Advertising (kind of)

Empty wine bottle (sketchy)

With the firm agreement that Sketchy Behaviour (Jaén’s best drawing club) should be resurrected for 2016, we thought we’d start things off with a bang! This particular cheeky number is only just over 2€ in Lidl, and very delicious it is too (if in a slightly ribena-y way).

The Camino Cleanse

Packing List

No lemons, cayenne pepper or questionable bowel habits – I promise! I’ve already posted about the inevitability of a sexier post-camino ass so you’re not going to take need such drastic measures. And if you don’t know what this camino I’m going on about is, feel free to investigate here, here or here.

This cleanse is an altogether different kind of cleanse. A cleanse that one might achieve by first becoming (arguably) a little bit dirtier.

It started with the realisation that an albergue is simply no place to apply concealer: the lighting is TERRIBLE, you probably have to share the mirror with at least two other people and the all pervading smell of feet will make your efforts seem a bit, well, dirty.

I’m not going to go on an all-out war on make up on or off the camino: there is a pan-species precedent for adornment (thanks Darwin!), and personally I like wearing a bit of lipstick and mascara. But few animals have taken quite as far as the court of the sun king or it’s modern equivalent: Somerset House during London Fashion Week.

At the risk of sounding like a “feminine personal care” advert, we all need to be clean and well presented, but do other people care what we look like as much as we’re lead to beleive?

The back story (or, how I obliterated any sign of my actual face, daily)

As a very long time acne sufferer, I spent at least 20 years covering my skin in “product”.  My skin was very red, bumpy and I would have new painful “blind” spots and whiteheads almost every day. I spent, probably (I’m pretty ashamed to say) thousands of pounds over the course of around 20 years trying to clean, cover or otherwise rid myself of this broken .

I’m eternally thankful to Elaine Mummery whose dietary advice has almost completely rid me of this issue: no topical products required.

But it’s made me angry: mostly about my own naivety . Claims made by cosmetics companies via their generally beautiful and delicately complexioned staff who, (visibly not suffering from skin complaints) could reasonably peddle any advertising information they had been given as some manner of universal skin health truth.

My own profession too, seemed to play into, rather than stand to oppose expensive and medicated solutions.

A free face at last (I know, this back story is going on a bit isn’t it?)

Imperfect, but reasonably clear appearing skin has been a liberation: from the mirror (minimum half hour prep before leaving home) to the obligatory financial toll of all that snake oil from both the skincare and make up industries.

I was glad about the liberation of my own face, but I hadn’t really considered properly stripping back on, say moisturiser, masks, the odd bit of concealer here or there, nor indeed had I thought in any detail about the products which I continued to buy and my role in continuing to fund an industry which is worth more in the

But the camino forced me to pare back further: to really consider the cosmetic choices I continued to make. I left my first albergue with the decluttered wash bag: a toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, body wash, a nail brush, razor, tweezers, black mascara and red lipstick.

No Poo? Low Poo.

The observant among you will have have noted there was no shampoo or conditioner in that list. I’m not technically “no poo”: I do wash my hair once every three to four months – but I did wonder if the sweat and soil of the camino might push me over the edge. I decided to risk it, in the knowledge that shops were never too far away.

But for every one person who recoils in disgust for my “no poo” lifestyle, many more are disturbed, grossed out or squeamish about my “no deo”. I have intermittently not worn deodorant: at home, at the weekend, and the camino seemed as if it might be a bit sweaty regardless, so I dumped it for the 30 day duration as well.

The Unadorned Face

How will people react, when I speak to them, face (and indeed, hair and armpits) unadorned?

It turns out: totally fine. Although my face would best be cast in the part “scullery maid number 3 (no lines)” in a period drama, or on a bad day (and let’s face it, on the Camino there are bad days) as a stand in for Woody Allen, it turns out that other people couldn’t give two hoots.

