Sensitive souls

He might not be good company, he warned me, as he hardly slept at all last night. His mind was racing. He had bought The Guardian, and was enraged about Carillion- the payouts to the fat cats, successful only at filling their pockets; and the fact that “George Gideon Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Second Lord of the Treasury” had been connected to hedge funds which had started short-selling the company before its profit warning in the Summer. Possibly George had passed on information; he has little value otherwise. He explained short-selling to me: I knew it was betting that a company’s share price would decline, but he told me that the hedge fund borrows shares for a set fee and a set period, sells them, buys them and hands them back before the end of the period, and if the share price declines it makes money.

I tell him that even asleep his company would be pleasant to me, I like him so much. I would drink my tea and play on my phone. And that his choler could hardly be more bad for his health if you added an “a” on the end. And that I go to sleep with In Our Time on the I-player, four restful voices saying interesting but not too interesting things about Xenophon, gravitational waves, or the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum.

My other way of going to sleep when awake in the night was to stop thinking of worries, and rehearse summaries of Doctor Who plots.

I feel that I am able to listen and sympathise, and possibly mock a little. He waves his hands about, and I mirror him. He asks me not to, then says “I’m stimming”. At which I apologise and stop. I wish his choler was less, though, at things he cannot affect. Choler with an “a” will come in ten years, if the Tories win the next election and Brexit happens. He is so gentle, withal. I have rarely seen him angry at another person (it was me). He was reading about Dolores O’Reordan, and it mentioned the Warrington bombing. And his photographic memory brought up the face of a boy who was killed then, and he started crying.

Are you still here? My Moral is for you: such sensitivity is a gift, though also a burden; and when two sensitive souls come together usually it is a great joy, though sometimes it is terribly painful.

Or, See me! I am like you! Please let me know, if it is you.

I don’t want to take cash out, and I notice I have not enough for a bus fare. Then I pay with my credit card, and notice after I have been overcharged by £5.70- so she repays me in cash. Pleased by this synchronicity, I walk in the supermarket, and hear Petula Clark. Forget all your worries, forget all your cares- Oh! Do not play something which will move me!

Hope and drunkenness

The first bottle of perfume I bought was Amarige, by Givenchy. I had decided to transition, but had no idea when I could, so I just went down the trans club every Wednesday. I sprayed the perfume on my wrists, and even though I showered next morning I could just still catch its odour. So I went round the office, working, often sniffing my wrist, delighted and hoping no-one would notice.

It is not good to drink as much as the people you are with unless they drink little; or not for me, anyway. They hold it better. I went for dinner with friends. Gin before, wine with and whisky after. We had a bottle of wine each, and the single malt tasted sweet and soft, all the fire mellowed out. Then I got a taxi home, and the taxi driver did not speak to me.

I cycled to a friend, who gave me two glasses of strawberry gin before we went out. It’s like sloe gin, but with strawberries- shove lots of strawberries in to the bottle, and leave for months. It had a lovely fruity aftertaste, and her husband said I was drunk before we walked off into the mild night under a crone-full moon to the pub. For the Glam Rock night the landlady wore a sky blue jumpsuit with rainbow frills from knee to ankle, elbow to wrist, and after midnight plied customers with a mixture of tia maria and bailey’s. I should not have drunk the tia maria and bailey’s. A fireman with a lightning bolt painted on his cheek told me of the Grenfell fire, which started in someone’s fridge. The fire brigade put it out, not knowing it had spread to the cladding outside. I danced, and it felt that I was dancing brilliantly. I collapsed on the sofa in the living room, rather than my friend’s spare bed. I cycled home, careful as still drunk, about eleven.

I applied for an overdraft. What do you want it for? Only as a cushion, I would hate accidentally to overdraw my account without agreement. I don’t intend to use it. I was given an overdraft of £100, and it did not matter that I had two years before cancelled an agreed limit of £2000 to preserve the discipline of avoiding being overdrawn. Unable to afford it, I went and bought a small bottle of Amarige, a symbol of hope.

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.

