Dorchestra inaugural concert
today! Nail bitingly nervous...
...Which evening gown should I wear?
The Vintage Balenciaga or the Dior? Sequins or diamante?
How will I cope with all those bouquets?
And ... gasp... will
the paparazzi be waiting at the front?... or the back?...entrance of Dorchester
United Reformed Church?
The Cactus Curse of the Internet.
Years ago I was a student and a barmaid, It wasn't the place I'd have chosen to be if I'd had the choice - it was just paid work. But I'd amuse myself and keep busy in quiet times by washing glasses, re-stocking shelves and wiping the counter, thinking my own thoughts about the Universe and Life; generally minding my own business, while looking out for customers to serve. Sometimes there were nice people to chat to. I listened well, kept a clean, tidy bar and gave fast, pleasant, and polite service.
You might assume the standard of my work would be judged exemplary and that I'd have been considered professional by most customers.
And so I would have been - had I been a man. However there were usually men propping up the bar who clearly regarded a young woman working behind it as their puppet on a string and their chance (as social underdogs with let's face it not much of a future) to lord it over somebody. So now and then, I'd be leered at and patronisingly told to 'Smile!' as if the price of a pint of Courage IPA bought ownership of my face.
Of course there are much worse things which can and did - and still do - get said to women (and men) working in service industries. But being commanded to 'smile', just because you can be commanded, when you are neither happy nor unhappy but just... well... competently getting on with a job... such ingrained lack of respect for your right to exist and quietly think your own private thoughts, is just a teensy bit galling.
One compensation of getting older, is that you no longer get that kind of hassle, possibly because your features have fallen never to rise and you're expected to look as if your face got stuck in a bucket.
No one tries to order me to smile . Perhaps men no longer care or notice. Or possibly I now look and sound so ferocious that they don't dare. Whatever the reasons, it's wonderfully relaxing.
Yet, for me nowadays, the equivalent of those guys standing at the bar years ago is the plethora of commands which are accompanied by randomly collated, facile opinions spouted as fact (usually in large semi-literate capital letters) and disseminated globally via the internet. They mostly seem to originate in the Nation that gave you the Internet (and more recently the 3D-printed plastic gun). You get them in emails; they are posted on Facebook walls and usually have such mawkish or grandiose titles as "Words of Wisdom" or 'Life Lessons' or 'Positive Thoughts'. The imperatives are stuff like "Dare to Dream!" "Be Happy!" "Dance!" (tell that to a Traffic warden). Or they get you with that one that's obviously hardest to disobey: "Live Life!". They're usually accompanied by photos of cute cuddly animals, sunsets or grotesque caricatures of old folks and they contain such gems as 'A hug is a sign of love!' or 'No one ever said life was easy'. (Oh really?)
I was feeling really positive and happy today. And then I opened the powerpoint. It came from a trusted source, so I thought 'What the heck'. There was a photo of a flowering cactus and some music. At first I thought it was going to be a nice bit of Debussy because the opening chords were sort of familiar and mysterious..
That's nice I thought - some great music with pretty pics too.
But then the cheesy stuff started... the mysterious chords disintegrated into a banal song stretched out with cloying violins... accompanied by more cacti and some drifty little pink messages pronouncing 'A Positive Look at Life!'
Of course I should have known better and stopped it then and there. But you see, I'm an optimist - a positive thinker. As such, I'm completely unprepared for this kind of assault on my inner well being.
In fact I learned masses which I'd never ever have known if I hadn't watched the parading cacti. For example, I learned that people who are late are usually jollier than those who have been hanging about (probably in freezing rain) waiting for them. Well that's a surprise! I also learned that 'a laugh is a sign of happiness'! Well! Would you ever have guessed it?
The orange-flowered cactus told me I'm a happy person because I look at the
scenery on detours. Another informed me (with a shade of melancholia and not much positivity) that Walmart keeps reducing their prices but things are never free. Which leads me to wonder whether possibly one of the Walmart People made up the whole thing?
OK I thought - it's trite and fatuous and the music is slowly machine-gunning my soul but I'm a positive person, so I'll grit my teeth and continue to look for the best in it.
And sure enough, eventually the best bit came along: THE END
This was of course accompanied by the usual blackmailing attempt (probably by some sad person in a bedroom in Nowheresville, Nebraska) to exert control over a random and puzzling universe by exhorting us all to Send It On To The Special Awesome People In Your Life - with dire emotional consequences sneakily hinted at for those so hard hearted as not to obey.
