Day out

I went into the men’s loos. They smell awful- they don’t use the same floral air-freshener as the women’s. Who knew?

I got oil from my chain on my hands, and wanted to wash them. There is no soap in the women’s loos. The friendly cleaner explained that replenishing of the soap had been contracted out to PHS, a service company, and there was no soap in the station to refill it. He suggested I could go into the men’s, as the place was quiet. No soap there either.

He then unlocked the disabled people’s loo, so that I could wash my hands there. That’s not under the same contract, so there is soap there; however I noticed the disposal unit in there had the same PHS logo. Neo-liberalism in a nutshell: poorer service, greater cost.

I told this story on the train, where three of us round the table chatted and one sat silent, and there was the sound of conversation from all the carriage. Something in the air. The woman asked me if my bike was safe and I said once I had left it unlocked at the station for a day: no thief had bothered to check, or noticed. She has had four bikes stolen, but wanted to cycle to the station before work, as parking was £9.50 a day. Get a cheap reconditioned bike. When she started at work in the 90s they typed memos for internal mail, which would take two days to be delivered then two for a reply. As email increased, her line manager, who was in Miami, was copied in on every email she had- for support rather than surveillance, she thought- and broke down under the strain. Even on her day off, going for a meal with a friend she used to work with, the only former colleague she has ever kept in touch with, she has to keep checking her work phone. She is in contact with people from all over the world. Scandinavians are happy with a reply within two days, Russians want a reply immediately, even if it is 5am here. “Do you work?” she asked. God, do I look unemployed? Hardly a rentier, no-one would retire on my income willingly. I write a little, mainly on spiritual matters. I tried to explain Quakerism, to an avowed unspiritual person. “Spirituality” is one way of putting it. Some people might call it “life lessons”.

The man, a widower, volunteers at the Nupton theatre. As a volunteer he gets to see the shows. His wife died, and he had to get out of the house, being retired.

To the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition with H. There are thousands of works, including two complementary prints, each of three columns, light-dark-light and dark-light-dark, each an edition of 20 for £1200 each. £48,000 for at most a week’s work: one might produce several candidates, then print off a favourite. The income could support you for a year, while you made any art you liked.

Here there are two figures, about eight feet tall. I don’t know what the core is, but the exterior is fabrics. They are gagged with tights, with £20 notes stuffed into their mouths. One is male. One has breasts, but the forehead and chin look male, and the hips narrow. They are horrible. I don’t like the blowsy, sagging shape of the breasts, a bra visible. I talk to a stranger about them. Yes, it could be one of my lot.

To the Royal Albert Hall for my first Prom concert since 1986. After the Berg violin concerto, the conductor stands with his baton poised. Often with a quiet, contemplative ending there is a period of silence, but here it extends for an age. The I-player shows it is 24 seconds, but I have not experienced anything like it. Five seconds’ pause is rare.

To St Pancras, where I play the piano for the first time in months. There are three people round it: the old man says there are often more at this time of night. He often comes to play, living about a mile away. He says “She’s classically trained,” of me, appreciatively. “Is that Chopin?” asks the woman. Yes, the C Minor prelude. I haven’t played the piano for months, but can remember this.

Why haven’t you played? Too depressed. Too lacking in energy. And now- they changed my meds! I had an experiment with nine days of Norethisterone, synthetic progesterone, and had a wonderful high on it and colossal downer after. So now I want to experiment with taking it for longer, and see if the increase of energy continues. She says it never does. I hope it will.

He plays by ear. He plays the tune of Summertime, and stabs vaguely at other notes. Sometimes he makes useful chords, sometimes not. I sing it, baritone, I want to play with gender. No-one minds.

Pride II

The pride and love I have for my country make me cringe in disgust when I hear the security announcements at the sleepy local station. Please report anything suspicious to a police officer or a member of the station staff. Why would a police officer be here? What like? Have they left a bag unattended? Maybe they put it down for a moment. Are they wearing a big coat to hide something? Maybe they have a thyroid problem. Are they avoiding staff and police?

