In the 2021 census trial I fill in the questions about us, and the space we inhabit. I notice my irritation as my sense of identity – a complex and evolving spectrum of tendencies is reduced to ‘yes or no’, ‘this or that’ answers. I also hold in mind the fragments of the lives from my Victorian forebears in censuses that reveal fascinating family and societal changes. My great great grandfather Joseph Taylor was a ‘hatter’ in 1861 and by 1891 had become a ‘sanitary inspector’. The question about religion bothers me. Some of this household are Jedi. They regularly use the force to overcome the dark side. My faith is central to who I am, but it doesn’t easily fit a check box. I honour nature. I chant the Tara Mantra, offer thanks to my supportive guides and ancestors. I light Tibetan incense, venerate goddesses from several religions, as well as plastic figures. I connect with birds and animals, walk in nature as a spiritual practice. I am surrounded by sacred images to inspire and in the magnolia tree strings of fading prayer flags are blowing prayers into the wind. I ambivalently tick the ‘Buddhist’ box.

Confronted with this brutal image, my inner detective constructs a crime scene. “Who decapitated this pigeon?” she asks, evaluating potential suspects and motives. I enjoy crime documentaries, police procedural and courtroom drama because I fear and am fascinated by death and criminal psychology in equal measure. I want to look at the darkness, to understand it. I spend my days practicing for ‘the good life’. But after 10pm I sink into the strong arms of the sofa to relish delving into the disturbing, traumatic and psychotic through long-form drama and documentaries – ‘Unbelievable’, ‘Mind Hunter’, ‘the Jinx’, ‘Chernobyl’.

Hanging just out of reach are yellow quinces. Their skin is tattooed with spots and marks. Neither round nor pear shape, they have character. I see the pattern of branch, twig and leaf against sky with William Morris eyes. Not palatable raw, they are recommended for jams, jelly or ‘membrillo’. Andy drops by to discuss practical things, and in his hand a jar of his homemade Quince Jam with Star Anise – a well timed gift.

I read the poster in my head with Grata’s monotone intonation. “Change is coming, whether you like it or not.” It is posted on a hoarding in Shoreditch, where another new building will no doubt spring up. Wave upon wave of change has chased investment down this old Roman highway. Nineteen years ago I used to bring our Ford Escort to a backstreet garage here to be serviced at Holywell Motors. I discovered there used to be a Priory here on the site of a sacred well. It was renowned from 1150, then “much decayed and spoiled” in John Stow’s London survey 1525-1603. There have been countless changes in the centuries since Holywell Priory was dissolved; but Greta’s warning points to a far greater transformation than the city skyline. “Change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

One diagram might chart the spectrum of creative work between Fuller (see previous post) and the print-makers of North Korea. Fuller describes life as an artist as “a curse, a compulsive problem”. He paces, researches and explores his subject working over long periods in isolation to create extraordinary ‘maps of the mind’, which synthesize the aesthetics, culture and geography of places. At the other end of the spectrum are the print makers from the DPRK who work as part of a team, follow rules that cover subject, style and load references within each image. Art production is structured within a studio system. The highest level of attainment in this system is ‘People’s Artist’. Nicholas Bonner is a lively cultural ambassador, both informative and entertaining. He conveys the philosophy behind these idealized images. As Kim Jong-un states, “Revolutionary art awakens people to the truth of struggle & life & inculcates in them rich emotion & verve”. Bonner explains some of the meaning behind the dynamic, vibrant, yet often visually lyrical wood and lino cuts. He also shares some of his experience of the humanity of the people in the DPRK and the everyday life that these prints portray.

A physical map of my day would be linear from Hackney to South Kensington and back. You might add in the place I thought I was going, (Alexandra Palace) and the place I wanted to go (Sandown Park to see Amma). A map of the human interactions of my day would look more like a bee’s flight path with hotspots for pollinating conversations – serendipitous meetings with inspiring people including Shelly and Rachel Rose Reid. Another representation might include my visual preoccupations, ideas or beliefs. The golden arm and hammer is a symbol of the God Vulcan and of industry (gold-beating in particular). Under this hammer and muscular arm (echoing a revolutionary stance) in the V&A precious metals hall I meet Fuller. We mingle amongst a cornucopia of crafted metal objects including a literal silver bath-sized cornucopia then the crowd move to the pub. A map of my conversational journey with Fuller starts with art disciplines, eddies through artists’ rituals, books to inspire, meanders through places seen, lingers in destinations and possible futures. Later I check out his beautiful stylized portrayal of Pyongyang’s architectural landscape which revolves around its key landmark – the Juche Tower, central to DPRK philosophy.

