After this week’s hospital appointment it’s official – P.O.T.S. meds aren’t working, and I’m to come off. I knew, I did; daily tried not to; stayed on those pills for months beyond the doctor’s orders, speaking mantras when popping, willing my body towards energy&verticality, investing hope and harvesting nothing much. I’m so tired of being tired. And all bleached out now, thin as a rail – need to let myself fall. Time for a break, to rest, regroup and all that. Last post (before I come back).

Thinking about red (there’s energy for you!). Rothko’s, illuminated, shaded. Matisse’s room. The little painter’s hands (Marlene Dumas). The snow child. Menses. Spools (Louise Bourgeois). Colour of my true love’s hair. A rose. A rose. A rose. Tames a boy who is a prince. Blushes. Fake blood in films. My patent-leather Mary Janes, unworn. Finger-nails. Setting sun. Nettle-sting. Great Gig in the Sky. Behind eyes before a faint. Slap. Scratch. Chinese burn. What the bull minds. Threads. Hearts. Herrings. A sea. Inquisition. The writing on a war-card. Flags. Lips. Songs. Carpets. Boxer’s tongue. Poppies. Dresses. Dances. Doors. Lights and districts. Letters and their boxes. Geryon. Towns. Triangles. Stop! Cherries. Berries. Cheeks of apples. Rubies. Tuesdays. Dwarves. Bandanas. The red around the white around the swastika. The little post-memory collar I sneaked in with my fallen pillar (post 5/6/14). Insomnia. Insouciance. Insurgency. Eyes. Sails. Rivers.
Silence for a wee while.

Have a good summer!

PS. You can still read me: I did an interview for @PalettePages – thank you, Lisa Gray, for inviting me and making it look so good.



When my Soldier’s child came back from an exhibition a while ago, it occurred to me that my father had been a soldier’s child too. His father had fought in WWI and returned with a disease of the heart (not metaphorically speaking). He died when my dad was 13. I wonder how my boy-dad was affected by what his father carried, and how that impacted on him when his war started.

I was trying to find the right term for the kind of troop my father would have been part of (battalion? regiment? company?), and came upon this entry for infantry:

From Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) [web1913]:
Infantry In”fan*try, n. [F. infanterie, It. infanteria, fr.
infante infant, child, boy servant, foot soldier, fr. L.
infans, -antis, child; foot soldiers being formerly the
servants and followers of knights. See {Infant}.]

1. A body of children. [Obs.] –B. Jonson.
2. (Mil.) A body of soldiers serving on foot; foot soldiers,
in distinction from cavalry.

This makes sense. This makes no sense at all.

You may remember that I bought a 1930s sailor-suit on ebay, thinking I might let it stand in as a kind of heirloom. It’s an inverse version to my dad’s, being white with blue stripes, and would have been worn by a very young boy. The outfit is beautifully made – partly machine-, partly hand-sewn, and much mended. It is threadbare in places, frayed at the seams, esp. under armpits, nape of neck, crotch – anywhere where movement of limbs strained the fabric. The trousers are lined with soft, gossamer-thin white cotton; where layers of fabric overlapped French seams were sewn (which wouldn’t have chafed on the infant’s skin) – the comfort of the child was considered.

The areas directly surrounding the (ivory nut?) buttons on front and back of the shirt, connecting to the trousers, are careworn. Someone buttoned up and unbuttoned the outfit regularly. I project tender hands (a mother’s, a nanny’s, a sister’s?) because there are no violent tears, only the thinning of fabric until it finally gave way, and a bursting of seams as the child grew.

The two buttons on the side have not been used as much, a question of efficiency maybe, or a worry that too tight a fastening might constrain the child too much? Was the suit worn by one child or was it passed on to others? From older to younger sibling? From well-off family to less so? The good thing about not knowing whose outfit this was, is that the suit doesn’t take sides.

During national socialism the sailor-suit (worn by all German boys before the division into Aryan and Jewish drew an inexorable line) went out of fashion, so-to-speak. 1934, when Donald Duck in navy shirt was created in the US, the Hitler Youth-uniform became de rigueur in Germany, childhood much indoctrinated and militarised. A forging of soldiers-to-be. A hardening in body and mind. Us-and-themness. Hemming in/out. Sides.

Years ago, when my mobility wasn’t quite as limited I discovered Crivelli‘s painting of the Annunciation,with St. Emidius at National Gallery. With its crisp outlines, glassy, gleaming colours, and a city’s architecture encrusted with ornament, it is a strange painting. What fascinated me was the child witnessing the annunciation. I kept wondering what she saw (I chose to see a girl, although boys and girls probably wore the same clothes) from her shielded vantage point, what sense she made of it. Through the child’s presence something extra-ordinary becomes almost ordinary.

As a boy Alfred Brendel saw Hitler travel through Graz in an open car, with arm outstretched, the streets lined by cheering masses (see post 20/11/13). In Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will thousands of children raise their arms in unison for the Hitler Salute.

My father… My mother… My uncles and aunts… (My grandfather did not want my dad to join the Hitler Youth, but I can’t be sure if he joined after his death in 1939. I don’t think so but am wary of my motives.)

