Thursday, 23 July 2015

Funnel of Cohesion

A man and woman were walking ahead of me along the autumn leaf-strewn path, not hand-in-hand - the woman was a step behind the man - but I presumed they were a couple. They matched like two figurines on a mantelpiece; their coated backs giving them the appearance of having weathered many storms. Together.
They were linked somehow, by blood ties, vows or reciprocal liking, which their amble seemed to me to confirm all the more for its pace and deferential air said they were used to one another, in fact leant on each other. Even in heated disagreements or misunderstandings, and I imagined their silences were companionable. Comfortable pauses without the usual awkwardness strangers might feel. No urge to ramble words to fill the empty spaces, but each completely at ease until one had something to say: a said out loud observation, a thoughtful question, a clever remark to a previous comment, a firm opinion or to moot an idea.
Yet, despite this naturalness there was a hint of reservation; a self-preservation in their turned backs. A stiffness, an oppression, as if certain subjects were not to be broached, to be verbally expressed. Feelings may have been one of them for I judged them to be of that class where emotions are constantly and purposely skirted. It wouldn't have been proper under a roof or out in the open. The past shouldn't be raked up no matter what impact it has on the present; the future would take care of itself if stones were left unturned. What's done is done; the consequences must be lived with. There's no turning back, no reversing the hands of the clock or the years torn off the calendar.
How could I possibly discern all this from two such faceless characters? Because this is what practised observers do. We notice the smallest disturbances in communication, the tiniest gesture; we interpret the language of the body and conjecture. We store an encyclopedia of unspeakable knowledge. The non-verbal clues in the study of animals and people, of which animals are the easier of the two.
Up ahead, a narrow gap had formed between this middle-aged couple, one which seemed to widen half an inch to every ten of my measured strides and which emphasised their incommunicable divide: adrift yet choosing to remain by each other's side. The woman in her fur-trimmed collared coat who had for all this time kept herself a pace behind appeared to be intent on meandering until she was out of arm's reach of the man, yet with her head still slightly turned in his direction. He would have to look round if he wanted to assure himself that she followed, but never once did he attempt it. He continued to tap along the path with his walking stick. He was the parent in this relationship: her childishness was grudgingly tolerated.
It's possible he may have voiced some urge to hurry her up, to harness her again to his side, and I did not overhear it as the distance was too great, but I think not. I got the distinct impression that this was a game frequently played: a natural tailing-off in their conversation, then a hesitation to commence a new sentence. The man impatient and the woman buying time to find the right word to begin. Both sought attention and reaction from the other, and both were reluctant to give it for an inner part of them shunned this dependency. The fact that it was mutual was neither here or there, but perhaps they could not see it? Or perhaps after so many years it was ingrained?
As the trees pressed closer, the woman answered the man's signal: reduced the gap to less than it had originally been; her eyes searching his I'm quite sure for some recognition of her docility, though of course that could merely be my own fancy, for to me it implied they had assumed and could resume their faithful roles. Drifting apart, yet bound together by some ungovernable secrecy.

Picture Credit: Couple Walking in the Woods, Leo Lesser Ury

Thursday, 16 July 2015


The sunlight was dazzlingly bright; the land across the sea mirage-like. It shimmered in the heat haze as somewhere a bell tolled faint, but clear. Its knell wasn't the sound of a celebration or a summons, it was languid-like: an invite to contemplation.
My imagination had taken flight to a time when I had stood before that view; to a time when the 'marbellous painter', Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, had secured me an introduction to that model: his muse for that particular scene.
Kitty Hawkins, who had been a tease was now married to a disagreeable fellow and had, so I'd been informed, much changed from the days when I would hear talk of her in London. Still a beauty, but a shade paler; her skin seeming to be made of non-porous material that the sun's rays touched but failed to warm. Her outward demeanour was said to be cool, yet beneath this people of her acquaintance had begun to notice a nervous tremor. A certain agitation that made her eyes dart and glisten, her speech rapid, and her hand gestures appear uncontrolled. Yet Sir Lawrence said he discerned none of this when she sat for him. Then she was perfectly calm; perfectly resigned to her being. She might sigh from time to time, but she stay contained. Beautifully posed as directed with none of that female hysteria so recently attributed to her. The reports he said were idle chatter designed to undermine her new-found status for hadn't she landed one of the noble gentry: Lord Charles Marlowe. Her rash act had brought her jealously from both men and women as both thought it calculating. Ironic, said Sir Lawrence, when everybody in those circles knew that marriages were built on blood and money. The law of possession. One prides itself on its beauty, the other on its wealth, and they both admire and wish to obtain those properties in another.
And of course I deferred to his candid judgement, he having far more knowledge than I of such matters and more experience in the presence of women. I know little compared to a painter who in the course of his life and pursuit of art moves with that set and spends countless hours with models. Nor am I a physician who would perhaps recognise disharmony within the matrimonial state or those nervous consumptive conditions. But still I was puzzled; curious to see with my own eyes this lady who was said to have lately changed.
On the elected day at the appointed hour I arrived with Sir Lawrence at the rented abode overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Lady Marlowe was on the terrace we were told; Lord Marlowe was not in attendance with her.
It was a most extraordinary villa, one that Sir Lawrence principally used as his studio finding its inner and outer architecture so inspiring: its columns, its archways, its lavish marble surfaces and adornments.
Lady Marlowe when we approached was resting; in a position of abandoned repose on the curved bench: lying full length with an arm flung over her eyes, its bare underside an inadequate shield from the blazing sun, and with a faint trace of content on her lips. She made no definable stir, although I felt sure she was aware of our measured footfalls, which to my mind was slightly shocking as she had already donned the Romanesque white dress Sir Lawrence required which emphasised her slender figure, and because she had known there would be a companion in tow as Sir Lawrence's guest.
When a few steps was all that stood between us, she acted startled and abruptly rose upright, yet no becoming blush bloomed on her pallid cheek. Her faun-like face scrutinised me as she graciously greeted Sir Lawrence, then as quickly dismissed me by turning her bored gaze to the glittering blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the wave-like settlement set ashore. Her composed stature was unaffected and yet enthralling for it was a pose that very deliberately said: I know what's expected of me.

