This is not an update, update.


I said in my last Facebook post about my recent travails at Stepping Hill Hospital that that would be the last medical update, as I am now safely home.

However, I doubt that most of the readers of my blog are friends with me on Facebook, (some are), so they won’t know what the hell I’m on about.

Suffice it to say, I’ve just spent a week in hospital and let’s leave it at that. Because, what took me there isn’t the point of this post. What I did there, is.

Whilst wiling away the hours in my hospital bed I got a bit bored and asked Nurse Emma if I could borrow a pencil and a few sheets of paper.

I did a bit of sketching of patients and nurses who I was fortunate enough to meet in the HDU and ward B6.

So, like I said, it’s not an update per se. More of a ‘backdate’.

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Nurse Emma at her computer.

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Steve, fellow patient.

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Nurse Eta at the medicine dispenser trolley.

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Craig, fellow patient, (with black eye).

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River and countryside.

Bit of a random one, this. No, it’s not the view from my hospital window, it’s from a photo that a friend, Edel Gallagher, posted on Facebook while I was in hospital. I really liked the composition, so thought I’d copy it. Now, if you compared my sketch to the original photograph, you’d think it’s complete bobbins. Luckily, you can’t, so here it is.

Not as spooky as the stuff I normally paint, but from where I was lying, things were pretty spooky enough.

 

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Body of Work


I was going to title this post: Portraits of the Damned.

Then I started to include landscapes and still-lives to it. So, the title wouldn’t really make sense. But it will in a minute! Be afraid, be very afraid.

Some of you may, or may not, know that I volunteer for an Arts charity called Arc, (Arts for Recovery in the Community), in Reddish, Stockport.

I’ve done a lot of this work there, and some at home. But all the techniques I’ve picked up are from either attending or volunteering on their programmes.

Whether it be block-printing, collage, charcoal, watercolour, acrylics, inks, fabric, embroidery, clay or pastel. Not to mention the numerous techniques, yes brushes, but also charcoal tied to the end of a three feet long piece of bamboo! Bits of old Paymobil and Lego, edges of long out-of-date credit cards.

At Arc, it’s never about the technique and what end result you achieve, it’s about enjoying the process of doing it. Losing yourself, immersing yourself in art for a few hours – now that is medicine!

I appreciate that my work is more the stuff of nightmares rather than living room walls. But I like it!

Collage

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Pencil sketches

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Watercolour

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Self-portraits

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Charcoal

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Pen and ink sketches

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Portraits of the Damned!

Mostly acrylic and chalk pastel on canvas or paper.

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And finally, the installation I made for the centenary commemoration of the end of the First World War at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery. R.I.P. Herbert Jackson of Didsbury Road, Heaton Mersey, Stockport. Railway man, musician, fiance – and soldier.

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It’s me, I’m Cathy…


Regular readers of my blog will know my daughters and I make at least one pilgrimage a year to Haworth, home of the Brontes’. (Still haven’t figured out how to type an umlaut on a PC.)

This year, we visited Ponden Hall, Purportedly, Emily’s inspiration for Thrushcross Grange, home of the Linton family in Wuthering Heights.

It’s a rather exclusive B&B now. I can imagine Bronte pilgrims from farther afield (ligature!) would love to put it on their itinerary either for a stay or just a nosey around. And that’s where we come in. The rather delightful owner, Julie, must be fed up of people ringing her doorbell on her day off, not to book a room, but to see the room where Cathy torments Heathcliff by scrathcing on his window.

What?! I hear aficionados grumble. That didn’t happen at Thrushcross Grange, that happened at Wuthering Heights, the home of the Earnshaws’ and Heathcliff!

And you’d be right.

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What is widely believed is that Emily transposed the interior of Ponden Hall and plonked it into the wilds of Wuthering Heights.

We know that Emily and her siblings were regular visitors to Ponden Hall to peruse their considerable library, (which reputedly, was the best in West Yorkshire at the time), and stayed there on numerous occasions.

Perhaps Emily even stayed in the room where Heathcliff endures his nightmares. Whether that is true or not is hard to say, but what is easier to suppose, is that Emily was actually in the room that I am about to show you, as it is virtually identical to Heathcliff’s in Wuthering Heights.

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What is unusual is the bed chamber in the corner of the ‘suite’. As you can see, the bed is boxed off with oak panelling, (for privacy, one presumes). It’s not a room per se as the bed is flush to the panels. So you would have to climb into it and slide the door shut. And yes, you can actually stay in this room.

