Fear and dependence

To the jobcentre.

-How are you?
-Sort of alright, more or less, I say. This is not good enough. Sally is so clucking motherly.
-Better than last time?
Well. I can’t pay my gas bill, I have this that and the other problem, so I say no. Though all must be on an improving trajectory, I shall be fit and well and working soon, and so she cannot really accept that answer, I am not budging from it.

-Do you know why you’re here today?
Because I am to be referred to a welfare-to-work programme. I say I am in the Work Related Activity Group and the person I saw last time referred me to another scheme for more intensive help to get work. So I am here for that.

“I referred you-”

I hated being there anyway. I had no pleasant anticipation of the “help” I might receive: unpaid work experience in a supermarket, perhaps, with sanctions if I refused. And I thought this interview was the start of it, so much so that I did not recognise Sally when I saw her. I was mortified. Not because she reacts badly, but because I am kicking myself. Not because I want to be polite to this person but because I fear not to. My inner policeman is out, cudgelling me for making such a mistake which could hurt me so badly even if Sally does not show that.

It is an imbalance of power between us; yet it is all in me, my worry, fear, embarrassment, judgment of self that is cudgelling me. Could I just not care? My own reaction is the only thing I might control, but having made the mistake I make myself less able to respond to what comes next, because I am dwelling on it.

I thought this was the start of the HELP programme, but it is not. Actually, I have to turn up for the referral to be completed, Sally does not know why. I suggest it is to avoid people being referred and not turning up after being on the programme, after their appointments being paid for, because this is contracted out. Had I not attended today, I would have been sanctioned. If I do not attend when summoned again, I will be sanctioned. That is a cut in benefit, perhaps 40%. She phones up the service provider, because she likes to speak to someone, but they tell her just to complete the referral screen on her computer, so she does that.

At the supermarket, a woman commiserates with me, having to cycle home four miles. It’s not that far, I say- “But so much time when you have so much to do!” she says. Well, it is a way of getting slightly breathless. Better to cycle home than to have to drive to a gym later.

Pictures from Pisa

I love this; but not all shots along the river from the bridge are the same. I love the balance of light and shade, and the reflections in the water, but a boat or a bird would improve it; and not all my shots from the bridge were as good.

How do you show the angle of the tower? It is so familiar, and so deeply weird:

I loved the fallen angel, a recent sculpture, with its broken head and arm, which I took from up the tower:

I did not at first notice the screaming face in its wing:

Pigeons feasted on a display of bread at a street cafe. The man who chased them off was peeved.

A flower, from the tropical hothouse:

Pisa pictures

Men with sub-machineguns prowled around the cathedral and tower, and ordinary city police had holstered pistols. I am perturbed, but the other tourists do not seem bothered. How to photograph them? I took these from behind, as when Philip pictured them he got into a contretemps. Then, emerging from the tower, I thought to take that carabinieri from a distance:

but did not think it through, just snapped and walked on, so did not even notice that my lens was at too wide an angle or that a man had just walked in front of him anyway. Police here do not like being photographed, though they are happy to intimidate ordinary people demonstrating, by taking detailed video. The policeman on the left was paying attention, and thereby showed his face for the picture beautifully, so my terrorist cell- if I had one- could identify him.

On the West of the South transept I spent some time admiring the door. Such craftsmanship:

It’s yet another Annunciation. It looks childlike, compared to the West door, where some people just dashed by, instead of admiring:

That chap has no wings. Is it Christ, giving Lucifer a push? Some of the figures on the door stood out from it, away from the plane. Wonderful technique.

The fresco of the last judgment in the walled burial ground was cruel. Half was Hell; but Christ is a quarter of the way along the picture, and there are people in the half I first thought was Heaven who are on his Left. That is not a good place to be.

Note that he is looking to his left. At the moment captured, he is not greeting the Blessed, but condemning the Damned, who are being repelled by sword-wielding angels. I am not familiar enough with Italian Judgment scenes to be sure, but it seems unusual to me to have the Queen of Heaven seated in apparent equality.

I am also unused to sights like the chap among the blessed, who should not be there, being hauled off by an angel. There is arguable Biblical authority for that, but the picture is designed to inspire fear rather than Love. Even the Blessed look pretty scared.

A thin layer of plaster containing the pigment was taken away, preserved, and brought back to be hung on metal supports, away from the brick wall.

Looking at paintings

In my friend’s secondary modern school, in the corridor by the head teacher’s office, there was a small reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. At a dark time in his life, with little aesthetic pleasure, it was a vision of beauty, and he decided he must see the original. Nearly half a century later, he did last week, and I went with him.

I was unenthusiastic. It is a famous painting, and will be surrounded by crowds, with little chance to appreciate it. Familiarity with the image made me uninterested. I have seen it so many times already, or so I thought. Of course I have not.

