we wrapped our son up in a blanket. Not just wrapped, but bound tightly, so that he couldn’t possibly move either arms or legs. I was expecting bawls of protest, a bout of screaming that might prompt the neighbours to call the police. But not at all. He took one last look at us, heaved a sigh, closed his eyes, and fell fast asleep.

The theory is that the sudden freedom of movement, after 9 months confined in a womb, is unbearable – arms and legs waving around wildly trying to make sense of an alien universe, no soft womb wall, or soft warm mummy, just these itchy, scratchy, flappy babygro things.

I knew a woman who swaddled her baby ‘till she was 3, whenever she had a tantrum. Whether this was appropriate or not is a matter of debate, but her lodger was so disturbed by the practice that one day he lost it, and threw a tantrum at his landlady. She, being trained in martial arts, quickly disabled him and despatched him from the house, after which moment he was officially homeless. The dangers of challenging somebody else’s parenting technique … just never do it!

When Andrew Bryant sent us bloggers an email urging us to post comments on each others’ posts, I froze in fear. We’re being urged to throw off the swaddles. Simply writing this stuff feels like one is thrashing around wildly in the emptiness of cyberspace. Now we’re presented with the dread possibility of actually making contact with something, someone, unknown, “Out there”.

I took up the challenge, and for better or worse, made a comment on one of Miss B’s Salon’s, which felt very, very unsafe. Reading it this morning I realise, of course, that my choice of topic was all about a desire for safety, and how one way of dealing with that is by inviting tyranny.

So, Andrew, there you are, I’ve done it, I’ve thrown off the swaddles (made contact out there), crapped in my nappy (written about it) … now where’s that tit?? (Oh yes, stop wasting time, and get back to remunerative work!)


Bed time punches a huge hole in the day. When I’m not too busy, this forms a delightful 2 hours of family play & chat time. While my daughter’s in the bath, we catch up on the day’s news, and explore the typical questions of a 6 year old – “How does a tape recorder work?”, “What was wrong with Hitler?”, “What is The Economy?”… a whole booksworth of elucidation squeezed into 15 minutes of splashy, milk-slurping, giggling exuberance.

Once she is settled, after bedtime story, when her music is lulling her to sleep, then it’s my son’s turn. “How can I learn to be a helicopter pilot?”, “How dangerous is it being a fighter pilot?”, “Which are better, AK 47s or Kalzhnikovs?”, and then the statutory chapter of Anthony Horowitz’s latest spy novel …

Tonight, though, I’ve been busy: my daughter had to bath alone, and my son was persuaded to watch Top Gear on the telly. The bedtime stories have been rushed interruptions to a long day at the computer.

As part of my exploration of potential new identities, I perused the Opportunities pages of AN Magazine in a quiet moment on Sunday. The St. Helens & Knowsley commission caught my eye – “Yes, I could do that … and I would really enjoy it … and it’s pretty well paid …”. In fact, reading through the terms and conditions it’s pretty clear that the commissioning organisation have been reading the AIR best practice guidelines very closely.

OK, so I’ve never done any permanent public art before, nor any training in how to do it. But I know I’ve got all the skills – not only the creative skills, but also the construction skills, technical drawing and design skills, business and budgeting skills, interpersonal and communication skills. I know I can do it, and can do it better than most, but how on earth can I present 29 years of accrued experience across the disciplines of science, engineering, psychology, counselling, teaching and business (let alone Art!) on the currently fashionable single-page CV? I can no more condense this effectively into a single page than I can write a 500 word Artist’s statement.

In 1999 I was on a selection committee, and this experience gives me a huge advantage when making applications. The key (oh so simple!!) is to put a truly Stunning piece of art work on the first page/slide. One that makes the whole committee go “Yes” in unison. The second thing to get right is to provide examples of work that fit the context of the application. The third thing is to demonstrate versatility, provide a variety of work. The very last thing to worry about, I always have to remind myself, is my CV. Out of 75 applicants, our selection committee only looked at 1 CV.

It’s now nearly midnight, the application is completed, the children asleep. Next stop: morning, and a double-dose of extreme interrogation from the kids.


“It’s Easter Day tomorrow, that’s the day that Jesus woke up … I think I’ll pray, I’d better find a prayer mat”. At 6 years old, my daughter has an unusually well developed sense of religious conviction … even if she does get a little confused over the traditional forms.

