Stay Awhile

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Quite beautiful isn’t she?  I don’t know her name, but there are few things more wonderful than a person and their musical instrument in a perfect harmony.  She could sing very well of course, and play very well.  I honestly couldn’t tell you what song it was, or whom it was by – it didn’t really matter.  There are few things more beautiful than the harmonious relationship between an artist and their tools.

What is more attractive to you?  A person in a cafe with a pen and notepad in their hands, or a person in a cafe swiping through their phone?

I rest my case.

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These shots are from Edinburgh, where one set of memories faded and another set bloomed like spring daffodils.  I feel very alive in that city, and it is a city that comes naturally towards me.  I haven’t needed to work at it, as I have with places like Manchester, whose effervescence took multiple trips and attempts to penetrate.  The best thing I can say about Edinburgh is that I’ve been there twice and it feels like I’ve lived there forever.

I saw ghosts as well.  People who looked so unnervingly like the two people I met the last time I was in the city, I almost stopped them to ask them what the hell they were doing here.  They were just mirages, illusions.  Perhaps my memory was looking for them, or perhaps I was so eager to dispel things that it threw them to the front of my cerebral cortex.  No matter.  There’s nothing quite like wandering alone around a relatively new city.  Creatively, I felt invincible again, and I haven’t felt that in a long time.  As these shots will, I hope, bear witness.

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It’s been an invigorating week really – living out of hotels, spending lots of time in new surroundings and waiting on train platforms, making eye contact with strangers – I never know if the returned gaze is one of attraction or disgust but I always presume the latter and so I don’t linger and I look straight down at the floor when I’m found out.  I know this feeling cannot last now that I am back in my safe and quiet universe, with my day job marching up on the horizon, but I should cling to whatever vestige of this energy that I can and bottle it for the months ahead.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up living in Edinburgh by this time next year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up somewhere else.  I would be surprised if I were still here, so you could probably put your mortgage on it.

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The hotel in Edinburgh had a library.  A proper library, with cabinet after cabinet of dusty tomes and a huge window looking out over the rest of the city.  During my stay I spoke to both the duty managers who expressed enthusiasm to my (only half) joke that I should’ve brought my CV with me.  They told me to do it, that they are hiring, even telling me the best places to rent cheap flats in the city.  It wasn’t in the script to end up here, which is precisely why it feels oddly right.

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After Edinburgh, I went to a gig in Manchester.  I’ve spoken before many times about how much I’d missed the live experience, and when the bass drum first hit a beat, and I felt my ribs echo, I felt like a junkie taking a first hit.  My body, which had felt cold and hollow, filled with warm air.  I could almost fly.  The rest of the evening was a blur of music, elbows, hands aloft, sweat pouring down my back, people shoving and pushing, singing, shouting, a fever of human beings with hearts and memories and loves and lusts and make-up.  Towards the end of the setlist I staggered out of the standing area up to the balcony and I danced, alone and loved, feeling the music crash over me like a tidal wave.  I Won’t Share You.  There’s a strange purity about going to gigs or having nights out alone.  You’re not there to socialise, or to preen, or to try and seduce.  You’re just there for the music, just there to dance, and all the stares that you may or may not get as the weird loner doesn’t matter, because you are in a relationship with the music, with the moment, and nothing and no one else matters as long as you feel that bass drum in your chest.

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After the gig I stumbled out, exhausted and blurred, into a mild Manchester night.  I wasn’t ready for my hotel room yet, so I found a nightclub down a side alley.  The room was tiny, and looked to be half Tiki bar and half shipwreck.  As small groups of friends bopped and hugged, I stood in the middle of the floor and stared up at the blue and green lights, moving my limbs slowly and deliberately to The Songs That Saved Our Lives.  The Smiths, The Cure, The Manics, Bowie, Blur, they all came and went… and then I heard the opening bars of Joy Division and my body spasmed into the ether.

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I returned alone, of course.  Aside from a brief dance with a girl with blue hair and piercings, there was no need to soil this week with impurity.  This was fuel for the soul.  This was about reminding myself of what it means to feel passion again after a few months of indifferent lethargy.

An aside, to finish; whilst in Edinburgh I visited one of the many art galleries and came face to face with something I wasn’t prepared for.  A van Gogh painting of olive trees, during his final years when he was at his cultural Post-Impressionist high point.  The painting was framed but had no glass between us and its surface.  As I looked at the little flecks of paint, reflecting back the dim lights of the gallery, I had something so tangible relating to one of my heroes.  Rather like Rothko in London, I could feel Vincent behind me, urging me to brush my fingertips over his paint in a time-travelling handshake of appreciation.  I knew I couldn’t touch of course, and I didn’t.  Instead, I stood so close to the painting as to make most of it a blur, except for the few flecks of paint that I’d focused so hard on.  And as I slowly took a couple of steps back, the olive trees began to writhe and move as they must have done on that hazy, heavy day when the picture was painted.

I wasn’t prepared to see a van Gogh so up close and so personal.  I wasn’t really prepared for any of this week.  And yet, now I feel more prepared for what is to come.  I just have to make sure that I do something about it.  I cannot allow lethargy to win again, as it so often does.

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2 comments on “Stay Awhile

  1. fictionspawn says:

    You made me remember how I miss sitting in a bar with pen and paper instead of the damn phone or computer… I used to do it a lot. I need to get back to that. Thanks.

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