Tag: true life stories

Part of the Problem?

It behoves us oldsters once in a while to put aside the comforting toys of our second childhood and consider the state of the world we leave our children. Against a background of rising inequality and failing ecology that surpasses the foggy 19th century, we witness religious upheaval that seems to emerge from murky mediaeval mists. Wasn’t the Enlightenment supposed to banish the Dark Ages for good? And who in the egalitarian and optimistic 1960s would have predicted such a lurch into irrationalism and tribal conflict?

E.P. Thompson in his brilliant book The Making of the English Working Class (1963) suggested that history showed a desperate oscillation between periods of political activism and religious fervour: whenever one was seen to fail, the other would be tried once more. And as in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm … if my own experience is anything to go by.

I was a churchgoer as a child and would sit in my pew searching for spiritual illumination through stained-glass windows with the best of them. Left to my own devices I would later climb tall trees to the sound of church bells, as if to gain a higher perspective. The voice that came to me in the wind through the leaves spoke a different truth than the preacher below. Two voices, then, and both of them in my head still …

 

“I am an actor mouthing another’s words, my days spent in drab rehearsal for the cavalcade that shimmers behind death’s parting curtain. I want to know nothing beyond scripture, for it is blasphemy to search out divine purposes. I seek only to assuage an angry deity, despising and even persecuting those who fail to observe the little rituals and shibboleths that may keep the wrath of heaven at bay. I think of Us and Them. I am generous to those whose ways I approve because I yearn for eternal reward. No matter what else I may say, my one concern is personal salvation.”

 

“I search for the voice that nature and experience will give me, each day until my last a new voyage of discovery. I want to know everything because I seek to become as whole as the world. My happiness and security are founded in the union of equals. I think only of Us. I study the ways of every creature and strive to be generous to all. I do not fear death because it brings value to life, which I hold sacrosanct.”

 

A third voice might point out that the other two are polar opposites, exaggerated and even caricatured. Most of us are strung out on a ragged continuum between those positions, with many believers more charitable and many non-believers more selfish. My only question in these turbulent times would be,  which perspective is most conducive to peace?

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Grumpy Old Muso Rant #1

Anyone else had an experience like this?

I am standing in a dense crowd near the stage in own little musical bubble, with the funky keyboards of Booker T Jones swirling around my head. Suddenly, I am barged from behind and forced to stagger forward. A small woman has pushed past me to take a photograph of the organ maestro. I shrug and get back in the groove. It happens again. The third time, I turn to her, moved to say something polite but firm.

Me   Look, if you want to take a photo just tap me on the arm and I’ll move aside. The pushing kinda breaks the spell …

She  You’re rude, you are!

Me    Oh, and shoving me in the back without warning isn’t?

She   (leaving for the back) You’ve spoilt my evening, you have!

I turn to watch her go and am confronted by a little guy with two large henchmen.

He     That’s my missus you’ve been slagging off, mate …

Me     Well, actually, it’s the other way around. I was standing there enjoying the music, when …

He      Button it … there’s people here trying to enjoy the show!

That is rich. And his pet Neanderthals – no offence to that unfortunate species – manage to look offended on behalf of the whole audience. I leave, but only to find a bouncer. Once I’ve told him the problem and he’s reassured me that I can rely on him if there’s any trouble, I go back to stand exactly where I was when so – yes – rudely interrupted. The sound is perfect there and besides, a principle is at stake.

I’m trying to get back in the bubble but now I can’t help wondering why people have to take photos at moments of particular musical intensity, oblivious to the enjoyment of others around them? And why do people sitting down insist that others, inspired to stand up and dance, move out of their personal sightline to the stage when the generous thing would be to enjoy the dancers’ joyful abandon? Is visual obsession the new fascism … oh, buggeration, the gig’s over! 20130114-cellphone-595-1358196043-650x0

Swimming Against The Stream

5 April, 1982, is a day I shall always remember. All afternoon the TV news showed huge crowds waving hundreds and hundreds of union jacks at departing battleships bound for the South Atlantic. The British Task Force was setting off to recapture the Falkland Islands, seized by Argentina just three days earlier. We watched in stunned silence, hardly able to believe our eyes. The speed and scale of it was overwhelming. Oh well, I said in a loud voice to no one in particular, they must know what they’re doing.

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In the kitchen, a pan crashed to the floor. My mother had heard me. She hurtled into the lounge in her apron and in no uncertain terms proceeded to read me the riot act. Her actual words are now a blur but that righteous anger of hers brings a blush to my cheek to this very day.  I can still see my kids on the floor where they were playing, open-eyed and open-mouthed, their faces turned up to watch and hear their grandma – kind, gentle, sweet-natured grandma – tearing into their dad as if he was still a small child himself and one who had been brought up to know much better than to spout such stupid nonsense.

My mum began to hurl imprecations at my head like the Fury in a Greek drama, o ye gods, how on earth could I have forgotten that the Americans had promised they would mediate between us and the Argentinians at the United Nations? Surely I could see that this ridiculous trumped-up farrago of force and hubris was designed to pre-empt negotiations which might yet save lives? This was just another shabby deal behind closed doors, a dirty conspiracy between the hawks in the States and Whitehall, yet one more lost opportunity to employ ‘jaw-jaw not war-war’ … her words return to me in fragments … ‘that man Haig’ … ‘she wants her way, they’re all terrified of her‘ ‘the old, old story’

Once my Mum got going like that, there was no stopping her.

Oh, I try but I can’t really reply to her. There are things I could say in defence of the British action, if only I could think of them, but I’m entirely absorbed in how my kids are reacting to this new and unexpected experience. Their eyes skitter between grandma and daddy, taking in her beautiful anger and my sheepish submission. My cheeks are still burning, more than thirty years later, but now it’s pride and gratitude that lights them up.

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I’m so glad they got to see her like that, in her true colours, flying before the wind of her indomitable human conscience. Whenever she disagreed with something you said, she would use a phrase which she got from her dad who must have heard it from one of his own forebears, a phrase that has always stayed with me … Never, she would say, never in the memory of man

Mum believed that the United Nations was at the summit of all human striving for a better world. She agreed with Thomas Jefferson that the price of freedom was eternal vigilance. And there was no one more vigilant than she, especially when others were climbing on a bandwagon going the other way. That April afternoon, amid all the bunting flying and ships’ horns tooting, never in the memory of man was her contrary clarion call.

And now it was a touchstone my own children would inherit.

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