Friday, 13 July 2018

Craft Unfair


Okay, I say to myself in unconscious homage to Henry Rowland, this time for real. It's our second crack at selling stuff from a stall, and we're feeling confident. We're nothing if not prepared.

Two weeks ago my wife and myself did our first craft fair, which was at an old people's home in Boerne. No-one came and we didn't sell much. Now we're at a bimonthly farmers and artisans market on the southside, which seems more promising. It's a regular event, the weather is good, and there are already more people here than were at our previous outing, maybe three times the head count of vendors and mostly the real thing - no thrift store clowns painted dayglo to be seen, at least not yet.

The place is outside, a drive-in cinema during the evening, thus necessitating some sort of canopy beneath which Bess and myself can set up shop. Luckily it turned out that we already had one, bought five or six years before when I found it cheap in the local supermarket. The original idea was that I could set it up and weed the garden in the shade on particularly hot days, but the setting up was more laborious than I'd anticipated, so I put it all together, took it down, then shoved it in the garage and forgot about it. Earlier in the week, I had a look for the thing, then set it up in our garden once more by way of a dry run for today. The canopy is a sheet of something artificial stretched over a lightweight frame of tubular struts. I spent about forty-five minutes failing to assemble the frame. Each time I poked the end of one tube into another, the whole thing shifted and a tube at the other end popped out. There was quite a lot of swearing, until - following my finally bothering to look at the instructions - it dawned on me that one is supposed to construct the roof support, then pull the covering over it so as to hold everything in place before attempting to attach the legs. Armed with this new information, I was able to erect the thing in about fifteen minutes without too much difficulty. One of the tubes now had a kink in it but seemed to hold up okay. The kink came from when I hurled it across the garden whilst shouting bollocks following the millionth occurrence of it having disconnected itself from a neighbour, so the struts are probably made from aluminium foil, or maybe the wrappers of 1970s chocolate bars.

I left the canopy standing overnight. The guy ropes had come out next morning, causing the whole structure to lean. I replaced the original tent pegs - or whatever the fuck you call those things - with gardening staples, which are U-shaped and much tougher, after which the canopy stayed up for another two nights without giving any indication of being about to explode, catch fire, collapse or whatever. I took this all to be a good omen, despite my having invented at least three new swear words during my initial attempt to raise the thing. I also chose to ignore the omen of Grace, one of our cats, peeing on the  sheet of covering material as I was engaged with slotting the tubes together. She backed up, raised her tail, and just let rip. The plastic material yielded quite a lot of noise when hit by this jet of liquid and Grace looked pleased. That's what I think of your shit canopy, she seemed to be saying.

Once again I've made sandwiches, a ton of pasta salad and filled a couple of flasks with iced tea, and here we are. We unload the car and dump it all next to the pitch of a guy selling wares in patriotic red, white and blue, wooden letters spelling out the word mom and so on. It's kind of windy, which you only really notice when trying to assemble what is effectively a massive kite, but we get there, albeit with some swearing; and then come to mooring it all down with garden staples, simultaneous to my gaining new insight into just how hard Texas soil can be after baking under a hot sun month after month. I hurt my fingers trying to push the things into the earth. I may as well be attempting to push nails into concrete, so it necessitates some swearing.

'Fuck this,' I hear myself saying. 'Let's go home.'

'Here.' Our neighbour comes over. He's taken pity on us because I expect it's obvious that we're new to this game. He has a couple of bright red saddle bags and he ties one to each of the guy ropes I've been unable to secure. 'These bags were cheap at the dollar store,' he tells us. 'I fill them with sand. You can get the sand at Lowes.'

I pick up one of the bags then place it back down. It's pretty heavy, so I get to work on my display frames. I've made them myself, and it took a few weeks - wooden beams no longer than four foot so as to fit in the car, holes drilled so I can bolt them all together like Meccano. Usually each would stand seven foot tall, but the canopy won't allow for such height, so instead of one frame upon which I would display twelve canvases, I have two four foot frames holding six canvases each, one set up at either side of our pitch. Each frame has holes in the feet through which I can drive tent pegs so as to keep them from blowing over, except I have the same problem with the guy ropes, and I can't ask our neighbour for more sandbags. In the end, each frame gets two pegs each, one front, one back, and even these I haven't been able to drive all of the way in. The frames rock back and forth in the wind every so often.

Between the frames we have the table upon which Bess sets up her stones and other things she has painted. We also have a couple of folding chairs. At length we're sort of ready and all we have to do is wait for the crowds. Some vendors are still arriving and setting up, so I guess we've done all right.

We sit and wait, watching the shadow of the canopy creep across the grass at the front of our pitch. We realise we're sat in full Texas sun, and that we should have set up facing south. It's going to be a hot fucking day. The wind keeps us sort of cool, and if things are flapping a little in the breeze, we should be okay.

'Did you see the other guy's paintings?' Bess asks. She points down the line, past our helpful neighbour to another pitch selling canvases.

'I'm going to have a look around,' I tell her.

I cross the field to the screen of the drive-in, a peculiar deco construct painted sky blue on the far side. This side is a curved wall with a raised concrete stage at its base. It reminds me of the sound mirrors along the Kentish coast, back in England. Facing the screen is our semicircle of pitches, thirty or forty stalls selling all manner of stuff. There are houseplants and cacti, and the homegrown vegetables - potatoes, squashes, and peppers - look pretty good. Then there's the usual jewellery, the obligatory and puzzling presence of an insurance company, or possibly someone selling double-glazing, and of course wooden toys, some hardware. Two other stalls sell painted canvases. One features mostly views of the Alamo, technically competent but probably reliant upon how much you like the Alamo. One of their pictures is on sale for $200, which makes me feel good because my paintings are cheaper and - I would like to think - more interesting.

The next stall features canvas renderings of Harley Quinn, the Joker, Batman, various superheroes and cartoon characters, and nebulously identified Aztec rulers copied from what were probably illustrated children's books. The colours are bold, but otherwise it's ugly and amateurish, and is as such a further boost to my confidence in the worth of my own work.

Having walked the full circle, I'm back at our pitch.

'How was it?'

'Mostly pretty good,' I say. 'Better than Boerne.'

'I'll have a look around in a bit.'

