Coales' Notes: On the job: At the Wormwood arts centre Gordon Coales finds the story circle spiralling out of control

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: This morning Cathy brought in three large boxes ('something Fiona was or wasn't dealing with') containing, as it turned out, applications for the coming year's residency. I see the short list should have been selected last week. I must say I thought that, whatever else, Fiona was at least thorough - other things on her mind, presumably. There must be 150 sets of slides, plus accompanying bumf. It will need to be done this week. But I could not face looking through them. Should probably consult with Juliet.

Furthermore - which at moments I almost forget - I am in emotional chaos. I have not slept at home since Friday night - practically the whole weekend at Rowena's cottage. I do not know what to think about this. I told her this morning not to expect too much. I said I was someone who had not experienced any real human contact for many years - seemed to find people difficult in that way. She said she did not believe that. I said I would ring her today, but have not. Conversation keeps bumping into what she calls 'our quite different consciousness paradigms'. God, I'm exhausted.

TUESDAY: I explained to Juliet about the residency applications. I wondered whether it wouldn't be possible next time just to find a nice, quiet, dedicated painter or sculptor, a mature person possibly, someone who would liaise with schools, hold open studios and basically get on with some work. She smiled.

Rowena rang twice, asking when she could commence the story circle. I promised to put it in motion. But I said we should probably take other things a bit more slowly for the moment, since I had a lot on my mind. Long discussion of what precisely. I told her again that on no account should she visit me at the Centre. I absolutely do not want this getting about.

WEDNESDAY: I have put Rowena in the hands of Pat. I think the education department is probably the most suitable umbrella. She said, 'But I don't want it called education.' Pat was actually very enthusiastic. Rowena came in after lunch. I acted pretty formal, and left her with Pat. I heard the words 'nurturing context' as I walked away.

Pat came to me afterwards and said, 'Looks like a winner', called her 'quite charismatic really'. I noticed that this pleased me. Rowena rang later, described Pat as 'very genuine'. I said I hoped she felt she was getting what she wanted out of the Centre. Wrong move. She said, 'Now I feel I do not know you at all. What is it you want?' I am not handling this very well.

THURSDAY: I finally fixed with Juliet to go through the applications in my office after hours. Anticipating tedium, I got in a few bottles to ease things along. Juliet operated the slide projector. I read out the accompanying artists' statements. It was astonishingly tedious. Roughly every third entry, Juliet said: 'Definite possibility, make a note.' I lost count of the number of times I read out the phrase 'I have been attempting to explore . . .'

By 11pm we'd only got through about 40 of them. When we reached an artist who specialised in taking photographic close-ups of the reproductive organs of plants and animals, I was about to call it a night. I was reading out the explanatory statement with mock earnestness: 'For the past five years I have been exploring the frontiers of sexuality, by adopting the role of polymorphous, perverse voyeur. These photographs record my personal journey across the boundaries of the intimate and the obscene . . .' I looked up. Pat and Rowena were standing in the doorway. An awkward silence.

Pat mumbled: 'We've just been to the Gaelic humming group, wondered if you were still here.' Juliet laughed: 'We call it art.' Everyone looked at the screen. A horse, I think. I shrugged. Rowena said: 'I see. No real human contact. How sad, Gordon.' She walked straight out. I dithered, and followed her - but lost her in the foyer. Didn't know what to do. Went back to my office. Got some very strange looks. Juliet said: 'Problem?' I told them I was off home. Utter horror.

FRIDAY: I didn't dare go to work today. I finally worked up the nerve to ring Rowena. She said, 'I've been trying to understand.' Eventually I managed to convince her that it had been nothing more serious than a work of art - for me, all in a day's work. She said, 'Get a new job.' I agreed to go with her tomorrow to visit an elm tree near Ansmold, to be purified.

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