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A Guide to Surviving A Pandemic by Sophie Parkin


12 Minute Read

To make it through a pandemic – if you are me –
You will need:
A telephone, modern mobile pref
Some books, assorted 50-100 – fiction, poetry, short stories, history, philosophy, autobiog, art, various dictionaries
A wifi connection + laptop
One projector
Some empty jam jars – about 30
Weekly delivery from Oddbox – fruit and veg
A diary
Coffee and herbal tea
Paint (I use pigments and refined linseed oil but tubes are fine too), canvas, paper, brushes, turps, rags
Chocolate milk, chocolate bars – whatever takes your fancy current fav Tony Chocolonely
A bottle of dark rum – good quality for emergency chocolate milk

Some wine, European, good quality
Regular mail delivery
Postcards, envelopes and stamps
A crush, it is nice to daydream of another time and place
Five empty note/sketchbooks without lines and at least 10 Muji 0.5 ink pens
A garden, seeds, trowel and enthusiasm
A comfortable bed and bedding. I am happiest with French linen sheets and an eiderdown both underneath and on top, but I believe this is my particular
An alarm clock for meditating set to 31mins
A radio
A sewing basket
A comfortable chair/sofa for reading/ watching films/meditating
A yoga mat
A bicycle – this is now less necessary since it was stolen
Walking shoes
Good neighbours
Friends and family who can use WhatsApp
A surreal sense of humour
A slug of empathy
A barrel of not taking yourself too seriously
A box of good imagination
A sprinkling of willpower
A bucket of curiosity
A pinch of perspective
A carton of top non-judgement, and some apologies
A Spotify account
A lot of deep breathes
A note in the kitchen that reads – happiness comes from within
Ingredients are not necessarily in that order

Most recipes don’t unless they are Christmas cake, have such a large selection of ingredients but surviving a pandemic requires emergency supplies. It’s like preparing to make Christmas cakes for royal families everywhere in the world. Except it’s just me, by myself now.

This is a luxury. I did have my gorgeous son with me for the first nine months, but we couldn’t cope in a one-bedroom flat, and now he lives elsewhere, and I visit twice a week with shopping. Alone with all these ingredients in this second lockdown, I feel less in need of so many jam jars. The jam jars are to distribute all the ginger marmalade, aubergine Sri Lankan chutney, lemon curd and salsa verde that I make. The last lockdown I tried to learn Spanish every day for a month now I can’t remember a word. Gracias!

I’m certainly utilising my living room with all the paints, pigments and canvas which has become a studio. It’s no longer just a reading room with its large bookshelves, dining room with its table, or cinema with the one bare wall where I project from my laptop countless Preston Sturgis, Powell+Pressburger, Hitchcock, Fellini and De Sica movies. Here I have the separate space that allows me not to leave the flat and not feel that cabin fever will overwhelm me. Some days I run down the four stairs into the kitchen and out into the garden, then back again and every other day or so, I go to the Post Office, then buy milk and bread from the bakers. I was going on bicycle rides as well, but that will have to wait until spring. I hope someone is enjoying my rusty old gold Raleigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wake in the morning, always trying to remember enough of my dreams to write something down. I seem to alternate between Armageddon, last place on earth, or expensive costume dramas in luxury mansions with endless performances. Some days there is total clarity, others a thick fog and then two days later it comes to me… I was in Italy!

I jump out of bed and say as I draw the curtains, ‘What Amazing things will happen today?’ because you never know. The time can be anything from 8-10 am, and I have no need to be strict about getting up. With no appointments for work or social, does it matter what time I start my meditation? But the one thing I’ve learnt is that meditation delayed can often mean it never appears. And a day without reflecting is like a day without sunshine, I’d rather have it even if it’s for only 15 mins.

Why I have spent so many years not meditating is beyond me? I suppose it’s why so many people I know don’t practice at all. It’s free. It requires no membership contract, studio or equipment, other than you and your dedication; in other words, it’s almost too good to be true. So most people don’t believe it will benefit them because it requires only willpower. Meditation is the only proved discipline that keeps the brain cells expanding as we get older. It keeps me calm with a sunny disposition; it delights me with unexpected ideas and delivers what I need from the universe. The other day I opened my eyes, knowing that my purpose was to inspire joy. I don’t have to win a prize. I have to bring joy, what a relief! So with that in mind, I always wear nice bright clothes, do my hair and makeup plus never forget a hat. Other people have to look at me in the street, so I try not to be an eyesore!