'You should.'

The punters begin to arrive, hardly a tsunami, but we nevertheless experience more interest during the first thirty minutes than we had for the entire day at the retirement home. This seems encouraging. Bess sells two painted rocks, and everyone seems to like my canvases. One woman additionally notes that, ranging from $60 to $40 based on how much I'd personally be prepared to pay, they seem reasonably priced; although she isn't buying.

We sit. We wait. My pictures sway in the wind.

An old guy with a soft voice and the biggest ears I've ever seen tells us how he himself was once a painter. He likes my work. We both know he's not buying but we don't mind because he seems such a nice guy.

'Did you see those ears?'

'I couldn't really miss them,' Bess says.

'What did he say anyway? I was trying to listen to his story but I kept thinking about his ears. You know that your ears supposedly never stop growing for as long as you live?'

'It was distracting,' she agrees.

'He must have been about three-hundred.'

The wind steps it up a notch. Out tablecloth flaps but is kept in place by the weight of the painted rocks. The sun is really punishing on our backs and the tops of our heads, but the piped music coming from a speaker set up near the stage is mostly old blues records,  some bluegrass and Tejano - an improvement on the autotuned stadium country we had piped all day at the old folks' home.

'This is still preferable to Boerne,' I say, and the wind gets a little stronger. We watch the canopy shift restlessly for another half hour, interspersed by conversations with people who don't buy anything.

Suddenly the canopy is leaning. One of the guy ropes has popped out, the one at my back. Its opposite sags accordingly.

'Fuck's sake.'

I stand and another gust hits my canvases on the frame to the right, twisting them forward and snapping the wooden beam to which they are secured. The whole structure seems suddenly drunk.

'Bloody hell!'

'It'll be okay!' Bess rushes forward in an attempt to set things right, but there's really nothing she can do.

'I think I've just about had enough.'

I loosen the clamps holding my paintings to the broken wood, because I'm going to take these canvases back to the car, having nothing on which to display them. I find I am also stacking up the paintings from the undamaged frame without having consciously decided to do so. I can't sit in the blistering heat wondering whether the wind is going to screw it all up for us, not all afternoon, not for another three hours. A great deal of preparation went into this and it seems as though it has been in vain. This undertaking has felt like one of those dreams in which you're back at school without trousers.

'It's okay,' I tell Bess. 'I'm just packing up my stuff. We don't have to leave.'

She's already wrapping up her rocks and placing them back in the travel bag. I feel awkward, as though I've ruined it.

We're giving up, even though it's only noon.

'This was only forty dollars,' our helpful neighbour tells us as we cast envious glances at his canopy, a sturdier affair than ours, steel bars and springs which collapse down to something that fits in the trunk, and which can be assembled in minutes - as we've seen because everyone else has the same type of canopy.

It turns out that Grace was right.

Next time will be better, we tell ourselves as we drive home to our air conditioning.

Friday, 6 July 2018

More Letters Never Sent


Back in August, 2014, I took to the habit of saying exactly what I felt needed to be said when engaging with others through social media, then not saying it, instead filing my testimony away with others of its kind in a place where it could do no harm. This practice has saved a lot of arguments which probably wouldn't have been worth having, and gets it out of my system. Having already shared a golden cornucopia of these passive-aggressive - and probably a little confusing given the lack of context - treasures, here's another helping in the absence of my having done anything even remotely interesting this week.

You know who else speaks as they see it? Very small children who have yet to develop the intelligence to reason anything through. I realise this will sound harsh, but then truth hurts, as they say; but if anyone remembers being about fifteen and believing you know everything there is to know, then compare that to how fucking ridiculous that same fifteen-year old seems once you're a little older. That's how Katy Hopkins looks to those of us who have tried to keep on learning as we've grown older, and that's why we get called whinning lefties (sic) by people who can't spell the principal language of their own country and who haven't made any effort to understand any argument which isn't their own, as prepackaged from the usual sources - because they're intimidated and feel justifiably inferior.

Sorry if that makes anyone feel sad. It's because you're thick, not because we're the liberal media elite. Please feel free to address this argument when you've learned how to compose a sentence using your own words.

***

I'm not scared of it in the least. I simply regard it as pointless, at best a soon to be technological appendix on the way to a device which might actually do something that needs doing rather than just saving idiots the effort of walking three feet to the dimmer switch.

***

Given that my wife's entire point was about semantic riddles rather than a discussion of gender politics, piss off and please try to avoid making assumptions about what potentially bigoted views others may or may not hold based on a joke you either didn't understand or chose to take as a statement for reasons best known to yourself. Ta.

***

Commiserations. If it's any consolation, my worst ever disaster spiral ended a day of that sort of stuff with myself sat on the toilet suffering from mysterious explosions of such force as to warrant my screaming, how the fucking fuck did it get up there?, having somehow managed to blast some of the substance of which I speak up onto the light fitting in the ceiling. I hope your day gets better.

***

Not to be sniffed at, I know, but much as I love those Sleaford chaps, Dustbin of Sound was superior to English Tapas in my opinion. I haven't heard any of the rest but I suspect you should be higher in that list.

***

I have a good friend from way back who belongs to the Countryside Alliance and speaks from actual experience of everything involved with the hunt, and we had quite a long talk about it. His take on it was that yes, the hunt is cruel, but so is nature; that hunting is a necessary evil in that the countryside is an artificial environment resulting from centuries of agriculture and therefore requires artificial maintenance of this sort, and the hunt is statistically less barbaric than a farmer taking potshots at foxes with a rifle, and most likely maiming rather than killing. That was his position, which I could sort of respect in relation to his agreeing that the hunt is nevertheless barbaric and that the chaps in the red coats are mostly overmoneyed arseholes. My take on it is that if it's genuinely so vital that the fox population be controlled, then simply there needs to be a better way of doing it. 

***

Funnily enough I've been thinking about Oasis of late, partially inspired by stumbling across some interview with Liam Gallagher in which he made me laugh, despite my dislike of the guy.

***

I can't be bothered to read the above four million comments, but you should probably up your game when it comes to spelling and grammar before criticising others for their own, which I offer only as a helpful suggestion. Also, describing those who dislike Trump as cranky, obsessed or whatever it was you said is somewhat undermined by your following and posting on a facebook page which would seem to be mostly pitched against Trump. Do you see?

