Invasion Of The Black Sludge


I wasn’t going to write anything this morning. As consciousness seeped in, as my eyes wondered whether to remain clam tight and ignore my stirring body, I felt the black sludge enveloping my brain. I know it can’t always be rainbows, pixie dust and unicorns in there all the time, but why do we get the thick, choking black sludge seeping in, slowly and inexorably covering everything in its path? Its progression all the more devastating when life has been so bright before its return.

As with anything and everything my mind won’t just sit back and accept, it has to question and question like a nagging toddler. What is happening in my life? What have I done to trigger this, what have my thoughts been, what foods have I eaten? What exercise have I or have I not done? Always I want a reason, an explanation, and, of course, a solution. 

Most of all I wonder why this black sludge is so prevalent throughout our species. It seems to exist in every corner of every mind, an alien being spawned centuries ago, lying dormant until the time is right, until enough keys are in place ready to unlock its cell door and release it to gradually, slowly and sludgely  take over the world.

Do, we accept it as part of the human condition? Do we just keep black and carry on, as I was raised to do? Do we medicate it away? Is it ok to fight it with chemicals rather than constant tiring sneaky tactics of diversion and subversion? I don’t know. And I think that’s my weakness, that is when the black sludge knows it can seep in and take over. The soft under belly is exposed. When my mind is distracted by not knowing, when it is busy trying to work out how it can zap someone else’s black sludge, when it is confused, with no easy solution, desperately wanting and needing to do something, anything to help, when the body is busy fighting its own viral battle and starts feeling weak, that fucking sneaky beaky black sludge always senses, always spots the advantage.

Maybe this is Armageddon? Maybe the world truly won’t end with a bang, but with a black, sludgey, choked whimper of given up hope?

Ok, that’s enough, I’m not sinking down. That fucking stinky dark foul sticky slime is NOT going to take over. It is NOT going to dominate me, or anyone else I love. I will not lie back and allow it to gradually fossilise this body, this brain. I have fought it before, and I will fight it again. I have my own sneaky ninja methods, my own trip wires and traps. I DO have knowledge, and experience. I have fought it before, and I have won, am constantly winning, and now I need to teach my child, my children, my loved ones, I need to help them devise their own ninja tricks, help them create their own armour, to realise it is an ongoing war, not a lightning battle.

We can always cue the A Team music, we always have tools to hand, a workshop of supplies, and, if we are lucky, a team of like minded idiots around us willing to make whatever is needed. 

So… Cue music, let’s get to work…







Fill the beast’s belly with fuel, strike the match and watch the hunger satiate itself, greedily licking, consuming, starting to roar, demanding more sustenance. Kneeling, I obey, slowly and carefully feeding the flames, starting the process, the ritual carried out by every generation that has lived, ritual stretching back to the raw, basic elemental yearnings of ancestral ghosts. The metal beast grumpily cooperates, as I coax it with more treats, it shivers and sends the flames higher to do their job, warming its water filled jacket, stimulating the lifeless liquid to action. It’s time, the ritual has started. My body is cold, tired from just living. The air has a crunchiness that rubs at my skin. I feed the flames and hear the reassuring grumble of the boiler filling up, percolating hot into cold, working hard to fulfil its role in the service.

I wait, patience has become a necessity when choosing the ancient ways. Yes we could install the shiny and the new…just flick a switch and see instant results as we turn on the taps..but where is the connection, the raw feelings, the ritual?

It is time. I move to the inner sanctuary, to complete the next stage. Taps are turned, the magic is released with a long held exhalation of steam. The air is cool, rapidly creating a misty cloak, lingering and caressing as the warmth gradually starts to spread.

The ritual continues as bottles are assembled, thoughtfully selected to dispense their healing balm, to treat the aches, dispel the worries. Golden, viscous and sensuously scented, the oil drops into the warm depths, dispersing its medicine, its soothing, scented essence. Fingers trace the oil through the warmth, and confirm the anticipated question. Yes, it is time.

Gown drops from shoulders, chilly toes tentatively test, slowly dive deeper and invite the body to follow. A sigh escapes from gently upturned lips, warmth encloses the bones, silken and scented, the caressing liquid wraps velvet over curves, smoothing and soothing. 

The ritual is complete.




Tourists and bird shit.

