Heaven in London

Trans women don’t like each other very much, certainly not in real life. If there was a group of us we would all be staring at our shoes periodically hissing “Stop it, you’re embarrassing us”. In the tube the day before there had been a poster advertising “Photography on the Edge” with a picture of a trans woman or drag queen, looking not very happy. Then there was one on the Underground platform, at least 6’6″ tall, in a light summer dress, with a manly tattoo on her arm- rather gorgeous, actually, that unapologetic “I am here,” with a slight hardness, I thought, as sometimes people would notice her. I scuttled away, frightened that they would read her then notice me.

I turned the corner by the east end of St Paul’s, and the scent of the blossom hit me with insistent beauty. I paused to enjoy it, but even though I stood still in the place where I had first smelled it, the smell was still lessened. It had overpowered me for a moment, and then the sensation was gone though I tried to make it last. Just the way the air currents were, or the blossom, or even my own nerve cells.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I sat in the dappled half-shade of a tree in front of Tate Modern, listening to the saxophonist in a wheelchair. He’s good. The tide was out and I could go down on a sandy beach. Then I saw you and stood for a long close hug. I took in your style- necklace and two pendants on separate chains, flowers embroidered on net over skirt over sloppy jeans and trainers. Unique. We went to the abstract art and photography exhibition, and admired a Kandinsky, excitedly. We stimulated each other, seeing each part of it together, how it was made and how it showed movement and stillness in balance. The alarm sounded, insistent, and people wandered, compliant but unconcerned, to the exits. Outside, the man in the wheelchair had a harmonica and was joined by another saxophonist in a tight twelve-bar blues, improvising in dialogue within the structure of the form. We waited until the crowd had dissipated, then walked back in.

In The Last Battle, Jill Pole and the dwarves all go into the stable, which Jill finds is the gate of Heaven. She sees it, beautiful countryside, the foot-hills of something more wonderful, but the dwarves think they are in a smelly old stable. So she picks flowers for them to smell, and they say, Why are you pushing mouldy old straw in our faces?

We sat in the shade, in the warm air on the fifth floor balcony, looking over Thames to the cathedral. These shapes, the bridge, the river, could be a Kandinsky: looking at art and making it has taught you to see. I told you my poem, you said I should be remembered for it, and I was abashed, saying there is such an abundance of talent about.

I am starving. I need this friendship. This- this process, this creature, is Beautiful. I affirm that. I know it and I can say it, because it is true, yet I cannot say “I am beautiful”- though I can say “I am trussed up”. I am trussed by my fears and illusions. I need this friendship, not to be a momentary scent of blossom but growing the flowers, the work to know and be known, talking of the weather and politics as well as of such high-flown, real things.

We agree we are in Heaven. Seeing that trans woman, unapologetic, unashamed, is heavenly. How strong she is! Yet it could also be mouldy straw, the fear I felt of discovery. And the scent of the flowers, a moment of delight comes and goes and my efforts at rediscovery cannot lure it back. If I know this is a world of abundance, and such delights are quotidian, never the same and endless in succession, I am happy enough to move from one to the other; and if I feel tantalised by the aroma, teased and not satiated, it is hell. Even in this lovely day of the best of company in the beautiful places I am tantalised, and the next day, freakishly colder as I cycle, cold, in strong wind to see Richard the contrast depresses me.

The knack, or trick, might be Fear and Love. If I love the Earth it becomes Heaven, if I fear it it is Hell, but that cycle ride was difficult in the wind. I starve for beauty and connection.

I walked to the centre of Swanston from the Station, and Umar came up beside me and started talking. His job is making model aeroplanes, then putting them in wind tunnels to test their aerodynamics. Wind tunnels and computer models complement each other. I was happy enough to talk. I said I was going to the supermarket, he to the bank, and as he got there he asked if we could meet again- “Just as friends,” he said, plaintively. I thought about it. I decided against, in fear and mistrust, and am not sure I decided correctly.

