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Five Favourite iPad Apps for Munchkins at the Mo

I used to travel heavy.  By heavy, I mean when my son and I travelled to the US last year, three of the carry-ons were full of his toys, books, markers, stickers, and puzzles.  It wasn’t that I thought he actually needed all of this for the 11-hour flight, but I was concerned for the welfare of our fellow passengers.  I didn’t want any of them to be privy to a meltdown in the skies.

On the way to the flight gate – a beast of burden carrying my son and these huge bags (so colossal that they didn’t fit in the handy “check if your carry-ons are small enough to be considered carry-ons” guide near the check-in counter, but I winked and smiled at the counter attendant and managed to finagle my way through) – I vowed to find the toy of all toys.  I was on a quest for the ultimate all-in-one little darling’s doodah that didn’t require me carrying half our home, the toy that came complete with bells, whistles and foghorns, with cry-proof gadgetry (for the little guy and me), with harm-proof gadgetry (for passers-by and passengers in the seats near us), and with educational gallimaufry.

A few months after this trip, my son was in hospital and a friend of his let him borrow her iPad.  Complete with games, books and movies, this little rectangular piece of technology became the Apple of his eye (amusing myself with that pun, I am).  This book-sized piece of modern machinery was the toy I had been searching for, the holy grail of playthings.  This extraordinary curio eliminated the need for me to carry 30lbs worth of child amusement accoutrement.

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Wherefore art?

“Let’s go back to the other art project, let’s go back to the snow,” my little guy said over and over.  While some parents dread hearing “Are we there yet, are we there yet?” I was starting to develop pleadstoreturntothisparticularartpiecephobia.  The “art project” he was referring to was Oliver Guy-Watkins’ installation entitled “Technicolour Process”, created with wood, resin, wax, reclaimed furniture, salt, Dacron, shredded poly, rockwall, spray frost and LED lights.  I could understand his desire to continually go back to view this work; he was afforded his own mini winter wonderland.  I too was intrigued by what I saw to be a slice of our modern age viewed through an apocalyptic filter.

For sale at the bargain price of £22,500, this piece was one of over 400 pieces on display from nearly 80 students at the Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art degree show.  It was especially important for me to view this exhibition as it is the last show to take place at the historical Charing Cross site.  So long Soho, hello King’s Cross and Archway, the two locations to which the programme is moving.

When my son was not even a week old, I took him to see a previous degree show there.  Well, I didn’t really take him to “see” the show as his eyes were barely open.  And I may or may not have had my own yearning to see the exhibition.  I think I secretly hoped that all the energy and creativity in the works would  somehow affect my breast milk production, and by some osmosis-like process find their way to my son’s psyche and bones when I gave him the boob.  High hopes, you say?  Okay, I’ll give you that.  Delusional, freakish mom?  Fine.  You can have that, too.

The institution that is Central Saint Martins holds a distinctive place in my ticker.  More important than it being the establishment from which I received my degree, it represents a wish I had that I was determined to fulfill, and it represents the mother of all psychological experiments.

In my final year as a US college student, I decided to study in London.  While studying abroad – at a school that was a two-minute walk to the British Museum – one of my professors was keen to introduce us to different art schools throughout London, giving us their respective histories, telling us of different alumni, and explaining the schools’ diverse curriculum.  Of all these art schools, Central Saint Martins is the one that stood out for me.  There was an odour of  imagination and authenticity, and a stench of sweat, acrylics, and varnishes that took hold of me and never loosened its grip.  I told myself I would be back in London to attend Central Saint Martins one day.

Fast forward a decade later, and my husband and I were now living in London.  There we were on a lazy Sunday, and out of nowhere, he declared that he was going to apply to get his Master of Laws.  I told him that if it would make him happy to obtain yet another degree – he already had three – and if he thought it would improve his chances of being accepted into the Overachiever Hall of Fame, he should go for it.  And then it happened.  The thought.  The thought of me realising my own dream of going to Central Saint Martins.  I asked my husband what he thought, and he said, “Apply today!”  He suggested I apply to more than one school, to which I responded, “There’s really only one.”  So I sat down, filled out the forms and wrote my statement.  That statement is an assemblage of the most honest words I’ve ever written.  I started to write it, with words, sentiments, and examples pouring out, and I finished it in about ten minutes.  And I felt strongly about not wanting to edit it.

When the letter arrived saying I was accepted into the programme, there may have been some yippeekayaying, some yahooing, some jumping on the bed.  There is a possibility that I may have headed to Cass Art, Cowling & Wilcox and London Graphic Centre that same day to peruse some goodies.  A slight possibility.

