The Letter

the letter

Close-Up of The Letter. 1988. Ink. 80cm x 61cm

Like some low-budget, sorry-ass version of Groundhog Day the postman arrived somewhat later than usual once again. He’d have clutches of loose, assorted mail for number fourteen in both hands, a large brown, scotch-taped package for number sixteen, and then, on cue, he’d stop to look studiously at his watch, then tilt his neck almost straight up, as if to check on the weather for some curious and unexplained reason. Finally, approaching my house he’d fumble around expectantly in his now empty-looking bag, building tension for effect. Shortly thereafter, I’d hear the discernable faint shuffle of ubiquitous black Clarks coming up the driveway.

Wrought with anticipation, like the very last kid on Santa’s route I’d wait eagerly for my turn. Against an eternally overcast and leaden sky, the soft shadow of his oversized standard issue postal hat would creep upwards on the opaque Neo Georgian glass of the front door. Behind the door, I’d sit patiently and quietly on the hallway stairs waiting for that special letter, as I had the day before, and before that, for more days than I could remember. Maybe today, I hoped, the letter would arrive.

The Homemaker

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The Homemaker. 1987. Ink. 43cm x 65cm.

The image of domestic bliss, my neighbor, Terry’s wife was good-looking, genuinely friendly, a great cook and worked part time in the village post office. Moving from bedsit central in the heart of London to the pastoral patchwork of villages and farms dotting the landscape of Buckinghamshire County, I could not help but perceive immediately, the stark contrast in lifestyles. In most cases, the village men would trek to the city daily by train while the womenfolk catered to kids, the house, and nightly dinner preparation. So, for the most part, I’d meet the guys daily at the station and the wives at the weekends around the village. To this day, I really don’t know why I moved there from Central London in the 1980s.

In this red and black ink drawing, I imagined Terry’s wife as The Homemaker, hanging out the clothes to dry on a blustery, temperamental but otherwise typical southern English morning. In some quest for local authenticity I was careful to draw only a variety of windblown oak leaves that you would genuinely find in the region. I think an errant ink spill was responsible for my adoption of the strange jacket pattern, which I adorned with symbols of domesticity, such as those you’d find on the laundry labels. A woman who lived around the corner did my laundry, just sayin’, but I meticulously copied the little instruction labels for this rendering.

Trailer Trepidation

Trepidation is probably fairly accurate in describing my lovely wife’s unease and foreboding of camping to come: When there are so many variables and important tiny details that you’ll have to deal with on the fly, but your thorough preparation is just the bits and bobs you could think of after a few Google searches based on your entire inexperience with the subject. Nine days we had planned in Australia’s magnificent red Simpson Desert, traveling over thousands of miles of dry dirt roads and dunes, sleeping in a pop up trailer that we tow with a rented Toyota Land Cruiser. So many questions. “Will we have access to power, facilities, food sources and clean towels on the journey?” my wife asked with a measured modulation of hope. “Dunno,” I said flatly while wondering if I ever towed anything in my life and whether I would be able to erect and deconstruct this complicated-looking NASA space station trailer in the dark, all without access to YouTube.

On the brochure, the compact trailer’s exterior looked like one of those shiny little square carts you find at 5th and 48th in Manhattan, complete with secret flaps and nooks for pretzels and gyros, and hooks for potato chips that you can’t find in stores like Dark Red Tomato, or Yellow Cheese and Bacon. But when erected, on the inside it becomes Dr. Who’s Tardis, though decorated by some budget-constrained Sultan who only had access to the L.L. Bean catalog.

The brochure said that just one random person could erect the trailer in less than ten minutes, but anyone who has ever tried assembling a desk from IKEA or a gas grill from Home Depot doesn’t buy that crap anymore. In considering the unexpected and what might be ultimately required of me, I was glad that I had recently seen The Martian.

 

The Taxi

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The Taxi. 1985. Ink. 68cm x 48cm.

