Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Hogmanay Letter.

Dear ones,

 it's that time after Christmas that stretches into the first week or so of the new year when I think back over the last twelve months and feel inescapably tragic. No matter if it has been a good twelve months or a bad twelve months or (more commonly) an untanglable mixture of the two, the weight of the year past descends upon me and I feel heavy, as heavy as if I were being asked to live it all over again in the space of a week.

 This year has been longer than most. We started it in London in a pretty bad way – stretched, sad, exhausted, scared, fairly legitimately tragic. We scrambled and we fought to get ourselves packed and organised and ready to leave the life that was filling our pockets with more and more rocks every day and we did it; after three months of painting and building and planting and crying we stuffed our bags and closed the door, said goodbye to the garden and the home that we had tried to build (some pieces more successfully than others) and handed the keys to our year's work and life's savings over to a bunch of only moderately suspect tenants.

 We boarded planes and ferries and planes again - sometimes together and sometimes apart - and fell face first into Nye's parents' arms and home where we lay whimpering and shaking and drinking wine like France had run out of water. It was supposed to be three months but it turned into six, three months being not nearly long enough to recover from the preceding hundreds. I'm still trying to make sense of them but I probably never will, they were six months out of a life otherwise lived elsewhere. They were six months that were purely, intensely, unfathomably their own (très français) thing. Seductive and restorative and alienating and exhausting, they both tempted us with the desire to turn them into our next six years and sent us running for a place we knew better, a place for want of a better word, less foreign.

 And so again we were packing our bags and our boxes and our car. Wrapping the speakers and the hard drives in tea towels, stacking the books and squashing the cuddly toys into the spaces in between. Washing and folding the clothes outgrown, the summer things that would in all reality not be needed again while they still fitted and packing them into bags for the charity shop. Dismantling bikes, taking photos from the fridge door, secretly filing a thousand drawings of the dog and the swimming pool into the recycling. Boarding planes alone again with two small, bewildered children and watching my husband drive off, the work of his past few months bouncing along on a trailer behind him. Saying goodbye to somewhere that like the home before it had been so many things to me, both wonderful and terrible. A place that had taught me that nowhere is perfect, that however hard we look a home is never going to be heaven all of the time, that even a landscape gifted to you by the gods can and will turn into a prison of occasion and that maybe it was time to accept and learn to live with that.

 Stepping off the first plane into Bristol we stumbled again into the arms of family, again we drank wine and again sighs of relief were prickled with tears of separation while bone deep exhaustion settled over us as we drifted to sleep on the floor. Another plane, another journey alone with little children and we were almost there, desperate to be reunited again with my husband, their daddy who had driven across two countries. Together, in a state of weary confusion and displacement and with the help of my mum whose quiet home we invaded with our chaos, we got ready for the final stretch of our journey and a convoy of two cars trailed slowly through the Highlands, mountains and lochs and deer and sheep leading the way to the ferry terminal, a long concrete strip buzzing with fishermen bringing in catches and seagulls busy spreading their detritus. In the back of one of those cars shivered a small, smelly puppy with ridiculous ears who had been found along the way and collected that morning in an act of hope and serendipity colliding. Ten years of talking about a dog and finally, finally, we had one.

 We arrived in the dark, having sailed into the sunset and out of the other side. Driving across the moors in the pitch of a night unlit by street lamps, the ghostly antlers and luminous eyes of red deer, the low swooping of owls and the darting of rabbits from the road welcomed us to their island. The next morning that same road disappeared into the grey of an October sunrise and in our pyjamas we threw a ball in the garden, marvelling at the thick blanket, the rolling tide of mist from whence our new home was peering.

This year has been a long year. We have moved and we have moved. We have rested in a way that we have never rested before, we have quit and we have stalled and we have tried to start over again. We have made the best of what we have and we have worked hard on accepting - accepting decisions mis-made, situations mis-handled, directions mis-taken. We are looking into a new year (like every other damn person) not knowing what will come and being, finally, okay with that, hopeful that this will be one of new starts but that not a single one of those starts will require a boarding card.

