Chicago Lights the exhibition- this is beginning to feel like a wedding!

Why? Well now you ask…

1. I am feeling fried and frazzled.

2. I spent three months planning what to wear. Possibly longer.

3. I am obsessed by my show shoes. Really obsessed. I even photographed them and sent them out to friends in text form. I like to try them on and swish about in them.

4. Friends keep texting me telling me they are clothes shopping/ shoe shopping for the event. A lot of them.

5. Others contact me to discuss their outfits.

6. My sister has sent me photos of herself in ten different dresses so far from various London changing rooms. I even got a video.

7. We have catering. We have chairs.

8. We have a band! Yes a band!!!!

9. Who else has a band at an exhibition? That’s definitely a wedding!

10. We sent out real invitations that people put on their mantle pieces. Proper posh ones with gold edges!

11. Money… the bills are escalating…

12. We have loads of people coming. Loads. So many my brain hurts. I need to start planning my three second small talk x 400 plus.

13. We have a DJ!

14. I know for a fact that Michael Jackson will be on the turntable! (Wedding!)

15. I spent two hours choosing my earrings. Two! I tried on every pair in the boutique. The shop assistants were trying to stifle yawns but I persisted and persisted until I achieved perfection!

16. I’m getting my hair done and my makeup!

17. All I need now is a honeymoon!

18. That’s it! It’s a wedding!

Life, death and other stories 

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.

Yes, that really was my car

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.”

It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn, and I’m feeling pretty good!

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.

Me photographed by Janet Rausa Fuller for Chicago Magazine


Always wear a seatbelt!!


The Perils of Television

I was a box set addict. I just need to admit that now before we proceed any further. I hold my hand up and declare it. Mad Men, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Breaking Bad – these were just some of my many and varied addictions. “Hello Abigail, how are you?” my husband Leo would ask me sweetly when he came home from work, “Ssssh” I would respond, “I’m in the middle of this scene, I cannot be disturbed, I must know what happens next!” Shrugging his shoulders, he would go off to the other room to watch the news on the computer, his food on a plate with a bit of tin foil wrapped around it keeping it tepid at best. What can I say – I just couldn’t help it.

Each night, once the kids were in bed, I would rush to my sofa, place the cushions in just the right position for maximum comfort and then begin the marathon. Sometimes I could curb it and just watch one, but if it was a Friday night and I knew I would get a lie in the next day, I wouldn’t control myself and would gorge on up to three shows, back to back, devouring them like a predator devours its prey. If it was a”Breaking Bad” marathon, my brain was whirring so much with anxiety and excitement that once the TV was off, I just couldn’t go to sleep. This addiction was destroying my rest and clouding my judgement.

When Leo managed to drag me out to dinners to meet real humans – away from my vicarious life with the various imaginary characters on the screen – I would find myself asking friends if they had seen the latest episode of whatever show I was currently watching. What was happening to me? Those characters on the small screen became as real to me as my own family. It was getting scary – I was doing something I see now as “avoiding” – avoiding taking chances, avoiding thriving and avoiding creating. Photography jobs came my way but my ambition had dried up. I remember my friend suggesting I do another portrait project and the thought of it just tired me out. I was in my early 40s and had basically accepted my lot in life. Ambition and dreams were now for other people. I could feel them slipping away and I mourned them but I didn’t have the energy to chase them.

Then one day my husband started talking about Madrid and the possibility of us moving there as a family. Something stirred inside the lazy husk that I was becoming; some old yearning for adventure began to raise her head and call out to be heard and once she started calling, I couldn’t quieten her. I found myself pushing my husband to talk to his boss so we could make the move. I could feel my urgency – this was it – this was the chance to break free from the clutches of the comfy sofa, kiss goodbye to the characters on the small screen and start living my own life again. I was going to write my own story and be the star of my own show.

Those first months in Madrid, when we were living in a small, cramped air b and b in the middle of the city, with no television, but instead, a throbbing, vibrant real life right on our doorstep, I realised that I was finally liberated from my addiction. Everything, including the language, was new. Life was suddenly such a roller coaster ride that I hardly had time to breathe, let alone watch box sets. Leo would return home from work to our tiny scruffy apartment and do you know what, we sat and we talked.

Over a year has passed since that first month and although I still do love watching television, I now see it as a treat to be savoured, amongst the many other flavours and joys of my week.

