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Itís a curious experience. Iím lost in thought while on the way to work. It may be a book, or a piece of music Iím listening to, or maybe Iím having a snooze. Anyway, I look up out of the window and for a few moments I have absolutely no idea where I am. Itís perhaps testament to how much of lifeís detail passes me by: a group of leaves clinging to an autumnal branch, the uneasy tilting of a row of chimneys or a previously unnoticed gap in a hedge. And then, having taken stock, my bearings are restored.
Thereís something rather therapeutic about having a major clean up. Today has been one of those days when everything comes off the shelf and out of the drawers. Iíve rummaged, rearranged, tidied, sorted, thrown out, cleaned, vacuumed and, in the process, I feel psychically renewed and restored. Itís something I can only do when I have the place to myself for a while. Itís a reclamation process of sorts; a way of ordering reality, of feeling more at home and more comfortable. I now feel I have not only the mind space but also physical space to express myself again.
Dad, had he lived, would have been 96 today. Itís somewhat uncanny then that it was today that I received a call from Aunty Dorothy. (Seriously, I really DO have an Aunty Dorothy!) ďI know why you havenít gotten in contact with us and itís silly! We couldnít care less about that,Ē she said in that berating tone I had completely forgotten about. Thatís fine. I deserved it. And within an hour or two I had spoken to Richard and Jenny for the first time in 24 years as well. Now Iím left wondering: why did I wait so long?
Why do you disappear for such long stretches of time? Why is it that just when I think weíve re-established the link Iím greeted with such intolerable silence? Okay, maybe Iím not the best person for keeping in touch with everyone I know but some people are different. You are different. We have such a long, shared history. We are different to who we might have been had we never met. Never underestimate the value I place on our friendship. Remember the interweaving paths we used to talk about? Well how about a little more interweaving, eh? Over to you.
I need a break from all of the horror stories Iíve been hearing at work lately. Iím usually pretty resilient in the way I deal with such things. I have to be to remain effective. But when it touches people you work on a daily basis who themselves give so much to try and help others well, like I say, it can really get to me. And much as Iím a pretty, reasonable sort of guy, right now I canít help feeling that some people should be put up against a wall and horsewhipped for what they do to kids.
Itís been a hard, tiring day. I nearly went home early. And while your text message cheered me up no end, I nearly called you back to cancel. But I didnít. And this evening, sitting beneath one of those big outdoor heaters, wrapped up and chatting over cake and coffee, I felt my spirits lift again. After we farewelled each other I strolled home through Green Park and on past the Palace with the moon as my companion, and in the crisp evening air I felt better for the pleasure of your company and warmed by the reciprocity of friendship
I see you on the bus and it occurs to me; do I know you? Your face seems familiar but I canít fix it securely in a particular place or time. And you look back at me as though grappling with the same question. Are you looking at me because Iím looking at you or is there perhaps some spark of recognition? Maybe Iím imagining things. Iíve known so many people in my life. Do I know you or do you simply remind me of someone I once knew long ago? Disembarking, without a word spoken, the question goes unanswered.
ďI donít suppose I could temp you out for a beer or three after work?Ē I asked. ďYou sure could,Ē he replied. And what a great idea! There are times when a healthy dose of arm bending and chin wagging with good company is just the tonic one needs. After a couple of hours of catching up on all the gossip I then went and had a haircut in Soho, walked through St Jamesís Park in the dark listening to Mozez (Zero 7 variety) on the iPod and returned home feeling completely reinvigorated and refreshed. So cheers Babaloo, and thanks!
Time passes differently when Teddy is away. Iím the kind of person who is happy with his own company. I guess some people might feel the need to fill the space left by an absent partner and before he goes, I do tend to imagine myself taking the opportunity to catch up with lots of people once heís gone. But more often than not I just end up spending long hours quite happily at home alone. I never seem to run out of things to keep myself occupied with and there is a real pleasure in spending time by oneself.
Iím beginning to wind down. My teaching commitment for the term is behind me and tomorrow will be spent meeting parent and carers and discussing the progress made by this termís student intake. It should prove to be an enjoyable morning. Next week I have some school visits and submissions to write but other than that, the rest is pretty much tying up loose ends, ordering stock and planning for next term. So today my mind has been free to focus on other things like reading, writing, sending Christmas cards, chatting on the phone and generally enjoying my own company.