Year of Wonders

\|/

What could that possibly mean? Or,

Ψ

It would be easier in a painting. Or, I held up three fingers, spread, and R immediately guessed what I meant. In the painting, three lines which could conceivably be church windows- long arches, three in a row- clearly were not.

“He was 51, and his girlfriend was in her twenties,” said a man excitedly to his son, who was either too young to really be interested in girls, or embarrassed. “Think of that!” So Picasso painted her, over and over again, in the same colours and much the same lines. Her head is back, her profile showing. Her forehead and nose form a straight line, a profile I find attractive, but he sometimes exaggerates as a lump.

The head back, in Guernica, is the abandonment of grief, but here can only be orgasm. Painting after painting, about three feet by four, all with that \|/ symbol, many with disembodied penises, each done in a day or so, an exuberant show of delight and exploitation of the punters who would buy anything.

I got to Tate Modern at 8am for the members’ hours, and so had two hours with Modigliani fairly quiet. H did not like all the female flesh, the caption noted that the pictures were sold to men, and that they were seen as obscene because of the pubic hair. Real Art had none. Any excuse, eh. I found myself looking at the faces. That woman pictured has agency. Sometimes the eyes were hypnotic.

One of The Tanks is empty but open. I walked across it, loving how the acoustic made my hand-claps pistol shots, loving the space, then went to ask a man with a camera, with a foot-long lens, how to convey the grandeur of the space in a photograph, and how much was found object, a fuel tank, and how much artifice. Those oblique pillars are new. He had a picture of me, clapping, in light from above, and promised to email it but hasn’t. Perhaps it was too blurred. I touched a rough patch in the wall, and a bit broke off.

In the Members’ room, queuing for a cup of tea I asked a man what he had seen. Once you know they’re penises you see them everywhere, he said, then speculated on whether the Nuisance action will stop people on the viewing platform from looking into those luxury flats. We have little sympathy for owners or residents.

Non-gendered

The toilets had signs on them saying “all gender toilets- urinals and stalls” and “all gender toilets- stalls”. Still there was a long queue in the stalls only loos, and none in the one with urinals, where I saw one brave AFAB person as I walked in. The smell there is far worse. I could use the “urinals and stalls” loos if that was normal or conventional. We sought “stealth”, where no-one would notice us, for if we were noticed we would suffer, and now we might be “visibly trans”, taking the risk, hoping we won’t come across the violent bigot; and yet I just want to be normal, going about my normal business, which includes using loos. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder, and I don’t think I should have to.

It is rare to bump into an acquaintance in London, but Nell saw me in the Tate and said Hello. She had been there drawing from the pictures, as part of her art class, and showed me a picture on her phone. An artist had painted her husband wearing a wedding dress. Of course it is the kind of thing that interests me, and it still perturbs me, still knocks me off balance. It is a reminder of my vulnerable sexuality, the sensuality which has always seemed merely weak to me, which has never given me pleasure. I am that vulnerable self which even I despise. I feel I should not be tortured by my own sexuality.

Some might call that male privilege and a sense of entitlement that I might feel I could evade comments on my looks or sexuality. I read about “non-dual consciousness”, that state of presence in the moment when we are aware of surroundings, and I know that it can be exhilarating. It makes me feel real. So avoiding self-consciousness by being absorbed in my thoughts, not noticing the people around me, so that if anyone has remarked that I am trans I would not see it, is a loss, a price I pay. People tend to look at the most attractive of us, and the weirdest. For stealth I might aspire to the invisible middle. I am as uncomfortable as anyone, walking down the street, I just deal with that discomfort in my own way. Or, I am wrapped in razor wire, so any movement is painful.

