Wednesday 13 December 2023

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Last week with DC away in London I watched the movie Three Thousand Years of Longing and this week we watched it together. I enjoyed it the second time as much as the first. It's visually sumptuous and the tale doesn't tire with telling. There's a line in the dialogue where the question is asked is love real or just a madness? The love in question being romantic. And in a turn more sophisticated than is usual in most movies, the point is also made that love brings out of our selves that which we hitherto had not seen or been able to express. The themes of truth, beauty, freedom and love run through the movie and I've found my self contemplating them in the context of the three poisons - delusion / ignorance, greed / lust and hate / aversion / anger described in Buddhism. Further, I wonder how we are to grow in the way or in any other way for that matter, pointed to by this bringing out of ourselves that which was previously unseen. Yes, as life challenges us and / or we experience that which brings delight, interest and captivates us hitherto aspects of possibility lying dormant awake. In Buddhism the diminishing of the cycle of the three poisons to be replaced with a more capacious acceptance shifts experience. The euphoria or intoxication of 'in love' fades and reveals a deep connected relationship or little but projection. Always there is the ungraspable nature of truth hinted at by everyday realities. Sumptuous scenes displayed regularly throughout Three Thousand Years of Longing like tableau evoke richness in the broadest sense and as DC pointed out might draw comments regarding orientalism. Their effect through this richness is to generate the promise of greater knowing and to bridge between the mundane and the magical. Magic is central to this movie but as is fitting to a tale about narratives it is a vehicle for exploration of our condition as much as it is employed for our amusement. Amusement, often thought of as trivial distraction to while away time of course usually does reveal our condition.

Drawing back from this I sense a heady mix sitting on top of the anxieties provoked by dealing with our everyday problems of a leaking roof and bringing our house up to scratch, the backdrop of climate change urgency and geopolitics. We are fortunate in having reasonable financial resource and living in a part of the world not caught up in immediate environmental disaster or warfare but having grown up with the constant shortage of money it is difficult to ever feel that I've escaped the risk of catastrophic economic ruin and the knowledge that micro and macro environmental disaster is unfolding in the world does add a tension and sense of running out of time. Time, were it to run out would presumably put an end to all experience and perhaps give Hamlet his sleep of no more. He of course wonders is it only our natural cravings and attachments to favourable experience, our very life force as exemplified in the Red Thread koan that keeps us facing life's vicissitudes or is it that we suspect that time and bad experience are possibly without end. It's a valid question for much anxiety is underpinned by the fear of not just loss but everlasting agony. That some part of us didn't reach its flowering in any time seems to remain as an everlasting reality beyond the end of time as much as any reality in any time remains beyond time. We are in this sense caught in our temporal nature. Whether any enlightenment can bridge the realms of time and timeless has been a quest of our creation narratives. These too are alluded to in Three Thousand Years of Longing. It's a tale about narratives. Returning to considerations of time I see that whereas in the first half of life there's a sense of there being plenty of it ahead, in the second there's a sense of a wisdom in consolidation (as opposed to fossilisation). It is perhaps the fear of unravelling which I find alarming in these times I think.

Monday 13 November 2023

Remembrance Sunday

Yesterday, remembrance Sunday I attended a Quaker meeting in the morning then had a walk with DC through the local area. We had lunch outside a cafe as DC has Covid. It was reminiscent of those lockdown days. We watched Hotel New Hampshire then I took myself off to Sunday conscious dance group. It was Bob's set of tracks. I generally like his music - he generally has a good mix of tracks to get us moving whatever the energy and mood of the participants. The Quaker meeting had been naturally infused as it has been for a week or two with thoughts of the current conflicts and previous ones. The ministry was heartful and upon reflection indicative of a processing and care of troubling aspects of human nature. Through this care some understanding and peace seemed to evolve and through that the better side of our nature was alive and visible. Bob opened his set with the reprise from The Eagles, Wasted time. He introduced this as his acknowledgement of Remembrance Sunday noting that the track is about one minute long. I remembered a comment at the Quaker meeting that maybe we should add a minute for the damage we have done to the environment. The dancing was good and I could feel my body respond positively to the music and the connections with others. There was a nice warmth in the group. I returned home to a lovely dinner prepared by my wonderful DC.

That track Bob opened with reminded me straight away of this post from April 2015. I mentioned to Bob that it always brings tears to my eyes. It's that line from the full track - 'And maybe someday we will find, that it wasn't really wasted time' that still gets me. Somehow the music and the words for me at least tap straight into that wider human journey with an acknowledgement of suffering and growth.

