Something has shifted. It began recently on a Sunday in September when I woke up from thoughts of doubt and betrayal, feeling perfectly uneasy, first, then angry which was almost a relief. Since then things kept changing. Every new day another leaf fallen, the tree a bit barer, the light a degree warmer, the air a degree cooler, the atmosphere a degree clearer and my thoughts, too, sometimes at least. Yesterday, I forgot my scarf at home and a gruffy northeasterly wind was teasing my neck all day me with pale bony fingers. Later, on my way home I forgot my hat on the train. My warm wooly hat made in Scotland lost on a Kentish train. The last thing I know is that it was on my head, proudly, when I entered the overheated carriage. It must have fallen into a small gap when I took it off as I sat down. I sometimes wish I could find a small gap to fall through – where do things go from there? Walking through their yesterday? Unravelling back to their idea?
The Polish cleaner with a face as warm as a birthday wish understood exactly how this hat was the most precious thing I will own this winter and he assured me that losing it was a good sign: if you loose something today you’ll be blessed with luck tomorrow. I already felt blessed by his friendliness – he escorted me from the platform to the train officer on duty by the gate who took my lost hat more than suitably serious. He even phoned someone at St. Pancras to make sure the cleaners there would look out for my hat. Then he made me write down my name and number like a police detective preparing to track a missing child. He spread more friendliness by consoling me that these things happen to us: we’re travelling, chatting, laughing, dosing off and suddenly arriving where all is momentarily forgotten. My blessing: men in uniform that understand and try to evoke miracles.
I’d come back from a trip to Margate; it seems I always go to Margate in the autumn. I also always seem to go back to the same cafe there: I was relieved to see they still have vases with fresh roses on the two tables in the alcoves as they’ve always had on previous visits. I always sit at one of these: a high table joined by two bar chairs with cast-iron feet making them impossible to move. The waitress seemed new but nothing else had changed; the coffee was still a bit too expensive, the food still a bit unimaginative and I knew they’d let me sit for hours at a table with fresh roses overlooking the little harbour where nothing happens during low tide except for the Tracy Enim neon sign slowly brightening up against the darkening sky. Even that hasn’t changed. I exhale, yearning for that cast-iron steadiness. Out there right by the sea you couldn’t even trace the change of season because there are no trees, no leaves – just changing tides, dawn, day, dusk, night and the same again.
But there were surprises, of course. The Turner Gallery was not very open – only a wedge to let in a trickle of visitors who were happy enough that they weren’t able to get beyond the entrance hall because staff were setting up a new exhibition. Instead we were left with a mesmerising installation by Yinka Shonibare called British Library. Celebrating the contributions of migrants to British culture and society. There they were: stacked, batiked books in high shelves covering the whole of three long walls. Yotam Ottolenghi, Natalie Bennett, Bisi Alimi, Shami Chakrabarti, Yoko Ono, Prince Charles, other royals, writers, artists, politicians, campaigners, thinker, doers including Nigel Farrage who rested next to Karl Marx. Standing surrounded by these walls of gilded migrant power was a bit overwhelming – I suddenly remembered how I once, years ago, got totally lost in a beautiful sentence by Nadine Gordimer that proved to be so overpowering that when I finally reached the full stop I knew exactly how many words it contained, which ones I particularly liked, which ones I didn’t understand but I couldn’t say anything about their combined meaning.
Standing there now, a lost migrant in a little seaside town that unsurprisingly voted ‘out’ on 23 June but surprisingly made space for artists in their midst that contradict: like Raychel Mount who built the Listening Wall on one of Margate’s ancient arteries – as a Living Wall because of an abundance of flowers sprawling vertically out of the wall like champaign bubbling out of a bottle. After Yinka Shonibare’s walls of awe-inspiring migrants now a wall to heal divisions exposed by the referendum. A wall to spread love or share grief and anger. Of all things possible: walls to connect and bring together. I was confused, having grown up in a country divided by a 1400 km long wall of concrete enforced by barbed wire, mine strips and deep-seated ideological believes; a wall we were only too keen to break down and lose forever. But then, without walls there’d be no houses and nothing to put windows in, nothing to put roofs on, nothing to break down or climb over in order to discover what lies behind. So back to the Polish truth: you lose one thing and win something else instead and maybe that cleaner is somewhere on the shelves of the British Library piece as well.
Back in London my hat hasn’t reappeared, yet: I went back to Stratford International a day later and was told by a female staff member behind a glass counter to go to Cannon Street Customer Services. That’s where I’ve come from now – it wasn’t open on a Sunday. Shut and shutters down it didn’t radiate any of that friendliness i felt from staff at my train station. But I’ll go back. I’ve not totally lost my ability to trust the power of miracles because thoughts of doubt and betrayal are too simple a choice. I’m beginning to enjoy the deepening of my relationship with my hat and know, no matter whether I’ll find it or not,it’ll be precious to me.