The Houses of Parliament

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Every morning, close to the end of my cycle to work, Westminster Bridge looms ahead. Hardly Mount Ventoux the Tour de France killer but still a thigh sapping incline, before the crest and lethal descent…

Why a lethal descent? Two lanes into three, accelerating downhill, buses cutting across from the inside to the right turn filter, rubble trucks, taxis, motorbikes and assorted cyclists of all abilities – plus three lanes of fast oncoming. Every morning I look at it and think: if I am to day today it will be here. RIP.

Still I’ve survived it for over a decade, so chin up. And a daily reminder of how trivially it could all end helps with Nietzsche’s injunction to ‘live as a work of art’ and Sartre’s to ‘own’ our uniqueness. Wise words.

But the best bit of briefly reprising Tommy Simpson’s epic climb of Ventoux, is the cresting of Westminster Bridge as the Houses of Parliament emerge from the brow of the artificial hill.

What majesty, what poesy, what flights of fancy in decor. Low spring sun glints off the leaded windows and lights the gold adornments. Summer breezes flutter the Union Jack proudly. Even winter fogs progressively reveal its Victorian aspect and evoke ‘pea soupers’ of the Industrial Age.

Turner saw the original burn (his painting from the Tate above) but what a Phoenix rose from those ashes. It cheers me every day and keeps me pedalling in sun, rain or showers.

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Life as Art

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I always used to be big on objectivity – getting to what’s factually and actually right. But I’m much less obsessed with the ‘objective’ these days.

The (at times painful) discovery of my working and family life is that, with the exception of basic chemistry and arithmetic, pretty much everything in life is a matter of interpretation.

It all depends on where you’re looking from, what you’re looking with and how you’re understanding what you’re seeing. Different lives and different experiences equal very different interpretations of the same data. There are few facts and many interpretations.

So, with the passage of years and against my better judgement, I’m strangely drawn to Sartre’s view nicely encapsulated here:

Since I could always have chosen some other path in life, the one I follow is my own. Since nothing has been imposed on me from outside, there are no excuses for what I am.

Since the choices I make are ones I deem best, they constitute my proposal for what any human being ought to be.

The inescapable condition of human life is the requirement of choosing something and accepting the responsibility for the consequences.

Which makes me totally responsible for the life I choose.

Freed from the shackles of objectivity – that there is a right answer or a right way to live – I realise that in fact we often have more choice than we think.

What happens to us is more our responsibility than we are sometimes ready to accept. Every life is a unique, personal and ongoing act of creation. We live creating the ultimate work of art – ourselves.

Norman Mailer puts it pithily:

Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.

Life is a work of art. But these days I’m happy to settle for the bustle of a Dutch feast, instead of seeking the perfection of an Italian ceiling.

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