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I sent a birthday text to my friend today, the one who refuses to have anything to do with me anymore. Over the last few months I’ve tried to piece together what clues I can as to why it’s come to this. I’ve had a few ideas though nothing conclusive and certainly nothing that might have precipitated such an outcome. I never stopped caring. I always tried to stay in touch. I guess some people just outgrow you. It’s sad, yes, but ultimately I’ve come to realise that although I may not like it, I nonetheless have to accept it.
Call me old fashioned, but there’s something innately obscene about an image of a severed head served up on a platter on the side of a London bus advertising the latest horror movie or the terrified expression of a young woman’s abject terror as she realises she’s about to be slaughtered on a poster adorning a bus shelter promoting another gory thriller. Is it any wonder than English teenagers are murdering each other in unprecedented numbers? What is it about graphic, explicit killing that is so entertaining? And how can anybody argue that these things have no impact of kids?
My father, had he lived, would have been 97 years old today. He was a man both loved and loathed in equal measure for reasons that don’t bear going into here. Nonetheless, he was my father. We only shared the planet together for 18 brief years. He never lived to see the Twin Towers collapse, nor the advent or the internet, nor even the Berlin Wall come down, just as I never lived through two world wars. I sometimes wonder what he would have made of it all, and me. Would he have been proud of me? I’ll never know.
I’m sitting on the morning train ensconced in the left-hand window seat in front of the second entrance door that I secure each morning by walking just a little faster than my competitors for this apparently favourite spot when to my right an overweight guy who was perhaps eyeing the seat for himself takes out his phone and starts talking into it at a decibel level befitting a nightclub and I find myself wishing I had one of those frequency disruptors I read about in the paper the other day so I can get him to shut the fuck up!
It’s a grey, drizzly morning in London and sitting here on the train to work I can’t help but gaze out at the passing scenery and ask myself, is this it? Is this all there is? Is this what it’s all been leading up to? On a day like today that’s not a cheery thought.
Sometimes I wish I had a completely different life. What exactly, I’m not sure, just different; more interesting, more meaningful, more fulfilling. Sometimes I wish I’d some made different choices; turned some different corners. Not all of the time. Just on miserable days like today.
For a long time it seemed that for every step I would take forward I would subsequently find myself taking two steps backwards. At the outset of this year I decided I wanted to address this. It hasn’t been easy. Then again, it hasn’t been particularly difficult either. It’s simply required determination and it is determination that has prevailed in the end. I’ve reached a point of no turning back It’s a powerful place to be. And it’s not so much been about stepping forwards or backwards but rather one of taking a stand and then standing firmly and resolute.
I can’t believe how quickly Friday seems to come around, or POETS day as we refer to it at work, an acronym for Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. In a little over a week Donna will be arriving here from Australia and then it will be Christmas, which we’re spending with Bronwen and Francois this year. Times rushes on by and I’m left scratching my head wondering where it all goes. I’m looking forward to the prospect of the New Year though, with all the promise of new things to come, even if they don’t.
Yes, 2008 is almost here.
For the first time in a while I’m beginning to picture us back in Australia. Much as I love living in London it’s not the easiest place to live. Yes, it has more to offer than most cities but after seven years of being back here I’m beginning to hunger for the more laidback and easygoing lifestyle that Melbourne has to offer. We wouldn’t be moving for another 18 months or so but for the first time in a while Teddy and I are both moving towards a convergence of views on this issue. We will move back one day.
A quiet Sunday afternoon sitting by the window in the cool fading light feeling warmed by a long conversation on the phone with my dear friend Carol who, after six years of bringing up two beautiful children, is finally going to get her life back in the New Year when her youngest one starts school. And she’s so excited at the prospect of having time to herself! She’s already enrolled for further training in one of her many areas of expertise and it’s going to be a real treat to see what she chooses to do with her new-found freedom.
I’d been vaguely cognizant of the fact that there were some changes to the train timetables pending for today, although admittedly it hadn’t been uppermost in my mind. So when I got to Charing Cross and discovered that my regular service to work had been transferred to Cannon Street it did throw me momentarily. Funny how our routines become so embedded. Anyway, I took the first train to London Bridge, caught the connecting one to Woolwich, hopped on a bus to Plumstead and arrived at work without being late, so no harm done. In fact, I rather enjoyed the change.
