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Life with Lavendar in London town

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Georgia O'Keeffe

When I hear the words, Georgia O'Keeffe, I think of flowers.  Big, voluminous, wafty flowers. I try not to think of the other theme (that starts with the letter 'v' and rhymes with 'angina' ) that is associated with her work but I'm afraid I do.

'Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1' (1932)

I have nothing against flowers and bones and the arid New Mexico landscape which features so heavily in Ms O'Keeffe's work. But the real reason I am drawn to her art is  the force of personality which was required to make it. It is tough now to make it as a creative artist and I imagine that during the early 1900s it was tougher still for a woman to stake her claim as an artist and make a living from it.

I am drawn to O'Keeffe's work because I am intrigued by her life.

Therefore when a friend asked me if I would like to attend the Georgia O'Keeffe retrospective at the Tate Modern, I was game. I had never seen an O'Keeffe painting in real life and was curious to learn more about her.

On the day of our excursion, we were four school mums who had met courtesy of our kids attending the same school. Our other commonality was a shared interest in the creative arts. Dropping our kinder off, we felt free and easy as we travelled to the Tate in our sandals and summer clothing. It was the hottest London day so far of the year; a fitting atmosphere through which to view paintings of bones bleached white by the sun and the blues and reds of the desert. One of our party was knowledgeable in art history and gave us a background brief on how the relationship between O'Keeffe and Alfred Steglitz  had helped O'Keeffe as an artist.

'From the Faraway, Nearby'

The retrospective once we arrived was extensive and thorough. It guided us through sequential phases of O'Keeffe's life as an artist and the influences in each period.  Her flowers were blousy and beautiful; vivid in the way I had imagined them to be but it was her work at Lake George which resonated most with me. The cool, calm and serene images were a balm to my senses on a hot London day. Below was my favourite painting from the exhibition:

'Lake George' (1922)

Paintings not withstanding, I was equally drawn to photos of O'Keefe displayed throughout. Even as a young woman, her face gave nothing and everything away at the same time. It had a proper, 'don't fuck me with me look about it.'  Most of all, I liked the photos of O'Keefe as an older woman going about her life in New Mexico. Her face looks worn in and etched, as if the artist herself had chosen the patchwork of lines which decorated it.


Afterwards as we walked back out into the sunshine and made our way to lunch, O'Keefe's face was still in the forefront of my mind.

I wonder what Georgia O'Keefe would have looked like as a four year old?  I mused aloud.

She would have looked like an old lady, came the reply. She was born looking like an old lady.

It's true that some faces take a lifetime to grow into. Georgia O'Keefe had ninety-eight years to do so and in that time, she gave us her work and her life.

It's an inspiration to all of us with old faces.

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Tate ModernJuly 6 - October 30, 2016
Bankside, London, SE1 9TG


Thursday, 21 July 2016


It's Dragon's last day of school today.  Her first year at school is soon to be over and I find myself unexpectedly emotional. Maybe it was wrapping the large quantities of alcohol I had purchased for her teachers that did me in. Thinking about all they have done for her in the past year. Or maybe it was the epic meltdown she had yesterday due to her sadness at school finishing. Or maybe it is the fact that time is flying and she is growing up.

Dragon's first school year has been a big eye opener for me and the Husband. We have discovered the meaning of a 'school community.' We have met and gotten to know our neighbours because our kids all go to the same school. I have embraced the mum's Whatsapp or Facebook messaging chat group phenomenom. I drink more coffee than I thought possible during mum coffee catchups. I have a new collective of small people who I can chat with just as easily as their parents. I have met some great people who I like as people, not just because we are all parents. In a place like London, it is rare to find this type of solid community and so we embrace it.

Reflecting on all that has happened within the last year has made me think about the politics of parenting or, parolitics. When Dragon was a baby and I was venturing out into new playgroups, baby meetups, activity days, it dawned on me that negotiating your way through the world of parenting is a political act. In fact, I wrote a short piece about it during Dragon's first year:

There are many secrets to parenthood. Things that remain unspoken and once experienced are tucked away, not for discussion. Once the baby is here, it is too late. You have opened the door to the other room, and the room within that. On a good day, this exposure feels infinite, sublime even. On a bad day, endless.

You discover these secrets, one by one but you don’t speak of them, or rarely, for there is some social contract it seems, which forbids us to speak truthfully about becoming a parent.

Once you become a parent, you become a politician.  Parenting is political. Friendships may crumble. Allegiances change over cloth or plastic nappies. Your new parent friends believe in the death penalty and vote for UKIP but it doesn’t matter because your kids are friends and playdates take priority over execution.

Who am I?

Where do you draw the line in this new world of relationships lived through your offspring?Unwittingly you are bound to this group of men and women whose children will be invited to your home for playdates and birthday parties. Whose faces you will recognise over time from pick-up and drop offs at the school gate. These people are your people now.

