The Beaky Blog O’Doom – 2014

So, it’s been nearly twelve whole weeks since we made the ill-advised decision to get a really cheap house that needs everything done to it. Lets see how it’s going, shall we? I should disclaimer first: a big list of stuff getting done to a house is not necessarily the most interesting reading in the world. However, plenty went wrong, so maybe that will help.

At first, I was fairly optimistic that once we had emptied the place of all the stuff that was lying around (including, but nowhere near limited to, an entire set of the Encyclopaedica Brittanica and the drum kit for Rock Band, which I assume is probably broken) then we would both start feeling a lot more positive about things. Only, there was rather more stuff lying around than I remembered, and my god, for some reason clearing it all up took just forever. (Although at least someone had gotten rid of that skip full of rubbish, which had been there so long it may well be listed in the Doomsday Book).

Also, we had to rip up the downstairs carpets, because they were absolutely soaking; as one might expect from being in a place that had been empty for over a year and urgently needed both the roof and the damp-work looking at. Sadly, it had been a while since I’ve done heavy labour that involved me getting covered in ming, allotment work and horse manure excepted, so I was relieved when, several days later, it was all over.

Ahaha, no it wasn’t. The local tip is now the place I have spent most of 2015; after the flat, my work, and of course, Beaky Hoose. My hopes that the kitchen would come up alright with a damn good scrub proved futile; the G-Monster declared that the whole thing was rotten and had to be ripped out, along with some perfectly good-looking fitted wardrobes that filled most of the back two bedrooms. We started on the wardrobes first; I personally took out over 300 screws on the first day, and was only one of three people working on it. Still the damn things were standing, like some sort of deathless curse on the place.

In good news, the G-Monster’s awesome mechanic came over and discovered how to turn the water on, and the gas boiler did not blow up when we turned that on too. That was as far as the good news went, however. The bad news included: the one nice-looking bathroom was leaking from everywhere; part of the house was not plumbed in, either with water or heat; and my fitness levels were worse than previously feared. I nearly passed out after disassembling the wardrobes and carrying the bits downstairs to pile neatly out of the way in the living-room. It was mortifying.

The very next day we got word that the damp-proofers were coming a week early, and the pile had to be moved up the other end of the house. It was a surprisingly long way and I fear that, once we have moved in, I am going to get fit just from getting where I’m going and realising I’ve left something I need back where I came from. Also, my joke about ‘going to the west wing for a pen’ doesn’t work any more, not when there almost is a west wing, not ‘the other side of the lounge’.

As well as all the physical work indoors, we had the outdoors to contend with. The garden is a fair size, so much so that I could easily double my allotment space and still have room for a lawn, especially if we get rid of that bit that was once a hedge, back when I was learning to walk, but which has been riotously out of control since; again, possibly a bit like me, if you listen to my parents. Except I am not fifty feet tall and in danger of crushing all around me. Alas.

It will have to wait, said the G-Monster, we have enough to be going on with. You just strim down the meadow (which had been waist-high in the summer, but had now all fallen in on itself and all the dog turds that someone’s dogs had been leaving there) and we will ignore all the rest. I faithfully did so, became immediately covered in pulverised dog-turd, and was greeted with a look of extreme disgust when I went looking for a petrol refill (in the house, not in public). I felt that a bit unnecessary, since I had pointed out what would happen, but was forced to put on the G-Monster’s overalls before I got in the car. I have not strimmed anything since, mostly as a form of protest, but also because damn, who has the time? We had a year’s worth of post to rip open, looking for information on who to contact about the utility bills (and no, I did not read any of it. I get good at that at work, haha), and also a lot of consoling the G-Monster to do. This is his first time on a house that needs a lot of work, bless, and he was feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Oh God, he kept saying, This is a catastrophe and it is all your fault because I only bought the place because you liked it.

Which, if I had known it before he bought the place, I would have insisted he didn’t. But it was too late now. So guess who was now feeling overwhelmed with guilt in case it was a catastrophe in the end. No pressure, like.

Anyway, December was upon us, with Christmas rolling up fast and cards and gifts and things of that Ilk to attend to, as well as all the homebrew needing to be moved on and tended, all sixty-five gallons of it, and gee, what timing, eh? But we had our feet clear enough that we could invite some professionals around to tender quotes that would involve things like kidney-selling.

The roofers were really sweet and I would totally recommend them if anyone wants and is in the central belt (of Scotland) – if only because they didn’t tut and announce anything would cost us umpty million quid, and also emptied the gutters on the garage as a bonus. Did I mention we have a garage? Oh yes, we have a garage, and I have already been banned from getting any ideas about carrying on with DIY in there, because it is the G-Monster’s garage. Instead, I have been granted The Shed, which is hidden somewhere in the ex-hedge. It is rather larger than the shed I am renting at the allittlement – about eight times larger – so there is that. I have also been told, every second day forever and ever, that I have been granted permission to sleep in the shed, too. To which I laugh politely and hope like hell that this is not going to be one of those situations where it turns out he’s actually drop-dead serious and I eventually escape from a life of being chained to a post somewhere, aged sixty, and everyone tuts, points at Fifty Shades of Grey and says I must have wanted it, somehow.

