To Hull

I got the train to Hull on Monday. Philip Larkin was at the station. I love the expression on his face.

Also there is this sculpture, “The Journey”. It is far more affecting from behind than from in front.

I found Sam at the station, there to meet Lucy. We walked back to his house, which he explained is an intentional community. He is Christian anarchist. In the evening we went to an artists’ collective, with their works on the walls, and saw the placards they had been making that afternoon for Mad Pride. The walls upstairs were covered with murals.

They gave us a thick vegetable stew.

On to the Adelphi club, where Lucy was to perform. Sam also performed his poetry about his bipolar experiences.

There are several murals round the town. One commemorates the sinking of three trawlers.

I asked if I could do “The story of my breast”. Sam was fine with that, and the audience were very friendly. I had several laughs. I am pleased with my delivery. I must write more to perform. Em joined us. She had visited Lucy at Yearly Meeting Gathering, where I met them, and been amazed by the electric atmosphere of Quakers together. Paula performed too, a sketch where the negative voices in her head- telling her she is ugly, reminding her to mourn past hurts, telling her she is not good enough and not capable- were symbolised by puppets worked and voiced by four other women. She decided to walk to the other side of the stage, they attempted to stop her, the drama was set up in the simplest way. It worked. She won my sympathy, attention, and will for her to succeed. Then Lucy performed, in the way I aspire to. We had a curry, and went back to Sam’s place.

I love the stained glass in the Minster transept, and particularly the grief on Mary’s face

and Mary Magdalen reaching up- but what is that spare hand doing?

Hull, city of culture

Here is “The Elephant in the Room” by Claire Morgan in the atrium of a shopping centre. I went to the top floor to see it, then descended escalators. At the bottom it was clear that the hundreds of bits of paper tied to long threads only mark the surface of the whale, not its innards- transporting and hanging it without fankling those threads was a precision job. So it is the ghost of a whale, diaphanous, not really there; the stench and value of a whole whale’s oil, blubber, meat and bone all gone, left with a sketch. I love the effort to create this thing, and the gentle motion of it in the air currents.

I like the way the fairly standard large shopping centre is built over the water:

When Lucy was doing her Kindful Eating seminar, after I had been photographed again at the Minster, I went to the Ferens art gaĺlery. It is provincial, and has much space cleared out for the Turner Prize which opens shortly, but I was moved by the picture of Stanley Spencer in a family group.

I walked back to Sam’s, glad to notice the chippy a short distance away. Clara asked if I would like to join Chris and Anna for the Tuesday meal: just round the corner ten of us including five students had baked potatoes. I am well looked after for a near stranger.

City of Culture 

We walked away from the city centre, through an underpass, and over waste ground to the River. This is still industrial rather than touristy, but there is a fenced-off path by the water. We go by Port Authority land, where huge stacks of pipes sit. Perhaps the docked ships are nothing special, but they are imposing. We can just see land the other side of the Humber. Up river, we see the Humber bridge. It is windy, sunny, bracing, beautiful.

I love the vigorous signs of my civilisation, working together. I am kept warm and well fed by it. I love the beauty of this industrial landscape, even the rust on the metal, showing it is rugged and well used.

There is a bridge over the canal, which is open to ships. We thought of walking back, but a man leant out of the office to say it would be passable in half an hour. So we sat and waited, and I worked out my idea of gender.

The binary only matters for reproduction. Some people have testicles, some people have wombs, but all gendered behaviour is natural for and should be permissible to both groups, and all who fit neither. I am poisoned and mutilated because I went along with the attempt to make me normal and explicable.  I should not have to bear the cost of being different. My gifts are valuable and I, following the desires of others, have wasted them in a pointless attempt to fit in.

So there.

We go past the marina to the old town. This is touristified former industrial. Here is the House of Kings and Queens exhibition, photos of gay people surviving persecution: we are at home!  From there we go to the Minster. The nave is closed off for extensive works. The sanctuary and choir are worth wandering through, and the stained glass on the South of the transept is worth paying attention to. Here we meet the artist Annabel McCourt.

