Category Archives: My Home

Where Pioneering Paths and Plastics Meet…

May 2, 2019

Filed Under : 5ftinf Tables - Brighton - colour - Conscious Creativity - My Home - Spring

I’m currently reading Annie Proulx’s book ‘Barkskins’ recommended to me by artist Jo Sweeting ( aka @TheStoneCarver ). I was telling her about how much I’ve enjoyed Willa Cather books and how the world of the American pioneers and settlers completely fascinates me on so many levels.

‘Barkskins’ has a cover I don’t much like. It is an enormously thick book and looks at me threateningly…I am not a quick reader. It took me 3 years in my early 20’s to finish Charles Dicken’s ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’.  Jo reassures me that she only read the first 200 pages, but thought it was great. To read 200 pages becomes my goal. A goal which encouraged me to at least open the book. I am, of course, absolutely loving it ( even though I’m only up to page 120 ). The synchronicity of the book coming into my life not only ties in with my pioneering fascination, but also resonates with my recent awakening to global consumerism, excessive waste and plastic packaging.

When I started to look at what I was personally consuming at the beginning of this year, particularly my everyday, convenience items, I felt a huge wave of guilt. Guilt for the part I have played in not taking any notice of these things before, not looking at what I consume and not being prepared to acknowledge that my lifestyle could and should change. I also felt complete overwhelm at the thought of a battle that has already been won by plastics, overwhelmed by the amount of years I’ve done nothing and even joked about all the eco hippies in Brighton and overwhelmed by the thought that I may not be able to actually afford to be ‘responsible’. I decided to address changes I felt I could make to my lifestyle by making it all an active experiment, a personal project. I’ve collected and consciously looked at virtually every piece of plastic I’ve bought over the last 4 months and I have learned so much just by simple, detailed looking and observation: The hidden recycling numbers on plastics, the ‘not yet recycled’ messages on things I’d always thought were paper, un-recylable film lids on recyclable plastic trays, Tetra Pak’s embedded with plastic windows and how a bottle of Prosecco might have something for each of my recycling bags ( glass bottle, paper label, plastic label and tin foil seal ). I’ve learned that I only need 4 pints of milk each week, delivered to me in reusable glass bottles. I’ve learned that I can remember to take my reusable coffee cup on trips with me, that I can spend time washing all my recycling in the sink and even get my teenage son to do the same, and also what an Eco Brick is. Taking the bins out has become a triumph, 1 bag a week maximum, and I’ve also changed to an independent local recycling company  who collect every Friday. I am now desperate to do something with my food waste which is why I’m hankering after the wormery I mention in my last post. And to top it all, a new and brilliant Refill shop ‘STORE’ opened in January, less than 5 minutes walk away from my house.

However I can’t help feeling acutely aware that this is a ‘project’ that I am able to afford to indulge. It is a financial, middle class privilege which allows me to feel in some small way that I am helping the planet, reducing waste and at least trying to live as a more conscious consumer. This awareness also serves as the reminder of the reasons why I was not prepared to look at the issue before: With very little money coming in and bringing up a child on my own, I would pride myself on intricate domestic planning. My two week food budget was £75 and I would supermarket shop so carefully and so precisely that it never felt like we were lacking. However, I know I would never have been able to be as frugal if I had wanted to shop more responsibly. Shopping at the refill store is absolutely brilliant, but a small bag of staples: cereals, coffee, pulses, rice, washing liquid and shower gels costs around £10 more than it would in the supermarket. The fact that you are refilling and being kinder to the planet is obviously innate, but it’s really not a viable option if you are hard up. I feel like my mission should really be to discover cost effective ways of making responsible consuming easily accessible for people who don’t have a comfortable income.

My own personal discovery has been to witness just how greedy I can be. If I’ve wanted something, then I’ve gone out and bought it. If I’ve wanted a bag of crisps or some Haribo on a car journey then I’ve bought them. But now I am developing the conscience that this want of mine is actually greed. Crisps, sweets and convenience foods in general are mostly not a necessity or a right, but a ‘want’, and ultimately I carry the responsibility of buying into yet more un-recyclable packaging for something that I simply do not need. I am absolutely no angel by any stretch of the imagination, and I do still buy these things, admittedly far less regularly, but I do still buy them…the major difference is that I no longer think that putting the remains in the bin is all that needs to be done to act responsibly…I now at least save the packets and bring them home to fill my Eco Brick. Actively sorting rubbish certainly takes loads more time than just chucking everything in the bin, but I have discovered how easily even a slight shift in my domestic habits has quickly become a new routine, a routine which has completely transformed my perceptions as well as how full my bin gets.

