In my preparation for the inevitable lockdown 2 – I’m doing an inventory of the sources of vitality. In typing that, I realised that that sentence has no vitality whatsoever: in fact it’s got the weight of a BBC management manual (Thanks W1A – when’s the next series?) Vitality in language is a key component in the dissemination of ideas. There I go again. Shut up! Language fresh from the mind not the intellect, is best spooled onto the page via the hand and pen. The novelist AS Byatt always writes in hand, as it viscerally links with the subconscious. Typing adds another process that can be obstructive if you don’t play the keyboard like a concert pianist. I’m typing this – and no I don’t play the piano. My grandmother did though – she was a pianist for silent films at the Plymouth Odeon back in the day. She called herself a silent pianist as she thumped out and improvised tunes to love scenes, cowboy chases, cold villainous stares, or the sweet smiles of Shirley Temple: all while the ash from her un-tipped woodbine fell on the keyboard. But Nan, I asked, how could you make it all up with out reading music? You just have to keep looking at the screen and your fingers know where to go, she said. So looking went to her fingers, like Antonia Byatt’s mind went to hers.
To have our senses alive without obstruction is a strange luxury in this age of social media. (Do watch the new Netflix movie The Social Dilemma.) It promises vitality but doesn’t really deliver. And that is why, as a no-religious person I have a statuette of the Indian godlet Ganesh – the remover of obstacles – on my desk. It was given to me in Rishakesh, India and there’s nothing precious (although he is) about him at all. He’s in yellow, red and white plastic with red varnish on fingers and toes with a golden chain and blue turquoise dot on his belly. He’s immaculately kitsch.
I digress (thanks Ganesh). Walking is a source of vitality – one sees better. I like the country walks for sure, with the greens, birds and skies, but it’s in the city, and its waterways we may have to explore this winter. Last weekend I joined Metropolitan Walkers and since the Regents Canal terrain was flat and firm, and I could look up and about without falling over. I found unintentional art. First a descending series of steel wheels in a bridge, then a pile of junk with a yellow version of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man climbing over the detritus of the world. The formalism of the first and chaotic anarchy of the second were delightful and invigorating; no obstacles from eye to brain.