Citizens! Study those around you with suspicion. Your prompt action could protect the Country we Love from Terrorists! Or, just turn it into Hell on Earth. See it. Say it. Sorted. The Dunning-Kruger effect in action- a police idea of a catchy slogan. Look, it alliterates!

Good to see them ticking the equality boxes. Terrorists can be female too! Or, the police informant with that large bag- is there a bomb in it? is not scoping her out to see if she is trans, but wondering if he can escape by drawing attention to an innocent passenger.

When I get to Tate Modern, there is a queue for the bag check. How dare they, really, how dare they poke and prod through my handbag? Why every single bag, making people wait? “Open the bag please” he says. Oh, fuck off. I do so with ill grace, and take my waterproof out on command. Then I go in to the gallery.

Here I can get into the holiday mood, relaxed, open, happy, in an instant, usually, but the guards and searching just ruin it. If I wanted to bomb an art gallery, where better than to run in and explode just where it is crowded, at that queue?

To the exhibition Art in the Age of Black Power. I much prefer this to “Queer British Art”- we queers were prosecuted and vilified, and most of that was suffering soft people oppressed by the authoritarian control freaks. Here I see Malcolm X portrayed in bright colour, a Prince, Black, Bad and Beautiful, a hero. Black people still get shot after being stopped for no discernible reason by traffic police- well, none of the gun death in the US is explicable to a European, all of it is abhorrent, but the racial prejudice in these killings is an additional dimension of vileness; and here people whose lives are under threat are Proud, standing tall and free. It is beautiful.

Sitting in front of that portrait I realise I am high on art and progesterone. It is a good experiment. My feelings are heightened, more immediate and more intense. And, usually when I am this out of my skull I am at home or with friends. I have to be aware of the possibilities of overreacting. That said, it’s a good feeling.

To the British Museum. Here, visitors are shunted round barriers so we slalom from the front gate to the side of the courtyard, even though there is no queue. Four security guards get us through, standing on a pedestal behind a desk so I must offer up my handbag.

It is lovely to see H. We see the Hokusai, wander off for dinner somewhere, and passing the Leicester Square ticket booth get tickets for An American in Paris, which is wonderful. By the third time I am resentful of having my bag prodded, but it is now a dull ache rather than anger. I am glad this is only occasional for me at the moment. It would take some of the joy out of life. I would hate to get completely accustomed to it, though.

Art, Life, Beauty, Wonder

Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

At the Tate, I become bigger.

There’s Forward, by Erik Bulatov. It is imposing, and slightly ridiculous; it is made vulnerable by the Ρ lying on its side. In it, there is a group of young women, laughing and photographing each other; a pair of young women, talking and taking photographs, more quietly, and me. The pair were happy to take my photo. This temporary art work outside the gallery relaxes us, makes us open and receptive. In the same way the exhibitions move me and open me up. I see beauty, and a representative sample of an artist’s life’s work, and it changes the way I think. It knocks me out of my groove.

A counselling session. I am proud of my formulation: I am Love, Will, Curiosity, Playfulness, Need and Courage. This may replace my former view, “I am Worthless”- I recognised that former view was wrong twenty years ago, but could not shift it; finding an alternative view to replace it may be the way to break its hold on me.

What do I do? How have I spent these six years of unemployment?

I interact.

I talk to people, including strangers. I write, here and for print. I entertain, challenge and provoke: others see things differently because of me. Some of my NYT comments have hundreds of recommendations, and hundreds more readers.

I heal.

My self-analysis makes me better able to flourish in the world.

I serve.

Over the last six years this has been most clear with Quakers. In Quaker roles I have tried to achieve the good of my Friends, as I best saw it.

And the opportunities for interacting and serving have been so minimal! I remind myself to be positive, to value what is. I have sought opportunities as my self-worth has permitted.

I need to achieve!
I hunger for Action!

