Working Music

Painting, as far as I’m concerned, can only properly happen in conjunction with two other things: playing quite loud music and drinking tea. Some people insist that music destroys concentration, that you can’t do anything properly while your attention is divided; but if I paint without it I tend to start muttering irritably to myself, especially during the tedious finishing-off bits at the end; so music is better. But albums don’t last long enough, and radio tends to involve people talking, which I don’t want. Once mixtapes did the job, but now it’s their modern incarnation: the playlist.

I have a library of sprawling, haphazard playlists on Spotify, hours long, and every year I will make another one, adding new releases and discoveries as the year goes on, weeding out those that turn out to be irritating. After a while they sort of bed in mentally, so that I’m only half-aware of hearing the songs, and that seems to be the most useful state for them, just taking the edge off the concentration enough to pacify the inner toddler, so that the work can get finished.

This year’s has felt a bit thin, although it runs over six hours, and there are probably more that will get deleted – I am still reaching out to skip tracks . But now it’s time to start the next one…

If you have Spotify, you can access the playlist here:

Or here’s a pdf list.17 playlist

The tea is a lot less curated – there needs to be lots of it,  it’s better hot, and best of all if someone else makes it.


After all the rushing about, hanging pictures and end of term, presents bought and sent, office lunches and class parties and generally trying to fit a year’s worth of socialising into two weeks, it has been good to just park my arse on the sofa and watch some television. Over the last day or two, watching the last half of the last series of The Detectorists.

I like everything about it, and have done since the first series: the writing, with its beautiful timing and sly absurdity, the acting, the score, Johnny Flynn’s perfectly simple title track.

It is deft and understated and charming. It looks gorgeous and knows it, framing the Suffolk countryside (the fictional town of Danebury is in Essex, but many of the locations are around Framlingham, halfway between Southwold and Ipswich) to showcase it, even in the rain. I even like the fact that this is the last series – the treasures have been found against all odds, after all. Twice.

I’m hardly alone in liking it, with all its awards and famous fans, but I’m especially fond of it because my grandparents lived in Cambridgeshire and my father for a while in Burwell, and I remember this countryside from when I was a child. In the summer holidays we walked across it, lolled about with lemonade and crisps in pub gardens in the wonky pink and white villages, and watched it go by through bus windows on our way to Newmarket, Bury St Edmonds, Hunstanton and Felixstowe. My grandparents were Londoners but Grandma had been evacuated out to Swaffham Prior in Cambridgeshire during the war, and some years afterwards they moved back out, and stayed for the rest of their lives.

Hanging Around

A couple of weeks ago I hung my second solo show –which is not nearly as fancy as that sounds. A dozen small paintings went up on a wall at the central library in Milton Keynes.

The stakes could hardly have been lower: no money changed hands, no catalogues were printed, no invitations sent. Not a single canape was harmed as a result. I didn’t bother with a comments book, either – last time someone stole the pen.

For all that, a good bit of work was involved. I had been meaning to do this series of pictures for years; started properly collecting images and layouts at the start of 2017; spent afternoons and weekends painting and muttering right through Spring and Summer. By the time it came to hang them on the Saturday, having called the last canvas finished late on the Thursday night, I was sick of the whole thing. One of my friends asked which one I liked best, and I had to say that right then I hated them all equally.

So now they hang, securely pinned and mostly straight, upstairs in a building where the ground floor is being replaced, and is mostly boarded off with builder’s screens. After the first week, the building was closed altogether for a fortnight so that the floor could be completed. After that, Christmas. They are probably not best placed to attract an audience, but it can’t be helped. At least they might cheer the place up a bit.

I am glad I did it, though, and it felt like I had a much clearer plan of what I wanted than when I did the first one;  it was all a bit more coherent. It’s good to have a chunk of work to get on with in the spring, even if it is a tedious, trudging business to finish everything off as the summer ends and the light starts to go. There was a point where it looked like the building work might mean I wouldn’t have anywhere to hang them, and I’m happy they made it. Some friends I hadn’t seen for a while helped me hang them, and it was so good to see them and they are such nice people that it was actually fun.

So now it’s done. Now what? This, as it turns out: make a website. In an effort to make like I do social media; as if I’m not writing this in a notebook, sitting on the sofa…