Saturday, 16 January 2016


Control freaks, brace yourselves: sometimes you just have to go with the flow, as events this week have reminded me. At 09.00 on Sunday morning contractors recommenced digging a trench in the main road adjacent to our block; then at 10.00 an alarm began to sound in the courtyard; and at 11.00 a sinkhole opened up in the side-road next to it. It began to seem like a good idea to go out for the rest of the day so, after calling block management and the highway authority, that’s just what I did. Of course I was fortunate in not having firm plans for a quiet day at home; and in being solvent, mobile and within walking distance of myriad alternative venues; all of which was just as well since, as it turned out, it was more than just the day. The disruption continued for two days and nights. But, taking a positive view, I looked on the necessity of removing myself as an opportunity and during that time I saw several films, explored digital resources in the library and had a haircut that wasn’t really necessary.
One of the films I saw was The Danish Girl and it coincided with my having just read Jan Morris’s 1975 account of her transgender journey, Conundrum, in which she refers to Lili Elbe (the Danish girl), the first chronicled recipient of transgender surgery. This theme is in marked contrast with that of the next film, Jean Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (I was not legally allowed to see it when it first came out in 1963), which is so fixated on an iconic object of conventional male sexual desire that it made me realise how alienated transgender people must have felt – and undoubtedly still do.
Then I watched Jaco: The Film, an account of the rise and fall of Jaco Pastorius, the innovative musician credited with elevating the art of bass-playing to extraordinary heights but who suffered mental illness and died quite young. I am an admirer of his music and thankful that so much of it was recorded but, because his musical medium was jazz, his work is not as widely known or appreciated as that of others. Which brings me to David Bowie: the day after he died I was at the barber’s shop, waiting my turn while the radio in the corner played his songs interspersed with listeners’ reminiscences of their favourite Bowie moments. I would venture to claim that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, though we all did our best not to show it, and when it came my turn in the chair I pretended that I had a hair in my eye. The barber said nothing but shook his head every now and then.
The library, however, was a Bowie-free zone. It was practically a book-free zone as well, so many of its habitués were reading from screens. In fact, Google was there with a series of pop-up seminars on improving your digital presence and, afraid of being left out, I signed up for one before returning home.
Roadworks ceased at 17.00 but the alarm continued to sound through the night: the agents kept sending contractors to silence it but none had been able either to identify its cause or gain access to it. I remained calm – “mindful” in the current jargon – stuffed in some earplugs and slept reasonably well. On the second night I watched a couple of episodes of the BBC’s new production of War and Peace using big, chunky head-phones so that I could hear the dialogue. Then, as I was about to go to bed, a mechanical digger started up on the street and contractors began to excavate the sinkhole.  Now, I thought, is the real test of mindfulness: or, to be honest, those dense foam earplugs.

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