Sometimes all it takes to really ground oneself, is to tip one’s head back and take in the vastness of the inescapable sky
want to advise you something: and that is always to look up. Oh, the cornices and the eaves you might have missed! The kites in trees! The tall, handsome strangers with long, smooth necks. The pattern in the clouds that looks like a pig – or is it a bear? The outline of the UK, while the union lasts. The old brickwork adverts on the sides of Victorian buildings. The unexpectedly witty graffiti on the railway bridge. The ascending, spiralling, iron balustrades.
Always look up. If you live in the country: look up for the stars and their constellations, or the book-lined studies of farmhouses, peeked through windows. If you live in the city: look up for the glass and the steel stretching higher and higher. I even like the Shard. If you’re abroad and walking through dusty, narrow streets somewhere, look up to see the patterns of rugs thrown over balcony railings to air.
Looking down yields fewer rewards. The same feet you have known all your life, even if shod in spectacular shoes. Perhaps a gorgeous, reddening autumn leaf, but look overhead and there’ll be more. Dogs and cats, of course, are the exception to the rule here. But looking up reveals new treasures and pleasures all of the time.
It took me a few years to notice the Antony Gormley figure on top of Exeter College on Broad Street in Oxford. It took me riding on the top decks of buses (the best way) to notice multiple murals of butterflies in Camberwell, south London, before learning about the species of butterfly they all celebrated, originally native to the area (look up, too, to see actual butterflies). I focused on the cafe at the top of Mount Snowdon, scrambling up the scree as my bare knees became patterned with tiny stones, to will me on. I stumbled across a tree slap bang in the middle of London – in Hyde Park – home to glorious lime green parakeets. They will swoop down and peck at slices of apples if you offer them. In Liverpool, where I am from, another type of bird. The two Liver Birds, 18 feet tall with a wingspan of 24 feet, called Bertie and Bella, atop the Liver Building (built in 1911), watching over the city and the sea.
Look up in warehouses in Berlin, and marvel at the Bauhaus light fittings – if you’re into that kind of thing, which I am. In Moscow, the famous ornate ceilings of subway stations are as much a tourist attraction as the Red Square. Lift your head to push on through a difficult run. Give your shoulder muscles a break from bending double over a phone when sitting at a desk or making an obstacle of yourself on pavements. Sometimes all it takes to really ground oneself, is to tip one’s head back and take in the vastness of the inescapable sky.