I’ve only ever lived in a left handed house

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.

simple stitched outline of a house, a 1930s terrace, with a green front door.  The house is one of a series illustrating the houses I have lived in, and how they are all similar

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.

Simple machine stitched drawing of a 1900s house with a bay window, illustrating the similarity of all the houses I have lived in

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.

Two simple illustrated houses, machine stitched in black thread, one with a blue front door, one yellow, both with hedges to the front garden.  Illustrating the fact that I've always lived in similar houses

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.

A simplified embroidered drawing of a house, with a red front door and a tree to the left.  illustrating the similarity of all the houses I have lived in

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.

Simple illustration in black thread, drawn on a sewing machine, of a Victorian terrace house with a blue front door.  It shows the similarity, in my mind, of all the houses I have lived in

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. 

stitched art illustration of six similar houses, on a background of vintage 70s yellow and pink bedlinen.

I’ve only ever lived in left-handed houses. Machine and hand embroidery and crayon, on old bedlinen.

2020 Vision

Oh how I wish I still had it!

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!!!

Slowly slowly catchee mermaid


It’s a long old process. I have an idea, and before I grasp it, its flicked its tail and gone. A mermaid brooch. I know that was the idea, but I the how and the why, well, that just didn’t stick around.

Sketches appear. Probably not in the lovely big black sketchbook where it should be. More often on a coffee ringed crumb dusted back of an envelope on the kitchen table.They don’t remind me about being a brooch, and became a drawing, then a print that I have worked on digitally. Other sketches remain a scribble in the middle of a coffee stain – for now. Unless they decide to become firelighters for the stove.

Some time later, it becomes just the thing I was looking for – and in this particular case -it becomes my new logo, used as a lovely big swinging tag on all my mermaids.

Then it becomes the logo used on my stall for the Etsy Made Local fair that I am attending this weekend. A lovely uniformity for my stand – everything all beautifully mermaidy green (sorry Alice – you just don’t fit on a six foot table. Its hard enough with the mermaids – even Big FridaMer might have to stay home for logistical reasons).

And then, some lovely person on Instagram asks where she can get the mermaid brooch with the Frida quote about bourbon biscuits.

She doesn’t exist.

Not yet.

But she’s about to.

See, everything about my design and making process meticulously planned from start to finish. Ahem.


A Russian Doll, who was probably Greek

two vintage fabric dolls heads on a tiled background. They are felt heads, with immaculate hair and hats, very French looking

For those who know me, or my work, I am quite sure it shall come as no surprise that there always was a Doll.  Not just any old doll.  Dolls of great importance.  Lately I have been thinking about The Russian Doll, as my family called her, but was not strictly accurate. Like many of my family’s naming and explaining, there was always more to it than fact. By which I am not saying things were total untruths, just detours for the sake of a story, and to link to a time and a place.

The Russian Doll wasn’t a doll.  By which I mean I was not allowed to play with her. From when I can remember, she stood on my bedroom window sill, until later when I had a dressing table, and she stood on there, leaning against the mirror.  Tall, elegant, a little haughty.  On top of her head, she balanced a basket.  She had one hand up as though to steady it, I think, but her gaze made it clear that she didn’t need to hold it.  She just looked good that way.

Dressed in faded rose silks, full long skirt in layers, shawls and aprons, everything was edged with tiny silver coins. She was exquisitely made up – pale pink cheeks, rosebud lips, finely drawn soaring eyebrows.  Her expression backed up Mum’s command. Don’t touch. She is not a toy.

Not being a toy meant she was handled with care and fascination.  Not being a toy meant she was confiscated if she was found to be in amongst the rough and tumble of the rest of the dolls and rabbits.  Yes, rabbits.  I still have two of them. One Mum made that was supposed to be a nightdress case, with a big flowery skirt and matching ears, called Rosey. I didn’t like her flat, un-nightdressed, so she was stuffed instead, to maintain maximum cuddleability.  The zip along the size of her lower round half, the now not necessary nightdress access, served as a very good hiding place for contraband.  But I digress.

When I finally left home (as in took more than just the paratrooper boots I wore come rain or shine, and leather jacket that was usually on my back), she stayed on the dressing table. She was not for the great unwashed of the shared houses and patchouli oil.

As I moved around, she grew older, and was disinclined to move.  She stayed on the dressing table, which was now in my Mum’s room. I’d talk to her every Christmas, pop in and say ‘hello’ when I visited.