As we head towards the winter solstice and the days grow ever shorter my tendency is towards staying indoors and keeping warm. I seem to be noticing the cold a lot more this year. We’ve had some brisk, chilly days and while there’s something to be said for going for a refreshing evening walk on a clear, crisp evening I find myself more inclined towards curling up with a good book and a glass of red. I think it’s the travelling back and forth to work that takes its toll, and once I’m home, I just want to stay here.
It's a day when I just can’t find the words. It has nothing to do with it having been a good day or a bad day; just a day, nothing more, nothing less. A very nice day, I might add: mighty cold but crisp with blue skies. Sunny too, which at this time of year is a bonus. I got home early for a change, which meant I had time to do a few things I’ve been putting off, like posting some discs I’ve been promising people and buying some clothes. But other than that it’s been just another day.
Fog. It makes everything look so different and other-worldly. Familiar vistas become diminished and blurred. Things normally seen in context are isolated, dislocated from the visual cues and reference points that contextualise them. One’s focus is on what is immediately visible while all else is either hidden from view or merely hinted at.
Gazing out on this foggy London landscape it occurs to me that in many ways I have been immersed in a personal fog for so long that I had almost forgotten what the big picture of my life actually looked like.
Or that there even was one.
The day was over before we knew it and for the majority of them it was the end of a chapter they’ll probably not forget. That’s the way it tends to be. We are but a temporary interlude, the kind that is usually more keenly appreciated in retrospect than at the time. There are some whom I will miss, other’s perhaps less so. My days of becoming attached are long gone. I care within a professional context and sometimes a little beyond but alongside professional caring, especially in this line of work, is the equally necessary quality of professional detachment.
There are things going on within that can’t be seen; internal changes that only I am aware of; a personal metamorphosis of sorts. To some extent it mirrors the season, a time when much of nature goes into hibernation and is sustained by what from the outside looks like inactivity. I feel as though I’ve shed a lot of old foliage. I feel a deepening understanding and appreciation of life and even, dare I say it, a paradigm shift. And all the while the daily tasks are being completed and the ongoing commitments of life being met as per usual.
It’s taken more than two years to finish but the portrait of James is, as of today, complete. Why it’s taken me so long I’m not entirely sure. I spent no more than an hour and a half on it today and most of that was tidying up around the edges. Now that it’s done I feel pleased with the result.
Donna flew into London from Australia today. It's such a pleasure to have her here. Indeed, that was the spur on to finish the portrait so that I could tidy up the spare room in time for her arrival.
Having Donna staying here for a few days makes me realise what quiet lives we lead. Sitting in front of the telly this evening listening to she and Teddy chatting away in the kitchen I was reminded of the many share houses I’ve lived in and the many people with whom I’ve shared my living space over the years. It all seems like such a long time ago now but the memory of those distant days and frequently forgotten friendships as I sat and listened to them chatting merrily away in the kitchen brought a little smile to my face.
There are four more days to go until the end of the term and also the winter solstice, and more than at any time for a very long while now all I want is a few days off to paint, read and write. It’s wonderful having Donna here and I doubt that I’ll have any time to do much until after Christmas but just knowing that it’s coming, and that I’ve cleared the decks of so much personal baggage is enough to keep me in good spirits. Right now I just want the next few days to be behind me.
Every now and then I come up against one that I can’t crack. It doesn’t matter what I say or do, all I get is lip service. Fair enough, that’s their right. At one time I might have perceived it as failure. These days I find it remarkable that I can reach as many as I do. It takes a lot to trust someone enough to let them in and I seem to be able to inspire that trust more often than not. So when, like today, one of them bucks the trend, well, so be it. No one’s perfect.
I had the strangest dream. I was on a passenger plane. We were flying low over some foreign city – middle-eastern mixed with something else – and from there the plane rose high into the mountains, all the while flying just metres above the ground. I recall being incredibly nervous about crashing while at the same time mesmerised by the view of treetops, rocky outcrops and scattered snowfields below. At one point I turned and made nervous eye contact with Chris, a work colleague and fellow passenger. What stays with me is how close yet how precariously removed we were from the landscape below.
One of the things I really like about my job is the frequency with which I can draw a line underneath a particular period and say that is now done, unlike my former years in mainstream where that opportunity only occurred annually. Today is one of those days when I get to have closure on one set of circumstances and am able to look forward to a new set in the coming year. That’s not to say there isn’t continuity; there is, but the variety, the degree of autonomy and the constant opportunity for change is what keeps me interested.