For whatever reason, Iím still not making the most of my time. I have half a dozen works of art hours from completion yet for some reason I canít seem to get myself to sit down and finish them. I have another half dozen at least in my head (more, in fact) as well as dozens more that Iíve thought about but not fully fleshed out in my mind. Why is this? If I was to really focus my attention I could within a relatively short period of time have an entirely new portfolio. What is it that stops me?
I stumbled across a quote by Patricia Sun this evening. It was right at the end of a journal Iíd kept through 1984/5. Curious, I checked the internet to see if I could find anything about her online and lo and behold, I discovered her website and, more significantly, a collection of podcasts which I promptly downloaded. It was like catching up with a very deal friend of long standing. Iíd forgotten what a profound influence sheíd had on both my life and my thinking during the 80s and it was revelatory to reconnect with such profound wisdom and insight.
As the shorter days and longer nights become more established I find myself sliding increasingly into hibernation mode. With Christmas approaching, the thought of quiet nights at home seem more appealing than that of trekking across town to meet someone. Itís not that Iím feeling down or depressed: quite the contrary. Itís just the seasonal pendulum swinging back the other way for a while. Teddy arrives back from the Philippines on Saturday and Iím increasingly eager to have him home again. With Teddy itís different. I can have my solitude and have companionship at the same time. And thatís precious.
I have a picture next to where I sit writing of Teddy grinning like a Cheshire cat in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, his Prada bag containing his new Prada shoes on the wall next to him. He looks so happy and relaxed. It was such a beautiful, warm day. It was the second time weíd gone to the fountain and we were both in high spirits. I waited for so many years for Teddy to come into my life. Iíd all but given up hope of ever finding him. But find him I did. Lucky, lucky me.
Whenever anybody goes on at me about how much time we get off for holidays I always say, ďWell, you could have become a teacher too, you know!Ē Yes, itís one of the perks of the job but to be truly effective, especially with the kinds of kids we work with, the down time is critical. Working for years in bars and restaurants without a break was never as issue. Nor was illustrating. But when you have to be there for these kids in the way we do, without the down time well, I donít think I could do it.
Oh boy, did I ever wipe myself out last night! After spending a really nice evening with Pete and Jeff listening to some excellent musicians in a smoky little club near Covent Garden, I managed to fall asleep on the train going home and, some three hours later, woke up to find myself alone on a rainy, windswept platform miles from anywhere! (My guess is the seven pints of beer I drank had something to do with my predicament, sigh!) Needless to say it was an expensive taxi ride back to central London. I still canít believe I did it!
Thereís a lot to be said for doing nothing. Not that Iím ever actually doing nothing. Itís just that today has been a day of doing nothing in particular. And itís funny how in the back of my mind thereís a little voice that always teeters on the verge of admonishing me for idleness. But without idleness, where would we get the energy to propel ourselves forward into action when we need to? So although doing nothing in particular might seem like a waste of time, I like to think it can also be considered to be time well spent.
One of the powerful things about keeping diaries and journals stretching back thirty years is I begin to appreciate what an extraordinary journey itís been getting to where I am right now. That in turn begs the question, where do I take it from here? At any given moment life can seem predictable and routine, but actually itís been a very full and diverse journey up until now, and itís far from being a finished story yet. My motto has always been, ďthe best is yet to come,Ē and as long as I walk the planet, it always will be.
For a great many years I used to look to those who were older than me for guidance, especially when it came to matters of personal growth. Nowadays, the age issue seems less and less relevant. Human experience and wisdom cannot be quantified and quality processed according to the number of days a given individual has spent on the planet. Itís not about ďarrivingĒ and thereafter dispensing wisdom. Rather, itís about relating to those around us in a meaningful way that recognises that weíre all on a journey and that we all have something to teach and something to learn.
It was so good to take the train up to High Barnett this morning and catch up with Carol, one of my dearest and most trusted friends of long standing. We first met in 1982 when she was just 16 and since that time weíve remained the truest of friends. Weíve worked together, lived together, laughed together and cried together. There have been long periods when weíve not seen each other but we have so much shared history. With Carol I can speak my mind freely in a way I can do with few others, as she can with me.
These are the days when I withdraw quite happily into myself. Outside, a freezing fog envelops much of the country. From my window it looks poetic but for many it has brought nothing but misery. BA has cancelled all domestic flights for two days running. Not a good time to be travelling it would seem! As for me, Iím happy to be indoors and vegging out. I had thought to go up and see Dorothy and Ted near Hull until I looked on the map to see where Hull was; then decided to save that pleasure for another, warmer time.