On closer inspection, (photo taken courtesy of my daughter), we see the tiny window which Cathy appears at to persecute her paramour.

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Spoiler alert:

“I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand!” – Excerpt from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Here’s a slightly wider shot for context.

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I don’t know about you, but I always get goose bumps when I imagine treading the same floorboards (or ramparts) as a figure from history. Whether that be Emily Bronte at Ponden, a Roman centurion on Harian’s Wall, or a Druid perambulating a stone circle. It gives me a greater sense of connection to the earth and the universe.

Anyway, it was a grand day out, topped off with a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with sausages and onion gravy at Emma’s cafe on Haworth Main Street. And, if that doesn’t anchor you to the universe, I don’t know what will.

Addendum.

My friend, Denis Goodbody, over in sunny Dublin, suggested that the panelling was probably more to do with keeping warmth in rather than privacy, which is a very good point. One which, having gas central heating, I hadn’t considered.

I can’t finish a post about Haworth or Wuthering Heights without adding links to the following:

My favourite film adaptation of Wuthering Heights by Andrea Arnold.

And yes, Kate’s classic…

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Ten Orbits of the Sun – update.


Well, I didn’t progress further than the shortlist for the Mind Short Story Competition. Still, I’m very proud to have made it this far.

Anyhoo, a few folks said they would like to read my short story, so here it is. The theme for the competition was ‘Journeys’, either literal or metaphorical.

P.S. I’ll always be grateful to Mike O’Toole for his stunning front cover photography.

P.P.S. Here’s a quote from a Mind judge/organiser:

“Believe me, I was definitely rooting for 10 Orbits of the Sun to go through to the judges. Both myself and one of the shortlisters cried reading your story. It was so beautifully written and emotive.”

Ten Orbits of the Sun.

By David Milligan-Croft.

Something changes inside of you when you have a child. Obviously, things change inside of a woman, quite literally. But I’m talking about changing from a man’s point of view – philosophically.

Up until my late thirties, I never wanted kids. Why would I? They’d be a burden. I had a fabulous career, a few great friends, a fantastic salary and a nice little crash pad overlooking a languid river.

Then, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I got all broody. And I just wanted a baby. Specifically, a baby girl. I don’t know why I wanted a girl. Perhaps I found the thought of a rambunctious boy quite off-putting. Or maybe it was because I didn’t want a boy to turn out like his father.

It stands to reason that I had to find a suitable mother first, which took a little longer than I had anticipated. I met Suki on an online dating website and, as we were both pushing forty, we decided it would be prudent to start a family sooner rather than later. We had a lot in common, we both loved the arts and books, she even shared my passion for antiques. She worked at the local hospital as an ER nurse, while I worked in a large design agency working on global brand campaigns. When we got married I decided to quit the industry and open up an antique shop in a trendy part of town. Something I’d dreamed of doing since my twenties.

Anyhow, I got my wish. And I was the proud father of little Tallulah. When I said that something changes inside of you, I meant that something changes chemically as well as philosophically. Nothing else, nor anyone else, matters quite so much in the world. Every cell in your body is geared toward protecting this little being. It starts from the moment of conception. I used to sing lullabies to Suki’s tummy and recite poetry to her. I’d talk to her and tell her how much I loved her and how much I was looking forward to seeing her. It’s a love that’s hard to describe. You would do anything for your charge. Yes, even kill for them. Die for them. It’s quite primeval on one level. Yet deeply spiritual on another. I can understand why some parents conceal their children from the law if they have committed a crime.

Sure, not all parents feel this way. And I’m not trying to say that I’m unique in feeling like this. Plenty of parents are doting and plenty are neglectful.

It was three years before I had a full night’s sleep or a hot meal. I’d be bouncing Tallulah on my left knee to keep her entertained whilst trying to eat a bowl of lukewarm pasta with my right hand. Or driving her around the suburbs to get her off to sleep. Every day brought a new parenting challenge or experience. Like the time I pursed my lips and asked her to give me a ‘smacker’, so she slapped me across the face! Or the time she pulled at my cheek and asked: “Daddy, why is your skin like a raw chicken drumstick?” Charming.

Because I’d had a child later in life, other parents in the park would ask if I was her grandad. It didn’t help that I’d gone grey early in life. She found it funny at first, but as time went on I think it began to annoy her. That I wasn’t like the other dads who were all much younger than me. It used to worry me that I might not be around for her later in life – when she was at university, or if she got married, if she had children. I wondered if I had been selfish having a child so late on.