The connections to Annie Proulx’s ‘Barkskins’ are multiple:  the abuse of nature due consumerism and greed has evidently been in process for over 400 years. The defiant ignoring and exploitation of indigenous people’s knowledge of nature, the assumption that nature will just keep replenishing itself, and the sadness of those who, understanding the simple joys and benefits of working in sympathy with the land, helplessly watch it disappear. ‘Barkskins’ is a modern book talking about an age old problem which is still in focus, and it is the book’s awareness of this which particularly resonates at the moment. We can look back, even to our own childhoods and think how much more sustainable things were then; I remember way more paper packaging, more glass jars, less choice, less treats and far less throwaway clothes and furniture. But the issue runs far deeper than that.

We have become such massive consumers of ‘stuff’ we do not need. ‘Stuff’ which either makes us feel better about ourselves, comforts us, elevates us or empowers us. I am by no means a minimalist, and I really admire those who are, but I have also never really been a big buyer of lots of new stuff. I like to accumulate old things, things with romance and a past which lots of people might think are scrappy or dirty, but which still have function and design. I’ve always felt quite proud of this amidst the massive DIY eruption over the last 20 years which has encouraged you to constantly reinvent your home interiors cheaply every time trends change. I’ve also felt rather complacent about the fact that I either make my own clothes, buy clothes cheaply, find them second hand or occasionally buy something very expensive to last. Taking the time to find out about the ethics behind how things are made and disposed of is incredibly time consuming and feels like yet another thing to do…and that’s the problem and the answer. These questions, and their answers, take up far more of our time than most of us are prepared to give, unless you are a proper heroic activist. I hugely admire activists, but they also intimidate me; their knowledge and experience is so vast and they do such good work that it just makes me feel small,  foolish and rather impotent and it’s that insecurity which has often stopped me before I’ve even started.

Looking at that massive ‘Barkskins’ book on Jo’s table; the enormity of the reading task ahead of me didn’t entice me in any way whatsoever, but telling myself I could maybe just read the first 200 pages made it feel do-able. We are all able to make small steps and take an interest, even if it takes a while to bring us to any action. We need to be creative on this journey towards a better relationship to consumerism and our planet. We can’t be expected to change our whole lifestyles in an instant, but I do think it’s possible to change our perceptions by personal involvement pretty quickly. Starting to think about what we need rather than what we want, what we can do rather than what we don’t want to do is surely a first step towards a better way of living responsibly. Like I said, I am no angel, no radical activist, I am someone who just really wants to find accessible and responsible solutions for everyone, not just those who can afford it. I want to live more responsibly and in tandem with the environment; I want to do my bit and learn as I go…

Today’s images are focused around some of my plastic observations from the last few months… ( you can also see more in my Stories Highlights on Instagram ) as well as showing you my local refill shop ‘STORE’ along with a few of my thoughts about some of the sustainable products. This washing up liquid is about the same price as Fairy, but it’s not a great one for cutting through grease and doesn’t last as long… My teenage son actually commented on how good this conditioner was! Expensive but good… Again expensive but great to be able to reuse the cereal bags… These 2 products are new to me so will let you know how I get on at a later date… There is a space in STORE waiting for the Old Tree Kombucha refill…there is a crowd funding project for their Closed- Loop Botanical Brewery here I also use my local greengrocers Fiveways Fruits

 

Eternal Catch Up of The Bloggers Mind…

May 1, 2019

Filed Under : 5ftinf Tables - Arrangements - Art - Brighton - colour - Conscious Creativity - Cornwall - My Home - Spring - texture

For the past couple of months, part of my long daily list of things I’m meant to do has consistently included ‘BLOG’ along with ‘Sort Photos’. I’m usually good at being on top of sorting my photos and observations but this year has felt really chaotic and as if I’m only doing things  when I absolutely have to. It’s not a feeling I enjoy; it’s a feeling which actually makes me  full of rage and self loathing. I can very happily start a Live Instagram story and talk about things; creativity, ideas, procrastinations, annoyances etc, etc, because I genuinely love connecting to you all; it’s like going for a coffee or hanging out at the pub and having a chat about stuff. But actually getting down to work, doing what I’m meant to be doing and earning a living has felt like something I’m completely rebelling against. I had to look back over some of my old photos the other day and longed for the freedom and flair I had felt 2 years ago…I’ve been really trying to look at why I’m being like this at the moment and also trying to accept that it’s actually part of my whole creative process. I can feel that there will be some sort of shift, probably into new areas, and that I just have to ride out this period of time where my creative output feels rootless.

