Heat

Sweat beads between my breasts, trickles down my cheek, glistens on my shoulders.

I cycled to Meeting in the sun, in air brought from Spain by weather currents. It seems to me that I should calm my breathing, so I make that effort. If I can slow my diaphragm and heart, they will make less heat. Still, when I get there, my face is scarlet. It is as if a birthmark quite covered it, and I went to run my head under the cold tap. H runs marathons, I will ask her. Half marathons, at the moment, she corrects me. “I felt I was going into a panic.” You make a rhythm, of heart, breathing, stride all together. I like the island climate, a comparatively small range between our hottest and coolest. Today is 29°, which is unusual, and it is rare for several nights together to be below freezing.

Facebook. “I don’t like the heat,” she says. What? Why were you in Tunisia? “He does.”

So I wondered, do I like the heat? I don’t know. Yes could become a pissing contest- nothing lovelier than noon in Riyadh in July. I take precautions to keep my flat cool, drawing the curtains on sunward windows, closing the windows against warmer air outside. I could be happy on holiday, going round tourist attractions or jumping into a pool, enjoying time away from routine with friends. Or, it is pointless to complain about the weather, and I will not indulge in that. But the sensuous experience of being outside in the heat, simply for itself?

You could like the light. The sun at its highest, the brightness on the water of the Lakes. That it is also beautiful washed through mist, land across the valley getting steadily less distinct, does not mean the colour and the contrast of full sun is not glorious too. I could take my camera, but do not want to be thinking of framing images; I want to perform the experiment on myself. Do I like the heat?

I walk down and round the lakes. The mud is dry and cracked. The corn is still green, its long stamens turning into seeds. I don’t want to walk so quickly or so far as usual. I pause several times by the river, and try to connect with the experience, shorn of words or ideas about it. Do I like the heat? It is bearable; there is just enough slight breeze now and then, wafting my light summer dress, though the wig is a pain; but bearable is not pleasureable.

Going into shade of trees suddenly, I know that I like the shade.

I suppose I like experience. I understand life with words. I plan, analyse, conceptualise with words, and it is good to lay down the burden of words- I! a Writer!- for unmediated experience. I am here, by the river, sensing with eyes, ears, skin, open and not judging, and I like that.

It is good to be open to experience. I am in the heat, and it is not a horror I must shun, but an environment I can flourish in. I do not run from it, and that is empowering. It might create problems which I would deal with, different problems from colder months. I don’t particularly like to sweat. It is good to appear to be civilised, above that sort of thing, and it is a status symbol to not need to be troubled by it; but then I am an animal, and sweat is natural. I need not appear out of sorts.

I don’t see many people in the park. There are a few cyclists, and some families by the adventure playground, picnicking in the shade of trees. I will ask this woman, walking towards me by the hedge.

Do you like the heat?
-Hmmuhh? she says, surprised by the question.
-Do you like the heat?
-Yes, I suppose. Better than being cold. (I had her exact words in my mind, all the way home, but forgot them before writing them.)
-Thank you.
-Have a nice day! cries into the distance.

Being the Good person

I am cycling on the road slightly downhill with the wind behind me, and someone is cycling out of the park on my left, into my path. Surely he will stay on the pavement? I look, worriedly, at the back of his head and hope he will look round. I cannot evade him because of the oncoming car. I can’t stop, so I scream; he looks round and brakes.

I pedal on, and from far behind me I hear his aggrieved exclamation: The fxxk! Scream like that? And now, I am so envious of him: that reflexive self-righteousness, he resents me and my wronging him. He is the good person here. Whereas I am analysing the situation and after much thought, have decided that my conduct passes muster, though I wonder if I should have reacted sooner.

There are advantages to the worried assessment- “Am I good enough? Did I wrong him?” which seems a more feminine response. The cars I notice waiting behind me for a safe, courteous time to overtake are driven by women, the cars which breenge past far too fast and close are driven by men. The advantage is that you probably won’t be in the wrong, and won’t have a collision. It means I need approval from others, though. There are advantages to the reflexive self-righteousness: you never need to think about second-guessing yourself, and nothing bad usually happens because other people manage to clear up your messes or take evasive action before you smash into them.

I used to see S every week or so, but have not for ages; but she has been to Woodbrooke and wanted to tell me about it. At one point I state something passionately, then half-apologise for it: “That was vehement,” I say, feeling her out. Oh, she says, that’s just the normal way of speaking, for her and her family. It is not for me. My passion is usually behind a diffident manner, which can be painful for me: I am restrained by my own fears. “Like an elephant with a-” I am miming a shackle round my ankle, but do not need to, because she got the allusion immediately.

