Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Hatha Yoga: Football & Enlightenment

You don’t remember if it was James Joyce, or that bloke who wrote The Making of Ulysses, or just some pisshead down the pub, who insisted that you can’t begin to understand the intricacy of the human soul until you have come to terms with Basic Truth Number 1 – that we are all rooted in our bodies. You do remember that it was your mate Mick Supple who pointed out that most of us are too busy trying to come to terms with Basic Truth Number 2 – that we want to be rooted in someone else’s body – to bother with Basic Truth Number 1.

For some reason this is running through your mind as, kneeling cross-legged before the Om, you try to coax the sole of your reluctant left foot to turn up and face the ceiling. As you look around at your companions breathing serenely and emitting harmonious, rainbow-like auras, it occurs to you that Joyce, or whoever it was, probably made his startling discovery during a yoga class: it is not until a human being establishes through surreally rigorous experimentation whether his limbs are made of rubber or not, that he can really start to comprehend who he is. Gasping, you wonder if everyone experiences what you are experiencing: the blinding light flooding into your consciousness, the dawning realisation that you’re physically fucked.

There is a yang to every yin, of course. In the twinkling of an eye (for the moment, not yours), the excruciating cramps have washed away every trace of the rage that drove you to Hatha in the first place, and, as you lie foetal and exhausted on your mat, you realise that you no longer wish to punch Mark Clattenburg¹. You have attained a state of Enlightenment and it is suddenly crystal clear to you that the wiser way will be to get one of the Tai Chi masters down the corridor to do it for you.

¹Footnote for the Uninitiated: Mark Clattenburg is the liverpool fc supporter who on 20 October 2007 stole a referee’s kit and “officiated” in the match between Everton and liverpool. Experts agree that Clattenburg’s performance was the most biased in the history of Association Football. A close friend of Stephen Gerrard’s, he is hallowed by liverpool fans on account of his having transformed a certain defeat into victory and having saved Dirk Kuyt from prison.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Yoga and the Amazon

You’d always steered clear of yoga. Well, not quite always. There was that time you went along to a talk in a ground-floor lock-up near the Law Courts in one of those backstreets sought after by your better class of minor criminal – the kind who wouldn’t dream of letting their children catch a bus to a bail hearing, or attend a talk by some shady yogi from the ashrams of Modugno or Fesca.

The lock-up is about the size of a deluxe prison cell. When you arrive it is already packed with cross-legged students, mostly girls, mostly vegetarian-plain. Of the three guys present, two are wearing expressions of full-time smugness that you would love to punch out (but that is not quite the spirit, you quickly remind yourself, in which to begin a voyage of discovery of the inner you), while the third appears to be trying to resolve some kind of breathing problem by closing his eyes, swaying, and clasping his hands in prayer. There is a general air of expectancy in the place, evocative of a camp of spiritual rebels about to flee across a border into a land of mythical promise: if you closed your eyes, plugged your ears and took some of the right hallucinogens you might almost be standing on the south bank of the Rio Bravo.

While you are casually wondering which of the precariously-positioned candles will cause the first fire, your right thigh, closely followed by your whole being, is suddenly distracted by the arrival of a flame-haired Amazon exuding quantities of sex appeal far in excess of those permitted by law in enclosed public spaces. She is sitting so near to you that the scent of the Jump On Me shampoo from her auburn ringlets almost overpowers you. It occurs to the small part of your brain still functioning that you have discovered the source of the praying guy’s breathing problems: he must have bumped into her coming out of the Yoga Toilet or somewhere.

After looking around in vain for a stick to bite on, you promise yourself that as soon as the world comes to it senses and invests you with absolute power, you will require women as damagingly attractive as this to carry large supplies of suitable bite-sticks at all times – an absurd idea, you immediately realise: obviously, from the moment you have anything approaching absolute power all damagingly attractive women will be too busy ensuring your own round-the-clock felicity to worry about anything else whatsoever.

Without warning, a young guy with a shaven head, improbable dressing gown and the charisma of a walnut emerges from behind a velvet curtain. After a dramatic (or, to be honest, undramatic) pause, he begins to speak, very slowly and precisely, and you have a vague sense that someone is sticking blunt needles into your soul. But nothing of what the guy says actually makes it past your ears, because by now you are meditating on the profound beauty of the Amazon’s timeless cleavage. All around you people are pretending to be trees, or something, but the only thing you are genuinely conscious of is an unfamiliar flame burning deep within your inner self. For a moment you think that you recognise Love, but then a shriek from the Amazon brings you back to reality: the first candle has fallen, and your lap is on fire.

(to be continued)

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Death of an Estate Agent Foretold

This morning I heard the estate agent leading house-hunters up to the flat above. Reminded me that I still haven't killed the bastard. Now, this is going to sound like making excuses, but what with the novels and the translating and the teaching and the Christmas drink, I literally haven't had a minute for those pesky everyday jobs like slaughtering realtors.

It's not an ideological thing, though I guess if I reflected on it for any length of time I probably would develop homicidal impulses towards every member of that parasitic, slick-haired, cheating, lying profession. No, it's more a personal grudge.

Let's leave aside the 4% the seller and I both had to pay him – THIEVING SCUM! – and let's forget the crimes he commits against language in the name of sales (if there is any justice, he will spend eternity alone with a very short dictionary in a "compact" shit-hole "full of potential", much like the one he showed me across the square).

