Mother's Day 2019

Mother and children

I wake up late. I know it’s late because of the quality of the light in the bedroom.

I check my phone. 10am…10AM? I hate waking up late, especially at weekends, the precious time together goes too fast as it is.

I rush downstairs, too quickly, still not quite ready, tired from resisting and then giving into Arlo’s night-long demands for milk, still not fully sharp after the deep, dream filled morning slumber.

There are presents, home-made cards and excited shouting but I am still not quite ready.

“Tea?” Bart says, “No, no coffee - thank you, I need a coffee I think.” I unwrap the presents, beautiful, framed photographs of me and the kids and chocolate too.

“Can I have some Mummy? I’m a fan.” Eli pants his tongue lolling, Arlo yells and points, they continue until I oblige. “Can I have a bit more Mummy… Do you like these Mummy? Arlo made this one and I made that one.”

The noise. No one warns you about the noise. The constant assault on your senses. There is toast. I sit to eat it and sip at the coffee, willing the caffeine to hurry up and kick in. Arlo taps my legs begging to be lifted onto my lap, where he sits for a moment before squirming to get down again.

“Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, look I’m drawing a soldier. This is the Thames and this is the Tower of London. Look Mummy, look! Look. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy look! I’m drawing a soldier.”

God. I’d give anything for some peace and quiet. I fantasise for a moment, as I often do, about reading a book cover to cover or going out for breakfast to read the papers undisturbed.

I know I ought to feel grateful. Life is short and fragile.

I move to the sofa to look out of the window, I watch some birds circling and the branches of our tree swaying.

Arlo clambers up to join me. I place him on my knees to jiggle him, he smiles, leaning in to press his soft, sumptuous cheek against mine.  Eli comes up too and for a moment we sit this way, our cheeks pressed together and I begin to cry because I cannot be alone and I cannot stop time.  

The Crossroads


The crossroads where Hamlet Court Road and London Road meet is a haven for lost souls.

A raggle-taggle bunch of friendly faces gather there for all or part of each day, collectively numbing away the pain of their day to day lives, sharing sips from cans and brown bagged bottles, conversing, shouting, occasionally hugging.

It’s not a beautiful spot.

It probably was once, when the tall Georgian buildings on its corner were home to wealthy holiday makers and shop owners, but the buildings are peeling and dilapidated now, in need of care. 

It is practical though, especially if you have nowhere else to go. It is furnished with public toilets, seating and a nearby 24-hour supermarket with a plentiful supply of booze.

The lost souls are not the only permanent residents. The crossroads is also home to a large flock of pigeons., who loiter in groups getting in the way of pedestrians and cyclists,  flit and flutter from pavement to roof and back again, lining the shop fronts with droppings and stray feathers. Very occasionally they even bathe in the murky puddles where the road and the curb meet.   

They are scruffy and bedraggled. Awkward and jerky. Not much to look at really.

But sometimes, sometimes. For no reason at all. They will divert from their usual roof to pavement commute and take to the air with a co-ordinated, rhythmic beating of wings.  

If you happen to look up at one of these moments it will seem like the sky is breathing. You will feel your soul lift as you watch them dip and soar and remember you are lucky to be alive in this crazy world where street rats dance like ballerinas.   


Illustration comic recovering from illness

I've been working on some real life, actual illustration projects lately (eeeeeeeep!) and haven't found much time to make art for myself (other than some highly questionable stuff in my sketchbook) so I sat down and made this today. It felt good. 

Eli was ill all weekend. It's a strange alternate world, the world of illness. I struggle with its slowness but this weekend I tried to lean into it and ended up feeling very close to Eli, which was lovely. Parenting is hard. So fucking hard at times but it fills your heart to the brim.

This was the moment yesterday when I felt we'd turned a corner and my worry evaporated on the breeze.


Illustration of a seated woman

I used to think my softness was a weakness.


That it stopped me climbing the ladder

to the mythical treasure trove of wealth and happiness

that awaits those who dare adventure to those dizzying heights


If I could grow a thicker skin,

Harden my heart,

Care less. 