Birmingham

I got chatting to a woman on the train. When I found she lived in Swanston I cadged a lift there from Nupton, saving about forty minutes waiting in the cold or clanking along in the bus. I almost warned her not to trust strangers, but am delighted with this stranger’s kindness.

I must get a notebook. The train recording voice kept repeating something like If you have a pushchair, please step onto the platform first then remove the pushchair backwards. I love “Please do not behave like an idiot” notices and announcements. Presumably they had a pushchair accident recently, perhaps with shopping (please God not a toddler) falling onto the line. We could condense announcements: Please remember to take all personal belongings, including pushchairs, if you are leaving the train. “I knew there was something I had forgotten” is not an excuse.

I can more or less remember the words of the recorded voice, repeated at each station, but not of the plummy young accents in the train to Birmingham. They were gossiping of a girl who, desired by a young man, made out with another woman to mess with his head. I could have noted the details, and the words they used- something like “psycho bitch” in tones of approval, but if I try to remember now I would write the kind of thing I myself would say enthusing about her. The character would flatten out. Or the man who sat beside me. He wanted to tell me how he did not understand the ticket machines. He had not used them before. He had left his travel pass at home, so had to pay £12 for a ticket. He has family in “Cov”, but he likes his flat in Birmingham, where he has lived for twelve years. He smelt a little, but not the worst I have smelled. I wondered if people from there generally called it “Cov”.

A woman on the bus got the Metro free paper. The front page story was of a rapist aged 17 who had attempted to murder his victim to cover up his crime. “That’s somebody’s son,” she said. “Seventeen, and his life is blighted for ever”. I hope that is a commendable ability to see the suffering of all involved, rather than a patriarchal valuing of the boy even when he does something so vile. She did not comment on the woman involved.

I went to Birmingham to meet Lucy. She was delayed by snow, and I hung around a bookshop. I hated “The Chimp Paradox” so much I almost bought it to challenge my preconceptions. A psychiatrist, Steve Peters, simplifies brain physiology to argue your frontal lobe is your human part, rational, compassionate and humane, and the limbic system is your “inner chimp,” the emotional part which thinks and acts without our permission. You have to tame your inner chimp. I am with Mary Oliver, You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves and Walt Whitman, I know I am solid and sound. Like all people. It behoves us to know ourselves, and have all parts in concert, but there is no “rationality”, not even any analytical thought, without emotion. Reason is the slave of the passions, and if I subdued my “inner chimp”, or “soft animal”, I would merely become the slave of someone else’s.

Confidence

By the end of the week, he had a tin on the table in front of him, openly: it had a picture of a cannabis leaf, and the words “EnviroMENTALLY FRIENDLY”. That’s confidence, I suppose, happy to be who he is, without hiding, though the law still disapproves. I wonder if there was anything in that tin. Even as a symbol of his rule-breaking, it made me nervous.

Helen asked us to remember a moment when we had felt confident. I told of one- I don’t know why I felt that way, I just did. I walked to the queue of Promenaders at the Royal Albert Hall, passing a technician’s van and cracking a joke at the technician, who grinned. Possibly I skipped the queue a bit, my memory is hazy on that one. The queue advanced into the hall, and when I got to the front of it the door was closed as fire regulations would permit no more people. So I suggested to the woman next to me that we go for a drink, and we went out together for two months. And another evening we went over the railings into Hyde Park, and held hands.

-You were smiling as you told that story.

I was. Perhaps it is good to remember such things. Good things happen.

Icebreaker, say something no-one would guess of you. I was on Channel 4 news. I tell the story: I got a doctor sacked for lying, and for a level of arrogance remarkable even in a doctor. And we got one of my clients on the news. That was back in the day when the “story” journalists told was sometimes doctors wrongly finding disabled people not entitled, rather than shirkers working the system

(Helen passes me a tissue).

I wanted to be the expert talking head, but as a consolation prize I performed as a doctor, coming up to a door in a terrace and knocking on it. My back in my black coat and my briefcase were visible for a few seconds as the journalist described the doctors over doomy synth music.