Finally I had my own home, and with great glee, my parents loaded a large van of everything that was mine, and promptly set about filling the space with more books, videos and computer parts.

And this is where it gets hazy.  I can only picture the Russian Doll on the dressing table.  And then one day, many years later, she just wasn’t there.

Mum said ‘oh she was so old – she fell apart’.

Mum said….  but is that another of my family’s stories.  Did she come to live with me, and did I break the rules, play with her.  Did she start dancing all night, ditch her basket, and then, did she leave home? Trade in her silver coins and head off, back to the Balkans and down to Greece?  I do hope so.

So why now am I thinking of her, you ask?  Well,  she just appeared in my head as I was painting one of my mermaids. The  colour palette and her face.  I suddenly recognised her in what I was doing. Of course, I do not have a picture of the Russian Doll, but we have the World Wide Web.  And I’ve found her sisters.

And now I really must get on as I do have other things that I’d better be doing.  I am taking part in the Etsy Made Local Christmas market at Canterbury’s Westgate Hall this weekend, and have mer-angels to finish. And I have a dog to walk, who is waiting not so patiently for me to finish this, sort out the washing, light the fire – he has just fixed me with a look. We walk now.





A good place


Today I dug out my  my original Alice drawings – along with some other Fairy Tale friends. I’m putting them back up for Open House.

I love these drawings as, for me, they represent me finding my feet. Which is funny, because the reason I did them was because I had my leg in plaster after an operation on my right ankle, and for six weeks could only shuffle about on my bottom (can’t do crutches) so sat on the floor like a child with marker pens and lining paper and my granny’s squeezed out old watercolours, and just drew, and giggled. I didn’t have to be anywhere cos I couldn’t get anywhere, and despite mobility problems (which I knew were only temporary and then I’d be better than I had been before) I felt truly free. A good place.

Come and see the drawings at my Open House, which starts this weekend, Saturday 20th October, 11am to 5pm.  House No.27 on the Whitstable Trail


A little perspective (or a big one for that matter)


Big Alice has me thinking about Time and Scale again, for Facebook tells me it is her Fourth Birthday.   If you had asked me, as I am sure you always wanted to, when I began to make VERY large dolls, I’d have been hard  pushed to tell you, as it feels as though Big Alice has been with me forever.  You might have received a rambling reply about making dolls and why I do. Or I might have talked about the dolls in general, gone off at a tangent and forgotten the point. Most likely the latter.

I had been making very small dolls for a while. Small Alice dolls to shove in bottles and boxes and belljars;  small fairies to keep in little birdcages; and small mermaids to catch straight into jamjars. All of them constricted, caught, and held.

Obviously there was bound to be a backlash sooner or later, I just didn’t see it coming.

When I make the dolls, I draw a sketch, on the back of an envelope, on a  napkin, on whatever is to hand when the doll knocks on the front of my brain and says ‘let me out’, which is annoyingly most often not my sketchbook. Then I draw out the sketch onto big old computer paper.  The sketch doesn’t really change – my dolls are not exactly 2D but neither are they 3D. They are flat, only they aren’t. They are one sided, but the backs are quite important.  I woke with Eureka moment a few days ago: of course! they are Two And A Half D.  On checking with Google, 2.5D does already exist. Of course it would be a ‘thing’, where (and I may not have this entirely right) 2D graphical projections are used to create the appearance of being three dimensional, when in fact, they are not.  What I really like is that it is also called pseudo-3D.

Anyway.  So, I draw out my sketch onto big paper. As we all know, when you make something in fabric, you stitch it up and stuff it, and it is smaller than your drawing.  With this in mind, I set out to draw the pattern quite large. Then I stand back and look at it, check the proportions – sometimes I stand on a stool and take a photo. At this point you might be forgiven for thinking I would realise that it is going to be a biggie.  I work on the studio floor, which as I get busier and busier, becomes a smaller and smaller place, so my sense of proportion gets muddied.  The drawing is not that big, because the working area is small.  Not because the drawing is big. Still with me?

Big Alice was always intended to be quite big.  She was going in The View, which is a wonderful Whitstable gallery, and is very small.  So she needed to be big so that she was uncomfortable in the space.  By the way, my dolls are all very pleased that I have got over this need to cram them claustrophobically into something. Apart from the original Alice doll, who lives in the belljar, which does upset people.

