D’you want the bad news?

D’you want the bad news?

The sun’s going to die in 5 billion years.

OK, I suppose it’s possible by then that science will have evolved ways of shrinking us to nanobot size, stacking whole continents of us in a used 35 mm film container and flinging us to another galaxy at (SL)-100, where SL is the speed of light, the brackets don’t really mean anything and the -100 is just a really big number. Or maybe we’ll have dispensed with bodies altogether and just be consciousnesses floating about, trying to shake off the Jungian and Freudian bits that are pulling us back down.

Map_of_the_full_sun
Sun map. Wikimedia commons

But if none of that’s happened, what a drag it’ll be. Sitting on a beach, watching the sun set, and knowing it won’t be back tomorrow. Not only that but, when it explodes or burns out or evaporates or whatever, there’ll just be bits of everything left – probably just as gases. Imagine, a spreading cloud of bits of us, polystyrene coffee cups, the Taj Mahal, all the Popes, Weston-super-Mare, gerbils, Everest (the mountain and the double-glazed windows), Michelangelo’s David, the Da Vinci Code, Judi Dench, and millions of descendants of people who voted for Donald bloody Trump.

Luckily, the way we think about and do things, it’s not our problem. We can’t grasp the idea that space is infinite in both directions – to the vast and the minute. We can’t accept that time doesn’t have a beginning or an end or even that it’s not a progression. There’s no such thing as duration. Yesterday’s inaccessible, tomorrow’s an assumption, all we have and care about is NOW – Beyoncé, Leicester City, gluten-free blancmange, things like that. You can get stone age axes on ebay for a few pounds or dollars. Think of that. Two and a half million years ago, some bloke’s sitting at the mouth of his cave wearing gear that was recently keeping a warthog warm and still smells of it, having no language to speak of and therefore not able to do much creative or purposeful thinking.

Wombourne_axe
Wikimedia Commons.

And he’s using one flint to strike flakes off another one. It takes him ages but the end product is definitely fit for purpose, does what it says on the tin. And today, after all that time, it’s still perfect for what it was designed to do and some other bloke in Wolverhampton or wherever pushes a couple of buttons, pays less than he’d pay for a pint of beer, gets it delivered, and puts it in a drawer along with some old guitar strings, paper clips, penknives, an Eiffel Tower keyring and a small but very attractive box that used to contain something.

I’m not strong on statistics but even I can see that the time between the manufacture of the axe and its purchase by the present owner is exactly half the period left between now and that final sunset. Which means that we have twice as much time to evolve further. The trouble is that a comparison of the two blokes featured in the above transaction suggests that’s not nearly long enough.

The phone conspiracy

I like conspiracy theories. However wild or far-fetched, they freshen our perception of things, break our routines, make us willing to question our assumptions. The alternative is to get stuck in our beliefs, insist that there’s only one way of seeing things. Conspiracy theories are creative – they grab perhaps a partial or possible ‘fact’ and build a complex ‘truth’ with its own coherence, its own persuasive (or not) internal logic. They’re fun.

And the thing that set me thinking about them is a very local one. Visitors to my previous blog may have read a posting I did once about feeling sorry for vitamin pills and toilet rolls. Two of the commenters said they enjoyed it but that it was the silliest blog I’d written whereas its conclusion was in fact a brilliant encapsulation of existential thinking. Anyway, I was suggesting that writers are weird and often make connections that escape others (or, more likely, don’t actually exist). Which is why I think my late telephone was conspiring against me. (I say ‘late’ because, when I replaced it with a new one, I didn’t want anyone to be able to access the contact numbers I’d loaded into it, so I took a hammer to it and, after a long, surprising resistance, it eventually expired – as a phone, although it may have simply transmigrated into another type of existence.)

I have no idea why that phone decided to plot against me. My first suspicion was, obviously, that it was something to do with Rupert Murdoch, but its actions made even less sense than his testimony at the Leveson enquiry. No, its rebellion was more subtle. To begin with, it’s always lied about the level of charge it was carrying, claiming to be empty when it wasn’t. I could live with that. But then … For years, the ring tone had been the conventional brrrr brrrr that’s typical of UK phones. Then, one day, without any intervention on my part, it did the initial brrr brrr then broke into an electronic version of one of the themes of Rossini’s overture to The Barber of Seville. And from then on, that’s what it did every time. OK, I could understand that, too – it hated being stuck in one mode, loathed its own predictability, so decided to branch out.

