Wrong-side down

imageI always think twice before I put pen to paper, but the thinking takes longer these days: my thoughts are scattered and scrambled; things that were there only moments earlier are want to up and disappear, scattering before I can catch them. If I am (as is often the case) interrupted, that’s the whole lot gone: so many ideas, so many sentences, so many paragraphs, poems and pieces of prose… If the rest of my life wasn’t already so tragic, so currently backwards and sideways, so wrong-side down, I might be upset. As it is, there is simply too much to think about to concern myself with the minutiae. Or perhaps it’s the minutiae that is distracting my concern from that which is important, draining vital elements from my essential self?

This morning, after a long weekend, after a difficult week, after a challenging Sunday, I felt determined to do something different and positive, setting my sights on the Barbican and the weekly craft group that meets there. It would fill the day, add some interaction to my morning, and hopefully recharge and inspire me. My batteries are so drained right now: even sitting is demanding; talking… now that’s an entirely different issue.

Monday’s air was crisp and cold but the sky was fair and the sun, although weak, was visible if you looked. I looked and I tried to also appreciate, in between blowing my nose, huddling inside my coat, and trying to work out how to juggle bags and a hot drink. Tea, I have discovered, is the quick-fix home remedy to freezing bones. Always chilly – sometimes solid, sometimes sludge – my bones and my body need all the help they can get. Come the end of the day, my cheeks are red, my nose is raw and my mouth is outside circumference chapped. I look (as you can imagine) delightful.

But I digress… Aesthetics are not the point.

I walked until I came to St. Paul’s and then, after consulting a map and checking my direction, walked some more, continuing until I came to the destination I had predetermined. Hidden, old, spread out: it took me by surprise. Without signposts, I doubt I ever would have found it. Such a strange location, such a disparate structure; so one bit here, one bit there… Quiet, too, almost ghostly; although I suspect it comes to life later on in the day.

Nosing around, I picked up leaflets and stepped in and out of buildings, exploring the cinema, the galleries, the theatres and the cafés… Then, curiosity satisfied, I made my way up to the library. Larger than expected, it curved around corners and snaked down stairs, ambling through archways, slip-sliding along walls. Split into sections: reference, research, fiction, non-fiction, science, history, geography, art, children, computers, reading and work… it was a bit like going backwards. Or maybe that’s just me being unused libraries, preferring to research on Google and download on Amazon? Libraries are of another generation: one that’s sepia-tinted and held behind glass.

Fascinated, I took in the piles of newspapers, stacks of magazines, books by their hundreds, seventies-style tables, school-style chairs, row of computers, people – sitting alone and in groups, “buggy park” and even the playroom. A bit like a maze, I had no idea where to look and what, in looking, I was looking for. Whatever it was, it was not keen to provide.

Ever practical, I decided to ask; was directed, sought and then found. Only… Well let’s just say that the walk wasn’t worth it and the reward was shy, although not in a benign way.

Another way of putting it would be to describe the woman that I met: the tightness of her tongue, the abruptness of her manner, the advance of her years, the few words she cast, the quality of her gaze, the lack of others in the environment and the neat row of knitted dolls that, filling two tables, kind of freaked me out. I fled, down to the ground floor where I hid on a seat at the back of the food hall, placating my wounded pride, my damaged delicate, my tender inner self, with treats. And even though it was cold and noisy, a bit dark, I stayed there for two hours, leaving only when visiting the conveniences required me to inconvenience my good self. That’s one thing I hate about London: you can’t abandon your seat without taking everything with you, which in rush hour which is every hour normally means returning to someone else in your chair or your drink having been cleared away. Mummy Bear does not like.

Another walk; another hour; another café; another day almost filled… because that’s the goal at the moment: using them up. Homeless; camping out in a temporary space with creature but without comfort: my main concern is getting through and surviving unscathed. I’m not sure how well I am doing on that front, but it is character building. Although if I get any stronger, I may become so impenetrable that the person I was will cease to exist entirely and never come back and the person I am temporarily will take over and become the person that I am from hereon in. Just now, I got lost down familiar streets – twisting and turning, stopping and stalling, turning tail and running away. My brain: tired, overwhelmed, pricked and pinched, cannot competently think.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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