After some halfwitted hate-preacher said he wanted to put all the queers behind an electric fence so we would die out, she has built one, and here it is. It is eight feet high and in a square about three yards across. It curves in at the top. She is making a film about it, and as I enthuse she offers to record me. I am delighted. I am on fire.

I say how I love this civilisation, its power and organisation, and I recognise order and deferred gratification is necessary; and I love the beauty of this church which preserves that order; yet the Church and her Fence are part of the same thing, and I am on the outside. I want to tear the fence down, I say angrily.

She’s smiling and nodding. I carry on repeating I want to tear the fence down,  decisively, matter-of-factly, plaintively, sexily.

Would I mind being filmed? I would be delighted. I curl into the foetal position in the centre of the Fence, trembling, then am pictured caressing the wire with my beautiful hands.

Lucy and I go off for lunch in a market hall. It’s cheap, £1 for a cup of tea, but beautiful. These people own their own businesses and care for the place. The we sit in the sun by the flowers and the fountains eating fruit.

In the evening I explain myself to Sam. Society seeking necessary order has mutilated and poisoned me, and I have seen the necessity of loving and forgiving it. At the time he protests society is wrong about so much and I exclaim, “I have forgiven the bastards!” Of course as with any spiritual lesson I have just seen the possibility, not taken it into my heart and made it real; but I will.

Sam says he exemplifies for anyone who can see it a better way. Even that might be possible.

I am amazed to think of the coincidences which have brought me this rich experience and life-changing lesson. Annabel is only filming for one day, and it was odd to meet Sam who offered to put me up in Hull. I would not have come otherwise. A day later, I feel that I have made a connection between the Order which enables our civilisation, and the Order which excludes queers. You can have one without the other, but people find that difficult sometimes. I am letting go of shoulds, and resentment. It is as it is.

Art, Life, Beauty, Wonder

Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

At the Tate, I become bigger.

There’s Forward, by Erik Bulatov. It is imposing, and slightly ridiculous; it is made vulnerable by the Ρ lying on its side. In it, there is a group of young women, laughing and photographing each other; a pair of young women, talking and taking photographs, more quietly, and me. The pair were happy to take my photo. This temporary art work outside the gallery relaxes us, makes us open and receptive. In the same way the exhibitions move me and open me up. I see beauty, and a representative sample of an artist’s life’s work, and it changes the way I think. It knocks me out of my groove.

A counselling session. I am proud of my formulation: I am Love, Will, Curiosity, Playfulness, Need and Courage. This may replace my former view, “I am Worthless”- I recognised that former view was wrong twenty years ago, but could not shift it; finding an alternative view to replace it may be the way to break its hold on me.

What do I do? How have I spent these six years of unemployment?

I interact.

I talk to people, including strangers. I write, here and for print. I entertain, challenge and provoke: others see things differently because of me. Some of my NYT comments have hundreds of recommendations, and hundreds more readers.

I heal.

My self-analysis makes me better able to flourish in the world.

I serve.

Over the last six years this has been most clear with Quakers. In Quaker roles I have tried to achieve the good of my Friends, as I best saw it.

And the opportunities for interacting and serving have been so minimal! I remind myself to be positive, to value what is. I have sought opportunities as my self-worth has permitted.

I need to achieve!
I hunger for Action!

I could easily afford to go in to London twice a month to the Tate, then perhaps to see a friend or go 5-rhythms dancing, getting train tickets two or three days earlier and cycling to the station to limit costs. So why don’t I? I find what I want when I see what I do. I love it when I do. Possibly I have some worry about doing something simply for the delight of it, or possibly I don’t like the faff of the travel, four hours or more travelling which is not particularly pleasant. Recently I have not had good train conversations- on Tuesday I asked a woman if she liked to talk on trains, and she said she had only little English, then went to the seat she had pre-booked. Why have I not done it? I don’t know, but those could be reasons.