Tate had “Flux”, an evening of talks and films on gender and its subversion, aimed at ages 18-25 and with a few older trans women. Few people seemed to present as “the other” gender, but played with gendered expression. Some were particularly eye-catching- as attractive, rather than weird. “Introduce the person next to you”, we were told. I had just met Ashton, and said, “I don’t know Ashton’s pronouns, but love Ashton’s style”. Mmm. I can either assume female pronouns or imply there is a doubt. “They or she” she/they said. She wears a pinstripe suit with narrow trousers and trainers. Her hair is shaved to ear level, then frizzes out above, died blue. She plays nervously with the leather thong on a journal, and later performs for us, reading her poetry.

We did word association games in small groups, which made others but not me self-conscious- no, she/he/they does not want to say the word which came first into their head- then constructed poems from prompts. One prompt was microaggressions, and two women (?) looked at a page saying

Where are you from?
No, where are you really from?

which I find more than micro. The best line from our poem was “Gender is like a Summer hat in Winter”, but that sees it as merely oppressive or ridiculous. I feel it could be a joyous source of self-expression, if only one was expressing one’s own gender rather than someone else’s. I read the poem, and enjoyed performing it.

After, the editors of Beyond the Binary had a panel discussion, and lots of us sat on the floor to hear them, reclining on scattered cushions. Does anyone know how hard it is to get a GRC? Very few of us did. They expressed anger at the difficulty, which I could say more succinctly- I don’t need a psychiatrist to state who I am– yet with less anger. So, it’s bureaucratic- just like getting a passport is.

What were non-binary people, before the word “non-binary” was popularised?

After, I went to a fish and chip restaurant with H, got the train home, cycled from the station.

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

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.

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

Francis Bacon

Bacon needs a queer curator. I am enraged reading on the wall, as if Clear Fact, the isolated male figure, which has been read as Bacon’s lover Peter Lacy, communicates a sense of anxiety and hopelessness, which has been read in relation to the continuing illegality of homosexuality. They are from 1954, before the Wolfenden Report, yet I see no anxiety and hopelessness here. In the paintings I see exuberance, joy, and the need to seize the moment. The trouble with anxiety and hopelessness would be that at the time some might read it as hopelessness that Bacon suffered from the terrible scourge of homosexuality, and feared he might never love a woman.

I look at man in blue IV, and it depends where the body is. If this besuited man is leaning forward on a desk, that is one thing, but he could easily be lying on his tummy, propped up on his elbows.

man-in-blue-iv

He could be kicking his heels up behind. If that’s a desk, he would need to be in a hole in it, or lying semi-prone. I often see playfulness- there is a sense of humour in these paintings far more often than that caption-writer might see- and self-assuredness. I am not sure about the man in cap, which could be a Nazi haranguing an audience, mouth wide and shouting. It seems possible to me that Bacon is the voice of monsters, portraying us unashamed, just doing our thing.

I chose the book I bought on Bacon because its third paragraph made me LOL: according to one story, he was sounded out as to whether he would accept the Order of Merit, but replied, No, ducky, give it to someone else, it will give them so much more pleasure. I don’t know if his homosexuality would have prevented him being honoured in 1992 when he died- possibly- but I want the story to be true. How could we know? Why would he feel any need to tell the truth in words, rather than in pictures- to help the stupid keep up?

The most conventionally beautiful thing here is Isabel Rawsthorne’s hair. She stands outside, and the hair is much prettier than in the photograph.

Reading about Bacon’s right wing anti-progressive feelings of pointlessness and cruelty of the world- I remember looking at a dog-shit on the pavement and I suddenly realized, there it is-this is what life is like– I wonder if I am reading into the work my own projections from my own character. I passionately want to see other people as they are, and use his art to aid me in this, confronting myself with his reality. I saw a painting of a seated man and standing child as bleak, with the man ignoring the supplicating child, but bleakness is not my main impression. I doubt Efrat would want people to look at her wheelchair and gush about her “bravery” any more than I like my transition called brave. We play the cards we are dealt. If straights see alienation and despair here, even if they are Allies, they are blinded by feelings of superiority.

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.