Let's get onto the neighbourhood he promised me I was buying into. I can still remember his exact reply when I asked about the building visible from the study: "They would be the Case Popolari." He hesitated, looked embarrassed. "Not wealthy people, but honest!"

And I believed him! But from the first moment I moved in, it was obvious he'd sold me down the river. Day after day I looked in vain for pitiful rags hanging from the washing lines, or starving children hurling food-rival siblings from the balconies. When the lights came on (lights, not candles!) in all those kitchens there was not a scurrying rat or a pile of mould to be seen. And things have been getting worse: last night someone held a cocktail party – on their roof-terrace, if you don't mind! – and this morning I spotted a uniformed servant polishing a satellite dish.

Workhorse, my dwarf butler, tells me not to take it too hard: the whole quarter's undergoing gentrification, he says, and even the estate agent couldn't have foreseen the speed at which it's happening. Doesn't seem right to me, though. You spend years toiling and saving for that dream of your own place with a panoramic view of poor people, and you end up having to stare out at bastards who are richer than you are. Immoral, I call it. Someone's going to have to pay.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Connoisseurs of Crap

I have always liked the Tate in Liverpool. One of its most appealing features is the absence of art connoisseurs swooning over the magnificence of crap. Not that there isn't any crap, you understand. It's simply that Scousers are not yet comfortable with the terminology, and so instead of the breathless Enlightened with their “Can’t you just feel the artist’s anguish oozing out of the rubber?” (whenever anything starts oozing out of rubber, you know it’s time to run) you tend to get unimpressed schoolchildren seeking confirmation from their teachers that “That is shite, isn’t it Miss?”.

My own personal highpoint in the museum was some years ago when I was privileged to see at first hand a work entitled “An Oak Tree” by a certain Michael Craig-Martin*. The oeuvre consisted of a glass of water on a raised wooden shelf, and an explanatory text from which I was able to divine that although the glass of water resembled a glass of water, it was in fact an oak tree. The power of this kind of work lies in its ability to inspire an enduring emotional response in the spectator: my own initial “FUCK O-OOFFFF!” is as fresh in my guts today as it was when I first beheld the sculpture.

And at this point – though I have by no means finished with the Tate – I shall retire to quell my art-inspired rage with some breathing exercises. Or maybe some booze.

* I believe the Oak tree is now at the Tate Modern, where it can be admired by a wider audience.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Liverpool, Capital of Culture

From the moment you step off the escalator that carries you up from the bowels of the earth below Liverpool Central, your mind goes into overdrive – evidently, in Capitals of Culture people think quicker – and you observe, quite effortlessly, that in order to reach the surface you will have to ride a second moving staircase. Not in itself a genuine epiphany perhaps, but what has roused your grey cells from their habitual torpor is the sudden realisation that at Lime Street, only several hundred yards away, there is only one escalator. Fuck me! Can no one else have noticed this? You look around you and are disconcerted by the calm of your fellow travellers, who are patently oblivious to the fact that something fishy is going on.

When you emerge into Bold Street and daylight, unease gives way to shock. If you weren’t seeing this with your own eyes, you would never have believed it could happen in Liverpool, but the evidence is irrefutable – every last piece of litter has been stolen. You look around frantically for a policeman, but then think better of it: this isn’t just a case of petty theft by juvenile environmentalists; this is a wholesale clean-out that can only have been perpetrated with the knowledge and connivance of people in power. Disorientated, you take refuge in Waterstone’s, and here you are momentarily reassured by the familiarity of the surroundings: the Three-for-Two book offers, the half-price English Countryside and Cat calendars, and the absence of Charles Bukowski and Damon Runyon from the bookshelves.

Breathing normally once more, you head up towards Lewis’s. Under a sign that says “Culture Quarter” – since when, you wonder, have Scousers been referring to parts of their city as “quarters”? – and points in the direction of St John’s Market, a group of multiracial scallies are comparing their couteaux Stanley. You do not linger. Not out of fear, you understand, but because today you have a precise objective, and time in the Cultural Quarter waits for no man.

Five minutes later you are in London Road, a UNESCO Site of Protected Squalor refreshingly untainted by the 21st Century Renaissance, and a genuine repository of popular culture. Over the uniquely sordid façade of the Adult Pleasure Parlour, a sign in a first-floor window promises Halal Meat. Preferring not to dwell on the disturbing implications of this, you press on up the hill to the TJ Hughes Museum of Liverpool Life. Disappointingly, your favourite part of the shop, the Scuba Diving Department, has ceased to exist – explorers of the Mersey coral reefs are now constrained to journey to Warrington or Widnes to purchase their equipment – but in the Main Store visitors can still enjoy the colourful traditional spectacle of Post-Christmas Returns, when daughters bring back the blowlamps their drunken fathers mistook for hairdryers, and old gippers attempt to get money back on disintegrating slippers bought in 2003.

It seems wrong to leave without making some kind of contribution to the upkeep of the place, so you buy a suitcase large enough to carry some Culture back to Italy and wheel it past the pools of vomit to Lime Street. Where a funny thing strikes you on your way down to the train: the escalator here is twice as high as the ones in Liverpool Central.