Whatever your reasons may be for supporting the man are made redundant by the childish way in which you show that support, which really looks just like a basic reactionary dislike of persons who use long, fancy words.

***

I only really mentioned the cost in contrast to prices in England, admittedly as of about six or seven years ago. There used to be a few small places where vegetables were reasonably cheap in my bit of London - or at least which I could afford, although I was thankfully a couple of quid above minimum wage at the time. Here it mostly seems to be massive chain stores full of facelifty types, so we seem to be at the extreme towards which England seems to be heading - is what I mean.

***

It's probably significant that, having moved to the US, I'm no longer exposed to the same bits of music used as soundtrack for trailers for TV sporting events - New Order, Moby, Fatboy Slim, Underworld and so on. I think I'd already heard most of this record just on trailers for tennis alone - but without that...

***

I watched three series and that seemed like enough for me. There was some good stuff in there, but I was beginning to find it a bit too depressing.

***

I am, and I'm going to insist on an extra religious one too.

***

As with all of these guys, he pulls a spooky face and whispers no-one knows in a ghostly voice, and that's really all he has. I've heard similar arguments made regarding structures in Mexico, and it's all bullshit.

These simple but happy jungle bunnies can't possibly have built this without help from someone a bit more advanced, you know - a bit more like us - so therefore it can only have been blah blah blah…

It's explaining things which either don't require an explanation or which already have a better explanation, just a less spooky one. This stuff pisses me off, and it pisses me off that people will read Graham Hancock before they'll read an actual archeological source, which you would think might be the first choice if they're that interested.

***

I'm never watching another Philip K. Dick adaptation ever again. I don't need any more blue and orange in my life, or another chiselled Keanu crying in the pouring rain about whether he's even real. Twenty times bitten, twenty-one times shy, as they admittedly don't actually say.

***

I've got to say I have doubts about this one. Pensioners are definitely getting stiffed big time, but I'd fucking love to know how an illegal immigrant goes about claiming that weekly hardship allowance if they're illegal. I'm additionally sceptical that our 2018 illegal immigrant takes home eight-thousand quid per annum more than I did in a full time job back in 2009. Anyone can type a bunch of invented statistics on facebook and get it shared. Typing out illegal muzzie pedos get a special pedo grant of nine million quid a year while our veterans get nuffink doesn't make it true. This sort of thing really doesn't look like it gives a shit about pensioners so much as stirring up the usual white supremacist bullshit.

***

Some of the opinions expressed in this thread make me so tired I want to fucking punch something. I've already replied three times then deleted the comment. Anyway, I was raised with an inherent distrust of authority due to having grown up reading the Bash Street Kids rather than Superman, so yes - fiction about good little soldiers doing the job the way it should be done is dull, which is why film and television tends to be dull; because as a medium it is at heart conservative and authoritarian, with super episodes of great shows featuring Cumberbatch dished out as a reward for loyal service or consumption of goods. It is at best commodified rebellion like Buffy the Lucrative Franchise, Product Trek, or Doctor Collectible so that we get to feel a little bit dangerous as a sweetener to the drudgery. Losers and fuck ups - as defined by the spectacle - make for a much more interesting story.

***

Still, on a more positive note, at least whilst the common man has his gun, we know a corrupt authoritarian government full of nest-feathering shitbags will never rise to power in America because constitutional amendment mumble mumble...

***

Oh Fuck - it's David Tibet was coincidentally also the name of a projected hidden camera comedy game show on Channel 4. Unfortunately I think it stalled at an argument over using the Horst Wessel song as the main theme tune, even though it would have been totally ironic, obviously.

***

If you're referring to Islam, as was the bloke I quoted, that seems to be suggesting there's such a thing as a thousand-year old culture in which aggression and rape are culturally ingrained as normal behaviour, which is the position taken by far-right racist organisations and which doesn't seem to refer to anything I recognise in the real world. It's the same argument as black people cannot be civilised, so I hope that isn't what you're saying.

***

I disliked that one with some intensity, plus it probably doesn't help that I've never been that bothered about van Gogh. There are many other painters of that era which I much prefer.

***

Okay, enough. I'm out of this group. Three days and I've had enough of people screaming about keeping cats inside when, you know, maybe some of us are thinking about the cats rather than ourselves. If you can't stand the thought of a cat living a happy life outside - and yes there are dangers - then maybe a cat isn't the pet for you. Maybe get a goldfish. Yesterday or maybe the day before there was a post by a woman whose cat had a broken leg, greeted with a mix of well-wishers, the understandably concerned, and people screaming either keep cat inside or we need to find out who did this and kill them. Some of you even referred to the female cat as a male, presumably not having bothered to read the thread. Frankly, I felt ashamed. Some of you are clearly wonderful people with great cats, others seem driven to cause drama.

***

Where was it moving by the way? I saw plenty of big-eyed Mockney manga girls boo-hooing because I wuv woo, Doctor Woctor with deafening sad music blowing both speakers just in case anyone didn't get it, and yes I saw the one about celebrated tea-towel artist Vincent van Gogh (the personified Dire Straits album of modernism) but I didn't see anything moving. I must have missed that one, which additionally casts doubt upon it being unmissable.

***

By way of example, I once linked some article about the impending extinction of elephants on friendface. One of the first replies came from Tim of Warwick posting in this usual real-life Alan Partridge spirit about what a shame it was because of course, as we all know, elephants are a nuisance and must be culled in certain parts of Africa blah blah blah economic sense blah blah blah lefty cloud cuckoo land blah blah blah - the thing was that, whilst he may have had some point relating to something existing in the real world, banging on about the necessity of shooting elephants in response to something suggesting that there are reasons it might not be such a great idea seemed extraordinarily misjudged to me, and my first thought was simply, oh fuck off, you stupid wanker. That was also my second and third thought, based partially on Tim not actually having much experience of anything beyond the end of his road, then standing as a UKIP candidate in local elections, and yet somehow believing his testimony to have some value despite all of the above.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Craft Fair


I paint a canvas every Sunday afternoon, just something small about the size of an album cover. I'm working with oils. I've been painting with acrylics for decades, but I'm new to oils and the techniques involved are very different so I'm having to relearn a lot of things. I've been at it since the beginning of the year and I now have a stack of canvases which I'm ready to sell.