Big Alice ended up being sixteen feet tall.  She lives in our hallway, and looks forward to each Open House.  She has just asked if I can give her flamingo his legs now, and can she have another Cheshire Cat for her Birthday*.

Four years ago, I made Big Alice.  Can’t imagine life without her really.  She is big, but she doesn’t get in the way, and when she’s off making an exhibition of herself I really miss her.  Sometimes people ask if she is for sale.  Can you imagine that?

*Oops – didn’t realise she knew I’d sold the first one.  Can’t pull the wool over Alice’s eyes.  They are just too big, and I can’t reach.

East Kent Artists’ Open Houses begin on October 20th for three weekends.

alice in teh view


Down the Rabbit Hole again!

Blinkers on! here we go….

down the rabbit hole


East Kent Artists’ Open Houses open in three weekends, and I need to shut myself away in the studio and draw and stitch and create.

I am House No.27 this year. A rather good sounding number, which has led me to the spectacularly time wasting pursuit of Googling; a terrific displacement activity for such a busy time.

It is indeed a satisfying number, and is a perfect cube. According to Wikipedia, “there are exactly 27 straight lines on a smooth cubic surface, which give a basis of the fundamental representation of the E6 Lie algebra, being 33 = 3 × 3 × 3. 27 is also 23 (see tetration). 27 is also a decagonal number. ”

I did look up decagonal number, but my brain caved in, and has gone off chasing dragons. 

Back to the loveliness of 27.  It is the first composite number not divisible by any of its digits, and is the only positive integer that is 3 times the sum of its digits.  27 contains the decimal digits 2 and 7, and is the result of adding together the integers from 2 to 7 (2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = 27). See, how satisfying is that? and did you know that? Bet you didn’t.

The next chunk of Wikipedia’s bullet points are strangely attractive to look at, with all sorts of wonderful words, of which I have achieved no useful understanding.

“In a prime reciprocal magic square of the multiples of 1/7, the magic constant is 27. In the Collatz conjecture (aka the “3n + 1 conjecture”) a starting value of 27 requires 111 steps to reach 1, many more than any lower number. The unique simple formally real Jordan algebra, the exceptional Jordan algebra of self-adjoint 3 by 3 matrices of quaternions, is 27-dimensional.[2] In base 10, it is a Smith number[3] and a Harshad number.[4] It is the twenty-eighth (and twenty-ninth) digit in π. (3.141592653589793238462643383279…). If you start counting with 0 it is one of few known self-locating strings in pi. There are 27 sporadic groups, if the Tits group is included.”

I rather like the sound of the quaternions, which from a very swift superficial glance, appear to be quite naughty and not play by the rules. I wonder if the Fairy GM has an army of quaternions to do her bidding.

Alice, I like to think, would have very much enjoyed testing out all these words and numbers while tumbling down the rabbit hole.  I can hear her in my head repeating them aloud, and changing them as she falls, whilst Dina, (her cat, surely you knew that?) puts her paws over her ears in disbelief at such random disrespect for learning.

However, Alice may not have been quite so amused as I am by the existence of the Tits Group.  Being the co-founder of the Profanity Embroidery Group I am very happy to see tits in algebra, even if it is the name of a mathematician.

We must of course not ignore the Stupid Club. All those wonderful musicians who messily end their careers aged 27.  So my listening shall be made up mostly of Gram Parsons, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. There will be some Nirvana thrown in (it was after all Kurt Cobain’s mum who said ‘he’s gone and joined the stupid club’ on hearing of his fate). What else? well, Sex Pistols for Sid, the Stones for Brian Jones, even some Hole for Kristen Pfaff, topped off with Amy Winehouse.  I shall be watched whilst doing so with my collection of Stupid Club prints by  Sadie Hennessy.  Editions of 27, for £27, obvs.

A blue phase will colour my work these next few weeks – cobalt blue – which has the atomic number of, you guessed, 27.

Best fact of all: 27% of the Universe is thought to be made up of Dark Matter.

And now I have to go, because it turns out I do not have 27 days until Open House. And that is rather worrying. Wonder if the Dark Matter will help.


East Kent Open Houses takes place on 20th and 21st October, 27th and 28th October, and 3rd and 4th November 2018.  Houses open 11am to 5pm.

dolly was lost



A Whitstable Tail


So here we are, back at the beginning.  Why am I called Whistable Tail? I was asked the other day.  Well, it all began with a story, about the Street. “I didn’t know that” was the reply, and I thought, yes, I haven’t told the story for a long, long time, and so I shall now tell you the Whitstable Tail.