So that was the place damp-proofed and roof-proofed and wind-and-water-tight, just in time for the Storms of Winter (and are there ever some, up there on the high ground). We had also tendered for flooring quotes, kitchen-fitting quotes, plastering quotes and someone to come and totally redo all the wiring. I wanted to do these things Ourselves, with the possible exception of the wiring, but had to admit we had made practically no impact on the place for all our months of… what do you mean, it’s only been a fortnight? It feels like forever.

By this point, we had met the neighbours, well, two of them. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, we are in Central Spaniel, in that there are spaniels to the left of us and spaniels to the right (and horses at the end, go figure.) But there are spaniels all down the road into town as well. I was somewhat dismayed by this, because if me mate ever brings Dexter T Dogg out to play and he gets in among the locals, I am bound to bring back the wrong one and much wrath will ensue.

There was something of a hiatus over Christmas. My god, it was nice to have four days of sitting on me arse, rather than tearing up the motorway and hauling stuff to the tip; whether at the crack of dawn on a day off (crack of dawn rather more conveniently timed in winter) or in the dark of night after work (dark of night less conveniently timed, at around three in the afternoon). Did I mention everyone drives like lunatics when its dark and the weather’s bad? Because they do. For instance, back when the G-Monster and I were still trying to kid ourselves we had leisure time, he showed me Death Race 2000 over dinner, and the very next morning as I was walking to work, this guy sitting at a red light did his utmost damnedest to run me over as I crossed in front of him (on the green man, matey) – and immediately had to sit on his brakes so he wouldn’t screech out into the main road and get side-swiped. I ask you. I almost wish I had paused to get his numberplate, instead of fleeing like the wind, but I figured, if someone’s going to do that in front lots of other cars, what stops him getting out and going after me with something else, if I hang about?

I was just complaining about it to the G-Monster when he picked me up after work, when this other guy suddenly ran a red light from a standing start, the G-Monster sat on the brakes to avoid him and we got shunted by the poor wee lassie behind us. She was so upset I was forced to get her number and text her to make sure she was okay.

(Did I mention I am fitting driving-lessons in among all this? My licence is finally getting some use, after twenty years of languishing in a drawer! Now I remember why I stopped driving; well, I didn’t have a car, but apart from that, everyone else on the road appeared to be a cast-iron psychopath who was personally trying to kill me. It’s like nothing’s changed. Except I am assured that, this time, I have not been loaned a vehicle by someone who confessed afterwards, when it failed its MOT on seventeen separate points, that they knew fine the brakes were faulty and all four tyres were bald. God-dammit, mother.)

We then got norovirus for Hogmanay. Oh, how hilarious it was.

Well, actually it was, from my point of view. The G-Monster had been rather unimpressed by my saying I was going to take a day off from going out to Beaky because I was feeling ill; since he was going to his mate’s after, and I would have been left out there to take two trains home, I decided I’d rather not if it was all going to go horribly wrong en route. As it was, he had to take a detour into Beaky on his way home and was stuck there being horribly ill, and I felt quite concerned for him, obviously, but also quite vindicated. This lasted until the next day, when I was about to get on a bus to go see a mate for Hogmanay and got ill like anything. But at least it didn’t happen on the bus.

We laid in emergency air-mattresses, after that, since they were on sale at LIDL. Shame about the lack of anywhere not covered in nails and sharp dust and whatever to put them, really.

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2014 in a (long rambly) nutshell. Part the third – crass materialism

So, the G-monster had now been living under my roof for six months without any murders, or even any maimings, which suggested it might be time to look at taking a larger step. Specifically, taking a step into a larger home, because embarrassingly enough, my flat is a fairly decent size, yet not big enough for the both of us… and all our crap.

(Although a few years ago it did fit me and a hoarder of a lodger whose stuff took over three of the rooms, so maybe the fact that both I and the G-monster were trying to work from home didn’t help. And the harvest; the harvest did not help at all. Finally, after four years of hard work, the weather forgot to be rotten, and I discovered just how much fruit one tiny little half-plot can produce; and it is a lot of fruit. Hours and hours of work of fruit, in fact, in the blistering sun, and if god forbid you try and take a can of cider down to liven things up, a gigantic bee will fly into it and fall in and you will get a mouthful of surprise fuzziness, which is not very refreshing. (For anyone concerned about the fate of the bee, I spat him out and he staggered off to sleep off his booze under a strawberry leaf). Nevertheless, by the end of the summer there were twelve five-gallon vats of wine in the lounge and we were unable to have guests round ever again. Or get near the DVD player.)

Anyway, we reckoned we wanted Space(!), acres of it (how to find the time to look after it, when the harvest of a small plot was already giving me gip, would be a bridge to be crossed later) and a big-ass house in the middle of the Space(!),  And also it had to be somewhere In The Country, so I could have a wee forge without anyone going ballistic, and but also nice and close to amenities and a transport system, so I could take the train to work and the G-monster could get a Chinese takeaway at the drop of a hat. It had to be close to my friends (on one side of the country) and close to his friends (on the other side of the country) and easy for both sets of friends to find; yet somehow so remote and hard-to-get-to that the sort of relatives who don’t give any prior warning couldn’t ‘just drop in while passing’ and take umbrage at the fact that we were blatantly in the middle of something and unprepared for guests. (Oh you know they do. It’s why they do it, surely?)