“We need to be with others to know ourselves, because we see ourselves reflected in them,” she says. Yes. Of course. I am learning, now, from my interactions. I judge myself. I always ask, “How am I wrong?” I know this from interaction, but I am a recluse because for so long I judged myself reflexively and unconsciously, so I was always wrong, all the time, and when I was hurt too much by interactions and could take it no longer I needed to hide away. Right now, I am having the interactions I can bear.

From facebook: To state that zazen has a definite and particular form, and to cling to that position leads to one kind of trouble, while stating that zazen has no particular form sends one off in another confused direction. There is no logical resolution to this problem. And it is this illogical paradox with which a true practitioner of Zen must ‘sit’ both literally and spiritually. Yes. I reacted to that: it is seeking safety in rules- like I do. I am more or less happy cycling because I think I know the rules of the road, and what I am entitled to- it’s a formalised interaction. If I said, “Non-theists are not Quakers” it is an attempt to find safety in rules. In this future situation, I will act in this way, and I will be right. S said, “That’s why Quakers talk all the time”- because human situations are so complex, so making rules is difficult. She said this not because she had seen that in facebook, but a propos of something else. Perhaps I am in a computer simulation, where the same lesson comes to me repeatedly, or perhaps I am just open to it now.

Also on facebook, someone wrote,  Anyone who was abused in their formative years is likely to feel they are ‘a lesser being’ than all others and may live in fear of rejection and abuse; so they will continually seek and need the approval of others. And on-going approval will also help dispel their fears of engendering further abuse. I felt myself completely worthless, so I do need approval: developing my own grudging acceptance, just-about approval for myself is difficult. Here is David Brooks on another aspect of needing the approval of others.

That b— hill

I overtook a car!

So when I cycle to the wee shop, or to the nearby town, I go down a steep hill with a chicane and a give-way sign at the bottom. I accelerate rapidly, playing bravery games and not braking, and whizz past the chicane whether there’s a car coming the other way or not. Fortunately, it is a quiet road.

Drivers are courteous, generally, giving the 1.5m space they are supposed to by law, when overtaking, and pausing if they cannot overtake safely rather than just breenging past. However, not on this hill: they pass even though I am accelerating and they will immediately have to slow down for the give way. One stopped at the junction a little further on and I shouted at him.

This woman I noticed holding back just before the hill, as it’s a bit of a blind summit and she was nervous in case she could not see anyone on the hill. But when I started to speed up going down hill, she judged it safe to pass me, then slammed on her brakes so I had to slow down. I thought, I’m no huvin this, and passed her. There was a car coming the other way, and they both had to co-operate to let me back in, but they did, so I am more or less pleased with myself.

Another time recently I noticed my handlebars slipped just as I set off for the shop, a mile away, and thought I would fix them when I got home. Pulling on the handlebars cycling up hill loosened them a lot- yes, I know my cadence is too slow- and before I got home they were completely loose and I found myself steering to the right side of the road. I stopped, thought about it for a bit, and worked out how to hold the handlebars so I could ride home slowly, faster than pushing the bike. I realised the problem just before getting off, that I did not know how to slow down. Bummer. I managed it, though. Good job the road’s quiet.

Feeling good

It was definitely my right of way on the roundabout. That car should have given way to me. It was approaching quickly, but it would slow down- however perhaps the driver did not see me at first, and I looked to my left seeing it bearing down on me. Had he not slowed down, he might have clipped my back wheel- as it was I escaped unscathed. I considered sharing my feelings with the pedestrian just beyond the roundabout- relief, anger, fear, bewilderment- but he did not look the empathetic type, so I did not.

Then I got home, glistening all over with sweat in the heat, and felt Wonderful. It could have been the weather, exercise, narrow escape from injury or anticipating lunch with Liz.

I have been feeling down. It could be the bitterness and falsehood of the Referendum campaign- neither leave nor remain feel like powerful choices. I was thinking of my job interview on Thursday:

-Do you want the job?
-No, you B*****ds, f*** you, give it to someone else, see if I care

-caring too much-

when I switched on my phone, and picked up the voicemail message from yesterday. The interview panel wanted to know where I was. I had checked how to get to Birmingham this morning, looked at Helen’s email to find where it was. I looked at the email again: it clearly says the interview is Tuesday (yesterday) not Thursday. I don’t know how I made that mistake. I feel utterly miserable. I am in a dreadful situation and cannot trust myself with the simplest thing to improve it. I cried.