I haven’t stopped working and I’m not in any way ‘blocked’, it’s almost the opposite problem, but having ideas and working out how to implement them; writing the emails and creating the proposals etc, is a complete nightmare. I just want to be gardening! I’ve also realised in this period of time, ( and this feels quite a big thought ) that I’m not, and actually don’t want to be a ‘business woman‘. As a self employed person of over 20 years I’ve always had to run my own ‘business’, chasing the dream that one day I’ll be earning a fortune. For the past couple of years my business was better than it ever was ( although nowhere near the £150 – £200k sums you hear about ), BUT I was under no illusion that it would last. Part of my problem is that whenever my work and I have been accepted, I feel the need to move on; create different work, explore new aesthetics, new ideas and generally just keep moving forward. I’m doing this at the moment but I’m doing it in the knowledge that I’m creeping further and further away from any sensible business models.

I go into Instagram and an amazing digital entrepreneur pops up telling me how I can turn my financial life around as long as I don’t talk about the negatives, if I learn their secret business strategies or even just ‘niche down‘…NONE of these things I want to do! I’m left feeling like a failure and it’s in these moments that my digital demon appears:” Having over 400K followers means f*** all  if you don’t get your act together and monetise it” , “No wonder your income has gone down and your business feels all over the place…that’s because you actually told people you were all over the place! ”  , ” How can you have no idea where you want to be in the next 18 months?!!!” ,  “And why aren’t you talking more about your book?! You have literally thousands of copies to sell before you receive any royalties at all!!”

Any sort of blogging has felt completely out of the question recently and Instagram Stories has felt more like my place, especially as they disappear after 24 hours…I love curating visual stories ( I use the Unfold app and Videoleap mostly ) but when I’ve uploaded it I feel completely done…the idea of repeating it all in some other form for the blog or on Steller or Facebook drives me insane! However, sharing things all over the place does mean that I can reach more people, and that IS the bit I love. Obviously it’s great when a brand finds you and wants you to create content for them; it’s a commission and I enjoy it, but pleasing brands is NOT the reason I create and share images and I’ve grown to resent the knowledge that a certain aesthetic or composition will be more appealing to them. Also I just can’t do that clever photoshop stuff, and part of that makes me feel old fashioned…even a bit too old for the Insta environment.

I’m a 40 something experiencing all the weirdness of growing out of the really full-on ‘being a parent‘ times…and maybe there’s the clue, maybe that’s where my personal shift lies. I was in that parent gang for so long, that gang which shared each newly discovered nightmare and hilarity of having a young child. Sharing the day in the forest when I accidentally poked my son in the eye with a stick whilst telling him off,  the day I didn’t notice that he’d cracked his head open on a wheelie bin, the sad day we lost Cheeko which then became the happiest day when we found him again, and the day he made an amazing film and I felt SO proud. I was a single parent striving to get somewhere other than being just a parent, and now that my son is 18 and about to leave home…I am all over the place. Who I am feels wildly in the air. Who I am is being wafted around the skies like a helium balloon without its helium, like an empty crisp packet on a windy day, like the scuttle of ordinary, overlooked leaves…and I can’t even begin to imagine who I will be when he decamps to Manchester in September…

At this point my digital demon is now itching to get a word in: ” Why the hell have you told them all that? Are you actively trying to secure your failure?!!” “You’re meant to embody positivity, creativity and inspiration…it’s your BRAND!”

Well Digital Demon, I suppose I can’t help myself…I need to feel the sadness, the strangeness, the rage and insecurity as well as all the amazing joys and excitement that being a creative brings. And if that means I can’t be a business woman to boot…so be it. 

