Stories from my Sketchbook . . .
Wishing a very happy and safe Christmas to you all.
Mabel, Maude, Molly and I hope that every single one of you discovers a new favourite thing this Christmas . . .
Stories from my Sketchbook . . .
I recently saw the new movie ‘Christopher Robin’. It was (perhaps predictably) very sweet (although not sickly sweet enough as to cause a sugar coma) and, as an early and adoring reader of A.A Milne (especially the poems . . . ‘I found a little beetle; so that Beetle was his name . . . ‘) evoked nostalgic memories of happy times I spent along with C.R. and his friends on their many rambling adventures around the Hundred Acre Wood . . .
Now I know that movies are movies and real life is real life and movies (more often than not) take diabolical liberties with the truth (the real Christopher Robin was probably turning in his grave) but the one thing I especially liked about this movie was that all the little critters actually looked like the real toys I had always imagined them to be, rather than the prettied up Disney versions that have so eclipsed E.H. Shepard’s wonderful original drawings.
Pooh and Piglet and Tigger and Eeyore (‘ . . . it’s not much of a tail but I’m sort of attached to it . . . ‘) were all a little careworn and grubby and frayed around the edges—just as any much-loved childhood toy should be.
Below is (most obviously, I hope) not a sketch of that most beloved and humble Winnie. It is, however, a sketch of another bear who carries the same telltale scars of being on the receiving end of a lifetime of deep love and devotion . . .
When I arrive home after being out of the house all day I am always met at my front door by my small (but extremely loud) pack of fur children (I swear the whole neighbourhood knows when I get home). Molly will run in circles barking at the top of her lungs. Mabel will wriggle, grin her lop-sided grin and yip excitedly . . . and then there’s Maudie . . .
Maudie comes at me like a doggie-sunami, sweeping aside anything in her path (including her sisters). She will shriek with excitement, hopping about on her back legs and waving her front paws wildly in the air, and then, quite suddenly, she will realise something is missing. She will skid to a halt, do a complete about-face, and hurtle headlong back into the depths of the house in search of that missing something. She’s forgotten to bring me her ‘Ball’ . . .
Ball is one of Maudie’s 300 words for love. It is her comfort and joy. (Think Linus and his blanket.) She takes her ball to bed with her in the evening, and it is the first thing she looks for in the morning. She takes it outside to sit in the sun with her and it has its own special place beside her on the sofa in the evenings. The only time I ever see her really upset is if Mabel steals it from her and refuses to give it back. (This causes such a ruckus that I usually have to intervene on Maudie’s behalf. Mabel can be a real little *&#% when she wants to be . . . )
Unfortunately, Ball is now in imminent danger of being loved to death. Comprised of some sort of dense squishy foam the constant and unyielding onslaught of Maudie-love (along with Mabel nibbling pieces off it occasionally just to stir her sister up) has seen it begin to disintegrate at an alarming rate. It used to be the size of regular tennis ball, but has now shrunk to the size of a (weirdly shaped) golf ball. What happens when Ball crumbles completely and Maudie is left bereft doesn’t bear thinking about. So for the last few months I have been quietly searching for some kind of replacement. It has proved no easy task.
It’s not that Maudie doesn’t love a new toy—quite the opposite. Every new thing I have brought home for her has been a joy and a delight. For about five minutes. Then it has been gently discarded and rarely looked at again. Nothing (so far) has come close to competing for her affections. I was beginning to despair. And then a couple of weeks ago I came across a site selling cat balls. (That doesn’t quite sound right. Perhaps I should have said ‘ balls for cats’ . . . )
Anyway, these seemed to be about the same size as Ball is now and made of the same squishy material. (I couldn’t get a green one but I thought (hoped) that she might be more concerned with the taste and texture than the colour.) In fact, so convinced was I that these balls were exactly what I was looking for that I bought a bunch of them (6 balls for one dollar. Woo Hoo! ‘Hey big spender . . .’ )
When they finally arrived early this week I was so excited to show them to Maudie that I gave them a huge build up. I worked her up into a frenzy of anticipation as I slowly undid the wrappings. And she loved it. Her eyes grew wide and she yipped excitedly and pawed at the packet. I held up one of the new balls and she launched herself at it, grabbed it and took off running. She ran twice around the house in glee—yay—a new ball! She threw it in the air and caught it and threw it again. She took it outside and showed it her favourite sunny spot in the back garden. She rolled it around in her mouth and chomped on it and even rumbled a warning at Mabel when she wandered too close.
Feeling very pleased with myself and confident I had at least found a contender I took myself off to do a couple of chores and make myself a nice cup of tea. When I returned I found the living-room littered with shredded wrapping paper (I should have seen that coming) and a scattering of small, brightly coloured balls.
And there was Maudie—fast asleep and snoring happily on the couch . . .