Yesterday as the rain almost concealed the sea from view, The Street began to appear.  Some people say this is a naturally occurring shingle spit, and some have said it could be the remains of a Roman harbour. I can tell you it is neither. The truth was whispered to me one day by the sea, when I was watching for mermaids; but I cannot tell you who by.  You wouldn’t believe me anyway.

The Street, that winding magical path that leads you out into the sea for a good quarter of a mile, tides lapping at either side, waves crossing in front of you as you walk, was built by a Boy.

Once upon a time you see, there was a boy with rather large feet.  He lived in Whitstable, and all his family worked on the sea.  His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather, all way way back across hundreds of years, were all fishermen. His mother, her sisters, and their aunts, could all dive and swim and pick up oysters – knowing those that were good to eat and those that would have a nice fat pearl.  The family was at one with the water. They lived in and on the sea as though they were part of it. All of them, except for the Boy with the big feet.

Its not that he didn’t try. He just couldn’t swim. His feet stayed firmly on the ground. He could feel the tree roots grow, knew when the bulbs were starting to wake up, when the soil was ready to push the seeds into sprouting. But he didn’t understand the sea.

He spent hours and hours watching the sea. Sitting there, just round the corner from all the boats and fishing and swimming.  He often felt as though he was being watched back,  which surprisingly didn’t bother him.  In the same way he knew the ground was alive, he knew the sea was alive.  He loved the sea, and had no fear.  But he couldn’t so much as dip in a toe.

One day as he sat watching the sea, keeping his feet out of the way of his working family, the sense of being watched back made he toes curl. His hat sprung up from the back of his head where his hair stood shock upright. He waited, expecting a touch at any moment. None came, but something had changed. He knew now it wasn’t the sea watching him, it was someone.

The family, always working though they were, noticed a change in the Boy.  He spent even more time down at the shore, just around the corner. He walked with more of a bounce, and his feet did not seem anywhere near so heavy.  He’d always been the most lovely of lads, amiable and helpful, but nowadays, well, he just shone with a happy glow.  Funnily enough though, he wasn’t anywhere near so helpful.  He was suddenly very very busy.

His brothers called to him to help launch their boat, but he didn’t come.  His father called for him to help land the catch, but he didn’t come.  They were not cross, just surprised.  He said he was ‘building something’. And certainly he was covered in sand and mud, and barnacles – which was quite odd. They were attaching themselves to the edges of his prodigious extremities in little clusters. He was often followed around by a bunch of crabs and lobsters too. Equally muddy and sandy, they were dragging large swathes of seaweed about as though moving it from one place to another. The family saw all this, and thought how wonderful that the Boy was making friends, although it might lead to problems at dinner time.

Years passed, and life on the Whitstable coast continued as it had for the past hundred years or so, with little or no change.  The Boy grew, and his feet stayed pretty much in the same proportion to his body they always had.  The family saw less and less of him, but he was clearly very happy, and they were just so busy. He was no longer followed around by a raggle taggle band of sea creatures, they had all gone back to minding their own business, scrabbling around on their pereopods, and the family thought this was probably for the best.

A visitor to the town, in search of fine oysters, asked the busy family one day who were the people standing so far out in the sea, and what was that rocky road that had led them there.  The family stopped working and exchanged the most fleeting of glances. The sound of pennies falling from great heights was a cheerful tinkle all along the beach. “Ahem, hurrumph, ahhhh  – well”, said the Grand-Father, “its a naturally occurring shingle spit, which some people think could be the remains of a Roman harbour”.

The visitor commented on the fact that he’d never noticed it before. “Its only visible at low tide” said the Father. “Here, have these oysters for your tea, lovely fat ones, have them, as a gift”.  The visitor, greedy for his tea and not quite believing his luck, scadaddled pretty damn quick.

The family put down the tools of their trade, and walked around the corner.  Sure enough, there was the Boy, far out to sea, at the end of a huge winding stone and sand and seaweed street. And he was not alone. He was sitting talking to a girl. And they were holding hands, and looking into each others eyes.  And he had his feet in the water, and she was resting her scaly green tail across them, tickling his toes with her fins.


