One of my favourite places in Hull is the top floor of the Ferens Art Gallery, where “Odysseus and the Sirens” by Henry James Draper hangs. It’s an enormous painting, so big that I need to take a few steps backwards and look up to fit the whole thing into my field of vision. As the gallery is conveniently situated in the middle of Hull City Centre, I’ve visited the painting a lot; a few times with my husband but many times alone, mid-shopping trip, or after work, or sometimes when I’ve had a few minutes to kill before a social event.
The reasons for my connection to the painting are unclear to me. Perhaps it’s the look of realisation in Odysseus’s eyes: he can’t resist the sirens’ song alone, but his love for Penelope means that he must resist them. Perhaps it’s the skilful brushwork, how real the sailors and the sirens appear. Perhaps it’s the air-conditioning in that part of the gallery.
Ferens Art Gallery has been closed for a long time now.
Sometimes I worry that my mind is going a bit stale. If I could access everything I’ve seen in the past year and play it back like a highlights reel, what would I see? The film would open with images of the inside of my home, my workplace, and the bike journey between the two. There’s also be friends’ gardens and views of the Yorkshire countryside from the back of my husband’s motorbike. But then the sunlight would begin to dim and there would be entire months of nothing but my home and the corner shop.
I’m rarely able to see new places or wonderful things these days. What effect is this having on my mind? I fear that in the absence of stimulation, I’m becoming unimaginative and dull.
Of course, there’s still beauty to be found in the mundane. As I write this from my sitting room and occasionally gaze out the window, I’m able to watch the glow of the waning sun shining on the row of terraced houses across the road. It’s pretty, but I see it every day. I miss the chill of inspiration that came from seeing new things.
Last month, the sun came out for a single weekend. After months of rain and snow this was incredible, so my husband and I seized the opportunity to get out on his motorbike and fill up our brains with some new images.
We ended up at Aldbrough, a nearby village where nothing much happens other than the entire place gradually disappearing into the Northern Sea, thanks to heavy coastal erosion. It’s bad – the end of road passing through the caravan park near the water’s edge has literally broken off and fallen into the sea. Bikers beware.
As I sat down on the grassy cliff and looked out into the sea, a heaviness left my body. I breathed in the clean sea air and savoured the experience of being somewhere new – a bizarre little village being devoured by nature.
I’m extremely lucky in a lot of ways. Covid-19 hasn’t taken any of my loved ones and before long, I’ll be vaccinated. The biggest toll I’ve had to pay during this pandemic is my freedom being restricted, and even though I’ve found it difficult and I’m missing my family, I can’t argue that it was the right thing to do (and that perhaps it wasn’t even restricted enough). I still think my mind’s going a bit stale, but I can deal with that for a few more months.
This time last year, we were all waiting to hear if the UK would be going into lockdown and majority of us were assuming the whole thing would last a few months at the most. Now, a year on, I feel similarly confident that life will begin to return to normal in the next few months and I’ll be able to start seeing new things again. A smarter person would’ve learnt not to assume things, but what can I say? I like to stay hopeful.