BUT I'm enormously pleased and proud to think that I was singled out by a Special Friend as that Very Special (and indeed Awesome!) Person who would benefit from being fed miscellaneous opinions and commands accompanied by cacti. It doesn't happen to everyone, you know.
And in spite of my ears having been assaulted, my intelligence insulted and my soul
machine-gunned by terrible musak, (which would drive anyone into a depressive spiral of cynicism and gloom) I've just about managed to retain a scrap of my initial pre-cactus positivity. Which enables me to consider and even enjoy the irony that someone, somewhere has collated random opinions - not to mention random photos of cacti - and has valiantly attempted to lord it over a few zillion internet consumers - half of them doubtless men - by getting one cactus to issue a list of imperatives shouted in Barbie-pink capitals... one of which was...
you guessed it...
The Village Choir
Most Tuesday evenings I leave the house clutching an assortment of sheet
music and (if I haven't forgotten it) the all important pencil.
My journey of about twenty miles takes me by the sea for a while, before the
main road turns inland to climb over high hills. I overtake George the
Third on his white horse and see that like me he is escaping along this route
- though he never seems to arrive. The road dips away for a few
miles through bendy villages and then a crossroads far ahead with a copse of
tall beeches on a small quiet roundabout announces a choice. And a
The roads to the left and right choices will take you to a town - or back to
the sea. The straight-ahead choice leads along a narrower, quieter way
where winter evening headlights suddenly illuminate a series of sharp bends
bounded by stone cottage walls - a glimpse of an ancient church tower - and then
forest - and the road straightens for an unbelieveble distance. In the
dark winter evenings one is often alone on this road with only perhaps a
solitary pair of tiny rear lights far far ahead. Now and then a car may
turn onto the road and then quietly disappear down a side turning and you are
That brightly street-lit patch in the distance is a level crossing and I
wonder, during the long approach, whether the barriers and warnings will begin
to flash. It's an odd feeling sometimes to rumble over the lines and see the
sudden shock of a train's lights as it stands motionless a few yards away by
In summer the long dead-straight road disappears far ahead into distant
misty overhanging trees. You can't see the end of it. It's tempting to increase
speed. I'm usually almost late having left at the very last minute and gone back
into the house for the pencil. But the limit is 40, people live here
and I'm also reminded that somewhere near here along the silent hedged
lanes, T.E.Lawrence - his life already somehow past - crashed his bike and was
The final leg of the journey is no more than a narrow asphalted track amidst
pine and birch plantations which in winter darkness seems to wall you in.
It's like descending into the deepest darkest fairy tale forest in which one
imagines no daylight and no escape. Yet now in the lighter evenings the fir
trunks are straight - purple-shadowed and pinkly lit against pale blue sky by
the evening sunshine; the small delicate birches stippled with fantastic acid
green among tall yellow grasses. If I weren't late I'd stop and draw - perhaps
I'll do it next week. Or make a journey out here on another sunny
evening. But I probably won't. So many ideas - and life so
Eventually the lane descends into a valley and the white
thatched cottages appear. In winter, lamplight glowed behind curtained
cottage windows but now birds sing and there is someone walking a small dog who
smiles directly at me as I turn into the village. Ahead is the village
hall - also white and thatched - and some parked cars of people who like me have
travelled miles to converge in this hidden place within a small wooded
combe. Near the entrance door is a very large motorbike belonging not to
Lawrence but to our conductor.
It's a choir of mixed voices - a medley of differing timbres and
qualities. Many of us are just a little past our prime though there are
some very good voices. But there is something of a quiet religion about
it. The heads turning to greet you with genuine smiles of welcome
and the occasional jokes combine with the real harmony of song to create a sense
The current 'sing' is Mozart Mass in C and Mendelssohn Hear My Prayer.
The conductor, still wearing his motorbike leathers, somehow manages to play the
piano beautifully while simultaneously conducting our cacophony. Like any
priest, he's an expert in his religion and lives and breathes it. He is a
composer in his own right and he knows what we need and why we are there.
Amidst the more disciplined learning of parts and phrases he sometimes gives us
our head and just lets us sing for the pure physical, sentimental, uncomplicated
joyousness of it. There is nothing purer.
It's the coming together which matters.
O for the wings... for the wings... of a dove...
