The sisters felt the first blow rather than heard it. Without thinking, each put a hand to their heart. The beating within echoing the thumps throbbing across the forest. The sisters exchanged a glance. “They’re back, Rose”.
Everything had been peaceful for so long now, living as they were so far away from the madding crowds. Away from misunderstanding. Rose and Sloe ventured out only when the carnival came to town, when spirits were high and colourful, and nothing seemed quite real. As they aged, it became easier to go unnoticed, to be the hunchback herbalist with reliable potions, to be the lonely old woman from the woods.
In their youth, life had been so very different. Rose was a beautiful as any bloom, pink and blushed with red red hair. Sloe, white of face, hair so black it shone blue. They had travelled with the circus, danced for kings – and princes. Ah yes, princes. Their mother, WhiteThorn Mae, had told the girls all the old stories, all the warnings. Still, true to form, along came a Prince, and the trouble began.
Any child of the Rose family has thorns. They will catch you and the poisoned tip will grip deep into your flesh. The poisoned tip will rot inside you, spreading through your veins until one day your heart just stops. To share a kiss with a child of the Rose family is a dangerous undertaking. To steal a kiss without asking is suicide.
Stories of the Prince killers spread far and wide. Embellished, untrue, believed.
The Sisters backed into the safety of the forest and let their family, black thorn, white thorn and red, grow and protect them, but stories persisted of a fair princess held captive by the dark witch. Of an old crone of woods, whose wicked ways were responsible for all ill that befell the town.
‘Burn the Witch’ would seem like a good idea once in a generation. The old people who remembered would try and talk sense to the young, but no one ever listened. Fanciful tales from the frightened old. A forest that killed, that left deep scars should you be fortunate enough to escape? Tell that to the children, they said, and gathered their high spirits and axes, and headed to adventure.
Rose sighed, and looked at her sister’s face, clouded now with worry and foreboding. “We could go and meet them – tell them”.
“They’ll not listen, they never do.”
The sisters stood a moment or two longer, listening. The hunt was yet miles away, hacking at the almost impenetrable wall of nature. Baying dogs, excited voices, trumpets to call order. These sounds travelled on the cool morning air, travelling easily where nothing with more substance than a ghost could pass. The sisters were old now, and did not welcome the intrusion, the dredging up of the past. They turned and headed for their cottage, using the branches on either side for balance, their hands automatically missing the thorns. They knew how the day would end, and felt great sorrow.
At Winter’s end, when the blackthorn flowers first appear like little stars of hope, and at September time, when the hedgerows at Prospect Field turn blue with sloe and red with rosehip, watch for Rose Red and Black Thorn, Red Thorn and Sloe. Stay on the path, pick only what you need, and leave the rest in peace.
Covidella turned from the heaving sink of breakfast debris to face her stepsister, teetering warily on the top of the kitchen steps. An unusual visitation this, and one that Ella was having difficulty processing. She paused the music and removed her headphones.
“Nigella’s dark and sumptuous chocolate fudge cake” the visitation continued in a querulous squeak, whilst flapping the torn page of a Sunday supplement food special.
It was Lockdown at the castle. Ella hadn’t thought of it as ‘home’ since her mum died. Mum had always been accident-prone; walking into wardrobe doors, falling on the stairs. Funny really, ‘cos Ella never saw her trip, not even when wearing her old platforms for a laugh. They would skip and dance all around the house, making light of work and life. Until they heard her father coming.
The Stepmother appeared awfully quickly after that last fatal accident, dragging her two delightful daughters along for the ride. Stepmother promptly had a lift installed so she could avoid the stairs. Ugly thing. The lift too…. Looked like a plastic Smart car someone had parked in the ancestral hall. Still, for all its aesthetic lackings, Ella pretty soon loved it. She could chuck in all the laundry and the vacuum cleaner and mop and bucket and then sail off up through the floor like Willy Wonker in the glass elevator. Made life so much easier. Meant Ella could avoid those stairs too.
