Making patterns with Roanna Wells

Sheffield-based artist Roanna Wells is known for making a mark – very literally – most of her works feature a collection of painted or stitched marks. In 2017, she expanded her mark-making process to include the general public, and she spent six weeks hosting Tracing Process where passers-by could add their own series of marks to Roanna’s painting. Roanna speaks to writer Hannah Clugston about where this interest came from, and how a repeating pattern can do more than just look nice hung in a gallery.

In your work you collect marks, would you call yourself a collector? I love collecting things. I’ve got a collection of spoons and feathers, and I have always loved finding pebbles on the beach and arranging them. Although it is not an obvious concept in my work, I do think collecting features a lot in my aesthetics and in the way I like to go about things.

When did your “mark making” begin? I suppose it started with my degree, which was in embroidery in Manchester. I did a whole series of works just using black thread on cream fabric, and then I started to branch out into colour. It was a little thing that got me started with colour; I got my old box of paints out and decided to use up all the colours that were already dried up on it from years back. I did a little swatch of it and then just started playing about with the brush, making marks. I really liked how the paint dried and collected in different ways depending on whether the paper was flat or upright.

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Spaces Between

Spaces Between

Spaces Between isn’t just a series of marks, it also traces the passing of time. Can you tell me a bit about this project? I’d had a bit of a creative block and I was having a few personal issues as well; I had just gone fully self-employed and I was having the problem of earning money while also trying to fulfil my creative work. So, I went down to Bristol to use a friend’s studio as a sort of mini residency – just to get me out of my usual space and into a different environment to see if that would push ideas. I decided to start documenting a time period of separation from a certain person and it was almost a bit of self-therapy. I wanted to get something out visually without having to be really direct and say: “this is about this”. Each brush mark represents a minute in a day and each colour change represents a different day.

Spaces Between

Spaces Between

Your work is clearly very methodical and controlled. How did you feel handing that over to the public in Tracing Process? It was a really nice experience. It was partly an exploration of my orderliness and my neatness. It was really nice to see the contrast between other people’s spontaneity and messiness, and my own way of making marks. There is a clear definition but they all blend quite nicely. I was interested in what happens when you give someone the instructions “this is the brush I use, this is the paint I use, this is the mark and how I make it” and then seeing if they do it neatly or go off-course.

Tracing Process

Tracing Process

It was on display for six weeks, but is Tracing Process finished? Or is there room for some more marks? I’ve been working with a charity called Art Works that helps adults with learning difficulties to do creative projects and get work placements. Some of them participated in Tracing Process when it was in the gallery, but I’d like to go back to their studio and do a similar piece. They’ve also got an online shop where they’ve been selling cushions they’ve made on the sewing machines, so I want to try and get the final piece printed onto fabric for them to use in creating a limited edition set of stuff. I’d like to see the work in other places rather than just a gallery because I think you get a certain kind of audience in a gallery and I think a lot of other people would be interested in it. I am interested in therapeutic and psychological impact it can have, as people often say they find the simple mark making technique is mindful and meditative

Brushmarks

Brushmarks

Are you as interested in the process of making art as you are the final piece? I really love the way that when you are repeating one single mark by hand there’s obviously going to be some variation because of the way hands work and the way humans work. So, yes I think I am just as interested in the process because that’s how the work is made. My Desert Island Disks installation was only there for the time I was creating it. At the end, I had to sand it all off and paint over the wall. The focus there was on the process and marking the passing of time, and it was only there for people to see while the exhibition was open. I think this interest in process is also why I collect the tissues I dab my brush on. I think the process of choosing to collect these tissues and choosing to display them puts more emphasis on what they might be in a way, because you could quite easily discard them.

Desert Island Disks

Desert Island Disks

It brings up the question of what is art? That’s still a mark you’ve made, it’s just a different type. It’s just an unintentional mark and sometimes they’re the nicest ones, aren’t they? It’s interesting because my work is so careful and controlled, but then I am really interested in these spontaneous marks on these tissues as well. I suppose with artists where their work is big, messy and splashy they just wipe up excess paint because their work is the spontaneity, whereas because my work is so controlled the spontaneity is found where I dab my brush. Maybe that’s why I collect them.

What do you have planned next for your mark making? I’ve been looking at some statements by Paul Klee that tie into this slightly more psychological, explorative aspect of my work. I am interested in tapping into different thoughts and making things a little bit deeper without having to paint your emotions. I do feel that there’s some change coming – just not sure in what way yet!

Roanna Wells will participate in Construction House at S1 Artspace, Sheffield. The exhibition and series of events will reflect on the Bauhaus movement and explore the possibilities and responsibilities of collective artist activity today. Visit www.roannawells.co.uk

 

What's in your bedroom?

