The magic of fantastic

Pushing my way through weekend crowds, I could feel that dark cloud of unjustifiable frustration rising.

When everyone is dawdling but you just want to take off in your imaginary Ferrari on a clear, open road.

I glanced up and saw this graffitied slogan. It burst that cloud and made me smile. To whoever climbed up there, hung over the edge of the building and sprayed this on – you must be a Magic Hunter. Thanks :)



Remember, remember...

I was staying in a house four miles away from the celebrations, yet the ba-boooms from the fireworks were still boomy enough to make the building shake.

Ever since the 1820s, and in a ramshackle way even earlier, the Sussex town of Lewes has become famous for its rowdy and fiery celebrations on November 5th, to mark Guy Fawkes's foiled gun-power plot to blow up the House of Lords in 1605. Lewes Bonfire also commemorates the memory of seventeen Protestant martyrs who were burned for their faith at the stake in Lewes during the Marian Persecutions.

The yearly ritual sees literal rivers of fire pouring through the narrow cobbled streets as seven rival bonfire societies come together and process through the town, carrying aloft flaming torches or crosses. The members wear spectacular costumes, many of which have been passed down through the generations. In between the marching bands, gigantic effigies of 'enemies of the bonfire', are wheeled along, which are doomed to get blown up later in the evening.

Crowds press along the routes, their faces lit up in firelight. Children sit perched on parents' shoulders wearing glow-sticks fashioned into necklaces or headbands, and people shriek and laugh as Bonfire members light 'rookies' and toss them towards the spectators' feet, where they explode with heaven-splitting bangs.

The pageantry, flames, fireworks debris fluttering through the air, the noise and the smell of burning paraffin are all very evocative, stirring up a thrilling sense of ash-streaked rebellion.

Unfortunately, I can't stand the rookies... so I usually choose to watch the displays from the safety of a nearby hill!


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Magic in a noodle bar

We were in a Japanese noodle bar, somewhere in North London.

It wasn't one of the slick ones you see everywhere now, all stripped bamboo wood and an elegant floor plant by the door.

We're talking orange formica-topped tables, sticky soy sauce bottles and luminous lighting.

She came out of the toilet just as my noodles were slipping off my chopsticks again. She strode past our table in stone-washed, torn jeans and a black leather jacket. I watched over the edge of my bowl as she made her way towards a guy who was sitting by the window with a huge dog in a studded collar, and it quickly became clear that the dog was hers.

They didn't stay for long – he paid the bill – but when they left, the door rattled behind them and I resolved to paint her.


The Lounge.jpg

Beauty and the beasts

A few years ago, I found myself at London fashion week. 

I certainly wasn't in the front row, but I could clearly see the faces on the other side of the catwalk, familiar from the pages of high-end glossy fashion magazines. Among them was the renowned ice-queen Anna Wintour, the editor of US Vogue. Her face was an unsmiling mask of groomed perfection, the white glare of the catwalk reflecting in her glittering dark glasses.

The atmosphere was high and tight as we all sat perched on tiny seats, casting quick, sideways glances at each other. At one end of the catwalk, a literal heap of photographers lay in wait. Many of them were balancing on precarious ladders with enormous, heavy and expensive-looking equipment slung about their bodies.

Finally, with an explosion of light and a roar of music, the models emerged and began to pound down the runway. They were wearing gossamer light, ghostly clothes that floated and rippled against their long and lean limbs.

But I was shocked at how young and fragile the girls appeared. They were like fawns freshly captured from the forest – idealised examples of unspoiled glossy beauty, stalking like herons on their delicate, stilt-like legs. They were marching straight towards the slavering jaws of the wolf-like pack of photographers, and in response, the flash bulbs feverishly popped and flickered in a relentless, blazing barrage.

Very quickly, it was all over. All around me, people were getting up and clambering out of their seats, while I sat for a moment longer, trying to absorb the experience.

It's something that's stayed with me – that interesting and slightly disturbing dichotomy of vulnerability, dressed up and presented as fierce bravado.



The magic of courage

A friend forwarded the image below to me via Instagram, and I love it.

Something about the way the creature is looming out of the darkness – with that scary-yet-non-threatening demeanour, takes me right back to childhood feelings.

I've spent a bit of time digging around on Google, but so far I haven't been able to track down who the artist is. I don't think the person who painted this put the image together with the words, but I like the sentiment – it's something to keep in mind.




Liminal days

In the supermarket aisles, amid the scents of pumpkin spice and gingerbread, the glint of green plastic catches my eye.

A witch's mask, complete with straggly black hair and a wart or two.

It's the time of year when society at large seems to acknowledge magic on some level, albeit a ghoulish, mischievous kind. I've seen such fabulous costumes – amazing creativity and inventiveness.

There really should be good reason to dress up all year round, in my opinion!

Meanwhile, here's something I've copy-and-pasted from Wikipedia, about the origins of Halloween...

Samhain was seen as a liminal* time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed. This meant the Aos Si, the 'spirits' or 'fairies', could more easily come into our world. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left outside for them. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. Mumming and guising were part of the festival, and involved people going door-to-door in costume (or in disguise), often reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes may have been a way of imitating, and disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. Divination rituals and games were also a big part of the festival and often involved nuts and apples. In the late 19th century, Sir John Rhys and Sir James Frazer suggested that it was the "Celtic New Year", and this view has been repeated by some other scholars.

*Definition of 'liminal':

  1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process

  2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold


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A million fairies

'Wrong? Really? You know the word wrong?'

Everything isn't perfect? Everything isn't magical? Everything isn't aglow with the light of a million fairies? They were just break-lights, Parker!'

'Well excuse me for putting a good spin on a traffic jam!'

Sorry to those of you who aren't Friends fans. But I think of this scene every time I'm in a traffic jam, and it makes me smile.

I think it's possible for things to be not-perfect, but also magical at the same time.


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Magical mists

I sat in a colleague's car the other evening as she drove us home.

I listened as her windscreen wipers thrubbed steadily back and forth. Clouds of leaves scattered to the edges of the dark country lane in the glare of her headlights. I looked out of the window and saw heavy clouds of mist rolling in over the hills.

Misty Autumn mornings or evenings always seem to set the stage for some kind of magical entrance...

A figure, wrapped in heavy cloaks and walking with a six-foot tall, carved stick.

A stag, antlers aloft, pausing briefly to stare in your direction before bounding away.

A girl in a horned headdress leading a white horse.

Or in the early morning city streets, maybe a bent, elderly person pushing a wheelbarrow with a squeaky wheel and a pile of magical instruments inside it...


And then, I'm back in the car. 'Sorry, what?!'


White horse.JPG

All that glitters

Wondering through an antiques emporium, I looked up and saw a clutch of chandeliers hanging on thick, rusted chains from a beam.

I photographed them, but somehow I wasn't able to capture what it was that they provoked in my mind – a sense of opulent fantasy... glittering intrigue... decadent riches, eccentric dinner parties.

And now I have discovered that one of my favourite film directors, Baz Luhrmann, has just gone and done all this for me in his latest project, an advertisement for a high street fashion chain. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it's the clothes they are promoting that let this little film down, but otherwise I love what he was reaching for. What do you think?



The magic of practice

The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. "Because I think I'm making progress," he replied.

Apparently, ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn once said, 'If you don't practice for one day, you notice the difference. Two days, and the other dancers notice. Three days, and the audience notices.'

Scary statistics, but it's probably true. It always takes me a little while to get back into the swing of things if I have been slack. Creative muscles need loosening and strengthening just like physical ones.

Daily practice, people – daily!