But will we humans ever grow enough to end the self inflicted suffering?

Monday 30 October 2023

Change and Stillness

Yesterday DC and I attended the Quaker meeting in Keswick. There was talk before the meeting about the future of meetings and the Quakers and I'd heard similar words recently at the Newcastle meeting. There was ministry regarding change. I was drawn to speak, I sat still and said nothing but the urge persisted and I resisted until it was clear- stand. 'Everything is changing all the time, but it is cut through with stillness.' I've seen this clearly in the past and it seemed in the meeting to be the concise response to the questions raised in the ministry. I sat and felt into the space again. I wasn't entirely comfortable with way the word cut had come out- too sharp, too much me in it. Maybe this should have been said in afterwords. It was close to the end of the hour. The clerk ended the meeting. There was no afterwards. One of those present came straight across and said to me 'thankyou, your ministry was concise'. This point is important to me as it is I suppose a road through the everyday to what is perhaps pointed to with 'A little point and Satori'. For an explanation if needed look here. The question that I find arising now is the ultimate one of 'faith' - does my experience continue in any way after death? Is there significance to this 'little point'? I've not crossed it nor approached it deeply enough to have experience which would qualify me to respond to the question. But I have wanted the answer to be such that there was a meaning in the answer beyond the rational. Because without that... without that the weight of everyday rational meaning is unbearable. And yet if there is a finite end then at least there is an end to any pain at least for a single being. To answer this question of faith it is not good enough to merely recognise our interconnectedness in the living everyday world. It is perhaps to ask as Hamlet does '...what dreams may come?' But this too is a disturbance. His place of asking is not neutral. The ripples of his mind obscure the very ground upon which they sit. The question might be better put as 'when the mind is still where does it sit? And thus where and what were those ripples? Well, we know how the Platform Sutra puts it so there's nothing I can add. In truth it's still very much through a glass darkly at best for me. And something, no-thing, was concisely conveyed. 

Friday 15 September 2023

The falling leaves

Yesterday evening DC and I saw The Father, a play by Florian Zeller at the People's Theatre. Although an amateur production the performances were good and the experience in no way felt amateur. No small feat given the nature of the play. With no consistent narrative position we experience the unfolding story of an elderly man with dementia. The uncertainty of 'reality', his decline from robust demeanour to second childhood and the frightening isolation as his awareness no longer holds a coherent picture of the world or even himself is played out in an ever shifting field. Time, place and relationship constantly fail to join up into a coherent linearity. The sequence of past present and future as the temporal backdrop to the physically apparent world fragments. The who is who of the people in his life fragments. The where is where fragments... His closing lines 'my leaves are falling away, my branches are falling away' leaves us asking the same question he has just asked '...but what about me... who am I?'

And so it seems fitting to remember the title of this blog - for who is holding on to what? Who is it that might ever hold on to nothing, to be with what is, as it is? Inspired by the koan (Case 5 Mumonkan) at a time when I was recovering 'myself' after my sense of who I was had been, if not shattered then certainly knocked about a bit by an anxious depression caused by long term stress, this blog aimed to capture some movement into a wider sense of being. And what I sought was a place where I could be alive to life without again being overwhelmed by any pain it could cause me. Even to the extent that the very notion of 'me' was to be kept under scrutiny. And I was all too aware of the danger in this! I kept it reasonably soft... the grasping in this was clear to me and I fumbled my way through the dharma... So, the years have passed and what might I say now in answer to the question - who sits? I've no idea! And I don't mean that in an elliptical or 'knowing' way. It really is a mystery. But it is a mystery sitting in a coherent consensus reality. I'm not dementing. (As far as I can tell.) What and how do we know the nature of ourselves to be?

Meanwhile, the play reminds us of the last days of DC's father and the increasing fragility of my parents. We are aware of the passage of time and the movement through the seven ages as we cast about the stage of our lives, interconnected and separate as they are, in this unfathomable and yet obvious paradox.

The Father is a moving play and the theme of loss and death resonated all the more strongly as we spoke with the director. We know him and his wife through other friends and we acknowledged the sadness in the unfolding falling away that accompanies the last days of life. And as we all agreed it's shit. The loss of function and the physical pain taking up the time before death, squeezing the precious remaining moments of connection. It IS shit. And as family and friends gather and share, as the days pass, there is that which has been and that which remains.