I have not explored my world, and yet I have- with a bit more thought, I could put that less paradoxically. I still see the world as a threat. Or, I have not learned all the positive lessons from my explorations. I am careful and frightened, and I seek to look after myself. I am generous with a ruthless streak- humans cannot bear very much reality, and we are rarely so confronted with reality that our ruthlessness becomes apparent, but I think I have ruthlessness when in a corner.

That could be Love tempered with Will and Need, she says.

It seems you feed Curiosity, probably Will and Need, but possibly not the others equally, she says. Possibly you could see which of the six you do not look after as much, and make space to serve them too. Have you considered writing for children, for your toddler self?

I am tantalised by art, life, beauty, wonder. I have some experience of them, but not enough for my taste.

Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer to the community. Over time, these gifts are meant to be seen, developed, and called into the village at times of need. To feel valued for the gifts with which we are born affirms our worth and dignity. In a sense, it is a form of spiritual employment – simply being who we are confirms our place in the village. That is one of the fundamental understandings about gifts: we can only offer them by being ourselves fully. Gifts are a consequence of authenticity; when we are being true to our natures, the gift can emerge.

– Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow

Pansy

After the election, where I anticipated an increased Conservative majority, I am overjoyed. At the station, that woman asked how I was.

“I’m delighted,” I said.

“I can see that. It shines out of you. It’s beautiful” she said. I offered a hug, and she accepted.

I was already overjoyed, and my cup ran over. I spasmed with it. Feeling happy, walking along, I have sashayed; sometimes I turn my wrists outwards, as if the Qi in me needs to flow out; now muscles tense and flex expressing it. Joy ripples through me like aftershocks, on the train. I don’t tend to notice other adults doing this sort of thing. I am still doing teenage, but here going right back to being a toddler, a different kind of toddler-hood which teaches me to integrate rather than suppress feeling.

It seems to me that I could call what I am a “Pansy”. The word has little baggage, unlike “Sissy”, co-opted to describe non-penetrative sexual services offered by some discreet older women. I can make of it what I will, add my own baggage to it. I am a pansy. I like viragos.

We went to the Giacometti exhibition. Man and Woman, which he created in his late 20s, fits this idea.

You can’t see it from the photos, but that sharp point is not touching the female. She bends backwards, but does not retreat, and a flower opens to accept the point. It is vulnerable and proud. There is a meeting, and a balance, between the two.

Sexually, I identify with the flower not the point. Yet calling me transwoman, trans woman, woman, whatever, is only an approximation. That vulnerable flowering is overwhelmingly seen as Female, but rather it is feminine, and I am a feminine male. A pansy. I should not need physical adjustment to actualise myself, just to find how my body can work with my spirit.

This is not normal, but “normal” must be resisted. It is a cultural creation of powerful folk who cannot conceive that anyone could be other than they, or that what is best for them might not be best for everyone. I don’t fit the norms, or rules, so have to make my own rules. It might have helped if I had not been so indoctrinated so strongly into the value of normal. Discretion protects the abnormal, it can be good not to be noticed, and one can take that too far.

Yvonne points out that all the active sculptures in the Giacometti exhibition- pointing, walking, even falling- are men. Some of the busts look childish in execution. One of his wife reminds me of a sex doll, or at least the cliché I have seen on TV: wide eyes, mouth like an O, flat caricature face. Before marriage she had worked in an office at the Red Cross. From the 1930s, here is a narrow sculpture (The more I wanted to make them broader, the narrower they got, he said) about four feet tall, her head slightly raised to meet the eye of an adult observer about a yard away. It’s not assurance, exactly, nor apprehension: she does not know what that viewer will do. She will respond appropriately, to whatever requires a response. The mind of that figure contains no story about what thing feared or desired will happen next, or what ought to be happening now, so will see what is happening and respond to it. I see capability in that standing figure.

