Away With The Fairies

                                  by our Bafflesby Echo special correspondent, Trend Hunter

How often have we heard it said that Bafflesby is out of the loop when it comes to crazes? Remember that burning mountain of hula hoops, unsold because their target audience had grown too old and arthritic to use them? And who can forget how thousands of Davy Crockett hats would have suffered the same fate if their late arrival had not coincided with the onset of male-pattern baldness?

But now our town is at the forefront of the latest mania to sweep the nation. ‘Ungh,‘ I hear you gasp as you snuggle a little closer to the sad and soggy remains of your beloved Care Bear, ‘whassat you say, sleepy old Bafflesby ahead of the curve?‘ But don’t get too excited. The new craze is all about plucking tiny mythical creatures from thin air and collecting them in little boxes.

Sound familiar? Yes, Bafflesby has finally cottoned on to the late-Victorian fad for finding fairies at the bottom of every back garden. Suddenly, fairy-hunters are everywhere – just open your net curtains and you’ll see two or three of them lurching around like zombies. I wanted to know who started the craze but engaging these deeply entranced ones in conversation proved impossible – I was lucky to get a grunt or two.

Determined to find Mister Big, I entered pop-up shop Majik Momentz to confront owner Luke Shifty and his sinister moustache. Far from accepting responsibility or admitting exploitation, he just shrugged and said: ‘We are here to serve our customers and if they want extremely expensive ectoplasm-proof containment units, well, we’re happy to provide them.’

He pointed to a huge pile of what looked like old wooden school pencil-cases dipped in silver glitter. ‘Each and every one has been handled by a magus,’ he added, perhaps confused by my beard and beanie hat into thinking I was a prospective buyer. Highly insulted, I turned on my heel but not before he’d pressed a card into my hand. ‘They’re selling like hot fairy-cakes,’ he shouted after me.

Outside the streets were full of glazed-eyed people holding Majik Momentz fairy boxes. I glanced at Mr Shifty’s card. You had to admit it was the spitting image of him.

At this point, I was barged to the ground by a gangly young man whose eyes never left his box. He seemed not to notice the collision but someone close by shouted: ‘Never mind gawking at business cards, you wanna watch where you’re going!’

It turned out to be the youngster’s parents, following him around to prevent him from walking into the path of a truck. ‘We got him a road-safety app for his last birthday but he’s not even looked at it,’ his mum explained. ‘Oh well, we’re just glad he’s getting some fresh air at long last. He’s not left the house since we got him Grand Theft Auto for his eleventh birthday in 1997.’

I told them it was a lucky 30 year old whose folks still looked out for him in this day and age. They beamed with pleasure so I asked them why their son was such a keen collector of fairies. ‘Oh,’ said his dad with a careless shrug, ‘he says we gotta marshal the forces of goodness and light against the powers of evil darkness or summat.’

His mum nodded. ‘He’s always on about this Armadillo business.’

‘Armageddon?’ I ventured.

‘Yeah, whatever … anyway, it’s always Us and Them with him.’

‘Not us, though,’ added his father with a face like a sucked lemon. ‘He says we’d be about as much use in The Final Battle To End All Battles as a couple of blocked peashooters.’

‘Never mind,’ his mum added, ‘we’re just happy he has a hobby.’

 

Postscript: I later found out that the photograph on Luke Shifty’s card was in fact the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, posing with real fairies. I mention this fraudulent act of impersonation in case you are thinking of patronising Majik Momentz any time soon.

 

Images:        companymanvintage.com        http://www.pinterest.com                                                                                                                       

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What if?

My recent trawl through stuff I’ve copied down unearthed this little puzzle:

What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

from Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, s.341, Walter Kaufmann transl.

Nietzsche doesn’t make it clear whether you’d begin your new life knowing you’d lived it before, Groundhog Day style.

If you did know then it wouldn’t be exactly the same, would it? You’d be able to tweak your actions and responses like Bill Murray did to come up with a different outcome. If you didn’t know then it wouldn’t matter how many times you lived it because it would always come as a complete surprise. Also unexplained is whether the demon allows you to go on living some more after he’s told you of the eternal recurrence, thereby giving you the chance to make your life one worth reliving.

