I recently lost my sense of humour, hence the reason I’ve been away from this blog for a while too long. My humour is a well worn blanket, a comfy pair of slippers, a friend when I’m in need and an asset when a conversation is flagging or steering into the “woe is me” domain. Without my friend, humour, I’ve felt stranded. Here follows a rather dramatic story behind it’s loss and finally, it’s thankful return…
It was a regular Monday morning back in April – school run, quick dog walk with my two dogs (one, Ginger, adopted the day before, quite by surprise, from a photo shoot) and then a car ride to a shoot. I was off to photograph a gospel singer in a church on the south side so I was driving at a snail’s pace as it’s an unknown area for me. For about ten minutes, the roads were eerily quiet and empty of cars. I was ambling across an intersection just two minutes from my destination when WHAM! CRASH! WHACK! SPLAT- I was HIT with horrendous force by a speeding car and flipped over and over.
My life did not flash before my eyes and I didn’t feel fearful. Instead I felt absolutely, indignantly furious. “What?!” I thought “this is NOT happening to me! I’m on my way to a church for goodness sake! I’ve been putting money in the karmic bank of goodness for years and THIS is how I’m repaid?” Well all these thoughts and more were squashed together into one enormous “NO!” and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I was surrounded by a large bubble (not sure how else to describe it) and felt like I was floating in very slow motion. I heard loud and clear in my head “I am protected. I am ok” and then, as I hung upside down, I found myself wondering how big the car was. Yes dear readers, that utterly prosaic observation was what I thought about at my junction with life and death and life again.
Then the car stopped, stank of smoke and the panic began. I’ve seen all the films where, at this point, the car blows up, so I got out as fast as I could (I don’t know how) and scrambled through a broken window to an arm reaching out for me. Once out and surrounded by at least 40 gaping onlookers, I proceeded to spin about and wail very loudly in my very English accent, wearing my neat mac and tidy shoes. I could see people staring in wonder. “How could this happen to me?” I cried. ” I am doing a project for this city and THIS is my repayment. I am so upset! I am furious! I can’t believe this!” I continued for a while until my inner voice interrupted “How much longer are you going to wail you drama Queen? I think it’s time to quieten down- you’ve made your point- be quiet!”. I must say it’s quite odd to have such a loud inner voice and even stranger for it to be so entirely and utterly sensible. I may have heard it whisper in the past but now it had taken charge and it had the tone of a bossy headmistress! I decided to ignore it until two nice ladies with the look of social workers managed to sit me down on the pavement and calm me.
Then, when everyone decided I was sane, out came the endless questions “Do you have insurance? Were you wearing a seatbelt? Where were you going? Can you call your insurance? Shall we tow your car?” I quite fancied a cup of tea and a hug but needs must so I found myself taking charge from my pavement seat. Then came the police- two very cool looking ladies with mirrored shades. “You are lucky to be alive” they said in unison “hardly anyone gets out of these accidents alive- ever.”
With that, I was strapped onto an ambulance bed and rushed off to a trauma unit. Once there, I was surrounded by doctors who told me they needed to cut off my clothes to check my spine. “Cut my clothes?” I asked them incredulously and in a tone as bossy as I could muster whilst lying down. “You will do no such thing. I have just bought this outfit in London and you are not going to cut it.” “Oh” they replied, looking surprised and chastised. They let me take control and take off my own garments. Once checked from top to toe, I was declared ready to go home and took an uber. Yes really. Friends rallied round and my husband was flown back shocked and shaken from his trip in Hong Kong. For a while my sentences came out a bit topsy turvy and I had a few flash backs but my main thought was one of relief, wonder and gratitude.
Three months have passed and my sense of humour has finally returned. It took lots of small steps, love, friends and a very conscious effort to live in the present and really appreciate every moment, to finally get it back.
My neck still hurts but I do have a great place to go where I get my bones cracked into place by a cheerful lady and then a handsome young Physiotherapist gets me to make double chins endlessly and then laughs AT me whilst I do them, which I find quite endearing.
I look back now and feel like my excess emotional baggage from the past that I was quietly dragging about, exploded on that road and I walked into my present life clean , shiny, free and ready for new adventures.
Are you worried about life? Do you think it’s all going belly up and/or down the tubes? Are you looking for help and a clear answer amidst the unfolding chaos? Yes? Well you won’t find one here BUT you will find some stories that might just make you feel better about your own life, even if it is at my expense!
