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"I'm gonna take you down, deep down"

(lyric from 'Woke Up This Morning' - Alabama 3)

I'm not entirely sure where to start, but I suppose the beginning is the most logical.

It's coming up to #inktober2021 I have a prompt list of 31 random words in front of me. Those who know, I usually write rhyming couplets with the illustrations. This time my challenge is to actually write a coherent story. So it's 2am, as it generally is and I'm planning a rough draft in my head, rough sketches on scrappy bits of paper and it's all looking good.

There's a plan.

Inktober is one of the hardest online art challenges which runs through October. Every day there is a single word prompt and the idea is to illustrate the word which is then posted online for others to see. The reason I put myself through it is because I learn so much from it. There are some incredibly talented people out there, some successful, others not and generally they are willing to give tips and pointers if asked nicely. I love seeing how work is presented, especially those who have a running theme, how they sell their work afterwards, if their not selling, what then? There's the huge varieties of style, the great thing about working with ink is it's versatility, block colour, washes, simple lines and then there's the longstanding argument of whether digital art counts, but I'm not getting into that. The most wonderful thing to see are the interpretations of the prompt words, they can be taken literally, or open different ideas. Mostly it's about honing skills, quick thinking, outside the box. I certainly recommend giving it a go, even if you never finish it.

I'm getting excited.

Day 21 - Fuzzy - ©angiekjames

Usually during October I am hiding in my craft room concentrating on my work, I leave only to eat, pee and go to work if necessary. I become immersed in the whole Inktober thing, slowly drowning in ink and coffee (not even my partner sees much of me and we live in the same house!). But this year I was forced to leave the boundaries of my comfort zone, obviously I didn't have to go, but I did have to go, how could I not? So a trip to Manchester to see the Prog-Rock band The Pineapple Thief and supporting band Alex Henry Foster & The Long Shadows. I know I bang on about this band, but they really are amazing and not just as musicians, the stuff they do behind the scenes too.

(I discovered Your Favourite Enemies (probably through Spotify) at a poignant time in my life. I'd left my ex husband, I was still learning how to deal with this ridiculously frustrating illness that is Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, got a new job that suited those needs and was given the opportunity to move in with my partner. I had to decide whether I wanted to stick with the original plan to pack up whichever kids wanted to and move to Bristol or live in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and remain in Pembrokeshire? Between illness and migration (also the title of the album I'd discovered - what are the chances of that? So I did what I usually do in times of ... well, unknowing and that is hide in music and art. I decided on the latter.)

We've been writing messages from time to time, back and forth for coming up to a year, I couldn't pass on an opportunity to meet them all. With careful planning, it was possible, it was also by chance I'd already booked time off work after a grueling 3 months of hard graft, before the tour dates were announced. I could do a travelling day, rest, gig, rest, travel home, rest, before going back to work - another successful plan.

Organising something like this, for me, comes with huge anxiety so I make a to do list and tick them off as I go along. All is going well, still. I drop using colour in this year's illustrations to make it easier to travel. I wasn't sure if I'd pull it off, I love colour, but it's all about challenges, right?

I'm getting really excited now!

(Alex Henry Foster & The Long Shadows - my own photograph)

I still cannot describe how incredibly amazing this was, to experience the band live, for the first time. I'm not entirely sure it can be described in words. awe, tears, and a big hug was all I could muster. It was my youngest's first time seeing a live band and the joy on her face was beautiful, it's not even the kind of thing she listens too, she came along to see Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays/Black Grape) who was doing a book signing!

Both Alex & The Long Shadows and The Pineapple Thief were just brilliant. It was first time many of us had been to a gig in a loooong while, which made it extra special.

(The Pineapple Thief - photograph by Mavis Harwood)

I am aware, somewhere in the back of my mind that I have to come down at some point, but I'm still riding the wave of Inktober which is going swimmingly (no pun intended - but while it's there). I have an overwhelming amount of requests to have the story printed into a book and Christmas cards. Which are available in my store, though I have to add, that's the second print, my first batch sold out in a day! And a few commissions to complete.

Still riding the high!

The next thing on my mind is do I want to see the bands again on their final show in Bristol? The first time I mention it, the girls are really up for it, ok, but they have to pay for it themselves, it's a good lesson. I'm still not sure. Bristol is a city I used to visit when I was a child, we lived in Gloucester, I loved the day trips to the big city, I particularly remember the fountains on the floor, which is the side of town the 02 Academy is on. But since the unnecessary death of my long time friend and lover (for a while) Danny, Bristol was our link and nowadays it just brings back memories and sadness. I can't get enough time off work, I'd have to do it all in a day, possibly two. But the girls work damn hard to raise the cash, sort themselves out, so that's it, we're going and I get the chance to repay Alex and his team's generosity with a bottle of Penderyn, a Welsh single malt whiskey.

We check in after walking around Bristol all day, making sure we know where everything is. (One thing I have always taught, the girls in particular, is when we're somewhere unfamiliar, walk with confidence, when you're starring at Google maps looking lost, that's when the bad guys take advanatage). We're all exhausted, but excited. I walk into the venue, (after successfully delivering the whiskey) and it's all wrong, the lights are too bright, the sound is just bouncing off the walls, I'm going into an over-stimulated state, intense fatigue, intense pain. I'm concentrating on watching Alex conduct his band, watching the audience's jaw drop when they begin. It's very rare that the support band are equally as impressive as the main show. Alex falls (with style) on stage and the whole front row lurches forward to catch him! But obviously with the barrier, we can only watch. I think everyone there stopped breathing until we realise he's still playing! I can't take anymore stimulation, the anxiety is too much, at this point I am physically shaking, I can't move for fear of falling over myself...The girls and I take a break from the crowd, They get their own CD signed and I buy myself a tee-shirt with the beautiful story-telling art work of Joe Mruk. I'm struggling to speak and very aware of it which makes me feel worse. My eldest goes off to find her boyfriend, the idea was to keep in touch by phone, but there's no signal in the building and that's it, last straw...full blown panic attack! I can't breath, I can barely stand.

We meet up with the other two and get back to the hotel, I go to bed and leave the kids to it, luckily I can sleep through anything in this state.

I wake with extreme sadness that I didn't say goodbye.

I'm not saying the whole thing was a bad experience, it was so brilliant in far more ways that it wasn't. It was a sharp reminder that I am still unwell and how bad it can get if I don't abide by my own rules.

I smile as I remember hearing the second best piece of advice I've ever heard,

"It's not how we fall, it's how we rise that's important" or something along those lines.

(The first incidentally was when my mother was on her deathbed, my uncle was driving me up to see her he said "promise me, you won't be like her and wait for opportunities to come to you - if you want something, go and get it".

And I'm not even going to go into the journey home, I'm to exhausted to care anymore.

Day 5 - Raven - ©angiekjames

The big come-down is yet to come and it will, for now I need to hide myself in music and art. I'm really enjoying Alt-J at the moment, it's gentle (er), calming musically, but another great lyricist. I have finished the first of the commissions, a graphite pet portrait featuring Hare and Snail. I'm awaiting proofs of the Inktober book, or booklet more like, as I'm having it printed locally, by Cleddau Press, because I like supporting local businesses if I can, and being aware of my carbon footprint. If I tweek the story anymore, I'm going to talk myself out of it, so best to just keep ploughing through. I'm hoping that will be this week, but they do have 31 little unsymmetrical sketches to work with.

After that I'll rest.

"Remembering the Sun" Pet Portrait with Hare and Snail. Graphite. ©angiekjames

Alex Hanry Foster & The Long Shadows 02 Academy, Bristol - my own photograph

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