Month: May 2016

Colour me your Colour Baby

(This post was meant to be about my recent entry into the colouring in world, but I got massively side tracked into an unexpected rant about Julie Burchill, the she-devil journalist, whilst doing a quick bit of research.)

This is my ONE HUNDREDTH POST – I feel that deserves an exclamation mark, as in: Yay for ME, I’ve reached my century/centennial/centenary, in blog writing terms.  However, frequent use of the exclamation mark seems a bit childish don’t you think?  A bit youthfully over the top.   A bit infantile, when I’m middle-aged and currently bathed in a hot sweat.

One of my university English teachers certainly thought so.  In the only bit of tutor-ly advice that has stuck with me down the years, said teacher insisted that we NEVER use the exclamation mark (in a heavy duty Scottish accent.)  That writers should not exclaim about anything.  Exclamation marks are unnecessary, introducing a jarring note into literary proceedings.  NEVER USE IT!!! he’d bellow from across the room, without the exclamation marks of course.

Speaking of infantilism.   Julie Burchill, the exceedingly unattractive (on the inside as well as out) strident feminist recently bemoaned the adult colouring book craze.  Only ‘weedy needy women’ colour in, she claims.  Men don’t go near the things.  In late middle-age (56) Ms Burchill appears to be lightening up on men a bit.   Julie would have us know that women have gone infantile and need to grow up (she’s not the only critic in this respect, but is probably the one filled with most hatred and bile.)  Happily married, grown-up, normal women (like herself) would rather read Porn.  You must take ‘grown-up’ and ‘normal’ with a pinch of salt when discussing Ms Burchill.

Julie is vehement in her criticism of the useless, rubbishy-type women who feel the need to take up a coloured pencil and spend hours getting that flower petal just the right shade.  Her view is that this so called stress reliever is used by women living stress free, never had it so good lives.  Completely ignoring the fact that some of those ‘weedy needy’ women are right now colouring in, as they sit in hospital beds, getting a dose of chemo.  Giving their worn out frazzled brains a chance to focus on something non-threatening, something therapeutic, something calming.  That colouring in clubs have sprung up all over the place, providing friendship in what can definitely be a lonely world.  That non-weedy business women, shift workers, young mothers, teachers, all spend an hour or two colouring in to tidy up their cluttered minds.

To suggest that this is infantile, inherently immature behaviour is wrong.   What it is, is a therapeutic antidote to too much hi-tech ‘noise’. The most common criticism is that colour-inners are not engaged in ‘real’ creativity.  They’re just colouring in someone else’s design and, because a child could do it, then they’re nothing but overgrown babies (Ms Burchill again.)

But look at all the other therapeutic, more accepted non-creative activities.  I’m a knitter, well not so much now, but I used to be obsessive.  The reason it got me hooked was because it’s the ideal pastime when your kids are very young.  You can knit anywhere, anytime, whilst keeping an eye on the kiddiwinks.  And you feel like you’re doing something creative and engrossing, even though you’re working to someone else’s pattern, producing something that is being replicated by thousands of other knitters.  Needlework activities, like tapestry and cross stitch, involve stitching-in someone else’s design and yet no-one is calling these crafts infantile or child-like, even though a child is just as capable of learning how to knit or stitch.

And just as creative people end up producing their own knitting patterns and their own needlework, the artists out there are putting their own stamp on the colouring in movement.

Like statistics, Julie Burchill’s generalisations tend to verge on lies and then damn lies.  Adult colouring books are ‘money for old dope’ is her battle cry.   Let’s take Johanna Basford, the leading and most well-known colouring book artist.  Every one of the images in 33 year old Basford’s books is first hand drawn in pencil, then finished off in pen and ink (again, by hand) before being reproduced by computer for publication.  Her books are works of art.  She takes the time to source paper that will ‘take’ the coloured pencils more effectively and which will give an art quality finish.  Each image to be coloured in represents hours of painstaking hard work in her beautiful studio up in Scotland.  She clearly couldn’t be happier to be her own creative boss, after serving time as a graphic design artist on book covers, iphone apps, handbags, ceramics, wallpaper and packaging.  During her 4 year degree at a Dundee college of art and design (she failed to get into the Royal College of Art, proving yet again that the big hitters in any field regularly fail to recognise talent with populist potential) – Basford worked 14 hour days, feeling that student loans are a kind of privilege which shouldn’t be wasted.