The rain is relentless: not heavy like a monsoon, but persistent and continuous like an old style shower that hasn’t been fitted with one of those new environmentally friendly flow restrictors. The time and place is West London, November 1985, and the Theaters have just closed in and around Shaftsbury Avenue. Cold dark sticky rain coats everything as it beads on the black paintwork, windshield and windows of the Hackney Cab. Wedged inside, and trapped together in the back seat, the older, well-heeled couple sits reluctantly and in silence. Once again, she’s not talking to him for some unknown reason as she stares blankly through the window at the rain-soaked streets and reflecting red brake lights. He ponders how many times he has been here, sitting silently, in the taxi, in the rain.

I had never really described the context of this work completed back in the 1980s and thought I would share the motivation and thinking behind it. Drawn over a period of weeks in blue India ink I channeled some of the settings and events I came across generally when I lived close to London’s Theater district. As one does, I went through a phase of going to various shows weekly when it was available and nearby. The fellow is the quiet and respectable Mr. Fisher, the Managing Director at one of the large professional institutions in Knightsbridge, London, while I merely imagined his wife for the rendering.

Fate of the One-Thousandth Turtle

What’s all the fuss about saving sea turtles? Around for over one hundred million years already but on a sure path to rapid extinction, many marine scientists tell us that turtle sea grass feeding is central to that watery plants’ productivity and nutrient content, which in turn enhances the entire food chain all the way up to us humans. Other substantial undersea and landlubber benefits attributed to these shelled submersibles include coral health and vitality, and sand dune stabilization around nesting habitats. Coral condition directly dictates the wellbeing of reef ecosystems. So yes, these diving dinosaurs are pretty darn important it would seem in this world, as we now know it. A healthy turtle population means vigorous plant and coral life, reef welfare, and all of the links in the food chain up to your local fish and chip shop. Furthermore, it goes without saying that they are very cute and delightful to encounter in the wild whether one is boating, diving, snorkeling, or just meandering along the beach.

Now that we appreciate and understand their natural importance, what’s going on with these armored ambassadors? For the past few centuries the population has decreased dramatically due to loss of land and sea habitat, commercial fishing operations, poaching, and changes in our climate. All seven seagoing species of our finned-flippered friends are currently either endangered or threatened with extinction at this challenging time for mankind. And it’s hard enough already for these majestic encased egg-layers, which can live for over a century—traditionally, only one in a thousand survives to breeding age, although the demise of the other nine hundred and some play lesser but generally laudable and edible roles in the environment.

After successfully completing the one-in-a-thousand gauntlet around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, when one of these threatened reptiles gags on ocean plastic, is damaged by fishing operations, or can no longer find natural food sources it becomes a “floater,” helplessly bobbing about like a big beleaguered buoy. In some close encounters of the keratin kind, these briny beaked beasts may be lucky to be rescued and brought to the rehabilitation center at Fitzroy Island near Cairns, Australia. Here, Gillian Houston and her enthusiastic collaborators will care it for until it is healthy enough to be released back into the ocean. Gillian et al. will clean, mend, feed, and provide endless love and encouragement to each and every carapacious caller, regardless of type, sex, age, or any other factor. Whether it’s a famished floating Flatback, a gagged Green, a harangued Hawksbill, a line-caught Leatherback, a listless Loggerhead, or a ravished Ripley, the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Center has helped over 170 of these magnificent creatures in recent years, and boasts an 85% success report card to boot.

These may be small numbers in the grand scheme of things, but of vital importance nonetheless, as every single turtle counts. While society and our distracted governments need urgently to address the gravity of the root problems, this little motley crew of motivated volunteers will continue to help clean up the mess we’ve created.

The photos show a variety of the prehistoric patients currently at the center. Angie, an Olive Ridley, is over 100 years old and was caught up in a discarded illegal fishing net, known as a “ghost net.” Rinnie, a 15 year old Green, was found in an oil slick, while Lou, a 40 year old Olive Ridley was also a victim of a ghost net. The largest is Margaret, weighing in at about 180 kg (400 lbs), while one of the smallest is Nellie, who was found starving and had ingested marine debris.

The Falcon

The Falcon

The Falcon. 2016. Oil on Canvas. 79cm x 99cm.