So it started like this; here we were staying in a fancy big house for our opening number in Chicago. I’d like to say that we were happy and cheery and embracing change but that would be a huge false positive and my current mood embraces honesty. So we were moaning, homesick and having adjustment issues. In desperation, Leo decided to fly in my sister Gemma and her son George to help us settle in. She has a soothing and gentle personality and laughs joyfully at ridiculous things, which is deeply infectious- so yes, her presence was an immediate and very gratefully received tonic.
Chicago, through her eyes, sparkled and shone and we all felt hopeful again. We took ourselves off to the lake, swam, frolicked on the beaches, hired bikes and ate in the elegant Lincoln Park cafe near the famous Chicago zoo. We spent hours in the incredible Art Institute, admired the sculptures in Millenium Park and wandered around our neighbourhood feeling happy and jolly.
We noted how smiley and friendly the people of Chicago were and our spirits lifted. We could make something of this time here! It was ok. Then they left and we fell into doom and despair. When would we see them again? We didn’t know and our hearts bleeted like lost lambs looking for safety.
A few sullen days later, I heard a huge shout from the scarily stylish sitting room in our air B and B house. “Mummy” screamed Anoushka “there’s water pouring through the ceiling” I ran in and there it was pouring all over the yellow velvet chairs. We dragged them to one side and found a bucket, but not before it had throughly soaked me.
I sprinted up the stairs to find the dastardly culprit, imagining it was an overflowing sink but to my horror it was the toilet-yes toilet! It poured all over my feet and wooshed and flowed like a tsunami over the floor and down the expensive polished wooden stairs, heading for the sitting room rugs with a horrid determination. I felt my insides flip over with fear and mild disgust. I found a plunger and whacked it up and down in the toilet like Superwoman (it’s remarkable the strength you have when in “fight or flight mode!) and thankfully the water resided.
I inspected the damage and saw a large crack beginning to appear on the sitting room ceiling. I would have to call the owners. I felt sick. I mustered up the courage and got on with it and was surprised by their very relaxed response. Leo’s work were paying a very large amount of cash to them each week so I presumed that accounted for it! I managed to clear up the house and the ceiling didn’t cave in – we had had a lucky escape!
A few months later, when we had moved into a more permanent rental, I was woken up on a Saturday morning at 6am by enormous shrieks and shouts. I came flying out of bed in my nightdress, hair squashed to my head, glasses left beside the bed so the world was slightly out of focus and found my feet drenched as I ran up the recently cleaned, carpeted stairs.
There was my husband looking seriously stressed by the small ground floor bathroom and there was that water yet again pouring out of another toilet. Even without my glasses I could see he was wearing a frantic expression. “Plunge that thing down it!” I shouted “What thing?” I pushed past and grabbed the toilet brush “This!” I screamed, whilst bashing it up and down inside the toilet bowl. “Oh no!” I cried “What?” shouted Leo “the brush has got stuck!” There was nothing I could do – I plunged my arm down into the bowl to retrieve it. This was too awful. I handed the brush to my husband -“You do it!” I shouted again, this time adding a string of colourful expletives (well wouldn’t you? I hadn’t even had a cup of tea and my feet were soaked in wee!) He took charge (hooray!) and with enough pummelling the water finally retreated- the battle was won!
The kids by this time were standing watching us in bewildered bemusement. “Go back to bed!” I shouted at them too. It was a very shouty morning. “Where are you going?” Leo asked “I am going right back to bed myself. You can sort this out! That was the most disgusting start to my day ever!”
We recounted the story to our lovely upstairs neighbours “But” noted Andrew, a Pilot and all round brilliant and practical human with great cooking and gardening skills “Why didn’t you just turn off the valve?” Yes dear friends, next to the toilet was a little tap and if turned, the water stopped. Well you live and learn!
About six months later (yes, there’s more) just before we were due to move into our new and just decorated house, I noticed that water was pouring through the bathroom ceiling. I rushed upstairs and knew immediately that it was the devilish toilet but this time I was too quick for it – I reached down, turned off the valve and defeated it! Under advice we replaced all the malicious toilets, thereby averting any future potential catastrophes – what a relief.
The moral of this story is that sometimes life throws a pile of filth your way (in our case, literally!) but once it’s faced and washed away, things start to look a lot brighter. I’ve learnt from experience that there is normally a silver lining in most situations and if in doubt – laugh it out!