The merit of this post is for those approaching the end of their life and all who love them.

Tuesday 12 September 2023

This September

 It is a time of transition. Mid September brings a mellowness and a sense of impending stillness. There is much change going on in the world and in our own tiny corner of existence DC and I are soon to move house. For a variety of reasons I find floating through my mind consideration of... Of what? Of appreciation of the challenges, changes and stillness... the spiritual 'journey'... Elliot's words 'costing not less than everything'... Recent years have been very challenging and I have often lost sight of the stillness in which the motion of the challenge takes place. Returning to the desire to reach both a place of safety  and insight whilst releasing any such imagined position into the reality of the present ever unfolding moment there is reflection.

Surrendering to the moment with an open heart and mind doesn't seem to be a natural disposition for me. My mind is constantly grasping for control. Yet there is seeing this without adding too much further. Over the passing years since first coming across the Buddha dharma, understanding, appreciation, and much more have naturally shifted. The picture of a spiral is often used to describe 'views up the mountain'. But whilst useful this reinforces the notion of a journey with the attendant risk of an asymptotic goal. In practice there is both the need to keep 'polishing the mirror' and to realise reality in the present. Certainly much of that reality now is tiredness. Hopefully the coming transition will afford rest and renewal. And in that there may yet be more clarity and peace.

 I suppose that implicit in all this is the koan at its most basic. The panoply of challenges each encompassing various wants and needs, the access to wisdom at both intellectual and visceral levels- the being and doing in each moment. And how aware, how conscious am I in all this? Indeed where am I in all this? I hope the coming autumn will afford opportunity to feel into all this. 

Friday 25 August 2023

Other Shores

DC and I are on holiday in the Scottish highlands staying in a wee modern bothy on the north shore of the Moray firth. Located right on the sea front and facing southeast the views are fantastic and ever changing. When conditions are clear and depending upon the light it is possible to make out the three wind turbines to the west of the village of Findhorn. These are part of the wider Findhorn Foundation (FF) community asset and as such have a wider resonance to those of us who are now digesting the news that the FF has sadly come to the conclusion that no economically viable future exists as business. Based upon guest programmes and only just restarted after the closures of the pandemic the sums have not added up for sometime and despite attempts to adjust to the present situation the figures continue to decline, the impulse seems to have moved on or dissipated and thus the staff are now to undergo the process of redundancy.

As I scan the distant shoreline on the other side of the firth I gradually work out the locations of various familiar places. Almost ten years have passed since I was living and working in the FF and traversing the landscape between Inverness and Elgin. Residing in Cluny (the FF's main guest space constructed in the nineteenth century as a hydropathic hotel in the small town of Forres) I would spend time alone, with friends and with DC making my self at home in this part of Scotland while still maintaining roots in Newcastle. DC would travel up and down and seated at the table in Cluny lounge with his laptop, work on his papers and books whilst trying to make sense of the FF. I'd be involved with a number of built environment projects and all the while living the FF life. From the middle of my Experience Week in the FF in January 2006 it had made sense to me; it was many things to many people and you could make of it as much or as little as you needed. There was an impulse here of transformation and healing, of play and growth, of rest and renewal, of the interplay of being and doing. It was always amorphous. And now it leaves its legacy and slips away to be replaced by some container to hold whatever assets, responsibilities and functions remain to be held. And so it is that the three hour round trip from this side of the firth to the Findhorn / Forres side has been to see friends who were part of the FF in a context of much change.

At night the lights on the distant shore come and go according to conditions. I'm reminded of many times over decades in the Lake district looking across to the opposite shore and seeing a light which seemed to offer warmth and shelter, respite from the darkness. Such lights often seem to generate the sense that over there is somehow more satisfactory and so it's as well to look around and see the lights in which one is sitting; those very lights which from over there on the other shore evoke the same callings. We are are pulled back and forth across the landscape of our existence in this way by dukkha. Yet there is more to this than simple unhelpful craving and suffering. There is the calling to live, to experience and ultimately perhaps for that to include awareness of the 'space' holding our life and the interconnectedness of all. Yes we have our projections and fantasies our cravings and desires. Those lights on the other shore can be the greener grass of any field. Living in communities such as the FF and one's relating to any amorphous nature can be like the madness of a love affair where one inhabits a landscape made out of a mix of one's deep and often hidden desires and the apparent although often short lived glimpses of solid form in the amorphous field. As is much of our lives. We can be deluded and blind to what is. BUT, can we ever see what is through anything other than this interplay of shore and the other?