But then its bid for individuality took a turn which interfered with its function – which was to act as a link between me and others. We went away for a week (to the party I mentioned in the previous blog). When I got back, its little red number thing indicated that there were seven messages for me, but when I listened to them, they were all the same – not the clicks and half-heard conversations you get when someone accidentally dials from a mobile and doesn’t realise they’ve done so, nor the automated sales pitch from some double-glazing or bathroom-fitting company. No, each one was just a recording of my own dialling tone, the one I get when I pick up the phone to make a call. Which is impossible. I called the people most likely to have left messages but none had tried contacting me. It could only have been the phone itself.

I admired its creativity but then the thought struck me: what if Spielberg had been trying to get through to buy the rights of a novel, or the Nobel Prize Committee had wanted to check my availability for the ceremony? And I knew it had to go. I couldn’t let a piece of plastic and some wires come between me and my destiny. Hence the hammer and my new and so far obedient slave.

I still haven’t solved the riddle of this strange conspiracy but trying to do so certainly beats being sensible and serious about everything. And it puts off the need to get back to the WIP..

I am not the way, the truth or the light

I was going to write something about the depressing aftermath of the Tory budget and my anger at smug, lying millionaires telling single mothers et al that we’re all in this together, but my anger is very real, increases with every second I spend thinking about the confidence tricksters who lead us and it gets in the way to such an extent that the results are barely coherent. So instead, a small hymn to spiritual values.

A couple of years back, I speculated about a possible career change and thought it might be interesting to become a guru. I was quite open about it, logged it all in a blog, did a sort of cost-benefit analysis of its viability and even sketched out the specific type of guru genome I had in mind. Non-religious, but tolerant of all faiths, except those requiring human sacrifices; rural rather than urban (depending on the wi-fi coverage); tolerant of chanting and singing, as long as it didn’t happen when there was football on TV – all very commonsensical, reasonable modes of being.

I didn’t fool myself into thinking I could just sit around and be worshipped, or watch my followers worshipping something or somebody else. Worship was only an optional extra. No, I knew I’d have to give a little as well as take as much as I could. So I’d respect the archetype and give my followers access to some inner truth. But, as the archetype demands, it would be a completely arbitrary, relative truth, as meaningless as all the others. Thus I hit on the not-quite-mantra of ‘The sweetness of the butterfly drowns daily in the morning’s echoes’. And, if any of the followers were still troubled, I’d offer them the additional nostrum ‘Feel the swan in your blood’.

I decided too that, if they really expected me to say stuff, I’d do it in parables. So we’d sit around outside (or, from September to May, since this is Aberdeen, inside) the hut, and I’d say something like:

A pregnant woman walked into a baker’s shop and asked if he had a bun in his oven. The baker, who was a kind man, looked at her and said, ‘I have many buns in my oven, along with numerous varieties of cake and countless loaves of bread’.

‘And do you deliver this bounty?’ asked the woman.

‘Indeed,’ replied the baker. ‘I have a white van and travel to towns and villages and back again, unloading its goodness into people’s homes and lives.’

‘And does it taste as good as it smells?’ asked the woman.

‘Alas,’ replied the baker, ‘that I cannot say, for I am wheat intolerant.’

The woman smiled and laid on the counter a small white hanky, edged with Nottingham lace.

The baker unwrapped it to find, inside, the tail feathers of a wren.

‘Bless you,’ he said to the woman.

But she was gone.

That sort of thing was easy but other aspects of the calling might be less so. For example, I spent quite a while trying to devise sentences in which I could include the plural of the word ‘sect’ in such a way that it might be misunderstood or misheard by the followers and consequently lead to more mundane satisfactions to counteract the potentially oppressive excesses of spirituality.

Sadly, though, the anticipated allegiance of gullible humans whose lives were empty enough to seek the comforts of the void I was offering didn’t materialise. I did try articulating the not-quite-mantra at one or two dinner parties but it was met with either ribald merriment or the discreet handing over of business cards by psychiatrists or more successful gurus. I can only think that my gurudom was yet another victim of the credit squeeze and the oppressions of Mammon. (See? We’re back to that.) Never mind, even though our British masters are only intent on accumulating wealth, on the other side of the Atlantic the various millionaires aspiring to lead the Western world place their respective spiritual – and overwhelmingly Christian – values above material ones. It’s a reassuring picture..