I could easily afford to go in to London twice a month to the Tate, then perhaps to see a friend or go 5-rhythms dancing, getting train tickets two or three days earlier and cycling to the station to limit costs. So why don’t I? I find what I want when I see what I do. I love it when I do. Possibly I have some worry about doing something simply for the delight of it, or possibly I don’t like the faff of the travel, four hours or more travelling which is not particularly pleasant. Recently I have not had good train conversations- on Tuesday I asked a woman if she liked to talk on trains, and she said she had only little English, then went to the seat she had pre-booked. Why have I not done it? I don’t know, but those could be reasons.

I have not explored my world, and yet I have- with a bit more thought, I could put that less paradoxically. I still see the world as a threat. Or, I have not learned all the positive lessons from my explorations. I am careful and frightened, and I seek to look after myself. I am generous with a ruthless streak- humans cannot bear very much reality, and we are rarely so confronted with reality that our ruthlessness becomes apparent, but I think I have ruthlessness when in a corner.

That could be Love tempered with Will and Need, she says.

It seems you feed Curiosity, probably Will and Need, but possibly not the others equally, she says. Possibly you could see which of the six you do not look after as much, and make space to serve them too. Have you considered writing for children, for your toddler self?

I am tantalised by art, life, beauty, wonder. I have some experience of them, but not enough for my taste.

Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer to the community. Over time, these gifts are meant to be seen, developed, and called into the village at times of need. To feel valued for the gifts with which we are born affirms our worth and dignity. In a sense, it is a form of spiritual employment – simply being who we are confirms our place in the village. That is one of the fundamental understandings about gifts: we can only offer them by being ourselves fully. Gifts are a consequence of authenticity; when we are being true to our natures, the gift can emerge.

– Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow

Interloper at home

Everyone who experiences themself as a woman is welcome. So I went over for a chat, and am now on the constituency party women’s forum Facebook page.

And looking up at her, beside her friend in the “I am a Feminist” t-shirt I felt like an interloper. What do I have in common with these women? It is just nervousness, but I am wondering what it could be, a shared experience of upbringing, unwanted sexual attention or even a female body that locks me out, makes me Other. The trans are welcome thing is policy, not these women’s choice.

It is just nervousness but it feels real.

A few days later, to the Tate. In the Members’ room I hear two men talking of what makes you the same person as you were years ago and what if you could be uploaded to a computer. They are transhumanists drinking Schiehallion lager- drinking rather than climbing or dancing- and I say I think of myself as a process, rather than a being. I do not understand object oriented ontology, but I like the idea of no hierarchy of objects- no order of importance between quarks, individuals, biosphere. Transhumanists are individualistic, and he says the culture is. They go on to Fermi’s paradox. I say aliens are likely to be social. It is worthwhile passing on how to make a flint axe, or smelt iron, only in a social species. If they have developed space travel and not wiped themselves out they will be collaborative. If they have not destroyed themselves with weapons or climate change, they will be altruistic.

He tells me that does not follow. Just because it has happened with us that we are co-operative, does not mean aliens will be.

We are sharing ideas, but also competing. I tell them how interesting it has been talking, and go to the Farrelnissa Zeid exhibition.

She was married to an Iraqi Prince, who served as an ambassador till the revolution, when he took a rented flat. Aged 57 she cooked a meal for herself for the first time.

It is quiet. Which of these huge canvases is “My Hell”? I ask the security guard, who asks another worker. She has graduated from art school, like most people here. The security guard goes round the room looking at the captions, slightly embarrassing me, as I could do that myself. Rose and I follow at a more leisurely pace. I only asked as it is named on the introduction.

She wants to know what I think of the last room, so we walk through. The Princess’s style changed dramatically. I love those oblongs of resin, with things embedded- they seem so fragile.

What are you working on now? This is a personal question, don’t answer if you don’t want to. She is doing embroidery, of Lisa Minelli as Eva Peron. Lisa wanted the role but never played it. Eva had cancer, but still went campaigning- she had a thing made so she could lean but appear to stand. It is about stories we tell about ourselves and others- Eva’s ability to stand, Lisa’s about Eva, Rose’s about Lisa and mine about the picture. All untrue. It is taking her years.

Oh the sunshine is glorious! Outside is a work of art, that word repeated. I ask a woman to take my picture in it, and she is happy to.

To the pub. I get a pint and look quizzically at the front step. The door is narrow. Can Efrat get in,  in her motorised wheelchair? An Irishman asks if I would like to sit with him. He calls me “Darling.” I say I am waiting for a female friend. I go off to blog. Well, it’s a nice enough place to sit, and the live music is good. He goes to the toilet, and says to me, “Your friend not here yet?” No, she isn’t.

Efrat wanted to come here because it had an open mic, and she wanted to sing. Actually the blues band did not like her song so did not let her, and played boringly but at huge volume. Rather than talking, we typed on my phone. She was born in Beersheba, and though her English is good it is slow for her. We got onto whether people could live in peace in a state of anarchy, when it was time for me to leave for my train. She wore a ballgown decorated with classic tattoo designs which she bought in Camden.

I fit well enough, and know which sex I prefer.

ВПЕРЕД

That nervousness with women could be my pansy sexuality, the soft male deferential with women, wanting to attract the strong woman. It might even work! This couplet I find extremely sexy:

Boys are like rules they were made to be broken,
girls are like guns you better run when they’re smoking

Spiritual states

Walking down to the town in the sunshine, with the wind, vegetation, clouds, birds, I am not in any sort of spiritual “state”, but I am aware of my surroundings far more than I would be most of the time indoors. Previously, feeling this awareness or presence has felt like a spiritual state. A mere leaf could produce in me a sense of wonder. It felt completely different from ordinary life, and felt like something I wanted to cultivate.

It is worth cultivating, I have cultivated it and if it feels more routine and less exalted that is because it is a quotidian skill not a rare blessing for me. Now I am merely pleased not overwhelmed with delight, like the person who after walking across a desert carrying strictly rationed water returns to Britain where water flows abundantly from taps- and remembers drinking less than she might want. It is a state it is good to be in, in the Quaker meeting, but as a means to the end of sensing leadings within rather than an end in itself. And still I can recognise that it felt spiritual, simply for itself, close to the feeling of being aware of this wondrous universe and my part in it. It’s not quite feeling one with the universe, but is close.

I met Angela, who felt the need to explain her coat and thick fleece in the sun. There is a slight sheen of moisture on her forehead. She explained that she did not know it was this warm. She likes being outside, she said.

I noted that the sense of joyous awareness applies just as much to the shape of that roan pipe or the colour of the asphalt on the roads as it does to a roadside flower. The joy is in my awareness not what I am aware of. It’s not that everything is beautiful, but that really looking at something is a joyful experience. I remember feeling bored on the train if I could not read. Now, I can sit with equanimity noticing what is around me or in a reverie, and wonder if this is me increasing in wisdom, or merely changing desires and responses as I age.

The reverie, though. Sometimes I think through something for the first time, and more often I think something I have thought before. The sense of awareness of surroundings is less important in the civilised world. As I sit with my computer in the dark, I know exactly what is behind me- printer, hi-fi, wi-fi, piano, chaise longue- I do not need my senses alive to perceive changes. Outside, so much more is going on. There could be a balance between awareness of outside and cogitating on problems; we ruminate because we do not need so much to be aware of sensation.

I walked from Tate Modern to the Royal Festival Hall to meet H for dinner. The tide is high, and I loved the sound of the water slapping against the wood and stone of the banks, the steps, the piers. I looked over the rolling swell and loved the light brokenly reflected from its fractured, constantly changing surface. There is a busker. Here, the delight is in the things perceived as well as the heightened perception. I have found art galleries have been able to put me into my state of heightened perception, presence, awareness, whatever, and it takes less and less effort. In Awareness, I have wanted that “state” to persist when I am involved in a task, but my concentration on our conversation, with some attention left for the food, is close enough. As I speak I cogitate, but listen to her rather than plotting what I might say.