The thing about Dorset...
Driving along the A35 in the early morning by a long wall where there's a something-or-other estate with two gigantic arches one of which has a stag on top and the other a lion (Dorset dwellers will probably know where I mean) several thoughts came to me.
The first was that the Spring-new copper beech leaves are stunningly beautiful, rendered to glowing peach sparks by morning sunlight shining through their semi-transparency.
The second was about Dorset and its Tardis like quality. Maybe it's because there are no motorways through the county or maybe because the few large connurbations are clustered around the edge, leaving what seems like a vast empty interior. And when you think of vast empty interiors you think of vast continents and perhaps the 19th century European explorers who ventured into these interiors and often did not return.
The continents of America, Africa and Australia, though vastwith wild and majestic landscapes, were of course not empty but inhabited by indigenous peoples and civilisations who had lived and thrived minding their own business for aeons; there were rich natural resources and there were wondrously strange (to European outsiders anyway) creatures and plants in almost infinite and fantastically coloured variety. The concept of 'darkest Africa' - Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' is not so much the non-Christian/European (and therefore- to those 19th century explorers - unenlightened) wild interiors of continents, so much as the darkness in our own hearts. We may think we know some answers but the sum of our knowledge is like a brief and tiny candle - a nightlight - flickering weakly in that great darkness of our vast unknowing.
Anyway - forgetting Livingstone, Stanley et al, it's pretty much similar with Dorset. As an explorer from outside, you think you know that it's a big empty thinly populated county with not much happening and probably not much culture to speak of. But then when you start to explore, you realise the county's natural resources are not only the beauty of the landscape but also the creativity of people among other things. It's thickly populated with tiny villages - Piddles and Puddles and Bournes and Churches - and miniature towns - Bridport, Sherborne, Blandford etc full of dedicated and enthusiastic people making Music and Art as well as Jam and Cakes.
Of course some natives are hostile. Perhaps one can't blame them. And sometimes the jungle drums beat and what they are saying is a mystery but one suspects it's nothing good. Moreover, the Tardis-like quality extends past Space and into Time Travel - sometimes Dorset feels like the Land that Time Forgot. Yet there's enough beauty here in people and landscapes to encourage and surprise the intrepid explorer.
Running to catch up
Apropos of the previous post on Time, there was a sea fog this morning, smothering the silent shore and muffling the lapping waves in a blanket of white stillness. Walking along the beach was like being on the edge of the world.
My imaginary neighbour Mrs P (a staunch traditionalist where weather's concerned) has recently declared for the Nth time 'Everything's Upsidedown. You don't know where you are from one minute to the next - that's a fact.'
And indeed she has a point. At the beginning of May, there were still daffodils around and many trees were still bare. Crocuses apparently went missing completely and are still unaccounted for in some places. Even now, the feathered birches glisten in the weak morning sunlight with some buds still unfolded. It's as though Spring, like The White Rabbit in Alice, is running to catch up...
Scene: the stage is bare except for a tree with no leaves. The lights are low giving an impression of a dull, dank winter's day. The tree stirs slightly.
Enter Spring, running, breathless and dishevelled clutching a large pocket watch with tea dripping from it: 'Have I missed it?'
Tree: No, but we've missed you. We missed you last year as well. Had hot weather instead. And we missed Summer too. You need to get your acts together.
But perhaps Mrs P and the tree are being unreasonable. You can't possibly live in these islands and be a traditionalist about weather - unless perhaps you are traditional about the democractic right to drizzle.
Yet rain didn't come in summer/winter 2011. And after that we had too much very un-British water falling from the sky - more monsoon it was than the genteel drizzle we lovingly call our own. And you only need to juxtapose the quaint paintings of 17th century bonfires on the frozen Thames with the fact that grapevines and lobsters had flourished in the warmer mediaeval centuries, to know that weather and climate are possibly larger and more variable than we can predict - and that really you can't rely on them.
However the fog-horn is still sounding its melancholy lower B flat across the water. So in a way perhaps Mrs P is vindicated. We don't know where we are. And - in a sea-fog - that's a fact.
As a finite, mortal being, I've always been fascinated by Time and awed by the ungraspable incomprehensible nature of Infinity/Eternity. Having a visual imagination - together with a metaphorical method of thinking - can also be a bit of a handicap for grasping abstract and infinite concepts. For example, whenever I try to imagine our Universe, it comes to mind as a large black walled room. What's outside the room? Possibly another room. My brain doesn't seem to go any further.