I met some exceptionally intelligent and ingenious artists on the course.  I even asked one of my fellow artists to be my son’s godfather.  That said, the experience wasn’t an all together affable one.  In fact – probably because of my emotional makeup – I felt like the course was a psychological experiment of gargantuan proportions.  Freud and his buddies would’ve had a field day, with the egos, screams, crying, grunting, perversity, and other unmentionables I witnessed.  But with art and artists, as with almost any endeavour or occupation, there will be neuroses.

As my little fella and I walked from floor to floor to view this year’s degree show, memories of being there in my pre-mom days surrounded me.  I was  reminded of critiques from tutors and fellow students, of visits to certain exhibitions together, of discussions about Frieze and Art Basel, and of smoking Zhong Nan Hai reds for the first time on the stairwell (not me, of course, but my fellow students).  Nicotine is bad, I tell ya, bad, bad, bad.

There were several pieces that both Enlai and I were captivated by, among them Pallas Citroen’s “The ecstasy of Saint Theresa” and Tan Peiling’s “Room with a postcard on floor”.  The latter explores how visual media informs human perception and understanding of reality.  While I was fascinated by how Peiling challenges us to reassess how a visual-biased culture shapes our attention and experience, my little prince wondered what the heck was going on in the space until he saw a portion of the postcard and said, “Ma, it’s a mystery.  Let’s ask Scooby and Shaggy to help us solve it.”

Rock on in your new digs, Central Saint Martins, and if you happen to come across an application years from now from one Enlai Rooney, I can attest – with a tiny bias – that he’s an extraordinary artist, and you’d be crazy to not admit him into the MA Fine Art programme.

I Heart Art


Art streams through my arteries and veins and swims through my synapses.  The smell of paint and darkroom chemicals have claimed their permanent spot in my ol’ olfactories, and the sound of nails being hammered through canvas into a wood stretcher are locked into my auditory system.  From a young age, art has been a fixture in my life. 

My art inoculation, administered by my dad (aka Dr. Ihavenochoicebuttocreateandcreateandcreate), was the most gracious gift.  And it is a gift I have chosen to give to children.  When I was offered the opportunity to teach art to young’uns, I was over the moon and Jupiter and Saturn and (insert planet of choice here).    

I genuinely believe that all children have an innate ability to be creative and that this ability should be nurtured.  In teaching art classes, I have generally taken an anything goes approach, with the classes designed to allow the munchkins to have fun while exploring drawing, painting, sculpting, collage and other media and activities.  My hope has been that the children enjoy learning – sometimes subconsciously – about artists and the elements and principles of art while experimenting with art materials.  Simultaneously, I wish for parents to appreciate that art education can play a major role in social and academic development, teaching little ones about problem solving, improving their cognitive and fine motor skills and sensory awareness, and giving them a means of self-expression and confidence in their own creativity. 

Over the last two terms, I have aimed to teach the mini artists about the seven elements and nine principles of art by introducing them to abstract art, pointillism, still life, text in art, sculpture, portraits and other art styles and movements.  We’ve painted with spaghetti, marshmallows and toothbrushes; we’ve painted on mangoes, bananas and apples; we’ve painted with our eyes closed; we’ve sculpted with corn flour and glue; we’ve weaved hearts with paper and ribbon; and we’ve ripped, stuck, pounded, blown, fanned, tied and pinched. 

It was important to me to expose children to a variety of artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louise Bourgeois, Chuck Close, Mona Hatoum, Anish Kapoor, Frida Kahlo, Cy Twombly and Lucien Freud, among several others.  I felt torn when the latter two artists – both of whom were incredibly important to art for their commitment, approach, and prolificacy – passed away last month.  There is consolation in knowing, though, that art survives the artist. 

During one of the earlier classes, which fell near Valentine’s Day, I was keen to teach the children about line, form, colour, space, and rhythm by exposing them to works which incorporated hearts.  After asking them to view a variety of pieces by Banksy, Brassai, Jim Dine, Damien Hirst, Keith Haring, Salvador Dali and Jeff Koons, I showed them how to weave different coloured and textured ribbons and paper through their own 200gsm paper hearts. 


Banksy, Untitled, Undated


One of the little ones was drawn to the Banksy work and didn’t want to let go of the laminated reproduction for the duration of the class.  As he held tightly to the piece, I couldn’t help but think about Banksy sponsoring free entry every Monday to the Art in the Streets exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.  He provided a chance for visitors who may not have otherwise been able to afford to view the graffiti and street art exhibition – a show which has attracted a record 201,532 people – a chance to observe the works.  For this, I Heart Banksy.  And I Heart my budding artistes. 


