The Red Room

It’s apt to start with yesterday, for yesterday I was in the Starr Auditorium of Tate Modern, wearing red boots and a red skivvy, almost camouflaged among the red chairs and the red walls. My hair was a different shade to the chairs though. I was listening to a conference on ‘Ways of Dying’ and it was excellent.

Marina Warner, lucid and elegant and wearing the same dull pink shawl with a brooch that she had the night before (at a talk with Steve Connor on spookiness in cities; it was so hot in the room I almost fainted), spoke eloquently of zombies. Rosa Braidotti was in conversation with Donna Harraway, although it wasn’t a conversation as such, just one saying their piece after another. Donna H was dressed like a man; she had a good sense of humour and was lively and expressive, and her piece, a kind of eulogy for her father, was moving. Rosa Braidotti was also cheerful, but I didn’t like the way she spoke; it was hard to get a grip on what she was saying. But then, that’s what I hate most about academics – their inaccessibility. Before this conversation spoke Iona Heath, a GP who was factual, precise and refreshingly down-to-earth amidst all the talk of bio-engineering and mythical creatures. She talked about the need for people to construct a narrative of their lives before they die, for to live is to tell a story, and that while a sudden death might be good for the bereaved, it isn’t necessarily so for the person who has died for they had no time to reflect. She also railed against the medical profession for their practice of keeping people alive at whatever cost, for the body, when in pain, is adjusting the mind to the idea that death is coming, just as a woman suffering the discomfort and heftiness of the late stages of pregnancy is becoming used to the discomfort and sleeplessness that comes in the first few years of a child’s life. And then in the question time a woman put up her hand and said, ‘I’m dying,’ and I didn’t hear the rest.

What is it with kids and pigeons? As I was early for the conference (having been almost-late for every other function this week, I decided to make an effort), I bought a latte from Starbucks (it was unhappily very weak, and this morning while running I wondered if it were a conspiracy by Starbucks to dilute their coffees so you say ‘Yes’ whenever they ask ‘Would you like another shot of espresso?’ I wouldn’t put it past them) and I sat beneath the spindly trees on the black rubbery seats covered with spilled somethings and bird shit, while a little Asian kid ran around in circles yelling ‘Waaahh!’ over and over at the pigeons. And some blonde tots followed suit, after one of them had picked up my empty Starbucks cup and thrown it on the ground (good work, lad: his anti-capitalist streak was already present, something I cannot admit to possessing). His father had hurried over because I had caught his eye, but that was because I had no idea what to say to his son (I never know what to say to kids, and it worries me), not because he was trashing my coffee cup. The kid’s sister picked it up and gave it back to me and I thanked her clearly. Then around and around they ran, until the girl fell down the steps and landed on her cheek on the concrete. I didn’t like to look; it already felt painful. Instead I read my book, Chloe Hooper’s ‘A Child’s Book of True Crime’ which was very good, but the ending was totally obscure.

After the conference I tottered home over Millenium Bridge, which always makes me think that I might quite like London, and tripped on the uneven cement.


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