Floral tributes tell me about family and class of both who is left behind, and who has died. There is a fashion too for depictions of hobbies done in flowers. In the manner of celebration cakes, displays of cats, football teams, cars and musical instruments are popular. I imagine my own funeral. There is a cardboard coffin in a camper van, a ram-shackle procession. I love floral letters, imagine them hand-held, lined up to spell something irreverent perhaps – to give passers by a laugh, or food for thought. I imagine the cost, (keep it to the minimum) then a pithy epitaph. LOVED. Does that say everything that’s needed? It is both adjective and verb, the final stamp of a well-lived life. Or better still, use one letter shorter, LOVE, a command, inspiration, a name, the sum of everything that matters.

When my father died in 1988, I inherited his copy of ‘The Joy of Gay Sex’ by Dr Charles Silverstein and Edmund White. The ‘Rainbow Dads’ podcasts is a sensitive series of conversations that would have spoken directly to his situation, but he was of the pre-internet generation who had to find their own way. “It was just a deep feeling which I had inside of me which became really really powerful” Ahnet explains. He is one of the 5 gay or bisexual dads who talk frankly in this series of revealing podcasts about the “secret places” where queer sexuality often resides. Nicholas McInerny – our enthusiastic and genial host encourages each of them as they describe how they found “the courage to step out of family and social networks to reclaim my identity” in the process of coming out. We hear about their internalised messages of guilt and shame, in a context of different social, cultural and faith backgrounds. Importantly they also acknowledge the hurt caused. They each grapple with the complexities of marriage, their unconscious drives and parenthood. I warmed to these men as they confessed to many, “Oh shit! Moments” in the interplay between self, partner, children and community in order to know as David puts it, “that you are ok, that your life is valid.” Ultimately these are stories about being human, finding healing and learning to love. Their words resonate deeply with me and my own late coming out, but also shed light on my father’s internal conflicts that led to his own declaration of those words, “I’m gay.”

Halloween is being marketed to us by corporations who want to sell mass produced synthetic costumes, plastic buckets, cheap chocolate grown where rainforests used to grow and sweets which encourage obesity. We are being sold images of this American confection through film, TV and social media. However, scratch the surface and you will find Samhain – the old Celtic festival to mark the end of harvest and the passage into winter. This has been celebrated for centuries on these isles. All Souls Day (the first of November) has been glued onto the old roots of this festival. I sense the profusion of “trick or treating” and dressing up in gothic styles as a response to our hunger for a connection with the circle of life and death. We yearn for a relationship with the ancestors – which we will soon be. Borrowing from the tradition of ‘Los Dios de los Muertos’, the ‘Day of the Dead’ in Mexico, a family film like ‘Coco’ (Pixar/Disney 2017) does just that in a way that includes children. “The English experience of death is apologetic. In Mexico it’s a celebration of the person who’s passed on.” (Stephen Wright, artist) After placing offerings for my ancestors, on Saturday I will be slipping on my skeleton suit and dancing at ‘Golden Delicious’.

I stand outside on the street looking into the Hart Club, which is full of the colourful, bold portraits painted by Paul Wright. He portrays his favourite characters from the comedy programmes and soaps he loves. “The work was cheeky and interesting,” says Stephen Wright (no relation) about Paul’s work. They began a creative working relationship, laughter being a key ingredient. “It was a two way experience,” reports Stephen, “Paul helped me to loosen up”. This exhibition has come into being through a collaboration between the Hart Club (who champion neuro diversity in the arts), Submit to Love Studios (part of Headway, a charity working with people who have experienced brain injury), Stephen Wright (working as artist in residence), and Paul Wright (artist with brain injury). Helen who works alongside the artists describes Headway Hackney as having “a Yes! Attitude”. She invites us to think outside our current mindset. “What would it mean for your life if you were very dramatically changed, with loss of self, loss of identity?” I had spent the afternoon with someone struggling to come to terms with exactly that – a sudden change in the entire landscape of their life. “Art practice is a way of living with uncertainty…and turning that into something magical,” says Ben of Headway Hackney. Their inclusive mission with service users is to foster “meaning, the opportunity to be valued, food and love, to have a place in the world; in short, trying to be human.”