Jim Dine, Johnny Boy, 2009


Jeff Koons, Hanging Heart, 1994-2006


Brassai, heart graffiti, 1933


Damien Hirst, All You Need is Love, Love, Love, 2008


Salvador Dali, Study for the jewel The Royal Heart, 1953


Keith Haring, Untitled, 1984

Silent Sunday

Very quietly, tiptoe over to mocha beanie mummy to see the rest of the entries.

Silent Sunday

Very quietly, tiptoe over to mocha beanie mummy to see the rest of the entries.

Mum’s the Word – Alessandra and Tina

In the lead up to Mother’s Day in the UK, the Mum’s the Word series on Oomphalos continues, and today two mothers – one of a toddler boy and one of a toddler girl – tell what it means to them to be a mother:



A Saturday morning my little boy wakes up very early as usual, he comes and seeks mommy and daddy and starts waking us up with his sounds that say he is willing to start the day, to play and to have all his demands covered by these two tired adults who only wish to sleep a little longer, but Julian rules the house, and he does his tricks and gets what he wants.  This special morning he woke up feeling really ‘arty’ and got his hands full of the white cream we use to avoid diaper rash.  First we didn’t notice, but after a few minutes of complete silence – always suspicious when it comes to him – I woke up and found him covering the mirror full of prints of his little hands, ‘fingerpainting’ that’s it! My first reaction was going to be a negative one: telling him he shouldn’t touch the cream to do this and ask him to clean the mirror with my help immediately, but after a few seconds of watching his pleasure at what he had done, I recognized the satisfaction he was obtaining from the activity he had started without help and without anyone one saying or suggesting he should do it.  Luckily I was able to recognize he had done something special, and I had my camera and my tripod right there.  And even though I had just woken up, I was able to set up all my equipment to obtain this image which I consider a real piece of art and love it to bits….




Being a mother has changed my life so drastically I could never have imagined.  It has given my life a different dimension and a different perspective.  Being a mum fills me with endless joy, getting a smile, a kiss brightens my life and cheers me up.  I feel more fulfilled as a person and I often wonder how boring and depthless my life would have been without her.  I have explored different sides of myself, I have found creativity and resourcefulness that I never knew existed, I have been challenged and surprised myself.  I do, however, at times feel frustrated that I cannot do everything I want and that my freedom is limited.  But I wouldn’t change it for anything.  Life without her would be pointless and would have no meaning.  I am so very lucky to be a mum and have such a special person in my life. 

What does it mean to you to be a mother or to have a mother?


There’s the usual bit of bibliophilia going on in our home.  My little softcover savant and we bookworm begetters have been doing eye and mind gymnastics with our latest nightstand reads.

My husband’s reading a Ford Madox Ford book and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, among a handful of other tomes.  I’m reading a book similar to those I imagine a lot of my fellow parents are reading, a guide to understanding the monsters identified as toddlers.  And when I’ve read a few pages of that and am feeling like I understand a tad better the human being known as my three-year-old son, I move on to either John Carey’s What Good Are The Arts?, Andrew Oldham’s collection of poems Ghosts of a Low Moon or a book a friend recently gave me, Conversations with God.  My most recent conversation with God consisted of my asking him how I can end my husband’s latest fascination with the Brothers Grimm because it really has me spooked, and I don’t know how much longer I can sleep with one eye open.  I’m still waiting for God’s response.

My little guy’s folio fare of late seems to be more of the creative and emotional variety.  These handful of books have quickly become my favourites, and every night I ask him if we can please, please, please read one of these.  Sometimes he indulges me, but last night he said, “Let’s give it a break, ma, it’s pirate book time.”

The first of the five I recommend reading with your munchkins is Zen Ghosts by Jon Muth.  Muth created Stillwater the panda, who features in Zen Shorts, Zen Ties and now Zen Ghosts.  The book is a tale adapted from a writing included in a collection of 48 koans by a Chinese Buddhist monk in the 13th century.  These koans are defined by Muth as questions that one has to answer for himself/herself and which appeal directly to the intuitive part of human consciousness as opposed to the intellect. 

I think the best children’s books are those that strike a chord with both children and adults, and Zen Ghosts certainly fulfills that criteria.  Kids may not understand what Muth is trying to convey, but they will appreciate the characters and the beautiful illustrations throughout the book.   Parents might be pleased that not only is this an intriguing ghost story, but also that their bambinos will learn more about duality – the people they are with their parents, the people they are with their friends, the people they are with their teachers.