Yesterday, the view across the firth was clear and to the west in the distance off a ridge approximately in the direction of Inverness could be seen the formation of clouds. Slowly rolling into formation, bright in the light and moving east. There was something poetic and evocative in the slow steady movement. I suspect that scenes like these bring us to an awareness of being and doing and the deeper desire to be in ourselves. There's usually a slight melancholy yet also a peace to them. The view across the firth is often redolent with evocative metaphor - other shore, stillness and movement, light and dark, the familiar and barely grasped... Being and ultimately non-being. Death, an inevitable part of life is a good reminder that our cravings are not always unhelpful- without them what would be? And so amongst this view there is the force of life. Manifest in each experience yet often hidden by various forms of discomfort there is the starkness of existence.

During the week DC sent me a link to an interview with Chris Packham. I read it with interest and noted that his descriptions of growing up as someone who would in adult life be diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum mirrored some of my own experience. Mainly I think of experiencing the world and life as or from a vantage point somewhat different to that of society's / one's peers'. In my own case the illuminating element is not autism but homosexuality. Even before puberty many same sex attracted people know they are different and so what is being revealed here is not just simple sexual craving but a sensibility, a 'colour' in our basic desire to be, the 'shape' of our wider erotic impulse. This can give us an almost shaman like ability to see the water that the straight fish can't see. I suspect Chris Packham's autism may have given him a different yet similar faculty. Maybe we might spend less time with diagnosis of 'conditions' and more time accepting that people are just very complex and simply ought not to be restricted into predetermined boxes of how to be. It was then, with interest that I heard on the news of the death of Nick Hitchon who had been part of the Seven Up TV documentary series which followed the lives of fourteen people. I was drawn to watch some of it again and so DC and I found it on YouTube and watched one part of the 63 UP catch up from 2019. I found the energy and evolving shape of the participants lives moving. And what came to mind was the amazing ingenuity in life.

Our other bit of 'TV' was to watch Brokeback Mountain. We'd both seen this at the time of its release in 2006 and had forgotten all but the basic plot. It's a moving and sad depiction of two men trying to find a way to be in a society poisoned by toxic masculinity. Neither of the men have been brought up in a loving and supportive home and struggle to make a living as best they can. They have little to no way to understand and deal with the reality of their love and sexual attraction for each other in a society which totally forbids it. The sadness is that although their love sustains over decades of short periods of a few days together snatched secretively out of their lives as 'straight' partners and parents they're not able to flower into the beautiful couple we might imagine. Aspects of their being, both as individuals and as a couple remain nipped in the bud. At bottom we know there is a sanctity in this flower and that society has committed a sacrilege. It is as if those clouds described above were never to roll off the ridge, the beauty of the movement and its revealing of the stillness were forbidden. It isn't just the life that is snuffed but also the very space in which it would have been. Reading reviews of the film I see that there has been debate about the sexuality of the protagonists and the intentions of the writer and it occurs to me that what those asking such questions fail to see is that the point being made is that the men simply have no context for their relationship. The society in which they find themselves totally prohibits it. The toxicity of homophobic, maladjusted masculinity has ensured that no space exists in which the flower can open and as the writer reminds us 'if you can't fix it you have to stand it'. It is then with celebration, that I can say that generations of 'different' people have worked and made it possible not just to 'stand it' but to enable it to flower.

The early part of the week here was busy with calls about our house move and finally after many date changes the exchange of contracts, with visiting friends and with settling in and taking in. Yesterday and today we've consciously decided to just be more still. In our minds are thoughts of the ongoing journey and we are grateful that friends remain with us and we remain with them. It has been a couple of the most frightening years for me and these reflections help me see that there is the fear life may take away from me the opportunity to see before I reach the great other shore that which I so dearly long to see. Namely both the fullness of life and its very ground.

Our hutch for the week

View across the Moray firth

Monday 24 April 2023

London Trip

DC and I have just returned from a week in London. It was a week of culture and rest. We saw some physical theatre, two plays, four exhibitions, a country residence and a converted power station and attended a concert. Each one was illuminating and well worth the effort to visit and on more than one occasion I was prompted to write a blog post. So, here I'll try to remember the thoughts and feelings and write them down.


