Wednesday, 8 April 2015

25/3/15 We are family

A few years ago I painted some little wooden dolls as an anniversary present for my husband. I made one for each member of the family. Since then we have become a family of five, but I haven't got round to doing a doll for our little son yet.

This week Mum - still using her pizza box props - arranged the family dolls in a circle and the penguins around the dolls. Surrounding the pizza box podiums, the penguins look as though some kind of devotional act is taking place.

The little black blob in the middle is the doll of our cat, Curtis. Unsurprisingly, Mum has arranged him cowering underneath the podium. 
It's not surprising to see Curtis shown like this as he is a gentle soul. I would not back him in a fight against a penguin, put it that way.

In 2006 I worked on a mosaic project during a residency at the Rock Garden of Chandigarh in northern India. One morning I called home to see how Jason, my then-boyfriend-now-husband was. Jason told me how, waking up after a youthfully large night, he turned over and felt Curtis on the bed so gave him a little cuddle. Immediately, he realised that this was not Curtis at all but a rat, who had somehow found it's way onto our bed. 

Hungover, dazed, he ran to get Curtis to do his feline duty. But Curtis took one look at the rat and ran the other way, leaving Jason - last night's contact lenses still stuck to his eyes - to deal with the rat alone. Let's just say a cricket bat was involved, followed by a particularly harrowing clean up. A gruesome tale that carried it's way to my shocked co-workers in India.

He might have failed with the rat but each time I had a baby Curtis would tenderly lay a tiny mouse on the floor near the moses basket sometime during the first few weeks. An offering to the new life. A lover (or a sleeper) not a fighter.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

13/3/15 On the bookshelves II

 A new direction greets me when I get home from work today. Mum has brought along some props for her most recent assemblage. Little pizza box things make tiny podiums for the penguins.

Mum says the penguins chose the three most important books in the English language:

John Peel's memoirs.

A biography of David Bowie.

And the Complete Works of Shakespeare

The babies of the rookery are on the little stands whilst the elders of the group urge them on to read, apparently. I had no idea Mum was such a fan, or should I say that the penguins would be such fans, as of course Mum merely transmits their wishes. But then, what kind of books would penguins be interested in? And why should they not have such eclectic tastes? 

This is really challenging my own preconceptions. Interestingly, one penguin has broken away from the group to read a note on the shelf by the front door where we keep the post. Perhaps he/she wants to go to my friend's exhibition. Eclectic tastes. Who knew?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

How the penguins came to be

Three years ago I went to Lille in Northern France, to the  annual Braderie. I bought some strange shaped lightbulbs, an old French school poster teaching about the use of 'ph', some Playmobil figures, some fabric (of course) and various other  bits and bobs. I drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of chips too, somewhere amongst all that I bought these little penguins. It was an amazing weekend and I wrote about it here.

The old French school poster. Perfect for this photography teacher. Also perfect for the damp patch it is covering.
I don't honestly know why I bought them. They just seemed so sweet, already quite worn but a such a gang, a gang who seemed up for fun and adventure.

And so it has proved to be.

Friday, 20 February 2015

20/2/15 On the bookshelves

I came home last week to find the penguins exploring. I should say that we only moved into this house recently, so I suppose it isn't surprising that the penguins are casing the joint. They are climbing over one of the bookshelves, the one with the music books. I don't know if this is significant.

Mum says they are off on a walk. They wanted some knowledge, and now they are 'off'. They have some 'stuff to do'.

She laughs and says, again, 'you know, sometimes I worry that they won't tell me what to do, but they always do. It must be how writer's block feels: panicked that it will never come again, but it always does'.

Then she quietly says: 'it's only me they talk to.' I think this is in reference to my daughter trying to get in on the act last time. Mum hasn't said anything directly but she was quite unsettled by that.

So maybe there is a connection to the music books: that anxiety over the difficult second album syndrome. I think Mum  is doing some of her best work now. Good use of Blu Tack once again. It must be a challenge to listen to the penguins in the chaos of a new house, but she is a trooper.

Full disclosure: I had a U2 phase. I was young.

Monday, 9 February 2015

9/12/15 In the loo

When I got home from work and saw the new set up I was worried we were back into exploring the darker parts of the penguin's psyche.

But Mum assured me the penguins were just having a laugh watching one of the babies jumping into the loo. The others were a bit worried about it jumping from such a height she said, but it was all harmless fun.

In a new twist, my older daughter Eva collaborated on this arrangement. Taking an engine from the train set, she arranged one of the adults to be riding off whilst the others were busy watching the baby jumping in. 

Later, Mum takes me aside, 'I don't really agree that the penguin was riding off on the train' she says quietly, 'but I didn't want to tell her not to join in'. She continues 'I never plan these you know, the penguins tell me what to do'. 

Mum used to be a teacher and telling a child not to do something creative -  even when it's misplaced -  is just not in her kindly make up. She did look pained though.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

28/1/15 Dotted around downstairs

I came home from work today to find a change: the penguins have moved downstairs. I must say I am relieved, the bathroom seemed to make the penguins a bit fraught.

Mum has arranged them in three groups, in the fridge:

No surprise really to find them enjoying the cold of the fridge. Also on the shelves:

And inside a cupboard:

Mum says whilst they are still neighbours and cousins, for now they want to live in nuclear families. They fancied a change from being in a pack, or a rookery.

As I said, she says she is merely the messenger for what the penguins tell her.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

20/1/15 On a high ledge

This week, all the penguins are on top of the bathroom window. My interpretation - which could be wrong, Mum hasn't explained this scene to me - is of a fairly peaceful time in the rookery, the penguins are just standing about in groups, chatting. The existential crisis of a few days ago seems to have gone.
Although she has lived in London nearly all her life, Mum is still a Northern girl at heart and loves a good natter, and the penguins are often arranged having quite involved conversations. 

18/1/15 Still on the bathroom window

What seems to be happening here is that the three babies (stuck on with blu-tack, looking back I did have my suspicions when Mum asked where we kept ours) are still in a state of high anxiety on the bathroom window. 

Meanwhile, the elders of the group have moved over to the top of the bathroom cabinet, perhaps to observe proceedings from a safe distance. Maybe I am misreading all this and the babies are simply trying to jump into the bathtub (below the window)it's hard to say, but it does look like there is some high drama going on.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

10/1/15 On the bathroom window.

Mum starts 2015 with a dramatic scene on the ledge of the bathroom window. It looks like three penguins are trying to jump from a great height. 'Yes', she says, 'and the others are begging them not to'. There often seems to be a sense of despair amongst the penguins in Mum's scenes, I suppose it's the result of living through long dark winter months. Mum is a relatively cheery soul, perhaps the penguins help her get things off her chest.