I watched my little girl flourish and blossom over the years. She was a happy kid. Loved to read. Loved to write her own stories. She’d make little 8-page books and fill them with fairy tales and drawings. She loved to ride her bike and occasionally we’d go to McEvoy’s farm and she’d ride Ruby, the chestnut brown mare. She didn’t care much for video games or TV either and would much prefer to concoct experiments out of things she’d find in the garden and around the house.

I remember one time, when we were going for a drive in the desert in my old jalopy, she’d said: “Daddy, how far is it around the sun?”

“What? The Earth’s orbit?” I’d said.

“Yes.”

“About 585 million miles, give or take a couple of hundred thousand. Depends on the time of year, I think.” I turned the volume down on the car stereo so I could hear my inquisitive daughter better.

“Why does it depend on the time of year?” she said, turning the volume back up again so she could hear the trashy pop song that was playing.

“Not a hundred percent sure. Something to do with the ellipse of the Earth’s orbit,” I tried to draw an ellipse in the dust on the dashboard. “And the tilt of the Earth’s axis.” Astronomy isn’t my strong point and I got the distinct impression that Tallulah guessed I was busking a little.

Tallulah looked out of the open passenger window from behind her sunglasses at the scorched desert dotted with parched brush and spindly shrubs.

I stole a glance at the side of her pensive face, her golden hair was tantalising her cheeks. “Why d’you ask?”

“By my next birthday, I will have travelled 5.8 billion miles around the sun. Pretty amazing, huh?”

I pursed my lips. “When you look at it like that, kiddo, it is pretty amazing.”

“And that’s not including all the miles we’ve done down here on Earth,” she said wistfully.

I didn’t know how many miles we’d clocked up on Earth, and, in the great scheme of things, it probably wouldn’t affect Tallulah’s ‘orbital total’ very much. But it was still a significant amount for mere Earth dwellers.

I don’t know why this memory of my daughter springs to the forefront of my mind. Perhaps it is because it’s to do with heavenly bodies. The very fact that she came up with this concept amazed me. She could often be very abstract in her thinking. While other kids were busy playing with Barbie dolls, Tallulah was calculating how far she’d travelled in the universe. I always imagined her growing up to be a great children’s writer one day. Or maybe even a scientist.

Tallulah didn’t make it into double figures before she was taken from me. It was that God-damned bike I’d bought for her ninth birthday. She was cycling home from school when a truck cut her up at some traffic lights. The driver said he didn’t see her coming up on the inside.

I’d always been uncomfortable with her riding to and from school. Not because she was a careless rider but because of careless drivers. However, her friends all did it, so she wanted to do it too. I guess I should have been a stronger father and forbidden it. Up until then I’d always dropped her off and picked her from school in the car. But peer pressure had reluctantly forced me to concede.

I was at the shop when it happened. I don’t know, but around the time of the accident, I recall being overwhelmed by a sense of grief. Like, somehow I’d had this telepathic connection with her, or something. Sounds ludicrous, I know. Though, I didn’t put it down to anything bad having befallen my little girl at the time. I just thought it was due to my mood swings.

I got a phone call from my distraught wife about an hour later. She had been working in the ER department when Tallulah was brought in. It was hard to make out what Suki was actually trying to tell me through her hysterical sobs. When the penny finally dropped, I felt the world disappear from beneath my feet and I was suddenly floating in a black void. I was dizzy. I felt my insides twitch and heave and I vomited over a glass cabinet containing antique duelling pistols. I think the customers must have thought I was hungover as they stared at me disdainfully and left the shop.

I closed the store and rushed to the hospital. But it was too late. The truck had already crushed the precious life out of her. Had the driver been there when I found out I imagine I would have killed him. Not that I would do that now, having had time to reflect on the incident. I know it was an accident. He didn’t mean to kill her. But he should’ve taken more care. Particularly at that time of day, being near a school and all.

I have never known grief like it.

I don’t believe in heaven and hell.

But this was hell.

The depths of Christian hell could not provide me with such torment. I went over all of the things that I might possibly have done for Tallulah not to have been at that particular spot at that particular moment in time. Not buying her the bike was top of the list. Me picking her up was a second. Taking gymnastics class on a Tuesday instead of violin on a Wednesday was another. Or letting her go to her friend Maisie’s house after school so she would have taken a different route. There were an infinite amount of possibilities. Of variables that would have put her at a different point in the universe at that moment in time. And I didn’t take any of them. It was my fault, not the truck driver’s.