The place - Pain and I by Sarah Hopfinger

DC enjoyed this physical theatre exploring the landscape of pain but I found it thin, unimaginative, repetitive and dull. Performing naked Hopfinger attempted to explore the multidimensional landscape of pain but for me she barely seemed to point in the direction of the field let alone explore its realms. I could write paragraphs on this subject exploring my own limitations to hold pain as just pain without letting it become suffering and muse at the wonder of sentient beings trying to make their way in this world but I'll leaving it there. Suffice to say that for me Hopfinger failed to build a bridge over the seas of amorphous, shifting, modulating, vibrating, heavy, light, pressure, heat, cold, subtle, gross, and on and on... coming and going presentation of pain to being and the creative pulse. But since others seemed to like the performance it begged the question - was I missing something?


The Courtauld Institute- Peter Doig, C├ęzanne, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Pissarro and Van Gogh

The presentation of works in this exhibition was quite something to take in. Doig's work isn't particularly to my taste but the juxtaposition of the works brought seeing in to focus. This visit was the start of an unplanned journey through impressionism and we found ourselves looking at seemingly countless great and famous works. Definitely some 'dudes' there! And it would be on Thursday that further resonance would come through as we visited the Berthe Morisot exhibition. A feeling of quiet digestion must have been with me as we became exhausted with looking and moved back towards the fresh air. But not before a quick look at some works from the Bloomsbury Group... ah, the feeling of people looking at the world with serious eyes and asking very pertinent questions.


The Design Museum -Ai-Weiwei-making-sense - I might sum this exhibition up as impressionism with Lego and the scale of human making and destruction. A fascinating collection of the artist's work. His Lego version of Monet's Water Lilies really demonstrates the power of the optical effects the pointillists were using - you can see the colours interacting to make each other vibrant. Sobering are his pictures of the destruction of village homes to make way for skyscraper city blocks in a fast developing China. Development driven by an autocratic government which will tolerate no dissent. And other of Weiwei's works comprising a vast number of Sung dynasty ceramics also brought strongly in to focus for me the shear extent of human production - changing the earth's resources into things we then throw away... frightening... At the entrance to the exhibition was the ideogram for Wu Wei - effortless action. This 'concept' points to harmony, doing just what life is asking of us as it is asked without pushing, grasping or trying too hard yet not shirking from what is needed. I could write much about how I've tried to bring this to my 'off the cushion' meditation in daily life and both failed and risen to the 'challenge' but that's a whole other post! 

Streamed a movie in the evening - Master Cheng (2019 movie)

I enjoyed this gentle film and it resonated softly with thoughts floating through my mind about how I'd like to be living. DC wasn't particularly impressed with the film and thought it 'weak'. True it isn't a great work of cinematic art but it has a warmth. Sometimes, it isn't the great, inspired, talented artist who reminds us of ourselves, it's just a nice simple feel good film. Although I admit in our case that's not going to be a Hollywood production.


Eltham Palace - The Courtauld's 'country' residence. We both loved this house. I think it's a skilful blend of different architectural language from very different times and the feeling in the Art Deco interiors is modern, dynamic, forward looking and alive. It's a house clearly designed for entertaining and I recognised that although I loved it as a public space I'd find it challenging as a home. Apparently in practice, once the times changed and keeping staff in service became impossible the Courtauld's found it impractical. The house was designed for pre-war society and the ethos of the Art Deco movement - modernism and luxury was to take hold not just of the rich but of the aspirations of the general population post-war. A land fit for heroes had been promised after the first world war, after the second it remained a promise to be fulfilled but this time things would be different... And so the 1930s are an interesting time to consider and a period that would return for consideration in our visiting on Wednesday at Battersea Power Station...


Welcome Collection - Milk

We both found this a problematic exhibition. Whilst there can be no doubt that milk production comes with a lot of environmental, animal welfare and ethical issues this exhibition presented a distorted view of the story of milk production and consumption. Mixing issues of racism and clearly aimed at trying to move the Wellcome Collection away from its arguably paternalistic, white, western history and thus address colonialism in some way, the curation is biased, fails to recognise the genuine issues of cross cultural poverty and hunger and the valuable contribution of milk in our diet and the wider landscape. It is an unskilled, hectoring and clumsy narrative presenting a picture of milk consumption as driven by unscrupulous parties with no genuine aspiration to help feed a historically malnourished demographic. Much work is required to address the environmental and cultural issues around food production in this now all too clear crisis we face. This exhibit fails. Explaining why, as DC said as we discussed our response to the exhibit, would require a whole essay.