We arrived in the USA and for the time being, we were here to stay. Were we ready for this? No. Did we know what to expect; have any friends, family or ties – No. Yet here we were; every step we took would be a step towards creating our new life. It was a daunting and interesting position to be in. Suddenly we were in a city where people had no preconceptions about us. We could, if we wanted to, literally reinvent ourselves. I wasn’t quite ready for that but I did find myself wondering if there were outdated parts of myself I could eliminate and if fresh parts might emerge in their place.
With those thoughts pinging through my mind we arrived at our air B and B house, where we would be staying for the next six weeks. It was super slick and fancy. The walk in wardrobe was packed with colour coded shirts, post it notes with tiny instructions for us were affixed to every cupboard, a heated toilet seat graced the master bathroom (yuck! Who wants a hot bottom?) plus there were seven television sets scattered around the house including one in aforesaid bathroom… maybe TV watching whilst having a hot bottom was all the rage in Chicago? As if that wasn’t enough to worry me, downstairs in the beautifully decorated reception area were four elegant, orange velvet chairs nestled under a horrifyingly expensive looking chandelier.
Now, we happen to have two very lively kids who quite like a spot of indoor ball throwing (when I’m not looking) plus occasional sofa gymnastics, so I felt mildly nauseous as I pre-empted all the potential disasters just waiting to happen, but my tummy cried out for food, which was a welcome distraction, so off we trotted, Skyla in tow, to find some.
The first thing I noticed was that Chicago was so hot and steamy it felt tropical 🌴, which really surprised me. We were staying in Bucktown, a trendy area bustling with life, people and activity. There were upmarket boutiques, vintage stores, record shops, guitar shops and enough bars, restaurants and cafes to keep us busy for years. It was heaving with strong young couples in fitness gear, some of them racing along with their prams (don’t those kids ever feel dizzy?), bearded hipsters (beards of all shapes and sizes from neat and trimmed to animal like long bushes!) tattooed ladies (I’ve never seen so many tattoos -ever!) and dog walkers – basically just my cup of tea!
A friendly soul guided us to Big Star, the hippest Mexican restaurant in town, packed with humans of all ages, blaring rock music and super cool staff. It was here we ate our first Chicago meal, Skyla sitting comfortably by our feet.
That weekend we explored the neighbourhood, finding ourselves in a street festival, Chicago style. There was great live music, international food and various stands selling everything from clothes, organic toiletries and home made candles to cheeses and bric a brac. Chicago really comes alive in the summer and now I’m experiencing their beautiful but brutal winter, I can see why! Once the sun shines, the restaurants and cafes fling open their doors and dining al fresco becomes the norm. It was this Chicago that greeted us on those first days and looking back, I’m so relieved it was as we had, what you might call, a “soft landing.”
We would spend August acclimatising to our new world before Leo started work and the kids started school. That month (and the ones after) were to prove challenging, in what had already been a challenging year, yet I remained resolutely hopeful and sometimes just a glimmer of hope is all you need.
The Chicago Botanical Gardens
This really is a place of wonder and immense beauty for all the family. You can stay there all day and it has a great restaurant serving healthy food. If the weather is good you can eat on the terrace overlooking the gardens. http://www.chicagobotanic.org
Goorin Brothers Hat Shop, Bucktown
This is the best hat shop in Chicago. They host regular parties here, with food, live music and a great atmosphere. Their staff are well informed, interesting and great to talk to. It’s really worth a visit. http://www.goorin.com
Fun, trendy Mexican restaurant with a large terrace that’s open for as long as the sun shines. This place is packed day in day out and always has a lively atmosphere. Dogs welcome! http://www.bigstarchicago.com
Buzz Killer Espresso
Buzz has the friendliest young staff, great cappuccinos, fresh pastries and is dog friendly – heaven when it’s a brisk -15 degrees Celsius outside and you need a quick warm up whilst out walking your dog!
Next up… Trials and Tricky Tribulations in Chicago…
So here we are in a blog about Chicago and yet here I am telling stories about Madrid! It’s definitely time to pack up this part of the story and shift countries, but just before I do, let’s just neatly close this European chapter of my life….
Four months into our stay in Madrid and life was beginning to go well; we had all made friends and somehow I could make myself understood in my odd pigeon Spanish with accompanying wild gestures and vivid facial manoeuvres. Leo bought himself a fancy car and his new man mobile seemed to improve his happiness levels by at least 90 percent. Meanwhile, mine were increased by all things botanical- namely our gorgeous garden bursting with colour from the red roses clambering up the walls and the striking green ivy worn proudly by our house to the fresh rosemary and mint growing in abundance around our pool- yes pool! It may have been small but it provided enormous amounts of pleasure to the kids, who threw themselves with joy into its refreshing waters each sweltering day after school.