Photos: Olivia Howitt

What does your bedroom say about you? Olivia Howitt’s photographic project explores this most intimate of spaces

Like many good ideas, Olivia Howitt’s What’s in Your Bedroom? project came out of a conversation with her friend. “He told me about a girl he met at a friend’s shared house in Hackney – they were talking about bikes and she invited him to see her bedroom. She had bicycles filling every available space, on the floor and hanging from the ceiling.” Olivia was struck not only by the girl’s passion but that she only had one room to house it. “I started to think about what goes on in people’s bedrooms, other than the obvious...”

Her project is a visual demonstration of just how many things are going on in people’s bedrooms, from side projects to main jobs, and how even the smallest of spaces can be used in a creative way. As Olivia describes them, they are “small museums exhibiting moments of their inhabitant’s life in objects”, each capable of telling “short stories about our lives”.

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While our bedrooms became our realms as teenagers (as in the marvellous example of Ellie May O’Sullivan, pictured) that experience is prolonged in London, where Olivia has shot the majority of the rooms, where housing costs are likely to mean shared accommodation well into your twenties at the very least. That was Olivia’s experience when she moved to the capital from Manchester, going from her own house to “all of a sudden, my whole world contained within my bedroom.”

Across the array of tastes and styles of bedrooms Olivia has had the privilege to photograph, there’s a common link, and one that’s not linked to their inhabitant’s taste or budget. “For me they have soul. I’d always want my bedroom to have soul”.

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See more of Olivia's bedrooms at whatsinyourbedroom.com and @whatsinyourbedroom. You can snoop inside three more bedrooms in issue 40 of Oh Comely, out now

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Ellie May O’Sullivan, student

“My bedroom is an area that is completely my own, so it’s a place where I can relax, listen to music, draw and express myself. My mum and sister have always collected things and I guess I’ve followed the family trend. There are so many things I love in my room and it’s so hard to pick a favourite – in a fire, I’d probably be burnt to a crisp trying to decide what to save – but definitely one is my small vintage Steiff penguin, Peggy, who’s a bit tatty round the edges but is really cute and fuzzy.”

What we're eating: Pepparkakor

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"The very nature of rituals means they also serve to remind us of things that are different from years that have gone before. Of people who are no longer seated around the same table, of fallings-out, of break-ups, of those who have passed away. The season is inescapable, and so we have no choice but to adapt. Make new rituals, or embrace the old ones as best we can."

Moving from eating Christmas pudding poolside in Australia, Kate Young writes about learning to embrace England's snowy skies, long Boxing Days walks and new festive traditions in our midwinter issue. Start one of your own by trying her recipe for pepparkakor, a spiced biscuit that's great to eat with cheese. 

Pepparkakor

Makes at least 60

You need:

  • 50ml water
  • 2tbsp golden syrup 
  • 80g light brown sugar
  • 20g dark brown sugar 
  • 1tsp ground ginger 
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • 75g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda 
  • 220g plain flour

1 Bring the water, syrup, sugars and spices to the boil in a small saucepan over a low heat. Pour them over the butter into a mixing bowl and leave for a few minutes to cool. The butter should have completely melted by this stage.

2 Sieve the bicarbonate of soda and flour into the mixture. Stir to combine and bring together in a dough. Leave the bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours, or preferably overnight.

3 Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Flour your work surface  and roll the dough out as thinly as you can – a couple of millimetres thick is about right. Line your baking trays. Cut shapes out of the dough, with cookie cutters of your choice, and arrange them on the tray, leaving a little space for them to spread slightly.

4 Transfer each batch to the oven and bake for five minutes, until slightly crisp around the edges. Leave to cool on the tray for five minutes and then completely on the wire rack. The biscuits should be crisp around the edges. Serve plain or with cheese – they’re lovely with Swedish cheese, or good cheddar or Stilton.

 

Read Kate's piece about changing Christmas traditions in the midwinter issue of Oh Comely, out now. 

Snuggle up in knits

In our midwinter issue, we turn our writers into models as they reveal how knitwear makes them feel...

TAHMINA WEARS: Jumper, £100, No Way Crochet; Jewels and jeans, Tahmina’s own   Photos: Liz Seabrook / Styling: Rachel Caulfield / Hair and make-up: Alice Oliver

TAHMINA WEARS: Jumper, £100, No Way Crochet; Jewels and jeans, Tahmina’s own  
Photos: Liz Seabrook / Styling: Rachel Caulfield / Hair and make-up: Alice Oliver

“Knitwear makes me feel British”

words tahmina begum

"I’m currently sitting at home working. I’m wearing a camel-coloured thick knit, matching aptly to the sofa I’m cushioned in. It’s winter in Britain, I’m a writer, I like to be cosy. It’s as simple as that. Who doesn’t love peppermint tea near the fire while it’s raining outside? Especially when you’re inside what feels like a blanket.