Obviously, not all of this was going to happen without a handy lottery win, and possibly some bending of space and/or time. Ideally, we needed a sodding TARDIS, but then, doesn’t everyone?

However,  there was this house that kept popping on and off the market, always at a lower price than before, and I eventually pestered the G-monster into going to see it, because it seemed about as good as we were going to get on all of these things, and we could also (just about) afford it.

 It was immediately obvious why (normal, sensible) people weren’t biting. The estate agent did say that most folks have a problem with the stairs – namely that the bit cut out to make way for them erupts into one of the bedrooms like Jaws beaching himself on a boat; or like someone with no idea of how to build a flight of stairs building a flight of stairs, for instance. The upstairs floors were wavy, the downstairs ceilings were somehow wavy in a completely different direction, the whole thing was inches thick in artex – that is, where the walls had actually been finished. The place had been empty for a couple of years, but the brooms and rusty tools left in every single room suggested something like the Marie Celeste, or possibly Hellraiser, had occurred. It looked like the worst idea in the whole world. To top it all off, there was this wee stone-and-red-tile portico that had been stuck on the front like an afterthought, which was simultaneously so pretentious and yet so naff that I found eerily reminiscent of me, er, I mean, charming.

We are not getting that house, said the G-monster as we drove away. It has fitted wardrobes, with those bits that got across the top of the bed. The kitchen is bogging. The kitchen that wasn’t bogging is somehow in a skip outside instead. It’s got that shell suite in the bathroom, the one I hate. That horrendous beaky bit on the front is actually on squint, did you see that? And the place was designed by an idiot and needs a metric fucktonne of work. We will look at some other houses.

But we didn’t, because he buggered off on business again, and when he came back still nobody sensible had touched the place with a bargepole. So he reluctantly put in an offer. Because we couldn’t actually afford a nice house as big as that one. Besides, I was really excited about the prospect of the pair of us doing a big DIY project together.

The reason for this is that, back in May and right when I was about to spend a long weekend working like a dog for this West End Gala stall thing, a mate turned out to have an exhibition of her own. Specifically, she had her HND in make-up finals coming up, and for this she needed to showcase her work on turning her bloke into an ancient Blood God of some description. As you do. For this, she needed dried herbs and a mortar and pestle, and various arcane paraphenalia For Atmos, all of which I happened to have lying around (as you do). However, she also needed carpentry tools, carpentry skills, space to do some carpentry and a car to get to B&Q; and since it seems unreasonable to expect poor wee broke make-up students to come up with all that, her neighbour the joiner had said he’d help. And then he didn’t cos it was his birthday and he got drunk instead. As you do, I suppose.

So we helped! We moved all the furniture (and wine) out of the lounge, and tied half of B&Q to the roof of the car, and the G-monster got himself a brand new circular saw (when he tried it on the first plank, he was very impressed to see there was no sawdust on the floor. Because it had all blown across the room and covered the poor wee lassie we were supposedly ‘helping’, from head to toe.) However. Between us (and youtube, for advice, seeing as we had never done this before), we made one wall of the two-walls-and-a-floor that the exhibit stall required. Our mate cried with happiness that her exhibition would be saved, we high-fived, made her dinner, and promptly got horrendously drunk on the first rhubarb wine of the year in celebration.

Of course, the next day we actually had to make the rest of it. The G-monster curled up in a ball and wailed when I told him there was absolutely no way we were not doing this, as then we would be the ones who had let someone down and ruined everything. So with a lot of pain and moaning we got it done, and it didn’t fall down, and the exhibition was really fab and I took loads of photos to draw from, and of course they all turned out to be rubbish, c’est la vie. And they sprayed my home-grown dried garlic with fire retardant, which we weren’t expecting, and it had to be thrown out.

But the point is, apart from that last bit it was a huge success (which is why I didn’t mention it previously; a tale of triumph has no place in a Story of Suck). Plus, we got to take the exhibition-stand away and repurpose it as a fruit-cage (although the folks at the allotment might have got a bit funny when we recycled the floor-bit with the big pentagram on it into the woodpile; certainly an email went round later, suggesting that sort of thing wasn’t on. BUT. They don’t know it was us.

Oh, wait.)

Ahem. BUT. We were really chuffed with ourselves for saving the day, and convinced we would be just awesome at doing up a house together. Because that is exactly the same thing. Plus, we’re not getting any younger, etc, etc and if we’re going to do this it should be done now, before that shoulder that’s giving me gip actually twists off at the socket or something.

The G-monster told me not to get excited, because there was no way they were going to accept our offer. Which was true – nobody goes to see just one house and then buys it and then that’s that.

They accepted the offer. I became convinced the place was haunted.