Friends and family were starting to visit from London and did I mention that the food was great- I mean mouth wateringly, exceptionally, extraordinarily delicious. Eating was almost a spiritual experience! So all in all things were looking up and that’s the moment that Leo got the call from his Chicago based clients, inviting him to join their team and take off for yet a(nother) new life. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse but it meant uprooting ourselves all over again. How many new lives can one have in a year, I asked myself. I thought one was quite enough but now we had to tell the kids, who had finally started to settle after months of tears and drama. It certainly wasn’t a conversation I was looking forward to.
“No!” they shouted in unison, followed by more shouts and tears of disbelief. This was definely going to take some serious persuasion on my part. These kids were not happy, no, not happy at all. “We can’t move again! We’ve got friends! We like school!” Their anguish made my heart hurt.
We were heading to the land of dreams, myths and legends. This was the country where you could reinvent yourself, start from scratch and carve out a whole new life, yet here were we, a middle aged couple with two kids and a small dog – did we really have the stamina to pursue the “American dream?”
Leo could see we needed some encouragement so decided a virtual tour of Chicago would awaken our yearning to move there. We squeezed around him as he charged up the computer to show us Chicago in all its glory. “Look” he cried enthusiastically “there’s Chicago freezing. Can you see how cold it gets. Oh wait -here are photos of Chicago snowing- just look at that – can you see how deep it gets? Oh wait- here’s some of Chicago with really terrible Arctic winters. Do you know, last year they had to close down the schools as it was so cold.” We all looked at the screen then looked at him. Was this supposed to inspire us? Really? I hate being cold and have avoided ski trips passionately throughout my life. I’m what you could call a temperate girl – I like being luke warm and this was definitely not luke warm weather. “Look at this site” he cried with vigour, undeterred by our lacklustre responses, “it’s dedicated to showing you how many layers to wear in Chicago winters so you don’t get hypothermia! They even have balaclavas! Do you know that your eyeballs can freeze when it gets really cold?” Leo laughed – yes laughed, in a slightly frenzied way as he dispensed this information like an unsavoury tonic.
“What’s summer like?” I asked desperation gently bubbling up and threatening to break the surface, “It’s great! It’s so hot! Really hot and humid but pretty short! You’ve basically got eight months a year of winter!” Now, I’m not sure about you but this tactic wasn’t working for me. “Leo, for goodness sake, show me something positive!” I was probably a touch shrieky by this point. “Look Abigail, they have loads of beaches and the people are really nice. It might just be the friendliest big city in the States and I won’t get another chance like this- ever. We have to do this.” “Oh” I replied, at a loss for words. And that, dear readers, is how we ended up moving to Chicago.
I photographed Don Gibson; musician, singer, songwriter and bouncer, in Logan Square, a trendy and artistic area of Chicago. I had only been in touch with him by email before we met and I was struck by how calm, quiet and gentlemanly he was. He chose to do his shoot in front of the inspiring wall art in the area.
Here is lovely Don’s interview:
I’m from Brooklyn, New York and I’ve been in Chicago since 1997. I work at Double Door, which is a music venue as security. I have played numerous venues in Chicago, such as Schubas, Double Door, Gallery Cabaret, Old Town School of Folk Music, Elbo Room, Fitzgerald’s.
When I’m playing, I feel a sense of fulfillment that reaches down into my soul, which I rarely feel from anything else, except for a few things here and there.
Music is like a religion to me. I’ve always felt a passion for it. Whether I’m listening to different arrays of music, or playing my own, I’ve always felt that the mysteries of life can be revealed in a well written song.
I started playing when I was around 19 or 20. Always a student of the craft. That’s the exciting aspect of playing an instrument. There’s always something else to learn. I started singing when I was in school chorus.
No one in my family really inspired me to sing, but it was always encouraged to have something creative to do.
I do write my own songs and I enjoy the challenge of writing songs that are very visual in nature, while having a rough acoustic sound as background. I do enjoy singing other people’s songs, but I work more from my original stuff.
Me: What brings you joy Don?