Picture Credit: Expectations, 1885, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Desire for Liquids

Did you know a specific area of your brain determines your desire for liquids? Regulates your thirst? I did, but didn't if you know what I mean. To be more accurate I assumed that it was controlled by some mechanism, some innate bodily function that couldn't be seen unless the coverings of a live human brain were peeled back or a human body given to science was dissected.
Until one day I stopped and gave it some serious thought.
It was a phrenology head that did it: a porcelain bust with bold words printed on it, whose appearance seemed both solid and delusory so that I instantly reached out to cup its smooth temples with my warmer palms and traced the slight rise of each localised function with my investigative fingers. In doing so my fingertips tripped across those three bumpy words just in front of the left ear: Desire for Liquids.
Desire. What did I desire? Not liquids. At times I feel I've negated it; become unable to feel normal thirst, switched off that programmed response: the one that keeps you alive. Other times, my throat feels so dry nothing will quench it, not even if I swallow the equivalent of a small stream or river. I could drink a substantial portion of the Thames and report no difference; my throat would still be a funnel of sand-paper. But should water, a natural source be sipped or gulped? Savoured like a fine wine or rapidly quaffed as if you were putting out a fierce fire? With me, it always seem to slosh around. Makes my insides loudly gurgle and visibly move like a human lying on a water bed. I am that bed – I wobble jelly-like. Wibble-wobble.
My tummy talks as if a plug's been pulled and the water's disappearing down a drain. Where it goes I know not for I don't seem to pee an awful lot. Where does it go to? I wonder. What kind of fire is it putting out? The liquid inside squelches and squishes, belches and bubbles like an internal tide or roiling water in a cooking pot. I sometimes wonder if there's a lifeboat surveying this tempestuous tide to aid any skiffs should trouble arise, or if there's a guide as to when to add solids to the frothy mix. Nourishment plunges down the narrow canal like rocks crumbling off a cliff and adheres to my stomach lining, eddying the current, but if lighter they float like an iceberg, their true size and shape concealed beneath the tumbling surface.
Sated, a churning might commence as if a storm's whipping up and or as if a cradle's being pushed to and fro. A seasick lullaby. One belligerent, the other with a more placid rage. The wash of this internal sea shifting debris and killing desire.
And yet the cavern of my mouth remains inflamed, the moisture sucked out as if it has been dried under a hot baking sun. My tongue, a shrivelled island, curiously prods this sore, rippled roof and in the surrounds tries to find a tooth-pool. Tightly compact, there are no fissures; no undiscovered place to dip my tongue. The sides of my jaw contract in a desperate attempt to reason with my shrunken gums: Secrete saliva! There is none.
Have I caused this outcome? Confused the trigger that tells me when to drink and when to abstain? Somehow suppressed the natural urge, concerned that it would lead to sugary pop and hard liquor; only allowed its voice to be heard if it cries for herbal tea for that shows no sign of abating. Rehydration lower in my estimation than the soothing pleasure of tea.
And yet in hot weather I guzzle lime and soda being quite unable to police the sudden craving; finding the syrupy lime as intoxicating as nectar but the refreshment fleeting. Still, it's a steep ascent to a place where I'm ruled by effervescent sweetness, and the come-down can be hallucinating.
But why should my liquid state concern me or you for that matter? Because if you think long and hard enough, it opens up a whole other debate about desire: how to gage when it's safe to give in and when to avert.

Picture Credit: Breakfast at Malibu, Wednesday 1989 by David Hockney