I call the Samaritans. “I wanted someone to talk to.” “We’re not a chat-line,” Eve said. And I feel anger and resentment and I say something sarky,

and amazingly I feel energised, really good. Wow. What is that? Anger at you energises me- “Correlation is not causation, as they say”. I don’t know that it is that which causes it-

She would not say that. She has not heard it before. Well, some say post hoc ergo propter hoc. It should really be post hoc non ergo propter hoc.

What is causing this buzzing on the landline? To me it sounds loud, she hardly hears it. The landline has been buzzing for weeks. It could be the adsl filter, I unplug the modem-

and the buzzing continues. And I feel dreadful again. I cannot even deal with this!

The heart of my depression is lack of motivation. I cannot improve my situation: anything I attempt I will just do badly and fail. Not judging myself so harshly might do some good; so might behavioural activation. I have cleaned off some of the ingrained grime from my bathroom floor, which I have not properly cleaned for years. And I scrub at the wee black spots on the linoleum, and think, It is an improvement. Value all the improvement. It does not need to be perfect. And I do a bit, then stop, then go back to it. I have swept the hallway too.

And now I have phoned BT about the landline. There is a fault on the line, and they will deal with it. How last century, to have a BT landline! Well, I find it useful, for some things-

Signac, 1890

After YM

Moving through life, making myself memorable…

Why should you not cycle in a dress? Well, it might catch in the chain, so the back wheel jams, and you go over the handlebars as the dress is torn from you. But that is unlikely. Actually the buttoned front stuck on a clamp on the frame, but I freed it easily enough. At another time the torch I was using as a headlight showed its objection to the juddering by going out- but I hit it, and it came back on.

-Yer shawn yer knickers! shouted a woman from a car. This was unlikely, as I was sitting on my dress. Hurrah! I shouted back.

I had many worthwhile conversations at YM, and then after lunch on Monday I was satiated. I have nothing more to say, nothing more to share. I walked towards the baggage store, and saw Jeffrey. I said that to him. “I have nothing to say! but that it is lovely to see you, and hear you.” He and his wife smiled, and we hugged, and I went on. I collected my bag, and went to the door. This is a definite change of way of being, walking out that door- many felt it; the clerks warned that even though we are at Yearly Meeting, we are in the centre of London, and please challenge anyone without a name badge. There is that sense of being out of the normal world. Yet, it is complete for me. It has been wonderful. I walked away.

In the train, a man got out a book on the philosophy of aesthetics, and I read a bit over his shoulder. I got chatting by saying how fascinating that looked. Friends House had been giving out remaindered books for free, so I was reading one: I gave it to him. Who knows, he might read it.

When I met R in the tea-shop, we saw we had made a difference, and feel rightly proud. Previously we had loudly mocked the feedback slips, which had read “Your opinion matter’s to us”. The ones now available read “Your opinions matter to us”.

TItian, the worship of Venus

Emotional ambitions

As I accelerated downhill towards the chicane, a white van passed me. When I caught him up at the junction, as his window was down I had the delight of shouting at the driver: What if someone was coming the other way? What if you had had to stop suddenly, and I had run into your back?

-There wasn’t anyone coming the other way, he said.
-There’s a blind bend! You’re an idiot!

My throat is a bit sore.

The brakes on this bicycle are a lot better, so I would not have run into his back. I might’ve, on the other one. Anger is not the best response when rushing down hill with nothing protecting your head but a lump of polystyrene. And there is a feeling of freedom letting it out shouting.

I read that climbing I should look for a cadence of 72rpm, far faster than I am used to. It uses different muscle fibres. I tried it. I will try it again. I am pleased by learning this.

Normally I would not want to go off on one. One is cool and calm, until wound up by something which seems totally wrong or unfair especially where I do not anticipate it. I can forgive my father- he is just like that- though a rebellion phase of expressing anger may be useful, and perhaps anger after might be effective.

My problem has not been showing my feelings to others, but knowing them myself. I suppressed them. Now, my problem is facing and accepting them. This is why I shut them down with television, rather than opening them with meditation. Or why I procrastinate: I am overwhelmed by the feelings I anticipate, some of which I project on others.