…I’ve now become aware, and a bit self conscious, that I don’t usually write this much. I obviously spent months writing my book, but I was completely out of my comfort zone during that time. I think I acted ‘being an author‘ in my head on most days. I like my pictures to talk and I don’t really like the act of putting words down; it gets on my nerves, and I often find that I write just to get it out of the way… so I can get on with the pictures. ( Even now I am absolutely dreading having to go back to the top of this outpouring and edit it ). I’m also aware that in terms of  length I should probably now be arriving at some sort of ‘point‘…

Well, I’m not massively sure what the point is apart from it serving as an explanation of my floundering without cohesion at the moment. Right now I’m sitting at my desk in the shed surrounded by reminders of what I should be doing; my calendar is still staring April at me, a couple of books people have sent me are piled up, random notes for my online course students are pinned to a shelf, a memory stick with millions of photos I want to write blog posts about is teasing me from my pencil case along with a fat pin cushion giving me a very knowing prickly look. But probably the most telling of all is a Post-It note right next to me with a short list of ‘things I want‘ written in Sharpie. It says: Blue Yeti Mic, Yellow Roller Skates , Wormery …I want the roller skates more than the wormery, but I want the wormery more than the mic, but it’s the mic which would be for work. I really, really want the yellow roller skates…

I started writing this post because I was waiting for my images to upload and I thought I’d just get on with the intro…it’s turned into something else completely, but I hope it at least breaks the deadlock which I’ve created for myself around my blog…fingers crossed more posts will follow, although this may just be a sudden rebellious outburst in the direction of my digital demon!

Anyway, I can’t finish without pictures so here are some taken over the last few months…

P.S The blog posts I am mainly wanting to put together ( and I’m writing this down so it makes them feel more like solid ideas ) are: My Trip to the Scilly Isles, Daffodils in Cornwall, Bluebells in East Sussex, Stanley Kubrick Exhibition, My Personal Plastic Journey, Shadows, Synesthesia, Artists Open Houses, My New Textiles, Patreon, and My New Paintings For Sale. In an ideal world I would be finished in an hour…in an ideal world I would have a wormery and yellow roller skates.

Saturday…with some Weekly Snaps…

April 21, 2018

Filed Under : 5ftinf Tables - Arrangements - Art - Brighton - colour - exhibitions - Fashion - London - My Home - Spring - texture - The Lonely Kiosk Project - Weekly Snaps

I haven’t done my Weekly Snaps for absolutely ages, so I thought I’d put together as I think I’ve taken more photos this week than in the past 3 weeks together ( although I may just have snuck in a photo from a couple of weeks ago too ). I’ve been writing my book recently and sitting at my desk for hours on end isn’t massively photographic. I’m also prepping for a new shed installation which I’m creating for an Artists Open House ( Jehane’s Open House ) which will open in Brighton the first weekend of May…The installation is called ‘A Blade of Grass’, after a Brian Patten poem which has inspired it. So, I’ve been collecting lots of bits for that, as well as popping to London a couple of times, matching my yellow and black clothes to all things yellow and black, finding new decaying phone boxes, discovering Gareth Pugh and having a walk into Brighton… Btw, the note on this board says ” The Importance of Fashion”

 

Friday…with a Christmas at Home

December 15, 2017

Filed Under : Arrangements - collaborations - colour - My Home - Winter

My memories as a child of decorating for Christmas were basically doing the tree with my brother. I can’t remember any ritual surrounding the choosing of a tree, one just always appeared. I was obsessed with tinsel and always wanted to wear it and I remember how upsetting it was that my brother always felt the need to comment on the fact that the beautiful fairy doll my mum had made, had no knickers on!

Christmas always seemed excitingly chaotic; I loved seeing a white table cloth appear, shiny cutlery coming out of boxes and a general sense of sparkly specialness happening…

As an adult I can’t say that I don’t complain about having to go into the loft and find the Christmas boxes, but I can say that it’s so worth it once they’re out…
Every year I forget what’s in them, and every year I fell a sense of excitement and melancholy about the passing of time..

I remember years ago that my son was so happy to have made a christmas lantern out of a yellow Post-It note that I’ve never been able to throw it away!
We choose a new bauble or decoration each year for our collection…
…and I also like to add bit’s of family history as decorations like these glass droplets from a broken chandelier which belonged to my great grandmother, some of my granfather’s horse brasses and some vintage christmas cards which belonged to an old friend… These are 3 of my favorite decorations: The turquoise bauble and purple pair were bought for my son’s first Christmas when he was 4 weeks old and the trumpet was the first decoration he chose himself… This is the ‘Infant Phenomenon’ which we use as a fairy ( it’s where the ‘INF’ bit of my name comes from ) …and this is a new 2017 decoration
So you probably know by now that I have a bit of a thing for collections, which is partly why I was so happy that Georg Jensen wanted me to work with their Christmas Collectables

Georg Jensen designs always have such simple and clear lines but also the shine on their work is to die for!