There were then roughly three hundred complications with the lawyers and missives and a lot of other stuff that it was really quite nice to have someone else dealing with for a change. (Sorry G-monster, and although it is nothing to do with you, every single damn other time I’ve been in a relationship, this has all been my job, regardless of whose name is on the bank-loan). So yay for sitting on me arse!

However, since we might own beaky house any minute now(!), I didn’t dare start with the exhibitions and galas and things again. It would be the only thing that would guarantee that I’d get an actual offer of something mega – right when me and my stuff were separated by an hour’s travel and several tonnes of other boxed crap and a scheduling nightmare, and I’d end up looking like more of a moron than if I hadn’t bothered. Worse, I’d be setting myself up to Let Somebody Down.

Eventually, however, summer started threatening to become autumn, the moving-in date stopped looming at us and started receding into the past, and I actually started writing a novel in the end, just for something to take my mind off things. I was two thirds through it when Christmas was looming up the calendar instead, so I had a short break to take the G-monster on some steam trains for his birthday and do a few moody landscape pictures (from photos taken out of dirty windows of moving vehicles, because of course they were).

jacobite journey oct 2014 1 - glen coe jacobite journey oct 2014 2 - glen coe jacobite journey oct 2014 3 - loch eilt jacobite journey oct 2014 4 - loch eilt jacobite journey oct 2014 5 - loch eilt

I still can’t decide if they might perhaps possess a certain naive charm, or they merely look like a kid did them all in one afternoon. In the end, I got so fed up trying to decide that I was thinking of trying to exhibit them just to find out already, the suspense is killing me here, when I got a call that

we

got

the

keys.

Holy hell! It actually happened!

So, twenty-four hours later – and nearly six months after the last time we’d seen the place – the G-monster and I fought through the Friday homecoming traffic to go see if beaky had got appreciably worse in the interim (or smaller. Things are never quite as grand the second time around, right?)

My god. This might be the first time I have under-estimated the size of a place. We somehow managed to go in different directions at some point during our initial wander, and it took nearly five minutes before I found the G-monster again. This is so the sort of place where horror movies happen. Also, since the G-monster’s favoured means of room-to-room communication is to turn his back to the door and make Wookie noises into a cupboard until someone I come running, walkie-talkies may be required.

There was rather more mysterious detritus everywhere than I remembered, and the electric didn’t seem to be working. Or the water. And the gloaming had already descended, since we were now only three weeks shy of Midwinter, making the whole place look even more desolate and menacing.

It will be okay with a bit of a scrub down, I said hopefully.

I was so, so wrong.

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2014 in a (long, rambly) nutshell: Part Two. Abandon the previous plan and run!

Being 5/12 of the way through the year, and already having sunk lots of money I didn’t quite have in hopes being a Proper artist, (not to mention, sitting in a pit of a flat, surrounded by dozens of unsold prints that were looking less and less professional by the minute), drastic measures were needed. To whit, the G-monster and I buggered off on a road-trip round Ireland, safe in the knowledge that after a whole week of fighting each other, the satnav and the weather, everything going on back home was going to look like it was made of roses and rhinestones. (Assuming, that is, that we actually made it back).

We were not disappointed. It was fabulous weather the whole drive to the ferry port (where we realised we could have driven to a much closer ferry port instead) and I had my first ever taste of travelling in First Class, where croissants and wine were freely available. The G-monster promptly banned me from helping myself to too much of either, on the grounds that if he was doing all the driving, I should be reasonably sober too. And I was on no account to do any sleeping while in the car, because if he was doing all the driving, I should be reasonably compus mentus too. Although when I wasn’t allowed to open a packet of crisps because if he…

It was looking like it was going to be a very long holiday already.

Still, I made the most of it by keeping a dedicated blog of the whole proceedings, which a) gave me a wicked motion-sickness headache the whole time and b) got deleted by the second-hand tablet I wrote it on; so much has been lost to the mists of time. However I do remember being excited by absolutely everything we saw after we de-ferried, which I was told was due to being pished, and that we made it all the way to the Giant’s Causeway, which I had always wanted to see, before the weather closed in, the G-monster decided that like hell he was walking all the way to the shore from the visitors centre and I discovered the queue to get in was going to take us till closing-time anyway.

We eventually managed to squeak onto a bus, and down to the shore where… my, the Giant’s Causeway is actually a lot smaller than I thought? Although maybe that was just an optical illusion caused by the fact that it was almost entirely hidden behind a horde of (other) tourists, the selfish ingrates. At least I got to try out my new super zoom lens that the G-monster had bought me for Christmas. (For complicated reasons, yes, this was its first outing).

So it turns out it was broken?

At least we got to the B&B before the rain came on. And then we got out of the B&B during a sudden gap in the rain, found a place doing fish and chips (and the B&B owner, also in getting fish and chips) and went down the coast a bit to watch the sun set over a ruined castle. It was amazing, but you will just have to trust me on that. And then the rain came on again, so we sodded off back and had an early night.