Maybe I’m overthinking it. What if? is always hypothetical, releasing us from the deadly grip of realism in our daily lives. Nietzsche came to reject all supernatural and metaphysical beliefs but he was open to the idea of heaven on earth, the possibility of which his imperfect but thought-provoking little scenario above seems to signal.

Me, I haven’t a clue what my reaction would be … gnashing and cursing … grinning and craving … who knows?

How about you?

From the Archives

Over the years, whenever I came across a wise saying I wrote it down. I have lists as long as your arm and the other day I blew the dust off and started to read through them.

Blimey, as that great cockney music-hall star Ian Dury used to sing, There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards!

Hmm, not sure about all of those but here are some sayings that really struck me second time around, loosely organised by theme …

Who am I kidding? It was like trying to herd cats!

I haven’t credited the authors but if you want to know any and can’t find them on Google, let me know and I’ll try to oblige.

  1. Honesty, courage, kindness, humour, wonder – the essentials. In laughter all evil is present, but sanctified and absolved through its own happiness. Active successful natures act, not according to the dictum ‘know thyself’, but ‘will a self and thou shalt become a self’. Become what you are. Invent new values. Re-enchant the world. Seek apotheosis.
  2. What then? No then.
  3. The cause of death is not disease, but birth. Where death is, you are not; where you are, death is not. Death has no place in all the meanings of an enclosed, circular world. Be faithful to the earth. Live each day for the common good as if it is your last. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Life is neither good or bad – it is original. Nothing is true – everything is permitted.
  4. If not now, when?
  5. I is another. As if each illumination was a waking dream, as though the vision were in the beholder and the beholder in the vision. We know more than we can tell. First thought, best thought. Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order. Life is an art form. No artist tolerates reality.
  6. Don’t just do something. Sit there.
  7. Never criticise a man until you’ve walked two miles in his moccasins. Unity – the two that is not two. A true team is greater than the sum of its parts. I, we, all together in you. Unity in diversity. Only connect. Life is a series of successful mistakes. Compose into one and bring together what is fragment and riddle and dreadful chance. Each of us bringing himself together unites the world.
  8. If not you, who?
  9. Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater as our might grows smaller. In dark times the eye begins to see. The owl of Minerva flies at dusk. When the heart weeps at what it has lost, the spirit laughs at what it has found.
  10. Love is all you need.

Brexit Or Bust?

Your up-to-the-minute round-up of what’s been going on in Bafflesby since the referendum

 

A post-referendum opinion poll of Bafflesby residents has revealed a surprising level of ignorance about what’s going on. People were asked to say which of the following statements was least false:

  • I know what’s going on
  • I know what I know about what’s going on
  • I don’t know what I know about what’s going on
  • I know what I don’t know about what’s going on
  • I don’t know what I don’t know about what’s going on
  • I don’t know what’s going on

If the poll shows anything, says pollster Poli Putaketelon, it’s that asking the wrong questions can make it more difficult to find the right answers.

Gore King, the director of Bafflesby Art Gallery, has suggested the answers to the conundrums of life are to be found in paintings. ‘Stare long enough at a Jackson Pollock,’ he told us, ‘ and your brain does the rest.’

Let us know if it works for you. And while we’re asking for your opinion – hell, everyone else is, why shouldn’t we? – we’ve whittled down the choices for the new Bafflesby Town Song to these three, so which do you think it should be?

 

Meanwhile the battling campaign manager of Bafflesby Bremain, Innis Best, isn’t about to throw in the towel. He has unearthed an ancient borough by-law that appears to allow the town to ignore any decrees “devis’d by public deceivers or impos’d by mob rule”. Brexit, according to the indefatigable Mr Best, qualifies on both counts. ‘We are hoping our brave example will encourage parliament to throw out this upstart nonsense and start up a sensible discussion about what’s really going on.’

One early casualty of the business downturn following Brexit is the The Bafflesby School of Satire which is closing its doors for the final time. Founder and Principal Burl Esk explained that the real world has become so strange that it’s now sending itself up without expert help. ‘The situation out there is beyond satire,’ he added, before shooting himself with a comedy gun.

