(I am here in this picture)
Frances Earnshaw ©, (I am here in this picture), 2013

Put the kettle on as soon as you arrive.

Her snack; she will eat it sitting on the commode. Peeled fruit in the fridge. The herb tea. Rice cakes with bean pate. Cut the wet, brown parts off. She pees and eats at the same time.

She wants a list of what is in the freezer. Wash up cup, plate, plastic spoon. Prepare tray. Print out e-mails. Polish wood. Put stones on builder’s bags in the garden (the wind worrying them and making a noise disturbs her).

Empty commode. Smell of poo. Discretely retch over sink. Washing machine. Remember a dream from last night. I am with a young man, he is gorgeous. I am an art student again. It is the Royal College of Art, although it is a different sort of building. Amazing views out of the windows of coastal landscape, inhabited, bushy cliff-tops… We wander around corridors and studios. That smell of art college. Oily and rich, slightly dusty ideas. Plaster dust on the floor. I want to show him what was my studio, in my old department. The door, in my dream, is not a door. To get there, you have to climb up to a sort of window  roughly cut into a screen, only about a foot and a half wide. When I peer through this, there is a vertical drop on the other side, roughly made with old curtains and mattresses. Surely I can’t get through it, I am scared of the height and the drop at the other side. Getting through, a decision to just do it.

I am thinking of this dream, and this difficult “door”. Vaginal? Then I realise, what a good, Freudian joke it is! Of course, the RoyalCollege is very difficult to get in to.

Scrape dishes, put lunch on. Bring back commode bowl from soaking in the bathroom. Medications. Feed her. Face wipe. Bring tablet. Rest. Start supper. Feed, wash, teeth, headphones on, because she does not like the noise in the bathroom. Nighty. Wheelchair back to bedroom. Put everything away. Give her a back-rub. Final wash-up. Check she has her snack for the morning, drink, wheelchair is on to charge.

Walking. Dark, now.

My daughter, holding, cuddling, check she has done homework, packed her schoolbag for tomorrow, washed her hair.

Tomorrow: childminding. Coldest walk along the canal. Singing songs.

Snagged Trees, digital photo, 2013
Frances Earnshaw ©, Snagged Trees, digital photo, 2013



About Frances Earnshaw

Frances Earnshaw graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1985 with a Master of Arts degree.

She had a solo show at Gallery 286, Earls Court, London in November 2012. She has shown work at The Freud Museum, London, The V&A Museum of Childhood, London and at the Museum of Folk and Fai…Read more

2 Responses to “Modus Operandi”

  1. Helen Sargeant

    I like the fleeting glimpses of thoughts for yourself that emerge from within the activities of care work. I am close to forgetting the fog of exhaustion caused through caring for pre-school age children. Your words reminded me of this and how much it demands of a person. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Frances Earnshaw

    I am surrounded by intelligent, creative women who are engaged in this kind of work. It is partly the interruption of career which is caused by the thought, “I am an artist”, and whatever that entails in terms of energy displaced from getting a “proper” job, also depression, children, hmmm. Funny really. You can almost guarantee that the carers and cleaning ladies in my (semi-rural) habitat are more educated than their employers!


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