Sunday Supplement: Moules-Frites
Following on from the last two weeks of rather traumatic accident-based Sunday Supplement features, I’ve got another one for you I’m afraid – in fact there are 10 paintings in all, each depicting my experience of convalescence and the various stages of recovery entailed.
In this week’s feature, Moules-Frites: Nerve and Muscle Pain on a Legal Life Revisited (oil on canvas, 2008), the next stage of recovery requiring a chapter in my painting diary was the new found pain experienced on returning to work after almost 5 weeks being bed-bound post-accident. I should explain by way of background that despite my many artistic endeavours, I am in fact a qualified lawyer – a barrister to be precise – and some months before my accident, I secured myself a pupillage (the last year of training before qualification) in a top London barrister chambers, due to begin in October of my accident year. Pupillages are like gold dust – several hundred young lawyers apply for the handful of places that are given out each year. And so, while the accident came as a mighty blow to me, I was determined to start the pupillage as planned in October.
This return to work represented the biggest change for me since leaving hospital. I still had an illazarov frame affixed to my leg, so I had to rip my suit trousers down the middle and each day attempt to pin them half way around my leg to try and prevent people seeing the frame, and the blood bath beyond. And yet still they stared. I was still on crutches, and on around 30 pills and painkillers a day. I had to travel by taxi, and by the time I got home (people in London never bothered to give up their seat for me on the tube, despite the obvious paraphernalia of my injury attached to my leg) I was exhausted and in agony. When I attempted to do anything, not least cope with the demands of a full time job in central London, I started to experience a new type of pain – burning shooting spasms coursing down my damaged nerves, and the dull continuous hammering of my muscles as they tried to engage properly for the first time in months.
All of this was represented in my fifth painting. The title was an attempt to play on the name of the iconic French/Belgian dish, Moules-Frites – mussels with chips – as this in turn was a play on the words muscles and mussels (try explaining this to the Spanish as I had to do when the painting was exhibited there – not easy!) – In recognition of this word play, a pan of mussels sits in the centre of the piece, representing the burning pain I felt in my muscles as they attempted to rebuild and learn how to walk again.
The scene depicts the stormy Sussex of my childhood. In the sea, the “groynes” (man made sea defences) are replaced with crutches, and by the shore, my disembodied foot is alive with antagonised nerves whose angry electrical currents interact with (or cause) a lightening storm. Meanwhile on the beach, by the frying pan, the traditional black and gold tin of a barrister’s wig becomes a pill box for all of the painkillers on which I was reliant, they in turn being scattered around the beach like pebbles.
As I soon found, the pain of returning to work would all become too much. I stuck it out for five months, but as my condition deteriorated further, and 5 more operations hovered on the horizon, I had to leave again, not returning for almost 2 years.
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- Sunday Supplement: Dicing with Death (La Pieta) (normsonline.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Supplement: Bricks and Stones May Break My Bones (normsonline.wordpress.com)