The Second Coming

I’ve been very lax about posting things this year and I think part of the reason (although it’s no excuse) may be that I find it hard to be entertaining or funny in the present socio-political climate, and I’d prefer anyone reading this to finish it feeling better than when they started. So a spoiler alert is in order – this time, you won’t.  Why not? Because nothing I’ve read or heard anywhere comes close to expressing my fears and despair better than the concluding poem.

Fears? Despair? I’m supposed to be the bloke who’s never been a depressive, finds lots of things funny, lives in the moment. Ha, maybe that’s it – maybe it’s the fault of ‘the moment’. But hang on a minute, I wrote most of what you’re about to read and posted it on another blog at a different ‘moment’ in February 2016. It was when, despite all the cock-ups, the ravages of austerity and the Old Etonian clan’s clear contempt for us lower orders, bloody Cameron (remember him?) got voted back in. And that’s one of the reasons for my title.

But it’s a title that’s been used many times before, specifically, as far as this blog’s concerned, by two writers. The first is John Niven, whose novel, The Second Coming is hilarious and not only envisages the sort of heaven I’d love to spend time (indeed, eternity) in but also gives a highly believable version of how the story of Jesus might repeat itself in a 21st  century context. I’ll get to the second writer later.

As well as having already appeared well over a year ago, the most, indeed only, powerful bit of this post was not even written by me. Sometimes, though, we need our real writers, our geniuses, to capture things, movements, stresses, fears, Jungian and Freudian nightmares which the rest of us apprehend but can’t satisfactorily fix in words. It’s not being melodramatic to find the prevailing political ideologies and rhetoric sinister, dangerous and potentially toxic.

Hang on, though – that’s how I felt in February 2016. Since then, Brexit, Trump, the feeble nobodies in (nominal and, unfortunately, actual) charge of the UK, and the fact that we’re a laughing stock in Europe and world-wide makes it seem like a Golden Age.

The messages coming down from our ‘superiors’ (i.e. Theresa May, Boris Johnson, David Davis, and the absurd Liam Fox) are predictable: ‘England’s wonderful because it had an empire; won the war; has the mother of parliaments; can manage without foreigners who, by definition, are substandard; has better human rights than Europe. Yeah, go us! Health and education are in good shape (if you can afford them). Any infrastructure still in public hands? Flog it. Single mothers? On your bikes. Tax evaders? Help yourselves. European Union? Nah, we’re bigger and better than that. Trump? What a guy!’

But, as I said, there’s nothing new there. The trouble is that – impossibly, one would have thought – it’s actually getting worse: the opening up of sour divisions between citizens who face the same ‘enemies’, share the same interests; the good old divide and rule. It’s cynical, insulting, driven by self-interest, ignorance and darkness and we’re letting it happen so here in the UK we deserve to have our arses kicked out of the organisation that’s been subsidising so much of our ‘progress’ in recent decades.

And here’s where my second title source comes in.

One morning, I heard on BBC Radio 4 a very familiar poem, written for a different troubled time (and, coincidentally, by a man with sometime fascist leanings) which (spookily) summed up the fears I had and have about what the outcomes of ‘our’ referendums and choice of government may prove to be. It’s the W. B. Yeats poem The Second Coming. It was written in 1919 but its opening stanza is almost a literal description of recent events and its shudder-inducing final image may well represent a real future.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Rule Britannia, eh?

 

Brother Ron Wonders about his Potentially Damaging Assertiveness

Brother Ron Wonders about his Potentially Damaging Assertiveness

 

A piece of advice: if you’re a lazy bugger like me and fall behind in your blogging, find a brother like mine. He wrote the previous blog here and, before I had time to be shamed into writing something myself, he’s sent me another. As before, it takes the shape of a plea to an ‘agony brother’ and chronicles another incident in the life of someone who’s good, nice, tolerant, patient and all the other things I’m not. However, this time it seems that his ‘Shadow Self’ (see either Karl Jung or read my book Shadow Selves) peeped through the mask. So, first, to get you in the mood, a picture of my daughter’s cat Audrey and my feet, then Ron’s piece, called

ASSERTIVENESS

A neighbour and her husband called on us recently, introducing themselves – let’s call them Caligulee and Caligula. But it wasn’t a social call: they needed our help to find their missing cat which, they were told, was in or near our garden. The device that ‘told’ them was in Caligula’s hand. A tracking device, about the size of a playing card, beeping and flashing to indicate the cat’s – let’s call him Severus – location.

The device beeped faster as we walked down the garden. I became almost interested, especially when things took a more sinister turn. Aficionados among you will know that the thing which was sending the signal was attached not to Severus but to his collar. Caligula was showing us that, according to the tracker, the cat had to be just beyond our hedge, about six feet up. Since there weren’t any cat sounds, it was impossible not to conclude that Severus had hung himself by his collar while chasing a bird or a squirrel. If only. I was robbed of this possibility when Caligula told us it was a safety collar, designed to pop off under any stress or pressure. So we weren’t really looking for a cat but for its collar. Four adults, up to their knees in stinging nettles, effectively clearing up the mess left by an errant cat.

Caligulee talked about Severus as one would a wayward teenager:

“He knows he’s got to be in by eight o’clock. That’s when he’s fed, on the dot. And we’ve got this cat flap that locks behind him… except, when we got home the other night, there was another cat in the kitchen and Severus was locked out. Honestly, he knows he’s being naughty.”

Then the bombshell which went some way to explaining our garden search.

“That collar and the tracker cost £100.”