I got him sacked. As the word of a benefit claimant would never be believed over a professional man’s, I got seventeen of them, all saying the same thing. I have done these things. I have striven and achieved. And now I can’t see the point and would rather hide away.

-You can confront others.
-It does not do any good.
-How do you feel?
-Rueful, ridiculous, despairing, empty.

I am still doing some worthwhile things.

At another time I recited my affirmation! How could I, with these people? I closed my eyes as I did, not wanting to be aware of their responses. I forgot the words “truth and courage”. I did not like the all-purpose affirmation offered, it was not authentic for me. Remind yourself daily that you are amazing. That you can do anything. That you are unstoppable. That you are a great person. That you are of value to the world. That you have the power to do anything you want to do and you can be anyone you want to be. Do this every day to tap into your true potential and live an amazing life. I don’t know what I want to do. I find what I want when I see what I do. I imagine I want something and do nothing towards achieving it. I would say that and think of times it was proved wrong. Looking at it again I see it is not all bad. I am of value to the world. Charlotte who was in sales likes all of it.

Someone says you don’t have the power to do anything, or the time. You could be at a professional level trailbiking, says the man with the tin, but still need sponsors and money.

Helen encourages us in self-talk: not “I am weak”, but “I am strong”. I don’t even like that. I am enough may be true and affirming.

Feeling good II

I moved her to tears. Happy tears, or those tears you cry when you had a burden, and it is lifted, and you are enabled to see the full pain of it.

That confidence building course built my confidence. But I have had to think about it, helped by this logic puzzle by Alex Bellos in the Guardian. I am fairly sure I have got the puzzle right, by squeezing every bit of information I can infer from the information given. As I write, the answer had not been published.

I made her cry by sharing my understanding of the inner critic, which I got from others, and my response to it, which is my own. The inner critic is a frightened child part of me, and of you, and I will not bully it because I will show love to all of me. That means listening, but not accepting its view, which is unduly pessimistic. So I imagined it as a little girl, and dressed her in a white velvet dress. Her options are to sit on the naughty step, or to dance and sing. Or, perhaps, to accept my reassurance. I am safe enough, good enough, capable enough. There is worry, and it need not overwhelm me.

Zoe wrote it down, as she wanted to remember it. This is always a lovely experience. At a community building event I recited a poem I had written, and someone asked me to write it out for her. The next day she recited it to me from memory. I feel warmed and valued. She treats me with respect, but she truly respects what I say.

Charlotte cried a little. No, she is not laughing, and concealing it by pretending. She values what I say. Another exercise Helen gave was to say three words about another person here. We have opened up a little, though at the jobcentre we don’t trust. I have opened up a fair bit as I will, even when I do not trust. Charlotte was given me, and called me “calm, inspiring, thoughtful, kind, unique”. Five words rather than three.

Inspiring.

That’s a good word. That’s not just picking a word for the sake of it. She has been bitterly attacked by her inner critic, and my words hold the prospect of relief. Those were tears of relief.

I felt a little low on Saturday. No, I felt low- do not minimise my feelings. I felt low. I thought, yesterday I did something worthwhile, I touched those women deeply, they valued it, they valued me. I did not find it difficult, saying a piece of wisdom I read and elaborated years ago, but not everyone could. That made me feel valuable. I have so few such experiences, so little opportunity for that! And now, squeezing every bit of joy from Charlotte’s tears, I decide that it need not be a transitory moment- Oh! I did something worthwhile!- but can be a memory to create joy. I was reminded of that NLP technique, at another time in the course: think of a joyous memory, associate a gesture with it, then use the gesture to evoke that joy and confidence. Years ago I picked on my nieces and nephew crying excitedly “It’s Uncle John!” as I went up their path, which was less joyous after I transitioned, and Susan stopped me seeing them.

So possibly those other two might value my company. I am not merely interesting as a specimen.