Ella missed her mum, and avoided attempts to play happy families, preferring instead to stay in the kitchen. She loved the peace down there, her mother’s presence was strong in the ping of the microwave and the sizzle of deep fat fryer. Dad had always been softened by a good plate of food. Well, not always, obviously.
Stepsister No.2 now appeared over Stepsister No.1’s shoulder. “It is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser that is super squidgy, the sort of cake you want to eat the whole of, and even the sight of it all chocolaty and gooey, comforts”.
Quite. Well, do you know what? That actually sounds like a damn fine idea. Now she was out of her musical cocoon, Ella could hear familiar sounds storming around upstairs. Maybe Nigella’s chocolate comforter was exactly what this castle needed, right now. She’d had a food delivery only that morning, and had ordered plenty of chocolate as her own special treat. So, she’ll be eating it in cake form instead, no matter.
“Okay, I’ll make it” Ella announced, thinking it would save a lot of mess, wasted ingredients, and possibly a super pissed off Dad at the end of it all. The Stepsisters scooted across the room glued to each other, wild-eyed and eager, clearly without a clue but very determined. They wobbled their heads frantically from side to side, no no no. “We want to make it. It’s very important. We want to make it and we want Him to eat it, and we want Him know that we have made it.”
Oh for goodness sake, who cares? She was getting sick of this lockdown baking mania. None of her friends had anything interesting to post on social media – it was all just bloody cake. She sighed. “Go on then….” She started to say. Then she looked at them, which she tended to avoid doing. Oh. “Is your mother alright?” The heads wobbled up and down, a little shaky, but generally affirmative.
Ella whipped out her phone and googled the recipe. She wasn’t touching that torn and blood splattered cutting. No.1 was put on washing up duty, No.2 on … on …helping No.1. Actually, no, lets clean her up a bit, and, um, a bit more, and then just prop her in the corner with a large brandy.
Plain flour, caster sugar, light brown Muscovado… hmmm, nope, damn, have to be Demerara and hope for the best. Not as moist, but it will have to do. Corn oil? Corn oil? Who the bloody hell has corn oil knocking around in the back of their Covid cupboard, sunflower shall have to do. Yup, Nigella says that’s ok. We’ve got this!
Two hours later, rather longer than the recipe generally requires, the kitchen was clean (ish), and three satisfied and rather chocolaty faces were admiring the thing of beauty they had created. The Stepsisters had mixed and stirred, and made a wish as they added their own special final ingredient. They were sure Nigella would understand. For good measure, they added extra chocolate and a lot of Amaretto. Just in case he noticed any undertaste. He’d watched far too many Agatha Christies to let that go without hilarious comment and tapping of his little grey cells.
Together, they made tea, gathered plates and cutlery onto trays, and lifting the gooey chocolaty comforter, headed for the tv room.
Dad loved it. He gorged on it, taking great drunken handfuls. His chocolate fudgy hands trying to grab the Stepsisters or their mother, any one, he didn’t care. Oh he was a happy man as he fell asleep in front of Tiger King.
The women were gutted and regrouped in the kitchen with the gin and the rest of the chocolate stash. “Well, it’s for the best really. I mean, you didn’t really want to kill him, did you?” said Ella cheerily as she broke out another bottle. Stepsister No.2 was rereading her ceramic glaze book. “But it says here it’s terribly poisonous. He should have been in agony by now. Maybe we just didn’t use enough.” She took one of her own brightly coloured earthenware bowls, poured it half full of gin, and went in face first. Ella looked on her quite lovingly. Really this Stepfamily wasn’t half bad.
After the Lockdown, the women opened the castle as a hotel. Nothing boutique or fancy, more a bed and breakfast with dinner sort of a place. Occasionally some guest would mention the whole Covid thing, mention the loss of a loved one before their time. The women would agree, and tell of their own experience – that awful coughing and long long weeks of waiting.
Mostly people just wanted to move on and forget about it though, and have another slice of that delicious, comforting chocolate cake of Nigella’s that featured on every single review.