Bess meanwhile has been painting rocks for a year or more, decorating stones with mandalas and related designs of increasing complexity. She protests that she has no artistic ability, but the evidence of her work suggests otherwise. She's posted pictures of her rocks on facebook and strangers have asked to buy them.

Having both arrived at the same place, we've decided to hit the craft fairs, to try selling our work from a stall. We've looked at a few such events and have settled on a fair held at a retirement community in Boerne as a good place to start. The pitch costs twenty dollars and there are no weird restrictions about bringing our own food. We had a look at the fair held regularly at the Black Swan Inn just down the road, and they were asking fifty dollars a pitch with a ban on anyone inclined towards self-catering, presumably so as to guarantee business for whichever food trucks might be in attendance.

So now it's Saturday morning. We're up early. We've fed the cats and we drive out to Boerne to set up, ready for when the doors open at nine. I've spent the last week making a free standing wooden frame upon which I can display my canvases, seven foot tall, but it all comes apart so that it's no big deal getting it in the car. It's made with beams of poplar bolted together and I'm quietly proud of it. My inner pessimist has already predicted that no-one will give a shit about my paintings, but I will have at least one Hank Hill type conversation about the pleasures of woodworking and craftsmanship.

We arrive at the Kronkosky Senior Center around eight and it takes about half an hour to set up. I bolt my frame together and attach rows of canvases using small G-clamps. Bess spreads a black cloth across the circular table we've been allotted, then unwraps all of her rocks. There seem to be hundreds of them, as well as a few vinyl albums she's repurposed and decorated with similar designs.

The hall is of medium size, most likely a canteen during the week. There are fourteen other pitches, described thus in my diary:

  • Custom hair bows by emo-country goth chick, her Tristan-esque boyfriend*, and their dog.
  • Black lady selling unpleasant kitsch ornaments repainted in clashing dayglo colours.
  • Overcharging artist community of wizened burnouts asking $200 for the one painting I actually liked.
  • Crazy grandma in red, selling items of redwear.
  • First timer selling mason jars as tissue dispensers and personalised Starbucks cups.
  • Cactus lady.
  • Quilts advertising John Deere heavy agricultural machinery.
  • Crochet stuff lady.
  • Hostile jewellery lady who writes books about driving the arrogant British out of Ghana.
  • Gay men selling pots of plants mixed in with gnome housing.
  • Blind artist, formerly a Brigadier in the USAF.
  • Tacky arrowhead art.
  • Soap woman.
  • Creepy custom handbag guy.

Nine o'clock ambles past, and we eventually realise that the doors are indeed open by virtue of three or four very old people seen wandering amongst the stalls. They don't seem to be buying anything, but it's clear that they aren't selling either. The big rush comes about an hour later with numbers up in the sevens and eights, and all very old.

'These are people from the retirement home,' I tell Bess.

'I get the feeling they didn't advertise very well,' she says.

'How far are we from Boerne, like the main strip?'

'About a mile.'

The main strip of Boerne is crammed with stores selling antiques, trinkets, nick-nacks, collectibles, and other junk, and it gets pretty busy, particularly at the weekend and on a warm day such as today. We should hopefully begin to experience some of the run off any minute now. It's still early. No-one goes out before noon.

'I'm bored,' I say, 'I think I'll have a sandwich. Do you want one?'

'Not yet.'

I've made sandwiches, corned beef for myself, ham and mustard for Bess. I've also made pasta salad and filled a couple of flasks with iced tea. I eat one of my sandwiches, reasoning that I'll save the other one for later as something to look forward to.

No-one is looking at my paintings. They are behind us but against the wall at an angle. I wonder if it might not occur to people that they are for sale, that they're just part of the hall, but I'm not sure what else I can do. It's not like they can't be seen. I've been painting simple still life compositions - flowers, cacti, and a couple of deer skulls, because these are things I see in Texas. It occurs to me that paintings of skulls might not be the sort of thing likely to sell well in a retirement home.

'These are nice,' an old woman coos over Bess's rocks. She circles the table picking up various examples for closer inspection, then wanders off to buy a fucking horrible plaster clown painted orange and green from the next table along.

Bess and I sit and stare at the woman's wares, scarcely able to believe anyone would try to sell such abominations. We guess that she goes around thrift stores buying cheap, kitschy ornaments from the sixties and seventies, then brightens them up a bit. Somehow she found a way to make that stuff worse. We should probably be impressed.

'What's with the woman in red?' I ask.

There's a round old lady at the other side of the hall dressed entirely and flamboyantly in red. Even her hat is red. All the clothes for sale at her table - all hand made by the look of it - are red.

'It's some sort of senior thing,' Bess explains.

'Like black power for old people?'

'Kind of.'

'So cute!' Another woman is examining a rock. 'My grandson will love this!'

The rock is one of the three or four that I've painted with silly cartoon characters, just little things which take about five minutes to do because Bess asked me to do them. This one is a banana with a face and a big grin - the sort of thing one used to see in the margins of comic strips by Leo Baxendale.

'Three dollars,' says Bess, and we have our first sale of the day. I'm a bit embarrassed that it's one of mine.

Another hour dribbles past.

Aunt Edi shows up. She has driven all the way out here to lend moral support, but also to buy a painting from me. It's for her friend Becky who is visiting from Phoenix, but who is presently staying in San Antonio. Edi takes photos with her phone, and Becky relays that she is interested in a particular painting of the nopal and agave cacti in our garden.



'How much?' asks Edi.

Going by the shite I've already seen at other craft fairs, I'm underpricing myself, but I've divided my paintings into two groups - those which actually I like, and those which I'm not too sure about, for which I'm asking $60 and $40 respectively. I'm trying to sell paintings, and I'm going by what I myself would pay. I'm not trying to skin anyone.

'That's forty dollars,' I tell Edi.

Becky relays that she is very happy with this and so that's another sale. She also relays that she was looking for something which would remind her of Texas when she heads back to Arizona, and so my painting of cacti apparently ticks all of the right boxes. The strange thing for me is that the painting was my first effort, one I could never quite decide whether I liked it or not. It was the one during which I learned that you can't paint in oils using techniques learned from working with acrylic, so if it came out okay - as Becky clearly believes - then it was in spite of me. I didn't actually anticipate anyone ever wanting to buy it, so that makes me happy.