None of this is indicative of someone who is churning out unthinking crap.

Returning to the odious Julie Burchill (who loves to be hated.)  Her rant on adult colouring-in books ends with her fervent hope that she never feels an urge to join the looney colouring in club.  I wonder if Karma might come into play here, rather like it did in June of last year.  Last year Ms Burchill’s 29 year old son killed himself.   Her remaining son appears to loathe her and she, in turn, never mentions him.  On hearing of her son’s death (she hadn’t seen him for a year) Julie wrote an In Memoriam piece, which managed to be almost completely about herself, donating her fee to two suicide charities; one specifically preventing male suicide.

Flash back to 1999, when her tragic, mixed up son was 13 and Julie Burchill wrote this about male suicide:

“”That young men succeed in suicide more often than girls isn’t really the point. Indeed, the more callous among us would say that it was quite nice for young men finally to find something that they’re better at than girls…””


“The last time I suggested that suicides should be left to get on with it, I received a small number of letters from people whose sons had killed themselves. All of them demanded an apology. I’d advise them this time to save their stamps because, you see, I don’t care.”

Perhaps her brand of cruel, bitchy, illogical feminism has now been tempered by harsh reality.  But I’m leaving Julie in the wings, she’s taken centre stage on this blog post for too long.

Last December I bought Johanna Basford’s Enchanted Forest as a gift for son No. 1’s friend.  I flicked through it in Sainsbury’s and thought, this is weird, appears to be full of black and white pictures (I had no idea you coloured them in) but they look very nice and there’s something about it being some sort of puzzle.  So I forked out roughly £9 (which seems amazingly good value considering we know the amount of work that goes into these things) and forgot all about it.  On a recent holiday up North I then re-discovered Johanna Basford in a local Smiths, realised it was a colouring book and decided it was just the thing to pass inactive time up North, and got instantly hooked.  I do happen to be ‘weedy and needy’ so, in my case, Ms Burchill was spot on.

I realised I needed crayons (I now know to call them ‘coloured pencils’) and got myself a set of 24 kids Crayola crayons (£5) – BIG MISTAKE.  After rapid perusal of YouTube videos, submitted by proper artists showing us lesser mortals exactly how we should be colouring in,  I realised that Crayola was way too infantile for this level of infantile adult colouring in, and bought a set of Faber-Castell pencils (£9 on offer.)

faber castell

These too were not doing a good enough job, in that my professional colouring in people were using artistic techniques like ‘shading’, ‘blending’, ‘burnishing’ etc which required artist quality pencils and a set of 36 at the very minimum.  A set of 36 artist quality faber-castell pencils costs £54.  Even I’m not that mad (many weedy needy colour-inners are however.)  Happiness was reached when I discovered that W H Smith do 36 artist quality pencils for £7!!  (apologies to the uni tutor)  And these pencils are the real deal.


I follow the delightfully named Henny de Snoo-van Breugel on YouTube.  Henny, a former architect with graphic design experience, thinks nothing of spending 100 hours colouring in one Johanna Basford page.  Her videos last an hour and feature her disembodied hand, as it colours, and the soothing sound of her Netherlands’ based voice – I recommend them if you suffer from insomnia.  Henny has taught me the importance of layering colour upon colour and below is one of her masterpieces – so layered that the paper began to fall apart she tells us.

secret garden

Here are a few of my coloured in efforts.  I find that the number one difficulty is colour choice.  Once you’ve coloured in one page it becomes more and more difficult to choose a colour palette (as those of us who colour in call it) for the rest of the book.

coloured owl

coloured birds

coloured boat



coloured pumpkins

Unlike Henny I don’t colour in the backgrounds but am experimenting with that in the last pic featuring sheds.

One very good result of joining the adult colouring craze is that I’ve discovered that art quality pencils are probably just as good as acrylic paint for producing portraits/art work, and am thinking of drawing my own pictures to colour in.  This thought evidently also struck the lovely Henny de Snoo-van Breugel (you can’t say or type that name enough times) as the moderate success of her YouTube channel has led to a request to create her own colouring book, which should be available for purchase.

