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For all that life is good it scares me shitless sometimes when I pause to consider how narrow it’s become, how much a creature of habit I am and how unlikely it may be that I’ll ever be any different. At 18 the whole world stretched endlessly before me. At 48, well, it’s hard not to feel that so many opportunities have long since passed on by. I can intellectually reconcile myself to this, just as I can intellectually argue that life is what we make it. But sometimes I hate myself for having become such a compromised experiential coward.
Through the trees I see the blue lights flashing. A motorcycle speeds on ahead of the motorcade and comes to an abrupt halt on the pedestrian crossing beside the palace. People wait patiently on either side as the two darkened limousines whisk by surrounded on all sides by the blue flashing lights of the motorcycle police dedicated to their protection. Everyone is wondering who’s inside. In this city of high celebrity and international politics it could be anybody. Within seconds the whole event is over and the last we see of them are the blue flashing lights heading towards Whitehall.
It came towards me with such speed and force I didn’t have time to duck. Had my head been turned slightly more to the right my nose would surely have been broken. As it was all I sustained was a bang to the head, bent glasses and as the afternoon wore on, a thumping headache. Such are the joys of supervising a football game. I should have filled out an accident form but by the time we’d seen the kids off, had our meeting, phoned parents, finished our lesson evaluations and tidied up it didn’t seem like a priority somehow.
It was a spur of the moment decision to get off at Green Park and walk the rest of the way home. One minute I was trundling along on a train 50 metres below the ground, the next I was strolling through a sea of daffodils listening to Goldfrapp beneath a beautiful pale blue London sky. Suddenly the fatigue of the day seemed to evaporate and I found myself feeling better than I could have imagined 20 minutes beforehand. Just that simple break to the daily routine made such a difference to my mood and general sense of well being.
I arrive late but it can’t be helped. I’m at the mercy of London transport. Say no more. For the next two hours we sit around a table deliberating on who should get funding and who should not. It’s a difficult process. I know how long these submissions take to prepare. So it’s with some surprise that I find myself casting such a critical eye and arguing the cons so persuasively. It all comes down to the evidence. Why haven’t they been more persuasive? Why haven’t they been more thorough? I see where they’re coming from but it isn’t enough.
I shouldn’t take it personally, and on most levels I don’t. It’s just the way they are. More than that, they do it in part because they can; because I’m a safe bet and nothing is ultimately threatened. In some respects it’s a back-handed compliment, but sometimes it pisses me off even so. I
it personal. I’m only human and it doesn’t do them any harm to wear that for a while. After all, the very fact that they respond at all is a measure of what’s been achieved; of how far they’ve come in such a short time.
Friday evening perched on the spare bed with a tall glass of Strongbow Cirrus over ice, looking out at the street below. The central heating wafts up from beneath the window while the fridge groans periodically in the kitchen. A police car, blue lights flashing, speeds down Warwick Way, its siren temporarily disturbing the otherwise mellow mood. I’m feeling pleasantly satisfied with a report I’ve just completed and now I can look forward to a weekend with one less work-related task to worry about. I enjoy quiet moments like this, bathing in the ambient sounds of time passing slowly by.
It’s really starting to take shape now. I always used to wonder what it would be like and now I’m beginning to understand. It’s a process, yes, but it’s more than that. It’s like taking a lump of clay and modelling it; carving out a section here, adding on a bit there, reworking a bit somewhere else until the whole thing starts to takes shape. There’s an inner logic to it that cannot be grasped at the beginning. It becomes apparent in the doing as the project slowly gathers momentum and speed, like a child crying out to be born.
I stand by the window in the kitchen and bathe in the glow of the afternoon sun. With eyes closed I try to still my mind and body and drink in the moment. With so many demands and so many preoccupations, just to be still and feel the warmth on my face and see the orange glow through my closed eyelids reminds me of the pleasure of simply noticing where I am and what I’m doing, a random moment in time poised between action and action; doing and doing. The moment is fleeting but the pleasure of it lingers on.
I’m reading again.
I go through periods when I can’t anything I want to read and sometimes the desire to read deserts me altogether. But right now I’m reading again, and it’s good to be doing so. I climb aboard the morning train and the journey is just long enough to get through fifteen or twenty pages. Then I switch to the bus for the second half of the journey and I manage to get through another twenty pages or so before turning up in Plumstead. On the way back I read and sometimes doze.
But hey, I’m reading again!
