Month: January 2009

Rapprochement

It is said of the human species that in times of uncertainty, metaphorically or literally we have a tendency to ‘run home to mama’. Much as I am appalled by the notion, there may be some tenuous thread of truth here. The Catholics assert that if they have a child up until the age of seven, he is theirs for life, however far he wanders.

I sometimes find myself strangely soothed by the familiar liturgy of the Church of England, despite having abandoned her years ago when the holes in the clothing became all too apparent, but the sonorous intonations of the Kyries and Agnus Dei still shine their light on the mustier and least visited parts of my soul. I still view the flummery and theatrics with suspicion but I found myself reflecting on such things having begun Barack Obama’s beautifully crafted ‘Dreams From My Father’. Here, it seemed was a man who from an early age developed, sometimes painfully, certainties and behaviours contradistinguishing him from others in similar positions, from the perspective of someone trying to find himself against a backdrop of tribalism and prejudice. Having a non-practising Muslim as a father and allegedly praying irregularly at the mosque may be at odds with his ‘I’m no Muslim’ allegation. Additionally, in a recent interview  he asserted:

‘I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people’.

Very modern. And perhaps even right, as long as doublethink is permitted and we are still able to return to our own small hoard of resonant connections unimpeded.
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Icarus Falling

Auden’s poem on the fall of Icarus suggests that strange and disturbing events occur against a backdrop of people going about their ordinary business. Nobody would have understood the matrix of events leading up to the fateful journey or heard the stern admonitions of Daedalus, the architect of the Cretan labyrinth, as he counselled his son not to push the envelope and sail so dangerously close to the Sun. A passerby could only have watched either with detached disinterest or with horror as the boy plummeted, like a shot pheasant, into the sea.


About suffering they were never wrong, 
The Old Masters; how well, they understood 
Its human position; how it takes place 
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; 
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting 
For the miraculous birth, there always must be 
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating 
On a pond at the edge of the wood: 
They never forgot 
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course 
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot 
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse 
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. 
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away 
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may 
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, 
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone 
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green 
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen 
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, 
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Over two years ago, I gave up drinking alcohol. After a lifetime of overindulgence, hospitalisations, degrading public spectacles and all the rest so well known to the friends of Bill W, I finally conceded that enough was enough and I was, as they say, ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired’.

I stopped just in time. Had I continued, I would now be in the same state as a friend whom I was glad to take to hospital yesterday. Here, any data protection legislation either isn’t enforced or is non-existent, so I had sight of a stack of medical records the size of a phonebook, cataloguing the damage, which was grievous, extensive and life-threatening. 

He had continued, almost undetected, for far too long. Suddenly, the wave broke. An avalanche then simply overwhelmed him and he fell from the sky. There is a dangerous verticality about tragedy when the wind in one’s hair and the exhilaration of living on the edge turns into an uncontrollable fall.
I do not know what will happen to him now and I can only watch as people work to salvage what they can and which he allows. I hope he stays in the hospital and does not attempt to discharge himself again, as has happened previously.

I am left with a feeling of profound sadness, yet inestimable gratitude. 

The image is of course (attrib) Pieter Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c 1558) in the Musee des Beaux Arts, Brussels. The poem is framed underneath it. 

The ploughboy’s insouciant disregard for the tragedy is obvious.


Everybody went home for Christmas. Except me. A friend told the story of an incident in Leeds. She was smoking a cigarette in the street, thoughtfully dropping the ash in a convenient bin. An official-looking individual walked up to her and in a somewhat intimidating manner pushed a small box the size of a large matchbox into her hand, telling her that unless this object was used to collect butt and ash this miniature Stalin was entitled to pursue her – if necessary to a bank – to collect a fine of fifty pounds.
Kuwait isn’t culturally very self-aware, but there are compensations. I can ignore non-smoking signs if I really want to, carelessly forget to wear a seatbelt from time to time and I can very often get away with abandoning my car on the street – we don’t do meters. I remember once in a senior moment forgetting to turn off my car, leaving it running in the street all night and apart from a depleted fuel tank it was as I had left it the following morning. Can’t imagine that happening in downtown Croydon on a Saturday night. But, to sterner matters. The presence or not of street litter is unlikely to be at the top of the agenda for residents of Gaza this evening. If my neighbour’s children consistently threw garbage over my garden fence on an almost daily basis, despite being warned, threatened and told not to, I might be tolerant of childish antics for a time, but after a while, all remonstrance failing, I might then be sorely tempted to have a stern word with parents. If I subsequently discovered that it was at the parent’s instigation that the garbage was being hurled, I might further be tempted to have a friendly word, accompanied by a baseball bat. No matter how well-hidden the perpetrators might be, my determination to winkle them out and have a word would be almost overmastering and to hell with collateral damage. I can understand how the Israeli government is feeling.