So to all of you who love your box sets, I do understand – but just remember, the world out there is a big and wonderful place with a chance waiting on every corner – I just wish I had embraced it sooner!

Pic: My survival book of spanish words and phrases written for me by my son for my first weeks in Madrid!








Madrid -The Story begins

After three days of travelling by car from London to Spain, we finally arrived at our destination. There was Madrid on the horizon; it was time to open the first page in the opening chapter of our new life.

As we pulled up in front of the air b and b, Xavier, my seven year old, leant out of the window, “Look Mummy, Sex is easy!” he shouted in his booming voice. “What Xavier? Why are you shouting that?” I shouted back to him, “It’s there Mummy, on that sign, the one right next to our apartment! Why does it say that Mummy?” Yes, why indeed. Well there it was in big, bold letters – a sex toy shop, with a huge photograph of a lady sucking suggestively on cherries to illustrate the point. 

Oh no, I thought, why on earth had the owner of the property told us that this was a fun but family friendly area? Her idea of family friendly and mine were obviously quite different! The sex shop just happened to be next to a night club, advertised with a large poster of a bare chested oily man with his hand placed down his underpants. I was beginning to worry but I pushed it aside and thought positive, happy thoughts to cover my brewing inner screams.

After unloading our huge amounts of luggage, we all stepped out to explore the neighbourhood. Right next door was a fruit and vegetable shop, which was a relief, and opposite a shop run by a Chinese family who sold everything you could possibly need in any event whatsoever, and never closed – so that was good too. Just a bit further up the street were some shoe stores and boutiques and then there, nestled between them, was an S & M Dungeon. Yes, dungeon and just in case it wasn’t clear enough, there was a list posted on the door of “services provided” and “special rooms”. This would have been fine if it was in Spanish, but no, there it was, in English. As I pushed my children fast past the door, I noticed the “Leather Club” on the opposite side of the road. “What’s a leather club Mummy?” asked Anoushka, “A club where people go who like cows” I answered – well, you have to get creative in these situations! I turned to Leo, “I thought you said that Madrid was conservative!” I was trying not to screech, “It is! I’ve never been to this area before!” he answered, slightly screechy himself.

Yes, here we were, our first day in Madrid and we were living in the “red light” district, right in the thriving, bustling centre of it. What do you do in a situation like this? Well, you embrace it, that’s what you do. 

It turns out that this little hub was Chueca, the trendiest and hippest part of Madrid and actually, apart from these small, seedy establishments, it was a great area, packed to the brim with coffee shops, cafes, boutiques and bars and cool, stylish people. It certainly wasn’t a family area, but we weren’t going to be there long so we decided to make the most of it. It’s not everyday you get to live next door to a nightclub with a very tall transvestite as a host.  This was all part of the colour of life. These stories would become the pages in our family’s history.

That first night we found a perfect restaurant only two minutes from our apartment. Skyla lay down by my feet and we feasted happily on delicious paella. Sipping on white wine, I sat back, watched my family with quiet pride and took a deep breath – we will be ok, I thought, we can do this; and here began our great big adventure.

Pic: Xavier leaning against a tree, Chueca, Madrid

For the Love of Cars

Some people love cars. They romanticise them, taking great pride in shining, dusting, polishing and admiring them. The thought of driving the open roads, engines purring like cats, fills them with glee. They even take photos of them, which they store on their phones as if they were family members.  Well those people are not me! I have no idea what my car is apart from that it’s a Mazda. Am I supposed to know something else about it? Gas cylinders? Tanks? What? Anyone? You see, I have no idea at all! Do I feel shame? No!

This indifference meant I avoided driving for as long as possible but eventually, in my early twenties, I took lessons. I was pretty useless. I could never get my head around the idea of looking in the mirrors – I mean, why look in the mirrors – just look straight ahead, that was my motto! Well, that certainly got me nowhere! Finally, four tests and sixty lessons later I passed!

At 24 I got to put my skills to the test when I went to work for an art director. She bought a car for her penniless artist boyfriend, which she then allowed me to drive during the week. Now this car was a second hand Skoda and really, it should have been CRUSHED. It was ugly, really old, really slow and for some really weird reason you could only feel the pedals if you took your shoes off. As a first time driver I thought that was just me, but no, her enormous 6ft 4in boyfriend also had to take off his huge shoes and use his big, scary, hairy bare feet to feel the pedals. When I drove it taxi drivers routinely chased me, attempting to push me off the roads, their fists clenched, waving violently out of the window “Stop driving!” they would shout. “Get that car off the road!” Yes, insults followed me daily!