"I do wonder what 15-year-old me would think if she could see me now? There’s nothing that interesting about my outfit. I look snuggled into a protective knit – I look British. Not ethnically, of course, and yes, naturally I’m going to be in a jumper of some kind, living in England when it’s December. But growing up I could fight off the heat in a million different layers – okay, five – different shirts on top of each other with a floral scarf, turban, grandad cardigan (actually, it was my nana’s) and a berry-coloured coat and make my own version of what a turtleneck would do.

"When homes, tongues and thoughts are not founded in one place, they seem to intertwine in ways which tend to be unexplainable and fluid. Just like most teenagers, I was made to feel as though I had to choose who I wanted to be and stick to that version of me – nothing was allowed to be messy. Everything was to be black and white. But I enjoy colour. I am colour. I used to think if I wore a simple cardie and jeans, it was too plain and I definitely did not look like a Jane – whatever she’s supposed to be. Though I didn’t have to walk around in a kameez, swirls on silk shirts and an avalanche of bracelets, it was an unconscious decision and a physical reminder of my decadent and gold-trimmed-on-anything-and-everything heritage.

"But nearly a decade later, I’ve realised the beauty in both. In choosing and knowing I can have both. This jumper has twists and waves and turns, especially when I move my arms. My winter armour does not need to explain itself to anyone, when it’s with jingly earrings and obscenely gemmed trinkets or even when paired with pyjama bottoms, scraped back hair and emails. It fits into both worlds, both versions of me and the many in between. Because the woman beneath it all is dynamic and intricate, so there is no forceless need to be anything than what it’s supposed to be: comfort in this rain and heat, in anything in vain. It is an item that resembles and resonates with me right now.“

Read more stories about jumpers that feel like hugs in issue 40, on sale now at ohcomely.co.uk/shop-2/issue-40

Love yourself

On her Instagram account @recipesforselflove, Alison Rachel offers up empowering self-care tips paired with illustrations to uplift and inspire women of all identities. An essential part of her mission is to include intersectional illustrations that represent a diverse group of women. Some of our fave mantras include: “Someone else’s beauty is not the absence of your own”, “Remember to take time off”, “Don’t compliment a woman’s weight loss”, “You don’t always have to be happy” and “Normalise menstruation”.

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Issue 40 playlist: morning rituals

Who needs coffee when you can plug into our latest playlist? It's inspired by morning rituals, full of the tracks that help us get up and go (although coffee is useful for that too...). Take a listen here

 

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illustration: stephanie handley

Our midwinter issue is inspired by patterns. You can pre-order a copy here

Contribute to issue 41 of Oh Comely

Photo: Isa Gelb @punkroyaltiger

Photo: Isa Gelb @punkroyaltiger

Issue 41 is out in February and we’re looking for your contributions.

For this issue, the theme of our first person stories is loss. This could be huge and life-changing or perhaps something small and seemingly inconsequentially that has impacted your life in a meaningful way. Maybe you've said goodbye to a loved one or an address, or perhaps you've had to come to terms with losing a part of yourself or your body, we want to hear about your experiences. 

To be considered, email a 100-word outline of your idea for a first person story to ohcomely@icebergpress.co.uk, along with two samples of your work by Monday 11 December. Please state 'Issue 41 contributions' in the subject header.

Unfortunately we don't accept fiction or poetry samples. We do try and get back to everyone but we're a really small team so we're sorry if we don't get a chance.

We look forward to hearing your ideas!

 

The Sex Workers' Opera

The cast of The Sex Workers' Opera

The cast of The Sex Workers' Opera

The stage is set in a little theatre in south London. Enter the master of ceremony who invites us to guess which of the cast in The Sex Workers' Opera are currently working in the sex industry.

The cast is made up both of sex workers and their friends – although we are never told who is who, we are very much invited to guess, making us question the stereotypes that may – or may not – form our thought-process. 

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The message of the show is clear: sex workers want ‘rights not rescue’ and for people to listen to them rather than speak for them. The villain: legislators who make sex work illegal, and therefore very dangerous. The show explores lots of real-life stories from sex workers all around the world, and also pays tribute to the women "rescued" in the 2013 Soho raids and the inhumane way that they were treated by the police.

“If sex work was led by men, instead of women, the laws would be very different. The laws against sex work are racist, transphobic, sexist, queerphobic. In Britain, sex for money is only legal when it’s one on one, but brothels run by sex workers would make me feel safer...”  This is a quote from our interview with one of the sex workers from the show, you'll be able to read the full story in issue 40, out 14 December. 

