Southport was cold and grey and wet this morning, and yet more shops had been boarded up. The massive Woolworths store they cleared out a year ago is still empty, still carrying its cheery red Woolworths logo, but there was little to be cheerful about and in one of the half empty malls there was a character with oiled hair handing out cash in exchange for gold,.. and he had plenty of customers offering their unwanted trinkets for him to squint at.
I’m lucky. I still have a job and can gaze upon this awful spectacle with the air of a detached observer. I wear only two pieces of gold: my wedding ring on my left hand and my father’s wedding ring on my right, and it’s easy for me to say that the oily haired man could go $@#£ himself, if he thought he’d ever be getting his hands on those. But how about when the rent’s due and there’s no money coming in and there’s a bully boy collector at the door?
There but for the grace of God, and all that.
I tried to buy a coffee and was offered more choice than I could cope with: Latte, Mocha, Americano, blah di blah di blah. For some reason this business of “choice” really irritates me now and I long for simpler days when I could just have one bloody thing that actually worked. I hear my politicians speaking of “choice” as if it were the holy grail, and yet I detect a curious hollowness in their words as if they don’t really believe it either and are simply reciting a mantra presented to them by a legion of obscenely highly remunerated political consultants. Anyway,… I listened to the girl reeling them all off,…. all these varieties of highly desireable choice, coffee-wise, and to be honest, I hadn’t a clue what any of them were. Feeling a little tired and confused I asked if I could just have an ordinary filter coffee. She sighed at my ignorance before replying with practiced patience that they were all filter coffee’s sir. I apologise dear reader – urbane I am not. I like my coffee plain and strong. It does not come with a label.
I received an infinitely friendlier reception at the Atkinson gallery, where a group of handicapped kids (can I still say that?) were having a delightful sing-song, and the girl manning (can I still say that?) the reception desk welcomed me up the stairs with a smile that instantly erased the memory of the pretentious coffee incident. Yes, this was “sanctuary”. I was safe, and looking for old friends: Dorette’s sister, the gloriously erotic Lillith of course, and a bewitching seascape by an artist called JHG Millar, whom no one seems to know anything about.
Then I ran into a major synchronicity.
I need to rewind here and explain I’d just booked 2010′s summer holiday, on the Northumberland coast. I have a memory of my last night there in August 2003, coming off the beach at Bamburgh after flying kites with my boys. The east coast beaches have a special charm. The sea was lively and there was a mist overhanging everything. I paused for a second, just to look back and take it all in. There was something bewitching about it. Then, six years later, I walk into the Atkinson, the day after booking my return trip, and I’m staring at a picture of the same scene, painted from the same spot!
Take no notice of the skeptics, nor the smug statisticians: Synchronicities are important. They are like a glitch in “the matrix” – if you’re into movies – if not then never mind. They indicate a change – that something is changing, that something in the mind is manoeuvering. But you will never understand a synchronicity in literal terms – try too hard to look for the meaning in them and they just smile at you, inscrutable as Alice’s Cheshire cat. The best you can do is feel the current tugging at you, and surrender to it.
After the Atkinson it was Broadhursts bookshop and a browse through the second-hand titles. I trust every major town in the UK still possesses a die hard establishment like Broadhursts. If books, real books, are your bag, then you know the sort of place I mean – they cleared out of the smaller county towns decades ago, to make way for the publisher’s clearance outlets – who really aren’t the same thing at all. Anyway,… I found myself smiling when I noticed works by Richard Dawkins side by side with those of Derek Ankora here. It was a marvellous irony. But it was Carl Jung who drew my eye, and for a few pounds I came away with a second hand copy of “Psychological Reflections”, an anthology edited by Jolande Jacobi. It’s a while since I studied Jung and maybe the memory of that earlier synchronicity forced my hand.
Reading it later on in bed, I found myself a little too tired to do it justice, but one quote struck me between the eyes so hard, I had to write it down: All the true things must change and only that which changes remains true. It could easily have been a line from the Tao te Ching!
Those of us who tread the spiritual path away from the mainstream would do well to remember it. There is no clear definition for what it is we seek. It does not have a name. To define it is to kill it, to make it old and grey and useless. Therefore we hold no clear convictions, no unassailable beliefs, and we are not afraid to change, not afraid to say: I was wrong, not afraid to say: I don’t know.