While we’re on Buddhist books, another current favourite is Buddha at Bedtime.  Seem as though I’m some sort of ringing endorsement for Buddhism?  I’m not Buddhist, and this is purely coincidental (although in Buddhism, there is no such thing as a pure coincidence, so you can cue in the Twilight Zone theme now).  A friend gave the book to Enlai as a gift, and it really is the gift that keeps on giving – our own little written, illustrated and bound philanthropist.  The subtitle of the book – Tales of Love and Wisdom for You to Read With Your Child to Enchant, Enlighten and Inspire – says everything.  Author Dharmachari Nagaraja retells some of the narratives believed to have been told by the Buddha himself – the Jataka Tales – in 20 stories. 

The colourful illustrations depict a particular scene in the tales, and little ones are sure to recognise the images of animals and nature.  While Nagaraja says the stories are aimed at children six to ten years old, my three-year-old enjoys them, particularly The Prince and Sticky Hair, a tale about words being more powerful than weapons, and The Small Bowl of Rice, which teaches that generosity is its own reward.

And travelling from Buddhism to art, another favourite book is Beautiful Oops!.  Author Barney Saltzberg is my hero, teaching children and adults alike that when you think you’ve made a mistake, think of it as an adventure in creativity and an opportunity to make something beautiful.  The very colourful, 28-page board book – complete with flaps, different textures, and an accordion-like pop-up – naysays blunders and instead teaches that spills, smears, smudges and crumbled-up paper can “make magic appear”.

If I had a choice to buy one book for little ones, this would be the one, regardless of whether or not they have an interest in artistic endeavours.  At any age, it’s worth being reminded that a tear in a page can literally be turned into a smile.

Another current favourite book, which happens to be in the same vein as Beautiful Oops! is The Scribble Book issued by Tate Publishing.  Surprise, surprise, the book is about scribbling and allows for freehand drawing by prompting little ones to turn scribbles into blooming flowers, a dinosaur’s breath, snail shells, smoke from chimneys and hair on already-provided faces.  We’ve had so much fun with this book, giving shy scribbles friends with crayon squiggles of our own, colouring in the loops created by scribbles, drawing scribble spaghetti, and sketching trails in the snow left by skiers.

Within the 64-page book, little ones are encouraged to scribble dust (“otherwise the vacuum cleaner will get bored”), scrawl over the Mona Lisa, scribble on monsters as hard as they can, and decide whether their doodles should make calm or choppy seas.  And for parents who may want to borrow their budding artist’s book, it’s worth noting that art therapists have utilised the “scribble technique” as a method to lessen inhibitions and release spontaneous imagery from one’s unconscious.

The final recommendation from our three-member We Feel The Need, The Need to Read Book Club is Oliver Jeffers’ most recent piece of brilliance, The Heart and the Bottle.  With thought-provoking themes of loss, longing and loneliness, the book is admittedly geared more toward adults than children, but the way Jeffers addresses mortality through both his words and his illustrations is honest and poetic regardless of the age of the reader.

In books, I appreciate when the author leaves space for interpretation.  Jeffers does this.  He hasn’t spoon-fed me or my little guy with this book; instead, he has given us a starting point for discussing death and the emptiness that often follows.  I realise I may be different from other parents in that I have not chosen to shield my little prince from unhappy thoughts of loss, but in the same token, I know a three-year-old is, well, a three-year-old.  He won’t understand it all, but I hope he will find some poetry in the story, poetry in how an empty chair doesn’t have to stay an empty chair.  For any poetry buffs, this book brought to mind what I believe is one of the greatest poems ever written, Wordsworth’s ode “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”, and I think that for a 32-page book to do that says a lot. 

Now then, sashay to your local library or bookshop for your dose of bibliofeelia!  Or, if it’s too chilly outside, check out the Oomphalos Bookworms Bookshop.

Mothers Spinning Out of Control

© Martin Creed, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Martin Creed is my kind of guy.  He’s the intriguing artist whose current exhibition “Mothers” is on at Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row.  I, along with my mom and son, had the fortunate opportunity to behold, chew over and digest the works.  I’m still digesting.

As both a mother and an artist, two works stood out for me, Work No. 1092 (or the work commonly referred to as Mothers) and Work No. 1177.

When asked about his thinking behind Mothers, a 12 ½ meters long, 2 ½ meters high steel beam supporting white neon lights which spell out Mothers in capital letters, Creed said in an interview that he thought mothers are probably the most important people.  I momentarily thought of Norman Bates, but after reading Creed’s explanation in a separate interview, I know he’s speaking on a more macro level.  Creed said, “This work made me sick, there were so many times when I felt sick working on it.  I think it has something to do with Mothers… I think families are really difficult.”  Families difficult?  I don’t know anyone who’s ever had difficulties with their family (cue the uproarious laughter).  Creed added, “I think the most powerful and difficult relationship in the whole world is between a mother and child.  That is the one where the baby is literally part of the mother and is not separate, and then you have to come out and be separate.  It is the most difficult thing to do.  I think to actually be a mother is very difficult and to have a mother is difficult.”