I have breakfast every day, something I used to think below me. Usually some muesli with plain live yoghurt and a homemade fruit compote with ginger. And sometimes some fresh fruit on top too – gild that lily. I have a lurking glut of kiwis, and yet I eat the peach. I make coffee from two different ground coffee types in a cafetiere with milk in a Mottoware jug heated up in the microwave. I drink my coffee out of a handmade @MandeeGage mug. It’s these small rituals in a diary of nothing that gives urgency to the day. Sometimes I will eat breakfast, exercise, shower, meditate, and then have my coffee and sit down to work on my laptop or my phone, topping up social media, reading what’s on other peoples’ minds, and adding funny thoughts into the Vout-O-Reenee’s WhatsApp group. Though my business premises are closed, my business is never closed. There is plenty to keep one person busy looking after members, applying for grants, working out ways to make money whilst my partner is furloughed on the other side of the world. I’ve had my website re-designed, a shop built, ticketing put in – the whole caboodle but I have to make the caboodle.

I tend to do my reading in the morning, or first thing, my writing. However, my painting is a thing of the night, and there is nothing I like more than listening to philosophical podcasts whilst grinding pigments. I am on a Jungian bent (This Jungian Life, Salome The Red Book) at the moment though I have been obsessed for the last few years with the Stoics. There is no doubt that Stoicism from Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Hecate, and Seneca helps keep me sane when the world tells me otherwise. These books are by my bed.

I will paint before as well as after I make dinner. And when I say make dinner, that’s one of my great pleasures – lunch will be a piece of toast some cheese and homemade chutney – but for dinner, I will slow roast tomatoes with chipotle, garlic and oregano from Mount Parnassus near Delphi. I will make a tortilla from scratch to have with the tomato sauce and a salad with watercress and oranges. Yes -all that care just for me. And I might even make a rice pudding. And why wouldn’t I? If I am not willing to spend time on myself, why would anyone else? I am beginning to understand that what we do in the outside world is responding to the deficit within. That for us to change the world outside our walls, we must change our relationship with ourselves. Jung calls this shadow work.

The things annoying you about the outside world are usually things about yourself you haven’t accepted. Like that bossy blustering Boris who never thinks before he speaks, or Priti Patel just trying to wing it with so little substance and so much confidence in deriding others. I see all that in myself sometimes, and it makes me want to gag, but I’m conscious, and I’m not sure how much of the government is, any government in the middle of this crisis.

I like sending postcards and packages to my friends and family. I like waiting in a Post Office queue just watching. I’m lucky enough to live between Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill’s Jewish community. I love seeing the families from my window on Friday nights and Saturday dressed in their best-going-to-synagogue wear. The kids are all in matching outfits playing in the streets on their scooters or pushing their younger siblings in prams, the boys and men huddled together in their tailored suits, white stockings and fur hats discussing the Torah. Social distancing seems a million miles away as it does on Church Street where the affluent anoraks parade inside and outside the expensive American health food stores. I want to shout; ‘Try the Turkish family store’.

The peacocks are hibernating I expect, sewing fabulous costumes of colour and spectacle. When spring hits us, I anticipate a magnificent carnival display down Dalston! I have been mostly darning, using bright embroidery threads to decorate the holes left by the ravenous moth family that stuffed itself silly over Christmas on my cashmere, Merino and lambswool. Now my jumpers, jackets and scarves look like they’ve been flicked with paint from a rainbow palette. I hope to start a trend that will stop people from throwing moth-eaten garments away by upcycling them into the height of fashionability so that people in Chelsea will be faking/making holes to ‘get that look’.

Darning moth holes allows me to watch old Hollywood movies or Netflix rubbish without feeling I’m squandering time. Because the cost to me is that I will never get this lack of pressure back again, which is silly because I will, I give myself the pressure, so I can damn well take it away. I worry that I will never have enough time to read all the books I want to, write all the books I need to, (slightly less worried about this as there are more than enough books in the world), paint all the paintings I want to, make all the people I love, feel truly loved. As I’m also the bringer of joy, there’s no option to be lazy.