The next day I wanted to go back to the Giant’s Causeway before any of the (other) selfish ingrates mobbed it, but we went to the Dark Hedges instead (this is an actual place, oh yes, and has been on the telly) because the G-monster had a Plan. (To be fair, it was a Plan to photograph as much stuff as possible. I would have enjoyed it much more if he didn’t have a far superior camera that took far better shots than I, I mean, mine, did.). And then up to the coast, where you can go across a wibbly wobbly rope bridge to this wee island entirely composed of cliffs and slippery grass slopes hoping to make you end up on the cliffs. My god, I was so chuffed with myself when I reached the island, until I realised that I would have to go through the whole thing again to get back off it.

It will be fine, I said merrily. Only, it turns out the rope bridge is on a slope, and you have to go uphill to get off the island. The ‘looking straight ahead’ trick is not such a reassuring trick when you’re looking straight at a vertical cliff-face.

We did go back to the Giant’s Causeway in the end, via this wee harbour that was apparently in Game of Thrones. Much was made of this on the tourist information posters, but since I have never seen or read anything of the series (she says, risking being shunned forever) it was all lost on me. It was very cute though. I understand Game of Thrones is nothing of the sort. Anyway, this time there were no hordes on the causeway, woo, but it was still just as teeny as yesterday. (I have my suspicions that perhaps it used to be larger? The Victorian-era photos certainly made it look larger. Where has the rest gone?)

I was consoled by the nearby pub, which sells excellent seafood chowder and a good pint. Then I was consoled some more when we went on the Bushmills distillery tour, which was nice and short and included a free shot of Bushmills whiskey. Tragically, it turns out neither me nor the G-monster can hack whiskey, which is perhaps a detail one of us should have realised before we went in. Oh well.

We barely made it to our next B&B ahead of nightfall, which was a bit odd for five p.m. in June, in the northern hemisphere, but it turned out that was actually a raincloud making up for all the earlier sunshine. I recall making a joke about how that was a bit ominous, and making some more about the décor when I saw the room we were staying in, for it was almost precisely like the one in Stephen King’s 1408 (the short story, not the film; and no, nobody is going to have a damn clue what I’m talking about, because that happens with all my references. I need to go more mainstream. Game of Thrones it is).

Also uncanny was the way I almost immediately felt pretty ill, and then very ill, and then spent a couple of hours alternately thanking my fate that the room had an en suite, and wondering if I was going to die in there; and, if so, whether I could blame it on Stephen King. Meanwhile the G-monster sodded off to eat at McDonalds in a thunderstorm, both literally and figuratively, before returning to blame me mightily for it. He also told me the room is not haunted by an extra-dimensional monster that only makes it look like people died there of natural causes, and that I was banned from ever eating seafood chowder again because I can’t hack it.

We did not have an argument that night, but only because I felt too rough.

My memories of the rest of the trip are somewhat more fuzzy, because that is what happens when you narrowly escape being killed by an extra-dimensional monster haunting a B&B room. We squelched round a wee zoo-type thing in the mud, and went a butterfly house which, despite being indoors, was still soggy as anything. They did give me the most enormous serving of quiche I have had in my life, though, and it came with seven sorts of salad, so that was me happy. Well, there was no repeat of the night before, at least. There was also a further B&B, this time in a more lively town where we actually went out to enjoy the evening. True, this meant eating icecream in the ferocious, shivery gale that was coming off the sea, but everyone was doing it.

In the morning we went to the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, which was something else I’d wanted to do for ages, because I am a sad, sad bastard. For the very reasonable price of about three quid this lassie took us on a fab guided tour of the place and pointed out many things of interest about it, all of which I immediately forgot. (Which is why I had written them all down, second-hand tablet. Not that I’m holding a grudge).

Since it was time we did something the G-monster enjoyed, for a change, we went so far inland we ended up back in Northern Ireland again, all to find this pub with a wee working model railway in it. Sadly, the pub had shut. Not only that, the entire town had shut, as had the next one and the next one and… it was scary seeing how badly the economy had collapsed. The only thing that seemed to be open for miles was the cattle-mart, which was mainly selling second-hand hi-viz clothing, and we ended up eating in a charity caff that had only survived because all the staff were volunteers. I would love to say that was so sobering that we were incredibly frugal the rest of the time, but we sodded off to Enniskillen to look at a barber shop that was also a railway museum and had a cream tea round the corner from it.

At some point we also went to a proper railway museum, and a seaworld where I fed manta rays, and (on an actual day with no rain) into a cave system with a boat-ride in it. The boat-ride was off, however, because the rain had been too heavy the day before. Foiled again. In what may have been an act of revenge, but which he claims was accidental, the G-monster drove his car into a pub. It was really embarrassing, especially as the guy was outside repainting his sign and saw the whole thing, but they were very nice about it and still served me a salad so big they had to bring an extra table over to hold it all.

Then it was nearly the end of our last day, and high time to head south to catch up with me mate. With only five miles to go till we reached her place, an actual fight broke out – and over the satnav, too, so that was two birds with one stone. Her bloke very kindly put us up in a room with two beds in, in case we were still fuming about it.

And in the morning… it was suddenly all over and time to head home. With hindsight, we should have driven the couple of hours up to Belfast and taken the same ferry back, but for some reason we thought it was a brilliant idea to go across from Dublin to Wales instead, and take the long way, which took about eight additional hours.

