My birthday coincided with the last night of this residency. At first I was resigned because I knew being here meant I would be so busy I would barely be able to connect with my friends. Pretty much the only time I get with my phone is now, when everybody is asleep. I figured my birthday would be swallowed up by the business of the lock-in. I hadn’t taken into account how Sue – our wonderful facilitator – likes to incorporate our roots and our history. Birthdays are important to Sue. She sent me off on random tasks and while I was distracted she got everybody to make a load of silly games and general birthday things as a surprise for me.
There was a certain amount of cunning preparation, followed by a game of musical chairs and a pass the parcel with dangerous forfeits – all laid out in order to help bring a stupid fun party atmosphere. Nina also presented me with a bottle of cordial that she had made from the sloes that grow in vast abundance on the clifftop pathways around our barracks. There was (forced) karaoke, slug impressions, songs and secrets and nose picking. I don’t think I’ve encountered such a birthday party since the last time I had a birthday party on this island, and maybe not even then.
This is the first time for many years that I have experienced this solar return so close to the place I popped up. It feels very grounding. Tomorrow is my own. I will go to the little hilltop churchyard where my mother lies and have a good pow-wow with her, with my grandparents and with my uncle – all of whom are good and close to one another. Then I might try and break into the house I grew up in – or at least get into the garden. They have CCTV cameras in the TREES though. Apparently it’s owned by a nice but unimaginative old couple. Probably a property worth upwards of twenty mil now though… Property has gone off the scale in this island. It used to be a little impractical cottage with a huge garden. Now it’s a huge mess of tasteless concrete bullshit, a few trees and a patch of grass that some guy mows every two and a half minutes on a mower you have to ride. There are sprinklers where there used to be brambles. Maybe I should make friends with that nice old couple… I could go and see if I can handle being in the garden surrounded by their horrendous fountains, or if I run in terror from the whole thing like Maupassant from the Eiffel Tower. The view might still be similar, there at the top of the hill. Damn I need to win the lottery. If I could move back there tomorrow I would do it like a shot, although I might have to immediately do something about the sculptures in the garden.
It’s been great coming back here to my birthplace just in order to make random stuff for joy. We’ve had a remarkable group. So much positivity. So much “yes”. Lots and lots of lovely makers, all full of curiosity, and all flexible. Many of my joyful moments have been when I’ve seen people excel in mediums I know are not their strong point. Certainly for me the opportunity to be stretched has been infinitely helpful – to step into other mediums and listen to people who know what they are doing and to learn. I’ve grown through this fortnight, and it has helped me crystallise my method of make, highlight my strong points, and shore up some of my more glaring weaknesses.
Plus I’ve now got a Facebook timeline full of lovely messages that I’ve barely been able to read or respond to. That’ll be for tomorrow when we are wrenched apart. Because the circle is about to break. I know that loss only too well now. But there are some young artists here. This has been an immaculately held circle. Now we all go off into the world again. It’ll be a wrench…