Edi takes a seat and shoots the breeze with us for another hour, then leaves.

Bess eats a sandwich.

A couple of people buy a few of her painted rocks.

An old guy asks, 'How many records did you ruin making these?' He means the vinyl albums upon which Bess has painted her designs. She picks up job lots of junk albums no-one wants and decorates them, because it's 2018 and no-one sane still cares about Ferrante & Teicher's Bouquet of Hits collection.

'Ha! Ha!' we respond because we can't tell whether the old guy is joking or just being a cunt.

Noon arrives and I do a circuit of the hall to see what other people are trying to sell. I've waited until noon so as to break up the day a bit.

Our fellow first timer seems nice, but the stuff she's selling - and which people are actually buying, it should be noted - seems weird to me. The personalised Starbucks cups are, as described, generic plastic cups from Starbucks to which she has added Mark's Cup, for one example, perfectly lettered and everything. I'm not sure who would want to buy such a thing - someone called Mark, I suppose.

I stop at the other stall trying to sell oil paintings. They seem like old hands at this thing and there's a bunch of people at the table. Their canvases are huge, some vaguely representational, nothing too kitschy, and a few abstracts, but the sort of abstracts which tend to be painted by people who paint abstracts because they otherwise can't actually paint.

'These aren't all by one person?' I ask.

'There are three of us,' the woman explains. 'We're an artists' community.'

Of everyone here today, they seem the most at odds with a consumer demographic which will pay for a unicorn in violet, silver and turquoise.

'How much is that one?' I indicate a small portrait of a woman, something vaguely post-impressionist and quite nice.

One of them picks it up and studies the reverse. 'Two-hundred.'

Fuck me, I don't actually say, but I think it. 'Well - good luck,' I offer as a fellow artist trying to sell to senior citizens, a group notoriously reluctant to part with their money.

I pause at the jewellery stall because there are books. I pick one and study the cover.

'I wrote those,' the woman tells me in a defensive tone.

I read the blurb on the back, something about people of Ghana pitted against the arrogance of the English colonial forces at the turn of the nineteenth century.

'I know all about the arrogance of the English,' I chuckle in an attempt to break the ice, and to convey that I'm impressed by anyone who has published their own novel.

'Have you been there?'

'Well, I'm from there.'

'Where are you from?'

'England, I mean. Not Ghana. Have you lived in Ghana?'

'Yes, I lived in Ghana.'

I guessed this from what is written on the back of the book, and because her accent is an unfamiliar hybrid of something or other.

'I've been to North Africa. Well, Morocco, which I know isn't the same.'

She looks at me.

'I lived in London. I knew a few blokes from Ghana.'

'The novels are ten dollars each.'

'Well, I'll probably look back a bit later.' I smile, unsure how best to remove myself from her strangely frosty presence.

Maybe she just hates the English.

Back at the table, we eat our pasta salad. Bess has sold a few more rocks.

The lady in red is now browsing. 'These are very nice,' she says. 'I'd buy one but I'm trying to get rid of everything before I die.'

The organisers asked to stay until three, but a couple of tables have already given up and gone home, and it's clear that there isn't going to be an early afternoon surge.

Bess goes off in search of soda.

The woman with the horrible clowns picks up a rock as she passes by our stall. 'You did this?'

'My wife painted them.'

'I can't even draw a straight line!'

I smile because I don't know how else to respond.

Bess returns and I relate the exchange for her consideration. We both look at the table of dayglo clowns and Disney characters and wonder how she's managed to sell anything.

'Did you hear what she said to the goth chick?'

'No,' I say.

'They were talking about their dog, and how it's a service dog. She just said, I hate dogs!'

'What a lovely woman!'

We sit and watch as more tables vanish like stars going out during the final heat death of the universe.

'I sure have heard a lot of country music today,' I say.

We've been tuned to a country station since we got here, twanging and whining across the hall, hour after hour. That said, it's probably not so much country music as what we now have instead of country music - which is like country music but with autotune, trap drum machine pinging away, and Jed, Jethro, or Tammy whining about poor cellphone reception in rural areas.

At two we decide to call it a day.

We've made about eighty dollars, all told.

I sold a painting to someone I already knew.

Bess sold a few rocks, but considering how most of them cost just a couple of dollars, and they're beautifully painted, she should have cleaned up; which at least means it wasn't us.

It was them.

*: Resembling Tristan, whom my wife knows at work.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Life and Death


On Monday I encounter baby armadillos, which is a first. They're at the side of the trail, snuffling around in the undergrowth with manic energy, three of them. I've seen armadillos in the wild before, but not often. They're usually adults, and a single hasty move is all it has taken to send them scurrying away. Added up, and excluding those I see squished on the highway with depressing frequency, I've seen a total of three armadillos in the wild, and that figure has just doubled. They are each about the size of a large, well-fed guinea-pig. I walk up to them slowly and carefully, and either they don't see me or they're not bothered. I get within about three feet and stand there for the next ten minutes just watching them.

That evening, we're driving past Catman's house on Sumner. Catman is the local crazy guy who feeds feral cats. We've stopped off at his house before, and he's okay, a nice guy with not an ounce of malice or aggression anywhere in his personality; and most of what he says is lucid, even interesting, but then you get digressions into how he foresaw both the collapse of the twin towers and the death of Lady Diana Spencer - also that he died and encountered angels before being brought back to life on more than one occasion. His testimony can be exhausting, but he has kittens scampering around in his yard.

'Kittens!' I squeal.

Bess steps on the brake and backs up at speed.

We get out and go to see the kittens.

Catman remembers us but not our names. He looks and smells better than he did last time. He had painful scrapes and bruises on his arms and legs, and his hair had been cut by someone who apparently thought they were shearing a sheep. Today he's more like a skinny version of Robert Crumb's Mr. Natural. He tells us about the kittens, and it becomes obvious that the way to talk to him is to keep him on the subject of cats, because that way he makes sense and will even listen. The mother of the kittens was killed by some dog, he tells us.

