Saturday, 29 October 2016

I Escape From Hell

I've been to hell and back.  Let me tell you about it.
This is the entrance to hell: an eternal conundrum of false choices and vanishing points, of concrete and staircases, Escher-esque in its confusing circularities, but without the graphic style and precision you'd hoped for.

I don't believe in hell, but I entered because I wanted something, felt a need.  Of course, like most people, I didn't set about going there, but I was tired and a sign said 'Costa' so, prompted to think about a cappuccino, I followed it.
It would seem that the road to hell is paved with what could be, under extreme circumstances, temptations.

If hell exists at all, then the opposite of hell must be heaven, or paradise.  If paradise is pleasure and contentment, then it's an autumn wood lit by sunlight; wood smoke; a view of the sea; travelling by train; laughing till it hurts; Beethoven's piano sonatas; chatting to a beloved one over a drink at a pavement café on a Friday afternoon. 

Hell must feel threatened by heaven, as it is dead set on passing itself off as paradise.  It smells of sulphur, makes a mockery of a pavement café on a Friday afternoon.

Hell is a place without concern for anything like love: a place which wraps up despair and tries to sell it to us as a sense of humour failure. 

Like Dante's Inferno, hell has many circles, each with its own sense of disorientation, intensities, and unpleasant characteristics.  No one can say what someone else's version of hell is - we must listen to what they have to say about it.

Whenever I've been to hell and sat amongst its contents, the more pointless life has seemed.  Fortunately, I've had a strong instinct to escape.

Despite mythologies perpetuated by those with a vested interest, it is possible to escape hell.  There is always a stairway, if not exactly to heaven, then at least towards something approximately Out of Hell.

What I've learnt about escape is to trust my instincts, follow my sense of direction, and the signs, which in this case, some devil has tried to erase.

And so, I escaped hell, and this is what I learnt: 

Hell is a metaphor, and in this case, the metaphor was Bridgwater Services, just off the car park that is the M5 on a Friday afternoon in the school holidays.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

I Act The Man

Not for the first time there was an imbalance between the number of men and women at badminton, so it was suggested I join the men's doubles court, as an "honorary man".  The implication I wanted to hear was, "You're a good enough player for the top group," but the subtext I heard was, "We think you can hold your own amidst the stronger, faster and (let's face it) better players.  And by the way, men are generally superior to women.  Be flattered." 

I did feel flattered, a bit disgruntled and confused all at once.  Blushing with annoyance at feeling flattered for the wrong reasons ("honorary man"!) I let rip with my smashes.  This display of an approximate sporting prowess felt powerful.  I glowed and perspired through my sweat in equal measure.

This smashing experience might have been the one which prompted my recent god as goddess poem / conversation.  "What would it be like," I asked people who mind about such things, "if the word goddess were substituted for the word god throughout the C of E liturgy?"   I believe in Goddess, the Mother almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  I don't believe anything of the sort, by the way, but I find it extraordinary how much the change of the gender of a noun shifts things in my socialised imaginings, mainly towards something Pagan, or Greco-Roman.

The status of honorary man is familiar to me. At 51, I am tall for my age.   That badminton evening's mixed emotions echoed the themes from my all-girls school days when I was cast as a man-boy in plays and country dancing.  As luck would have it, I've never been asked to dance Sir Roger de Coverley anywhere other than in the hall at South Hampstead High School.  If I had been, I would have got it all inside out and back to front.

I told a friend what had happened at badminton. "What," he asked, "did you do to attain that exalted position?  Did you comprehensively internalise your emotions? Did you use doner kebabs as a substitute for real relationships?" 

"What are you up to, showing sensitivity and insight with self-deprecation thrown in?" I responded. "Are you, by any chance, having a go at playing the woman?"

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

I Answer Some Questions

"Shall I at least set my lands in order?"

Last night was University Challenge night.  Now that my elder son is actually at a university, my younger son and I watch it a deux.  Some of the answers I got this week were: 'Platinum Blonde'; '1812 Overture'; 'Napoleon III'; 'Polaris' and 'Copper Sulphate'.  We even managed Caravaggio and Botticelli in the absence of our art expert. 

"Who is the third who walks always beside you?"

My son was particularly impressed by my knowledge of the Roman name for the city of Bath: Aquae Sulis.  Ever since I stopped understanding his Maths homework, moments like this have been particularly sweet.

"A pool among the rock"

Lines from TS Eliot's The Wasteland did not appear in last night's questions, though they and he often do. The thing about many of the answers I blurt out is that I didn't know I knew them until Jeremy Paxman reads the question.

"These fragments I have shored against my ruins"

These snippets of knowledge, however inapplicable to my daily life, feel like proof of something: of my own university years, of the reading I've done, the music I've listened to, the films I've watched and the people with whom I've learned, listened, and watched.  Fragments pop into my head in response to a question, having often lain dormant for years.  They make sense of a kind, like quotations from a life-script, and (my son always being pleased when I score points for the team) they lend a convivial peace to our Monday evenings.

"Shantih    shantih    shantih"


Friday, 7 October 2016

I Begin Again

This time, as a fox.  Each day is a new one, after all.

I saw fox in a window, and despite him being urban, irresponsible, admired him.

"Thought Fox," I thought.

He is orange, bold, corduroy.  I bought him for myself.  Called him Foxy.  Call her Vixen.

My affection for stuffed toys is rational, goes back a long way.

When I was 7, I saw the dolphin on a stall at Christ Church Highbury's annual Garden Party.   He was red, bold, corduroy.  When I returned, with insufficient pocket money, to admire him again, he had disappeared.  He re-appeared on my bed that evening.

That was when I knew for sure that my mother loved me.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

I Paint A Canvas

Back in the spring I had a sudden urge to paint.  The urge came out of a therapeutic conversation - something to do with my inner child, something, it being therapy, to do with woundedness.

I sometimes find it hard to write because I'm a poet, and so I judge anything I write with a critical eye, even stuff like shopping lists and diary outpourings meant for my eyes only.  I needed a new, uncritical mode of self-expression.

I told a friend about the urge and the next time I saw him, he gave me a set of acrylic paints.  Everyone needs a friend like this.  Being well-brought up, I had no choice then but to respond to his kindness by going to buy some canvasses and brushes.

My first attempt involved painting my inner darkness.  It turns out that my inner darkness is a sludge-greeny-brown colour.  Halfway through, sick of brown, I got out the orange, and, enjoying its orangey-ness more than expected, ended up looking at the work of my inner 5-year old half an hour later.

I sent a photo of the painting to my friend by way of a thank you letter:

Painting #1

I received an unexpectedly kind and non-judgmental response, mentioning a Star.  Even though I know that the sun is a star, I hadn't thought of it like that.

Still having quite a lot of orange left, I embarked on Painting #2:

I took this canvas to therapy, proud of the depiction of my inner 6-year-old's free-ranging spirit.  "Well," said TP, "That's a fine Picture of Hell if ever I saw one.  I'll see you next week."

For Painting #3 I decided to restrict myself to blue and yellow.  I'd like to say that this was an artistic choice, or even a therapeutic choice, but it was a choice determined by the colours of the free samples of paint available in the local art shop.  I decided to name this painting before anyone else could get in there first.

Painting #3 - Free Samples

Painting #4 occurred when I had a vase of sunflowers on the table.  I also had candles on the table and it was a lot of fun dripping molten wax in lines across the canvas, watching them set, then putting my fingers into the paint and spreading it around.  I'm not sure what this is called, or how old I was when I was painting it, but maybe someone else will tell me.

Painting #4