I half-ran to the bus stands in the Piccadilly Gardens, clutching a newspaper picked from one of those Manchester Evening News (MEN) vendors, teeth practically clattering with cold. The wind blew so hard it almost blew me off my feet. What a freezing journey back from GP visit in Ashton, and I am clad only in a simple cotton blouse with a light black Marcona blazer instead of a few layers of jerseys and some sensible woollen coats!
While sitting on the bus (still shivering, wishing fervently for someone to install central heating in all the buses), I flipped through the newspaper. There were news - some touching (like how everyone mourns over the passing of ONE British patriot on duty in Afghanistan), some appalling (like how a drunken lady somehow beat up a man to his death due to skull and brain haemorrhage), some confusing (like how a man who knocked out his assaulter got apprehended by the police for a night in the lockups), and some bizarre (like how a drunken lady drove an ASDA disability-scooter on the roads to get home to save herself the taxi fare).
Further into the journey, I was getting to the back of the paper. Then I saw an advertisement - I think it was about an advertising company advertising itself as a good advertiser. It was not what caught my interest. It was the background image used - a large skilfully taken shot of a city at sunset (or was it sunrise?), viewed from the glassed window in the interior of a building, presumably a hotel room at a high floor. It was quite beautiful - the sky glowing golden, while the buildings gleamed crisp and sharp far below. The hotel room itself is dimly lit, serene and elegant, the prominent feature of which a dining table set for two with champagne flutes, lustrous and ready for sparkling juice or wine.
What I would call 'urban beauty'. Graceful and tranquil, yet stiff and somewhat forbidding. Nothing to be compared with the natural curves of the hills and wide, welcoming expanses of clear blue sky above the Pennines, the quiet noise of rippling water lapping the banks in the rivers and streams, the full emptiness of stretching grasslands green in spring and frosted white in midwinter. Or let us think of somewhere in between - small towns where everybody still knows everyone else, where old buildings reign quaint and sturdy by the modern streets, where the air is still fresh and clean, where old people don't go about with sad, lonely faces, working people don't rush about with perpetually frowning brows, and young people don't prance about in facepaints and tight fluorescent outfits deep into the night.
An extreme way of putting it would be that urban beauty is dead, life without soul, all sharp edges and protruding points that poke and prod into all aspects of humanity, transforming every definition of value into materialistic scales. All the while we are deceived into thinking that we are lucky because we are wealthy, because we can shop for hours in the Arndale or the Trafford Centre, because we can eat in classy restaurants and go for parties while dressed to the nines. Yes, because we are human beings, we still pity the less fortunate - let's say, the Palestinian refugees, the Gazan massacre victims, the cholera victims in Zimbabwe, and the ISA detainees in Malaysia. Because of that, sometimes we partake in demonstrations and donate money. Some of us went a bit further and went to places of destitution to spend - say, a week, a month, or a year - time there. Then we got back to our day-to-day life, feeling that we've done enough and we deserved some rest to enjoy ourselves.
As if helping others is an option, a part-time work.
While sheltered in the small, luxurious room, we feel our world is big and complete. We found joy and contentment in status, in wealth, in the hard edges of mahogany tables and the mushy soft downy bed coverings that suffocates. We look outside and admire the view from behind the glass wall. The sun, the sky, and the city looks grand and beautiful from the distance. The piece of glass separates us from the dust, the heat, the homeless, the aimless, the day-to-day life of the rat race. And from the height, from behind the wall, we feel that the city life is beautiful.
Or rather, we purposefully made sure that the glass wall is always between us and them, even when we descend from the high floors to the streets. When we heard the homeless asking for spare changes, saw deprived-looking women in shabby coats pushing prams getting into buses, felt annoyed with drunken teenagers screaming and whatnots-ing, noticed countless vehicles emitting poisonous fumes into the air, and observed how high-street stores are stocked to the roof with fashionable items that does not seem to serve any purpose at all, we made sure that the glass wall protects us from any realization that something, anything, is not right. We told ourselves that life as it is, is already beautiful, we're all having fun, and as long as we're all having fun, then we're all happy and contented.
There is a 'slightly' controversial, newly-started campaign on buses said "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Yes, and if the less people believe in God the happier they'll be, I wonder how it is that in the increasingly Godless UK, more people are being diagnosed with depression than with any other clinical conditions?
We are deceived into thinking that life, as we are living it, is beautiful.
Who are 'we'?