And yet, in the UK the average spend on cosmetics and skincare alone last year was £1,759 for 19 to 24 year olds, rising to £2,238 in the 45-54 year olds. The beauty industry say women spend this money because it’s fun and empowering to experiment with your look – and I did too – what am I going to say “I spend the money because I’m ashamed of my face”?

Did I (a vegetarian and pet lover) consider animal rights too heavily when I was trying to rid myself of my suppurating skin? Nope. My face became an ethical blind spot: everything was justified in the name of promise never delivered.

The scientific evidence for the products with which we layer our skin is nigh-on non existent. The marketing budgets for all international cosmetic companies dwarf any spending on product development: their investment in really trying to improve our skin.

Still Travelling Light

The make up bag I carried on the camino continues to serve me now. I have some locally made soap in place of the body wash, and I’ll update the make up with ethical cruelty free brands (more difficult than it first appears – advice appreciated) when they run out.

My hair was rinsed many many many times (particularly after swimming in the sea) but no ‘poo was used during the walking. Although I did wash slightly prematurely at the end of the 30 day walk, and my “low poo” regime continues to this day.

As for the antiperspirant? I certainly wouldn’t bother heading back down that road. Ditch your cosmetics for a small soap and a travel face towel and really “freshen up” in the toilets.

Am I saying “ditch a cleaning ritual”, “ditch the pleasure of beautiful scents and fragrant skin”?

No. Feeling relaxed and pampered is a wonderful gift. I’m more likely now to spend money on going to a hamman or spa: paying a person for their time, and some oils or honey than a pot of high-tech empty promises on a shelf.

Although my cleanse was perhaps less spiritual than  most, removed from daily life, this journey across Europe’s north coast can become a place of experimentation: assumptions, possessions and values which we carry can be challenged, and if necessary discarded. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Must we all be beautiful? It’s very tiring and and sometimes a bit of a chore, and I’ve not seen all of series 2 of “House of Cards” yet.

 

 

 

 

What it feels like to not show up for work, or what I learned from Whiplash

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A trembling cymbal and fine motor control of a rhythmic iteration have brought me to my senses.

I’ve realised what it feels like not to have been showing up to work.

Possibly for years.

I put more time and effort into my transitory job, than into the reasons I took this low paid but commitment-lite work in the first place.

I know what “bone tired” feels like, but it’s not a sensation I’ve had for years. I’ve not poured my heart and soul into anything, and it’s killing me.

Whiplash is a raw film about the demands and exhilaration of excellence.

I have a moderate life and I detest myself for it.

I fear late nights, when I am at my most productive, for feeling tired and raw the next day. I think, better go to sleep, and have that lie-in anyway because I’m really not at my best then anyway.

This year, my aimless existence has even been subsidised by a sibling, so I can’t even claim self sufficiency.

I feel deeply uncomfortable in my high level of comfort.

Before I slept: 2 drawings. An attempt at Terence Fletcher’s concentrated but at once contemplative face (a justly oscar worthy performance from JK Simmons), and a scribblier Miles Teller in a relatively neutral pose from the final scene. Expressions and likenesses are obviously a challenge. In particular with regard to Teller, I’ve learned from this to choose a stronger facial expression to give the thing some life!

On looking at these images again this morning, I made some adjustments – but my international adaptor is currently in Seville, so better to upload these now than later.

Where’s weird now?

Move over Austin, there’s a new weird kid in town

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Jaén. No, not Jane. “Hayen”, and if you can cough up that “h” like a furball, all the better (you’ll be needing it later).

I’ve often not chosen great places to live, rather, I’ve had great places thrust upon me.

Saving some money to live in Paris, I found myself in London’s Homerton during the “fried chicken years”. First impressions weren’t good. The only shop open after 9pm was “Senoritas”, whose services I was unlikely to require. But over the subsequent four years, and during the early days of it’s gentrification, Homerton was an edgy and exciting place to live.

And throughout my time in Paris, I felt like I’d ditched my quirky, funny boyfriend for a superficially superior specimen, but longed for the weird goings-on at the canals and in the basements of Stoke Newington.*

I came to Spain to learn Spanish and live in Seville. And I did, for four months.