This is your parenting community.

Is this what you choose? Not necessarily. If you had a choice, you would choose your old-life friends. But they have disappeared from your daily life for they are far away, geographically or philosophically. Some old-life friends become unrecognisable once they have children. Some return, as do you, to a semblance of your former self but some are lost forever; their identities forsaken in the fog of parenting.

Friends without offspring miss you too. Some cut you loose. This is devastating.

‘I am not a leper,‘ you think, ‘but I am a shape-shifter.’

I have grieved the loss of friendship due to children. No-one speaks of this but it happens. 

Five years in, I am still earning my stripes as a parent. But I have ventured far from those early days where I struggled to make sense of the incongruencies inherent within parenting life. Nowadays I love the contradictions. I don't need to understand the whys and wherefores as much anymore. It just is the way it is. I like this new world order, far more than I ever thought I would. 

It's reassuring to be surprised by your own life on occasion. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

A Year in Books with Heywood Hill and the Beaumont Hotel

Books and Art Deco decor are two things in life which merge quite seamlessly. Like smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or caviar and blinis, I find the two are mutually complementary. For example, I post this blog whilst sitting here, which is infinitely more appealing than in Starbucks where I also go to write:

The American Bar @ the Beaumont Hotel

A few years ago, Husband and I had dinner at the Colony Grill; a restaurant in the then newly opened Beaumont Hotel run by restauranteur duo, Corbin and King.  Husband was already a devotee of the Delaunay where he has breakfast at least once a week and we had also dined at the Wolseley and Brasserie Zedel. We always enjoyed the art deco luxe in their establishments in addition to the straight forward menus and attention to detail. So when we found out that they had opened the Beaumont, we hotfooted it there and found the same consistent attention to detail, luxurious interiors and lack of snootiness.

I love this place, I breathed to the Husband as I wafted out of their public restrooms, quite possibly the most gorgeous public restroom I had ever used.   I could sleep in that toilet.

Possibly worried I would do so, the Husband purchased for me as an anniversary gift the package called, A Year in Books that the hotel is offering in conjunction with Heywood Hill bookshop. This package allows for one night stay at the Beaumont and a special consultation meeting with Heywood Hill who then send you one book a month over the course of a year.

As I had recently quit my job, I decided to commence unemployed life by cashing in on my stay. After all, who needs an income when you have Art Deco? I found a selection of books in my room for me to peruse:

Team with the theme. Books a la 20s

Immediately I wanted to stash three of the titles in my luggage and 'forget' to take them out again. But I guess this is called stealing.** I was impressed by the range of titles for they were all books I would read. I looked forward to my visit to Heywood Hill. But before that, I luxuriated in my hotel room. Consistent with my prior experience with the public bathroom,  my very own bathroom was beautiful too. Luckily for my back, I also had a bed to sleep in.

My dream bathroom

When I arrived at the bookshop later that day, I saw that it is a blue plaque building. Turns out Nancy Mitford was a shop assistant here in the forties:

Step inside book lovers. You won't be disappointed

Once inside, I was placed in the capable hands of Karin, the staff member who would be deciding which twelve books I would be receiving over the next year. We had a chat about what kinds of books and genres I like and dislike. What my interests and inspirations are and why I was subscribing to the package at all.  After our chat, I knew that Karin is an angel from Book Heaven and has one of the best jobs in the world. Lucky lady.

How was the bookshop? my Husband asked me later on.

Imagine going into the wand shop in Harry PotterSlightly ramshackle and completely charming. The air is thick with words and books and the staff are book aficionados in that they seem to live and breath books. All books. I could live there.

The Husband laughed. We're back to that again are we?

But I am serious. I really would.

** I asked if I could buy one of the books from my room and they gave it to me compliments of the hotel. What's not to love about the Beaumont. Class act.

The Beaumont Hotel, 8 Balderton Street, Brown Hart Gardens, W1K 6TF 

Heywood Hill, 10 Curzon Street, W1J 5HH

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Can I Have a Biscuit?

After weeks of post referendum uncertainty, Theresa May has by default, become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

I remember Ms May from her time as Home Secretary. I remember the headlines she made with her stance on immigration (anti people), her push for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (anti people)  and her position on legalising adoption for gay couples (anti people). Apart from that, I don't really know that much about her.

Yesterday was a critical moment in UK history. The youngest ever UK Prime Minister to take pension spoke his last speech outside Downing Street flanked by his wife and kids. Afterwards, the second only woman to hold office as Prime Minister spoke her first speech under the gaze of her husband, and the world.

The BBC were broadcasting May's drive to Downing Street when Dragon and I got home yesterday. We were both tired, bedraggled from being caught in the rain on our way back. Dragon wanted her dinner but it would have to wait. History was being made as we shrugged out of our raincoats and switched on the TV.

Look, I told her as we watched Cameron approach the lectern. That's the old Prime Minister. He's leaving.