The Sex Workers' Opera is currently being performed at Ovalhouse, London, until Saturday 2nd December, head to ovalhouse.com for ticket information

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Photos by Julio Etchart

Well-Read Black Girl

Glory Edim photographed by Elena Mudd

Glory Edim photographed by Elena Mudd

To help others discover the work of black women writers, Glory Edim started her bookclub Well-Read Black Girl, a safe space for honest discussions about literature and beyond.

Marta Bausells speaks to Glory in the autumn issue of Oh Comely: “There isn’t a lot of room for black women to really see themselves in a very honest and pure way,” she told us, “and when you enter the book club you know it’s a safe space. You know it’s other people that look like you and appreciate you and aren’t judging you. […] You don’t have to pander to anyone, or posture – you’re just yourself. I think “ that’s what makes it unique.”

The group has become a support system where its members can just be, without judgement or comparing themselves to anyone else. She adds: “In this group we’re setting the standard – that these are our books, our inspirations, our suffering, whatever it is – we can all read it on the page and experience it in real life, too.” 

We asked Glory to share some of her favourite Well-Read Black Girl bookclub picks: 

 

Pick up a copy of our autumn issue of Oh Comely to read the full interview with Glory, or you can go to wellreadblackgirl.com to sign up for Glory’s newsletter, and follow her on Instagram @wellreadblackgirl.

 

 

The car

photo betül vargün  

photo betül vargün

 

words rebecca tantony

In the beating heart of an engine unused, I wait

She tells me she will wait opposite the pub. Tells me the registration number and that I need to climb in the back seat. The front’s piled with books, she says, water-bottles, maps. I open the door, squeeze in beside a suitcase and two sleeping bags. She turns around, says, “Great to met you Aisha. I tried to pack light but it's three months on the road, you know, It’s like I need to bring it all in case I never came back”.

It’s strange how a stranger can wear the face of familiarity, remind you something about home.

“Good to meet you too Josiane.” I reply. Take it all in; the smell of cumin, the roof covered in postcards – hams and flamenco dancers in Seville, ornate temples in Oaxaca, snapshots of friends strung up like rosaries. I take her in too. Late twenties perhaps. Heavy smile, light voice. 

I was only going as far as France. A month before I had fallen for a man and wanted to try and recreate the weekend of romance we’d first found. Those melted evenings – cheese and wine on the balcony, our mouths speaking in tongues. A friend said she knew someone driving through Paris, so I thought I would catch a ride with Josiane into that unknown future.

“A road trip. Exciting”, she says, clips in her seat belt, sets the wipers back and forth. I think we’re about to pull away so I try find my belt too, then see she wants to catch my reflection in the mirror, so I stop fumbling. “Nervous too”, she adds, “I just listened to a news report about The Jungle. Apparently loads of Eritrean teenagers are trying to rebuild it, and I was like shit we’re gonna be driving past there. Maybe we’ll never leave. Just keep helping them, brick after brick, rebuild something from the rubble”. I shuffle. “How long will you be in France?”

“I’m not sure,” I say. Sometimes it’s a few days, in other moments I never leave. My French lover and I make children, I learn to cook foods fried in butter, how to say expensive words. “It’s a strange time to be leaving, with Brexit and all. Maybe they won’t let us back in”. I smile weakly.

“Yeah, more than ever. I wonder how many times I can go and come back again with nothing to offer on my return. I’m always leaving. It’s like there is a version of me out there who laughs louder than  I do here”. 

Recognition: that feeling of home again. A place. A person. A room. A moment. Your own skin. I point to the postcard, “But we, you, have all these memories”.

She turns back to the front, clips her seat belt in again, “Yeah we have so many memories”. Flips on the indicator. “Let’s have a road-trip song, something to remind us of the moment we left”. She shuffles through her CDs, “This is the one, it was playing in a cafe when I met this woman in Marrakech”. Some Arabic pop music speeds through the speakers. We listen. After a while she says, “Her name was Asha. She was from Palestine originally, had only been in Morocco for two months”. She taps the wheel, I stare into the mirror, watch her eyes steer between mine and the road ahead. “She left. Because she had to”.

I’d like to say that next we opened up like windows, stories of ourselves filling the few empty spaces of that car. That our leaky-exhaust-pipe-mouths talked through the length of that journey. That we arrived in Paris. I kissed her farewell, twice, because I was a continental woman now, with a French lover famous for his “little deaths”. But it didn't happen like that. In fact, two days later my French lover texted to say he’d met someone new.

