For the Financial Times I wrote about one of my favourite paintings and how it relates to one of my favourite activities, housesitting other people’s beautiful homes. To read about the joys of house sitting, and of leaving again, click here.
For this piece for The Fence I asked my dad to cast his mind back 40-odd years to one of the many weird and chaotic occurrences of his special effects career that spanned the 1970s-2010s and was extremely (and almost exclusively) weird and chaotic. This is how he poisoned himself while making the prototypes for the original Spitting Image… CLICK HERE.
Illustration by Viz cartoonist Davie Jones.
For The Guardian, I wrote about how the rural housing crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This stretches all the way from Devon and Cornwall to the Hebrides. It’s so much worse than I thought it was, and I knew it was bad. Second homes have become a major problem—if you have a second home in an area where there’s a housing crisis you should be renting it (affordably) to the people who are currently being made homeless. Let’s hope something changes, fast. To read it, click here.
I went lurking around London’s galleries writing down all the pretentious and ridiculous things I overheard there. Available in print only for The Fence.
You can subscribe to this brilliant magazine of undercover investigations, fiction and satire here. Think Private Eye but with short stories.
Seen a lot of manifestos being published recently? Manifestos are in the zeitgeist again, but his time it’s different. For Literary Review I wrote about what commercialisation means for manifestos and their movements. How radical can something mass market be? Read online here.
Or in print here:
Very happy to make a return to short stories with a short published by the great people at The Common Breath. ‘Suze Drives Fast’ is about two women existing in the aftershock. About what life is like after you might think it’s all over. Read it here: http://thecommonbreath.com/blogfiction.html
I sit outside and hear the world shutting up and closing windows after a hot day. It sounds like nightfall in a small Italian town. We had the first hot day this week, no chill in the air or in the shadows. As I sit listening to the world going to bed I think of all the talk about how we never had time for all this thought, focus, presence before. Having previously agreed, in this moment I realise I don’t think that’s true. We’ve always had the time; we just chose not to use it.
The reality is, if you’re not going out there’s only so much TV you can watch, only so much scrolling you can do before you put your phone down, turn off the TV and start to pay attention. I understand why we might want to distract ourselves from life, but distract ourselves from the planet, that I don’t get. Why are we not in a constant state of wonder? I suppose bodily functions have a tendency to bring you back to earth.
On the road where children have been drawing NHS rainbows in chalk, I notice someone has taken a discarded nub and drawn a penis.
I look through a photo album I made last summer, and as I flick through the images I start to cry. What I find upsetting is the innocence of our faces. Smiling, we have no idea what is coming.
Acid lime Brimstone butterflies flash across the deep green vista I run through, like a splash of vinegar.
My mum, in Devon, goes to pick up eggs and veg from the honesty box at one of the farms up near the coast. She gets stuck in hours of tailbacks from day-trippers. Then I see a picture circulating Twitter of the blocked roads all around Woolacombe (just around the bay) and it’s even worse than I imagined. This kind of tourism isn’t contributing to the economy, it’s just making the lives of those who live at these “beauty spots” (typically relatively poor areas) impossible. While potentially putting them at risk.
Mum also questioned where these people were going to the toilet – seems as there are no pubs public toilets open at the moment, it’s a good question.
Earlier, I’d seen pictures of Hampstead Heath the morning after a hot day, covered in bottles, shopping bags, crisp packets and dog shit bags. And, though the hope had been that the virus would result in an evolution of collective consciousness, I can’t help but think we have learned nothing. Parks were elevated to near-sacred spaces during this and yet we still treat them like a tip. Which makes you wonder, what will it take for us—I mean a vast majority of us— to learn to respect the land we live on?
More than a pandemic directly linked to the destruction of the environment, it seems.
We sit in a park, our local beauty spot, after work under a big cedar tree and drink beer. I take off my shoes and feel the sun warm my bare soles. Watch pollen and insects swirling up on a thermal towards the sun.
Up, up, up. Until you can no longer make out the particles from the light.
Watching old documentaries about astronauts I start to question what I’m doing. I’d be there writing about the beauty of the moon rather than going to it. Like that Buddhist aphorism: looking at the finger pointing to the moon, rather than the moon itself.
Surely it’s better to be out doing something, rather than writing about doing something. Is writing even a worthy pursuit anymore? I think it might have been once. It may be again. But I do wonder if it is now. And if it’s not, how can you make so?
But I suppose it’s in our nature to question everything. In Tom Wolfe’s essay, Post Orbital Remorse, the astronauts came to loathe their celebrity – they weren’t individuals, apart from a couple, no one even knew their names, they were just “astronauts”, and then forgotten.
It is regretful that we even managed to politicise outer space. Will no nook of the universe be free from our small-mindedness?