Today I talk to my daughter Carson in Ramsgate on WhatsApp video. This is as close as we get to a hug. I’m so proud of her. Tomorrow I’ll visit my mum with a box full of homemade food. She likes trifle, so I always make a version of that. It’s not as if she can’t cook her food and maybe I do it as much for me as for her. Mum and I, we’re good. She said; ‘if it’s this pandemic that takes me then that’s what it is, I’ve had a great life, and I’m 88 almost 89, and maybe I’m not meant to live to 100, I’ve got to go sometime.’ I like that sanguine acceptance. Yes, we do have to go some time, it’s just, are you ready to leave the party? Have you done the work you were put on this earth to do?

Have you fulfilled your destiny? I know I haven’t, I’m sure my mum has, but I will miss her like hell when she leaves. But I will see that she knows I love her and I know she has loved me. However, I don’t think she’ll be going anytime soon, she’s just had her second vaccination and feels ‘full of beans and quite cosy’, plus she is starting a new series of collages.

At some point during the day, I will make cups of tea, eat chocolate, make phone calls or send texts to check that those I love are okay. I might make something from all the fruit and veg from my weekly Oddbox delivery. Now, what shall I do with white carrots, pickle them? And all those parsnips? Some nights I have a glass of wine. Most nights not but I like the thought that I can.

Just before bed, I’ll do the washing up, make a large cup of chamomile and mint tea, brush my teeth, touch my toes and thank the universe for another day that’s rushed by. When I finally tumble into bed at night, it is with a definite sense of abundance, sometimes it’s after a warm bath with scented oils, but I have a propensity to fall asleep in baths, so I put the radio on quite loud. I don’t intend to drown. I like my bedsheets to be French linen, white, clean and with an eiderdown and quilt and lots of pillows. There are piles of books to peruse whilst I lather unguents into my face and hands like a 1950s sitcom. I listen to the late news either at 10 or 12 pm. There are no rules since I got divorced two years ago!

I’m accountable to no one and yet to everyone in a pandemic, for though we must keep apart, we must always remember that especially post Brexit, no man Is an Island. That when we come through this, whenever that is, we will continue to give each other a helping hand, as well as all those hugs we’ve missed and not to stand with harsh judgements over each other’s behaviour. The other day I had a surprise phone call from an old friend who rang to see how I was getting on; ‘I suppose you’re madly creative’, he said. ‘Painting, writing…’ Yes, I answered all that. I felt too guilty to tell him about my moth embroidery, marmalade making, gardening, conversations with the squirrels and birds; it seemed too much like virtue signalling.

As enjoyable as I’m finding this time, life should not be about treading water. I do not wish that we go back to how we were before Covid when there is so much more joy to be created and shared. We can invent a better way to be together. Perhaps we are all being recalibrated so that our pre-pandemic, anxious, rushing, headless chicken within disappears.

The Culture Interview: John Claridge


1 Minute Read

Sophie Parkin questions remarkable photographer, John Claridge who was born in Plaistow. His new book East End shows a part of London that we have forgotten but he has not.

How old are you and how old do you feel?

My wife, Janet, sometimes thinks I act like a twelve-year-old, a little harsh I think, maybe fifteen? Okay, okay 71.

How old were you when you started taking pictures?

About eight. I guess it started when my Dad asked me why I wanted to win a plastic camera at the fair on Wanstead Flats. I didn’t know why. Then I said that I wanted to take this special day home with me. I was just fascinated by what this magic box could hold and possess. I still feel this way.

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration in image-making?

When I was 15, I saw the work of Walker Evans, Bill Brandt, Robert Doisneau, Andre Kertesz, Josef Sudek, Irving Penn, Eugene Smith, Paul Strand and Robert Frank.   As you grow up your eyes are being opened up all the time and seeing the work of great photographers allows that to happen right across the spectrum of passion within photography.

Of all the portraits you took, which was your favourite subject and why?

This is a very difficult question to answer. I’ve been very lucky to have spent time and to have met some very special people who all have their own individual persona.

There are three people who, for very different reasons, bring back fond memories.   One being Tommy Cooper whom I photographed in 1967, this was at Thames Television.  After I had finished shooting some pictures in colour, I said to Tommy I’d like to take some serious portraits of him for myself in black and white, to which he agreed. I also mentioned to him, “Do not make me laugh.”  Which was probably not a very clever thing to say. I got three or four rolls that were very serious, sad and deep. He then said, “This is serious!  Aaahh-aahh!”  That was it. By the time I had finished I had tears running down my cheeks, I was laughing so much. I must say I found him very obviously, funny, sad and charming.