 I have dreams big and dreams small for 2016, the list is endless but these are some that come to mind; to see more of the people I love, to find a home and put up a picture, to sell my photography but not my soul, to train the dog to walk at heel, to find a mascara that works for me, a pair of jeans that fit and a job that pays me actual money. To hold the newborn baby of my oldest friends and cry quiet tears of joy into his or her soft little head. To learn to drive, make sourdough bread and joint a chicken (not all at the same time). To climb more sand dunes, chase more waves, eat more foods that scare me. To go slow and enjoy it, to go fast and enjoy that too. To fill a sketchbook. To find my place in this endless landscape, to enjoy the space that has opened up around me and allow myself to fill as much of it as I need. To shout less, or at least with a little more direction, to join the library and knit something in the round. The list goes on and always will.

 Happy New Year friends. Thank you for being with me this year, for leaving your words of encouragement and commiseration and support. For offering me your tales of failure and your dreams of success. For being there when I quit and being there when I tried to start again. Every word you have left here has been a gift to me, a gift to each other and I hope you know that they are always, always appreciated. As this year ends I wish you all a few moments of peace to think about all that has past, to ready yourselves for all that lies ahead. I wish for at least 30% of your dreams to come true, if not this year then the next or the next or the next again and for those dreams that aren't for you to be let go with all of the grace or anger or dismay that they deserve, for as my Granny says, what's for you won't go by you. 

 See you on the other side my friends, see you on the other side. x

Monday, December 07, 2015

Peonies and Polaroids Holiday Cards

Peonies and Polaroids Holiday cards are now for sale on etsy. 

Five different cards printed on recycled paper in each pack, with recycled kraft paper envelopes -£10. 

Order by December 14th at the very latest for International shipping and December 19th for UK shipping. 

Get them here

(apologies for the distinctly commercial, non-chatty posting, I'm completely, utterly, desperately trying to GET SHIT DONE before the girls get home from school. School that I'd swear they just left for five damn minutes ago.) 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Scotland, pros and cons

pro: You can buy paracetamol in the supermarket, in fact you can buy paracetamol everywhere.*

con; I have been wearing at least one pair of tights every day for six weeks, more often two. 

pro: Coffee in British cafes does not taste like burned soil. 

con; Tinned tomatoes taste more like tin than tomato.

pro; The words boak, bogging, minging. 

con; When I accidentally mutter 'Ce n'est pas bon' under my breath I no longer sound like a trier, I sound like a twat.

pro; I have 'cultural knowledge', like how to open a tube of toothpaste and what number to call in an emergency. 

con; Other than hands or faces, I haven't seen my own or my kids skin for six weeks. This will only continue. 

pro; Knowing (generally) why people are laughing in my presence

con; It costs what would once buy me a week's worth of wine to come by one bottle that is at all drinkable

pro; Weather that changes, dramatically and often. 

con;  I will have to leave the country to eat a ripe apricot.

pro; Prescriptions! They're free! Totally, completely free. 

con; When I was either my hair or my clothes it's a very real concern that they may still be wet in a week's time. 

* I can't believe I've been blogging here for almost 9 years and I've never told you my favourite joke. . . Why are there no painkillers in the jungle? Because the parrots ate 'em all. My husband thinks it's terrible but he's wrong. 

*image from Fornasetti, it's a plate that I really want but I can't spend £125 on a plate because I'm not allowed nice things that can't withstand being dropped, banged, accidentally hurled across the room etc, etc.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

postcards from an island

(I wrote this three weeks ago. I have cycled through loving being here, hating being here, wondering where the hell else I could possibly go, swearing I'll never ever leave since then. Sometimes several times a day.)

Sitting in the cafe I remember when it used to be downstairs, in the tiny-windowed basement. I remember going to a workshop to print our names and designs onto the ceramic tiles that would decorate the original cafe's walls and I remember my disappointment that they couldn't be moved along with the cafe into the new building with its high roof, pale wooden beams and picture windows looking out over the bay. I remember art classes as a child in the gallery upstairs and then later in the newly built studio, when I was preparing my portfolio for art school. I remember artists who lived here, ones who left, ones who are still here and who were once my teachers but are now my friends, their kids only a few years older than my own.

There are so many memories, an accordion book spanning childhood holidays to moving here as a twelve year old, adolescent school days to long summers home once I had started university and finally holidays of recent years, this time grown and married and with children.

All of those memories are currently mixing and blending, colliding and dancing with life as I have been experiencing it these last few weeks and in a lot of cases they just don't match. I guess it's no mystery that life as a teenager doesn't look the same as it does when you are thirty years old, that the picture changes with time but if you aren't here to watch it happen then it comes as a bit of a surprise to look out of old windows and see a new view, similar but definitely not the same.