Feelings, situations, even depression are OK- the problem comes in fleeing them. I am like Jonah fleeing God: the storms get higher. Escape the belly of the beast- come out into the sunshine- out of the Cave…

Tintoretto, Jonah leave the whale's belly

Cycling

The Pashley bicycles are beautiful. They have been made in Oxfordshire since the 1920s, and these ones are a rich, mauvy-pink with painted metal chain guards, Hawker-Siddeley (or whatever it is) three speed hub gears, and a wicker basket on the front, fastened with leather straps. The large bell looks traditional, but when I ping it it goes DING DONG and all the people in the street would think their doorbell had gone. Oh Wow.

-What do you think of that?
-It’s so heavy, so old-fashioned.
-But very beautiful.

She tells me her husband has a Pashley Guv’nor, and people get together for rides in Edwardian gear, tweeds, plus-fours, moustaches. As long as it isn’t your only bicycle, she said.

Terry tells me in Friedman-John I could cycle everywhere on red paths, no need to go on the road ever again. As I pushed the bike to the cycle shop, a woman stopped me to say how much she had enjoyed cycling past the lakes on the old railway line to Waterford. Actually, though others don’t like cycling on roads, I don’t mind- that guy pulling out noticed me this morning just in time, and most drivers are courteous. The other guy who, rather than pulling into his side of the road, pulled out past the parked car driving straight at me forcing me to brake hard at the bottom of the dip was unusual, and the guy who would have broken my humerus had I been bent over with it stuck out was far closer than most people.

It would not only be my only bicycle, it would be my only mode of transport, and I don’t have five hundred quid for that. Or for a helmet like that one, which just perplexed me.

Oh, and when I am accelerating down hill I hate it when they pass me then brake for the chicane, but it does not matter nearly as much now I have better brakes; and I was feeling really good sitting up, higher than the drivers, in the sunshine. Ruler of all I survey…

A pity the road surfaces are so badly worn, with pot holes, that you really need a mountain bike. So I have a mountain bike. I will get my cadence faster, so cycle more efficiently. I have been reading about the problem of weighing down the pedal on the up-stroke, putting weight early enough on the down stroke, and how to flex the ankles.

Half the people who were on Disability Living Allowance and have been reassessed for its replacement, Personal Independence Payment, get nothing. This is not because they were not disabled, but because the test is designed to pay the benefit to far fewer people, in far more restricted circumstances. Some very poor people are having their income cut by around £100 a week.

Eckersberg, View of the Church of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura

Farewell to the Falcon

Hooray for consumerism! What do you do when you have any problem at all? You buy stuff. Everyone would like to be fitter, and even if you think you will go walking you buy new shoes, probably a new jacket, perhaps Nordic Walking poles. How many of those beautiful bicycles in Halfords will do a hundred miles before they lie cobwebbed in the back of a shed, tyres deflating?

I got my Falcon in 1986 for £40 from a fellow law student who had not used it. I used it for holidays, and after my finals I took the train to Inverness then cycled to John O’Groats, Durness, Ullapool and back to Inverness, my mind happily blank after the hard work. I sunburned my forehead and the backs of my hands, painfully. I walked along the beach at Durness at 11pm in bright twilight, with new friends and a joyous dog. When I smashed my car up the bicycle became my main form of transport. I did not adjust the front brake properly, so that it rubbed through the tyre wall. My rear brake was worn down. The chain was losing runners and the gears worn out.

Why bother chaining it up? asked John. Thieves would be doing you a favour. I told him it had a chrome-molybdenum steel frame, state of the art before modern carbon.

The cycle shop man told me it had non-standard wheel sizes, 8mm larger, and a non-standard gear cassette- made in the 80s in Japan, you can get one on Ebay from the US for $90 plus $20 shipping. It could not be repaired economically.

Friday morning I lay in bed, hopeless. If I go to that interview I will not get a job. If I go on that date I will not find love. My ways of being in the World do me no good, and I cannot trust myself to look after myself well enough to survive. I have the choice of just not going- no hope- or going, for illusory hope and disappointment. There is no point walking down the street to the butcher. I had to email out the minutes of AM, and added, my bicycle is a write-off. Has anyone a bicycle in reasonable order they do not need? I have had five offers, and one Friend has delivered her bicycle to me. It is beautiful. There has been such an improvement in gears since the 80s.

Another Friend sent me this Quentin Blake picture, saying “This is the best I can do”.

BICYCLE - QUENTIN BLAKE

And another was driving past a community project which reconditions and sells bicycles for around £50. She had not seen it before, and thought of me, texting a photograph. A mild synchronicity.