There are six kittens, same litter but different fathers, black, tabby, and four Siamese - six little scampering fluffballs looking up at us with buggy blue eyes. They climb all over as, mewing away. We watch them clean themselves, even having a pee and covering it over with soil. They're tiny, but apparently just old enough for their mother to have taught them all the important stuff. They'll probably be okay. That all six of them have survived this long in some guy's garden suggests that they're tough and healthy.

Tuesday is similarly grey. The skies have been heavy and overcast of late and I find it oppressive. Coming home from HEB, I see an opossum dead at the side of the road, most likely hit by a car. Worse still, I can see movement. There are babies spilling from her cooling pouch, alive but blind and hairless with ants swarming all around. They're doomed. They won't survive outside their mother or without her warmth. They're too small. It feels like the most horrible fucking thing I think I've seen. I could take them home and they will die. I leave them and they will die. I'm paralysed. Nature can be a  cunt at times, although I suppose on this occasion she was acting through some yahoo-fucknugget in a truck. I tell myself that critters die in the wild all the time and that this is no different.

I phone my wife and she tells me we have an animal rescue organisation in the city, and that it's worth giving them a call because they'll even come out for an injured sparrow. I give her the address of where I saw the opossum and she calls them.

In the evening we go back to see Catman and the kittens. We take a bag of kitten chow and some milk, because it's clear that they can use all the help they can get. Catman's care, through no fault of his own, seems a bit erratic. One of the kittens has gone missing. They're at the age where they want only to be friends with anything that moves, and Catman thinks the missing kitten probably followed the mail guy down the street and got lost. I'm telling myself that anyone decent finding the lost kitten will be unable to resist her fuzzy charm and will either give her a good home, or make the effort to find one for her; because that's what I would do. I don't want to have to think about other possibilities.

We feed the kittens in so much as that Catman sweeps a section of his path and tips out some of the dried chow. He takes an empty tin which once contained cat food from amongst the detritus scattered across his lawn, inspects the inside for crap, then pours out some kitten milk. Flies swarm around as the kittens stuff their faces.

Wednesday begins with the same grey sky, and Bess finds Gary dead in the road outside. Bess and I are devastated. I spend most of the day in either a daze or tears, and then I write this on facebook:

Gary wasn't really our cat, but he ended up living in our yard on a more or less permanent basis because his owner was an arsehole who probably didn't feed him properly, and never really seemed to give a shit about the endless succession of critters she has running around her yard for a couple of months before slouching off to die in traffic. Her name for him was Fat Cat, which probably tells you all you need to know. I renamed him Gary because Fat Cat seemed cruel, and because he reminded me of Gary, my neighbour in London - big, pushy, not very bright, always there hanging around when you open the back door, but essentially lovable. I fed him every day, left dry food out for him and the others, and yet he'd still run into the house at every opportunity, meowing his head off and burying his face in the food bowl. We usually let him eat for a few minutes, then would pick him up to take him back out. He purred like a motorbike as soon as he was picked up. He just liked the attention. The other cats eventually got used to him. He chased a few of them off every once in a while, but fights were few and far between. Once we took him for a day out, to spend time with Bess's grandmother, reasoning that it would do them both good and that he was uncomplicated and outgoing (and that she might even want to keep him), but he spent the entire time under the bed, just waiting for whatever it was to be over. This also put the dampers on a very vague plan we had of driving him up to Tennessee and giving him to my friend Sarah who was at the time looking for a large hairy cat. Anyway, today Bess found him in the road outside, presumably hit by a car. I didn't realise I would be quite so upset, but I guess he lived to a good age and at least his last few years were happy.

I dig a hole at the end of the garden. Bess comes home around lunchtime and we bury Gary. My heart is breaking.

That evening she comes home with Catman's kittens, all five of them bundled up and blinking in her arms as she gets from the car. 'I couldn't stand to think of anything else happening to them.'

'I know,' I say.

'After the one went missing and then Gary, and the opossum you saw - I can't take any more dead critters this week.'

'Me neither. I went past and the opossum was still there. I guess those rescue people didn't think it was worth their effort.'

Bess sighs. 'I had my doubts. I called them a few years ago, that time we had a ringtail in the yard. It took them two hours to turn up.'

The kittens spend most of the day asleep in a little fluffy huddle in an old crib we have under the bed, with occasional bursts of activity and following anything that moves, including the other cats. We already have eight, so we won't be able to keep them, but we can at least give them a decent start in life.

It feels like the storm has broken.



Thursday, 24 May 2018

Powwow


It's April so the Powwow season is upon us once again - same place as last time, although when I check I realise that last time was actually 2015. Now that I'm in my fifties, now that I've finally got all my thoughts working in a straight line, the time just rockets past.

It's Saturday morning, which began with a craft fair drive-by in the name of research for when Bess and myself start selling our stuff. This one was open air, on the land just behind the drive-in cinema on the southside. It's held twice a month and pitches are free, which possibly correlates with what we saw as we went by - a row of ten stalls and seemingly no actual punters, although I suppose it was early and the skies were a little grey.

We picked a Mexican diner for lunch, or possibly late breakfast. It's difficult to pick a bad Mexican diner in San Antonio, but not impossible. You can usually tell a good one by the hand painted signage on walls and even windows in emulsions so bright that it hurts to look at them, and also by how many white people can be found amongst your fellow diners. The fewer there are, the better the food will usually be. It's depressing but that's how it works.

I have huevos rancheros and Bess has taquitos and we're set for the rest of the day, so we drive along to Woodlawn Lake. We can already hear the drumming before we've parked, the familiar monotonous beat in 1/1 time - Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom…
 
We talk about Tiana who lives up North somewhere, who came down to meet us in Austin last year. She's mostly Native and a regular face at the Shinnecock Powwows - at least I think they're Shinnecock, one of the tribes I hadn't heard of. Bess has been to Powwows in New Mexico and Arizona, and they're not all the same thing, not by a long way. She tells me she has felt like an intruder at a few of them. Not all are so open or welcoming as the one we're going to, which is possibly something to do with it being part of Fiesta, the local annual holiday which takes over a week or two of April.