A man and his Falcon represent the rich feathered plumage of man-bird history. Much more than just some flight of fancy, there are many heights to this raptorial rapport. A hawk heritage that spans centuries, this avian alliance was born of practicality but has evolved into sport, status, and sanctity. It is the stuff of legend, books, and movies, not least of which is my childhood heartbreak, Kes, from the novel, A Kestrel for a Knave, by Barry Hines.

Personally, I’ve only ever owned a budgie, a couple of tits and a Florida-born, red-bellied Somalian parrot called Bruce. Bruce was very special and we had a great, but overly exclusive relationship: With a razor-sharp beak he disliked almost everyone else, and unfortunately, most of my friends and family thought he was a vicious little bastard.

Bruce and I would spend countless hours together accompanied by his affectionate rhapsodic regurgitation, and as much as he made my heart soar, his continued dominating presence led to conjugal conflict, spousal spats and familial fretting. My adulthood heartbreak version of Kes ended with Bruce leaving me for another man, Mike, who worked at the local vet. One of the very few other men that Bruce liked, Mike left to take a new job in Southern Florida, and Bruce returned with him to his old hatching grounds. The moral to my story—take your wife to the pet shop when you buy a parrot.

The Fan

The Fan

The Fan. 2016. Oil on Canvas. 66cm x 79cm.

A solitary fan, his face anguished, sits alone in the isolated silence of failure. His team has lost again. They came so far, so close, but just not close enough and now he has nothing—nothing but an empty stadium and rumination of what might have been. His despair is an unwanted, unsavory and loathsome side effect of devotion, a result of his absolute, exclusive committal and unswaying servitude over many years—all to a singular team.

And I know how he feels. Growing up as a teenager in Scotland, I was not a big sports fan, but I loved World Cup soccer and the Olympic games. Nevertheless, supporting Scotland in the World Cup was about as fulfilling and successful as an Ernest Shackleton expedition. And cold too. The 1970s Olympics were also light on Jock joy; going to the bathroom you could’ve easily missed both Scottish golds while the Yanks racked up well over sixty.

Since then I’ve moved about a bit, from Scotland to England, to the USA, and to boot, the UK became part of the European Union in the ’70s. I’m currently a dual citizen of the United States and the Europe, thereby offering an impressive array of celebratory sporting prospects. The UK is presently technically part of Europe but admittedly this may be a fanciful fandom stretch here, although lately I really like Bayern Munich.

Some may think this is selling out, or fair-weather fan fickledom, but I see it differently; more pragmatically, and guaranteed to provide revelry and festivity, at least occasionally in an otherwise bleak sport’s silverware existence. So for this year’s hockey Stanley Cup, when my first pick, the Washington Capitals, lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, I immediately donned the Tampa Bay Lightning jersey. But they too were pounded by Pittsburgh. Hey, let’s go Pens!

The Drift

Drifting

The Drift. 2016. Oil on Canvas. 46cm x 59cm.

People digress from the task at hand almost 50% of the time according to a recent Harvard study. I.e., half the time they lose the thread of the narrative and go AWOL into a maze of contemplation. Perhaps this explains blank stares we routinely encounter prompting ubiquitous pennies for thoughts—and we’re talking about a lot of cash here. Contemplation has been described ordinarily as a three-phased process where we give time, space, and attention to some fleeting thought. But for some it can be a wonderful journey. “Contemplation seems to be the only luxury that costs nothing,” wrote Dodie Smith in her landmark book, Capture the Castle, though she oddly omits masturbation.

Wandering aimlessly on some impromptu, unplanned excursion, thoughts can be a mixture of past, present, and futuristic what-ifs. I agree with Dodie that it is luxurious to slip silently and inconspicuously into your cloud (ucloud™). How difficult it would otherwise be, were I compelled continuously and ceaselessly to attend the present—at the airport gate, passport control, and my lovely wife’s TV shows, particularly Grey’s Anatomy. For me, contemplation is a great place to hole up and unwind, to exercise my mind, on my exclusive ucloud™ hilltop retreat, as I take in magnificent, high-definition views of the surrounding surreal countryside. I would write a bit more about it, but I keep drifting.