I have this sense of being poised and ready to begin. The clarity of the last few weeks has allowed for a lot of things to fall into place. The fog has lifted and I’m feeling clearer now than I have done for a long, long time, and once Christmas is out of the way I can finally make a start. It feels as though everything has been leading up to this point. I don’t
I’m going to do it, I
I am and it may just prove to be my most creative and productive period for years.
Sunday morning: it’s the quietest time of the week in this part of the city. Looking down onto the streets below all I can see is the solitary and forlorn figure of a street cleaner, his fluorescent yellow jacket looking oddly incongruous in the damp grey foggy light of the early morning. This area has become such a major thoroughfare in recent years and there’s something satisfying about gazing out from the warmth of this little room and enjoying its quieter moments, of which there are precious few here. Peace in the city, however brief, is something to be savoured.
There is a real pleasure in simply being at home and pottering around. What little Christmas shopping that still needed to be done today was relatively painless. Living where we do we don’t need to venture far and the crowds are much less invasive than elsewhere in the capital. The rest of the day was spent watching TV, listening to music, napping and generally winding down. For a while I was tempted to take out my brushes and do some painting but in the end I decided to leave that pleasure until after tomorrow. Pottering seemed a more attractive option.
It’s been our first proper Christmas for years. Since coming to the UK we’ve tended to keep to ourselves on the day and dispense with the gift giving ritual, preferring to take advantage of the post-Christmas sales instead. But today we spent it with friends and it’s been a day of good food, good wine, sometimes heated debate, much laughter and of course gift giving. The irony is that I tried to avoid accepting the invitation for so long! It’s all too easy to fall into the dull routine of repetition and yet so refreshing to dispense with it.
The penny finally dropped this evening. We were in the Thai Café enjoying a birthday meal when the elegance of the concept became fully apparent to me for the first time. In my mind I’d been imagining a far more complicated scenario. Numbers have never been my strong point. What I realised however is just how doable the whole project is. In essence it’s the same as what we did when we came to London seven years ago. It’s not entirely without risk, certainly, but nor are the worst case scenarios unworkable. It is, in essence, the next logical step.
It begins today. The first picture is out and ready and by the end of the day will be finished. It may well be completed before then. There’s good music to listen to, and with Teddy heading out to the sales I intend to play it loud. I’ve had the rest I needed, enjoyed a bit of down time and now all I want to do is launch in. I have two paintings and two pastels to complete plus the story I’m writing with Corinne. Quite frankly, I can’t think of a better way to spend the next few days.
It’s been a productive couple of days. I’ve completed all but one of the paintings. I’m completely stoked with one of them. Another one ended up in the bin. Ah well, no point in flogging a dead horse. The main thing is I’ve now had closure on those pieces that have remained unfinished for so long. The pastel piece was excruciating to do. I’m so over the medium now. It’s not a total flop but it hasn’t the sparkle of the others. No matter. I’ve managed to clear the decks for the coming year and that’s been the main objective.
I was completely bowled over by the current exhibition called “Breaking The Rules” at the British Library today. I could have happily remained there for hours but chronic back pain put paid to that. It was our first visit to the library and we were both impressed. We had an enjoyable meal at Pizza Express afterwards but the back pain worsened as the day wore on and I had to sleep for a few hours when we got home. I obviously jinxed myself last week when boasting to a colleague about how I rarely get back pain these days,
As the end of the year approaches and a new one beckons, I find myself becoming introspective and reflective. With the memory of slaying demons fresh in my mind I think the key phrase for the coming year is, quite simply,
. More than any specific resolution I might choose to make, the act of following through on any of them is the critical factor for success or any sense of achievement. The last couple of months have been highly significant in terms of dragon slaying. The ability and determination to follow through is now my next major challenge.
As the year winds inexorably down towards its final hours I find myself wondering whether to continue writing 100 words a day. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to think of anything interesting to say! Perhaps it’s just the melancholy of the last day of the year. I know it’s all psychological but there’s a qualitative difference between the last and the first day of any year. One is steeped in a sense of finality and closure while the other positively bristles with possibility and expectation.
Ah well, I don’t have to make any decisions today. Tomorrow will be just fine.
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