Across the room is another standing figure on a plinth which would be chest height on her, if she stood beside it. This relatively huge imposing plinth supports her slender figure, which is an inch tall. “She does not know she is tiny,” I exclaimed, and a woman says “I would never have thought of it that way”: here we are open, so that talking to a stranger seems natural. It is one of the most moving works of art I have ever seen, and she has the same naturalness, lack of constraint, and capability.

I do not need to be constrained by Manliness. I can be a Pansy. If I relax and lose my stories of how the world is or should be, I may even be able to be myself.

We ate on the South Bank at an outside table, and I loved the Sun gilding the edges of the clouds. When it was a bit cool to stay there, but still light, we walked across the bridge. “Love the T-shirt,” I said of a passer-by. It was blue with an EU circle of stars and the words “Member of the Liberal Elite, established 2016”. He stopped to enthuse about the election.

National Palace of Mafra

What can we do to entertain our friend, when he can hardly walk half a mile? We drove him about a bit, but sitting in the back I was completely bored. He did not seem much better. We parked by the Atlantic, and he said, “You get out, I will stay in the car”. “We could go to Mafra,” said the other, doubtfully, and I said,

“Why would we go to Mafra? What is there possibly to see in Mafra?”

So we went back to the villa. Such is the problem of not having the proper references to hand. I thought it would be a town with a caff and a few shops, rather than the site of the Baroque palace of João V. We went there on the last day. Unfortunately, our friend could not climb the steps, so had to sit in a caff while we went round the palace. In the ticket office, I met a couple I knew from Nupton Quaker meeting. I don’t like João V. His great palace had a monastery attached, as if that made it alright. We saw a bare cell with a desk, almost a reasonable size of bedroom, which I thought might be bearable for a moderately ascetic academic, but realised that was for the abbot when we saw the dormitory. Monks had a recess, but not a closed cell. How strange, to be immured and institutionalised here while the King enjoyed his hunting! You would be part of the Christian framework which made his every excess acceptable before God, in the convenient fiction everyone went along with.

I don’t like it, still, with this bird tethered. You can have your photo taken with it for a fee. It spreads its wings periodically, either nervously or because it cannot balance.

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A sign of the great piety is this bizarre sculpture. The bloody neck and fallen head shocked we Quakers.

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“Soft porn again,” I thought dismissively. Still, it’s all a matter of taste. I like the men grovelling before an enthroned woman, in my featured image, it’s far more my thing.

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Men on the murals are being tortured.

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-What do you think this is?
-An instrument of torture.

Well, it’s clearly a game. I wonder how it works.

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It’s a hunting lodge, and you might see this at Atholl Castle. I would hate those chairs. It delights in cruelty.

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It delights in cruelty, and the appearance of learning.

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The attached church has six separate organs, with six separate consoles, around the transept. They have recitals monthly.

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In the afternoon we went to Cascais, where I tripped off to the Paula Rego exhibition, tempted by “sexually vulnerable women and animals, and men dressed in women’s clothes or with the heads of fish”. I did not read the small print, that it is closed on Monday, so wandered round the park, where I found this folly.

cascais-folly

In the free Town Museum some of the English is translated picturesquely: they had an “Outbreak of tourists”.

Obidos

This Moorish fortress-town, still with Moorish street plan, is stunning. We picked it almost at random returning from Fatima- we had been advised to pop into somewhere as we drove back, but almost did not, lacking enthusiasm.

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The defensive structures are impressive. English and Welsh castles are all ruined because they could not cope with Civil War artillery yet were still used as fortresses in that war. I am glad that did not happen here. In 1580 a Spanish coup took over the country, but in 1640 Portugal achieved independence again- as a Scot, I am delighted by that, and their English alliance is a mirror image of our Auld alliance.

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These are the remains of the International Chocolate Festival, a delightful idea. The fifteenth is this year, 10 March to 2 April.

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We walked round the walls. I would not have enjoyed it with more tourists about: passing, with one pressed against the wall and the other close to the drop was mildly unpleasant. Would there be safety barriers if this were in England, or would walking be forbidden?