Sitting in the Champagne and Oyster Bar this afternoon I enjoyed the ambience: the music, the chatter of people around us, the gay waiter who walked off with my glasses on his head and forgot that he still had them ten minutes later, and of course the food. We talked a little about this and that but you seemed tired and preoccupied and it wasnít until we were walking back to the station that you revealed what was on your mind. It wasnít just that youíd finished work and needed some rest. Indeed, you were grappling with something much bigger.
Sometimes I feel a real pressure to write something significant. Why else bother putting pen to paper? Iím over the audience issue now. Iím not kidding myself that anyone bothers to have more than a cursory glance at the things I write. Thatís okay. Iím writing for my own purposes, as much as is possible at least. Nonetheless, some days my mind goes blank. The things that do come to mind seem trivial and hardly worth writing about. But whether they are or not, the discipline of maintaining 100 words a day is a valuable one. And so I write.
Walking through Battersea Park today, listening to Snow Patrol, I felt a powerful surge of energy and optimism. I have a sense of moving up to something pivotal; a decision that is there for the making; a decision that could, should I choose to make it, distinguish all that had been as distinct and different from all that is to come. That is not to say unrelated: not at all! Rather, itís a question of choosing between growth or more of the same. And nor is the outcome a foregone conclusion. Choice means choice, whether made consciously or by default.
We spent the day at home watching old movies on TV, ringing friends and family, sending and responding to text messages and simply sharing the day together. The only time one of us stepped outside was when I went down to put the rubbish out, and that was after midnight. We ate in front of the TV, watched Rizal, a film about the Filipino national hero, and nodded off from time to time as the wine began to take effect. Christmas for us is a low-key affair. We like it that way, with just ourselves to keep each other company.
Although we havenít discussed it, today is a real milestone. There was a time when we both seriously feared we wouldnít see it. Itís curious the way the past is absorbed and integrated. The intensity and fear we once felt, the utter dread, has long ago given way to the change in circumstances that have made this day possible. The low-key way in which weíve marked itís passing simply bears testament to how far weíve both traveled since those dark days. So much has changed, and while the threat has not gone away, it has certainly diminished since then.
I finally made the decision today and, like many decisions in life, the world was no different immediately after the decision was made than it was just prior to it. But the decision has been made and the very first step has been taken. Iím perhaps wary of making too much of a big deal about it but it needs to be noted nonetheless. Stating it makes it real. No doubt there will be some lapses along the way but this is too big to backpedal from, because the only way tomorrow will be different is to be different today.
Itís a funny thing, but once Iíve made my mind up about something, things seem to lighten somewhat. Itís like the pressure is taken off. I can use up a lot of mental energy mulling something over and when I am doing, it can seem like everything is at a standstill. And in a way I suppose it is. But thatís not to say nothing is going on. These past few days have offered an oasis of time in which to quietly reflect and mull things over. Well, the mulling is done and it feels good to be moving again.
I nearly didnít bother going to see the Rodin exhibition at the Royal Society of Arts this afternoon but, given that it finishes this weekend, I decided on a whim to do so. Iím so glad that I did! Given that I had an almost epiphanous experience this morning (insightful, not religious) the timing could not have been better. I spent nearly four hours in the presence of utter mastery. I could have stayed there for days! It seems the older I get, the more Iím able to not simply observe but understand and appreciate what great art can communicate.
She was in fine form today. Iíd almost forgotten what it was like to lock horns with her, but lock horns we did and, to everyone elseís amusement, both forthrightly and with an admirable degree of grace and fair-play. By the end of it we metaphorically bowed to each other and respectfully resolved what was a trifling issue. Knowing glances with Carol. The humour was not lost on either of us, as if to say, would we have her any other way? With so much history shared between the three of us, such a nod to the past was inevitable.
Emerging from Embankment Station we found ourselves swept along by the restless crowds, further and further away from the firework viewing areas. Later by the Strand, we were trapped; squashed almost beyond breathing, with people shoving, shouting, swearing, screaming and then panicking. Becoming increasingly alarmed, we squeezed towards a side street, away from the crowds. We heard the fireworks but didnít seem them. Then the near impossible attempt to get home; police barricades everywhere, blocking streets and directing us further away from where we needed to be. Finally, we reached the Underground and made it back home in one piece.
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