I managed to get another one knocked out today. I delivered it personally so I know I don’t have to give it a second thought now. I’m packing a lot in lately while allowing for breathing space as well. The switch in attitude seems to be paying off. Ultimately, everything can be viewed as a creative act. In adopting this view I’ve allowed a more relaxed though no less focused attitude to permeate my daily routine and, so far at least, it seems to be paying dividends.
No doubt the monetary allusion may bother some but it works for me.
When it happens it’s magic – a couple of kids exploring Painter on the computers, a couple more creating animations with the digital cameras while the others pore over their paintings, totally absorbed in the act of creating something new, leaving me the space to work awhile on a painting of my own. It’s at times like this when the classroom ceases to be a classroom and becomes a studio. Music fills the air, sunshine streams in through the window and I remember once again why I chose this career. Not all days are like this but the really good ones are.
I like to think of myself as decent and fair-minded. I support the ideals of such organisations as Amnesty International. I work with some of the most deprived kids in society. I believe in the right to free speech and that a decent society has a duty to take care of the less fortunate. But when I read about some senseless and gratuitous murder perpetrated by some remorseless, thrill-seeking punk I can’t help but surrender sometimes to the notion that someone ought to take these bastards out and put a bullet through their miserable skulls and be done with it.
There are days when I become incredibly discouraged about everything; that though no matter what we do, sooner or later it’s all going to come crashing down around us. If rising sea levels don’t get us then maybe the disappearance of whole species coupled with the irreversible changes to the planet will, or some other as of yet unforeseen catastrophe. Maybe it will be water shortages, a nuclear catastrophe or simply the steady breakdown of social order as more and more people try to inhabit less and less space. On such days I can find myself getting pretty damned depressed.
I hadn’t realised it was an auction house for contemporary art. I wandered into the newly housed premises of Phillips du Prury almost by accident midway through the auction to find myself surrounded by some of the most exciting work I’ve seen for ages. Alongside the work of Warhol, Haring and Banksy were artists I’ve never heard of before: Britto, Lilanga and Spampinato to name but a few. To have such a prestigious institution right on our doorstep is such a welcome surprise. I came away with my head brimming with new ideas and a much needed shot of inspiration.
Is it some kind of homing device or something? Why is it that whenever I’m on a bus the person in front of or behind me decides to take out their phone and prattle on at length, only to announce they’ll see them there in ten minutes or something similarly infuriating? Couldn’t it have waited till they got there? Do they have to rabbit on, not discreetly but as though the whole bus wants to know their business, without a thought for the poor sods like me who just want to read in peace?
Needless to say, I’m pissed off.
I’m trying to decide whether to go away for a few days in April. I can’t seem to decide either way. I’ve been online and explored various options. Berlin looks good. So does Madrid. And I’ve always wanted to see Florence. Then again, I could stay in the UK and go to St. Ives, or up to the Lake District or somewhere remote and picturesque. Then there’s the part of me that would just as happily stay home and paint. There was a time when the desire to travel used to reign supreme. I guess I’m less restless these days.
If less is more, is more less?
Take my music collection for instance. There was a time when I only had a few dozen albums. I was intimately familiar with each of them. I played them over and over until they became like old friends. Every now and then I’ll revisit one of them and reminisce about old times. These days I have literally thousands of albums. Some I’ve barely listened to. Others I know well but the relationship isn’t the same.
It’s a little bit like the difference between new friends and old.
I suppose less really is more.
Every so often someone talks about how books will one day become obsolete; that some kind of device, an iBook perhaps, will be able to download any book from the internet and in doing so replace the printed word. No doubt I’d buy one. I’m a man who likes his gadgets. But as for making books obsolete, I doubt it. There’s something about a book. It’s as much an object of desire as it is a vehicle for entertainment or learning. It has an identity all its own. Comparisons with vinyl don’t cut it.
Nope, books will never become obsolete.
A glass of red, a quiet evening, Pat Metheny strumming gently on the guitar and four full days ahead to do as I please. I had thought of going away for a little while but somehow the lure of simply being at home with my paints and canvas and lots of new music to listen to outweighed any desire to take myself away from London. Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older but the desire to travel has receded of late. I’d much rather stay put and turn my hand to more creative pursuits. So that is what I’m doing.
It’s eight in the morning and I’m downstairs in Caffe Nero with a coffee and croissant to help kick start the day. Actually, kick start may be a little harsh. I’ve no sense of urgency. I have the whole day stretching luxuriously before me with nothing to do except read, write and paint, and I intend to do all three. A few early risers have joined me, including some with pen and pad. There’s something very conducive to writing in a place like this where there’s coffee, good music and the ongoing whoosh of a cappuccino machine in the background.