I must be in a funk. I need to get outside more. I look into fruit picking jobs. There’s been a lot of talk about it, most of it I’ve missed, but the general vibe being that it should be the Brexiteers doing the fruit picking now … to me, that just seems like the other side of the same coin: the problem is hardly any UK nationals want to pick fruit. I do, but there’s no farms even remotely near travelling distance to London. And suddenly I remember I looked into this last year as well.
What’s that thing that guy said about doing the same thing and expecting different results?
One day I will work with my hands again. If we all did a bit, it wouldn’t be loaded in unmanageable amounts on other people.
It reminds me of when I had a realisation that for society to function we all have to play our bit in different roles, on different strata of society. If we were all only to stay at the bottom it wouldn’t work, same if we were all only to stay at the top. What works is the flux between the two.
That’s why you shouldn’t ever let the fuckers keep you down.
It’s that time of year again (my birthday), and to my mother’s delight (I’m sure), I imposed myself on her in Devon for a whole week. And we’ve actually even been speaking on the phone before then, which has led to many miscommunications …
I am in the last phase of my Master’s — it turns out it’s a lot of work, who knew? But now it is dissertation season …
Mum: Have you finished your dissertation?
Me: No, I haven’t even started it.
I’m on the phone to mum before her imminent London arrival ..
Me: We bought a nice organic chicken.
Mum: Oh yes, how is she?
(Apparently mum thought I’d said something about one of my friends. I’m not convinced though..)
Mum has now graced London with her presence and is tired of the whole thing by day two.
Me: It’s not just you, London is exhausting.
Mum: No but it’s different. For me it’s that your body is exhausted. You think you’re going somewhere and then another part of you drops off.
Mum’s been staying at my godfather’s in London, who has a very sophisticated TV set up by the sounds of it.
Mum: I pressed a button and then it started asking me hundreds of questions: how many hertz did I want, which of the 500 channels … I pressed some of the buttons and nothing seemed to happen, but I’ve probably launched a missile.
We’re on the leisurely 6 hour bus down from London to Devon together. We’re going through Chelsea, mum is giving me the guided tour of memory lane and is pointing at the roof garden of a flat my godfather rented …
Mum: The summer of Live Aid we were up there, listening to Cheech and Chong.
We’re sort of half-watching ‘Green Mile’ and our attention has drifted back to it momentarily ….
Prisoner (inexplicably) testing the electric chair for someone else and reciting his last wishes (?): Fried chicken dinner with gravy on the tatters and a shit in your hat and have Mae West sit on ma face cus I’m a horny mother fucker.
Police man: Hahahahaha
Tom Hanks: Ahahahaha
Other police man: Hahahaha
Mum: What an extraordinary sense of humour.
I‘ve had a very big job cancel last minute and need to conjure some financial magic. Mum has a suggestion ..
“If you want to raise money just pretend you’re a dog with a problem.”
We’ve been out for a charming day at a stately home like normal people, and even had a cream tea like normal people. Unfortunately we arrived when there were still a lot of other, truly normal, people there. However, we got lost on the guided walk and emerged 3hrs later through the undergrowth, having had to walk around a 10ft high ‘ha ha wall’ (not so funny) and my 73 year-old-mother climb over several fences, and by then everyone else had left …
Mum: That’s why it’s nice to come later in the day not all these people in brightly coloured kagools ruining the view.
We’re walking around the lovely stately home, it’s not too big, it’s not too small. Got a lovely garden, some fields, a stable, a pond, some chandeliers, a William Blake (on loan)…
Me [wistfully]: Yeah I could actually live somewhere like this I think.
Mum: Well, you’ll have to marry some chinless twat.
A Panty liner advert is on TV…
Advert: Women don’t have to be soft and bla bla …
Me: Oh god yes we know, you’re tough and a right old fucking bruiser. Good for you.
Mum: “Even on my period I’ll kill you.”
Advert: ….you can do anything, even if you are woman bla bla bla …
Mum: Oh god who writes this shit!
Mum’s friend has helped her locate a new car, a lovely little (10yr old) VW.
“He’s prouder of this than he his that Mossad wagon of his.”
Brexit news is on, we were never going to be able to avoid it entirely …
Mum: Ahhhh… Let’s see who killed who tonight.
It’s a couple of months ago. Mum has asked to read a poem of mine, I have duly sent it to her and have, after a week, received no feedback. I’m curious …
Me: Did you read my poem?
Mum: No … yes.
Me: Well you can’t have thought much of it if you forgot.
Mum: No, I think I noted its arrival but didn’t read it. I like everything you write.
Mum: Carol Anne Duffy’s coming to the end of her term.
Me: Yes, I think unfortunately I’m still a little obscure to become Poet Laureate
Mum: Obscure is so cool.
