I am hoping that the answer to that is no. However, in the last few years I have discovered (along with the rise of the right) there is a less strident and more sloth-like movement that favours the, well the ‘well’ person.
‘Well’ means that you haven’t really given it full consideration. You haven’t looked into a matter deep enough because it doesn’t fit in with your world view. Your world view is most probably that things happen and it is usually better not to involve oneself with those ‘things’. Things like feminism.
I heard an educated person (happens to be a woman) talking to another who also happened to be a woman. They were talking about ‘Feminism’. One of them had been asked by one of her students if she was a Feminist. She had replied with the opinion that she thought her opinion was personal. Later, when pursued on the matter, she had told the student that she wasn’t.
“I think it has gone too far,” she concluded.
I wanted to respond to their conversation but restrained myself.
‘England is sick, and…English literature must save it. The Churches have failed, and social remedies being slow, English literature now has a triple function: still, I suppose, to delight and instruct us, but also, above all, to save our souls and to heal the State.’
George Gordon Professor of Literature Oxford University 1922
During the course of my life, I have always believed that to be the case. If God could no longer save souls, then books should. In thinking this, I was not the originator of this idea. Since the nineteenth century, when the influence of the church began to wane, it became obvious that something had to step in to save the day. And it was with a certain biblical irony that books became the vehicle of choice.
Life is a route-planner.
We start our journeys at some particular time and place and finish them at another. Life is similar to a time-out from the general tedium of the omnipresent tedium of not living. But, whatever journey we are on, is never going to be an easy one. Life is best with things that beset life, namely life and death and suffering and the Conservative Party. Without these things, it is difficult to claim that one has ever lived, especially if one is already dead meaning that ones opinion no longer counts as only a very few can hear it. It’s a shame because I think that the dead are possibly in possession of more wisdom than the not dead. If you knew how you were going to die, a wise person would probably do something else on that day. Simple wisdom for simple thinkers.
I honestly don’t know where my route-planner has got to, these days. I think that I can remember having it when I set off. Indeed, I think I can remember setting a destination, somewhere like ‘Contentment’, ‘Peace of Mind’, or ‘Moderately Successful With a Beautiful Wife, Wonderful Children, and a Volvo Estate’. The last one always seemed to accompany the ones that went before. The problem with these destinations is that they cannot be found on traditional maps. The route-planner just instructed me to point my car in any direction of my whim and then set off to see where I could get to before I died.
At the moment, I am here.
Here is an existential crisis. It is a place betwixt and between. A campsite in a town that one never planned to visit. Sounds good, but I have been here before.
Each and every year (not quite as we sometimes decide to ‘staycate’), my wife and I take the girls on a family holiday. The holiday usually involves packing up lots of things: bikes, tents, sleeping bags, phrase books, and a selection of real books to read when we are not doing the activity ‘thing’. We do tend to have a destination, but go out of our way to not plan the trip. We regard the journey to our destination as being just as potentially enjoyable as the end product.
We aim to be relatively aimless and land on campsites that we have never visited before in a bid to be random adventurers. What does happen, always happens, is that we pitch-up in a place that slowly reveals itself to be familiar. We are like frogs that have a road map implanted in their DNA. No matter how much time has elapsed since their last journey, no matter how many generations have passed, they still take the same route; inexplicably. And so it is with us.
Ah, Ah! Those knowing human beings would say. Man is not a frog. Man is a work of divine creation. Man needs guidance in the way that mere Anura do not. It would not be proper for many of us to get ‘squished on Life’s highways’. Ah, Ah! I respond. I agree. But then I would point out that I was using the biblical device of hiding a lesson within a story.
And that is my point. Literature is scripture with a number of letter changes. From both, we find out what we need and ought to know about the touring holiday that we like to call Life. As God probably no longer exists, as we can’t be bothered with him/her, we need a new type of route-planner, one that is fit for our cultural needs.
Here are a few suggestions:
These OR This
The sixties was a time of discovery in British education. I didn’t know that because I was one of the lucky ones to be schooled through it. We had teachers who were new to the profession, teachers who had grown up through the war and grown some more in the fifties and then into sixties. They had seen the world change. And it had been for the better.
