Thursday, 30 October 2008

Last Post For Leo

Now I am no poet (and I know it) but here are some thoughts and feelings composed this morning while supposed to be doing the metta bavahna:

My garden is empty now

My garden is empty now
Like a deserted plain
No more shall I see you
Bound across the lawn with gay abandon
Legs in all directions as you charge
Into my heart.

My window ledge is empty now
Like a hole in my heart
No more shall I see your
Mischievous face looking in waiting
Patiently for me to come down the stairs
And let you in.

The seat by my side is empty now
Like a vacant parking space
No more shall I see you
Sleeping on your back with legs in the air
And slitted eyes watching my every move
As I try to pull at your tail.

My lap is empty now
Like a part of my body
Has been taken away
No more shall I stroke your willing head
And suffer your glare
When I stop for a moment.

My heart is empty now
Like a black hole
Heavy with sadness
No more shall we share our uncertain lives
Nor meet for the daily round
Of love and respect.

My garden is empty now.

And here is a small selection of the many photographs I took of Leo (most of them rubbish but kept just the same):

When First He Came To Stay:

The red collar was very short lived until I gave up and let him be the wildcat he was.

Chums on a Sunny Day in the Garden:

A bit out of focus but it shows right from the beginning that of all places he chose my lap to sit on.

Last Christmas:

He loved getting into boxes and bags. The mouse present was purely an aside. And anyway he gave me more gifts of mice than I can remember. Who will control them now?

How many days did we share in the studio? He would sit at the glazed door waiting patiently for me to let him in then dive up onto the table and into his own corner (top right) to sleep the afternoon away while I worked. This is the Master giving me some needy advice.
The Last Photograph I Took Just Last Week:

I've got a million photos of him sleeping like this. It never ceased to amaze me and I wouldn't have wanted him to be uncomfortable!
Goodbye my friend.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Dear Friends

It grieves me to have to tell you that as far as I can be certain Leo is dead and gone.

I duly phoned the Council yesterday morning and they confirmed it was a black&white cat that was removed but they also immediately incinerated his body. I understand their responsibility to do that quickly but I am angered they did not scan him for the record. I was told they do not have the time or the equipment to do so. I will write to the South Lanarkshire Council's Director of Land Services to express my dismay that they cannot make the time or have the small hand-held piece of equipment to scan what was obviously a family pet as a matter of standard proceedure. It may be a nuisance to them but it is of great importance to me and others who might lose their furry friend and not know what happened.

I still look for him at the window.

Monday, 27 October 2008


And I'm not talking about the cat!

He's gone out of my life about as quickly as he came into it. He's been gone now for four full days and I can hardly do anything except look for his mischievous wee face at the window waiting to get in (I never installed a cat-flap because I knew he would bring in daily conquests so he had to sit on the window ledge waiting, patiently to get in). Perhaps that's why he left?

But I haven't given up on him: So far I've got the local shop owner to put up a small poster asking for anyone who sees him to give me a call; I've also been round the local neighbourhood handing out leaflets and asking if anyone has seen him would they also give me a call (they all know this cat because he regularly passes through their gardens on his travels, or sits under bushes waiting for unsuspecting birdies). Apart from the one cat hater I spoke to who would chase him, all my other neighbours were as concerned as me about his welfare. It took me a whole morning to go round them with all their own stories of missing cats! So not only is Leo now a celebrity but I've become the local idiot who's life seems to revolve around a pussy-cat!

After checking round my own patch lest he was lying injured under the shrubery I phoned Leo's first family (that's how I know his name is Leo and not really Toots {which is the name I gave her before I took her to the vet worried that I would end up with a litter of kittens, only to be told she was a boy!} - that's me: man of the world who can't tell the difference, ha!). Apparently Leo had turned up at their house three months ago, been fed, and disappeared again - back to my house! Obviously he has done this before - wandering off to ingratiate himself with another soft-touch family who will pet him stupid. So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised he's gone again.
I got two telephone calls yesterday: the first from a lady down the street saying she saw him wander through her garden. Out I went hoping that it was him, but no, it was an all black, long-hair and not my bold boy. The second call was from his previous family saying they were sure they saw him last night, but, again, when I got there no sign.