Feel less.

Then I could make it to the top

and leave everyone else behind.


How wrong I was to wish my softness away

It could be my superpower (if I let it). 


It is the lightness I need to move among things

without shaping them.

To hear the landscape speak of its ancientness

and feel the pine scented breeze move through me

blurring my edges into the sunny fields.


Is it the slowness I need

to break from my task

and find my son watching me, grinning

hands above head,

toe curled against the softest of thigh flesh.

Reminding me to gather him up.


It is the openness I need

to fill my days with brief conversations,

so that I am rarely lonely


“I lived in Rhodesia for 35 years with my husband

I moved here last year

Even when it’s sunny I feel the cold”

She pauses

I sense the weight of her grief

and pause with her, to remember

the sensation of the African sun in her bones.


It is the kindness I need

to learn before I judge.

To quell the fires of my son’s tired anger

with love or a story

(even when I too am weary and cross).


How wrong I was to wish my softness away

It could be my superpower (if I let it).

Golden June

I don’t want it to end. This burgeoning June.

There are poppies. Everywhere. In gardens and on wild, untended street corners.

Rose bushes bend double under the weight of their flowers. Swallows dip and soar.

Dogs bark. Mowers hum. Peas blossom.

Long evenings of play end in baths to clean strawberry stained fingers and soil caked feet

Then we collapse onto a sun warmed bed and watch the blind flap gently, flooding the room with dusky, golden light 


We return home tomorrow after three weeks of being nomads. It doesn't really look like home and we don't have a proper bathroom or kitchen but I can bake bread again and we can sleep in our own bed. As I get older its the small things, seemingly ordinary things, that bring me the most joy. 

 'If you want a golden rule that will fit ... the true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life" William Morris


Meeting Tim

I went to boarding school when I was sixteen.

It seems like an odd choice looking back. Closing yourself off from the real world just as you're about to gain some real freedom, opting for a really full, rigid timetable (including Saturday school) when I could have left school altogether if I wanted.  

And it seems REALLY odd, perhaps hypocritical, given my passionately held left wing values**. But... back then I wanted to go. Desperately. I blame Enid Blyton.

You see it all began when I read Mallory Towers, I was probably 7 or 8 and I fell head over heels in love with the idea of it all. The names, the Englishness, the adventures, the monogrammed trunks full of tuck, the jolly hockey sticks enthusiasm of the girls.  In the last year of Primary School, when decisions were being made about next steps, I asked if I could go. My parents considered my request but said no, I was too young, if I still wanted to go when I was 16 then I could. 

After five years at high school my desire did not wane. If anything it increased because my sister went to a mixed (gasp!) school in Shropshire that took boarders. So in the summer of 1997 I took two exams, aced two interviews and secured an English scholarship.

That September, when we drove through the big iron gates and the beautiful red brick building came into view, I remember feeling like the life I had imagined for myself was finally becoming a reality. (I should point out that this 'life' was largely based on books I had read, many of which were set 50 - 200 years before I was born, with Jilly Cooper's Imogen * thrown in for a bit of 'modernity'. It seems quite remarkable that I even discovered feminism or socialism for that matter but somehow I did) 

Boarding school was everything I hoped it would be and more. The beautiful building, the grounds, the 24 hour hanging out with friends, the falling in love, the weird and ancient traditions, the busy, rigorous lifestyle, the sport, the fun.  Nothing disappointed. Not on thing. It remains one of the happiest periods of my life so far. 

I settled in to my new life like a proverbial duck and made lots of lovely new friends, including Tim (who we also called Fish, although for the life of me I cannot remember why). Tim was cool because unlike most of us he wasn't trying. He liked the music he liked because he liked it. He was clever but didn't pretend he wasn't. He was ok with being into history and biology and studying hard. He was interested in loads of things - this might have been because he was a day boy so went home every night to enjoy life outside the perimeters of the school grounds. This meant the subject of our conversations extended beyond the usual who was going out with who and who had broken up and where we were going to go on our next weekend of freedom. That said, we spent a lot of time in tuck shop together, indulging a shared passion for sweets and messing about.  I remember one summer afternoon we invented a game called 'sling the ling', which basically involved throwing a dustbin lid as far as you could across the terraces. This occupied us for several hours. We were seventeen. 