Or… A rainy afternoon in the Lake District.


We decided to investigate the local marina near the campsite.

Although we had visited once before we had never ventured towards the town, just out into the empty, wild and beautiful hills, where the people were few and the skies were immense. Today the skies were low and grey, mist pockets of rain drifting horizontally across the murky lake surface, 50 shades of grey enveloping us in the least erotic sense. Rain washed our faces and drips fell on noses…not a few of my favourite things at all.

Businesses perched on the edge of the water, shouting and flashing their over priced, never realised you needed it until now, goods; or food and drink that will strip your wallet and disappoint your senses. And everywhere, everywhere there are tourists and bird shit.

Tourists queue for the soggy boat rides, hoods pulled low over eyes, shoulders cranked up to ear level, hands deep in pockets, faces miserable but determined to do what they set out to do.

Birds, so many birds, hang around the quay, mingle amongst the tourists in constant hope, Victorian street urchins hoping for a crumb. This is their domain, they don’t move out of the way as the human traffic drives past, they just strut around and shit everywhere, marking their territory, besmirching the tourist pathways with their badge of ownership.

The rain coalesces into squally gusts, diminishing our field of vision until it is a grey blend, a blur of human and avian forms. There is no beauty for us here, no exhilaration at the wonders of nature, no sudden exhale at the immensity of a mountain or the rich pattern of a forest. Nope, there are just tourists and bird shit.

We return to the van.




When art goes wrong…


I woke up and felt different, I lay for a while, scanning my body, my thoughts, wondering where the change lay. The events of yesterday lined up to be inspected and the suspect was instantly recognisable. My latest painting, the canvas I have been working on for a week…it was guilty, the cause of this unsettled nagging feeling, the worm of doubt burrowing deep. I don’t like it. I don’t like my latest painting. I woke up, and instead of being impatient to pick up the brush, I was inwardly groaning at the thought of battling my way insistently through the process of trying. Trying to make it work, trying to grasp the elusive wisp, the little mischievous Sprite that dances around the canvas and gives it that air of satisfaction, of completion, of ‘just rightness’ .

This is a surprisingly rare feeling for me, I am so used to the process of creating being the thrilling slide of a helter skelter ( my iPad wanted to make that heater skeleton 😂) a helter skelter ride…start from one point, knowing exactly where you will end up, a few twists and turns, but a rapid ride to your inevitable destination, and an adrenaline fuelled sense of satisfaction and closure.
But this is not happening today, I have got stuck half way down. It has happened before, but usually on something in my sketchbook that hasn’t gone quite right, or has bored me…so I just turned the page and started something new.

Why haven’t I done that already with this painting? Oh, I know why, and it’s almost text book psychology 101. I can see the opening paragraph of chapter 2 entitled “performance anxiety” . It would read thus…

” When an artist goes public with their work the natural spontaneity of the creative process gets caught in the spotlight of an imagined public gaze. All previous methods of creating freeze into fear ridden lumpy awkward movements, fumbles, where before there were caresses, teeth clashing, where before there were tender butterfly kisses. The pressure of performance causes a once passionate, pleasurable act of joy and creation to become a mumbled apology of disappointment and shame.”

My stubborn inner artist raises her head, disturbed by the clamour of frustration. “This will not do” she frowns. She surveys the scene of despondency and apathetic despair and sets to work. ” Come on,” says she ” Time to work this out” And hauls me to the tiny screen, almost places my hands on the keyboard and waits, hands sternly on hips, until I reluctantly and sulkily start tapping out the words, the words that will tumble around and around until they stand to attention and show me what I need to know…

Every artist goes through this, every artist has abandoned canvases that don’t work, poems that didn’t scan, books that refused to tell their story. It is not a waste of time or paint or money or ink, it is an experience that has moved you forward in your craft, lessons have been learned that may not surface for years. It is time to shrug and sigh, turn the canvas to the wall and move on. Forget about the watching public, the imagined audience. They don’t really exist, they’re too busy with their own lives, their own failures and successes. So sigh some more sweet artist, take down your sketchbook and go and play, return to the tender caresses that you know work for you. Not every performance has to be earth shatteringly amazing, oftentimes the quiet, simple act of self love and comfort is all you need. Turn to it now and enjoy the process once more, find the love, find the thrill.