History had always been my favourite subject, well that and art. Art had been about creating, represtenting and shaping what I saw whilst history had been…well, it had been about the same stuff.
I was always aware of how important history was to our village. We had an ancient church there and a line of descent that demanded an annual recreation by The Sealed Knot Society. This was the civil war remembrance group who dressed up and fought out the Battle of Thornhill, a decisive play between the roundheads and the cavaliers.
I shouldn’t have been, but I was always a secret cavalier. They seemed romantic in comparision to the workaday Cromwelliams. Cromwell was about not singing, not having your hair cut on Sunday, wearing black clothing. Perhaps that was why I never took to Goths during the eighties. Anyway, I loved history.
One memory stood out amongst many other significant ones. It was the time that our teacher measured the circumferences of our heads to determine whether we were of Anglo-Saxon or of Viking descent. Post war meant that Anglo-Saxon was, ironically, the most patriotic as it was seen to be more aligned to the natural English bloodline; we still had maps with pink on them to show the extent of the empire.
As it turned out, in a massively Anglo-Saxon head measuring school, that was Church of England in denomination, I was a big headed Viking. Raider, reaper and raper, I ought to have hung my big scandinavian head in shame, but I didn’t.
Evans, Evanson I was and that I have remained.
Out of the frying pan and into the weekend.
I have always thought that the working week has been organised by somebody who doesn’t read the label; Fragile, This way up!
So, after a reasonably long working week, we get two days off to celebrate, relax, commiserate and fret.
Weekends are the product of the need to work and the need to show thanks and obedience to God and our other masters. We give thanks for not having been dragged off for lunch by a Dire Wolf or not having succumbed to a deadly dose of Black Death. Nose, arms, ears, feet, toes and our pleasure bits are still in order so let’s make hay. The problem is that the hay is just as much an illusion as the expanse of weekend that lies before us. Two bloody days! Forty-eight hours! Such a tiny amount of time to rebalance our bodies and minds.
But the fact that I am not in charge of an unruly tribe of early teens (unruly in the terms of a viking raiding party) means that I am not as incapacitated as I would have been. Kids now call me Mike. They thank me for lessons. They say nice words to my face. I may have died and entered some surreal world of educational derangement but it’s alright by me and long may it last.
Little bastard-devil on my shoulder is now up on tip-toes and whispering in my ear.
Like dandruff, I have metaphorically dusted him off.
The last week, thinking about tragedy, I have had chance to sit back and look at myself. The Wheel of Fortune has turned almost fully and I am back where it all began; teaching in further education.
As my coffee cools enough for me to drink it, the cat rubs herself against my shins. She is not giving affection, only reminding me that she needs some food. Cats have it. They do not strive. They do not overthink. They do not reflect on past failures. In their mind, there’s always another meal, another mouse.
She is wandering the kitchen now, waiting for me to serve breakfast.
Cats have it, Willy Loman.
It seems strange that I should get so far into (and out of) a teaching career without having read this play.
To be fair, although I started off teaching A Level, a lot of what I have done since is the bread and butter stuff of secondary qualifications. The tall and the short of it was that I landed a role in a college of further education to teach A Level Literature. If had hadn’t been so worn down by recent events, I would have cheered. Life has had its way with me and turned the eternal optimist into a stoic.
To cap it all, the position was very last minute which meant that I had to either cut ties or burn bridges with the agencies of my enslavement. I chose to burn bridges.
I was taken with Willy Loman’s portrayal of the tragic hero; an ordinary man, with dreams that are too extraordinary, brought low by the weight of them.
I read about his downfall. I read about Miller’s thoughts on classical tragedy. I thought about my own role in this. More than that, I considered the fact that a tragic hero is one, regardless of status or rank, who has a dream and pursues it in spite of the impediments that stand in his way and unconcerned about the unsustainable nature of that dream.
The true tragic hero goes to his grave convinced of his right to have that dream.
I thought about me writing. I thought about my complete and utter disregard for authority (the type that wishes to quell any thoughts of freedom). I thought about my career that had careered off course.
And I was drawn to the possibility of some unseen hand writing my lines.