Austerlitz, in WG Sebald‘s book of the same name, wonders if objects remember us, bear witness to what we have forgotten. My sailor-suit inspired great tenderness in me, its frayed edges, the careful mends, the way the buttons are affixed. In these traces the suit holds something of its wearer(s)’ body, growth, movements, hints of the care shown him/them. That I can hold it in my hands 80 years later helps me follow and connect all kinds of threads. I still wish I had my dad’s though.

Its tears are like wounds, but really the fabric is just time- and care-worn. Something troubles me though. A sailor-suit carries meaning. It is a kind of fancy dress, even if worn daily, or as Sunday best (class and economic circumstances come in here). The words custom and costume have the same origin: silently, after 1870, a military orientation crept in. Am I going too far if I think that this was a place too where a kind of groundwork was laid very early towards warfare?

Walter Benjamin was photographed as a five year-old in Hussar-uniform (special occasion – see post 1/4/14) and wearing a sailor suit on normal days. In Jane Potter‘s Wilfried Owen. An Illustrated Life you can find several photographs of child Wilfried in sailor-suits, and a couple where he is dressed up as a small soldier, in one instance in a Hussar-uniform made for him by his mother.

Let me jump ahead now, pull at another thread, away from childhood where my sentimentality-alert-system can’t be trusted. I’ve been working on the images I’m posting today for a couple of months now, off and on, and find them hard to look at – I may come apart at my own seams. The reaction of the person I showed them to a couple of weeks ago made me realise that I’d found a way of letting my dad/myself express something of the effect war had on him. I’ll let them speak.


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Two weeks ago I went on a long planned art-outing with A., to see Matisse‘s cut-outs at Tate Modern. The two Tates are good places for me to visit as I can whizz about on one of their electro-scooters (why don’t other museums and galleries offer these?) and don’t have to rely on someone pushing me in a wheelchair. The exhibition is an absolute happy-maker, a lush spirit-lifting feast of form&colour and I wish I could pop in for a daily dose of undiluted pleasure.

Matisse made his cut-outs during and after the war, and you won’t be surprised I had an inner window open to the time. I mentioned to my startled friend that both Matisse’s wife Amélie (from whom he was separated) and daughter Marguerite had been active in the French Resistance and were arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. Amélie was jailed in Fresnes until Paris was liberated, Marguerite was tortured and finally put on a train to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women (and their children), with male and female guards. When Allied bombing stopped the train at the German border she was able to escape. That I felt compelled to tell my friend, at that moment, reminded me of my father: during the last years of his life he often would – during a meal or an unrelated conversation – suddenly make a remark about the war. And then stop… Of course where he was at times befallen by memories I have chosen to dig, to try to unearth. I have to admit though that my project has me tightly in its grips, and I take it wherever I go. My vision is both sharpened and blunted by this.

In a lovely twitter exchange with @SoniaBoue a while ago I wondered if memories ‘live in in-between spaces, bounded by nothing more than thin skin&tailspins’. On a day when fatigue fells me the formulation of a tweet may be my one creative act and I enjoy the challenge of whittling phrases down to just the right handful of words. Walk in truth and beauty, even when supine… Thinking of my dad and his often abrupt transfers to another place&time, makes me consider traumatic memory, which is even less bounded, bare of protective skins. I have nothing to remember, only to call up from what I’ve gleaned over the years, but my dad did and in the end couldn’t help it.

I told my friend about Amélie and Marguerite Matisse because these things hover at the edge of perception and because I’m learning more about how things connect, how the unseen/unknown touches the seen/known, how we teeter on brinks, borders, thresholds.

The German-Jewish painter Otto Freundlich, whose work was classified as ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis, lived and worked in Paris after 1925. At the beginning of the war he was interned as an enemy-alien by the French; released; arrested again by the Gestapo in 1943 and deported to Majdanek, where he was murdered. All these facts exist skin to skin, cheek by jowl. Matisse, who was cut into in 1941 and delights in his second life, lets form and colour fly; my 17year-old dad is happy to see the sites during his three days in occupied Paris (post#115) and brings home the picture postcards I found in his photo-album; Amélie types intelligence-reports for the resistance; Otto Freundlich is deported.

Terror and delight. The plethora of possible realities during war, and of responses, astounds me. Think of Jean Fautrier, whose sculpture Head of a Hostage has haunted me since I saw it years ago at Tate Modern. Because of his affiliation with a resistance group he too was arrested by the Gestapo (1943) and after he was freed stowed away at a mental hospital in the suburbs of Paris, where the screams of prisoners tortured and executed by the Nazis in a nearby forest could be heard. He made himself, his art, a witness.

I’m still electrified by having seen Matisse’s cut-outs – the corners of my mouth remain upwardly mobile! The work is both concentrated and unconstrained – his shapes may have spilled over from memories of healthier, saner and happier times, but it’s life-experience and sustained art-practice that allow his elderly hands to conjure such simple and sophisticated exuberance. The threads I spin from there have many hues. Nothing is innocent. Everything is connected.

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