Sense and Sensitivity

I sat on the Glasgow subway last week, watching a young couple so into each other that they didn’t see anyone else. It is Spring after all! In the presence of love I was staggered by them; her eyes sparkled at only him – she was curvy little blonde bob, and he had remnants of teenage trauma on his skin. Sweet, really sweet to witness such abandoned adoration in this recession; they brightened up my wintry old heart.

This feeling of being overwhelmed like that has happened a few times. The first time I visited Durham Cathedral I couldn’t move from the front door because when I touched the great ring handle I could see into the hundreds of years past, all those people coming there with their prayers and their problems. And when I went inside, the red glow of the new window waited for me to reach it; it was really quite a hair-raising visit.

In my running-about-Devon days, I went to an art exhibition in Plymouth and was completely stunned by giant paintings of heads. Like the Monet water-lilies, all swirls and curls of paint up close but the reality of distance made them stunningly real. I’ve forgotten the artist’s name now but not his paintings.

A few years ago, I visited The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle with my old writer friends. We fell upon all these misty portraits of Jersey cows and were floored by them – one of us cried, they were so beautiful.

I saw Picasso’s Guernika in Madrid and it made me cry. But my old favourite will always be my Isabella or the Pot of Basil. I wandered into a small room in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle and there she was. Wow, to see this in real life is stunning. I used to pop in to see her often. Then one day, while on a visit home to Glasgow, there she was, on holiday just like me! I’ve put her in a scene in one of my novels.

During the early 1990s I went to an exhibition in the McLellan Gallery called Home of the Brave. I was in there for nearly four hours, going round in a guided tour (a bit like Ikea), reading everything, listening on headphones, watching on TV screens, examining installations and pictures. It was all about how the brave explorers discovered America; by the time I got to the end which was a room with an empty cage in the centre supporting portraits of Native Americans, I was broken-hearted. That was the home of the brave. I was stunned that those four words had been turned on their head to mean something completely different, by the use of stimuli that affected all of the senses. The music was stunning and I still have the tape; it’s called Sacred Sprit.

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