And when asked why he wanted the motorised sculpture to spin – orbiting at varying speeds and bringing to mind the different settings of a ceiling fan – Creed replied, “Mothers spinning out of control rang true to me.”  He must know about the Whirling Dervishes Playgroup or the Our Descendants Sometimes Make Us Dizzy Support Group.

Standing in the room, seemingly purpose-built for this enormous sculpture, I considered Creed’s explanation that the size reflects the importance of mothers and how they literally contain us at birth.  He pronounced, “In general we think of something as ‘big’ if it’s bigger than us, so because as babies we are inside the mother, by definition the mother has to be big.”  I also found it curious that while welcomed to, none of the 50 or so fellow observers ventured under the sculpture.  At one point, I felt said observers – whose hair and attire looked a bit windswept while the sculpture moved at its full speed – staring at me and my little guy in his buggy, as if to say, “You’re obviously a mother and as such, this sculpture includes a gyratory halo for you, so go for it, go stand under it.”  Risk my life under this monster?  No thanks, not today (my initial apprehension paralleled that of when I went to see a Damien Hirst piece)  I am aware that, sadly, fine art malfunctions have caused very tragic situations, and the irony of mothers taking this mother’s life was too much to bear.

© Martin Creed, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Using his art to comment on the magnitude of the matriarch in our lives, Creed also graces us with Work No. 1177’s presence.  This black and white, silent 35mm film – which especially when combined with Mothers – alludes to a domineering mama in our friend Freud’s oedipal phase.  The film centers on a woman’s breast, whose nipple goes from its usual state to an erect state after a hand tweaks it.  In his past work, Creed has shown a fascination with how our bodies function and react, often with overt sexual undertones, but this film was different than others in the series.  I thought it was beautiful.  I thought it was persuasive.  And despite having breasts of my own and having breastfed my son, this was the first time I’ve witnessed this sequence in such a manner.  It helps that I’m also a fan of silent films; they leave more space for one’s own interpretation.  My three-year-old watched the film and asked why it wasn’t moving.  He stood watching it for 15 seconds, I’m sure wondering why there wasn’t a caped crusader or scallywag entering the scene.  I asked him if he knew what the image in the film was, and he responded, “Let’s go.”

There are dozens of additional pieces in this exhibition, but these are the only two that spoke to me.  There was a wit, a cheeky little boy at play, and a minimalism – as there was with Creed’s Blu-Tack, lights switching on and off, and balloons pieces – that has enamoured me to the artist.

Is Creed’s own mom as enamoured as his myriad admirers?  He said he thinks his relationship with his mom is quite good.  She’s always been very supportive of his art practice and often comes to his shows.  Aww, bless.  Just in case this isn’t actually the case, I’m sending her an invite to a spinning class I know of whose instructor focuses on using physical exertion to cope with snags in mother-son relationships.

What? Activities in Marylebone? Is it true?

For you Londoners who are looking for activities in Marylebone, your wishes have been granted.  The inimitable Ben, of Oomphalos and Regent’s Park football classes fame, has launched Small Beginnings.  

The Small Beginnings website is under construction, but in the meantime, you can contact the Small Beginnings hotline on 07799 760 510 or email smallbeginningsuk@gmail.com to receive the timetable and sign up for classes now!

In the Name of the Father

My dad and son in front of:
Doug Wheeler
RM 669, 1969
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles


When I was seven, my dad was my light.  My parents divorced, and he and I ended up living in a small apartment.  Our meals alternated between the scrumptious fare on offer at Wienerschnitzel and Winchell’s and while eating chili dogs and chocolate donuts with rainbow sprinkles, we’d listen to Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Minnie Riperton.    

My dad had a way of knowing how to lift my spirits then, just as he does today, and this often involves an element of art.  While we lived in the aforementioned apartment, my dad enrolled in an art class at a community college.  He came home on one occasion with a sketchbook, and I couldn’t wait to peer inside.  For what seemed like hours, I looked at anatomical drawings comparable to da Vinci’s.  And when he asked me to be his hand, foot, or ear model, I was honoured.  On a separate occasion, he brought home a stack of magazines and asked me to tear out pages of faces I liked.  I handed him my selection and was a privileged eyewitness to my dad’s uncanny awareness of the special relationship between charcoal and white paper.    

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