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Autumn 2021

07 November 2021

Dear Party Animals,

Sarah-Jane here, reporting for duty.  At first glance, you may not be able to tell much difference, but when you weren’t looking, my online home has been rebuilt by the web-wizard known around these parts as Dr Wilby-Von-Tech, The Baron of Byte. We were recently invaded by foreign spam-fiends. It’s not that I was ungrateful for their copious email offers of ‘cheap meds' and 'sexy girls', but how many do they think I need per day? 

Bye-Bye old website

You will have noticed that it is autumn again ALREADY. Usually my least favourite time of year, I am surprised to find myself warming to this melancholic season. As I take my daily walk along the shore or among those resting peacefully in the old cemetery, I watch the leaves drifting softly to the ground, and it occurs to me just how lucky I have been in life. Of course, I've always known it, but what has brought about this renewed appreciation? Well, this summer I turned 50 and I realised something. I am running out of autumns.

If I was writing one hundred years ago when the average life expectancy in the UK was around 51, I’d be rather less relaxed about my recent big birthday. In 2021 that figure has risen to 81 (phew). What strikes me is not only how miraculously good we humans are at staying alive, but despite the chaos of our environment, we keep on improving our chances of longevity.

Life is brimming with danger in one form or another and it starts from the day we arrive in the world.  I can remember when babies were left unattended in prams outside shops and homes “for fresh air”, while passively smoking from birth.  As we grew, our idea of fun often involved doing something that deliberately invited risk.  As a small girl I can recall climbing up onto a single storey roof and repeatedly diving into a specially arranged pyramid of industrial fibreglass rolls (my father was a roofing contractor and sometimes stored materials in the garden). The residual burning itch and chastisement were well worth the thrill.

Airplanes: A fun ligament test of both wrists and ankles.

Being the second youngest child of eleven meant that some form of juvenile violence was usually occurring. When wrestling and air rifles became dull, we jumped into rivers and roamed around places we had no right to be; we wore preposterous metal roller-skates and no seatbelts. We survived being flung from roundabouts; centrifugal force sending us directly onto the tarmac. Teachers casually used blunt objects as missiles and parents (well, mine) were even more laissez-faire with health and safety. Not wearing a seatbelt is one thing, but losing our brother through the open back-doors of a moving transit van was careless at best, possibly criminal. How we laughed.

Once, exasperated by bills for treatment on my stubborn verruca, father took matters into his own hands. The solution involved a razor blade, neat car battery acid, and a lot of shouting.  I believe this is known as 'Character building'.  (In all fairness that verruca never came back).

1970's death trap.

As a teenager, I went on to discover the joy of alcohol at roughly the same time as dabbling with mountain and rock climbing. Later, a motorbike seemed a good idea. There was heatstroke in the Indian desert and a near-drowning off the coast of Mexico.  I have walked away from car crashes as well as the clutches of more than one would-be assailant and undergone no less than eight surgeries. Life even threw in a (small) stroke for good measure. I am not suggesting that any of these experiences is unusual; everyone can draw up a list of their near-misses and self-inflicted trials. In fact, do it for yourself, it’s fun. Not only will you realize just how much you have gotten away with thus far, but you will feel like 007 in your own life story.

Arriving at my half-century, I had planned to mark this personal milestone, alongside 30 years of being a freelance artist, with a new exhibition. Creating the paintings, however, is taking rather longer than anticipated. I am a few months late and will therefore exhibit next year instead. Which brings me back to my original point. Regardless of life expectancy statistics, why do we so often think that ‘next year’ is a given? It isn’t. There might not be another autumn. Maybe that is why I’m feeling less churlish about the leaves as they wrinkle and russet.  There is renewed gratitude for the arrival of bracing, lung-startling mornings and, I intend to wrap up warmly and enjoy searching for urban foxes in the starry nights.  What I would appreciate most of all is for everyone (yes, you) to be wrinkling alongside myself and the leaves next autumn. Please do take care, thank you.

I saw the whole of the moon!

In previous journals, I have visited and then reported back from art exhibitions. The reviews would often centre, importantly, on cake quality from the gallery/museum café. The long pandemic has deprived us of the public art (and cake) that we normally find available. It is good to see both returning and I was lucky enough to catch Luke Jerram’s ‘Museum Of The Moon’ at Durham.

(Far better photographs are available than this one, taken on my elderly phone)

It is an ethereal, large-scale installation that has travelled around the globe - as moons do. I found it quite moving. It inspired in me a reminder of how unlikely and precious life on earth really is. Small and brief is our role in the universe. With that in mind, why on earth was the café at the Cathedral closed? No cake available. God himself would surely not approve.

Moon: 10/10 Absence of cake: 0/10.  

You do not need any other reason to visit the magnificent Durham Cathedral, but the moon gives it a whole new atmosphere. It moves along from November 11, but you might still catch it in a different location.

New Prints 

Finally, with the reassuring knowledge that this remains a safe and secure website, you may like to have a peep at my gallery 'shop’ where you will find some newly published, low number limited edition prints. There are no moons, but there are swans in swim-caps and gingersnaps. You can see them here