 

 

 

Images:     http://www.redbubble.com       http://www.freerepublic.com   ly

Brexit Blues

I posted this on Facebook because I was tempted to unfriend people before remembering it was against my principles. The internet is supposed to be helping us create a better world, right? No point just preaching to the converted …

 

Facebook is now awash with nasty gloating from victorious Leavers and anguished laments from disappointed Remainers. I have a perhaps unusually wide range of Facebook correspondents but  I won’t be unfriending anyone.

In return, please don’t bombard me with blatant propaganda or personalised attacks because I want our country to rise above the slanging match we’ve had for far too long and begin a rational, inclusive and even forensic national quest to establish future policy directions we can all agree on.

My pre-referendum posts might not have floated your boat but at least I tried to emphasise hard facts over misleading fictions. And the post-referendum reality is that we face an uphill struggle. We need politicians who can step up to the plate and become statesmanlike, by which I mean, men and women who serve the interests of all sections of society and can perform convincingly on a world stage.

Such people seek the widest possible international cooperation to tackle cross-border issues like trade, crime, poverty, war and environmental damage. Forget the demagogues and mavericks and buffoons. They’ll make us a laughing stock at a time when we need to recover our human dignity and build a common identity. We must keep the equal rights our citizens gained as members of the EU. Decent people seek solidarity and not division. As John Donne said, no man is an island.

We have taken a leap into the dark and people have a perfect right to be angry and fearful. We’re in unknown territory. And if you head off somewhere weird, expect to hear from me.

Don’t worry. You can always unfriend me.

I’ll let you know if I get any response.

A Common Culture

Rather than wake this post-referendum morning to a nightmare, I chose to imagine we British had embarked on a marvellous adventure. Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes. Cellophane flowers of yellow and green, towering over your head. Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone … gone … gone … gone … and then I woke up!

Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly. What fun he had, doing as he pleased! He did not know he was Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and found himself to be Zhou. He did not know whether Zhou had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly had dreamed he was Zhou.

This familiar moment of waking confusion illustrates the phenomenon of human empathy, our extraordinary ability to imagine what it is like to be others. Written well over 2000 years ago in China, it also shows an awareness of animal consciousness that predates modern science. And after months of bruising debate, we Brits have to stop treating the other side as less than human and rediscover our fellow-feeling. This could take a bit of humour to achieve.

Humour is another word for perspective and we might take a lesson from the French philosopher and writer Michel de Montaigne, writing a mere 500 years ago on his love of viewing things from different perspectives:

When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her?

Who awakes and who dreams here? Is the cat or the writer the prime mover? Or are they cooperating in a shared reality that neither can grasp without the other?

Where do I end and you begin? It’s a question no easier to answer than the famous Zen teaser – what is the sound of one hand clapping? For all our airs and graces, I’ve heard it said that complicated creatures like ourselves exist only as taxi services for billions of bacteria. Bill Hicks called homo sapiens ‘a virus in shoes’, though he probably wasn’t thinking about our function as high-rise housing for germs. Can we make a larger claim for ourselves, I wonder?

Some people don’t like being called animals. Some people think the earth was created in seven days four thousand years ago, along with all the pretty sky lanterns. Me, I’m just happy to host four billion years of evolution and love my slow-cooked triple brain with its reptile instinct for survival, mammal feeling for emotion, human capacity for … er, well, for … hmm, jury is still out on that one!

Some people even argue we’ve devolved. They could be right, given we all descend from the limited gene-pool of a few thousand individuals interbreeding to keep warm between ice ages. Brrr … thank goodness we invented global warming!

Whoops, back to the drawing board! Proving our worth turns out to be an act of creativity, if not downright invention. At least Wordsworth got it right: the child is father to the man. Paradox is the only truth, it seems, unless it isn’t. When we were kids, two little words could thrill like no others: let’s pretend. This was an invitation to suspend disbelief and conspire to create an alternative reality. No worries about who we were back then – it was all about who we could become. And love was all you’d need.

