On my way in to In Our Time every Thursday morning I pass the Chinese Embassy. Theres always a solitary person outside, sitting on a board, protesting about the treatment of the Falun Gong in China. Relevant this morning more than ever.
The Daodejing is full of those statements which you relish but they also stymie you. For instance, Those who speak do not know, those who know do not speak
thats a stopper. They were full of the stories of Dao after the programme. Of the carpenter who dreamt of a tree and envied it and called it useless. But the tree came back to haunt him and said, If Id been useful youd have chopped me down. To be useless has preserved my life.
There was another story set in the Tang dynasty of a hermit up a mountain to whom a supernatural being came and, although drunk and disorderly, promised to take this hermit to another hermit on the other side of the mountain and have him instructed in the guaranteed path to eternal life. The first hermit followed the supernatural Falstaff,
only to turn back because he had forgotten to put in order the notes he needed for his students (I know, he was supposed to be a hermit). When he turned round again the supernatural being had disappeared. Its odd how that repeats itself in many early Western mythologies.
London is an unreal city at the moment. Yesterday I walked through St Jamess Park at teatime and it was as dark as midnight. And even the ducks were silenced. Round the corner, across to Westminster Abbey, in which one of my daughters is the visiting preacher for a week, and on to Parliament Square. There was preparation for a student demonstration which did not happen on that day. But the side streets were packed with police vans. Sirens were going so often, and so many, that they seemed to be orchestrated. A quarter of the big wheel could always be seen, apparently immobile and
purple-coloured. Policemen in their yellow jackets were politely ushering crowds down gangways between the crash barriers. It didnt seem like England at all. It seemed a much darker, more surreal place. In the morning Id been round Westminster Abbey with verger Ben Shepherd showing me the way and seeing the death mask of Elizabeth I, which I probably saw before but have never examined so closely. What a nose she had! Theres also the grave of Ben Jonson who was buried standing up and the inscription beside him: O Rare Ben Jonson. Another reading of that is pray for Ben
Jonson (Orare). The extraordinarily elaborate tomb of Newton, which bears out Voltaires celebration of England as a place where they honoured scientists as his own country honoured kings. Its a very strange abbey full of small, almost hidden rooms, like the tomb of Edward the Confessor, the originator of the abbey, although there was a building on the site before then. Ben told us that he was the only saint in England in whose tomb was his own bones.
Then there was the debate about tuition fees in the Lords. I dont think Ive ever seen it as crowded and some of the speeches were quite superb.
Off for a few drinks with the new Poland Street team after a photo shoot! This for the new South Bank Sky Arts Awards. An unreal city indeed.
The whole of it is made even stranger in the West End at dusk, when the lights are made even more glistening by the drizzle and there is a Dickensian aura that rises up. The stuffed, rich shops. People sitting beggared in doorways. Side streets with small shops, leaning out for trade and emanating cheerfulness.
And theres the heavy snow to look forward to, which means that the idea of going north for Christmas is going to be a bit like a trek across the Antarctic.