When You Are Mad

Drink From The Well, Long And Deep

There was once a wise king that ruled over his people who resided in a vast citadel. The king was feared for his might and admired for his wisdom. And all his subjects revered him.

The citadel had one source of water which was a well in the centre. In the mornings people would gather to pull fresh water from the well and in the evenings they would sit around it in the shade of palm trees. They would chat, share the wisdoms of their king and says thanks for the fact that they lived in such a peaceful place, at such a peaceful time.

But like all good tales, there was darkness waiting beyond the safety of the text.

Somewhere in the wastes, a dark shape was forming and, as the storms began to blow, it moved ever closer to its goal.

With winds and sand battering the walls of the citadel, the citizens took to their homes and locked their doors. Window shutters were bolted into place and the people of this great city settled down to ride out the worst of the tempest. Nobody chose to sit around the sacred well that evening.

During the night, the storm tore at the nerves of the populace and shredded their sleep. Nobody could ever remember such an event as this before. Nothing, not even in the ancient texts, could have matched the ferocity of this night. Eventually however, sleep came and the storm went.

The morning woke with a new day. The clouds of sand had travelled onwards to torment others and the world, though now laden with foreign sand, was returned to itself. The well, well it to had been affected. The last person to leave it the night before had been so afraid of the sandstorm that they did not properly secure its covering and this meant that a considerable quantity of the night’s detritus had become deposited in its confines.

The King shook his head at the state of things and warned his subjects that it would be unwise to drink from the ancient source. He told them that he would send out the city guard to find new sources of water that could be consumed whilst it could be determined if the well was still…well, safe. His people, who had always trusted him, were parched from the  night spent surviving the storm and some crept up to the well at the onset of dusk and began to fill their buckets.

“The King thinks that the well is poisoned,” they whispered, “but maybe it is his own wisdom that has grown sick.’

The next morning, a much larger crowd had gathered and the voices were not so whispered.

“The water tastes good. Here, try some. It is the King who is trying to keep us away from it, so that only he can drink from its depths.”

And word spread of his trick and the people, no longer his people, talked of ways to replace him.

“Why have a King who no longer thinks like his people?” they asked.

In the cool night breeze whilst waiting for his guards to return, the rumours floated towards the King’s residences and he became fearful of their intent. So, that evening, he set off from his courtyards and walked slowly towards the centre of the citadel in which the well was to be found. As he made his way with a golden goblet in hand, the voices stopped and all eyes followed.

A great crowd had gathered at the well to watch the once mighty king follow the popular intent. They watched as he slowly lowered the bucket into the confines of beneath and raise it so that he could dip his goblet into the golden liquid. Before he managed to get the vessel to his lips, he thought that he noticed the faces of demons surrounding him where once stood his beloved people. Nevertheless, he continued and took a fulsome draught of the well’s secrets.

His eyes were the first things to change. He had seen beasts, but now he too was a beast and the world around him rejoiced. The King was wise once more.

ON THEIR WAY BACK TO THE CITADEL, THE GUARD HEARD STORIES OF A STRANGE WALLED CITY IN WHICH ALL THE INHABITANTS HAD BECOME THINGS OF MADNESS; EVEN THE ONCE WISE KING. IT BROKE THEIR HEARTS NOT TO RETURN TO THE PLACE THEY HAD ONCE CALLED THEIR HOME, BUT THEY RODE ON AND FOUND NEW PLACES TO LIVE. 

A TIME WILL COME WHEN THE WHOLE WORLD WILL GO MAD. AND TO ANYONE WHO IS NOT MAD, THEY WILL SAY,

“YOU ARE MAD, FOR YOU ARE NOT LIKE US.”

Read After Racism

Say what you want as long as it’s rightwing and racist.   

We are in a different world to the one that I left approaching three years ago. If I had fallen into a deep sleep, as I did, and awoken, as I did to this new place, I would have sworn that I had been transported to a parallel universe, an inversion of what I had previously thought of as normal.