As you can imagine, my wife was inconsolable too. But I had to put on a more stoic face for everyone else: the police, doctors, funeral directors, family, friends. I know people mean well by wanting to offer their condolences, but the last thing we wanted to do at that time was talk to anybody. Shout – yes. Scream – definitely. Why? Why Tallulah? What had she ever done to anybody? To me, it was further proof that there is no god. How could an all-powerful, loving deity let a beautifully perfect little girl be killed in such a horrific way? What the hell was the point of existence?

That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in some form of afterlife. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. Perhaps we’re reincarnated. Or, maybe we rise to a higher dimension. I once had the notion that the afterlife was an emotion rather than a place. Sort of like ecstasy or bliss. That one’s spirit melded back into the universe in a kind of eternal rapture. Most likely, there will be nothing. I don’t know. But it’s a chance I’m not prepared to take.

Of course, I haven’t discussed this with Suki. What would she say? She’d say I was being irrational. And I guess I am. No rational person decides to take their own life. She’d say I needed to see a doctor. That I was depressed. Not thinking straight. Get some pills or bereavement counselling. On the other hand, I could also see why my thinking is completely rational. It wasn’t fair on Suki, I know that. To lose a child and a husband. But what choice do I have?

You know what I miss the most about Tallulah? It’s a sound. Specifically, a word. It’s a word I’ll never hear ever again: “Daddy.” There isn’t a more perfect sound in the entire universe. Perhaps her mother would disagree.

Like I said at the beginning – having a child changes you. You’d do anything to protect them. And I have failed in that respect. Why should my parental duties end in this life? Lots of religious people believe in heaven and hell. But they don’t think twice about giving up on their dead loved ones. If their faith was so resolute why wouldn’t they follow them to paradise?

Perhaps Tallulah and I will both spend eternity in black nothingness. In which case, it won’t matter a jot to either of us. But if there is something else, I’m certainly not going to let my beloved daughter wander the afterlife all by herself.

What kind of father would I be?

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New Tanka Poem


I’ve been without t’internet for a couple of weeks due to moving house.

Whilst staring out of the living room window and pondering my new environment, this tanka poem occurred to me.

There’s something very calming and meditative about watching a murmuration of starlings. I feel lucky and blessed have witnessed one.

 

A murmuration

Of starlings swirling in and

Out of the early

Morning fog. Like avian

sceptres – were they truly here?

 

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The Diameter of the Bomb


I’ve posted this before in response to the bombings in Paris and Boston. But it seems particularly poignant in relation to the bombings in Sri Lanka.

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The Diameter of the Bomb

by Yehuda Amichai

 

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters

And the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,

With four dead and eleven wounded.

And around these, in a larger circle

Of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered

And one graveyard. But the young woman

Who was buried in the city she came from,

At a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,

Enlarges the circle considerably,

And the solitary man mourning her death

At the distant shores of a country far across the sea

Includes the entire world in the circle.

And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans

That reaches up to the throne of God and

Beyond, making

A circle with no end and no God.

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Heaven or Hell?


I’ve written a couple of pieces of flash fiction, about 100 words apiece. The first one is about the state of globilisation and the trashing of the planet. The second is about refugees in the Mediterranean.

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Heaven or Hell?

When I was floating around in the uterus, the Universe asked me a question, “There are two worlds you can choose to live in: The first has rivers, lakes and oceans teeming with all kinds of fish. It has mountains and forests where wild animals graze. It has fertile fields where you can grow all manner of crops.

“The second is ravaged by war, famine and inequality. Corporations strip the planet of its resources for their own profit. 1% of the population controls 98% of its wealth. But you will not be one of them.

“So, which will it be? Heaven, or hell?”

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Hope.

The boat is taking on water. There is no land in sight which they could swim to. There’s no coast guard on the horizon, nor search and rescue helicopter in the stormy sky. There are no life jackets for the refugees on board. The fifty-four men, women and children who fled war, famine and persecution are crammed into a lifeboat meant for thirty. They cling to hope like they cling to the gunwale slipping beneath the surface of the inky-black sea. The children search their parents’ eyes pleadingly. “It’s going to be all right, isn’t it, Mama?”

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