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Adventures in ‘the discomfort zone’

It is a pervasive problem – being made to feel uncomfortable. But isn’t that just as it should be? Sreela Banerjee moves through the ‘discomfort zone’ via the ‘Occupy’ movement, western demographic trends, and the newly agreed definition of ‘integrity’ from Harvard University, taking a ‘happiness break’ at the Bridewell Theatre. She comments on ‘whether living by values and integrity is a thing of the past’, from all over the world, informs her this quarter, not to mention Greek swimming pools, and Perugino’s San Sebastian, who certainly died a most uncomfortable death. And how is an ancient King of Numidia connected to the spurge growing in her Barbican balcony ?


hildrearing remains repetitive, but I have been given a choice of locations in which to do this essential work, which is

fortunate - Charlie took us all to Munich to ‘brighten up’ January. Actually, he was after the Perugino exhibition – a rare and skilfully curated effort at the Alte Pinakothek, which was at the end of a freezing walk, past a statue of Ohm (yes, the electric current variety). We looked at the works of ’Rafael’s Meister’ at the vast and meandering pile which is one of the three Pinakotheks – here Perugino’s serene painting of San Sebastian hung in dim light, the young saint hardly hurt at all, the mere hint of an arrow at this side, in ecstatic meditation.

The Benedictines who paid for

Perugino’s works were very wealthy visionaries, in a warmer country. I envied the artist his villa just outside Rome, (which one can afford if one is working for the Sforzas.) I didn’t envy him the Black Death which took him away before he could enjoy it properly. Happily, when we got back to the Barbican the geranium in my window boxes showed no signs of tiredness and the spurge was soaring upwards. We had left the cold behind.

My heart lifted. Aren’t spurges fantastic? Whilst a sedum can get yellow leaves, and a lemon verbena browns at the edges, my succulent spurge keeps on extending its thin elegant arms, fleshy green fingers pointing to the sky…. Onwards and upwards. Spring is coming, it seems to say: play The Lark Ascending, please. Did you see Diana Rigg’s half hour exposition about that beautiful piece by Vaughan Williams on BBC 4? Magical stuff.

It’s a shame that our national efforts at moving ‘onwards and upwards’ seem to have suffered from a ‘policy weekend’. It was held in January in Melton


Mowbray – yes, where traditional ‘porky pies’ come from. It seems that neither rhyming slang nor irony feature in the thinking of our ruling party. Imagine the statement from Millbank -‘Let us thrash out our policy for the 2015 election, by consulting with our own – we will arrive at a consensus view in Melton Mowbray’. Seriously ? When my husband returned from the policy weekend, I asked him about it. One was discouraged apparently from mentioning Europe; the main thrust of policy should be the economy, and foreign aid. That Europe may be related to the economy, in fact intertwined with it, seems to be a view discouraged amongst the party faithful. Like so many of us, the Party seems to have opted for comfort. Morning prayers now need to include : ‘Spare us from leaving our comfort zones’. The world declines to listen.

The difficulty of course is where that comfort zone is headed. The world has changed of late. Our concept of ‘most people’ whose efforts in turn uplift us, and turn out to be the most disturbingly unpredictable, is much wider of course, thanks to the modern media, social and collective. Our comfort zone has few geographical boundaries, these days. So much public policy is expressed in relation to our perceived comfort zones,

that it has become important to find out where and what it is. None of us like being made to feel uncomfortable, but more often than not, we are made to squirm. But isn’t that just as it should be? After all, if we fail to be uncomfortable, how will we express the need for change? Recessions and devaluations make an impact, through rising prices of our food basket at the supermarket, if nothing else. When the chair of the Board of Governors at your child’s school resigns because he made the ‘wrong response’ to protestors outside his cathedral, you might surmise that he felt ‘destabilised’ by events outside his control – I admit to a sense of acute discomfort in the manner of Dean Knowles’s departure from St Paul’s. It is equally clear that Canon Giles

Fraser resigned from the Chapter, after the onset of the ‘Occupy’ movement’s capers at Paternoster Square, because he had the uncomfortable feeling of knowing that somewhere along the line, they have a point. I was not surprised when he proceeded to preach a fine sermon at St Martin within Ludgate to the Livery company of Chartered Accountants – Fraser told them that the birth of Jesus was the most

uncomfortable thing that had happened

Sreela Banerjee

The Alte Pinakothek Art Museum in Munich – Picture by Markus Würfel. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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