Umbrella Fair Cycle Recycle

Don Pasquale

“They were doing really well, cycling up that hill” said Pat. There’s nothing difficult about that hill, with reasonable gears. “You must be really fit then,” she said, and I realised how proud I am of it, how it delights me striding along in top gear. There is not much I feel proud of. The next day someone in cycling gear rather than jeans and a t shirt overtook me easily. He was probably going further than me, too, and not necessarily much younger. Oh well, my jeans and t shirt label me not a Serious Cyclist, and yet I am still proud.

I got to my friend’s house in the dark, hoping to change into my pretty frock. She was running late, and her garden is not overlooked so I put my light on a chair and changed and made up. Then she said she was more than half an hour away, so I went to the pub to keep warm.

-Haven’t seen you in here before.

We got chatting. He used to work in the shoe factory in Marsby. Very little shoemaking in the county now, I say. My turn. I’m going to the Opera. They don’t believe me. Where’s that then? I tell them of that concert, and they say there’s no church in Dell. So we get our phones out.

“Set up- say ‘yes google'” says my screen. Oh, why should it be so complex? Why should my location be continually known to the phone company, Google, facebook, whoever?

“Was that what you meant?” asks another man, who finds that the concerts are usually in the Manor-house. Yes, but I know the difference between a church and a manor-house: one room is most of the building and you can see the roof from inside. Though I give up explaining.

My friend had worried about going in there in case anyone thought she wanted to get picked up. I am still worried about going into pubs in case I am abused as trans- but actually I was uncomfortable there, because I am an Outsider.

Don Pasquale by Donizetti was performed by Opera Minima, four singers and a pianist, and a silent Maid whose hammy facial expressions were hilarious. I spent most of the second half feeling complete delight, loving the voices, harmonies, tunes, and the English translation which rhymed, scanned, made sense and was singable.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 8

Confrontation

The car passed very close, so I cycled at the edge of the road, then pulled into the edge forcing me to stop. “What did you shout at me?” demanded the angry driver. I told him, correctly, it had been “Don’t stop!” So there we were, and I was not going to back down.

He said it was a private road, and I should go by the footpath over the fields. I asked, politely, if he would not mind me going by the road through the farm buildings, and he refused. So I refused to go by the footpath. It is not clearly marked. He told me I would have to go back, and I refused.

He then grabbed my front wheel and started dragging me back along the road. That did wind me up. I said “Let go of my bicycle. This is criminal damage. Let go of my bicycle now.” He stopped, and we continued confronting each other. He called to his colleague to shut the big gate across the road. “That’ll stop you,” he said. “I am sure I could get my bike through the gaps in that, I said.

“Where have you come from?” I told the truth. “Is that where you live?” “Yes,” I lied. He threatened to call the police- please, please do; run my bike over with a tractor, or the car, or throw it in the ditch if I moved an inch forward- so as he retreated, I moved forward. He called me a whore, a mental patient and a benefit claimant. I have a day off work, I said. A man with a pressure washer cleaned one of the farm vehicles, and the same idea crossed his mind at the same time as mine. “Have you got a long hose?” he called out. He did not keep to this threat. “Are you a thief? You are on private land, so you must be a thief. What have you got in your saddle-bags?” But he did not try to open them, either.

-Why are you so angry?
-Are you a psychologist, or something?

He phoned his boss, and complained. “Do you want to talk to him?” he asked. No. “She is refusing to talk to you.” I asked if he wanted to talk to me. The man on the other end of the phone was abusive, calling me “mental”. Andy put out his hand and demanded his phone. “He’s asking for the phone back, are you finished?” I asked. “It’s my phone!” Andy expostulated.

He sat down on the gate, his back to me. His colleague brought him orange squash to drink. I replaced my chain, which had derailed in the scuffle, and watched men replace the wheels on a tractor.

After eighty minutes, the owner turned up, with a rather different accent.

-Are you feeling all right? he asked.
-Yes, thank you, I said politely.
I still claimed to live in G-A-, which is slightly posher than where I do live- everywhere is posher than where I live- and agreed I would not cycle through this way on my return. I won’t go that way again. So Mark told Andy to open the gate and let me through. Then, as I had missed the Story-telling- I would have missed it had I turned back and cycled the long way round- I turned round and cycled back the way I had come.

The thing which makes me feel some compunction is that he told me they had had “people with guns” in the fields, and the police from Kettledrum took three hours to come.

“Add Media” says the button, and Medea is so close…

Henri Klagmann, Medea