Normal: natural, standard, ordinary, regular, accustomed, routine, traditional, commonplace, general, mean.

Normal is a behaviour that can be predicted by having had contact or observed other behaviour that has occurred in similar situations. It is normal for me to wake up in the morning, turn to my wife and greet her. It is normal for me then to make, or she to make, a cup of tea for us to share over our then normal routine of reading articles from the news and then discussing them.

I am aware that this normality is not shared by others and I accept that that too is normal. The world is made up of folks who use different strokes and that is normal. People are normally real quite normal which means that they are not supernormal, paranormal, or abnormal. Okay, so some people are all of the above and more. And that’s normal (ish).

So, you see that I am quite inclusive in the normal sense of the word and inclusive of what normality should entail. My years have allowed me to accept a variety of deviations from my understanding of normal. Normal being that picture of behaviour that is untroubling, unperturbing, unthreatening, and under-floor-heating (unusual for many who were not about at the time of ancient Rome). 

And now he gets to the point.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dogs and cats, the point that I am getting to is this:

When did the world stop being so bloody normal? 

There is a conspiracy of silence guarding the exits. I was wishing for an uncomfortable pause, a pregnant passing of moments of time; something that alerted me to the possibility that other people were worried by this.

Nothing.


Ingredients for Rabble-Rousing

Arguing The Indefensible

Washington (CNN)

“After puzzling comments about 19th Century abolitionist Frederick Douglass and marveling that no one knew Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, President Donald Trump has just unloaded another historical non sequitur. In the latest strange aside, Trump said that Andrew Jackson, the populist rabble-rousing President with whom he has begun to claim political kinship, had strong thoughts about the Civil War — even though he died 16 years before the conflict broke out.

There comes a point when somebody takes out a soap box, or position at the head of others, in order to begin a blabber about what they have just read in their version of brilliant insight (usually provided by a newspaper prior to it being used to wrap up fish and chips). They state the unnacceptable as if it is a demystification of all that we have been blinded into believing. They may even throw in some dubious facts or statistics in order to bolster their case. The facts are the facts and are indisputable.

Let’s take slavery.

It’s now come to light that most people subjected to slavery actually prefer it as a form of existence that is free from responsibility. Indeed, slaves had the best of deals because they didn’t have to find work and make horrible choices such as, “What to do on a free afternoon.” The slave owners shouldered the responsibility of providing accommodation and inventing suitable punishments that would deter pesky dissenters (runaways). If it hadn’t been for the ‘do gooding’ rabble rousers everything would have been just fine and all those decent citizens would not have had to die in the carnage that was the Civil War.

As President Trump pointed out, it was a shame that Andrew Jackson had not chosen to die a little later as he would have avoided such a situation. Such a prescient president (Trump not Jackson). 
 

And that leads us to some of the ingredients for a successful “rabble rousing”:

  1. Don’t rely on the facts if you don’t agree with them.
  2. Reshape history in any way that you wish, to suit your agenda.
  3. Ignore logic.
  4. Speak to the lowest common denominator in your audience (the guy at the back with extra lardage and drippling from the mouth).
  5. Don’t avoid hate-filled speeches. Indeed, embrace them as they tend to excite the massess (especially fat drooler at the back).
  6. Speak with conviction as these days you are not likely to be convicted for anything that may encourage violence.
  7. Demonise your ‘snowflake’ targets and mock their ‘neo-liberalist’ views.
  8. Point people towards the lessons of history (there would now be no middle-eastern problems if Hitler had been left to get on with it). Indeed, there would be no race problems if trendy lefties had not been allowed to portray other races, that were not WASP, as being vaguely human.
  9. Read widely, within the narrow confines of your skewed views and quote often. Point out that Shakespeare was a racist and anti-semite as this will get under the skin of the so-called intellectual elite.
  10. Do not suffer a reasoned, rational or fair response.
  11. Take anything from holy scripture that will serve your cause and ignore all else. Rewrite The Bible. Edit out The New Testament.
  12. Do as John Lennon would have suggested, “Make War Not Love” 

And A Merry Christmas, One And All!

Fascist Proofing For Beginners

“Are you a communist?”
“No I am an anti-fascist”
“For a long time?”
“Since I have understood fascism.” 
― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

It’s becoming evident that the right to be ‘ultra-right’ has become embedded in our everyday culture and conversations.

The pendulum has swung the other way.

Being a Fascist is now fashionable; it marks you out as a thinker, a person who takes on the Neo-Liberal Totalitarianism which only scantily clads itself in democratic attire. It also marks you out as a ‘unique’ who is able to see through the bullshit that the Loony Lefties throw at you. On top of this, you become the purveyor of home-spun wisdom, a creator of common sense, and a destroyer of snowflake sensibilities.

It’s becoming right-on to become ultra right.

And so say all of them. 

So, we have been thrown out of the paradise of post World War optimism and having to knock together a workable doctrine for our future preservation and well-being. And many have returned to the old blue-prints, re-fashioning dated ideologies whilst updating age-old atrocities of intolerance. All this while the rest of us sit back and watch, unable to change the channel, incapable of escaping our direst memories of the re-run of the re-run of the re-run. We squirm through every leaden line of dialogue and wince at the inevitability of the script.

It all ends in much more than tears.

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; andtherefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

                                                                                                        John Donne

In the Attic

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At the top of our house sits the attic.

It is a part of our home in the same way that deeply forgotten thoughts are a part of our lives. It houses (it warehouses) those things that are no longer relevant to our current lives: old records, VHS videos, children’s Christmas presents (old ones), books, sleeping bags and Christmas tree lights.

We were up there again, commenting on the damp, and finding things that we really should have thrown out. I am the one who keeps things. I think that everything has its place in life and to discard the unwanted may somehow be wrong. My wife likes to clean out so as not to collect too much baggage and possible nonsense.

So, as a recently recovered madman, I agreed with her. Throw, throw, throw. But it’s Sunday and the tip is closed. The wife loves the tip, I sometimes think more than she loves the present. The tip is a clean break, a fresh start, a cleansing. I just see lots of memories thrown into piles in skips that don’t care.

The attic was cold and there was a definite kiss of damp. the edges of some old books had curled and some odd growth had settled among reports from my middle-daughter’s primary school. They were of no use, but it was somehow wrong to confine them to the eternity of refuse.

At moments like this, I find it impossible to reason with my wife. She is right and I am emotionally wrong. I would hoard everything as a way of keeping the memories alive.

She found a bag of letters and she told me to take them downstairs. When we sat at the dining table and examined our find, it was like uncovering the remains of an Iron-Age burial mound.

There were letters from people whose names we hardly recognised, but to whom we must have been really close to at one time. There were letters from people from whom we had strayed in the intervening years and we wondered at the changes that life had inflicted. There were letters from still close friends that unveiled a long forgotten aspect to their personalities, lines that could prompt genuine amusement all these years later. There were postcards. There were photographs. The captured images revealed us over twenty five years previously and we had to look at ourselves to be double sure.

And then there was the phone book. Numbers written a quarter of a century before. Numbers that would no longer ring or connect. Numbers that trailed off into a stifled eternity.

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For some reason, I wanted to dial those numbers and defy the time in between.

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Some day somebody may answer.  

 

Wise Men Say…

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My childhood was dominated by memories of The King. Elvis Presley, Aaron to be more precise. My mother was in love. She was smitten with this hip-shaking, breath-taking, king of Rock and Roll. We were the family from The Commitments who could not conceive that there was anything better than the lip-curling kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, the voice of a generation before us and one that could not be beaten. Our commitment to The King was complete and it was cemented with our mother’s undying love.

At that point, we never realised that she had another love, one that could never be requited; Rock Hudson. 

I had a particularly bad singing voice. People would stop me in the street just to complain to me about it. You see I loved singing, but singing didn’t love me. Unless I did Elvis Presley songs. Elvis and I, I like to think, were joined at the spiritual hip. We were both working class lads whose middle name began with A (mine was for Andrew not Aaron). For some reason, and this may have been only me who heard this, we both sounded like each other. I would practice at night upon going to bed. It would start with something rocky like King Creole and then move into a couple of love songs, Love me Tender and Only Fools Rush In. that helped to set the scene. With each hip-rolling lyric I was being transformed into The King. I even learned to roll my lip the way he did.

In the sixties, Elvis started to become a little uncool. He started making excrutiatinlgy unbearable films (movies to my American cousins) such as Kissin’ Cousins and Clambake. Regardless of being an Elvis Presley devotee, I kept it quiet if I ever watched these on Saturday afternoons. I did like Flaming Star, a decent western in which he showed a little acting ability and obviously Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and…the list is not endless. Still, I believed that I was becoming Elvis.

My mother loved Elvis whilst my father mocked him a little. Dad was a Frank Sinatra fan and, possibly like me, saw much of himself in his idol. He would never admit that he followed Frank, it was not manly and was certainly not the done thing in working-class West Yorkshire. I tried to keep my Elvis to myself. My mother swooned when one of his songs would be aired on the radio. She positively melted when he was on TV.

“He can only sing certain songs,” my dad would goad.

“Shut up, you. you’re only jealous!” She would snap back.

On those bitterly cold winters nights, I would retreat to the relative comfort of my bedroom, pull an extra coat on the bed, leave my socks on, roll my head to accompany the rock that was to come, and then sing my heart out.

“Shut up!” The chorus would come, “Shut up and go to sleep before your father gets back from the club.”

My singing would then take a downturn into the hardly-audible. I was praying the words, offering up myself to a greater power, the living god of Rock n Roll.

Getting older meant that certain songs could not be sung. The seventies brought Glam Rock, Prog Rock and then Punk Rock. The King must have seen it coming and decided to make himself less and less visible. Ironically, during this time, he was becoming more and more visible through his love of all food bad. His weight shot up as his fame dropped   down. I still managed a neat impersonation of him singing, In The Ghetto. That was a rather socially aware number that I believed was socially acceptable, As The Snow Flies. I have never seen snow flies, but I think that they must be rather hardy little pests.

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On August 16, 1977, The King died.

I was in bed, drifting off to sleep. Too old to sing his songs without my parents considering the option of sectioning me in our local lunatic asylum. I could hear the TV from downstairs. Mum was watching it whilst my dad shared a few pints with his mates at the club.

I heard a long drawn-out, “Oh, no.” Quickly followed by, “No. Please, no.”

I knew he was dead. I went downstairs and found my mum in tears.

“He’s dead, Mike. Elvis is dead. It’s not fair.”

My sisters were both downstairs at this point and they joined he in the ritual shedding of tears. Even my father was sad when he returned. The King was dead.

That night, I tried to summon up his spirit and channel it within me. I could think of no better use for my defunct voice box than to become the conduit for King Creole’s magnificence. It didn’t happen.

My mum got over her infatuation and moved on. She was never the same with her affections and never openly declared her love for icons until later when her somewhat secret love was no secret any more. Rock Hudson, dashingly handsome and quirkily funny in his outings in Pillow Talk with Doris Day, died on October 2nd 1985. He died of Aids related illnesses after hiding his sexuality for al of his movie-star career. My mother sobbed. My father shrugged his shoulders.

“If only he had met me. I could have cured him,” she declared.

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In those days, they had no cure for homosexuality.

Nor for unrequited love. 

 

 

 

Bookends…

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If gale-force Fortune sweeps you off you feet,

let it; ride it; and admit defeat.

 

There’s no point in resisting; it’s too strong –

willy-nilly, you’ll get swept along.

 

Palladas. Tony Harrrison

 

It was an unseasonably warm October night. The high winds of the midweek had ceased and it was still. My own turmoil was resting, licking its wounds, trying to heal itself. This was the second time we had ventured out on a Saturday evening to see my favourite poet. The first time had been a wrong call; I got the month wrong. Perhaps my father was right when he insisted that I was dateless. My wife shares this acute judgement of the strange being that is her husband. A month late, but on time, I prayed that the firmaments were now in line.

The last time that I attended a reading of his poetry was almost thirty years ago. I had gone along with a good friend and sat suitably in awe of the greatest light in modern poetry. I considered him to be one of us (UZ) rather than one of them. I came from working-class roots and confronted the received-wisdom that denied the masses so that the few could prosper. It was through his poetry that I found mine. I also found a torch that lit up the tunnels in which I could work away at the foundations of that which chose to imprison me.

It was Harrison’s School of Eloquence that originally pulled me in:

How you became a poet’s a mystery!

Wherever did you get your talent from?

I say: I had two uncles,Joe and Harry –

one was a stammerer, the other dumb.

Heredity

 

If my father had ever written verse, I would have liked it to have been like this. My dad was a realist, not a dreamer like his son. He could not waste words on silly rhymes; life was too short and there was work to be done. So, I took Tony Harrison at his word(s) and made him my surrogate muse. Each time I came across well-trodden feet, I stopped in wonder at the things I had previously not seen. It was like waking-up for the first time, every time, and seeing the world afresh.

I was saddened and surprised by how few people had turned-out to listen to the Rhubarb Bard. There was a time when he was admired as ‘one of the most prodigiously gifted and accessible poets’ alive. He could ”speak the language” that he spoke at home, but use the form of sonnets to drive his point home at the same time. When I first read him, it was at the behest of Mary Eagleton, the sister of Terry Eagleton, another well-read socialist interpreter of higher learning. I was like Tony’s uncle; “mouth all stuffed with glottals”. My public reading had never been good, even if I did have the accent to suit the verse. After tripping through his lines, I went home to sit in my undergraduate bedsit and study his words. They were mine.

That was years and years ago in the long, long ago that will not disappear.

Tony Harrison came to the front of the small gathering, apologised for not having his microphone attached, had it attached, then shuffled the white pages of his world of words. We were in Beverley Minster, a grand building that has been used by TV companies to ape its better known cousin, the palace of Saint James. And Tony, though not in the pulpit, was at the front. When he started to read, I fell into the time between the pages and saw not an old man, now gone eighty, but the Tony Harrison of some forty years before. I caught myself mouthing the words that he was speaking and realised that I was performing an act of devotion. I nodded when lines long deep in my own memory were recited. Other people disappeared into the shadows of the ancient hall and there was Harrison speaking directly from within me.

My fellow audience members were probably retired teachers; their sensible clothes suggested as much. I recognised faces from the past and shared a greeting or two. Nobody applauded when he reached then end of individual poems. My hands were itching to give him a warm ovation, but to my shame I followed the crowd. It was like being at an opera or classical concert. Everything Harrison stood for was being filtered into their sense of the world. I actually wanted to cheer and to shout encouragement or agreement, but I merely nodded and mouthed the words I knew.

At the end of the reading, there was a little Q&A. An interviewer asked generic questions about poems that had been written decades before. It was obvious and a little puerile. I filled a void of silence when I held the microphone to tell him that I was pleased that it was being held in that setting as I had worshipped him as a poet. The wife said that that was a little corny and she was right. But at least it was honest.

A question that wasn’t asked, but was partly addressed by the poet, was about the impact he had had through his writing. At its point, his eyes fell towards the floor and he thought for a moment.

“The world has gone back to what it was like back then. I thought it would have changed. I hoped that it would have got better, but it’s back to where it was. Isn’t that what history teaches us? And we never learn.”

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“…what’s between’s

not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.”