I am sailing close to the wind here, but- you have not hurt me. If you tell me something, and I know it is wrong, it need not hurt me. If we are distant, now, if you let me down then, that is all you were capable of at those times, but you appear capable of more sometimes- I have seen it. I want to be open to you, and show my darkness as well as light, for

the night is as bright as the day
darkness and light to You are both alike

My darkness is beautiful. You will see that in time. I have faith in you, though you have let me down (and I you, though I do my best)

No. I am quite certain I have that puzzle right, though as I write the answer is not yet published.

Ceasing to pretend

Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between these two banks the river of my life flows.
– Nisargadatta Maharaj

Helen wants me to fix goals, ideally to get a job. My goal is to stay on benefits, because it is a lifestyle I can cope with, I am in control, and there is only just enough money. I tried to make a difference once, and it was too hard.

I tell Tina of Mark, the playwright. Helen’s powerpoint slide said she got divorced, but actually she only split up from someone she was cohabiting with. She changed it to “divorced” in case a religious person judged her. “Hallelujah,” said Mark, bitterly, imagining himself humorous. I challenged it, saying that I am very religious, and do not judge others. Mark says all religions are like a cult, brainwashing people. Harlan tells of his cousin, who was “a bit slow”

-do you mean he had learning difficulties? challenges Helen-

who converted to Islam and ended up in a mental asylum. We do not stick to the subject. Today Harlan, instead of referring coyly to “relaxants”, named his crime as if daring anyone to make something of it. He smokes weed. He used to smoke £100 a week, now since having his kids it’s £30, and as far as he is concerned that’s money in his pocket.

We go off the subject easily. It is diverting enough.

Do you want to change yourself? asks Tina. You said Mark, just like you, is “walled up behind a mask or persona, disappointed and resentful”. That’s heavy shit.

I want to stay on benefits because the uncertain generosity of whoever is filling Ian Duncan-Smith’s tiny shoes- David Gauke, Google tells me- is pleasanter and more reliable than any chance of earning money. Helen challenged us on Monday to think of what we would like to do, at the end of her course, and I wrote to be myself without the mask. And now I think I am lots of different acts, but always acts.

On Sunday, with her, what happened? Possibilities:
-she used me as waste disposal, and I liked it.
-It was nothing under the surface beyond what happened.
-we were playing a game together which both enjoyed. I hope that. It would be intimate. She holds me at arms length.

-What parts of you are there, meeting her?

It might be easier to say what parts are not. My resentment is under the surface, always balanced with fascination. My care, appreciation and playfulness are there. I am articulate, except when she asks why I thought we might be embarrassed to meet, and I could not answer her. Because she could always withhold her acceptance of my answer, and question each answer in recursion.

-What’s that feel like?
-Sad and powerless.

For which part are you sad? The lawyer or the romantic? The older or younger self?
-Possibly all of me.
And at that my inner critic explodes in triumph and derision. But I am just a set of different acts, I said. I am proved inconsistent and incomprehending.

There is sadness in me, and there are other feelings. I am sad about her, wanting union, partnership. Fascinated, resentful, I love to see her. What I get is wonderful, and I am held at arms’ length.

-What do you get? Unrequited love?
-Her presence, charisma, sparkle. I will keep coming back for that.

-Have you ever been loved?

Yes. A woman loves me, and I did not know, and now we cannot be together. My father let me down. My mother was too scared. H called me “Cariad”, and now I think of her with pity, despair, irritation. She always responded the wrong way to everything, I burst out. We betrayed each other repeatedly is an old line I am not sure is true.

-And what about yourself?
I like myself and I wish myself well. I despise myself. I am very beautiful.

Those voices, you despise yourself; you are beautiful. How opposite are they?
-I am opposites.
-We all are. I see them both, but they don’t talk to each other. The different parts of you pull you apart sometimes. We’ve got to get those parts talking to one another.

So we arrange to skype again.