Instead, just as the music stops, she sits staring out in front of her, as if looking at this unworn world – this new place just noticed, or perhaps an old place never before seen. After a while she unclips the belt, grabs her backpack, opens the door, gets out the car, and with the key still in the ignition, leaves. Just walks, into the buzz of our electric city. And I sit there, stunned, watch her go like I’ve just lost part of my own being. Who knows what had brought us here together? All the trips taken, all those left behind. I sit in the hum of that car, the beating heart of an engine unused. I wait. But she never returns. In fact, I think I am still there now. In-between places, like at an airport, neither leaving or arriving anywhere. Just a memory for us both to keep, formed and lost, somewhere along the way. 

 

Rebecca Tantony is a poet and writer of flash non-fiction, who loves hanging out with her cat Chicken and radio singing at traffic lights. @rebeccatantony, website: www.rebecca-tantony.com

 

Fear and pigeons

illustration: ester garcia

illustration: ester garcia

Be afraid, be very afraid. To mark Halloween, we asked our writers to confess what scares them the most. For Alice Snape it's pigeons that are her biggest fear...

The one fear that has remained constant throughout my life is my fear of pigeons. In fact, all birds really, but pigeons are the ones that are always there, lurking in front of my every step, unwilling to move out of my way – why don’t they creep and coo near someone else? Why aren’t they scared of me?

Pigeons constantly reinforce my terror on a daily basis, so it can’t possibly be irrational. Even back when I was revising for my GCSEs, one flew into the conservatory through an open window. I had my revision desk all set up and was convinced the bird was out to get me. It flapped around all over my notes, until my dad had to come home from work, and let it out. All I could do was close the sliding doors and cry in a ball on the floor.

And now, I see them everywhere. I don’t understand how other people can brazenly walk through a group of the flappy, grey rodents as if there is nothing in front of them. When I see one, I scuttle around, cross over the road, stamp my feet loudly – avoidance tactics. Occasionally, I scream out loud. Over the course of my life so far, four pigeons – yes four – have even flown into my head. My head! Flapping around with their grubby little claws tangling into my hair. I have been pooed on more times than I can count, and I don’t care that it might be lucky. I don’t feel lucky. 

I guess the fear is born out of anxiety, I am an anxious person. I was an apprehensive child, always fretting and worried about the unknown. And in this changeable, unrecognisable world that we currently reside, those worried concerns flood back to me, all embodied in the physicality of that horrid pigeon form. Who will deny climate change next? Who’s responsible for Irma? How will I meet by next work deadline withouthaving a panic attack?

It doesn’t matter if they are the flying, dirty rats with one foot that seem to outnumber humans in London, or the big fat wood pigeons that live a life of luxury in the countryside or the pigeon fancier’s variety. Because I hate them all. I hate them, because I don’t know what a pigeon is about to do, it can’t communicate with me in a way that I understand. I can’t control where it steps. The pigeon has no regard for my personal space. It just coos that horrid  that horrid sound, flapping with no direction. One could sneak up on me at any moment with its flailing wings, beady eyes and sharp beak. And I would never be ready for it, even though I am forever dreading its appearance. 

See what our other Oh Comely writers are afraid of in issue 39

Women with tattoos

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portrait eleni stefanou, Women with Tattoos

People are drawn to tattoos for different reasons – because they find them beautiful, empowering, therapeutic or a tangible way of holding on to important memories. Eleni Stefanou is taking photos of women and their ink, and sharing their stories on a blog as a visual love letter to tattooed women everywhere

 

Jay Rose, 23, tattoo artist, Glasgow

“Some people think of tattoos a ‘second skin’, but I find that concept quite strange. The minute a tattoo is on my skin it becomes a part of me and I often find it hard to remember what it was like to not have it. Looking back at old photos is becoming increasingly weird, especially since I’ve become more heavily covered. For me, getting tattooed isn’t simply about decoration – every tattoo I have means something. That’s not to say tattoos without meaning are anything less, but for me each tattoo is marking a journey and allowing me to become more secure within myself. I have tattoos with friends, for family and inside jokes.

“It was getting my stomach, hand and back tattooed that were the biggest steps in really bringing my vision to life, they were turning points for me. Those were the big tattoos that started to really frame my body and connect the dots if you will. I felt myself become so more comfortable in my own body after that.

“With every tattoo you collect, you also step into a journey with your chosen artist. You put your trust in them. For example, I chose tattoo artist Hannah Pixie Snowdon to tattoo my entire back. I am a rather small human being and it was important for my back piece to be worn – and not for it to wear me. Its evolution has been both a representation of my growth as an individual and Hannah’s growth as an artist – it was the first back piece she ever created. As for physically getting it done, I squirmed, cried, winced and in parts it has become my worst nightmare come to life.

“I am a tattoo artist myself, and I’ve had a lot of emotional experiences on my artistic journey. The other week, for example, a lovely woman had emailed me wanting a tattoo with a little nod to her mother who had recently passed away. Her mother had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and doctors had discovered a brain tumour within the same week. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in September last year and it’s been a hard journey, so this is something that struck home. She was a really lovely girl who had been through something that I could empathise with.