In 1966, John Huston was in Rome having completed his latest film The Bible when Dennis Hackett commissioned Irma Kurtz and myself to travel to Rome to do a feature on him for Nova Magazine. Coincidently, Sophie Parkin’s Mum, Molly, was the Fashion Editor of the magazine at that time.  Over several days I shot pictures of him and then in the evenings, we would join him for dinner. Each night I would sit opposite him and he would tell me stories about Bogart (The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen etc) and also discuss cinematography and other photographers. He introduced me to Havana cigars. His secretary and PA at that time was a lovely lady called Gladys Hill who I used to call Auntie Glad. On several occasions, Auntie Glad would, with great affection, chastise me for encouraging Huston to drink too much.   Can you imagine that! It would be a couple of years later that I discovered that ‘Auntie Glad’ had written the screenplay for the film Reflections in A Golden Eye. So you never know…

For 14 years, I shared the lease of 47 Frith Street with Ronnie Scott and Pete King (Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club). Ronnie and Pete had the club and the first floor and I had the two top floors, where I lived and had my studio. So every night I would go to sleep listening to jazz, which is great if you love jazz and I do. Anyway, in 1986 Chet Baker was playing at Ronnie Scott’s, we met and I asked to take his portrait. So we’re in my studio and I said to him “I have to tell you this. When I was 13, I bought an EP of yours called Winter Wonderland.” He lifted his head and said “Yes”, then talked about the line-up and for a few seconds was miles away with his memories and that was when I shot the picture. I don’t think magic pictures come along that often, but I think this was one of them.

What made you retire from the lucrative world of advertising?

I think when the fun started going out of the advertising business for me was when it began moving towards every creative decision seeming to be made by committee, which, for me, is the very opposite of producing an original piece of work. You might as well sell rock ‘ard tomatoes off a stall.

Personally, I feel I certainly lived through the golden age of advertising, working with great art directors, creative directors, designers, typographers, and writers. And believe it or not, some good advertising account people and clients who were not frightened to explore unknown territory and did not indulge in, as Basil Fawlty would say, the bleeding obvious.

The norm nowadays seems to me to be based on other criteria, that being of running scared and chasing the money. I would like to end with a quotation from Andrei Tarkovsky, “Modern mass culture, aimed at the ‘consumer’, the civilisation of prosthetics, is crippling people’s souls, setting up barriers between man and the crucial questions of his existence, his consciousness of himself as a spiritual being.”

You took so many photographs of the East End, how do you feel about its changing face?

As I’ve said many times before, my East End has gone, so for me, it’s very difficult to comment on an environment that is not mine. I understand the question but I’m not nostalgic or sentimental about its passing, but there again, maybe I am, but not for trivial reasons.

It’s not just the East End but many communities that are becoming more and more fragmented. Having said that, I’m sure there are still bastions within the East End and Soho etc, that continue to hold on to that integrity. I do wonder how long that special feeling can last with the amount of corporate greed that seems to exist.

I think I was lucky to have lived through a special time in the East End when good manners and looking after each other had a true value. Maybe what I’m trying to say is the East End could be a land of great violence and of great beauty.

How would you like to be remembered?

If someone could think of me in the same way as I did when looking at great photographs. Images that tore my soul apart, that would be okay. Or maybe, just a smile and a tear.

Bonuses of getting older?

I’ll let you know when I do.

Which photograph are you proudest?

I’m still looking.

When were you happiest?

I’m always happy when I take pictures. Mind you, I did have a good bottle of red last night and Janet thought I was very happy

John Claridge’s book East End  is published on 1 June by Spitalfields Life £25.

THE BOOK IS ACCOMPANIED BY AN EXHIBITION OF JOHN CLARIDGE’S PHOTOGRAPHS

Opens 1st JUNE – July 21st 2016 at The Stash Gallery at VOUT-O- REENEE’S, The Crypt, 30 Prescot Street, London E1 8BB

There is a special offer pre-show discount on Claridge’s photographs from now until May 30th in the on-line shop at www.vout-O-Reenees.com

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