People

He tells us a paedophile targeted his daughter, and after that what he says is confusing. He put the man six feet under. He told some biker mates of his about him, and they dealt with the man, and he won’t say what they did. So I wonder if he did start off saying he killed the man then walked it back, or if I misunderstood. Is anyone else as uneasy as I am? Helen says you would do anything to protect your child. I consider that depends on how immediate the threat is, and how certain you are of the wrongdoing. I don’t trust the police in every circumstance, but that is a matter to refer to them. I thought of challenging, perhaps even telling my meeting a paedophile story, but fear it might be misconstrued. I remain silent. I thought of complaining about him. Talking nudgingly about murder is not right. I was glad when he was not there next day, but he was forty minutes late.

Before, he needed help filling out the forms. He says he was sent to a special school, and they did not get taught anything. He tells how his “work coach” mocked him, saying he was not doing enough to find work, so he complained and got a new work coach.

“So you dealt with the problem,” says Helen, who after all is here to instill confidence.

“We’re not here to help you. Go down to Evolve,” they told him. I feel there should be help for people with literacy difficulties. Evolve is an adult education centre, I am not sure about their funding or what advice or help they provide. He says he will be pulling his kids out of school, it is the worst in the county. “They hide when they see me walk through the door”. This series of stories of confronting enemies successfully disturbs me. I would like to think of schools as potential allies. I can’t tell his age, he looks too old to have teenagers. I do not like sitting beside him, he manspreads into my space.

Jill and Zoe (she does not use a diaeresis) are friendly enough, chatting away. Others are guarded. We did an icebreaker, saying something about ourselves no-one would guess, and that has not opened us all up. Helen says Newcastle people chat at bus stops, and no-one does here. I protest we do. Maybe not in Corby, where she is living. “Corby is different, that’s Scotland,” says someone.

One man when younger wrote a play, produced it, made money from it, got good reviews, thought he was The Boy. Here he is, in the town where he was born, trying to write a novel for 25 years. He went to the pub Jill worked in, and she saw him working hard in the bookie’s. None of our lives have gone as we might hope. One woman is in hostel accommodation, always noisy, not clean, not safe. She had been living with her mother, and looking after her sister’s children. She had a sales job. She seems bright and articulate.

Jill was on benefits for twelve years as a single mother. Now, you cannot claim as a single mother if your youngest is five. So she went to the jobcentre, and asked if she could go on any courses. No, because then she could not claim any benefits. That seems stupid to me, too. Perhaps she could have done courses while eligible as a lone parent, but I feel people are wasted, where a little help would let them fly. Let us fly, something.

Helen thinks English people are generally not touchy-feely, but E who likes horses is a huggy person.

I have just discovered Joan Didion, and might not have written this but for this line: “People tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. This is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.” Her italics.

There are lots of posters on the walls about the armed forces. “Ten questions you might have about Army Jobs”. They are all about training, pay and roles. “Will I have to shoot anyone?” and “Will I get shot at?” are not on the list.

The listening ear

“People tell me things,” he said. He has a sympathetic manner, and simply by not interrupting or gentle prompting at the right moment might get me to tell all my woes, but I got the feeling telling him was not entirely safe. Might he use what you told him? Why would you tell people these things anyway? Because it is a relief. You get it off your chest. You feel better.

Samaritans can talk to a supervisor after a difficult call about what they have heard. While listening, I needed to empathise, to feel with the other. After hearing, I always found I needed to shed their pain. Sometimes I was like a dog shaking myself on coming out of water, and sometimes it took much longer. Once I needed to talk to a friend for two hours. And sometimes it was as if they had a bottomless pit of pain. I would listen, and it would be as difficult as the most painful story could be, and I gave no relief.

Why would you do that? I liked it. It made me feel useful. It was a thing I felt I did quite well. It made me feel good. I would always rather say I do a thing because of what I gained from it- it made me feel good- rather than claim a good quality. Perhaps I am a loving soul, perhaps it is a sign of lovingness to want to do this for people, but that seems to me a story I tell about myself rather than a perception. “I am a good listener” is an idea to alter my conduct, or make me feel guilty when I do not live up to it. There is no life in it. In a particular moment, I want to listen and earth distress. It seems to me to be good right at that time. There is the life.