The concert at the Royal Festival Hall was Bach arr. Schönberg, Hindemith, Parsifal put into a symphonic suite by Stokowski, and the Four Last Songs. I found the singer’s voice ravishing, and the third song moved me to helpless tears. H puts her arm around me to console me. I am “in a state”, and my state pleases me.

This whole recording is worth listening to, and at 15.15 it introduces Lauren Marks, who after an aneurysm lost her internal monologue. She was simply aware of her surroundings, not chattering to herself about anything.

Appearances

Can we perform psychological experiments on you? Oh, OK. After the exhibition of Elton John’s Modern photographs collection, I am wandering down through The Switch House past their seventh floor where the space for participative experiences is open, so I wander in and am given tasks to do. I like the idea of helping, of doing something interesting, of balancing myself against a task.

I look at pictures made of black patches on a white background. Some are moderately clear, some unintelligible, some become clear after they are named. The male and female lions, their noses touching, seemed to be random spots until the caption told me what they were. Some still appear to be random spots after the caption is revealed. How certain are you that you see the outline of the thing pictured?

Are these samples real or artificial hair? Two samples are straight, two waved, two heat-treated into tiny tight curls. I look at them, feel them, close my eyes to concentrate on the feeling, feel them with my lips for a more sensitive feel, scrutinise the ends, and still get two out of three wrong. How did I make the decision? he asks. I tell him I am pleased, as I wear wigs.

With four others I consider pictures to decide whether they are valued at more or less than £3000. The most expensive, we thought was a worthless daub. How certain are you, of your own judgment, and of the consensus? Not certain at all.

Last, I look at portraits by Lucien Freud, and am asked how much they move me. I move the indicator left and right with cursor keys. I only see the picture for a fraction of a second, and the indicator disappears quickly after. My heart rate is monitored, the woman says to see whether I am a heart or head person, how my heart rate shows arousal contrasting with my conscious assessment. “Is that too tight for you?” she asks as she straps it to my thumb. “Please make sure you can keep it still, as it responds to movement.” I rest it, relaxed, palm upwards, on the table. It was not too tight, and I felt an after-image of it in my thumb for hours afterwards.

My conscious assessment has to be so rapid it is pretty instinctive, but I notice that these portraits are young or old, and I am concerned how I might appear. Am I more moved by young women, and is that facile of me? I do not want to be facile. I decide to claim to be moved by some men, and some older people, then worry that as some of the portraits are repeated I am inconsistent…

After, the attractive young woman- post-doc age, I feel, rather than undergraduate- explains that some of the pictures were timed to appear as my heart beat, and some between beats. Do I respond to how my body is in the moment of seeing, or more cerebrally? “You are unusual“- she twinkles, this is a good thing- in being in between, sometimes moved by the heartbeat, sometimes not. We discuss the self-selecting sample. Usually she works with undergraduates, who spend longer performing tasks, and get paid. Here, the volunteers are in an art gallery.

Why should I care how I appear? They have a note of my age and gender, and have video’d the proceedings, but it’s a few years yet before AI and data-storage is good enough to make it worthwhile to identify me, analyse the data and add it to a file on me. I hope. H, who put me up, was horrified. Her mother had always been concerned about appearances, and she found this repressed her true self, which she liberated as soon as she could with the ardour of a rebel. I tend to feel I am unduly self-conscious about how I appear. I will not see these people again. How I appear has a great effect on how I am treated, even though decent people are accepting not judgmental of appearance.

To a great extent, it is how I appear to myself- though that is a way to judge how I appear to others, I could also notice their reactions more. If I wanted to game the system, I failed, as sometimes I responded to my beating heart- not controlling my appearance I might be even more self-conscious about it.