Their Christmas Collectibles started in 1984 with the intention of bringing a new one out each year for 10 years, but they proved so popular that they’ve now become a Georg Jensen tradition and this year they’re designed by Alfredo Häberli, who focuses largely on the angel to represent Christmas….

I wanted to use them to decorate the tree but also in other areas including my table as, really, decorating the table at Christmas gives me the most joy; it is my adult version of how exciting tinsel was…
but first the tree… I have a small house and this is the biggest tree we’ve ever brought home but the shape was so perfect! I always secure the base in an old galvanised bucket with a load of bricks and large stones wedging it in…I like using a worn bucket as it feels a sort of outside friend for the tree somehow…

I also like creating little Christmas areas… Part of the Georg Jensen Christmas range this year are these amazing tree candle holders which are the best things ever! I have a Swiss friend who always lights candles on her tree and I’ve been so envious over the years but never managed to find any that are beautiful and practical and these are both, apart from anything else, they are weighted perfectly… I know that the candles should be lit on Christmas Eve, but I can never resit fairy lights, so have to have both…And so now, onto the table…taking a brief moment to take in this incredible Georg Jensen pitcher designed by Ilse Crawford…I mean, I have no words for how much I love this perfect design…and SHINE!!
It’s impossible for me to embody a Christmas of muted tones; I relish playing with colour combinations and also really enjoy absorbing the usual home decor into the Christmas one, so the table is simple but with colouful punctuation, and this year, combined with Danish shine from Georg Jensen… The Christmas collectables can add  a lovely sparkle to a wreath too……or a hidden heart amongst the mistletoeI can’t wait for Christmas Day…I love cooking, I love getting the table sorted, I love having a proper day off and I just love being at home!

I hope you all manage to take time off and have a wonderfully festive and sesonal celebration.
( Thank you so much to Georg Jensen who have kindly sponsored this post )

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Thursday…with Yellows ( and a last chance Earlybird )

August 31, 2017

Filed Under : Arrangements - Autumn - Brighton - colour - My Home - Summer - texture - workshops

I was working with yellows today; a sort of burnt, yellowy gold collation , and a sort of homage to the end of the Summer and the approach of Autumn… It’s all in the positioning of the pears…( I should have thrown these out ages ago but I loved watching them grow more and more golden every day! ) I wanted to create one of my ‘classic’ tables with this particular chair…which meant that Cheeks was moved, still on the chair, to the other side of the room…he didn’t even notice!

I also just wanted to remind anyone who’s thinking of booking a place on my Consciously Creative Online Course, which starts on Sept 11th, that tomorrow is the last day that you’ll be able to use the Earlybird discount code…please email me using the form at the bottom of this post if you’d like me to send it to you. ( There are only a handful of places left now, so do let me know soon )

Friday…The History of Modern Medical Science ( Part 4 )

April 28, 2017

Filed Under : Art - collaborations - colour - Gardens - London - moving stills - My Home - Spring - The History of Modern Medical Science - trips

For the final part of this project one of the things I thought I’d look at something I reckon we’re all pretty scared about which is pain and this led me to visit Chelsea Physic Garden as I was interested in historical Native Remedies for pain.

When I was reading a witness statement from Witnesses To Modern Biomedicine I was amazed that until about 1965 there was an enormous amount of ignorance about pain and subsequently there was a lot of acute pain particularly in end of life situations and the thought that ‘men didn’t need powerful drugs’ for pain but women did, seems extraordinary.

A large percentage of us have usually experienced some form of severe pain or at least witnessed it as often it occurs at births and deaths.I certainly remember that after having my emergency c-section I would lie in the hospital bed listening for the sound of the pain relief trolley rattling down the corridor, desperate for it to arrive…

And then when my father was in his last days in hospital he would suddenly have an attack of awful pain which was swiftly taken away by a dose of morphine…the magic of seeing that was incredible, and such a relief, to witness.

The relatively recent advancements of pain relief are something that I am personally so grateful for but also just amazed that it is possible.