There were people having their picture taken with it, and I did so too:

I now see that with your head in front of the shell, at her feet, is a better picture.

I loved it. The real thing is so much more than the arrangement of characters. I was even more enchanted with Primavera, in the next gallery.

This gave me moments of bliss, considering details like the flowers of the forest floor:

or this pattern on the lady’s dress:

Of course I know her face, it is a common selected detail, but I am less familiar with her floral ruff; and was enchanted by the beauty of the creation of her foot, the subtle movements of colour and line showing it on a flat plane without brush strokes I could differentiate.

The moral is that however delightful images on a computer are, they have little of the impact of the work itself. Fortunately you do not have to go to the Uffizi to get a similar experience. It is available in any city art gallery, and possibly the galleries of large towns.

Blessings at Christmas

A woman artist gives a different perspective on the Annunciation. Gabriel kneels to Mary as the Holy Spirit descends, as she bows to him in assent- ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Against the spiritual or even sentimental view of the Holy Family, here is a physical act with the human mother and child. Often in painting, the child turns towards the viewer with hand raised in blessing. Here he is a baby, with a baby’s wants and actions.

Biblical paintings were a mix of authenticity, contemporary references, and symbolism like the flower in Jesus’ right hand. The roses may symbolise Mary’s life, controlled by the imperative of the Saviour’s life journey. Or Love; or her role as the Bride of Christ. Your knowledge and tastes affect your response to the paintings.

Coming Out

We went to the “Coming Out” exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Here we find a picture book about a child called “Tiny”, whose name and clothes do not indicate what sex they are. A boy thinks that silly and wrong, but the teacher stands up for them. I think, how wonderful not to have your gender expression policed based on your sex, but that would not prevent bullying and hostility. All children should be treated that way, and very young children know women should not wear ties: we would observe adults even if we did not know gender.

There are two Hockney paintings, “We two boys together,” from before 1967, and one of a man getting out of a Californian pool. There are six photographs by a lesbian of herself in mannish poses which I find beautiful. I love her strong face, her level gaze, the naturalness of her spread legs and arms, making herself bigger, the way the camera looks up at her. I notice the background has been cut away from one, and a clear blue sky replaces it, with a hand-drawn line between. L would not have noticed. So, spending time with art works increases my appreciation. I saw the butterfly in my first time considering Uli’s painting; she noticed it after owning the thing for months.

Why is it in an art gallery? Excellent question. A curator paid to judge such things considers that it says something worthwhile, or is beautiful or striking. Why am I drawn to it is more difficult. I find the woman beautiful, and love her challenge to femininity- or, perhaps, her otherness from femininity, inhabiting her self as if “femininity” did not exist. I can’t imagine wearing Grayson Perry’s cream coming out dress, with flat chest and sash like a little girl’s party frock, with colourful motifs which are disembodied cock-and-balls, arranged in circles like flowers or tied with a bow like a flying creature. It’s not normal, and I find that empowering, because neither am I.

Some paintings here are by gay artists, and not on diversity of gender or sexuality at all. Does the artist’s sexuality imbue any painting? This minimalist landscape, with a green background. The green is slightly mottled by the moments of application. I notice that, when I study it. That tiny pool grabs my attention. The lines which could be the edge of sky, and the straight line grid with only one line diagonal, as if creating a third dimension.

We went off round the German Christmas market, where people drink warmed wine as the snow falls. It’s a party atmosphere before the city hall. The tat is overpriced. I like the dragon which breathes out smoke from a joss stick, but only as an idea. I would not want it in my house. There’s a huge plastic Santa on a roof, cheeks blotchy red from cold or from drink. Recorded music blasts out and drunken men sing along. We talk of our conflicts. L’s are principled. How do we oppose oppression? Is “Fit at any size” better than an attempt to get to a “healthy” BMI ignoring all other factors in a person’s life, or is it just another thing which misses the point? A PhD lets her be heard, but is the kind of way of evaluating who and what is worth hearing that she opposes. I find a principled struggle for freedom for all.

The Edwardian Teashop in the museum. I would not mind using these people as an audience. “Ladies and Gentlemen”
-Would you stop there?
-Ladies, Gentlemen and others?
She gives a long list which I will not approximate: I found it. Butches, Radfems and Kingsters, Nancyboys, Nellies, Dandies and Drakes, Bears, soft butches, chubsters, chicks with dicks, ponces and goddesses, two-spirited folk, pansexuals, asexuals, lesbians gay men and bisexuals…

On the train the woman talked enthusiastically of working for Network Rail, and the ideas of the engineers. She does not follow all of it, but notices a smoother or rockier ride. That group of young posh people mentioned a man so keen on appearing hipster that he wore glasses he did not need.

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.