This is my wee pal giving me the eye as I try to photograph him for 'Cat' magazine or 'Cosmopolitan' or 'Time'.

Today I called the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA, of which I am a supporter) to register his disappearance in the hope that if he is reported as injured, handed in, or even killed, they will get to know about it and reading his "chip" will contact me. Nothing recorded yet.

What more can I do except walk the streets looking?

I've been giving this a lot of thought (obviously!) and it seems to me whatever his reasons for leaving I can only hope that it is by his own choice. I always recognised his free spirit (that's largely what I liked about him) and perhaps knew one day he would leave. He came into my life during a very low and dark period (J was ill and I had no-one to share my deepest thoughts) and quickly he became my pal (feeding him chewies might have had something to do with it, you think?). But it seems to me that in life we hate change and try to hang on to the status quo when, in fact, life constantly changes around us (nothing is permanent) and we either resist this change in circumstances and struggle, or we embrace the change and move forward. I don't want to move forward without Leo - but I may have to.

Latest update: Tonight, just as I was sitting down to dinner, I got a call from the daughter of one of my neighbours who lives close by in another area telling me of a dead cat lying in the street close to her house. I immediately set of to see for myself (I need to know either way). It was gone. I knocked the nearest door and spoke to the guy who firstly phoned the SSPCA, and then phoned the Council. He confirmed it was black&white and they must have removed it. J was in tears when I returned, but I am more positive: I will phone the Council in the morning and we will try to determine if it was Leo or not. My mixed-feeling hope is that it was another B&W who roamed that area - a cat with an endearing startled look on his face, but definitely not Leo.

We shall know tomorrow (I hope).

I'm sorry there is no arwork to talk about but I can't.

Friday, 24 October 2008


A fragmented day. Whoever said only women can multi-task got it completely wrong. My mind has been in at least six places all day.
Firstly (and most importantly), the cat: it's not unusual for Leo not to turn up in the morning, but he is usually there at the window at least by mid-day. No sign of him. And still at half-past-eight this evening still no sign of him. Not like him at all. Eight o'clock is his sweetie-time. Either he's copped his whack under the wheels of a car (which I don't believe because he is very fast indeed), or someone is keeping him. I wouldn't blame them for Leo is one good looking feline. But HE IS MINE! LET HIM GO!!!!
Secondly, painting: Hard to concentrate today. Attempting to push my boundaries a little further (while at the same time continuously looking out of the studio door hoping to see il mio gatto sitting patiently for me, waiting to get in) working on pastel images and acrylic paintings of abstracted fragments straight from my subconscious. No thinking - just doing. Responding intuitively with a bunch of colours in my hand [see images below].
Thirdly: the new boiler is acting up - it frequently "locks-out" which means when hot water is required it fails to ignite and warning lights come on requiring re-setting. I am unable to induce this to happen and find myself watching it for ages so I can catch it 'in flagrante' so to speak. No luck - it apparently knows when I am observing it - but there it goes again just when I turn away! Bandit (to put it mildly)!
Fourthly: I've had to get two new front tyres for my car this morning before the winter sets in properly since those on the front are too close to the limit (oh what fun sitting in the garage waiting room trying to read a newspaper and ignore the numpties on day-time telly who expose their miserable lives to the world {she wants to give her ex-con, pot-smoking, lazy-bastard of a live-in boyfriend, and father of her three children who he couldn't give a damn about, another chance after he has cheated on her for an EIGHTH time!!!! [and not only is he unintelligible when he speaks but more than half of it is bleeped out to save my delicate ears] I think: when the hell will my tyres be ready and where the hell is my cat! Important things, ye'know?
Fifthly: trying to break in these new Timberland clod-hoppers to wear with my kilt at tomorrow night's ceilidh {one of The Mandolin Boys (big Alan) is getting hitched and there will be a party with no holds barred!} [so if there are no postings for a few days you will know the reason why!] It's pure agony and a bit distracting. So don't tell me about multi-tasking - ma heid, as well as ma feet, 's about burstin'!
Sixthly: Had to go to the clinic to get my annual flu jab but when I presented myself at Reception was told I was a whole week too early! See what happens? As they say in these parts: "Auld age disnae come alane!" What with the failing eyesight, loss of memory, and the bad back!
Which brings me neatly to my abstracts:

Neocolour II on paper, 21x15cm: "Fragments #1"; started by randomly drawing patches of colour and binding them together. A kind of loosening-up exercise, but too stiff for where I want to go.

Neocolour II on paper, 21x15cm: "Fragments #3"; Now we're whistlin' Dixie! Without boundaries these fragments leapt out onto the page.

Neocolour II on paper, 21x15cm: "Fragments #5"; Using a technique here suggested by Melinda - burnishing the Neocolours with a moistened pad, which of course fills in the white gapos between my pastel strokes. I can see uses for this, so thanks Melinda!

Neocolour II on paper, 21x15cm: "Fragments #8": This one struck me as being not too unlike Monet's lily-pond with reflections of the sky and some dark structure. You can purchase this from me for, oh, about £2million? Done - sold to the lady with the lost look on her face!

Neocolour II on paper, 28x20cm: "Last of the Nasturtiums"; Gazing out of the studio window waiting for you-know-who to turn up I see these nasturtiums desparately clinging on to some life when they should in fact be consigned to the compost bin. So I give them one last hurrah. Hurrah!
But still no sign of Leo :o(
Oh, and the bad back? When I stand for long periods at the easel my back starts to give me gyp. So now I'm doing my work sitting on the floor. Ok till one of them big tarantula spiders scurries on by. I wouldn't mind too much but it's the disdainfull look on it's face when it stops to see what I'm doing. Cheeky bandit!
And still no sign of Leo :o((((

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Infinity Vortex

Usually I stumble about, each day bringing fresh challenges (which is the same for all of us) and then I have rare moments of clarity (which might be the same for some of us).

It's a strange world.

This is the last of my Subconscious Musings for the present: ([{I've forgotten what number I'd gotten to, so we'll just call it SM#Infinity}]) Nothing special except it brings that series to a close:

Neocolour II on paper, 30x25cm: "Vortex";

Now I can move on.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Beast

Now that I've got your undivided attention with this Hammer Horror title I'm sorry to have to let you down. The real subject of this posting is this most wonderful mandolin player:
Alison Stephens :

Last Friday I travelled south from Glasgow with two of my mandolinista compatriots, Billy and Ian (and laughed all the way!) to the Borders town of Biggar to see and hear young Alison give a recital in "The Aroma" cafe as part of the Biggar Little Arts Festival. The cafe was packed and expectant for this young woman is credited as being one of the very best mandolin players in Britain, if not the world. And, you've guessed it, we were not dissappointed. She has an easy and personable manner gently interpersing history and facts about the mandolin with the most sublime pieces of real music you can ever hope to hear. This is the woman who played for the soundtrack of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and while many pieces were which she called "soft and fluffy", she also played what I would call "High Classical" with such dexterity and confidence, all from memory, I was mesmerised. I can never hope to achieve these dizzy heights in my playing since I know I've started far too auld but I was lost for an afternoon in the company of an attentive audience and wonderful live music.
Which all made up for the interminable traffic jams on the way there and on the way home.
Above is the sketch I made from many half-glimpses through the ears of the big chap who sat in front of me. Alison very graciously signed it for me.
Oh, and "The Beast" was the name she gave to her Octave Mandolin which was about the size of a full-scale guitar.
Wee lassie, big mandolin - rock on!

Friday, 10 October 2008

I Like a Challenge!

