oh, well, whatever . . .

the numpty and the plague

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The disease seems to have originated in the Far East and to have made its way west along the trade routes. It seems to have arrived in the Mediterranean and from there to have spread throughout the rest of Europe. In time it is said it killed half the population. At first explanations tended to rest on superior causes – God and the stars, for example. There was a general assumption that sin had brought the disease upon the world. And yet the church was patently powerless against it. Flagellants began going from town to town. Some people blamed others – gypsies, beggars, pilgrims, Jews – even though those people were all dying too. Some blamed the air, some the water, some blamed strange caterpillars. Death was rapid, people turned black. Miracles were reported and the end was nigh. No-one blamed the flea or the rat.

As I drove into work yesterday I listened to this week’s edition of In Our Time. As usual it concerned itself with events that were in another time. Boz was sitting on the low wall of the office car park, smoking. He looked calm. However, one of the office windows was broken and some men in a white van were busy boarding it up.

‘Morning, Boz,’ I said. ‘That’s nothing to do with you, is it?’

He shook his head. ‘Nah,’ he said, ‘that’s not my style. Probably some numpties from Newbiggin.’

I laughed and went inside. Boz was always calling someone a numpty, a category of being from which he always confidently excluded himself. The actions of a numpty are characterised by an obvious lack of proportionality or quite arbitrary stupidity. Boz’s world is full of numpties. When he arrived this morning he appeared to be the very antithesis of numptiness, a model of rationality and good sense. For some odd reason the presence of Voltaire entered my mind. But of course Boz’s meekness didn’t last.

Shortly before ten I heard a ruckus outside. Boz was raging at Lily, his children’s worker. It should be said that Lily is the epitome of patience, fairness, common sense and compassion. But those things in themselves will never quell a man like Boz. He is a man with a blind sense of entitlement, and he’s entitled to do what he wants, when he wants to and no matter what anyone else says or thinks about it. After a minute or two trying to calm him Lily left him to it. As usual he ranted and cursed at the building for a while and called us all numpties. He then stepped on to the narrow border around the car park and began pulling up the bedding plants one by one and flinging them fiercely down on to the concrete of the car park, just as he had done with his mobile phone. I was guessing by now that this technique was something he’d been taught in his anger management classes and that its point was that it allowed him to express his anger without actually assaulting anyone. At that level we obviously have to regard this new behaviour as a step forward, but it is beginning to make a mess of the car park. He must have pulled up eight or nine plants before, as with the phone incident, he quite suddenly just stopped, took a cigarette out and lit up.  He looked at the soil and the uprooted young pansies then walked around them, and went on his way, blowing smoke into the air.

When I got home Geraldine came over to tell me she had taken in some boxes for Margaret. I collected them from her garage and put them into our spare bedroom. I guessed they were boxes of slippers, but wondered why they were delivered here. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to go to Brenda’s? She works from home and is usually in.

‘Well, yes,’ Margaret said, ‘except she’s going to Florence tomorrow, isn’t she, and we weren’t sure when they’d come, were we?’

Margaret opened a couple of boxes and examined the product. She seemed thrilled and rang Brenda to tell her. As they were talking I peeked into the bedroom. It was as I feared it might be: a dozen or more pairs of assorted slippers had already made their home on the carpet, like a plague of garish rabbits. Red ones, blue ones, white ones. Faux fur ones – ocelot, leopard and zebra – and fluffy ones. Fake leather ones. Mules and open-toes.

De Kooning was sitting in one of the empty cardboard boxes, surveying the new landscape, quietly bemused. It looked to me more like a re-homing project. I wondered if I should pen them in now before they took over the whole house. I wondered who’d be feeding them every day at ten to two.

The Slipper Sisters talked for a very long time on the telephone. At half nine I went into the conservatory and listened to the repeat of In Our Time. I hadn’t heard it all in the morning.  It seems it took us six hundred years to discover that rats and fleas spread the disease, but that this explanation is by no means universally accepted nowadays, even among scientists and epidemiologists. No doubt there are also still those who put it all down to sin and are predicting its return any day now.

This evening was disappointingly grey. Margaret was cooking onions. The onion is said by some to have almost magical protective and curative powers. I’m sceptical about these claims, but I suspect Brenda may not be, because Margaret appears to be eating a lot more onions since she and Brenda  revived their association. The house seems to have an almost permanent odour of them these days.  I took De Kooning out into the garden. The girders of the Citadel loom higher every day, gigantic and red, a truly dark and dreadful matrix. We looked over into Hugo’s world. I was wondering what he’d been sawing the other night, but I could see no new structures.

‘What’s different?’ I asked De Kooning. ‘Is it the same? It isn’t, is it?’

It did seem to me that perhaps the moose had migrated a little closer to our fence, that perhaps he wasn’t facing us as squarely as he had been. And the attitude of the heron had definitely changed. He’s now facing slightly away from the pond, as if perhaps he’s in the huff with it, as if he’s fed up with being made to gaze into the gurgling water and wants no more of it. Alternatively he may be trying to lull the carp into a false sense of security. He may still be watching them from the corner of his enamelled eye. The overall effect is a subtle loss of focus in Hugo’s tableau, as if the centre has gone. The dynamics are different. It’s as if someone had shifted one of the hands on one or two of Margaret’s clocks to a random position, upsetting the old balance. But change is like that. Come tomorrow we’ll have got used to the new world and hardly remember the one we liked so much more.

We waited for the bats. Gordon got a kicking at Crewe yesterday. He blames the economy, and no doubt we’ll see him now in dour desperation trying to make his lethal ticking toy work overtime and forge some shiny new pennies for our pockets. It won’t work this time. Gordon’s a numpty. The People have just become tired of his face.


Written by yammering

May 24, 2008 at 11:25 am

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