Switch House

From the roof of the Turbine Hall, accessed from the members’ room, here is The Switch House. The sun did all I could wish in that moment.


An art snob complained that because the viewing gallery is free, the lifts are clogged with people going up for the view who do not bother with the art. I hope that some of them might descend by the stairs, and be fascinated by the exhibits. I have been up there: if it is a less sophisticated pleasure than the content of the galleries, it is still a real one.


The Switch House

To the new part of Tate Modern.

Switch house members room 2

The members’ room is spacious and high-ceilinged, yet it feels claustrophobic. It is strange. Perhaps it is how small the windows are, or the thick concrete beams, but I feel enclosed.

Switch house members room

It is built onto the back of the Turbine Hall, whose wall is of course vertical- yet looking up at it, because of the angle of the new building, looks as if it is leaning over me.

There is now a bridge across the top of the Turbine Hall.

turbine hall ai wei wei

There is a viewing platform on the tenth floor. Please respect the privacy of our neighbours, say the signs. Perhaps those are exhibited for sale: they don’t look lived in.

The Two Towers

I love having this public space for art, and the large new works use it- there is one of Louise Bourgeois’ Maman spiders.

Hammer Blows of Fate

mahlerI am angry and upset in the midweek Quaker meeting. If you proposed to me possible reasons for this- being unemployed, issues in the Quaker meeting itself, my father dying two months ago- I would agree these seemed reasonable, but did not fit.

Gustav MahlerEventually, I put it down to listening to Mahler’s sixth symphony last night. The Hammer Blow is a huge fortissimo chord with tympani ostinato, three times in the last movement. I knew it was there, I knew it was coming, but the last such chord shocked me. Liz, of course, knows the work and knows exactly what I mean. If you see the orchestra playing, and sit with the audience, it is a different experience- perhaps cathartic; but if, after, there is no joining in thunderous applause, just me and the silence, it is different. These works were meant to be a shared experience.

It is not as if I was not warned. G told me of the Hammer Blows, and how they related to incidents in Mahler’s life, including the death of his daughter and his dismissal from the Vienna Opera: but I had not known that the symphony was composed before these. He revised the symphony repeatedly, and took out that last Blow, but my recording and others reinstate it: the ending without it is a cop-out.

Without the woodI sat in contemplative stillness for most of the work, with a break between the second and third movement. It starts in darkness, with a relentless march in the minor key, but has a sweet slow movement.

I read “upset” is a symptom rather than an emotion: but it fits that moment before fight or flight, where unconscious systems have not chosen between them: or the alternative to fight or flight, which is curling up in a quivering ball. Over coffee, after, I chatted with Charlotte, who cannot usually come on Sundays, of difficulties in the CAB, of how the system slowly became more difficult so that I seemed to achieve less and less; with Liz of Immigration and how the Home Office’s systems seem entirely punitive, to protect the fearful British from parasitic foreigners; and with S on leaving social work. She found the service users fine, but hated the bureaucracy, and how it was all about finance, and it seemed to me one would either hate the system, or hate the clients: stuck in between one could not value both.

I went for coffee at K’s house and talked deeply, then to the bank. Tired, I left my card in the machine, and a passer-by brought it into the bank: a lesson of my own carelessness and the kindness of strangers. Then to the Library, where I admired these beautiful pillars. Rachel Whiteread won the Turner prize with her hollow house, and a few years later these pillars are in Swanston, plaster echoing wood. I had my catharsis, but only other people could make it bearable.

King’s Cross

semicircle to the corner

King’s Cross station, formerly a rough place, is now beautiful.

From outside

From outside, I found it unremarkable, though now I see that it promises what is within.

Towards the back3651

See the sunlight in it.


I like the opportunity to take a panorama: people hurrying or dawdling, their clothes, their gestures. Click twice to enlarge.

Panorama (2)

Meeting house


The meeting house was built in 1819, with one addition in the 20th century. What do you think of it?

pathP1010317One Friend hates it. It is completely unfitting, It partially obscures the window which above the door, is visible from within, and has a completely different aesthetic to the building. The pillars are just like the Parthenon in that they are not perfect cylinders, but ever so slightly bulgy, to look better. This is called entasis. However, they are made of planks of wood, and are hollow.

Another says that the meeting house would look like a workhouse, but for the porch.

I just don’t know. I barely noticed the building, actually, I have been worshipping there nearly three years and, well, it just was. I was surprised when someone said she hated the porch.