I don’t know how long my colouring in habit will last – hopefully until Christmas when Johanna Basford is set to release a book full of yuletide scenes.   I can’t think of a better Christmas present.  I might just send Julie Burchill a copy through the post.








Village of the Damned

Creepy, scary, unnerving kids often feature in horror films.  It’s very effective.  You don’t expect your bundle of joy to turn into Damien from The Omen.  Nor would you want to see a dripping wet, undead girl, unexpectedly climbing out of the TV set, whilst you’re enjoying a nice cup of tea in your favourite armchair.  Neither would you want to come across those Midwich cuckoos on your daily walk; those blond, glassy eyed, telepathic kids, every one of them intent on turning your town into the village of the damned.

Horror is all about the shock of the unexpected.  But where scary kids are concerned; they got it wrong there, really wrong.

The other day I walked a group of very un-scary, tiny school kids to a small nursing home.  The kids were going to sing a selection of old fashioned songs to the old folks.  I’d been in residential homes with the kids before, but not a nursing home and it turned out there was a marked difference.

The kids were given a pep talk before setting off to visit the oldies.  Something along the lines of: “Remember children, old people are just like you and me.  They feel happy and sad, just like you do.  They may look wrinkled and crinkled up and very, very old, but inside they’re exactly the same as everybody else, so don’t be scared of them.  And remember, you are going to make their day, just by being you!  Just the sight of your beautiful young faces will lift their hearts when you walk into the room.  That’s something worth doing isn’t it?   And when we’ve finished singing go over to them and say Hi!  They’re very lonely and will really appreciate it. And don’t forget to smile!”

‘Hurray!’  cried the innocent little tykes.

This rallying speech gave the impression that old people are, in fact, not at all like the rest of us; considering the emphasis on: ‘they’re just like you and me’, which is the kind of advice you feel impelled to give when talking about refugees, or immigrants, or insects…….Amazon tells me that someone has written a book called ‘Insects are just like you and me, except some of them have wings.’    The tone it was given in, however, did work and most of us set off, gay and carefree (I am never carefree, nor am I gay.)

Our trek to this home was a short one, given the tiny age of the kids, and soon we were huddled in a cramped doorway which led to a long hallway, ending in the old folks’ lounge.  The first sign that a peculiarly prosaic kind of horror was on the cards was when a care assistant appeared to the right, leading an impossibly thin, hunched and tiny old lady by the hands, out of a small kitchen.  The old lady’s eyes were round and red-rimmed.  Most of her teeth were missing and she kept shouting out “Bree!”,  over and over again.  I kept thinking of Gollum and ‘Precious.’

A couple of little kids at my side whispered: “I’m scared.”   So am I, I inwardly murmured.

The old people were seated in chairs pushed against the walls of the lounge and the kids sat in the middle of the lounge floor, after taking off coats and bags and leaving them in a boiling hot conservatory attached to the lounge.  I stayed in the area between lounge and conservatory and behind me, in the conservatory, sat two old ladies, open mouthed; fast asleep in chairs and basking in the intense heat.  Both were toothless.  The toothless hag from Disney’s Snow White kept coming to mind.

The decidedly non-scary children sang their first song to the accompaniment of “Bree!”  continually shouted out from a corner of the room.  The tiny old lady from the kitchen had been manoeuvred into a chair but she couldn’t settle.  It was clear she was suffering from agitation and up and down she got, whilst the carer talked to her all the while, gently pushing her back down into the chair.  The kids carried on heroically, whilst another lady started making an eerie, wailing sound – two notes, up and down.  The kind of noise you’d hear upon waking up with a start during a sleepover at Dracula’s castle.  Suddenly she lashed out at the woman next to her, demanding that she stop asking her so many questions (the woman was asleep) and became very distressed that there was a bunch of people (the kids) barring her path out of the lounge.  How was she going to get out in time to meet her sister and make her escape, she asked the thin air, with all those strangers on the floor?.  Her sister was coming to take her home.  ‘I want my sister,’ she cried, over and over.  The kids kept on singing:

“I’m a spring chicken, yellow and small…………”

The lady delivered another thwack to the unfortunate woman beside her and a care assistant appeared, as if by magic, to placate her, holding her hands and urging her to listen to the lovely children.

