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…