A Basket of Toy Amputees

All dogs have their favourite toys, but unfortunately these toys are the ones whose lives are destined to be short and painful.  They must endure being tugged, chewed,  disemboweled and ultimately decapitated or mortally wounded.   Some manage to escape into the depths of the dog’s bed or under the fridge, but even these are eventually sniffed out to meet their fate.  It is never play time for a dog’s toy. 

When I trained with Trudy, my Guide dog Instructor warned of the dangers of giving dogs soft toys because their inner stuffing can potentially choke a dog.   Likewise if a squeaker from a toy becomes lodged in your dog’s throat it can be fatal.

I took note of my Instructor’s advice and endeavoured not to buy Trudy any soft or squeaky toys.  But Trudy is a seasoned thief, and it wasn’t long before I caught her stealing my own cuddly toys from the bedroom.  (Yes, I do love teddy bears, and frogs, and beanies..!).    My old favourites began to lose the shine on their fur and to develop a slightly bedraggled, manky appearance.  Occasionally I would discover one of them lying dead in another room.   In the end I decided that I would buy Trudy a couple of soft toys to play with under supervision.

Three and a half years later I have some gruesome scenes imprinted on my memory.  Last Summer for example I bought a large dog-shaped doorstop. One morning I was shocked to discover that Trudy had blinded the dog and totally defaced its snout.   I have had to remove it from my lounge because it is too disturbing.  Its empty eyes and ripped snout speak of dastardly deeds.  Was Trudy ensuring that the doorstop dog would never take her place as my Guide dog?!  Suffice to say that the motives of Labradors are not always clear-cut.

In addition to the eye-gauging incident there have been numerous spontaneous massacres resulting in limbs and heads strewn all over the floor.   Wads of stuffing have appeared in the most unlikely places.  Eyes, ears and tails are frequently left abandoned in the hallway.  Many toys have ended their sad lives in the bin.   But there are some characters which have been consigned to the Sick Room, AKA “The Invalid Box”.  These are the all-time favourites which have treasured memories embedded in their remaining body parts, and which I am unable to throw away.  The Invalid Box is a very macabre collection indeed.  Several of Trudy’s “Invalids” are in fact headless, and many are just a torso.   

Trudy’s Invalid Box is now bursting at the seams.  With this in mind I have reached a momentous decision.  I have decided to undertake a mammoth project to repair those Invalids which have enough body mass to tolerate a needle and thread.  I am hoping that Trudy’s excitement at being reunited with some of her loved-ones will overcome her critical eye – for the truth is I cannot sew to save my life.   In fact, I cannot even thread a needle.  But with the help of the RNIB shop (from which I’ve  purchased an automatic needle-threader), Amazon and Google,  I have high hopes.

Some of the torsos may find themselves attached to different limbs from before, and some may even end up with more limbs than they started with.  But Trudy (fingers crossed!) will be gobsmacked to see the return of such legends as Myrtle the Turtle  (the prize she won  at the Guide dog of the Year Awards 2011).  Myrtle unfortunately suffered multiple organ failure in the early Autumn.

If the Invalid Project is a success, I may progress to sewing up holes in my own skirts and darning my Trudyfied socks.  The days of asking friends to mend things for me could soon be a thing of the past.  That would really boost my confidence.  Who knows what lies ahead in the sewing sphere of 2012?  Watch this crafty space! 



Tribute to a Painter

It’s Father’s Day, and this is my gift to my Dad, who lives on through his paintings but is no longer in this world.  My Dad graduated from St. Martins School of Art in London in the 1960’s.  My earliest childhood memories are fused with colour and the smell of oils and turpentine.  Brushes of all shapes and sizes, sponges, planks of wood, thick layers of dried paint, home-made palettes and mixing pots, putty and huge flat-sided pencils.  These are just a few of the things which were always there.

My Dad resisted commercial art because he believed it stifled creativity. Therefore he chose not to make his living as a painter.  For two decades he held numerous jobs in factories, and finally at the end of the 1980’s he joined the Royal Mail as a sorter in one of the main London Sorting Offices.  Despite his physically demanding jobs he devoted his spare time to painting.  If he wasn’t painting he was sketching, either with charcoal or black marker pens which used to make my eyes water with their fumes.

When we were young children he worked night shifts so that he would have some time in the late afternoon to paint.  While he was working on a painting we were not allowed to see it until it was almost finished.  The completion of a new painting was always a very exciting moment for us.  Sometimes we’d come home from school and the latest work of art would be hanging on the wall to surprise us.  We’d stand round and gaze at it, often lost for words.  My Dad used to watch our expressions and although it was sometimes hard to find the right words, I never disliked any of his paintings.  I had my favourites of course, one of which has pride of place in my living room. (This is the featured painting at the beginning of this blog).

My Dad mainly used oils, so his paintings always took ages to dry and there were certain no-go areas in the house.  The paintings were very rich in texture, and I remember my Dad often struggled to decide when a painting was finished.  Like many creative people, his perfectionism frequently caused him sleepless nights.  The rough texture of my Dad’s paintings was fascinating to us when we were small children.  We didn’t realise it was intentional, and tried to be helpful by picking off the “lumpy bits” which defined the paintings.  My Dad must have known, but he never said anything.

My Dad was a purist when it came to colours, and for this reason we did not have a colour TV.  We mumbled and grumbled about this but he was totally unmovable on the subject.   Colours which were dull or “phony” were a constant source of irritation to him.

As he continued painting my Dad’s style became more abstract and expressionist.  His creative periods gained in intensity.  He often wished he could devote all his time to painting, but having to provide for a family of six made this impossible.

When I was a teenager he strove to exhibit his work at the Royal Academy‘s Summer Exhibition.  As he didn’t have a car at the time, he had to lumber his paintings across London on the tube, and always arrived back home exhausted and anxious.  It was a tense time for us all waiting to hear whether his work had been accepted for exhibition.  Sadly it was never to be, despite several attempts.  He used to go back and collect his rejected paintings alone, and the despair affected us all.  It was heartbreaking to see my Dad’s spirit crushed after setbacks like these.  Yet he never gave up.  He never wasted his spare time.

What grieves me most is that he never made it to retirement.  The free time which he worked and longed for did not arrive in the way he’d hoped.  In 1997 he contracted a progressive muscle-wasting disease which slowly took away his mobility.  During his final few years he was unable to use his hands.  The hands of a true  genius had lost their power.  The injustice of this still torments me.  My Dad died suddenly in 2008, and I miss him so much.

But he lives on through his paintings.  Every time I touch my treasured favourite painting with its familiar “lumpy bits” and hand-crafted frame, my Dad’s spirit spurs me on.  He was a man with ideals and he never compromised, even when things were tough.  His perseverance, endurance and selflessness remain with me.  There are so many things I could say about my Dad as a person, but this blog is a tribute to him as a painter.

My Dad might not have become a household name or exhibited at the Royal Academy, but his paintings will survive for generations.  He will continue to inspire me as long as I live.