In almost every case it's a better view and with every day that we spend here those memories that were so vivid and clear - that I would have staked money on being True and Real - are dissipating, clearing like mist over the hills. People who I didn't think would remember my name let alone care that I was here greet me with warm smiles, marvel at the size of my children, ask how long I'm home for. Happiness and surprise greet me when I tell them that we have moved here, that the answer is 'Forever, hopefully'. Parents express delight that there are new children at the tiny local school, that the P1 class of four will now be six and look thoughtful when we say that we are looking for work and a house to rent. People help, or they try to. Suggestions come, facebook messages and promises to let us know if they hear of anything, not just once but over and over.

Neighbours phone to wish the girls a good first day at school and the following week to remind us that today is the day the bin goes out, the black bin, not the blue one. It goes out every fortnight but alternates between a Tuesday and a Thursday so it can be tricky to remember. Old teachers extol me to never, ever call them 'mister' again, introduce themselves to my husband by their first name and insist that we must call in the next time we're passing, if we don't then we'll find them on our doorstep. For now at least, it is lovely.

I can see that it might grate in time, the constant interaction, the impossibility of going to the supermarket without stopping to have the same conversation every week; 'yes, we're back... the girls are well... yes, five!... yes, they love school.... ' It reminds me somewhat of having newborn twins, when you would have to stop at least five times per outing to answer the same questions; 'yes, twins. No, two girls. No, they don't run in the family. Yes, I had a natural delivery. It was at 38 weeks... 5lb 7 and 6lb 2... No, we don't get a lot of sleep.' I wanted to have cards printed, or a sign made for the front of the pushchair. It wasn't that I resented people's interest, it was just that I was tired, and had somewhere to be, and it was the seventh time that day.

This is different though, I know these people and have known some of them since I first came here at seven years old. They grew up with my Granny, I went to school with them, or with their children or grandchildren. Their niece drove the school bus or their son was my high school teacher. They were my neighbour in one of the many houses we rented when we lived here or they are my mother's cousin's partner's brother in law. There are threads and links and connections running back for generations and after a life in city after city and then seven months in a country where interest in my well being (where knowing my name) was limited to the four adults living within 100m of my door, it is a really lovely thing to feel connected again, to feel part of a picture, to be cared about.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bluebird and the Bear. . . an update

Now that we are back in Scotland and now that we have photographed our last wedding, I am keen to ease Bluebird and the Bear gently out of the hibernation it has been comfortably dozing in.

I have missed photographing your families, hanging out with your kids on the floor, sharing their cheese and Star Wars toys. I have missed the magic of other people's families and the spark of joy that I return with to my own family after those photo sessions.

While I look forward to photographing families here in the wild north west (hello Highlanders and Islanders and holiday makers!) I am also planning some trips to Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh and possibly London over the next six months, with the aim of booking 4-6 sessions over the course of a long weekend. This is going to take some planning and some marketing (yikes) but I'm hoping that I can pull it off.

At the moment I am planning on being in Edinburgh on December 10th/11th (a Thursday and Friday) and Glasgow in January, either the weekend of the 9th or 16th. Please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested in booking me for a family session in either Edinburgh or Glasgow. I will have four slots available over each of the two days so please book fast and spread the word to anyone else in either city who you think might be interested.

Sessions are two hours long and cost £250. After each session you will receive 40-50 images as high resolution files and the rights to print and share them as you wish. All images from the Edinburgh sessions will be delivered in time for Christmas printing.

If these dates or locations aren't suitable for you but you would like me to photograph your family at another time, please do let me know. If you can persuade enough of your family or friends that they would like to book sessions with me too then I'm more than happy to travel to work with you.

  • find out more about how I work on my website and see updates and recent sessions on facebook.
  • contact me on

and again, please share with anyone who you think might be interested, I will be unable to confirm any bookings until all of the slots are filled! 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Three Moments . . .

It's early evening and it's mid October so most people are sitting inside, eating their dinner, drinking a pint, chatting with their fellow passengers, reading the newspapers propped up against the counter in the shop. The decks are the preserve of the smokers, the workers who have been on the ferry all day and the owners of new dogs, unsure whether or not their puppies can last indoors without peeing on the floor or stealing someone's handbag. The deck wraps around three sides of the boat; port, starboard, stern and is lined with rows of red plastic chairs, their seats curved to harbour puddles in the centre of each one.