The witness statement below is from Dame Cicely Saunders, physician and the founder of the Modern Hospice Movement

Going to St Joseph’s Hospice, which was virtually untouched by medical advance, I was able to introduce records and the regular giving of morphine, which they hadn’t started, and according to one of the sisters of the ward that I was first in, it was the change from painful to pain-free. Having been given four patients to look after, I was soon looking after every admission into those 45 beds. So I began keeping records in detail, pre-computer, on a punch card system, and making tape recordings of patients talking about their pain from 1960, and I realised that what we were looking at was what I described later, in 1964, as total pain. And I will quote from one patient, when I said to her, ‘Tell me about your pain, Mrs H.’ She just said, ‘Well, doctor, it began in my back, but now it seems that all of me is wrong. I could have cried for the pills and the injections, but I knew that I mustn’t. Nobody seemed to understand how I felt, and it seemed as if the whole world was against me. My husband and son were marvellous, but they would have to stay off work and lose their money, but it’s so wonderful to begin to feel safe again.’ And so she has really talked about the physical, the psychological, the social, and her spiritual need for security to look at who she was, coming to the end of her life. And for another patient it was, ‘All pain and now it’s gone, and I am free.’ It is not possible to treat pain in isolation. We have to consider the whole person.

and this one from Professor Duncan Vere, Clinical Pharmacologist

I will say that until about 1965 there was entrenched ignorance, a tremendous amount of severe pain. Patients who were in severe pain, or dying with pain, were often given the Brompton cocktail, or Mist. Obliterans, as it was politely known, and it was a matter of patients being rendered so that they didn’t know what they were doing, by doctors who certainly didn’t know what they were doing. They were using medicines with actions that they couldn’t understand, because they had this complex mixture of cocaine, morphine, gin, sometimes with phenothiazine added. Parsimony was the order of the day, which rendered control impossible. Pain breakthrough was frequent, and intermittent control is disastrous, if only for the reason of the self-augmentation of pain. Hospice care had, of course, begun but somehow it didn’t seem to have come across into the general medical and surgical field in hospitals and general practice.

I think for a lot of people the idea of hospitals is really terrifying particularly for births and deaths. I think it probably has a lot to do with the lack of comfort there, and consequently a prevention of relaxation. They’re public spaces after all, so I can absolutely understand why treatments at home would be preferable.

It was also really interesting to read about some of the advancements into home treatments, like Home Dialysis for example. The witness statements below are from parent and patient and actually illustrate the difficulties of coping with being treated at home;

Dr Jean Northover, Scientist and parent of Dialysis patient

Diana had two siblings and really dialysis had to be a normal part of the family pattern; it couldn’t take priority. The other two children needed attention. The last thing I would like to say is that the funny thing about home dialysis is that when we had got past the ten-year mark – we went on for about sixteen years before Diana got a transplant in 1985 – what we found was that you worked so hard and you had so little rest, that when finally you’d finished with the dialysis, the Kiil (part of the dialysis equipment) was put on the local dump and the transplant was working, you couldn’t really remember what you had been doing a lot of the time. So this was extreme, emotional, psychological, and mental fatigue. I don’t know what the two sides of the brain were playing at! But I kept a friendship going with another dialysis mother, and she said, ‘I need you as my witness, because I have got to talk to somebody, I have got to know that we really went through it.’ She suffered from the same thing. So when people say, ‘Oh, go and learn French by total immersion’, I have to say that what we learnt on home dialysis was certainly ‘home dialysis by total immersion’.

Mrs Diana Garratt, childhood Dialysis patient

I am a renal patient, started in 1969. It was January 1970 when Rosemarie Baillod came round to set me up at home on haemodialysis with my first shunt and I remember the room very well. We had a de-aerator, it looked like a toilet cistern, high on the wall above the bed. Actually, I think I was dialyzing on the table at that time, we hadn’t organized the bed. The rest of the family went on around us; we had a small TV, my younger brother and sister and the cat, who went very soon after because it was sitting there watching the pulsating blood lines and that was very nerve-wracking, very, very nerve-wracking. We got through it, but it was an enormous effort. Every day you were either on the kidney machine, or you were hoping that the machine, which was not at all reliable compared with the modern machines, would work, that the kidney would not burst, that you wouldn’t have a blood leak.

When I gave birth to my son, it was a tricky time and there was no way we’d both still be alive if I’d have had a home birth. I had the continual intrapartum fetal monitoring when I was in labour which worked out to our advantage so it was really interesting to read that in the 1960’s when that technology was in its infancy, the enthusiastic obstetricians and midwives carried screwdrivers in their top pockets so that they were able to adjust the temperamental new apparatus when required.