What do you think?


By the lake

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/38/Cadell_Florians_Cafe.jpgThe decking is suspended above the water, and between the planks I see sun sparkling on the surface, and making ripple-patterns on the muddy bed below. The corner of the decking is an acute angle, like a prow, and the building behind also has an acute angle- the prow-look is accentuated by wires like horizontal shrouds around it, and a triangular mesh like a sail. We enjoy tea, in the sun.

I was walking to the corner shop, and two young women- I would say late teens- came out of a side street ahead of me. They kept looking around, back at me, and then they stopped at the bus stop- and I only thought later, but the bus doesn’t run on Sundays. They were examining me, and I feel they have read me- and that is a threat, after my experiences. I try not to be too frightened by it.

-Well, teenage girls, especially two together. At that age you are interested in everything and everyone, what they look like, how they walk, how to live and be…

That is reassuring, actually. No-one wears skirts here, not below the knee at any rate. They are not necessarily hostile. And- I wasn’t, at that age. I had life completely sorted, and even though I was completely wrong about it that did not detract at all from my certainty.

-You do illustrate however deep the suppression, freedom is always possible.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d0/Edgar_Germain_Hilaire_Degas_038.jpg-I heard of a tax scam. It is no longer possible, but the idea was to import mobile phones, sell them round a chain of seven or eight companies, then export them again. In fact there might be no phones at all, just bricks, or paperwork unrelated to any physical object. The company exporting would claim VAT back from Customs, and the company importing would not get round to paying VAT on the imported phones before going into liquidation.

-Such energy and creativity people put into being parasites! And- imagine being completely alone, only able to manage an armed truce with your partners in crime, unsure when they would stab you in the back-

-How awful it must be to be them!
Though they would probably say the same about us, and between them and our pacifist co-operation there is a huge range of human behaviour and character.

-Oh, the Carousel scam, said Ian when I talked of it later.

I was thinking of cycling there, one day, and photographing the church. But I have only just become politically aware, and think, how awful that the masses lived as subsistence peasants and labourers while the surplus was used to build this huge, useless thing.
-But beautiful. It is still beautiful. Value that.


Peter ministered in Meeting: as we think of April Jones and her family- the five year old girl from Machynlleth, we should spare some compassion for Mark Bridger, now charged with her murder. He too had family, friends, a life. And I thought, No. If I knew him, I might have some feeling for him, though perhaps I would owe it more to her; but as it is, I have not enough compassion for the people I know, hardly enough for myself. And- yes, he is entitled to a fair trial, and even mitigation of his suffering if that be possible, but I can have no part in that, and so wishing for it seems cheap.

After, Ann, an Ecumenical Accompanier for three months in 2011, gave a talk. I had not realised how the West Bank is so overrun by Israeli soldiers, for the last ten years, so the Palestinians are divided from their neighbours. The gaps between the brown areas are where the settlements are, restricting the movement of the Palestinians. She showed a picture of a town surrounded by beautiful flower beds, and one of polytunnels, watered and growing peppers and aubergines for the British supermarkets among others, for all the water is controlled by Israelis. She spoke of a village where the Settlers had told the villagers to get out, in 2003, and so now accompaniers record the sufferings of the villagers. Settlers come into the village with impunity and with guns, and urinate in the village well. She told of the army bulldozing homes, and even attacking the entrances to caves with bulldozers so that the cave become less habitable. Even where settlement activity is illegal under Israeli law, it proceeds. The US votes against Security Council condemnation, and the UK abstains, which blocks resolutions.

The villagers had just two days to harvest their olive trees, but because they had not been able to tend the trees the crop could fit in the mayor’s pocket. If this treatment has not yet driven out the Palestinians, they may only be extirpated by killing them. As the Third Reich discovered, simply shooting unarmed civilians upsets soldiers, and reduces their combat effectiveness. The gas chambers were easier on the operators. Ann talked of soldiers weeping because they could not bear what they were ordered to do, and of a Settler child screaming hatred of her because she was preventing them taking the land given by God to the Jews.

Then we had lunch, a convivial affair. The daughter of one of us, I had not known her, is going out as an Accompanier. I chatted  to two dark-skinned chaps, a rare though not unheard of sight in a meeting house. One is a Muslim, who grew up in Coventry in the 1960s, and bewails the corruption of Pakistanis in Pakistan- the drone strikes could not happen without government complicity- and in England. He is a believing Muslim, and hates the mosques: the Imams are trained and mosques built with Saudi money. The Imam thinks he is there to tell the people what to think and what to do. They think alike, the Saudis, the Israelis and the American Evangelicals. We agree how beautiful Coventry Cathedral is- going North, to black despair, and meeting God there. Constantine took the Church and made it his own power tool. What can be done? He does not know, though there is hope in Microfinance.