We were all definitely very far down the rabbit hole.

‘Ah look, one of the ladies is moved by the singing,’ a school helper nudged me.  ‘Look, she’s crying.’   I didn’t like to point out that the lady had been crying before the kids started singing and had never let up, or that the man next to her was not tapping on a tray in time to the music, but had been obsessively tapping and swaying since we’d entered the room.

As the singing came to an end, I turned to check for my coat and noticed that one of the ladies behind me had woken up.  She was looking directly at me and her very, very blue eyes locked onto mine.  Her lips were moving so I went over.  We had been instructed to talk to the old folks, I remembered; to engage with them as this would probably make their day.

The blue eyed lady bore a remarkable resemblance to Robin Williams; not in the guise of Mrs Doubtfire, but the actual Robin Williams.  It was unnerving, and then I noticed the faraway stare.  Her voice was barely audible, so I leaned over, moving closer to her face, “‘Might as well be there as here,” she whispered confidentially, as though she and I were old friends and had been talking for hours.  It took a few seconds to realise that this was a one-way conversation.   Like the blond kids from Midwich, her blue eyes were hypnotic and I felt compelled to listen as her train of thought ran along lines I couldn’t understand.  I nodded to indicate I was listening and then straightened up to go, when the other lady suddenly woke up and beckoned me over.  She grabbed my arm, exactly like the thing under your bed would grab your arm, if you were foolish enough to leave your arm hanging over the side of the bed that is.  I leaned down.

“I’ve only just come in here.  I don’t belong here,” she wheezed.  “My children are back in W…….  They shouldn’t be there alone.  I need to get back to W……….  (Where is W………, I found myself wondering, as the hairs slowly rose on the back of my neck.)  I need to get out of here.  My mother will help me.  Do you know my mother?  Can you get a message to my mother so she can get me out of here.”   Alarmingly, it took a few seconds for my addled brain to work out that her mother couldn’t possibly be in the land of the living and that I’d require the services of a Medium to make any kind of contact with her.  I gave the old lady what I hoped was an understanding smile and moved away.  As I turned, she asked if I could perhaps get both of them out of there, as though she was asking me the time of day.

A couple of minutes later they were both asleep.

I had not been in direct contact with senile dementia before; the kind of dementia exclusively associated with great age and not the other more cruel forms.  It came as quite a shock.  The residents’ constant refrain was that their presence in this home was some kind of gigantic, cosmic mistake.  That some unseen entity had damned them to the eternal hell of a nursing home.  They were completely unaware of their advanced age.  This was instead a place filled with young mothers, hidden deep inside frail, ancient bodies; who had kids, husbands and extended family they had to get back to.  Family that needed them.  Every person who glanced their way was seen as the means to make a quick escape.

Researching the common ‘I want to go home’ thread, running through senile dementia, I discovered that even dementia patients still cared for in the family home repeat the same plea.  This is because most of them want to go back to their childhood home, complete with mum and dad – a home that no longer exists.

I was informed that some nursing homes have installed fake bus stops in the grounds, so they can take the homesick residents  on a nice trip to catch the bus home.  This seems to appease them for a while.  Fake shops, fake pubs and nurseries full of dolls, as living child stand-ins, are used to give the semblance of a past life, and of a village filled with a sense of purpose.

In fact, welcome to the fake Village of the Damned.

“Isn’t it sad?”,  the compos mentis adults agreed as we walked back (the kids singing at the tops of their voices, oblivious to the old and full of the joys of a wet but warm spring.)

Yes, it’s sad, but not in the way a children’s cancer ward is sad, or in the way millions of people dying before their time is sad.   It’s not sad that these people have lived to a great age.  It’s not sad that there are people out there willing to care for them 24 hours a day and, contrary to media headlines, are mostly caring in a good and patient way, on a shocking salary of roughly £12,000 a year.  It’s not sad that a group of excited young kiddiwinks paid them a visit and did actually make a couple of residents’ day.

And besides, where else are they meant to go?  When family members no longer want (or are unable to provide) the full responsibility of care.

The next time Hollywood tries to convince you that hell is where the kids are – go visit a nursing home.