We listened as Cameron listed all the amazing things he claimed to have done; most remarkably his belief that Britain was now stronger than ever before. After that I saw his mouth move on the screen but only heard:


Which was probably what five year old Dragon heard too, for all the sense it made.

Then it was May's turn.

Is that the new one? asked Dragon

Yes. Let's listen to what she has to say.

Theresa May launches herself on the world at large

Maybe the media buzz of her being the second Thatcher had affected me for when May spoke, I had expected a graver, more imperious tone. May's pitch was warbly and thin. Not that that stopped her getting her message across. The speech she gave was strong and centrist. Her speech reached out through the media and slapped the world in the face.

Wake up, she seemed to say. I am here and here I am. 

I was left in no doubt that here was a person determined to make her mark as PM. She seemed a force to be reckoned with,. She seemed like a leader.

It was only a speech though and May's real reckoning is yet to come. I have my fingers crossed.

What did you think? I asked Dragon who had been riveted to the broadcast.

Good, was her conclusion, Can  I have a biscuit?

Which seemed as apt a summary as any.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Writers Retreat at The Clockhouse

Last weekend I went on a writers retreat at The Clockhouse which is a part of The Hurst; one of several writers centres in the UK run by Arvon.

Located in the Shropshire countryside, I had no idea of what to expect upon arrival. I had never been to any type of retreat before and had only signed onto this one as it was a birthday gift from the Husband. That said, I welcomed the opportunity to step away from domestic duties and a frenzied London reeling from the Brexit aftermath. I also had a creative project on the boil; a children's book which was in need of attention and time.

The Clockhouse is set up as a self-serviced writers retreat for four people. You go there for uninterrupted time to WRITE. There are no workshops or tutors. Each person has their own apartment with en-suite. The communal kitchen and dining areas are stocked with delicious, locally sourced meals and produce. Wine is provided via an honesty system. The shared lounge space has a log burner and bookshelves stuffed with books. There is no television and limited Wi-Fi. Outside are gorgeous woodland tracks to explore when you need to step away from your desk.

Below are some pictures I took during my time there:

The Clockhouse

View of Clockhouse from the Hurst

Woods, for when you can't write anymore.

Accompanying me during the retreat were three other women. During our time together, we spent a lot of time discussing writing (and life) over cups of tea or glasses of wine. They all had works in various stages of development and it was incredibly affirming to discuss writing with people who could empathise. This was definitely the highlight of the retreat for me; the ability to engage with fellow struggling writers who understood the daily challenges and intangible rewards of the writing life. I realised this is not something I get in my life and made a mental note to try and join a writers group ASAP!

I don't know whether it was the delicious food I gorged myself on, the company of interesting writers, the tranquil nature surrounds or the absolute lack of  any distractions, but when the retreat was finished, I had completed far more work than I had expected to. And was also far more relaxed than I had been in a long while.

Ted Hughes, one of the early proponents of Arvon is quoted on their website as saying:

The Arvon Method has hit on the precise formula, the precise 'Open Sesame', needed to crack the shell and release the hidden creative energy.

He's right. Whatever the elixir is that Arvon uses to prompt writers to write was in full flow during the retreat. I enjoyed it immensely and will return.

Arvon Foundation, 60 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3GA

Saturday, 2 July 2016

March for Europe

Today London marches to protest the results of the Brexit referendum.  Over the past week, the world has watched our union unravel at the seams. Not only the union with our European neighbours but the union within our country, the United Kingdom. The Conservative and Labour parties are both in disarray. We have no real leader and whilst people cling to hope, despair is not far from the surface either.

I am at a writers retreat this weekend hosted by the Arvon Foundation. It is a sanctuary; tranquil and beautiful amidst the lush Shropshire countryside. I am sifting through old and new work trying to unravel and and tease out new stories and words. I found this old writing exercise from many years ago. A villanelle based around the election race between Obama and Hilary Clinton.  Somehow it seems fitting for the spirit of the pro EU march today so I will share it here:

Villanelle  #1

‘What a historic moment,’ the broadcaster said
She cried as she watched the election unfold.
‘Obama’s the man. He’s got the street cred.’

Thirty years ago, she’d gone to buy bread,
then walked back out into the cold.
'All blacks should be shot,' the baker had said.

And now naught for nothing had her ancestors bled.
She heard the echoes of voices of old.
‘Obama’s the man. He’s got the street cred.’

It was a moment for hope, but instead
she couldn’t forget the time she’d been told
‘All blacks should be shot,’ the baker had said.

The next morning she opened the paper and read
that to vote, people had queued for hours in the cold.
‘Obama’s the man. He’s got the street cred.’

What good is the hope that fills you with dread?
A movement for peace with their flag soaked in red
‘All blacks should be shot,’ the baker had said.
‘Obama’s the man. He’s got the street cred.’

In solidarity. Good luck and here's to a peaceful protest