Wasn’t raining any more, however.

Also, I got back with me batteries fully recharged (possibly, due to the fact that just once I wasn’t going to have to pack again as soon as I woke up). I swore I would do lots more art, and be bolder about putting myself out there, and practice my expressions in the mirror before I did so.

But first… we went to have a wee look at a house.

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2014 in a (long, rambly) nutshell. Part the first – Ima be an Artist!

So I decided to spend 2014 trying to be a Proper artist – the sort that sells prints of their work to strangers, rather than making the occasional twenty off a mate, and who has exhibitions and stalls rather than a stash of drawings under the bed; the sort of person who can afford to buy new materials with the proceeds of their art, not their secretarying. (Although not much besides the art materials; Proper artists are always skint, right?)

I was quite excited about this, mainly because I’d convinced myself that it was better to try and fail – even if you do it in public and everyone thinks you’re a right idiot as a consequence – than sit and do what you’d always done, and spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you had tried.

It took several things to set up, however, the first one being more time.

More Time Arrives!

More time immediately fell into my lap, which was either a stroke of good fortune disguised as bad, or vice versa (I haven’t decided yet). There’d been a massive overhaul at work to save costs, with half the admin staff being downgraded a couple of pay-grades; those who got the downgrade got to keep their original salary for ‘a bit’, but were warned we would eventually have to find a different job at their original grade, or take a pay-cut. Or retire, or just plain leave, thus opening a vacancy for someone cheaper.

The timing of getting downgraded was quite good, because I was cracking up under a workload double that of most of my colleagues. So that saved my arse for “a bit”. Of course, with only half as many jobs left at the original grade, popping back up like a cork, (or Monkey the Irrepressible), was not necessarily easy. I applied for everything that seemed like it wouldn’t outright suck satanic balls, got pipped at the post for all of them, and was eventually informed by email that I would shortly be taking the terrible, terrible Relief Secretary job – which sucked more satanic balls than everything I had previously regarded with a curled lip, so go figure. (We had been told previously we would have two refusals before the Or Else part, but these suddenly seemed to have evaporated).

However! Suddenly there was a part-time vacancy in a different department. Being utterly desperate, I played for it and won. And very satisfying it was too, when the Powers That Be informed me that it was part time and perhaps I had failed to realise this, and I informed them in turn that I absolutely had, thank you and so sorry about the Relief role, cheery bye. I mean, the Relief role was paid-time-off-with-stress in a hand-basket, which left taking a pay-cut; a cut in hours worked out around the same, pay-wise, so I lucked up into that instead. And I have felt miserably guilty for being part-time ever since, even though my new colleagues are too, and they’re all very nice.

(After I took the part-time job to escape the terrible, terrible Relief job, I found out that many other people had all in turn been told in turn they would take the terrible, terrible Relief job too. They had fled all over the place to escape it. However, someone had come along fleeing some impossible-to-imagine Worse Relief job at another hospital and was delighted at having this one, so again, go figure).

I could tell it was going to be okay in the new department when I walked in and my three colleagues introduced each other by various insulting nicknames and danced around assuring me that they personally were the only nice one, and the others were all evil. One of them lied, however, and came back from Florida with Harry Potter Every Flavour Jellybeans. I showed willing when plied with ‘grass’, ‘vomit’ and ‘earwax’ when she assured me they were all really nice flavours (obvious lie is obvious) but when I pled illness and she handed over ‘earthworm’ with the assurance that it was watermelon, the combination of awful was too much and I threw up in three different rooms in the department, one after the other.

Miraculously, (or sadly, as I thought at the time), I survived the experience, although I was still feeling pretty colourless the next day. My colleague did tell me she felt bad about it “for thirty seconds!” and then laughed like a drain.

I have had far worse colleagues.

Money is Found Down The Back of the Sofa

I still wouldn’t have been able to survive much on that pay, however, so at the same time the G-Monster’s* tenancy was up and he moved in with me instead. This was a bit nerve-wracking, since I had no idea how we would get along together living cheek by jowl. So far, it is sometimes alright, sometimes teeth-grindingly annoying, and sometimes great, so I suppose that’s about as good as I could realistically hope for.

*(The G-Monster: formerly known here as the Bossman. However, since he did sack me when his company folded, technically that ain’t true any more; plus he also developed the habit of stomping around the flat, roaring. I’m still not sure exactly what he’s supposed to be, though.)

Art Exhibitions: Not just putting stuff on a wall and seeing what sticks

So the first two things I needed were taken care of – time and enough income to get by. The third thing was, some actual art for selling. After that, I figured the fourth was exhibition space, and the fifth was, Customers.

So despite being on a long weekend in Brussels at the time, and thus miserably hungover, I started the “28 drawings later” challenge/ community, which was pretty damn challenging really; one picture a day for the whole of February. Armed with an earlier knocking-off time and a whole lot of port, I knocked out stuff in a night that would normally have taken a whole week; at least for the first fortnight or so, until the G-Monster complained that I was drinking far too much and also ignoring him and his dinner.

