“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.