Park Theatre - Snowflakes

Strong, tense script and performances. Pertinent in these times of populism and social media. I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this play and was concerned that it might be too violent and dystopian. But it was well worth the effort to go see it. A reminder that truth, justice and civilised society require consideration of complex issues in a collectively recognised, challengeable, compassionate and accountable system open to all parties. A reminder to value ensuring the law meets our needs for justice.


Battersea Power Station - Lift 109 and the halls converted to a shopping mall

Stepping into the 1930's turbine hall and boiler house with their Art Deco ceramic tiles I was almost immediately moved to the edge of tears. And it is this which was my main muse for this post. Here we see celebration in the decoration and form of the building. The enormity of designing, constructing and operating a power plant on a scale capable of providing 243MW of electric power which would be transformative in making viable a standardised, national electrical infrastructure was clearly embraced. The station was design to be built in two phases with the second phase expanding capacity to a total of 400MW. The largest of the generators were the largest in Europe at the time. Government had in the 1920s realised that multiple small scale power plants operating for specific loads all at different voltages and frequencies could not support the national electrical infrastructure that it was becoming apparent would be required. A major investment in the future was required. What is celebrated is this investment. And it is moving. Whilst the intervening decades have obviously seen terrific strides in power engineering the step change that stations like Battersea represent remains impressive and the faith in human ingenuity, effort and attainment is (for those that appreciate what they are looking at when they see those Art Deco tiles) a powerful reminder of a major component of our nature. As someone who has studied power engineering and has insight into the scale of the energy that is being harnessed, its capability to do not only useful work but catastrophic damage, the complexities involved and the sheer human effort required I could hardly not be moved. And so it was fitting that the interior of this an industrial building, should have been decorated as celebration.

We wandered around and tried to get a sense of what had been achieved in converting the abandoned building in to what it now is. Passing through the more prosaic phase 2, 1950's parts of the building I noticed a 66kV 1950's switch. A considerable piece of engineering. Sat on a low plinth and isolated from any real context it stood there as a reminder for anyone who knew something of what they were looking at, of the powerful forces which were once marshalled in these halls. A small plate gave a very brief description. Most folk would, I guessed be left not much the wiser. Wandering back through the 1930's areas towards lift 109 - a lift installed in one of the reconstructed chimneys - all the while filtering out the shopping mall which now fills the spaces, I tried to get a sense of what had been where and what we now were looking at. There are some enormous structural columns and I was trying to look through the complex of original and new steel and masonry to determine the scale of the works to bring this building back to life. Sadly the very limited presentation of the site's history isn't particularly illuminating and I noticed that I was starting to feel that the whole place had a slightly... what was it...? We got to the entry to lift 109. I noticed a large light fitting made to resemble turbine blades. It quickly became apparent that this was going to be a missed opportunity to revisit the original celebration. The entry to the lift is through a naff sound and light show, the glass lift rises through the chimney and emerges into the London sky. There is at this point something of the wow factor at standing in a glass dome which has popped out of the top of a chimney and looking out at the vista. Time up there is short though. Too short, and before one can really take in the skyline and the development below which Battersea has become, the lift descends and you are discharged back to the mall. DC and I both felt insulted and I felt there was insult to the original designers, constructors and operators and to the designers and constructors of the redevelopment. A tawdry money extraction system has replaced was once was celebrated as some of the best of what humans can do.

Exiting the mall and looking out over the development it is clear that a skilled team have saved the building and the contemporary architectural input and engineering is to be given credit. Given the number of failed attempts to develop the site it is important to recognise what has been achieved. It is just a shame that some of the space, and there is plenty space, has not been utilised to educate and celebrate as would be fitting of any great work.