I came home to watch Robert Hughes on The Shock of the New explain how similar was the architecture of Stalin’s Russia- this was before the Wall fell- Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and-

corporate America. One example he picked on was the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts.

As I cycled home, a girl walking by exclaimed, “Love the helmet”. So do I. It is pink, with flowers on. My arms are bare in the almost-warm-enough sunshine. Another cyclist passed me, and commented, “The drivers are less manic on a Sunday”. Almost all are courteous, waiting for a clearly safe place to overtake me.

To Edinburgh

“It is impossible to experience, and to think one experiences.”

The man’s refined and sensitive appearance was enhanced by his tattoo, of vines and handwriting round his bicep (I did not get a proper look at it). I was looking for an opportunity to start talking, so commented on that line. I said how fascinating I found it, and asked what he was studying.

I am not sure it is true. If I take a mouthful, and it grasps my attention with particular flavours and textures, the feel on the tongue and between the teeth, I can both be present in my experience in my mouth, and notice I am having a wonderful experience. Yes, you begin to classify it, to assign words to it, which distance you from the experience itself, but the point of the words is to bring me as close as possible to reality, so I may leap off from them into an increasing understanding of reality.

His perspective is the architect’s. He explains that if you walk into a building, you have an experience of that building. If you take a photograph of the building, you pigeon-hole that experience. There are conventions of how we see, we see what we expect to see, we construct a 160° or so view but can only focus on a tiny area. If you look at a ripe tomato you see red, but when people saw an image showing just the skin of it without the shape to show it was a tomato, they saw yellows and greens and other shades.

We are both delighted and fascinated by now. “What do you do?” I am seeking to get to know myself, my desires, feelings and hurts. I realised the most important thing for me was to avoid feeling anger and fear, I have a fear reaction to that primary emotion, so I seek to trust my own emotional responses. Later, the airline pilot asks the same question, and I replied “Nothing”. So he said, “What did you do?” He can still classify me. I think, to strangers, my former answer is better: those I respect will classify me as I wish to be classified.

The look of a building has too much importance, architectural competitions are won by the building which looks best rather than the most appropriate experience of a building. Can you convey that with drawings and plans? He thinks he can, though the problem is conveying that to the clients. Words, again. I would have asked him about whether he could design an experience of the numinous into a building, or convey it in a drawing, but he gets off the train at Sheffield, to see the city council about a contract. I am surprised, and pleased, that an architect meeting a client can wear a black t shirt showing his tattoo, rather than a dark suit, white shirt and tie. The uniform shows conformity. I am glad conformity need not be thought to be a prerequisite of quality.

I change at Sheffield, and sit beside an academic. She is going from Leicester to York for a meeting about a joint project on the influence on the development of dance of the African diasporas, between 1946 and 2005 (shamelessly, I read over her shoulder). I notice the beauty of her eyebrows, the whiteness of her teeth, the care she has taken over the foundation on her cheek. Why a co-operation between universities? To get a different perspective. She says how many of the trains have been cancelled, we go on a raised bank between flooded fields. See how high the rivers are!

When she gets off, I join Mick and Chrissie, Quakers from Exeter who are going on holiday, first for two nights in Edinburgh then to Aviemore- not for the skiing, too early, but to see wildlife. There are Highland red squirrels there, I say, they have a distinctive ring round the base of the tail. Chrissie tells of watching a cat getting low into pouncing position with a young nestling, and the bird, apparently unconcerned, tottering up towards the cat- “saying, have you any food?, please be friends with me”. The cat backed off, lowered itself again to pounce, and the bird walked towards it again. Chrissie thought of interfering, but the bird seemed able to cope, and soon its parents would rescue it, dive-bombing the cat. We enjoy the views of the sea. Are we in Scotland yet? No idea- oh, that must be the Tweed. The border is just north of Berwick. Chrissie is a Doctor Who fan, very impressed that I remember the name of the Guelf, from 2005.

How will Chrissie recognise her friend? She has not seen her for years. You will recognise her. Normally she recognises by her Scottish accent, but that will not work here. I say goodbye, and walk to the paper-shop, where I meet my father.