But what I found really intriguing this week was the subject of Native Remedies and how there is a feeling that a lot more research could be done into these areas…

The witness statement below is from Consultant Anaesthetist, Dr Mark Swerdlow

We set up a study in the early 1980s in three developed countries and three underdeveloped countries to see what the situation was at that time, what sort of treatment patients were receiving and what sort of pain relief, if any, they received. At that time I went to two or three very poor countries, to see cancer patients in hospital, and it was pathetic to see the worse-than-basic conditions within the hospitals. I remember the women’s ward in one hospital in Sri Lanka in particular – there must have been 12 or 14 women there with really advanced cancer – and as I walked round the ward, none of them seemed to be in great pain. I asked the young doctor who was in charge of this ward what treatment they were receiving. He said, ‘They get two tablets of aspirin a day’, and I just couldn’t believe it. I asked, ‘Do they not receive anything except two aspirin tablets a day? Don’t they get any sort of native herb treatment of any kind?’ He said, ‘Well, yes, they do get a native medication,’ and when I asked, ‘What’s in the native medication?’, he said, ‘Oh, I don’t know that.’ I have often wondered since then why somebody hasn’t gone out there to study those herbs and what’s in them, because they looked to be pretty effective.

I was really interested in this notion of native remedies being on hand and able to control pain so I thought I’d visit The Chelsea Physic Garden as I know that so much can be gained by what plants have to offer humans and this garden had beed dedicated to that since the 1673.
I was amazed at how beautiful the garden was, but actually I was more amazed at what I learned there…obviously I knew plants were good for your health, but I hadn’t appreciated how integral they are to medical science.

I felt quite ignorant discovering that the source of Aspirin was a perennial herb!
As a teenager I had epilepsy and I took a drug called Sodium Valprorate for years, ( even during my pregnancy which has recently been in the news as a dangerous drug to take at this time ).

But I had absolutely no idea that it was actually synthesised from a plant called Valeriana Officinalis and there it was growing in Chelsea Physic Garden.…along with many other useful and common plants and weeds ( I also liked how chocolate had been advised for consumption! ) The opium poppy is fascinating too..It’s the source of morphine, but unlike other pain relief, it works on the brain rather than the nerves, preventing the perception of pain rather than stopping it. It’s so interesting that a drug which we know can be so destructive when taken as heroin, can actually be used in such a beneficial way.

Another witness statement from Dame Cicely Saunders, physician and the founder of the Modern Hospice Movement concerning morphine is below:

At about the same time, in March 1948, I was impelled by the stories of my patients that I had experienced first as a nurse, but most of all as a social worker. I knew I had to do something about end-of-life pain and I went, as a State Registered Nurse volunteer, to one of the early homes. There I found that the nurses seeing the prescriptions of morphine four-hourly ‘PRN’, pro re nata,
as needed or as requested, by the doctors, quite quietly took ‘PRN’ off and gave the drug four-hourly, so as to prevent pain ever happening. This regular oral four-hourly giving of morphine dates back to 1935, fairly soon after the Brompton cocktail was put together. Now I was very impressed by this, because the patients were so much better with the pain control than the ones I had seen in hospital before then. During that time I took Mr Norman Barrett, the surgeon I was working for, to see this, and to visit a patient at home and so on. When I said to him, ‘I am going to have to go back and nurse the dying somehow,’ he said, ‘Go and read medicine. So many doctors desert the dying, and there’s so much more to be learnt about pain, and you will only be frustrated if you don’t do it properly, and they won’t listen to you.’ So I did read medicine.

There seem to be quite a few plants which have this duel capacity; my teenage son informed me that nutmeg can also be hallucinogenic and cause severe illness if taken in large quantities…( I think the quantities have to be pretty large though! )And then we come to Cannabis…Reading about some of the research on Cannabis I was surprised to learn that there has been resistance to utilising patient based information from volunteers who had used cannabis during illness with marked benefits.

A study on 6 mice who got better was heralded as ‘actual proof’, as opposed to research of 4500  patients, 1000 who got better, but which was said to be irrelevant because of the different quality of data.

However since 2010 Sativex, a specific extract of Cannabis , was approved as a botanical drug in the United Kingdom as a mouth spray to alleviate neuropathic pain, spasticity, overactive bladder, and other symptoms of multiple sclerosis .

