searching for spectacle, sequins, solstice and stars (and bill bailey too)…the masked months #6

I restarted this blog at the beginning of Lockdown 2.0, in November. I thought with all the empty hours I would have time to write about lots of things…the flaw in this plan was quickly obvious. I had nothing to write because I had nothing to do. Now I know this could have been a time to concentrate on details, the quiet things in life. I recently saw a social media post praising all the people who had used these last many months to cement their yoga and meditation practices, ok, they probably didn’t use the word ‘cement’, but you know what I mean. People who had used the time to concentrate on the hushed moments, to savour the homebound opportunities. I did try. Novels, poetry, on-line lectures, feeble attempts at intellectual insights, television, cleaning, baking, but nothing lasted long. I could enjoy all these things, sure, but only in short doses. Never in sustained ones. I did learn something though, and what I learned is that I I don’t want hours of quiet reflection and mediation, I want the spectacular.

When we were released from Lockdown 2.0, at the beginning of December, I went to the National Gallery to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I bought her a book of gorgeous details of NG paintings. I had imagined we would spend our afternoon, book in hand, roaming the galleries, finding and swooning over these details. But, of course, we did no such thing. We were so excited to be out and seeing each other we couldn’t be bothered with details. We spent hours in the café, talking and talking and talking and being together. Eventually we blagged our way back into the galleries, past a guard who was taking the one-way system in the otherwise empty building very seriously, and spent time with our former Professor’s exhibition, Sin. We bubbled over with excitement at each picture as we had each spent on-line hours studying the exhibition and wanted to share what we had heard, what we had learned. We were so animated that the guard, not the same one, approached us, we feared to tell us off for being so over-excited, but instead he asked very politely if we were fashion students. We laughed even more, savouring the idea that our delight at being together in front of paintings had transformed us from women of certain ages into something so spectacular as fashion students.

The euphoria didn’t last. Within days of being out of lockdown I was back in. Youngest daughter tested positive, 10 day quarantine, making our planned Christmas in the US impossible. A few days later, London was put back in Tier 3 restrictions, further reducing Christmas plans, and then the final blow, the brand-new category Tier 4 thrust upon us, with less than 10 hours notice. Essentially back to our Spring lockdown life. In starker terms, Christmas has been cancelled. No one is going anywhere, seeing anyone. Things are very grim indeed.

Fortunately, and probably not coincidentally, the Tier 4 announcement was made just two hours before the Strictly Come Dancing Final. The incredibly popular ballroom dancing competition pairing 12 celebrities (in the loosest of meanings) with 12 professionals is a show to which, in the past, I have given only scant attention. But not this year. Suddenly these few, weekly hours of laughter, tears (in a good way), sweat, sequins and sparkles have become the highlight of my week. How could I not fall in love with JJ Chalmers, injured Royal Marine turned television presenter or earnest, 19 year old Maisie Smith off Eastenders? But the one I was really rooting for was comedian and musician Bill Bailey, at first because he was the only one I recognized. He was supposed to be the joke entry. Too old, too stiff, wasn’t going to take it seriously. Well ha, those nay-sayers were wrong as Bill and his beautiful partner Oti Mabuse won the competition and lifted that glorious Glitterball trophy in victory. 55 years old (as judge Shirley Ballas couldn’t resist gasping out in shock each week), bald with long hair (as another described him), clunky and slow to start (that changed drastically over the weeks), and ok, hand on heart probably not the most skilled out there, despite the astounding progress he had made, but he gave us something we all needed so badly. Spectacle. His tango to Metallica’s Enter Sandman and his popping and locking, dressed as a 1940s gangster, to Rapper’s Delight gave us those moments of wild-eyed, joyful, what-am-I-seeing?, grand gesture feeling we have lost this year. And oh, how we miss it! While ballroom dancing is certainly about details, that judge Craig Revel Horwood is forever droning on about ankles and arms and shoulders, it is also about spectacle, loud trumpets, air guitar, fedoras, sequins and big huge grand gesture. And the greatest gesture of all is that Bailey won.

In an effort to prolong the grand gesture, yesterday, December 21st the Winter Solstice, I watched a live stream of sunrise at Stonehenge. I don’t really like Stonehenge, much of the myth of the place comes from the Victorian imagination, and once you’ve taken your artsy/clever photo you’re ready to leave, in my (admittedly minority) opinion. But it was the Solstice, the point of the structure apparently, and I cannot deny that the setting is beautiful. Yesterday was, however, rainy and foggy. While these weather conditions do make the stones atmospheric, mysterious even, they shield the actual rising of the sun. There was no spectacular, illuminating moment, just a gentle shifting of light. But I stayed watching, not just because I didn’t have anything else to do, but because I knew that if suddenly I was able to be there in person, with other people, on site, I would have been, just for the spectacle of being there.

Winter Solstice wasn’t yesterday’s only potentially spectacular event, it was also that rare moment when Jupiter and Saturn are so close they appear as one magnificent star, often suggested as the Star of Bethlehem. Last seen 800 years ago, it is said to be a good omen. Unfortunately, those same sunrise blocking clouds blocked the Star of Bethlehem out as well. Well that sums up 2020 doesn’t it? All the things that would/should/could have been were/are blocked out.

I spent last night ‘attending’ the On Being Project’s Midwinter Gathering on (the now ubiquitous) Zoom. Three lovely, thoughtful people, saying lovely, thoughtful things in really soft and slow voices. There was no spectacle. Instead, a gently expressed sense that we will be living with these clouds for a long, long time, and a longing to not forget that the sun is still rising, the Star is still there, even if we can’t see it today. Maybe the meaning of the overcast sky metaphor is that it tells us something of the future, that something great is out there, we just can’t see it yet for the fog we are in. But it is still there. Ok, sure, but what does that mean for today? Tomorrow?

Well tomorrow we (the family, not the nation) are officially released from our youngest-child-tested-positive quarantine. And I intend to fling open my front door and create a spectacle. Well, as much spectacle as Tier 4 allows. Which means I will grab my picker and head across the road to the cemetery. (For those who don’t follow me on Instagram @mylondonpassion, since mid-November I have given myself the hobby, the mission of cleaning up the cemetery across the way. And I make up little anecdotes based on the items I find.) I am counting on lazy, selfish, disgusting Londoners to have left me lots and lots of rubbishy treasures, details of life with which, like the Victorians before me, to turn into spectacular stories, full of romance and intrigue. Yes, indeed, there is going to be starlight behind those clouds, even, if, at first glance, the light looks like a crisp packet, a Stella can, a torn parking ticket. Who knows, I might even find some sequins…

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