Here’s something I’m very chuffed about! You may well be aware that I am one of Ma Polaines Great Decline’s biggest fans ; not in that stalkerish worrying sort of way, mind you – just in that staggering up to them and going ‘I really love your stuff’ in that arm waving boozy Sunday afternoon in the Dukes sort of a way. Which happens a lot in Whitstable.
Anyway, last year, when they were working on their new album, they asked if I would like to have a think about some artwork for it. Would I??? well, what do you think? So, they sent me the work in progress, and I listened, and sketched, and then listened and stitched.
The tracks illustrated are Volcano – which was mostly hand stitched on trains and in Nobby van, Paris is Burning (which I always think of as Dead Man in the Closet) and Morphine – both of which are machine stitched on Nina the Bernina, reusing fabric from my recycle pile, and painted with a watercolour wash.
This album has become rather a Whitstable project, with local artists and musicians adding their skills to the beautifully composed music and lyrics.
Produced by John Gallen, photography by Phil Miller (exhibition currently showing at The Sportsman, additional bass playing from Martin Elliott… this is a band that the Bubble has really taken to heart.
Give them a listen – or even better, go see them, and buy the cd!
Aware of a deadline for an open exhibition I wanted to enter, equally aware that I hadn’t even started thinking about what to make, I opened our blue front door to welcome a friend, and as I stepped back, realised that I’d only ever lived in left handed houses.
What I mean by that is that all the houses had the front door on the right hand side, so that when you enter the house, you turn left into the rooms – otherwise you’d go splat straight into the party wall, which would hurt, and might upset the neighbours.
I’ve never been much of a mover. I don’t travel light and have way too much stuff. Books and fabric and records and pictures and ornaments and nicknacks and just stuff! I read, sew, draw and paint, garden. I didn’t always garden, I did when I was small, helping Mum, and even having my own little patch to grow tiny radish and carrots. But then music and dancing took over and it was some years before growing things became important again. That was after I bought my flat. Planting a tree makes it even harder to move. Eventually though, we (for it was ‘we’ by then) dug up the nectarine tree, and the peonies, and an artichoke or two, and moved on.
This house we moved to, is only the sixth house I remember living in. There was a house when I was tiny, and I’ve seen photos, but I do not remember it. I know it in terms of stories: the kitchen-hatch my Dad made, the mice my brother loved to watch careering round his bedroom floor, the neighbours my crying drove demented.
I can’t draw that first house. I know the road name, but not the number. There were trees in the road, but the trees in the road I grew up in had spring blossom. One had both delicate white blossom and green leaves, together with heavy blousy pink blossom and plum coloured leaves. The trees have not fared well these past few years, and the gutters no longer fill with fallen blooms. We had a green front door, and a pyracantha tree in the corner, which my Dad kept trimmed to a lollypop shape.
When I finally started going Out, I stayed at friends and boyfriends, in Camden, in Kings Cross, in Haringey and somewhere in West London that involved a complicated process of hiding under a van to gain access to the house; going home to my parents for a change of more or less identical artfully ripped black clothes. My friends (and boyfriends) meant visits to Sheffield and Glasgow and Manchester. But my ‘stuff’ all stayed at my parents. My room was always there, and after a hot dinner, a warm bed, and maybe a Dynasty with Mum on a Friday evening, I’d head back off again. Sometimes I turned up and someone else had eaten the dinner and nabbed the bed, as my parents always looked out for our less fortunate friends.
After approximately 8,431 days, I moved across the River, into a room with my boyfriend. It was a big house with no shared living space, 15 miles north from my parents. My Dad drove me there in a car full of stuff, lit a cigar and laughed a lot. He hadn’t smoked for years. The boyfriend and I stopped talking to each other around 182 days later, I found myself another room in a different shared house, less than a mile away, and wonderful new friends. It was an unmitigated shithole, but with a pint of red wine in one hand, a big old funny cigarette in the other, and helping hands all around, I moved in. It had a big rambling hedge, that was never trimmed, and I think had a gate – or at least a gatepost, when I arrived. It was gone by the time I moved on, about 1,187 days later.