Having had a good few days to consider what exactly happened with my unsuccessful attempt at getting accepted as an Artist Member of the Paisley Art Institute (PAI), and now that my chin has lifted back up to about chin level (with the help of multi-coloured braces), I have come to some conclusions {with more than a little help from my friends around the globe} which will help me understand where I went wrong and what I’m going to do about it:
1. Although my confidence was high, and I thought Mother Universe was sending me a positive message by plonking the call for new Artist Members on my doormat, I unthinkingly jumped into that application far too quickly. I had a choice - whether to do nothing and let it slide (as usual), or get my act together and have a go. I should have recognised I really wasn’t ready for this year. Ho-hum!
2. In retrospect I know I should have already been submitting paintings over the last few years into the PAI’s annual exhibition until I started getting some accepted [I have had drawings accepted before but never a painting] then after a few years applied for Artist Membership. I got it arse for elbow!
3. Instead of submitting a range of drawings and paintings I should have kept a much narrower focus that showed consistency. A flower watercolour, a charcoal portrait drawing, and a figure painting in oils was obviously too diverse. Now this takes me back to my second solo exhibition I held in 2002 where I had got together 37 diverse pieces, all properly framed. I remember the gallery owner saying how great he thought it was but it did look like a mixed exhibition! Ha! - will I never learn?
4. While I might think my work is the bee’s knees, in the cold light of day I can see that my painting technique needs to improve. I can only do that by working harder (slap about the head!).
5. My choice of framing was poor. I thought I could get away with cobbling a few different frames together and I can see now that was a big mistake. Whether I like it or not, the PAI is looking for better presentation with quality framing. I know this, so why didn’t I do it? - Idiocy, that’s why! (I hope you guys out there are also learning from this!)
6. I do not know anyone in the Paisley Art Institute, and they don’t know me because even as a Lay Member I have missed their AGM for the last couple of years. What do I expect? So if I want to do this I need to make more of an effort and try to get to know them better by continuing as a Lay Member and being seen.
7. I suspect not having a Fine Art degree is a hindrance but there’s nothing I can, or will, do about that.

Now whether I ultimately try again next year or not, there is no doubt in my mind that sitting here today I have two options:
1. Accept defeat and give up on it.
2. Consider it as a challenge and work for a year towards re-application.

The first option may appear to be the easiest - I just try to put it out of my mind and carry on the way I have been going, jumping about from one project to another. Unfortunately on this road lies perdition: I fail to make proper or sustained progress.

I know instinctively that Option 1 is not an option for me, or at least shouldn’t be. It will always be there at the back of my mind, gnawing away, as a constant sense of failure.
The second option is, on the face of it, much harder and with no guarantee of a positive outcome, but if I choose Option 2 what is the worst that can happen? I make better use of this coming year and create and develop a better quality of work which, properly framed, makes me stand a chance IF I CHOOSE to apply again. In other words - there is no harm in it, and most definitely a lot of good.
So there - I have talked myself into it and relish the challenge. Option 2 it is. Tally-ho!

But how do I illustrate this post? (because I know you have all dropped off ...yawn...reading this...yawn again…epistle..wishing there was something interesting to look at 'cause reading more than two words is awfu', awfu' hard). So, I’m going to finish off with my penultimate subconscious musing:

Neocolour II on paper, 40x30cm: "Curl"; I am very keen to pursue some sort of abstract painting but I recognise the love and enjoyment I get from figurative work, so the task I set myself is somehow to combine them. Not much to ask, so I've got a lot of thinking to do, and a lot of work ahead of me. I hope you won't be bored with the journey I have now set off on! Join me in my Great Big Adventure!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Poor wee bugger - today started out great for my little feline friend, with the sun shining and the birds singing (watch out - he's got his slitty yellow eye on you!), but took a rapidly downward turn around lunchtime when I evily enticed him into the house with the promise of sweety-chewies, bundled him in to his carry-box (after a short wrestling match - two falls, two submissions and a knock-out!) then into the car for an horrendous mile trip along to the vetinarians to get him a jag up the bum and chipped to tell the world he belongs to me! It's his own fault for adopting me: if he didn't like getting petted so much and fed every day and treated to his sweety-chewies every night then he could go somewhere else to live and get none of these expressions of unconditional love. Still, he's a poor wee bugger. He came home and flaked out on the living-room floor for half-an-hour obviously traumatised from his Great Big Adventure! (he mieows in the car all the way there and all the way back again - it would break my heart if I had one, ha!) And there he is - out for the count on the sofa still having nightmares of fighting dogs in the waiting room and pointy needles in the scruff of the neck:

Oils on board, 40x30cm: "Recovery Position"; But he's a survivor. After sleeping the afternoon away he was right as rain and out to the back garden again to take up where he left off: hunting unsuspecting wee birdies. It's a cruel world!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Bums Rush!

This is painful for me (and calls for extra lashings of vino colapso) but you might as well share my tribulations as well as my joys.
The Big Submission I was being so coy and secretive about was my application to become an Artist Member of the Paisley Art Institute (PAI) which, you will gather from the title of this piece, was unsuccessful.
I have been a lay member of this organisation for some time and when the latest newsletter came through my door intimating that new Artist Membership was about to be considered I decided that rather than let the opportunity pass by I was feeling confident enough to submit the following drawing and two paintings (suitably framed):

Now I know it's difficult for any of you to pass any real qualitative judgement on what you see as cyber images but I felt that these were generally indicative of the work I do - a broad range (within the limitation of three) of bold watercolours, strong pencil drawings, and dynamic figurative painting. Alas not what is acceptable to the Paisley Art Institute.
I do not really understand why I was rejected (pours another drink). Either it has something to do with the raw nature of my work (West of Scotland Art currently tends to be pretty smooth) or my framing was inadequate: I wasn't prepared to splash out on all new custom framing hoping the artwork would speak for itself so I re-used a professional double-mounted black frame for the sunflowers, an off-the-shelf beech frame for the drawing (this would have cost me a fortune to get my framer to do at this size), and a self-made stripwood edging, painted white, for the oil painting. I thought they each looked great, and was pretty pleased, but obviously my taste is in my bahookie! (pours another drink).

Where to now?

This is undoubtably a bit of a set-back for me, but as my grannie used to say: "Whit's fur ye (for you) will no go bye ye".

Looks like the PAI wisnae fur me!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Ye Thocht Ah'd Bin Murdered....

....but luckily I survived!

I'm pleased to say that I took Melanie's advice and hoovered like my life depended on it and boy was she right! I just passed inspection by the skin o' ma teeth! I'd like to report that I've been "off air" canoodeling and making up for a whole weeks separation from my paramour, but (sadly) that's only the half of it! There's been a few other goings-on that have kept me away from the keyboard: Principally, the Plumber (and his Mate) have been wreaking havoc on our household, ripping up floorboards and knocking huge holes in the wall to fit a new combi-boiler and four new radiators (Part II of our energy-saving strategy). Bloody hell what a mess! It's been like downtown Bagdad before the 'surge'. It might be OK for them to spend their working days like demolition contractors but we have to work like the devil to recover our household into some semblance of order after they have gone (laughing with wads of money in their hands!). But as the dust settles we can see that it has indeed been worth it (although it might take me another fortnight to work out how this new heating programmer works!)

We did get one nights relief from heating contractors when we went out to an excellent concert with Mick West Trio at East Kilbride Arts Centre. Singing traditional folk music they brought a new perspective to old and new Scottish tunes. Mick has an amazingly rich voice and a brilliant sense of the romantic in his renditions of songs by Robert Burns. A lovely night which I can only support and applaud with these mediocre pencil sketches in a small sketchbook:

The man himself: a big lad with a big, beautiful, rich voice.

Mick with one of his accompanyists, Steve Laurence, on the five-string guitar, who also played Bazooka. Top-class playing!

Then there was Frank McLoughlan on guitar and the Scottish Sma' Pipes:
These guys were great, but beforehand there were some other 'folkies' doing their thing to get us in the mood:

A good night out. There is nothing (to my mind) to beat live music from top-class performers.