I found some quirky cafes (Thank you Alameda), some tourist strongholds and a picturesque river walk but when I started to look for permanent work, I cast my net wide, knowing this postcard city and I weren’t a match.

I wasn’t keen to come to Jaén, but soon-to-be-beggars certainly can’t be choosers, and I passed up some poorly paid work in the charming Cadiz to come to a town which advertises it’s self as “an interior paradise”. Someone should tell 1) the Jaen tourist board: “ONLY ONE HOUR FROM GRANADA”, they scream, and 2) the Jaén wikipedia entry, which features a large roundabout as it’s main image. I was reassured by my at the time Pamplonian flatmate “It can’t be that bad” she said, “it’s got a  Corte Inglés”.

But she makes a striking impression, arriving from the west, with white houses lapping on the steep hills of Jabalcuz (“Habalcooth”, again go for it with that furball).

Architecturally, she’s underwhelming. Four weeks prior to the famously commemorated bombing of Guernica, Jaén suffered similar, devastating losses during a bombing raid as part of the Spanish Civil War. Narrow arabic streets provided a high concentration of deaths and casualties, and many of the old parts of the town were lost.

There’s not much said, on the internet or otherwise about small town architecture post war and during the Franco era. With good reason: the preferred style was ugly, or should that be cheap.

But Jaen got’s something about it.

It’s weird.

And it’s ok with that.

*There was an excellent Tuesday evening life drawing group in a Stokey basement. Great tunes. I hope it’s still there!

Coast

My constant companion on the Ruta del Norte is the Atlantic Ocean and I wanted to get some practice in with waves and the sea, to try too early away from a symbolic shorthand.

I’m getting better at fitting in some drawing in my walking day, and hope to get to some actual coastal scenes.  
 This was a quick attempt at an evening scene at Pobeña, although I didn’t implement any of my waves practice.

Downsizing

keys handed in. 

1 hour to spare, me and my rucksack (again, I think there will be a theme) and a quick sketch.

Downsizing also in ambition because I  traded my A4 book for a more manageable A5 size. The reality of sketching on the road won out!

  

 

The life affirming magic of putting stuff into bags*

IMG_2141   (this is not my camino packing)

I’m a natural hoarder like my dad.

I feel sad for the waste of disposal.

I’ll admit to having kept a collection of receipts as a child. But as an adult, I’ve never stayed in one place for too long and have spent an unusual proportion of my twenties in “hospital accommodation”, choosing cheaper bricks and mortar in exchange for better city locations. As such I do have less physical possessions than most of my peers. I know one more thing bought is just one more thing carried.

But I always feel that an object in my hand might be useful one day.

And I’m reminded of my mother who would throw out my dad’s possessions without him realising, and that woman who bangs on about the objects that bring you joy*.

But I still loathe the moving/packing/cleaning process. It seems to take me longer than anyone else I know (and I’ve had a fair bit more experience with it).

I move around my flat in ever decreasing circles, until I’m left with the batteries, keys and paperclips.

Some items continue to be “in use” right until the last moment (cutlery – which I only have one set of, cup – ditto). Recognising this to be the case, I often just surrender to other activities (my old friend procrastination back again 😉 !) Today: buying bus tickets, recycling (WORTHY procrastination, ideal), speaking to my mum (ditto the worthy but she also always has good chat, so it’s not such a one sided deal) and writing this post!

My main items (pictured half filling suitcase above) will be stored with friends and my camino gear will, of course, come on my back!

My sketchbook is indulgently large (A4 Leuchtturm 180grms) and I’m taking a few sheets of watercolour paper, my watercolour palette and a pencil case with a couple of pens and pencils (I do mean a couple). So I’ll have to think about how to save weight otherwise. I’d be interested to hear from anyone doing the camino now – in the summer – what do you have on your feet? Are you ever wearing boots? I have a lot of conflict about taking something heavier than my teva sandals…

*I’ve not read this book, but I will, not least because it seems incredibly divisive!