oh, well, whatever . . .

geology, the whelp, and the disembodied heart

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Yesterday it was a soft slightly grey morning. I was browsing Amazon, looking at Remembering by Edward Casey. I was also listening to Radio 4. A panel were discussing Boris and his victory in the election.  Someone who knows him well was saying he’s a kind of genius, by which he appeared to mean that he’s unique in a uniquely unique sort of way. Boris is clearly not to be regarded as any ordinary man. His acquaintance thought he’d make a good mayor. The door bell rang.

At the door were two Jehovah’s Witnesses. The lead was taken by a very small woman with white hair, large spectacles and a wrinkly puckered mouth. She introduced herself as Maureen. She was wearing a knee length woollen coat of an appropriately ecclesiastical blue. Her colleague was a tall gangling whelp of a boy. Perhaps in his early twenties, he wore black, carried a document case, and had the kind of face that I’ve sometimes seen painted on a peg. He had a pale round face and a little round mouth. He maintained a supercilious expression at all times, part choir boy, part police informant.

‘We’ve come to see if you’re interested in the latest copy of our little magazine,’ Maureen said. ‘You may have seen it before’

I nodded.

She informed me that this latest edition asks the question “Should you fear the future?” and she handed me my copy of Awake! .  I smiled. The pitch here is prophesy. They want me to acknowledge the imminent apocalypse and to be afraid, to be very afraid.  They want me to buy my ticket to the only safe bunker in town, Kingdom Hall, which last time I looked was a refurbished pebble-dashed pre-war cinema in Newsham.

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘I’ll give it a read.’

‘It’s terrible what they’ve done to the world, isn’t it?’ Maureen said, and went on to press the predictable buttons of global warming, the environment, the decline of family life, war and the ruination of paradise. I wondered who she thought “they” were, and why she thought “He” had let things go this far. Maybe it’s the past that should scare us most. If God had to put himself up for re-election what could He say He’d achieved so far? The tousled headed cherub-fiend Boris would make holy mincemeat of Him.

She paused. She could see I wasn’t taking the bait. The gangling whelp looked vaguely mesmerised.

‘Do you have a bible?’ she enquired. I said I did. I thought perhaps she wanted to give me one of those too. ‘Well,’ she went on, pointing, ‘ you’ll see I’ve put a scriptural reference at the top right hand corner there. Can you see it?’

I squinted at the magazine. She’d written “PS 37:10,11”.

I smiled again and quietly disclosed to her that I don’t believe in God. She seemed surprised. It was impossible to tell what the gangling whelp’s response to this news was. He just stared at me, like the heron looking into Hugo’s pool.

‘Oh, why not?’ she asked, as if both curious and concerned.  I could see no point in getting into a futile argument. I told her I simply never had.

‘Oh, but you don’t believe in evolution, do you?’ she said. Her tone now was a mixture of pity, incredulity and shock, as if she was asking me if I had been molested as a child. Maureen was aghast.

‘Yes, I do,’ I said, whereupon she told me there was no evidence for it and that ‘they’ say it’s been proved to be all wrong.   The gangling boy stood as still as a peg, as silent as an undertaker’s apprentice. There isn’t going to be much space in the bunker, I thought to myself. Suppose I got the seat next to him? Meanwhile Maureen was busy suggesting to me that the world as it was couldn’t possibly be the result of chance, that there must have been a designer. I just knew we’d wind up here. I glanced over into Hugo’s junkyard and wondered what she’d say about that. Would she see it as an example of Intelligent Design? But where would that debate take us?

‘You don’t believe in geology, do you?’ I asked. I thought this was a smart move. Maureen was probably imagining me surrendering my reason to the marvellous intricacies of a thousand clockwork finches. Mud and clay on the other hand rarely enter the ID debate as examples of the world’s inexplicable complexity. ‘The world’s been around for millions of years and the evidence is in the ground you’re standing on. As I understand your group’s view, you believe we’ve only been here for a few thousand years. How can that make any sense?’ Yes, I know: ‘group’ was wickedly secular.

