Archive for November, 2012

As a recovering Anosmic, currently in the hands of a doggedly determined TCM practitioner, I find that once again I really have no choice but to affirm the validity of this idea of an energy body. I’ve had no sense of smell for years, none at all. The western medical paradigm – the one that treats the body as a sort of chemical machine – failed to explain the issue, let alone provide a cure and, since it wasn’t life threatening, essentially washed its hands of the problem.

So I asked a practitioner of TCM, and she invited me into her consulting room. She stuck pins in my head, my face, my hands and my shins,  gave me a massage, talked about building up internal Qi with a herbal tonic, and about opening blocked energy channels. Then she sent me away with some Ginko and Ginseng and told me to come back next week for more of the same. After about eight weeks, my sense of smell started to reappear.

Progress was halting – it still is, but it’s getting firmer, and surer now. It came back for a few days then went away again. I had recurring bouts of Phantanosmia – the whole world smelling of something putrid that wasn’t really there – and I wondered if it had all been a fluke, if I wasn’t just back to square one – i.e. nowhere, or rather nose-where. But then I began to smell subtle things, things that really were there. It took time, but gradually my scent memory began to plug itself back together – the scent of coal fires on an autumn night, the scent of freshly split firewood, mown grass, the scent of tea, a smokey car’s exhaust, my wife’s perfume,…

Hold that thought.

My good lady’s been wearing this particular scent for years, gifted to her by a relative and I’ve never noticed it before, but suddenly it’s there, and I’m thinking: what the hell is that? that’s not a pleasant scent at all. What do I say? Don’t be an ass. I say nothing for now – and she never reads my blog, I hope. The bottle’s nearly empty anyway, so I think a trip to the fragrance counter at Boots is in order. Clinique! Now there’s a scent I used to love, and Chanel,… oh, my,… there’s whole new world out there,.. but which one??? I’m almost giddy at the prospect.

I hope I’m not tempting fate by going on about this again, that I won’t at some point simply lose my sense of smell once more for no apparent reason, but I can’t help it. The whole world just smells so damned good right now – well mostly good. Interesting, the dilemma’s faced by the recovering Anosmic. But of course, these are issues I’m delighted to be dealing with.

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They say travel broadens the mind. It can also expand it into other dimensions if you’re not afraid to look at things and read more into them than is perhaps literally apparent or socially acceptable. For example, take a look at these two giant bronze lovers:

Are they embracing before separation, or in reunion? Paul Day’s massive sculpture at London’s Saint Pancras station certainly arrested my attention as I was en route for Paris the other week. As with many symbols we encounter in the course of our travels, they can take on a significance that has nothing to do with their original intention. They speak to us intimately,  if we let them. For myself, this sculpture spoke of a passionate farewell. But more symbolically and personally, it spoke of a leaving behind of hearth and home, a breaking from Anima’s siren voice, and a stepping out into the world beyond my comfortable horizons. Will they ever see each other again? And if they do, will time and distance have changed them?

It was 07:15 am, the vast space of St Pancras was hushed and glowing dimly in the dawn light. Ahead of me was a two and a quarter hour train journey. By mid-morning, I’d be in Paris. All of this was business and I wasn’t expecting much by way of personal revelation, but images stick, and travel, be it spiritual or physical, is all about making the right connections. Paul Day’s sculpture certainly changed things for me on this trip.

My first memorable connection, after taking leave of these St Pancras lovers, was in Paris, Gare Du Nord. It was a poorly dressed Algerian woman, middle aged, palms upturned and an enquiring “Monsieur?” She looked wretched and she broke my heart.

“Je m’excuse Madame, je n’ai pas d’argent Francais.”

It was an encounter my French teacher had not prepared me for. The poor woman looked at me as if I were a blathering idiot, offering such a polite rebuff to a street beggar. He could only be “un dumb Angalis”, she was thinking. But I wasn’t lying – I had no French money, other than plastic, and hey, everyone deserves respect even those who don’t expect it.

Her face remained with me, like something from a dream, briefly glimpsed, and not really understood in the symbolic sense. Was the muse haunting me? Was she already so impoverished by my neglect of her? Come on, love, it’s only been a few hours, give me a break!

I was heading for an industrial suburb, to the south of Paris, and made my way by combination of SNCF and bus. Usually my main concern when travelling like this is that my dozy head will fall behind and, by missing something, cast me into the bowels of some impenetrable maze from which there is no hope of either progress or safe return. Numbers become critical, in a literal sense of course: departure and arrival times, bus numbers, train numbers, but when you find those numbers chiming with other parts of your life you begin to sense a different kind of connection is being made. And numbers are also archetypes. 125 is one of mine, the numerological sum of which is 8, also 1881, the numerological sum of which is 9. 8 and 9, the former representing the attainment of materialistic goals by a process of quiet perseverance, the latter presaging the dawn of a new understanding. And familiar numbers catch your eye. They have you dropping out of defensive mode because it’s like the Universe winking at you, reminding you it’s intentions are never hostile, that if you can open yourself to it, then it will always lend you its protection, and teach you some interesting stuff along the way.

