Cyprus Mail

London art therapy blew away the blues

A Letter from London by Alexia Saoulli

LAST SUNDAY I was at a bit of a loss about what to do with myself. I was annoyed with the whole wide world and wanted to do a Greta Garbo and be left alone. I live in a one-bed flat so it wasn’t like I had any space to be left alone there. On the other hand, I didn’t have anywhere I wanted to go to be alone.

Suddenly, I felt very unhappy. I knew it was silly and that it was only a phase but I couldn’t help feeling incredibly sorry for myself. What was I supposed to do all afternoon? It dawned on me that I had no friends to go and visit and no safe place to call my own. Before I realised what was happening, I was crying.

I thought of my friend Stella in Cyprus and her newborn baby son, Alexander, whom I’ve not yet met, and wished with all my heart I was round hers just hanging out. I’ve known her, and her entire family, since I was about eight so she’s more like family than a friend. A person I can just go and visit and throw myself on her couch and be myself with. The fact that we both share a great love for indulging in my mother’s sherry trifle over a cup of a tea is just one of the many things I miss.

Then I thought of my friends Christianna and Nedie. Two women I’ve known for the best part of 30 years. We share a lifetime of memories and childhood dreams – some of them realised and some of them not.

Once I started on this train of “woe is me” thinking there was no stopping me. One thought seemed to flood into another and before I knew it my mind was bursting with faces: my friends and colleagues from the newspaper and even Mrs Chrystalla, our very own Cyprus Mail beggar lady whose Monday visits for her weekly handouts I also miss.

By this point I was well and truly depressed. My legs felt heavy and my heart even heavier as I trudged along the street feeling like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I remember looking at all the happy people around me and wondering if the reason they were so happy was because they’d grown up here and had lots of friends to call their own and a safe place to go to.

Just as I was feeling like I had no one to turn to, I came across what looked like a work shop with a bunch of ceramics in the window. I’ve seen this place, called Art 4 Fun, every day since I moved to London because it’s actually on the street parallel to our flat. Basically, the idea is you go in and choose and pay for one of an assortment of ceramics (including plates, teapots, vases, jugs, animal figurines and so on) and paint it. You can spend as long as you want in there for a studio fee of just over a fiver and they provide everything such as the paints, brushes and other creative tools like shaped sponges and tracing paper. You then leave the item with them for a week and they glaze it for you. The finished result is a personal, unique item that is also machine washable. Amazing.

Since first clapping eyes on the place I promised myself I’d definitely go in there one day. For one reason or another, however, I always kept putting it off: I didn’t have the time, I wasn’t feeling artistic, I wasn’t in the mood. All of them valid excuses but the simple truth was I felt too shy; I was embarrassed to go in there and discover that the artistic talents I’d prized myself on in my youth no longer existed.

As I hovered outside wondering whether or not now was a good time to go in, I realised that even if I had lost my artistic talents, who cared? It’s not like I was in a competition or getting graded for the end result. The idea was for me to go and have a good time and to blow off some much needed steam. Given that the only other option I could think of was a gym workout, I took the plunge and forced myself to take the first step and enter the comforting surroundings of Art 4 Fun.

At first I felt very self-conscious that I was on my own, but then I realised this is London and nobody knows me. And besides, hadn’t I wanted to be on my own? I gingerly selected a large water jug and decided I’d paint it for my sister-in-law. I had the design all planned out in my head. Two and a half hours later, with paint splattered on my top, and my foul mood gone, I was done. Whether the end result was quite like I’d planned, I think probably not. I’m picking it up tomorrow so I’ll know then. Either way, I don’t care. I’m just delighted that I turned what had started out as a pity party into one of inner jubilation.

Good mood restored, I left Art 4 Fun positively beaming and ready to meet my boyfriend, to whom I owed a contrite apology for being a brat all day, and to invite him out to dinner and a movie. I realised I might not have any really close friends living nearby anymore, but at least now I had found a safe place I could kind of call my own.

Oh, and as for giving the jug to my sister-in-law, I’m not sure that I will. I think I might just keep it to remind myself when I’m next feeling down that things aren’t so bad and can usually be turned around if I just give myself a little push.

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