Well, well, said the family.  They all waved and cheered to the Boy and his Mermaid, and all smiled and hugged Great-Great-Grandfather, who had just arrived on the shore pushing Great-Great-Grandmother in a heavy old bathchair, just a whisp of aged fin showing from beneath her blanket wraps.

History has a funny old way of repeating itself.

A4 tail to print 72



Houses: open and closed

Open House has been and gone, and the big dolls are back upstairs instead of hogging the living room.  Its only a couple of months until the next Open House, but its good to keep them on their toes and stop them getting too comfy. 
In my latest ‘de-Open House’ of our home, I have hung one of my big pinhole photograph prints in the living room. And it has started my brain off on an old tack.

pinhole photograph of a derelict room
Pinhole photograph

Its one from a series for my Arts degree final piece; a research project involving kiln formed glass artifacts and pinhole photography. It was all about the house behind where we lived. Empty for ten years, scheduled for redevelopment, I looked at the house day after day after day. And then one day climbed over the wall.
Deemed ‘A house of no significance’ the property was to be demolished. The council said it had no history. Obviously, if you know me at all, that was red rag to bull territory. I found its history, stuck between the changing fashions in layer upon layer of wallpaper. I spent hours in the house, took hundreds of photos, inspected its scars, and watched its final moments.

black and white photo of a house being demolished
the end of the house

After the house was no more, we moved. The story of the house is in one of my overcluttered filing drawers. The best glass pieces were sold, and the rest relegated to a tupperware pot right in the furthest corner of the loft, ignored and gathering dust. I couldn’t get started again. The kiln I had bought spent five years under a blue tarpaulin at the end of the garden before I sold it again, unused. The woman I bought it from had never used it either.  I hope it had better luck in its new home. I forgot about being a glass artist, and eventually picked up pen and paper and began sketching the people on the beach. And then of course, they grew tails.
Being stuck headfirst into mermaids, I haven’t thought about this body of work apart from raiding photos for my Alice pictures. Today though I can hear Mr Swift talking. Born in the house in 1911, he lived there until 1994. I tracked him down and asked for his memories. He was cross with me when I interrupted his telling tales of the war in Egypt, trying to redirect him back to the house. “Do you want my story or not?” he said. I did want his story, was greedy for it – but I only wanted the narrative for the house. The house was the star, the family the supporting cast, demonstrating how lives and expectations changed.

distressed photograph of an old house, printed on copper
Photo transfer onto distressed copper, collection of Bruce Castle Museum

During our very first Open House, a lovely older couple visited, and seemed a little stunned: turned out, they used to own our house.  They sat on the sofa and looked around, and said “all we can see is what isn’t here”. Their wonderful 1970s home improvements, modernising a bleak Victorian terrace, all gone. Extra walls and concrete fireplaces with modern (condemned) gas fires, ripped out and a Victorian wood burner back in the open chimney. They’d rented the house out for years. Tobacco and coffee stained wood chip covered all, which I’d stripped off revealing orange or green plaster walls, and grafitti: Arsenal, Slade and John Player Special.  Our house is held now in that state of being ‘un-done’. People ask blithely ‘done any more to the house?’ expecting progress. No. Nothing to report. Just a few more mermaids and a Giant Alice.
This morning a Guardian report from the Edinburgh Festival caught my eye.  “Buildings tell stories“. Theatremaker Geoff Sobelle, has created Home, where on stage, a typical two-up, two-down house fills up with all its previous occupants at once. Sobelle, inspired by ripping up layers of lino in his kitchen, says  “My house is my home, but it was someone else’s before that. We share spaces in ways we don’t even see.”  Ours is not a small house, but after more than a hundred years, many of multi occupancy, it would be seriously cramped if everyone materialised at once. I’ve been told snippets of stories. Our house has been a welcoming one, with parties and laughing, a readily opened door; although I do know someone who wasn’t happy here, in the damp front room of a student let.
Somehow I think it is time to listen to my house again. There is work to be done, practical and important and necessary. Things are going to change. But do you know, I think I’ll treat myself to getting a book printed of the Dwelling of No Significance project. One I can put on the shelf; a present from one house to another.

flyer for an exhibition at Bruce Castle Museum, London. A Dwelling of no significance, by local artist Annie Taylor. A critical contemporary art exhibition about a derelict house.
Flyer for the exhibition, January to April 2006. Self portrait in the house