. . . and nestled safely between her two front feet was . . . you guessed it . . . her old, decrepit, smelly, beloved Ball . . .
Stories from my Sketchbook . . .
Once your sketch is completed you are urged to upload it to the course site so that other students can see your work and you can see theirs. This is by no means compulsory but I have found it to be a valuable exercise. You see so many different styles and mediums and interpretations—and you get great feedback. (There is only one rule—constructive criticism is allowed but if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all . . . )
On seeing my homework sketch of this small metal owl this week one of my fellow Sketchbook Skool students (Leah) asked me what it was. Was it a toy or a ‘tchotchke’? A what? I had never seen or heard the word tchotchke (pronounced ‘choch-kee’) before, so I looked it up . . .
tchotchke (Origin—Yiddish) a small object that is decorative rather than strictly functional; a trinket
Well okay then. Yes—I guess a ‘tchotchke’ is exactly what this is . . .
When I replied to Leah’s comment I did fess up to the fact that I had never heard the word before which then prompted Leah to also look it up as she said it was a word she had used all her life without really knowing where it came from or why she used it. (I wonder how many times we have all done that?)
So because of my homework this week I learned a number of things . . .
I learned that ‘hatching’ a spherical object wasn’t as simple as I thought it was going to be.
I learned I like adding colour to a drawing after all the shading has already been sketched in.
I learned a new word (from another language).
I learned a new word (from another language) which I really like saying . . . tchotchke . . . tchotchke . . . tchotchke . . .
. . . and I learned that I have a house full of all manner of tchotchkes . . . .
My second thought was, “Mmmmm, I wonder what Plato would discover about me?”
And then I thought (because, occasionally, I do continue thinking) “I wonder what he means by ‘play’?”
1. take part in (a game or sport)
2. engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
I don’t believe, at least looking at me from the outside, that most people would consider me a very playful person. In fact, if you were to agree with the first dictionary definition only, I could probably be considered as one of the most unplayful people on the planet.
Because I don’t like to play games. I never have. (That’s not an apology by the way—just a fact.) I didn’t like to play games when I was a kid—and nothing much has changed since then. (I absolutely hated sports days at school where you were put on a team and made to play a game you didn’t want to play, with a bunch of kids you didn’t want to play with, and, to rub salt into the wound, you were actually expected to enjoy the process as well!) Even now as an adult I’ve never really seen the allure of on-line games, card games, or the dreaded ‘board’ games—they’re fun for about ten minutes and then I get bored with them (see what I did there?) and just want to pack up and go home. And I definitely don’t find myself all overcome with excitement at the prospect of watching a game show or sport on the telly.
See what I mean? I sound like a barrel of laughs, don’t I?
But in my defence I’d have to say that my ‘play’ time runs much more in line with the second definition. I like to spend my leisure time reading, writing, sketching or watching movies—none of which really need other active participants. (I can just see Plato’s notes now —’Does not play well with others’ . . . )
But there are exceptions to every rule—even for me—and although I may not like to play games with other people, I really do love to play games with my dogs.
Well—except for Molly. Molly doesn’t play. At all. She was five years old when she came to us and I just don’t think she ever learned how—and no amount of encouragement or enticement over the next four years has made a scrap of difference. She did once—in a mad fit of doggie-bravado—make a tentative grab for a toy that was lying near her, but unfortunately it squeaked at her, and that was enough to send scuttling to the deep-dark-under-the-couch for the next couple of hours. She has never felt the need to repeat the experience. (With little conversation and even fewer play skills, I wonder what Plato would make of her?)
Luckily, in the playfulness department Maudie more than makes up for Molly’s (and my) lack. Maudie was born to play. Every moment not spent eating or sleeping is for finding something, or someone, to play with. She just can’t help herself. She’s noisy, inventive, hilarious—and totally relentless. No wonder Mabel has gone so grey so quickly—having a little sister like Maudie must be totally exhausting. Mabel will join in with a game as long as it is not too boisterous (I am sure she only joins in a lot of Maudie’s games because she won’t get a moments peace until she does) but, just quietly, I think she’d really rather prefer a quiet cuddle.
But, you know, be they playful or not-so-much, every day I am grateful for their presence in my life. They are my saving grace. Nothing makes me laugh more than playtime with my girls. I am sure I would be a sadder, sorrier, and definitely more unplayful person without them (even if Maudie does stretch the limits sometimes when she saves her loudest toy (her pink ‘oinker’ pig) to play with when I am trying to watch the evening news . . . or brings me the ball to throw . . . again . . . and again . . . and again . . . )
So, all in all, I think my initial thought on Plato’s quote still holds true. It does sound right, bearing in mind that play means different things to different people.
Hopefully Plato would take that in to account and watch me play, both with my books and pencils, and then again with my dogs, before coming to any major conclusions about me . . .