My next home was just around the corner, not even a quarter of a mile from the last, with, as usual, more people most of the time than actually lived there, plus four cats and two dogs. We had the offy on one side, which was very handy. I never saw the neighbours. Probably just as well. They must have suffered. The garden was crazy-paved all over, but had a tree. The huge ground floor bathroom had French doors. The offy had a German Shepherd dog that sat in their yard and howled, generally whenever things seemed quiet enough to chance a bath on a sunny day with the doors open.
Sleep began to seem a more attractive and necessary idea, and I began to think it might be nice to have somewhere of my own, maybe a garden. 912 days later, I found my flat, two and a half miles uphill.
My brother borrowed a van from work and arrived to help me move, as by then I had rather a lot of stuff, including a wardrobe and shelves to contain it. He said “we’d better unload the van first”, as it was pre-loaded with all stuff from my parents’ house, plus some things they thought might be useful and a small white table and chair from Granny. My parents’ house breathed a brief sigh of relief, before my parents set about filling all the now available space with yet more books and ornaments and records and things of their own.
I met my partner, The Engineer. He lived in Nobby Van, had a motorbike, tools, a couple of cassettes, but no stuff. He built a workshop on the back of the flat, and we took over the garden next door as our allotment.
4,716 days later we were moving on, 163 miles East to the seaside. Everything went into storage as our new house wasn’t entirely habitable, some might say it still isn’t. The Engineer was astounded and horrified by the sheer stuff volume: it kept appearing: cupboards disgorging their contents like Tardis. Added to which by then was his Edwardian safe, my full size kiln, and other death-defying one ton objects of a whole new level of stuffness to move. And my greenhouse – a leaving present from my last ever proper job some years before. That didn’t want to move. It had taken root along with the white peach tree and the big pink rose that bloomed all year, the magnolia and the apple trees, and the um, Japanese Knotweed.
So here we are, 4,836 days and counting, in my sixth left handed house, with a Cat That Isn’t Ours, and lots and lots and lots of stuff. One day it will all be in the right place, neat, tidy, accessible. Ha ha ha, say the Fabric Friends.
Six little houses, all in a row. Stitched by hand and machine, onto fabric from the stash. I had so much stuff I wanted to squeeze into this piece – names, and latitudes and longitudes, and dates and times, and distances. I wanted to map my infrequent moves, my travels with my stuff. The houses weren’t having it. They’ve formed themselves into a single terrace, stuff firmly behind closed doors.
Six little left-handed houses, with their post codes. I’ve only moved one degree East, less than a degree North or South. And I’ve never lived in a right-handed house.
I’ve only ever lived in left-handed houses. Machine and hand embroidery and crayon, on old bedlinen.
My friends have been laughing that this is going to be a good year for opticians, and I’m guessing they are right. I’m tippitytapping this with transformed spectacles held on with welding wire arms, with gluegunned tips for behind ear comfort, fashioned lovingly by The Engineer after the arms just randomly fell of my specs, leaving me balancing my varifocals pince-nez style – which meant only a matter of time before we had specs in soup and beans on specs.
Like one of my Big Dolls, my arms are not long enough. No amount of holding at arms length is going to bring small print into focus. I’ve thought about making some longer arms, more like Big Alice’s legs, but I don’t think they’d really be much help. I can imagine them trailing along behind me down the High Street, tripping people up, and wrapping themselves around lamp posts, and being quarter of a mile behind me when I did actually want to read something. And they’d need an awfully big sort of puppet frame mechanism to function, which might be rather heavy for walking far. I suppose I could put them in my shopping trolley and just bring them out when I need them, but then, where do I put my shopping – in another trolley that I tow behind me and the arms? Actually, I’m beginning to feel quite exhausted thinking about all this, and considering I wasn’t particularly thinking about it before I started typing, I think it is best I just stop now. And make an appointment to see the optician.
However, as we are now in a New Year, and my spectacles are, for now, correctly positioned, I am busy sorting out diaries and calendars (and trying to make sure I write the same information on the same day of each). So here is a list of what is afoot (or a-fin) so far for this year in the House of Mermaids.