I find my mum in the furthest corner, huddled by the most sheltered wall, chatting to the ferry men and with the puppy bounding around on the end of her lead. She hands the dog over and disappears inside to take her turn in the cafe to warm herself with chips and tea. 'Bye dog with no name' the man in the white overalls laughs as I walk bend my back into the wind and walk around the boat sto watch the sunset from the other side. The sun has gone down behind the islands we are sailing towards and the sky fades downwards from cobalt through the slightest hint of pink, a glowing yellow the colour of hope and into the deepest, richest peach, the flaming almost-red of the flesh that clings to the lined and pitted stone in the centre of the fruit. Wisps of cloud drift over this colourwash bruising the sky a rich purple and the sea reflects it all back upon itself. It is a work of art. It is hope and it is joy and it is a welcome home.

I sit on the hard red plastic, the wind blowing against my face, warm in the depths of the black duvet-like parka that I bought on the way here. Fish and chips fill my belly, the ferry ploughs calmly through cold dark depths, roaring and shuddering, carrying us into the fire of the sunset and almost invisible in the darkness a puppy curls into my lap, chin and paws white and the rest of her disappearing into my coat, black on black in black. I run my hand slowly and repeatedly over her warm soft baby coat that smells of dust and biscuits and feel her chest rise and fall against my stomach. A feeling that I haven't had for as long as I can remember floods my body and I feel my own breath slow against hers. It is contentment, this thing that I feel, contentment, satisfaction, warmth, homecoming.  

The road snakes in front of us, long and smooth and undulating surely over the moors, a ribbon of grey slicing through the blazing autumn grass and heather. The sun cleaves through the thick dark clouds that have been hanging over the island all morning and catches the rain that is both falling lightly from the sky and is coating every blade of grass, every inch of tarmac. The low, soft landscape is cast in gold and steel, diamonds glint in the air and deep purple bruises blush across the arcic blue sky that hangs like a backdrop behind the drama playing out in the heavens. It is a Tuesday morning and we are on our way to the shop to buy bread and toilet paper. It is a Tuesday morning and the world is as beautiful as I have ever seen it. It is a Tuesday morning and I feel my chest tighten with the glory of it all.

Backs bent, eyes cast down, before us a screen reel of a thousand greys of the pale sand, tidal patterns twisting, dancing and decorated with seaweed scattered and dropped by the wind and the sea. Every so often one of the four of us looks up and a thousand drops of cold water coats our faces. I can't yet think of it as rain, rain starts up and goes down and hits land; this, this is more like wet wind, water that flies parallel to the ground and only stops when it meets solid matter, like a face.

I look up less than everyone else, being the only one of us that wears glasses I'm the only one of us who is rendered sightless when I straighten my neck, the brief view of the pigeon grey sky, the turbulent sea and the grass whipping on the dunes quickly blurring and disappearing behind a veil of water. 

'This walk is gnarly!' a small voice squeaks from a cobalt blue hood, her little hand in mine, our woollen gloves rapidly absorbing the weather making our hands and faces the only cold bits of our bodies. 'I love this exciting weather!' squeaks the other hood, the one holding Nye's hand and I feel a lightening in my self as I shed one more worry, the worry that they would hate being outdoors in this Weather with a capital 'W'.

The last time we tried this they were a little less than three years old and not at all impressed with their parents' idea of holiday fun. It was November and it was howling and even wrapped head to toe in waterproof clothing they shivered, fingers and noses turning angry magenta in the cold. 'No beach, no beach' was the cry that would come from both of them as we started to wrap them up and strap them into their car seats, anything but the beach.

It was one of my major worries about coming here, to this wind battered Atlantic island - that the girls would hate the weather and that the winters would be interminable, trapped in the house watching telly and sinking deeper and deeper into cabin fever. I knew that Nye and I would go out anyway, cocooned in thermal and fleece and gore-tex but the thought of trying to drag reluctant five year olds along the beach, listening to their whimpers and shrieks of discontent was not a happy one. Aware as I am that their enthusiasm may not last, relief washes over me with the rain as they proclaim their first experiences of northern life 'exciting' rather than 'bloody wretched'.