Tim was kind and clever and very funny. I loved him all the more because we were never romantically attached and full disclosure, this makes Tim quite a unique figure in the male population of Ellesmere College class of '99. 

When we left school we wrote to each other fairly regularly for a while, it's funny to think that email was only just a thing, I still have on of Tim's letters including a detailed drawing of a sweet shop he had visited and thought I might like. But then after a while we just sort of lost touch. I mean obviously we're friends on Facebook but I haven't actually seen Tim for well over a decade. 

Back in April I found Tim on Instagram and sent a message. We had a little conversation. I just reviewed it and it's an extremely revealing conversation if you want to determine what stage of life we are at. I talked about where I might plant my peas and Tim was thrilled to have discovered the Instagram messaging feature. 

Anyway. Several messages and many emojis later, Tim asked if I would be up for doing a commission for his parents joint 70th birthday celebration. Which of course I was. This is the finished illustration. 

Portrait of couple in garden


This is first time I've done a commission without experiencing a sort of constant sickly panic. Perhaps it’s because I’m more confident about my drawing now, or that Tim sent me loads of really great photos so I could get a real sense of who I was painting, or that I’ve been meditating a lot so can control the unhelpful self doubt better.

It doesn't matter. It's the very first time I’ve painted something exactly how I wanted to paint it and I’m really pleased with the outcome. I know Tim and his parents are too because he sent a photo of them posting for me exactly how I had painted them.

In that moment, when I saw how pleased they were with the drawing, I felt like the life was meant to lead was finally becoming a reality. It was a similar feeling to the one I had when I drove up to Ellesmere College that evening in 1997, except I'm not trying to be Darrell Rivers or Elizabeth Bennett or Imogen I'm just being me. Katie Watts. Illustrator. Liberal. Boarding School survivor. 

Thanks for this opportunity Tim - to do the drawing and realise that I'm living my best life. I hope to see you in the flesh soon. 

If someone you love has a birthday coming up, I would absolutely LOVE to make a painting for them. Email, text, Instagram me or order through the shop


*This remains one of my favourite books and I will not hear a word against it

** Would I send my own children to boarding school? I couldn't afford to anyway but even if money was no object, I wouldn't. It doesn't give you an inclusive or realistic picture of the world and it left me with a tonne of social anxiety which I'm only just overcoming. But I LOVED it all the same. I wouldn't change a thing. I had so much fun and made lifelong friends. 


A true story where everyone gets maced in the face

Diary comic with mace

I know, I know. Two posts in as many days. I'm really spoiling you. Don't get used to it though, I doubt I can keep this heady pace up for long, especially on the tiny amount of sleep I'm currently getting. 

I made this comic as a gift for Moya (top left of top left panel) who is practically family and had a big birthday last year. It's taken me MONTHS to finish but the moment finishing things is super important to me. I'm terrible for starting loads of things and not finishing them.  I get carried away in the giddiness of newness but I get bored really quickly. 

However, I've learnt that completion is a REALLY vital discipline, with each piece of work I finish, I learn so much.  What I don't like, what I love, what I'd like to explore more and I can use all that for my next idea. You probably all knew this ages ago...

Anyhoo. Here is this comic. Several months after I started it but finished nonetheless. 

This is a true story about one day during a four week visit to stay with Moya and Paul in the USA when I was 15. We ate our way around Pennsylvania that holiday and this day was no exception, although it was on the more extreme side of average consumption.

Being maced in the face in this fashion, though deeply distressing for a short time, is genuinely one of the funniest things that has happened to me. 

I hope you enjoy.