We decided to send both our children to a multi-cultural school, where 50% of the kids are from an Islamic background, though not all from the same brand of Islam. My son has emerged with a strong sense of his individuality and his potential contribution to a global community. My daughter seems to be entrenching herself into the minority ethos – a born subversive.

It’s all to do with a sense of identity, who you feel you belong with, and who you want to keep away from, what you love, what you hate. And that’s something I’m really wrestling with at the moment, which is the essence of this blog.

My identity as a would-be subversive artist was forged at military school (my father suffered from a form of paranoia in which he fantasised he was a soldier. In reality he was a small-time provincial lawyer). A small group of us organised ourselves into an anarchist collective, which involved the production of volumes of incomprehensible surrealist poetry, and subversive ‘actions’ such as leaving our roaches in the headmaster’s private library, or spraying the school armoury (!) with a CND logo.

The realisation that this brand of art was unlikely to turn a profit, coupled with the lack of a family fortune, led me to study sciences at university, where I endured the company of spotty, pale, anorak-clad scientific reductionists for 3 years, after which I escaped into psychology for my doctorate.

Since then I’ve flirted with the communities of academic psychologists, psychotherapists, art therapists, poets, painters, musicians, visual artists, teachers, environmentalists, IT professionals, and logicians.

Spiritually, I feel closest to the psychotherapists and art therapists and their goal of personal emancipation; in terms of what I enjoy, I feel closest to the visual artists and the musicians; The IT professionals generate the best remuneration; the embattled environmental movement are the most accepting of any support they can get; the teachers expect nothing but total life commitment; the logicians … well, they’re just different.

After 8 years, I’m heartily sick of the IT business, and I now have the time to look at other opportunities … with other identities. I’ve become a specialist in ritual, but I’m wary of entering the murky world of the ritualists and religious studies academics; I’ve got some teaching work in art therapy departments, but to pursue that too deeply is to give up all hope of being taken seriously as an artist; I’ve marketed my services to consumers of ‘alternative wedding ceremonies’, but with zero success; my latest exhibition might open some doors in the visual arts world, but am I really prepared to slaughter my dependable cash-cow to return to such a precarious financial future?


The day after the birthday party. Every year I forget, and then on April 6th I remember. 2 days before my son's birthday I start getting flashbacks. My son spent his first 3 days unconscious, with my partner (barely able to walk after the caesarean) and myself spending hours sitting by his hospital cot, willing him to wake up … before being forced away from his cotside by the practical imperatives of life.
For many families, this would be a time at which everyone would pitch in. My partner's cousin was a terrific source of support, but apart from her, the phones remained silent.
You see, we both come from military families, where the over-riding attitude is "deal with it yourself". So we did.
Today, as the flashbacks subside, I had planned a day on site with a customer. This was to have provided my week's income, but a mis-communication with my partner means that she needs the van today to return the participants of the party sleepover to their homes. I'm stuck in Oxford, with the customer in Banbury.
It's one advantage of self-employment, that one can cancel a day's work whenever it suits (as long as the customer isn't too pissed off). The disadvantage is that the days off are unpaid, and the work still has to be done … in this case I'll be squeezing it in next week.
Now I've spent half the entry explaining why I've got time to make an entry. Let's get to some substance:
Jan, my Wolfson contact, needed 15 more private view invites. 2 hours to get to the printer, and then deliver 15 invites – time I didn't want to waste.
"Will a pdf version by email be any use?".
Yes, all the remaining invitees are on email (it's amazing how many people still aren't), so a pdf attachment was acceptable.
I've finished my artist's statement, and the documentation of process … still kicking myself that I photographed my last event without film in the camera. Time to go digital, but the cost of a digital SLR (even second hand), with all the required lenses, still seems daunting.
I'm considering spending my spare time over the next 17 days working on a performance for the Private View, something I used to do as a matter of course. I'd like to do a digitial music improvisation, but have just found that my new computer's sound card has no midi interface. I can't believe it took me a whole year to realise this! I used to tinker with midi every week. More outlay, but this is essential, I just can't do serious music without midi.
There should be time to get back into keyboard practice. But I now have a huge gash on the back of my left hand, and a swollen index finger, from a bow-saw blade while cutting wood for the campfire for my son's party. Circumstances are stacking up against me … but that's OK, I'll deal with it.