Creative collective

Artist In Residence

Claire Phillips-Callender

My name is Claire Phillips-Callender, I am staring down the barrel of 60.

I have earned my living for 20 years as a ceremonial undertaker at The Green Funeral Company which I co-created.

I am part of the team building The People’s Pyramid, Callender Phillips, Cauty and Drummond, Undertakers To The Underworld

Before that I lived and bummed around on a sailing boat in the 90’s.

Before that I worked at Mute Records in the 80’s.

Before that I was a rural punk in the 70’s, which is a lonely path.

I have raised 2 daughters to the ages of 24 and 26, I wish i could say without police intervention but that would be a lie.

I once had a solid oak floor, a Belfast sink and a husband.

As my mum got older and more infirm I often thought about and planned her funeral. We were both robbed of it by Covid.

I wrote and made this monologue about how this felt.

Lucinda Guy and I made a soundscape that was broadcast on Soundart Radio

As an undertaker I often idly write eulogies for my friends in my head, I don’t tell them because I suspect they would think it weird.

a written piece

I Haven't Been on Twitter for a While

I haven’t been on Twitter in a while, I haven’t been on Twitter in a while because my ex husband has written a book and I don’t want to read it and I definitely don’t want to read about it. The book includes 20 years of my life where we built an undertaking business together.

But today is different.

I came off Twitter at the beginning of September as that is when a friend told me the book was being released and I wanted to swerve it. I had muted the words of the title months before. One night towards the end of September I am waiting for a delayed bus and I find myself having a little scroll, the first 3 posts I see are from mutuals at the launch of the book; big congratulations, lovely exciting photos. I feel nauseous, quickly close it down and quietly absent from my body for a bit.

That night it was hard to get to sleep, the wondering... Why wasn’t I invited? How would I feel if I was invited? Would I have gone? Would I have been proud? Would it have been awful? Would I have caused a scene?

Having your ex husband write a book while you are going through a break up and a prolonged sticky divorce should be illegal.

I have known about the book for a couple of years. I have known my ex husband for 30 years, 20 years as business partners, 15 or so married. So the book has been hanging over me, I have had two opposite and equal fears; one that I would be edited out, and one that I would not. I was shown nothing during the writing of the book, I was given a copy shortly before publication, which I quickly put aside thinking, I really have spent enough time in his psyche.

The day after the launch I wake up to several messages from people wanting to talk about the book, it’s hard to know how to respond. I go out and bump into a friend who asks me if I have read the book, and so begins a daily pattern. I go into the graveyard across from my house to wee the dog, another acquaintance is lying in the sun reading the book. Have I read it she innocently asks? ‘No I haven’t’ I reply ‘I fucking lived it’ It is awkward.

From that point on I am asked at least twice a day if I have read the book, this is my stock response, just said in a kinder voice so as not to make anyone feel awkward. Even though I actively try and avoid it, it just keeps crashing, uninvited into my world. I never know through which medium it is going to appear. I try to protect myself, I swerve certain newsletters and blogs that I subscribe to. I am now pretty much living in fear of The Book. But I just need to know, am I in it? So I call a friend who loves us both, they propose to skim read it for mentions of me and report back. The report says I have not been airbrushed out but I probably don’t need to read the book.

So, life goes on, the book goes on tour, it’s in the window of my local bookshop.

I miss being on Twitter, I miss the bants, I miss Memorial Device but I daren’t. Twitter is the only social media I engage with and it feels like part of life has closed down. I still take photographs and compose captions in my head.

I feel myself getting smaller as The Book gets bigger and a bit of paranoia creeps in. I think about all the people who have read the book. I think of this narrative about me that is out there in world, one that I did not write, did not approve, whose permission was not sought. A narrative through the prism of a failed marriage.

I am painfully aware that there is a small, young part of me that just thinks this is really unfair. How much smaller will I get? What if The Book gets really really big will I just disappear completely?

I meet with another mutual friend who has read The Book and I ask him for more details, he says I come across well in The Book that I should be proud of the work I did, he cries at one point, he says I should view the book as a good thing that the narrative of me out there in the world is a wholly positive one. I tell him nothing good for me has come from The Book, it has just been triggering waves of shit for me.

The man who commissioned The Book lives in my town, I see him regularly we stop and amiably chat. The Book is never mentioned, he has never asked me about it or my life that is contained within it.

Which brings me back to today. Today has been a bad day.

There is an article in The Guardian. The messages started early, a couple with links. My friends and family are raging; apparently I have been airbrushed out of history, according to the article the author did it all by himself. My friends intentions are good I know, they are righteously angry on my behalf, I just don’t know how to respond. It keeps coming, people post links on to my What’s App groups. It just keeps coming. There is also a lot of love and support that filters through as the day goes on.

So I am writing this for all the people who have enabled their partners to become their biggest selves and found themselves unexpectedly shrunk in the process, because it is not an unusual story, it is a far too familiar one for many women.

By Claire Phillips-Callender October 2022

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