First up, the Profanity Embroidery Group Annual Exhibition will take place from 12th to 18th February at the Fishslab Gallery in Whitstable.
May 28th to 2nd June, the Big Dolls and I shall be joining Meg Wroe, Bev Sage and Clair Meyrick at the Pie Factory in Margate
July 10th to 16th sees the Mermaids in residence at Show Off in Harbour Street, Whitstable, alongside Alma Caira and Katrina Taylor
During the Whitstable Oyster Festival, in July, the house shall be Open for the Made in Whitstable: Arts, Craft & Vintage Trail
And quite frankly, thats enough to be getting on with. So on with it I get. Happy New Year!!!
Facebook has just told me this photo was 5 years ago. Big Alice, as nature didn’t intend. Strangely my first thought was about how the Terminators arrive nude. Not that Big Alice is very Terminatorish, but Big Alice wasn’t terribly happy at this point, and having difficulty managing those legs and feet. She’s still the biggest doll I’ve made…. so far.
Anyway, when I was making her, if I wasn’t busy busy busy, I was thinking “what on Earth?”. Not a question I asked at all once she was finished. And once she’d cheered up too. Not to be like those people who walk around going “Cheer Up Love It Might Never Happen” (who do deserved whatever might not happen to promptly Happen to them), but having a glowering larger than life fabric friend sprawling all over your studio like a malevolent teenager was rather unnerving.
Last week I started being busy busy busy again. And then I stopped and came up for air and thought ‘What On Earth?”. I’ve been possessed by my new sewing machine, and she’s making me do things I wouldn’t normally do. This wasn’t the plan, not one bit. All I can hope is that with time, I’ll accept that I’ve made a sort of appliqued quilty thing, and enjoyed the process, and that I’m sure some good will come of it one day….
Come and see what you think. Save me from the evil/conforming influence of Nina the Bernina, and let me get back to my dolls. Its East Kent Artists Open Houses time again, and we open for the following three weekends, 12/13th, 19/20th and 26/27th October 2019.
“What does this say?” enquired a lovely visitor, holding one of my articulated paper mermaid dolls. The room was packed, as it was during our very busy Open House for the Whitstable Oyster Festival, this last weekend.
First, find spectacles underneath a couple of goats. Next, focus. Goodness, I don’t think I would write anything quite so small any more. Not that I designed this an awful long time ago. Obviously pre these specs though.
“Malacophonous Magnicaudate” says I, with satisfaction. “Yes”, says lovely visitor, “but what does it mean?” I think, I think, as I dredge in my brain, that it means….. ah yes, gently voiced. And big tailed.
A room full of incredulous faces turn to me. “You made that up”. No, no, I didn’t. Honest. Look I’ll show you. Oh no you won’t, says internet. Internet says no such words exist. Butter wouldn’t melt in its technological mouth as it asks me if I mean all sorts of other things because it has never ever heard of those two words. Never. Lying little internet. It gave me the words in the first place.
“I think it means ‘Bad’ – you know ‘mal’, it means bad. Its all cod-Latin. You definitely made it up.” No, not Bad. I know my mermaids are quite often naughty, but I really don’t like to advertise the fact. And I can remember being delighted when I came across these words, because they were so perfect. And I do so like a perfect word.
Finally the pixies of technology decide to stop messing about, and throw up one lone dictionary definition to back me up, allowing the Malacophonous Magnicaudate Mermaid to swim off to her new home, laughing at all the fuss she had caused.
Not everyone was convinced, I could tell. One online dictionary doesn’t prove anything. And I do like to tell stories, so you cannot blame my visitors for their lack of trust. Of course, later, much later, the Big Old Dictionary finally wakes up, and I find “malaco- or malac- denoting softness: from the Greek malakos”. I missed it because it was hiding behind a snail, slightly above a bunch of herrings and salmon. And if you want to know what I’m on about, you’ll have to look in the dictionary. A proper one, with paper pages. None of that online pedanticness.