They like their customer service targets in Tesco, greetings, offers of help with packing, general chat and goodwill, length of wait at a till. You can mark them for it if you fill in a customer service survey for extra club card points when you get home- something you can do on every single visit. Every little helps. Except sometimes it isn’t that simple.
It wasn’t busy in the store. There were no queues and the front of store assistant was hovering around, making work for herself cheerfully.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes thank you.”
The middle aged lady, standing at the next till, almost due to be served was waiting patiently, minding her own business, until the assistant decided to mind it for her. Her face was set in an expression that had seen too much trouble and her long, dark, greying hair had made its way out of her head with no help from a hairdresser.
“There’s a self service till if you want to move across to save waiting.”
The woman gave the assistant a look full of hate that would have felled a prizefighter. She spoke out loudly.
“I can’t read, love.”
The assistant made herself scarce very quickly and the woman caught my eye. I’m sure that she interpreted my shocked face as a reaction to her words, but it wasn’t. It was a reaction to needless, mindless, well meaning busybodying.
I really hope that the woman was just putting the assistant in her place. Three quarters of a lifetime without the comfort and assistance of words would be a hard thing thing to bear, especially when people won’t leave you alone to use the coping strategies that you have built up to manage in a world which is oozing with them. After all, the most likely reason why a person has failed to learn to read is that nobody taught them properly. Generations of intelligent, thoughtful people mostly got by without the benefit of literacy, but back then society was organised with that in mind.
You can’t take account of something of that kind by assessing a bunch of customer service surveys. Only by using your common sense and thinking of people as real, living beings rather than units to be herded to a till as quickly as possible.
A blanket of mist
tucks the sea in for the night.
Shhhhh, the waves creep past.
Stabbing eye, crisp beak,
a black crow struts and swaggers.
Out of death comes life.
All I know is a gap in a hedge,
one which I have walked through
in many years and many seasons,
a well worn path into the future.
An escape into light and space,
a glimpse of another possibility,
a way forward through thorns
towards the promise of the open sea.
Cold, stark and dull in winter,
bright with white blossom in the late Spring,
half closed in the soft, green rush of summer,
always there, always waiting.
The shadows of my former selves
have passed on ahead of me, unnoticed.
I slip through behind them, lured by the view,
walking in my own footsteps.
The cloud has travelled many miles,
lugging a heavy burden
of dark dampness over the land,
billowing out cold breaths
as it struggled forward,
whipped by the cracked cheeks of the wind.
It crept on through the fading light,
looking for release, looking for rest,
longing for sleep, longing for the sea.
Now, in a last flourish of wild theatre
it splits itself open and spills its load,
finding one last gasp of dignity,
as it takes its bow on a stage strewn with bodies.
The rain slips away, sifts down gently.
It has waited this long, there is no hurry.
The cloud sighs and fades into the horizon,
pale and weary, spent.
Ready for sleep.
The long winding staircase which leads up from Sheffield Library on the ground floor to the Graves Art Gallery above is quite plain. It’s a nice enough staircase but you wouldn’t walk up it and think wow, or remember it a few weeks later. Or at least you wouldn’t have, eight years ago, before the space was transformed by the installation of Seiko Kinoshita‘s art work, Bluebird in 2007. It has made a long walk up some quite ordinary stairs something special.
Bluebird is a flight of birds made from woven paper yarn which hang in space and fill the air. As you walk up and down your viewpoint changes and the work changes with it, seeming to keep you company. It is both simple and contemplative and grand in scale. The play by Maurice Maeterlinck which inspired it is about the search for happiness. As you walk up to the gallery you are chasing dreams which fly above and beside you. There is an interesting tension between the stillness of the birds and the way that they are still able to suggest movement as airborne birds. They are identical, but that is not how they seem as they are positioned at a distance, some far off at any given point and some close. It could almost be one single bird freeze framed over and over again at different points as it flies up the stairwell, circling and looking for a way out. The title is singular after all.
From an architectural point of view having an art work which flies up the whole length of the stairwell unifies the space and helps to make the whole building a space for the arts rather than a small gallery at the top of a building above a working library. It invites you to fly up with it and see what is there. As a piece of art it is a thing of simple beauty, very Japanese, both meticulous and meditative.
Can you tell that I loved it?
When I look into the mirror
I see more than myself.
Hidden among the folds and creases
Of a face that is never at ease
when it is made to look at itself
there is the shadow of a second soul,
a soul who is achingly familiar,
yet worlds away and strange.
A soul who is almost myself.
The face of my mother.
Her face looks back at me,
making no judgement
as she stares out of the past,
Bearing her pain,carrying her secrets,
able to ask no questions.
Only now can I reach into the mirror
and find what she knew
as I plough through the years.
Making sense of a mystery.
There is nothing left to say,
nothing that can be changed.
What was done stays done
and the consequences remain.
Her love was never spoken,
always given in action.
Now only stillness and silence remain,
knitted into the contours of my skin,
trapped behind the veil of time.