Appearance is such an all-consuming thing- voice, dress, movement, body-language, wig; and who I am, how I am with others, eye contact, touching, attention… in the moment, having been confused and not getting my desired sense of performing well and above average, and being inspected in a way I did not fully understand, I was self-conscious.

Fair use of low-res picture, to illustrate the article’s subject.

Parliament

 To Parliament, for the mass lobby for EU citizens. Most of us there were not British, and spoke up for their own rights. I went to communicate my desire for co-operation in Europe, and treating people decently. After, there was a demonstration against Mr Trump, to coincide with the Debate on our demand to rescind the State visit invitation. 

Parliament is impressive. 

I claim Cromwell for Remainers. He fought for the people against the Moneyed Elites. 

More on this later. I don’t like writing on my phone. 

Allies III

Oh, those poor LGBT! They have such a hard time, you know.

Well, we do, I suppose. I am left handed, and things are often designed for right-handed use. People assume Straightness, even I do, and many feel uncomfortable with queers. Yet, basically, Brexit that. Let us enjoy our triumphs, not dwell on difficulties.

This has been an arty week. I saw Francis Bacon on Tuesday and was irritated by the phrase “anxiety and hopelessness”, and then on Friday I saw the Bhupen Khakhar exhibition, whose paintings are beautiful, and loathed the patronising git who wrote on the wall, When Khakhar developed cataracts in the early 1990s he adopted a looser, blurry style of brushwork which allowed him to depict suggestive scenes of same-sex encounters. Well, gay lovemaking remains a crime in India, yet Khakhar’s oeuvre expresses his sexuality from the beginning. Here is “Man Leaving” from 1970. It looks like a wedding, no?

bhupen-khakhar-man-leaving

Possibly those who hate queers would not consider that possibility, so think the title “Going abroad” indicated a parting; but perhaps they would be hyper-sensitised to suggestions of gayness, so be wound up by it.

Here the many colours on the apron suggest oil paints, and how could that hose be anything but a penis?

bhupen-khakhar-the-window-cleaner

It’s just funny. I love the smile on his face.

And finally Yayati from 1987, from a myth in which a young man gave his youthful vigour to his father, but the father wandered the world and found no need for youth. I love the colour, and the fire of the wings.

bhupen-khakhar-yayati

I sit before this, entranced. I also loved “At the end of the day iron ingots came out”, where Khakhar depicts himself on the lavatory during his cancer, and the ingots look like a continuation of his depicted bowel. It is agonising. It hangs behind a picture of him having an enema, and the result in me is a powerful sympathy and love of his humanity. I feel some of his pain. It is raw, honest, truthful, which is what I strive for here.

And there is no apology for sexuality. He may be exploring just how much he can portray, but the portrayal is clear. Surely the curator can see that! Surely the curator needs sympathy with the artist! What?

I wanted a post-card of it, so asked a delightfully camp young man at the shop. There is to be an LGBT artists’ exhibition next year, their first. I look forward to that. He loves the window cleaner too, and the beauty of the colours. That green is so cool and restful. I agree it is such a joyous exhibition. And yes. That is definitely a penis.

I want his sexuality to be seen as completely normal, and that means allowing people to see it or not, as they can, in his paintings. “Ooh, look, that’s a gay bit” is not supportive, really, it maintains us as the exotic other. If someone is expressing derision or disrespect for the quality of gayness please do correct them, but don’t-

oh, I don’t know. Work it out for yourself. What would you want?

That’s it. Don’t look after us. We don’t need looking after generally, just defending occasionally. It’s like benevolent sexism- you mean well, but you hold us down.

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.

the-switch-house-from-the-roof-of-the-boiler-house

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-viewing-platform-watchers-watched

Magical London

I haven’t gone a swing in years. I never really mastered it. I needed pushed, and did not know how to work it up by myself other than by kicking the ground. I had not until today realised what good exercise it is, kicking forward and leaning back. I almost but not quite got to look over the top bar.

Strange days in London. I came down on Monday  to see Art. Walking through the church yard at the East end of St Paul’s I look at the trees and am centred. I am here. A woman in a black dress sits looking round herself looking cynical, yet interested and engaged. A woman in a wedding dress poses amid lights and long-lensed cameras.

I want a book, to swot for Francis Bacon tomorrow, and the Turbine Hall bookseller sends me to the Switch House. I cross the hall to The Tanks, and am overwhelmed- these great columns, the curving staircase, the bare, smooth, naturally-coloured concrete change my way of  being in them. They could be oppressive but are liberating: I walk taller. Here are video installations in a dark room with cushions scattered on the floor. The first has confused running and shouting like a demonstration gone wrong. Another room has huge works, possibly musical instruments.

the-tankswoman-reacting-to-the-tanks

In the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition I see a woman in a pink top hat with Steampunk goggles, pink tights, multicoloured top and electric wheelchair. I tell her how beautifully she is dressed, and she compliments me. We get chatting. Efrat, from Israel, has to dash off to get a train to Lancaster for a conference, but fbfnds me. So we stare at our phones for a bit.

Then a brief time with Bhupen Khakar, gay Indian painter reminiscent of the brightness of Henri Rousseau. In the story of Yayati the winged one and the old man embrace tenderly, their erections straining towards each other. It’s beautiful.

I go to the Members’ room for tea,  feeling a bit mind-blown. I chat to the staff member on the door who loves Bhupen Khakar. From there, I see this art work:

man-on-cubeman-on-cube-2 man-on-cube-with-bag

I am dreading going into Bank tube station at 6pm. Indeed, I was pressed against the other people in the Central line coach. But before then, going into Cheapside, I have a thought which becomes a haiku:

In every moment
there is a right way to be.
I choose it. Always.

This is a radical rejection of my habit of judging and second-guessing how I respond, which does no-one any good.

On Tuesday I went to Liverpool with H to the Francis Bacon exhibition, and on Wednesday morning walked with her along Regent’s Canal to work. I am at a loose end in the plaza between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations with an hour before my train. Behind me is a geodesic dome in which the European Lung Foundation is giving free lung tests. In front of me is a tall structure like a bird cage, with a swing in it. A security guard has a go on the swing, while his colleague videos him, and I watch how he kicks forward powerfully to work the swing up. He leaps off, laughing. I am second-guessing what I should have said to Sîan this morning, and how the various options might make me appear. These spiritual growth lessons never just take. They all need practice.

I go for my free lung test but am suspicious. I have to exhale into a machine, and do so as it bleeps, trying to get it to bleep one- last- time… I am suspicious, even though they have not asked for my name or email address. I am “normal”: I want to hear more. I want to be normal for a 30 year old man. I interrogate Kersten who is in charge, and outside recruiting, what happens to the data. It is not scientific, she says, because there is no proper sample selection. They are testing in various parts of London, and could record variations. They are offering a FEV test because most people do not have one until they are concerned and ask their doctor.

I sit, and finish off the book Accidental Saints. A woman holds her tiny child on her lap as she swings gently, another pushes her older daughter. A young man swings, all the while taking selfies. So I go to swing. I have been watching, tempted, all this time. I love it, it is exhilarating. After, Kersten asks me how I enjoyed it, and we get chatting. (I am looking round, in case her job requires her; someone else hands out the questionnaires.) It is beautiful. It is a lovely connection. I tell her my haiku, and she says “Of course”. And we second-guess and judge. I tell her there was a young man swinging, but when I say he was taking selfies she comes out with the standard judgment of screen-obsession. Where are you from? I tell her of the beauties of Swanston, including the extension on Bewiched and she imagines the building would be spoiled, though she is delighted when I tell her how lovely it is.

It is a beautiful connection, and she is a lovely positive person, and we are still judging and second-guessing. The adjectives I have for the concrete in the tanks imply ugliness or incompleteness, yet they are as they are intended to be and are beautiful.