“And that, for me, is what makes tattoos so powerful and healing. They can unite people through shared experience and allow someone to mark a tragedy in their life and then recover from it.”

 

Read four more stories of women and their tattoos in issue 39 of Oh Comely

Putting epilepsy into perspective

Writer Francesca Turauskis had her first tonic-clonic seizure seven years ago, when she was in her final year at university. Although the doctors reassured her it was a one-off event, she had another a year later and her seizures increased gradually until she had four in one week. The sporadic spasms stole time from Francesca, gave her aches for days and for a while trapped her in a disease no one could quite decide if she actually had. But since she was diagnosed and put on daily medication, she has reclaimed independence. This is her story of walking the Camino de Santiago this summer, helping her to take control of her own body.

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"I have never felt the need to hide my epilepsy, but some do. There is still a certain level of fear around it, perhaps a hangover from the age when seizures were thought to be possessions by the devil. Exorcisms aside, epilepsy conversations are full of confusion and corrections and therefore often avoided. As a way to initiate people who might be anxious about the subject, I decided to take words out of the picture by documenting my adventures on Instagram as a hiker with epilepsy."

"I became an official epilepsy statistic two years ago – 87 people a day are told they have epilepsy. Unofficially, epilepsy had been doing a number on me for much longer. Since 2011, I was subject to sporadic spasms that would steal my time from me and leave me with aches for days. My seizures were typically dramatic: rag-doll falls to the floor, shakes, biting my tongue and so on. 

"My boyfriend once had a very effective wake-up call as the bed shook earthquake-style. All I remember of that one was a paramedic listening to my naked chest because I had gone to sleep without clothes on (and people say epilepsy isn’t sexy). For a while, my neurologists revoked my right to drive – not a major issue for a London-lady who still holds a provisional licence, but I was annoyed by the extra caution I had to take in the bath. My seizures were so random and rare that their unpredictability trapped me in a disease no one could quite decide if I had. 

"Ironically, it was from the moment that doctors informed me I could say “I have epilepsy” that I started to feel more disconnected from the phrase. By being diagnosed, they could put me on daily medication and I finally had seizure control. I've not had seizures in over two years, and when it comes to the box that asks me if I consider myself to have a disability, I mostly tick ‘no’. I have reclaimed my independence. 

Deba to Markina

Deba to Markina


"So this summer, I decided to do something just for the sake of doing it. I ended up walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain – the pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostella in the north of the country. There are many different Caminos and I chose the Norte, a path that runs for 500 miles between the mountains and the sea. It is the perfect setting for holiday spam and in the six weeks I spent walking, I took the obligatory beautiful photographs for Instagram.

Liendo to Guemes

Liendo to Guemes

"Underneath each of the beautiful images of blue skies, sea cliffs and mountains I put a story about epilepsy. I liked spreading the truth about this ugly disease via way of Spanish beauty. I was able to lure people in with the pictures and then trick them into awareness. 

"I began to find metaphors in my surroundings: balancing rocks are different medications, arrows are auras, mountains are, well, metaphorical mountains. The photos helped me to frame the complexities of the disease.  

"Some take faith for their own journey. And there are still others who are shocked that I can do such things. The photos mean different things to different people, in much the same way the Camino draws people from around the world for different reasons. For myself, it began as a way to enjoy Europe. Through the photos, the Camino ended up helping me realign myself with my body. While it has let me down in the past, my body is now stronger and fitter than ever – and while I still have epilepsy, it's really put things into perspective."

Follow Fran's journey on Instagram @frantictwalks

Cheer Up Luv – a photo project documenting women who have been harassed

CHRISTINA

CHRISTINA

You’re lost in your own world, until some stranger decides to interupt your thoughts, with the command to “Cheer Up”. And that’s at the lesser end of things we’ve had shouted at us. Cheer Up Luv is an online project set up by photojournalist Eliza Hatch to document women who have experienced sexual harassment in public.

KORANTEMA

KORANTEMA

"I was 19 and had just moved to Paris. I was on a crowded train and this guy put his hands on my hips and started grinding on me. I stepped on his toes as hard as I could and he finally let go. I stormed out of the train straight after." JULIETTE

"I was 19 and had just moved to Paris. I was on a crowded train and this guy put his hands on my hips and started grinding on me. I stepped on his toes as hard as I could and he finally let go. I stormed out of the train straight after." JULIETTE

 

As Eliza explains, “We toughen up from such a young age and learn to brush off and shut out unwanted comments you get from men. By the time you are 23 you are used to mild sexual harassment, and most of the time women rarely talk about it. So I think it is extremely important to photograph women in their daily surroundings, and give them a chance to say something back.

