Choosing the scenic route.

I’d never heard of black Friday until last year.  This year, not only do I hear radio presenters talking about it as a tradition, I notice that it’s become a long black-weekend: several of the sales I’ve found popping up on my internet accounts extend until Monday.

Shopping in Cheltenham, photo from the Gloucestershire Echo

Photo from the Gloucestershire Echo

I’ve been a little busy lately, so hadn’t given much thought to what this meant, until we drove into town for a lunch date on Sunday and found ourselves in rush-hour-style traffic.  While I’d been counting down classes towards the end of the term, everyone else had already got into Christmas-mode.

‘Yep,’ said my good friend Claire, ‘I’ve got our presents all done and dusted.’ She grinned, and added, ‘We’re going fun-shopping this afternoon.’

I came home to light up the woodburner and listen to the wind blasting rain against the windows.  As I lounged on the settee, digesting, I wondered if this might be a useful moment to suggest taking some time out.

How often do you give yourself permission to sit still?  I don’t mean at home, where it’s easy to get distracted by family or responsibilities.  Take inspiration from this old favourite by W.H. Davies.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

At this time of year, in Britain, it’s rarely warm enough to sit outside for long, so why not visit an art gallery?  After all, they tend to be comfortably warm, dry and peaceful places.

Whether you consider yourself a writer or not, before you set out, put a notebook and pen in your pocket or bag.  Just because you’re carrying them, doesn’t mean you’ve committed yourself to anything.

Once in the gallery, don’t wander for long.  Find a comfortable seat and study a painting.  Any landscape will do.  It doesn’t have to be one that you like at first sight.  In fact, it might be better that you don’t have strong feelings about it either way.

What I’m suggesting, is that you sit and stare at it for a minimum of five minutes.  Let your eyes roam over every segment of the picture.  Absorb the details, but let your mind drift: allow the gallery surroundings to recede, and let the painting take over your mind.


Pearlblossom Highway, David Hockney 1986

Later, as you return to the gallery, take your notebook out and write a word about the painting.  Start off with the one, that might be enough…




4 thoughts on “Choosing the scenic route.

  1. Hi Cath,  What a great system – getting your posts sent automatically to me by email. I liked this post and was going to point out to you (proudly and with a smug self-satisfied air) that the first line of that poem is what I have as a PostScript to all my emails.  That is, I used to have it.  But just now, when I had the time to look, I discovered that it has disappeared.  I blame moving over to using a tablet and the Android operating system – yawn, yawn :-).Any road up, its nice to have one’s choice of poem endorsed by a professional like you.  (I will now have to find out how to reinstate it on my emails.) Now I will also have to think up a proper sensible comment to put on your blog space. Yours Mike

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


  2. Art galleries are a great idea for a bit of “stare” time. It took me far too long to stop trying to see everything and just concentrate on one or two. It also took me nearly a lifetime to realise that everything on each canvas has been put there on purpose by the artist. What a plonker I was. The comfort of a notebook in the pocket is also a good idea – it fends off the Protestant work ethic guilty feeling that you might be “wasting time” by doing “nothing”. Note taking – even virtual note taking is certainly not ” nothing” and must be OK.


    • What a great new angle to use for promoting writer’s notebooks…I hadn’t thought of the Protestant work ethic, and it’s perfect.
      Do many of us think about how an artist chooses subjects, I wonder?


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