The Guilty Pleasures of Winter

digital drawing/collage for the sibling exchanges project

The impossibility of Knowing

I wondered this morning whether anyone anywhere has organised their lives to spend 12 months of the year not in a warm place necessarily, but just in a light place. Are there any Norwegians with a cottage in Patagonia? I’m not fussed about blazing sunshine, but I do find this time of year pretty unbearable. It would help if I could be bothered to open the curtains but frankly some days it doesn’t make much difference, and anyway, as soon as they are open, it’s time to go round drawing them again.

A year or so ago I heard about a school in Denmark which looked at research showing the wide variation in body clocks within the general population, and consequently decided to open a parallel track for those unable to start their day before 11am. As someone rediscovering a natural propensity to work happily till 1.30am if I am assured of not having to roll out of the bed the next day at 7, I can now see some advantages to this. But it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that for a painter, there is no room for messing and procrastinating in winter. Picking up a brush at 2pm with the idea of working through into the evening is likely to end in frustration even without a school pick-up or parents’ evening in the way. Yes, I know about daylight spectrum lighting, but it’s just not the same, is it? The only solution to getting enough daylight hours at the moment is migration to the Southern Hemisphere.

And so enter the universal solution to life’s little problems: painting on the iPad is comfortingly the same experience at any time of the day or night. Sprawled on the sofa, occasionally engaging with tv, within the hub of family life and with Twitter on hand, I can paint colourful digital masterpieces with clarity and texture and harmony and no risk of tracking oil paint around the house. In fact, long car journeys in the dark are now also a rewarding opportunity to paint and read instead of sleep.

So what’s the problem? It’s that guilty feeling I get about the way I am increasingly dependent on, and ever more deeply immersed in, technology. I am a Luddite at heart. I adore books and paper and pens and brushes and paint and fabric. I was never meant to have an empathy with IT and software. The idea of me addicted to a screen is laughable, as the whole family will attest.

With perfect timing, BBC Radio 4’s book of the week, Susan Maushart’s  The Winter Of Our Disconnect is there to remind me forcefully of my old attitudes. Many years ago, I imposed a fortnight’s tv ban on the children. They didn’t think I meant it, and once they realised it was for real, they were nasty and bad-tempered for two whole days. Then, as if by magic, their creative, interested, playful free-spirited alter egos emerged to make the most of the garden and all the unopened craft kits amassed each birthday. I regularly used this tactic over the years every time I wanted nicer children around. In recent years they didn’t even blink when I announced a ban. Not surprising really; my simplistic ban of the telly had naively never extended to other types of screen. Technology had stealthily caught me out with the passing of time. So I am in awe of Susan Maushart. And wonder if I am up to banning myself… just to see…


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