My next job was at a photographer’s studio. About a month into the job, my boss asked me to drive to the post office in the Studio’s car. Well, there I was looking for it, going round and round in circles when I got stuck down an alleyway. I left the car and found a truck driver, “Hello kind Sir, do you think you could help me please? I am stuck and I can’t reverse out of this winding alley”. I mean honestly, how had I ever passed my test? It was criminal! Luckily the man helped me without laughter or disdain! I arrived back to work two hours later. “That should have taken you 30 minutes” said my boss, shaking her head in disbelief. No, I wasn’t a natural.

I decided to give driving a rest, which lasted quite happily for another ten years. Then I had my daughter and there was no getting around it, I had to drive. My husband suggested gently that I take some more lessons.  Forty lessons later my instructor told me I was ready to be let loose on the roads of London. “Great!” I cried excitedly “We’re buying a car this weekend, I’ll be driving by Monday!” He leaned over towards me, expression a mixture of doom and desperation “Please, please buy an automatic!”

Twenty years later I can finally say I am happy to drive. I push my way across the five lane motorway here in Chicago every morning on the school run, occasionally shaking my own little clenched fist at other drivers (much to the horror of my kids) and you know what, I feel pretty darn good about it! I can drive! I’m the Queen of the road and I like it!


Pic: Bucktown, Chicago

The art of ageing – disgracefully!

If there is one thing I learnt from my time living in Spain, it’s this – forget your age! Don’t let it hold you back, try not to focus on it so much, especially if you are about to turn the big Four Oh or maybe the big Five Oh! Yes, just forget about it!

I was filled with joy when we went out for dinner in Madrid as I would find myself distracted by the sound of giggles and laughter and would turn around and there I would see a group of ladies of a certain age (well, over 58 and above) and they were dressed in sparkles, hair done, lipstick on and they were so excitable. They weren’t cowering in a corner all meek and mellow. They were out and proud and loud and I saluted them (internally or they would have had me removed from the restaurant).

I revelled in the joy of walking into a glamorous ‘it” place and seeing a lady in her fifties, hair shiny and long, teetering stilettos (elegant ones, not trashy) and a top casually falling from one shoulder. Yes, this woman had sex appeal. She wasn’t tucked at home with her slippers on, she was out and about and enjoying life. l loved the self confidence.

It really did make me feel that i needed to revamp my John Lewis (I still love you, don’t worry) wardrobe. I needed some pieces that brought me right up to date; I needed some pizzazz; I needed to work some magic. It took me another six months to get to the shop (here in Chicago) and be persuaded by the beautiful shop assistant that the rock ‘n’ roll coat she had got for me to try on (I was looking for a big, puffy, warm number as usual) was the right choice. But “Aren’t I too old?” I wondered out loud and she took a good look at me responding, “No, it looks great” and she didn’t look devious and she wasn’t laughing or raising her eyebrows and I thought “What the heck!” and got it and you know what – I love it! When I put that on I rock baby! Yeah! I even went to buy high shoes afterwards to go with the coat! Now i rock from top to toe and I love it! Then Monday comes around and I’m back to my walking boots, trusted warm and rather ugly bear coat, my big gloves (sometimes two pairs) and my gnome like woollen hat, yet I still feel great as I know that coat is tucked up inside my cupboard and its magical transformative powers are just waiting for me.

I think that’s the point of ageing, it happens, things change (all those weird extra hairs anyone, what are they?) but your mind can still be energetic and you don’t have to start regulating your purchases to fit your new age. You just have to work around it.

I spoke to a friend today about this very subject and my advice was, she may be reaching forty but don’t focus on it. I have noticed that the more focus you give something the bigger it gets until it’s almost unwieldy and it sucks you up. Focus on the bigger picture and get busy! Take a look in that mirror and say “I’m gorgeous” because, well why not and in my case, who else will! Oh, and get some sexy high heels and if you have sore ankles (I know, it’s the age… ssssh) and you worry that you are now a bit too wobbly to totter along in those towering numbers, there are all sorts of sexy low ones too! Go on, “Because you’re worth it!”

Pic: The luxury of homemade cake at the hairdressers in Chueca, Madrid