KRUPA

KRUPA

Women from around the world have shared their stories (including our writer Marta) to help flip a story of victimisation into one of empowerment.

MARTA

MARTA

Head to the website to view more cheerupluv.com, and follow the project on Instagram @cheerupluv

#ohcobookclub Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others

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We're reading Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others for the next #OhCoBookClub – join us in London on the 8 November for cocktails and book chat!

Meadow Mori and Carrie Wexler grew up together in Los Angeles, and both became film-makers. 

Meadow makes challenging documentaries; Carrie makes successful feature films with a feminist slant. The two friends have everything in common – except their views on sex, power, movie-making and morality. And yet their loyalty trumps their different approaches to film and to life. 

Until, one day, a mysterious woman with a unique ability to cold-call and seduce powerful men over the phone – not through sex, but through listening – becomes the subject of one of Meadow's documentaries. Her downfall, and what makes her so extraordinarily moving, is that she pretends to be someone she is not.

We're utterly gripped and can't wait to discuss it with you! 

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Buy the book herehere, or here (links aren't affiliated), or from your favourite local bookshop.

If you're not in London, and you'd like to host an #OhCoBookClub group, get in touch with our Book Club Editor, Terri-Jane, on twitter @terrijane or by email terri-jane@icebergpress.co.uk. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the book, so don’t forget to tag @ohcomelymag and #OhCoBookClub on instagramtwitter, and facebook

Sunday Reading: What I tasted

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words: olivia potts

photo: deborah dewbury-langley

When my mother died, I lost a recipe.

Her death was sudden and unexpected. The day before, we talked normally, knowing nothing of what lay ahead. We talked about her library books, my job, Emmerdale

If I’d known she was going to die, I might have asked the important questions: what do I need to know about childbirth? How do you get curry stains out of a white shirt? How do you make your chilli con carne?

But I never asked those questions. I found myself – 25, motherless, heartbroken – not knowing things I never knew I wanted to know. Amongst those were her dishes. Losing her meant losing her food; I had never once asked for a recipe, and now it was too late.

Until it ended, I hadn’t realised how important food was to our relationship. Now, I can see it was her main way of conveying sympathy and care. She was not obsessive about food, like I am; she didn’t derive any joy from standing over a stove, or hosting a dinner party. The food she made was just for her family, for us. But every mouthful was carefully and meticulously prepared.

Whenever I was poorly – I was a sickly child, and an even sicklier teenager – my mother made minestrone soup. She would sit opposite me at the kitchen table, watching quietly as slowly, spoonful by spoonful, I ate it, and then she would walk me slowly, quietly around the garden. All soups are nourishing, but this soup was special. It was made with care in both senses. It was full of love, patience and effort. But it was also careful; everything chopped meticulously, placed in neat piles, and then one by one, dropped in a big pot in a preordained order. I needed to recreate this soup. The entirety of my mother’s cooking and love seemed bound up in minestrone. So I began trying to make it from memory. I knew it involved tiny pasta, and bacon and a lot of vegetables. 

I knew that those vegetables were diced precisely. I bought pasta and bacon, and I diced vegetables precisely. I threw them in a pot and thought good thoughts.

My first attempt was wrong. So was my hundredth. I drowned in soups, unable to replicate the taste. I could get close, but it was never quite right. It was never my mother’s soup. I turned to the internet, and spent nights gazing at search results for soup recipes, eliminating possibilities: no, no, no. Of all dishes, minestrone must be one of the hardest to recreate. There is no such thing as an authentic recipe; it has as many variations as it has cooks. 

Years passed, measured in failed soups. The grief eased, or at least changed: it became quieter. A looming adversary became a stolid, bitter companion. I could see past it, but it was always there.

A few months ago, when my father decided to move out of our old house, he offloaded most of my mother’s books on me. Among them were her cookbooks. In truth, I could never remember her actually using a cookbook. But here they were.

I flicked idly through them. I almost didn’t spot the minestrone soup. But as soon as I began reading, I realised: this was the recipe. This was my mother’s minestrone soup. I studied the method, line by line, and pictured my mum dicing, frying, stirring, the intricate ballet of her perfect soup. I closed the book and looked at the front cover. 

It was Delia’s Complete Cookery Course. My mother’s minestrone soup was Delia’s minestrone soup. I had been searching for this recipe, experimenting, testing this recipe for three years only for it to be in one of the most famous cookery books ever published.

But now I have it. I make this soup in the pot that my mother used – and finally, I make it as she did. And it tastes like home.