As usual we're in a repurposed basketball court, and as we find seats, there's a ceremony already underway, but it's as much to do with Fiesta as anything - the shaking of hands, swapping medals, men in full tribal dress sharing jokes with those declared royal for the duration of Fiesta, some distinguished by the sky blue uniforms of the Order of the Alamo. Eyes cast around the room find no clear line demarcating where Natives begin and the rest of us end, which I guess is similarly true of the local gene pool. I suppose we have extremes represented by the obviously Indian in regalia of feathers and animal bones contrasted with a few of the Alamo Heights set, usually most easily identified by face lifts and the look of having recently starred in an episode of Dynasty; but inclusivity is at least some of the point of this thing. On some level this might be considered an Indian Show, but then we're all having fun, which is probably better than invisibility.

There's a circle of guys at the centre of the hall, gathered around their drums and all in black shirts and Stetsons. The master of ceremonies speaks through a tannoy too distorted for me to really follow what he says, but it seems there will now be a dance. A larger circle forms around the drummers, all facing inwards.

Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom…

So many people are milling around that it's difficult to see who is actually dancing, but the rhythm is accompanied by a traditional chant, albeit with modern words, a chant probably very much like the thing you're imagining, having just read that sentence. It's familiar and yet experienced in the raw it sounds new and more powerful than one might have anticipated. The rhythm may seem rudimentary but the drums are huge and the skins resonate with a power felt in the gut, a deep bass that somehow makes me think of rave music and techno.

'There will be a cakewalk,' the announcer tells us, and that's all I understand, except that we are invited to participate. We are given paper plates with numbers written on the back. We form in a circle, again facing inwards, and place our plates on the ground before us. I'm still not actually sure what I've agreed to do.

Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom…

We dance. It's a shuffling motion whereby we all move sideways, clockwise around the ring of participants.

Fuck it, I say to myself. I'm going for it.

I dance next to a younger representative of the tribe in full dress, huge fans of eagle feathers running down his sleeves and back. I copy his moves and then improvise, hopping from foot to foot, putting a bit of elbow grease into it because it's actually fun - all very immersive. Another minute passes and we stop with the music, all picking paper plates up from the floor in front of us.

The master of ceremonies reads out a succession of numbers, and those with plates bearing the numbers run to the podium to received baked goods, pies, even a box of Little Debbie snack cakes. I suspect this tradition has been a more recent development, say the last couple of years rather than anything handed down from one generation to another. We've combined musical chairs with the tombola and the Mario, a dance famously described in the closing theme to the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.

Do the Mario!
Swing your arms from side to side
Come on, it's time to go!
Do the Mario!
Take one step, and then again,
Let's do the Mario, all together now!
You got it!
It's the Mario!
Do the Mario!

One YouTube commentator pointed out that the Mario is a lot like walking, and so is the cakewalk.

'He's from England,' I can hear Bess explain to some other dancer, but I missed whatever point she was trying to qualify, and I don't really care because we're off again.

Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom Bom bom…

We keep going until they've shifted all the cakes. Neither Bess nor myself won any of the cakes or pies, but then we're still full of huevos rancheros and taquitos so we're not too bothered.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Starving Artists


We're on a fact finding expedition to something called the Starving Artists Show. Bess and myself have been gearing up to hitting the craft fairs in the hope of selling our respective works and generating a bit of wonga, and this constitutes research. I've been painting on canvas, and I need to know what to expect - what the standard is at this kind of event, how much people generally charge and for what? This will be new ground for me because I've previously only sold my paintings intermittently and have always worked in acrylics. Now I'm trying my hand at oils, meaning I'm effectively having to learn all over again.

The Starving Artists Show takes place in la Villita, roughly speaking a nineteenth century village of small limestone buildings at the heart of San Antonio, and which arguably was San Antonio back in the good old days of rickets and slavery. Today it's an artists' community just south of the city centre, meaning it's mostly galleries, stores selling hand crafted nick-nacks - some quite nice, some fucking awful - a couple of eating places, and general artisanal shite. I mostly think of the pieces sold in la Villita as art for people who don't really like art, but who otherwise pride themselves on knowing what they like. If you're after something with the intensity of a Billy Childish woodcut, then la Villita probably isn't where you're going to find it. On the other hand, it's not a bad place to pick up handmade Mexican folk art.

We begin with a visit to one of the stores because Bess is friends with the woman who works there. They talk and I wander around the shop, picking up clay figurines and inspecting them. The world of mass-produced injection-molded souvenir tat in which I grew up is long gone, but I still can't work out how I feel about its replacement. I like that the precious things of the shop were made by a human being, and I suppose they're nice enough in their own way; but they operate within a system of values which I don't understand. There's nothing here I really need to own, and I can't see the point of having anything you can't claim to need by some definition.

We move on, having had the obligatory discussion about our respective cats. The narrow streets of la Villita are lined with temporary tents and awnings, and each is hung with art of one kind or another, and all of it for sale. The standard is better than I'd anticipated. I'd expected lurid Disney characters scrawled by persons with more enthusiasm than talent, and although that stuff is here, it's thankfully in the minority. On the other hand, I'm surprised to realise that my own fledgling works in oil - of which I'm happy with less than half of those painted so far - are probably above average compared to most of these efforts. There isn't actually much I'd be happy to see hung in a gallery, the one exception being the work of an old guy specialising in Western themes, with desert landscapes painted at least to the standard of Frederic Remington. His canvases are large and he's asking hundreds of dollars for them. I too would be asking for hundreds of dollars had I painted them.

Moving on, the best work seems to be mostly what you could just about call Post-Impressionist, tending towards the representational, and competently so, but with a slightly wild approach to colour. There are plenty of abstract works, if we're going to call them works, but patently produced in the belief of splashes of colour being sufficient in and of themselves. The best abstract painters, in my view, tend to be those who learned to paint like Titian before moving on to non-representational realms of expression. You make a better job of breaking rules when you're at least a little familiar with what they are. I don't think those selling their work today have arrived at the abstract by quite the same route.

I look at the prices. There isn't much under one-hundred dollars, and those which are tend to be tiny nick-nacky canvas squares with a single twee image - a heart or a peace symbol which can't have taken more than a half minute of fingerpainting. I've been thinking of selling my canvases for around sixty dollars, at least those I like, so I guess I won't have to feel guilty about the possibility that I might be overcharging.

