Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Kiss

I had to go into town this morning, so while I was there I took the opportunity to go into the Scottish National Gallery.

Canova's: The Three Graces has gone to the V&A (it's jointly owned by the two museums) for a year so the Scottish National Gallery has borrowed Rodin's: The Kiss from the Tate to take it's place.  The Kiss is just as beautiful as I remembered from when I saw it in the Tate about twenty-five years ago.

An unexpected art bonus to my trip into the city centre came in the shape of the beautiful photograpy of: Britain from the Air.

The Kiss will be in the Scottish National Gallery until February 2014, and Britian from the Air will be on display at various locations in Edinburgh until 20 May.  If you are in Edinburgh, both are well worth visit.

Monday, 18 March 2013

I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning

I first smelled freedom as I stepped from a Boeing 747 at Grantly Adams International Airport - and freedom smelled like jet fuel.

Standing there at the top of the steps, I was struck by three things: the first, as my clothes instantly stuck to my body, was the humidity, the second was the taste of molasses in the air (which, I would soon learn, seemed to be everywhere on the island), and the third was the fumes of burned aviation kerosene wafting warmly, damply, across the apron.  And in that instant, I realised what that smell meant, what it had always meant, though I hadn't known it until that moment.  That smell meant freedom.  The freedom to escape small towns and small-mindedness.  The freedom to be whoever I wanted to be, and the freedom not to have be what anyone else wanted me to be.  And it tasted like Barbados Sugar.  And it looked like sunshine.  And it sounded like Jonny Nash singing: I can see clearly now, the rain is gone...

I had flown before of course; stepped onto planes under grey British skies and stepped off them into very un-British light.  I had exchanged the polluted air of damp English cities, for the snow-blind glare of crisp alpine afternoons, and for the perfumes of Mediterranean mornings: tomillares and dust, good coffee and sweet pastry.   I always felt though that there was something more - that damp kerosene smell in the back of my mind, the meaning of which was always just out of reach - until the day I stepped off that plane in Bridgetown.

Looking back, I think that holiday (our dream honeymoon two years too late) was, in many ways, the high-point of my first marriage.  You might think that that is another way saying it was the beginning of the the end, but, for me, that came years later, on the streets of St Tropez.  It was, for me, however the end of the beginning.

It is only now, through the telescope of years, that I see how the middle part of my first marriage, the part that was neither exposition nor resolution, the part where the drama was supposed to unfold but never did, was bracketed by two holidays.  And I can't help but wonder whether my epiphany on the aircraft steps didn't prefigure the slow-dawning over the years, only acknowledged one Côte d'Azur morning, of the realisation that our paths through life had never even been parallel, let alone destined to converge, no matter how much we thought we wanted them to.

Because I had smelled freedom - and it smelled amazing!

I had had a small whiff of freedom some years earlier - when I left home to go to University in another city.  On my first day there, a group of fellow freshers introduced themselves and asked me my name.   I could have told them my real name of course, and I made no secret of it if anyone asked why I signed anything official with another name, but I chose not to, I chose just to say: "Joe".

I chose to be a more confident, more out-going, version of myself.   I chose the nickname that had been bestowed upon me years before with teasing; the nickname that I had claimed as my own to subvert their harassment.  And in so choosing, I let go of home, and school, and insecurity, and small-town small-mindedness - and all the shit that goes with it.

But after a while a started dating a girl from my home town and then I fell in love with her, and I slowly got drawn back into it all.  When I finished University I moved back to my home town and got a job in an office, training to do something completely unrelated to the degree I had dreamed of getting for years.  And on the first day in the office when my fellow trainees asked my name I said: "Matthew".

          Woolfe entitled his
          book: "You Can't Go Home Again" -
          best precis ever

I finally left my home town for good two years after my first wife left me.  I was thirty.  My new job was very similar to my old one, and my new colleagues still called me Matthew, but that's all they knew about me, and my family, and my life - and I felt free.  And freedom felt lonely, but I knew that that was just temporary.

          You only live twice -
          when you leave home, and when you
          choose not to go back.

I'm flying to London tomorrow morning for work.  I hate leaving the house at 05:30 and not getting back until 21:30, all for just seven hours in the office, but, with the economy the way it is, I know I should be grateful to have a job.  Unfortunately, there's more snow forecast overnight which inevitably means digging out my car, then crawling along unploughed side streets while hoping that the snowploughs have been able to keep the major routes clear.  Equally inevitable are delays at the airport while they clear the runways and de-ice the planes.

For some reason the budget airline I'm flying with never seem to use the air bridges (maybe the get a discount on their landing fees if they don't use some of the facilities of the airport) but insist you walk across the tarmac and use steps.  Despite the fact that I'm only going to cold, grey, London to work, despite the early hour, the snow, and the freezing walk to the plane - despite everything - I know that as I climb the aircraft steps I will be smiling, because I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning.