I spent several days with him, cycling and drinking, talking and cycling.
Although his bike fitness wasn’t fully there, it was still enough to pull me along. We went along coastal routes, alongside pristine beaches, and through forests that were the haunt to the British Royal family. My initial impression was that Wales was wonderful. It took a little while to see that it was empty.
The house that my friend was renovating was in real need of assistance. Almost three hundred years old, it had spent the last forty slowly falling in on itself. Although he had replaced the roof, the interior was just a shell. As part of my active re-engagement with myself and the world, I had offered to work on the renovation with him. This was less than a month into my illness but the sun was out, I was exercising and my friend was managing to make me laugh. I was all set for the therapy that was working with ones hands.
I have done such labour before and find that the lack of thinking it affords me allows for a Zen-like clearance of the head’s hidden junk. I was not the only helper as the next door neighbour, a bull-like ex-soldier of seventy was on hand to help in every way that he could. He showed some interest in me especially when he learnt that my last name was originally Welsh. Apparently that carried some kudos. It wasn’t long before he started to venture into the kingdom of opinions.
“So, what do you think about Pakis?”
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”
It appears that vocalising opinions is becoming the norm. First Farage and then Trump made it seem obvious that expressing any opinion, openly, was just part of freedom of speech. It was democracy in action. Using bigoted language was only a case of saying it how you saw it; a spade is a spade and all that. What Chomsky wrote was to the point; if you narrow the arena of debate then you can admit all types of opinions, each being intrinsically ‘acceptable’. Our spectrum for discussion has now been limited to the fairly straightforward assertions that I am right, the old democratic system is wrong and the Right is right. In short, you can say anything you wish regardless of how much it hurts others or acts as a passport to prejudice. Although this old Welsh pensioner didn’t understand the implications of what he would say, he thought that he had the right to say it anyway.
I tried shrugging it off, turning to my work, and attempting to block him out. It was like meeting a nutter on a bus, one of those who deliberately target you with their nonsensical ramblings. The best way to deal with them is to induce coma-like symptoms and stare out of the window; or simply lick it.
“Don’t say that to Matt, he’s not racist,” warned my friend, but there was something in his voice that suggested that this was less of a warning than it sounded. I was thinking red rags.
The response of the helpful neighbour was a look of astonishment. Surely it was not possible that somebody, a teacher at that, could possibly like foreigners. He attempted friendship, believing that he was being hoaxed. His fear was that we were pulling his leg and that he was the centre of our conspiratorial joke. He looked towards my friend with a smile that was borne out of a plea for enlightenment.