One of the other threads running through my mind during the visit was that of my father's part in the construction of power plants in the 1970's and 1980's. He was a fitter at Parsons' Heaton works. CA Parsons invented and produced steam turbines which drove ships and then electricity generating plant. His works at Heaton produced turbines and generators which were installed in power stations across the country. Dad worked fitting the large rings on to the shaft of the turbine. These rings held the shaft and the blades and were fitted by heating them so they would expand. Woodruff keys were inserted to hold the rings in place against rotation. This is precision engineering on a large scale. Dad's in his 80s now and is increasingly becoming frail. The works at Heaton are now long gone and where the UK once led the way (as in so much of engineering) we are now beholden to overseas companies. The celebration so evident at Eltham and in phase one of Battersea has been swept away by crass consumerism so many times in so many places in the UK over the last forty-odd years. The decline of UK heavy engineering is a complex and difficult picture and one open to numerous interpretations. Here in London, standing on the site of a former world leading power plant, looking at the redevelopment with its green roofs, wondering about the engineering services supporting the new buildings and what activities are taking place within the spaces, considering the shifts we must make to more sustainable energy systems and looking at the ever growing skyline supported by London's financial services sector one sees quite clearly the vastly different impact those forty-odd years have had. Here there is money, likely as not a lot of it being laundered, elsewhere in the UK there is devastation. And within communities in London there is devastation too. One can't but wonder where we are going...

Barbican - LSO, Half Six Fix - John Adams, Harmonielehre.

In the evening we attended the above concert. It was to be conducted by Sir Simon Rattle but he was recovering from Covid and so Jonathan Stockhammer stood in. He gave an introduction to the piece and then conducted the full three movements. It was thoroughly enjoyable and a great antidote to the mix of feelings which the Lift 109 experience provoked.


Dulwich Picture Gallery - Berthe Morisot (and a quick look at some of the Dutch masters)

This exhibition reconnected us with the impressionist theme of our trip. It was well curated and the juxtaposition of Moisot's work with that which had inspired her was informative. Emerging from the exhibition into galleries displaying works from the Dutch masters was also illuminating. I'd lingered in the early parts of the Morisot exhibition and by the time I reached the end of the exhibition I'd run out of capacity. Emerging into a different style of painting and specifically to the bright depiction of light and its illumination of objects refreshed my capacity.

Park Theatre - Animal

A play about a 25 year old gay man with cerebral palsy navigating sex and relationships. A well observed, funny and heart warming play which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Plenty of lines which gay men will appreciate and an accurate and amusing depiction of gay hook-up app encounters! We emerged from this play with a sense of the vibrancy and dynamism that life is all about. 

And somewhere amongst all that, eating in, eating out, travelling by foot, bus, tube & train and sorting wifi heating controls where we were staying DC and I compared our responses to what we we'd experienced and mused on how the London skyline keeps changing and getting higher. It was a week of culture and some much needed rest.


Wednesday 11 January 2023

For John

 On Sunday DC and I did our usual walk on the Beach, had tea in a teashop then headed off to Movement Medicine Dancing before returning home for dinner. Various anxieties were in my mind but they were fused with feelings provoked by the short hours of daylight; the winter darkness seemed to evoke both negative and positive emotions. On the one hand the short days are gloomy with all that entails yet on the other the darkness seemed to wrap around one in a soothing soporific blanket saying 'hush now, take it easy, all in good time, this is a time to wait, an inward time'.  And so it was that the sun was replaced by the moon and stars and I found my self thinking something along the lines of 'why can I not be more relaxed and see life as a playful dance?' A similar theme was I think in my mind on Saturday and I felt the inklings of a blog post inspired by the feeling or thought that it's because it's all so important that one can become so despondent. There speaks a perfectionist I suppose. I had planned to explore this mixture of... well as I say I'd planned to explore it. But this morning I got the news that our friend John Kennedy had passed away peacefully at 6am. John had been in hospice in the later stages of motor neuron disease and DC and I last saw him just before Christmas. He seemed as ever, in amazingly good spirits and DC and I had commented to each other how positive John was and how his basic warmth and generosity still shone through despite his physical condition. Wanting to write a post to celebrate John I logged on and saw the note I'd made Saturday as an aide memoire - it's because it's all so important that one can become so despondent. I can hear John saying 'ah yes, I quite agree...' whilst maintaining his positive and generous demeanour and asking if we'd like a drink! Before his health failed John would make the most fantastic kedgeree and I have fond memories of the four of us - John, his wife Ann, DC and myself sat at Ann and John's kitchen table talking politics, life, people, you name it and enjoying good food, drink and the company. And it was all so important and we all did sometimes feel despondency creeping up but we'd generate between us warmth and good cheer and there was gratitude. And that I think is a fitting celebration of John - that he would generate warmth and good cheer and gratitude. Bless you and thank you John; you knew that all sorts of things are important and you cared, saw the difficulties and generated warmth. Even in the middle of your own poor health you still cared and generated warmth. Thank you.