It’s nearly three in the morning but I’m not especially sleepy. I’ve spent the day pretty much from 8:30 this morning till well after midnight painting. I’ve had Radio 3 to keep me company. The weather’s been weird: bright sunshine one minute, snow the next, thunder and lightning, hailstones, more rain and snow and then more sunshine; perfect weather for staying indoors and being creative. If only I could do this every day, or if not ever day then at least more regularly. I’d all but forgotten the pleasure of radio. It’s such a good accompaniment to a paint brush.
There’s something about radio that’s qualitatively different to other media. There’s a tendency to turn it on and just leave it on. One program follows another, voices fill the air: there’s a sense of being with company. Someone says something amusing and I laugh; someone else describes a piece of music and I listen to it more attentively than I’d otherwise do. I’ve tended to overlook the radio in recent years but after the last two days of listening while painting I think I might choose to spurn my iPod once in a while and tune into the airwaves.
If I wanted to, I could. I’ve done it before. It requires a certain mindset but it’s more than doable. And when in the past I’ve taken it on I’ve always gotten to the point where it becomes easy. It’s just that I can’t seem to muster the determination to actually make the decision and then follow through with it. I’ve managed to do so in other areas of my life in recent months but with this issue it’s proving to be difficult. Sooner or later I’m sure I will. I just haven’t managed to get there yet, that’s all.
He’s done so well with us but there’s no way he’s going to survive back in mainstream. He’ll end up being another casualty of an inflexible system that ultimately doesn’t cater for the likes of him. Square pegs just don’t fit into round holes. He’s not the only one. There will always be others. If I allowed myself to dwell on the issue too much I’d probably end up feeling immobilised, cynical and disempowered, but that would serve no useful purpose. We do what we can. Sometimes we can make a difference. Sometimes we’re little more than a band aid.
The writing hour: a specific period of time set aside for the specific purpose of writing. It’s rather like writing 100 words a day. It provides a focus and a framework. During the writing hour you sit with pen and paper, a typewriter or in front of a computer. If choosing the latter the internet needs to be disconnected. Idle web browsing is not an option. If nothing is written during that hour it doesn’t matter. What matter’s is the time spent in process. But then words being what they are, the chances are they’ll tumble out at some point.
I need to adopt more of a “can do” attitude over the coming weeks and months. Something has come up which points towards a major shift in our lives. It’s not unforeseen but it may well be happening sooner than I’d anticipated. And resistance, as the saying goes, is futile. Nor is it necessary. For some time now I’ve hungered for change. Even so I have a tendency to shrink away from it when it presents itself: fear choice over growth choice. But I need to dispense with that. Some things are just meant to be, so let’s embrace it.
Embracing change is a vital attitude in maintaining a youthful outlook on life. We all know young people who are old and vice versa. At key times in my life I’ve embraced radical change and invariably emerged the stronger for it. As for timing, when is it ever the right time? There are always issues to deal with; obstacles to overcome and the fear of things going pear-shaped, especially when dealing with such meaty issues. Then again, if I hadn’t embraced radical change in the past, I wouldn’t be grappling with the idea of doing so again. Life’s like that.
There is something very satisfying about taking an old painting I’ve had under the bed for the last year or two and putting it in a frame and hanging it on a wall. It looks better for one thing, but more than that, in actually putting it on a wall I’m acknowledging that it’s not only finished but ready to be seen by others. That in turn serves to spur me on to paint more of them. I’m not especially prolific but I am pleased with what I’ve produced. When I walk past them I smile. It’s a good feeling.
The clocks have gone forward. Daylight saving time has arrived, or summer time as they so optimistically call it here in England, and with it an opportunity to shift into a different gear. Coinciding with the end of classes for four weeks and with the prospect of a two week break in the middle of it I find myself taking a deep breath in preparation for the warmer, lighter months ahead. I’m a sucker for calendar markers to hang a shift in perspective on and spring is a particularly potent one.
So here’s to a new, sunnier chapter of life.
I felt totally exhausted and drained today. I stayed up way too late last night, firstly listening to music and then to an interview with an extraordinary woman whose name I can’t recall but who is well over 100 years old. she survived the concentration camps and has lived the most extraordinary life. She was so lucid and cognizant still! I was rapt and had to listen to it all the way through and it was well past 2am by the time it was over. I slept fitfully afterwards, my mind buzzing with the amazing stories she had to tell.
The Tip Jar