 

This story originally appeared as one of our 'stories of the senses' in issue 33 of Oh Comely. We were delighted to hear that Olivia won the category of Fresh Voices in Food Writing at this year's The YBFs with an edited version of this piece. You can see read more of Olivia's writing on her blog and follow her on Twitter

Oh Comely loves... The Other Art Fair | 5-8 October | Old Truman Brewery | London

Female Artists take the lead at The Other Art Fair 

The Other Art Fair is a platform for emerging artists. And this year, we're loving the fact that over half of the 130 participating artists in The Other Art Fair are women. In an industry widely considered 'pale, male and stale' - this is your chance to meet the new female stars of the art world. Here's a peek at some of our faves:

Nina Brook - 'Parasol Paradise

Nina Brook - 'Parasol Paradise

Carolina Mizhrai - Avatar Collection

Carolina Mizhrai - Avatar Collection

Fei Alexeli - 'No Bad Days'

Fei Alexeli - 'No Bad Days'

Michelle Heron - 'Jones Dairy'

Michelle Heron - 'Jones Dairy'

On display at Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QR, from Friday 6 October until Sunday 8 October, ticket info at theotherartfair.com

Sunday Reading: Eight Eight Eight

words: jess morgan

photo: katie silvester

 

 

The best thing about the CD player was the punching in and skipping straight to the best songs without all the clumsy rewinding and tape-turning to cue up. The clever machine knew exactly where to find it. Our silver separates hi-fi had glossy dials for the volume which twisted silently and weightlessly and were always cold to the touch. The horizontal sliver in the tuner was gently backlit. A red needle would slide back and across the number line with the turn of another beautiful dial. Dad still talks about those dials.

That morning, I made a plan to get up early. I was going to get my Cher album from where it was in the rack, press the first clicky button and watch as the faithful little motor offered up a wobbly looking tray from the front of the unit. Nose to nose with the grid of numbered buttons, I’d punch in track eight and just listen to it.

The lights were still off in the living room, curtains still drawn, no scuffs of footsteps from the floor above and no bedside radio. I wanted to go straight for track eight – every word, every bass thump and every scrunch of the straggling guitar solo. It’d always feel like an exercise in restraint when there were people around – a fight to hold the corners of my mouth steady. I was up and dressed now though, secretly supercharged with all those complicated little electrons ricocheting against each other, while everyone else was asleep.

The sound wasn’t coming out. Anxious little fingers started pressing eight and hitting play, on, off, carefully inviting another increment of volume with the cool dials. Eight... eight... eight... eight, but still nothing came. Nothing. For an age, nothing. Then, the percussive clack of a dozen curtain rings smacking together as light burst into the room. Dad, surprised to see me up and dressed so early, wandered curiously over. It was lucky he’d not been a minute or so earlier and seen me pummelling the buttons with an eight year old’s untamed frustration.

“It’s a bit early," Dad said.

He reached to the back under the tuner and pulled out a set of headphones. They weren’t like the flimsy ones we had for our Walkmans that we’d always get our hair caught in. These ones were heavy and felt as if they’d slide off at any minute without a careful balancing act to keep them in place. The ear pads covered my ears entirely and Dad adjusted the headband from the sides, making them as small as they would go ­ though they’d never get quite small enough. They came with a string cable attached that was ruffled with wear and soft. At the very end, there was a quarter inch jack –­ the kind reserved for something more serious than our homemade radio shows.

Dad plugged the headphones into the amp, put the volume down low and flicked the one switch that I’d omitted to find in the grand plan. The opening bars to track one blared out of the cans. I returned Dad’s thumbs up and let it play. Piano keys pounding, a string section rising and crunching electric guitar signalled, as with many plays before, the unfolding of my favourite record and same mission to appear aloof ­– between euphoria and bewildering self-consciousness. It’s tight grip, and the precarious positioning of the headphones seemed to keep me from skipping forward or dialling in that later part of the record that I so wanted to hear.

As soon as Dad was gone with the tray of tea and toast, I slid the smooth fake leather ear-pads backwards off my ears. The sound of the radio had kicked in upstairs – footsteps and running water would soon follow. I put the headphones back where they had been and returned the CD back to its plastic case and its space in the rack. I never tried that again.

Twenty-two years on, I still play that album – on the same system of separates that was handed down to me – speakers, cables and the units with all of those complicated buttons. Track one still gives me the jitters but I rarely make it as far as track eight. When Dad comes round, we enthuse over those dials. They still twist and turn as silkily as ever, even though I keep the volume low, in a terraced house with its walls as thin as Bible paper. I can stand there any day, in front of the display, heart beating, burning up with the memories of growing up with so much music in our house. Somehow the metal always stays so cool. 

Jess Morgan is a singer-songwriter living in Norwich. Her first love will always be Cher in the film Moonstruck. Listen to ‘Come To The Opera With Me, Loretta’ and follow Jess on instagram.