Don: Hmm… Walking in the rain with my headphones on…. Reading a good book with a whiskey at my side…. The feeling of acoustic strings against my slightly blistered fingers while I’m strumming for my life… Finishing a song that has been constantly calling and evading me in my mind for a long time… The Yankees winning the World Series…
The Art Institute of Chicago has recently been named one of the best museums in the world. If you come to Chicago, this is definitely a must see. You can spend hours here and there are loads of activities for kids!
In keeping with Sophia’s life purpose, she volunteers regularly with the homeless in particular the organisation “Back on my feet”
I photographed Eli Wilson for my project at his studio in Humbolt Park, Chicago. He is a saxophonist and plays in a funk band as well as hosting his own alternative music night, featuring cabaret and burlesque dancers. The studio was just like an indy music studio should be – a bit messy, old furniture strewn around, a Playboy lying nonchalantly on the floor circa early 90s and a bar filled with bourbon. If you were writing a book and needed a cool, laid back music scene, this would be it. Outside the studio was the purple tour bus – I know, I told you – perfect!
Eli was a thoroughly approachable and lovely person. I am looking forward to dragging my husband to one of his music events – that’s the joy of this project – I am getting to go everywhere and meet everyone and I love it!
“So what brings you joy?” I asked him at the end of the shoot. “Lack of routine and structure. I thrive on putting myself in crazy situations and figuring out how to make it work and have fun with it. That’s probably the biggest joy in my life.”
For more information about Eli’s future performances, please see these websites:
I met fabulous Amee Binder back in the Spring. She is a choreographer, dancer, producer and performer! We took these photos at Uptown Underground, where she also works as Bar Manager. This is a woman of many talents and irrepressible charm! It was an absolute joy to photograph her.
I asked Amee some questions about her life as an artist and her inspiration and here she is in her own words:
I wear a few different hats, I work as a choreographer and dancer with “Kiss Kiss Cabaret”, I also Produce a Public Access TV Show that I perform in – “Late Night Binder”, and I am Bar manager for Uptown Underground, which is the home of “Kiss Kiss Cabaret”.
I have always loved dance, I started very young and then got distracted by other aspects of performance and theatre, as well as other types of athletics like basketball, track and field. But with every musical track that I found inspiring I was always choreographing something in my mind, before I really even knew how or what choreographing was. Once I moved to Chicago in 2004 and started navigating through the performance world and different opportunities a big city has, I always found myself looking for things dance related. So I got myself back in some classes and just kept on with it. The Television show I produce is called Late Night Binder, it’s a Variety show that airs on Chicago’s public access TV station called CAN TV. Its very cheesy and silly, it’s super fun to do and hopefully fun for people to watch as well! We shot the first episode last July, so almost a year ago! We have done 3 episodes and we are currently on pre-production of the the 4th. The shows all have lots of dance, as well as stand up comedy, sketch comedy, singing, magic, faux product placement and clowning.
Performing and creativity is something I will always need in my life, it makes me feel happy. Success and failures are equally rewarding for different reasons and being able to use your imagination is a gift I’m super grateful for.
My performance style is for sure 40’s/ 50’s inspired, but usually with a modern twist. I have found lots of inspiration with the classical movies that had major focus on elaborate dance numbers with amazing showgirl vibes, like Singing In the Rain, Les Girls, Ziegfeld Follies, Easter Parade, and the Shirley Temple movie, all of which are filled with great, over the top ensemble numbers! I also find inspiration from pop culture. I like to keep things new and fresh but still with a bit of old Hollywood glam, stylized movements in the vein of Bob Fosse, or homage to the classy eye high kick of the Rockettes.
I get nervous about answering questions about the future in performing. It’s such a day by day thing. I try to be grateful and present for when things are going well. And I suppose similarly for when they are not going so well, so hopefully I can learn how to do better for the next go around. But I will say I hope the future holds more creativity than I know what to do with, and that people I am surrounded by are loving and kind.
To see Amee in action, please click on these links! Enjoy!
Here is Ben Mackey, singer and songwriter with the band Faux Co. I photographed him for my Chicago Stories exhibition. He has lived in Chicago for three years and originated from California.
The best part about photographing a singer is when they play for you. Out came his guitar and he sang me a lovely rendition of a Bob Dylan song as I took pictures of him on his porch. I love it when photography allows me to enter someone’s life and become a participant for a few hours and not just a passerby. This project is giving me a snapshot of people’s lives all over the city. As a thoroughly inquisitive person, who loves knowing about my fellow humans, this is both enlightening and very satisfying.
“What gives you joy Ben?” I asked him, “Music,- music and love” he replied.