At long last my face masks are available for sale. Forgive me, I know masks are a symbol of this awful time, but I wanted them to be completely perfect. Black elastic with a navy, red, yellow and white patterned fabric? Are you crazy? Only navy elastic will do! That took a while to arrive. And because the fabric has my sketches on it, of my trips to the barbershop with my son Paddy, the masks have labels with my name on them. The fabric itself is organic cotton and very soft. There is a wire in the nose piece to give you a snug fit, and a slot for your favourite filter. They are pleated to give great coverage and really, they are the most comfortable ones I have worn. I am very proud of them. I have given them long elastic that goes around the back of your head because that’s more comfortable than hooking them around your ears (you can always change them to ear-mounted ones if you like). I can only make a limited number per day, so you might have to wait a day or two extra for delivery but I will do my best! You never know which barber sketch you’ll get on your mask – will it be Ali from The Legend Barbershop concentrating? Or that French barber in La Rochelle with the turned-up trousers, and legs that looked so French? Or the guy who came in with long hair and a beard, and left with a mohawk? I was worried he’d catch me drawing him, but the glasses he put back on after his haircut had such thick lenses, I realised I had nothing to fear. The masks are in my shop now if a hand-made, artist-designed face mask is your sort of thing.
I have been asking Liv (15) to sew stuff for me since the start of the lockdown. She has been a little reluctant. She has had her own sewing machine for years, but it didn’t take. She sewed and embroidered one very beautiful denim face mask, and a scrunchie, but she wasn’t beating down the door of my studio to come and sew more. I have a project for her, however. The tea cosy we have been using started life as a fully-lined bobble hat, a gift which was too small for the recipient from the start. My dad turned a little woolly hat into a tea cosy (“Mum whipped it off the head of a baby on Bray Sea Front” he told me), so I did the same to the silver-grey hat with its enormous pale grey bobble.
Over three years the little hat has kept lots of tea warm, but it has become extremely tea-stained, and the bobble is hanging on by a thread. Eventually, Liv pulls it off and gives it to Reuben the terrier to “kill”, which he promptly does, breaking its neck where no one knew one existed. Clever dog. Without the bobble, the tea cosy looks even worse. I beg her to make me a new one.
And so Liv comes to my studio and chooses fabric from my scraps. She is ecstatic when she comes across the duck-egg blue fabric with countries all over it. As she cuts, irons and sews, I am treated to lots of amusing asides. “I have to have Ireland somewhere!” “Kenya! What beautiful names these countries have!” “Where even IS Indonesia? Why do I have to keep it? So what if I waste a bit of fabric?” “Look, I’m so clever, I have put R on one side, leading into USSIA on the reverse!” and so on [although R ends up in the seam allowance: rookie error]. I am with her as she works, but I’m sewing too (masks of course) and am most unhelpful. “I only really started working fast when you left, Mum,” she says afterwards. I think there’s a lesson in that for me and all mums.
I want to record this charming memory, and so, early this morning, I decide to sketch the tea cosy. I use a squirrel mop by Rosemary, which is no good for fine work but that’s precisely why I like it: it holds loads of paint and you get to splash around. I am very interested in leaving control further and further behind, letting bleeds and runs and blooms and all the other magic things happen that is the beauty of watercolour. I also go scribbly and sketchy with the thin side of my fude nib. I hope you like the result.
All this sketching means the morning tea has to be postponed. A cup of tea in bed is a sacred right as far as my husband Marcel is concerned, and today he does without. “Sorry you didn’t get your tea,” I say. “That’s alright,” he says, even before I explain why. This is a most satisfactory situation.
I am just finishing my sketch when Paddy (18) comes back in from the garden, where he carries out a disciplined exercise routine. He is out of breath and a little peeved. “A stupid bird spent the entire time shouting at me,” he says (there are starlings nesting in the eaves of Marcel’s office), “I hope I made him look weak in front of his woman.” Apparently he did this by ignoring the bird’s fury, which of course is just terror, Paddy.
The starling is safe this evening, for his (her?) nemesis is far far away (well, within 5km) on the open sea in Galway Bay, where he is sailing with his friend Mattie. Paddy is on the right. This is Paddy’s first time back on the water in many, many months, long before the lockdown began, because there was a whole winter to suffer before boats went back on the water. He comes home as twilight falls, happy, tired and still damp in his wet suit. Liv’s turn is next – she can’t wait.