(We still have not quite reached an equilibrium on the second two subjects, almost ten months later. I think the G-Monster feels unloved unless he is fed and eaten with; I feel unloved when I feel like I’m expected to provide maid-service. Perhaps there is a happy medium in our future, or perhaps not.)

Still, I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself, until I found out that you can’t just go round drawing from photos you find on the internet, even if they’re ones of your friends’ Imbolc fire festival which was in the paper; you have to ask permission first. Since a lot of the photos were of people in masks, I had no idea how I’d ever track them all down, but then I discovered you’re supposed to ask the photographer’s permission, not the subject’s. Also, I found out that if you don’t, you can have the arse sued right off the base of your spine, even if you never make any money from it at all.

This sounded incredibly terrifying. Happily, half the people I spoke to about it assured me that there was no way this could ever happen (until one contacted me and said it had happened… to her. Recently.) The other half assured me that it would never happen as long as I never ‘fessed up to the photographer (which I already had done). Thankfully he was very nice about it and only asked for a 40% cut of proceeds, which is certainly better than losing my arse, and also persuaded me to never work from his stuff ever again. Win all round!

Anyway, so that meant that my first ever solo exhibition ever was not banjaxed, hurrah!

Except that it promptly was, of course.

With hindsight, this is probably largely due to my face – I have absolutely no idea what my expressions look like, but they don’t seem to pair up to my emotions very well. Thus, when I am at my absolute angriest, blokes in the street will shout, Cheer up love, it may never happen! in mocking tones; when I’m feeling like I’m going to burst into tears, everyone skips out of my way like I’m wearing a waistcoat of dynamite. I have been accused of looking inappropriate cheerful at moments when I certainly wasn’t feeling inappropriately cheerful, and of shouting at people when I was whispering because I was so terrified I was struggling not to cry, etc etc.

And lo, I was terrified of this solo gig. I’d had a terrific burst of manic energy all February, which wore off as soon as I had to go and actually interact with other people, natch, so I can confidently guess that my face was a picture when I went into the caff with my stuff, (and not the sort I was paying to put up on the wall, boom boom). I tried to be polite as I could to absolutely everyone, baring my teeth in inane over-expressions of amiability, mumbling in case I accidentally shouted, and generally probably coming across as Tom Baker going through a bad patch, and did it all again the next week when I went back to meet up with folks who said they’d come in to see the stuff.

Unfortunately, during this I discovered there were no titles put up, and here we were halfway through was only a fortnight-long exhibition. So nobody had a clue who any of this stuff belonged to, nevermind that they could (and should!) part with cash for some of it. These things happen, however, so I went back in to put some up signs myself, during which I asked someone if they wouldn’t mind moving while I put a price up.

Turns out that after I left, they complained to management, which I found out a week later when we were taking the exhibition (which had sold nothing) back down. I found this out when the management complained to the lassie who was organising the exhibition, who was right next to me, and told her to pass it on.

The worst part was, the lassie organising things was so obviously mortified as well, by my behaviour. 

My attempt to go up and apologise to the manager did not go over very well, and on my way out the door I was accused of trying to sneak out without paying for a coffee. In one of those loud voices that make everyone turn round and stare, because of course it was.*

I am never setting foot in the place ever again.

*(While this may or may not be utter nonsense, the G-Monster tried to cheer me up by insisting that the caff was a thin veneer for a drug-dealing operation, on the grounds that a) it is almost empty at all times, yet somehow stays in business, and b) he says he saw it happening. This just made me more anxious – for all I know, that means that when I went up to the counter and said, ‘May I speak to the manager, for I would like to apologise’, in Mob-speak that actually meant, “I will burn down your [expletive deleted] house, you [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]”.

Which is a misunderstanding that would not improve my life.)

Stalls: the Boss Level of Exhibitions

Due to the utter mortifying failure I displayed there, I realised that it is in fact way, way better to sit and wish rather than failing horribly in public and being utterly mortified. Therefore I resolved not to have any kind of public exposure ever again. Unfortunately this bolt of clarity came the day after  I had agreed to take a stall at the West End Gala, where you don’t even just hang your stuff on a caff wall and get shouted at by the management, you have to stand in front of it and take whatever lumps the public wants to dish out too.

FECK.

So after a couple of weeks of hiding in Skyrim (where you can walk into a shop with whatever-the-hell you’ve made and if they have money they will buy it off you and nobody ever accuses you of trying to leave without paying. Although I hear some people play for the fantasy dragon-slaying element instead), I actually recovered from the flu and then had to run about like a blue-arsed fly, arranging hundreds of poundsworth of prints and frames and mounts and what-have-you. Was everything unsuitable the first time? Damn right. Was the second time a little ropey also? Damn straight. Was there more of this ‘being shouted at by people in shops’ lark? Dammit, yes there was, even though this time I shovelled down loads of (prescription) pills to keep the terror at bay and my expression more human. I was starting to feel righteously aggrieved.