Ordinary mediaeval people may not have bothered much about Time (or the ungraspable nature of Infinity) in quite the same way as we do. After all it was God's job to know and ponder those things. And perhaps it was also something to do with still having close connections with an existence which depended on, was structured by and ruled by seasonal change. Bad harvests resulted in real starvation. And still do. Human life was and is short and Death Eternal but Faith gives you a get-out of jail free card. You could get on with your finite little life without worrying your pretty little head about Eternity because God the omnipotent Patriarch would do that for you. Having Faith meant accepting a lot of stuff (including not knowing much about anything) and not minding too much about it. Look what happened to Lucifer after all... So most people chose Faith and - perhaps - didn't think much about anything. In any case, Thinking might get you a visit from the Inquisition.
Visiting Chichester made me very aware of the relationship of Faith to our concept of Time. . Most European Cathedrals - being manifestations in stone of the Eternal - took generations to build. People lived and died working on them. Chichester took about 32 years. - possibly a bit of a 'rush job' by Normans keen to acquire and demonstrate divine validation of their violent occupation of someone else's country. Yet 900 years later the no-nonsense rounded arches still support the weight of Faith and a beautiful 12th century stone Lazarus is still caught and frozen in the act of being raised - the story itself a metaphor for eternal life. Moreover, the edifice of Faith made manifest through Art is inhabited by an ongoing spiritual life which welcomes and calls the visitor each hour to the peace of simple prayer and silent thought.
In this more secular age (in the West anyway) we've mostly lost the Faith which allowed us to accept Space and Time, Eternity and Infinity, without trying to comprehend. Astronomers like Newton, living in an Age of Faith, proposed predictable Universes of motion - much like the workings of clocks and other machines with cogs and levers, But modern physics, in the midst of a violent and faithless 20th century, has curved and bent Time in ways which disturb us to the core.
Time in fact has been bent into something which might well spring back and kick us in the backside - or slap us in the face - depending where you think Time is coming from...
Alice in Wonderland subverts and ridicules the social structures and conventions of its day. Written by a writer who (being simultaneously Reverend and Mathematician) somehow combined Faith with the logic and illogic of abstract Science, it gives us views of Time which are 'eccentric' i.e. outside the mechanised circles of predictability and rules. To the White Rabbit who is late, Time - or rather our human imposition of the measurement of Time - is an enemy. At the Mad Hatter's House all the characters are trapped in Forever Tea-time. Alice tentatively speaks of 'beating time' i.e. adhering like the White Rabbit to the small imposed rules - the human measurement of Time and is admonished for it.
'Ah that accounts for it,' said the Hatter, 'he won't stand beating. Now if you only kept on good terms with him he'd do anything you liked with the clock.'
Alice begins to comprehend the possibly curved and unmeasurable nature of Time with the device of the table full of tea things but when she asks 'But what happens when you come to the beginning again?' the March Hare quickly changes the subject. Thus Time is seen to be something imponderable with it's own laws - an entity larger than our own consciousness - which we attempt to control at our peril.
From Shakespeare's 'bank and shoal' of Time, to Wells' Time Machine to films like Sliding Doors and Benjamin Button to novels like Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife and Martin Amis' Time's Arrow we wonder whether Time is the straight flowing river we imagined it to be. It rushes when you are happy and it meanders when you are at the dentist having a tooth filled but does it have whirlpools and currents, oxbow lakes 'and rocks on which we can become snagged?
There 's an episode of Star Trek Voyager in which the crew get transported back in time to Earth (which is as usual a bit like down town Burbank) in the 20th Century. Their task is to prevent a ruthless billionaire inventor from using a Time Machine to get richer by bringing back secrets from the future. It's very American in a Gatesian-HowardHughesian sort of way... And there's a metaphor there, in that the plunderiing of raw materials of ideas and inventions from the unknown and uncharted future will result in the ripping apart of the fabric of the Universe. The episode has poignancy owing to the fact that the Voyager crew must in the end return to their own Time reality - a reality in which they have been sucked against their will through a wormhole and stranded thousands of lightyears from home.
In a similar way I too have been sucked through a wormhole and stranded on my alien planet. And during that brief visit to Chichester - like the Voyager Crew - I've also had the brief opportunity to visit a place a bit like home and have then had to return to this reality.