I’m in heaven. Actually I’m in Bradford, in Waterstones bookshop in the old Wool Exchange, possibly one of the most beautiful bookshops in the country – and I’m upstairs in the gallery café, looking down into the well of the shop with its illuminated shelves of books, and up into the wonder that is the vaulted ceiling, carved and panelled and painted and letting in the last of the afternoon light through leaded windows in the roof. And I am drinking an enormous mug of hot tea and eating the best dark chocolate chip cookie I have ever tasted.
As soon as I placed the tea tray on a table next to the railing at the edge of the gallery and settled myself down, I could smell the intoxicating smell of chocolate wafting up towards me, and I let out a long involuntary sigh of pure pleasure. I knew this was going to be a time to remember, and I wasn’t wrong because this happened three days ago and I’m still happily reliving every moment.
Let me explain. I do not often go out, alone, in a town. My almost daily walks with a camera are near to home and mostly in the park two minutes from my house, and a day without a walk like this feels a bit like living in a room without windows; I go outside to stretch my eyes and still my thoughts and relax with the rythymn of my footsteps, and to breathe and feel the air. It’s enough to recharge me, to realign me, and helps me come home to myself. But reading Andrea Badgley’s recent post on her blog Butterfly Mind I was struck by the idea of an Artist’s Day Out, and I couldn’t stop thinking that it was something I really, really wanted to do.
I began to think about how long it had been since I gave myself the opportunity to go out somewhere and explore, to wander, to nourish myself by doing something simple but out of the ordinary and I realised it’s been not weeks or even months, but years. There are many reasons why it’s been so long; chronic fatigue being the main one, but if I’m honest this is sometimes more of an excuse than a reason. It’s easy to put the idea of taking time out at the bottom of my list of priorities, so much so that I would feel very uncomfortable with the thought of carving out a whole afternoon to do nothing more than enjoy myself in an unstructured, random sort of a way.
When I recognise that I want very much to do something and at the same time am resisting it vigorously, I know it’s time to take action because experience tells me it’s something I badly need. So when I found myself presented with the chance to spend several hours doing anything I felt like doing, in the centre of Bradford, I jumped at the chance to do just that.
I wandered about. I watched people in the street. I listened to street musicians and I ambled around Centenary Square and admired the architecture of City Hall. I got tired and found refuge in the Impressions Gallery and sat for a long while in the studio there, (they have sofas!) gazing out of the plate glass windows, watching people in the square feeding pigeons, meeting friends, hurrying past with shopping bags. Then I spent a leisurely half hour taking in the photographs in the current exhibition.
Because by now I had settled down enough to be responsive in an unfamiliar place, I found myself wanting to take photos. The gallery reception has cerise coloured walls and is all clean post-modernism with exposed ducting in the ceiling, silver and shiny and unbelievably clean. (Does someone climb up there once a week with a feather duster?) I took pictures that looked like the inside of an immaculate designer spaceship, and then sat some more on the pink sofa and wrote in my notebook.
I made my way slowly back into the centre of town past City Hall now glowing the colour of caramel in the setting sun, feeling hungry and thinking of tea, but I drifted past Starbucks hoping for something better and when I found myself standing in front of the Wool Exchange and realised what I’d stumbled upon somehow I wasn’t surprised. By now I would have expected nothing less.
I couldn’t have wished for a better day out. It did more for me than I ever expected, and I won’t leave it too long before doing it again. I can hardly wait…