Egged on by masters of children’s literature like Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Grahame, AA Milne and Spike Milligan (click his name for my fan letter!) there was nothing I loved more than to create serialised stories and puppet plays and strip cartoons for the entertainment of my friends and siblings. I was never into solo gratification – my biggest kick was always experiencing other people’s pleasure. Above all, I tried to make them laugh. My humour would later take a satirical turn with Monty Python and Pete & Dud and Joe Orton, but let’s stick with 1963  when I discovered the magical surrealism of Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury.

Suddenly Let’s Pretend became What If? The coldest winter for years found me on the back doorstep with a new library book. I’d returned from school and my parents were late home. I didn’t have a key so I sat down in the ice and snow and started reading. The book was Bradbury’s Silver Locusts, later renamed The Martian Chronicles. When they arrived a couple of hours later, I’d finished it without even noticing the cold. I’d been somewhere else.

13 is an impressionable age. A few months later I first saw the Beatles on children’s television – my post A Life in Music describes this and other unforgettable cultural encounters. The girls made lots of noise but we boys were just as astonished. Nobody could have predicted the Moptops – the patronising nickname the British press gave them – nor guessed the effect they were soon to have on a USA still stunned from the death of their inspirational young president.

The world needed a miracle and the Beatles were it. Their story resembles a new myth: four heroes go on a quest to Hamburg and return with the holy grail, the keys to a kingdom, only they turned out to be musical ones. Suddenly, Tin-Pan Alley’s manufactured stars with feet of clay had to make way for a scruffy bunch of ordinary blokes with their feet on the ground and the attitude of a playground gang out to conquer the world. They watched each other’s backs.

John was leader of his own band but he let Paul in because he recognised his own limitations. That selfless act set the pattern for collaboration. In the early days they wrote ‘playing into each other’s noses’. Paul came up with She was just seventeen, never been a beauty queen, a naff line which John changed to You know what I mean – at once vague and packed with sexual innuendo. This photo, taken by Paul’s brother Mike, actually shows them composing the song in Paul’s living room!

When John sang ‘You Gotta Hide Your Love Away’ to Paul, two foot tall became two foot small by mistake but Paul liked it and it stayed. Paul suggested I can give you golden rings, I can give you anything, Baby I love you. John laughed and they came up with the much tougher, raunchier Drive my car.

The examples multiply. Paul suggested John develop a story in ‘Norwegian Wood’. John provided Paul’s ‘Michelle’ with the bluesy edge of a repeated I love you. ‘Eleanor Rigby’, whose grave was later discovered yards from where John and Paul first met, contains lines from all four Beatles and one ex-member.

They held their ears to the tracks. ‘Here, There & Everywhere’ took its shimmering quality from ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys. The Lovin Spoonful’s ‘Daydream’ inspired ‘Good Day Sunshine’ – fitting, perhaps, after founders Sebastian and Yanovsky met at Mama Cass’s house to see the Beatles TV debut which gave them the idea of forming a band that wrote songs. The same show kickstarted the Byrds.

And like the Byrds, influenced by Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney moved away from their early ‘Moon in June’ lyrics to autobiography and social comment. ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ were the results of a pact between John and Paul to write about their childhoods. ‘A Day In The Life’ combined contrasting but complementary songs from John and Paul, a trick they’d first pulled in ‘We Can Work It Out’. John suggested the Question and Answer pattern of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, intended as a singalong for Ringo. And in 1995 the surviving Beatles worked on a demo from John to produce ‘Free As A Bird’. Paul said, ‘We came up with this holiday scenario. I rang up Ringo and said let’s pretend John’s gone on holiday and he’s sent us a cassette and said finish it up for me.’

Yeah, let’s pretend 

… no good, my imaginative powers are not what they were! I wish these words were still worth something this morning but the light is harsh and the voice of the young has gone unheard …

 

 

Images:   http://www.youtube.com   tumblr.austinkleon.com    thesipadvisor.com

 

 

 

 

Last Laugh?

Tomorrow Britain votes on whether to leave or remain in the EU. The campaign hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs and – whatever the outcome – our battle scars will last for some time.

Here’s a wonderful spoof of the What have the Romans ever done for us? sketch in the Monty Python film Life of Brian to lighten the mood a little and remind everyone of one thing we Brits do supremely quite well – ironic humour!