Home for the night was a little hotel, heavy on applejack green – a little garish for my taste, but not uncomfortable. Its neighbours were a motorcycle dealership and a Sushi restauraunt. They were laying tramlines outside until four in the morning, but they didn’t disturb me. They could have been testing rockets as well for all I know. I was so tired and curiously relaxed, even after a twelve hour day, I let the Paris night close over me and drag me down to unknown depths of dreamless sleep, from which my friendly Android struggled to rescue me.

Anima was at the reception desk next morning, nicely dressed and looking much more self-assured. She was wanting to know the word that meant “to join papers, like this?” she made a hand gesture which confused me until she clarified matters by producing her stapler. She was lovely and charming. I gave her the word “to staple”, and could hear her quietly repeating it, so as not to forget, while I finished my coffee and shouldered my bag. I noted wrily, as I stepped out into another chill autumn dawn that it was probably going to be my only tangible contribution to Anglo-French relations. But the I Ching had counselled me to keep an open mind, to fit in, to go with the flow, and I was trying.

I’d set out without expectation, but already I could feel things were different this time, at least internally. I was possibly unhinged for a start, but I seemed whole lot calmer for it, and was travelling thoughtfully at least. Nor had I left my self at home, pining for my eventual return. I had my self with me, and he was proving to be good company. And my self liked the French people he had met, liked speaking with them in his broken French, and they had seemed to like him. Even the waiter in the restaurant the night before – the place decked out like a tart’s boudoir – had failed to arouse anything but my humour when, plonking a bottle of wine at my elbow, had declared solemnly that “if I did not like, it it was not his fault”.

And in spite of his mysterious pessimism, I had liked it very much.

Whatever had he meant by that? In the literal sense, I’d no idea of course. Maybe the poor guy had been at my elbow all night asking me to taste the damned stuff and I’d been too busy explaining to my companion the wonders of the English Lake District. But metaphorically? Well, there’s a lifetime of over-analysis there, and I’m still thinking about it. Perhaps my reply should have been: “If I do not like it, I will be too polite to complain, and shall finish it anyway, as if were the elixir of the gods”?

Regrettably, I saw very little of Paris – the Paris of romance, of the Tour Eiffel, of the Moulin Rouge. But this was not unexpected. A hair-raising taxi ride across town was about my lot. It afforded me glimpses of a vibrant city bathed in autumn sunshine, a golden light permeating the air, teasing me sufficiently to make me hope I’d one day return, but on my own terms next time, and to make a more leasurely sojourn. Then I was boarding the Eurostar and being shot homeward, like an arrow from Diana’s bow.

I was looking forward to a reunion with the Lovers at St Pancras, a sort of metaphorical full circling of my journey, but the arrivals’ elevator took me away from an easy return to Anima, as I had once known her. Instead I found myself ejected into the cold, and the rain, and the dark of the busy Euston road. Then it was a slit eyed walk to meet my evening train back up north, where I found myself seated opposite the most unassuming of Gods. This was to be the man who bore the closing message of at least the metaphorical, imaginal, dimension of my journey.

The ancient Greeks believed the gods went among us in disguise, so you should always be respectful in your encounters with strangers lest you inadvertently offend one of the gods – and you really don’t want to do that. It’s a custom that fell out of use thousands of years ago of course, but in light of our current understanding of psychical parallels between Greek mythology and the Archetypal reality, it’s a custom worth familiarising yourself with, especially if you intend making much way inside your head.

It’s not often strangers converse on trains, at least not in my experience. We look askance, we bury our heads in our newspapers or our tech, even over hundreds of miles, and I’m not the greatest conversationalist, especially not five hours into a seven hour homeward journey. I don’t know what the spark was, but before that Virgin train had reached Wigan Wallgate this guy was the best friend I’d never had, and what’s curious is we found we shared a name from the past – an old colleague, alas one that had not meant anything to me, other than as a milestone deep in the early history of my manhood.

I could not reciprocate the amazing tales of his latter day exploits with tales of my own because in truth I’d all but forgotten him. Rather the literal significance here for me was the staggering coincidence that I could share an awareness of this person with a stranger on a train. As for the metaphorical,… well,..

I left him at Wigan Wallgate and sailed on into the night, me ever thoughtful and tired. It was after ten thirty now. Preston wasn’t too far away, and then there was a half hour taxi ride home, but already I was returning with a greater awareness of who I was and, crucially, who I was not.

That stranger on the northbound Virgin service had reminded me of a self I’d thought was still a part of me, and made me realise how little kinship I still kept with that formative past. In fact I’d buried it long ago. This is magical thinking of course and very much out of fashion, but wonderfully instructive if you can persuade yourself to indulge in it.

I’ve written very little since I returned – this being by way of an icebreaking piece. Instead I’ve been reading, another journey in itself. I’ve not seen Anima either. So far as I know she’s still waiting for me at St Pancras. She’ll catch up eventually, of course – she always does – and boy is she going to be cross! Are we the same lovers who took our leave that morning? No, something’s changed for sure. I know when I look her in the eyes again, I’ll be hoping to see a little deeper into things than I did before.

I trust she can respect that.


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