And all this while, when we should have been assertively saying, “Look, we’re sorry but we’ve just got to finish butchering the pet rabbit we’re having for dinner,” we were meekly engaging with these fetishists, even to the point of my wife – let’s call her Gulliblena – saying, “If we’re not here just come in round the side. The gate’s not locked.”

But, after forty minutes, we exchanged phone numbers and promised, on our part, to keep our eyes, and gates, open. Caligula rang a couple of hours later to tell us all was well.

“He’d sneaked in while we were at yours, the little blighter, scoffed his meal and was curled up in his favourite seat.”

“Ah, bless,” I might have said, avoiding the temptation to advise that he secure the collar several notches tighter next time. On reflection, and rather like their blessed cat, we weren’t put out too much and anyway, if you can’t do a good turn for your neighbour…

… then do another one, like I did three days later. I’d just poured myself a drink and was settling down to watch the news when the doorbell rang. It was Caligula, on his own this time, but clutching his bleeper and, expecting me to echo his sham world-weary shrug which said, “It’s off again”.

I couldn’t hide behind Gulliblena, who was elsewhere. It was raining and Caligula was protected. I wasn’t, in any sense. Neatly side-stepping the chance to be adult and asking him to come back at a more appropriate time – say Christmas day – I turned up my collar and followed him and his tracker into the garden. Half way down, the beeper was excited into rapid action. Caligula sent me into where the lead/cat must be, bang in the middle of a freshly planted flower bed and, sure enough, there it was: not a bug-eyed moggy in its last throes, but £100 worth of yellow velcro.

Before you all shower me with advice (and condemnation, given what might appear to be anti-feline attitudes in this blog) I have to say that all happened two weeks ago. I haven’t heard from Caligula and the side gate seems to have remained untouched so, something in my demeanour, or something I said, must have hinted at my true state of mind and put him off. Perhaps it was the blood on my hands, unwashed since I cut myself sticking broken glass on the top of the adjoining fence.

 

Postcards from the Hedge, a guest post by brother Ron

 

I don’t normally write to agony aunts (or brothers in this case) but I’m seeking advice from those I’m sure will know. At the very least, there’s a short story plot tucked into the back pocket of my dilemma somewhere. Incidentally, I’m wary of giving free plots to the writing community in case they – the plots – turn out to be the last piece in the jigsaw of some budding genius who goes on to take the literary world by storm while I’m trying to sell copies of The Big Issue at their gate. However, as charity is at the centre of one of these fledgling plots, I’ll rely on Bill’s readers to do the right thing.

Rory the Dragon

Take this, for instance, as the final line of a short story set in a model shop; not invented by me but overheard by a friend who was in that shop when the customer ahead of him asked the assistant, ‘That dragon in the window, is it to scale?’

For me, it’s a line that immediately sets off a delicious load of creative synaptic connections and feeds the hungry right half of my brain. (I’ve always treasured the thought that the right half of the brain is the right half of the brain). Alternatively, it’s a neat, finished piece of Flash Fiction which I hereby donate to my brother and his readers.

Here’s another plot, embodied in a piece of ‘found’ material. My neighbour keeps chickens. He gives me their waste for my compost heap. In return, I give him courgettes, strawberries, etc, when they’re in season. So where’s the short story potential in that? Well, because he has a surplus of those charity donation bags which come through the door, he puts the chicken shit in one of those and leaves it by the hedge just inside my gate: just about where I would leave a bag of clothes to be collected by the Salvation Army on, say, a Tuesday morning. So, when my neighbour’s usual ‘gift’ did not appear last Tuesday, I spent a few troubled hours pondering the headlines after my arrest and wondering whether I’d be referred to as ‘elderly’ or ‘pensioner’ or just plain villain:

CHICKEN-SHIT DONOR ‘SICK’ SAYS SALLY ARMY

In my defence, I’d have to say – to the magistrate – that I’d checked the ‘do not include’ on the side of the bag and there’s no mention of manure.

Instead of the germ of a substantial story I mentally felt it might be, the above reads more like an incidental scene from a 1980’s sit-com. Often, what seem in my head to be epic threads turn out to be postcard-length musings.

I was recently having a conversation with my son, Will – who, as you know, also writes – about those epic ideas turning out to be postcards. The conversation went something like this:

ME: It’s like I’ve laboured for months to uncover an aspect of the human condition, only for my reader to notice it was yet another example of… (and here I tried to add a silly, random phrase to elicit a giggle)… I don’t know… Freud’s … Hegehog… Paradox.

WILL: Hey, I was reading about that yesterday.

ME: No, I just made that up.

WILL: No, honestly, look it up. It’s about hedgehogs huddling closer in winter to share warmth but not being able to get too close for obvious reasons. Freud applied this to people and how they seek the warmth of close relationships but recoil if they get too close to others.

Even if that’s not Bill’s old friend, serendipity, it certainly belongs in my ‘weird’ tray.

Which brings me to my dilemma. Dear Bill, I keep getting this pair of junk emails. One asks whether my dating needs are being met and the other invites me to buy a Stannah stair-lift. Are they mutually exclusive? If I bought the stair lift, would riding on it leave me the energy to indulge in whatever might happen at the top of the stairs if I responded to the dating pitch? If I took the dating route, would the consequences lead to a stair lift becoming a physical necessity? If I combined the two…….no, stop it.

* * *

Thanks, Ron. I always enjoy and am grateful for your guest posts. A wee PS, if I may, by way of response to your plea to my ‘Agony Brother’ side. I think your uncertainty about the nature of the relevant processes suggested by your ‘whatever-might-happen’ remark makes your question rhetorical. It did, though, remind me of a friend whose wife suggested recently that they should (quote) ‘rush upstairs and have sex’ (unquote). He had to admit to her that he could do one but not both.