At this point Maureen found a way to mention Noah. She then said that the world had been around for a very long time before God created man.

‘Yes, it was about six days, wasn’t it?’ I said.

‘Oh, but you know, the bible doesn’t necessarily mean literally six days.’

She was now a fundamentalist sitting duck. The gangling boy seemed oblivious of the fact that I already had my fowling gun at the ready.

‘If that’s not literally true, then maybe the whole story isn’t literally true either,’ I said. ‘Not Adam and Eve, nor The Flood, nor Christ’s death and resurrection, not the walking on the water or the loaves and fishes, and not even the Apocalypse either.’

Maureen now told me she wasn’t an expert in these things, but that she believed in God and that He had the power save us all. I told her I respected her beliefs but I didn’t share them. The gangling whelp maintained his studious silence. They walked off together down my garden path, feathers still sticking to their coats. Their next stop was Hugo’s world.

I went back into the living room. Margaret had turned off the radio and was watching a cooking programme on TV.  I looked at the Napoleon on the mantelpiece. My spirit was less uplifted than I thought it should be.

De Kooning and I sat in the conservatory. I had a cappuccino and he watched the blackbirds coming and going with their beaks full of worms.

* * * * * * *

Earlier today I drove up the Rothbury to go for a walk. It’s a place I used to go a lot, but hadn’t been for a year or two. I took the usual road in, west along the Coquet through Pauperhaugh, below Cragside, on past the Thrum. At the edge of the town I discovered a new road junction has been built and that what was the major road has now become the minor road. I stopped at the junction and on the hillside ahead of me saw some large new houses. Ancient green fields have become a building site and are already well on their way to becoming a substantial new housing estate.

Much of Northumberland is being spoilt this way. This is particularly ironic for a county that markets itself as ‘unspoilt’, an epithet which ceased to be true some years ago now. Towns that once had a distinctive character and a quiet beauty are becoming bland, counterfeit and indistinguishable from one another. And bigger towns need bigger roads and the roads fill up with traffic. Houses fill with people and the people need shops and services, and where there are shops and services yet more new houses are built and more roads to bring more visitors to town. Street lights appear for miles around and night and day the noise of the traffic nags into every dene and over every fell. If you want to see the future go and look at North Tyneside.  

Not one of the people I know who lives in one of the many villages and country towns being spoiled this way tells me they want all these new houses. Most say they don’t. But that’s not how our modern democracy works, of course.  We no longer cast our votes to decide on the shape of the world we want to live in.  We are given the new world first and then vote on whether we like it or not. But by then it’s too late, the green fields have already gone.  

The eschatology of the creeping apocalypse obviously doesn’t involve horsemen and dragons.  Strategic planning, NGO’s, budget controls, ring fencing, penalties and incentives, planning regulations, planning gain, sham consultations, performance indicators and targets, PFI, exclusivity agreements, the unitary authority, the city mayor . . . these are among the beasts which signal we are in the final days. Little by little ordinary people are disempowered and lose the things that made the world feel like home. The future has already been sold to a private equity company. Some day soon every place will look the same. Most of us will survive, but our lives will be devoid of all happiness.

Margaret’s dream was wrong: the economy is not God’s little clock. The economy is a time bomb.  But Field Marshall Gordon doesn’t know it. Night after night he sits nursing what he thinks is the cherished clock of the economy, like a robot holding his own disembodied heart, winding it up over and over again, wishing it would sometimes just tick a little more quickly. It’s a bomb, Gordon – it’s a bloody time bomb!  It’s no good, I know: Gordon couldn’t defuse it even if he wanted to.  And nor, I suspect, could Major Boris, genius or not.

I walked up on to the carriage drive and looked down on the new housing estates from the crags of Addyheugh. I wondered where Tesco would be putting their supermarket. I wondered where they’d put their filling station.  This is how the world ends, Gordon.  Bang! Bang! Bang! 

A flurry of feathers blows across dark, deserted acres of block paving.  The security light flicks on. There’s no-one there.

A minute later the light goes out.


Written by yammering

May 4, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

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