Mum is a firm believer in watching some good old fashioned mindless television, and then talking over all of it. ‘Bake Off’ is on..
Man making bread: I like a pert bun. *wink wink, nudge nudge*
Me: It always amazes me the amount of innuendo people manage to get into any sentence involving food
Mum: Oh yes it’s probably scripted innuendo now, sort of mandatory.
Mum hasn’t quite worked out how to work her touch screen phone with complete success.
Mum: When you call it says ‘sweep up’, so I sweep, and nothing happens!
Me: I think that’s swipe up mum, just touch it and move your finger up.
Mum: No, it’s sweep!
There is such a thing as ‘Archers Anonymous’, and Mum’s on it …
“Let’s stir the buggers up! My daddy would have loved the internet.”
We’re watching a programme about 1992 as it’s the year mum started building our beloved house that is no longer ours. There’s a segment on ‘Wayne’s World’:
Mum: What’s this?
Me: Wayne’s World
Mum: Hmmm…not sure about this.
Me: No, I think this is right up your street — you liked ‘Dude Where’s My Car’.
Mum: … Yes I did.
The 1992 programme is now talking about Achy Breaky Heart (a song I’ve decided I very much like).
Someone with an angular haircut who thinks they’re very cool and probably into moaning at parties: Line dancing is the spawn of Satan.
Mum: There’s worse things than line dancing
Me: I’d do it.
Mum: I think I would too.
Someone else with angular haircut: It’s all hideous diamanté and frilled skirts.
Cutaway to exactly that.
Me: Looks great, I’m into it.
I leave the room momentarily, then return.
Mum: Oh no, it’s getting a little hitler youth now.
Me: Oh, shame.
All the houses down mum’s road seem to be being repainted (very slowly)…
Mum: I like the colours they’re painting these.
Me: Yes maybe they’ll eventually reach that penis.
Mum: What penis?
Me: The penis that’s been spray painted on someone’s doorway for about fifteen years.
Mum: Oh that penis! Yes, it’ll take a while to get rid of that.
Somehow — how exactly I do not know — mum has signed up to a cat website, she has no particular affection towards cats …
Mum: You’ve got to get me off this cat website.
Me: What cat website?
Mum [genuinely distressed]: I don’t know but they send me hundreds of cats a day, and I don’t know how to stop them!
Mum: They keep talking about their “babies”, “this baby”, “my baby”, “your baby” … it’s dangerous: it’s a cat.
Me: Ok. We’ll just unsubscribe you.
Mum, back-tracking: Well, one or two a day, that’s cool, I like animals ..
We’re watching the end of ‘Celebrity Masterchef’. I only recognise Zandra Rhodes, mum is helping me identify one of the other contenders …
Mum: He’s Joey Essex.
Me: Is he.
Mum: Yes he seems rather sweet actually, he just needs watering twice a week and that’s it.
We’re sitting down and ready to get competitive watching ‘University Challenge’….
Me: Jeremy Paxman hasn’t aged at all.
Mum: I was just thinking how much he had.
The students on ‘University Challenge’ are doing their “Hey, I’m James, you might remember me from …” intros and it’s making me cringe.
Mum: I do wish they wouldn’t do this “first name only” thing.
Me: It’s almost like they’re auditioning to be a presenter, it’s horrible.
Mum: It’s because it’s got to be caj. Everything’s got to be caj …. I’m surprised they’re even allowed to compete anymore.
A programme about WWII is on as I’m flicking through the channels…
Mum: Oh no! It’s handsome chaps doing serious stuff — amazing guys.
We have continued flicking, mum now has the remote and has hovered on the ‘Mash Report’…
Mum: Give it a chance, give it five minutes.
Me: No that’s far too long.
4 seconds later …
Mum: Yeup it is.
I’m on the phone to mum with a lovely paper bag full of ingredients for supper …
Me: I’m just walking back through the park from getting mushrooms.
Mum: Be careful foraging.
Me: I haven’t been foraging, I went to the shop!
I don’t know what mum is watching in the other room but I have a feeling it’s ‘Beverly Hills Housewives’ or some variation of because I hear her shouting at the television …
“Kick him to the curb honey!”
Two minutes later….
“He’s a twat get rid of him.”
I am a blessed angel and have cooked and washed up for the sixth night in row and just want to check it’s been recognised …
Me [impersonating mum]: Oh Jade, thank you so much for washing up again, you are a saint. When is your canonisation, please can I attend?
Mum: Yes I’m sure it will be very soon and I’ll be in the fiery pits of hell.
Mum: With all my mates.
My friend asked if I would write a poem for her lovely website. A mere eight months or so later, I did just that. An ode to my home town, the glorious Barnstaple!