It also seems possible to me that someone might want to listen, because that feeling of being useful might make them feel better. Three of us at the trans club- the Baptist minister, the trainee Unitarian minister, and me- heard a trans man begin to tell his difficulties, and we all leant forward in unison, with our concerned listening faces on.

People offer to listen. There’s a way of saying “How are you?” to which the only acceptable response is “Well, thank you” unless you are really distressed, in which case you still need their consent to be a shoulder to cry on. Lots of people use “How are you” as a conventional greeting and are not interested in any answer. And there’s a way of saying “How are you?”, dripping with sympathy, begging to hear your most intimate thoughts.

And it is good to phone a friend. I share what is on my mind at the moment. She listens, asks some questions, does not sort my problem out but may say something useful. It is reciprocal. I do that with H occasionally. She has just moved house and is settling in. The couple she is staying with are really nice, welcoming and friendly. I am glad to hear it.

If you offer to listen to me, you take the risk that my hurt is too much for you to bear. If you are in a fragile state, perhaps it is better not to search me out and offer to listen. It is not my fault if you are perturbed by what you hear. But remember that I do not need you to make me feel better. My response is my own.

I wanted to communicate the depth of my distress, and I did so by curling on the floor in a foetal position. That was where I was at the time. I am not feeling that bad all the time. So it was a clusterfuck, two fragile people colliding, and if either had been less fragile at the time there would have been no problem. Not my fault, though, and unfair to blame me.

Do you like to listen, or find unburdening to someone does you good?

Bath

When I want something, I will work for it. At least when I see a clear path, effort to achievement, or trying a few things and seeing progress, I will. Or something. I see myself acting and achieving, and am surprised. Yvonne invited me to the Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community gathering in Bath. I would speak, and they would pay travelling expenses. So I got up at 3.45, set off on the bicycle in the rain at 4.30, and got to Bath at nine. I wore jeans to cycle, and changed into a dress and suede jacket on the train. I did not bother to put on my wig before changing. The train is quiet and I did not hear anyone’s objection. A woman who works on the railway complained about a driver who has been off sick depressed, and was brought back into light duties, no driving, but is unreliable. I listened in.

On the train I met Richard, who had a camera round his neck. I asked if he had any good shots. He has been taking photos of trains, and got out his laptop to show me recent pictures. There are several of a ginger cat not doing anything particular, on a road, taken from above, and several from his walk along a canal- a bridge, a boat. I see no attempt to find an interesting frame or angle. It is a pretty view, so he snaps it. He has had one published in a specialist railway magazine, and several on a friend’s website. He hurries to write the web address for me as we approach my station, tearing a scrap from a receipt, but I have lost the paper.

I waited in Bath Abbey, the parish church. There is a “suggested donation” to enter, which I cannot afford, so I did not meet the eye of the woman standing there; but she spoke to me and gave me a leaflet. After, I said I love the fan vaulting. She only knows of one or two other places like it, which I find strange, as it is in the cathedral of her diocese; but perhaps she means the pendant, how the arch continues down to a point in mid air, where it stops. That is in Westminster Abbey too. I noticed this altar frontal with candle holder, the decorative barbed wire woven into the Crown of Thorns. Like the Cross, the instrument of torture, is made beautiful so is the barbed wire, the instrument of exclusion. It is disturbing. Jeffrey Dean said this poem in Ministry at the Quaker Life gathering, and it makes a similar unity. I felt joy and terror, at the same time.

At twenty, stooping round about,
I thought the world a miserable place,
Truth a trick, faith in doubt,
Little beauty, less grace.

Now at sixty what I see,
Although the world is worse by far,
Stops my heart in ecstasy.
God, the wonders that there are!

I was nearly asleep on the last train, which is only 10.26pm from London. Four Chinese young women wondered if this was the train to Nottingham, but the last train there had gone. A woman told them to get off at Loughborough, get a bus to East Midlands Airport, then a bus from there to Nottingham. Or get a taxi from Loughborough to Nottingham, which would be safer. That’s 15 miles, for five people. The train stops at Long Eaton, which is in Nottingham, a rather cheaper taxi ride, but I did not know this then, to tell them.