Witness Statement below from Dr Geoffrey Guy, Industrial Pharmacologist

A large number of patients have reported, in the vernacular, that use of street cannabis in smoked, cooked or other forms, was giving them marked benefit. My temptation was to believe them. Why other people didn’t, I’m not sure. What was interesting when we started the programme was that as soon as we announced it, people started writing to us. We had a secret address and still do, but they wrote to the newspapers that covered the stories; they wrote to the BBC; they wrote to the Home Office. We used to receive a mailbag from the Home Office once a week. Over time, we had about 4500 patients who wrote to us and about 30 per cent of them had experience with cannabis. We then drew up, I think, a 70-point questionnaire and wrote back to them all. We wanted to know everything about what they did: where they found their cannabis; what type it was; whether they felt some was better than others; what caused them to take more; what caused them to take less – supply was the problem that caused patients to take less, not side effects – and what other medicines they’d been on. We found a very clear picture of what the material could do and what we had to do then was to try to maintain that. Information from David Baker’s research, and a lot of research throughout the world, was beginning to add biological and scientific credibility to a quality of data, which, sadly in this day and age, physicians don’t heed very well. I think it is at their risk that they don’t heed and don’t seem to listen to the patients. I know that David’s study was absolutely heralded as ‘the actual proof ’, in that six mice got better; so that was fine. The fact that we had 4,500 patients, 1,000 of whom had got better, was irrelevant, because it was a different quality of data.

And finally I wanted to touch on one of my favourite paragraphs from Witnesses To Modern Biomedicine by Dr César Milstein, Molecular Biologist, Immunologist and Nobel Laureate which has the heading of ‘Laziness’

Laziness is the mother of good science. Creation comes from moments when you don’t have anything to do. When you have no teaching, and basic admin, and extra commitments are seen to interfere with research, what if you have strong motivation, and don’t know what to do? If you are teaching, you can fill your gaps by teaching, but researchers have to fill the gaps with thoughts. Applications of science are important and socially attractive but they detract from the single mindedness of research.

I also really liked what Dr David Wheatley, Consultant Physchiatrist says in his Witness Statement:

I learnt more in unofficial discussion around the swimming pool, than I did from any of the formal presentations, because I met people, I talked to them informally, and I got many ideas and contacts from that very nice relaxing two hours. There is a lot to be said for not overburdening your conferences with too many papers.

I suppose I like these last 2 witness statements as being an artist I often spend time, rather guiltily, either sitting doing nothing other than drinking tea and looking into the distance, or doing things I love, like gardening or cycling, when I feel I should be working. But it’s usually in these moments that I have my best ideas or inspiration…they’re important moments when the pressure is off.

Reading these statements reassures me that this is all just part of the process, both scientific and artistic and over the last couple of months since working on this project I have become more aware of creative similarities between researchers and artists.

This project has been a real journey of discovery and the stories and witness statements I have focused on here in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and this Part 4 are only the tip of the iceberg. Some of the other stories I found fascinating involved Facial Recognition, the Familigram, Self Experimentation, Obstetric Ultrasound and the first designs of the Ultrasound Scanner, but there are loads and if you are curious you really should have a read of Volume 50 which is an A–Z, comprising of a series of extracts from previous volumes, contributors include clinicians, scientists, patients and numerous others involved in modern biomedicine, in the UK and beyond. Topics in it range from ‘age discrimination’ to ‘Zantac’, and feature memories from every decade between 1930s and the present. The History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group hosted its first Witness Seminar, on monoclonal antibodies, in 1993 and since then more than sixty such meetings have been held. These all sought to go behind-the-scenes of contemporary biomedicine to find out ‘what really happened’.

I have genuinely been surprised at how inspired I have been artistically from science and medical based information and so excited when the science, the research, nature and art have all come together.

It has also meant that the ‘fear’ element of all things medical has definitely been shifted for me…my mother was SO right when she told me that if I took great interest in something it would become less intimidating, less fearful, and far more interesting, and I have personally found that I can now add ‘inspiring’ to that list of benefits.

You can look at the visual Steller Story version of this post here  my instagram posts here and some of my Pinterest inspiration for the whole project here.

You can also find out more about The Modern Biomedicine Research Group funded by The Wellcome Trust, on their website here , their Facebook page here , their YouTube Channel here and their Twitter account here.