However, after all that, and with the help of the internet, I learned how to mount my own prints, by the half-hundred too, and then showed me mate how to do it and assembled two of absolutely everything I might need… and got abandoned on the kerbside ‘near’ the venue, far too early in the morning on the day after my birthday. For the G-Monster had to go on some business trip. At least I didn’t have to try and get all my crap onto a bus.

(Did I have a birthday party/ soiree/ celebration? Nope, I was absolutely not doing this with a massive hangover. Therefore I am officially an adult now, right?)

I got approximately twenty feet down the street before my wheelie-trolley got stuck on a lighting-rig cable, and when I went to lift it over manually, everything toppled off it, to the amusement of all. Still, only a few hundred more yards to go.

I could already tell it was going to be an extremely long day. Especially when the heavens opened, settling into a steady rhythm of rain that got into, and under, absolutely everything, no matter how many layers of ‘clear’ dust-sheets and Duck tape I spread everywhere, and the two kitchen rolls I had brought to mop things up were through in minutes. Also, while the ‘clear’ dust sheets might not keep the rain off, they certainly kept potential customers from seeing a damn thing.

Despite all this, things actually went better than I had anticipated, in that many of my friends came along to say hello, some people even pity-bought some of my stuff, and one guy who was an absolute hero snuck me in a pint of cider disguised in an apple-juice carton. I have never been so grateful; my own stocks of gin-laced tonic water were running low by this point. And nobody had a fit at me, which is always good. Although there was an unfortunate moment when the cameras turned up for this new telly channel that was opening and decided to interview me, of all people – but they did point the camera at me artwork and ask my name, so I merrily mugged it up in hope of Publicity, trying to ignore the way the camera was pointed up and under my chin/s, and managing not to reply to “What makes Glasgow great?” with “the quality of the skag!”

Not only was that completely out of character, I can never think of a witty quip when it would actually help, ever.

So there I was on the telly some evenings later, chins asail across the screen like a pie-shop flotilla, and no mention made of me art whatsoever, of course. I had at least hoped that nobody I knew would catch it, but there is always one eagle-eyed boyscout who tells the whole of facebook the link to the damn thing.

At least I didn’t make the quip about heroin; they’d definitely have put up my name then. Probably an address, as well.

So that was the first half of the year nearly up, and me another year older. I did actually sell some stuff at the gala, however, meaning I went from ‘several hundred pounds down’, to ‘several hundred pounds down but up sixty quid. Minus the taxi home from the sixty… oh SOD EVERYTHING‘.

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What I have been up to this year – less colour, more dots

irish blessing 1 irish blessing 2 lovecraft series 2 - 1 - cthulhu poem illumination - highland coo poems - burns poems - devotion poems - first fig poems - wordsworth sayings - no pain no gain sayings - stronger

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What I have been up to this year – with new exciting colour pictures!!!eleventy

This gallery contains 20 photos.

Lots of things! Honest! So many I couldn’t even begin… oh alright, not much. I have been mainly concentrating on the art. Many hilarious mishaps (i.e. situations I found mortifyingly embarrassing) have occurred along the way, and I really do intend … Continue reading

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Day Fourteen in Orlando – riding a giant hairdryer around the Everglades

Yo, is this blog post over a year late? Yes it is. Is it my fifth (or more) attempt at writing it, because it is (rather topically, this being the 1st of November 2014) CURSED, and every single other attempt at keeping a record of my life has mysteriously failed to save? Yes, it is that too, worse luck.

Let us see if this one works.

ANYWAY. To be briefer than normal, I woke up feeling rather sorry for myself, thanks to the Beers of the World, I mean, the unnatural heat and humidity of this fine October morning, which should by all rights be frosty and leafless. Being in Florida is strangely like being in Paradise, at least until you get home and the credit card bill rolls in, at which point it is horribly like being terribly broke in the real world. However, that return with a bump was still some hours off, and we spent the last of our holiday venturing into the Wilds, where people don’t wear big smiles when serving you coffee and ask if you’re enjoying it. Clearly I had become accustomed to the frightening, Stepford levels of solicitude from random strangers already, because the lack of it was also strange and alarming. Or maybe it was just the Paranoia After The Day Before. But it was not as strange and alarming as… going on a gigantic hairdryer around the Everglades!

(You thought I jested?) Turns out it is the most epic way to have your hangover blown straight out of your brain; massive handbrake turns and racing straight into huge banks of reeds, a spin out onto a lake so still and lovely that all the clouds were reflected around us, and of  course, wild baby alligators, and all of it was awesome. Don’t I just wish I hadn’t put the photos somewhere safe on the hard drive, eh? Afterwards, we got to hold Fluffy the baby alligator, who was so soft and warm, aww; and after that, we drove straight off to put the car back where we found it and get on a plane home.

And thus followed a year-long hiatus of blogging, because of laziness this curse.

Update: Bwahahaha, I found them. Here is a man playing Fluffy the alligator like some sort of French horn (fnar)

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And here be the Everglades

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And wild baby alligators (trust me, they are in here somewhere)

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Ah yes, that’s right. His head is right over on the right hand side, halfway up, with a cunningly-placed sodding blade of grass wrecking the shot. C’est la vie…

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