We turn the corner into the next street and it seems to be getting worse. More and more I'm seeing Frida fucking Kahlo. I don't have anything specific against Frida Kahlo, beyond that she tended to paint the same tea-towel self-portrait over and over again, but she was never the saviour of modernism - if anyone still remembers what that was.

We reach the lowest circle at the end of this second street - Mexican folk art and Día de los Muertos skulls embellished with the catchphrase Go Spurs Go. The San Antonio Spurs are the local basketball team, none of whom are actually from San Antonio because their success is such as to be able to afford players of ability
greater than any of the local hoop-shooting fucknuggets can apparently muster. The Spurs are a big deal if you don't have much else going on. When you see them, you call out Go Spurs Go to show your support and to affirm membership of the tribe. Personally I couldn't give a shit about the Spurs, and Go Spurs Go painted on a flowery skull is possibly the dumbest thing I've seen in my entire life.

Bess and I stand and stare for at least a couple of minutes, trying to imagine what it would be like to be so stupid as to get excited by Go Spurs Go painted on a flowery skull.

We beat a retreat, across South Alamo Street to the Hemisfair Park, which is where they held the World Fair back in 1968. I would have been three, and Bess would not yet have been born. It's been fifty years since the World Fair, so in addition to the Starving Artist Show, we have some manner of celebration marking the anniversary.

We watch Native Americans dancing on a stage for fifteen minutes, chants and drumming amplified through a PA. The theme of the 1968 World Fair was the coming together of cultures. Much like the crafty things of the shop, I'm not sure how I feel about this, about Native Americans reduced to a dab of ethnic colour in the sideshow, but then again, maybe that's preferable to their being rendered invisible. Maybe there isn't a single right answer to the question.

We eat Mediterranean food from a truck - probably khlea - and watch a German choir, many in lederhosen, choiring along to a CD of oompah band music. Then we ogle vintage cars with massive tailfins, vehicles resembling spacecraft of the fifties; then flamenco dancing performed by a troupe with a generation gap seemingly excluding anyone between the ages of about eight and sixty, so it's mostly old women and toddlers. I seem to be the only one confused by this.

Finally we head back to the car. We have the knowledge we need for the craft fair at which we'll be setting up shop in May, and if it all goes tits up, then I can always fall back on Frida Kahlo…

Frida Kahlo as Ariel from Disney's Little Mermaid, and big swirly letters running along the foot of the canvas: Go Spurs Go...

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Jersey Shore and the Labyrinth of Fear


Seven or eight young Italian-Americans come into town, and everything changes. By this standard, every story is a Jersey Shore story, as every Jersey Shore story is exactly that - seven or eight young Italian-Americans come into town looking to party, and everything changes.

And so as long as there are stories, there are Jersey Shore stories. When the stars go out and the universe freezes, around the last fire on the last world, there will still be Jersey Shore stories to tell. And when we are done telling them, at long and final last, in the distance will be a strange wheezing, groaning sound as Mike gets out of bed, rubs the sleep from his eyes and thinks about maybe grabbing some breakfast. And out he will presently step into the day - gym, tanning parlour, then laundry...

I believe this. I believe this because to disbelieve this is to disbelieve that stories have power.

To set Jersey Shore and the Labyrinth of Fear before our psychochonographical eye, we might discuss the day when Shakin' Stevens rode high in the Englishland charts with his cover of Green Door, a day upon which President Carter began talks with Giscard d'Estaing over what was to be done regarding the Lithuanian hostages, and when Marvel Comics carried the first advertisement for Hostess Twinkies to be counted as official Marvel Universe canon. We might discuss these things, but we're actually referring to Curtis Phallocrat's amazing novelisation which came out a little later; besides which, Shakin' Stevens is like this totally iconic Englishland singer and you probably haven't heard of him, but I have; and I wouldn't want you to be confused.

So, let us instead cast our thoughts back to that fateful day upon which Jersey Shore and the Labyrinth of Fear first appeared in the hallowed halls of WHSmiths. WHSmiths is like this totally iconic book store in Englishland and everybody goes there. It's really amazing. You probably won't have heard of it, but I have.

The Cartoons were riding high in the charts with their cover of David Seville's 1958 novelty hit, Witch Doctor; Freddy Got Fingered entered its third record-breaking week at the box office, cementing its reputation as the best-selling film of all time; and meanwhile Maurice Augières had just broken the land speed record in Dourdan, France. These may seem like unrelated facts, but only to those who understandeth not the magic of psychochronography, which is a means of examining important cultural events in terms of their impact by means of mentioning other stuff which happened at the same time; so if it seems like it's just a review, then you are to be pitied, my unsophisticated friend. We travel in spaces much deeper.

Dourdan is like this totally iconic place in France. You probably haven't heard of it, but I have.

Let's take a look at the novel.

'What is it?' asked the Situation uncertainly.

'Ronnie lost it again,' admitted Snookie sadly, and they both gazed across the dance floor to where Ronnie could be seen yelling red-faced at the unfortunate Sammi. Thankfully the music was loud, so no-one could hear what Ronnie was shouting, but the shape of his lips seemed to be forming rude, insulting words. He looked very angry.

'What's going on?' asked Jwoww as she came back from the bar with her tequila.

Situation pulled a face and pointed to their quarrelling housemates.

'Oh man,' Jwoww exclaimed. 'Again?'

This is a clear homage to the fight scene in Bleak House by Charles Dickens, because the magic of Jersey Shore is that it can be used to tell any kind of story, and here it has been used to tell a story which harks back to the fight scene in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, as originally serialised in Sounds music paper by none other than Alan Moore. Sounds was published by the British Natural Party which is a racist organisation because Nicky Crane was on the cover of the second Oi! album and he was a famous racist. Alan Moore has since refused to comment upon the time when he was drawing cartoons of Buster Bloodvessel for a Nazi skinhead magazine.

Charles Dickens is like this totally iconic author in Englishland, and we'll just pretend he didn't get his best ideas from watching Jersey Shore for the sake of argument. They all read his books over there in Englishland. They probably haven't heard of Jersey Shore, but we have, which is probably why they don't realise where Charles Dickens has been getting all of his best ideas. You probably won't have heard of Charles Dickens, but I have.

Shame on you, Alan Moore.