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We climbed that high turret. I did it just for the photo, and without a safety barrier felt a bit ill. A small girl blithely ran up the stairs, letting me take the wall-side. Later on I found a woman, clearly overcome by the experience, walking very slowly down two yard wide stairs to ground level. She leaned on the wall for support.

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Note how these graves are all lying on the surface. I wonder if they are on the bare stone, and the bodies lie just below those low sepulchre lids.

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We stopped off for a coffee, and I bought my only piece of tourist tat, of course a pendant.

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Lisbon Cathedral

I really want you to look at my header photo. I have not seen a beggar like that in Britain. At least the Cathedral chapter allow her to be there, unlike St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are more decorative churches in Lisbon than its cathedral. Its facade is almost bare, its columns unadorned.

lisbon-cathedrallisbon-cathedral-from-the-galleryThe guide book said it was not worth seeing, with just “a couple of tombs”, but it has grandeur. I was glad to be there, after the great difficulty we had getting there. With few tourists it has a more peaceful, even holy, atmosphere than Jheronymus.

Here are the tombs. I love the dogs, and the thought of reading and contemplating while awaiting the Resurrection.

lisbon-cathedral-doglisbon-cathedral-readerThe West window is easily interpreted? Twelve apostles and Christ at the centre, smaller than they, for some reason.

lisbon-cathedral-west-window-1 lisbon-cathedral-west-windowI paid to go into the cloisters, which are being excavated. Some of the buildings uncovered are Roman, some Moorish, and there is a Roman sewer.

lisbon-cathedral-cloister-excavationsOutside, the trams shake and judder up the steep hill. They are a tourist attraction, he went to ride one while I was in Belem. Notice the English. I had not realised how quickly my camera battery would run down, and took the rest of my photographs on the phone.

lisbon-cathedral-tramThat beggar, again. Leaving, I handed her a 20c coin. She kissed it. I did not, as the Pope advises, look her in the eye and touch her hands, wishing her “Bom dia”- I looked away, embarrassed.

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The hilltop palace at Sintra

The undeserving rich, the moneyed elites of Portugal, looked at Brighton Pavilion with envious eyes, and built it on steroids.

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I love this place. I find it fabulously beautiful, and am delighted it exists; and appalled at the thought of living within miles, as it dominates the countryside. The king can get that thing built, even on that hill top, with all the labour involved, and just live there. Viva a revolução!

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All the tourists are about, and everyone is taking photographs. In the upper storey of the courtyard, below, I saw three together, all with cameras glued to faces, and they dispersed just before I could photograph them.

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The exterior is fabulous, the interior less so. When this was being furnished, sculpture had moved on from this cheap soft porn. The undeserving rich can have execrable taste.

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I find the chapel disturbing as well. The luxury-ascetic of it, such a rich depiction of death by torture. Christianity is full of paradox, the church saying the Magnificat- “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones”- while sucking up to the powerful, who pray in places of such adornment- how could anyone of any imagination get this place built then put a chapel in it? Serve God or self-indulgence, man- but you have to choose.

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Belem

To the cultural quarter. Tristão e Isolda is next week, alas. We miss it. The overcast sky is not ideal for photos, but the Centro Cultural is beautiful, clad in rose stone. I walk a wide stone passageway up to the Berardo Collection, alone in the off-season, and it feels empowering and liberating, not at all like the stark concrete ravine west of the National Theatre in London.

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is worth photographing in any light, even a phone snap which I cannot edit.

All the cloisters are intricately carved.

People are doing selfies, which I find difficult:

The refectory has stories in pictures, which I do not like.

The church from the gallery.

It is a tourist hubbub even now, so I say I want to pray, and go into a quieter side chapel. A woman presses her forehead to an altar below a statue of the Virgin.

There are so many artists in the Berardo overview of the twentieth century! I will not comment as I fear sounding Pooterish. Here is the church from the water garden.